Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Road Down from Empire

Here in the Appalachians, at least, there’s something about the month of January that encourages sober thoughts.  Maybe it’s the weather, which is pretty reliably gray and cold; maybe it’s the arrival of the bills from the holiday season just ended, or the awkward way that those bills usually arrive about the same time that the annual crop of New Year’s resolutions start landing in the recycle bin.  Pick your reason, but one way or another it seems like a good time to circle back and finish up the theme I’ve been developing here for most of a year now, the decline and fall of America’s global empire and the difficult task of rebuilding something worthwhile in its wake.
The hard work of reinventing democracy in a post-imperial America, the subject of several of last month’s posts, is only one facet of this broader challenge.  I’ve mentioned before that the pursuit of empire is a drug, and like most other drugs, it makes you feel great at the time and then wallops you the next morning.  It’s been just over a hundred years now since the United States launched itself on its path to global empire, and the hangover that was made inevitable by that century-long bender is waiting in the wings.  I suspect one of the reasons the US government is frantically going through the empties in the trash, looking for one that still has a few sips left in it, is precisely that first dim dawning awareness of just how bad the hangover is going to be.

It’s worth taking a few moments to go over some of the more visible signposts of the road down from empire.  To begin with, the US economy has been crippled by a century of imperial tribute flowing in from overseas.  That’s what happened to our manufacturing sector; once the rest of the industrial world recovered from the Second World War, manufacturers in an inflated tribute economy couldn’t compete with the lower costs of factories in less extravagantly overfunded parts of the world, and America’s industrial heartland turned into the Rust Belt.  As the impact of the tribute economy spread throughout US society, in turn, it became next to impossible to make a living doing anything productive, and gaming the imperial system in one way or another—banking, investment, government contracts, you name it—turned into the country’s sole consistent growth industry.

That imposed distortions on every aspect of American society, which bid fair to cripple its ability to pick up the pieces when the empire goes away.  As productive economic sectors withered, the country’s educational system reoriented itself toward the unproductive, churning out an ever-expanding range of administrative specialties for corporations and government while shutting down what was once a world-class system of vocational and trade schools.  We now have far more office fauna than any sane society needs, and a drastic shortage of people who have any less abstract skill set.  For the time being, we can afford to offshore jobs, or import people from other countries to do them at substandard wages; as our empire winds down and those familiar bad habits stop being possible, the shortage of Americans with even the most basic practical skills will become a massive economic burden.

Meanwhile the national infrastructure is caught in a downward spiral of malign neglect made inevitable by the cash crunch that always hits empires on the way down.  Empire is an expensive habit;  the long-term effects of the imperial wealth pump on those nations subjected to its business end mean that the income from imperial arrangements goes down over time, while the impact of the tribute economy at home generally causes the costs of empire go up over time.  The result can be seen on Capitol Hill day by day, as one fantastically expensive weapons system after another sails through Congress with few dissenting votes, while critically important domestic programs are gutted by bipartisan agreement, or bog down in endless bickering.  The reliable result is a shell of a nation, seemingly strong when observed from outside but hollowing out within, and waiting for the statistically inevitable shove that will launch it on its final skid down the rough slope into history’s compost bin.

You may well be thinking, dear reader, that the logical response of a nation caught in a predicament of this sort would be to bite the bullet, back away from empire in a deliberate fashion, and use the last bit of income from the tribute economy to pay for the expenses of rebuilding a domestic economy of a more normal kind.  You’d be right, too, but there are compelling reasons why very few empires in history have had the great good sense to manage their decline in this manner.  Imperial China did it in the fifteenth century, scrapping a burgeoning maritime empire in the Indian Ocean, and of course Britain did it after 1945, though that was largely because a 500-pound gorilla named the United States was sitting on Britannia’s prostrate body, informing her politely that in future, the global empire would be American, thank you very much; other than that, examples are few and far between.

The logic here is easy to follow.  Any attempt to withdraw from imperial commitments will face concerted resistance from those who profit from the status quo, while those who claim to oppose empire are rarely willing to keep supporting a policy of imperial retreat once it turns out, as it inevitably does, that the costs of that policy will include a direct impact on their own incomes or the value of their investments. Thus politicians who back a policy of withdrawal from empire can count on being pilloried by their opponents as traitors to their country, and abandoned by erstwhile allies who dislike empire in the abstract but want to retain lifestyles that only an imperial tribute economy can support.  Since politicians are, after all, in the business of getting into office and staying there, their enthusiasm for such self-sacrificing policies is understandably limited.

The usual result is a frantic effort to kick the can as far as possible down the road, so that somebody else has to deal with it.  Most of what’s going on in Washington DC these days can be described very exactly in those terms.  Despite popular rhetoric, America’s politicians these days are not unusually wicked or ignorant; they are, by and large, roughly as ethical as their constituents, and rather better educated—though admittedly neither of these is saying much.  What distinguishes them from the statesmen of an earlier era, rather, is that they are face to face with an insoluble dilemma that their predecessors in office spent the last few decades trying to ignore.  As the costs of empire rise, the profits of empire dwindle, the national economy circles the drain, the burden of deferred maintenance on the nation’s infrastructure grows, and the impact of the limits to growth on industrial civilization worldwide becomes ever harder to evade, they face the unenviable choice between massive trouble now and even more massive trouble later; being human, they repeatedly choose the latter, and console themselves with the empty hope that something might turn up.

It’s a common hope these days. I’ve commented here more than once about the way that the Rapture, the Singularity, and all the other apocalyptic fantasies on offer these days serve primarily as a means by which people can pretend to themselves that the future they’re going to get isn’t the one that their actions and evasions are busily creating for them.  The same is true of a great many less gaudy fictions about the future—the much-ballyhooed breakthroughs that never quite get around to happening, the would-be mass movements that never attract anyone but the usual handful of activists, the great though usually unspecified leaps in consciousness that will allegedly happen any day now, and all the rest of it.  The current frenzy of meretricious twaddle in the media about how shale gas is going to make the US a net energy exporter gets a good share of its impetus from the same delusive hope—though admittedly the fact that a great many people have invested a great deal of money in companies in the fracking business, and are trying to justify their investments using the same sort of reasoning that boosted the late housing bubble, also has more than a little to do with it.

There’s likely to be plenty more of the same thing in the decades ahead.  Social psychologists have written at length about what James Howard Kunstler has usefully termed the psychology of previous investment, the process by which people convince themselves to throw bad money after good, or to remain committed to a belief system even though all available evidence demonstrates that it isn’t true and doesn’t work.  The critical factor in such cases is the emotional cost of admitting that the decision to buy the stock, adopt the belief system, or make whatever other mistake is at issue, was in fact a mistake. The more painful it is to make that admission, the more forcefully most people will turn away from the necessity to do so, and it’s safe to assume that they’ll embrace the most consummate malarkey if doing so allows them to insist to themselves that the mistake wasn’t a mistake after all.

As America stumbles down from its imperial peak,  in other words, the one growth industry this country will have left will consist of efforts to maintain the pretense that America doesn’t have an empire, that the empire isn’t falling, and that the fall doesn’t matter anyway. (Yes, those statements are mutually contradictory.  Get used to it; you’ll be hearing plenty of statements in the years to come that are even more more incoherent.)  As the decline accelerates, anyone who offers Americans a narrative that allows them to pretend they’ll get the shiny new future that our national mythology promises them will be able to count on a large and enthusiastic audience.  The narratives being marketed for this purpose need not be convincing; they need not even be sane.  So long as they make it possible for Americans to maintain the fiction of a brighter future in the teeth of the facts, they’ll be popular.

The one bit of hope I can offer here is that such efforts at collective make-believe don’t last forever.  Sooner or later, the fact of decline will be admitted and, later still, accepted; sooner or later, our collective conversation will shift from how America can maintain perpetual growth to how America can hold onto what it has, then to how America can recover some of what it lost, and from there to figuring out how America—or whatever grab bag of successor societies occupies the territory currently held by the United States—can get by in the harsh new deindustrial world that grew up around it while nobody was looking.  It’s a normal process in an age of decline, and can be traced in the literature of more than one civilization before ours.

It bears remembering, though, that individuals are going through the same process of redefinition all by themselves.  This process differs from the five stages of peak oil, which I’ve discussed elsewhere, in that it’s not primarily about the emotional impact of loss; it’s a matter of expectations, and of the most pragmatic sort of economic expectations at that.  Consider a midlevel managerial employee in some corporation or other whose job, like so many other jobs these days, is about to go away forever.  Before the rumors start flying, she’s concerned mostly with clawing her way up the corporate ladder and increasing her share of the perks and privileges our society currently grants to its middle classes.  Then the rumors of imminent layoffs start flying, and she abruptly has to shift her focus to staying employed.  The pink slips come next, bearing bad news, and her focus shifts again, to getting a new job; when that doesn’t happen and the reality of long term joblessness sinks in, a final shift of focus takes place, and she has to deal with a new and challenging world.

This has already happened to a great many people in America.  It’s going to happen, over the years ahead, to a great many more—probably, all things considered, to a large majority of people in the American middle class, just as it happened to a large majority of the industrial working class a few decades further back.  Not everyone, it has to be said, will survive the transition; alcoholism, drug abuse, mental and physical illness, and suicide are among the standard risks run by the downwardly mobile.  A fair number of those who do survive will spend the rest of their lives clinging to the vain hope that something will happen and give them back what they lost. 

It’s a long, rough road down from empire, and the losses involved are not merely material in nature. Basing one’s identity on the privileges and extravagances made possible by the current US global empire may seem like a silly thing to do, but it’s very common.  To lose whatever markers of status are respected in any given social class, whether we’re talking about a private jet and a Long Island mansion, a fashionable purse and a chic condo in an upscale neighborhood, or a pickup and a six-pack, can be tantamount to losing one’s identity if that identity has no more solid foundation—and a great many marketing firms have spent decades trying to insure that most Americans never think of looking for more solid foundations.

That last point has implications we’ll be exploring in a later sequence of posts.  For the time being, though, I want to talk a bit about what all this means to those of my readers who have already come to terms with the reality of decline, and are trying to figure out how to live their lives in a world in which the conventional wisdom of the last three hundred years or so has suddenly been turned on its head. The first and, in many ways, the most crucial point is one that’s been covered here repeatedly already:  you are going to have to walk the road down from empire yourself.  Nobody else is going to do it for you, and you can’t even assume that anybody else will make it easier for you.  What you can do, to make it a little easier than it will otherwise be, is to start walking it before you have to.

That means, to return to a slogan I’ve used more than once in this blog, using LESS—Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation.  The more energy you need to maintain your everyday lifestyle, the more vulnerable you’ll be to sudden disruptions when the sprawling infrastructure that supplies you with that energy starts having running into serious trouble.  Today, routine blackouts and brownouts of the electrical grid, and rationing or unpredictable availability of motor fuel, have become everyday facts of life in Third World nations that used to have relatively reliable access to energy.  As America’s global empire unravels and the blowback from a century of empire comes home to roost, we can expect the same thing here.  Get ready for that in advance, and you won’t face a crisis when it happens.

The same is true of the extravagant material inputs most Americans see as necessities, and of the constant stream of sensory stimulation that most Americans use to numb themselves to the unwelcome aspects of their surroundings and their lives.  You will be doing without those at some point.  The sooner you learn how to get by in their absence, the better off you’ll be—and the sooner you get out from under the torrent of media noise you’ve been taught to use to numb yourself, the sooner you can start assessing the world around you with a relatively clear head, and the sooner you’ll notice just how far down the arc of America’s descent we’ve already come.

Using LESS isn’t the only thing that’s worth doing in advance, of course.  I’ve discussed elsewhere, for example, the need to develop the skills that will enable you to produce goods or provide services for other people, using relatively simple tools and, if at all possible, the energy of your own muscles.  As the imperial tribute economy winds down and the United States loses the ability to import cheap goods and cheap labor from abroad, people will still need goods and services, and will pay for them with whatever measure of value is available—even if that amounts to their own unskilled labor.  There are plenty of other steps that can be taken to prepare for life in a post-imperial society skidding down the far side of Hubbert’s peak, and the sooner you start taking those steps, the better prepared you will be to cope with that unfamiliar world.

Still, it may be possible to go further than that.  In several of December’s posts here I raised the possibility that, in the wake of empire, the deliberate cultivation of certain core skills—specifically, clear reasoning, public speaking, and democratic process—might make it possible to kickstart a revival of America’s formerly vibrant democratic traditions. The same principle, I’d like to suggest, may be able to be applied more generally.  Certain core insights that were central to pre-imperial America’s more praiseworthy achievements, but were tossed into the dumpster during the rush to empire, could be revived and put back to work in the post-imperial era.  If that can be done at all, it’s going to involve a lot of work and a willingness to challenge some widely held notions of contemporary American culture, but I think the attempt is worth making.  We’ll begin that discussion next week.


GS said...

Part of what makes it hard is that what we've built is so different than what existed before, and this gives it the sense of permanence.

And nobody can admit when things have ended! How else can you explain the spectacle, very American but increasingly worldwide, of 65 years and older people acting as if they're teenagers?

What we forget is that they too grew up in an age of mass media, and an age of American power and abundance. They literally no know other world. They grew up with the modern script, which is false: things get better and better, and they only get better.

Americans cannot conceive of what lies ahead anymore than somebody can conceive of the circumstances of their death. It literally doesn't compute in the brain.

madtom said...

One relatively easy preparation for the sudden lack of cheap hi-tech is to save our old books. I sit at my keyboard surrounded by hundreds of volumes that I never open any more, because it is easier to find (say) the melting point of para-dichlorobenzene online than to fetch the rubber handbook and look it up.

But that could change forever in less than the 30 seconds it just took to find "paradichlorobenzene CHEMICAL name: 1,4-dichlorobenzene (56) TRADE ... Mothball-like odor (14) MELTING POINT: 53 C (127 F) (14) BOILING POINT: 174 C ..." without even bothering to click onwards from the google hits page.

If we cultivate the mildly eccentric hobby of keeping (or accumulating) hardcopy volumes of information that would be prohibitively costly or downright impossible to re-generate, we may find that today's junk is tomorrow's treasure.

Richard Larson said...

Most Excellent. At some point those who are considering/studying the issues have to do something. So. What is the individual going to do?

This is the right question.

Looking forward to reading your ideas. Thanks.

John Michael Greer said...

GS, I recommend taking the time to envision your own death. It's a standard exercise in some traditions, and well worth doing; you'll find that with a little practice, the mind can handle it perfectly well, and once you do so, a lot of common mental nonsense quietly packs up and goes away.

Madtom, you're preaching to the choir! I've loved books since I was a very small child, and have quite a decent library here at home, including a lot of technical information of various kinds.

Richard, thank you!

Cherokee Organics said...


Nice post. The mention about education sparked a memory.

I read an article this week observing that our education system has become obsessively fixated on leadership. Yes, our kids are tomorrows leaders (sounds like a marketing slogan), but I read this slogan actually being used in the article.

If you think about it, it is quite disturbing because it implies an expectation of issuing orders and having someone else do the work.

There was a classic quote from the 80's film Caddyshack that seems somehow appropriate to me in this instance, "Son. The world needs ditch diggers too."

I was thinking about all of the comments last week in relation to radioactive pollution. It seems that this is another phenomena that is consistent with the general theory put forward in the Limits to Growth. Radiation is just another pollutant after all. Like water availability here, it will probably be a factor limiting the ultimate long term size of the human population? Dunno really, but it is certainly a factor, albeit a rather unpleasant one.

If infrastructure is being catabolised, then it is all about appearance.

It is 40 degrees Celsius (about 104 Fahrenheit) here today in the shade and it is hard not to sound like I'm whingeing, but I'm seriously over summer. I think by and large when people in cooler climates think about the possibilities of global warming they think of it as a linear event. You know how it goes, an extra 2 degrees over winter would be really nice! However, it is my observation - not backed up by science - that whilst the temperature average increases, the peaks just get more extreme as more energy is fed into the system. The heat and lack of rainfall here are not unprecedented (only 1939 was more extreme in terms of heat, just), but like the record breaking rains last summer, they are at the extreme upper end of the variations in records.

Also, I was really quite impressed with your simple observation that any usage of non-renewable materials is unsustainable. This is an inconvenient fact that we try our best to ignore (much like acknowledging the certainty of our own deaths). As a society we tend to focus on the complex and the abstract when there are perfectly serviceable and simple solutions available and I saw this in some of the more cornucopian comments last week.

I've been wondering too for some time now about those unemployed citizens of the US that have had their benefits cut off after 99 weeks of unemployment. Have they fallen off the statistics? The head of the US Federal Reserve has stated that the program of quantitative easing will not cease until unemployment is at 6.5%.

Food for the brain as usual!



Cherokee Organics said...

Hey everyone,

Haha! This is a shameless plug for two articles (yes, two for the price of one!) about the place here. This summer has been hard here. Feel free to ask me any questions.

Mid summer farm update


Watering and soil food

People are always surprised to hear how little water the fruit trees here get. I had some people visit recently that didn't believe me about the issue despite the lack of water infrastructure here. Oh well. I will hopefully add another large water tank during winter though as the last drought just went on and on...



Donal said...

I recommend reading "The Imperial Cruise" by James Bradley, author of "Flags of our Fathers." It documents the 1905 diplomatic mission to Hawaii, Japan, China, Philippines, and Korea. It is a heart rending look at the beginnings of American empire, actions that are still generating waves of Ugly Americanism. The Cruise also highlights racism of White Aryan supremacy (British and American at the very highest levels) versus "Pacific Negroes" and the Japanese "Honorary Aryans." Teddy –and William Taft - carried a big stick, but it is bouncing back to hit the US in the head.

Cherokee Organics said...


You know, I might be wrong, but I had this horrible flash of insight. A couple of weeks back I mentioned the issue of the per capita allocation of Oil in the US. The reason was because of the graph that you linked to from JH Kunstler's blog (which had further graphs) which showed that despite jettisoning some of your Industrial base, the consumption of Oil was still quite relatively high in the US.

World supply of Oil has effectively peaked for a few years and flat-lined so I've been wondering about how this works in the real world on a per capita basis if the population continues to increase in whatever fashion.

Perhaps, and I could be wrong, but the illusion of growth could only be maintained through the jettisoning of that Industrial base, otherwise harsh decisions would have had to be made on an allocation of energy per capita basis? There seems no other explanation for the continued high consumption (despite the small dip), although I'd like to be proven wrong.

In addition to this, the process of sticking it in the neck to the working classes, can also be construed as an attempt to continue with business as usual and the maintenance of appearances. Again, I'd like to be proven wrong, but pushing a portion of the population into poverty allows many other portions of the population to continue with business as usual in a declining resources scenario and maintain energy availability on a per capita basis.

You could almost view the continued depreciation of the built infrastructure from the same perspective.



Ben said...

