Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Smile For The Aliens

Last week’s post, with its uncompromising portrayal of what descent into a dark age looks like, fielded the usual quota of voices insisting that it’s different this time. It’s a familiar chorus, and I confess to a certain wry amusement in watching so many changes get rung on what, after all, is ultimately a non sequitur. Grant that it’s different this time: so?  It’s different every time, and it always has been, yet those differences have never stopped history’s remarkably diverse stable of civilizations from plodding down the self-same track toward their common destiny.

It may also have occurred to my readers, and it has certainly occurred to me, that the legions of bloggers and pundits who base their reasonings on the claim that history has nothing to teach us don’t have to face a constant barrage of comments insisting that it’s the same this time. “It’s different this time” isn’t simply one opinion among others, after all; it’s one of the basic articles of faith of the contemporary industrial world, and questioning it reliably elicits screams of outrage even from those who like to tell themselves that they’ve rejected the conventional wisdom of the present day.

Yet that raises another question, one that’s going to bear down with increasing force in the years ahead of us: just how will people cope when some of their most cherished beliefs have to face a cage match with reality, and come out second best?

Such issues are rather on my mind just at the moment. Regular readers may recall that a while back I published a book, The UFO Phenomenon, which managed the not inconsiderable feat of offending both sides of the UFO controversy. It did so by the simple expedient of setting aside the folk mythology that’s been heaped up with equal enthusiasm by true believers in extraterrestrial visitation and true believers in today’s fashionable pseudoskeptical debunkery. After getting past that and a few other sources of confusion, I concluded that the most likely explanation for the phenomenon was that US military and intelligence agencies invented it out of whole cloth after the Second World War, as protective camouflage for an assortment of then-secret aerospace technologies.

That wasn’t the conclusion I expected to reach when I began work on the project; I had several other hypotheses in mind, all of which had to be considerably modified as the research proceeded. It was just too hard not to notice the way that the typical UFO sightings reported in any given decade so closely mimicked whatever the US was testing in secret at any given time—silvery dots or spheres in the late 1940s, when high-altitude balloons were the latest thing in aerial reconnaissance; points or tiny blobs of light high in the air in the 1950s, when the U-2 was still top secret; a phantasmagoria of flying lights and things dropping from the sky in the 1960s, when the SR-71 and the first spy satellites entered service; black triangles in the 1980s, when the first stealth aircraft were being tested, and so on. An assortment of further evidence pointing the same way, not to mention the significant parallels between the UFO phenomenon and those inflatable tanks and nonexistent battalions that tricked the Germans into missing the real preparations for D-Day, were further icing on a saucer-shaped cake.

To call that an unpopular suggestion is to understate the case considerably, though I’m pleased to say it didn’t greatly hurt sales of the book.  In the years since The UFO Phenomenon saw print, though, there’s been a steady stream of declassified documents from US intelligence agencies admitting that, yes, a lot of so-called UFOs were perfectly identifiable if you happened to know what classified projects the US government had in the air just then. It turns out, for example, that roughly half the UFO sightings reported to the Air Force’s Project Blue Book between 1952 and 1969 were CIA spyplanes; the officers in charge of Blue Book used to call the CIA when sightings came in, and issue bogus “explanations” to provide cover for what was, at the time, a top secret intelligence project. I have no reason to think that the publication of The UFO Phenomenon had anything to do with the release of all this data, but it was certainly a welcome confirmation of my analysis.

The most recent bit of confirmation hit the media a few weeks back. Connoisseurs of UFO history know that the Scandinavian countries went through a series of major “flaps”—periods in which many UFO sightings occured in a short time—in the 1950s and 1960s. The latest round of declassified data confirmed that these were sightings of US spyplanes snooping on the Soviet Union. The disclosures didn’t happen to mention whether CIA assets also spread lurid accounts of flying saucer sightings and alien visitations to help muddy the waters. My hypothesis is that that’s what was going on all the way through the history of the UFO phenomenon: fake stories and, where necessary, faked sightings kept public attention fixated on a manufactured mythology of flying saucers from outer space, so that the signal of what was actually happening never made it through the noise.

Many of my readers will already have guessed how the two sides of the UFO controversy responded to the disclosures just mentioned:  by and large, they haven’t responded to them at all. Believers in the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs are still insisting at the top of their lungs that some day very soon, the US government will be forced to ‘fess up to the reality of alien visitation—yes, I field emails from such people regularly. Believers in the null hypothesis, the claim that all UFO sightings result from hoaxes, illusions, or misidentification of ordinary phenomena, are still rehashing the same old arguments when they haven’t gone off to play at being skeptical about something else. That’s understandable, as both sides have ended up with substantial amounts of egg on their face.

Mind you, the believers in the extraterrestrial hypothesis were right about a great many more things than their rivals, and they deserve credit for that. They were right, for example, that people really were seeing unusual things in the skies; they were right that there was a coverup orchestrated by the US government, and that the Air Force was handing out explanations that it knew to be fake; they were even right in guessing that the Groom Lake airfield in Nevada, the legendary “Area 51,” was somehow central to the mystery—that was the main US spyplane testing and training base straight through the decades when the UFO mystery was at its peak. The one thing they got wrong was the real origin of the UFO phenomenon, but for them, unfortunately, that was the one thing that mattered.

The believers in the null hypothesis don’t have much reason to cheer, even though they turned out to be right about that one point. The disclosures have shown with uncomfortable clarity that a good many of the explanations offered by UFO skeptics were actually nonsense, just as their opponents had been pointing out all along. In 1981, for example, Philip Klass, James Oberg, and Robert Sheaffer claimed that they’d identified all the cases  that Project Blue Book labeled as “unknown.” As it happens, they did nothing of the kind; what they actually did was offer untested ad hoc hypotheses to explain away the unknowns, which is not exactly the same thing. It hardly needs to be said that CIA spyplanes played no part in those explanations, and if the “unknown” cases contained the same proportion of spyplanes as the whole collection, as seems likely, roughly half their explanations are wrong—a point that doesn’t exactly do much to inspire confidence in other claims made on behalf of the debunking crusade.

So it’s not surprising that neither side in the controversy has had the least interest in letting all this new data get in the way of keeping up the old argument. The usual human reaction to cognitive dissonance is to exclude the information that’s causing the dissonance, and that’s precisely what both sides, by and large, have done. As the dissonance builds, to be sure, people on the fringes of both scenes will quiely take their leave, new recruits will become few and far between, and eventually surviving communities of believers and debunkers alike will settle into a common pattern familiar to any of my readers familiar with Spiritualist churches, Marxist parties, or the flotsam left behind by the receding tide of other once-influential movements in American society: little circles of true believers fixated on the disputes of an earlier day, hermetically sealed against the disdain and disinterest of the wider society.

They have the freedom to do that, because the presence or absence of alien saucers in Earth’s skies simply doesn’t have that much of an impact on everyday life. Like Spiritualists or Marxists, believers in alien contact and their debunking foes by and large can avoid paying more than the most cursory attention to the failure of their respective crusades. The believers can take comfort in the fact that even in the presence of overwhelming evidence, it’s notoriously hard to prove a negative; the debunkers can take comfort in the fact that, however embarrassing their logical lapses and rhetorical excesses, at least they were right about the origins of the phenomenon.

That freedom isn’t always available to those on the losing side of history. It’s not that hard to keep the faith if you aren’t having your nose rubbed in the reality of your defeat on a daily basis, but it’s quite another matter to cope with the ongoing, overwhelming disconfirmation of beliefs on which you’ve staked your pride, your values, and your sense of meaning and purpose in life. What would life be like these days for the vocal UFO debunkers of recent decades, say, if the flying saucers had turned out to be alien spacecraft after all, the mass saucer landing on the White House lawn so often and so vainly predicted had finally gotten around to happening, and Philip Klass and his fellow believers in the null hypothesis had to field polite requests on a daily basis to have their four-dimensional holopictures taken by giggling, gray-skinned tourists from Zeta Reticuli?

For a living example of the same process at work, consider the implosion of the New Age scene that’s well under way just now.  In the years before the 2008 crash, as my readers will doubtless remember, tens of thousands of people plunged into real estate speculation with copies of Rhonda Byrne’s meretricious The Secret or similar works of New Age pseudophilosophy clutched in their sweaty hands, convinced that they knew how to make the universe make them rich. I knew a fair number of them—Ashland, Oregon, where I lived at the time, had a large and lucrative New Age scene—and so I had a ringside seat as their pride went before the real estate market’s fall. That was a huge blow to the New Age movement, and it was followed in short order by the self-inflicted humiliation of the grand nonevent of December 21, 2012.

Those of my readers who don’t happen to follow trends in the publishing industry may be interested to know that sales of New Age books peaked in 2007 and have been plunging since then; so has the take from New Age seminars, conferences, and a galaxy of other products hawked under the same label. There hadn’t been any shortage of disconfirmations in the previous history of the New Age scene, to be sure, but these two seem to have been just that little bit more than most of the movement’s adherents can gloss over. No doubt the New Age movement will spawn its share of little circles of true believers—the New Thought movement, which was basically the New Age’s previous incarnation, did exactly that when it imploded at the end of the 1920s, and many of those little circles ended up contributing to the rise of the New Age decades later—but as a major cultural phenomenon, it’s circling the drain.

One of the central themes of this blog, in turn, is that an embarrassment on much this same scale waits for all those who’ve staked their pride, their values, and their sense of meaning and purpose in life on the belief that it’s different this time, that our society somehow got an exemption from the common fate of civilizations. If industrial society ends up following the familiar arc of decline and fall into yet another dark age, if all the proud talk about man’s glorious destiny among the stars turns out to be empty wind, if we don’t even get the consolation prize of a downfall cataclysmic enough to drag the rest of the planet down with us—what then?

I’ve come to think that’s what lies behind the steady drumbeat of emails and comments I field week after week insisting that it’s different this time, that it has to be different this time, and clutching at the most remarkable assortment of straws in an attempt to get me to agree with them that it’s different this time. That increasingly frantic chorus has many sources, but much of it is, I believe, a response to a simple fact:  most of the promises made by authoritative voices in contemporary industrial society about the future we’re supposed to get have turned out to be dead wrong.

Given the number of people who like to insist that every technological wet dream will eventually be fulfilled, it’s worth taking the time to notice just how poorly earlier rounds of promises have measured up to the inflexible yardstick of reality.  Of all the gaudy and glittering technological breakthroughs that have been promised with so much confidence over the last half dozen decades or so, from cities on the Moon and nuclear power too cheap to meter straight through to120-year lifespans and cures for cancer and the common cold, how many have actually panned out?  Precious few.  Meanwhile most measures of American public health are slipping further into Third World territory with every year that passes, our national infrastructure is sinking into a morass of malign neglect, and the rising curve of prosperity that was supposed to give every American acces to middle class amenities has vanished in a haze of financial fraud, economic sclerosis, and official statistics so blatantly faked that only the media pretends to believe them any more.

For many Americans these days, furthermore, those broken promises have precise personal equivalents. A great many of the people who were told by New Age authors that they could get rich easily and painlessly by visualizing abundance while investing in dubious real estate ventures found out the hard way that believing those promises amounted to being handed a one-way nonstop ticket to poverty. A great many of the people who were told by equally respected voices that they would attain financial security by mortgaging their futures for the benefit of a rapacious and corrupt academic industry and its allies in the banking sphere are finding out the same thing about the reassuring and seemingly authoritative claims that they took at face value.  For that matter, I wonder how many American voters feel they benefited noticeably from the hope and change that they were promised by the sock puppet they helped put into the White House in 2008 and 2012.

The promises that framed the housing bubble, the student loan bubble, and the breathtaking cynicism of Obama’s campaign, after all, drew on the same logic and the same assumptions that guided all that grand and vaporous talk about the inevitability of cities on the Moon and commuting by jetpack. They all assumed that history is a one-way street that leads from worse to better, to more, bigger, louder, gaudier, and insisted that of course things would turn out that way. Things haven’t turned out that way, they aren’t turning out that way, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that things aren’t going to turn out that way any time this side of the twelfth of Never. I’ve noted here several times now that if you want to predict the future, paying attention to the reality of ongoing decline pretty reliably gives you better results than trusting that the decline won’t continue in its current course.

 The difficulty with that realization, of course, is precisely that so many people have staked their pride, their values, and their sense of meaning and purpose in life on one or another version of the logic I’ve just sketched out. Admitting that the world is under no compulsion to change in the direction they think it’s supposed to change, that it’s currently changing in a direction that most people find acutely unwelcome, and that there are good reasons to think the much-ballyhooed gains of the recent past were the temporary products of the reckless overuse of irreplaceable energy resources, requires the surrender of a deeply and passionately held vision of time and human possibility. Worse, it lands those who do so in a situation uncomfortably close to the crestfallen former UFO debunkers I joked about earlier in this post, having to cope on an everyday basis with a world full of flying saucers and tourists from the stars.

Beneath the farcical dimensions of that image lies a sobering reality. Human beings can’t live for long without some source of values and some sense of meaning in their lives.  That’s why people respond to cognitive dissonance affecting their most cherished values by shoving away the unwelcome data so forcefully, even in the teeth of the evidence. Resistance to cognitive dissonance has its limits, though, and when people have their existing sources of meaning and value swept away by a sufficiently powerful flood of contradictions, they will seek new sources of meaning and value wherever they can find them—no matter how absurd, dysfunctional, or demonic those new meanings and values might look to an unsympathetic observer.  The mass suicide of the members of the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult in 1997 offers one measure of just how far astray those quests for new sources of meaning can go; so, on a much larger scale, does the metastatic nightmare of Nazi Germany.

I wrote in an earlier post this month about the implosion of the sense of political legitimacy that’s quietly sawing the props out from underneath the US federal government, and convincing more and more Americans that the people who claim to represent and govern them are a pack of liars and thieves.  So broad and deep a loss of legitimacy is political dynamite, and normally results within no very long a time frame in the collapse of the government in question. There are no guarantees, though, that whatever system replaces a delegitimzed government will be any better.

That same principle applies with equal force to the collapse of the fundamental beliefs of a civilization. In next week’s post, with this in mind, I plan on talking about potential sources of meaning, purpose and value in a world on its way into a global dark age.


AlanfromBigEasy said...

One of the strongest and most embedded faiths of the day is economics. They even added a "Nobel Prize" for Economics.

Yes, there are different denominations (which allows to better explain away failures). Yet all share a common faith.

What happens when cognitive dissonance over the failure of economics reaches ear splitting, deafening levels ?

Don Plummer said...

Thanks again, John, for your clear writing.

I'm wondering how Americans are going to respond to the inevitable military defeat our armed forces are sooner or later destined to encounter.

It seems that in the past few years, since the terrorist attack in 2001 of course, but even moreso in recent years--say the past four or five--there has been a huge uptick in expressions of militarism. One can see it at sporting events: pro baseball players are now wearing jerseys designed in military camouflage. Last year we went to an NFL football game and were treated during the pregame ceremony to an actual swearing-in of National Guard recruits. It seems that all our national holidays, even the recently celebrated Independence Day, have become days to "honor the sacrifices of the men and women in our armed forces." (I'm expecting to see the same attitude and expression this coming Thanksgiving--a national observance as far removed from honoring the military as I can think of.) I could give plenty other examples that I and others I know have witnessed. It's almost as if the military services have become the chief source of our national identity, and I'm not exactly sure how that happened.

As an aside, I don't need to remind you, of course, that rampant, uncontrolled militarism and nationalism were one of the sources of the powder keg that blew up when Archduke Ferdinand was killed a century ago. Therefore, this increase in militarism has me concerned. But that's not why I'm writing this today. It seems that the military is one of the chief things people are still hanging onto in the troubled times we are facing.

You've written in detail about the vulnerabilities of the high-tech weaponry of our supposed invulnerable armed forces. (When I think of this topic, I still think of The Return of the Jedi, wherein the Ewoks with their stone-age weapons helped defeat a high-tech empire.) When that inevitable defeat comes, what do you think the resulting cognitive dissonance will set off?

Pinku-Sensei said...

I was involved in a group online that not only debunked UFOs but also other weird ideas as well as making fun of stupid net tricks. In fact, that's the group where I first used the Pinku-Sensei identity. As one of the debunkers, I can give an explanation for why we would dig in. Even though your explanation is a perfectly naturalistic one that has been supported by the evidence, it would kill the debunkers to admit that the saucerheads, as we called them, were right about anything, especially a government coverup. We got called "paid government disinformation agents" regularly, which both annoyed us and amused us, as we were doing it mostly for the LULZ. We could always count on a hilarious spittle-filled reaction from the saucerheads when we teased them. That was our reward.

Fortunately, the UFO enthusiasts were a harmless bunch, if very loopy. The men's rights movement, which a commenter on your "Fate of Civil Religions" post called an anti-religion to feminism, were a different matter. They were both nutty and organized enough to be dangerous, something I recognized eight years ago.

As for the comments last week about "it's different this time," I couldn't help but notice how many of the ones you put through were of the nature of "yes, it is, and it will make things worse this time." This is the opposite of the usual "things are different this time and the good times will keep on rolling." I guess the people making them really want a catastrophe as the consolation prize for the promised future not happening.

peakfuture said...


I look forward to getting your UFO book. I'm curious what you think of the works of Richard Dolan, Leslie Kean, and late John Mack; don't know if commentary on their works made it into your book. From the reviews, and as you've mentioned, you seem to have annoyed everyone in the field, that takes some doing! I'll be curious to see how you view some of the classic cases (the RB-47 case, the incident at Exeter, etc.).

In a similar vein (and it is a question I've been asking folks on all sides in fields that are on the edges of common discourse; climate change, Peak Oil, UFO, NDEs, etc.), who would you say is your best intellectual counterpoint on these topics? Someone who has a good analytical bent and sense of history, but disagrees (politely, of course) with you? And what are the origins of these differences?

Unknown said...

Does this blogger ever post anything, even a single sentence, about how the world needs to stop population growth? And the world would include the United States, which must stop it via immigration shutdown.

Kutamun said...

Dissonance , yes , the Abyss of the mystics , the discrepancy between what is ideal and what is actual , no doubt we will encounter the collective aspect of all the dissonance there has ever been , how will we weather it , you ask ? ....the flight into unreason for many , no doubt . Many even now look around them and see nothing wrong , so accustomed are we to the totalitarian wasteland .
I was looking at a little creek on my farm one day that has been denuded of trees , stock being grazed in it for several generations , i had never seen it any other way , like countless others in the district until at length it dawns on me that this is not normal , but a scene of devastation , and the effect is chilling , sudden realisation from which many would prefer to stay away .
For those of us who come awake there can be no peace , though it be a sign of psychological health , and not the reverse. Was it Krishnamurti who said " it is no measure of success to be well adjusted to a toxic society " or words to that effect .
Yea, this is all about learning to live with the tension of holding opposites within oneself , rather than fleeing to the safety of the poles . Indeed, four seasons in one day is often more psychologically distressing than living in the duality of the equatorial tropics , with all the escapees ...people , dont sit on the fence !
"but in psychoanalytic terms , it can be said that Choronzon is equally a manifestation of the dark , repressed components of the psyche ..characterised by disintegration , dispersion and chaos , qualities suggestive of the fracturing experience of modernity , the abyss is both symbolic and real . It is emblematic of the breakdown of the personal sense of self as manifested by the ego marks the erasure of the boundary between the conscious and unconscious , an erasure that the Magus must evoke at will. The Magus is one who can establish a harmonious relationship with the unconscious initiate who can embrace personal disintegration , abandoning all knowledge or awareness of the "I" while retaining and asserting the power and authority of the magical self who emerges unscathed has confronted and contained the unleashed furies of the unconscious by exercise of an infinitely clear sighted and powerful magical personality unconnected with the personal self Adept who has glimpsed the full implications of his subjectivity ....gone is the limited and limiting understanding of "I" as the finite centre of his / her universe ...he / she has entered the unconscious and acknowledges the permability of its boundaries ...."
Alex Owen - The Place of Enchantment
Beware people , the beast has the ability to erase the line in the sand ....dont try to go it alone

latheChuck said...

I see parallels here: "Space Aliens are to UFOs", as "Fast Collapse/Near-Term Extinction are to Peak Oil". "Natural phenomena are to UFOs" as "Business As Usual is to Peak Oil".

Also, I see something funny going on with the captcha: no test photo until I push the "show me another" button.

Yupped said...

