Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Gray Light of Morning

I try to wear my archdruid’s hat lightly in these essays, but every so often I field questions that touch directly on the issues of ultimate meaning that our culture, however clumsily, classifies as “religious.” Two comments in response to the post here two weeks ago raised such issues, in a way that’s relevant enough to this series of posts and important enough to the broader project of this blog to demand a response.

One of them—tip of the aforementioned archdruid’s hat to Repent—asked, “As a Druid, what are your thoughts about divine purpose, reincarnation, and our purpose in the eyes of God? What do you think future ‘ecotechnic’ societies have yet to achieve that will be worthwhile to pursue, that our descendants should suffer through the dark age towards?” The other—tip of the hat to Yupped—asked, “What do you do if you see the big picture of what’s happening around you? How did those early adopters of decline in other collapsing societies maintain their sanity when they knew what was coming? I don’t think I have the mind or the temperament to tell myself stories about the transcendent meaning of suffering in an age of social collapse.”

Those are serious questions, and questions like them are being raised more and more often these days, on this blog and in a great many other places as well. People are beginning to come to grips with the fact that they can no longer count on faith in limitless technological progress to give them an easy answer to the enduring questions of human existence.  As they do that, they’re also having to confront those questions all over again, and finding out in the process that the solution that modern industrial civilization claimed to offer for those same questions was never actually a solution at all.

Psychologists have a concept they call “provisional living.” That’s the insistence, so often heard from people whose lives are stuck on a dysfunctional merry-go-round of self-inflicted crisis, that everything they don’t like about their lives will change just as soon as something else happens: as soon as they lose twenty pounds, get a divorce, quit their lousy job, or what have you. Of course the weight never goes away, the divorce papers never get filed, and so on, because the point of the exercise is to allow daydreams of an imaginary life in which they get everything they think they want take the place of the hard work and hard choices inseparable from personal change in the real world. What provisional living offers the individual neurotic, in turn, faith in the inevitability and beneficence of progress offers industrial society as a whole—or, more precisely, faith in progress used to offer that, back when the promises made in its name didn’t yet look quite so threadbare as they do today.

There was always a massive political subtext in those promises.  The poor were encouraged to believe that technological progress will someday generate so much wealth that their children and grandchildren will be rich; the sick and dying, to dream about a future where medical progress will make every disease curable; the oppressed, to hope for a day when social progress will grant everyone the fair treatment they can’t reliably get here and now, and so on. Meanwhile, and crucially, members of the privileged classes who became uncomfortable the mismatch between industrial civilization’s glittering rhetoric and its tawdry reality were encouraged to see that mismatch as a passing phase that will be swept away by progress at some undefined point in the future, and thus to limit their efforts to change the system to the sort of well-meaning gestures that don’t seriously inconvenience the status quo.

As real as the political subtext was, it’s a mistake to see the myth of progress purely as a matter of propaganda. During the heyday of industrialism, that myth was devoutly believed by a great many people, at all points along the social spectrum, many of whom saw it as the best chance they had for positive change. Faith in progress was a social fact of vast importance, one that shaped the lives of individuals, communities, and nations. The hope of upward mobility that inspired the poor to tolerate the often grueling conditions of their lives, the dream of better living through technology that kept the middle classes laboring at the treadmill, the visions of human destiny that channeled creative minds into the service of  existing institutions—these were real and powerful forces in their day, and drew on high hopes and noble ideals as well as less exalted motives.

The problem that we face now is precisely that those hopes and dreams and visions have passed their pull date. With each passing year, more people have noticed the widening gap between the future we were supposed to get and the one that’s actually been delivered to our doorstep; with each passing year, the voices raised in defense of the old rhetoric of perpetual progress get more defensive, and the once-sparkling imagery they offer for our contemplation looks more and more shopworn. One by one, we are waking up in a cold and unfamiliar place, and the gray light of morning does not bring us good news.

It would be hard enough to face the difficult future ahead of us if we came to the present moment out of an era of sober realism and close attention to the hard facts of the human condition. It’s far harder to find ourselves where we are when that forces us to own up to the hard fact that we’ve been lying to ourselves for three hundred years. Disillusionment is a bitter pill at the best of times.  When the illusion that’s just been shattered has been telling us that the future is obliged to conform to our fondest fantasies, whatever those happen to be, it’s no wonder that it’s as unwelcome as it is.

Bitter though the pill may be, though, it’s got to be choked down, and like the bitter medicines of an earlier day, it has a tonic effect. Come to terms with the fact that faith in progress was always destined to be disappointed, that the law of diminishing returns and the hard limits of thermodynamics made the dream of endless guaranteed betterment a delusion—an appealing delusion, but a delusion all the same—and after the shock wears off, you’ll find yourself standing on common ground shared with the rest of your species, asking questions that they asked and answered in their time.

Most of the people who have ever lived, it bears remembering, had no expectation that the future would be any better than the world that they saw around them. The majority of them assumed as a matter of course that the future would be much like the present, while quite a few of them believed instead that it would be worse.  Down through the generations, they faced the normal human condition of poverty, sickness, toil, grief, injustice, and the inevitability of their own deaths, and still found life sufficiently worth living to meet the challenges of making a living, raising families, and facing each day as it came.

That’s normal for our species.  Buying into a fantasy that insists that the universe is under an obligation to fulfill your daydreams is not. Get past that fantasy, and past the shock of disillusionment that follows its departure, and it’s not actually that difficult to make sense of a world that doesn’t progress and shows no interest in remaking itself to fit an overdeveloped sense of human entitlement. The downside is that you have to give up any attempt to smuggle the same fantasy back into your mind under some other name or form, and when some such belief system has been central to the worldview of your culture for the last three centuries or so, it’s always tempting to find some way to retrieve the fantasy. Still, falling in with that temptation  just lands you back where you were, waiting for a future the universe is serenely unwilling to provide.

It’s probably worth noting that you also have to give up the equal and opposite fantasy that claims that the universe is under an obligation to fulfill a different set of daydreams, the kind that involves the annihilation of everything you don’t like in the universe, whether or not that includes yourself. That’s simply another way of playing the game of provisional living: “I don’t have to do anything because X is supposed to happen (and it won’t)” amounts in practice to the same thing as “I won’t do anything until X happens (and it won’t)”—that is to say, it’s just one more comfortable evasion of responsibility.

There are more constructive ways to deal with the decidedly mixed bag that human existence hands us. If I may risk a significant oversimplification, there are broadly speaking three ways that work. It so happens that the ancient Greeks, who grappled just as incisively with these issues as they did with so much else, evolved three schools of philosophy, each of which took one of these three ways as its central theme. They weren’t the only ones to do that in a thoughtful fashion; those of my readers who know their way around the history of ideas will be able to name any number of examples from other societies and other ages.  I propose to use Greek examples here simply because they’re the schools with which I’m most familiar. As Charles Fort said, one traces a circle beginning anywhere.

The first of the three approaches I have in mind starts with the realization that for most of us, all things considered, being alive beats the stuffing out of the alternative. While life contains plenty of sources of misery, it also contains no shortage of delights, even when today’s absurdly complex technostructure isn’t there to provide them; furthermore, the mind that pays close attention to its own experiences will soon notice that a fairly large percentage of its miseries are self-inflicted, born of pointless worrying about future troubles or vain brooding over past regrets. Unlearn those habits, stop insisting that life is horrible because it isn’t perfect, and it’s generally not too hard to learn to enjoy the very real pleasures that life has to offer and to tolerate its less pleasant features with reasonable grace.

That’s the approach taught by Epicurus, the founder of the Epicurean school of philosophy in ancient Greece. It’s also the foundation of what William James called the healthy-minded way of thinking, the sort of calm realism you so often see in people who’ve been through hard times and come out the other side in one piece. Just now, it’s a very difficult philosophy for many people in the world’s industrial nations to take up, precisely because most of us haven’t been through hard times; we’ve been through an age of extravagance and excess, and like most people in that position, we’re finding the letdown at the party’s end far more difficult to deal with than any actual suffering we might be facing. Get past that common reaction, and the Epicurean way has much to offer.

If it has a weakness, it’s that attending to the good things in life can be very hard work when those good things are in short supply. That’s when the second approach comes into its own. It starts from the  realization that whether life is good or not, here we are, and we each have to choose how we’re going to respond to that stark fact. The same unlearning that shows the Epicurean to avoid self-inflicted misery is a first step, a clearing of the decks that makes room for the decisions that matter, but once this is taken care of, the next step is to face up to the fact that there are plenty of things in the world that could and should be changed, if only someone were willing to get up off the sofa and make the effort required. The second approach thus becomes a philosophy of action, and when action requires risking one’s life—and in really hard times, it very often does—those who embrace the second approach very often find themselves saying, “Well, what of it? I’m going to die sooner or later anyway.”

That’s the approach taught by Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy in ancient Greece. It’s among the most common ways of thought in dark ages, sometimes worked out as a philosophy, sometimes expressed in pure action: the ethos of the Spartans and the samurai. That way of thinking about life is taken to its logical extreme in the literature of the pagan Teutonic peoples: you will die, says the Elder Edda, the world will die, even the gods will die, and none of that matters. All that matters is doing the right thing, because it’s the right thing, and because you’ve learned to embrace the certainty of your death and so don’t have to worry about anything but doing the right thing. 

Now of course the same choice can express itself in less stark forms. Every one of my readers who’s had the experience of doing something inconvenient or unpleasant just because it’s the right thing to do has some sense of how that works, and why.  In a civilization on the downward arc, there are many inconvenient or unpleasant things that very badly need to be done, and choosing one of them and doing it is a remarkably effective response to the feelings of meaninglessness and helplessness that afflict so many people just now.  Those who argue that you don’t know whether or not your actions will have any results in the long run are missing the point, because from the perspective I’ve just sketched out, the consequences don’t matter either.  Fiat iustitia, ruat caelum, as the Roman Stoics liked to say:  let justice be done, even if it brings the sky crashing down. 

So those, broadly speaking, are the first two ways that people have dealt constructively with the human condition: in simplest terms, either learn to live with what life brings you, or decide to do something about it. The first choice may seem a little simplistic and the second one may seem a little stark, but both work—that is, both are psychologically healthy responses that often yield good results, which is more than can be said for habits of thought that require the universe to either cater to our fantasies of entitlement or destroy itself to satisfy our pique. Both also mesh fairly well with the habitual material-mindedness of contemporary culture, the assumption that the only things that really matter are those you can hit with a stick, which is common to most civilizations toward the end of their history.

The third option I have in mind also works, but it doesn’t mesh at all with the assumption just noted. Current confusions about the alternatives to that assumption run deep enough that some care will be needed in explaining just what I mean.

The third option starts with the sense that the world as we normally perceive it is not quite real—not illusory, strictly speaking, but derivative. It depends on something else, something that stands outside the world of our ordinary experience and differs from that world not just in detail but in kind.  Since this “something else” is apart from the things we normally use language to describe, it’s remarkably difficult to define or describe in any straightforward way, though something of its nature can be shared with other people through the more roundabout means of metaphor and symbol. Elusive as it is, it can’t simply be ignored, because it shapes the world of our ordinary experience, not according to some human agenda but according to a pattern of its own.

I’d encourage my readers to notice with some care what’s not being said here. The reality that stands behind the world of our ordinary experience is not subject to human manipulation; it isn’t answerable to our fantasies or to our fears.  The viewpoint I’m suggesting is just about as far as you can get from the fashionable notion that human beings create their own reality—which, by the way, is just one more way our overdeveloped sense of entitlement shapes our habits of thinking.  As objects of our own and other’s perceptions, we belong to the world of the not quite real. Under certain circumstances, though, human beings can move into modes of nonordinary perception in which the presence of the underlying reality stops being a theory and becomes an experience, and when this happens a great many of the puzzles and perplexities of human existence suddenly start making sense.

There’s a certain irony in the fact that in ancient Greek culture, the philosophical movement that came to embody this approach to the world took its name from a man named Aristocles, whose very broad shoulders gave him the nickname Plato. That’s ironic because Plato was a transitional figure; behind him stood a long line of Orphic and Pythagorean mystics, whose insights he tried to put into rational form, not always successfully; after him came an even longer line of thinkers, the Neoplatonists, who completed the job he started and worked out a coherent philosophy that relates the world of reality to the world of appearance through the lens of human consciousness.

The Platonist answer isn’t limited to Platonism, of course, any more than the Stoic or Epicurean answer is found only in those two Greek philosophical schools. Implicitly or explicitly, it’s present in most religious traditions that grapple with philosophical issues and manage not to fall prey to the easy answers of apocalyptic fantasy. In the language of mainstream Western religion, we can say that there’s a divine reality, and then there’s a created world and created beings—for example, the author and readers of this blog—which depend for their existence on the divine reality, however this is described. Still, that’s far from the only language in which this way of thinking about the world can be framed.

The Epicurean and Stoic approaches to face an imperfect and challenging world, as already discussed, take that world as it is, and propose ways to deal with it. That’s a wholly reasonable approach from within the sort of worldview that those traditions generally embrace. The Platonic approach, by contrast, proposes that the imperfect and challenging world we encounter is only part of the picture, and that certain disciplines of consciousness allow us to take the rest of the picture into account, not as a policy of blind trust, but as an object of personal experience.  As already suggested, it’s difficult to communicate in ordinary language just what that experience has to say about the reality behind such phrases as “divine purpose,” which is why those who pursue such experiences tend to focus on teaching other people how to do it, and let them make their own discoveries as they do the work.

Knowing the rest of the picture, for that matter, doesn’t make the imperfections and challenges go away.  There are many situations in which either an Epicurean or a Stoic tactic is the best bet even from within a Platonic view of the cosmos—it’s a matter of historical fact that much of the best of the Epicurean and Stoic traditions were absorbed into the classical Neoplatonic synthesis for exactly this reason. The difference is simply that to glimpse something of the whole picture, and to pursue those disciplines that bring such glimpses within reach, provide a perspective that makes sense of the texture of everyday experience as it is, without expecting it to act out human fears and fantasies. That approach isn’t for everyone, but it’s an option, and it’s the one that I tend to trust.

And with that, I’ll set aside my archdruid’s hat again and return to the ordinary business of chronicling the decline and fall of industrial civilization.


Tom Bannister said...

Lovely stuff! Yup this is pretty much exactly how I'm trying to live my life these days (with all three approaches you've just described). Perhaps too, as you might have hinted here, the third Platonic approach demonstrates the limits of reasoned argument in trying to convince people to act. One can be rationally convinced all they like of the realities of peak oil/ climate change etc but in my opinion if all they see is the material world around them, what is the point? this of course is where the Platonic approach comes in handy. To see ones experience in other worldly contexts as well as one of this world.

Just another relevant point, I recall Toynbee in a A study of history describing how the process of creating new civilizations/ cultures is initiated by people responding to a difficult challenge of some kind, whether this is a difficult environment, a difficult political situation or something similar. Hence, I believe this could be another source of motivation for people living in today's world. Creative responses to challenges presented by the world today can hopefully lay the seeds by which new future civilizations/ cultures can rise up once again. The more fertile soil/ appropriate growing conditions, the better!



Ray Wharton said...

All three approaches sound very useful, and the tact you take in simplifying them for this context is useful too!

Stoicism is the approach I think I tend toward by disposition, though the greatest challenge with it is knowing what justice is. What can I even touch today that isn't soaked is some strange and sticky karma?

Generally I find that to be a stoic one needs a program of what justice is to plug into it. My sense of morality is starting acclimation to the realities of our current world, but it is a slow and stutter stop process.

For that I think that one might need to access some of the Neo-Platonist tools.

Andy Brown said...

Long ago in this blog, you gave us an incantation that I have remembered and invoked many times, "There is no brighter future." Like any good piece of wisdom, it means many things. Sometimes that insight feels like a loss and a grief and I want to quibble about criteria. Other times I know it to mean, don't fall for the blandishments of false and rosy futures. More often lately, the incantation aids a basic stoicism in me that wants to live in the REAL world, and embrace that realness. There is no brighter future - but there is this future that you get. And that's enough. Be with this one. Work with this one. And today I say it - there is no brighter future - because I want to stop mourning over the possible futures we wasted, the biosphere we're wounding, the human potential we're squandering - and again find pleasure and joy in open-eyed living - crafting what we can, with what we have. There is no brighter future.

John Michael Greer said...

Tom, I see your response to Toynbee's thesis as a modification of the Stoic approach: given the point on history's wheel at which you find yourself, here's something you can do about it. That's far from a criticism, mind you!

Ray, that's why philosophies and traditions of the Stoic sort usually work out some straightforward, relatively coherent code of practical ethics, and then follow it. The Old Norse Havamal is one example; another can be found in the classic writings of the samurai, e.g., Hagakure. Find one that makes sense to you and then follow it -- that's the Stoic response.

Andy, thank you for taking that in some of the senses in which it was meant! It really is a useful incantation.

Glenn said...

As a sailor, mountaineer, and more recently a homesteader, I learned long ago that the natural world is far more powerful than I, difficult to predict and does not care about my needs or wants. Learning, preparation and hard work are required to survive, much less thrive. Sometimes I get lucky, more often the luck is bad. One has to have plans ready for either eventuality, and act quickly on them; to either mitigate the misfortune, or seize the opportunity.


The Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea
Turtle Island

S0phia Inkpen said...

It reminds me of a Chinese proverb I learned when I lived in Malaysia: "If you can't change your fate, change your attitude". Loved your post. It puts things in a useful perspective. Sometimes I get fearful or discouraged, but I've been seeing this coming for many many years already.

Elizabeth Kennett said...

Dear Mr. Greer,
Thank you for putting 3 college courses into a few sentences of plain, useful English!
Since I have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and am insulin-dependent, e.g., modern technology dependent, they are all 3 useful to me.
Are there any Neoplatonist techniques for experiencing this reality that you could share with your readers?
Elizabeth Ann Kennett

Avery said...

I've just finished a year studying the Eastern classics at St. John's College (I'm dropping the name because I feel this could be a good way for many readers of this blog to spend a year), and I'd like to add an Eastern perspective to this mix that most people haven't heard of.

The Stoic perspective, as you say, is "All that matters is doing the right thing, because it’s the right thing, and because you’ve learned to embrace the certainty of your death and so don’t have to worry about anything but doing the right thing." But, the Platonist would reply, how do you know what the right thing is?

Enter Wang Yangming, the great unorthodox Neo-Confucian philosopher. Neo-Confucianism teaches that human beings inherently already know what is good, and all study is simply a matter of bringing one's natural goodness to the fore (similar to what Socrates called anamnesis). The orthodox method was to study goodness in books, consider whether it was natural, and then try to put it into practice. This is what a lot of people already do here, and they might label it Stoicism or whatever.

Wang Yangming disagreed. The radical thing that he said was that knowledge and action are one. What is read in books is not knowledge. If you think you understand the right way to live but you aren't living that way yet, then you don't really know how to obey your natural goodness. When knowledge is real it determines your next action with total certainty. In other words, your next action has already been determined by the knowledge you actually possess.

Most people reading about peak oil think they are learning about options for making important decisions in the future. But for Wang Yangming, this does not qualify as learning. Actually, there is no knowledge outside of practice: “If you want to know bitterness, you have to eat a bitter melon yourself.”

Wang's unorthodox school was bitterly hated in Korea and eventually pushed aside in China as a bunch of troublemakers, but his philosophy became part of the radical political currents in Japan that caused the Meiji Restoration in 1868. When Yukio Mishima attempted to take over the Japanese government in 1970, he had published an essay about Wang Yangming just a few months before. Now, JMG, you can tell me this is simply an elaboration on Stoicism, but Stoicism didn't cause any revolutions recently. :)

Enrique said...

Aside from the works of Plato himself (I am currently reading a translation of The Republic), what are some of the sources you would recommend for someone interested in studying Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophy?

Pinku-Sensei said...

