Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Butlerian Carnival

Over the last week or so, I’ve heard from a remarkable number of people who feel that a major crisis is in the offing. The people in question don’t know each other, many of them have even less contact with the mass media than I do, and the sense they’ve tried to express to me is inchoate enough that they’ve been left fumbling for words, but they all end up reaching for the same metaphors: that something in the air just now seems reminiscent of the American colonies in 1775, France in 1789, America in 1860, Europe in 1914, or the world in 1939: a sense of being poised on the brink of convulsive change, with the sound of gunfire and marching boots coming ever more clearly from the dimly seen abyss ahead.

It’s not an unreasonable feeling, all things considered. In Washington DC, Obama’s flunkies are beating the war drums over Ukraine, threatening to send shipments of allegedly “defensive” weapons to join the mercenaries and military advisors we’ve already not-so-covertly got over there. Russian officials have responded to American saber-rattling by stating flatly that a US decision to arm Kiev will be the signal for all-out war. The current Ukrainian regime, installed by a US-sponsored coup and backed by NATO, means to Russia precisely what a hostile Canadian government installed by a Chinese-sponsored coup and backed by the People’s Liberation Army would mean to the United States; if Obama’s trademark cluelessness leads him to ignore that far from minor point and decide that the Russians are bluffing, we could be facing a European war within weeks.

Head south and west from the fighting around Donetsk, and another flashpoint is heating up toward an explosion of its own just now. Yes, that would be Greece, where the new Syriza government has refused to back down from the promises that got it into office: promises that center on the rejection of the so-called “austerity” policies that have all but destroyed the Greek economy since they were imposed in 2009.  This shouldn’t be news to anyone; those same policies, though they’ve been praised to the skies by neoliberal economists for decades now as a guaranteed ticket to prosperity, have had precisely the opposite effect in every single country where they’ve been put in place.

Despite that track record of unbroken failure, the EU—in particular, Germany, which has benefited handsomely from the gutting of southern European economies—continues to insist that Greece must accept what amounts to a perpetual state of debt peonage. The Greek defense minister noted in response in a recent speech that if Europe isn’t willing to cut a deal, other nations might well do so. He’s quite correct; it’s probably a safe bet that cold-eyed men in Moscow and Beijing are busy right now figuring out how best to step through the window of opportunity the EU is flinging open for them. If they do so—well, I’ll leave it to my readers to consider how the US is likely to respond to the threat of Russian air and naval bases in Greece, which would be capable of projecting power anywhere in the eastern and central Mediterranean basin. Here again, war is a likely outcome; I hope that the Greek government is braced for an attempt at regime change.

That is to say, the decline and fall of industrial civilization is proceeding in the normal way, at pretty much the normal pace. The thermodynamic foundations tipped over into decline first, as stocks of cheap abundant fossil fuels depleted steadily and the gap had to be filled by costly and much less abundant replacements, driving down net energy; the economy went next, as more and more real wealth had to be pulled out of all other economic activities to keep the energy supply more or less steady, until demand destruction cut in and made that increasingly frantic effort moot; now a global political and military superstructure dependent on cheap abundant fossil fuels, and on the economic arrangement that all of that surplus energy made possible, is cracking at the seams.

One feature of times like these is that the number of people who can have an influence on the immediate outcome declines steadily as crisis approaches. In the years leading up to 1914, for example, a vast number of people contributed to the rising spiral of conflict between the aging British Empire and its German rival, but the closer war came, the narrower the circle of decision-makers became, until a handful of politicians in Germany, France, and Britain had the fate of Europe in their hands. A few more bad decisions, and the situation was no longer under anybody’s control; thereafter, the only option left was to let the juggernaut of the First World War roll mindlessly onward to its conclusion.

In the same way, as recently as the 1980s, many people in the United States and elsewhere had some influence on how the industrial age would end; unfortunately most of them backed politicians who cashed in the resources that could have built a better future on one last round of absurd extravagance, and a whole landscape of possibilities went by the boards. Step by step, as the United States backed itself further and further into a morass of short-term gimmicks with ghastly long-term consequences, the number of people who have had any influence on the trajectory we’re on has narrowed steadily, and as we approach what may turn out to be the defining crisis of our time, a handful of politicians in a handful of capitals are left to make the last decisions that can shape the situation in any way at all, before the tanks begin to roll and the fighter-bombers rise up from their runways.

Out here on the fringes of the collective conversation of our time, where archdruids lurk and heresies get uttered, the opportunity to shape events as they happen is a very rare thing. Our role, rather, is to set agendas for the future, to take ideas that are unthinkable in the mainstream today and prepare them for their future role as the conventional wisdom of eras that haven’t dawned yet. Every phrase on the lips of today’s practical men of affairs, after all, was once a crazy notion taken seriously only by the lunatic fringe—yes, that includes democracy, free-market capitalism, and all the other shibboleths of our age. 

With that in mind, while we wait to see whether today’s practical men of affairs stumble into war the way they did in 1914, I propose to shift gears and talk about something else—something that may seem whimsical, even pointless, in the light of the grim martial realities just discussed. It’s neither whimsical nor pointless, as it happens, but the implications may take a little while to dawn even on those of my readers who’ve been following the last few years of discussions most closely. Let’s begin with a handful of data points.

Item: Britain’s largest bookseller recently noted that sales of the Kindle e-book reader have dropped like a rock in recent months, while sales of old-fashioned printed books are up. Here in the more gizmocentric USA, e-books retain more of their erstwhile popularity, but the bloom is off the rose; among the young and hip, it’s not hard at all to find people who got rid of their book collections in a rush of enthusiasm when e-books came out, regretted the action after it was too late, and now are slowly restocking their bookshelves while their e-book readers collect cobwebs or, at best, find use as a convenience for travel and the like.

Item: more generally, a good many of the hottest new trends in popular culture aren’t new trends at all—they’re old trends revived, in many cases, by people who weren’t even alive to see them the first time around. Kurt B. Reighley’s lively guide The United States of Americana was the first, and remains the best, introduction to the phenomenon, one that embraces everything from burlesque shows and homebrewed bitters to backyard chickens and the revival of Victorian martial arts. One pervasive thread that runs through the wild diversity of this emerging subculture is the simple recognition that many of these older things are better, in straightforwardly measurable senses, than their shiny modern mass-marketed not-quite-equivalents.

Item: within that subculture, a small but steadily growing number of people have taken the principle to its logical extreme and adopted the lifestyles and furnishings of an earlier decade wholesale in their personal lives. The 1950s are a common target, and so far as I know, adopters of 1950s culture are the furthest along the process of turning into a community, but other decades are increasingly finding the same kind of welcome among those less than impressed by what today’s society has on offer. Meanwhile, the reenactment scene has expanded spectacularly in recent years from the standard hearty fare of Civil War regiments and the neo-medievalism of the Society for Creative Anachronism to embrace almost any historical period you care to name. These aren’t merely dress-up games; go to a buckskinner’s rendezvous or an outdoor SCA event, for example, and you’re as likely as not to see handspinners turning wool into yarn with drop spindles, a blacksmith or two laboring over a portable forge, and the like.

Other examples of the same broad phenomenon could be added to the list, but these will do for now. I’m well aware, of course, that most people—even most of my readers—will have dismissed the things just listed as bizarre personal eccentricities, right up there with the goldfish-swallowing and flagpole-sitting of an earlier era. I’d encourage those of my readers who had that reaction to stop, take a second look, and tease out the mental automatisms that make that dismissal so automatic a part of today’s conventional wisdom. Once that’s done, a third look might well be in order, because the phenomenon sketched out here marks a shift of immense importance for our future.

For well over two centuries now, since it first emerged as the crackpot belief system of a handful of intellectuals on the outer fringes of their culture, the modern ideology of progress has taken it as given that new things were by definition better than whatever they replaced.  That assumption stands at the heart of contemporary industrial civilization’s childlike trust in the irreversible cumulative march of progress toward a future among the stars. Finding ways to defend that belief even when it obviously wasn’t true—when the latest, shiniest products of progress turned out to be worse in every meaningful sense than the older products they elbowed out of the way—was among the great growth industries of the 20th century; even so, there were plenty of cases where progress really did seem to measure up to its billing. Given the steady increases of energy per capita in the world’s industrial nations over the last century or so, that was a predictable outcome.

The difficulty, of course, is that the number of cases where new things really are better than what they replace has been shrinking steadily in recent decades, while the number of cases where old products are quite simply better than their current equivalents—easier to use, more effective, more comfortable, less prone to break, less burdened with unwanted side effects and awkward features, and so on—has been steadily rising. Back behind the myth of progress, like the little man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, stand two unpalatable and usually unmentioned realities. The first is that profits, not progress, determines which products get marketed and which get roundfiled; the second is that making a cheaper, shoddier product and using advertising gimmicks to sell it anyway has been the standard marketing strategy across a vast range of American businesses for years now.

More generally, believers in progress used to take it for granted that progress would sooner or later bring about a world where everyone would live exciting, fulfilling lives brimfull of miracle products and marvelous experiences. You still hear that sort of talk from the faithful now and then these days, but it’s coming to sound a lot like all that talk about the glorious worker’s paradise of the future did right around the time the Iron Curtain came down for good. In both cases, the future that was promised didn’t have much in common with the one that actually showed up. The one we got doesn’t have some of the nastier features of the one the former Soviet Union and its satellites produced—well, not yet, at least—but the glorious consumer’s paradise described in such lavish terms a few decades back got lost on the way to the spaceport, and what we got instead was a bleak landscape of decaying infrastructure, abandoned factories, prostituted media, and steadily declining standards of living for everyone outside the narrowing circle of the privileged, with the remnants of our once-vital democratic institutions hanging above it all like rotting scarecrows silhouetted against a darkening sky.

In place of those exciting, fulfilling lives mentioned above, furthermore, we got the monotony and stress of long commutes, cubicle farms, and would-you-like-fries-with that for the slowly shrinking fraction of our population who can find a job at all. The Onion, with its usual flair for packaging unpalatable realities in the form of deadpan humor, nailed it a few days ago with a faux health-news article announcing that the best thing office workers could do for their health is stand up at their desk, leave the office, and never go back. Joke or not, it’s not bad advice; if you have a full-time job in today’s America, the average medieval peasant had a less stressful job environment and more days off than you do; he also kept a larger fraction of the product of his labor than you’ll ever see.

Then, of course, if you’re like most Americans, you’ll numb yourself once you get home by flopping down on the sofa and spending most of your remaining waking hours staring at little colored pictures on a glass screen. It’s remarkable how many people get confused about what this action really entails. They insist that they’re experiencing distant places, traveling in worlds of pure imagination, and so on through the whole litany of self-glorifying drivel the mass media likes to employ in its own praise. Let us please be real: when you watch a program about the Amazon rain forest, you’re not experiencing the Amazon rain forest; you’re experiencing colored pictures on a screen, and you’re only getting as much of the experience as fits through the narrow lens of a video camera and the even narrower filter of the production process. The difference between experiencing something and watching it on TV or the internet, that is to say, is precisely the same as the difference between making love and watching pornography; in each case, the latter is a very poor substitute for the real thing.

For most people in today’s America, in other words, the closest approach to the glorious consumer’s paradise of the future they can expect to get is eight hours a day, five days a week of mindless, monotonous work under the constant pressure of management efficiency experts, if they’re lucky enough to get a job at all, with anything up to a couple of additional hours commuting and any off-book hours the employer happens to choose to demand from them into the deal, in order to get a paycheck that buys a little less each month—inflation is under control, the government insists, but prices somehow keep going up—of products that get more cheaply made, more likely to be riddled with defects, and more likely to pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of their users, with every passing year. Then they can go home and numb their nervous systems with those little colored pictures on the screen, showing them bland little snippets of experiences they will never have, wedged in there between the advertising.

