Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Politics of Time's Shape

Last week’s discussion was a bit of a divagation from the main theme of the present sequence of posts here on The Archdruid Report, but it was a divagation with a purpose. The three movements I traced from hopeful beginnings to their final guttering out in fantasies of universal destruction—Christian fundamentalism, the New Age scene, and the environmental movement—each attempted to change the direction in which the industrial world is moving, and failed. Both the attempts and the failures are  instructive, and make it possible to glimpse certain aspects of contemporary life that all parties involved have done their best to keep as obscure as possible.

To begin with, it’s important to recognize that no fixed rule sets apart those changes that get called “progress” from the ones that don’t.  The three competing kinds of progress discussed in an earlier post in this sequence are responsible for part of that diversity, but the majority of it is a function of ordinary power politics.  Any change in any part of society will benefit certain people at the expense of others, and in the bare-knuckle brawl of modern political life, slapping the label of progress on those changes that will benefit one’s supporters and annoy one’s enemies is an obvious and constantly used tactic. Just as common and effective is the gambit of pinning labels such as "regressive" on those changes that would benefit one’s enemies.

At any point in time, as a result, what exactly counts as progress is a fiercely contested matter, and the success or failure of a pressure group in the political sphere can often be gauged to a fine degree by noting where public opinion puts that group’s agenda on the spectrum reaching from most progressive to most reactionary.  Those assignments can shift dramatically with changes in context and the relative strength of different factions. Thus the kind of Protestant religiosity that’s now associated with the far right in America used to be an ideology of the far left—William Jennings Bryan, the radical Democratic politician whose fire-breathing speeches against corporate power make most of today’s anticorporate rhetoric look tame, was also the prosecuting attorney in the famous Scopes monkey trial—and environmental protection was dismissed by the American left of a century ago as a reactionary notion that stood in the way of bringing prosperity to the poor.

These shifts are possible because the concept of progress has no content of its own. In one sense, to borrow a bit of edgy mockery from C.S. Lewis, the contemporary faith in progress can be described as the conviction that the word "better" simply means "whatever comes next."  In the age of unparalleled abundance and technological power that is now passing,  what came next was usually settled by the most recent round of political and economic struggle, and the winners of each round were pleased to see their partisan agenda redefined as the next inevitable step in the onward march of progress.

And the losers?  That’s where things get interesting.

Each of the three movements I sketched out in last week’s post started out as a contender—a movement that might have succeeded in accomplishing the changes it wanted to make to American society, and so in defining those changes as the next inevitable step in that same onward march of progress.  The first surge of what would become today’s Christian fundamentalist movement spun off the youth movement of the 1960s, embracing the teachings of that bearded and sandaled hippie, Jesus Christ, as the next stage in the moral transformation of American society.  The days of the Jesus People, Godspell, and the Good News Bible have been so thoroughly erased from our collective imagination that it can be hard, even for people who were there at the time, to think of fundamentalism as a radical movement, a social force that saw itself as moving forward toward a brighter future.

The transformation of the New Age movement was even more drastic. In its early years, most of what provided the New Age scene with inspiration had at least some claim to be called scientific; quantum physics and a dozen or so avant-garde schools of psychology played a far larger role in the movement than, say, the mutterings of channeled entities.  There was plenty of interest in extrasensory perception, to be sure, but parapsychology hadn’t yet been blackballed by the American scientific establishment, and significant figures in the sciences argued that the possibility of extrasensory knowledge ought to be taken seriously.  Early New Age books such as Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy raised the hope of a convergence of science and spirituality, in which scientific research would put a solid foundation of proven fact under such traditional practices as yoga and meditation.

The environmental movement had much the same flavor in its first flowering. To many of us in the appropriate-tech scene, industrial society’s encounter with the hard reality of planetary limits was at least as much an opportunity as a threat, and the integration of technologically advanced societies with a thriving planetary biosphere—the goal of a great deal of enthusiastic thinking in those days—seemed to promise a future of almost unimaginable richness and possibility.  The coming world of solar panels and geodesic domes, thriving organic farms and lively human-scale cities, in which Paolo Soleri’s arcologies would rise above newly reforested landscapes and dirigibles would move silently through unpolluted skies, set the stage for many soaring hopes and dreams.

It’s instructive to observe what happened as each of these movements followed its trajectory through time. The New Age movement, despite the overblown hopes placed on it by some of its supporters, never had a shot at significant political or cultural power, and it soon found its way to the fringes, where it shed its links to science, mingled with the remains of older alternative spiritualities, and began to take the unwholesome interest in conspiracy theories and apocalyptic prophecies that eventually dominated the whole movement.  Christian fundamentalism and the environmental movement had far more political clout even in their idealistic early phases, and so had to be bought off; in both cases this was done, as it’s usually done, by dangling the bait of money and influence in front of organizations and spokespersons in the movement who were willing to "be realistic"—that is, to scrap any serious challenge to the existing order of society and focus on a narrowly defined agenda instead.

Once the bait was taken, in turn, the jaws of the trap snapped smoothly shut. The organizations and spokespersons who had swallowed the bait were expected to cooperate in the marginalization of those who refused it, and to buy into the broader agenda of the people who were cutting the checks even when that agenda contradicted the original purpose of the movement, as it inevitably did. Meanwhile, the narrowing of each group’s purpose committed it to an increasingly defensive and reactive stance:  the fundamentalists fixated on defending a handful of sexual customs, the environmentalists on defending a handful of species, and in both cases the larger partisan coalition to which the movement now belonged made plenty of noise about supporting the movement and then did essentially nothing, insisting that the hard realities of politics made it impossible to follow through on its commitments.

Both movements thus became what I’ve called captive constituencies of existing power centers. The current fracas around the Keystone pipeline shows just how much effective influence the environmental movement succeeded in buying by cashing in its hopes, its dreams and its principles.  The Obama administration, if it chooses to do so, can agree to the pipeline and suffer no noticeable backlash from the environmental movement.  There would be some yelling in the media and the blogosphere, to be sure, and a few protest marches in designated free speech zones, but come 2016 the Democrats will wave the scary Republicans at whatever remains of the environmental movement, the leaders of the big environmental organizations will give speeches about how disappointed they are in the Democrats but we still have to support them against the GOP, and rank and file environmentalists will line up meekly and vote for the Democratic candidate despite it all. Obama could as well order the national park system strip-mined for coal and launch a new biofuels program that will turn endangered species into synthetic petroleum, and the results would be precisely the same; it doesn’t help, of course, that the Republicans treat their captive constituencies with the identical degree of scorn.

It’s no accident that when movements for social change fail—whether the failure is simply a matter of banishment to the fringes, as happened to the New Age, or whether the movement is courted, seduced, betrayed and abandoned like the hapless heroine of a Victorian penny-dreadful novel, as happened to the fundamentalists and the environmentalists—apocalyptic beliefs become increasingly central to their rhetoric. Partly, that’s a reflection of the massive role that threats of imminent doom have always had in the rhetoric of social change, especially but not only here in America. Since the Reverend Jonathan Edwards thrilled colonial New England with his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," attempts to move American society in any direction have normally relied on the insistence that failing to make whatever change is being proposed guarantees some awful fate or other. The less effective the movement, by and large, the more strident the threats of apocalypse tend to be, and the decline of a social movement into political irrelevance is normally accompanied by a final burst of rhetoric pushing the movement’s apocalyptic claims to their ultimate extreme.

Still, there’s more going on here than the common tendency of activists at all points on the political continuum to respond to the failure of rhetorical threats by doubling down. The distinction made in an earlier post between the shape of time defined by Augustine of Hippo and the one proposed by Joachim of Flores has a great deal of relevance here. All three of the movements I’ve discussed above started their trajectory with a Joachimist model of history:  the world had arrived at the brink of a grand transformation, and once people embraced the great forward leap that the movement offered, some equivalent of Joachim’s Age of the Holy Spirit would usher in a bright new future.  The New Age movement officially kept that faith—it could hardly do otherwise, having defined itself in terms of a new age that was supposedly about to be born—but as the Aquarian Conspiracy fizzled out and the world kept following its accustomed path, New Age thinkers drifted out of a Joachimist model into an Augustinian one, in which the repeated failures of ordinary history would finally be redeemed by an equivalent of the Second Coming on December 21, 2012.

For the fundamentalist and environmentalist movements, the shift from Joachimist to Augustinian models of time was if anything more sharply defined. Once both movements abandoned the hope of changing society as a whole, they had slipped over into Augustinian time, and they promptly identified themselves with the righteous remnant of the Augustinian vision. Once they did that, their defeat was certain; the role of the righteous remnant in Augustine’s shape of time is to strive to defend the good against the assaults of an evil world, and fail heroically, so that the triumph of  the Second Coming or its secular equivalent can be all the more glorious. Activists in both movements, without ever quite noticing it, accordingly embraced tactics that were guaranteed to fail.

What media activist Patrick Reinsborough has called "defector syndrome"—the fine art of arguing for your side in such a way that only those who already agree wholeheartedly with your viewpoint will be favorably impressed, while everyone else will be repelled—has played a large role in such exercises. I’m thinking here, among other things, of a book on energy issues I got in the mail not long ago, an unwieldy coffee table-sized object that started out with a photo essay in which each page had an slogan in 60-point type, all caps, yelling something or other about the world’s energy situation. It’s hard to imagine that anybody but a true believer in the editor’s point of view would get past the bellowing; I found it unreadable, and I more or less agree with the book’s viewpoint.

To the ordinary citizens and opinion makers in the middle of the road, the people the environmental movement desperately needs to engage, that sort of tirade simply confirms the other side’s insistence that environmentalists are by definition a pack of raving extremists. The same sort of self-inflicted damage is even more common in the fundamentalist scene—think of Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, whose shrill ravings about the alleged evils of homosexuality have probably done more to make ordinary Americans sympathetic to gays and lesbians than any other factor in living memory.  That’s the kind of own goal that tends to get scored when a movement for social change embraces the Augustinian shape of time in an uncritical fashion.

It’s important to understand why this should be so.  The shape of time that Augustine proposed in The City of God was ultimately a response to failure—the failure of the Roman state and society to maintain itself against the forces that were dragging it down the road to collapse, and the failure of the Christian religion to make good on the promises of an earlier generation of theologians and save the Roman world from itself. As a response to failure, in turn, it was extraordinarily effective.  If you and your civilization are staring the Dark Ages in the face, a way of thinking about time that treats ordinary history as an evil irrelevance and focuses all hope on a shining vision of a world after history ends is not merely comforting, it’s adaptive. It inspired monks and nuns across Dark Age Europe to preserve the cultural and scientific  heritage of the ancient world, and helped many ordinary people find a reason to keep going even in the harshest times.

A way of thinking that’s adaptive during the decline of a civilization, though, may not be equally so in struggles for influence in an age of abundance. As I suggested earlier in this post, any social change will benefit some people at the expense of others; what counts as progress from the point of view of the winners in any given struggle, in other words, will usually look very like decline from the point of view of the losers.  If the only two ways of thinking about historical change your culture offers you are the Joachimist and the Augustinian shapes of time, in turn—and this is decidedly true of contemporary industrial society—the winners in any given social conflict are likely to embrace a Joachimist view in which their triumph marks the arrival of a grand positive transformation and a great leap forward along the inevitable track of progress, while the losers are just as likely to embrace an Augustinian view in which their defeat will inevitably be paid back with interest by some apocalyptic transformation in the near future.  Those beliefs are comforting, they allow the cascading randomness of history to be forced into an emotionally satisfying shape, and they encourage each side to continue to enact their assigned social roles as winners and losers.

This is one of the core reasons, I’ve come to believe, that peak oil has been the red-haired stepchild of the environmental movement since the contemporary peak oil scene began to emerge in the late 1990s. There have been any number of attempts to force it into a Joachimist patterm—think of all the attempts to claim that we can overcome the challenge of peak oil through some great collective leap to a better world—or an Augustinian one—think of all the attempts to extract a satisfyingly sudden cataclysm from the long slow downward arc of fossil fuel depletion—but the great collective leaps have proven embarrassingly out of reach, and the sudden cataclysms contrast awkwardly with the reality of rising energy costs, disintegrating infrastructure, and economic dysfunction that peak oil is helping to bring about right now.  If peak oil and the wider impact of the limits to growth define the future we actually face, both the winners and the losers are out of luck.

Of course this points up one of the other features of peak oil that’s rendered it so unwelcome:  it provides a basis for accurate predictions. I accept that there are at least a few people on any given side of today’s reality wars who believe, totally and trustingly, that victory for their side will bring about a great leap forward to a new epoch of history, or that the inevitable defeat of their side will be followed by a vast catastrophe that will prove to the rest of humanity just how wrong they were. I find myself questioning, though, just how large a percentage of those who make such claims can be counted among the true believers.  I’ve known far too many people whose belief in the imminent destruction of the world didn’t keep them from putting money into their retirement accounts, or whose loudly proclamed commitment to some cause never quite caused them to live up to the ideals they claimed to espouse.

I commented in a blog post last year on the odd way that mainstream climate activists had reacted to news that the Arctic Ocean was fizzing with methane. Many public figures—iconic climate scientist James Lovelock among them—who had insisted not that long before that releases of Arctic methane meant "game over" suddenly backed away from those claims, making embarrassed noises. Those who accepted at face value the predictions of imminent doom issued by Lovelock and his peers are at least being consistent when they decide that, now that methane is bubbling out of the Arctic ooze, it’s all over.  It may simply be their bad luck to have missed the winks and nudges that signaled, as I suggested in the post just mentioned, that the predictions had more to do with putting pressure on China and her allies than they did with purely objective science.

Peak oil might have become another excuse for such maneuvers, except that it’s shown an awkward capacity for appearing on schedule and causing exactly the sort of disruptions that have been predicted by peak oil researchers all along. It’s hard to threaten someone with a crisis that’s already arrived, and harder still to rouse enthusiasm for a great leap forward when every attempt to make it ends in a messy slide backward.  Both the shapes of time our culture is willing to consider, in other words, have passed their pull dates—and the obvious alternative, though it’s a better fit to the evidence and arguably more adaptive as well, is utterly unacceptable to most people in the industrial world today. We’ll discuss that in the next post in this sequence.

126 comments:

Leo said...

On the subject of defector syndrome


I always get the impression that activists and radicals don't actually want to achieve their goals, if they did they'd act smarter.

If the above hyperlink doesn't show:
http://theviewfrombrittany.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/notre-dame-des-landes-and-risks-of.html

What new shape of time would work. It could be related to Augustine, but Christianity is mostly dead in the West, so it would need a different rhetorical basis.

