Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Time of the Seedbearers

Myths, according to the philosopher Sallust, are things that never happened but always are. With a few modifications, the same rule applies to the enduring narratives of every culture, the stories that find a new audience in every generation as long as their parent cultures last.  Stories of that stature don’t need to chronicle events that actually took place to have something profoundly relevant to say, and the heroic quest I used last week to frame a satire on the embarrassingly unheroic behavior of many of industrial civilization’s more privileged inmates is no exception to that rule.

That’s true of hero tales generally, of course. The thegns and ceorls who sat spellbound in an Anglo-Saxon meadhall while a scop chanted the deeds of Beowulf to the sound of a six-stringed lyre didn’t have to face the prospect of wrestling with cannibalistic ogres or battling fire-breathing dragons, and were doubtless well aware of that fact.  If they believed that terrible creatures of a kind no longer found once existed in the legendary past, why, so do we—the difference in our case is merely that we call our monsters “dinosaurs,” and insist that our paleontologist-storytellers be prepared to show us the bones.

The audience in the meadhall never wondered whether Beowulf was a historical figure in the same sense as their own great-grandparents. Since history and legend hadn’t yet separated out in the thinking of the time, Beowulf and those great-grandparents occupied exactly the same status, that of people in the past about whom stories were told. Further than that it was unnecessary to go, since what mattered to them about Beowulf was not whether he lived but how he lived.  The tale’s original audience, it’s worth recalling, got up the next morning to face the challenges of life in dark age Britain, in which defending their community against savage violence was a commonplace event; having the example of Beowulf’s courage and loyalty in mind must have made that harsh reality a little easier to face.

The same point can be made about the hero tale I borrowed and rewrote in last week’s post, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Frodo Baggins was no Beowulf, which was of course exactly the point, since Tolkien was writing for a different audience in a different age.  The experience of being wrenched out of a peaceful community and sent on a long march toward horror and death was one that Tolkien faced as a young man in the First World War, and watched his sons face in the Second. That’s what gave Tolkien’s tale its appeal: his hobbits were ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges, like so many people in the bitter years of the early twentieth century.

The contrast between Beowulf and The Lord of the Rings is precisely that between the beginning and the zenith of a civilization. Beowulf, like his audience, was born into an age of chaos and violence, and there was never any question of what he was supposed to do about it; the only detail that had to be settled was how many of the horrors of his time he would overcome before one of them finally killed him. Frodo Baggins, like his audience, was born into a world that was mostly at peace, but found itself faced with a resurgence of a nightmare that everyone in his community thought had been laid to rest for good. In Frodo’s case, the question of what he was going to do about the crisis of his age was what mattered most—and of course that’s why I was able to stand Tolkien’s narrative on its head last week, by tracing out what would have happened if Frodo’s answer had been different.

Give it a few more centuries, and it’s a safe bet that the stories that matter will be back on Beowulf’s side of the equation, as the process of decline and fall now under way leads into an era of dissolution and rebirth that we might as well call by the time-honored label “dark age.”  For the time being, though, most of us are still on Frodo’s side of things, trying to come to terms with the appalling realization that the world we know is coming apart and it’s up to us to do something about it.

That said, there’s a crucial difference between the situation faced by Frodo Baggins and his friends in Middle-earth, and the situation faced by those of us who have awakened to the crisis of our time here and now. Tolkien was a profoundly conservative thinker and writer, in the full sense of that word.  The plot engine of his works of adult fiction, The Silmarillion just as much as The Lord of the Rings, was always the struggle to hold onto the last scraps of a glorious past, and his powers of evil want to make Middle-earth modern, efficient and up-to-date by annihilating the past and replacing it with a cutting-edge industrial landscape of slagheaps and smokestacks. It’s thus no accident that Saruman’s speech to Gandalf in book two, chapter two of The Fellowship of the Ring is a parody of the modern rhetoric of progress, or that The Return of the King ends with a Luddite revolt against Sharkey’s attempted industrialization of the Shire; Tolkien was a keen and acerbic observer of twentieth-century England, and wove much of his own political thought into his stories.

The victory won by Tolkien’s protagonists in The Lord of the Rings, accordingly, amounted to restoring Middle-Earth as far as possible to the condition it was in before the War of the Ring, with the clock turned back a bit further here and there—for example, the reestablishment of the monarchy in Gondor—and a keen sense of loss surrounding those changes that couldn’t be undone. That was a reasonable goal in Tolkien’s imagined setting, and it’s understandable that so many people want to achieve the same thing here and now:  to preserve some semblance of  industrial civilization in the teeth of the rising spiral of crises that are already beginning to tear it apart.

I can sympathize with their desire. It’s become fashionable in many circles to ignore the achievements of the industrial age and focus purely on its failures, or to fixate on the places where it fell short of the frankly Utopian hopes that clustered around its rise. If the Enlightenment turned out to be far more of a mixed blessing than its more enthusiastic prophets liked to imagine, and if so many achievements of science and technology turned into sources of immense misery once they were whored out in the service of greed and political power, the same can be said of most human things: “If it has passed from the high and the beautiful to darkness and ruin,” Tolkien commented of a not dissimilar trajectory, “that was of old the fate of Arda marred.” Still, the window of opportunity through which modern industrial civilization might have been able to escape its unwelcome destiny has long since slammed shut.

That’s one of the things I meant to suggest in last week’s post by sketching out a Middle-earth already ravaged by the Dark Lord, in which most of the heroes of Tolkien’s trilogy were dead and most of the things they fought to save had already been lost. Even with those changes, though, Tolkien’s narrative no longer fits the crisis of our age as well as it did a few decades back. Our Ring of Power was the fantastic glut of energy we got from fossil fuels; we could have renounced it, as Tolkien’s characters renounced the One Ring, before we’d burnt enough to destabilize the climate and locked ourselves into a set of economic arrangements with no future...but that’s not what happened, of course.

We didn’t make that collective choice when it still could have made a difference:  when peak oil was still decades in the future, anthropogenic climate change hadn’t yet begun to destabilize the planet’s ice sheets and weather patterns, and the variables that define the crisis of our age—depletion rates, CO2 concentrations, global population, and the rest of them—were a good deal less overwhelming than they’ve now become.  As The Limits to Growth pointed out more than four decades ago, any effort to extract industrial civilization from the trap it made for itself had to get under way long before the jaws of that trap began to bite, because the rising economic burden inflicted by the ongoing depletion of nonrenewable resources and the impacts of pollution and ecosystem degradation were eating away at the surplus wealth needed to meet the costs of the transition to sustainability.

That prediction has now become our reality. Grandiose visions of vast renewable-energy buildouts and geoengineering projects on a global scale, of the kind being hawked so ebulliently these days by the  prophets of eternal business as usual, fit awkwardly with the reality that a great many industrial nations can no longer afford to maintain basic infrastructures or to keep large and growing fractions of their populations from sliding into desperate poverty. The choice that I discussed in last week’s post, reduced to its hard economic bones, was whether we were going to put what remained of our stock of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources into maintaining our current standard of living for a while longer, or whether we were going to put it into building a livable world for our grandchildren.

The great majority of us chose the first option, and insisting at the top of our lungs that of course we could have both did nothing to keep the second from slipping away into the realm of might-have-beens. The political will to make the changes and accept the sacrifices that would be required to do anything else went missing in action in the 1980s and hasn’t been seen since. That’s the trap that was hidden in the crisis of our age: while the costs of transition were still small enough that we could have met them without major sacrifice, the consequences of inaction were still far enough in the future that most people could pretend they weren’t there; by the time the consequences were hard to ignore, the costs of transition had become too great for most people to accept—and not too long after that, they had become too great to be met at all. .

As a commentary on our current situation, in other words, the story of the heroic quest has passed its pull date. As I noted years ago, insisting that the world must always follow a single narrative is a fertile source of misunderstanding and misery. Consider the popular insistence that the world can grow its way out of problems caused by growth—as though you could treat the consequences of chronic alcoholism by drinking even more heavily! What gives that frankly idiotic claim the appeal it has is that it draws on one of the standard stories of our age, the Horatio Alger story of the person who overcame long odds to make a success of himself. That does happen sometimes, which is why it’s a popular story; the lie creeps in when the claim gets made that this is always what happens. 

When people insist, as so many of them do, that of course we’ll overcome the limits to growth and every other obstacle to our allegedly preordained destiny out there among the stars, all that means is that they have a single story wedged into their imagination so tightly that mere reality can’t shake it loose. The same thing’s true of all the other credos I’ve discussed in recent posts, from “they’ll think of something” through “it’s all somebody else’s fault” right on up to “we’re all going to be extinct soon anyway so it doesn’t matter any more.” Choose any thoughtstopper you like from your randomly generated Peak Oil Denial Bingo card, and behind it lies a single story, repeating itself monotonously over and over in the heads of those who can’t imagine the world unfolding in any other way.

The insistence that it’s not too late, that there must still be time to keep industrial civilization from crashing into ruin if only we all come together to make one great effort, and that there’s any reason to think that we can and will all come together, is another example. The narrative behind that claim has a profound appeal to people nowadays, which is why stories that feature it—again, Tolkien’s trilogy comes to mind—are as popular as they are. It’s deeply consoling to be told that there’s still one last chance to escape the harsh future that’s already taking shape around us. It seems almost cruel to point out that whether a belief appeals to our emotions has no bearing on whether or not it’s true.

The suggestion that I’ve been making since this blog first began eight years ago is that we’re long past the point at which modern industrial civilization might still have been rescued from the consequences of its own mistakes. If that’s the case, it’s no longer useful to put the very limited resources we have left into trying to stop the inevitable, and it’s even less useful to wallow in wishful thinking about how splendid it would be if the few of us who recognize the predicament we’re in were to be joined by enough other people to make a difference. If anything of value is to get through the harsh decades and centuries ahead of us, if anything worth saving is to be rescued from the wreck of our civilization, there’s plenty of work to do, and daydreaming about mass movements that aren’t happening and grand projects we can no longer afford simply wastes what little time we still have left.

That’s why I’ve tried to suggest in previous posts here that it’s time to set aside some of our more familiar stories and try reframing the crisis of our age in less shopworn ways. There are plenty of viable options—plenty, that is, of narratives that talk about what happens when the last hope of rescue has gone whistling down the wind and it’s time to figure out what can be saved in the midst of disaster—but the one that keeps coming back to my mind is one I learned and, ironically, dismissed as uninteresting quite a few decades ago, in the early years of my esoteric studies: the old legend of the fall of Atlantis.

It’s probably necessary to note here that whether Atlantis existed as a historical reality is not the point. While it’s interesting to speculate about whether human societies more advanced than current theory suggests might have flourished in the late Ice Age and then drowned beneath rising seas, those speculations are as irrelevant here as trying to fit Grendel and his mother into the family tree of the Hominidae, say, or discussing how plate tectonics could have produced the improbable mountain ranges of Middle-earth. Whatever else it might or might not have been, Atlantis is a story, one that has a potent presence in our collective imagination. Like Beowulf or The Lord of the Rings, the Atlantis story is about the confrontation with evil, but where Beowulf comes at the beginning of a civilization and Frodo Baggins marks its zenith, the Atlantis story illuminates its end.

Mind you, the version of the story of Atlantis I learned, in common with most of the versions in circulation in occult schools in those days, had three details that you won’t find in Plato’s account, or in most of the rehashes that have been churned out by the rejected-knowledge industry over the last century or so. First, according to that version, Atlantis didn’t sink all at once; rather, there were three inundations separated by long intervals. Second, the sinking of Atlantis wasn’t a natural disaster; it was the direct result of the clueless actions of the Atlanteans, who brought destruction on themselves by their misuse of advanced technology.

The third detail, though, is the one that matters here. According to the mimeographed lessons I studied back in the day, as it became clear that Atlantean technology had the potential to bring about terrifying blowback, the Atlanteans divided into two factions: the Children of the Law of One, who took the warnings seriously and tried to get the rest of Atlantean society to do so, and the Servants of the Dark Face, who dismissed the whole issue—I don’t know for a fact that these latter went around saying “I’m sure the priests of the Sun Temple will think of something,” “orichalcum will always be with us,” “the ice age wasn’t ended by an ice shortage,” and the like, but it seems likely. Those of my readers who haven’t spent the last forty years hiding at the bottom of the sea will know instantly which of these factions spoke for the majority and which was marginalized and derided as a bunch of doomers.

According to the story, when the First Inundation hit and a big chunk of Atlantis ended up permanently beneath the sea, the shock managed to convince a lot of Atlanteans that the Children of the Law of One had a point, and for a while there was an organized effort to stop doing the things that were causing the blowback. As the immediate memories of the Inundation faded, though, people convinced themselves that the flooding had just been one of those things, and went back to their old habits. When the Second Inundation followed and all of Atlantis sank but the two big islands of Ruta and Daitya, though, the same pattern didn’t repeat itself; the Children of the Law of One were marginalized even further, and the Servants of the Dark Face became even more of a majority, because nobody wanted to admit the role their own actions had had in causing the catastrophe. Again, those of my readers who have been paying attention for the last forty years know this story inside and out.

It’s what happened next, though, that matters most. In the years between the Second Inundation and the Third and last one, so the story goes, Atlantis was for all practical purposes a madhouse with the inmates in charge. Everybody knew what was going to happen and nobody wanted to deal with the implications of that knowledge, and the strain expressed itself in orgiastic excess, bizarre belief systems, and a rising spiral of political conflict ending in civil war—anything you care to name, as long as it didn’t address the fact that Atlantis was destroying itself and that nearly all the Atlanteans were enthusiastic participants in the activities driving the destruction. That was when the Children of the Law of One looked at one another and, so to speak, cashed out their accounts at the First National Bank of Atlantis, invested the proceeds in shipping, and sailed off to distant lands to become the seedbearers of the new age of the world.

That’s the story that speaks to me just now—enough so that I’ve more than once considered writing a fantasy novel about the fall of Atlantis as a way of talking about the crisis of our age. Of course that story doesn’t speak to everyone, and the belief systems that insist either that everything is fine or that nothing can be done anyway have no shortage of enthusiasts. If these belief systems turn out to be as delusional as they look, though, what then? The future that very few people are willing to consider or prepare for is the one that history shows us is the common destiny of every other failed civilization:  the long, bitter, ragged road of decline and fall into a dark age, from which future civilizations will eventually be born. If that’s the future ahead of us, as I believe it is, the necessary preparations need to be made now, if the best achievements of our age are to be carried into the future when the time of the seedbearers arrives.

Even archdruids need to take a break from time to time, and it’s been quite a while since I took time off from these weekly essays. The Archdruid Report will therefore be on hiatus for the next month and a half. I’ll look forward to meeting my readers at The Age of Limits conference in southern Pennsylvania, the Economics, Energy and Environment conference in London, or one of the less peak oil-centric speaking gigs I’ll be having over the same period. In the meantime, I wish my readers good weather for gardening, pleasant days of weatherstripping and caulking, and plenty of spare time to learn the knowledge and skills that will be needed in the future ahead of us; we’ll talk again on June 18th.


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John Michael Greer said...

Three fast notes. First, I'll still be responding to comments here, so by all means post 'em.

Second, I'm impressed -- indeed, gobsmacked -- by the torrent of stories that have come in over the electronic transom in response to the second Space Bats challenge; I've received over eighty at this point, and a very high proportion of them range from definitely publishable to very, very good. Pruning that down to a single anthology is going to be hard.

Third, several people were asking about the possibility of a forum for discussions about my newly published deindustrial SF novel Star's Reach. There's now a Yahoo group for that purpose, which can be accessed at this URL, or by sending an email to starsreach-subscribe (at) yahoogroups (dot) com and asking to subscribe. (All subscriptions have to be approved, to keep spam artists at bay, so it may be as much as a day or so until you hear back.)

Darren Urquhart said...


Not sure if you received my story entry earlier in the week, so here it is again:

Let the Stars Keep on Turning

Enjoy your well earned break.

Steve Morgan said...

Please forgive the double posting from last week's. I just wanted to make sure I got this in on time.

Andy Brown said...

Well, we’re going to miss you for certain. I suppose I’ll have to get my weekly dose by writing my own version of the report on my own blog. Maybe others will get active on their own or over at the Green Wizards site. After all, one of the more promising avenues of adaptation (in addition to gardening, appropriate tech, etc.) has to be making the mental and material transformations from consumer to producer. And with that I have my first topic to explore . . .

Enjoy your well-deserved break.

Travis Marshall said...

Our stories are so important to the decisions we make. This is from a book I know you don't care much for (Ishmael), but seemingly quite relevant "There's nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act as the lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.". About a month ago you hinted at a post regarding the effects climate change would have I hope that post is still on the docket.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"If they believed that terrible creatures of a kind no longer found once existed in the legendary past, why, so do we—the difference in our case is merely that we call our monsters “dinosaurs,” and insist that our paleontologist-storytellers be prepared to show us the bones."

As the invertebrate paleontologist who worked at a famous mammal site in your audience, I remind you to not forget the animals that don't have bones. People like me have to show the shells. :-)

"As a commentary on our current situation, in other words, the story of the heroic quest has passed its pull date."

I can think of a special case of a story that contains a heroic quest that I think still applies--the legend of King Arthur. The entire arc is that of a tragedy, but it does have the quest for the Holy Grail as its centerpiece. In some of its earlier incarnations as well as one of its later ones, "The Mists of Avalon," the story is set during the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages. An updated version of the Arthur legend might be an inspiration to a group of people who figure out how to salvage a piece of a dying civilization in order to found a new one.

"[T]he sinking of Atlantis wasn’t a natural disaster; it was the direct result of the clueless actions of the Atlanteans, who brought destruction on themselves by their misuse of advanced technology."

I've run into a version of that. Larry Niven's "The Magic Goes Away," an extended metaphor for the depletion of fossil fuels, opens with a character escaping Atlantis as it sank. It turns out that the continent had been kept above water through the use of magic. When the mana that fueled the magic was exhausted, the island continent disappeared beneath the waves. Those who could survive with magic could swim away. Those that couldn't, died.

As for the rest of the story, the protagonist figures out a way to get the magic back, but it would result in the destruction of the world as he knew it. He decided that it wasn't worth it, almost too late. He also regrets how wasteful he had been with magic earlier in his life.

Pinku-Sensei said...

I almost forgot--Happy Beltane! Have a good time on your travels and sabbatical from this blog. Looking forward to seeing you return in time for me to wish you a Happy Summer Solstice.

Kutamun said...

Beowulf, LOTR, Atlantis
Monsters , Search For Warriors ,Seedbearers , Grails , Arks , Floods ....

The monsters engulfing us now entirely our own ....indeed, Grendel/ Godzilla is loose in the land ..Let us wait for George RR Martin to hit the end of the road to see if and what type of monarchy is restored. Things of flesh and liquid apparating out of her crust , attaining a degree of sentience , a splitting , manifesting of the operating opposite apparatchiks, or duality , if you prefer, but no, the garden of Eden has not gone missing ..

Welcome to the training program for living things where everything goes , any- thing , but once existing , nothing ever stops living , periodically appearing in our dreams as a giant T- Rex lizard poking its head in  cave mouth , thrashing about while we pray desperately for the arrival of merciful sunlight , marking the disappearance of terrifying nocturnal critters , now vastly reduced in size and ferocity to those pesky critters on Cherokees farm ..

So upon constructing the harddrive of fossil fuels we have proceeded to upload ourselves as a terrifying A.I , until we permeate the fractal majesty of every living thing , threatening its own well being if not existence , not a clever thing . By its very definition, any good or Transcendent A.I so hungry for power can onle be our own dark unregenerate vampire...tis ' not a clever thing . Fortunately though , she has her own nuclear option in which the waters begin to swirl and rise, we lose track of the ever loving opposites until left as cute little possums , groping feebly in the dark for the forbidden fruit upon which we habitually gorge ourselves , losing our discernment , our dialectic , a DArk Age descends , all is submerged apart from a few verboten libraries of lively discussion , held in the hearts of a few brave men and women who have been called many things , a weapon called ARK .....

Glenn said...

That's a bundle of news and no mistake!

I have been active on the local non-motorized transportation board. It feels like shoveling mud uphill. Perhaps it is my doomed version of trying to nurse industrial civilization on a bit further. I was hoping for at least a soft landing.

Perhaps I ought to take advantage of the current societal wealth (though I haven't much of it) to buy a coat of mail. Or at least 40,000 stainless steel lockwashers to make one. One of my Great-grandchildren might find it usefull, along with my sword and shield.

The Children of the Law of One might be a good core for one of Dmitry Orlov's Communities that Abide. Stranger things have happened.

In the mean time, I ride my bicycle to the harbour and launch our boat again. My wife is putting in the Summer's garden. And our daughter is preparing for the Spring dory expeditions on the Salish Sea.

As usual, thanks for the food for thought.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Kyoto Motors said...

here's one more, fifteen minutes before the deadline:

escapefromwisconsin said...

Here's another one over the transom. Coincidentally, it too references a drowned world:

Regarding Tolkien, readers might find this comment from Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin interesting in this context (apparently two 'R's is de rigeur for fantasy authors):

A major concern in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones is power. Almost everybody – except maybe Daenerys, across the waters with her dragons – wields power badly. Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

In real life, real-life kings had real-life problems to deal with. Just being a good guy was not the answer. You had to make hard, hard decisions. Sometimes what seemed to be a good decision turned around and bit you in the ass; it was the law of unintended consequences. I’ve tried to get at some of these in my books. My people who are trying to rule don’t have an easy time of it. Just having good intentions doesn’t make you a wise king.

(from his recent interview with Rolling Stone)

Ben said...

Here is my entry to the short story writing contest. Just under the wire!

Hope you enjoy you break from the blog, Archdruid. Unfortunately, my wife and I won't make Age of Limits this year. Keep the dialogue going!

Cherokee Organics said...


The unspoken question is what to take when fleeing Atlantis?

Have a lovely and well deserved break.



Cherokee Organics said...


I was just about to launch into a big whinge about the truly weird weather here:

Unseasonable cold to blast Southern Australia

Then I spotted this:

Wild weather hits US crops

What I'm noticing about global weirding is that we seem to be getting more extreme weather and losing the more milder in between seasons.



KWohlmut said...

Have a nice hiatus, JMG!
I was getting ready to comment on last week's post that it was an entertaining & well written riff on the ole' tale, rife with interesting possibilities... but one area where the analogy to our modern age breaks down is, Frodo (and any successor) had a single, very clear, well-defined task ahead of him. Walk to Point X and huck that Ring. Easier said than done, of course, but nevertheless, simple and easy to understand. By contrast, our own heroic quests will have to be conceived and planned in our own heads, with woefully incomplete information, and the goals of our individual quests can and _must_ vary from person to person. In some respects, Frodo had it easy.

jcummings said...