@HMG "With each passing year, more people have noticed the widening gap between the future we were supposed to get and the one that’s actually been delivered to our doorstep; with each passing year, the voices raised in defense of the old rhetoric of perpetual progress get more defensive, and the once-sparkling imagery they offer for our contemplation looks more and more shopworn."

One of the memes that sum up the the gap between what people were promised and what they are getting is "where's my flying car?" The failure of that icon of the Jetsons' future to appear has really disappointed people who took it seriously. Of course, it's finally going to appear, just in time for when "Back to the Future II" is supposed to happen, but it will always be a plaything for the rich. Personal flying for everyone will remain a fantasy.

As for my students, I just finished showing them "The End of Suburbia," which has held up pretty well over the past decade. About the only thing that didn't happen is the natural gas shortage. Thank fracking for that. However, I warn my students that it only kicked the can down the road and even the more optimistic forecasts predict peak natural gas by the end of the decade. Otherwise, all the things that my students have seen happening over the past seven years but didn't understand why, the movie explains to them.

@Andy Brown The incantation of "There is no brighter future" really pissed off a friend of mine who needs technological progress to continue in order for the future he wants to appear. He's a practicing witch, and he proclaimed what our host wrote "Evil Magick." He's still incensed.

Yupped said...

Thank you for the detour into this important and tricky territory, and thanks also for the tip of the hat. If I wore a hat I would tip it back!

I have two points to add. The age of cheap energy seems to be the ultimate bubble, in terms of more energy/stuff/stimulation (MESS?), for human civilization. We may see ourselves at some sort of progress zenith right now, but a few decades of history will change that perspective. So is the bursting of collective faith in the inevitability of material progress also the bursting of the ultimate religious bubble? I can see humans in future generations embracing new religions, but for many of this generation, and for a few beyond, it will be hard to find a new religion so grand as the religion of human progress. I can see some of us expending a good deal of religious fervor in trying to revive the MESS, but I can't quite see what could compete with that grand illusion for our deepest attention other than a fairly simple, personal, focus-on-the-basics sort of path. A path in fact of the sorts you outline.

Secondly, of those three paths, I wonder if spending some time in one of the first two would be good preparatory steps for moving on to the third? Common threads of practice of the first two seem to be calming down, being a little quieter, more disciplined and getting over oneself to some degree. And in doing so, making space perhaps for something a little more mysterious to come in?

diogenese said...

In the midst of serious discourse in the Craneum, Diogenes realised no one was listening. So he instead began to whistle and dance about to attract attention. Immediately, people flocked round him. Diogenes stopped and said, "You idiots, you are not interested to stop and pay attention to wisdom, yet you rush up to observe a foolish display."
On one bright, clear day, Diogenes was walking up and down the market place, holding a lighted lantern high in front of him and peering around as if searching for something. When people gaped and asked him what he was doing, he replied, "I am looking for an honest man."
The world has not changed much in 2500 years

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, and that sort of plain realism is also an option, of course.

S0phia, that's a useful adage! The third Grand Archdruid of AODA, Dr. Juliet Ashley, used to present people with what her students took to calling the Ashley Technique. It consisted of two steps: (a) figure out what your problem is, and (b) either do something about it, or learn to live with it -- one or the other, take your pick.

Elizabeth, that's really a subject for my other blog.

Avery, the Stoics haven't caused a lot of revolutions lately, but they were sufficiently troublesome in Roman times -- the last time, please note, that they were an organized school -- that a number of emperors banished them en masse from Rome. I suspect Wang Yangming and Epictetus would have gotten along fabulously once they got past the language barrier.

Enrique, an accessible scholarly introduction is Gregory Shaw's Theurgy and the Soul; once you've read that, the writings of Iamblichus and Proclus are basic to the sort of thing I'm discussing.

Pinku-sensei, I've also heard -- and used -- "Dude, where's my jetpack?" It's an important issue, since the vast majority of the promises made so freely since 1950 or so about the glorious future of high technology have proven dead wrong. As more people notice that, the religion of progress is going to land in very, very deep trouble.

Yupped, yes, and in fact it makes sense to work through both of them as part of a preparatory discipline. That's one of the things that gave rise to mature Neoplatonism -- useful techniques from a range of sources became a propaedeutic for the transformative work.

Bill Pulliam said...

For opposite reasons, the last two places we have lived have been places where provisional living has a tendency to fall apart. Colorado suffered from the "Ursa Minor Beta" effect (Douglas Adams reference) - it was the place you went to live the good life, leave your troubles behind. So the sort of provisional livers who really did get off their rears and make the big change wind up in places like that... only to discover they are still themselves, and all their troubles came along with them. Now, in poor rural Tennessee, the provisional livers hit crises where they come to terms with the fact that things never are going to change, this is their life.

In both cases, the result is a very sad aspect of the local demographics. I'll just say that if you look through the obituaries, you see a lot of men in their 40s and 50s who died at home, with no additional information provided.

On beyond alternative ways to live, I think we might oughta put some pondering into how the "provisional livers" could come to a soft landing when their world evaporates out from under them. None of those three approaches to life do much good for someone who decided to have the contents of a shotgun shell for supper.

John Michael Greer said...

Diogenese, it's the fact that not too much has changed since ancient times that gives me as much hope and enthusiasm as I have! The fact that we've been here before suggests to me that we can probably handle the situation...

Bill, that's something that I leave to those who have the skills and knowledge to engage in counseling and therapy, which I don't. The tools I know how to use all require a willingness to take responsibility for one's own life. Of course other things are needed -- I simply know the limits of the work I know how to do.

L. King said...

Aloha JMG:

Splendid work as always!

As Geshe Rabten relates in his book The Mind and Its Functions, Je Tsongkhapa (1357 - 1419) essentially describes "this problem" as an Afflicted View of the Transitory Composite.

As I think I understand this: "we" think we have some essential inherent existence or at least some "part" of us does. In fact, of the five Skandas or "bundles" or components of the human existence none are permanent ( I.e. they have no inherent existence ).

Thus hampered, we expect the world to perform to "our" expectations.

When I realized just what Geshe Rabten ( and Je Tsongkhapa ) were saying I felt as though I'd been hit in the face by a very large, very wet fish BUT that an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Again, keep up the splendid work.

L. King

Grebulocities said...

But "There is no brighter future" is the spell that reduced JMG to a pocket-vest version of Sauron! Of all the names I've ever seen anybody be called on the internet, that has to be my favorite.

I was a believer in the cult of Progress until about 2.5 years ago, after which my world came crashing down. I've never really managed to rebuild it. While the rational part of my mind works well enough to disassemble my own ideology and pick apart everything I once held sacred, the irrational parts of me continue to behave just as they did before, and I find I've fallen into a sort of quasi-nihilism in which there really isn't anything I believe in or assign any value to. Instead of making hard choices, I've fallen into a haze of alcohol, psych meds, junk food, and a variety of other self-destructive behaviors characteristic of Americans at the current stage of imperial decline.

The solution is probably to look under the hood and try to fix the dysfunctional parts of the non-rational structure of my mind. The rational part is about the only system that seems to work properly, and it's not as powerful as I would have thought. I really look forward to future posts of yours on both blogs.

Thank you for identifying the problems we face as a society in decline and pointing in directions we might be able to go from here, and for starting another blog where you lay out more about the not-strictly-rational structures of the mind and how they can be affected by magic, which you managed to define in terms that make sense even to me. I don't know of a better translator between the rational and non-rational, and between the world as it appears to "modern" people and the world they've left behind.

Cherokee Organics said...


This may be very stoic...

As always you've provided much food for thought and I need to meditate further on the third way. Like the ternary paths too! Very wise.

I've had to travel into the big smoke today to pick up a couple more solar panels and some steel and aluminium. Mmmm steel and aluminium... Thoughts on the third path will have to travel along with me.



If anyone is curious about the stoic life check out my weekly blog giving updates of all of the stuff going on at the farm here:

Cool for wombats

PS: I hope that everyone has taken note that June just past was officially the hottest June on record (dating back to 1880).

N Matheson said...

Deyr fé, deyja frændr, deyr sjálfr et sama; ek veit einn, at aldri deyr: dómr um dauðan hvern.

Beyond some rather dramatic immediate experiences.
I find the Germanic world view of great utility, emotionally rewarding and easily applicable here in the lands where it was developed.
It's just a small amount of pressure needed before you are through the thin veil that separates "us" from "them".
I have made the Northern way my path despite "that element" which has attached itself to the beliefs and philosophies of the sagas and Eddas to pursue its own unpleasant ends.
Hardship in a declining civilization is inevitable but "Fearlessness is better than feint heart for he who would stick his nose out of doors".

Bogatyr said...

JMG, one of the many things I value about your blog is the frequency of '"doh!" moments', when things that had been bothering me are presented from from a new perspective and suddenly made sense.

Your framing of the belief in progress as a religion is one of these. I left my job as a lecturer in business because I'd become deeply dissatisfied with it. I did try to include Peak Oil in my discussions, and a few students got it, but to most it was just crazy talk to be tuned out. It would definitely have been infra dig to discuss it with colleagues.

Now it becomes clearer that rather than being an educator and mentor (which is why I went into academia), I was being expected to act as a priest of progress. Teaching critical thinking was of rather less importance than maintaining the facade of a great future, obtained through an increasingly expensive education. This must be how a vicar feels in the pulpit when he's already lost his faith...

The cognitive dissonance I experienced wasn't resolved simply by leaving 'the faith' of academia. Like @grebulocities, I still haven't quite worked out what should replace it.

Still, the theme of this week's post is timely. I do have plans; I am getting off my backside and getting something done to make them happen - but walking away from the religion of progress cost me a lot, materially.

I'm fortunate that I've had a lot of exposure to Chinese thought, in its mixture of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. That helps a lot. It's good to see knowledgable scholars of Asian thought chipping in in the comments, supplementing JMG's base in Western thought (which isn't meant to be a criticism).

@S0phia Inkpen: I spent a lot of time in Singapore, and heard the same saying: "If you can't change the world, change your thinking". It's been useful - as "There is no brighter future" will be!

Anyway, I still try to use the tools I was taught in Business School to frame some of the discussions here in a way perhaps more acceptable to the mainstream. I posted a link to a blog post a couple of weeks ago which some people found interesting; the follow-up is here, if anyone would like to take a look: Globalisation no more.

P.M.Lawrence said...

JMG, in a couple of places you've referred to the present course of always expecting improvement as going on for three hundred years. How do you arrive at that cut off? To me it looks as though the philosophical and physical-economic underpinnings for all that really only got started around two hundred and fifty years ago, and were still widely disputed until decades later. Think of the timing of the Industrial Revolution and the Whig Theory of History or the Revolutionary movements; those weren't yet around in the first half of the 18th century, and in that period anyone faced with the last of the English Enclosures or similar definitely knew that change wasn't inherently always improvement.

Renaissance Man said...

"...members of the privileged classes who became uncomfortable the mismatch between industrial civilization’s glittering rhetoric and its tawdry reality were encouraged to see that mismatch as a passing phase that will be swept away by progress at some undefined point in the future..."
This was also the core of official self-delusion for communist parties who pretended that the general poverty in their socialist republics was just a passing phase on the way to true communist paradise.
The poverty and hoarding that are characteristic of the so-called Free Market economy are also just a passing phase on the way to promised infinite universal wealth.
I think I was 8 when I first began to observe the various and sundry mismatches between promise and reality that crop up in so very many human endeavours and belief systems. I have concluded that any observed mismatch between theory and reality is neither temporary nor anomalous and indicates toxic waste of time and effort to pursue whatever snake oil is being pedaled.
If (theory) works, then as we implement (action) to bring about (goal) then (situation) will begin to and increasingly approximate (ideal).
Anything else is a glittering fairy castle defended by a monster-filled moat that is not just a passing phase and you shall not pass.
That said, that fairy castle of the imagination is still a beautiful place to gaze upon and I take inspiration from several imaginary fantasies to motivate myself to get off the couch and do something in the real world. That something falls far short of the fantasy, but I know that. I keep that fact firmly in mind at all times. What does happen, is that I achieve interesting results in which I can take pride.
For example, am I the Worlds Greatest Cavalryman? Not a chance. Am I having fun playing Errol Flynn with skill-at-arms on horseback? Absolutely. I love to practice against targets while mounted, because it's what the World's Greatest would do (if he existed) and so, it's what I do. I went out, made targets, and use my sword and ride my horse and take huge pleasure.
Meanwhile, in the real world, I have learned how to train my horse, and by extension train horses generally (I have placed well in actual dressage competitions to show for it), and that will be useful in the future. Likewise all the leather-work skill that comes with the horse furniture repair (and some pretty leather things, too). And the basic woodwork skills. And the gumption that comes from just doing something.
Not sure exactly which school of thought that fits into, but it works for me.

Lucretia Heart said...

I appreciate this post, JMG.

I've said this before here, but I'm one of those people who has experiences beyond the normal mode of everyday material reality, and its mostly a very private thing because its not an accepted realm of human life in the mainstream anymore. Not just dreams and visions (being awake but so relaxed one experiences a whole other level of reality beneath or beyond the physical) but also events and encounters which seemed to cross over and bleed into our waking world as well (with multiple witnesses and so forth, without drugs.)

I had my very first visions as far back as age 3, they escalated in my teens and early 20s, and declined to a low but steady clip now in my 40s. I've met others who had the same, and I've also met those with mental afflictions such as schizophrenia, and the difference is quite stark. I later was fortunate enough to meet a couple of people who helped me negotiate my own dreaming mind and explore with more purpose and will, as well as understand more of what these odd encounters were all about.

One overwhelming piece of information that got conveyed to me repeatedly in my various experiences was that the future of our modern world was not going to continue on like most think. I swear some MIND attached to the world (though I wouldn't call it "Gaia" necessarily) gave me the impression that nature reacts to our bending it beyond its normal capacity and eventually it snaps back violently like the proverbial branch. I had visions of the weather systems of the world changing in the 70s before such things were much discussed (and I was a child then.) That's just one piece of many. Now I'm watching some of those things come to pass and others seem to be lining up to do so.

I feel like most of what you say here regarding the future is old news on some level. Yet my rational mind benefits from the way you explain things that my intuition grasped a long time ago. I'm no wispy wishful thinker, with notions of being some special savior dancing through my egoistic mind. I just know that:

~ I need to focus on what I can do and then do it, staying alert and adapting as I go.

~ I need to be a good person to the best of my ability, regardless of the outcome of that, though "winning" is more important to most people. If only because I have that power to do good if no other, and to give up that power in the world is to embrace cowardice and the loss of self-respect.

~ I must face these challenges like an adventurer in a story, because we are all heroes and heroines in our own stories. The story is the point, and right now the world needs us to step up. It DOES matter, we ARE watched-- by something. It may not seem like it counts, but it all counts.

I share this here even though I know I'm inviting scorn and derisive laughter by doing so. I don't mention it ordinarily, but I'm not the only one out there that comes to such conclusions through odd experiences. Why do some people have these experiences and not others? That I can't answer. I don't get it either and I don't feel particularly wise or special or worthy. Just plugged in to more subtle things sometimes. And, anyway, many of these experiences were terrifying to an extreme if only because I didn't understand what was going on. A child or teen going through these things with no one around to offer comfort or practical ways to deal with what is experienced is put through both heaven and hell.

Too much to get into, really. Just wanted to say:

Yes. Exactly. And thank you.

Odin's Raven said...

Last week's post mentioning UFO's landing on the White House lawn came when I had a similar line running through my mind.

I followed it to some verses which I hope may be amusing.

When the Angels Landed on the White House Lawn

Endovelicon said...

I've found all three philosophies coexisting within the Serenity Prayer:
Grant me
Serenity, to accept what cannot be changed (Epicurean),
Courage, to change what can be changed (Stoic),
And Wisdom, to see the difference (Platonic)"

Thank you, as always ;-)

Kutamun said...

Yes mate , the Archdruid hat is firmly on ... One can assume from the mere fact that you are heavily involved in the chronicling of post industrial decline , that there is an Archetypal or "Angelic" impetus to your work ...I suppose it is indeed a crossroads , as during this crisis we can possibly choose to mimic something else other than the Archetypal essence , though i strongly suspect we are doing that already . For me , a working model of the pattern unfolded itself quite spontaneously after a few years of dedicated work , and i would be loathe to rob anyone of that joyous experience where one is compelled to sit up into the way hours , writing , painting , drawing as though guided by some genius other than my own , and no , i was no writer or artist hitherto ..
"Knock and the door shall be opened " i suppose ..though next comes " what is it you want ?"
( as a wise old female mentor of mine once said ) And it is at this point things become interesting ... Choice begins ! ( hopefully) ..
The Archetypal pattern is all around us , in countless movies , books , songs and paintings , in nature and all her cyclical glory of luck to you all, brave post industrial psychonauts careful , there are other things out there ( or in there ) that also seem to have a role to play ...
Cheers , Kuta '

thecrowandsheep said...

"There are many situations in which either an Epicurean or a Stoic tactic is the best bet even from within a Platonic view of the cosmos."

JMG, a simple question then: what is your take on Schopenhauer's Denial of the Will? Workable without becoming catatonically depressed? :-)

Les said...


Thanks for another fab foray into philosophy (apologies to those who absolutely abhor alliteration (not)).

When I came across the ideas of Stoicism, the bits that stuck out for me revolved around the idea that happiness is optional, as opposed to the modern idea that it is obligatory.

Once a person gets over the idea that their lack of constant happiness is a personal fault, it gets way easier to make the changes necessary to actually allow a lot more happiness into life.

Speaking personally, the adjustment is pretty painful and drawn out and it ain’t over yet, more than ten years on.

But the adjustment has allowed me to go from a life of automating other people out of work to one of working my @rse off on a farm for bugger all money.

At 6:30am, in the middle of a freezing cold paddock, with my head buried in the side of a fractious cow who seems to only want to kick over my nearly full bucket of milk, I wouldn’t want life any other way.

Who’da thunk it? I stopped trying to be happy and found myself knee deep in it. Or is that cow dung?


ando said...

Well said, Archdruid. I tend to trust it, also.


Risto said...

Hello JMG!

As a first time commentator, thanks for your blog! I've been reading it for a while and received lots of insights.

Discussing about neoplatonists, there's one tradition still very much active today although it's dominant position in western thinking has turned it into a blind spot to many wisdom seekers.

Also I would very much like to read your thoughts on G.K. Chesterton, since he has also addressed the myth of progress and many of the questions you wrote in your latest post.

Liam Jackson said...

Nice work JMG, love the opportunistic rather than fundamentalist attitude to different philosophies. Which to use when? you'll know cos it works. Once i was a zealot, ha ha, what a fool was i, wearing the same shoes every day of the year!

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- but of course the catch is that these men won't talk to professionals unless they are under a court order to do so...

Because I use one of the local cheap hole-in-the-wall gyms, I get to have some fairly extended one-on-one interactions with the next generation of men that are just starting to come in to their own. Some are recently-graduated high school jocks who want to stay in shape, some are military recruits who are trying to to get ready for basic training (the way things work now you often have close to a year of time to prepare before your report date; spending a good portion of that year in the gym is not a bad idea!). Often there are only two of us in the small, cramped weight room, and so there's lots of time to talk about whatever.

When I bring the subject to the future they are going to live their lives in, and the mess that my generation has left for them, they don't seem very delusional about onward and upward and the cult of progress. Their visions of the future are not clear, but they are not rosy either. They seem quite aware that things are never going back to the way they were, and that they are likely going to live through a lot of rough times, and that is just the way it is gonna be. So perhaps a thread of stoicism is beginning th weave itself into the minds of "the kids these days." Which hopefully will make them more likely to push on through and less likely to follow in the path of their uncles who blasted themselves off to the Bardo...

When the subject of guns comes up, I do like to see the look of dawning realization cross their faces when I point out to them that all their guns and the ammo to load them come from China...

Eric S. said...

There is no brighter future ahead, but even in the darkest of times there will always be bright days to cherish. You can't change the world, but you can change yourself and make a stand which might mean more than you think. You are a part of a greater song, learn to listen and you just might hear it. Thank you. This week may be one of my favorite Archdruid Reports so far out of the hundreds that I've read and that's saying a lot.