I'd much prefer your idea of societies changing over time in an organic way to become mainstream. Explains things far better than the revolutionary or drastic changes idea. Used it a bit in the last two posts of mine.

John Michael Greer said...

Leo, many thanks for the link -- a typically crisp and thoughtful piece from M. Perrotin. As for a shape of time suitable to the deindustrial future, I have a suggestion to offer, which we'll get to shortly!

Nicholas Carter said...

A neat synchronicity to see this
http://truth-out.org/news/item/16475-the-collapse-of-journalism-and-the-journalism-of-collapse

Tom Bannister said...

Good Article. It will be interesting to hear your conception of the alternative model of time to the two you've talked about. Living in the now? Taking things one step at a time? Its surprisingly simple yet also surprisingly difficult to adapt to.



Leo said...

Environmentalism being a part of the left is probably one of it's worst traits. It shouldn't matter if your left or right, degrading your enviroment and running out of resources is still a problem. How to respond is a political question.

Karim said...

Greetings all!

Given that both shapes of time in use in modern cultures are becoming obsolete. Does it follow that the up and coming adaptive shape of time would be more like that of Hesiod's vision of relentless decline?

Or will you (JMG) manage to surprise all of us yet more?

Shakya Indrajala said...

I had to stop and consider how your analysis applies outside the west. One example that comes to mind is the Tibet-China issue.

The Tibetans look at the last half-century as decades of destruction, ruin, cultural genocide and exploitation, yet one day in the future they believe the Dalai Lama will return triumphantly back to Lhasa with his people and something like Shangri La will be restored. A lot of western Buddhists believe in this narrative, too. When I speak to Tibetans here in India they understandably hold such beliefs, and it helps them adapt to a tough life, though many don't really seem to believe it if you see how they're building permanent monasteries on a grand scale in India. They don't anticipate a return anytime soon.

Whereas generally the Chinese sincerely believe they brought liberation to serfs plus industrial infrastructure and modern education to Tibet. These were tough though ultimately benevolent steps needed to move Tibet from the Dark Ages into modernity according to them.

Strangely, the Chinese are Joachimist and the Tibetans (in India at least) are Augustinian. They like to scream at each other, too. Winners versus losers.

This makes me wonder how much such ideas, which were originally western, have become part of the monoculture of "modernity" that much of the rest of the world has adopted wholeheartedly as they become cheap carbon copies of western nations.

Odin's Raven said...

We may have passed Peak Oil, but probably not Peak Allah.

Those who replace the currently declining culture may not have the same attitudes. What may be the view of the probably Islamicised predatory elites ruling over the much reduced and immiserated population of the likely not so distant future?

Is Islam a version of Joachimism?

Rita Narayanan said...

Thanks for your post and looking forward to the next post... most eagerly.

My own humble suggestion is that Democracy is highly romanticized- so mass consumerism is condemned but mass availability of every right (and growing everyday) is extolled as virtue.

so please ponder over the issue of our so called virtuous democratic egalitarian world and it's reality.

If you were the earth would you carry feudalism on your back or democracy(of vast numbers)- some beautiful monuments like Cathedrals, Palaces etc or "progrssive egalite". Let us not forget it is not just the Lord of the Manor who pillages and rapes.

Thanks for your time!

anagnosto said...

After recent developments in the news, I think it is time to recognize that Islam has great chances of becoming the dominant political faction in Europe in a couple of generations. Not just because of its demographics but also becuse of the rate of new conversions of people unsatisfied with current society and values. The subject is almost a taboo in Europe, but it is plainly exposed by a recent Israeli documentary.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hR7REARFFpQ

Jeffrey said...

During my early days of researching and understanding peak oil I attended a speach by Richard Heinberg and there was one of those light bulb moments of deep insight when he mentioned (I am paraphrasing him) that the greatest social revolution can happen when the physical and environmental pillars that hold up a civilization become undermined as in the case of peak oil.

The light bulb moment of insight was understanding that all our ideologies are held in a basket that represents the physical infrastructure of our environment and that the basket defines the boundaries of our culture and will become the dominant force to which all ideologies will eventually be molded.

I observe all the cornucopian and doomer sentiment out there as the early stages of still trying to resist surrendering to this truth.

There is a baseline we are all slowly being drawn to. All the ideological rumblings out there that try to resist this are only shrill reminders of our childish inability to accept that we have to live within the limits not set by man but by our planet.

That even our clever technological inventions and scientific wizardry must eventually submit to.

This is the ultimate revolution that we are only beginning to confront.

Thus we see all these childish ideological discordance out there.

Phil Harris said...

JMG
It would be still a very bad idea to keep going on the way we have, even without the ‘energy’ limit. Whatever the ‘abundance’, a lot of very bad and often proven erroneous (tragic) ideas, rather than ‘adaptive’, were incorporated for whatever historically understandable reasons in Western civilisation, especially lately when cobbled together within a speeded-up 'scientific' industrialisation.

I am glad though you have picked out the point that oscillations in global temperature over millions of years have not triggered runaway disorder of the carbon cycle. (But keep a watch on research findings on ocean acidity. I don’t begin to know what can be properly predicted at this stage, and I am not scare-mongering. - btw a man bearing the name Monger wrote to my newspaper yesterday to complain about the cliche use of his family name! I am guilty!)

I can still come across socially and morally responsible ‘scientific thinking’ relevant to future developments. This report, one of whose authors I happen to have met and respect, suggests there might still be a future for ‘Schumacher’ technology in the many existing low-carbon economies round the world.
http://www.iier.ch/content/green-growth-oxymoron

Then again I find that Michael Kumhof analyses of both peak oil and the theory of money to be something more than an accommodation with power politics or the intellectual fashions of the day. http://petrole.blog.lemonde.fr/2012/12/05/peak-oil-warning-from-an-imf-expert-interview-with-michael-kumhof/

Money it seems like most socially powerful tokens has been used and abused by politics and cults, by plutocrats and republicans for millennia, and been present at the making and breaking of many a high civilisation. I shudder a little at its emotional power in my own short life, and I was brought up with modest expectations of ‘sufficiency’! I ponder London (something more than a dominant symbol in the UK), post war scarcity, modest income and bedrock respect for the widow and her mite, and hope your American middle-class can do better this time.
best
Phil H

Mike Ewing said...

Your teaser at the end seems to have a few people guessing, but anybody who's been paying attention will remember reading this passage from you a few posts back:

"If you live in a society struggling to endure in the wake of cultural and ecological collapse, Hesiod’s vision may be your best bet."

Greg Knepp said...

JMG,

You give a good deal of credit to the influence of the Jesus Movement of the sixties and early seventies hippies on the growth of so-called Fundamentalist Christianity. I see the movement's influence as minimal - no more than, say, the Hare Krishna kids's importance to the spread of Hinduism. I don't remember anyone taking the Jesus Freaks seriously. Like smoking pot, wearing bellbottoms and engaging in the a cross-racial relationship, Hip Christianity was a phase - a rite of passage, if you will (one of many available at the time). The Jesus Movement's most attractive characteristic was that it was different from the standard Catholic and main-stream Protestant church experiences that the hippies had grown up in and had come to associate with 'The Man'.

Most of the Jesus Freaks who remained in the faith at all were absorbed into the larger Fundamentalist movement that had been brewing for decades among the poor and working classes of America's cultural and economic backwaters. Jesse DuPlantis and Jeff Fenholt (of Jesus Christ Superstar fame) were only two of a number of Jesus Freaks who went on to become Fundamentalist functionaries of note.

We call it 'Fundamentalism' but it is really an odd blend of true Fundamentalism - mainly Baptist concepts - and the more active and emotive Pentecostal approach to Christianity...A heady concoction, indeed, and one that became very influential once its leaders gained mastery of the magical tools of politics and the airwaves.

Thomas Daulton said...

To Leo and Tom B., no offense, but the shape of time that JMG will propose is not hard to guess if you've been reading his blog for awhile. Maybe I should issue a "SPOILER ALERT" ...

JMG, I think, envisions the "Slow Decline" instead of the steady upward progress, instead of the sudden radical New Age transformation, and instead of the sudden Apocalypse. It's a subtle point, which a lot of people fail to see, mostly because the "Slow Decline" bears some superficial resemblance to the Apocalypse. But it's fundamentally different than any of the others.

For one thing, in the "Slow Decline" model, the past Age is viewed neither as some kind of all-wise Paradise, nor as some vile, evil Original Sin. It's viewed as a societal and resource "overshoot", a hedonistic binge that we engaged in for understandable, pleasurable reasons, which we'd all like to repeat, but it can't be sustained. I'm tempted to call this model the "Binge/Hangover" model.

The second fundamental difference with a "slow decline" is that there is _no_ single defining point that marks the transition, unlike the sudden New Age Transformation or the sudden Apocalypse. (After all, when you binge on alcohol, there isn't usually a defining moment, "2:47 AM I made the sudden transition from pleasurably drunk to hung-over".) Therefore, those who are waiting for a sudden turning point in order to "prove" that their vision is correct, will never be proven right or wrong.

You could look up JMG's essay on "catabolic collapse", which went around the Internet, for more details. His vision is more like "falling down a flight of stairs". Instead of one sudden calamity that wipes everything clean, we'll suffer a series of indignities, any single one of which taken by itself would be a trivial bump in the road. But because they're all connected, (the staircase of Peak Oil), their effects accumulate before we can right ourselves, and before we know it we're at the bottom of a steep staircase with a bunch of broken bones. The difference between understanding what's going on, the Shape of Time, versus not understanding, is lying at the bottom of the stairs with a broken arm and ankle, as opposed to a broken neck.

Robo said...

Americans in particular are encoded to be winners. Loss or failure at any game or endeavor is devastating and shameful. In the case of industrial civilization, many idealists have predicted collapse and proposed mitigating courses of action. Since these warnings have been generally ignored, some idealists salvage righteous victory from certain defeat by smugly standing by to watch the train drive over the cliff. The bigger the bang, the more satisfied they will be.

rakesprogress said...

Tom I think you're onto something, but one has to wonder why living in the moment isn't an ideology. Perhaps it's because while we always have the moment, we also need some shape for the past and future. We can't just not think about them.

The human mind is wired for survival to seek patterns, and that seeking takes place temporally as well as spatially, aurally, and what else have you. So examining the past and future is essential, and our shape-of-time stories are how we do that.

The striking thing about the two shapes on our culture's menu is that neither of them is objectively true. Is there something about the role these stories fill that precludes simply describing the universe?

I think so. To tell a story that accurately reflects what really happens in the world is tantamount to buliding an accurate rational model of it. Time is made of many processes, some of them cyclical and many of them complex and non-linear. To accommodate this even in coarse terms is a task of formidable mathematical complexity. Any story that can be remembered, and passed down in the form of tales, sermons or sound-bytes, must necessarily constitute a distortion, either in omitted information or in simplified axioms. That distortion will always eventually break the story by compromising its pattern recognition utility.

But a story we do need. It seems that with modern additions to our understanding of nature, we should be able to conjure up something that's a much closer fit than Gus and Jack. Something that is essentially cyclical, but also acknowledges that the Sun will turn into a red giant eventually.

William Church said...

John, this is another wonderful article. Resorting to a passive/aggressive faith that in the end the deniers will get theirs is certainly a sign things are not going well for them.

But I would offer that the tendency to look toward a future apocalypse also has more than a little to do with the relish that humans have in saying "I told you so!" And this has a long and storied history in American religion.

You certainly recall Ben Franklin's gentle gibe "With regard to future bliss, I cannot help imagining that multitudes of the zealously orthodox of different sects, who at the last day may flock together in hopes of seeing each other damned, will be disappointed, and obliged to rest content With their own salvation"

I look forward to your next post on what type of shape of time the environmental movement might grasp to become more productive. Do you believe the current apocalyptic frenzies draw energy from a modern tendency toward nihilism as well?

Will

Yupped said...

It’s always interesting to look at the way that any movement talks about change, versus the actual real changes they produce, sometimes just through provoking a reaction. New Agers, environmentalists or religious fundamentalists were easily absorbed by industrial society because they came along at a time of relative comfort and growth, and they generally weren’t prepared to use violence. So, the leaders got co-opted and so did many of the potential followers – the whole yuppie thing was about millions of newly minted professionals being given a lot more space in the economy. But that had its effect, of course - in raising and temporarily meeting so many people’s expectations of greater material prosperity it pushed society closer to the kind of real resource crisis necessary for more dramatic (and less controlled) change to occur. Similarly, new spiritual, economic or environmental ideas that floated up from the 60s and 70s triggered a strong reaction, without which it might not have been possible to have Reagans and Thatchers elected (perhaps more mild mannered leaders would have chosen to muddle through and adopt more). So, action and reaction, until we meet circumstances we can’t adapt to so easily, leading to more discontinuous change. Which is where we are getting to now.

Finally, I know a few people who would be considered New Agers. Yes, some were hoping for some sort of ascension to happen over the holidays last year (although most were still planning on having the in-laws over for Christmas dinner, and weren’t looking forward to it!). But many are still doing things in their lives that are driving positive changes, even just de-stressing and de-cluttering, spending less. It does seem possible to have a lot of silly ideas in your head about a New Age of mass enlightenment, while also working on your own, personal enlightenment. And it’s the latter that really counts, even if the light is quite dim at first.

wildwoodchapel said...

I know you won't give away the answer until next week, but answer me this... Does the alternative model of which you speak--the middle ground between "Here Comes The Sun" and "The Eve of Destruction"--have any historical precedent? Have any individuals or groups in the past put it to use? If so, I can't wait to hear about them. That's the aspect of your writings that I love the most!

James M. Jensen II (badocelot/shiningwhiffle) said...

Granted that he's not the subject of these posts, I'm a little surprised you haven't yet mentioned Aleister Crowley.

When I first ran across Joachim of Flores in your writings, my first thought was to compare his Ages to Crowley's Aeons.

But today I realized some of the differences: Crowley's sense of time is not as linear. Crowley presents the Aeon of Osiris as almost a catastrophe compared to the earlier Aeon of Isis, and says -- somewhere in the Commentary, I think -- that the present Aeon of Horus will almost certainly start off with the decline and fall of our present civilization, just like the Aeon of Osiris started off with the fall of Rome.

A little Western-centric there, but head and shoulders above Joachim's ideas, I think.

Another difference is that for Crowley the Aeon of Horus is not the end of history: in another 2000 years or so, the torch will be passed to the Aeon of Ma'at.

