Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Ritual Theater of Progress

This habit of drafting my ideas on the future of industrial society right out here in public has its disadvantages, to be sure, but there are benefits as well. One of the more unexpected of these is the way that the illogic that swims through the hidden places of the collective consciousness of our time so often rises to the bait I offer, and thus can be hooked and hauled in for closer examination.

Over the last few weeks, a fine example of the species has landed in my creel.  Back in July, in an earlier post in this sequence about the ways that the mythology of progress holds both science and religion hostage, I noted that fusion researchers have spent the last fifty years trying not to learn the obvious lesson taught by their repeated failures. Whether or not it’s possible to make a functioning fusion reactor, I pointed out, is immaterial at this point; the last half century of experiments have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that even if the thing can be done, the cost of building fusion reactors will be so high that fusion will never be economically viable as a source of electricity for the grid.

Before we go on, I’d like to ask everyone to reread that last sentence, and notice that this argument doesn’t claim that fusion reactors are impossible—that, in point of fact, it doesn’t deal at all with the issue of whether fusion power is technically feasible. This may seem like an obvious point, but I can assure you, dear reader, that it’s far from obvious to a good many of my readers. Over the weeks that followed, in fact, I fielded a flurry of comments chiding me for my supposed insistence that harnessing fusion power is impossible. Quite a range of different arguments were deployed in an effort to dispute this point, ranging from the plausible to the frankly silly; the one thing that none of these commenters seem to have noticed is that the claim they were imputing to me is one I hadn’t made.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that this is far from the first time this odd sort of paralogic has featured on the Archdruid Report comments page. A few years ago, for example, I was rash enough to point out in a post on the future of technology that the internet’s long-term viability in a deindustrializing world will not depend on whether maintaining an internet in such conditions is technically feasible, or whether it can do things that today’s geekoisie consider cool.  Rather, I suggested, the survival of the internet will depend on whether it can pay for itself in a world where energy and resources will be much more scarce and expensive than they are today, and whether it can compete with other ways of providing the same services that are less dependent on extravagant inputs of depleting resources and complex technological infrastructures.

I found the response to this suggestion utterly fascinating. The commenters who showed up to insist that the internet had to survive the end of the present age of fossil-fueled abundance didn’t dispute my argument; they didn’t mention it at all.  Instead, they pretended that the point I’d raised had never been brought into the discussion, and insisted over and over again that keeping the internet viable in a deindustrializing world was technically feasible, that the internet can do all kinds of things that today’s geekoisie consider cool, and that the survival of the internet was therefore certain. Even when I pointed out to them in the comments that they were evading the issue I was raising, they kept on trying to talk about technical feasibility and the cool stuff the internet can do, and to pretend that economic limits had never been mentioned.  This went on for three weeks of posts and commentary, until I finally shook my head and went on to the next topic.

This sort of paralogic isn’t unique; it isn’t even unusual.  Long before I started this blog, I noticed that any question at all about the economic viability of technological progress lies squarely in industrial civilization’s blind spot.  Pick any technology that fits the canned image of the future projected by pop culture, and try to talk about whether we can actually afford to pursue it—in most cases, this is a far more crucial question than most people realize, so it’s rarely difficult to find points to raise—and you can count on the identical response. For a long time, I wondered why this particular issue should be subject to such remarkable distortions of thought and conversation; over the course of the last few weeks, as I reflected on the latest round of paralogic in the context of the current series of posts, I think I’ve come to understand the reasons behind it.

To make sense of those reasons, it’s going to be necessary to take what will look like a drastic detour, and talk about the role of ritual theater in the world’s religions. I don’t happen to know of a faith on the planet that doesn’t have at least some examples of this very common practice. Modern societies are no exception to the rule; those of my readers who grew up Christian, for example, and  recall Nativity plays and Easter pageants from their childhoods, already know as much about ritual theater as they’ll need to know to grasp what follows.

Ritual theater doesn’t follow the same rules as the secular drama that’s found in today’s playhouses, cineplexes, and DVD racks.  There are no surprises in ritual theater, no unexpected plot twists, no unfamiliar characters, and for good reason.  The point of ritual theater in a religious context is to enact whatever’s seen as eternally true in the religious tradition that sponsors it. Depending on your religion, what’s eternally true may be revealed in some specific historical event—say, the Buddha beneath the Bo tree or Christ on the cross—or in some recurring natural event—say, the cycle of the seasons—or it may be permanently outside of time, symbolized by myths which “never happened but always are,” as the Greek philosopher Symmachus put it. One way or another, some blend of folk imagination and the creative genius of individuals makes these things visible in ritual theater, which represents (literally, re-presents) the eternal in a form that everyone can experience.

There’s a lot of variation between one religion’s ritual theater and another’s, but within any given tradition, the plot outline and the emotional reactions sought by the performance tend to be as stereotyped as a politician’s campaign speech. Pick any of the early Greek tragedies—these were originally enacted at religious festivals in Athens, and so are classic examples of ritual theater in more senses than one—and you can pretty much count on watching a proud and gifted individual have his life destroyed by the incomprehensible decrees of the gods.  That was the structure of ancient Greek ritual drama, and the response, as Aristotle describes it, was an emotional catharsis of pity and terror in which an ancient Greek audience reconciled themselves to their place in the cosmos as mortals subject to the awesome and inscrutable immortals.

It would have been unthinkable to Aeschylus or Sophocles to have a god pop up in the middle of the stage at the climax of the play and fix everything.  What was utterly inappropriate in the early Greek ritual theater, though, became common in the later secular drama of the classical world, where deus ex machina—literally, the god out of the stage machinery—was so common as to become a catchphrase. Christian ritual theater, which emerged out of late classical drama, proceeded to take that experience as its central theme. What JRR Tolkien in a brilliant essay called “eucatastrophe”—the sudden, shattering reversal that transforms tragedy into triumph—thus became the core experience of Christian ritual theater, passed on via the mystery plays of the Middle Ages straight through to the passion plays and parochial school pageants of the present time.

Leap to the other end of the Old World and you’ll find a completely different mode of ritual theater in the Noh drama of Japan. The most common story line among Noh plays has a wandering priest making his way through unfamiliar country.  He happens on someone he takes for an ordinary village girl, or some other perfectly natural person. As she sings and dances her story, though, it gradually becomes apparent that she is a supernatural being of some kind—a ghost, a demon, a spirit or a deity—whose destiny the priest may change through his own power and piety, or may simply witness. The whole drama serves to communicate the distinctive religious vision of Japanese folk culture, in which the supernatural shimmers through the apparent solidity of the ordinary world like colors in shot silk.

Civil religions have their own traditions of ritual theater.  Here in America, back in the day, school pageants on George Washington’s birthday and civic celebrations on the Fourth of July routinely copied all the standard forms of religious ritual theater, complete with the utterly stereotyped plots and the predictable emotional reactions common throughout the genre. I don’t happen to know whether the Young Communists’ Leagues of the former Eastern Bloc countries did the same sort of pageants for May Day, though I wouldn’t be the least surprised to learn that they did. Tolerably often, though, the ritual theater of civil religions takes a less self-consciously dramatic form, and gets acted out in some facsimile of real life:  think of the show trials of Stalin’s Russia, in which thousands of people were coerced into acting out the role of wicked dupes of the capitalists, and were then rewarded for their performances with a bullet to the brain.

The civil religion of progress by and large has kept its own ritual theater out of the realm of formal performance, but makes up for this by trying to enact its stereotyped dramas in every possible informal venue. Those of my readers who haven’t been hiding under a rock since the days of Galileo already know the plot of those dramas right down to the finest of details. They begin with a lone genius who shakes himself free of the prejudices and superstitions of the ages, and thus manages to see some part of the world clearly for the first time. The dramatic action emerges out of the conflict between the lone genius and his (or, very rarely, her) less gifted contemporaries, who defend those prejudices and superstitions against the efforts of the genius to upset the applecart of conventional thought.

The plot thus defined includes a few variations, mostly involving the end of the story.  The genius may be condemned and killed by the outraged authorities of his time, only to be vindicated and glorified by future generations.  He may struggle on gamely to the end of his life, ignored or denounced by all right-thinking people, and then be vindicated and glorified by future generations.  Alternatively, he may triumph over the opposition by proving his case conclusively, and having vindicated himself, is then glorified by future generations. In each case, the emotional reaction expected from the audience is the same: identifying themselves with the future generations just mentioned, they are called on to glorify the great heroes of progress, to rejoice in the salvation from the prejudiced and superstitious past that these heroes have conferred on them, and to wait expectantly for the even more wonderful things that future heroes of progress will inevitably bring the world in times to come.

A detail worth special attention here, though, is the debate between the lone genius and his prejudiced and superstitious adversaries that always, explicitly or implicitly, fills the middle act of the drama. There’s no more thoroughly stereotyped scene in the whole field of ritual theater. The adversaries of progress have a set of standard lines assigned to them by the standard plot.  They are supposed to point out that whatever idea or technology the lone genius is championing violates the immemorial order of the cosmos or the authoritative teachings of the past, to insist that whatever it is can’t be true or won’t work, and to warn that if the idea is accepted or the technology put into general use, some kind of horrible fate will follow in short order.

The lone genius, in turn, is assigned a set of standard counterarguments to overcome these ceremonial talking points. He is supposed to say that the onward march of human knowledge has rendered the immemorial order of the cosmos and the authoritative teachings of the past obsolete, that whatever innovation he’s championed is true or will work, and that it will bring immense benefits to the human race in the years to come. Both sides recite their parts in the second act, fulfilling the requirements of the script, and in the third act the lone genius triumphs, posthumously or otherwise.

I’ve pointed out already ina previous post in this sequence that this stereotyped script has been pushed onto the history of thought incessantly by the popular culture of our age, even when it’s been necessary to twist history hopelessly out of shape to make it fit the storyline, as it’s usually been.  It’s important to recognize how great a distortion the ritual theater of progress has imposed on our sense of our own past, but it’s at least as important to notice the ways in which the same ritual theater structures debates over technology here and now.

The discussions of fusion power and the future of the internet I mentioned earlier are cases in point. The issue I was raising was not one of the ceremonial arguments that the opponents of technology are supposed to utter in the second act of the drama. I broke the rules of the ritual theater of progress, and after a brief interval of consternation, the other actors in the drama did the logical thing and brought out their own ceremonial counterarguments, as though I hadn’t been so silly as to forget my proper lines.  When I proceeded to break the rules again by drawing attention to the issue I’d actually raised, rather than the one that I was assigned by the script, they got thoroughly flummoxed; some retired in dismay, while others kept on trying to follow their scripts even though I’d gone out and ignored mine.

I can sympathize with their feelings. Still, it’s probably worth noting here that not all discussions of science, technology, and other holy symbols of the civil religion of progress are meant to provide venues for the ritual theater of that faith. If fusion power and the internet were purely spiritual realities—say, two of the blessings that the faithful could expect to receive after death in some kind of techno-heaven buzzing with starships, jetpacks, and domed cities—that would be a different matter, but fusion reactors, internet data centers, and the like are also expected to solve practical difficulties here on earth. That means that a discussion of their prospects arguably ought to extend beyond the limits of ritual theater, and include points that aren’t part of the ceremonial dialogue.

That is to say, whether a technology makes economic sense in a world of rapidly depleting resources and spiraling economic dysfunction is a valid concern, whether or not that concern conforms to the stereotyped arguments of our time. If some future iteration of ITER finally gets a sustained fusion reaction going, that’s an intriguing bit of experimental physics, but unless that event leads to the discovery of some way to maintain such a reaction that costs a couple of orders of magnitude less than $14 billion per reactor, that’s all it is—and since every cheaper option has been tried in half a century of very well funded experimentation, it’s a safe bet that in fact, that’s all it is.

This was already recognized in the early 1980s. I recall independent studies in the appropriate tech scene in those days, which showed that if the relatively simple tokamak reactors being tested in those days could be made to work, the result would be a power plant that would produce about as much electricity as a standard fission reactor, at roughly ten times the cost. Given that fission power is the most expensive source of electricity in common use today, and has never been economically viable anywhere on earth without massive government subsidies, this is not exactly encouraging.

It’s thus not hard to imagine a future in which, let’s say, excited physicists announce to the world that sustained nuclear fusion has finally been accomplished, using some elaborate new reactor design ten times more expensive, adjusting for inflation, than those relatively simple tokamak reactors that failed to do the job in the early 1980s. Running the numbers, governments and utility companies calculate that, including all economies of scale, each new fusion reactor would cost a hundred times as much as a comparable fission reactor, with consumer bills to match. Has the energy crisis been solved? Not in any sense meaningful in the real world.

In the real world, a technology has to be economically feasible to build and use, or it doesn’t matter.  It really is as simple as that. The galloping economic expansion of the age of cheap abundant energy now visible in history’s rearview mirror made it possible to ignore that unwelcome reality for a time, or at least to pretend that it didn’t matter—you’ll notice that the grandiose plans to cover Manhattan with a dome and give it a year-round climate of 72°F and no rain, along with a great many other economically preposterous projects of the recent past, never even got to the detailed-blueprint stage.

The coming of the age of scarcity that’s now upon us, though, draws a hard line under such fantasies. From now on into the foreseeable future, the first question that has to be asked about any technological project is “Can we afford to use it?”  The second, which needs to be asked immediately after the first, is “Are there ways to do the same thing less expensively?” These questions may not be part of the ritual theater of the civil religion of progress, but I’d like to suggest that consoling true believers in that faith with assurances of the invincibility of their surrogate deity may be less important just now than dealing with the imminent impact of the end of abundance and the twilight of the industrial age.

178 comments:

DaShui said...

But ADJMG, isn't it obvious that these proponents of fusion don't really believe it themselves?
If I truly believed that fusion is the next big thing, I'm sure I could find plenty of fusion entrepreneurs to invest my money with (E-Cat anyone?) who would make me fabulously wealthy as fusion became the world's energy source.
So the best way to handle these fusionites is to ask them how much return they are receiving on their foresighted investments in the energy of the future.

Darren Urquhart said...

Ouch.

Hey, no one said reading the Archdruid Report was going to be easy. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

Again, waiting with great expectation for next weeks installment.

August Johnson said...

JMG, again you hit the nail precisely on the head! That's why I keep coming back.

I have a comment about your last two questions "Can we afford to do it?" and "Are there ways to do the same thing less expensively?". Asking these questions can be hazardous!

Here's something my father wrote in 1970, I think you'll see how it's related. This brought a firestorm of criticism of an amazing magnitude!

Optimum Size of Infrared Photometric Telescopes

http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu//full/1970ApJ...160L.111J/L000111.000.html

Just for suggesting that the larger telescope isn't always better!

Thijs Goverde said...

Ok - I'm stumped. So much so that I'll bite, even though I was resolved to let all bait lying around for the remainder of this sequence.
What, would you say, is the ritual theater of the reliogion called atheism? I can't think of any.

Edward said...

I think of the proposal for the hyperloop transportation system by Elon Musk founder of Space X and Tesla, as another "pie in the sky" notion that won't get very far. Musk wants others to develop the idea and invest the money necessary to build a prototype and/or the whole system.

Of course it's only point to point, with no stops in between and no passing and other operational constraints of a real transportation system, but it's "progress", and that's what has people all gaga over it. Never mind that it was first proposed a little over 200 years ago, and none of the systems proposed in the interim ever made it beyond the drawing board (or CADD screen).

Glenn said...

JMG said:

"Can we afford to do it?" and "Are there ways to do the same thing less expensively?"

Curiously, these are two questions that we ask on our homestead before purchasing or building any improvements. But then, we have always worked within a very limited budget, augmented with the skill of our hands and the strength of our declining backs.

Glenn
Marrowstone Island

John Michael Greer said...

DaShui, I tend to think that a lot of the proponents of fusion -- at least the ones who post screeds on the subject here -- haven't gotten that far yet. Limitless, clean energy from fusion (ahem) is a religious icon to them, not a moneymaking opportunity -- though I suspect a brisk trade in icons could develop, given a bit of encouragement.

Darren, thank you.

August, many thanks for the article! That's a keeper. Freud would have had a field day with the quest for ever bigger cylindrical objects meant to, er, penetrate the heavens...

Thijs, I've come to suspect that the differences between Anglo-American atheism and continental European atheism are significant enough that they probably count as different churches, if not different religions entirely. To observe the ritual theater of Anglo-American atheism in full spate, watch the comments page of any online essay in English that says anything sympathetic about religion, and observe how the "angry atheists" pile on with their ceremonial talking points and their carefully cultivated rage. The plot here is the Great War of Reason against ignorance and superstition, and the response expected from the audience of believers is the enthusiastic embrace of an identity as a member of the blessed minority of knowers of the truth, fiercely persecuted by the minions of evil. I don't read enough contemporary European atheism to have a good sense of its ritual drama; I know that in 19th century France, at least, it generally had a lot to do with thumbing one's nose at the Pope -- but of course things will have changed since then.

John Michael Greer said...

Edward, it's a classic -- a vast and pointless waste of resources at a time when there are huge deficits of infrastructure crying out for even the most basic funding, and justified by Musk's insistence -- as a single-minded believer in the great god Progress -- that no technology is worth having unless it's better than what was there before. What an embarrassment.

Glenn, exactly. It's that kind of homestead logic that has to become standard practice at all levels, and will do so, if only because those societies that neglect it will be clobbered by the consequences of their folly.

barath said...

For what it's worth, over the last two years I've analyzed the Internet's material dependencies, the Internet's energy use, and also did some more academic work on how the Internet might be downscaled to retain its core functionality. My concern is less that we won't be about to meet the Internet's energy requirements (which, while large in absolute terms, are small in relative terms) but rather that we'll hit (societal) complexity limits you raised in an old post. This is where the complex supply chains become a major issue, even if the materials themselves aren't particularly rare. Separately, I wrote up a thought experiment on what might happen even if a relatively cheap form of fusion were discovered, where I figured that societal inertia would keep such a discovery from rescuing us, so to speak.

I think one of the key premises of your post -- and the issues I ran into when exploring the viability of both the Internet and fusion -- is that of the amount of time available for a transition. The other day I was re-reading Limits to Growth, and was reminded how delays inherent in the system mean that time is the most crucial ingredient. Suppose we wanted to transition to a world in which the Internet could be sustained on an annual solar budget. Could it be done? Maybe. But to get from here to there will require many substitutions of materials, manufacturing processes, software, social/business structures, and so on. And, if nothing else, we'll need to downscale our expectations of what it can do. What makes it particularly hard is the fact you point out -- that folks will be trying to downscale the Internet (and the energy system) at the same time as the resources (time, money, and otherwise) to do so are getting scarce, getting us into one Energy Trap after another (as Tom Murphy calls it).

Robert Martini said...

@Thijs Goverde

I would think most Atheist in my experience practice the religion of progress. Atheism is more defined by its lack of traditional religious beliefs and not believing in that which can not be empirically tested, rather than its own unique values. More of an Anti-Religion really, in my opinion.


John Michael Greer,

I remember my atheist father telling me stories of Galileo's persecution and posthumous triumph as a small child. It is strange to think that what I thought was a religion free childhood was an initiation into the church of progress. Once you demystify the word "religion" you open your eyes to the mysticism going on around you. The economist sit in their temples at their computers reading performing a ritual far more complex but essentially the same as reading oracle bones or sheep entrails. Every sort of analog you can imagine exist in the illusion that is the "modern" world. Nothing is different, a ritual is a ritual whether or not it is a monstrously more complex process. Doctors and Shaman are still using plant knowledge and drugs to attempt to cure ailments with arguable more success. The difference between a shaman and a doctor is nil when you look behind the curtain of all that you would normally define your "place" in time.

Will it not be societal values, rather than economics that define what relics of science remain in the deindustrial age? Energy and resource limits will define what is possible, but society might pick and choose from this, or miss that opportunity all together?

Perhaps there will be a time to build a new ritual theater or revive an old with a play better suited to this particular part of the cycle of collapse and rebirth?

Renaissance Man said...

Everyone already asks if there are more economical ways to do something.

However, given the degree to which energy subsidies and tax-breaks distort real economic indicators, and given that conflating technical complexity with improvement is a core tenet of the Religion of Progress, I would like to have people start to ask, "Is there is a simpler way to do something."

I know it ultimately amounts to the same thing, but in practical terms it skips the current artificial distortions and also induces an immediate break from the mainstream mentality.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Nice one. The promise of electric vehicles seems much the same sort of nonsense in my mind. People rarely mention the economics of the things unless of course they insist that just like mobile phones, the battery technology will improve and the costs will come down. Yeah right.

They never quite seem to be able to grapple with the fact that batteries are quite an established and old technology and there are not that many easy gains to be made.

Meanwhile in the real world, no one is buying electric vehicles because they cost between 2x and 3x that of an equivalent internal combustion engine vehicle.

What no one is mentioning is that for electric vehicles to be feasible they have to weigh no more than a very small go-kart. Not quite an SUV? hehe!

On a serious note, I do now know of a guy who has an electric vehicle and lives off grid. He is also several thousand kilometres north of here and as such gets much more year around sun light. Plus his photovoltaic array is twice the size of mine here (what would Freud make of that?) hehe! It's not all about size you know!! hehe.

Anyway, it has been a stunning sunny winters day here and I’ve been busy throwing around a cubic metre of mushroom compost – just the thing for hungry fruit trees happily budding in the sun.

Regards and thanks for lancing another boil.

Chris

Dwig said...

John Michael and all,

"In the real world, a technology has to be economically feasible to build and use, or it doesn’t matter."

Certainly so, but it seems that we're not living in the real world at the moment. In this bizarre "reality" we currently inhabit (or does it inhabit us?), "economically feasible" seems just to mean that a certain set of economic actors can make a bundle from it, whatever it costs everyone else, and whether it works as advertised or not. As you mention, nuclear power is an example; biofuels from plants grown for the purpose is another, and of course fusion...

A phrase in last week's post caught my mind's eye: "... [when] internet service costs more than the median monthly income..."
This brought back to me Ted Nelson's Xanadu project, and his idea of "Silverstands", local outlets where people would go to access the "textual universe" (here's a review of Nelson's vision).