YJV said...

I'm not sure to what you have read the Bhagavad Gita (although it is a subject that can be studied for an entire life). The entire dialogue basically develops all three methods you have described (and also how to engage with them). I find the allegory of a usually self-confident individual breaking down in the vast battlefield of life and existence to be very apt.

At the end though is the call to action with complete surrender (in this case to the divinity itself). Aside from the spiritual value it is also regarded as the go-to manual on how to deal with the questions that plague those at the twilight of a vibrant civilisation.


escapefromwisconsin said...

"With each passing year, more people have noticed the widening gap between the future we were supposed to get and the one that’s actually been delivered to our doorstep; with each passing year, the voices raised in defense of the old rhetoric of perpetual progress get more defensive, and the once-sparkling imagery they offer for our contemplation looks more and more shopworn."

You've got that right. For example, see this book: "Growth Makes You Happy: An Optimist's View of Progress and the Free Market":

"Many economists feed today's pessimism with regard to the future. Peter De Keyzer is a welcome exception. Yes, there are problems, but this book shows that there are also solutions. There is reason for optimism." - Professor Paul De Grauwe, London School of Economics "The economy has to keep growing." So says top economist Peter De Keyzer. In his view, a free market and intelligent growth are necessary for our continued wealth and well-being. Better yet: economic growth is the only recipe for guaranteeing more freedom and more prosperity for all. Nevertheless, after nearly five years of crisis, one no longer seems to believe in economic progress. Growth Makes You Happy is a solidly argued plea in favour of more optimism, more risk, less collectivism, and more freedom.

Defensive much? Can anyone imagine such a book even needing to be written thirty or forty years ago? Would there have even been an argument? There seems to be more than a whiff of desperation here. I think defenders of growth and progress are increasingly on the ropes. Their latest argument is that even though inequality within each country is increasing rapidly, inequality worldwide is decreasing, which makes it all okay. There's a certain sadness to these desperate attempts at propaganda.

googledotcom said...

I was reading yesterday about how we are familar with 'corectness' as the customary concept of truth. How this knowledge condenses into dictionary and encyclopedia meanings and descriptions. But this knowledge 'does not know THE EVENT'

I was rather moved by this, and it does fit rather well with your blog. I think how we mentally view things is often on the stories and myths of our time. There is more! In instances of things crumbling, 'more' or 'different' may emerge. We may not need to be stoic if we can be open

Thanks for the blog

ridgedruid said...

Well done. I’ve been struggling with the universal “What can I do” question mightily since I retired two years ago. I have used most of the approaches you set forth in the essay, and I find for now a sort of Stoic/Teutonic approach tempered by the mystical experiences you allude to serves me best. After some casting about, I’ve decided that for the time being my energy is best spent supporting the local public library. It’s my “lighthouse” project.

I live right down the road from you in Berkeley Springs, and during the past year there was a significant struggle here over funding the public schools from local taxes. Schools in West Virginia receive a significant share of their funding from county taxes, and the perennial school tax levy was initially defeated. The opposition stressed that the schools were donating tax dollars to “non-educational activities” like the public library and the arts center. The schools successfully regrouped and proposed a reduced levy, which narrowly passed, but did not contain funding for the library. As a result, the library’s annual budget was reduced by nearly a third, staff was downsized from 6 to 4, and the library’s hours were reduced to 31 hours per week.

I was working as a volunteer at the library during this period and it was difficult to comprehend that many local people wanted to “save tax dollars” (i.e. lower their taxes) by throwing the schools, library, and arts center under the bus. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that they were also throwing their property values under the bus.

On a personal metaphysical level, I find myself drifting from Druidry towards a more Norse frame of reference. I think the economy in this country will implode sooner rather than later, and there will be a lot of very unhappy people who are heavily armed and whose only agenda will fall on the warlord side of the map, and they will run head on into a government that is placing more and more emphasis on “domestic security.” It may just be in my own mind, but I find the Druid toolbox lacking in many survival skills - political, economic, and physical defense of communities, forging tribal alliances, and other Realpolitik situations I foresee coming down the pike. The current troubles in the Ukraine and Middle East suggest that business as usual is drawing to a close.

Ray - I think the link you suggest between Stoicism and a sense of justice is very important. My own sense of justice was developed over 20 years as a trial attorney in the criminal courts, working both sides of the street. Most recently, I have found examination of the Norse god Tyr very rewarding.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

Unbelievably brilliant and helpful.

I'm sure Augustine watching Carthage get sacked had a lot of the same thoughts and feelings as he tried to pen The City of God.

Might it be worthwhile to point out that Erigena and Bonaventura were coloring the same line centuries later, elaborating and articulating the Platonic tradition?

Ramaraj said...

The limitations of ordinary language in describing this transcendental, ultimate reality was noted by the Vedanta school. They termed it "Vachamagochara" in Sanskrit (Literally, "That which exists in a dimension that thoughts and words cannot perceive").

Another hallmark of Vedanta is the way of absorbing other philosophical worldviews, even those that contradict each other. I did not know that Platonism held this view also. Interesting, considering the history of Greek and Indian philosophy.

Paulo said...

Spent a few years studying these issues at university and enjoyed them for sure. Paid for the courses by working in contrast to my siblings. That self-sufficency gave me escape from the tryanny of 'Family Expectations'. Fast forward almost 4 decades...a few careers, two fine grown up children with jobs and their own homes, a delightful second wife for 15 years who is a partner in every sense of the word, and I seldom leave my property or change my/our simple pursuits. The occasional lunch in town is a lovely treat and good enough.

I have had the experience of watching my mother age. We are also involved with in-laws decline. In my mom's case it was a few belongings and a ride to an extended care facility as we could no longer care for her Alzheimers bevaviours any longer. We were all suffering, her most of all. She is now at a being of perhaps an 8 month old...needing to be dressed, unable to communicate anything, spitting up pureed food, getting smaller by the day. Many parts of her no longer work...from bowels to eyes....feet to hands. Yesterday, I watched her sense something tickling her nose...a piece of fluff, and she was actually able to reach up and push at it with trembling hand. I couldn't believe it!

This sounds depressing and dreadful, but it has been a gift of sorts. As I approach 59, after a life of hard physical work and the usual stress overloads, I am conciously living to appreciate every aspect of my life that I can. Every meal is fine and I give thanks. It is a joy when my feet don't hurt with arthritis and I am re-discovering stretching in the morning. The rainy winters that drive people to all-inclusive indulgences as a right and expectation simply take my hand to the shop to build furniture. A meal made from what we grow or catch is a source of pride and joy. A visit by family and friends is a special treat as is the occasional phone call.

In re-reading this I understand I am trying to describe the evolution of my own philosophy and sense of values. Much of who I am is simply baked in with the recipe, but the word 'deliberate' comes to mind. From that unfolds choice, responsibility, and simplicity. I just saw a big black bear wandering on the gravel bar across the river....looking for dead pink salmon. What a wonderful way to start the day.


onething said...

It seems human beings are too smart for their own good. As to purpose, perhaps one is to learn to live within the limits of nature, learn when to use our brains to create something and when to let it be. The delusion that we had an unlimited supply of oil is not really different than the extensive hunting of whales for their oil went on just before that.

There is absolutely no fundamental reason that human beings cannot better themselves through time. One of the distinguishing characteristics of human beings is the ability to know our own history and accumulate knowledge and experience. Lately, I have been paying attention to theories of catastrophism, cometary bombardment and other issues that may have caused such devastation that we lost that accumulation, much like the fall of Rome but on an even greater scale.
Two things: intermittent catastrophe and human greed are the only reasons I see that we do not advance, and I do not mean in the way of the modern myth of progress toward endless increase of wealth through extraction.
" the assumption that the only things that really matter are those you can hit with a stick, which is common to most civilizations toward the end of their history."

Really?! If so, it's a most interesting pattern...

As to the third method, that is the one I pursue. Sometimes I am struck with a perception that is difficult to describe, but in which I suddenly see this reality around me as incredibly odd! I'm also struck with certain parallels with our so-called waking reality with our dream reality. The times when I begin to lucid dream are when I am tipped off that the dream situation is just too odd or has a recognizable pattern from prior dreams, and so I realize I am dreaming. I believe that there are layers of consciousness, and this waking one is certainly more 'real' than my dreams, but has many similar characteristics. A man difference is that while my dreams seem to be largely the product of my own mind, this waking reality is for the most part a shared dream, and thus we are not the authors of it, and certainly not the sole authors. I think there's a kernel of truth to the idea we create our own reality, but taken at face value it is like telling a water drop that it is creating the ocean.

Lastly, one does have a greater chance of finding that which one seeks than if one does not seek it, and there is a barrier toward sincere seeking in this culture due to materialism or scientific materialism. Getting glimpses of the deeper reality is more likely if one trains one's mind to be able to think in ways that allow for its perception. I'm not talking about taking on some sort of belief like a religious story, but for example it takes a whole different internalized way of thinking to be able to "see" that perhaps consciousness is the root of reality and not matter.

Nestorian said...


I would like to make three brief points in response to your most recent post:

First, in speaking of the reality of “doing the right thing, even if it’s inconvenient, just because it’s the right thing to do,” you are once more appealing implicitly to the reality of an objective and transcendent moral order. Such an appeal definitively rules out the subscribing to some form of ethical relativism, whether its basis is in the individual, or in some corporate aggregation of individuals that is less than the sum total of all humanity, in all times and all places.

Second, your appeal to a broadly Platonic perspective on human existence and experience as providing a psychologically healthy basis for living in our times merely reinforces your implicit appeal to the objectivity of morals and values. Plato’s chief concern in elaborating his metaphysical theory of transcendent Forms seems to have been his profound consternation with the relativists of his day, such as the famous Sophist Protagoras (to whom is ascribed the famous relativist epigram that “Man is the measure of all things”).

Third, I bear witness to the eminently rational and intellectually defensible tenability of the classical Judeo-Christian framework in addressing the sorts of concerns discussed in your post. I make no attempt at an apology for the truth of this framework in the present context; perhaps I will at some point start my own blog to take on the task of doing so in a manner aptly suited to the times in which we live.

I only declare at this time that I have found the Judeo-Christian standpoint to be robustly defensible, on the basis of having spent fully two decades in subjecting the central claims associated with that framework to the severest forms of skeptical inquiry.

As a result of all that, I am a Nestorian Christian.

Ing said...

Love a good bitter. Having a palate that recognizes more than sweet and salty makes eating an interesting experience and has changed my experience of pleasure, even adding degrees. It's hard to imagine, with cheesy chip bag and pop bottle in hand, the rewards of developing a broader and more receptive palate much the way it's hard to imagine why one would welcome, or at least be accepting of, a variety of experiences and the emotional responses that may accompany them. I don't know if these initiations are always intended, they often are dreaded and resisted at the moment when things really start shifting, and only seem to be appreciated with time.

For myself, I have a lingering sweet tooth, much the way I will always be culturally Christian and culturally accustomed to this day and age of excess and entitlement, even while attempting to live a little more softly and quietly. I took it as a hopeful sign last night when I was reading an otherwise lovely book on direct revelation and spotted several instances of bright future thinking. I had to stop and consider why I am interested in such things outside of the promise of more and better and am pleased to have a sense of it even if it doesn't easily fit into words.

Yourmindfire said...

Could you point towards a psychology (or other) source for the 'provisional living' concept? A web search only produces a circular trail leading back to your earlier use of the term in 2013 or a Philip Garr-Gomm piece from 2008, similarly linking it to psychology ['Psychologists sometimes call this ‘provisional living’, whereby you tell yourself that you’ll truly come alive, truly be fulfilled and optimally creative when you’ve moved, married, divorced, retired or whatever. '.
I understand the term, which is useful, but I would be interested in understanding more about the context of its origins. Thanks!

onething said...


I think Wang Yangming was onto something. Perhaps his real knowledge translates to the idea of a deeply internalized value, which is not the same thing as parroting something that you kinda sorta mentally agree with on a good day! (Thus, hypocrisy.)


I recall reading something about a kind of weather see-saw between the northern and southern hemispheres. We just had the coldest winter in about 20 years and two wet and cool summers.

LewisLucanBooks said...

As things go in the universe, this post came at a very timely moment, for me. What I thought I was struggling with was procrastination and just plane laziness. But, no. I've fallen into a pattern of provisional living.

Thank you for the very clear description and roadmaps for a way for me to change that. Lew

jcummings said...

Thanks for a great post. Your clear writing about philosophy reminds me of the book Sophie's World.

I also appreciate your clear descriptions of the desire for apocalyptic thinking. I think its a natural reaction to waking up to the severity of the problems we face, and I try very hard not to fall prey to confirmation bias as I try to parse what's going on in the world as it directly affects my own personally sphere.

One of the values I hold is to make decisions with the 7 generations concept in mind - that is, asking how the decision will effect my descendents 7 generations from now. I feel strongly, then, that doing my level best to anticipate what's going on, and what's coming - not just from a historical, but from a pragmatic standpoint as well.

Given the radically challenging nature of the issues we face, and their potentially disastrous yet unknowable unwindings, what do these three ways of managing reality have to say about planning for the future? Can I apply Stoic thought to the 7 generations idea given how unknowable and disastrous I perceive the future will be? Or should I stop worrying and get on with my life in the here and now - that which I can hit with a stick?

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

John, you - and anyone else reading this who feels a strong need to get direct experience of that platonic completion of reality of which you write - really need to set aside an adequate amount of time to study Tom Campbell - Thomas Warren Campbell, USAmerican physicist, mathematician and mystic, now pushing seventy, to name him formally - and his recently-published Big TOE. (Google 'MyBigTOE' for his website)

That's to say, his highly persuasive Theory Of Everything; big because it includes, but isn't limited to, the material, 'objective' reality which the reductive, mechanistic stream in scientific and philosophical thought - materialism - encourages us to believe is all there is, even when clearly it isn't.

The meaning of life, personal purpose, why we're here, what happens after we die, what 'para'normal incidents really are, what is consciousness; all those Beyond-The-Pale matters to which materialism denies importance, or even existence, get swept up into the extraordinarily elegant and satisfying unitary structure of Tom's beautifully occamistic theory; forty-odd years in the making and constant empirical testing, btw.

But not just those matters. Also those famous, fundamental but long-vexed questions of hard science -

How about: resolution of the 'impossible', yet repeatedly confirmed, results of the double-slit experiment?

The mystifying - but again repeatedly confirmed - constancy of the speed of light, no matter what the relative speed and direction vectors of the emitter and the observer? (Wavelength changes according to relative vectors of the two, but not the speed.)

And a really satisfying explanation of the nature of consciousness, which doesn't involve falling back onto lame canards like the infamous "epiphenomenon of brain-function" non-explanation.

And how about just two fundamental axioms, on which the whole delicious structure is erected: Consciousness exists; and evolution happens.

This is no mean theory. Try it! You should be delighted. But be warned: it will probably take you several weeks of repeated exposure to the ideas before they begin to come into convincing focus. They're pretty radical, to modern Western minds at least. Persevere!

Hint: The fifteen or so hours of his weekend presentation of the basics of the theory at the University of Calgary, available on YouTube, are a good starting point.

Have fun!

Yossi said...

Interesting piece.
'certain disciplines of consciousness allow us to take the rest of the picture into account, not as a policy of blind trust, but as an object of personal experience.'
I wonder what some of these disciplines of consciousness might be?
'it’s difficult to communicate in ordinary language just what that experience has to say about the reality behind such phrases as “divine purpose,” which is why those who pursue such experiences tend to focus on teaching other people how to do it',
I wonder in what form these teaching take place and who does it?

Edward said...

I've been reading Shumacher's A Guide For the Perplexed. It certainly hits on the idea that there is a level of existence that we don't experience in everyday life. It points to the need to do the inner work to get there. For a small book, it's taking some time just to absorb it all.

Deborah Scott said...

I've been following this blog for quite some time and I've read most of your books- I want to thank you for your compassionate, sane, wise voice in the midst of all the "noise" surrounding us at this crucial time.

I'm reading "Cosmos and Psyche" by Richard Tarnas and I find it is helping me understand the history of how our current mindset came about and the need for an alternative way of thinking. As a professional astrologer I firmly believe that "there are more things in heaven and earth" than the "realities" permitted by "science" and our limited egocentric human viewpoint. Thus, the third alternative, that there is a bigger picture that our human concerns are but a part of is just as important as the first two strategies mentioned

Ray Wharton said...

"In order to choose, know that you have three destinies: you can be an animal like that decadent the superficial call savage; a soulish man, like everyone else; a spiritual person like St Thomas or Dante. Animal: be beautiful; soulish man: be good; spiritual person: seek the Grail." - Peladan

This remark I have long valued came to my recollection this morning in relation to the three paths in your post.

As I was falling asleep I was thinking of this 'difference of kind' you spoke of concerning the plane preceptable to the well trained Platonist. It reminded me of Bateson's levels of learning. It's been awhile, and my books are all in storage, but I think I recall that the 3rd level (learning to learn to learn) can be simplified as learning to perceive a different world, learning a fundamentally different operational narrative. This seems to me very related to the limited experience I have has through practicing esoteric techniques.

Once that has happened then perception takes a qualitative change, the worlds one can perceive become contingent, in Bateson's manner of speech the Realm accessed by those tools operates at a different logical type than the worlds of naive experience we live in as a default mode.

Reflecting, I don't think the codified ethics of a Stoic path would satisfy the itch which is the greatest challenge for me.

The failing of the stories and tablets I was raised with has made in necessary for me to find new stories to live with. It is most likely better to seek those new stories like a grail, woe upon the one who does not seek but is found!

In my imagination is a world where Captain Picard awakes to find his life on the Enterprise was a dream and the planet he lives on an ailing world. He joins Avatar Aang, Zarathustra, Berry, A Taoist Sage, Dr. Faust, and Gandolf to explore a toxic jungle helped by Nausicca of Wind Valley; to hide seeds and train guardians, that the most creative discoveries of the dying world might germinate in the world to come; that the lessons one era will suffer for will be available to their greatest grand children.

Those stories I encounter which acknowledge the limits of progress I can feel their roots delving into me, like slum children speaking a pidgin, I find that pidgin religion is forming in me. This is the most important thing, is how those seeds germinate and what ecosystem they may take part in.

One cannot serve two masters however without serious cognitive dissidence, and I still live where Man rules, and am indentured to that monster by his Ring of Wealth which moves enforcers for his way across the land he occupies all around. One of my favorite squats is likely to be developed next year :(

Oh well, my garden thrives, volunteering furthers, my studies progress, meditation is less elusive than it was a year ago, and my stores are sufficient for 6 months of the standard of living I am acclimated to; especially now that the cursed lease which tied me to a ticky tack house is about to expire.

In truth, seeing people who are beginning to collapse and being nearly powerless to help them is the only part I suffer. The help they ask for is a vanity as they struggle to fight forces that will not budge.

It is good to be a Beautiful Animal, for it makes one fundamentally healthy, and the Knight seeking the Grail must not forget to enjoy the lute and a cloud, and many flowers, or his spirit will not be nourished enough to endure the sight of horrors which dwell in the waste land.

@Bill Pulliam

You have hit Colorado's nail, traveling I see people who think this is the promised land. Ha! this place is in for a rough ride, but I am born in these mountains and I hope to out endure these half provisional invaders. At least here the people tried to make their dream happen, in that failure their is something more than many others who never tried.

Isaac Hill said...

This is something that I've been hoping you would address, JMG. It is difficult for me to articulate this, but let me try.

So there is the modern world, which we all know is at the brink of a reality check. There is the natural world, which the human world is merely a part of, which one can be attuned to by gardening, foraging, being in nature, studying nature. Then there is the "whatever it is" the "brahma" "solid ground of being" "the great whatever beyond human understanding" -- which mystics and shamans have entered but which is hard to describe in words.

