Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Looking Backward, Looking Ahead

Over the last few weeks, after many detours, this blog’s path has finally finished traversing a landscape I first sighted more than a year and a half ago. I’d like to take a moment here to glance back over the territory we’ve crossed together in that time, wrap up some loose ends, and then take a look ahead at the terrain into which we’ll be venturing in the months to come.

As June of 2010 began, having wrapped up the sequence of posts on economics that eventually turned into The Wealth of Nature, I took up the next point I wanted to discuss—the role of fantasy, myth, and the nonrational in shaping the industrial world’s nonresponse to the rising spiral of crises that has come to dominate our time. It was a propitious moment to start a discussion of that theme; the first round of efforts to plug the disastrous Macondo oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico had failed, and in response, an astonishing number of people here in America had to all intents and purposes gone barking mad.

It’s worth reminiscing a bit about the raw nonsense that passed for reasonable thinking during those troubled days. Serious pundits were seriously insisting that the United States government had better hurry up and use a nuclear weapon on the recalcitrant well. None of them that I heard ever got around to explaining how blasting a gargantuan crater in the floor of the Gulf, vaporizing any remaining impediment to the flow of oil, and crashing an oily, radioactive, fifty-foot-high tsunami into the Gulf coast would have helped matters any, but very few people were rude enough to try to intrude that little difficulty into the discussion.

Meanwhile the hirelings of the oil industry were insisting that dumping millions of barrels of crude oil into the waters of the Gulf would merely add a little piquance to your next dish of Creole shrimp, while on the other side of the fence, rumors were surging through the crawlspaces of the internet that the oil spill was quite literally going to cause the extinction of life on Earth. That’s the sort of gibberish that comes foaming out, apparently, when a nation far too certain of its own omnipotence runs into a hard reminder that there are inconvenient realities called the laws of physics that can’t be bullied or whined into behaving the way we prefer.

So while oil was spewing out of a broken drill pipe, and nonsense was spewing out of a broken society, I started the discussion that finally wound up over the last few weeks. The delay? Well, that was partly the result of a post I made on the last day of June, 2010—there’s an Al Stewart joke that belongs here, but I’ll let that pass for now—which suggested that it might be worth reviving the ideas and practices of the 1970s appropriate tech movement. I’d recently helped to translate a 10th-century training manual for wizards, and so, in a flourish of rhetoric, I suggested that maybe the practitioners of the arcane and eldritch arts of organic agriculture, homescale alternative energy, and the like might think of themselves as "green wizards."

By the time the dust finally settled, that post had garnered more comments and more page views than anything else I’d posted here up to that time, by a large margin, and I’d been deluged by comments and emails asking me to talk about the green wizardry stuff in more detail. That, dear readers, was why I spent the next year and a bit talking about my experiences in organic gardening, energy conservation, and other bits of Seventies backyard-garden and basement-workshop green tech; I also helped found a forum for green wizards to discuss their craft, and had several other posts break the records set by the one that started the process. It was only after all of that was taken care of that I finally worked my way back to discussing what I’d originally started to talk about in June of 2010, more than a year and a half ago. Then that discussion proceeded to veer off in unexpected directions of its own, with results ranging from a science fiction short story contest to a series of posts on a subject I’d resolved never to discuss on this blog, the interface between peak oil and the traditions of ceremonial magic. Looking back on the last nineteen months of Archdruid Report posts, I feel rather as though I’d planned to take the overnight train from my home in Cumberland to Chicago, and finally arrived in the Windy City six weeks later by way of New Orleans, San Francisco, the Aleutian Islands, and the North Pole.

Still, it’s been a productive trip, and those of my readers who are interested in souvenirs of the journey will have several to hand in the months to come.

First of all, I’m delighted to announce that last fall’s posts on magic and peak oil have become the seed for a book that will be released this spring. The Blood of the Earth: An Essay on Magic and Peak Oil is being published by Scarlet Imprint, a small occult press with a big reputation. While they’re best known for their deluxe limited editions—which use, by the way, archival quality paper and bindings, not a minor point at a time when most newly printed books can be counted on to disintegrate into sawdust in a quarter century at most—Scarlet Imprint will also be producing paperback and e-book editions of The Blood of the Earth. Being small and lively, they move fast; I expect to be able to post preordering information in the very near future, and the book will be for sale in a couple of months at most.

Second, I’m even more delighted to report that the anthology of science fiction short stories about the postpetroleum world is becoming a reality. I’d hoped, when I announced the contest last fall, that I would field a dozen stories good enough to publish. As it turned out, more than sixty stories were submitted, well over half of them were of publishable quality, and many of the rest could have reached that mark given a bit of work and some editorial feedback. It took quite a bit of thought and many rereadings to work down to the final list of stories that will be in the anthology:

Randall S. Ellis’ "Autumn Night"
E.A. Freeman’s "The Lore Keepers"
Thijs Goverde’s "Think Like A Tinkerer"
Susan Harelson’s "Maestra y Aprendiz"
Harry J. Lerwill’s "Caravan of Hopes"
Catherine McGuire’s "The Going"
Avery Morrow’s "The Great Clean-Up"
Kieran O’Neill’s "Bicycleman Sakhile and the Cell Tower"
J.D. Smith’s "The Urgent, the Necessary"
Philip Steiner’s "Traveling Show"
David Trammel’s "Small Town Justice"

Those of my readers who submitted stories that won’t be part of the anthology should take heart. Much of what was submitted for the contest was remarkably good, and the decision came down fairly often to a hard choice between two or more stories with similar themes or plots, or to that even harder choice of which of two or three good stories would make for a better balance in the book as a whole. One of the unexpected revelations of the long strange trip we’ve taken together is just how large of a pool of writing talent exists among the readers of this blog; if I had the time and the inclination to launch a magazine of postpeak fiction (or perhaps "mundane SF," the current term for science fiction that gets along without invoking alien space bats), I’d anticipate no trouble finding ample raw material to fill its pages right here.

I’ve taken the editor’s privilege of adding one of my own stories, "Winter’s Tales"—readers who have been following The Archdruid Report long enough will remember a set of three short stories posted here in 2006, set in the winters of 2050, 2100, and 2150 respectively; those were the raw material for my entry—and an introduction to the anthology, and giving it a working title, After Oil: SF Visions of a Post-Petroleum Future. I’ve had a tentative approval from a publisher, but they’re waiting to see it as a complete manuscript; that’s a few weeks away at this point—there’s some editing still to be done—but I’ll post something as soon as there’s a contract and a tentative publishing date.

Third, of course, is a book on green wizardry, the most extensive of the detours we’ve taken together. That currently exists as a shapeless, sprawling, nearly unmanageable rough draft of 120,000 words—about half again as long as any of my other peak oil books—and is going to take quite a bit more than the usual amount of revision to make it a book worth reading. My usual peak oil publisher, New Society Publications, has expressed interest in the project but, sensibly enough, wants to see a couple of finished chapters before cutting a contract. If you hear something that sounds like a machete at work coming from the direction of Cumberland, MD, it’s me, hacking paths through a nearly impenetrable jungle of archdruidical prose. I hope to have the couple of chapters into New Society within a few weeks, and will post further news as it comes in.

Fourth is the most unexpected of my detours, the systems theory version of the Tao Te Ching I started mostly by accident in a post here almost exactly a year ago. That’s not finished yet; I’ve found that it needs to take its own time, but I’ve got 54 chapters (out of 81) finished in draft, and expect to finish it and add an introduction and commentary this year. I have no idea who on Earth will be interested in publishing it, but capable small presses prospering in niche markets are popping up at an encouraging rate these days, so I’ll doubtless find somebody.

So that’s the scorecard, to shift metaphors a bit, as the dust settles from the last year and a half or so of this blog. To borrow a phrase from the Grateful Dead, it’s been a long, strange trip. And the path ahead?

The path ahead leads straight into a theme that most Americans don’t want to discuss at all, and that they and the rest of the world’s population desperately need to discuss: the political, economic, ecological, and military implications of the twilight of America’s global empire. The end of the industrial age, as I’ve discussed here at some length already, is shaping up to be a protracted process, as the decline and fall of a civilization usually is. The arc of decline and fall, though, tends to be punctuated by sudden crises. One of the common causes of such crises is the collapse of existing power centers and their replacement by others, which face collapses of their own further down the road. While the overall history of the industrial world over the next few centuries will be dominated by the overall arc of energy decline, the history of the next few decades will be profoundly shaped by the more immediate impact of the end of America’s empire.

One advantage we’ve got in making sense of this situation is that America’s imperial sunset isn’t the first such collapse of empire in the downward arc of industrial civilization. A century ago, Britain was the nation that enforced peace and unequal trade policies on a restive world, bankrupted itself paying for the bloated military and bureaucracy that its empire required, and ended up being shoved onto the sidelines of history in a series of explosive political, economic, social, and military events that left very few corners of the world unscathed. The United States is well along the same trajectory, and the shape of the American future—as well as the impacts of its decline on the rest of the world—can be gauged in part by studying what happened a century ago to Britain, as well as what has happened to other empires caught in the same downward spiral elsewhere in history.

That’s the theme I plan on exploring over the next year or so. That exploration is going to have to start from basic questions that haven’t been asked often enough, or answered honestly enough, in recent years. It’s going to be necessary to talk about what empires are and how they function; to get past certain dysfunctional but popular notions on the subject; to talk about how America ended up in its current role as the world’s primary imperial power, and to sketch out what can be learned from the experiences of other failing empires. All that belongs to the first phase of the exploration. The second phase will attempt to sketch out how the collapse of American empire is likely to unfold, how it has already begun to unfold, and how the current barrage of attempts either to insist that America’s empire doesn’t face collapse, or to prevent the collapse from occurring, are making the downward arc that much steeper and more inescapable.

Finally, I want to talk about what can be done in an age of imperial decline and collapse. Obviously, given the core agenda of this blog, a great deal of what I want to discuss focuses on what individuals, families, small groups, and communities can do to get ready for the likely consequences of imperial collapse, to weather the rough parts of the process, and to find a new equilibrium once the rubble stops bouncing. Still, I think it’s possible to go further than that. One of the common consequences of imperial collapse, wherever it takes place, is a drastic expansion of options: things unthinkable in an age of empire become possible in empire’s ruins. Irish independence and legal standing for labor unions are only two of the impossibilities that became real in the wake of the British Empire’s implosion, for example, and it’s entirely possible that equally sweeping transformations could follow the collapse of the American empire. Of course it bears recalling that not all such transformations must be for the better—I think most of my readers know enough about history to recall what followed the collapse of the German and Austro-Hungarian empires in 1918.

That’s a very brief preview of the terrain we’ll begin to explore next week. That said, none of the information covered over the last year and a half has lost its relevance, and the conversations over at the Green Wizards forum still have plenty of useful ground yet to cover. I’ll be referring back to green wizardry and other themes already discussed as we proceed; even though this blog has quite a bit of diverse ground to cover, all of that belongs to one and the same future.

End of the World of the Week #8

Apocalyptic movements, like most other human social phenomena, follow the law of supply and demand; when there’s a demand for a particular kind of movement, the supply of people willing to launch and run such a movement rarely takes long to respond. Among the more colorful examples of this process in action is the medieval heresy of the Free Spirit.

To understand the Free Spirit and its followers, it’s necessary to recall one of the curious features of late medieval culture—the great mismatch that opened up between the number of men and of women available for marriage. Since the Catholic church had many more openings for men than for women, and nearly all these openings had celibacy (at least officially) as a job requirement, a very large fraction of women remained unmarried, or married elderly husbands and then faced most of a lifetime of widowhood. The peasantry and the nobility had established roles for unmarried women, and nunneries could take a certain fraction of the remainder, but in the rising urban classes, a great many women ended up consigned to lives of idleness and chastity. Many turned to mystical religion or to illicit love affairs; the advantage of the heresy of the Free Spirit was that it enabled them to do both at once.

According to the preachers of the Free Spirit, who were mostly defrocked priests and monks, the world was on the brink of a vast transformation of consciousness—the coming of the Third Age—in which the burden of original sin would be lifted from humanity and all people would be naked and unashamed as they had been in Eden, living without sorrow or labor according to a new law of love. Human nature being what it is, that new law was usually interpreted in a distinctly physical sense, with enthusiastic promiscuity and group worship in the nude standard practice in most Free Spirit circles. Another part of the belief system was that in the Third Age, all wealth would be shared freely; since the prophets of the Free Spirit were usually very poor and many of their converts were well-to-do, most of the resulting sharing went in one direction.

Despite the efforts of the Catholic church to exterminate the heresy, and as many of the heretics as it could catch, the Free Spirit remained an active presence in European culture for at least five centuries, and its influence lasted longer still. Those who belonged to a certain generation still with us will no doubt remember more recent prophets who insisted that a utopian age of easy sex and freedom from work was about to dawn. Still, it’s worth noting that those recent prophecies, like those of the Free Spirit, somehow never quite came to pass.

—story from Apocalypse Not


DeAnander said...