I just had a wonderfully long conversation with a friend from childhood about the fundamental problems facing industrial society. He brought up the issue of peak oil to me several years ago, and while the specific topics of conversation vary, I always encourage him to remember that there will be life after oil.
He recently took 'sick leave' from the airline industry, finished up an MBA from Texas A&M and stands at a crossroads in his own life.
I welcome him to the upper reaches of the Allegheny at any time. Being from Oklahoma, I constantly encourage my friends to move to more 'water rich' areas. What are your thoughts, JMG, about encouraging flat-landers to move to NWPA?

Thijs Goverde said...

Any idea how your decline will play out here in the vassal states? Do we get the same trouble, only faster? Or worse trouble as we will find ourselves unprotected when the barbarians smash in the gates? Or are we batter of as we are slightly less addicted to the imperial habits than are those at the imperial core?
I can think of examples foir all three!

Oh anyway, on with the downgrading! I'm lucky, in a way: by education, occupation and family tradition I'm firmly lodged in the middle class, but as I do not have a job, I won't be laid off. The downside of this is that my income has been dwindling, as fewer people are willing to pay for my services, but at least my financial decline is a gradual slope and not a sharp drop. Plenty of time to adjust. Plus: reading this blog has given me a slight head start - always a valuable asset in a rush. Thanks for that!

brian t said...

I read the Archdruid Report in a newsreader, which can sometimes offer some unusual juxtapositions. The article immediately following this piece was a report on plans to use nuclear reactors to extract oil. The reactor will generate steam to soften the oil in oil sands, so that it can be extracted.

It was one of those moments that had me whispering "stop the world, I want to get off" ..!

Lizzy said...

Hello, I think one of the fears of having to cope in the new world is that it will be so gruelling, so difficult. I find it hard to imagine cooking without electricity or gas coming down the pipes to the house, keeping warm without turning on a heater. Yes, I could light a fire, but where would I get the wood? I would need a chainsaw -- petrol powered. What about water? I know I could do it, but it would be so difficult.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Here's a prediction about American cultural fads. After the current popular interest in Abraham Lincoln winds down, we are due for a spate of best-sellers and movies about Theodore Roosevelt.

TR had been dead about twenty years when his colossal head was carved on Mt. Rushmore next to Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, but today most Americans have only the vaguest idea of who the first President Roosevelt was or what he did. He's the only one of the four not to have a big monument in Washington, DC; his cousin FDR got his monument a couple of years ago.

Theodore Roosevelt appeals to the American Right because of his muscular foreign policy and to the Left for his trust-busting and for founding the National Park system. The period in which he flourished was when America was most obviously on the way up, and that should generate nostalgia as more Americans realize that our sun is setting.

Now if I could only figure out a way to make money out of this insight . . .

John D. Wheeler said...

The hangover will suck, no doubt about it, but living clean and sober will be better than the life with the drug of empire has turned into. It will be hard if not impossible for those who think of themselves as "party animals" to make the transition, but the American empire has been short-lived enough that the myth of being productive, hard-working people has not completely died yet. For the people who still see themselves as "hard workers" who just happened to go along with the crowd to the party, the transition back will still require lots of work but it should be doable.

mallow said...

Sorry slightly off topic, but about death - I know someone who I'm pretty sure is quite scared of it. I know it makes him sad because he thinks that's the end and no one will remember you for longer than a generation when you're gone. But he'd never do anything like envisioning it or meditating. Religion would be a non starter for him too. He would read philosophy though. Do you know of any books that might help him that I could sneak in as a birthday present? And does the envisioning thing work even if you don't believe in any kind of life after death or god/s or reincarnation?

phil harris said...

Yes; cultivating the use of LESS, and obtaining practical skills of social value (other people will need and support both the value and the persons delivering it) are good compass bearings. And cultivating the habits of mind that are a true basis for democratic deliberation and the 'common good' of the Republic sounds about right!

I have been thinking recently of the gifts of mind I have received and still receive directly from others. Some were astonishingly generous - like that from a relatively eminent scientist at a key juncture in my own practical work, to the more mundane day-to-day sharing of tasks and mind and the linked ongoing restoration of a family or group peace of mind. These live long in the memory! Authentic moral energy linked with acute perception and insight is the stuff of any life, let alone the Republic! Luckily it can be catching! Pour alimenter la conversation!

PS Britain, ex-empire, managed to carry-over its predilection for military manoeuvres into the American era, and, as the modern ‘wealth pumps’ grew, perhaps fatally concentrated ever more on sophisticated financial instruments. The recent financial crash and recession (still 4% GDP below 2007 peak) on top of our dramatic loss over decades of much productive industry, far from deterring anybody seems to be proving an opportunity for the ‘money power’ to consolidate its commanding structure.

Dean Osgood said...

Just out out of curiosity I looked at the job postings on Monster dot com. There are more than twice as many job openings for machinists as there are for lawyers.

morenewyorknews said...

Excellent article JMG...
While i have nothing to add on this topic,i will focus on more practicalities...
I am organizing one day national level competition on energy and environmental design for engg students...It will be in feb and i have included many topics mentioned on this blog and comments... students are expected to design low cost water cooler,solar cookers etc etc.
Sometimes i see very good innovations from students in designing equip models and i hope i will get good response.Since you stay in US i can't call you but you are still invited.I will post photos of some of the models(equipments) students will bring.

Kathleen Quinn said...

Recently I took my meager fortune out of the stock market, having decided that I was better off investing any extra money in knowledge/things that would make our family’s slide down the slope of empire a bit less frightening.
Enter the pressure canner, an instrument on first glimpse more frightening to me perhaps than the specter of a future without easy access to refrigeration. Using it yesterday for the first time, I couldn’t help but wish (more than I usually do) that my grandmothers were still alive, as their children, my parents, have no experience with such matters or machines. They've choosen instead, like many of their era, to depend on the grocery store for all their needs.

I also couldn’t help but think that I would like to be a different sort of parent to my kids when they are adults. I want to be relevant in their daily lives as a resource for knowledge and skills that I can share with them—perhaps they will be less likely to stick me in a home, should there still be such places. What an opportunity I have, think I, to be the first generation in several to realign our family’s social structure whereby elders have something of value to teach youngers, and are kept about the place at least in part because of this value. (Of course, first they have to forgive me for making them learn how to use a slide rule and meeting them at the library dressed like the goat farmer I happen to be…)

So, I guess my idea of our collective future described, discussed, dissected, and analyzed here each week contains at least the possibility of some serious bright spots. It can take its time getting here—I still have so much to learn first—but hey, it’s not the end of the world, right?

Thanks for another thought-provoking post, JMG, and for all the insightful follow-up comments, other readers. Much appreciated.

drew laplante said...

I'd like to first say a heartfelt thank you for your writings on this blog and elsewhere. You have a real talent for taking the seemingly disparate realities of the current age, weaving them together with their historical context and then presenting commonsense and workable ideas for dealing with these realities and improving lives on a personal level.

You've also piqued my interest in Druid philosophy/spirituality and prompted me to begin to delve deeper through my own research on the subject.

I realize you tend to keep the discourse about your spirituality mostly sidelined on this blog and understand why; although I can feel and am thankful for the undercurrent of it throughout all of your writing here. Still, I wonder if you might not write a bit more explicitly about your spiritual beliefs here in the near future. Even in my cursory research I'm beginning to see that it could really help people as they adjust to the more resource-limited reality of a post-industrial America.

One of my concerns as the empire winds down and the lie of exponential growth is painfully exposed in people's everyday lives is that fanatical religious dogmas ramp up as a way to escape the new reality and scapegoat other segments of society. It would be good to know more about another path for people to follow that eschews dogma, encourages balance with nature and each other, and attempts to restore a sense of community with all living things.


Bill Pulliam said...

Finally the answer to the question I posed 11 months ago!

I see an interesting form of pseudo-acceptance of decline around here in rural Tennessee. When you pose to folks that you think there's just a global long-term permanent one-way economic contraction and there is no way that the U.S. can buck that trend forever, I often see folks actually seem to think I might have a point. But then they pull out what seems to be a standard piece of rural mythology: "Well, we've been poor around here before, we know how to do it again." But they say this while standing beside their SUV and repeatedly glancing down at their smart phone. I don't think they really do remember how to be poor, if they are under 80 years old. We are even more dependent on the automobile than urbanites are. I think they believe they can just hunt and garden their way away from starvation; but they have no idea how to do either of these without regular trips to the Mall*Wart for chinese-made provisions and equipment (never mind the fact that if the local population really did start relying on game for survival the White-tailed Deer, Wild Turkey, and both local species of squirrel would be extirpated in a year or two).

Kathleen Reynolds said...

Chris--interesting stuff about living with drought. I've recently been panicking about living in a drought-prone area...I'm not sure we get enough rainfall to get by. What was your rainfall average during the drought, and could you have dealt with that indefinitely? Do you use only rainfall?

escapefromwisconsin said...

To make that fall in living standards a little less abstract, see "Documenting a Generation's Fall" (

Edde said...

Good morning John Michael,

Please comment on the value of (official)permaculture class. One is available in the region at discounted cost, but enough to give me pause.

This will connect us more closely with local permaculturists and our extension service.

We already do some gardening, have fruit and nut trees, and container gardens. I don't expect to be a full-time farmer.

Thanks in advance for any insights.Great series of posts!

Best regards in the new year,


Liquid Paradigm said...

If nothing else, I feel better about my book hoarding, which has been retooled over the past 6 or 7 months to focus on more practical stuff and old wisdom. A lot of works I've seen recommended here have found their way in. I may not be able to make direct use of much of it as a suburban apartment-dweller, but I may eventually. And if not me, then someone else down the road.

I can't quite give up the comic habit, though. The television and most other forms of distraction are gone or within a month of being sold off, but finally saying goodbye to Batman and company will take time. ;)

jen vogh said...

an excellent enumeration of practical skills needed for a Victorian town - the expansions provided in the comments are interesting, too:

thanks you, as ever, for the time and effort involved in creating a thought provoking and informative weekly post :) jen

sv koho said...

JMG, I wish we could find a way to get your sensible recommendations which you repeat so often out to the multitudes who don't follow your blog. I have pursued such an obvious path of preparation even before the www was invented but repetition helps even the believers and the committed in the choir. You portray the decline of jobs on this the backside of the post industrial economy but I would like to point out the latest metastatic event largely missed by the MSM which has the potential to accelerate job destruction not only here but everywhere:Robotic replacement of jobs. I covered this in one of my recent blog posts but the paucity of similar reports and blog posts made even blog research difficult. Please look at this topic if you think it merits mention. Energy availability and a Luddite Revolution will alter the trajectory but from my perspective this robotic revolution looks like yet another nail in the coffin as if the coffin didn't have enough nails already!

barath said...

Great analysis JMG. I am struck how much your analysis aligns with that of Chris Hedges, given that your backgrounds are quite dissimilar (he was a war correspondent for many years). In particular, you might check out his books War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, Empire of Illusion, and Days of Destruction/Days of Revolt, as each contains significant in-person reportage that complements your analysis.

Will said...

you have lost sight of the fact that the 'imperial tribute' of which you write is just a metaphor, and not a very precise one.
to the extent that it has any meaning, it is that America's global power imposed unfair terms of trade. but those 'unfair' terms allowed many poor countries in recent years to develop. if the global movement to free industrial trade ends, likely results are that Americans will make more of what they need, and pay maybe an extra 10 percent more for it (because of wage differentials mainly), and poor developing countries will be hurt worse by the change.
you are also off base on military costs. in WW2 we spent 25 percent of GNP on war. in the 50's it was over 10 percent. In Vietnam it was 8 percent. under Reagan it was 6 percent. today, despite the wars, it is about 4 and 1/2 percent and falling.
our deficit has little to do with defense costs, and much to do with paying too much for the past (the elderly) and not enough for the future (education and infrastructure).
the answer is to pay higher taxes, as the Nordics do. no one will say that now, but eventually they will.
as for the awesome results of peak oil to which you point: this is an issue that i have taken very seriously for many years. yes, it will be a problem. but the vast amount of waste and mis-investemnt in contemporary American society means there is a LOT of low-hanging fruit for rationing by price or by coupons. Americans could live a decent civilized life in the same towns and houses where they now live, while using half the energy. they would hate it (because it would be very inconvenient, especially at first), they will not volunteer for it, but they could do it. and, if needs be, they will.
we will do what is needed to keep the lights on, and that includes 24/7.
ultimately, the world must shift back to an economy powered by the annual sun budget (plus some nuclear). but if over the next two centuries we reproduce at just 2/10 of one percent below the replacement rate, the population in 2300 will be 2.5 billion only, and dropping -- and that is a level that can be supported at a modern level of consumption, permanently.
as for the the nuclear waste issue you bring up: all the high-level nuclear waste in the United States, stored in casks, could be kept safely for centuries on the surface of just one relatively small ranch in Arizona or Nevada.
in short, don't be to quick to invest in hand-loom weaving.

Andy Brown said...

Very nice post, and I'm happy to see things wending back toward more pedestrian green wizardry. Wrenching as the transition from Empire is going to be, I think there is one great untapped resource that we sometimes underestimate - namely the fact that most people are not happy or fulfilled in this society. I don't mean that to dispute or diminish the many ways that you have pointed out how reluctant people will be to give up their privilege - only that when it happens the people who can physically and psychologically survive it, will find themselves no worse off - and perhaps better off than they were. For my part I'll append a whisper to your incantation, "There is no brighter future . . . but there will be a human one."

Steve Morgan said...

It looks to me like the legacy of our empire will give us a substantially different fate than the non-industrialized countries to which our decline are often compared (i.e. we'll be like Japan for a few years, then Mexico, then maybe Columbia or Honduras...). For one thing, we'll have plenty of infrastructure to catabolize for some time. On the other hand, though, all of our trade policies, tax structure, and regulations of all kinds are set up to make productive economic activity prohibitively difficult. In other words, it's not just the brownouts, rationing, and dearth of skilled workers, but it's the political legacy as well that will hamper the US economy in its attempts to recover some higher level of functionality. I see these posts as aiming at that set of issues where much of the green wizardry was aiming at making do with LESS.

"What distinguishes them from the statesmen of an earlier era, rather, is that they are face to face with an insoluble dilemma that their predecessors in office spent the last few decades trying to ignore."

This comment goes a long way to explaining why those on the political right lionize Reagan while pretending that the pols they've elected since don't exist, while those on the political left long for the days of FDR, totally ignoring the reality of how both Obama and Clinton governed.

"The critical factor in such cases is the emotional cost of admitting that the decision to buy the stock, adopt the belief system, or make whatever other mistake is at issue, was in fact a mistake."

That one hits home for me. For much of my life a good chunk of my identity has been wrapped up in not being wrong. I'm still working on unpacking it and dealing with the baggage, but at least I'm at the point of being willing to be wrong (even if I don't like it). Just that step has allowed me many new avenues of education and growth.

Looking forward to the continuation of December's very interesting thread. Thanks, JMG!

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

JMG: Perhaps you could, whether this week or in the more remote future, let us have your thoughts on Byzantium?

Although I have not studied the subject deeply, I suspect Byzantium to be an example, perhaps even the very best example, of an empire that successfully managed decline.

I look at it this way: Byzantium around the time of Justinian was a world power that had reconquered a large slab of the Western Empire from the "barbarians" (the contemporary Italian and Gallic Latin-speaking elites must have regarded the military operation as a largely successful rescue of Constantine's old empire-in-the-West); a near-millennium later, by 1453, when the Turks breached the urban walls, Byzantium had been reduced to a town of 10,000 or so people, with extensive municipal ruins, controlling a tiny agrarian hinterland; and yet through its near-millennium of decline, Byzantium maintained continuity in key institutions.

Well, actually, some degree of institutional continuity can be traced beyond 1453. You can get a Byzantine legal document, that would have looked pretty familiar to the ruling Paleologoi, even today. I gather, namely, that if as an American or Canadian you are given permission to visit the monasteries of Mount Athos, you are issued a kind of Byzantine-Empire visa, unique to Athos, on top of your more conventional Greek visiting-tourist stamp-in-passport formalities, and that the appearance and wording of the visa are eminently pre-1453.

Perhaps you can at some stage give us your thoughts?

Loch Wade said...

Hi David, Another great post. Here, I'm in the process of building a water-powered grist mill so that our community can be self-sufficient in grain production.

All that rotary power can be used for all sorts of other purposes- sawing lumber, running a forge blower and a trip hammer for metal working, lathes, spinning machines, etc.

Perhaps the best use of it however is to compress air. Entire industrial shops can be run off of compressed air. The waterwheel can turn 24/7, running a giant air compressor pump attached to a used propane tank that holds several hundred or a thousand gallons.

Appropriate technology is the key. Everyone asks me why I don't want to generate electricity. Aside from the mechanical issues involved- stepping up RPMs from 5 to 2000- electricity production is the most wasteful and inefficient use of power man has ever conceived. For most of our uses of electricity, it would be better to find traditional ways to accomplish the same task. Brooms vs vacuums.

I think it is imperative to think locally. I don't care about the totalitarian police state called the US. But if we can produce our own food, and a goodly amount of our own necessary items locally, then we'll do alright. We may even be able to trade surpluses or items of skilled manufacture with other communities and find ourselves quite comfortable...after we've readjusted our understanding of prosperity, of course.

Todd S. said...

GS said...
Part of what makes it hard is that what we've built is so different than what existed before, and this gives it the sense of permanence.

Which is all the more ironic given the ephemeral nature of what is being built. It has been noted by some anthropologists that the modern, industrial civilization is the first to outlast its artifacts, which is not a good thing in this context.

John in Cape Charles Va said...

I was reading today that Greek poor are cutting down the national forests for stove wood. The government had eliminated most forest ranger operations and of course is on their austerity march to reduce the cost of maintaining the common people of Greece. So they do what they have to do, they can't afford oil or gas.

A town like Cumberland (I'm from Pittsburgh but live in SE Virginia now) is like an island out there in central Pa. I'd guess maybe 60-70%, maybe more, of the households get checks from the federal or state government of one sort or another.

One has to wonder if these small isolated places can transition at all if the checks stop coming. The young and the fit might make a go of it, I guess.

Here in my area military spending and military retirements drive the economy. I have one myself.

Those on the outside of that bubble are having a rough go, though. You can see it everywhere. But what they do have is likely coming from a federal social program bucking up a minimum wage income.

We're ALL on the dole, one way or another.

I don't see a transition at all; I see utter chaos. I truly cannot envision a stable retreat from this dependency.

My question: you focus on the US Empire; but is it not true that what we are seeing now is not the collapse of empire, but the collapse of a species?

Joseph Nemeth said...

JMG -- A persistent question has been bothering me.

For the last few posts you've been holding out the hope of reinvigorating a "vibrant" democratic process in the post-imperial ... whatever we want to call it.