I've broken-up with a bunch of isms in my life - teenage nihilism, socialism, catholicism, consumer-capitalism. Fortunately, I managed to get my mental baggage out from under them before they collapsed on top of me. One of the great advantages of having a problem with commitment! For now, though, I don't think I have another ism-craving in me, even if the future brings along a nifty new religion. Although where we're going we may all be surprised at what we cling to.

Meanwhile, I do like the here and now, where I find my daily meaning and values. Just being, living simply, physical work, friends and loved ones, a bit of ritual here and there, stillness, nature, rot and decay. And beer. I know we are supposed to need our belief systems, but I'm finding that life's better without them. Although maybe that's just another story. This life is certainly an amusing ride.

John Michael Greer said...

Alan, true enough -- and that applies even to the sort of lumpen-economics common in American society that equates everything to money.

Don, it's going to be a whopper. I discussed that to some extent in 2012's posts on the end of American empire, but it's a big issue.

Pinku-Sensei, funny. I think I mentioned a little while back that I've spoken to creationists who admitted to me that they jab the Darwinists for exactly that reason -- because it gets such an entertaining Donald Duck frenzy out of them.

Peakfuture, I think Ugo Bardi is about the best counterpoint I have just now -- and a very entertaining writer to boot.

Unknown, people have been yelling about population control since before I was born, and the population of the planet has doubled in that time. Yelling about population control doesn't work; thus I direct my efforts to goals that have some chance of success. Over the not too long run, after all, excess population will take care of itself, via those four guys on horses -- not a pleasant prospect, but at this point, probably inevitable.

Kutamun, good. Societies, like individuals, sooner or later have to face the crossing of the Abyss.

Chuck, hmm! That's true, and I missed it completely. I guess I just have a congenital liking for ternary thought.

peakfuture said...

The fictional piece JMG did on the defeat of the US military (carriers going down, especially), has been a point I've raised with many a folk. If you really want to talk 'cognitive dissonance', during one wargame (Millenium Challenge 2002) where carriers were sunk very early on, they were "refloated" by the folks running the simulation. Of course, there are some who justify those actions.

There's article that was written a few years ago by 'The War Nerd' on the carrier topic (; very sobering. Folks still comment on it.

PRiZM said...

So often when I see people so easily being ignorant of the realities in our life, I am reminded of the scene from the Matrix, where the traitor takes a bite of steak and says "ignorance is bliss." It's a lot easier for people to choose ignorance, especially when they can't see a light at the end of the tunnel, so I applaud you for helping us to see that light at the end of the tunnel! Thanks JMG!

Nastarana said...

Unknown, To answer your question from last week, the Cambridge Ancient History devotes an entire volume to ancient Persia. I don't know how helpful it might be because I am back on vol. III. I think it might be vol. 4. Some libraries still have such books; I keep begging the librarians at our local to not discard the CAH until I have finished reading it.

I can remember both my grandmothers cooking on wood stoves. I can remember how excited my mother was when we finally were able to have telephone service. Many folks are only lately come to the comforts of high technology and are terrified of having to give them up.

Susan J said...

Certainly the current dissolution of political legitimacy at “play” in America is a valid source of cognitive dissonance. We are challenged daily to make sense of the destruction of traditional political values without losing our balance.

May I please have some water wings?

Thank you for your thoughts.


Razer said...

JMG: "I concluded that the most likely explanation for the phenomenon was that US military and intelligence agencies invented it out of whole cloth after the Second World War, as protective camouflage for an assortment of then-secret aerospace technologies."

I've seen that broached before along with the hypothesis the future policy planners of the US government weren't sure, even with Operation Gladio and other lesser known spook activities stirring up anti-communist sentiment, that that ruse we now call the "Cold War" would work to, how did Goebbels put it?

"And they'll just follow along"

In other words Keep everyone in a state of hyper-vigilant fear so the Military-Industrial complex would prosper.

'Just tell them they're under attack and the (fill in the blanks) was responsible"

Aliens were "plan B" if the Cold War didn't fit that 'blank'.

Crews said...

John Michael Greer,

This post really confirms for me my suspicions that the greatest problems and issues encountered in the future will come directly from people’s expectations of that future. Their stubborn refusal to adapt to the things they hope are not true or the over eagerness to change to absolutely any values that offer solace no matter how insane they are. I’ve picked up a few philosophical points from eastern traditions in the one of the noble truths of Buddhism which tells us the source of all suffering is expectations. Having a mindset that shifts our thoughts too far to the future can be just a detrimental as one that focuses too much on the past or present. Finding the balance or the middle path or “the way” through life without falling off of both sides of a narrow trail with steep falls on both sides seems to be the most reasonable path in my opinion.

I find stories of the past quite comforting whether it is history or anthropological records. The idea that humanity is sliding down the per capita energy curve towards a state much more the rule rather than the exception in human history puts me at ease. I think it’s a very human thing to be comforted by the idea that even in suffering or turmoil you are not alone. This is different from more typical romantic “back to nature” notions because I have enough of a scientific understanding of the past to balance the considerable positives with considerable negatives. Finding a narrative that makes sense and has a greater coherency seems paramount to me. In some way, I have found the opposite meme, “It is really isn’t different this time, it’s completely normal actually” to be appealing. Finding these calming narratives brings me an inner tranquility that strengthens my motivation and resolve in everyday life. As we do slide down that per capita energy curve the world becomes as much bigger place as it takes more time to navigate since we have less energy, and this re-expansion of the world can be exciting.

So I have two questions for you at this moment. Do you have any plans to go more into depth discussing the American Caste system you have briefly alluded to in comments? Ever since you mentioned Americas obsession with necrophilia I have slowly been seeing it more in my own life. Your steampunk Victorian era post got me thinking about the way we hide the inner workings of things which steampunk seems to oppose. Exposed piping is ugly, everything must be covered, finished coverings are emphasized and wiring or other “workings” are minimized. Why do you think it is that society seems to think the same of wires, pipes or even water treatment plants as they do of women’s breast, embarrassing things meant to be hidden? It is almost like the wizard of OZ man behind the curtain, where our inventions and achievements lose their luster as soon as how they work is revealed?

Cherokee Organics said...


I suspect that people gain a level of comfort from basing their personal values on the dominant culture. Whether that culture fits the facts on the ground is something else all-together and not something that people really want to think about. Following it saves them having to consider the consequences of their actions.

Plus there is the very large benefit that if the culture is proven to be faulty, then they get to blame someone else! That is no small benefit. Using electricity sourced from nuclear power, but concerned about the waste – well don’t worry, if it gets out into the environment, it’s not your fault (I’m being sarcastic).

I generally don't put much value in status anyway, so it was an easy thing for me to try how the dominant culture fitted and then discard it completely. It wasn't hard, but it did take a long, long time to find something else to place my value system on. That transition time is really difficult.

The difficulty of that transition also forced me to consider how my new value system fitted the facts on the ground. It fits well, but has left me with the clear understanding about how precarious our relationship with nature actually is. People, I reckon, traded reality for certainty. Dunno, but that's what I reckon, and it also is the basis as to why they'd accept potentially dodgy authoritarian leadership promising a return to the land of milk and honey over the realities of a bleak and impoverished future.

Phew, where did all that come from?

By the way. It's snowing outside!!!! I'll upload a video and post a link.

If anyone is curious about what goes on at the farm here, you can check out my weekly blog - it has lots of cool photos too: Fernglade farm weekly blog



Ruben said...

JMG, in what way do you see Ugo Bardi as your counterpoint?

I could easily see the two of you playing Good Cop, Bad Cop. On the face they seem very different, but they are firmly on the same team.

John Michael Greer said...

Peakfuture, that War Nerd article was one of the inspirations for my series of stories (and the upcoming novel developed from them, Twilight's Last Gleaming). It's among the more likely ways the US could run face first into history's concrete wall.

Prizm, thank you. Ignorance may be bliss in the short term; in the long term, it's the fastest route to a shallow grave.

Susan, ain't no water wings big enough for this flood. Either start walking away from the flood plain now, or be prepared to swim for all you're worth.

Razer, I suspect the words "Report from Iron Mountain" mean something to you!

Crews, you get tonight's gold star for talking about the core issue that matters -- the unwillingness of most Americans to face the future they're actually making for themselves. As for your questions, I may talk about the caste system; I've discussed it here and there already, but if it seems useful as a way of illuminating the road down to a dark age, I'll consider a post on it. As for the frantic efforts to make technology invisible, hmm! That's a good point, and I'm going to want to think about where that comes from and what it implies.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, oddly enough, I'll be discussing the many uses of the dominant culture's values next week. Enjoy the snow!

Ruben, Bardi still believes in the progress-or-apocalypse thing -- you'll want to glance back at his version of the next ten billion years for that. I don't, of course. We agree on the facts, by and large; we disagree on their interpretations, which I think is what Peakfuture was asking about.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

I'm reminded of the final days of the Reich, where, in the theater, they took in Wagner as Russian artillery pounded Berlin's infrastructure. Ushers handed out suicide pills during intermissions. I'm sure we'll see the American equivalent. Maybe we could make reality shows for public TV about how someone goes on "one last fling", where they dress up for their old fancy job and pretend to go to work at the office, but instead show up at the voluntary euthanasia center, the only place with electricity still running 24/7. Then they could donate their body for research in bio-fuels in order to pay for the procedure to be done by people in spotless white technician coats. The only thing I wish for is more time, a luxury apparently that will be in short supply. Thinking about it on the way to work this morning, the way it seems to me is that most people will do well to have a dozen or so reliable skill sets in their bag: organic gardening, small engine repair or ability to master an old technology gone out of "date", animal husbandry of some kind, basic medicine and knowledge of the body, firearms, and then of course one or two of their very own specialities, which will set them apart and allow them some freedom and development, like paper-making or black smithing.

Pinkie Pieovitch said...

JMG - I've been lurking since May, but by synchronicity I just finished reading your "The UFO Phenomenon" today. Despite a long interest in UFOs and a hope that even one might be a ET ship, I greatly enjoyed your book and find myself agreeing with it. My lifelong interest in aviation led me even in the 80's to wonder just how many "UFOs" were in fact military prototype sightings. I think your book has helped me close the door on my UFO wishes, and I'm glad for it, really.

Anyhoo, I've been trying to accept that my Star Trek-style future is never going to happen. I read a lot of history, and I wonder how things will play out. I see lots of anger in people these days, a kind of rage at being betrayed, and I do believe that the USA has a very ugly time ahead. I live fairly quietly, I'm disabled, living with my Mom, and we only go out in the car 4-5 times a month now, do all our meals at home. I don't really enjoy social things much, and since I came out Bisexual I've lost all of my friends and most of my family. The only thing really that shocked me was that the friends and family that were the most "Liberal, progressive, Peace-Love-Tolerance Obama Yay" were the first to drop me cold. That gives me pause when I think of how Americans will react to the serious reversals I think are coming soon.

Well, I plan to keep reading here, commenting if I think I can add something, and wishing well to everyone here.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG and everyone,




exiledbear said...

@Alan - There's nothing wrong with economics or economists, but they should *all* be relocated to the Religious Studies department. I mean, really, the basic assumption that most humans act rationally? I couldn't take them seriously after that. I guess you have to take it as an article of um, faith. Faith trumps all, with some humans.

I know that JMG made a good argument about the religion of a good chunk of Murica being some form of Satanism, served up over easy. My personal cynical perspective is that it's the Dollar that people really worship these days. Maybe that's the same thing as Satanism, just slightly refactored and reformulated?

I wonder what happens to the devout and the faithful when their god dies on them? That must be a terrible hole that has to get filled by something else.

I think that's going to be more of a problem than finding ways to get things done without using the Almighty Dollar, IMHO. How do they find a new narrative role to act in? People will die over this, you know. Literally die because they have no story.

John Michael Greer said...

Matthew, I could definitely see "One Last Fling!" as reality TV -- millions of people competing for spots in a show where they get to spend one day doing literally whatever they want, and then get euthanized and rendered down into biodiesel right there on camera. You might consider writing it up as a piece for The Onion!

Pinkie, sorry to hear about your former friends -- though at least this way you know who actually cares diddley squat about you as a person. No question, it's going to get ugly as things proceed.

Cherokee, oddly enough, we're getting unseasonably cool weather here in the Appalachians right now -- though that means nights in the 50s rather than startled wombats sniffing at falling snow. Enjoy!

Pinkie Pieovitch said...

@JMG - Thank you. Yes, I think too that this has made me face a lot of illusions in my life. A question, for anypony who'd like to answer: do you sense a disconnection between people? It seems to me that most people don't communicate or connect the way they used to, like back in the 90s, but maybe it's just my issue. Even before my friendships broke down, it seemed that all of us were talking past each other, nothing really in common. I've seen a few other folks on the Internet mention similar, so I'm wondering if it's part of the "breakdown" the world's getting?

Bike Trog said...

How strange is America? People buy sod. I didn't realize how strange that is until I rode past a sod farm and realized that is an entire farm dedicated to growing yard ornaments instead of food.

k-dog said...

John I think I posted this comment to last weeks article. If not just delete this, otherwise this is where the following is supposed to be:

You started out saying that UFO's were manufactured by the military to cover up military activities. You don't say how it was done so I'll call it the manufacture of consent for now. Concerning UFOs consent being that it was strange grey people, not spy planes.

The manufacture of consent; implanting specific memes so deluded thoughts become the vogue of society is a government art that has been practiced in America with great finesse for a hundred years now. Beginning with the Committee on Public Information making the American people hate the Germans in WW1.

The delusion that history is a one-way street going to a glorious future has been also been pushed by government. Pushed as part of the self-serving endless economic growth archetype delusion. Those who govern have been self serving liars and as you say all the manufactured promises pushed upon us have been false.

Bringing in the new age movement to demonstrate that we are spiritually bankrupt and that most everything our society believes in is a fairy tale was forceful.

The meme of a glorious future has been pushed upon us and it makes people stop thinking. It is as you say a thought-stopper and it shapes a meek population. Thinking we are exceptional is also a thought-stopper which promotes a well behaved, docile, compliant, and obedient population.

Someone pulls strings. Dead wrong authoritative voices pull strings. Strings which delude us into thinking we are unique. Unique and exempt from laws of the universe which would dispute the glorious future of sunshine and rainbows lie.

But we are not unique and it is not different this time. We go forward enthralled in blind delusion like all other civilizations that have fallen before us. Blind to the laws of the universe, laws which will be our demise. Authority produces poison memes which seal our fate with blindness to reality.

Human beings can’t live without meaning yet unfortunately, as you have observed, false meaning can fill that boundless craving for meaning if cognitive dissonance is not too great.

nuku said...

AlanfomBigEasy‘s comment about the “Nobel Prize“ for economics reminded me of Taleb’s books “Black Swan,” and “Antifragile.” Has anyone here read these and understood the relevance of the concepts?

Odin's Raven said...

So much for the facts about UFO's. Do you disagree with Carl Jung about the psycho-spiritual significance of the attention they aroused?

Jason Heppenstall said...

Meanwhile most measures of American public health are slipping further into Third World territory with every year that passes, our national infrastructure is sinking into a morass of malign neglect, and the rising curve of prosperity that was supposed to give every American acces to middle class amenities has vanished in a haze of financial fraud, economic sclerosis, and official statistics so blatantly faked that only the media pretends to believe them any more.

It's not just in the US that this is happening. Over here in the UK every time any of the major news sites publish the latest piece of 'good news' about how unemployment is falling, the 'recovery' is gathering pace, GDP is approaching escape velocity etc. a torrent of replies appear below the line in short order that beg to differ. Over the last six months or so I have noticed that many of them are no longer allowing comments on articles about the economy.

Of course, the figures have always been manipulated and fiddled to some extent (I was once a student intern at the economic forecasting department of the UK Treasury, so can claim to have at least a bit of insight into this) — but people are less wont to care that they are being conned when the economic tide is rising—with the reverse also being true. That's not to say that there is any lying going on, just clever tricks with definitions and stats that are laid bare by the writers on sites such as Zero Hedge and the Automatic Earth, not that many people are interested.

In my opinion, meaningful economic growth ceased a few years back, and in the meantime we have just experienced a boom in credit growth. The long term result of this is the hollowing out of world economies for the short term benefit of a few. When the debt cliff inevitably collapses it won't be easy to crawl out from under the chunks of rubble and it will be interesting to find out what happens when the proverbial man in the street figures this one out.

Tyler August said...


Ah, Comrade Pieovich-- given the face you wear here, you should know! Friendship IS magic. True friendship, anyway. And the Powers That Be cannot have us running about with unlicensed magic; might make us less vulnerable to their own dark "spells" of advertising and control. A populace with weak connections interacting mainly via electronic media they can monitor (and make money off of, of course) is something far easier to work with. Thus, it's what the system will strive to produce, perhaps even without conscious effort on the parts of the elite.

There are seed kernels of new communities forming, in some places, or so I've been told... for the most part, though? I agree with you. Interpersonal connections have been loosening for years, it seems like.

Unless maybe my comment is driven by selection bias, because I've just got very poor social skills and can't maintain or understand but a very few tight relationships.

M said...

The Transition Movement and its ideas for dealing with the coming world changes is probably familiar to most readers of this blog. I would posit that the most important transition will be the one you have been writing about here on TADR for some time, the shift from one set of cultural beliefs to another.

It seems many of us who grew up in the U.S. during the final burst of energy consumption have an attitude that I sometimes call "The Universe Will Provide." That's what my wife likes to say when I question things like our ability to pay for housecleaning or a second child.

Well, guess what. The universe is not under contract to provide. And neither is the government, or our relatives, or some other benign, generous, avuncular entity.

This is a harsh reality. But paradoxically, we need to be gentle with ourselves and others on a certain level. Yes, the lessons from the past are there for us to see, and we are foolish to ignore them.

But we also need to remember we don't live in the future. As the various 12-step programs like to say, we need to take things a day at a time, change the things we can, accept the things we can't (and know which is which). Within that is plenty of positive action, much of it described here on TADR, including giving up one thing, learning one thing, and preserving one thing (hope I got that right) as well as the series of posts on green wizardry.

Although the time has likely past where we as a society can do much to make our transition in the physical realm "softer," there is still time to offer our friends and neighbors succor during the coming years, by leading with example.

That said, there is a reason denial is in the human toolbox for dealing with unpleasant realities--it can really suck being in the vanguard and knowing in your gut what's coming down the pike with no brakes in sight.

Brian Cady said...

Well, I really want to say 'It'll be different this time', and I really want to believe it, because I certainly don't have much of a better idea of how to live in urban Boston, MA, USA releasing 2 tons carbon/year, instead of 18, in a financially solvent way.
It's difficult to think about what everyone around me feverishly ignores.
I guess I need to get closer to the Transitions folks. Thanks for writing, JMG.

Brian Cady said...

JMG, and all, I stumbled over a kindred voice: Chris Hedges' 'It's Not Going to Be OK':

Robert Magill said...

We should make allowance for things being just the teeniest bit different this time around. Having seized history by the throat is admirable: dragging it kicking and screaming into the present; less so. Insisting it augurs accurately for the future probably has a control aspect attached somewhere.
My advice is to invest heavily in funerary supplies: i.e. all the woodlots available for pyre fuel in India; field stone and concrete for aboveground crypts in Oceana, any and all vacant acreage in China.
That will handle the needs of the three billion in the most congested areas. We'll deal with the other seven billion on an ad hoc basis.

G Ruda said...

Dear Mr Greer

Thank you ever so much for your always stimulating thoughts on various subjects. I certainly look forward to Thursday mornings!

This said, I must express some reservations about this week's blog (and also about your book The UFO Phenomenon):

Warum es einfach machen, wenn es so schön kompliziert werden kann? Meaning: I think you oversimplify the UFO question. For a start, it's not a dichotomy. True, there are the debunkers, represented by The Church of Fundamentalist Materialism, initially known as CSICOP (later renamed as CSI) and the believers (with widely varying beliefs, actually, from the hard-core nuts-and-bolts guys to the more or less religious contactees), but there is also a more scientifically inclined group of people in between (represented by, say, the late J Allen Hynek or Jacques Vallee or MUFON. Here, in Sweden, we have UFO Sverige ( which is actually one of the world´s best UFO organisations with a very large and well-renowned archive; see

My own interest in the issue began in 1952, when our daily paper published a drawing, depicting Adamski's alleged venusian (dressed in a pilot suit, which I duly coloured brown). The subject has been with me over the years. Therefore, I am frequently annoyed at media's ignorance and attitude towards UFOs. This compelled me to compile, almost twenty years ago, a Brief History of UFOs:, which you may (or may not) find somewhat interesting. The site was last updated a dozen years ago, so certain later developments (e.g., the late John Mack's books or the historical background in Wonders in the Sky by Aubeck and Vallee) are not covered.

