Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Man, Conqueror of Nature, Dead at 408

Man, the conqueror of Nature, died Monday night of a petroleum overdose, the medical examiner’s office confirmed this morning. The abstract representation of the human race was 408 years old. The official announcement has done nothing to quell the rumors of suicide and substance abuse that have swirled around the death scene since the first announcement yesterday morning, adding new legal wrinkles to the struggle already under way over Man’s inheritance.
Man’s closest associates disagree about what happened. His longtime friend and confidant Technology thinks it was suicide. “Sure, Man liked to have a good time,” he said at a press conference Tuesday evening, “and he was a pretty heavy user, but it wasn’t like he was out of control or anything. No, I’m sure he did it on purpose. Just a couple of weeks ago we were hanging out at his place, looking up at the moon and talking about the trips we made out there, and he turned to me and said, ‘You know, Tech, that was a good time—a really good time. I wonder if I’ll ever do anything like that again.’ He got into moods like that more and more often in the last few years. I tried to cheer him up, talking about going to Mars or what have you, and he’d go along with it but you could tell his heart wasn’t in it.”

Other witnesses told a different story. “It was terrifying,” said a housekeeper who requested that her name not be given. “He was using more and more of the stuff every day, shooting it up morning, noon and night, and when his connections couldn’t get him as much as he wanted, he’d go nuts. You’d hear him screaming at the top of his lungs and pounding his fists on the walls. Everybody on the staff would hide whenever that happened, and it happened more and more often—the amount he was using was just unbelievable. Some of his friends tried to talk him into getting help, or even just cutting back a little on his petroleum habit, but he wouldn’t listen.”

The medical examiner’s office and the police are investigating Man’s death right now. Until their report comes out, the tragic end of humanity’s late self-image remains shrouded in mystery and speculation.

A Tumultuous Family Saga

 “He was always a rebel,” said Clio, the muse of history, in an exclusive interview in her office on Parnassus this morning. “That was partly his early environment, of course.  He was born in the household of Sir Francis Bacon, remember, and brought up by some of the best minds of seventeenth-century Europe; an abstract image of humanity raised by people like that wasn’t likely to sit back and leave things as they were, you know. Still, I think there were strong family influences too. His father was quite the original figure himself, back in the day.”

Though almost forgotten nowadays, Man’s father Everyman, the abstract representation of medieval humanity, was as mediagenic in his own time as his son became later on.  The star of a wildly popular morality play and the subject of countless biographies, Everyman was born in extreme poverty in a hovel in post-Roman Europe, worked his way up to become a wealthy and influential figure in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, then stepped aside from his financial and political affairs to devote his last years to religious concerns. Savage quarrels between father and son kept the broadsheet and pamphlet press fed with juicy stories all through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and eventually led to their final breach over Darwin’s theory of evolution in 1859.

By that time Man was already having problems with substance abuse. “He was just using coal at first,” Technology reminisced. “Well, let’s be fair, we both were.  That was the hot new drug in those days.  It was cheap, you could get it without too much hassle, and everybody on the cutting edge was using it. I remember one trip we took together—it was on one of the early railroads, at thirty miles an hour. We thought that was really fast.  Were we innocent back then, or what?”

Clio agreed with that assessment. “I don’t think Man had any idea what he was getting into, when he started abusing coal,” she said. “It was an easy habit to fall into, very popular in avant-garde circles just then, and nobody yet knew much about the long term consequences of fossil fuel abuse. Then, of course, he started his campaign to conquer Nature, and he found out very quickly that he couldn’t keep up the pace he’d set for himself without artificial help. That was when the real tragedy began.”

The Conquest of Nature

It’s an open question when Man first decided to conquer Nature. “The biographers all have their own opinions on that,” Clio explained, gesturing at a shelf loaded with books on Man’s dramatic and controversial career.  “Some trace it back to the influence of his foster-father Francis Bacon, or the other mentors and teachers he had in his early days. Others say that the inspiration came from the crowd he ran with when he was coming of age in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He used to tell interviewers that it was a family thing, that everyone in his family all the way back to the Stone Age had been trying to conquer Nature and he was just the one who finally succeeded, but that won’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. Examine the career of Everyman, for example, and you’ll find that he wasn’t interested in conquering Nature; he wanted to conquer himself.”

“The business about conquering Nature?” Technology said. “He got into that back when we were running around being young and crazy. I think he got the idea originally from his foster-father or one of the other old guys who taught him when he was a kid, but as far as I know it wasn’t a big deal to him until later. Now I could be wrong, you know. I didn’t know him that well in those days; I was mostly just doing my thing then, digging mines, building water mills, stuff like that. We didn’t get really close until we both got involved in this complicated coal deal; we were both using, but I was dealing, too, and I could get it cheaper than anybody else—I was using steam, and none of the other dealers knew how to do that. So we got to be friends and we had some really wild times together, and now and then when we were good and ripped, he’d get to talking about how Nature ought to belong to him and one of these days he was going to hire some soldiers and just take it.

“Me, I couldn’t have cared less, except that Man kept on bringing me these great technical problems, really sweet little puzzles, and I’ve always been a sucker for those. He figured out how I was getting the coal for him so cheap, you see, and guessed that I could take those same tricks and use them for his war against Nature. For me, it was just a game, for Nature, against Nature, I couldn’t care less.  Just give me a problem and let me get to work on it, and I’m happy.

“But it wasn’t just a game for him. I think it was 1774 when he really put me to work on it.  He’d hired some mercenaries by then, and was raising money and getting all kind of stuff ready for the war.  He wanted steam engines so, like the man said, it was steam engine time—I got working on factories, railroads, steamships, all the rest. He already had some of his people crossing the border into Nature to seize bits of territory before then, but the eighteenth century, that’s when the invasion started for real. I used to stand next to him at the big rallies he liked to hold in those days, with all the soldiers standing in long lines, and he’d go into these wild rants about the glorious future we were going to see once Nature was conquered. The soldiers loved it; they’d cheer and grab their scientific instruments and lab coats and go conquer another province of Nature.”

The Triumphant Years

It was in 1859, Technology recalled, that Man first started using petroleum. “He’d just had the big spat with his dad over this Darwin dude: the worst fight they ever had, and in fact Man never spoke to the old man again. Man was still steaming about the fight for days afterwards, and then we heard that this guy named Edwin Drake over in Pennsylvania could get you something that was an even bigger rush than coal. Of course Man had to have some, and I said to myself, hey, I’ll give it a try—and that was all she wrote, baby. Oh, we kept using coal, and a fair bit of it, but there’s nothing like petroleum.

“What’s more, Man figured out that that’s what he needed to finish his conquest of Nature. His mercs had a good chunk of Nature by then, but not all of it, not even half, and Man was having trouble holding some of the territory he’d taken—there were guerrillas behind his lines, that sort of thing. He’d pace around at headquarters, snapping at his staff, trying to figure out how to get the edge he needed to beat Nature once and for all. ‘I’ve gotta have it all, Tech,’ he’d say sometimes, when we were flopped on the couch in his private quarters with a couple of needles and a barrel of petroleum, getting really buzzed. ‘I’ve conquered distance, the land, the surface of the sea—it’s not enough. I want it all.’ And you know, he got pretty close.”

Petroleum was the key, Clio explained. “It wasn’t just that Man used petroleum, all his soldiers and his support staff were using it too, and over the short term it’s an incredibly powerful drug; it gives users a rush of energy that has to be seen to be believed. Whole provinces of Nature that resisted every attack in the first part of the war were overrun once Man started shipping petroleum to his forces. By the 1950s, as a result, the conquest of Nature was all but complete. Nature still had a few divisions holed up in isolated corners where they couldn’t be gotten at by Man’s forces, and partisan units were all over the conquered zone, but those were minor irritations at that point. It was easy enough for Man and his followers to convince themselves that in a little while the last holdouts would be defeated and Nature would be conquered once and for all.

“That’s when reality intervened, though, because all those years of abusing coal, petroleum, and other substances started to catch up with Man. He was in bad shape, and didn’t know it—and then he started having problems feeding his addiction.”

On and Off the Wagon

“I forget exactly how it happened,” Technology recounted. “It was some kind of disagreement with his suppliers—he was getting a lot of his stuff from some Arab guys at that point, and he got into a fight with them over something, and they said, ‘Screw you, man, if you’re going to be like that we’re just not going to do business with you any more.’ So he tried to get the stuff from somebody else, and it turned out the guy from Pennsylvania was out of the business, and the connections he had in Texas and California couldn’t get enough. The Arab guys had a pretty fair corner on the market. So Man went into withdrawal, big time. We got him to the hospital, and the doctor took one look at him and said, ‘You gotta get into rehab, now.’ So me and some of his other friends talked him into it.”

“The records of his stays in rehab are heartbreaking,” Clio said, pulling down a tell-all biography from her shelf. “He’d start getting the drug out of his system, convince himself that he was fine, check himself out, and start using again almost immediately. Then, after a little while, he’d have problems getting a fix, end up in withdrawal, and find his way back into rehab. Meanwhile the war against Nature was going badly as the other side learned how to fight back effectively. There were rumors of ceasefire negotiations, even a peace treaty between him and Nature.”

“I went to see him in rehab one day,” said Technology. “He looked awful. He looked old—like his old man Everyman. He was depressed, too, talking all the time about this malaise thing. The thing is, I think if he’d stuck with it then he could have gotten off the stuff and straightened his life out. I really think he could have done it, and I tried to help. I brought him some solar panels, earth-sheltered housing, neat stuff like that, to try to get him interested in something besides the war on Nature and his petroleum habit. That seemed to cheer him up, and I think all his friends had high hopes for a while.

“Then the next thing I heard, he was out of rehab. He just couldn’t hack it any longer. I went to his place, and there he was, laughing and slapping everybody’s back and full of big ideas and bigger plans, just like before. That’s what it looked like at first, but the magic was gone. He tried to do a comeback career, but he just couldn’t get it back together, and things went downhill from there.”

The Final Years

The last years of Man’s career as representation of the human race were troubled. “The war against Nature wasn’t going well by then,” Clio explained. “Man’s forces were holding onto the most important provinces and cities, but insurgencies were springing up all over—drug-resistant microbes here, herbicide-tolerant weeds there. Morale was faltering, and a growing fraction of Man’s forces in the struggle against Nature no longer believed in what they were doing. They were in it for the money, nothing more, and the money was running out. Between the costs of the war, the costs of Man’s lavish lifestyle, and the rising burden of his substance abuse problem, Man was in deep financial trouble; there’s reason to believe that he may have been engaged in outright fraud to pay his bills during the last few years of his life.”

Meanwhile, Man was becoming increasingly isolated. “He’d turned his back on most of his friends,” said the anonymous housekeeper quoted earlier. “Art, Literature, Philosophy—he stopped talking to any of them, because they kept telling him to get off the stuff and straighten out his life. I remember the last time Science came to visit—she wanted to talk to Man about the state of the atmosphere, and Man literally threw her out of the house and slammed the door in her face.  I was working downstairs in the laundry, where you usually can’t hear much, but I could hear Man screaming, ‘I own the atmosphere! I own the planet! I own the solar system! I own the goddam stars! They’re mine, mine, mine—how dare you tell me what to do with my property?’ He went on like that for a while, then collapsed right there in the entry. A couple of us went up, carried him into his bedroom, and got him cleaned up and put to bed. We had to do that pretty often, the last year or so.”

His longtime friend Technology was apparently the last person to see Man alive. “I went over to his place Monday afternoon,” Technology recalled. “I went there pretty often, and we’d do some stuff and hang out, and I’d start rapping about all kinds of crazy stuff, omniscient supercomputers, immortal robot bodies, stuff like that. I told him, ‘Look, Man, if you want to get into stuff like omniscience and immortality, go talk to Religion.  That’s her bag, not mine.’ But he didn’t want to do that; he had some kind of falling out with her a while back, you know, and he wanted to hear it from me, so I talked it up. It got him to mellow out and unwind, and that’s what mattered to me.

“Monday, though, we get to talking, and it turns out that the petroleum he had was from this really dirty underground source in North Dakota. I said to him, ‘Man, what the frack were you thinking?’ He just looked at me and said, ‘I’ve gotta have the stuff, Tech. I’ve gotta have the stuff.’ Then he started blubbering, and I reached out to, like, pat his shoulder—and he just blew up at me. He started yelling about how it was my fault he was hooked on petroleum, my fault the war against Nature wasn’t going well, my fault this and that and blah blah blah. Then he got up and stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind him. I should have gone after him, I know I should have, but instead I just shook my head and left. Maybe if I’d gone and tried to talk him down, he wouldn’t have done it.”

“Everything was quiet,” the housekeeper said. “Too quiet. Usually we’d hear Man walking around, or he’d put some music on or something, but Monday night, the place might as well have been empty. Around ten o’ clock, we were really starting to wonder if something was wrong, and two of us from the housekeeping staff decided that we really had to go check on Man and make sure he was all right. We found him in the bathroom, lying on the floor. It was horrible—the room stank of crude oil, and there was the needle and all his other gear scattered around him on the floor. We tried to find a pulse, but he was already cold and stiff; I went and called for an ambulance anyway, and—well, you know the rest.”

The Troubled Aftermath

Man’s death leaves a great many questions unanswered. “By the time Everyman died,” Clio explained, “everyone knew who his heir would be.  Man had already taken over his father’s role as humanity’s idealized self-image. That hasn’t happened this time, as you know. Man didn’t leave a will, and his estate is a mess—it may be years before the lawyers and the accountants finish going through his affairs and figure out whether there’s going to be anything at all for potential heirs to claim. Meanwhile there are at least half a dozen contenders for the role of abstract representation of the human race, and none of them is a clear favorite. It may be a long time before all the consequences are sorted out.”

Meanwhile, one of the most important voices in the debate has already registered an opinion. Following her invariable habit, Gaia refused to grant any personal interviews, but a written statement to the media was delivered by a spokesrabbit on Tuesday evening. “Please accept My sympathy for the tragic demise of Man, the would-be conqueror of Nature,” it read. “I hope it will not be out of place, though, to suggest that whomever My human children select as their new self-image might consider being a little less self-centered—not to mention a little less self-destructive.”


Steelkilt said...

Bravo. Using myth to tell the story instead of numbers is powerful and refreshing. Perhaps another performance group will render your writing on stage after this.

Tom Bannister said...

Hmm... Are you familiar with the fictional Jarndyce v Jarndyce case in the novel bleak house by Charles Dickens? By the time the the will was found the estate had been consumed by litigation... (In order words, if you're in the business of law (like me) you've got a lucrative short term future ;-))

Anyway, very good!

