Wednesday, July 02, 2014

In a Handful of Dust

All things considered, it’s a good time to think about how much we can know about the future in advance. A hundred years ago last Saturday, as all my European readers know and a few of my American readers might have heard, a young Bosnian man named Gavrilo Prinzip lunged out of a crowd in Sarajevo and emptied a pistol into the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, who were touring that corner of the ramshackle Austro-Hungarian empire they were expected to inherit in due time. Over the summer months that followed, as a direct result of those gunshots, most of the nations of Europe went to war with one another, and the shockwaves set in motion by that war brought a global order centuries old crashing down.

In one sense, none of this was a surprise. Perceptive observers of the European scene had been aware for decades of the likelihood of a head-on crash between the rising power of Germany and the aging and increasingly fragile British Empire. The decade and a half before war actually broke out had seen an increasingly frantic scramble for military alliances that united longtime rivals Britain and France in a political marriage of convenience with the Russian Empire, in the hope of containing Germany’s growing economic and military might. Every major power poured much of its wealth into armaments, sparking an arms race so rapid that the most powerful warship on the planet in 1906, Britain’s mighty HMS Dreadnought, was hopelessly obsolete when war broke out eight years later.

Inquiring minds could read learned treatises by Halford Mackinder and many other scholars, explaining why conflict between Britain and Germany was inevitable; they could also take in serious fictional treatments of the subject such as George Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking and Saki’s When William Came, or comic versions such as P.G. Wodehouse’s The Swoop!. Though most military thinkers remained stuck in the Napoleonic mode of conflict chronicled in the pages of Karl von Clausewitz’ On War, those observers of the military scene who paid attention to the events of the American Civil War’s closing campaigns might even have been able to sense something of the trench warfare that would dominate the coming war on the western front.

It’s only fair to remember that a great many prophecies in circulation at that same time turned out to be utterly mistaken. Most of them, however, had a theme in common that regular readers of this blog will find quite familiar: the claim that because of some loudly ballyhooed factor or other, it really was different this time. Thus, for example, plenty of pundits insisted in the popular media that economic globalization had made the world’s economies so interdependent that war between the major powers was no longer possible. Equally, there was no shortage of claims that this or that or the other major technological advance had either rendered war impossible, or guaranteed that a war between the great powers would be over in weeks. Then as now, those who knew their history knew that any claim about the future that begins “It’s different this time” is almost certain to be wrong.

All things considered, it was not exactly difficult in the late spring of 1914, for those who were willing to do so, to peer into the future and see the shadow of a major war between Britain and Germany rising up to meet them. There were, in fact, many people who did just that. To go further and guess how it would happen, though, was quite another matter.  Some people came remarkably close; Bismarck, who was one of the keenest political minds of his time, is said to have commented wearily that the next great European war would probably be set off by some idiotic event in the Balkans.  Still, not even Bismarck could have anticipated the cascade of misjudgments and unintended consequences that sent this particular crisis spinning out of control in a way that half a dozen previous crises had not done.

What’s more, the events that followed the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914 quickly flung themselves off the tracks intended for them by the various political leaders and high commands, and carved out a trajectory of their own that nobody anywhere seems to have anticipated. That the Anglo-French alliance would squander its considerable military and economic superiority by refusing to abandon a bad strategy no matter how utterly it failed or how much it cost; that Russia’s immense armies would prove so feeble under pressure; that Germany would combine military genius and political stupidity in so stunningly self-defeating a fashion; that the United States would turn out to be the wild card in the game, coming down decisively on the Allied side just when the war had begun to turn in Germany’s favor—none of that was predicted, or could have been predicted, by anyone.

Nor were the consequences of the war any easier to foresee. On that bright summer day in 1914 when Gavrilo Prinzip burst from the crowd with a pistol in his hand, who could have anticipated the Soviet Union, the Great Depression, the blitzkreig, or the Holocaust? Who would have guessed that the victor in the great struggle between Britain and Germany would turn out to be the United States?  The awareness that Britain and Germany were racing toward a head-on collision did not provide any certain knowledge about how the resulting crash would turn out, or what its consequences would be; all that could be known for sure was that an impact was imminent and the comfortable certainties of the prewar world would not survive the shock.

That dichotomy, between broad patterns that are knowable in advance and specific details that aren’t, is very common in history. It’s possible, for example, that an impartial observer who assessed the state of the Roman Empire in 400 or so could have predicted the collapse of Roman power outside the Eastern Mediterranean littoral. As far as I know, no one did so—the ideological basis of Roman society made the empire’s implosion just as unthinkable then as the end of progress is today—but the possibility was arguably there. Even if an observer had been able to anticipate the overall shape of the Roman and post-Roman future, though, that anticipation wouldn’t have reached as far as the specifics of the collapse, and let’s not even talk about whether our observer might have guessed that the last Emperor of Rome in the west would turn out to be the son of Attila the Hun’s secretary, as in fact he was.

Such reflections are on my mind rather more than usual just now, for reasons that will probably come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog. For a variety of reasons, a few of which I’ll summarize in the paragraphs ahead, I think it’s very possible that the United States and the industrial world in general are near the brink of a convusive era of crisis at least as severe as the one that began in the summer of 1914. It seems very likely to me that in the years immediately ahead, a great many of the comfortable certainties of the last half century or so are going to be thrown overboard once and for all, as waves of drastic political, economic, military, social, and ecological change slam into societies that, despite decades of cogent warnings, have done precisely nothing to prepare for them.

I want to review here some of the reasons why I expect an era of crisis to arrive sooner rather than later. One of the most important of those reasons is the twilight of the late (and soon to be loudly lamented) fracking bubble. I’ve noted in previous posts here that the main product of the current fracking industry is neither oil nor gas, but the same sort of dubiously priced financial paper we all got to know and love in the aftermath of last decade’s real estate bubble. These days, the rickety fabric of American finance depends for its survival on a steady flow of hallucinatory wealth, since the production of mere goods and services no longer produces enough profit to support the Brobdingnagian superstructure of the financial industry and its swarm of attendant businesses. These days, too, an increasingly brittle global political order depends for its survival on the pretense that the United States is still the superpower it was decades ago, and all those strident and silly claims that the US is about to morph into a "Saudi America" flush with oil wealth are simply useful evasions that allow the day of reckoning, with its inevitable reshuffling of political and economic status, to be put off a little longer.

Unfortunately for all those involved, the geological realities on which the fracking bubble depends are not showing any particular willingness to cooperate. The downgrading of the Monterey Shale not long ago was just the latest piece of writing on the wall: one more sign that we’re scraping the bottom of the oil barrel under the delusion that this proves the barrel is still full. The fact that most of the companies in the fracking industry are paying their bills by running up debt, since their expenses are considerably greater than their earnings, is another sign of trouble that ought to be very familiar to those of us who witnessed the housing bubble’s go through its cycle of boom and bust.

Bubbles are like empires; if you watch one rise, you can be sure that it’s going to fall. What you don’t know, and can’t know, is when and how. That’s a trap that catches plenty of otherwise savvy investors. They see a bubble get under way, recognize it as a bubble, put money into it under the fond illusion that they can anticipate the bust and pull their money out right before the bottom drops out...and then, like everyone else, they get caught flatfooted by the end of the bubble and lose their shirts. That’s one of the great and usually unlearned lessons of finance: when a bubble gets going, it’s the pseudo-smart money that piles into it—the really smart money heads for the hills.

So it’s anyone’s guess when exactly the fracking bubble is going to pop, and even more uncertain how much damage it’s going to do to what remains of the US economy. A good midrange guess might be that it’ll have roughly the same impact that the popping of the housing bubble had in 2008 and 2009, but it could be well to either side of that estimate. Crucially, though, the damage that it does will be landing on an economy that has never really recovered from the 2008-2009 housing crash, in which actual joblessness (as distinct from heavily manipulated unemployment figures) is at historic levels and a very large number of people are scrambling for survival. At this point, another sharp downturn would make things much worse for a great many millions whose prospects aren’t that good to begin with, and that has implications that cross the border from economics into politics.

Meanwhile, the political scene in the United States is primed for an explosion. One of my regular readers—tip of the archdruid’s hat to Andy Brown—is a research anthropologist who recently spent ten weeks traveling around the United States asking people about their opinions and feelings concerning government. What he found was that, straight across geographical, political, and economic dividing lines, everyone he interviewed described the US government as the corrupt sock puppet of wealthy interests. He noted that he couldn’t recall ever encountering so broad a consensus on any political subject, much less one as explosive as this. 

Recent surveys bear him out. Only 7% of Americans feel any significant confidence in Congress.  Corresponding figures for the presidency and the Supreme Court are 29% and 30% respectively; fewer than a third of Americans, that is, place much trust in the political institutions whose birth we’ll be celebrating in a few days. This marks a tectonic shift of immense importance.  Not that many decades ago, substantial majorities of Americans believed in the essential goodness of the institutions that governed their country. Even those who condemned the individuals running those institutions—and of course that’s always been one of our national sports—routinely phrased those condemnations in terms reflecting a basic faith in the institutions themselves, and in the American experiment as a whole.

Those days are evidently over. The collapse of legitimacy currently under way in the United States is a familiar sight to students of history, who can point to dozens of comparable examples; each of these was followed, after no very long delay, by the collapse of the system of government whose legitimacy in the eyes of its people had gone missing in action. Those of my readers who are curious about such things might find it educational to read a good history of the French or the Russian revolutions, the collapse of the Weimar Republic or the Soviet Union, or any of the other implosions of political authority that have littered the last few centuries with rubble: when a system loses legitimacy in the eyes of the people it claims to lead, the end of that system is on its way.

The mechanics behind the collapse are worth a glance as well. Whether or not political power derives from the consent of the governed, as American political theory insists, it’s unarguably true that political power depends from moment to moment on the consent of the people who do the day-to-day work of governing:  the soldiers, police officers, bureaucrats and clerks whose job is is to see to it that orders from the leadership get carried out. Their obedience is the linchpin on which the survival of a regime rests, and it’s usually also the fault line along which regimes shatter, because these low-ranking and poorly paid functionaries aren’t members of the elite. They’re ordinary working joes and janes, subject to the same cultural pressures as their neighbors, and they generally stop believing in the system they serve about the same time as their neighbors do. That doesn’t stop them from serving it, but it does very reliably make them unwilling to lay down their lives in its defense, and if a viable alternative emerges, they’re rarely slow to jump ship.

Here in America, as a result of the processes just surveyed, we’ve got a society facing a well-known pattern of terminal crisis, with a gridlocked political system that’s lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the people it governs, coupled with a baroque and dysfunctional economic system lurching toward another cyclical collapse under the weight of its own hopelessly inefficient management of wealth. This is not a recipe for a comfortable future. The situation has become dire enough that some of the wealthiest beneficiaries of the system—usually the last people to notice what’s happening, until the mob armed with torches and pitchforks shows up at their mansion’s front door—have belatedly noticed that robbing the rest of society blind is not a habit with a long shelf life, and have begun to suggest that if the rich don’t fancy the thought of dangling from lampposts, they might want to consider a change in approach. 

In its own way, this recognition is a promising sign. Similar realizations some seventy years ago put Franklin Roosevelt in the White House and spared the United States the hard choice between civil war and authoritarian rule that so many other countries were facing just then.  Unless a great many more members of our kleptocratic upper class experience the same sort of wake-up call in a hurry, though, the result this time is likely to be far too little and much too late.

Here again, though, a recognition that some kind of crash is coming doesn’t amount to foreknowledge of when it’s going to hit, how it’s going to play out, or what the results will be. If the implosion of the fracking bubble leads to one more round of bailouts for the rich and cutbacks for the poor, we could see the inner cities explode as they did in the long hot summers of the 1960s, setting off the insurgency that was so narrowly avoided in those years, and plunging the nation into a long nightmare of roadside bombs, guerrilla raids, government reprisals, and random drone strikes. If a talented demagogue shows up in the right place and time, we might instead see the rise of a neofascist movement that would feed on the abandoned center of American politics and replace the rusted scraps of America’s democratic institutions with a shiny new dictatorship.

If the federal government’s gridlock stiffens any further toward rigor mortis, for that matter, we could see the states force a constitutional convention that could completely rewrite the terms of our national life, or simply dissolve the Union and allow new regional nations to take shape.  Alternatively, if a great many factors break the right way, and enough people in and out of the corridors of power take the realities of our predicament seriously and unexpectedly grow some gonads—either kind, take your pick—we might just be able to stumble through the crisis years into an era of national retrenchment and reassessment, in which many of the bad habits picked up during America’s century of empire get chucked in history’s compost bin, and some of the ideals that helped inspire this country get a little more attention for a while. That may not be a likely outcome, but I think it’s still barely possible.

All we can do is wait and see what happens, or try to take action in the clear awareness that we can’t know what effects our actions will have. Thinking about that predicament, I find myself remembering lines from the bleak and brilliant poetic testament of the generation that came of age in the aftermath of those gunshots in Sarajevo, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising up to meet you:
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

It’s a crisp metaphor for the challenges of our time, as it was of those in the time about which Eliot wrote. For that matter, the quest to see something other than our own shadows projected forward on the future or backward onto the past has a broader significance for the project of this blog. With next week’s post, I plan on taking that quest a step further. The handful of dust I intend to offer my readers for their contemplation is the broader trajectory of which the impending crisis of the United States is one detail: the descent of industrial civilization over the next few centuries into a deindustrial dark age.


Unknown said...

Jay here. The biggest wildcard here, IMHO, is the media. Because of the media, most Americans don't know our neighbors; we spend our evenings watching our own little screens when our grandparents would have been visiting. I don't know what effect to predict for that; will we all stay apolitical because all politics is local and we can't really act locally anymore? Will corporate dominance of the airwaves keep us quiescent while it falls apart around us? Will enough of us latch onto some media-savvy figurehead who gets into the system and dismantles it from the inside? The one guess I can make is that none of the candidates will burn well enough to replace our diminishing fossil fuel reserves.

Andy Brown said...

2440Well, thank you much for the tip of the hat, Archdruid. And thank you even more for another thought-provoking essay.

I'd like to think that Americans will wake up and reclaim - or repurpose - government's potentially very useful toolkit for dealing with problems. But that hope was dimmed again this week by the Supreme Court's latest ruling that the religious qualms of corporations (!) trump our right as a democracy to make public health laws. It follows their other famous ruling that showering money onto elected officials is not corruption, but actually free speech, protected by the Constitution and so beyond our right to interfere with. They are barely trying to disguise the campaign to remove the levers of power from the general population and bring the pretense of populist government to a close.

I'm not sure whether regular Americans, if they could shape policies, would still have the genius to deal constructively with the problems coming down the pipeline, but I'm certain that a country dominated by a defensive and un-legitimized oligarchy - deeply entrenched in a failing status quo - is a recipe for failure.

Andy Brown said...

The image of people bracing for an impact that they know is coming is a good one. And the fact that there is so much that we can't anticipate is another in the long list of reasons why diversity and dissensus is so important. The biosphere has a pretty good track record of persistence, and it doesn't so much anticipate the future as maintain a great diversity of forms, so when the status quo breaks down - as it always, always does - some form will hopefully happen to have a heretofore useless ability to adapt.

Yupped said...

Its always amazing to me how many Europeans marched off to war in 1914, and how many of them fought and died. Patriotism and national loyalty are powerful things.

As a Brit who has lived in the US for 20 years, I always enjoy walking the neighborhood on the afternoon of 4th of July, seeing the quiet rituals of cookouts and family parties and houses covered in bunting. To my English eyes the patriotism seems touching in a way. By the time I was a kid, hanging a Union Jack from your porch was not a polite or acceptable thing to do. But it took several decades for the power of patriotism to run dry in Britain. Perhaps from around 1918 to the later 1960s (the 1990s Cool Britannia nonsense doesn't count). I'm guessing American patriotism will have a good bit of staying power too, despite people's low feelings towards specific leaders and institutions. It could outlive the next couple of bubbles, and yearning for the return of national greatness could drive all kinds of madness over the next few decades.

MawKernewek said...

It's somewhat worrying that only 7% have confidence in Congress, but 29% in the presidency.

Some demagogue who promises to sweep away the deadlocked legislature and offer strong leadership could gain power, perhaps?

I would say in Britain there is not much greater trust in politicians, but probably more trust in the institution of Parliament than Americans have in Congress. The problem seems to be rather that there is a conflict of interest since the parlimentarians who originally had a mandate from the electorate, once they are in for a chance of a ministerial post etc. then start to owe their allegiences to the party leadership, and the horse-trading of coalition politics, usually the coalitions within the parties, but currently with a coalition of parties.

I would not expect there would be much confidence in the House of Lords (the upper chamber, appointed not elected), I don't think many people are quite sure what the House of Lords is for.

As an aside: does the apparent increased American interest in the football (soccer) World Cup mean American exceptionalism is on the wane?

Trmist said...

Thanks for writing about WW1. It doesn't get enough considerations these days.

I agree with your point that America was the big winner of the Great War. This is rarely mentioned in mainstream media. If Europe had not smashed itself into tiny fragments twice in 40 years I doubt we would have had to put up with so much "American Exceptionalisim".

St. Roy said...

Thoughtful post. Either the Ukraine or Iraq will set this conflagration off.

Frank Shannon said...

Hi I've been reading you for about a year. After reading a few of your posts I went back and read through your archives. I fear you are probably generally right but, I still have hope that just maybe this time things really are different. Thank you for your contribution to the conversation.

Enrique said...

“…These low-ranking and poorly paid functionaries aren’t members of the elite.”

Actually, there has been quite a bit of grumbling lately about the rather generous compensation packages and retirement benefits that government workers in the good ole US of A tend to receive these days.

Previously, there was a tacit understanding that while government jobs generally paid less than comparable jobs in the private sector, government workers had job security and better than average retirement benefits to compensate. These days though, government workers often make more than their private sector counterparts, are nearly impossible to fire if they don’t do their jobs and have generous retirement benefits and pensions at a time when more and more Americans have seen their pensions go up in smoke and many work in jobs which give them little opportunity to amass a nest egg for retirement. Many on the right complain that a lot of this is due to the unionization of government agencies and the fact that in many cases, the unions that donated huge sums of money to political campaigns are the same ones sitting across the table “negotiating” with the politicians whose campaigns they bankrolled. Conflict of interest, anyone? In many states and cities, public employees unions like the AFSCME and NEA are the single largest source of campaign funds, and like all big time donors, they expect a return on their investment. This helps further fuel the perception that the government is indeed the corrupt sock puppet of wealthy special interest groups.

Moreover, in many cases, these compensation and pension costs are eating local and state governments alive. They played a major role in municipal bankruptcies like Detroit, Michigan and Stockton, California while attempts by state governments to rein in labor costs have provoked major political food fights in places like Wisconsin and Illinois. Efforts by state and local governments to cover their pension liabilities via the stock and bond markets have been a major factor in fueling the financial bubbles over the last couples of decades. One of the reasons why the bond rating system became so corrupt is that by law, government pension systems can only invest in AAA rated bonds. With so much government pension fund money sloshing around and looking for large returns on investment (many government pension funds need annual returns in the 8 to 10 percent range just to meet their obligations and stay above water), this created a lot of pressure for ratings agencies and investment banking firms to relax their standards and look the other way, which was one of the reasons why we saw so many junk grade bonds falsely rated as Triple A.

And even the modest attempts by the Obama administration to curb the explosive growth of military pay and benefits over the last decade or so has run into a brick wall due to lobbying by veterans groups, even though compensation costs for the military have gone through the roof since 9/11 (on average, military pay and benefits per service member has nearly doubled since 2001) and military leaders complain this is cutting into other vital needs.

On the flip side, this trend and your observation about the need of the political elites to maintain the allegiance of their functionaries reminded me of something I read a while back. A retired CIA agent once said that he predicted the fall of the Shah of Iran years before it happened and long before the US political and intelligence establishment realized how vulnerable he really was. How was this lone CIA agent able to predict the Shah’s overthrow so much earlier then his peers? The answer was that he had noticed in the mid 1970's that salaries for military and police officers had doubled in only a few years. He concluded that the Shah knew he was in trouble and was attempting to buy the loyalty of those who kept him in power. One wonders if we are seeing a similar dynamic working out in the US. If that is in fact the case, hold onto your hats ladies and gentlemen…

Pinku-Sensei said...

I responded to the centenary of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand with a bid of morbid whimsy by leaving the following as my Facebook status last Saturday: "One hundred years ago today, the real-life game of Pax Britannica ended when the random event 'Serbia defies Austria-Hungary' was rolled, pushing the European Tensions Index above 100 and starting the Great War." On a more serious note, I read a history of World War I back in 2000 to get an idea of what really happened. What struck me as I paged my way through the book was that it was error after miscalculation after mistake, all the way up to the end, when the war ended, not because of military defeat so much as exhaustion and collapse, first on the part of Russia and then Germany. To this day, my impression of the war was "what a tragic screw-up by everyone involved." The story would be funny if it weren't so bloody and wasteful.

As for the denouement of the Great War, "Who would have guessed that the victor in the great struggle between Britain and Germany would turn out to be the United States?"--that might have been foreseen if people had been paying attention to the GDPs of the major powers. By 1914, the U.S. and Germany were the top two, with the U.K. in third. Also, there had been historical precedents for another power sneaking in when the top two got into a contest for world domination. Spain and Portugal were the top two countries in the first world system from 1500 to 1600. Nominally, Spain won by absorbing Portugal from 1580 to 1640, but the actual winner was the Netherlands, who ended up the dominant world power until the late 1600s, when they got into a fight with Hapsburg Spain. Again, both lost and England took over the top position among world powers, ironically when the English monarch was Dutch. So, the U.S. taking over as the hegemon should have come as no surprise. Unfortunately, the U.S. didn't accept world leadership until World War II broke out. That was one last tragic mistake on our part in the aftermath of all the rest.