Of course, some Thelemites apparently can't stand the idea that history is not over and have declared that the Aeon of Ma'at has already come and overlaps the Aeon of Horus.

onething said...

The ideal of merging science with spirituality is one I came up with on my own and later found some writings in that direction. The idea is not dead and in fact is slowly gathering strength as more researchers publish their findings, despite the perhaps muddying up with 2012 and channeling.

Now, I find it downright odd that you label interest in conspiracy theories as unwholesome and then go on to enumerate exactly the workings of conspiracy in one arena - the buying off of the environmentalists. This buying off included actual human beings, with money or access to money, who must have had some meetings, who had a goal and agenda. That is a conspiracy.

I don't really know why anyone would dismiss conspiracies who has read some facts and quotations of history, and contemplates what it might be like to be a member of a very rich family, especially one that has been extremely rich for generations - the kind who regularly get face time with presidents and other politicians, who promote and manage their elections and who might even be involved as owners of the now six media conglomerates - and they are not interested in shaping the future to their desires?

I do think that conspiracies, especially long term ones, are psychologically discouraging, in that they render history and current affairs much more opaque.

Steve Morgan said...

"[E]nvironmental protection was dismissed by the American left of a century ago as a reactionary notion that stood in the way of bringing prosperity to the poor."

When I was in college the left was busy arguing with its former argument (now in the hands of mainstream conservatives) about "jobs vs. the environment." The whole point was about trying to have the planet and eat it, too, as the obvious conflict between middle class lifestyles for all and the biosphere made efforts to reconcile them kind of ridiculous. It's still happening, of course, but the historical reminder of what the left looked like when conservation was still a conservative cause is really interesting.

Peak oil as the red-headed stepchild of the environmental movement makes sense. Though it was ultimately born from the environmental movement, it doesn't seem to belong with either the Joachimist cornucopian solar-powered-Walmart wing or with the apocalyptic Augustinian wing. Perhaps that's why the albatross of a coffee table book doesn't work quite so well. I thought the editors made a terrible mistake putting the billboard-sized random phrases of outrage on pictures that really say more than enough. It was almost like the PCI was having a consensus meeting of the editorial board and one Augustinian holdout wouldn't budge, thus dragging the whole book into cognitive dissonance.

My first introduction to the concept came from Al Bartlett in a graduate seminar the second month into engineering school. He didn't polish the numbers one way or another, but simply talked about the dynamics of exponential growth in consumption of finite resources and ended by challenging us to dig up the numbers and do the math for ourselves. Sure there've been exceptions to this, but in the main I've seen peak oil presented from the Limits to Growth perspective of system dynamics, ecology, and cold hard math. Those manners of presentation don't lend themselves as well to apocalyptic or progressive narratives, but rather to historical comparisons with other resource-intensive civilizations. I'm not surprised that at the same time that the Peak Oil movement was really coming alive there was such a focus on the resource-based theories for the decline of past empires and civilizations.

Oh the suspense. Tune in next week to find out just what the shape of time of the future may be... Thanks again for this series, JMG. It's very thought-provoking.

Richard Larson said...

Transfomation is happening all the time. This time humans are suffering transfer hangovers caused by energy overload erratically changing back to replacing current fuel power with human labor.

These high fuel prices, reflective of peak oil, still has not dulled their enthusiam for an easier future. So what's up with that? When will these people finally get it? Will some ever get it?

Soon enough it will be smart with those plantings or you'll go hungry!

John D. Wheeler said...

"At any point in time, as a result, what exactly counts as progress is a fiercely contested matter..." This gets to the heart of what I've been trying to say. I think we are in for a long period of progress -- in the opposite direction.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG -- Wonderful post, as usual.

I would personally find helpful some counter-examples of movements that you feel did NOT get sidelined or coopted. That is, we can see what these three movements did wrong, what might have been done right instead?

St. Roy said...

JMG:

Your post this week helped me better understand your surprising divagation (new word for me) last week. I can see your purpose in pointing out the marketing failure of CF, NA and EM in their efforts to change the course of industrial civilization. Maybe an explanation is that they were ignorant of the tools of Madison Avenue that the their opposition had well-honed. I see that today in the fracking wars. The oil industry seems to be winning albeit the victory will be hollow. I look forward to next week.

jcummings said...

I can't wait to see the shape of your vision of time going forward. I personally find it hard to give concise form to the shape of current history. Though as human beings, something about our wiring drives us to categorize and organize difficult to contemplate things, I believe our current circumstances socially, politically, culturally, etc., defy the kind of categorization that would help us understand just what the heck is going on.

In my area - the arts - things have been decidedly post-modern for a long time now. The only consistent aspect to this field is that there is no way to characterize what's going on. It's essentially a chaotic mass of actors all going in a wide variety of directions all at once, some of whom rise to the surface and gain success, but the vast majority of which simply give energy to the roiling and unpredictable field - if you can even call it a field.

Geopolitics, for another example, is in a similar boat - there are so many actors on the stage all with different motives moving in a wide variety of directions - the middle east and north africa, for example, is especially chaotic and unmodelable.

In an era that is characterized by radical ununiformity, how can we hope to produce a model that can inform us about the shape of time?

Darby Valley said...

I want to commed you on your blog. On seeing the word divagation my first presumption was not that you had mispelled a word but that here was a word I had to look up. Thank you.

Michael Petro said...

Divagate? Is there a Beyonce scandal?

ChemEng said...

Regarding your comment to do with the “coffee table-sized” book, I had a similar experience. An environmental group was looking for support on a particular issue and I was, I believe, very well placed to help them. But the strident nature of their communications bothered me, so I decided not to work with them.

But maybe my help would have been of the wrong sort because I would have worked within “the system”, not as an outsider.

Reverse Developer said...

JMG, you capture the predicament of collective action well. Another way of understanding the predicament is summed up by the idea of 'present bias'. What was it someone said? 'together we are stronger', or was it 'individually we possess genius but together are possessed by madness'?

Atrocities are sure to be committed. To obsess on that fact wastes our tolerance for discourse. The struggle for control of policy at the furthest institutional reach is over which atrocities in which quantity provide benefits of an objective quality of life worth sustaining.

The spectrum of atrocities includes war, culling the defected, paved over habitat, birth control etc. Quality of life includes low infant mortality, long life expectancy, low global populations, amber waves of grain, abundant wilderness, tame beasts, top predators, large families and so on.

Its ultimately a management system problem. Mimicing nature is how we tend to think of it in the resource management field. Passive managment is always most desireable as it is resource conservative. I know there is a lesson in here somewhere...?

Thijs Goverde said...

Oh, if we're going to play the guessing game, I'm betting Cyclical. Our kind host is a Vico enthousiast, after all.

James M. Jensen II (badocelot/shiningwhiffle) said...

onething,

Re: conspiracies

I think this is one of those places where the terminology is getting in the way. "Conspiracy theory" has come to mean mainly the ridiculous ones.

There's a good deal of difference between believing in the sort of political thaumaturgy JMG described as corrupting the environmentalist and fundamentalist movements, and believing in David Icke's lizard people or believing that flouride in the water supply is a communist mind control plot.

St. Roy said...

JMG:

I am humored to see that your use of the word "divagation" perked up a few of your other readers too. It's now a new word in my vocabulary!

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@James M. Jensen II--As you probably know, Crowley's Aeons are cyclical over a period of about 26,000 years. They are based on the Precession of the Equinoxes, an astronomical phenomenon that will continue as long as the direction of the Earth's axis continues to trace a small circle in the heavens above the poles.

This results in a gradual and continuous shift in which the section of the Zodiac in which the sun rises on the Vernal Equinox, with a corresponding change in the Pole Star. The ancient Egyptians had a different pole star from Polaris.

That's why the Age of Horus will have a successor.

The axis wobble is regulated by the Moon's gravity. The Moon's orbit is slowly getting larger, and over a geological time span its gravitational influence on the Earth will weaken.

Civilizations like the Egyptians that maintain astronomical records over thousands of years notice the Precession, and sometimes incorporate it into their ideas about time.

Liquid Paradigm said...

I have that book and found myself similarly irritated and conflicted. In the end, I decided that since I have a great personal distaste for the presence and/or use of firearms, the book will suffice as a means of defense. Of course, I have precious little left of interest to marauders, but I stand ready to knock that monstrosity off my coffee table and onto the foot of any would-be home invader. Take that, evildoers!

Marcello said...

Environmentalists failed because that was the only possible outcome for them.
Very few people are actually willing to give up any substantial measure of material comforts for the environment sake, therefore any move going in that direction was bound to get nowhere. Simple as that. Whether they were neutralized by cooption or some other strategy is a matter of interest, but hypothetically if all else failed they would have been put to the wall and shot, like it happened to the communists in a number of places and times.

Reverse Developer said...

What I should have said re atrocities (the more hopeful view):
Assuming collective action is only taken to further our conscious progress as a species, the struggle for control of policy at the furthest institutional reach is a discussion of which atrocities in which quantity provide benefits of an objective quality of life worth sustaining.

Ashley said...

I'm really enjoying this discussion on the shapes of time and other aspects of our culture that we dont' even notice.

I'm working with the idea of time/civilization/history as homeostasis. Civilizations rise, grow, become empires and fall, but they're they exception to history, not the norm. To imagine history as an impersonal force for the moment, civilization collapse is how history brings things back to homeostasis.

The standard narrative for western history is Empires and Civilizations followed by Dark Ages followed by return to the way things should be, aka the Renaissance. Ignoring that daily life in the early modern period wasn't very different from the medieval period, it frames the disintegrated village level society as the aberration when it lasted for 1000 years. The structure of western society in the medieval period is the norm, which is why it lasted so long, and I believe where we're headed in the future.

derekthered said...

our society reacts more to past
paradigms rather than seeking a new way of looking at things.

the solar system will power down, that's the science of it; we still have a long way to go before that happens, and it is in our nature to reproduce which has led to overpopulation, and will lead to more.

energy depletion, soil depletion, lack of fresh water, these will all lead to big problems in the future, perhaps sooner than we think.

we are dealing in competing imperatives here, the abundance of energy and modern science have removed the controls which used to work to keep the population in check, this is the narrative we should be looking at.

the rational response to this is to find a way to make a living in areas of less population density, this will probably be the best defense.

in a breakdown of society firearms usage will lead to injuries which might not be fixable due to the lack of medical care; however, i will not put anybody down for wanting to defend themselves, just remind them that's a dangerous game, which they probably know already.

John Michael Greer said...

Nicholas, thanks for the link.

Tom, all in good time. ;-)

Leo, it was precisely by letting itself be pegged as a concern of only one side of the notional political spectrum that the environmental movement got turned into a captive constituency. I'll want to write a postmortem on it one of these days, and explore how environmentalism failed and what might be done in its aftermath.

Karim, all in good time.

Shakya, please do! Since I've only lived in America, I don't claim to be able to address conditions in other parts of the world; if you can apply these ideas to your own region, all the better.

Raven, Islam has its own variants on the triumphalist and apocalyptic mythologies I've discussed here. I'd encourage you to do the research.

Rita, that word "democracy" can mean a lot of different things, some more adaptive than others.

Anagnosto, good. For a variety of reasons, I've postulated that a Muslim Europe is tolerably likely in the future -- it's one of the background details in my blog-novel Star's Reach, for example.

Jeffrey, no argument there. The foredoomed attempt to deny the arrival of a future of living within limits is one of the major themes of modern thought.

Phil, if it wasn't the energy limit, it would be something else. As Kenneth Boulding pointed out, only madmen and economists believe in the possibility of limitless growth on a finite planet.

Mike, all in good time...

Greg, my take is that the mainstream fundamentalist movement was what emerged when the Jesus People et al. were safely co-opted and absorbed by the status quo. From my perspective, the original movement had a great deal more potential than most people recognize -- when they remember it at all, that is.

John Michael Greer said...

Thomas, is the shape of the near to middle future the same thing as the shape of time as a whole? Just asking...

Robo, nicely summarized. Americans have never learned how to recognize that they're going to lose and keep on fighting anyway, so that defeat will be less than total. That's likely to be a major source of trouble in the years immediately ahead.

Will, I do indeed. As for the environmental movement, though, it's dead; the question at this point is what might be born from its ashes.

Yupped, I'd draw a distinction between the New Age movement and the broader current of popular occultism that the movement partly absorbed during its heyday. That broader current contains plenty of useful things,and they'll still be practiced long after the label "New Age" has gone the way of "New Thought."

Chapel, good! The answer to both questions is yes.

James, I'm not a fan of the Not-so-great Beast, thus didn't see any more reason to mention his theories than those of the dozens of other Edwardian occultists who came up with similar notions. I may find room for Yeats' far subtler theory of historical ages, though...

Onething, in comparing the processes I've outlined with the sort of conspiracy thinking that's come to dominate the New Age scene, I'd ask you to reflect on the following questions. Does the Democratic Party secretly run the entire world? Has it done so since at least 15,000 BCE? Is it headed by evil lizard-beings from outer space? Are all other conspiracies subordinate to it? Does it use sinister mind control technologies to get its way? Does it have secret high-tech weapons that are responsible for all the world's natural disasters? Is it about to impose a nightmare reign of terror on the entire world? If not, you might find it useful to check these questions against the sort of thing that's been all over the New Age scene for decades now, and you might get some sense of the distinction I'm drawing here.

Steve, I expressed my concerns to one of the main people involved in the book project, and got back a lengthy and distinctly heated defense of the tone and approach of the thing. I don't think it's just one holdout.

Richard, some will get it; the rest will probably die. Natural selection is a harsh teacher.

John, er, I don't think you got the point of what I was trying to say. The other direction of what? There are many other directions.

Joseph, that's raw material for an entire post by itself; I'll consider that for future reference.

St. Roy, it's not just Madison Avenue; the environmental movement has approached this pipeline fight with a stunning disregard of all the principles of political strategy and tactics, and has all but handed a victory to its opponents. More on this when I get to the post Joseph requested.

John Michael Greer said...

Jcummings, history is always full of nonuniform changes and stochastic noise. That's why we need narratives about the shape of time -- they're the mental tools we use to extract a signal from all that static.

Darby, thank you! I appreciate the confidence.

Michael, no, a divagator is someone who sits in the passenger seat and sings the directions to you. ;-)

ChemEng, I doubt they'd have wanted your help -- it might have enabled them to succeed. I mean that quite seriously; success is a major problem to activist groups, as it makes further activism difficult to sustain.

