Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Which Way To Heaven?

The religious sensibilities I’ve been discussing in recent posts here on The Archdruid Report have an interesting property: they’re hard to define with any degree of precision, but remarkably easy to recognize in practice. It’s a little like the old joke about how you know that an elephant’s gotten into your refrigerator; like the telltale footprints in the butter dish, the traces left by a given religious sensibility are hard to miss.
The sensibility that seized the imagination of the western world after 600 BCE, and has begun to lose its grip only in our time, is no exception to this rule. I’ve already talked about its distinctive central theme, the passionate insistence that human beings deserve more than nature, history, and the human condition are prepared to give them, and that there must be some way to escape from the trammels of humanity’s ordinary existence and break free into infinity and eternity. There are plenty of other tracks in the butter dish of western culture, for that matter, but the one I want to discuss this week is as simple as it is revealing: the spatial direction in which, according to the sensibility we’re discussing, the way out of the human condition is most likely to be found

To the cultures of the modern west, it seems self-evident that the only possible location for heaven is “up there,” and plenty of people assume that that’s universal among human beings. It isn’t, not by a long shot. To the ancient Greeks, for example, the gods and goddesses lived in various corners of the world—some of them lived on Mount Olympus, a midsized mountain in Thessaly, but Poseidon was normally to be found in the ocean, Pan in the woodlands of Arcadia, Hades in the underworld, and so on; when Zeus wanted to hold a council, he had to send a god or goddess around to summon them all to Olympus. In Shinto, the polytheist religion of Japan, some of the kami—the divine powers of Shinto—live in Takama no Hara, the Plain of High Heaven, but others dwell on earth, and every year in the month corresponding to October, they all travel to the Izumo shrine in  western Japan and are not to be found elsewhere.  The old Irish paradise, Tir na nOg, was on the sea floor of the Atlantic somewhere off west of Ireland—well, I could go on for quite some time with comparable examples.

Within the sensibility that’s now fading out across the western world, by contrast, the route to heaven was by definition a line pointing straight up from the Earth’s surface. I want to stress here that this is part of the religious sensibility of an age—that is, a pattern of emotions and images in the collective imagination—rather than a necessary part of the theist and civil religions that existed in that setting and thus were shaped by that sensibility. It’s not too hard, in fact, to find ways in which the teachings of these religions were manhandled, sometimes very roughly, to make room in them for the images and emotions that the sensibility of the age demanded.

Here’s an example. In the New Testament, the two gospels that describe what later came to be called the Ascension of Jesus describe the event in very simple terms; Mark says “he was received up into heaven” (Mark 16:19), and Luke says “he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51). Those Christian friends of mine who know their way around theology assure me that heaven is a wholly spiritual state or condition of being, which is no more above the earth than it is, say, northeast of Las Vegas. The pressure exerted by the religious sensibility of the last two millennia, though, was such that the Ascension has nearly always been portrayed in art as an exercise in levitation.

This has not uncommonly been taken in a very literal manner. It so happens, for example, that Christian symbolism plays a central role in some of the higher degrees of Freemasonry, and members of one of those degrees thus celebrate an Ascension Day service annually. Here at the Cumberland Masonic lodge, there’s an extraordinary early 20th century trompe l’oeil painting, which is hidden away behind another piece of symbolic art, and uncovered for the Ascension Day service and certain other functions. It’s a landscape view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives; the Temple is below, with the rest of the city around it, and the Judean landscape reaching away into the distance. The foreground scene on the Mount of Olives is painted on a piece of metal, a little in front of the canvas background, and there are clouds handled the same way at the top of the painting.

There in front, on the Mount of Olives, Jesus stands among his disciples. At the right moment of the ceremony, one of the brethren pulls on a hidden string, and the figure of Jesus rises up from the circle of disciples and soars slowly into the air, rising straight up until he’s lost to sight behind the clouds. It’s a remarkably powerful image, you can hardly help imagining the disciples staring openmouthed at the miracle, and people down below in the streets of Jerusalem catching a glimpse of the sight and thinking, good heavens, that looks like a man rising up into the sky!

I don’t know of a better example of the way the collective imagination of the modern world shifted gears when Sputnik I broke free of the atmosphere and opened the Space Age. Until then, the top of the atmosphere might as well have been a sheet of iron, as the Egyptians thought it was. (Their logic was impeccable: polished iron is blue, and so is the sky; iron is strong and heatproof, and the sky would need to be both in order to support the boat named Millions of Years on which Ra the sun god does his daily commute; besides, the only iron they knew came from meteorites, which they sensibly interpreted as stray chunks of sky that had fallen to earth. Many of our theories about nature will likely seem much less reasonable from the perspective of the far future.)

It’s an extraordinary experience to go back and read what sensible people in the first half of the 20th century thought of the claims then being retailed by the small minority who dreamed of going to the Moon and the other planets. Outer space—take a moment to think about the implications of that conventional phrase!—was to most people an abstraction, not a place, and when the Moon and Mars weren’t just lights in the sky, they served as convenient new labels for fairyland. Equally, the idea that human machines or human beings, might someday pop through the atmosphere into that “space outside” was raw material for fairy tales.

Nor were the fairy tales slow to appear. An earlier post here explored the extraordinary role that science fiction played in shaping the collective imagination of our age, even when it was considered the last word in lowbrow reading.  The civil religion of progress, as I suggested in last week’s post, needed a mythic image of salvation from nature, history, and the human condition before it could break loose from the competition and become the established religion of our time; science fiction provided that, and in the process underwent a massive transformation of its own. Until the early 1940s, science fiction was still what it had been in the time of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, a literature that explored the whole gamut of imaginable technological advances; thereafter, it fixated more and more precisely on one specific suite of imagined technologies and the central image around which they clustered.

The close similarity between this image and the one shown earlier in this post, I’d like to suggest, is no accident. As pointed out in an earlier post in this sequence, civil religions derive their core imagery and emotional tone from the theist religions they replace, and the image of man’s ascension into space took on the same role in the religion of progress that Jesus’ ascension into heaven has in Christianity. What SF writer Arthur C. Clarke called, in the title of a hugely popular nonfiction book of his, The Promise of Space was the precise equivalent—or as precise an equivalent as a materialist and anthropolatrous civil religion could manage—to the promise of salvation at the heart of Christian faith.

Listen to those of today’s cornucopian true believers who don’t simply put their faith in the endless prolongation of business as usual, and it’s rarely difficult to hear the ringing voice of the Christian evangelist coming through the verbiage about limitless energy sources, new worlds for mankind, and the rest of it. How many times, dear reader, have you heard the great leap upward into space described as humanity’s mission, its destiny, even its sole excuse for existing in the first place? How many times have you read enthusiastic claims about space-based manufacturing, orbital colonies and the like that assume as a matter of course that benefits will outweigh costs and difficulties will inevitably be overcome, because, well, going into space is humanity’s mission, its destiny, etc.? Let’s just say that if you write a blog that asks hard questions about the mythology of progress, you can count on fielding outraged comments along these lines several times a week from now until star date fill-in-the-blank.

Now it so happens that there’s a very good reason to doubt these claims, and in particular to challenge the notion that orbital colonies, settlements on Mars, and the rest of it will inevitably prosper if we just find the quadrillions of dollars necessary to pay for them and the infrastructure necessary to build them in the first place. In an article published in Nature in 1997, a team of economists headed by Robert Costanza set out to calculate how much value is contributed to the global economy by the Earth’s natural systems; their midrange estimates works out to an annual contribution roughly three times the size of the world’s gross domestic product. Put another way, of every dollar’s worth of goods and services consumed by human beings each year, around 75 cents are provided free of charge by nature, and only 25 cents have to be paid for by human economic activity.

That immense contribution to human well-being—call it the “biosphere dividend”—isn’t available anywhere else in the solar system. (Even if Titan, say, has a biosphere of its own, its version of that dividend will apply only to life forms who enjoy sipping liquid methane and gazing at the bright orange sky on a balmy —290°F. afternoon, not to human beings.) Here on Earth, human beings get air to breathe, water to drink, shelter from radiation, topsoil in which to grow crops, and a dizzying array of other goods and services at no charge from the planetary system; anywhere else, all these things have to be provided by human labor, and require constant inputs of resources that human beings must also provide. That burden somehow gets left out of the sort of glowing rhetoric so often circulated among true believers in progress—one of many examples of the remarkable blindness to the economics of complex technology I’ve discussed here in several posts already.

Such arguments have little impact on those who believe. Still, civil religions are considerably more vulnerable to disproof than the theist religions they supplant, in that they belong wholly to the world of ordinary experience, and are far more difficult to uphold in the face of ordinary experience than their theist cousins. When advances in rocket science made it impossible to ignore the fact that what was up there above the clouds had nothing in common with heaven, Christians all over the industrial world recalled that most schools of Christian theology define heaven, as already noted, as a spiritual state or condition rather than a physical place at high altitude. Long-established habits of thought had to be changed, to be sure, but those habits didn’t touch the core commitments of the faith.

The civil religion of progress didn’t have the same advantage, since its core commitments were supposed to manifest in the world of ordinary experience, not in a spiritual condition inaccessible to any eyes but those of faith. Once the religion of progress embraced the fairy-tale logic of science fiction and set out, like Jack climbing the beanstalk, to find the giant’s palace of its dreams somewhere up there in the sky, it was vulnerable to catastrophic disproof—and catastrophic disproof is what it got, too, though I’m not at all sure the believers have yet noticed just what it was that hit them.

The vulnerability here was precisely its dependence on borrowed imagery from the theist faiths it supplanted. Decades of science fiction primed the collective imagination of the western world to see the ascent from earth to space as an ascension from earth to heaven, a passage out of ordinary reality into something wholly other—even if that “wholly other” too often consisted of nothing better than the sort of tacky adventure-fantasy so many SF authors splashed across a galaxy of forgettable imaginary worlds.  The torrent of propaganda and pageantry the United States invested in the Space Race against Russia helped feed the sense of expectancy, and brought it to a climax that summer day in 1969 when Neil Armstrong stepped down a spidery ladder onto the surface of the Moon.

After the speeches and the TV specials and the ticker-tape parades were done with, though, something very different began to whisper through the crawlspaces of the industrial world’s collective imagination—something that could be summed up fairly neatly as “Was that all?” We went to the Moon, not once but repeatedly, and every trip made it harder to ignore the fact that the Moon wasn’t wholly other at all. It wasn’t fairyland. It was monotonous gray desert without air, water or life, and the only thing you could see there that was of interest to anybody but a handful of scientists was the extraordinary blue-and-white sphere of Earth hanging motionless in the black and starless sky.
To make matters worse, that’s more or less what orbiters and landers found everywhere else in the solar system, too. Mars, the scene of countless fantasies since the dawn of science fiction, turned out to have a remarkable resemblance to the less interesting corners of Nevada, without even the rattlesnakes and poisonous scorpions to lend a bit of human interest.  Every world in the solar system that human spacecraft reached offered the same less than overwhelming spectacle: sand, scattered rocks, and basically nothing else. Even if Mars had turned out to have some analogue of blue-green algae huddled on the underside of the occasional damp rock, even if the Huygens lander on Titan had spotted unmistakably biological growths basking in the dim glow from the distant sun, a few space missions and a few more National Geographic specials later, the same reaction would inevitably have followed, because the emotions and fantasies that gathered around the promise of space had nothing to do with what was actually out there in the solar system, and everything to do with images and ideas of salvation and transcendence that had been surreptitiously borrowed from older theist religions.

The drawback to that borrowed imagery is that you can’t actually transcend nature, history and the human condition by riding a rocket to the Moon, to Mars, or even to some hypothetical exoplanet circling Proxima Centauri, any more than you can do it by riding a cross-country bus to Nevada.  Ironically, a close reading of science fiction could have warned of that well in advance; the sense of wonder and exaltation that came to early readers of the genre as they read of voyages to the Moon soon palled, and had to be rekindled with ever more elaborate journeys to ever more distant worlds, until finally characters in SF novels were voyaging across multiple universes in an effort to give readers the same rush they got in Verne’s time from a simple trip in a balloon. That’s what happens when you try to make a quantitative difference fill in for a qualitative one, and use mere distance or size as a surrogate for a change in the essential character of existence.

To return to an image introduced earlier in this essay, it’s rather as though some misguidedly materialist believer in the Ascension had convinced himself that heaven really was somewhere up there in the upper atmosphere, and worked out some way to copy those artistic depictions and levitate straight up into the air from the Mount of Olives. His disciples would no doubt have stared with equal awe as he rose into the clouds, and there might well have been people down below on the streets of Jerusalem who caught a glimpse of the sight and thought, good heavens, there goes another one!

It’s what follows, though, that makes the difference. According to Christian tradition, the Ascension ended with Jesus being received into heaven and taking his throne on the right hand of God the Father. For our imaginary imitator, of course, no such welcome would await. Somewhere above 8,000 feet, altitude sickness would cut in; somewhere above that, depending on the weather, frostbite; above 26,000 feet, the oxygen content of the air is too low to support human life, and death from anoxia would follow if hypothermia hadn’t gotten there first. If nothing interrupted the ascent, the planet’s already substantial collection of orbiting space junk would shortly thereafter be enriched by the addition of a neatly freeze-dried corpse.

All metaphors aside, it’s rarely if ever a good idea to try to take a vision of transcendence and enact it in the world of matter.  That effort is the stock in trade of civil religions, which tend to emerge in ages that have lost the capacity to believe in transcendence but still have the emotional needs once met by the theist religions of their cultures, and it accounts for the way civil religions have of failing catastrophically when their efforts to act out simulacra of transcendence collide with the awkward realities of the world as it is.  The implosion of the civil religion of Communism thus promptly followed the collision between fantasies of the Worker’s Paradise and the bleak bureaucratic reality of the Eastern Bloc nations; the implosion of the civil religion of Americanism is taking place right now as a consequence of the collision between what America thinks it stands for and what it’s all too plainly become; and the implosion of the civil religion of progress is arguably not too far off, as the gaudy dream of infinite knowledge and power through technology slams face first into the hard limits of a finite planet and a solar system uninterested in fueling human fantasies.

In the historical vision of Oswald Spengler, after the failure of each high culture’s great age of rationalism comes the Second Religiosity, the resurgence of theist religion as a core institution and organizing principle of society. The Second Religiosity is not the same as the First, and not uncommonly rises out of a different religious sensibility than its predecessor. How that might work out over the decades and centuries ahead is a complex question; we’ll begin discussing it next week.


Cascadian Druid said...

Slightly off-topic, but related to how our ideological preconceptions shape the mental world we live in: Science confirms: Politics wrecks your ability to do math.

John Michael Greer said...

Cascadian, it's good to see Grist finally catching up with the ancient Greek philosophers -- they pointed out quite a few centuries ago that passions mess with your capacity for reasoning. Thanks for the link!

Robert Martini said...

John Michael Greer,

This weeks post is absolutely gorgeous in its scope and message. There is something very distinct about your ability to clear up the fine distinctions that separate such abstract concepts. Reductionist science would say you have more attention and control of low level processing due to Aspergers syndrome. In another age, and along the new religious sensibility you have started to outline I would say you are a prophet. I can't thank you enough for your books and weekly post!

Green Wizardry's simple elegance in defining energy, information, matter, flows/funds and systems thinking is wonderfully refreshing. As a 24 yr old college student racked with debt. You have given me much more purpose and hope than I could have imagined in the new appropriate tech movement.

My fiance is reading Not the Future we Ordered and it is helping her further understand the changes that I and the world have been through over the past 5 years.

In my everyday life I see more and more of my generation becoming less enamored with all that is material and instead searching to fill a spiritual void. If I understand correctly from psychology and neurology, the brain contains a filter mechanism. It numbs the body to things it experiences quite routinely so that the mind can focus on changes in the environment. The idea being you will see the animal tracks you need to find food and ignore the undulating brightness of light as the sun rolls over clouds of different thicknesses. I am wondering if these spiritual cycles within cultures are a reflection our filters in our minds reaching critical numbness to materialism, progress and reductionism and finding beautiful novelty in spirituality. A simple shift of attention but on a cultural scale as oppose to an individual scale?
Or perhaps societies will simply shift to the lowest stress spirituality over time just as happens in molecules, organisms ect in nature by thermodynamics.

Tom Bannister said...

There's a Lady who's sure
all that glitters is gold
and shes buying a stairway to heaven

When she gets there she knows
if the stores are all closed
with a word she can get what she came for...

Such a common piece of western pop music may have long been discarded by you (stairway to heaven- Led Zeppelin), but I think its (or those lines are anyway) a nice anthem to the religion of progress (hence a restructuring of art as the religion of progress fades. British comedy provides a nice example here in my opinion).

Being a longtime western pop music buff, I sometimes wonder what western pop music might turn into once the religion of progress fades. Its already in its age of memory, but I wonder what the new sensibility will bring? (allowing of course for less electricity being able to go into our music).

My guess is many of the easily playable and easily resonatable songs being kept, while the fancy high energy use electro stuff dies off. Hopefully too musicians will stop seeing being a rock star as giving a person demigod status. lets just all forget the 'making it big stuff' and enjoy the music.

Anyway, slightly possibly off topic but just a thought I had. Cheers

Paul said...

Not relevent to this weeks post, but on an earlier theme of states breaking away from the union, there does seem to be some sort of movement in that direction.

Jason Heppenstall said...

So, as the civil religion of progress enters into a prolonged Wizard of Oz moment, those inhabitable planets of the imagination drift further and further out of reach. Notice how, these days, normal planets are out of fashion, and Earth-like planets (ELPs) are all the rage.

All well and good, one might say, but how far away is the nearest one? 13 light years, say experts from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "It's practically in our back yard," gushes the leader of the study.

Well, if that's so, they must have a big back yard.

Oh, and it's only a probability that there is an ELP there - based on some pretty shaky logic about red dwarves and the target planets being approximately the same size as Earth and 'not too hot'.

Nevertheless, if we set off today and travel at 35,000mph (the speed at which the Voyager probes are travelling), it will take us a mere quarter of a million years to get there, give or take.

Don't forget your toothbrush!

flute said...

To explore the feasibility of terraforming e.g. Mars, the high-tech dreamers could launch an experiment in one of the more inhospitable deserts on Earth, e.g. the Atacama desert. There they would try out the technology that would theoretically be used to terraform Mars. Set up a huge structure and try to live within it, grow food there, etc.
Of course this would (to their disillusionment) prove that this terraforming principle is not feasible.

Compound F said...

Gawd, can you write. On themes of both grave and historical interest. I just bought ecotech future and wealth of nature, after having read not the sucrose we ordered, which was one of the most subtle gut punches in a long time (i used to do research on sucrose and rats). I read that approximately concurrently with Orlov's latest. Well, then.

Not that I didn't know, based on reading people such as yourselves, but still, it's taken me 13 years to take a hard look, never mind the soft look I took before. And I still don't get it.