From there, I jumped to a vision of the near future, where some form of global (or at least widespread) network would still be operational, but would require people to go to some facility outside their homes to use it. The natural candidates for this would be the facilities that are already "community information access points": libraries.

Whether they have "silverstands" in them or not, libraries are going to become crucially important in the coming seres, both to maintain repositories of information and, as natural hubs of community activity, the kind of commons that could help neighborhoods jell into real communities).

Another thought, on the religion of scientific progress: looking outside the US, there may be emerging scientific "cultures" that have already "left Hagsgate", returning to the kind of scientific processes that serve cultures, rather than just corporations. Assuming so, might they provide examples that we could learn something from?

KL Cooke said...

"What, would you say, is the ritual theater of the religion called atheism? I can't think of any."

Hitchens' soliloquies were always pretty dramatic.

Harry J. Lerwill said...

"They begin with a lone genius who shakes himself free of the prejudices and superstitions of the ages, and thus manages to see some part of the world clearly for the first time. "

Interesting mirror, is it not?

Tom Bannister said...

Haha, your description of your breaking the script in the theater of the religion of progress reminds me of a bit in Monty Python and the holy grail.

Arther declares himself king of the Britons to a peasant. The peasant stubbornly refuses to accept him as king questioning his constitutional legitimacy. "your the king? Well I didn't vote for ya!"

flute said...

Thanks dear Archdruid for this post, which in my opinion is one of the best I've read from you! Last week's post was also brilliant!

The two questions at the end are really the ones that need to be put to the techno-optimists from us techno-realists.

k-dog said...

There is a contradiction in the ritual of progress. The ritual of progress like all rituals forces thought and action to go in a specific direction and stifles independent thought. This is intended by design though no mastermind ever put the system in place consciously. It arose organically and naturally, as a way to pass on knowledge.

The medicine man, the high priest. Class, class lets all have quiet and all turn to page 83. Stay within the lines, that's what good people do.

The contradiction is that progress means change and rituals exist to preserve what is, not change it. If rituals allow for creativity at all it is always confined within strict limits, among limited choices. Mostly rituals are intended to follow a specific form as exactly as it is possible to do. Humans mimic and feel good when they do it right. Sadly this can get us through the day even if the mimicry winds up hurting others. As long as someone else approves of someone getting hurt then someone gets hurt.

In a narrow way the contradiction in the ritual of progress is avoided if we understand the ritual unquestionably worships the god of technical flux. A god that punishes those who do not accept and implement all that is technically possible to do without question. The god requires superpowers to defeat the contradiction. The ritual requires that technology be without fault. Only those weak of faith dare question this precept.

Technology is without fault and will solve all. Only man is weak and whenever we are blessed with new technology it is a sin not to use it to maximum potential. New technology always trumps old. That's how the madness goes.

The ritual has a dogma, an irrational inner core belief which ignores that technology is subservient to man and raises the worship of the god of technical flux over and above any respect of the individual. We are born, we live, we die. Technology exists to serve, it exists only as long as man exists, it has no life without mankind. Technology also is born, lives and dies and its life can outlive the life of particular individuals but without mankind to implement it, technology is gone.

The worship is irrational, unlike a real god technology is not omnipotent. Technology has limits and can't solve all problems. It is nothing without us. Sacrifice on its altar is in vain.

An anti-ritual is needed. The ritual of progress critique. Rigorous examination of the practical benefits and true cost of all technical solutions new and old. A meta-technology. Technology about technology.

We also need to control our population. We are against the wall.

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." - T. S. Eliot

Take care that your rituals do not impede your exploration.

K-Dog

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Hi JM!

Some years back, I was studying generally around the idea of the Pacific-proa ship-form, before I built my own 70-footer.

A detail which stuck for ever in my mind was this:

An old Polynesian man was asked, by modern researchers hoping to revive the supremely ocean-worthy traditional proas, what was the sequence of things to do when undertaking a new vessel from scratch, using just what the Pacific islands alone could offer for raw materials, before they got into extensive modern contacts with the rest of the world.

"First plant your gardens!" was the old master-shipwright's intriguing reply.

The logic was simple, and unbuckable: Such a large undertaking for a stone-age village culture would require a lot of hands, including relatives visiting from other villages during the build. These extra people would have to be fed. Growing the extra food was going to take a while, before the nearby big tree in the island's forest cover that was designated to be the main hull could even be felled, hollowed out with fire and stone tools, and then hauled to the beach-front building yard.

So -- first, plant your gardens. No question for the First-and-Second-Law-constrained fisher/gardener/gatherers of that stone-age culture that economic considerations are paramount. They -- lucky them! -- had no concept of massive amounts of extra slave energy comprehensively available at frankly derisory real prices, to assist them in endless bloated megalomanic schemes. About the worst that the Pacific islanders could manage, without that sea of easy extra energy available, was the disaster of Easter Island. So the ship-builders calculated the food-economics and the scheduling times with some hard-nosed realism.

Welcome to the global resurgence of that realism, just beginning with the new era of the Long Descent. The economics of any scheme -- in the uncompromisingly-realistic sense of available energy- and material-flows -- is indeed paramount, increasingly from here on, in our feasibility considerations.

Thus, a whole bundle of schemes which have been and continue to be floated to deal with the growing global crises are never going to happen, precisely because of those >economic< constraints.

That goes as much for 'green' biggies,

The big dissipative structures which we've created in the brief -- two centuries or so -- cheap'n'abundant-fossil-carbon era are about to undergo some serious down-sizing and de-complexifying. Realworld economics, which actually takes account of the undodgeable Laws of Thermodynamics, will have its way. Schemes which can't be funded -- with real money which actually represents accurately the >essentials< that it prices -- won't happen.

Mr O. said...

It strikes me a classic example of the sacred theatre of progress that is still regularly played out on the Internet is the story of Tesla. Now I'm not saying anything about the validity of his legacy one way or another (and of course many of his inventions are now commonplace) but the narrative of lone genius against the world is absolutely point by point from your essay.

Leo said...

Those questions would be a lot easier to answer properly if economics wasn't as dysfunctional as it is now.

Especially since the costs include potential damage to an already degraded enviroment, social impacts and so on. Can only ignore those for so long.

Paul said...

The myth of progress and the myth of democracy, I believe, will remain the dominant myths of our time for a long period of time (50+ years), though we can see problem as per the fusion issue as mentioned here for the former and like the current Egyptian crisis for the latter). For practical/short-to-medium term purposes, the myths are fine for common folks like you and me, and I believe we need to understand that the flip side of these myths is not necessarily mega change/paradigm shift (e.g. going back to agrarian societies in the former and having a benevolent dictatorship (dictatorship of the vanguard of anything) will be a move for the worse).

Phil Knight said...

One reading of the ritual theatre of progress that amuses me concerns Frank Whittle, the developer of the jet engine, who supposedly doggedly worked on his prototype engine in a cold, empty shed while the incompetent British Government deprived him of funds.

The reality was that the government built an entire factory from scratch at the beginning of the war especially for his jet engines, and which wastefully lay empty for years as his amply funded research progressed far more slowly than he had promised.

The whole British mythology of World War II follows this pattern of nonsense - what was a vast, lavishly funded technocratic infrastructure is endlessly painted as a few heroic scientists and engineers struggling against the blind ignorance of the bureaucrats.

Ursachi Alexandru said...

There's an interesting development with regard to the internet right about now. It's called O3B Networks, which stands for "the other 3 billion", and it involves the launch of a bunch of sattelites to offer internet service to the, ehm... "developing world".

http://www.o3bnetworks.com/

Besides obvious questions like "how many people are going to even afford computers for this to be of any help to them", I am very curious how things will develop with this project and how long will it last. As long as it still exists, I would like to see more people from countries like Madagascar, Burkina Faso or Papua New Guinea active on the internet. There is so much talk about "globalness" these days, but most people in the world can't even have their voices heard, or in this case, their words read.

Rebekah Miller said...

Just curious...what is your opinion on the proposed "Hyper-loop" in california? The alternative suggested by the billionaire who runs SpaceX?

Have you ever heard of Bruce Gagnon the leader of the group Space4Peace and producer the documentary, Arsenal of Hypocrisy, which details the sordid past of the US space program?

What is your general opinion of the US Air Force's plans of Full Spectrum Dominance?

wall0159 said...

What I find frustrating is that we don't really need fusion. Solar and wind can get us most of the way right now. I realize that neither are perfect (either environmentally, or practically) but they're good enough.
It wouldn't be business-as-usual though -- people would have to essentially forgo cars (totally agree that electric cars will not work), use about 1/10th their current electricity (maybe 1 - 1.5 kWh/day/person) and buy a lot less stuff -- but this is not really a large adaptation in the greater scheme of things (Yes, I'm well on the way to putting this into practice). I remember reading somewhere that (with current tech) we could have a 1950's standard of living with modern medicine if we worked 2 days/week in employment. I think that dovetails with the above thinking.

Chris, My house does have an electric assisted bicycle. It's fantastic, and uses about 1/50th the power per distance of an electric car. I really only use it when I'm sick or pulling the kids up a big hill though.

JMG, on another topic. Given your comments in recent weeks about "a large number of society's assumptions being up for grabs" (approx quote) I wonder if the society you present in Star's reach is not such a radical departure from ours. It certainly seems less radical than (say) the French or Russian revolutions or Nazi Germany as a departure from the previous society...

Can I also say that I think genetic tech is going to be very important for us this century, and it saddens me that so many people dismiss it out-of-hand. It is the epitome of a technology that, once developed, is essentially free and low tech.

Just regarding the internet, it does use quite a bit of power, but we shuold bear in mind that it's about 60% streaming video, and 30% filesharing. If we restricted ourselves to a text-based internet, we could probably reduce its power consumption by 99.9%. I'm not entering into the discussion of whether it'll be around forever (too many variables for that)

adamatari said...

I think there is an economic argument for the internet, not as it is now, but at least in the form of email, so it is not inconceivable that the internet will go on in some fashion. Then again, if computers and cell phones are too complex to make, well, we lose it very quickly. Ultimately it may depend on how scalable and how economic the manufacturing is, not the data centers or whatever.

Perhaps computers are the Roman pottery of our time?

BUT, I think there is a much more obvious tech that will die a horrid death over time. The personal automobile. It's already the second major expense after housing for most people, and many people can give it up (if painfully). Before we even talk about how EVs will never do it, we should confront the issue that even regular cars are almost certainly going down the drain at some point. Vehicles will exist, surely, but I can already see that fewer and fewer people can afford a personal one in the US.

Now, try talking about the death of happy motoring, even to people who don't have cars because they don't have the extra cash! Every alternative is horrible - trains too expensive, bicycles dangerous, buses dirty and slow, and walking will never get you anywhere...

Much more painful than not getting the stuff we don't have (flying cars, fusion power) will be the loss of what we DO have. Personal cars, a 24/7 dependable electric grid...

Odin's Raven said...

It seems strange that believers in 'Progress' expect it to remain within an indefinite continuation of late 20th c. American society. Maybe its hard to accept that 'progress' may be at the expense of ones society and oneself, that it will be literally over our dead bodies and that the belief in progress may itself pass away.

August Johnson said...

JMG,

Ah yes, the issue of size! It seems that this is important, just “because”. If you can’t have the most or be the biggest, you have to have more or be bigger than somebody. I remember talking about telescope sizes with my father and he pointed out that the McDonald Observatory (Texas) Struve telescope (1938) was 82”. When Kitt Peak (KPNO) built a similar size telescope in 1964, theirs was 84”. Then Steward Observatory (University of Arizona) built their 90” on Kitt Peak in 1969. These later telescopes weren’t larger than the Mt. Palomar 200” finished in 1948, but they were larger than somebody else. Even though these incremental size increases meant basically nothing in telescope utility, they meant a lot politically. It was “worth” the increased expense to be “bigger” even though, as pointed out in the paper I previously referenced, light gathering power increases by the 2nd power of telescope size, cost increases by about the 3rd power.

August Johnson said...

On the subject of the goals, motivations or expense of the science being done, here’s an interesting aside; in a paper(1) published in 1981, after his death, my father references a quote from a 1972 paper(2) by M. F. Disney:

“…A single telescope, however large, can provide only a limited amount of observing time; this can be divided up into small increments for a large number of observers, or into reasonable amounts for a small and fortunate clique of astronomers. Which is the better strategy is a nice question, but in either case the pitfalls are rather obvious. Also, because of the pressures of time and cost there is always a temptation to use the largest telescopes for bandwagon astronomy, or for measurements which will bring a definite return. The more speculative observations, or ones involving new and temperamental instruments which require adjustments on the telescope itself, may receive a low priority or not be done at all. In other words, there is a temptation to do first class second-rate astronomy. Conversely, small telescopes are often used to make pioneering investigations.”

Wes Lockwood at Lowell Observatory brought this quote to my attention several years ago. He’s been using the same 21” telescope for several decades doing continuous observations, a telescope that was constructed in the mid-1950’s for my father’s use. The steel tube for that telescope is a piece of natural gas pipeline donated by El Paso Natural Gas. Not a high-budget telescope!

My father always built his own instruments tailored to the observations he wanted to make, today each telescope is equipped with a set of instruments designed and built by the telescope owners/operators and a visiting astronomer almost always uses those instruments. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the observations and science often have to be tailored to the provided instruments rather than the other way around. Questioning these things (telescope size, equipment provided, quality of science, etc.) is goring several sacred cows, therefore the violent responses! I’m sure similar situations can be shown for all branches of science.

(1)Arrays vs. Single Telescopes, Johnson 1981

http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu//full/1981raoa.conf..141J/0000141.000.html

(2)Optical Arrays, Disney 1972

http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu//full/1972MNRAS.160..213D/0000213.000.html?high=520c46f2f703660

Andy Brown said...

As much as I enjoyed your excursion into ritual theater, I think there’s a simpler reason for the persistence of your commenters. I think you and your audience are talking past each other with that term “economically viable.”

The normal understanding of economic viability means some undertaking will return a profit (preferably, but not necessarily a sustainable one). Dollars go in and you produce something that people will pay even more dollars for. Heck, producing $1,200 Kardashian sunglasses can be “economically viable” if there are enough suckers around. It’s a flexible system where it is very problematic to declare that something can never be economically viable – since it’s always possible that someone might be motivated to pay for it. In fact, to the extent that normal economics is a symbolic system more than anything else, your own claim is absurd.

Your own view of economics, if I understand correctly, diverges from that in at least a couple of relevant ways. First and most obviously, you see thermodynamics lurking under it all - that an energy system which requires more e in than out can never be truly viable in the effort to power the grid. (Your commenters would generally go along with this idea, of course.) But I think at least some of your commenters take your claim to rest on that – the idea that fusion is destined to be an energy loser – but this is obviously a mere technological hurdle to them and not a basis for a claim of impossibility.

I assume the dogmatism of your claim lies in your more radical modeling of economics, catabolic collapse, which you haven’t really talked about for quite a while on this blog and is probably not top of mind for your commenters. Not only does the money needed to throw at fusion’s hurdles grow more precious and contested, but also the scale and complexity, and infrastructural investment of this variation of energy production (should it succeed in evolving to that after all) becomes effectively impossible to maintain. In this way, it becomes quite obviously not “economically viable.” In fact, as your more recent argument goes, the idea that it could be, strikes you as so unlikely and absurd that the only reason people can’t see that is due to a progress delusion.

Although I agree with you that people who are enthusiastic about fusion are almost certainly engaging in traditional progress-think. I believe some of the people who object to your claim that fusion can never, never be feasible may instead be misunderstanding your claim about what “economically viable” means.

Well, with this overlong comment I’ve tried to put enough words both in your mouth and the mouths of your commentariot, so I’d better shut up and listen now.

escapefromwisconsin said...

Surely you've seen this: Critical phase for fusion dream (BBC) (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23408073):

Dogged by massive cost rises and long delays, building work is currently nearly two years behind schedule.

The construction of the key building has even been altered to allow for the late delivery of key components.

"We're not hiding anything - it's incredibly frustrating," David Campbell, a deputy director, told BBC News.

[...]

The attraction is a combination of cheap fuel, relatively little radioactive waste and no emissions of greenhouse gases.

But the technical challenges of not only handling such an extreme process but also designing ways of extracting energy from it have always been immense.

In fact, fusion has long been described as so difficult to achieve that it's always been touted as being "30 years away".

[...]

Iter brings together the scientific and political weight of governments representing more than half the world's population - including the European Union, which is supporting nearly half the cost of the project, together with China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.

Contributions are mainly "in kind" rather than in cash with, for example, the EU providing all the buildings and infrastructure - which is why an exact figure for cost is not available. The rough overall budget is described as £13bn or 15bn euros.

But the novel structure of Iter has itself caused friction and delays, especially in the early days.

Each partner first had to set up a domestic "agency" to handle the procurement of components within each member country, and there have been complications with import duties and taxes.

Further delay crept in with disputes over access to manufacturing sites in partner countries. Because each part has to meet extremely high specifications, inspectors from Iter and the French nuclear authorities have had to negotiate visits to companies not used to outside scrutiny.

The result is that although a timeline for the delivery of the key elements has been agreed, there's a recognition that more hold-ups are almost inevitable.

[...]

Assuming Iter does succeed in proving that fusion can produce more power than it consumes, the next step will be for the international partners to follow up with a technology demonstration project - a test-bed for the components and systems needed for a commercial reactor.

Ironically, the greater the progress, the more apparent becomes the scale of the challenge of devising a fusion reactor that will be ready for market.

At a conference in Belgium last September, I asked a panel of experts when the first commercially-available fusion reactor might generate power for the grid.

A few said that could happen within 40 years but most said it would take another 50 or even 60 years. The fusion dream has never been worked on so vigorously. But turning it into reality is much more than 30 years away.


Doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Stanley Erickson said...

Archdruid Greer, your entire blog stream is predicated on there being no economical fusion power in our future. Without that assumption, the whole shebang dissolves like cheap tissue paper in a rainstorm. How can you pretend to provide any impartial judgment on it?
I spent many months as part of an expert engineering team evaluating the affordability of a fusion plant based on the NIF concept (laser power not magnetic confinement) and we concluded it was certainly affordable, provided the technology was successful. The evaluation was impartial and independent, without any constraints by the NIF hierarchy, or any interference by DOE (NIF's sponsor). How does this stack up against the opining of one person, without access to the technology, without engineering or scientific expertise, and with obvious and blatant biases? You are an excellent writer, so please stick to those topics you excel at, like history and religion.

Gunnar Rundgren said...

I note that "synthetic food" is discussed in a similar way as fusion (and has been for as long). I wrote an article about the future of food not long ago. The leader in the same magazine insisted that 3D printing of food was a solution to the hunger of the world. And the person who wrote it is actually a normal person!

Stu from New Jersey said...

A third question, which might be an unwritten corollary of the first two is "What happens during those times when this stuff is busted or otherwise offline?" For instance, if you enclose Manhattan in a dome (one of the most frightening ideas I've ever heard) what do we all breathe on the days that the air circulation system is down? (And you can't open the dome, either, because that system will also be broken.)

Wolfgang Brinck said...

JMG, I had a similar experience to yours re the internet and fusion when I questioned the robustness of cloud storage to some of my friends. I asked, what happens when a cloud provider goes belly up, what happens to your data? How do you get your data back and move it to your own storage device or to that of another cloud provider when your defunct provider is no longer paying the electric bills? Ah, one of my friends replied, they have all the technical issues worked out, multiple hardware redundancy, etc, etc, no data can get lost. Yes, but, I was not questioning the technical robustness of the enterprise but the economic one where the cloud provider goes out of business. Who will rescue your data. Oh never mind. So I searched the internet to see if it had any answers to my question. It appears that you are more or less on your own. When a business goes belly up, it goes belly up and there are no guarantees.
And so it goes. The notion that our wonderful new technology should ever encounter problems was hard to countenance. As with diminishing resources, THEY, the omnipotent and benevolent THEY will do something.

ganv said...

Nicely timed coming out the week that Elon Musk's Hyperloop initiates another cycle of the ritual drama.

You are exactly right that the economics are central. But economics can be very very hard to predict. Some things that seem they should be economically prohibitive (putting copper wires under the (salt water!) ocean in 1858 for example) turn out to lead to data transfer around the world that is so cheap that users are not charged per byte. Other things that seem like they should be natural low cost solutions (railroad transportation for example) don't carry the day because of politics and individual choices. I think your assessment of fusion is correct. I like to say that magnetically or inertially confined fusion will never be cost competitive with gravitationally confined fusion otherwise known as solar power. But the claim that ITER will not lead to low cost ways to control fusion on earth is only an educated guess. It is very hard to know what materials and confinement schemes might be workable and what their costs might be. That said, my educated guess matches yours...I don't see where they are going to get the orders of magnitude cost reductions that would be necessary and I think research dollars would be much better spend on gravitational confinement.

Myriad said...

Perhaps what we need is a new genre of ritual theater. Set in the present day, it depicts self-satisfied technologists reveling in their latest toys. A wise elder arrives and tells them to prepare, because their technology will soon pass away, leaving them bereft and helpless. To mock the wise elder, they declare that of course their technology will pass away, because even better technology will soon come to replace it. They then depart the scene, while one at a time the wise elder's disciples make short speeches about how blind and foolish they are. But some years later, the economy collapses, and sure enough. all the technology (not just fusion plants and space probes and live streaming video, but tractors and transistors and e-mail too) vanishes, leaving the technologists bereft. Humbled, they beseech the disciples of the wise elder for instruction in how to warm their houses without electricity and raise food from the soil, which the latter have prepared themselves to provide. This ending is neither happy nor tragic, and life goes on, highlighted by two songs sung simultaneously in counterpoint, one grieving over losses, the other celebrating that a long-standing destructive imbalance has been brought back into balance at last.

And yet, I could swear I've already seen ritual theater a lot like this, somewhere, very recently.

(Please don't ask me whether I'm being supportive or sarcastic. I seem to get closest to insight at the point where I can't tell myself. Less cryptically, I can't help finding the hyperbole inherent in ritual theater to be silly and often counterproductive, whether I agree with the intended message or not.)