That’s the world that progress has made. That’s the shining future that resulted from all those centuries of scientific research and technological tinkering, all the genius and hard work and sacrifice that have gone into the project of progress. Of course there’s more to the consequences of progress than that; progress has saved quite a few children from infectious diseases, and laced the environment with so many toxic wastes that childhood cancer, all but unheard of in 1850, is a routine event today; it’s made impressive contributions to human welfare, while flooding the atmosphere with greenhouse gases that will soon make far more impressive contributions to human suffering and death—well, I could go on along these lines for quite a while. True believers in the ideology of perpetual progress like to insist that all the good things ought to be credited to progress while all the bad things ought to be blamed on something else, but that’s not so plausible an article of faith as it once was, and it bids fair to become a great deal less common as the downsides of progress become more and more difficult to ignore.

The data points I noted earlier in this week’s post, I’ve come to believe, are symptoms of that change, the first stirrings of wind that tell of the storm to come. People searching for a better way of living than the one our society offers these days are turning to the actual past, rather than to some imaginary future, in that quest. That’s the immense shift I mentioned earlier. What makes it even more momentous is that by and large, it’s not being done in the sort of grim Puritanical spirit of humorless renunciation that today’s popular culture expects from those who want something other than what the consumer economy has on offer. It’s being done, rather, in a spirit of celebration.

One of my readers responded to my post  two weeks ago on deliberate technological regress by suggesting that I was proposing a Butlerian jihad of sorts. (Those of my readers who don’t get the reference should pick up a copy of Frank Herbert’s iconic SF novel Dune and read it.) I demurred, for two reasons. First, the Butlerian jihad in Herbert’s novel was a revolt against computer technology, and I see no need for that; once the falling cost of human labor intersects the rising cost of energy and technology, and it becomes cheaper to hire file clerks and accountants than to maintain the gargantuan industrial machine that keeps computer technology available, computers will go away, or linger as a legacy technology for a narrowing range of special purposes until the hardware finally burns out.

The second reason, though, is the more important. I’m not a fan of jihads, or of holy wars of any flavor; history shows all too well that when you mix politics and violence with religion, any actual religious content vanishes away, leaving its castoff garments to cover the naked rule of force and fraud. If you want people to embrace a new way of looking at things, furthermore, violence, threats, and abusive language don’t work, and it’s even less effective to offer that new way as a ticket to virtuous misery, along the lines of the Puritanical spirit noted above. That’s why so much of the green-lifestyle propaganda of the last thirty years has done so little good—so much of it has been pitched as a way to suffer self-righteously for the good of Gaia, and while that approach appeals to a certain number of wannabe martyrs, that’s not a large enough fraction of the population to matter.

The people who are ditching their Kindles and savoring books as physical objects, brewing their own beer and resurrecting other old arts and crafts, reformatting their lives in the modes of a past decade, or spending their spare time reconnecting with the customs and technologies of an earlier time—these people aren’t doing any of those things out of some passion for self-denial. They’re doing them because these things bring them delights that the shoddy mass-produced lifestyles of the consumer economy can’t match. What these first stirrings suggest to me is that the way forward isn’t a Butlerian jihad, but a Butlerian carnival—a sensuous celebration of the living world outside the cubicle farms and the glass screens, which will inevitably draw most of its raw materials from eras, technologies, and customs of the past, which don’t require the extravagant energy and resource inputs that the modern consumer economy demands, and so will be better suited to a future defined by scarce energy and resources.

The Butlerian carnival isn’t the only way to approach the deliberate technological regression we need to carry out in the decades ahead, but it’s an important one. In upcoming posts, I’ll talk more about how this and other avenues to the same goal might be used to get through the mess immediately ahead, and start laying foundations for a future on the far side of the crises of our time.


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Paul Mineiro said...

The cult of futurism has self-evidently declined since it's heyday:

latheChuck said...

The most recent instance of unintended consequences of Progress comes from the field of anticholinergic medications, such as anti-histamines, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, and anti-insomnia drugs, in both prescription and over-the-counter formulations. Popular brand names are Benadryl, Xanax, Claritin, and Actifed... you can easily find others. This is from the U of California, San Francisco web page on frontotemporal dementia: "Medications with strong anticholinergic effects, such as antihistamines that cause drowsiness, are well known for causing acute cognitive impairment in individuals with dementia and may cause confusion and hallucinations."

Acute cognitive impairment, eh? Dementia? Do you see any of that in your neighborhood?

How about this headline, from "'Strongest Evidence Yet' Links Anticholinergic Drugs, Dementia"

Maybe a pill to stop the sniffles isn't such a good idea, after all. Maybe lying awake in bed, trying to figure out how to navigate through this turbulent world is part of a solution, rather than a problem to be medicated away.

But, then, haven't we always known that Prozac was not supportive of critical thinking, just as we always knew that inhaling tobacco smoke was not supportive of respiration? I sense a tipping point, where the link between medication and dementia becomes too commonplace to be newsworthy, yet somehow manages to be ignored by the majority of the population.

sgage said...

As far as I am concerned, this is your best ever essay. I am going to reread it a couple of times before making a more substantive comment.

Tom Hopkins said...

I find it very interesting that the atl-atl is seeing a resurgence. That 30k year old hunting system now has quite a following. From competitions in nevada(where there is a ancient pictograph of atl-atl wielding hunters)to actual bigger game hunting(wild pigs no less). The great thing about our time is that we have archaelogical records that go back millenia. We now have the opportunity to study what systems, customs, and arrangements would work best for each of us.

Kutamun said...

Yeah , seems the war is going rather badly for the U.S puppet government in Ukraine , with 10000 of their best troops encircled in a salient in the centre of the front slowly being reduced by Novorussian artillery fire from all sides . How many yanks are in there is anyones guess ...though i bet they wont be there when it falls . I have been following this on vineyardofthesaker.blogspot, fortruss.blogspot and novorussia today ...some amazing you tube videos ....
I love how they routinely refer to us as " the anglo zionist imperialists" ....
One Russian analyst suggested the anglo zionists ( us) are rehashing the old world war 2 tactic of the anglosphere ( as outlined in Engdahls " a century of war" ) . The theory goes that the US arms funds and fuels the nazis ( ukraine govt) ensures they are pitched into battle against russia with the aim of causing a lot of battle damage and international discredit to same ; at a certain point in the conflict support is withdrawn leaving the bemused neo nazi puppets twisting in the wind as they and their military are totally destroyed and the country descends into anarchy and chaos . In the aftermath , a power vaccuum in the destroyed country is filled by the anglo occupying force and a new , permanent front is established against the exhausted ( novo)russians for the next phase of the geopolitical war ..
Wouldnt mind betting this final front will run along the Dnieper river ...

I watched American Sniper the other day and really enjoyed its dispassionate representation of the Iraq war ...Clint Eastwood seems to not give a hoot for ideology and simply faithfully reports whatever it is that he is currently observing in the life of the american nation , leaving it up to the viewer to flesh out any moral meaning for himself . Above all i felt a sense of tragedy for the pathos of the entire senseless slaughter , and an admiration for the bravery of the fighting men of both sides . It was amazing how Clint showed the war seeping back into everyday american life , its darkness permeating the sunlit spaces of the american suburban dream , a subject we gave touched on here many times as the war is a place that exists in the hearts of the millions of vets , wherever they may be . " a thought is a thing and a mood is a place ". Wondered what it would be like to sit down over a beer and discuss the energy situation with the vets , pointing out americas twenty million barrel a day habit and ; would this help them put things in persepective ??

I like your butlerian jihad meme ..the retreat into archaism as Toynbee said wasnt it ? huddling in the corner playing with grandmas things , works for me . Saw an article about our own greeny bard John Butler here in Oz who is famous for lamenting the demise of the planet . It said he hasnt been home for a year as he has been jetting all over the planet to various concerts on tour , but since buying his little organic farm he is feeling incredibly grounded ! , seriously , waht does that tell the young people !

Steve Morgan said...

Fascinating post, and it's interesting how closely it lines up with what I've been reading lately. On a whim, I've been digging into William Penn's works lately, and one quote really speaks to some of this week's message, which looks like a widening loss of faith in the great god Progress.

"True, there still remained the exterior forms of worship and a nominal and oral reverence to God and Christ, but that was all; for the offence of the holy cross ceased, the power of godliness was denied, self-denial lost, and, though fruitful in the invention of ceremonious ornaments, yet barren in the blessed fruits of the Spirit. And a thousand shells cannot make one kernel, or many dead corpses one living man.

Thus religion fell from experience to tradition, and worship from power to form, from life to letter; and, instead of putting up lively and powerful requests, animated by a deep sense of want and the assistance of the Holy Spirit--by which the ancients prayed, wrestled, and prevailed with God--behold a by-rote mumpsimus, a dull and insipid formality, made up of corporeal bowings and cringings, garments and furnitures, perfumes, voices, and music, fitter for the reception of some earthly prince than the heavenly worship of the one true and immortal God, who is an eternal, invisible Spirit."

-No Cross, No Crown (1682)

Of course, he was calling specifically for self-denial and martyrdom, but perhaps that just shows how deeply ingrained in the American psyche that tradition is. After all, it does appeal to some, even today, in a land founded by religious eccentrics. Still, the carnival sounds more pleasant than a jihad.

The way you described the different avenues people are taking to search for a more meaningful and fulfilling way of life sounds a lot like a cultural or religious revival, too.

Cherokee Organics said...


All this talk of converging major crises sent me off to get a strong cup of peppermint tea before settling back down for further reading.

It is funny that you mention the advertising industry. Recently I spotted an article by a serious guy who has worked in that industry here for many decades. He writes in a sort of flippant, confidential manner, but the other week he sort of described collapse as a form of recycling: Time to recycle Australia's economy. I wonder whether he fully understood the full import of that particular article and his own place in that great collapse? Perhaps he believes that this is something that happens to other people? Dunno. It was weird though.

Maybe a few years back I may have mentioned my broken window theory? Not sure really, but it goes something like: If you have a house or other premises that has a broken window out front for all the world to see, and if that window is not repaired shortly, then soon enough a second and third window will quickly get smashed. That building will eventually become toast. I've witnessed developers use that technique to get around heritage demolition restrictions as after a short period of time the neighbours are cheering on the demolition. Clever huh? And, I reckon it is a good metaphor for our society too.

Anyway, the broken window theory can also be applied to smart phones. I don't have one, but pretty much all of them that I do see now have broken screens. This is clearly a design flaw (the little sprite sitting on my shoulder says - maybe? hehe!). Anyway, whatever. But here's the thing, people embraced them, but they are less excited about them as a result and I never miss the opportunity to lay the boots in. The other day as I spotted one whilst having a conversation with someone, I said: How did that happen? Reply: I dropped it. My reply: I took my very old school phone out and dropped it on the ground right in front of them and then laughed! Oh look, it still works said I! hehe! I'm still laughing about that to myself even now.


Cherokee Organics said...

Oh hey yeah, it might be worth mentioning that the classic 80's film: Back to the Future was actually depicting life in 2015. It may jolt some readers to review the perceptions of the 80's and compare those perceptions to the realities of today. Mr Fusion, anyone?