I've been thinking a lot about your recent calls to preserve what we can as we head into the long descent, and what I'm struck by is the difficulty seeing what is important and good that should be learnt and saved, and what is just another facet of the very technological, cultural, social, etc. knowledge that is sending us down our inexorable decline. If I look carefully at my skill set, I don't see much that would be of use in a low energy future - and I'm a permaculture farmer! (For example, would I be able to get water to all the parts of our farm without the electric pump in our well dug with industrial drilling tech...) The one thing I cherish above my building and planting and growing skills, though, is my canny ability to ask useful questions and find creative solutions. I promise, anyone around and thriving a century from now will have this skill. In fact I'm not sure very much from our current industrial lives fits into an imagined post-industrial world besides a healthy can-do attitude and some seriously good luck.

Justin Wade said...

Carts before horses, asses may cross us.

It seems like the story of civilization is the recording of an arcing collective mindset toward an unchanging, harsh reality.

It has dawned on me for some time that the biggest challenge we face is a present mindset.

The streets of our cities are literally overflowing with material wealth.

Leather couches and bed sets on the curb.

I think where I sometimes disconnect with your positions is that I don't think the stories we tell ourselves mean much in terms of our actual behaviors and interactions with reality. The stories or thoughts we tell ourselves are just like ripples of mind, or grass blowing in the wind while we go about our lives.

Stories follow action and alternately cover truth with lies for the sake of our personal amusements.

Just my two cents.

Derv said...

Hey JMG,

Wish you all the best on your break. Hope one of my stories makes the cut! I was actually entertaining writing a fantasy novel with very similar themes and structure as the Atlantis one you mentioned. It wouldn't be based on the ancient myth, but would still be a sort of reflection on our current madness a la Animal Farm. I'll let you know if I follow through with it.

Another feature that has changed since Tolkien's time, I think, is the desire to save what exists. I can't help but feel that everyone is ready for something new. If I were given the option of a reset at this point, or allowing things to continue as they are (with the same people/institutions/lifestyles as now), I'd have to vote for the reset. It's not just the inevitable future trend that is the problem, after all; our society is sick. There's a reason they die around this point. I'm sure you know that. I just hope (as you do) that the transition is as painless as can be managed.

Anyway good luck and enjoy your break. Thanks again for the contest, too!

John Michael Greer said...

Darren and Steve, got 'em both. You're in the contest -- you and one mother of a lot of other people. I've got no fewer than 92 stories in the Space Bats folder right now, that compares to 63 for the first contest, and the quality has if anything nudged up a bit. I'm impressed by the amount of talent and interest this little jeu d'esprit of mine has attracted!

Andy, thank you -- and by all means blog away!

Travis, it's still on the agenda -- I can't provide a meaningful discussion of the next five centuries of North American history, after all, without talking about the natural (and unnatural) environment. As for the Quinn quote, I'd suggest that there's nothing fundamentally right with people, either...

Pinku-sensei, well, of course -- but for some reason the popular stories about prehistoric monsters in our society all have to do with vertebrates. Personally, I think that Beowulf wrestling with an Anomalocaris would make a great tale, but I'm in the minority. As for Arthur and the Grail, hmm -- that's a complex issue, not least because the Grail story in its mature form is a failed quest: the Grail is found, but then passes away from human sight forever. Still, it's an interesting thought. A happy Belteinne to you too!

Kutamun, I'll try to parse all that some other evening.

Glenn, you can make chain mail from wire coat hangers that can't be cut by an axe. I've seen it done, and seen the tests. A coat of mail and a good sword might be worth handing down, though I suspect a black powder rifle might be even more so.

Kyoto, you're in, but I need your real name or preferred pen name and an email address. A comment marked "not for posting" is always a good way to get that to me!

Escape, got it, but the same thing applies.

Ben, ditto.

Cherokee, water wings come to mind first... ;-) Yes, we're having wild weather also -- northern Florida just took up to 15 inches of rain in a few hours, for example. It's going to be a wild ride from here on in.

John Michael Greer said...

KWohlmut, true enough. That's one of the reasons why I like the Atlantis story: the seedbearers didn't have a single endpoint to strive for, they were just trying to survive and preserve what they could, and had to face all the consequences of the Atlantean collapse without a guidebook or any end in sight.

Jcummings, I think there's a lot more than that. If your permaculture skills are dependent on complex machinery, learn new skills that aren't -- there are a great many ways to grow things that don't depend on an industrial economy, and some of them are much more sustainable than others! I've also argued that basic ecological theory and the scientific method could spare our descendants a lot of mistakes and misery. It might be worthwhile for you to take the time to think through that, and ask yourself what people in a deindustrial future might find useful among the things we have today.

Justin, there I think you're wrong. The reason it's so hard to see the power of stories in today's world is that so many of the stories that rule our lives are treated as literal truth; it's when we see them as stories that we can break out the editorial blue pencil and change them.

Derv, I think you're right -- one of the reasons there are so few real conservatives these days is that there's so little left to conserve! By all means proceed with the story -- that would be very much worth reading.

Val said...

Yep, I can definitely relate to the Atlantean story as you've recounted it. It describes our predicament nicely. Can't wait to read the book.

Have a great trip to the UK. I'm sure it'll be productive.

D.M. said...

@Cherokee Organics

I have pondered that myself as well, even though lately it has changed from what to take with me when I sail for new lands into which lands should I sail to?

Speaking of seed bearers that reminds me of how Hermes the Thrice Great was cast an Atlantian survivor bringing his knowledge to what in the future would be Egypt.

N Matheson said...

Hmm did my comment post?
Superb you are coming to the UK! I'll have a serious look at braving London and attending that conference. Are you doing any Obod stuff while you are over here?

John Michael Greer said...

Val, thank you!

N Matheson, comments don't post automatically -- to keep spam and trollery down to a dull roar, a certified human being checks each post before it goes up. Thank you, and yes, I'll be attending OBOD's 50th anniversary bash at Glastonbury on the weekend of June 6-8. If you'll be there, by all means say hi!

beneaththesurface said...

I'll miss your weekly columns in the next month and a half, but this is a needed break for you.

Also, if any of us here want good reading material during the haitus, the many short story entries to the contest are linked here (to be updated soon):

I've only had a chance to read a few so far, but I too have been very impressed. Thank you, everyone.

You just sent me an email about my short story link that didn't work. I emailed you back with the correct link, but here it is again too:

Tom Bannister said...

Again thanks for putting thoughts I've been having for some time into some kind of coherent, cohesive organization. I've been looking recently at a lot of fiction with a narrative of things not turning out well (that is, no shining utopia at the end of the tunnel), but with perhaps still some redeeming features. For example, this post brought back to mind the Cormac McCarthy The Road. Granted yes the novel is set in a classic sudden collapse post apocalypictic landscape, but what's encouraging/ inspiring the father and the son carring on, holding onto hope without really any idea about what hope there might be. The landscape around them certainly doesn't offer much. Its interesting too how while most people reading the book found it depressing, I found it quite peaceful and comforting (though i did see the film before reading the book). Hopefully that's a positive sign on my part.

Another brilliant piece of fiction with tragedy and only faint hope of partial redemption is the British film tyrannosaur. Its very gloomy and dark but at the same time with a powerful narrative of hope.

Anyway, just some reflections! Have a nice trip btw.

Tom Bannister said...

Just Another thing. For Better or for worse I am seeing the narrative you sketched out in this post a lot more all over popular culture items. I can for example think of at least two computer games featuring a sinking Atlantis and people fleeing its imminent destruction narrative (these are Warcraft 3 and the Resistance: fall of man series for readers who are into pop culture). Whether people think they can do anything about beyond sinking into despair/carrying on zapping aliens on computer screens is of course quite another matter. The foundation of acceptance of the acceptance of a different story is maybe there, but perhaps this is mainly just more people going crazy in the twilight years of a civilization (like inventing computer games instead of doing something to preserve anything that still might be preserved of industrial civilization for example).

streamfortyseven said...

This seems apposite - apologies if you've already mentioned it:,%20Walter%20M/Walter%20M.%20Miller%20-%20A%20Canticle%20For%20Leibowitz.pdf

BrightSpark said...

Tolkien of course had his Atlantis, in Numenor or Westernesse, right down to the Kings Men and the Elendli. Of course, he was intending too to place the Atlantis myth in a modern context. He only had one warning though, before the cataclysm that buried Ar-Pharazon and his followers on the shores of Aman, and sunk the island. But the Elendli scattered around the place, establishing themselves within Middle Earth, but again, more diluted and lesser in stature than the past memories.

SMJ said...

Hello JMG

I'm gonna miss your weekly posts! But see you in London - if there are people buying you a pint after the EEE conference, I'd like to add myself to the gathering if I may.

Did you also say that you'll be giving another talk in London? At the Blake Society? What will that talk be about?


Zosima said...

“The choice that I discussed in last week’s post, reduced to its hard economic bones, was whether we were going to put what remained of our stock of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources into maintaining our current standard of living for a while longer, or whether we were going to put it into building a livable world for our grandchildren.”

I don’t see how “we” were ever going to be able to make that choice when “our” stock of fossil fuels and nonrenewable resources was and still is owned by private profit making corporations. These entities need to make a profit now, and in order to do so they need to burn up those resources now. This was true in the 1980’s when you say the choice wasn't made, and it is true today. Are you suggesting that nonrenewable resources should be and should have been taken away from corporations? It sounds like you are, because otherwise there’s no other way for any collective “we” to have any say over what is done with them.

Richard Larson said...

Yep. I've been marginalized alright, and I view this as a positive.

Thank you. My hope is also in your garden. I'll click out a small tip for your journey!

Yupped said...

Have a very well-deserved break. This seems like a good point to say thanks again for all the help you have given to my thinking and adjusting to reality over these last few years. Early Thursday mornings with your posts have become a lovely ritual for me, so I'll miss them but will put the time to good use.

Reading this week's essay for some reason took me back to the days after 9/11 in the US. There was a brief opening back then in which hard questions could have been asked, a brief cracking of our collective confidence. But it was quickly covered up by a predictable response, the need to fight back and defend our freedoms and all that jazz - defend what we have, rather than change what we do. And then last week I was walking in NYC, where I've been doing some part-time work, and found myself at the ground zero site. It's now of course the site of the Freedom Tower, arising phoenix-like from the ashes. So the power of story and narrative is still strong, but the story is that "our lifestyle is not negotiable" and "defend the empire at all costs", etc. Maybe that's just the way it has to be, until it all comes crashing down. Have any empires ever voluntarily dismantled themselves?

Btw I'm now well into my copy of Star's Reach. Sat up too late last night with it in fact!

Enjoy your rest and especially your time in England.

Eric S. said...

Got my story back from my friend who was helping me edit last night just after I'd gone to bed. Here's the link, I think I'd misread the deadline, I'd put down May 1st on my calendar, and when I asked last week if Wednesday or Thursday would be better, you'd said either way would work, but everyone seems to have been treating last night like it was up to the wire.

Phil Harris said...

Have a good break and then journey!

Your sketch this week of mythical frames for our own times brings to my mind the image of Tony Blair. Very sorry about that! ;) He won’t resonate in the same way your side. He is not in the same league as Bush the Elder, Bill Unbuttoned, or Bush the Unready, but he is the best we got.
Our Tony seems tragic now; verbatim:
“What is the answer to North Sea decline PM?”
“Got that: our NG pipeline to Norway.”
“But… but… when Norway declines?”
“Technology”: swift gleam in the ever-cocked TV eye followed by rapid departure.
Wealthy Man; Peace Envoy; Moderniser; Man of Faith; Persuader; Key Side-Kick of American Civilisation, and etc.: who needs more? Shape-shifter with a human face: our Modern Beowulf? (Never took a hard decision in his life - motto: “just know the flow and go with it in the decadent Mead Halls of the City of London and provide reassurance for the more jaded leaders of the Free World and other beleaguered places?”)
Open-necked, friendly on the bridge of the Good Ship Progress, but is he still young enough to see the unmistakeable signs of aftermath, or will he go to his grave with his vision still intact? Alas, Poor Tony!

JMG, hope to catch you later
Phil H

Tony f. whelKs said...

I don't want to sound all New Agey, but I often find on a Thursday morning that thoughts which have been crossing my mind in the previous week keep cropping up in the next ADR. Usually better expressed and more deeply explored, too.

The myth of Atlantis only passed briefly through my head this week, largely in response to a news story about the latest science surrounding the 'tsunami' that had finally engulfed Dogger Land (which to the uninitiated was an island in the North Sea that disappeared beneath the post-glacial waters around 8,000 years ago). It's not that I had any notion of it being a historical Artlantis or anything like that, more of an appreciation that so much once-inhabited land is below the waves, and there could still be surprising discoveries from our distant past.

Perhaps the archetypal 'seedbearer' myth for our wider society (ie beyond the pale of those who even consider Atlantis...) is of course Noah and its Babylonian precursor. Although along with most of my generation, I'd rather hubristically dismiissed it as a 'mere myth', that is a groundless story, I'm now swinging back towards accepting that there is a substrate of truth behind it, namely a historical flood passed down in folk memory and eventually codified into something that served the interests of later cultures. Bear with me...

The three main features I put together were: 1) the homeland (heimat) of the Indo-European (IE) language group appears to be roughly the southern end of the Pontic Steppe; 2) IE languages radiated out suddenly around 5 or 6,000 BC, and 3) it has been suggested that the Bosphorus shelf burst around this time, flooding the Black Sea and dispersing the inhabitants of the region. It would be easy to see how different groups would migrate away and isolation would lead to the linguistic shifts that became the wide range of modern IE languages.

With Atlantis, I'm not sure whether the myth has arisen from a folk memory substrate, or if it was purely a creation of Plato. It might well have been derived from the Minoan culture which did so much to nurse-maid the Mycenean Greeks; it might even have been another, more distorted off-shoot of the Noachic tradition. If only someone could crack Linear A!

Anyway, the main point is that the truth and the usefulness of a myth may well become separated, and that the best way to miss both is to approach them literally.

sgage said...

@ JMG,

I've been reading and commenting in the ADR just about from its inception, and if I had to pick a "best essay" over that time, I'd go crazy. But this week's essay is certainly up there. In fact, it seems a distillation or recapitulation of your work here, very clearly, succinctly, and entertainingly written (I had never heard that version of the Atlantis myth, for a start).

Anyway, just wanted to take the opportunity here on the eve of your well-deserved hiatus to say 'Thanks' once again for helping us think clearly and usefully about, well, about the kind of things we discuss here.

Enjoy your break, safe travels to England, and may your garden flourish! See you on the other side...

- sgage

Robo said...

Ever since I read "Chariots of the Gods" back in the early 1970's, my sense of historical time has been steadily expanding. Humans have been capable of creating advanced civilizations for tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of years. Ours may have ended up as the most fossil-fueled of them all, but it does not appear to be the first.

RPC said...

Sometimes the myths do meet...

Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three.
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
And one white tree.

YJV said...

I guess you took the Atlantis analogy as many people found your Middle Earth references unfamiliar. However I just remembered that Tolkien incorporated his own version of Atlantis into his epics - the fall of Númenor.

There's plenty of stories on relating to fall for fellow Hindus - in fact the start of this Age of Kali is in itself a decline. For particular examples, the evacuation of Dwarka following sea rise (corresponding to the same time as the sinking of Atlantis) - but more importantly, the mystical karmic resultant of arrogance - offers parallels on what happens and what to do in such a situation.


Alphonse Houner said...

I just finished your recent book. As a long term reader I found most of it very familiar ground. It was well constructed and organized with a very useful reading list at the end. Considering the ease with which the subject matter could be very negative the conclusions were surprisingly uplifting.

Nice job.

Nick said...

Hi John,

Just wanted to know if my story made the deadline. I left a comment last night. Once again, thank you for providing this opportunity. I look forward to reading the next set of stories!


Nicholas J. Kokales

Matt said...

JMG, it's interesting that you bring up at Atlantis as a follow-up to your last post, since the fall of Numenor in the Silmarillion was at least partially based on it.

mr_geronimo said...

The theosophist were into something when Alice Bayley said that Atlantis was a prophecy of the future not a legend fom the past.
Of course, considering how much Blavatsky hated the industrial civilization on spiritual grounds they might have extrapolated what happened in their days to the distant future (our present). Whilhe they had the concept of spiritual progress they always derided the materialist progress of our age.

Cherokee Organics, there is also 'where to?'.
(shameless propaganda: come to Brazil! we have sun, fertile soil [if you know what you are doing], the country is mostly highlands, sugar cane to supply glicosys and caffeine to the addicted. And less tropical diseases then Africa. We will need all help we can get here, very few people here understand what waits them in the future, I try my best, but numbers matter, Ah, bring guns.).

If we are into wise man saving and using the knowledge of dying civilizations we should also take a look at Zhang Jue and his taoist sorcerors during the Yellow Turban Rebellion using the hidden sciences of the crumbling Han civilization to lead a revolution. If such a group of sorcerors succeed they may be able to shortcircuit the long decay and force a new civilization out of the dead one using death as fuel. As the Red Turbans did in the last decades of mongolian rule in China. And, in an intelectual environment full of revolutionary ideas (marxism, libertarianism, anarchism) i fully expect some modern yellow turbans.

Mister Roboto said...

I really have started to notice that the lion's share of misguided and neurotic human behavior is caused by knowing only one story, particularly when that story involves some kind of personal, civic, or cosmic demonology. My favorite example remains those Democratic Party Kool-Aid-drinker bloggers who were so eloquent in stirring up well-deserved outrage against the war and civic crimes of the Bush Administration. But when the Obama Administration perpetuated and extended those errors and some camp-followers questioned this, the questioners became excoriated as though they were the war and civic criminals of the former administration, as well as frequently accused of being in league with said criminals in one way or another.

beneaththesurface said...

JMG: "The reason it's so hard to see the power of stories in today's world is that so many of "the stories that rule our lives are treated as literal truth; it's when we see them as stories that we can break out the editorial blue pencil and change them"

Exactly, I definitely see this on a daily basis with the myth of progress. I can't count how many times I've gotten into a conversation with someone, who uses the story of progress as if it is a literal fact in order disagree with me something peak oil-related. The person is often unaware that they are just assigning individual facts to fit into their unconscious narrative, and haven't grasped that they are treating a story itself as a fact.

There's been way more criticism in our society of religious fundamentalists who treat religious stories as literal truth (such as mocking people who believe the world was created in seven days, or believe whatever other words of their religious text should be interpreted literally). Unfortunately there hasn't been the same amount of light drawn on the fundamentalists of the religion of progress (arguably the most dominant religion in contemporary society), who are treating their stories as literal truth. We think of religious fundamentalists as just a small sector of our society. In reality, religious fundamentalism is more widespread when one includes the religion of progress.

In order to understand the unconscious stories shaping one's own life and society, one of the things I recommend is listening to, reading, and learning to myths and tales from many different cultures. One of the more valuable classes I took in college was a course on myth from around the world, which was not taught in an academic way. During the course we told and read many myths from around the world. The point of the class was to learn more about ourselves through myth. It's amazing how a simple tale can change a person. For myself, one of the components of a post-peak toolkit, is knowing many traditional stories, which increases the likelihood I can respond to a situation in an appropriate way.

Don Plummer said...

Well, well, well, John: now I definitely have to read Unfinished Tales, which I have never read, to learn how Tolkien's version of the Atlantis myth played out. :)

I know the basic outline of Tolkien's version, of course, but not the details. Are they similar to your outline of the tale, the details of which I had never been told or read before? The Numenorean leaders and intelligentsia who were deceived by Sauron do seem, on the surface, like they could have been modeled after the Children of the Dark Face.

Stephen Lawhead, in his Pendragon series, combines the Atlantis myth with Arthurian legend in what I thought is a very creative and imaginative way. You might enjoy it, if you haven't already read it.

Interestingly I just used the "inmates have taken over the asylum" imagery earlier this morning in a comment to a friend about the recently passed and signed into law Georgia Gun Liberation Act. Our own Children of the Dark Face surely have taken on some very interesting, and quite frightening, guises in our day, haven't they? And we didn't need two Inundations for it to happen.

What a great and thoughtful post this is!

Eric S. said...

How do you keep mythic narratives like the fall of Atlantis from being subsumed by myths of apocalypse and survival that are already so popular in our culture? We can't just hop in a ship with provisions and sail away from our Atlantis to some other land that isn't affected by our mistakes, and there's nowhere to go if we do, since no matter how far you run, Atlantis will be sinking and the seas will be rising. All of those stories, the Caananite flood myths, Atlantis, Tolkien's story of the fall of Numenor end with the heroes hopping on a ship and sailing away, which continues in modern myths of humans fleeing a dying earth in a spaceship (one hits TV, theatres, or bookstores at least once a year). What myths do we have of the people who sit down and try to make a way for the future while their world crumbles around them?

Perhaps its telling that the only myths we really have from that shadow time between the twilight years of Rome and the time of Arthur are the hagiographies... stories of people immortalized in legend not for the deeds they accomplished, but for the suffering and persecution they were willing to endure at the hands of the priests and politicians of a crumbling civilization. The heroes of these stories had no way of knowing that they were carrying the light of a new civilization, and they had no intention of living to see that world, they were just doing what they thought was right when no one else understood and approved.

Perhaps the myths that carry a civilization through its death are stories not of kings, or warriors, or even survivors, but of saints.

Just my musings upon reading this week's essay


Garde said...

Hi JMG! Thanks for these ideas, very valuable for navigational purposes and interesting:)

What about the zombie apocalypse, recently portraited in the popular series The Walking Dead? The story is not about (re)building a civilization, or saving half of it before the clutches if the dark lord. The heroes in this story are the ones who are able to toughen up without losing their humanity in the process, and those manage to stick together on a tribal level in a hostile environment. There is but a faint hope of civilized life remaining in these stories. It is a relatively popular story, which is why I bother to mention it.

RogerCO said...

I'm guessing from your comments that you simply haven't had time to confirm individually that you have received stories. Since you published my comment on Monday with the link to I'm assuming it is ok.

I haven't read anyone else's yet so while you have your hiatus I will trawl back through the comments looking at the other entries since it sounds like very few will make it to the paper format. Hopefully folk are leaving them up.

BTW mine includes a special nod to you in the form of two slide rules which have sat in my desk drawer since I got my first capable calculator (a Sinclar Cambridge Programmable) back in 1976.

Rediscovering appropriate technology is surely the way to go. My favourite tool at present is my scythe - used to manage and haymake on 3 acres of meadow. Tools empower, machines enslave.


Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...

"Glenn, you can make chain mail from wire coat hangers that can't be cut by an axe. I've seen it done, and seen the tests. A coat of mail and a good sword might be worth handing down, though I suspect a black powder rifle might be even more so."