Is there any historical precedent for such a thing?

We started with a fairly well-designed democratic republic, got hooked on the Empire drug, and now we're coming down into something. Can you give us a specific historical example where that "something" was any kind of democracy?

Or is this hope cutting new ground?

g-minor said...

Another book recommendation: THE WHEELWRIGHT'S SHOP by George Sturt, for a marvelous, evocative portrait of the profound effect of very highly developed manual skills on the people who possess them, and the society that requires such people.

Mean Mr Mustard said...


"What you can do, to make it a little easier than it will otherwise be, is to start walking it before you have to".

Collapse now and avoid the rush(TM)...?

Michelle said...

I keep waiting for some "sign" that collapse is kicking into high gear. I know, on a certain level, that there probably won't be any kind of definitive announcement *wry grin* but that in retrospect, perhaps we'll be able to say, "Oh, yeah, *that* was when it really began to fall to bits." Meanwhile, I talk with my like-minded friends to keep us all on task of preparing for a different world, while still trying to live an engaged life in the world we have presently. Not so easy, but needful.

Goldmund said...

Here in Minneapolis there are plenty of reminders of an earlier, more sustainable and sane way of life. We once had a street car system that was the envy of the world and it was powered entirely by electricity provided by St. Anthony Falls, not coal or nuclear or natural gas. This system was scrapped in the 50s and replaced by buses, the street cars were sold to Mexico and the rails paved over. But today, everytime they tear up a street for repair the beautiful paving bricks and old street car rails are exposed, reminding everyone- and all are in agreement about this- of what a better system we once had and "if only we could have that again". This serves as a counter narrative to the myth of "progress": that seemingly indestructable belief that things always get better. And there are many elderly people here who still remember the Great Depression, which destroyed the faith in the ponzi scheme we call free market capitalism for millions of working people and forced them to become self and neighborly reliant. So we haven't all abandoned the local and the public, despite the powerful forces lined up against us. People here still fight hard for public parks, schools and libraries- most people vote overwhelmingly for the continued funding of these things. This is what gives me hope as we relearn the skills of self reliance but also of taking care of our friends, family and neighbors. The more we move away from our isolating, self-preservation instincts and acknowledge that we're all in this together the easier, I believe, the transition to a more sustainable way of life will be for everyone.

bcwoodcarver said...

Cherokee- read Holzer Sepp`s permaculture books and the rebel farmer.

Joseph Nemeth said...

Poverty is always relative.

A friend of mine grew up in Iran in a poor village, and he talks about making his own marbles from rocks, using a larger stone with an indentation in it to grind down the irregular pebbles in to a more spherical shape. He was good at it, and being the quintessential salesman, he sold the marbles to other kids. He says that, growing up, he never felt poor.

This project has concentrated a lot on the plight of the transition-people, those poor trust-fund babies who are going to be lost when the trust runs dry: where in this case, the "trust" is our high-tech, tribute-based imperial system. They (we) are going to be hard hit, true.

I think it's worth saying that the subsequent generations are not going to feel "poor" even if matters descend to where children have to make their own marbles out of rocks. They will quickly adapt to whatever the situation happens to be, and it will be "normal" for them.

William Hunter Duncan said...

"""Here in the Appalachians, at least, there’s something about the month of January that encourages sober thoughts."""

LOL. I haven't laughed that heartily yet today! Sober isn't EXACTLY how I would describe it, here in Minnesota - but I haven't had a drink since Sunday!

Indeed, something about 2013 already seems to have made it all sink in, widely, in a way that it hadn't before. Perhaps we all secretly hoped Dec 21, something good would shift the culture in some deeply healing way. Well, here we are. It's a shift for sure.

Patiently waiting for signs, how to proceed, day by day. Otherwise acting, in a way that I feel is appropriate.

Thanks for helping elucidate the path.

SLClaire said...

I'm looking forward to learning from your posts on core insights!

Thinking about walking the road back from empire by ourselves: one aspect of that for me is learning how to be an elder. Some of the people around me still expect to spend their "retirement" years relaxing and traveling. My parents' and grandparents' generations (I'm in my mid fifties) did this and some of my agemates think they should be able to as well, that they've "earned" it by working and playing by the rules. But I don't want that life even if I could have it; it strikes me as boring beyond belief. Too often the people who do it are not much more than overgrown children in attitude. In the preindustrial past, elders had an important role: they were the carriers of culture, the holders of memories and the group's past, the ones who passed on knowledge and wisdom through stories and example. This is the path I am starting to walk. While there are examples in books that I can draw on, mentors for this transition are almost nonexistent among the people I know personally.

Barncat said...

Lizzy, I've been researching a heater called the thermal mass rocket stove heater, that can be built on a shoe string budget. It has low emissions and can be run on fallen branches from your landscape
you can even make tea on the combustion chamber!

LewisLucanBooks said...

When I was reading the paragraph on losing "markers of status", two phrases came to mind that you don't hear much, anymore. "Gentile poverty" and "Keeping up appearances."

In novels and biographies it always seems a little sad and desperate.

Some of my close friends and I have opted out of one status marker or another. We often comment on the subtle pressures (or not so subtle) that we come under for not buying into such stuff. We consider the source of such pressure and realize that we're on the right track.

Rita said...

When you mentioned China as an example of a civilization that retreated from empire I recalled that several books I have read also talk of that retreat. But it is usually framed in negative terms. Either the Chinese are portrayed as chauvinistic and xenophobic; or the decision to destroy the fleets is treated as a cultural failure of nerve. I do not recall having seen it regarded as a wise step. Interesting. The books I refer to include _1421_ and _The Discoverers_.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Lizzy wrote:

"I find it hard to imagine cooking without electricity or gas coming down the pipes to the house, keeping warm without turning on a heater. Yes, I could light a fire, but where would I get the wood? I would need a chainsaw -- petrol powered."

In the late '70s we installed a wood stove for heat, and we also could cook, if needed, on the model we installed. (Our hundred-year old house came with natural gas and electricity already in place, of course.)

We get plenty of wood from our neighbors, especially in the fall and winter when winds and snow bring limbs down. And our own trees need professional tending every few years, which also yields a large amount of wood.

Myself, I've never used a chain saw. A bow saw, a double-bitted axe, a couple of wedges and a sledge hammer have always done the job, along with whetstones to keep the axe sharp.

It's excellent exercise, and also a good way to work off frustration: "Take that!" with every blow of the axe on a log.

Now that I'm 70, it's harder to do all the work myself, but there are younger friends around who are willing to help us out for pay.

Glenn said...

The _average_ (not median) per capita annual U.S. income in 2011 was $41,560. As we have about 5% of the world's land area, resources and population, the end of Empire would result, as has been said by many here before, in a reduction in income of 80%. That would be about $8,200 per year per capita _if_ evenly distributed.

This gives both rich and poor in the U.S. motivation to hold on to Empire as long as possible. Obviously the rich will refuse to live on a paltry $8,200 a year, so they want to maintain the status quo. The rest of us know they won't share, and all of the poor and much of the middle class would die if they had to live on 20% of their current incomes; so we too have a great motivation to hold on to the Empire.

Of course, in the end, the Empire will be lost. Then things may indeed get ugly. Most people won't go silently into that good night if the lights in the castle at the top of the hill are still on...

Marrowstone Island

Robert said...

@Cherokee Organics "In addition to this, the process of sticking it in the neck to the working classes, can also be construed as an attempt to continue with business as usual and the maintenance of appearances. Again, I'd like to be proven wrong, but pushing a portion of the population into poverty allows many other portions of the population to continue with business as usual in a declining resources scenario and maintain energy availability on a per capita basis."

Bingo this is exactly right and it's clear to me that this is exactly what will happen.

At some point it will trigger mutiny from below once a critical mass of the working middle class accept that the American Dream is false and that they are never going to become rich. At that point they will rebel against the establishment. But given how entrenched is the meritocratic fantasy that anyone who works hard enough will rise it may take a long time before it happens. But at some point it will.

We face the same problem in Britain of course. Max Keiser of the Keiser Report is saying that the effect of quantitative easing by the BAnk of England and the FEd is to blow another bubble in the bond market and when it pops there will be another meltdown. He also believes that Britain and Japan are especially vulnerable. Two of my cousins live in Japan and have started families over there and I believe Japan is in better shape than the UK because it has far more social captial than we do and its business elite have a greater sense of duty to the general public and to the nation than our financial elite who are totally irresponsible to the point of being sociopaths.

Juhana said...

It is quite astonishing that as a cultural shift and peak oil blogger you also produce, strictly as byproduct, probably best analysis about relationships between classes in our current society. I have had this feeling, starting at late nineties, that interests and goals of working class and liberal middle class have drifted apart for good. Before reading your blog I never managed to see whole picture; I always observed particular circumstances coming with increasing frequency. Big picture is actually quite simple, as it always is, you just have to look from long distance. As there is even/decreasing amount of industrial wealth (=energy) to be shared between increasing population, middle classes threw working classes in front of firing squad, just to buy more fat times for themselves. As price of labour was put down to poverty level with iron heel of globalism, this was possible...for a while. Now there is new round going on. Upper middle class and managerial level is doing same thing for so called middle and lower segments of middle classes. To borrow terminology from old guard trade unionists, battle line of class warfare is moving upwards in pyramid. This actually explains SO much about this growing animosity and even hatred you can sense between liberal middle class and working class here in Europe. Working classes have been on downward curve of real income for quite a while; being poorer than your parents were is already reality for at least one generation of blue collars. Those old leftist-liberal dreams have already lost their appeal among at least one generation there. New images of identity are being formed right now, images of nationality and belonging by blood. Million dollar question is: what is going to be new self-image of former middle classes in not-so-distant future? Thanks for some widening of historical perspective, JMG. It is always jaw-dropping moment to even dimly perceive gargantuan, slow powers of historical change moving around you.

@Cherokee Organics (and JMG): Now I have took my time to reflect this earlier conservation about ploughing and farming. I have consulted some friends who are actually dirtying their hands by farming,i.e. true experts. I believe to have some answers for you, about farming more environmental-friendly with plough. Because this is widely off-topic in here, can I comment it in your blog or something..? Or is it some kind etiquette offense to comment it in here..?

Jeff Clark said...

g-minor, I've read that the original WHEELWRIGHT'S SHOP has been scanned and is available for free. The copy I have is a modern reprint that leaves out much of Sturt's reflections on the passing of the crafts and the craftsmen who practiced them. Have you seen the online version and if so, where?

Jeff Clark said...

JMG, when I posted last week about the contraction of modern technological society from rural areas into the cities, you dismissed it as short-sighted. (Short-sighted or not, it's happening anyway.) Yet this week's column speaks directly to just such a phenomenon.

I'm confused.

Jeff Clark said...

Edde, on the subject of permaculture, you might be interested in a book recently published by Bob Waldrop called iPermie. At 399,000 words it is an exhaustive exploration of urban permaculture, and the e-cost is $1.99. Waldrop walks the talk at his home in Oklahoma City. It's available at Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo, and Versent.

Robert said...

@Juhana I think that's exactly right and I have limited sympathy for the baby boomer generation of the middle class. I see them as the most spolit generation in history who have presided over the biggest misallocation of capital of all time. Many of them seem quite happy to scapegoat the working class as "chavs" and go along with the Tory narrative of blaming the unemployed as workshy scroungers. Only when reality hits their own grandchildren are they likely to change their attitude.

I think the younger generation of the middle class are going to leave university up to their eyeballs in debt and their will not be the jobs for them to lead the kind of middle class lifestyle their parents enjoyed. As a result they will become alienated and potentially politically quite dangerous. Apparently there was a report by the British Ministry of Defence back in 2007 which predicted that the younger generation of the middle class might form a revolutionary class taking on the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx.

Justin G said...

"America doesn’t have an empire, that the empire isn’t falling, and that the fall doesn’t matter anyway. "

Reminds me of Freud's joke about defensive arguments:

"The whole plea...recalls vividly the defence offered by a man who was accused by his neighbour of having returned a kettle in a damaged condition. In the first place, he had returned the kettle undamaged; in the second place it already had holes in it when he borrowed it; and in the third place, he had never borrowed it at all."

Jeff Clark said...

Madtom said: "If we cultivate the mildly eccentric hobby of keeping (or accumulating) hardcopy volumes of information that would be prohibitively costly or downright impossible to re-generate, we may find that today's junk is tomorrow's treasure."

My children -- and my wife, for that matter -- have long questioned the wisdom of my hoarding of boxes and shelves of books and magazines about self-sufficiency, farming, homesteading and hand skills. Now that I'm looking at my own mortality square in the face (cancer), the issue of what to do with this collection has arisen. I have siblings with similar interests and outlooks, so I plan to entrust the library to them. Hopefully someday my little hobby will make a difference to people who never expected to need it.

dowsergirl said...

I just purchased a copy of "Detropia" for my library. It's the true story of the rise and decline of Detroit. Very interesting parallels to what we are discussing here, and it happened and is still happening in our midst. I recommend people watch it...while they still can!

Ruben said...


Your comment made me think All Pitchforks are Local.

Then things may indeed get ugly. Most people won't go silently into that good night if the lights in the castle at the top of the hill are still on...

It seems like the Big House has been with much of humanity for much of history. Why would it be different now?

A few peasants have always been able to take down a mounted knight. But the mounted knights tend to have friends that come back and give a lesson.

Trying to reduce the number of Big Houses to rule us seems like a good taks for the descent.

dowsergirl said...

Oh and the Wheelwrights shop is free in Google books's+shop&hl=en&sa=X&ei=bJz4UL3sCsTC0QGa1IGQBg&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=wheelwright's%20shop&f=false

Thomas Daulton said...

Awhile back, JMG predicted that a "backlash" may arise against environmentalists and green-wizard types after the collapse really hits -- in other words, people tend to shoot the messenger. Cassandra never gets thanked even though she was right.

I think the seeds of the backlash are by now in place:

Harvard Researcher Blames Environmentalists For Climate Inaction

Shorter version of the article: "The big sellout enviro groups who suck at the teat of Washington and have traded action for access and privilege, are to blame for not working harder to save us from the consequences of our own piggish lifestyles"

In a way she (the researcher) has a point, but man, that's a pretty much lose-lose way of framing the issues.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, exactly. The people who've run out of unemployment benefits no longer exist, as far as US unemployment statistics are concerned. It's a great way to make the statistics look a lot better than they are.

Donal, I'm familiar with it, but like so many recent works of pop history it's rather insistent on flattening out the moral complexities of a past time into comic-book stereotypes.

Cherokee, exactly. That's how catabolic collapse is playing out this time around.

Ben, I tend to point out to people that where they settle should depend on where they have social connections and access to resources they need. There's no one size fits all solution.

Thijs, my guess is that it'll depend on local factors. In your place I'd be more worried about rising sea levels than most other things.

Brian, good. Now think of the net energy involved in that process, given that nuclear power can't pay for itself without huge government subsidies anyway, and you'll get a sense of just how desperate people are to prop up a failing system.

Lizzy, that's exactly why you need to learn how to do things before you need to, so you know what to do and don't get paralyzed by fear. It's not actually all that difficult, but you'll need to learn that from experience. I'd recommend spending some time at the Green Wizards forum, where the skills you'll need to learn are constantly being discussed.

Unknown Deborah, write a fawning biography of him, or a book on "Leadership Secrets of Teddy Roosevelt." You'll make a mint.

John, if you're one of the people who are willing to buckle down and work hard, fair enough.

Mallow, the choice of books would depend very much on your friend's personality, so I'm not at all sure what would be a good recommendation. As for envisioning your own death, yes, it's as important for atheists as for theists -- or, really, for anyone who hopes to be adult in any sense more significant than a number on an ID card.

Phil, the lords of finance still have a little more rope to sell before someone uses it to hang them. Give it time.

latheChuck said...

Certainly it is to the good for us to develop practical skills, accumulate textbooks and handbooks, and durable tools, but what good is it to be (for example) a one-man furniture factory if your neighbors have nothing to trade to you in return? They may not even be fit to pull your plow, much less trust them with a sharp hoe around the crops. Without our fossil-fuel virtual slave labor, I suspect that a large fraction of the population will be needed for totally unskilled occupations, such as pulling the fertilizer cart out from the stables. But does even THAT pencil out in terms of EROEI (energy return on energy invested)?

j. schrier said...


Regarding your friend with the "death problem", I recommend the book, "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" by William B. Irvine (Oxford Univ. Press, 2008)

Drawing on the Stoic philosophers, Irvine proposes a few strategies for dealing with life, and builds up to a "contemplating your own death" approach.

Here is a review.

John Michael Greer said...

Dean, that's a good sign. You'll notice that nobody, but nobody, is talking about that in terms of how to retrain the unemployed.

News, excellent! I'll look forward to hearing about the outcome of the competition.

Kathleen, very good! Have you considered talking to the folks at the local Grange, if you have one? You're likely to be able to make contact with some experienced canners that way.

Drew, I'll consider it. I was very surprised by the positive reception my discussion of magic on this blog in the fall of 2011 received; if people can handle that, they might be able to handle a discussion of nature worship, experiential polytheism, and why the notion that religion is about having the right opinions about unknowable issues is among the most thoroughly exploded of all hypotheses around just now.

Bill, now I'm going to have to go back to last February and figure out what your question was...

Escape, fascinating. Thanks for the link. (I had to use the second link, though, since the first one has two missing slashes.)

Edde, I haven't taken a permaculture course, and haven't yet heard a really good reason why I should spend the considerable amount of money to do so. Of the people I know who have, some talk about how wonderful the course was, others describe it as "Green est" -- those who recall the human-potential cults of the '70s will get the reference -- and say they got more out of an afternoon reading books in the library, for much less money. So I'm not at all sure what to say.

Liquid, hang onto Batman. There's a place for things that aren't strictly pragmatic, too. (It's been a while, but I was a major fan of the Batman back in the 70s.)

Jen, nice! Now remember that every single one of these skills will need to be preserved or reinvented, and preservation is a *lot* easier.

Koho, at this point further robotic replacement of jobs is a sign that mythology has erased the last traces of common sense. With energy prices certain to rise over time, wages falling, plenty of skilled and unskilled labor ready to hand, and investments in new productive capacity pretty much guaranteed to bring negative returns in a falling economy, it's hard to think of a less productive investment -- and yet it'll happen for a while yet, because people are still stuck in the thinking patterns of a world that isn't there any more.

Barath, fascinating. I'll have to read some of his work.

Will, no, the tribute economy is quite real -- why do you think the 5% of humanity that lives in the US gets to use 25% of the world's energy production and 33% of its raw materials and industrial product? Your other points, while quite valid, are the reasons I cite to explain why the decline and fall of industrial society will be a long slow process rather than a sudden collapse. As for handloom weaving, we've got about a century before declining energy and collapsing infrastructure make that a viable career again, which makes it all the more important to preserve the techniques now, and pass them on, so they won't have to be reinvented later.