John Michael Greer said...

Steelkilt, thank you. A performance piece would be fun -- I could also see a satiric faux-documentary.

Tom, I am indeed, and yes, the suggestion of a contested estate that will be swallowed up by legal fees was intentional!

Ray Wharton said...

1. We admitted we were powerless to make Fossil Use sustainable—and that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity and sustainability.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of Life as we understood Her.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and our consumption.
5. Admitted to Life, to Gaia, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have Life remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Her to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons, cultures, species, and ecosystems we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to those harmed wherever possible, except when to do so would use more irreplaceable resources.
10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were Using Fossil, promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with Life and the cycles of life, praying only for knowledge of her Way for us and the power to follow that.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to the Fossil Addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Ilkka Nykänen said...

Didn't you say just awhile ago that you do not do satire? I find this writing both hilarious and refreshing. After all, back in the day the court jesters could talk about things that could not be talked about. I am beginning to think it could be a powerful spell to for changing consciousness in accordance of the will.

Just imagine what a crowd of highly talented stand-up comedians could do with this material.

KL Cooke said...


Miserabilis said...

That was a great work of satire. It was informative, entertaining and hilarious.

I was listening to someone the other day (alternative news commentator/conspiracy theorist although perhaps businessman might be the more accurate title) who was saying that at this point man’s only option (to maintain the status quo) is to look towards the stars. Doesn’t that say it all?! Of course the wicked elite will not allow us to go to the stars so the problem of course is not our unsustainable lifestyles; it is the elite who will not allow us to suck other planets dry! If we have gotten ourselves into a situation where people who fetishize the so-called free market economy are saying that the only way to keep living the lives we have become accustomed to is to look towards the stars I think that is one indication of the magnitude of our predicament.

I wanted to ask you how do you account for people who claim to be Christian but also say that man’s destiny lies in colonizing other planets? This belief does not seem to be consistent with Christianity.

KL Cooke said...

Apropos to this weeks theme, here's a piece about unintended consequences.

Warning: Not for weak stomachs.

John Michael Greer said...

Ray, now if somebody had gotten that to Man in time... ;-)

Ilkka, like most people with Aspergers syndrome, I have trouble with humor -- there's a certain kind of deadpan farce I can manage under some circumstances, but I'm never sure whether something like this is going to hit or not. Glad to hear that it works.

Miserabilis, a huge number of people who claim to be Christian these days are actually true believers in the radically un-Christian, even anti-Christian religion of progress. I'll have something to say about that in an upcoming post.

KL, thank you -- and thank you for the link; there's a metaphoric comparison to be made between hog farms blown up by their own foaming manure and, oh, the stock market...

BeaverPuppet said...

Another great post! I often wonder what % of the population (U.S.)has finally given up on this image of Man. We've seen that what's good for GM is not good for America, what's good for technology is not good for America, and what's good for Wall Street is not good for America. The environmental damage continues but without economic prosperity for most. Yet the people I deal with on a regular basis still seem to think we're just in some kind of business cycle lull. I'm guessing it will be with the younger generations that the death of this image of Man will really occur. Those who have never seen business as usual actually "work" for themselves have no emotional attachment to it, no hope to place in it.

Gordon Cutler said...

JMG, alas I am way too busy with projects of my own to join in the discussions here, but you never fail to leave me with plenty to chew on and always thankful for my Humanities education and all the profs and grad assistants who challenged and broadened my mind. That said, this week's offering is marvelously droll, simply brilliant and completely spot-on!

daniel said...

Man, that's fracking brilliant.

Isis said...

This was fantastic, congratulations! One quibble though: are you sure Man died of a petroleum overdose and not of poisoning caused by dirty/poor quality petroleum? After all, you said he was using that stuff from North Dakota last time he was seen alive...

Matchstick Warrior said...

Good one to go along with The Times obituary to Common Sense. Like it.

Phil Harris said...

Librarian who works pretty much full time mostly voluntary these days for Clio said: “Man left a heap of rubbish but I managed to get some important stuff under a roof that does not leak yet, but who knows what will be needed. Some of these other guys, Techie and Science haven’t got what happened yet, you know. And most of the Churches could not manage a Library to save their lives even though they have some good real estate. I’m looking forward to taking gardening leave, but there is so much to do even with the help of some good friends.” (smile)

rr™ said...

Brilliant. Scary though, I could really see myself in 'Man'. This would be stellar fodder for 'Drunk History'.

Here's a nugget I found today that I think both commentor's and our host will appreciate:

Thank you for your good work.

blogmaster said...

Dear John, congratulations on the story-article and your blog. We follow closely from Barcelona (Spain). Apparently Spain is an outstanding student of the deceased man, we go ahead with an outer dependency on fossil fuels 70% (although with experience in renewable energy). Transition groups are organizing here, especially in small towns, theorizing on issues such as mobility, new jobs, a change of mind, etc..
A greeting and thanks for your contribution


Russ said...

John - as always, Mother Nature (Gaia) just does her thing; silently, efficiently. Russ

tubaplayer said...

Superb, absolutely superb. Thank you JMG

John in Cape Charles Va said...

JMG: Your story arc invokes all of the emotions; I find myself grieving a lot, a state well beyond outrage, where I lived for the last 15 years or so. Maybe you too?

Can you comment quickly on your take on the "near term extinction" argument? It seems so surreal, yet...

-John D.

Ramaraj said...

‘Man, what the frack were you thinking?’

Ha ha ha! Laughed my heart off!!!

Somewhere in the middle of the 23rd century, that shall either be a swear word or a mortal sin (or both, who knows?) in common parlance.

Also, thanks for the refreshing piece after the serious discussions of the past weeks. Also proves a point, that it is indeed possible to laugh during collapse, provided that one is in the right state of mind, has accepted reality, and has made the necessary adjustments.

Raymond Duckling said...

Ray Wharton's 12 steps are so powerful! I even would not be able to read'em on my first try... had to lock down the computer, go about my morning routine, gather some courage and give it a second time.

They are also appalling. Everyone has heard of the first step, and taken out of context it can be cheap and empty. Then it comes the second step, and the third one... and on, and on. The most appalling thing I feel is that everything is just doable. I wish there to be some impossible step, so I could say... you know, "I tried. It's not my fault it did not work out". But every one is reachable, if I were willing to put the effort.

I know I am addicted, and I know climbing out of it is possible. I wonder if AA will take in someone whose drug of choice doesn't happen to be booze.

Raymond Duckling said...


I am wondering about the anonymous housekeeper. We know she's a female that somehow ended up in Man's service, arranging his affairs and probably doing the dirty work he glosses over. And we know she does not want her name to be associated with him.

I put my money on Feminism!

Tim said...

That was a very entertaining and accessible piece describing where we're at right now, and what we have to look forward to. I'll definitely be sharing this with my friends. Thanks, JMG!

Merle Langlois said...

JMG this was an excellent post. What I like about it in particular is that it draws from mass media exploitation and tabloids in style, rather than your beloved pre-20th century geniuses. There's something about using the framework of scandal and addiction and family trouble that a lot of people can relate to (me included).

I'm at the point now where anytime a poster starts chucking a bunch of meaningless numbers about peak oil I scroll past. Once one gets the gist about peak oil the exact figures become noise. The signal is the message to change one's lifestyle.

Off-topic, after reading your stuff for years here, I've become impressed by the way you are able to filter out trolls. I've also noticed that some posters here who start off as the shrillest of lunatics eventually turn into regular human beings after you give them several bumps on the noggin. When I was in school I'd never respect a teacher who couldn't control the class and likewise your comments section would be unreadable if you were too easy on the ranters. But your ability to gradually break some of these fanatics earns my respect.

August Johnson said...


Cathy McGuire said...

Brilliant! It's a perfect parody of our modern (gak) news report while also being a brilliant metaphor of our fossil fuel "habit"! I hope this goes viral! It's the kind of image that WILL stick in people's minds, and maybe cause them to think twice about a purchase or usage.

14 degrees here this morning (Western OR is not used to this!)and the woodstove is cranked - made me think about how thin our infrastructure is - Britain is having a major storm this morning and thousands without power or evacuated - if the Willamette Valley were to lose power this morning, a lot of people would be in deep, deep trouble! We're living on thin ice and most are totally ignorant of that.

Andy Brown said...

He's not really dead, you know. My brother-in-law's friend saw him last week out on the West Coast playing in a fusion band under a different name. I think he just got tired of all the posers and critics and wanted to start over.

gregorius01 said...

A hilarious story. I like it. And just to be mythologically correct, Clio's office isn't situated on Parnassus, but on Helikon mountain, official seat of Nine Muses Corp.

Wandering Sage said...

thanks john, that was delightful!……sad but delightful

onething said...

Once upon a time, man lived in a garden without responsibility and all was provided by the gods. Although man was different than the other animals, he lived in balance with nature because he did not have the power to do anything else, just like all the other animals. To be sure, there has always been the occasional situation in which some animal has at least the power to overpopulate their area, or even destroy other species, but they are rare, and get corrected by nature's larger overall system, after which the little wound scabs over and is healed. When those situations arise, the animals, predictably, go for it. We cannot call them evil, because they were not capable of analyzing and seeing the bigger picture.

What if they could though? Suppose a fox could understand that by raiding the hen house repeatedly he is going to make the humans upset enough that they will make it a point to hunt him down and kill him? Suppose he could say to himself, no, I will just take a chicken now and again when I'm really hard up. So far as I can tell, nature really doesn't work that way and it is always the correct strategy to exploit resources.

Ah, but then, suppose you have such an intellect that you can really interfere and make an impact on the natural system. Then, you become like the gods. Running things and making real decisions. Well, to do a good job of that you need wisdom, and where is wisdom to be found but by living experience?

Øyvind Holmstad said...

"Miserabilis, a huge number of people who claim to be Christian these days are actually true believers in the radically un-Christian, even anti-Christian religion of progress. I'll have something to say about that in an upcoming post."

Here in Norway we had a man named Hans Nielsen Hauge:

Many disgusting Christians here call themselves “Haugianists”, although Hauge was a modest man of austerity. These Christians live highly immoral lives devoting their time to the religion of progress, eagerly taking part in the war against nature. Really can’t wait for your post on this theme!

I already want to ask: is it ok to repost this upcoming post wherever I want?

William Hunter Duncan said...

"""Man, the conqueror of Nature, died Monday night of a petroleum overdose, the medical examiner’s office confirmed this morning."""

LOL. Who knew the great wizard had a sense of humor? :)

Who takes Man's place, as abstract representation? For me it is the Waterbearer.


Nano said...


I read it with a 1930's war time announcer voice in my head.

You should look into

Bill Hicks
Robert Anton Wilson
George Carlin

I think you might enjoy their stuff.

Joseph Nemeth said...


Joeln said...

Very apropos for the season of consumerism!

SLClaire said...

Thank you for this; it was excellent! You got Science just right with the bit about not caring one way or the other about Nature, just give Science a puzzle and it's happy. I ran into that throughout my science training and employment. It was a convenient excuse to avoid taking responsibility for Science's and scientists' actions. Not that that lack of responsibility wasn't being mirrored by Man's other soldiers. Most of us volunteered or were drafted into the war. I volunteered for it but was lucky enough to realize I wasn't well suited to it and went AWOL about 20 years ago.

A lot of soldiers come back from war with some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. It seems to me that plenty of us are already affected by PTSD and more will be affected as Man dies and the war ends with Nature in charge.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Everyman! Oh what a wonderful memory you've called up!

I read the late medieval English play in college, and it's never really left me. I discovered then that one can't live well unless one first gets on good terms with one's own coming death. One should do this even in one's 'teen years: I did, quite by chance, and I'm very glad of it.

Not long afterwards, still in college, I happened upon the "Jedermann Kollapso," sung to the tune of the Banana Boat Song: "Komm' Mister Jedermann, gemma'n bisserl sterben!“

Hans Holbein's cycle of woodcuts called "Totentanz" ("Dance of Death") is also helpful in this respect, as are various medieval works on the Art of Dying Well. And then there in Bergman's immortal _The Seventh Seal_.

Ah, enough nostalgia!

Harry J. Lerwill said...

Jokes about the demise of a well-known person are often met with the retort, "too soon!" Not so in this case.

I loved the line, "‘Man, what the frack were you thinking?’"

Since you don't own a TV, were you aware that a popular SciFi TV series remake, Battlestar Galatica, used "frack" and fracking" as swear words, playing on the same homonym?

jim said...

Hey there Nature Girl, I guess that you read the news today. The Conqueror is dead and He has left quite a mess. A giant mess in the world and an even bigger mess in our heads. He could cast a very powerful spell, too bad His cleverness far surpassed His wisdom. I was hoping that You might help me (us) learn how to communicate with the plants, animals and all the other living things. Not so that I can dominate them and make them do my bidding, but so that I (we) can be a good member of the living community. I don’t want to be a conqueror or king anymore, I would be much happier to be a good friend and neighbor.

Richard Larson said...

I don't think The Man is going to be happy with you. He's not quite dead yet!

Mike R said...

Brilliant, just brilliant!

Ronald Langereis said...

Hilariously surprising, this new mantle for the harbinger of change. Bravo, indeed! Your trouble with humor seems over.

Janet D said...

I never know what I'm going to find when I show up here on Thurs. mornings! This post was awesome. I smiled the whole way through, thoroughly enjoying the cleverness. I agree that often people can get a message through satire that they'll never get through straight-forward communication.

@RayWharton....Love your 12 steps. Now if we can just get the Patient(s) to acknowledge that they have a problem.....

Odin's Raven said...

Is it the publication of Sir Francis Bacon's The Advancement of Learning, in 1605, that you regard as the birth certificate of Man?


John Roth said...

Amazing piece of work. I found a tear in my eye. I wonder if this would go well in the Onion. A bit longer than their usual fare, though.

Well, on to mull writing a textbook on the Michael Teaching, although it might be the only thing I know that's less likely than Druidry to pick up the mantle of the New Religiosity.

wendolpho said...

This is truly amazing!

Who do you think some of the half-dozen or so contenders are?

simon.dc3 said...

408 as age of death made me dig a bit on 1605.
Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, Cervantes' Don Quixote is published, Bacon's Advancement of Knowledge is published, the year of three popes (which would not occur again until 1978 - another year of crisis due to energy shortages among NATO countries).

Methinks there was no happenstance in your choice of 408 :-)

And I agree, would love to see this on stage like "Waiting for Godot".

Jose Coces said...

