Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Rumbling of Distant Thunder

I think most of my regular readers are aware that I spent last weekend at a peak oil event. There have been plenty of those over the last decade or so, but this one, The Age of Limits, was a bit unusual: it started from from the place where most other peak oil events stop, with the recognition that the decline and fall of industrial civilization is the defining fact of our time.

It’s ironic, to use no stronger term, that this should be the point at which so much discussion of peak oil stops, because it’s also the place where that conversation began some fifteen years ago, at the very dawn of today’s peak oil movement. Back then, as conversations about the limits to growth were getting started again for the first time since the twilight of the 1970s, most participants in those early discussions seem to have grasped that the industrial world would either rise to the challenge of peak oil and undergo the wrenching process of shortage and reallocation that a successful downshift of energy consumption would demand, or plow face first into the brick wall of resource limits and crash to ruin. The debates then were over which of these would be chosen.  At this point it’s painfully clear which way the decision has gone, but the discourse of peak oil by and large remains the same.

If you go to most peak oil events, as a result, you can count on a flurry of panels and lectures pointing out the reasons why our civilization’s attempt to extract limitless resources out of a finite planet won’t work, can’t work, and isn’t working. Depending on the event, you will also get either a flurry of panels and lectures talking about how to make buckets of money profiteering off the inevitable failure of that attempt, or a flurry of panels and lectures bickering about who’s to blame for the inevitable failure of that attempt, or a flurry of panels and lectures airily insisting that the inevitable failure of that attempt isn’t inevitable at all so long as we all have faith in whatever the fashionable alternative energy du jour or the equally fashionable movement du jour happens to be. (You might also get two or three of these at once, in which case the effect is even more schizoid than usual.)

What you won’t get is any serious discussion about what can be expected to happen on the downside of Hubbert’s curve, and how individuals, families and communities might be able to respond to that. At most, you might be lucky enough to find a late night discussion among three or four presenters and a dozen attendees at the hotel bar, sitting there with drinks in hand and talking about the uncomfortable and unfashionable realities that the event organizers have carefully excluded from the agenda. It was those late night discussions that provided part of the inspiration for The Age of Limits conference. What would happen, several of us wondered, if the themes central to those discussions were brought out of exile and put at the center of a collective conversation?

That’s more or less what The Age of Limits set out to do. How did it work?  By and large, remarkably well. Even on a quantitative level, it exceeded expectations; the organizers set their sights sensibly low, aiming for sixty attendees this first year, and kept publicity at an accordingly modest level. In the event, though, more than twice that number showed up, and launched a rolling conversation about decline, resilience, and survival that filled two full days and parts of two others.  The practical side of the conference ran smoothly, despite a couple of impressive spring thunderstorms, and the quality of the discussions was generally high; for me, certainly, it was a relief not to have to deal with more of the usual fearful insistence that X or Y or Z will let the current possessors of middle class privilege cling to their comfortable lifestyles, and to have the chance to talk instead about how those lifestyles are going to go away and what might be done to deal constructively with their departure.

Thinking back over the weekend, three points of crucial relevance for the project of this blog stand out.

The first and most basic is precisely the number of people who are ready to grapple with the end of industrial civilization: not as an abstract possibility to be shoved off on a conveniently distant future, not as an inkblot pattern on which to project one’s favorite apocalyptic fantasies, not as a bogeyman that can be used to stampede recruits into signing up for the greater glory of some movement or other, but as a simple and inescapable fact that is already shaping our lives.  Down the years since I first started trying to talk to other people about where our civilization is headed, that last attitude has been far and away the least common, and the frantic writhings with which so many people squirm away from thinking about that unthinkable reality have become wearily familiar.

One of the repeated pleasures of peak oil events is precisely that those of us who take that recognition seriously have the chance to share a meal or a couple of mugs of beer and talk openly about all the things you can’t discuss usefully with those who are still in the squirming stage. I mentioned in a post last fall the way that peak oil events function as a gathering of the tribe, but it would be more precise to call it a gathering of several tribes—the peak oil investment tribe, the environmental activism tribe, the alternative energy tribe, and so on.  It’s one of the oddities of the tribe to which I belong that it’s hard to give it a simple, straightforward name of that kind, just a clear sense of the trajectory our age is tracing out against the background of deep time, and it’s one of the less heavily represented tribes at most peak oil events. What set The Age of Limits apart is that it was specifically for this latter tribe, and the enthusiastic turnout in response to very muted publicity—little more than a few posts on blogs—shows me that the audience for such discussions is a good deal larger than I had any reason to think.

The second point that stands out is the extent to which people in that tribe—and, I suspect, across a broader spectrum of society as well—are hungry for meaningful discussions of one of the taboo topics of our age, the relation of spirituality to the shape of our future. That hunger came as a surprise to our hosts; Orren Whiddon, the founder and general factotum of the retreat center where the conference took place, responded with noticeable discomfort to my proposal to give a talk on peak oil and spirituality, and his mood was not improved when two of the other speakers, Carolyn Baker and Dmitry Orlov, wanted to address the same topic.  Still, all three talks went forward; I talked about the lessons that traditional spiritualities offer for understanding our predicament, Dmitry discussed religion as a mode of social organization that can sustain itself for millennia, and Carolyn explored collapse as an initiatory experience—and all three talks drew large and enthusiastic audiences.

It’s among the major failures of contemporary Western culture that the keepers of its religious traditions have so signally failed to deal with the core issues of our time.  There’s a history behind that failure, of course.  In what used to be the religious mainstream, well-meaning but clueless attempts to become relevant in the 1960s and 1970s led clergy  to replace authentic spirituality with a new definition of religious institutions as some sort of awkward hybrid of amateur social service agencies and moral lobbying firms, deriving their values from the contemporary nonreligious left rather than from any coherent sense of their own traditional spiritual commitments. Since the vast majority of Americans then and now are on the moderate-to-conservative end of the political spectrum, and have next to no patience with the liberal ideologies that drove this shift, the formerly mainstream denominations ended up with a fraction of their old membership and influence as parishioners abandoned them in droves for more conservative churches and synagogues.

Those latter, meanwhile, had just completed the same transformation in the other direction, surrendering their own  traditional commitments in order to embrace the political ideologies of the contemporary right. This is why so many of today’s supposedly conservative clergy are out there right now urging their congregations to vote for a Republican party whose platform could not be further from the explicit teachings of Jesus if somebody had set out to do that on purpose. Very few American religious groups have avoided falling into one or the other of these pitfalls.

That has had any number of unhelpful consequences, but the one relevant here is that either choice makes it effectively impossible for those who speak for religious institutions to say anything at all about the reality of our nation’s and civilization’s decline.  The denominations of theold mainstream are committed to what, without too much satire, could be described as the belief that everyone in the world deserves a middle class American lifestyle; those of the new conservative religiosity are just as rigidly committed to the claim that middle class Americans deserve, and ought to be able to keep, that lifestyle. Neither can begin to address the hard fact that this lifestyle and nearly everything associated with it are going away forever.

That’s the vacuum into which Carolyn, Dmitry and I ventured over this weekend. For two of us, it wasn’t a first venture by any means; Carolyn has been discussing the spiritual dimensions of collapse for years now, on her website and in several worthwhile books; as for me, after some years of uneasy avoidance and sidelong references, I let myself be lured into discussing the interface between my own far from mainstream spirituality and the realities of the age of peak oil, and that discussion ended up turning into a book of its own. For all I know, Dmitry has been working on his own take on religion and peak oil for longer still, but it was a surprise to me, just as I noted with interest that Jim Kunstler’s latest post includes an uneasy discussion of the potential role of emerging minority religions (that’s spelled "cults" in today’s standard English, which Jim uses) in reinventing a coherent society in the wake of our decline and fall.

There is a good deal more that can be said about the religious dimensions of peak oil, and a familiar sinking feeling tells me that I’m probably going to be saying some of it, once the current sequence of posts on the fate of American empire has been completed. My readers outside North America—particularly in Europe, where religion by and large plays a negligible role in public life—may be puzzled by that focus, but there it is; when European countries encouraged their religious minorities to cross the Atlantic, as a good many of them did in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, they pretty much guaranteed that North America would have a much livelier religious history from then on than they would. Religion is a major organizing force in American public life; each of the great shifts in American politics and society have been paralleled, and often preceded, by a corresponding shift in the religious sphere; that pattern is highly unlikely to be broken by the traumatic redefinitions of American public life looming up ahead in the near future, and there are good reasons to think that the religious shift this time around is going to be on the grand scale.

So that’s the second point that struck me this weekend. The third was subtler.  It didn’t get any space on the agenda, and rarely had a central role in the conversations, but it kept on popping up here and there in casual talk. One woman, for example, noted that the farm families in her area, conservative down to their bones, watched the bizarre spring weather this year with increasingly nervous faces and suddenly weren’t talking any more about how global warming was a myth; three other people nodded and chimed in with similar stories of their own.  A man commented in passing that people who used to dismiss his efforts toward personal sustainability as a waste of time aren’t doing that any more, and some of them are asking for gardening tips. Quite a few attendees mentioned their sense that more and more people seem to be aware, however vaguely, that the troubles of the present time cut deeper and offer fewer options than those of years and decades past.

Something has gone very wrong.  That’s the message that’s rumbling like distant thunder through the crawlspaces of the American imagination just now.  Something has gone very wrong, and those whose public claim to power is their supposed ability to manage things so that they don’t go wrong—the captains of finance and brokers of political power who move from photo op to press conference to high-level meeting and back again—don’t know how to fix it.

I don’t expect that sense to reach anything close to critical mass in the near future—though it will be interesting to note whether this year’s version of the traditional American game of electoral charades,  in which two indistinguishably airbrushed Demublican politicians pretend to be as different as possible until the moment the last voting booths close on Election Day, is able to whip up the same level of canned enthusiasm recent exercises of the same sort have managed. It could well take some years before the loss of faith in the institutions that define contemporary American life grows to the point at which it will become an unavoidable political fact.  For that matter, I have no hard evidence that this is happening at all, just stray bits of conversation heard in passing.  Still, those of my readers who have the opportunity might want to listen for the sound of thunder far off; if I’m right, the storm it’s heralding is going to be a whopper.

End of the World of the Week #24

The comets that lent their inkblot patterns to the apocalyptic frenzies discussed over the last two weeks have, of course, a more recent sibling, Comet Hale-Bopp, which swung through Earth’s skies in 1997. Like Comet Kohoutek and Halley’s Comet, Hale-Bopp attracted predictions of imminent doom, but one of those predictions came unpleasantly true when 39 identically dressed corpses, each with a five dollar bill and three quarters in its pocket, turned up at a posh San Diego mansion. The coroner’s verdict was death by mass suicide.

The backstory begins in the early 1970s, when a minor New Age figure named Marshall Applewhite had an out-of-body experience during a heart attack, and became convinced that he had been chosen for a grand destiny. He and one of the nurses who tended him, Bonnie Lu Nettles, created a belief system composed of equal parts Christianity, New Age thought, UFO beliefs, and science fiction. Under a variety of names—Human Individual Metamorphosis, Total Overcomers, and Heaven’s Gate were among the best known—their group proclaimed that its members would shortly be whisked away from a dying Earth on flying saucers; the fact that this never got around to happening, and repeated dates predicted by Applewhite and Nettles passed without incident, drove away some followers but proved no obstacle to the recruitment of others. After Nettles died in 1985, Applewhite led the group alone.

Enter Comet Hale-Bopp. First discovered by amateur astronomers in 1995, it became a focus of fringe speculation in the autumn of 1995 when a photograph allegedly showing an elongated object hovering behind the comet’s head got into circulation on the internet. Astronomers pointed out that the "object" was a 9th-magnitude star, but this was promptly dismissed by UFO believers, who preferred to trust the claims of psychics who announced that the object was a vast spaceship, and that the comet itself was going to crash into the Earth. When this news reached Applewhite, he announced to his followers that the spaceship had come to pick them up. This time, for reasons nobody living will ever know, he decided to make sure that he and his followers would leave the Earth one way or another.

The method of choice was a cocktail of poisons blended in pudding and washed down with vodka. Applewhite and his followers "discarded their physical containers" in three shifts, with those not yet poisoned tying plastic bags over the heads of those who were already dying. Applewhite and two of his female followers were the last to go; after he downed the pudding, they tied a bag over his head, and then took the poison themselves. Meanwhile, Comet Hale-Bopp went on to finish its loop around the sun and soared off into deep space, and the supposed alien spacecraft was never sighted again.

—for more failed end time prophecies, see my book Apocalypse Not


Jeffrey Kotyk said...

"My readers outside North America..."

Here in Taiwan Chinese religions (along with Christianity and fringe groups) are incredibly active and flourishing (both socially and materially). Religion has little negative associations tied to the word, so having religion involved in politics and education is no big deal here.

You also have the old pagan / polytheist approach to gods and deities, so people tend to be inclusive rather than exclusive in their spirituality, even with secular matters like environmentalism (much to the disagreement of religious leaders).

One thing to note about all this is that the organizations, particularly the Buddhist ones, were able in recent decades to mobilize people for environmentalism. There is -zero- talk of peak oil at the moment (here in Asia people are optimistic as their standard of living has been going up for the last three decades and this is expected to just keep on going), but I suspect using the same methods they could mobilize much of the population here and in effect -some- of the Chinese diaspora elsewhere in the world to address peak oil. In the Buddhist context especially it could be seen as a virtuous and meritorious endeavor to intentionally take on a lower standard of living. That's how they got everyone to start recycling!

John D. Wheeler said...

Thank you so very much for letting us know about the Age of Limits conference. It was great getting to meet in person you, Dmitry, and a number of others who comment on your blog. Perhaps for me the most disconcerting realization was that I probably would never have met any of those people if not for your blog. Thanks again for helping build this community.

I did manage to miss all three talks on spirituality. I didn't really want to, but in each case the other session was always something I thought would be more valuable. In part this is because my spiritual beliefs are very solid. As far as I know, there is no formal religious organization based on this, but I have seen the core belief referred to as the "Cosmic Mandate". To the best of my knowledge, I am the only one who has integrated that with Peak Oil. I'm not bragging, I would desperately love to find someone else who believes as I do, that our destiny lies among the stars, and that the current transition is both natural and necessary.

Robo said...

When the big change becomes undeniable in the US, government and corporate credibility and authority may well be seriously challenged if not completely rejected by a traumatized population in search of competent guidance.

There will be a need for the localized social structures that religion can provide, but are the established incumbents ready to fill the void?

American religious organizations of the liberal persuasion have become too dilute and the conservative ones perhaps too doctrinaire to effectively deal with the new thinking and living patterns necessitated by the descent.

Is this not the perfect time for new theologies and faith systems to emerge? Perhaps some of the older ones could emerge from the background. In a new world where natural forces will be accorded much more respect would not Druidry be an attractive prospect? said...


I have to admit, I hear the distant thunder, too. Like you, I have no hard evidence and this may just be a matter of confirmation bias, but it seems that more and more people are amenable to (though far from enthusiastic about) the idea that "normal" economic growth simply isn't going to resume. Even people who tend to think me a little bit crazy for believing that industrial society is going to come to an end and find it bizarre that I may go live in a yurt while learning to farm still have become much more skeptical in the last few years that things are going to return to normal.

Sure, I still hear plenty on the left arguing that we just need to invest in alternative energy and plenty on the right claiming that we just need to remove regulation and drill deeper, but I hear quite a number of others--leaning in both political directions--who think that growth is coming to an end. It's a view point I also keep seeing sneak its way into mainstream articles here and there. Peppered in amongst the cheerleading articles about how America's about to become energy independent, of course, but still. It's more than I ever noticed before.

It gives me a bit of hope, to be honest. There seems to be a small minority of the population who gets it. I'm not sure they even understand why things are shaking out this way, but they seem to have some sense that things are way off track from where our leaders claim they should be and they're not going to get back on track. Again, it's a very small percentage, but I see them and speak with them and teach them in my life, and their interest and enthusiasm gives me a lot of hope. As things continue to fall apart, a good majority of the population is likely to behave very unproductively. But this small minority . . . I think they'll take up the challenge and work to build some coherent and functional communities. It may not be enough, but those bright spots of action are going to be key.

Again, this might all just be confirmation bias, but I hope it isn't. I take a lot of comfort in the idea that as the hard realities of our future press ever closer, more and more people will recognize those realities and start making the necessary adjustments.

And on another note, consider me very excited about the possibility of you delving further into the relation between spirituality and peak oil after the current series. I would very much like to read your thoughts on that.


Peak Everything said...

Was a pleasure to attend and meet you this weekend. I was interested to see what Dmitry's take on religion and spirituality would be since his writings indicate that he is, if nothing else, a most pragmatic and practical fellow. I think that those of us who are watching understand that it will be the cascading failure of individual institutions that will characterize collapse and he pointed out that organized religions have evolved a resilient structure that may insulate them from some of the factors that will cause many of our other social institutions and organizations to fail. Many religions have, after all have been around for centuries, have weathered severe societal upheaval before and are the very model of self-sustainability.

With regards to "the sound of distant thunder"...years ago I used to joke about the 'Zombie Apocalypse' and got weird looks ...and a few years later it was uncomfortable chuckles, and now it is just common knowledge. I know that every generation since Og the caveman has thought "things are really falling apart these days", but it DOES seem like this time there is a different quality to it. Almost everyone I talk to has the sense that something is seriously wrong. They can't put their finger on exactly what it is, so depending upon their political and social orientation they blame the libruls or the banksters or government or the media, but they almost all agree that we are heading in the wrong direction. ...and if the conversation has gotten that far, that is where it usually ends.