I love yer work.

in "not the future we ordered," you suggested that hope (paraphrase) was an ability to do something useful.

We know Orlov's topmost useful activities. What are yours?

Mr O. said...

A very nice example of this ideology was counter culture guru Timothy Leary's SMI2LE concept ( SM (Space Migration) + I² (intelligence increase) + LE (Life extension). It seems to tick all the boxes and could easily be transposed as a Christian message of 'salvation', 'faith' and 'eternal life'.

The Onion said...

One of the civil religions enjoying a resurgence lately, with the 'Tea Party' movement, is Ayn Rand's unique brand. When I was in my 20s, I was introduced by a friend to her books, and for a while it all made sense, until I grew up and realized that it was absurdly one dimensional.

However, it isn't until this series of posts that I was furnished with a concise way of defining her movement as the civil religion it was, or is. Its scripture even complete with the salvation, where industrialists are 'raptured' to a secret city, led by Galt.

It doesn't seem to matter to the believers that Capitalism has not yet furnished the promised land, because disciples like Ron Paul simply qualify it by stating that you can't debunk it because we haven't had real capitalism yet.

Enjoying this series of posts, thank you.

Odin's Raven said...

Perhaps the change of attitude may be seen in the growing doubts that the space programme was more than an expensive hoax, and the increasing scepticism that government, the expected agent of most of the 'progress', acts in the best interests of its citizens.

Sam Charles Norton said...

Hi JMG, first of two comments. I thought you'd like this, which is from Wittgenstein's On Certainty, section 108: "But is there then no objective truth? Isn't it true, or false, that someone has been on the moon?" If we are thinking within our system, then it is certain that no one has ever been on the moon. Not merely is nothing of the sort ever seriously reported to us by reasonable people, but our whole system of physics forbids us to believe it. For this demands answers to the questions "How did he overcome the force of gravity?" "How could he live without an atmosphere?" and a thousand others which could not be answered. But suppose that instead of all these answers we met the reply: "We don't know how one gets to the moon, but those who get there know at once that they are there; and even you can't explain everything." We should feel ourselves intellectually very distant from someone who said this.

John Roth said...

An amusing bit of synchronicity here:

Also: acesSc

Sam Charles Norton said...

2nd comment - I would take serious issue with your claim that the Ascension is understood in a spiritualised fashion. That may be the case today, but it was not the case for the New Testament writers. Their understanding of the cosmos was indeed that there was a physical 'roof' in the sky, and that there was a hatchway through which Jesus passed in order to - physically - sit at the right hand of God. Paula Gooder has written a good recent book about this (called 'Heaven').

More broadly, I know you don't want to talk about astrology much here, but I can't help but see the passage from Pisces to Aquarius behind much of what you are describing. In other words, the whole emphasis upon "salvation" is now passing away (in just the same way as the Aries emphasis upon the warrior, eg Achilles, passed away before). It's not yet clear to me what emphasis will replace it - obviously there will still be a human concern with 'salvation' just as there remains a human concern with what it is to be a warrior - but I think it will be to do with coming to terms with our individuality over against being caught up in the mass, what it means to actually be a human being and so on.
Loving this theme of your recent posts. I'll go back to lurking now.

billhicksmostfunny said...

I enjoyed the post and more or less agree with the great majority of it. All pretty obvious when stated plainly as such.

The most important part I would like to focus on however is this portion: "Here on Earth, human beings get air to breathe, water to drink, shelter from radiation, topsoil in which to grow crops, and a dizzying array of other goods and services at no charge from the planetary system; anywhere else, all these things have to be provided by human labor, and require constant inputs of resources that human beings must also provide."

I want to focus on this b/c when I think of this/these simple facts (life-sustaining services at NO CHARGE) I actually get angry. I get real angry and here is why. In this day and age these free services have been stolen from us, the way I look at it. We have been separated from our landbase and forced to pay for lesser quality versions of these items.

Think about how crazy it is that in modern society you have to pay simply to exist on this earth. There are no "free" places to stay anymore. You have to pay a rent or mortgage or something like it just to live on this earth. And once, not long ago, you could live wild and free on this earth..........this has been stolen from us and much as I hate to ruin everyone's mellow I think we all should be very angry. Cue bumper sticker: If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.

Alice Y. said...

I have enjoyed a lot of space opera as escapist entertainment as a teenager but I have to read it with my 'ecological eye' closed if I indulge these days. This post made me think about permaculture as a vision of transcendence. I sometimes have what I'd call permaculture daydreams -- the idea that I can design and manage the garden so it requires almost no work, and is fruitful. In practice the opposite seems to be the case -- mostly I get results from gardening proportional to the amount of trouble and effort I put in. The idea of a fruitful garden without any work is so tempting. I'm still inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka's work for example but now I can see how much it is the result of much hard work rather than a way to avoid that (!)

Looking a bit deeper into that idea of transcendence I suspect this particular vision of heaven has to do with my Quaker religious context. As I understand it this means each of us is responsible for getting right with respect to the divine power, and this connection then will to give us the power to do right in the world. So the direction of heaven there I suppose is heart-centred, moving outwards. Seems to require continuous work, not least in addressing my own character and weaknesses. I am trying to apply this understanding to the ecological community in the garden though.

Also, I am now inclined to believe your identification of progress as a governing myth as having tried out the experiment proposed some time ago on various progressives I have encountered, it's scary how much the mention of progress seems to be an instant convincer.

Ray Wharton said...

Gather around young ones, let me tell you about the unwalled petri dish, it is without stopping, and our culture can grow to All Size in its thick thick agar. - Yeast interpretation of Outer Space myth. I think I have heard the Earth compared unfavorably to a petri dish a few times. Sadly our preachy yeasty would find that beyond the edges of his own petri dish lies not an inexhaustible plane of agar, but a freshly bleached counter top.

Outer Space has always seemed like a suspect heaven surrogate, even for me growing up as a die hard Star Trek fan. Cyberspace on the other hand has created worlds where people escape from reality, and though it is not in the sky I can think of a few people who are waiting for a chance to be uploaded into their bliss.

P.S. - I response to the topic of Druid music from a couple weeks ago, I want to suggest Songs From the Woods, Heavy Horses, and Stormwatch all by Jethro Tull.

Kyoto Motors said...

just a question of a possible typ-o:

8th paragraph:
Their logic was impeccable: polished iron is blue, and so is the sky; iron is strong and heatproof, and the sky would need to be both to deal in order to support the boat named Millions of Years on which Ra the sun god does his daily commute;

perhaps a cut and paste blooper?

trippticket said...

JMG, this series of posts on the Religion of Progress has done more for organizing some pretty radical changes in my life over the past 5 years than anything else I've come across in that time. And I've been looking hard.

It's been clarifying, comforting, as always informative, and above all fresh. For the first time I'm not simply learning a new way to practice the same old faith I grew up with - 20 years of Baptist churches, 5 years of Wicca, 10 years of atheism, all mixed together to make a sugar cookie with sprinkles of early Buddhism on top.

But the past 5 years have been something completely different, and thanks to you, I'm starting to understand why.

It's really kind of magical. The past few weeks have been some of the most skin-comfortable, involved, and wonder-filled weeks of my life, and it's yielding some pretty tasty fruit. We pulled our daughter out of the public school mediocrity mill, our little herbal business is on the upswing, the new farm is developing rapidly, we're all smiling more...Just wanted to let you know that I appreciate you and the effort you've put into this.

I know, I know, tip jar's to the right! ;o)

Tracy G said...

Just for fun, here's an example of somewhat similar ascension imagery from the 19th century ballooning craze. I love how the pilot has lifted his arms like Jesus.

I'm wondering, though, if illustrations of the risks, limitations, and disasters, such as those depicted on some of these collecting cards, might've been a little more prevalent back then. There were some gruesome descents, to be sure. Sophie Blanchard, the first woman to die in an aviation accident, made the mistake of launching fireworks from her balloon.

SweaterMan said...


I sure hope you've seen this weeks "What If?" for your description of ascension. If not, here ya go:


Unknown said...

Extremely relevant... Somehow:

myelectricpants said...

This post reminds me of the constant disconnect I feel between my baby boomer parents and I. Certainly for them, Jesus' ascension is very important and exciting, and similarly, they have the collective memory of being huddled around the black and white television watching the first lunar landing. As a kid, both of these stories were intensely interesting to me. As an adult, I feel mostly disinterest.

Mr. Greer, is there any relationship between ascension imagery and phallic imagery (i.e. rockets and mountains, and bursting through barriers into heaven, etc.)?

I am really enjoying this series of posts. Thanks!

Hal said...

As I'm sure you're aware, everything after Mark 16:8, the women running in panic from the empty tomb, was almost certainly added at a later date. As for Luke, he was a propagandist of the Paulist faction, so you have to sift through his stuff (which includes Acts) and John's stuff, almost looking for the most contradictory material to find the gems.

Tracy G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Myriad said...

Proposition: the religious sensibility you've (literally) illustrated in this post is closely analogous to the energy side of the matter-energy duality you've discussed before (matter cycles; energy flows through). Is it just a coincidence that energy really does ascend (radiate away) and escape into space when it's done being caught up in our earthly concerns?

Of all the "new life and new civilizations" encountered by the crew of the starship Enterprise, the ones represented as the most advanced, the most aspirational, are "beings of pure energy." (And how does the Enterprise get there to meet them? A matter-anti-matter reactor; that is, turning matter into energy.) That's the direction of heaven: becoming energy, escaping rock and muck and ashes and flesh. This idea (despite contradicting some Christian doctrines of resurrection of the body) is everywhere. Even Yoda gets in on the act: "Luminous beings we are, not this crude matter."

But energy, by itself, is also crude. In medicine, despite many hopes, no novel form of bulk undirected energy (such as UV light, electricity, or radioactivity) proved any more a panacea than did balancing the humors. Electricity (despite Frankenstein) and radiation (despite Godzilla) aren't really sufficient to bring monsters to life. A being of "pure energy" would instantly radiate away into nothing, unless part of its energy could condense into some sort of dynamically stable structure -- and when energy does that, we call it matter.

This could be a clue to one possible nature or core model for the new sensibility as energy seems to be for the current one. Not another flip of the binary back to "crude" matter and the inertness or at best monotonous identically repeating cycles traditionally ascribed to it, but a turn away from the matter-energy binary. (Although matter will be rehabilitated, so to speak, along the way.)

That direction is pattern. Language and music and genome. Aperiodicity, evolution, complexity, memory. Our version of chaos: not formlessness but form without formula. Within the predictable cycles of the seasons and (material) heavens, the unpredictable weather. The concept is hardly new, but relatively recent scientific models (e.g. in biochemistry, genetics, and neurology) of how much of life can be understood as rooted in dynamic patterns, arrangements of matter that minutely direct the flow of energy, arrangements of energy that carry meaning and imprint themselves upon matter, make it more compelling.

Or maybe I'm just biased toward that concept because that's what I've modeled my own religious sensibility on for many years now.

Alex Forrest said...

Judging by this week's topic matter, I take it you enjoyed the most recent "what if?" scenario from Randall Munroe?

trippticket said...

Cascadian: great article! I forwarded it on to my circle. Thanks!

Nano said...

It's quite something to realize that my kids, now 5 and 2 will grow up in a world VERY different than then one I grew up in. With some smart and hard work and a little bit of luck, I hope to leave them with some good models to navigate their unfolding reality.

Fantastic veil busting spell you've been casting my dear Archdruid.

All Hail Eris!

C Young said...

Well, another great post that makes too much sense. As one interested in economics and religion, I find your arguments striking and clear. As a young college student (years ago), I found that the study of economics made the everyday world make sense. My interest and study (elementary at best) of religion made the rest of the world make sense. Your ability to express both in relation to each brings me back weekly.

Zarvoc said...

I've just started reading this blog and I very much enjoy it. I hope to eventually add insightful commentary at the appropriate level of discourse! That said I have a little bit of lighter fare that you might enjoy: a webcomic's literal take on what happens when a mere mortal attempts literal ascension. J'espere que tu l'aime.

Robo said...

Heaven? We're already there. Too bad we've worked so hard and long to mess it up.

Andy Brown said...

I think you make a convincing case about the way transcendence/ascendance serves the common religious sensibility in its aspirational mode. And, yes, science fiction carried that gospel. As I'm sure you've noticed there are other modes, equally, if not more important. For example, the idea of subservience and submission is also a major part of the old/current religious sensibility.

I find it interesting that although the civil religion of Progress doesn't advertise docile submission in its propaganda (or overtly in its s.f. gospels), in practice it nevertheless manages to have people participate in their own subservience pretty consistently.

Some would say that’s the whole point of these rocket ships. For malcontents agitating for something better, it’s easy to see how the escape hatches (whether space, amazing grace, workers’ paradise, or whatever) serve as a sop for acceptance of oppression and eternally deferred promises.

But there’s more to it. In the US at least we’ve also built up a tremendous mythic edifice of the Expert and the Meritocracy to keep people (and countries and institutions) working hard in systems that are designed to their disadvantage. Rather than saints, gods and angels we are meant to admire and defer to those who “succeed” in the meritocracy. It’s a sprawling (religious) idea that is clearly intermeshed with Progress and has been applied to power and submission at every level from your petty boss to the “development” of nations to biological evolution, race relations and everything else where we want to pretend that a hierarchy is just and right and functional.

I guess my assertion here would be that if you took as your starting point faith-in-meritocracy rather than faith-in-progress you would cover a good deal of the same ground that you’ve covered in your essays, but you would also cover some very different, interesting, complementary terrain as well. Not only would your concept of a (durable, yet threatened) religious sensibility still be at the center, but the same growing cracks and crises of credibility are there as well.

Josh said...

JMG - that study on global ecosystem valuation was done by Robert (not Richard) Costanza et al.

ando said...


Very incisive essay. Tai Chi probably comes in very handy when you have to deflect and avoid the criticisms and attacks such heresy is bound to generate!

Thanks for your continuing and determined efforts to soften the fall.


Ruben said...

I wrote a post inspired by JMG's ecological sensibility at I don’t want salvation.

I also quote and link to Stephen Jenkinson, who is a philosopher of Deep Living that I think many readers of this blog will enjoy.

Adrian Skilling said...

Brilliant stuff. I think the space travel discussion best exposes the gulf between reality and myth.

The practicality of establishing a Mars base for instance seems near impossible when you properly consider how you would do without the wealth that nature provides on this planet. Like, how would you grow food on Mars? How would you get pollination? Clean water? etc.. etc.. You need to transport an entire working ecosystem - and make it work! Attempts to try this even on Earth have gone badly, e.g. Biosphere 2. Our understanding of nature is just so poor, and likely never sufficient for this.

Here some partial quotes from above

"... Not quite 18 months into the experiment, when oxygen levels dropped to the point where the crew could barely function"

"some species absolutely thrived in this man-made environment. Crazy ants, cockroaches, and katydids ran rampant"

"Biosphere II could not sustain a balanced ecosystem, and therefore failed to fulfill its goals."

It seems rather futile to try and live on another planet at enormous difficulty when it'd be far easier to work out how to live on this one.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

According to: "... as the gaudy dream of infinite knowledge and power through technology slams face first into the hard limits of a finite planet and a solar system uninterested in fueling human fantasies."

- Simon Michaux on the Implications of Peak Mining:

Tony said...

After reading this, I can't help but wonder where an upcoming film would fit into your vision of changing sensibilities.

It's called "Gravity", and it's kind of the exact opposite of a recruiting video for astronauts. A manned orbital mission involving the Hubble and the space station goes horribly wrong as a Kessler syndrome ( chain-reaction of collisions in orbit sets in and starts sand-blasting everything we've put there to pieces.

Our only mildly heroic heroes are the only survivors of a shuttle, trying desperately to reach some functioning lifeboat to take themselves back to the welcome planet below as all the fragile human constructs in orbit (as near as I can tell, all real-world vessels) are one after another destroyed in eerie silence.

It explicitly gets its impact from the utterly alien and inhospitable nature of space away from Earth, where things that can kill you travel too rapidly to see and the only places you can survive are tiny fragile capsules without which you are left drifting, doomed to run out of air in hours with literally nothing pressing in on all sides. Heaven is transformed into Hell.

Metta said...

Je[sus] says: ["If those] who seek to attract you [say to you: 'See,] the Kingdom [is] in hea[ven, then] the birds of hea[ven will be there before you. If they say: 'It] is under the earth!' [then] the fishes of the sea [will be there be]fore you. And the Kingd[om of heaven] is within you! [He who? . . .] knows this will find [. . .] [When] you know yourselves, [then you will know that] it is you who are [the sons] of the [living] Father. [But if you do not] know yourselves, then [you are in poverty] and it is you [who are] the poverty!" - Oxyrhynchus

Jesus said: If those who lead you say to you: See, the kingdom is in heaven, then the birds of the heaven will go before you; if they say to you: It is in the sea, then the fish will go before you. But the kingdom is within you, and it is outside of you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that you are the sons of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are poverty. - Nag Hammadi

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you." (note: The AV1611 (King Jimmy) and the NIV both read the kingdom of God is within you. - Luke 17:20-21

"Transcended into Heaven" - mettacrawler.

Andy Brown said...

@ Bill Hicks,

If you read any historical accounts of Colonialism it's pretty clear that there was an intentional and often quite violent campaign to get everyone into a wage economy - no matter how remote or irrelevant any given community was. Taxation and fines were a big part of it, coupled with the expropriation or destruction of the natural resources that people had relied on. So, yes, it's no accident and we have every right to be angry about it.

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, that's an interesting hypothesis. I'd put the shift down to other causes -- which we'll be discussing in upcoming posts -- but the numbing effect you've sketched out may also be involved.

Tom, not at all -- I grew up on the Beatles and Led Zep, among other bands, and still know all the words to "Stairway to Heaven." In a way, the whole theme I'm trying to sketch out in these posts can be summed up in the contrast between the lines you've quoted and these:

"And it's whispered that soon
If we all call the tune
Then the Piper will lead us to reason

And a new day will dawn
For those who stand long
And the forests will echo with laughter."

It does indeed make me wonder...

Paul, I was wondering when that would get going again. When I lived in southern Oregon, there was a quiet background mutter along those lines.

Jason, bingo. One of the problems with the sort of abstract numerical thinking cultivated in the sciences is that it gets in the way of maintaining any kind of sense of proportion!

Flute, exactly -- that's why the whole Biosphere II business, which was launched with such fanfare, vanished from the media when it became embarrassingly clear that it wasn't working.

Compound F, you'll find them all neatly laid out here.

Mr. O., bingo. I've never understood why Leary was taken as seriously as he was; so much of his thinking, like the SMI2LE thing, was warmed over pop culture of the most vacuous sort.

Onion, oh, that's rich. Of course the Randroids are insisting that we haven't had "real capitalism" yet; all their rhetoric is simply the rhetoric of Communism with the signs reversed, and Communists have been excusing the failure of their ideology by saying "we haven't had real communism yet" for decades now.