As an old SCA hand, I've made and used coat hanger wire mail. Early tests (Anno Societas II, about 1968) showed that the heir of a man wearing mail of any kind, struck with a mace or ax would inherit it virtually intact; almost immediately. One of the reasons I specified stainless flat lock washers was of course resistance to rust, but more importantly, flat wire mail made of square section or rectangular section wire resists cutting better because the blade strikes the full width of the wire rather than the tangent of the arc of the cross section. Oh yes, welded or riveted links are much better than butted, especially against thrusting weapons. In terms of armour, a helmet might be more useful; some kind of leather and padding makes very good cheap body armour.

I take your point about black powder weapons, with U.S. Civil War periond Minie Ball ammunition, a fairly fast muzzle loading rifle is practical. Still, we prefer bows in this household. Not that we can't have both, and AK-47 and AR-15 clones will probably last longer than the available ammunition will; which is to say my lifetime, and possibly my children's (the ammunition). But firearms and their advocacy, are as I recall, not meant to be the focus of TAR. Too many inflamed emotions from their adherents who tend to worship them and their opponents who tend to demonize them. Few seem able to view them dispassionately as a tool to be used, whether for good or for evil.

I think the most important thing I can give my heirs is knowledge, and the desire and means to acquire knowledge. Oh, I'll try to pass on my carpentry skills, and where the good fishing spots are; and my wife will pass on where things grow in the woods, how to find them, and what they're good for. But in the end, knowing how to learn is the most powerful tool we have.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

John Michael Greer said...

Beneath, thank you -- that link worked fine. I'm as impressed as you are by the quality (and quantity!) of stories submitted this time around.

Tom, I tend to see shifting narratives as a leading indicator of shifts in collective consciousness. The question that still has to be settled is whether the new popularity of decline and fall narratives works out to more people being willing to make preparations, or not.

Stream, I have, but it's still apposite!

BrightSpark, one of the most fascinating things (to the historian of ideas) about Tolkien's legendarium is the extent to which it draws on occult teachings of a kind Tolkien publicly rejected. One of these days, as time permits, I want to research and write a book on the way that 19th-century occultism gave birth to 20th-century fantasy fiction; it really is an interesting story.

SMJ, yes, on June 3, and it'll be on "Blake and the Druid Revival." The details should be up on the Blake Society website sometime soon.

Zosima, until the early 1980s, public regulation of private activities involving the ecosystem was standard -- you might want to look into little things like the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act -- and there were also people, quite a few of them, who were choosing not to consume fossil fuels with reckless abandon in their own lives. That could have been the basis for a collective choice in favor of sustainability -- instead, we saw a collective choice the other way.

Richard, thank you!

Yupped, thank you. A few empires have backed away from the imperial trap -- Britain and Ming-dynasty China both relinquished maritime empires voluntarily -- but it's very rare. I see no sign that ours will follow their lead.

Eric, I was startled by that, too. When I said "by May 1" I thought that meant "before May 1 is over." You're in the competition -- please get me an email address at which you can be contacted if your story is selected.

Phil, I'd always taken Blair as Britain's answer to Bill Clinton: a vacancy with a plastic smile and a lot of misplaced hopes tacked onto the outside of it.

John Beckett said...

John Michael, I'm currently reading a history of Texas, and the thing that stands out from the pre-Civil War era is the way in which many people who believed slavery was a great moral wrong defended it as necessary and insisted that it could and must continue forever. Of course, there were also plenty of people who never saw past their own benefits and concocted various philosophical and religious rationalizations of why slavery was perfectly fine.

The end result was a horrible war and a century in which the South lagged the rest of the country in virtually every aspect of life.

To be clear, there is no moral equivalence between slavery and fossil fuel use. The point is that otherwise-intelligent humans are often willfully blind to great forces which will cause us to change ways of living that are familiar. I sometimes wonder if my own projections are really my best informed guess or if they're colored by what I want to be true...

In any case, we need a new story. And we need to preserve what can be preserved for whatever comes after us.

Enjoy your break and your trip.

Chris G said...

I agree, a story of another civilization blundering arrogantly and stupidly toward an ignominious decline would at least reach the audience that might put in the hard work of intellectual salvage. Within the Atlantis story, I just like the idea of including elements of "sacred", esoteric, or totally unfamiliar technologies that were retained and transmitted down from the Atlanteans. The superstructure collapses, but a few elements that were discovered under the protection of that superstructure might be transmittable, at least on some scale. Examples like, telekinesis, telepathy, healing arts, summoning, conjuring... who knows?

And considering more stories, upon reading Star's Reach online (much thanks for making available - I plan on giving it to a few people as a gift :) ) - a possible sequel came to mind. Set 200,000 years in the future. Slightly mutated humans, a couple ice ages and an age of jungle nasty hot, and a very ancient secret fellowship who guards the knowledge of how to re-contact the Others by radio. This fellowship holds the knowledge through the repeated, trance-like meditative recitation of an epic poem that contains clues... a poem in a language the fellows don't understand anymore, but hold very dear.

"Myths, according to the philosopher Sallust, are things that never happened but always are." It recently occurred to me that the myth of our time is unlimited energy. In the great sci fi epics, Star Wars and Star Trek, and many others, the sound of the details of where the energy comes is deafening in its silence.

I wonder if the stories of the future will return to Beowulf and the need to conquer the violent challenges that are commonplace. While human learning can be stifled by whether the past is even remembered, it seems likely that there will be tons of reminders to people of the consequences of hubris, in the form of pollution, ruins... perhaps a mythology surrounding the ultimate power of Gaia and the demonization of many human desires... ??

thrig said...

Widespread refrigeration is something of a problem, as once introduced, it cannot readily be removed, with yachting experience in "The Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew" confirming my own experiences, that some once-refrigerated vegetables and especially eggs are then less preservable once moved back out to a non-refrigerated environment (the book is otherwise full of handy tips; brush bread and cheese with vinegar, the boil-pot-on-stove-then-leave-sealed trick, etc). Refrigeration may also be more difficult in the future, if grids suffer from brown outs, load shedding, or other problems, though the worst I recall in Islamabad were rare "quick! eat all the food!" events (and slightly more frequent periods when opening the fridge was strongly discouraged). Still, they are useful in the short term, and refrigerator repair might be a handy thing to know. Mine is still off (I figure it was the noise of it that really bothered me), but I can easily recover by wandering to any of several nearby stores while I figure out how to maximize food from the weekly farmer's market. The potatoes are a chore to nom through, and with daily checks, the less hardy stuff can be used up first (a daily task, and certainly a change from the common "oh, it went bad" ignored fridge food pattern). Some stalky green (it looked good) and rhubarb and a touch of wildflower honey make for an excellent if potent soup, and dried kale is surprisingly good with oatmeal, and why then there's rice with kale and potatoes with kale and beans with kale and eggs with

Otherwise, I'm with Glenn on the non-motorized transportation thing; mention negatives to proponents of the inevitable rise of the self-driving car and they go all King Grima on you, ignoring or prevaricating or denying that any such negatives could possibly exist, and then the local transportation blog, while bemoaning the political gridlock and revenue problems, sees fit to censor me on advice to maybe not wait for that leadership to get around to leading—granted, the Hamlet references and pointing out the lack of clothes that the Robert Triffins and Schumachers called a few decades ago probably didn't help—but is using your own two feet really such a bad idea? (And no, I'm not strutting around in some May thing; all that concrete between work and food and home is bad enough on my back.)

Val said...

The Servants of the Dark Face are all around us. But what is the nature of the Law of One?

thecrowandsheep said...


Fourth, how goes the Krampus competition? I could be completely wrong, but I have only spotted a handful of entries? (I am guilty of not having completed my own entry yet).

(PS: thanks for the book recommendations a few weeks back, always appreciated).

Val said...

@ Tony -

Artlantis : great name! It's where I've been living all my life. Hope I can patch up my flotation devices in time.

SLClaire said...

Have a safe and pleasant trip and enjoy the break! I had a feeling you might be taking some time off around your trip overseas.

I wish I could get to Age of Limits this year but other events have intervened. Perhaps next year will work as I would like to meet you someday, while travel is still easy.

Thanks for talking about the Atlantis story in the way you did. I feel that's the story I've been living for the past 20 years, complete with converting some digital wealth into more tangible forms that I hope to pass on when I pass from the scene.

Literally bearing (saving) seeds makes a lot of sense right now. I had enough beet and carrot roots left over from last fall's crop to plant some of each for seed this year. It's part of my work toward learning how much food we can grow in small spaces. Growing our own seeds is part of that, and learning how to grow biennials to seed in cold winter areas is a skill that I can pass on (along with all the other things I'm trying to learn this year) if I can figure out how to do it.

I'll see if I can spare some time for my own blog while you are on hiatus. It's not the best time of year to write as I am trying to get seedlings planted and the herb and vegetable beds weeded. But I suppose I can use the time when I would have read your post and the comments toward writing posts of my own.

Phil Harris said...

Tolkein had a pretty potent and eclectic taste in myth to tap into.

RPC mentions "the seven stars" in a LoTR poem, and this goes back at least to Revelations. And Keats borrowed it for his 'Robin Hood' via I'm guessing, popular culture. There is an ancient Pub of that name in Bistol sounds worth a visit. It's a popular Pub name across England.


Unknown said...

Well, sure enough, the WSJ felt compelled to give yet another Polyanna a whole lot of column space to worship at the altar of innovation.

Now that I've been told "The World's Resources Aren't Running Out", can you imagine how much better I'll sleep tonight?

Justin Wade said...


Hmm... I trust you on that position.

Besides, nothing more interesting and challenging than accepting wrong contra perception. :)

I wonder, do you see writing stories as having a moral dimension given that blue lining the ongoing red-alert industrial situation might make some amount of causal difference?

Guess I should knock out that Stranger story post haste...

Probably over the line on the contest, but I already submitted Stranger's epilogue poem... main story drug dealer selling placebos...

No time to finish this weekend, I have to climb into a sensory deprivation chamber and see some old lawyers.

Ah well, the rest can be rejected in some other beginer test. :)


redoak said...

Hello fellow ADR readers. That clinking sound you just heard was a fist full of coin I dropped in the tip jar. Our good druid deserves a few beers on us. Time to pony up!

Many thanks for your work JMG.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Good Beltaine to you, JMG.

Your stamina and continuing creativity in writing such a high quality, thought-provoking blog and presiding over such a lively forum while doing so much else is very impressive. And this week's apposite version of the Atlantis myth gives much to think about while you're gone.

Oddly, I had just been thinking, "I hope JMG will take a break while preparing for and traveling to his conferences." Good journeying to you.

It seems to me that one way to approach taking on a "seedbearer" role is to contemplate what kinds of knowledge one has accumulated in one's life, look for useful patterns, and then set about learning accompanying skills to actively practice, and other ancillary knowledge, and so on until one has a pretty good handle on whatever domain one is active in.

This, as I can say from experience, is a true journey away from "mainstream culture," even if one is still seemingly part of that culture; and one meets and travels in company with all kinds of other seedbearers, some of whom don't even know they are. The other thing I always remember is that one can't do everything oneself. Collaboration and community are very important. While there is such a thing as self reliance, I don't believe there is such a thing as complete self sufficiency.

Re England, there's an interesting piece in the 4/21 issue of the New Yorker: "Romancing the Stones: On the winter solstice, modern-day Druids flock to Stonehenge" (unfortunately paywalled). A little patronizing, but not negative, and full of interesting information about the henge itself.

I look forward to meeting up again with all in this blog community in late June.

John Michael Greer said...

Tony, nicely summarized. I'd also point out that it's a common mistake to think that all flood legends come from a single flood; given the realities of sea level change in recent prehistory, it would be amazing if there weren't flood legends from most of the world.

Sgage, thank you!

Robo, agreed, but that's a can of worms I don't really want to open here and now. I try to limit stomping the bejesus out of popular superstitions to one at a time!

RPC, Tolkien knew his way around the Atlantis myth; if you read the fine print, you'll find that the Quenya name for Numenor after its fall was, ahem, Atalante, "the downfallen." Tolkien loved linguistic jokes like that.

YJV, can you recommend a good English language source for the story of the drowning of Dwarka/Dvaraka? I'd be most grateful for that info!

Alphonse, thank you.

Nick, I got it, and tried to email you at the address you gave, but got a bounceback. Please give me a different address so that, if your story gets chosen, I can be in touch.

Matt, it was indeed. I really do need to write that book on the origins of modern fantasy fiction...

Mr. Geronimo, good heavens -- I managed to miss that Alice Bailey quote. Do you happen to remember where in her works it's from?

Mister R., I noted that, too, with wry amusement. Clearly, for the Dems, ideals are only useful to the extent that they further partisan ambitions.

Beneath, exactly! That earns you today's gold star, for getting past the surface eddies and seeing the currents that matter far below.

Don, Numenor had only one inundation, but other than that, Tolkien followed the occult version of the story with remarkable precision. As for Inundations, we've already had two -- the first was the oil crisis of the 1970s, and the second was the oil crisis of the 2000s. Now, as we wait for the third, most Americans are behaving exactly according to script...

Enrique said...

John Michael,

One curious coincidence (or is it a coincidence?) is that the occult traditions about Atlantis speak of a three-staged submergence, while modern geologists say there were three major sea level rises during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, each related to the collapse of a major ice sheet. The worst occurred when the dam that held back Lake Agassiz collapsed, sending sea levels 200 feet higher in a relatively short period of time. These rapid sea level rises would have caused catastrophic flooding in the low lying islands of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, which is the most likely site of Atlantis if it really existed, and in the lowlands and river valleys of Sundaland, which has been widely identified with the occult traditions concerning Lemuria. So the latest geological evidence actually tracks pretty well with some of the occult traditions about both Atlantis and Lemuria. This is especially curious, since geologists back in the days of Blavatsky, Alice Bailey, Dion Fortune and Edgar Cayce were not aware of these sudden sea level rises and were still very much wedded to the dogma of uniformitarianism.

Enrique said...

For all you seedbearers (and ringbearers) out there, some inspiration…

Nathaniel Ott said...

Gmg, the Atlantis myth is so incredibly acurrate for our time I almost believed you made it up! I have made a recent observation on the "destiny in the stars" type techno optimists id like to share.

I have noticed that when they say that anything is possible, they are not really talking about "anything". They are talking about three things, three very specific things: Faster than light space travel. Quick and easy planetary scale terraforming. And the more fantastical elements of the Singularity such as AI significantly more intelligent than human beings, brain uploading and imortallity. These three things are there secret hope for the future they think is "supposed" to happen. Despite the fact that science has already proven one of them impossible and the others are likely at the very least impracticle and not likely to occur. Despite the fact that we could still have a very advanced very good society even without these things from now till the sun expands. And despite the fact that the Fermi Paradox is practically screaming at us that these things are at the very least just plain unlikely. As you have said before the idea that we will hit a wall some where in the future and NOT be able to break it down clashes with our culture mythos that we move forever onward and upward. You cant try and tell these people that it could still be pretty good even without these things iether, as they will just start talking about exploring space (as if we could not do that with probes), asteroids killing us all (as if those types of asteroids struck earth all the time, and there wasnt a more practicle means of defense that didnt involve space colonization.) About how we have experienced exponential growth in technology (like that means we will automatically experience exponential growth in it FOREVER). And the sun expanding and consuming the Earth (as if it were right around the corner and not billions of years from now, literrally more time than the first mulicelluar organisms apperaring on Earth till now.) Truth is anything short of space manifest destiny and total human dominence of nature and the universe will not satisfy them. They dress it up nice and optimistically but thats what it comes down to in the end. You cant say any of this of course as you immedietly get called a total luddit who hates science and technology and probably humanity too! I know, I used to be one and would have reacted much the same way, its a very tempting fantasy but a fantasy none the less.

Speaking of the Fermi Paradox I was wondering if you had ever heard of the Sustainability Solution to The Fermi Paradox. It basically says that the problems we are experiencing with lack of resources aliens very well may have experienced as well, wich is probably why its so unpopular. Its obviously alot more complex than that but I think you would find it interesting should you choose to look it up some time. On a side note there is a question ive been meaning to ask you. Obviously the insanely bloated population we have today is way too much but what do you think would be a good global population for an advanced ecotechnic society? Personally, considering we were already having problems with resouce growth(particularly wood) back before the industrial revolution I would put this at sub 500 million but not too much less myself, but I would be very interested to hear your opinion on this. Sorry for the long stream I dont comment on hear that often. anyway I hope your break time goes well and you get some well deserved rest, enjoy it!

wvjohn said...

JMG - thanks you for your commentary, scholarship, and leadership in the time when the wheels are coming off the bus! Have a grand time and some good adventures!

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, that's a good point -- or, more precisely, a series of good points -- and deserves a better and longer response than I'm prepared to give at the moment. What kind of story, in what kind of setting, has the most to say to our present predicament? Hmm...

Garde, I suppose so. I find zombies dreary, so haven't really followed the fad; still, if you're right and it's got a few useful lessons, that's something.

RogerCO, yes, I got it -- please put in a comment marked "not for posting" with your email on it so I can contact you if your story gets chosen.

Glenn, fascinating. I was involved in the SCA in the late 1970s, and watched a demo in which coathanger-wire mail over a straw bale was assaulted by a guy with an axe, and came through in remarkably good shape. (Of course you'd wear a padded leather gambeson underneath to deal with the impact; the mail's purely to prevent cutting.)

John, actually, given the consequences of the latter, there's an exact moral equivalence between slavery and fossil fuel use. In both cases person A is gaining direct economic benefit from the suffering of person B; it's just that in slavery, person B is person A's slave, and in fossil fuel use, person B is person A's descendant.

Chris, a really far-future story is something I've considered from time to time; it would be a massive challenge to come up with a future world that wasn't simply a rehash of our present or our past!

Thrig, I've seen the same thing many a time. Suggest leaving the car in the driveway, even if it's just now and again, and people get edgy and brittle. It's quite weird.

Val, the Law of One is the principle that all things are part of what we'd now call a whole system, so that everything connects to everything else and everything influences and is influenced by everything else. Yes, that's spelled "ecology" when it's expressed in the language of science!

Sheep, it folded due to a lack of entries. Clearly I have more aspiring writers than aspiring green-tech geeks among my readership!

SLClaire, by all means blog away -- but of course planting seeds comes first.

Phil, the seven stars go *way* back before Revelations -- John of Patmos was riffing off a very ancient pattern when he put that bit of symbolism into his book.

Unknown, of course -- it's that or admit that the whole shebang is going down.

John Michael Greer said...

Justin, storytelling is a technology, and like any technology, it can be used in more or less ethical ways. An obsession with stories that gets in the way of taking other necessary actions would be a problem; an involvement in telling stories in order to help clear the way for other necessary actions is quite another matter.

Adrian, nicely summed up. Exactly.

Enrique, hmm. Have you by any chance read my book on the Atlantis myth, which discusses these things in some detail?

Nathaniel, yes, I'd noticed that "anything" among cornucopians adds up to a remarkably small shopping list of items, all of them borrowed from three quarters of a century of bad science fiction. As for the "sustainability solution" to Fermi's paradox, no, I hadn't heard of it by that name, but I proposed something of the kind in a blog post here a while back!

AlanfromBigEasy said...

I have heard knowledgeable Icelanders speculate that Viking swords and axes were used to break bones and transfer force (knock down) rather than cut. The metal was really not of very good quality.

So mail would be useful against arrows but little else. Padding would need to be pretty thick and cumbersome.

Val said...

Thanks JMG for that succinct and informative definition of the Law of One. Next thing you know, you'll be telling us that the universe is one great living being (?!).

Jo said...

Dear Archdruid, the reason I keep coming back to read here is because, while looking clear-eyed into the future, you are insisting on the importance of ideas and story as we stumble into the twilight.
Saving the future cannot be reduced to a series of practical solutions, because there is really no solution. We can't take the Atlantean escape route, or Noah's, because there is no 'ocean blue' that will take us to a New World. We are here, stuck, and all in this together. I really liked Eric's comment above about the saints, not the heroes, being the light bearers at the end of a civilisation. This is, in effect, the role the early Christians played at the dying of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages, not just preserving manuscripts, but literally going out into a dark world, unarmed, unprotected, and proclaiming a message of hope. Yes, a lot of them were martyred, but that just added to the appeal of this crazy, quixotic new religion.
And it was here that the Arthur myth was born, to make sense of a terrifying world where darkness was spreading. I used to think the Holy Grail quest was completely daft and pointless, but it was about finding meaning at a crossroad in history where the old stories didn't make sense any more.
So what we need now.. is a new story. A Christ, an Arthur, a Gandhi who can turn our current myths on their head.
Oh, and some martyrs..

Ray Wharton said...

I entered this one earlier, but noticed it was not on the green wizards list, so I am double checking. Better safe than sorry.

Enjoy your break, I rekon there will be alot to catch up on when you next post, things are a quickening.

The Atlantis story maps on overly well. Reminds me of the stories of my era, Final Fanticy 7, a video game I played. I retold the story to a mens discussion group recently (for they were all over 50 and had never heard the tail.)

"Final Fantasy VII follows protagonist Cloud Strife, a mercenary who initially joins the eco-terrorist rebel organization AVALANCHE to stop the world-controlling megacorporation Shinra from draining the life of the planet for use as an energy source" from Wikipedia.

The stories that people think with, I wonder what the barbarians of the next dawn will look like? I hope they like kimchii and kombutia.

btidwell said...

You will be deeply missed! I often wonder, though, how you manage to turn out such deeply thoughtful, well written essays every week. You well deserve your rest. I hope it is refreshing, nourishing, and enjoyable. I'll take the time to finish the journey I started last year to go back and read your whole blog from the start. It has been well worthwhile, so far.

Enrique said...

I know this is slightly off-topic, but relates to many of the discussions that I have read on this blog. The Archdruid has talked on a number of occasions about concept of ecology, ecosystems and systems theory in general being the organizing principle of not only many of the cutting edge sciences of today but of a new and emerging religious sensibility. This has led to me to wonder if it might be possible to come up with a theory of history based on the concept of ecology and ecologic succession as the organizing principle. Such a system would also incorporate insights from historians like Ibn Khaldun, Giambattista Vico, Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee, all of whom had a cyclical view of history. Spengler in particular took a very organic view of history that borrowed heavily from Goethe, as well as the writings of Leo Frobenius, who is best known for his studies of African tribal cultures. Spengler in particular has had a huge influence on my thinking, and not just when it comes to history and philosophy. It seems to me that such an ecosystem based model might do a better job of making sense of history and the world around us. One of the ideas I have been toying with is trying to come up with such a model. Any thoughts?

Nick said...

Hi John,

Thank you for the confirmation. The best e-mail to contact me at is: Oh and I apologize if you got the same comment from me multiple times yesterday. I didn't see the comment appear and I went into a panic!

Thanks again!



Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...