When I was 20 (I am 26 now) I began seeking enlightenment, I was taken under the tutelage of TAT ( which is kind of like a mystery school, they advise celibacy, meditation and solitary retreats. I did some of that, but eventually it just didn't feel right. Then I got into permaculture, music, wild food, which gave me practical practices that gave me a better understanding of the world that I could touch, taste and see. There are still times when my longing for the eternal breaches my satisfaction with life, but it is fleeting and there seems like no tangible way to enter it. It seems like the upward path dismisses the body, the natural world, but I find the natural world and the body beautiful and sacred. Do you have any advice for how to reconcile or integrate these seemingly opposing paths? I'm not interested in scholerly articles.

You can call me Elle. said...

I must be a stoic, because I'm always stirred by this speech from John Grier Hibben, to the Princeton graduating class of 1913:
"As you stand today, the University years behind you and looking eagerly into the future, I have no fear that you will not win your way in the world, and succeed, as men count success. With accumulated power, with skill of brain and hand, strength of youth, hope, enthusiasm, courage and an adventurous spirit impatient to seek the fortune of the unknown, your careers will be crowned with abundant achievement. I am concerned, however, lest these careers may be from the beginning so self-centered and self-absorbed as to be thrown out of relation to the claims and needs of your fellow-men. Remember that the world's centre of gravity does not fall within the little area of self, but far outside of self in the great human mass of which the individual is an insignificant part.
You have not caught the spirit of humanistic culture in your studies here if you go forth from us at this time lacking in human interest and human sympathy. The humanities are not concerned merely with the thoughts of men long dead and gone, but with the living present also, and with the problems of the hour which press upon us with their insistent demand that we stretch forth our hands in the midst of the evil and misery about us, to help and to save. This present age is one of a great awakening as regards the social conscience of man. Indifference to human need is today the unpardonable sin. The world is looking for you, is waiting for you to fall into line with the gathering forces which are making for a better manhood and womanhood.
You, enlightened, self-sufficient, self-governed, endowed with gifts above your fellows, the world expects you to add and not to subtract from its store of good, to build up and not tear down, to ennoble and not degrade. It commands you to take your place and to fight your fight in the name of honor and of chivalry, against the powers of organized evil and of commercialized vice, against the poverty, disease and death which follows fast in the wake of sin and ignorance, against all the innumerable forces which are working to destroy the image of God in man, and unleash the passion of the beast. There comes to you from many quarters, from many voices, the call of your kind. It is the human cry of spirits in bondage, of souls in despair, of lives debased and doomed. It is the call of man to his brother. This is your vocation: follow it in the name of God and of man. The time is short, the opportunity great; therefore crowd the hours with the best that is in you."

Rebecca Brown said...

I've tried to practice all three of these outlooks since I studied the great philosophers years ago. I've stepped it up a lot since I unexpectedly became a parent just over a year ago and even more unexpectedly became dependent on Western medicine a few months ago (my thyroid went out -it full on tried to kill me and had to go; now I have to take thyroid hormone replacements every day for the rest of my life.)

I'm trying to live in the moment but at the same time I have a back up plan in case things go too far south before I get on up there (or my daughter grows up): I will set up a lab and use my chemistry degree to turn out easily made drugs like synthroid, insulin, and so forth and subsidize it by selling moonshine out of a still out back.

On a unrelated note, JMG, how did you decide on Cumberland? We've decided to relocate and I would like to know what your list of criteria was. Being a lesbian couple in the deep south was one thing before our child came along, but we are almost social pariahs now.

Andrew Bacalakis said...

Hey there JMG,

I've been following your blog for quite some time now, and I have to say that this post is great stuff- it finally motivated me to get off my rear and leave a comment!

It was about 4 years ago when I first learned about peak oil/ the limits to growth. Being a student of history, it all clicked for me and made a lot of sense. That is not to say it didn't turn my world upside down, because it certainly did- I was a young twenty something that just graduated college, and I often feel like what I had drummed into me by 20 plus years in the American education system and was suddenly tossed out the window.

But I was also fortunate, as I was following blogs by you and other peak oil thinkers. I also happened to be reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Motivated by those words of wisdom, and coming to grips with the reality of our time, I rejected the now usual path of a privileged suburban child (sitting at home in my parents house, sending out resumes everywhere in the vain hope someone would hire me and pay me enough to live the standard American dream life). Instead I took the plunge into organic farming and apprenticed on a small organic vegetable farm an hour north of NYC.

That feels like ages ago, but I'm still apprenticing and farming here in the Hudson Valley- I now work at a large biodynamic and organic farm, and I help to manage the beef and dairy cow herd. The hours are long and the pay is meager, but I carry the words of the stoics with me. The work is just and good (or at least it seems to me that it is), and it must be done, so I do my best at it. I also find that the Epicurean/Stoic tactic of enjoying the simple things in life to be an immense aid in overcoming the delusions of progress. Nothing brings a smile to my face like watching a newborn calf frolic about on pasture for the first time, or sitting down to a meal with my fellow apprentices, where most of the food on the table was produced here on the farm.

I still find myself grappling with fear and anxiety over the future, but then I remember the words of Marcus, and I focus on trying to do what is right. Your blog is also an immense help, especially to a young person like me trying to make sense of the times we live in.

Thanks for all you do, JMG. Its greatly appreciated.

Juhana said...

Is it possible that spiritual side of transition to degrowth is actually harder to swallow than material side of that same process? There is now contradiction between terrain and map, and that drives people insane. That shotgun meal Bill Pulliam described is very common feature among those blue-collars kicked out of the wagon here in the Europe also. Why would those guys, numbed by their own despair, care about delicate tastes and high-minded opinions of current secular religion? Is not more primordial message or creed something that can resonate better with their wounded egos, rising their self-image?

It's kind of shame, because I have noticed most upper-middle-class Westerners grossly underestimate comfort level that can be achieved with refitting industrial resources.

Human creativeness can build relative comfort of living even under the war conditions, which are far worse than economic contraction because other dudes are trying proactively kill and torture you after raping your daughters, instead of just bleeding your finances dry.

For example, in Bosnia, UN Blue Road bringing supplies was closed from time to time by paramilitaries. Riding there was no party ever, but there was times when it was just cut off totally.Inside cut-off ethnic enclaves people used to float "mini centrales", if they had access to river. They were paddle-wheels made out of wood, barrels and parts from cars and washing machines. The river turned these into paddle-wheel generators, creating small current. The current they gave pulsated and was uneven, but it still was used to power electric devices. It was also common habit for people to retrofit their houses, emptying walls to the brick layer and then putting on plaster, concentrating heat sources and insulation around small area of house. It gave one or two livable rooms, while other rooms were abandoned. Very cheap way to retrofit living space. And food logistics... Oh man. There was gardening, for sure. Also in areas like Goradze people made what can be only called "food quests", making night trips without lights through snow covered mountain ranges to Grabak outpost, getting food back to their enclave. They walked, and they carried food on their backs. It was real do or die-trip, I have understood. Convoys travelling at feet through darkness and snow, while trying to avoid enemy patrols, to bring food back to their families... Finnish band visiting there was so touched by that scene that they made even a song about it. I attach a link to that song to below. Human beings are just so incredible under pressure. It brings the best and the worst out of them. It has been done many times after 90's. Industrial society has unraveled, and some people have survived. Not without scars, both mental and physical, but survived. It is not like technical skills needed for that are hold by some enlightened ecologically thinking minority. Quite the contrary, actually. At least in Eastern Europe most low-income wage earners are capable to supplant their modest wage by foraging, fishing and growing some useful crops.

So adjusting material demand for unraveling industrial landscape can be done. But ideological and spiritual messages coming as side deal along those adaptations tend to be harsh ones. As situation in world politics is going crazier and crazier, those adaptations are probably a lot harder than they need to be.

Iuval Clejan said...

My comment from last week was too late for a response, and is not wholly on-topic for this week's post, but perhaps you could still answer? If I were to try to make it more relevant to this week's post I would say that according to the Stoic point of view, providing an alternative to Empire is the right thing to do (even if it inconveniences one) and according the the neoplatonist view the Good is served better by freedom for the largest number than by Empire. Or is this just a Religion of Progress fantasy? Here it is again:
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).

John Michael Greer said...

L. King, as I noted, insights of the sort I'm talking about are found in every tradition, and the Wet Fish of Enlightenment is something I think all of us encounter sooner or later. Glad to hear that you've had your encounter!

Grebulocities, that label certainly reduced me to laughter -- I'm a connoisseur of spit-slinging tirades, and Nebris certainly threw an entertaining one. I wonder sometimes if he ever got the point I was trying to make.

Cherokee, get 'em while they're still available!

N Matheson, the Northern path isn't mine, but one of the many advantages of polytheism is that I can appreciate other people's paths, and even attend the occasional blot or sumbel. It's a live option, and one that's likely to offer a lot of people in tomorrow's America a path that makes sense.

Bogatyr, my focus on Western traditions is more a matter of emphasis; having grown up with a Japanese stepfamily, practiced more than one Asian martial art, and studied a fair amount in an assortment of Chinese and Japanese traditions, I have the same advantage you do -- and yes, I also welcome the comments from those who've specialized more deeply in the Eastern traditions.

P.M. Lawrence, it's a round number, not an exact figure. I could have chosen any date between the publication of Francis Bacon's The Advancement of Learning and the first major deployment of steam power in the late 18th century; if you prefer a different figure, by all means pick one.

Renaissance, it's an interesting question, because the deliberate cultivation of a retro sensibility, and the skills appropriate to it, is another option that's been done before with some success. It's not so much a philosophy as a strategy -- but it's one that bears study, no question.

Lucretia, scorn and derision? Not from an archdruid, and not from most of the people who gather in my virtual living room for these discourses. If more people weren't terrified of experiencing anything their culture tells them not to experience, they'd likely have similar stories to share, for that matter.

Raven, thanks for the verse!

Endovelicon, maybe so, but there's more to the Platonic option than the cultivation of wisdom -- or, perhaps, more to the cultivation of wisdom than meets the eye.

Kutamun, it is indeed a crossroads -- but going down to the crossroads is always a chancy thing; you never know what you'll meet there...

Sheep, well, Schopenhauer himself was quite the bon vivant, fond of gourmet meals, women, theater, and playing the flute. I find his work highly readable and usefully annoying -- a little philosophical Epicureanism, as distinct from his habitual sort, might have gotten him a less unbalanced notion of what the Will is, and how it might be worked with constructively. (As it was, that development had to wait for Eliphas Levi.)

Tony Rantala said...

I wanted to introduce you to the works of Jordan Peterson, who speaks similar things, though more from the perspectives of Eastern and Christian traditions.

He believes that the world is not made out of matter but rather it is made of what matters. One of the core things he speaks about is that the world is inconcievably complex and by changing your focus your world changes to a radical degree.

Another thing that you might find interesting is his view on that there are two basic ways of realting to the world, one of sacrifice and one of entitlement and resentment.

Here is one of his lectures if you are interested.

wolfvanzandt said...

Aye, there are ways that work. Frankly, I don't see the cold light of morning but a bright new opportunity.

It depends on how things fall apart. We're at a point that responsible scientists are seeing the potential of mankind to end all life forever - no possibility for recovery. But if the end is merely the end of the world (as we know it) there are those of us that aren't impressed. We're not that pleased with the way things are and we're not that happy with the prospect of it continuing in this way forever.

So, if things fall apart, they can then be rebuilt.

Inconvenience, pain, even misery are no issues. They are just indicators that something is wrong and pointers in the direction of what needs to be done to rectify the matter.

There are plenty of people who enjoy periods of inconvenience, pain, and misery - it's called camping. People leave their comfortable homes and head out to the wilds, for what? - why, to see new things! There is so much out there that you have to leave your convenience, pleasure, and security behind to see and experience and there are those of us who think it's all worth while.

Neophilia is a personality trait that has been studied. One study broke it down into four factors: exploratory excitedness, impulsivity, extravagance, and disordiliness (I would say chaoticness).

A neophile might, therefore, look forward to the "cold light of a new dawn" with somewhat more enthusiasm because it would offer new possibilities (factor 1) arising from the chaos (factor 2).

It seems to me that the other character traits that would lead some to a positive assessment of the future might be wildness (instead of domestication), liberality (instead of conservativeness), and connectivity to and a faith in nature that could act as an anchor as society falls apart (instead of the historical dogma that humanity is above and separated from nature).

Regardless, there are some of us that are watching for the fall with some expectation of good things to come - not cold light, not dismal skies, not interminable pain, hardship, and misery.

John Michael Greer said...

Les, ahem -- "it's not cow dung, it's energy!" Or, if you like, happiness.

Ando, thank you.

Risto, I haven't read much Chesterton. No particular reason, just haven't gotten to him yet.

Liam, a philosophy that matters is a philosophy that works. Zealotry is strictly for amateurs.

Bill, that's good to hear -- and that look of dawning realization may just be a bit of the gray light of morning.

Eric, thank you.

YJV, of course I've read the Bhagavad Gita -- as I noted in the post, the same realizations can be found all over the world, and for those who come out of your culture or follow a spiritual path derived from it, of course the Gita's the go-to source.

Escape, oh man. That's a prize specimen. Stuff it and put it on the wall; it'll be worth contemplating in the decades to come.

Google, being Stoic is about being open! I'd encourage you to read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius one of these days, as an introduction to what the tradition actually means.

Ridgedruid, by all means walk whatever path that calls to you, but I'm far from sure you're right about Druidry -- of course you may not know some of the Druids I know!

Matthew, it would indeed, and it's worth pointing out that the same tradition remains quite lively today, in Pagan, Christian, and Muslim forms.

Ramaraj, the Greek and Hindu worlds were in contact from the time of Alexander the Great on, so it's far from surprising that some of the same ideas were under discussion on both sides.

Ray Wharton said...

Well I read the Havamal, it is a useful contribution to my pool of moral thought for sure, though a few details need tweaking for present conditions.

I can think of many who would benefit much from incorporating aspects of its teachings into practice.

Also, this was interesting.

Chris Balow said...

This post strikes a chord with me. I've spent my entire life looking for a mission or quest, all along with the understanding that it would be unacceptable if it originated at my own (human) level. So I've hoped that something from a higher level would reach down and give me my orders, as a hunter communicates orders to his faithful hound. I don't care a thing for the freedom to choose my own course in this life--the journey itself is what interests me, and I only want the journey that is ordered upon me from a higher realm.

I've had no success as of yet, but if there is a way, I am determined to find it.

Chris G said...

Thanks, JMG.

I found The Shape of Ancient Thought, a Comparative Study of Ancient Greek and Indian Thought, by Thomas McEvilley, a very rewarding study, and although I know you have studied in and lean toward the Neoplatonists - I don't think you would feel let down by taking it up. The man spent 25 years combing through many of the ancient biggies both East and West, and found much more interaction than had been noticed during the great expansion of Western Empire in the last 300 years or so.

A key insight there, in my view, was the similarity between the ancient Orphics and Jains, progenitors in many ways of the original religious traditions both East and West: the acknowledgement of reincarnation (perhaps the embodied person's way of recognizing spirit is one inhabiting many bodies); concepts of karma (another commenter here called it "stickiness"); still, there are differences of course.

I am endlessly tempted to keep looking further back in the history, toward some original seed "Way" from which we have descended and having done so become so entangled in struggle and conflict.

It is not the answer, but I began practicing yoga about 10 years ago for health reasons. It did turn into a more spiritual path over time. It is Epicurean: the simple delights of the body remove the needs for so much of the grandiosity and conquest that has made Western culture so powerful and so vapid. Yoga is somewhat stoic: anybody can do it, when bare necessities are met (thus it is a more just way.)

As I've mentioned before, though I've not experienced disembodied intelligences, I have experienced so many meaningful coincidences in time - that it gives me pause, and perhaps I'll be open to seeing them in the future. I suspect their voices, though eternal, are too quiet compared to the hum-drum we've created for a blink of the cosmic eye. Further study will perhaps help me to know what to look for. We see what we look for.

Chris G said...

Lastly, I personally deeply appreciate the way you lay it out pretty bare here, but it's clear that the wider audience of the Public (notably, there is so much in the public sphere that looks to me just like what is described as ancient Cynicism - though we nowadays don't call the same way by that name; alternatively, there is the positive thinking mularkey - that if we just have the right attitude we can do anything!) that any effort at all to move in a different direction is chided and scorned.

Once the winter comes and the gardens have been put to rest, I will put more attention to crafting stories - allegories - of humanity's journey through Time. Most people can't do it at the abstract level. They need real world stories. Obviously you know that. :)

Enrique said...

JMG Said: Les, ahem -- "it's not cow dung, it's energy!"

Reminds of that scene from the third Mad Max movie, “Not s***, energy!”, complete with an economy based on the production of methane from pig manure, so much so that killing a pig without permission was grounds for enslavement or execution. Not only was Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome a classic action-adventure movie, it was one of the more realistic portrayals of what a salvage-tech society might look like, not to mention that at least some of the eco-technic societies of the future will probably use that very technology as an energy source.

onething said...

Rhisiart Gwiliam,

I bought the Big TOE about two years ago, in a 3 volume set. I cannot get through it. I agree his ideas are interesting but I don't really know quite what they are, as the book meanders all over the place and repeats things over and over again. It's like entering a maze and going in circles. I believe the book ought to have been severely edited. Watching 15 hours of videos might be a better bet. I'd like to know what he thinks of the double slit, but I don't know if I ever got to that part. I stalled in book 3 after skipping some of book 2. Reading it is such a miserable experience for me that I took over a year to read the amount that I did, so that made me lose track of things as well.

John Michael Greer said...

Paulo, good. One way of talking about your experience is that you've learned to take life as it is, rather than insisting that it ought to be something else and getting upset because it doesn't listen.

Onething, I see betterment as the privilege of individuals, not of humanity in the mass, but there are religious issues involved in that assessment which are better discussed in my other blog.

Nestorian, do you really think that insisting on that point over and over again will somehow make it true? As you know, I don't believe in "an objective and transcendent moral order," and I have no problem whatsoever seeing great value in following a moral code that is inevitably personal and perspectival, not objective or transcendent. I understand that you don't get that, but the broken-record routine really isn't helpful, you know.

Ing, of course -- you can never be anything but yourself, with all the history and baggage that entails. It's purely a matter of looking at the world each morning and saying, "Okay, what do I do now?"

Yourmindfire, that's interesting. I may have gotten it from Philip, who's a practicing psychotherapist -- but I recall reading it in a couple of books on the subject of psychology from the 1960s and 1970s. I'll see if I can track it down.

Lewis, glad to be of help.

Jcummings, you can't know for a fact what's going to happen seven generations in the future. So? Give it your best shot, and count that as good.

Rhisiart, I read Campbell's stuff the first time you recommended it, and if I may be frank, I wasn't impressed. If you find his ideas useful, good, but please don't proselytize. No, I don't "need to" study his ideas; I have plenty of teachings and teachers I prefer to work with.

Yossi, curiously enough, I've written a book on that very subject.

Edward, you can spend a good long time studying that book, and you won't run out of things to learn from it.

Deborah, thank you. I find Tarnas' work insightful, though traditional mundane techniques (as in Ramesay, for example) are more my style! Still, his point that our current accepted model of reality is just a model, and far from flawless, is crucial just now.

Ray, excellent! If you start the day with a quote from Peladan,that definitely earns you a gold star.

John Michael Greer said...

Isaac, from my perspective, the idea that participation in the mysteries requires celibacy and the rejection of nature is a hangover -- in the head-pounding, gut-wrenching, clinging to the sides of the toilet sense -- from a religious sensibility that's well past its pull date. There are plenty of mystery schools that don't see any point to that approach. You might find this book of mine of interest in that regard.

Elle, that's not Stoicism, it's a good old-fashioned sense of honor and responsibility, the sort of thing you don't see much of these days. As a first step on the Stoic path, though, it's not a bad one at all.