JMG, which book authored by Bacon were you referring to when you set Man's date of birth as 1605, and why?

Andrew said...

I was waiting for a mention of nuclear, the hot new drug that was going to get Man off petroleum, but could just never manage to satisfy.

CJ said...

That was a really enjoyable read! Clever, yet simple enough that even I could match story with history. Excellent!!

Isaac Hill said...

Best archdruid report ever!

btw, is there anything in particular that happened Monday or was the date arbitrary?

librarian@play said...

Very reminiscent of James Morrow. Well done.

keithpp said...

Satire worthy of Jonathan Swift

Before Man embarked on the conquest of Nature, before Man acquired the means through Technology, Coal and Oil, Man worked with Nature not against.

Man with would tap into natural energy flows, build a leat, divert some water, use the water to power a water mill, the water then flows on its way.

The enhanced power, enables Man to do things he would not normally be able to do.

Wendell Berry, in one of his essays, talks of hiring a digger, to dig into the side of a hillside, and the damage he caused because he had the power to cause that damage.

Our power sources, being fossil fuels, were built up over many millions of years. We are exhausting them in a few hundreds of years, then what? We are quite literally burning our Capital, and like any junkie, once hooked, turning to ever more dirtier and unreliable sources.

Look how many trees we can cut down if we use a chain saw rather than an axe. Look how many trees we can clear, if we use a bulldozer, rather than a chain saw.

We have cleared most of our forests, there is now little left, and what is left, is under growing threat.

We cannot though even exhaust our Capital. In burning our carbon-based fossil fuels, we are are releasing back into the environment CO2, that was drawn down and locked away over a period of millions of years.

Our global temperature is rising, and has been rising since Man hooked himself on the habit of Coal and Oil. We are rapidly approaching the tipping point of global thermal runaway.

John Michael Greer said...

Puppet, it's when the popular mood shifts from "it'll get better someday" to "it's not going to get better" that you'll see the explosions begin.

Gordon, thank you.

Daniel, thank you also. BTW, the word "fracking" is hereby exempt from this blog's prohibition against profanity; as it refers to a penetrative act performed with no thought of anything but immediate gratification, it makes a good expletive, and I encourage you and my other readers to start using it as such in public settings. I'd also note that those people who believe that it's a good idea to direct this behavior toward Mother Earth could quite reasonably be described as "motherfrackers."

Isis, we'll have to wait for the report from the medical examiner's office to be sure, but you could well be right. ;-)

Matchstick, many thanks; that's high praise.

Phil, Librarian had better get moving. There's a lot of hard work to be done!

RR(tm), many thanks for the link.

Toni, many thanks!

Russ, of course. We could learn quite a bit by studying her -- oh, wait... ;-)

Tubaplayer, thank you.

John, you'll find a discussion of the near-term extinction fantasy in this post.

John Michael Greer said...

Ramaraj, why not make it a common profanity right now? I'm remembering the once-famous description of a broken-down Jeep on the Normandy beaches by a US sergeant, and thinking that we could very well describe the industrial economy in the same terms: "The fracking fracker's fracked!"

Raymond, it may be time to start Fossil Fuel Anonymous. As for the housekeeper, I have no idea -- I needed a source for scandalous details from Man's household, and she volunteered. Anonymously, of course. ;-)

Tim, please do, and thanks!

Merle, thank you. One of the things about a courtesy policy enforced by the delete button is that people who actually want to participate do tend to catch on.

August, thank you.

Cathy, 14 degrees in early December in the Willamette Valley? Good gods. No, no, of course there isn't anything happening to the climate; nothing to see here, move along...

Andy, I'm sure there will be plenty of Elvis-esque rumors about Man's supposed survival long after he's pushing up daisies.

Gregorius, of course you're quite correct. My error!

Sage, thank you.

Onething, actually, nature does work that way. That's why there are K-selected as well as R-selected reproductive strategies, and many other means of limiting competition and conflict in the natural world. The notion that our current bad habits are hardwired into our genes is a common excuse these days, but it can't be justified by the facts.

Øyvind, of course, as long as you include a link to the original. One warning, though -- I'll be talking primarily about our homegrown US pseudo-Christians, and I don't know how much overlap there is between their ideas and those of the equivalent people on your side of the pond. Do your Haugianists worship Ayn Rand?

William, a subtle suggestion. Nice.

Nano, good! It would work that way, wouldn't it?

onething said...

Ah, I don't know, JMG. I'm not arguing that nature doesn't utilize cooperation as much or more than competition. I'm saying that no animal sees their error when they do get a chance to outstrip resources, and whether we ourselves ought to have backed off sooner, we certainly didn't see it until we were pretty far in.

The transition from R to K is built into the biosystem and is not conscious or voluntary. It does seem to me that our problem at root is a spiritual one, after all, some groups of humans react with horror to the idea of mining, drilling or fracking Mother Earth.

At any rate, I note that we are at a strange impasse, in which much conscious decision making (and reflection!) will need to be done, and that our success will be reflected in a deliberate decision to restrain ourselves.

Also, to the earlier poster, I am confused about why the idea of colonizing other planets is not Christian? (Assuming they don't already have humanlike beings there.)

escapefromwisconsin said...

A bit off the current topic, but you and your readers might be interested in this article from Foreign policy: Augustine's World: What Late Antiquity says about the 21st century and the Syrian crisis.

In St. Augustine's world of imperial collapse, these ancient ties offered some respite from disorder because within the tribe there was hierarchy and organization in abundance. But modernity was supposed to free us from these cloistered shackles of kinship. Indeed, modernity, wrote Ernest Gellner, the late British-Czech social anthropologist, means the rise of centralized authority and the consequent decline of tribalism. But the opposite is presently occurring: The crumbling of central authority throughout much of North Africa and the Near East (as well as the rebirth of lumpen nationalism in parts of Europe) indicates that modernity is but a passing phase. Today, tribes with four-wheel-drive vehicles, satellite phones, plastic explosives, and shoulder-fired missiles help close the distance between Late Antiquity and the early 21st century.

St. Augustine's North Africa, now with its degraded urban conurbations of cracked brick and sheet metal, will see its population increase from 208 million to 316 million by 2050, putting severe pressure on both natural and man-made resources, from water to government. As these millions move to the cities in search of jobs and connections, the political order will assuredly shift. Whatever arises by then may not be the states as they appear on today's map. Indeed, what we consider modernity itself may already be behind us. The headlines between now and then will be loud and hysterical -- as they are today in Syria -- even as the fundamental shifts will at first be obscure. For history is not only about convulsions, but about the ground shifting slowly under our feet.

In The City of God, St. Augustine revealed that it is the devout -- those in search of grace -- who have no reason to fear the future. And as the tribes of old now slowly come undone in the unstoppable meat grinder of developing-world urbanization, religion will be more necessary than ever as a replacement. Alas, extremist Islam (as well as evangelical Christianity and Orthodox Judaism in the West) may make perfect sense for our age, even as its nemesis may not be democracy but new forms of military authority. Late Antiquity is useful to the degree that it makes us humble about what awaits us. But whatever comes next, the charmed circle of Western elites is decidedly not in control.

Enrique said...

JMG – “A huge number of people who claim to be Christian these days are actually true believers in the radically un-Christian, even anti-Christian religion of progress.”

Not to mention the fact that so many are true believers in what you aptly described as the ideology of Mordor. How is it that so many “Christian conservatives”, especially in the USA, are followers of Ayn Rand, a militant atheist whose teachings are the polar opposite of what the Rabbi of Nazareth taught? I am also reminded of a passage from Aldous Huxley’s “The Perennial Philosophy” where he pointed out that a great many people who claim to be followers of Jesus are actually worshippers of Mammon, Priapus or Mars. Quite a few seem to be avid worshippers of all three.

As for parallel between the foaming piles of hog manure that seem to explode on a regular basis these days and the financial markets, well said. The same thought came to me as I read the article…

“BTW, the word "fracking" is hereby exempt from this blog's prohibition against profanity; as it refers to a penetrative act performed with no thought of anything but immediate gratification, it makes a good expletive, and I encourage you and my other readers to start using it as such in public settings.”

Already do. Like many people, I got in the habit from watching the remake of the Battlestar Galactica TV series, which was a lot darker but much more intelligent than the original. The original was little more than “Bonanza in Space”, with Lorne Greene reprising his original role in what everyone thought would be the New Frontier. Funny how so much of the Jetson’s future we were promised turned out to either be stillborn or a nightmare of mass consumer/mass media excess, stupidity and greed. I watch very little television and I can't stand 99 percent of what's on the boob tube these days, but I do make an occasional exception for intelligent programming like the remake of Battlestar Galactica.

Anyways, thanks for sharing these brilliant insights of yours every week. I have read several of your books, starting with “Monsters” and most recently “Not the Future We Ordered”. Next up on the list: “A World Full of Gods” (my reading list seems to keep growing day by day). I originally came to the Archdruid Report thanks to a recommendation from a commenter on Jim Kunstler’s blog. Your blog and Kunstler’s are among the websites that I check out at least once a week without fail.

Ian Stewart said...

It would appear that modern man is pretty deep into heavy metal these days, too...

Jeter said...

Great run while it lasted, let's see how long it takes cockroaches to put a bug on the moon :)

John Michael Greer said...

Joseph and Joeln, thank you.

SLClaire, er, that was Technology rather than science. Still, your broader point stands -- and I wonder just how bad the PTSD and the other aftereffects of the war will turn out to be.

Robert, quite deliberately -- I read the morality play many years ago, and did a lot of thinking about the difference between that vision of humanity and the currently popular one. I hadn't encountered the Jedermann Kollapso, though -- too funny!

Harry, did they use that in the new version? The 1970s original did, along with another word -- I think it was "felgercarb" -- meaning, basically, some Colonial equivalent of bovine excreta. I'm waiting for some new technological breakthrough to be called "felgercarbing."

Jim, "Nature Girl" might be a contender for the position!

Richard, the only possible response that comes to mind is this one.

Mike, Ronald, and Janet, thank you.

Raven, spot on. Yes, I was wondering if anyone would catch that.

John, oh, I don't know -- I think "zero chance" is roughly equal to "zero chance"! ;-)

Wendolpho, let me turn the question around. What do you think humanity could be, once we ditch the fantasy of being the conquerors of nature?

Simon, bingo.

Jose, see the comments by Odin's Raven and Simon above!

John Michael Greer said...

Andrew, it cost too much and never really gave the high it promised -- he used it, but never really got into it that deeply.

CJ, thank you.

Isaac, it was arbitrary. I needed a recent dateline, is all.

Librarian, thank you.

Keithpp, well, no, we didn't necessarily work with nature -- we just had much more limited capacities for mischief, and got walloped for misbehavior just as we're going to be walloped this time around. As for thermal runaway, I'd encourage you to look into what happened the last dozen or so times the planet had a sudden spike in greenhouse gases -- yes, it's happened before, and the result wasn't uncontrolled positive feedback.

Onething, very little that human beings do is governed by conscious, voluntary choice, and if we have to depend on that small part of our total beings to rescue us, we're truly fracked. Fortunately, just as our recent stupidities were largely driven by the sheer availability of cheap abundant fossil fuels, our forthcoming return to relative sanity will largely be driven by the end of that unusual condition.

Escape, fascinating! Many thanks for the link.

Enrique, funny you should mention Ayn Rand. I'll have quite a bit to say down the road about that radical atheist and fan of axe murderers.

Ian, true enough. Let's all quietly repeat to ourselves, "accelerating dependence on nonrenewable resources is a really stupid idea..."

Jeter, my money's on the raccoons!

Enrique said...

Speaking of Ayn Rand and her fetish for axe murderers, Mark Ames, who is one of the best investigative journalists of today, did a brilliant expose of Rand and her right-wing admirers.

It’s no wonder why the pseudo-conservative right is so crazy, given that Rand is their patron saint, and I say this as a paleo-conservative who is disgusted by the way the conservative movement and the right have been hijacked by a bunch of half-baked fanatics, religious hypocrites, apostles of greed and apologists for the plutocrats and corporate looters. It’s no wonder that so many Republican politicians like Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin and Wall Street executives like Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon behave like sociopaths on the prowl. They are simply following the teachings of a sociopath who openly expressed her admiration for the one of the most depraved murderers of her day.

Steve Carrow said...

Here is a relevant article that follows up on some previous comments and makes the connection between JMG's allegory and us flesh and blood humans who actually implement technology and science in the world. Robert Oppenheimer had some words to say about it as well. Reflection is more useful but seldom done before we act.

Fielder Jones said...

I enjoy your essays, but I’m having trouble with the current series.

With the exception of a couple of affirmative nods, you have been very hard on the process of reflection. In last week’s post you referred to it as “the barbarism of reflection.” While I agree, and know from personal experience, that reflection can lead to nihilism, I would suggest that humanity suffers from a lack of reflection rather than an excess. Here, I would agree with Jacques Ellul. Enslaved by machines, surrounded by concrete, and living on machine time, we have become severed from nature and the natural rhythms that world implies. The un-natural noise (cars, airplanes, more machines) and the distractions (television, “smart” phones) of modern life frustrate man’s ability to reflect.

In the current essay, I would say you have it backwards: technology is no longer the servant of man, but his master. Every new technology is immediately put to use. We frack, drone, and spy because we can. Even a little reflection would expose these technologies as dangerous, counterproductive, or illegal. But we are not asked to reflect. We must listen to the experts, the technicians and scientists, the high priests of the religion of progress. We are told our problems are too complex. So, we have the technicians at the Federal Reserve, not our elected representatives, “running” the US economy, and lobbyists and bureaucrats (technicians) putting meat onto the bones of Dodd/Frank. Even our politicians cannot be trusted.

Nihilism is certainly a problem (I think you promised to say more about it in the future), but I believe the footholds I am finding to climb from the abyss are the result of reflection. Are we not most “human” when we synthesize our senses, education, and experience in quiet reflection? Man is a part of nature; technology is the conqueror. At some point in this abstract, scientific journey man handed the reins to technology, and technology has conditioned the son of Everyman to be passive, unreflecting passengers. Once on this road, I’m not sure it could have ended any other way.

Anyway, I do enjoy and benefit from your essays.

Richard Clyde said...

I like the challenging and subtle detail that Man in the throes of his last despondency blames the fool Technology for his predicament. It's an antidote to the green temptation of imagining that we can get out of trouble by throwing our machinery back across the room and declaring it very, very bad, of neglecting to observe that that too is a frantic move in the game of Man and not an escape.

Zach said...