Finally, the prediction that we are in the midst of a "convulsive period of crisis" is not a new one. I am a fan of Strauss and Howe's "Generations" and "The Fourth Turning." Those two authors predicted a "Crisis of 2020" that could start as early as the middle of the first decade of the 21st Century back in 1991. Everything will be swept up in the whirlwind of the 20-year-long crisis period and completely reshuffled, just as it had during the Great Depression and World War II and in the U.S., as it had during the Civil War and Reconstruction. However, they didn't include peak resources in their analysis, just the responses of people to events. From the perspective of their readers, the only way to tell the difference between their view of things and yours regarding this crisis is what things look like afterwards. If things consolidate and improve after 2020, at least for the next 40 years, then Strauss and Howe will be vindicated. If the crisis ends and things decline, then you'll be right. Of course, both of you could be right in your own ways. I wonder what that future would look like?

Pinku-Sensei said...

Actually, I don't have to wonder. You spelled it out.

"Alternatively, if a great many factors break the right way, and enough people in and out of the corridors of power take the realities of our predicament seriously and unexpectedly grow some gonads—either kind, take your pick—we might just be able to stumble through the crisis years into an era of national retrenchment and reassessment, in which many of the bad habits picked up during America’s century of empire get chucked in history’s compost bin, and some of the ideals that helped inspire this country get a little more attention for a while. That may not be a likely outcome, but I think it’s still barely possible."

I'm one of a group of people out of power who are trying to "take the realities of our predicament seriously and unexpectedly grow some gonads." I'm a director of the Coffee Party, a transpartisan and inclusive response to the Tea Party Movement. Our main issue is counteracting the corrosive effect of (big) money in politics, which we see as the force that is compelling the two major parties to cater to the wealthy elite and not the masses, where the neglected center you mentioned before resides. However, the ill effects of money in politics, such as income inequality, are also our concern. I posted the link to the Politico article by Hanauer in which he told the weathiest Americans that he looked into the future and saw pitchforks to the Coffee Party's Facebook page. That hit a nerve, with more people viewing, liking, and sharing the link than any other posted to the page that week. Clearly, there is an audience for that kind of thinking.

Here's to hoping I get the rest of the Coffee Party leadership on board with facing the realities of our current situation and getting the organization in a position to influence others to get the results you and I both desire.

Jim said...

I was talking with some friends today about the general loss of confidence in the US federal govt. I trace the beginning of the end at the hand of Lyndon Johnson and his management of what became the war in Vietnam. The tidal wave of dishonesty, deception and arrogance resulting in such enormous human tragedy was the Sarajevo of the loss of confidence.

We might have recovered from that except that Johnson was followed by Nixon, as reprehensible character as ever led an organization of any size.

Tottering along during the 70s, 80s and 90s, blinded during part of that time by the happy, happy image presented by Reagan, the remaining dregs of our prosperity floating on credit card debt ran out during the Bush II years.

We saw signs of how crazy Republicans could be during the Clinton decade. Their final frenzy of idiology gone mad, coupled with the rascism against a non-white president not very well supported by a supine Democratic party certainly has driven us all away from any faith in our federal institutions.

Did I leave out the Supreme Court? Oh I give up.

Once again the Arch Druid has hit the nail on the head. This government will either become something else or cease to exist.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown Jay, I'm far from certain the media is as influential as all that; there's a complicated situaton of mutual entanglement in the way they have to cater to their audiences, especially now when those audiences have fragmented into separate cultural worlds with their own preferred information sources. I should probably write a post on this, and on the brittleness of the apolitical stance of so many Americans.

Andy, by cutting off the mechanisms of popular governance, the current system is denying itself access to the feedback loops that might save it. It's an old song, though the Supreme Court is certainly doing its best to sing it on key.

Yupped, my guess is that in the convulsions to come, all sides will do their best to seize the symbols of patriotism for their own advantage. More on this as we proceed!

Maw Kernewek, the sudden interest of American sports fans in what we call soccer is certainly an unexpected shift! If it does mean an end to the delusion of American exceptionalism, though, good riddance.

Trmist, exactly -- it's not hard to establish a global empire if you're the only industrial nation on the planet that hasn't had its factories bombed to rubble.

St. Roy, I disagree. I think it'll be something domestic.

Enrique, hold onto your hat. That's one more way the US government is obviously preparing to cope with a domestic insurgency. I don't think they'll have to wait too long for one, either.

Pinku-Sensei, I'd heard about the Coffee Party, though never followed up on it -- not least because I hate coffee. (The feeling is mutual; it gives me migraines.) I wish you luck, but I wonder if you've basically reinvented the Constitutional Union party!

Jim, nicely summarized. Twenty or thirty years from now, historians will be able to point to the last four or five decades and talk about how obvious it should have been that the same idiotic choices made over and over again would sooner or later bring the US government crashing down in flames.

Mister Roboto said...

Enrique: I can't speak for other states, but labor costs of public employees were not the driving force of Wisconsin's public debt.

Pinku-Sensei said...

Me: @JMG "I'd heard about the Coffee Party, though never followed up on it"

Well, now you know that one of the members of its Board of Directors is one of your readers. As such, I'm supposed to host a web radio show. If I get around to it, I wouldn't mind having you on as a guest talking about how to revive American democracy. Who do I contact to book you?

"I wish you luck,"

Thank you, we'll need it.

"but I wonder if you've basically reinvented the Constitutional Union party!"

Probably not, as we're not a real political party, but a transpartisan movement to promote finding common ground and political participation, regardless of party affiliation. We have members who are Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, and independents. Besides, trying to maintain the Union while refusing to take a stand on the major issue of the day, such as the Constitutional Union did by ignoring slavery, isn't our style.

Kutamun said...

Ironic isnt it ? ... The forces that are to shape our future playing themselves out against the same dramatic backdrop against which T.E Lawrence promised Prince Faisal an Arab state during WW1 ...What secret did Lawrence take to his grave , why was he killed ? The forces posing as Isis really Kali driving an imported Japanese ute , firing an American gun , ..Meanwhile , Halford Mackinder certainly understood the geopolitical significance of Central Asia with his "Heartland Hypotheses" , just as he understood the situation with the German railway to Mesopotamia was about the new fuel ( oil) prior to the Balkan Black Gates being slammed shut by our Empire ..

The tenor of your post this week suggests something is in the offing , some whiff of the wind . The boys at zerohedge seem to have recognised that all meaningful trading has ceased , with only gubbermint printing presses and algo- machines set to " stun " still in the game ; humans all slumped back in their chairs , exhausted and full of anxious trepidation , like the hush before the start of a major horse race that you suspect may be rigged but have gone ahead and bet your house anyway . As the " head of information " states in the dream state movie "Cosmopolis" ( you tube clip "cosmopolis- the art of making money ), like art before it , money has lost its narrative ;time used to make money , now money makes time , soon there must be a reset to prevent the future from sucking the present into it ; that is what the anarchists are protesting about ; this is a protest in defence of the present ) .

I notice there is a rather unusually busy astrological configuration coming up in november , involving Satan transiting over the Sun Square Jovial , which along with my morning routine of blindfold darts and pin the tail on the donkey has enabled me to come up with November as a likely time for "discontinuity " ; ha ha perhaps i should be running the Fed you say ...? Couldnt hurt ! ..

Bill Pulliam said...

Enrique -- I'd be interested to see facts and figures about that stuff, not just anecdotes. Scapegoating government employees is a very old tradition. And there is an ongoing, long-term mass replacement of government workers with private contractors, who have no loyalty and usually wind up costing more to produce less (at least that is what the private consulting firm hired in Tennessee found when asked to look for inefficiencies in the state government). Oh, and that same analysis also found that state salaries were generally below the private sector for comparable positions in many departments. The new fresh-from-the-private-sector governor was hoping to be told that there were lots of reductions that could be made; instead he was told that the state workforce was understaffed and underpaid.

JMG, MawKernewek -- I'm not sure that the increase in US interest in the World Cup reflects much more than the fact that the US team has become more competitive. We love winners.

Compound F said...

I recently read that people were fairly indifferent to Ferdinand, but that the Berlin to Baghdad Express (funded in part by Britain) suddenly seemed like a bad idea as Britain was shifting its navy from coal to oil. A resource conflict is certainly a more appealing explanation for war.

Here's my word-of-mouth contribution on behalf of your latest book. My apologies if it's not what you're looking for.

Mark Rice said...

The segment of the media most controlled by the plutocrats is doing the most to de-legitimatise the government. There are always talking points about how everything done by governments is always bad, extremely inefficient, misguided etc..

I think most of the plutocrats think they will benefit from a more lawless environment.

Robert Mathiesen said...


I'd be happy enough to see the end of American exceptionalism. However, the new "American interest in the football (soccer) World Cup" looks to me suspiciously like manipulation by some of the mass media. Our local sports bar, here in Providence, RI, couldn't care less. I suspect that some of the oligarchs have simply decided to attempt a national reorientation toward Latin America in hopes of tweaking their own wealth pumps that drain that part of the planet. Time will tell ...

John Michael Greer said...

Pinku-sensei, I was thinking more in the sense of trying to find a middle ground in an increasinly polarized political environment. The best way to get in contact for an interview is to put through a comment marked "not for posting" with your email address -- I'll follow up promptly.

Kutamun, if you make economic decisions by throwing darts at a dartboard, I nominate you for Fed Chairman on the spot; you have at least random odds of making the right choice, which is better than any recent Fed chairman has been able to manage!

Bill, of course that could be it. I was delighted to hear that Ann Coulter apparently denounced US fans of the World Cup, though -- an endorsement like that can't hurt!

Compound F, it was more complex than that. The Austro-Hungarian empire used the assassination as an excuse to invade Serbia, which it had wanted to do for a while; Serbia was a Russian ally, and that dragged Russia in; Germany was Austria's ally; France was Russia's ally; the German armies heading toward France took the easy way, through Belgium, and Britain was Belgium's ally. Since all those alliances were there to keep anybody from getting an overwhelming position of strength in Europe, nobody dared let the other side get away with stomping its allies -- well, except for Italy, which was allied with Austria and Germany but decided it would rather steal some territory from Austria, so switched sides.

So very quickly you had every major power in Europe panicking and going to war to keep someone else from getting the upper hand. Did the Berlin to Baghdad Express have a role in it? Yes, among many other things. The whole continent was a powderkeg by 1914, and it just happened to be Gavrilo Prinzep who tossed a lit cigarette the wrong way.

Mark, yes, they're making exactly the same mistake the French aristocracy made before the French Revolution. It's never occurred to most of America's wealthy that without government shilling for them, they're toast. I highly recommend John Kenneth Galbraith's book The Culture of Contentment, which makes this point in detail.

Crews said...

John Michael Greer,

Unfortunately I didn’t have the spare resources to attend the Age of Limits concert this year. Perhaps next year I can make it. Instead, I ended up on a cross country move to Harrisonburg, Virginia. It seems to the type of valley town posed to fare better than others (Drought stricken west and Midwest) in our current trajectory. While I have yet to use my somewhat useless college degree in environmental science and chemistry, I found a job doing construction work for a company claiming to do sustainable and “green” business. This just means is they sometimes do solar hot water, solar panels and weatherization with a few fancy accolades. Permaculture and organic foods are much more prevalent here in Oklahoma, which is nice. My main concern is that the economy here is hugely dependent upon the colleges here, once that revenue runs dry I think the town will go down with it. There is an interesting dichotomy going on where the downtown in reviving and people wanting to live in a walkable area, where at the same time most the new businesses are located in the big box store area where everything looks significantly newer but not more durable. There is a dual local and corporate economy going on.
My wife and I are getting very accustomed to enjoying the simple pleasures and we accept we are going to do with much less in the future and enjoy it. What would have been an affordable honeymoon trip to Greece in the 1960-70’s, for us is a regional trip to Elkmont in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park to see the synchronized fireflies in June. Having passed through all the stage of grief it is much easier to see the middle ground path between the skewed ends of progress porn and zombie apocalypses. My plan is to further try to edge my way into agriculture and forestry and tap my livelihood into those daily energy flows of sunlight, which seems to be the only income that will be stable in the long haul. I’ve also been thinking of how to tap into the salvage economy, but I am not sure the economics of it make sense, yet. My own actions and thinking are partly the result of reading everything in your books and going, “well yep, that makes perfect sense, he’s right, what of it now?”
In this area in Appalachia I think we are a few economic crisis away from being stripped of the superfluous economy, via financial/debt issues. Next will be a corporate feudalism where the few large businesses with local roots in agriculture food, mining, energy ect, will control the fate of most of the people. There will be plenty of jobs and plenty of people to work them, but these will not be jobs I think anyone wants. These will be menial backbreaking jobs replacing rusting hulks of machinery with more and more human labor. Once the labor exploitation by these big businesses reaches a breaking point, that’s when a group of men with a charismatic leader break out the guns and decide to make changes. Next thing you know it is regular ole feudalism in practice, but with a different explicit name probably Sheriff BigMan and his thugs. I think the biggest factor will be the pacing and how fast people can adapt, I fear for the many older, disabled and very unhealthy folks, I am not sure what will happen to them.

Best Wishes,

Freebooter said...

Welcome back JMG,

I know you returned last week, but as usual I was so taken up with your thoughts for that week, it's now next week before I think I have woven the themes into the increasingly complex and faceted elements of this ongoing crisis.

I believe that this ongoing collapse in the legitimacy of institutions is one of the most serious components developing, i agree with the former poster that here in the UK we have a strong belief in Parliament - Politicians, not so much right now. But there does seem to be a much more serious disconnect in the USA, fuelled by highly partisan media.

I chuckle when after a week of trying to find a thread that will not unravel, that at least might hold out some promise to offer my children as a good course to take without causing too much offence to their desire to have tomorrow like today but with faster broadband, I read the new post and...

More power to your considerable elbow.

Odin's Raven said...

Why do people have four times as much faith (although still fairly low percentages)in the Presidency and Supreme Court rather than in Congress? Might it be that they know less about their activities or inactivities and still feel a naive residual goodwill?

Do they evince more confidence in the local politicians and officials with whom they are more likely to come in contact?

Karim said...

Greetings all!

What is amazing is that when empires begin to stall and decline elites, all over the world, at different times, places and culture, seem bent in doing every thing they can do to hasten their very own demise. How odd!

It is as if elites are possessed by forces they do not comprehend and can't fight off. Is it called plain greed?

Phil Harris said...

You are not alone ;)
This article in Tuesdy's Guardian detailed fund raising by our David Cameron PM's Tory Party at a 'super dinner' event in London last year. (There is another fund-raiser due soon this year.)
"Six billionaires and 15 people with a personal wealth above £100m were present at the closed event at Old Billingsgate Market, including 73 financiers, 47 retail and property tycoons, 10 in oil, gas and mining and 19 working in public affairs and PR, documents seen by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Guardian reveal."

In the old days Billinsgate Market was a fish market with an easily recognised smell.

Yupped - 20 years in USA - mentioned lack of patriotic bunting back in Britain. The return of the Union Jack wrapped round the tourist industry has been noticeable in England this year. One brave soul across the Scottish Border near here was even flying a large flag of the Union from his rural villa. Briefly for the World Cup the red cross of St George appeared on motor cars, pubs and many homes. UKIP the anti-political party trying to wrest the flag from the Tories, celebrated their enlarged entry into the EU Parliament by turning their collective backs (and talking on their mobile / cell phones) during this year's opening ceremony.

Hey ho...


donalfagan said...

I also blogged about Hanauer's Politico piece. I think he is well-intentioned, but far too late.

I was listening to a description of the almost humorous series of events that brought Ferd and Sophie's car to a stop right in front of Gavrilo and his pistol. They also had one of his descendants claiming he was against war.

acousticdryad said...

ADF Priest from MD/PA here:

Thank you for the well thought-out post. I've been preparing physically and mentally for some sort of future fall-out, not having any real clue as to what that might be.

It's increasingly frustrating in regards to the government debacle in that even with their low approval ratings from the populous, it's as if the wool has been pulled over most of societies eyes that no one cares to group together to do anything to change it. I don't even know if we can anymore. The government and it's subsidiaries (and corporate marriages) are so huge and complicated anymore, and so many people are blind and infighting due to believing what conservative media wants us to believe, there's no unification of the people anymore.

Do you think there will ever be a time where the people will come together (at least in America) to right the wrongs and put us back where we need to be? I have serious doubts. As long as we're educated with reality tv and coddling our children, the next generation will be nothing but techy sheep.

This is the first time I've read your blog, it is very insightful and I am looking forward to your next piece :)

MawKernewek said...

Jay here. The biggest wildcard here, IMHO, is the media.

I'm sure I remember, that the Internet was going to lead to the trashing of the big media conglomerates into the Recycle Bin of history.

Ben said...

JMG - Maybe some particularly observant Romans did see the finite supply of barbarians as a limiting factor to the long term prosperity of the empire. Perhaps some particularly observant Romans sent letters to each other discussing how harshly history would judge Caesar for senselessly squandering so many Gauls for short gains. Perhaps that same group of observant Romans saw the conquest of Britain or Romania not as evidence of the empire's limitless future but as a first century equivalent of fracking.
"Really scraping the bottom of the barbarian barrel by going after those Britons aren't we," one might have said to the other.
It really is too bad records of such discussions didn't survive.

Don Plummer said...

The anniversary of Archduke Ferdinand's assassination last week had me thinking of two things: first, Scots/Australian singer-songwriter Eric Bogle's powerful WWI lament usually named "No Man's Land" but also sometimes referred to as "The Green Fields of France" or "Willie McBride" (you can find it on YouTube if you aren't familiar with it--definitely worth a listen); second, JRR Tolkien's comment that by the time of the armistice in November 1918 all but one of his friends were dead.

Tragic times then; potentially tragic times now. Thanks for your clear articulation of our predicament, John.

Phil Espin said...

Last Sunday I took a road trip to the Somme battlefield sites to locate the memorials of two of my great uncles, who lost their lives there, the elder brother, going over the top on the first day of he allied Somme offensive on 1 July 1916 and his younger brother on 22 March 1918 on the first day of the last big German offensive. They were both patriots. The elder signed up with his mates in the "Grimsby Chums" aged 18 within a month of war breaking out. Sixty per cent of his unit were killed. The younger one biked 40 miles to sign up when he was 15, as the local unit unit would not take him till he was 16.

They grew up in a period when there were no wars (both too young to remember the Boer War)and British Empire exceptionalism was at its height.

Hopefully the failing Iraq and Afghan adventures have immunised much of our youth against overseas military involvement today. It would take a real threat to our national survival to do that. It was good to see many school children on school organised trips visiting the memorials to those dead whose bodies were never found (over 60,000 at Thiepval).

Although it should never happen again its impossible to rule it out. Britain is increasingly less martial, our army is at an all time low. Weapons are not available here and I suspect the government would hate to have to arm the population up. Even in the last war Churchill was apparently most concerned not to arm the people in the face of the threat of German invasion in case the guns were turned on the ruling classes. I suspect when financial and economic collapse comes the 1%ers here will feel the same way.

Larry said...

First I'd like to make a plug for Star's Reach which I recently bought. So far, (I'm on Page 64) an excellent yarn and supremely well crafted! I'm looking forward to the remaining 302 pages.

As far as things collapsing quickly, I've been amazed how long other large sub-par entities I've worked for or been familiar with have endured. As someone said, if you're going to predict the future, don't give a date!

Fortunately power to do things is widely dispersed in the USA -- there are numerous levels of government and special agencies, large numbers of large and small private businesses and a substantial not-for-profit sector. These entities provide most of the goods and services useful to people, and many of these institutions are well run.

True, resource depletion, environmental pollution, and global warming, three horsemen of the apocalypse, have mounted and are riding towards us; it's not clear whether they'll let the dysfunctional federal government mount as their fourth compadre, or whether they'll look for something more fearsome.

Matthew Sweet said...

Firstly, I commend to you the excellent work of Andrew Nikiforuk, an investigative journalist from western Canada who routinely destroys the fracking industry. His latest article is here:
The comments are entertaining reading as well, from a "they'll think of something" perspective.

He also wrote a great book entitled "Energy of Slaves" which details our addiction to fossil fuels.

My actual purpose in writing is more selfish than sharing an interesting author. In fact I just need to type this all out for my own benefit.

I cannot be surprised that society as a whole, governments with wealthy donors and tax receipts etc are able to ignore the growing evidence in front of them that business as usual is not a good long term strategy. What I struggle with is my own capacity to ignore the evidence and get sucked back in when it's convenient. There is a gap between what I know intellectually that I should be doing and what I actually do day to day. The easy choice is remarkably hard to refuse at times, yet the easy choice (drive rather than bike, eat out rather than cook in, buy new instead of repair old, YouTube vs a good book) is usually far worse for me and for the planet. It is each of these daily little decisions, multiplied by a few billion (depending on what part of the planet one lives on of course, first world problems being what they are) that are really moving us even faster further down into "history's compost bin".

I think this was in part why you wrote Green Wizardry (which I own and have read but not implemented as you might have guessed). I know from experience that nothing changes overnight and that change goes in stages. My entry point into environmental issues was studying transportation engineering, which turned into advocating for better public transit for students, and one day later getting my bike out of storage and riding to work for the first time. Out of all of that I started looking into more issues surrounding fossil fuels, GHGs, environmental issues, and eventually found this site. And I have continued on from here as well to find more interesting ideas. Changing the behaviours like cycling to work instead of driving prove more difficult than reading or talking about the ideas. I guess I am frustrated that the change I made in my transportation choices proved so much easier than some of the other changes that should follow, like food, consumption, energy use etc. I think of it as being the difference between being a "fanboy" and being a serious devotee to something of great importance. But it would be wise for me to start since I am a specialized "knowledge economy" worker and that sort of career is not very resilient in the face of difficult times.

exiledbear said...

the current system is denying itself access to the feedback loops that might save it

That's something I've often thought about in the financial world too. There's really nobody left there that's able to say "stop" or "knock it off". If you don't have any negative feedback loops in the system, it's only a matter of time before it blows up or goes insane.

I think it would be a good idea, if people want to rebuild these trading type markets, not to put a bunch of regs on them, but to try to build in natural ways for people to make money by participating in negative feedback loops. I mean, at its essence, it's just a game, and the rules can be changed. Perhaps a game designer should be put in charge of the economy, to make something more fun and balanced to play?