Rebecca, get that lab set up -- you may save a lot of lives. As for Cumberland, Sara and I had a long list of factors, starting with low real estate prices, regular Amtrak service, and a fairly tolerant local culture, and going down from there to such fine details as access to decent tea. Cumberland has most of what we had in mind, very much including the tolerance -- it has an annual drag queen pageant, for example.

Andrew, thank you! I think Marcus Aurelius would have been pleased to hear about your journey.

Juhana, of course the spiritual dimension is the hardest of all! Most people can tighten their belts and deal with hard times. It's when you start asking the hard questions about the meaning, value, and purpose of life that people run off in a panic to the nearest source of easy answers, or put a bullet through their heads. Thus the theme of the last year or so of posts here.

Iuval, there are plenty of human societies that haven't gotten into the empire trip, and plenty of others that have. I expect that in the deindustrial future, that will continue to be the case -- that there will be some empires and some non-imperial states, some eras of war and some of peace, some times of relative freedom and some of injustice and oppression, and so on.

Tony, thank you and I'll put him on the list of stuff to get to as time permits.

Wolf, well, when you get what you're asking for, I hope you find that you actually wanted it. I think you may be underestimating just how harsh the next few centuries are likely to be.

Ray, thanks for the link!

Chris, in your place I'd spend some time reflecting on why you think you should be privileged to get your orders handed to you, when the rest of humanity has to figure out what to do all by themselves...

John Michael Greer said...

Chris, thanks for the recommendation -- I'll add it to the get-to pile.

Enrique, well, yes, that's what I was referring to!

Bill Pulliam said...

Ridgedruid -- you mention "survival skills - political, economic, and physical defense of communities, forging tribal alliances."

Something I think you might keep in mind is that you will not be doing this within your Druid, Norse, or other neopagan community, unless you wall yourselves off in a compound. You will be doing this as part of your larger community (or you will be isolated friendless and vulnerable). If central Appalachia is anything like its southern counterpart, I think you will find those survival strategies you mention will be rapidly self-organizing. In response to crisis, people do not actually run around screaming while they get their guns and start barricading themselves in their basements. They hit the streets, find out what is really going on, start organizing, take stock of the resources and needs, and begin making rapid choices and taking swift action. It's just the way we are. Humans have faced crises forever.

weedananda said...

Thanks for another terrific post JMG...your work has served as an essential beacon for me. Very enthused about the new blog as well.

Like Andrew, I've also found Meditations by Marcus Aurelius to be profoundly inspiring and revelatory. The following passage has been an important part of my spiritual practice for almost 40 years...sums everything up quite beautifully.

"Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things which exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the contexture of the web."

wolfvanzandt said...

"when you get what you're asking for, I hope you find that you actually wanted it. I think you may be underestimating just how harsh the next few centuries are likely to be. "

You could be right. I'm not particularly asking, though. I suspect that's a moot point - it's going to happen. What will be better - dread it and be petrified or apprehend it and play with the cards I'm dealt with grace.

One key to dealing with what's coming will be to resist the current cult of individuality and see the self as a larger entity - the community. I believe that one key to future survival will be the extended family. Synergy can cut the harshness quite a bit.

jcummings said...

My question was more along the lines of how do these three modes of thought view or tackle the task of planning for the future?

I don't actually expect to be able to see 7 generations down the road, that's a thought exercise that helps with long term planning and was included (poor grammar and all) for emphasis. I will endeavor to follow the KISS plan henceforth.

I appreciate that you take any time at all responding to our comments.

John Michael Greer said...

Weedananda, Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus more or less saved my life after the death of my only child. I'm understandably highly partial to the Stoics!

Wolf, fair enough. I've just met way too many people who think they're eager for collapse, and have made hopelessly inadequate preparations for it.

Jcummings, none of the schools comes with a canned approach to the future -- that's one of the major strengths they have in common. If you want to get a sense of how they would work for you, personally, try to put yourself into their shoes for a bit:

a) what would you do, facing the future you see ahead of you, if you could ditch the regrets and worries, and concentrate on making the best life you can for yourself and those you care about?

b) what would you do, facing the future you see ahead of you, if your own survival didn't matter to you at all, and you were therefore free to pursue any course of action?

c) what would you do, facing the future you see ahead of you, if you knew -- not "believed," but knew through direct personal experience -- that what was happening around you followed a deeper order, in which your choices also had a place?

Redneck Girl said...

There used to be a duo of country singers calling themselves Lonzo and Oscar that sang a comic Country/Cowboy song with a chorus that was Cowboy Zen, called Ole Leather Saddle. It was about an old cowboy with humorous adventures where 'he' lost out in three different situations each followed by the chorus: "I'm settin' straddle of an ole leather saddle got my boots in the stirrups and I'm ridin' high! Got no where to go and a long time to make it but it don't really matter gonna live till I die!"

A mixture of Zen and Stoicism I think with a healthy dollop of humor! I'm trying to live my life with that attitude. Momma Nature doesn't take me particularly seriously so why should I?


Candace said...

Off topic for this specific post, but relevant to overall discussion of decline of empire

I really can't imagine that happening to Henry Kissinger, but I might be reading too much into it.

Ellen said...

Your blog is my weekly required reading. The comments too. Lots of wisdom and food for thought, almost more than can be integrated.

Exeter University conducts an online course called Stoic Week every year. I did it this year and it was very useful. I am "thinking like a stoic" more regularly everyday.

I have an eclectic philosophy that is ever changing. Came out of the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960's. Professionally have worked in the sciences for 40 years and quantum physics and the new cosmology are foundational in my current mindset. Was into Scienotlogy for decades; really seems strange to me now but the mental discipline (some would say straight-jacket) was essential and I am the better for it. Became a permaculture instructor and went back-to-the land again in my 50's. Diagnosed with incurable cancer in my 60's and got heavily into Buddhism, which I found extremely useful as regards JMG third philosophical approach.

Now living in the age of limits in every sense of the word from the personal, to community, to human civilization, to the natural world. Still farming, teaching, working for as long as I can.

Here's my personal crash course in getting your head straight for what is coming: read The New Universe and the Human Future by Abrams and Primack; read a book on practical, western-style buddhism (many great authors here) ; do the Exeter University Stoic Week; do a permaculture course; read JMG blog every week, attend an Age of Limits conference. Then do what you think is right and best.

thecrowandsheep said...

JMG, yeah, I always find Schopenhauer's writing so alluring, but I know now I have to stop myself because it really doesn't lead anywhere terribly constructive day-to-day in dealing with what he says, or at least what he does suggest is only really suitable for those with a sizeable inheritance (perhaps analogous with how we have inherited a wealth of energy and may partly explain his enduring popularity) - so one is left really with this huge philosophical burden to carry around with nowhere to put it.

Eliphas Levi you say? The occult's Arthur Schopenhauer? Would "The history of Magic" be an optimal starting point? I hope he writes as nicely as AS.

Stacey Armstrong said...

It's always interesting to see what carries forward from this weekly column. "There is no brighter future" is often quoted around here. But equally powerfully is " boredom is a luxury we can ill afford" and a wry toast coined after your longer glimpse into the future " long live the Corvins!"
I am fortunate to have a group of ravens for neighbours who take some interest in how many eggs are being laid by my chickens and the contents of the compost.

I first ran across the stoics when reading Montaigne's essays and both have been a good antidote to a number of "woulda-coulda-shouldas."

There is always just enough difference between my sensibilities and theirs to keep me wide awake!

Thanks for sharing your virtual living room!


Courtney Jane said...

You say the exact same thing every week: the future will be neither sudden collapse nor infinite progress. I think you have made that point more than enough already.

AlanfromBigEasy said...

I believe that there is another path as well, which is to highly value the well being of others. This entails, of course, a high tolerance for what cannot be done.

ATM, just back from the funeral of my mentor Ed Tennyson. He passed a few hours before his 70th wedding anniversary.

I made his widow smile with the remark "No one is perfect, but Ed tried very very hard to be perfect."

Dr. Chris King said...

RE: "On beyond alternative ways to live, I think we might oughta put some pondering into how the "provisional livers" could come to a soft landing when their world evaporates out from under them. None of those three approaches to life do much good for someone who decided to have the contents of a shotgun shell for supper."

I agree! An ideology that doesn't make it all the way to the ground is not much use. (As my mother is wont to say, "it's so heavenly minded, it's of no earthly use." :-) As to the remedial suggestion that counseling or therapy is called for, when almost all such practitioners are operating within, and as part of, the very system which caused the distress, the suggestion is, quite frankly, comical.

When viewed from a certain angle, suicide is a rational and reasonable response to one's distressing circumstances that show no prospect for real improvement - and it is very much a taking of responsibility for one's own life. To suggest otherwise is rather ignorant, and rather cruel, even if unintentionally so.

Grebulocities, I'm right there with you - still very disillusioned, disappointed, heart-broken, discouraged, confused, overcome by inertia (after all, what's the point?!), etc. My only solace and inspiration is to look out the window at the natural world (i.e. everything not human-made) and get my instruction and guiding principles there. I'm siding with the natural world, betting that it keeps on going throughout the decline of the rest of civilisation :-)

Janet D said...

The Archdruid said, "it’s not actually that difficult to make sense of a world that doesn’t progress and shows no interest in remaking itself to fit an overdeveloped sense of human entitlement."

I've been pondering a topic for a better part of a year, and the above quote is as close as I'm going to get to fit it into what you discuss each week, so I'm wondering if you will do me the courtesy of giving your thoughts on said topic (even though it's a stretch to relate to here). It has to do with the question of why the indigenous peoples (in almost any country) are always regarded to be at the very bottom of the social rung(s).

I don't say this lightly. I've read and followed, through various means, this topic for some years. Last year, I read that the indigenous peoples of Vietnam (I didn't even know Vietnam HAD indigenous peoples, although I don't know why I thought they wouldn't) are, as usual, widely considered to hold the least desirable social status. Same - even today - in Latin America, and I won't get into America's history & present here.

It makes me wonder...does it really come down to something as simple as indigenous peoples view themselves as PART of the world, not necessarily higher than any other part, versus the 'modern' world, which sees humans as being at the TOP of the natural world and able (and obligated) to make the natural world serve human's desire to live at the top of the pyramid?

On one hand, I feel rather stupid for asking this question. It seems obvious. But as I've become more educated on this topic, the depth and breadth of deliberate and prolonged cruelty visited upon native peoples (some of it makes you sick), the lingering attitudes that are still in place today, and the overall denigration of those who once lived "primitive, stone-age" lifestyles, makes me wonder why there has been - and still is - so much energy put into ensuring these people stay marginalized (witness the natives in the Amazon who are currently trying to protect THEIR land from ranchers and loggers). And I wonder if it really all comes down to one world view threatening another world view (the view that humans are part and not dominant), and if that is enough to fuel centuries-long subjection and maltreatment. If so, wow.....what the insistence that humankind IS entitled can result in for those who insist that humankind is NOT entitled is pretty breathtaking.

wolfvanzandt said...

From what I've read here, I think we pretty much agree on what kind of preparations are needed. I'm on a survival forum and keep up with several other groups and they're divided about half and half between preppers, who are stocking up supplies for big disasters, and people who just live their day to day lives but educate themselves about how to respond to certain disasters.

We're pretty sure that economic disaster is immanent. The problem is that something else might happen first. Big news on Yahoo for the last couple of days is that a solar storm barely missed us in 2012 that might have blown out all our technology. The way people are playing around with chaotic processes in nature, I'm not sure if they'll end us by trying to stop tornadic storms in the southeast, clean up an oil spill by letting loose an oil-eating bacteria that takes out all the oil before we're ready, or by taking some artificial means to try to balance the greenhouse effect.

In brief, we don't know what to prepare for, so, according to Murphy's Law (which, of course is as sure as any law discovered by Newton), the very disaster the preppers aren't expecting and preparing for is the very disaster that will happen.

Zen (and it's many cousins) is a great idea. We will need cool heads. Bringing back the community is also important. Our libraries, as much as possible, should be in our heads. I have been gathering a huge library of CDs with every topic imaginable but all we need is a big electromagnetic pulse to eliminate that and the computer I would need to play them on. And those of us who wish to survive then will need to maintain their health now.

And the survivalist philosophy that I often see, that survival is in isolating a group and fighting off anyone who trespasses is a sure way to finish off humanity - we need to rebuild with grace and the appreciation of all life.

patriciaormsby said...

Thank you for this, JMG! There is so much that I want to write, but at 1:30 a.m., I'd better go to bed instead. Being so steeped in eastern philosophy, I love hearing about the western philosophy that you brought up. Why is it that such fine ways of thinking have been tossed into the garbage can? The younger Japanese, I can see, are doing it too--losing sight of their spiritual basis because of all of the material joys (which never satisfy) around them. It is mostly people in their sixties and seventies I interact with as a Shintoist--people who recall the deprivations of war and post-war Japan.
Having been brought up as a Buddhist in Salt Lake City, I was surrounded by people who believed fervently in an apocalypse happening any day in which they would be favored, and they were all for bringing it on.
Andrew Lobaczewski (Political Ponerology) brought up Plato as a counterpart to Confucius in the east, who addressed the dark side of human nature in a practical manner, but I've been waiting years for someone who could give me more information. Thank you for a good start!

Derv said...


Excellent read. I know I've harped on this point a few times already, but I feel as though it fits well with what you've stated on a number of posts. This death of progress narrative can be wonderfully circumvented by blame-the-rich ideologies, and particularly the kind proposed by Picketty's "Capital in the 21st Century," an updated schema for the old socialist paradigm.

And before anyone misinterprets what I'm saying, I'm not mentioning this because I want to defend the level of wealth disparity in this country or the (frankly criminal) acts of certain wealthy oligarchs. Not at all. I just think it's worth noting that the religion of progress has one more ace up its sleeve: "it's THEIR fault." The failure can be construed not so much as the inevitable outcome of hard limits to reality but rather as the consequence of the wealthy robbing us of our wealth.

Even by official (and horribly manipulated) figures, household income has been flat in the US for forty years. The only "increases" have been the increase in dollar amounts for healthcare coverage, which has been a product of price inflation in healthcare, not rising standards of care. Meanwhile CEOs get paid some 400 times what the low level worker makes (when it used to be something like 35 times), and the wealth gap increases while millions find themselves out of a job.

There is an easy answer here for such people, which is to make the rich swing from lampposts. I simply do not see us avoiding that stage. My greatest fear is that such a movement could become organized and global, and attempt the sort of worldwide revolution long touted by Marxist political thinkers. Of course, for Communism to ever actually work (even theoretically, and regardless of how immoral the system is), it requires super-abundance, something Engels himself acknowledged.

I'm of the Thomistic persuasion, but old school Catholics like myself have a great admiration for Plato and neoplatonic thought (it was essentially the Catholic mode of thinking from Augustine to Aquinas, after all, albeit in a Christianized context). I think Aristotlean thought and Catholic mysticism would fall somewhere within both two and three, what with the via media and idealized indifference to outward conditions, so long as one is right with God. I think that provides a real answer to our present predicament, and one that might one day gain a following.

For now, though, I think we have one heck of a mess to go through with the death throes of progress. Like Kristallnacht levels of mess.

Derv said...

Oh, and one more thing: it wasn't until I read your comments that I learned of the death of your child. I'm so sorry. I too lost a child, an infant daughter. A few months afterward, I tried to give a speech on how blessed I felt not to be angry with God, and how my faith had helped me to accept all the ups and downs of life. I got about two minutes in before I broke down and ran off. It was very embarrassing, but I'm guessing people understood. It took me over a year before I could even talk to my wife about it regularly. It's been just over two years now, and I still think about her, but that intellectual strength regarding it slowly developed into an emotional strength as well. Job's famous saying comes to mind.

onething said...

"Chris, in your place I'd spend some time reflecting on why you think you should be privileged to get your orders handed to you, when the rest of humanity has to figure out what to do all by themselves..."

Perhaps it is because he said he was willing and indeed prefers to align his will with a higher power. I don't think many are willing.

Eric S. said...

Bill said: "Something I think you might keep in mind is that you will not be doing this within your Druid, Norse, or other neopagan community, unless you wall yourselves off in a compound."

Perhaps not, but one thing those communities can offer is strong friendships, a similar set of values, and a group of people who look out for their own, and that can mean an awful lot. I, for one, feel like as imperfect a lot as the people who fall under the Pagan umbrella can be, a world without Pagans, Druids, Polytheists and the lot would be a world that had lost something beautiful with a lot of potential. I really do hope the movement can weather this next cycle of history in some form or another.

Mister Roboto said...

This post provided some very delicious and exotic food for thought as usual. It certainly comes as no surprise that the ancient Greeks were equal to the task of inventing and constructing a working steam engine, at least if their philosophy is any solid indicator of their cultural intellectual prowess.

If you'll forgive me for veering off-topic just a little bit, I read some news today (oh boy!) that spoke of an apocalypse. Well, maybe not really, I just wanted to preserve the meter of the beloved old "Beatles" song! Seriously though, this article in the UK newspaper The Guardian described a coronal mass ejection (CME) event that might have brought down the electrical grid, everything that relies on it, and most modern communication systems too, had our planet been in its line of fire. And we would have been, too, had this CME erupted in the same way a week earlier than it did.

Considering where we are in terms of resource depletion and resulting economic near-exhaustion (a fancy way of describing the way the world's industrial societies are pretty much hanging on by the proverbial thread these days), I really do think this would have precipitated a "fast-crash" event, or something close enough to a fast-crash that it would certainly have been the primary turning point in the decline of industrial society.

It wouldn't have been an apocalypse in the traditional religious sense, but the hardship and mayhem that would have ensued certainly would have resulted in very many people calling it the apocalypse. The fact that it would have happened in 2012 would certainly have added to the temptation to call it just that. I have to admit, the new ager in me has to wonder if that CME would have hit us were it not for the spiritual growth of ordinary humans ultimately redeeming us from being hit with "the worst". What do you think? :-)

shhh said...

That was a lovely read, as usual.

blue sun said...

"The difference is simply that to glimpse something of the whole picture, and to pursue those disciplines that bring such glimpses within reach, provide a perspective that makes sense of the texture of everyday experience as it is, without expecting it to act out human fears and fantasies. That approach isn’t for everyone, but it’s an option, and it’s the one that I tend to trust."

After reading this, and seeing no further explanation, I thought to myself, Oh, no! What a tease! I realized this has been something I have been looking into for the past few years, and I always found myself curious as to what you had to say about such things. Thankfully, the comment from Elizabeth Kennett and your response led me to your new blog. I am glad to see it! I am sure I will become a regular reader over there......

Ric Steinberger said...

About 4 years ago, the Canadian group, Arcade Fire, released an album, The Suburbs. The lead song of the same name deals with (in my estimation) the decline and fall of industrial civilization, the main representation here being "the suburbs". It's a place where I and perhaps other readers grew up and may still live.

There's a line from that song that shows (I think) that Arcade Fire is in both the denial and the acceptance stages of E K-R's Stages of Grief. That line, which reflects my own state of mind:

Sometimes I can't believe it.
I'm moving past the feeling.

Here is the song:

wolfvanzandt said...

Expanding on what Eric said, I believe that the Pagan community can offer quite a lot that's absolutely necessary for our survival. Where the Christian church (still our primary source of religious philosophy in the US, though losing ground) has evidently decided that community isn't all that important (I'm sure Jesus would be chagrined), the Pagan community as I know it (from the Pagans I live with and associate with) still hold community in high regard. (And, by the way, I am a devout Christian.) Pagans also generally see the importance of seeing nature, not as an enemy to be conquered, but a partner in our attempts to co-survive. If we survive, we will survive on the land and with the land, not despite it.

Raymond Duckling said...

Also an off topic comment: It seems my hometown has been given an unwelcome early peek of what's peak oil like:

Gas shortage in Guadalajara. (in Spanish)

In summary:

1. The shortage is triggered not by actual lack of gasoline, but by the police crack down on a network of gas company employees who were stealing the product and selling it in the black market. 21 people has been arrested

2. Securing 17 tanker trucks as evidence has evidence has cut the local fleet by about 30%. There are no enough resources to move gas from the central facilities to the gas stations.