Reverse, I'm not sure it's a system management problem at all, unless you mean that we're going to be subject to management by the overall system of the biosphere.

Thijs, thank you. I was beginning to wonder if anybody was paying attention at all.

St. Roy, I like to throw in a less familiar word now and again, if only to keep readers on their toes!

Paradigm, nice. You get tonight's gold star.

Marcello, why is it necessary to assume that a cause that happened to lose had to lose?

Ashley, I'd suggest a slight variation. Through most of history, the urban-civilization form of society supported itself on a foundation of decentralized villages; the latter is the basic form, the former an occasional blossoming, which runs its course and ends. Our current civilization, as I've argued in a couple of my books, is as brittle as it is precisely because it tried to replace the village system with factory farming powered by fossil fuels; as those run out, it's not going to last -- and then, as you suggest, we'll be reverting to a stabler form.

Derek, trust me, injuries caused by non-firearm weapons can be just as ghastly as those caused by guns, if not more so.

Rita Narayanan said...

About Democracy in reply to JMG

I meant "qualitative Democracy" instead of today's "Quantitative" principle. Qualitative factors culturally and morally are far more comprehensive...like Moses having to face the Egyptian desert, either perish or surmount madness and bring back the Ten Commandments.

Simplistic Individuality and political correctness seem romantic but are as parasitic as the oil guzzling SUV's.

I come from a country where the old landlords/Maharajahs have been replaced by democratic mobility, on the face of it so many of the older lower castes/classes have gained huge mobility.......but look at the land grab and brutal morality that prevails. Not to mention that the "culture" maintained by the old elite has all gone.

People in the West are lucky to have inherited a longer and slower history of Democracy and have enjoyed a much better quality of it.

just another perspective from another place. Thanks!

TIAA said...

Interesting article and it stirred up further recognition in me for how we have trapped our selves in flat and limited either or realities that have an expiration date no matter how you package them.

I don't know what shape time will take but my version would be of the moment, non-linear, multi-dimensional, and co-operative. To get out of the noose of time squeezing us all would be a wonderful liberation.

Rita Narayanan said...

Another post from me about "village" systems. Rural areas in the West have had the benefit of many aspects of modern technology and infrastructure for some time now. So in relative terms to actual"villages" in the third world the life in such villages can be qualitatively idyllic.

But "rural" systems are not just driven by an agrarian economy their cultural and moral structures are driven by metaphysics, religion and heirarchy.

The modern progressive ideas driven world of individuality,political correctness and rights is not to be found in the more rural parts of the simple world(at least the same tenor).

I say this because I often find that people who deal with ideas in the West romanticize the village as some kind of idyllic haven in their image.

The Western romanticization of Tibet and now Bhutan are such examples. Bhutan may be a picture postcard haven but it is driven by an aritocracy that is not simeple or poor, it is governed by a Theocratic Buddhist powerful clergy, Bhutan's dealing with Tibetan refugees and other minorites would not be considered appropriate in progessive terms.

Both you and your readers are extremely well informed.But, I find that in the West much of the environmental lobby often romanticizes concepts that they themselves would not want to live by. So Progressive and Enlightened liberalism should also study villages in great detail, mobility has allowed people to flit in and out of rural areas and thereby see what they want to see.

On a personal note, this from a person who grew up and lived in cosmopolitan cities but having parents and grandparents from rural India.

Gayle Bourne said...

I have a theory of time that may or may not be of interest here. Time is sort of like a double helix or maybe spirals that only intersect at one point - the nexus of "now.". The two strands are equal opposites. In practical terms, that would mean that the way the past reaches out to shape "now" is only half the equation. The future reaches out just as much and has the same influence on the present that the past does. Prophets and seers are those persons who can feel the future's reach (and you would think that everyone can see the past's reach, but apparently JMG is one of the few who really can, LOL). The hard part is weeding out the false prophets, from either perspective. One thing is certain though - resource depletion, limits to growth, climate change and more people trying to get a piece of the shrinking pie are real facts that can't be wished away. Narratives of the future that don't jibe with these facts are propaganda, not honest theories.

John Michael Greer said...

Rita, it's one of the pervasive bad habits of Western thought to assume that all other societies are on a track that leads to us -- this is what's implied by claims, for example, that Afghanistan is "still in the Middle Ages" (our Middle Ages, of course) or that hunter-gatherer tribes are "still in the Stone Age." Thus the insistence by Western elites that everyone else ought to use the same political forms we have, whether they work or not.

TIAA, er, how can time be co-operative? It sounds as though you're letting a bit of Utopia slip into your sense of time -- though I may just be misunderstanding what you're saying here.

Rita, no argument there! You'll notice that the people who most often romanticize village life can usually be found living in expensive condos in big cities, and wouldn't move to a farm town if someone paid them to do so.

Gayle, nah, only a few people can feel the past's reach; they're called "historians." They're just as odd as seers and prophets, in their own way!

Ozark Chinquapin said...

Many aspects of the environmental movement have failed for sure, but
not all. The local/sustainable food movement has grown tremendously in
the last decade, and it doesn't seem to be getting co-opted by one of
the parties, and has supporters on several ends of the political
spectrum.

Even the permaculture movement, which has always tended to be
dominated by leftists, seems to be broadening its appeal. This article
by Jack Spirko is a case in point,

http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/what-exactly-is-a-pdc-course

Although I find a decent amount to disagree with in Jack Spirko's
opinions, overall I see his involvement in permaculture as positive
for the movement and may help permaculture to break out of the
subcultures that it's been mostly restricted to (at least in the USA).
That process is already underway. The discussion forums of
permies.com, a pretty active website, have quite a mix of people on it
from very different walks of life.

Leo said...

Doesn't the age of limits start today and you have a talk. If so how was it?

Sounds like it will be a good event.

On the village-urban stuff, the divide can be fairly vague. My Grandfather was born a peasant farmer (didn't stay as one). Yet he came from Sulmona, a small city in Italy.

If theirs a high density of cities in the area, then most people will live pretty close to one. Other wise a more feudal system is likely, that of economics centered around manors or castles. Trains and such obviously further alter this.

The parts of Australia that are settled are fairly urban. I remember reading the urbanization was 50% after colonization, so the former is more likely here.

Thomas Daulton said...

Well JMG, thanks for keeping me in my place... despite years of reading your work, I never quite know exactly which rabbit you're going to pull out of that funny Druid headgear we were just talking about! ;)

Certainly I've noted your observations that X and Y societal processes and belief patterns have occurred before, but so far I have failed to see from your writing the regularity and periodicity which would define time as circular. My fault, no doubt. I have always gotten good grades in school but I never claimed that made me a good student. Circular time, as Thijs points out, would seem to be the only other undiscussed option besides steady-state.

On the other hand, I think most everyone here would agree, grudgingly or no, with other writings of yours, writings which state that fossil fuels are (were) the pinnacle of energy density and EROI that humans had or will ever get their hands on. Since that resource has basically peaked as we write, it would seem to follow that human society is now entering a state of permanent, irrevocable decline -- at least, if our yardstick is graduated in terms of energy, consumption, materialistic possessions, and probably in terms of raw population numbers. If our analysis includes only abstract sociological/psychological/maybe biological measures... such as harmony, ecological balance or human happiness... then in that case I could forsee human-observed time following a cyclical path. But the hard numerical measures such as energy per capita or raw population, while certainly not the complete lens through which civilizations should be evaluated, are nonetheless impossible to ignore.

Wasn't it a commenter here (not JMG) who cited an article on Ugo Bardi's blog: "The Next Ten Billion Years"? It's a fascinating read, at least from a storytelling perspective, and the storytelling is always the key. In it, he presents two visions of the shape of time, from the distant past through the present to the deep future. One he calls "good", a future of steady upward progress (bounded by at least moderately realistic energy limits) where human intelligence ultimately spreads across the galaxy very slowly at sublight speeds. I take it JMG would be skeptical of the eternal upward progress in that scenario. The other one, the "bad" one, includes a return of the Earth to its ecological balance and fecundity, but only millions of years after the near-term extinction of mankind, and while there's time for another species to evolve intelligence, they never get close to humanity's technological achievements, because the dense energy sources (fossil fuels) were all burned by humans right before we went extinct. Any comments on Ugo's article??

Bill Carson said...

This reminds me of Carl Jungs's concept of enantiodromia, where an overabundance of one force often ends up producing it's shadow. It's amazing to see a movement like environmentalism, which started out so radically anti-establishment, adopt all the Madison Avenue tricks note for note. I was slightly amused during all the Tea Party fuss a couple years ago that the protesters seemed a little bit like hippies, with same the self righteous indignation and affinity for street performance. Perhaps aging conservative baby boomers are the new radicals, ready to stick it to the man.

PhysicsDoc said...

All this discussion recently on time and the end of time in one form or another, e.g. Mayan apocalypse, NTE, etc. reminds me of Terence McKenna's time wave theory. A complex and convoluted numerical algorithm based on an I Ching sequence which purported to show the ebb and flow of novelty and complexity over time. The algorithm predicted a kind of maximum novelty singularity end of time that would occur around November-December 2012. I think a mathematician looked at the theory and found at least one spot where an arbitrary assumption was made that was critical to the overall theory and pattern. Also the pattern needed to be calibrated to a known date which was also somewhat arbitrary. Still, kind of fun for someone inclined toward math and computer science.

Nicholas Carter said...

"Does the Democratic Party secretly run the entire world?"
They aren't trying particularly hard to conceal it, but considering the, mahority of American who know their country isn't an empire, I'd say it's fairly quiet.
Are all other conspiracies subordinate to it? Does it use sinister mind control technologies to get its way?"
Like the united nations, general electric, and most middle eastern dictators? Like advertisers, NPR, public schools and other professional thaumaturges?
" Is it about to impose a nightmare reign of terror on the entire world?"
Lets ask the people of Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, et. Al.

Has it done so since at least 15,000 BCE? Is it headed by evil lizard-beings from outer space? Does it have secret high-tech weapons that are responsible for all the world's natural disasters?
Well okay, I suppose we might have gotten carried away and exaggerated a bit. (Mr. Poe says ;) )

Rita Narayanan said...

JMG very true!Afghanistan has ruddy Pathan tribes that have resisted every invader and imperialist....Alexander to the British, Russians and now Americans. It is a raw terrain that requires a very different kind of enlightened philosophy to integrate that truth.

This is true throughout Asia, Middle East, Africa and even eastern Europe. From what is happening in the West like the horrible tragedy at Woolwich it would seem that learning from the Middle Ages may not be such a bad idea.

Thanks for your time.

morenewyorknews said...


Good article JMG
I agree with rita about romantacization of villages by progressive elites in west as well as intellectuals in my own country. For life of me ,I would never stay in villages, unless the village is 15 km away from city.
In yesterday's Indian Express, I read one articles which sharply contradicted Indian govt model of "urbanization”. The growth of middle and small cities have far exceeded growth of mega metropolitan cities. Even villages in some part of country like Punjab, Western Maharashtra are better than cities. The dismal living conditions combined with low wages have started eroding faith of villagers in big cities. They still come, but only to work for some time and they go off. Indian metros are going to become just stopover for unemployed but not permanent abode.
BTW JMG,when I look at Indian landscape, I see huge ecological disasters in every part of country. For ex. grazing land for domestic livestock is sharply reduced and most of the animals were sold to butchers in last 5 years. That is why India is now a major exporter of meat in world.
Average Indian is more aware of peak oil problems than average European or average american,since we face these problems every day.I think JMG,we are already living in post collapse society.
The social engineering experiments carried out by our Royal family form last 65 years might come to end as reality starts biting the govt coffers. In last 10 years Indian govt,in view of surpassing west, have passed most wasteful central welfare schemes which often benefits bureaucrats and politicians who create them.The vision to create a politically correct, socially equal society might face reality very soon.
The model of secularization carried out by American and European govt has failed in India.
My question to you JMG:
Will EU really get converted to Islam so easily? In my country, the fight can not be put off any longer…it is this way or that way now…

Marcello said...

"Marcello, why is it necessary to assume that a cause that happened to lose had to lose?"

When Bush said "the US way of life is non negotiable" he was not just expressing the viewpoint of the US èlite but that of the western èlite and its popular masses in general. Against such immense social forces a minority of environmentalists could only affect changes at the margin: enact some protection for whales, adding further pressure on nuclear power, force the replacement of CFC with something else and so on.
Anything that required substantial sacrifices was not going to be accepted volountarily by society at large. Regardless of what people might say with words greed, selfishness, hoarding, desire for comforts etc. are going to beat idealistic impulses.

Avery said...

JMG,

First off, I hope this comment doesn't begin to resemble an aggressive "open letter" at any point because I greatly enjoyed your post as I always do. It's just my thoughts on this topic.

At the beginning of this series, when I brought up René Guénon's contrast between tradition and modernity, you said he made some major mistakes, and I assume this post summarizing the flaws of the Augustinian model in 20th century America is meant to highlight that, by demonstrating how being the Puritan crying out about the decline of morals only encourages disrespect from those progressives who disagree with your morality.

On material grounds I am not disagreeing with peak oil. Despite the ominous warnings of rapture-ready Protestants, there's no reason to expect that economy recapitulates theology, and the Hubbert Curve promises, statistically, a long decline. But I think you may have done some misreading here.

Guénon's objective was not to prove that the world was swiftly coming to an end. He rejects that explicitly, and in fact adopts comforting language quite similar to your post last week: "This end only appears to be the 'end of the world', without any reservation or specification of any kind, to those who see nothing beyond the limits of this particular cycle... In truth there can be many 'ends of the world', because there are cycles of very varied duration." (Reign of Quantity, ch. 40)

What is swift, and urgent, and terrorizing according to Guénon is not the world itself, but our way of looking at it. Modernity demands that we see every development as a growing crisis. The cries of crisis and danger merely tie us tighter in to technological harnesses as we continue down the slope of peak oil. But the world itself is not in danger. It will go on without us. True sustainability requires rejecting the entire dialectic of crisis. Integrating that understanding into our lives allows escape from modern ways of thinking, but it will grow harder with every decade.

I think, as well, that this fills a gap in your description of Augustinian time. Augustine did not teach, "things are just going to get worse from now on"; such incredible pessimism, more fitted to Nietzsche, would not have inspired anyone in the 5th century AD. Instead he said, "truth will not disappear even if this world falters". And that is how new societies were born from Rome's ashes.