Andy, I see it as a parting of the ways. As industrial civilization unravels, those who can find new sources of meaning and value may do fairly well at life; those who can't -- and there will be a lot of them -- will not. More on this in a future post.

John Michael Greer said...

Steve, you get tonight's gold star for grappling with the deepest fear that most intellectual people have these days -- being wrong and admitting it. As terrifying as it is, it's necessary, because making mistakes is the only way to learn. I'm reminded of Eliot Wigginton's dictum that the word "learn" is properly spelled F-A-I-L.

Toomas, I'll consider it for a future post.

Todd, an excellent point!

John in Va, it's always comforting when I receive, for the same post, one comment insisting that I'm being too pessimistic -- that was Will's, this time -- and another insisting that I'm being too optimistic -- that was yours. If I keep those coming in at roughly equal rates, I figure I'm more or less on target. No, it's not true that we're talking about the collapse of a species, except in the ordinary ecological sense of overshoot and dieback; this is business as usual, on a slightly larger time frame than most people like to have in mind. Oh, and Cumberland is in Maryland, not Pennsylvania!

Joseph, that deserves a longer answer than a comment here will allow, so I'll see what I can do in a future post. (Re your offlist comment, if you'd like to get me your email address via another "do not post" comment -- Blogger doesn't give me that with posts -- I'd be happy to respond.)

G-Minor, thanks for the recommendation!

Mustard, exactly!

Michelle, you're way behind the times. The signal you're looking for happened in 1974.

Goldmund, have you considered launching a campaign to bring back the streetcars? If that's going to happen, somebody has to start the ball rolling; why not you?

Joseph, and of course that's also very true. It's those of us who have to weather the shift from absurd wealth to ordinary poverty who have the rough ride ahead of us.

latheChuck said...

So the Greek poor are cutting their national parks for stove wood. Syrian refugees are reportedly exhausting local supplies of plant-based fuel, too. I might have a plan for the trees standing on my property, for fruit, nuts, shade, leaf compost, and fallen-twig fuel, but to what extent can I defend that plan? Stories are in the news about sales of firearms and ammunition at unprecedently high levels; analysts claim that it's the fear of new restrictions on sales that provoked the rush. But what if it's worse than that? What if folks are looking around and saying to themselves "This tree will keep my family warm for a winter; that tree will keep them warm for the next. And I'd hate to shoot a tree-rustler, unless I really had to." Maybe the wood could be returned to its original owner, but a stack of wood is not a tree.
From Jared Diamond's "Collapse" (p326 in hardcover): "It is not rare, even today, to hear Rwandans argue that a war is necessary to wipe out an excess of population and to bring numbers into line with the available land resources."

Michelle said...

JMG - thanks for that link. I'll read it in its entirety tomorrow. Alas, I was 8 years old in 1974, and my parents not the types to have noticed suchlike. I'm glad to know that I have an honest reason for having missed it! (and, although my BA is in history, it's Medieval English history, which I'm finding useful in contemplating possible arrangements of community in future)

John Michael Greer said...

William, I've noticed that! I don't know if it's the delayed impact of Mayan Fools Day, or what, but there does seem to be a certain faint whiff of realism seeping through the filters of popular delusion just now.

SLClaire, the only place I've ever seen that in action is in the old fraternal orders: the Masons, the Grange, and so on. Might be worth a look.

Lewis, "lace curtain respectable" is another label I've heard.

Rita, exactly. It's very much in need of a reframing.

Glenn, the rich may not share, but there's a factor you're not taking into account. Most of their "wealth" is in the most abstract and vaporous sort of paper -- how many middle class people own a derivative? In the Great Depression, the fraction of national wealth owned by the rich dropped like a rock, because paper wealth propped up by hallucinatory finance lost value much more sharply and completely than anything else. I expect to see the same thing again, on steroids -- people with a paper worth of billions suddenly finding that those billions can't get them a cheeseburger.

Juhana, thank you! As for the plowing info, do you have a blog or something where it can be posted, and a link put here?

Jeff, go reread your comment, and then reread my post, and I'm sure you'll figure it out sooner or later.

Justin, I loved that remark of Freud's!

Dowsergirl, thanks for the info!

John Michael Greer said...

Thomas, hmm. I read the article a little differently -- as I saw it, it pointed out, as I have on several changes, the remarkable political cluelessness of the climate change movement, and the remarkable way that it threw away what had been, less than a decade earlier, an apparently unstoppable momentum. That is to say, more than one messenger may be being shot here...

Chuck, remember we're not talking about an overnight collapse, and that forming networks and helping friends and neighbors learn when they're ready to learn is an important part of the package I'm discussing. As for tree rustlers, yes, there'll doubtless be some shooting.

Michelle, a background in medieval English history is more helpful than many other things you could have studied!

nuku said...

On the subject of death: Even for people who don’t regularly meditate or follow a religious path (that’s me), there are “comtemplations” about death that are useful:

All compound things are impermanent. Everything that comes into being is certain to pass away. I too, will one day die and there is no way to know exactly when. It could be years from now. It could be today.

Marana (Marana means death. As you repeat this word, comtemplate death and/or impermenance in a way that touches you directly.)

“Suffering arises from trying to make permanent that which is impermanent” Buddha

Recognizing this, may I cease grasping after permanence and live each moment fully with bright non-clinging awareness...

Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, the rich may not share, but there's a factor you're not taking into account. Most of their "wealth" is in the most abstract and vaporous sort of paper -- how many middle class people own a derivative?

Yes, I get that. I was using the income figures for a rough gauge of "how much wealth is under your control", as a guide to thinking about how to do with _much less_ than we have (as a family in our case), and what indeed it would look like in today's money. The short version would be no cars, reduce utilities to power needed for the well pump, clear an acre for pasturage and get a dairy cow that could double for light draft work.

That being said, I'm very glad we paid cash for our land and have no mortgage. Albeit we are living in a combined roofed space of less than 500 square feet and not enough outbuildings yet. Modern homesteading on a shoestring budget is slow.

If history is a guide, though my income might drop 80%, our "wealth" in terms of arable land and infrastructure should maintain or increase it's value. I'm glad our neighbors are in similar positions and we have a strengthening community.

Marrowstone Island

Leo said...

The malign neglect of infrastructure seems the stupidest part of it, but i guess if your not producing things you don't need as good roads, railways and electrical grids.

How long until that statistically inevitable shove appears? I'm guessing either the end of this decade of the next.

Got into Sustainable systems engineering at RMIT, now i've got to sort everything else out.

Roy Smith said...

You hit (I presume accidentally) one of my pet peeves regarding English usage, and its the second time I have seen it today: in the 6th from the last paragraph, you actually mean "ensure", not "insure".

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Kathleen,

Rainfall here can vary between 400mm (15.7 inches) to 1,400mm (55.1 inches) and you never know what you will get from season to season.

Yeah, I survive here purely on rainwater. You can truck water in, but 16,000L (about 4,000 gallons) will cost you $220 and as things get drier, the waiting list gets longer. I have storage for 85,700 litres (about 22,500 gallons) but will definitely add an extra 22,500 litres capacity this year.

This is a good reminder as to why practical experience is so important as you can road test systems and skills.

All water is captured on the roof of the house, chook shed and shed. It is then stored in above ground tanks. It has to then be pumped back up hill to be of use. In a drought year (400mm), I will still be able to collect 120,000 litres (about 31,500 gallons) of rainfall from the roof catchment area. To replenish my storage though, means reduced consumption for many, many months.

The quality of the water from the water tanks is much better than town water.

The town water I suspect has a much higher bacterial count, or a different biology.

Any water that ends up being used in the orchard comes from my allocation of household water (and vegetables, herbs, chooks and bees) so this necessitates some compromises and uncertainty on my part! I won't go into that...

Down Under, drought is addressed through:
- shading (plant trees closer together);
- don't dig the top layer of vegetation, just cut it down and drop it where it falls (digging will lose the top soil to wind. Dead vegetation still holds the top soil together);
- water (if you can get it);
- mulch heavily (go hard with mulch as it acts like a blanket);
- get your trees slowly used to reduced watering so that they develop deeper root systems (cutting them off puts them into instant withdrawal - I saw a local council do this to some 100+ year old elm trees and the results weren't good, although they eventually pulled through); and
- be honest and recognise that you are in a drought and act accordingly.

I also have to keep a massive reserve on hand for fire fighting purposes so I can't use all of the stored water even if I really had to. There are lots of uncertainties.

By the way Sydney just had its hottest day ever today!

I'm interested to hear what you and other people do with your gardens in a drought?



Joseph Nemeth said...

Contemplation of personal death is a good suggestion. I've done that for a decade, and as a result, I'm having some difficulties with this discussion.

Post-collapse generations will understand their conditions to be "normal.” Yes, they won't have oil -- they won't have any use for it, either. Yes, they'll have nuclear waste to deal with -- they'll post areas as "haunted" and stay away, or the shamans will organize bioremediation based on ancient lore, or they'll just live on top of them and die young. Yes, the globe will be warmer, with consequent weather anomalies, and people will migrate, as they have been doing for at least 100,000 years. In short -- they'll be fine: poor, by our standards, but not by theirs.

This whole "crisis" is strictly about us. The trust-fund babies. The Civilized. The Disappointed.

But in a century, WE will all be dead, even the infants born this morning. In a century, the imperial catabolism won't be entirely over, but it will be well enough along that the slope to the bottom will no longer be precipitous. People will no longer be looking over a cliff. They may even be looking up again.

Presuming that we don't do something inexcusably stupid as a species -- like global thermonuclear war and another Permian-level extinction -- this entire discussion spans only the next century before The Disappointed are buried along with their unrealistic expectations.

So I'm having real trouble with the sense of urgency: this idea that we “have to DO something.” Why do we have to do anything at all?

As an actor in a play, I'd be demanding to know my motivation.

The advice I offered my own sons when then wanted to know what they should do with their lives is that everything is in flux, so any fixed advice I give them about anything is guaranteed only to be unreliable. I told them that every downturn is the dark side of an opportunity, and that they had no choice in the world that was coming but to learn to spot the opportunities. One son has a college degree, the other has a 1.2 GPA from high school. They're both standing on their own feet, and doing well for themselves.

Rely on your wits. Play to your strengths. Be observant. Be objective. Be flexible. Be honest in your dealings, and proud of your work. Thrive and find happiness.

It's for them to adapt to their own future as it actually comes to pass. I've already passed on the best of my advice, and they seem to have taken it. I'll do the same for grandkids, when the time comes.

I can't see saddling any of them with a 1000 square foot garden any more than I'd saddle them with the idea they need to get a good job, join a union, and ride it to the gold watch. It seems wrong to me. It isn't that the 1000 square foot garden is wrong -- it might be just the right thing. But they could just as easily join a farming collective or a quasi-military religious cult as the empire winds down. That's their choice to make. If they thrive and find happiness, I don't care.

I can't see most of this discussion as anything more than how The Disappointed want to spend the rest of their own lives. Personally, I have a job that pays well, doing something I enjoy, telecommuting, working with people whose abilities I respect. It could all vanish tomorrow. I've been through that. It is in fact depressing -- like locusts or dust bowls. Advice to myself: rely on your wits. Etc.

My biggest personal concern is not survival, but end-of-life. We're dealing with that now with the previous generation, and the government dole for advanced elders is already mean-spirited, and not even particularly frugal. I expect that to only get worse. Which means I'll probably have to take my ending into my own hands. It's terrifying to me to watch how the really old people lose their minds, memory by memory, and how the US American Self-Reliance narrative plays out for them.

So -- I'd appreciate an article on motivations.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- 2/15/2012, about 30 comments in. You assured me that we'd get there, and I've been patiently reading along ever since. And about 48 posts later, here we are! A lesson in the value of taking the long view... even when reading blogs. Alas, your answer was "very few examples, and not very likely this time."

John Michael Greer said...

Nuku, for someone who claims not to follow a religious path, you certainly sound like you're quoting the one set out by one Siddhartha Gautama...

Glenn, exactly. Ten years from now you could have much more effective wealth than somebody who's a paper millionaire today.

Leo, statistics being what they are, I don't propose to guess.

Roy, so noted.

Joseph, it's an interesting point. I'd challenge your claim, though, that it's all about us. Right now we have access to an unimaginable wealth of information and other resources, most of which will likely be lost forever a century or two from now, and a significant part of which could provide crucially important options for people in the deindustrial future. Our actions today can play a major part in determining whether, say, ecology, or the printing press, or handloom weaving, or any number of other options makes it through the bottleneck of the present and near future. That's why the project I've been outlining all this time has two sides: the first is to find ways to weather the storm we're going to have to face, the second is to try to anticipate what skills and resources might give people in the future options they will need or want, and explore means of getting those things to them.

Bill, got it. I had quite a bit of research still ahead of me 11 months ago; at this point I'm fairly confident of the answer.

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...

Greetings from a snowbound Wales.

A few inches of snow fell overnight; a Russian, or the Yanquis, wouldn't worry about it in the least, but it's sufficient to overwhelm our creaking national infrastructure. Roads, are closed all over southern Britain, and we're being warned not to travel unless it's an emergency. This happens every so often; every time, the question is asked as to why we don't improve our roads, invest in more snowploughs, and so on. The answer is alway the same: it's too expensive, we can't afford it…

This week, there's been outrage in the media. One of our national supermarket chains had its cheapest frozen beefburgers tested, and they were found to be 29% horsemeat. Well, you'd think it was a national disaster from the outcry. However, as one of our more prominent food critics pointed out: if you're paying only a pound for a packet of burgers, you take what you're given and like it. After all, burger-munchers are, by the very act, choosing to eat lips, genitalia, eyelids, and the sweepings from the abattoir floor; horsemeat (generally accepted to be very healthy meat) is raising the quality substantially. However, it's easier to be sentimental about poor old Dobbin than to finally address the issue of what cheap, industrial meat products actually involve. There, in a nutshell, is our current national awareness of our lifestyle's real nature. Ho hum.

Elsewhere, a tsunami is in the making. French troops have arrived in Mali to assist the local army against the Islamists who have taken over half of the country. Unnoticed by most - after all, Lance Armstrong was about to appear on Oprah! - the French report that the Islamists are far better-trained and better-armed than expected, and must be considered a professional army. No surprise; many of them are Tuareg who had gone to Libya and joined Gadaffi's army. It turns out that despite his eccentricities, his army was actually rather good. When he fell, they grabbed every arsenal they could find, and went back to Mali, with the results we are only just beginning to comprehend. The national army of Mali, by the way, is on the verge of complete collapse.

As a commentator wrote about this in one of the papers: the Islamists now control large areas of the Sahara - and the Sahara is a sea, one through which they can travel at will, from the Atlantic coast in Morocco, to the Mediterranean via Algeria and Libya, and to the Red Sea through Egypt. And they will. As I write, jihadis are fighting through the burning remains of one of Algeria's oil wells; the total shutdown of Algeria's oil industry is on the cards if the companies decide to pull out their foreign workers. Remember the spike in oil prices during the Libyan revolution? I bet the Islamists do, and I have no doubt that what's going on today in Algeria will see a repeat in Libya before long. In this situation, they are TE Lawrence, and we are the Turks; they are the Fremen, and it's we who are the Harkonnens… I don't find this a comfortable feeling.

A slice here, a slice there… each one makes the global empire bleed a bit more.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi bcwoodcarver,

Yeah, Sepp Holzer walks the talk and from video footage I've seen the property looks pretty amazing. I respect the guy and his works and it truly is an awesome design. Unfortunately, one of the few things we have common in terms of environment is that we're both on the side of a mountain, other than that it's apples vs oranges.

Hi Robert,

Yeah, the hypothesis fits the facts in a most disturbing way. It doesn't paint a good picture of the future either. Youth unemployment may be a good litmus test? I've read that in Greece and Spain both it now exceeds 50%.

As to Japan, I dunno. The government there has debt that is equal to 240% of GDP. It is one of the highest in the Industrial world. I read this week that the government in Japan is about to embark on a massive series of infrastructure projects to boost the ailing economy all funded by printed money. Printing money is a huge boost for Japanese exporters. However, given most of their energy is sourced externally, then devaluing the currency is a double edged sword for them, and like the US (or indeed even the UK) it is a strategy that can only be pursued for so long. You’ll be happy to note that we’ve started the process here too.

It is not the size of the debt, but the gamble that your creditors won't call your bluff and exercise control over the asset. There is an old adage that says, "whomever controls the debt, controls the asset". This is particularly relevant to the US situation.

The main ecological difference between Japan and the UK is forest cover. Japan has a lot higher percentage of forest cover than the UK and for many historical reasons may not be willing to compromise on this issue. In fact, their culture and history may indeed favour reducing the human population over deforestation? Dunno, only time will tell.

The UK on the other hand, has large tracts of arable land which are held by very few people that may quickly be turned to appropriate agricultural pursuits. Legal ownership of an asset is no guarantee of the continued enjoyment of that asset and such change occurrences are not unknown in history. Again, I dunno but I wouldn't want to be a foreigner testing out that particular hypothesis in Japan.

Hi Juhana,

The Green Wizards forum is probably the appropriate place to start a discussion thread? The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia also hosts a forum and I’ve found that is quite an active forum too. Please let me know when and where you’ve started a discussion.

Hi Leo,

Well done, that is a good effort.



nuku said...

JMG, Yes, my quotes were from the Buddhist tradition, but they were intended only as one response to the original post regarding contemplation of one’s death, not as an endorsement of a religious path.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks. As they say here, "it is as clear as mud"! I just don't quite understand why it is not being shouted from the rooftops by the impacted individuals. Magic, I guess, maybe? The individuals end up blaming themselves and their lack of status becomes a source of embarrassment to them? Dunno.

I was a victim of the recession back in 1992 - the recession we had to have, they tell me - and it just left me with the determination not to be in the same situation in the future. Perhaps, I was younger and angrier back then?

However, as Phil Harris pointed out late last week, we need a few more further studies and some better computer modelling, maybe a focus group or two and then we can probably think about perhaps making a plan to take some appropriate action. (PS: I'm being humorous, just in case). He made an excellent and serious point about avoidance through actions (the plan to make a plan, I call it).

By the way, I'm reading a delightful book by the English writer Craig Hughes called, "How to make cider, mead, perry and fruit wines". You can tell what my new hobby is! There is one sentence that made me laugh and almost spit my coffee all over the book in reaction. It is in the section about making scrumpy (which is a very basic apple cider) under the method caption:

"Keep the same grey underwear on at all times. If your wife asks any questions tell her the voices told you to do it."

Great instructions, as the overall intention was to make the wife believe that you'd gone bonkers to keep her off the end product!

On a serious note it is a really excellent back to absolute basics book on the subject.



Jeffrey said...