It WAS refreshing to be a part of a group of people where we didn't have to argue about the actual existence of peak oil, or global climate change or our headlong rush to collapse and could actually begin the conversation where it usually (uncomfortably) trails off.

MilesL said...

Detroit plans to shrink by leaving half the city in the dark

Literally just stumbled upon this today. Shows that the reality discussed here is showing up within other "fringe" groups. In this case scifi fans looking at the strangeness that is reality.

As to religion and spirituality. Again just had a conversation about this. Why is it that the mainline churches did not pick up all of the youth who have abandoned their evangelical upbringing? Seems logical and self evident. Yet this is not happening. So most people I know who think in a Christian manner (Love your neighbor, be good to one another) have instead found various pagan religions that have accepted their "liberal" viewpoints.

What is really needed is a lesson on how to create community. The old fashioned way taught by churches does not seem to be taught anymore. I believe there are far more people out there looking to find/create community than most people think. For many going to church helps their spirituality, but come up short on what they are also looking for.

Lizzy said...

Hello there, interesting as always, thank you.
One things that make interest you, I heard on the radio the other day a programme about religion in the UK.
It was after WWI and WWII, after the slaughter of the masses, that people lost their faith and stopped going to church.

phil harris said...

Mainstream religions by definition are caught in history.
You never had Religious Wars in N America? There was a whole period in Europe that was defined by religious war; at least so-called. European persecutions and wars back then tended to be called 'religious', though their occasion appears to have stemmed more often from the usual mundane mix.

Despite a long period when the concept of a European religious war seemed to have declined, (apart from pogroms) the recent 3-decade sub-war in Ireland interestingly was variously billed as "religious", "liberation", or even "ethnic", but in Britain the concept of "warring religions and their communities" was probably still the most usual default explanation.

The recent Balkan Wars interestingly were not generally ascribed to religion although the groupings were most certainly divided more by religion than they were by language.

I wonder how the recent concept of the "clash with Islam" has played among the religious groupings in USA? Doesn't seem to have the same resonance as "conservative" versus "liberal" or “communist” versus “freedom”?

I wonder about the various proselytizing religions in the USA. Have they wandered off into or even helped invent advertising for mass-consumerism? Market forces rule OK? It was Quakers in England who invented successful modern ‘market intelligence’ for agricultural commodities during England’s 18thC ‘agricultural revolution’ when semi-subsistence peasant farming largely disappeared.
Sorry - my musing does not involve much actual spirituality. The role of some real spirit within the gestalt in different geographies is going to be intriguing.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

Glad to hear that people have moved from the theory into the practicalities of the discussion. Is this the acceptance stage of grief? Hope you enjoyed the conference and that much of value was discussed.

You know, I never really initially wanted to believe you when you wrote about how the low tech movement of the 70's was such a valuable thing and how it fizzled out.

The latest instalment in my change of heart came surprisingly recently when comparing the standards of texts on herbs between a currently published book with one published in the 1970s.

It is a fascinating comparison too because the 1970s text is chock full of information across a broad range of subject for each plant such as growing notes, habitats, usages, history etc. On the other hand the currently published book (to remain nameless) had lots of glossy photos and was chock full of warnings - which were of the legal indemnity variety - and also the central theme that you could purchase the herbal extracts.

Speaking of the age of limits, the ongoing saga here to be powered entirely off the sun is a bit of a struggle. Being one month into the three month difficult solar patch (it is winter here after all), I've now had to crank out the petrol generator for at least 6 hours. Not a bad result and I'm pursuing four further avenues to avoid generator usage over the next two months.

People dismiss the difficulty of this sort of stuff really should be forced to live with it. They'd sing a different tune for sure as all of these systems require tweaking and maintenance to become self-sufficient. Some of the things I've had to do this week with trees scared me silly...

On the other hand I've discovered the joys of the vegetable kohl rabi which looks like it was made by a toy manufacturer in China, but tastes really good. Plus I also scored two old and potted olive trees today at a clearance sale. Transporting them home was interesting, at least it wasn’t far...

Few people mention peak oil over here, but you do start to see mention of the term food security.

It is also worth mentioning to commenters here (and this is only my personal opinion for what it is worth) that in the past, most people were peasants and just because we can't imagine our educated selves as peasants doesn't mean that the future won't put you into that role. Even those with a recognised craft historically would have had to be involved in producing food. Today, we ignore this truth because we think we are separate from nature, when we are every bit a part of the ecosystem.



Sixbears said...

In my small New England town, I've seen the hard right turn of the most recent pastor turn much of the congragration away.

The area is a conservative old farming community, but they are also giving and open hearted. Peak oil and climate change, while rarely called by their names, have shaken people. They have their eyes open.

Everyone is downshifting. Families are moving back in together. My own daughter and granddaugther have moved in with me, even though my daughter has a full time job and a degree.

There is a spiritual hunger that's not being addressed by most churches. My guess is that the religious landscape will look a lot different in a few decades.

GuRan said...

John - "the audience for such discussions is a good deal larger than I had any reason to think."

Just look at the growth in followers and blog posts here at the archdruidreport over the last few years. I think a lot of people are "getting it".

Thanks again, for continuing to do what you do here.

Unknown said...

Finally! I kept reading your blog expecting that any time now the spiritual shoe would drop. My own feeling is that unless significant numbers of people choose to engage in processes that lead to deep inner change, we are really screwed. Spiritual traditions throughout history, all over the world have been the creators and custodians of methods to produce these deep changes in one’s understanding of who one is in truth, and why one is here -- leading to enhanced ability to navigate the turbulent waters of unfolding life on earth.

That these traditions have had serious flaws and inadequacies in getting this alchemy right is an obvious historical fact. But in spite of this, there is much real gold to be found by careful sifters and discriminating minds. Out of all this there could emerge a spirituality better adapted to the modern world and its problems. How this might happen is something I continue to give a lot of thought to. To flesh out my ideas would take some extended space, but for now let me say that an intensive small group process focused on deepening our understanding of the realities we are facing, and a creative exploration of how to transform ourselves into such folks as might be able to envision a new approach to our lives, and effective ways to create and be able to enact real deep solutions to the problem of how to live together and evolve a culture of mutual help and happiness together are essential ingredients for this working. After all, if we cannot come together in small groups of like minded seekers and discover the ways to live in peace and harmony, then where is this crucial knowledge going to come from?

Justin said...

Last weekend I met someone at a bar who knew a mutual friend. We ended up chatting awhile, the place was empty (it was lunch).

First, he was 60. Second, he stunned me by saying something that I mostly keep to myself in public, that the changes that are happening are going to be a good thing. Of course there will be plenty of bad. What I feel in my bones is that the way of life in the last century, while incredibly wealthy materially, has left a nation of mentally and physically sick people dependent on all kinds of drugs and feeding on a diet of food like substance. (JMG, please refrain from tearing this shorthand sentence up. All I mean to say is that I am excited and optimistic about the future. I'm trying to cobble together a post industrial living and see a lot of opportunity.)

He tried to get me talking about politics, I had to tell him that for many people my age and younger, being president doesn't mean anything. Politics, at least at the national stage, are meaningless to us. We don't concern ourselves about the point man of empire.

What is it that the French say? Plus the change?

ChemEng said...

Regarding the perception of climate change, anecdotally I also am seeing a recognition that "something is happening". My mother, who is in her 90's and lives in a charming village in the west of England, commented on the issue. For example, this year she noted how the winter had been unusually mild but the spring unusually cold.

My hunch is that a similar vague and gradual transition of awareness will happen with regard to resource limitations.

William Hunter Duncan said...

Having been raised evangelical, I am not at all surprised at the Christian embrace of economic dogma, and the embrace of the money changers Jesus threw out of the temple. My hope is, many of them come to recognize that the temple is the earth.

As to our President, his May 16 executive order was the third piece of a despot's wet dream, the perfect compliment to his NDAA tyranny. Which implies, our elite hear the distant thunder too, and have lain the legal framework to initiate their fantasy of total control, Western civilization's inevitable, logical end. Best of luck with that, Barack.

Bill Pulliam said...

On your third point, my hillbilly/redneck neighbors (there is a difference; I have one to the north, the other to the south) have found my work on retrofitting the house for active solar space heating very interesting. They have never treated it as weird or freaky. They ask me questions about how it works, how much it is costing, and how much heat I get from it. This includes gun-freak drunks, pot-growing hillbillies, and Seventh-Day adventist hard-core fundamentalists.

Now I wonder when one of them will ask me about my scythe (with a brush horn, eats up blackberries and small saplings like a bush hog but with less noise and powered by biofuels), where I got it, and how to use it. That probably won't happen until they can't afford to either buy fuel for their power equipment or keep up the maintenance on it.

Twilight said...

I do think the sense that something has gone very wrong is growing, but these days I also expect it will take a longer time to manifest into significant changes than I once did. While I think people are becoming wary they don't want to feel that way. If possible they'll go back to their old thought patterns with relief. All it would take would be a year of normal weather and some lower gas prices, combined with the efforts of the establishment to convince that good times are just ahead.

Although it might be that the push goes in the other direction – economic and political issues have the greatest potential for short term impact, but climate change induced extreme weather could do it too. The failure of the euro and follow-on economic distress, a new war that maybe doesn't go as planned, a nasty hurricane season or Midwest drought. Any of these that shows the limits of the power of the leaders could amplify the feeling that something has gone very wrong.

Ultimately the inability of the existing system to provide meaningful and useful responses to the crises of our time will become obvious, whereupon people will abandon it to place their faith in other things, possibly new spiritual forms. But I may be an old man by the time that shows.

Stu from Rutherford said...

Like some others of my generation, I rejected Christianity when I was young due to my parents' church's enthusiastic support of the War against Vietnam. For the next 30 years, I did not give religion much thought as I led my urban life and professions of musician and software engineer.
At the turn of the present century, I became a homeowner for the first time and also became peak-oil-aware. The combination turned me toward gardening.
For the first time in my life, I was in daily close contact with soil, plants, animals, weather, sun, etc.
A few years ago I became attracted to pagan folk music and realized that I had, over the course of the previous decade "become" a pagan. Not a huge epiphany, really, just a "Oh, ok, so I'm a pagan." It was a little odd having a religion again, but it fit my day-to-day outlook and life, and the practice of it has been of some help in putting things in perspective.
Just one person's story. As we return (kicking and screaming, perhaps) to the soil, I think there will more like it.

Maria said...

If in the last week or so you've heard an annoying squeaking sound coming out of the northeast, that would be the hamster wheel in my brain kicking into overdrive. My thoughts have been all over the place -- from worry, to panic, to actual productive thought, to (I'll admit it) brattiness. I'm still long on questions and short on answers -- except that it occurs to me that there isn't one answer, or even one set of asnwers. It seems as though I'm going to have to (if you'll pardon the ballet class metaphor) keep my weight over my toes so I'm ready to respond to necessary changes in direction.

For now, I'm obsessively reading through the Cadfael mystery series and your Star's Reach blog, sitting outside and watching the birds, and learning to sew. Which, now that I see them grouped together, begins to make sense (at least to this non-linear thinker).

And I'm still drawing symbols in the air...

Thijs Goverde said...

Frankly, I feel that you're underestimating the liveliness of European religious history. The violent clashes between Catholics and Protestants the endless schisms within Protestantism, the rise of minority religions like Anthroposphism (Krishnamurti lived a two hour train trip to the north of my hometown) TM (the Maharishe Mahesh Yogi lived two hours to the south) and many others make for an interesting eligious landscape.

The influence of religion on politics has been on the wane for the last thirty years, however.
I, for one, am glad of it.
I have no love for organised religiosity. The price you pay for it in terms of ingroup-outgroup dynamics is too high for the benefits it affords.

I dread the storm you mention.

Scarlet Imprint said...

Thanks for this post John. We're delighted that the discussions at the conference took this direction. A positive omen.

We're getting a great reaction from readers to your work and the weaving together of what have been separate strands in their lives.

Have had some interesting discussions with others in the UK about the possibility of getting involved in similar conference here. Any UK or European based readers who would like to see such a thing, feel free to get in touch.

Zach said...

Dear JMG,

Excellent post, this week, thank you!

You are a keen observer of the religious scene -- or at least, our observations match. :) As a Christian and as a veteran of both the "culture war" battles and environmental activism, this rings very true to me.

Which is sad, as it's a pretty devastating indictment.

By this analysis, the only major religious institution in America that isn't hopelessly compromised re: the Long Descent is the Catholic Church. It's not a wholy owned subsidiary of either the "right" or "left" wings of the status quo (not that it doesn't have its partisans in droves, but they exist on both sides, so there's some relative cancelling out). And, it still maintains a semblance of its tradition of voluntary poverty.

I begin to see why you predicted a resurgent Catholicism in the US some time back.

[Note: I am still Anglican, though very Anglo-Catholic, so I don't think this is simply cheering for "my team," in case I've confused anyone on that point...]

From my little vantage point, I am seeing the same thing -- dawning realization that "things can't go on forever this way," lack of faith in the Demipublicans (voting as a dreary duty of damage control, rather than actual enthusiasm for a side), and a hunger that one dares hardly mention for some spiritual context to it all.


lamentforthetirnanog said...

It will be interesting to see how the sphere of religion deals with the downfall of industrial society. It would probably be safe to say that those faiths which existed before the industrial revolution will at least have a fallback position from which to help believers make sense of the world. Those faiths which are tied intellectually to the idea of eternal progress (especially in regards to American exceptionalism) will probably fade away. I'm thinking of both American Evangelicalism (especially in it's mega-church "prosperity Gospel" form) and the New Age movement.
I wonder if you have read Neal Stephenson's "Diamond Age"? While it imagines a future unrestrained by limited resources through the use of nanotechnology, it is interesting in that the society is based around "tribes", many of which are religiously based, and the nation-state no longer exists.
My wife and I have noticed the same sense of growing unease in our friends andrelations that you speak of. Like you said a growing sense that something is wrong, and an even more alarming sense that what is wrong cannot be put right through any power we possess.

Nick said...

JMG, It was a great pleasure to hear you speak at the "Age of Limits" My girlfriend and I were able to attend for Saturday and caught your keynote presentation.
You are even more compelling and insightful to hear in person and I hope if others have the chance to see you at upcoming conferences they do so. I should also note my girlfriend is studying history and to date has not been very convinced by my peak oil, resource based arguments and never had the interest to read my books on the subject. The historical based perspective you use to present the subject has really got her thinking though...
I've thought a bit about your second point, and like you think the role of religion in the future is a very very big issue, arguably it could shape the outcome of our descent far more significantly than any other issue. The sense I get is that as the decline goes along the mythological narratives chosen by many contemporary strains of christianity are going to come unglued. Does that result in a shakedown and reformation of core christian beliefs or just ultimate fragmentation and disintegration of mainstream christianity. I think the later seems likely. If that is the case then I think we are in for the development of some very interesting spiritualities. I suspect based on what I've seen in fellow friends seeking a religion that makes sense that we will end up with highly syncretic religions that span the spectrum of religions and spiritualities the earth has known.

Since this is happening in an era of decline and scarcity I also expect that neo-tribal organizational forms will be developed by many of these groups as a pure survival tactic. Perhaps if one group really gets something coherent and organized going there will be room to grow beyond that form, but if not I think much larger group sizes will be very hard to handle. Anyways just some very wildly untested thoughts of mine on the subject.

Bill Pulliam said...

On the matter of religion...

A funny thing happened in the 1960s/1970s... while the mainline churches were adopting the values of the mainstream left, the mainstream left was abandoning religion wholesale. The results of this still are visible today. Here we have two almost non-overlapping groups of "back to the land" sorts. We have the religious ones; not just the Amish/Mennonite communities, but also conservative seventh-day sabbath groups and others who aspire to a time when men were men and women were in the kitchen. Then you have the greenies, the peakistas, the permaculturists, the CSA farmers, most of whom are secular. Other than sometimes buying each others produce, these groups are almost entirely non-overlapping and non-communicating. Then there are the remains of the 1970s back-to-the-land hippies, many of whom were vaguely spiritual, often a miss-mash of buddhism and Jesus Freak. These folks are primarily aligned with the secular greenies now, a generation on down the line. They don't talk about spirituality very much anymore, and their kids are gone, opting for urban living, jobs, and money.

I do think that overall the people who are making these sorts of transitions for spiritual reasons are more inclined to simply tend their gardens and commune with their deities, not taking a high-profile activist approach. The activists tend to come from the secular greenie movements, pushing technology and products, increasingly for a price.

Larry said...

I eagerly look forward to Thursday mornings and reading your blog. I, for one, have at least a toe in each of the sub-tribe camps you described.

My take on the world is that one manifestation of the end of growth is inflation. One can make a parlor sport of watching prices go up on what one normally buys. For me the latest was the price of walnuts going from $5.99 to $7.39. About a month ago, it was the cat food, from $0.59 to $0.69 per can.

The baby boomer readers may recall the twelve cent popsicles and comic books from the 1960s which somehow became a dollar or more by 1990s after the initial decades of peak oil.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

I am sure that religious organizations will have a prominent place in a materially shrunken future. However, many of us have walked away from religious organizations and don't necessarily look forward to a future where they become one of the primary modes of organization.
In my opinion, the greatest strength of religions is a set of non-materialistic values that serve people well in hard times. Poverty, sharing, empathy are virtues instead of a sign of failure.
I also suspect that some people who have walked away from religion have done so because of disillusionment with the religion as practiced with lip service to values that are not being put into action.
So we will see whether religions will be able to turn poverty back into a virtue and encourage sharing over hoarding and a life of community over a life of isolation in one's carefully acquired pile of goods.