John Michael,

Well done! Yes, you successfully pulled off the humor - at least, I thought it quite funny.

I wish you weren't on-target about the Religion of Progress masquerading as (or syncretizing with) Christianity, but that is my observation as well. And the sooner we can get the two untangled, the better, as far as I'm concerned.

That's certainly some(*) of the source of the controversy over Pope Francis' recent Apostolic Exhortation, up to and including Rush Limbaugh sputtering about how the Pope is "preaching pure Marxism." It would seem Rush has a rather dualistic viewpoint, such that failure to honor the goodness and sufficiency of "free-market capitalism" as the Engine of Progress™ means that one must therefore be a disciple of Marx.


(*) There are theological critiques also, but those details are out of scope for this blog. :) I mention it only to say that not every "conservatives unhappy with Pope Francis" story involves his tilting at the idols of Progress and Economy. Ironically, his traditionalist critics are more likely to agree with him on those points! It's a strange, funny world.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

Regarding the sorting out process: Jarndyce & Jarndyce. I'll bet you had even more fun writing that piece, than I did reading it. Richard of York also comes to mind, as an apt comparison, wading through slaughter to his throne.

John Michael Greer said...

Enrique, could you and the other paleoconservatives please rent some bullhorns or something and make your voices heard a bit more? I disagree with a noticeable fraction of your views, but by no means all, and it would be good to see the current Randian pseudoconservative movement forced to defend itself against a principled assault from the right.

Steve, thanks for the link.

Fielder, I think you've misunderstood my point. Of course reflection is valuable, and in some situations necessary; the problem is that it can spin out of control into nihilism under some circumstances. The phrase "barbarism of reflection" doesn't mean that all reflection is barbaric, it means that under the wrong conditions, reflection can give rise to barbarities. Every human capacity can be abused; just as you don't actually know how to use a tool until you can describe three ways to break it and three things it can't do, understanding the limits on human capacities, and the ways in which they're commonly abused, is essential to using them well.

Richard, excellent; that gets you tonight's gold star. I was wondering if anybody was going to catch that detail, and realize what I was referencing.

Zach, this is why I expect a major revival of Marxism in the US in the near future. If Rush and his equivalents keep on insisting that any alternative to a Randian war of all against all is Marxism, a great many people of good will are going to decide that Marx deserves a second hearing. You couldn't buy that kind of publicity!

Matthew, good. I considered putting some Macbeth in there, too, but decided that the nested ironies were already thick enough.

hapibeli said...

JMG, this is exactly how my wife has been telling me to get through how we get through to people about anything really important. Humor allows the truth without whacking them over the head! Fabulous job John! All kudos ( and laughs) to you! BRAVO!!!!

Chris Travers said...

Nice piece. Do you think that it would be fair to say that the early transition from just using coal to using coke may have been a factor in the later overdose?

(Sorry, couldn't resist, though I suspect you stuck with coal because most folks wouldn't get the pun.)

Tom Bannister said...

"Daniel, thank you also. BTW, the word "fracking" is hereby exempt from this blog's prohibition against profanity; as it refers to a penetrative act performed with no thought of anything but immediate gratification, it makes a good expletive, and I encourage you and my other readers to start using it as such in public settings. I'd also note that those people who believe that it's a good idea to direct this behavior toward Mother Earth could quite reasonably be described as "motherfrackers.""

Can I just say that that is BRILLIANT! At least the other older bio-phobic F word can be used in a positive sense. I cannot see a positive connotation for 'Fracking' as of yet...

Øyvind Holmstad said...

By the way, will this declaration of the death of Man have the same consequences as when Nietzsche declared the death of God? Are you the Nietzsche of our time? Did Man play the same role of contemporary people as God did in earlier days? Do many contemporary Christians worship Man, not God?

Daniel Hägerby said...

Reading this, perhaps your best post yet, I thought of what the drug abuse profile of a near death addict looks like. As it happens I was just recently playing around with world GDP and world energy data to see if there was any sign of decoupling. Of course there is not, but if you plot the two against each other you see that Man actually get less of a high nowadays for the same dose of fossil drugs. Actually there may come a time when the correlation between drug usage and high received goes negative - but not in the way Man would like. But rather that more drugs mean less high!

Clearly that would end the analogy with Man an his abuse in your story, so it not likely to happen. Rather the reduced kick per dose is a sign of Man nearing the end of his time on earth.

Phil Knight said...

I think Michael Prescott was one of the first to dig into Ayn Rand's dubious past:

His blog is one of the best sites out there for fans of woo-woo, btw.

Seaweed Shark said...

An entertaining satire -- though I'm not certain about the significance of "Monday." In any case, it reminded me of a something in a a recent review by Clancy Martin: "'Addiction represents a pathological usurpation of the neural mechanisms of learning and memory,' writes the psychiatrist Steven E. Hyman,... It is almost impossible for the addict to learn, to understand, and to remember that he cannot have his drug."

ENT said...

She didn't see the news of Man's passing despite it being in all the papers. She didn't read those anymore.

Not even Clio was aware of Man's affair many years ago and the daughter that was born from it. It was easy for Man to sweep it aside with a fist of petty cash offered to her mother, for women at that time were conditioned to accept Man's intimidation.

Not her though, the estranged daughter of Man was not cowed by the world of Man. She floated in and out of it, spending more and more time within the remote and fantastic realms of Nature beyond the reach of her father.

She would come to witness many soul-shaking horrors as the soldiers of Man infiltrated the last of the realms she loved. Her heart did not grow cold though, as many others would, it became like a white hot diamond burning with singular purpose, expanding beyond her physical being.

She observed Nature and learned her ways. She was mentored at first but quickly became colleague, ally & compatriot. As she did, a following of Nature surrounded her, loyal to their death, they protected her and she them.

And thus, as Man gasped and thrutched to his death in a cold pool of petroleum on his ornate bathroom floor, the age of Woman began. The moment washed over her as a cold shiver and nothing more as she sat peaceful and centered deep within the heart of Nature.

Now an army of legal assistants fans across the land, from the deep, beating heart of the jungle, to the stoic brow of the mountains, they are in search of the mystery heir in Man's will, Woman.

onething said...

"Onething, very little that human beings do is governed by conscious, voluntary choice, and if we have to depend on that small part of our total beings to rescue us, we're truly fracked. Fortunately, just as our recent stupidities were largely driven by the sheer availability of cheap abundant fossil fuels, our forthcoming return to relative sanity will largely be driven by the end of that unusual condition."

When you mention, for example, that reflection can turn barbaric, or that man's retreat from technology will be driven by the end of fossil fuels, it sounds like an emotionally driven reaction with little real reflection. It is commonly done to pretend to oneself that one is making a rational decision based in intellect, when in fact there is an underlying emotion demanding satisfaction.
So if what man does is not mostly conscious, how are we to learn from our mistakes? That is, in the coming decades and centuries, will humans use stories and religion to make taboos with no clearer understanding than that? Well, I suppose that the subconscious can be quite an accurate assessor but in that case the stories might also be contrived by the more wicked emotions, which would be a shame.

Cathy McGuire said...

On the topic of "the religion of Progress", this is an appalling article about how "mobile phones are changing (saving) Nigeria":

...One of the people working at iHub is Wesley Kirinya, 30, a dot-com businessman who dropped out of med school three years ago to found his company, Leti Games. He now has six employees around Africa, and rents a one-and-a-half-meter (five-foot) table in front of the windows here at iHub, just a few steps away from the building's café. This is his headquarters ....

(dropping med school for games?? Is this not a sign of deep culture sickness??)

...Where there are mobile phones, there is less need to lay cables for conventional landline telephones. There is also less need to build highways, clinics and schools, because mobile phones are all these things in one -- as well as bank, weather station, doctor's office, atlas, compass, textbook, radio and TV station. Africans can now send money across the jungle or steppe with the click of a button, merchants can compare prices, and farmers can access weather data relevant to their harvests or get advice from veterinarians. Bloggers and social media users also function as a substitute for a free press, keeping watch over those in power. All that's needed to do all this are mobile phone antennas, which are built by companies, not governments.

"It's now easier, technically speaking, to supply a village with Internet access than with clean water," says Mo Ibrahim.

(and they see this as progress?? How does one "keep watch over those in power", without roads?)

Read the whole article - it's an eyeopener, and depressing in many ways.

(BTW, I've been using the "a" HTML tag to make a live link, but it's not working at all for me... anyone else use something different?)

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Raymond Duckling: Depends on the meeting. Of course, the initial intent of AA was to deal only with alcohol. And, some of the old timers get pretty raspy if you stray too far from alcohol.

But, as they die off, things are getting a little "looser". These days, so many people have dual (and multiple) addictions.

But, of course, these days there are a multitude of groups using the AA template to deal with a multitude of addictions. Everything from internet addiction to, I have heard, an over fondness for Coca-Cola. :-). There are widespread groups for shop-a-holics. Rampant consumerism.

Re: Profanity. I've always had a fondness for the term "horse apples." I once got away with using the term "what the horse leaves behind" when writing a book review for a local newspaper. :-)

Esther said...

"Enrique, could you and the other paleoconservatives please rent some bullhorns or something and make your voices heard a bit more? I disagree with a noticeable fraction of your views, but by no means all, and it would be good to see the current Randian pseudoconservative movement forced to defend itself against a principled assault from the right."

I would love to, but The Cathedral & USG doesn't allow this. If I was willing to sell my soul, I could have been a PhD in the humanities. Unfortunately, as a heretic, paleos like myself have to actually meet an impossible double standard in order to be a public figure. The only other option is blogging, which I and others like Enrique undoubtedly do, but the audience is limited. Any suggestions as to how to get the message out there would be helpful! Maybe there's something we're not thinking of. In fact, being paleos, there is almost certainly something being overlooked, as we're long on principle, and short on technology.
"One of the many divine paradoxes in our political formula is the double valence of democracy. This word, its declensions, its synonyms, carry positive associations well up in the sacred range. Deep in your medulla, warmth glows from everything democratic. Yet at the same time, we have a related family of words, such as politics and its declensions, which seem to mean exactly the same thing - yet reek of heinous brimstone.

How is it possible to have democracy but not politics, or vice versa? What can the two be, but the same thing? Yet anything democratized is made good, and anything politicized is made bad.

Of course, to the hardened UR reader, this is just one more sign that we are dealing with an essentially magical belief system. I will defy any Republican or Democrat to explain this paradox. He can only fall on his knees and worship it. In short, his political loyalty is instantly recognized as a religious affiliation."

I would love to find a bull horn. Any suggestions, readers?

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

"Another great post! I often wonder what % of the population (U.S.)has finally given up on this image of Man. We've seen that what's good for GM is not good for America, what's good for technology is not good for America, and what's good for Wall Street is not good for America. The environmental damage continues but without economic prosperity for most. Yet the people I deal with on a regular basis still seem to think we're just in some kind of business cycle lull. I'm guessing it will be with the younger generations that the death of this image of Man will really occur. Those who have never seen business as usual actually "work" for themselves have no emotional attachment to it, no hope to place in it."

40 Years in the Wilderness ought to take care of the problem, IF we don't over-medicate, over-educate, and generally indoctrinate them mean time.
I place our percentage at 10-20% and rising.

zmejuka-alexey said...

John Michael,

May be it is a bit off topic, but IMO it is an important question relevant to the aim of your blog. What do you think about the wars on the way to the postindustrial future?

I am from Russia and compared to my country, people in the developed world start to forget the dirty and bloody side of the war. On the other hand, having in mind the history of my country, I cannot imagine a transition without lots of wars.

So, I don't understand why I don't see this topic in the peak-oil and transition blogosphere.

Thanks in advance,
sorry if it is not relevant to your great post.

Best regards

Kevin Anderson K9IUA said...

Great "news" story. I couldn't help but keep imagining Man sprawled out as in the painting of Uncle Sam addicted to oil found here:
that has been the backdrop on my computer screen for a few months now.

Iuval Clejan said...

Someone once said that comedy is tragedy plus time, but in this case we haven't had enough time and the death throws are still happening. It is not funny when you see friends and family who are jobless, community-less, TV zombies, out of touch with nature or anything spiritual, and out of touch with the human capacity for making stuff. But they have the comforts that petroleum and technology can provide (at least the ones I know, though there are many who don't even have that)!
So I felt like crying more than laughing...

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Another outstanding piece, JM. Beautifully deftly judged - and wonderfully funny too, never fear.

I put up a link on the MediaLens Message Board, copy thus:

Clarence said...

kudos for the classic takedown on the mythos of Man. smile and chuckle-inducing writing of high caliber.

as i sat in the holding cell after surviving the assassination attempt, one of the myrmidons of that establishment asked why i had done something so against the cultural practices of america(the abject submission to the state by way of licenses and registration of our own property). i quoted a writer and philosopher, saying "some of us stand up so that the rest of you may see how far you have fallen." it is commendable and admirable that you are one of those who stand up.


Doctor Westchester said...


One sign that the change in religious sensibility that you have talked about may be heading toward critical mass is if frack overtakes the other f-word as a swear term. It would great if that word could be emptied of its bio-phobic connotations of attack, rape and nastiness, and turned (returned?) to a strong biophilic term for the sexual acts it supposedly denotes. After all, I do find currently acceptable terms like “making love” to be rather insipid.

I have mulling the f-word thing around for a while, since I have gotten very tired of seeing sexual acts (especially ones often still considered deviant) used as metaphors to describe the very destructive financial actions by our self-described “Masters of the Universe” Wall Street denizens. You don’t find this in the MSM, but it certainly appears often in the blogosphere. I was coming to the conclusion that it would be great if things like selling mortgage-backed securities could become the reference point for basing obscenities instead of sexual acts.

However I think that fracking makes an even better reference point since it still has emotional connection to the concept of violation that selling bad paper will never have. It also helps that the reality of inserting the business end of an active fracking drill into a living being would result in its death. So if the current f-word could be drained of the bad connotations like rape then we could have the bad guy saying “I’m going to frack you, you female dog.” You would definitely know that that this bad guy needs to spend a long time in the big house, where…

Nick Nelson said...

JMG, long-time reader, first time commenter. I really enjoyed this week's post and agree with another commenter that it should be submitted to The Onion. It's right in their wheelhouse.

But I've chosen to post for another reason. As much as it pains me to jump into the he said, she said of gender politics, I have no choice but to express some (polite) consternation at comments that put forth the icon of Woman as not only the successor but also the counterpoint to industrial Man. They can't possibly be referring to Woman as she stands now, because as far as I can see Woman is driving her SUV, guzzling her latte, and shooting up sweet crude with the same abandon as her erstwhile hubby.