I vividly remember the "survival of the Internet" discussion from several years ago, because a lot of it took place on other forums around the Web, including my own "native" forum. There, at least, there was real discussion of costs and benefits, not just technical feasibility. For example, given a plausible scenario where Internet access is so costly that "only the Lord of the Manor can afford it," implying that it would be unavailable if not completely unknown to the peasants, I raised the question: "Two neighboring Lords of the Manor with equal estates both have costly Internet access. One keeps it for his own use; the other makes an effort to distribute access among his tenants, giving them additional sources of information on medicine, meteorology, engineering, and agricultural practices. Thirty years later those two estates go to war against each other; which would win?"

(For better or worse, it was that discussion that first brought me to the ADR, when I rightly began to suspect that the self-appointed emissary I'd been conversing with was doing a poor job of representing JMG's actual views.)

Richard Clyde said...

I had an uncanny sense of ritual drama a year ago when I attended a production of The Buddy Holly Story, a musical dramatising Holly's career. It is of Progress, but also of the specific cultural form of it common to those who came of age in the 60s and 70s. Holly successfully struggles against the obscurantist standards of country music and brings his rock innovation into the world. Along the way he stays true to his ethos, "I wanna play my music, my way," and ritually unites white and black audiences in a pleasing (to white people) but superficial way. Finally his drive gets him killed, Phaethon-like; but more to the point the musical stages a theophany of Holly-as-Dionysus, by recreating the Winter Dance Party where he performs, one presumes, in victorious eternity.

Cultural rather than scientific, obviously, but the musical's popularity is unsurprising.

Also, with curious timing, this article is making the rounds: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/14/sequestration-cuts_n_3749432.html

My favourite bit, for obvious reasons, is this nugget:
'To cut costs when federal funding wasn't there, Gursky slashed salaries and began sneaking into science symposiums and pestering friends for guest passes to lectures. It was a humbling way to save a few hundred dollars -- one that reminded her of the climate she experienced in 1988 when, armed with an MS in physics from Moscow State University, she fled the Soviet Union as a political refugee.

"I have seen this movie before, and I would hate to see it happen in America," she said in a still-thick Russian accent. "The trends I have observing here ... compounded by the effects of sequestration, I believe is eerily reminiscent."'

Joseph Nemeth said...

Brilliant post, as usual.

Two comments come to mind.

The first is that you neglect an important point in the ritual theatre of Progress: that "economies of scale" and the "magic of capitalism" inevitably transform the lone inventor's expensive, difficult accomplishment into an inexpensive boon to all mankind.

It's a necessary step, because it requires a "great man" to make the initial discovery -- that's how all the hagiographies read -- which means that the discovery is incredibly difficult, else why all the fuss? So of course fusion isn't going to be easy. But once the "breakthrough" has been made, the blueprints, lab notes, formulas, etc. -- the power-infused magic talismans -- are turned over to the industrialists, who then get busy churning out consumer products and profits, a magical process that makes the difficult technology affordable. Like any magic, it's inconceivable that it could fail. Unless, of course, the talismans fall into "the wrong hands." (Cue the sinister music, call out the action figures.)

I'm surprised that none of your critics knew their own scripts well enough to "refute" you with this. Maybe it's because we all know too well that the "magic of capitalism" is broken? Or maybe they just weren't very bright.

The other comment involves noting a thread that seems to run through all economic thinking: that economic limits are supply limits, rather than demand limits. Demand limits never seem to come up. But demand limits are at the core of most (all?) of our current crises.

We will probably never have an actual shortage of oil (supply). What happens instead is rising production cost (with plenty of oil available at that price) that makes it unaffordable to the end-use customers. So they stop using it and find some other way to get by: all the way down the energy curve to draft animals and human muscle if necessary. Demand drops, and now supply exceeds demand, driving prices below the production costs (or below profit expectations), so supply is deliberately cut back by the producers to prop up prices and profits. There's still plenty of oil, but it isn't profitable to produce because the demand (at that price) has vanished.

There was a time when copper roofing was popular. Copper production peaked in, what, the 1960's? Prices for copper rose, and people stopped putting copper on their roofs.

We'll see the same story with oil. "Did you know," people will say in the twenty-fourth century, "there was a time when people used to burn oil?" Eyes will widen, and heads will shake in disbelief. I suspect that people in the 24th c. will have all the oil they need, for however they are using it (which will not involve burning it as fuel.)

That's what will kill the internet. It isn't that we'll run out of germanium, or power, or whatever. It's that people will no longer have luxury income or time or even the inclination to indulge in on-line geekery. That lack of demand will kill the whole enterprise.

Which is to reinforce your central point: yes, perhaps we could develop fusion power. Or space mining. Or interstellar travel. But there will be no demand for it.

Kyoto Motors said...

Sorry, the following may already have been submitted (but I can't be sure):
I think it’s always important to remember, as you’ve mentioned before, that Progress exists as a mythology because the industrial era truly has experienced it to date. Which is to say (at least in it’s own terms) industrial society has witnessed a progression of events and technologies that have ushered in an age of abundance and extreme specialisation. Whether one agrees with the nature of all this as good, depends on values. The Amish, among others have shunned it (as an example). Your point, which is key, is to remember that as inevitable as Progress became in the wake of key, historic, collective decisions to put fossil fuels to use in a particular way, it is not necessarily permanent, and is most likely now just a habit of thought or a dream – again, no matter what value you attach to it.
The morality play for secular progress you describe conjures many a narrative in the arts and in music. The solitary genius becomes an archetype if not a god, in the secular religion, and it becomes institutionalised as it is popularised for the obvious reason that centres of power thrive when people buy in to the narrative. But in certain cases, just as the story of progress can be said to have taken place in say, telecommunications, so too have instances of creative genius fit rather neatly into the narrative. Granted, it likely requires a particular selection of facts, but it can make for a good story, and very often, remarkable artistry, which of course is another value judgement…
I do see the danger of holding onto the narrative too tightly, since it does distort and simplify history. It also feeds into culture of the “they will think of something” to save us all. “They” must of course be geniuses developing fusion/algal/wind/fuel-cell wonder-mobiles for us all against the odds…
I often remind myself and others of the relative ease with which our society adopted petroleum as a source of energy, and how the infrastructure we put to use to service our energy consumption has been built up over time so exhaustively. On the one hand the technology was relatively simple and immediate (internal combustion engine makes car go), whereas our expectations for technologies since then to replace (save us from) petroleum are hard-pressed to fulfill all the conveniences associated with it. I wonder if the way we describe these expectations to ourselves, especially through advertising don’t also fall into the category of secular ritual theatre…
Well those are my thoughts for a busy week. Thanks again for the great blog/thread. And thanks in advance to all the contributors to this discussion. Always a good read!

RPC said...

"In the real world, a technology has to be economically feasible to build and use, or it doesn’t matter."
I find this unconvincing. As a counterexample, the proponents of a technology could have coercive power (e.g. government) to force the technology's adoption regardless of its economics. This could be due simply to the coercive power or to non-economic benefits of the technology outweighing its economic factors. (BTW, I'm having trouble getting comments through - if this a duplicate, feel free to remove it.)

Adam Funderburk said...

Hi JMG,

Two points:

First, it seems that we don't need formal religious ritual plays in our society because 95% of our media follows the established plotline nicely. The stories all around us are mostly that of Progress (or its antithesis, Apocalypse). I can't think of many commercially successful, popular movies that haven't been about the plucky, determined hero making things better for all, or about how our runaway technology and hubris is going to destroy everything.

Second, I have definitely noticed the curious mismatch between what is possible versus what is feasible in the mental health field. Over the years, we have learned a lot about human behavior (even though many of the best ideas are very old ones, appropriately tested and given the seal of Progress of course). Many of these ideas and techniques COULD technically be put to general use and conceivably do a great deal of good. In the wake of the many recent school shootings for instance, many mental health professionals lobbied for more school counselors with a greater degree of training and influence in the schools. I have read numerous articles from counselors, psychologists, and social workers about all the things that SHOULD be done to prevent future tragedies, all technically possible and all garbed in the appropriate “forward-thinking, progressive” language. Thinking of this blog, I usually smile sadly and just shake my head. If it were possible to lower the ratio of counselors to students in every school around the country, begin teaching emotional awareness and healthy coping skills to kids starting in pre-K, actively involve parents, counselors, and teachers when a potential problem arises, and organize mental health programs in every school, then I have no doubt that we would see a reduction in school violence. But as you have said about certain technological wonders in the past, “It ain’t gonna happen.” The costs would be very substantial, in an age where schools are strapped for cash anyway. I can teach my individual clients these skills, and I see what a difference self-awareness and healthy coping skills make in a person’s life, but it is becoming harder for individuals to afford therapy, much less trying to get funding to put this in every school.

And yet many of my peers are still lobbying fiercely, passionately, and sincerely for things that are not feasible, many of them seemingly unaware that the pie is shrinking for good this time. I truly believe that if the important things we have learned about the mind and emotions are to survive the “end of progress”, then mental health workers are going to have to re-define the meaning of mental health in an age of scarcity.

John Michael Greer said...

Barath, that's a good point. Time is also money or, if you wish, a resource in distressingly short supply; if we had a century to rework the internet to deal with a low-energy future, that would be a considerably less challenging prospect. Murphy's "energy trap" language is extremely useful -- of course there are also resource traps of other kinds, most of which are clamped tightly on industrial society's tender bits just at the moment.

Robert, of course societal values will choose among those prospects that are economically viable. If a society can't afford to pursue a project, though, it doesn't matter how highly it's valued! As for new forms of ritual theater, of course -- as I mentioned, every society has some form of it.

Renaissance, very good! The only drawback is that believers in progress won't see the point in simplicity. If you're talking with unbelievers, of course, it's an excellent way to approach things.

Cherokee, bingo.We can talk about how electric cars will save us, in order to justify keeping lifestles that guarantee that nothing can save us.

Dwig, it's possible to ignore economic viability for a certain period of time, at least if the problems aren't too great. If a project can't be paid for, though, it normally won't proceed for long before one or another form of bankruptcy interrupts the process. The approaching round of crises may be a good example of this! As for scientific subcultures, I'd be delighted if that were the case -- do you happen to know of any?

KL, true enough. The very public diatribes of the "New Atheism" (which of course isn't new at all -- does anybody remember Bob Ingersoll these days?) are a good example of ritual theater, with their utterly stereotyped plots and emotional payoffs.

Harry, I've been trying to duck that stereotype since the beginning of this project; what I'm saying, after all, has been said many times across the centuries, and right now there are plenty of other thoughtful people saying many of the same things.

Tom, good! "Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony." It's a great example of the collision between two incompatible forms of ritual theater, the medieval monarchical and the modern far left radical.

Flute, thank you. I'd like to put both those questions on the business end of a branding iron, and apply them to some tender posteriors!

K-dog, good. That's why the same old "new ideas" keep getting rehashed over and over again; the script of progress calls for a supply of innovative ideas, but the needs of ritual demand repetition and familiarity, so the same set of utterly familiar fantasies about the future get branded as "innovative and new" when they're nothing of the kind, and repeated endlessly at the right point in the ritual. The flying car is the classic example, though Musk's "hyperloop" (which featured in science fiction most of a century ago) may just catch up.

John Michael Greer said...

Rhisiart, that's totally fascinating. Of course the old man was utterly correct -- in order to launch a major technological project, you need to prepare the economic surplus needed to support it all the way along the development curve, and you need to do that in advance. That's one of the many reasons the space age came to its sorry end. There are huge implications in that principle, which I'm going to need to think about for a good long while.

Mr. O, good! Check out the writings of the current generation of perpetual motion entrepreneurs -- they take the same ritual drama and turn it into farce.

Leo, excellent. Of course you're quite right; pushing the costs of an uneconomical technology onto some larger system may preserve the technology over the short term, but it risks crippling the larger system in the slightly longer term.

Paul, I don't see myths as having a "flip side," unless I'm misunderstanding what you mean by that. When one myth collapses, people normally find another to take its place, and there are always plenty of options competing for adherents; thus the failure of, say, the myth of progress won't necessarily lead to a return to agrarianism -- it might equally lead to a vision of history in which clinging to what's been gained in the boom times of the past becomes a major social goal, or to some other way of thinking and action.

Phil, that's a classic example; many thanks for it.

Ursachi, my question is how much of this program is designed to make sure that the other three billion get their daily dose of propaganda and advertising from the US and other industrial nations. A lot of motives can hide behind the mask of the public good.

Rebekah, the "hyperloop" is a tired science-fiction fantasy that gets dragged out and paraded around every decade or two; the money would be better spent improving California's conventional passenger rail system. I'm not familiar with Gagnon; as for "full spectrum dominance," that's the latest incarnation of the US military's ongoing effort to bankrupt what's left of the US economy in the name of global empire; I've discussed at some length in previous posts where that's headed (the short form: catastrophic failure, since so gadget-heavy a military system begs for monkeywrenching.)

Wall, the society in my online novel Star's Reach is of course a work of fiction, and it assumes significant continuity between the Meriga of 2450 or so and the America of today. You'll notice that Revolutionary France, Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany were all relatively transitory, and were followed by a return to something closer to normal for the societies in question; I'm envisioning the same sort of process at work in my story. Mind you, business as usual in Meriga four centuries from now includes an established religion worshipping Gaia, laws that condemn people who use fossil fuels to be buried alive, and a presidency that's turned most of the way into a hereditary monarchy, ruling over a protofeudal aristocracy of "jennels" and "cunnels" -- the corresponding Roman military ranks gave us titles such as "duke" and "count" -- but that's ordinary historical change in a Dark Age society.

Adamatari, no argument there -- stick a fork in the personal automobile, it's done. As for an internet, I've been suggesting for some time that packet radio (basically, text-based computer links over ham radio frequencies) might make a satisfactory transitional technology as the internet as presently constituted prices itself out of the market for most people; when computers do the same thing, as they will, that can morph into some derivative of the old message-traffic system, which still exists in ham radio circles.

Raven, excellent. We need to progress beyond progress!

Phil Harris said...

JMG
Congrats both to you and, for his brilliant follow up story, Rhisiart Gwilym.
PS Nuclear fusion? Even 'doable' existing technologies like Desert Solar that can be 'costed' are almost certainly not going to happen simply because they cannot be afforded, IMHO.
best
Phil

Unknown said...

Paul noted that there is a religion of democracy like the religion of progress, and I think the two go hand-in-hand. My first thought on reading your description of the Ritual Theater of Progress was not about fusion, but of Edward Snowden - the "genius" standing up for future generations to have privacy from Big Brother. Which makes me ponder - how much of a falling away will the religion around the US Constitution and Bill of Rights impact everyday folk in a resource-impaired future? Are there ways we can really protect the cultural values around the Life, Liberty, Equality, Due Process, etc that have made a social difference just as we can shepherd the core values of true scientific process in small ways for the future? Do resource constraints necessarily have to lead to 1984-style social structures and government and Kunstler-styled gender and race relations?

John Michael Greer said...

August, all this is reminding me forcefully of Kuhn's discussion of "normal science," in which the existing paradigm is extended step by step as far as it can go by relatively routine scientific efforts conducted with great zeal and persistence: first class second-rate science, in Disney's phrase. That leaves me wondering about the anomalies in contemporary astronomy that, according to Kuhn, should be piling up around the fringes of the science, because they can't be addressed from within the existing way of doing things.

Andy, nah, my argument is actually based on a great deal of respect for the half century or so of fusion research that's already taken place. Every relatively low-cost option for magnetic or inertial confinement has been tested, retested, and re-retested; the reason that ITER has a price tag of $14 billion is that all the cheaper options have been tried. I'm also assuming that the price tag on ITER and other fusion research projects is wholly justified -- that a sustained fusion reaction is so difficult to create that this level of expenditure is necessary (and of course the evidence from previous experiments supports this). Any future fusion reactor must therefore involve comparable complexity and costs that, while they'll doubtless be lower once the bugs are worked out, will not be the several orders of magnitude lower that would be necessary to make fusion economically viable as a source of electricity for the grid. I don't think that's an unrealistic assessment, all things considered!

Ursachi Alexandru said...

JMG, I never suggested a belief in the benevolence of the program's intentions. I am just curious what will happen to it. Six of its sattelites are already in orbit. Personally I would just like to see more people from "the other three billion" making themselves heard on the world wide web, as long as it still exists in its present form.

As for propaganda, I know it all to well. It's gone so far in my country that you risk being labeled a communist in many circles if you criticize the current capitalist system.

Stanley Erickson said...

Archdruid Greer,

In your comment to Andy, you comment "Every relatively low-cost option for magnetic or inertial confinement has been tested, retested, and re-retested; the reason that ITER has a price tag of $14 billion is that all the cheaper options have been tried." Is fusion the first technology field in which one can state that there are no options that haven't been thought of yet? Kudos to the geniuses who have thought of everything already. Or possibly - you need to stop pontificating on technology.

Joseph Nemeth said...

I should clarify my comments about demand limits.

In practice, supply, demand, and "we can/can't afford this" are all different ways to express the same thing.

However, the statement, "We can't afford this, it will bankrupt {fill in the blank}" carries a different impact than "Yes, we could do that, but no one would buy it at the price we'd have to charge to clear a profit."

Both statements are really the same thing, but the first is alarmist in tone, and plays off the progress/apocalypse mythology, while the second is not only not alarmist, it lowers the bar quite a bit for what's "economically feasible." Lowers, not raises, meaning that things are in general a lot LESS economically feasible in reality than the progress/apocalypse meme would suggest.

This also points out something about the choices involved as we bump down the Long Descent.

You've repeatedly recommended (JMG) becoming an early adopter of a low-tech lifestyle. Garden. Ride your bike. Etc.

All of us are going to do those things automatically as soon as they become economically attractive. If gasoline spikes to $10/gallon ($150/fillup), people will stop driving. Free pizza delivery will stop, UPS and DHL and FedEx will consolidate and stop delivering to your front door.

Some people might sit in their suburban houses, sucking their thumbs while they starve. Most will not -- they'll change jobs or move, then figure out how to acquire bicycles, horses, llamas, mules, or slaves. Those without the means to do this will walk: and a smart and hardworking entrepreneur with a burro will make a killing moving food from local supermarkets to "village markets" within walking distance of customers, wherever they happen to be.

People won't do this because they have no choice. They'll do this because they DO have choices, and they'll choose whatever is easiest and most attractive to them from among a list of alternatives, one of which will still be to own a personal car and drive it to the supermarket every day (at ruinous personal cost).

$10/gallon is not really an apocalyptic price for gasoline, but it surely makes alternatives a whole lot more attractive.

And so with fusion power. Yes, maybe we can achieve fusion-powered electricity. Yes, maybe we can even avoid apocalyptic prices (whatever we might imagine those to be) so that we can drive around in our electric cars. But can we provide it at a cost below where people will just walk away, saying "Nah, too rich for my blood," and pick up a wheelbarrow to hike down to the micro-market two blocks away? That's the real challenge.

onething said...

I'm feeling much better about my flower garden, having just read an essay encouraging people to do what they can to preserve pollinators by building bee houses (on my do list) and having...flowers, with the attempt to keep blooms going through spring, early summer and late summer.

Exactly what I'm doing! And I must say that many of my blooms are obviously highly attractive not only to many insects but butterflies and hummingbirds as well.

John Michael Greer said...

Escape, I did indeed. It's typical journalism that every twist and turn in the long story of fusion research is labeled as a "critical phase," when it's just another step along the same road.

Stanley, you might want to take the time to read my blog before leaping to conclusions. Should fusion power somehow become both practical and affordable, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that will simply free us up to slam face first into the next limit to growth. (No matter how you parse it, limitless growth on a finite planet isn't an option.) As for fusion's prospects, I'd encourage you to read Charles Seife's useful Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking, a critique of fusion research by an author who can hardly be criticized for a lack of detailed technical knowledge of the subject; as I've mentioned in past posts on this subject, Seife's work is one of the sources I've drawn on. There are plenty of critics of the ongoing fusion boondoggle, though you apparently aren't aware of them.

Gunnar, that's a great example.

Stu, an excellent point, which can be generalized: what are the downsides to the technology? What problems and dependencies does it create?

Wolfgang, that's another great example.

Ganv, as I commented to Andy, I'm relying on the hard work and persistence of half a century of fusion researchers. They've covered a vast range of possibilities, and they're working with areas of physics (for example, electromagnetism) that are quite well understood. I think it's fair to give them the benefit of the doubt; if they've gone to vastly expensive programs like ITER, I'd say it's safe to assume that they've already explored the cheaper options.

Myriad, fair enough. My take is that an internet so costly that only the lord of the manor can access it won't be able to support itself at all, because there will be so many cheaper ways -- among other things, using the kind of low-cost human labor that lords of manors have at their beck -- to provide some version of the same services. Thus the likely winner of the competition is neither of your two aristocrats, but the baron next door who doesn't waste his resources on the internet, but spends them on more affordable technologies that improve his estate, help his serfs and vassals produce more value, etc.

Richard, that's fascinating. I'm not surprised -- the myth of progress has been applied with great enthusiasm to the arts, to their great detriment.

Joseph, demand limits are important so long as it's remembered that "demand" in economic terms means "ability to pay," not "desire for a product." A million people with no money who are starving to death, to an economist, is an example of lack of demand for food. It's a shorthand, and in some ways a deceptive one, for the failure of an economic system to provide access to goods and services; that failure can have many causes, though of course hard limits on resource availability are among them.

Kyoto, of course that's important to remember. We have indeed seen three centuries of rapid technological and scientific progress; what makes that into the foundation for the supreme mythology of our time is simply the assumption that past performance will inevitably predict future results.

John Michael Greer said...

RPC, by "economically feasible" I mean that the society attempting to use it can afford it at all, not that it's the best use of the society's resources.

Adam, redefining mental health in an age of scarcity is a tall order, and you're right -- it's one that needs to happen, and it has to start from within the mental health professions. Are you up for getting the ball rolling?

Phil, exactly. If the money (or the equivalent in energy, raw materials, labor, and time) can't be had, it doesn't matter how neat the technology looks on paper.