What does this mean for the long descent? In my humble opinion, it means that the future does not belong to those willing to make simply material changes. As long as one's way of thinking does not embrace a permanent ideal which is appropriate to those conditions, society will remain uninspired. It is back to the books for us-- and, preferably, old ones.

Avery

Odin's Raven said...

In addition to the changing into their opposites in political and religious terms that you mentioned, here's news of another enantiodromia within Environmentalism. The Amazon, whilst continuing to do what it's always done, has apparently changed from a Carbon Saint into a Carbon Sinner.

Carbon Sinner

via
Breathing Out

Paul said...

"...each attempted to change the direction in which the industrial world is moving, and failed."

I don't think there has been any attempt trying to change, following the rule of the established political order (like [seriously] running for office [and winning]). In human history, all ideologies promising a rose-garden (in this life) will end up one of the following two ways: firstly, becoming a revolutionary (like Marxism or Boxers [ref: Boxer Revolution in Qing Dynasty China], and secondly predicting a apocalyptic ending (after which the promised rose garden will or will not come ["who cares? You guys are responsible for the destruction"]). Oftentimes it will be a hybrid. For the three forces that were mentioned in the article, the second way seems inevitable ("'cause they ain't no revolutionaries..")

John Michael Greer said...

Ozark, granted -- and you'll notice that those that have succeeded have done so by distancing themselves from the big environmentalist organizations and their ideologies.

Leo, I'm off to the event today -- thanks for the good wishes!

Thomas, stay tuned; it's a bit more complex than that. As for the Bardi bit, funny you should mention that; I'll be taking issue with it, in a big way, in an upcoming post in this sequence.

Bill, good! Jung got that concept from the Greek philosophers; it's a useful one.

PhysicsDoc, and you'll notice that it predicted that novelty would go to something like infinity on December 21, 2012. An interesting hypothesis, but it failed its experimental test!

Nicholas, funny. Now notice the differences between the universal and the particular that I was trying to point out.

Rita, if we don't learn from the Middle Ages, they'll come around again to give us a second lesson. I'm far from sure that'll be a pleasant process.

News, partly conversion and partly conquest. As social order begins to break down and the mass movement of peoples begins, I expect a lot of the population of the current Middle East to head for Europe, with rather the same impact that the Goths, Huns, etc. had the last time around.

Marcello, yes, I understood you. My question was why you find it necessary to believe this, when the truth of the matter can't be known one way or another.

Avery, no, I didn't have Guenon in mind when I wrote this post. I tried to find your comment to the earlier post, and failed, so I'm not sure exactly what objections I raised at that time -- though it's true that he (and Traditionalists more generally) have a world-class case of "defector syndrome," as described in this week's post.

Raven, that is to say, we don't actually know that much about the hypercomplex cycles of the biosphere.

Paul, to my mind that's a huge oversimplification, and misses the significant changes that were actually made -- for example, the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act. It's the fact the environmental movement was capable of exercising that kind of clout back in the day that makes its subsequent sellout all the more painful.

Villager said...

As John Hyatt would say:

You get up in the morning
You get on the bus
You don't think about nothing
You don't raise no fuss

You come home in the evening
Turn the TV on
You ain't going nowhere
You just ride along, ride along, ride along

You get the Sunday paper
On Saturday night
You read the travel section
Until you're all uptight

'Cause it's almost Monday
Jack, you know that song
You ain't going nowhere
You just ride along, ride along, ride along

Reverse Developer said...

JMG-I'm a little late to the bell but the fission of your post and today's comments seems to be creating new elements.

My point, as you suggest, does rest on the fact that humanity is subject to the global (not merely local) ecosystem. But unlike other species, if we don't get our act together, that system and our succor will fail 'before its time'. We don't need the highest EROEI to cause mass extinctions-witness the fate of the mega-fauna.

Collective action and institutions are important because we are by turns ingenious and atrocious.

Now, we could ponder whether humans are in a non-evolutionary period, what direction in terms of a capacity for collective action we are evolving or whether its all about cultural evolution if we are to survive.

Either way, a few hundred years of drastically curtailed mobility will do a lot to change the gene pool and increase the diversity of human survival strategies(cultures).

Phil Harris said...

I was getting a bit bored by this shape of time, and was not paying attention properly at all, so I’m glad Thijs flagged up Vico & Cyclic, which seems to have raised a grin behind JMG’s beard. So I m now enjoying a 1971 monograph by Leon Pompa as a first step to getting back to the point.
(Vico seems to have a very sane take so I am taking a break and reading on)

best
Phil H

Brian said...

Since I'm in a bit of a lull at work, I've taken the last three weeks to (attempt to) read through everything you've posted on this blog. I have but a few posts left (some from 2012). You're quite the prolific author (my reader shows 371 posts, but I think I'm missing a few in there), and I haven't yet found a post that I didn't both learn from and enjoy reading.

I can't even begin to attempt to read the comments for all of those posts, but I've read through them for the 2013 posts and there are many interesting discussions and divagations (thanks!). I did read some of the earliest posts' comments, and I like that many of your original followers are still around. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks this Archdruid's got something to say that's worth hearing.

Thanks for taking the time each week to both grow our mind grapes and respond to our input (and occasional inanities such as this one).

JP said...

"News, partly conversion and partly conquest. As social order begins to break down and the mass movement of peoples begins, I expect a lot of the population of the current Middle East to head for Europe, with rather the same impact that the Goths, Huns, etc. had the last time around."

This certainly seems like a possible outcome, however, there is certainly something strange happening in terms of demography within the Arab world.

Fertility rates seem to be collapsing in the Islamic world, generally, as you can see in Iran, which has a total fertility rate of about 1.3, which is about the same as Korea, Japan, et al.

Apparently the TFR of ethinc Turks is about 1.5, while Saudi Arabia, while still about 3.0, is crashing.

Also, with respect to the Islamic conversion issue in Europe, there is also the opposite impact, namely the loss of religion by Muslims.

It's simply not clear to me what happens when you have a society that is relatively old being the potential entrant into the region inhabitaed a ossified and now decaying high culture.

The Franks weren't exactly an "old" tribe, nor were the Visigoths or the Ostrogoths.

Meanwhile, in Russia, you have the odd trend of a *increase* in fertility, with *rural* fertility now steadily increasing, apparently now crossing into expansionary territory.

Michael Mielke said...

JMG,

First, I follow your writing and bought your last book, so I find your work of great value.

Importantly, I noted here your latest post in connecting to your link about SEASCAPE-METHANE-PLUMES, you refer to the last ice age and temperatures rising "more than 15 degrees F in global average temperatures in less than a decade." (pg 4 of your blog)

I work on climate and energy issues. I have no information related to those dates and those temperatures. Scientific American two years ago published an article on the last great warming that occurred 56 million years ago: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-last-great-global-warming

Please provide me any material on your sources because your information contradicts everything I believe the science supports about the last 60 million years and the ice scientists I work with at the University of Utah.

Thank you,

Michael Mielke

Gunnar Rundgren said...

"The environmental movement had much the same flavor in its first flowering. To many of us in the appropriate-tech scene, industrial society’s encounter with the hard reality of planetary limits was at least as much an opportunity as a threat, and the integration of technologically advanced societies with a thriving planetary biosphere—the goal of a great deal of enthusiastic thinking in those days—seemed to promise a future of almost unimaginable richness and possibility."

According to Wikipedia you are five years younger then I am JMG, and indeed we come from different continents (I am Scandinavian). What you describe as being the EARLY environmental movement is what I see TODAY with the Green Economy and Sustainable Development. I don't recognize that attitude from my side of the pond in the seventies, and honestly also not from the writing of the seventies.

John Michael Greer said...

Villager, too true -- but what happens when you can't ride along because the bus doesn't come any more?

Developer, while humanity as a whole is subject to the global ecosystem, individual humans are subject to its local manifestations, and there's far more variation there than many people realize.

Phil, good. Stay tuned...

Brian, good heavens. Thank you.

JP, the Franks were not an old tribe, but they emerged out of what had been a relatively old and stable culture that had been fatally destabilized by interaction with Rome. I hadn't heard about the Muslim demographic issue, though -- thanks for the heads up.

Michael, I got that detail from Richard Alley's The Two Mile Time Machine -- he's discussing the steep warming at the end of the Younger Dryas period, around 11,500 years ago, and basing it on temperature proxies from Greenland ice cores.

Gunnar, I take it you didn't subscribe to Rain or The Journal of the New Alchemists back in those days, or read Ecotopia or any of Paolo Soleri's books. I did all these, and so did everyone else I knew in the appropriate-tech scene.

Carol said...

John, Regarding your critique of that coffee-table book ... You found it unreadable, yet one of the essays in it was written by you. Despite the capital letters, there is a lot of very valuable information in the book, and many of the essays are well written and convincing. We have used it as a basis of discussion with people who were not already convinced of its point of view, with some success. Curlene the Curmudgeon

KL Cooke said...

"I don't really know why anyone would dismiss conspiracies who has read some facts and quotations of history..."

I love conspiracy theories--they're one of my hobbies. The problem is, they don't really get you anywhere, because you never find out the truth. Fifty years later we're still pondering JFK, for example. Also, if one accepts the conspiracy,one must also accept that TPTB behind it have so much power that they can't be opposed. So, for practical purposes it's probably best to proceed without them.

Leo said...

It'll be fascinating to here your perspective on it. I know of one other site covering it

http://www.doomsteaddiner.org/blog/2013/05/24/musings-from-the-age-of-limits/ (wish embedded hyperlinks weren't eaten)

but I'm guessing from the name (doomstead) that their a bit biased.

KL Cooke said...

"Any comments on Ugo's article??"

It was fine until he got to the "good" scenario. Then it turned into horse feathers.

Paul said...

JMG, I'm new around here, so I need some time to catch up with your previously postings (which I will definitely do, one of these days..:):). Anyway thanks for your kind response. You mentioned about previous green Enactments as promising progress, but I view it as piece-meal-improvement under the current "democratic" political culture, which by definition has to balance and entertain as much vested interests (including greens) as possible. Any "radical" thought promising a rose garden (which in that case may mean radical or fundamentalist green) is ideological and doom to go either route (or a hybrid) that I mentioned. The Russians failed. The Chinese (Chinese Communist Party) is trying with some initial economic success (but with serious environmental and moralistic problems that I shall not deal with here). The fundamental Islams are trying to. The New Age meditators begin to know their limit, the apocalyptic predictions groups also doomed to fail. Fundamental Christians don't even come close to control anything influential. No hope of violent revolution despite gravity of issues (North Korea is an example). My thinking is that there will be future rose garden promises and there will be future despairs - not that I have any clue as to what is "progress" or there is any meaningful meaning of "progress" in our contemporary world.

wiseman said...

@JMG
It's not a muslim demographic issue, it's a Persian/Turk demographic issue. Countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Nigeria and a host of other Islamic countries more than make up for the loss from these two countries.
TFR has in general fallen throughout the world so you need more data along with TFR to get an insight.

To add to the discussion about the whole Islamic civilization thing, people tend to confuse and conflate the two issues
1. The retaliation against western interference in West Asia.
2. The historical tendency of Islam to invade and assimilate local cultures.

These are two distinct issues and need to be viewed as such if people are to make sense of what's going on. The media certainly does enough to confuse the two.
The first one is just a phase and will disappear if the west gets out of it's neo-colonial adventures, the second one is the real threat.

To add to your comments about environmental movement, I think people join them for reasons of solidarity and not because they have an agenda. This is basically the same reason why people join fringe terrorist organizations, because they feel lonely and out of place.
Here's an article about how the whole counter terrorism doctrine has been built on incorrect assumptions.

The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists

http://www.wired.com/politics/security/commentary/securitymatters/2008/10/securitymatters_1002

The takeaway being that movements which tend to bring about real change organize around an agenda, not an identity. They look for concessions and disband as soon as the goals have been met (even partially).

Fringe movements on the other hand are all over the place and have no clear goals, they exist to accommodate the egos of disgruntled individuals. For example the guy involved in the recent attack on a soldier in UK had never even been to places like Iraq or Afghanistan and he got all outraged by reading a couple of blogs and attending a few meetings.

Phil Harris said...

I endorse @JP. Watch those fertility rates very carefully - the history of fertility across Europe itself in recent decades is also fascinating.

I understand that significant parts of the Indian sub-Continent particularly in the south have European levels now.

And secular Turkey stands at the gate to Europe, and holds the water for Syria and for Iraq with the latter's oil & gas reserves and divided Islam traditions.

best
Phil H

streamfortyseven said...

As to Islam, there's no one such thing, there are a set of mutually incompatible movements within what we call Islam - mutually incompatible to the point that they have declared anyone outside of their particular movement to be "murtad" or apostate. Under the rule of Sharia law, apostates are to be killed, hence the great incidence of intra-Islamic violence, Shia vs Sunni, Sunni vs Shia, Shia vs Sufi and on and on. Fairly large numbers of Muslims - especially educated Muslims - have abandoned Islamic faith, even though they go through the motions especially in Islamic countries where they could be beheaded if found out.

Most of the "extremist" and "moderate" Muslims in the West (Europe, UK, US) are of the Wahhabi subset of the Sunni branch of Islam. The extremists style themselves as Salafi, even though they would be regarded as heterodox by Sunnis in the first 400 years of Islam. The Muslims who carried out the Boston Marathon, the firebombings in Sweden, and Woolwich murders are of this Wahhabi subset, as are their imams. What they follow isn't really a religion, it's more of an ideology, and they seek hegemony over populations outside of the traditional Islamic lands now under Sharia law. Here's a rather long explanation of this for those who might be interested: http://www.hudson.org/files/publications/AAlexievWagesofExtremism032011.pdf

That being said, they are funded largely from two sources - Saudi oil money, and welfare payments from taxpayers in the countries to which they immigrate, although they also get money from the trade in illegal drugs, human trafficking, and Western intelligence agencies - the Afghan Freedom Fighters of the 1980s, enlisted by the US in the fight against the USSR, were Wahhabi/Salafis, as was Osama bin Laden, scion of a wealthy Saudi Arabian family. The Muslim Brotherhood which now runs Egypt is another group of Wahhabis supported by US aid and Saudi oil money, and they have great influence in the US State Department and the UK Foreign Office: http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/3672/muslim-brotherhood-us-government Currently, it appears that the US will come into the Syrian war supporting the Muslim Brotherhood-backed faction in that conflict.

Now, what will happen when the oil money runs out and the welfare benefits dry up is anyone's question. The Saudis and Emirates Arabs are going to have a rough time of it in their own countries when all they have to sell is a lot of sand, so perhaps the beachheads established by the Muslim Brotherhood in the US, UK, and Europe will be put to use - or perhaps not...

