Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On The Border

The topic of last week’s post, the likely fate of Israel in the twilight years of American empire, makes a good example of more than one common theme.  As I commented in that earlier discussion, Israel is one of several American client states for whom the end of our empire will also be the end of the line.  At the same time, it also highlights a major source of international tension that bids fair to bring in a bumper crop of conflict in the decades before us.

The word “irredentism” doesn’t get a lot of play in the media just now, but my readers may wish to keep it in mind; there’s every reason to think they will hear it fairly often in the future. It’s the conviction, on the part of a group of people, that they ought to regain possession of some piece of real estate that their ancestors owned at some point in the past.  It’s an understandably popular notion, and its only drawback is the awkward detail that every corner of the planet, with the exception of Antarctica and a few barren island chains here and there, is subject to more than one such claim. The corner of the Middle East currently occupied by the state of Israel has a remarkable number of irredentist claims on it, but there are parts of Europe and Asia that could match it readily—and of  course it only takes one such claim on someone else’s territory to set serious trouble in motion.

It’s common enough for Americans, if they think of irredentism at all, to think of it as somebody else’s problem. Airily superior articles in the New York Times and the like talk about Argentina’s claim to the Falklands or Bolivia’s demand for its long-lost corridor to the sea, for example, as though nothing of the sort could possibly spill out of other countries to touch the lives of Americans. I can’t think of a better example of this country’s selective blindness to its own history, because the great-grandmother of irredentist crises is taking shape right here in North America, and there’s every reason to think it will blow sky-high in the not too distant future.

That’s the third and last of the hot button topics I want to discuss as we close in on the end of the current sequence of posts on the end of American empire, and yes, I’m talking about the southern border of the United States.

Many Americans barely remember that the southwestern quarter of the United States used to be the northern half of Mexico. Most of them never learned that the Mexican War, the conflict that made that happen, was a straightforward act of piracy. (As far as I know, nobody pretended otherwise at the time—the United States in those days had not yet fallen into the habit of dressing up its acts of realpolitik in moralizing cant.)  North of the Rio Grande, if the Mexican War comes to mind at all, it’s usually brushed aside with bland insouciance: we won, you lost, get over it. South of the Rio Grande? Every man, woman and child knows all the details of that war, and they have not gotten over it.

That might not matter much on this side of the border, except for two things.  The first, which I’ve discussed here several times, is the dominant fact of 21st century North American geopolitics, the failure of US settlement in the dryland West.  In the heyday of American expansion, flush with ample wealth from undepleted resources and unexhausted topsoil, the United States flung a pattern of human ecology nurtured on the well-watered soils of the Ohio and upper Mississippi valleys straight across the continent, dotting the Great Plains and the dry lands between the mountains with farms and farm towns.  The dream was that these would follow the same trajectory as their predecessors further east, and turn into a permanently settled agricultural hinterland feeding wealth into newborn cities.

The Dust Bowl of the 1930s was the first sign that this grand fantasy was not going to be fulfilled. Behind the catastrophic impact of farming techniques poorly suited to the fragile western soils was a deeper, natural cycle of drought, one that the native peoples of the West knew well but white settlers  were by and large too arrogant to learn. Since then, as the vulnerability of agriculture on the southern Plains to cyclical drought and other ecological challenges has become more and more clear, the usual response—throw more money and technology at it—has solved problems in the near term by turning them into insoluble predicaments in the longer term.  Thus, for example, farmers faced with drought turned to irrigation using water from underground aquifers that date from the Ice Age and haven’t been replenished since then, gaining temporary prosperity at the cost of permanent ruin later on.

The details vary from region to region but the effect is the same. Across the dryland West, from the Great Plains to the Cascade and Sierra Nevada ranges, a new kind of ghost town is emerging alongside the old breed from the days of the gold and silver rushes.  Homes, churches, schools, city halls sit empty as tumbleweeds roll down the streets; with the decline of the old agricultural economy, all the townsfolk, or all but a few stubborn retirees, have gone elsewhere.  There are county-sized areas in several of the Plains states these days that once again fit the old definition of frontier: fewer than two non-Native American people per square mile.  In response, the vacuum is being filled by the nearest nation that has enough spare people and cultural vitality for the job.

I encourage those of my readers who doubt this claim to book a long bus trip through any of the major agricultural regions of the United States west of the Mississippi valley. You’ll want the run that stops at every other two-bit farm town along the way, because that’s where you’re going to see a significant part of America’s future: the towns that are Mexican by every standard except for a few lines on a map. It’s not just that the signs are all in Spanish; the movie posters in the video shop windows are for Mexican movies, the snacks in the gas stations are Mexican brands, the radio announcers are talking excitedly about Mexican sports teams and the people on the street are wearing Mexican fashions.  Such towns aren’t limited these days to the quarter of the United States that used to be half of Mexico; they can be found in most of the country’s agricultural regions, and increasingly beyond them as well. 

In the United States, this isn’t something you talk about. There’s plenty of rhetoric about immigration from Mexico, to be sure, but nearly all of it focuses on the modest fraction of those immigrants who cross into the US illegally. Behind that focus is another thing people in the United States don’t talk about, which is the bitter class warfare between America’s middle class and its working class. Illegal immigration is good for the middle class, because illegal immigrants—who have effectively no rights and thus can be paid starvation wages for unskilled and semiskilled labor—drive down the cost of labor, and thus decrease the prices of goods and services that middle class people want. By the same token, illegal immigration is bad for the working class, because the same process leaves working class Americans with shrinking paychecks and fewer job opportunities. 

Nobody in the middle class wants to admit that it’s in their economic interest to consign the American working class to misery and impoverishment; nobody in the working class wants to use the language of class warfare, for fear of handing rhetorical weapons to the next class down; so both sides bicker about a convenient side issue, which in this case happens to be illegal immigration, and they bicker about it in the shrill moral language that afflicts discussions of most issues in today’s America, so that the straightforward political and economic issues don’t come up.  Meanwhile, the demographic shift continues, and redefines the future history and cultural landscape of the North American continent.

Students of history will recognize in the failure of US settlement in the dryland West a familiar pattern, one that is also under way on the other side of the Pacific—the Russian settlement of Siberia is turning into a dead end of the same kind, and immigrants from China and other Asian countries are flooding northwards there, quite probably laying the foundations for a Greater China that may someday extend west to the Urals and north to the Arctic Ocean.  Still, there’s another pattern at work in North America.  To make sense of it, a glance at one of the core sources of inspiration for this blog—the writings of Arnold Toynbee—will be helpful.

Central to Toynbee’s project, and to the sprawling 12-volume work A Study of History that came out of it, was the idea of putting corresponding stages in the rise and fall of civilizations side by side, and seeing what common factors could be drawn from the comparison. Simple in theory, that proved to be a gargantuan undertaking in practice, which is why nearly all of Toynbee’s career as a writer of history was devoted to that one project. The result is a core resource for the kind of work I’m trying to do in this blog: the attempt to gauge the shape of our future by paying attention to the ways similar patterns have worked out in the historic past.

One pattern that has plenty of examples on offer is the evolution of borderland regions caught between an imperial power and a much poorer and less technologically complex society.  Imperial China and central Asia, the Roman world and the Germanic barbarians, the Toltecs of ancient Mexico and their Chichimec neighbors to the north—well, the list goes on. It’s a very common feature of history, and it unfolds in a remarkably precise and stereotyped way.

The first phase of that unfoldment begins with the rise and successful expansion of the imperial power. That expansion quite often involves the conquest of lands previously owned by less wealthy and powerful nations next door.  For some time thereafter, neighboring societies that are not absorbed in this way are drawn into the imperial power’s orbit and copy its political and cultural habits—German tribal chieftains mint their own pseudo-Roman coins and drape themselves in togas, people very far from America copy the institutions of representative democracy and don blue jeans, and so on. A successful empire has a charisma that inspires imitation, and while it retains its ascendancy, that charisma makes the continued domination of its borderlands easy to maintain.

It’s when the ascendancy fails and the charisma crumbles that things start to get difficult. Toynbee uses a neat if untranslatable Latin pun to denote the difference: the charisma of a successful imperial power makes its borderlands a limen or doorway, while the weakening of its power and the collapse of its charisma compels it to replace the limen with a limes, a defensive wall. Very often, in fact, it’s when a physical wall goes up along the border that the imperial power, in effect, serves notice to its historians that its days are numbered.

Once the wall goes up, literally or figuratively, the focus shifts to the lands immediately outside it, and those lands go through a series of utterly predictable stages. As economic and political stresses mount along the boundary, social order collapses and institutions disintegrate, leaving power in the hands of a distinctive social form, the warband—a body of mostly young men whose sole trade is violence, and who are bound by personal loyalties to a charismatic warlord.  At first, nascent warbands strive mostly with one another and with the crumbling institutions of their own countries, but before long their attention turns to the much richer pickings to be found on the other side of the wall.  Raids and counter-raids plunge the region into a rising spiral of violence that the warbands can afford much more easily than the imperial government.

The final stages of the process depend on the broader pattern of decline. In Toynbee’s analysis, a civilization in decline always divides into a dominant minority, which maintains its power by increasingly coercive means, and an internal proletariat—that is, the bulk of the population, who are formally part of the civilization but receive an ever smaller share of its benefits and become ever more alienated from its values and institutions. This condition applies to the imperial state and its inner circle of allies; outside that core lies the world of the external proletariat—in the terms used in earlier posts here, these are the peoples subjected to the business end of the imperial wealth pump, whose wealth flows inward to support the imperial core but who receive few benefits in exchange.

The rise of warband culture drives the collapse of that arrangement. As warbands rise, coalesce, and begin probing across the border, the machinery that concentrates wealth in the hands of the dominant minority begins to break apart; tax revenues plunge as wealth turns into warband plunder, and the imperial state’s capacity to enforce its will dwindles.  The end comes when the internal proletariat, pushed to the breaking point by increasingly frantic demands from the dominant minority, throws its support to the external proletariat—or, more to the point, to the successful leadership of one or more of the external proletariat’s biggest warbands—and the empire begins its final collapse into a congeries of protofeudal statelets.   Much more often than not, that’s how the final crisis of a civilization unfolds; it’s also one standard way that common or garden variety empires fall, even when they don’t take a civilization down with them.

As the United States faces the end of its overseas empire and the drastic contraction of an economy long inflated by imperial tribute, in other words, it faces a massive difficulty much closer to home:  a proud and populous nation on its southern border, with a vibrant culture but disintegrating political institutions, emergent warbands of the classic type, a large and growing demographic presence inside US borders, and a burning sense of resentment directed squarely at the United States.  This is not a recipe for a peaceful imperial decline.

Nor is there much hope that the classic pattern can be evaded:  the wall has already gone up, in the most literal sense, and the usual consequences are following.  The warbands?  The US media calls them “drug gangs,” since their involvement in drug smuggling across the border makes good copy.  They haven’t yet completed the trajectory that will make them the heirs of the Huns and Visigoths, and in particular, the rock-star charisma that surrounds great warlords in an age of imperial collapse has only just begun to flicker around the most successful leaders of the nascent Mexican warbands.  Give it time; the glorification of the gangster life that pervades popular culture toward the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid these days shows that the seeds of that change have long since been planted.

Can anything be done to prevent this from proceeding all the way to its normal completion?  At this stage in the game, probably not.  An empire in the days of its power can sometimes stop the spiral by conquering the entire region—not merely the border area, but all the way out to the nearest major geographical barrier—and absorbing it fully into the imperial system; that’s why Gaul, which had been a source of constant raids against Roman interests early on, didn’t produce many warbands of its own in the years of decline until it was conquered and settled by Germanic tribes from points further east. Had the United States conquered all of Mexico in the 1870s, admitted its states into the Union, and integrated Mexican society fully into the American project,  that might have worked, but it’s far too late in the day for that; the polarization of the borderlands is already a fact, so is the bitterness of a dispossessed people, and so is the ongoing unraveling of American power.

The other endpoint of the process—the only other endpoint of the process that can be found anywhere in recorded history—is the collapse of the imperial power.  The United States has prepared plenty of other disasters for itself, by way of its unusually clueless choices in recent decades, and some of them are likely to hit well before the defense of the southern border becomes its most pressing and insoluble security problem.  Still, I would encourage those of my readers who live in the dryland West, especially those within a state or so of the southern border, to keep an eye open for the first tentative raids, and perhaps to read up on what happened to those parts of the Roman Empire most directly exposed to warband incursions in the twilight years of Roman rule.

I would also like to ask any of my readers who are incensed by the above to stop, take a deep breath, and pay attention to what is and is not being said here.  Again, the shrill rhetoric of moral judgment that treats every political question as an opportunity for self-righteous indignation, popular as it is, has no particular value in this context.  More than a century and a half ago, American politicians decided to go to war with Mexico; over the next century or so, as a result of that decision and its cascading consequences, the social order basic to any viable society will most likely be shredded over a sizable part of what is now the United States, and stay that way for a good long time.  That’s simply one of the things that can happen when an empire falls, and it’s something many of us can expect to see here in America in the years ahead.

End of the World of the Week #50

As previous entries in this series have shown, predicting the end of the world is a chancy business, and your likelihood of being proved wrong and made to eat crow is very high. There’s at least one way to avoid that awkward detail, though—make sure you don’t survive to see the failure of the prophecy—and a certain number of apocalyptic true believers have used that escape hatch.

The Orderof the Solar Temple—l’Ordre du Temple Solaire, for purists—was one of those. It emerged out of the New Age scene in the late 1980s, attracting a wealthy clientele in Quebec and a variety of European countries with a free mix of New Age philosophy and rituals borrowed from a range of occult traditions. Its founders, Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro, started with a set of utopian fantasies of the usual sort, but as time passed and a New Age of peace and brotherhood unaccountably failed to dawn, they strayed further and further into the apocalyptic flip side of those fantasies. By the early 1990s the Solar Temple was preaching that the middle of that decade would see vast environmental catastrophes that would exterminate most if not all of the human race.

Most prophets of doom prefer to wait around, like Harold Camping, to see the end arrive, but Jouret, Di Mambro, and many of their followers were made of sterner stuff. That’s why they killed themselves en masse over a period of a few days late in November, 1994. The vast environmental catastrophes failed to arrive, of course, but that was no longer anything Jouret or Di Mambro had to worry about.

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


Castanea_d said...

In eastern Iowa, agriculture has mostly gotten by with rainfall and not much irrigation; the climate is drier in the western part of the state. From what I hear, this summer's drought is changing that. I was talking with someone who is around farmers, and he said “all of them” are putting in irrigation systems this fall and winter. Someone asked him “What will happen when the aquifer runs dry?” He said “We don't want to think about that.”

Your point about the agricultural small towns becoming increasingly Hispanic is true around here, even though Iowa is a very long ways from the Rio Grande. The Postville “raid” in 2008 was a window into this world. It might be worth your while to read the Wikipedia entry for “Postville” -

Historically, the area was German and Scandinavian. In the 2000 census, the county population was about 21% Hispanic. In 2010, it was 32%.

Unknown said...

I wish I could disagree.

Do you have a feel for the timeline?

Ben said...

I'm so very glad you brought up this aspect of imperial decline. Three points immediately jump out at me:
1 - In 'the Nine Nations of North America' Joel Garreau (sp?) pointed out that the LA and Houston anchor the northern end of what he termed "Mexamerica." He pointed out that many ethnically Mexican families have deep roots in the area dating back to before the Mexican War, and that many of them had somewhat assimilated into the broader US culture. I wonder what their fate will be as the empire breaks apart?
2 - In 2004, when the current round of border fence nonsense began, I was a senior in college. I had majored in Russian and noted the similarities between the Russian Far East and the US Southwest. Climate change might back the Russian Far East more viable for human settlement in the coming centuries, but I'm not so sure the same can be said for the already water-stressed US Southwest.
3 - On my way to work yesterday I heard a report on NPR about the effects the 'drug war' in Mexico is having on the mental health of Mexican youth (children earning money as drug mules, imitating gang behavior at school). It seems that this trend is what happened in the inner cities in the 1980s thanks to the crack epidemic and in many rural white areas in the 1990s thanks to the meth epidemic. Do you think the warband culture will have appeal across ethnic groups, or will different ethnic groups adopt their own 'brand' of warband culture as the violence and chaos escalates?

Steve said...

"In empires that expand by annexing territory, it’s the frontier provinces that get clobbered first and hardest when decline sets in; in empires that prefer to expand by building a network of client states, it’s the client states closest to major hostile powers that generally pay the heaviest price when the empire falters."

This quote from last week's closing section got my hopes up that you'd be focusing on the US's southern border this week, as our empire expanded first by annexing territory and then by building a client state network. It makes perfect sense in that context that as the ability to project American military power declines, the client states are left twisting in the wind first. The loss of control over the southwest (and, if I'm catching your drift, a good chunk of the southern and central plains) is something to follow once it becomes clearer that projecting power within the territorial US is not a universally equal proposition.

I'm imagining a future situation in Texas, particularly, that somewhat resembles the current situation in Afghanistan - a few dense urban areas where the US is "in control" surrounded by a dry, impoverished countryside where warlords traffic drugs, arms, and probably oil at will, biding their time until the US government declares victory and withdraws.

"Still, I would encourage those of my readers who live in the dryland West, especially those within a state or so of the southern border, to keep an eye open for the first tentative raids, and perhaps to read up on what happened to those parts of the Roman Empire most directly exposed to warband incursions in the twilight years of Roman rule. "

I live in Colorado, and we've had a handful of reports of Mexican cartels operating large drug growing operations in the mountains. I don't imagine that those events count as raids, but it's piqued my curiosity enough that I'd love to read up on Rome's frontier regions. Do you have a good source or two to recommend?

godozo said...

I remember driving down I-80 in Oregon when I stopped in this small, agricultural town to hit the restroom. I looked at the signage inside the store and noticed that not that the main words were in Spanish; but that the English words underneath were occasionally misspelled. You could almost tell that this place was not only spanish, but proud of being so so far north of the border.

I also remember seeing a map of Mexico with the former northern lands attached to it. A lot of people took umbrage at the seeming insult, I thought the mapmaker was being intentionally unambitious in his showing of "Greater Mexico."

. josé . said...


I've been living in California most of my life, so this column cuts a lot closer than last week's. I had to look up "irredentist", because my previous understanding of it's meaning had to do with the desire of a population to move its part of a country to become part of the neighboring country, perhaps because I had first used it associated with Northern Ireland. (For me, it's an interesting diagnostic of my pattern of learning new words mostly from context, rather than actually looking them up.)

But my vocabulary failure actually brings up a related question: Whether parts of the country may actually prefer to become part of the neighboring land. If Mexico does descend into the kind of gang barbarism that you describe, all bets are off. But if that country gets its act together during the initial stages of our imperial decline, I could see many of the remaining residents of California (as well as those of other border states) calmly pledging allegiance in Spanish.

. josé . said...

It also seems to me that California is farther along on an interesting demographic and political progression that you can see in a much earlier stage in Arizona. (And this comment is not intended as an endorsement of one political party or another, but just as an observation of the trend.)

With the governorships of Deukmejian in the 80's and particularly those of Pete Wilson in the '90's, the Republicans were able to dominate state politics by becoming increasingly vitriolic and open with their racism. It worked for a while, as less educated white voters (and particularly older ones) became increasingly frightened of the demographic changes in the state, and voted at very high rates for that party.

But at the same time, every immigrant or immigrant's child I knew (even from places like Denmark and India) registered to vote and began to vote regularly. And the new 18-22 year olds started to vote at higher rates and with more allegiance to the (then) opposition party.