SLClaire said...

My moderate Republican, 78 year old mother, resident of Florida, says every time we talk that "Mother Nature seems to be very upset with us." Actually, she said it in language I can't post on this blog, so the above is a milder paraphrase. She's mentioned that the pattern of afternoon summer showers that used to be so characteristic of west coastal Florida has been absent for the past several years. She's also noticed that our home state, Michigan, has had a bizarrely warm winter and spring, breaking record highs by large amounts in March. It's also been much warmer than normal here in the St. Louis metro area, to the point where everything perennial is about three weeks ahead of schedule. I wonder uneasily what summer will bring.

Yupped said...

Very broadly, I’ve come to think of religion as a series of mental beliefs, to which you try to find agreement in your mind and of which you try to persuade others. I’ve walked away from a couple of religions in my lifetime (the Catholicism of my childhood and Liberal Episcopalianism of my mid-life), because I couldn’t get my mind to agree with the various ideas and concepts.

My spirituality now is quite far away from having any mental beliefs attached to it – it is more of an inner feeling of peace and connectedness that flows from meditation and stillness. That’s about as conceptual as I can get, and even that may be wrong (the peace I feel may just be my body and brain calming down, rather than any concept like connectedness). But, it works for me, is deeper than any religiously-driven experiences I’ve ever had, and it has saved me in many ways.

So turning this perspective in the direction of certain US religious leaders, it does seem that their religious/theological beliefs are quite tangled up with other ideas in their heads, like social conservative Republican ideas or feed-the-poor Liberal ideas. You can’t really see the join in some ways. So the certainty they may bring to religious commitment is mental energy they bring to politics ideas or attitudes towards the environment. My own experience has been that the more you can empty your mind of fixed ideas, the more room there is for a natural appreciation of the environment to grow inside you, or for you to be able to entertain such troubling ideas as the end of the current age. But you need to be able to tidy-up and let go of your mental attic first.

Carmiac said...

I wonder, JMG, about your surprise that there are more people than you expect who are ready to hear the message about post-peak decline, spirituality and the importance of local, personal work on sustainability. Perhaps it's just the circles I run in, but almost everyone that I spend any time with in deep conversation are at least passingly aware of the difficulties facing us. Most have made a spiritual connection and are doing something in their personal lives to work on sustainability. Of course, this ranges from the pagan leaders I know who run a teaching organic farm to those of us who just do a bit of gardening, bicycling, recycling, composting and the other basics, but it seems like everyone is doing something.

Maybe I'm just feeling overly optimistic today, but I think that there is more awareness and small scale action going on down close to the ground than anyone can really see right now.

Anyway, see you in a few weeks!

Renaissance Man said...

You already have a name: the Post-Carbon-Reality Tribe. :-)

Back in February, a single paragraph, in his usual acerbic style, that lit up my awareness like a flash of lightning on a moonless night.
"Now, in the last hours of the cheap oil economy, the forty year miracle of the Sunbelt boom dwindles and a fear of approaching darkness grips the people there like a rumor of Satan. The long boom that took them from an agricultural backwater of barefoot peasantry to a miracle world of Sonic Drive-ins, perpetual air-conditioning, WalMarts, and creation museums is turning back in the other direction and they fear losing all that comfort, convenience, and spectacle. Since they don't understand where it came from, they conclude that it was all a God-given endowment conferred upon them for their exceptional specialness as Americans, and so only the forces of evil could conspire to take it all away."
In that one paragraph, I suddenly understood American Exceptionalism (British and European Exceptionalism was founded on coal), current political discourse, the fanatical adherence to questionable economic theories taught in universities and business schools.
You and he and others I respect have all noted that religious cults, or any pre-organized group like the Masons for example, is going to play a part in helping people cope with difficult times. During the turbulent migration era in Europe, monasteries became repositories of learning and models of organization.
I'm sure Amish, Mennonites, &c. will weather the downslide quite well, on the whole, having defined roles and internal organization -- at least for now. People who have embraced hyper-individualism and the fashionable dismissal of religion-as-superstition, however, will either learn to organize in groups or suffer.
I'm not sure that religions (cults) will play such a large role in Canada or in Europe, since we actively discourage religion in politics for historical reasons and we have maintained at least some sense of social obligation. But I must note you have a far more accurate track record for your predictions than most.

Odin's Raven said...

I think it was Feynmann who quipped that science progresses one funeral at a time. The same may be true of other changes. Provided the change is fairly gradual people will adapt to their changing circumstances. Maybe there's no need to push the river.

Swathorne said...

Very disappointed that I missed the conference. Sounded like a great opportunity to meet like minded people in our region (Maryland/PA) which I desperately need.

I think the tv show (History Channel?) "Doomsday Preppers" is a clear indication that more people are interested in the topic of decline. Unfortunately most people frame it as "doomsday" or "apocalypse" rather than decline.

Andy Brown said...

20 years ago I wrote my Masters Thesis in anthropology on "politicized paganism" in Oregon as utopian effort, and nothing since then has changed my conviction that for many people spirituality can be an extremely powerful (and possibly necessary) tool for escaping invisible and unacknowledged cultural constraints. (Like any tool, its products can be varied, of course!) But I'm happy to hear that it is being discussed seriously in your scene.

Andy Brown said...

As to your third point, about the sound of distant thunder, I would add my confirmation from two fronts. One is as an anthropologist recently researching in the Midwest, I was shocked at how quickly people were accepting the unwelcome reality that their material lives were in decline. And although most people were unhappy about this, and hoped for (though didn't expect) a reversal of fortunes, there is a ready-made cultural narrative that many people were adopting as a means of buffering the psychological blow. Essentially, it is a story about how all the unnecessary consumerism was never that good for us, or happiness-creating. And maybe a bit of decline would have a silver lining. (Note that all I'm pointing out here is a cultural resource that people have to help them process - rather than deny - some of the coming reality. I'm not saying it is sufficient or inevitable.)

John said...

When I realized, in the first part of the last decade, that peak oil was about to be upon us, I did a fair amount of squirming too. I think it's a stage a lot of us have to go through as we make the considerable mental adjustments necessary to grapple with the world just ahead.

I got out of 'squirm' mode by taking the long view. In my case this was by remembering my grandmothers, who lived most of their lives in the first half of the 20th century.

They would be considered poor now. Neither ever owned a house or a car. One didn't have a TV or a refrigerator (she had an icebox, with ice delivered every two or three days).

Yet, despite this appalling paucity of material posessions, both were happy, engaged citizens. They had family, friends, religion, interests and hobbies. I can't ever remember either of them complaining about their lot in life.

If they could prosper in what would now be considered a low energy lifestyle, surely I could do the same.

It seems to me that if you can nail down the very basics of life, food, water, clothing, shelter, and a bit of heat in the winter, then use your time to do the things that really matter (friends, family, and spiritual pursuits, mainly), you've got a pretty good shot at crafting a happy, productive life.

On a different note; is the talk you gave last weekend transcribed anywhere? I'd love to read it.

David Foster Wallflower said...


My sincere thanks. Your consistency seems a good bit of magic to me, and I value these readings as a (sorely lacking) spiritual exercise, even as I'm deeply embedded in noisily religious Middle America.

Is there a good source to find out about events like The Age of Limits conference?

Andy Brown said...

The second place I see confirmation is here in Rhode Island, where you can speak (lightly) of possible collapse and people don't treat that as a crackpot idea. (You may strike certain people as a little panicky or negative, but a lot of others see it as perfectly reasonable idea to entertain.) The kind of hedging that I am doing personally (three hives of bees, gardening some staples like potatoes, beans, squash and sunflowers, laying in an infrastructure for chickens or rabbits, hanging on to the family hunting gear - keeping physically fit but keeping my full time job) isn't all that odd anymore among the kind of educated, alert, moderately well-off people who pay attention to history and world events. (It never did go entirely out of style with my Swamp Yankee neighbors of course, despite the decades of prosperity.) It's a small change, but a noticeable one.

Candace said...

I saw this earlier today and thought it might be of interest to your readers, but off topic. But, I think it fits in with the idea of "distant rumblings"

Researchers show changing climate caused an ancient civilization's collapse

The concluding line was that the Indus Valley civilization was dependent on one thing - the monsoon season, and current industrial civilization is dependent on one thing - oil. It was reportedly on Fox News no less.


Andy Brown said...

I don't know how you feel about people linking to their own blogs, but I got to thinking about an article I'd written on the subject of spiritual practice and a utopian scene. So I put the article, Witchcrafting Selves up on my blog if anyone wants to read an anthropological paper on (or nearly on) the topic.

tubaplayer said...


Another fascinating discourse, thank you.

The discussion of your week end, with names that I also read regularly, is I hope a meaningful sign that ever more people are coming to realise that "there is something far wrong" with "the system", as many others have commented.

Your discussion of spirituality touch a chord with me. I was brought up in a British, Christian, Non-Conformist household. I was agnostic for many years, and it was only later in life that my thoughts led be to believe that some (many?) of the major incidents of infamy against many ethnic groups are directly due to the spread of Christianity from Europe. (Sorry, Christians).

I rarely mention it to anyone but in my later years my religion of choice is animism of the North American Indian variety. Every single day when I go through the gate into the garden I am in my church.

prack45 said...

I live in a town just outside of a city in North Alabama that is rapidly developing itself into a large smorgasbord of suburban housing tracts and all the commercial refuse that goes with it. I have seriously contemplated moving but decided to stay put due to many of the reasons you discussed in prior posts and also not wanting to create a family convulsion since I have lived here for awhile. The area I live is close to work and most businesses I associate with could be accessed easily on bike some on foot, however it gets risky with the large amount of suburbanites that cut through the area at high speeds. I have pretty much been on an island the last few years: in voluntary cut back mode, teaching my children household economy skills, converting my front yard into gardens, composting, etc.

It is somewhat unnerving because most everyone here I associate with is of the conservative republican type and are of the mindset that the “something wrong” (decline) will be solved when all the right politicians get elected and they can go back to the housing bubble-suv times. To make a long story short, I pretty much stay to myself on much of what I perceive as the turn of events causation, due to fallout regarding folk’s pre-conceived notions. I am curious how some of you approach these situations on a conversational basis?

Kieran O'Neill said...

I would note, as others have, that Europe's religious history is certainly a bit more interesting, and a bit less in decline than the evangelical atheists make it out to be.

From Catholic ceremonies, cathedrals and traditions in the South and Central East, to Lutheranism being the official, tax-subsidised religion of Sweden, to resurgent Serbian Orthodoxy, religion is still a major part of culture and occasionally a political force.

I don't think they're quite as caught up in the political gridlock as in the US, but the religions of Europe are still here, either to fall with failing governments, or to take in new followers as times get harder.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Hello JMG and greetings to all--

I do wish I could have gone to the conference, and wish I could have heard the talks on spirituality, since for me the spiritual is completely intertwined with, or perhaps pervades, my life and all life on earth.

I agree with Carmiac that many more people than you might expect are aware and adjusting to post-peak life, even if they aren't calling it that. Like the refrain of the old Dylan song says, that so well captures modern anxiety: "Because something is happening here/
But you don't know what it is/
Do you, Mister Jones?"

But: if you, JMG, say that democracy is the best system among all flawed systems of governance, yet people are becoming so disenchanted with it and other institutions--how do we help democracy survive?

Kieran O'Neill said...

One other thought I had on reading this: lately I've seen right-wing pundits throwing around the term "eco-acolytes". It's a fairly bland and low-brow piece of black magic, intended to equate scientific evidence of ecological disasters (particularly climate change) with religious belief.

But ... reading this post, or Star's Reach (with its Gaia-centric religion), or hearing a comment by William Gibson ("just wait ten or twenty years until the actually green parties start coming into power"), I wonder if they aren't inadvertently on to something.

I sometimes think about writing a science fiction story contemplating what an actual ecocentric religion might look like during the tailing off of the industrial age. If, like most religions, it had its fundamentalist/extremist side, you can almost bet that would involve some pretty extreme action against anything perceived as a threat to ecology.

If events follow that kind of trajectory, then the ensuing storm between on the one hand the middle and upper classes clinging to the vestiges of an industrial lifestyle, and on the other hand poor, desperate and fanatical eco-centrics intent on annihilating polluting industry, would, as you said, be a whopper.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Phil Harris,

Most interesting musings.

Regarding US religions and marketing: among some, there is the "prosperity gospel" which to me is completely tied in to American consumer culture.

You say, "Quakers in England who invented successful modern ‘market intelligence’ for agricultural commodities during England’s 18thC ‘agricultural revolution’ when semi-subsistence peasant farming largely disappeared."

But, how did this happen? It began through their objections to tithes and insistence that every place (e.g. all of creation) was holy, not just churches or church land, in conjunction with a desire to improve agricultural yields to help end famines. Which doesn't discount what you're saying at all, just that there are multiple motives and interpretations. They weren't setting out to be capitalists--today signicant critiques of capitalism have originated and continue to emerge from Quaker theorists such as Kenneth Boulding.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Renaissance Man - When I read JMG's post, I immediately thought "Reality Tribe." But I like "Post-Carbon-Reality Tribe." A bit of a mouthful, but accurate.

@Larry - Where the heck do you get walnuts for $7.39 a pound. Around here (Western Washington) they've been pretty much $9.98 a pound. One thing my place lacks is nut trees of any kind. I like a small handful of nuts, every day. Good and healthy. I have feelers out to find any nuts I can harvest gratus. Picked up some raw almonds the other day for $2 a pound.

Speaking of inflation, I can't seem to find a good can of soup anymore for less than $1. Two years ago that price was pretty common, on sale. I can add and extend a good can of soup to two or three meals. Same with canned chili. Even the case sale price is just shy of $1 per can. So, the bones and trimmings of the chickens I helped process a couple of weeks ago are going into making some chicken / vegetable stock. The Montezuma Red Beans are going into the ground.

Weather here? Another wet spring. The last three years, even for us, have been wetter than "normal." I hear the farmers complaining about the wet fields. But, La Nina is shifting back to El Nino, so maybe next year, a dryer spring.

btidwell said...

JMG, I look forward to your blog every week. It’s always interesting and often educational. One thing was left out of this weeks discussion. Most of the conservative Protestants in the US are Evangelical. Among other things this means they believe in the physical return of Christ, followed by a world war to defeat the “armies of Satan,” leading to an eternity in Paradise. At best, peak oil and climate change mean little at all to them because Jesus will save them before it becomes unbearable. In Genesis, God gave mankind “dominion over all the earth.” Therefore, they think it is their priviledge, if not responsibility to exploit the world’s resources. At the extreme end, they believe that using up everything will just bring the Rapture that much sooner. This sounds like blackmailing God to me, but logic and philosophical coherence are not an important part of their faith.

They will probably go the better part of a generation thinking that Jesus will return any day and taking pleasure in the increasing natural disasters as God smiting the wicked. These were the people who actually believed that God almost destroyed the entire city of New Orleans to punish the homosexuals and prostitutes.

Politicians in the state of North Carolina recently proposed legislation to make it illegal for any scientist in the state to measure rising sea levels in anyway besides a comparison to historic norms since 1900. They would not be allowed to consider the possibility of exponential increases or cliff hanging events. As one journalist put it, “a category 5 hurricane just off the coast does not exist because the weather has been fine for the past two weeks.” North Carolina depends on coastal tourism for a significant part of its economy so anything that threatens that is a devious lie. Post collapse life in the US will be interesting to say the least. Do you really know how freaky some people are over here?

horizonstar said...

John, I find your writing to be among the most erudite and historically informed anywhere.

That said, I view with extreme skepticism the idea that religion, whether in the form of mainstream quasi-political organizations like the Catholic church or fringe cults can be a constructive force for social organization in a post-collapse future. Certainly the whole of human history teaches us otherwise.

In the American context, the KKK and Jim Jones are the more typical expressions of cult religious behavior.

Listen to "Jonestown" by Concrete Blonde, an 80's alternative rock group. One would have to be in the grip of the Rapture not to feel a dark chill.

Thomas Daulton said...

Greetings JMG,

Just a day ago I listened to a podcast with bearing on this subject.

David Graeber, author of a book that really JMG and everyone absolutely needs to read, is an anthropologist whose anarchist leanings appear to give him a fascinating objective distance to make trenchant observations about current and historical societies. His book, "Debt: the First 5000 Years" cites anthropological and historical evidence to show that this century's commonly held folk wisdom about the origins of money, credit and debt are completely backwards.

His book is a splendid exposition of how human interaction around the world and in other eras has taken a myriad of forms, values and structures -- that the narrow economic and mercantile lifestyle lived in the developed world today is just one of a seemingly infinite number of cultural arrangements of transaction and exchange, and _not_ the be-all end-all pinnacle of human society which we First World-ers tend to assume we have achieved. That's a fascinating topic in itself -- plenty enough for a whole series of columns -- but it led him in this podcast to make an interesting observation about religion.

According to his historical analsysis, the epochs and places where commodity currency such as gold coins reaches prominence tend to co-incide with the births of major religions and philosophical movements. He speculates that when people live in a mental sphere where money and economics are hard and tangible, where people are driven by avarice and materialism, then many people tend to want to balance that by turning to a different mental sphere where materialism is trivial, giving and altruism are valued. Conversely, in the many times and places around the world where the currency resembles more like "favors," "gifts," and "debts of honor" than hard numbers, people tend to incorporate morality and spirituality more seamlessly into their daily lives. As opposed to partitioning morality off into a specialty mental sphere, which can be safely ignored in daily transactions.