At least in the political world you have entities like "russia" or "china" that do have the ability to say "knock it off" or "stop". It does come with a lot of whiny drama when they do so, but at least there's a negative feedback loop.

As far as where we go from here, Germany -> China, Britain -> Murica. And if history repeats neither will do that well. I guess we need to look for some neutral-ish power that everyone gets along with, if they don't outright like and is a bit opportunistic. Korea seems to be one of those, for instance. Nobody really thinks Korea is evil. Maybe Russia? They seem to get along with everyone (except for Murica).

Unknown said...

The book, The Creature from Jekyll Island, makes a strong case for the real winners of the recent wars, starting at least from the battle of Waterloo was actually the bankers, and that they had a strong hand in creating the situations leading to WW1 and WW2 if not other "police actions" (they aren't wars because wars require a congressional declaration, we've not had one since December 1941, so we've not had a war since then...)

From a Christian point of view, this discussion of when and how is as useless as arguing/predicting the particulars of the second coming of Christ, we know it is coming, just not when.

That leaves the question of how do we live now? How do we get prepared?

Some suggestions:

get out of debt, immediately if not sooner.
Accumulate some basic tools that operate on muscle power.
Make it so your house works with wood heat, better even, sunlight for heat.
Secure a source of water that's off the grid.
Learn something about gardening and wild food---I was amazed the other day to find an un-touched mulberry tree at a skate/bmx park! No one there but me knew to enjoy the ripe berries! And, they were the best I've had in years. Don't know why, the soil was nothing special, that's for sure.
Have a few good books (in addition to THE good book).
Learn to sing, learn to make and enjoy simple musical instruments (pianos, I dearly love them, require a LOT of advanced technology compared to 6 hole flutes or banjos or drums or...)
Learn to draw---charcoal is easy to come by and lasts forever works on a huge variety of surfaces and, paper is not impossible to make.
Learn to build a fire, bait a fish-hook, ...
Make some friends who get this sort of stuff.
Learn to pray, find a church, you are going to need some spiritual resources.

Enough pontificating---have a blessed day.

thrig said...

"always enjoy walking the neighborhood on the afternoon of 4th of July, seeing the quiet rituals" — Yupped

Counterpoint from the Eastlake of Lake Union adjacency: road blockades (to direct traffic and limit everyone from parking everywhere because you know, cars) plus massive traffic jams (even on the Burke-Gilman!). Last year, a jeep at a nearby apartment caught on fire. The screams "get out, get out!" and the alarm bell and the tires popping were all quite memorable. Another year the then NOAA docks went up in flames—love me the smell of some creosote in the morning—a coworker recently frowned over the 4th; it is now mostly about keeping their dogs calm, and another had to scoop their old cat out from its hiding place behind the laundry machine.

Bill Pulliam said...

My gut feeling is that the fracking collapse will not be as big a hit as the housing collapse was. That one was amplified many fold by all the weird derivatives. I know there is some of that going on now, but I haven't gotten the impression that the house of cards has been built up quite so high in this case.

There's also the direct impact upon the citizenry. The housing bubble put people out of their houses, or stranded them in underwater properties that can't be sold. And it ate a huge chunk of retirement savings of people who had been stupid enough to put all their retirement in the stock market. The fracking bust will push energy prices up. Given our ridiculously extravagant energy use in the U.S., we have a whole lot of room to adjust to this even in the short term -- thermostats, carpools, cancelled vacations, buying less crap and buying it closer to home. These are not at the same level as a home foreclosure and eviction. And people are not as heavily exposed to the stock market as they used to be either.

There is the overall lower state of the economy now to contend with. We've been in a contacting economy in the U.S. since the 1990s, and only a lot of creative accounting involved in the way goods and services are valued has hidden this from view. But people have been adjusting their lifestyles to contraction for over a decade. So for better or worse, Americans have been learning how to reduce.

Thomas Daulton said...

I post here with a pseudonym, but in real life I used to work as a government bureaucrat in the Army Corps of Engineers. I feel obligated to say, my experiences make me side with Mssrs Roboto and Pullman rather than Enrique. If Washington is trying to make a loyal cadre of viziers out of today's government bureaucracies, let me assure you they're going about it rather wrongly.

Most of the employees are still smarting from Obama's Executive Order, in spring 2010, where he unilaterally froze all Federal raises. This came out of the blue and was done without any consultation with these mythical "Federal Employee Unions" (don't even get me started about what puffball organizations those are). We took it as pretty much a slap in the face; clearly we were just a bargaining chip as Obama responded to an ersatz budget deadline crisis that the other party just ginned up out of nothing. It was clear to us that Obama bought into all the talk-radio narratives about lazy overpaid Federal workers rather than defending us. The freeze only ended this year, with a 1% raise, and just think about the "real" inflation rate over those four years, as opposed to the 2% that government propagandists claim. I suppose private-sector employees (of which I am one now) won't be terribly sympathetic, of course; most private employees haven't seen a raise more than 1-2% since maybe the '80s.

In the next two ersatz budget deadline crises, government shutdown was threatened, and then achieved -- (as I'm sure will occur again at least once or twice before the uprising JMG predicts) -- and a surprising amount of acrimony, sniping, and internecine competition occurred between agencies, between departments, and individual employees, as everyone with bills and a family struggled desperately to avoid being "furloughed" by getting onto the Critical Services list. Clearly government employees don't have any more saved wealth than average Americans, who spend their lives about 2 paychecks away from total destitution, or else they would have smiled and accepted the extra "vacation" instead.

I quit the Army Corps a couple of years ago. Believe it or not, it was among the most stressful jobs I've ever had. The USACE regulates all water resource projects in the U.S., but it was certainly not sitting on my butt dreaming up new ways to interfere with honest businessmen, as most people imagine. We were constantly being asked to complete huge public/private partnership projects in ridiculously short deadlines with slashed budgets and personnel. And yet there was pretty much infinite budget anytime we wanted to contract something out to a private company instead, so there was constant pressure to outsource. Whenever I dealt with some other government agency, such as the E.P.A., the story was exactly the same. The U.S. government is basically just a shell these days, of a handful of contract managers overseeing private mercenary companies, in all fields such as Engineering, biology, and so forth.

I don't have any personal experience at the State or Municipality level, but I have read a lot about those pensions being completely cut, reneging on agreements made decades ago. There are numerous individual examples of agency heads with golden parachutes, but these stories typically uncover graft and corrupt deals those individual heads appropriated for themselves in violation of policy; that is not the policy for rank-and-file employees. My own particular experience is that the narrative you hear on Fox News or talk radio, about how Federal employees recline on couches and get paid like kings just to screw with citizens and businessmen's livelihoods -- in my experience that's 100% false. When I hear that from somebody who is not making money off that narrative via the media, it is typically promulgated by people who don't actually know any government workers personally.

cheesemoose said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post, Mr. Greer. We're living in perilous times and it's good to get reporting from people who can see with their hearts as well as with their minds. Through all of our honest visions we will piece together an intelligent response.

In my opinion, the precipitating event of WWIII - a war that nobody wants but is bearing down on us like a gathering dust storm - has already happened. George Bush, by fecklessly yanking the Saddam card out of the house of cards the British and French set up in the Middle East, is the Gavrilo Prinzep of the 21st century.

I wonder if Bush even knew about Sykes-Picot. Did he know those borders were drawn by Brits and Frenchman who had no concern for the ethnic make-up of the tribes that lived in the area?

No, I doubt Mr. Bush had anymore notion of the context his actions took place in than Mr. Prinzep did.

Funny how history builds up these intricate architectures of power that turn out to hang by a single, slender thread. It's as if they're designed to await the perfect fool to come along and reduce them to rubble.

Nathaniel Ott said...

JMG a book you might like that I just started reading American Nations by Colin Woodard has some insiteful things about how the us is much more divided than we like to believe and mayhave always been that way. My hope was that we could have transcended all the cultural, ethnic and religious barriors we have and just see ourselfs as one people and nation. But with the long descent that's unlikely to happen.

Eric S. said...

I remember comparing popular poetry of England just before and just after the first World War and being struck by the sense of innocence and naive enthusiasm giving way to horror and hollow disillusionment. At the beginning, the war didn't look like the kind of event that was going to rewrite maps, bring an empire to the brink of collapse, and introduce the world to violence on a scale that wouldn't have even been physically possible a few years before.

It's amazing how the events that rewrite maps, unravel empires and snap the threads of cultural continuity look so similar to the sorts of crises that mark business as usual. I remember how a little over a decade ago everyone thought the collapse of the World Trade Center was going to set of a world war on par with the ones of the previous century. Instead it led to tighter airport regulations and another wave of the same sorts of skirmishes in the Middle East we've been seeing since the 1970s. I imagine that the event that throws us into the next wave of crisis won't even be on the front pages of the newspapers.

And the same is true of the events that bring down whole civilizations. I expect that to the ancient Romans, the first wave of Gothic refugees pouring into the empire in the 370s was fodder for conversations on the street about immigration and border policies and the Huns they were fleeing from were just another group of barbarians to be tamed. On the surface, the beginning of the gothic wars looked no different from any of the other crises of the last few centuries. The empire had survived in tact through border skirmishes, civil wars, a demographic shift in religions, and so many assassinated emperors they barely paid attention anymore.

And yet, just a few decades later, the Roman religion and much of its cultural legacy would be eradicated in a violent purge, and the entire Western empire dismantled and transformed into Feudal Europe. After 3 centuries of decline, Western classical civilization finally came crashing down over less than 20 years. It's only in hindsight that you can tell the events that wear down the threads of civilizations and empire from the ones that break them.

Neo Tuxedo said...

"we could see the states force a constitutional convention that could completely rewrite the terms of our national life, or simply dissolve the Union and allow new regional nations to take shape."

In the moments when I come as close to optimism as is possible from any serious contemplation of current events, I think the latter is the course to take. Let Garreau's Nine Nations, or the similar provinces of Tim Kreider's Kashistan, go their separate ways, possibly forming the sort of federation the EU was originally announced as being.

(I could've sworn I'd said it somewhere before, possibly in this very space, but it looks like I just thought very hard about doing so, only to have the comment fall into the bit bucket.)

Pinku-Sensei, I accidentally-on-purpose became a member of my county's Democratic Committee (by writing myself in with no serious expectations that it'd lead to anything), but I'm definitely in favor of the Coffee Party's core values (some more than others, admittedly).

Myriad said...

"Oh the lights of Saint Petersburg come on as usual
Although the air seems charged with a strangeness of late, yet there's nothing to touch
And the Tsar in his great Winter Palace has called for the foreign news
An archduke was shot down in Bosnia, but nothing much..."

That's early Al Stewart, "Manuscripts," from Zero She Flies, 1970. Oh, how that last line has stuck in my mind over the decades. For most, though, indifference to history seems to nullify such spells.

Al didn't address the Great War head-on again until "Somewhere in England 1915" on A Beach Full of Shells in 2005. That song ends:

"Now the girl and the beach and the train and the ship are all gone
And the calendar up on the wall says it's ninety years on
I go out into the yard where the newspaper waits
There's a man on the cover we all know, defying the fates
And he seems very sure as he offers up his opinion
Well everyone feels like this in the beginning"

Breaking points are so hard to predict. Almost all the time, just another assassination, just another demagogue, just the news, really is nothing much. But as John Barth put it:

"For ages the fault creeps secret through the rock; in a second, ledge and railings, tourists and turbines all thunder over Niagara. Which snowflake triggers the avalanche? A house explodes; a star. In your spouse, so apparently resigned, murder twitches like a fetus. At some trifling new assessment, all the colonies rebel."

("Niagara," from "Two Meditations," from Lost in the Funhouse.)

But you can't live life braced for impact...

Nathan said...


When I consider the current alternatives to an observant, attentive apolitical stance, it seems to me a much too likely outcome is ending up a political prisoner in any possible civil war + political crackdown. Perhaps that makes me a coward. But it seems to me that because effective grassroots politics in this country has been gutted for generations, it is more productive for me to stay fluid and productive outside the political sphere for the time being.

d said...

I finished reading a book on "Life in the Trenches" to my two boys (5&7). The thing that most struck them was how terrible a gas attack must have been, it contained "Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori". They were confounded when I said that there weren't any good guys in the war, all sides were just as bad.

I believe that the fall of our empire will come from some insignificant internal event, like the suicide of some street vendor, that unites the masses. I do think that a Constitutional convention might be called by the states to deal with the dysfunction of the Federal government. Where this will lead is anyone's guess.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

Hi JMG - and Yupped -

Flags indeed are a true sign of a national prospects and mood. Our British Jingo phase co-incided with our peak coal in 1913, and waving the Pal's Battalions to the Western Front.

The last word in US flag waving - on the moon - coincided with the US oil peak, and sending kids to Vietnam.

The strange thing is that US flags are now often 40 feet across, floodlit, overshadowing used car lots, while our flags, now tiny, representing England rather than Britain, made in Chinese toy factories, are placed on top of (some) cars, come every football tournament. Not so much in evidence this time round, though. Here, such flag waving is increasingly seen as a bit naff, and for a hopelessly lost cause.

Could be those Texas used car salesmen are overcompensating?

Myriad said...

... And it seems that's my realization for the week. You can't live life braced for impact. Personal resilience can't be entirely driven by trepidation. It can't be just another thing on the long list of responsible-minded chores you're supposed to do to protect yourself and your loved ones against adversity, like cleaning your chimney and getting regular doctor-recommended colonoscopies.

Not only is it unappealing if presented that way, inviting "maybe it won't happen" refusal, it's fundamentally the wrong way to think of it. That's the prepper delusion of being able to keep all possible adversity at bay. Personal resilience has to be, at its core, a strategy of mindful enjoyment of life-as-it-is. Accepting risks and losses has to be part of it. Not so much bracing for impact, as being prepared to dance through the debris. Or if it comes to that, and you end up in the trenches going over the top at dawn, to dance on your own grave.

Phil Harris said...

Postscript to European Empires.
The old dynastic social order fell - Austro Hingarian & Russia first. British Empire finally went with a rush from the end of the 1940s.

19thC Germany was left as a partially ruined centre of a centuries-old Diaspora extending not just across Central & Eastern Europe, but well into the Russias, and was in many respects denied access to resources for its industries.

But we should not forget the Ottoman Empire. A kind of caliphate I believe. The Middle East as we know it was then invented.

Phil H

Rita said...

One factor in increased interest in soccer is that increasing numbers of Americans have grown up playing it.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

Freebooter - you said 'ongoing collapse in the legitimacy of institutions' - then it came to me. Orlov's Five Stages of Collapse.

Stage three already...

Kollapsnik? Are you out there?



Bill Pulliam said...

Myriad: "But you can't live life braced for impact..."

No, but like the sailor on the wind-tossed deck, or the athlete on the playing field, you can learn to keep your knees bent...

John Michael Greer said...

Crews, good. The salvage economy doesn't make economic sense yet, but it takes time to get the necessary skills in place; I'd encourage you to pursue it as a hobby for now, so you'll be ready to make it an income stream when your part of the world tips over into the deindustrial age.

Freebooter, thank you! I don't have any significant on-the-ground experience of the British political system, but my sense is that, feckless as your current leaders are, they're a good deal less so than ours.

Raven, heck of a good question. My guess is that it's because Congress has by and large earned its place at the bottom of the ratings.

Karim, I suspect it's a function of Hagbard's Law.

Phil, yes, I've heard of Billingsgate. I wonder whether anybody involved in planning that little shindig thought of the symbolism of their choice of venue!

Donal, thanks for the link. You may be right, of course.

Dryad, I don't think it's ever likely to come to "people coming together to right the wrongs," or what have you. History by and large doesn't work like that. My best-case scenario has people in America slamming face first into some ghastly crisis, staggering back, and slowly, clumsily, with the maximum of handwaving and bellowing, ditching some of the bad habits of the recent past and embracing a few good ideas.

Ben, it's always possible.

Don, thank you. It's worth remembering just now bad things can get; for all the apocalyptic chatter we hear these days, I don't think a lot of people have grasped that really bad things can happen to them and the people they care about.

Phil, if history follows the usual pattern, the elites will hire foreign mercenaries to avoid giving weapons to the local citizenry, and those mercenaries -- well, the last set were led by a guy named Hengist, of whom you've probably heard. I'll be discussing this in quite a bit of detail as we proceed.

Larry, thank you! As for the survival of the federal government, granted, dysfunctional institutions can stumble on for a remarkably long time -- but when the crash comes, it's often very swift. It's keeping both those things in mind that's the challenge.

John Michael Greer said...

Matthew, it's a real challenge to do the right thing, no question. I don't know of an easy answer for that, other than finding things that you like to do anyway, and focusing on those first.

Bear, it might be Russia; it might be Brazil; it might be any of a half dozen other second-string powers that haven't yet made a move toward global-power status. We'll see.

Unknown, for that matter, I've written a book on the subject of what to do -- might be worth a look!

Thrig, yeah, that sounds like the Fourth in Seattle. It's much less fractious in some other parts of the country, fortunately.

Bill, I don't think the end of the fracking bubble is going to impact as many people directly as the end of the housing bubble did. The impact I consider likely is indirect -- depending on how deeply Wall Street and the financial industry generally has come to depend on fracking as a source of hallucinatory wealth, there might be hefty knock-on effects via interest rates, debt defaults, etc.

Thomas, thanks for the news from the front lines. Do you happen to know if Army employees in the combat end of things are being treated the same way?

Cheesemoose, it's certainly possible that events in the Middle East could provide the trigger, but it's also possible that things could spin out of control in some other way, triggered by something else. That's the thing with decaying empires -- if one thing doesn't bring them down, something else will.

Nate, I don't see any way the US is going to remain a single country indefinitely; the question is purely how soon the breakup will happen, and by what means.

Eric, exactly! You get today's gold star for paying attention to the way that history looks when it's happening.

Neo, it's probably the least violent way things could go. That's why I used it as the endgame of my "How It Could Happen" series in 2012, and the forthcoming novel Twilight's Last Gleaming -- that's gone to the publisher now, btw.

Myriad, thank you! Stewart's a fave of mine; though it's about a later war, I keep on remembering some of the lines from "The Last Day of June 1934"...

Nathan, not everyone is suited for involvement in politics, and there are ways to influence the political discussion that don't involve, say, running the risk of landing in prison on trumped-up political charges. Choose the place where you think you can do the most good, and make your stand there -- that's all any of us can do.

William Church said...

Myriad said: " can't live life braced for impact."

Quote of the day. I've had similar thoughts when seeing the anguish a lot of folks have about the future.

John quoted T. S. Eliot, I'll send the Stones your way:

"Oh, see the fire is sweepin'
At our streets today
Burnin' like a red coal carpet
A mad bull lost its way..."

My favorite song. Ever. Far too young to remember the 60s that it is written about. Apparently the world felt tilted off its axis back then too. Gimme Shelter being a song portraying the sense of anguish and chaos surrounding the times.

As John has mentioned so many times we aren't first people to face tough times. Maybe that is why the song speaks to me so strongly. Many have faced and sailed thought some dire straits. What one man can do others can do.


John Michael Greer said...

D, far more likely than not, what sends the United States spinning out of control toward its destiny will be some absurd little event -- Congress will pass a bill no more brainless than a hundred others, police in some American city will abuse their authority in a routine manner, or what have you...but that one time, it'll kick things in motion and the wheels will start to turn. That's normally how such things play out.

Mustard, the gargantuan flags came in at the end of the 1970s, as part of the same change in national mood that put Reagan in the White House and foreclosed our hope of an easy transition to sustainability. Overcompensating? You bet.

Myriad, well, maybe -- but do you make it a habit to fasten the seatbelt when you get into a car?

Phil, all true.

Rita, and that's in large part a function of the demographic and cultural shifts of the last few decades. The more of the United States become culturally Hispanic, the more the sports popular in the Hispanic world catch on here. (I'm waiting for lucha libre to really take off in the US.)

Daryl Vernon said...

"convusive" : i like that typo, fusion of confused and convulsive, maybe leave it in?

Wondering from up here in Canada how a cross-border pull might work out. Some 150 years ago there was that, with even Canadian reformist rebellions and all, but Canadian Confederation put that to rest, for the nascent and extended modernist time being. In Canada itself I detect for example interesting political rapprochements developing between Ontario & Quebec, maybe to in some manner recreate the closer to original perforce closer to bioregional political association, here on the Great Lakes - St Lawrence basin broadly.

Just read a fairly definitive book on the history of the Seaway, the poliitically long-delayed mega-project of that century, author concluding that it was a mistake - but that would be only on its modernist terms: those forseeing renewed emphasis on water-based transport in a more localist scheme, would come to see the Seaway as, if unintended as such, anything but a mistake!

Book was, Negotiating a River: Canada, the Us, and the Creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Main contributor to "mistake" was lack of foresight about ocean-going container transport exceeding constructed capacity almost as soon it was opened around a half century ago.

Bruce Anderson said...

Thank you for your ongoing insightful, and skillful essays. Your seeming encyclopedic knowledge of history astounds me.
I have always found WWI and its causes (or non-causes)fascinating because of its apparent folly and utter destructiveness. I've always felt that WWII was just a continuation of WWI and they should be taken together as a single conflict.
One direct result of WWI that I recently learned about was the worst man-made environmental disaster in our history. That is, the Dustbowl of the high plains. The dots that were connected for me were: The collapse of agriculture in Europe due to the war-->the US called upon to fill the void with its own wheat production-->a bubble in wheat prices--> farmers on the plains putting vast areas of unsuitable grassland under cultivation (w/incentives from our gov't)--> the dustbowl--> mass migration of "Okies" to California, etc.

Just a footnote to your excellent essay.

Thomas Daulton said...