Even so, it's a bit hard to believe that the USAF (or CIA or NSA) was involved in the Robur type airship ”flaps” of the late nineteenth century or the ”ghost rockets” over Sweden in the thirties (it seems you are confusing these with observations of ”daylight discs” in Norway in the fifties) or even the ”foo fighters” observed by both German and Allied pilots during WWII!

I could go on, but the ADR is probably not quite the right forum for a digression about UFOs. I just want to point out that even though the cover-up explanation very likely covers a number of the observed cases, it's probably not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. My own feeling, for what it is worth, is that ”there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy”. I certainly hope that this is true!

Twilight said...

No doubt you run into more than your share of those who think it's different this time, but I am more concerned with the many more who have never given a moment's thought about our civilization collapsing. I'm not sure if any of the failings of our educational system are more pronounced than in the area of history. They may have heard of the fall of the Roman empire, but that was a single event, it happened a long time ago, and what has it to do with us? Most of our population believe that history began in 1776 when the Pilgrims signed the Constitution on Thanksgiving, and then we beat the Red Coats at some tea party. There is no sense of history before that, and less interest, and if some small number have any thoughts of “collapse” or “revolution”, it is in the sense of a reset to what our venerated “Founding Fathers” designed.

I'm sure many people have seen various examples of the currently popular genre of apocalyptic collapse-themed media productions, but those are just science fiction fantasies, and besides they require nuclear wars and/or zombies. So the end result is a society with no sense of history, no ruins or evidence of past civilizational failures, no exposure to what a real collapse would entail, and no concept at all that such a thing could ever happen here. The beginning stages of collapse are already here, but when it becomes impossible to ignore will the result be merely cognitive dissonance, or some sort of shock and panic? But shock and panic are short term emotions – what does that turn into when the thing grinds on and on, year after year? It is such a long journey from there to any sort of constructive reaction.

Without a sense of history, this society is primed to fall for any and all of the traps that await – including forms of fascism as you have described.

Mister Roboto said...

I hope this isn't too terribly off-topic, but while I agree with your assessment of sited "alien" craft, there is still the phenomenon of alien abductions to be taken into account. I believe these accounts to be more than mere hoaxes and delusions, but the beings perpetrating these scenarios are not visitors from another planet in our universe. I think the abducting "Grey" aliens are merely the latest guise of our old friends from the Kingdom of Faerie. The theme that emerges most prominently in the old legends about the Faerie folk is how much they love to mess with humans. Also, a careful read of Whitley Strieber's visitation-accounts makes it pretty clear that the beings he is encountering are not extraterrestrials but rather visitors from what would appear to be the fourth dimension.

I have heard this dimension described as a place where reality is rather less dense and heavy and way more fluid. If this description is true, then visitors from there interacting with our denser, heavier reality, could very easily make themselves appear to us as gods, demons, aliens, or whatever else might appeal to our cultural zeitgeist.

escapefromwisconsin said...

This blog post appears to confirm your hypothesis. It describes the growth rate seen during the Industrial Revolution in America, and then anticipates where it "should" have been from 1979 to the present.

The overall picture is one of accelerating geometric growth since the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution: doubling times of 80 years, then 49, then 44, then 28, and then 28. A techno-realist would have expected a further doubling to $57,388 in 28 years–from 1979 to 2007–as 28-year doubling appeared to be a feature of the modern mass-production research-and-development-based American economy. And a techno-optimist might have speculated that ever-shorter doubling times were a feature of ever higher-tech economies.

They would have been disappointed. 2007 saw American real GDP per capita not at $57,388 but $49,310.6–a 16% gap relative to reasonable expectations as of 1979. And, of course, after 2007 things really went into the toilet: Projecting growth forward from 1923, 1951, and 1979 to 2014 would have led us to expect a 2009-dollar real GDP level right now of $68,246.2. We are going to have $50,295.0–a 35.7% gap...when we compare the $28,694 real GDP per capita level of 1979 with the $50,295 we have today and the $68,246.2 that is the extrapolated 1923-1951-1979 trend–well, we have had barely as much as half the economic growth since 1979 that back in 1979 we expected.

Andy Brown said...

I don't know how exactly people are going to react to the collapse of the house of cards, but one thing for sure is that people will put some meaning or other to it. Maybe they will see it as a refutation of the grand narrative itself, maybe they graft a story onto it - like people got greedy - or the rich people got greedy - to explain why Progress has foundered (that seems to be a favorite one at the moment). Or I could imagine a new-Christian perspective of communality and material enoughness. I could wish for paganism inspired toward thermodynamic practicalities. But of course, tribalism and warlordism have their own simple clarity in times of ferment.

Greg Belvedere said...

JMG You mention the student loan bubble. I had asked a question about student loans two weeks ago, but I guess it was too late in the week for you to answer. Basically, do you think this bubble will pop soon? Should I bother paying down my student loans, or should I pay the minimum amount because the market will fall apart and I won't have to pay them in full? That money could be better spent saving for a down payment on a home.

Likewise, would it make more sense to rollover the retirement plans from my last job into a new financial product, or would it make more sense to save that money for a down payment? Would a financial product be worth anything when it comes time for me to collect on it (I'm 33)? Or should I opt for using those funds to gain something of more material value? I know what so-called financial experts would tell me, but they don't instill me with a lot of faith. Sorry for the barrage of questions, but I do think many of your readers are pondering similar decisions.

Dylan said...


I had your story about hypothetical American military defeat in mind as I followed the news coming in from Ukraine a few months ago.

It seems to me that with the amount of disinformation in the media when it comes to war, the day when the US inevitably slips down to #2 might not cause immediate shock waves on this continent. How much do we really know about facts on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan? For that matter what was Russia's game in Crimea and eastern Ukraine really about?

All three of these examples have been stamped 'victory as usual' and then quietly ushered off the media scene, which makes me suspicious.

nr-cole said...

It seems fitting to me that while I'm reading this essay on how people process the dramatic shifts in the world around them, I'm looking at the cover of The Long Descent on the side of the page. I imagine that the gears are grinding, which mirrors how acquaintances deal with issues of a deindustrial future when I raise them. Treading carefully, I can occasionally wring some small concession on this or that point, but space travel, impossibly abundant replacement energy sources, and silver-bullet solutions to myriad other crises are a regular feature. The smoothly turning realizations don't feel remotely close yet, even though most if not all of us are headed for a future less materially "prosperous" and secure than that of our parents.

It feels like there's a good deal of downgrading of our prospects that my generation will still accept while still leaving the larger machine in place. I see what you're saying regarding people on the myth of progress side who are heavily plugged into the discussion turning to despair when reality comes calling, but I wonder if there won't be, for many decades to come, a large portion of people who quietly revise their definitions of success without having a swift conversion because they never really fixated on the larger myths in the first place.

Mister Roboto said...

@Pinkie: US society has always been very socially atomized since at least the end of WWII, possibly even sooner than that, as well as being a place where whether or not you get to have basic things such as decent jobs, quality housing, healthcare, and even friends is mostly determined by whether or not you are in "The Club" of acceptable people; if you are not in "The Club", you will very likely be socially isolated and everything will be a struggle for you. (On a personal note, I am starting to wonder if the intractable chronic insomnia I have been experiencing for the past two and a half months might be a symptom of incipient depression from having to deal with this very situation for the past 20+ years.)

I think that as a civilization slides down the slope of decline, it's inherent pathologies will inevitably metastasize. So that means you can pretty much count on the culture of exclusion and disconnection and non-communication to get worse in the immediate future not better, along with the mental illness symptoms fostered by these trends. Enjoy the ride! :-P

jean-vivien said...

That One Last Fling idea revulses me, but it enabled me to realize that a culture constantly gratifying self-satisfaction and evading your responsibilities can possibly lead to one inhuman conclusion. We'll have to watch out for mass media, as it won't just be the cool stuff painstakingly produced by the last efforts of a waning culture. It could also become the awesome music that let's us swallow the pill... not for me thank you ! But yeah, how would you deal with your buddies taking fatal decisions and it being a perfectly acceptable or social thing to do... ?

jean-vivien said...

It also dawns on me that coercion into dead ends won't always be as obvious as One Last Fling. Being constantly pushed to sticking to an impossible statu quo tantamounts to the same results, and being more pernicious makes it all the more perilous. it is almost as if the industry of entertainment was actually an industry of heading people towards personal walls.From now on, I will see it more for the Wagnerian Reich's that it becomes. A swan song and not a pretty one at that !

KevPilot said...


Sorry to repeat myself, but I plopped this post at the end of last week's.

I am of the it-will-be-different-this-time crowd but for opposite reason. My question to ponder is this: Can humanity actually survive another dark age?

I ask this because we, in our time, are unique in human history only for our technology. In every other way, we are pretty much the same as everyone else down the good old historical timeline. When the Maya or Minoans collapsed, the human suffering was traumatic, but that was as bad as it got and the suffering stayed local.

We, other the other hand, have unforgiving, forever technologies. For instance, hundreds of cooling ponds filled with thousands of spent fuel rods along side hot reactors are scattered all over the world, though mostly in the northern hemisphere. We would not need a dark age, just a dim one, where the lights went out only in a few "lucky" places, to turn these under-maintained reactor sites in perpetual poisoning machines. We could have a world of multiple Fukushimas producing mass die offs and tweaking DNA replication for hundreds of thousands of year.

My concerns go on to non-nuclear technologies as well. As maintenance falls off and universities stop producing bright, young engineers, the vast square footage of chemical production and storage facilities will go un-monitored and un-managed. This stuff can kill us, as well as the rest of the biosphere, just as dead as decaying radiation.

Since I live in Los Angeles, I am concerned about the millions of tons of cargo in and laying just off the Ports of LA and Long Beach. What happens when there is no more money, no more letters of credit and those ships are simply abandoned at anchor. We could have a witch's brew of cargo that does not play well together just waiting for the chance to leak free and rumble in un-manned ships so near to shore.

If any of my concerns have weight, it would certainly put an evil twist the idea that, "We just can't live without our tech."

Olwen B said...

331"Sock puppet" Ayup, Drum is right, you are brilliant.

"quietly sawing the props out from underneath the US federal government..." dynamite is an understatement : the whole continent is in that blast radius.
I certainly can agree with the statement, " it's not the same this time, it's worse".

John Michael Greer said...

Pinkie, I'm probably not the person to ask about that -- I have Aspergers syndrome, so disconnection from other people is kind of my home turf. Still, I've noted other people talking about that same sense, so you may well be right.

Trog, people in the far future will almost certainly consider us stark staring mad.

K-dog, the genesis of the UFO as a cultural icon was a considerably more complex phenomenon than the manufacture of consent, and the military and intelligence interests who manufactured the thing were at least as much responding to popular culture as they were creating it. A deception on that scale requires telling people what they want and expect to hear -- and so the people being deceived have a remarkable degree of control over the resulting deception, even though they don't notice that that's what it amounts to.

Nuku, I certainly have, and you might have noticed some of those concepts in the last few years of posts.

Raven, Jung's work is to my mind critical for understanding why UFOs metastasized from a stunt to confuse the Soviets into a cultural icon of massive importance.

Jason, bingo. If you subtract the fraction of GDP that's purely financial in nature from the annual figures, you get a very telling graph...

M, I hope your wife's faith that the universe will provide doesn't leave her starving in a gutter. Such things happen in times of economic contraction.

Brian, thanks for the Chris Hedges piece! I'm not sure I'd recommend living in Boston on any kind of carbon budget, for what it's worth, but we each make our own choices.

Robert, now maybe you might take a moment to read my post and think about what it says, rather than shutting your eyes and plugging your ears and belting out a thoughtstopper.

G Ruda, of course the tangled mess of experiences that have been heaped together into the socially constructed category of "UFO experiences" include a great many things other than US (and other) military and intelligence activities under a saucer-shaped veil of deception. It's the category itself that was more or less invented by the US government, and that category has served as a strange attractor for a dizzying assortment of phenomena. Since this was a blog post rather than a 60,000-word book, I had to simplify somewhat; you might find my book worth reading if you want to follow up on the argument, though.

Ángel said...


I look forward to next week's post to know more about these "potential sources of meaning, purpose and value" in the dark ages.

For the short term, during the long decline, I wonder if most people will start to blame scientists and science as a way to escape from reality. As you pointed out in a previous series, science has linked its destiny to Progress and, in addition, scientists are modern priests that facilitate Progress to happen. So I wouldn't be surprised if some anti-science movement arises and starts to blame us of preventing the world's Progress (I'm researcher in chemistry)


According to Wikipedia: "Over 500 atmospheric nuclear weapons tests were conducted at various sites around the world from 1945 to 1980". As a result of that, a study suggested that around 11,000 deaths were caused by nuclear fallout(mainly by cancer).

A report published by The Chernobyl Forum in 2003 estimated in 4,000 deaths (again due to cancer) caused by Chernobyl disaster. The population residing in contaminated areas was 5 million (Wikipedia).

So if we consider that there are over 450 nuclear power plants in the world and if, worst case scenario, all of them collapse and the number of deaths caused by each of them is 100 times higher than Chernobyl (400,000), that would give us a total death toll of 180,000,000. That's 3% of the world population, still very far from extinction.

Strovenovus said...


Your post leads me to think that perhaps you can help:

I have the latest, sleekest communicator. Better even than promised; you don't even have to flip it open to talk.

Problem is, I can't seem to reach the ship to beam me up.

My backup plan is to catch a ride on Neil deGrasse Tyson's ship of the imagination, but it doesn't seem to be anywhere to be found.

I'm feeling a bit bewildered--but excited too--at the prospect of spending the rest of my life marooned on this planet.

Bill Pulliam said...

Recognizing that the UFO example is intended as analogy and not a core theme per se, I've noticed somethings over the decades of my own interest in the phenomenon that might have some larger relevance...

As a child interested in science and the space program, I found the UFO thing fascinating. I read a lot of the books from "both" sides. But as I grew up, as an amateur astronomer and meteorologist (along with botanist, zoologist, geologist, pretty much anything outside) I noticed a stark pattern. Astronomers, professional and amateur, don't see UFOs. Meteorologists and storm spotters don't see UFOs. In other words, the people who spend the most time studying the sky, in great detail and with extensive knowledge underlying their observations, don't see these things.

Meanwhile, though, observing the culture at large, I reached similar conclusions as you did even though I never read your book (sorry.. by then I was mostly on to other things). I realized how convenient it would be for the government to covertly encourage the UFO mania, and also make sure the mainstream viewed them as crackpots, in order to provide cover for their own development of novel flying things.

So there was a bit of a quandary here... if the government was flying strange things in the sky and encouraging people to think they were extraterrestrial spacecraft, why didn't astronomers and meteorologists also see these things? Or, perhaps, they did, especially those who lived near proving ranges, and recognized them as unusual craft of terrestrial origin, concluded correctly that it was some military thing, and that it was therefore not of interest, not worthy of noting or reporting, and indeed best just ignored unless it got in the way of the thing they really wanted to see. Perhaps these mystery lights that the general public reported as making sudden zigging and zagging maneuvers, they recognized as normal aircraft shooting missiles at targets. I know from my own experience with birdwatchers, that once that speck in the sky is determined to not be a bird, they quickly lose interest in what other things it might be and point their binoculars elsewhere. Sharp, trained observers also tend to have a restricted search image, and filter much else out as noise.

You also learn as an amateur naturalist that the average person is a HORRIBLE observer. They don't know a tornado from a wisp of fog, an eagle from a pigeon, Venus from a telecom satellite, a sundog from a nuclear test, a labrador retriever from a "black panther," or a salamander from a rattlesnake. This does make it tempting and easy to dismiss their observations of just about anything without giving them serious thought.

So how this might all apply to the analogy with the peak oil/ long decline phenomenon... I'll think about that more.

avalterra said...

"Twilight's Last Gleaming"
I will suggest that you might write that one quickly.


Pinkie Pieovitch said...

@ Tyler - well met, Comrade. I was wondering if my own reaction was selection bias as well.

@ Tyler,Mr. Roboto @ JMG - I have BiPolar Depression and anxiety problems myself, so I try not to blame all my difficulties on the others, but it seems that many people are noticing these things.

On a sadder note, I wonder if the airline tragedy of today wont be the kick-off of the next war? I hope not, but my fears are rising.

Chris G said...

JMG - I think it's safe to say you're in a very small minority here - roughly speaking, ones who think there's nothing we can really do about the collapse of industrial civilization (I neatly tuck this in my mind with the axiom, every living thing dies, and thank goodness civilizations are living things), but we can do a little bit of something about the kind of civilization that will be born from the compost. (There are others, Dmitry Orlov's Communities that Abide for one. Nevertheless, to investigate these matters in our culture today means to rebel, to be a doubter, pessimist, denialist... these are the impressions I run against most often.)

Now maybe our history books are wrong, but it seems to me - materially speaking - even the lower middle classes (an everyone above) in the western world, and the privileged enclaves of client states or resource rich states here and there - live better than any pharaohs or kings ever. But for most of them, without the respect. That is, it's just stuff.

That's different this time.

It's not going to last. That's the same as every other.

It's just super-duper hard for people to persist in thinking like humans do, when their basic programs, instilled as their first rational memories at the cognitive (dogmative?) and pre-cognitive levels, involve the persistence of their core beliefs.

You talked about this in the series about religion as progress. It's a belief system confirmed to some extent by material evidence. This makes it stronger. Arguably, when the material evidence starts to collapse, the belief structure will reveal itself to be weaker than those based on non-material sources of meaning.

I'm not convinced about "disembodied intelligences" having never had that experience. I've had things that could be interpreted as hints in that direction - meaning-giving perceptions outside of the scope of the cult(ure) of Progress - non-material experiences; but they could just as well be creations of my mind.

One of the chief among those has been as a care-giver for an elderly man (a growing segment of occupation in a world where property (particularly land) owners have a lot more and everyone else is gonna do whatever they can to pay the rent - hinting at the progress toward a new, post-industrial feudalism, as the central government starts splitting apart).

He is a 98-year old former nuclear physicist and professor who was adopted as an infant and raised by two school teachers in western Kansas during the Great Depression. I don't suppose I need to do much to explain the synchronicity involved - although there are other more personal signs.

In him, I am seeing the reversal of the growth process: how layers of cognitive ability get shed like petals falling from the flower - and not always in an orderly reversal of the path of their accumulation as an infant, toddler, small child and so on. Right now, he does the best emotionally when we sing to him familiar nursery rhymes like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "the Itsy Bitsy Spider." (both of which have synchronistic meaning to me.)

All of those nursery rhymes are among the most primary programs our minds are fed just as they begin to acquire language functions. the content is not all that important at first, and hardly understood; the form, the sound, is what matters more, early. Later in life, those strongly imprinted memories can explode with poignancy. They do not do so, however, for my wealthy elderly charge. Increasingly, the abstract fades; all he knows is the sound. I imagine he will likely die as many do who die peacefully, like the fading sound of OM; like the Tao flowing inward.

Chris G said...

I suspect it is much like that for civilizations. But as one civilization dies, others are just in their youth or infancy, they will grow to their stature climbing among the bones of their progenitors, eating what can be of scraps of remains. the overlap can be a point of meaning-giving "optimism": while the one dies, the other is coming to life. Well... sort of, maybe... there is also the long winter...

It's primitive stuff. It'll blow a hole clean through the whole artifice of beliefs inherited. I don't know that every generation of individuals has to do this, but certainly we, (at least some among us) do - that is, going through the process of belief systems getting burst to smithereens like a mushroom exploding and spewing its spores.

The challenging question of course is, "why even bother? I'm smart enough to go on for awhile sucking the blood off the dying body, making no preparations for some successor culture, and who cares about the ones who can't? Who cares about the future? It doesn't really exist yet. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry - for tomorrow we will all be dead."

This is a lot of what I see among the adherents of the Law of Attraction, The Secret, what have you... they're a little happier just pretending, and seem equipped to perpetuate the current behaviors that are creating the problem by saying, "if the compost hits the fan, I'll be happy to be gone." Fair enough then. I'm not at all just a little peeved about that attitude. But it is prevalent.

Is that not at core essentially nihilism? A good friend has been going to these Landmark seminars - perhaps you and some of your readers are familiar. they say, "life is Empty and Meaningless." And then somehow motivate people to pursue their wildest dreams (which usually involves a more lucrative job, or a world tour, or something like that). it appears to me to be just another of the economics of "demand creation." Is it so hard to be happy where we are and with what we have?