Graeber notes that our money system has morphed from one of hard commodities (gold) 60 years ago, into a system of virtual money, technological and intellectual exchange as well as flat-out debasement of the hard currency. This implies -- to me, anyway -- that in the long term, with economic collapse people may gravitate once again towards an appreciation of wealth as nonmonetary pleasure, an appreciation of security and of community and caring.

Unlike my friend Justin, I am often frightened and depressed about the implications of the fall of our civilization... but what Graeber said there does indeed strike a chord with me and gives me a good deal of hope. I see a lot of people my age and under rejecting, at least mentally, the mercantile values we've been handed. At least, that's what they say over beers. Now if only we could get them all to quit their counterproductive, destructive office jobs en masse...

mtngirl said...

I've been going to a number of events recently, some spiritual, some not. I also end up talking with a lot of people. Over the past 3 - 6 months I've begun to notice something: there are a LOT of people who are very quietly lining things up in preparation for a different, and much reduced, way of living. Everything from creating small communities, to learning how to garden, to stocking reasonable amounts of (real) foods.

When the topic of climate change and peak oil come up, I watch as more and more people seem to relax. "Ah, I can talk about this here." And the conversation ensues.

It is my sense that there is a very large, very quiet, very committed underground "movement" of people who are preparing for that distant thunder, which they don't see as being all that distant. This preparation isn't driven by fear, it's driven by realism.

dltrammel said...

Thank God I had some very un-organized religious parents when I was growing up, that encouraged me to think for myself and explore the boundaries. That exploration lead me to many of the fringe and lesser known (for a wasp white guy) religions. I ended up being very spiritual but in a personal growth kind of way.

One book in particular had a profound impact, Serge Kahili Kings' "Urban Shaman". Being a bit of the scientist bent, the fact that wise people, aka shamans, witch doctors, healer, medicine women are common to it seems most if not all cultures seemed tailor made for my personality.

I recommend that first book to anyone who is more hands on with their spirituality. Though his later works all get a bit too commercial. He opened a website, school, institute, etc after the success of the first book.

Like JMG's concept of Green Wizards, shamans seem quite suited to help out as the descent progresses and society unwinds.

BTW, while the Green Wizard's forum is a bit slow right now, with the Spring planting Cathy is doing and Teresa's family health issues, that are keeping them both off site, I am on morning and evening, and offer a big "Come on over to our fire and share a bit of community."

If you want feed back about a particular project you are stuck on, or just want to what others are doing, please stop by. That way we don't clutter up the comments here.

(If you have any problems registering, feel free to email me at randomsurfer200 at )

Myself, I plan on trying my hand at candle making this Summer, but in true Green Wizard style, I am going to see if I can't convert some old DiskTV antenna's on our roof to solar cookers, to heat up and melt my wax. We had a bad hail storm last month, and we're getting a new roof out of the deal so I've asked the roofers to save the one the previous occupant left. Look for my thread on my efforts soon with lots of picture and info.

Come the Fall I have a couple of thermo-syphon projects I want to try, to help lower my Winter heating bill.


Some general points on the comments:

"With regards to "the sound of distant thunder"...years ago I used to joke about the 'Zombie Apocalypse' and got weird looks ...and a few years later it was uncomfortable chuckles, and now it is just common knowledge."

The lunch room at work was all a buzz over the recent "zombie attack" making the news. Funny, no one batted an eye when I said, "Yeap, the 'Zombie Apocalypse' is upon us."

As for weird weather, a few days ago it was 95 degrees, tonight my garden thermometer says 56. Good thing was there was rain with that chill, which my garden enjoyed I'm sure.


(split in two parts due to word length)

dltrammel said...


MilesL said: "Detroit plans to shrink by leaving half the city in the dark..."

Wow, considering my neighborhood is sliding down the slope for years now, that's scary. When they tell us they will not be sending the police to those areas, watch the Long Night begin.

White flight has pretty much moved the afluent to other areas of ST Louis. We are left with the older and poorer ones living in small homes of two bedrooms.

One thing of luck, they are on huge properties. My sister's place while small, could do a garden that is 10 times my size and still not cover a third of it.

Down side, our last big store, Wal-Mart, has been lured to another nearby sub-urb with tax abatements and give-me's by that town's government. We have what was once the nation's biggest mall, boarded up and 90% vacant down the street. The city has tried three times to get someone, anyone to come in and re-develop it. The latest plan, which seems to have fallen thru, was to bulldozer the thing flat and replace it with something more modern.

Problem is, when it was close to being closed, there was rampant shoplifting by groups of kids. Merchants left because of the crime not the older structure.

Now everyone goes to a place miles away where you have to drive to get there, and the over weight security guards ride Segways.

Our main street thru town is filled with strip malls and commercial buildings mostly empty. Luckily I've managed to cut my driving down and plan my trips to minimize my gas use. I'm too old to take up a bicycle as my primary mode of travel.

Not to mention, with the street lights turned off, I'll get run


Zack said: "By this analysis, the only major religious institution in America that isn't hopelessly compromised re: the Long Descent is the Catholic Church."

Not wanting to spark a hot button argument, but the Catholic Church IMO is heads and tails at the front of the pack of organizations advocating the status quo of growth and entitlement.

As long as they get their tithe of course. If you were to auction off a single percentage of the treasure adorning the Vatican, how many starving people could you feed?

When 80%+ of Catholics use birth control, yet the leadership goes ballistic over the modest idea that their non-Catholic employees should get that covered in their health care truly shows that the air being breathed up on the top of the Mound is short of oxygen.

The nuns might be their undoing, since they, unlike the male dominated leadership seem to get it with their focus on helping people. Witness their recent smack down for failing to toe the party line.

Shame it seems like the nuns are all 60+ and aging. Where is a good nun with a big ruler when you need her?

(Pictures the Pope and certain Cardinals getting the knuckle rap...)

As to which group comes out on top, I've got money on the Buddhists. They have a great historical track record, a good present rep as being focused on the common good, and going forward are enough of a non-American main stream religion that those rejecting what's out there now will spark an interest in those seeking something to cling to as things go south.

I doubt I'll be around to see it, but I figure every town 100 years from now will have a temple.


JMG, I look forward to next year's get together. Perhaps we can finally meet.

Wasn't able to get time off this year, since I just got hired at my new job (after almost 2 years as a temporary worker).

I do hope to give a lecture at my local sci-fi con in October on peak oil and green wizardry. I know the convention leadership and don't see a problem getting them to block me an hour into the scheduling.

In the mean time, garden, weatherize, and conserve. Learn to live the lifestyle required of me in ten year, now.

John Michael Greer said...

Jeffrey, well, I did refer mostly to Europe. I know a lot of Asian countries retain a much deeper involvement in religion.

John, glad you enjoyed it! As for your religious views, well, if it works for you, by all means; it's very nearly the opposite of my faith, but the rule of dissensus applies here, too.

Robo, as I commented in The Long Descent, the only way that Druidry is going to become a major religious movement in the decades and centuries ahead is if the existing large movements fail abjectly to come up with any meaningful response to the crisis of our age. Still, that's more of a possibility at this point than I would have guessed four years ago.

Joel, that's good to hear -- both that you've heard the same things I have, and that you're interested. A good-sized herd of sacred cows is going to have to be roasted over a slow fire when I get to those posts, but that can't be helped.

Everything, Og the caveman was right, too; he noticed that mammoths were being hunted too heavily, and predicted the arrival of Peak Mammoth. Everyone ignored him until the hunting parties started coming back empty handed, and by then it was too late to avoid some very hungry times. I bet there's a cave somewhere with the Og Curve drawn in red ochre on the wall...

Miles, in my experience the mainline churches go out of their way to chase off potential members below the age of 40 or so. I don't think they realize that this is what they're doing, but they do it very efficiently.

Lizzy, that may be part of it, but it's not the whole picture. More on this down the road.

Phil, nah, we've had a fair amount of informal religious violence but no wars of religion. As for religious advertising, sure -- it's big business these days, and the mere fact that everything authentically religious vanishes once that sort of thaumaturgy gets going is not something most American religious organizations are likely to notice.

Cherokee, I've seen that difference between Seventies books and their modern equivalents over and over again. As for kohlrabi, very tasty stuff! Glad to hear that you've discovered it.

Sixbears, not surprised to hear that actual conservatives find the pseudoconservative cant coming out of so many of today's seminaries unappealing. I can only hope that the pastor in question loses his job in the near future.

John Michael Greer said...

GuRan, 2100 people out of the whole population of the internet still isn't very much!

Unknown, that's one approach. In my experience, though, the insights that transform on the deepest level are at least as likely to be found in solitude as in a group setting.

Justin, exactly; "plus ├ža change, plus la meme chose."

ChemEng, a definite data point.

William, I read it differently. I see the latest flurry of wildly unconstitutional security laws as an admission of failure and a betrayal of blind panic. You're right that they hear the distant thunder, but it's not a quest for total control so much as a frantic search for something to stave off total defeat.

Bill, that's good news. Not at all surprising -- there are still some old Seventies-era solar water heater panels on roofs here in Cumberland, apparently still very much in use -- but good to hear.

Twilight, maybe so. I'm guessing it'll be quicker than that, though.

Stu, I can't speak for other pagan faiths, but in my experience nobody ever converts to Druidry. People find out about it and say, "But that's pretty much what I believe anyway; I guess I must be a Druid." Then we welcome them, make room for 'em in the circle, and proceed with the ritual.

Maria, I figured that the annoying squeaking sound was whimpers of blind panic coming from office buildings in New York and Washington; thanks for setting me straight. ;-)

Thijs, maybe so -- but you'll notice that the pace of religious oddity in Europe declined steadily during the years when so many of your religious minorities were heading west over the ocean in steerage. As for ingroup/outgroup dynamics, I can think of plenty of aggressively secular groups that have as bad a problem with those.

Peter and Alkistis, thank you! I think it would be a great idea to launch something similar on your side of the pond.

Zach, I'm less certain than I was that the Catholic church is going to go anywhere in the US except up in flames. Much of the laity and a fair proportion of priests are on the leftward end of the line I traced, while the hierarchy is moving toward a rigidly reactionary and exclusionary stance; that's a recipe for an explosion. Elsewhere in the world, that's another matter; still, all this will require more research and study.

John Michael Greer said...

Lament, you're certainly right about prosperity theology (pfaugh!) and what the New Age movement has largely become, which is the same thing without the Christian trappings. Haven't read the Stephenson novel yet; I'll put it on the list.

Nick, the historical perspective to my mind is the key to making sense of our predicament; it's easy to spin theories in the absence of data, whereas history provides us with the data. As for the religions of the future, if things follow the usual course there'll be vast diversity followed by a movement toward one or a few main options; we'll see what those turn out to be.

Bill, that's what made the mainstream churches' leftward shift so self-defeating; they were trying to appeal to people who were in the process of abandoning religion altogether, while turning their backs on people who wanted religion but couldn't handle the liberal cant. Not a bright move.

Larry, isn't it fascinating how we supposedly have no inflation, but prices keep rising?

Wolfgang, precisely so. Those faiths that embrace asceticism -- starting with their own clergy and leaders -- will be much more likely to make it than those that cling to material wealth, if for no other reason than that all that wealth makes a great target for governments and thieves alike.

SLClaire, I've been hearing that sort of thing from a lot of very conservative people.

Yupped, that's one approach. A set of ideas and beliefs that are viable in an age of decline is another useful option.

Carmiac, you may run in more perceptive circles than I do.

Renaissance, oh, granted -- I'm speaking mostly about the United States, since that's the setting I know from personal experience.

Raven, that's fine, so long as you're willing to attend a lot of funerals. Good conversations are to my mind more interesting.

John Michael Greer said...

Swathorne, it'll be held next year over Memorial Day weekend -- might want to put it on the calendar.

Andy, fascinating. Do you plan on publishing your Midwestern research?

John, I did three talks, all of them extempore. If you've been following the discussions here, you know the substance of the talks on "How Civilizations Fall" and "Green Wizardry;" the third, "Spirituality and Peak Oil" -- well, that's almost certainly going to become a book, and I'd like to place it with one of the large religious publishers, since it's going to be relevant well outside my own faith community.

David, I don't know of a good online source for what's happening; I get a lot of emailed announcements, as a likely presenter. Does anyone else have a suggestion?

Candace, thanks for the link!

Tuba, as a Druid, I can't ever leave my church -- wherever you go, there Nature is.

Prack, I don't know of any useful way to discuss this sort of thing with people who are deep into denial about it. Live your life, make your preparations and grow your garden; after a few more elections fail to fix anything, you may find your neighbors beginning to notice.

Adrian, I'll be getting to that at some length in a bit.

Kieran, I think it's a real possibility. There are also evangelical Christian novels of the "Left Behind" type that use the worship of Gaia as the church of the antichrist; that shows you just how deep the fear is.

Btidwell, yes, I'm quite aware of how freaky -- or, more precisely, panic-stricken -- people are over there, or more precisely over here; remember that I live in an Appalachian mill town with more than 80 churches in it. (Folks still giggled over Harold Camping's predictions.) The spread of dispensationalist Rapture theology is a fairly recent thing, and I doubt it will last long; it's a common mistake to overestimate the durability of religious fads. As for the recent legislation in North Carolina, that will last precisely until the first major surge in sea level hits...

Lance Michael Foster said...

JMG, Tonight I posted two resources for folks to consider from a First Nations / Native American point of view that could help inform and shape the discussion and development of a community's spirituality: 1. Twelve Principles of Aboriginal Philosophy, and 2. First Nations Code of Ethics, at

The Rule of St. Benedict is also a very useful approach.

John Michael Greer said...

Horizonstar, you've just taken two extreme cases and redefined them as average. Does that suggest to you that your viewpoint is distorted by bias? It certainly says that to me.

Thomas, thanks for the reference! I'll check that out.

Mtngirl, that's very promising indeed.

Dltrammel, you might also try a solar box cooker -- put a saucepan full of wax chunks into one of those on a sunny day and you'll have liquid wax in no time flat. Congrats on being hired -- that's a challenging task these days -- and the conference will be held next year, so if you can get the weekend free, we can certainly find some time for a conversation.

Ron Broberg said...

Two centers of village social life: the pub and the church

Tony Weddle said...

I have to admit that I'm not entirely comfortable with the increasing references to spirituality in peak oil/decline circles. Of course, spirituality has played a big role in the human mind but the notion of spirituality (at least in the religious sense) seems to imply that humans are not just another species that evolved along with perhaps millions of others or that they don't consist of the same kinds of atoms that are seen in things animate and inanimate.

But I do wish I'd been at that gathering of like minds. You're absolutely right about the need to pick up that kind of discussion.

macsporan said...

It sounds as if Religion has taken sides on the political divide rather as it did before Civil War.

Both will probably be discredited by the Fall, so watch out for something new.

On a less cheerful note one old religion that never abandoned ascetism or compromised with consummer-culture is Islam.

We'll be hearing a lot from them in the future.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Fabrice said...

I am diviner and I also feel the thunder coming. Here are my divination for this century

Unknown said...

Eagle eye

Excellent, timely and concise. Thank you. The peak oil community at the opposite end of the world is active, communicating with government and consists of more mainstream than alternative people. The religion aspect is interesting as I supply to an Anabaptist community and find their way of approaching life has much to commend it. I see a distinct similarity in countenance between members of that community and the practioners of Buddism/yoga that i count as dear friends.
Both are aware of the coming decline and the roles their communities will play in helping the wider community to face things.

People who once looked askance when I spoke of times getting very hard are now coming to me with questions and the local garden centres are doing ever more in the vegetable lines. The local organic centre is running some excellent feild days, and I have the complete collection of the original Tasmanian Organic magazines from the 70's. A veritable library of useful info without any warnings of note.

The comment was made in the media today that politics is gettting ever more vicious which I see as a fight to avoid the blame for what is happening without truly understanding its inevitability.

phil harris said...

@ Adrian Ayres Fisher
(Perhaps JMG would like to weigh in here?)

Thanks. Nice to know my musings were of interest RE: Quakers in England and their business interests, particularly those during the time when England was changing over to market-oriented agriculture and to modern urbanisation. (Agricultural Revolution in England; Prof Mark Overton’s book is partly available on google preview. He does not mention Quakers per se, but gives the context for the emergence of ‘middlemen’ in marketing agricultural produce needed by the rapidly increasing urban population as they and industry expanded after 1750.)

I have been fascinated by JMG’s drawing on earlier British examples when he links the relevance of history to contemporary trends in the USA; the nature of industry, capital and markets; the expansion and the decline of empire. I share the view that these histories have relevance to contemporary USA. I think that the change in Britain at the beginning of the industrial period could be relevant. Traditional peasant ‘husbandry’ changed to farming, with both gain and loss. ‘Ideologies’ emerged to provide intellectual frameworks for change. We might ask though, what were the changed circumstances that made ‘farmers markets’ obsolete? (In those days they had a radius of about 10 miles.) What happened to the historical customary and legal regulation of those earlier markets – "vociferously defended by the poor in times of dearth"? When was the last local ‘famine’ in England? Apparently it was in 1622/1623 in a few remote areas, though the more serious example was in 1596/1597, also likewise in remote areas.