JMG, I don't have as many friends on the front lines of combat as I used to when I was younger... (just lost touch, not casualties as far as I know)... so anything I say to that point should be considered hearsay. But I get the impression from talking to people I don't know well, who have been deployed abroad, that it's a mixed bag. The elite troops -- (the Special Forces, the tech geeks like drone guys, the SIGINT people) -- and the civilian contractors, generally speaking, seem to be well-equipped and well-supported, with little real accountability to their success or failure. Everybody says, that's the future of warfare of course, so those are our BOYS!!! The regular infantry, as distinct from the civilian employees, it seems to vary a lot. A small minority of those units are scraping by, sewing their own torn uniforms, tours extended past the breaking point, problems with drug use and suicides. And every shade in-between. I have not detected any real pattern to that (based on theater of combat, nor race/regional origin of the troops), it seems more like, does your unit's leadership fight for your needs back in Washington. I also get the impression those problems were worse 10 years ago but nowadays seem to be leveling off towards a mean. But as I say, that's unreliable hearsay, not statistics. I only have real experience with the States-side bureaucrats like I used to be.

Varun Bhaskar said...

Devils always in the details.

You're right that we'll have one within the next decade. When I was working for the Ministry of Defense in India my area of study was insurgencies and what created them. We had a stockpile of material on the subject because India has experienced and crushed more than a dozen insurgencies in it's sixty year history. One thing I kept running into was how similar conditions were before those insurgencies started to what is currently going on in the US.
Out of touch elite, check; militarization and abuse of police powers, check; fragmentation of social narrative, check; appearance of counter narratives, check; increase in strength of black market networks that move drugs and weapons, check; increasing loss of funding local constabulary, check; fragmentation of elite, check. The list goes on like that. Out of curiosity I did a more detailed analysis of conditions and modeled a few scenarios. The results were frightening, that's why I came back to the US and started work on my current events website. Call me an idealist, but I still believe in the democratic project. The system can work if we work.

Before I left India I deleted most of my research because I didn't want to get caught carrying something like that back into the country.

@Latefall (my response to lastweeks discussion)

I thought writing out the concepts I was trying to capture would be a good place to start the narratives. I find working backward is very helpful when writing a story with a lesson. Your devils advocacy challenge is accepted. Please stand by for narratives.

Nathaniel Ott said...

I would like to tweak your comment a little JMG. The wealthiest among us are robbing society blind... and calling it freedom. It always amazes me(makes me laugh) how some of the most wealthiest among us seem to take any and all calls to help the rest of society in any meaningful way as if you were calling for all out communism. I can only imagine that they see themselves like Mell Gibson crying FREEDOM!!! when they refuse higher taxes on themselves but have no problem with the minimum wage being barely high enough for average families to scrape by. Apparently they love Free Market Capitalism as long as there the only ones who are actually bennifiting from it. I love free market capitalism too. But there is a difference between Capitalism and blind robbery, a distinction they can't seem to make. They also don't realize that its called a society for a reason: we all rely on eachother, there was no way they could have made the riches they have without the poorer among them. Just to be clear I'm talking about the top 0.1 percent of society, the bottom 0.9 percent of "The 1 Percent" is comprised mostly of really successful Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers etc. people who make a lot but not an insane amount of money. So "The 0.1 Percent" is a more accurate description for the people we're talking about right now.

Despite some of my comments last post and some misunderstandings of them I do realize the importance of community. I just wished that it could apply to the entirety of society instead of us all staying insular, trying to one up eachother and keeping other members down just because of where they were born and who to. Yes I do realize this is hopefully idealistic and has almost zero chances of coming true, but I don't have many idealistic hopes for the immediate future left so I'd like to keep this one for a little while longer before I give it up. Again to be clear I am NOT trying to restart the disscussion on that.

It is true about the lack of trust in government as a whole, mostly because the same downward spiral seems to be going on no matter which sits in office. This is depressing because of what you said a few weeks ago in your post on fascism. If a person who would actually do the things that I want to see occur like greater unity, concern over resource and energy consumption actuapy doing something effective abot the ecpnemy and other things I'm not sure I would recognize it before it was already too late. So there is no way the average American who barely knows anything about history or their own governmental process and politics is Google to see it.

Also a little off topic but the exeptionalism thing has become pretty apparent to me lately. I remembered talking to a friend while we were in the army about our country. He was sure that we would still be a nation(as strong as we are today) in another thousand years. Ha... Ha... Ha... no amount of telling him about history or that historically Republics don't last that long(at leasst not in the same way) could sway him. Its notable that a recent talk with him revealed he is no longer as idealistic about the county surviving(in its current form at least) to 3000ad. But he is still sure that we(humans) will somehow be sailing the stars, having sex with green skinned alien space babes by then. His words, not mine

MawKernewek said...

I'm sceptical of the Strauss & Howe generational analysis of history, it all seems too neat and tidied up, it's a bit like the psychohistory of Asimov's Foundation novels.

Perhaps recent events including the ongoing violence in Syria and Iraq may cool down the kind of hubris that led America into trouble after 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Eastern Europe, we see that the end of the USSR and COMECON didn't necessarily mean that they became just like Americans. Could this lead to a more sober assessment of what the USA can (or should try to) achieve globally?

One thing that I wonder might cause crisis in one or more countries, is something that has been mentioned here, the hollowing out of government to a bunch of contract managers privatising and outsourcing everything.

There could come a point when not only is public confidence lost in politics but the whole basis of government itself, because there is no real social stake in it for people any more. If there isn't the sense of the government as a public body anymore, there is nothing left to inspire loyalty. If it is all just conglomerates known by acronyms like G4S et al. then what is left?

Enrique said...

Yah, I figured I’d get some pushback from the comment I posted last night. So here are some relevant links complete with statistics to back up some of the points I was trying to make.

John Michael Greer said...

Daryl, I'll want to read that. In the long run, the St. Lawrence Seaway will be among the great achievements of the age that's passing away, and in a warmer world it will probably make what's now eastern Canada the center of one of the world's great powers -- but of course people who are fixated on short term phenomena such as container ships can't be expected to notice that.

Bruce, that's a fine example of the logic of unintended consequences -- many thanks.

Thomas, that makes sense. I still wonder if anybody's thought through the consequences of taking thousands of young Americans, sending them to Iraq and Afghanistan, training them in the latest up-to-date counterinsurgency doctrine, and then dumping them back in the US and denying them the health care they were promised...

Varun, exactly. What's more, for the last decade or so the US government has been behaving as though it thinks it's going to have to fight a domestic insurgency. The latest tidbit is that vehicles armored against roadside IEDs are being brought home from Iraq and handed out to police departments. Do bank robbers and traffic scofflaws use IEDs? Of course not...

Nate, "green skinned alien space babes"? I think your friend needs to lay off the cheap SF porn, and get out more often!

MawKernewek, exactly. I'd also point out that hired contractors aren't usually willing to lay down their lives to defend a government, while a lot of people may be more than willing to lay theirs down to overthrow it. I'll be talking in an upcoming post about privatization as a common theme in the collapse of civilizations.

Justin W. McCarthy said...

...the collapse of the Weimar Republic or the Soviet Union, or any of the other implosions of political authority that have littered the last few centuries with rubble: when a system loses legitimacy in the eyes of the people it claims to lead, the end of that system is on its way.
I can recommend David Satter's 'Age of Delerium' about the Soviet collapse.

The narrative speaks directly to what you are talking about. The story is about the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the narrative of the collapse is that it was a collapse of faith in the reality of the Soviety system.

Once the unravelling got under way, the Soviet government attempted to curb what was happening with measures like Glasnost and Perestroika. This only had the effect of hastening the dissolution, once people considered that there assumptions were built on lies, and the Soviet government admitted as such, all credibility dissolved at once.

I think the myth of the home of the free and land of the brave contrasted to the reality, which is less free than any other country judging by incarceration rates, and is the leading war state, judging by military bases, military sales, and ongoing wars, is roughly analogous to the worker's paradise delusion and reality of the Soviet system.

I'd guess 10 years to be a long time for the system to keep lumbering along, you mention the conensus and loss of faith in government institutions, I'd bet this is most acutely felt by young people. The older you are, the more likely to have some memory of the system performing to expectations. For young people, its a long con from go.

Sam CC said...

America once did great things, now it tries to do impossible things. A sure sign that the end approaches.

John Michael Greer said...

Justin, that's exactly the sort of scenario I have in mind. Whether the US gets a flurry of last-minute reforms of the Perestroika variety, or whether the current political class clings like grim death to a failing system until it drags it down, the spiraling failure of legitimacy is the thing to watch: the more complete it becomes, the closer the final dissolution is.

Enrique said...

One question I have is where the insurgency will most likely come from. I know there is a lot of anger these days directed at the government by rural whites in the Midwest, the Rocky Mountains and the Deep South. It seems to me that the recent standoff between a Nevada rancher and the BLM could be a harbinger of things to come. A lot of people in the Western states really resent the fact that the federal government owns so much of the land west of the Mississippi. In Nevada, it’s nearly 85 percent and in Alaska, its 69 percent. While these are extreme cases, the Congressional Research Service recently estimated the federal government owns around 52 percent of the land in the Western states. Add to this issues like immigration, declining standards of living for most Americans and what many people see as excessive regulation by the feds and you’ve got a combustible mix. Of course, incidents like the one at the Bundy ranch are hardly new. Many people still remember the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents. There is still quite a lot of anger in certain parts of the country about the way the feds handled those two cases. In all three cases, the feds ended up making things a lot worse and escalated the situation through the ham-fisted way they handled things. And don’t forget that the worst act of terrorism on American soil before 9/11 (aside from the genocidal wars against the Native Americans) was the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, which was essentially a revenge attack by a disgruntled veteran for the Waco and Ruby Ridge massacres.

Or perhaps the insurgency could come from the inner cities, which are filled with minority groups with lots of grievances of their own. One of my university professors once argued that welfare programs, affirmative action and so on weren’t so much motivated by social justice as they were an attempt to keep the peace by placating people who otherwise might revolt, like they did during the race riots in the 1960’s. Incidents like the Rodney King beating and subsequent race riots, the OJ Simpson case and the Trayvon Martin case show that these racial cleavages never went away, they were just swept under the rug by the political establishment and the mass media.

My suspicion is that the domestic insurgency is most likely to come from one of those two sources. Once the insurgency gets going, we could see both factors feed off of one another. For instance, if another Rodney King or Trayvon Martin type incident sparks mass rioting and urban guerrilla warfare, this could spark a huge and violent backlash from rural, working class and lower middle class whites, who also have lots of grievances as previously mentioned.

Violet Cabra said...

From my coworkers I've heard rumors that President Obama has been seen wandering around Washington DC hugging strangers and eating burritos.

Appearantly at least some of these rumors are true:

The reason I bring this up not to comment on Obama's specific political act or any of his choices, but instead it is because I wonder, and have been wondering for a few years "do political leaders even take themselves seriously anymore?" They must have awareness of the gridlocked political system, their own inability to represent the desires of their constituencies, and the fact that most Americans no longer take them seriously.

If 93% of Americans don't feel any signifcant confidence in Congress, I'd bet money that a significant fraction of congress people are included in that fraction.

I imagine that many of the more self-aware members of the political class must be viewing their careers as something of a joke. I wonder; did the political class on the eve of WWI have a similar ironic detachment from their positions of power, or were they much less postmodern than today's leaders?

Of course this doesn't bode very well for effective governance, especially during a time of crisis. How bad (or good) it will turn out though, the details, are anyone's guess. "On the surface history is ruled by the unforeseen"

As an aside I read Star's Reach last weekend and not only did I thoroughly enjoy it it also gave me quite a bit to think about, thank you. I'm about 150 pages into the second volume of The Decline of The West which I'm finding more challenging than the first volume, but a pleasure nonetheless. Next on my reading list are Dune and Great Crash 1929.

When I talk with my peers about these books they get very excited. One friend even says she's going to read Spengler so we can discuss him! Likewise I'm eager to read Dune to discuss its concepts with a friend. Both of these people work on the farm with me. They also have both come to the free yoga classes I've been offering. We all work 50 hour weeks, which gives me hope for the preservation of at least some culture to the other side of the dark ages, although things haven't gotten as messy yet as they likely will.

Justin W. McCarthy said...

I have another thought that I wanted to kindly run past your mind.

What if we are living in a dark age?

What of modern architecture or information, especially that recorded on disk, is going to last past a century or two once it is no longer maintained? What will be left of this time? I'd say we are already living in a dark age, put the start at roughly the mid 1990s, when we began the mass transfer of knowledge to electronic, but it will probably go back to when we began recording information on multi-media hieroglyphics.

Any thoughts that we are already in a bedarkenment?

TwoBears said...

I will not pretend to be very knowledgeable about this topic, I read your blog, I understand your points and I agree with the general trend that you note. I also am doing my best to prepare myself and my family for the future. While it pains me to do so I have to admit that the powers that be (corpo-government) probably are also aware and are also preparing. Will you please comment/respond to my following observation as I do not have the resources or perspective to do so. It seems to me (thanks to 911) that homeland security and other government sector groups have such as NYPD have gone a long way toward militarizing 'security'. For instance, I have read that off-duty NYPD officers can be hired to do private sector corporate security - these are large scale operations, not 'mall-cop'. I have also noted heavy hardware in seemingly odd places - I am from a rural area, the sheriff department here has a tank. Not an Abrahms A-1 but an armored vehicle with a turret and a cannon. I can't help but believe that the powers that be are anticipating the breakdown and are preparing to 'maintain order'. I appreciate your feedback on this thread.

Robert said...

Meanwhile in Ukraine much of the language that is coming out of Kiev is frankly genocidal and it appears that some of the actions of the Ukraine military may be as atrocious as many of those the Bosnian Serbs were accused of. I see that a US law professor who was involved in some of the prosecutions in the Yugoslav conflict (from an anti Serb position) takes the same view.

If an insurgency does break out in the US I expect it would give Moscow deep personal satisfaction to see the chickens come home to roost.

Candace said...

I had a dream once that the US ended up in a civil war over the Keystone Pipeline. So many people seem to think that peak oil and global warming are hoaxes being perpetrated by oil companies so they can charge more money. I wonder what would happen if the price of oil spiked enough to cause the government to put rationing in place in order to keep some of the necessities of life moving. I definitely think those could be sparks.

As for government employees, when I was working in a government job, the research seemed to indicate that people who had been employed in government service for many years made more than private sector, new hires made less. Areas of employment were also part of the mix, Federal Employees involved in NSA were making more money than private sector counter-parts. State and local employees made less than private counter parts. That was at least 10 years ago. So things may have changed.


Pongo said...

Darn it all, I am late to the conversation again. But I wanted to say a few things. Because right now I feel as if the whole world is moving in slow motion. The last time that I felt that way was in June of 2011 as the first debt ceiling crisis crept up upon us and so many people just seemed to yawn. That crisis was defused, but can we have a similar hope for the next one? All around me people know that something is building. It's on the faces of everyone around me in the office, it wants to escape their lips but doesn't.

Here in Los Angeles the practice of business as usual has had enough residual momentum to keep going all throughout the years since the financial crisis. And yet if you are willing to get out of your car you can see that there's something very wrong here. I don't own an automobile any longer, and every morning I walk to work down La Brea Avenue, which has been engulfed by a commercial construction boom of staggering proportions. From Sunset all the way down to Olympic, buildings are being razed every few weeks, with massive new apartment complexes and commercial developments going up every which way. More than once I have had the experience of walking up to the grocery store and stopping confusedly in front of some empty lot, saying to myself "Wait, wasn't there a building here three or four days ago?" And yet, despite this boom, much of this finished construction seems to be sitting empty. No retailers or tenants seem to have moved into the new mixed use property at La Brea and Fountain. The giant mixed use building at La Brea and Wilshire has a few occupied apartments but none of the retail space has been claimed. The renovated factory at La Brea and Romaine is ready for shops and offices to come in, but nobody seems to have followed up on the opportunity.

There is also no sign of the drought here in this city, save for an epidemic of bleary, dried-out eyes caused by the abnormally low humidity (I wear contacts and have had lots of trouble with them this past year). But even more shockingly, there is little sign of it in places where the water situation should be even more serious. This past weekend I spent two days in the Mohave Desert and surrounding areas. Obviously this is the absolute worst time of the year to visit that particular place, but I had a friend from South Africa staying with me and she desperately wanted to visit the area and that weekend was her only opportunity to do so during her time here in the US. We rented a car and went to the Salton Sea, slab city, Joshua Tree National Park and a lot of places in between. We had the misfortune of being lost in Palm Springs and neighboring Indio thanks to a faulty guide book which sent us all over those two cities. I was horrified by what I saw: lush greenery everywhere. And it wasn't just limited to businesses that require lush greenery like Palm Springs' famous golf courses. The local Chase Bank branch had an emerald green front lawn. So did the local retirement homes. So did the yards of private residences all over town. I saw plenty of sprinklers running during the hottest part of the afternoon.

I actually wouldn't be surprised if there was the next major market crash happened this year. Obviously that's simply my prediction, and as JMG pointed out, the specifics of these things are almost impossible to decipher with any reliability. But if you look at the warning signs that are flashing, the lack of volatility, the collapse in margin debt and other factors, it becomes obvious that the bottom is waiting to fall out. What happens after the bottom falls out no man can tell yet, but I expect that the market crash will not itself be the crisis that unravels everything, but that it will directly lead to that crisis in some way, shape or form.

John Michael Greer said...

Sam, a very crisp summary!

Enrique, as I see it, the rural West, the rural South, and the inner cities are the three most likely sources for a sustained insurgency in the near-future US. On the other hand, it's by no means impossible that things will spin out of control somewhere else, due to one of those unpredictable events that make up so much of history.

Violet, I'm delighted to hear that your friends are as excited by your reading list as you are! One of the few things that gives me significant hope these days is the number of young people who are turning their backs on the easy (non)answers and grappling with the predicament of our time.

Justin, well, a dark age is more than a period not well documented for the benefit of future historians. I'll be talking about what else is entailed by that label in upcoming posts.

Twobears, of course they are. I've been pointing out for years now that the US government is pretty obviously preparing to fight a domestic insurgency, and the armored personnel carrier your police department has is part of that preparation. Now ask yourself this; just how much good did US counterinsurgency methods do to stop the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Robert, I'd be very surprised if the Russians aren't actively funding antigovernment propaganda in this country, and quite possibly engaging in preparations for something more robust. They'd be idiots not to do so -- and I think it's a safe bet that they're not idiots. (Mind you, I'd be amazed if a couple of other countries I could name aren't doing much the same thing...)

Candace, true enough -- a spike in the cost of gasoline could turn out to be just that one last straw.

John Michael Greer said...

Pongo, thanks for the update from Los Ahrimanes --er, Angeles! Those empty buildings are very much signs of the times; one of these days I'm going to have to do a post on the related subject of the decline and fall of the American shopping mall. The sense of pressure, of something building toward an explosion -- I know a lot of people who are feeling that right now, and I feel it as well. One of the frustrating details of watching history in the making is having to wait to find out what's about to hit...

Richard said...

At the gas station I work at, I had a gentleman come in who needed help paying for gas. After I helped him I went outside to check to see if the garbage cans needed changing. While I was out there, the gentleman I had helped previously was out there and struck up a conversation with me. He let me know that before he started selling insurance, he worked for the NSA. He also let me know that everything that was wrong with America was all Obamas fault. Apparently our president is trying to implement a socialist dictatorship or something. He also told me that there was a "revolution" coming. The guy seemed sane and cogent, but very polarized. He spoke with regret over the presidents rejection of American Exceptionalism. While I doubt the president can have our empires failure laid at his feet, it is troubling to me to think that there may be people involved in the security sector of our government who might agree with my customer. The loss of security and entitlement that goes along with the end of an empire might be unsettling some important people.

Bill Pulliam said...

Interesting to me, considering the theme here of the difficulty of predicting the future, how many people seem quite confident that they know when a domestic insurgency will start in the U.S., and how. I think a lot of folks here (no, I don't mean our host) are being seduced by the drama of the present, and forgetting how many times in past decades that things looked just as dramatic and unstable.

When Ronald reagan was elected in 1980, my generation were quite certain that this meant we were all going to die in a nuclear war within the next few years. It's been over a third of a century, and still no nuke has been dropped on anyone by anyone since 1945.

Fifty years ago, when the Freedom Riders were headed south, local governments in Mississippi were preparing for race wars. None happened.

During the Clinton years, militias were organizing throughout the country, terrorist bombings created mass killings, conflicts between armed enclaves and federal agents lead to many deaths. But no actual sustained armed insurgency ever arose from any of this.

I am not saying that there is no risk. It might start tomorrow. Or it might be triggered by events involving people who are not even born yet in a place you would never imagine over an issue that does not yet even exist.

I've been around for almost 53 years. Just about every one of them has been tumultuous, with leaking powderkegs piled in some corner or another. Sometimes they do go off; but not usually the ones you had your eyes on.

Enrique -- four links to libertarian websites. You got any stats that are not all filtered through similar idealogies?

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG: "I still wonder if anybody's thought through the consequences of taking thousands of young Americans, sending them to Iraq and Afghanistan, training them in the latest up-to-date counterinsurgency doctrine, and then dumping them back in the US and denying them the health care they were promised..."

I think about this. Every. Single. Day. And they all know how IEDs are made.

But I am very unsure with whom or what they might eventually align themselves, if they ever do.

I was just thinking this evening, though, that it might be a good idea to learn a bit about guerilla warfare from the defensive side, so that if something were to break out in the region while I am still alive we would be less likely to be caught totally with our pants down (and more likely to be able to keep our heads down). Like preparing for fires, floods, storms, and earthquakes.

And if a neighbor ever asks me to join a local militia, should I say yes so that I will know what is going on? Hypotheticals now, and hopefully forever.

Some people may wonder why I wear camo. Many reasons, but one is very simple. Because it is camouflage.

Melissa Mett said...

Class warfare or income inequality (depending on your agenda) seems to be a popular topic across America when you talk to real people, however, it takes a strange turn if it is brought up in the media or politics. If it is mentioned, it's usually to cheer on super-star CEOs, vilify poor performing CEOs, or quietly and apologetically suggest that perhaps, maybe we should look at their compensations in theory, but fall far short of suggesting anything be done about it in practice. On the rare occasions someone suggests actual changes be made, pundits and politicians will act as if you've said something vulgar or defiled their religion. People are allowed to have their own ideas, opinions, and theories about the topic, but I do not understand the anger that erupts when people are asked to consider the topic.
On the other hand, we are all very comfortable deciding how little people should make in the lower classes. For example, our governor in Minnesota, Mark Dayton, was willing came out in a recent interview saying that perhaps the minimum wage was in fact too high for waiters and waitresses considering they get tips. The Seattle minimum wage hike is getting lots of coverage and analysis as well. We don't need to add to these conversations here, I only bring these up as examples of what we are willing to consider as dinner conversation.