Does this not hasten and worsen demise? Isn't that an attitude a lot like the one that makes a person's death worse by endlessly trying to escape from its inevitability - on par with people's mania for prescription medications without the needed concomitant behavior changes?

In our civilization, I do suspect a lot of this hocus pocus has to do with further empowering those who already have power. The growing split between the elite and the proletariat of which Toynbee speaks. For now, in many cases, people only trust when they personally benefit; otherwise, the trust fades.

It is possible to "Eat, Drink, and Be Merry" without being a total scumbag to the longevity of ecosystems, trust between classes, respect for people's dignity. But not in American culture. to combine the apparent contraries of sustainability and hedonistic merriment can be a lonely counter-culture. People ignore that Epicurus advised a life of near-poverty: the more pleasure when only a little can be taken away.

Bill Pulliam said...

Pinkie -- bisexuality is shunned from all sides because it challenges a fundamental compartmentalization of society that nearly all are invested in. The argument is about whether "gay is bad" or "gay is good." Bi's suggest that in fact "gay" might be "meaningless," just another social construct. That is a much bigger problem that people are unwilling to try to comprehend.

There are places, both in the real world and online, where this dichotomy is ignored or even laughed at. But they can be hard to find.

As for the internet, it both connects and isolates people. It's up to the users to decide how they are going to use it. Lately most do seem to be going for isolation.

Odin's Raven said...

People have often looked to the skies for signs and portents. Is it a peculiarly American disposition to insist that the agents of revelation be material and mechanical?

Chris G said...

Here's a guy from the late-Greek Empire, previous to the Roman Empire, advising folks not to do the same thing over and over again, that ultimately causes misery in the end.. (It's useful to start placing many of these great figures in their historical time and place, it reveals cultural morphology):


38 Having bread and water, I revel in the pleasure of the body, and I loathe the pleasures of costly living, not on their own account, but because of the inconveniences which follow them. Someone who understands the limits of life knows how easy it is to get enough to remove the pangs of need and to make life complete and perfect. So they no longer have any desire for things that are not to be gained except by conflict and struggle.

39 Great wealth is nothing but poverty when measured by the laws of nature. Frugality too has a limit, and the person who disregards this falls into the same sort of error as one who goes to excess.

40 The wealth we need to meet nature’s needs has its bounds and is easy to procure, but the wealth required to meet vain fancies stretches far beyond our reach. If you live according to your nature, you will never be poor— if according to popular opinion, you will never be rich.

41 Happiness and contentment are not associated with extent of wealth, or weight of responsibilities, or public office or power, but with painlessness, with mildness of feeling, and with a disposition of the mind that defines what is according to human nature.

42 Love of money that is unjustly gained is sinful; if justly gained, shameful. For it is unseemly to be merely parsimonious even for a just person. Cheerful poverty is an honorable thing.

43 Give thanks to nature, the bountiful, because it has made necessary things easy to procure, while things hard to obtain are not necessary.

Kyoto Motors said...

I agree with your hypothesis, though it has for me some irony to it. Back in 2002 - before I stumbled onto the whole peak oil scene – I remember grappling with the fundamental question of just how could life as we experience it, be so very different from 99 percent of history? I was thinking of course of the technological progress that has transformed every aspect of our culture (man on the moon, neuroscience, skyscrapers, and daily rush-hour gridlock, etc. etc.). How is it that I, the grandson of a poor immigrant, subsistence farmer could be found in this “post-modern” urban lifestyle of abundance and waste?
My point is that in so many ways, so many things are so very different. By default (understandably) we assume our trajectory also must be different.
Thanks to you and a handful of other writers, I understand these differences in the context of energy and ecological cycles etc. So like I say, I agree that ultimately, as different as things appear to be, our situation is not without precedent – and the assumption of linear progress but an illusion.
As a side note, with that question haunting me, and growing doubts about sustainability I happened upon a radio interview with Richard Heinberg who was in town for a lecture, which I attended. I bought The Party’s Over, and well, I have done a lot of learning since then…

Eric S. said...

Last week when you referred me back to the discussions following your Next Ten Billion Years essay, I got the opportunity to read this gem nestled in the comments: I’m sure you’ve already read it, but it’s certainly worth a gander in the light of this week’s discussion. It’s such an on the nose example of the sort of thinking that drives the suicide cults, totalitarian uprisings, and apocalypse movements you so often write about that if I didn’t know better I’d think someone had written it as an intentional piece of satire. . It’s got it all, the great evil that we can save the world by vanquishing, the canned polemic (he even calls you a vest-pocket version of Sauron), and to end it all, a counter-spell to the protective spell you offered near the beginning of your series on magic (“there is no brighter future”) in the form of a Carl Sagan quote “A still more glorious dawn awaits.”

It would actually be funny if there weren’t so many examples of charismatic speakers standing in front of desperate starving crowds and enthralling them by chanting those exact same words down through the ages always to the same effect. One of my grandfather’s favorite sayings was that old attage that used to be part of the conventional wisdom “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” He spent his teens muddling through a depression and his twenties fighting in a war both caused by promises of a brighter future, he spent the rest of his life in a cold war with an empire that was built on the same sorts of promises, and up until the day he died he taught me never to trust anything that promised a better future than it could deliver. It’s interesting, and a little scary, that offering such a basic, commonplace bit of cliché fortune cookie wisdom in the form of a protective spell against the totalitarian regimes and cult leaders of the future is already capable of inspiring rants like this one. We got really lucky with our current president who promised hope and change to cheering crowds and gave us a mediocre rerun the last 20 years worth of American politics. I worry about what will happen to people like the author of that blog, or to those of my friends and loved ones who speak so desperately and passionately about “saving the world” when a would-be savior comes along promising change and actually delivers.

neal said...

JMG, have you ever read Thewoodpilereport.Com?

Voices in the wilderness, indeed. SR71 stuff, heh. The jet fuel leaked all over, did not matter. Ion propulsion, to the moon, very quickly. Breakaway tech will probably end up looking like alien artifacts, once the money dries up.

Probably politicians, and priests, with shiny stuff plastered all over. Once the funding for the tech dries up, what is left is redirected to support the myth.

Then that is just staring at sedimentary layers of this, and digging it up, and wondering what everyone else is thinking. Except those that were there, and do not speculate about the fact.

Cougar said...

People live their entire lives wrapped in an illusion, there is no good reason to expect that to suddenly change. Almost nothing that people think is real ... *is*. They accept conventions ("drive on the right side of the road") as if they were natural laws and elevate beliefs ("human history is proof of the primacy of progress") to become accepted facts gleaned from the known workings of the entire universe.

Cannot be helped.

The decline when it comes will be as unexpected and bewildering as a random lightning strike. In fact, it will seem so impossible as to actual prove for many the existence of God, if only because it must be the doing of an angry omnipotent power because surely nothing else has the ability to so perfectly destroy the immutable fabric of earthly existence.

(As an aside, God is a dear friend of mine and I've asked her about that, and she swears up and down she doesn't give two figs about what we do and never did, and frankly would prefer that we just keep her out of our nightmares, thanks.)

The upside to all this (perhaps a latter post will address the upside as you see it) as I see it is that -- after destroying everything and forgetting even more -- people in the West are about to launch themselves on a new journey of discovery. Essentially, starting over from scratch. Anyone who has tried their hand at any of the arts knows that sometimes if a piece is not coming together you may just have to start over, and this is not a bad thing at all, and realizing that it's just not working is something you do quickly the more experienced you are knowing you just have to cut your losses so as to go forward on a better footing.

Civilization was a good idea. But it just didn't work out this time. We should break it up, toss it back into the mud so it can soften, and give it another go later from a different perspective.

Look, it's just art. It probably doesn't matter and even if it did nobody can agree on it anyway.

Dammerung said...

Mr. Archdruid, you never cease to frustrate me by sidestepping the mystical or metaphysical component of anything. I can definitely see the value of keeping that on the d/l considering that much of your audience is here to hear about the decline of industrial civilization, but I sometimes find myself wondering if you have any supernatural sensibilities at all.

Cougar said...

@KevPilot: For my part, I don't worry about any of those things. They seem insurmountable but if you look at it rationally they impact a small part of the planetary surface. People will learn on their own to avoid "places where demons live" and leave it at that. Nor do I worry about toxic clouds of Uranium from unmanaged pools, they'll burn themselves out over time and the resulting fallout -- though unthinkable by current standards -- would be unlikely to create a serious burden on life down-wind expect near by.

Not to say I'm in favor of just walking away from these things ... but we will. Just walk away, pure and simple. People will either live elsewhere or perish, and the ones as perish don't complain. Nothing is written about them, they're just gone.

After all the profiteering by the energy companies and their lapdog "regulators" it sticks in my craw, but we did sit by and let it happen, so I don't know who to blame.

We'll get what we wanted even if we claim we didn't want it. We were hoping it would happen a bazillion years from now, we can all be blamed for not realizing that "bazillion" is not a valid unit of time.

John Michael Greer said...

Twilight, in my experience that's usually a variant on the same thing -- we don't need to know about history because it's different this time. But you're right that that sort of thinking, whatever its source, leads to some very ugly places.

Mister R., the argument I make in my book suggests that they're a mode of shamanic experience -- we don't believe in spirits, so our encounters with the otherworld are force-fitted by our minds into a science fiction straitjacket. I trust you've read Jacques Vallee's very good books on this theme.

Escape, many thanks for the data points!

Andy, of course -- and tribal warlords also look for meaning in the events they encounter; you might reread Beowulf sometime for an example.

Greg, attempting to time the market is almost always a recipe for disaster, and I'm not a financial planner -- I don't even play one on TV.

Dylan, you might add Syria to that list. Since the media here in the US these days is about as unbiased and impartial as, say, Pravda was in the heyday of the Soviet Union, you may well be right.

Nr-cole, well, we'll see. There's one great-great-grandmother of a downgrade on its way, you know.

Jean-Vivien, exactly. I don't expect to see One Last Fling! as a reality show any time soon, but a lot of choices that amount to that will be enthusiastically pushed by the media and popular culture, so long as somebody can make a buck off them.

KevPilot, I answered you last week. I'll be covering the point again at great length in an upcoming post, where we'll be talking about the toxic radiological and chemical legacies of the industrial age. In the meantime, you might consider the possibility that there's a middle ground between "everything's fine" and "everybody dies."

Olwen, it's the same this time in every way that matters. The blast radius from the collapse of the Roman Empire was pretty substantial too, you know.

Angel, a public backlash against science and scientists is a real possibility. I'll be discussing that down the road a bit.

Strovenovus, funny. When I hear Tyson babbling on about all the wonderful things the future is going to bring, the phrase "cargo cult" keeps on coming to mind...

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, Jacques Vallee, who's worked professionally with astronomers, has commented that astronomers do see UFOs -- they simply don't talk about them, because the climate of opinion is so polarized and poisoned around that subject that you can expect your career to be flushed down the toilet if you let yourself be mistaken for a saucerhead. So it may be a little more complex than simple ignorance and bad observation.

Avalterra, it's already done and in the hands of the publisher. I knew I was working against a hard deadline!

Pinkie, I'm watching events over there with a great deal of concern.

Chris, good. I'll be talking about some of those things in next week's post.

Raven, excellent! Yes, that's a very large part of it, of course.

Kyoto, good. Everyone I know who's gotten a clue about where we are and where we're headed has had to walk a long challenging road to get there.

Eric, yes, I read that back when it first came out, and got a good chuckle over it. You're right, though, that true believers with notions like that stuck sideways in their head can very easily do appalling things.

Neal, no -- I'll give it a look.

Cougar, I think you'll find that the lightning strike only looks that fast when seen by your friend. Here on the ground, it's a long slow process, because you can't just plop it back into the mud -- you have to take it apart piece by piece to get the useful bits you stuck in here and there by accident. The next few centuries will be enlivened by that activity.

Dammerung, a great deal depends on what you mean by words such as mystical, metaphysical, or supernatural. I should probably address that on my other blog one of these days.

sgage said...

@ Dammerung,

"Mr. Archdruid, you never cease to frustrate me by sidestepping the mystical or metaphysical component of anything."

You might want to check out:


k-dog said...

K-dog, the genesis of the UFO as a cultural icon was a considerably more complex phenomenon than the manufacture of consent, and the military and intelligence interests who manufactured the thing were at least as much responding to popular culture as they were creating it. A deception on that scale requires telling people what they want and expect to hear -- and so the people being deceived have a remarkable degree of control over the resulting deception, even though they don't notice that that's what it amounts to.

When herding a large beast of immense strength gentle persuasion is always going to work better than brute force. The occupants of this land are beasts to our string pulling authorities and authority knows the best results are achieved by finding and employing pawns with passion regarding issues you want sway over.

Employ them to be your pied-pipers, directly or indirectly, with or without their knowledge. It is how power maintains power. Those deceived have a perceived control over the shape their social myths take, but it is an illusion, They don't see that under their surface control are deeper waters and that what they think is going on is not all that is going on. They may even be experiencing group hallucination having no connection to reality at all. No doubt to the great amusement of string pullers.

When influencing public opinion it is important to know what the public thinks and believes so those buttons to push for greatest effect are easily seen.

As an example this Pew Poll can give a green light to someone wanting to push the meme that the war crimes now being perpetrated in the Gaza Strip are legitimate acts of self defence. But if the Pew results were different; other avenues of influence would be explored and exploited by competent deceivers.

G Ruda said...

I don't know if you followed my link (please do! The text is rather short.), but my main points/objections are these:

1. There are not just two camps: rigid debunkers and nutty believers. There are also people in the middle who try to approach the subject without prejudice: objectively and scientifically. This is a rather precarous position: no funding, enemies on all sides. Plus bad treatment by ignorant journalists.

2. The phenomenon is by no means new; it has been with us (in various forms) since time immemorial. It might certainly be true that the US military has tried to use it for its own ends and it might also be true that this attempt has been (partly) successful. This does not mean, however, that the military invented the phenomenon – or even the ”flying saucer”. (Actually, flying discs existed in the SF literature in the thirties.) Moreover, it is important to distinguish between a UFO – an Unidentified Flying Object – and a ”flying saucer” which is obviously an identified object (manned by aliens, of course. BEMs, most likely ...). Personally, I'm only interested in the former category.

Fact is, I have read your book (I mentioned it in my previous comment) as well as quite a number of other books on the subject. And I really don't like to say this, but after having enjoyed some of your other books, I was rather disappointed with the UFO book. It seems to me that you exclude aspects of the phenomenon which you find too weird (like, say, Joe Simonton and his alien pancakes, the Betty Luca Andreasson affair, Antonio Villas-Boas' alien seductress or cases in John Mack's books) and which tend to contradict the cover-up hypothesis. (We must also ask ourselves whether we are dealing with a world-wide cover-up: UFOs are observed all over the globe, not just in the US of A.)

Finally, contemplating the alleged (and sometimes even documented) feats of UFOs (e.g., invisibility and extreme acceleration - or are we maybe dealing with a fourdimensional object, passing through three-space (c.f. Flatland)?), it might perhaps be wise to recall Clarke's third law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". Our present knowledge of the laws of the universe are probably far from complete!

In conclusion: I don't think the case is closed.

Bill Pulliam said...

Well I guess I sort of was thinking, and only hinted, that an astronomer who saw something odd in the sky would likely presume it was a secret military aircraft and thus decide that it would probably be a bad idea to publicize it. I personally have spent far more time looking at the sky that the average person, day and night, and never seen a "UFO" among all the remarkable things I have seen. One of the stranger things I have seen in the sky was a stealth bomber, but this was after they were declassified, I knew what it was, hence it was not a UFO. It is indeed a most unusual looking thing, with a size, shape, distance, and speed that are quite hard to assess even in full sunlight.

But to the bigger point, what do my contemplations suggest about how people will see peak oil? Well, the equivalents of astronomers et al. would be technical experts who have detailed knowledge and experience. They might be expected to be more able to see through the mass hysteria and government disinformation to the actual phenomena as they unfold. But they might be inclined to lack a big picture, focusing on the details of what is happening within their own specialization. If it's "just a bird," an astronomer is not going to pay attention. And vice versa with the ornithologist.

The general public, one might think, will never "get it." They will not be able to tell the difference between peak oil and biblical prophecy, international banking conspiracies, immigrant hoards, solar flares, etc. etc. They'll just have to learn to deal with the effects without ever actually "believing" why it's happening. And they will probably reach for the explanation that makes them feel the most special and/or threatened (it's always a hostile alien spaceship, never a stealth bomber belonging to their own nation's air force).

Which doesn't leave very many people who will be interested in an accurate large-scale picture of the processes. Nor many other people who will be interested in what those few people might have to say.

So it looks like we can expect people to act the way that people act!

John D. Wheeler said...

@Mister Roboto,
I agree that there is something behind the alien abduction phenomenon. However, I would like to point out that, using for the most part the same techniques, people who go looking for alien abductions find alien abductions, people who go looking for childhood sexual abuse find childhood sexual abuse, likewise for angels, satanists, past lives, near death experiences, astral projections, etc. So while I do think there is an actual phenomenon there, I think a lot of the interpretation is molded by the researcher.

In a way, I find the alienists refusal to incorporate the new data to be the more disturbing, because your explanation doesn't necessarily disprove their beliefs. They can still hold, albeit completely without evidence, that these were actually alien technologies that the military was testing, so then they get to be right on all counts. And that becomes much tougher to debunk.

This is particularly relevant to collapse because it is very analogous to a strain of cornucopianism. They acknowledge all the constraints that dwindling resources place and accept that radical changes in lifestyle will be required. However, they believe that with the "appropriate" technology, life in the post-industrial future will be even better than it is currently. I mention this because I do have one foot in this camp; I believe it is technically possible.

However, we go back to the question of whether or not it is truly different this time. I think ultimately both sides are self-defeating. The ones who insist that it is different are the ones that will make sure we go down the same path that every other civilization has gone down. More interesting, though, is the "here we go again" crowd, like you. JMG. By learning from history and preparing for the coming dark age, we can significantly change the ultimate outcome. Which of these forces ultimately prevails is pretty much unknowable ahead of time.

Pinkie Pieovitch said...

@Bill P - It's funny you should say that. The nastiest push-back I got after I came out was from Gays and Lesbians I met on a forum devoted to coming out. It was a minority of the members, but their nastiness towards Bi people was toxic, and I quit after a few days. Your statement might just explain that. It's something I will think about, and thank you for the insight.

Mark Rice said...

A bit off topic:

I read your novel Star's Reach . I even popped for the dead tree version so I could lend it to others.

I found I could not put it down. I was finishing it the other day when I should have been doing yard work. This was a very entertaining read.

onething said...

But, you know, we could have had certain things, such as increased life spans and even steady and incremental improvement in the quality of human life if not for the fact that the real impetus for most things is greed.
I've been thinking this week about just that, the need for meaning and perhaps a need for mythic and heroic tales, and I am thinking this may be a large part of why some very intelligent people I know adhere to what seems to me pretty fragile belief systems, mostly referring to religion, although not always. And perhaps I should stop worrying about the fact their belief systems aren't terribly likely to be true, and just enjoy said people and let them be who they are, not worrying about their failure to put truth first but instead being glad that they have a system which actually helps them in several ways, including to be better people.
Do you think crop circles are done by the English military?

Cathy McGuire said...

@ Cherokee: Brrr! I loved watching that snowfall... Oregon's having unusual heat ("I'm melting... I'm melting...") and I've gotten nostalgic for Oregon's traditional "green tomato summer" - ie: no sun, nothing ripens. But at least I don't keel over from heat! ;-}

Here's yet another example of denial: my auto mechanic, after I commented on heat, bragged on how his kin in Arizona "endure" temps of 114F - but of course, no one goes outside "so it doesn't matter"... yikes! I hinted at power failure, but he simply ignored that. You wouldn't catch me living there! And yesterday, I was in a mall store (rare occurrence) and the power actually died for about 2 minutes - probably air conditioning overload... when I got to the counter, the clerk was waiting for the computer to come back up and said it could be 15 minutes, so I left w/o buying... sign of the times??

1ab9a86a-8991-11e3-899b-000bcdcb8a73 said...

"Bright were the halls then"

The title of last weeks post, from the first phrase of an Anglo Saxon poem, seems to have lodged itself in my mind in some mysterious way that I'm sure is understood by Archdruids (and, of course, poets).

Why is that tall building, not yet completed, lit up with fluorescent light, all night, every night, for no apparent reason?

Bright were the halls then.

Why do so many think the epic, extravagant waste surrounding us is just the normal order of things?

Bright were the halls then.