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

What a great post and you've also perfected the cliff-hanger ending!

I haven't read the comments yet as I've been out celebrating "Good Beer Week" which is promoting all the good work that micro-breweries are doing in the state. Respect. In between this, the wind turbine project is coming along and the fabricated support posts are now cemented into the ground and hopefully over the next day or two, the turbine gets raised after all of the wiring has been laid. Compared to solar panels, wind turbines are really complex bits of kit. I wonder just how many people who promote them as a solution have real world experience with them?

I came across a bargain at a local market too, about a kilogram of Jerusalem artichoke tubers for only $5. There were about 50 tubers in there, so I couldn't walk past them. Plus, I recently discovered that fresh walnuts are a taste sensation compared to the dried variety. When I was very young, dried walnuts were some sort of child abuse for sure. Horrible things. So, a few more walnut trees got bunged into the orchard, even though it will take at least 6 years before they produce nuts. The chooks have even started to lay a few more eggs per day too as they've come off the autumn moult.

Alright, I've been avoiding it so far, you've got my interest peaked. What is it? Go on don't hold back! hehe!

Nature is shaping my time here. I enjoy her bounty and fear her wrath, yet all the time I respect her and do my best to comfort her. Yet I know, deep down that I am insignificant in her schemes.

PS: I've experimented further with the scrumpy by adding some sugar to a single batch plus a bit of champagne yeast and the fermentation has gone feral. The idea arose for the experiment whilst studying the differences between scrumpy and apple cider as the techniques weren't that different. Time will tell. Fermented foods are very good for you.

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lidia,

Thank you for the excellent reply and you are on the road to doing some good stuff.

Oh yeah, remember plants lots of self seeding flowers in a cottage garden. This will provide lots of food for the bees and other insects. We've got a whole world of plants to choose from so go hard!

PS: I'm quite envious of your access to a river.

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Juhana,

Thank you for your reply. Your English is excellent, so don't stress.

I hear you man. I've worked on a line on a factory floor and also as part of a management team instructed to shut down a factory and sell off its assets.

You know, one day, we may wake up from this crazy experiment and work out that we actually need to locally produce / manufacture goods.

The Ford motor company announced on Thursday that they will cease manufacturing in this country (mostly in the state that I live). They announced that 1,200 jobs will be lost but they don't announce what will happen to all of the suppliers to that company and then all of the people and companies that supply to those suppliers.

The union movement who are strongly aligned with the supposedly left leaning federal government are a great example of a captive constituency because they release statements saying how deplorable it all is. (Another good reason to ditch you're whole left/right thinking thing).

But, are those union officials and their families driving locally manufactured cars? Are they demanding import tariffs be raised to protect the remaining jobs? Probably not is the answer.

As to the warlords, they may actually bring about a culture of mutual obligation which is sadly lacking in our culture. I don't know, however, it may actually be a necessary step. I don't fear that stage as I already pay protection money now, it's just given fancy names called taxes and insurance. What do they say, "If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck".

Regards

Chris

Phil Knight said...

I recently read that the Middle Eastern country with the highest birth rate is currently Israel. Which means that Europe may one day be conquered by the Hebrews.

The irony of that!

Fidelius said...

Regarding the "Islam in Europe" issue brought up by some commenters (and I recall JMG writing about that as well a few posts ago): Islam has always been a part of Europe. The notion that Europe was a "Christian continent" is a myth. Until a few hundred years ago large parts of today's Spain and Portugal, as well as Sicily, were predominantly Islamic. Today there are European countries where Islam has for a long time been the majority religion, such as Bosnia, Turkey and Albania (although Islam is reportedly shrinking in Albania at the expense of Catholicism). The Maltese, although almost 100% Catholic, direct their prayers to Allah – a legacy of their being situated between cultures.

I think we don't even need to talk about the mutual influence of Arabian and European culture on each other. European rennaissance would have been impossible without the Latin writings preserved by Arabian scholars, and in the middle ages many scientific concepts, ways of thought and – perhaps most apparent – our numbering system came from Arabia. What we call "Western culture" today is in large parts of Arabic origin, and Arabic culture today is of course also heavily influenced by European concepts. Even religious discourses, e.g. on the nature of God, influenced each other.

So it's not "European/Christian culture" vs "Arabian/Islamic culture" at all. Rather, we've been two sides of the same coin for a long time. Most people and politicians do recognize this, even if there's often an undercurrent of resentment against immigrants (not only Muslim ones, though – it's more about "they're taking away our low-skilled jobs" than religion). The German president made some waves a few years ago when he stated that Islam was an integral part of Germany, but in the end, most people accepted that he had simply stated a fact.

Also, while the descendants of Muslim immigrants are still Muslims, they somewhat seem to lose interest in the daily practice of their religion: Imams are already complaining that young people don't go to the mosque any more. Bad influence of European culture, I suppose. :)

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Reverse Developer,

Some of your concepts relating to quality of life are mutually exclusive.

The definition of mutually exclusive is to mean: "contradictory: unable to be both true at the same time."

Were you trying to be amusing or ironic? Or were you serious in your comment?

Dunno? They seem like value judgements to me.

Chris

om-seeker said...

if i may very simply ask that your extremely well written blog have a layout that is easier on the eyes.. I would suggest a larger font, please, and wider page.

Edward said...

This may seem obvious but simple things are easier to remember: The myth of progress promises an ever expanding pie with a piece for everyone. The reality of resource depletion and end of empire makes progress a zero sum game.

Brian said...

@om-seeker: You can use a program like Readability (available as an extension in Firefox and Chrome, not sure about IE) or Evernote Clearly (again, as an extension in your browser) to view the text in your own format. It certainly helps the eyes.

Also, to whoever said they couldn't use HTML anchor tags to embed links - at least in my preview pane, it seems to be working.

Edward said...

Re: "The contemporary faith in progress can be described as the conviction that the word "better" simply means "whatever comes next."

Whatever comes next is usually better for the maker and worse for the user.

I wrote that with products in mind but that probably works for ideas too.

ozoner said...

Hello,
Most insightful musings that provoke deeper and deeper observations of how one's chains of logic are bounded. (The parameters of navel-gazing, I guess! ;o)

I'm prone to agree with Karim [5/23 at 2:01 AM] that these "shapes of time" so brilliantly outlined are obsolete for a severely constrained future. I'd add Hesiod's in there as well, as its' ultimate ending is in total barbarity (all instinct, all the time, with no impulse control).

How we "get to the future" is an interesting guessing game, but I feel that history shows that those who are seriously invested in the business of power and control will use EVERYTHING in their toolkit to maintain it, leading to some very savage outcomes... deserved or undeserved, depending on your moral prism.

But, downsize we will, desired or no.

My idea of a "proper" state of humankind is the abandonment of triumphalism is all its' permutations excepting in the area of "fun/entertainment". "Whatever will we DO with our [much downsized] selves?", we cry. I would say, some sort of hybrid of Amer-indian subsistence living combined with the intensive study of the workings of the Cosmos, from the micro to the macro. I don't believe the interactions of all these various "systems" can EVER be completely fathomed by the mind of man, but should keep him well-occupied (busy) until a "big one" winks him out for good and all. I would consider this a good use of that big brain, and a fine replacement for all this acquisitiveness. Acquiring knowledge may be considered a "dangerous" thing to some (especially those interested in maintaining power), but I think it to be a benign "end" in itself.
The ultimate religion; respect for and study of Nature and the massive meshing of the gears of our Cosmos and our actual, tiny "place"/"cog" in it. (IOW, perhaps we're here to try and understand it [that anomalous brain and all], not to conquer it. Surrender Dorothy!)

Of course, we may "do ourselves in" or have it done TO us a'fore that eventuality, but I really can't picture a more "pragmatic" way to inhabit our place in time. Hope this wasn't too long-winded, though "windy". ;o)

Edward said...

Defector Syndrome - is that like "Preaching to the choir?" Is that a form of Phatic Communication?

shrama said...

Dear JMG,

Please read the following article from ZNet

http://www.zcommunications.org/the-triumph-of-progressivism-graduation-2013-and-1968-by-robert-reich

Given that the article is titled "The Triumph of Progressivism", the author is clearly a believer in the religion of moral progress. Yet note that he is not suggesting that people should sit on their backs and watch progress happen. So where does such a view stand vis-a-vis your thesis on the civil religion of progress and specifically its denomination of moral progress? What is this guy saying that is useful and what is it that can be called just religious dogma?

Just trying to understand your views better.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@wiseman--You wrote, "The takeaway being that movements which tend to bring about real change organize around an agenda, not an identity. They look for concessions and disband as soon as the goals have been met (even partially). Fringe movements on the other hand are all over the place and have no clear goals, they exist to accommodate the egos of disgruntled individuals." That rings a bell for me.

The first wave of feminism lasted about ninety years in America and England and ended when its final goal, the vote, was achieved. (One of its US offshoots, the Prohibition movement, lasted a bit longer.)

Second wave feminism, which was in part a movement with an agenda and in part identity politics, partially achieved its goals and ran out of steam without formally disbanding (the National Organization of Women is still around.)

The post-WW II peace movement in the US never settled on an agenda. Early in Lyndon Johnson's term, it degenerated into a fringe movement whose oppositional ideology made looking for concessions impossible. It succeeded in suspending the draft, but the military-industrial complex is stronger than ever and the United States has been on a permanent war footing for decades.

Heraclitus the Obscure said...

One of the curious things I've begun to notice in the past few years is how peak oil realities have been driving a sort of "Gibsonization Trajectory". William Gibson essentially invented cyberpunk, and some of the genre's core features—technological saturation, human modification, pervasive digitization, and neo-feudalization in the form of international techno-corporations that displace the nation state—seem to be gaining ground fast by virtue of the solutions they can claim to offer for peak oil, global warming, and American decline.

Google's initiatives aimed at making as much information as possible to as many people as possible are certainly impressive, but there is a good deal of eschatological rhetoric bundled into the package, rhetoric in which enabling networked individual creativity and innovation figures as the solution to all of earth's big problems: The engineer's faith that no problem fails to yield in the presence of enough cleverness and enough data.

People are increasingly attracted to that vision, and to its more extreme manifestations (Kurzweil's Singularity) as the nation-state continues to disappoint in keeping oil prices low and maintaining American prominence. Consider the pronouncements emanating from the (Google funded) Singularity University that America will soon reclaim its manufacturing predominance by virtue of 3D printing

http://www.theverge.com/2013/5/9/4315720/white-house-looks-to-3d-printing-with-200-million-plan-for-military.

People are also increasingly attracted to the promises of human augmentation somehow turning us into our own Deus Ex Machina.

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/03/how-engineering-the-human-body-could-combat-climate-change/253981/)

As Google, Apple, Amazon, and the other tech giants continue to complain about how far behind the curve of innovation the legislative apparatus of the nation state inevitably leaves us, I think we'll see more and more evidence of a strange shift in the structure of loyalties, as people invest their hopes in the exemplars of techno-utopianism as opposed to a nation-state model that seems prepared to go the way of the dodo.

In a curious way, it resembles the dynastic structure of medieval Europe, in which great families held disconnected properties over wide areas, and loyalty was predicated on a personal attachment to the dynasty and its fortunes. Perhaps the relationship between techno-giants and their voting shareholders will develop into a curious analogue of that between the medieval king and his great magnates.

As the realities of peak oil and global warming become more and more obvious, I suspect more and more people will invest their hopes in a technological game-changer, and Gibsonization will continue. The dreams will more likely than not be disappointed, but the structural shifts they will enable may have a very long heritage indeed.

I've been trying to investigate how the structures of hope around which we erect our societies operate in practice. This essay is the best theory I've been able to articulate so far:

http://thesacrificinganimal.blogspot.com

The essay is called "The Sacrificing Animal"

In which a Southern bride has second thoughts, John D. Rockefeller discovers his God, National Geographic sparks a sexual awakening, Carl Sagan presides over a solemn rite, and you finally figure out why the blog is called The Sacrificing Animal

wiseman said...

@Deborah
And I can give you an account from my country. The oldest political party in our country, the Congress was formed to achieve independence and when we did gain independence, Gandhi suggested that Congress be disbanded.

However they didn't, it was a party that was still stuck in the pre-independence mindset of old colonial masters, as a result we got rulers who were effectively British but brown in color.

On the whole peace movement thing, do you read David Graeber ? He suggests that the peace movement succeeded but not in ways that were intended. They succeeded in making lowering of body count the end goal of all future US conflicts, so much so that US forces now focus on lowering body count and preventing protests to the point that it compromises their effectiveness and promotes future conflict.

Here's the link

http://www.thebaffler.com/past/practical_utopians_guide

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@wiseman--Thank you for the link. I agre with what Graeber says about American military casualties and with most of what he writes.

Not sure about the wisdom of universal debt forgiveness; defined benefit pensions are a form of debt which corporations are eager to shed.

Leo said...

Just wondering about the differences in assumptions between Dimitri Orlov and you.

In many ways your very similar thinkers, both agree that the American empire is dying and people should be preparing on an individual level. But in many other important ways your thinking diverge substantially.

He (going by the in praise of anarchy posts) supports anarchism, goes with a fast crash model and I get the impression he dislikes/abhors government. On those issues I assume (based on your writings) you disagree.

Since the basic assumptions aren't often mentioned. I'm wondering what your take is on the differences in assumption that drive the differences in outlook between you two.

Since your both heavyweights in the peak oil community, I think this is an important question.

DeAnander said...

"He suggests that the peace movement succeeded but not in ways that were intended. They succeeded in making lowering of body count the end goal of all future US conflicts"

That's a painfully ironic thought: that the most visible current achievement of the passionate peace movement of the 60's is... drone warfare.

DeVaul said...

You wrote some time ago about the process of deligitimization of the government that went on right before the French Revolution. I see that unfolding right now in the latest "scandal".

The "scandal" involves a marine handing an umbrella to the president and a foreign head of state. No sexual impropriety or connections to shady businesses are involved, or anything that we would normally associate with a "scandal", yet we are told this is a misuse of public funds -- or something so terrible that the words cannot uttered.

I think both the president and congress are delitigimized in the eyes of the people in this process. It is a desperate attempt by one power center to deligitimize another by conjuring up a scandal out of thin air.

How much longer can this go on?

I want to say "longer", because the alternative is to accept that the complete deligitimization of the federal government in the eyes of the American people is now close upon us.