I may be kicking a hornet's nest with this one, but I have to express some confusion when people who clearly chafe under a gendered abstraction of the human race propose a differently gendered abstraction as a solution. Wasn't there something said earlier about bad ideas and their opposites?

AlanfromBigEasy said...

I think you will find a decoupling of GDP and energy use in Denmark and France from 2007 to 2012.

Tom Bannister said...

Another thought... Imagine the famous Rage Against the machine song 'Killing in the name of' be altered slightly...


Cherokee Organics said...


Exceptionally amusing and also illustrative of the greater problem of petroleum addiction. For that indeed is what it is!

The narrative and its pace, put me in mind of something which I can't put a finger on, but it is probably just indicative of a very good faux-mentary! Tidy work. You left "This is Spinal Tap" for dead and turned it up to 11! hehe.

We are consuming the estate too, and that point is not lost on me. As an interesting side note, there has been a bit of backlash in the media of recent times, that receivers are consuming way too much of the remaining assets in businesses (in fact all in some cases). It has been described as a growth industry for the profession when other areas are contracting. Sad, and not a particularly good look.

I spoke too early a few weeks back, because I believe the Greens and the Coalition have this week voted to remove the debt ceiling altogether here for the federal government. It was previously - I think - AU$300bn.

Back to the real world, and the marsupial bats are happily flying about and munching on the insects here. The chooks are to bed and the sunset is amazing. It is quite warm here as the wind is gently blowing from the north, however summer doesn't really kick in here until January (and goes to the end of March). Yikes. 60 to 90 days of uncertainty!

I started the process of preserving (bottling or canning, I think you call this process?) and jam making (apricot and strawberry mix) today for the next year. Also, the rosellas have been effectively excluded from the chook enclosure. With the serious availability of fresh greens, the consumption of chook food has fallen dramatically to less than a quarter of what it used to be. However, the rosellas have moved on to tasting unripe pears (not happy). Still, if the birds strip the fruit, the trees will put on more wood which will be good for future crops.

The big success this season has been the strawberries as I’m harvesting about ¼ to ½ kilogram of ripe fruit per day. They’re meant to keep fruiting until May too. I’m sure they’ll go into shock during late January, but til then…

The only answer that comes to mind from your story this week is to deepen your top soil, grow more diverse plants and learn how to preserve the glut.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Juhana,

I'm confused by your post last week.

The contradiction for me arises because you grew up in social housing and are angry about it. You also speak highly of kin bonds. Yet, at the same time I'm wondering whether you question:

- How did the history of your kin end you up in social housing? I'm not asking for your story, but asking you whether you have reflected on whether the choices of your kin were responsible in any way for that situation. It is a complex matter.

I can speak with some authority on these matters as I had a most unusual childhood too.

The other thing that confuses me is that you profess a sense of disillusionment with the left and yet social housing is a welfare type government policy. Would homelessness be a preferable option in your part of the world? It would be survivable here, but seriously unpleasant to your health. I can't imagine what it would be like in Northern Europe.

Dunno, but these are complex matters and perhaps they are best not addressed here.

I sense behind your words that you have an anger which is like a boil that needs to be lanced, but I could be wrong.

Anger can be a powerful motivator, but at the same time it is my belief that it can cloud a person’s judgement.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi everyone,

Of course GDP has to keep growing! If it did not grow, whilst the population kept growing then everyman and their dog would be able to point to the numbers and go:

"Thus we are all poorer".



Isis said...

Ayn Rand has been mentioned a few times in the comments to this week's post. I'm trying to synthesize the ideas discussed in this blog over the past few months, so let me see if I got this bit right: Marxism is a civil religion parasitical on Christianity, in that Marxism does away with the Christian deity (and angels, etc.), but "steals" the imagery and emotional content of Christianity by, for instance, substituting the proletariat for God, dictatorship of the proletariat for heaven, etc. Ayn Rand's Objectivism is the anti-religion of Marxism: it's essentially the same thing, but with signs reversed (thus, in Marxism, the masses are Good and greedy capitalists are Bad, whereas in Objectivism, it's exactly the other way around). Does this sound about right?

Further, one of the commentators here linked to an article about Ayn Rand's sympathies for a notorious child killer, and in that context, I've been pondering the question of the extent to which Ayn Rand's personality traits should be taken into consideration when evaluating her philosophy. Saying that somebody's ideas are wrong simply because that somebody was a nasty person constitutes an ad hominem fallacy. But it seems to me that there is more to it than that. Moral philosophy (which is essentially what Ayn Rand was concerned with) deals with values at least as much as it deals with facts and logic, and values are never "true" or "false" (in the way that a statement such as "it rained this morning in Berlin" is either true or false). Thus, while the fact that somebody was a nasty human being should have no bearing on the evaluation of his work in (say) algebraic geometry (which deals with logic only), it should be kept in mind when approaching his moral philosophy. Essentially, if someone was a nasty human being, it makes it likely that he had some pretty twisted values, and so one should not adopt his ideas without having scrutinized them very carefully (more carefully than one typically scrutinizes ideas). This is not so much a question of logic as of practical wisdom. If I'm going to read moral philosophy in search of guidance for living a good life, then it seems reasonable to approach with an open mind the writings of a person who dedicated his life to (say) rescuing abandoned puppies, while approaching the writings of a convicted embezzler or serial rapist with heightened skepticism.

So in that sense, it seems to me that keeping in mind that Ayn Rand held in high esteem (and even largely based a hero of her first - unpublished - novel on) a man who kidnapped, killed, and eviscerated a 12-year-old girl, then threw the girl's upper body in front of her horrified father, and then proceeded to scatter the girl's limbs and entrails around L.A., should heighten one's skepticism in approaching Ayn Rand's writings (and it should certainly be enough to prevent a person from idolizing Ayn Rand as a human being, whatever the merits of her writing may be). Just my 2c.

In any case, I certainly look forward to the Archdruid's more in depth discussion of Ayn Rand!

Andy Brown said...

As an aside to your satire here . . . a couple of years ago I was working on research about communicating energy policy (specifically shifting away from oil) and one of the things that we looked at was the addiction metaphor (since a lot of sustainable energy advocates gravitate to that way of talking about oil). What we found was that it was a terrible way of getting people to think about oil policy. Not because it's particularly misleading, but because it makes people profoundly pessimistic about finding solutions - least of all policy solutions. For most Americans - except those directly involved with substance abuse - the addiction narrative plays out pretty much as you lay it out here - in a downward spiral that friends and relatives struggle and fail to stop. As I said, not particularly inaccurate, but not exactly the message our clients were looking for.

Ángel said...

This week's post made me stand in front of my computer and cheer, bravissimo.

I couldn't find a proper translation for "Everyman" into Spanish, though. Did you use as reference "The Summoning of Everyman", the 15th century morality play? If so, I think it hasn't been translated into Spanish yet.

BeaverPuppet said...

Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong was asked to comment on the death of Man. “I always knew he had to be on something”, Armstrong said. “You can’t be that dominant without cheating, take it from me. “ Lance went on “I got caught, but that Man and his petroleum, they were slick, Law could never quite get its hands around them.”

rpauli said...

Feel free to use the portrait

John Michael Greer said...

Hapibeli, that's the intention -- many thanks!

Chris, bingo. Certainly my American readers, with an American public school education, can be counted on never to have heard of the massive role of coking technology in making the industrial revolution possible. Otherwise, it would have been a great pun!

Tom, you may indeed. ;-) Now get out there and use that naughty word!

Øyvind, I don't have Nietzsche's talent for incandescent prose, but my proclamation is meant to have the same implications and effects as his, yes. More on this next week.

Daniel, isn't it when an addict can't get the familiar high even from steeply increased doses of the drug that he's most at risk of death from overdose? If so, it fits the metaphor perfectly.

Phil, thanks for the link. It'll be useful.

Seaweed, Monday was purely a matter of getting the news cycle in synch with the weekly cycle of posts here. It doesn't have any other significance.

ENT, well, that's one story that could be told. I'm not a great fan of gender essentialism, though, and as far as I can tell there's no will and plenty of contenders for whatever's going to be left of the estate when the debts are all finally paid off.

Onething, do you recall my discussion in the autumn of 2011 about the role of the nonrational in human life, and the ways to shape nonrational reactions? That's all very specifically relevant here.

Cathy, thanks for the data and the link. Yes, there's a lot of technofetishism focused on getting the internet to the rest of the planet, as though providing video games and online porn to the Third World is somehow going to make up for the fact that we in the industrial world owe our lifestyles to the systematic exploitation of Third World nations.

Esther, my experience with the paleoconservative scene so far has been that most public figures in that scene suffer from what media activist Patrick Reinsborough calls "defector syndrome" -- stating their case in terms that will only appeal to those already on their side. (It's a common problem, found just as frequently on the far left.) The alternative isn't to sell out -- it's to learn how to communicate your message in ordinary language, without the jargon every isolated subculture develops, in ways that will speak to the concerns of ordinary readers without preaching to them or talking down to them. A tall order? Not if you take the time to read some classical texts on rhetoric, say, and follow their extremely sensible advice.

John Michael Greer said...

Alexey, I've written about those to some extent already, but you're right -- it'll need a more extensive discussion in a post or two in the future. You don't see much discussion of war in the peak oil blogosphere for exactly the reason you've suggested: a great deal of peak oil discussion takes its lead from the US, which has not had a war on its own soil since 1865. That allows a lot of Americans to pretend that war can't possibly be anything but a nuisance affecting some other country, somewhere else in the world. One of the few advantages of living in a frequently invaded country, as you do, is that you're less likely to fall into that delusion!

Kevin, nice. Many thanks for the link.

Iuval, good. It was intended to hit the thin line between those reactions.

Rhisiart, thank you! I've had a spike in hits, which was partly your doing -- somebody else seems to have posted The Next Ten Billion Years somewhere, and that also got a substantial uptick.

Clarence, thank you. Remember, though, that you can't actually affect the system by rebelling against it in the ways that the system expects...

Doctor W., exactly! You get tonight's gold star. I'd like to suggest the word "stripmine" as another good bit of belligerent speech, as in, "You motherfracker, I'm gonna stripmine your frackin' face!" or "Yeah, we all got stripmined by that latest policy change." Since the word means "devastate, ravage, lay waste to," it gets the point across.

Seriously, folks -- this is a subtle but effective way to shift the collective imagination. Start using terms like "frack" and "stripmine" as obscenities in ordinary conversation, and watch your own awareness and that of the people around you start to change...

Nick, no argument there. The feminist thinkers who've pointed out the severe problems with gender essentialism -- in less complex English, the notion that certain human qualities "naturally" belong to one gender only -- are to my mind square on target. That's one of the reasons why I've suggested that it might be useful to replace Man with people -- lower case, plural, and including the whole range of genders and other human characteristics. (Not, please note, The People -- that's another capitalized abstraction, even more murderous than most.)

Tom, there you go.

Cherokee, it's "canning" here -- "preserving" in American means all ways of making food last, freezing, drying, pickling, you name it. One way or another, it might be usefully inflicted on the idiots who have abolished your national debt limit -- not that we have anything to boast about in that department, either!

John Michael Greer said...

Isis, that's a good summary of my take. Moral philosophers are proponents of values, and the way they express their values in their own lives is entirely relevant to any discussion of their thinking, just as the death rate from a medical procedure is relevant to a discussion of the theory on which the procedure is based. In Rand's case, though, the situation is even more interesting, since many of those people who lionize her claim to belong to a religion that holds values utterly antithetical to hers. More on this in a couple of weeks...

Andy, granted -- but then this wasn't intended to motivate change, but rather to redefine some of the language currently being used to glorify the mess we're currently in. One step at a time!

Ángel, glad to hear it. Yes, that's the play -- is there a collective noun in Spanish meaning "everyone," or something like that? That would be your best translation.

Puppet, nice.

Rpauli, thanks for the suggestion.

John Michael Greer said...

Quos Ego (offlist), there's off topic and then there's off topic! Post a comment with your email address on it, marked "not for posting," and I'll respond privately.

Cherokee Organics said...


When discussing the death of man, conqueror of nature, aren't we also discussing death itself? I sort of think that perhaps we (as a society) have to accept the death of man, conqueror of nature, before we start to accept our own deaths?

Dunno, but so much of our fossil fuel usage is channelled into cheating nature. In a world powered by sunlight alone, we have plenty of advantages to be sure, but there is no way we could possibly live the way we do today in developed countries.

Man, that conqueror of nature as it stands now, even today, is certainly having a bad case of the hacking cough, which is in itself a prelude to a death rattle!



Grebulocities said...

I'm afraid that "frack" won't catch on as profanity because it sounds like, and is frequently used as, a bowdlerized form of the other f-word. Hopefully the motherfrackers in the American oil and gas scene, and the bursting of their financial bubble along with their environmental mayhem, help to give it the necessary boost it needs to become a swear word in its own right. But I'm afraid that, even with their help, it may still exist only as a toned-down f-word.

I think "stripmine" could work much better though - I think it effectively conveys the meaning you suggest, and it would probably be understood even now to mean something like "to lay waste to."

By the way, is your prohibition of profanity in your comments mostly for the purpose of encouraging a higher level of discourse, or do you have a problem with the use of profanity per se? The ban on profanity you enforce seems strange until one compares your blog's comments to comments on Kunstler's blog. Part of the reason this is my favorite blog is that the comments are as thought-provoking as your post, which is itself as reliably mind-blowing as a good psychedelic drug, without as many side effects. I doubt the comments would have the same quality without your moderation, despite the fact that well-aimed profanity can be an effective rhetorical device.

Overall, I like the idea of using environmentally destructive practices as swear words. Perhaps they could replace religious swear words like "damn," which have become the mildest class of profanity in the English language. If the new religious sensibility you've written about truly is forming, I can't think of anything more sacrilegious than fracking Mam Gaia for another short-lived petroleum high.

Leo said...

@ zmejuka-alexey

Here's an article on some aspects of future wars

Another aspect is that relative to the past, the world is at peace. War deaths are at 55,000 a year and atrocities aren't standard practice anymore.

I've written on the more technical side of warfare:

But the social and political implications are a bit more complex.

For the dirty side of war, the more professional an army is and the more state support (do the soldiers need to forage and provision themselves) there is, the less atrocities and similar events occur.

The 30 year war is a good example of that, the armies weren't very professional and had to fund themselves with loot. In some provinces 40-60% of the population was killed in various ways. One common event was to roast people alive to make them reveal where they hid their money or taking clothes so people froze to death.