Why, when decline is obvious enough, do there remain, nevertheless, dazzling artistic works, authentic, original expressions of genius, being delivered to me free on the internet?

Bright were the halls then.

So much is explained by those very few words.

Kutamun said...

Was it Robert Anton Wilson ( RAW) who suggested that if Aliens hadnt been contacted for real we' d have had to invent them anyway ...
No doubt in a hyper rational Cartesian wet dream society , as far as the psyche goes , there are countless elements or "Aliens" that live in a vacuum .. No doubt they would take great pleasure in appearing to have large bulbous rational heads .
Theodore Roszak in "Where The Wasteland Ends" suggests that once we hominids began to stand upright after millennia of sniffing the dirt , our heads expanded and took prominence over the formerly influential nose and ears , thus bringing into being " the headquarters "
I feel our solar system is no doubt brimming with life and vibrant civilisations , but if we are carbon based and they are of some other chemical composition , e.g hydrogen , obviously we are not going to perceive or recognise each other , except , perhaps for some weird disturbance of the weather , " optical illusion " , trick of the light , perhaps even deja vu , at the very best , i would suggest ! .....
If we were overrun in a dashing military campaign by the Heliums , perhaps we would all end up with squeaky voices , but thats all
Ha Ha
Its amazing to even contemplate that heads of state and military are actually considering the possibility of little thunderbirds in fuel driven rockets firing stuff at us , very hostile, or devouring ..i know who they are seeing , fellow psychonauts
Cant wait to read your UFO book

exiledbear said...

re: UFO's. You always find what you're looking for. That may not mean what you think it does, but it doesn't make it any less true.

I'm curious, JMG, what you think of Keel's books about UFOs, I remember him mentioning a mutilated cow, that somehow ended up on NORAD's doorstep. Something slipped past all their security to place a dead cow at their door, IIRC.

Candace said...

I was thinking along similar lines as Raymond's comment at the end of last weeks comments "M Raymond Torres said...
Isn't the sameness of civilizations in decline that you describe very like the androgynizing effects of aging? And, if so, does it imply that such declines are as inevitable as death?"

One thought I had is that we as individuals are so identified with our culture, that the sales pitch that we will have a bright, everlasting future gets internalized as if we think we personally will have eternal youth and will never have to age and die.  So contemplating the decline and death of our culture and the end of abundance is like being told you are going to die, when you had really convinced yourself that it didn't have to happen to you.

I'm not particularly happy about aging, when I think about death, I worry more about how I will die, but I have enough of a survival instinct to want to put it off for as long as possible.  I think if I had convinced myself that I could be forever young and improving, I'd be really mad at anyone who came along to burst that bubble.  I feel that many people find any discussion of the age of limits as coming at them with a personal attack.

So I suppose I find it difficult to bring up the topic because the information is likely to be received as enthusiastically as if I had told some one that they have cancer.

rapier said...

I long ago adopted a story about UFO's which says they about cognition. That is people see something, and perceive it as a UFO. It might be an airplane or balloon or it might be nothing at all. There are limits to perception.

Certainly suggestion played a part in periodic UFO manias and I don't doubt for a moment that our government institutions were happy to plant the seeds. Or it could have been popular media alone.

Remember I said that's my "story". People love stories and as the scientific technocratic world took hold post WWII many people were longing for some mystery. UFO's were the perfect vessel for embracing the unknown, perhaps unknowable, some larger mysterious forces to bring a sense of wonder against the relentless certainty of our age.

Totally off in the weeds but crop circles offer a wonderful window into this. Where true believers declare circle makers frauds.

John Michael Greer said...

K-dog, yes, and the same process can also be understood as one of mutual manipulation -- the beast and the herders each force the other to respond.

G Ruda, if you read my book, I'm a little startled that you missed the extensive discussion of apparitions in chapters 6 and 7, which deal with exactly those high-strangeness cases that you've accused me of ignoring. You also seem to have missed the point, which I made in my earlier response to you, that while certain classes of odd human experiences have occurred for many centuries -- a point, btw, I also made in my book -- defining them as "UFO phenomena" is a modern habit, and (I would argue) derives from the Cold War-era disinformation project. I have no objection if you wish to disagree with me, but it would be helpful if you would pay attention to what I'm actually saying.

Bill, well, that's usually a safe bet!

John, hmm. I don't see myself as saying that we can change the ultimate outcome; I'm trying to say that we can adapt to the ultimate outcome in ways that are less self-defeating than the ones that are currently popular. Either way, down we go.

Mark, thank you! I'd be grateful if you could mention that to those of your friends who like to read; word of mouth is the only way a book from a small publisher with no ad budget is ever going to get a decent readership.

Onething, nah, I've met some of the people who do crop circles. Jim Schnabel's Round in Circles is probably the best introduction to the phenomenon.

1ab, you know, that never occurred to me, but you're right -- it's an even better metaphor than I'd originally thought.

Kutamun, if the helium beings did invade, it might explain all the squeaky-voiced machismo in DC these days.

Bear, John Keel's books were faves of mine back in the day, and The Mothman Prophecies is still something I go back and reread from time to time, for the sheer raw weirdness of it. That aside, it's been pointed out repeatedly that he embroidered his stories more than a little for effect -- a common habit of good storytellers.

Candace, good! Yes, that's a very exact parallel.

Rapier, UFOs are very much about cognition -- also the way that the categories we use to sort out perceptions shape what we perceive. Once the category "UFO"
was invented, all kinds of formerly unrelated human experiences were sucked into the cultural vortex thus created, and the result was one of the great mythic narratives of the 20th century.

Christophe said...

John Michael, am I correct in concluding that you have grown weary of fielding 200+ comments per article and are trying to thin out your audience by walloping it with an unvarnished dose of reality? A much welcomed cleaning of the Augean stable of our minds to be sure, but some will probably be as ungrateful for the service as Augeas himself. Does your change in tone and tack reflect a change you have seen in the larger culture or in the peak oil scene?

Stephen Heyer said...

John Michael Greer “ I concluded that the most likely explanation for the phenomenon was that US military and intelligence agencies invented it out of whole cloth after the Second World War, as protective camouflage for an assortment of then-secret aerospace technologies.”

I reached exactly the same conclusion a couple of decades ago when I noticed that it was fairly obvious how a couple of high profile sightings in the USA were done. Further, that while faking the UFO was fairly simple, it would require the resources of, say, the USA military.

Of course, this still leaves a huge number of interesting, puzzling and sometime just downright frightening sighting in other countries, including Australia, where government involvement is pretty unlikely.

Bogatyr said...

I've woken up this morning to the news of the airliner that has been shot down over Ukraine. Terrible, terrible, news.

What's frightening is the ramping up of anti-Russian rhetoric in the Western media. Before the fires have been extinguished or the dead collected, the drums of war are being beaten louder.

I think of the legal maxim: cui bono, who benefits? Neither Russia, nor the Federalist rebels, benefit in any way from this. There's no reason why they would do it.

It may have been a terrible accident; there's some evidence emerging that a Federalist SAM unit mistook the plane for a government military cargo plane.

On the other hand, it's been well documented that Blackwater and other mercenaries are present on the government side...

To make the connection with this week's post. I reached adulthood slightly before the end of the Cold War. It was good, then, to feel that we were on the side of right, of freedom and democracy. Then the Cold War ended, and we got the peace dividend: Western societies became a great deal more affluent, everything became better, and the New Age scene reflected this. A bright new world was emerging...

... except that it wasn't. We reached Peak Oil, we got caught up in short, sharp conflicts that turned into prolonged and bloody struggles in the dust. Asian competitors arose. Our moral primacy was lost, our material comfort started to become harder to maintain, and our faith in our leadership (political and economic) was lost.

This is uncomfortable. Suddenly there were no easy, off-the-shelf beliefs to have. Questioning, doubts, no easy answers.

The answer, perhaps, is war. Then there can be a return to easy Manicheanism. No thinking or doubts required...

By the way, there seem to be large number of first-time posters this week? Am I the only one who thinks that? Hi, all.

Robert Mathiesen said...

@rapier on the limits of perception:

"Perception of an object costs
Precise the Object's loss --
Perception in itself a gain
Replying to its price --

"The Object Absolute -- is nought --
Perception sets it fair
And then upbraids a Perfectness
That situates so far --"

Cherokee Organics said...


You know your wombats. Very sensible creatures too - not up for adventure at all - and in the fictional world they'd probably be closely represented by Hobbits! They have very poor eyesight, but an incredible sense of smell, so Fatso the wombat would have poked his or her nose out, taken a sniff of the cold air and snow. Possibly a snowflake may have even landed on that upturned nose? In a pique of true sensibility and proper discretion, she would have turned that nose right back around and gone back to bed.

Weather conditions yesterday and today can only be described as truly wombat sub-optimal.

Incidentally, they have the largest brain to body ratio of all of the marsupials.

Baby wombat is now very familiar with using the concrete drain which channels water from the road under the driveway and onto a swale at the very top of the shady orchard. She is like a big furry pipe cleaner!!! Possibly I made a wombat highway?

It is really fascinating that you are having a cool summer. The climate is really quite variable and the more stuff we chuck into it, the worse it gets.

Hi Cathy,

Thanks. Yeah, the snow is really novel and exciting.

Please don't melt though! 114F is hot, even for here. That is the absolute worst day of summer sort of temperature here.

Realistically a person cannot be outside during the hours of about 1pm to about 4pm on that sort of a day. I hide in the house (which has no air conditioning, but does have overhead fans which are very effective).

Tell you what though, last week an AU$500m class action was won against the power companies for the Black Saturday bushfire in Feb 09 which apparently began in Kilmore East and was apparently due to an electrical fault as apparently the overhead wires were overloaded - apparently due to over use of air conditioning devices in domestic situations. I'm not privy to the details, but only hearsay... (sorry for the disclaimers).

Anyway, the power companies have a novel solution to the whole heat wave / fire risk thing. Simply cut the power to high risk areas and it takes away that risk entirely. Simple and very effective and it has been communicated to people living up here.

Still, I enjoyed the snow too. hehe!

How weird was it seeing lots and lots of citrus fruit hanging off the trees in the snow too. A lovely lady that I know takes dozens of my citrus fruit and turns them into the most beautiful lemon butter/curd. Oh yeah, it’s good. The rest are eaten fresh.



Anne Patterson said...

I wasn't sure what was going on with the first bit of the post about the UFO phenomenon, but the latter part about our society's denial about the trajectory of our civilization is a major issue.

I think there are signs that many in our society are waking up to this reality. I read a piece about what is known as the 'enlightened generation' in Japan, this quote gives the idea "They were born in the late 1980s on up, when their nation’s economic juggernaut, with its promises of lifetime employment and conspicuous celebrations of consumption, was already a spent historical force. They don’t believe the future will get better—so they make do with what they have. In one respect, they’re arch-realists. And they’re freaking their elders out." The article is at

Here in the UK, 6 years after the crash and 4 years into the Government's austerity programme the general public don't believe the BS spouted by the Government about the recovery, they can see from their own experience that things are not getting better. However most people do not have an inkling of how much worse it is going to get in the future.

Joanna Macy's work on apathy, the represssion of thoughts and feelings about how bad things really are in the world is highly relevant to this theme. I have seen you comment negatively in the past on her idea of the Great Turning, which could be seen as a fantasy which denies the reality we are facing, but I think there is a great deal of value in her 'Work that Reconnects' as a personal and community tool-kit for facing up to the challenges of our situation as a society.

I know things are going to get worse than better but that's not going to stop me trying to live the best life I can as a citizen of the Earth.

Bill Pulliam said...

Re: woodpile report... voice in the wilderness?? Hardly. Mouthpiece for a well-funded orthodoxy? Absolutely. He expresses no ideas that I don't here a dozen times a day from the media and random conversations. He's about as far from the mainstream as Pres. Barorge Obusha.

Tony f. whelKs said...

UFOs have been an interesting cultural phenomenon for sure, and certainly there is (to my mind) a degree of cognition involved. I tend to believe that perception is an interaction between our senses and our minds. When something unexpected is seen, our mind often leaps to conclusions, and provides a pattern that 'fits'. As individuals we can have favourite patterns, which we are more likely to fit to inconclusive sense data.

In fact I've done that myself, today, and it reflects how thoughts that have been on my mind actually pre-disposed me to 'see' one thing rather than another.

On closing my garden gate I saw a slug perched on the frame - it was the right shade of brown, right size and shape, and was obviously hiding in a shady spot. After all, it rained overnight, and it has been a very 'sluggy' year in the garden. But when I looked again, I saw it wasn't a slug at all, but a chip of wood - no doubt a piece of wind-blown mulch from the garden path. So I decided to dislodge it, and I found it had no weight to it, and it fluttered down like a leaf towards the ground. It had *obviously* fallen off the over-hanging cherry tree, which develops and sheds a few brown leaves... Then, before it hit the ground, it opened its wings and flew away. I did apologize to the moth, both for disturbing it, and for so misidentifying it.

If I had just turned my back at first encounter, I would still be convinced now that it had been a slug. My expectations at each stage drove my perceptions. I know how my senses can be unreliable in that way, and tend to take extraordinary claims of any sighting with a big dose of 'perceptual error' salt.

At each step I was 100% convinced of the item I saw, even down to a narrative that justified it. And of course, all anyone else has is a second hand account on the internet. Who can be sure I'm not covering up the discovery of an alien, silicon-based lifeform?

The power of a pre-digested narrative to colour unexpected perceptions should not be underestimated, whether that narrative is UFOs, elves, faeries or angels; unstoppable progress or inevitable die-off.

Don Plummer said...

Not completely on this week's topic, but it is related--I've been thinking about this for a while. Watching what has been happening in Gaza of late and what has been happening in recent months in Syria and Iraq, it beginning to be quite obvious that the USA has lost its ability to influence events in the Middle East. Forty years ago, we certainly did have some influence, but no longer, it seems.

Of course our political and military leaders, diplomats, and government officials haven't caught on yet. They're still pretending we're a moderating influence there, oblivious apparently to the reality. But events there have been spiraling out of control for some time now, and the pace seems to be accelerating. These factors are setting us up for yet another area of cognitive dissonance, it seems.

Agent Provocateur said...


I just had an experience that may not resonate with you as you have no children, but may with some of your readers. My daughter was completing several distance learning leaning high school projects yesterday. All were due midnight last night and she was overwhelmed with the tasks before her at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. All the angst, doubt, anger, and panic a 14 year old girl is capable of were on display. These were amplified by her desire to watch the movie her siblings were watching.

Dealing with this sort of thing is stock in trade for parents of teenagers: just calm the limbic system first so the prefrontal cortex can do its job once it starts to get its required share of the brain blood supply … damned hierarchical brain. Normally this would all be water off a ducks back for me except the subject matter of her tasks did prick me and I could not help share some of her emotional state. I dealt with this by rototilling in some buckwheat for our bees.

Her assigned tasks involved finding a real job to apply for, writing a resume specific to that application, writing a cover letter for the resume, and writing a thank you letter after the imaginary interview. Her tasks, of course, are practice for the real thing. Now a 14 year old girl has virtually nothing in the way of training, education, or experience to get a foot in the door. Driving this point home was the ultimate point of the exercise i.e. start getting what you need now. Yes, but for what?

You can see the problem.

But its worse than just the absence of future jobs as the subject of this week's essay makes clear. Its the death of a certain type of hope and a whole value system that hope implies. My in-laws, long a go, decided to stop talking about the state of the world and the future in front of their grandchildren (my kids) for fear of stealing their hope. Later my father-in-law later decided to stop talking altogether about such things to his wife for fear of its effects on her mental health.

An acquaintance of mine used to work with first nations kids in remote locations. He said he could see the light gradually go out of their eyes as they got older and started to realize, no, they were not going to be an astronaut, or even a fireman.

What worked for me may not work for my children. As I see no clear road ahead for them, I'm afraid for them. The doors are closing. All I can see doing right now is to work both sides of the fence: prepare them for the standard route of work in the professions via conventional (and unconventional – home school) education as well as involve them in working a sub-subsistence organic “farm”.

On the bright side, all my kids and I went for a walk yesterday (before the psychodrama) to test and expand their knowledge of local wildflowers and medicinal herbs. Later we collected wild strawberries and mint. After our walk, we coaxed our ducks to eat out of hands and then went swimming with them in our pond. It was a beautiful day.

P.S. Note the requisite positive ending forced by flipping the chronology.

P.P.S. Actually, there is a real happy ending as my daughter got her assignments in by the midnight deadline … just.

Luckymortal said...

In movements like "Permaculture" we're already seeing diametric alternatives to conspicuous consumption and financial success as the primary way of giving life meaning.

In times like ours, good alternatives are simple philosophies on dealing with the pain of decline, change and loss and learning to thrive through them --like "Yupped"'s comment. We can have a meaningful and joyful life INTERNALLY no matter what screwed up external circumstances come our way, but it takes hard work and some means of practicing it.

I think of Epicurian cults during the sharp decline of "Greece Proper" during the Hellenistic Period, which became compelling alternatives lasting through many civilizations and dark ages.

Or the Buddhist communities that taught a very similar approach to life, spreading during periods of dramatic change in India, China, Japan....

As more of folks move through "bargaining" to acceptance, many will find their way to the communities that are already forming around similar philosophies.

Slow Moe said...

What is and isnt included in 'different this time'? Do the theories of Near Term Human Extinction count under the 'different this time' youre talking about, or does that remain a distinct possibility, or a different thing altogether?

Nastarana said...

Angel, I believe the notion of 'Progress' as it is understood today is a secular religion, see, for example, the book "Voltaire's Bastards", by John Ralston Saul, promulgated in 18thC France, and thought and assumed to be validated by the genuine and astonishing discoveries and inventions of science and technology from then till the present day. Individual scientists may be believers in the religion of Progress, but I don't think they invented it.

Myself, I fault some scientists for being corruptible, eg the many who function as paid mouthpieces for various corporations, but the decisions to, for example, use nuclear power, or approve GE crops, are political decisions.

Technological expertise, I would suggest, is likely to be in great demand in the near future, as counties, towns, and villages realize they are going to have to seize control of and operate their own electric, water and sewer systems.

Eric S. said...

Re: The sense of disconnect. I, like JMG have Asperger's, so some of the more subtle nuances of social interaction tend to evade me. Still I do see what everyone is talking about. I think there is a part of it, at least in America that relates to the obsession with independence and individualism that is such a part of our cultural mythos. There's a major part of it that is technological though. When everyone you meet is immersed in their phones, it can be hard to relate to them. The generation that’s coming of age right now never knew a world without the internet, had a television instead of a parent, and most of their social interaction has been with non-player characters in videogames. We’re a society of media stimulation junkies, and it’s making it very, very difficult for even the most neurotypical children to interact. I used to do a lot of volunteer work and mentoring with teens and young adults on the Autism spectrum and noticed even more of it there, where almost every kid I worked with had a crippling videogame addiction. I think that’s one of the many reasons that JMG is so insistent on cutting back on the media stimulation. I do have to disagree with Mister Roboto though when he says that’s something that’s going to get worse rather than better. People are social mammals and we survive in groups, and on the downside of the slope learning how to work with other people is going to be a matter of life and death. And I expect that those suicide cults Greer talks about in this week’s article will get a lot of their membership from people whose only alternatives are dying alone surrounded by silence. One of the places people draw meaning is from each other, and I imagine in a world were that no longer be done from a bedroom computer interacting with computer programs, building strong, resilient, localized networks of trustworthy people through religious communities, volunteer organizations, friendships, etc. and getting as much of the social sphere of life back into the real world as possible is going to be a pretty good adaptive strategy right along with being more discerning and more sparing with the films, games, and other media we take in.

On an unrelated note… to get ready for the series on Dark Ages, I’ve been looking at lots of graphs of various indicators of the health of a civilization over the course of the past century and noticed that apparently every single statistic had something happen… presidential approval dropped, GDP growth slowed, the number of people on welfare rose, unemployment fell into a rapid descent, and oil prices rose rapidly and crashed, then everything promptly went back to following its regular pattern. I can’t for the life of me remember anything interesting or noteworthy happening then. Does anyone remember what went on to cause that?

Ray Wharton said...

The talking part of my mind long ago declared the death of progress, but the funeral rites and such are long and slow. The last year has included a lot of mourning and isolation as I have been forgetting even the language of progress. As I forget that language I find myself at a loss to communicate with many others where progress was the traditional story and touch stone of communication. Some days or weeks my light grows dim and I wait, with decent patience, for it to come back and guide me toward another attempt and trial, trying various ways of being in a declining and desperate society.