I was thinking how this long descent affects generations. Most of us, baby boomers, are within our lifetimes shifting quite radically from an entitled affluence to incorporating what this blog teaches. But the generation emerging, who from the start experience the decline directly, do not have to be weaned from a mythology of entitlement. How many young generation Y's are even reading this blog for example. As we try to shift gears isn't there an emerging generation already more adapted than we may assume? Not in the skills category but in being psychologically prepared?

Joseph Nemeth said...

Okaaay... That reminds me of an old game I saw back in the 1970's (or thereabouts), the Ten Books Game. Your name is Adam and you're headed off to a lush island with someone named Eve, where the two of you are going to reboot civilization after the rest of the world burns up in a nuclear conflagration. You get to take ten books with you. What ten books would you choose?

I've never particularly liked the game, because you have to make so many arbitrary assumptions about the future.

For instance, have you read any of Hank Wesselman's books? (e.g. Spiritwalker). Brief synopsis: he has a visionary experience in which he finds himself inside the head of a distant descendant some 5000 years in the future. It's a good read. In that future, the remaining residents of North America (or the part the story takes place in) are nomadic hunter/gatherers.

Nomads don't like "stuff" because it has to be moved around. Every bit of "stuff" is kept to a minimum. Valued items are stories and lore that can be committed to memory. They aren't going to haul ten books around -- it will be more like one book, if that. Projecting a nomadic society presupposes one set of valuable technologies, and moveable-type printing is not in that set.

A gift economy -- particularly if it interlinks different tribal groups -- presupposes a different set of technologies. Items of value are things that can be given away, or that produce things that can be given away, because the unit of exchange is the social obligation created by acceptance of the gift. One-of-a-kind items, like books, require care and maintenance, but provide no economic benefit because -- being one-of-a-kind -- they can't really be given away: they're too valuable, and incur too much social debt if accepted. Their perceived value would be in helping people produce stuff that can be given away.

A high-tech police-state dystopia requires yet a different set of technologies. Personally, I don't think we'll be rid of either energy profligacy or high technology for centuries to come -- it will simply contract to smaller and smaller groups. This came up in Michael Ruppert's "Confronting Collapse" -- the question is, how long could we sustain our current standard of living in a world of only two billion? Or two hundred million? His dark suggestion is that the First World would be happy to see, say, India and China implode, and might even give it a little push in that direction. But aside from that kind of (justifiable) paranoia, the rapid separation of the haves from the have-nots already rations goods and services, and it's very likely it will come to where one percent of the global population (or less) has access to technology and energy, and the rest don't. That's currently the norm in Third World countries.

A frontier-style 1800's US America requires yet a different set of technologies.

John Michael Greer said...

Carp, here in one of the poorer parts of the US, the county government has done the sensible thing and purchased snowplow blades that can be bolted onto the front of every pickup in the county engineering department. When snow starts falling, county employees pile into the pickups and start driving all the main streets and a lot of the minor ones, scraping the snow before it has a chance to build up. It's cheap and fairly effective -- and of course you won't catch any of the wealthier counties in the state, or the region, doing it.

As for the so-called "Islamists" -- what an ugly neologism! -- they know they're the Fremen; Dune has been a bestseller in the Arab world for decades, and I suspect it's had a fairly large influence.

Nuku, fair enough. I'd point out that most other religious traditions have equally valid resources for facing death.

Cherokee, excellent. I've argued more than once that learning how to brew alcoholic beverages gives you something to barter in even the most apocalyptic times.

Jeffrey, good question. I've encountered some teens and 20-somethings who get it, but a lot more who have an epic sense of entitlement, and brush aside any suggestion that they might not be able to have all the toys they happen to want. We'll see how that plays out.

Joseph, that's why I've been arguing all along for a strategy of dissensus, with different individuals and groups choosing different things to try to hand on to the future. Of course we can't know in advance what will be best suited to the future, though there are some generalities that are probably safe bets. The important thing, as I see it, is to maximize the range of options open to our descendants, so that they will have plenty to work with as they get to work building the successor societies that will rise out of the ruins of our age.

Lee said...

@ Joseph
“This whole "crisis" is strictly about us. The trust-fund babies. The Civilized. The Disappointed.”

Occasionally I wake up in the morning and wonder why I should trouble myself with the deindustrial future. I made the decision, in my early 20s, to not have children. The notion of a future with no fossil fuels, limited resources, and global warming had nothing to do with my decision (I was not even aware of these issues). Now, 20+ years later and hopefully more enlightened, I know that I made the correct personal choice. I will not have great, great....great-grandchildren trying to thrive and find happiness. So why bother myself?

I think you are correct. At the very basic level it is about us. How do we want to be remembered? What legacy to we want to leave for the deindustrial future? We all must find our own motivations.

I am constantly looking for ways to minimize my impact on the environment. When I get to my last days, I want to be able to say I was part of the solution, not part of the problem.

"Rely on your wits. Play to your strengths. Be observant. Be objective. Be flexible. Be honest in your dealings, and proud of your work. Thrive and find happiness."

This is probably the best advice I have ever heard. I would only add; respect the environment.

"So I'm having real trouble with the sense of urgency: this idea that we “have to DO something.” Why do we have to do anything at all?"

I cannot remember who first said it, but it’s worth repeating. “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

Frank Hemming said...

In reply to Lizzy, who wonders how she’ll manage with using wood for heating. I suggest making a thorough job of insulating and draught proofing first and sticking with the fossil fuels for now. It’s very important to minimise the wood used. John in Cape Charles has pointed out how the Greek poor are cutting down national forests. Burning wood is also a source of carbon dioxide emissions as much as fossil fuels.

Barncat has suggested rocket stoves. This seems like an excellent approach to reduce the use of wood fuel, but in Britain you have to ignore Building Inspectors who will not approve them.

I have built a tiny straw bale house heated by a very small wood stove.
I’m considering a small rocket stove, as even with a small woodstove the house can overheat as it’s so well insulated.

Joseph Nemeth said...

Ah! Now THAT makes perfect sense to me!

phil harris said...

@ Cherokee
Chris - thanks for complimentary references. Hope the home-brew is working as it should.
You could be a touch optimistic about the UK though. We only managed >7M hectares in cultivation in WWII and that was a stretch. A more sustainable number might be 6.3M ha which works out at 10 of our persons per hectare or 4 per acre. Rough grazing and grouse moors (international rich people and clients) over 600 feet are, well, just that. A bit of regrowth of natural forest and wildlife on the uplands would not go amiss, but would not provide much in the way of human fodder.

Robert said...

@Carp I think there's no question the Islamists in North Africa are the Fremen and they will outlast the Empire. Theirs is a brutal society by the standards of the metropolitan countries but it is configured to survive the shocks of the Long Descent much better than ours.

Grebulocities said...

I'm 23 and I read this blog. I think a few more of us young folks came out of the woodwork over the past couple of weeks. But it does seem to me that the vast majority of the readership of the peak oil sites I've been to are at least middle-aged, if not older. I wonder why this is...

I haven't run into many people my age who have any inkling of what is unfolding; then again, I haven't run into many older people who do either. It could be that the concept that modern society will undergo a slow, relentless decline is especially troubling to those of us who may well see the next 50-70 years of the process.

After spending most of my thinking life as a scientifically inclined techno-optimist with the view that long-term progress is inevitable, I spent most of 2012 examining this worldview, finding that it did not fit the evidence, and breaking down my old ways of thinking. It's been a really painful process - the closest thing I've ever known to losing faith in a religion. I have found it even harder to change my habits, which I have so far made little progress on. I certainly understand why most of Generation Y hasn't yet woken up to humanity's predicament.

Ray Wharton said...

I saw it mentioned in the comments at least once that there has been a bit of a mood shift this year. It seems to me that a much larger minority of people consider persistent decline as a basically sure thing compared to last year at this time. I have been noticing in particular alot of baby boomers I have meet expressing a bit of buyers remorse about their choice to "buy in" when younger. Even a general mood of feeling that something should be done, and they are ready to do something... if only they knew what.

Maybe its the people I have been meeting recently, but even just talking up strangers the mood is different, varied, but a different blend than before, far less faith in recovery or progress than a year ago.

I regularly use posts from The Archdruid Report as reading material to sync up with people who are interested in starting to talk about what is to come. Some people want to take action, and I feel like an impromptu school of skill sharing could happen soon, but right now the leads are like many threads of gossamer, so who knows what will be the option of choice next month.

It feels like a density of people which makes possible group action (sharing sparerooms, ride share clubs, skill share classes, improving gardens, accumulating resources for salvage economic institutions) is getting close. This new demographic knows that they will have to deal with a future on a bumpy downward road. I think alot of good could come from it, though it will be slow hard work.

Farka said...

Thought-provoking post as usual. One thing that strikes me: everything you say about the course of the US economy applies equally and simultaneously to Britain, even though it lost its empire decades earlier. I suppose - following up on your "empire of time" idea, or on the better-known notion of the resource curse - you could identify North Sea oil as having had much the same effect as imperial tribute. But even so, important details seem somehow culture-specific; Norway or Qatar don't have a lot of manufacturing (and have a good deal more oil wealth per capita coming in), but still don't seem to go in for the extravagant speculative investment of New York or London.

Also, on a more pernickety note: Dune hasn't even been translated into Arabic as far as I can tell, and I've never seen it in any bookstore in the Arab world (where science fiction has never really taken off much anyway). You're probably thinking of Huntingdon's Clash of Civilizations, which has sold rather well in translation in the Arab world, somewhat to the author's shock.

Lumen Peto said...
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Bill Pulliam said...

OK, JMG, I have to call you on something. I had to go look up "Fremen," having never been interested in the Dune franchise even back when everyone else I knew was reading it. So I gotta confront you with this:

Why is it that the pop culture from your youth and early adulthood can be a source of archetypes and insight, but the pop culture of the present-day is all vapid, worthless, and best avoided? Note I do not mean why has pop culture gotten worse (this is highly debatable, as here has been tons of extremely vapid pop culture my entire life, and you and I are about the same age). I mean why do you personally reject everything post-1985 when you eagerly embrace significant items that came before then? This is especially puzzling to me given that the "spirit of dissensus" is actually more alive now than possibly ever before in mass culture. Sure the same ridiculous trends dominate the bulk (and have for much longer than just the last couple of decades), but the volume of material and the routes for disseminating it are so vastly enormous now that there is in fact a phenomenal diversity of physical, audio, and visual media out there for those who make even the modest effort to seek it out. And exposure to media does not automatically make people into mindless drooling slugs glued to Honey Boo Boo. Many folks manage to explore the vast ocean in moderation and come across some truly remarkable things, as well as a wide variety of pretty high-quality entertainment floating amidst the pablum.

Richard Larson said...

Just reading this and other similarly themed blogs is in essence doing something.

Having experience in sales, it is amazing how those who put up the most fight in an argument against your position, flip positions only because the confrontation having lead to studying the issue more deeply.

Keeping in touch with this line of reasoning is important.

However, thinking about it is only the first step. Again, what is one to do? I have markedly reduced my fuel burning and am now growing a large amount of the food we consume. Thanks to having a clear mind on the topic at hand. Thanks again.

Mean Mr Mustard said...


Regarding the production of booze as an enduring occupation - Mrs Mustard has long been the youngest in our village winemakers club, average age there maybe 70, perhaps reflecting a more austere time when people did do more things for themselves.

Clearly there is some skill involved - she now turns out wines that pass on blind tastings within that select group as commercial offerings - not sure if that's good or bad.

The ’barriers to entry’ are low - for now - it only takes a few plastic bottles, sundry equipment, a packet of yeast and some fruit juice, and away you go.

Meanwhile, our caring Government are soon to raise the minimum price per unit of alcohol to prevent the lower orders from descending into disorderly conduct, motivated it seems by something like the Victorian fear of Mother’s Ruin gin, or temperance societies and prohibitionists in the US…



John Michael Greer said...

Frank, that's always excellent advice. "Weatherize before you solarize" was how we said it back in the day. Congrats on the straw bale house!

Joseph, funny, it makes just as much sense to me, too. ;-)

Grebulocities, it is losing faith in a religion. Belief in progress is the established religion of our culture. I suspect a lot of people are going to have to confront that loss of faith in the years immediately ahead of us; I hope more members of your generation are among the next wave, since they're going to have to confront the approaching crises head on.

Ray, this is fascinating to hear. If the shift continues, there may be a good deal that can be accomplished -- including some things that I, at least, had written off as probably out of reach.

Farka, no, I'm not thinking of Huntingdon. I've read repeated claims that Dune has become an underground bestseller in the Arab world. If that's not true, I'll have to poke around and see if I can figure out where those stories came from.

Bill, if you go back through past posts you'll find that I routinely cite such bits of current pop culture as come to my attention -- e.g., the Kardashians, science fiction novels by Neal Stephenson, etc. -- as sources of metaphors. I tend to borrow older bits of pop culture as a metaphor source more often, simply because I don't follow contemporary pop culture. I discussed in a post a while back why I think it's a good idea to bail out of contemporary pop culture altogether, and the reasons for it aren't the ones you've just cited -- oddly, you seemed to get that in your comments to that earlier post. Nor do I think that the pop culture of our youth was much better -- again, don't mistake a source of convenient metaphors for any broader approval; I'll no doubt keep on making fun of the Kardashians, but that hardly means I think highly of Kardashian-watching as a pursuit, you know.

Richard, the only reason I'm slow to suggest reading a blog as a form of action is that a lot of people seem to think that reading blogs, and posting comments on them, is all the action they need to do.

Mustard, please pass on my congratulations to your wife! Making decent wine takes practice and the ability to learn, which are not the most common qualities these days.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG - I dunno, I just read through that comment thread again and I thought I was making the same points about pop culture that I just made here. Not really something that needs to be dragged out at length. Really, it was just the irony of having to look up pop-culture references being made by someone who has advised tuning out of pop culture!

Myriad said...

"...If people can handle [discussion of magic], they might be able to handle a discussion of nature worship, experiential polytheism, and why the notion that religion is about having the right opinions about unknowable issues is among the most thoroughly exploded of all hypotheses around just now."

Since it appears no one else has nibbled at that bait, I just want to let you know that I would be very interested in such a discussion.

My own practical interest in religious common ground has taught me to approach religion as a triad consisting of shared interdependent narratives, practices, and experiences, all of approximately equal importance. Whenever the argument becomes about the objective truth of narratives, both sides are probably missing the point (and wasting their time). Common ground is found primarily among experiences and practices. When it comes to narratives, belief is overrated, while understanding and emotional acceptance are underrated.

This applies to a vast array of systems of practice going well beyond what's usually considered religion. Skepticism, positivism, conspiracism, nationalism, military traditions, a panoply of political ideologies, even brand-named self-help and salesmanship methods, are all better understood as systems incorporating narratives, practices, and experiences. (I use the phrase "systems of practice" because "belief systems" is so inadequate and misleading.)

Aided by this understanding I've been able to have, without disguising or misrepresenting my own positions, respectful and productive discussions about religion on fundamentalists' forums, skeptics' forums, mystics' forums, and of course, here.

Still, I find the common ground I've explored to be rather lonesome. I'm grateful that many have been willing to visit, but almost no one else calls it home.

So I have to wonder what it means for a hypothesis to be "thoroughly exploded" when billions of people are still clinging to it for dear life.

Lumen Peto said...
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Dwig said...

I'm a week late with this, but since the competition for good engineering ideas will be going on for a while, I'll ask your indulgence:

I was interested, and occasionally fascinated, with the wealth of possibilities folks are investigating -- dissensus rampant!

One thing that bothered me, though. I had the feeling that the various contributions rested on just as various a set of assumptions about the intended context of the contribution. I'd like to offer a draft taxonomy of contexts, in the form of the following dimensions:

- Time: In what sere or seres will this technology be useful? (Here I'm referring to John Michael's earlier posts about the "stages" of decline.)
- Scale: is this intended to be widely deployed and adopted, or is it a special-purpose solution intended for a limited scale?
- ROI: looking at the technology itself, and also what it might replace or offset, plus the indirect costs, what is the expected return on investment?
- Development stage: commercially proven vs. beta (prototype deployment by intended users) vs. alpha (early prototype only deployed "internally" by the developers) vs. research prototype (proof of concept) vs. theory vs. "gleam in the eye".

I'm envisioning that a taxonomy of this general kind could help to organize the contributions, and also possibly to expose "holes", places in the taxonomy that don't seem to have attracted any interest.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Lee, the quote at the end of your post is from Rabbi Hillel, who died in Jerusalem when Jesus was a boy.

The full quote is, "If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?"

Another famous Hillel quotation: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.  That is the whole law and the rest but its exposition."

If the latter quotation sounds like a version of the Golden Rule, it's no coincidence. R. Hillel had a large and respectful following during his lifetime and after his death. If Jesus was hanging out with teachers of the Law, he probably would have heard Hillel's saying and the story that goes with it. 

Ray Wharton said...

Things you thought of as out of reach? That is a tantalizing thing to say.

Its a small minority, but if you think of a city of 50,000 (for example) even a tiny tiny fraction of folks willing to put in a decent amount of work could lay the foundations for some pretty swanky stuff.

The connection I am trying to make is between some of the more aware people of my age group, (young adults) especially the ones who have been thrown under the bus already and have little to lose or are smart enough to realize that there current free ride on that very bus expires soon, and those of the baby boomer generation who are tried to do something in their youth, but spend 30-40 years sucked into American life without an empowered narrative strong enough to pull them out.

Many of the people who were most aware in the '60s and '70s never forgot, they just lost their map, but current events are re-radicalizing them. Potentially this could manifest nationally as any number of odd duck political movements; on the other hand tied to local direct action, especially in the form of a school of mentorship, some of the people from that generation could offer real guidance and support to the young adults of today. Some baby boomers don't expect to live long enough into the decline to be there for the point in the collapse where they feel like there is concrete action. Maybe the true earth shaking changes that rattle the last doubt is beyond their life expectancy, but my generation will live to see a very different world, or die along the way before our golden years. So living baby boomers, with any meager material surplus could patron or mentor a few youths, giving them a ripening into the best Green Wizards they can be.

The bridges of trust will be the hard to build, but a few good people on each side in a region could start that work today... or if we're lucky they did starting some months or years ago.

SophieGale said...

@Bill Pulliam

Bill, I think I'm with you on this one. I have thought for a while that turning a blind eye/deaf ear to contemporary pop culture is a weakness in this otherwise weekly, must-read meeting of minds. For the record, I'm a decade older than JMG, but my Facebook friends (yes, I said it!)range from their mid-twenties to mid-seventies. Sampling contemporary pop culture keeps my mind flexible and gives me connections with kids I'd never meet in "the real world."