The Hobby Lobby case is another case that we have decided that corporations not only get to decide how much your time is worth, but they should also be able to dictate how you use your own compensation. If they don't like how you're using your health insurance, what is to prevent them from saying that you need their approval for spending the rest of your earnings in a way that meets the employer's moral standards?

These as I see it are part of why we are losing faith in our government. It's not only that much of the current system seems unfair, but the fact that government seems to be clinging to a set of ideals that has no foundation in truth.

Agent Provocateur said...

Matthew Sweet,

I hope you don't mind me responding to a comment directed to JMG. If you do, read not

You indicated your reason for posting a comment was selfish. You describe a difficulty in motivation. Go with selfish. Its very motivating. So is fear. Its a type of selfishness. I'm talking anxiety attacks fear ... walking up in the middle of the night covered in sweat fear. Nothing lights a fire under someone like that kind of fear. Stop short of paralyzing fear though. That's no help.

Collapse is poverty. Fear that poverty now. That's your motivation. Feel the cold sweat, the heart palpitations. Get out of and stay out of debt now because debt costs money. Ride a bike now because it saves money. Reduce, conserve, reuse, recycle now because it saves money now. Grow your own food if it saves money and makes your more resilient, not because there is some virtue in it. There is no “should” here and no moral rectitude. These seldom motivate people for the long term anyways. Greed and fear though; they work wonders to motivate people. Rest assured every BTU of fossil fuel you don't burn, someone else will anyways. So change your behaviour, not because its the right thing to do, but because you understand it to be in your best interest to make yourself more resilient against a difficult future.

My own view is that things are just to far gone, and have too much momentum, to change at this point. We have already hit the iceberg. It now time to find a lifeboat, not work on better iceberg detection systems. So beware of any altruistic desire to do the right thing to save the world. Frack the world! In the near future your concerns will be much more very local. The world will have to fend for itself. Your immediate concern is impending extreme personal poverty. As wealth is the antidote to poverty, the way to achieve personal resilience is to go for those things that build real wealth in your life now.

Nathaniel Ott said...

@JMG actually my friend gets out very often and frankly is quite popular with the young ladies(much more than myself to be totally honest) and not to get too personal but will probably prove that again tomorrow night, we are 20 somethings on the 4th of July weekend after all. That said he is a total, for lack of a better term, nerd. He grew up on Star Trek, Star Wars etc. Lucky for him he was also a Track star. Another army friend of mine is also very popular with the young gents(happens to be gay) dispite the fact of also being a total nerd who believes whole heartedly in the awesome SF future to come, and not even having the Jock card to play to boot. I suppose the hope for the amazing Techno future, and sex with alien space babes(or dudes) crosses all barriers. While I won't claim that such a possibility wont happen(how could I possibly know that) I have told them.... um yeah, it's not very likely.

Nathaniel Ott said...

@MawKenewek. Being an American, who admittidly doesn't know all that much about British politics, I can't really comment on The House Of Lords. But I will say that if you meant litterally in terms of not knowing what it's for, The Electoral College would probably be a pretty good American equivalent. Most Americans have absolutely no idea what The Electoral Colege does. More depressingly, from my experience, many average Americans are not even aware that the Electoral College even exists. They most certainly don't know that in the Presidential Election the Electoral College Vote outweighs the Popular Vote. As in, if the P-vote among the citizens is for one candidate and the EC-vote for another, the EC-vote will always win out. They are however supposed to vote based on their states Popular Vote and admittedly this is what most often happens, but there have been a few exceptions. The last one that I can think of off-hand is George W Bush Jr's first term in 2000. The P-vote was actually for Al Gore but for whatever reason the EC-vote ended up being for Bush Jr, so, he was elected. Again this is not common but as things continue to get worse in the U.S, and trust in government(or at least in the tradional Democrate and Republican Parties) begins to wane, it may become much less rare than it is now.

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Robert (the other Robert here):

Boyle's analysis is too one-sided, and he also seems quite ignorant of Ukrainian history. He is certainly correct about the role of Zbigniew Brzezinski in fomenting the present crisis, but Zb. Brz., as a Pole, is simply approaching the problem of Ukraine from a common Polish point of view, that is to say, a point of view that for centuries has feared and demonized Russia above all other countries. On the other hand, Boyle (like most Russian Studies people in the US) does not so much demonize Poland (and Western Europe) as ignore it, and --quite unhistorically -- he seems to view Ukraine as a natural part of Russia, or at least its natural ally. It is no such thing.

There is a deep and ancient fault-line, nearly 2000 years old today, that cuts all of Europe into an Eastern and a Western half: Rome vs. Byzantium, Catholic Christianity vs. Orthodox Christianity, more recently German National Socialism vs. Russian Communism. This fault-line cuts right through Ukraine, just as to the south it runs right through Bosnia. It splits Ukraine down the middle. (Bosnia, on the other hand, in ther later Middle Ages seems to have said, "a pox on both your Christian houses," and become Muslim at the earliest possible opportunity.)

Because of this, each land has been a sort of geo-political live bomb with a hair-trigger fuse for centuries. And each will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

The ancient cultural history of each of these two lands will forever keep Ukraine from being peacefully assimilated either to Western Europe or to Russia. There is too much historical baggage, and it is too heavy. And any attempt to force either land do so will only provoke a genocidal frenzy, not unlike what is currently happening in the Middle East, where the Ukrainian partisans for each orientation will happily destroy themselves if only they can destroy all the partisans of the other orientation along with themselves.

This is not to say that the US is not fomenting a crisis there for its own advantage. It is. And so is Russia, for its own advantage -- and doing it somewhat more skillfully. But neither attempt is more legitimate than the other. And each side is playing with very dangerous wildfire as it does so.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

That Hanauer you linked to only grapped the half point. He writes:

"The model for us rich guys here should be Henry Ford, who realized that all his autoworkers in Michigan weren’t only cheap labor to be exploited; they were consumers, too. Ford figured that if he raised their wages, to a then-exorbitant $5 a day, they’d be able to afford his Model Ts.

What a great idea. My suggestion to you is: Let’s do it all over again. We’ve got to try something. These idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying my customer base. And yours too."

Of course, it cannot at all be done again, because of the energy and resource crisis now.

By the way, the new fascist movement in Ukraine is supported by the West and US:

Cherokee Organics said...


I get it. Our narrative is just so wrong. I just get it. It is really a handful of dust, what a great explanation. I hear you, man.

Anyway, your mention of poetry inspired me to write a poem. It is called: The narrative

Do what you’re told

Try not to question

And listen to our answers just in case you had

It’ll save you a lot of confusion

The well-trod path, it’s for the best


Work hard

And hopefully die young

Try not to be a nuisance along the way

In fact don’t get noticed – at all

It’s preferable

Have a big wedding

Buy an even bigger car

Maybe more than one

And don’t forget the huge house too

You deserve it

We hope you’re in debt

It’s preferable

Please don’t worry about the future

It’s all taken care of

Trust us

It’s preferable

In the darkest hour, when you’re awake worrying, the Owl calls

She’s hungry and looking for prey

She eats what’s available

And doesn’t worry overly much

She is the queen of the night

It is her preference

I tried to capture something of the feel of the difference between the narrative and nature.

I've been digging all day on the new water site, maybe I'm just tired.



peacegarden said...

So very glad to have you back, JMG! These latest missives have been ones that lead to mental hmmms...thought provoking indeed!

@Myriad...thank you for the quotation from Lost in the Funhouse...and your realization prompted by same. It captures my approach to our interesting, really live each moment and whatever comes in it.



peacegarden said...

And you can learn to dance on a shifting carpet!

exiledbear said...

Now ask yourself this; just how much good did US counterinsurgency methods do to stop the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan?

TL;DR: not well anywhere and probably never will be well anywhere. The U.S. military is unwilling and mostly unable to do CI warfare. They hate hate hate hate hate hate it. They only do it when they have no other choice.

They hate it so much, they're more likely to build robots to do it for them.

Shawn Aune said...


1914 was a pivotal year. That implies there is a pivot for the world to swivel upon. Given what we all know about the importance of energy resources we could probably predict that the pivot is made of oil, gas, biomass or coal.

In 1913 coal production peaked in the UK.

exiledbear said...

I still wonder if anybody's thought through the consequences of taking thousands of young Americans, sending them to Iraq and Afghanistan, training them in the latest up-to-date counterinsurgency doctrine, and then dumping them back in the US and denying them the health care they were promised...

Ah, I see I'm not the only one who has taken Governing 101 and still remembers the lessons...

Robert said...

@JMG Other countries also certainly. For example, Michael Scheuer, ex CIA director of the Bin Laden Unit has said that the Iranians have a terrorist network in Canada and the Caribbean, far more formidable than anything Al Qaeda has, and although they won't use it unless we attack them, they will use it if we do. This may be one reason the 2009 Green colour revolution in Iran failed - possibly a warning was given to Washington to back off.

I think the US has crossed a line in the Ukraine and there may be payback some time in the future. Ukraine is to Russian security what Mexico is to the US. If Russian intelligence decided to work with the Mexican mob the way we've used neofascist gangs and warlord oligarchs in Ukraine they could cause the US serious problems.

Kathy Johnson said...

I was thinking just the other day about how most of the people working for the federal government at Oak Ridge actually work for private contractors. And how those companies are extremely unusual for Tennessee in that they are unionized. Funny how if you're building Volkswagens TN politicians campaign against your union but if you're cooking nuclear weapons fuel, well, then it's solidarity forever brother!

Weapons of mass destruction are why the Tennessee Valley has got to be the richest part of Appalachia -- well maybe all those trust fund bohos up around Asheville have us beat when it comes to money.

In any event, sometimes it's funny watching people who bought their bass boat with government money and float it on a TVA lake then join the Tea Party and pitch a fit.

Collapse around here could get poisonous in more ways than one. Sigh. My people have been here since before the Revolution and well, speaking of grief, I'm so glad to see you back, JMG but it's been a rough spring here. You never heard any more from me and I never finished a certain short story because my sister died. There's a reason the emails stopped coming as soon as you mentioned alcoholism. It killed her right about that time.

The contest, however, did at least inspire a new genre. I'm calling it "biker mag chick lit Sunday school lessons." Maybe one day I'll get my stuff together enough to actually finish one!

man with no name said...


I'd like to start by saying thanks. I've read this blog with great interest for a couple of years and The Well of Galabes looks even better suited to my interests.

I was a working-class child and messed up badly by borrowing a small fortune to go to a rather elite law school. (It turns out that the children of the elite buy into self-serving stories wholeheartedly and won't be persuaded to care about the poor by rational argument.) My tragic flaw is that I won't just become a corporate tool. So I guess all that money was poorly spent.

Maybe I can convince people to pay me to be an engineer, which I can do but don't have the right credentials for. What do you think: is it still worth the money (taking grants into account) to go to school for engineering intending to develop green energy?

-Signed, a fan.

Shane Wilson said...

Regarding "American exceptionalism", one of the few ways the US is truly exceptional is its geographic isolation, with amicable countries on its border, particularly Canada. This geographic isolation allows the US to decline to previously unheard of depths. Any other country would promptly be taken over by an opportunistic aspiring empire on its borders (witness Russia in Europe, China in Asia) But, the US retains its geographic isolation, and is still too far from any competing empire, so is still left to its own vices to decline and collapse on its own on its own territory. Hence an unheard of wait as things creak and moan on to previously unheard of depths.
I still maintain that Canada will come out smelling like a rose, particularly if it maintains wide open immigration policies with up and coming powers like India, China, Brazil, and manages to improve relations and ties with those countries as the US declines. I'm so glad I live only 6 hours from the Canadian border, if it comes to that.
Violet, I'm very interested in your path, as I don't have land of my own, or any wealth to buy land. I'm in Central KY, and so far haven't found much in my area. I've found evangelical fundamentalists of a prepper bent in KY that are into permaculture and homesteading, and I'm not opposed to learning from/working with them as long as we could set aside differences and focus on similarities--permaculture and the like can make for strange bedfellows, as posters here have noted before. The biggest issue so far has been nonresponse of people I've contacted. I've always thought of KY & Tenn as sister states, but maybe there's just much less going on here. I've known of the Faeries for years, and a local guy I've been in touch with is fond of them. I've been trying to keep my focus as local as possible.
Gas prices could be the straw that breaks the camel's back--see how poorly our economy hobbles along with gas over $3.50, and sustained prices over $5 may be enough to tip things over the edge. I don't think people give enough credit to the higher cost of oil to the real damage to the US economy since the housing crisis.

John Michael Greer said...

Richard, that's a useful reminder that the people who work for the government are people, with their own opinions -- which may not necessarily be those their bosses want them to have. As we move deeper into crunch time, that fact is likely to have quite a bit of relevance.

Bill, and the same uncertainty applies to all those young men and women the US military has trained and dumped -- which way will they turn? Impossible to say at this point...but that bit of US policy is roughly the equivalent of piling up pallet loads of high explosive in a building where the electrical system's always spitting sparks.

Melissa, that's part of it, but legitimacy is a complex thing. I'll discuss this in more detail as the new series of posts get under way.

Nate, fair enough. Still, I hope he gets a clue about the future one of these days.

Oyvind, oh, granted. But at least the guy gets half of it.

Cherokee, thank you.

Gail, likewise. 'Tis an ill wind that blows no minds.

Bear, exactly. Meaning that the plans to fight an insurgency in this country aren't likely to do any more good than the equivalent plans did in Iraq et al. -- and of course in this case, we've got thousands of vets who know all the details of US counterinsurgency doctrine, and many of whom have very real grievances against a government that basically chewed them up and spat them out. This is unlikely to end well.

Shawn, an interesting point!

Bear, exactly.

Robert, I think we've definitely got some serious payback coming -- which explains, to my mind, why the US government seems to be so fixated on preparing for a domestic insurgency. They've got to see that as an obvious possibility -- and the list of countries that might be interested in funding such a thing is fairly long.

Myriad said...

"Last Day of June 1934" is a wonderful and haunting song. I've mentioned it before in a comment thread, when one of your more lyrical ADR posts reminded me of it. (There are several more good tracks along those lines on the 1995 album Between the Wars. If you don't have that one, I'll buy one and send it to you.)

Seatbelts? When I'm in a car, sure, partly because they're no impediment there. But my bicycle can go nearly as fast, and has none. (And no, I don't wear a helmet, though I suppose I should. Times were different when I grew up.)

Bill Pulliam put it well: keep your knees bent. Or, in a phrase from an earlier nautical age, one hand for yourself and the other for the ship. When you're holding on with both hands, you can't do anything else.

Agent Provocateur said...

To all,

Just thought it might be interesting to go through the following mental exercise: Say you have a group of like minded friends, at least one pitchfork, a good length of rope, and know where to find a structurally sound lamppost capable of carrying a little extra weight. Say you are inclined to use all four these in the traditional manner. Who do you know of by name and face of the 1% who lives within 100 km of you. I'm thinking the answer for the vast majority us is no one. I'm also thinking that the vast majority of us would not really have the inclination to bestow the honour even if we did know someone worthy of it. Personally I have a hard enough time killing bandit raccoons (I'm up to 9 this season).

This thought came to me in response to the essay in Politico by Hanauer. No matter how desperate or angry you might be, killing the 1% in an industrial society won't change much for you personally even if the victims are transparently connected to the political apparatus. Your taxes will not immediately cease. Your cost of living will not change. You will not have more to eat. By contrast, the Terror in France following the revolution did serve such purposes. The Terror eliminated a transparent power/wealth structure to allow better distribution of wealth. However, the 1% are all but invisible in our societies. They don't live in the big house on the hill and levy taxes from the peasants who inhabit the lands surrounding it. There is no clear direct link between your poverty and their wealth via obvious systemic theft. (In my view there is systemic theft, its just not obvious.) Killing them, their family, and their retainers will not make you wealthier because you now no longer pay the rents to support them. Thus much of the motivation (save anger at not getting your share of the loot) is absent.

This brings up the issue of where their wealth comes from. Its not based so much on land as it used to be before industrialization. There is no need for pitchforks etc. Just stop buying their stuff and stop working for them. This is hard to do voluntarily but it probably won't be voluntary in time anyways. So if you seek social justice, just turn off the wealth pump by not participating, or participating a little as possible. The immediate effect of doing so will be to make you poorer though. You can see the problem. I do not advocate this idealism, I'm just pointing it out.

For those of the 1% that are ahead of the curve, setting up a feudal arrangement would be the next move during industrial collapse. Of course, in proportion to how feudal things become or already are in a particular society, the target would now be more obvious. Then the pitchforks etc. may come in handy. That's a long way down the road though. I think Hanauer's concerns are premature. What is more likely is that many of the 1% will cease being such once the basis for their income evaporates. What they do with their stored loot (assuming it too did not evaporate) will determine if they stay in the 1%.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Melissa Mett skrev:

"On the rare occasions someone suggests actual changes be made, pundits and politicians will act as if you've said something vulgar or defiled their religion."

Brad Hicks would contend that's exactly what you've done. In his "Christians in the Hands of an Angry God" series (posted to his livejournal in the fall of 2004; first post here), he tells the tale, as 'twas told to him, of how the Republican Party's Christian Anti-Communist Caucus, after the defeat of Goldwater, decided that Real True Christian seminaries needed to de-emphasize all that Marxist talk about feeding the hungry and healing the sick. It was keeping large numbers of Americans in the thrall of the Democrat [sic] Party, which had been at best hopelessly passive in the face of the Communist takeover of the State Department, the government schools, and our drinking water, but more likely had been dedicated, conscious agents of the International Communist Conspiracy, the same as President Eisenhower. No, Christians needed to understand that their interests lay with real Republicans like Richard Nixon and St. Joseph of Wisconsin, the only ones standing between Real True Christians and the godlesschicoms (all one word) who would otherwise do unto the Real True Christians of America, God's Chosen Nation, as they'd done unto the Blessed Martyr John Birch. (Yeah, I'm elaborating on Brad a little with that last bit.)

This is how the Cold War became a holy war, a holy war that hasn't actually ended just because one side threw in the sponge.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@Nathaniel - I suspect your friend is, in part, popular with the ladies because he has a positive attitude. It doesn't really matter whether his attitude is based on rational historical trends or pure fantasy.

I keep thinking about the "second religiosity" and what happened in Western Rome. The nascent Christianity that eventually became the foundation of Medieval society was, before the Roman collapse, a heterogeneous mush of utter nonsense, as the Pagan establishment of that day was fond of pointing out. The starships and green-skinned lovers narrative is considerably more coherent.

Functionally, either nonsense narrative serves to provide hope, and hope itself is contagious. As Myriad said, "You can't live life braced for impact."

In the 1950's, you bought a life insurance policy and then forgot about it and lived your life. Today, you learn some perennially useful skill and then forget about it and live your life.

In the end, we each die, prepared or unprepared -- choking on flooded lungs in a nursing home, or blown to bits by some IED during a domestic uprising -- or maybe, just maybe, of a heart attack while making love to some green-skinned babe from the stars.

It's good to keep an eye on the future, just in case a quick dodge to the left or right can avoid a messy personal ending before that green-skinned babe introduces herself. But too much contemplation of various messy endings can be its own kind of messy ending.

Yupped said...

Hi Phil Harris - I'm always surprised that England can still get the flags out and the optimism flowing for the World Cup. There's a triumph of hope over experience if ever I saw one. Mind you, I still have my 1970 World Cup Winston in a memory box somewhere in the attic. Probably worth a (very small) fortune on eBay.

Hi Thrig - Good to hear your counterpoint from, I'm thinking, Seattle. I should get out more. Meanwhile, my 22 year old daughter is about to move to Seattle for a couple of years to be a social worker in the Seattle school system. I'll advise her to watch out for burning docks and exploding jeeps.

Mr Mustard - Excellent news about flags in Britain having reached the naffness stage. When I was a teenager it was fashionable to wear Union Jacks in an ironic or insulting kind of way (I had one of those God Save The Queen Sex Pistols T shirts in 1977). Good times. I've always thought it better when faded Empires can just start again with a new flag, as with Russia. Which presumably England will need to do also if the Scots and then the Welsh do indeed get away.

Thomas Daulton said...

Still on the conversation between Enrique, myself, and Bill Pulliam... let's avoid drifting into a pointless political shouting match, by remembering two things:

* The pension plans were designed and drafted in a different era, when the economy in general, as JMG would point out, was expanding. The fiscal design of these plans worked just great for 50 years until those preconditions no longer obtained, so now it should come as no surprise that they're becoming problematic. This isn't really the fault of individual retirees.

* The original assertion was that the government was trying to create a loyal cadre of public overseers or viziers of some type, to insulate it against revolution by the impoverished masses. None of the fiscal discussions of pensions anyone has provided support this assertion, and I find it sensationalistic and baseless. Every discussion acknowledges that these benefits are being cut and government job security is rapidly vanishing, so it seems ludicrous and maybe even clinically paranoid to assert this.

In defense of our stance, as Bill Pullman notes, if I cited web pages from the SEIU that say that pensions aren't so bad, I suspect Enrique wouldn't grant them any legitimacy. Those who obsessed about Ayn Rand back in college tend to cherry-pick extreme examples of a few department heads (who have obtained special deals for themselves), and then say "many workers retire at 50" or "this one guy retired at 41" and then try to pass this off as the typical situation, as Charles Hugh Smith does in Enrique's links. They don't acknowledge that the vast majority of pensioners only worked for the government for a brief period of time, not their entire careers, and consequently receive only a few thousand per year. Also these analyses tend to lump in Social Security benefits along with the supposedly generous pension amount that a lowly worker receives, and give you a sum total dollars that doesn't actually reflect the pension system. We ought to revoke these despicable leeches' Social Security too, g*DD@##it!! And you kids get off my lawn.