Humans rarely thrive alone for long periods, and when they do thrive truly they bear strange fruit. And even in a city it is easy to be alone when there are no other players in the same story as oneself at a gathering.

I am active with the Rainbow Gatherings, among that people the dying culture is called Babylon. How like Babel sounds most attempts at discourse which try to dive at all beneath the surface. Babylon is a phatic expression, but also a stinging diagnosis; and the Bible's own story is a very succinct picture of a civilizations downfall. Sadly the Rainbow Gathering exist largely as a dependent on the feed trough, and has very similar vices to its estranged Patron culture. To its credit it is a very impressive test bed of refugee camp technologies: material and social both; and a seed bed for many different breeds of new stories and meanings, some of which I am better disposed towards than others.

The horror that has been so hard the last year is learning to bear being believed when I deny progress, it is not the experience the young preacher I once was anticipated. Because with the death of one story babel is the first succession. Even where facts are the same, even where interpretations are the same, if the speakers have no intentions, inspirations, to share speech feels so vain. What stories will we have to invent now? Who might be moved by what? Which pain will be the one which breaks the will of cynicism, and teaches the next world's reverence and piety?

Many of my inspirations are robbed from this blog, many from the history of Philosophy, some from bloody headed frustration at certain over common petty inspirations.

Now I seek out those whose inspirations are close enough kin to my own that we can communicate. This Sunday Fort Collins will have a small gathering of gardeners and would be early adapters a Hedge Of Wizards; I hope that some good seeds will germinate there, at least we will plant a few trees.

Gunnar Rundgren said...

When you are not able to challenge the basics of the system, it is a better strategy to just take it for granted. I believe that is why people cling to the idea of progress. In a way, climate skeptics are as rational as those that acknowledge climate change but then conclude that we can't afford to solve it. As if there are costs involved in not using oil. There are no such costs.

Ice Torch said...

So JMG once wrote a book about UFOs? Talk about jumping on bandwagons. Next he'll be starting his own rock band: Archie Druid and the Snallygasters. :-)

Albert Budden was an English UFOlogist who turned sceptic in the 1990s. He actually went to meet "experiencers" and interviewed them. He was astonished at how often they lived near to electric pylons, or TV transmitters, or both. His theory was that they had become allergic to electromagnetism. He deduced that their hallucinations were a symbolic attempt by their subconscious to warn them, using modern archetypes, that their body was in fact being invaded by something alien: electromagnetism. Why were the beings, when seen, smooth and grey? Because the experiencers' minds were superimposing these hallucinations over their reality. Just as a PC has only limited memory and power to render a screen, so the mind did not have the power to provide a heavily detailed hallucination.

Budden tells of a fever he once had, when he had hallucinations of a plague of rats scurrying about the bottom of his wardrobe. The symbolism of disease was similar to that of the experiencers who believed their body was being invaded. Budden, who died in 2010, wrote a few very readable books in the 1990s, expounding his thesis.

As JMG suggests, UFOs (or some cases) come down to cognition or consciousness. Though nominally atheist, I can't claim to know everything that goes on in the universe, nor the extent of our consciousness. Occasionally, I've even myself had stunningly exact minor premonitions of banal events that happened the next day. I initially put them down to extreme coincidence or intuition, but over the decades there have been about eight such, so I am more open-minded now.

UFOlogy is highly entertaining, but we will never know how far technology can advance in unreachable parts of the universe. Here on Earth, signs are that there aren't many decades of advance left.

John Michael Greer said...

Christophe, I've been doing that for years now, and it only seems to bring them back all the more eagerly. Have you noticed that we're already up to 100 comments?

Stephen, anywhere the US has military bases and an intelligence presence, it's worth investigating how many UFO sightings might have been cover for US aerospace activities. Australia has both, last I checked, and its military in the Cold War was pretty much a US subsidiary -- you had boots on the ground in Vietnam, as I recall.

Bogatyr, once Russia declined to accept the role of conquered province suitable for looting that the US tried to assign it in the Yeltsin years, a collision was inevitable. The US is in steep decline, and any serious shock to its ability to exert its power and keep the wealth pump running could trigger a massive domestic crisis; thus the blustering and bullying coming out of DC just now. No, I don't think this is going to end well, either.

Cherokee, I hope to meet a wombat someday. They sound like remarkably charming creatures.

Anne, your last sentence expresses exactly the attitude I hope to encourage with this blog. Fantasies about "Great Turnings" simply get in the way of that, by encouraging people to daydream about finding some way to evade the challenges of our time. I'm glad that Macy's doing something more useful at this point!

Bill, thanks for the info.

Tony, exactly -- which is why so much of this blog, and my new blog as well, are focused on the power of narratives.

Don, as I mentioned to Bogatyr, the US is in steep decline and probably not far from serious domestic crisis. The loss of any effective power to shape events in the Middle East is one very significant symptom of that.

Agent, I certainly remember my own adolescent meltdowns, so I can relate! It's got to be a massive challenge, getting kids ready for the future headed their way when so many other people are trying to get them ready for one that's never going to arrive. I don't have any cures for that challenge, though teaching them about wild plants sounds like a very good step!

Luckymortal, oddly enough, we'll be discussing that next week.

John Michael Greer said...

Slow Moe, people have been insisting that the end is near for the last three thousand years. As I pointed out in a previous post or two, the NTE business is just the latest rehash of that claim, and not noticeably better supported by the facts than Harold Camping's Rapture predictions.

Eric, at what point in the last century did all these things happen? Give me a date and I might be able to respond.

Ray, that's exactly the challenge -- what stories do we tell when those that guided our lives up to this point have rolled over and died? I've tried to discuss that here in various ways, but there are no easy answers.

Gunnar, er, no costs? Ahem. So it's not going to cost anything to scrap all the infrastructure of the industrial world that depends on petroleum (and isn't suited to anything else), and find some other way to do such little tasks as growing food and getting it from the farm to the dinner table? You do your cause no service by ignoring the immense challenges that a transition away from oil is going to require.

Ice Torch, Michael Persinger has written some fascinating papers and a good book on the ways that electromagnetic fields can set off hallucinations by triggering various odd events in the human nervous system; he makes a case, and I think it's a good one, that some of the dizzying diversity of things that have been lumped together under the culturally constructed category "UFO phenomenon" may be caused by that. As I argue in my book, one of the main reasons that phenomenon has proved so resistant to study is that a vast number of unrelated things have been treated as though they're all aspects of the same thing. That said, "Archie Druid and the Snallygasters" is pretty good!

Roger said...

Blatantly faked official statistics? You bet. Mirages conjured in service of Wall Street. Nobody with functioning eyeballs gives them any credence.

Reminds me of Communist propaganda organs celebrating triumphs of the latest 5 Year Plan. You remember the film clips, the narrator stridently rattling off numbers with scenes of hard faced soldiers rigidly at attention, smiling workers happily toiling in the fields and mills. All for the greater good of the socialist workers' paradise. But, in the end, the only thing never in short supply was vodka (good thing that, the better to stay anesthetised).

Because there too the numbers were all lies. And nobody believed them. And to trade your dignity and live in fear for cabbage and potatoes? Didn't end so well did it?

But do you think that the incubators of fraud and deceit on Wall Street and in government and universities learned anything from the communist collapse? I really don't think they did.

Never mind that communism came crashing down well within living memory. What on earth have they got to learn from the communists? Well, mainly that systems based on lies won't survive.

I think that especially the oligarchs believe that rules don't apply to them or shouldn't apply to them. Rules are for sissies. And they don't pay attention to the lessons of history because, you see, history is bunk.

Eric S. said...

JMG: "at what point in the last century did all these things happen? Give me a date and I might be able to respond. "

As I said in my comment, it looks like it was sometime in the summer of 2012. Basically the graphs I'm looking at do almost everything they did in 2008 during the housing crash, only with a faster and more complete recovery. I can't seem to remember what would have caused it though.

Eric S. said...

Oops, looking back at my comment it looks like you were right, it didn't make it in there. I must have accidentally erased it when I was trying to edit it to post. Sorry about that.

AlanfromBigEasy said...

A real world item supporting "Twilight's Last Gleaming", where American "do everything" a/c fall to Chinese air superiority a/c.

Violet Cabra said...

The UFO debate seems to me an example the common conflict found in Civilizations between those whose numina are deities (saucerheads) and those whose numina are concepts (debunkers). What makes this example a particularly apt illustration of the time we live is that BOTH sides use "progress" as the underlying framework for their belief system. Either progress in the form of highly evolved beings more technically, ethically, morally advanced who will save us (new age/saucerhead) or progress as the march towards the freeing of the intellect from debased superstition (debunkers).

Without the cult of progress both beliefs deflate, as does Marxism, and New Age philosophy. More broadly as Faustian Civilization flows downwards into the gutter of dead cultures I imagine ALL major structural underpinnings of the Culture will lose their force to help create meaning or inspire imitation.

As reality fails to conform to people's expectations I expect there to be a rather ugly parting of the ways between those able to find new systems of meaning and those who are unable. The most hope I've seen in this regard are gardeners who frequently turn their little patch into not only a loci of selfhood, but also an all encompassing metaphore for life which, I observe, being quite distinct structurally from the many-faceted myth of progress.

Bill Pulliam said...

I know you've posted about this many, many times, but it still astounds me how many people who fancy themselves to be a lone voice crying in the wilderness are just standing there repeating what they heard on talk radio, cable news, and websites that receive a million hits per day. That's a pretty frikkin' crowded wilderness.

It's the same phenomenon as the fact that so many people seem to think that there is a desperate need to spread the Gawspell of Bejeezuz Kryst in America today, that somehow the Kryschun voices are oppressed and suppressed, and the teeming masses of sinnurz just need a Byble stuffed in their faces and Salvayshun will be upon us all. Somehow they fail to notice that the Gawspell of Kryst has already been spread so thickly across this land that you have to slog through it, knee deep, just to walk down the street. And anyone who has not turned on to it, it ain't 'cause they haven't ben exposed to it! Saturation Soul Winning may well have chased more people away than it has attracted. And yet they persist in the belief that they just need to make the krossez taller and the megaphones for the prairz louder, and all the illz of the Wurld will be kyurd.

rapier said...

The goal of the US is to maintain relative strength and so remain number one as the energy based decline advances globally. To that end chaos in other places works to maintain our relative position. The chaos in the Middle East following the Arab Spring, the support of jihadis to oust Assad in Syria and of course Ukraine all spring to mind as results of this strategy.

In all cases many of our actors perhaps believed that something better would ensue for those places but it hasn't worked out and so Plan B it is and we still win the relative strength game by spreading the Empire of Chaos (Term from Pepe Escobar in Asia Times).

Would we go so far as to foment real warfare with Russia which would cut off 60% of Western Europe's energy. Well deep down our National Security State conservatives despise Europe and their socialist ways so perhaps we might.

China is not all that stable after all either and their energy situation is very poor.Everywhere I look the meme of Americas decline seems to miss the point that while for most citizens there is decline it isn't as bad as many other places and for The Nation, the USA, our relative strength has the potential to rise smartly.

Bill Pulliam said...

About the shot-down airliner... when I first heard that news yesterday, I called up my wife and told her that the Archduke might have just gotten shot in Sarajevo again...

exiledbear said...

An acquaintance of mine used to work with first nations kids in remote locations. He said he could see the light gradually go out of their eyes as they got older and started to realize, no, they were not going to be an astronaut, or even a fireman

And when the light of their soul dies out, that's when they realize that when they were to grow up, that they really wanted to work in HR and be surrounded by dull beige fuzzy cubicle walls.

Well, at least, that was the old "dream" anyway. The new dream is somewhat nicer actually. When you grow up, you just move downstairs to the basement and play video games all day and try to cultivate a sense of denial in your aging parents.

At least until the collapse comes. And then who knows what the dream will turn into then. I suspect it will end there for a lot of kids. A few will leave the basement to do things. I suppose they will survive.

Hey at least the Russians never got to play WoW in their basements right before the collapse. I guess that's something.

John Michael Greer said...

Roger, I've wondered fairly often of late if all those employees of the Soviet state who used to write giddily fictive articles for Pravda and Izvestia got hired by the US media once the Soviet Union fell apart. It would explain a few things...

Eric, by the summer of 2012 the various patches that had been slapped onto the US economy in the wake of the 2008-2009 crash were wearing thin. That's when the Fed launched unlimited quantitative easing -- basically, spinning the printing presses to cover th US national debt. Thus the dip and the sudden recovery.

Alan, exactly. Every source I've read on the F-35 that isn't beholden to the manufacturers or the Pentagon says its a total dog. The official name of the plane is "Lightning II;" in my forthcoming novel Twilight's Last Gleaming, the Air Force personnel that have to deal with it call it the Lardbucket.

Violet, exactly. If the narratives everyone uses to define and make sense of their lives are grounded on the monomyth of progress, and that goes away, everything's up for grabs -- and one likely consequence is that a great many people will not survive the transition, in one way or another.

Bill, that's par for the course for a religion whose followers no longer really believe in it -- you crank up the volume, in a hopeless effort to drown out your own doubts. I see a lot of that going on in the Neopagan scene right now, for that matter.

Rapier, there I think you're wrong. The US economy depends, more than those of its rivals, on being able to pump in flows of wealth from the rest of the world; the generation of chaos is to my mind far more likely to be the product of a fatal mismatch between the fantasy world of Washington DC and the real world that surrounds it, than of some coordinated plan. But I've talked about that at quite a bit of length in previous posts, and my book Decline and Fall.

Bill, it's possible. One way or another, there are a lot of open barrels of gasoline and oil-soaked rags sitting around, and sparks flying aplenty; it's purely a matter of which spark hits which flammable matter in what order.

MawKernewek said...

I'm unsure whether it will actually be a military defeat that confronts Americans' belief in their standing in the world with reality, or whether it could be an economic one.

A point where China feels it is now strong enough to take the short-term economic hit of unwinding the US dollar trade system that currently benefits the USA by allowing green pieces of paper to be exchanged for actual manufactured goods, and rebalance the world financial system in its favour.

At which point, I assume the US defaults maybe with a hyperinflation episode followed by USD 2.0 which has a more humble place in the foreign-exchange world.

Janet D said...

Bill, just a note that I've really enjoyed your posts the last couple of weeks. (There's no 'like' button option available here.)

As far as the "Gawspell of Bejeezuz Kryst" goes, well, you are in the Bible Belt, are you not? You should try WA State, where I believe more than 40% of the population is among the 'nones'. Pagans aplenty out here.

I also believe that Christianity has lost mimesis among the young. We recently gathered with many nieces & nephews, all 20-somethings, and they all seem to regard that said religion with almost an "ewwww" mentality (and many were not from the Pac NW, either).

I actually had mixed feelings about that. Although I am not a Christian, over the years I've come to appreciate the large amount of good that the churches do in the communities in which I've lived. There are a few organizations (largely nature/wilderness-based/earth-skills ones) that have arisen in some places that seem to function in the same type of role, but I still see many more communities where churches have not been replaced by anything, really, and I find that concerning. A vacuum isn't necessarily a step up from dogmatic religion by any stretch of the imagination.

Nonetheless, having lived in Oklahoma at one point in my life, your post did make me laugh.

jean-vivien said...

Hi everyone,
the dicussion about UFO has hinted at abduction or encounter experience as verging on the spiritual.
And I have read before on this blog some fleeting mentions that humans can experience divinity, or contact with transcendance.
So my question is, is it something that all humans do ? or that we can train to do ? Do we have to train ourselve to detect it, like a tracker has to practice the spotting of animal trails ? And if it happens to me, how can I experience it sincerely if I know (or think...) that experience of divinity is basically a complex firing pattern in my neurons ?

exiledbear said...

@JMG - BTW, did you intend to post at exactly 4:44pm? Or did it just happen naturally? Is there a difference, I wonder? I keep seeing those numbers everywhere.

magicalthyme said...

Changing the subject very quickly back to scraping the bottom of the barrel, while all eyes are fixed on the Ukraine, P.O. has reopened the entire east coast to testing for off shore drilling. Florida to Maine coastal ecosystem is about to be sacrificed for a possible 236 days worth of oil and 15 months of natural gas.

And now back to the regularly scheduled program, while I'm off to be sick.

streamfortyseven said...

1. The missile launcher crew that shot down the Malaysian Airlines jet thought it was shooting at an Antonov-26 military aircraft ( A story on this same shootdown in ITAR-TASS - correct location, a/c misidentified: "DONETSK, July 17. /ITAR-TASS/. Militiamen of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) brought down a military transport Antonov-26 (An-26) plane of the Ukrainian Air Force on the outskirts of the town of Torez, eyewitnesses said.

A missile hit the An-26, it fell on the ground and caught blaze, they said.

On July 14, militiamen of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic downed another An-26 of the Ukrainian Air Force."

It's pretty clear that it was a tragic mistake; and the pilot of the a/c shouldn't have been flying over a known war zone so that his airline could save some money on fuel. I hope That Malaysian Air's days as an airline are numbered...

One would hope that the responsible elements of the National Security State would have this figured out by now and would accordingly tone down the rhetoric.

2. As for UFOs, I thought I saw one myself back in 1972 when I was a kid, one of the stars in the sky appeared to be moving oddly... so I called in a UFO report to the local SAC base, and I told them where in the sky it was, and they got a visual on it, too, but they could absolutely not pick it up on radar. At that point, they hung up, and about 3 minutes later I heard a bunch of jets go to their afterburners - they scrambled their fighter wing... The next morning an Air Force colonel came over to the house and asked me just what I saw and I told him, and he said they thought it was a Russian spy plane, but in the future, leave off the UFO reports please and thank you. Now I wonder if it wasn't one of ours with a stealth coating or something like that.

PhysicsDoc said...

I have noticed a shift in the interpretation of 20th and 21st century UFO phenomena over time. Initially it was science fiction based (e.g. metallic craft from Zeta Reticuli flown by other life forms), but since ~ the 1980s in some circles it seems to have become an occult phenomenon with aliens being more demonic (or angelic) entities. I chose the 1980s since I remember the book communion (1987) which seemed more a description of an occult experience than a classic scifi encounter.

PhysicsDoc said...

Regarding my previous comment, maybe paranormal or supernatural would be a better description than occult of more current UFO phenomena/interpretations.

Anne Patterson said...

Some thoughts on our current situation and where it is leading. Apologies if this may anticipate future posts.

Reduction in access to fossil-fuels and all that come with them and access to money will not necessarily be a completely bad thing. When Cuba lost over half of its oil imports due to the fall of the Soviet Union 1990 it went through an instant Peak Oil and had to make significant adaptations - localising facilities such as health care & education and growing food without industrial agriculture. People actually got fitter from eating more healthy food & walking more. There is a great film about this

In Western society we have overabundance, leading to what has been termed Affluenza, we have an epidemic of obesity and a host of associated diseases such as diabetes, heart disease & cancer due to having excessive amounts of food especially fatty, sweet foods available which our ancestors did not have. We have conspicuous consumption and waste of resources. We have vapid mass media entertainment for the masses. But we are not healthier or happier as a result, in fact the reverse. Studies show that people are happiest at a pretty modest income level. Many of us who have downshifted by choice or by being forced to by circumstance have a better quality of life as a result. Check out

However I am quite aware that this really only applies if you still have some money to live on and there is a still a reasonably functioning infrastructure, which is going to be less and less the case as time goes on. Since we hit peak money as well as peak oil in 2008 the pie has got smaller, the rich are clinging onto their share whilst everyone else is getting less. In particular the poor, sick, disabled and elderly are being thrown out of the boat. In the UK we have had an explosion of food-banks as benefits have been ruthlessly cut and even when people can get jobs they are often on zero-hours contracts with no guarantee of income. Many sick & disabled people have been assessed as fit to work under a flawed assessment procedure, some of whom have died shortly afterwards. The health service is having to make massive savings which in the mental health service I work in means budget cuts of 5% year on year, which will be over 20% in 5 years, so services are being cut. The cuts to social services budgets are even more drastic. And all of this is in one of the most affluent countries in the world.

I am aware this is just the start of the downward curve. At some point in the next few years we will get another major financial crash, as predicted by Nicole Foss at the Automatic Earth things could go south in a hurry when it comes, we can't really afford to prop up the banks the way we did last time, your thoughts on what to expect when the next crash happens will be really useful.