Chris G said...

I recall someone a while ago in the comments brought up the celtic knot: it divagates all over the place, but ultimately eats its own tail. But a subject standing at any one point may see herself rising, falling, turning a corner, on a long flat straight-away.

It may have been here in comments again that someone quoted a Russian: "Optimists believe the future is uncertain; pessimists have enough information to know otherwise."

Since we're immersed in time, the shape of the future is ultimately unknown, though we can glean clues from the shape of past time.

What's interesting to me is to break down this apparent dichotomy between Augustinian and Joachimite time. Indeed, I think many people would agree that in many ways agrarian lifestyles are transcendent: not covering the galaxy in 10 billion years transcendent, but in terms of the transcendence of the moment.

The reasonable path,as will become increasingly evident to people right and left with time, is to cooperate in taking care of our own needs locally; I think that's a bottom line.

There is also an interesting parallel in our modeling of time and of social organization. At least at the present we're kind of at the top of a pyramid (embedded in a wider wandering). All human organizations are inherently pyramidal in shape, more or less, of varying sizes. And there is, loosely speaking, a pyramidal structure on the world scale, covering economic to cultural life. One thing that bars people from seeing this pyramid for what it is, is that there are pyramids on top of pyramids; like a Christmas tree. So within USA, efforts to help our own poor often just mean exporting the evils we hope to escape. Meanwhile, the entities at the top of the pyramids are not really people at all, but an ideology of profit. We know there are many secrets from the people. But the real conspiracy is what has become a prime belief in a materialistic world: that humans are merely rational animals that maximize self-interest. One of the aids provided by a discussion of the shape of time is to see that something gets carried through the ups and downs, and it's not a material thing.

talus wood said...

Ozark, regarding your comments of permaculture. Do you find that "permies" whom you know have a different lifestyle to "conventional" people?
Or, is it like a lot of environmentalists in that they may have a prius and recycle lightbulbs and think they are making a big change?
Not being argumentative, just that most alternative people i know are practicing the same lifestyle: flying to holidays,driving just as much etc, but they buy a few more green products and have watched al gores movie:-)

Ares Olympus said...

There are so many wonderful analogies to consider what our predicaments are, and how two parallel futures are also possible, like Asimov's Foundation and Empire, and his projection of humanity splitting into an elite who embraced technology and robots, but in their secure long lives, and jealous egos, failed to collaborate and the masses eventually passed them up, with taboos against robots (energy servants) in favor of doing for themselves.

So back to all the failed "movements", I accept the argument they look like failures, because their agendas get coopted by self-interested political parties who can keep avoiding progress with their loyal opposition as excuse, but perhaps they are not meant to succeed, but just play a symbolic role of "this is important" and CHANGE that eventually does happen follows a direction because those symbols were held in statemate attention, just like Schumacher's divergent problems.

The GOP's hysteria over debt and deficits versus Dem's compensationary Keynsian delusions represent an unwinnable fight because both are right in their own domain. The GOP's antigovernment ideal isn't really antigovernment, but for progressive decentralization. But if they suddenly gained enough power to sink the ship now, they'd quickly reverse course and protect the status qup anyway, so its symbolic important to keep awake the realization that things won't last, and we have some more time to experiment before the next global crisis. We have some time to think, and to try things. That's a good thing if we don't go back to sleep.

I found this presentation last week on localized money and it got me thinking more what relocalization can look like:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNl62LVvr2E

A insight that came to me is that "debt" is the problem - i.e. who owns our debt? If your debt is in dollars, then you have to find a way to earn dollars to survive. And so the only way a local currency can compete is to help people who DON'T have debt in dollars, and DO have skills and time to give.

Debt is one way that enslaves people to the dollar, and "retirement" is a second way, a promise that the government or investments can and will support decades of unemployment at the end of life, and so at some point those promises become not credible, and again, a local currency can offer a way of "saving" surplus.

So however these ideas come out in practice, they are revolutionary because they are divestments from dependence upon a central state for security.

I don't think they're easy at all, because there's a huge cost to alternative systems, but they can grow up where they make sense and grow faster in crisis times where people have more time than money to spend.

And for me, the only reason I think people will do the work is because they have the GOP and Dems doing their thing to keep awareness alive, that things can't stand, and we need to be creative to find our future.

The internet is the strange unexpected progress that really did change everything, and perhaps if Carter's sweaters had won, we'd be running on 300 baud modems and saying good enough, so whatever else is true, there's MONSTROUS creativity activity going on now. And it is too messy for hope, but evolution only happens in the culling process when we are forced to choose a bad future to avoid a worse one.

Right now I think the best invention might be "security software" that prevents people from internet connectivity except during brief periods of time. Perhaps people with such power will change the world while the rest of us refuse to leave the dreams that come from infinite unlikely possibilities.

MawKernewek said...

It isn't possible to predict birth rates by linear extrapolation, they also respond to economic changes.

I think what may be happening in Israel is that a sector of the population, in this case the ultrareligious, are raising very large families.

There is a Christian movement, the Quiverfull, which also believes in large families. Whether this is a kind of Dominionist theology or 'more workers for the harvest field' I am not sure.

Any sector of the population that has high fertility rates decoupled from the rest of the population, if it remains cohesive over the long term, has the potential to expand.

As for Europe and Islam, I doubt it will achieve a continent wide dominance, it may do in some areas, and be a significant presence in many more. My guess though is that in the long term, radical Islamism will fade away, given that it began in the 19th c as a response to European imperialism, and was further stimulated in the 20th by American military adventures in the Middle East. Once neither European powers or USA are imperial powers with global reach, its appeal should fade, and will probably not be a major force by the end of this century.

Juhana said...

Thing separating your writing from others in peak oil sphere is that you try to conceptualize psychic and mental side of forthcoming scaling down. Cold facts about our resource, energy, demographic and pollution predicaments are out there for anyone to see. Inability of social systems and individual human beings to adapt to these verifiable physical limitations just shows how we are rationalizing, not actually rational animal species. We see only what we want to see as long as possible.

To jump from one narrative of mind to next one we need things that offer hope and dignity: ancient Romans did this when they threw away imperial pretensions and big chunk of classical civilization and embraced Christianity as replacement. New faith offered them consolidation and dignity when world around them was reverting into small, dirty and violent place for peasant and landlord alike.

This is what most peak oil writers forget: people need hope, or they do nothing to steer off from catastrophe. Being poor is standard faith for majority of human race from beginning to end of time, but being poor with pride and dignity intact is something else from being poor like suffering animal, with no moral spine or pride.

It is nice to see that you are trying to offer people some new ways to see world around. Materialism and current cultural trends have all but destroyed ability of Westerner to feel pride without material benefits attached.

They remember no longer, unlike their Afghan adversaries for example, that there are more important things in life than material abundance. Faith is stronger armor than money. That is reason why your country is destined to lose its current wars; you have no faith left as an nation to win enemies like tribes of Central Asia, illuminated by warrior's honour and pride.

This ecotechnic vision of yours is one path available. It is many ways tempting one, and it has casted dose of optimism into me at least. I am still not sure if you are counting all variables into picture you are drawing.

What you Americans tend to ignore is strong tendency among human race to splinter into small ethnic tribes as soon as it is possible. It happens even in high-tech countries when they enter period of extended decay and chaos. Same people who earlier thought their ethnicity has mostly trivial value have met their neigbor with Kalashnikov in hand and bad intentions in mind on practically all modern battlefields. It takes just smallest of disturbances with running of overcomplex logistical structure known as modern state and tribalism is back from the dead. Anyone who has seen war zones from 90's onwards can confirm that modern conflict has brought all the horrors accompanied to irregular troops back from the grave, and that trend is only escalating with no reverse trend in sight. I am not sure if your vision has incorporated that rising tide of violence into it. That phase must be lived through in many modern countries, especially in the West, before more serene, calm days can be returned. That fact changes many things you should do to make your family safe in forthcoming Dark Ages. If some hippie song talking about San Francisco and flowers was theme music for Baby Boomer generation, something like below shall be theme music of current babies:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pEFoE28SDQ

Hail the divine kingship and all that.

@Chris: Yep, you have to be one from rank-and-file of working class of West to truly understand deepness of betrayal that was served to us from golden plate. Political representatives who had from late 19th century onwards stood for unions and manual workers of the West managed to do one of biggest coat-turnings of history... All this globalism and multiculturalism of later decades has erased position of their old constituency, so political loyalties are on grand sale right now through Western world... Big tremors coming in near future. And you are right, whole left/right-dichotomy is mostly meaningless nowadays.

Ángel said...

@Juhana

You said:"This is what most peak oil writers forget: people need hope, or they do nothing to steer off from catastrophe."

And few lines later you propose "Die with honor" as theme music for next generation?

Juhana said...

Continued: It is not like I am hoping kind of future I described in my earlier post. But after seeing how badly current economic crisis is handled, and being well aware that in history this kind of crises have ALWAYS spilled into some sort of conflict... It is not like current West is exporting peace and democracy into wider world, it is other way around... Chaos and tribalism are seeping back into the West.

Most West European countries and probably USA are already unrecognizable to person who would be transported by some miracle from fifties to this day... And unrecognizable in BAD WAY. No-go areas, looting and rioting that continues for weeks, gangs which are more numerous and well-armed than police, whole suburbs ruled by drug gang lords... Total destruction of what used to be called family values. General respect towards personal integrity of individual shall follow those values into waste bin of history, mark my words. There can be no flower without roots. That guy from fifties probably had not these trends in his mind while thinking year 2000 and beyond back then...

What is REALLY disturbing is fact that mutual paranoia and hatred between groups spreads like wildfire, after it catches on firstplace. In federal Yugoslavia before war most people had no strong ethnic passions to speak of... Intermarriage was actually quite usual phenomenon, I think. It took just couple of years to conjure up old ghosts. The men on either side of the front were neighbors before. Then the other side became vilified as sons of Ustaše butchers and other side as Chetnik psychopaths. And they were no neighbors anymore.

Kabul in seventies had female university students with hair flowing in the wind and skirts barely extending below knee line... And look that city now. Difference is...well, mildly, shocking.

West is not exporting its values anymore. Instead it is importing older, less housebroken ways to see world, and totally delusional bunch of hustlers called "political leadership" in the West is making sure that crash is coming.

Marcello said...

"Marcello, yes, I understood you. My question was why you find it necessary to believe this, when the truth of the matter can't be known one way or another."

Let's put it this way, given my upbringing I am a rational pessimist. That said while one is always biased I would suspect my bias might be more in tune with the reality of this age than that of an unbridled optimist.
Also I must add that blaming environmentalist leaders for selling out sounds like people blaming comunism failure on Brezhnev. The head may well be rotten but problems often are structural...


"That's a painfully ironic thought: that the most visible current achievement of the passionate peace movement of the 60's is... drone warfare."

The trends leading to this have been long standing and largely driven by needs other than reduction of civilian casualties, the latter is more a byproduct than anything else. One need only to remember that the first operational guided bomb was deployed by Nazi Germany.
In the event I would recon that Pakistan being a nuclear power does put a cap on how much they are willing to tolerate much more effectively than any US peace movement. Some militant being blown up may even be welcomed. Carpet bombing round the clock...not so much.

Les said...

@ Talus: While it’s off topic, may I beg our host’s indulgence and interject on Ozark’s behalf…

Your question is worth asking, if perhaps a little impertinent when pointed solely at permies.

I know a few environmentalists and a few more permies. Overall, I’d say that there are those who talk (the talk) and those who walk (the walk, so to speak). Talkers outnumber walkers at least 100 to 1. It ain’t known as the Toyota “Pius” for nothing…

I certainly know permies that fly to Canada (from Australia) for skiing holidays; I also know a Greens pollie that runs a vintage car hire business and reckons you don’t need to give up being a rev-head in order to be green; not to mention the “sustainability consultants” that remind me of a lot of the consultants from my days in the IT business (instant experts – just add water) who were always looking for the next fad from which they could extract a living.

When you look at the population of walkers in my circle, most of them are permies in one way or another (though not all of them would admit to it) and many that aren’t are pretty keen on learning the design systems permaculture teaches, partly I hope, because they see those systems are working so well on our farm and worked so well in our city house.

Then again, we’re in a very small minority here where we refuse to buy stuff from the major supermarkets and chain stores – the idea of actually sourcing local produce or from local suppliers for the stuff we don’t make ourselves is totally foreign to most people here.

Finally, I’d point out that back in the city, sustainability is a lifestyle choice. One where many people pick and choose the bits they want from the catalogue and ignore the rest. Out here in the bush, sustainability is being forced upon many people, largely for economic reasons. People grow their own food, because they have to. People go to town once a week, because it costs real money to get there. Mind you, not many people wear jeans with as many patches as mine (to the point where I’ve been asked where I got them by tourists who like the idea of spending five hundred bucks to look poor) and I suspect that this is because the skills to make the repairs have been lost.

Cheers,
Les

hapibeli said...

The subject is almost a taboo in Europe, but it is plainly exposed by a recent Israeli documentary.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hR7REARFFpQ

Whoawee! Ain't nuthin prejudicial from an Israeli perspective I'll betcha!

Course, ain't nuthin prejudicial about my comment neither! heh heh heh heh heh!

Reverse Developer said...

Survival strategies (culture) are adaptations to the geography of biodiversity. Thus resource (system) management is local...until you substitute appropriation for management.

The history of our species is a an account of behavioral, perhaps genetic, predisposition to shifting affinities and estrangements. Defective cultures that do not grasp that human demands on systems 'managed' through appropriation will periodically reassert themselves but must eventually die out.

Peoples that accept as first principles: that resource appropriation is not system management; that unilateral appropriation is violence; that collective action is the appropriate response to both resource allocation and violence; and, that these principles comprise the essential institution of the global human presence, will survive long term.

Juhana said...

@Angel: It is what I see as most likely outcome from current problems, not something I want. People have disturbing trend to confuse what they want from future to actual reality.

People do not get what they want or believe they deserve, they get what they can afford and actually deserve by their actions.

Western states had ONE CHANGE to unravel mounting problems in controlled way, back in -08. In the year when first tremors were felt in extremely fragile global market system.

They did nothing but printed more money to start again broken engine. They failed.

So, "Die with honor" is probably realistic theme music for near future. Not what I WANT, but people have never during history got what they want, except during short interludes of prosperity and peace. Those days are now over, and if they are never to return, big problems must be faced first. And unfortunately it shall not be peaceful process, not anymore. It has already started: food prices through Northern Africa and Canaan more than tripled after crisis of energy started, and whole coastline is in flames now. It is not fight for freedom in any Western sense, but fight where militant zealots face ruthless state forces...