Unknown, I don't think that's something that can be settled in advance -- which is to say, it depends on who's willing to put how much effort into preserving democratic ideals in a difficult age. I've argued that this is a valid and valuable project; the ongoing collapse of the civil religion of Americanism is going to make it harder than it would otherwise have to be, but it's still not impossible.

Ursachi, fair enough. It'll be interesting to see how it works out.

Stanley, not at all. I'm counting on the brilliance and hard work of half a century of fusion researchers to have covered the less expensive options before trying anything as gargantuan as ITER. If all you can offer in response is unsubstantiated claims that there might be something out there that will turn the fusion fantasy of limitless cheap power into a reality, it seems to me that a sensible policy is to put all that money toward known, proven technologies that would actually do some good -- until, that is, you can offer something better.

Joseph, granted, but there's also quite a bit of "we simply don't have the money" technology out there -- and people do starve to death, not because they're sitting on their hands, but because they don't have the skills, the resources, and the time to do anything but starve.

Onething, if you're giving pollinators a safe place to thrive, you're making a huge contribution to the future. Until the damage being done by neonicotinoid pesticides becomes so blatant that they go the way of DDT, that's going to be crucial if pollinators are to survive at all.

Richard Clyde said...

This is also fascinating: http://theweek.com/article/index/248273/your-iphone-uses-more-energy-than-a-refrigerator

Some of the punchier takeaways: computing and digital communication siphon 10% of global electricity and increasing; an iPhone uses more energy (not including manufacture) than a refrigerator; and hourly Internet traffic in 2013 is nearing the annual traffic in 2000.

There are other, more interesting reflections to be made, perhaps starting with the fact that the study was funded by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

Enrique said...

I think there is a strong but understated current of desperation in proponents of nuclear fusion, abiotic oil, biofuels, zero point energy and other proposed miracle cures for the ongoing energy crisis. Most people desperately want to keep the status quo going, but deep down inside, when one looks past the layers of denial, I think most people understand at some level that the present state of affairs is unsustainable. We will all have to learn how to get by with a lot less as our privileged lifestyles come to an end and most people in the West can’t stand the thought. They would rather cling to whatever hope of holding onto their affluent lifestyles presents itself, no matter how illusory. Welcome to the real world, and welcome to the consequences of our misguided decisions.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG -- Yes, I do mean economic demand, meaning inability (or unwillingness) to pay. :-)

Doesn't your example of a million starving people draw directly from the apocalypse meme?

Spread over the entire population of 7 billion, a million people starving isn't even noticeable: one in seven thousand. Even in the US alone, it would be only one in three hundred: I wouldn't be surprised if the starvation index is already higher than that, especially in poorer cities. We're very good at turning a blind eye to that kind of suffering.

Of course, if they're all trapped in one city at the same time, they'll start eating each other: zombie apocalypse.

Repent said...

As always an excellent post.

I think your two very best blogs were the topics of 'the herding of cats', and 'the metastatis of money'. I'm paranoid by anyone's viewpoint, I visit Alex Jones website prison planet daily, and a host of other conspiracy theory sites. I would like to request that you could visit upon the short term crisises of the next few years or so, and examine what is likely to happen in the short term in regards to finance, fascism, and the social order?

I'm completely content with a stairstep decline in industrial society, we'd all have time to get used to it. In fact, I think that is the most likely and best case scenario for the future. However, I can't get myself past worrying about the short term transition pains of getting there.

The sociopaths who carried out 9/11, and the last several major wars are still at large, what would their next move be? The bankers holding the world ransom to three trillion dollars in bailouts are still running rampant, what is the likely outcome of this madness? Short term hoarding of food or gold, is just that- a short term measure; how will the economy decline gracefully?

Your wishlist of techinical developements that you'd like to see occur were all excellent ideas and I hope you get your wish granted by the science establishment, before it becomes defunct.

Lastly, you have no obligation to the world to continue to publish your weekly blog. (Not that anyone is ungrateful for this). What is your motivation for publishing this blog? I'm interested, what keeps you going despite critism, and condemnation by some? As a married man myself, I often wonder, what does your wife think of your venture?

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG. Yes. People will starve. People are starving. And it is often not their fault.

Robert said...


The quote from TS Eliot further up in the comment thread reminded me of this quote from one of my favourite poets, which seems particularly relevant to the Long Descent:

Choruses from the Rock by T S Eliot:

"Of all that was done in the past, you eat the fruit, either rotten or ripe.
And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying and always being restored.
For every ill deed in the past we suffer the consequence:
For sloth, for avarice, gluttony, neglect of the word of GOD
For pride, for lechery, treachery, for every act of sin.
And of all that was done that was good you have the inheritance.
For good and ill deeds that belong to a man alone, when he stands on the other side of death,
But here upon earth you have the reward of the good and ill that was done by those who have gone before you.
And all that is ill you may repair if you walk together in humble repentance, expiating the sins of your fathers;
And all that was good you must fight to keep with hearts as devoted as those of your fathers who fought to gain it.
The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without;
For this is the law of life; and you must remember that while there is time of prosperity
The people will neglect the Temple and in time of adversity they will decry it."

For Church read Republic or Commonwealth. Being British I find the word Commonwealth more emotionally charged than Republic.

The Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell, was neither a democrat nor an egalitarian but his victory over Charles the First made the evolution of British parliamentary democracy possible. He famously declared "If any there be who conspire to make many poor to make a few rich that maketh not a commonwealth"

These words should be branded on the bankside of Goldman Sachs and certain other Wall Street and City of London con men cheating investors out of their savings by investing in fusion technology, shale gas and other vapourware.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG: Can you give me a specific example of "we simply don't have the money" technology? I'm not completely sure what you're talking about, and an example would help.

Harry J. Lerwill said...

"Harry, I've been trying to duck that stereotype since the beginning of this project."

Yet we still have to live in a universe which promotes the archetype of the Hero, struggling alone against the forces arrayed against him.

It's ingrained in our paradigm at such a basic level that it defines the boundaries of the discussion, rather than contributing to it.

A lot of people seeking a sane solution to an increasingly insane world, look to the Strong Doomer motif. Jaw jutting against the oncoming hordes of mutant zombie bikers, government agents, or invading hordes, half-naked women clasped to his legs as he valiantly battles the creature from Jekyll Island.

The go-it-alone doomsteader, the disappear-into-the-woods rewilder, the guy in the basement with three years of MRE's. It's all progress, in this case progress towards a world they hope will be "better" in some way, even if the improvement is nothing more than the slow, lingering death of all who called him crazy.

It's a strange juxtaposition of Isaiah Berlin's positive and negative liberty ideas; we place upon a pedestal those individuals who go it alone and never appear to need us, while promoting leaders who make us deathly afraid that they might take away the things we think we need. That magical thinking is not going to give us another Washington, Lincoln or FDR.

Chrysippus saw freedom as an escape from those irrational desires, not an excuse to claim those desires as entitlements. The Stoic's deontological approach seems far better suited for the narratives we need today.

Joel said...

I almost re-hashed Adamatari's argument with a lot more heat and less light. Glad I read through the comments before posting.

Having done microfabrication under less-than-optimal conditions, my guess is that the hardware to keep an SMS-only telecom system running could profitably be built in the world you've set Star's Reach in. Less like Roman pottery; more like crucible steel: a ridiculously-portable trade item which would give any rich person in the world an immediate boost in status and military/diplomatic capability. There only has to be one pocket of stability in the world to maintain the practice.

Robust simplicity already has its own market appeal among the technorati, by the way: the SpareOne brand of telephones is an example of motion in this direction. There's a long way to go, but at least innovators are beginning to explore that space.

On an unrelated note, your talk of a blind spot called to mind the story of King Charles II pointing the lacuna from his optic nerve at the head of a condemned prisoner. Sometimes

latheChuck said...

Tales of good astronomy being done with relatively small instruments reminds me to put in a good word for The Planetary Society, which I have supported for many years. The gather money from "ordinary people" like me, then bestow grants upon extraordinary people who set out to do interesting projects, such as surveying the sky for Near Earth Objects (which could some day upset us).

latheChuck said...

Regarding "the End of the Internet", bear in mind that it might consume a lot of electricity, but it runs on advertising and pay-per-play entertainment. Either one of those, if not both, could dry up during the Long Descent. I believe that I pay my way (in cash donations) to Wikipedia to keep the site going, but maybe not to maintain the connections between my site and theirs. The problem of "the Internet of the Long Descent" is not one of providing renewable energy to ACCESS the 'net, but to provide cash flow that preserves content on the 'net for when you get there.
I predict that the "killer app" of the Internet of the future will be weather forecasts, which tell you when to bring in your crops before they spoil in the rain and/or frost.

latheChuck said...

With all this talk about nuclear fusion power, I'm surprised that no one's mentioned the Fusion Energy Foundation. I ran across them in my college days, and have never since met such a bunch of True Believers. (See the Wikipedia entry for details.)

Wikipedia states that the organization is defunct, but there's a web site with the same name. The "history" tab on the site, oddly enough, includes no actual dates.

John Michael Greer said...

Richard, I wonder how long it will take before anybody realizes that the expansion of digital communication in the last two decades or so has all the hallmarks of a bubble...

Enrique, that's been my take. The furious zeal with which partisans of the various vaporware energy sources defend their claims that we can, too, have all the energy we want suggests to me that they know they're wrong; it's the person who's losing his faith that's always the most passionate about proselytizing it to all and sundry.

Joseph, not at all. As you quite rightly point out, a million people starving to death doesn't even make the evening news these days. Still, it gets the point across!

Repent, though I don't share your fondness for Jones et al., I agree that the short term crises are the rough part of the Long Descent; knowing that industrial civilization is going to take a century or two to fall really isn't much consolation if it's your job that just got eliminated by a contracting economy, your house that got devastated by a climate change-driven storm, your civil rights that went away in a political breakdown, and so on. I'll sketch out some of what I think we can expect along these lines in future posts.

As for me, I do this because it's worth doing. I feel I've already made a significant impact on the peak oil discussion, and far more importantly, on the lives of people who are better prepared for the deindustrializing future now than they might otherwise have been. Bit by bit, the discussion is shifting from pie-in-the-sky technological and political schemes to practical projects that can be carried out by individuals, families, and communities, and lay the foundations for more extensive projects to come. As for my wife, thanks for asking -- we celebrated our 29th anniversary last month; she's just as much on board with this as I am, and has a notably larger range of practical skills than I do.

Robert, you can always get an attentive audience here by quoting Eliot (or, for that matter, Yeats or Jeffers). Of course he's quite right, and you're equally correct to apply his logic more broadly. When the Constitutional Convention finished its deliberations and Ben Franklin walked out of the hall, a lady friend (he had a lot of lady friends) approached him and asked what kind of government they'd proposed for the new nation. His answer applies just as much now: "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."

Joseph, building pumping stations on Titan and shipping methane home via spaceship to keep the earth supplied with natural gas. Given current technologies, the raw cost would bankrupt the planet.

Harry, if you want to encourage Stoicism, you'll get no disagreement here. What bothers me about the would-be square-jawed heroes is that so many of them seem to be playing a Hollywood film inside their heads, with themselves in the starring role; there are times that I swear I can see the credits rolling past in their eyes.

Joel, my question is whether it would give that much more of an advantage than would be accessible via simpler technology -- say, a network of shortwave radio stations using handbuilt vacuum tubes (a common item on the old-tech fringe of the DIY movement these days). In a world of much tighter resource constraints, the simplest tool for the job will likely be the best, and in the absence of fossil fuels, skilled human operators may well be the best information processing technology for the money.

Enrique said...

After reading this column and reflecting on another recent post, “The Quest for a Common Language”, one of the things that struck me is the degree to which the Christian Right has been hoodwinked time and time again to play to role of “prejudiced and superstitious adversaries” in the morality play of Progress against the liberal forces of “progress”. This has happened again and again with such controversial social issues as evolution vs. creationism, abortion, same sex marriage and stem cell research. In the end, all they’ve done is strengthen the hands of their liberal adversaries, while painting themselves in the eyes of the majority as religious extremists who can’t be trusted. I wonder if another approach might have worked better.

This brings me to an obvious follow-up question. How do those of us who realize the manipulative and counterproductive nature of the Ritual Theater of Progress opt out, get beyond the same tired old rhetoric and challenge the destructive and delusional belief systems that underpin that exercise in ritual theater?

John Michael Greer said...

latheChuck, three good points. I didn't know the FEF was still out there -- I recall them from a couple of decades ago, when LaRouche was still a public figure. I'm glad to hear that the Planetary Society has been able to roll with the punches -- they used to be deep into trying to get funding for manned space exploration; if the money is going to earth-based astronomy, that's arguably a wiser use of resources.
As for the economics of the internet, you get tonight's gold star for mentioning what next to nobody wants to mention: the internet has to pay for itself. It doesn't matter how cool the technology is, if it can't pay its bills, it won't stay around -- and there are real doubts that it will be able to pay its bills in a resource-constrained future in which advertising budgets and online pornography may not be as lavishly funded as they are now.

Doctor Westchester said...

JMG,

Harry Lerwill – thanks for articulating the thought that popped into my mind as I read this post. You articulated it much more elegantly and perhaps more clearly than I could have, allowing our host to give an equally elegant and clear answer.

Now here is probably a far less elegant and clear expansion of the point to the rest of the peak oil/end of growth sub-culture. I am thinking of the ritual theater that has formed in this sub-culture and, as been pointed out so often in this blog, it seems to naturally follow structures set down by the religion of progress. There is the ritual theater of anti-religion of apocalypse, which has found such fertile ground in peak oil and has help lead, if any help was needed, to current boy-who-cried-wolf response that so many people feel toward these issues. The other side is one derived from the religion of progress itself, the idea that we can have a renewable energy version of our lifestyles.

I see both in the Transition Movement, though the anti-religion is a bit more of an under-the-radar phenomenon. Transition seems to do a somewhat better job of keeping the excesses of religious of progress type ritual theater in check than other Green movements. However “somewhat better than most” is certainly not going to be good enough, especially when the next noticeable wide spread crisis happens.

August Johnson said...

JMG, here’s another example that might interest you. Don’t put it through if it’s too far off topic.

In 1978 Wieslaw Wisniewski and my father wrote an article entitled “The Mystery of Vega”.

http://www.qsl.net/kg7bz/Vega.pdf

Wisniewski was a Polish astronomer who immigrated to the US in the 1963 and worked closely with my father.

As you know, there are certain unvarying stars that are designated as “Standard Stars” and Vega (Alpha Lyrae) was often considered the standard. What Wisniewski and my father did was point out all the many decades of evidence that Vega was not so unvarying and this should be investigated. They point out that this variability should certainly preclude it’s use as a standard, let alone a primary standard.

Every astronomer they approached totally poo-poo’d the idea, some quite nastily. I remember my father telling me that one astronomer at Kitt Peak told him “We’ve always used Vega as a standard and we aren’t going to stop. You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

They eventually published the article in Star & Telescope Magazine in 1979 as no other journal would accept it. Then back sometime around 2005 I remember seeing an article saying that Vega was no longer to be used as a standard due to it’s variability in brightness and spectrum. How many decades to even take a look and then only when things were staring them in the face because the latest observations were unmistakable? If you know how these standard stars are used for equipment calibration, you’ll see that using Vega introduced small errors into every observation that used Vega as a comparison star for differential photometry and spectroscopy.

Take a look at today’s Wikipedia entry for Vega

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vega

and notice how it omits and discounts earlier observations of variability and infrared excess. Not mentioned are most of the observations of brightness pointed out in the 1979 article, in fact it says only two observations showed variability and no others did. Not quite! It says that the infrared excess was discovered by the IRAS satellite after 1983. The observations of Morrison & Simon in 1973 and Wisniewski & Johnson in 1976-77 ignored. It’s as if something isn’t significant or doesn’t exist unless it was done in an expensive and extremely complex manner!

Different but interesting subject, notice the last paragraph of the 1979 article…

Something knows we're hams, verification 73 stputri

onething said...

I'm confused. How will it help to redefine mental health?
*****************
I do not think that resource constraints and a more labor intensive lifestyle means that we have to give up the ideals of respect for both genders, other races, or allowing homosexuals a place in society.

I do think some more radical feminists are confused. The best example I can think of is a bumper sticker I used to see in the very progressive town I used to live in. It went like this: "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." This irritated the heck out of me, not only because it's rather hateful, but so very out of touch with reality.

I picture said feminist driving home in her car from her office job, stopping at the grocery store, turning on the light and putting food in the fridge. Everything she has just done and touched was prepared for her by the hard labor of men.
Unrealistic notions of "equality" based on sameness won't pass the giggle test in a simpler, more agrarian lifestyle.
But while a certain amount of division of labor by gender is probably almost automatic, that does not at all mean that the life of the intellect will die out, that ideals of justice and due process cannot be maintained, that women cannot have an equal voice in decisions and so forth.
There are so many things we won't be able to hold onto; knowledge of women's fertility cycles, nutrition, sanitation, aseptic technique, logic and the scientific method need not be among them.

Ice Torch said...

The communists had much the same idea of progress as the West, to some extent: as Lenin said, "Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country." So there you are: industrialisation plus technology. The Nazis certainly worshipped technology too: "Nazism equals neo-tribalism plus permanent Blitzkrieg", which nobody actually said.

Only Pol Pot, with his Year Zero and abandonment of the cities, seems not to have believed in industrialisation. Strangely enough, in the 1990s I once saw a poster by the British Movement, a tiny neo-Nazi group, showing what looked like stormtroopers with clubs. The slogan was: "Back to the land! Abandon the cities!" Apparently the party was under the leadership of neo-Strasserites at the time: Pol Pot meets Ernst Roehm, I thought.

I worked in West Berlin from 1979 to 1980, and I did wander around East Berlin on May Day 1980. The members of the Free German Youth were recognisable by their blue shirts and red neckerchiefs. I saw one such young lad sitting on Alexander Square, strumming a guitar and singing "Blowing in the wind" in English. There were lots of Russian soldiers about, and East German ones too, still with those peaked caps that made them look like Nazis minus the swastika armbands. Communist Party members with flags marched through the city centre, accompanied by floats with images of Marx, Engels and Lenin. No Stalin - perhaps he was the fallen angel. (Anyway, few Christians mention the devil these days, either). All the party members were wearing red carnations. The president, Erich Honecker, gave a speech in Alexander Square, and Russian soldiers, including females, put on free dance displays in the city parks.

On East German children's radio, I remember two songs were often played: "We're learning Russian!" and "We're building socialism!" All this would lead to communism, a heaven on Earth. How a totalitarian state was supposed to turn into its opposite, where the state would wither away (no different from anarchism then), I didn't understand.

On East German TV the words "capitalist", "fascist", "neo-fascist", "racist" and "neo-imperialist" were used non-stop. "Today the fascist, neo-fascist and neo-imperialist states of the European Economic Community held a summit meeting in Brussels," the smiling female newsreader would announce. Or else, on a children's programme: "Today, children, we are visiting Africa, to see how the African children suffer under the exploitation of the powers of the neo-imperialist West." Forget "Wacky Races", then.

In the Weimar Britain of the 1970s, Marxism had seemed to be everywhere, and I hated it. For the East German communists, collapse came in 1989. Marxism had been around all my young life, and I was delighted by its demise but had never expected it. Which parts of capitalism or commercialism will I not miss, come the Emergency? Hard to say, at this lack of distance.

onething said...

Well, like anyone else, I don't want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during the bumps in the long descent, but other than that I wholeheartedly look forward to it. Really, a lot of the problem with people is that everything just comes too easy. They have become lazy and helpless. Cannot entertain themselves, cannot work hard at anything. Generally can't cook. Gotta have instant pudding, can't spend ten minutes cooking it.

All these lower tech innovations are going to be a lot of fun. Figuring stuff out with your neighbors and trading locally will be satisfying. I don't know how this modern life sucks us all in but it isn't making people happy. Neighborhoods are like ghost towns, no kids out on the street.

Chris G said...

Kyoto Motors made this point, which you accepted; but I'd like to take it a little further. It can be a bit of a semantic dispute, but also, I think you'll agree, a real difference.

People do think and behave about progress much as they do and have done about religion. But this might have more to do with the way the human mind becomes bounded by the inherited stories of the culture in which it arises.

Getting to the point. There is a critical difference between the religion of progress and the ancient and classical religions that pre-dated and are likely to survive its collapse: unlike the traditional religions, the Myth of Progress can and will be proven false. But one cannot say the same about the existence of God, or the divinity of Jesus, or the pantheon of Hinduism.

The etymology of "religion" is revealing: to be "re-bound", or "re-tied." Into what? Into the cohesive, common society/polity/culture necessary - as a previous commentor pointed out with the example of the Polynesian boats - to do the basic manual labor to grow the food to feed the workers who will build the ships.

The myth of progress does function in that way, by binding people together in a common labor - that is, to keep on pushing technology, in the hope, perhaps, of some miraculous breakthrough - a la the Second Coming, or Fusion Power, or Free Energy, what have you. The power of this faith is reinforced, not by Inquisition or propaganda as it was (arguably) in the past - so much as the see-it-before-your-eyes reality of rockets to the moon (although that may be much more short-lived than we are taught to believe).

Note: I have gone through, and continue to go through, a phase of "Losing My Religion" of progress. It's not an easy thing. At first, you want to tell people to wake up and smell the compost. I'm glad you're here since you've done a crafty job of breaking spells; but I suspect for most people, the only way will be "seeing-[progress collapse]-is-[un]believing."

So that's a complicated matter, because as you've indicated before, it's likely some other belief systems will have to move in to replace the collapsing religion, which we might call the glue that binds us. Might the atheists begin to change their tone when they see the progress myth disappearing and social decay setting in? Certainly fundamentalists will be there with their trumpets and baptisms by fire. One can only hope that things will hold together long enough for some kind of new social glue [religion] to be made.

Chris G said...