Quakers were always ahead of their time it seems. They were on the ‘reform’ side of ideology but could understand the notion of ‘Progress’: in those days it was called ‘’improvement’. Increasingly ‘the market’ was the way forward. There were many successful Quaker businesses. The town of Reading on the river Thames west of London where I went to study agriculture at the University, was pretty well made by Quaker food manufacturers in the early 19thC.

The page 145 I wanted in Overton’s book is unfortunately missing in google preview. So I copy out a few sentences: “On the other hand, by the late 18thC the idea of the self-regulating market gained currency, so that opposition to regulation acquired some intellectual justification. This is important because it marks a fundamental shift in attitude towards the nature of the market. Thus high prices following a bad harvest were seen as a ‘natural’ form of rationing and consequently no interventions were needed. This new ideology ignored the fact that the rationing mechanism was not equitable since the burden of rationing fell disproportionately on the poor. This contrasts with the interventionist tradition which had attempted to protect the weakest consumers from the consequences of dearth, .

Andy Brown said...

@ Thomas Daulton, Graeber's book has been on my to-read list since it came out. I'd note that the economic system as it's usually discussed is a far cry from what exists "on the ground" so to speak. Although people exchange labor for money just like the Econ textbooks say -- if you actually take a close look and listen you notice that what people want and try to create between bosses and workers is that whole messy set of reciprocal obligations and responsibilities, loyalties, symbolic exchanges and so on. It's mostly in an economy like this one, (or at the low end of any given economy) where employers can disregard what employees actually want that you see workers treated as interchangeable cogs undeserving of human treatment - just like the Econ textbooks say ought to be done in a market economy.

Orren Whiddon said...

Hi John, and to your readers in the interests of full disclosure, I am the lead planner for The Age of Limits Conference.

We use the words "Religion" and "Community" very loosely in conversation. Like the use of the word "Love," perhaps we should insert the paragraphs necessary to even begin to explain our intended meaning, instead of relying on the verbal shorthand of labels. That said, I will happily use these labels in this note, with the hoped for understanding that they are very crude placeholders for a broad range of human behaviors.

It is undeniable that community arises around anyone of a multiplicity of possible shared organizing principles. In a simple form it arises out of a set of shared economic efficiencies and cultural expectations. As an example we share meat from our winter cattle kill because we cannot preserve it, we bond that as a cultural experience with shared food consumption and perhaps dance, song and storytelling; and rely upon that cultural sharing to cement the economic expectation that our community members will reciprocate in sharing their own winter kill with us. This is a highly effective dynamic that we find is a central adaptation of cultures in many times and places. Community as a set of shared economic efficiencies.

Community can arise in other ways as well, one of which is the shared definitions of in group/out group ethics and trans-rational belief systems that we label "Religion." In one extreme this organizing principle of community can manifest as a tool of exploiter culture, for instance the history of the Catholic Church in the second millennium. While even within this same general "Belief System" it can manifest as a means of conserver culture, for instance the role of Catholic monasteries in preserving written western culture during the latter part of the first millennium. Community as a shared set of cultural behaviors.

Orren Whiddon said...


My own experience with the evolution of Four Quarters over nearly twenty years may be illustrative of these points. Four Quarters was founded with a full set of idealistic expectations of personal empowerment, privately owned economics, voting democratic decision making and egalitarian social values. Within two years we were poaching venison, eating potatoes by the sack and living without hot water or telephone. When confronted with the stark necessity of survival our organizations evolution based on Darwinian pragmatism began. We became an income sharing 501(d) "religious community that shares a common treasury" because when fully realized it is simply the most efficient survival focused economic arrangement possible. Rather than five residential grade washing machines for eight adults we have one industrial grade machine at a significant cost savings, as an example.

As an organizing principle to insure mutual economic reciprocity we rely upon our shared ethics and tools of personal growth, ie: "Religion." Thus I know that I do not need to submit to our group decision making process my invitation to an indigent person to share our food and lodging for a few days, even though I know that this will result in a loss of highly valued privacy, dissipation of essential shared resources and likely exposure to a dysfunctional personality. And I can rely on the fact that my fellow commutarians will make any personal sacrifice required to insure the continuity of our community and organization. I find this comforting far beyond the amount of money we have in the bank, when viewed through the lens of Collapse mitigation.

Community is like a marriage, practical problems and complexity increase in proportion to the emotional payoff gained. And religion is like a pistol, its relative goodness can only be measured by the ends to which it is put. I know as a personal fact, because I have experienced it, that community in part based upon shared "Religious Principles" is perhaps the single most effective mitigation strategy available to us as we stare into the abyss of global industrial collapse.

Jeffrey said...

All the subthemes of peak oil are distractions to the existential questions that the consequences of the age of limits presents.

From the beginning this is what intrigued me to this topic.

The spiritual component is really at the end of the day what will define humanity and its relationship to our fellow flora and fauna on the planet.

The failure of existing religious institutions is exactly why we are where we are today.

The 11th commandment that thall shalt not consume and breed beyond the carrying capacity of your environment has to be learned the way a child learns the lesson of fire when he burns his hand touching the flame.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Hello JMG and all,

For those with children--or not--I'd like to recommend a children's book set in medieval Scotland that involves issues of nature spirituality vs church-bound religion and features a woman who seems very like a druid: Wise Child by Monica Furlong. My daughter loved it when a child and beyond, and I happened to read it just before this week's AD post. Serendipity!

JMG, I'm glad you'll be getting to a discussion of democracy soon.

@dtrammel, congrats on getting hired!

Mike said...

Like Unknown, Ive been waiting for the spiritual shoe to drop. To me, it's of a piece with your point about personal responsibility, for the physical, the mental, and now the spiritual. When you mentioned Jack Lalanne's passing you noted the fact that people have moved away from physical activity. All of your blog posts, and particularly the ones about moving beyond binary thinking, encourage folks to exercise their brains and take responsibility for their thoughts. Those of us who believe, as Woody Allen put it, that "there's an intelligence to the universe, with the exception of certain parts of New Jersey," will naturally want to take responsibility for our spiritual beings as well. In all three cases, there are no magic bullets and there is no substitute for daily practices to gain higher levels of mastery.

Adrian Skilling said...

Buddhism is something I'm trying to practice these days in fits and starts and finding it quite hard. However it is inspirational in its view of humanity and the natural Word. When I practice it well for a few days my life is harmonious, but I think internal tensions build up inside me - mainly to do with ego I think so I can't keep it going yet. In particular a feel that my calm and accommodating approach is just going with the flow and not moving me or my family forwards in sustainable directions. It wasn't meant to be easy.

I'm trying this since trying to reconcile my environmental views with those close to me occasionally reaches crisis point and I need to calm myself and play the long game. I worry deeply that my preparedness for what is coming is deeply inadequate. I am surely better mentally prepared than I was a few years ago but physically, possibly less so.

I heard distant thunder is those around me a little but not much. My scientific friends/colleagues believe that the technology to save us is just around the corner. Yet they think they are highly intelligent and rational.

Nyx said...

Thanks for another fascinating post. I agree that religion will be prominent in the post-peak future as a way to create community and meaning for what is happening around us. As a woman, though, I'm concerned as to what type of religion may take root-Mormons and many other far-right religious groups ask their followers to have months' worth of canned food and other survival items in case of the End Times. I'd hate for the post-peak world to have mostly religions that are less than friendly to women. I'd like to think that more egalitarian religions, such as Druidism, would take hold, but demographically I'm not sure that would be the case. Obviously family life would be very different in the post-peak world and we would be more defined by gender roles simply because men, by and large, are stronger than women. It would be terrible though if women are again seen as second-class citizens. What are your thoughts on religion and gender roles in the post-peak world? Thanks!

Renaissance Man said...

Further, it occurs to me that there is at least one major world religion that will not survive,viz., the cult of Hy-Tek with his holy writ of Free Market Economics which will lead us all to infinite prosperity forever.
As for the attempt by the churches in the 60s and 70s to retain the flood of former adherents leaking out, I believe it's because the 60s was a time of prosperity, anyone who graduated high school could get a decent job and a middle-class lifestyle was offered even to factory workers. People tend to pray to God when they are in trouble and have need, not rush to church to give thanks. So the youth, adopting a liberal ideology of the sort that can only be upheld by great wealth, stopped coming and the leaders of the Church, seeing the numbers drop, reacted by trying to modify their credo to get the numbers back up, instead of focusing on better spirituality, which is what the kids were really looking for.
Hence the embrace of the 'modern' that produced so many Catholic churches with all the architectural charm of a Maginot-line bunker.

vera said...

Curious whether your talk, JMG, was a conversation, and what the other conversants had to say. Or was it a straight lecture with a few questions at the end? I know that Orren was trying to find the right format, and so I am wondering how that part of it went. Thanks.

Bruce The Druid said...

When it comes to Americans not understanding from where all this prosperity comes (and thus it is the forces of evil, aka socialism, that is taking it away), is it too late to mention the cargo cults of the South Pacific islands? I believe the parallels are more than coincidence, unless one holds that illiterate islanders are fundamentally different than educated Americans.

I expect a unique version of cargo cult Christianity to arise in the next decade, with the Tea Party as its nucleus.


Sam Charles Norton said...

JMG - very much looking forward to seeing what you have to say about spirituality and peak oil - but was wondering if you've read my book on the subject? I'll happily send you a free copy if you'd like it, you've been a big influence. Sam

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Thank you, JMG and others, for recently raising the subject of walking away from our toxic culture, and thank you, JMG, for this week bringing up religion.

On looking this afternoon at a little bit of contemporary printed material from an 1840s Pennsylvania archabbey, I was struck by my chosen author's intimation that in the contemporary world, monasticism plays the role of theological witness that was played in ancient Israel by the Old Testament prophets.

The quiet 1996 witness of the Tibhirine Cistercians resonates not in Algeria alone but also in today's North America, reminding us that we can, if we choose, even in North America live "under the aspect of eternity".

The same is true of the contemporary witness of a Syrian community of joy and Islamic-Christian reconciliation, Deir Mar Musa.

Both Tibhirine and Deir Mar Musa are readily researched on Google.

I also think of the courage shown by the neo-monastic Catholic foundress Dorothy Day, who had the strength to be poor, to welcome into her community house prostitutes and other Depression-era New York outcasts, and to remain a pacifist in the face of Pearl Harbor. Her editorial on the criminality of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, published in September of 1945 and currently archived at, is a paradigm of journalistic clarity.

In monasticism, we encounter people who follow JMG's precept from last week, communicating to our dark epoch through their illuminating concrete examples of lives lived.


Toomas (Tom) Karmo
www dot metascientia dot com

Richard Larson said...

I also read what was posted to the first link you provided - I liked that too.

What to do after learning the issues is the next logical step. Very good.

MilesL said...

One of the things that I have not seen much is the subject of: Identity.

Since spirituality and your beliefs / understanding of things contribute to identity, I feel it is a subject that should be looked at. I was taught that money is the core of your identity. How much or how little money you make determines who and what you are in the world. Marketing and other forces certainly back up this messed up thinking.

"John said... (Re: Grandmothers)

Yet, despite this appalling paucity of material posessions, both were happy, engaged citizens. They had family, friends, religion, interests and hobbies. I can't ever remember either of them complaining about their lot in life."

I have yet to encounter a religion (of any stripe) that TODAY successfully instills this in people. This is a technology/knowledge that seems to have been lost.

Which creates the grand question, How do we create an identity that will do well in the coming decline, as well as hold out against the current thinking?

I have no clue how to go about this! The best I have come across is (shudders) Personal Branding. Identity and how we see ourselves will also become important.

My 2 cents

Edward said...

I know people who drive 25 or more miles from where they live to the church that they attend. In this trip they pass a number of other churches of the same type that would be a much shorter trip. They make this trip for regular services several times a week, plus special events. I shouldn't second guess why they do what they do, but it seems like a hard way to maintain community.

Justin said...

but I think internal tensions build up inside me - mainly to do with ego I think so I can't keep it going yet.

One technique I have used is to create hard rules about what I consider proper emotional response. For instance, with anger and hostility, my rule is that there must be an imminent physical threat to justify getting angry or hostile. That does not mean that getting angry or hostile should be a response to physical threats, one should try to keep cool, but if I feel anger or other emotions brewing from non-physical stimulus, I check out of that by reminding myself that I need to cool off if I am feeling offended by perceived stresses to my ego.

What this means in real life is that getting angry or smart with me is a confusing experience. If I care about the person and keep my cool, I ask probing and direct questions about what the problem is. If I don't care, I either ignore them or if their antics are in my way, ask them to correct themselves coldly and respectfully. Sometimes it takes multiple confrontations, but not too often.

The biggest key is short circuiting that disruptive emotional reaction by dealing with its perceived cause by checking out of the emotion itself without checking out of the cause. The cause may be an imposition that has to be dealt with one way or the other, but without a physical component to the imposition, emotional responses should be irrelevant.

A second point is that while you can be calm, you do not have to be accommodating. I can be quite calm and very unaccommodating, which can be quite unsettling to emotionally dysfunctional people and a great relationship building experience with more emotionally healthy people. Perhaps the conflation of being calm and accommodating is what what leads to the cyclical meltdowns? i.e. you get fed up with bending over backwards for people.

Word verification:
henisme 15

(Should be:
Gennessee beerz 3)

Greg Reynolds @ Riverbend said...


Full disclosure, hand up, I'm a recovering Catholic.

I have not been to church in years. My Dad's funeral changed that. The service was comforting in its familiarity, but veered off into what could only be charitably be described as a sales pitch for The Brand.

I didn't really need much persuading, but mainstream religion has nothing to do with, nor no knowledge of spirituality.

It sounds like a good conference. Next time hold it in the dead of winter ( and not at the same time as the Organic Seed Alliance conference).


Laura said...

I've been giving some thought to gender roles and relations in the past few years. I think the two concepts are separate: the standard gender roles will probably remain fairly constant, as they have in history; the work still needs to be done. People's attitudes about these tasks will shape gender relations.

I suspect women will once again largely end up managing kitchen and kids, while men will be out managing business. But as kitchen and kids become increasingly complex, there's an opportunity to reframe attitudes -- our own as well as men's and our cultures'.

Awhile back, our esteemed Archdruid wrote about the fate of the household economy in the late 1940s and the 1950s. He pointed out that during this time, food management and large portions of child-rearing became automated and relocated outside the home. Continuing to manage these tasks at home was considered unfashionable, crude, and unnecessary. Women's work became irrelevant, so women became irrelevant. To counter this, women fought to gain footing in more relevant realms: business, technology, mass culture. And because most household tasks were automated, this was possible. Even women who preferred the old gender roles were encouraged to become more "relevant": cooks and child-raisers were urged to become caterers, daycare providers, and teachers. I suspect that the spirit of second-wave feminism was driven primarily by the desire to remain important in general, not by a specific desire to enter the men's workplace.

As we return to the household economy, we need to re-emphasize how important these home tasks are going to be in the hardships to come. As long as people consider our work important, we will be respected. We should incorporate important roles into our household economy: resource allocation, dispute mediation, counselling functions, social secretaries (important in a world where community is key!), and the ability to aid in war (important in a world where war will emerge over diminishing resources!), to name a few.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Jeffrey

Quote: "The 11th commandment that thall shalt not consume and breed beyond the carrying capacity of your environment has to be learned the way a child learns the lesson of fire when he burns his hand touching the flame."

That is an unpalatable observation in the minds of most people. I assume that you are walking the talk?

Hi Nyx,

I second Laura's opinion. I've also been wondering recently whether the perception that we have of females status within the domestic economy was indeed something cooked up (magic) for the benefit of manufacturers of domestic appliances? It is pretty sad if true.

I grew up as the only male in an otherwise all female household and as such have been up to my eyeballs in the domestic economy from a pre-adolescent age.

Nowadays, I spend a huge portion of my time on tasks ordinarily considered to fall within the female domain such as cooking, cleaning, herbs, vegetables and chooks and I can assure you that these tasks are of a very high value.

I came across a quote from a crafty peasant farmer whose area I've been reading about recently: "Land is not there to make you money, it is there to save you money". This is true in every respect.

Maybe, things such as the domestic economy can't (and shouldn't) be measured in monetary terms. The only reason to make such a comparison would be to make you feel bad so that whomever it is can sell you something, and doesn't this get back to my earlier observation about domestic appliances?



mallow said...

@Nyx & Laura –

I’ve started thinking about this too and find it quite depressing to be honest. In Ireland we don’t, at the moment at least, have the kind of far-right religious groups you do in the US. But there’s a weirdly similar danger posed by the other side of the spectrum too which I’m more familiar with. It’s maybe not as obvious. When it comes to issues around pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and motherhood, there’s a very strong current on this side of the pond towards what I’ve seen called ‘naturalism’ or ‘biological essentialism’. I think it’s related to what JMG described as Romanticism. You’ll see it in action when people say things like ‘women’s bodies were designed for childbirth/breasts for breastfeeding’, ‘we’re mammals and that’s why we must breastfeed’ and when they glorify natural childbirth and female physiological processes in general as empowering. They treat suffering and pain as things that the benevolent Mother Nature would never permit, as aberrations caused by our rational brains and, therefore, our distance from nature (i.e. ‘instincts/intuition’). It’s a weird direction that some feminists have taken. It exalts concepts like ‘women’s intuition’ and ‘motherly instincts’ in a dualistic opposition to men’s ‘cold rationality’ and science. In doing so it fails to acknowledge that industrial medicine has provided any benefits to women. It also treats women as naturally more peaceful and cooperative than men. There’s all kinds of misunderstandings of evolution and biology in there.