"Glenn, fascinating. I was involved in the SCA in the late 1970s, and watched a demo in which coathanger-wire mail over a straw bale was assaulted by a guy with an axe, and came through in remarkably good shape. (Of course you'd wear a padded leather gambeson underneath to deal with the impact; the mail's purely to prevent cutting.)"

As I said, inherit a _virtually intact_ coat of mail, almost instantly. Hay bales don't have internal organs. The initial tests in 1968 were with butted coat hanger wire mail (about 14 gage) draped over a log. The mail was mostly fine, though a few dozen of the butted links had spread. Subsequent tests were conducted with pig carcasses, with and without gambesons. Those with the padding fared better, but it was pretty easy for a man of normal strength to hit a clean blow with ax or mace that damaged the internal organs badly. Despite this, the sword had advantages of speed, change of direction and strike angle that helped it predominate; but that's a whole 'nother essay. Reading between the lines, you've probably studied and practiced this as much or more than I have.

I assume the demo you saw was in the Barony of Madrone, Principality (at the time) of An Tir. Fast Eddy gave my my AOA in AS XIV, if I remember correctly. My first event was the Baycon demo in AS II when I was eleven years old.

Perhaps it will be my great great grandchild that needs the mail, rather than the rifle; we'll see. I've asked my family to bury me in a small barrow in any boat they can spare with one sword when the time comes. I hope archaeologists a thousand or so years hence will be thoroughly confused if they find me.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Esther said...

Awesome analysis about psychology at work in avoiding choices. The "herd" mentality pre-empts rational course of action. What "we" should do or "they" should do: the same idea behind it, that humans can avoid the pain of being an individual and making their own choice. Atlantis. Russian esotericists refer to us as the "Atlantic powers" and so do we (NATO). Co-incidence?

"Reality" says Phillip Dick in VALIS "is that which doesn't go away when you ignore it". Great novel, great definition.

Glenn said...

AlanfromBigEasy said...

"I have heard knowledgeable Icelanders speculate that Viking swords and axes were used to break bones and transfer force (knock down) rather than cut. The metal was really not of very good quality.

So mail would be useful against arrows but little else. Padding would need to be pretty thick and cumbersome."

Not exactly. I note the word "speculate"; not to be confused with "research". And ask the French knights at Agincourt about the arrows. If you're truly interested in the subject, I'd suggest by Michael Tinker Pierce. He's a swordmaker, Western martial artist (read: live steel) and consumate researcher. He says it clearly and more succinctly than I can. You might also find the works of Ewart Oakeshott usefull.

in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

BTW, my acquaintance Joel Dietz has started something called Evergreen:
Might be useful to some...
Above comment by Esther is myself (Matthew) apologies...
One might say, "Tradition is that which, when one ignores it, does not go away".

Matt Heins said...

Hello Archdruid Greer & company,

I think I'll use the hiatus to actually mull over the latest series before trying to write out my ideas on them.

But I did want to chime in quickly on the tangential discussion of mail and leather (and wool) armor, especially Alan's last.

Basic rule of armor (on tanks, planes, people, anything): the purpose of armor is to reduce injury, not prevent it.

Also armor is always a compromise because even light techniques like Inca cotton padding or the best made like fine Medieval plate will restrict fighting (or fleeing) ability. So I am sure mail and its underpadding WERE cumbersome. But evidently those warriors and their commanders decided being knocked onto the ground with a mortal wound of smashed bones was preferable to being cleaved open and dying on the spot, and worth the cost in mobility.

My favorite alterative attitude is the one of those Celtic tribes who chose to fight stark naked. ;) Pretty nuts, but that actually defeated the Romans on occasion, so hey.

John Michael Greer said...

WVJohn, many thanks!

Alan, they weren't that knowledgeable. A good Viking broadsword in the hands of a competent swordsman can chop a human body in half. You might look into archeological sites from Viking-era battles; there are crushing wounds, but also plenty of amputations and lethal cuts.

Val, me and the entire body of medieval and Renaissance Western thought. Until the scientific revolution, most people in the West believed that along with the physical universe, the corpus mundi or body of the world, there was also the spiritus mundi or life-force of the world, and the anima mundi or consciousness of the world. That I know of, there's only been one civilization in all of history that's imagined the world as nothing more than a lump of dead matter, and you and I are living in it.

Jo, I beg to differ about one small point. We don't need a Christ, an Arthur or a Gandhi. We each, individually, need to find that spark of magnificence in ourselves, fan it into flame, and do what has to be done. Christ and Arthur and Gandhi, and every other archetypal figure you care to name, are already here, now, in each of us, whispering: you can rise up. Here, now, in the midst of this age of shadows and lies, you can rise up and become what you have the potential to be.

Ray, yes, it's already in the file. One of, ahem, 92 stories submitted for the contest. I've discussed with the publisher the possibility of doing more than one anthology, if enough of them are good -- and so far they look very good indeed -- and it's clear to me that something like a new genre of fiction is trying to be born. I'm not at all sure what to do to midwife that further, but I'll be thinking about it.

Btidwell, thank you!

Enrique, I'd say your best bet is to get to work! I'd encourage a close reading of Goethe's scientific writings, texts on systems theory, and a good book on ecosystems ecology for starters.

Nick, no problem. Comments here don't go through automatically; I screen 'em before they go up. Still, you're good to go.

Glenn, indeed it was -- did you by any chance know Baron Theodulf of Borogrove? I was a page of his for a while. Most of my sword work these days is 19th century military broadsword, for complex reasons -- among the simplest is that it converts instantly and intuitively to walking stick aka 3 foot long staff technique.

"Esther," I've been reading Blake, so reference to the Atlantic powers calls up imagery out of some of his early prophetic books!

John Michael Greer said...

Matt, I'll be discussing the role of armor as a foundation of feudalism in the series of dark age posts ahead, so you're far from off topic. The interesting thing is that firearms have reshaped what was a predictable equation dating back many millennia; what effect it will have on social hierarchy is another question, and an important one.

Matt Heins said...


Very much looking forward to it!

My first thought is of the Church origin of Knighthood, and the wholly practical origin of the gun-weilder. The first an attempt to subordinate individuals of enormous power to the social good, for peace and unity, the second an exploitation of individuals of little power to the (arguable) social detriment, for unneeded competition and harmful division.

Also, congratulations for the much deserved recognition of your ideas detailed in The Wealth of Nature. It is a happy thought that academia might recognize (viz. collapse, etc.) what - I assume - is the Skydivers dictum: Remember your backup parachute!

Ares Olympus said...

Hi John, Strangely earlier this week I just happened upon your 2006 post "knowing only one story is death" and was reflecting on it.

Going along with your Lord of the Rings theme, a fun thing in the book and ignored in the movie version is the long slow return to Hobbiton and the young Heroes Merry and Pippin's efforts to clean up the villains that made a mess of things while they were gone. So leaders were made by those who gave up worldly ambitions and returned to a place they saw as home they were willing to die for.

So a single story that contains DEATH is "We have a right to defend our home" and love of home, even for all its small minded people who don't want to understand the bigger picture, and will get sucked along into slavery without seeing and need benevolent stern leadership to direct them into defending their own self interest.

So the battle I see in the future is as the center powers fail, and chaos expands on the periphery, people are going to make a choice - to abandon history and home to safer lands, or stand up for local needs against powers that will still try to extract the remaining wealth from them.

I think of Wendell Berry's calling all civilization now as "colonial" - we'll all colonizing each other's distant lands for our short term profits, and we're paying for the soldiers and bombs that take from those who reject the irresistible force of economic debt and "progress" someday for those who work hard enough.

Anyway, so "death as a story" is dangerous one. I'm not a warrior, and I'd rather die than kill, or at least we all should know what stories we're willing to die for, and that's the starting point for relocalization perhaps?

Its hard to see, and right now DEBT and ADDICTION are the one two punch that suckers people into giving up their power. And people are dying from those stories too.

Jo said...

Archdruid, you are right of course, but we humans are pack animals. The reason a Christ, a Buddha, an Arthur, a Gandhi pops up just when needed, is because, well, we need them. We respond to leadership. Our new story of salvation requires a story teller, someone who dreams dreams and sees visions. I love the image of that 'spark of magnificence' in each of us, but most of us require something or someone outside of ourselves to fan that into flame. That is the job of the dreaming visionary. Frankly, if we were all capable of realising our potential as human beings striving to be the best we could be.. well, we wouldn't be where we are. Most of us just wash the dishes, look after the kids, go to work. Most of us can't live with the awful responsibility of supplying our own 'god spark', or of really 'seeing' the world as it is. Frodo would have lived out his whole life at Bag End without a Gandalf..
Do you read Terry Pratchett? I love his 'children's' series featuring the young witch, Tiffany Aching. She discovers that it is the witch's job to see, really see what is happening in her community, and then do something about it. And that true seeing, is the essence of magic. Because as you have noted, most people don't truly 'see', instead they live according to the story in their head. And it takes someone willing to break out of the social herd, stand alone, be the outcast, be the witch (maybe the Archdruid..) to see the need for change. And then have to construct a new story and frame it in mythical terms, because that's what the people need. Stark reality is too hard to bear, and we need a story to make it palatable. The Israelites were much more comfortable worshipping a golden calf than communing with an actual real, live God up on top of the mountain, EVEN THOUGH they knew they had actually invented the calf themselves. We need a story THAT MUCH to protect us from reality. And for that, we need a storytller. Someone to follow.
In general of course. Me, I am hoping to find that magnificent spark. Right after I do the dishes..

Zosima said...

DMG said ...there were also people, quite a few of them, who were choosing not to consume fossil fuels with reckless abandon in their own lives. That could have been the basis for a collective choice in favor of sustainability -- instead, we saw a collective choice the other way.

You’ve mentioned this fateful choice several times in your last couple of of essays. One assumption is that because people were using less fuel it meant they wanted to continue to do so in order to achieve some kind of sustainable society. I prefer to go with Occam’s Razor which states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. People were trying to save fuel 35 years ago because they were living during a time of high fuel prices, and when prices fell they stopped. Also, in order to be accurate you also need to broaden the villain in your narrative to include the people of all the industrialized countries, because they all made the same choice. None of those countries continued to reduce energy use once prices fell in the 1980’s and 1990’s. They all did what the US did, and some increased their energy use more than the US. No collective choice in favor of sustainability was made anywhere on this planet.

Compound F said...

Keep talking, buddy. Apparently, there are lots (of a slim minority) listening. You can write worthwhile stuff, and I look forward to your return. You're prolly the best at what you do when we need it the most.

My major disagreement with you has to do with the "cone of probability" of the hurricane's landing where and when, aka the rate of dissolution. I think your decades-to-centuries staircase smackdown sounds perfectly within the cone, but I believe the cone is wider, and the smackdown potentially more imminent, due to economic concerns.

In any case, enjoy your time off. We'll all look forward to your return.

Cherokee Organics said...


I'm having trouble imagining you as a page. Everyone has to start somewhere I guess. Still with a broad sword or staff at my throat, minor troubles such as these vanish into thin air!

On a serious note, I've actually had someone - who I unintentionally annoyed - hold a knife to my throat from behind in a menacing way whilst at the same time describing my actions in unflattering terms. It did much to make me reconsider my youthful loutish ways and it was equally disturbing how easily I was taken - back then.

Your answer was very amusing too. Go not to the elves for advice... I cannot in all honesty say that you did not directly answer my question either, Mr Elf Lord. hehe! It was both tidy work and amusing at the same time.

On another serious note, the Aboriginals here used to incorporate the belief into their lives that if the proper rituals were not performed at the right time, then they and their souls were at risk of disaster. Since learning this belief, I can see that it is one correct response to this environment and have been throwing the ideas back and forward in my head ever since.

I'm not very good at representational tales and can see that at some point in the future, my knowledge of this particular environment will have to be handed over to a gifted - or otherwise - storyteller.

As to weapons, well, I could get a gun as I'm licensed to own one (no easy thing Down Under), but I reckon it will be something that will only be a vector to escalation of violence here. My knowledge and experience here is the weapon which I hope to utilise to my advantage. If that is not obviously respected then weapons will be of little use in any case as they will eventually break or become unusable. Plus it is impossible to be vigilant 24/7. Of course a handy staff and knife may just help as well to get your point across in a difficult situation. It would be far smarter though to have others do the dirty work... They'll come eventually – like Bogong moths to a light - of this I have no doubt.

Typical, you have already written a book about such swordsmanship matters... I'll put this on my reading list.

As an entertaining side note, one of my dogs has discovered recently what the Aboriginals knew that the Bogong moths are tidy little packages of protein. That dog, him fat…

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi beneath,

Wow. That insight floored me and it is so obvious too from hindsight. Well done. Respect.

Hi Glenn,

In Southern Vietnam I have fired both an AK47 and M16. Don't get a big head, but the M16 was the more accurate tool. It matters not though as they both had similar outcomes.

Hi thrig,

Eggs don't need to be refrigerated at all. Have a look at my comment to you on last weeks essay which explains the whys of the situation. Of interest to you - maybe - is that I have a video farm update to link to here over the next few days which shows a sneak peak into the kitchen here at the sheer volume of preserved goods. Refrigeration isn't too much of a drama in a de-industrial setting.

Hi Adrian,

Of course, and as usual you are correct.

Hi Kutamun,

Forgive me, but I didn't quite understand your comment. However, Stumpy and Co send you greetings and salutations up into the Kelly country and pray that their cousins also snack profoundly on your crops or garden - whatever that means! Hope you enjoyed the recent rain too.

Hi D.M.

It is a tough question, that our host cleverly dodged...

Hi Mr_geronimo,

Like the handle! Thanks very much for the offer and anywhere that can grow coffee must have both a very nice climate and soils. I would enjoy Brazil. Back in the late 90's I travelled to Peru on the other side of your continent and the scenery and history was awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, funds were and are a bit tight so here in this crazy disaster prone place is where I find myself.

The dominant Oil narrative is pretty strong here too, so no one wants to know or listen here either. Sorry, mate. Still sugar and coffee are pretty good export crops with a long history and established demand. I'm concentrating on honey to replace sugar and actually growing coffee shrubs (second time around though). We'll see what the winter deals up to them.

I reckon at a guess your soils need a lot of attention and consideration to avoid leaching of the nutrients from heavy rainfall, but I'm no expert on your conditions.



Brian Kaller said...


Thanks again. I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it to London, but if I can, I’d like to say hello.

About legends: I find that the same legends can be reinterpreted anew in each age according to the needs of the audience. Readers who have complained about the lack of female protagonists in ancient legends, for example, might do well to rewrite them with genders switched.

When I teach my daughter Bible stories, I describe them in terms of what early humans did to their world; felling the forests and mismanaging the land until the Fertile Crescent was no longer fertile. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that they then told stories of how their forebears disobeyed their holy instructions on how to keep the garden, ignored their limits, and were cast into a wasteland. I find it more useful than, say, modern people reading the Bible as a Nostradamus–like code and seeing messages of a “Rapture.”

More generally, I wanted to put a question out to the entire readership, if I may. I value reading the discussions for this blog as well as the essays themselves, and appreciate seeing people of many countries and faiths discuss their own projects. What particular list-serves, social media groups, forums, podcasts and online publications do readers here frequent, or would recommend for trading ideas? An online community is not the same as a physical one, but it's what many of us have.

Eric S. said...

Jo: That's the great thing about the Hagiographies though. The saints in the stories aren't all Jesus or King Arthur, they didn't singlehandedly change the world, or fight in wars, or build kingdoms. They performed a few minor miracles and changed a few minds, but that's not what made the hagiography the staple of early medieval literature.

These were stories of completely ordinary people who gave up everything for their beliefs and faced death, suffering, and loss with peace and dignity. The sagas, epics, and romances came later. The first stories people began to cling to as Rome fell around them were stories not about saving the old world, building a new one, or even surviving the fall. They were gory, grim, difficult to read tales about people living a life of integrity and simplicity, and then suffering unimaginable horrors and death without falling into despair or losing faith. These are almost the only bits of myth and literature surviving from the time between the fall of Rome and the rise of medieval Europe and these were the stories that gave those people hope to live through every day. That's because in a world where frequent gruesome death was a fact of life, stories about dying with peace and joy in place of fear and doubt were something to aspire to.

We might be too late for twilight stories like Virgil's Aeneid (a tale of a hero fleeing a dying civilization), and we might be too early for Arthur, but we can begin learning to live with integrity and face the reality of death with peace in the here and now. And there are narratives to carry us through just that.

Hmm... That'd be an interesting writing project, a post-industrial Green Wizard hagiography.

YJV said...

The Mausala Parva of the Mahabharata describes the end itself in detail( The English translation by K. Ganguly is authoritative most common and easy available here:

Chapter 30, Canto 11 of the Srimad Bhagavatam also has this event - the translation by Srila Prabhupada is available here: .
I am not an authority on Sanskrit, so unfortunately I cannot discern if the meanings you are looking for might be available in the verses or commentary - for that you might need to dig deeper into the rest of the two texts to find the allegorical meanings of the rise and fall of the city-state.

Hope that helps!

Stephen said...

On the mail subject. Chain mail does not protect from a large bone crushing swing of a battle axe or mace. But if you were to try such bone crusher swing without first creating an opening your opponent would just shove his shield in your face and stab you in the groin during your wind up. When fighting an opponent that is not made of hay there attempts to avoid and block and counter cut will lead to most of your hits being light scrapes and cuts that mail is goods at protecting you from but can be lethal to an unarmored fighter.

The technology of the early period did not create large quantities of good steel which is why the early swords were pattern welded. But the still had high carbon edges and tapered to be more hilt balanced than a club so they where definitely designed for cutting. If they where made by an isolated contemporary group they would probably be just as overpraised as katanas, kukris, and tulwars.

Dylan Siebert said...


Some good thoughts to carry forward into the seed-sowing season. I especially appreciate the illustrations using the tales of Tolkien, as he's been a profound influence on my own internal narratives.

Just wanted to make sure you received the story link I posted this Wednesday night to last week's post. Here it is again, with a teaser for my fellow wizard wannabes:

"Laura knew as soon as she saw the smoke that the Americans were coming, but it was the birds that brought her the news first."

Enjoy your break.

dltrammel said...

Ok the list of the stories I have, is here on the Green Wizard site.

2014 ADR Post Peak Story Contest

You don't have to be on this list to be entered, JMG has the master list but if you want others to read your story, please take a moment to check your link.

Any problems, please post to this blog post

ADR Post Peak Story Contest - Add Your Links

I check the site almost everyday and will correct anything we have made a mistake on.

Best of luck everyone.

dltrammel said...

We at the Green wizards site didn't plan for this until June but what the heck, who would like a free copy of one of John Michael Greer's books?


Iuval Clejan said...

as for the seedbearers, what moral seeds will they bring to new lands? You've talked before about technological and political seeds, but as I've said in my previous comment (which was posted too late for a response), we are condemned to repeating the same patterns of war, domination, slavery and disregard for our fellow creatures if we don't bring such seeds as humility, whole systems thinking, eschewing of passive income (whether due to slaves, tenants, factory workers, or petroleum driven machines) and the valuing of individuals' freedom to do and think as long as they don't impinge on others' freedom. Do you agree with these, or suggest any others?

peakfuture said...

I just heard on the Extraenvironmentalist podcast the genre we are participating in is called 'cli-fi' - climate fiction.

I'm very curious to read your views about how firearms (especially ones with long range) will shape things down the road. My initial thought is that future tyrants might not be able to exist for too long, if common people can still reliably shoot from a few hundred meters (and more) out.

It might be one thing to conquer some place, but another to hold it.

Eric S. said...

dltrammel: Thanks for the list, I'm going to share it with my friends so I can get them reading these great stories.

Matt: Your comments about knights and guns are really making me think of Stephen King's Dark Tower Story... Maybe some firearm afficianados out there can start turning the gunslingers of Gilead into a reality.

Glenn said...

Cherokee Organics said...

"Hi Glenn,

In Southern Vietnam I have fired both an AK47 and M16. Don't get a big head, but the M16 was the more accurate tool. It matters not though as they both had similar outcomes."

No big deal to me, though I did qualify as an Expert with the M-16 during my first year in the Coast Guard. I just mentioned those two weapons because they are so common and popular with the bullets and beans crowd here in the U.S.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Those following our ongoing discussion about an emerging religious sensibility might read the entry for today (May 2, 2014) at

This is the blog of a Pagan journalist named Jason Pitzl-Waters. Today's entry is a guest post by Alley Valkyrie about the religious sensibilities and practices of a particular subculture, homeless street kids in Seattle, Washington. You don't have to be Pagan to find this account interesting, because it shows how communities that are under pressure develop religious beliefs and structures, and turn to religion to interpret their experiences, stand up and stick together.

If you ahave an interest in developments within contemporary paganism, The Wild Hunt daily blog is international in coverage, broad in scope, and attempts to combine good journalistic standards with some advocacy.

Captcha New movediab

LewisLucanBooks said...

Re: cli-fi fiction. I just put in an interlibrary loan on a collection of short stories called "Welcome to the Greenhouse." Our local library system didn't have a copy of it. The Amazon reviews weren't very good, but I thought I'd take a look, anyway.

Speaking of books, I also just picked up a book from the library called "The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch" by Lewis Dartnell. From the dust jacket: "The Knowledge shows us what we would need to start over, but it is also a brilliantly original thought experiment about the very nature of scientific knowledge itself."

Hmmm. If we don't have one, perhaps we need a "books worth a look at" over at Green Wizards.

Redneck Girl said...

Hi Chris, I had a thought, (and it didn't hurt me!), about pit green houses. Here in the valley it got really cold last winter, (down to about zero Fahrenheit), that it actually damaged my little potted Christmas tree. I'm cheap, cheaper in the long run when it comes to putting in a system that will help the plantings get through tough weather. With the weird weather going around a pit green house would be a really good idea for more cold sensitive shrubs and trees. I was thinking of a cool tube buried about six feet down and the proper length (40 feet long) with a chimney/air intake up out of the ground (which might have good secondary use as a fence post to anchor to), that tube would keep the green house about fifty plus degrees on cold nights for shrubs/trees like oranges, lemons, limes or avocados. Plant some strawberries in tanks with the shrubs for a nice ground cover and out of season fruit. (Or almost any herbs you could use fresh, year round.) You could rig a small geodesic dome over the green house which could be opened a lot to pollinate the plantings or a little for convection on cold nights or very hot days. The domes would also be handy for keeping precious water from evaporating and being lost to the fruit. Just a thought anyway.

BTW, have you looked into earth bag building? Check with your neighbors for their plastic feed sacks. It's like the modern form of adobe or rammed earth. The walls do have to be plastered to protect the integrity of the walls.