3. Union of petrol workers seems to be closing lines and backing up their members. There's push back to prevent emergency measures to contract non union tankers from out town. Drivers are being discouraged from working, claiming "fear to undue detention from part of the police" (imho. not totally unjustified).

4. Distribution is uneven. Instead of resorting to rationing, Pemex/State Government/whoever has decided to cut off the supply for East side in order to sustain normal supply in West side (here as more often than not in the rest of Northern Hemisphere, East=blue-collar West=white-collar).

5. Once citizenship figured out this is not something that will go away in "two days" as was promised in the media, a range of non constructive behaviors have kicked in: Hoarding and panic purchases, frantic driving around looking for a gas station with some inventory, organized groups (public transport drivers) coordinating to get access and increase their share.

6. There have been reports in the news that emergency services - ambulances, "proteccion civil" (Mexican FEMA, sort of), firefighters, police themselves - is having a hard time keeping their vehicles on the road... so it seems a second wave of collateral damage is about to hit during the next hours/days.

So, it's interesting times again. This time around I have tasked my kids (11 and 6 y.o.) to come up with plans to deal with the crisis. I do not expect those to be completely workable (i.e. the younger one wants to move around in roller skates), but I will use this chance to instill a sense of preparedness in them.

Cherokee Organics said...


Ah, but of course! The panels were mounted yesterday and hopefully will be wired up this morning before it gets too sunny.

It is amazing how cheap this stuff is. It is just wrong and perhaps the availability and cheap price is one reason why people don't act and put a higher value on the stuff. No fear of that here...

Hi onething,

The climate is really variable, however overall it is getting warmer. 40 years ago here it would not have been possible to grow citrus here at this location. Now they're happily fruiting. Glad to hear that you received a cool and damp summer, they are a rare event here and cause for celebration (although you may have a different perspective on the matter).

Hi Cathy,

The article about the cargo bikes and electrically assisted bikes last week was very interesting.

Regards. Chris

Eric S. said...

One other thought I find myself having, regarding attitudes and philosophies that carry people through hard times... Can it also be possible to accept loss and sadness and pain as sensations and experiences with value in their own right? It seems to be a common approach in Dark ages for some mystics to embrace philosophies of ascetism, seeking out wilderness, adversity, and hardship as a path towards some deeper relation to the universe. There are certainly extremes, and our culture often looks at ascetism with bewilderment and disapproval, but there can be a certain beauty in suffering and hardship all on its own as a part of the human experience.

Grebulocities said...

My mother died of cancer at 55 just ten days ago, which is certainly part of why I've been in a depressed state over the past 16 months (since her diagnosis). I feel that this mostly acted to intensify my already overwhelming feelings of emptiness that have existed since the crumbling of my worldview in early 2012. It also certainly didn't help that I got to see the state of American medicine much more intimately, with all its thousands-of-dollars-per-dose chemo regimens and medical trials that implicitly promise amazing advances. It turned out they were not even to be able to do a biopsy well enough to extract usable DNA after six attempts, with the exception of one actionable mutation, which turned out to be worse than useless.

Of course I never really believed the genetically targeted chemo drugs would be likely to help, and I was right: the one she tried based on the mutation was by far the worst of the pharmacopeia she was on at various times. Fortunately she was well-insured and the numbers on the medical bills over the past 16 months were irrelevant pinball scores for all it mattered to us, but if my parents had been uninsured or poorly ensured the medical system would have eaten more than every penny they had.

Overall I've find the loss of a belief system and the loss of a parent fairly similar in how powerfully they have affected me, although I imagine many of my emotional reactions to the death of my mom are still to come.

You said that Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus helped you survive losing your only child, which (although not directed at me) may be the first useful piece of advice I've gotten so far. I decided to use one of the better pieces of modern technology to download several free and nearly-free versions of Meditations in ebook form. Is there a translation you would recommend? This seems like as good a time as any to read Stoic philosophy.

Chris Balow said...

JMG, I really never thought of it in terms of privilege. I just always found my own human consciousness woefully inadequate to the task--it concerns itself with such boring and base desires, you know. I wanted to serve the interests of a higher order, originating from what we're calling, in the terms of this week's post, the Platonic level. I thought that a higher form of intelligence would find better use for me than I would for myself.

Again, I like the metaphor of the relationship between man and dog. What is a dog but a domesticated wolf? A wolf can remain a wolf, and keep following the lead of his pack's alpha, or follow his own lead if he happens to be the alpha. But what if he sees a human settlement in the distance, decides that the beings who built it must be far greater than he or any other wolf could ever hope to be, and wishes to renounce his pack and serve those superior beings?

Rebecca Brown said...

JMG, thanks for answering my question. I really appreciate it.

The hard part about setting up a lab will be finding the proper equipment. The poor, inner city middle school I once went to (barely 20 years ago; I'm not that old) had better equipment than most undergraduate college labs have today!

It's amazing how far and fast some things have fallen.

nuku said...

Onething: the climate swings you refer to are the El Nino and La Nina events caused by the “Southern Ocean oscillation“ heaps of info on the net...

Chris Balow, re: “I only want the journey that is ordered upon me from a higher realm.“
Aside from the abdication of personal responsibility for your actions inherent in that desire, is the problem of knowing if those “orders” are in fact from some higher realm or just your own subconscious.

Eric S. said...

Amending what I said earlier... The ascetics are pretty clearly aligned with the stoic way of seeing the world... Rather what I'm wondering is if there's room there to let yourself feel that sense of loss... To actually embrace the sadness that can come when contemplating the ephemeral nature of all things. I dusted off my copy of Marcus Aurelius's meditations today and reread them. He doesn't leave much room for feeling or emotion... And yet, his musings on the impermanence of all things can inspire a sort of cathartic sadness and that's not the sort of feeling I'd at all want to get rid of. Within a stoic or ascetic approach to life, can there be room for emotion? I think that's closer to the question I was trying to frame earlier. I think it's something worth meditating on in my morning practice.

Bill Pulliam said...

There seems to be some misunderstanding about my comment re: communities. It has nothing to do with paganism or any other specific attributes of any social circle. It was a comment about thinking that you are going to be doing this within *any* subcircle of your own like-minded people. As I said, unless you wall yourselves off in a compound, the future is happening to everyone, and it is your literal neighbors, not your friends across town who share the same minority religion, that you will find yourself having to deal with and work with for better or for worse.

This was also in reference to the specific "faster collapse" scenario that was originally presented, not the long evolution of culture over the decades and generations.

Janet D said...

@Chris Balow,

Judging from your picture, I have some years on you (I'm 48). I don't think you are abdicating responsibility or thinking of yourself as special and, when I was younger, I had some similar yearnings.

In my 20s and even into my 30s, I wanted to serve a higher purpose, a higher will, for the better good. I couldn't figure out what it was. I believed in a transcendent being/wisdom/intelligence/whatever that could be accessible to those who sought it and from whom specific guidance could be received.

I still believe that, but largely just on a theological level, and I now see seeking and finding a specific path as being much more nuanced, "fuzzy", unclear, complex, etc. In other words, it ain't as simple as finding the right channel so you can receive your marching orders.

Part of what changed for me was an experience I had while in deep meditation 15 or so years ago. I was seeking (again), and the message I received back was something along the lines of: "You are given your life so that you may make choices and learn from them. Guidance will be given when necessary, otherwise, carry on." It was followed by a very weird, almost altered state where I felt that the 'usual' choices that we make aren't really important in the universal scheme of things. You know, how hung up we usually each are in finding the right job, right spouse, right place to live, etc. and I had the strongest sense that none of that was what life was really about. It was much more about being conscious that we are just visiting here, and how do you want to spend your time?

Hard to explain, definitely shifted my view of things. Unfortunately, that altered state only lasted about 24 hours, then I was back to my normal state of mind, but I've never forgotten it.

Another thing that has helped me on a daily basis is something a very wise minister always emphasized: "Doing your best to be conscious and kind in any given moment IS serving the divine."

HTH. You sound sincere and searching.

John Michael Greer said...

Wadulisi, and of course that's also an option!

Candace, clearly the Egyptian government is paying attention. Where the US meddles these days, chaos and violence follow.

Ellen, that strikes me as good advice.

Sheep, nah, Levi isn't anything like as good a writer, and he's much more specialized -- also much more given to the construction of myth. If you've read Schopenhauer's "On the Will in Nature," though, Levi's "Transcendental Magic" may make quite a bit of sense to you.

Stacey, anybody who hangs out with Montaigne is welcome in my virtual living room!

Courtney, I talk about what I want to talk about. If it doesn't interest you, there are plenty of other blogs you can read instead, you know.

Alan, to my mind that's one element of a path, not a whole path -- but of course your mileage may vary.

Dr. Chris, all I'm saying is that I don't have the necessary skills to deal with people who are suicidal. I have enough trouble getting through to those who plan on living as long as possible.

Janet, yes, that's an inevitable part of the rejection of nature. Since we are all, every man, woman and child of us, inseparably part of nature, those who claim to be different from and superior to nature always, without exception, project their own connectedness to nature on someone else and then abuse the target of that projection. It's not just indigenous people, either -- much of the rhetoric of Western misogyny is based on a logic that says "woman = nature, man = reason." As long as people insist that they're separate from nature, such idiocies will follow.

Wolf, fair enough. I hope you won't keep your library entirely in your head, though -- that leads to major losses when said head returns to compost along with the rest of you. A simple printing press and the skills of paper- and inkmaking could save a lot of effort down the road.

Patricia, I'm sorry to hear that young people in Japan are falling into the same trap; they're going to need all the wisdom they can get as the industrial age ends and those very rocky islands have to provide for far too many people.

John Michael Greer said...

Derv, if we get through this without at least one equivalent of Kristallnacht I think we'll be very, very fortunate. Condolences, btw; it's been more than twenty years since my son died, but I well remember how it felt those first few years.

Mister R., myself, I think that what happened in 2012 was that too few people took the predicted end of everything seriously enough, and the Solarians got offended and sent the CME somewhere else in a fit of pique!

Shhh, thank you.

Blue Sun, I try to keep this blog accessible to those who aren't on the Path, thus the mildly evasive tone. My other blog, and the books listed there, have a lot to say about what's on the far side of that evasion.

Ric, thanks for the musical accompaniment!

Wolf, that's interesting. Here in north central Appalachia, Christian churches remain central institutions of the local community, while I know way too many Pagan groups who use the word "community" but seem to have no idea what it means in practice.

Raymond, fascinating. I sometimes think that a lot of the first wave of crisis will be caused by secondary causes of this sort -- and you're right that such events at least offer a chance to do some teaching, and to get ready.

Cherokee, I think of it as an IQ test. If you're smart enough to see the actual value of things like spare solar panels now, you pass; if not, you don't. Exactly where the cutoff line will be for raw survival is another matter.

Eric, most of those ascetics had some form of the Platonist approach -- they didn't embrace suffering for its own sake, but rather for the sake of some transcendent good, which most of them hoped to experience directly. Yes, that's an option.

Grebulocities, I'm sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. I know there's not much I or anyone else can say, but Marcus Aurelius might well be worth a try. No, I don't have a favorite translation -- any one that you can find will likely do. You might also look for the Enchiridion of Epictetus, which is a good short summary of hardcore Stoicism.

Chris, are you out there looking for a human settlement, or are you waiting for a human being to come find you in your den and domesticate you then and there?

Rebecca, excellent. If you can perceive how far and fast things are falling, you're well ahead of most people.

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, the Stoics didn't have the modern romantic reverence for emotion, no; to them, it was just one of those things human beings experience, neither good or bad in itself, and the only issue was whether it got in the way or not. That is to say, by all means meditate on it!

Grebulocities said...

Dr. Chris King - I agree suicide can be a rational option for some, from within the framework of a person whose options are truly so restricted that ending their life is their best available option. Examples may include terminally ill patients, people who have suffered through chronic severe mental conditions (e.g. schizophrenia) for over a decade with no sign of any remission, people in chronic pain with no hope for a cure, people imprisoned for life or de-facto life terms, etc.

But from within the perspective of people who are still reasonably able-bodied and able-minded, there are probably a large number of potentially useful paths even in a rather bleak future. I haven't found them yet personally, largely because I've put in some mental work but haven't gotten off the couch to do anything. I'm hoping that I can motivate myself soon and that the despair will eventually end, and I'm looking for ways I might possibly get out of this mess. That's one of the reasons I keep coming back here - it might turn out to be worth it.

As for the the natural world, I have somewhat good news: an extinction event is happening, but there's no need to worry about the survival of life or nature from a long-run perspective. I've started a grad program in climatology, and the paleoclimate history of the world is really worth studying if you don't know much about it. Combine it with paleontology and you get a good idea of what an extinction event is like.

It's true that humans are causing an extinction event, but that does not mean that nature is in any danger even though the majority of species we currently have now may well go extinct somewhere in the next 100,000 years, quite possibly sooner. Extinction events are not exactly common but not at all unprecedented, with 5 known major extinctions and about 15 more minor ones in the last 540 million years. They cause temporary devastation but ultimately lead to rapid evolution as adaptive radiation by the descendents of the survivors leads to quick speciation to fill all the empty niches.

Ramaraj said...

I was reading about the Political Correctness movement in 1990s, and its origins in the "Linguistic turn" of academia in 1960s. It struck me that it is rooted on the belief that if the words we use are changed, the world will also be changed. And the timing of the this movement, just when America reached its peak, suggests that this was a desperate attempt to evade the reality by building a cocoon of comfortable words. I do not know if this feature appears in other cultures in their evening phase.

It seems to resonate with your view that how the privileged classes cling to the belief that progress will deliver the goods to everyone, sometime in the future. Political correctness looks like one such tool that helps them pretend that everything is all right.

In my view, breaking out of this mold is part of disillusionment with the cult of progress. I found that reading literature from earlier generations helped me immensely.

Nastarana said...

About printing, paper and ink making, I am reminded of Prince Myshkin in The Idiot, who never lacked for employment because of his beautiful calligraphy. It may be wise to revive the art of handwriting.

Derv., I am reading Picketty's book and I have not yet spotted any sign of an "updated schema for the old socialist paradigm", whatever that might have been.

Neoplatonism was "essentially the Catholic mode of thinking from Augustine to Acquinas" ??? If you say so, but I believe I read that Augustine did not read or speak Greek and Acquinas was famously influenced by Aristotle, "The Philosopher" in the Summna.

There is a fairly good translation of Marcus Aurelius that came out in about 1963 or 4; the recent one is to be avoided, unless you have a higher tolerance for anachronistic contemporary slang than I do. There was quite an interesting discussion of the matter in the Amazon comments.

Avery, why ever would we want to put time, money and energy into revolution when the upper classes are even now digging their own graves quite nicely without our help?

Derv said...

Oh, and Chris Balow, if you're interested, I've had some experiences that might be of interest to you. If you want to talk, feel free to email me at If not, no worries.

Mister Roboto said...

@Chris Balow: As helpful and loyal to humans as domesticated canines are, they are only partially sentient, while you as a human being have been granted full sentience. That's why I really don't think the Spirit ("God", "Life", "The Universe") expects you to be like a dog receiving a command to beg, sit, or roll over from its master. Beyond that, I think Janet's response to you is well worth keeping in mind.

onething said...

Something I've been looking into a bit is the role of natural disasters in the collapse of dominant civilizations. In the case of the Roman Empire, it appears to have been the nail in the coffin.

For example:
A close shave with a comet nearly 1,500 years ago caused a catastrophic change in the global climate, leading to famine, plague, the end of the Roman Empire, the birth of the Dark Ages and even the legend of King Arthur, a leading British scientist said at the British Association meeting in London yesterday.
Debris from the near miss bombarded the Earth with meteors, which threw enough dust and water vapour into the atmosphere to cut out sunlight and cool the planet to cause crop failure across the northern hemisphere. The cataclysmic famines weakened people's resistance to disease and led to the great plague of the emperor Justinian. It could also be responsible for the Arthurian stories about gods appearing in the sky followed by a fertile kingdom becoming a wasteland.

"The event of AD540 is in or at the start of the Dark Ages and in my view probably caused the Dark Ages. It was a catastrophic environmental downturn which shows up in trees from Siberia, Scandinavia, northern Europe, north America and South America," he said. "The idea is that the Earth was hit by a 'cosmic swarm', a whole stack of cometary debris in a short period of time...It's nearly impossible to get historians to take this seriously.

ridgedruid said...

Bill P - This part of Appalachia is pretty resilient, which is one of the reasons I chose to live here. My neighbors have tractors, bulldozers, chainsaws, generators, etc. Mostly what I've seen here is response to bad weather - no power, blocked roads, etc. Those who have generally share with those who don't. In the event of a major crisis, it would go pretty much as you suggested. There are lots of ex-military folks and nearly everyone hunts and is comfortable with firearms. I've lived around here long enough that I don't have any concerns about fitting in - I may be considered a bit "different", but around here quite a few folks are. As long as you keep your grass cut and treat others with respect, being a little "different" isn't an issue. At least some of the local and small christian churches appear to have very strong communities, probably because they are community based.

My comments as to "spiritual communities", on reflection, may be more about the difference between the urban and rural lifestyle experience.

JMG - you're probably correct on circles of friends - I'm still pretty new on this road. Take a look at Flash Boys by Michael Lewis for a look at rentier capitalism at it's ugliest. Good old fashioned investigative journalism about why people trading stocks want a fiber optic connection that is microseconds faster than everyone else.

onething said...

JMG,you said,
"Where the US meddles these days, chaos and violence follow."

This is pretty much what the 6th century historian Procopius had to say about the Emperor Justinian, whose reign kicked off the extreme depopulation of the empire.

onething said...

My condolences and shared grief to all who have lost a child.
July 21st was the 5th anniversary of my son's violent death, he who never, even as a toddler in a sandbox, aggressed against anyone.

He was more than a son to me, but a young man I admired and consulted, my handsome prince.
I'm sure that wherever he is, he is very busy, engaged, doing as he once answered me when I called him and asked what he was doing - "I'm working to unfold the divine plan of the universe, Mother!"

I've been told I would eventually be angry. But this loss is beyond such a petty thing, and those who killed him aren't capable of much, so what's the point of dwelling on them?
When they are capable of remorse I will forgive them, but that will not likely be in this lifetime.

It has affected my relationship with the Divine. The openheartedness is now filled with a certain amount of pain. It's not a matter of blame (although I want answers) but just that I have always related to God via joy. Not sure what to do about it, but wait it out.

nr-cole said...

A friend and I got into it yesterday. I started the discussion with the trailer for Christopher Nolan's new movie "Interstellar" because I found it striking how brazenly the myth of technological progress was on display. "Man was born on Earth. He was never meant to die here," or some nonsense.

I know a lot of people who consider themselves fairly open- and critically-minded, and they do their best to listen closely and then talk sensibly. However, when I started discussing how previous civilizations had lost the vast majority of their technology, and suggested that we might be in for a dose of the same, it was clear that we had reached a fundamental disagreement that we weren't going to get past. The response I got was that we may be in for a significant population correction soon, but after we contract by a few billion, those of us that are left will have enough rich energy sources for technological progress to rig up it's miracle cures for our problems. I said that sounded more like religious faith than science and logic, and we more or less had to leave things there.

Everything we hear about the supposed-viability of business as usual is laced with contradictions people seem unable to confront even when they are stated outright. What you called our fantasies and fears are mixed up in our view of reality to a degree where people literally cannot see what is happening around them. In addition to people who believe they're rational and objective when they're actually blindfolded, you have the deep skepticism of any "faith" that openly acknowledges that there might be more to the world than what we can hit with a stick. Doesn't make me very optimistic about how the majority will attempt to understand the world for a good long while.

Stacey Armstrong said...