Those kinds of beliefs are doing damage to women right now – there are huge numbers of women getting depressed and feeling like failures for failing to give birth naturally, or failing to breastfeed, or not wanting to be attached to their babies 24/7, or not feeling instantly bonded to their babies etc. My fear is that as those beliefs are extremely common in alternative circles, they’ll gain even more ground as natural birth and breastfeeding become simply unavoidable rather than choices. That would force women back to the sum total of our biology and what are culturally considered to be instincts at any given time. On the other hand, I guess those kinds of beliefs about nature are unlikely to survive extended contact with it. They don’t have much of a foothold in places where women currently have no access to modern medicine…

It’s that return of high rates of mortality and morbidity in childbirth that really depresses me. It needn’t necessarily affect women’s work, rights or status but it will affect our descendents lives in a even more basic way. I haven’t heard anyone in the peak oil scene discuss that reality. I’ve seen the promotion of midwifery and the above natural childbirth ideology in movements like Transition Towns but as far as I’m concerned they’re all just avoiding the bottom line, which is that in the absence of modern medicine many of our granddaughters will die or be injured in birth and with no or inadequate pain relief. They’ll face the same lottery that our ancestors did. It wasn’t uncommon for women in the past to be traumatized or haunted by their births to the point where they would never speak about them.

I’m sure in time that the old reality of birth will just be accepted again as a fact of life but I’m a bit worried about the transition. It seems to me that women at some point need to go through the same task of accepting the likelihood of earlier than expected death that those with chronic, modern medicine-dependent medical conditions must. And accepting that it’s a threat that only women will personally face. Now that’s inequality. That future may not be so distant either – in the UK and Ireland austerity cutbacks are already leaving maternity hospitals understaffed. But the grieving process for that loss hasn’t even started yet.

phil harris said...

@ Adrian Ayres Fisher
Somehow this bit fell off the end of my recent comment.
I offer a serious question based on my respect for Quakers and their tradition.

... from Overton continued ... ...This new [economic/business] ideology ignored the fact that the [price] rationing mechanism was not equitable since the burden of rationing fell disproportionately on the poor. This contrasts with the interventionist tradition which had attempted to protect the weakest consumers from the consequences of dearth, .

There you have it. There is a tension between the aims of ‘business’ and of ‘markets’, contrasting with the conservation of society and its stubborn memory of goodness. Whither Quakers now, as the cycle turns?

(I reckon Quakers, to be part of the stubborn memory of goodness.)

Cathy McGuire said...

Another great post! And I’m glad to hear that the conference went well – it makes me long to put together something similar on the west coast! I guess there’s no chance you have any plans to return to your old stompin’ grounds in Ashland for a visit? Will there be any write-ups or transcriptions (or videos?) of the conference that we can see?

I’m glad to hear the discussions on post-peak are including spirituality. That’s the place I’ve come to, also, after years away from any church – our relationship with Nature is spiritual; we are one body with her/it and our connection is not (cannot be) based just on logic or pragmatism. And you are right on the money with the comment about churches believing “everyone in the world deserves a middle class lifestyle”… how can any of them embrace the true relationship of human to nature, when they benefit as much as individuals from ignoring that relationship? They throw a bit of “not by bread alone” stuff out there, but are still putting on glitzy gatherings full of the perks of the first-world energy pump (from my friends’ descriptions). Many churches still have a real message of caring, but with the institutions and insurance industries’ regulations, they can’t even really help as they wish: can’t accept unpackaged food; can’t allow volunteers to make meals w/o a food handler’s card, etc. It’s all become “professionalized” (ie: monetized), leaving the average parishioner unable to do much except throw money in the basket (and one has to be working for that). But it comes back to having an unrealistic perception of what’s going on today – churches become part of the problem when they refuse to speak the truth about what is going on around them. A good quote I just read: “Our lives do having meaning… just as they are. It is our illusions that rob us of meaning, not our lives.” I’ve been pondering that for a while, and looking at the places my life feels meaningless – asking what my expectations and beliefs are.
(end Part 1)

Cathy McGuire said...

(Part 2)
Re: thunder: I am also getting feedback from friends and family that “something is wrong” – they still don’t want to discuss it with me, because they don’t want to hear my “solution” (which they have a sense of, just seeing the lifestyle I’ve chosen) but they are less optimistic, much more troubled when they mention some recent economic or weather event – there is less sense that they are brushing it off. Unfortunately, they are all still resisting even the basics of what they can do… I believe they know that they will end up getting very angry once they really face what’s going on – and they are not ready for that, yet. They’re still trying to hang on to the storyline that this is just a blip in the upward growth of mankind.

The cobb-built oven project I was to attend on Memorial Day got postponed, but my Master Preserver classes are going wonderfully well and in two weeks I should be ready to start demo’ing and helping others. Not to mention preserving a lot more food than I ever could before! And I’ve found some local food connections that make me feel less nervous about random breakdowns in the system (we have had two brief power outages recently, apparently just due to aging equipment – several hours in duration; gives me a sense of what the downcurve is gonna look like). I keep searching to find others who are avoiding both the utopian and the utter doom perspectives – those who are facing reality and continuing to create their lives. It’s a worthwhile search.

Alphonse Houner said...

When we moved to our rural home several years ago one of our first concerns was connecting to the local community. Wanting to contribute to its strength we looked at all of the “service” organizations as a possible nucleus for re-invigorating the community. Unfortunately, we found all of them to be either a “one-man” shows or moribund. Not all was lost because we also had a Presbyterian Church to work through and its inclusive outlook on faith and community outreach is very much attuned to that of our family.

We found that because the church is “aging” and with a declining membership those in the church were eager to listen to new ideas and use their tested organization to re-build the membership. By working together, patiently, through the church organization it is possible to re-discover its original purpose and connections to the community. It takes time but the spiritual and community rewards are beyond measure.

Too often the “Christian” church earns, and deserves, a reputation for being rigid, extreme of intolerant. This is especially true in rural areas where the rigidity and exclusion can center at the family level. In other words, if you aren’t associated with a certain family or are new to the community you are excluded from the community or church. Because our family had to move many times over the years as we followed my working career fixing broken community banks, primarily in small communities, we had the opportunity to visit, and join, many churches, including Unitarian, and we have found mainline Christian churches to be most tolerant of the bunch.

The Presbyterian Church is a particular example as it generally consists of older people who are well educated and, dare I say it, Liberal. Not the “doe-eyed” type but rather the “bobo” type however, they will listen and contribute when engaged in a well-structured discussion. Surprisingly, those of a “native conservative” bent also listen, engage and contribute in the discussion. The far right wing and far left are essentially destructive in the attempt to build a community.

Thanks for the excellent post.

DeAnander said...

@Bruce "I expect a unique version of cargo cult Christianity to arise in the next decade, with the Tea Party as its nucleus."

Seems to me that this has already happened. Bigtime.

consciousblogger112233 said...

religion is too touchy topic here.I don't think religions on whole have been good for humanity.Especially organized religions have always started wars,hate campaigns,inquisitions.You have to find another alternative.If somebody believes in a book compiled 2000 yrs ago....they are not rational.And i hate communists also for destroying all the good things from religion.There is no easy answer.
In time of weakness,religion might sound attractive but religious leaders soon acquire too much prominence and we know the results

John Michael Greer said...

Lance, thanks for the links.

Ron, that's a good starting point. In a lot of American farm towns until quite recently, and a few still today, you'd have to add in the Grange hall.

Tony, don't confuse spirituality as a whole with the really rather peculiar notion, popular in a few loud churches these days, that mythology ought to be wrenched out of its proper role and interpreted in a blindly literal, evening-news kind of way. Many religions and spiritual paths -- mine among them -- are comfortable, or even insistent, on the idea that human beings and human souls are part of the same cosmos as everything else.

Macsporan, well, we'll see.

Fabrice, thanks for the link.

Unknown Tasmanian, I didn't know you had Anabaptists there too! The Amish and Mennonite groups you'll hear about in the US at times are Anabaptist denominations. As for those magazines, you might see if you can get the rights to scan them and circulate the scans -- might be of great help to people in your corner of the world.

Orren, welcome to the commentariat. I'll second your comment that religion is the one reliable organizing principle for a long-term communal system -- certainly it's the one that's worked consistently in the past -- and the renunciation of personal wealth is another crucial point usually ignored these days. More on this in a future post.

Jeffrey, there was a science fiction novel some decades back, "Hiero's Journey" by Sterling Lanier, which featured a monastic Brotherhood of the Eleventh Commandment. Their version ran as follows: "Thou shalt not despoil the Earth, nor the life thereon." It's not a bad concept.

Adrian, thanks for the suggestion!

Mike, I think I'm going to ask a blacksmith to turn that last sentence of yours into the business end of a branding iron, and apply it to the tender backsides of a lot of would-be practitioners in all three realms. Thank you.

Adrian, "calm and accommodating" may be the problem; any fixed emotional state is an obstacle to realization, and it's one of the common pathologies of meditation that people so often pursue fixed emotional states in meditation as a substitute for realization. You might consider giving up the effort to become calm and accommodating, and instead, in your meditations, simply attend to what is -- knowing that "what is" includes rage, fear, and passionate action, among other things, all of which are part of the experience of being human and all of which can be encountered and embraced in a living spirituality.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Thank you, JMG and others, for recently raising the subject of walking away from our toxic culture. Thank you also, JMG, for this week bringing up religion.

It has somewhere been wisely pointed out that in the contemporary world, monasticism plays the public role more dramatically played in ancient Israel by such culturally dissident writers as Isaiah and Jeremiah.

The quiet 1996 witness of the Tibhirine Cistercians resonates not in Algeria alone but also in today's North America, reminding us that we can, if we choose, even in North America lead lives of truth and joy.

The same is true of the contemporary witness of a Syrian Jesuit-led monastic community of Islamic-Christian reconciliation, Deir Mar Musa.

Both Tibhirine and Deir Mar Musa are readily researched on Google.

I also think of the courage shown by the neo-monastic community foundress Dorothy Day. Ms Day had the strength to be poor, to welcome into her community houes prostitutes and other Depression-era New York outcasts, and to remain a pacifist in the face of Pearl Harbor. Her September 1945 editorial on the criminiality of bombing Hiroshima, currently archived at, is a model of moral clarity.

One of Dorothy Day's phrases, I suspect from somewhere in her publications or her correspondence, is specially arresting - 'the duty of delight'.

In monasticism (Christian, Buddhist, whatever) we encounter individuals who follow JMG's precept from last week, holding up small, and yet prophet-like, lamps of practical example in our deepening communal twilight.


Toomas (Tom) Karmo
www dot metascientia dot com

Andy Brown said...

JMG, You asked earlier whether the research in the Midwest would be published. Short answer is we write up a report or two that gets disseminated to a host of advocacy groups who work on issues having to do with work and its compensations. They make use of it as they will. I may write up something on my own, however, since I find the topic of work very interesting. A wise man once said that to be a full human being you needed to learn two things -- how to love and how to work. We credit love, in all its myriad forms, as central to human-ness and so complex that it nearly bursts the category. I like the idea of crediting work with the same complexity, centrality emotional weight, and importance. The long decline is going to change the nature of work, and that is one of its most unsettling aspects.

Hal said...

I was going to recommend you check out the blog of one of the few peak-oil aware clergy I'm aware of, John Shuck, and it looks like he mentioned you in his latest sermon:

What's that about great minds?

Raymond Wharton said...

@Tony Weddles

I would like to suggest that there is not an inescapable dichotomy there. In the last couple years my manner of speech has changed to correspond more and more with that of various forms of spirituality, generally blending in with which ever group I am around. That being said, when I speak of spiritual matters I remain informed by the most current scientific information.

For example around secular types I would certainly claim that humans are just another species that evolved alongside countless others and that they consist of the same kinds of atoms that are seen in things animate and inanimate; but of course the use of the word "just" there is ironic at best, like in the phrase "sure he is handsome, funny, kind, and intelligent, but he's just a billionaire."

We are the byproduct of evolution, but is not that the speaking of a language which in our glimpses of genetics already has shown a complexity of grammar and depth of informational content vastly beyond the language that birthed Shakespeare or the languages out of which modern Science itself is constructed? Do I propose some otherworldly intelligence as explanation of such complexity? No, that would quickly fall to reductio ad infinitum, which doesn't prove it wrong, merely unhelpful in explanation. Instead I propose that we regularly explore mysteries vastly more complex then the explorer, and that for this reason reductionist modes of language (atoms, game theory, logical atomism) will have implicit blind spots, where the necessary complexity of calculations to infer the behavior of a bee from the laws governing the atoms of her composition are well well on the far side of impossible, though certain constraints will still hold; the bee can be counted on to not violate the laws of thermodynamics seven days out of the week, even on the sabbath.

When we wish to comment on aspects of human life felt and lived, but lacking the type of language necessary for the commonly known modes of secular discourse, there is no bad thing in using spiritual modes to confront these issues. Of course, you don't want to forget about atoms and evolution when doing so, and if you are inclined to contradict them directly, it is good to have a pretty carefully though out reason to do so. But I find that there is much ground to cover in the spiritual discourse that run afoul of no lines yet drawn by more restrictively rationalistic modes.

For me I have a mental tool kit deterritorialized from my years studying philosophy that works adequately for translating between modes of discourse, though there are comments I might make in a context Christian, Zen, Magical, Cybernetic, Atheistic, or Animistic (as examples) which I would not know how to state, elegantly, in any other. But I can find peace, or at least coexistence between quite a few perspectives. Though explaining in Atheistic terms why I kiss the stump of any tree that I cut down, comes across silly at best, while in terms of Animism it is much more solemn.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Chris, the appliances that began to be introduced into households about one hundred and fifty years ago do save labor and freed middle class and poor women from a great deal of daily physical labor and drudgery. (Rich women had servants).

The first and most important was the introduction of the sink, a basin with a drain and a connection to running water. Before sinks, all water for washing, cooking and laundry had to be carried in by yoke and buckets from wells, and the residue carried out the same way or thrown out the window.

Imagine when washing clothes and bed linens in hot water required gathering wood, building a fire, filling up a copper with buckets of water, chucking clothes and soap into the copper and stirring them with a big wooden paddle, or fishing them out one at a time and scrubbing them on a washboard.

Tipping out the copper to drain the water, refilling it with fresh water, dumping the clothes back in, stirring them, fishing the clothing out, hanging it out to dry, emptying the copper.

Taking down the clothes from the line, heating an iron over a fire, remoistening the clothes that need ironing, ironing them while the iron is hot (but not too hot or it will scorch the cloth). Folding the clothes and putting them away (that part hasn't changed).

Doing the laundry was an all day job for one or two muscular women. It's no wonder the poor were dirty.

Even in a fuel scarce era, some of the hard labor can be reduced by appropriate technology like muscle powered water pumps, a passive solar water heater and a hot water reservoir on the stove, proper drains and a hand or foot powered washing machine. We can also put up with a few wrinkles.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Deborah,

It sounds pretty unappealing doesn't it?

Still, your argument is a relative one. At the same time, they used to send the poorest children up chimneys and because of the carcinogenic (and also mildly radioactive thanks to burning coal) environment inside a chimney, they had an average life span of about 18 years. Makes the washing process that you described sound not too bad.

It is interesting too, because in many Third World countries today you can see the washing process that you describe going on. I've seen it first hand in rivers in Nepal and India for example.

I think it is a question of reframing how we as individuals feel about such work. It is only because of the energy that we have available at our disposal that we can avoid such tasks.

But it also raises questions:
- are those tasks inherently bad and repugnant?; and
- what are we doing with the time that we save by using appliances?

I don't know the answers to those questions, but I've been wondering about them for quite some time now, especially as we down shift here.



Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Deborah Bender

Ah, washboards. We still used them in the late '40s and the '50s. They're hard on the knuckles, which become calloused. The local hardware store still has them in regular stock here in Providence. I was just thinking about getting one again, to avoid as much use of spot-removing detergents. We'll see . . . (My parents raised us boys to know how to do all the old domestic tasks, on the theory that men should have these skills as well as women. I'm glad.)

Alice Y. said...

re: @Phil Harris & what are Quakers doing right now, replying as one of your Quaker readers in the UK.

I'm involved with Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre's 'Good Lives' programme - upcoming 4 day skill share 'holiday with a purpose' in the summer including textile skills, building and cooking with a hay box cooker and some gardening skills, and how to use slide rules/log tables, and several other courses already planned. Open to all, not just "Friends" (what Quakers often call ourselves).

There's a short report here about some recent initiatives by Friends, following British Quakers' decision last year that we want to be a low carbon community together(the decision is known as 'minute 36' after the record of the decision; 'Whom shall I send' is a reference to Isaiah chapter 6 in the bible, implying 'I will go, send me.') Link to Earth and Economics newsletter - hope link to newsletter works.

I have been working locally with support from Woodbrooke staff and the Meeting for Worship I attend, as the project component of my 'Equipping for ministry' course. I live in a low-income housing estate and a residents' group are just about to have our Big Opening as we receive the keys to a (fenced) derelict piece of land to start a community-run market garden. It has taken over two years to get this far - we just have to grow the veg now.

Since I am commenting I think several others here might like Innermost House, on the topic of monastic simplicity. The Lorences live an inspiringly beautiful life with real grace and no sense of lack, to my eyes. (The Lorences are not Quakers as far as I know but to me they are exemplars of the Quaker idea of testimony - that if we are in touch with the divine power there will be evidence in changed lives.)