In regard to future warfare:
I was interested in but did not join the SCA and have a current interest in mounted archery. I have a little red cutter type horse that would make a good skirmish mount, since the little booger bites! (He's 'proud', or 'a ridgeling?') But because he's been permanently crippled I intend to use the little mustang mare as my archery mount. Smooth gaits make a good platform to fight from. I also like sabers and keep looking for something that would be useful and fit artistically. I've seen a few I'd like to have and I've been dying to get into making a chain mail shirt and leggings, not to mention some matching horse tack. I really do like working with my hands, livestock and gardening. If I wasn't getting so durned old I would be going near gleefully into the descent.


Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Cherokee Organics,

Hi Chris, thanks for the good words. I have respect for how you are walking your walk.

Oh, and from last week, re aronia: I'm not sure how they would do in your hot and dry season; they like a moisture-holding organic soil, and don't like to get dried out. Of course, I'm also a little surprised your currents are thriving, since they also (at least the American ones) like some moisture, as well. I'm putting mine in a shallow bioswale.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Hello to everyone discussing seedbearers, the emerging religious sensibility and the living earth:

I was at a conference centered on environmental ethics today, at which there were speakers using different vocabularies and from different cultural and professional "tribes," including conservation biologists, writers, two farmers, an ethicist and a native American elder. And equally diverse attendees.

Their concerns and discussion about the future we are living into were remarkably similar to some of the discussions here. The "Law of One" was a glowing subtext, made explicit in the remarks by the elder and others, though of course not called by that title.

The calls for human restraint in the face of nature, the reverence for the living earth and honoring other creatures with whom we share it, the need to find new ways to live (which sounded a lot like "collapse early"), the concept of the "honorable harvest"--yup, there are more seedbearers than we might think, I think. Though it was not a large conference.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

Regarding firearms, I would like to point out that traditionally, projectile weapons have always been considered less honorable than edged hand to hand combat, a distinction which doesn't stand alone, but is, within a certain framework, quite valid: the elite are those who are willing to abide by a convention of ritual combat designed to formalize and limit bloodshed to points of honor, trial by battle, and (in general) subordination to a common code that exists even between parties at violent odds with each other. This was as true for samurais as it was for knights. The obvious objection in favor of the common folk could simply be resolved by noting that even the commoners had their own such conventions, involving quarterstaffs (Little John and Robin Hood settled their dispute in this manner), fisticuffs, or other such contests of strength or manhood. Even in the Wild West, there were dueling conventions, dramatized or over done in movies, but present to a large degree, which is why Europeans were fascinated (part of the reason anyway) by the ethos of the street shoot out. Of course, one doesn't observe such niceties towards those who operate outside of any such convention, but they are actually something of a luxury, once a given set of norms prevails over a wide area, and actually prevented a lot of bloodshed within those parameters. The Truce of God, for instance, was not so much a condoning of violence as an attempt to channel and limit it. War conventions also fall inside this category. I'm wondering if in addition to shooting firearms, some form of martial art training involving a noblesse oblige code is appropriate to the rising generation?

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG and everyone,

This is a shameless plug for the latest YouTube update of some of the things going on at the farm here.

Farm Update Autumn 14

I included a sneak peak into the kitchen here so that you lot can get a glimpse into the sheer amount of stuff that is preserved here. There is more every year. Remeber that plenty of food is produced right through the winter here due to the warmer climate than some of you may experience.

Plus I added a little bit of a footage to show how little 3.8kW of photovoltaic panels actually produce when it is late afternoon (about 4pm from memory) and cloudy. The answer is not much at all. At lunchtime on that day, the system was producing about 20A which equates to about 520W. Not much huh?

The footage is from last Wednesday, so you can see how the place has greened up from the summer dearth. I'm actually in a bit of a growth phase at the moment and the deciduous trees which haven't gone dormant are busily storing away energy for the short winter.

Interestingly too, and I forgot to show this, some of the rhododendrons are a bit confused by the weather and producing flowers. Weird, huh?

Hope you all enjoy it and there are no naughty spoken words at all in it.



Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DaShui said...

Hey ADJMG , the future is now!

When I looked at footage of the Ukraine protests of last year, I was struck that both sides used roman tactics, meaning shields, impact weapons, catapults, I even saw the police using the phalanx, or turtle formation- one Guy protecting the front, the other holding his shield over his own and another persons head to protect from projectiles.
A lot of people I know are buying rifle plates made out of super hard steel, that can stop common bullets, could this could be the foundation of tomorrow's armor?.

onething said...

My sister reads the ADR on Resilience, and sent me this email, which with her permission I'll copy here as a comment:

Just read his latest and here’s what struck me—certainly not based on this one alone: he has a pretty dim view of human nature, blames humanity in general or at least first-world humanity in general for our situation, refusing to accord higher blame to the 1%. In this case, he assumes that we all collectively looked at the situation in 1980 and chose to embrace Reagan and denial and selfishness and short-term convenience, rather than beginning the transition to green energy and economics that was suggested, and discarded, at the time.

Which ignores the reality that most people had imperfect knowledge—they tended to trust what they saw on TV, as now, and there were PR efforts then to discredit the idea of energy shortages and environmental threats. Some people DO have much more power and much more influence than others—more influence on public opinion as well as on what laws Congress passes. What about Bush Sr.’s shenanigans trading weapons to Iran to keep the hostages until after the election? (I understand they were released, to the minute, when Reagan was inaugurated, which I read as the Iranians’ tacit statement of contempt for the forces they had bargained with.) Most people still have no idea that happened.

Lots of people want to blame the elite for everything, as though the public was either entirely powerless or were trying to do the right thing and failing. That’s just as wrong, because most people DID have some awareness of these realities, and did choose Reagan’s way because it was easier, more popular, more convenient, paid better. But JMG doesn’t acknowledge that what the average person knew and understood at the time (or even now!) is not we he knew or knows. I wonder why he’s so allergic to acknowledging power imbalances.

miltonics said...

A sincere thanks for all you do! This is the only blog of the peak oil crowd that is still worth reading. A break is definitely deserved but I will miss the weekly posts. They have done much to contribute to my own journey.

Jo said...

Eric, the saints all had a story that inspired them on their light bearing journeys, and that was the Jesus story. I'm not saying we need an actual Jesus or Arthur or Gandhi to save us, but we need the stories they gave us to light our way. The myth of progress and the myth of apocalypse are not serving us well. Christianity has been reshaped to fit both those myths, as the archdruid has pointed out, but maybe needs to be reshaped again. My money is on the new pope - he is from Argentina, which has endured significant societal collapse over the last few decades. He is a powerful figure who is refusing the trappings of power, he knows poverty, is committed to reshaping the Church. Maybe his story of the Franciscan appeal of simplicity and addressing systemic inequalities in society will strike a chord and provide a new vision. People in the developed world are very afraid of having their privileged lives taken from them. Maybe the story of quixotic Franciscan charity will make giving up privilege and embracing simplicity appealing?
But maybe it's also a generational thing. Gen Y doesn't seem to be particularly concerned about amassing stuff. The hipsters are closer to their hippy grannies than any other generation. They value simple and authentic, and experience over things. They do DIY with stuff from dumpsters, they knit, shop at farmers' markets, build urban vegie gardens and keep chickens. Oh, and make home brew and ride old bikes and shop at car boot sales. Maybe they are creating a new world order that values simplicity and connectedness over things and power. Maybe that's why the pope is such a hit with young people and is starting to annoy those in power?

Marcello said...

"My initial thought is that future tyrants might not be able to exist for too long, if common people can still reliably shoot from a few hundred meters (and more) out."

In europe (and in Japan as far as I can tell but I am not expert) development of firearms went along with power centralization in the hands of absolutist monarchs. Whatever the links were it appears that the former did not prevent the latter, if that is what you meant by "tyrants".

Maria said...


I've been really enjoying this series of posts. I'm reading every week but feeling uncharacteristically disinclined to be chatty lately. I blame you with your whole "Mentats Wanted" idea that has sent me down a few interesting rabbit holes. ;)

Enjoy your break and your travel!

John Michael Greer said...

Matt, the church didn't create knighthood, it simply tried to coopt it, with limited success. If the Old West had lasted for a few more centuries, it would have seen something along the same lines.

Ares, hmm. Traveling to distant lands is usually a last resort, and for good reason -- there are potential tyrants everywhere, and at home at least you know the score. More on this as we proceed.

Jo, if you need a hero, become one. If you need a story, create one. If you wait for someone else to do either of these things, well, so is everyone else...

Zosima, I'm curious -- were you around and paying attention in the late 70s and early 80s? Because I was, and I heard a lot of enthusiastic talk -- and saw some action -- in the direction of sustainability; and I also saw how that dropped out of fashion like a hot rock.

Compound F, if the cone is wider, that implies that the "smackdown" you're waiting for could also be much, much further away -- widen a probability cone, remember, and it widens all around. As I've pointed out repeatedly, fast-crash scenarios only work if the holders of power sit on their hands and do nothing, which is exactly what they don't do in a crisis situation. Mind you, if you want to say that we're on the brink of serious crisis, I won't argue at all -- I've been saying the same thing -- but it takes more than one economic crisis to take out a civilization. More on this, too, as we proceed.

Cherokee, it was a long time ago, when I was a snotnosed teenager with a bad case of fantasy-fiction addiction and few social skills.

Brian, if you can, that'd be welcome!

YJV, thank you. Hmm! Now I'm also wondering about those magical iron bolts that killed warriors by the tens of thousands. Clearly I need to do more reading...

Stephen, that's about what I understood; thanks for the confirmation.

Dylan, yes, I got it -- you're in the competition.

Iuval, the entire issue of ethics needs to be overhauled from top to bottom, as the approach that's been standard for many centuries now -- come up with a scheme for how human beings ought to behave in a perfect world, demand that people live that way in the real world, and try not to notice the resulting disasters -- is well past its pull date. I'll probably have to discuss that down the road, but it's going to take something close to a book-length series of posts to do it.

John Michael Greer said...

Peakfuture, that's a subject for the upcoming series of posts. History says you're wrong, but again, we'll discuss that.

Unknown Deborah, I'd be interested to hear if the same forms are emerging outside of urban Oregon!

Lewis, if there isn't one, I'd say hie thee hence to and start one!

Wadulisi, I expect firearms to play a much larger role in this than bows, for much the same reasons that the First Nations in North America got guns as fast as they could to use in their wars against the Wasi'chu.

Adrian, that's good to hear. Did any of the people who were calling for new ways to live show any signs of walking their talk?

Matthew, it's risky to generalize too simplistically from the European experience; in Hindu epics and the early medieval Japanese period alike, the bow was the most honored weapon of the warrior, and the Old West saw the emergence of a code of chivalry centered on the gun -- though of course it was honored in the breach as often as most codes of chivalry. That said, of course the rising generation should learn martial arts, and a code of honor would also be worthwhile; it's going to be a rough half millennium or so.

Cherokee, thanks for the video!

Ares, the request was specifically for stories of the future, and you're two full days past deadline, so I have to say I'll pass.

DaShui, yes, I saw that -- when it's not feasible to use air strikes, artillery bombardment, and other methods of mass killing, some very old tactics make just as much sense as they once did.

Onething, again, I was there at the time and remember the conversations. As I've pointed out before, power imbalances do not equal elite omnipotence; I'd encourage your sister to reflect on why it was that the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and so many other pieces of green legislation got pushed through in the teeth of fierce corporate resistance in the 1970s, and why the grassroots support that drove those into law went away in the 1980s.

Miltonics, thank you.

Marcello, you're right about Japan, too. We'll be discussing this in the new series of posts.

Maria, glad to hear it! Many thanks.

jean-vivien said...

Hello everyone, this is off-topic, but I've heard that of the mosses which grow on some cheese's crusts were antibiotics.
Does anyone know about it ? And more generally, what kind of mosses grow on cheese ? Even when you store cheese inside a fridge, if it is not wrapped in plastic, it always happens eventually. Sometimes the moss has a sweet taste, not bad at all.

thrig said...

Cherokee: I'd already used some eggs, store-bought, refrigerated, cage-free and all that (they must not work in cubicles?) though the yolks on those were already going pretty runny after a few days of not being in the fridge but being flipped every few days. So up next is farmer's market eggs, which is something of a logistics challenge, involving an ~8km hike, though that includes side-trips to an acoustically suitable flute-playing stop, the brutalist concrete structure being useful in that regard (and dry). For half of that hike the backpack, this laptop, and the assortment of flutes (they're wood, so are at least not heavy) are joined by, today, ah, ~1.5kg of assorted potatoes, some rhubarb, a Japanese greens bundle I forget the name of, four bundles of turnips and radishes (with greens), five bundles of kale or collards, a kilo of Whatcom country wheat berries, and 12 eggs. I'll see how long these eggs last, if not, I'll have to start interviewing the sellers and see who does the flipping thing in advance, or if they can start doing that, depending on how long it takes their eggs to get to market...

Redneck Girl said...

JMG said: "Wadulisi, I expect firearms to play a much larger role in this than bows, for much the same reasons that the First Nations in North America got guns as fast as they could to use in their wars against the Wasi'chu."

I think it depends on the design of the gun. The black powder rifle I bought for my dad years ago uses a ramrod in loading, it's cumbersome and requires a steady platform to pour the powder into the gun, it's time consuming. Pulling a bow is simple, draw an arrow set it to string and it requires negligible effort in balance on a horse while pulling the bow.

I think guns will be used a lot initially but after a while in the descent the effort to create and maintain the technology for firearms will become too much to sustain. Of course that's just my opinion and my inclination in waging war is to be more 'sneaky' in my efforts. You'd be crazy to expose yourself like the lobsterbacks and stand still long enough for them to use you as a target, even Francis Marion didn't turn his back on my people. LOL, and we sure didn't turn our backs to him! Tomahawks were very useful in Viet Nam too! (The VC complained about that!)


Andy Brown said...

As I mentioned in an earlier comment, now that you are leaving us to our own devices, we’ll have to concoct our own doses of Green Wizard musings. I’ve drafted one, Consuming our Problems . It’s an attempt to start exploring a complement to your analysis about the myth of progress. I think that in addition to being hemmed in by such grand myths, we are also hemmed in by the habits and mindsets of consumerism. In fact the consumer stance is pretty much antithetical to solving (or even living with) most of the major problems we face at the moment. In any case, I’ve put it up on my blog, and I’m hoping the collective can offer me some feedback on it.

Having said that, now I have some lawn to replace with potatoes . . .

Zosima said...

Zosima, I'm curious -- were you around and paying attention in the late 70s and early 80s? Because I was, and I heard a lot of enthusiastic talk -- and saw some action -- in the direction of sustainability; and I also saw how that dropped out of fashion like a hot rock.

I’m thinking that maybe our differences stem from where we were at that time. I was in Florida, and you lived in the Pacific coast states where environmental consciousness was no doubt greater. This is still true today. In all honesty I never heard a single friend or acquaintance say they that they were living their lives in order to be more sustainable. I never heard the word uttered, not once. There was a left-wing coop bookstore that had books like the Whole Earth Catalog, and on the campus where I went to school there were environmentally minded groups, and one geography professor did mention Limits to Growth. But most of my roommates were business majors, quite a few were still driving big cars even though gas prices were high. Of course, people had been exposed to environmental issues since the late 1960’s in both the news and popular culture. There was smog, and oil spills, and endangered species, and exposure to ideas like overpopulation and habitat destruction in films like Soylent Green and Silent Running. But none of that caused anyone to change their lifestyle. When oil became expensive in the 70’s and there were shortages, people blamed either the Arabs, the oil companies or governmental incompetence. Some people were insulating their homes and buying smaller cars, but it was to save money - not the planet. Yes, I knew there were hippies living on communes trying to live a different lifestyle, but if you asked the students on my campus whether they wanted to live that lifestyle or the lifestyle of their favorite rock band - well, I think you can guess the answer- and you would get the same answer on any campus today. There was no fateful choice being made at that time that set us on some path that could not be changed, it was people doing what they had always been doing - trying to survive in an industrial society. As for what the 1980 election was about, we could get into that if you want. But I've gone on too long.

Cathy McGuire said...

Have a well-deserved rest, JMG! (if touring and judging a story contest is your idea of resting ;-)) Thanks for all the food for thought. Now is the time to contemplate these things, because it really takes time to wrap one's head around it.

@Cherokee Organics: What I'm noticing about global weirding is that we seem to be getting more extreme weather and losing the more milder in between seasons.
oh, yeah - last week it went from 40's (F) and raining to 90's full sun. Overnight. The animals were confused and the plants were unhappy. And I feel like I'm stuck at home because I need to watch everything and adjust what I can. Our Oregon weather isn't as bad as yours, Chris, but it's getting difficult,making the learning curve that much steeper.

Bill Pulliam said...

As we celebrated Beltane on Thursday, the Mauna Loa CO2 concentration reached 403.10 ppm...

Bill Pulliam said...

One very important thing to be preserved is history itself.

Cherokee Organics said...


haha! I'm in good company then. hehe!

Have a nice break.



Shane Wilson said...

IInted to second JMG'S recollections about the late 70s, early 80s, even though I was born in 75. My earliest memories were of my family conserving gas by avoiding extra trips and not taking road trips. Adults were talking as if the age of cheap gas was over. Subcompacts were the rage. My uncle, who is now a raging tea party supporter, sported a pro-55 speed limit bumper sticker on his truck (a misguided policy, but still) Energy conservation was on the lips of everyone, state and federal lawmakers as well as the average Joe. Dependence on foreign oil was deemed foolish, conservation was seen as patriotic and stabilizing after the embargo. Our family made all kinds of things ourselves as inflation reared its ugly head, as did other families in our community. We may have called it" conservation" instead of" sustainability", but the idea was the same. And these attitudes persisted through my early grade school years, albeit with less and less enthusiasm, until gas prices bottomed out in the late 80s, as Reagan's policies started to take effect. I recall enough of this to validate it, even though I was very young at the time. All this was in central KY, definitely NOT a liberal area.

Shane Wilson said...

I forgot to mention that as a matter of course, we were taught about the basic premise of limits to growth in grade school, that fossil fuels were a non renewable resource that would be depleted, and should be conserved for the future.

peakfuture said...

I honestly don't know what would happen (regarding firearms) and the Long Descent. That's why it was an 'initial thought', and in retrospect, yes, *individual* people shooting back may be very, very rare.

Do you get the American Indian model (get firearms as fast as you can when invaders show up), a failed state (Ethiopia) and warlords, the IEDs of Iraq and Afghanistan (easy to conquer/throw one government out, but hard to suppress people shooting back), something like what happened in Yugoslavia during WW2 (partisans surviving in the mountains), or just being steamrolled by the invaders? The situation in certain sections of Mexico (drug lords)? What happens with the Swiss setup, where everyone is trained to use long distance arms? The Japanese handling of firearms?

There was a book recently read on guerrilla warfare (Max Boot, Invisible Armies) through the ages, and I recall one of the precepts is that you have outside help/safe havens/good local knowledge, and good leadership. Perhaps this alone nullifies the shooting back situation, at least by individuals. What are the markers for successful resistance, and where will they exist (if at all) in the world, in the future(s) you posit?

Again, look forward to your analysis. If anything, this makes me think (as you've mentioned) that the best initial greeting for invaders will be beer.

Tony said...

@ jean-vivien:

I don't know about cheeses, but I do know that the beer produced in ancient Nubia was full of tetracycline.

P.M.Lawrence said...

At 6.52 a.m. on the 3rd of May, 2014, Marcello wrote 'In europe (and in Japan as far as I can tell but I am not expert) development of firearms went along with power centralization in the hands of absolutist monarchs. Whatever the links were it appears that the former did not prevent the latter, if that is what you meant by "tyrants".'

Not precisely. It's quite involved, with several things going on, either at the same time or at different times, and not always pulling in the same direction:-

- European centralisation was happening anyway by the time gunpowder came along in any material amount.

- Gunpowder helped 15th century European centralisation, but not with small arms, with siege guns, e.g. in the Fall of Constantinople and the Conquest of Granada (see Washington Irving's book on this).

- In the 16th century, arquebuses and similar came along and helped the Spanish in France, Italy and the Netherlands, and helped the Shoguns (quibble: not absolute monarchs but rulers behind puppet monarchs) in Japan.

- However, neither the French nor the Holy Roman Empire were helped to centralise by any of this (and England had already centralised without the help of gunpowder, though later it did use that effectively in keeping out invasions, both in port fortresses and in ships).

- Japan consolidated its centralisation by eliminating all but a fraction of firearms and working through the samurai system instead (see Noel Perrin's "Giving up the Gun" for details).

- In the 17th century, France began a long process of centralisation, in which both siege artillery and the newly invented muskets played a part - only, they needed some existing central power to make them effective in the first place.

- In the 17th century, England centralised further after the Civil Wars, but that needed a decline in central power first just to allow others to take over.

So it's complicated.

jcummings said...

I've been thinking about this reply a great deal. Sometime, when you're up for it maybe you could expand more thoroughly on it. While I certainly hope my descendants know enough to wash their hands before attending a birth, for example, the scientific method is a great deal more complicated topic. Indeed, the very necrotic industrial world we live in today was breathed into existence in the same breath as the scientific method. Besides the obvious chestnut of scientific progress being used for evil and power mongering a la The Bomb and whatnot, the scientific method has huge problems that mostly manifest when it is used in isolation from a holistic evaluation of the systems it attempts to describe. A great example is the Green Revolution which did, in fact, feed millions, but which has left us with even greater problems now that the world's farmlands are depleted and barren. Antibiotic use is a similar example where the scientific method led us down roads that good honest caring people thought would change the world for the better, but actually made things harder in the long run.

How do we pass on what's great about something like the scientific method while avoiding handing down the hubris and narrow sightedness that has seemed to accompany it all along? I mean, aren't we precisely in the mess we're in because of the inherent nature of the philosophy that gave rise to the industrial age via that very scientific method you'd hand down to our descendants?

On the other topic which I can't shake, how entangled we, even the most dedicated to sustainability, are to industrial products - I think about how important the little things are to our farm - like Tek screws, without which all ourr hoop houses and chicken tractors would just blow away - and I can't help but feel like industrialism is so tightly woven into the fabric of our lives that no matter how much we'd like to disentangle ourselves, we could never get there and still maintain any semblance of humanity. I truly hope that the descent is long enough for us to relearn how to make or do every last thing in our lives - from the pencil you draft your missives with to the shoelaces on your feet to the salt on your locally sourced venison chile. I hope the optimism your posts are laced with is justified, in the end.

dragonfly said...

Regarding the great "turning away":

"In the year 2000 this solar water heater behind me, which is being dedicated today, will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy…. A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people." - President Jimmy Carter in 1979, on the occasion of the installation of solar hot-water collectors on the Whitehouse.

Of course, he couldn't know then that President Reagan would later have the panels removed, even though they were working perfectly.

That seems to me a pretty clear signpost at the intersection where we could have chose a softer path.