I'm really grumpy about intermediaries and I'm always thinking up ways to circumvent their particular form of nastiness. Did you know that between the regulatory bodies, the professional bodies, the insurers and the tools of the trade - they take fully one third of what I earn before tax. That means I have to work four months every year just to pay for those leeches.

Mind you, I'm also starting to get a bit of push back - from mainly females too - in the local community who take umbrage at my existence. It is a form of normalisation I reckon, but it takes the form of: "why aren't you working today?" It is happening often enough that it is beginning to annoy me. Sooner or later I'm going to tell them I'm going to a funeral - they just won't understand that I mean the funeral of the industrial era! Just sayin...

That TV. I may have mentioned that I occasionally partake of that particular drug in very small doses. Anyway, over the past year or so I have cut back to very, very little exposure. The reason for that was because I began watching a show called: Breaking Bad. Look, everyone seems to like the show and it was acclaimed, but then I like stuff that they don't seem to so the “like” is clearly a relative concept. I didn't watch the whole series. Anyway, I ditched the TV for quite a long while after that because I found being exposed to the extreme storylines and extreme second hand emotions is not actually good for your health. Seriously the culture of escalation has arisen because you guys are programming it and it isn't a good reaction to circumstances under normal conditions. But that message is seriously getting sent out and it aint a good one.



PS: I have a new blog post up with a massive wombat - gotta love 'em - more trailer repairs, some steel steps, hot weather and a very strange unidentified frog. Truly, I can't make this stuff up: One wombat to rule them all. Hope you like my little joke too?

Tom Bannister said...

You might have seen this, but just for the benefit of anyone who hasn't, this article nicely sums up Germany's position." Germany Emerges is republished with permission of Stratfor

I sense some theme music would be appropriate here too (Gustav Holst - The Planets - Mars, the Bringer of War):

Dave Zoom said...

There has been very little technological progress since the invention of the intigrated circuit , everything else is a variation on a theme , victorian power plants are very similar to todays plants , Henry Ford would recognise cars and the Wright brothers would recognise aircraft , hell the Germans invented the misile in 1944 , THE problem is all the variations just made life more complex , a point at hand is cursive writing being phased out , so instead of a two cent pencil and a twenty cent notebook you have to have a one hundred dollar digital notebook , and they call it progress ,they are saying this because its too hard to learn cursive , perhaps the new generations intelligence thats regressing , in a couple of generations there will be no one inteligent enough to run our " technological " society .

Chester said...

Far from feeling some electric tingle of change in the air, where I live (Washington D.C.), it feels like the world is on repeat. Drumbeats for war in the middle east, chatter about colorless mainstream presidential candidates, and some people are getting ahead and a few people are falling behind.

Maybe it's just hard to see these trends on the macro level when you're young. In aggregate, millennials my age are probably worse off than our parents, but it's hard to see when as an individual, your life still progresses from stage to stage, your paycheck getting bigger and things still moving forward.

It's only when you sit back and think about it that you realize that you're not doing as well as you might have several decades ago. Feels like I should have more cash left to indulge in my own Butlerian carnival.

I do have money for a Kindle though!

Jason Fligger said...

I recently had to throw away a relatively new high end toaster that had a very impressive stainless steel shell. When I bought the toaster, it looked as though it was made to last for 40 years or so. After about 9 months, the lever would not stay down. I thought I would repair it myself but I discovered that the toaster was made in a way that prevented a regular human being from working on it. I simply threw it into my scrap metal waste container and went out and bought two 1959 Toastmaster 1B14 toasters for the same price as a new one. One of the toasters was purchased for parts, the other was to be restored. In a matter of an hour, I had one of the 1b14's completely disassembled, cleaned ans repaired with enough parts left over from the other toaster to keep me in toast for the rest of my life.

Matthew Powell said...

I have nothing intelligent to add, other than to say, 'Top stuff dude'.

Strovenovus said...

I believe that you are on to something important here, Archdruid! How wonderful to find people celebrating their departure from the dreadful treadmill of progress.

For myself, it was a sense of the emptiness of my days as I went through the routine of an ostensibly successful life that led me to this website. Although the insights that you give has a somewhat bitter taste at times, it also tends to help me see past the piles of debris that clutter this modern existence.

On a somewhat related note, here is further confirmation that peak oil continues to gain traction in popular culture, even amidst reports of a "surplus" of oil, though the article holds out the promise of renewed frack production when prices rise again.

Grebulocities said...

This isn't all that relevant to today's post, but I want to endorse a book you recommended a while ago. Belly Up: The Collapse of the Penn Square Bank is an amazing read.

Take two Oklahoma good ol' boys named Bill. Put them in a bank whose physical structure is a three-story shopping mall building next to a noodle shop in Oklahoma City. Give them a pathological inability to turn down borrowers. Add an oil crisis following a previous oil crisis which took real oil prices to a level that had never been reached before in the automobile age and would not be reached again until 2006.

Just like Galbraith's book on the Great Depression, I was blown away by the parallels to today despite knowing they'd exist ahead of time. It was based on drilling techniques allowing exploitation of new (deep in this case) but expensive gas. Almost all of the operators were small independent firms with names ending in "Energy ", "Resources", or similar, with the majors mostly staying out. Credit underwriting was laughable - literally, in that I burst out laughing when I found out about the revolving loans agreed to at bars and scrawled on napkins. People who raised questions were accused of not understanding the business. Above all, oil prices are claimed to be on a permanent climb, and this was not allowed to be questioned.

From here, the comedy keeps getting better! There is of course the clothes-free party you mentioned, which occurred on one of the many spur-of-the-moment trips on company jets to Vegas. One banker made so many fraudulent loans on horses (intentionally labeled as energy loans and issued to people who would buy his horses to yield him a hefty profit) that it caused its own mini-bubble in Oklahoma quarter hoses. Two Ponzi schemers utilized easy credit to scam each other. Energy companies that rarely or never earned enough to cover even the interest on their loans bought the latest Lear jets and other extravagant items - there were companies with more pilots than geologists! The regulators stumbled over each other and failed to stop the obvious shenanigans until the bubble had popped on its own. Penn Square itself is not bailed out, but when its failure causes the failure of Continental Illinois, the too-big-to-fail doctrine is born. And so on, and so forth.

Even the side of me that laughs at mayhem is terrified that we'll finally make a WWI-like blunder that turns our proxy war in Ukraine into a full-scale war between Great Powers. But I will admit that I'm really looking forward to the stories of financial buffoonery that we're going to hear when even the most "creative" accounting fails to save the frackers. The fracking bubble is so much larger than the Oklahoma bubble that I can't even fathom what we're going to hear soon...

Brian Kaller said...


Thanks for referencing my favourite science fiction book, as well as the SCA – I was enjoying one of their events just last weekend.

When I give talks about this sort of thing, I tell people that when we picture an ideal world, it always uses traditional technology. No matter how much CGI Hollywood movies has, their images of a Nice Quiet Life will be something without such technology – The Shire, say, from Lord of the Rings.

Even when the world pictured is more technological than ours – Star Trek, Blade Runner or Minority Report, to use a few examples – the heroes always enjoy their happy ending in a log cabin in the woods or something.

I also note how the usual energy curve – starting from nothing, rocketing to the top of the chart and crashing – looks pretty ominous. Depending on what you’re measuring, though, you could also flip the curve upside-down, and see a world that plunged into trouble in recent centuries and now is climbing out. Neither sums up the whole truth, of course, but I find it a useful exercise.

Also, my belated sympathy on the death of Mr. Catton – I had been reading Bottleneck not long ago, and can certainly see his influence in you.

Hanshishiro Kami said...

Celebration instead of sacrifice.
Interesting idea. I like it. It may work. Who knows?
And the reasons that make people change are often surprising. I know someone that become steampunk as a political statement.
The reason ?
If there were sufragettes on the 19th century and on the 21st century the Congress of the United States refuses to pass a law that would grant equal pay to wemen, there was no real progress. The logical step was to emulate those revolutionaries in the 19th century and fight for some serious change. And get some brass knucles, instead of brass googles.

hcaparoso said...

Mr. Archdruid Sir, This was such a lovely post, after the gloom of the past few posts, which I know were fully justified. When I get upset about the way things are going, especially the stupidity of so many in our country, I knit a sock, or spin yarn. And weaving, really throwing that shuttle back and forth and BEATING in the warp, help to relieve tension. Though I prefer to work with love, thinking about the person for whom I am making something.
One thing I want to say is how much this blog has meant to me these past five years or so when I discovered it. I truly thought I was the only one thinking and feeling so much loss as I saw what was happening in the world. Even as a small child I would get upset when I saw trees cut down to widen a road, or put up an ugly building. And like you, I also was born in the Seattle area and so you know how lovely our trees are! But ALL trees are lovely and have feelings. I could feel them when my sisters and I would play out in the woods.
So thank you for the wonderful sense of community you have provided for people like me these past years. You are truly a beacon.

ratfink said...

Roll your own! As we used to say.

Kaitain said...

“In Washington DC, Obama’s flunkies are beating the war drums over Ukraine, threatening to send shipments of allegedly “defensive” weapons to join the mercenaries and military advisors we’ve already not-so-covertly got over there. Russian officials have responded to American saber-rattling by stating flatly that a US decision to arm Kiev will be the signal for all-out war. The current Ukrainian regime, installed by a US-sponsored coup and backed by NATO, means to Russia precisely what a hostile Canadian government installed by a Chinese-sponsored coup and backed by the People’s Liberation Army would mean to the United States; if Obama’s trademark cluelessness leads him to ignore that far from minor point and decide that the Russians are bluffing, we could be facing a European war within weeks.”

That is certainly the impression I get from the Russian blogosphere and news media. The refrain I hear over and over again from Russians is, “we don’t want war, but we are ready for one”.

As for all the not-so-covert military advisors and mercs, I trust you saw the infamous footage of the “Ukrainian” soldier who told a camera crew to “get out of my face” in perfect American English. The real reason why Obama is talking of sending “defensive” weapons is because right now, the pro-Russian rebels are winning hands down and the Ukrainian military is on the verge of collapse, more due to its own incompetence than anything else. The pocket at Debalcevo has now been sealed and a sizeable percentage of what left the Ukrainian Army now finds itself in the same situation as Field Marshal von Paulus’s 6th Army at Stalingrad.

Give it a few more weeks and the only thing standing between Donetsk and Kiev will be the threat of American boots on the ground, which Russia has stated it will not stand for.

Speaking of the possibility of Russian air and naval bases in Greece, Cyprus has already publically offered the Russian Air Force basing rights.

As for Obama, I think Kunstler is right when he says that Obama is now running neck-and-neck with Warren Harding, James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce for title of worst president in the history of the United States. Even Richard Nixon, for all of his flaws, was at least competent and aside from Watergate actually did a pretty decent job, while Obama seems to spend most of his time golfing, going to fundraisers and preening for the camera. His universal excuse whenever something goes wrong, like Benghazi or the rollout of Obamacare, is “don’t blame me, I wasn’t in the loop and had no idea what was going on”.

Cliff said...

That's good to hear about paper books coming back. I never hopped on board the e-reader train. For me, books involve an entire sensory experience - the feel of the pages, the smells, the covers. An old pulp SF novel can send me back to my childhood. I can't get that with e-readers.

As for the feeling of impending change, I've had that feeling since 2008, at least. But things have somehow kept going along. And I've found instances of people saying back in the eighties, and earlier, that our current system has to collapse soon.

So I'm in this weird state of knowing that something has to give, and knowing that my parents' generation felt the exact same way.