The fact remains that the _average_ pensioner is receiving something in the $30k per year, ( , )not the $100k that most of Charles Hughes Smith would have you believe every single librarian receives.

Nevertheless, that doesn't change the fact that municipal and State budgets are floundering, and pension costs are one of MANY factors to that problem. Other factors include tax "reform" that eviscerated the States' revenue _after_ the pensions were set up. Whether you think Howard Jarvis was a good thing or not, you have to acknowledge that the pension plans were designed and drafted in a different era, when States had more revenue streams and the economy in general, as JMG would point out, was expanding. They worked great for 50 years until those preconditions no longer obtained, so now it should come as no surprise that they're becoming problematic. Hence the vitriol directed at pensioners seems undeserved, and merely plays into the hands of division and wedging the public apart. Those who argue from the Libertarian perspective, like Charles Hugh Smith, I must point out, are the ones who think an economy doesn't need a government to regulate it because Contracts are a sacrosanct moral obligation. Then they turn around and say that pension contracts to government workers which were legitimately negotiated decades ago are obviously null and void. Grandparents moving back into the homes of struggling young parents who have nothing saved for retirement themselves and can't afford to support three generations in home, will probably contribute to the economic stresses that JMG says will fuel a revolution, and ultimately that's everybody's problem.

exiledbear said...

@Oyvind Yup. That was back in the 20s. But then the 30s hit and he ratcheted down their wages and started employing security to basically spy on his workers. At least, those who were still employed.

And $5/hr back then would've been around $75/hr today (just checked, the government CPI calculator says around $67/hr I think it was higher myself, I'm standing by my $75 guess). For doing nothing more than manual labor. Can you imagine anyone paying that much for manual labor these days?

What really got things back on track in the 30s were two things - 1.) Unions. That put a stop to the wage cutting and the spying too. Relevant to this, there was a story on Reddit not long ago about how a union was able to punish its management that was spying on it, spanked the crap out of them ( and 2.) the Military Industrial Complex.

Unions were viable in the days before the car, I suppose they could be again. It's ironic that the very thing (the MIC) that lifted us out of the Great Depression is sinking us into this one. I suppose you might say something about duality and the cycles of history.

Janet D said...

Bill said: " I think a lot of folks here (no, I don't mean our host) are being seduced by the drama of the present,.... "

I agree. I'm 48 and so have many of the same memories you do, Bill. I think it takes A LOT for many people to push themselves into action of any sort, especially if that action means extra work or it carries risk or requires standing out. There are many times in history where it took generations of poverty and misery (much worse than what we have now)before people were willing to challenge their government.

Now, before anyone takes me to task for that view, y'all should know that all of my spare time (besides reading this blog) is spent in learning Green Wizardry skills or purchasing tools that I don't quite need (yet) or learning herbal antibiotics or other such things. How does that Arab proverb go? Something about, "Trust in Allah, but tie your camel?" Perhaps the system will hold together in some dysfunctional fashion for some time yet, but I'm not countin' on it. But neither am I purchasing property deep in the hinterlands and hunkerin' down over my cans of beans with my shotgun. (Side note: Hubbie and I have been tempted to buy truly rural property -we're mid-sized-town folk now-, but the rural dwellers we observe are at least as dependent upon oil/gas as the city dwellers...I'm not sure the backwoods-people are going to get off as scott-free as they often think they are.....)

I do have to say, however, that the mood of ugliness in the U.S. does seem worse these days....

heather said...

I found this week's post and many of the comments inspiring, as always, but particularly sobering this week. My heart fears for my children- all the children- who will be growing up in a world of disruption and war. I know that environments of violence and uncertainty are the norm for many families around the world, and always have been. It's just disconcerting to see this "coming soon, to a neighborhood near you."

@Matthew Sweet: thank you for airing in public the difficulty of actually taking the personal action you know you should do in the dispassionate long view. I find myself struggling with similar issues, caused by a combination of taking the easy route too often and allowing myself to be distracted by those "first world" problems that aren't going to matter in the long run. It was author Sharon Astyk who first articulated for me the conflicts felt by those of us who are trying to live with "one foot in each world"- in my case, raising two kids in a contemporary suburban peer group at school, with family pressures from folks who are definitely not peak-anything aware, while at the same time believing- knowing- that the world the kids will grow up into will not resemble the current oil-fueled fantasy very much. I appreciate your courage in acknowledging the shortcomings of your efforts to date, as they reinforce for me that I need to "get on the stick" too, for the sake of those kids (all kids, really), whose soccer- and homework-filled current existences I too often allow to serve as an excuse for not spending more time and energy building an existence more appropriate to the REAL future.

Going to hang the clothes out on the line and then sift some compost now. With the kids.

Ian Stewart said...

JMG, the Russians are already openly trying to influence the media dialogue in the US. They've got a cable network called RT, which openly presented itself as Russia Today when it was getting started. The style is very similar to Fox News, albeit hewing towards more radical libertarian rhetoric... buy gold and silver, the Federal Reserve is evil, etc. My parents had to downgrade to the basic Dish Network satellite package, and I was shocked to find that while they no longer received the rural-living channel RFDTV, RT was still available. Now, I can't say I blame the Russians, because this sort of media back-and-forth has been going on for longer than I've been alive... but I can (and do) blame anyone who buys what comes off that network wholesale.

The same thing goes for the Bundy ranch incident a few months ago, which another commentor brought up. At the same time as Ukraine is falling apart, America suddenly experiences a minor territorial dispute on its own soil, in the same region as some of its most secretive and important military bases. I don't think that such an occurrence can be taken at face value. And it goes into something that JMG mentioned last week... we here may be a pseudotribe, but I am even less likely to risk my life for some random rancher out in the desert because he says he needs help fighting the government. A nationwide anti-government militia movement would probably prove very difficult to crystallize into a coherent tribe, especially if there are foreign agents provocateurs lurking in the background.

Thomas Daulton said...

...When I say that a problem with pensions is that they were designed in a bygone era of economic expansion, that's a much more serious problem than the mere words would imply. Part & parcel of the problem is that no government anywhere wants to admit we are in contraction. That would be a hard prerequisite of fixing the problems. Instead, the State, local & Federal governments are trapped in the "Tinkerbell Theory," that if they just put out enough happytalk, the economy will recover, despite any physical or resource limitations. Admitting that pensions legally & lawfully agreed-to, cannot be honored, would be a major admission that our way of life is drawing to a close. Libertarians, unfortunately, are just as guilty of wishful thinking, when they insist that everything will work out justly & fairly if only we'd abolish the rapacious labor unions and meddlesome regulations. It won't happen like the Libertarians imagine.

Stacey Armstrong said...

While I have been spending a lot of my outward facing time on local decision making, I did find myself noting the sabre rattling and scolding the Canadian Prime Minister offered to President Putin in response to the shiftings inside Ukraine. My Prime Minister chooses interesting times to speak does he not? What does he know that I do not? My best guess is that he is attempting to shore up (gird his loins!) in preparation for the push and pull over who gets what in the north.

The Wasteland has grown on me as I have gotten older. I must admit I didn't really begin to understand the angst or aesthetic value of modernism until I was well out of my twenties. The quest for a question at the centre of the Fisher King story is compelling to me. What is the question needed now to heal the earth? What ails you?

As a note of interest. CBC radio's Ideas did five podcasts on the First World War this past week. A few of the folks Paul Kennedy talked to made parallel's between now and then. I also had a sense that there were so many ways that things could have played out differently. I keep wondering where my own blind spots are in my consideration of what is to come as well as what has been.

On the subject of entitlement, I have been thinking about Jane Austen's novel Persuasion. The vain and spend-thrift Lord Eliot ultimately gives up his responsibilities to his land and people for nice clothes and one of the better drawing rooms in Bath. His vanity costs him everything of importance. What can our vanity afford? The discussion on retrenchment in the novel is witty and sharp.

On a less pensive note. My garden this year is thriving. My kid eats whole cucumbers picked right off the vine with excitement and I am going to give pickling turnips a go this afternoon.


Sent from my iPad

mr_geronimo said...

It isn't just the american government that is bleeding legitimacy: here is South America we have a civil war in Venezuela and two countries risking civil war: Argentina and Brazil.

In those three places the reds took over talking about redistributing wealth, failed (as they always do) to do so and now are ruling by fear and violence. Of course, once you start riding that tiger you can never unmount and you will eventually fall from it and be eaten.

Here in Brazil the Worker's Party lost almost all legitimacy. Only the militants still belive in official propaganda, nobody buys into the narrative and the leaders are hated and despised by the common folk. Yet there is nobody to tap that hatred.

The Party noticed it and is trying to do a pseudoconstituional coup, by changing the constitution so that NGO and other organizations, all controlled by the left, start having legal powers. It may backfire if the military intervenes and topple them.

Add to this the deteriorating geopolitical situation everywhere and the probable crash in what passes for markets around november and we get an explosive mix.

Cherokee Organics said...


Many thanks! I was actually going to write the poem to include the four horsemen, but whilst digging, realised that the topic had probably been done to death (pun intended!).

A lot of conflict - to my mind anyway - seems to have at its core, resource acquisition. I don't know whether I'm misguided in my thinking on that matter. The reasons for the acts get dressed up in all sorts of drag, but resource acquisition is never far from the core.

It has been my observation that people like to say that some other tribe is much more violent and prone to acts of aggression than the one that includes the person making that assertion.

It may be that some cultures actually are relatively more inclined towards the aggressive acquisition of other cultures resources.

However, people making those sorts of strong assertions also tend to have a blind spot when it comes to the aggressive actions of their own culture.

Indeed, it is often much easier and far more comfortable for those people making those sorts of assertions to point to other cultures and say, "look at that, they've been at each other’s throats for millennia. It's a powder keg waiting to go off.".

The reality is that it may be that those particular areas have been settled for millennia and that in the absence of other controls, the Red Horse is one very visible tool by which the human population gets back into equilibrium with nature?

Dunno, but I feel there is more to this story than what is presented.



Mark Rice said...

Pongo wrote about the building construction in the LA area. We have a similar phenomena a bit north in the Silicon Valley. There are pile drivers everywhere. Steal frames are shooting up like mushrooms. This is mostly office space under construction.

But here is a lot of empty office space. Most of the empty office buildings are older 1 story tilt-ups. But there are plenty of empty new buildings too. I work next to a fairly new 5 story office building that has never been occupied since it was built at least 5 years ago.

I wonder if there is some sort of tax credit, or accounting gimmick or something behind the construction of all this ghost office space.

But our feckless press have not even noticed the phenomena. Providing and explanation for this phenomena is way beyond the present capability of the media industry.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Ian Stewart skrev, re RT:

"The style is very similar to Fox News, albeit hewing towards more radical libertarian rhetoric..."

The Loomis household gets RT only to the extent that Free Speech TV carries its evening block, and we mainly watch it for The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann. (Between Thom, Al Jazeera America and Comedy Central, my kindly gray-haired mother's need for real news is pretty well-covered.) As such, I hadn't noticed any "radical libertarian rhetoric" on RT, but it does explain The Big Picture's "Lone Liberal Rumble" segment, in which Thom has three conservative jabbering heads on to talk over him and shout him down for what the clock on the wall tells me is only about 10 minutes, but which feels like 10 years in terms of my blood pressure.

Redneck Girl said...

@Janet D. Rural property in my opinion is a pretty good idea. I was taking steps to buy a small but fully developed campground here in Oregon before the owners yanked the opportunity away from me in favor of a later offer. I wanted it because it was open enough to put in pastures and a garden yet right on the border of a National Forest with a river for fishing within easy riding distance and plenty of deer and elk in the area to hunt as well. It would be an income until things really go south. Plus the area had another attraction for me, my skin is brown and my features show the American Indian in me and that area has a reservation. It helps to blend in with the locals and there's lots of trails leading away that I could fade into the woods if necessary. A remote rural location isn't a drawback if you have transportation and I'll have a few horses. Wagons and carts aren't hard to rig up if needed either.


Justin W. McCarthy said...

Look forward to it, your ability to provide a framework or model for something that is usually hard to define in general terms, like empire as wealth pump, turns out some of the best work here, imo. :)

Justin W. McCarthy said...

JMG and Unknown Jay,
I disagree on the media being that important. Most people I know have no trust or faith in the media as an institution.

The only institution people have faith in is the corporation, in my view. I think the collapse of the U.S. is going to proceed along the lines of corporate state-hoods, with economic rights or privileges/access breaking down along membership/employment in legal interpretation much as citizen ship turned on land ownership during an agrarian time.

Nathaniel Ott said...

@Joseph. Very well said. I felt as if I were in philosophy class, except your speech was far more interesting and far less useless, and I thank you for it. Your right of course about not worrying your life away, even when as now there is a lot to worry about. I realized that a long tolime ago. Another way to say this to use a tired saying is: What's the point of Life if your not really living it?

Being cautious is necessary in life but to let that fear rule you is useless. Trying to fight the inevitability of death is as pointless as trying to fight the air you breath. You can try it, but its not really going to get you very far. Nothing is truly infinite. Not humanity. Not the Earth. Not the Sun. Possibly not even the Universe. Everything goes away eventually. In nature it is to give way to something else. Just as there can be no beginning without and end, there can be no life without death. Maybe this will go on indefinately, maybe it won't. But that's not what really matters. What matters is the filler in between. Just because something is short doesn't mean that it has no purpose. Just because you know your going to die doesn't mean that you can't still enjoy your life.

I intend to do just that tonight and for as long as I can(within reason of course!) and I hope that you and everyone else will as well!

AlanfromBigEasy said...

Two factoids, perhaps of interest.

I follow Bakken oil production in North Dakota.\

Oil production hit another new oak in November 2013, and dropped in the following months.

Bad weather could be blamed - although the number of producing oil wells kept increasing. At least till April 2014, when a new oil production record was set.

In six months, the number of producing Bakken oil wells increased by 10% and Bakken oil production increased by 2.9%. Overall North Dakota oil production increased by 2.3% (non-Bakken production dropped).

However, a closer analysis suggests that all the North Dakota oil production increase came from McKenzie County. North Dakota oil production outside McKenzie was flat.

Reports from the field say that all new oil wells in McKenzie are in-fill wells. When first developed, the wells were too widely spaced and now they are drilling new wells in between older wells.

So the steam is escaping from the oil production growth in the Bakken.

The other was a Pew poll that found that just 15% of Americans between 18 and 29 thought that the United States was "the greatest nation in the world". Far lower than older age groups.

I see some hopeful trends in Millennials.

godozo said...

Mark Rice:

I wonder if all this building of office space is a delayed crush of building that was planned and "put off" around the time of the 2008 housing bubble crash. I'd say old contracts which have somehow been called in and made good through further speculations of money that wasn't allowed to enter the newly created North Dakota or Oklahoma earthquake zones (love that Fracking waste, don't you?).

We're not seeing much more office space being built around NW Indiana (Working Class Trash lives here, after all), but I've noticed a bunch of new "retail" space being opened. Mostly dollar stores, wig megastores, massage parlors, hair and nail "spas" and workout places. And, oh yes, a bar or two made to look like what you'd see in the "hipster" areas in Chicago, only stuffed into a one-story building and surrounded by inadequate parking.

At least there's an independent bookstore in the region, as well as a record store still in business. We'll need those to help select the various arts that will survive the cuts.

Nastarana said...

Dear man with no name,

I think your expensive legal education is not nearly so useless as you might imagine. Many of us who would like to be involved in our local govts. fear to do so because we don't understand the laws and legal issues involved.

I think cities and counties urgently need to seize control of essential services like their water and sewer systems, which wont happen unless and until citizens force the issue. Usually local groups have to contract with "consultants" who are quite expensive, and who all to often have their own unacknowledged alliances and agendas.

I think there is a great and increasing need for people of character and integrity who can navigate legal mazes.

Kutamun said...

News today that Uncle Sam is set to build the Biggest Rocket God Ever Shovelled Guts Into , like an ageing Lothario trying to get it up one last time with the Viagra of printed QE money before a sceptical , yawning audience .Yeah ... It occurs to me today that many of us seem to be waiting for the boom to drop , for the flags to wave and indicate that collapse has begun and that it is in earnest .
I realised the events of the last few years in my own dung- patch , catastrophic flood, fire , drought , mass unemployment , foreign acquisition, spiralling energy prices , rampant inflation , foreign wars, foreign troops being based on our soil , militarisation of our borders to intercept floods of refugees fleeing war, climate change , famine and poverty. Militarisation of our police force, public crack down on dissent , economic austerity measures ...phewwww, yeah verily , collapse is well underway .
I sat on a hill at dusk watching the rain and lowering skies , it is still, very still , the boom has already lowered and we all want this anxious feeling to go away , to be back in the womb , floating in the safe briny amniotic fluids ...isnt going to happen , something inner has just changed or is changing , six years after the first outward physical warning of financial collapse ,something emotional , that we must learn to live with , that isnt going away , its stressful, to be sure , some new kind of spirit . This silent still landscape wont always be thus way , i suspect soon there will be many more people moving in it , looking for things . The highway thirty kilometres away , the city of four million tortured confused souls 180 km . Yeah , the chicken has finally stopped running and laid down , six years after having its head removed , it is an inner thing, this collapse .
Meanwhile, Autstralias attitude to the banana empire that is America was foreshadowed by our own prime minister " Pig Iron Bob Menzies " , a working class man absolutely obsessed with aristocracy who recited to a visibly cringeing Queen Elisabeth "though i did but see her passing by , yet i love her until i die " ..
Anyone seen "The Rover " - Australias latest post industrial "Wasteland"flick ??

MawKernewek said...

Russis Today, or Fox News I don't think are that dangerous, because any thinking person will be aware they are biased. I occasionally watch RT but don't accept it as gospel truth just an alternative to other possibly equally biased news organisations.

It is those organisations that have a self-delusion of being balanced and unbiased but nevertheless cannot avoid subjectivity that are the most dangerous.

They promote themselves as trustworthy and unbiased because they present a range of opinions, but actually they set the limits of what is reasonable and frame things to centre the range of opinion on what they consider a safe middle-of-the-road view.

The BBC is like this, but I would expect any other state broadcaster that isn't overtly the mouthpiece of the government is likely to do the same.

England fans in the World Cup and Euro Chanmpionships is yet another case of the it's different this time mentality. There's a direct connection with dubious investment decisions, because there are always a lot of adverts for online betting websites during the games.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Raven. As a suggestion, look into just how many people in Congress are millionaires. The number may just surprise you.

Regards. Chris

Greg Belvedere said...

Thinking about the coming upheaval I have some practical questions. Should I bother trying to pay down my student loans, or is it possible that the debt will either be forgiven or too hard to collect? I have heard some talk of student loans as a debt bubble waiting to pop. It is certainly a ridiculous situation.

Should I rollover my retirement plans from my old job, or should I put that money towards a down payment on a home? How likely is it that the current financial system will be viable enough that it makes sense to depend on them? I know most financial experts would say it is foolish to cash them out, but they often are wrong about a lot of things they supposedly know about. I feel like these are the kind of tough questions that can really make or break us as things start to fall apart. I also feel they are the kind of questions for which you seek the counsel of a wizard.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Happy 4th to all. I say that seriously. I am not qualified to make pronouncements about the state of our federal government. What I'd like to remind folks is that there are multiple levels of government.

In my line of work I am somewhat plugged into state and local government activities. At that level, there are efforts, at least where I live, to prepare for a climate changed, resource poor future. Say what you like about cities, and their flaws are many, but they also are driving much change: mayors have a direct responsibility to their citizens and must do practical things to help their cities. I believe the citizens of those cities have a responsibility to participate in local governance. (Which doesn't mean running for office: there are all sorts of ways to get involved.)

There is a reason why city-states have always been one form of functional government.

At the moment, I am sitting in the hospital watching over my mother. What has impressed me is how the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-gender, multi-sexual preference team of nurses, aids, doctors, etc. have been so dedicated and working together.

I work in a similar multi-everything milieu. There is something precious in the idea that so many people can come together under the umbrella of our American ideal. (Yes I am completely aware of our miserable history of not living up to that ideal.) I really, really, really, do not want to throw that out.

In my opinion, besides the Bill of Rights, and the idea of a democratic republic, separation of church and state was one of the most brilliant innovations of the last 250 years. I say this as a person of faith.

OK, enough patriotism. I'm not noticing any mention in the comments of recent events in the china seas. This might be worth paying attention to.

Sorry if I come across as all preachy and all. Don't mean to.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

A correction to my previous comment: should have said: separation of church and state AND freedom of religion. The two together are the brilliant innovation.

Scott said...

Offlist: Hey John, in regards to your recent accurate description of someone driving an SUV being the face of evil, I just saw an article on about a "Prius Repellent" movement: people who purposely burn gas/diesel and produce exhaust to annoy Prius owners (not saying Prius-owners are perfect by any means, but wow).

Here is the article (see the embeded short videos too):

Thanks for your great blog!


LewisLucanBooks said...

I wanted to comment on some of the posts about "taking the temperature of current Patriotism." Most of the following is anecdotal, but interesting.

I live in the most conservative and rural county in Western Washington. Lots of vets here from all wars. We even have a Veterans Museum. I've noticed that when men meet here, early in the conversation, there's a lot of swapping of service records to establish pecking order.

We have an election coming up and one of the fellows running for Sheriff has no law enforcement background. He plays in a band. But, by gosh, he carries around a copy of the Constitution. Luckily, a Sheriff with 12 years of experience and a very good reputation is running for the position. But in this county, anything could happen.

Now that I've set the scene ... What I've noticed over the last three years is the decline of fireworks on the 4th of July. There used to be a two week lead up, fireworks increasing in frequency and volume up to the 4th which sounded like the opening salvos of D-Day. Into the early hours of the morning. Then, tapering off over a two week period. The past few years? Not much lead up or decline, and on the 4th, over by midnight.

Maybe an indication of declining patriotic interest?Or, just the weak economy? There is a vast underground, off the books economy here that keeps a lot of cash sloshing around.