In the latest election, the transition is complete, with Democrats even winning a veto-proof supermajority in both houses of the state legislature.

In the last few years, Arizona has moved from its Deukmejian decade to its Wilson decade, but the writing is on the wall. Unless other historic forces take effect first, their transition is due by the end of this decade.

Bill Pulliam said...

One thing about working as a trucker -- you see the backstage of the U.S., where things are actually made and grown and processed, where all the ropes and pulleys are, and the backsides of the elaborate painted facades that face outwards to create an illusion of beauty and grandeur for the audience. And indeed the language back there is Spanish, especially west of the Mississippi. There's a small English-speaking crew in the office, and a much larger Spanish-speaking crew doing the work and loading your truck. If you can't at least count (up through the thousands, not just "uno, dos, tres,...") and understand rudimentary directions and terminology in Spanish, you are at a distinct disadvantage. You will get along better in a Mexican Mall*Wart without Spanish than in a warehouse in the northern U.S. plains almost within sight of the Canadian border. Same is true for construction crews, restaurant workers, etc. all across the U.S., north to south. I commented a decade ago to some of our middle class Anglo friends in Colorado that the U.S. was inevitably going to become a part of Latin America, and they thought I was delusional. When I described my experiences in the places where the real work happens, they said "I've not seen that at all." Well, of course, because they are sitting in the audience enjoying the show!

Your final paragraph sounds like "the sins of the fathers," but without the need for divine judgement and retribution. It's just the chickens scattered by earlier generations coming home to roost.

If you don't already speak it, learn Spanish. That way you will at least know what is being talked about. And it's always amusing to see the horrified looks on the faces of the latinos when they realize the gringo has been able to understand what they were saying all along! But be prepared: they are almost never talking about you, they don't even find you particularly interesting (sorry to burst the Anglo Ego bubble)

Jeffrey Kotyk said...

On a cultural level this dynamic is interesting to observe. Japan, Korea and Vietnam all adopted Chinese fashion and political institutions back in the heyday of early Chinese empires (most traditional Japanese culture was actually imported from the Tang Dynasty). In the last century all said countries have adopted American/European fashion and political institutions in some form or another.

But you know the strange thing is that it all seems so normal for people in Japan and China to wear suits and disdain their former types of attire. Quite often their older traditions, both physical and intellectual, are simply resented.

So in due time westerners might be adopting the mode of dress and thought of the next big power while feeling so ashamed about their old suit and tie outfits of yesteryear.

Castus said...


To be completely honest, the rising crisis in Mexico is one of the most scary things for me, and something I regularly worry about. I know that it's probably not avoidable, especially when politicians in the United States choose to vacillate or largely ignore Mexico whilst engaging in conflicts much further abroad.

In Canada, I wish it were different. Were it that our politicians had the same clear eyed, stern morality of some of their forebears, our relative distance from would maybe produce serious warnings to our big Imperial sponsor, but this hasn't and will never happen, though the 'warbands' have made their way up here in the form of drug gangs. For now.

I'm afraid mainly because the Mexican cartels are beyond regular ruthlessness. They are absolutely barbarous in their treatment of their enemies, in my opinion; I suppose the same might be said for many such groups in history, but this seems especially bad. Soft, fat Americans (and who knows, Canadians?) used to luxury will be easy pickings for them in the future.

It's a shame because the average Mexican is the complete opposite of this and wouldn't be so bad to live under.

Am I being rational about this or are our chickens finally coming home to roost?


PNW said...

In his work The Next 100 Years, Stratfor's G Friedman posited that Mexico will be the USA's principal antagonist in the second half of this century as a result of (a) the Mexican-American population in the former Mexican territory identifying much more strongly with Mexico than with the USA, (b) the cultural dominance of Mexico in these areas, and (c) Mexican-American politicians holding political positions in both Mexico and the USA. It seems plausible.

John Michael Greer said...

Castanea, that's par for the course -- both the feckless shortsightedness of the farmers, and the rapid expansion of the Mexican community that far north.

Unknown, the timing's impossible to predict, because it depends on the behavior of individuals -- always the bane of prediction. That's why I suggest keeping an eye out for the first signs that cross-border raids are beginning.

Ben, to go by previous examples, the warbands will be ethnically determined at first, but not for long. By the time of the great invasions, the warbands will be as multiethnic as any liberal could ask -- I think of Attila, whose name we don't know ("Attila" is a bit of Visigothic slang meaning "Daddy"), who had a Greek secretary named Orestes, and whose army was a jumble of every ethnic group in eastern Europe.

Orestes the secretary had another claim to fame, btw. His son, while still a child, ended up being made Emperor under the name Romulus Augustulus, and in 476 CE he was deposed by another mixed crew of barbarians who for some reason didn't bother to name anybody else to the throne. That's how the Roman Empire in the West ended -- and if you think about the kind of social convulsions that would put the son of Attila the Hun's secretary on the imperial throne, you might get some sense of the way imperial societies get fed into the blender in an age of collapse.

Steve, your image of Texas is certainly one possibility, though it's as possible that the US might lose a fight, not by being slowly worn down, but all at once. As for sources on Rome's border regions, I'm partial to John Morris' The Age of Arthur -- no longer wholly up to date, but its portrayal of a Roman province dissolving into chaos remains vivid and worth study.

Godozo, I've seen the same thing in a good many states.

Jose, an interesting idea. As for Arizona, I was worried not too long ago that it would become the flashpoint for open violence along the border; whether it follows the same trajectory as California is, to my mind, an open question.

Bill, the sky is black with chickens coming home to roost, but the middle class gringos insist that everything's fine because their big plasma screens show no such thing.

Jeffrey, I can certainly see being ashamed of suits and ties -- to my knowledge, no other human culture has ever had garments as awkward and ugly. As for your broader point, a lot depends on complex issues involving culture and power -- some cultures enthusiastically adopt foreign models, others borrow bits and pieces here and there and fit them all anyhow into existing cultural matrices.

Castus, "barbarous" is the right word. That's standard warband behavior -- you'll find plenty of similar stories from the twilight of the Roman world. Sheer brutal frightfulness is one of the core qualities of a successful warband. You're not being irrational, either; as I commented to Bill, the sky is black with chickens coming home to roost.

John Michael Greer said...

PNW, interesting. I think he's expecting far too much of business as usual to be in place, but that's common enough.

Leo said...

Ah yes, manifest destiny. I have a Grand strategy game which spells out the conquest of Northern Mexico in much the saame way (i just say, why stop at Mexico and go further South).
Related Political process

I doubt that the Mexicans will be able to better settle the West by much, it sounds like the sort of region which there is either a low population or boomtimes and followed continually by famines, which brings the population down. They'll probably do fairly well by the standards of the area. Siberia is similar, the sort of place where people haven't substantially settled because they're inhospitable.

morenewyorknews said...

JMG what will happen to Europe?Lot of immigrants in nations like Netherlands,Sweden,Belgium,Norway and France.EU plans to get even more.

Ray Wharton said...

There are bubbles in the west, little pockets of happy white people living in places where you can't really tell that the economy is in rapid decline. From Boulder Colorado up to Fort Collins is the one I am currently in, a small cliche Americana town called Berthoud.

But I can feel that bubble about to fall in on itself. I write you from a house running on generator power, as my landlady can't afford the power, her money from California drying up.

I am most certainly getting ready to pack my bags, but for a few months I will be studying under the natural building master I meet here, who will be teaching me lime plaster... so I will wait a bit. Then in the summer hopefully a wildland fire crew to make a nestegg that can be cashed out in a simple property where me and my couple closest friends can try to build a low upkeep life living on the edge of a town in small houses with medium sized gardens. I hope I am not too late to get a foot hold in a better place. Wish me luck.

Cherokee Organics said...


Hmmm, drug gangs. Has it not occurred to your politicians that they are funded by US citizens? It is a pretty rich irony. It'll be really interesting if the gangs funding sources ever change to foreign powers. It is the logical next step really.

As an interesting side question. As an individual who could possibly be useful, can the gangs ever be negotiated with? Was this an historical occurrence?

I despair at the treatment of the working class. I started at the very bottom of the rung so have empathy and I still get my hands dirty when earning a living. You know it is only when we realise that we need to manufacture things that we'll realise that we have no idea how to go about doing it or we'll think that we are all too precious to do such tasks.

Spare a thought for us Down Under today...

Weather record broken for Victoria's hottest November day

Yes, it got to 45.4 Celsius (in the shade) in the NW corner of the state today. That's 113.72 Fahrenheit and they've been keeping records in that part of the state since 1905. In Melbourne today near the airport I saw 41 (105.8) so it's not much cooler further south either.

Am I sounding grumpy? I've just chucked some mead in the fridge. It's been too hot to pick up the bee hives, but soon!



NoHype said...

Do you see Texas as a wildcard? I'm operating on the assumption that most people born there see themselves as Texan first, American or Mexican second. Government workers are expected to be passably bilingual (this is from a friend who used to work for the state).

If it does, in fact, succeed to cohere, does that not make it a credible post-imperial stand-alone entity similar to Belarus or Ukraine (and a nuclear-equipped one at that)?

A successful Texan secession might also portend a similar action from California.

Two such regional powers would then be the primary players in the warband scenario you've painted this week. As such, might they provide a buffer similar to that provided by former Soviet satellite states to Russia, thus allowing D.C./NYC the luxury to deal with breadbasket-based warbands much more effectively?

steve pearson said...

still not sure if it went through

Chris Travers said...

Great post, and now I have a twelve volume work on my to-read list. I would ask if you've read Joseph Tainter's "The Collapse of Complex Societies" because his case against being able to prevent collapse is simpler: imperial powers can not prevent collapse, only delay it, because imperial power itself sows the very seeds of its own collapse through purely economic costs. The very solutions to impending collapse are the causes that create the collapse down the road. Your discussion of the dust bowl and the failure of agriculture in the Western US struck me as exactly what he was talking about.

I would like, however, to make one point about the Goths. According to the works of Peter Heather and Herwig Wolfram, the Visigoths and Ostrogoths really arose as cultural entities inside the Roman Empire. This makes them very different from the Huns, Franks, Vandels, and the like. Both authors above spend a lot of space tracing the movements of the Goths inside the Empire for centuries before they finally took over Italy and Iberia.

So one thing not quite discussed here is the question of internal warbands and cultural separatism tearing the nation apart.

Wolfram btw, in "The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples" also points out that the Western Empire failed much faster because it had a much greater disparity of wealth than the Eastern Empire, and this meant that they couldn't raise enough money in taxes to maintain a sufficiently strong military. This raises an aspect I haven't seen you address in depth yet which is how the rising disparity of wealth threatens the tax base and hence the military spending on which the empire rests.

Taraxacum said...

It is my understanding that there is already what could be considered a growing gun war being covertly fought in the border states between the cartels and the U.S. security apparatus. It is also my understanding that there are armend and organized white supremacist groups getting in on the action. Where I live, along the I-35 corridor in Oklahoma, the media is promoting stories of kidnapping and sex-trafficking of the children of middle-class, white U.S. citizens. The face of one such missing child is currently plastered all over the electronic billboards throughout the OKC metro area.

phil harris said...

My preference is for Bryan Ward-Perkins, a scholar from Trinity College, Oxford University, England, with additionally a strong background in archaeology; "The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilisation",.Beautifully told it is a quick and compelling read with all the informative sources packed for future study if needed.
Europe is still very close in time to intense ferocity visited upon civilian populations, but I must admit I was shaken by Ward-Perkins spare but very telling account. And I got my first real appreciation what a 'dark age' means, which is when the population has less social and economic viability after the collapse than in their historic past before the imperial expansion. A small example; the potter's wheel and the ability to process clay properly were lost for 300 years from Britain. The population crashed even though we were and are geographically well-suited to the agriculture of those days.
I recommend Bryan W-P's concluding paragraph. " ... The end of the Roman West witnessed horrors and dislocation of a kind I sincerely hope never to have to live through ... Romans before the fall were as certain as we are today that their world would continue forever substantially unchanged. They were wrong. We would be wise not to repeat their complacency."

odamaki said...

I wouldn't have thought it possible for you to top your superb post about Israel last week, but you have. Having lived in New Mexico, I agree with your assessment of the failure of Anglophone settlement of the arid west, as shown by the rejection of John Wesley Powell's suggestion to organize the political units by watershed, the Dustbowl, and the increasing settlement by Hispanophone populations. At concerts by musical groups singing corridos, I heard the artists calling out that Chihuahua and Nuevo México were one people.

Ondra said...

Here in Central/Eastern Europe (Czech Republic) the difference between easternmost client states and those of former USSR is not so sharp. But of course there is steady flow of people taking a) unskilled jobs (of which most visible is in retail, but majority live in poor conditions and work in factories), b) doing some illegal business, c) and making legal business in big corporations backed by Russian government.
It is nearly always treated as a security threat, rarely as a future to live with.

Wattson said...

The American southwest is not the only region which has trouble inspiring nationalist sentiment among it's people these days. As the recent election season demonstrated that sentiment is becoming increasingly more uncommon among the average American.

The nation-state cannot survive without the social cohesion that binds together it's people. It's that uncomfortable reality that makes me uneasy when contemplating the future of the United States.

Jim R said...

We have heard from a worker at a Tex-Mex restaurant we frequent, that Zetas are here now.
And in some quarters, Texas south of Austin has been called "Occupied Mexico".

Jim R said...

... by "here now" he meant, not in the restaurant, nor for a temporary business trip, but organizing at the street level.

mallow said...

How do you think the internal/external proletariat dynamic could play out in Europe? Or is the pattern a bit different for client states? I can't see an external proletariat that the internal one (other than immigrants) would currently identify with. The Arabic world and North Africa are the obvious candidates in terms of population and geography but I can't think of a parallel to the glorification of gangster lifestyles in the US. I mean, that glorification is here too but it comes straight from US music and culture I think and the drug gangs themselves are mostly home grown AFAIK.

Evan said...

It has often been my sense that in the discourse of peak oil and the decline of the present order, the big thing no one talks about is the spanish-speaking populations in the US. I suppose this is possibly because I mostly read english-language reports and essays and because most peak oil writers are typically white middle-class folks (people of color seem markedly absent from all the essays of a site like

I have supposed in my consideration of it that given any level of breakdown in the social order, the poor immigrant communities are probably much more tightly knit than the affluent white "communities," who are largely affluent enough to be able to act like they don't need anyone else. In a breakdown of monetary certainty, the stage would be flipped quite significantly as the moneyed-class runs around like chickens with their heads cut off while the non-moneyed class do the same thing they've been doing all along, work together and adapt.

Robert Mathiesen said...

It looks to me as though the eventual northern boundary of Mexican North America ("Greater Aztlan," if you will) will fall well to the north of Silicon Valley, even.

About ten years ago my wife and I happened to stay for a week in a motel just off the west end of the San Mateo Bridge, right next to a very large supermarket. Outwardly, the area seemed Anglo, and there was nothing about the mote or, the chain restaurants and stores in the surrounding area to suggest otherwise . . . until you went to the supermarket. There the meat counter offered lots of goat and other "non-Anglo" meats. The fish counter was immense, and displayed many of its fish in a half-alive condition -- that is, they were still alive, but had been partly bled out or otherwise made too weak to do much else than lie there and gasp.

Almost all the aisles in the market were devoted to traditional Asian or Mexican foodstuffs and household goods. At the very back of the store was just one small aisle labeled "American Foods."

Also, there was a strongly-built, locked, glass-fronted case attached the wall right at the check-out counters, which was full of boxes of herbs etc. labeled only in Chinese, with very high prices indeed.

The store seemed to be staffed entirely by Mexicans or Asians (in about equal numbers), and English was clearly their second language, if not their third or fourth.

That's the future of all but the most northern parts of California right there, clearly written in daily life for anyone who can read the signs.

rabtter said...

Ironically, our War on Drugs seems to be having the unintended consequence of strengthening the cartels. Market price for the drugs would probably be too low to interest them if the US wasn't trying to eradicate it.

Jason said...

Good spot this, not on my radar here in the UK. Thanks for continuing to illustrate the historical timescales upon whch actual cause and effect plays out.

Any good books on those cartels?

It would be interesting to consider the fate of Western Europe in this light. I know someone who says Charles Martel ought to be warming up. :)

William said...

Very interesting post.

Southwest writer Charles Bowden and the appalling violence on the borderlands in his book "Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields."

He would agree with JMG that trying to say that the chaos and violence is just due to some battles among drug gangs grossly simplifies and misrepresents the extent of the new social and economic (dis) order there.

I think that the novel/film "No Country For Old Men" was an attempt to allegorically render the awakening beast of the borderlands.

cracked pot said...

It seems to that in the past the "barbarians on the border" had a military advantage - living in a harsh environment, within a tribal structure contributed to the rise of warlords. However, it seems to me that their innovation in cavalry and archery strategies gave them an additional advantage over the large infantry of the empires. It is difficult for me to see how a group of people today may gain access to military technology to rival that of the US. True, it's dependent on fossil fuels, but as they grow more scarce they'll likely be concentrated in the hands of those who already have power.

Loch Wade said...

You are spot-on concerning the arc of decline and the dissolution of empire.

However, I might point out that there is a new ingredient in the mix- the technology to implement a fully integrated surveillance state with total economic central control.

In an age of Peak Oil, the response of government will be to increase social safety nets (while providing less and less material goods) which in reality are only personal identification and tracking systems.

The Hispanic migration will be not only absorbed into this system, it will actually accelerate the system.

Thus, the downward arc of Empire will lead, not to warbands, but to total state control of the economy and full spectrum surveillance and tracking of all individuals. if the Empire is to defend itself, and it will try- this is its mechanism.

This will work... until the energy demands of the system outstrip the supply in real, thermodynamic terms.

Hal said...

I've often thought, and perhaps mentioned it here, that one of the functions of empires is to keep the gene pool well-mixed. A concentration of aggressive, industrious traits sends the most aggressive and industrious of it's male gene carriers out into the more docile parts, and in turn, pulls carriers of those less aggressive, but in many ways valuable cultural traits back to the center in the form of slaves and colonial expatriates. Over a few generations, the aggressive traits begin to build up "on the border" and what you and Toynbee describe happens.

On the other hand, there seems to be a decline in civilized manners in the home population, also. See Kunsler's incessant descriptions of the tattooed ex-workingclass strip-mall denizens. Could this be a sign of some sort of deep genetic memory, preparing those with the least ability to position themselves for the coming times?

Not sure where I'm going with that, and there certainly isn't any way to test that hypothesis.

Verification is "wideleas." Is the universe telling me to turn some of these corn fields into cow pasture?

Don Plummer said...

Ahhh, ¡Reconquista, por supuesto!
The scenario you paint certainly points in that direction, doesn't it, although the conspiracy theorists who posit this reputed ideology as the reason for cross-border migration, both legal and illegal, probably have a far different expected outcome in mind.

Lincoln's and Thoreau's opposition to the Mexican War certainly stand someday to be vindicated, but I'm sure neither ever envisioned the full unintended consequences that you outline here.

kenelwood said...


Excellent post - It certainly made me take a hard(er) look in the mirror.

I myself am a genuine product of Imperial decline and borderland upheaval (perchance a good bulk of Stations are or were), as per my own bloodline hails from the upper reaches of the Rhein River on the Germanic side, in the western foothills of the Black Forest, where after the fall of the Roman empire both the Goth Rockers (Wave after wave of Germanic "barbarian tribes") and religious factions ran a muck.