I look forward to some mulling over what empire is, what defines it. I've got as far as thinking of Empire as the logical extension of City; a city is a dense core of power and population that exhausts its local territory and is compelled to import resources from a larger periphery (often by duress) -- and an Empire is the same thing writ much larger: a network of cities under a single authority, which constitute a core importing resources from a much wider periphery, definitely by duress (military force). Much ink has been printed about the process by which city-states historically coalesce and become Empires, whether in the Greek peninsula, S America, ancient Babylonia, China or wherever.

Empire then becomes for me just a shorthand for a certain scale of the consistent core/periphery dynamic that begins (?) with cities or "civilisation" and expands to concepts like "global hegemon" (superdupercore!) In other words, Empire has become for me a term that describes energy flows; no literal "emperor" or royal court is really required for the imperial pattern to replicate. An empire can even call itself a republic, or a democracy :-) But so long as it uses guns (or swords) to extract raw materials (especially food) from weaker polities on its periphery, imho it's waddling and quacking and I call it a duck.

America obviously qualifies, no question there. I'm debating whether its appendage, Canada, is a colonised province or a satrapy; Canada acts as an imperial supporter and core member by sending troops into the target du jour in obedience to American diktat, and by participating in the kingly lifestyle that imperial force provides to core denizens; but we also serve as a raw materials "superstore" that the US raids at will (check out the terms of NAFTA/GATT which oblige Canada to export a fixed pct of natural gas to the US regardless of domestic requirements).

DeAnander said...

... (sorry, I ran into the comment length limit, forgive the verbosity) (part 2) ...

I'm also getting a little confused these days about the E-word, as global (transnational) capital creates a whole new kind of core -- a nonlocalised core, if you will, the "loose association of millionaires and billionaires" who extract and liquidate resources worldwide, for world markets, using denationalised, highly mobile money. Canada's government is busy selling off Canadian companies and resources not only to the US, but to China. Does that mean that China is now an empire making claims on N American territory? Or are the transnational 1 percenters (regardless of nationality/language) now an empire in their own right? Is there a nonlocalised core (the international finance industry, say) now raiding all the physical world with more or less equal rapacity and immunity?

We often describe some region being overrun and devastated by resource liquidators -- such as Appalachia suffering MTR, such as "sacrifice zones" all over the world -- as "like a 3rd world country," which historically means something like "a country which has at some point been colonised and pillaged by an imperial power, often with the active collusion of its own comprador elite, and left in a state of poverty, resource depletion, and corruption." But that's beginning to describe large swathes of N America, allegedly "the" 1st-world country.

What does Empire mean if it becomes nonlocalised? Can it be nonlocalised? Are these acts of pillage, immiseration, displacement within N American borders symptoms of external empires flexing their muscle and nibbling on the dying hegemon, or are they signs of catabolic collapse of the hegemon, chewing on its own flesh as it starves? Or... where is Empire located today? I can see the resources being looted. I can see the overriding of local interests, the bankrupting of communities, the extraction of money as well as material goods. What I'm beginning to wonder is where the core is these days. Are we all periphery now? If the American Empire is in collapse -- and I believe it is -- then is another Empire rising? Or is the nature of the whole game changing?

Are we near the same page, or even in the same book?

Castus said...

As others here, I wonder what this ultimately means for Canada. I'm a member of the Canadian Forces, and the infantry, for better or for worse, located out in the middle of the bald prairie of Manitoba.

I often wonder, when reading and contemplating about our future of less resources and less easy opportunities, what that means for me.

Keep up the writing! Always thought provoking.

John Michael Greer said...

DeAnander, good. The polarity of core and periphery makes a very good model for the phenomena of empire, and in fact it's the one I'll be using as we proceed. The hollowing out of the geographical core as an empire moves through its historical trajectory is a common feature, too -- it's always important to remember that the effective core of an empire isn't a country, or even a city, but a set of institutions and the people who run them. More on this later, and on the other points you've raised.

Castus (and DeAnander), the future of Canada, and of the other members of the inner circle of America's subject-allies, is going to be an important theme in the discussion. Canada in particular is in a very complex situation, not least because it's begun to play the falling and rising imperial powers off against one another -- potentially a risky move, but potentially a rewarding one as well.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

Thanks for consideration of my two stories in the compendium.



Hanshishiro said...

Archdruid Greer, if you can't find a publisher for the Tao of systems book, you can always use LULU.
I, for one would like to read it.

Avery said...

I'm very much humbled to have made the cut as a writer, and I'm looking forward to reading the other submissions. If the links that were posted here last year are any indication, this is going to be a fantastic collection of stories.

Leo said...

are you going to focus on what happens to the peripheral neighbours of empires, and to what extent?
what happens to their allies and enemies and such.

Jasmine said...

crHere are a few points you might want to look at in upcoming posts. Would be interested in your comments
(1) Most countries become poorer when they lose their empire. However Britain lost its empire in the period after 1945. This was the best time in history in which to lose an empire as this was the period of the post war economic boom. Loss of empire was accompanied by rising standards of living. This helped to cushion us from the loss of status and power that accompanied the loss of empire. America will not have this luxury. Their loss of empire is happening as oil production peaks and will be accompanied by a reduction in the standard of living. This will make it harder to bear .

(2) In normal times America would gradually be replaced as top dog by a growing China. However these are not normal times. China is industrialising just at the point where fossil fuels are about to peak and start their long descent. Therefore China’s growth may come to a halt before they become top dog.

(3) America is still a powerful country and has the kind of military and industrial wealth that British leaders in the 1940’s could only dream of. It is still producing a lot of oil. In theory America should be in a good position to adapt to its relative loss of power. The biggest problem America will have in adapting are psychological and cultural. These are the factors that may prevent America from adapting and lead it to waste its wealth on pointless wars and actions that do not work.


phil harris said...

I was born in one of London’s new 1930s suburbs, just over a year into Phase II of the 20thC World War, and remember bombs and flames and pilotless drones. When I reached school in the post-war austerity period the somewhat tattered atlases we were given still had the British Empire coloured a pinkish red that seemed to cover the majority of the Mercator projection. We stood with our mother in line ('queued') with ration books for basic food items, and our new Prime Minister's first job was to get rid of the Empire (first up was India which did not pay its way anymore) and bring back the Regimental Silver and hand strategic military positions to the USA. (For example, Iraq and Bahrein; and we had to smartly get out of Israel and leave that to you Americans. The final exit from Egypt and the Suez Canal - think of an earlier version of Hormuz - took another 10 years until Dwight Eisenhower was forced to kindly put paid to remaining illusions.) We were in debt to the USA for many decades.

It was only recently however that I learned the real history of British Coal.
Until I was in my 20s we still were lighted and heated and in large measure transported by coal. (People largely had trains and bicycles and crowded buses and trams.) Nuclear power turned out not to be a game-changer.
Peak Coal had been in 1913 a tad less than 300M tons annually. UK is now well under 20Mt and still going down as we get the last of the surface coal only available economically because of the recent advent of huge diesel-fired machinery in the last years of our decline. We import something like 50Mt of coal for electricity generation. Going back 100 years to that 300M tons at peak, 100Mt went for export. My goodness we could run an Imperial Navy in those days, pay for our vast food imports, our cotton and wool and a lot more raw materials as well as fuel our industries. I guess though the conditions of our mining communities were probably a touch worse than those in modern China who now fill a similar role.
In my childhood there were still "true-believers". Our war-time Prime Minister Churchill was truly devoted to 'The Empire' and had a reprise as PM on the edge of dotage in the 1950s.
There are still lots of old engineers (and some young ones) who will tell you that UK still sits on massive reserves of coal. They mostly acknowledge though that we are no longer surrounded by a sea of fish. These declines where they are acknowledged are usually attributed, however, to greedy labour unions or Margaret Thatcher (coal) or the European Union (fish).

I invite you to come over some time and I will take you round the backyards not visible from Olympiad. Forget the multiple towers of London and Princes in uniform. Things are not what they seem. Oil and NG gave us a post-imperial coat of gloss this last 30 years and the financial ‘industry’ produced a whole new definition of Wealth; we still suck it in, but a lot of us are feeling distinctly uneasy, if not queasy.
JMG is right. Declines have consequence.

Odin's Raven said...

Will you only consider the material aspect of Empire, or devote some attention to the spiritual side?

There's, for instance, the medieval doctrine of the Two Swords, Emperor and Pope, both deriving authority directly from God. Dante was quite keen on Empire wasn't he? Also, there's the Buddhist belief that to be a World Ruler requires much the same spiritual qualities as to be a Buddha. There's also Jesus' famous linking of rendering unto Caesar and unto God.

It's not just the physical comforts and mechanical devices of the current era that are passing away, but also it's dominant attitudes. By definition, it will be a different era only when these have changed - quite literally over our dead bodies! It will be more than continuing the old attitudes and beliefs while growing your own vegetables, doing your own plumbing, and walking instead of driving. As Moses supposedly told the Israelites in the desert, the generation that had known the fleshpots of Egypt would have to die before their successors would see the Promised Land.

Obviously the new won't be exactly a repeat of a previous set of beliefs, but it will be different from the current set, and it is interesting to speculate what they may be, and whether there is cyclicity in these changes, linked to cycles of physical changes.

steve said...

Ah, I'd been hoping we would see more of the Systems Theory version of the Tao De Ching - one of the stand-out best things you came up with last year, imo. But yes, if there's one thing you can't and shouldn't attempt to force, it's probably a translation of Lao Tze...

Source_Dweller said...

Congratulations Archdruid and selected sci-fi contributors on the forthcoming publications! Indeed this blog is a rallying point for intelligent and creative thinkers and green wizards.

The initial four posts should qualify this essay as having "canadian content" so we can hope the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation might pick up on it.

Looking forward to following the arc you've delineated, JMG.

Regards, Robert

Mister Roboto said...

A major issue of the decline of the US Empire is going to be how its working classes (the person-of-color underclass, the caucasian laboring class, and the dwindling middle class) will be affected by the economic displacement that is always part and parcel of such a decline. As a recently-diagnosed diabetic, I see a very grim wild-card on the social horizon. Between 1991 and 2011, the rate of type 2 diabetes more than doubled in the US population. Not only that, but the cohort of teenagers being diagnosed with this disease forced the medical establishment to drop the alternate name "adult-onset diabetes". (I personally blame high-fructose corn syrup, for the most part.)

When the decline of the US Empire really picks up steam, what is going to happen to all these diabetics who no longer have access to expensive and energy-intensive diabetes-treatment from the bloated medical-industrial complex? Our major cities could very conceivably be overrun by blind amputees in varying stages of kidney-failure. Not only is this a horrible thing in and of itself, there is also the question of how this will affect our other vexatious problems with which we will undoubtedly be dealing. (And it isn't just diabetes. Thanks to industrial "food" combined with the other socio-economic dysfunctions of our declining empire, the middle-aged population is much sicker than it has been in the past! Those of the afflicted whose hearts simply fail under the strain will be the lucky ones, IMHO.)

Jim Brewster said...

Great post and nice summary of where this blog has been and is going. Makes me want to revisit my blog after almost exactly a year of inactivity.

The subject of our declining empire came up in, of all things, a computer forum when a Canadian asked an innocent question about US politics. I found myself addressing an apparent stalwart Republican as well as condescending Brits and Australians when I felt compelled to play the peak oil card.

Ended up with some interesting discussion about the Spanish-American War and WWII. These are like the bookends of the baton-passing between British and American Empires.

Basically our fellow anglophones can't sit on the sidelines and point fingers without acknowledging the role they have played, and the benefits they have reaped, in supporting and legitimizing the US Empire over the last century or so.

Edde said...

Good morning John Michael,

We've been enjoying the Hunter's full moon.Hope your sky has been clear enough to do likewise. We'll share a bonfire and break bread with friends this evening while the weather is cool enough and mosquitoes remain at bay.

Empire. I spent a good deal of my adult life engaged in the pursuit of limiting USA's imperial wars. While those efforts seldom resulted in the hoped for impact, it can't be doubted that none of those imperial adventures had the salutary effects imperialists hoped for, either.

USA imperial decline has been a fact for most of my life.

I look forward to upcoming conversations here. You provide an extraordinary service to those of us who enjoy an in-depth conversation without the screamers.


Best regards,

Nano said...

A related link since we are about to chart the imperial territory.

Looking forward to your post Mr.Greer

Michelle said...

Re: this statement - "and how the current barrage of attempts either to insist that America’s empire doesn’t face collapse, or to prevent the collapse from occurring, are making the downward arc that much steeper and more inescapable."

May I suggest also addressing that most Americans do not even acknowledge that we HAVE an empire? I was in my 20's, a Naval officer, the first time I heard anyone use the term 'empire,' and let me tell you, I was outraged! Now, 20+ years later, I can see it plainly - but it was a new and unacceptable notion then.

DaShui said...

Hey Archdruid!

Can you give us your thoughts on modernity and industrial civilization? Are they one and the same?
It seems that the modern viewpoint(Shakespeare,Copernicus,Bacon, Columbus) began some 300 years ago before the industrial revolution. Therefore the metaphor of returning to the "Dark Ages" is a little misleading. We don't need fossil fuels in order to keep some of our modern culture.

GHung said...

There has been much talk in the last year about Europe and its fate; some here, plenty elsewhere. Lately the discussions coming from the euro-technocrat elite, regarding Italy, has been the "urgent need" to dismantle the Italian guilds.