And to add to that, I want to honor my favorite poet [and the fellow who quoted him], Mr. Eliot [who notably converted to Anglicanism - perhaps out of this same kind of dread of a loss of some social belief system... but that's as far as I know, all speculation]:

For good and ill deeds that belong to a man alone, when he stands on the other side of death,
But here upon earth you have the reward of the good and ill that was done by those who have gone before you.

I think that gets at the difference between the traditional religions and progress as religion pretty well.

Thomas Daulton said...

So very, very much of American culture these days consists of "kabuki theatre" that it's hard to blame the Religion of Progress specifically for the ritualized arguments and the talking-past-each-other which you describe. In the areas of politics, economics, the arts, personal health and wellness, the viability of news and the media... it seems like all that Americans can do these days is shout "Everything will get back to normal and be great just as soon as you damn gadflies sit down and shut up!"

I think it was you, JMG, who originally compared these protestations to the strict father in a dysfunctional family -- who shouts, "We are all going to sit down and have a nice polite family dinner conversation!!" As if sheer decibels could blow away the underlying problems and dysfunction.

MawKernewek said...

@adamatari - I disagree - I think it's the infrastructure behind the Internet and mobile phone networks that is the key issue, rather than making phone handsets and computers. If manufacturing costs of handsets rose, and people also became poorer, there could come a point when only say, 5% of people can afford and justify the expense of buying one, but there are still buyers there to keep the manufacturing going. The problem is that the fixed costs of the infrastructure behind the networks would be 20 times higher per user. On the way up - the mobile companies absorbed this in the expectation that soon everyone will be using a mobile phone, but on the way down these economics work in reverse.

Marc L Bernstein said...

While reading this post I felt inclined to mention someone who struck me some time ago as an interesting and notable example of the myth of progress. He is Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, writer and popularizer of science in general and futuristic ideas in particular. He has not long ago (I can't remember the context. It might have been 1 of Kaku's appearances on a television show) spoken optimistically about electricity generation using fusion technology, and I seem to recall him mentioning a date, 2040 I think it was. He said that it seems evident that just as fossil fuels start running especially low (he didn't use the term resource scarcity), fusion power would "come to the rescue". He used different words but this was clearly his point. Interestingly enough, Kaku is an expert on the life and accomplishments of Albert Einstein, who definitely qualifies as an example of a hero in the ritual "play" of the civil religion of progress. Kaku's reverence for Einstein started when Kaku was still a boy. Perhaps Kaku unknowingly acquired his civil religion of progress at roughly the same time. Now personally I admire Michio Kaku, having read 1 of his books many years ago which discussed string theory, Einstein's general theory of relativity, the standard model of particle physics, how gravitational theory remains difficult to reconcile with the standard model, etc. Kaku is a brilliant man, and is quite warm and engaging as well. So some very admirable and endearing individuals can be captured by the myth of progress.

MawKernewek said...

@Joseph Nemeth

$10/ 1 US gallon is the equivalent of

$2.64/litre, £1.69/litre, €1.98/litre.

That is above but not really that far above current European levels.

Some people will stop driving if prices reach that level, but probably not the majority.

Half Empty said...

There are a couple of neat real-life examples of relatively modest possibilities colliding with the financial realities of collapse in Yanis Varoufakis's post on Naked Capitalism,
Three Tales of Greeks Coping With Breakdown


The one about petrol shortages on the island of Aegina chimes somewhat with the point made by Barath at the top of the thread.

Maybe, as decline goes on, there will be a knowledge equivalent to the tourists who take their cars to the mainland to refuel because it's no longer worth the ferry operator's while to ship petrol to the island in the summer months? Travelling to the library in Alexandria, perhaps?

Naturally, the ancient rich amassed private libraries for their own status and enjoyment. As a couple of commenters have noted, cyberspace might similarly become 'silo space' for whoever is winning the scramble to stay on top at the time.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Wall,

Electric bikes and carts can have a massive future, it is just that they won't look like the sorts of vehicles that we have today. You even pre-empted with the quote: "Yes, I'm well on the way to putting this into practice". Well done and respect.

I have a go-kart here that will be converted using electric bike components once the internal combustion engine dies (Honda 110cc). It is too small for me, but I welded up a trailer and it is useful bringing rocks back up the hill. Why did I ever ask the excavator driver to move the rocks down the hill? Who would have thought that rocks can be so useful? I’ve hit peak rocks here and it pains me (literally).

For your interest, I only work between 2 and 3 days per week in the Industrial world and this provides an adequate income.

I know people who are in the top 5% of household incomes in this country and for some reason they feel poor and hard done by. It is not what you earn, it is what you do with what you earn that makes the difference.

Chris

Hanshishiro said...

For the cornucopians that are in love with the idea of never ending progress and growth, this may be a wake up call.
http://www.upworthy.com/how-did-we-get-to-a-point-where-a-child-is-saying-sorry-to-her-mom-for-costing-her-money?c=slt1

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Joseph,

Err - awkward - a million people can starve to death or be killed. No, it doesn't have to turn into a zombie apocalypse either. If you take a read of the wikipedia page for Pol Pot's activities in Cambodia you'll note that the death toll was around 2 million half of whom died of starvation and disease. Unpleasant. I was enjoying your pithy humour to about that point...

Regards

Chris

MawKernewek said...

The difference between technical and economic success with fusion is that the former is defined as getting more energy out than putting in to generate the conditions for fusion. Even here I think what is counted as input is fairly narrowly defined, as the actual electricity used to create very high temperatures and strong magnetic fields.

The latter, economic success would have to account for all the embodied energy for the raw materials in constructing the facility, training staff etc. and still come out ahead, and if we operate in a free market economy, come out ahead of other ways of generating electricity, or indeed using less electricity.

If the plant was successful, I would expect a production fusion plant could be cheaper than $14bn, as building a one-off thing for the first time is always much more expensive than once production gets geared up. I remember seeing the first adverts in Computer Shopper for recordable CD-rom drives priced up at £3000+....

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lathechuck,

Quote: "I predict that the "killer app" of the Internet of the future will be weather forecasts, which tell you when to bring in your crops before they spoil in the rain and/or frost."

A well calibrated barometer works pretty accurately, plus a good nose for the weather.

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Ritual theatre. Sounds like a very apt description of political dialogue these days.

The funny thing about long term politicians is that just like stage actors they all carefully enunciate their words when speaking in public. It makes it difficult to follow their words and thoughts. The mind almost slams shut entirely though when trying to mentally visualise them talking dirty using that vocal technique during sexual activity! Oh no, that thought was just wrong. hehe!

I don't doubt the mythic story of the lone genius battling the powers that be. It fits in nicely with the cultural meme of individualism too. I tend to favour co-operation as a more powerful tool for research and development.

Unfortunately, I did have a run in with the authorities recently, but felt more like the village idiot that had brought too much attention to themselves through excessive ambition. What a waste of time and energy that episode was.

Regards

Chris

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG -- thank you. The example of mining Titan for methane did help.

That brings us back to the magic of the industrialist in the narrative. Yes, of course the Titan idea is unaffordable NOW. But the sacred play makes it clear that it won't be unaffordable in the future, which is why such cockamamie ideas get put forth. Somehow, the costs will come down, and then it will be a stroke of genius to have suggest this.

I've been thinking about the role of the industrialist in this play, and it seems to me that they serve the role of the priesthood in this particular theater.

The Great Man who makes the discovery is the prophet in the wilderness, who speaks directly to (and for) God. But he's a little touched in the head, and it's hard to understand him because of the glow of divinity that shrouds him. The trials that surround the prophet are necessary to distinguish True Prophets from False Prophets.

The industrialist is the mediator between heaven and earth. This has two functions, vis a vis the wealthy capitalists of modern society. It places them in a "proper" humility before a true prophet's genius and before God. But it also places them in the role of Benefactor to Humanity, the humble hands that distribute the manna from heaven.

The masses, then, fall into their proper place as those who are unworthy, helpless, and dependent upon the largess of the priesthood, the prophets, and God.

Interesting.

Avery said...

JMG, in your reply to Repent you seemed a bit blas├ę about conspiracy theories. In my opinion, if you want localized, high-trust responses to peak oil, we're going to need to insist on moving away from the concept that some people in government are trying to destroy us all, and recognize that the problem of complexity limits causes even more trouble for those at the top than those at the bottom. In short, we want to develop the old attitude of a country village skeptical of newfangled developments, as opposed to a Waco or Ruby Ridge trying to shoot off the intruders (I foresee many more such paranoia-induced tragedies in the future).

I recommend touching again on some of the points you made in this 2007 post as you wrap up the religion cycle. A reference to The Paranoid Style in American Politics might also do some good.

Tracy G said...

JMG, I hope this astronomy-related news is not too far off-topic...

We've got a nova in the constellation of Delphinus right now. Last night, multiple observers estimated it between fourth and fifth magnitude, and its brightness is increasing. Typically we see something like this only once or twice per decade.

General information on the nova can be found at skyandtelescope.com, and more technical commentary and observations are at AAVSO, including this forum thread.

Size of telescope needed to view this: none. About 5-7 mm, the maximum pupil diameter for most adult humans in dark conditions, will do.

I much prefer the theater of nature to the ritual theater of progress. :-)

Ricardo Rolo said...

Well, there is little to discuss on the main point of this week column, Mr Greer: every time you say something a little out of what you're supposed to say in this collumn, we see always the exact same show of people dissing you with the same tired arguments and slogans and refusing to adress the point you are putting out. You mention the fusion one, but from the recent ones, the one that stroke me the worst was the angry replies of the "atheists" to your statement that your faith can cope with evolution quite well, especially because they replied to you using a understanding of the evolution concept that is a generation and half old and at best incomplete ( basically throwing in the gargabe all the discoveries made of retroviruses carrying genes between species, prions ( think mad cow disease ) and the fact that atleast some gene expression blocking proteins can be inherited with no direct intervention of DNA ... especially the last one is normally forgotten because it somewhat vindicates Lamarck and recognizing that a much maligned theory of old actually had a point on the newer one is something that we can't have in the religion of the infinite and unstoppable techocomplexification, can't we ? :/ )

Anyway on the fusion issue, my impression is that, as a friend of mine used to say, the "Sun in a bottle" approach ( putting hot hydrogen plasma in a very confined space and hope that something happens ) is known to be doomed for aleast 2 decades , as I remember seeing a article in the early 00's about the experiments done in some laser assisted fusion experiments ( IIRC in France ) where the interviewed scientist simply stated that at the time they couldn't even explain a good bunch of energy leaks in the process ( they atributted it to neutrinos, the energy garbage can of theoretical physics, the equivalent on saying that demons ate it if you want to put it that way ). If you can't even drop a consistent energy budget on a process after 3 decades or 4 of dropping scientist-hours and money bucketloads in the issue, you can either assume that the issue is either being aproached in the wrong way with tenacious persistance for external reasons ( as most of those scientists and facilities double as fusion nukes labs, you have to wonder ... this aproach is pretty much like trying to develop a explosion engine powered by TNT or C4, if you think about it ) or that it might be out of your reach at all ...

( cont ... )

Ricardo Rolo said...

( ... cont )

On the internet side talk, my best bet is that it will slowly retreat to the DARPANET again as resources dwindle and the perceived benefits of the more extravagant and costly parts of the "net" ( say , like the energy and bandwidth hogger that is video streaming at 240p + ) are quetly dropped down ( after all, even youtube has tried atleast twice to convince people to pay directly for it's usage with dismal reception, so, if the number of people seeing videos on youtube drops, there goes the advertising money and so goes their only current source of income ). it might even be kept in a pre .com bubble state if people are wise enough and have some luck, but i would bet that, if the internet survives at all it will be a mix of DARPANET for governemental usage and a bunch of semi-rogue FIDONET alikes, but even that requires both functioning computers ( and, basing on the times I did a sidejob recovering old comps, you can't really expect that a personal computer can last much more than a decade without a major failure of a critical component ( normally a CPU or GPU failure due to a breakdown of the cooling systems ) ) and functioning comunications between them ( think on the major hassle it is to recover phone lines and/or telecom towers after any natural phenomenon that spans a wide area and multiply for a couple of decades or centuries ... not mentioning pure theft of parts to sell as scrape metal at junkyards or similar shenigans ).

Just to end, two side comments:

- First a thanks to August Johnson for his father articles. Both nice reads and a somber reminder of how gigantism infected the academia and on the blind faith some scientists tend to have in some constants that might not be ones :/

- Second, to Joseph Nemeth: being myself in a roughly 8$/gallon ( or 1.60€/L if you prefer ) gas price at this moment ( it was slightly higher some months ago, though ), I'm not sure if people will drop the cars at 10$/gallon even if you have a good public transport network behind ... IMHO the breakout will be somewhat higher in here ( in spite of seeing people being quite reticent to make trips bigger than 100 km even in a ocasional basis ), but I can atleast confirm that at this time pizza delivery in this area ( I live in the outskirts of my country cap, so there is not exactly lack of costumers ) rarely goes to more than 5 km away from the store ( and I'm talking about actual 5 km of drive ) and normally does not pass of a 2-3 km radius. So I do think that is entirely possible that they would drop it altogether if the gas price rose much more ... OFC that to the States standarts, 2-3 km radius of delivery and 100 km trips are pretty much the same as zero, I assume :p

Richard Larson said...

Actually, life is far more interesting learning to use less of these energy sources, than sitting around on one's fat rump in full use of this power. Just think how fat those rumps would get if there was free electricity!

Strikes me the believers of progress as being locked into a concept that will never be realized. And the harder the attempt to realize this concept (cheap abundant electricity forever) the quicker this pursuit will end.

Reminds me of a story I recently heard about the settlers working their way into the US interior back in the day. They cut down thousand year old trees that was already providing a multi-dimensional bounty of the perfect food source. Free for the picking, with little labor involved. Then replaced these trees with a single-plane food source that required huge effort to plant/grow/harvest. And used up the built-up fertile soil in less than a decade to boot!

But the concept of corn as the perfect food source was much stronger than the observation of chestnuts lying on the ground waiting to be picked up.

Fits this weblog observation methinks.

John Michael Greer said...

Doctor W., ritual theater is pretty much a human universal -- when children engage in it, it's called "play." Of course the Transition scene will have its own versions. The challenge, as I see it, is figuring out ways to give it its proper place, so that it doesn't spill over into places where it's not that useful.

August, oh man. That's a classic. Thanks for the tip -- I'm probably going to use that example at some point in a book.

Onething, er, I think you're missing something there. Quite a bit of what she's touched was also put there by the hard labor of women, which tends to be ignored a good deal more often than the equivalent input from men.

Ice Torch, Marxism was an interesting hybrid, which incorporated quite a bit of the religion of progress but overlaid it with a messianic political faith. "Interesting," mind you, doesn't mean I have any great interest in seeing it revived.

Onething, I tend to worry about people who say they're looking forward to the Long Descent. How secure is your income in a world of permanent economic contraction? How secure is your home in the face of a collapse of public order? How secure is your health once modern medicine is no longer available to anybody but the absurdly rich? Think through the consequences, please.

Chris G, er, did you read my earlier post making exactly that point?

Thomas, if that's my metaphor, I don't recall making it -- but it's a very good one.

Marc, an excellent example. It's a commonplace of experience that the nicest and most gifted people can belong to religions that seem utterly absurd to those who don't believe in them.

Half Empty, many thanks for the link! We're already to the point, in mostly abandoned parts of the Great Plains, that people have to drive many miles to get gas, groceries, etc., because it's no longer economical to have local gas stations and grocery stores in rural areas with too few people in them.

Hanshishiro, many thanks for the link.

Iuval Clejan said...

I fantasize about another ritual play of a scientist who actually figures out how to have economically feasible free energy but doesn't release it to the public for spiritual reasons. He thinks that our species didn't do a very good job with the huge amount of energy that was available from petroleum, and would do an even worse job managing an infinite amount of (economically viable) energy. I actually had a similar experience talking to a famous researcher in the aging field, who thought our species would not be able to handle living much longer than we already do, too much hubris.

John Michael Greer said...

MawKernewek, of course a working fusion reactor, if one can be made, will cost less than $14 billion, once economies of scale come into the picture. The problem is that the process of keeping hot plasma bottled up at the necessary temperature and pressure is inherently so complex that it's unlikely to be more than an order of magnitude or so cheaper -- and that means it won't be cheap enough.

Cherokee, I think I'm going to have to go get a bottle of brain bleach now. ;-)

Joseph, that's certainly a workable comparison!

Avery, I'm not blase about conspiracy theories at all. I simply didn't choose to get into it with that one commenter, that time. I'll be talking at quite some length about the difference between conspiracy mythology and the nature of political power in a collapsing society in a series of later posts -- oh, and we'll get into what fascism is and isn't at the same time.

Tracy, it may be formally off topic, but it's sufficiently cool to get put through. ;-)

Ricardo, whenever somebody tries to claim that science supports their religion, they end up getting bushwhacked by the fact that scientific opinion keeps on changing, and their talking points stop being relevant long before they stop being used. The pro- and anti-evolution commenters both had their tender bits caught in that vise, as they usually do. This is why, as I've said several times already, the value of a scripture -- or any other religious teaching -- can't be judged by considering its fitness as a geology textbook.

As for fusion and the internet, exactly. Your sketch of the future of the internet in particular is pretty much the same as mine; I expect to see access to something like the current internet gradually get rationed by price until only the government and big corporations have it at all, while outside that realm, BBS systems using packet radio over ham radio frequencies stay in use as long as the electronics remain available, and most people simply find other ways to communicate and express their creativity.

Richard, no argument. The biggest taboo of industrial society is that all these trinkets and toys and mechanical gimmicks that are supposed to make us happy and fulfilled and oh so superior to everyone who lived in the benighted past...don't. They don't do what they're supposed to do, and only the psychology of previous investment makes us keep on trying to convince ourselves that we couldn't scrap the lot of them and go do something more fulfilling with our time.

onething said...

JMG,

Granted, women work hard and contribute equally. My point was that a modern city dweller can be quite oblivious as to where all those easy ignition switches come from. When I lived in Chapel Hill, the power went out one winter for 8 days, during all of which it never rose above freezing. There were electricians working outside in the freeze night and day, almost entirely men. Oil rigging is dirty and dangerous hard work. Not many women. I'm not saying there should be women, I'm saying that it is perfectly appropriate that heavier jobs are mostly done by men (I say mostly because I'm a great believer in allowing people to follow their inclinations even if they are rare). I'm thinking about some of the flack that Orlov and perhaps Kunstler get for assuming that things will be more traditional between the genders in our future, and I'm categorizing those areas in which that indeed makes sense, and those areas where we can hold our ground.

As to the Long Descent, I indeed worry about all those things. I'm just saying there's also an upside. Last year when the Derecho went through, we were suddenly plunged into a very different mode of living in the middle of a heat wave with higher temps than I've ever seen (104). It lasted 12 days. Everything was a struggle. We've got a goldfish pond and the fish were dying for lack of oxygen. I stood out in the heat pouring water from above my head to aerate them...but we neighbors all stood together and helped. One had a hand coffee grinder, one ran out of sawdust for their composting toilet and I got them some from tree processing of fallen trees that my husband was working on, a local store had ice and we fetched it for one another combining trips with scarce gas. We also stopped all our usual activities and went swimming together, had bonfires and barbecue dinners.

onething said...

re price of gas,

"That is above but not really that far above current European levels.

Some people will stop driving if prices reach that level, but probably not the majority."

What they will have to do is drive much less. The problem for Americans is that our towns and cities are set up differently. I think most Europeans can get to work and shop on public transportation. Nonetheless, there are many ways Americans can cut down. Stop letting teenagers drive to school in their own cars. Stop having long lines of parents dropping their kids off at elementary school, start doing some car sharing, etc.

Ray Wharton said...

http://www.josepino.com/diy/making-homemade-transistors
Context for the difficulties of making transistors. If there is something that the DIY movement hasn't become involved in, there is generally a good reason.

A more general comment on this weeks post, the issue of economics is fundamental to grapple with. As I explore different skills that I hope will make me more well rounded for the bumpy road to come, I continually am surprised by how time consuming the simplest things might be. Right now I have access to a large supply of elm tree logs which my friend had an arborist drop of for him to grow mushrooms on, of course with my tools its 40-50 hours of work for an untested procedure, balancing this with moving, planning a yard sale, gardening, experimental composting, fermenting, and a lot of studying and it is easy to see the fundamental problem.

Trying to do too much, and getting spread out and ineffectual. Cheap energy makes everything seem easy, and even though energy is still all things considered cheap, things don't go as smoothly as they used to once I step away from my desk. A tool breaks because I missed a sign of planned obsolescence; friends don't show up to projects because youth jobs seem to post their work scheduled by use of random number generators.

This is part of a narrative that I believe to be distinct from progress, though symbiotic. I don't know its name, it is a relationship to work. Work is hard and needs to be done with break neck speed GO GO GO! When something bad happens (decline events) you need to work harder. But working harder causes a person to be used up. Instead we need to work longer, and at a sustainable pace. Learning to work slowly and consistently and throughly is the ticket, regardless of which skill. This is opposite the frantic pull of our societies reaction.

onething said...

Cherokee,

We live in the hills with red clay soil and rocks of every size. (Although it is a soft, black hummus where the trees are undisturbed) I recently set out two new hollyhock seedlings and just to prepare them a nice bit of soil, I dug up near a bucket full of little stones.

Yet our rocks are a major, free resource. We use rocks for everything!

Joseph Nemeth said...

Re: $10/gallon. That's a US number I just threw out there based on reading somewhere that $4/gallon caused a demand collapse big enough for the oil companies to notice and get worried about. Maybe the right number is $20/gallon. Maybe it's $40.

That said, the US is not in the same position as the rest of the world. The rest of the world is dependent on oil to a greater or lesser extent. The US is addicted.

A very modest rise in pump prices in the US will likely cause an entirely disproportionate drop in demand, because US Americans waste gasoline frivolously: to the point that I call automobiles mobile altars to the Carbon Gods. They aren't for transportation -- they're for worship. The wheels are just part of the traditional iconography.

Yes, I'm aware that's hyperbole. :-)

That sudden drop in demand will cause global ripples in the oil markets, simply because the US is wasting so much gasoline.