Read the whole sordid tale here.

Bon voyage JMG ! Hope the time away is restorative and inspirational.

LunarApprentice said...

Hi JMG and all.

Just some off-topic musings, I won't take it personally if you don't put this through.

Is it my imagination, or has the Technology Fairy been getting a bit snarky of late? Missing flight MH 370 is a case in point... Now I understand it was was carrying a hazardous cargo of lithium batteries; such as had been in the news just prior for causing inconvenient fires in Tesla's, and in the flight deck of the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner”. It seems de rigeur these days for every new technological trinket to have a lithium battery. For MH370, I suppose we'll never find out if they caught fire, emitting deadly fumes, prompting the pilot to ascend as high as possible to put the fire out during the 12 minute span of reserve oxygen...

And what is it with these cowardly sea captains? When the Costa Concordia ran aground, I just figured the captain was a fluke. But now that Korean ferry captain sitting on his hands, then abandoning ship himself to leave hundreds of kids to drown? Even the much-maligned Captain Smith of Titanic infamy had the courage and decency to go down with the passengers he couldn't save. He was not unique. Anyway, my old habit of labeling people who do despicable things as simply being morally inferior (to me) so I could smugly despise them all-of-a-sudden felt unhelpful, but what was surprising was that I realized that I had that habit! Ouch!

What to do instead? Hmm....Why not step back and create an impersonal narrative that comports with the the facts, and see if the narrative is better than bashing? How are things different for sea captains nowadays versus Captain Smith's day, and how might that account for our recent sad examples? Hmmm... Maybe technology? I'll see where this goes.

How might GPS, say, affect sea captains? Well navigation and piloting sure got easier. Before GPS, you relied on coastal piloting skills, dead reckoning, celestial navigation. You needed a lead-line, compass, sextant, celestial tables, chronometer, charts and chart instruments, log (the one you drop in the water, not write in), etc... Navigation was a real skill, and nobody had to belabor the consequences of navigational error; but in the back of your mind, there is always “what would I do if...”. An appreciation of risk is inherent in the activity. For our contemporary captains, all that navigation bother is redundant. GPS is always right (right?). It is a black box that deskills the people who had performed those functions, reducing them to little better than bedazzled users. How might this relate to courage? Well, all this technology gives the illusion that operating a ship is as safe and predictable as operating a Disneyland ride, so you are not attuned to dangers, and so not subconsciously mulling “what would I do if...”. I'd also posit that a a loss of dignity attends the loss of skills. And does not a sense of responsibility arise when one exercises a critical skill under the shadow of danger? No skills, no concern for danger, and no dignity may lead to no sense of responsibility and no courage. So what happens when the unexpected arises on a ship? Our anti-exemplary captains were caught like the proverbial deer in headlights. There but for the grace of God...

News is out how memory chips from the I-phones recovered from those drowned Korean kids have been uploaded and the videos distributed in the Korean media. The recovered images show the kids videoing each others' last moments on the sinking ship, some saying goodbye. I have 2 kids and tried to imagine myself in those parents' place, wondering if those images might have offered some consolation. But my mind just would not go there, and some other image presented itself: Some demon, the Technology Fairy perhaps, appeared and turned around, turned ugly, and spat.

Unknown said...

JMG have a great break. A well deserved one I might add.

On egg storage several of my farmer friends tell me that one secret is to not wash the eggs in the first place.

In the fishing community I worked in as a teenager the fishermen would pack eggs in lard in the spring for boat storage all summer. The lard was of course used for cooking. I eat a lot of them and they were just fine.

John Michael Greer said...

Jean-Vivien, I'm not familiar with the antibiotic properties of cheese molds -- might be worth researching.

Wadulisi, we'll discuss that further on.

Andy, excellent. Thanks for the link!

Zosima, that's fascinating -- and differs sharply from what I've heard from others, not just on the left coast, who recall the same period. I'd be interested to hear others' recollections.

Cathy, thank you!

Bill, two timely points.

Cherokee, many thanks.

Shane, that's basically what I saw, too.

Peakfuture, it's a complex issue, but I hope to be able to shed some light on it.

Jcummings, a post on saving the scientific method from the dogmatic reductionism and biophobia that have so often used it as a stalking horse would indeed be worth doing, and I'll put some thought into it. As for dependence on the industrial system, though, once again, there are ways to do things that are less dependent than others.

Hoop houses are not the only way to grow things, and chicken tractors back in the day were made heavy enough that the wind didn't blow them away -- and have you perhaps heard of wooden stakes? A useful exercise is to look at any piece of industrial technology you use, and think of three other ways you can do the same thing, or something comparable, using resources you yourself have on hand. With a little practice, this kind of thinking becomes second nature.

Dragonfly, yes, that's an excellent example.

Apprentice, I've come to think that modern technology isn't a fairy; its proper name, rather, is Mephistopheles, and it's the demon to whom we sold our collective soul, in the best Faustian fashion, for three centuries of worldly power and gain. Now the time's running out, and the smile on Mephistopheles' face is slowly turning from obsequious to hungry...

jean-vivien said...

Hi Tony,
thanks for the links.
I found a couple of links myself as well.
On the relationship between cheese and antibiotics :

Basically, avoid industrial cheese with added antibiotics (this was news to me, but I am lucky to live in a country where I can mostly buy non-industrial cheese).
Next, Roquefort / blue cheese seems to bring health benefits from the strain of Penicillum used to create the blue veins.
And then there are probbiotic bacteria, which we should be grateful to be introduced to :

So cheese is certainly hiding more secrets than we can see or smell.

Bill Pulliam said...

This ventures to the fringes of on-topic for this blog.. maybe there is somewhere else this can be discussed more directly?

I find myself pondering how the disruptions of the physical plane will propagate into the other planes, especially those that are closest to the physical. It's not especially comforting to contemlpate. Angry fey and sick, weakened fey both are not things I would like to be immersed in...

Andy Brown said...

Zosima and JMG,
Born in 1965 with science teacher environmentalist father, I probably grew up (mistakenly) assuming that most people had a grasp on things. But I think it's important to distinguish "sustainability" (which is really hard for people to grasp) from simpler notions like "depletion", "conservation", "pollution" and "damage." I'd question whether there has ever been much widespread understanding of sustainability, but if there was, it's hasn't really been present recently in average American thinking. That may be changing as more people start to feel that the current system is starting to feel "unsustainable."

Myriad said...

It looks like I'll have plenty to keep me occupied during the ADR hiatus.

I mentioned months ago that I'd started introducing my wife to energy contraction concepts. I started with, "here's a current of ideas you should be aware of because it's influencing our culture." She's not the kind to be dragged along into anything, but given the premises, she'll eventually derive the important conclusions herself.

Which she did. That conversation, ongoing at a low simmer, suddenly reached some invisible threshold last week. What appeared to put it over critical mass was, oddly, her reading my space bats story. Now we're deep into "what are we going to do about this?" discussion every spare moment day and night.

I've read the heartbreaking accounts of the opposite, of families stressed or even split by conflict of, essentially, LESS versus perceived comfort or status. So I know I'm very fortunate. (But I knew that when I married her.)

Yet, she's genuinely and deeply distressed over being "stuck on this rock." Those exact words. I can't say I wasn't warned; the ADR covered the matter extensively last fall. But I'm surprised nonetheless; I didn't think she would be so affected.

What I need is the doctor's-office-bad-news-pamphlet version of those ADR essays. "So You're Stuck On This Rock..." Looks like I'll be writing that.

("You have questions. How did I get Stuck On This Rock? What can I expect for the future? How will my being Stuck On This Rock affect my family? Is it possible to be Stuck On This Rock and still live a happy fulfilling life?")

Myriad said...


I haven't talked much about our personal circumstances in ADR comments before, partly because they're not very dramatic either way. My wife and I have neither been out blazing trails for decline-adapted living, nor perched with no practical skills on a pile of illusory wealth ripe for a fall. We're not in debt, and we're long accustomed to frugal living in working-class communities. Years ago, before I'd even heard of peak oil, we were talking about becoming "neighborhood handy-helpers" as an avocation after retirement. Partly this idea came from my wife noticing, while working at a home supply store, how helpless many younger people have become at the simplest manual tasks like hanging a shelf on a wall; and partly it came from both of us having actually become de facto neighborhood handy-helpers by happenstance a decade ago, when we lived in a small community and were in debt, living on almost zero net income. We hooked up neighbors' electronic gadgets, patched their drywall, wrote their business letters, and the like, for vegetables from their gardens and first dibs on their fallen branches for our stove.

It's a little alarming, though admittedly ego-stroking, how impressed my wife's current retail co-workers -- generally sensible hard-working people -- seem to be, every time she shows up wearing nice clothing she made herself, or a hairstyle I did for her, or even a decent home-cooked meal for her dinner break. They, at least, seem to already think we're some kind of -- what's that word, starts with w -- oh yeah, weirdos!

The other critical aspect of our circumstances is that I have a developmentally disabled twin brother. His needs put a very firm floor on how far I can collapse voluntarily in advance of absolute necessity. For example, I lived without a car through the 1980s and 1990s while he still lived with our parents, but I'd be betraying what I regard as family obligations to voluntarily deprive him of the transportation I provide him now. (Plans are in place for all contingencies though.) His role in my life has influenced my outlook on pretty much everything, ever since the illusion-shattering realization, in my early teens, that despite being a hundred IQ points apart we were essentially alike. A topic for another time, perhaps.

Phew. Thoughts for the next round of conversation, gathered. Thanks for listening.

Shane Wilson said...

More recollections growing up in central KY in the late 70s-early 80s I forgot to mention. There seemed to be lots of conservation/preservation/environmentally minded folk among the intellectuals in our community. It was not at all unusual to find people who eschewed t.v., air conditioning, and other technology, and worried about its effects. Parents who restricted or sharply limited the children's consumption of pop culture were common. There were hippie types that lived "out in the county" who voluntarily lived very simple lives without running water, not to mention t.v. The high school valedictorian my 1st or 2nd grade year came from one such family. They were never a majority, of course, but they were there. I don't know what became of it all in the intervening 30 years. And this was in a rural, semi-suburban county in KY that was 80% southern Baptist, 90% evangelical, and 99.9% Christian, tobacco was the lifeblood of the community, and smoking was ubiquitous. Not liberal by any stretch of the imagination.
I also wanted to share my efforts to make a difference. I've been discovering what's going on locally regarding what we would call Green Wizardry, and there are promising leads regarding local food. Not sure how peak oil aware they are, but as someone had mentioned regarding Mormons, sharing the same beliefs is not as important when it comes to taking the same actions. I'm relatively poor by American standards, without land-a non homeowner, who lives with clueless family, so my focus is on similarly situated people. One focus related to that is finding a local community garden project, as well as learning a craft. (One doesn't need to be a home/landowner to do that) I've found a few permaculture homesteaders here that I've reached out to. Also, the largest restored shaker village, Pleasant Hill is nearby, and possibly a resource similar to Yankee sturbridge in pre industrial methods that I'm going to contact. On the political front, there are local signs of the fracking bust, since the bluegrass pipeline, which was to carry natural gas liquids from the Marcellus shale through KY, has been abandoned due to lack of demand. Activists are claiming their protests stopped it, but if the demand was there I'm sure the activists would've been run over. Signs of more from fracking bust to come? Interesting that at a green festival someone told me that completion of the keystone pipeline means the end of life/humanity as we know it due to global warming-I just bit my tongue. :)

LunarApprentice said...

Re: “Zosima, that's fascinating -- and differs sharply from what I've heard from others, not just on the left coast, who recall the same period. I'd be interested to hear others' recollections. “

I was an electrical engineering undergrad in the late 70's. My take was that there was a gathering consensus that sustainable, appropriate tech was the next phase of our society, not just the economy; I recall some real vision; where do you think GHW Bush got his infamous “no vision thing” snark? I specifically remember the cover of an issue if IEEE spectrum (an electrical engineering trade mag) about a clever design to produce electricity from wind, solar and trash burning from a single multimodal device: There would a tall stack with slotted doors that would pick up wind and create a vortex in the tower; these base of the tower was a donout shaped container of rock encased in a=n insulated black housing to absorb and store solar hear heat, while the inner core was anincerator that burn trash to heat a boiler, while the exhaust drove a light turbine at the base of the vortex tower, synergizing with the wind vortex.... There were many other such visionary proposals in the public mindspace; the promise was palpable. [BTW I've been trying to identify that IEEE Spectrum issue without luck; there were detailed spec's and design referenced for that tower as I recall. Does anybody out there remember it? Please tell me.]

streamfortyseven said...

I'm a bit surprised that no one has mentioned crossbows as a weapon or means of obtaining game: is an interesting set of plans for making a crossbow from scrap materials. The site where these plans are found is a compendium of such useful items:

Here's a heftier device: and going through a car door: Apologies if this is a double post, the first one seems not to have gone through...

Marcello said...

"I think it depends on the design of the gun. The black powder rifle I bought for my dad years ago uses a ramrod in loading, it's cumbersome and requires a steady platform to pour the powder into the gun, it's time consuming. Pulling a bow is simple, draw an arrow set it to string and it requires negligible effort in balance on a horse while pulling the bow.

I think guns will be used a lot initially but after a while in the descent the effort to create and maintain the technology for firearms will become too much to sustain. Of course that's just my opinion and my inclination in waging war is to be more 'sneaky' in my efforts. You'd be crazy to expose yourself like the lobsterbacks and stand still long enough for them to use you as a target, even Francis Marion didn't turn his back on my people"

Before Miniè and similar bullets were introduced rifles were used for hunting and select skirmisher units, the greater accuracy being more important than rate of fire. The vast majority of troops were issued smoothbore muskets loaded with paper cartridges, more handy than patched balls and loose poweder. Of course the odd ambush here and there was useful but at the end of the day you aren't going to stop signficant bodies of troops from marching where they please that way. And if you have to give battle slow firing unsupported skirmishers are going to be cut down by cavalry or to run away in the face of silly looking enemy lines pushing forward with not so silly looking rows of bayonets.

Early black powder small arms vs bows is a complex question. It is quite possible that if you can afford the training and the enemy is not awash in plate armor some bows types would be pretty competitive. But musket wielding troops can be trained quickly and manufacturing can be accomplished by a blacksmith with limited tooling (and bows seem simpler, but making them is non trivial).

Marcello said...

"Not precisely. It's quite involved, with several things going on, either at the same time or at different times, and not always pulling in the same direction"

Of course it is, but I was summing up in two lines.
Anyway it is a good thing to bring up siege artillery, because if it can still be made castles or similar become untenable in the face of it and that has all the sort of consequences.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Myriad--I've been reading science fiction longer than most of the readers of this blog have been alive. I was angry that Mir wasn't pushed into a permanently stable orbit as an artifact for future generations. I felt more than a pang when the space shuttles were left to wear out without any replacement. I'm sad that the possibility of human space travel is closing down, perhaps forever.

I have two things to say about that, one short, one long.

The short thing is that if by habit or necessity, we spend most of our time in man made or man modified environments, most of us forget how large and amazing This Rock is. Once in awhile, I tear myself away from my comfy apartment, my books and devices, my domesticated town, and go sit on a bluff above the shore and watch the waves crashing against the rocks, the sea birds, the clouds. And I think, “Wow, this has been in progress all the time I wasn’t thinking about it. Most of the planet is like this; it is barely affected by people at all.”

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender) Stuck On This Rock, Part Two

Long thing: As a literary or dramatic device, space is a place to do thought experiments about technology and culture. In real life, manned space flight is our civilization’s final form of extreme exploration, a logical and chronological successor to the polar expeditions. Manned space travel had two origins, 1) military programs and 2) the desire of elite white men to find somewhere even more difficult and dangerous to go than the source of the Nile, Mt. Everest or Antarctica while justifying the trip as scientific research.

Visiting space or living there for a while is not a precursor to asteroid mining, terraforming Mars or spreading our genes all over the Local Group. It was always going to be the pursuit of a select handful of people with a following of interested onlookers, not a way of life for entire civilizations.

The American moon landings turned out to be like Leif Erikson's trips to Vinland. Good enough technology to visit and return more than once. Not enough resources in the home society to support a permanent settlement in a hostile environment. If the rate of economic and technological development that the human race achieved in the nineteenth century could have been carried on without mass extinctions, by 2100 we would have towns on the Moon and a couple of Mars expeditions. Throw enough money and energy at the obstacles, onward and upward.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender) Stuck On This Rock, Part Three

We aren’t any more Stuck On This Rock than the human race ever has been, and in certain ways we are less stuck.

Roughly a hundred people have had the experience of flying around and around This Rock at a distance of about 250 miles above sea level, returned and lived to tell the tale. Twelve people have walked on the surface of the satellite that flies around and around This Rock at a greater distance, came back and lived to tell the tale. Every other human being who ever lived knew nothing about this or participated in it vicariously. No person, including all the cosmonauts and astronauts, has ever gotten away from This Rock. But many human beings have seen the stars, and tens of thousands have seen another planet through a telescope.

Mammalian bodies can’t physically go a lot of places that we are curious about. We can’t, for example, go swimming in scuba gear in the Marianas Trench. We immerse ourselves in that environment in a deep sea sub, and look out at our surroundings through a thick window, a TV screen, or instrument readouts. Same thing if we want to explore Jupiter or the Sun. No matter how close we get, we never are there; we observe “there” with devices while we are completely surrounded by an artificial protective environment.

We want to explore other places and we want to interact with them, because that is how we explore. Some places on Earth and almost every place not on Earth is too deadly to us to walk around in bareheaded, and the amount of modification we would have to do to make it not deadly would erase the differences that made it interesting in the first place. If we need protection from the places we want to explore, and we need instruments to pass sensory data through the barrier of the thick rubber gloves, the pressurized suit, the lead shield or the entire flipping spaceship, what difference does it make whether the protective environment is a human construct or the Earth’s atmosphere or a radio transmission from a robotic probe in deep space? We’ll have the capacity to launch and monitor probes a while longer, and a future ecotechnic society may figure out another way to do that.

DaShui said...

Can I talk u into giving us a reading list concerning topics where u think this blog is going in the near future?

John Roth said...


If you want to speculate on where “atlantis” was located, you might want to look at the Persian Gulf refuge hypothesis. During the last glacial, the Persian Gulf was above water, and it was drowned by the sea level rise. The channels the rivers cut are still detectable on the floor of the gulf.

There’s a lot of current archeology on the shores of the Gulf on sites that are simply inconsistent with other sites in the area. Back when I heard of it, it was funny to watch pretty sober archeologists tiptoeing around and not mentioning Noah.

What if the refuges from the flooding of the Gulf headed north into what we call the Fertile Crescent, and carried a good deal of agricultural knowledge with them?


Where was I in 1979, 1980? I spent part of it in Virginia in a little commune in the Shenandoah Valley with an ex-Southern Baptist minister who had turned channel. That enterprise was failing badly due to a misunderstanding about who was running the place. PS eventually asked his source about it, was told he had to take personal responsibility, and reportedly said: “not even if I have to come back in another lifetime.” I can read the handwriting on the wall about as well as anyone. I left within a week or so.

Later I was told that what happened was the 60s and 70s moved too far, too fast for a major section of society, leading to a backlash. When we elected the hero of a thousand 20-mule-team Borax commercials as president, I figured that pushing the river upstream wasn’t really a good use of my time.

It’s interesting listening to comments about what’s going on from the other side of the aptly-named theosphere.

P.M.Lawrence said...

Marcello, considering that siege artillery was the earliest developed, it's likely that it would be the easiest to get back or keep going, technologically speaking. But that was only half the story; big guns like that needed large resources behind them, so they were only useful for kings and the like to subdue enemies who had enough resources of their own to put up fortifications that could resist anything short of big guns. So lesser things good enough to hold off bandit raids etc. would remain realistic (it's not a coincidence that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid found themselves in a killing ground at the end of that film; that was precisely why towns like that were built that way).

Babylon Falls - Tasmania. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cherokee Organics said...


I was a lout when much younger. Forgot to mention before that the knife incident came after me pulling a burn-out in someone’s driveway. Ahh, to be young and dumb, which is pretty much exactly what you get, without adult influences tempering the very worst of your personality! Actually the old days were akin to a bag of possum vomit. hehe!

No need to reply. Have fun. I hope someone intends to record part of your economics presentations?

Hi Glenn,

No stress, I figured it was something like that. I hope that your growing season is good.

Hi Adrian,

I'm not sure I know the answer in relation to the red and black currants? They were planted directly into very deep composted woody mulch, if that is of any relevance? They require virtually no water during summer and maintain healthy foliage, but fruit early in the season so that may be it too? I just don’t know.

Hi thrig,

You are moving closer to the chickens themselves in your journey. Many free range producers also wash their eggs as they have to store them for supply during the lean period. I don’t believe the turning is as crucial as the not washing. The eggs here last a few months stored in the cupboard. This may be a good article or guest post? Well done with the rhubarb too. I add the stalks as a bulk filler (and source of pectin) for all jams here. There are about 30 plants here and the stalks are added as a 1:1 ratio fruit to rhubarb. PS: It might be worth mentioning although you probably already know - don't eat the leaves as they are toxic. Mind you, I had a jack russell dog once years ago that ate an entire rhubarb plant and nothing happened except that he looked pretty pleased with himself...

Hi Cathy,

Wow, that is a big change in temperature. Animals go under a lot of stress and can even die here when it is a downwards drop of that sort of range. Hope your bees haven't been pesky and have settled into their new home? An idea popped into my head this morning and I'm thinking of building and then offering a top hive box as a contra swap for a bee colony. If the boxes are easy enough to make, I might even try selling a few over the Internet? I've read 2 of 3 books about them now. Interesting stuff and also so obvious from hindsight.

Hi streamfortyseven,

A big - no massive - thumbs up for the useful suggestion. Why not just make them? What a good idea which I never would have considered. Tidy work.

See ya everyone for some posts and discussions over at Green Wizards.

Chris has left the building!! hehe.

margfh said...


"The other critical aspect of our circumstances is that I have a developmentally disabled twin brother. His needs put a very firm floor on how far I can collapse voluntarily in advance of absolute necessity. For example, I lived without a car through the 1980s and 1990s while he still lived with our parents, but I'd be betraying what I regard as family obligations to voluntarily deprive him of the transportation I provide him now. (Plans are in place for all contingencies though.) His role in my life has influenced my outlook on pretty much everything, ever since the illusion-shattering realization, in my early teens, that despite being a hundred IQ points apart we were essentially alike. A topic for another time, perhaps."