Via Rotterdam to Pennsylvania, my forefathers were further pushed into the old frontier regions, otherwise known as the Carolinas, and further still into Arkansas and, wait for it...

Ultimately to Japan!

8 years ago when I got here I knew China'd eventually implode, but it didn't occur to me at the time that they'd - apparently not unjustifiably from their standpoint - want to take up action, perchance even physical, with the Japanese.

(Coincidentally, in about the same year I got here, you published a post-industrial fictional story of Osaka getting nuked by the Chinese, and two young Japanese girls escaping to the Pacific Northwest!)

I would really appreciate even just a "one liner" on your thoughts about this region. I've got a well established forest garten, an in-order home economy, and three kids to think about.

Warmest regards,


Jim Coffey said...

OK - I discovered your blog last week and have read most of it. This is the first post in which I have some direct experience because I have lived in Texas for the last 40 years. I'm also a licensed professional engineer who gets paid for strategic analysis (10-30+ year time frame).

Rather than disagree with your analysis I'll probe with a few strategic questions and comments that you may choose to address in future posts.

1. The internet and drone strikes give the dominant power much more knowledge and the ability to surgically act on that knowledge when compared to empires of the past.

If you can kill the smart leaders on a fairly regular basis does this mean that the warband will have a much more difficult time organizing beyond the small warband stage?

2. Darwinian selection: People with brains, risk tolerance, and/or a great work ethic leave Mexico to go work in the USA. Are we slowly but surely creating a Gaza strip on our southern border? Without good leadership, discipline, and a work ethic it is difficult for a gang to do more than annoy the empire.

3. Food security. Ultimately doesn't everything revolve around keeping the masses fed and relatively happy? As long as we have the Mississippi river system and good rail transport we can move food around. As long as we have enough energy to farm (natural gas) we can feed our people. Well fed people do not revolt. Read Stratfors analysis of the importance of rivers and geography for more info.

4. Energy: as long as we have electricity we can survive with style (see Jerry Pournelle). It is both technically and economically feasible to provide electricity to the entire grid by simply placing a Navy Nuclear power plant on every army base and attaching it into the grid. The US Navy knows how to safely operate reactors. We have enough fisionables to last for a few centuries. Politically difficult, but when the middle class is hit with rolling blackouts they quit complaining. Plus many Army bases are mostly in the middle of nowhere and the locals love the Army so you avoid NIMBY.

Jim Coffey
My views are my own and have nothing to do with my employer past, present, or future.

John Michael Greer said...

Leo, conditions in the US southwest are, if anything, milder than those in northern Mexico, and the big agricultural regions further north are more clement still. I don't think there will be any obstacle there.

News, that's the same middle class-working class conflict I outlined in the post, with the middle class encouraging massive immigration for its own economic benefit. If I lived in Europe, I'd be watching the Arab world, and watching it very nervously.

Ray, best of luck!

Cherokee, historically speaking, your chances of negotiating with warbands go up over time. In the first phase of semirandom raids, all they care about is plunder and the most brutal kinds of "fun"; later on, successful warlords start to rein things in, and purveyors of goods and services that warband members want can do quite well. Aspiring rap poets take note: warband members in all previous historical periods have a limitless appetite for lively poems praising their exploits.

NoHype, I see Texas most likely going down fighting, but going down. California's another matter, since it's likely to evolve into a hybrid Mexican-Asian culture, far from supportive of the dysfunctional gringocracy currently in charge.

Steve, this is all I got. Perhaps you can give it another try.

Chris, I've discussed Tainter's work repeatedly here -- yes, I've read him! As for disparities of wealth, there's an apples-and-oranges issue there; the late Roman elite in the West had control of actual wealth, in the form of real estate and other concrete assets, while the vast majority of wealth owned by the rich in today's America consists of hallucinations (that is, derivatives, asset-backed securities, and other paper that would be worth a fraction of its face value if anyone ever tried to cash it in). My guess, which I've also raised here more than once, is that the apparent disparities will go away in a hurry as the rickety structure of economic make-believe propping it up comes apart.

Taraxacum, I hadn't heard about that. Okay, that's a warning sign that should be attended to.

Phil, I'm familiar with the book -- it got discussed at some length in this 2008 post. A very good general guide to how a civilization ends.

Odamaki, thank you.

Hal said...

Castanea: I was very surprised to learn during this summer's drought that very few corn farmers in the Midwest were set up for irrigation. Here in the Delta region of Mississippi, anyone who has irrigable land would be a fool not to make the investment, and we get a lot more annual rainfall than they do. The difference in farm rent for irrigated vs non-irrigated is something like $40/acre. But the fear about aquifers running dry is largely overdone.

Most of the Midwest aquifers are in alluvial or porous sedimentary bedrock formations that get regular recharge from surface water sources. There is a very real concern about the rate of withdrawals from industrial agriculture, which has caused water table declines, and therefore greater expense and energy use in pumping. But if irrigation were to decline for any period of time, you would see the water tables recover pretty rapidly.

What this means, in the context of this blog, is that business as usual is probably unsustainable. It does not mean that groundwater will cease to be a resource in the region as aquifers are depleted.

The worrisome stories you hear are about the bigger prehistoric aquifers of the plains and mid-southwest, generally lumped into the Ogalala (probably misspelled that.) While the age of those aquifers isn't a whole lot different than the Midwest, they are located in arid regions where there is no sufficient source of recharge and at depths where recharge from the meager sources (e.g., the Rocky Mountain front range) is too slow to be significant.

There are also areas here and there like the San Joaquin Valley of California where the nature of the aquifer-bearing substrate will not allow recharge due to structural collapse after drainage. These aquifers are essentially lost after depletion.

John Michael Greer said...

Ondra, in your part of the world I'd be watching for increased immigration from outside of Europe.

Wattson, thus my narrative ending in the dissolution of the Union. Yes, I'm watching that trend.

Jim, not surprising.

Mallow, in Europe it's not the glorification of gangster lifestyles you need to watch for, but the rise of Muslim culture in European countries as a radical alternative to the existing cultural forms. With current rates of population growth in the Middle East and North Africa, looming problems with water supplies, and the approaching depletion of the fossil fuel reserves that make current political structures viable, you've got a real mess headed your way.

Mike R said...

The Economist (a periodical about which I imagine you might have, at best, mixed emotions) has a special section in this past week's issue devoted to Mexico. The articles there describe aspects of what I've seen during my own visits to the country, as well as what I've read in books like In the Shadow of the Giant by Joseph Contreras: namely, that Mexico is undergoing cultural and demographic shifts nearly as dramatic as those in the USA.

Mexican families are producing far fewer children -- an average of 2.4 children per family, as opposed to more than six children per family in the 1970s and more than four in the 1980s. Immigration to the U.S. from Mexico is now equal to the numbers of Mexicans returning home from the U.S. (1.4 million in each direction, per the Pew Hispanic Center). And as the influence of the Catholic church continues to diminish, Mexicans' social attitudes are changing (the D.F. -- Mexico City, basically -- has legalized same-sex marriage, for example, with those marriage recognized nationwide with no huge backlash), with a more globalized outlook and U.S.-oriented consumerism to match. After 12 years out of power, a president from the once-long-ruling PRI party takes office this Saturday, and unlike his predecessors, he's not expected to be able to rely on anti-U.S. scapegoating to win votes and popularity.

All this is to say that, while I agree that the U.S. Southwest will only become increasingly "Mexicanized," Mexico itself is becoming less inward-looking and, thanks in large part to smaller family sizes, less impoverished.

That isn't to say that modern-day Mexico-Visigoths won't arrive in desperate, marauding numbers deep into the age of peak oil, but I do think we'll have and be our own barbarians by then anyway.

Incidentally, I feel that these facts often get lost in rhetoric about U.S.-Mexico history: At the time of the U.S. land grab in 1848, Mexico had only been an independent country for less than three decades, and the vast swathes of territory that were its north were, apart from wholly indigenous people and scattered Spanish missions and ranches, unpopulated. It's quite obvious but also somehow forgotten that Spanish is no more "native" to a place like Mexico than English is to the U.S.; both are the languages of colonizers.

The other half of the statement "The U.S. stole land from Mexico" is that Spain had no more "right" to be in the Americas than Britain did. We're all of us on both sides of the border reaping the benefits of centuries-old colonialism. What is now the U.S. West and Southwest was a big bunch of land that could only be considered "Spanish" in a short-term, colonial sense. It was claimed by one colonizing power before another colonizing power made a grab for it.

Don Plummer said...

Taraxacum (and I really like that 'handle'!), your comment reminded me that my son has an old friend from grade school who is in the Marine Corps stationed in El Paso as part of the U.S. security apparatus you mentioned. He has already told my son that he felt safer when he was stationed in Iraq than he does among the drug gangs along the border.

Nano said...

Living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area since 1994, I can definitely tell you how the influx of Mexican people, from all walks of life, has increased tremendously over the years.

There are many other "latino"and ethnic groups immigrating to the area, but having the border close by, makes a huge difference on the type of ex-pats we see and their contribution to the local culture is really varied.Some for the good, some for the worse. As such different measures are put up to limit the effects of their migration. The city of Arlington, where I live; a massive entertainment town now, refuses to implement any sort of local mass transit. Everyone knows the main reason being is to keep those unwanted and without cars as far away as possible, and contained to their own barrios.

Some times walls are "invisible."

Part of my early childhood was in S.American and living in Venezuela and Colombia. I recall seeing Venezuela go through its collapse as my parents were working to get the family; my sister and I, out and away from all that madness and towards Canada. While scores of immigrants from the borders poured in and those with money left the country, the political landscape became ripe once again for another dictator to step up. One of many Venezuela has had in it's historical past. The similarities to what is currently happening around some parts of the US don't escape me one bit, even if my recall comes from childhood memories.

Jim Brewster said...

I wonder what impact the movement to reform drug laws in US states will have on the funding structure of the Mexican warbands. Of course we would need either the federal government or a plurality of the most populous states to get on board, but then it could have interesting ramifications. I'm sure some in the coalitions that got reform passed in CO and WA had this in mind.

Another interesting wildcard could be the non-Mexican Hispanic population. Here on the East Coast, the majority of Spanish speakers are from the Caribbean and Central America. How much will they identify with a Norteño insurgency?

Renaissance Man said...

So, history comes full circle from Santa Anna and the Alamo &c.
Throughout the 20th century, America culturally assimilated Canada quite thoroughly. We watch American movies, TV shows, have nearly identical business models, and are, to a large degree, indistinguishable in our daily lives. Of course, having the same base-stock of immigrants, the same European political antecedents, very similar geography and extrordinarily close political ties made this very easy, despite the "open border" is closing in recent years. The current decline is already showing cracks and strains in our politics and society at all levels. But we're now trying to become a client state of the next expected hegemon and that is going to be very rough on a lot of people, but no threat to the U.S.
I subscribe to a daily economic financial report mostly because I'm curious to observe the mis-match between what the banks and financial institutions and officaldom is reporting on paper and what people are experiencing and reporting from daily life.
The reports are replete with numbers and statistics about growth and new home starts and sales and everything is couched in terms relating to growth as Good and Necessary cause for joy whereas contraction ("negative growth") is dismissed as a temporary "weakness". One thing I have noticed is the numbers keep getting smaller, but the language remains the same. The general impression from these daily missives
So, the official story in U.S. Fed’s Beige Book Report: “economic activity expanded at a measured pace” since October.
Apparently the effects of Sandy are expected to be good for the economy, as people replace damaged and lost articles.
Yet from the commentary on this and other, similar websites, tells a different tale.
I love Google Streetview! I checked out your assertions very quickly. The 9th ward is 99% re-built, with pretty new homes and smart neighbourhoods, with only the odd vacant lot or unrepaired building to recall the devastation. At odds with the claim that New Orleans is still wrecked.
Then I selected, at random, three smaller towns in the surrounding area and saw just what you described: devastation and decripitude. The downtown cores gutted with buildings never reconstructed after Katrina, shops and businesses closed and shuttered.
But it's not just Katrina or Sandy.
I visited Kansas City four years ago, and took the opportunity to travel through Gary, Chicago, St. Louis (or is it Sanloo? ;-] ), Sisanadi... ahem... OK... what I observed was vast areas of decripitude and decay. Buildings, manufacturies, warehouses: empty and falling apart, broken windows, faded signs from long-defunct businesses. Not an odd building here and there, mind, you, but whole areas and neighbourhoods visible from the highway.
Along the Allegheny river (the 'scenic' route) from Pittsburgh through Jamestown and Buffalo, the Allegheny National Forest was beautiful. Warren PA has some exquisite 19th century mansions throughout the core, but the rest was... not the U.S.A. as advertised.
After reading this post, selecting a few random towns across the midwest (Las Vegas, NM has an exquisite town square BTW), and you're right. It doesn't take but a couple of moments to find third-world poverty and archeological sites in small towns across the midwest.
I am, quite frankly, at a loss to find where in Sam Hill the "world's greatest economy", in the worlds richest nation, that consumes 30% of the worlds resources actually is. As far as I can determine, it exists only on paper or in small enclaves.
Oh, and one final aside of interest, the President of Mexico wants to rename his country to... "Mexico". It seems it was originally, and offcially still is, named the United States of Mexico in emulation of the United States of America. But they now have a different view of the situation. I did not know that.
@Jeffrey Kotyk: That's good, because they have a MUCH better sense of style than we have.

Hal said...

Oh, sorry to take up more space and your attention here (how do you do it?) but one more point I think should be made:

I think a lot of people are confusing Mexican immigration with my understanding of the sort of war party incursions JMG is warning us about. In many ways the sort of people coming here to work hard and make a life for themselves are the exact opposite of the drug gangs, may in fact be fleeing from them as would we all. To my mind, the peaceful immigrants might just be a positive influence as we go down the depletion curve. I often look to them and to our rural African-American communities for inspiration.

As one black woman I've had contact with around issues of local sustainability told me when I opened the subject of possible coming hard times, "We won't even notice it." Realistic or not, it's a pretty good attitude. Likewise, the immigrants I've had contact with are ready, willing, and able to do the work needed.

Now, it gets confusing, of course, because no community is completely homogeneous. As Latino families and communities get established, they bring their vices as well as members who are part of the aggressive subculture. No doubt, the language barrier plays a role in this, as it isolates these communities from the greater one. Xenophobia in the greater community does not help this situation.

I am by no means saying to open the borders and sing cumbaya together, just that what is being described here is object fact.

Nano said...

FYI, border "raids" by El Paso have been happening for at least ten years now, getting increasingly more commmon. The northern areas of Mexico are as wild as can get now. Cartels ruling entire towns now. The Zetas being the worse of the lot at this point in time.

divelly said...

Regarding secession:
The most ardent proponents are mostly those from the old CSA.
I don't think they have considered how they will pay the bills when the transfer payment from NJ,NV,CT,NH,MN,IL,DE,CA,NY,CO MA,WI,WA,MI,TX,FL and OR through DC are stopped!
MS gets $2.03 for every $1.00 it sends to DC!NC$1.08,TN $1.27,SC $1.35,KY$1.51,VA $1.51,AL $1.66,LA $1.78!

Mr O. said...

Hi JMG, I loved this post. One of my pet subjects is the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire (the Eastern Empire didn’t fall for another 1000 years of course). I guess one of the points you were alluding to at the end of the article is how different parts of the Empire “fell”. Britain retained practically no traces of the Roman project. The Anglo-Saxon and Celtic successor states did not have a Roman based language or culture. Conversely Gaul, even though it was taken over by ‘German’ war bands, retained a latin language, legal structure and bureaucracy.

Another point not to be missed is that in the Late Roman empire many of these ‘barbarian war bands’ were also part of the regular Roman Army, in fact some were both army regulars and raiders. Alaric and his Visigoths famous for the first sack of Rome were previously gainfully employed by the Roman state, and even after this were settled in Gaul to ‘keep the peace’. So when these ‘barbarians’ took over it might not have been quite the shock it now seems (for a wonderful book on contemporary Roman reactions to this change in the power structure see Ralph W. Mathisen - Roman Aristocrats in Barbarian Gaul: Strategies for Survival in an Age of Transition). I fear I can envisage a time when maybe individual states (or indeed central government) might start recruiting ‘foreign muscle’ when the indigenous population gets restless.. and not only in the US…

Two recent books on all the above that I would recommend are Matthew Innes - Introduction to Early Medieval Western Europe, 300-900: The Sword, the Plough and the Book, and Guy Halsall - Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568

Twilight said...

Well presented - I have been watching the situation with the warlords on the southern border for some time, and how people contrive to trivialize them with the "drug gang" label. It is quite easy to see how this will move north as the economy crumbles and the climate changes - those that are unable to flee those regions will be impoverished, providing ample angry young men with no prospects.

Those groups have been around for some time now and are evolving, and there is no telling when someone of the "right" characteristics will emerge to move it to another level. It doesn't feel like it will be that long.

Harry J. Lerwill said...

What worries me more – far more than a slow breakdown as Washington’s ability to project power as energy declines –is the possibility of Balkanization of the Pacific South West. Recent examples of managed partitioning (Mountbatten Plan) and unmanaged (disintegration of the former Yugoslavia) have shown that when politicians propose letting an area cede from the control of the current controlling faction, violence is likely.

The possibility that a period of “ethnic cleansing” might erupt in the PSW is concerning. I never heard the term “white flight” until I moved to California, and I find the concept of moving for racial issues highly offensive. My attitude has always been, “good, one less bigot living near me.” However, crowds whipped up into a frenzy by demagogues on both sides does not make for good neighbors, nor for a safe environment. Then there’s the bitterness that can last generations, as I saw first-hand in Northern Ireland and still continued in a muted away even after the good Friday accords.

So my question is, what are the historical examples of partitioning/succession where the change has been implemented in a relatively non-violent way?

Malcolm Smith said...

A salient essay related to this essay is the small pamphlet entitled Nomadology which is an excerpt of Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze and Guattari.

karlos said...

JMG, I am assuming that the gringo expats living in Mexico are in for some big surprises. Any comments?

John Michael Greer said...

Evan, that's fairly common in historical examples of decline and fall: the privileged classes fall hardest, while the poor -- especially the immigrant poor from less technologically complex countries -- get by fairly well.

Robert M., well, you know I expect large-scale Asian migration to the Pacific Northwest over the next century or two; the hybrid Mexican-Asian culture of future California is likely to be most interesting. It's one of the many bits of the future I wish I could stay around to see.

Rabtter, the war on drugs is a system of price supports for organized crime. I sometimes think that's its intended purpose -- the end of Prohibition clobbered the old syndicates, you know.

Jason, some books are recommended by posters further down. As for Charles Martel, you're one to two centuries too early, in all probability.

William, bingo. If you know your history, what's going on south of the Rio Grande is a very familiar sight.

Pot, that's the same military superiority that enabled the US to crush the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, right? Oh, wait...

Wade, yes, I figured we'd get that fantasy here sooner or later. You'll notice how well the war on drugs has worked to control unapproved economic activity, just for starters. More broadly, the US no longer has the resources for any such project -- we can't even maintain the infrastructure we've got, for heaven's sake.

Hal, it's an interesting hypothesis, but I've generally found that human beings do a fine job of mixing the gene pool no matter what system of government they've got!

Don, even a blind mouse finds a broken clock, or something like that. Though I'm not sure if the conspiracy theorists are the mouse or the clock...

Kenelwood, my one-liner is "get out if you can." Japan has far too many people to feed on its own acreage, and as the age of abundance ends, things are going to get very harsh there. Gaijin in particular are very likely to get the short end of the stick.