Raven, the spiraling collapse of belief in the civil religion of Americanism is a major fact of our time, and promises to lead in some very troubling directions -- more on this as we proceed.

Sam, thanks for the Wittgenstein quote! As for the interpretation of the Ascension, granted, it will have been understood in the early Christian era in terms of the physics of that time, which mapped theological concepts onto physical space with ruthless consistency; my point was simply that that isn't essential to the Christian faith, while a civil religion doesn't have anywhere else to turn.

John, Sweaterman, Unknown, and Alex, I hadn't seen that! Thanks for the link.

Bill, er, I think you're romanticising the past rather heavily. What our society regulates by money, others have regulated by tribal custom, feudal tenure, or other means. The sense of entitlement that leads so many people these days to think that they ought to be able to live "wild and free on this earth" is very modern, and to my mind, at least, more indicative of middle class privilege than anything else.

Mary said...

Thank you for the thought provoking post, JMG. I'm never sure whether I enjoy the practical posts or the religious ones more. On the subject of heaven, I visited just this past Sunday when I traveled a little to my north and west to the annual Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine. A haflinger-drawn covered wagon and a mule-drawn open wagon served as shuttles from parking lot to fairgrounds. There I attended a lecture/demonstration and individual lessons in sharpening scythes and mowing with a scythe. I left with a kit complete except for the custom ash snath to be sent my way shortly.

I watched draft horses driven by youths and elders in the log twitching contests, and enjoyed a demonstration of 6 border collies working sheep, goats, geese and humans. Ate organic food grown on farms run on horse power.

Up here, we have a fair number of family farms that never made the switch to tractors. I suspect the "descent" will be far easier for them.

I left feeling a lot more hopeful than usual!


John Michael Greer said...

Alice, one way to think about it is to remember that if you're going to take energy (in the form of food) out of the garden, you're going to have to put energy (in the form of labor) into the garden. In the absence of cheap abundant fossil fuel energy, that rule can't be ignored!

Ray, I wonder whether the people who want to be uploaded into a cybernetic heaven have thought about the likelihood that somebody will come along later and delete them to make more room on the hard drive.

Kyoto, thanks for catching that.

Trippticket, pleased to hear it!

Tracy, good! I'd neglected that, and shouldn't have done so -- much the same imagery that now clusters around space travel focused on balloons, and then on early airplanes. My sense, also, is that you're quite right -- there was a lot more attention paid to the risks and the tragedies in those days.

Pants, I don't think it's accidental that human beings have generally ridden into space atop gigantic ejaculating phalluses. We're a very simple-minded species, all things considered.

Hal, I try to stay away from scriptural criticism -- the finished product as a cultural icon and resource is of more interest to me.

Myriad, that's an interesting suggestion, and a plausible one. My guess, which is by no means incompatible with yours, is that the central focus of the new sensibility will be on whole systems.

Nano, and a happy Bureflux to you, too -- it is, after all, the 50th day of the season of Bureaucracy in the Discordian calendar!

C Young, thank you.

Zarvoc, missed your reference the first time through -- given Nano's Discordian reference, it was no doubt inevitable that five people would forward a link to that! ;-) Many thanks.

Robo, yes, that's also a way to look at it!

John Michael Greer said...

Andy, granted -- most religions can be analyzed with equal facility either as devotion to a set of ideas or as devotion to an institution and its priestly personnel.

Josh, many thanks for the correction.

Ando, thank you. As for t'ai chi, no doubt!

Edward said...


In the image of the ascencion, there is bright light above Jesus, presumably the power that is drawing him upwards. In the image of the rocket launch, there is bright light below the rocket, the power that is pushing it upwards.

In both cases, this power is something that is external to the individuals being raised and they're just going along for the ride without any exertion of their own.

I think that the bright light and smoke in a rocket launch adds a familiar feel to the mythology.

Heck, even the wizard of OZ discharged smoke. That also reminds me of the Catholic rituals with the candles and incense.


John Michael Greer said...

Ruben, thanks for the link! Glad to see these essays sparking some original thinking elsewhere.

Adrian, exactly. What Biosphere II proved conclusively is that human beings are not as smart as Biosphere I -- thus the embarrassed silence that followed its failure.

Oyvind, exactly!

Tony, thanks for the heads up. If more people grasp the idea that space is not heaven but death -- silent, cold, remorseless and inimical to every human hope and desire -- we may have a slightly easier time preserving the only living world we've got.

Metta, good. The ambiguity of the concept of heaven is one of the things that may make it easier for Christianity to adapt to the shift in sensibilities.

Mary, thank you! That's excellent to hear.

JP said...

@Robert Mertini

"In my everyday life I see more and more of my generation becoming less enamored with all that is material and instead searching to fill a spiritual void. If I understand correctly from psychology and neurology, the brain contains a filter mechanism. It numbs the body to things it experiences quite routinely so that the mind can focus on changes in the environment. The idea being you will see the animal tracks you need to find food and ignore the undulating brightness of light as the sun rolls over clouds of different thicknesses. I am wondering if these spiritual cycles within cultures are a reflection our filters in our minds reaching critical numbness to materialism, progress and reductionism and finding beautiful novelty in spirituality. A simple shift of attention but on a cultural scale as oppose to an individual scale?"

This is probably one of the more useful theories that I've seen on something that has confused me for some time, in terms of the *mechanism* by which the shifts occur.

Although it is a shift of generational cultural attention moreso than cultural attention itself.

This generational-type era, at least in the modern English West is generally associated with peak materialism.

The Millenials are the last generally material oriented generation that we will theoretically see for some time (meaning a couple of generations), so the generational shift has already happened, with the new "Homeland Generation" scheduled to be more spiritually oriented than material oriented.

It's a standard issue human cultural rhythm.

Collective version of breathing/heartbeat on a macro scale.

Same thing probably works on the level of what JMG is calling religious sensibility.

I suppose religious sensibility could be mapped in some way, but I have a complete lack of information to even begin to think about it, other than to postulate that there is some sort of topography of religious sensibility, with each sensibility located at a different place on such topography.

Although the reach into infinite space strikes me as more of a cultural fractal than a religious sensibility, given the difference, per Spengler, of Magian (world as magical cave) and Faustian civilization (reach into infinite space).

Magian civilization had the New Testament, too.

The New Testament had been around for centuries before the Faustian West even got started.

trippticket said...

Moving toward K-selection:

We planted 120 raspberry starts on Tuesday, talked soil ecology/ecosystem succession/forest gardening with our 5-year-old girl throughout the process, then she and I went to a couple of incredible (and nearby) Amicalola Falls nature programs and hiked up the falls, learning trees and herbs the whole way up. Spectacular!

Immersed in the world-class beauty of her neighborhood; learning a bit about how it connects - from bare eroding granite at the top of the falls to wriggly black topsoil in the creek bottoms of our farm; and planting favorite foods for tomorrow. Just like public school, eh??

Tripp out.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

The latest Sci-Fi movies may start reflecting more sober themes: I just watched Oblivion. What is fascinating is that the main character (although operating a world replete with techno-wizardry as a drone repair technician) finds his moral compass through reading the Lays of Ancient Rome:
"Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods."
In other words, (although in art there are "no other words"), the motivation for him becomes about defending the lares and the limes of Earth, rather than worshipping the "Tet" (Tetahedron?) from outer space, where (supposedly) humanity resides as it migrates to Titan. The movie is not your standard propaganda fare, although of course it does pay homage to standard tropes; it is holding up the concept of connection with the Past, rather than exploding into some fabulous, pristine Future. This is portrayed as requiring sacrifice, again (although) with some technological twists.

sgage said...

@ JMG,

"What Biosphere II proved conclusively is that human beings are not as smart as Biosphere I"

That is precisely why I considered it so valuable, and not really a 'failure' at all.

billhicksmostfunny said...

@ Andy Brown --- I concur wholeheartedly with your 1st and 2nd comments.

@ JMG --- Yeah I must be a dreamer, a true romantic if you will. To dream of clean air and water, nowadays sounds like magical thinking........

And if in your mind you think the "wild and free" concept is modern then in my mind it is just the opposite. For thousands upon thousands of years cultures existed (however it was regulated we both agree it wasn't money, whats wrong with tribal custom btw?) without the need to pay for the right to exist upon the planet. How that can lead you to think of entitlement and privilege eludes me?

I guess yes it was a privilege to live in a community without destroying it perhaps? I am at loss, certainly not romanticizing and certainly no more entitled than anyone else.

We did in fact live wild and free on this earth for much longer than we have lived by our current (industrial, agrarian, cities/nations/states) modes. We are animals. We evolved from them. We are and always have been animals. Animals are wild and free. Until you put them in a cage/zoo that is.

librarian@play said...

The opening line of this post immediately brought to mind Google's latest venture, Calico, whose mission is to solve the "problem" of aging and death. That level of faith in technology and progress would put any fundamentalist to shame!

Andy Brown said...

I wouldn't just set the idea of the Meritocracy aside as nothing more than window-dressing for the priesthood. I think that willing submission has been a central idea to the religious sensibility just as much as the idea of escape. And if the blinkers of Progress keep us from seeing the physical world as it is, I think the myths of the Meritocracy keep us from seeing the social world as it is. Everything is in its place and if it's not, well someone's just not doing it right.

Andy Brown said...

To the extent that I've found pagans who are fellow travelers, it seems that the ideal is not ascendance from the world - which is viewed as alienation - but rather immersion into the natural world. I think there is a humility required for that, which is utterly out of step with the religious sensibility of Progress. Maybe that's one reason I like it.

Chris G said...

This one really felt like a powerful summation of recent discussions about the civil religions, and the mental frameworks we're in. although our frameworks can change, it is nigh unto impossible to have much more than one mental framework - and that is a key limit to what we will see in the world.

One topic that comes to mind is that, in some ways, there are layers of civilization. There is the grand epoch that began, say 600 BC, and perhaps sooner with agriculture - stretching back even 5000 years. There is the rise of industrialism 200 years ago or so. There is the rise of colonialism/ Americanism preceding industrialism by about a century. There is also the rise of rationalism that it seems began probably around 1250 AD, reached a kind of pinnacle in 1500s 1600s, bore its fruit in the industrial revolution, and has reached its limits.

What is so curious is the sensation we have now of being at the first rising of civilization (taking the long view back to the agricultural revolution), as though there were no prior civilizations. It does not seem that there were ever those of our kind - ones that left such a material mark on the world. But if one looks to many of the traditions in the east, it is said there were older civilizations, perhaps many. I understand it is a topic you've discussed elsewhere: the subject of Atlantis.

It seems a corollary of the present hubris that to admit the possibility of ancient, in some ways more advanced, civilizations, is really just a kind of magical thinking, new agey, drug-induced nuttiness.

But to point out that the amount of sugars and fats the average American consumes as a result of the conversion of oil, coal, natural gas into cows, pigs, corn syrup, and soybean oil - is very much like drug abuse... just returns perplexed stares and grimaces, and a return to chomping the fatburger.

If the mental framework is as important as it appears to be upon digging through all the fallacies people take for granted even tho reality stares them in the face, it would certainly seem that other kinds of civilization, not so hell-bent on material mastery of the world, might not only be possible, but preferable. Admittedly that is vague, but I mean deep and strong spiritual sciences. In a way, it is just as powerful to need not much from the material world, as it is to have much control over the material world.

zmejuka-alexey said...

I read your blog for more than two years and decided to comment for the first time. This post is relly superb!
As an aside, I come from the "white coat's" camp, having a Ph.D. in physics (in Russia). In a recent series of posts in your blog I found an explanation of the disconnect that I often see in scientists, I could intuitively sense it, but couldn't formulate. With their mind they fully understand all the problems with space travel, climate change and energy problem, BUT with their hearts (soul or emotions) they find the way to choose a new "progress" thing to believe. There are some notable exceptions, that just confirm the rule, as the guy who does "Do the Math" blog.

With great respect

thrig said...

"manifest in the world of ordinary experience"…they doubtless will try to dodge into some sort of virtual world where computers of eyebrow-raising reliability somehow keep things magically ticking along. Emphasis on magic. Have they not plumbed computers? Looked at any software anywhere? Google Mail recently had two redundant, independent links both go down (whoops) and I've turned more things off and back on again than I care to count (printers, RAID arrays, the North American payments pipeline for a small Internet retailer, etc.) and today? Oh look, yet more kernel security updates and yet another zero-day IE exploit making the rounds. I am reminded more of that Diamond Age character who had his ocular nerve hacked by spammers—Singularity, ho!

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

If (to explore one hypothetical possibility) the spiritual life of contemporary humanity is meaningless, it cannot be rendered meaningful through extension in space, through export to other planets.

Viktor Frankl in a similar vein holds that the mere act of having children cannot render one's life meaningful. If human life happens to be meaningless, it cannot be rendered meaningful through extension in time, through procreation.

We might apply such a Frankelian analysis to JMG's account, a couple of weeks ago, of the future of our biosphere. If, speaking hypothetically, the spiritual life of Homo sapiens, as a symbol-making and tool-making species, happens to be meaningless, it cannot acquire meaning by being prolonged (contrary to the careers of most other macroscopic fauna species) for hundreds of millions of years. Nor can it under this hypothesis acquire meaning by being repeated, with feathers in lieu of hair, through the eventual appearance in Earth's evolving biosphere of symbol-making, tool-making, Moon-visiting corvids.

The meaningless indeed persists whether the repetitions eventually come to an end (as in the biosphere schema of JMG) or go on endlessly (as implied in Prof. Bardi's variation on JMG: Prof. Bardi imagines an eventual Artificial-Intelligence-driven New Big Bang).

If, on the other hand (to explore now the contrary hypothesis), that spiritual life does have a meaning, the meaning can exist even should the career of Homo sapiens, as one species among the many in Earth's long-lasting biosphere, prove brief, and even should there be no symbol-making, tool-making species after Homo sapiens.

We do well to follow the Christian mystics in stressing not the language of "above" but the language of "within". Properly conceived, the search for meaning is an exercise in interiority.

Tolstoy touches on this in the title (itself a quotation from Luke 17) he gives to his wonderful theology-of-nonviolence book, which I have just located and printed out and had Cerlox-bound, and in which I have just read the first chapter: The Kingdom of God Is within You.

This same Luke-and-Tolstoy language, of "within" as opposed to "above", is suggested by Paul's discourse in Athens, as summarized in Acts 17. In this discourse, Paul says that it is in God (not under God, beneath God, below God, as below the clouds and the stratosphere, but rather in God) that "we live and move and have our being."

At its worst, traditional Christian religious sensibility enjoins a search upward, for a crude transcendence of earthly conditions, in a futile way transferring to distant outer realms a poverty of meaning painfully experienced (and in this branch of the Christian tradition inadequately addressed) in the terrestrial realm.

At its authentic best, however, the Christian religious sensibility enjoins embarking, while firmly anchored in the terrestrial, a journey into the psychic interior.

I do not here dogmatically assert with the postwar Paris existentialists that our spiritual life is meaningless, and I do not here dogmatically assert the contrary hypothesis, that it is meaningful (though the latter is my actual theological position): here I assert only that exploring the question whether human spiritual life is or is not meaningful requires an emphasis not on the Above but on the Within.


Toomas (Tom) Karmo
Catholic near Toronto, Canada

www punkt metascientia punkt com

Ray Wharton said...

Deletion is a real concern to some people who have invested large portions of their identity into some of the online games. No doubt those lines will go dead someday, and I think that for those people so deeply committed to their online persona it may be an additional trauma. Trying to create heaven is a pretty surefire way to end up in situations reminiscent of its opposite.

Also, did your old Stormwatch project include a nod to the Tull album.

onething said...

Well now, I was talking to a neighbor of mine, perhaps a Christian, which is to say a maverick with no ties to any church and who is steeped in scriptural study both Old and New, and he said something no one has ever said to me before. He said, "When I think of death, I don't think about going to heaven. I want to be among those who inherit the earth."

Glenn said...

For what it's worth, the oxygen depletion in Biosphere II was caused by the concrete of the structure absorbing the oxygen as it continued to cure.

That doesn't mean they got everything else right, it's just the over-riding initial problem that any decent industrial chemist could have predicted. Presumably the designers were long on biologists and ecologists and short on chemists and physicists. It shows one of the dangers inherent in over specializing.

It sort of parallels our current peak oil problem. It's just the first and most obvious stumbling block to our version of industrial civilization. If we had unlimited free energy tomorrow, we would shortly hit some other limit; most of the obvious ones have been mentioned here in the past. A short list would include fresh water (yes, I know if we had unlimited energy we could distill it from the sea), potassium and phosphorous for agriculture. Our host's recent essay on the next 10 billion years lists a few others, though I have a quibble about the metals which isn't germane here.


Marrowstone Island

Zachary Braverman said...

If the old religious sensibility, both in terms of theist and civil religions, fulfills a certain emotional need, then what emotional need would you say is met by the new religious sensibility you have been speaking of?

John Michael Greer said...

Edward, true enough -- though the fact that the bright light and clouds lifting the shuttle comes from beneath adds a certain infernal quality to that version!

Trippticket, thank you. That's highly encouraging.

Matthew, good heavens. The fact that the scriptwriter had ever even heard of Macaulay's poems makes my jaw drop. That's very good news indeed.

Sgage, good. It was a success as an experiment, in that useful knowledge was gained by it; it was a failure in terms of its ostensible goals, which is also just as well.

Bill, have you ever read any meaningful amount of ethnographic literature on tribal custom? It's very often far harsher than the rule of money. "Wild and free" makes a lovely catchphrase, but I suspect you'd find it less than delightful if every choice you made -- including, say, who you get to marry and whether you get to live to adulthood -- was subject to the approval or veto of your local community, including every member of your extended family, and from whom there was no appeal. That's the reality of life in a tribal setting, you know.

Librarian, I'm reminded yet again that hubris is the past tense of nemesis...

Andy, it's not window dressing. Blind faith by and large comes in two flavors, blind faith in ideas and blind faith in persons; most religions make use of both.

Chris, the notion that we're the first people in all of history to see what's obviously true is central to the rhetoric and faith of the religion of progress, and it's one of those things that's almost immune from challenge in the minds of believers, so I'll simply nod and say, well, yes.

Alexey, thank you. I've seen the same thing, and it's one of the reasons I've come to see belief in progress as the central religion of our time.

Thrig, oh, granted. I wonder how many of the people who want to have their personalities uploaded to computers have thought of the implications of the Blue Screen of Death.

Toomas, excellent! Yes, that's exactly the point to which I was pressing, formulated in a classic Christian mode.

Ray, indeed it did, and you get tonight's gold star for remembering my first attempt online to get some thinking going about the Long Descent.

John Michael Greer said...

Onething, that's the difference between your friend and a Druid. We'd generally prefer the Earth to inherit us.