I hear you about this. I have three brothers with developmental disabilities and one also has a pretty severe mental illness (the other two have some minor mental health issues). When my mother passed away 15 years ago all three came to live with me. To accommodate them we added a huge addition to our very small house. Not exactly good planning but it was a crisis situation. None live with me at the moment but I'm sure at least one will be back. At any rate we now have this very large house with high energy costs in an area which homes like this aren't selling well. We really like where we live as we've built up soil for gardens and are set up for our livestock - quite a dilemma. I still have tons of driving to do for them. My 88 year old MIL lives with us now (more driving as we are six miles from town). I imagine other family members will move in as the need arises. I could go on and on but will stop now but just wanted to say I hear what you're saying. I haven't really found anyone who is peak oil aware to discuss this with.

Margaret in No. Illinois

thrig said...

LunarApprentice: ah, nope, no hits digging through the local university library webby thing for peer reviewed articles, though I did learn Denmark had 10% unemployment during the 1970s so that may be where their "let's put folks to work on wind and solar things" came from, that there are a few articles on "Wind and solar powered reverse osmosis desalination units" (hmm) and the rather pointed "Western Europe's Energy Crisis: A Problem of Life-Styles" (1972) whose abstract reads:

'The high and rising fossil fuel requirements of the modern world are held to be the direct result of certain "styles of technology" and "styles of living". Neither a significant reduction in requirements nor a substantial mobilization of "income energies" (such as solar energy and wind power) is possible without far-reaching changes in these "styles". Agriculture is given as an example, and the development of the Third World is also discussed from this point of view.'

Then there was a "making the energy transition" article which basically was "yeah, oil is becoming premium so heeeey there coal" and noise about "sustaining healthy economic growth" (presumably via mountaintop coal removal?). And a prediction that "oil use will progressively decline and that its use in urban households will be almost entirely phased out by the end of the century."

mr_geronimo said...

Mr. Geronimo, good heavens -- I managed to miss that Alice Bailey quote. Do you happen to remember where in her works it's from?

The Externalization of the Hierarchy, IIRC.

Bill Pulliam said...

Just a general observation I have made in response to several comments about those with disabilities etc.

When we moved to a small town and away from urban/college town life, one dramatic difference I noted is the lives of the disabled, elderly, and of course disabled elderly. There is one big negative: health care access is more limited. But there is also a huge positive. Live just generally seems easier and safer for the disabled here. Extended families make a big difference, but also there is the fact that it is a small enough town that everyone knows you if you are different. The moderately-functioning adults who frequent the town are known by everyone. If one of them gets in a bad situation, everyone knows who to call and where they live.

In the coming decades, as access to health care gets worse for everyone, not just in the small towns, small-town living might really become the best option for adults with disabilities and the elderly with cognitive issues.

mr_geronimo said...

About guns. I have a relative in the industrial-military complex, a researcher. His job was to study assault rifles and generate reports to the hierarchy. He travelled a lot and was once in the Kurdistan where smiths forged peacemaker-like guns that were as good as the industrial ones.

We will never go back to the bows, just as no one went back to the chariot for thousands of years (excluding the organ gun carts from Korea and age of sail Europe or the machine guns platforms used in the Soviet Revolution).

Machine weapows are one of the defining characteristics of the technical society, be it oiltech, Baconian tech or ecotech. Machine weapows are easier to use and train then other kinds of weapowry (like bows or swords). Hell, the child soldiers in Africa show how easy is to use firearms.
With firearms you can field more soldiers wasting less time training and no longer depends upon very specific cultures like the english common man obsession with longbows or the mongolians riding horses since birth.

And i think i'm a bot, i always fail the tests...

Janet D said...

I hope your time off proves restful and restoration, JMG. I look forward to gaining more wizardry skills with the time I won't be spending perusing comments!

Ya know how you've been talking about how you've been expecting a revival of Marxism? Did you see that one of the top selling (and most controversial) books on Amazon right now is "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" by far-left French economist Thomas Piketty? It's being called 'soft Marxism, it's 685-pages of well-researched documentation of (in the words of one reviewer): "how capitalism suppresses the working classes and creates immoral levels of inequality".

Hold on to your hats.

Back to learning my green skills. Things are picking up speed.

SLClaire said...

On the conservation culture of the 1970s: I was in my teens and early 20s then. The first oil crisis hit in 1973 when I was in high school in suburban Philadelphia. The second, in 1979, happened after my college graduation and as I left for grad school in Illinois. I was living in a middle class household of moderate Republicans back when such folks still existed, but I was still aware of the need for conservation because of it being part of what was talked about and acted on at the time. It influenced me enough to practice conservation when I lived on my own in grad school and beyond. Even in my yuppieish years I drove a VW Rabbit because it was the most fuel-conserving, non US made car I could buy off the lot in 1984 when I started paid employment. Detroit's compact cars could not stand up to the Japanese competition, which became abundantly clear in the wake of the oil crises. Think the US carmakers got the message? They did: they got Congress to embargo Japanese cars in 1984. It took weeks to get one. If it hadn't I'd have bought an even more fuel-efficient Japanese car.

I'm not sure Reagan would have been elected in 1980 if it hadn't been for two things: the botched rescue attempt of the US hostages Iran was holding, which did considerable damage to Carter's already-shaky image not long before the election, and the third-party candidate on the ballot, John Anderson, who I think took more votes from Carter than from Reagan. I admit mine was one of them. Still, younger people tended to prefer Carter or Anderson but a smaller percentage of them voted than did the older generations which helped to give the election to Reagan. It should be remembered too that Reagan was former governor of California, the most populous state in the US. Presidential candidates almost always win their home state and its electoral votes, a big help to Reagan.

Even in the early 1980s conservation continued to be discussed and practiced, albeit among a minority, but one which got some media attention. I think it was the 1984 election, the one featuring Reagan's Morning in America slogan, that finally doomed conservation. That seemed to be when people got tired of the struggle to conserve and be frugal, when they signaled by their votes that they were ready to party on with Reagan. (No, I wasn't one of them. I wouldn't have voted for Reagan for dog-catcher, much less president. And I continued to conserve, albeit less than I do now.)

I think JMG's characterization of making a choice in the 1980s to consume rather than conserve is fair. A good-sized percentage of the people who made that choice are dead now, while those of us who are still here are dealing with the effects, just as our choices now will affect those who live after us.

SLClaire said...

For the past few weeks I've been struggling to learn how to mow with a European scythe. After a few attempts I realized this was something I could not pick up from a book, that I would have to see it being done. Fortunately the scythe maker had anticipated that, offering a DVD showing how to set up, maintain, and mow with the scythe. So I got the DVD, watched it, and went out to mow. And I got it! Not only could I mow with a scythe; I enjoyed it. *Really* enjoyed it. Enough to spend 2 1/2 hours on it that day and another hour or so the next. There is something about using a scythe that seems to be deeply humanizing, a full use of myself. That's what I miss when I allow myself to depend on fossil fuels. This suggests to me that part of what JMG means when he says we need to get off our rears and *do* something is that we need to act to buy our souls back from Mephistopheles, to become human again.

Val said...

Myriad, Margaret - Re developmentally disabled siblings: I'm in a similar situation with my sister. Can't just pull up stakes or make other plans when I otherwise might.

Glenn said...

My previous post seems to have been eaten. Perhaps I didn't send correctly.

John Michael Greer said...

"did you by any chance know Baron Theodulf of Borogrove? Most of my sword work these days is 19th century military broadsword, for complex reasons"

I was active with Adiantum rather than Madrone, so I only met Baron Theodulf in Passing at Principality events.

One reason I can think of for using 19th C. Military Broadsword techniques is that Manuals in English are much easier to come by than late mediaeval German and early Italian Ren. documents are.

"Matt, I'll be discussing the role of armor as a foundation of feudalism in the series of dark age posts ahead, so you're far from off topic. The interesting thing is that firearms have reshaped what was a predictable equation dating back many millennia; what effect it will have on social hierarchy is another question, and an important one."

Oh good, thank you. I've been waiting for this ever since our confusing exchange of cross posts. I'm sympathetic to your argument, and I really want to see how you flesh out the details. I wait with 'bated (well, partially anyway, gotta breathe to live) breath.

Halfdan Ragnarsson
Marrowstone Holm
Shire of Druim Doineann
An Tir

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear JMG,

I agree that the approach you mentioned often leads to nightmares worse than the ones that were supposed to be fixed by the proposed ethical solution. However, the approach you are suggesting here is one of voluntary adoption of certain ethical principles (which has good historical precedent, e.g. the Amish and other religious orders/communities). The main ethical principle seems to be eschewing of a high consumption of petroleum and production of certain basic goods and services with a larger percentage of human and animal faculties. You are also using thaumaturgy to motivate people for such choices (e.g. if you don't you will be sorry later, or you are going to cause more pain than necessary to your descendants). My only argument here is that you are not getting at the root of the problem, which is not petroleum consumption, but the lust for power over people and nature, which can exist and has existed before petroleum consumption and which will lead to eschewing of high petroleum consumption, whereas eschewing high petroleum consumption does not lead to eschewing of power over through other means.

Why not try to motivate people to eschew power over, and help them see that usually (but not always) such passive income practices as extracting rent and interest from mere ownership are examples of such power over, despite the rationalizations used to justify such practices? Or do you believe that there is nothing to be done about these innate human tendencies? Aren't many myths attempting to influence people in just the way I propose?

Perhaps using thaumaturgy is by definition inconsistent with the ethical goal of eschewing power over people? In trying to change people's minds are we just influencing/teaching them, or attempting to have power over them?

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Stuck On This Rock, an afterthought

The following is a musing on cultural attitudes. It isn't intended personally, and I hope no one will take offense.

Jim Carroll wrote a song that says, ironically, "She gets to sleep with tubes in her arms."

We get to live on a planet.

We get to live on a planet with salt water, fresh water and solid land. We get to live on a planet with changing weather and oceanic tides twice a day.

We get to live on a planet with clear views to outer space, with a few neighboring galaxies visible to the naked eye, yet protected from most incoming radiation.

We get to live on a planet that, because of an unlikely collision at just the right moment in the formation of the solar system, has a massive moon. The moon keeps our axis of rotation relatively stable, so that it doesn't undergo massive climate change every few thousand years like many of the other rocky planets in the cosmos.

We get to live on a planet amongst other life forms, in a complicated ecosystem containing three kingdoms and so many species that we are currently extinguishing species at the rate of what? two a day? and barely noticing the loss.

We get to live on a planet with many life forms whose nervous systems are similar enough to ours that we can communicate with them and have them for companionship.

We get to live on a planet. Some of us feel deprived because our descendants won't get to live on many planets.

This strikes me as being like a child on Christmas morning who hasn't unwrapped all of his presents, complaining that he has nothing to play with.

Myriad said...

@Unknown Deborah,

Thank you, and very well said. Your compassion shines through and I appreciate it.

The points you make are quite rational, and my wife is a devoted rationalist. Not only that, she's a very (if you'll pardon the expression) down-to-earth person. When she complains that I haven't taken her out in over a week, she doesn't mean to a restaurant or a concert but to some stretch of woods for a twelve-mile walk.

So you'd think that the reasonable arguments you laid out would carry weight. I thought so. That's why I was so surprised that being "stuck on this rock" is something that affects her emotions so strongly. But those points don't sway her. Fundamentally it's not a rational issue.

Regardless of the future's trajectory, she has no expectation of herself ever whizzing through brightly colored nebulae (whose bright colors are not visible to human eyes anyhow, and which even at a hefty fraction of lightspeed would take subjective years to whiz through) or ever setting foot on alien worlds. Nor of being rescued or spiritually enlightened by aliens. Rather, it's a feeling that our whole species has the potential, if not some kind of genetic imperative, to propagate among the stars, thereby mitigating the inherent risk of being dependent upon one vulnerable planet. A potential that could be tragically wasted.

(That might in part be a response to growing up amid the "atomic war" paranoia of the 1950-60s, which included the dubious but prevailing belief that "only cockroaches" would survive such a war. In other words, the not altogether unjustified fear of having all your eggs in one basket. Ovunalveaphobia?)

In any case, this is definitely an instance where the Archdruid, were he so inclined, could send me a big dripping "told ya so" down the wires. Sometimes when he describes things people have told him, I think, "In the diverse circles he moves in, I'm sure he's met people who believe those things, but it can't really be that common." That's what I thought regarding people for whom space travel itself (not e.g. aliens or UFOs) is part of a de facto religion. But, turns out I was sleeping with one.

Myriad said...


I hear you too. Wow. All blessings upon you.

We should and can have that discussion; we just need to choose a venue and decide how public we want it to be. And figure out where to begin, of course. I have an old account at the Green Wizards forum that I have to get working again. That might be a good place. If you'd prefer privacy, Archdruid Greer has my email address and I give permission, if he's willing, for him to email it to you. (Send him your email address in a comment headed "Not for posting.")

One of several elephants in the room: the moral calculus of waste and regret, as applied to improving the quality of life of the developmentally disabled. Is my brother's Eagle Scout badge, which will end up in his grave and which was brought about by the use of about 2000 gallons of gasoline to attend weekly meetings and events over a 40-year period, something to toss into the same category as backyard swimming pools and Concorde flights and disposable diapers? Is it not the shining humanitarian achievement our parents and the many good people involved for decades at a stretch thought it was, but something foolish and shameful instead? Some facets of some peak-oil-aware sensibilities imply so, and I resist that; how much do I thereby set myself apart or plant myself in Hagsgate?

Regarding your house, that sounds like a solvable problem, especially if the location is a good one to stay in. One possibility is to choose a central portion of your house (maybe the original structure pre additions, or maybe a different portion chosen to be compact) to be the "all season" part, and the rest to become "seasonal" (read: not centrally heated) rooms. Then insulate all walls, doors, and ceilings separating the all-season parts from the seasonal parts. You will probably also need modifications to your heating system to create "zones" that can be shut off, and if there's plumbing in any of the "seasonal" areas it will need some "stop and waste" valves or similar fixtures added to allow you to shut off and drain those sections when they're not in use. Seasonal rooms were pretty common in big old houses heated by fireplaces.

Adrian Skilling said...

"Grandiose visions of vast renewable-energy buildouts and geoengineering projects on a global scale, of the kind being hawked so ebulliently these days by the prophets of eternal business as usual"

Along these lines, I heard Jeremy Rifkin the other night on the BBC World Service programme HardTalk. He makes claims for 3rd Industrial revolution due to the near zero marginal cost arising from renewable energy, 3D printing, the internet of things and big data. It was kind of laughable given his blindness to any features of reality that didn't fit his vision, but given that he's advising major governments it isn't so funny. At least was grilled pretty well by the interviewer, which is the nature of the programme.I guess it might be wise at least to think about how to respond to these people.

Glenn said...

mr_geronimo said...

"About guns. {Snip!} Kurdistan where smiths forged peacemaker-like guns that were as good as the industrial ones."

Please note that they did not forge the barrels, which they imported or salvaged off captured weapons. Nor did they manufacture the ammunition.

"With firearms you can field more soldiers wasting less time training and no longer depends upon very specific cultures like the english common man obsession with longbows or the mongolians riding horses since birth."

The specific skills required to be an English Bowman or a Mongolian Rider were not "obsessions". They were required life skills to survive in their particular physical and cultural environments. In the case of the English, the Black Death, attrition of the Hundred Years War and the resultant enclosures and elimination of forests where deer could be hunted shrank the numbers of skilled archers and the everyday need for the skill.

Mongolia had a brief period (50 years?) of prosperity with Soviet subsidy, and so, the equestrian skills have not been lost. They survive even here in the American West for that matter.

Other than that, I am with you on firearms. Most modern Americans are used to the relative low cost and availability of guns and ammunition. Historically, the introduction of guns and gunpowder has come with a shift from diffused power based on feudal levies which provided their own arms to conscript armies armed by The Prince or The State. The shift in warfare and politics that demonstrates this quite distinctly is Western Europe during the course of the 16th century.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Glenn said...

"Why are you leaving?"

"The work here is too hard, too likely to fail, and success is too unlikely."

"And where you are going?"

The answer to the second question says a lot about a person. The answer may vary; but it is a question worth asking, and the answer worth examining, not just in terms of this forum, but throughout life.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

A website called Civil Eats, which describes itself as promoting critical thought about sustainable agriculture and food systems, won the 2014 James Beard Foundation award in the publication category.

On the home page, dated May 2:

"You may not get to own it, but a patch of soil could be yours, young farmer–if you find the right tools and partnerships. This was a core takeaway message at last weekend’s Agrarian Trust Symposium in Berkeley, California. The gathering drew over 800 young farmers, food movement thinkers, and potential land patrons seeking to expand the discussion around land transfer and the difficulties facing many young farmers in search of a place to farm."

The symposium was a project of the Agrarian Trust, a group that hopes to see the next generation of sustainable farmers and ranchers gain access to land, as the current generation begins to age out. The trust is a project of the Schumacher Center for New Economics and the publisher of a booklet called “Affording Our Land.” [PDF]

- See more at:"

The rest of the article is equally interesting. I'm sorry I didn't know about this symposium, which I easily could have attended. One of the topics discussed at the symposium is giving donors and investors ways to get land into the hands of people who will farm it sustainably. The article also mentions an urban farming initiative based in Richmond, CA, a nearby city populated by descendants of African Americans who moved there to work in shipyards during WW II.

Anyway, now I've got several sources of practical information I've been looking for.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Myriad--The eggs in one basket issue is real. I know of no proposal for deflecting a large asteroid strike that doesn't require fossil fuel or fission powered rocket engines. Hoping that we have the luck of a long lead time to tackle that problem.

If there are intelligent species on this planet when the Sun starts running low on fuel, they probably won't resemble us. Whoever they are, perhaps they will think of a way to comprehensively encode the genomes of Earth as it is then, along with some cultural information, and send an ark away in the direction of a planetary system orbiting a younger star. Or perhaps they will focus on praying that all sentient beings be liberated from the suffering of impermanence, attachment and physical desire.

I haven't figured out what I'm supposed to be aiming to get past the bottleneck that's looming right now. I do like the advice of the Tarot card Five of Cups, which says to focus on the two filled cups that haven't been knocked over yet.

Redneck Girl said...

I am a batty old lady but I believe our current state of civilization is temporary, as ephemeral as the passing of the seasons. So as Unknown Deborah has said in her post, I hope JMG will allow me to express my feelings as I have in my poetry.

What I am Thankful For

I am thankful for the turning wheel of the seasons. The rain in the winter and the sun in the summer. The harsh innocence of spring and the fleeting radiance of autumn.

I am thankful for the colors and textures of my world, the variegated, nubby greens of the forest and shrubs, knotted and quilted together. The flowers in all their pastel shapes and sizes on filigree vines and stems. The smooth, enigmatic mirror of a lake or a pond reflecting back the moods of the forest and the celestial bowl of the sky.

I am thankful for the velvet muzzle of a horse and the satin feel and shine of it's hide as it slides over muscle and bone. The grace and power of the horse as it lopes and turns at the touch of heel or rein, mane flying and tail flagged as their hooves barely touch the ground that, for a moment lets me feel like I'm riding Pegasus.

I am thankful for all of these moments of perception and I cherish them as memories for I know they will all pass soon enough. But I am comforted because I also know that I will live them again, in some other time, some other place . . . . .

I am as much a part of the earth as the horse, a hawk, an elk or a mountain lion. It saddens me that so many people don't realize or are afraid of such a connection. To me its exciting, euphoric and I can't understand people who reject the love of the earth. Anything so massively distorted as our civilization is an illness on the body of our Mother and we have a choice to become part of the cure or add to the scars our global civilization leaves.


Zosima said...

SLClaire said...

I think it was the 1984 election, the one featuring Reagan's Morning in America slogan, that finally doomed conservation. That seemed to be when people got tired of the struggle to conserve and be frugal, when they signaled by their votes that they were ready to party on with Reagan. I think JMG's characterization of making a choice in the 1980s to consume rather than conserve is fair.

SLClaire, I thought your post was very accurate up to this point. But then, just like JMG you left out the most important factor that caused the conservation in the first place - the price of oil. After 1980, reduced demand and overproduction produced a glut on the world market, causing a six-year-long decline in oil prices culminating with a 46 percent price drop in 1986. Don’t you think that might have something to do with it rather your vague “got tired” and “party on” reasons? Who continues to conserve a product that is plummeting in price? It’s quite absurd to think that people would, and that’s why characterizing it as a choice that ordinary people made is unfair. It would have taken a global effort to force people to continue to conserve a product when there is a glut of it on the market. I think it’s up to people like JMG and you to state specifically how that could have been done before you blame ordinary people.

margfh said...


I will send my email to JMG. I see there is someone else here in the same situation (Val) so maybe we can get a wider discussion going. As far as Eagle Scouts I had a similar situation with one of my brothers. For many years I took him to play Special Olympics Basketball which was great for him but the driving ....

You are right about small communities. We live outside a smallish town on the edge of the Chicago metropolitan area. When all my brothers lived with me people often let us know what they were up to especially if it was something unsafe. When a group home was going to open in town people in the neighborhood were pretty upset and worried. Now the residents are just part of the community just everyone else.

P.M.Lawrence said...

Glenn, mr_geronimo, about weaponry:-

- Khyber Pass copies of guns range all the way from just as good as the originals to really shoddy, depending on what the market will bear. I imagine Kurdish ones are similar (or were you thinking of Khyber Pass copies?).

- In the past, Khyber Pass copies (and originals like the flintlock djezails) did have their barrels made locally too. If that isn't happening now, it's not for lack of expertise but because of the readier availability of parts. Barrel making is actually lower technology than the other work involved, though it takes a skilled workman to make the buttons or broaches used to deform or cut rifling (but it doesn't take a skilled workman to use them).

- The English archers didn't learn how to use longbows as a necessity of their lifestyle, the original Welsh archers did, and this so impressed the English that laws were made requiring English villagers to learn and practise their use. They had to do it in a different sense of "had to".

- The longbow didn't decline as a result of the Black Death and its aftermath (except in so far as that led to a general shift away from serfdom and related institutions that were fostering the skill under the law), but more from the increasing protection of knights' armour (which, however, led to less manoeuvrability and lower numbers of knights in armour because of the expense). The decline in the longbow on the continent came first from the English being pushed out, which was partly related to increased warfare within England drawing forces there; however, within England, archers were still being mustered well into Tudor times, and there were even some reports of Cornish archers being summoned by the king in the 17th century Civil Wars (they seem to have been re-equipped or dispersed after a defeat, as there are no reports of their use in action that I know of).

thrig said...