Seaweed Shark said...

This is a very astute and brilliant application of Toynbee theory to current events. I grew up in the Southwest, I agree that something like what you say is happening and no moral outrage is going to stop it. Back a few years ago, George Friedman was mocked as a fool when he asserted the possibility that one day the relative power polarity between New York and Mexico City might shift in favor of the latter, but it seemed to me an idea worth considering. It still does.

However, this post raises some concerns.

The first is geopolitical. Mexico lost all that land in the 19th century not just because the US was more rapacious than the Mexicans. The Mexicans had a large, well-trained army and they knew how to use it. Their problem was that the dryland west of North America was really far from Mexico City, beyond mountains and deserts: hard to settle, and hard to manage if it were settled. They tried hard to settle it for 300 years, but in the end were reduced to inviting in Anglos (e.g. Texas) and you see what happened. That geographic problem remains: Mexican civilization might come to dominate the dryland west, but geographical barriers are likely to make it so politically fragmented that the eastern third of North America would still be in a highly dominant position, just as it is now.

My second concern is more theoretical. Is the Anglo civilization of Western North America failing because of resource depletion, or because of some kind of inevitable logic of the decline and fall of empire? You've read Toynbee so you know he says very little about resource depletion or pollution -- only a few scattered comments very late in the project, and in later works of the 1970s. But it was never central to his argument. For Toynbee, it doesn't matter whether resources are limited or infinite: empires and civilizations rise and fall according to the natural progression of their life processes. Toynbee is nothing if not "organic" in his thinking.

Do civilizations fail and fall because of resource depletion, or because of some innate logic of growth and decline? Shouldn't it be one or the other?

Anyway, another great blog post, provoking and insightful. Thanks.

Ian said...

Your mention of the U.S. attitude toward the Mexican-American War reminds me of the title by a short book describing it: Foos's "A Short, Offhand Killing Affair."

I share some of Jose's hopes that Mexico might pull itself together, esp. for the longterm benefits it could have in the region, but so far things aren't trending that way...of course, even if they did, there would likely be some sabre rattling and shooting, but that would be less ugly than the alternative.

Fwiw, you don't have to go so far to see the changing demography. In most of the medium to large Southern cities I've spent time in lately, the city has a large enough population of hispanic immigrants to support a growing parallel economy of services for Spanish speakers. It's not massive, but it's visible if you aren't walking around with blinders--things like a large Mexican tienda on the backside of a large strip mall with a Whole Foods anchoring the front (that one seemed downright symbolic ;-).

Did you happen to catch the September issue of National Geographic this year? I stumbled over it just recently and it was a study in historical collapse--from the cover story on climate change to stories on: how the Roman Empire's border strategy sped its collapse; the instability of Yemen, some between 'tribal' groups and the government; and the astronomical wealth made by some ambitious Roma families stripping abandoned Eastern European factories of metal.

It reminded me of many of the issues you've talked about, and this post definitely fits in with those stories. It does seem to be in the water these days. I'll chalk some of it up to being more sensitized to it, but I fear that it's also just a sign that the pace is starting to quicken.

Ben said...

@ Renaissance Man - I live in Warren, PA and i agree with you 100%. I'm not from the area and moved here recently, so I'm looking at the community with outsider's eyes.
The area is beautiful but the inhabitants have been beaten down by history. This town fell on very hard times as local manufacturing fled the US in the 1970s and 80s. Much of the downtown area has been 'revitalized' and does not look like it did even 30 years ago (if old photographs can be trusted :-P ). That same downtown is fairly bereft of activity after the bank HQ shuts down at 5pm. All the economic 'activity' happens in the strip mall up in North Warren. There is still some local manufacturing, though I'm not sure if its the kind that might matter to locals after the oil age decline really sets in.
To the topic of the Mexican border, Mexican immigrants work some of the farms up here. You have to look for them, but they are here. On the flip side, i doubt they would side with any warbands that might make it this far north. Those who survive up here will probably by Latinos, Amish and resourceful Anglo local farmers (they do exist).
Last winter was unusually warm, and I think that as climate change really alters the landscape, by the end of this century these hills will feel more like northern Georgia, so it might not be all bad...

John Michael Greer said...

Jim, as a short term expedient, salvaged Navy nukes are probably a good option -- and we'll see a lot of short term expedients on the long road down. Do remember that I'm talking about a Long Descent! As for the other points, er, no -- drones and the internet are as easily used against the US as for it, the rise of warband culture along the border may chase out people with a work ethic but it's going to attract people who are good at fighting and leading, and current pie-in-the-sky estimates of natural gas are the products of a speculative bubble now in the process of losing air, and should be taken in the same sense as those claims a few years ago that housing prices could keep on climbing forever.

Mike, as with most irredentist claims, the political impact is a function of popular opinion rather than any more objective factor. As for Mexico's transformations, all true, though The Economist did its usual job of cherrypicking stats to back up its preferred narrative of progress via free markets; the areas that matter, in terms of the analysis in my post, are the northern tier of states, where warband formation is well under way. As Toynbee points out, get far enough back from the border and the processes of social disintegration are a lot less potent.

Nano, thanks for the info! (Yes, in fact you tripleposted -- not a problem, since I can delete extras.)

Jim, a lot of the marijuana in the US is grown here, and thus under the control of domestic cartels, so I'm not sure legalization would have that much effect on Mexican warbands. As for other Hispanic ethnic groups, that's a complex question to which I don't know the answer -- a lot may depend on how that plays out.

Renaissance Man, it's definitely Sanloo -- or well on its way to that status. Much of the landscape of Star's Reach is derived from my travels through deindustrializing parts of the US.

Hal, exactly. Depending on the way that US politics shift, immigrants may end up siding with the warbands against the central government down the road, or they may not; for the foreseeable future, though, they aren't the same thing at all.

Nano, how large of raids are we talking about here?

Divelly, I admire your faith that human beings always make their choices on the basis of rational considerations.

Mr. O, I can imagine that as well. It's a ways down the road as yet -- but we'll see how far a ways.

Twilight, exactly.

Harry, I don't know of one. One way or another, I expect California to become one of the 21st century's most violent and intractable failed states.

Malcolm, thanks for the tip!

jphilip said...

Regards Europe the western part of north africa is not particularly overpopulated it is also getting more prosperous, with reducing birth rates etc., etc. I think one of the recent trends which hasn't got much attention is that turkey and Morocco are becoming the economic/military/democratic equals of western European countries and although I haven't heard much about it since its revolution I wouldn't be surprised if Tunsia wasn't following the same path. As such I do not see them as vast reservoirs of poor immigrants, or out of control failed states. That is not to say that the arab world doesn't have problems but Egypt, Saudi and Yemen are a long way away, the equivalent of Venezuela or Peru to the US. The journey from there to europe is not as easy as crossing the rio grande and southern Russia is probably emptier and closer. I also get the impression that most of europe is more xenophobic/communal than the US which obviously makes it more difficult to get and maintain footholds. I find it very difficult to imagine any rag tag immigrant group overrunning the balkans for instance.

I know that is at a tangent to your post and I don't disagree but I don't think the Arab conquest of Europe, if it happens, will be in the same manner as the Mexican of the US. (also the economic model which facilitated it has obviously come off the rails.)

out of interest Where do you see the Mexican migration running out of steam, dakota, 49th parallel Northwest territories? And what are the population trends of the Indians(red) in the area?

John Michael Greer said...

Karlos, being a US expat in most corners of the world may become very, very risky in the not too distant future. I certainly wouldn't want to chance it.

Shark, it's not one or the other, it's both/and. I don't find Toynbee's specific mechanism of decline that plausible -- I use him primarily because of his brilliant analysis of specific details of decline and fall, rather than for his overall theoretical structure -- but resource depletion is one part of a whole systems process that has many other dimensions; as Spengler points out, it resembles nothing so much as the life cycle of an organism. Still, it's the besetting sin of contemporary thought to insist that reducing a phenomenon to its causes is the same as understanding all of its effects.

Ian, no, I don't usually follow National Geographic. I'll check that issue out.

Rita said...

I have a friend who knows Spanish and some French. About 20 years ago she worked for a major hotel in S. Calif. as a translator between the mostly Spanish speaking kitchen staff and the French chefs. She was offered the job while trying to help her Mexican husband apply for a job.

This week Slate online magazine published an article called,"IF Every US State Declared War Against the Others, Which Would Win." I didn't read it, but its appearance struck me.

DaShui said...

Hey Arch!

For your readers who are interested , here is good for the latest news on the Mexican barbarians:

And here is someone who is able to articulate late modernisms growing internal proletariat very well:

Ricardo Rolo said...

The fate of the borderlands you describe is only one of the possible ones and , TBH, it is one of the least abundant historically wise. It is far more common that the ex-empire denizerns get their act together atleast in part of the borderlands and hold the fort against both the empire and the invaders ;) Even the West Rome fall had some cases of rebel governors holding the fort ( sometimes literally ) against the "barbarians" with temporary alliances on both sides constantly shifting ( Just read the story of Gerontius ( on Honorius days ) and his constant manouvering of the Franks vs the Visigoths while rebelling against Honorius for a colourful example ;) ). I would probably be more surprised by a complete breakdown of the American west via more or less armed Mexicanization than with the forming of some Americanized border statelets ( with a mirror image on the Mexican side ) with both locked in perpetual low grade warfare with eachother and with any remaining would be reuniter of the former glory Empire ( not that I'm expecting that the "border" between both is anywhere near the current one :D ) .

That state of affairs can hold for centuries ( see the original "Reconquista" that was locked in back and forth movements and foamy border states in both sides until one of the sides states gathered enough critical mass to overcome the other ) and, with the long story of rebellious feelings in both sides of the border fringe areas against their capitals, I do think that this is a more probable outcome, atleast on the 1-2 centuries scale. Not that I would bet my life on that , though :D

( cont )

Ricardo Rolo said...

( cont )

On Europe, and unlike the typical anti-muslim meme so popular in the Rhine area ( they have their reasons, but I do not share them ), I do not expect a full blown North African/ Middle East blow inside here, for the same reason the "barbarians" of the Roman days never sticked to Italy until there was literally no place to go: Europe is the decaying core of what is usually called the western civilization, and because of that is the land that was more extensively drained of their natural riches ( including good soil ), while still keeping part of the spoils of that civilization in a far more portable fashion than the other areas ( in other words, refined items, unlike the "undeveloped" stuff of still not drained lands ). That is more a recipe for a rehash of the ol'Med piracy and raiding than of colonization ( not that classical greek-style colonies could not form here and there, between large spaces ) . I do not deny that the large muslim populations of England, France or Germany will try their bid sooner or later, but even if they do, I am midly sure they would fight as much against their perceived Christian opressors ( or not so much percieved as real, like in France nowadays ) as against any Morrocan or Lybian warband that tried to go there . I strongly suspect that in general Europe will dissolve itself in a myriad of statelets as the cost of keeping together people that doesn't want to be together becomes too high for the decaying avaliable physical and human energy to counter it. Maybe we will end with a enlarged HRE-like power structure, with some nibs in the south by some enterprising Morrocans or Tunisians :D So, in resume, I would look more for the less socially cohesive states in Europe to get some serious social stress ( say, places like Spain, Belgium or the UK ) or even outright rebelion ( or, most likely, something in between, like isolated areas minting their paralel coin and acting more or less independently of the central governement ). The bad part is that you can already see signs of all of that nowadays :/

Oh, and a personal pet peeve: There is no such thing as a Spanish language. Not even in Spain they call the first official language Spanish ... as the real name is Castillian. I know that is relatively common in the Americas to call Castillian Spanish, but that is like calling Swahilli or Somali African ( as Spain, before being a country name, is a geographical term ;) ). I know, just a pet peeve, but it irks me :p

Nano said...

Triplepost! Alright! I'm sure I won something somewhere from a lost nigerian uncle.


Regarding the "Raids." Zeta radio is a good example, engineers are allegedly being kidnapped from el paso, to maintain the Zetas radio infrastructure along the border.

South of El Paso is Ciudad Juarez,"murder capital of the world"

An older video worth watching

Jetfire said...

I wonder what the response of the Eastern, entrenched portion of the US would be to a collapse of the Southwest? What's the fate of the most American part of America, New England and the Eastern Seaboard? There are plenty of science fiction futures in which the US merges with Canada, and I wonder if something along those lines would wind up happening. On Canada's terms by that point, of course.

Nathan said...

This was a fascinating post for me. I read some about the 'drug gangs' a couple years ago but I did not have the historical vision to see that they could be analogous to the Visigoths! Incredible.

If Mexican expansion becomes a reality, they will have a hell of time fighting the Mormons in Arizona and Utah. I was a guest with a large Mormon household near the border and they were unabashed supporters of racial profiling and (preferably) the deportation of many legal, as well as illegal, immigrants. I don't know if this represents the larger Mormon community, but I can't see them ceding their space without a fight.

Secondly, I would enjoy a sequel to this post about future viability of Native American irredentism.

Wullow said...

Hasn't the "warband culture" already spread well inward beyond the US borders?

My impression is that most re-patriots from the south just want to lead peaceful, prosperous lives. But we also know that the so-called Mexican drug gangs have their agents in cities throughout the US (thus goeth the War On Drugs).

In my mind, assuming we are in store for a societal collapse and some loss of official law enforcement services, we may have to choose which gang to cooperate with. And one of those gangs will be our boys in black: cops and ex-cops.

Bill Pulliam said...

R Rolo -- pet peeve back at you. We are speaking and writing English. The English name for the language spoken in most of Spain and most of the New World is Spanish. The Spaniards do not call their language Castilian, they call it castellano. Would you correct a Spanish speaker that he should call our language English and not inglés? In English usage, "Castilian" is usually understood to refer specifically to that particular dialect of Spanish. And I have never come across an American native speaker who did not primarily refer to his mother tongue as "español," cognate with and best translated as "Spanish." Seems to me the most justifiable choice for what to call a language is the name that its own speakers use, or the nearest Anglicized equivalent.

Leo said...

Fair enough. My impression of the area comes from Jared diamonds collapse and the Anasazi people he talks about. Looking on a map its a smaller portion of thta area than i thought.

Is their a current going from the east coast of Asia to the West coast of America?
Can't see many other ways of crossing the gap in large numbers while the maritime infrastructures declining.

jphilip said...

@ Ricardo Rolo

I would agree with that future of Europe If the EU stays together providing a HRE equivalent structure, but if not I do not see what stops England imposing its will on the rest of the British Isles or Castile on the rest of Iberia (possible exception of Catalonia).

Also on your pet peeve was there a language in Spain called Spanish when Franco ran the place?

@ Nathan
I think that the Mormons are often forgotten, when discussing the american West. I suspect there will still be a Utah and it will be with somewhat different borders and I would be very surprised if they spoke a language derived from spanish.

It raises the question of how warlords and viable states interact. Do the warlords just avoid the state or do they futilely attack it over and over. Does they state form a border area freeish of bandits. historically what happens?
The eastern Roman empire must have had such interactions when the west fell.

Red Neck Girl said...

Ain't it how it always goes, the brutal outlaw / raider of today becomes future history's patriotic freedom fighter. Or at least a noble, heroic, pioneering figure.

Says the partially descended daughter of American Indians and Irish outlaws.


Joel said...

Feudalism seems to co-exist with representative democracy here in Oakland.

It has a high body count among those vying for power, and innocent bystanders are often killed along contested borders, but I often hear stories of good governance by "drug gangs".

The old enlightenment principle that power is derived from the consent of the governed tends to be obvious to anyone with a hope of succeeding under such fierce competition. Sudhir Venkatesh, for example, notes that most of the shots fired in "turf wars" are fired into the air, with the intent of showing the neighborhood that one's rivals can't keep order.

Incumbent powers have done their best to exterminate the idea of diplomacy from these newer powers, but where there's a niche, things pop up. The spirit of diplomacy isn't vibrant here, but it's scrappy...being poisoned more times than Mithradates brings on some changes.

There's a lot of capital in the hills of this city, but most of the territory doesn't have enough inanimate wealth to be worth raiding.

All this to say, if foreign warbands were to show up in force, wiping out my neighborhood would make much less sense than just claiming it and demanding tribute. Local forces might even be a good source of reinforcements and intel for the raid on Piedmont...

I'm interested to learn how this dynamic played out in the "rough neighborhoods" of ancient Rome, i.e. places inside the wall that had home-grown warbands.

I'm also morbidly fascinated by the idea that a city-state will have to be organized very, very differently now that advances in weapons technology have replaced siege with insurgency. Instead of city walls, will places be fortified by projects like the Cu Chi tunnels?

Ricardo Rolo said...

Sorry for the off topic, Mr Greer, but as I was called to respond ...

@ Bill Pulliam

Actually the name of the language is Castillian even in English. The reason for it is because the use of "Spanish" as the name of the language is of recent coinage ( the wiki point out that the first time it was recognized as a alternative correct form was in 1923 ) and even in the Spanish speaking world it is far from consensual. In Spain itself currently it is officially coined as Castellano as you point ( unlike Español, that is the correct translation of the term Spanish ). There is a lot of politics behind this back and forth, but I'll get to that below.

@ jphilip

You are right in saying that nothing would stop a England or a Castille of imposing their will in their backyards ( not exactly in this case, but more on that below ), but you need to remember that both England and Castille are not exactly a inevitable result of the geography, thus not being a assured thing in the future. England in itself only exists on this current form because of a mess of viking and Norman invasions
and there is literally nothing that prevents it of becoming the balkanized region it was in the Saxon kings time, with pretty much no power to project. Castille is even worse, because what is currently known as Castille was always the poorest region of the Iberian penisula ( just read something about the Roman conquest of the area, especially about the siege of Numantia to get a idea ) and the only reason the region gained ascendacy was because of the north south direction of the Reconquista ( that allowed the Castillian royalty to control the Asturias and Andalucia ), the fact that Galicia and Portugal parted ways and the fact that the central position of Castille allowed them to pick on the richer coastal lands in one side or another at more or less leisure ( this added to the fact that Portugal and Aragon passed far more time trying to see who dominated Castille instead of uniting efforts against it. In the end it was Aragon that got the Castilian crown ... ). Nothing of this was inevitable or even expectable besides of the weak precedent of the Visigoth monarchy, so I would also not put all my chips on that...

On the Spanish and Franco question ... well, I'm not so versed in Spaniard legalities, but IIRC there was only one official language in Spain in the Franco regime time. Even today if you go to a Basque or a Catalan area, you will probably will not have any dificulty to find a old man harping about your usage of the " language of the empire" if you try to speak in castilian with them. Given the pan-Spanish worldview of Franco ( His thesis on the Army school was "How to conquer Portugal in 28 days " ;) ) and the fact that the Basque and the Catalan areas were also strong bastions of the Republican Spain, that is surely not a surprise. But then again, the languages were still there anyway ... ( as a P.S. there is a ridiculous variety of languages in the Iberian penisula, especially in the northern ridges )

Leo said...

Does Toynbee or any of the other cyclical historians talk about the degradation of an empire's internal population as soldiers?

Just thinking on it, the Romans eventually stopped using their own people as soldiers and started hiring mercenaries, i known at least one Chinese empire (Han i think) did the same and in WW1 And WW2 the forces from the colonies were considered the British elite soldiers.

mary said...

Dear Archdruid,
I have just finished reading all 300+ comments on an article.( The format for the comments is very user friendly and I wonder if your blog could use it. Each post has a number! So when you,JMG, reply to a poster we can all find the original. As it is on your blog we have to page back and back looking for eg "Evan" and I have to give up in frustration. Thanks for all your work.