I and my husband are doing what we can to adapt to declining income and spiraling prices for energy & food and to prepare for the worse to come. We have an allotment and grow a lot of our own fruit & veg, we have a few acres of woodland so can produce fuel for our woodburner and can forage for fruit & herbs which grow there. We live a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of avoidable lifestyle related diseases. We practice Druidry & Buddhism which helps make us emotionally resilient for the challenges we face and provides an alternative source of meaning & purpose to that of mainstream society and a community of like-minded people who think the same way. We can't save the world but we can do our bit to look after our piece of it.

Phil Knight said...

"As for the frantic efforts to make technology invisible, hmm! That's a good point, and I'm going to want to think about where that comes from and what it implies."

JMG & Crews,

Check out "Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life" by Albert Borgmann for his take on this, which he calls the "device paradigm".

Borgmann differentiates between a "device" and a "tool", the latter of which has a function that can easily be defined from its form. A device on the other hand has its workings occluded, and that's because its function is actually radically different from a tool, in that its purpose is not to enable or empower its user, but to extract financial gain from them by "providing" some kind of "service".

Basically, you use a tool, but a device (think iPads, cell phones etc.) uses you.

Bill Pulliam said...

Janet -- I'm not really talking about the level of belief, which I think continues steadily dropping nationwide. It's about the intensity of the shouting from the believers, each one seeming to think they are a lone voice crying in the wilderness, while in reality their are so many voices shouting the same thing it just becomes a generalized background roar. We have a friend who lives in Corvallis OR, and when he comes here to visit he comments negatively on the ubiquity of churches, gun nuts, tea party bumper stickers, etc. Well, when we were visiting out in western Oregon last March, outside of tiny enclaves (like Corvallis) we saw all the same billboards and bumper stickers on these topics that we see here in TN, all over the place.

Andy Brown said...

When I went to the former USSR as an eager young anthropologist in 1994, I thought I'd be looking at the excitement of the end of an ideology and the beginning of a new one. But when I got there, no one wanted to talk about any such thing. They were much too busy trying to keep a roof overhead, keep the daughter in school, the son out of the army and find a place to store 100 kilo of potatoes for the winter.

There's no doubt that many people did not survive the dry run for collapse that was mid-nineties Kazakhstan. Male life expectancy was dropping to the mid-fifties and most of that had to do not just with material suffering, but the ripping away of life's sureties - salaries, certificates, positions, status all lost their value and that hit middle aged men the hardest. Vodka and automobiles culled that herd.

But one advantage the Soviet people had was that they'd almost all given up on the monomyth of Soviet progress. There was no collapse of an ideology to study, because it had been hollowed out to just another bit of habitual theater.

So the reaction (and the long-established practice) was to hunker down, and do their best to ignore anyone who was rash enough to rave about a new myth - capitalism, Islamism, nationalism, socialism or whatever. The state was happy to encourage that for the most part.

In the current US, as I ignore the pundits and the boosters and talk to regular people, I find very little faith in the myth of progress. Yes, your analysis is correct that it's the accepted default mode, and people don't really have cognitive alternatives other than to wish for it to be true. But they don't seem to believe it. The faith is broken at least when it comes to their little part of the world - and for many even in the big picture.

When the failure of Progress becomes too obvious to ignore, there will be plenty of your saucer-head dead-enders. But I wonder if the majority of people are being eased into decline at a pace that will eventually result in a "well, it woulda been nice" rather than an abrupt collapse of a world view.

AlanfromBigEasy said...

Perhaps illustrative of USAF thinking - and perhaps our best hope for a future air superiority fighter is a rejected plan for the F-16.

Strip off all the auxiliary equipment, substitute titanium and composites for aluminum in a few places (save just 1,000 lbs), slighter enlarge the flight control surfaces, tweak the engine with more current technology and turn it into a "turner & burner". For $1 million less per a/c than a regulation F-16, and WAY less than a F-35.

Visually, it would look like a regular F-16, but much more dangerous to tangle with.

Shane Wilson said...

It probably will be a military/economic combination, seeing as they're related, and rising in tandem. Russia and China might call in our debts in response to a military/diplomatic escalation, they've certainly conditioned their people to make sacrifices for the greater good, unlike the U.S. I'm guessing it all hits the fan together.

G Ruda said...

@ JMG: It seems that my posting yesterday (well, around midnight here, actually) was lost somewhere in cyberspace. Just as well maybe, since so few commenters appear to be interested in UFOs. Therefore, I rest my case - for now.

Avery said...

PhysicsDoc, I think you're on to something. The only people who I personally know who believe in UFOs also believe in this weird kind of millennialist cult that says Earth is about to transition into the "5th dimension" and that the aliens will arrest all the criminal world leaders and receive big piles of money.

Not quite Heaven's Gate, but perhaps shades of future cargo cults? I know JMG has touched on this before, but it's important to emphasize how fantasies about our promised future are overtaking reality as we speak. Peak oil must somehow present a more compelling worldview while remaining realistic.

peakfuture said...

From the alternate universe of TIME magazine (July 28,2014), this week:

An article on the vulnerability of US carriers to the Chinese DF-21D missile. Only (ahem) five years late.

An article on how the economy isn't as bad as you think; most notably, with points like "Energy production is booming" (and the US will be the world's leading oil producer). And we have 100 years of natural gas (at current rates of consumption, naturally).

jean-vivien said...

we have plenty of folk tales about maidens visiting the river genius' halls in France. I guess alien abductions just develop around a certain invariant of human experience.

I heard the local amateur historian today retelling local history back more than a millennia. Nothing too accurate but he motivated people to actually repair buildings and stuff. Orality will be a potent tool to deal with our material situation, but it almost systematically distorts or destroy don't always convince people by being

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG: "a public backlash against science and scientists is a real possibility. I'll be discussing that down the road a bit."

So I guess science would become the new occult, to be sheltered and passed secretly down the generations, through the dark ages, practiced only discretely by oddly-dressed men and women in funny hats who are notoriously quiet about what they do, until it reemerges in a future Renaissance...

Dan the Farmer said...

To talk about the true believers and total deniers of UFOs makes me think about the 911 truthers. I see some similarity, and some differences. One thing you can say about UFOs is that, real or not, they don't seem to have a lot of impact on the daily lives of most people. 911, on the other hand, could make people question many things about our social fabric. Do we have a legitimate constitutional government? How manipulated are we? I decided some years ago that when my taxes come due, I'm going to have to pay them regardless of whatever really happened. I no longer ask if UFOs and pre-planted demolition charges are real. I ask if they matter, or should I turn my attention to more pressing issues.

Calm Center of Tranquility said...

John Michael, last week (July 2)the CIA posted this to their twitter account: Remember reports of unusual activity in the skies in the '50s? That was us. #U2Week #UFODAY

— CIA (@CIA) July 2, 2014

The tweet includes a 272 page PDF file (The CIA and the U2 Project). So there's some confirmation of your theory from a source that should know, though it's hard for me to consider them a 'credible' source.

Now, if you want to address the somewhat surreal image of the CIA is on Twitter...

Trish (captcha - PhotoSphere. I want a captcha with a sense of humor for MY website.) :0)

John Michael Greer said...

MawKernewek, I suspect that at this point, if the Chinese start dumping dollars, there'll be a military confrontation in short order. Still, we'll see.

Jean-Vivien, when you watch the sun rise, that experience is basically a complex firing pattern in your neurons, too. Does that mean that the sun doesn't exist?

Bear, no, I don't time my posts, much less do so on some kind of cabalistic schedule. Synchronicity strikes again!

Magicalthyme, yes, I heard. I want to hear all those people who parroted Obama's cynical hype about hope and change try to find some way to justify this.

Stream, we weren't testing stealth technology yet in '72; it was probably a routine SR-71 flight, about which the local Air Force units weren't informed.

PhysicsDoc, the history of UFO explanations is actually a good deal more complex than that. In the 1940s and 1950s, there were a lot of occult explanations in circulation, via the contactee scene and the early New Age movement -- "serious" histories of the UFO scene don't like to talk about those. In the 1960s, you had the heyday of the "hardware hypothesis," the notion that UFOs were nust-and-bolts spacecraft from some other world; the 1970s saw the "New Wave" in UFOlogy, with people such as John Keel and Jacques Vallee reviving the ideas of Charles Fort and suggesting that the universe was basically nuts; then in the 1980s, with the popularization of the abductee phenomenon, you had one very popular wing of the movement go in for paranormal explanations while another hewed tightly to the "hardware hypothesis." It's a complicated history, and still awaits a good cultural historian.

Anne, while you're certainly right that many people in the industrial world have so much wealth it's bad for them, have you ever tried suggesting that they give up a significant fraction of it, say, half? I recommend giving it a try, if you haven't.

Phil, that's a very useful distinction -- many thanks.

Andy, if so, that's excellent news. The more people defect from the religion of progress before it drops out from under them, the saner our collective response is likely to be when said drop gets under way.

John Michael Greer said...

Alan, now try getting that through the military-industrial complex, which will be making much less profit off so sensible an idea!

G Ruda, I didn't see it in the comment queue -- maybe it got abducted by the Grays, and will surface after some missing time. ;-)

Peakfuture, I go back and forth between wondering what planet they're on and wondering what they're smoking.

Jean-Vivien, Giambattista Vico pointed out a long time ago that there's a kind of knowledge that's communicated very well by oral poetry, and a kind that's communicated very well by written prose, and they aren't the same kind. Curiously enough, we'll be discussing this on both my blogs as the discussions proceed.

Bill, that's a very real possibility.

Dan, excellent! To my mind, that's the question that matters.

Center, of course they're on Twitter. They're a 21st century American social phenomenon, after all. (If a potter makes pots, btw, what does Twitter make?)

mr_geronimo said...

"... that our society somehow got an exemption from the common fate of civilizations." Even when the second generation of Ceasars is appearing all over the West people can't see what they are and what they mean. The first Ceasars may have failed (Hitler and Mussolini). Will this next batch (The São Paulo Forum in Latin America and the imperial presidency of Obama in USA) succeed? The stars are aligning and if the money system implodes in the next years the plutocrats will end up jailed by the armed man of the Ceasars. That's when scapegoating will happen, also.

Look at this report from the DOD where they study the failure of russian colonization of Siberia, if you haven't alredy.

Cherokee Organics said...


They are delightful creatures and you just never know where the future will take you. Wombats used to be quite rare visitors here, but with increasing soil fertility, diversity of available plants and constant water they now call the place home.

Do you think that the dichotomy referred to in your essay applies to political groups too? I've noticed that in Australia, the two main political parties are sticking to their rusted on, tried and true strategies. Yet at the same time the world is changing around them both and they are failing completely to address many of those changes or the issues at large.

Then along comes Clive Palmer of the Palmer United Party who is an eccentric billionaire. It looks like he talks crazy stuff 50% of the time and then the other half mentions the unmentionable topics that concern the population like welfare, university fees - he even throws in the old chestnut that he was on welfare at one stage. He is gaining in popularity and currently hold the balance of power at a Federal level. One to watch for sure, I always have an unsettled feeling when I hear him. It appears that he is pursuing a strategy of simply disrupting the activities of the politicians and standing by whilst they self-implode… To be brutally honest, the federal politicians can’t complain as they have fostered a toxic environment over the past decade. I would have thought that the Prime Minister, of all, people should have understood the golden rule of: “Do unto others”…

I reckon the two main political parties here (and I include the Greens in with that) are in serious danger of throwing themselves into irrelevance simply because they are comfortable with their current status. Meanwhile the world changes around them. It is distressing to listen to them argue with each other, because somehow they lose themselves in that comfortable old argument and forget why they are there in the first place. They are there to serve the population. It is not hard and it is a message that they would do well to consider and tone down the rhetoric and get on with the job at hand.



Shane Wilson said...

@Bill, JMG
I do think evangelical fundamentalism is circling the drain, at least in this current form. There are so many signs: evangelicals now drinking, gambling, and supporting gay people openly and without reservation, particularly among young evangelicals. I mean, if you abandon beliefs that until recently you proclaimed were essential to your faith, abandoning the faith will follow soon after. What's the point of going to church if you're not going to condemn gays, gambling, and liquor. Another encouraging sign is the way other evangelicals have given up on changing society, believing society to be hopelessly corrupt. This self-cloistering is a good sign as far as limiting the effect of evangelical fundamentalism on the greater society.

exiledbear said...

@andy - at least with the collapse of Soviet Murica, nobody will be killing their liver on vodka, we'll all be stoned round our gourds from bountiful supplies of pot. I suspect the 21st c will the era of the die-hard stoner.

We saw a tiny taste of that during the 70s with Cheech and Chong, now imagine all of that on steroids.

Probably what will kill the former middle-aged cubicle rabbits is the lousy food in this country. Good, fast, cheap - pick two, and I suspect most will be forced into "fast and cheap". That and the unavailability of medical care when the consequences of eating that food kicks in. People will just die at home, no ambulance, no doctor, no hospital.

Cathy McGuire said...

Just to add a bit of positive news - this is a description of a Portland, OR disaster "rehearsal" that uses bicycles to fill in when cars won't be possible. I'm so glad someone is working on this!

During Saturday's disaster drill, more than 40 riders on cargo bikes and bicycles with electric-assisted motors towing trailers – there was also one skateboarder -- maneuvered a 40-mile, scavenger hunt course around the city, picking water, supplies and victims of the simulated Cascadia earthquake.
Cell phones were turned off. Cyclists used paper maps and pedal power to move supplies. Jewett and other volunteers, including those with Multnomah County sheriff's office, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Portland Bureauof Emergency Management, kept track of the relief runs using handheld and HAM radios.
Event organizers said the trials also show why a bicycle should become part of every home disaster readiness kit.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Agent,

haha! Corporations may just have influenced the school cirriculum. I've always been mildly suspicious that schools were training grounds for people to accept the industrial mindset - plus a bit of institution of learning too.

At that age, I clearly remember seeing signs outside of newsagents and chemists for delivery jobs and simply went in and asked them about the possibility of work. My CV may not have been up to date for sure! (I'm joking around...)

Glad to hear that your kids are learning about the local ecology. It should serve them well and they may just never forget those lessons either. Time well spent!

Cheers. Chris

Cherokee Organics said...


Lardbucket is very funny indeed!

Hi Alan,

I'll be impressed when we get one or more of them dang F-35 thingees delivered. Goodness knows we've stumping hard cash for them for a while now. Actually for quite a while. And to think that the local media was so hard on the Collins class submarines - which were actually delivered and in service. Didn't one them sink a US carrier during a war game?

Just sayin...



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi MawKernewek,

Haha! It is not so simple. Those green notes are then traveling from China into other locations in the world to buy real assets such as energy, resources, property and food.

Sure, they have a lot of US currency - to mention but one - in reserve, but the Chinese are putting them into good use as quickly as feasibly possible.

They'll have an impressive local salvage economy when it is required of them. They have a couple of major cities which at this stage of the game are actually devoid of occupants. It is an interesting strategy.

Have you not noticed that Russia is building a very large pipeline to China? If I was in Europe I'd be a bit nervous of both powers. There are some cold winters in Europe.



Mean Mr Mustard said...

Hi Cathy McG

A rare example of a senior appointment on merit ?

At his first all-staff meeting with FEMA employees, Fugate asked for a show of hands: “How many people here have your family disaster plan ready to go? [If you don’t], you just failed your first test … If you’re going to be an emergency manager, the first place you start is at home.”



G Ruda said...

@ JMG: You may be right, of course, but personally I'm more inclined to blame the MiB from the hole at the Pole: Harassers of the Innocent and Suppressors of the Truth. Part of The New Inquisition. And should my post by any chance happen to surface again, surely it will be horribly mutilated, totally lifeless and drained of all ... content. ;-)

zaphod42 said...

John, I look forward to the next edition for your spin on what might become our new ethos in the darkening years ahead.

Meanwhile, a comment on, " The difficulty with that realization, of course, is precisely that so many people have staked their pride, their values, and their sense of meaning and purpose in life on one or another version of the logic I’ve just sketched out. " I have seen, in my closest family members, exactly that unfortunate reliance; and to date no wake-up has occurred, not from my not ringing the proverbial alarm bell.

Their dissonance is indeed more alarming than my bell ringing could ever be. And these are, at least in my mind, very intelligent people, college educated professionals, involved in daily contact with the legal and business enterprises of today's America.

I am more concerned with what some modern Hitlarian cult figure might be able to do with a public that is so willful in their denial, when (s)he insinuates with neo-Goebelsian zeal some "new" pseudo-religious bias against an imagined group that is "behind" the descent already under way.

One other note, I have been seriously considering the area near Ashland, OR, (specifically, Trail, Oregon) as a base in which to establish a new homestead. Since you were there and left, is there a more likely place in which to weather the coming storm? Just wondering...


Redneck Girl said...

@Jean-vivien, transcendence is kind of like a unicorn, you find it without really looking for it. I think I approached such a state while driving once. I was going like a bat out of Hades on a winding country road and realized that for a moment time seemed to slow down and my perceptions were razor sharp. It was like I could see every piece of rock, every crumb of soil in a cut bank as I briefly slowed and went around the curve. I still have some moments, un-called and un-sought, when I am out in nature. I cherish them when I see a dragon fly in mid flight or a wild canary eating milkweed seeds. Precious moments that give me joy and I miss them because there have been so few the last couple of years.

@ AlanfromBigEasy, The funny thing about modern people is they think that something has to be newer, bigger, more complex and more expensive in order for it to be more effective. Your example is not a new one. Some twenty years or so ago, I believe it was Boeing built a fighter jet that was fast, agile, easy to fly and easy to repair. It was also less expensive then the hi-tech jet sold to our military at the time. NONE of our less affluent partners would buy them because it wasn't the top of the line like 'our jets.'

In my humble opinion newer, more expensive and more complicated to operate doesn't mean better by any stretch of the imagination. (I still like horses better! But that's me!)


Anne Patterson said...

@ JMG - I agree, downshifting can only go so far. You're right that people aren't generally going to voluntarily give up half their wealth. But it is going to happen to most people whether they like it or not over the decades to come.

I think pretty much everyone I come across here in the UK is resigned to things getting worse in the future. I don't thing ordinary people here subscribe to the myth of progress any more, they just want to get by.

There is widespread disengagement with politics, although there is simmering resentment against the political class which could result in some big upsets such as the possibility of Scotland choosing to become independent from the UK in the referendum this autumn. The UK Independence party came first in European elections in the UK recently on an anti-Europe/anti-immigration platform which put the cat among the political pigeons, we have a General Election next year the outcome of which is pretty uncertain.

The UK seems to be heading down the path many areas of the US have already gone down, ie reduced funds for municipal infrastructure & services. It's not as bad here as in Detroit, the poster-child for a city which is going down the drain where 1000's are having their water cut off, but that's the way our path is heading in the future.

On that subject I think access to water is going to be one of the key issues in the future. We can manage without oil, though not without massive disruption to our whole way of life, but we can't live without water, what happens to the 100's of millions of people who depend on water coming out of a tap if that disappears?

jean-vivien said...

Hi Don Plummer,
camouflage pants have been used as garments among various musical genres targetting teenagers and their angst (punk/metal, hip-hop...)
But two years ago Hellfet, the biggest metal festival in France, went up a notch with their poster image :
And much more recently (last Spring), everybody in my age range (20-40) was cheering for the Mud Day : drive 40 miles away from Paris and pay 70 dollars... to take part in a giant 13-km military obstacle course with your friends.
Somehow I wonder... mud can be fun, why aren't we celebrating the new Woodstock instead of a military ritual ?

Hi Zaphod92
I understand that a lot of people on the collapse/peak oil scene fear the rise of a new Hitlerian figure.
But we always focus on the rise, and never on the fall. Nazism was an inhuman "something", and its leader met an inhuman end.
Yet I have read William Shirer's depicting the last weeks inside their bunker, and as inhuman as their final decisions were, in this regard echoing much of whatever else they have done or caused, their ultimate actions didn't pop up just one day.
There was a long "progresion" or rather spiral of disconnexion from the reality of a failing regime/military punctuated with emotional highs and lows... And that spiral is a very human process, for all the Nazis' inhumanity.
What really struck me was all the delusions that those supposedly great leaders were clinging to. Hitler was counting on this army to rescue Berlin, then that other army... except that those armies never came to the rescue.
If Hollywood conspiracy theorists got it right, then their party's hypothetical escape to a distant moon base was certainly not due to his intelligence or sense of planning against odds !

I am not saying we do or should empathize with the last moments of the Nazi leaders, but the telling of their fall is very haunting and questionning :
at which point do we know that we are not OURSELVES already ensnared into the spiral of delusions - the Armies that Will Never Come - that traps us into emotional, practical, spiritual dead ends until there is no escape than just immolating yourself ?
John Michael has already written extensively about delusions and false hopes. Shale bubble, biogas, ethanol... Murica's Armies That Will Never Come To The Rescue, if you will.
The tools given on this blog are not just practical, or spiritual : they are psychological tools, an invitation to start looking for the walls of the Bunker, and then walk out of it.