It has already begun.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Juhana wrote:

"Most West European countries and probably USA are already unrecognizable to person who would be transported by some miracle from fifties to this day... And unrecognizable in BAD WAY. No-go areas, looting and rioting that continues for weeks, gangs which are more numerous and well-armed than police, whole suburbs ruled by drug gang lords..."

This is not quite right, at least for the West Coast of the United States. The trends of which you speak were in full swing as early as the '20s and '30s.

I was born in 1942, and thus was already a teenager during most of the fifties. I lived in California, specifically in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many things were as true then as they are now: there were no-go areas (e.g., all of Emeryville, dangerous even for a male in a locked car), gangs that challenged police power, corrupt and violent police who sometimes simply killed inconvenient people without reference to the law, large-scale criminal enterprises, ethnic violence and riots, etc. My father's mother was the bookkeeper for one of these criminal enterprises during the '20s and early '30s, and she also ran her boss's payroll every week -- including pay for his staff of thugs and enforcers. Family values still got lip service, but weren't practiced by very many people -- certainly not by my own parents' families.

So not much has changed, if I look at these things from my 70-year perspective. Yet there are rather more of all these things now than back then.

The city in which I actually lived during the '50s was Berkeley, which was comparatively an oasis in the middle of all these things. This was not because of the quality of its inhabitants, but because of the uncommon control the city's police department exerted over all facets of life, and especially the uncommon level of its surveillance of the populace. Berkeley's legendary first chief of police, a German-American named August "Gus" Vollmer (1876-1955) had been a US Marine during the Spanish-American War. He systematically studied the most advanced and rigorous German advances in police work and surveillance of the populace, and he applied them with uncommon skill and intelligence to the task of policing Berkeley.

(It is impossible to understand what happened in Berkeley during the '60s and '70s without knowing what Chief Vollmer's Berkeley was like in the '40s and '50s. One significant datum was that all boys age 10-12 in elementary school had a mandatory hour of military drill every week under the command of a uniformed police officer.)

But the oasis of calm in Berkeley was only relative, and the efforts and means that were used to maintain it led to a crisis soon after Chief Vollmer ceased to exert influence over the police department. (Suffering from Parkinson's disease, he took his own life in 1955.)

Already during the '50s, such pillars of family values as Freemasonry had begun to lose their influence. By the time I was a teenager, not very many young males were entering the Freemasonic "side organization" for boys (The Order of DeMolay). It was already pretty clear which way the culture was tending . . .

Phil Harris said...

@Marcello said
"One need only to remember that the first operational guided bomb was deployed by Nazi Germany."
Well... they were not very guided. I personally saw two of them, one passing over our heads on its final glide path, missed the tops of the trees and landed in a field a mile up the road. The other one twisted after the engine cut and blew somebody else's house, not ours. So it goes.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Robert,

You made me laugh and I'm not having a go either, just trying to give you a different perspective.

Quote: "One significant datum was that all boys age 10-12 in elementary school had a mandatory hour of military drill every week under the command of a uniformed police officer."

hehe! Err sorry mate, but I did cadets (no option) at school and we dressed up in military gear, marched around a lot in groups (military hierarchy), went camping/orienteering out in the bush sleeping rough, ate ration packs, shot rifles etc. I certainly wasn't alive in the 1960's either!

I wouldn't overstate the influence of such activities on impressionable children as this would be an error of judgement.

A lot of people think that some sort of military training will instil discipline into youth. This is an error.

Regards

Chris

Glenn said...

@Robert Mathiesen,

Thanks for the perspective. I came a generation after you in Berkeley. I got to see it all come apart as a child in the '60's and an adolescent in the early '70's. Let's just say that the police tactics then tended to provoke confrontation, and they and Guv'nor Ray-Gun seriously underestimated the effect on the public of white kids getting their heads busted by cops live on Tee-Vee.

As for the rest; my brother remarked recently that kids these days don't have the street smarts and survival skills that we developed 50 years ago.

Glenn
Marrowstone Island

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Chris (Cherokee Organics)

Of course. Different countries, quite different things implied by roughly the same customs or institutions. The Berkeley custom seemed, to me as a boy back then, intended to condition us to obey without question any police officer's commands. Not quite the same thing as what you describe . . .

Juhana said...

Thanks for interesting stories, Robert. You have lived quite a different life there in the New World compared to my grandparents! This just reassures my feeling that USA has very different soul compared to many European countries. Fragmented social landscape has not been fact of life here before; only deep division in the past has been between working class and bourgeois.

When results of peak cheap oil really hit through haphazard firewalls build in haste, one obvious problem for the long run is this: real-life, working social models for semi-industrial societies are very different from all current models of developed countries.

There must be reason why mainly agrarian or pastoral societies have been so uniform in their basic structure. I don't believe at all that we can keep modern moral imperatives after reverting back to world powered largely (but not exclusively) by muscle, wind and sun.

This ecotechnic model is tempting one because it offers one theoretical model how to blend new and old together. Even then, I believe that history is the best oracle; if aristocratic monarchism or confined "city state" republicanism have been almost invariably models of political organisation with pre-industrial societies, well... They probably make a comeback after this s**tstorm has passed.

Your country, Robert, is fascinating because it is that exception which confirms the rule. It was ruled with consent of quite wide constituency from day one, before true industrialism. Those with voting right in the beginning were motley group when compared to voters of almost xenophobic Mediterranean republics of Antiquity and Middle Ages. French tried to do same after you, but failed miserably. "Emperor Bonaparte" does not sound very democratic, eh..?

One tragedy of current USA is that you actually have very much to be proud of, and many over there does not seem to get this. It is not this semi-empire of yours to be proud of, but strong values which formed foundation of your nation. Many of those values are quite alien for me personally, but I don't understand why people with such a history indulge in self-shaming. Empires come and go, but basic values of civilization lay deeper. You just have to stop making them somekind universal rule; you are actually the exception from universal rule, if there is one to speak of.

I personally respect your country's foundations - behind the comfortable distance :).

Interesting life story, thanks for sharing it with us.

Iuval Clejan said...

To all indians here: Are you aware of the writings and works of J.C. Kumarappa? For example "Why The Village Movement?" and his work with the All India Village Industries Association (AIVIA)? Were he and M. Gandhi romaticizing village life, or were they just pointing out that improving it by building up pre-industrial, decentralized village technology and economy was a better path ahead than industrialization and urbanization? But they were ignored and marginalized by Nehru's government. Perhaps now is the time to admit a mistake was made and re-examine their ideas. What do you think?

Iuval Clejan said...

Chris, military training gives some boys a more meaningful preoccupation than staring at a screen and doing the kind of dumb or absurd job that industrial civilization mostly provides (with the exception of science, math and engineering, which is only suitable to a few). An even better (for some) way to preoccupy young boys is to train them in pre-industrial crafts (which includes agriculture). The only crafts that can earn a living in industrial society (barely, sometimes through the gift economy of marriage) are the domestic, traditionally feminine crafts. What else would the boys do if there is nothing matching their talents and propensities?

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Glenn, about Berkeley:

Yes, Chief Vollmer's influence had definitely waned by the mid '60s. I think, however, the real architect of all the confrontations in Berkeley was Edwin J. Meese III, who was an attorney in the office of the Attorney General for Alameda County, 1958-1967. Meese had been very badly bruised in 1960 over his efforts to prosecute the people who protested at the House Unamerican Activities Committee meeting in San Francisco in 1960. I think he had been smarting for vengeance on the whole Berkeley activist community, and he got his chance in the later 1960s.

Some of my high-school classmates were among those arrested during what was an extremely polite and peaceful and well-mannered protest (in suits and ties!) by today's standards, so I heard a good deal about it at the time. Meese publicly proposed a slate of felony charges against the protesters that would have sent my friends to prison for decades, maybe for life, for their role in this protest. His proposal was such an overreaction that many influential people (some of whose children were among the arrested) came down very hard on him behind the scenes, and in the end all the legal issues were resolved quietly.

But in 1967 Meese went on to join Regan's staff, and in 1967 he became Regan's chief of staff. Regan already seemed to many California voters to be half-witted even then, when he was Governor, and those of us who thought that also suspected that it was his staff (esp. Meese) and his wife who formulated all his policies, and who wrote the actor's scripts that he could follow during his public appearances.

Meese stayed with Regan all through his Presidency and beyond, and seems still to be one of the most powerful and influential men behind the throne in Republican and Conservative circles. But ever since the bruising he took in 1960, he has always kept a very low profile, and so his role has been largely overlooked by historians and popular chroniclers.

RedNeck Girl said...

@Juhana, even though you speak from a Northern European position you do not know all there is to know about the founding fathers and what influenced them in constructing a nation. Benjamin Franklin admired the Iroquois Confederacy and was influenced by their governing system


I have partial American Indian ancestry, Cherokee to be exact, a cousin tribe of the Iroquois and tribal life of the Cherokee was not as you expect. Women owned the land they farmed and had their own tribal counsel, it was they who decided if the tribe went to war. If a woman felt an enemy had done her great damage and she had no male family members left alive she could petition the men's tribal counsel to go on the war trail with the men. If she could keep up with the men and all the male counsel members agreed she was allowed to join a war party to avenge her family honor.


That is an example of successful social justice in what most people would call primitive living conditions. I feel women of today can and will still hold onto many of the social advances they've made in the near past into a closer to the earth situation in the future. That is if they want them strongly enough.



Wadulisi

Marcello said...

"Well... they were not very guided. I personally saw two of them, one passing over our heads on its final glide path, missed the tops of the trees and landed in a field a mile up the road."

I was thinking more about the FX 1400 which was available earlier. But in general similar considerations apply.
The V1 could hit Britain at a point when conventional air attacks had become suicidal proposition for the Luftwaffe. The FX 1400 was developed a mean to tackle mobile, heavily armed and armored naval vessels. Laser guided bombs were used at first to destroy targets such as bridges that could require hundreds of tons of conventional bombs to be destroyed.

"It was ruled with consent of quite wide constituency from day one, before true industrialism"

That was indeed a remarkable feat, but one should also note that the US position was atypical as it enjoyed a number of advantages such as abundance of natural resources and a relative scarcity of enemies which were not available in Europe. Britain could raid and blockade, as it did in 1812, but it could not hold and had little appetite for it. That meant it was possible for example do do away with a large standing army and all that came with it, something that was not possible in continental Europe unless one wanted to end up like Poland.

wiseman said...

@Iuval
I am not familiar with J.C. Kumarappa but I am familiar with Gandhi's writings.

Gandhi was a staunch conservative, he sought to fight untouchability within the boundaries of Hinduism as they existed when he lived, which is why he selectively used his own interpretation of the scriptures to show that the dalits were really "Harijan" or "Children of God". In a similar fashion he was horrified by western materialism and sought to fight it by invoking the romanticism of a village life.

Contrast this with the other great thinker and low caste hero Dr BR Ambedkar who described villages as black holes of ignorance and dogma.

I am more inclined to side with Dr BR Ambedkar here, I see the same tinges of elitism in people who romanticize village life that we can see in environmentalists who have never endured the daily privations of a truly sustainable lifestyle. Gandhi for all the hardships he endured was really privileged in an Indian sense, he never had to go through the daily rituals of discrimination and neglect that people of lower caste do, hence his romanticism.
In fact his latent nationalism was triggered when he was meted out similar discrimination that lower caste people endure everyday by the Britishers!

I don't know of a single dalit (low caste) intellectual who idolizes village life. They detest it with a vengeance and view the cities as forces of freedom and embrace it openly.

To your question of whether it was a mistake or not. It's hard to tell, we cannot rewind the clock back and see which strategy would have worked out better. One thing I do know is that most villagers do not want to live in villages provided they can eke out a decent living in the cities.

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear wiseman,
Gandhi didn't approve of the discrimination against lower castes and he and J.C. Kumarappa did not approve of the unnecessary poverty either. So I am confused about which part of village life you think that Gandhi romanticized. Experiencing discrimination himself, he was able to better understand it, not romanticize it. He and Kumarappa thought that science and technology could better the life of villagers, but not by shifting production to big urban factories, rather by lightening the load of local craft industries. Of course you can't wind back the clock, but you could try a different tactic, one that wise men have promoted for a long time, not just your two countrymen.

Can you back up your claim that most villagers would rather live in cities? I could imagine it may have been true, but after being exposed to the reality of city slums, as opposed to the romantic ideal of comfortable western life that many villagers were seduced by and that is simply not possible for the majority, do they still feel that way?

wiseman said...

@Iuval
Can you point out where I said that Gandhi approved of discrimination based on caste system ? It's about the way he wanted to counter it. He wanted to stay within the ambit of the system to reform it while Ambedkar understood that the caste system was a living fossil and wanted to take it apart completely.

Gandhi romanticized villages not because of the caste system but because of their sustainable lifestyle. He was a true blue environmentalist.

Can you back up your claim that most villagers would rather live in cities?

Take a trip to India, travel through the country and talk to the poor people, (don't go to the places that Lonely Planet recommends) they'd rather sleep with half a stomach and send their kids to the English school than educate them in their mother tongue and do you know why ? So that they can get a job in the city.

Villages look romantic only on National Geographic.

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear wiseman,

I imagine that village life has only gotten worse since Gandhi's time, with employment hard to find and most of the agriculture and subsidiary crafts disappearing due to industrialization, and the romanticizing of the city. So of course villagers who are in a village choose the city. It's like Buchenwald inmates choosing Auschwitz. The question I have is whether most of the villagers who are in the city slums, or their grandparents would choose to live in the slums rather than the villages the way they were before industrialization and urbanization, or the way they could have become if Kumarappa's programme had been followed.

Did Gandhi read National Geographic? My idea is based on post-industrial villages like The Possibility Alliance and Earthaven, but I admit there is also the romantic aspect from movies such as Lord of the Rings, or Fiddler on the Roof. I think that that romantic ideal is actually based on a racial memory, which is why it appeals to so many people on a deep psychological level.

Parchment Anon said...

Ozoner,

I like your preoccupation with a worthwhile way to employ the human brain “after” and your proposal which is the study of the workings of the Cosmos. The popular pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake is described in Robert Wolf’s Original Wisdom, Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing. The author describes how some decades ago in Suriname people were spending time and money on correspondence courses, not to acquire new or better jobs skills, but to better themselves or would it be for the enjoyment of it?