As a side note, I'd like to read more of Andy Brown's trip around America. Does he have a blog?

Well, time to let out the chickens and plant and weed stuff.

Steve from Lakewood said...

Let me address a few of the issues I saw come up in the comments (posting a bit late due to the holiday getting in the way).

Early on when fracking was first starting, the American Petroleum Institute did a study on fracking and concluded that it was not and would never be profitable (barring $200/barrel oil), and specifically found that the only people likely to make money out of that game were the folks who put together syndicates, tied up land rights, etc.--producers would be in a never ending loop of re-working of wells, etc., so that no genuine profits could ever emerge from production in general. The recent evaluation of shale reserves in various places indicates strongly that there was probably some fraud involved in the initial estimates (nobody is that bad!)

I had a friend who was a local wheel in the federal employees union. They had no power whatsoever to negotiate anything, and could only send a representative to hold an employees had during a hearing, etc. (their success rate was nil--most of the hearing examiners had never in their entire career ever ruled for a federal employee on any issue whatsoever, including obvious disabilities). The unions were set up in the 1970's to give the CIA a front to use to attend international labor conferences, and that was the role of ALL the higher ups in the organizations through the 19080's.

The problem with state pension plans is that you had some mid-level manager in terms of training and market savvy making gigantic investment decisions, and they were played like a violin by Wall Street, and they wound up as the major holders of the worthless derivative paper,etc., spawned in the recent financial crisis. In consequence the states and many municipalities are in trouble--even Colorado where budgets must be balanced under the state constitution have trouble due to their mal-investments and the current zero interest rates on bonds, i.e., the Federal Reserve is really already stealing people's retirements, and the federal governments tolerance of well known criminality (Eric Holder turned down prosecution of 15,000 lay down criminal cases handed to him by the lawyers in a class action civil lawsuit against Counrtywide) is guaranteeing that there will only be pennies on the dollar recompense for the fraud. In other words, pension funds got left holding the bag for most of the $21 trillion in losses in the recent financial crisis. And, of course, you hear Republicans whining about unfunded liabilities (that their patrons caused--sorry to be political here, but then the Democrats are busy micromanaging everything--I guess you could say I revile them both!)

I'm 69 and spend too much time looking into things. It makes me very discouraged about our future, and the likleyhood of guns in the streets in this country. If you are optimistic about change, read Bruce Bueno de Mesquite's book The Dictator's Handbook, whose punchline is that those in power will never betray their base. The first case is a small town in California, not Saddamm Hussein or his ilk. You are not in the real base of any politician.....

thrig said...

"The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" really is good stuff:

"In increasing numbers individuals become increasingly estranged from political life and behave more and more eccentrically within it. Then, as the crisis deepens, many of these individuals commit themselves to some concrete proposal for the reconstruction of society in a new institutional framework. At that point the society is divided into competing camps or parties, one seeking to defend the old institutional constellation, the others seeking to institute some new one. And, once that polarization has occurred, political recourse fails."

Aaaand back to being eccentric (walking heavy flowerpots back to the apartment to hopefully give some more bees a chance).

latefall said...

@Agent Provocateur: Please believe me when I say I am not trying to pick a fight :), you said
"Thus much of the motivation (save anger at not getting your share of the loot) is absent."
It is now, correct. But once the next one or two organizations in line of succession become clear - this changes. I then may do this for the promise of power/wealth/security in a future society. And if I was queasy about going hand to hand I can still pass on information (only in service of justice - naturally). Maybe the odd unsubstantiated bit about really obnoxious people that kind of fit the bill. Also when your friends and family become victim of security forces whose primary purpose is not seen in "law and order" (or maybe just in focusing on the latter) people tend to become a lot less queasy. Even if that may not be true for me now, friends of friends of mine may be in a place a little further in the future already. Might have been as early as 2001. Not condoning anything, just saying.

"For those of the 1% that are ahead of the curve, setting up a feudal arrangement would be the next move during industrial collapse."
I think the traditional 0.1% was doing that all along, in a sort of family tradition. Their basis of wealth is (renewable) political power. The rich industrialist/fossilist/noveau riche - of whom you have a very large proportion in the US may be more prone to not comprehend why they are so rich (almost having to hope/believe it is their smarts and technology -just so they can sleep at night). Hanauer fell in that category before he woke up. Now he can choose to quit or try to become traditional 0.1%. Almost the entire rest of the 1% will get their place allotted in a feudal system (if one is to come). I think Whomever the security apparatus in the US is serving is most likely traditional now - although they are doing very amateurish blunders currently. Still, I guess if we get anyone to dangle it will be the slightly naive and accessible industrialist/fossil/nouveaus. If my surmises are correct some of the thoughtful ones started taking courses with these fellows recently: - although they need to work on their "non videri" (obviously).

"This brings up the issue of where their wealth comes from. Its not based so much on land as it used to be before industrialization."
True in a way. But then again there are certain lands industrialization is in turn dependent on, because in those you can harvest a bit more energy than from last year only.

"Who do you know of by name and face of the 1% who lives within 100 km of you."
I assume you mean 1% and up by US standards? With the 100km limit I guess I could fairly say one or two only plus some family. And one uses bodyguards (a lot). The other I am not sure. Without the 100km limit it is surely more than a dozen + family. A few of them in the 0.1% for sure. Some of them with very lax security. Some with basic, say 1-5 minutes extra security. Many I wouldn't know in so much detail - but did you know you can get addresses from patent documents? Or really scared linkedin and facebook contacts? Or traffic cams, shareholder meetings, conferences...
However, in this group your statement may be true for the majority. But in general it is not so unlikely if you assume that you know perhaps 200 people "by face and name" and you're not exactly in a "working class place". Also, if you can smell a weak link with some addresses, for example a lawyer, you can easily extend your list.

latefall said...

re IED:
What is wrong with IEDs?! As weapons go, an IED is potentially a very "good natured" tool, no? It is a bit like a "more responsible mine". Also, to use them really effectively you better have support from the local populace (as you'll be digging in their front yard for half a day, or leaving your "trash bags" around their neighborhood). IEDs are rather pointless on the offense (I'll just assume here that those people will be the bad guys more often than not). What I'd be more afraid of is rapid reaction force ("tax collector") type gear - or what ISIS and the likes use (depends a little on geography). Basically anything that allows organized groups to outrun the consequences of their previous actions. Trucks and big ships coming at night would probably make me hope there'd be MORE IEDs in my neighborhood...

latefall said...

re WWI
There's two major differences to pre-WWI times I can think of as rather important:
1. Used human carrying capacity
2. We're on the downslope

The first one doesn't work in our favor but I am not sure how much impact it has on the issue at hand - apart from the obvious incentive for resource wars. And I guess for WMD as well to be blunt.

I have some hope that number two will be a strong stabilizing factor, at least as far as military endeavors are concerned. In a growth economy you can argue that you can get back up, and inaction will lose out eventually. Therefore risk taking is adaptive (I would say this is strongly reflected in US (business) culture).
In a shrinking economy sitting still until you (think you) know what you are doing is preferable. Military conflict is costly - and most of the immediate benefit goes to the people selling sandbags and guns from the sidelines. Now if there is no long term return on investment to be expected there's not much reason to go to war unless you really have to (or it comes to you). On the other hand there is more than enough incentive to do a "shake out" of your former alliance, who would in due time become competitors.
On that note it was interesting to hear that a spy was caught in a German government committee reluctantly established to investigate allegations of US espionage. The most shocking aspect was the tiny sum of money the operative was said to have received. Well, I guess it was only the US side income - if it was true at all. But I think the ratio of embarrassed "hush-hushers" to all kinds of people that start thinking is starting to shift - even without elections. The headline news of the day before was that the NSA targets specifically people who value their privacy, using a real example of a harmless looking "non-political" young dude working in academia.

latefall said...

@JMG and others:
There's a commons/benefit oriented "research project"/movement out there that sounds like it could interest a few people here and on the green wizards forum.
It has the "internet Achilles heel" I am afraid but apart from that I'd be interested if you could pick out more flaws.

I don't think it is very big anywhere at the moment, and it certainly does not have a "Caesar" speaking for it. The video is not as long as the others I keep posting (14 mins) and provides some historical perspective.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Greg Belvedere--You didn't ask me, but you should look into what options exist right now for getting your student loans forgiven. The original source of the loan makes a difference in what you can do about it.

A friend of mine is getting a student loan forgiven by working for a non-profit organization for ten years.

You can get some of this information from websites of government agencies. You could also try doing an Internet search for "student loan forgiveness".

Gordon Cutler said...


There's a similar process at work in Eugene, Oregon near the U of O campus where in the last year privately held, out of state real estate 'development' companies began building 4 very large apartment buildings; 3 of them 6 stories. But these are not being built to fulfill 6 year-old contracts and despite the fact that competition for student renters was already very high with free broadband, cable and utilities commonly used as an incentive. The first will be completed in 6 weeks and the other 3 later in the year. A rental market price collapse is widely expected for next year.

The developers could be looking for a tax write off, but I expect what's really playing out here is a couple of private firms with too much money that are lost in their own private Idahos having drunk too much MSM Kool-Aid.

The structures are all way out of scale with their surrounding neighborhoods so I think the city fathers and mothers were so desperate for additional tax base that they set their traditional concerns about scale aside.

I often visit a friend who lives close by and since reading JMG's excellent Stars Reach I find myself sizing them up as a Ruinman would whenever I pass by. As someone whose extensive skillset includes carpentry, framing, plumbing, project management and technical drawing [with t-squares and triangles!] that marks quite a switch in my daily psychology.

Their basic energy inefficiency would have caught my notice even 40 years ago as I went through the frigid winter of 73-74 in the north of Scotland; burning coal when we could get it, peat when we could not, and often read by candle light when striking unions turned the power off which they often did. The Brits have been even worse than us Yanks when it comes to improving energy efficiency standards.

But to paraphrase a line by the late, unlamented author of Ideas Have Consequences [a volume of Holy Writ for many American Conservatives], sentience is an intermittent phenomenon.

Nathaniel Ott said...

@Latefall part 1. Just to be clear I am not trying to start an argument here nor trying to attack you or whatever your personal viewpoint may or may not be. But I would like to comment a little on your posts about Security Forces, Reactionary Forces(as in people fighting the Security Forces) and IEDs.

When it comes to the Security Forces it is true that many a civilian has been a victim of them. Mostly through incedental or accidental harm, as in they were going after a the Reactionary Forces and the civilian somehow happened to get in the way. But also through intentional actions of individuals of those Security Forces. Usually because of orders given to them by the upper Governmental echelons bossing around those Security Forces, who IMHO tend to really care about the men and women who make up the SF about as much as they really care about the civilians, wich is not much. Rarely but occasionally because of a personal misguided grudge against them the member of the SF has against them. Mostly because the Reactionary Forces are made up of them and probably because they killed another member of the SF they cared about. Combined with the stress of war and conflict and this usually drives them to take things WAY too far. Its as if all thier senses have flown away, and they're in some kind of dream. Notably many of them(though certainly not all) tend to feel extreme remorse after sometime has passed, they have been removed from the situation and they start to remember who they were before. Their victims unfortunately don't get that chance. These occasions are often far worse and have far more terrible consequences. While the orders harm is usually not on the order of magnitude of the personal grudge harm it cannot be denied that being under constant surveillance and guard, having your home broken into and your relatives captured and interogatted can cause some serious trauma.

On the subject of the Reactionary Forces. It is a common misconception that if the Security Forces are so disliked by the civilian population than surely they most love the Reactionary Forces. Not quite. Often the RF are disliked or even hated just as much or even more than the SF are. Mostly because the RF can be just as much or even more cruel and destructive towards them as the SF can be. Its hard to love someone who forces your older brother to fight for them, makes sexual advances on your sisters and then subsequently kills your brother and poor acid over your sisters faces when they refuse. Also the fact that some of these RF are actually foreigners who are simply being paid to fight for them(aka mercennaries) makes it even harder. From my experience most of the civialian populace that supports the RF only do so because: a member of their family was harmed by the SF, a member of their family(for whatever reason) is part of the RF, they are being paid by the RF or(very often) they are deathly afraid that the RF will harm them and their families if they don't. Also as far as the IEDs go, they often have no qualms using them when civilians are present and will suffer and die as well, so this might diswade them from wanting alot of them around.

See usually, or at least in the situation I and it sounds like you too are thinking of, the RF are not fighting for the freedom of their country, their fighting for control of their country. As in they control the rest of the civilian populace and enforce their rules on them. Though to be honest this is exactly what the SF are doing as well. At least these are often the goals of the upper echelons of the SF and RF, the individual members of both groups often have their own reasons and motivations. This could be applied to a lot of other situations in history as well. For all our bluster about them, many Americans don't like to admit just how horrible the Patriots of the Revolutionary War era and many more of our heroes really were.

Chris G said...

The irrationality, unpredictability - foolishness - at the origins (and at the end, in Treaty of Versailles, widely implicated as a contributing factor to starting WWII) of WWI are, to some significant extent, the result of the kinds of power at stake: all wars are wars over resources. While this is overly-simplistic, it is particularly meaningful in an age empowered by millions of years of stored up sunlight.

Part of the terror in the American Civil War, which as you note anticipated WWI trench warfare, derived from the kinds of technologies involved - gatling guns, cannons, and such - and those technologies do not come about without the energy to create them.

So it seems relevant and notable to me that WWII culminated in a kind of energy so devastating and terrifying that it gives us pause to go much further.

Let's say fusion power is a real technical possibility, hypothetically. But nothing comes from nothing, and the universe is slowly cooling. The stars are composed of hydrogen being compressed and in the process letting off energy, in the form of light. Fusion power requires a fuel of some kind. Shall we boil away all of our oceans in desperation to escape from the earth to the stars?

Nathaniel Ott said...

@ Larefall part 2. The truth is while for whatever psychological reason we like to widdle real life down to the simple narrative of good guys and bad guys, in most real life conflicts there are no truly good guys. Just bad guys fighting other bad guys, and the people caught in between them. The bad guys who are somewhat nicer than the others are, we label, the good guys. No matter who gets the good guy label, its the ordinary people in the middle who suffer most. But truly lets face it, human nature being what it is Manny of those civilians caught in the middle could find a reason to fight and do some horrible things too, given the piper incentive. After all both the SF and the RF have done some good things too and more importantly are made up of other human beings just like them. Many of whom never intended to do many of those horrible things. We were all inoccent at some point, life just had different plans. Even you, should something happen were you had to support or join an RF in your area might do some things and events might occur that you never intended. Or for whatever reason you might join the SF and those same things might occur. Either way you will probably still find some justifications for your actions and either way the end result will probably not be what you were expecting.

This is a terrible realization to have and most certainly is not comforting to anyone, especially those in the middle civilians, but as far as I can tell that's just reality. Obviously there are exceptionss and sometimes it is black an white, but yeah. That doesn't mean that all is negative doom and gloom however, there are certainly great, beautiful wonderful things about life and humanity and the future. But lets face it, not everything is so great.

@ To JMG thanks for making this site and for allowing us to comment, but if you feel I have overstepped my bounds or should refrain from bringing things like this or others in such (admittidly long winded) detail and think they might start uneneeded pointless conflict, feel free to tell me to shut my trap. Again to Latefall this was not an attempt at flame baiting or trolling you in any way. I respect your opinions and I hope you respect mine.

Chris G said...

As I struggle to keep a couple gardens functioning well - my first real attempts at it - even though I've been warned, there are many variables, and many unforeseen challenges in the process. And I even have access to good horse manure, a vehicle to transport it to my suburban home, the wealth of information on the internet (maybe too much - I could spend hours just trying to evaluate legitimacy - and I often end up at the beginning: let's see what works), organic mycorrhizal fertilizer, and the luxury of an industrial agriculture system to fall back on when I fail...

I can understand why our civilization made the Faustian bargain.

exiledbear said...

What I've noticed over the last three years is the decline of fireworks on the 4th of July. There used to be a two week lead up, fireworks increasing in frequency and volume up to the 4th which sounded like the opening salvos of D-Day. Into the early hours of the morning. Then, tapering off over a two week period. The past few years? Not much lead up or decline, and on the 4th, over by midnight.

I go by smell of the burnt gunpowder myself, that sulfurous odor that's hard to miss.

I remember 2009, it was all I could smell that night on 7/4 and the fireworks were almost continuous ('round here you can buy and set off fireworks to your heart's content). This year, almost no smell at all, and very sporadic. And today? Business as usual as far as can tell.

It wouldn't surprise me if some 7/4 night goes completely silent by 2025.

latheChuck said...

Every now and then I run across some scientific research that really resonates with me. Here's the latest headline from the Atlantic: "People Prefer Electric Shocks to Being Alone With Their Thoughts: A new study finds we're not very good at entertaining ourselves." Matthew Hutson Jul 3 2014, 2:00 PM ET.

In a nutshell, people left alone without any other form of entertainment media will self-administer mild electric shocks. What unpleasant thoughts do you suppose would float to the surface if they didn't have their handy shock device to play with?

Personally, I have a favorite chair that I often drop into at the conclusion of some domestic task. I was initially surprised, when I started using it, that my very own mind produced Good Ideas when I gave it the chance.

However, I have from time to time practiced prayer, meditation, and Tai Chi, so maybe those have conditioned my mind to work in a creative, rather than simply reactive (or even reflexive) way. (I'm using "creative" in a very general way, as in creating a plan for the next few hours of activity.)

Chris G said...

Part 1 of 2: Regarding Andy Brown's studies suggesting that across the political spectrum the "internal proletariat" sees the government as corrupted and beholden to capital powers: in a fairly recent discussion regarding America's gun policies, I floated the suggestion that the second Amendment was an add-on to the Constitution in order to create another layer of balance of powers - one of the citizens against the possibility of a standing army.

In the context of a discussion of gun rights, I argued that the real problem is not that so many Americans own firearms, but that so many Americans feel a need to use their guns to get something. I said the problem is chiefly a social dysfunction, not the proliferation of a certain technology. The social dysfunction is primarily due to exclusion from social political institutions of minorities, which then form gangs (as the Italians did early in the century, so now the darker skinned minorities do so today)... essentially, the origin of most gun crime is poverty. This is particularly ironic in a time of such profligate wealth...

Nevertheless, I believe the citizens' right to keep and bear arms is an effective balance of powers against a professional (read: mercenary) standing military - which should have been illegal anyway, according to the Constitution.

I raised the hypothesis that the balance of powers that the Founders failed to anticipate was one that was created by the Industrial Age. It was the balance of powers between capital owners and the citizenry as a whole.

Chris G said...

Part 2 of 2: The need to balance those powers - those of capital owners and the general citizenry - was chiefly not anticipated because the Constitution was crafted BEFORE the energy resources were unlocked as they would later be. Before the coal-powered steam engines - that first Industrial Revolution - the Constitutional Founders could not anticipate that so much power would be had by the owners of capital.

In a way, the result of centralized management and ownership of Industrial energy and technology was that the Pyramid on the back of the dollar bill starts to look more and more like a space needle, with an increasingly heavy bulb of powerful control at the top, swaying around in the maddening and increasingly blustery winds. Furthermore, the demands of debt repayment necessitate an endless pursuit of profit - by law - such profit to be paid out of the earth's blood, even as parasites drawing the blood kills the host.

It is a particularly tricky problem - really more like a predicament (no solution) because nowadays, empowered by the industrial fuels and the technologies, and security, they drive, the American middle class lives like kings (even as they struggle to keep that tower from tipping over)...

there is no check and balance on such astronomical power -- it seems only to wait until it ends, either by dwindling away, or by hubristic self-destruction.

Let us say a brave political elite recognizes the problem and offers a solution: we must wrestle control of the government away from the corporations. then what? what policy follows on that?

Because it's not so much the greed of corporations, but the greed of all of their customers, that continues to drive corporations as they prod government to increase liquidity, stimulate demand with more currency in circulation, more unpayable debts....

It's hard to see any policy following on taking control of government away from corporations that doesn't involve a reversal of economic growth. Without economic growth, there are three subsequent policy options: curtail population growth with something like the one-child policy; yank support for the elderly who cannot produce for themselves; or yank support for the poor and disabled who can't produce for themselves.

JMG, I know I'm kinda just echoing the discourse, but I thought this other angle might be helpful: even dealing with the lack of confidence Americans have with government - getting the government to be democratic again - doesn't really solve our problem. The problem is deeper.

Something about getting everything we ever wanted, right up to the point that it terrified us to go any further, we might destroy ourselves, and everything else with us.

Agent Provocateur said...


I was certainly thinking of USA and Canada when I was thinking of the 1%. Now the Wallenberg family may have a real problem. With 1/3rd of Sweden's GDP passing through their companies, it would be hard to have a low profile. I suspect they are targets no matter what happens. Could it get worse for them? Probably.

So you are definitely correct that some of the 0.1% would be targets in the future. Taking these people out only really makes sense though when you are in a position to step into the void left by the recently deceased. There are no contenders for political power with this sort of agenda in the industrial west that I know of. I'm not saying there won't be … just not yet.

No argument with your understanding of the family traditions of the 0.1%. I was using the word “feudal” in its most literal sense as I expect things to eventually go in that direction.

No problem with presenting a different opinion. Being too attached to an idea closes the mind; so I just have working theories that are subject to revision or disposal depending on the obtainable facts. If someone can muster a cogent argument against a point I posted, so much the better; then I learn something.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Mark Rice said...

Off this weeks topic:
Is China a Fascist State?
The author attempts to take a definition of fascism and see if it fits China. He used a different definition of fascism than you used. Also I am not sure he understands the definition of "corporatism". It is a good effort but I am not sure it hit the mark.

latefall said...

I guess it would help if I post the link...
more under FLOK Society.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Nate. Hey dude! The green ladies reference was originally an old Eddie Murphy joke from the late 1980's, I believe. It was actually a Star Trek reference. I won't repeat the language as it is a bit naughty and way outside the comment moderation guidelines established for all our benefit.

The comedy skit can be found here: Eddie Murphy - Star Trek

Not just wrong, but very, very wrong and also way off topic. Glad to hear that your friends are possibly as big a geeks as my lot!



latefall said...