One short take: Italy, competition and the problem of guilds

"Our friends at Istituto Bruno Leoni have documented the excruciating details of the situation. I’ll save you the trouble and let you know that both the New York Times and IBL make it clear that the Italians are being done in by the impediments to the free-market economy, deriving in many cases from a fear of open, honest competition in the marketplace.

"Nowhere is this fear more evident than in the system of guilds that still dominates many sectors of the Italian economy. Guilds, in effect, are associations meant protect certain industries from competition in the name of cooperation/collusion among the suppliers of a good or service. And the recovery of guilds is often at the heart of a school of thought known as distributism that seeks a “third way” between capitalism and socialism.

...It is most unfortunate that some conservative religious-minded people have fallen for the “charms” of distributism, many of which are romantic longings for a more self-sufficient, localized economy made up of many (“well-distributed”) small-property owners, as opposed to large monopolistic, corporate holders of property.

..."longings for a more self-sufficient, localized economy..." Who could imagine such a thing?

(conformation word: "iregod" :-0 )

Thanks, JMG, as always!

pentronicus said...

JMG, thank you so much for writing this blog. And thanks to all who comment.

As you turn your attention back to the twilight of the American empire, I hope you will give plenty of attention to the role of corporations and financial interests in the descent. What sets our empire apart from those of the distant past is that we use corporations to do the day-to-day grunt work of conveying wealth to the center. In Rome and Greece they had to rely on military force. Nowadays, we only use that as a last resort.

I like to think of corporations as scavenging robots, devoid of any human sentiment, intent only on prying up anything that isn’t nailed down. They are not fully under human control. They lack human morals or feelings. They sell what they find, supplying a seemingly endless flow of goods and services, and bring back the value scraped up to their owners.

It’s a great system, if you own the robots, or need what they are selling. Not so great if they are plundering your country. If by mistake, or some reversal of fortune, you lose control of your robots, then, you had better watch out. They are just as happy picking your bones clean as they were flattening that rain forest.

It’s an old SF theme, giant robots running amok, our machines turning against us. I think we will see a lot of it in the near future, as our fortunes change. Can you imagine Google under new Chinese ownership? Game over.

@DeAnander – When looking for the empire, I follow the money. The ‘loose association of millionaires and billionaires’ looks like the end of the trail to me. Right now they are mostly American. Tomorrow, who knows?

ksc said...

I loved DeAnander's analysis of the non-localized nature of modern empire and look forward to this discussion. I hope you will consider some of the ways local communities are fighting back. In the U.S. these include the work of The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund and Free Speech for People, but there must be thousands of such across the world. How are they doing?

Cathy McGuire said...

Wow! What a post! So much to digest…I’m thrilled to be in the anthology, and will be sending good energy toward the process! Your summation of the past year and some postings reminds me of all the good reading I’ve had here. And your list of what’s upcoming makes me really hope the internet doesn’t go down in the near future!

I’ll have more lengthy thoughts later, but now it’s dawn and I have to tend the animals. Thanks so much, JMG, for all the great writing!

Rio Grande said...

As people of the world I hope we can preserve some of our most useful knowledge. Personally, I think of the modern era as one of extreme precision. We have improved precision over the last 150 years to the point of nano measurement. This is what has made possible advances in medicine, metallurgy, electronics, chemistry, and efficiency of production like investment casting without finishing machining. Much of this innovation was accomplished in small labs, small business, and underfunded universities. How much of this is dependent on high finance and cheap energy is problematic . I personally hope most of the knowledge of precision can be preserved if even on a much smaller and localized scale.

On a secondary note, the people of the western U.S. states and provinces of Canada know what it is like to be a second world colony suffering under the policy of extraction.

Mike said...

A nice eye-opening book I read years ago was Empire As a Way of Life: An Essay on the Causes and Character of America's Present Predicament, Along with a Few Thoughts About an Alternative.
by William A. Williams. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980

A more recent gem from the Congressional Research Service, courtesy of the Federation of American Scientists, is Instances of use of United States armed forces abroad, 1798-2010

Mike said...

Speaking of the core and the periphery, another fascinating book is The Pentagon's New Map, by Thomas P.M. Barnett. He uses the terms core and gap, although your conclusions and recommendations are likely to be radically different from his! See him discuss it here.

Greg Belvedere said...

I look forward to reading about the decline of our empire in the coming months. I know the presidential candidates and the media will continue to deny the waning of our empire in this election year, so I look forward to the thoughtful commentary and analysis you will surely provide.

Nathan said...

Your past year and half of writing about magic and the mind of industrial world was my first exposure to the realities of magic and its influences even on people who profess "complete rationality". I wanted to thank you for leading me down intellectual & emotional paths I could have never imagined taking and finding a much richer reality because of it. I am sure you are well aware of how ignorant most of us are about our own inner lives - but your work here is making some of us awaken to those unconscious fantasies and myths.

Kieran O'Neill said...

It has been a very long and interesting journey!

I can't say at the beginning of it that I thought I would be getting a short story written, let alone published. Now I may take up writing a little more vigorously.

Congratulations to all those selected for the anthology! Fingers crossed that all goes well with the publishers, though I'd imagine they could see a niche for it.

I will be looking forward to JMG's next set of posts, although I anticipate a backlash from American readers, particularly as the presidential race (with its accompanying nonsensical rhetoric) goes into full swing.

@JMG, regarding Canada: They seem to have done pretty well in the 20th Century by playing off the falling power against the rising one, although admittedly in that case the falling power was doing the same thing. I guess the danger of the next round is that they're so close geographically (and militarily) to the falling power, while the rising one is almost on the other side of the globe.

I think there will be potential for some nasty cultural rifts, one way or the other. There are a great many Canadians with strong social and family ties to China, and likely even more with strong social and family ties to America. Already there are segments of society with a strong phobia for each nation.

pasttense said...

Is there a list of the 60 stories, with links available? (I seem to remember a partial list a few months ago).

Jim Brewster said...

DaShui, the big difference between 1512 and 2012 is we have no "New World" to exploit and colonize. Renaissance culture was as much a culture of exuberance, to borrow from Catton, as has been fossil fuel-driven industrial culture. Where we're headed bears more resemblence to 512, or maybe 1012 if we're lucky!

Tyler August said...

For transitioning empires, Canada has played that game successfully before-- transitioning from (literally) British Subjects to an American appendage over the first 50 years of the 20th Century.

The new Canadian leadership seems even less willing than usual to withhold any wealth from either Imperial center, and the new masters are proving to drive very hard bargains. I can't see Canada ending up as anything but a third-world backwater, and completely abandoned as resources run dry. Newfoundland, writ large, or perhaps a Northern Ontario ghost town.

... which is fine by me, actually. Newfoundland is a lovely province, with some of the nicest people you'll find in the dominion.

Wistful said...

As an American, I've long found it interesting that the citizens and governments of most of Britain's former colonial possessions have chosen to remain in the Commonwealth of Nations (with a few notable exceptions like Ireland), sometimes keeping the Queen as their head of state. (Yes, I realize the two are not the same; you can be in the Commonwealth and not have the Queen as your head of state. Still, countries as independent and vast as Australia and Canada have chosen to keep her as head of state.)

Certainly any of those countries could opt out, but they don't-- and the majority of their citizens don't seem to mind. (Just one example: the voted-down-by-the-citizens referendum in Australia in 1999 on becoming a republic.) And, YES, I realize the Commonwealth and certainly having the Queen as HoS and on one's coins are entirely symbolic gestures these days. Still, symbols are potent and representative of deeper feelings.

My point is simply this: a plurality or majority of the citizens of Britain's former empire still feel fondly enough about Britain to retain these symbols of their former stewardship and imperial rule. But it's difficult for me to imagine a similar fondness for America in the age after the American empire. Beyond a possible fondness for rock music and blue jeans I mean (both of which are obviously global in any event), in ways that actually matter.

Gwyneth said...

I have five years production experience in print media and would be very interested in creating a postpeak fiction magazine. My skills are in layout, design and organizing. Is this something others with time and applicable skills would be interested in?

Creighton said...

One of the more fascinating and inspiring experiences of my life was volunteering in the tsunami zone of Japan after having spent two years teaching in the Japanese public school system. Onagawa, the town where I worked, was a town of 10,000 with really only three occupation choices: fishing, the public sector, or the local nuclear power plant. 10% of the population was killed in the tsunami and the town was essentially razed.

However, when I got there I learned that there was a local paper and radio station where none had existed before, and people were talking about ways to make the Onagawa of the future more accessible and thriving. Most impressively to me, a national education activist who had found little traction for reforms in other places was instituting a completely new school system--partly to cope with the collapsed infrastructure and partly looking ahead. That was especially impressive to me, because I had spent two years seeing the need for change in Japanese education constantly foiled by stifling bureaucracy and resistance to change. Seeing rapid change like that had previously been, well, unthinkable for me.

John said...

A bit off topic, but just wanted to send you a heads up regarding John Pilger's new doco 'The War You Don't See'. A stark and sober documentation of the history and current use of the thaumaturgy that supports the US military industrial complex. Thanks for the blog - you have a few followers here in New Zealand.

Cathy McGuire said...

@Past tense: you can access the links to the stories at:

flyingcardealer said...

I was wondering what was going on with the "space bats" I know :)

Congratulations to all who were selected, and thanks to you JMG for posting the challenge. It was fun to see what everyone came up with and, I'm sure I'm not alone here, it was the nudge I needed to give writing a try and see what I could do. So thanks :)

I hope it does well and even helps create a niche for a post peak genre. As someone who is interested in peak oil and enjoys reading, I know I'd love to see the subject attract more writers.

Also, I was debating whether or not I should ask this (I hope I'm not being too boorish), because it's obvious you already have so much on your plate with all your other projects but, if it's at all possible, would you be willing to offer some feedback on my entry? Mine was "For Blade Runner" on

I'd like to revise it, and any feedback you'd be willing to give would be very appreciated.

Again, congratulations to all who were selected and best of luck with the publishing process. Take care.

Drew M.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Yes, the British empire....not so happy for people in India etc, but selected aspects of it do seem gentle, kindly, and humane. A sense of what we have lost emerges from a 1936 cinema-newsreel promo singing the praises of, absurdly, television: . That British Edith-Piaf-not singing about "living pictures out of space", before that radio symphony conductor's baton--she's as British Empire as Sherlock Holmes, as British Empire as those stamps which show the head of HM the Q without stating the country of issue, as British Empire as those vinegar-sprinkled fried potato sticks ("chips") sold in newspaper. Am I the **ONLY** person on ADR who finds

About to celebrate 1936 television by
brewing 300 millilitres of Earl Grey,

Tom in Ontario

Richard Larson said...

Yeah, well, darn. Oh well, confirms I am not a story writer.

I registered on the Green Wizard forum some time ago and have already once mentioned my log in does not work. Still does not work. I have come to believe only registered Druids are allowed in.

Do understand..

I have recently begun to tell acquaintances that we are poisoning our own fish - here in the Mecca of fresh water, the Great Lakes - so we can make enough money to eat fresh oil-fed seafood!

Funny but pathetic.

Thomas Daulton said...

Minor quibble, I hardly think the Gulf oil spill was the moment when we Americans _started_ going barking mad. Clearly the starting point was at least nine years earlier, and arguably decades earlier than that.

In fact I'm hard pressed to come up with a decade where sanity could be clearly demonstrated at all -- if there wasn't Manifest Destiny rearing its ugly head, there was slavery, or it was the Carter Doctrine -- but such is the human condition; I think sanity is one of those values that is only honored in the breach. If we pick any period we think of as rational, happy, bucolic, ecologically balanced and stable... Feudal Japan? Early Polynesian colonization of Hawaii?? ... I'm sure we'll find ample evidence of many people chafing daily against the wrongness of it all.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, thanks for submitting them! As mentioned in the post, it was no easy task to sort through so many good stories to choose the twelve I had room to put into the anthology.

Hanshishiro, oh, one way or another you'll get to read it. I prefer to avoid self-publishing, and these days I generally can.

Avery, I certainly think it's a fantastic collection!

Leo, of course. An empire is more than the nation that rules it; it's a structure of relations among nations, and can't be understood apart from the whole system to which the imperial nation belongs.

Jasmine, I'm already on the first two points. As for the third, you're off by a few decades. The US today is roughly at the same point in its decline as Britain in 1912, when it was still far and away the mightiest nation on Earth, with a military technostructure -- the Royal Navy -- that was strong enough to overwhelm any two competing powers put together. By 1940 that was no longer true...but we haven't reached the equivalent of 1940 yet.

Phil, I'd love to come over to your side of the pond sometime, when funds permit -- a writer's income won't cover much in the way of international travel just now, but there's always the chance that something will turn up. If I do, I'll look forward to that tour.

Raven, well, what do you think I've been talking about for the last six months or so?

Steve, thank you. Working on the translation has been an education in itself. I probably shouldn't even mention this, but I've also begun studying the I Ching as a guide to whole system processes, with an eye toward an eventual translation.