Weeknights I listen to classical music, Saturday night I listen to goth! And both are good and highly pleasurable. I like Lady Gaga (although "Gaga" was my childhood name for my great-grandmother, so I iz sometimes confused)! I like PBS documentaries and Castle (goofy, romantic murder mystery) and Grimm (oddball monster mash). I read economics, early Christian history, and sexy space opera--and The Archdruid Report. And my body may be getting slow and stiff, but, Goddess willing, my mind will stay supple.

Blockhill (NZ) said...

JMG I have enjoyed reading about the decline of the US empire and watching with morbid curiosity from the outside here in New Zealand.

I would very much like to know how you think the changes you discuss will impact prospects for the tribute nations and countries that have for so long looked at the US as something to emulate.


Richard Larson said...

"Richard, the only reason I'm slow to suggest reading a blog as a form of action is that a lot of people seem to think that reading blogs, and posting comments on them, is all the action they need to do."

Indeed. I think your blog straddles different folks on many levels of understanding and wonder if you are having this positive effect across the spectrum. For what it is worth, you have helped motivate me to keep working at it.

I have taken to exchanging thrift shop bought (affordable to nearly everyone) water containers between the frozen outdoors and my fridge. I will take back the savings in the summer to keep my fresh caught fish fresh!

Now that is doing something!

Frank Hemming said...

Thanks JMG for your appreciation of the straw bale house. For the benefit of people in England, a house in the garden is acceptable to planners as long as whoever lives in it is part of the same household as the main house, and the house in the garden is sufficiently small obeying the same rules as a garden shed for planning purposes.

For the home brew enthusiasts, this video shows our shared cider making.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Hello to JMG and greetings to all,

Too busy working on projects to comment meaningfully! Am reading, though --as usual, great, thought provoking stuff from both JMG and commenters.


Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Cherokee Organics,

Hi Chris, have been following weather in Oz -- glad you are ok and coping!

I am learning how to propagate Osage orange: good hedgerow trees, and seem resistant to herbicide drift from neighboring industrial farm fields. Will start first experiment this spring (when you should be cooling down a little, I hope).


Elizabeth H said...

JMG, I am writing to thank you for your writing. A friend sent me links to the most excellent writings you offered this past December on democracy. I very much appreciated you nailing the extent to which phatic communication enters into this country’s troubling incapacity to have reasonable debates.
I was kicked off a well-read progressive site’s comment threads last summer for challenging people’s “warm-fuzzy”/”cold-prickly” associations when it comes to education, and having the nerve to say that progressives must listen respectfully to people outside their strict orthodoxy—that is, if we hope to get some traction going in breaking the Pepsi/Coke choices we are met with each election year.

Perhaps even more importantly, you grasp the tools necessary to build a functioning democracy. I teach freshman English as an adjunct at local colleges, and have begun all my classes with your excellent “Consuming Democracy,” “Producing Democracy,” and “Enacting Democracy” essays this semester. I have found nothing else that so succinctly and accessibly explains what is necessary in a society’s education in order for an effective democracy to flourish, which has been a focus of the readings I assign to my classes for some years.

The first problem I must address in these classes is that many students, particularly those who have recently been freed from the high schools, are incapable of having discussions about anything more controversial than their consumer fetishes. In fact, the schools have by and large insulated our young people from knowing that issues of pressing concern even exist—try suggesting that the US is an empire to most in this country, let alone that it is a crumbling one—and they will think you’re a dangerous extremist. The schools assure them with myths of progress and exceptionalism, all while ignoring the practical skills our young people will likely need to survive.

I also much appreciated that your essays took an even-handed approach and did not throw cold-pricklies at the right. Students who have picked up right-wing viewpoints complain that many teachers shut them down, and even grade them down, for expressing opinions unfriendly to their teachers’ POV. This clearly has the opposite effect these teachers seem to hope for: their students stop listening, and become even more closed to ideas outside their fuzzy understandings than before. But what do they expect when they assume the mantle of the autocrat?

You are entirely correct in saying that dialectic and rhetoric must be taught, and seldom are. As I’m sure you know, the ancient Greeks and Romans required all citizens to study the trivium so they could participate in the political process. In our schooling system, borrowed from the Prussians and elaborated upon by the behaviorists, the trivium has been abandoned—even grammar has been confused with “whole-word” theories of reading and “new math,” so that college students characteristically cannot do long division and get sleepy when they try to read. One could say a spell has been cast. I have trouble finding it a mere coincidence that like Prussia, the US has become a military with a country rather than a country with a military.

In presenting your writing, I took the liberty of cutting all mention of Druidry and a few opinions that I predicted might prompt an emotional rejection in the students. Once we have finished discussing the readings, I will introduce them to The Archdruid Report and the full range of your interests, which will hopefully jar their assumptions a tad. So again, thank you for your work; I am presently working through the archives and am most impressed.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, I've savored the irony myself from time to time. Still, the point that I've been trying to make about pop culture is not that it's pablum -- it's that huge corporations are spending billions of dollars a year, backed by a couple of generations of increasingly sophisticated research into the psychology of marketing, to use the pablum in question to furnish the inside of your head with stuff that makes it harder for you to think clearly about some very important issues. That's the basis of my suggestion that modern pop culture is best avoided -- not that it's trash, but that it's thaumaturgy.

Myriad, any thorough response to your question would take a post to itself. I'll keep the theme in mind for future posts.

Lumen, not so. Take a look at the statistics for income distribution in the US between 1928, the last full year before the Great Depression, and 1940, when it had more or less run its course. The fraction of the nation's wealth owned by the wealthiest Americans dropped like a rock over that 12 year period -- demonstrating that, while all classes lost ground, the rich got hit proportionally harder than anybody else.

Dwig, this is good. Would you like to write up a more extensive discussion of the issues involved? A paper like that might be worth including in the anthology!

Ray, do it. That sounds like a very worthwhile project indeed.

Blockhill, that's a very difficult question to answer. Some tributary nations (for example, Israel and Taiwan) will probably go down in flames. Some (for example, Japan and Britain) will likely face long rough transitions with a lot of impoverishment and social turmoil, Some (for example, Canada and Australia) will probably transfer their allegiance gracefully to the next imperial overlord, the way they did when the US took over from Britain, and may get by just fine. New Zealand? Heck of a good question, though I'm guessing the latter camp.

Richard, and something tasty, too.

Frank, thanks for the link!

Adrian, thank you.

Elizabeth, I'm delighted. Thank you for passing that on!

Lumen Peto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
flameinbloom said...

Regarding the discussions of young people--I'm 26 and I find that the majority of my peer group sees the necessity of lowering our environmental impact and is aware of the fact that we will not be facing an adulthood that our parents and grandparents did. So many of us have college degrees and no full-time work. In the city I live in, many twenty-somethings are opting to bike instead of ride cars. And I can't even tell you how many twenty-somethings have expressed to me a desire to learn to farm or garden, out of some strange collecting understanding that knowing how to do these things will matter to us in our future. I see that eating organic is sort of faddish these days, but I can't imagine the percentage of twenty-year-olds proudly canning or growing food crops in the windows of their apartments or expressing interest in taking some of my worms for their composting use ten years ago.

We are already observing the breakdowns of the promises we had been given as children. Our parents are being laid off at the same time that there are no openings for recent graduates, and we know that we have to move in a different direction.

siddrudge said...

JMG- It's all about 'looking back' isn't it?

I listened to a recent interview you gave on the Druidcast where you mentioned that you spend a great deal of time doing "intellectual dumpster diving" (LOL!) And I thank you for that, as I think all readers of this blog benefit when you present us with another one of those proverbial "babies" thrown out with the bath water of yesteryear.

In the software development field I am presently working in, there is an interesting term I keep bumping into: "regression testing." It's basically a process that measures what's been lost.

As a user interface designer I often find myself having to scold the young propeller head programmers who, in their haste to launch flashy new features, have forgotten to test how their 'progress' will get along with what's been working just fine without it.

In short, I've become an advocate for the human part of online transactions-- the often forgotten 'warmware' part of the software/hardware relationship. So if you're able to get through any online (or even an ATM) transaction, quickly and without any confusion, you can thank someone like me. ( but you can hold your applause, as I do this job holding my nose and with some reluctance because I consider myself a sellout; a compromised artist; a disappointment to my muses--but, a steady paycheck for my loving domestic captors :-)

When first presented with the term "regression testing" it sort of grabbed at my throat and slapped me into a serious state of wistfulness.

If we only did more regression testing as individuals, as a society--as a species! Perhaps that's what evolution really is-an ongoing process of testing weakness and strengths.

From my little home office/studio here in rural New England, if I stretch my neck to look out over my big fat, 27" iMac monitor, I have a clear view of the headstones in an old historic family cemetery on a small hill just outside my window. I'm quite familiar with this old cemetery as I walk past it most every day. And its sort of a comfort for me to know that right outside my window is land that hasn't changed in centuries and will most likely remain untouched for some time.

Buried there more than 208 years ago, are two brothers aged 11 and 15 who died within two weeks of each other in the winter of 1805. I did some research and discovered that the winter of 1805 brought severe cold and a few blizzards.

Most likely, the bodies of those two boys (who both probably died of some terrible virus that was going around at the time) had to be kept above ground, perhaps in a barn, as the ground was frozen solid with at least a few feet of snow covering it.

How interesting that the grandfather of those boys, buried directly across from them, died 25 years later, in 1830 at 75 years of age. How could this man possibly have lived so long, in a world still ignorant of germ theory and pasteurization? In a world without electricity?

Through our 21st century eyes life back in 1805 New England looks impossibly harsh, but to folks back then I'm guessing they must have felt the same about their ancestors from Jamestown and Plymouth Colonies.

My little bit of research further informs me that the big breakthrough in 1805 New England was ice harvesting, which began to employ many farmers even in the dead of winter. They learned new skills which made it possible to tightly pack thick blocks of ice in sawdust within 'ice houses' which made ice available even in the 95 degree heat of summer. (take note Green Wizard Forum!)

So what have we gained- we with our marvelous healthcare systems, who've been conditioned to believe that we are just a sack of complicated chemical reactions that only a skilled physician could be trusted to figure out?

What have we gained? Perhaps in 200 years our post-industrial descendants will be forced to do some regression testing and decide that they're doing just fine without the burden of relentless progress.

Cherokee Organics said...


Hope you find this article to be quite interesting. I'd call it a no confidence vote:

Germany plans a golden withdrawal

Very interesting times!



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Phil,

Thanks, it was an excellent point that you made.

The home brew is going well so far with only one bad batch of wild plum wine. I usually pick wild plums in late December as fill for the apricot jam. This year however, there were so many plums on the trees that I thought, well, why not? To be brutally honest, it was a rough drink and the people (err, victims) who I road tested it on were less than impressed! They're a fickle lot as one bad batch...

As to the UK, well I reckon it is less in overshoot on an ecological front than Japan, but well, it is like the joke about being a little bit pregnant as you either are or you aren't and there is little middle ground. The UK horse meat debacle doesn't surprise me (I avoid unidentifiable meat products such as rissoles etc), but that is what you get when you are in overshoot.

Once a country is a net importer of food, you are really at the whims of the exporting country. For example, didn't Russia ban wheat exports after the last drought? It hasn't been reported on yet, but the wheat crops here will most certainly be affected by the drought and heatwave here. Yikes!

Hi Adrian,

Thanks. It is really smoky here today as there is a really big (about 60,000ha burnt so far 1ha = 2.47 acres) out of control fire a couple of hundred kilometres east of me which will almost certainly get into the Alpine National Park. Mind you, there's a grass fire burning under 40 kilometres due east of here right now which is not good either. The wind is blowing cooler from the South, although it is pushing it towards a housing estate at Kilmore. I'll post a photo to the Internet of the smoke over the next few days and leave a link to it. It is a day to day thing here.

The osage orange sounds like an incredibly useful tree. Hedgerows are a great idea and good for wind breaks and fencing animals (those thorns sound like an effective barrier).

I went picking seeds this afternoon for acacia melanoxylon (blackwood wattle) which will be used for continuing the boundary hedgerow which also contains oaks. Roll on autumn and winter!



John Michael Greer said...

Lumen, no, but then that wasn't what I was talking about in the first place, so you're kind of barking up the wrong stump.

Flame, that's very promising to hear.

Siddrudge, "regression testing" is a very useful concept! I'll have to look into it.

Cherokee, yes, I heard about that. The only way I can parse it is to assume that the German government realizes that the Euro is toast, and that a future German currency will have to be backed by something other than promises. If so, we may be closer to crunch time than I'd thought.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG and everyone,

As to current pop culture references, I've posted several links and they're always met with silence on the blog so it's probably not that big a deal.

Anyway, here's another pop culture link to an Australian hip hop artist singing about "nothing happened day" of all things. Hope you all enjoy it as it quite amusing and also relevant to the blog:

Chance Waters

You'll need to click on the Play button in the top right hand corner (look for the pink box) for the song, "Maybe tomorrow featuring Lilian Blue".

C'mon someone, somewhere should enjoy this cheeky song.

As an interesting side note, Frank Herbert author of the Dune series was good mates with Jack Vance. See, I even worked in a Jack Vance plug! That must be worth something.



Cherokee Organics said...


Yeah, I read it the same way, but I have been accused of cynicism in the past. The article was very cagey about timing for obvious reasons. Did you note that a withdrawal from France was also occurring? What was interesting was that they were leaving 13% in the Bank of England and 37% in the Federal Reserve (despite what the article says nothing comes for free). Again, I'm very cynical but 50% sounds like a less than arbitrary number to me and more like an negotiated cost. Dunno, it's probably nothing and doesn't mean anything but it is an interesting fact in itself.



Ruben said...


I think the definition of wealthy as being those with millions and billions is a little funny. And, there are so few of them I don't expect them to skew the future much.

Plenty of wealthy people in history started at a higher baseline and lost everything. Collapse and depressions don't just shave 10% off everybody, leaving the wealthy with 90% of a magnificent fortune. They can, and have, lose everything.

And, you may be assuming that "money" can buy whatever you want. This isn't always the case. "Money" can only buy what people are willing to sell.

But, as I noted recently, it may just be that we are all talking past each other--using the same words with different assumptions about their meaning. When I read Glenn's post, it sure looks to me like he is planning for a time when "money" will have very little currency, as has been the case through most of human history.

So the rich may have gold but, the occasional bottle of Goldschlager notwithstanding, gold makes mighty poor eating. Land may be only useful if you know how to work it, and growing your own nutrition is actually not that easy.

My assumption about this blog is that most of the readers put a much higher exchange rate on tools and skills than on gold and diamonds. With those assumptions, the rich look might poor.

Frank Hemming said...

Elizabeth H says, “You are entirely correct in saying that dialectic and rhetoric must be taught, and seldom are. As I’m sure you know, the ancient Greeks and Romans required all citizens to study the trivium so they could participate in the political process.”

Just how much did the Greek and Roman citizens participate in the political process?

When JMG was on holiday last year I read two books in the time I might have spent reading the Archdruid Report and comments. They were “The Greek Commonwealth” by Alfred Zimmern and “The City State of the Greeks and Romans” by W Warde Fowler. (freely available on line)

I read these books to try to answer some questions relevant to our own situation. The questions are:
Is it possible for democracy to thrive when fossil fuels are extremely limited?
What are the conditions for a successful democracy?
Why does a society allow itself to be ruled by an oligarchy?
Does oligarchic rule imply wealth for the few at the expense of impoverishment of the many?
If that is the case it is especially important to understand and promote democracy as a defence against elite rule.

This is what I learned from Alfred Zimmern. In the best days of Ancient Greek Democracy there was an extraordinary amount of active participation by citizens in decision making and administration even though most people were poor in a material sense. Many citizens were independent small farmers able to make independent judgements and not beholden to powerful people. Many farmers grew wheat or barley between widely spaced olive trees in a farming system that gave them free time to take part in politics between busy periods of sowing and harvest.

From Fowler I learned that at the time of the Roman Republic many Roman citizens were similar small farmers, but they left governance of a growing empire to an oligarchy of powerful (and skilled) administrators. As this elite gained wealth they dispossessed many small farmers creating large slave run farms and landless and powerless ex farmers swelling the numbers of Rome.

The lesson seems to be that awareness and the ability and willingness of citizens to participate democratically will be critically important in surviving the Long Descent.

phil harris said...

I hesitated a day before I submitted this.
Many of us seem to have found that reading and commenting on this blog can stir curious magic in ourselves. We could be of course ‘odd-bods’ in the first place for whatever reason, or could share something of the notorious loneliness attributed ‘chicken & egg’ to American ‘individualism’?
@Myriad tries to connect using internet discussion, itself an odd forum, between different sects and faiths by recognising common ground; quote: “My own practical interest in religious common ground has taught me to approach religion as a triad consisting of shared interdependent narratives, practices, and experiences, all of approximately equal importance”.
For reasons not entirely apparent this fired my own imagination. This is the first time I have committed a poem to the internet – hmmm ….
[I make an apology and hat-tip to @Myriad and a passing nod-apology to Robert Frost. Apologies all round.]

Religious Forum

Do we all build temples?
Is your mind like a steeple or bell-tower or, help us, a pyramid or a bronze horseman?
Where are you?
Can I find you in the travel library or are your tracks in the ancient treasure house that was Babel?
We pass over the confused snow trodden with our turbulent stories our milling hopes and lost expeditions as we walk past one another.
Do you carry a dead crow on a stick or tie feathers which shall move in the wind?
Who divines your intention?

My boundaries shift in grey January. The North European Plain has breathed well out to sea and early Dutch eyes painted our sky yesterday afternoon.
I think of birds feeding on our river and of our few woods and hedges filling with restless flocks and all that intelligence.
What news of you? Are your stars lost?
Where are the relevant tears? - So many queries and miles to go.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- Ah, I think I can put my finger on the bifurcation between you and me on this point. Of course one way to counter unwelcome thaumaturgy is to block it by separating yourself from it. But (and I'm sure I don't need to tell you this!), another way to disempower it is to be consciously aware of it and examine it. There is probably no better way to dash the intended effects of a thaumaturgic ritual (other than by not attending it at all) than by taking a step to the side and examining it -- why was that chant chosen, there's an interesting image, clearly this is drawn from such and such and is trying to put me in mental state X, etc. Magicians-in-training often fall into this trap unwillingly when participating in others rituals, and it very effectively prevents them from actually experiencing the intent of the magic.