Glenn, I think it also has a lot to say about a certain law credited to the ancient sage Murphy.

Zachary, we'll be talking about that at some length down the road a bit. The short form is that the great lack many people feel these days is a sense of belonging in the world, and the new sensibility is a response to that.

Hal said...

John Michael, your comment to Tony:

"If more people grasp the idea that space is not heaven but death -- silent, cold, remorseless and inimical to every human hope and desire..."

I have a way to meditate on that very insight, and the Autumnal Equinox might be a good time to initiate it, though it's more of a winter feeling. The cold at some point makes itself felt in your bones and all it takes is going out on a cold, clear day, looking up into the sky and realizing that what you're feeling is the cold inhospitableness of most of the universe. To reflect on the fact that all it takes is a slight change in our position in orbit around our star, so that the planet takes a slight tilt away from that warmth, is to make it real for yourself, I think. Not that I've ever done anything with that insight, but there it is.

latheChuck said...

It was with very mixed emotions, a few weeks ago, that I saw the launch of a space rocket for the first time. This was a late-night launch of the LADE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Explorer) probe from Wallops Island (coastal Virginia, for the international crowd here). At the appointed time, I saw an orange light rising from the horizon (I was 50-100 km away), and trained binoculars on it. In the clear dark sky, there was no smoke trail, just the fluttering exhaust plume, like an acetylene flame burning without oxygen. Then the first stage was exhausted, separated, and the second stage ignited. It was as if the oxygen was turned on to the torch. The flame grew sharper, longer, thinner, and white, and in my mind's eye I could see the atmosphere now below the rocket, as it silently passed away over the horizon.

"What a beautiful triumph of engineering teamwork in pursuit of exotic knowledge!"

"Too bad it's not sustainable, and practically Over."

Other planets are not, unfortunately, like Polynesian Islands, just waiting for human discovery.

KL Cooke said...

"...these collecting cards, might've been a little more prevalent back then..."

I dig those cards, but darned if they don't remind me of the Tarot.

Kyoto Motors said...

My first reading of this conjured the following associations:
Project Genesis from one of the Star Trek movies;
The lyrics “With heaven full of astronauts. And the Lord on death row”, by Joni Mitchell
And the work of a local (Montreal) artist named Julie Small, who made a sculpture of Jesus in a phone booth, undressing to reveal a Superman outfit under his robes…

Superman alone is a manifestation/ incarnation of the industrial powered secular mythology you speak of…

The Star Trek example, where barren planets are brought up to “biospheric” speed if you will, is the “miracle” of science that doesn’t necessarily get explained, it just fulfills the wish in one fell swoop, solving all the problems of uninhabitability that you site… Convenient, to say the least.

Joni Mitchell I guess was having a Nietchean moment when she astutely wrote those words.

Additionally, one could point to the belief in space aliens as an attempt to make the ordinary physical universe live up to the nascent religious expectations we harbour.

When I think of the average-joe conformist who has left theist religion on the back-burner, is utterly committed to the secular, materialist life of the prevailing ideology, and has to face the cognitive dissonance (broken promises) of the civil religion he’s embraced, well, what next? These types, (and I suspect they make up the majority?) who may well be looking at such things on the surface, without the benefit of thoughtful reflection and guidance/ grounded perspective, they could get easily and completely lost in the emergent disillusionment. What then? Should one even worry about other people’s illusions/ delusions/ myopia? I think it will have consequences politically…

Liquid Paradigm said...

Lately I've felt the need to revisit Tolkien's magnum opus and have started in on it (I read it several times when I was much, much younger; it's been awhile). Tonight, I read this:

'But it is not your own Shire,' said Gildor. 'Others dwelt here before hobbits were; and others will dwell here again when hobbits are no more. The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.'

Reading it while being mindful of this blog's overarching theme and considering the past several posts in particular, I sat there for several minutes with quite the happy, stupid grin on my face. :)

Greg Reynolds @ Riverbend said...


My eyes are glazing over. I think that we all get it. 'Progress' is not a given.

Anyone reading this blog who doesn't get it is totally out of touch with the situation on the ground. And that's a nice place to be.

But you are not going to change their minds, so respectfully, shut up about it and get back to how do we make the best of our current and future situation while still living in the world as we find it.

I'll try to finish this posting later.


Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Matthew Casey Smallwood:

I am delighted that "Horatius at the Bridge" still inspires! In the 8th grade in Latin class, on the last day of the class, our teacher, Mrs. McCurdy, read the entire poem to the class out loud. I promptly went out, bought a copy of the _Lays_ in a used bookstore, and set out to memorize the entire poem. I still have it stored away in my memory. The part you quoted (with the next few lines that follow) has inspired me for more than half a century.

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Toomas (Tom) Karmo:

There is yet a third possibility: our spiritual life (like our life in general) may be neither meaningless nor meaningful in a single, determinate way. It may be meaningful, but in the polyvalent fashion that a scrying mirror or a gazing crystal yields useful meaning in the hands of a skilled scryer. (Skilled scryers are quite rare.)

Some people scry and see nothing, ever: for them, the mirror is always empty of meaning.

Other people see things.

Most of these other people see only whatever their desires or terrors or fantasies suggest to their own minds. These visions are pretty much useless.

But rarely a scryer sees something that will be beneficial forever after to the person for whom (s)he is scrying, and even to humanity in general. Meaning is *imposed* by that person, in response to the scryer's vision and words, on his or her own life in a way that goes beyond mere projection of fear or desire, or mere fantasy. In such a case, the imposed meaning fits the person's life (past and future) as though it had always been there, as though it were by nature or Divine Grace the true meaning of that particular human life.

So this is the third possibility: life need not be either meaningful or meaningless in itself. It can be a blank canvas on which a person creates such a meaning for his or her own life as can benefit many others, maybe even all humankind.

Cherokee Organics said...


An excellent essay and so very true. I’ve noticed that a certain large percentage of the population places no value on things that they get for free and I'm unsure how this came to be.

The free song is useful to keep in mind in such situations: “if it’s free, it’s for me and I’ll have three!” hehe!

I'm starting to get nervous about summer coming up so it is taking a whole lot of time to get the farm even more fire ready than usual. It is still cool and green here and there is plenty of ground water about, but leave the highlands and... the country is cooking.

September heat records aplenty across eastern Australia

I have a thoughtful response to your essay and will type it up and post it tomorrow after the chooks have a run about the orchard.



John Michael Greer said...

Hal, an excellent meditation! I've considered at some point writing a book of nature meditations; that might be a good addition, and if so, it will appear with credit.

LatheChuck, exactly. The experience of the European diaspora, which encountered whole continents that had been settled by human beings for millennia and then mostly depopulated by pandemic disease, has given a lot of people these days delusional ideas about what ought to be waiting for us in space.

Kyoto, there'll be a lot of misery, some of it unnecessary; a lot of violence, ditto; and a lot of people who simply give up and drink themselves to death or the equivalent, as there was when the Soviet Union came apart. Culture death is a messy process.

Paradigm, excellent! One of the many things Tolkien got was the reality of history, and one of his literary gifts was the ability to make his world feel old, with layers on layers of history on it. I adored that when I was young, and first reading (and obsessively rereading) the trilogy.

Greg, I write about the things I want to write about. If that doesn't interest you, there's no shortage of other blogs out there that deal with similar subjects. These last few posts have had near-record readership, so your lack of interest isn't exactly a compelling argument -- and may I suggest that telling an author to shut up and write about what you want him to write about is a trifle rude?

Cherokee, by all means give the chooks their orchard time!

Yves said...

Hello Mr Greer,
Your site touches two of my interests : the peak oil question and Nietzsche.
At the beginning of your second paragraph, you write : "The sensibility that seized the imagination of the western world after 600 BCE..." I came across that question recently when I realized that the Cosmogony and Works and Days of Hesiode, who wrote before 630 BCE, tell stories that evoke the bible. At some places, it mentions what seems to be equivalent of sins (Zeus is watching, if you do bad things, the Harpies will go after you...) and the myth of Prometheus who was punished for giving the fire to the mortals makes me think of the story of Adam and Eve who were kicked out of the paradise.
I didn't find anything similar in Homer's works who were writen before Hesiode's.
I would like to know references of books, modern or ancient, who give details about this ideological or philosophical transition. Does it have something to do with ideas disseminated from Egypt to Greece and to the Jews ? Or from Babylon ?
Thank you for your answer.
Y. Ménard

Sleisz Ádám said...

Your concept of the previous and next religious sensibilities reminds me of the species of humans and elves in Tolkien's Middle Earth. Only the humans have a gift or curse to exit anything with death. The elves never leave the world, not even after falling in battle. So the elves take a lot less risk, they can be patient and calm. Perhaps this is one of the reasons they are so popular among the fans.

May favourites were the dwarves, by the way, though I don't really miss a description of a female dwarf. :)

Andy Brown said...

@ Greg Reynolds,
I had to laugh at your rude, or perhaps curmudgeonly complaint, because I'm also impatient to get on with hands on the earth applications. But I begin to suspect that we are not going to get a recipe book out of JMG. Good teachers can teach you things and equip you with some useful tools. Great teachers open up a landscape that you didn't even suspect was there and say, "So. What are you going to do with all that?"

Kyoto Motors said...

My sister, who is a practicing Buddhist, recently shared these words from a teacher:

If you are depressed, you are living in the past
If you are anxious, you are living in the future
If you are at peace, you are living in the present

I tend to appreciate considerably such truisms that stem from the East. It seems to me that at the core of Buddhism is a different sensibility from that of escaping the human condition through some portal of transcendence. But I could be wrong, since I probably only have a superficial understanding of the teachings…
At the same time, I would point out that learning from the past and weighing consequences of the future should and must take place in the revered present, or there wont be rice to boil, as it were…

Kyoto Motors said...

Looking back to your previous post, you wrote:
“It’s quite another to do the same thing to people who no longer want the salvation you’re offering—people for whom nature, history, and the human condition aren’t a trap to escape, as they have been for most people in the western world for the last two millennia, but a reality to embrace in delight and wonder.”
This is a very appealing thought to me, and again perhaps not too far from the Buddhist notion of living in the present (?)… When you consider the difference between this sensibility and the one we Westerners most likely grew up with, i.e. the promise of salvation at death, or Armageddon etc. (which I guess I clung to for some time myself) it is a fair leap of faith to get from the latter to the former. Takes courage…
Interestingly, if I have followed your reasoning, this leap does not necessarily land in the territory of atheism or agnosticism necessarily. But I suppose any theism that emerges would have to redefine “god” in a believable way.
I tend to accept discussions of “god” more as a concept that speaks to the inherent mysteriousness of consciousness, and the incomprehensible nature of nature. If I have made a leap of faith, which I believe I have, it is inconclusive, without authority and still within a context of a society that generally hasn’t got a clue (though I could be wrong about that… I often am!)
Perhaps I have greater leaps to take down the road, but I do feel liberated to not expect heaven in an afterlife. Probably a scary thought to many.
Was it Socrates’ “cave analogy” that is pertinent here?

changeling said...

JMG, May I suggest rereading Silmarillion? The story of black cursed jawels.. that are unique and irreplaceable, because they hold small part of light from Two Trees. Oh, I think Tolkien got more about history and fate of modern world than most contemporary thinkers.

Brian said...

John, why did your family decide to make the move to Maryland from the west coast? It is encouraging that the same guy who writes these fascinating posts chose to move to my (general) geographic area, but I've often considered looking for work right out where you were! Am I missing something?

Also, I certainly would read a book of nature meditations (like Hal posted above) written by an Archdruid.

Ursachi Alexandru said...

It's funny because I participated last year in an online "astronomy" contest in which the participants had to describe "how humanity would colonize space". Of course my geeky space-faithfulness was already on its death bed and I didn't believe that kind of fantasies anymore, but it took Tom Murphy's "Do The Math" blog followed by yours, and getting to know the peak oil predicament and all of its ramifications, for it to away for good. And reading your posts regularly now, it's like a real journey for me.

Even so, I participated, and won first prize. On one hand, I feel "dirty" because I won a contest that labeled itself as astronomy themed, on a subject no more related to actual astronomy that, say, astrology. On the other hand, I am now the proud owner of a pretty capable telescope, I became good friends with the guy that won second place, his hometown is 307 km away from were I live, and I visited him by making my first cross-country bike trip this summer. :)

Amma Boy said...

I look forward every week to your posts and enjoy the intellectual exercise they provide!

I've been fascinated by your discussion of religion. I think it's important to distinguish between Religion and Spirituality, the former being the outer shell and the latter the inner truth contained in all religions. My teacher makes the analogy of Religion being the outer shell of the coconut and Spirituality is the sweet milk found in the centre.

As far as "ascending" to heaven, this idea, I believe, has always been about higher states of consciousness not physically going somewhere in the limited sense of the universe we experience with our senses.

To quote my guru;
"Both heaven and hell are created by the mind! Even the highest Heaven turns into Hell if the mind is agitated; whereas even the lowest Hell is a blissful abode for someone endowed with a peaceful and relaxed mind" (Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi commonly known as "Amma")

So the purpose of the austerities you referred to in a previous post are really about bringing the wayward mind under control to experience higher states of consciousness. Of course to those that have no inkling that higher states are possible this just seems like a waste of time.

I would suggest to those of your readers who may have an interest in experiencing being in the presence of someone who is living in these higher states they seek out "Amma". She travels widely throughout the world and today, being her 60th Birthday, will embrace (literally!) over 40,000 people. Her website is

Thank you for the interesting reading.

Joseph Nemeth said...

Some years back, I had a very brief ... I guess you'd call it a "vision." We were doing the usual Pagan circle thing in a public park here near the edge of town, bordered by a wild forested area with one of the local rivers running through it, and as we reached the peak of drumming and dancing and then brought it all to earth with a bang and a moment of silence, I looked up at the wildwood, and felt the wood looking back.

The overall impression was a fond sadness. "We'll miss you when you're gone," was the way the feeling found words.

There are two sensibilities at large in our civilization. One, which has been discussed extensively here, is the "I'm the boss, I make the rules" kind of hubris that views humankind as a pinnacle -- nay, The Pinnacle -- of progressive evolution, to which all of nature must submit. The other, its apocalyptic shadow-opposite, views humankind as an uncontrolled virus that Mother Earth will eventually get around to eradicating with a brief shudder of disgust.

Mankind: overlord or dreaded disease.

I think my vision comes from the new religious sensibility JMG is speaking of. Certainly a different religious sensibility.

As I experienced it, Mother Earth is actually quite fond of us. Our songs. Our funny two-legged dance with gravity. Our capacity for intra- and inter-species empathy. Our cleverness with our hands. Our language, and our storytelling. Even our technology, which -- though it causes some troubles -- is a beautiful thing in its own right. That wildwood was alive, and curious, and friendly, though not in the Disney sense -- it would certainly not hesitate to embrace any one of us in the "cycle of life." But as a species, the wildwood bore us no ill will whatsoever, even as our city expands and expands and pushes the trees and beasts away.

The world holds a place for us, too, just like the beaver or the bacterium.

On the other hand, Mother Earth isn't going to save us from ourselves, or from any of the changes that take place in world. She'll weep for us, and remember us, but no more than that. She's let the dinosaurs slip away; she'll let us slip away.

But they'll all miss us when we're gone.

Joeln said...

"the collision between what America thinks it stands for and what it’s all too plainly become:

This states so very well a feeling that has been growing on me for 20 plus years.

For so much of my formative years I bought the story of "what America stands for":
"liberty and justice for all"
"Bringing freedom and democracy"
"free markets"
"We can change the world
Re-arrange the world
It's dying ... to get better"

You say "the implosion of the civil religion of Americanism is taking place right now" and for all your heavily dropped hints I never thought of it in those terms.
That sure speaks to me as an apt description of our time.

Thanks! -Joel

trippticket said...

@Cherokee Organics:
Chris, more than a few Australian permaculturalists, including Darren Doherty in all his permie guru-ness, are leaving the continent in search of cooler, moister pastures. Darren's been spending a lot of his time in northern Mexico working on his Regen-Ag program, but I believe is contemplating relocating to coastal California somewhere. Maybe he already has; I haven't interacted with him in a few years. He claims that his Australian farm is getting less than half the annual rainfall it was 20 years ago, and that was barely enough.

Might I suggest, if you ever feel compelled to relocate, the North Georgia (USA) mountains as a potential location? Georgia started off its journey as a penal colony just like Oz, so you should feel comfortable enough. Plenty of rain, lots of springs, massive timber, picturesque beauty, and a growing corporate ex-pat population disenchanted with the bustle of city life, anxious to support our projects.

It's also the continent's herbal pharmacopoeia with about 1800 species, of 2000 continent-wide, represented in the bioregion. The natives referred to this area as the "heart" of the continent, in all of that organ's physiological ilk.

Of course, it is somewhat dangerous here, being perched precariously upside-down on the planet as we are;)

Cheers, mate.

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

@Kyoto Motors

The quote you gave represents a very recent interpretation of Buddhism and/or other Eastern spirituality, though one with roots in the older teachings.

Really, there's no single "Buddhism." The ideas of Buddhism freely mingled with the dominant spiritual schools of every culture it encountered, the most influential of which was undoubtedly Taoism.

That's a whole story to itself, because while Taoism certainly embraced the idea of escape from the human condition — in the form of the notion that one could become an Immortal, and some very strange ideas about what would or would not contribute to that — it retained the idea that this world is basically good and can be enjoyed.

Fast forward to the 20th century and introduce ideas from the New Age movement and modern psychotherapy (which in some forms was a rediscovery of Stoicism) into the mix and you get what most people think of as Buddhism.

trippticket said...

Sounds like a pretty good song developing to me!

My "experience" was one of suddenly recognizing European colonialism and industrial culture simply as analogues of any other ecological succession. That global energy peak would send us scrambling for new, lower energy, more cooperative, social and economic arrangements in the very near future, and that the Earth stood a good chance of recovering from what I immediately perceived as "peak-exploitation." My thoughts were fairly dark before that moment so this revelation had multiple layers of positive impact on me.

Enjoyed your tale.

John Michael Greer said...

Yves, are you familiar with M.I. Finley's The World of Odysseus? It's a study of Greek society during the post-Mycenean dark ages, using the available literature (Homer and Hesiod) and the evidence of archeology, and one of his central points is the extent to which the Greek polytheism that can be seen emerging at that time is a radical break with the religious past -- as indeed it is, including the collapse of the religious dimensions of kingship, the embrace of anthropomorphism in theology, and much more. That's the sensibility that spread across the Mediterranean world and shaped the established religious order of classical times; compare it with the standard religious institutions of the Bronze Age Levant and you can get some sense of what it replaced.

Sleisz, I'll grant you that!