Militaries could easily de-proffessionalize in the future.

Walter Bazzini said...

Well done and choice, though it is probably a little better related to when read through these eyes of a former drunk. It does take one [addict] to know one.

Juhana said...

@Chris: Yes, I believe my rant last week can be quite baffling when majority of pieces from the puzzle are missing. Communicating about this kind of things to other side of the world with a alien language may not be easiest way to bring clarity, but I will try.

First of all, European populism is not the same thing as American libertarians. Not at all. Outside the anglosphere, populist movements tend to blend together ideas from both left and right. It is the strong nationalism, not the economical opinions, that marks populism to the right. Cultural conservatism and anti-modernism are common factors. I have traveled quite a lot inside Europe, and these traits seem to be common nominators in very heterogenous and motley crew of "populisms". Still, I am not a politician but just ordinary working man in the specialist position, so I may be wrong also. That is my personal experience, though.

The other factor playing into the big picture is the fact that parties of traditional Left have lost their grip on native working classes of at least northern/central European nations. Loss of that grip is as complete as it is underrated in the circles of more affluent society. Those neighbourhoods and people who were only two decades ago the most loyal support base for leftist ideologies are adrift now, and the break is as irreversible as it is ground-breaking. Political map of the Europe shall look totally different after Baby Boomer generation makes their exit from voting population.

At the personal level, err... Internet is wrong place for personal lament, but let's say something at least. My country was bound to COMECON economic system much more tightly than current politicians want to remember. Our country had to sign "Treaty of mutual Friendship, Co-operation and Assistance", YYA, with the Soviet Union after World War Two, even if official position during Cold War was that of deep neutrality. Soviets were good buyers, even if politically agonizing partners. Our country had the benefit to operate under quite conservative Western-style financial system and still have open trade routes into the very heart of the Eastern Bloc. As a result, there was a lot of top-quality heavy industry in my country geared almost totally towards "Eastern Trade". When Soviet Union fell, all this economic activity came to grinding halt. Unemployment rose in couple of years from ceremonial 2-3 % to the staggering 25 % in national level, and situation was far worse where I lived. Proud, skilled craftsmen from high-quality heavy industry were thrown into permanent unemployment, and whole working-class neighbourhoods ravaged and bankrupted, then thrown into hastily expanded public housing projects. Innumerable lives were shattered and whole mental landscape where those people lived changed forever during timespan of two or three years. My father was one of those on the losing side and I rose to adulthood in those same years, among the carnage of our previously prosperous blue-collar community. I am very moderate and dispassionate person, mind you. Younger ones coming from same hoods and circles are even more alienated from current system than I am. I at least had time to grow up as a child in more stable, happier times. Old values were inscribed into me during that childhood. Younger ones have seen only this new reality, if they do not belong to privileged classes, who buy themselves out from the brave, new world. So peak oil and peak resource base shall have political face also, believe me.

Bill Pulliam said...

We saw a stage production of "Everyman" back in the 1990s. As I recall, the ultimate lesson was that everything in the world will abandon you, even family and friends, and all that will remain with you in the end is Good Deeds. I can see that this message is likely to have some enduring appeal during an era where people are watching all they have understood of the world gradually being dismantled, rather similar to Everyman's experience in the play. So I would not be surprised to see a resurrected version of him coming forward as one of the contenders to succeed Man, C-of-N. Many people always like to look back when times are difficult, rather than forward.

Andy Brown said...

"this wasn't intended to motivate change, but rather to redefine some of the language currently being used to glorify the mess we're currently in. One step at a time!"

I didn't mean to criticize the essay, which I thoroughly enjoyed. If anything, I find the addiction narrative refreshingly optimistic since it implies that we could get off of oil voluntarily - and though I wish I could claim I saw evidence that we might - I can't.

AlanfromBigEasy said...

All but one political party in Denmark supports the goal of a fossil free Denmark by 2050. AND they are taking effective action :-)

From 2007 to 2012, per capita Danish carbon emissions dropped by -26.5%.

So someone is taking action.

Juhana said...

I recently read this interview of David Simon, and he describes well what I think also the future of The West, until next political upheaval throws everything into disarray again. From what direction the winners shall come, I have no idea, but I know that big troubles are brewing under the lid, like they were in the 30's.

What I find interesting is that JMG has in his books described the best theoretical model for world's current economic and environmental situation I have encountered. This model of catabolic collapse has very good track record indeed in explaining what has happened already, and if nuclear war option is not thrown into the picture, I believe it describes near to middle future also. It is of course only an model, but it works, so...

I just hope that blog host and frequent commenters in it don't underestimate consequences of tectonic shifts of political landscape either. I have noticed that anglosphere acquaintances of mine have tendency to highlight individual solutions to both problems and predicaments to a point I see as cultural weakness and blind spot. No individual works in the void, and for example there is no individual answers available to resolve predicament of mass unemployment.

If there is food for twenty, and one hundred hungry persons, mathematics dictate that individual answers help only the luckiest twenty... Those eighty persons left outside banquet would be very stupid if they should not form an alliance to chance that situation. If they win, they can fight all over again among different factions inside original group...

Whole world-wide infrastructure of production must undergo total remaking to have any true solution for resource depletion and outright destruction of our shared nature. Who really believes that road shall not be very messy?

When the last Western Emperor Romulus Augustulus, "little Augustus", was disposed in Ravenna at 476 AD, it took CENTURIES for any kind of new order to take place. Those centuries had to be lived through, if you happened to born during them. You could not just fast forward into the new order. Decay and anacyclosis of current "imperial" system has just started, so we have long road downhill ahead of us. One of the most reasonable answers how to react to it as individual living during troubled time is to protect one's own community, be like Bacaudae groups of late Roman Empire.

It is those people around you that truly matter, not some abstract fantasy Disneylandish Green Future hopium... Some day we must use less, and return to some version of sustainable living. Unfortunately that goal must be achieved through unpleasant stuff involving dirty politics and failed attempts to change direction, and LOTS of fighting over resources.

People preserving important skills and thinking patterns for the next civilization, waiting our heirs five hundred or thousand years from now, how they are going to deal with those less pleasant persons with no abstract argumentative skills but lots of skills in violence and capability to use it quite freely..?

After all, Germanic warbands were already Christians when the empire fell... They had some emotional sympathy towards Christian monasteries and their work. Where is this vital connection now..?

Robert Beckett said...

A wonderfully clever essay in somewhat a departure of genre, after Jonathan Swift! Magnifico! Bravo! So perfect for the season. May I wish a splendid end/beginning of the year in the druidic tradition to you and yours!

DeAnander said...

Re: climate, resource shortages, and warfare... Gwynne Dyer writes and speaks quite a lot about a future state of ubiquitous warfare; he's even written a book called "Climate Wars" which predicts a future of Hobbesian violence and chaos.

I've always found Dyer to be a bit too much in love with Doom, and a bit too fascinated with militarism and armed violence. Also, of course, I really don't *want* him to be right :-) But yes, someone is talking and writing about this stuff.

Interestingly enough, since consolidation of ownership of Canadian papers, Dyer's columns have been banned across his native country for several years now :-) Prima facie, it appears his refusal to parrot the Likudnik line was offensive to the Blacks and the Aspers. He still commands a lot of respect among the Canadian literati, I believe.

Clarence said...

john michael, my transition from status quo to rebel was abrupt in terms of time. this lead to precipitous action which lead to the incident mentioned. a lesson most painfully and thoroughly learned. my rebellion is now of a different nature. i truly consider myself an Outlaw. although, in conversations with like-minded people, i tend to prefer 'firefly'.(the series is available on disc)


. josé . said...

"this is why I expect a major revival of Marxism in the US in the near future"

I am reminded of why the McCain/Palin campaign stopped calling Obama "socialist" halfway through the cycle. It turns out that in focus groups with the key 18-35 voters, the closest association with the word "socialist" was Facebook (!) They switched to the word "Nazi" instead, since that still has negative connotations.

As we move farther and farther from the fall of the USSR, and China becomes one of the most capitalist societies in history, I suspect more and more of the electorate will no longer have knee-jerk negative reactions to Marx's teachings. And the crisp (binary?) simplicity of his teachings could make them popular among those who are suddenly poor and angry. The popularity of the 1%/99% meme may be a harbinger of what's to come.

It's not going to be pretty.

KL Cooke said...


"So peak oil and peak resource base shall have political face also, believe me."

As Leo has pointed out in his links,that face will, after the words of Chairman Mao, peek from the barrel of a gun.

Frankly, I wonder about the possibility, or even the inevitability of nuclear war. Perhaps the principle of mutually assured destruction will no longer apply in a sufficiently desperate situation. Plus there's the chance of someone touching off a conflagration through a colossal error.

These considerations add to the difficulty of predicting the course of a post-industrial world.

steve pearson said...

@juhana, I put this partly as a statement & partly a question, having been interested in your comments on ethnic & cultural identity in northern & eastern Europe as well as other parts of the world. After seeing the Finnish movie " The Unknown Soldier", I belatedly read more of the Finnish history in WWII, aka the winter war/continuation war/Lapland war.The nationalist,ethnic feeling must already have been there to fight like that sequentially against two of the major world powers with such incredible results, but those wars must have reinforced that feeling/identity going forward.
In the Anglosphere it hard to conceive of that level of identity.One gets the facile, superficial America number one posture in the USA, but that real depth of feeling here must only exist, and then marginally, in defeated populations such as the Maori in NZ, some native Americans, some Hawaiians, the Irish, the Scots.One feels it in Australia around ANZAC Day, also a defeat, perhaps in some marginal, ex-confederate areas in the US.
I guess my question to you is how much that feeling of community forged in fire motivates the identity you obviously feel.For better or for worse, I don't think most of us in the Anglosphere get it on a visceral level.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Juhana,

Thank you for your response. I appreciate the difficulties that you may have in communicating because English is not your native tongue. I also respect the fact that you are contributing to the discussion here as it provides an alternative viewpoint.

Quote: "When Soviet Union fell, all this economic activity came to grinding halt."

As a completely alternative perspective from an outsider, it is a risky strategy for any business (or country) to receive a large percentage of its income and/or sales from a single customer. Large percentage usually means more than 25% of the total revenue.

What you witnessed was in fact a failure of leadership in your country as they had all of their eggs in one basket.

That strategy is risky because, as you have seen, if the orders for products stop coming then the factories simply shut down, leading to unemployment and loss of capital.

This is what happened both here and in the US leading up to the Great Depression. There was manufacturing capacity, but little to no demand for the products.

The rapid development of public housing in the wake of such turmoil in Finland is actually a pacifying tool.

Large groups of unemployed people, who have little to lose are a recipe for revolution. 25% unemployment is a disaster waiting to happen. Have a look at the experience of Greece and Spain right now as they are experiencing these sorts of numbers.

Realistically, those people who suddenly found themselves in public housing must have lived elsewhere before that turmoil. It may be worth you asking those people about those times and getting some first-hand accounts?

Finland's experience is not the only possible solution to such an event. Iceland in recent times chose differently and looks to have very different outcomes to your experience in Finland. Cuba is a different example again.

The plight that you describe has long historical roots with the dispossession of indigenous peoples from their land too. Take away their purpose for living, provide them shelter and food without having to work for it and you create a passive culture waiting for its next meal. Hardly the stuff of revolution.

Please people, I believe that there should be a safety net for people in society.

The simple solution to mass unemployment is that everyone across society takes a massive hit to their wages and accepts a lower standard of living. Export markets will magically open up as other countries seek to leverage this for their own advantage. The other alternative suggestion is import tariffs. How about devaluing the local currency so that imported goods are too expensive. There are plenty of answers, but little will within the community to accept a lower standard of living for all. That is why historically a certain percentage of your population was cut loose (this process has also been described here as having them thrown under the bus).

I too found myself a victim of the recession in the early 90's and was faced with some very hard decisions. This is why I worked towards distancing myself from the benefits of Industrial society (as much as possible). I work on the understanding that if it has happened once, it will happen again.

Cherokee Organics said...


Quote: "I have noticed that anglosphere acquaintances of mine have tendency to highlight individual solutions to both problems and predicaments to a point I see as cultural weakness and blind spot. No individual works in the void, and for example there is no individual answers available to resolve predicament of mass unemployment."

It may be that point of view has been cultivated from the people that you speak with. Down Under, I go out of my way to cultivate acquaintances with every gun toting person living up this way. Of course, no one lives in a void.

The problem is, very few people know how to grow and process food. This includes preserving techniques which should include home alcohol production from scratch. How about basic medical provision? How about energy? How about shelter? How about communication? How about water?

Community is one aspect out of a great many, that is why our host discusses individual responses as these skills have to be practised and it is hard to get a broad range of skills. He is preaching a diversity of responses to the future in the hope that some responses are appropriate.

It is one thing to read about how to make country wines using local apples on the Internet and another thing altogether giving it a go and trying to understand why the mead was so consistently good and yet the cider was so rubbish.

However, the one thing I do know about the future, is that within the current political system a solution will never arise because they have a simple conflict of interest. The conflict is that they vote for their own pay rises and accept payments from lobbyists. It is rare to get something for nothing.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi AlanfromBigEasy,

Quote: "So someone is taking action."

Such claims smell to me of accounting trickery.

When an extractive mine can be operated purely using electricity as a source, I'll believe such claims.

I define the word "operated" to include production and maintenance of the machines, transport of the ores and processing of them.

Most such claims such as your quote are achieved by outsourcing manufacturing and agriculture to third world countries. Unfortunately, we are all on the same planet, which is why I say it is accounting trickery.

I'd be impressed if they could achieve their goal, but it sounds like a pipe dream.



Marcello said...

"As we move farther and farther from the fall of the USSR, and China becomes one of the most capitalist societies in history, I suspect more and more of the electorate will no longer have knee-jerk negative reactions to Marx's teachings"

Older people still do and besides it looks like quite a number of "socialist" european countries are going to overtake the USA in the race to the compost heap of history. It won't be difficult to point that out to the public.

Sangye Christianson said...

Thank you John Michael Greer,
your story "Man, Conqueror of Nature, Dead at 408" reminds me of a rather old tale, "The Epic of Gilgamesh" in which power and boredom lead King Gilgamesh of Uruk to kill Humbaba the Guardian Spirit of the Forests.
The fact that those forest no longer stand is testament of certain types of complex societies ability to indeed conquer Nature, but at what cost, did they make it better? The ancient Mesopotamians exchanged their once dense Cedar forests for bear rocky hills and sandy valleys, oh and giant wooden doorways to megalithic buildings carved with metals forged by the fires lit from the logs of a once mighty forest. They give a perfect example of why conquering our Earth to feel powerful and smart, just doesn't seem to work, for very long anyway.
The modern version of this story could easily be adapted to"The Epic of Civilized Gentlemen".