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Nyx, Laura & Mallow

For several years before my retirement I taught a university course called "Women, Magic and Power, 1800-1960." One of the early lectures, with real stories from individual women (rather than dry statistics), was on how much has changed between then and now for women with respect to child-rearing, birthing, pregnancy and, yes, sexual desire. Life was hard for nearly everyone back in the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, but this was the part of life where things became the hardest for very many women.

You never knew, back then, from one year to the next, which of your children would live and which would die young. Often as not, in the 1800s, you would lose a large fraction of your children before they were old enough to marry. One of my own great-great-great-great-great grandmothers lost six of her ten children -- her first and her last five -- before they were very old, in the first decades of the 1800s (in Rutland, VT).

You never knew how long your own next labor would go on, how hard it would be on you, and even whether you and/or your child would survive it. And you never knew, really, when your labor might begin, since late-term miscarriages and premature births seem not to have been all that rare.

Whenever you or your husband wanted sex, you could never know whether that would be the one time that would give you a child whose birth nine months later would cause your own death. If you didn't think of that possibility at the moment of desire, you certainly did once you found you had become pregnant.

And so forth. (Yes, there were skilled midwives, like Martha Ballard in Maine, who never lost a baby -- or hardly ever. But they were the exception.)

A colleague of mine born as late as 1930 in Mobile, Alabama, told me once how every September, when school resumed, she and her friends would all be curious to learn which of their classmates had died over the summer from the diseases that came in with the "dog days" of late summer -- *every* year it would be *several* classmates who had died in her largish circle of friends alone.

This is what our common future will look like, most likely, once modern medical care vanishes form the scene. Some things will not be quite the same as they were back then: the importance of sanitation and cleanliness in medicine will probably not be forgotten.

There are historians who have speculated that mothers became callous in the face of all that dying, as a way to protect themselves from sorrow. I did not see that in any of the first-hand sources I read. Rather, the women seemed to take what little comfort they could in the hard and obvious fact that one's emotional pain was not the exception, but the common lot of most of the women one knew, and they leaned on one another as they endured this hard thing called life.

I suppose something like this is what we will face once modern medical care becomes a thing of the past. Some of the students in my course, even as long ago as the early 2000s, had clearly sensed that future without much prompting from me, and they were quite engaged in finding out just how women had managed to get through their lives, and even take pleasure in their lives, under such harsh conditions.

They were able to find hints at the answers in the stories of other women and how they dealt with these things so long ago. Real stories of real people in the circumstances of one's own ancestors seem to be an extremely valuable resource as one figures these things out for oneself.

Glenn said...

I rather enjoyed Hale-Bopp. After the twofer busts of Kohoutek and Halley's it was pleasantly spectacular to see. I have a vivid memory of getting up in the middle of the night while camping near the Elwha River in the Northern Olympics and having Hale-Bopp filling half a clear sky. It was also the year I met my second wife, and most of my associated memories are suffused with a pleasant glow.

Marrowstone Island

Kurt Cagle said...

I am becoming addicted to this site, and this week's post was once again most thought provoking.

Here in Annapolis the thunder came in waves this Friday, as one massive wall of rain after the next slammed through the area, spawning tornadoes and doing the kind of wind damage normally associated with hurricanes coming from the other direction.

I thought it was actually a very appropriate metaphor for what is happening now - the crises are coming closer together, and just as the skies look like they're about to clear in one direction, the next thunderheads are looming in the other.

Curiously enough, recently the global humanists have started to become militant, in effect becoming a religion without a god ... an emergent Western Taoism. The Swedish have recently recognized Kopimism, a doctrine that believes that the sharing of information (which many in the US read as file sharing) is holy. As religions go, it's a remarkably reasonable one, and is likely the first religion in existence to be built on the principles of open source code.

Tribalism is already happening in the US, though the Internet has made it possible for such tribalism to transcend geopolitical boundaries. As the Internet transmutes and ultimately fades, however, and as the need for staying in one place for a job vanishes with the jobs themselves, I expect we'll go through a period of time - the Great Migration - where people will seek out and relocate into "tribal regions" rather than be caught up in regions where being different could mean imprisonment, assault, terrorism and death. Religion will be a part of that, as people work to codify their tribal characteristics into a moral/ethical framework, but it is likely that these churches, temples and other frameworks will tend to be inwardly focused - towards establishing values for a specific group - rather than outwardly focused and evangelical.

Of course, this is just guesswork on my part, and would love to hear your thoughts on what the shape of such new religions will be like.

John Michael Greer said...

Nyx, that's an immense question, big enough for a series of posts all its own. One crucial element, though, is that the answer isn't set in advance. Are you prepared to take action to help shape the outcome?

Renaissance, to my mind that's unfair to the designers of the Maginot Line!

Vera, during my presentations, I talked for about half the time, and fielded questions for the other half. The conversations unfolded from there, running well into the night. It seemed to work fairly well.

Bruce, you're behind the times -- have you looked into so-called "Prosperity Theology"? It's as good an example of the cargo cult mentality as you can find, and yes, there are large overlaps with the same circles that feed into the Tea Party.

Sam, I haven't, and I'd appreciate a copy! If you go to the AODA website and hit the Contact page, there's a mailing address that can forward things to me promptly. Many thanks.

Richard, glad you liked it.

Miles, the traditional approach -- which still works well, btw -- is to stop worrying about yourself and your identity, and turn your attention to the things that matter. If in doubt, consult your favorite Stoic author.

Edward, it'll be interesting to see what happens when that kind of gas usage becomes unaffordable.

Greg, I don't control the schedule, and an outdoor event in the dead of winter in the Alleghenies is not really a workable project!

Cathy, some of the presentations were recorded on video -- I don't know how soon they'll be up, but the Age of Limits website will have them if anybody does. Dmitry Orlov has already posted his talk on spirituality, too. As for mine -- well, it's being expanded. And then some. Hang on for much more...

John Michael Greer said...

Alphonse, many thanks for your experience. Interestingly, I met two manistream Christian ministers at the Age of Limits event -- one United Methodist, one Presbyterian, both intelligent and thoughtful people with a good sense of the way things are headed. That was a pleasant surprise.

Conscious, when you make accusations about hate campaigns and then talk about your own hate for a movement, let's just say the result isn't very impressive. You might want to take a hard look at the foundations of your own opinions and emotions sometime.

Tom, well, you know my feelings about monasticism -- it's the most consistently successful form of intentional community, and the one consistently successful way to get knowledge through a dark age. I don't think the industrial world is quite ready for a rebirth of the monastic spirit, if only because too many people still have their emotional lives too deeply caught up in what they own, but it's coming.

Andy, please do!

Hal, in fact I'll be on his radio program in the not too distant future.

Glenn, I've camped on the Elwha, though it's been a while. That must have been an incredible sight.

Kurt, we got a lightweight version of those same storms up here in Cumberland. As for tribalism, it's a real possibility; whether it happens before or after the US begins to splinter is a good question.

Leo said...

i can confirm that here in melbourne, Australia, among my generation that the feeling and idea of the future being one of decline is a lot higher than in previous. one friend i talk openly and honestly about peak oil with (he immediatly understood and agreed about the basic concept and consequences) and another goes with cyclic historical theories and decline of the American empire.
Also me and my twin beleived you once we read your stuff, you were the first peak oil and coheretn we're decline voice we'd heard (the concepts we already knew and aware of the possibility)

Edward said...

@Adrian Skilling, JMG, and Justin re: "calm and accommodating" vs. "calm and unaccommodating."

This discussion has a lot of resonance with me. I get time for reflection during my bike commute. It's a time that no one is bothering me and it's a time I look forward to each day.

I catch myself reacting emotionally to circumstances and it can cause a lot of internal havoc. This includes situations and demands both at work and at home.

The stoics taught that you can change your mental attitude to external circumstances that you can't change. It works for me to carry on a sort of socratic dialog in my head to look at these issues in different ways and determine what is causing the strife. More often than not it is the expectations of others and the emotional buttons they are pushing that get me all wound up.

If I am upset it is useful to recognize that fact. "I am upset" is often a good starting point. Like John said: "What is." That recognition allows me to step back, recognize their techniques of pushing my buttons, and come up with dispassionate responses rather than falling into "what's wrong with me?"

Calm and unaccommodating can be a very powerful tool in dealing with some people. If they get an emotional response from you, they're getting to you and all they need to do is to keep the heat on until you cave in.

Jeffrey said...

Cherokee Organic said:

Hi Jeffrey

Quote: "The 11th commandment that thall shalt not consume and breed beyond the carrying capacity of your environment has to be learned the way a child learns the lesson of fire when he burns his hand touching the flame."

That is an unpalatable observation in the minds of most people. I assume that you are walking the talk?

I try to walk the talk and render into Caesar those things which are beyond my control to modify. I have preserved 400 acres of wilderness here in Panama and installed a micro hydro system to run the place. for those who are curious.

This place is financed with cabins, coffee and cattle. We harvest our own wood for the building. Of course the diesel truck and the carbon burned to bring tourism here is how I render into Caesar......we can only do the best we can.....

LewisLucanBooks said...

Off topic but several people have mentioned "work." A couple of books on the topic for your winter reading list are: "Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into The Value of Work" by Matthew B. Crawford and "Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams by Alfred Lubrano.

Speaking of work, time to get back to the Blackberry Battle. The back deck has been reclaimed and the drain field almost whooped.

beneaththesurface said...

Thank you for your thoughtful presentations at the Age of Limits gathering. I’m glad I was able to attend it. The setting for the event couldn’t be much better. The sight of forests, the sound of chirping birds (and even neighbors' gunshots during Carolyn's talk!) was a fitting backdrop for all the workshops. Much more of an authentic feeling than spending several days in a luxurious hotel with no windows.

These days I feel I’m constanting zooming in and out in both time and space. Sometimes I find myself trying to imagine the world several centuries into the future and what legends will exist then about our era, and then I zoom back in and focus on a single moment of kneading dough or dropping a seed into the soil. The art of interweaving the immediacy of the present moment with the wide lens of time is something I trying to achieve in my life.

For some reason, the quote, “Fish will be the last to know water” (from Einstein?) is something I have been contemplating lately. Like fish who have never experienced anything besides water therefore they don’t know it, I think it is hardest for humans to understand what they’re completely immersed in. I think the process of becoming more deeply limits-aware is a process of discovering the largely invisible waters we have been swimming in. Therefore, I think peak oil is most fundamentally a mythological issue.

Tony Weddle said...

Thanks for the reply, John. I often feel a kind of spirituality when I think about the damage we (including myself) have done to our environment and how I need to live simply. So, yes, spirituality divorced from (most) religion is certainly something I can relate to. Indeed, thinking about it, I find that many people who consider themselves religious have little spirituality.

Diane said...

I am 70 years old and can well remember the old copper my mother used for washing the clothes. I still remember the "new" wringer which was supposed to make the job easier. My parents never owned a house or a car, the most expensive items I remember were the lounge suite, and fridge, in the mid 50's when I was well into my teens,I think. My family was probably as dysfunctional as any, I guess, but my parents were the most honorable of people and instilled in us kids a set of values that I believe will help in the long decline. Sharing and caring, not greedy and grasping, though its a poor house that can't afford one lady, my mother would say in reference to our complaints about an older sister :-)
MY parents were atheists and I did not come to a spiritual/religious path until well into my 40's, and this mainly came about because I had always been able from childhood, to see ghosts :-). I believe like Vivekananda that in an ideal world each individual soul would be there own religion

Diane said...

Just another thought E P Thompson's Making of the English Working Class can be download in PDF fomat. It is a classic and gives valuable insight into the complex forces that were at work during the period from about 1780 to 1840

John Michael Greer said...

Leo, thanks for the data point.

Edward, "calm and unaccommodating" is good. As the Stoics pointed out, the important thing is to do what you know is right, no matter who gets offended by that (yourself very much included). Still, the point stands: the pursuit of any specific emotional state can easily become a barrier to awareness.

Lewis, thanks for the suggestions.

Beneath, excellent! You get tonight's gold star for paying attention to the role of myth in all this.

Tony, religion can all too easily become a refuge from spirituality -- to use religious language, a church makes a great place to hide from God.

Diane, Vivekananda had a point; still, there's also a point to getting together with people who share similar spiritual experiences and insights, if only to compare notes!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

Sometimes I wonder where our food system over here is going. I've attached an article which alarms me.

As a bit of a background, there are two main retailers for food over here: Coles; and Woolworths. They control 70% of all retail dollars spent on food.

In recent times they have been embarking on some questionable conduct in relation to their suppliers. The upshot of this conduct has been that retail prices have come down, but the number of available products held on shelves has been reduced. Economists would be cheering this on, but within the supply chain, many manufacturers have had their profits reduced or have been put out of business. Apparently, many items are being sold below cost and if the suppliers complain then their products are pulled from the shelves. It also paves the way for imported produce sold as private label goods. Well done you lot!

As I've been growing a lot of the produce that I consume here and don't shop at either retailer, I hadn't noticed what was going on in relation to fruit and vegetables. I read this article this morning and thought that you may be interested:

Does the food business stack up?

I consider this to be the last gasp because these huge agricultural businesses are very subject to risks of peak oil. They may not even consider their business model as risky.

It is interesting too because, and I can't remember whether it was last season or the one before, but a single disgruntled employee of the tomato seedling grower fed glyphosate into the watering system and it wiped out a huge percentage of the national tomato seedling stock. I didn’t notice because I plant heritage tomatoes here and they are starting to self seed.

Scary stuff though.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

Whilst I'm at it, I think this article on Spain is well worth a read if you have the time. I've been watching the storm crows circling them for some time now and this is an excellent summary and background story.

Another empire crumbles

It is a seriously dark, windy and stormy winters night here. Today in my travels I picked up another (and final) solar panel to add to the system which is now maxed out. I see over in the US the powers that be have accused Chinese manufacturers of dumping solar panels on US markets at below cost with the obvious intention of destroying US manufacturing. It's an old game indeed.



Justin said...

That's interesting! I only travel by bike and an incident on the bike helped me see it much the same way you are. If you ride a bike much, you are going to encounter the bullying, aggressive driver who honks, shouts, or tries to run you off the road. When I was younger, I used to get enraged when this happened. Then, I asked why I was getting so mad, and the answer was simple: fear. I was afraid that one of these assholes was going to injure or kill me with their car. Once I recognized it, unlocking it was easy. I still encounter assholes, but its a lot less disruptive to deal with the situation on a cool head. If one of these nuts runs me over, c'est la vie.

Oh, but I was older then, I'm so much younger now.

Justin said...

Cherokee and Deborah,
I see a time not too long for now when the town laundry mat closes because there is no money in maintaining it. What happens to American water ways when people who can't afford to replace washing machines that are designed to break every five years and the town laundry mat closes? Do they start washing their clothes in the river?

This is probably not a concern in cities, the cities have more wealth to maintain those things and, besides, they are positioned at the end point of a water flow; New Orleans, New York, SF, LA. The small towns next to a modest waterway that feeds into a lake or bigger river are everywhere in the US. If these rural places begin spontaneously doing washing, bathing and waste into the river as the existing infrastructure deteriorates, yikes!

JohanA said...

That distant thunder is audible here in Sweden too, although it's still somewhere off beyond the horizon. A lot of people are vaguely but uneasily aware that something's wrong, and many more see clearly that Things Are Changing. What, exactly, is wrong, and what things are changing and how - well, let's just say the answers are all over the map. Most would agree on the global power shift underway, as well as the EU's uncertain future, but to go farther... Peak oil has figured in a few (not very good) TV debates, and recently the government commissioned a report denying that peak oil will be a problem.

It'll be interesting to see what role religion will play in Sweden, since it's so extremely misunderstood. Nearly all public discussion that touches on religion focuses on Islam.

Still, religion isn't gone: we all worship in the Invisible Church of Proper Organisation and Progress, and there's a lively but underground landscape of "free churches" (as the Christian churches outside the formerly state-affiliated Church of Sweden are called) and alternative spiritual organisations (there's even a Druid Order here, but they don't seem very active).

Finally, I'm one European TAR reader who'd love to see an analog of the Age of Limits conference here. Especially if we could somehow lure JMG across the pond...! (Maybe in a joint venture with Dmitry Orlov and his sailboat? :)

hapibeli said...

Zach said...

@JMG - That's a good point about the internal dynamics of American Catholicism. I didn't mean to say that Catholicism definitively would fulfill this role, just that it might and that it seems to have a leg up vs. either the Evangelical or Mainline churches with respect to the criteria outlined this week. I wasn't able to think of another tradition that's already established in America which shared these characteristics, although I see some readers have brought up the Quakers. I suppose we should add the Anabaptists to the list, also, although I have a hard time thinking of "established religion" and "Anabaptist" in the same thought! Can you think of any others?

You're quite right that Catholicism outside of America has it's own dynamic(s), though I'm no expert. It seems to me that Pope Benedict has been usefully pointing to ecological themes in some of his recent addresses, although I have yet to see that filter down to my local viewpoint.

Interesting times!


You wrote "the Catholic Church IMO is heads and tails at the front of the pack of organizations advocating the status quo of growth and entitlement."

Interesting - not what I see at all. But then, I'm used to people hauling out Max Weber (*) as a club to "prove" that Catholicism is inferior because it doesn't support Growth™ the way Protestantism does (you know, the "Protestant Work Ethic"). Or has that gone out of fashion?

As for "auction off the artworks of the Vatican," I am sympathetic to the idea that this amounts to a demand that the Church stop curating these treasures for the public and let them become the private playthings of the super-rich.