Andy, if I may horn in briefly, I've also covered most of what I personally know how to do, as far as preparing for and dealing with the opening phases of the Long Descent; that's what the Green Wizardry series of posts was all about, and (in another sense) the discussions of magic. I'm far from omnicompetent, and in fact there are plenty of people on this list who are better at organic gardening, conservation retrofitting, ham radio, or what have you than I am! Thus I'm going to talk about the subjects where I have something original and, I hope, useful to say.

Kyoto, a good deal depends on what kind of Buddhism your sister practices. Those branches of Buddhism that get most intensely into salvation by faith -- for example, the Pure Land sect -- haven't gotten as much traction in the West as others, not least because the Christians already occupy their market niche. As for Plato, good! I really need to do a post on the Cave one of these days.

Changeling, sure -- it's probably been two years since I read it last, and my brain isn't quite as Tolkien-saturated as it was back in the days when I used to sign high school yearbooks in Elvish.

Brian, I talked about the reasons for the move here back when we first got settled. As for the book of meditations, I'll definitely consider it.

Ursachi, I'd happily cast a horoscope for a shot at a good telescope, so I wouldn't worry about it too much!

Amma Boy, the division between "religion" and "spirituality" is a very common trope these days, and it's usually used the way you've just used it -- that is, as a way of claiming that your preferred beliefs are "the inner truth contained in all religions," and thus a sales pitch for your guru or your church. I'd like to suggest an alternative view, which arguably does a better job of respecting the profound differences between religious and spiritual traditions: every religion and every spirituality states its own truth, which is different from that of every other. It's not even a matter of different paths up the same mountain; there are different mountains -- a whole glorious range of them, each of which provides a different view from the summit. The only thing they share in common is the same unreachable sky above them all. (And, yes, that's my truth, which is different from any other...)

Joseph, exactly! One of the key factors that differentiates the new sensibility from the old is that the old assumes an ineradicable split between humanity and nature, and the new recognizes that we are part of nature and never get outside her.

Joel, glad the concept was useful. It's been very much on my mind of late, as the conflict between the American dream and American realities moves closer and closer to explosion.

Phil Harris said...

My goodness, there are some cracking comments this week!
Perhaps Toomas is owed my personal doff of the hat. :) Just a thought - perhaps the utter poignancy of history is that meaning can be lost as well as found?

And 'Lays of Ancient Rome' - I was reciting "Lars Porsena of Clusium" to myself when school got boring when I was 10. Heroism is a strange subject and I don't get the same thrill now, but like you I find it interesting to know the poetic sentiment is used in a modern film - keeping some kind of faith with what must always be a temporary world.

best to all
Phil H

Phil Knight said...

I would guess skyscrapers, plunging upwards ever higher as they do, are another expression of the current Western religious sensibility. As would be the urge to climb to the summit of mountains, which seems to be an overwhelmingly Caucasian activity.

Skyscrapers form a giant "I" on the landscape, as do glowing rocket trails, as would Jesus if he ascended in a tunnel of light, so I suspect these are all manifestations of Western individualistic ego consciousness.

Richard Larson said...

Ok. So the only ascension I am now interested in is the nut, fruit, and berry trees, I have planted. Soon, I will be adding some nut pines to the mix. Something worth praying about!

Ascend to heaven I'll pray during warm summer night. The oldest way, trees no harm, less fright.

Myriad said...


If you haven't already read it, seek out JMG's book Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. Its course of study includes seven very carefully delineated meditations on nature, that I would consider pretty much a prerequisite for, or at least an appropriate prelude to, the work in any future book of nature meditations the Archdruid might decide to publish.


My initial reaction is to agree with you that our respective views might be compatible. (The blind men and the elephant comes to mind; with my apologies for saying so.) More important, they might be compatible in an interesting or revealing way. I think it might be rewarding for me to put some further thought into how they interrelate, but I expect that to take a while.

onething said...

What Toomas said.

Amma Boy,

I have been to two of Amma's darshans and it was the closest I've ever come to paradise, a musical paradise, music more beautiful than anything I have ever heard.

siddrudge said...


Your last few essays have been both stunning and stimulating. Thank you! There's nothing much I can add by way of a comment because the truths you've revealed are so obvious to me. And the commentators here have some of the sharpest minds I've ever encountered.

I do have one observation -- regarding all the metaphors for heaven. Isn't it interesting that software companies ask us to trust "the cloud" to store all our digital treasures? And we let them get away with it! LOL!

I believe they deliberately needed to create this heavenly metaphor-- "the cloud" , because people just might not trust the reality-- which could be a ramshackle bricks and mortar warehouse filled with loud, hot and spinning hard drives, secured by minimum wage (and in this capitalist economy) corruptible employees.

I don't have to look to the sky for the answers to life -- as awesome and wondrous as it is. My compost pile provides all the answers for me. Sometimes I have an urge to sneak out to the compost heap in the middle of the night with a stethoscope just to listen to the sound of nature as it reconciles life with death. I'd do it if I didn't think my family would have me committed. :-)

It was during a recent visit to the compost heap after reading one of your essays, with deep thoughts on the 'meaning of life' swimming through my head, that it suddenly struck me that life IS the meaning. And that discovery has brought great comfort to me.

I am now rich with gratitude.


trippticket said...

JMG - I read your older post about choosing Cumberland, MD, as your new "old world" home. Makes plenty of sense, and we looked at many of the same factors when we chose to settle in Ellijay, GA. I'm a bit concerned that we're a little on the touristy side down here, but we are linked to Atlanta by a sub-2-hour train trip, same for
Chattanooga, and surely that will come in handy. We make the bulk of our income from the Atlanta and Chattanooga economies already, so we'll just adapt organically as novel conditions present themselves I suppose.

In a rapid collapse scenario I'm not sure it's the right place, but then, where IS the right place in a rapid collapse scenario? I'm making pretty much the same bets you are on the near and middle future. Even before I discovered you.

Reading through some of your reasoning in that post and that of some of the commenters after, I want to bring up a permacultural point regarding food production. It's definitely a bonus to live somewhere where rain falls regularly enough to produce annual crops without irrigation, but every ecosystem is productive in its own way. Actually cereal crop production arose in Mediterranean climates with wet winters and droughty summers, as you probably know, and cereal crops are largely the reason we number so many today. And I can report first-hand from this season that overly wet summers are pretty hard on the garden.

Too much water, not enough water, the point here is to observe and learn from your environment, follow its lead for what is possible, adapt crop selection to match and maximize those possibilities, design for resilience, and adapt your desires in realistic ways. Above all be creative! Even dense forest is productive, if you're looking for mushrooms, ramps, wood nettles, acorns, squirrel, and so forth. And these would form the basis of a pretty robust diet.

This is more for anyone who might feel limited by what is considered "productive" land versus what isn't generally, than it is for you, btw.


Glenn said...

Fiery phalli and all, perhaps the space program has not entirely been a waste:

It is a perspective that our generation has been granted. I pray we heed the lesson.



John Roth said...


I think you're misinterpreting "Generations," but I could be the one that's off base, of course.

The way I understand it, Civic/Hero generations tend to be civilization builders, and the following generation tends to bring in people and groups that the former generation left out. It's the next generation (Boomers, Missionary) that tends to find what's been built spiritually hollow and throws holy snit fits while pulling it down, and the following generation (Gen X) that lives in the rubble. Then the cycle repeats.

There's nothing in it that I can see that says the civilization being built has to be materialist, or that the people pulling it down have to be "spiritual" in the sense we normally think of the various Awakenings. That's just the way it's happened in the last few centuries.

word: 56 lancili

Diane said...

Christy Rodgers has an article on todays Dissident Voice, Melancholia Approaches, where she gives JMG a positive thumbs up

Glenn said...

Joseph Nemeth said...

"We'll miss you when you're gone,"

Thanks for that, Joseph; very well written. You've articulated something I've felt, but not been able to put into words.


Marrowstone Island

John Michael Greer said...

Phil H., agreed -- it's been a livelier than usual commentariat, and that's saying something. As for Lars Porsena, that's another old fave of mine -- still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck when I recite it aloud.

Phil K., Freud had a slightly less refined description, which I often find more useful.

Richard, splendid. Exactly.

Myriad, please do!

Sidd, you get tonight's gold star with oak leaves and composting trowel. Life is its own meaning -- exactly, and I'll be suggesting that, and discussing what it means, as we proceed.

Trippticket, I suppose learning gardening in the Pacific Northwest taught me how to deal with wet summers! We had a very decent year here, though a few crops (as always) didn't do so well. High raised beds with no edging, so the water can wick away easily, help quite a bit.

Glenn, yes, I'd heard some things about that. Fascinating.

Diane, thank you -- aside from being good publicity, it's a superb essay, well worth reading in its own right.

Cherokee Organics said...


I noticed in the Mars photo, that they hadn't quite passed peak rocks yet. There are some seriously good rock walls and raised garden beds just demanding to be built! hehe!

There was an article recently in the newspapers here about how the Mars rover had discovered 2% water content in the Martian soils and this was a great thing for future settlements. I don't wish to sound mean, but 2% is seriously on the ultra-arid side of things... I tried to imagine how you'd go about extracting that 2% water from a cubic metre of soil and it completely failed my imagination.

The economists may just be right you know? Ever since your comment about the Internet and associated services having to make economic sense (ie. pay for itself), I've been wondering about this concept, but from a much larger perspective.

Surely, our society and civilisation has to also pay for itself to function?

It is a disturbing concept and your current essay points to the unpalatable truth that there is nowhere outside of this planet to extract natural wealth from at a low economic cost in order to maintain a surplus.

This is it and it is definitely finite. Every year, we draw down further on our accumulated reserves to sustain the monster. There really is no brighter future.

The funny thing at the farm here is that it doesn't take much effort to start growing food. The longer term foods like fruit trees take a bit more effort than annuals, perennials and self-seeders, but there really isn't much other than wait for 5 to 8 years (and a bit of care along the way) for them to start seriously producing.

It is the infrastructure that takes all of my time. If you want to improve the top soil, it's a big job. If you want more water or energy supplies, then it's a big job too. A shitake mushroom stand out of scrap steel, then it's a fair bit of work: cutting; drilling; and welding before you even think of cutting the fresh logs to drill and inoculate them. Building infrastructure takes so much time.

It is my opinion that our current society is now at the point where instead of building up that infrastructure, they are drawing down on the benefits of it (this includes community) - all so that they can continue with business as usual. It is a recipe for disaster.

PS: Thanks for your confirmation about salvation last week.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi trippticket,

Thanks for your thoughts.

Darren Doherty's family farm is about 70km north of here up at Bendigo (a large historic gold mining town of considerable charm and history). I cannot imagine what it would be like to give up the family farm.

Bendigo is at much lower altitude and also north of the Great Dividing Range so it can have some seriously hot and dry summers.

The Black Saturday bush fires of February 2009 came within 1km of the Bendigo central post office and it is no small town. The train line here goes between there and Melbourne. Mind you, those bushfires turned away from here only by a lucky change of wind on the day and headed back north again. I said goodbye to my orchard that day, with regrets.

I've been busy this week building bushfire shutters for my shed, which is easier to protect than rebuild from scratch. How do you even replace the contents, let alone the building?

I met Darren at an open farm nearby (Taranaki farm) where he brought out Joel Salatin from the US (I sound like I'm name dropping, but he's just this guy you know?). Actually they were both lovely and passionate people about farming and served really nice barbequed chicken (I'm a vegetarian at home on the farm). It was a really good open day and I was impressed by their systems. By a strange coincedence today, I spied their Joel Salatin inspired chicken roost and it looked good. The moons have aligned.

Pah! It is you who are upside down, this was never in any doubt here! It is merely a question of perspective and I must say the correct one is here. hehe! Nice one.

On a more serious note, the areas here with greatest diversity of plants are also the areas that are under the greatest environmental stress. It may be worth thinking about what is the cause of your environmental stress as this will provide a unique insight?



Cherokee Organics said...


Weren't the Christians also searching downwards - to Hades?



trippticket said...

JMG quoth:
"High raised beds with no edging, so the water can wick away easily, help quite a bit."

Yes, and be sure they're on gravitational contour in order to effectively harvest every drop of water that falls on the garden!

UNLESS, it happens to be one of those years where rainfall becomes a menace. Like this year. I actually had to go in and alter my water-harvesting beds with new control elevation weirs, slightly lower than the beds, in order to shed excess water, and keep it from washing over the tops. Of course, in an effort to maximize the length of the water's journey from source to sink, I alternated which end of the beds the control weir was on. Zig zag water flow. It was fun to watch.

In effect, teaching running water how to walk.

Steve Carrow said...

A little serendipity for you. I stumbled on this short film today. Straight from the heart of the techno optimist vanguard comes this evidence that mind shifts are indeed afoot, and reminds me again to be careful of binary thinking when trying to categorize my fellow humans. Takes a little while for the video to share the central message, but hopefully you will find it worth your time.

Odin's Raven said...

Here's an interesting essay by a choleric commentator noting the imminent implosion of huge State and economic entities such as the EU, China and the USA.There's no mention of religion, but he sees a reversion from Globalism towards Localism in political, economic and social attitudes.

The Slog

Greetings to the 'tree-hugging, sandals-wearing, fart-recycling vegetarian monkeys', from a neighbour of the 'cheese-eating surrender-monkeys' now observing and experiencing the relapse from membership of the Global Village to communal tribalism in the Cradle of Democracy.

Marcello said...

"Kyoto, there'll be a lot of misery, some of it unnecessary; a lot of violence, ditto; and a lot of people who simply give up and drink themselves to death or the equivalent, as there was when the Soviet Union came apart. Culture death is a messy process."

I think that in the West the situation is different and at least potentially worse. The russians experienced the failure of an authoritarian political and economic system while facing a much more succesful western liberal order, consequently quite a lot of energies were expended chasing the latter instead of being employed in more nefarious purposes.When that did not work out power was ultimately seized by the KGB, the part of the establishment more in tune with reality, instead of say a Zhirinovsky or a Limovov. Last but not least natural resources enabled a substantial economic rebound which made possible to put at least a bandaid on most problems for the time being.
In the West it will be the liberal order the one unable to keep delivering the goods, there is no telling who might seize power then and prospects for a russian style phase of stabilization don't seem particularly good.

August Johnson said...

siddrudge and JMG,

I'm glad somebody said that! That's always been what I've felt, I didn't need something additional to give meaning to my life, the life itself has always been the meaning in itself.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, exactly! That gets you today's gold star: it's precisely the fact that a civilization has to pay for its own upkeep, and the costs tend to rise over time as the number and range of things to be maintained accumulate, that underlies my theory of catabolic collapse.

Trippticket, Cumberland hasn't had a drought since I arrived here, so I haven't had to rely on water harvesting methods; if I did, of course, I'd be using the same methods you are.

Steve, I'll put it on the list of things to get to. I don't find visual media congenial, not least because it's easy to make shallow ideas look deep by framing them in pretty pictures and music; it'll be interesting to see whether these guys are willing to put their ideas in print at some point.

Raven, I don't know if tribalism is really the right term for what's ahead, but radical relocalization and equally radical diversification? No argument there.

Marcello, the sheer scale of waste in today's Western countries makes the prospect for post-crash stabilization a good deal better than it was for the formerly Soviet former Union; remember that if the US had the same petroleum use per capita as Europe, we'd be exporting oil. I'll discuss this as we proceed.

August, square in the bull's-eye. I'll be talking about that, too, as we proceed.

trippticket said...

August Johnson? Are you from Spokane, Washington, USA?

trippticket said...

JMG, your property may be excruciatingly flat for all I know, but you'd be amazed what water harvesting and infiltration can do for the landscape, even a flat landscape. If someone is building raised mounds they might as well build them on contour.

And on a larger scale, Keyline Design, drawn up by another brilliant Aussie, P.A. Yeomans, sets farms that employ it apart from those next door that don't, in both satellite images and net farm income. It could be a make or break difference for any given plot in a rogue drought year. And those have been getting more common!

Off-topic this week for sure, but just throwing out some potentially important hands-on ideas for anyone who might be interested.

trippticket said...

Just a little icing on the water-harvesting cake: many properties that have employed Keyline Design or more general swale systems have actually created springs downstream of their waterworks where there were none before! Tell me that's not a useful trick! (In the present, much less the future.)

Cherokee Organics said...


Thank you! Your essays get my brain working along lines that otherwise never would have occurred to me. I trust that we provide food for your brain too.

I'm involved here on the farm at the pointy end of the infrastructure equation so the whole resiliency thing doesn't escape me.

The solar power system here is on the low tech side of things and I get a bit of ribbing from the renewable energy community. Sometimes, I can't even follow their conversations as they strive towards greater efficiencies on their systems with all sorts of weird and wonderful components. The latest trend seems to be large scale lithium batteries and all of the bits and pieces required to run them. The other latest trend seems to be AC coupling, which is basically converting the DC output of the solar panels directly to AC and combining the panels in strings to much higher voltages. All this to save money on cables (as the current is low), but over 50v AC you need an licensed electrician here and there are multiple inverters out in the weather…

On the other hand the main components for the power system here are locally manufactured, repairable locally and are well suited to the environmental conditions. A lot of their stuff de-rates as the weather conditions exceed 40 degrees Celsius. My lot is rated continually to in excess of 50 degrees Celsius and I haven’t noticed that any of them get hot.

All respect to them for giving it a go and I'm not taking that away from them and it is really good to see people experimenting with this stuff. It is just that as you increase the efficiency, complexity increases and your overall system resiliency decreases and they seem to consistently ignore that side of things.

The local authorities recently put a load limit sign up on one of the local bridges. This was after a couple of days of work on the bridge. Such things are quite telling.



John Michael Greer said...

Trippticket, my garden's on a slope, and when it rains there is zero runoff. That's as much really intensive topsoil improvement involving every scrap of organic matter I can beg, borrow or steal, and walkways between the beds that are left in low native herbage, though I'm sure the raised beds help -- they're more or less diagonal across the slope, because that's how the property's laid out, and it's not a large garden by any means. (I prefer small and intensively worked, the old-fashioned cottage or urban garden style.)

Cherokee, funny you should mention that. I'll be taking a brief detour from this sequence of posts next week -- a recent essay by another writer tried to talk about catabolic collapse, and failed -- and the difference between efficiency and resilience is going to feature in that discussion.

Ruben said...

Trippticket, do you have any raised bed suggestion for a climate that gets four months of drought in the summer and four months of constant rain in the winter?

I laid out my beds so water will drain in the winter--there are drainage ditches to try to keep the plants from drowning--but I do wish for better summer collection.

Ursachi Alexandru said...

JMG, I noticed your distrust for the visual media in one of your replies. As a film and photography student struggling for his economic and creative future, I can understand that very well. My professors are experienced and established documentary film makers and photographers, and they proved their creative talent at a time when this kind of activity was reserved for a select few who were willing to do a lot of hard work.