Hal said...

JMG: "...immigrants may end up siding with the warbands against the central government down the road, or they may not..."

I think that could be said about any of us! ;)

Glenn said...

Leo said...

Is their a current going from the east coast of Asia to the West coast of America?
Can't see many other ways of crossing the gap in large numbers while the maritime infrastructures declining.

Leo, It's called the Kuroshio current, or Black Tide. It runs across the North Pacific from Taiwan to the Pacific NW. The distance is approximately 4,900 miles (8,000 KM) and takes about a year on a straight drift, as demonstrated by when Tsunami debris started arriving this spring. Sailing is faster, 6 weeks in a small sailboat, a bit quicker in a larger vessel.

Historically disabled Asian vessels have drifted across on this current, there are no records of survivors. There are some rather loose hypotheses about the metal being salvaged by indigenes for tools, and the possibility that in the pre-European contact period there might have been Asian survivors who worked the iron for the powerful NW Chiefs.

Anyone who wants to survive the crossing had better have sails, engines or both, and dress warm.

Marrowstone Island

Justin Wade said...

Pass the chips and salsa!

Currently taking a meandering, cross country ride through the US. Avoiding interstate highways at all costs.

I remain convinced that the Southwest up through Wyoming is the most visually stunning geography of the northern continent. I have several moments a day when I recognize how surreal and fleeting this way of experiencing the country is, music coming out of the speakers, electric lights perforating my field of vision, miles going by in minutes. Its a trip. How much longer will anyone have this sort of sensory experience? Its a recent phenomena and not likely to last long.

The other aspect of the trip that is striking is how utterly banal and homogenous our patterns of settlement are. I like to joke to the wife every time we arrive in a new place that we are here again. Its the same few chains, same settlements, same layouts, over and over again. I can't see much of it being here in a 100 years, drug gangs or no. I don't think I'd risk a sprained ankle trying to defend the Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens, Gas station holdings from marauders.

Ceworthe said...

For what it's worth, I would like to point out that several years before I retired (3yrs ago) from Social services, they started having special tests for Spanish-speaking government workers-in Syracuse, NY, 3 hrs from the Canadian border. I always found it helpful to know some Spanish, because between what I knew of Spanish and what Hispanic people knew of English, we created our own version of Spanglish to communicate with.

Tripp said...

Wonderful trio of touchy subjects, Mr. Greer! And this last one is exactly what some friends and I were expecting.

After I finished "The Ecotechnic Future" a month or so ago I wrote a piece at my blog called "Robamney 2012!" that presented both of our most recent presidential candidates as members of the Dominant Minority, with nothing substantial to add to the important discussions of our age.

I also proposed that it was not out of the realm of possibility that a rising "ecotechnic" package - comprised of the permaculture, natural building, economic relocalization, and appropriate tech movements - might constitute an emerging "universal church" rising from the ashes of Western Civilization.

Anyone who might be interested in reading my little on-topic piece - complete with Toynbee quotes - is invited to do so:

Thanks again, sir. You have been more influential on my perception of the world than I can probably even imagine.

Amy La Gato said...

I often wondered, when during the run up to the Iraq War, that some commentators would opine on how turning Iraq into a democracy would be a good thing because democracies do not attack their neighbors, that no one brought up the fact that the US did just that vis a vis Mexico.

As for migration from the south. I was recently in Worthington, Minnesota at lest half the city seems to hail from a Spanish speaking country,

As for why the immigrant community is allowed to continue to grow, both legally and illegally, you miss one point. The national debt. One of the reasons that Greece has had so much trouble is that it has a low population growth rate and the current national debt of Greece is too high for future generation to be able to pay back the wealth (as opposed to the money) that has already been loaned. So the bankers stopped buying their debt/bonds. Well the US has a far greater debt, and a low birth rate and legal immigration will not be enough to provide enough future Americans to pay back the debt, especially as many legal immigrants have a low birth rate as well. So the answer to this is to turn a blind eye to illegal immigration, or to talk of things like a (second) one time amnesty and family unification. For all the high minded reasons given for an immigration bill, in reality it is about showing the world's bond buyers that there will be a large enough labor force in the future to cover the debts that are being rung up now.

Leo said...

@ Glenn
That would do it, if you could shorten the journey from a year to 3-6 months with jury-rigged sails (good sails will be in short supply) and/or motors and timed it to land in a nice time of year it be perfect for a migration from Asia. Could also kickstart the recreation of sail-based (and possibly wood or a new shipbuilding material) industry.

Main problem is getting enough food and equipment (clothes, tools, stuff for repairs etc) needed. If parts of Asia (say Japan one year, taiwan the next then vietnam) ossiclate between feast and famine then a strategy would be to send people in times of feast to mitigate the famine.

Bill Pulliam said...

R Rolo -- we weren't talking about Spain, we were talking about Mexico. And we weren't talking about 1905 (at least not when we talked about the language), we were talking about the present and future. The present-day dominant language of Mexico is normally called Spanish/español by those who speak it. The term "castellano" sounds affected or archaic or both to American ears north and south of the Río Grande.

Bill Pulliam said...

Mary -- a trick I have mentioned here before for following the comment/reply thread:

Open two duplicate browser windows showing the comments; make them both tall and skinny so you can view them side-by-side. That way you can read JMG's replies in one while you scroll down the comment thread in the other, and have comment and response visible right next to each other. No paging up and down and getting lost.

Tripp said...

JMG, it just occured to me who you remind me of, with that giant brain of yours. Now bear with me - I know you haven't watched TV in over 30 years - because I'm talking about an old BBC show:

Jeeves and Wooster. And you, sir, are Jeeves. Were you sent by the agency? I think I've actually been reading your writing, closing in on 1000 pages, in the voice and cadence of Jeeves for some time now. A couple of words that you have used in the comments section today triggered my memory of that particular dynamic duo. Good stuff.

Lugh said...

Vibrant Civilization? By that do you mean lots of kids and loud music? Surely you don't imagine that they are our equals? Or that they will maintain what we have built? And the environment? Please.

Amazing how many here talk like they're foreigners, as if this happening to another country not our's. The Bobos are really out in force here.Now I understand that America fails to win the loyalty of many intellectuals, but at least try to have some natural feeling for your Home. The State is not the People, not the Nation after all. And you all assume that you will have equal right or any rights at all under the Mexicans - why? They have promised retribution. Promised. Read what they write for God's sake.

Read how the Ancient Druids fought for their People against the Romans - not call them vibrant and muse about how a different Civilization will soon replace their's.

Kieran O'Neill said...

This is an interesting topic in the context of the recent (and future) US elections -- something I found myself following far more closely than I thought I would. Post-election, one of the big topics was how the Republicans have doomed themselves demographically by deliberately alienating minorities, when the only population group growing at a substantial rate is Hispanic Americans. I've seen a lot of opinion that its a hole they've dug themselves too deeply into to ever get out of, and the demographics for the past election (in which hardly any Hispanic or African Americans voted Republican) supports that view.

Leaving aside partisan politics, I wonder if a Hispanic veto group gaining influence in elections could have some effect in terms of improving relations towards Mexico (or at least softening the wall). Could an empire run as a democracy ameliorate the border/raids process?

Cherokee Organics said...

Ola! Buenas Tardes Amigo!


I'm not sure whether it is a projection of US military doctrine or not, but my impression of the comments so far is that people tend to think that for an empire to fall, an army from another country will head out into the field to face US forces in a - dare I say it? - Mexican stand off.

Isn't this what the British thought too in the lead up to WWII?

Our obsession with centralising infrastructure truly makes for efficiency in delivery of those services, but they are incredibly vulnerable to an insurgency. You don't even need to field a huge force to make an impact.

How many days food does a city contain? How vulnerable is its water, energy, sewerage and rubbish infrastructure? An insurgency (or war band) doesn't have to take out that much infrastructure to make a huge impact.

Showing the effectiveness of insurgents against our (and I literally mean ours too) forces regularly in the media with wars in foreign countries is probably a really unwise thing to do. It is a sort of training exercise.

Did you know that historically armed bands of men roamed at will through the mountain range that I live in? They mostly seemed to be tolerated / supported by the local farming families here. The reason for this is that they picked off the gold shipments en route to Melbourne. I think that you are right about having to get through the period of time before cooler hot heads establish themselves. It has given me much to think about.

I liked your suggestion about the ballads - never would have thought of that. Unfortunately my sense of timing was a bit too fluid for my classically trained guitar teacher. Still I can read music but even a hack can bang out a few songs and improvise.

You know publican and medico of last resort is not a bad idea either - as long as you're not held too accountable for the end result in either trade...

I mention the humorous link below because I know how you enjoy a good Monty Python skit. It only popped into my head (at your suggestion too, so there is a measure of blame in your direction! hehe!) because it is a good example of what not to do as a balladeer:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

I seem to recall that things didn't end up well for them - and there was much rejoicing!

PS: Really enjoying these series of posts and am learning quite a lot.



Ruben said...


I use Ctrl+F with the name JMG is referring to. Then I can bounce to the original comment, and then click back to the reply that interested me, and keep reading. Not as seamless as Orion perhaps, but maybe it will help.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Joel--A few days ago, I had a cafe conversation with a retired physician who provides medical services to one of the more famous outlaw motorcycle clubs. He was advertising his connection with the club by wearing a black leather vest with a slogan on the back supporting this club and One Percenters generally.

I asked him why he did it. He praised the club for its social services and charitable activities such as collecting toys for children, and said that the club members give security to civilians and keep troublemakers away. Then he quoted Dylan, "To live outside the law, you must be honest."

He seemed completely sincere until I mentioned the club's reputation for being in the drug distribution business, at which point he gave me a canned no-knowledge statement of the kind that spokespeople offer to reporters.

Richard Larson said...

Quite interesting and has a ring of truth to it. However, I don't know if I am up to reading 12 volumes of Study of History! Your blog is going to have to suffice, for now anyway.

Those arid parts of the country may soon become a draw on the empirical bank account. As the poor Mexican population takes over from the taxpaying working, or middleclass people, SS payments, and the like, going into the area will exceed tax revenue flowing back.

What may be unrealized up to this point is just how fast business, and those large corporations with high overhead, in competition with the small Mexican-owned businesses, that know how to suvive on next to nothing, will collapse. And along with this the tax revenue to the empirical state.

The bankrupt empire will not send troops in to defend next-to-nothing. Yes, when the oil runs dry, Tejas will also be "irredentialized". Ha!

I haven't drawn that distinction between the workingclass and the middleclass. Will have to think about that, thanks.

Odin's Raven said...

In addition to the external and internal barbarians, and the attempts to break away from the Empire, the oppressive government bureaucracy and their favoured parasites may be a major cause of collapse, and prepare the ground for the barbarization that replaces the nation.

The process may already be well advanced:

Michelle said...

Interesting - when you led in with irrendentism, I was thinking of the Native peoples from whom we stole this country - the "Indians," that is. I can totally see your point(s) about Mexico, though. They're culturally much better in tune with dryland living and agriculture, even aside from holding a grudge toward the US for stealing so much of their land. I have to wonder, will it come down to a fight, or will so many gringos have left that they can simply re-absorb the land by fiat? One day folks will simply realize that if it's full of Mexicans, speaks Spanish, and answers to Mexico City (if it answers to any authority) then it's de facto Mexican.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

I haven't commented in awhile, but have been following along.

I just wanted to make a quick plug for my own piece of post peak fiction set after a second dust bowl in the American southwest, about eighty years from now. It's called "Water, In the Dry Land" and is available from Aurore Press:
as well as Amazon:

The book has two novellettes: one by Chuck Byrd and the second the above mentioned by myself. I will be blogging this story also as a serial at my own site

Randall said...

The short story "The Last of the Legions" by Stephen Vincent Benet is well worth reading. Best, Randall Ellis

Wolfgang Brinck said...

Excellent and thought provoking post. I have been a resident of Central California for a little over a decade and had some opportunity to drive around the state and also Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. Yes, the Hispanic influx cannot be denied. But neither can the Anglo influx. The Southwest is heavily dependent on petroleum and petroleum and electricity enabled irrigation to sustain the large populations of both Anglos and Hispanics. If the empire collapses because the petroleum runs out or becomes too expensive, then so will the population centers. The Southwest without the petroleum will support neither a large population of Anglos or Hispanics. Absence of water and energy will ultimately turn around both the Anglo and the Hispanic migrations into the area. LA without electricity will not just have to do without an internet, it will also have to do without water. And thirst makes no ethnic distinctions.

Robert said...

"Very often, in fact, it’s when a physical wall goes up along the border that the imperial power, in effect, serves notice to its historians that its days are numbered."

Very true. One obvious example of this is the Berlin Wall. The fact taht the communists had to physically imprison their subjects to prevent them leaving for a better life elsewhere meant that all thinking people could see that in the long run the Soviet Empire was doomed.

History however may conclude that the West did not win the Cold War but that the internal contradictions of commumism caught up with the Soviets before the internal contradictions of our system also became terminal.

javogh said...

one thing to remember is that this failing empire also coincides with falling energy availability overall AND various serious environmental issues. while it is certainly possible/probable, as history has demonstrated, that borders will be violently redefined in the process, it is also possible that potential 'invaders' will be equally devastated by our collective energy and environmental problems. for example, the drug cartels make their money off drugs, primarily. in a world where there is less energy to spend on entertainment, drugs are not going to pay the bills in the way they have. i will also note that the Hispanic landowners/agricultural workers i am familiar with use the very same agricultural practices as the rest of the gang - dryland farming is a vanishing art. precious few people are going to know what to do with an increasingly hot and arid American SouthWest.
i do appreciate and enjoy your historically informed view of the US Empire, but i will posit that unprecedented occurrences are possible, at any time, really, though more likely in the coming years, as we already live in unprecedented times (think energy expenditure, for just one example).
please forgive me if i have echoed previous commenters - i have not read through yet.

Lugh said...

The Great Wall of China worked very well for a long time. Yes, they were conquered several times, but not ABSORBED for God's sake. What is happening in America is race replacement or genocide. And not just America, but the whole West. It's far more than just the fall of a Dynasty or State, but the destruction of a whole Civilization - never to rise again since the founding Race has been driven to extinction. The Chinese were never threatened as we are now threatend in the West - betrayed by our Traitor Elites.

Whites are the new Indians, and if we don't unite are fate will be the same.

steve pearson said...

Hi JMG, Have been following your blog for years and enjoying it very much. Even the few times I have not agreed with you it has been thoght provoking.
I guess I just felt to jump with my take on the N. American west. From most of what I have seen of GW projections,the entire area from a bit west of the Mississippi to the Sierra Nevada/Cascades and from a line about from Tepic through San Luis Potosi north to somewhere in the prairie provinces will be desert with scattered oases.With no or greatly diminished fossil fuels it will support a greatly reduced population of nomads and statelets ( Deseret?) and be far from the influence or control of DC, DF, Ottawa or Sacramento ( or Beijing).I would imagine Mexicans to be the dominant demographic group, but it would all be pretty much in flux.
I would see that situation 40 or 50 years from now, and there is room for lots of fun & games in the meantime.
Again, thank you for being you and doing what you do, Steve

Lauren said...

I live in South Texas. I continue to improve my Spanish speaking skills. In addition, I travel to Refugio, Texas once or twice a week. A very small, impovershed town that is also a major bus route for all the Mexican carriers. The bathroom that I frequent in the Refugio grocery store is, surprise, surprise, always much cleaner than the bathroom in the very upscale "Central Market" owned by the same company in a very affluent area in San Antonio. Go figure. The former locals (and in many cases, still the locals) in Refugio are taking better care of their turf than the rich white folks 90 miles further north!

phil harris said...

You made this recent reply to a question:
”Kenelwood, my one-liner is "get out if you can." Japan has far too many people to feed on its own acreage, and as the age of abundance ends, things are going to get very harsh there. Gaijin in particular are very likely to get the short end of the stick."

Interestingly mainstream press today in UK is talking about the prospect of us having a lost economic decade or two along the lines of Japan. Personally, I doubt it because Japan stalled against the background of a rapidly growing world economy and much greater volumes of fuel and other world resources being brought on-line, at least until 2005. UK will not have the luxury of that context when our financial misallocation of resources into 'property bubbles' and the like takes us down the Japanese road.

I wrote a piece back in 2008 included a remark about British agricultural history when I described Britain in 1939 as essentially a cluster of large cities set in a small run-down farming area, needing to import 70% of ‘food as calories’. The farming situation since then is different, but the essential point is that we could not feed the present population with home-grown food, even if we made draconian changes in the way we live. We are about 4 persons per ploughable acre, and a significant fraction of the better land is close to sea-level.

We are suffering in Britain just now the usual political struggle between 'Atlanticists' and 'Europeans’. Both sides could be beside the point it seems to me, but inward net legal migration from new eastern EU members is becoming an ever bigger issue. Migration flows these days are so vast in both directions, including students, so that relatively smaller changes in net inward migration have large and visible effects and these have been accompanied by considerable levels of social tension. A somewhat different development since the Soviet collapse, and much accelerated since the financial near melt-down, London has become a base for numbers of wealthy Oligarchs originating from a range of countries: wild capital hub!

Makes one think!

John Michael Greer said...

Jphilip, I don't think the Arab conquest of Europe will happen in exactly the same way as the Mexican reconquista of the western half of North America -- but I suspect it will happen, one way or another.

Rita, I saw the article, too -- interesting that such ideas are spreading so widely.

DaShui, thanks for the links!

Ricardo, my take is that the current situation along the US-Mexican border is far too unstable to settle down into a bunch of squabbling statelets any time soon. As for the name of the language, that's one of the differences between your side of the Atlantic and mine; over here, people don't speak Castilian, but a rapidly evolving successor language combining rounded-off Castilian, bits and pieces of other Iberian languages, and influences from the old Native American languages, which is called Español by the people who speak it.

Nano, if the Zetas are already building that much infrastructure, the crisis may be closer than I thought.

Jetfire, Canada would be crazy to allow it. I suspect that what we'll get, down the road, is several post-US nations in the eastern half of the continent, more or less maintaining cultural continuity with today's United States, and possibly something similar (though highly Asian-influenced) in the Pacific Northwest.

Nathan, that's a good point; I could easily see a Mormon state hanging on in Utah and southern Idaho, at least for a while.

Wullow, that's business as usual after the kind of imperial collapse I've outlined. King Arthur was the leader of a big warband -- it's just that he was on the side of the Britons rather than that of their Saxon, Irish, and Pictish enemies -- and quite a bit of evidence suggests that he was no more obsessed with legalities than was, say, Hengist, his opposite number on the Saxon side.

Leo, a very strong current. When I was young, you'd find glass floats that broke loose from fishing nets in the Sea of Japan washing up on beaches in Washington State all the time. Add in some sails and a bit of fuel, and refugees could get here fairly easily.

Girl, my ancestors on my father's side were the nastiest cattle thieves and cutthroats of the southwestern Scots Highlands, for that matter!

John Michael Greer said...

Joel, as warband culture spreads inside the walls, yes, you start getting all kinds of complicated hybrids, and people moving with relative ease from one side of the conflict to another. As for siege warfare, a lot depends on how much military technology survives how long. If effective artillery stays in use, ordinary walls aren't of any use at all, but there are other alternatives -- I wonder if anyone will remember Vauban?

Leo, that's one effect of the social schism that alienates the internal proletariat from the dominant minority -- the number of people who are willing to risk their lives for the state for patriotic reasons drops like a rock.