I happen to know some twenty-something nuns. There are a few orders which aren't graying and dying. But, they're not on the liberal side of the divide, so they don't get as much press as the LCWR's political grandstanding.

You may be right about Buddhism. I was limiting my comment to JMG to established players in America, which the Buddhists aren't... yet.


Southern Limits said...


I'm 26 yo and grew up in a secular household. Both my parents were baptised but the only times we ever went to church was with my grandparents at Christmas. My parents felt it was up to my brother and I to decide for ourselves once we were old enough which, if any religion we would adhere to.

Being relatively young I can say that religion and growing up in New Zealand I can say that religion is a small part of most of my peers lives. A few of my friends are practising Christians but by far most of my friends and outer circle are non-religious.

I have friends in the punk and heavy metal scenes that have absolutely no time for religion whatsoever and those are two music scenes that have traditionally had open derision for religion. I also have other friends who live a hippie lifestyle, which tends to involve partly living off the land, partly living off government handouts with a lot of psychedelics thrown in.

Personally I don't actively practice anything although I try to spend much of my time out enjoying nature. That is enough for me now although that may change in the future. I have read most of your writings on Druidry and it appeals to my Scottish heritage and my love of nature.

I understand your reluctance to talk about religion and spirituality on this blog as it is a topic that many people have very strong beliefs about. There are plenty of people in my life that I avoid the topic with altogether because it is not worth my while. But I would hope that perhaps the peak oil community is mature enough now to have this conversation and it sounds like that from your experience at the Age of Limits conference that perhaps this is beginning to happen. I think your readers here at least would be open to the discussion.

I look forward to the coming weeks to see what comes of this.


LewisLucanBooks said...

Laundry @ Justin, Cherokee & Deborah - It's been awhile and the details are a bit hazy, but I seem to remember that in James Kunstler's "World Made By Hand" novels, that some kind of community laundry was on the drawing board.

Again, the details are hazy, but in our little town of Chehalis, Washington one of the city parks has a canning kitchen. In a spiritual vein, many churches have well appointed kitchens for canning bees.

A friend of mine just took a Master Preservers series of classes, probably like the one Cathy mentioned. She had some basic skills, but wanted to sharpen them and expand her range. Boy, did she! Now she and her friends get together for canning sessions. I think she took her classes through the County Extension Offices. There's also Master Gardener classes.

Our local PUDs (Public Utilities Districts aka the electric company) used to offer all kinds of useful classes. Sewing, canning, etc. Don't know if they do anything beyond energy audits, these days.

There's a lot of free or almost free skill building opportunities out there. JMG's right about hands on experience being superior to "book learnin' " Best nail down those skills before it gets harder to get around.

Usually, it's the local newspaper where you can find out about these opportunities. Mushroom identification? Our local Mycological Society offers short field trips as reported in the paper. For how much longer, I don't know. Our local newspaper just cut it's paper edition to 3 days a week, down from 6. They're all in a techno ecstasy over smart phone aps.

Leo said...

@ Cherokee Organic
we're having the same weather down here now.
i've seen the same thing in regards to our food business here, (my only connection is an uncle who farms tho) and i'd say our industrial agriculture model will probably collapse sooner rather than later here since it requires exports and now imports(food processing) which is harder for us than other countries.

Tony Weddle said...


I've only been in New Zealand for 7 years but can relate to what you say about the place of religion. Very few of my friends, here, have religion as even a large part of their lives (asnd I certainly don't). In fact, there is only one, that I can think of and she, in no way, pushes that at all, despite it being a big part of her life. As noted earlier, I think this is distinct from spirituality which is still a very minor participant in people's lives here but a still noticeably larger one, if only just.

Very few people here are aware of the likely changes ahead, despite my efforts, so things may change.

DeAnander said...

I know one thing about laundry... If I had to wash entirely by hand, I'd own and wear fewer clothes :-) And seriously, that's one good practical response to the labour-intensive future: the less stuff you own, the less onerous is the job of cleaning and maintaining it (so much of which we now offload onto fossil slaves).

Sometimes less (Stuff) is more (free time). Smaller house. Less clothing. Fewer complex little machines that break easily. And sometimes more (effort) is more (quality): My partner used to love his bread machine; now he makes bread by hand and enjoys that. Pretty soon we'll have the pantry set up and start grinding our own flour, and the superb taste of bread made with fresh-ground grain will almost certainly lead to our loving that process too... manual drudgery isn't "drudgery" unless you happen to hate doing it.

I too worry about peak oil providing the excuse for patriarchal revanchists to launch a major backlash against female emancipation. Could well happen. There is a contingent of dissatisfied Wannabe Manly Men doomers (I run across 'em online now and then) who almost *gloat* as they predict the breakdown of social order, the "inevitable" domination of armed gangs, the imminent need for every man [ahem] to defend his turf, castle, and wimminankids. The subtext, to my cynical old feminist ear, is "and then those uppity women will have to knuckle under again because they'll need my protection!" Yeah well, maybe. I'm not so sure that a century of feminist thought and effort, and the recent cultural memory of sortakinda gender equality, will be erased so easily. said...

Wow, lots of comments here, but I'll just add one more thanking you for your report on this gathering. I was really hoping to attend, but it wasn't in the cards for that weekend. I hope there is another event like it in the future.

I am very glad to hear that multiple people brought up the connection between this time we are living in and the need to process it through spirituality. I feel we will need to reconnect with the Earth in a spiritual manner to make it through these times.

As a fellow pagan, I am eager to hear more about how you are doing this from a druid perspective!

Bruce The Druid said...

"Bruce, you're behind the times"

LOL that's the understatement of the year! After I left the Baptist Seminary, I threw away my contact list. There are various versions of the "Prosperity Theology" (they called it: "Promise Tithing" or some-such), and amazingly enough it has followed me clear into New Age circles. It might make an interesting article to trace all the permutations through the American religious and politic scene, and even into the academic departments, as Economics seem to promise much the same, if only their advice would be followed.

Bruce The Druid said...

What I envisioned was more a "unique" movement which combines the politics of the Tea Party with a positive confession and prayer for the wealth of the nation to return, complete with a reworking of the standard Christian symbols dedicated to returning the wealth. Prosperity Theology, at least my understanding of it, tends to focus on personal health and wealth. In addition, much of the teachings have diffused through the US church scene, with my rather conservative Baptist church in Jacksonville Florida (women wore skirts, not pants, KJV bible only, separated from the Southern Baptist Convention because they were too liberal, etc) teaching something similar in regards to tithing (tithe beyond one's means, and God would make up the difference).
By unique I mean, you know, like the UFO religion that permeates New Age circles that is essentially a point-for-point analog to modern evangelical Christianity.
It should be noted that cargo cults formed *after* the US military left. In some cases a large model of the cargo planes were constructed and were part of sympathetic magic rituals designed to bring the planes *back*, full of their wonderful cargo to be had by all.

SLClaire said...

Re the laundry, I've already tried something that Charles Gray recommended in his self-published book Toward A Nonviolent Economics: soaking clothes in a 5 gallon bucket with a little detergent for awhile, say an hour, then using a plunger to agitate for several minutes. (Actually I didn't have a spare plunger at the time, so I skipped that part.) Dump out the soapy water and add clean water to rinse. I needed two or three changes of rinse water, as I recall. Wringing the clothes by hand was the hardest part. The clothes came out clean enough, for not much work.

This summer I'm trying a slightly upgraded version of this technique. We found an old washtub on legs, with a drain hose, at a garage sale. I purchased a wringer and a laundry plunger from Lehman's. I figure that putting the washtub out in the sun and covering the top of the washtub with a storm window will yield a hot-water soak. Using the plunger will mimic the washing machine's agitator. The wringer should help with the most difficult part, wringing the water out of the clothes. I'll complete with line drying on the clothes rack. This seems to me to be nearly as easy as a washing machine, at least in theory. I'll report on the Green Wizards site after I try it.

My larger point: just because something was drudgery in the past doesn't mean it has to be now, if we apply Green Wizardry to the task. Now's the time to try out our Green Wizard ideas and disseminate successes to others.

Kieran O'Neill said...

Somehow, in response to this post, Yeats' Sailing to Byzantium comes to mind.

And here is the Yeats quote explaining the poem:

"I am trying to write about the state of my soul, for it is right for an old man to make his soul, and some of my thoughts about that subject I have put into a poem called 'Sailing to Byzantium'. When Irishmen were illuminating the Book of Kells, and making the jeweled croziers in the National Museum, Byzantium was the centre of European civilization and the source of its spiritual philosophy, so I symbolize the search for the spiritual life by a journey to that city."
from Jeffares, Alexander Norman, A Commentary on the Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (Stanford: Stanford University Press 1968) p. 217 (at least according to Wikipedia)

The imagery of an elderly monk in the Dark Ages, dreaming of the city which is at once the spiritual centre of his world, but also the last bastion of the fallen civilisation from which Christianity arose, fits very well.

That and the fact that just about every contemporary analysis I have seen (at least those on the Internet) seems to completely ignore the spiritual dimension of the work, which affirms this essay's theme of spiritual vacuum in the modern Western world.

Kieran O'Neill said...

@Mallow: While I agree about the issues you bring up in the first few paragraphs regarding "natural" childbirth, I'm a little more optimistic about the mortality rate in the future. As I understand it, the vast majority of deaths from childbirth were caused by infections. In fact, the simple discovery/invention of sanitary technique accounts for a very large part of the differences in mortality between now and about 200 years ago. Even with very low technology, just about anyone can manage to clean and boil anything involved in the process.

The mortality rate will certainly climb, from lowered availability of assisted birth, autoclaves, etc. But I don't think it needs to return to mediaeval levels.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Phil Harris and Alice Y,

Phil, you commented, ”Whither Quakers now, as the cycle turns?...
(I reckon Quakers, to be part of the stubborn memory of goodness.)”

Alice, greetings from Illinois and
thanks for your report from the UK. I hope someday to know more British Friends. As an American Friend, I can only respond to Phil’s query from my own experience.

Phil, Though in the U.S. there are evangelical Friends that are much closer to standard protestant organization and beliefs, the Friends I am involved with carry on in the manner of the older tradition. There are not huge numbers of us. We have a distinctive, flexible, decentralized organization that is non-hierarchical and non-authoritarian—though to be a convinced Friend is definitely to participate in group life and decision-making, not to go it alone in hyper-individualism. We have no paid ministers. We gather and sit in silence for worship, something like meditation.

Our testimonies—for peace, simplicity, equality, and so on are meant to be used as ways for individuals and groups to consider their manner of living in the world and helps to spiritual growth, not as doctrines or creeds. As Alice says, “…if we are in touch with the divine power there will be evidence in changed lives.” In my experience, living in witness to the testimonies begins to cause changes around one, as well. Some Friends consider themselves Christians, others have a more explicitly earth-centered spirituality. ”Liberal” and “conservative” are labels that don’t really fit what we are about.

Earthcare, "reskilling," and low-carbon, plain living follow naturally from our testimonies. This is intensified by the fact that, by and large, we are very aware of the peak oil/climate change/over-population/environmental destruction dilemma, have been for a long time, and thus live according to this truth. I first heard of John Michael Greer and his writing from some other Friends.

Lauren said...

@Kieren & Mallow - for what it's worth, when I had my son at home, assisted by a certified-nurse (Menonite) mid-wife almost 26 years ago, the mortality statistics at the time were better for (fewer deaths) babies at home-prepared births than in US hospitals. Since I haven't had more children, I haven't really kept up but I do an article from time to time indicating that statistically its still safer for babies to be born at home, at least in the US which has a higher than average mortality rate for hospital births compared to other industrialized countries.

Degringolade said...

John Michael:

I found this article about the deindustrialization of the US. Thought that you may find some of its insights useful


MawKernewek said...

One thing that strikes me about society today is that people by and large - even if they haven't heard of or are sceptical about peak oil - don't have much of a positive vision of the future. I'm not old enough to remember the days of Apollo but the contrast between the belief that there'd be Mars colonies by now and the reality grates. Also, shouldn't we all be driving electric cars by now in 2012?

The "war on terror" - although much of the "terrorism threat" is manufactured and sensationalised for public consumption - it does show that technological progress has failed to bring cultural understanding and peace across the world.

One of the things I have been watching on BBC iPlayer is a series of the countries bordering the Indian Ocean - a common theme is depleted fisheries and deforestation - one of the most shocking things is how many sharks are being caught purely for their fins - which apparently don't taste good anyway but sharkfin soup is a great status symbol in China.

I worry how many natural ecosystems will be left in a few more decades.

artinnature said...

Well I've been reading the Archdruid Report "religiously" all along and thoroughly enjoy every post/conversation. By the time I reach the end of the comments the next weeks' post is up, so I rarely comment. Thanks JMG and the brilliant community here.

JMG, I cant help but think that there are many more like me, reading every word but rarely commenting. this is a pretty rarified group with incredible writing can be a bit intimidating.

For those folks in other parts of the country experiencing climate chaos with warmer and drier weather than normal, or even normal weather, you may be intersted to learn that Cascadia seems to be cooler and wetter than normal for three years now. Thats why I'm at the computer, not in the garden.

I'll now relate my mainstream religious "career". Born & partially raised lutheran in the upper midwest, baptized as a baby, church most sundays, sunday school, Wednesdays "release" from school for an hour of additional indoctrination, comfirmation and summer vacation bible school. Every moment of all of those activities felt profoundly creepy and empty to me.

Every sunday morning sitting in the sanctuary I thought to myself, I sure wish I could get out of this stuffy building so I can go to "church", which to me was any place where living things could be found; the garden, woods, prairies and lakes. I've mentioned on this blog before, like JMG says about people resonating with the principles of Druidry, thats pretty much what I've believed all along.

When I was around 15 after my confirmation, my mother decided the American lutheran church had become too liberal (female pastors were then allowed IIRC) and that was the end of that, whew! She now worships at the church of Limbaugh, Hannity and so forth.

I've been practicing in the church of Nature ever since, but on my own, not within any organized group.

My wife and I now reside in Edmonds, Washington, quite near where JMG was born & raised. There seems to be a full compliment of churches here, and they seem to be holding their own. Indeed, one of the local catholic churches just completed a massive addition to their complex, and yes it does very much resemble a world war one bunker.

Regarding local data points, it seems I notice more people with chickens in their back yards all the time. Edmonds is an eclectic town with a wide range of world views and economic clsses, from far right through bobo liberals to urban homsteaders.

The real estate pattern here for the last ten years or more (property values are fairly high because of proximity to Seattle and Puget Sound and Olympic mountain views) has been for wealthy individuals or developers to purchase lovely older houses, raze them, and build a giant mansion. Recently a house with a very large, sunny lot, built in 1910 went on the market and quickly sold. I figured it would be demolished, but the next thing I know, fruit trees, berry bushes, chickens and veggie gardens are filling every available space. I even noticed a solar food drier! So there is some hope.

Regarding camping in Cascadia, my wife and I just returned from camping on the Hood Canal, not far from the Elwha River. I'm happy to report that for the first time we cooked every meal for four days on a wood fire. I have a garage full of wood, but have never really cooked on a wood fire (my family always used fossil fueled camp stoves). For those looking to increase their resilience to collapse, camping now and then with as few industrial toys as possible is a great way to hone those skills.

And to keep the data points balanced, almost everyone in the campgound had a giant and nearly new diesel truck, whether they were towing a massive trailer or using a tent. our car was easily the smallest in the whole place.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@DeAnander--you are right; fewer clothes and take better care of them. Victorians, other than the very wealthy, had a lot fewer clothes, which is one reason why they had smaller and fewer closets in houses (they also stored clothing in chests and wardrobes). Wool outer garments can be maintained with brushing and spot cleaning for a long time.

@St. Claire--your system sounds workable. Would it work with flaked laundry soap in place of detergent? Those wringer tubs that got turned into planters are going to be valuable again.

@O'Neill and Mallow--in addition to handwashing, I've read that death from childbirth has been reduced when midwives have been given training in the use of forceps to turn a breech birth. A risky technology but probably less risky than a Caesarian section on somebody's kitchen table.

More recently, two technologies available in First World hospitals have been rendered portable and are beginning to be distributed in poor rural areas. One is a pneumatic stocking that can be drawn over the lower half of a woman's body and pumped up with a hand pump to slow down post partum bleeding until the mother can get medical attention. The other is a suitcase kit that charges a battery from a solar panel to provide adequate light for night deliveries in a clinic or ill-equipped hospital. These won't be manufactured if the industrial system collapses totally, but they are saving lives right now.

Eric Sherrill said...

Highly recommend A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller. Science fiction about cyclical collapses and enduring churches.

mallow said...

I find that usually when you read a claim that home births are safer than hospital births in the US, it’s coming from the home birth industry. They’re also usually quoting the neonatal death rate rather than the perinatal death rate. The neonatal death rate relates to deaths up to 1 year and is a measure of paediatric, not obstetric, care. (Also a measure of childhood poverty in the US…)The perinatal death rates on the other hand for hospital births in the US are pretty normal by the standards of developed countries. Also, you have to be careful with comparisons because different countries collect and report that data differently. To take one example, some record a death within a few minutes of birth as a still birth, while others record it as a perinatal death. There are lots of studies showing that home birth in the US in particular has a massively higher death rate than hospital birth. That’s why the Midwives Association of North America won’t release their data. The crucial difference between the US and somewhere like the UK is that homebirth midwives in the US are, in comparison, extremely poorly qualified and generally un or under-regulated.