Ventriloquist said...

"Over the last week or so, I’ve heard from a remarkable number of people who feel that a major crisis is in the offing. The people in question don’t know each other, many of them have even less contact with the mass media than I do, and the sense they’ve tried to express to me is inchoate enough that they’ve been left fumbling for words, but they all end up reaching for the same metaphors: that something in the air just now . . .

"No man is an island, entire of itself;

every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,

as well as if a promontory were,

as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were:

any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,

and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls;

it tolls for thee."

John Donne

Jeffrey Pikul said...

A conformation for this phenomenon would be vinyl records: the only bright spot in a collapsing music industry, yet not enough volume (yet) for capital investment in new presses.

Avery said...

I think your first few paragraphs put this as succinctly and accurately as anyone has this year: things are now beyond anyone's control and are about to get a lot worse. The geopolitical and economic indicators are reaching 2008-9 levels of danger and may get even more urgent soon. But indeed, if this is out of our hands, it's time to focus on the positive.

I'm interested in your name-dropping the SCA. This used to be a fairly small hobby, but I now know a grammar school headmistress who drives across the country regularly to sew dresses -- by hand! -- for major events. I wonder whether it might be possible to channel this energy into something bigger than just two or three day events.

Mickey Foley said...

I was afraid we were in for another round of "The End is Nigh," but I was also trembling with anticipation at the prospect. That message still holds a dark appeal for me, even as my mental health has improved. Thank you, though, for a look on the bright side and thanx for finally showing love for the hipsters and geeks of my generation! (I'm 37.) I was wondering if you'd ever get around to recognizing the growing popularity of micro-breweries and such, although you did mention steampunk a while back, so I have to give you some dap for that.

Last year I quit my clerical job at a large financial firm. Unlike the Onion article, it took several months for the psychological benefits to manifest, but now I feel like I'm waking from a 15-year-old stupor (the length of time since I graduated from college). I think we've reached the point when corporate jobs offer no real advantages over farm work. But it's taken me a decade since I learned about Peak Oil to finally escape the rat race. There have been a few false starts followed by grudging "homecomings" to the corporate world, a stair-step climb toward self-improvement. It's hard to leave the only working world you've ever known, esp. when doing so forces you to leave your friends behind. But only none of my best friends have the time to hang out anymore, so moving to the boonies isn't as difficult a decision as it used to be.

If you have any sympathy for a dude with an English degree in this economy, check out my blog, Riding the Rubicon at

Marinhomelander said...

Technology of the 1950s? How about a 'portation technology that can carry messages and physical objects across any distance for a few pennies? I'm talking about the
U.S. Mail.
If just a small cohort of teenagers would realize that Facebook is, so like yesterday, and start sending art projects, poems and objects through the mail, the explosion of its popularity would revive this great institution. Patriots buy stamps and use the mail.

As to the retrenchment of the powers that be, the most vacuous and morally suspect politician of our state, Gavin Newsom, the ex mayor of San Francisco, the man whose only job is waiting for the governor of California to die, the Lt. Governor, is now announcing that he is running for the main office in the next election.

Here in the environmental whitetopia of Marin County, solar panels are now mandatory on ALL new construction, in one of the first of many towns, we hope. The artisan cheesemakers, beekeepers and permaculturalists are selling everything they can produce.

Shane Wilson said...

It just amazes me that we spent the whole Cold War making sure it never turned hot, even during Bay of Pigs and all the other proxy wars, and, now, we're gonna start a hot war with Russia. Chinese curse, indeed.
I really do have my fingers crossed that Greece doesn't back down, and gives the boot to austerity, and that it cascades across Europe.

John Michael Greer said...

Paul, true -- they sure don't make futures like that any more!

LatheChuck, now surprise me. I'd be astonished if the pharmaceutical industry came out with a medicine that didn't have some ghastly side effect or other. There's a reason I stick with alternative modalities...

Sgage, thank you and I'll look forward to your further comment.

Tom, exactly. I'll be talking about that, and related issues, very soon.

Kutamun, archaism has wrinkles to it that I'm not sure Toynbee grasped; still, I'll be referencing him as we proceed.

Steve, excellent! Yes, Penn's talking about a parallel phenomenon, and yes, there are issues of cultural and religious revival in here, too.

Cherokee, peppermint tea is probably a good choice. As for smart phones with broken windows, you're definitely ahead of the curve; I expect that sort of sly "gotcha!" to be an increasingly common pattern as the cutting edge blunts and breaks, and those who've had the common sense to stay well back of it get to return, with interest, the barbed remarks of the former techno-hip.

Tom, I hadn't -- thank you. As for Holst, yes, a very plausible choice just now!

Dave, I don't think intelligence is regressing, but young people are increasingly being taught not to use it -- and yes, that's a major issue. I'll be discussing it down the road.

Chester, that doesn't surprise me. My guess is that if this country crashes and burns, the folks in DC will be the last people anywhere on Earth to find out about it.

Jason, excellent! That earns you tonight's gold star with crossed monkey wrenches, for an inspired bit of retro-technology. Have you considered starting a side business in reconditioned small appliances that actually (a) work and (b) last? You might be surprised at the potential market.

Matthew, shouldn't that last word be "drude"? ;-)

August Johnson said...

@JMG – I continue to advise people to proceed with deliberate technological regression as related to communication. This includes writing letters on paper by hand. If you want “electronic” communication, regress to using radio. Use radio for voice communication or even Morse Code. Keep the computer out of it.

I don't own a Ham Radio with a microprocessor in it, all the ones I have, I can repair. I don't consider the handheld radio used to access repeaters in the same class as an HF radio. Nobody “repairs” their own computer these days even though they say they do, they just swap out and throw away huge, complex pieces of the computer. Same goes for the modern Ham Radios, most of them are just a big pile of computers that looks like a radio. The latest ones even have a screen that looks like the one on the latest big smartphones. That screen dies and you can't do anything with the entire radio, it's now a brick, use it to prop your door open. A mechanical analog dial doesn't die. Besides, if you're using the latest “YaeComWood” radio or a 1960's Drake, the person at the other end can't tell the difference! The advances have mostly been in the WhizBang Factor. The old one carries your voice just as well as the modern one.

If I seem like I'm a bit grumpy here, it's because I've seen too many modern radios that had dead parts that couldn't be obtained only a decade after being new. I've also re-wound power transformers and IF transformers on old radios to bring them back to life. I actually have a decent stock of tubes and even discrete transistors to repair older radios but no way can I find all the custom manufactured ICs needed for recent ones.

I've been spending some time reading through old (1920's – 1950's) paper copies of QST, very informative! Very different from reading the electronic version, which I also have. Just holding the 1924 issue in hand is different from reading the exact same on a screen.

@Jason Fligger – I couldn't believe it back in the 90's when I saw the ad where Black & Decker announced their new toaster with a microprocessor to control toasting! It featured 4 memories so everybody could have their own setting.

@Jeffrey Pikul – I never got rid of my LP collection. And in a pinch, they can be played purely mechanically. No electronics needed. Try that with a CD or MP3!

@Marinhomelander – US Mail, exactly!

August Johnson said...

@JMG - As to "Intelligence", in the mid 1980's a friend of mine had me add this to my growing collection of "Murphy's Law" type observations.

Thomas's Observation: The amount of Intelligence on the planet is a constant; the population is increasing...

We noticed the trend to not use it even then!

John Michael Greer said...

Strovenovus, bitter flavors clear the palate; so, in a different sense, does bitter news. I'm glad this blog has helped do that for you. Many thanks for the link!

Grebulocities, no question about the denouement of the fracking bubble. I'm laying in a supply of popcorn to pop while the gaudy details unfold.

Brian, that's a fascinating point, and quite relevant. I wonder just now much loathing of the current technological suites lies just beneath the surface of contemporary society.

Hanshishiro, if it inspired your friend to get off the sofa and do something more interesting, excellent. Brass goggles make a good addition to brass knuckles, though -- in a bar fight or a riot, you don't want flying bits of glass in your eyes, after all.

Hcaparoso, you're welcome and thank you! The skill of turning frustration into creativity is one that our great-grandparents knew well -- glad to know that it's still being cultivated.

Ratfink, we did indeed. Thank you!

Kaitain, I won't argue. I wasn't sure that anybody in our time could do a worse job in the White House than Dubya, but Obama is certainly giving it all he's got, and I'd say he's pulling ahead at this point.

Cliff, well, it's not as though things have stayed the same since 2008! It's important to remember that historical events take longer than a retrospective glance would suggest; the ongoing collapse in the US economy, measured by such things as total petroleum consumption, and a galaxy of other changes will be seen a century from now as a dramatic plunge, no matter how gradual it looks to those of us who are living through it.

Ventriloquist, true enough.

Jeffrey, I wonder if somebody could figure out a relatively simpler and thus cheaper press technology than the one used at the close of the vinyl era. In any case, though, the return of vinyl is an excellent example of what I'm talking about -- the revival of an old technology because it really is better than its newer replacements.

Avery, when I was a high school student in the late 1970s, the SCA scene in the Puget Sound area already got anything up to a hundred people out to local events. To this day, btw, most of the people I know who spin wool with a drop spindle either learned how to do it in the SCA, or learned it from someone who did.

John Michael Greer said...

Mickey, congrats on your escape. I don't do "The End is Nigh" -- what I do instead is "here comes the crisis I've been talking about for the last eight years; I hope you've been paying attention and are ready for it."

Homelander, I could see it. It's not that long since the glory days of the APA, when a circle of aspiring writers would send manuscripts around a round-robin mailing list: each participant would get the packet in the mail with everyone's latest story, pull his previous story out and read the critiques on it, critique all the others, add a new story to the packet, and send it to the next name on the list. I could easily see something like that taking off again.

Shane, if that happens, be aware that the outcomes will probably include the collapse of the EU, the beginnings of a new arms race in Europe, and at least even odds of a major war in Europe during your lifetime. The Cold War and the EU are the only things that have kept that extraordinarily warlike corner of the world at peace for so long.

August, I'm delighted to hear it. I notice with some pleasure that even QST has been running articles on how to build old-fashioned rigs without IC chips from time to time. Now to find a way to get the word out into a wider audience...

Angus Wallace said...


Great post, I totally agree that joy is a much greater motivator than suffering! The retro movement has been around since the 1990s, but it really is gaining momentum and becoming more all-encompasing (rather than just fashion, it's now about lifestyle). I hope that means something...

I also wanted to add to some of the discussion about PV from last week. I feel that solar PV is sometimes criticised inaccurately.
We don't know what can and can't be done with PV, since it has not been tried at a societal level: a drastic cut in consumption opens many possibilities. I realise such a cut is not happening right now by choice, but think it's important to differentiate between what is technically possible and what is socially occurring, and not to use a false technical claim to argue against a societal response (which is what can sometimes happen).
From experience, solar PV production in winter can be better than has been stated here in the past: I average more like 4 kWh/day from a 2 kW system in winter. Of course, relying on solar for one's power means using resources as they are available, as Cherokee has repeatedly said. This is not a criticism of solar, but an acceptance of its limits.
Also, I believe that there is merit to a grid-tied PV system, and that if the grid is available it represents a better use of resources than an off grid solution.
More detail in this article.

(I hope this isn't too off-topic!)

Cheers, Angus

Øyvind Holmstad said...

Peace price winner Obama's prioritizations:

Ceworthe said...