My concern is that the oil companies will use their profits to buy more Senators, and use that power to vote themselves increasing subsidies to keep oil prices artificially low, which keeps demand high without sacrificing profits. When that pressure valve blows, prices will not rise, they'll leap for the sky.

And the Long Descent will take a BIG bump downward.

Doctor Westchester said...

JMG,

"so that it doesn't spill over into places where it's not that useful."

Yes, exactly. Hope you might be able to expand on that in future.

Kevin said...

JMG, I couldn't agree more with your assessment of the misapplication of the mythology of progress to the arts and the dreadful effect it's had on them, as expressed in both this and your immediately prior post. What a debacle it's been!

I wasn't planning to learn ham radio as you've often recommended, but it's recently come to my attention that since I want to do some deep sea sailing, I've got to learn how to handle marine radio. So much to learn - will there ever be time enough to master it all?

Bill Pulliam said...

Onething -- FUN? Really? The Great Depression was a barrel of laughs, I suppose. Because that is what it looks like; not a county fair. Or how about New Orleans post-Katrina? Tons of fun to be had there.

As for all the tinkering and figuring out, I suggest you get on that now while it can still be done for "fun." No need to wait. Figuring out how to grow food, find safe drinking water, and heat your house is not fun at all when you are in imminent danger of starvation, dysentery, or frostbite.

If it does not scare you that you will be living through this, then you really have not comprehended it. And if you are not scared, then you are unlikely to really be motivated to actually prepare for the unfolding and unravelling. Which, I might ad, is already underway and has been for decades. And its manifestations are things like unemployment, increasing economic inequality, disintegrating infrastructure, political instability, hydraulic fracturing, tar sands extraction, deep ocean oil drilling, and an obsession with dark apocalyptic fantasies (I am so sick of zombies and vampires...)

Bill Pulliam said...

I don't know why you are all saying that nuclear fusion will never be practical or economical. I built a thermonuclear furnace into my attic for a few hundred dollars using supplies I bought at the local building supply shop. I generates quite a lot of heat very cheaply. The only trick is keeping the reactor core a good long ways from the flammable components; that keeps the radiation down to manageable levels too, though you can still get a bit of an erythemal reaction if you expose yourself to it without additional shielding for an extended period.

John Michael Greer said...

Onething, nothing stops you from having bonfires and barbecue dinners now. Instead of waiting for a disaster, how about declaring one and inviting your friends and neighbors?

Ray, that's an excellent point. We most definitely don't need to work harder; if anything, we need to work more slowly, more patiently, more consistently, and with more delight.

Joseph, that's one possibility. Another is that the US will land neck deep in kim chee, one way or the other, and a significant fraction of the 25% of global petroleum production currently being used by Americans will go onto the market, driving prices down steeply. As a result, costly sources of oil such as fracking and tar sands will become uneconomical; production will drop, driving a severe price spike. The back-and-forth volatility will do at least as much damage as prices zooming upwards would do. Really, any realistic option at this point is going to be painful...

Doctor W., I'll certainly consider it.

Kevin, picking up some radio skills would be all the more sensible for you in that case. No, there's never enough time to learn everything, but priorities are priorities.

Bill, as long as you can leave the assembly of the reactor core to gravity, it's among the simplest technologies there is!

MilesL said...

On the more humorous side, here is an article that I came across. Thought the folks here would enjoy it.

You Can Do Anything: Must Every Kids' Movie Reinforce the Cult of Self-Esteem?
http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/08/you-can-do-em-anything-em-must-every-kids-movie-reinforce-the-cult-of-self-esteem/278596/


It is strange when viewed through the discussion that has been going on here. Or more accurately here is another example of some of what you have been mentioning.


Mr Greer, do you have a particular viewpoint, Modern Religion or philosophy of life that you think is best for the upcoming changes?

Phil Harris said...

JMG
I do not want to detract from your major point (in comments and in previous posts) that USA in particular consumes a vastly disproportionate share of presently available global resources. The case of oil is glaringly obvious. The USA having 5% of the global population therefore has a wildly unrealistic per capita use of fossil fuel energy and in particular, petroleum. The USA has depended on importing crude oil since the 1950s and will continue to do so until the lifestyle changes. Use of petroleum has already declined in most OECD countries, including USA, since 2008 in response to stalled economies and higher oil prices, so some small changes have already been enforced.

New sources of oil production in the USA have high annual decline rates (and costs) and this will severely limit future domestic production’s ability to substitute for imports. The very recent large uptick, however, in US oil domestic production after prolonged decades of decline has made a difference to the rate of imports. Nevertheless USA still imports about 50% of the oil going into US refineries.

The net result is that US oil imports have dropped since 2008 and stand at about 7.5 million barrels per day and this has changed the share of global oil that the US must import. This now stands at about 10% of total world production of crude oil (+condensates) at around 75 mbpd. (I am leaving aside the issue of total fossil fuel liquids, which is a higher number.)

Oil available for export worldwide is currently less than 50 million barrels per day – exporting countries increasingly use more of their own production. The USA relies then on importing about 15% of the entire world's exportable oil. The US is still in pole position as the world's largest oil importer ahead of China but is being forced into a high-cost decline.

Readers interested in the changing numbers can use http://mazamascience.com/OilExport/index.html

Glenn said...

Kevin,

There are a great many things modern Americans think are necessary that are not, including marine broadcast radios. If you plan to do much offshore sailing I'd suggest reading the books by Linn and Larry Pardey. "Champagne Cruising on a Beer Budget" comes to mind. They have been sailing the world since 1968 without engines, broadcast radio or refrigeration. They live very comfortably at sea.

They do a pretty good job (by example among other things) of exploding the notion that safety and comfort are a matter of buying the right gadgets.

Glenn
Marrowstone Island

Master of the
Sloop - Boat
FEATHER
and the
Terror
of
Scow Bay

Joseph Nemeth said...

@Bill -- suggest shielding your reactor with Administratium. Very cheap, available, and extremely dense.

They're working on a new isotope of Legislatium that contains a completely balanced proportion of Bozons and anti-Bozons. It's theorized to be impervious to virtually anything, including thought: it's totally inert. But they're having trouble keeping the anti-Bozons from decaying into Bozons.

I'm sure they'll solve that little problem any day. And then economies of scale will take over, and we'll see a new day dawn in America.

Roger said...

Economic viability is a concept that's fairly easy to understand. There's hardly a peasant that doesn't get it. If you expend more calories in working your patch of land than the calories you harvest from it you will die of starvation. Pretty simple really.

I would suggest that, such is the distance in time and space from the farm-world reality of living things, of physical effort, that the average, advanced westerner doesn't have a sniff about "economic viability". How did the housing crisis and ensuing worldwide financial disaster happen after all?

Never mind the problem posed by this unreal, anti-septic world of cubicles and keyboards that too many of us live in. People seemingly can't even deploy grade school arithmetical skills in managing a household budget. You would think that, given the dozen or so years of "education" that people get courtesy of the state, that straight addition and subtraction of numbers would be the easiest and most mundane of functions to exercise. But no. A large proportion of people couldn't even tell you their take home pay. No, seriously.

It's a multi-faceted problem. It's not one that could be solved, as Mao might have done, by just shipping urban intellectuals to the country-side to harvest crops and feed pigs. It's a problem that requires educrats to do what they say they're doing but aren't, that is, to teach people to think critically and logically, to discern truth from lies, fact from fiction. When it comes to basic issues of money we're mentally saturated and invested in this system of fraud and deceit. It does have the surface shine of legality and legitimacy, mind you, buttressed as it is by well established commercial practices, laws and institutions.

I'll give a quick example: how many times have you heard it said that shareholders are "owners" of the company? Let me ask another simple question, define "ownership". Well, from a reality based perspective, to "own" is to have the right of use and possession. Can you think of a better, more practical definition? I can't. So, do shareholders "own" the company? No, they don't. Shareholding comes with certain rights attached like the right to have the company managed with a view to earning a profit, the right to a fractional share of a dividend. But, in fact, if it's facts we're concerned with, when it comes to divvying up the money, shareholders come last in line behind everyone else, be they employees, creditors, taxing regimes etc. Hardly constitutes "ownership, does it? When they talk about corporate funds they say "shareholders' money". Bah.

So, shareholders are "owners" of the company are they? This one of the bedrock falsehoods upon which our system of scams is built. There's more out there. This is just one of the biggest. Swamps and thickets of outright lies, frauds, b.s., illogic, all of it out there for the purpose of separating you from your money. Have you ever sat in front of a financial advisor? Ever listened to the talking head commenters on business news shows? Half of what they say sounds like gobbledy-gook doesn't it? The other half is just so hard to make any sense out of. It's just all so twisty-turny that maybe you really DO need to have a Wharton MBA. Listen, I'll let you in on a little secret. So much of it sounds like gobbledy-gook because it is. So much of it is so hard to make any sense out of because so much of it really doesn't make any sense. You're not crazy and you're not dumb. Misguided maybe having been firehosed nonsense for half your life.

Roger said...

Begging your indulgence JMG, to finish my last comment...

So, to answer the question, who DOES own the company? And the answer is nobody. Your boss has the right, within limits, to direct your work activity. Doesn't mean he owns you. Same with a company. Management has the right, within limits, to direct company activities on behalf of shareholders. Does not mean that shareholders own the company.

I'm not dumping on Americans. North of your border it's the same thing. We're in a fog, we immerse ourselves in the same system of absurdities, we live by it, we willingly surrender our assets and personal interests to its dictates. Why? Because everyone else does it. So, like sheep, we do what everyone else does. We saw the financial disaster that unfolded to the south of us and apparently decided that we need one of those here too. Which is what we're busily working on right now with the active participation of our central bank, financial institutions, regulatory bodies and government financial ministries.

You want people to grasp the idea of "economic viability" JMG? You want people to apply the idea in a real world issue like fusion power? You ask way too much. Will we ever emerge from the murk? If our system had been allowed to collapse during the crisis of 2008, as it did during the Great Depression, the system of swindles might have collapsed with it. And maybe some clarity of thought would have emerged from the wreckage. Nothing concentrates the mind, as they say, as the prospect of hanging. Or starving.

Liquid Paradigm said...

Re: the discussion about how expensive gas prices have to get before Americans stop driving, I think it will be a lot lower than what is being guesstimated. As fuel prices rise, the costs of everything else will also rise because We Cannot Tolerate Anything Less Than Higher And Higher Profits.

More will be voraciously eating up our (also shrinking, so there's that to consider) paychecks than just the gas pump. And it will add up fast.

August Johnson said...

JMG, I have my doubts about Packet Radio contributing much to communications very far in the future. I was quite deep into Packet networking back in the 1990's and, except for APRS, we're past "Peak Packet". APRS is probably 99% of the packet activity today. Most of the past manufacturers of packet TNCs have stopped making them. If you're interested in hearing more, I can elaborate further.

I think a revival and expansion of CW and Voice traffic nets as run by the ARRL is a very good idea.

thrig said...

C.S. Lewis's so-called "longlivers" could be encountered in Europe in a similar manner to that of a Noh play: "the peasant has blundered upon them by chance" (Discarded Image). While a deeper study of the respective cultures and their theaters would doubtless be necessary, this may show that the "experience of others" exists as DNA in both, and is only expressed as protein in Japanese theater, so to speak.

John Michael Greer said...

Miles, it's not just kids, of course. I'm just about to the point of adopting the medieval belief that esteeming oneself too highly is a mortal sin. Must all of us constantly spend our time posturing in front of a mirror, telling ourselves over and over again how wonderful we are?

As for your more serious question, there are plenty of options, and it's probably worth a post down the road a bit discussing them.

Phil, no argument -- but it's worth remembering that the US has long been the world's third largest oil producer, and if it used a less extravagant share, it would be a member of OPEC and have a far less troubled economy...

Roger, very good indeed. That's exactly the problem with most complex social systems these days: nobody's actually in control of them, and so they lurch down trajectories defined by their own internal logic (or illogic) until they, and we, crash and burn.

Liquid, square on target. Still, I suspect a lot of people will prioritize gas for the car ahead of a lot of more sensible expenditures, as long as they can.

August, to what extent is that an effect of the omnipresence of the internet? I think of the way that VHF repeater traffic has dropped off since cell phones became all but universal. If the internet starts pricing itself out of the market for ordinary people, I wonder if packet might come back into use. That said, over more than the short-to-middle run, of course you're quite correct: the old message traffic systems are far more resilient, as they can be done with equipment that an ordinarily ingenious Renaissance alchemist could have built, if he'd known how.

Thrig, excellent. You get today's gold star, partly for reading Lewis' The Discarded Image and partly for catching an important point that very, very often gets missed: that there's an experiential dimension to religion that crosses cultural boundaries. Have you read the essay in which William Butler Yeats compares the ghost lore in Noh plays to that of the Irish countryside, and finds astonishing similarities?

Robert Mathiesen said...

JMG wrote:

"I'm just about to the point of adopting the medieval belief that esteeming oneself too highly is a mortal sin. Must all of us constantly spend our time posturing in front of a mirror, telling ourselves over and over again how wonderful we are?"

Right on! It's worth taking a good look again at the specific Medieval vices and virtues.

In general, the Middle Ages had a much better grasp than we do of how to live well and die well. You don't have to believe in the Heaven and Hell of Christianity, or in its idea of sin and salvation, or in its Trinitarian God, to appreciate what the Middle Ages had to say about vice and virtue. (Much of this particular wisdom was taken up into Christianity from Pagan Late Antiquity.)

All this was helped (IMHO), not hindered, by the brutality and shortness of most human life in the Middle Ages. Speaking somewhat metaphorically, the crippled or deformed person often has a much keener awareness of human frailty than anyone bursting with health, vitality and self-esteem ever can.

Phil Harris said...

JMG
Thanks to you and Thrig I have just read the 1916 essay by WB Yeats on Noh Plays. (Introduction to plays 'chosen and finished’ by Ezra Pound. It is available online.)

The essay put me in mind of a highly trained young woman dancing a sword dance to music from her counterpart young man in a room over a bar in Edinburgh circa 1974. The setting was in part familial, with grandparents etc. Yeats' parallels can find high art on the dirt floor of an Irish cabin, much as in the work of his friend JM Synge, and glimpses of the story and mind behind the art.

While they were at it, Yeats and Pound and Synge made a pretty good job of 'progress' and other latter-day notions! The essay fairly spills over with ideas.

best
Phil

August Johnson said...

JMG,

Yes, the Internet is what drove the collapse of the automated packet message system. However, just like you’ve mentioned before with not being able to quickly move back to a non-oil based agriculture system because we don’t have the infrastructure or knowledge, the same is true of Packet. We had built an infrastructure of mountaintop VHF nodes, computer programs for automated mail delivery and an organized networking system.

Today, none of those exist anymore. There are no longer any NETROM/TheNet ROMs to put in the non-existent TAPR TNC2 compatible nodes. All the software that did all the BBS functions of message forwarding and delivery are obsolete. Yes, some of the old executable files are still archived on sites like tapr.org and ftp.ucsd.edu but the latest versions are from 2000 or before and need a DOS based computer to run. Almost none of the source code was archived.

The packet that’s done today is almost all done on a PC with sound card for interfacing to the radio but there’s no BBS or forwarding built-in except by interface to the Internet. All that would have to be re-developed. All the software that was widely used was written by hams that are now either our age or older. Most of the BBS systems I knew of were run by retired hams who had the time to run them and are now either in their 80’s or dead. A tremendous amount of expertise is gone. Forwarding was also done on HF, but Packet is not very suitable for HF, there are now some much better protocols for dealing with the propagation issues that HF has.

I was involved in Packet from pretty much the beginning, a good friend of mine was one of the founding members of TAPR (Tucson Amateur Packet Radio, pretty much the inventors) and helped build the initial 17 prototype TNC1 TNCs in 1982. Even TAPR doesn’t do anything that has to do with Packet today. I recently thought about getting a TNC on the air again just to see what was there, it took me a while to find a decent one even on ebay. I think most of the hardware has been thrown out. There are a couple companies still making TNCs, but they are mostly used for a few dedicated commercial purposes and aren’t as cheap as they used to be.

Yes, if you want keyboard-to-keyboard packet can be done today. It’s going to take a lot of hardware, software and infrastructure work to get a system like we had in the late 1980’s-early 1990’s. I wonder… There’s a lot more on this subject, maybe in the next few months when you’re on the air.

latheChuck said...

Other uses for low-capacity communications: gathering the neighbors for mutual aid (fire alarm, unwanted visitors, medical care, etc.) "The Shipping News": if a whole shipload of some commodity or product is about to make port for delivery in your area, you might want to cut your prices before the bottom falls out of your market.

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear JMG, you either missed or ignored my comment! I thought it was marginally relevant.

Getting back to economic viability, I am asking myself how I can use the tools of green wizardry in my own life without the essential ingredient of land. I do not have any more extra money to buy land and I am too old and disilusioned with the system to try to have another career making extra money beyond food and shelter. I have simplified my life tremendously (I drive a bicycle and take buses, I have learned basic gardening skills, I know how to build rocket stoves and weave on a loom and fix mechanical and electrical things, etc), but I don't own either land or money, or basic farming tools. I do still have lots of human energy, but I want to put it into something that I believe in and that will yield food, shelter, human relationships, art and scholarship (basic needs). And I don't want to start farming on my own. Reluctant to do it even with a wife. I think it takes a community.

So can any of you offer me some land to work on? Perhaps I can be your serf, or maybe we could just share? Wouldn't you rather have me than the angry, killer barbarian hordes? Land ownership seems to be one of those taboo subjects in most circles...Somehow we have been distracted by Progress from owning the things like land tools and materials that make life possible. I don't want all the technological jee-jahs, but I do want land. Do I need to go work as a fusion researcher in order to make money to buy land? I already worked as a semiconductor engineer and gave away my money to people who hopefully will be able to create somewhat of a livelihood in a city. I won't do it again...

Unknown said...

To Richard Clyde,

O.K., I'll grant that the infrastructure that supports an iPhone uses a lot of energy and for all I know it may equal or exceed what my fridge consumes. The actual device consumes a small fraction of the fridge which initially made me think you were a fool. My apologies for such mean thoughts on my part.

But in fairness, we ought to consider the infrastructure that allows you to use that fridge, namely the refrigerated rail and truck system, the grocery stores, the hugely diesel fuel and plastic intensive agriculture system we have. Just as the iPhone is virtually useless without 3G and WiFi and all the other "behind the curtain" stuff, so is your fridge.

Buy local when it comes to food if you can.

Also, streaming hidef movies doesn't fill landfills so much as the tonnage of optical data media does.

A phys. chem. prof. of mine once said that for every complex, thorny problem there's a simple answer...pregnant pause...AND IT IS WRONG!" I think that he was speaking of the Bohr model of the hydrogen atom but I've found it generally applicable. Simple comparisons like "your iPhone uses more juice than your fridge" are usually misleading at best. Sort of like electric cars solving all our problems...
Fr. Mark

Ian Stewart said...

I would be interested in learning more about packet radio. I will likely be seeking a ham license as soon as I can afford equipment. I have been reading up on HSMM-MESH http://hsmm-mesh.org , but it is dependent on specific, flash-enabled models of wireless routers such as the Linksys WRT54G, and its broadband nature does not seem to be conducive to long range. I do think that any software developed now is more likely to be open source and thus have a better shot at survival. Shareware was the dominant trend in the 90s. I can certainly remember racks of shareware floppies at my mom's university when I was 5 or so, when Linux wasn't on the horizon and BSD was probably still being litigated.

Unknown said...


(Deborah Bender)

@Iuval Clejan--I think the answer to your questions will depend a great deal on where you live.

In the United States, there are huge, highly subsidized corporate farms and family farms of various sizes. Most family farms don't provide a steady middle class income; one or more adults in the family has to earn a paycheck in town. I have read that there are many elderly farmers whose children and grandchildren don't want to be farmers and who are looking to train someone younger to take over; there are a few organizations that try to make matches between farm land owners and prospective farmers.

In California, good agricultural land is very expensive and water rights are hard to come by. However, there is also a lot of rural and exurban property that is not being used intensively and that has adequate space, soil and water to put in a good sized garden. For example, middle class people who own a second home or cabin in the country and want a year round caretaker. Rich people with a horse property who want a stable boy.

There is a growing interest in the educational value of gardening for children and I think that almost any summer camp would be receptive to an offer from an experienced gardener to put in a kitchen garden and take care of it. Camps and resorts that cater to adults also want to boast that the food they serve is grown locally.

Reliable, competent gardeners, like reliable, competent handymen and house cleaners, are highly valued by people who have enough money to hire help. The demand is more for growing ornamental plants than edible ones, but edible landscaping is starting to be trendy. If you got a few part time jobs of this sort, the referrals would fetch as much work as you could handle. If you need to make a living at it, talk to someone who already does.

(part 1, a bit more to follow if I'm successful in posting)

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Richard,

Chestnuts are considered to be poverty food in Western culture. It is as simple as that. I had this point of view straight from the mouths of some peasant subsistence Italian farmers. They subsisted through WWII on chestnuts and the nut has never recovered, although the groves are maintained.

Here, there are quite a few chestnut groves dotted about the mountain range and every year, the nuts fall to the ground break open and rot. I harvest as much as I dare as they make good eating when roasted in the wood oven!

Regards

Chris

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Seems to be a glitch in Blogger. I have to save my posts and repost them a couple of times before getting through.

Iuval Clejan wrote,

"And I don't want to start farming on my own. Reluctant to do it even with a wife. I think it takes a community."

I don't have your range of useful skills, but when I think of doing anything more closely tied to the land, the same wish not to go it alone comes up for me. If one does not have an existing community or supportive family, I can think of two paths forward, either of which takes time.

One is to do related activities in one's spare time and hope by doing so to meet up with people who have common interests and compatible skills. The other is to create or join an existing intentional community.

The intentional communities that have been mentioned on this blog are monasteries and communes, but there is a less drastic form of intentional community called cohousing. Cohousing is an organizational form that allows people to pool resources while also having some private space and transferrable ownership. It is flexible in that people can contribute skills, money or both. You have a series of meetings over at least a year, getting to know each other and explore areas of agreement and disagreement before anyone commits to join. The residence property can be anywhere, city, town, suburb or a rural area.