Iuval Clejan: Burke makes for good reading, in particular "Edmund Burke: The First Conservative" recommended by others here earlier. In particular, note the French Revolution, where changes to power in the name of abstractions such as liberty and equality took the (admittedly quite ossified) political order through a reign of terror and beyond; large changes to our existing social order to rework the power relationships might risk similar instability. Also, there has been at least one posting here regarding various utopian movements; these experiments perhaps indicate that altering the patterns of power is no easy task, even at such small scales. And, moreover, look at what percentage of the population is willing to even invest in such movements. Burke in contrast gives high regard to the then holders of power in Britain:

"You, if you are what you ought to be, are in my eye the great oaks that shade a country, and perpetuate your benefits from generation to generation." — Norman, Jesse (2013-05-21). Edmund Burke: The First Conservative (p. 206).

quoting a letter Burke apparently wrote to the 3rd Duke of Richmond in 1772. But note the if clause! As for changes in structures of power:

'Richard Sosis looked closely at the history of 200 communes, religious and secular, established in the USA in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He found that the religious communes lasted four times as long as the secular ones, and were half as likely to dissolve within the first five years of existence. Just 6 per cent of the secular communes were functioning after twenty years, as against nearly 40 per cent of the religious ones.' — p. 270

Establishing a moral community might therefore be a more worthy thing to culture than worrying about whether those in power are playing their oak parts properly. Let's see...

'concern about falling social mobility and the emergence of entrenched and self-selecting elites, in the growing distrust of political authority, and in suspicion that those in power are distant, unaccountable and incapable of leadership.' — p. 239

Uhh, yeah, so probably better to work on the ethic of community or the ethic of divinity and not more of that ethic of autonomy—valuing individual freedom too much leads to license over liberty, and then folks downstream of the coal plant are wondering if they could possibly have some liberty to clean water, though only after the levee fails...but pay me no mind! I'm practically a hermit, and obviously read too much.

Janet D said...

@Redneck Girl, who said: "I am as much a part of the earth as the horse, a hawk, an elk or a mountain lion. It saddens me that so many people don't realize or are afraid of such a connection. To me its exciting, euphoric and I can't understand people who reject the love of the earth. Anything so massively distorted as our civilization is an illness on the body of our Mother and we have a choice to become part of the cure or add to the scars our global civilization leaves."

I loved this comment & printed this out, as it so spoke to me. I believe much, if not all, of current religions & cultures rest upon the foundation that the earth is inanimate & here only to support man. Sad, as much of the beauty of life is missed that way.

I just wish my efforts toward becoming part of the cure did not feel so meager / ineffective. It feels kind of like I'm picking up cigarette butts on the beach as the tsunami wave rolls in.

dltrammel said...

Ok I promised JMG I wouldn't edit my story, but as the many writer's here know, sometimes the slightest change, like the renaming of your main character can give you surprising results.

Since my story is set in a near future where an American general has taking over the government, I thought to use some of the Founding Father's names for my characters, that was fun until I realized that my main character, budding revolutionary, who wants to be an electrician, really should be named "Ben"

The edited story is here

Fish Tales

Samuel Adams as a grumpy old woman who makes HAM radio tubes is worth a laugh.

Whether it makes it into the new anthology, the world of St. Louis, America 2040, might just be someplace I explore further.


Having said that, you know, we REALLY are giving away 4 free copies of a JMG book this month.

I mean...FREE.

All we ask over at the new Green Wizard site is you make a comment.

I have one person who I asked if we could cross post his blog, entered right now.


(taps his microphone) "Is this damned thing on?"

As things stand, he is getting a free book.

Win one of 4 free JMG books!

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Sorry to reply so late. You said, in reply to my post about the environmental conference I attended,

Did any of the people who were calling for new ways to live show any signs of walking their talk?

Yes, indeedy they did. In different ways, depending on their circumstances. Lots of very earth-centered folks.

Conservation biology, like climate science, is not the cheeriest of fields at the moment. The discussion was, as so much of the discussion is here, simultaneously saddening, hopeful and concerned with ethics. Not a crowd in favor of haute bio-tech efforts such as "de-extinction." The fact that the discussion was being seriously had, was hopeful.

Good traveling to you. I look forward to new posts and to this community coming together again.

Glenn said...


You are correct, in that I an remembering articles about Khyber Pass rather than Kurdistan. The challenge with the barrels in either case is that modern ones are made of or lined with chrome-alloy steel which is very hard to cut with hand tools. That does not negate the greater point, that semi-automatic and fully automatic weapons can be made by hand in home shops in a de-industrial society; the chrome barrels reduce fouling and extend barrel life, but they are not necessary for a functioning weapon.

The Leibigs Limit in this case is likely to be ammunition. It can be hand loaded, of course, but that still requires factory made primers. And after half a dozen re-uses the brass has stretched too much, and along with the trimmings from the neck of the case need to be melted down and re-made into casings; another process that is trivial in a factory, but difficult in a cottage industry. But, see the Taiwanese industrial model for a possible work around. Any future in which automatic weapons are practical will require ammunition factories.

I beg to disagree with you on English Archery. It was endemic in all forested areas within the Danelaw (N.E. England). The viking era Danish bow was indistinguishable from the longbows recovered from the 1545 wreck of the Mary Rose.

Perhaps I was not clear on what the Black Death had to do with it. Running concurrently with the Hundred Years War, the Plague reduced the population by 50% in the first year. In an economy already dependent on wool, the reduction in labour available encouraged more land owners to convert farm and forest to sheep. A reduced rural population then had both smaller numbers, and less opportunity to poach deer. Most of the laws encouraging archery were in a response to this decline. A 'prentice in London or a Fuller in Dunwich did not have the incentive to shoot that a woodsman in an Essex forest did.

The English did maintain companies of bowmen right through the 16th century, and were proud of it. But their numbers were quite small; and in the Military-Political relationship I mentioned in my previous post, the English government and constitution at the time of Elizabeth Tudor were considered a quaint mediaeval novelty by Continental rulers.

I stand by my thesis, that a complicated skill is developed by real economic need (the opportunity to poach deer in this case); and when that need or opportunity goes away, no amount of legislation will maintain the skill.

Plate armour did offer glancing surfaces to arrows, but was still vulnerable to a square hit. It was more effective than mail, but not "proof". But as you say, it was very expensive, so there was never a large proportion of even the knightly class using it. The French Gens D'Armes being among the latest; though the English used heavy cavalry in the Dutch wars.

It appears to me that the military decline of the longbow was due to the reduced numbers of skilled bowmen available, rather than tactical ineffectiveness. Certainly by the end of the 16th century, even England depended primarily on "Pike, shot and horse" rather than Bow and Bill.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Enrique said...

@ John Roth:

I have heard of the Persian Gulf refuge hypothesis. I would not be at all surprised if there was a civilization that existed there during the late Pleistocene. 12,000 years ago that area would have been an ideal place for settlement, a broad river valley with a clement sub-tropical climate. As close to a real Garden of Eden as likely ever existed in the world. Moreover, if you trace the ancient river courses of the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Wadi al Battin (the most likely candidate for the River Pishon) and the Karun River (likely the River Gihon mentioned in the Book of Genesis), they all converge under the northern extent of what is now the Persian Gulf, which implies that the Garden of Eden was near what is now Kharg Island. There are also clues from Sumerian mythology that suggest that their ancestors came from a land that was subsequently submerged. Most likely the Sumerians, and probably some other ancient Middle Eastern nations, were descended from refugees who once lived in the river valley where the Persian Gulf is now and had to flee upriver to escape the flooding. This would also explain why the Sumerian civilization suddenly appeared seemingly out of nowhere with advanced knowledge and technologies, since they would have been survivors from an earlier civilization and would have brought a great deal of knowledge and experience with them.

I still believe that the Archdruid (and others like Andrew Collins) makes a good case for Atlantis being in or near the Caribbean. Most likely, it would have been where the Bahamas or Cuba are now. Both had a much larger extent before the ice sheets melted, and details of their Ice Age geography match Plato’s account pretty closely.

That being said, I seriously doubt Atlantis was the only pre-historic civilization. There are many attested to in ancient legends and a lot of circumstantial evidence for civilizations during the late Pleistocene or early Holocene. I mentioned earlier that there is strong circumstantial evidence for an Ice Age civilization in Sundaland, which corresponds closely with occult traditions about Lemuria. Submerged cities have also been found off the coasts of Japan, India, Cuba and Turkey that were last above water several thousand years ago. There have also been persistent rumors of lost civilizations in other places like the Gobi Desert, the steppes of Russia, the Himalayas, the Amazon rain forest, and many other parts of the world. No doubt there were many other civilizations that existed long before Sumeria and ancient Egypt and not all at the same time either. After all, we live in a cyclical, not a linear universe, one that is filled with mysteries beyond human comprehension, and it’s the height of arrogance to think we have scratched more than the merest surface of existence. The delusional and hubristic arrogance of the Faustian civilization in which we live never ceases to amaze me.

P.M.Lawrence said...

Glenn replied to me, "I beg to disagree with you on English Archery. It was endemic in all forested areas within the Danelaw (N.E. England). The viking era Danish bow was indistinguishable from the longbows recovered from the 1545 wreck of the Mary Rose."

True enough (and, for all I know, the Welsh got their practices from copying that).

However, there was a space of many generations after the Norman Conquest in which the right to hunt was severely restricted in England, basically only allowed to royalty and nobility. So, while it was still possible to blame locals for William Rufus's being shot to death in the New Forest (but possibly by a crossbowman recruited as an assassin), by the time Edward I was subduing the Welsh that expertise simply wasn't widespread in England. Maybe archery was merely being re-introduced to England, but that was definitely a top-down product and not a lifestyle corollary. The rather Draconian laws against poaching didn't stop some people resorting to it, but they definitely kept archery from being widespread until it was compulsory.

"Running concurrently with the Hundred Years War, the Plague reduced the population by 50% in the first year. In an economy already dependent on wool, the reduction in labour available encouraged more land owners to convert farm and forest to sheep."

Well, the Black Death fell within that period, but didn't precisely align with it as a period. But the economy was not yet dependent on wool; that came later. It probably started in a small way during the Wars of the Roses or even before, but it was turned loose by the peace dividend of the end of those wars. When that happened, there came a net surplus of labour, what with the early phase of the Enclosures of the Commons setting many peasants loose to seek what living they could. (You will notice that I am not describing what was going on around then; that would take just too much space and time.)

"I stand by my thesis, that a complicated skill is developed by real economic need (the opportunity to poach deer in this case); and when that need or opportunity goes away, no amount of legislation will maintain the skill".

You can say that the villagers had a real economic need, to practise archery so as to avoid sanctions that could reach them. Once they were no longer as effectively tied to their villages, that became less pressing (and the Black Death comes in there).

I see no need to qualify the rest of your comments.

Bogatyr said...

Money trumps ideology, perhaps? I see that Lloyd's of London, hammered by a series of payouts for extreme weather events, now wants the effects of climate change to be added to the costing models for insurance.

The "little people" in storm/flood zones may have had to just live without insurance for some time, but this is going to start piling costs onto big business, the government and military - and so we might finally see some rapid action... Let's hope so, anyway.

By the way, are you familiar with Robert Kaplan's book, "The Coming Anarchy"? I bought it back in, oh, maybe 2003 - before I'd ever heard of Peak Oil, and when I was still a fervent techo-utopian. At the time, I thought it rather cynical and alarmist. Well, how I must have changed. Re-reading it now, I find it astonishingly prescient, given that most of the content was written in 1997-99 (the original article, which lent its title to the book, is online here). His forecast of the descent of democracy into oligarchy, the rise of the surveillance state, and the resurgence of nationalism against the forces of globalisation look uncannily like recent headlines.... He even specifically skewers the myth of "Progress"! If anyone here hasn't read it, I'd recommend adding it to your reading list! (Review)

Glenn said...

P.M. Lawrence,

At the risk of dragging this out beyond relevance.

"the Black Death fell within that period, but didn't precisely align with it as a period."

The Hundred Years War ran from 1337 to 1453. The Black Death came to England in 1348 and 1362 before becoming more or less endemic every decade or so until it's end in the early 15th century. This seems pretty concurrent to me for historic purposes.

"the economy was not yet dependent on wool; that came later. It probably started in a small way during the Wars of the Roses or even before, but it was turned loose by the peace dividend of the end of those wars. When that happened, there came a net surplus of labour, what with the early phase of the Enclosures of the Commons setting many peasants loose to seek what living they could. (You will notice that I am not describing what was going on around then; that would take just too much space and time.)"

At the beginning of the period we're discussing, the mid 14th century, raw wool was England's primary export. At the end of the period, in the mid 15th century, it had been replaced by exports of finished cloth. This was in part enabled by the feedback loop between plague and war driven rural de-population driving conversion of land to sheep grazing, in turn reducing the need for rural peasants. As the population recovered from the plague, more of the peasants moved to the cities and towns, and provided the labour for the growing wool processing industries.

"You can say that the villagers had a real economic need, to practise archery so as to avoid sanctions that could reach them. Once they were no longer as effectively tied to their villages, that became less pressing (and the Black Death comes in there)."

_You_ might say that. I still think, judging by settlement patterns and laws, that poaching was a greater motivator than the laws were.

At any rate, the beginning of this discussion was Mr. Geronimo's phrase "The English common man's obsession with the longbow.", with which I disagreed. Whether it's fines or fresh venison, I don't think obsessions motivate working people quite as well as need does.

Mr. Geronimo's greater point, that it is faster to train a conscript army to use the gun is quite true, and was displayed, as I said, in Western Europe from the 16th century on. The use of artillery to reduce fortifications was another major factor in the shift of power from Feudal and diffuse to the concentrated power of the State or Prince.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

SLClaire said...

Zosima said:
"SLClaire, I thought your post was very accurate up to this point. But then, just like JMG you left out the most important factor that caused the conservation in the first place - the price of oil. After 1980, reduced demand and overproduction produced a glut on the world market, causing a six-year-long decline in oil prices culminating with a 46 percent price drop in 1986. Don’t you think that might have something to do with it rather your vague “got tired” and “party on” reasons? Who continues to conserve a product that is plummeting in price? It’s quite absurd to think that people would, and that’s why characterizing it as a choice that ordinary people made is unfair. It would have taken a global effort to force people to continue to conserve a product when there is a glut of it on the market. I think it’s up to people like JMG and you to state specifically how that could have been done before you blame ordinary people."

I was in my late 20s then, working and paying attention to the people around me and the media of the time, and yes, it did indeed feel as if many/most people pretty much gave up on conservation about then. I'm not sure how old you were at the time, if you recall Reagan's presidency or not. He seemed to be perceived as a kind of father/grandfather figure who was, with his Morning in America slogan, reassuring people that everything's OK now, we're back to normal. People had been pretty shook up when the oil crises happened. It was the first rattle to the religion of progress. People didn't take it well, and I think they heaved a sigh of relief when Reagan soothed them by telling them it's over, go back to your shopping and enjoy yourself.

If you want to understand the feeling of the 1980s, the best way is to read some of the collections of the comic strip Bloom County. Berke Breathed depicted the mood better than anyone I know of.

As far as who continues to conserve a product that is plummeting in price: JMG did and does. I did and do; my husband and I dropped our thermostat setting from 66 to 60F in winter over the same past several years that natural gas has dropped considerably in price due to fracking. So, yes, these are choices that ordinary people - and I'm ordinary even though I have too much respect for JMG to call him that - make. People are responsible for their choices. I agree that some folks don't change unless price forces them to, but I don't think that is something to support them for doing. Ordinary people have brought about very significant and positive changes in the status of women and many other groups of people heretofore discriminated against, not because of any economic signal, but because they saw it was the right thing to do. And they did it by doing it, not by making excuses for themselves. I don't think it is blaming people to say that many people could make better choices than they have been and are making. It's an observation. I know the factors that make it difficult to change and I sympathize, especially since I am still working to reduce bad habits of my own. Nonetheless, using price as an excuse for avoiding the hard work of change doesn't work for me.

Marcello said...

"That does not negate the greater point, that semi-automatic and fully automatic weapons can be made by hand in home shops"

Attempts to build more complex weapons than what the available production technology, tools and materials really allow will result in something unsafe and with dodgy performances. While semiautomatic and automatic weapons are not bleeding edge tech at least some parts will require machine tools, decent grade steel, adequate thermal treatment and so on to get something reliable. Mass production of metallic cartridges was a decidedly industrial affair and large quantities of smokeless powder may be a non trivial issue too.

"So lesser things good enough to hold off bandit raids etc. would remain realistic"

Oh no doubt but I was thinking more in terms of political consequences. Can a "classic" feudal system remain viable or we will get something different?

Derv said...

Just out of curiosity, will you be announcing the results of the contest when you return on June 18th? I poked around a bit and couldn't find a date. If you don't have one yet, that's fine of course. Thanks!

Redneck Girl said...

Janet D said...
@Redneck Girl, who said: "I am as much a part of the earth as the horse, a hawk, an elk or a mountain lion. It saddens me that so many people don't realize or are afraid of such a connection. To me its exciting, euphoric and I can't understand people who reject the love of the earth. Anything so massively distorted as our civilization is an illness on the body of our Mother and we have a choice to become part of the cure or add to the scars our global civilization leaves."

I loved this comment & printed this out, as it so spoke to me. I believe much, if not all, of current religions & cultures rest upon the foundation that the earth is inanimate & here only to support man. Sad, as much of the beauty of life is missed that way.

I just wish my efforts toward becoming part of the cure did not feel so meager / ineffective. It feels kind of like I'm picking up cigarette butts on the beach as the tsunami wave rolls in.

Thank you for the praise.

Janet nothing a human being does is anymore insignificant than the granulation of tissue in a healing wound. We make a step along the way toward making the world whole every time we conserve something, plant something, even think deeply about our patterns of behavior and how best to change them and then follow through. You only notice such change when it reaches critical mass in the population. Your efforts DO make a difference and some day soon it will be realized and copied by more and more people until everyone will wonder why anyone would consider doing anything counter to what you're doing.


steve pearson said...

@Glenn, You will remember that Mr Geronimo is writing in a second language, and obsession may be a rough translation of what he is thinking in Portugese. Doubt I could do as well in French or Spanish; couldn't do anything in Portugese.
cheers, Steve

mr_geronimo said...

About firearms x bows and swords? Why not both? In a dying civilization you can't be picky.

In the scarcity industrialism the gun will still be only weapow. It is easy to craft millions of simple guns in a industrial economy, even in a scarcity industrialism economy. The State will need them so they will be crafted even if that means not crafting solar boilers.

Beyond 2100 things change: that's where village rifles and revolvers appear, and when people will start looking for alternatives. In these days an AK 47 with a box of ammunition will be like Excalibur.

Of course, not all places will decay at the same pace. Somewhere our Byzantium will keep living and in Industrial Byzantium guns will still be factory made and the tactics will be a mix of American Civil War with whatever the warriors of the dark age develops.

Glenn said...

steve pearson said...
"@Glenn, You will remember that Mr Geronimo is writing in a second language, and obsession may be a rough translation of what he is thinking in Portugese."

Ah, I had not realized that. Thank you, Steve. For the most part I agree with his general thesis.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

mr_geronimo said...

"At any rate, the beginning of this discussion was Mr. Geronimo's phrase "The English common man's obsession with the longbow.", with which I disagreed. Whether it's fines or fresh venison, I don't think obsessions motivate working people quite as well as need does."

I chose the wrong word, you are right. What I tried to say was: there was culture around the bow in England and Wales. I remember reading about many tournaments, about the free man there playing in competitions. They, from what I understood, loved their bows, learned how to use, how to craft them. That's why I used that wrong term.

And the continentals had to hunt too and yet the continental kings could not field so many archers as the english kings. There was something beyond need happening in England in those days.

About atlantean sorcerors of the future: if they come with the secrets of the weapows all barbarian kings will love them. That might be a life insurance, giving time to the sorceror to establish himself and teach.

Robert Mathiesen said...

For whatever it may be worth, my mother's father made high-quality hunting rifles in his garage from plain steel and wood. (I suppose he bought steel stock somewhere, of course.) He was a competent machinist and a boilermaker, and he built his own machines to drill and rifle the barrels. So good rifles can be made in a home shop, if you have the skills and access to steel stock.

He also hand-carved the stocks of these rifles with wonderful hunting scenes. I saw some of them when I was a boy, and they were breathtakingly beautiful.

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear Thrig,

I agree with everything you said! The problem with passive income such as rent or interest or stocks or slaves is that it is a parasitic relationship (though not always fully, sometimes there is some symbiosis--JMG probably thinks parasites are just as necessary to a healthy ecosystem as symbiotes). It's not about autonomy as much as it is about balanced energy flow-giving and receiving our gifts through work. The landlord suffers just as much as the tenant from that perspective, unless they use that energy to give back in some other way (which does happen!)

But I am definitely NOT advocating any kind of political revolution and would probably find Burke very agreeable to read. Just asking why if JMG would go through the trouble of trying to convince people to give up the petroleum addiction, why not go for what's behind it, which is the addiction to power over other people and nature? Perhaps he is doing that in his own indirect way? If they can give up a car, they could surely give up or share some land?

Glenn said...

mr_geronimo said...

I chose the wrong word, you are right. What I tried to say was: there was culture around the bow in England and Wales. I remember reading about many tournaments, about the free man there playing in competitions. They, from what I understood, loved their bows, learned how to use, how to craft them. That's why I used that wrong term.

And the continentals had to hunt too and yet the continental kings could not field so many archers as the english kings. There was something beyond need happening in England in those days."

I am sorry I misunderstood your meaning. I think I understand you now, and I think you are right. There was a basic difference between English Feudalism and Continental Feudalism, at least as practiced by the heirs of Charlemagne. The French nobles of the time said straight out that they would never trust a peasant with such a powerful weapon as the longbow. They were afraid of being shot in the back, and the English nobility weren't.

Our host pointed out once that feudalism evolved on the ashes of the Western Roman Empire, but was imported intact to England by William the Conqueror. I don't think that explains the difference.

The aristocracy of Western Europe were descended from Goths, Vandals, Franks and some Huns in the Roman Army; and the Goths at any rate, practiced the Arian version of Christianity. The peasants were descended from Gallo-Romans, and had been conquered once by Rome, and practiced the Nicean version of Christianity. There were a lot of cultural differences between the classes.

In post William England, the nobles were Normans, descended from Scandinavians who had been converted to Nicean Christianity and learned to speak French and fight on horseback. The commoners were Anglo-Saxons, descended from Scandinavians who had been converted to Nicean Christianity and whose society was evolving from an egalitarian Germanic society to a more feudal one at the time of the Conquest. Culturally, the two classes had more in common.

To me, that explains some of the differences between England and France as far as class relations are concerned.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

dltrammel said...

First let me say I am slowly going through the stories and they are amazing. Well done everyone.

In a particular happenstance, Kay did a revision on my "A Fish Tale" story, which has many good things to add.

It made me remember the fantasy series "Sanctuary" of the 90s and make me wonder would some of the writers here be interested in a shared universe anthology?

The Saint Louis of 2040 is a fascinating place and one wide enough that many people here could do very nice stories in. I can do a general historical outline and post it, then if we get enough interest, have JMG approach the publishers.

Let me know in this thread:

"Repurposing in the Long Descent"

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