Whenever I hear people discussing Germany and how it is insisting that the southern European countries go through all these authorities I think that it is some sort of subconscious payback for the austerities that Germany went through between the world wars. Or I think, Don't they remember how they felt what they went through between the aforementioned wars, and how well (Not!) that turned out for them, i.e. people desperate to follow whatever dictator promises them an exit choosing very unwisely?
As far as reenactment and hand crafting things go, there are many younger people who not only do it for the enjoyment of it, but specifically because they feeling will allow them to know skills to live when the expected excrement hits the fan. I recently made a quilting square for a communally made gift, and hand embroidered it
Older people were surprised I didn't just do it on a fancy sewing machine (I do not consider that embroidery, I consider that pushing a button), and the younger people were fascinated to know how it was done. Promising.

Sukey Jacobsen said...

I just finished reading Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard. This is a man who,is living abundantly and has found a way to farm that provides a living that is the antithesis of the consumer extravagance myth of fulfillment.

John D. Wheeler said...

I covered this in the microcosm on how no one has ever eaten a truly ripe blackberry:

(You have to lick it off your fingers after you attempt to pick it....)

Shane Wilson said...

Oh, I'm not necessarily cheering it on, and I realize it's a mixed bag, at best, with many ghastly drawbacks. I do realize, at the same time, that it's a necessary process of this stage of crisis, and one that must happen to get to the other side.

Kathleen Quinn said...

After an unrewarding exchange with friends last Saturday night (I think it was about food, GMOs, industrial ag, etc) I made a decision to just not bother any more. There is no possible way that I, as a subsistence farmer, would ever be able to convince these friends with their 2000 Holsteins and their Cornell degrees that my approach to farming (low input, organic etc) is not an indictment of THEIR approach. It’s exhausting, frankly, and I am done.

So, you’re right. Time to party. I just got back from the local pub where my son plays fiddle each Wednesday with a random assortment of other musicians who like what they call pan-Celtic music. (And since my son is only 13, I am forced to escort him there and then sit in a pub drinking a glass of wine and listening to great music. What hardships we parents are forced to endure for our children…) Everyone was happily preparing for the weekend’s big event in town—called Dance Flurry—at which hundreds gather for 3 days to dance and play music. It’s the happiest spot on earth for those 3 days, especially with our 2+ feet of snow and our unseasonably cold temps. Tired of the world that progress has made? This’ll cure what ails ya. :-)

Unknown said...

My 12 yr old daughter takes sewing classes at Granny's Sewing Den, run by two elderly ladies, in our neighborhood. Our daughter would bring our 50 yr old steel Singer sewing machine to class, until it broke this year. When we asked the ladies about the value of repairing the old machine relative to new sewing machines, they both scoffed and used very unladylike language to describe the cheap, plastic machines today.

"Hon, whatever it costs to repair, your Singer will last another 100 years. Those plastic machines will last 2 years, tops. Don't waste your money!"

Shane Wilson said...

P.S.- a war in Europe backed by U.S. troops would probably cause severe civil unrest here in the U.S., and might be enough to begin the unraveling of the current order here in the U.S.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"Collapse now and avoid the rush--it's fun!" That should be your message now. Speaking of people who are having fun by collapsing now, I can think of two subcultures that fit that description, hipsters and steampunks. You, your readers and I already had a good conversation about the devotees of steampunk and their reaction to a disappointing present by escaping into an elegant past. The hipsters aren't as extreme, but they are coping with a disappointing past by adopting worthwhile and supposedly forgotten pieces of the past. In addition to the vintage technology you mentioned, the hipsters who've moved into Midtown Detroit have revived Marche du Nain Rouge, a ceremony of the original French colonists to placate the city's resident malign spirit, the Red Dwarf. Given what's happened to Detroit since the French tradition was abandoned, it couldn't hurt, and based on what you write about in your other blog, it might just help. Besides, the hipsters find it fun.

Lucretia Heart said...

I happen to resemble your remarks tonight sir! I've long been one of those that joins others to honor eras of the past at revivals of one form or another. Often we are initially drawn by the romanticism, common courtesy, and fun accoutrement often shown in various beloved works of fiction written in or set in the past. I've heard of far more festivals than I've attended over the last 25 years.

Groups exist all over that gather to dress up, celebrate, and re-create many different historical eras, such as the Edwardian era, inspired by Anne of Green Gables, Somewhere In Time, or-- most recently, Downton Abby. The same goes for the Victorian era and shows/books like Little House On the Prairie, Sherlock Holmes... well, you get the idea.

From what I've personally observed, most people start off in a limited fandom of a particular work of fiction that just appeals to them and introduces them to an era of history. From there, many go on to join societies that cover the whole era. By meeting others of like mind, they start to share ideas and skills towards the ideal of being more "authentic" in their re-creation and it just goes on from there.

As you've pointed out here, they/we do it for FUN, not to inflict hard work and suffering on ourselves. When you figure out how to play an older instrument, cook an authentic era meal, present a set of usable tools and so on... well, its just very satisfying.

Why, just today I made some silly art paper using scraps of paper from old bills and such with a bunch of elderly ladies who gather once a month to make various crafts out of old things and show each other what they've come up with and then practice together. The goal is to make the trash of the new look like and be usable as if its treasures of the old. There's nearly 20 women in this group and its been gathering now for almost 8 years. One example out of many I could name.

I was wondering if you'd ever hit upon this angle. I'm thrilled to see you went there. Now I'm eager to see where this discussion goes. I just wanted to support your own observations regarding these kinds of hobbyists with my own experiences "on the ground" as it were.

Ruben said...

"It’s being done, rather, in a spirit of celebration."

This is the Delicious in my family's project, a Small and Delicious Life.

Naturally, you can read about it on my blog. Naturally, I will plead extenuating circumstances for the lack of recent updates.

But, if you sign up for my occasional email, you will be among the first to know of new things, and I can promise there will soon be a manifesto on Sauerkraut—more than you have ever wanted to know about sauerkraut, and yet all that you need to know about sauerkraut.

And JMG figured in one of my best posts: I don’t want salvation.

Ben said...

Good post. I've been listening to an itunesU series about the power politics of Europe from the French Revolution to World War I. Much of the info is review, but I'm always struck by the paralels between now and either 1789 or 1914.
My sense is that here we are headed in a crisis of legitimacy leading to revolutionary dictatorship, while Europe and Asia seem to be driting towards a re-enactment of 1914.
Spring time is fast approaching. I already have seeds in the ground, and accquired a chicken coop. Will be getting peeps in March when the warm weather returns for good. My neighbors have a community garden, which we've started to work already. Interesting times ahead indeed.

Mickey Foley said...

"The End is Nigh" comment was me taking poetic license, i.e. over-simplifying a complex message for comic effect. It's just nice to see some optimism about the future on the ADR. I flooded my senses with doom'n'gloom to the point of numbness and then recovered via a 3-step process:

1. Recognizing what's really important in life, that is, the social, emotional and spiritual aspects of life.
2. Realizing that these are not limited by material resources and could actually rebound as the industrial economy declines.
2. Appreciating the support of my family after losing touch with friends.

beneaththesurface said...

I feel there is a subset of the population who is critical of the latest technologies and at least in some cases, chooses to use older technologies and resist the new ones, BUT who still believes in the mythology of progress. They hate progress, but see it continuing on and on, making society worse and worse, ascending towards a hell. They complain about these trends and get depressed about it all. If only they could realize that their lifestyle is actually more futuristic than the most "cutting edge" modern lifestyle, they might feel hope!

In many ways, I think my mother falls into this category. She doesn't own or use a computer at all; she still uses a typewriter. She doesn't use the Internet or email (and wouldn't know what to do if she had to do the most simple task online). She uses an old model of a rotary phone attached the kitchen wall (and of course, no cordless phone, no cell phone). She has no answering machine. No credit card, not even a debit card and pays everything by check or cash. When she wants to communicate with someone, she'll either make a phone call, or write a handwritten letter. She only uses a camera that uses film -- not the digital kind. She has an old black-and-white TV, but only watches it once in a while. No cable, no way of watching videos at home. Doesn't have a CD player (or any later music-listening devices), only listens to vinyl records. No dryer, no microwave, no working dishwasher, no power lawn mower. She uses paper maps -- not GPS -- when she needs to navigate. She laments computerization of medical care, of education, of government. She mourned when her local library finally got rid of the card catalogs. (Growing up in the 80s and 90s in my parents' household, I felt very different than my peers, but if anything it was good preparation for the post-peak future!)

Yet, I think if I were to ask her what way the future is headed, she would think technological trends will simply continue. She won't cooperate with them to the extent she can, of course, but the idea that technological regression might be the shape of the future, is unthinkable to her.

My mother has heard of "peak oil" because I've mentioned it to her, but I don't think she grasps all its implications (while I respect her choice not to use the Internet, I sometimes am sorry that she's not exposed to certain Internet writers--like you--who could offer different perspectives that the daily newspaper she reads lacks). I plan to give her a copy of After Oil 2 and I'm curious how she'll react to my story and others.

I think that if those who are critical of technological trends (but haven't yet shed the mythology of progress from their mental framework) could realize that they may increasingly have an edge in the future, they would feel empowered instead of depressed.

Lynford1933 said...

I just want to add another perspective to your article. Though modern particle board and vinyl furniture is made with CNC saws and routers, there is a movement by amateur furniture builders toward hand tools. It is rather fascinating what our 1/15 hp (less now at 82) body can do. You must have extremely sharp tools. The quiet and rather dust free environment while one shapes the exact piece of wood to precisely fit the chair or hutch you are building is very pleasant. Especially compared to ear protection, dust protection, high noise and dangerous even with all the safety accessories in place environment of the typical power shop. Yes, I still use the bandsaw because I don't want to cut veneer or rip long hardwood boards but all else is going to hand tools and particle board has been forbidden in my shop for years because of the formaldehyde glue component. I hope to see more of this movement.

steve pearson said...

JMG,Its funny in a rather dark way reading the early portion of tonight's post whilst in the midst of reading " The Twilight's Last Gleaming" It takes a real effort of concentration to separate the two realities.I guess the message is that they aren't really that separate.By the way, it is a wonderful book. I enjoyed it serialized on the site, but your fleshing out of it in the book has taken it to a new level. It would make a great movie, though I doubt you would ever get funding for it in this country; it would be interesting to see where you might find funding.
Very much enjoyed After Oil 2 as well.So many of the scenarios are the ones I have envisioned all my life.Strange- in the 70s when it looked like things were unraveling and I was a young man, I was all "bring it on". I think we would actually have had a pretty good shot at it then. I was working at Friends of the Earth in London in 73. The collapse of industrial civilization was our main topic of conversation and we felt it could be managed, perhaps with the same level of pain as the WWII years,but accomplished with a sustainable future on the other side.
It felt like the momentum reached a peak in early 74 and wobbled so tantalizingly on the edge and then slid back into BAU.
Anyhow, thanks for being you and writing and editing what you do.This is the one place I can discuss and learn without feeling I have to convince people of a whole parallel reality.
Regards, Steve

Andrew Crews said...

John Michael Greer,

Thanks for your response to the fatalism of my last response. I do believe my reality check may have bounced on that one!;)

As an additional example, Many people I know are involved in the Paleo-lifestyle scheme. Eating like hunter-gatherers has had immense health benefits for myself and family compared to the processed crap marketed as "food" nowadays. In addition, the focus on replicating the physical load people of the past had to endures, makes for stronger healthier bodies. I have been saying for a long time, the simplest single high impact decision anyone can make to prepare for collapse is take care of their health and get in the best shape they can. Diet and exercise will be the health insurance of my generation. In addition, Fitness and health can be acquired regardless of age, one of the many persistent myths that demotivates people. The Paleo-lifestyle focuses on the simple pleasures of life, family, friends, hikes, exercise, good meals, and even meditation. These values have offered a welcome respite compared to the soul crushing outcomes of standard western values.