Source Dweller, by all means recommend it to the CBC! ;-)

Mister R., it's a bit more complex than that, since one of the main reasons why more people are diagnosed with diabetes these days is that the definition of diabetes has been changed, just as body weights and blood pressures that used to be considered normal and healthy are now used to justify selling you drugs. Still, one of the consequences of the end of American empire is going to be a sharp decrease in the availability of expensive health care modalities and pharmaceuticals. I've discussed that in previous posts, of course.

Jim, nicely put. I've had some entertaining times with British friends on the left who like to go on at length about the sins of the United States, until the corresponding sins of their own country are pointed out to them.

Edde, thank you! One of the common experiences of imperial decline is that attempts to try to pull out of decline, if they turn to the old toolkit of warfare and the like, simply speed the decline along. The Neoconservatives are among the best recent examples of that; I'll be discussing them down the road a bit.

John Michael Greer said...

Nano, thanks for the link.

Michelle, yes, that's an important point to address early on. As a vet, you've had better reason than most to be aware that the military garrisons we keep in 140 countries around the world aren't there for the sake of their health!

DaShui, the scientific revolution was the immediate progenitor of the industrial revolution; it just took a while to get there. Read Francis Bacon sometime and you'll see the entire mentality of the industrial revolution mapped out well in advance. Still, I think you're missing the point of this series of posts; the wider decline and fall of industrial civilization is one thing; the near term collapse of American empire is something else again.

Ghung, fascinating! I'm pleased to hear that distributism still has a following that's large enough to scare the financiers.

Pentronicus, using financial and economic institutions as a central tool of empire is far from new. The British Empire did much the same thing, for example. To my mind, the current habit of demonizing corporations as such, rather than paying attention to the little man behind the curtain, is not very useful -- though a good case could be made for revoking corporate personhood and making corporations subject to seizure and dissolution as punishment for crimes, as I proposed in The Wealth of Nature.

Ksc, my experience of groups who think they're fighting the US empire has been, well, "mixed" is a mild way of putting it. I'll have more to say about this in a future post.

Cathy, thank you!

Rio, if you want anything to be saved, get to work saving it, because odds are that nobody else is doing that.

Mike, thanks for the resources.

Greg, I expect the election circus to provide me with plenty of comic relief for this series of posts over the next nine months or so.

Nathan, you're welcome and thank you.

Kieran, if Canada plays its cards right, it may well become a major world power. If it plays its cards wrong, it may become a battlefield, mashed flat by the military forces of the major world powers. One way or another, it's going to be a wild ride.

Tyler, that's certainly one possibility.

Wistful, a large part of the difference is that Canada and Australia were largely settled by emigrants from Britain who, once they were overseas, got wistful about the Old Country. The US didn't have the chance to settle overseas colonies with its own excess population; it sent them westwards, which is why you have so much American patriotism out west.

DeAnander said...

I like to think of corporations as scavenging robots, devoid of any human sentiment, intent only on prying up anything that isn’t nailed down.

R U kidding? they will bring crowbars. They will collect and sell the nails. They will then sell you the (slightly used) crowbars with the pitch that you, too, can become rich someday...

I once called them mechanical piranhas. Same idea. Feel free to sing (or better yet roar) this ditty, whether sober or slightly lit up, on any occasion whatsoever :-)

Speaking of the decline of fish, one major destination for the "product" (canned salmon) of the first great wave of fish extraction from BC (Canada) was to feed the UK. Canned salmon was "cheap" (if you didn't count the dent made in the entire coastal ecosystem) and (like tea with sugar) made a convenient fodder for underpaid factory workers. I think it also ended up being a strategic resource for feeding UK soldiers in WWII.

Of course now, as we eat our way down the food chain, salmon is considered a high-status food... even the pallid, artificially-dyed "farmed" variety. Go figure.

Another aspect of the downslope of Empire is the slowly degrading quality of the "luxuries" fed to the core to keep it quiet and obedient. As the high-value resources are used up, lower and lower-value resources are substituted. As I have often said, people these days eat fish that my Granddad would have used for bait... Presumably this process goes on until the whole system collapses or we all end up eating algae, or each other, or plastic, or...? [I mean, it's legal today to put as much as 3% pure cellulose into food products, so we're already eating sawdust. Industrial Phood is increasingly made up of byproducts and waste from the processing of higher-value product. Ever heard of "reclaimed chicken meat"? You don't want to know:-)]

SLClaire said...

Awhile back I read the three stories you wrote and posted in 2006, John. They affected me more powerfully than I had expected, since I'm no stranger to your blog or the concept of Peak Oil. You'd mentioned a few weeks back that we think, and understand, by means of stories. Most of the stories out there leave me cold, so for years I've read and written nonfiction almost exclusively. Reading your stories, I got peak oil and decline in the gut. Congratulations to all of you who wrote stories, whether or not they were chosen for the anthology, for doing something very necessary. I'm looking forward to reading the published stories. I'm also looking forward to the discussion on Empire and thank all of you who've already commented for your insights.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Congratulations to all those who were selected for the anthology. Reading some of the entries, I didn't envy JMGs task of selection.

The statement that jumped out at me from this weeks post was "...things unthinkable in an age of empire become possible in empire's ruins." Both positive and negative, I suppose. Or, is that too binary?

I was trying to think of examples from the collapse of Roman Britain. About all I came up with, on a short amount of thought, was that local governments could raise forces and arm themselves for self defense. Something that had been frowned on, earlier. But the local forces were never as effective as a well trained, large and organized Roman military force. Trade routes shrank or collapsed. Life got very local.

MawKernewek said...

I'm not sure that the USA is still where Britain was in 1912.

With the 'hollowing out of the core', the relative lack of industry in the US, once a financial readjustment takes place, could leave it vulnerable. I'm not sure the US industrial base would be sufficient to support the USAs military-industrial complex in such an eventuality.

In 1912, the UK was a leading industrial nation, exporting its manufactured products around the world, though Germany was kicking at its heels, and leading in some fields such as the chemical industry.

Being in the UK, I only sporadically follow American politics, are there any major American politicians either right or left that openly support a radical scaling back of overseas military deployments?

An orderly retreat from empire - something that rarely happens, the British empire is probably the best example of this - despite Suez, in contrast the French fighting independence in Indo-China and Algeria....

I imagine its unlikely to happen in an orderly fashion, since there are too many vested interests in the military industrial complex itself.

But happen it will, once the financial circumstances force it, and what kind of disorderly collapse of US global reach occurs is anyone's guess.

I don't know what kind of effect this will have on Canada specifically - it could lead the US to attempt to keep Canada on a tighter leash - to compensate for loss of influence in say, the Middle East oil-extracting nations. A kind of reversion to the "Monroe Doctrine" - where the US concerns itself mainly with the Western hemisphere, but no longer pretends to control a global empire.

John Michael Greer said...

Gwyneth, I'm sorry to say that I won't be able to offer more than good wishes and a bit of free publicity -- pretty much every hour of my available time is already spoken for. Still, if people with backgrounds in editing, on the one hand, and marketing, on the other, are interested in stepping up to the plate, I think it would be a good project to pursue.

Creighton, fascinating. It'll be interesting to see what happens as the situation in Japan continues to unfold.

John, thanks for the tip! I'll keep an eye out for it.

Drew, I wish I had the time to offer that kind of feedback! Regrettably, there are only 24 hours in a day, and I'm juggling three book projects.

Tom, I recall the story about the English couple in some distant land who got called "foreigners" by some local official, and responded with some heat: "We're not foreigners, we're British!"

Richard, I was afraid some people would take it that way. Quite the contrary, I'd encourage you to keep on writing stories; yours was quite readable, it's just that I couldn't include every good story I received. As for the forum, the people who run it have had persistent problems with that, er, feature. Cathy, can you suggest a fix for Richard?

Thomas, there's common or garden variety crazy, and then there's "lob a nuclear bomb at an oil spill because you can't bear to have your fantasies of omnipotence challenged" crazy. I've come to think that the difference matters.

DeAnander, nicely put. I particularly like the term "phood."

SLClaire, thank you.

Lewis, that's the difference between the collapse of a single empire and the collapse of a civilization. Roman Britain belongs in the latter category. My suggestion here is that we're not quite to 410 CE yet.

MawKernewek, it's always a challenging task to compare one date to another. I'm mostly thinking of the military and political context; the US economy is in much worse shape today than Britain's was in 1912. As far as the Monroe Doctrine, we'll be talking about that at some length later on.

Glenn said...

Green Wizard's Log In;

Richard isn't the only one, I have problems, but have found a work around.

In short, when I need to re log-in every two weeks or so, there is no cursor in either the name or password box. Nor can I put one there by placing the mouse and clicking on it. My work around is to select "Create New Account", then click on the "log-in" button.

Awkward, but it works. Otherwise, the site is a bit slow to respond, and I frequently have to click on something twice, but not double-click, to make them work. C'est la vie.

Marrowstone Island

Thijs Goverde said...

A somewhat chastening post, this - you've done so much writing, editing, and inspiring over the past year-and-a-half! I'd be quite jealous even if that were the sum total of your activities, but of course you've also been doing your husbandry and druidry the whole time.

Hat doffed, sir. Hat very much doffed.

I'm looking forward to your discussion of empire. Especially interested in what may become of minor but loyal client states... Loyalty to the USA has been non-negotiable for governments here for as long as I can remember, plus all the cool kids wear US-brand jeans and listen to US-inspired music and the really, really, really cool kids get to go to the USA and work in the entertainment industry.
How far down will we keep the USA company, when will we jump ship and start cuddling up to a new hegemon?
I'll keep up my study of Portuguese, I think - everyone seems to be betting on China so if it turns out to be Brazil I'll be one of the early adopters (or perhaps, in this case, adoptees). Anyway, there should be benefits for early adopters. Because I want benefits. I'm entitled to benefits! We, the loyal Dutch, have benefits now and we're entitled and we're goning to keep them because we'll be loyal. To whoever or whatever, as long as there are benefits.

Oh, and we're a noble nation and very pro-human rights.
As long as there are benefits.

And of course: congratulations to all co-contributors to the story book!

Morrigan said...

May I congratulate those whose stories will be published! I too have noticed the fine and enjoyable writings of most if not all of the posters here.

Next time around, I'll be a contender too! Meanwhile I look forward to the finished product.

Morrigan said...

Hope I'm not being presumptuous when I say to Richard that you wrote a story, and apparently a good one, which is more than most of us did. That's huge! Don't get down on yourself.

Gwyneth, I don't know much about the genre (or I'd have written a story myself), but I'd be happy to step up and do proofreading and basic editing if that helps.

DeAnander, did you hear that glorious, powerful contralto voice a few minutes ago? I love the song, and no, I'm not lit! Very wicked stuff!

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Greetings to JMG and all--

I do hope you find a publisher for the Tao Te Ching--I'd like to read it.

Also, I am looking forward to the next sequence of posts--it feels like we are all of us in this blog community traveling together.

Congrats to all story writers who did or did not get picked--from someone who loves to read stories, but has no ambition to write one. Too hard!

And from last week: the teachers and the naturalists at my workshop got along famously, and Buber's sequence in I and Thou on standing in relationship with a tree seems nearly druidical to me.

Dwig said...

Often, the best journeys take a very different form than one anticipated at the outset. This has certainly been one of them. Thanks for the good, if a bit wild, ride!

Also, looking ahead, I have a request for a regular recurrence of something you began a few posts ago. I'm referring to your very nice exploration of two often-abused words: hope and courage. As a "seed ball", here's some other words I'd like to see given a similar treatment: optimism, progress, and, triggered by this week's end of the world, freedom. (Maybe as a follow-on to the End of the World series.)

John Wheeler said...

Okay, since Eastern philosophy was mentioned, I can't resist sharing one of my favorite jokes:

In a Comparative Religions class, the professor was talking about Lao Tzu's beliefs. One student asked, "What was his favorite koan?"

The professor scowled and replied, "That was Zen, this is Tao!"

(Verification word: herpe)

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, that's got to be irritating. I'm the opposite of technically literate, so have no idea what else to suggest -- I'll see if the people who run the site have any suggestions.

Thijs, I don't recall which British statesman (i.e., dead politician) it was who said, "Nations have no friends, only interests." Portuguese sounds like a sensible choice to me; I doubt Brazil will make primary hegemon this time around, but it's on its way up, no question.

Morrigan, you may have just landed yourself a position as editor. If you and Gwyneth have any trouble contacting each other, post a not-for-publication comment here with your emails and I'll introduce the two of you, and hand over the stack of stories that didn't get selected this time around.

Adrian, I know what you mean. I've been startled by the extent to which a community seems to be springing up around this blog and its eccentric project.

Dwig, good heavens. I've pounded on the idea of progress until at this point, it's got to be mashed flat. Freedom is another matter, and one I'll be talking about later in the current sequence. As for optimism, to the best of my understanding, that word and its antonym, pessimism, have no actual content at all -- they're baboon grunts of approval and disapproval and not much more.

John, it's a good one. I first heard it while getting a spiritual healing at an alternative fair in Seattle in 1978!

John Michael Greer said...

Lance (offlist), drop me an email and I'll be glad to respond, but that's way off topic here.

John Michael Greer said...

By the way, two thank yous are in order. First, to all those generous souls who've been putting something into the tip jar, many thanks -- that solar greenhouse is coming closer all the time, and it also helps to know that what I'm doing is of enough interest to inspire the gentle fluttering of bills into the jar!