I do see this as a time when it's so easy for so many people to get their hands on these technologies, that your skepticism of the visual media as a form of art is more than warranted. (Well, not for me, since I don't have so much money and I'm not a techno-gadget geek, so I buy it used, if I need it) But on the other hand, there are a lot of creative people in the world, and this medium gives them great opportunities to express themselves, and as long as you don't become a slave to the technologies that make it possible, and diversify your interests and modes of expression in other fields as well, I think that there is still a place in this world for the "visual arts".

For how long, who knows. There might be a reversal to my professors' time after fuel shortages make the whole "made in Taiwan" easy to get digital camera a thing of the past. And in the long run, it might be lost alltogether. But as long as it exists, I think it still has a worthy place in this world.

Ice Torch said...

I think the Archdruid has based his post on a poetic fallacy. In the first place, he needs to distinguish between material progress and scientific progress, though the latter of course depends on the former. Being humans, we have a curiosity about the universe we live in, but if we wanted to explore it and our position in it (and we did) THE ONLY WAY WAS UP. Therefore the Archdruid traps our scientists in his poetic fallacy. One of the commenters mentioned "phallic rokcets". Well, I was just sweeping my kitchen floor, before making this comment - and my broom had a long shank. You could make a phallic fallacy out of it, but I'd rather you didn't! But you see my point.

As an atheist (OK, what is it precisely that I don't believe in?), I can't be certain about what any or every Christian thinks about the "Ascension", and most seem to have difficulty in expressing their spiritual feelings in words anyway, and perhaps that is as it should be.

The spiritual are in awe of nature. I am too - and I think that applies to those who want to explore the universe, so I don't see a difference there. Of course, nature can also be seen as cruel and "red in tooth and claw" - and we know one happened when one gentleman applied that belief to politics and took it to extremes.

But if science is limited by material considerations, then I believe it is limited period, as, like the Archdruid, I do not believe that permanent material "progress" is possible, since our resources are of necessity limited.

Cherokee Organics said...


I look forward to your thoughts.

Hi Richard,

Bill Mollison, whilst being an academic is also quite the showman. When heckled by students about whether he talked to his plants he replied that he did. After further heckling to find out what he said, he replied "hurry up and grow you ba*#@!ds or I'll pull you out". Nuff said.

Hi Ruben,

We have similar rainfall patterns. There is no substitute in these conditions to increasing the organic matter in the soil. If water runs over the surface of herbage (pasture) then it is not biologically active enough and you need to go hard on adding more organic matter (mulch, compost, whatever, just keep putting more on top). A couple of years back, I saw 10 inches over 5 days during a phenomenal storm and apart from hard surfaces, water did not run over the herbage.

Of course raised beds have long been a staple for vegetables and other annual crops to keep their feet dry. It is just good practice. There is nothing new about them, my grandfather used to have rows of mounded vegetable beds back in the 70's.

I've received an invite to check out some local raised wicking beds as they seem to promise reduced water consumption during ultra dry periods. Who knows?



Stephen Heyer said...

John Michael Greer: “The close similarity between this image and the one shown earlier in this post, I’d like to suggest, is no accident. As pointed out in an earlier post in this sequence, civil religions derive their core imagery and emotional tone from the theist religions they replace, and the image of man’s ascension into space took on the same role in the religion of progress that Jesus’ ascension into heaven has in Christianity.”

Actually, I had thought that this has been so often observed and commented on over the last four or five decades that it needed no further comment, had in fact become a caricature.

Still, maybe not everyone has “got it” yet.

Stephen Heyer

Edde said...

Good morning, John Michael,

I see you've already looked over Mr Carson's piece on ephemeralization. Looking forward to your response.

You might comment on the the piece's first commentator, too.

THANKS for your good work - even though your current thread doesn't resonate much, it has gotten me to look more closely at spiritual & religious ideas.

Best regards

Stephen Heyer said...

John Michael Greer: That immense contribution to human well-being—call it the “biosphere dividend”—isn’t available anywhere else in the solar system.”

Yes, I’d always thought it was pretty pointless sending current humans off to places where they would have to live in air tight metal boxes. Not only would it be very inefficient as John has noticed, it also would not be much fun.

Kind of negates the whole reason for going at all.

However, there are better and much more interesting options.

For example, it is beginning to look like biological beings that thrive in high vacuum and hard radiation (hi-vacs) are perfectly possible, we even have a number of existing life forms, some even multi-cellular, that can do some of that right now. The problem is that there seems to be no natural evolutionary path that could lead to human scale beings of that sort.

However, for the kind of genetic engineering that is likely to exist in the next few centuries, barring of course too bad a collapse, it would be a major project, but interesting rather than daunting. And of course, for such beings about the whole universe rather than just a few, vanishingly rare, little water worlds would be their oyster, or rather real estate.

Then of course there are self-replicating in one form or another machines, with or without self-awareness, free-will or ex-human souls.

And nanites, which are sort of in between, again with or without self-awareness, free-will or ex-human souls.

But more likely something we will not even think of for another century.

So, while this civilization seems to have missed the boat, if a future one decides it wants to send its “children” “out there” there are some interesting options and the effort involved would probably be just about the level major civilizations like for social cohesion building projects – about the same comparative level of effort as a pyramid, but much more fun.

There might even be some sort of a payback.

Just for fun
Stephen Heyer

thrig said...

Ice Torch ruminated: "Being humans, we have a curiosity about the universe we live in, but if we wanted to explore it and our position in it (and we did) THE ONLY WAY WAS UP."

Only looking up is a great way to step into a hole, or get a crick in your neck. There are other, arguably more rewarding, if not safer, things to explore. Two examples. The Buddha left "the unanswered questions" untouched, as to whether the world is eternal, or not, infinite, or not, and so forth. Socrates, according to Xenophon (in Memorabilia) likewise "set his face against" such universal speculations. Both of these gentlemen instead focused relentlessly on human topics.

DeAnander said...

I'm looking forward to a chat about "efficiency" which is something I've been deconstructing and debunking and wrestling with for years now. For a start there are usually 2 words missing from many statements made about life, technology, and so on -- one version of those two words is "for whom" and another is "at what".

So for example we are told that prosperity is increasing, but there's a tacit omission of the question "for whom." Or we are told that some sector of human activity has become more efficient, but no one is supposed to ask "at what".

The corporate ag factory farm is "efficient" according to its fans. But what it's efficient at is *only* producing the maximum amount of some standardized commodity crop for the minimum amount of wage labour hours. In terms of energy throughput it's insanely inefficient (10 kcal of fossil energy for every 1 kcal of factory maize last time I checked). Also, one hectare under monocrop produces more of that monocrop than a mixed planting, but *less* (far less) usable biomass; polyculture is anywhere from 2 to 20 times more productive depending on climate and specific crop mixtures.

And then there's the other vexed question, "for whom"? The vast bulk of the profit from the whole game now goes to the industrial sector (processing, packaging, transport, fossil fuels and chemicals, machinery, etc) with the farming family getting, what is it these days, just a few cents on each dollar?

So factory farming is efficient, yes, undeniably -- for whom? for industrialists and banksters, who are skimming profits all along the supply chain. And at what? at making profits for industrialists and banksters. And yes, it also produces an enormous glut of commodity biomass, which can be processed into "cheap" food for the proles, so nutritionally inferior that we're now looking at something like a continent-scale disease epidemic among people raised on this factory fodder. These people are then handed off to an "efficient" modern medical system which has become so expensive fewer and fewer people can afford its services... anyway, you get the picture.

"Efficiency" is really a synonym for optimisation, and optimisation always has a specific goal and a specific price. We can raise more tonnage of pork per acre by CAFO practises, so we can optimise our praxis for that goal; but it will cost us in, e.g., sickly and miserable animals, inferior meat, and unnatural concentrations of manure and urine which in turn require costly remediation. Overeager, overzealous optimisation always results -- this is one of my personal axioms -- in a frail and sickly system, in the same way that overbreeding of dogs for show results in sickly animals; the cost of the relentless pursuit of a narrow band of desired features is a weakening or damaging of other features, so you end up with an overspecialised and fragile critter. Like industrial western civilisation :-) or like some popular strains of commercial fruit which have been bred for colour and size, and now have hardly any flavour.

When I personally undertake a task I try to do it "efficiently" -- not wasting a lot of time and energy. Sometimes I even start to mimic the factory process if I'm making N of some item in the shop. But I would never go through the whole factory-style layout and setup to make just 2 items, say -- that would be more wasteful than making uno alla volta. There is a meta-optimisation algorithm that determines how much "efficiency" is really optimal; and that algorithm is far more complicated than tonnage of pork per hectare per labour hour...

thrig said...

Carson on ephemeralization? Too easy!

Stephen Heyer said...

To Cherokee Organics

Hi Chris,

Please let as know what you find about the raised wicking beds.

Here in Creekholme, our little property in dry tropical Rockhampton, water and hard, dry, cracking soil is a continual problem so we are always on the lookout for something that works. We’ve been rather disappointed by some of the techniques recommended for dry environments- it seems ours is rather dryer and hotter than what the gardening shows and experts think of as hot and dry.

Stephen Heyer

Dagnarus said...

Alot of my own disillusionment with both Christianity, then Progress, came when I realized that their various heavens quickly became Ho Hum. If I'm not capable of seeing and enjoying the various wonders in the here and now why should I be able to do it then?

On somewhat tangential note I think I can possibly bring a slightly new perspective to the study brought up by the first commenter.

Back in the 1930s it was proven that it is impossible to construct a computer algorithm which is guaranteed to correctly determine whether any arbitrary logical argument is valid or not, within a finite period of time. That is while such an algorithm may be capable proving/disproving a given argument in a second, a hour, a day, or a century, in the worst case it would never finish (even in the hypothetical case where the power doesn't get turned off). Their are logical arguments which deal with only a finite number of variables, which can provably be proved/disproved in a finite amount of time, it's just that in the worst case that amount of time grows exponentially with the number of variables in the argument, and thus quickly becomes functionally infinite. What does this have to do with reasoning capability? While it may be that the human brain is qualitatively better at reasoning than any current computer, it still stands that there are many conjectures in math which have yet to be proved/disproved even after a century or more. Which points to the fact that reasoning is hard, even if you are smart and well educated it is still hard. It is so hard that if you think that all decisions must be made based upon sound logic, then in many cases, making use of unsupported assumptions (Myths?), and fallacies, is not optional. It is necessary in order to get things done before the sun burns out. As such I think a lot of faulty reasoning is caused by the article of faith which many people hold, that reason can be used to replace religion/faith/myths as a means of societal consensus. "I can logically prove that I am write therefore you must agree with me". This quickly runs into the roadblock that actually doing all the work of proving/disproving the current myths which people need in order to function in a society, let alone the new ones you would need to create in order to replace them, is quite likely as difficult if not more so than moving the entire human race to Alpha Centauri. Thus what you end up with is a multitude of sides, all of whom can see the fallacies in every other sides arguments, but unwilling and unable to see the fallacies and assumption which underlie their own logically derived truth. This is not to say that logic and reason are bad. They are quite useful as long as you understand that they are also limited.

Hopefully this comment is not to incoherent.

Richard Larson said...

Oh Cherokee, I have seen Bill Mollison lecture on video. Do believe his style is similiar to our Archdruid. Tell either how they are so wrong, and the same type come back!

In the past I have been a salesman and have learned some people not only don't want what you are offering, but will go out of their way to trip you up. The only method that shuts them up is to tell them to move along - sometimes rudely. I can imagine Mr. Mollison, or anyone offering a different idea for that matter, would be sick and tired of it after while.

I personally think it a good test to find out if their is truly interest. If they reject your insult with continued interest, then it is worth the effort. If they leave insulted, then good riddance.

Anyway, I am reading Permaculture A Designers' Manual. A lot of ideas to consider, including setting up a community from scratch. I wish you luck Cherokee (no small thing there you know:-).

wall0159 said...

Just wanted to comment on the phallic symbols. It'd be a shame if some people see this as an inherently negative thing. A symbol of fertility, pleasure and virility -- what's not to like?

Jessica said...

Following on Chris's comment, employing a raised mound system on contour seems like the way to go to me. Instead of shedding that winter precip, catch it and infiltrate it. It'll improve the soil and soil moisture for the hot dry season. Your crops on top will be up high enough to avoid drowning in winter rains, and the topsoil from the swales/pathways, can be piled up on the mounds, effectively increasing organic carbon content in your productive soils before you even add the first trowel-full of compost. Always keep these mounds mulched; I mulch pretty heavily unless I'm direct seeding something like carrots, and then I just sprinkle the straw over the seeds lightly enough to get some dappled sun in to the soil surface. You can add more back when they get bigger to conserve water and suppress weeds.

I always add organic matter any time I plant something new, right around the base of the transplant or in a layer for direct seeding. And I hardly ever pull anything out by the roots. The microbial economy underground is well established and hosted in the previous crop's rhizosphere, and you should treat it like a "plug-n-play" environment for new plants. I just cut the spent herbage off at ground level and add it to the mulch, chopping it up if need be, like with heavy tomato vines.

Another thing to help accumulate and process organic matter (thereby improving water cycling, among other things) is adding a terrestrial mushroom like Stropharia rugosa-annulata (aka wine caps, garden giants, king Stropharia) and some woodier mulch on the surface. The fungal partners help gather water and nutrients from as far away as 100 yards (or more) from your bed, and bring them back to the plants they've now formed a symbiotic relationship with, to trade for sugary root exudates. I grow all of my perennials this way, but it can be employed with annuals like corn, okra, etc, really anything that can offer later summer/early fall shade to protect the emerging caps. It's a nice secondary crop from the same space, too! They're delicious when young, but get wormy fast, so toss older ones to chickens or into a fish-producing system for another yield.

Again, if you're getting more rain than your raised mound system can handle, just add a control elevation to the mound to prevent wash-over. The rest is payday. Hope that helps!


trippticket said...

JMG, we worked our first "Shanuga" farmers market yesterday, and man, what an incredible market! One of the best in the country I hear.

At the same time, there was a Susan G. Komen (for the cure) race at the UT-Chattanooga sports facility next door, most of the participants of which eventually made their way through the market. Unsurprisingly, very few of them were interested in our herbal health and household products...

To me, this "awareness" initiative represents a profound lack of systems thinking. There was a truly obscene amount of specially-manufactured pink ribbon wear sported by the crowd, each of the items creating a new manufacturing impact - that is, an environmental impact - which in turn contributes to causing cancer?? I really wanted to hang a sign by my "DEET-free bug spray" sign that read "DEET causes breast cancer." Of course, it seems you can't explain this relationship to the pious...Ugh.

By the way, I may have posted my reply to Ruben as "Jessica," my wife. Oops.

trippticket said...

One more for Ruben:
This is an old classic 5 min YouTube on the power of water-harvesting.


JP said...

With respect to the spiritual ascent, or whatever it is you want to call the mountains we are talking about, in my mind there are two things to keep in mind.

They are all the same mountain and they are all different mountains.

It's not a question of either/or, rather, it's a question of both/and. Because the ground of being is also klein bottle, so to speak.

As above, so below?

Druidry, as lived by JMG, does not seem to me to do much in the way of harm.

As long as it's practitioners do not play with the dark sciences, of course.

And even playing with such tools I doubt that it would not lead to much beyond local wounds through which the dark radiates, such as you see with the FLDS.

Druidry is not the best way to look at the cosmos, but there are far worse ways to see the world and be in the world.

Annoying? Sometimes.

Unhelpful? Sometimes.

Likely to create or use nuclear weapons? No.

Likely to create sustainable edibles and clean water? Yes.

Also, @Robert Martini:

With respect to the brain, one of it's fundamental aspects is that of a filter.

Another fundamental aspect is that of insulation.

You can speak with those who burnt through the insulation if you want to understand what I am saying here.

It's one of the many things that I've noticed over the years.

Now, that practice is not a dark practice; I just can't see the value in it.

Being that the insulation is there for a reason.

John Michael Greer said...

Ursachi, my comment about visual media was personal, not a general statement; I don't enjoy visual media, by and large, and I find them a very poor source of information, but that may just be me.

Ice Torch, now go back and reread what I've written about the way that fantasies of salvation have been obsessively projected onto upward movement -- those have little enough to do with curiosity about the universe. Nor was that the only option; the bottom of the world's oceans, for example, cover more area than the surface of the Moon, and are considerably less well known; we could as well have gotten fixated on that, or on many other things. It's only among those who can't think outside the box that "up" seems like the only direction that matters.

Edde, you're welcome and thank you.

Stephen, I wonder when it's going to sink in that all these fantasies about dumping self-replicating "progeny" on the cosmos might be the exact equivalent of turning rats loose on the islands of Polynesia. How many times do we have to make the same mistake before it sinks in that the cosmos has its own order, and brainless messing with that order is not necessarily a good idea?

Thrig, bingo. You get this afternoon's gold star. As for Carson, nicely done, but there are some other points I plan on bringing up in responding to him.

DeAnander, exactly! Still, there's another side of the fetish for efficiency, which I'll be getting into in the upcoming post.

Dagnarus, not incoherent at all. You're talking about the lethal flaw that always terminates an age of rationalism; we'll get to that in the not too distant future.

Wall0159, I have no problem whatever with phallic symbols, though it's a good sign if they're balanced by a roughly equal presence of vaginal symbols.

Trippticket, it's been claimed repeatedly in the alternative-health press that the big cancer charities get big donations from the chemical industry, on the condition that they don't talk about the role of an environment saturated with mostly untested artificial chemicals in causing the explosive growth of cancer over the last century or so. (In 1900 cancer in children was so rare that individual cases got written up in the medical journals. Now?)

JP, when you say "Druidry is not the best way to look at the cosmos," you're being rude as well as embarrassingly dogmatic. Obviously, I think you're wrong -- and I have some reason to think that I have a considerably wider exposure to different ways of looking at the cosmos than you do. As a lesson in basic civility, therefore, I'd like to ask you to keep your putdowns to yourself when you're in this electronic equivalent of my living room.

Brother Nihil said...

I wonder if you could elaborate on what you mean when you say “the cosmos has its own order?” Every religion seems to make this claim as a way of proscribing thought and behavior, yet they all seem fairly arbitrary and falsifiable. Perhaps by saying more about which ideas or behaviors violate the cosmic order and which you would make taboo that are currently permitted, you could make your religion/ideology more explicit for your readers?

Jessica said...

HA! This is getting good.

Now we're comparing John Michael Greer to Bill Mollison...two serious iconoclasts who revel in their own originality...I love it! I can just see JMG seething a little:

"Why is my writing drawing in all these permaculture hippies??"

Reminds me of popular permaculture author Toby Hemenway, in his recent talk, which suggests that organized religion sparked the birth of agriculture, instead of the other way around, asking:

"Why are my talks drawing in all these pagan/goddess types??"

Let's face it, aside from this mind-boggling perception of permaculture as a billion dollar eco-village, permaculture is just an operational analogue of druidry...