We approach the media thaumaturgy in this way. When we are watching or listening to media (at home, it would be rude in a movie theater!), we are always commenting on the pervasive implicit assumptions, manipulations, and archetypes that are being pumped out by it; the morality plays, the desires being instilled, the things being sold, the social roles being preached, the images of ourselves, others, the past, and the future being promoted. I feel it gives a lot of insight into the forces that permeate our society, and we can still be entertained as well. And I gotta say, I don't find older pop culture to be much less thaumaturgic -- it may not have been selling the mass consumption lifestyle to the same extent, but it was VERY aggressively "thaumaturging" a view of society and our places in it -- proper gender roles, christianity, American exceptionalism, captalism, white supremacy, the inevitable upward march of technology, etc., etc. That's why I have always hated Star Trek -- every episode was nothing but a covert morality play, from a slightly-left-of-center but still very mainstream 1960s view of the ideal society, sold using the glitz and glamour of a techno-utopian futurist fantasy.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, a Jack Vance plug is always worth something. As for the German gold, of course -- Germany remains a client state of the US and, to a much lesser extent, of Britain as well.

Phil, thank you!

Bill, I find that sort of thing useful as an occasional exercise, but on a regular basis? I have better uses for my time. Remember, though, that I'm not writing this blog for an audience of experienced mages -- and, for that matter, no vice is so common among mages as the habit of thinking they're invulnerable to someone else's thaumaturgy.

As for Star Trek, no argument there -- even at the time I noticed that the Federation was the US, the Klingons the USSR, the Romulans Red China, the Vulcans Japan -- note the less than clever slanting eyebrows -- and Kirk as an imaginary General Westmoreland who always succeeded in pacifying his extraterrestrial Vietnams. When I suggested, in the blog post I cited earlier, that readers might want to find something more worth their time than pop culture, Star Trek was emphatically not what I had in mind!

JP said...

". Of course one way to counter unwelcome thaumaturgy is to block it by separating yourself from it. But (and I'm sure I don't need to tell you this!), another way to disempower it is to be consciously aware of it and examine it."

And another thing that this blog has taught me....that apparently my instinct is to separate myself from unwelcome thaumaturgy. Although that has more to do with the fact that I really tried to get into pop culture and essentially failed. It just never took for some reason.

I *do* however, LOVE the Carousel of Progress at DisneyWorld (of course I go to DisneyWorld, I have kids!). It's both funny and sad to watch, and I'm not sure quite why. Perhaps because it was dreamed just as the Modern world was ending.

In any event, JMG, I just looked at the front of your blog and saw this:

"The Archdruid Report doesn't accept guest posts. Don't even ask."

That is one of the funniest things I've seen in blogland.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- "I find that sort of thing useful as an occasional exercise, but on a regular basis?"

I find that there is no alternative to being constantly aware of it and on guard, even if you never turn on a TV or set foot in a movie theater. Unless one lives an entirely isolated life (which by definition no one reading this does), it comes at you from every direction whenever you interact with another person. People who live in a culture with a constant bombardment of this particular form of magic often begin to actually practice it themselves, without thinking about it. Hence everyone you meet on the street is radiating it. It's kind of like thinking you could have gotten away from the influence of the medieval church by just not going to the cathedral, or avoid the evangelical fundamentalist movement here by just staying away from the church of Christ. In some ways, if one approaches it this way, mass media are a concentrated and transparent example of the process, which makes them sometimes EASIER to de-fuse than the more diffuse forms of it that are everywhere else.

An example of how this permeates far beyond the boob tube: I have recently been besieged by the mainstream medical establishment trying to get me to submit to all sorts of tests and procedures that even the mainstream medical literature has found to be of little if any value. It's the hazard of being over 50 and having health insurance: When you go in for an actual acute condition that they really can help you with, they then begin forcibly trying to "sell" you on all sorts of stuff to try to get you to believe you have some chronic condition that requires regular followups, drugs, and claims to be filed. It feels like fighting off the timeshare salesmen at a beach resort, and is the exact same process at work.

But anyway though this is generally "on topic" it's not specifically on topic this week, and it's almost time for next week, so I'll leave this as my last comment on the issue (for now...).

latheChuck said...

JMG- Speaking of pop culture, old and new... Is it as obvious as Star Trek that "Casablanca" is designed to support the WW2 US role in Europe? Rick is America, formerly close to the lovely Europe, but currently nursing isolationism. Victor is that spark of Old World decency which we could yet rescue. Renault is France, currently having no choice but to collaborate under Nazi domination, but willing to throw them off if they just get a little help. And Ilsa? I guess she represents the beauty and elegance of the Old World: why we fight. And of course, it IS pop culture; helps to have some sex in the background.

jeffinwa said...

Just because;
recently there was a "The Office", a tv sitcom, episode with Krampus (never heard of him) who gave small presents to those who were good, switched with sticks those who were bad, and put in his sack those who were very bad to take them to "the bad place".
Thought it was interesting the flurry of Krampus comments here at the same time as that show.

Elizabeth H said...

@ Frank Hemming—I’m working on correcting some significant deficiencies in the realm of history, so thank you for the reading suggestions. Of what you took from the texts you recommend, you write “[t]he lesson seems to be that awareness and the ability and willingness of citizens to participate democratically will be critically important in surviving the Long Descent.” Yes, and best to start now, or at least very soon, as JMG says. And don’t depend on our schools, whether they be K-12 or our colleges and universities, to do it. There’s a growing awareness that our formal educational systems aren’t up to the task, and although I earn my bread within a couple of them, I definitely catch some flak from administrators because I tend to compile readings designed to lead my students out of their consumer dreams, and fundamentally question our schools’ hesitance (to put it mildly) to expose students to issues that might distress them. Colleges are in it for the profit motive as much as anyone else, and most flagrantly these days, and we wouldn’t want to upset the children as they seek entrance into the wonderful world of bureaucracy with student loans that will dictate their wage-slavery. Funny, though: the students don’t complain much at all.

The interchange between JMG and Bill Pulliam is of especial interest to me because, although it’s nothing new, popular culture as a focus of intellectual and artistic investigation seems to be more popular than ever in the colleges. My daughter, who’s in art school, keeps telling me I must watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is going to loan me her collection of academic articles on Buffy when she’s done with it. My teaching colleagues are very hot on the idea of using Toddlers and Tiaras as fodder for cultural investigations. Although I “get it,” more or less, I still agree with JMG that pop art and narratives, be they “reality” or fiction, are largely employed, with a great deal of financial investment, “to furnish the inside of your head with stuff that makes it harder for you to think clearly about some very important issues,” and that while pop art does yield some interesting perceptions, it inevitably acts much more forcefully as thaumaturgy. I only have one semester to impart something potentially meaningful to my students. How can I agree that analyzing Honey Boo Boo is a good choice?

Plus, in such academic investigations, a disturbing divide occurs between the “intellectuals” who are publishing such analysis and the “plebes” they are analyzing through pop culture. Mostly, from what I can tell, the plebes consume such entertainments because it’s gratifying to see how people “stupider” than they are fixated on garbage, while the intellectuals are meanwhile filling their heads with the garbage they look down upon the “stupid” plebes for making so popular. For Whomsoever’s sake, can we get real here? It all seems kinda circular.

Naturally, I do understand that I’m greatly simplifying and editorializing.

Brother Kornhoer said...

Quoting Mr. Greer: "the notion that religion is about having the right opinions about unknowable issues is among the most thoroughly exploded of all hypotheses around just now"

Well now you've got me curious, since my primary reason for being an atheist is simply that I don't believe there is a deity, in fact if I tried to believe in one, a little voice in my head (with an obnoxious Brooklyn accent, usually) would be saying 'You KNOW that's not true,' and if I went to church, I guess I could go through the motions, but I'd feel like the biggest hypocrite faker on earth, and feel like I was being very disrespectful to those present who do believe. I've tried to explain this to some of my Christian friends, and I think they have a little trouble understanding my situation. A lot of the teachings of religion I respect and agree with, I think the Sermon on the Mount is lyrical, but faith is something I don't have. Believing something without evidence? What are you trying to sell me?

Not that I'm a strict materialist in the philosophical sense, mind you. Scientific materialism is a wonderfully powerful explanatory mechanism, but I do think there's some things it fails at explaining - consciousness, for example. I analogize it as a cross-section through reality - it captures great detail through two dimensions, but there's a third dimension it misses entirely.

You've got my interest piqued, so please elaborate.

Luke Boyd said...

Wow, I wish I had the time to spend on these comments that they deserve. Just skimming through there were a few points I wanted to add.

Granted, Islamist is an unfortunate and inaccurate term. However, there is a militant movement within the Muslim world that is relevant to discussion. Given that this movement crystalizes into various organization of varying goals, ideology, commitment, and geography, it would seem that we require an umbrella term to describe this phenomena. I have usually used the word "Jihadi", though I admit, this term is also flawed. Can we agree on a label to indicate the greater movement, and perhaps an additional label to refer to these violent offshoots?

Far Northern Mali is dominated my the Tuareg people, not anyone vaguely "Al Quaeda"esqe. The Tuareg are also the main force that led to the successful 2012 rebellion that led to downfall of the Mali government and the coup establishing what is now called the government of Mali. AQIM (Al Quaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) was a minor partner in the rebellion and only took control of a portion of Northern Mali after the Tuareg withdrew to the Sahara. (Having dispatched what they understood to be their oppressor. The point being that the Tuareg are currently tolerant of AQIM, but the Sahara is not dominated by "Islamists". Whether AQIM is even truly "Islamist" or not is another question worth asking.

Speaking as a younger person (I'm 29) I uncomfortable with the generalization of the youth as feeling "entitled". If you poll the 20-30 crowd I doubt you will find them looking forward to a rosy future. Considering the social forces at work, I am constantly surprised by the realism of the outlooks I encounter. (no social security, meaningless elections, America's inevitable decline, etc) This is sometimes difficult to recognize as there is a significant disconnect between these expectations and the seemingly optimistic mannerisms generally exhibited. My current theory is that this behavior is somehow related to the disassociative symptoms commonly exhibited by victims of childhood trauma, but that's another matter.

This may have been addressed elsewhere, but I think it is worth pointing out that America's population (and that of the EU) is very likely to fall by quite a bit in the next couple of decades for purely economic reasons. Europeans as an ethnic class have been breeding below replacement for decades. What keeps the population of the West from declining is immigration in pursuit of economic opportunity. When that opportunity shifts elsewhere (Brazil, China, India, etc) population in these region will begin to fall.

Impoverishment may eventually lift the birth rate in these regions, but the trend to smaller families may prove more correlated with gender equality than median wealth.

Juhana said...

I often feel astonished when reading these comments. You are so lonely over there in America. It is same as with our own overeducated, liberal burghers here. Joseph mentioned "taking matters to his own hands" considering his old age, because your governmental pension system is collapsing. What has government to do with this? I understand from his comment that he has many sons. Is it not responsibility of his children to take care of him, when he is old? If person abandons small child, he/she is rightfully viewed as bad person; abandoning family's elderly when they are helpless is equally bad thing to do. What a lonely prison you have build for yourselves with all that "individuality". Doctrine of Bogomils, or Catharians for you Westerners, embodied at Earth: material prison of lonely existence wit no direction, driven only by animal impulses of lust and greed. These comments give away many unintentional revelations about your system. Want to survive coming contraction? Abandon illusions of individualism and "freedom" and cherish bonds of family, tradition and religion. Throw away any grandiose illusions that you are somehow special as individual; you are not. Countless generations have lived, loved and died before you, countless generations shall live, love and die after you. Your place in community and family, however humble that position might be, is what makes you truly special and needed. Together you are strong and resilient. That is true success recipe for poverty-stricken future. Be willingly bound to your kin, feel what they feel, act together to ensure survival as community. Government's true nature everywhere is that of big racketeering syndicate; family, extended family, is true community.

GuRan said...

Brother Kornhoer, I get what you're saying. I experience these things much the same way you do.

I found E.F. Schumacher's "A guide for the perplexed" particularly useful.

Robert Mathiesen said...


It may well be, in some abstract moral realm, the responsibility of children to take care of their aging parents. But two or three factors work very strongly against many children actually being able to do this in the USA.

One factor is the sheer size of the country. The search for steady work, and the difficulty of finding it, very often drive the young to live far away from wherever they spent their childhood. In those far-away places they eventually marry and raise their own children. If they return to their parental neighborhood or town at all, it is very often only for short and sentimental visits.

A second factor is the nature of the steady work they have found. The unwritten expectations of their employers are often that white-collar employees work 10 or more hours each day, six or even seven days a week for their salary, or that blue-collar workers must work mandatory overtime every week.

And a third factor is the great sums of money needed to keep up a life-style of consumption that meets the social expectations of their employers, their fellow employees and even their friends who have similar careers with other companies.

These three factors make it quite hard for a young couple even to raise their own children well, let alone take good care of their aging parents. Indeed, marriages very often crack and break under the need for ever more money and time, or if a marriage remains intact, it often becomes dysfunctional.

One pattern of high-status family living is to have a large house, in which each child has his or her own bedroom and bathroom, his own TV, his own computer, and so forth -- in short, a small apartment of his own within the larger family house, each taking his meals when he will, not as part of a family meal. This way of daily living isolates children from their parents even further.

With wise parental care and oversight, of course, all these factors can be overcome, or even turned to advantage in cultivating self-reliance, self-discipline and other virtues. But that requires a heavy investment of parental time, which is already in short supply.

So, in short, an aging parent in the USA may indeed have a moral claim for help from his children in his old age, but very often he cannot realistically expect that they will be able to provide this help -- or be willing to do so even if they are able. The prudent person, therefore, considers what alternate arrangements he may be able to make for his old age, up to and including Sir Terry Pratchett's well-publicized plan for managing his own impending debility and demise.

This, at any rate, is how may of the young people who passed through my classes at Brown University grew up. More than half of them have never been able to get to know even one of their grandparents as a person, and perhaps one tenth of them do not even know as much as the names of their grandparents -- that is how little contact there is between generations in adulthood here. One gregarious young student of mine, from a wealthy suburb, told me once that she was the only one of her very wide circle of high-school and college friends whose parents were actually still living together in the same house.

phil harris said...

JMG & Bill
Thanks for that little duo on popular thaumaturgy otherwise known as pop culture.

I have to ask myself why I became fascinated by some old but 2nd-half Star Trek in the latter half of my middle-age. TV had barely been a part of my life until late 1990s and I had long ago left SF behind. I think it might have been because I was seeing Star Trek only after the Soviet collapse. Some was Jean-Luc (Patrick Stewart), but a lot was because it was so ludicrously American – at this stage for me probably more poignant than prophetic, a tolerance for someone else’s gilded childhood! - But, oh … those ‘Admirals’; dear me … those ‘away-missions’!

‘Training’ was an earlier buzzword in Britain when we were trying to recover some imperial glory and cash – and we were spending a fifth of entire government budget in 1959 on the military before we launched our ‘white heat of technology’ in the early 60s. Our PM (mage) Harold Wilson was embarrassing at that launch but at least he kept us out of Vietnam.

The Star Trek I was watching followed the conventions of much of kids' stories - it was so unreal. Nobody for example could survive serial trauma perpetually on a battleship with a bunch of other villagers, however educated or ‘trained’, without serious psychological disintegration and other dysfunction, anymore than kids in an adventure story could survive their adventures outside parental care, let alone the impact of time-shift etc. But stories were ever like this. Beowulf or Taliesin could shape-shift their way out of trouble while in real life everyone knew that even, or especially, heroes usually ended up dead and burned. Fairy stories of a kind and for an adult, rediscovering the escape power of the impossible?

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...

@JMG @Luke: 'Islamists' may be an ugly term, but it's the term that's widely used in the discussions about events in the Middle East/North Africa, so I'm not sure it's worth worrying about.

@Luke: the issue was not the AQIM control the Sahara, more that no-one controls the Sahara, thus potentially allowing AQIM to flit around much as they please.

As an aside, this article is useful background concerning the flow of weapons out of Libya: Explosives in a Libyan field. It's worth considering the various places where those weapons have turned up; many of them are the same places where people won't be able to afford food this year, given 2012's disastrous harvests. The price of food kicked off the Arab Spring, but the dictators are mostly gone now - so where will people direct their anger? (And through what channels?)

It's off-topic for this week, but a while ago there was some discussion of home-made weapons (bicycle troops, for the use of). I mentioned then the Sten gun. An interesting article has recently popped up on English Russia, showing home-made weapons from Chechnya (Assorted Russia. The link contains some potentially NSFW material; you won't see anything that you couldn't see at a local beach, but it may not be appropriate for the office)

Ian said...

JMG: "no vice is so common among mages as the habit of thinking they're invulnerable to someone else's thaumaturgy."

I want this on a tshirt.

A little long, perhaps, but so true. Thank you for putting that in a pithy phrase. That's useful.

It doesn't just apply to mages, either. If I had a dollar for everytime I heard someone act as if their rhetorical or intellectual savvy put them above the influence of it.... They can be the very worst victims, because they get so invested in not being anyone's fool, that they can't admit when they are.

Zach said...


I have mixed feelings about the idea of making this blog more explicitly religious in its approach. On the one hand, given the success of your previous discussion of magic, I would guess most of your blog readership could handle it. On the other hand, I've come to like, appreciate, and even admire the balance you've been striking to date, and I'd miss it, even as I'm certain I'd be prompted to wade in and argue back (and I'm sure you'd draw others, as well).

That wouldn't be a bad conversation, but it would certainly be a different one than you've been having. Are you sure that's what you want to do?

On the gripping hand,(*) I think it's quite true that our civilization's crisis is not only a crisis of ecological limits, but a religious crisis as well (particularly for the Religion of Progress). Therefore, any discussion of that crisis's trajectory is going to be inevitably religious in nature, whether it's explicitly so or not. So, perhaps it can't be helped.

(*) Old sci-fi culture reference alert!


That's a very insightful observation about Americans - and an unwelcome one for most. The conditioning that we're supposed to break ties with our close family, strike out on our own, and "make it" hundreds or thousands of miles away, with nothing but loose sentiment connecting us to our parents or to our "clan" of extended kin (who are likely scattered to the four winds themselves) is very strong.

There are Americans who have noticed that this leads pretty directly to substituting the State for the Tribe or Clan as the means of security and support, but this observation is a minority viewpoint, and even among those who have noticed it, it has only led to limited practical effects so far.

@Brother Kornhoer,

Well, as a Christian myself, I'd say that faith as "believing without evidence" misrepresents what faith is. But then, I'm enough of a traditionalist to think this whole "faith vs. reason" dichotomy is actually a modern pathology, and not the Faith itself. Thomas Aquinas would find it ludicrous, for example - and one of the best modern writers, for that matter, on the right relationship between faith and reason (and how each requires the other) is Pope Benedict. (It's extremely helpful to actually read what the man writes and says himself, rather than press accounts and interpretations - the mismatch is pretty severe.)

And, on the other hand, true faith is ultimately a gift of the Holy Spirit. You may be closer to the Kingdom than you know. :)

Regarding bioremediation, that's really interesting. I keep wishing someone would write an accessible account of the current state of the art. Of course, I mean "someone else more qualified than I," as I would hardly know where to begin. Maybe you could consider that for JMG's contest?


Jason said...

I'll add my voice to those asking on religion. I know some of JMG's books on the subject but I admit they left me unsatisfied.