Second, I note from the readout on the "Followers" logo that this blog now has 2000 followers. That leaves me speechless; it's rare for any blog to get that sort of a following, and a blog of this kind, that consistently goes out of its way to challenge conventional notions and talk about things you're Not Supposed To Talk About -- well, all I can say is many thanks to all who've joined me on this journey and helped spread the word.

Princess Cake the Small said...

Looking forward to the 2012 blog posts, any suggested reading for us? My library card is at the ready.

I can suggest following some reading advice you gave awhile ago. I spent some time in the state library perusing local newspaper archives from 100 years past.

In a time with less available petroleum-based fuels the small businesses ruled Brisbane, the docks were full of cargo and passengers, and the want ads had only one position for women. Alas, I would not qualify as a governess as I cannot teach French, violin and piano.

But I can grow aloe and chili peppers.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

I hope that in your upcoming posts that you'll tackle the mountains of debt and printing that are going on to sustain the fiction of the first world economies. Magic? Well, not as you've defined it (not as we know it, as the Trekkies would say), but a confidence trick of the highest order.

Seriously, to all of the commenters here, we literally are eating oil. So much oil is consumed in agriculture and food production. It is the only reason why so few people are involved in agriculture. As oil supplies are spread ever more thinly across the worlds consumers, so too will food production begin to drop and prices for food will inevitably rise. A population adjustment will occur, although it will take some time and who knows what it will look like.

The accounts of nature cannot be fudged and eventually we will revert to some sort of equilibrium.



Mean Mr Mustard said...

Exceptionalism comes with the Empire baggage too. Being British, of course everyone else really is Johnny Foreigner, including those colonials across the pond. But the USA bureaucracy certainly ups the ante when it describes its visitors - that's tourists with cash to spend - as 'Alien'.

And the verification word was too good to pass up this time - inglessi.


hadashi said...

How does it go when they enclose the word in brackets or braces and write ((((hugs)))) ?

Don't get the wrong idea, but I'd like to beam warm fuzzies to one and all, not least to our Arch-ful Druid for the past and for the anticipated future. What a pile of work, what a ton of fun, and how far everyone of us has come together.

JMG, you wrote in a previous comment "I've been startled by the extent to which a community seems to be springing up around this blog and its eccentric project."

I (and others) have commented frequently about the quality of company we've formed around this 'eccentric project'. Why and how it has come about is a useful question to ponder, it seems to me.

There are your courteous responses of course, though you're not adverse to 'er-ing' or 'nuff said-ing' members who overheat or miss the point. You've effected a respectful if not entirely non-threatening atmosphere that encourages peopl to think carefully and clearly,to define their terms and to complete their homework reading. That might be it - it's as if we've been placed into a classroom where the best that we can manage is expected and required by a kindly yet slightly forbidding master (must be the beard).

I do look forward to the 'toekomst' as Thijs might say. The journey is a wild one.

Thanks for the opportunity to write, to be read, and for the even luckier ones, to get published.

Congratulations all.

Maria said...

I am very grateful that you went against your resolve and posted about the intersection of magic and peak oil. It has helped me enormously and set me on a very interesting and rewarding path.

I look forward to reading the next series of posts.

Jim Brewster said...


Being in the UK, I only sporadically follow American politics, are there any major American politicians either right or left that openly support a radical scaling back of overseas military deployments?

Well there is Ron Paul, and others on both the right and left ends of the spectrum. A lot of people like to hear (some) of what he says, but few consider him a serious contender. And too many of his ideas are totally impractical for today's reality.

No, the ones that make it to major power roles do so because they will uphold the status quo.

An orderly retreat from empire - something that rarely happens, the British empire is probably the best example of this - despite Suez, in contrast the French fighting independence in Indo-China and Algeria....

I think Britain saw the handwriting on the wall, maybe as early as the 1860's. Certainly by the 1890's she began deliberately ceding control to the USA. The Americans never could have pulled off the conquest of Cuba, the Philipines, etc., without the tacit approval the Royal Navy, which was a reversal of previous British policy supporting Spanish claims to those territories.

Of all the rising powers in the world, the USA seemed the most favorable heir apparent to the British. If we had not been poised to step in, I doubt the retreat would have been as orderly.

I imagine its unlikely to happen in an orderly fashion, since there are too many vested interests in the military industrial complex itself.

I don't know, but it is an idea that has intrigued me for a long time, the idea of preserving the republic while divesting the empire. I wonder if there were Romans thinking the same thing as their empire was cresting its peak.

Damien Perrotin said...

Here in Europe, we have a rather large supply of former empires. While getting rid of our respective and becoming, for all purposes, American quasi-protectorates, was probably beneficial, it definitely was a rough process. France had to go through more than twenty years of uninterrupted warfare, a significant part of which happened on its core territory and two military coups, one of which was successful – yes, Algeria was considered a part of France and De Gaule was put into power by the Army. And that was at a time of ever cheaper and more abundant energy. Even the Netherlands and tiny Portugal fought endless colonial wars during this period

Britain, with its rather peaceful disengagement may be the exception rather than the rule.

I wonder, however, what will be in store for us western Europeans in the next round. We no longer have empires to shed (well, except a few islands which don't amount to much), but the temptation for the core to extract resources from the, this time internal, periphery. An interesting phenomenon is at work in France, no matter whether the current government is right wing or not : the state run services, which once covered the whole territory (post offices, tax offices, police, hospitals...) are progressively regrouped in large cities or “delegated” to resource-starved local or regional authorities

Mark Angelini said...

What a fantastic post to read in the stil and listless days after the full moon... If nothing else, and in my mind, this blog and its accomplishments speak to the efficacy of theurgy (and perhaps thaumaturgy?). Appropriately enough, I'm just starting Learning Ritual Magic. Many thanks.

I am continually inspired and filled with hope by your works. Very much looking forward to the future publications. Cheers!

J.D. Smith said...

Thank you very much for including my story. I look forward to being of help with the collection, and I look forward to the upcoming series of posts.

MawKernewek said...

I'm actually going to revise my opinion about an "orderly" retreat of the British Empire.

Simply because in actual fact, it took an awful long time for the British elite to become finally convinced that holding India was untenable.

There was a lot of violence and ethnic cleansing when that end did come in 1947, with the former British India being divided into India, and Pakistan (which originally included Bangladesh before that country became independent later). I believe several million people had to flee their homes due to Hindu/Muslim conflict. And to this day Kashmir is disputed, and potentially dangerous nuclear rivalry exists between India and Pakistan.

Also Palestine/Israel - the British having essentially made promises of land to both sides - sowing the seeds for a long running conflict.

Israel is probably the most troublesome of the US allies once it faces the decline of US global reach.

Other US allies such as the European nations form an economic and political block of their own (euro crisis notwithstanding, there are challenges - coming to an independent settlement with powers on the edge of Europe (the largest of which being Turkey and Russia) but I don't think either of these is likely to result in a real catastrophe.

However Israel could be dangerously isolated - and in the context of an existing conflict - and officially unacknowledged nuclear armaments - a potentially desperate national leadership in control of nuclear weapons is rather scary.

Lance Michael Foster said...

ok, sorry about that John. I sent an email to your old threelynx account but it came back, and if I had any other email for you, I can't seem to find it.

Blackbird said...

I am looking forward to the direction you are taking your blog! And, I am really looking forward to reading those science fiction short stories!

I think part of the problem with the responses to the Macondo oil spill was that the pundits on both sides, including the late Matt Simmons, said things that made for such great news clips to get people tuned in to see what the next over-the-top response/consequence was going to be. The nuclear "option" was madness, but it made for a terrific (I mean that in both senses of the word) news story. Matt Simmons ideas on how the ocean was going to become completely toxic due to a layer of oil that was, over time, going to slowly rise to the top killing everything in its path also seemed sensational.

Perhaps one of the best lessons, at least as an observer and not someone involved in the operations of oil rigs, was that you need to take what anyone says in the media with a grain of salt. If it doesn't ring true then it probably isn't. Or, at least it will pay to examine more carefully what the person is trying to say.


Andy Brown said...

Like Michelle, I wonder to what extent it matters that Americans don't know they've had an empire. (Non-USanians may not believe that it is is possible to be blind to it, but trust me, it is not figurative language. The vast majority of Americans do not know they've had an empire.) The end of an era of prosperity is going to be culturally traumatic, of course, but regular people are not going to process it through any narrative of empire's decline.

Jason Heppenstall said...

I'm certainly looking forward to the series of posts on the decline of empire.

One of my favourite writers, Graham Greene, was an aficionado of the decline of the British Empire - I really think that was the core theme of most of his writings. He somehow seemed to capture the kind of frayed, quietly despairing nature of declining power perfectly.

One great point that he made was in his book 'The Comedians' - in a declining empire, all of those who cling to pomp and majesty and grand visions of omnipotence are precisely that - comedians making fools of themselves.

One of my favourite lines has to be from The Quiet American - set in pre-'nam' Vietnam when the (jaded, world-weary) British journalist mentions the 'E' word to the (young, wide eyed) US medical executive/spy and is rebuffed with: 'We're not imperialists - that's you guys' (paraphrased - I can't remember the exact words).

Congratulations to all who were selected for the anthology - and many thanks to JMG for making us pull our fingers out and write something.

If anyone would like to read my (somewhat transparently SF/Greeneian) effort you can do so here

DW said...


re - TaoTeChing

I think I've beat this drum before, but just in case...

I would highly recommend that you try to connect with the preeminent translator of Taoist/Buddhist Chinese writings, Bill Porter, aka Red Pine. His translation of the TaoTeChing is in its second publication run and is the most thoroughly researched and supported translation I've seen.

He is a heckuva nice guy and a bit of a hermitish green-wizard himself...who would probably not mind mincing minds over a virtual cup of tea with an Archdruid...or in person if you'll be in Port Townsend anytime soon.

His most recent translation is of the Lankavatara Sutra, the original Zen sutra. I made a tumblr post after attending his book signing:

Enjoy and thank you for all of your hard work on the many roads you're travelling.


Joel Caris said...


First of all, I'm greatly looking forward to your peak oil and magic volume and suspect the anthology will be great fun. I also am keeping my ears open for the faint sound of machete hacks coming from out east, as I very much want to have a copy of your Green Wizardry guide on my bookshelf. I actually had drifted away from this blog for a bit and largely missed that series of posts. I'm going to go back to them and do the study, but an in-hand volume would be fantastic.

I also want to thank you for all your work, your writing, and for helping create this community here. It's been a huge influence on my thinking and has helped take my life in very good directions. I also want to thank the commenters here for the impressive amount of feedback and added information. I'll finally note that this blog's community extends far, indeed. I have a few regular readers of my own blog now who came from here and provide me fantastic and thought-provoking feedback, so you're even helping create spin off communities. Well done.

Thirdly, I'm very eager for the empire series. I think it's going to be fascinating and, as always, look forward to your illumination of our current situation with historical examples. I never cared much for history in school, but you've helped me realize how fascinating and necessary it is. Thank you for that, as well.

Of The Hands

Joel Caris said...

Gwyneth and Morrigan,

I, too, would be interested in helping out with a post-peak fiction magazine. I don't have formal training as an editor, but I like to think I'm decent at it, in a basic sense. Certainly, I can look for typos and grammar and formatting issues. I feel I'm capable of giving good feedback, as well.

Further, I'd be interested in perhaps contributing some writing to such a magazine. I wanted to enter the contest here, but didn't get to it. My contribution could take the form of fiction or editorial writing.

Feel free to take a look at my blog if you'd like to evaluate my writing capabilities. I also have contact information there.

Yupped said...

Sorry I’m late to the commentary – I’ve been preparing for my DW’s 50th Birthday.

Well, I’ve been sitting here trying to think of something intelligent to say on the subject of imperial decline. It’s such a huge topic that it rather boggles my mind.
What seems to be starting to come to an end is the whole economic-growth-by-debt-to-buy-stuff way of life that we’ve all been told was the meaning of our existence. The ongoing decline of the US Empire seems to be one consequence of that, albeit a very important one. But it will be only one of many such consequences, assuming that everyone else will be facing the same challenges of de-growth.

Quite a predicament, really. I suppose its no wonder that half the country wants to escape to some sort of fantasy. Well, at the very least, it should be popcorn-worthy.

I’ll just say thank you once again for the excellent brain candy over the last couple of years. And I look forward to the next phase of the project.

The Croatoan 117 said...

Greetings All!,

I'm attaching a link to a favorite song of mine. It's Victoria by The Kinks off of their 1969 album-"Arthur-Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire." It's a tongue in cheek ode to the empire. It's not necessarily overly deep or thought provoking, but hey it's fun. So break out your pith helmets, give a hearty toast to Dr. Brydon, wave your Union Jack, sing along and enjoy.

Larry said...

One metaphor from the business press is that the USA is the "best house in a bad neighborhood." Peak oil will lead to declines here, but the effects from the declines elsewhere may be more precipitious.

For example, the Chinese government and corporate structure (for the most part) has no legitimacy. I read somewhere that in China there are about 500,000 civil disturbances per year. In many ways (housing, State corporations) the Chinese economy is a giant bubble waiting to explode.