Also i stumbled across a youtube lecture by Dr Joseph Tainter, i'd be interested on your thoughts.

Again Thank you.

Adrian Skilling said...

Brilliantly done! This excellently captures the addictiveness of this drug our civilization is on.

Speaking of which, the UK government is just about to appoint a Venture Capitalist, Andrew Sells as the chairman of Natural England (countryside protection agency). Shocking - you can't make it up.

Matt Heins said...

To Cherokee Organics,

No need for a mine or its equipment to run or be produced by electricity alone. Biofuels and biomass-derived chemicals and plastics can substitute for the petroleum ones.

The question is not: Can such things be done?

The questions are: Can they meet the demand of anything qualifying as "Industrial Civilization"? and, Will they actually be done? In time to avert decline? Or at all?

Janet D said...

JMG, I know your blog is mostly focused on the Western world and the impacts of deindustrialization, but I find myself wondering what is going to happen in the Middle East during the long decline...they are at least as dependent upon fossil fuels as we are (esp. with food production & transportation) which, when combined with their very large increases in population over the last 50 years or so (which are slowing), creates a very precarious situation.... I know this is not pertinent to this blog, but would enjoy seeing your thoughts at some point.

Enrique said...

Esther said: “In fact, being paleos, there is almost certainly something being overlooked, as we're long on principle, and short on technology.”

Esther’s comment reminded me of an essay from William Lind, one of my favorite paleoconservative authors.

Lind is not only a prominent paleocon, but a leading military theoretician who is widely credited with having coined the term “Fourth Generation Warfare”. He is also a staunch advocate of passenger rail and mass transit and argues that trains and mass transit make a great deal of sense from a conservative and a free market perspective as well as a liberal one.

I like Lind because so much of what he has to say, whether about mass transit, political correctness or modern warfare, just makes sense and he doesn’t pull any punches, even when discussing controversial social issues.

We need more principled conservatives in the public arena, to fight against the excesses of both the left and the pseudoconservative right. In that I agree with John Michael, and I am looking for ways to make a positive contribution. I would like to conclude by saying that I really appreciate having a forum like this where we can have an intelligent discussion of wide ranging topics like Peak Oil and its implications, magic, the future of warfare, democracy and intelligent life on Earth, and many other fascinating issues. This blog and its many intelligent contributors certainly beats the mind rotting trash that the mass media cranks out, where many people think that a spoiled rich kid and moral degenerate like Miley Cyrus deserves to be ranked as the Person of the Year.

John Michael talked last year in his essay "Night Thoughts in Hagsgate" about the virtues and difficulties in walking away from a doomed culture bent on its own self-destruction. Am I walking away from Hagsgate? As a certain American politician would say, you betcha!!!

onething said...

I listened to the linked video of Jospeh Tainter on collapse of complex societies, but I was disappointed in the end with his answers to questions from the audience regarding sustainability, as he seemed incapable of understanding that his audience meant living within the constraints of our actual environment, and he meant sustaining our way of life, which he seems to advocate!

Tony said...

I absolutely loved this. The first half gave me a vibe halfway between Terry Pratchet's Small Gods (where dejected gods with small or non-existent bodies of worshippers desperately search for belief to sustain them) and an article from the Onion. Science's conversation with Man hit hard too.

And now if you will excuse me, as a biology grad student I feel the need to celebrate a recent legitimate, amazing achievement of our species via science to contrast with those explored in jest above: Happy Smallpox Eradication Day! 34 years ago today the virus was declared extinct in the wild, after painfully killing god knows how many millions or billions over the millennia. Epidemiology and the germ theory of disease will hopefully always be with us from this time forward, and while nature bats last they can shift the balance of suffering a bit more in our favor. If only more of our achievements could be of this sort.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, I'm not sure which death has to be accepted first, but grasping the failure of the attempt to conquer nature is a good start on any move toward a less hubristic view of life.

Grebulocities, I ban profanity here partly because I'd like this blog to get past content filters on school computers and the like, and partly because in my experience, profanity is very often a substitute for thinking -- it functions as a verbal sound expressing emotion, rather like a dog's barking, rather than as a means of communicating concepts.

Walter, though I don't have that experience myself, I've known a fair number of drunks and other addicts, and wove that experience into the narrative.

Bill, an interesting possibility!

Andy, oh, granted. Whether we could theoretically kick the oil habit voluntarily, I see no reason to think it'll happen.

Alan, and that represents what percentage of the population of the industrial world?

Juhana, I have a few other short topics to get past, and then we'll be talking about what dark ages are like. I don't think you'll find much in the way of Disneyland in that discussion!

Robert, thank you!

DeAnander, thanks for the tip. I'll check him out.

Clarence, good. Too many people don't learn that lesson soon enough to keep themselves on the right side of the topsoil.

Jose, bingo. Given the nearly complete lack of historical awareness among most Americans, and the equally pervasive lack of interest in learning from history, a Marxist revival isn't going to be stopped by the mere fact that Marxism has failed every time it's been tried.

Marcello, will the public be listening? You can't even point out to people who lost their shirts in the 2000 and 2008 crashes that investing in another speculative bubble isn't a good idea!

John Michael Greer said...

Sangye, the thing that makes the epic of Gilgamesh worth reading now is that it's the story of a successful man who's finally forced to confront the reality of limits. Gilgamesh gets everything he wants until his best friend Enkidu dies, and nothing Gilgamesh can do can bring him back; Gilgamesh then goes on a great quest to win the secret of immortality... and fails. That's the key to his story -- it's about the hard limits on human existence, a point that's been almost completely ignored in the recent Green movement references to him. I may do a post on him one of these days...

Adrian, isn't that properly spelled "vulture capitalist"?

Janet, the Middle East is hugely overpopulated and increasingly short on water. The most likely outcome is chaos followed by mass migration -- not refugees, but whole peoples on the move, armed to the teeth. Glance at the last centuries of the Roman Empire for some sense of what that's like.

Enrique, fascinating. I wasn't aware that Lind was into paleoconservatism; I'm familiar with his military writings, of course. If he sees the point to public transit, he's definitely of interest; I'll check his work out as time permits.

Onething, it's a constant source of wry amusement to me to see how many people who study the collapse of complex societies can't apply their own logic to their own society...

Tony, it's worth celebrating. Let me suggest this, though: if the germ theory and epidemiology are going to survive the end of modern industrial society, it's going to be because somebody cared enough to preserve them, and transmit them in a form that people outside the specialty will be able to use. Have you considered writing a book explaining germs, epidemiology, and public health on a village or neighborhood level, in simple language, for those who don't have any background in the subject? Intentional communities and organizations concerned with health in the Third World could use such a book right now, and it would be much more valuable in the future. Please consider it!

Cherokee Organics said...


I don't know either, which is why I posted the comment. Still, acceptance is a good start.

We have nothing to fear, but hubris itself! hehe!

It is a strange world, when planting an edible garden is considered to be a subversive act. What have we come to?

The wonderful thing about such an act though, is that it is currently outside the system and therefore it is an unexpected act.

At least, even though it is early days, more people seem to be getting interested in producing food over here.



Phitio said...

Good story.
A single novel more than often is able to teach more than one hundred seminars.

Juhana said...

@Steve & Chris: I do not believe there is going to be any kind "revolution" in politics. And even if myself and most of my fellow countrymen are somewhat nationalistic, that brand of nationalism has NOTHING to do with marching up and down on the streets with black uniforms and leather boots on. I just believe that this deeply delusional and as Enrique pointed out, very extremist ideology of internationalism is going to meet more and more political resistance from growing amount of population which bears the burden but not enjoy the benefits of globalisation.

And because the economical pie is steadily shrinking not growing, those in the elites must kick growing number of middle class people into the "underclass" to maintain their standard of living and status quo. It is not question of good and evil, but pure mathematics. If physical representation of that economical pie shrinks and gets smaller year after year, and people want to have their slice as big as it was promised earlier (benefits, pensions, dividends), somebody else has to have smaller slice. It is as simple as that.

My country has been quite poor and unimportant nation with strong primary industry (agriculture, forestry) and strong tradition of nature skills (hunting, wishing, orienteering, gathering berries and mushrooms, etc.) in the close past. Then, after the fall of the Soviet Union, our country got momentarily rich and our eager elite jumped the double bandwagon of insane Western ideology and European Union.

You know that insane anglosphere-born ideology that blends multiculturalism, liberalism and free markets into this toxic analogue of dose with rat poison and heroin blended into the same package, sold to junkies of idealist elites and their hangarounds..? I believe you do.

This two-faced Janus god bend on self-destruction I call leftist liberalism in the left and neoliberalism on the right. This insanity has been triggered by somekind guilt-trip about past "sins" of imperialism, I guess. Whatever it's history, my nation should have nothing to do with this madness from the West.

We were poor primary industry producers in the past, and after couple of fleeting decades of fake prosperity we shall return to those roots. Being poor does not mean you have to be desperate or take a bath in your own filth, so sooner my nation get's out from this bandwagon of EU, destined to become new hell on Earth, better it is for us.

@JMG: I do not believe that you hold any Disneylandish assumptions about peak-cheap oil present we are living right now or peak-oil future we shall have very soon. It is just firmly rooted anglosphere habit I have observed, willingness to jump to the happy end. If people forget what they have to go through for their heirs to arrive into that desirable outcome, they risk loosing because of overconfidence. That was my point.

Steve Morgan said...

"Jose, bingo. Given the nearly complete lack of historical awareness among most Americans, and the equally pervasive lack of interest in learning from history, a Marxist revival isn't going to be stopped by the mere fact that Marxism has failed every time it's been tried."

Looking 10 to 20 years down the road, if JMG's projections mostly come to fruition, what will the US look like? Higher unemployment, more widespread poverty, reduced energy use, entanglement (and possible defeat) in new foreign war(s), serious economic issues from debt overhang and money printing compounded on the tightening limits to growth, a religious revival of the Christian Left in full swing, and a majority of the adult population with no living memory of any Marxist political foe of the USA. Odds are good that someone like Rush or the pols on the right will still be railing against "socialism." Meanwhile there'll probably be some facebook-equivalent viral video of Jesus saying "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Meanwhile, the next Paul Wolfowitz will be born, waiting to grow up and rebel against the next American Left.

Thank you for the what you contemplate you imitate meme. I can see that combine with the binary of anti-religion to give us today's pseudoconservative right. I think Erik Lindberg's citing of FDR (“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”) helped it gel for me this week. That's why we're seeing so many people insist that heedless self-interest is not only good economics but also good morals. How about a little bit of self-interest tempered with virtues like moderation, generosity, and genuine compassion? It doesn't sell as well politically as a hard swing of the pendulum, but we might all prefer the results...

Anyhow, speaking of heedless self-interest, I'm looking forward to a discussion of Ayn Rand. This piece on Man was a humorous hit.

Zach said...

Possibly relevant - I just found this NPR story regarding an alternate scenario of the Easter Island collapse:

What Happened On Easter Island — A New (Even Scarier) Scenario

1. Old scenario - Jared Diamond's anthropogenic "ecocide," triggering an apocalyptic collapse after the last trees are felled.

2. New scenario - a naturally-occurring ecological collapse due to the introduction of rats. Easter Island humans adapt, "muddle through," and create a society with a low standard of living (and yet with enough excess capital to create the famous monuments).

Interesting that the author finds the second scenario of humans "muddling through" in the face of a inexorable natural contraction of their resource base more frightening than a human-triggered apocalypse, isn't it?


AlanfromBigEasy said...

"What percentage of the Industrialized World ?"

Denmark is a "proof of concept" demonstration. Just as the Swiss experience during WW Ii was (zero oil imports for 7 years, very limited coal imports from Germany).

I have used French and Danish Climate Strategies in an eMail exchange with Zhou Dadi - chief Chinese scientist on the IPCC and co-head of the Mitigation working group. He is interested - the odds of this impacting Chinese Climate Strategy are low, but finite (2% ??).

On other fronts I am working with a still developing plan with a coalition of environmental groups on examining a "Beyond Oil Strategy" for ten US states.

And several more besides, some with traction.

I admit the odds are on your perspective, but I have not given up :-) although it is easy to do so.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@Esther, Enrique,

The main reason that "politicized" has taken on such a dismal stench is that it has, in fact, died and gone to rot and corruption.

I find myself forced to stay on the liberal side of the fence in the US, with some resentment -- I'm at an age where I should be able to move gracefully to a curmudgeonly conservatism, but to embrace Michelle Bachman? Glen Beck? Pat Robertson?

Modern liberals probably aren't any better, but they are the undeserving, uncomprehending inheritors of a classical liberalism crafted by generations of people who were apparently a whole lot saner, smarter, and more practical than anyone alive today. Present company excepted.

If the modern conservatives (paleo- or neo-) were equally undeserving, uncomprehending inheritors of an equally impressive classical conservatism, I might be moved. But I simply don't see it. I keep looking.

What passes for "political debate" today is nothing more than baring genitals and flinging poo at each other. [Did that cross the line, JMG? I hope not.] I don't see any real thought taking place within fifty miles of Washington, DC, and very little within the borders of this nation. So "politicized" in today's world actually means something unpleasant and contemptible, and that corruption seems to be creeping up the bloodstream toward the idea of "democracy" as well. I don't think this is so much a magical belief system in play, as it's straightforward grieving denial of the relentless realization that our vaunted American federal democracy is a twitching corpse, poisoned by the breakdown products of rotted politics.

@Enrique, I went and read Lind's rage against the machine -- I keep looking for sense from US conservatives -- and it left me cold and unpersuaded. He opens with:

"Television, like all virtual realities, comes from Hell. (The author of this piece [Lind], having hosted several television programs, knows how difficult it is to use the medium for good; in effect, one has to do bad television.) Earlier generations of conservatives knew instinctively that machines could be Hellish, and they regarded innovative technologies with distrust."

I remember watching an interview with Rod Serling from back in the early days of commercial television, and it was a fascinating interview to watch, for its pacing, its content, and the level of intelligence it assumed for its viewers. He was talking about this very subject, and pinned the problem -- correctly, I think -- on the very thing that modern conservatives, including Lind (?) deify: the "free market."

Commercial television has one "message," and only one message: "give me money." This is not inherent to the medium, it is inherent to the market economy, in which anything that cannot be bought or sold is an "externality" and unimportant.