Mary, unfortunately I have no control over the comment software -- that's Blogger's business, not mine. There are a couple of suggestions by other readers above that might help you.

Hal, true enough -- but I think you get my point.

Justin, exactly -- and that, as I pointed out to Leo just above, is one measure of the alienation of the internal proletariat from the dominant minority and its interests.

Ceworthe, a friend of mine works at a prison not far from here in western Maryland. He and the other employees there all have to know at least a little Spanish, because a very large fraction of the inmates speak that language.

Tripp, thank you! It's good to see somebody else using Toynbee as a source for understanding. Your universal church, though, is lacking something...and that would be religion. I know it's unfashionable to mention this, but the urbane unbelief of imperial cultures doesn't have a lot of staying power as things start sliding downhill.

Amy, the US is far beyond the point at which its national debt can be paid off by any possible amount of economic growth -- and that would be true even if economic growth wasn't a thing of the past, as it is. It's possible that some of the people supporting immigration haven't grasped that yet, to be sure.

Tripp, much obliged, sir!

Lugh, now that you're finished yelling, you might take a deep breath, read what I've written, and notice that I'm not saying any of the things you accuse me of saying. If someone pounds on your door in the middle of the night to warn you that your house is on fire, do you accuse him of musing over the flames?

John Michael Greer said...

Kieran, the rise of the Hispanic vote is one of the major issues in present and future US politics. I don't know that anybody can be sure yet how that will play out.

Cherokee, muchas gracias! I can always be encouraged by a Monty Python reference.

Richard, there are one- and two-volume condensed versions of Toynbee's work, which would be well worth your time.

Raven, I have a very different take on what's happening in California.

Michelle, it's a complex question. I don't see any chance of Native American irredentism having an impact, btw, simply because demographics are not on their side.

Justin, I'll check it out.

Randall, good heavens -- I don't think I've read that one. Will definitely chase it down.

Wolfgang, of course the big population centers will collapse -- so will everything else in an era of warband incursions. It's going to be a messy issue one way or the other, and it'll likely be a couple of centuries before the region settles down.

Robert, that's certainly my take.

Javogh, well, tell me this -- who's better prepared to survive a period of drastic ecological and economic shifts: poor people from Mexico who are used to getting along in a very hot climate with very little money, or relatively affluent white Americans for whom life without air conditioning is unthinkable? I rest my case.

John Michael Greer said...

Lugh, yes, I figured that somebody sooner or later was going to turn up with that sort of intellectually bankrupt 19th century racist nonsense, and I probably should have guessed from your earlier post that you'd be speaking for, shall we say, the common clay of the new West. Now go away.

Steve, quite possibly, which is one of the reasons why I'd expect future Hispanic settlement to extent much further -- as indeed it's doing right now.

Lauren, a fascinating data point.

Phil, Britain is no more viable in the long term than Japan. Interesting that both of the US "aircraft carriers" off the coast of Eurasia ended up in the same situation.

Devin Martin said...

John Michael,

Another fantastic post. I suppose I'll have to add Toynbee to my reading list, right after the entry for "Life and Work in Medieval Europe."

I'm interested in how the decline of the US will play out for areas like south Louisiana, which were absorbed into the empire long ago but still retain a lingering cultural memory of their own distinct culture and folkways. That is, the more inland parts of south Louisiana like Lafayette that won't succumb to rising sea levels and ongoing coastal erosion within the next century. My guess is that the people who retain enough knowledge of the hybrid-indigenous folkways and blend those with modern appropriate tech, they might have half a chance of cultural survival. In many areas down here a subsistence lifestyle there is only 1 or 2 generations away. My Grandfather, a child of Cajun sugarcane peasants, plowed his families' subsistence garden in the 1930's and had to convince my Great-Grandmother to get electricity in 1946. But then again, what's left of the offshore oil reserves in the Gulf and Texas nationalism are big factors in how things play out, too.

As for Mr. or Ms. Lugh, I suspect he or she may be a crossover from the recent namedrop on Beck's media fiefdom. FWIW, I don't think any of Beck's "books" are worth a turnip seed.

@ Renaissance Man and others on the topic of rebuilding in New Orleans:

Yes, the 9th Ward has largely been rebuilt, but most of the financial inputs were from Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation and other national non-profits, not local, state or federal money that was misspent and stolen (much like the BP oil spill money will soon be). Because of the outside liberal non-profit sensibilities, many of those homes are now energy efficient and complete with rooftop PV solar and built to modern EE standards, making the area of the "greenest" US neighborhoods.
If you want to see examples of lingering destruction from Katrina, use Google Earth to view New Orleans East or the area just south of the University of New Orleans. Many of the small towns along the coast are also in a state of severe disrepair, but many of them were that way long before Katrina reared her ugly head.
The real story is the state of Louisiana's coastal marsh--it loses a football field's worth of wetland every 38 minutes, due to poor ecosystem management and the ravages of the oil and gas industry. You can clearly see the extent of erosion by comparing the satellite imagery with comparable maps, which mostly still outline the coastline of the 1950's. The reluctance of the State and Federal governments to devote the necessary resources to restore the coastal ecosystem and protect one of America's largest port systems, the oil and gas infrastructure here, and the cultural treasure of this region is a big indicator of our decline.
Of course, most of the city of NOLA is doomed in the next half century or so, so if you've got the urge to come visit, take it in while you can!

@JMG: While playing on Google Earth, I noticed you've got a very nice looking lodge there in Cumberland. Perhaps one day in the course of our travels I'll make a visit!

CWT said...

It seems that there is a long list of places to avoid throughout the course of the century. Are there any places that could be remarkably more viable than most of the United States?

jim burke said...

As someone who lives right on the border, I thought I should maybe weigh in.

I live in rural AZ, 3 miles from the border; I see the lights from the "tortilla wall" from my bed. Until recently this was ground zero for the Great Immigration. During the '90s there was a lot of auto theft and some border bandits, and my land was overrun, fences cut and piles of trash from immigrants who jettisoned everything. That's all gone now. The collapse of jobs, a new 16' high steel wall instead of 8 strand barbed wire, and a LOT of border patrol has made a huge difference. Interestingly, just as the foot traffic collapsed the media brawl suddenly became huge.

A few points; this is not the Roman empire. I think a better model is the waves of Italians that many thought would never be assimilated. (Their descendents are now called "white" or "anglo" or "gringo" around here).

The old hispanic families I know become progressively American. Very fast. For instance, our army and marines are made up of blacks, Latinos, and rural whites. and many of them come from and retire to AZ. So not only do the hispanic families have very strong ties to the US military, there are a lot of people of various races here who are heavily armed and know how to take on bandits.

In urban areas, you can refer to them as Chicano, Latino or Hispanic, but if you call them "Mexican" you're asking for a fight. They aren't Mexican. Most of them hate the Mexican govt, the corruption etc. I know of a number of older Hispanics here who haven't been over the line in years. There are too many stories of bad run ins with Federales.

In Rome, the state had a monopoly on the means of organized violence, until riders with the newly invented stirrup annihilated their army at Adrianople. From then until Crecy and Agincourt, heavy shock cavalry, standing on stirrups and wielding a heavy spear, swept all before them. Rural people didn't have a chance, and had to cut a deal with the barbarians.

Now, in contrast, every rural area in the country can quickly and easily raise a militia of heavily armed men and women who could take on zetas, or even a foreign army. Remember, the "army" that defeated General Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto was just a bunch of guys with their own guns.

And that's why, if the federal govt can' manage the border, the National Guard will have to do it. A few companies of troops, with a different set of rules of engagement, could stop all armed border traffic, by the simple expedient of shooting anyone who is armed and/or puts up a struggle. And if the state can't do it, then militias will spring up to do it. And nobody wants that, so govt would be forced to act, unless there was absolutely no govt. In that event, border bandits would be the least of our worries.

Leo said...

Seige warfare, now that will be interesting in this age of decline.
You have the inherent defensiveness of gun warfare without it being tempered by gasoline vechiles offensiveness. WW1 rather than WW2 i guess, with apropriate changes.

Walls (or barbed wire) and the necessary stocks will be a good investment for citys or towns in the way of early warbands, they lack the necessary skills and organization for seiges. Even later warbands will have trouble and if they look like they're getting artillery, plan for star forts (at least one was used in WW1). In rural areas, something similar to a castle could be used, since thats what they were built and used for. They're actually crap defensive positions compared to forts, but they could store the local peasant population and food.

jim burke said...

oh, as an aside, when the US legalizes drugs (as will happen as the govt loses the ability to fund the drug war), then the money, and probably violence, will drain from the drug gangs, of all ethnic groups. Just as the ruthless Irish bootlegging gangs vanished with the end of prohibition, we'll doubtless see the end of the violent drug gangs.

jim burke said...

Recently I got an advance copy of a set of demographic maps from Archaeology Southwest, showing agricultural development and collapse over time in AZ and NM, as well as northern Sonora and Chihuahua. The Hohokam etc. ag cultures went for over a thousand years, and for some time the Phoenix basin was heavily irrigated and sustained a very large population. It is estimated that the pop of AZ didn't rise above those earlier levels until the 1920s, or even later.

Alas, by 1450 there is no evidence for ANY agriculture in AZ! It all collapsed, well before Columbus brought plagues, and the few survivors were hunter gatherers. Basically, farming here is unsustainable, even on the very low level that was acceptable to paleo Indians. But since we've lowered the water tables, played out the lands and over grazed, etc. etc., I wouldn't count on much being around here once irrigation powered by fossil fuels ends. And since most American produce is from irrigated lands in CA and AZ, well, you guys back east might have to redesign some things.

Doctor Westchester said...


Where did all these Spanish-speaking brown people come from anyway? Did the Conquistadors bring them over from somewhere to work the gold mines? Perhaps they came from Mars or Venus?

Ah, no. While the Latin and South American elites are often mostly of European ancestry, most of these Spanish-speaking people we see (or pretend not to see) doing manual labor are - - Native Americans (!?). Of course, almost all of them are not of the groups that up here in the North we gringos had such great fun slaughtering in mass, but they are Native Americans never the less.

IF I may be so bold, I must say that Mr. Common Clay does kind of have a point. If I was an unattached young white man living in the south or southwest (I'm middle aged white guy living in the northeast) interested in maximizing the chances of leaving descendents in the next century, I think I would be looking for a nice Hispanic or African American (or better yet black Hispanic) woman to marry, since I would need to add some genetic diversity and darker skin to an inbred heritage from a cold land with short summers.

Chris said...

Something to contemplate in this analogy. If the fall of the Empire is coinciding with the increase of natural disasters, then warbands will have an equally hard time affording the means to run raids.

America is a large land mass, even larger than my home Australia. The Japanese which landed on our shores and attempted to capture parts of our country during the war, ran into the logistics of a very large and very water lacking continent. Nature defeated them before the allied troops did.

As the boundaries of nature start to shift (as they appear to be doing at an increasing rate) warbands will be up against recovering from natural disasters, as much as the Empire is.

It seems to me, the reason the US Empire is running out of money, isn't just because of the resources running out (ie: fossil fuels) but also because they're running out of healthy soil to grow food. As the warbands come to claim the US territories, they will have to contend with the same unforgiving landscape.

If my memory serves me correctly, both Alexander The Greats' Empire and the Roman one, coincided with natural epidemics. Alexander's army was halted in India because his men were being picked off by tigers and they were developing diseases from the humid conditions their biology hadn't adapted to.

Likewise, Rome ran out of trees to chop down for their resources into war machines. Arable land to grow food for the soldiers began to dry up.

I wonder if the difference in our present history compared to Empires which have fallen in the past, is that in no such time before now have such large tracks of land become so desolate and lacking in resources.

War becomes risky for soldiers on both sides, because infection creeps in easily in hotter conditions, with little water to go around cleaning wounds.

I recall quite a few events in history, where battles weren't won by military might, but rather by a change in weather. Those odds are increasing the more nature is presently intensifying.

Chris Travers said...

JMG: I would be interested in your thoughts on this. This may be another red flag before bulls but I figure might as well ask for your thoughts.

It occurs to me that radical Salafist Islam can be seen as a sort of Islamo-Anarchism. When Salafist insurgants ran Fallujah for a while, they didn't set up any organizations of government.

This leads to a very obvious and uncomfortable question, whether the Salafist terrorist organizations are effectively this sort of war band (noting btw, that Hizbullah and Hamas are *not* Salafist, but rather more traditionalist groups who seek to run states). If this is the case then the whole "war on terror" falls nicely into the warband narrative does it not, at least in the sense that those groups actually covered by the 2001 AUMF are such war bands?

This is not, of course, a comment on the merits of Islam, or even the merits of Salafism but just on the connection between Salafist activism, the warband, and the decline of the US.

steve pearson said...

I certainly hope that in 100 or so years Cascadia ends up with the relatively harmonious racial mix we have here in Hawaii( plus Ladino). Granted our population will have to decline by 1/2 or more, especially here in Oahu.JMG,I think your Adam story was tending that way.
China,or whoever is dominant will have a vested interest in access to Athabascan tar sands & Powder River coal as long as the infrastructure lasts(as well as Pearl Harbor,of course).That presence could be benign or malignant. Quien sabe? Don't know how far down the slope that will go.
I think So.Cal & the central valley are going to be a nightmare before the rubble stops bouncing, and are going to impact the way Cascadia plays out for a long time.There just isn't enough water for a fraction of that population, or enough petrol for their food.
BTW an interesting post America novel, though set a bit early to me, is Holly Jean Buck's " Crossing the Blue"or an old, very optimistic one,is Ursula K. LeGuin's ' Always Coming Home"
BTW again, apropos Australia,as I recall, in WW2,there was a line planned around Rockhampton, and a last stand one above Newcastle, plan to hold the north.Indonesians would probably be satisfied for quite awhile withs Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands.

Stephen said...

As the Government power collapses the threat posed by these war bands may turn out to be less than first appears. For without the governments monopoly on force which seem go through ever increasingly elaborate rituals before being used. The locals in border areas may be more than willing to resort to the simple expedient of shooting the outlanders.

João Carlos said...

I really intrigued with too many posts saying that "natural disasters" wills save the empire. Maybe you gringos think God have a side...

Climate change will have dire effects south of border and the consequence of failed crops is that the hungry will try mass exodus to richer lands. And most of them will end joining the warbands for pillage the rich empire. and get free lnad from the conquered.

Climate change will just make the warbands stronger while make the empire weaker...

Steve said...

I managed to find a copy of the short story Randall mentioned archived online, for those interested (fwiw, Benet passed away in '48, and I doubt anyone's collecting much in royalties for his works these days):

It's a haunting story that echoes very familiarly in the context of JMG's latest series. Thanks, Randall, for bringing it to the list!


My wife teaches elementary school in one of the local public districts. In her class there are a good mix of anglos, latinos, and other foreign students (university family housing), and they represent all three of Toynbee's classes: the dominant minority (the rich kids), the internal proletariat, and the external proletariat. In the same class are the scions of power and privilege, poor anglo and poor latino citizens, and several kids whose parents have been/might be deported and have no path to become citizens in the US.

We've seen a few cases locally of what happens to the kids who were brought across the border informally as their parents sought work or fled the violence of the border regions. If they finish high school, they can't go to college because they have to pay foreign student tuition. Even if they could, they wouldn't be able to work professionally without citizenship, and they'd be loaded down with unpayable debt. What ends up happening is that some take low-wage jobs, some of the young women get pregnant, and some join the black market economy.

The upshot of the current immigration laws is to drive members of the internal proletariat (latinos who grew up here, many of whom don't even speak spanish, and identify culturally as USAns) into the external proletariat (the rising outlaw war bands and their parallel economy). By cutting off their options and basically forcing them underground, the US gov't is driving the demographic and identity trends even more forcefully away from what one would think would be desired by the political class. In the context of this week's post, regardless of what one thinks of the moral questions, this looks a lot like the US making the worst possible choice in setting up our own future to be much messier and more unstable than it otherwise would have to be.

Sheesh. On that note, it's time to go outside, turn the compost, and get another bed ready for planting next spring.

. josé . said...


This comment is not on-topic to the current post, but it is related to the general purpose of the blog itself, and was triggered by the specific comment thread in this week's post, so perhaps you'll put it through.

Over the last year, I've had a very difficult time with a particular professional I'm dealing with. When my acupuncturist / general therapist asked me how I avoided getting angry and blowing up at him, I told her that my morning "meditação" includes a Water visualization. When he was really getting on my nerves, I would find myself awash in the Blue and confront him calmly and professionally. (This led to a discussion of the ritual as a whole, but that's unrelated to this comment.)

As I read your moderation of this week's comments, which surprisingly were more emotional than those to last week's post, my thought was, "This man has all the elements working for him." A gentle correction when that was appropriate, a sharp dismissal when that was called for.

All in all, it was extremely impressive, and sets a high aspirational goal for those of us just beginning along the path. As a side benefit, it makes me feel more confident in making comments - even if they may be controversial - in the expectation that your response will measured and appropriate.

Thank you very much for hosting this wonderful discussion group. In almost 30 years of online discussions, dating back to the BBSs of the 80's and newsgroups of the 90's, I've never encountered such a well-moderated salon.

Odin's Raven said...

As the Great American Desert becomes increasingly drought stricken and deserted, will the American farmers be replaced by a scattering of nomadic tribes of Mexican-Amerindians living on roaming herds of scrawny cattle goats or sheep, forming war bands to attack each other and the Eastern Americans?

(18th attempt to be accepted by the blogger check! Your commentators have to be determined.)

Bill Pulliam said...

Doc W -- that is an excellent point that the Mexican population is significantly more "native" than the anglo U.S. population. The Spanish settlers assimilated much more of the native genetics, language, and culture than the northern europeans did.

mary said...

Thanks for the suggestion about Ctrl F it is easy to use and the Previous and Next options work too.
This may be off topic but with the discussions about the dry SW parts of the USA it fits right in. Desertification is driving people off the land and has destroyed other cultures too. Alan Savory has a novel approach. See "Keeping Cattle: Cause or Cure for Climate Crisis". It is a long Feasta Talk.

John Michael Greer said...

Devin, nah, I get people like Lugh charging on here whenever I rehash one of their hot button issues. I usually put through a post or two and then ban 'em -- they're a useful reminder of what I've come to call the Law of the Conservation of Hogwash, the process by which no bad idea ever gets wholly abandoned.

CWT, wherever you go, it's a gamble. Myself, I'm betting on the north central Appalachians.

Jim, er, stirrups weren't involved at Adrianople -- that hypothesis was disproved a good many decades ago. As for your experience on the border, interesting that other people on different parts of the border are reporting very different experiences -- and just shooting everyone who comes across is not as easy as it sounds when the other side is armed and shooting back. I'd encourage you to reflect on how well your advice would have worked on, say, Rome's frontiers in 375 CE or so.

Leo, the star forts were Vauban's invention -- my guess is that that's a technology worth reviving. Castles, though, take only the most rudimentary artillery to take out.

Jim (again), again, that's why I've suggested that the aftermath of the warband era will see a mostly Hispanic culture in place all over the current dryland West. The fact that Arizona can't support agriculture on the downside of the drought cycle will make Iowa all the more attractive.

Doctor W., the relationship between Mestizo and Indio culture south of the Rio Grande is far more complex than that, as I think you probably know.

Chris, warbands are cheap and empires are expensive. That's one of the things that make warbands more viable in an age of decline -- and natural disasters and topsoil loss simply make this equation more important.

Chris, I'll have to look into it. I haven't paid a lot of attention yet to the Salafists.