One of the readers suggested that Brazil might have some possibilities. However, they too have many social problems and there is a question how profitable development of the Tupi deep water oil fields will actually be.

Possibly the item that will keep the USA going for a bit longer is the willingness of so many people here ato work so hard, as most recently exemplified by JMG's literary output and those who made a go of the literary competition! (And not, seemingly, exemplified by Greek public sector workers.) And if there are enough Green Wizards out there planting gardens and fruit and nut trees, there should be plenty to feed the army once the oil runs out!

Gwyneth said...

My email folks can contact me at regarding the magazine is

Rich_P said...

JMG: Foreign policy-oriented journals and magazines seem to be catching on: "retrenchment" is the wonky word for "managing decline," and several authors have rebuffed Mitt Romney for his "new American century" speeches and misguided authors like Fareed Zakaria who awknowledge that the empire is unraveling but that this process won't diminish the United States' power.

While most of these pieces fail to explore the role of peak oil in all this, I like to pay attention to what the elite are saying: after all, the neoconservatives laid out their game plan in these sorts of magazines and journals years before George W. Bush was elected. Wish I was paying attention back then!

P.S. If you're interested in some light Civil War reading, you could do worse than check out Confederates in the Attic. The hardcore reenactors the author follows are a hoot; many of them eat rancid meat, sleep in the rain, and wear dirty, itchy clothes as a form of penance for their comfortable lifestyles in suburbia.

ezab said...

>To borrow a phrase from the Grateful Dead, it’s
>been a long, strange trip.

Actually, the phrase is Robert Hunter’s .... let’s give the wordsmiths their due.

Red Neck Girl said...

The concept of the American empire was introduced to me in my late teens early twenties. You know, back in the hippy days? For me at this point in time I just have a bone deep reaction that I want to get the decline over with!

I keep hearing on some of the talk radio programs or reading on the net that the next big cheap power generating machine is just around the corner but its not much more than wishful thinking. I'll believe it when I see it. Besides this world wide civilization is going to fall one way or another and there's plenty of issues out there to provide the trip wire.

The earth needs the rest, there are just too many people doing really stupid stuff.

I look forward to getting my stable and instituting green/natural practices of livestock keeping. Not to mention offering my boarders a garden area with their rented stall. It would be my stealth way of converting people to Green Wizardry. :-)

Wadulisi Tsaligi

John Michael Greer said...

Princess, I haven't started putting together a reading list yet -- these posts tend to make their own path as they go. I'll try to think of possibilities as we proceed.

Cherokee, we'll certainly be talking about debt, as part of the mismatch between real and hallucinatory wealth that's become such a massive political force these days.

Mustard, no argument there.

Hadashi, thank you. I've suspected for a long time that one of the main factors keeping the collective conversation of our time down at a level of thought appropriate to unusually spoiled six-year-olds is simply the absence of what used to be called ordinary courtesy. The way this blog's community has blossomed makes me think there might just be something to that.

Maria, it's precisely because my readers were willing and able to explore the possibilities of magic, instead of rejecting them out of hand as most people do these days, that I decided to take the risk. I'm glad it paid off.

Damien, good to hear from you again! I didn't know that France was going through the process of offloading government services onto local authorities that can't afford them -- that's happening over here, too. I'm wondering now if that may turn out to be a standard feature of the decline now under way.

Mark, glad to hear it.

JD, I've exchanged emails with the publisher, and should be able to submit the whole anthology next week if all goes well. Thank you, and thanks to all who submitted stories, for helping make this happen!

MawKernewek, Israel's going to have to be discussed in the upcoming posts, yes. I'm not looking forward to that, partly because that particular subject's been generating far more heat than light on all sides for a long time now, and partly because I can safely predict that nobody, pro- or anti-, is going to like what I'll have to say.

Lance, drop me a not-for-publication comment here with your email address and I'll be in touch.

Blackbird, oh, granted. The US media in particular has the professional ethics of a ninth-rate pimp. Still, what fascinates me is that the ravings the media circulated were picked up and believed so generally.

Diane said...

The discussion around the short story competition has me contemplating a comment I heard Joni Mitchell make in a doco on her life. She said something to the effect that she had eventually given up big concerts at big venues, as she missed the audience. As someone who has always been a reader rather than a writer, this pleased me, as I felt suddenly part of the mix, that the interaction of writer and reader is essential to the process :-) Looking forward to reading the book when it comes out

John Michael Greer said...

Andy, of course that's an issue. I've been interested to note, though, that when I explain to Americans what an empire is, and talk about the obvious evidence that we have one, they rarely argue. We'll see how that works shortly.

Jason, I haven't read Greene in too long -- will have to correct that.

DW, I'll take that under advisement -- and will certainly check out his translation.

Joel, thank you! Spinoff communities are a very good thing -- it's precisely when the ideas we're developing here go spinning out to become part of a wider conversation that the possibility of having a real effect on our time comes within reach.

Yupped, "popcorn-worthy" -- now that's a useful term! Not to mention a very good label for the near future. The decline and fall of the American empire is partly a function of the collapse of the debt economy, but it's also got other drivers -- more on this down the road a bit.

Croatoan, very funny. Many thanks!

Larry, the US only thinks it's the best house in a bad neighborhood. It's got a spiffy new paint job and brand new gutters, true, but the frame is riddled with dry rot and the residents are pulling up floorboards and burning them to stay warm in the winter. One of the standard features of imperial decay is that the facade of power and wealth endures long after the reality has hollowed out. We'll be talking about this extensively in the months to come.

Gwyneth, thank you.

Rich, it's always useful to pay attention to what the upper end of the chattering classes are saying, and not only because some of their slogans end up becoming policy. Measure the gap between what Foreign Policy is willing to discuss and what's actually happening and you glimpse the delusions that are driving the US into the ground. Thanks for the book recommendation, btw -- they've got that title in the local library.

Ezab, thanks for the correction.

John Michael Greer said...

Girl, the more loudly the media yammers about the next big new energy machine, the more certain you can be that the decline's picking up speed. I've talked from time to time about some of the ways that the onset of catabolic collapse is evident; that's another theme we'll be discussing in more detail down the road a bit.

Diane, the interaction between writer and reader is much of what's made this blog such a learning experience for me!

Diane said...

Wistful said
Still, countries as independent and vast as Australia and Canada have chosen to keep her as head of state.)

You have to take into account that white fellas have only been here in country for a couple of hundred years, and just beginning to scratch the surface of understanding this magnificent but vast and harsh place. As well we are a long way away from everything we have been raised to consider civilisation. We have a very small population and a lot of territory to defend. Australians are generally myopically terrified of the Asian continent sitting above us, and believe we could not survive without the military might of either Britain or the USA. There are small changes going on, particularly among the young, but not I fear enough to support a republic.

Yupped said...

In addition to Greene, J G Farrell was a wonderful British author who focused solely on the decline of the British Empire. The Singapore Grip and the Siege of Krishnapur are well worth the time if you want insight into the late British imperial mindset. Empires do tend to take themselves rather seriously, and Farrell had a great talent for poking fun at things in retrospect.

Leo said...

what areas outside of america are you going to focus on?
and are you going to offer any advice to people outside of the american empire to deal with its collapse?

Ing said...

I often wish I had more to contribute, as I feel a part of this community and glean so much from your posts and everyone's comments. Not having been raised on critical thinking, I feel as though this is that classroom. As a family, we have done everything possible to prepare for however a lower energy world shakes out and continue to do and learn more. While that's very important, because we surely have things we can do to enrich our lives and improve our prospects, the thing that may benefit us even more are resilient minds. All of the contributions on this site help me to think beyond what passes as wisdom in the conventional realm.

Phil Knight said...

I always annoy people on both sides of the Israel/Palestine debate by pointing out that they're both probably going to end up under Turkish jurisdiction once again.

As will most of the Middle East, once the petroleum junkies have left the stage of history.

Richard Larson said...

I got over it already. Would much rather go hunting & fishing on my free time, and book writing would cut into that (time). So good thing my underlining sad story didn't make it.

Maybe when I have run out of energy..

I am going to jump the gun on your Is-real ideas and just ask what the heck are they fighting over a desert with no resources for?

The DEAD Sea?!?

In the real world the area could barely support roving bands of tribesman.

earthpeace girl said...

Terrific post as usual.
I've just really started following you since you were recommended to me by a Transition Town buddy who follows you loyally. (Hi John Bell!)

I haven't had a chance to read through the past year's posts so I don't know how much there was, if at all, any mention of Transition Towns.
As an avid environmentalist and mom, I'm always thinking of how to help my kids best survive. Whether it's what food to feed them, what schools to send them to or how to ride this ecological/economic/endtimes tsunami coming (or here), these are all part and parcel of parenting the future society.

Your question of how to do that, i.e. how to maneuver ones way through Empire collapse is a good one. Adding to it the ecological collapse makes it even more honest.
How do we create communities, outside of the empirical model (Town boards, Mayors, Congressional reps, etc), that are able to grow food in a vastly changing environment?
I just read that the UK is looking at devising a public program promoting the eating of bugs. They want to make it seem normal and cool...Now...Good idea since there won't be anymore fish at the rate they are either being fished or dying... See the docu. A Sea Change, for further unnerving regarding this.
The bottom line is our food and water.
Unless we develop communities NOW that are able to adapt to already present environmental pressures, the Empire collapse question won't even be pertinent.
But you are so right that Empire collapse will complicate how we get ready for environmental changes...

That's why thousands of people around the globe have stepped out of the Empire paradigm and initiated Transition Towns. These are resilient communities that bypass politics and rigidity to create local food, economies and energy grids.
It's the way to go. It's very hopeful and it's fun!

Yours in Nature
(pagan minister and vociferous Transition Towns advocate)

DeAnander said...

Sometimes a question like "what is Empire?" or "is the US an Empire?" can be answered with a picture -- I hope this clicks through correctly...

For those who find the image initially puzzling, the blue thing in the centre is not water -- it's Iran.

Your tax dollars at work :-)

cracked pot said...

In addtion to Israel, I think the topic of the Islamic world needs to be addressed. Currently the countries with the largest ecological footprint are the Arab countries in the gulf (source: Wikipedia). Europe is being flooded by Arab immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. Given the low European birthrates and the high birthrated among the immigrants, there is a general trend towards Islamisation of Europe.
AND you have a generation of young Arabs growing up in poverty and resource decline, who have been raised on a none-too-peaceful version of Islam...
AND the most available oil that still remains is in the Arab countries...
AND the whole region is in water overshoot...
Gives me shivers!

Glenn said...


I'll jump the gun here. Israel is to the U.S. and the developed West what N. Korea is to China; a starving Pit Bull keeping the neighbors in line. Neither has the resources to be truly independent (China supporting N. Korea monetarily, U.S. supporting Israel with military aid and intel. sharing) So we tell the OPEC states that we'll try to keep a leash on our dog, if they'll just be reasonable about that there oil. Of course, Israel does try to wag the dog, but it's a complex process that I've simplified a good bit.

Marrowstone Island

John Wheeler said...

JMG, like many others, I'd also like to thank you for encouraging us to write fictional space-bat stories. No, you didn't miss my entry, it never saw the light of the LCD screen. I found writing fiction to be too difficult. But in doing so, I did create a blog on this site, and found I have much to say in the non-fiction realm.

Kieran O'Neill said...

"down at a level of thought appropriate to unusually spoiled six-year-olds"

That's a beautiful summation of the level of political dialogue in the US at the moment, and to a lesser extent in countries that try to emulate the US.

I've seen a few examples of that over the past week; I can't help but conclude that watching the coming presidential race will be like watching a car crash in slow motion.

But the wheel turns. To quote something I heard William Gibson say recently, "Just wait ten or twenty years until the really green parties start coming into power."

The prospect of ecological concerns gaining real political traction has a comforting appeal. But I fear such a trend may invite even more nastiness from the establishment. Already we have pre-emptive strikes on environmentalism in the form of climate change denialism, the fictitious "war on cars", poisonous labels like "eco-acolytes", etc, etc.

BrightSpark said...

Richard, the Middle East has always been fought over. There's evidence of conflict in that region going back to the ice ages. I suspect it's something to do with sitting on the pivot point between three great land masses - Europe, Asia, and Africa, and until tectonics shift things along, this situation will probably continue.

John Michael Greer said...

Yupped, duly added to the list!

Leo, I'm not sure yet. I've got quite a bit of research ahead of me, and that'll be ongoing as I work through the logic of the posts to come. Europe is going to get some discussion, certainly; Latin America also, since the rise and fall of US empire can't be understood aside from the Monroe Doctrine and its usually unstated geopolitical implications; the Eurasian zone of conflict from southern Europe straight across to western China can't be ignored, either. Beyond that? We'll see.

Ing, excellent. That's probably worth a post down the road a bit.

Phil, not at all impossible; still, once volkerwanderung sets in, as it will, it's anybody's guess who ends up on top.

Richard, all in good time.