One of the main reasons that people retreat into "virtual realities," whether video-games or Game of Thrones, is that virtual realities still support a few of the externalities that the market economy has ground down into crass commercial transactions. Externalities like personal heroism. Narrative. Skill. Awe. How many real lives consist of little or nothing beyond earning money, spending money, arguing about money, worrying about money? How many television shows or video games merely emulate that empty existence?

The real problem with virtual realities is that they provide just enough illusory dignity to modern existence to prevent people from moving beyond the free market and its monotonous message of "give me money."

Andy Brown said...

I also came across the NPR report that Zach linked to. I think Zach hits on exactly the point this blog has made. That the idea of a slow, miserable decline is somehow more disheartening than a quick, devastating collapse. It's worth noting that the new, uncomfortable version of Easter Island also just doesn't sit as comfortably in the progress/anti-progress narratives.

DeAnander said...

I find the "scariness" of the revised Rapa Nui scenario quite comprehensible -- in the same way that life in prison without parole, for some people, might seem scarier than immediate execution. How impoverished, constrained, devoid of hope or beauty does our existence have to be, before death starts to seem like a thinkable alternative? For some people that point is "never" -- they will hang in there and survive even in the most grotesque of circumstances (not necessarily becoming nicer people in the process); others will sit down and pine away, or seek martyrdom, rather than face the ruination of their ideals or forsake their gods.

The vision of our human future as a desperate, deprived, dreary existence among bankrupted, worn-out ecosystems is not all that attractive. Whether it's more attractive than catastrophic collapse, I guess, depends on how you feel about grinding, slo-mo misery versus high drama and flaming wreckage.

The riff in the NPR article is kind of stolen from MacKinnon's book, afaict. He talks at length about the difficulty of coming to terms with humanity's gradual and progressive bankrupting of ecosystems, the length of time for which we've been doing it, the problem of moving goalposts and revised perceptions... people today have no idea how much richer ecosystems were in their grandparents' time, and adverse, impoverished conditions quickly become "the new normal".

This is what's "scarier" than catastrophic collapse -- and maybe I even agree with that -- the idea of a human culture from which biophilia is, finally, extirpated... living on a planet from which all species have been liquidated which don't directly serve us. To me it seems a ghastly, nightmarish existence; I personally do not wish to see all other species "conquered", tamed, appropriated or annihilated. But presumably to the people living in such an epoch, it will seem at least as satisfactory as our own -- much as our own view of "nature" today accepts/admires biomes and ecosystems that an indigenous person of 500 years ago would immediately recognise as wrecked, and grieve over.

Essentially, the flourishing of sophistication and power in human culture has consistently come at the cost of other species, of soil health, of functional food webs, biodiversity, and all those other important words we keep throwing around. Now it even comes at the expense of a stable climate.

Megafauna, f'rexample, are no more; we have left no room for them. Even fairly familiar species have shrunk in size (of individuals, not just of populations) in reponse to our relentless predation; this is pretty well documented. The world of other animals gets smaller, more furtive, less numerous, less diverse with every passing day. Absent a major reset, it looks like our future will have no room for anything but us plus food animals. It's the poverty and sadness of that future, I think, that leads many a biophile to wonder whether rapid collapse might be preferable.

Of course, those might not be the only two alternatives!

MacKinnon's book of course makes a much better, more nuanced and thoughtful exposition than the brief NPR piece.

Enrique said...

Juhana said: “After the fall of the Soviet Union, our country got momentarily rich and our eager elite jumped the double bandwagon of insane Western ideology and European Union.

You know that insane anglosphere-born ideology that blends multiculturalism, liberalism and free markets into this toxic analogue of dose with rat poison and heroin blended into the same package, sold to junkies of idealist elites and their hangarounds..? I believe you do.

This two-faced Janus god bend on self-destruction I call leftist liberalism in the left and neoliberalism on the right. This insanity has been triggered by somekind guilt-trip about past "sins" of imperialism, I guess. Whatever it's history, my nation should have nothing to do with this madness from the West.”

Juhana hit this one right out of the ballpark. Neo-liberalism, the pseudo-conservative right and the liberal left are merely different aspects of the same insane ideology, something I realized a long time ago. As for his last observation, he is entirely correct. I remember John Michael once said that we should starting separating ourselves from a dying and hopelessly corrupt culture, namely the pseudo-culture of the mass consumer society, the mass media and post-modern liberalism, while adapting in place.

I couldn’t agree more, and that has been one of the things I have been focusing on. Not just by trying to become more resilient on a personal level, growing more of my own food, learning practical skills that would be useful in a post-peak world and so on, but by reaching out to people I know who I think might be receptive, and trying to build a grassroots network. I have had some modest success as a growing number of people realize that something is terribly wrong and some start to wake up. Of course, many will remain oblivious until it’s too late, but such is life, and one can only do so much to help those who are determined to live in a state of denial, just like you can only do so much to help a drug addict until that person realizes that he or she has a serious problem and wants to get clean. No doubt this will be a major source of Darwinian selection over the next several decades.

Enrique said...

@ Jospeh Nemeth:

I gave up nearly all television quite some time ago, but at least television back in Rod Serlings time was generally decent, taught wholesome social values and had family friendly programming. Like Serling pointed out, it assumed an audience that was intelligent, well informed and fundamentally decent. I still enjoy many of the old classic TV shows, which I watch online or from DVD. I was a big fan of Serlings, and loved the shows that he produced when I was growing up.

Most of the programming on TV these days is the moral and cultural equivalent of raw sewage and radioactive waste. I visited my parents recently, who still watch quite a lot of television, and was pretty appalled at what I saw being broadcast. Most of the programming I saw was either incredibly stupid or consisted of morally degenerate trash aimed at the lowest common denominator, not to mention the 5-10 minute blocs of advertising that constantly interrupted whatever show was playing. You are right about one thing, and that is that commercial television is all about getting the two-legged sheep to buy more junk they don’t need. It’s long been a truism that most children’s cartoons these days are nothing but 30 minute toy commercials. That experience showed me that I was right to give up the boob tube and find better things to do with my time. I don’t miss watching television at all.

Certainly the cult of the “free market” has to take some of the blame, but paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan and William Lind have been pointing that out for a long time. Buchanan was a prominent opponent of NAFTA on the right because he understood the devastating effect that it would have on the American working class.

True conservatives have long understood that there is more to life than markets and the worship of materialism, and that culture and community come first. It’s only with the rise of neo-liberal Randian pseudoconservatism that conservatism has come to be associated with the sort of nihilistic and materialistic worship of the selfish ego by itself in the name of free markets, capitalism and the “convenience of the consumer” as the highest social good. In a sane society, it would be understood that markets are an important social institution that nevertheless exist to serve the needs of a community or nation, and not the other way around.

Markets and capitalism have their place, but there needs to be some balance, and a recognition that nothing operates in a vacuum. I think a lot of the degeneracy that we see in the mass media is a reflection of a much broader current of moral and cultural degeneration that has been going on since at least the 1960’s and probably has roots that go back a lot further. The producers of television shows these days are simply catering to the tastes of the audience, just like producers like Serling were catering to the tastes of the audiences of their time, which in turn speaks volumes about how things have changed on a cultural level in the last few decades, and not for the better.

Steve Morgan said...


"Interesting that the author finds the second scenario of humans "muddling through" in the face of a inexorable natural contraction of their resource base more frightening than a human-triggered apocalypse, isn't it?"

It's more frightening to those who fear a world in which humans are not in control. In scenario 1, people were responsible for what happened, though the results were undesirable. In scenario 2, the limitations of human power are much harder to ignore. That's not something anyone I've heard on NPR wants to talk about cheerfully.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, virtue is always subversive in a declining society. The virtues involved in gardening certainly count!

Phitio, I hope so -- I've got two novels on their way to print!

Juhana, understood. I think you'll be satisfied by the analysis in the upcoming series on dark ages. Mind you, we have to talk about fascism first...

Steve, exactly. It doesn't take long in today's state of advanced cultural senility for the memory of past failure to be misplaced, and that opens a door through which many unwelcome things can come -- Marxism very much among them.

Zach, many thanks for the link. Yes, indeed, it's "even scarier" to those who can't bear the thought that humanity is subject to ordinary natural processes, and not the lord and master of creation!

Alan, stoutly answered! By all means keep pursuing your strategy, and I'll keep pursuing mine -- that way both options stay covered.

Andy, square on target. It's a good sign, to my mind, that such a theory could even get media attention.

DeAnander, yes, that would be ghastly, but I don't think it's at all likely. The only reason we've gotten this far is the huge surplus of energy we got from fossil fuels; as that goes away, and the limits close in hard, I suspect it's more likely that natural systems -- quite possibly including megafauna -- will adapt to our presence in the strict Darwinian sense of that term, and begin pushing back, hard. Again, we're not the lords and masters of creation, and I suspect we're going to have to learn that lesson repeatedly, the hard way.

John Michael Greer said...

A remider -- I've had to delete three good comments in the last few days for profanity. Remember, if you use any obscene words other than "frack," it's not going to get posted!

Nano said...

"understanding the limits on human capacities, and the ways in which they're commonly abused, is essential to using them well. "

This got me wondering, I don't think I've heard or read many people discuss this.

Our myths are of the limitlessness of mans capacity to dream, achieve , build and overcome. Never about the limits.

Crow Hill said...

JMG said: I've had to delete three good comments in the last few days for profanity.

Why not replace the obscene words by asterisks as they used to do in literature?!

Mark Angelini said...

Aside from cracking me the frack up, this is solidly brilliant. Thank you for that, JMG. Cheers!

Juhana said...

@Enrique: Thanks for your kind words, and as I said before, may god(s)of your tribe watch approvingly over what you are doing. And by the way, me and my friends have also long time ago came to the conclusion that current cultural decay of the West started with 60's movement, with all that hippie nonsense. Before that, moderate Left was real deal, actual working class stuff. After sixties, all that survived was this parade of predictable Looney Left support characters: "deep-thinking" university students from humanist faculty here, minority spokeswomen there and on the top of the cake, as cherry dipped into frosting, some self-lashing flagellants from white, "open-minded" middle class... And they are almost always white. No other cultural meme has dived into pits of self-loathing and betrayal so totally as theirs, the middle class liberal whites.

Cultural trends cannot turn water into wine or put more limited resources into the womb of Mother Earth, but this cultural trend of Baby Boomer generation has certainly nailed the coffins ready for their grandchildren; no easy options out after decades of open lunacy.

And JMG, I wait with great interest your writing about "f"-word :). I except something else than usual use of that "f"-word as blanco term describing supposed real-life cartoon villains. As no Darth Vader or Sauron look-a-likes walk the streets of European towns, except after science fiction Cons, that term needs some dusting.

Unfortunately, situation for Greeks seems already so escalated, that options still open for them as an nation seem to be rule by black or red brand of socialism or never-ending debt slavery executed by international banksters. No fiscally nor culturally conservative voice has risen among them, even if situation there has brewed into the boiling point resembling very closely that on southern bank of Mediterranean Sea just before the Arab Spring. Where is that voice of reason? Nowhere.

Horrible situation, indeed. I am happy I am not in the situation where those are the only options left. At least not yet.

John Michael Greer said...

Nano, I probably need to do a post about that. It's been a while since I was burnt in effigy...

Crow Hill, I can't edit comments. All I can do is put them through or delete them.

Mark, thank you!

Juhana, stay tuned. It'll be coming early in the new year. May I drop a hint? The first issue I'll be confronting is the very widespread misconception that fascism was a conservative movement...

Zach said...

The first issue I'll be confronting is the very widespread misconception that fascism was a conservative movement...

YES! Bless you! Hallelujah! Amen! Preach it, Brother Archdruid!


I mean to say, I look forward to it. :) This is a point I've argued myself from time to time, but find that it most often resembles beating my head against a brick wall.

Or "Fascism is only 'right-wing' if you locate Stalin as a centrist."


Crow Hill said...

JMG: Thanks for taking the time to comment on my note. I forgot to say thank you for the interesting post.

If Man-US commits suicide, there are still all those on who he imposed his addiction and despised as undeveloped until they became like him: China Man, India Man, Brazil Man, and the Smaller Men who are not going to give up on their own addiction and will feel vindicated by Mr US Man’s suicide.

Brought to mind also the former Saudi oil minister Yamani's famous (and incorrect) declaration that “the Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil” Wonder what made him think that?

Marcello said...

"Juhana, stay tuned. It'll be coming early in the new year. May I drop a hint? The first issue I'll be confronting is the very widespread misconception that fascism was a conservative movement..."

In terms of political theory fascism was anything but conservative. Without conservative support it would have gone nowhere and however Mussolini would be remembered in a footnote as the rising star of pre-war italian socialism who committed political suicide.

Marcello said...

"Brought to mind also the former Saudi oil minister Yamani's famous (and incorrect) declaration that “the Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil” Wonder what made him think that?"

It is likely to be technical correct in that the present civilization will collapse leaving behind quite a lot of hard to get oil still in the ground.

Matt Heins said...

Ah how quickly the confusion sets in! ;)

"Conservative" and "right wing" are NOT synonymous. The true conservatives were in neither wing of the National Assembly, and the true differences between those gathered and divided there show quite clearly where Mussolini and Stalin (and Obama) would have sat.

But I suppose both terms have become wholly free-floating now (ex: "paleoconservative" - what, you're against the domestication of bovine?) and I should just shut it and watch the Archdruid work his magic? Should be interesting.

Sharon Meehan said...

Made me smile.

Mark said...

Nice Story, has the Ring of Truth to it, consistent style, wit, and humour. It really stripmined my head, man.
Was it Leo who raised the issue of war as a topic in need of more (some) discussion and left some interesting links? Thanks - and to reciprocate:

The first sentence:

While U.S. Joint Forces Command’s Joint Operating Environment (JOE) in no way constitutes U.S.
government policy and must necessarily be speculative in nature, it seeks to provide the Joint
Force an intellectual foundation upon which we will construct the concepts to guide our future
force development.

It seems we are just beginning the decline side of the curve. (As someone pointed out) There is this limited high level discussion of resource depletion, which is (probably typically abstract) and since it may cut into corporate profits, may get talked about a lot up there in the boardrooms of the rich elite. Kind of like Transition Town got started in a college town. It may be the people watching reality teevee that are the hard sell. The Death of Man story begins to approach the entertainment expectations of those unconversant with numbers, graphs, or policy.

This may all just be the process of natural selection at work, eliminating teevee viewers.

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