It's a model that's been in Europe and North America for decades and there are organizations that specialize in helping people create cohousing. It might be worth looking into.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Haha! My job is now done!!!! hehe! Hope you enjoyed the laugh.

I read an article the other day in the business section of the local newspaper discussing the demise of the Oil Drum. The original source of the article was from The Guardian newspaper.

As a disclaimer, I have never followed the discussions on the Oil Drum but, after your insight into the role of ritual theatre, I was left wondering:

If a person raises the likelihood of peak oil as a reality are they left floundering when peak oil is either reached or moved past?

I'm uncertain still, but I see that there may be a disconnect between the theoretical discussion of peak oil and the actuality of the situation. One requires an awareness of the facts and yet the other requires a response. Perhaps these require different people with differing mindsets?

Therein lies the bind and perhaps as we are into the latter part of the situation, it sort of makes the theoretical discussion of the sort that was undertaken on the oil drum a waste of energy that could be better spent on actual responses?

Don't know, but there is something niggling the back of my brain about this issue.

Regards

Chris

Phil Harris said...

JMG
I am still thinking about WB Yeats.
Has anybody any insight into his meaning when he talks of a "European Moon"?
PS He finds alternatives to Progress ... "Only our lyric poetry has kept its Asiatic habit and renewed itself at its own youth, putting off perpetually what has been called its progress in a series of violent revolutions."

best
Phil

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi onething,

Just to be devil’s advocate, there are quite a lot of female electricians in Australia. Wiring up houses is not necessarily a job that requires the ability to lift heavy items.

My dad left when I was young enough to not remember him and I grew up as the only male in an otherwise female household. I have a great respect for the role that women play in society. If we did not enjoy access to fossil fuels then that role would be far more obvious. I think that it is sad that women's roles in the past are viewed with such contempt by our current society and I would suggest that this is a meme that is both historically incorrect and should not be repeated.

Quote: "Everything she has just done and touched was prepared for her by the hard labour of men.
Unrealistic notions of "equality" based on sameness won't pass the giggle test in a simpler, more agrarian lifestyle."

People fixate on the production of meat and grains and completely ignore the remaining foodstuffs and your quote reflects this. Perhaps it is also a reflection of your own diet? As a suggestion I'd recommend that you consider putting some more effort into herbal lore?

I don't get feminism either and I'm not having a go or criticizing your comments but instead am asking you to reflect upon the source of those thoughts and perhaps extend your own knowledge?

As to the rocks, if you haven't hit peak rocks yet then go hard! Raised rock beds for herbs, vegetables and fruit trees are well worth the time plus they are very aesthetic.

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Ray,

We grow both shitake and oyster mushrooms here. The shitake mushrooms are by far the easiest and to my mind taste better than the oyster mushrooms.

Over the next few weeks, I'm building a steel frame for the logs to hang on so that the bottom of the logs will sit in a tray of water.

The problem with them here is that logs were drying out and production slowed down. On a positive note, they love eucalyptus logs and there doesn't seem to be much of a shortage of them. I haven't tried elm, but it would probably work well.

Regards and please keep us posted.

Chris

hawlkeye said...

The golden point made about the internet (it would not exist if it didn't make money for somebody) surely must be applied to every commodity in the pipeline. In a market economy where everything is bought and sold, you can't just buy anything, but only those particular somethings that are profitable in the current scheme.

So what really happens when the price of gasoline goes up into prohibitively unaffordable ranges? Sure, Americans waste excessive amounts of everything, so we'll just drive less and still be fine? Sounds like a very soothing lullaby for the car-obsessed.

But wasted miles are the least of our problems. The grocery-store food supply is precisely like the internet; it is only available at today's prices because of today's gasoline prices, and the only "food" on the shelves is the toxic stuff that is profitable to the Phewd Machine; industrial agri-business.

Unaffordable gas prices might put a pinch on the American summer vacation, but unaffordable food causes riots. And that'll keep the tourists home for sure.

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, it is indeed -- and I plan on taking some time a little later in this sequence to talk about the kind of ethics and philosophy that make sense in a world in decline. Hint: feel-good platitudes of the sort so heavily retailed in recent years (cough, cough, The Secret, cough, cough) need not apply.

Phil, Yeats has been one of my guiding stars for a quarter century now, since my studies of the Golden Dawn tradition led me to his work. Have you read his essay "Swedenborg, Mediums, and the Desolate Places"? That's the essay I had in mind, where he talks about the spirit-lore of County Sligo and its exact parallels in the equivalent lore in Noh plays.

August, many thanks for the info! I'm dismayed but not surprised to hear that so much has been lost -- it's one of the worst habits of contemporary technology that it so often kicks out each rung of the ladder as soon as it's climbed higher. If the current DIY crowd picks up an interest in ham radio, it might be possible to rebuild while there's still living memories to draw from; otherwise, we may be back to message traffic nets sooner than I'd expected.

LatheChuck, true enough. In general, long distance communication that's faster than a rider on a horse is a very good thing to have!

Iuval, I missed it in the flurry! I recall such stories in science fiction, back in the day, but try to suggest it as a reasonable approach to current issues -- oh man. As for your situation, farming is not the only option, or even necessarily the best one. You have a range of skills; choose a couple and work on getting them to the point that people will gladly trade you things you need for the products of your craft, and you're good to go. Small-to-medium urban centers in the middle of agricultural regions generally do fairly well in ages of decline, so long as they're not right on the main invasion or migration routes.

Ian, then find your local amateur radio club and get started studying for your license exam! Once you have your "ticket," the doors open very wide indeed.

Cherokee, I did indeed. As for The Oil Drum, I suspect that was part of it -- peak's here, and now it's time to shift the discussion from whether and when to what to do about it all.

Phil, that's an oblique reference to the symbolism of A Vision, his work of esoteric philosophy. The cycle of the Moon from new to full and back again is his symbol for the life cycle of any whole system, from a human life to an artistic movement to a civilization, and the "European Moon" is the marker for the stages through which Western civilization passes toward its death.

Hawlkeye, good. You get today's gold star; down the road, we're going to have to talk about what happens when it no longer makes a profit for anybody to do any economic activity at all -- a condition that comes inevitably in the downslope of a civilization. More on this as we proceed!

DeAnander said...

I am amused -- in a vexed, curmudgeonly, eye-rolling way -- to see that the cornucopians are celebrating the "death of the Oil Drum" as a sign that Peak Oil has been debunked and its embarrassed proponents are folding up their tents and skulking away.

Click Here for Cornucopian Crowing

"As long as people remain free to benefit from their creativity, then Malthusians will always be wrong."

Talk about ritual theatre!

BTW, I have another book recommendation for all us civcrash watchers -- _House of Rain_ by Craig Childs (I'm on kind of a CC kick having discovered him just recently). It documents his travels across the Southwest US and into Mexico trying to figure out the "riddle of the Anasazi". There is much to mull over -- aside from his confident, informed and vivid prose -- about the rise and fall of cultures and their material bases. He describes a culture of enormous mobility, able to replicate its primary religious and social signatures while relocating frequently in response to climatic variation. It makes our fossil/industrial culture look (as I fear it is) hopelessly brittle, fragile, tenuous.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Read and weep for the American Chestnut.
Chestnut Blight

Before the turn of the last century, chestnuts were the commonest hardwood in forests of the mid-Atlantic states. Appalachian farmers turned their pigs out to forage for chestnuts. The near-extinction of the American chestnut happened at the same time as the complete extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. Both were enormous losses to the ecosystem of America east of the Mississippi.

captcha first attempt ourhyo
captcha second attempt nedflyed

Jim R said...

A report from the progress frontier ... (reposting to fix formatting problems)


I no longer find the announcements as inspirational as I did in 2005 and before, but it's worth noting that Moore's Law continues to chug along. I think our analogy to the Roman pottery is correct, for what it's worth. When their business model (based on mass production in the millions of units) fails, the silicon foundries will shutter.

For now, we have the shrinkage of components, which leads to cheaper (per unit) devices, which run faster and consume less power.
linuxgizmos.com/amd-shrinks-g-series-soc-tdp-to-6-watts
-- six watts would be barely enough power to illuminate the filament on just ONE of those hand-blown vacuum tubes we looked at a while back.

Another trend is that computer chips are no longer for computers:
files.linuxgizmos.com/allwinner-a10-diag.jpg
-- they are for appliances and gadgets and whatnot. I need not elaborate on how that relates to the business model given above.

But then there is this:
www.nuand.com/bladeRF
-- a software defined radio. It makes me want to hoard some selected high technology.

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear JMG, thanks for your advice. I wasn't clear enough before. I am not so much looking for a way to have a livelihood in the current economy (I have that settled, sort of), or a (even partially) collapsed economy. I am looking for a life that inspires me (and has the potential to inspire others), and producing most of my calories with other people is one ingredient in that. See my response to Deborah below.

Dear Deborah Bender, thanks for your advice. I am in the US (Central coast of CA right now) and I am aware of the water, farm and land situation. I don't think most family farmers would let me have their farms. I was on several such farms and they would rather sell the farms and give the money to their offspring, or give it to a church. Perhaps if I had stayed longer and developed more of a relationship, but it didn't seem likely. I am also aware of WWOOF and am wondering if any WWOOFers ever get land from the farms they are working at. I think it's mostly a master-serf relationship, which is not really what I'm looking for (though there are “enlightened” masters, like the one I am currently working for at a retreat center, who has got a heart of gold) . I'd like to be able to participate in decision-making either in an IC (like you mentioned), or in a village setting where each family has their own land, but much mutual aid and mutual culture happens. But I can't afford land or most IC joining fees. I have no interest in suburban or urban intensive agriculture at this point (though I did it in the past when I started an urban IC which seems to be thriving), because I don't like cities, and I am interested in producing most of my calories (in conjunction with people in my IC or village), which means grains and beans and/or meat, which means extensive agriculture, not just intensive. I also tried the caretaker for rich people route on an island in NH for a few months, which was nice while it lasted, but not good for a longterm situation.
My ex-girlfriend worked for a children's camp and daycare program that had a big gardening component (started by the wife of a Dean at Duke University). I have no interest in doing this for a living. I want to produce food for me, my family and my village, not for rich people, or rich people's cute programs, whether they are retreat centers, camps for kids, edible landscaping, or ornamental plants.
As far as ICs, I've only found one I really like, but ironically they don't want me at this point (I don't get along with the alpha male). I am working on finding people with mutual desires and interests. I think I am too far on the fringe though to resonate with anyone. I have left my tribe of scientists and engineers, but have probably taken too much of their worldview with me to make me appealing to most folks in the IC movement, or permaculture folks. Perhaps there is something for me in another country. My old timer Israeli Kibbutznick friend told me not to try to start an IC in the US because they have an ethos of rugged individualism and don't know how to cooperate unless they are forced to or have a leader telling them what to do. Perhaps he was right, but the individualism has its advantages as well.

onething said...

Dear Bill,

Ah, maybe you're right. The rest of all our lives will be an increasing misery.
But you'll be glad to know we already heat with wood and get our water from the hillside spring. Life won't be the same without a water pump but at least it gravity feeds to the basement, where I had a tap put in.

We picked up some old but never used panels for a solar hot water system, and hopefully within the year will get that going.

I never said I wasn't scared. But there will be some positives.

onething said...

John Michael,

"Onething, nothing stops you from having bonfires and barbecue dinners now. Instead of waiting for a disaster, how about declaring one and inviting your friends and neighbors?"

I think I like the idea.
Most of my neighbors are on board. They are old hippies from the back to the land movement, who didn't give up and go back home. The rest are locals, who are a gold mine of know-how. At the last garden club I queried one of the older ladies who didn't get electricity till she was 11, about how they managed without a refrigerator and I got a lot of good tips. And there are some newer ones, 7th Day Adventists, who seem to be doomsdayers. They are very strong gardeners, and our local farmer's market is a mix of all three. We all like to hang around and chat so much that the Adventists have been keeping it going at their house through the winter, with the occasional winter greens or eggs for sale; mostly we just sit around their wood stove and visit.

onething said...

Dear Cherokee,

Too bad you are not one of my neighbors! You are a most pleasant character.

There is no reason a woman cannot be an electrician and wire a house. But I think that the fossil fuels is hiding both men's and women's hard work. I don't know that women's roles were regarded with contempt so much as the women themselves...this in my opinion is a poison that has led to some of the imbalances of some branches of feminist thought. I started by objecting to the bumper sticker that says women have no need of men, which only makes sense to someone living an artificial lifestyle.

I don't know about meat and grains. A lifestyle without fossil fuels is going to require some hard work, and without the strength of men, women would be in a bit of trouble. That doesn't mean that women's work is less necessary. What worries me is when women deny that, because it indicates to me that they have actually bought into the old contempt, and are trying to make up for it in the only way they know how.
As for herbs, I am totally into it! Although, I have a long way to go as I want to grow as many of my own as possible. I'm interested in natural medicine and healing.

We use rocks for retaining walls, garden borders, a heat sink under the greenhouse/porch we're building, as paving stones, a pond liner. I don't know if we've hit peak rock yet, but we have definitely harvested a good bit of the easier ones to get!

John Michael Greer said...

DeAnander, too funny! Let 'em crow; they'll have crow on the menu soon enough. Thanks for the Craig Childs tip -- I'll have to read that.

Unknown Deborah, true; plenty of bitter stories followed the Columbian invasion.

Jim, I recall reading that Gordon Moore has said that his law no longer applies, but we'll see. As for software defined radios, yes, that's something I've been thinking about as well; fortunately there's also a countervailing trend in ham radio toward simple homebrewed rigs -- last fall, QST (the main US ham magazine) featured a how-to-build-it article on an old-fashioned transmitter using one vacuum tube and about $35 in total parts cost.

Iuval, then by all means!

Onething, excellent. Why not talk to your neighbors about the bonfires and barbecues, and have a regular community disaster/party? Hard to think of a better way to knit the neighborhood together, and get people thinking about how to help each other out in the hard times that are on their way.

KL Cooke said...

"What bothers me about the would-be square-jawed heroes is that so many of them seem to be playing a Hollywood film inside their heads, with themselves in the starring role; there are times that I swear I can see the credits rolling past in their eyes."

That seems to be a modern disease that afflicts many people, collapsitarian or not. Possibly it is, in part at least, the driver behind the bizarre, often lethal behavior we see acted out on a daily basis.

Hanshishiro said...

@Cherokee Organics
Chestnuts were a staple food on my country for centuries.
Nowaday they're considered by most a treat instead of real food.
If you follow this link you'l find an old method for preserving it for a year or more.
http://www.filipe.com/castanhaspiladas.html

hawlkeye said...

We host a disaster party every fall, although we don't call it that, lest we frighten some of the natives. We just call it a pot-luck cider-pressing party; everyone brings different kinds of apples and pears and something to eat, and takes turns at the press. All the kids love to grind the apples to help out, certain party-poopers who dread the chit-chat can roll up their sleeves and yes, rub elbow-grease with a neighbor they've yet to meet.

For many folks who attend, this is perhaps their first experience of a common-purpose work gathering with a big group of people that's also fun and enlivening. Sometimes parties can be as vapid and dreary as cable-injected "entertainment". This is quite different, and it resonates deeply in the collective memory.

And everyone goes home with gallons of cider, the beer-makers have gained a few converts, the canners have traded peppers for their salsas... and the invisible ties that bind have been softly woven among strangers without their noticing.

I know we're all going to need to help each other out in ways not all of us can yet imagine. Yet it's far too easy these days to get clobbered into the Doomer box by banging on about the gory details. It's so much better to plant the seeds by modeling examples of inter-dependent community living.

And because this party is specifically in the fall around a harvest activity, it prepares the common ground for the idea of feeding each other in all kinds of ways. It helps to activate this dormant notion of engaging the project of food-supply with each other, instead of the truck-stop grocers.

With each passing season the gathering grows; more and more neighbors lift their glasses to each other in common cause. The political and religious labels have dissolved for a day, the binaries muted for a moment, replaced by kindness and mutual concern.

A most wonderful spell to be a-casting!

Joseph Nemeth said...

@Hawkeye, JMG.

The FIRST step is the voluntary cutback in waste. My point was that cutting waste in the US is enough to shake the oil markets. Not that it stops there.

However, I just received a fascinating letter from a friend and former employer who lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He had a household accident that severed part of his ear, and ended up in the ER of the nearest hospital. It was early morning, and only one doctor was there to stitch the ear back on.

In the middle of surgery, the doctor received a phone call on his cell phone, and left the surgery to guide a truck from the water authority to his home. This is necessary, my friend noted, because to get water, you have to call the water authority, which will send around a delivery truck. If you miss the truck, it will be at least another 24 hours before you can get water: when demand is high, you can get pushed back in the queue and have to wait several days. You cannot guide the driver over the phone, because the drivers do not speak Arabic.

Guiding a foreign-language speaking manual laborer to your home is more important than surgery.

I think this is what social catabolism looks like, at least in the early stages just beyond the voluntary waste cutbacks, and this can go on for quite some time.

Food riots, it seems to me, are much closer to the end. Rioting does not produce food, and it tends to destroy what little infrastructure remains. Starvation and mass migrations would naturally follow.

onething said...

luval,

If you moved to a rural area, how would you make a living? What sort of join fees do most IC charge? What if you had to build a house? You are currently single? How old are you? And why do you think that you are too far out on the fringe? Which fringe?

onething said...

JMG,

You're right, I need to talk to them more. I've been bugging the the closest two sets of neighbors for years, but only talking intensively lately with one wife. As for the others, like the Adventists, I know they are expecting something like Armageddon, so broaching the subject will not shock them, but they might also have some preconceived notions of how things have to go down due to scriptural interpretations, which can be hard to argue against...nonetheless, they are incredibly nice people and will pull together in difficult times.

Phil Harris said...

Is this relevant for those interested in future distance communication? Radio hams past and future?
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/08/mesh-internet-privacy-nsa-isp
Somebody there commented "This is an extremely important article. Forget NSA and government surveillance. Think about communication in a disaster (natural or a combination of natural disasters and resulting civil conflicts, martial law in major cities, etc.). When I was a young teenager, I was acquainted with people seriously into amateur radio, the kind of people who belonged to the ARRL and would frequently hitch their little trailer to the back of their car and drive off somewhere. They would fire up their generator, turn on the radio equipment, and practice communicating cross-country and even internationally. If you don't have the technical savvy to set up a mesh and connect it to other meshes by-passing the corporate internet, then it might be worthwhile getting to know one or more people who do have the technical savvy and the ingenuity to make SOMETHING work for communication in a difficult situation."
best
Phil

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Iuval--I guess I've been telling my grandma how to suck eggs. You've already tried everything I suggested.

Since the Gold Rush, most agriculture in California has been for the market, not for subsistence. There are people herding and farming on leased land, but they sell what they grow. The guy who cuts my hair leases pasture land with a house to somebody raising goats.

If you can't hook up with an heir who has a hobby farm, you may need to leave the state.

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear Onething,
I've had this vision for a long time of figuring out how to grow a grain (I tried and failed with Wells Rice), keeping a few goats and chickens, growing a few vegetables and weaving for a living, in a rural community with people I get along with and even like. I just haven't been able to make it happen, by all means so far tried, though some of the ingredients have worked out. I think in practice I would probably need to do some computer programming and teaching/tutoring and handyman or mechanic work (which I am doing now in an urban area). As far as the IC fees, I think if you include in the join fee the price of the land and house, it comes out in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. this is not the case for the Possibility Alliance where you join for free and it costs just a few thousand to build a small house for a family (out of cob, strawbale and locally milled lumber or unmilled wood). There are probably other places like it where someone who had money bought land and donated it to the community, but people with money or land usually don't like to share it with anyone outside their family.

I am 48 years old and single and looking for a wife or other collaborators, but I don't think JMG would like his site to become a matchmaking site (I am assuming you weren't asking just for academic reasons), so maybe he can pass you my email offsite if you are interested (feel free to delete this paragraph, JMG, but maybe you can get us in touch, who knows what will come of it).

I am on the fringe of anyone in the mainstream middle class (which is where I used to be), but also on the fringe of anyone in the permaculture, transition towns, conservative Christian people, though I have some commonality with all of them.

Ouromboros said...

Off topic, but on the broader issue, Hank Green's SciShow just uploaded a videoblog broaching the topic of peak oil in a fairly mainstream program. I know many schools that use Crash Course and SciShow to augment instruction. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBBGKx65Ygg

Joel said...

> in the absence of fossil fuels, skilled human operators may well be the best information processing technology for the money.

Fossil fuels would be taboo in Murrica, and scarce elsewhere, but not absent. Investments of energy in a place that had declined more gently would be extra-profitable if they were paid back in electricity savings within the dominion of the priestesses.

I don't doubt the cost-effectiveness of skilled operators, but mechanical error-correction algorithms can more-fluently negotiate the tradeoff between redundancy and efficiency, allowing information to be conveyed with the bare minimum of power needed to achieve the specified certainty and speed. Digital messages can go very, very far for the energy, so long as the "listener" is inhumanly patient with noise.

A handful of 140-character ASCII news reports would take a lot less energy to transmit and especially to receive than a few minutes of audio. Not only might this savings in electricity recoup the cost of an integrated circuit over its lifetime, such a system would also justify the privileges of feudalism in a culture where weapons access is democratic.

By the way, there are myriad ways to substitute skilled labor for fossil fuels in IC fabrication. Designs tolerant of a less-controlled cleanroom would go a long way toward this goal: The circuits I'm imagining would be fabricated as a range of smaller, less-specialized circuits, with only a single layer of metal; creative people would then use a probe station to examine each die, and decide what can be made from those devices that haven't been ruined by dust, ultimately fashioning a device via manual wirebonding. Such a circuit would probably take less energy to fabricate than building just its analog portion out of hand-blown vacuum tubes (though I guess ruinmen could find plenty of W, Mo, and glass, work in any of these media requires a lot of fuel, W above all), even if we don't account for the greater service life possible in ICs. Each guild of microfabricators would be able to supply its portion of the global electronics market using a single set of masks. Masters would keep up the guild's supply of masks, and would carry out a few special projects, via electron-beam lithography; time on any working SEM would of course be very dear, and a handful of the wealthiest guilds in the world would likely vye to have the most-operational one.