Steve, Hawaii's going to be a major strategic center as long as effective trans-Pacific transport is possible -- and that means as long as big sailing ships are viable, so it may be a while. Probably won't prevent sharp population loss via hunger, disease and warfare, but your chance of receiving some level of support from whoever's the current Pacific hegemon is higher.

Stephen, er, have you lost track of the fact that the outlanders are more than willing to shoot back -- or, for that matter, shoot first?

John Michael Greer said...

João, good. That's one of the points I was trying to make, and of course you're quite right. One of the things that makes warbands flourish in such times is that they are much less dependent on expensive infrastructure than the existing institutions on either side of the border.

Steve, as I see it, current immigration law mostly works to prop up white middle class lifestyles by forcing down the cost of wages. Keeping immigrants out of the middle class is part of that, of course -- but you're quite right that the long term consequences are potentially explosive. Toynbee, interestingly enough, talks about that in general terms -- one of his core arguments is that the dominant minority in a declining society keeps on repeating the same failed responses to the same worsening challenges, because they're more committed politically and culturally to the responses than to actually solving their society's problems.

Jose, thank you! As it happens, working with all the elements is quite literally part of the Druid traditions I know and teach; glad it shows.

Raven, I suppose that's one outcome.

Mary, glad it helped, and thanks for the link!

Kurt Cagle said...

I've just moved back to the Pacific Northwest after a few years in Maryland, and am definitely feeling "home" again.

I've been thinking about the scenario you've raised here for some time in the context of the Puget Sound area and Vancouver/Victoria down to Portland and Northern CA.

I see an interesting confluence in Cascadia - the primary population here is Asian - Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Russia, plus a still high Native American population, and while Anglos are still the dominant population in the region, I'm not sure they are even the majority anymore. Richmond BC is the largest Chinatown in North America, but even in Vancouver, the population is similar. (If, as is suspected, the First Peoples in this region are primarily of later stage Asian rather than Meso-American origins, then this is a trend with DEEP roots.)

In effect, what's happening now is that as Imperial America decays, older patterns are reasserting themselves. The plains out to the Eastern Cascades are becoming Meso-American again - appropriate for a people that have adjusted to a hot, dessicated environment. In Cascadia, on the other hand, you have cool temperate rain forests, and a coastal seafaring populace - coastal Chinese and Japanese, Russian, Norse, Swedish and Scottish, along with the Coastal First Peoples.

I only see this trend becoming stronger over time, especially assuming that China continues asserting its economic interests in the Pacific Northwest. Significantly, I think even your warband assumptions hold true - there are "gangs" in this region, but the most well organized of them are Asian.

On that topic, one other observation - in the wake of the continued collapse of the Japanese government (over Fukushima and the continued long emergency) it's worth noting that most of the native aid and support after the tsunami came not from the government but from the Yakuza. One other theme that emerges from history is that as an establishment loses its legitimacy, it is very often organized crime that lays the foundation for the next layer of that civilization, primarily because it is in the best interest of such warlords to provide pockets of stability on their home turf.

Again, looking forward to more posts. It's given me a lot of insight into the bigger picture and both the posts and the discussions are well worth the read.

Kurt Cagle said...


Re: your comment on Britain - as an "American Protectorate", England is probably doomed, but I'm not so sure that I'd say that for "Greater Britain". Scotland is working to achieve energy independence via non-renewables and seems to be well on their way to doing so, and as a culture, Scotland's clan structures, currently weak relative to the overlaid English parliamentarianism, will likely strengthen as that power diminishes. It's also worth noting that this is a culture that has become accustomed to unreliable electrical power and even today there are parts of Scotland that are not easily accessible by roads. Just as with the Appalachians (and for most of the same reasons) the Scottish Highlands would be a good place to wait out the collapse of civilization.

escapefromwisconsin said...

About those warrior ballads, start practicing your accordion:

Joel said...

>warband culture spreads inside the walls

It's not clear from your comment how new you think this phenomenon is. Collapse would tend to open up this niche a lot wider, but the US has long fostered the development of micro-states by hosting populations that it refuses to govern.

A thick root of "warband culture" in my town seems to trace back to Sicily, which was an incubator through the early modern period. It seems to have migrated to big New World cities (especially New York and Chicago), formed some interesting hybrids there, and then spread here along with auto manufacturing. Oakland's industrial employment opportunities were a lot more volatile than Detroit's, which seems to have driven a lot of innovation in the political economy (e.g., free breakfast for students seems to have been copied into the Farm Bill from innovations by the Black Panthers).

There's a way in which this culture isn't exactly inside the wall, though: the big freeways were built along traditional "red lines", and underpasses remain gates between "safe" and "unsafe" neighborhoods. I've only seen pedestrians crossing major freeways twice around here, and both looked extremely poor and desperate; as a fortification system, Ike's big project seems pretty effective. And I've also seen an underpass used to create a flying checkpoint, where police could detain and search a whole stream of traffic without probable cause.

Leo said...

Thats why you'd use coiled barbed wire, one of its many traits was that artillery wouldn't destroy it, it would simply be lifted up and became more tangled. You'd take the broad designs from a castle, a wide open court for the peasants to live in, a commanding position where everyone can run to, large food storages and a small group of trained soldiers or local militia.

The best solution would be to live in a mountainous or overwise defensible area. Any cities or towns in such areas should get through quite well if they choose to adapt.

phil harris said...

It is nice that you mentioned your cut-throat Scottish 'borderer' ancestors on your father's side. Liddesdale is no more than a day’s bicycle ride from where I am writing. Small though Britain maybe geographically, the Scottish border country saw a noteworthy low point of human history in the West: as nasty a collapse of social values as say in Bosnia or gangland N Mexico.

These are lovely people nowadays of course, though the countryside still feels haunted in some places. The Cumbrian farmers just across the Border from Liddesdale are still there near the old Roman signalling station, as are some of the old fortified farmhouses. I noticed though that while their speech has a distinctive Cumbrian sound, the feel of this bit of border country is very different from that in the Lake District Cumbrian heartland a little further back from the Border.

This Cumberland as I am sure you know is the origin of the name of your town in the US. Cumberland was known for its independent peasants referred to as 'statesmen' (DeQuincy), people much respected by the early 19thC poets Wordsworth and Coleridge, and they are still there in the country speech and demeanour and on some of the small farms. All this is encompassed in terrain we bicycled across in half a day. And those good folk in the hill fastness round the lakes were descendents of Viking raiders become settlers.

There is among the hills of Borrowdale and Buttermere (Bothar’s Mere) a lightness in the air, as of lives worth living over these many centuries despite material poverty and a demanding human ecology. For a longer time perspective I recommend Castlerigg pre-historic stone circle one of the most wonderful elevated positions in the UK for observing over the seasons sun and moon and the ecliptic.

Liddesdale was returned to civilisation and the name Greer long since became an honest one. I note from the Ettrick & Liddesdale Advertiser that 150 years ago one “Mr George Greer, Agent of the Scottish Temperance League, lectured in the Parish Schoolroom on Thursday evening, the 27th ult. His remarks were fraught with wise counsel, and contained many earnest exhortations to temperance and godliness.”


Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

I'm looking to relocate from the Arklatex region next to Texas to either 1) Northern Idaho (Lewiston area) or maybe 2) Scotland (although this would be harder to pull off). Does anyone have gratis thoughts on either of those, particularly the Moscow-Lewiston area? The soil is very good on the Palouse, but I'm not sure about water. Lewiston is actually on the Snake river, not far away, with a milder climate and is a seaport inland (at least for now).

Cherokee Organics said...


I had a flash this morning that war bands were a point on the road to the future (whatever outcome that is).

Much like our civilisation they rely on growth or expansion to prosper - or an ecosystem which produces an easily obtainable surplus (an unlikely circumstance in the foreseeable future).

The reason this popped into my head is because of the bees. They have a remarkable social structure. It is interesting too because the initial bee researchers (middle ages) attempted to bend the bees social structure to reflect their own social structures rather than just describing the actuality. The knowledge of that structure must have been quite threatening to those researchers - thus their attempts at fabrication (or misinterpretation).

What is really interesting though is that there are eerie similarities between the bees social structure and what I understand of the traditional Aboriginals social structure.

The more time I spend immersed in nature, the more I realise that the Druids were on the money. It was probably a more threatening concept to the invading cultures than most people nowadays even realise.



JP said...

JMG says:

"Toynbee, interestingly enough, talks about that in general terms -- one of his core arguments is that the dominant minority in a declining society keeps on repeating the same failed responses to the same worsening challenges, because they're more committed politically and culturally to the responses than to actually solving their society's problems."

I suspect that as the culture is still rising, the solutions that are used actually solve (at least partially) the underlying problems. They work and the problem goes away.

Once the culture peaks, there is no longer a "solution" in the sense that things can be generally "improved" via the internal cultural logic/resource extraction.

What I suspect happens is that the general anxiety by the dominant minority means that some solution has to be implemented. However, the solution is only a solution in that it simply allows the dominant minority to feel less anxiety because there is no actual "solution" that would be politically/socially acceptable to the dominant minority.

There has to be an internal psychological explanation for what Spengler refers to as "Historyless stiffening and enfeeblement even of the imperial machinery, against young peoples eager for spoil, or alien conquerors."

So, the "solution" reduces anxiety while ultimately serving to make things even worse for the dominant minority.

Kind of a positive feedback loop, each non-solution resulting in the return of the same anxiety resulting the the application of the same non-solution (which did work to reduce anxiety), until the system finally and truly fails.

latheChuck said...

A few years ago, I was listening to a local radio call-in program (Washington DC area), and a woman with an African-American accent fumed about how her Hispanic neighbors could attend free English-language classes, but her son couldn't get free Spanish classes. Without knowing Spanish, "how will he ever get a job, with just a high-school diploma? He can't work construction unless he can speak Spanish with the crew supervisor. It's just not fair!"

By the way, I almost typed my location as "Wishington, DC". (But of course, there's already a web site for, but it appears to be inactive.) Maybe THIS year, it'll catch on.

latheChuck said...

Off-topic for this essay, but it's the top story on the real-time media: The Fiscal Cliff. I'm trying not to pay attention, but it's hard (especially while living in the Wishington DC area). What interests me most is how the situation is presented in the media: either we get "a deal", or we get dramatic spending cuts and tax increases. I've never heard mention of the fact that not even the "no-deal alternative" will impose enough new taxation, and cut enough spending, to relieve our government of the need to borrow unimaginable amounts of money (the deficit may, possibly, be reduced, but the debt still grows as long as there is any deficit). Future generations will look back upon this debate as significant as an argument over the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic. Excuse me... I need to go to the lifeboat. It's merely a drill, a precaution....

latheChuck said...

Also of no particular relevance to this week's post: I had a lengthy conversation with an enthusiastic grid-tied solar power seller last week. We went over my current electric bills. We looked at the property through Google. We considered the possible increase in electric rates over the life of the panels.

And we came to the conclusion that my home just doesn't use enough electricity to justify local generation. It's partly because my trees reduce the need for air-conditioning. They'd need to be topped, periodically, to maintain access to the sunshine, and that would be a recurring expense. Regardless of electric rates, the shade they provide seems likely to be of greater economic value than the electric power that could be generated with solar panels. (It's also because we use natural gas for heat, hot water, and laundry drying when the clothesline isn't working.)

I have to respect the integrity of a company that will forego a sale, just because it's in the customer's best interest.

Doctor Westchester said...

I was comparing the top and the very bottom of the social pyramid south of our (for now) border in my earlier comment and I think the relationship still holds. In between those two points it, of course, gets quite complex. Interesting enough, the realty that a much more significant Native American population exists south of us may be more easily observed here along the Hudson River than in, say, Texas. There is growing Central American presence here with far less European ancestry than anything I remember of the Hispanic population growing up in Houston. Of course it has been more twenty years since I lived there, so things probably have changed drastically for that area as well. There nothing like setting the business end of a wealth pump to maximum suction and seeing what tries to escape – like corn farmers driven off their land by dumped US grain.

guamanian said...

Congratulations on this excellent end of empire series, JMG! Canada has popped up fairly often here in the comments over the past few weeks so I'd like to share some speculations on our fate as the US goes down.

The Canadian project since well before Confederation has been all about avoiding overt annexation by the US. This has been literally carved into our geography in odd ways -- for example the city I live in is awkwardly placed well inland from its logical location on Lake Erie, and our transcontinental railway was displaced far south of its most viable route, both for defensive purposes. The only realistic military threat we have ever faced has been from the US.

Over the last 200 years we've done a fair job of slowly trading away resources and shifting allegiances, resulting in our current status as a nominally independent vassal state of the US.

I expect as a large resource-stuffed country with a small population and a soon-to-be balmy climate we are going to attract a lot of attention from rising players like China as the US falls.

However I can't see our political elite attempting to actually switch loyalties from Washington to Beijing. In the final analysis, at any stage of decline or disintegration, it is still going to be a lot easier to roll tanks north from the US than east from China, and this distinction will not be lost on them.

As strong warbands begin to roll up from the south, we can expect a kind of knock-on effect that will send their US equivalents rolling north in turn. The result I'd expect to see is various annexations and amalgamations as US remnant nations occupy or merge with formerly Canadian statelets, while various global players back transitory alliances in a Canadian Great Game focused on control of the tar sands and arctic shipping.

All in all not a happy fate for my adoptive nation... but it is still a big place, and if one is wise enough to seek an obscure backwater of little strategic or resource value, the worst of the future might still pass one by!

Cherokee Organics said...


Ooops! In the last sentence of my last comment, the word "it" should read "Druid Culture". Hope that makes more sense.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Phil Harris,

Just wanted to say how much I'm enjoying your comments.

Over a decade ago I began watching Grand Designs UK and it is now (after 12 seasons) only one of two shows that the television gets switched on for here. You may or may not like it, but for what it is worth Kevin is a genius presenter and from an outsiders perspective it is quite clear that he is something of a player of people.

Over the past two to three seasons the effects of the financial downturn in the UK have been a constant theme. Interestingly too, the more recent houses are much smaller than a few seasons ago, which I approve of (small being good).

I mention this because at a cafe the other morning (fortunately for me, the cafe is also my post office, newsagent and milk bar!) I overheard two fifty something guys bragging to each other about debt. My favourite quote was, "I'm a big believer in debt".

I am aware of a quite a few people of that age that are in a financial situation of debt that they don't have the income to pay off and I've been wondering at what point houses and businesses start getting dumped so that this debt can be settled?

I can't believe that the outcome will be any different for us here than it was for you there. Timing, maybe, but outcome, no.



Ian Stewart said...

Joel, when I lived in the relatively affluent enclave of Emeryville four years ago, I felt that even major surface thoroughfares like San Pablo Avenue were significant dividing lines. Emeryville was solidly upper-middle class, with an underclass of aspiring renters, but walking across San Pablo would find one in a significantly rougher neighborhood... one where the Black Panthers were still idolized. There weren't specific choke-points like a freeway overpass might present, so there was an interesting coexistence between relatively affluent artistic/technical types and severely destitute, disenfranchised street people.

I would be deeply interested in JMG's extended take on California's prospects. I've since returned to the Central Valley exurbs, and the local politicians out here seem to be focused on a return to the 1990s... reaping most of the necessary tax revenue from a continual expansion of the "bedroom community" concept of high-density single-family housing inhabited by people dependent upon an average 100-mile round trip commute. At the same time, I've found employment with one of the older organic/permaculture farming operations in the area, so I'd like to think I could make a stand here, even in the face of shrinking water supplies. However, it's obvious that California as a unified political entity is absolutely dependent upon massive public works projects. The forebay of the Delta-Mendota canal is scarcely 10 miles from my current residence, and I have to wonder how north and south will remain unified if projects like the proposed high-speed rail system and the Delta-bypassing peripheral canal (or tunnel) never come to fruition.

Chris said...

I didn't mean to imply natural disasters would stop the Empire falling. Merely commenting that warbands will have an equally difficult time coming up with the means to dominate societies in the Empire's place.

Bill Pulliam said...

Assorted chatter about "defense" in the comments -- it's called "holding back the tide," folks. I.e. pointless. It's the same thinking as "defending" coastal cities against sea level rise. You can spend way too many resources on this effort, up to and including all the resources you could ever have at your disposal, and it will still fail. When faced with a rising tide your choices are move inland or learn to swim. "Defense" (on beyond the universal basic and tangible needs for personal safety, of course) just wastes resources you could have used for much more constructive purposes. This applies equally to literal littoral tides and metaphorical cultural ones.

MC Smallwood -- if you are looking at that area of Idaho, you need to investigate the local politics and culture of any given community VERY carefully. Rural areas in that part of the world are bringing in many newcomers, a significant number of which are arriving with dreams of building a model society that conforms to their own personal beliefs and biases. Some of these beliefs might not be openly spoken to a prospective transplant on first meeting, so it might take a little detective work. This applies no matter where your own preferences lie in the multidimensional space of politics and belief. Communities only a few miles apart can have strongly different ideologies; and if they are in the same county this can result in some extremely volatile and tense situations within county government!

This same phenomenon has been ongoing in rural regions across the U.S. for several decades, but for the reasons you mention about climate and geography that area is one of the more attractive hotbeds of it. It often crops up in areas that have been experiencing rapid rates of incoming transplants, especially escaping suburbanites. When we were looking to relocate a decade ago, these issues eliminated that region from consideration very early in the process. In general, rural areas that are growing rapidly are not (in my opinion) good bets for someone who is looking for a place to put down deep roots for the long-haul. They tend towards cultures dominated by codified ideology and commercial profit motives, whether that ideology is neofascist racial supremacy, utopian green communitarianism, or Mormon polygamist fundamentalism (and you will find all in Idaho now).

Ruben said...


To extend your comment on defending against literal and cultural sea level rise...

...I would note the only defense is to battle climate change. And battling climate change requires a total reimagination of how we live.

Pohjan akka said...

When some commentators are talking about local militias springing up to defence when the empire fails, won't that mean just more warbands?

I don't know much history, but I believe there has been mention here of some of the warbands at the fall of Rome had been legionaries.

DownSouth said...

John Michael Greer's predictions may be much closer to coming true that he suspects.

I would direct those interested to a couple of lectures given at the Katz Center for Mexican Studies at the University of Chicago:

"The Economics and Politics of Drugs in Mexico"

It seems the first step in the process Greer describes will be the overthrow of the US's puppet government in Mexico by the "warbands." And according to the above linked discussions, that day may be nearer than even Greer believes.

It is estimated that the drug cartels now employ 600,000 people in Mexico, and generate more new jobs than any other industry. Chapo Guzman's cartel is now considered to be one of the three largest criminal organizations in the world. The recent report that HSBC had laundered $7 billion for the cartels between 2007 and 2008 comes on the heels of an older report that Wachovia Bank laundered $378 billion for the cartels between 2004 and 2007. Wells Fargo, The Bank of America, Citigroup, Western Union and American Express have all been implicated in money laundering for the cartels.

While the Mexican body count continues to rise (nearly 120,000 since 2006, accoriding to the latest estimates published by the Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas y Geographia) the United States is escalating its not-so-covert military involvement in Mexico and putting proverbial boots on the ground as part of the $1.6 billion U.S.-financed Merida Initiative. But have such "initiatives" (in actuality, taxpayer-funded boondoggles for giant military contractors), turned the corner in the drug war? Not by any objective measurement.

Greer is also right about the growing base of social support from the poor and disenfranchised. In this narco corrido, for instance, is a campesina who declares: "Chapo goes for the poor people, and we go for him." Later she says: "He doesn't like to see poverty, sadness and hunger."