@Agent Provocateur:
I was thinking the Wallenbergs actually have a comparably small problem.
1. They can point to their history of altruism
2. They can point to a comparably tidy society "run" by them
3. They make mostly genuinely useful products (admittedly there are a few possible exceptions such as Astra Zeneca but their involvement is small there).
4. Swedish armament is often the product of choice for groups who care about their independence.
5. They have experience in avoiding trouble and staying afloat.

Compare this to say the Quandts in Germany: (funny enough you'll have to translate this one), and more recently - if I remember correctly the family also influences US elections with their money.

In Norway I would assume people on this list ( have some preparations made (for them), including but not limited to their pension fund:

In Switzerland there are (fallout) shelters for 120% of the population, and they publish books such as this: (there are translations available). Okay, I am not sure how much of this would be possible if they weren't a safe haven for some nasty crooks from nearly everywhere - but they sure are sensible enough to "share the loot", if I may put it in these terms. If I remember correctly their last larger military maneuver assumed an invasion from France by the way...

I think the "run off the mill" multimillionaires/billionaires in the US (maybe the other 4 eyes as well) face similar threat levels as non-aligned Russian oligarchs.

"There are no contenders for political power with this sort of agenda in the industrial west that I know of." I agree, but my feeling is that may not last very long.

"I was using the word “feudal” in its most literal sense [...]" after a quick look at wikipedia I'm not sure I know what you mean. I guess we'll have to find out what is the necessary basis to support "mounted troops" or whatever equivalent fulfills their role now and in the future.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Agent. Hear, hear!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Shane. Dude, we're already paying the equivalent of US$6 /gallon Down Under. Life goes on mate.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Thomas. Your pensions are paid out of current government revenue. There is no reserve or slush fund for this specific purpose. The basis of a defined benefit pension scheme is that it predicts future flows of income to those pensioners. It is just a poor basis with which to make that judgement of future income flows to pensioners as it fails completely to take into account declining government revenues.

The local government body here recently sent me a letter saying that this was the first year that property rates (land taxes) would increase by less than 5% (4.9% to be precise). They also stated that they were cutting back on some services to the community. Now I'm just pointing out that it is not a particularly good look.

As someone who works in small business, I have had a single increase in revenue from existing sources over the past 6 years and am unlikely to achieve this feat again in the future.

latefall said...

@Nathaniel Ott:
No offense taken in the least. And please be clear that my comments are from an "interested armchair general perspective" (reading literature, technical background, listening to people, watching Armadillo, etc), without going into too much detail here. I value empiricism so I'd see me conceding point after point if we discuss concrete examples. And of course in military conflict the concrete circumstances matter a lot.
I agree with all the points you make, but I want to clarify in what vain I meant my original comment.

The situation I consider would be set in a world where the "good people" (if there ever was something like that) are dead in the gutter. The Geneva Convention or similar things are part of a difficult to grasp history. The world is very gray.
I'd just say that this thread's conception of worse is: a predatory behavior restricting another groups' abilities to live sustainably in a given location, maybe reduce ability to follow their individual and communal decisions, the whole shebang that can be subsumed under the romantic notion of the "old not-authoritarian Western tradition" or "power of love" I guess.
ON the other hand anyone who is in it more for "short term return on investment with whatever externalized cost" and "the love of power" is a shade darker. In practice they can look nearly identical as you explained well.
In my argument I just "max out the contrast" so that factions are either black or white. The ranks of the "Good Side" can still include "Bad Individuals" and tactics, just a little less (or for a little "Better Ends").

Now certain weapon systems are better suited for "love of power people" than for "power of love people". Of course both sides can use IEDs for example. The "power of love" side just has to use a little more resources to, say kidnap lots of people in the neighborhood (so word about the ambush doesn't come out), and make everyone see why it was just and necessary, than the "love of power side". So everything else being equal I'd say the side using more IED tactics (or less e.g. carpet bombing or scorched earth tactics) is more likely to be on the "power of love side". Even if it is only one iota more.

latefall said...

@Agent Provocateur:
I really like your comments as well because I often feel they address meaningful issues in a meaningful way. My impression is that our trains of thought follow mostly parallel tracks that go through slightly different landscape at times.

I there was one point that still bugged me about this statement:
"Taking these people out only really makes sense though when you are in a position to step into the void left by the recently deceased."

This is correct if you are looking for a substitute from the mainstream in an essentially similar prevailing system. The change is pretty insignificant as you correctly pointed out in earlier comments. You could say there are plenty of spare 0.1%ers in the 99% - just by virtue of their mental make-up. If they have money or not doesn't really matter as that variable is largely random anyway. The thing is if they attack out of the same basic motivations that drive the traditional 0.1% the only thing that changes is the name of the person really.
Because most of these attacks are from a similar motivation in a society with intact mimesis - you know the angle of attack and can (relatively) effectively guard against it.

When mimesis breaks down this is not true anymore. The efforts in protection become futile. There's a handful of people that demonstrate this as their hobby. And if the peoples goal is NOT replacing the previous 0.1%er in anything but name, they become really dangerous - even if there is no organization of theirs in place to pick up the ball again.

donalfagan said...

LA Times reviews both alternative Americas and books about revolutions inspired by ours:
As I just blogged, the example of previous revolutions suggests that the 99.9% will be at just as much risk as the 0.1%.

Andy Brown said...

I do maintain blog, Anubis Bard, though I tend not to write about the specifics of my work there, which is mostly for clients that are progressive non-profits wanting to understand how Americans think about (or don't think about) various public policy issues. (In the past few months that has mainly been about how people think about government and how to talk to farmers about sustainable agriculture.) The blog on the other hand is a mishmash of musings, pictures, thoughts and whatnot, and you are just as likely to hear about my beekeeping mishaps as you are about my travels as an anthropologist. But I do try and engage with ideas that flow here. By all means stop by – I’m always happy to get visits from the Archdruid’s commentariot!

Andy Brown said...

Chris G.,
If you had told me a couple of years ago that the US Supreme Court would rule that their payments to politicians would be protected free speech, and that they would be granted exemptions from laws as religious beings, I'd have laughed. The idea that corporations could claim to have a "right to bear arms" seems ludicrous at first, but given the recent actions by the Court, I don't think it is beyond the realm of possibility any longer. Essentially, it might be possible for corporations to claim that we (and the government) have no right to limit their ability to form mercenary armies. It would be a complete reversal of what the Constitution was meant to achieve, but then again, that seems to be the plan .

Shane Wilson said...

I'm not whining about gas prices, but I am saying that the U.S. didn't end up using the amount of oil it does, being the most petroleum dependent country in the world by having high gas prices. Australians, Europeans, and other places with higher gas prices have responded by developing less car dependent, more compact development with a rich alternative transportation network, so they're less dependent on petroleum and the cost of gas than freeway and suburbia crazed America. Even if they have mimicked our development, it's not to the same extent, nor could it be, considering how much gas costs.
I wanted to second the building craze thread. I live in an area that, at one time, was somewhat preservation oriented, and keen on preserving it's architectural history, which is why it's unsettling to see so many structurally sound, architecturally valuable buildings coming down for much cheaper, less durable replacements. The University of Kentucky has been a bad culprit for this locally. It's very dismaying to see durable structurally sound buildings getting torn down for cheap replacements that won't last

Nathaniel Ott said...

@Cherokee. Thanks for the link man! I did not know about the Edie Murphy part though I did know about the Star Trek reference.

To be honest I'm just as big a nerd as my friends are, kinda why I talk somtimes about things like FTL travel and other SF tropes. And there's nothing wrong with being a nerd! Or SF. They can inspire people and influence new ideas. Its when you stop discriminating between fact and fantasy, and scientific plausibility and total crap in real life that the problems arise.

Though to be fair, even though I know we'll probably never meet them face to face, and real aliens are probably so different from humans you wouldn't want to, let alone be able to have sex with them. And even though I'm not into SF porn, get out reasonably often and am not totaly unpopular with the young ladies myself. part of me still holds on to that faint hope as they do of sailing the stars and meeting that green alien Space Babe(Space Stud or whatever) someday and sharing Space Drinks at the Space Bar... oh well, everybody's allowed a hopeless fantasy or two!

Nathaniel Ott said...

@Latefall. I get what you mean and I didn't take your comments in a bad light. Your absolutely right about the world(and people) being very grey. Its understandable to want to pollerize them to make them easier to discern from each other and to support a certain narrative. People on all sides from every walk of life do it all the time. I guess I've just gotten too cynical to be able to do it myself(unless the distinction is VERY extreme). A fact I don't like, and definitely don't say with any kind of pride or joy.

It's clear that many things about the current order are setup to benifit those in power and keep those not down. Unfortunately the new order and people looking to replace them don't seem all that better. Even if they were, once they have that power themselves, time might change that. But of course humans being what we are, no order at all wont be that much better, despite what some hopeless idealists might think. There seems to be no right answer. Doesn't mean that there aren't and wont be good things about the world now and in the future. Just that I always expect something equally as bad to balance it out. Although yes, sometimes the scales tip one way or the other, it never seems to fully fall over to one completely, especially the good side. Of course on the bright side that also means also means things can't go completely to hell either. Even if it may seem that way in the hard times ahead. An old History professor of mine summed it up perfectly: "Human History:horrible people doing horrible things to other horrible people, and then they died."

I think i understand what you mean about "power of love" weapons and " love of power" weapons, but im not sure I quite agree. As far as the IEDs go I'm not sure I'm convinced about them being different from any other tool of war subjectively. Yes they tend to be used by people fighting an occupation(for whatever reason) but this isn't necessarily because they don't want to use the "love of power" weapons, like say missiles that level entire blocks, and probably have a large number of collateral damage and civilian casualties. Usually its got more to do with just not having the resources or money to use those weapons. If they had those things, they would probably use them too. Most of the reason people on all sides of conflict might not use some of those weapons isn't necessarily because they don't want to but because they either can't or they're afraid of the consequences for them or their group if they do. Like say nuclear weapons for example. Though to be fair this might be a consequence of my cynical attitude!

As far as having to have the support of the people for IEDs. You could have the love of the people to plant them in their neighborhood, but their fear would work just as well. Nobody's going to tell the enemy that you put a bomb in the road if you tell them their next if they do. They'll just be smart enough to stay away from that part of the road. Of course in reality it would be both love and fear that would motivate them to keep their mouths shut. As fast the other weapons like missiles go. You need both the love and/or the fear of people to use those too. Support of the people to use them(on someone else besides them) or their fear that you'll use them on them if they oppose.

We seemed to be mostly in agreement and I'm greatly enjoying your other posts, thanks for the conversation!

Candace said...

"... I'd have laughed. The idea that corporations could claim to have a "right to bear arms" seems ludicrous at first, but given the recent actions by the Court, I don't think it is beyond the realm of possibility any longer. Essentially, it might be possible for corporations to claim that we (and the government) have no right to limit their ability to form mercenary armies. "

Andy's comment reminded me of this.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG and everyone,

This is a truly shameless plug for my latest weekly blog update containing photos of big trees and the wedge tail eagle family here:

Time is passing

Thanks for checking it out!



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Stacey. Congratulations on the cucumbers! The plants are really productive. Well done.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Janet. No stress, we're all good.

I actually favour a dissensus of responses. It is my observation on society that if you know how to grow at least some food organically, you are miles ahead of the pack, regardless of where you actually live.

I'm here in this unusual back woods location because it was cheap and no one else wanted it! True story.

Keep up the good work.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Mark and godozo,

Didn't that also happen in Spain prior to their crash?

Jasmine said...

Dear Mr Greer
A great post. I hope you don’t mind but all that talk of 1914 makes me want to throw a couple of poems into the mix. Sometimes poetry can say things better than prose can. The first poem “On the idle Hill of Summer” was written by A E Houseman sometime before the outbreak of war in 1914. However it seems to describe well, the almost dream like state in which millions went off to war in 1914,even though many were aware that they might be going to their death. It also describes well the way that the drum beat of war speaks to something deep in the human psyche. Looking at what has gone on in Iraq, Syria and other places recently, it is clear that human nature has not changed and that the same forces that drew millions of men off to war in 1914 could do so today. The other poem “The parable of the old man and the young” quite accurately describes the attitudes of many of the politicians and statesmen of the day.

On the idle hill of summer,
Sleepy with the flow of streams,
Far I hear the steady drummer
Drumming like a noise in dreams.

Far and near and low and louder
On the roads of earth go by,
Dear to friends and food for powder,
Soldiers marching, all to die.

East and west on fields forgotten
Bleach the bones of comrades slain,
Lovely lads and dead and rotten;
None that go return again.

Far the calling bugles hollo,
High the screaming fife replies,
Gay the files of scarlet follow:
Woman bore me, I will rise.

A E Houseman

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Wilfred Owen

RPC said...

"I still wonder if anybody's thought through the consequences of taking thousands of young Americans, sending them to Iraq and Afghanistan, training them in the latest up-to-date counterinsurgency doctrine, and then dumping them back in the US and denying them the health care they were promised..."
Three words which you almost certainly know but some here may not: Bonus Expeditionary Force. Note that the second time the veterans were given jobs in the CCC. It's scary how close the U.S. came to coming apart at the seams (literally).

Eric S. said...

"Their obedience is the linchpin on which the survival of a regime rests, and it’s usually also the fault line along which regimes shatter, because these low-ranking and poorly paid functionaries aren’t members of the elite."

Regarding that concept, I got a call from my grandmother who lives in Memphis Tennessee this morning telling me that the police there are going on strike (calling in sick, en masse and calling it the "blue flu" in reference to the color of their uniforms). And apparently rumblings are that the fire department there is headed towards doing something similar. I wonder if there'll be a nationwide pandemic of the "Blue Flu" among our law enforcement professionals in coming years and what that could mean for the civil order. I'm planning to hop a bus to go visit her soon to visit some of the locations for my space bats story just to check for consistency before sending off the final draft... here's hoping that trip doesn't turn out to be more interesting than it needs to be.

AlanfromBigEasy said...


I will be returning to Georgetown KY on July 15th to continue helping care for my father.

If you are in Lexington, perhaps we could meet up on day. I find the people of G'town lacking in creative thought and ... Hard to explain.

My eMail is alansdrake at g male period conn (designed to foil robots, Google's mail service).

I just send the following eMail to my friends.

I know I am back home in New Orleans

Dear All,

I walked by a lemonade stand run by two sweet little girls. Ages 8 and 11 (I asked). They were selling lemonade for 50 cents a cup straight and a dollar a cup "spiked" - about a third of a shot of vodka.

Of course, I ordered the more expensive option. They said about 3/4ths of their customers do.

Only in New Orleans :-)


Roger said...

There's no shortage of people that feel chewed up and spat out. There's soldiers who went through the Asian meat grinders. There's multitudes of people who watched employers shut down and relocate to China and, as a consequence, who watched their towns, their finances, their lives, their marriages, their families and futures disintegrate.

People may have missed the fact that whacking huge bonuses and unimaginable wealth accrued to execs doing the offshoring (and the oligarch masters) the first 10,000 times. But eventually they noticed. Millions of livelihoods wrecked and Wall Street rolls in money.

This has to be history's most idiotic business plan because if this isn't a sure-fire recipe for upheaval I don't know what is. Just think of the fortunes spent on Ivy League MBAs. Is this the plan they come up with? Is this what elite education buys?

Regardless, what's done is done. So maybe it's obvious that the demogogue will be the man with the plan and the helping hand but I'll bet it will be somebody that nobody would've guessed (and least of all the oligarchs).

We've seen it before. Like the little Corsican that ruled France. Or the Austrian with the goofy moustache that ruled Germany. How unlikely were these two men? How far outside the centers of power were they born and raised? Or the obscure KGB agent for that matter.

Varun Bhaskar said...

@ Bill

The rise of the rightwing in the 90s was an aborted insurgency. When a government has the resources, capability, and public support it can deal with rising anti-state violence pretty quickly. Of course when a state doesn't have the resources then those insurgencies will fester. This is called a low-intensity insurgency as opposed to high-intensity that we see in Ukraine or Iraq. In the United States don't expect us to go from nothing to high-intensity at the drop of a hat. Things will build slowly. So when I said that we will probably face a low-intensity insurgency in the next decade that's what I meant.

DeAnander said...

I'm too busy in the buzzing, blooming confusion of the real world to say much except the one phrase that leaps shouting to mind as I read:

"losing the Mandate of Heaven"

And yes I would say the governments of N America are losing it or have lost it. I find this very worrying in a way, because of all the unstable and possibly violent paths forward from the impasse (most of which would make my relatively privileged private life harder and more dangerous); but almost a relief in a way, too... because once the Emperor's nudity is publicly admitted and discussable in polite company, it's perhaps possible to find him some different clothes -- or if you're lucky maybe a new and improved Emperor...

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Kutamun. I heard the review of the film the Rover Marc Fennell movie reviews. Sounds intriguing and possibly worth the trip into the big smoke.

Very amusing commentary about the rocket too on your part.

Watch for the PUP, they are the dark horse - and that is not an endorsement one way or another for their point of view.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Thrig. You go dude. Years and years ago, I used to abscond with chipped up wood waste that the local council left lying around in neat easy to extract from piles after branches or even a tree had toppled over and they'd gone to such trouble to process it. It was very considerate of them and a thoroughly good use of ratepayers funds.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi latefall,

Honestly dude, I read your comment about IED's and wondered whether you'd ever come across mention of the Toyota War.

At 100km/h an IED is quite ineffective.

Just sayin, how many hiluxes and land cruiser utes are in your neighbourhood?

Pinku-Sensei said...

@Neo Tuxedo: "Pinku-Sensei, I accidentally-on-purpose became a member of my county's Democratic Committee (by writing myself in with no serious expectations that it'd lead to anything), but I'm definitely in favor of the Coffee Party's core values (some more than others, admittedly)."

Funny, I'm also a member of my county's Democratic Central Committee and I also began my journey there by writing myself in as a delegate. I have the story of that on my blog.

That means both of us know how the Democratic Party works like at the local level from the inside. One of these days, we should compare notes.

As for the values of the Coffee Party that you favor, I'd like to read which ones you like more than others. We might agree on which one or ones are overrated.

Bill Pulliam said...

Varun -- of course there are reasons why a widespread insurgency didn't happen in the 90s. There are always reasons why something did or did not happen. The point though is that these things are very hard to determine in advance.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Pinku-Sensei: "overrated" may be too strong a word, but I'm not sure how civil, inclusive, or transpartisan I can be with people whose realities are blatantly at odds with any universe I recognize, particularly the people who (as you quoted Jonathan Chait a while back) "don't understand liberalism and the left at all, and are thus unable to present liberal ideas in terms remotely recognizable to liberals themselves."

H. Beam Piper famously advised that, if somebody says something that sounds crazy to you, you shouldn't tell him he's crazy; rather, you should ask him what he means by that. If we got a Coffee Party in Chambersburg and it reached out to the Tea Party, or to local Republicans (to the extent there's a difference*), I suspected I'd be asking the tea partiers "What do you mean by that?" after every sentence. In the immortal words of Molly Ivins, it will wear a body down some.

Roy Smith said...

I haven't been very tuned in on youth subcultures lately, so this article titled Lana Del Rey: Why a Death-Obsessed Pop Siren Is Perfect for Late-Stage Capitalist America was an interesting read. The article even specifically draws a comparison between this artist and the 14th century danse macabre.

wolfvanzandt said...

I agree with you that this system is going to explode (or implode) soon, but once you get outside the laboratory, you move into the realm of chaos (not random events, but complex events that aren't predictable because they are very, very sensitive to initial conditions). Science does not play well with chaos beyond a certain (and very short) time period. It is the realm of the Unexpected Consequence.

One thing that is important in dealing with chaos is intuition. Before I moved to Colorado, my left hand was more accurate than the meteorologists. We can forgive the weather folks for not being able to predict the weather accurately past three days, especially in the Southeast, but my left hand started hurting two days before severe storms, regardless of what the weather people said. Evidently, my left hand was sensitive to the same initial conditions that the weather danced to. So, the brain isn't a digital computer, it's an exquisite pattern processor and it's very well designed for dealing with chaos if it's well tuned.

But chaos is chaos, you don't deal with it on a scientific basis. Individuals can and do change world events, but it's often in ways they don't expect. My best guess is that we have to be responsible for our own lives and the way they affect the vast network of connectivity around us. We have to because we can't be responsible for others' lives and actions.

godozo said...

Hi Cherokee Organics, Mark.

There was quite a bit of overbuilding also going on in England and Ireland as well, and that's what I heard (along with the odd story of four useless skyscrapers overlooking Madrid). One wonders whether the constant building of subways throughout Japan is a symptom of this as well, as it is rare when mass transit can actually catch up with the amount of people who use it.

More interesting is that when a state starts REALLY thinking big with their buildings the economy is about ready to collapse. From the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building to The First Trade Center and the Sears/Hancock Towers to the Burj Dub – er the Burj Khalifa, seems that extremely tall buildings seem to bring on economic collapse

Bill Pulliam said...

Liberal, conservative, left, right, blah blah, these terms and their respective ideologies are all products of a booming industrial world, which we are no longer in. Their concepts and policies all presume the indefinite continuation of industrial wealth (something has to pay for it all...) and eternal progress. None has much useful to say about the world of decline that we are already in and have been in for decades.

DeAnander said...

"Extremely tall buildings seem to bring on economic collapse" -- love it!

I'd like to see the warning label :-)

MawKernewek said...

I've always heard it explained as the time delay to build really big that causes the great skyscrapers to be built in recessions. Another modern example is the Shard in London.

The herd mentality of investors must also play a big role.

Ventriloquist said...

"Factor these patterns together, follow them out over the usual one to three centuries of spiraling decline . . ."

Is it possible that this timeline would be accelerated in the context of the 21st century?

Would one of the results of globalization not give rise to critical shortages happening at a faster pace than in a far less-connected time?

For example, during much more agrarian eras, the 3-day food supply at the local supermarket did not precede a very quick starvation of most of the citizenry . . . i.e. it probably took a lot longer for that 90% population decline than it would today, no?