Even if I'm right and digital devices would allow access to a network nice enough to justify their expense, it would be wise to design them to also interface with a parallel network on which humans can communicate via Morse code without any digital processing.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Iuval has mentioned weaving as a vocation.

Here is a website that is relevant to JMG's advocacy of local production, community building, and developing useful skills that are not dependent on a fossil fuel-based economy.

fibershed

These people are connecting local (San Francisco Bay Area, more or less) artisan weavers with local producers of wool, cotton, and dyestuffs, looking into the building of local fiber processing plants, educating the public, helping to attract customers, and so forth. I don't do any of those things but I'm thinking of becoming a member to support what they are doing.

onething said...

luval,

Ha, ha, no, I am married, that's not why I was asking.
I do know some people who live on a land trust which is supposed to be divided into 4 little homesteads or whatever you want to call it. One older couple has been there many years, and another couple joined 4-5 years ago. They have been looking with very little success for other couples or families to join.

They get very few nibbles, and so far none have been appropriate or they have evaporated.
I'll give you a couple of examples. There was a young couple, and the man was going to build a cob house. Anyway, there was some kind of porch he built, and it was immediately apparent to anyone who had done any construction, that he had no idea of what was adequate support. They tried to tell him, but he wouldn't hear it. It came down in the first storm. He was planning a vegetable garden, and the two couples told him there was no sun there. These are people who have been gardening all their adult lives. But this young whippersnapper said that he didn't believe that would be a problem because plants evolved in forests and jungles! Anyway, they left and it seemed that they had talked a good line, but their real interest in the place was that the land was free. No real interest in community and not capable of it. So - now there is a small join fee.

They got an inquiry recently from a single woman, a vegan in her mid fifties, who thought that it was reasonable to ask the other two couples, who are in their fifties and sixties, to build her a house.

This location is very rural, east coast, not so much employment opportunities, not a very educated populace, and the land is fairly raw. A clearing for a garden, and a house would be needed. I certainly would recommend a wife...

Each household is fairly independent, but some sharing is welcome and desired. They want to have more people and community. What people often don't get is how hard and how much work it is to create a homestead.
One of them is Catholic, and so far as I know the others are pagan.
There are some real hurdles, but if you want you can ask for my email.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Joel--what advantages do your proposed basic integrated circuits have over discrete solid state components connected by wires and solder?

Transistor radios, diode flip-flop circuits, Nixie tubes, Bad Boys R--- Our Girls But Violet Gives Willingly; I'm getting nostalgic.

Unknown said...

laWe might figure out how to run cars on gold, but that won't solve our problem.

Paul said...

Onething: "What people often don't get is how hard and how much work it is to create a homestead."

I made a lighthearted comment previously, too late to be noticeable, might as well post it again here, hope it is not again too late. My point is they are all nice things, but obstacles can be formidable..

Some reflections on radio, repairs..

I remembered having watched a movie depicting a positive figure using radio communication to save the planet after modern communications failed. "That is brilliant! Make be I should get on with it..." Then it daunted on me, probably there also be no policemen (self defense against armed robbers?), no water supply (digging a deep hole underground?), no vegetable (get a decent house with a backyard? can't afford it in cosmopolitan HK).... "Afterall it is a movie..." I rationalized and forgave myself for lack of action.

In HK we can't get a repair man who charges reasonably (the repair charge of manufacturer after warranty is as much as half the newest model with more functions!) to repair our old appliance (we buy a new one...so wasteful!) because people can't make a decent living that way. Some people take an interest to do their own repair (I do for simple things too). Once in a while, local news would report a brave guy burned his appliance during repair (in rare cases also his flat), afterall we are all amateurs without proper training. But no complaints, boxers got head injuries. Fighting is fun and so is appliance repair.

In China appliance repair is a dying industry (dead in HK). I chatted with one owner once and he told me that he could feed his family well with repairing old appliances "But I like my boy to go to University and earn more!" Sure he does. "Do you teach your boy to do repair?" "I am eager to, but he aspires to be a pop singer! I hope I can find an apprentice...."

In case any of you have kids who are good at mechanical things and who are interested to learn old appliance repair and don't mind to be an apprentice at a small shop in China, there will be lots of opportunities. Monthly salary: RMB1,000 per month (give and take 100). Free room and board. Buy your own flight ticket.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

It is the much harder discussion for many reasons which you elucidated upon.

I've been thinking about trees of all things recently. It is hard not too to ignore them when you live in a forest, after all. Over here there is a debate about indigenous versus exotic and from my perspective it seems largely ideologically driven. My reason for this perspective is that the forest here has been modified by humans for the past 40 to 60 millennia so there is no such thing as a "natural" untouched forest left. I even understand that historically in the Middle Ages, parts of Europe were largely deforested for agriculture, meaning that they have the same predicament, for different reasons. I'm searching for some sense of meaning in this ideological debate and it is seems overly complex. If I may be so bold to ask, what is your take on the subject (from a historical point of view)?

Hi Deborah,

Australia is something of an island. Did you know that Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia (it's a big island) has some of the last pure strains of Ligurian bees? We don't have Dutch elm disease and so we have some of the world’s last great stands of elm avenues too (not far from here). Varroa mite is unheard of, but I'm unsure about chestnut blight as it may well be that we have European chestnuts as well as the Asian or American chestnuts. The trees are spread so far apart geographically, that you just never know what is lurking about the place here.

PS: Still haven't had a bad mead yet, but this may well be my taste buds and it does get better as it matures. The scrumpy is improving as I add sugar to the brew. It was an error to use natural (ie. low sugar) apple juice. Apples don't generally have enough natural sugars to produce the expected sweet / dry cider.

Onething,

Thank you, that is a very pleasant sentiment. No worries, there's just plenty to eat other than grains and meat (we forget that in such well-fed times!) and women's contributions to food were historically more consistent than men's. Of course it makes sense that the gender divide is exposed for the divide and conquer strategy that it is. Vegetables and fruit can produce quite a lot of calories in a diet. Glad to hear that you are boning up on herb lore as it is important stuff and should serve you well now and into the future.

Hi Hanshishiro,

Thanks for the link as I wouldn't have thought of that. Smoking can be used as a preserving method with many foodstuffs. I still have a lot of last seasons dried walnuts in the kitchen and they are really yummy.

Gotta bounce!

Chris

Hal said...

I think I would have some useful input to a conversation on the subject of rural living/community/livelihood, etc. I have commented in past posts on my thoughts based on my experience living on and working a small farm in the Mississippi Delta.

Perhaps the Green Wizards Forum would be the place to have that discussion. It doesn't seem to me that it gets used nearly as much as it could, and might be better than posting a comment on a weekly blog that will just be lost and forgotten next week.

Kutamun said...

Strangely bereft,
the temple lies in ruins,
all its wizards have fled
, there is nothing for us to do
but to set off through these impenetrable jungles
in search of vanished conquistador,
perhaps we will discover a shining remnant
of their armour.

She too, has vanished among ruins,
only a whisper of her vanished presence
on the midnight breeze ,
for the wolf would tell me nothing
, only howl and scamper reluctantly
away from my presence.

Cheers Mate

John Michael Greer said...

KL, no argument there. I may have to do a post one of these days about the weird way that so many people these days live life as a representation of itself.

Hawlkeye, that's potent magic. You get today's Tall Pointy Hat with Moons and Stars award.

Joseph, well, given the stories I hear from people who use mainstream health care in the US these days, almost anything comes before taking care of a patient's needs. Still, you may be right.

Onething, instead of talking to them about peak oil et al., start with the bonfires and barbecues. The conversations can come later.

Phil, you can still find hairy-eared retired engineers out there who've spent their lives on the amateur radio bands, and can take a box of spare electronic junk and a couple of car batteries and, twenty minutes later, be sending and receiving pleasantries in Morse code with somebody on the other side of the planet. That's true on your side of the pond as well as mine -- the Radio Society of Great Britain is a very active group.

Ouromboros, thanks for the link. That's good to hear.

Joel, of course it's technically feasible. Does that make it economically viable? Will it pay for itself, and outcompete less resource-intensive ways of doing the thing? Those are the questions that have to be answered, and it's a source of endless fascination to me that so many people just keep on pretending that those questions have never been asked.

Unknown Deborah, there's quite a bit of that going on these days. My spouse, who spins, weaves, knits, etc., gets a fair amount of the fleece she uses from local sheep -- there's an arrangement via the yarn shop here in Cumberland.

Unknown, exactly. Thank you for getting it.

Paul, it's a worthwhile project!

Cherokee, that's a huge and contentious issue, which I haven't researched enough to discuss with any confidence. I'll put the necessary research on the to-do list.

Hal, an excellent idea.

Kutamun, thank you.

Gaianne said...

@ Debora Bender 8/15/13 2:04PM--

When I was growing up a half century ago in suburban Maryland, the chestnut trunks (which had all toppled) had not yet rotted. The upturned roots--where they spread from the base--were often taller than we were! We would roam through the woods by walking only on the logs, never touching the ground, hopping from tree to tree. Occasionally though, we would have to cheat, hopping to ordinary downfall that was not really large enough to support us fully. We did not think much of it at the time--it was only a game--but in retrospect it is a token of how great the chestnut forest had been that we were able to do this.

--Gaianne

Gaianne said...

Deborah Bender 8/19/13 11:59 PM

Bad Boys R___ Only Young Girls But Violet Gives Willingly for Silver and Gold.

Offensive but easy to remember. I would be glad to know of a better mnemonic.

--Gaianne

Marcello said...

In the great scheme of things ITER is not that much of a waste compared to a lot of other stuff going on, and exhausting such avenue of research could very well prevent some nasty Dolchsto├člegende narrative from gaining traction. Plus it is not a given that the money would be spent on something actually useful.Nobody has ever witnessed the decline of an industrial civilization, so it is not that clear what will be useful at which stage: for example railroads are more energy efficient than roads but they need a greater amount of security to operate, else they become useless.
Personally it was precisely reading about fusion research that set off my alarm bells about the long term viability of industrial civilization.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

It is a pity that packet radio is now dying. The underlying conceptual design of a TCP packet, whether sent over fibre or to an aerial, is beautiful, as one sees from, e.g., from Eric Hall's book Internet Core Protocols: The Definitive Guide.

As a robust cyber-radio alternative to packet, one might consider PSK31. I have not used packet. PSK31, on the other hand, I did use a bit, before our misguided University of Toronto closed down its radio-club shack and forced me to start working toward a shack of my own.

PSK31 does not have the error-correction ("SYNCHRONIZE" and "ACKNOWLEDGE") capabilities built into TCP/IP. In compensation, it is easy to use. You point and click on a computer radio-spectrum display, and you see a stream of text, and then you type your own text in and hit a send-it-out icon, and that's about it.

This must be the Nirvana for which the radioteletype hams were so sweatily striving, from the late 1940s onward.

In the long run, we will have to say good bye to TCP packets and to PSK31 and to any other kind of ham radio that relies on computers. Then we will be back to radiotelegraphy, i.e., "CW" (in which I train 6 days a week, for the most part running the MFJ-418 Pocket Morse Code Tutor at 20 words/minute, on random CW "words" assembled by the MFJ-418 from the FCC set of 43 characters).

A few weeks ago on this blog, I cited the 1950s-and-1960s 28-tube R-390A as arguably the best-ever HF receiver. A rig in the spirit of the R-390A would be appropriate for robust CW in a post-Internet future.

But last night, I noted an additional good rig, which I may as well mention here: the partly solid-state, partly vacuum-tube, perhaps-circa-1986, Kenwood TS-830S transceiver. One source for writeups and opinions on the TS-830S is eham.net.

At eham.net, the general feeling seems to be that the TS-830S is a classic.

I additionally gather from a quick check of the Web that the TS-830S is in some sense capable of at least some repairs in the home workshop. Admittedly, it is unlikely to be as home-repairable as the circa-1960 Heathkit Comanche and Cheyenne that I picked up this year for 250 Canadian dollars, since it in all probability has some integrated circuits, sitting not on point-to-point wiring but on a printed circuit board. And the design of the circuitry is likely to be so elaborate as to preclude the full component-by-component understanding that is a proper aspiration for 1960-vintage Heathkit owners.

When you look at the TS-830S front panel in photos, you get a sense of how wonderful ham radio still was a scant three decades ago: there still are the 1960-style controls for "drive" and "loading", and there is even a control for "heater" (to turn cathode heaters or off, I guess, for the tubes in the final stage of transmitter amplification). Although there is a convenient digital frequency readout, there are none of those silly 21st-century buttons for "memories".

The whole thing looks somehow calm, a greeting from a sane past.



Sincerely,
working
on this thing and that
(antenna theory, circuit theory,...)
so that I can go to air with CW
in perhaps 2014,


Toomas (Tom) Karmo
VA3KMZ
approx 25 km north of Toronto core
www punkt metascientia punkt com

onething said...

Now ya tell me.

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear Deborah, thanks for that link. If I was in the bay area, I would definitely contact that organization. As far as leaving the state, I just got here about 3 months ago, so I am not in a rush to leave. But I have lived in NY, MA, TX, FL, NC, MS, AR, MO, PA, and NH for various periods of time. Really tired of moving around and dying to settle down somewhere. Perhaps I need to leave the whole country? And you forgot yellow, Young (Girls) in your resistor color code mnemonic.

I do think it is a problem that land is so expensive, either to buy or to rent. I wonder if many years from now people will look back on high interest mortgages and exorbitant rents like we look back on slavery-an unethical behavior which was socially acceptable, which allowed many people to not have to work very much because others were working for them. Which brings me to:
Dear Onething, I would be interested in contacting the people you mentioned, and yes, I am quite aware how hard homesteading is (even with a wife), which is why I was holding out for a sizeable community of at least a few young people, but that has its own challenges. I aksed JMG to get us in touch over email.

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear Onething, I forgot to say that young whippersnappers need to listen to elders more and be more humble...

Dear Hawkleye, that reminded me of one of my favorite days at the Possibility Alliance: We invited people from the local area and about 150-200 people showed up. We had a cider press station for apples and pears (picked from our trees), Pizza and bread baked in our hand-made cob oven, with bicycle-powered-ground wheat (the wheat was from 150 miles away) and our garden veggies, cheese from our goats, honey from our bees, a candle dipping demo with neighbor's wax, firewood from our trees and rocket stove from our bicycle superhero friend (but the wicks were probably not local), a wittling horse station and demo, a bucking saw demo, a spinning wool demo, and me playing fiddle and recorder and Sara singing Opera. The work necessary to make that happen was so worth it. If only this was widely available, I think people would choose it over the industrial madness. Oy, the pain of exile...

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear Hal,

Yes, let's talk on the GWF. It is currently not up, but hopefully soon.

Dear JMG, I was surprised to see your book Green Wizardry at someone's house yesterday. I was surprised because the guy is kind of super new agey, into Free Energy (He calls it New Energy) and not really a hands on, dig-in-the-dirt kind of guy as far as I know. But he just ordered the book, so I am looking forward to a transformation..

Grebulocities said...

An alternate resistor mnemonic:

Bad Booze Rots Our Young Guts, But Vodka Goes Well

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Dear Iuval,

1. Revisiting the Fibershed site, I see that they have members and activities throughout most of northern California, and affiliated/spin-off groups elsewhere in the state and other parts of the country. There might be something going on near you.

One thing I learned from reading this website is that enormous amounts of California sheep's wool is sheared off and simply thrown away because it's not profitable to process it. I presume the sheep are being grown for their meat or milk. How insanely wasteful, and what a symbol of the perversity of our international agribusiness system.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Dear Iuval (2),

You wrote, "If only this was widely available, I think people would choose it over the industrial madness." I am sure you are right.

Over the past half century, I've been involved with several benign subcultures in Northern California. I have noticed a continual growth in the size and variety of outdoor gatherings and festivals that are participatory, staffed mostly by volunteers, and which blur the lines between performers and audiences.

Americans spend most of their lives being lectured by experts and entertained by celebrities. They hunger for a chance to offer something of themselves to an appreciative audience and to experience a community that is egalitarian and gently self-organizing, even when it is only a temporary respite from "the real world".

For some people, the first experience of a community that notices and values all its members and is based on voluntary mutual exchange rather than commerce and competition is so profound that they organize the rest of their lives around seasonal escapes into a festival subculture.

Manya of these festivals and their communities are centered on some form of art, historical reenactment or alternative spirituality. Art and spirituality are important but for most people are not entirely real unless grounded in and expressed by something practical and material, like cider press stations and cob ovens. More events like the Possibility Alliance get-together you described are very much needed.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Gaianne and Iuval, yes, I forgot yellow, silver and gold.

As the only female in the electronics class, I had no love for the mentality behind that mnemonic. I did, however, develop an esthetic appreciation for midcentury circuit boards, with their colorful resistors, different sizes and shapes of capacitors, and diodes sticking up like miniature water tanks.

I liked the appearance of test equipment with nixie tube number readouts. They look like they belong in a mad scientist's lab, and are much more elegant than the boring gray seven segment liquid crystal chips which came after.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Thank you for giving some thoughts and consideration to the issue.

I'm thinking of writing a story about the subject but introducing it from the perspective of a wombat. Trees are such a contentious and complex issue. It may take a while as I need to think about it carefully to avoid annoying too many people. Occasionally, I can be quite good at that. Hehe!

There are a lot of elephants in the room and sometimes a good spring clean is needed!

By the way, I've been thinking about Leo's assertion about the confusing meme that a sustainable society is also a pacifist society. I keep coming back to the scouring of the Shire and the Hobbits own actions to restore their society. I don't know why, but it seems somehow apt. It's all yours to use or ignore as you wish. The imagery seems appropriate to me somehow.

Regards

Chris

latheChuck said...

Ian Stewart- Your WiFi wireless networking equipment operates on a frequency which is very poor for long-range communication, unless you put the equipment up on tall towers and aim dish antennas from one tower to the next. That's a virtue, because it prevents home networks from interfering with each other.

If you want to talk to your neighbors, you can buy unlicensed "Family Radio Service" (FRS) radios at many retail stores.

If you want to cover a county, use VHF (aka "2-meters") or UHF ("70cm", "440" MHz) FM-voice ham radio, with a repeater station up on a tower. You'll need a "Technician Class" license from the FCC, which means passing a multiple-choice test designed, like a driving test, to make sure that you know the rules for safety and polite coexistence.

To cover a region (such as my Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia), HF at 3.5-4.0 MHz is good after dark. For that, you'll probably need to upgrade your FCC license to "General Class". Another test.

To work Europe or all of North America, HF in the 14 MHz band seems to work best lately. (HF performance depends on sun spots, though, and can be plagued by lightning noise.)

There is an "Extra Class" license which grants access to a little more HF spectrum, for those who pass a yet more difficult test.

None of the amateur radio tests require competence in Morse Code (any more).

For every ham frequency band, there's a way to send digital data. Higher frequencies tend to provide faster transmission, as do more expensive modems.

A note on privacy: when you get a license, your call sign, name, and home address become accessible through the FCC's license database web site. Other web sites (such as QRZ.com) apparently scrape the database to make your information more readily available to the public. This is, I believe, so that if your neighbors hear you on their non-ham radios, they can pound on your door to complain.

Max12345 said...

Hi JMG....it seems to me that the (very) good (and also useful) concept (or reality) of "The Ritual Theater" is being expanded to too many things. Is it possible that we may be reaching a "Ritual Theater of Ritual Theater"?

And are there things (empirical realities, logical arguments, and their related phenomena whether social or biophysical) that are NOT ritual theater? (or whose ritual theaters are perhaps a bit more real and meaningful -or at least discussable and analyzable in empirical and logical and evidence based terms....than than -let us just say - "run of the mill" ritual theaters?

Example: the Roman Catholic church has its own rituals and also its own ritual theater; and so does atheism; and in a different way so does experimental physics and its relationship to theoretical physics.

Are all these ritual theaters equal, equivalent or are some ritual theaters perhaps "more equal than others"? Or is George Orwell and the way we see his works and discuss him also "a ritual theater".

I think there are limits also to very good concepts and ideas and some apply in "certain regimes" but not very well in others. Are we moving close to the speed of light? In which case perhaps some good old relativism needs to be introduced also with respect to the concepts we use.

Thanks for clarifying further.

anchyo123 said...

Dear Archdruid,

thank you for this fascinating post.

I have appreciated your blog for over a year, and it is very useful to build my personal vision and group vision with the people I work with.

I agree with the vast majority of the vision. I understand that the current blind belief in progress has no basis, however, over long periods of time such as thousands and millions of years, it is reasonable to expect that humans and other creature's consciousness and awareness will expand, not just in terms of intelligence, but also in terms of wholesomeness and being more awake. It seems to me that today's humans are more awake than ten thousand years ago, and not just because of today's material abundance.

More awareness means less crime, more cooperation, and more free wholesome energies to solve our problems and as a consequence prepare to move out of earth towards the stars.

Kind regards,
Antony.
anchyo123@gmail.com

Silent H said...

JMG, thank you for this wonderful recent series of posts. This is my first time commenting.

I wanted to point out (and someone may have already - you have a lot of comments this week) that there is a rising consciousness, even within some of the older spiritual and religious traditions, of the earth as sacred primary matrix of our physical manifestation. I'm thinking of Sufis such as Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee (Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth, and The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul), Hillary Hart (Body of Wisdom), and prominent Buddhists such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Joanna Macy. I think our denial and desecration of our sacred matrix has become so painfully obvious that a great many people of many traditions who have open hearts and clear vision are now speaking up.

Thank you so much for this discussion.
H.

Goat Path said...

Homecoming for me meant listening to Druidcast and finding that both my daughter and husband connected to it as well. Our family, torn asunder by the internet and American decline, has been reunited by the nature religion.