I would not at all be surprised to find out that, amongst the poor and rural populations, the drug cartels have more legitimacy than the Mexican government.

valekeeperx said...

RE: Articles in National Geographic: See the May 2010 issue for an article on Mexico’s new saints. The article indicates that despite denouncement by Roman Catholic clergy, many Mexicans, and particularly members of the drug gangs, venerate and make offerings to La Santa Muerta (Holy Death) for love, money, and protection on this side of mortality, and for mercy and non-judgment on the other. In addition, Jesus Malverde, a legendary outlaw hanged by Sinaloa officials a century ago, has become a likewise venerated Robin Hood-like folk saint among the same crowd.

Fwiw, according to a co-worker of mine who was born, raised, and educated in Mexico, Caucasian-Americans are commonly referred to as gabachos and the USA as El Gabacho. In addition, he said that in many areas of Mexico, including DF, people are as concerned about the federales as they are about the drug gangs. In fact, in many areas, the drug gangs provide some aid and services that the official government no longer provides or never did. (Someone mentioned Hamas?).

Finally, haven’t there always been Mexican warbands along the border even before the days of Villa and Zapata?

phil harris said...

@Cherokee Organics
Thanks for the compliment!
I find a number of the comments are thought provoking.
I liked your recent insights v/v war bands. Outside of examples like horse-mounted ‘Plains Indians’ (ecological niche similar to competitive wolf packs?), I have seen it argued that many pastoralist raiders of settled areas were secondary to the primary surplus generated by cultivation. I guess predator/prey relations. Though a good few years of grass for horses, and you can see a horde of course.

The possible parallels between social structure of aboriginal societies in Australia and social bees sounds intriguing. Reality would bite any social organisation in the b'm if ideology and knowledge base do not correspond to changed times? Aboriginal society had a long time to line up with Nature. Your website gives us some of your efforts in that direction!


Repent said...

I've suggested sites before. This link is to a fellow, a young man with a young family just starting out on the 'Green wizardary' path you have suggested.

He films most of his posts on youtube, while walking in the forest with his children or while tending to his garden plots.

Next to yourself, I think he is among the most brilliant and gifted people leading us into a new age. Here is a link to his webpage, where he's living the change:

jim burke said...


Belatedly, I want to say that your column is one of the highlights of my week, and since I live right on the border, this one has been very thought provoking for me. What I want to get across is not a refutation of your points, but hopefully an accompaniment.

First, stirrups at Adrianople or no, I don't see the zetas ever being able to take on regular US troops, or even reserves. A company or two of AZ national guard (who after all served in Iraq and Afghan), could destroy anything the cartels could ever come up with. And if they didn't try, bands of local militia could it instead.

Second, once the drug wars end, the drug gangs run out of steam.

third, I think you're right about wargangs ultimately destroying what remains of the SW, at some point along the decline. I just don't see it coming from Mexico. I see it coming from the collapse of the SW urban monsters of LA, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Tucson. Most of the population out here will be displaced, ultimately, and I anticipate things getting really ugly. I'm about as far away from these centers as one can be in the borderlands, and if I was younger I'd be looking at land in W. Oregon. But my wife and I have sunk everything into a permaculture/paper adobe "farm" next to one of the few SW towns with community, and we've been joined by most of our extended families and I don't see us going anywhere. I figure on developing water resources further so that they will outlive me, but I don't have any illusions that it will serve another generation.

A half century ago Ed Abbey wrote that someday a tribe of "blue eyed, Navajo Bedouin will ride over a ridge" and discover the broken ruins of Phoenix. Since then Phoenix has grown ten-fold, and so the fall will be far greater. One doesn't want to be too close to such conurbations when they go down.

I figure that very long term, the future of most of the southwest/California will be brown Roman Catholic/Evangelical, with a less brown Mormon population radiating out of Utah, and an even less brown "hippy" culture radiating out from the Willamette valley. The Devil, or course, is in the details.

best, jim

DownSouth said...

@ Mike R
11/29/12 8:23 AM

Thanks for the heads up from The Economist. I'm always interested in reading all different viewpoints.

If you're interested in a different, dissident viewpoint regarding Mexico's new president, and not the viewpoint santitized for a US audience, you might try these:

The following also give a version of what is going on in Mexico that you will never hear or see in the MSM in the US:

And if you think workers living in the US have had a tough go of it, workers in Mexico have really gotten murdered. Here's what's happened in Mexico during the last three decades:

• Since 1982, when the neoliberal model was first implemented in Mexico, the economy has grown an average of 2.1 percent per year.

• The National Poll of Household Income and Expenses, conducted by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), shows that 29 million households in Mexico have lost real income since 1982. That is in a nation with a total population of 130 million, so the vast majority of households are losing real income.

• The minimum salary will now buy a third of what it did in 1982.

• The salary of the average union worker has lost 50% of its purchasing power since 1982.

• Whereas before most of the workers who emigrated from Mexico were day laborers, now the drain is on the country's university-educated workers.

• 12 million Mexicans have emigrated to the United States

• The Secretaries of Hacienda (federal tax office), Ernesto Cordero and Bruno Ferrari, dismiss the falling incomes of 112 million Mexicans (86% of the population) since 1982 as being "just a perception" and assert that "Mexico is not a country of poor people."

above bullet points taken from:
"Narcotrafficing generates the most employment: 600,000, says expert"

• The ultraprivatization period of presidents Salinas y Zedillo (1988 to 2000) saved the banks and guaranteed impunity.

• During this period, the number of Mexicans living in extreme poverty increased from 5 million to 22 million.

• "The only buoyant economy was narcotrafficking," says the historian Andres Openheimer.

above bullet points taken from:
"Drugs and Poverty"

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- is it just my imagination, or have some failed to read (or at least assimilate) your final paragraph? I hardly read this essay as your describing the Destruction of the American West at the hands of Alien Hostiles defeating the noble Defenders of American Civilization, but it seems to have been heard that way by some ears...

Loch Wade said...

A comment on the dryland west.

Every ecosystem and economy depends upon the free energy transfer the environment can make. As humans, we have figured out how to skim off the surplus if you will, and lately, how to mine the capital, to our own detriment.

I live in the dryland west. Many of the Mexicans here have Japanese names- a nod to your observation about the burgeoning Latino-Asian culture in Cali. But more to the point, the economy depends upon water. Without water, no-one can live here, regardless of their ethnic background.

Unfortunately, we have leveraged our water supplies with the use of fossil fuel inputs. When those energy sources become too expensive, much of the water infrastructure will disintegrate.

Those settlements in the dryland West that gave up their gravity operated irrigation systems (ditches) for fancy pressurized systems will discover(once the pipes break and the rubber seals can't be purchased, and the valves fail and can't be replaced) that they are too dry to live in. Most will leave, Americans, Mexican, Asians, dogs, cattle... until the carrying capacity of the land and water resources are matched.

On top of that, add climate change and I don't think the warbands will bother much with such places, unless it will be to use them as bases of operation.

If you still have acequias in your town, fight like hell to keep them. Learn the basics of western water law and embrace it, because it is an ancient and very wise system of law, one of the last just law systems in the United States.

Phil Espin said...

Phil Harris, don't know if you've read Simon Fairlie's 2007 paper "Can Britain Feed Itself?" but the answer would appear to be yes we can, and organically too. Of course it would take some radical change of a kind one might hope that many people facing starvation would be prepared to make. Not least providing access to land would require a fundamental change in our pattern of land occupation.

There seems to be a great deal of despondency about financial elites directing us towards a feudal type society in the future but there are many other options and that one looks unlikely to me. Britain is still a fairly orderly society that likes to see fairplay. I suspect that if push comes to shove, adaptations could and will be made that would allow such of our population that wants/has to stay here to find a way of living within our means.

Mike R said...

DownSouth, I invite you to consider that pretty much ALL of it could be true simultaneously: that the money earned by the average Mexican household buys fewer goods than it did in 1982, AND the impact of that is lessened because the same family has fewer children. That Mexicans continue to go north, while at the same time many more than was previously the case feel that they'll have better odds in life by returning home.

Incidentally, if the long descent will be as long as I think it will, it's interesting to consider that the warbands of many decades hence will be Mexicans whose grandparents shopped at Wal-Mart (de México, currently the country's largest private employer) and whose great-grandparents ate at McDonald's. Most or many of the members of the warbands may not have any siblings or have just one or, at most, two siblings.

In other words, to imagine what Mexico or Mexicans will be like in, say, 60 years' time based on what we think we know today is about as useful as imagining the U.S. of 2012 as a country where nearly all appliances, cars, and other industrial products were made in the U.S.; where an urban white working class makes up a huge percentage of the population; where a large majority (over 90%) of the adult population is married; where a large majority of the population listens to the same radio programs and watches the same TV shows, and embraces a mass consensus culture and social aspirations -- i.e., the USA of 1952.

I'm not saying the Mexico of the warband era will be "better" than it is today, but I know it will be hugely different than it is today.

phil harris said...

@ Phil Espin
Thanks for the reference - I checked it out.

I am still deeply sceptical.
We belonged to the Soil Association for decades but dropped out a few years back (nice people though they are). However, my respect for British 19thC organic agriculture remains profound.

I have a background in agricultural science and a long term interest in agricultural history and world systems. For an estimate of maximum ploughable land in Britain I took the area ploughed in the WWII emergency. That area though was probably a ‘false maximum’, and would not be sustainable over the longer term.

I know a bit about dietary change. I was born during wartime rationing and then changed myself after a first heart attack at 49; pretty much vegan now for 20 plus years; I have tried to eat a diet more reminiscent of say traditional Bengal. Something like that of the wonderful 100 year old marathon runner, now London-based, Mr F. Singh. I still run the occasional half-marathon myself.

Veggie diet happens to be less demanding on farming resources, even in Britain with our grass resource. (The SA membership was a bit of a contradiction with my vegetarian/vegan eating because SA type organic farming needs a lot of animals to be integrated in the system.)

I must not take too much of our host’s blog space and it is off-topic just now. If you would like a longer reasoned account of why I am extremely sceptical that organic farming could feed our present UK population drop me a line and I will reply. Spam protected philsharris2[3 zeroes]2[at]


Mike R said...

If you'll indulge me a minor correction, I should have said "....the warbands of many decades hence will be Mexicans whose grandparents grew up shopping at Wal-Mart..."

Obviously older people shop there today, so for this to have the meaning I intended, you have to imagine not the stereotypical Mexican grandmother of 2012, but imagine instead a Mexican grandmother of 2072, a woman who has never known a Mexico without, among other things, U.S.-branded superstores. I mean that as emblematic of how we're wise not to extrapolate today's world onto tomorrow's.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Phil Harris,

Thanks. I am enjoying your comments too as the stories they tell provide an insight into another country and place. Most enjoyable.

Years ago, I watched the River Cottage series and I always enjoyed Hugh's encounters with people who had lived through war time rationing in the UK as it was quite remarkable how resourceful those people were.

Generally chooks have been too historically valuable for their egg production to eat them! It is hard to convince others about this, so I play the chicken puzzle game with them. It goes like this, if you wanted to eat a chicken a week now how many chickens do you need to keep? The numbers of chickens required at the end of the puzzle are clearly quite a few more than they imagined and the people involved always look a little troubled!

I'm considering writing an article on the economics of producing your own food (i.e. why do it?), because having tried many different systems here, the numbers are starting to come in. Vegetables are clearly far and away some of the best returns in the shortest period for the time invested.

Alcohol has the best financial return, although this is only because the retail product has quite a bit of tax on it (fair enough too).

Interesting stuff.



phil harris said...

@ Phil Espin
Sorry all round. I made a mental typo last night. Wrong address!
My address is spam protected philsharris2[two zeroes]2[at]
BTW the Simon Fairlie you refer to is the importer of Austrian scythes into Britain. I use one. It is a superb tool.
Phil H

DownSouth said...

@ Mike R

I believe that anything more than a very shallow and superficial assessment of the warbands in Mexico requires knowledge of the underlying social, economic and political environment in which they exist.

That's why every single one of the links I furnished deal with the economy, society and polity the cartels operate within. That's something you will never get from the MSM in the United States, because as Charles Bowden said in one of the videos I linked, that would require Obama and Hillary Clinton to stop lying.

And why would anyone think that the drug lords and the Walmarts of the world are anything but compatible? As Hannah Arendt notes in The Rise of Totalitarianism, the political principles of the mob "betray a surprisingly strong affinity with the political attitudes of bourgeois society, if the latter are cleansed of hypocrisy and untainted by concessions to Christian traiditon."

DownSouth said...

And if you only have a few minutes to spend on this, have a listen to what Charles Bowden, author of Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, has to say in his opening comments on this interview:

It's as concise of a statement of what's going on in Mexico as one can get:

CHARLES BOWDEN: What’s happening is, this thing started in 2006 with the new president, as a statement of his personal power. You know, mano dura — “I’m a strong man.” He ripped the mask off Mexico. In other words, he was going to claim he’s the big guy. And the mask he ripped off revealed what’s really going on in Mexico: mass poverty and social disintegration. Now it’s turned into a war by the Mexican government against the Mexican people...

What we’ve created, with a foreign policy, meaning our free trade treaty, is, one, slave factories all over the country, where nobody can live on the wages, two generations at least of feral kids on the street. Fifty percent of the kids you call high school kids in Juárez neither go to school nor have jobs. They did a recent university study there, and they found out 40 percent of the kids in Chihuahua, young males, wanted to become sicarios, professional killers. We’re looking at a Detroit, Baltimore, etc., where we’ve created something so bleak that crime is actually, and murder, is a rational way to live. And we’re not going to put a lid on it by “just say no,” by presidential visits, and by — what was it? We’re now going to teach them how to run a court system, you know, send our experts.

Let me tell you something about the Mexican justice system. Ninety-three percent of the people convicted there never see a judge. Ninety-three percent of the people convicted there never see an arrest warrant. Ninety-two percent of the people convicted there are convicted with no physical evidence. We’ll skip that they’re all tortured. There are no — there’s essentially no jury trials. This is not a justice system; it’s a, you know, a murder system. You’re processed like sausage. We’re, quote, going to “reform” it.

What we’ve done is what we’ve done historically: we’ve gotten on the wrong side. We’re not siding with the Mexican people. We’re siding with the people that own the country and terrorize them.

DownSouth said...

Forgive me for harping away on this and hogging the thread, but most Americans live in bubble-world. Just look what's going on in the United States:

The systematic destruction of the livlihoods of working people began in the US only four years ago. Mexico has been at this for 30 years, since Mexico has served as the test tube in which US authorities could conduct their economic experiments. The result, as Carlos Fuentes put it, was that Mexico "was threatened with an acute case of schizophrenia. A minority centered their lives on the New York Stock Exchange, and a majority on the price of beans. One economy was all gilded wrapping paper, the other all huts and untilled land. The former was the minority's, the latter the majority's."

After 25 years of economic devastation, the complete disintegration of the society began about 5 years ago. How many years of grinding American workers into the dirt do you believe it's going to take for the bullets to start flying in the US?

And for those who believe Charles Bowden was exagerating regarding the dysfunction of the Mexican criminal justice system, take a look at this documentary:

Or this one:

Jagger said...

Good read! Although I am curious why you choose to compare the decline of the US to the declines of such ancient and non-tech empires as Rome, Imperial China and the Toltecs rather than more recent empires such as the Dutch, Spanish, Russian and English empires? All of those empires collapsed without following the extreme examples from much earlier in civilization.

Mike R said...

DownSouth, I think we're approaching this from two different angles, and I'm probably not explaining myself well. As a result and so as not to exasperate JMG, this will definitely be my last post.

Just know that I am not disputing what you're saying. I'm just looking at the situation with a different lens. The fact that you asked, "And why would anyone think that the drug lords and the Walmarts of the world are anything but compatible?" after reading my post must mean I'm not communicating well (even though I called the future I was describing the "warband era"), as I do not believe any such thing.

You can respond if you like, but know that I won't respond to your response for the reasons I mentioned.

steve pearson said...

Probably a bit late in the cycle to post this, but Down South's posts reminded me of it.
I traveled around a bit in the late 70s-mid 90s. Baja, particularly, was as safe as can be. I was in Punta Abreojos in 1992 just before NAFTA kicked in. I was having a couple of beers with a local fisherman & a local teacher. The fisherman was very excited about how much NAFTA would do for Mexico. I said I thought that it would ruin Mexican agriculture & the Mexican middle class, which was growing then. The teacher looked at me sadly said " I would love to disagree with you, but I can't". I don't think either of us realized quite how much harm it would do.
The last time I was in Baja was 1997. I flew to Loreto & kayaked for a week, then rented a truck for 3 or 4 days. The agency & anyone else I spoke to was quite specific; " Don't just go driving down some track in the desert like you used to. You will see something you shouldn't & they will kill you.
NAFTA certainly wasn't the only factor at play, but it sure tilled the fields where the grapes of wrath were sown.

David said...

The Rome-like Fall of America is being strongly assisted by:

1) The ironic financing of the warband drug gangs and Hispanic majority by domestic drug users. (and no, legalizing pot won't stop this). I actually prefer this to a Muslim majority, if we could keep the warlord part to a minimum in either case.

2) The simultaneous onset of Peak Oil and it's counterpart Climate Change. Both underestimated in their potential to have us starving in the dark fairly suddenly.

There will have to be a Mayan-like phased withdrawal from the arid Southwest. People with an indigenous background may be able to eke out a narrow living but without dependable water the suburban gringo culture is done.

One wonders what the Canadian Immigration Department's nightmare scenario might be if thousands of warband/climate refugees are clamoring at the gates?

What most climate optimists don't realize is that Northern latitude soils are unsuitable to large scale agriculture, requiring thousands of years of favorable climate to become so. Can't grow corn on a rock.


I send you some observations about your commentary.
I don´t think that Mexican immigration can be compared with a barbarian invasion. But excessive immigration is bad every were.
1) A way for to finish with the drugs problems would be to punish to the consumers, detecting these by mean of periodic urine tests practiced to all the people of US with ages between 16 to 55.
2) I think that the climate change is not caused for human activity, I think is caused by sun variations. A Russian scientific called Abdusamatod predicts that in 2014 will begins a small ice age of 60 years of duration.

Unknown said...

Still, I would encourage those of my readers who live in the dryland West, especially those within a state or so of the southern border, to keep an eye open for the first tentative raids, and perhaps to read up on what happened to those parts of the Roman Empire most directly exposed to warband incursions in the twilight years of Roman rule.

Did you see that story today on the prosecutor being shot dead in front of the Texas courthouse?

Renee said...

I listened to your interview on the KunstlerCast yesterday, and my ears perked up when you mentioned the frontier, so I searched your blog and found this article.

I live in Meade County, Kansas, which if it doesn't already fit the definition of frontier, it will soon. Back when the border was the Cimarron River this area was in Texas/Mexico, and there are many Mexicans here now. The two decent-sized cities that provide shopping and other services are Dodge City and Liberal, 40 miles away either to the north or the west. Both are now majority minority, with the large populations of Mexicans, and also Viet Namese who work in the beef processing plants.

Whites are downright schizophrenic about this. On one hand, they are Tea Party conservatives, demanding a closed border, deportation of all illegals, and unlimited gun ownership for "protection." On the other hand, they have Spanish-language Bible studies in their churches, hire Mexican day laborers on their farms, and pay cash to Mexican housewives who sell tamales on Facebook.

What are your thoughts about corporate-sponsored warbands? I can forsee a time when land out here is fought over, with oil companies fighting against agribusiness for control, recruiting locals to fight against each other.