A friend just posted a nice review of Eco-Technic which showed a similar appetite. I think JMG that when it comes to the relation of time and creation -- and evolution -- to spirit, what you don't believe is far clearer than what you do, as yet. :)

You are after all engaged in religious conversion here. Sure, it's conversion away from rather than the more usual conversion to, but the linear-teleological time of "progress religion" is acknowledged as basic to so much in the West and does ultimately issue from Abrahamic ideas. The Enlightenment couldn't dislodge it -- hence Hegel, Nietzsche, and Teilhard, who in so many ways repeats your Joachim of Flores... and so on. (Spinoza of course was with you that there are no ends in nature or god, but was soon overruled!)

Some basic different view of the divine's workings in time might help a lot of people in choosing or designing just what they'll convert to. You've skirted this before -- I remember in particular this from four years ago. The comments of Jacques de Beaufort at that time have stuck with me. You made clear the divine or "faith" element in his view, but that was well before you were ready to give the similar element in your own.

I for one have always hoped for some approach with less criticism of religious teleology and more positive alternative... and I don't think it need count as proselytising if that worries you! Just my thoughts.

Robert Mathiesen said...

This is very well said, Ian!

My father's step-father, who left home and struck out on his own when he was 13 years old, had been a carney and a con-artist in his younger years. He was very clear that the easiest people to con are the best educated: they think they're too smart to fall for a con.

The hardest people to con, on the other hand, are poor kids who have developed street smarts from living on their own. They know for a fact that they could be taken in by a con-artist, so they're extremely wary of anything that sounds good or promising.

Every would-be magician or occultist or spiritual teacher should (IMHO) become as expert as he can in the arts of deception, so he can recognize when he is being deceived (and when he is deceiving himself and others).

Ceworthe said...

I found it rather amusing to see Zach comment on how it would be bad to make this blog "more explicitly religious in it's approach" and then launch into tlaking about being a Christian, talking about thomas Aquinas, Pope Benedict and the Holy Spirit in the same post. Evidently it's do as I say, not as I do....

Hal said...

I'm sorry Lumen Peto removed his/her comments because I only got to read one. FWIW, I agree with Lumen on this one.

I think it's hard to grasp the magnitude of the disparity in wealth between the upper tier and the rest of society. Consider that in the last election, several individuals spent in excess of $100 million dollars out of what appears to be discretionary funds. The mind reels at such wealth.

A person at that tier could lose more than 99% of their wealth and still be far better off than the average American who lost nothing.

Before the Depression, my grandfather was nowhere near the top tier of wealth in this country. He was a banker in a smallish Delta city that boasted at the time of being the largest long-staple cotton market in the world. His bride, my grandmother, inherited one of her father's two plantations. So they were very well off for the area.

His bank failed during the Crash, and he personally paid off every depositor out of his own personal funds and credit. He had to move his rather large family into a 2-bedroom house. My mother, his youngest, never got to go to college as had all of her sisters. One story my mother told was of the time her mother killed all of the chickens and made sandwiches and sent her downtown to sell them to the gamblers at the local card house.

Several parcels of land changed hands. But at the end of the day, the older sisters found work and my grandfather took over running the cotton gin on the plantation, and they avoided selling the land. That left them wealthier than the vast majority of white people in the county, nevermind the blacks, who at that time were little more than indentured serfs. Heck, the fact that my grandmother saved her silver set would have probably made them wealthier than most just by itself.

And remember, at this time, the Rockefellers and others of that ilk were the REALLY rich.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@Robert - five-year-olds.

My old college roommate was an amateur magician in college, and now a respected member of the Magic Castle. He told me once that the hardest audience to work in front of was five-year-olds. The reason is that they take nothing for granted, and they watch everything.

The easiest to perform for were engineers and scientists, who (broadly speaking) take everything for granted, most especially their own objectivity and powers of observation. As a result, they can be fooled almost without trying.

@Juhana - I could not agree more. Considering a more lengthy reply, which will probably have to be posted elsewhere. However, our society is what it is: moralizing isn't an effective agent of change. Robert spoke pretty clearly to this.

John Michael Greer said...

JP, hmm -- I don't get the joke. I was being bombarded by emails from people who wanted to do "guest posts" whoring various products and services, and it got tiring to keep on telling them to get lost.

Bill, sure, but why go out of your way to wallow in the stuff?

Chuck, Casablanca was a straightforward propaganda film, one of hundreds that came out of Hollywood in the war years; it's one of the few that anybody still watches today.

Jeffinwa, that's eerie. Krampus is clearly back with a vengeance.

Brother K., I'll consider it. For the moment, I'd point out that "believin' something you know ain't so" -- Mark Twain's definition of faith -- isn't necessarily what people who practice religion are talking about.

Luke, I have no problem with the label "Jihadi," not least because it's one many of the people in question would acknowledge. As for a sense of entitlement, if that's going away, I'm delighted. Like many other teachers of occultism, I've spent the last decade or so dealing with twentysomethings who claim they want to study with me, so long as "studying" involves no work, no commitment, and no challenges to their existing opinions about subjects about which they generally know very little. There have been some stellar exceptions, but they're in the minority.

Juhana, remember that the people who settled America in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were precisely those who left homes and extended families behind to cross the ocean and make a new life for themselves. The people who thought as you do are the ones who stayed home.

Phil, heck of a good question. I've never found any version of Star Trek anything but tacky, so I'm probably not qualified to judge!

Carp, I'm not worrying, just grumbling.

Zach, if it happens at all, it'll likely be a relatively short series of posts, similar to the ones on magic, and I suspect it will duck most readers' presuppositions at least as thoroughly as that sequence did. I haven't made a decision yet. Yes, I caught the reference -- I wasn't a Niven and Pournelle fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I read some of their stuff.

John Michael Greer said...

Jason, I'll consider it. I have my differences with Spinoza, btw, but his cogent discussions of the futility of trying to impose human ideas of ends on a deity are to my mind far more convincing than the opposition -- and don't even get me started on Teilhard de Chardin. Gah.

Ceworthe, I think you're misjudging Zach there. His advice was specific to the project of this blog, and will be considered.

Hal, it's a source of repeated irritation to me that people keep on taking statements I've made and stretching them into something they're not. All I said was that (a) proportionally speaking, the rich will on average lose more of their wealth than the rest of the population -- and that's borne out by evidence from the Great Depression -- and (b) that those who take sensible steps now may well come out of this in better shape than some people who are millionaires today. Please note the qualifiers in that sentence!

Those rich people who happen to have a lot of their wealth in the form of land and economically productive assets will likely get by fairly well, but a very large fraction of the excess wealth held by the rich these days is entirely in the form of paper -- and a great many people who are very wealthy, on paper, own essentially nothing of value except the paper, and such not exactly productive assets as homes in exclusive estates. Many of that segment of the rich will be destroyed this time around, as many of their equivalents were destroyed last time around -- look up the big names in finance in the roaring 20s, and then see what happened to them afterwards. For every Rockefeller, who had most of his wealth in productive assets, there was at least one Ivar Kreuger, one of the richest men in the world in 1929, who blew his brains out a few years later when his investment empire collapsed in a tangle of fraud and plummeting stock prices.

Juhana said...

Thanks everyone for your clarifying comments. JMG said that "people who settled America in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were precisely those who left homes and extended families behind to cross the ocean and make a new life for themselves". Again we see formula of ancient tragedies: qualities which have made your country great and strong nation in the past are now exactly same qualities that are turning against you. In this material plane of existence even strengths are ultimately hidden weaknesses; only veiled truth beyond our understanding is pure by its essence. I tried not to gain any high ground by moralising your society, I have just seen things done differently also. Persons volunteering to work part-time and home nursing relatives who are ill or old, other relatives donating money and helping with food and transportation every month. It is actually very low profile actions that matter most. No revolution or new government can make people behave as they should, this kind of things start from inner realm. From your comments I get the picture that earthly possessions matter very much for Americans. That is dangerous situation, because all earthly things are just temporarily borrowed to us, none of them can last. Everyone is tempted by luxury, most of us like it, but we should not be owned by our desires. Below are two examples, to direct thoughts into inner world. Other is from Finland, other is person from Russia who stood strong against attack of Communism, and guided people there back to spiritual path after inevitable fall of despicable atheists. Hope you find your places of consolation over there.

sarenth said...

Grebulocities, I am in the same rough age category as you. I am 27. By and large I lurk and listen to those living the life I am trying to ramp up to on this blog.

You said: "But it does seem to me that the vast majority of the readership of the peak oil sites I've been to are at least middle-aged, if not older. I wonder why this is..."

The vast majority of people in the 18-30 age categories are little more than kids, some, if they have the ability to draw a paycheck (last statistic I read said about half of that age bracket is unemployed) then they are blowing it on pleasures after they pay rent if they've made it out of the house.

Something I am seeing out of my son is a willingness to let go of what he no longer needs with or plays. There was no fight when it came to "let's donate most of the toys to Goodwill". It was "okay!" and he gave up far more than I thought he would.

"I haven't run into many people my age who have any inkling of what is unfolding; then again, I haven't run into many older people who do either."

The idea that we've been sold a lie from a very, very young age turns in the stomach. It makes me angry knowing I blew so many years trying to 'get an education' that, in the end, has about a 50/50 chance of helping me provide myself a livelihood. I say this after graduating with a B.S. in Psychology last semester, and furiously debating whether to go into deeper debt for my CSW for a total of approximately $80,000 in debt. I could put a down payment for a piece of property for that much and not have to gamble on whether I could get food from it.

"After spending most of my thinking life as a scientifically inclined techno-optimist with the view that long-term progress is inevitable...It's been a really painful process...I have found it even harder to change my habits, which I have so far made little progress on."

I don't know about your situation but post the 'hey this is real and boy am I rocked' stage there's been a lot of 'now what?' on my end, if for no other reason than land costs money. So that is what I am saving up for: a down payment on land so I will hopefully not have to go into debt to provide a better quality of life and life skills for my children than what my folks provided me.

"I certainly understand why most of Generation Y hasn't yet woken up to humanity's predicament."

It makes the driving narrative behind a lot of the reasons we put ourselves through deep amounts of pain, angst, and debt fall apart. Like Mr. Greer noted, failure is hard to absorb let alone accept, but we need a reworking of the word "fail" into "learn".

Brother Kornhoer said...


What is faith, then? How do you define it? Can you point to some writings (perhaps of Benedict's) that you think correctly depict what faith is? It'd be appreciated.

Regarding bioremediation, I'm not sure I can contribute to the Archdruid's writing contest - I don't want to over-commit.

Mr. Greer,

Same question - if you decide not to address this topic here, please consider recommending some writings elsewhere that illustrate your point.

A bit of serendipity - I saw this opinion piece about "religious agnostics" in the New York Times:

Such "religious agnostics" as cited in the article seem a bit inconsistent to me - they're publicly professing to believe something that they privately have doubts about. Why not join or start a church that retains the understanding and/or way of life they embrace, and that lets go of the explicit beliefs they can't agree with?

Hal said...

Sorry to be a source of irritation. I only had your response to Lumen and my foggy memory of his (I think) second post to work off of. You said, "...the rich got hit proportionally harder than anybody else." I guess it depends on what you mean by "proportionally," but I see you may be technically correct.

My point was that proportionality sort of blows up at that magnitude. A billionaire can lose 99.9% of their wealth and still be a millionaire. If the average person's wealth is mostly in a $200K home that loses a mere 50% of it's value, who is worse off? Though, indeed, the billionaire did lose proportionally more.

If anyone who is considered "rich" at this point is totally invested in paper instruments, I guess they could more or less lose everything.

I doubt it's what you're saying, but I also can't help but think that a lot of your readers might like the idea that the high-and-mighty will fall, and that sort of fits into a particularly biblical form of apocalypticism. Personally, I think the tumbril option might be more likely.

John Michael Greer said...

Juhana, the formula of Greek tragedy remains one of the best models for historical change: whether we're talking about a person, a society, or a species, it's precisely the unique excellence (arete) that becomes the fatal weakness (hamartia).

Brother K, the construction of religions free of belief-claims has been tried, with very poor results. Beliefs and creeds have a significance that goes well beyond their role as statements of purported fact; abandon them, and the other dimensions of religion shrivel up and die. More on this in a later post.

Hal, of course the impact of financial loss has much more to do with the absolute value of what's left than it does with the proportional issues I was raising. Again, that wasn't my point -- though of course you're right that people will have force-fitted that into the envy-driven "they ought to be dragged down" narrative the poor usually project onto the rich, and sometimes manage to enact by way of tumbrils et al.

Brother Kornhoer said...

Mr. Greer -

I think I understand that - a religion without beliefs seems rather content-free and pointless. However, does that mean religion typically *has* to include a belief in a deity or deities, or doctrines such as reincarnation? Or have there been successful religions with a creed and specific beliefs, but without such supernatural beliefs? Tapping your historical knowledge here.

P.S. If the answer is yes, and I should move down to Clearwater, nevermind 8-) .

zedinhisbigflyinghead said...

it's precisely the unique excellence (arete) that becomes the fatal weakness (hamartia).

Zedism for the day.
"The fruit of the tree of success is the seed of its own decline."

Apparently those ancient Geeks have beaten me to it yet again!

the envy-driven "they ought to be dragged down" narrative the poor usually project onto the rich

Do keep in mind that there is also the "worthless ignorant peasant scum" narrative that some of the rich project on to the poor as well.

Unfortunately, time and again it seems that "Hate springs eternal". Equally unfortunately it also seems that its the innocent and well meaning on all sides who often bear the brunt when tears appear in the "social fabric"...

Bill Pulliam said...

"Bill, sure, but why go out of your way to wallow in the stuff? "

Because there remain some real pearls inside all those slimy oysters. Amazingly, buried within all the worthless tripe, is also probably the best TV that has ever been made (admittedly a fairly low bar), in terms of diversity of stories, visual and narrative styles, characters, etc. And there are many ways to regulate it yourself, so that it comes to you only when you want it, only the parts that you specifically request, and only in the quantity you decide you want.

shiningwhiffle said...

On the subject of religion and beliefs, I'm reminded of something I read from an Orthodox rabbi: a good Jew can doubt God, they just can't ignore him.

Along a similar vein a friend who's a Reform Jew directed my attention to this article:

He scoffed at their inclusion of the first entry, a woman who's "Jewish with an 'agnostic bent,'" pointing out that in nearly any synagogue in the world she'd be a Jew in good standing.

Another of my friends is an atheist Shaivite Hindu, a member of a tradition where regarding the gods as metaphors is acceptable. Even he'd say that there are core beliefs, it's just that theistic realism isn't among them, and it's not primarily about those beliefs.

Richard Larson said...

What goes for wealth these days is not even paper anymore. It is digits on the computer screen! 'nuff said.

Farmer Dirt said...

A couple years back, I used to live in the city (where they had things like "PantheaCon" and guest speakers like JMG) and make $100,000 a year as a software engineer. Now I live in the country and try to make $20,000. My family and myself live unquestionably better; we have good food, fresh air, quiet, nature, and great neighbors. However, it's not easy even to make that much. We live in a manufactured home that requires constant repair, along with our outbuildings our fences, our driveway, our soil, and many other things. We have to be our own electricians, builders, vets, and schoolteachers.

We tried to prepare for the move before we traded our city life and 401k for a broken-down house on 10 acres. I volunteered at farms. I grew a garden and raised chickens (much to the annoyance of my suburban neighbors). My wife cooked all our foods and we homeschooled. However, the truth is, other than a fine mindset, none of this really prepared us for what was coming.

At some point -- maybe when my wife and I were in the middle of butchering a cow that was supposed to be too young to be pregnant but had a half-grown calf in her uterus, after having to chase her for an hour and a half due to poor planning, and the sun going down and the hide starting to freeze to the flesh -- I realized I was in over my head that day, and that day was just like the day before, and the day before. In fact, being in over my head and having to make up a solution out of nowhere because the alternative is not acceptable is the paramount skill of a homesteader. At what temperature in the winter will pigs die? Where can I get alfalfa? How can my animals get water when the power goes out? Will that wind blow down the barn? What is that, and is the animal still edible? Where are the turkeys laying their eggs? How do I stop that owl from eating my chickens' heads? These and a thousand other questions often can't be answered in books or online. Google does not know, trust me.

The point to my ramble is that we are able to figure this out with the current cushion of cheap gas, cheap hay, cheap grain, and constant electricity (and wonderful neighbors). But now is the time to figure it out, not next year or the year after that. Too many people I know think they can buy some "victory seeds", store some frozen-dried food, have some books and bleach on hand, and a few nice guns with plenty of ammo, and when the time comes, they'll outlive the "fools." Oh, the dismay that will follow. We know so very little compared to what people a hundred years ago knew and we need to learn it back, fast.

If any of your readers are contemplating a move to a more self-sufficient lifestyle, but hesitant to give up a good job, all I have to say is that learning to live on a great deal less money and a lot more time is absolutely required to make it. There is no other way. And the sooner, the better, for there is no substitute for experience. I say this not self-righteously, but just as advice. If you would become self-sufficient, you would become poor, and learn to love it. That's just the way it goes.

Zach said...

@Brother Kornhoer,

A fine question - I'll see what I can do.

"Faith" is distinct from intellectual assent, in that it is more a quality of confidence or trust, that inspires action and perseveres in the face of difficulty or contrary appearances.

This does not mean "believing without evidence," or "believing what you know ain't so" (Mark Twain). One is brought towards faith in something by reason and evidence and experience. Faith isn't divorced from reason, but it's a different thing.

A secular example: if we know someone well, and have trust in their character, we might say that we have "faith" in them. So, then, if an accusation is made against them, you might say "that can't be right - I know Joe, and he'd never do anything like that." You are exercising faith in your friend, against apparently contrary evidence - but this is not without evidence. Your evidence is your prior knowledge of your friend's character and behavior.

Another example, on-topic for this blog: It's one think to give intellectual assent to the Peak Oil model, and "believe" that Hubbert got his model of world oil depletion correct. But, really believing that enough to get off your butt and make difficult, radical, sustained changes in your life because of it -- well, that takes a kind of "faith," one that can be tough to maintain in the face of current comforts, social disapproval, etc.

As for Benedict's writing, I think his Regensburg lecture is a masterful exposition of the right relationship between faith and reason, although it's dense and technical enough that it makes tough going as an introductory read. Your question is making me realize that I can't think of a simpler introduction to this line of thought to point you to. I should fix that; thanks for the challenge.


Thank you.

mallow said...

Thanks j. shrier, that looks like something he'd read! Must read it myself too...

Brother Kornhoer said...


Thanks for the link to Benedict's lecture. Another thing to add to my voluminous reading list (sigh). I am looking forward to the Archdruid's treatment of the topic as well. I may even break down and get some of his books on Druidism.