It is difficult for me to know when to comment here and when to remain an active listener/reader. Lately I see more people struggling to remain upright and wanted to offer a few of my day to day strategies against ennui and inertia. During a time of multiple disappointments I looked around for concrete, useful and kind things to do. It is difficult to wallow when you are offering care to someone else. I had the good luck to run across a posting for an aging legally blind typesetter who wanted someone to read to him and answer his correspondence. I also started running. Lately, I make bread and deliver/offer it around the neighborhood.

In terms of a reading boost, I have returned to the works of Maria Rainer Rilke, particularly his "letters to a young poet" dozens of times in the last twenty years. He was a particularly good antidote to the romance narratives imbedded in my middle class girlhood.

" I tell you that I have a long way to go before I am - where one are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. Resolve to be always beginning - to be a beginner!"

I am not sure if this places Rilke firmly on the third path. I am still very much a beginner in distinguishing one set of ideas from another.


LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Stacey Armstrong - That's a great little saying about boredom. I read so widely, I'm not sure if I coined it or not, but what I've been saying for years is: "Boredom is a failure of imagination."

wolfvanzandt said...

Eric, a lot of the Ascetics, especially the monastics isolated themselves "for the good of humanity". Their job was to better themselves by isolating themselves from sin in the world, and to pray for the good of the world. I'm not so sure if either helped. That's why Francis didn't isolate his order - he figured that they couldn't do much good if they weren't /there/.

What you're talking about sounds a lot like old age. At 60, I've collected all kinds of aches and pains. Falling off mountains, taking cataclysmic spills while working as a life model and construction worker, and dropping acetylene bottles on my foot continue with me to the present day. Nor does it hurt as badly when a loved one dies. I'm learning to live with pain, both physical and emotional. And that will certainly serve me if and when society collapses. I'll know how to deal with it then and, maybe I can help others get through it, too.

wolfvanzandt said...

I apologize, Mr. Pullman. Personally, I believe that you're right. Exclusionism will kill is. A walled off compound broadcasts that it has resources and, sooner or later, someone strong enough is going to break in and destroy what has been built. I would like to see colonies that work to help others build colonies.

wolfvanzandt said...

Mr. Greer, thank you. I hope whatever happens doesn't take our printing technology and, of course, paper can be made. I don't intend on keeping it to myself.

I'm a Therian and, in my retirement, I live, literally, in the Therian community. I live in one of three local houses. My people seem to have an inboard compass for community and relationship building. If anarchy could work for anyone, it would be us. We're, by nature, connected to the world; most of us are connected by birth to the shamanic realm.

Although I'm an orthodox Christian, my Christianity has necessarily been tinted by my experiences as a Therian. I used to hear about "pagan Christianity" a lot and I couldn't figure out what they were talking about - isn't Christianity and paganism exclusive categories? I have come to realize that paganism refers to a close connection to the Earth and, therefore, pagan Christianity has come to mean quite a lot to me.

Chris Balow said...

Nuku, I would say a person is always responsible for their actions, whether or not those actions are motivated by the real or imagined orders of a higher being. What I'm driving at is the question of motivation itself. Whether a person is motivated by the dictates of a higher being or the dictates of their own human desires doesn't change their level of responsibility—the choice in motivation was theirs alone, and so the consequences of that choice would be as well.

Janet, thank you for sharing your experiences. As I age, I am seeing things in much the same way. It doesn't seem possible, or even desirable, to be given constant, explicit guidance from the divine. But can one ask it for a destination, for a goal?

JMG, admittedly, the latter. Or rather, I've heard tales of those human settlements from other wolves, without ever having seen one myself. Clearly, the next step is to leave the den, though I don't know how.

Derv said...


Given that Picketty advocates direct action by the state to take and redistribute wealth based solely upon the fact that people are wealthy, and uses his economic theory to justify this as an inevitability, and directly endorses the socialist party in France, it's not exactly a stretch to say he's a socialist. He's a socialist.

As for this: "Neoplatonism was "essentially the Catholic mode of thinking from Augustine to Acquinas" ??? If you say so, but I believe I read that Augustine did not read or speak Greek and Acquinas was famously influenced by Aristotle, "The Philosopher" in the Summna."

I said from Augustine to Aquinas. Aquinas upset the apple cart and changed the mode of thinking. Christianized neoplatonic thought was hugely influential from the post-Nicene Fathers all the way until the 13th century, after which it gradually waned. Any Church historian will tell you the same, as it's quite undisputed. Aquinas (and Albert Magnus before him) were the first in the West to get proper translations of Aristotle from the East and use it to create a new system of thought, the Aristotlean Scholastics. That became the dominant mode of thinking in the Catholic Church afterward.

Vicky K said...

I have always thought of the Platonic 'Ideals' behind the manifested world to be a disguised way of stating that the manifested world is somehow defective and there MUST be some more perfect form or forms that is the original model. Not a philosophy that resonates with me.

From what you have been saying I have to assume that this is an incorrect interpretation of Platonism.

Since you very pointedly mention that it is the experience of this truth rather than the belief in it that is what is important, then this makes me think that the experience that you might be referring to may be what some eastern religions might call enlightenment or awakening; or even how a civilized person might experience the original religion of humans-animism.

So far, none of the commentators has relayed an experience that makes me prick up my ears and say- ah, that! Notwithstanding the translation issue of expressing what so many call the ineffable and inexpressible, I am aware of several characteristics experienced by some 'realizers' that can be spoken of.

One of which is 'it isn't like what you might imagine it is'.

So my question is: Is Platonism [not theory, but direct experience] a civilized version of Animism?

I am having a hard time keeping the two blogs separate in my mind. But am enjoying the psychic tension.

magicalthyme said...

Grebulocities, the best antidote to despair is action. Any action. Get up off that couch and take one small step. The rest will follow. (She wrote from her bed!)

magicalthyme said...

Grebulocities, I'm reading from the bottom up. I am so sorry for your loss. Be kind and gentle with yourself.

AlanfromBigEasy said...

At age 12, a military student of my father (a university professor) gave me a copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Apparently, I stood out as a kid - I got several books as gifts from adults when growing up.

But I have found the purpose of life more in doing and living than in philosophy. And caring for the well being of others, broadly defined, can be an organizing principle with which to organize a meaningful life around.

It is the largest part, but not the only part, in why I live.

Oddly enough, solving complex puzzles within the reality that we live, gives me inordinate pleasure and satisfaction as well.

My goal is a difficult one, to live a fulfilled life. Fulfillment, in the broadest sense, is rare among us humans.

The funeral I recently attended was for a fulfilled man.

Myriad said...

One thing that strikes me is how well the trichotomy of approaches could apply to another area where cold hard reality gets in the way of our current mythic ideals: elder care, end of life care, care of the permanently developmentally disabled, and other care-giving situations where progress narratives (e.g. "recovery" or "improved quality of life") don't apply. Western industrial society has never been able to come to grips with this at all. If anything, it's steadily lost ground during those centuries. No one, least of all the people who do it for a living, thinks that we do elder care, end-of-life care, or long-term disability care well.

One of my sisters, who left medical practice (for reasons that no regular reader here would find surprising) and took up medical ethics, is working on a book (with colleagues and a publisher lined up) about this topic, examining where the abysmal results might be traceable to wrong (but cherished) underlying assumptions. It is based partly on her experiences with our developmentally disabled brother (my twin) and the various people involved in his care over the decades.

To wit: most care-giving now takes place on a "customer service" model, where the care-giver is expected to adhere to a set of rules for ethical conduct and patient rights, without emotional commitment or emotional claim. Nor is the care-giver expected to derive any benefit from this service, other than market-value compensation for doing the necessary labor.

Overall, this situation might seem to resemble applied stoicism, where following the ethics and patient-rights rules represents doing what's right at the cost of all else, except that those rules are imposed from outside, like other industrial workplace rules, not from any coherent philosophy or belief system actually held by the care-givers.

One interesting indicator of the fundamental problem there is to imagine a typical care-giver faced with the idea, however hypothetical, of exchanging places with one of the people they care for. Most would find it horrifying, to the point of being a suitable premise for a horror movie. It doesn't have to be that way, but between the institutional awfulness and the able-server versus needy-served polarity, it's awfully hard to get people to see that.

While there are plenty of care-givers who feel a higher calling toward that work, in most case they are still expected to toe that very hard line of detachment and polarity between server and served that dehumanizes both. Many of them seem to end up convinced that that really is an appropriate way to carry out that calling, but most still find it less fulfilling than they had hoped.

The exceptions manage to find better and more rewarding ways, usually by working at least partly outside the established systems, either through family or religious community connections. A balance of all three approaches to getting along with life are in evidence in those cases, but usually with some one of the three emphasized above the others. The divine order can lead or follow, but it always seems to work in somehow. Some people, like the Brothers of Charity (a relatively recent but traditionally poverty-chastity-obedience-pledged Christian order) who run the home my brother lives in most of the time, start out from that perspective. Others, like myself, find it eventually in the negative space of the search for purpose in such efforts, when all the easy answers (the things he'll contribute to society, the genetic legacy he'll carry on) don't apply.

Myriad said...

Perhaps I shouldn't point out that the three approaches outlined could also work as approaches for living complacently within our metaphorical Hagsgate. The Stoic, for example, might resolve to fight to preserve BAU or die trying, the Epicurean might say something like, "You can't live life braced for impact...," and those whose experiences of the divine reality convinces them that the trials of the visible world are irrelevant (admittedly, a small minority) could have a case; who's to say?

(That's not a confession of my actually being primarily Epicurean in outlook, or complacent. But that is part of the balance I've been looking for. Does anyone else remember that old Lunar Lander computer game where, if you slow down too much too soon, you run out of fuel and free-fall the rest of the way, and if you don't slow down enough soon enough, you build up too much velocity to overcome? Hard landing either way.)

Janet D said...

Chris Barlow said, "But can one ask it for a destination, for a goal?"

Of course you can. However, in my experience (which I fully recognize is just mine), I found out that finding my destination WAS my destination. In other words, if you don't know what to do, and no 'higher orders' are arriving, perhaps your "assignment" is to figure out what you need to do and who you need to be. In my case, figuring those things out took more than a decade (hardly what you want to hear, I'm sure). Reading The Search For God books, which were taken from the readings of renowned psychic Edgar Cayce, also helped me a lot.

I don't want to hijack this thread any further, so I'll just end with a quote from the fab poet Rainier Maria Rilke, "“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Best of luck.

Janet D said...

Oops, missed that Stacey had already posted the Rilke quote. Must be a Rilke night. Sorry for the repeat.

Grebulocities, ouch. Condolences. In response to MagicalThyme's statement of "Grebulocities, the best antidote to despair is action. Any action."....I always remember the famous (or not so much) Zen quote:

"Don't just do something. Stand there!"


I now return you to your regularly scheduled AD Report.

Violet Cabra said...

Personally, I love it when you wear your archbishop hat! After reading this essay I placed library holds on Marcus Aurelius' Meditations and Plato's Zeno and Protagoras.

For the past little while I've been wrestling with the core concepts of magic as you define them. This is surprisingly difficult for me as I have fairly extensive background in New Age thought. In certain ways it seems to me that in many ways New Age spirituality is rather shallow and shoddy compared to older magical traditions.

The definition for magic you give is: "changing consciousness in accordance with will"

It appears to me that the philosophies that you shared all have a deeply magical foundation. Epicurean philosophy changes consciousness to focus on what is pleasurable, Stoic philosophy changed consciousness to focus on doing what is right and Platonic philosophy changes consciousness to focus on directly experiencing a higher metaphysical order.

You've mentioned that all religions are closely allied with magical traditions. I'm curious do religions typically have different flavors of magic? is their an Epicurean, Stoic and Platonic Christian magic tradition, Epicurian, Stoic and Platonic Buddhist magic tradition etc ?

I ask because it seems that these three approaches are almost irreducible techniques for dealing with life. I think that they would pop up and every religious tradition.

One last question: if magic is "changing consciousness in accordance with will" what is the word/practice for "acting in the world in accordance with conscious will"? Do actions naturally follow consciousness memetically (you imitate what you contemplate)? Or is these a different route (or possible) altogether for interface of will and action?

Elm said...

Recognizing that this comment might have been more directly topical two or three posts ago, I'm putting it here to (hopefully) increase the chances of you actually running across it, in the belief that it is sufficiently relevant to your general current topic so as to not be completely inappropriate.

Taken as given that you are broadly correct about the course of history over the next few hundred years, there are obviously some things that one can do (as you have previously discussed in depth) to prepare one's self and family for that - moving one's style of living to a less resource intensive level before one has to, cultivation of skills and knowledge likely to remain relevant in a "dark age", and so on and so forth.

One thing you have not discussed, to my recollection, however is the question of what one might do to give one's descendants a century or so down the line some tangible benefit from the fact that their ancestors lived in a time of material abundance, and had the foresight to see that that time was coming to an end.

To put the question more directly, setting aside books, if you could pack a small cedar chest with durable goods that are readily available now, but that you expected would be both useful and comparatively much more difficult for the average person to obtain a hundred years hence, what would you give them?

My wife and I have been tossing this around as an intellectual exercise, and most of our ideas have centered around metal and glass items that are producible and useful (but historically very expensive) in a lower technology setting - things such as spyglasses, magnifying glasses, mirror-lit microscopes, mechanical clocks, high-grade steel knife blades, etc.

Any thoughts?

Bill Pulliam said...

onething -- I wouldn't put much stock in Baillie's comet theories. His ideas (which were published before the turn of the century, not new) to me are just another attempt to demonstrate that the empires were the innocent victims of cosmic forces beyond their control; their downfalls had nothing to do with their own actions. It's also just one on a long line of theories to "explain" gods, mythology, etc. as the ignorant misinterpretations of purely physical phenomena that we now with our superior minds and knowledge can understand with the actual truth of science, no need for all those silly superstitions.

John Michael Greer said...

Ramaraj, that's an interesting question; I'd have to review the history of earlier civilizations to see if other examples of the species got obsessive about language as they approached their terminal declines. Still, I agree wholeheartedly about the value of reading older works -- most of my favorite authors are long dead.

Onething, there's the comet theory and also a volcano theory -- there was a big eruption in the islands south and east of Asia around that time, too. The thing I'd point out is that natural disasters, even fairly large ones, happen tolerably often, and people usually dig themselves out and go on with life. It's when a civilization is in deep trouble that any crisis -- for example, a natural disaster -- can push it over the edge once and for all.

JMG, Lewis is always worth reading, but I was up on the flash traders quite a while ago. I should write something one of these days on the emergence of parasitism as an economic category in failing societies.

Onething, excellent -- you get today's gold star for a solid historical comparison. You're right, of course, and that happens quite regularly when the rulers of a failing empire try to extend their power further than it will go. The ability to disrupt other power centers does not equal the ability to replace those other power centers...

Also, I'm very sorry to hear about the loss of your son. That's got to have been shattering.

NR-Cole, excellent! It's a disorienting experience to step outside a popular mythology once and for all, and see just how bizarre thinking based on the myth actually is. Now of course all our thinking is based on one narrative or another, and so has a certain bizarrerie, but some narratives make more sense of the world we're experiencing than others do.

Stacey, Rilke was very much part of the third current, and had a first-rate working knowledge of the traditional Western sources of that current. A quote from him is always welcome here.

Wolf, hoping and wishing aren't going to preserve printing technology -- someone, or more likely a number of someones, are going to have to make it their job to keep it alive and pass it on to others. That may not be your job, but I hope you'll choose something to preserve. As for Pagan Christianity, you're not alone -- there are quite a few people in the Druid scene, for example, who are moving toward that sort of synthesis.

Chris, "leaving the den" is simply a matter of regular practice of certain common spiritual disciplines -- but that's a subject for my other blog, really.

Vicky, that depends entirely on what you mean by that much-debated and much-abused word "animism." (The theory that animism was the original religion of our species, by the way, is wholly speculative -- we simply don't know.)

Alan, a great deal depends on how you define that equally difficult word "fulfillment."

Rick Wolff said...

Dear JMG,

I just had to write to say 'Thank You'!

Not only do I eagerly anticipate each weeks blog, but I have come to truly appreciate what a wonderful community you have established here. I find myself frequently interrupting my wife's reading to share something out loud. Just now I emailed my daughter (who is a veterinarian who loves Dairy cows) a wonderful couple lines from one of the commenters (Thank you @Les for this gem: At 6:30am, in the middle of a freezing cold paddock, with my head buried in the side of a fractious cow who seems to only want to kick over my nearly full bucket of milk, I wouldn’t want life any other way.

Who’da thunk it? I stopped trying to be happy and found myself knee deep in it. Or is that cow dung? )

This blog and its community has become an important and greatly appreciated part of my life. Again, Thank you.

John Michael Greer said...

Myriad, if a philosophy's valid, it should apply to any of life's situations, including that of caring for those who need care. Your comment about asking caregivers if they could handle switching places, btw, is brilliant -- if not, as you've suggested, there's something profoundly wrong with the care they're giving!

As for the applicability of the same three philosophical sensibilities to living complacently, yes, you should certainly mention that. Having one or another philosophy doesn't give you privileged access to what's actually happening -- they're ways of responding to your experience of the world. The recognition that industrial society is on its way out history's exit door comes first -- or doesn't -- and philosophy is how you deal with that -- or don't. Philosophy can't give you the recognition.

Violet, it would take me at least one book's worth of writing to propose an answer to that set of questions! My experience, for what it's worth, is that the New Age equivalent of magic isn't so much shallow and shoddy as crippled by an insufficiently rich sense of the nature of consciousness and its interaction with the objects of its perception. The limitations of the underlying philosophy mean that, first, New Age methods aren't as effective at causing change as more traditional magical approaches, and second -- and much more damaging -- New Age practitioners are taught not to be aware of the limitations of their methods, so have a lot of trouble adjusting to those limits! As for the rest -- well, we'll be getting to most of that over on Well of Galabes.

Elm, give your descendants a fish and they eat for a day; teach them to fish and they'll eat for a lifetime. Which is to say, I'm far from convinced that passing on a trunk full of stuff is a useful project -- but of course your mileage may vary.

Shane Wilson said...

@JMG, Bill
There's a recurring thread that's come up, which I can best describe as engagement vs. disengagement with the community at large. I was wondering if you could do a post or series of posts on your thoughts on what's adaptive/maladaptive regarding community engagement during times of collapse or extreme social dysfunction. I know you've discussed the importance of fraternal organizations like the Masons and Odd Fellows, disconnecting from pop culture, and the dysfunction on mainstream culture, but I didn't know if you had a coherent theory on what and how to engage with the culture at large that we are immersed in. I tend towards a cloister/detach approach, but maybe this is not the best approach. Do you have clear ideas about what makes you a sitting duck/target vs. a survivor during collapse? What are your thoughts about what should be avoided and what should be cultivated regarding the community at large?

Shane Wilson said...

I'm sure we'll have lots of hard questions regarding extended care as the descent proceeds. We simply won't have the energy to expend on non productive people, and my guess is that extended care for elders and the disabled will contract. Considering that the predicament we're in has been exacerbated by the boomers and the silent generation's bad decisions, I can't see the millennials or following generations going out of their way o spend scarce resources post U.S. collapse on elder care. We may see the greatest neglect yet of elders.

wolfvanzandt said...

Stacey and Janet, I really like the Rilke quote. Thanks.

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

Ray gave us this link earlier:

.. and I was struck by this sentence:

"In Miami, Chinese buyers go for newly built, high-end waterfront buildings, where they can easily find renters at attractive yields."

Oops, I guess they didn't read this:

mr_geronimo said...

What I like most here is how many references, the bibiliography that both the Archdruid and the readers sugest. Thanks to this blog I looked for many books I would never cared to read. Even if I disagreed with everything said here (and I don't, there is wisdom here) I would keep coming back.

So, thanks, citzens.

exiledbear said...

hoping and wishing aren't going to preserve printing technology -- someone, or more likely a number of someones, are going to have to make it their job to keep it alive and pass it on to others

Ironically, the NSA is motivating that all by their cute little selves. The Russians have switched back to typewriters for security sensitive applications and the Germans are following suit. The two remaining German typewriter manufacturers have doubled their sales this year, as I understand it.