Also, I still use a old flip-phone made for construction and military contractors, Samsung rugby. Has probably 10 times the battery life and 100 times the durability of my wife's i-phone which she has to use for work. Ridiculous!

Best wishes,
Andrew Crews

Mark Rice said...

An entre for the squirrel challenge:

I see Dennis D beat me to the punch on one aspect of this.

Adryrn said...

First time commenter, so I suppose I’ll start off by saying that I’ve been reading and enjoying your essays for awhile now. Thank you for posting them =D.

This post in particular really resonates with my own observations of my generation (I’m 23). Perhaps my perception of how widespread the following hobbies are is warped because of how much time I spend on Tumblr, but I’ve seen a lot of people learning sewing and other crafting skills to make costumes or historically-inspired alternative outfits (steampunk, lolita, etc). Although access to the materials needed for these projects will likely run dry with the rest of the industrial economy, the resourcefulness and skills that these people develop in the mean time seem like they could be redirected to more essential activities.

August Johnson and Marinhomelander may find the existence of Postcrossing interesting. It involves the internet, but it’s still a start in the direction of greater postal service usage.

Snoqualman said...

August, thanks for the visions of real, honest mechanical things. I am writing this on a computer, obviously, but have always felt there is just something inherently wrong with binary notation, wrong with turning the world into a bunch of 1's and 0's. It just feels....not right.

Whereas, the orange glow and hot smell of vacuum tubes are very reassuring. They just feel...right.

Marc L Bernstein said...

Morris Berman seems to think that Japan will be one of the first advanced industrialized nations to embark on the process of reinvigorating the crafts culture of its past while shedding the encumbrance of its industrialized lifestyle.

Provided that Morris Berman is correct, it seems evident that the USA will not be among the 1st to follow in Japan's footsteps in this regard. Our nation is steeped in delusion, and the little colored images projected from a glass screen (that you mentioned) are akin to Aldous Huxley's "soma".

So many people that I know regard reflection as an archaic, quaint extravagance the time for which they do not have, all the while working at a job that they don't really like, staring passively at a television or habitually and unimaginatively viewing a computer screen.

It is possible, however, that the US empire will self-destruct in the not-too-distant future, the nation will split into a few smaller ones, and only then will a significant portion of the population take seriously the notion of reinvigorating crafts, techniques and technologies from the past and shedding many of the habits of the techno-narcissistic society of today.

Steelkilt said...

JMG, you periodically mention the return of sailing ships as one way to counter future petroleum scarcity in the transportation sector, and I can attest that learning to sail tall ships has been one incredibly fulfilling endeavor. I wholeheartedly encourage others to seek out and volunteer on a tall ship nearby. Meanwhile, see

ed boyle said...

I have a cultural comment. My parents, both dead, rest their souls, came from vastly different cultural environments and this showed up in their attitudes towards others, work ethic, etc. My father, poor Irish canadian working class slum kid from a large catholic family loved physical work, giving to charity, socializing, country music, playing stock market, rented a second house he'd bought, threw away nothing and bought nothing new. He got irritable and sarcastic when he was off work. It seems this was a physical addiction like with hobby runners. Due to internet in retirrement he got a porno addiction. He befriended alcoholic bums he knw from catholic church and helped them out, always sent us money, which he had accumulated, when we needed, fixed what he could or helped tradesmen he found in renovations. In the end he sent the money to help the poor in africa and for our kids education. He was quite fit till ca. 84, 3 years before he went.

my mother came from a middle class english household, father a newspaper editor, she learned languages, only child, physically inactive, mechanically inept, tightwad like my father but could not earn anything so was not generous with her money, time or help for others, physically in terrible condition the last 15 years which cost enormous on caregiving last several years andbefore that enormous worries and mounts on caregiving.

At any rate I could call the one attitude and lifestyle modern progressive-cubicle, overweight, intelletual, reclusive, selfish, inept, lazy-this regardless of her inate positive human qualities as I loved hr very much. This was social programming of a one child middle class european background. I am criticizing the system, not the person. The other attitude is old fashiond conservative-gregarious, hard working, handy, generous, healthy-notwithstanding personal traits I could not stand and weaknesses.

It is as if I came from a marriage of a poor rural backwoods farmer with an upper class Boston yankee. As she was from england she was a foreigner so he had the advantage in America. But as British industrialism started earlier they were earlier weakened as humans, adapted to urban progress, a disease based on commerce, self isolation, physical ineptitude and laziness, intellectual arrogance-despite its usage in dispelling ignorance, a widespread disease nowadays. Romanticizing the working class values is too easy from this vantage point. I recal a monty python sketch where-expectation reversal-the young man is sick and tired of father's intellectual pretense in welsh mining community and is going toa mining job. Class steretypes are vry much ethnic-celtic, cockney vs. English, west end, oxford, etc. in UK.

In USA changing your stripes is a matter of getting a degree, a BMW, big mortgage in a gated community and a job on Wall Street. The rural whose kids play banjo, listen to country-'you picked a fine time time to leave me lucille'-work in factories, farms, coal mines, have large extended families and whose religious beliefs have not been slowly altered to a religion of success and possibl american exceptionalism good samaritan has become minimized. We are all wall streeters at heart now. If middle class british lifestyle was a priviliged disease ca. 1930, my mother's birth, due to cars, supermarkets, TV, it has become amass phenomenon. We are all lazy, selfish, inept, grasping, anxious, isolated, even medicated. My father was no saint but he utilized his body to the fullest and remaine in middle of life. It is largely a mechanical problem created by technology. Amish or poor mexican farmers have more in common with one another than with local urban office workers around the corner.

I find hard work a tonic. My kids sit the whole day learning for a world that may not exist.

Amazed! said...

My wife recently took up basket weaving in Devon.
She just loves it!

ben said...

So, I've been spending much of the last 5 years learning all i can about earth and lime plasters. when people ask about my interest in 'old technology' one of the reasons i give, to those that might understand the implications, is that the gypsum used to line the walls of 99%(guessing) of the houses in this country - is mined in another country then transported 3000km here by sea.(what sheetrock in the US is made from).
one of these days it is going to get expensive to repair/line a wall.. and there is somthing really nice about a wall made by hand. or anything for that matter - speaking as a carpenter :)

KL Cooke said...

"The 1950s are a common target, and so far as I know, adopters of 1950s culture are the furthest along the process of turning into a community..."

Nice photos on the Rockabillies site, but they look like a Hollywood set designer's idea of how the 50's looked. The 50's that I remember were much tackier. A lot of leftovers from the 30's.

If the Rockabillies had lived in the real 50's they might not find them quite as charming.

True story: In 1957, when I was 11 years old, my family visited some cousins in a small town in Wyoming. One of the neighbors had a tree in their yard they referred to as a Weeping Willow. My mother pointed out that it was actually a Russian Olive. The folks in question acknowledged that it was, but they preferred to call it a Weeping Willow. They were concerned that if it became known they had a Russian Olive in their yard, they'd be suspected of being communists.

changeling said...

Let my just say one thing: the title alone is pure genius. Great post.

nuku said...

Re regression in technologies: A friend severed a major artery in his thigh when his diamond concrete-cutting saw blade fractured. He was alone, and just before passing out from loss of blood he managed to type a 911 call on his “antique” non-smart phone with a physical keyboard. The ambulance guys who eventually saved his life told him he’d be dead if he’d had a “smart” phone with virtual keyboard on a glass screen (they’d come across dead guys holding these phones). Reason: fresh blood or even water on the screen makes it totally unresponsive to finger gestures!

Re made in China shiny toasters and other unrepairable items: Most of the cases of these items are put together with various special “tamper-proof” screws which require expensive specialized tools to remove. Some even use “one-way” screws which cannot be removed. The message is “don’t even bother trying to fix this shoddy piece of shit, just go down to the big box and buy another one.”
I personally make a big effort to buy things I can fix, many of which are well-made used items from the 50’s and earlier.

Chester said...

@Cherokee Organics

Your broken windows theory is actually a fairly well documented theory in criminology.

I never thought of applying it to cell phones though. Maybe to accept a broken screen represents a sort of resignation about the fragility or futility of modern consumer technologies.

Phil Harris said...

Like JMG said in a comment last year, the Ukraine ‘theatre’ has been going on for quite a while since about the time it became clear that Russian Federation was not going to conveniently ‘de-federalise’ and could discipline its post-soviet oligarchy and not sink into its own civil wars. There are other theatres of course.

Kaitain this week mentions Cyprus getting into the news again. Remember the ruthless financial squashing of Cyprus/Bank of Cyprus and Russian savers losing 60% in April 2013?
Cyprus was once a wholly owned part of the British Empire – I remember British paratroops firing over the heads of the crowd and killing the Mayor of Famagusta, I think it was, as he emerged on the balcony. Well, only part of the island is in the EU; the other belongs to the Turkish people with links to mainland Turkey. There is a fence. The Greek part, which is in the EU still hosts British Royal Air Force Akrotiri. This base has been used in just about every Near and Middle East action by UK/USA over decades.

(The close US military relationship with Turkey has needed some discretion from time to time and makes an interesting history as well.)

Phil H
PS Like Ukraine this interesting strategic area has seen manoeuvring for a good while. My goodness, we should remember the USA with a complicit UK and EU has a real talent for engendering or using civil wars especially in this late-phase! (Look at the British Empire in retreat and now the late-phase US especially perhaps since 1980s. As a tactic by Empires past-their-best this seems a recipe for blowback – what says the Toynbee?)

This from the BBC:
“Cyprus has denied Russian media reports that it is ready to lease two military bases to Russia.
"There is no question of Russian air or naval military bases on the soil of Cyprus," said Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides.
Earlier, Russian government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta said Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades would make the offer on an official visit to Moscow on 25 February.
Cyprus is in the EU but not in Nato.
The leasing deal would concern an air base near Paphos and a naval base at Limassol, according to Rossiiskaya Gazeta. Russia can already use the bases temporarily.
But Mr Kasoulides dismissed the leasing claim, saying "there has never been any request from Russia about this", the Cyprus News Agency CNA reported.
He said President Anastasiades was referring to "the renewal of a military co-operation agreement with Russia consisting of maintenance of military equipment sold to Cyprus years ago, as well as the purchase of spare parts according to existing contracts".
He added that "as regards the offering of facilities, these are of a purely non-military humanitarian nature, such as the evacuation of Russian civilians from the Middle East if the need arises".
Russian warships can already use the Limassol base for refuelling and the Andreas Papandreou air base for humanitarian missions.

postpeakmedicine said...

I read your post a few months ago on steampunk calculators (slide rules) and promptly bought myself one: thank you for pointing me in the right direction. And now I have just taken delivery of this steampunk iPod:

Greg Belvedere said...

One of the many problems with ebooks is that you can't share the files (unless they are public domain, or put out by an incredibly open-minded publisher). I started a company to try to fix this. I still think I had the right approach to the problem, but "profits, not progress, determines which products get marketed". So after a lot of resistance I decided ebooks were not worth fixing. I have always preferred real books and think I only purchased two books for my device. The rest were public domain.