Earthpeace Girl, I've had a complicated relationship to the Transition movement, cheering some parts of it and raising a worried eyebrow at others. You might want to read this post, this one, and this one as an intro, along with Rob Hopkin's denunciation of the Green Wizards project that's been developed here -- that's linked from the third post just given. I hope you don't feel picked on, by the way, when I draw a distinction next week between the capitalized abstraction "Empire" and the historical reality we're dealing with; as I'm sure you know, you're far from the only person using the former.

DeAnander, nicely done. Do you happen to know of a good graphic showing every US military base in the world? That would be helpful.

Cracked and Glenn, all in good time.

John, glad to hear it. It's perfectly fine to post a link to your own blog here, btw!

Kieran, of course there'll be nastiness. We are talking about spoiled six-year-olds, after all!

Phil Knight said...

As regards the maintenance of the current US empire, this link gives a fascinating overview of one of the hidden enforcement mechanisms - the lattice-work of secret and super-secret satellite monitoring systems:

Draft said...

JMG, here is a decent map of US military presence worldwide, and here is one among many articles from the late Chalmers Johnson on the subject.

I did have a question for you relating to this. You suggested a few months ago that you saw the coming year (2012) as being a year of economic turmoil similar to your forecast in late 2007 about 2008. Not sure if it was due to Empire per se or just European troubles. Given the good economic news we've seen in the U.S. of late and moderation of the European situation do you still think that the U.S. will have troubles this year?

parus said...

I was reading through some older posts just now and noticed you made reference to writing about the American empire back in the Twilight of Meaning post last August. Makes me curious as to how far into the future you have your post-arcs sketched out.

Another European here, looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the future of our corner of the periphery of the empire. Which we're very much part of, make no mistake -- the baffling enthusiasm with which our leaders seem to want to join in on the boycott of Iranian oil was the latest piece of evidence to hit the point home for me. With no military power to speak of and your economic credibility rapidly disintegrating, making yourself even more dependent on the goodwill of an increasingly assertive Russia certainly doesn't seem like acting in your own best interests.

Speaking of Russia, I hear they now form the core of the officially established Eurasian Union. Hmmm....

DeAnander said...

Two words on Israel/Palestine: Tony Judt (pbuh). One of my favourite observer/rapporteurs.

Some of my own (rather dated) collection of resources can be found here... might be of interest to those seeking a non-NYT POV :-) I will be very interested to hear the ArchD's views.

Nathan said...

JMG - I'm curious as your take on the move towards quantification and statistics in quite a few areas over the past decade or so, which I was reminded of by the New York Times splashy front-page article about the Silicon Valley buzz-word "Big Data" today. Is it the descent into madness of hardcore scientific materialism? Is it actually a retreat from that materialism to pragmatism? Or is part of the Sisyphean effort to monitor and control all of creation? Or none of these things?

As a former employee of Silicon Valley, it all seems like the same madness and delusions of grandeur to me.

The Croatoan 117 said...

A good book regarding US imperialism in the Middle East is "Power, Faith, and Fantasy" by Michael Oren. It deals with the three main drivers of American historic involvement in the Middle East: Power (Political/Military), Faith(Religious interests), and Fantasy (The romantic ideal derived from Arabian Nights, etc.)
I think the Middle East/Islamic world will prove to be the canary in the coal mine as all of this unfolds due to the fact that the ratio of people to arable land and water is so heavily weighed against them. I believe the Arab Spring is really an expression of this.
@Cracked Pot, I have read many different analyses regarding the ratios of Muslims to native Europeans in Europe in 2050. The general (non politically skewed) percentage seems to be around %20-%25. This is a large number but it isn't anywhere near where a lot of the right wing factions in Europe lead one to believe. These numbers are also usually based on the belief in continued economic growth and sustained levels of immigration, so they may be high. The tide already seems to be turning against much more Muslim immigration to Europe. What will be interesting to see is how well Somali immigrants in Sweden cope with the Swedish winters when central heat stops, as one example. Race is really nothing more than a physical representation of climate adaptation and the only factor where race does actually matter.
Regarding the US military presence worldwide it is worth mentioning that every embassy has military personnel assigned to it. Another important thing to consider is the fact that a lot of US military presence worldwide is not actually US forces. During the British Raj period in India most of the British forces there were actually native Indians with British leadership. The School of the Americas is a similar example of this for the US.

technodai said...

Hi John, I've been following your blog for some time now and have found it enchanting - I use that word now with a deeper understanding of its meaning. I too write a blog, as well as the ocassional essay, partly because I wanted to experiment with producing rather than consuming media and I've come to realise that in fact most of my conclusions fit rather well with your own and that of druidry. One of my first 'essays' (at least outside of academia) was written before I had any awareness of thaumaturgy or the modern magick of advertising, politics and propaganda and I'd like to post a link to it here in case you or anyone else might have the time to read and give some thoughts. In any case I am exploring druidry with interest and am just about to start reading your druid magic handbook.

Many thanks for your words of wisdom.


Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

(Third attempt to post. Hope only one shows up.)

Any real estate agent will tell you that the worst house in a good neighborhood is a better investment. Albania or Portugal, perhaps.

The government of the State of Israel is as focused on national survival as the government of China. Which doesn't of course prevent it from making stupid decisions on account of domestic politics.

Like Poland, Israel has indefensible borders and has spent much time as some other nation's province. Periods of autonomy (this is the fourth in three thousand years) occur when its neighbors are weak or when the Jewish state is able to make effective alliances.

If the U.S. were no longer a reliable protector, Israel could do worse than to come back into Turkey's sphere of influence. Turkey's imperial aims probably do not extend to reabsorbing the entire territory of the Ottoman Empire.

The peace treaty with Egypt did not develop into an effective alliance because Egypt is badly governed and doesn't like the Jews. If Iran were to have a successful democratic, secular revolution before war breaks out, it would probably have warm relations with the Jewish state. Persians don't care that much who controls Jerusalem and have nothing to prove. Either Turkey or a democratic Iran would be a better big brother to Israel than any European country.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

I read this quote today re the financial woes in Europe: "There is no can to be kicked down the road. Every time you try and wait, the snowball gets bigger, the problems get bigger and the dynamics become more difficult to control. This is about a status quo that is very difficult to sustain." - Mr El-Erian, chief investment officer of the world's biggest manager of bond funds.

Sounds like a perfect, folksy description of catabolic collapse to me.

Also I trust you are watching the Greek tragedy unfolding. I'm never certain how much world news you guys get over in the US and how filtered it is.

I kind of think of it like having a mortgage on your house that you no longer have the income to repay - and never will - and the bank says that they will not allow you to default, but you must accept further debt so that they can receive further repayments on that debt. Oh, and by the way, don't expect to have any unnecessary expenditure in future.

Sounds kind of like a subprime loan (the name subprime should have a give away to everyone) that the bank won't let you walk away from. Oh, that's right, the same people were involved in this particular scenario too (I could be wrong).

Where will it end, probably somewhere, sometime soon badly.

Hi Diane,

I was quietly pleased to see you use the term "country" correctly, although I doubt anyone here will know what you are talking about. Much respect.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Draft,

I'm not having a go at you but your quote almost made me spit coffee all over the laptop as I gasped:

"Given the good economic news we've seen in the U.S. of late and moderation of the European situation do you still think that the U.S. will have troubles this year?"

Dude, you missed my comment last week which I'll include again for your benefit. My only advice to you and other readers is to remember that there is an upcoming Presidential election and to recommend people try to read a bit more widely - perhaps from sources outside of the US.

Here goes the quote from last week (it was a bit late in the weekly cycle after all - but again it was almost another coffee spit situation!):

Hi John,

Has anyone noticed over your way that the US Congress voted through another US$1.2 trillion hike in the debt ceiling and borrowings rose by US$120 billion to US$17.5 trillion in just one week?

Our papers are saying here that it may go down to the wire as to whether another hike will become necessary before November.

There was very little reporting of this event though, it was treated as a minor issue... Looks like it is accelerating to me.

Perhaps those printing presses must be getting some serious workout!



barath said...

Nathan -

I'd say the Big Data trend in computing, while real, is really nothing new and nothing special: companies have been using statistical and machine learning techniques on large data sets for at least a decade if not longer. It's just a trendy area and buzzword so it's getting more press---it's at the point "cloud computing" was at in 2009.

(I guess I'm a contrarian, because I think we're nearing the end of the "big data" trend as a hot trend: I think buzzwords and trends tend to follow the same trajectory as speculative bubbles in general.)

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ JMG -Referring back to our earlier exchange of posts this week ... I'm a bit confused and dense (a frequent and re-occuring condition) as to the difference between empire and civilization. Do the definitions change through time and place?

jean-vivien said...

Hello everyone,

I have several simple questions for you all :
1°) JMG, do you happen to speak Chinese ? It would be an obvious requirement to translate that old text, and quite an impressive feat given so that you are busy with already so many things.

2°) I recently watched the movie 'A dangerous method' in the theater and it features a lot of sadomasochistic sex. What magical function do you think this fascination for SM does exert ? Is SM sex viewed as some kind of ritual (a word which is taboo in our postmodern societies).

3°) Why does everyone bash the Greeks ? I think they are right to complain against an obvious abuse to democracy - after all, all the politicians who were against the latest austeriy measures have been expelled from their respective parties, right AND left. Besides I think asphyxiating your economy when it is starting to drown in a puddle of mud is not exactly sensible, especially from an economics point of view. One of the things that will help most people in the face of peak oil should be social equality, and striving local economies; Or is there something magical here, which I am obviously missing ?

Kieran O'Neill said...

@Draft Fascinating map. At first I had a knee-jerk reaction -- why was South Africa (or Russia, or China) purple? It turns out it's because the US is allowed to station marines at their embassies as a private security force. That in itself is, I believe, fairly unusual. Most countries just rely on local security guards for their embassy security, working within the legal framework of the host country.

But I think it is important to make a distinction between that and a real military deployment. A dozen or so marines at an embassy, while unusual, hardly constitutes an occupation force. And I believe this is what JMG has been counting when he cites the number of countries with US troops deployed in them.

What is perhaps more indicative of the US' military empire is the structuring and strategic outlook of the military. For example, the "Unified Combatant Commands" (UCCs), of which there are six, each responsible for military actions by the United States in a portion of the globe. The Wikipedia article has some history, and a map showing the Earth carved neatly into six pieces...

Well that and the Neocons' fairly explicit statements, echoed in public military strategic documents, about a desire to have, and a will to use, the ability to take military action anywhere on the planet at 24 hours' notice...

Jonathan Feld said...

I'm quite excited about the phases of the next year! I have a strong interest in the fall of empires and I'm curious to read your thoughts on the matter. I'm sure that you have already planned this, but perhaps a timeline empires of, say, the western world might show readers that this process of rise, domination, and fall is nothing new. I find that many think only of ancient Rome. When I mention England, the Netherlands, or Spain, people are typically dumbfounded until I offer and example of Columbus' funders or explain that the East India Trading Company that was Jack Sparrow's bain was indeed real. Just my 2c - keep up the great thoughts!

Rich_P said...


The root problem, IMHO, is that Greece imports the vast majority of its energy, including food, and its economy is not productive enough to cover the cost of these imports. Germany's Der Spiegel frequently notes that Greece produces few export products and has a tourism industry that is woefully uncompetitive with other countries in the Eastern Med. (Though the global tourism industry will probably be the first and most obvious casualty of peak oil.) In short, a rocky, energy-starved country with a bloated bureaucracy and a populace that excels at evading taxes is incapable of paying off its mountain of debt.

Greece's creditors were foolish to loan them money in the first place, and the Greeks are delusional if they think early, pensioned retirement (among other benefits) at their *expected* standard of living can be provided to the masses given their current financial position and deficiency of crucial natural resources. They should walk away from the debt (it won't ever be repaid) and go about creating an economy that can meet basic needs while consuming as little imported energy as possible. (Or create products and services that cover the cost of these imports!) The EU, however, could choose to subsidize Greece by handing it more and more money, but that course of action won't make crude oil bubble out from under the Aegean or give Greece massive plains of golden wheat :)

But times haven't changed much, have they? As Socrates noted, "No one can be a statesman who is entirely ignorant of the problems of wheat."

afterthegoldrush said...

It's interesting to take a breath from the weekly round of blog post|comment; read|write cycles and reflect...and yes, what a journey!

I've thanked JMG a few times already, but another can't hurt, so: thanks John, your work is thoughtful, exciting, provocative, profoundly useful and inspirational - but it can't be separated out from those who comment, so once again, thank you all. This weekly ritual is shaping lives and future lives. Man, being part of that is something to sit back and just take in!

My congratulations to all who wrote stories, and those who are getting published (looking forward to that book). My life has been way too chaotic this last year for me to contribute - but the various writings on here have inspired me to get back to writing myself sometime this year.

Ditto other comments in eagerly awaiting the systems Tao book, and the Peak Oil Magic book!

I'm also looking forward to the next series of posts on Empire. As one who grew up with a deep-rooted shame of my own country's imperial past (Britain), I shall be interested to see how/if you handle the post-imperial emotional changes that persist. As a student of history and historical consequence, I guess you could say it's interesting to grow up through the latter stages of a post-imperial decline (though as another poster said earlier, we've had a lick of paint now and then), but if you are a student of such things and are attuned to the environmental degradation that goes with imperial-industrial expansion/contraction, it's mostly desperately sad. Apart from the said lick of paint over the good bits, it's a pretty tired and worn out affair across the political, social and economic spectrum.