I suppose next they'll be using mimeograph machinery. Feel the '70s.

I guess you could say something about duality and unforeseen consequences. And maybe something about how everything unfolds as it should. And maybe disco. I dunno.

John Michael Greer said...

Rick, thank you!

Shane, that's a huge question. I'll consider a post, or possibly a series of posts, on the subject.

1ab, I wouldn't recommend investing in any property close to sea level just now. More on this soon.

Mr. Geronimo, no argument there -- I get some of my best book recommendations from my blog readers.

Bear, fascinating. I wonder if anyone still manufactures mimeograph equipment, or any of the other pre-digital copying machines. (Those go back a long ways; in the 1890s, students of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn got their knowledge lectures copied for them using a device called a cyclostyle.) But I draw the line at disco; that was bad enough the first time around!

Elm said...

JMG - I think it's a bad analogy to make this a choice between giving someone a fish or teaching them to fish. A more apt comparison would be the difference between teaching someone to fish, or teaching them to fish and also endeavoring to make sure they have the means to make a fishing pole with which to ply the skill in question.

If we accept as a premise that what we should expect over the next few hundred years is a "dark age" followed by the rise of a civilization that might have very different beliefs and values, but will inevitably (absent some radical reconfiguration of what constitutes a human being) have many of the same basic practical problems to solve, why not pass down some tools to go with the know how?

To put it another way, the monasteries of the middle ages were able to preserve some of the intellectual legacy of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and this ultimately proved to be of great benefit to their successor civilizations (as did the artifacts of Rome such as aqueducts, bridges, and roads, that survived).

If we are looking at a situation that seems to be taking on similar contours - why not take steps, even on a small scale, to bequeath some things to the future?

DaShui said...

Just n time for the next step down!

Mad Max Fury Road

If u notice the first two(r) movies came out of the 70s oil crisis.
The 3rd movie (pg) was much more light hearted during Reagan's morning in America period.
Now it looks like it's back to the original gritty style.

markbc said...

Thanks for all of this wonderful insight. The main thought that crosses my mind is that 80% of the US population identifies themself as Christian, so I question how deep the "religion of progress" is entrenched as a dominant theme guiding peoples' belief structures.

What I see predominantly in the alternative blogosphere, amongst those who understand that the economic future we face is catastrophic, is that the reason we are declining is because people are moving away from God and increasingly sinning (even though the statistics don't support this alleged movement away from God). Any mention of peak oil or other resource limits is usually relegated to a sidebar.

People don't and won't see this inevitable degradation of society as a symptom of resource limits and overpopulation (as all previous empires experienced), because that would force many to accept principles that they have always rejected -- that we are fully supported by and dependent on the natural world and its laws that don't revolve around humanity.

I don't see how a rational understanding of peak oil and resource limits is going to mean much to anyone as society declines, especially as the inevitable diversionary wars break out. Overpopulation will be the last thing on most people's radar screen, but they will of course be fully focused on its symptoms, laying blame everywhere except where it belongs, and even more fanatically latching on to promises of afterlife redemption as a way out of the miserable reality we have created ourselves as a result of not accepting and acting upon those natural laws.

Especially since "this time it will be different", as in, much worse than previous empire declines, simply due to the scale of the West's gluttonous excesses, and the fact that we have so totally filled up the planet's productive capacity, and much of that capacity depends on delicate just-in-time efficiencies and fancy technology requiring a highly complex and ordered society in order to be realized -- more so now that at any other time. Furthermore, we have no new energy technology offering up greater opportunities than what the former energy sources did, in contrast to what we enjoyed through most of history.

Therefore, the drop we can expect between the artificial production gains we enjoy today and the base production that will be supporting us in the future (and that supports all other animals, from which we are no different) will be greater than in any previous instance of civilization decline. Basically, we've climbed higher than ever before, it is almost entirely unsustainable, and therefore the fall will be greater than ever before. Those concerning themselves with the topics discussed here will be a very minor portion of the population, as they are now.

Lance M. Foster said...

My Native American people combined all three approaches. The missionaries said, we endure suffering and hunger tranquilly (Stoic), but when there is food we feast and enjoy it extremely (Epicureanism). And our recognition of the reality behind it all is summed up in our theology as Wakanda, That-Which-Is-Beyond-Our-Understanding, the Great Mystery, and we sought to encounter it in our vision quests and ceremonies.

The saying, "It is a Good Day to Die," wasn't a death wish, it was a recognition of the perfection of the present moment, and the fact that since all the good things of life are right here, right in this moment, it was as good a day as any other to meet one's end.

By the way, this is going around, a recognition by a witchcraft tradition about the collapse of society and nature.

Lance M. Foster said...

To those in love with the natural world and the living land where they find themselves, one approach is that of bioregional animism.

The thing I like about bioregional animism is that it focuses on one's own animals, plants, weather, etc. instead of those Celtic and other sites that used a "wheel of the year" and sacred trees and herbalism that has little or nothing to do with most bioregions in the U.S. ...In addition, animism doesn't say you have to worship a particular god/goddess, nor does it say you have to switch from the religion you already practice. Nor does it say you have to have any god or religion at all. It's just a matter of knowing and respecting your own ecosystem, and relating to other parts of the ecosystem like they are thinking and feeling creatures just like you!

How do you do it? DO you do it? How do you help someone grok (understand/see/get/comprehend/feel) bioregional animism? (such a word)
You don't really need to "do" anything. It's the Land that does it. Through talk, through good feelings, even through terror.
Ask questions when you are walking around with them in the outdoors away from "people stuff."
Ask, you talk to your dog right? Your dog is alive. How about a cat? Did you ever talk to a bird? What happened?
Did you ever see any faces in clouds? In rocks? In the leaves of trees?
Do you hear music and voices in the water? In the wind?
Did you ever go to a place that made you feel so relaxed and happy you just wanted to lay down and nap?
Did you ever go to a place that made you feel so uncomfortable, even scared, you got out of there right away?
Did you ever feel so connected to a place you felt moved to pour a little beer/water/etc on the ground, or leave some of your picnic lunch for the birds and animals?
It's already in us. The Land does the work. Don't tell anyone. Ask them what they hear, what they see, what they feel. WHEN the time is right.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Ellen,

Thank you for your thoughts and best wishes.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Shane,

Your quote: "We may see the greatest neglect yet of elders."

I'm confused by your statement. Over the past few years I have noted several examples from people close to myself of the current health system medicating older patients for pneumonia, when it would otherwise probably have been terminal. This in turn allows those same elders to recover and then promptly die over an extended period of time - often whilst hospitalised for long periods of time - of other complicating illnesses.

I'm really unsure as to whether I would describe that as care.



Cherokee Organics said...


Thank you for sharing more of your personal journey. I am genuinely sorry for you loss.

You've displayed remarkable strength of character in the face of adversity and I respect that.

No need to reply.



Glenn said...

Regarding sea level rise.

Today's Tom Dispatch essay has parts that seem relevant. The entire article is pretty good too.

Going crabbing with our daughter in her rowboat after breakfast. Four yesterday, which we shared with my brother and our neighbors.


In the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea
Turtle Island

Phitio said...

The Near Death Experiences, I have found, describe a reality that is pretty much compatible with the Neo-platonic philosophy.

It seems that million of people have had a NDE. About 5% of population report having had one.

From my point of view,considering that such experiences have a real, strong and enduring impact on the life of people having NDE, is by fact real.

The NDE literature teaches that there is indeed a reason, a purpose in living and in the life itself. More, it teaches that there is only life, death does not exist.
And, also, that we have to live and act, we have to fulfill our purpose. No miracles are needed. We simply have to do our best in the time we live.


sgage said...

@ Phitio,

"And, also, that we have to live and act, we have to fulfill our purpose. No miracles are needed. We simply have to do our best in the time we live."

I guess I'm really not sure why it takes a NDE, or for that matter, the ruminations of ancient Greek chappies, to figure this out. ;-)

Anne Patterson said...

I think the whole philosophical under-pinning of our individual and collective response to the decline of our civilization is a much neglected topic in the Peak Oil literature, which is a very significant omission. Having a philosophical view and spiritual practice which incorporates elements of all 3 schools that you mention, from over 20 years study & practice of various forms of Paganism & magical work and Tibetan Buddhism, in particular Tantra and Dzogchen, has lead to a fundamental re-ordering of my personal world view and how I respond to and deal with what the apparent world presents to me, which is standing me in good stead as we start down the long descent. One of the practices I do includes a commitment to 'go beyond hope and fear' ie not to get sucked into either craving or aversion. Wanting what we can't have and not wanting what we do have are and always have been the cause of suffering. As a practitioner I have the intention to work towards freeing myself and all other sentient beings from suffering. There are many teachers from the past and present who point the way to how this can be done. This as much as knowledge of practical skills is important for our future.

Auriel Ragmon said...

Just noticed, Mr. Greer, that you had a very favorable mention by Ellen Brown in a Truthout article.
Thought you might appreciate this!
Jim Morgan

Auriel Ragmon said...

markbc 7/27/14, 3:27 PM

As to monasteries preserving some of the artifacts of previous civilizations, well there are monasteries right now (mostly Catholic) who are doing just that.
Also a few Eastern orthodox communities. So there might be some hope there. And some are farmers and sheepherders and textile workers. In the next downturn, who will be making cloth?
Jim of olym

Myriad said...

@ Shane,

Absolutely. The way (and pace) things seem to be going, I'm assuming I cannot depend on receiving such care myself.

However, this also seems to be one of those cases (education may be another) where most of the money being spent isn't actually obtaining much of real value. Things could get really bad if the current system with its current warped values remains in force and just deteriorates in quality, but if the system breaks down enough to force different approaches, it might not be so bad.

Auriel Ragmon said...

Dear Anne (just above) and others:
remember that all of the vibrant spiritual traditions we have inherited, were found or invented long before the age of cheap oil.
I think they might even endure after this age has passed. Start making your own paper from linen rags, save your cow and sheep skins. they might be needed some day.
Jim of Olym

onething said...

Bill and JMG,

I don't think empires do not participate in their own downfall, but natural disasters, especially if they are really huge ones, could be an important part of the picture. The event of 540 is not just Braille's theory. As I said, I've read about it before. If the trees stopped growing for a couple of years, what happened to crops?

Meanwhile, the Emperor Justinian engaged in a truly large number of wars and some massacres.

As to the ancients ascribing godhood to stars and comets, that is actually a lot more rational than simply making them up out of whole cloth, which is the mainstream opinion of what they did.
I'll have to look into this some more, as I think there's really quite a bit of evidence of disasters changing the fate of civilizations. And of course when you have a large population and a complex society, a natural disaster is going to impact it more than smaller and simpler communities.

Redneck Girl said...

Elm said...

JMG - I think it's a bad analogy to make this a choice between giving someone a fish or teaching them to fish. A more apt comparison would be the difference between teaching someone to fish, or teaching them to fish and also endeavoring to make sure they have the means to make a fishing pole with which to ply the skill in question.

@ Elm, there's more than one way to fish! You don't necessarily need a pole and bait! 1) There's a variety of fish traps, some portable and some just stakes pounded into the bed of the water course to funnel fish into a holding pen. 2) There are trot lines, a main line stretched across the creek with baited hooks dangling in the water. (Just look out for smart ravens or crows stealing your bait!) 3) Spear fishing and you don't have to dive into the ocean to do that! 4) You can also fish with a bow and arrows! It all depends on your fishing 'philosophy'!

Lance M. Foster said...

My Native American people combined all three approaches. The missionaries said, we endure suffering and hunger tranquilly (Stoic), but when there is food we feast and enjoy it extremely (Epicureanism). And our recognition of the reality behind it all is summed up in our theology as Wakanda, That-Which-Is-Beyond-Our-Understanding, the Great Mystery, and we sought to encounter it in our vision quests and ceremonies.

The saying, "It is a Good Day to Die," wasn't a death wish, it was a recognition of the perfection of the present moment, and the fact that since all the good things of life are right here, right in this moment, it was as good a day as any other to meet one's end.

By the way, this is going around, a recognition by a witchcraft tradition about the collapse of society and nature.

I am not officially a tribal member Lance and not of your tribe but I show my heritage in my face and skin color. My tribal ancestry is forest and swamp, eastern Indian, the Tsalagi, first to walk The Trail of Tears. This is for you and I think you'll agree, with JMG's permission of course.

This is

Ancient Order

I walk the world both predator and prey

It is my Mother's ancient way

The wild grass bends beneath my feet

I breath the wind so wild and sweet

I am the eagle soaring high

My strong wings stroke an endless sky

The wild trout darting in the stream

My silver sides in sunlight gleams

A buffalo bull at break of day

The one who holds the pack at bay

The hunting cat where night holds sway

The wind, the earth, the ancient way

And it might all be gone one day

My ancient Mother how I pray

When all is lost don't make me stay.

I wrote this more than twenty years ago. My feelings haven't changed since then.


Zach said...

Well said.


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lance. Your comment is mildly freaking me out, because I'd recently formed a similar idea.

Well done. Chris

Bill Pulliam said...

Onething - I notice that you assume the gods were "made up," one way or another. That's actually not the majority opinion among global humanity.

exiledbear said...

I wonder if anyone still manufactures mimeograph equipment, or any of the other pre-digital copying machines

As I understand it, there are a handful left. Their remaining market is mainly the developing world, where electricity is scarce, and production volume requirements are low.

That was pre-Snowden anyway. It wouldn't surprise me if the spook agencies of Russia and Germany aren't making discreet inquiries for quotes on new mimeograph machinery to go along with their brand new typewriters though.

Brings back another discussion I had on another forum about things to keep mothballed in a shed somewhere, they were talking about putting computers in metal trashcans serving as faraday cages to protect them against EMP blasts.

I replied that without an internet to go along with the computer, the computer itself would be pretty useless. You'd probably do better stocking the can with discreet electronic components (resistors,capacitors,basic ICs,voltage regulators,BJTs,*FETs,etc), a soldering iron, some solder and a basic multimeter than your would a computer. Or at the most, stash a few arduinos in there and an old laptop to program them. The laptop can run off a car battery if it needs to. So can the arduinos.

If it's a collapse scenario, you're more likely to want to build/repair/replace something to regulate the voltage from a wind generator than you are to need a computer.

Or build a radio. Or any number of analog early 20th c devices.

Roille Figners said...

"There is no brighter future"


"Right now is the brightest."

Which you can take to support either an epicurean ("Hey, life is grander now than it will ever be") or stoic ("Quit crying, get off your arse and take advantage of the opportunity") viewpoint.

Shane Wilson said...

Regarding aging,
I wasn't particularly thinking of extraordinary means of keeping people alive so much as the day to day care required of people with non-fatal conditions, like dementia. Traditionally, as people aged, they grew in wisdom, and the aged were revered in kind. So caring for the aged was not a problem, if someone had built up good karma and lived a good life and cultivated relationships with family and community. The wisdom and skill was well worth it to the family or community. Contrast that with today's boomers and silent generation, who have aged, but not matured, who have sold out and neglected their children and grandchildren (spoiling and cultivating dependence can also be considered neglect), and have not cultivated that karma among their family and community. They're depending on their wealth, that fictive paper that JMG has talked about, to maintain their quality of life in old age. They'd better hope that the financial collapse doesn't wipe out their wealth prematurely, or they'll be coming, cap in hand, to those children and grandchildren they sold out, and they'll be coming as aged children themselves, without the wisdom and knowledge previous generations had at their age.

moellien said...

Dear JMG,

Thank you so much for this post. Even if I've never commented it before, I'm a reader of this blog for now several months and I really love what you've built with it.

I'm French and I happened to know your blog via It helped me (and still does) to feel less lonely in front of the terrible truth that our civilization is coming to an end. There are not a lot of PO blogs in France.

But I was fighting with my fears, my desperation confronted to my family's denial and I was wondering how I was supposed to not be driven crazy knowing by all that this community knows and all those never-ending questions.

Thank you for having given me the answers I needed so bad, answers that (as it often happens) I already knew, thanks to a wonderful philosophy teacher who taught me Greek philosophy in Uni a couple of years ago. This post kinda appeased me and it felt really good.

Thanks to that, I've chosen to leave behind some of my impossible dreams (make a career, whatever) and more importantly, to make the best of it and invent new simpler dreams. Right dreams. I hope it is for the best.

@ Redneck Girl : Very nice poem ! You achieved to convey a lot of things through it.

Lance M. Foster said...

Redneck Girl and Cherokee Organics, thanks, it's less lonely to know others are in the same mindset

Zach said...

I would like to second the recommendation of E. F. Schumacher's A Guide for the Perplexed as a good resource for those interested in philosophical matters.

I also recommend Peter Kreeft's lecture series from The Modern Scholar The Platonic Tradition.


siddrudge said...


Your attitude toward the killers of your precious son is beyond magnanimous – you are a rare and special person. And I've enjoyed all your most thoughtful and brilliant posts.


Thank you for that post on bioregional animism. Wonderful work! In the near future, your hands are the ones people will want to hold on to!

@Redneck Girl

Your "Ancient Order" gave me goosebumps! Thank you!

and to JMG and everyone else here, you might consider checking out W. Somerset Maugham's "A Summing Up"

Here's a relevant snippet from the book:

"The value of art, like the value of the Mystic Way, lies in its effects. If it can only give pleasure, however spiritual that pleasure may be, it is of no great consequence or at least of no more consequence than a dozen oysters and a pint of Montrachet. If it is a solace, that is well enough; the world is full of inevitable evils and it is good that man should have some hermitage to which from time to time he may withdraw himself; but not to escape them, rather to gather fresh strength to face them. For art, if it is to be reckoned as one of the great values of life, must teach men humility, tolerance, wisdom and magnanimity. The value of art is not beauty, but right action."

and I'll leave you with this from Jonathan Saffron Foer:

"Why didn't I learn to treat everything like it was the last time? My greatest regret was how much I believed in the future."

– Sidd

jyankowsky said...

your post is especially appropriate for me as, at the moment, I'm hunkered down with Pierre Hadot, Stoic spiritual exercises, and Gnosticism.

RPC said...

Shane Wilson said, " Traditionally, as people aged, they grew in wisdom, and the aged were revered in kind." Well, to use just the Jewish tradition, the fourth commandment states in full "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" and the prophet Sirach says, "My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins —a house raised in justice to you." This implies that caring for one's elders is an act of gratitude and of duty, not reverence for their wisdom, which may fail.

RPC said...

Oops - fifth commandment. I'd better hope my own children take their obligation seriously!

Unknown said...

Darn, I'm a week too late, so maybe you won't see this. Where do you write more about "those disciplines that bring such glimpses within reach, provide a perspective that makes sense of the texture of everyday experience as it is"?

Brian Cady said...

Re: Provisional Living
This seems at first an insightful category of misadaptation, but I fear that from within a provisional life, the perceived situation mirrors the first steps in delayed gratification for worthy goals. Is there any way from within provisional living to distiguish it from correctly planning ahead?
I imagine that one has to laboriously think things out again, and make one's estimation of how hopeful a future we'd best expect, then check this against the provisions one is making for future life. In such long trains of calculation we humans do not excel as individuals, so we tend to check our models of reality and the future against those around us, then toss the unpopular ones. This is what usually passes for a sanity check after an internal logic review (as best we can do this). But this can trap us in bubbles of mutual overoptimism, or overpessimism. Indeed, Ben Goertzel, in his _Chaotic Logic_, argues that, not only do we check, as individuals, for concordance of perception with those around us, but that within our minds, we check for concordance with other parts of our thinking. This leaves us vulnerable to internally-re-inforced misunderstandings of external reality at times, yet such is inevitable, given our need to internally check where something was, to compare with where it is, so that we can detect motion, and to check what we once decided to see if we've changed our minds. (I fear I badly explain the work, and haven't revealed the eloquence of his interesting book on 'paralogic', but maybe you or other readers will be intrigued enough to check it out anyway).