In another related note, I left my library job to start the business partially because of sciatica caused by a literally unhealthy work culture. It has not returned since I left. I could see myself working in a public library again now that I'm in a more rural setting. But the urban system I left was known for sending good librarians out the door.

I like the concept of the Butlerian Carnival. As I have said before, I see bits of this everywhere and I find it important to focus on how technological regression can be more fun and rewarding than the current status quo.

Phil Harris said...

JMG & All
For those following Ukraine civil war, I find myself somewhat surprisingly, given their record, agreeing with the recent statements – wise words - made by Gorbacev, Prodi, Sarkosy and the admirably consistent US Ron Paul. Check out their bios and recent interviews. Prodi was PM Italy and President of EU Commission. Europe includes Russia of course (remember 1914?).
Phil H

Jill Barber said...

For the first time in many years, this is the first post that I have been able to read just after it was posted, and it's a great one!
I too am one of those people that enjoys living the past, be it SCA or Renaissance festivals, and I was drawn to them by the prevalence of handmade things available. I've always wanted to be able to make things in "the old fashioned way", so I fit right into that scene.
@Avery, you should look up the SCA events Pennsic and Estrella.

Mister Roboto said...

I can't believe we're about to "Homer Simpson" ourselves into WWIII. Actually, I can, I just wish to Spirit we weren't. :-(

Ares Olympus said...

Finding skill and pleasure in low-tech sounds like a great plan, but the key problem is money and debt.

There's still a "real" American dream that college pays off to those who work hard, and make the right connections.

Like I remember a few years ago people were complaining about unpaid internships that only rich kids could afford, but for those who make it through the hoops, they can get on high income tracks.

So as unfair as that is, it suggests the path of "selling yourself cheap" for learning new skills might also be a good path for those who can find a way to avoid debt, and live cheap.

And the good thing about that low-debt, low-expense path is you can do things you really want to try, and if your income expands, you don't have to increase your spending to match, and can instead invest it in ways that can keep your future expenses low.

In contrast, youth who get into big debt, like 100k, and 20 year repayment plans, they can easily get used to the idea that being in debt is a natural state, and make "weak" decisions on easy credit, and get sucked into a black hole where the future has to pay for the past.

Anyway, so that's the predicament that I see - those who can live cheap, avoid debt, and do things that make sense at any income will be the ones who can get ahead enough to consider wider options.

And the other side is the illusion of retirement. There's no safe level of savings that can cover a 30 year imaginary retirement period, especially given low interest rates now, even imagining things could keep going.

So as long as "they" can keep us worried about saving for our imaginary retirement, then even the best savers will just throwing money into abstract investments that make promises of big returns.

So once people find they can live on much less than their income, they have to find a LOCAL investment with more durability than our imaginary markets.

And lastly I do have to say that ObamaCare, for whatever its shortfalls, it does offer a low-income path to those who know how to live cheaply, without giving up all "honest" access to modern healthcare options.

So with the safety nets available between family and government, there's no excuses for experimentation for those who are ready, as Gandhi said something like that.

jonathan said...

i could sense this process taking hold some years back when some young musicians began to eschew digital technology and released their recordings on vinyl records again.

for people who are interested in old ways of doing things, check out backwoods home magazine. you'll have to have some tolerance for libertarian politics, but there are outstanding articles on canning, heirloom seeds, 19th and early 20th century technologies and techniques, livestock etc. it's well worth the attention of anyone who has any inclinations in this direction.
final note: is there a better example of the false front of our society than brian williams? a serial fabricator of events and it only took 10 years or so to catch him.

George Coles said...

I have taken some time to read previous posts of yours, Mr. Greer. Colour me impressed. Your voice actually gives me hope, despite the dreadful topics you cover. Please don't stop!

On this fantastic post, I couldn't help thinking of John Ralston Saul's "Voltaire's Bastards" when you were describing our "leaders". Surely we have reached a point where most thinking people recognize that the Enlightenment idea of progress is flawed and incomplete. And as Saul points out - and I daresay you do so very well also - reason itself has it's own massive limitations.

Thank you for your writings.

Yupped said...

The last 25 years of industrial/consumer progress were the worst, a big blow-off top of silly trends. Things that were pitched as wonderful and shiny are turning out now to look very foolish indeed and I agree it is beginning to show. Cubicle work culture with all its sad effects on human health certainly; McMansions with massive but mostly unused kitchens; big-box retail; electronic entertainment everywhere. And on an on.

One of the things I watched with sadness in these years was the decline of smaller gardening stores. I talked to one owner of a struggling organic garden center a few years ago, who believed gardening was in decline across the country because of organized sports - parents didn't have time to garden anymore because they were busy driving kids from one sports engagement to another at the weekends. And sports themselves got so industrialized in this time - excessively organized, standardized, parentally-managed, de-risked, etc.

Basically we all went nuts, it seems. We were marketed big, organized, squeaky clean and risk free lives, it seems, and quite a few of us piled on. I did for a while, very glad I got out.

So these days I look for the return of smaller scale activities, less managed, more diverse, involving more actual work and readiness to get messy. So, people brewing beer in buckets in their basements seems like a good development to me, but the trend towards fancy brew pubs not so much. Although every bit helps I guess and anything that gets us back in touch with true variety and depth of life helps. A neighbor started a chicken flock last year, and began by buying a pre-made coop online. This year they expanded their flock and made more coop space by hammering and wiring up a bigger run themselves. Seems like a good trend to me.

dfr2010 said...

Hmmm ... something is amiss here, as I seem to be part of a trend? I recall a few years back, when my son was still in high school and I was trying to figure out what a "hipster" is. After trying to explain several times, my son finally sighed and informed me, "Mom, you can never be a hipster because you are already what hipsters want to be when they grow up!" He then assured me that is a high compliment.

Yesterday I finished up two batches of marmalade (orange and grapefruit) from fruit my neighbor had given us from her sister's trees. Today, I have three cockerels to slaughter, and will use their carcasses as practice for learning to caponize. We brought out a baker's dozen of red broiler chicks out of the brooder shed yesterday, and hubby has finished framing the new chick tractors and hopes to have them done tonight or tomorrow. Meanwhile, he has been raking up the leaves that the older chicks have been scratching as we scoot the current two chick tractors across the front. After supper, I still manage to get a few rounds done on knitting socks. We do our dishes by hand, as I doubt the well pump could keep up with a mechanical dishwasher.

Life at the dead end of a dirt road off of another dirt road ... we find it very satisfying!

Lord of the Barnyard said...

Lurk emerge.

A solid thank you for being who you are and doing what you do.

I was/am one of the louts that needed/needs to hear your '[somewhat] palatable to the common understanding' version of things.

Something triggered reading this weeks essay (and last weeks comments) as to what I could do.

I wanted a plan that somewhat appealed to my vanity. If you're not going to enjoy whittling, don't start whittling. I was worried for a bit that everything I did enjoy was superficial.

Vashti said...

Honestly, once you put aside the cult of paper books being special, I find ebooks to be one of the more collapse-friendly trends. I expect to be able to access text files in some way well, well past the point at which I will have to abandon my library of paper books. Printed books are nice, but that's all.

Hoarding possessions is a game for the rich - mobility is key. I've already lost my paper library once, arguably as a result of collapse. I don't intend to do so twice.

Andrew said...

I've been re-reading Dune since the mention of Butlerian Jihad last week and came across this line from the Collected Sayings of Muad'Dib' today. "The concept of progress acts a protective mechanism to shield us from the terrors of the future."

Interestingly, in typing that my iPad autocorrected us to U.S.

Nastarana said...

Kathleen Quinn, I don't know where you live, but if you are living and farming in the US, I think you would be well advised to see to it that title to your land or terms of your lease agreement are well and truly nailed down beyond the ability of a corrupt court to alter. If you have clear title, you might want to make sure that your local sheriff is aware of that fact. If you are not opposed to the use of firearms, you might want to become proficient and let it become known that you are proficient. In the USA the kind of fearful hostility you describe has before now been a prelude to violence, so do take care, not least because our continued survival does depend on folks like yourself.

Tracy Glomski said...

JMG, I'm sure you have plenty of examples for your file already, but here's one more from me, from just the past week.

This model is one of the few celestial globes currently available on the market, and it is a typical example.

This model is the one I recently acquired. Its vintage is 1977. There is not only a significant difference in aesthetics, there is also a difference in functionality. When I searched for a new globe with a horizon ring, I was unable to find one that included that part.

Sometimes the old things aren't perfect, either. The mounting bracket for my vintage globe's horizon ring was brittle, and it broke in transit. It doesn't matter. I'm going to have a metal bracket machined for it, and it will be even better than new.

RPC said...

A confirming anecdote: Two years ago my family attended a Webelos Weekend (Cub Scouts) consisting of active and extensive groups of re-enactors from: WWII; WWI; American Civil War; American Revolutionary War; the Polish kingdom circa 1600; the Carlovingian Empire; and a Roman Legion. Oy - we've been fighting each other for a long time, haven't we?

Glenn in Maine said...

Greetings, two comments, one general and the other specific, plus a question: first, the idea of targeting a particular decade seems a bit trite, but I appreciate the concept as I’ve landed in a 1950s-style arrangement overlaying a 1930s-era approach based on the circa-1970s ‘Integral Urban House’ model. My stay-at-home wife tends to the domestic economy while I go to the 9-5 desk job (via bike/bus/train as we’re a single auto household). We’ve implemented intensive raised bed gardening, fruit trees, chickens, bees, composting, cold frame and greenhouse growing season extenders, solar PV and DHW systems, wood heat, rain barrels, root cellar storage, and all the lacto-fermentation, canning, preserving, and home processing we can manage. Second, I have salvaged every hand tool, kitchen gadget, and garden implement that I could from my great-grandfather’s farmhouse, and found that a scythe is superior to a line trimmer, a brace-&-bit much handier than a cordless drill, and a wind-up mantel clock more satisfying than a digital version. It’s a slightly more complicated lifestyle we lead, but not a bit less comfortable than the mainstream, and certainly more satisfying. The thing I’ve not been able to sort is how to withdraw completely, as we need some sort of income if only to pay the property taxes. I’ve tried to discover what happens to other empires in history when they reach the point we’re now at (B2/C2 on Tainter’s collapse curve), but it seems that the taxes never go away. Any thoughts on how that might play out in the near term? Many thanks.

Clay Dennis said...

A great example of whizbang new technology that is not better in any real way, and worse in most is the carbon fiber craze in high end bicycles. These bikes made from carbon fiber and resin ( should accurately be called FRP, Fiber reinforced plastic) claim to be lighter and more well damped than the original lug brazed steel bikes everyone rode in the 70's and 80's. But their advantages are mostly marketing as steel bikes made from modern steel tubing are within 10% as light, but will easily last for 50 years while the modern carbon bike begins the same uv induced degradation as any other plastic. It is doubtfull these Carbon fiber miracles will last for over 10 years and when they fail it is catastrophic with parts blowing apart in to shards like a dropped teacup. They can't be repaired or straightened and any type of modification the owner might like to make over time is not allowed. A classic example of marketing hype over function.
Another good example within cycling is the growing number of young people who ride their bikes as daily transportation who have eschewed gears. They have realized that most people outside of serious hill climbers don't need the 22 speeds provided by the high tech derailers found on almost all store purchased bikes. For urban riding a single speed or fixed gear bike is just fine and much lower maintenance than its multi-speed counterpart. The "fixed gear" crowd is often marginalized as a hipster subcult just as reinactors are, but perhaps they just see the future more clearly.

Joseph Ratliff said...