I have found it deeply disturbing when I witness the lingering appreciation of our imperial past - such as the patriotic fervour seen at 'last night of the proms' and the singing of 'land of hope and glory' and such. But then my mother always did say that I was a weird boy!

Recently, I have become more attuned to the dress of the US military when I see them on the TV news (so smart and important - what if that uniform was red?); the eagle crests in the background; the flags etc An empire indeed, and impressive if you like that sort of thing...

Regards all - Matt Southward

Thomas Daulton said...

Incidentally last week, there was some kind of problem with the "captcha", I tried for a day and gave up. I tried to post another comment (similar to others above me) congratulating the authors chosen for the story anthology. I look forward to it!! I'm also already picking out names from my address book to whom I'll gift "The Blood of the Earth". Keep us all posted!

BFM said...

JMG, I hope you saw this long but very interesting NYT Magazine article about life in the failed state of Greece:

I think you'll find much here that's relevant.

Dwig said...

"Dwig, good heavens. I've pounded on the idea of progress until at this point, it's got to be mashed flat."

Sigh; post in haste, repent at leisure. I should have been more explicit about what I was looking for. What I liked about your treatment of hope was that you got past the superficial way that the word is all too commonly used, and laid out a deeper and useful meaning for the word. I mentioned "progress" and the others as examples of words that might also have more profound meanings.

With this, and your response, on my mind, I came up with the following in a half-dream last night: "Progress is the deepening understanding of the way the world works, and the consequent change of one's behavior, in accordance with that understanding, to make it more consonant with the world's workings." I'm not offering it as a serious definition, but it might point in a useful direction. (By the way, i think there's a possible feedback loop there: part of the change in behavior may be aimed at further deepening that understanding, which leads to further change.)

Another quick thought on progress: neither progress nor regress proceed linearly -- rather, through sequences of anabolic and catabolic phases (as you've pointed out in various contexts). Given that this is the "way the world works", it behooves, say, a Green Wizard, to learn to work effectively in both situations, and to recognize the onset of phase transtions.

John Michael Greer said...

Phil and Draft, many thanks for the links. Draft, er, what economic good news? Of course the latest rounds of propaganda from the federal government are sanguine; they always are, especially around election time. The stats that aren't quite so subject to manipulation are showing a steady if gradual worsening.

Parus, yes, that was one of the things I was watching, too.

DeAnander, all in good time. It's indicative, isn't it, that of all the things that might be up for discussion, the tiny corner of the earth's surface occupied by Israel should field so many responses here?

Croatoan, the Middle East is shaping up to be one of the major sources of population movement in the century or so ahead of us. The term I've used more than once here is "volkerwanderung," and I don't think it's an exaggeration.

Technodai, thanks for the link.

Deborah, no, neither of your earlier attempts got into the queue.

Cherokee, I don't use US media as a news source -- it's basically all infotainment these days. Yes, I've been watching the latest round of Greek theater.

Lewis, I'll do my best to straighten that out in the upcoming post. Still, the short form is that an empire is a system of political and economic dominance of one nation over other nations, while a civilization is a basic mode of complex urban society among human beings. Any one civilization (say, Western industrial civilization) may contain several different empires, either at the same time (the British and French empires, say, in 1900) or at different times (the British empire and the American empire, for example). Thus empires rise and fall within the broader arc of a civilization's rise and fall, though the fall of the last empire in any given civilization usually takes place at the same time as the fall of the civilization. Is that a bit clearer?

Jean-Vivien, the Tao Te Ching project isn't strictly speaking a translation; it's an adaptation, focusing on the book's implications for systems theory, and is based on current scholarly translations. I have a basic grounding in classical Chinese grammar and the vocabulary Lao Tsu used, but no, I'm not fluent in modern Chinese. As for the point of sadomasochism, I have no idea; it interests me about as much as the sex life of sea slugs.

Jonathan, good! Yes, I'll be talking about those empires, and not merely because Americans tend to be clueless about history; there are important lessons to be learned from them.

Goldrush, it's all the more fascinating in that the US is embracing more and more overtly imperial imagery as the economic and energetic basis for its empire drains away. At this rate we'll have legions in gorgeous gilt armor shouting "Hail, Mr. President! We who are about to die salute you!" right about the time our last troops overseas have to pay their own way home, and the Senate responds to a Chinese offer to buy the state of California for cash by bickering over the price.

John Michael Greer said...

Thomas, I'll have news in this week's post. Thank you!

BFM, thanks for the link! I hadn't -- I don't usually read the NYT.

Dwig, fair enough, and thanks for clarifying. Given the amount of mythology that's built up around the word "progress," I'm not sure that it'll be useful for any other purpose in my lifetime. Still, I'll give it some thought.

Ruben said...


I didn't know that France was going through the process of offloading government services onto local authorities that can't afford them -- that's happening over here, too. I'm wondering now if that may turn out to be a standard feature of the decline now under way.

This is exactly the pattern Stoneleigh has described at The Automatic Earth--the Core preserves itself at the Expense of the Periphery. In this case, the Core is federal level government that wants to use its diminishing tax incomes for useful things like paying the pensions of existing staff, so expensive services have to be offloaded.

Here is a good post on that topic.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

For the person who was asking about the point of sadomasochism, I believe the rewards are somewhat different for people who actually practice it versus people who enjoy looking at artistic or fantasy depictions of S/M sex.

Among practitioners, submissives are more numerous than dominants and get most of the direct rewards. These rewards vary with the type of activity. The physical stuff, when more than symbolic, stresses the body in order to stimulate physiological responses akin to a runner's high (endorphins and the kind of trance state in which ego boundaries disappear). S/M techniques for achieving such states with an assistant (the top) require less personal effort than training for a marathon, fasting or meditating for hours on end.

The role playing, for some people, is a way to cope with deep rooted guilt or shame about sex by pretending to be someone else. For some, it's a safe way to be scared, like watching a horror movie. Sometimes the costumes and roleplaying are just ways to make a partner more sexually attractive by employing a fetish or fantasy.

Dominants ("tops") sometimes don't receive any direct sexual gratification from the scene. Being in charge of the progression of someone else's sexual and emotional experience can be satisfying in a similar way to creating a work of art or hosting a really good dinner party. A top with a good reputation will also have prestige and a choice of partners.

This doesn't exhaust the subject.

What people get out of observing depictions of S/M is part of the larger phenomenon of pornography and erotic art, too large and complicated a subject for me to get into.

ando said...


What DO you use as a newsource.



SeaMari said...

Re Greek sovereign bonds & the global financial system. What has not been covered in mainstream press are the massive CDS (credit default swaps) which are held (largely by big US banks). If an official default is declared, bond holders with CDS will be owed payment by those large banks. However, if the game can be rigged so that bond holders get a minimal, say 20% repayment, the ISDA (International Swaps & Derivatives Assoc) will say that this is not technically a default, thus no payout on CDS is required. That will ruin many bondholders, but save the banks, as the banks do not actually have enough assets to fulfill this obligation.
For more details on this see:

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ JMG - Yes! Much clearer. So, Roman Civilization ended, and took down a lot of other previous empires with it, that had been subsumed by Rome.

I'm probably jumping the gun, but were there other civilizations between the end of Roman Civilization and the beginning of Western Industrial Civilization?

I can think of many empires that rose and fell, but not many candidates for "civilization." Maybe, England in it's "sun never sets" phase. Hmmm. But that was just part of Western Industrial Civilization.

And then there's China to consider. At different times in it's history, empire or civilization? Looking forward to future posts. "All things will be made manifest, in time." Don't know from where I lifted that.

Unknown said...

LewisLucanBooks wrote,

". .. were there other civilizations between the end of Roman Civilization and the beginning of Western Industrial Civilization? I can think of many empires that rose and fell, but not many candidates for "civilization."

You seem to be using a different definition of civilization than JMG's, which is "a basic mode of complex urban society among human beings." Under JMG's definition, there were at least a couple of civilizations during this period on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.

E.g., we have the Eastern Roman Empire, aka Byzantine Empire, which outlasted the Western Roman Empire by a thousand years. Byzantine civilization overlaps with Islamic civilization. At its peak, Islamic civilization controlled territory as large or larger than Rome's. The great cathedrals of medieval Europe were built in cities and were part of Western Christian civilization in a sequence from Gothic to the Renaissance/early modern period to industrialization.

(Deborah Bender)

John Michael Greer said...

Ruben, granted, but it's worth knowing how fast any given society is proceeding down that very well worn path. Thus my interest in Damien's comment.

Ando, I get general news off the BBC website -- it's biased, of course, but less hamfistedly so than the US media. The aggregator blogs I follow daily are The Oil Drum, Energy Bulletin and Prudent Bear. I also get a lot of stories emailed to me by friends and readers, and those come from a dizzying array of sources.

SeaMari, yes, that's one of the interesting features I'm tracking. There are a whole series of high-stakes games of chicken being played over Greece right now.

Lewis, I differ from Spengler in seeing medieval European society as part of what he called Syriac civilization -- it was very much part of the same cultural continuum as Byzantium and the Islamic world. As for China, it's a civilization that has hosted several empires -- those would be the major Chinese dynasties.

John Michael Greer said...

Lewis, a bit of a brain cramp got in there -- Spengler's term was the Magian culture, of course, not Syriac; that latter was Toynbee's. I need to reread 'em both anyway.

John Michael Greer said...

Barath, when you get a moment, could you drop me an email? Computer problems are holding my address book temporarily hostage. ;-)

phil harris said...

Crikey JMG!
Spengler! This is going to be a wild ride. I am glad you have both poise and balance.
I needed to check around 'Magian' and other ideas on culture and came across this quote from Spengler, with a reviewer's interpolated explanation in [ ]. “In spite of its foreground appearances, ethical Socialism [Socialism here means much of the modern theory of human rights, including the kind enshrined in UN post-WWII] is not a system of compassion, humanity, peace and care, but one of will-to-power…”
Spengler was writing in 1922 post WWI cataclysm when as he put it, "We ourselves, in a very few years, have learned to take little or no notice of events that before the War would have horrified the world; who today [1922] seriously thinks about the millions that perish in Russia?” Poor chap. There were even greater horrors to come in a very few years.

But I keep meeting in a very short read amazing resonances with the struggles now going on in USA, from George the Younger spreading freedom and democracy to the Koch bros. Who would have thought of Business (as in individual Business Men) making essentially prophetic(?) theological claims on the soul of a culture?
I wait your discussion with interest.

Edde said...

Good morning John Michael,

Noam Chomsky on empire decline:


John Michael Greer said...

Phil, I've been a student of Spengler and Toynbee for some years now -- two of the very few writers who have really taken advantage of the available historical data to craft broad theories of how civilizations rise and fall -- and though they both have their problems, they've informed quite a bit of what I've discussed here. Of the two, Toynbee's the more exhaustively detailed, but Spengler's usually the more insightful. Yes, we'll be talking about both down the road a bit.

Edde, your timing's good -- I found and read that yesterday. I'm not much of a Chomsky fan generally, but he makes some good points there.

JP said...

Well, I've finally found another person with an interest in Spengler, hermeticism, peak oil, and the Prudent Bear news aggregator.

That would partially explain why I don't find much of what you write particularly shocking or outside of my own thinking, or why what (some) of what you write here resonates. Although I think that peak oil is today's version of the old fear of nuclear annihilation that I grew up on the tail end of.

I don't remember how I ended up here. Probably through one of my peak oil searches (which dovetails nicely with Prudent Bear). And you were talking about Spengler. I don't know anything about this Tonynebee guy, which I suppose I should remedy.

JMG, my current thinking on the entire subject of the West and hegemonic succession comes from some of Mike Alexander's k-cycle/war cycle writing, which is how I really ended up in Spengler-world to begin with. You can find it floating around the internet. I don't know it's source, but the U.S. is currently entering the Delegitimation phase of what I think you are calling "empire" here, basically the current leading power of the West. He's got the next macrodecision point (world leader) set at 2030 or so (I think). The U.K. came back for another round, so the U.S. could come back for another round (vs. China?). I don't think those decisions have been made (collectively) yet.

I still am not quite sure on the entire subject of Peak Cheap Energy vs. Cost of Human Labor (which is what it really is.). We really need a solid data analysis of the entire system to get anywhere. And we now have the additional problem of conflating and confusing the (relative) U.S. decline against the entire issue of peak energy.

Although the cathedral points upward toward infinite space, whereas the dome encloses. In order for a civilization to be unified, there has to be some sort of underlying/unifying though fractal. And with respect to Russia, I note that the Russian Orthodox church is in a recovery phase. We have to wait until the next "awakening" era to see where it is going.

GenoGiapasette said...

There's a terrific article in today's NY Times magazine

about how companies using deep knowledge of psychology change our unconscious habit patterns thus making our behavior conform to their will. In an interesting sidebar, the author uses the technique he learned while writing the article to modify his afternoon cookie habit, thus losing weight.

That's the part that speaks to the last few JMG blogs; also there's a section about data mining that speaks to privacy concerns (in a priceless anecdote, a local Target store knows a certain teenage girl is pregnant before her irate father finds out!)