Nastarana said...

zaphod42, If I were going to settle anywhere in Oregon, I would be looking for land in Klamath Falls. Climate zone 7, so almost all temperate zone crops, such stone fruits, should flourish; no shortage of water; geothermal heat available, as well as solar and wind potential; lots of good hunting and fishing; and, last I knew, yuppie retirees haven't pushed land prices into the stratosphere yet.

wiseman said...

Great writeup as always. I am visiting peak oil literature after some time (~1 year) and this break has been refreshing (provides perspective). I feel my views have evolved. I'm feeling particularly lazy this morning so here is a bullet list of my observations

(I live in India so it's an Indian perspective)

1. I see a lot of people in PO community suffering from confirmation bias, they are always looking for stories which confirm their worst fears. I haven't seen many people saying, oh I was wrong, here's my updated view. (I suffered from the same for some time and I no longer browse the same blogs over and over.)

2. Collapse is inevitable yes and it's not that much different this time but coping strategies will vary radically from one nation to another. For example learning farming makes zero sense for me because I will be competing with hundreds of millions of farmers.

3. Prior knowledge helps in survival but it's mostly people who have the right kind of attitude who make the cut, applies to PO as well. Ignorance is sometimes bliss indeed.

4. Disappointment and anger have very little to do with poverty and everything to do with expectations. For example it's mostly middle class people who rebel (because they feel cheated). Poor people just go ahead with whatever comes along.

Ervino Cus said...

Dear JMG,

I'm a long time "lurker" of your blog. Normally I find your posts very interesting and full of pratical wisdom, strong historical knowledge & facts and common sense.

This time I must say instead that I'm a little sad of the tone of your post. IMHO it shows a blend of shadenfreude & cupio dissolvi that never before you showed so rudely.

I dunno, maybe is only my impression, but today your words are seasoned in a dark rejoicing for the bleak fate that await us all.

Again, maybe is only my impression, but in your words today I feel a lack of empaty for all the people that will die in the near future, and a dark hubris in the style of "GOTCHA! I told you" for the probable failure of the (possibly) last high-level technological civilization of the human species. A kind of "how the puny humans ever dared to callenge the laws of the Almighty Gaia" attitude :-(

(My apologies for my bad english: I'm Italian)


RPC said...

To Phil Knight's point about the tool/device dichotomy: It's also interesting to note that there's a huge effort being made to turn tools into devices. When I was a young man, working on one's automobile was considered normal; now engines are encased in plastic covers and even the diagnostic tools tell one less and less as the informative bits get stuck into manufacturer-specific annexes. Similarly, the Bogolight solar flashlights on my windowsill take regular AA rechargeable cells, but all the current models seem to take some variation of lithium batteries in a proprietary from factor; after five years, the light becomes useless. That technology can be inadvertently brittle or fragile is bad enough; that it's deliberately being made so should be a crime.

Eric S. said...

@JMG: Ok that makes sense, and I remember you talking about that now. I'm trying to learn to keep track of how historical events get reflected in everyday life statistics, and how everyday life statistics manifest in historical events. I'm guessing then that when there's a major crash like the one in 2008, instead of looking for the types of recovery patterns we've seen following any of the crashes that happened in the 20th century (crash, recovery, expansion) will be replaced by something more like the 2008/2012 pattern (crash, partial recovery, dip, recovery, plateau). It'll be interesting to see if the recovery period following the next economic crisis has a similar shape. If that's the pattern, it could take decades to be able to really notice the lines changing shape in any big way.

Roger said...

JMG, you know, the Washington and media lie machines need new blood, Wall Street's Book of Lies needs periodic updating. Fresh eyes from the outside ie from Eastern Europe - bring new approaches and new perspectives.

Though, IMO, the most effective lies are the simplest. These lies go viral, they infect the country's cultural software, replicating through the decades.

To me, one of Wall Street's foundational lies was this: that paying a mortgage is forced saving. I've heard this lie for as long as I can remember. People build their lives around this lie, they pour enormous resources into it, entire industries depend on it.

Systems built on lies don't survive. And so we had the financial crisis and US housing crash. But even so I still hear the lie. People won't let go of it. Like the cockroach, this lie has enormous resilience.

Is paying principal and interest the same thing as putting aside a portion of your monthly pay into a saving account? Of course not. It's absurd. But be careful what you say for people will defend this lie vociferously.

And a very clever lie it is because it builds the foundation for new lies. For example, if you can believe that home equity is the same thing as cold hard cash in the bank then it's just a small step to believing that inflating stock prices are the same. Neither are a replacement for putting cash in the bank but people will believe to their dying breath that they are.

That, I think. is the secret of this foundational lie, that its destructive power is in its ability to not only maintain its own existence but also to found new lies, that is, to mutate and adapt to novel circumstances. I have to applaud the originator, in getting people to believe this lie, he simultaneously got people to think of themselves as intellectually agile financial sophisticates thus guaranteeing the lie's success and survival.

Would Russian and eastern European liars have the sneaky, under-handed genius of Wall Street? Maybe. I've seen very persuasive, highly cultured, highly educated people from out there.

Shane Wilson said...

While I'm not an admirer of the Pauls by a long shot, I do admire them for their courage in occasionally stating the obvious when no one else in American politics will

John Michael Greer said...

Mr. Geronimo, I see Obama as more of a Catiline than a Caesar -- his charisma was very temporarily manufactured by the media, and he doesn't have the personal qualities to support it. The real Caesars of round two are yet to appear. Thanks for the pdf, btw!

Cherokee, yes, the same logic applies precisely to the two-party system in your country and mine. Both parties are very minor variations on business as usual at a time when business as usual no longer works, and thus utterly vulnerable to the rise of someone who's willing to talk about the realities of the situation -- even if what he has to say about those realities is basically nuts.

Shane, exactly. It's the standard behavior of a pop religious movement that's about to implode.

Cathy, thank you -- that's very promising indeed.

G Ruda, nah, it'll just have an implant somewhere...

Zaphod, in southern Oregon you have to worry about drought, major forest fires, and the chance that the next big subduction quake will hit during your lifetime. If those don't bother you, it's not a bad option. Me, I wanted someplace that's expected to have steady rainfall straight through the arc of climate change, where real estate costs are below rock bottom and social networks haven't been completely shredded by the pressures of consumer culture; I also wanted a place that's already undergone economic collapse, since that way it would have much less distance to fall. That's why I left southern Oregon for the north central Appalachians.

Anne, if people in Britain are expecting hard times ahead, they may actually have an easier time of it. It's the mismatch between expectations and reality that breeds real trouble.

Wiseman, welcome back! Those observations are useful for those of us who don't live in India, for that matter.

Ervino, where on earth do you get that? "Schadenfreude and cupio dissolvi" are not things that interest me -- like any other attempt to make history serve as a justification for emotional states, they're not helpful. My attitude hasn't changed; human beings are what they are, the universe is what it is, and those who want to do something other than run face first into the brick wall of the future need to get over themselves and start dealing with the very difficult future that's imminent.

Eric, the other thing to keep in mind is the mismatch between statistics and the reality on the ground. The statistics turned up in 2012; for most Americans, though, bad times just kept getting worse. No doubt the GDP will be hitting new highs fifty years from now, when most Americans live in shantytowns and electricity and running water are rarities.

Roger, I don't see the real estate lie as foundational -- it derives from a deeper set of assumptions about progress and economic growth. There was a time when sinking your money into a house payment actually did make financial sense; my father profited mightily from that, over a period of time extending from the 1960s to the 2000s. It's just that at this point, things have changed, growth is over, and what once worked has now become a lethal trap.

Shane, fascinating. I wonder how much of the Right will pick that up.

eddie sacrobosco said...

Was wondering if you're familiar with the Graham Hancock's book Supernatural in which he links psychotropic plants, prehistoric cave art, UFO phenomena and fairy stories.

Not scientific by any means, but I think that the sciences are limited in their ability to describe the larger multiverse that we live in.

For what it's worth, I believe that we exist in a multi-dimensional manifold (d>3)in which our experience of the higher dimensions is limited to change over time, plant induced psychedelic and naturally induced religious experiences as well the dream state.

Mathematically - the law of the excluded middle (something can be true or false but not both) satisfies our life in 3 dimensions in a similar way that Newtonian physics describes our simple experiences in 3 dimensions, however, when we move into the higher dimension, paradox becomes a defining feature - ie light is both a wave and a particle.

It's interesting that the alchemists of the Rosicrucian enlightenment prior to the 30 years war were both scientists and mystics, and the apparent bargain struck between the church and the sciences in the period that followed required that the sciences not stick their nose into the non-physical.

That's enough for today - I expect ridicule, but these opinions are based upon my life experience.

Check out the work of Rudy Rucker and Charles Hinton on the 4th dimension.

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear JMG,

Welcome back. Do you think a new civilization can arise (from the ashes of a previous one) which is not an empire? There have been such civilizations in the past, right? Do Spengler and Toynbee make the distinction between a civilization and an empire? If so, are dark ages the absence of civilization, or the absence of Empire? The capital letter is there intentionally to distinguish the mode of civilization which is into domination and extraction from other places (Empire) from particular examples of such civilizations (empires).

Phil Knight said...

Re: Ron Paul's comments

I'm kind of wondering if a third Malaysian Airlines plane will go down somewhere else, and people will realise that neither the Russians or Ukrainians are responsible.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Anne,

I have no town water (or many other services that people get very cheaply in Industrial countries and possibly take for granted) here at the farm and it is not the end of the world. You may be interested as I have been writing about the very subject of water over the past two blog posts:

Cool for wombats

For your interest, I'll get around to talking about drinking water systems over the next week or so too. These techniques and systems are practiced in Australia both in rural and urban areas. It actually depends largely on your wallet and imagination...



Varun Bhaskar said...


I think I'm finally making progress with my friends and family. They aren't tuning me out and two have actually listened when I've talked about decline. The "but it's different this time," arguments don't hold up to unyielding logic of "there are limitations to everything." Your blog is really helps by providing the logic and data to push back against the dogma of the cult.

I am softening the blow for all of them, though. I keep telling them that it can be different this time, but we must labour to make it so.

I'll be publishing my first story to the challenge this week. It turns out that writing moral stories based on abstract concepts like our modern justice system or the separation of powers is a little more difficult than I first thought. I've been writing it in bits and pieces while trying to get my newspaper running so each story will be a little delayed.

@Everyone else

You know through the transition it really helps to have John's words as a guide, but I think this blog's and Green Wizardry's real strength is the insight of the contributors. Really helps getting so many perspectives about strategies and tactics people are adopting to survive the turning.

Enrique said...

The Archdruid said: “The other thing to keep in mind is the mismatch between statistics and the reality on the ground”

This reminds me of Abraham Lincoln’s famous observation that there are lies, there are damned lies and then there are statistics. I know that the Archdruid has consistently advocated returning to the Constitutional ideals and system of government that America was founded upon, and I couldn’t agree more. America could have saved itself an awful lot of trouble by simply heeding the accumulated wisdom and sage advice of its founding fathers and great statesmen, including Lincoln.

As for Ron Paul, he and his son are among the few American politicians who I have any real respect for. I often disagree with them on specific points, but they are among the few big time politicians left in America who have integrity and consistently stand up for their core beliefs even when its unpopular to do so. Harry Truman argued more than a half century ago that most politicians are little more than glorified prostitutes and there is something to be said for this point of view. I have noticed that there has been a growing sympathy on the Right for Russia and Putin, in part because post-Soviet Russia is now seen as the champion of traditional and conservative values. There are a number of right-wing American intellectuals, including Pat Buchanan and William Lind, who have become openly pro-Russian. To me, this seems like another example of the failure of mimesis in action.

Robert Mathiesen said...

With reference to R. Paul's view of the attack on MH17:

One intercepted comment from a separatist leader referred to the people who shot down MH17 with a missile as "Cossacks." It's a little tricky to catch all the implications of this term by a single English word, but they imply a constant readiness to fight, even to attack, in defense of their independence, a distinct lack of deference toward any non-Cossack or central government or authority, and something of what in English is called "loose cannons."

In short, groups of fighters ungovernable by outside authority, quick to fight, and as heavily armed as they can manage, even beyond whatever the law or the central government may allow. We have people somewhat like that here in the USA, too, but they generally lack the heavy firepower that appears to have become widely available after the collapse of the USSR and the loss of central control over some stores of military weaponry.

Short version: in the West such a use of military weapons systems to down a plane would normally be an overt or covert action of some government. This is not a safe assumption as one moves eastward into the territories of the former USSR.

As for all the the propaganda and the battle over Ukraine, it's just one more example of a futile clash of dying titans.

Shane Wilson said...

The ones I really wonder about are the hawks, primarily GOP, but not necessarily, that are excoriating Obama for not going to war with Russia, Syria, China, et al. I mean, what is McCain, Perry, and the others smoking? Where are they getting whatever passes for intel? Someone needs to buy them a clue and let them know that the U.S. is a paper tiger deeply indebted in multiple ways to the up and coming powers that be. At least Obama's equivocating shows that at least someone is telling him to tread lighter--glass houses and stones, indeed. American diplomacy is insane right now, but the hawks are the lockdown ward...
As I recall, JMG has discussed the falsehoods inherent in all civil religions, Americanism included, and I've never read anything here that advocates venerating the constitution or the founding fathers, much less any given" side" of the current false political dichotomy.

Shane Wilson said...

I think JMG has quoted, "history rhymes but never repeats" , and has warned against attempts to" return" to some" idyllic" time in the past.

Bill Pulliam said...

eddie -- I'm only going to pick on your use of the word "dimension" in the standard incorrect way that it is used in newage circles. A dimension is a metric of space, it is not a place. You don't move to another dimension. that is like saying "Hey, all y'all down there in Length, you should see how cool the Universe looks like over here in Breadth!"

A better, and well-established term for what you call other "dimensions" is other "planes." The (metaphysical) planes are viewed as discrete multidimensional spaces, that may or may not intersect with the plane of our primary existence, in the way that two curving 2D planes in 3D space may or may not intersect with each other. This applies whether you are talking about quantum mechanical multiverses, which do not intersect, or metaphysical realms, which may intersect (depending on your belief system).

Ray Wharton said...

I have been having constructive conversations with people about how we might live and be good even in the habitat of an unstable 4th world country. It's weird. I think that enough folks have gotten their pictures taken that there is some tentative listening for other stories.

Fundamentally many many people want to be good, and this is a very deep want. But what is goodness in times like today? A quote from Nietzsche's Zarathustra hit a cord while my friends and I were taking turns sharing readings with each other.

"O my brothers, your nobility should not look backward but ahead! Exiles shall you be from all father- and forefather-lands! Your children's land shall you love: this love shall be your new nobility — the undiscovered land in the most distant sea. For that I bid your sails search and search. In your children you shall make up for being the children of your fathers: thus shall you redeem all that is past. This new tablet I place over you."

Mean while, the internal proletariat also looks outwards for the values of other cultures. Many on the right swoon at Russia; many in business are infatuated with China; 'Counter-culture' kids are increasing idealizing cultures from South America.

Redneck Girl said...

Nastarana said...
zaphod42, If I were going to settle anywhere in Oregon, I would be looking for land in Klamath Falls. Climate zone 7, so almost all temperate zone crops, such stone fruits, should flourish; no shortage of water; geothermal heat available, as well as solar and wind potential; lots of good hunting and fishing; and, last I knew, yuppie retirees haven't pushed land prices into the stratosphere yet.

@ Nasrana and Zaphod42, I'm currently trying to buy over at K Falls. There's an acre and a half with a 3 bedroom, 2 bath modular for sale at a ridiculously low price and buying it would be cheaper than rent. There's a lot of competition for it right now, I'll find out tomorrow if I have a chance at it or not.

There was another place in central Oregon I had in mind, a 4 bedroom Victorian with 12 acres and an equally vintage barn, both could go on the National Historic Registry. The biggest drawback was it was 'in town' so you couldn't go FHA loan. The second big drawback was that it set about 4800 feet above sea level. I was turning over in my mind how I could grow a suitable garden that high up when I recalled 'micro climate' and huglekulture beds. Make them into the shape of a large horseshoe w/the open end facing south. Then you could get enough clear plastic to stretch between the two arms of the bed and put your starts there. You'd probably have to find short season varieties anyway but by seed saving you'd automatically pick for your season length.

I'm currently situated in the Rogue Valley but I can't afford to buy here since the flatlanders from California have pushed the prices up beyond reason. Right now the main income in the valley is in servicing retirees.


latefall said...

@Varun: No worries - "fail early and fail often" is a recommendation I like to give!
I am somewhere on the 3.5th iteration of the carrying contraption I brewed up a while ago. And I am quite sure I'll have at least another 3 to go before it gets genuinely useful (if ever).
When you get frustrated you could have a look into Bertolt Brecht's toolkit, which worked moderately well for my cultural background at least...

William said...

John Michael:

This is off the current topic, and I wouldn’t want it to distract from the current thread.

I am a long time reader, and I much appreciate the many new insights your knowledge of history has given me. I was taken aback by a comment you made a few weeks back to the effect that climate denial exists because scientists do not speak cautiously in addressing the public, citing the claims of global cooling by some climate scientists several decades ago.

You comment prompted me to reflect on some dangerously specious and harmful claims made by people who were either scientists or presenting themselves as scientists: Linus Pauling and Vitamin C, the English physician who presented falsified data purporting to prove vaccines cause autism, the occasional claims that some lab experiment will revolutionize “quantum computing,” and the long time exaggerated claims for the future energy production by controlled fusion. There was a report from the PR department of a Stanford affiliated, chemical industry funded, lab that claimed with seriously deceptive statistics, that organic food was no more healthy than conventional food. I’m sure there are many more.

Human beings sometimes make exaggerated or self-serving claims. Science, as a discipline, has an extensive set of checks on such claims, including peer review, reproducibility, the concept of falsification. Of course, that discipline is not applied to PR releases, though the scientific community does sometimes refuse to publish papers that have been previously published in the news media.

Science does produce results that can be believed and acted upon with as much confidence as anything we know. It seems to me that the public, and especially our politicians, could protect itself against such misleading and sometimes harmful proclamations by acquiring a little scientific literacy and by applying a little critical thinking, asking the nature of the evidence, the sample size if appropriate, the nature of the controls, whether others have reproduced the results, whether it has been peer reviewed and published in a reputable journals.

I suppose my hope for critical thinking by the public is no more realistic than your suggestion that scientists “speak more softly.” I do believe that the IPCC has met very high standards in its reports.


William (Bill) Pardee (retired physicist, novice organic farmer)

exiledbear said...

I'm reminded of the final days of the Reich, where, in the theater, they took in Wagner as Russian artillery pounded Berlin's infrastructure. Ushers handed out suicide pills during intermissions. I'm sure we'll see the American equivalent.

I'm sure we will too, but we're not there yet. It's 1922 in the Weimar Republic, and although prices are rising, the whole nation is in hock and the people are kinky and quirky, the republic still stumbles on. We have yet to get to the crisis that will break the Weimar Republic, much much later to get to the inevitable invasions later on, which is what you're referring to.

If history repeats, the Chinese will invade from the west and the europeans/Russians will invade from the east. You do not want to be in the Chinese zone when that happens! Get. Out. Of. The. Chinese. Zone. You want to surrender to the Russians/europeans this time around.

West Murica -> East Germany, East Murica -> West Germany. Probably split at the Rockies, I'm guessing.

Gunnar Rundgren said...

JMG, I had no intention to ignore or diminsh the challenges of transforming our society to a low-oil future. Those are immense. I was mulling over that when discussing climate change to let oil, coal or gas in the ground are presented as "costs" and that we "can't afford to take care of the environment". "We need to produce (and consume) more to afford nurses and teachers." That those things are seen as "facts" is a problem. They are no facts, they are expressions of values and ideology.

Hanshishiro said...

Jellyshish can be eaten by human beings.
As a matter of fact they are considered a delicay in China.
To all of those that are disgusted by this idea, I leave these words from Frank Herbert's book Soul Catcher : "squeamishness can kill you here"
In a deindustrial future, many people will have to choose between being squeamish and starve or not being squeamish and eat another day.

Ugo Bardi said...

Hello JMG. After this post, I read your book on UFOs and I commented on it in my blog. A hugely interesting book, as it is usual for everything you write!