Toby's talk:

(It's over an hour long, so I'm not expecting anybody to watch it - but it's pretty darn good;)

Jessica said...

JMG declared:
"Wall0159, I have no problem whatever with phallic symbols, though it's a good sign if they're balanced by a roughly equal presence of vaginal symbols."

Here here! If we're going to have to endure the blade, at least let us have an equal measure of chalice to go with it...

Moshe Braner said...

Regarding the wintry meditation idea, it reminds me of a line of thought that has sometimes occupied me while looking at the sun set, especially on winter evenings. As the meager warmth the sun provided during the day fades away quickly as it sets, I wonder: suppose the sun did not rise tomorrow (completely hypothetically), how fast would it get much colder yet? How long would we humans then survive, even if we are for the moment snug and warm in our houses with their heating systems and stored food?

Joseph Nemeth said...

I don't read WSJ, so maybe this has been a long-time part of their motif:

The author's tone is shrill and apocalyptic, and his editing is much worse than mine -- and I'm just typing comments. Even so, I'm a little surprised to see this much sense in one of the bastions of conventional economic thinking.

Are we reaching a tipping-point? Or is this just a good-cop/bad-cop ploy to sell subscriptions?

Moshe Braner said...

@Glenn: There's also a nice book from some 20 years ago, nowadays easily obtainable used for cheap, with amazing large format photos of "The Home Planet" (the book title), and quotes from astronauts (and cosmonauts). One that sticks in my mind, and IIRC it was from a Saudi astronaut who was on a Space Shuttle flight with people from several nationalities, went something like this: "On the first day we all pointed out to others when our country was visible. On the second day we pointed out our continents. On the third day we just observed the one planet."

Stephen Heyer said...

John Michael Greer: “Stephen, I wonder when it's going to sink in that all these fantasies about dumping self-replicating "progeny" on the cosmos might be the exact equivalent of turning rats loose on the islands of Polynesia. How many times do we have to make the same mistake before it sinks in that the cosmos has its own order, and brainless messing with that order is not necessarily a good idea?”

Hi John,

Yes, I’m aware of that, I’ve probably put more thought into that particular aspect than you have in part because (I gather unlike you) I think it will be fairly easy for near future civilizations to do exactly that, maybe even for ours, if it takes a few centuries to wind down.

Oh! And I class current humans as self-replicators too, as soon as they escape from their lab dish (get off planet). Scary!

For the benefit of those of you who are unfamiliar with the self-replicator argument, it is essentially that if self-modifying self-replicators of any sort “escape into the universe” they will behave like yeast and turn large swathes of it into themselves in, by galactic standards, quite a short time.

The never ending war to extinction against the self-modifying self-replicators is a staple of even fairly low-brow Science Fiction. It is one area where I think even the very low brow USA TV has it reasonably right.

I had hoped that I had kept the tone light enough, notice the “Just for fun” sign off, and that enough people were familiar with the subject, so that it could be treated as an amusing comment and reminder on a serious issue, but not one that required much discussion. Serious, because, you see, I entirely agree with John.

The problem is that if this issue is allowed to unfold it could easily “eat” several weeks worth of The Archdruid Report without adding anything new to a problem that has been discussed by some pretty heavy minds for decades. You see, those self-replicators are pretty good at eating everything in sight.

Stephen Heyer

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- "I've never understood why Leary was taken as seriously as he was; so much of his thinking, like the SMI2LE thing, was warmed over pop culture of the most vacuous sort."

I think that statement answers the question it implicitly contains!

A bit of an aside about religious sensibilities, I just finished Margaret Atwood's "The Year of the Flood." It is of course dystopian and technoapocalyptic, but her fictional "God's Gardeners" have a theology based on a biblically-based zoocentric animism. It could suggest a workable life- and nature-centered judeochristian belief system if you took out the lingering apocalyptic thinking. Also still spends a bit too much time thinking and talking about death for my tastes, but that may be just a narrative byproduct of the looming apocalypse.

Moshe Braner said...

Re: Carson - he lost me in his first example. A few small satellites instead of megatons of cable? What about the megatons of rocket fuel to get the satellites up into orbit? Plus the ground stations? And how long do the satellites last? Even the mighty Pentagon is having a bit of difficulty keeping the number of functioning GPS satellites up where it should be. (Albeit those are rather fancy satellites, with on-board atomic clocks and all.)

Hal said...

"You can speak with those who burnt through the insulation if you want to understand what I am saying here."

Ummm.... Yeah, I see your point...

Quos Ego said...


even if you're not into the visual media thing, I'd advise you to take a look at Peter Watkins' work.
I'm pretty sure you would enjoy Culloden.

Being informative is not exactly what he's trying to achieve, and yet, one ends up much smarter after watching one of his (amazing) films.

Cherokee Organics said...


Wow! The weather rocked here last night with winds that were the third highest recorded in the state since records began.

Over the years, I've had two excellent bits of advice from old timers up here about trees:

- They never get smaller; and
- Have no trees within dropping distance of your house.

Both bits of common sense advice have served me well here.

It is just my recent observation, but the winds serve the same function that the megafauna (which were eaten by people) once did – who’d have thought nature could have multiple redundancies?

Funnily enough, my old inner city stomping ground was hammered last night by the extreme winds. From the 1970's onwards, there has been an ideologically driven pursuit in that area of planting large native trees in amongst houses (think 30m 90ft peppermint gums within 2m 6ft of the front of a house).

The two systems are incompatible as last night clearly showed. I personally witnessed a few squashed houses this morning.

I've often felt that the pursuit of native vegetation in urban areas, whilst being a good idea, is also a form of green-washing (a feel good gesture at best). Urban areas share little in common with the natural environment.

An urban area can harbour a huge variety and quantity of wildlife, but as I've witnessed firsthand, people prefer large trees which have little ongoing maintenance to a fruit tree like an apricot tree. The cynic in me says that the large tree doesn't attract fruit bats (for example) which drop half eaten fruit + poo onto their houses and cars. Just sayin...

Also the emergency services volunteers who were out for 12+ hour shifts last night, I feel for you - having done my time for many years in this capacity, I was left with the gut feel that:

"how can so many, expect so much, from so few".

That sounds all a bit bitter, but I'm actually cool about it all.

Hi Stephen,

You have been doing it hard up your way this year. September was a corker! Not only has it been extraordinarily dry, but it's been massively hot too. Your area has a fascinating history. I look forward to your comments in future about it all.

As to the raised beds, it may involve some testing first. I've increased the water storage here so it may not be as crucial as it would have been in the past. Plus everything seems to be getting hardier as it gets better established. What are you seeing on that front?

Hi Richard,

Thanks for mentioning luck, I can never tell what the next season will bring. Hope you get a lot out of the book. I reckon community can't be forced as it is founded on obligation - and we are not quite there yet, but will get there sooner or later.

Hi Jessica,

Well said. The ground mushroom sounds fascinating. I've just started growing oyster and shitake mushrooms here and are really interested to see how it all turns out. No one knows about the lethality or side effects of the local mushrooms and it is such a shame as there are so many (I even get white truffles here).



John Roth said...

@ice torch

Heaven has to be up, because, as far as most English speakers are concerned, up represents good and increase, down represents bad and decrease. There are exceptions, of course, but that's the overwhelming correlation. As soon as monotheism came in, with a single omnibenevolent God, heaven had to be up and Hell had to be down. The language simply exerts enough over a long enough time force to make it so.

This doesn't apply to polytheisms for the simple reason that the gods, in general, are neither good nor bad. They vary all over the lot so, in a polytheism the realm of the gods can be anywhere.

Now whether this correlation extends beyond Western civilization is something I don't know. If anyone has studied the matter the report hasn't wandered across my screen. Maybe I should toss the question at Language Log and see what the pros think.

Moshe Braner said...

Re: self-replicators - isn't that what all life is? But it's constrained within the habitable space available. "Outer space" is outside of that.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@Stephen -- my take on the man-made self-replicators is that people will never design them to be robust enough.

JMG is going to take this on in his next post (I think), but in software design, efficiency is the enemy of robustness. If you want something to be robust, it is going to be inefficient, and if you want it to be efficient, it will be fragile. Some people consider "life" to be elegant and compact, but it's anything but -- it has all kinds of haphazard redundancies, and many of them get in the way of function. No one with half a brain would design an organism that way. Yet that's exactly what's required for robustness.

Consider the "robots take over the world" scenario. That won't work until you can throw two damaged robots into a swamp, and twenty years later, at least three functional robots walk out and shake you down for spare change. If you have anything less robust than that, the first supply-chain breakdown puts a permanent end to the robot revolution.

Self-replicators in a vacuum can't replicate. Self-replicators in a tenuous interstellar medium are either going to have to compete with other self-replicators that are already there, or will themselves mutate, evolve, and (if viable) form a full ecosystem of self-replicators. If that's possible, it's probably already out there, and the Earth probably already has a strain of unknown high-altitude self-replicators that eat the space beasties. If it doesn't, they will develop fairly quickly (e.g. a few billion years).

Bill Pulliam said...

My thoughts on interplanetary self-replicators are the same as my thoughts on cold fusion. If cold fusion were possible, some microbe would have evolved a way to do it and use the resulting energy. If galactic self-replicators were possible, either as a product of technological design or natural evolution, they would already exist. We don't see either cold-fusing microbes or interplanetary-traveling self-replicators. Ergo, both are impossible for reasons of basic physics.

trippticket said...

Hey, Chris, Anglophonic culture is, almost across the board, mycophobic. I consider my recently-developed love of 'shrooms (over the past 4 years) to be one of the rare gifts of globalism. I now hunt morels, chanterelles, hedgehogs, various boletes, oysters, lion's mane, hen-o-the-woods, reishi, and anything else I can positively identify as edible or medicinal, and cultivate all of the above that are cultivatable, plus shiitake and Stropharia. Fantastic shrooms are a regular part of our diet these days! (We've been eating Lion's Mane off and on for the last week - cultivated in both stumps on our land, and fortified sawdust in the basement pantry). Learning how to use them to enhance other facets of our food and fertility production system been a real treat.

Mycophobia is one of those aspects of Anglo culture that I highly recommend working our way past! I always tell my mushroom hunting fares to learn the handful that can actually kill you, and then simply exercise normal wild food sensibilities when learning the rest. Piece of cake. Er, cap.

Tripp (Jessica)

Stephen Heyer said...

Bill Pulliam: “My thoughts on interplanetary self-replicators are the same as my thoughts on cold fusion. If cold fusion were possible, some microbe would have evolved a way to do it and use the resulting energy. If galactic self-replicators were possible, either as a product of technological design or natural evolution, they would already exist. We don't see either cold-fusing microbes or interplanetary-traveling self-replicators. Ergo, both are impossible for reasons of basic physics.”

I don’t know about the cold fusion thing, there are whole categories of things Earth based carbon and water based life forms find difficult. For example, as far as I know, only one creature, the Bombardier Beetle (, has harnessed a form of steam power.

That is one of the reasons we built machines: They can do lots of neat things and harness energy sources Earth life forms find very difficult. However, come 22nd century genetic engineering, who knows?

As for the self-replicators, the real mystery is how come we are not knee deep in some else’s right now. For that matter, how come other intelligent life forms from other worlds don’t drop in to pay us a visit and enjoy our quant, primitive culture?

The people with big brains and secure, tenured university jobs have spent a lot of time worrying about this and consider it one of our greatest mysteries.

As far as I can gather, there are two popular explanations, and two very unpopular ones.

1. The first popular one is that interstellar space travel is impossibly difficult and anyway, all civilizations blow themselves up before they get that far. Our gracious host John Michael Greer favorers this whereas I don’t buy it at all.

2. The second is that we are among the very first technological civilizations to arise, not only in this galaxy, but anywhere. Just wait and the place will soon fill up, mostly with us.

The problem is that scientists hate, really hate, special cases like that (being first, being in a very, very young universe. Still, someone has to be first.

3. The first unpopular one is that there is a federation of elder races, the real first comers, who enforce some rules, like, “Don’t interfere with the babies, let them work things out for themselves and join us when they are ready. Oh! And all you self-replicators, we’ll give you some dead planets and stars to turn into yourselves, but you are not allowed to eat the rest of the galaxy."

4. The second unpopular one of course is that we’re all in the matrix. No one likes this one, despite it answering about all our questions and observations beautifully.

Me, I’ll sort of vote for a mixture, with a fair bit of number 3.

Stephen Heyer

John D. Wheeler said...

JMG, this was an excellent post, and you did a wonderful job of capturing the past. What you seem to fail to understand is the new breed of space enthusiasts who understand that there is nothing up there but barren wastelands but still want to go anyway. Of course it is going to be a whole lot more difficult than staying on Earth; but you can make the same argument for staying in your parents' house and eating your parents' food.

@flute, that is an excellent suggestion, except, you are making the same mistake that @Adrian Skilling and the Biosphere II made (well, one of them): starting too large. The original biosphere didn't come into being all at once (even the Biblical story of Creation says it took 6 days); artificial biospheres need to be built up over time. If you want to know more about this kind of research I suggest looking up "living machines" and "controlled environment life support systems".

Stephen Heyer said...

Joseph Nemeth: “ in software design, efficiency is the enemy of robustness. If you want something to be robust, it is going to be inefficient, and if you want it to be efficient, it will be fragile. Some people consider "life" to be elegant and compact, but it's anything but -- it has all kinds of haphazard redundancies, and many of them get in the way of function. No one with half a brain would design an organism that way. Yet that's exactly what's required for robustness.”

I’d really, really suggest you read “Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder” Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Black Swan guy).

It isn’t an easy read and you only really start to “get” things about a third of the way in, but I doubt it is worthwhile trying to discuss that sort of thing until you have read it, not that I agree with everything he says.

And after all, this is the kind of thing that will be very, very important if the future turns out anything like John Greer thinks it will. In fact, it is very important right now.

In fact I have to say that two books I read one after the other have changed how I see everything, they are:

1. “The Sense Of Being Stared At: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind” Rupert Sheldrake.

2. “Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder” Nassim Nicholas Taleb (which I’m still working on).

Joseph Nemeth: “Self-replicators in a vacuum can't replicate.”

I don’t know. If we are talking about machine type self-replicators, well, I would have thought that high vacuum microgravity is their natural home: So many things it is hard to make here at the bottom of a gravity well and an ocean of corrosive atmosphere are just so easy in high vacuum microgravity.

Of course, our current machines are designed for our conditions and take some modification to work in high vacuum microgravity.

Stephen Heyer

John D. Wheeler said...

@Bill Pulliam, your thoughts on replicators and cold fusion would be absolutely correct, if the universe had existed for an INFINITE amount of time. Otherwise, there is always the possibility the the Weak Anthropic Principle holds, or as I like to say, "someone has to be the first one". Maybe it takes 50 billion years by random chance. Just because something doesn't exist doesn't mean it can't.

Dagnarus said...

@Stephen Heyer

Personally I think your underestimating the difficulty of the problem. First you would have to work out some sort of biological process whereby this creature replicates itself using materials which are common even outside Earth's biosphere, then you would have to give it some means of propulsion so it could get to whatever it needs to devour, then you would need to make resilient enough so that it could actually survive in the harshness of space long enough to get there, all of this has to be encoded in DNA, a medium which to my knowledge is still not fully understood. Currently one of the better ways of optimizing for such stringent requirement in such a complicated state space as a gene sequence is a genetic algorithm, an algorithm which is based upon natural evolution. If we consider the time scales involved in natural evolution this should give us some idea of how much time a civilization might have to invest in such a project to see concrete results i.e. alot.

@Joseph Nemeph
If I might quibble over your comment that if it is possible it is probably already there. This assumes that billions of years is a reasonable amount of time for a given possible event to occur. For example lets assume that the likelihood of a self-replicator appearing anywhere within the known universe in a given year is is a trillion to one. Given that the number of different permutation which a three billion gene pair sequence (like the one which makes a human) can possibly make is roughly 10^1,000,000 as compared to the estimated 10^80 atoms in the known universe, it seems reasonable that if there were a set of gene sequences capable of matching the hypothesised self replicator it could be that unlikely to be stumbled upon. If we assume this one in a trillion per year chance, then the probability of such a creature occurring in 13.8 billion years the hypothesised age of the universe is 1.5%, pretty unlikely. If we instead looked 13.8 trillion years into the future then there is a 99.9999% that this beasty is migrating across the cosmos, evolving and quite possibly creating some very strange ecosystems. What's my point? if indeed I have one. Whether or not ecosystems which span entire solar systems are in the cards or not it is quite probable that even though the greatest show in the universe has been going for billions of years that doesn't mean that it doesn't have many new weird and wonderful acts to show.

Stephen Heyer said...

Cherokee Organics

Hi Chris,

For awhile things were getting hardier as they got better established but I am also starting to see the loss of some mature trees – and this early in the season! If we don’t get rain, lots of rain, we will be in real trouble this summer.

But of course rain can cause problems too, have a look at our last flood at .

However, now we’ve built the new house on high ground and set the property up for flash floods we’re pretty much ok.

I loved your “Funnily enough, my old inner city stomping ground was hammered last night by the extreme winds. From the 1970's onwards, there has been an ideologically driven pursuit in that area of planting large native trees in amongst houses (think 30m 90ft peppermint gums within 2m 6ft of the front of a house).”

“The two systems are incompatible as last night clearly showed. I personally witnessed a few squashed houses this morning.”

I’ve been carrying on about the same thing for the last some years. I’ve managed to persuade Susan to get one young gum tree near the house removed before it got too big. Now I’m working on doing the same thing with a tree that is further from the house but looks like it is turning into a giant.

At least we can have it dropped down the bank and across the paddock in one piece, instead of the very expensive option of having our tree lopper go up and bring it down in pieces.

Speaking of giant gums, you should see the one on the corner across from where our driveway comes out. It looms over several houses, an intersection and is threaded through a maze of power lines. Our tree lopper reckoned he would charge the owner about $20k. I reckoned he needed to charge more.

I have a new rule: No trees that grow taller than our house when mature are to be planted anywhere near our house, or the fences between us and our neighbors, or the neighbors’ houses.

Stephen Heyer

John Michael Greer said...

Brother N., funny. Now take off the silly mask and stop trying to troll; you're not good enough at it.

Jessica, I'm not seething at all. I have my doubts about permaculture as it's marketed in the US, and to a lesser extent as it's practiced here, but I know a lot of good people who are into it for lack of anything better, and no shortage of people who've learned at least some good tricks from it. As for hippies, er, I can assure you that I get called that all the time, and I don't consider it an insult, either! As for blades and chalices, the notion of the blade as a phallic symbol -- well, "ouch" is the first thing that comes to mind. In the system of Druid magic I mostly practice, we use a wand and a cauldron instead.

Moshe, a useful meditation for embracing our dependence on the cosmos.

Joseph, good question. I'm told they allow a very wide range of opinions on Marketwatch.

Stephen, fair enough. What troubles me is that so many people think it's a neat idea. I wonder if they like having cockroaches in their houses; those are very effective self-replicators...

Bill, interesting. I'll put it on the to-read list.

Moshe, yes, that occurred to me also. How many launch gantries does it take to equal the weight of an undersea fiber-optic cable?

Quos Ego, everyone has one movie or TV show or what have you that they think I really ought to see, even though I don't enjoy visual media. The fact remains that, by and large, I don't enjoy visual media, so thanks but no thanks.

Cherokee, yes, that sort of idiocy happens over here, too, which is why every serious windstorm ends up with people having trees crash through their roofs. I may want to use that as an introductory image to a post about the delusion that nature can be counted on to do only what we want.

Bill, I suspect there's some kind of odd weak-force reaction behind the anomalous results of cold fusion -- I've suggested several times now that that might just be the secret of the old alchemists, whose "secret fire" might well have been electricity from bimetal-acid batteries. Still, I grant that there's no evidence that it's a significant source of energy -- just an odd wrinkle of physics that might be able to change one element to another.

John, I'm well aware that there's a very small minority of space geeks who are in love with the solar system as it actually is. Have you considered how few people are going to be willing to see trillions of tax dollars spent to let that minority chase their dreams?

Stephen, if I may butt in, have you read any of Sheldrake's other books? If he's right -- and he offers replicable and replicated experimental evidence for his theory -- a very large fraction of contemporary scientific thought is on its way to the dumpster.

Stephen Heyer said...

Dagnarus: “all of this has to be encoded in DNA”

What you are saying makes a lot of sense until you come to that statement.

As I mentioned before, those who study this sort of thing have identified what they think is three entirely different ways to build high vacuum beings, self-replicating or not, biological, nanotech and machine.

No doubt many other ways will be discovered over the next couple of thousand years.

Only one half of one requires DNA.

Half!!! Yes half!

You see, there is reasonable evidence that something very like DNA, and all the proteins and other things it produces, can be silicon based, giving two different ways of doing biological life.

All the evidence points to silicon based life forms (if they can be built) being vastly hardier and more suited to high vacuum microgravity than carbon based life forms.

Oh! And as for means of propulsion, well our hypothetical beastie can just go built itself a starship like everyone else.

Can you imagine being such a being? Touring the galaxy with your starship’s windows open, standing on the open bridge of your ship in bare feet and a pair of breeches, bare chest, with the beautiful, polished, vacuum tree wood ship’s wheel in your hands.

Why do it like that? Well, because it’s just so much fun.

Seriously, if that kind of thing is possible, I think it is just the kind of thing a mature, stable civilization would spend a thousand years engineering – as a kind of hobby.

And yes, I admit to everything John Greer is going to say about having such fantasies.

Just for fun
Stephen Heyer

Phil Harris said...

A Late comment on scientific method: it is relatively easy to demonstrate a phenomenon by experiment, but nigh impossible to prove a theory by experiment. Physics must still puzzle over Newton's 'gravity'. I read Sheldrake & Radin and a friend persuaded me to read the J. of Scientific Exploration, for a good number of years. Lots of replication by different Labs before you can actually say you have nailed a phenomenon. I followed dear Bob Jahn as the 'effects' gradually waned toward insignificance. But SSE seems to demonstrate the constant endeavour to prove that we might escape from what we think we know? Ahem...

18thC electricity seemed to give a clue to 'life' as an extra-corporeal entity, but there you go - phenomenon does not prove a theory.


wall0159 said...

Hi JMG and Jessica,

I'm certainly not suggesting phallic symbols instead of anything else! Instead, it seems to me that they're used only as a negative these days, which I think is a shame.

Hi Bill Pulliam,
While I don't really buy Steven's argument (there's just so much we don't know, speculation is almost meaningless), evolution has never created an axle either, so I don't agree with your thinking.

Bill Pulliam said...

Stephen H. -- in my experience you have that list exactly backwards in the popularity rankings. The impossibility of interstellar travel is not even entertained. It's impossible that it is impossible, in most people's minds. They will entertain the possibility that there is no other life in the universe before they will consider the potential impossibility of interstellar travel. After all, we went to the moon, we proved it an be done, right?

As for the matrix, I find that to be an extremely popular idea, right up there with zombies (astoundingly, many intelligent people do seem to honestly believe that a zombie apocalypse will really happen).

JMG -- it is the sequel (actually takes place in the same time frame) to "Oryx and Crake." The final part of the trilogy, "MaddAddam," was just published and I have not read it.

Stephen Heyer said...

Hi John,

I’ve read a fair bit of Sheldrake’s stuff but offhand I cannot remember reading a whole book.

Initially, I thought the Extended Mind thing was a bit of an over elaboration as I had my own ideas due to the strong ESP that runs in my family. However, I’m gradually seeing more value in the theory.

What really blew me away was the repeatability of his tests. Sheldrake now has several laboratory gold standard tests, despite the desperate efforts of the skeptics to ignore it.

As for “a very large fraction of contemporary scientific thought is on its way to the dumpster.” Well, I worked that out back in the nineties.

There are great gaping holes in physics, holes that multiply every day. We are waiting for our next Einstein but he is late. When he finally gets here everything will change.

By the way, I agree with you over cold fusion though I’m less pessimistic about it being of practical use.

All of this is why I tend to tale predictions of the future (including my own) with a large grain of salt: I reckon that the one thing I can say about the future is that it will be more complex and different from what anyone predicts.

Stephen Heyer

Hal said...

Bill and JMG, Re: Leary

If you ever get a chance, check out a transcript or the recording of the "Houseboat Summit." Leary, Allan Watts, Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsburg on Watt's houseboat in Sausalito. Leary comes across as a complete buffoon, but then, to be fair, who wouldn't in that crowd?

Joseph Nemeth said...

@Bill, re cold fusion. It's a question of activation energy, combined with configuration.

Consider burning wood. Wood does not spontaneously burn: it requires activation energy. You can apply activation energy in the form of a blowtorch flame, and the wood will burn and release its stored energy, but as soon as you remove the blowtorch, the reaction stops. Arrange the sticks of wood in an open cone, however, and then light it with the blowtorch, and the wood will continue to burn and release energy without further input (other than more wood, of course).

Now replace the blowtorch with a scrap of charred cloth set glowing by the spark from flint on steel, and the cone of wood with a carefully-arranged pile of kindling, and you can start that same fire with a VERY small amount of activation energy.

You're correct that if this were possible, some biological organism would have come along and used this as an energy source -- that would be us. It's out of the reach of microbes, however, because microbes are simply on the wrong scale. And they don't have opposable thumbs.

Cold fusion, should it prove possible and practical, would be much the same. Lattice assisted nuclear reactions require a nuclear lattice, which (at this point) requires purified metals. Those don't occur spontaneously very often at all. Again, the biological organism that might arrange to exploit this would be us.

Moshe Braner said...

wall0159 said: ... evolution has never created an axle ...

- uh? look up bacterial propulsion.

Moshe Braner said...

@Phil Harris: "18thC electricity seemed to give a clue to 'life' as an extra-corporeal entity, but there you go - phenomenon does not prove a theory."

- exactly. And, in my view, the endless quest for "'life' as an extra-corporeal entity" reveals the rut that the old religious sensibility has much of humanity stuck in. I call it "materialistic spirituality". One of its most absurd examples was the experiments where dying people were put on sensitive scales in an attempt to record the weight of the departing soul.

I also see the obsession with conscienceness "as an extra-corporeal entity", or as a window into an extra-corporeal realm (escape hatch from the human condition?), as similarly an obstinant clinging to dualism.

I am hoping that the Archdruid will touch on all this eventually, as he's promised to discuss "life as its own meaning".

Bill Pulliam said...

On the cold fusion and microbes thing...

Evolution hasn't invented an axle? BZZZZT Wrong! Flagella operate on a molecular rotary motor. If that is not a molecular-scale axle, what is? What we do with big clunky machines, microbes have been doing with tiny molecular apparati for a billion years or more.

Cellulose -- microbes burn cellulose all the time, it is one of their major fuels. They do it monomer by monomer biochemically, but the process is the same: extracting the energy contained within the cellulose polymers to use for biological processes (including, but not limited to, heat generation). End result: cellulose + oxygen becomes energy, CO2, and water. Energy that can be used for work or biosynthesis. Exactly the same as when you put a match to a log. Except the microbes have much finer-scale control over the process than does the raging flame.

The whole point of catalysts is to reduce the activation energy. Evolution is by far the most efficient thing at creating catalysts that we know of in the universe. Technology is pathetic and feeble in comparison.

trippticket said...

"I have my doubts about permaculture as it's marketed in the US, and to a lesser extent as it's practiced here, but I know a lot of good people who are into it for lack of anything better..."

Lack of anything better? Now who's being rude? Show me something better.

Permaculture principles:
[Taken from Gaia's Garden]

A. Core principles for Ecological Design

1) Observe.

2) Connect.

3) Catch and Store Energy and Materials.

4) Each element performs multiple functions.

5) Each function is supported by multiple elements.

6) Make the least change for the greatest effect.

7) Use small-scale intensive systems.

8) Optimize Edge.

9) Collaborate With Succession.

10) Use biological and renewable resources.

B. Principles Based on Attitudes

11) Turn problems into solutions.

12) Get a yield.

13) The biggest limit to abundance is creativity.

14) Mistakes are tools for learning.

I could work my way back through your blog history and re-quote each and every one of these principles in your own words if you'd like, and a fair few of them in this Religion of Progress series. Notice that even #13 - the one that raised your hackles - says "the biggest," not "the only." I have found this to be excruciatingly well supported in my own life.

Permaculture changed everything about the way I approach the world around me, even from the starting point of an ecologist's perspective, and now your druidry is adding another layer of refinement to that tide shift. But it isn't overturning or overshadowing the permaculture.

This is probably the end of my "polite discourse" for a while. I have plenty of other, probably more important, things to do. If that was your goal, sir, well done.

Tripp out.

wall0159 said...

Hi Moshe Braner and Bill Pulliam,

I stand corrected -- I wasn't aware that flagella used rotation, I thought they merely whipped back and forth.


Bill Pulliam said...

Tripp -- those principles are all extremely general and shared with many other systems, named and unnamed. Permaculture (tm) however has chosen to copyright, register, and license its name. I prefer not to be involved with something that might land me in a copyright infringement situation if I use its name in an unauthorized manner.

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ trippticket:

I think you may have misunderstood the meaning our host's sentence here. Try reading it as elliptical for:

"I know a lot of good people who are into it for lack of anything better [that they know of]."

However, the rest of the post reads as though you are some sort of "true believer" who runs away shouting his creed whenever his/her "true belief" fails to convince some audience.

JMG has indeed laid out at great length over the last several years what he thinks is better than permaculture (as it is marketed in the U.S.), and why. His argument not a simple one at all, and it cannot possibly be distilled into an easy read for someone who wants a compact set of principles as his/her statement of faith.

Do the work, please. Go back and read everything on JMG's blog from its beginning to now, thinking hard for several hours about each and every one of his posts. And leave your own comfort zone as you do so.

onething said...

The next Einstein is here. His name is Paul LaViolette.

wall0159 said...

Thinking about the axle more, I think I conceded that point too quickly. From
Axle: the pin, bar, shaft, or the like, on which or by means of which a wheel or pair of wheels rotates.
I think this is distinct from the flagella (amazing as they are)

Anyway, what I was trying to say was that the absence of a biological example does not mean a thing is impossible. However, I'm not saying that interstellar replicators are possible! :-)

Moshe Braner said...

@wall0159: Indeed evolution has "discovered" a lot of tricks, even if not all. One of my favorites is biochemically generated light, as in fireflies and deep sea fish.

My gut feeling is that any source of energy that is possible should be evident somewhere in nature. By "nature" here I mean the physical world, not just biological. Thus, e.g., we see evidence of fusion in the stars, fission within our own planet, etc. But when somebody conjectures that there is some unknown energy source (zero point, hydrino, cold fusion, etc) I say: perhaps, but have you found its signature in the spectra of light from somewhere? Its fingerprint by-products in the earth's crust?

Moshe Braner said...

Re: Paul LaViolette, he sounds like the Sokal hoax!

Greg Reynolds @ Riverbend said...


It was indeed it was rude to suggest that you shut up about things that you like to write about.

That does not make those philosophical and theological topics any more relevant to the situation at hand.

There are lots of positive things happening that move us towards a better future (progress!) than our current social and political trajectory.

Rediscovering how to remove the hulls from oats is mundane, but could be much more important than the similarities between the religions of progress and christianity.

Please move on from the world of AM radio political talk shows rehashing of past and current events to solutions.

The backgrounding is interesting in a winter reading sort of way, but does not have the useful edge that your previous posts had.

In any case, you are right, there are many other blogs I could read. I choose to read your's becasue you have provided useful content.


trippticket said...

Bill, Robert, whoever,

Is "druidry" somehow less of a label than "permaculture?"

I'm no more a true believer than you all are. We all subscribe to something. And we all believe in it to one degree or another. Our esteemed host subscribes to a set of beliefs same as you and me. [And I happen to agree with a lot of it or I wouldn't be here.]

Permaculture has never claimed to be original thought, but rather a toolkit for organizing the good ideas that have flowed from our history, a way of beefing up the resilience, and reducing the energy/materials input, that comes from their application. It's basically a flywheel for the integration of good ideas. It's not "above," but "between." It's a relational philosophy. "Stacking functions" (how can we solve another problem with this solution?) is a major part of the practice, and is distilled in principles 4 and 5, listed above.

The principles are indeed very general, but very profound, as they are modeled on Nature's way of solving problems. No doubt this is skewed to some degree by the cultural lens through which they were discovered, but they are kept simple on purpose. There's no central dogma. The application of them, however, is anything but mundane. Relegating them out-of-hand to being "too general" doesn't mean that everyone is just sort of getting them done as a by-product of their daily activity. Even 'round here. If we all ran through this list every time we made a decision, humans and their environment wouldn't be in the dire straits they're in today.

The only copyright limitation within the permaculture community that I'm aware of is that one is not supposed to teach "permaculture" unless one has been through a certificate program. Hardly Draconian. That said, I taught a 3-hour permaculture course at a major environmental conference a couple years back, before I took a certificate course, and the permaculture police didn't arrest or sanction me. Matter of fact, I didn't feel like I did the subject justice with my talk, and decided not to teach it again, outside of my garden or online media, after that conference, even with a certificate. I'm just not a good live teacher. In other words, I sanctioned myself because of the gravity of the subject.

Scores of people coming through these halls proclaiming the magic of permaculture, while not actually practicing permaculture, isn't really my fault. Nor is it permaculture's.

Obviously you fellas have spent some time in these comments sections, and with a host who is openly hostile to this philosophy (that puts into practice pretty much everything he talks fondly about) it's understandable that you would be turned off to it. That's my major complaint here: that JMG has an extremely large audience, even after hours, and is openly hostile to one of the best chances we have at recovering some functionality and beauty in our world, within a human time frame, on our way down Hubbert's Curve. Permaculture is doing this, now, has been for decades, even in the US; hostility toward it seems counter-productive to me.

I behaved like a child, you're right. But emotion is a very human trait. Human. Guilty. And I'm not going to apologize for it.

May I make an alternative suggestion, though? When Americans come through here misrepresenting or malpracticing permaculture, me included, could we blame it on being an American, and not on being a permaculturalist? I realize that is sort of what JMG was trying to say, but stating that we practice permaculture for lack of a better alternative is rude, plain and simple.

Bill Pulliam said...

Tripp -- lotsa words added to my mouth there. I never said the principles were "too" general, just general. And my opinion of permaculture has nothing to do with hanging around on this blog. It has to do with my own direct experience with permaculture and permaculturists going back about 14 years. I live in a small rural county that has hosted a permaculture training school, a group espousing "financial permaculture" (whatever that is, the term gives me the the creeps), multiple CSAs, etc. etc.

John Michael Greer said...

Trippticket, I don't normally reply to comments on an old post by the time the new one gets under way, but I'm going to make an exception in this case. Before you go any further about my supposed hostility to the principles of permaculture, I'd encourage you to reread the comment of mine that you quoted, and note again that I was talking explicitly, in so many words, about the way that permaculture is marketed, and to a lesser extent taught, here in the US. Is that a condemnation of its principles? Of course not.

As for the comment about "for lack of anything better" that enraged you, I'm quoting a good many people I know who have gotten involved with the permaculture scene here in the US despite their disagreements with the way that it's marketed and taught, and to some extent with its principles as well. Despite those disagreements, they find it the best option currently available.

Mind you, if you were to suggest that quite a few people involved in Druidry are there for want of anything better, I'd cheerfully agree with you, partly because I know it's true, and partly because I hope it's true. Druidry is not an end in itself, much less the one and only best way to do x, y, or z. It's a specific, richly human, and therefore inevitably flawed tradition that attempts, with inevitably limited success, to do certain things; it has plenty of idiosyncrasies and no shortage of problems, and a lot of people who are active in it would probably do something else if there was something closer to their ideal -- but there isn't, and Druidry is a close enough fit to work for them, so here they are.

I would hope that you and other permaculturists would be able to recognize that permaculture is not the solution to every problem or a perfect fit for everyone; that there's a difference between its principles and the sometimes problematic way those principles have been marketed and, to some extent, taught in one particular country; and that a fair number of those who are involved in it are there because, just at the moment, it's the best option they have. I would certainly hope that a reference to these points, wouldn't be taken as an insult and a justification for storming off in a rage. Still, if you want to storm off in a rage, by all means; no need to let the door hit you on the way out.

trippticket said...

Mr. Greer, your seemingly inexhaustible patience and cadence are always an inspiration to me, and I really appreciate you taking the time after-hours to address this situation specifically.

Learning to see the world through a permacultural lens was such a mind-blowing experience for me that I tend to think it'll be that useful for everyone else too. Rereading my comments, however, I do tend to come off as a true believer in this regard. I don't believe in one size fits all, and although I don't think that's what permaculture is offering - quite the opposite actually, it always makes a point of analyzing things from a site-specific, climate-specific, owner-specific, culturally-specific, etc-specific, vantage point - I will attempt to reign in my evangelical tendencies.

I come by that honestly, having gone on more than one baptist mission trip in my younger days, but I don't want to be that guy. Thanks for guiding me down a more useful, and less annoying, path. Your energy descent books are still at the very top of the recommended reading list on my blog...above Holmgren, Mollison, Fukuoka, Thoreau, Schumacher...some pretty good company in my opinion. And I obviously think a lot of that;)...


rich said...

Thanks for your blogs and books. I am reading Monsters now. I have a question -- is their a land or space accessible through the imagination or dreams that one might meet the dead?

Second, which of your blogs should I read to get your take on where we are now at the end of 2013 with peak oil? I also read Long Descent and even shared a chapter with my students.