Long time reader, first time commenting.

I've always had the feeling like, over the past two centuries and perhaps even further back (Da Vinci as one example), that we've had our chances to "wake up" and live out a meaningful life as a species.

One example of a person who thought beyond most of our species is Nikola Tesla.

From what I've read about him, he seemed to "get it."

Leonardo Da Vinci also seemed to "get it."

Even Einstein seemed to get it.

What is "it"?

Our connection with the Earth, and the Universe. The individuals I have named (there are others) seemed to think about our connection to our planet at a level we did not understand.

Maybe a future evolution of our species might think more like them?

Unfortunately, the rest of us (minus a small percentage of exception), didn't get it.

So, overall, we had a few examples of those who got it (JMG included, and there are others), but a few was not enough.

Travis said...


Kyoto Motors said...

Again, to return to a favourite theme of mine, bicycling is a good example. It may just be a matter of time before the streets of our big cities resemble the photos I recall depicting Chinese commuters not all that long ago, with the occasional delivery truck amid a sea of cyclists... Sadly the Chinese seem to have swallowed the kool-aid of progress in the interim.
On a side note, I respectfully submit my latest blog entry to you and your readership. It comes on the heels of my entry for the "squirrel" contest. This one's not a second attempt at participation; just a follow-up ;-)

beneaththesurface said...

I am sometimes surprised at how tech-savvy people around my age still retain a part of themselves that gets excited by retro technology. For example: a close friend of mine has a day job in which she teaches professors at a university how to use and incorporate new technology into their classroom, and is thinking about getting her MBA (the opposite path that I would choose for my life). Yet--interestingly enough--when I saw her last month and mentioned my plans to take a week-long workshop in letterpress printing, she got so excited, and expressed great desire to take the workshop with me! She admitted that her interests lie in two different worlds--on one hand she's learning and teaching new technology, yet a part of her gravitates towards the old. She loves handwritten letters, for example. I think there are people out there like her who find these older technologies fun and exciting. They may not have a worldview of future technological regression like we do, but perhaps the carnival-like aspect of it all is the best way to spark a resurgence of such skills. Once people realize how fun it is to sew clothes, grow and preserve food, letterpress print, play traditional music, or whatever, then we can essentially say, "And by the way, not only is this the most exhilarating way to party, but this actually will give you in an advantage in the future!"

@Kathleen Quinn

I will be at the Flurry Festival too this weekend! Nothing more fun and joyous than lots of traditional dancing, music, and storytelling.

Cathy McGuire said...

I would prefer carnival to jihad, and I do my part to endear my friends and family to my rural life. But I really believe a lot of our media (like our food) is addictive, and withdrawal isn’t just “stepping away”… the re-enacters have a deep love of their alternative lives (an alternative addiction, if you will) and it may be that we have to engender a craving for alternatives in our suburban, progress-addled friends. I so enjoy going to re-enactments, tho I don’t have time to be part of a group and I only dress up for the Renaissance ones. I’d love to have costumes for others. :-)

Power was out here all day Monday, due to a windstorm; I was pleased that it caused me very few problems, due to my usual emergency preps and my woodstove, but I was chagrined to feel a bit of “withdrawal” from the internet… so I’m gonna have to make an effort to be on here less. But I was also dismayed to find out that those who had smartphones or tablets could still (as long as batteries held out) get onto Facebook et al, and probably spent the day, thus missing any lessons a power outage held for them. :-\ (I was a bit less pleased to find my entire back fence blown down, but even that is not a crisis).

On advertising – during my first (and only) advertising class, in the 70’s, the teacher – a highly paid ad exec - told us that the old metal shaving razor was clearly superior to the new plastic ones. “So how, then,” he asked, “do we sell them the plastics – how do we make them believe these are better?” I thought, “Nope – I’m outta here.” Thus ending my advertising career. ;-} I love being clever with words, but lying is over the line for me.

@ Cherokee: Love the line about “going to a funeral” – I may have to borrow that!! But that is sexist, to question a man, not a woman, in down during the day… betcha they don’t realize that.

@Marinhomelander: If just a small cohort of teenagers would realize that Facebook is, so like yesterday, and start sending art projects, poems and objects through the mail, the explosion of its popularity would revive this great institution. Patriots buy stamps and use the mail
I spent a couple happy decades making/sending mail art and strange mail – but the Post Office really cracked down on that after the anthrax scare (it’s not your grandmother’s PO anymore) and I can still mail a dogtoy without covering, but no more toilet seats or balloons… ;-)

Some of these things you are writing about have made it into my new novel, which is up to Chapter 8 over at

Anna said...

I love the notion of carnival--and with my training, the entirety of Mikhail Bakhtin's work on Rabelais, with the attendant inversions and communal celebration, spring instantly to mind. It has its dangers--not the least of which is "subversion containment," but it also allows for huge opportunities . . .

Bob Patterson said...

JMG - I think the greatest incentive to proceed to the past is the inherent poor quality of goods and a system that tries to "hook" you into a system of purchase rather than just buying an items. When I worked at a "big box" store the water heater were de-engineered to last about 7 years (the various 5 yr and 10 yr models were the same, you were just paying a sort of pro rated insurance as part of the price). You do not buy a phone, you buy a "plan", etc. A scythe can be simp[ly sharpened, a weed whacker constantly needs more "string". Another factor is that corporate management needs to find ways tyo make more money with the same or slightly more investment. This inevitably leads to poorer quality, poorer service. And maybe some people do not want to be told what they can and cannot read.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

In the last section of the Green Wizard book you give "three options" (better than binary!) for new lifestyles: The New Alchemist, Retrofit, and Down Home Funk. The Americana book mentioned in your article (it is a good read) is definitely of the Down Home Funk flavor.

I think an eclectic approach is also in order -no need to limit oneself to one of just the above three -though my own emerging style is more on the retrofit/down home funk side.

Of the gear my wife and I have salvaged from the past is a 1940's Chambers stove and a Queen Anne treadle sewing machine.

I think too we can expect to see bioregional variations on these trends as this subculture grows (as the dominant collapses). I mentioned in a previous comment, somewhat tongue-in-cheek living the 1920's lifestyle because Cincinnati has so much Art Deco architecture. That art movement might have a bit much respect for the machine, but I still love the buildings in this city borne of that style (including one Masonic lodge across the river in Covington, KY). Aesthetically though I'm more aligned to the Arts & Crafts movement, as well as the Avant-Garde of John Cage. Not as incongruent as it might sound.

On a related note, for those who haven't heard it, J. Kunstler talked with dandy aesthete Lord Whimsy in a recent podcast:

One of Whimsy's ideas that I really like is that of "Aesthetic Chivalry"...and I don't think much in the recent world of design could be said to be Chivalric.

Downward Ho!

Bob Patterson said...

JMG - I am reading about more and more people giving up their corporate jobs. That makes sense. Most managers would love to replace an employee with one he can pay less. Just create a stressful workplace. Since GATT, the American worker has been pitted against the worker in the third world making a fraction of what he makes. Reading Tuchman's book about pre-WW1 Europe and the section on the Anarchists seems very much like life today in the US.

Shawn Aune said...

JMG Said: "I’ve heard from a remarkable number of people who feel that a major crisis is in the offing"

Another great example of our strange ability to know more than we think we know.

These feelings of imminent something often lead people to attempt to answer the question of why it is happening.

The normal human response is to blame the people one is already biased against.

That's why the Right leaning human knows something is coming and blames the Commies, Statists, Socialists, Useless Eaters and the like.

The scapegoats whipped by the other end of the political spectrum are Capitalism, Corporatism, Fascism*, The Oil Industry and Corruption.

Interestingly, the deepest thinkers on both sides tend to gravitate towards the same handful of appropriate responses but call them different things...

Form a community. Whether they call it a commune, green village or redoubt doesn't matter.

Take back self-sufficiency. They plant gardens and have supplies stored in case of emergency.

Take back self-governance. They get involved with local politics and organize for change.

*What they call Fascism isn't anything of the sort as pointed out by our own JMG in a previous post.

Moshe Braner said...

I expect that people will use whatever technologies are available and useful. I am more worried about the money system, as it seems to be the main impediment to any constructive change. But, the fractional reserve banking system will eventually collapse on its own, in a contracting economy. Do we have good ideas for the post-bankster world? In this regard I am curious about the many, mostly young, people these days dabbling in the sharing economy, the gift economy, the commons, etc etc. Most of those ideas are probably not workable, but the dissensus, as JMG often says, is helpful. And the blossoming of such thoughts and experiments over the last 7 years or so seems, like the re-enactments, a sign of the emerging future.

carol.b said...

I love the carnival concept. I think a really important element of the trends you discuss is the desire for some part of our lives to be at human scale, partly to give us a sense of control and partly for pleasure (these two interacting, of course). Like the discussion on self-sufficiency, in my opinion, it's probably relying on a fiction that we are autonomous beings, but that's why the debate on free will and determinism has such longstanding appeal. It's a deep-seated psychological need. I work with electronic documents most of the time, including a lot of scans of old books and documents, but when I get the chance to work with paper I always take it. Incidentally, there is a lively debate in the archival community on the issue of whether to retain paper originals once they have been scanned or chuck them out to save money. Guess who's winning?

bdy1 said...

I read recently that hearing a song for the first time elicits a different and more pleasing biochemical state than hearing a song for the second, third, fourth time and so on. Extrapolating, the utility of novelty is as real as the endorphins we get from heroin, exercise and spicy food. We like new things because they get us off. A leaky gasket and some hard water deposits are the perfect excuse to replace the blender; and planned obsolescence suddenly makes perfect sense as a natural condition wherever commerce is ranked a civil right. The diminishing returns of technology threaten to leave novelty standing as the only real return from invention: empty calories.
I worry that the Butlerian Festival is more like downloading the re-mastered Sgt. Pepper’s FLAC than it is a return to the culture of analog innovation that allowed Sgt. Pepper’s to happen in the first place. And I don’t differentiate much between the Renaissance Fair, Comicon, Atomic Ranch, Mad Men, Warcraft, Eve and America’s Army, other than to reflexively like whichever culture feels fresh today and discard the moldy.
I see more hope in the practicing blacksmiths, the micro-brewers, artisan bakers, organic growers, perma-culturalists and so on – folks employing today’s informational free-for-all toward the creative edge of the pre-industrial project. And I think most of us agree that as energy becomes a flow again (rather than a flood) those practices will be critical to our living. But those guys are thriving now – not because they make ecological sense but because they make new better beer, better bread, and better produce. New beer – the product of an evolving technological culture that needs abundance to thrive. Abundance is a political end that we can have with or without peak oil.
John, I’ve been following and catching up on your project for the past year or so. I think it’s strongest when you criticize current policy and offer concrete technological responses to that policy’s inevitable outcomes. But I’m afraid that, without a set of equally concrete political responses to “not let the crisis go to waste”, guns will win the aftermath. Who, in your opinion, is best talking about how to organize the wind-down? Where are the new ideas for channeling, focusing and diffusing systemic social power? Which old models offer the best bases for innovation and evolution a-la organic farming? Any names, titles or links? I want this year’s political porter!

Renaissance Man said...

Loved the description of TV World. It's pretty much exactly why I got rid of cable over a decade ago: why am I sitting here watching someone else do something when I can perfectly well get up and go do something?
(Because, according to my friends, I'd be much less likely to end up in the local emergency ward -- again -- if I did just sit on the couch. Oh, well...)
However, I do admit to watching TV shows and movies via DVD, because, say, hand-stitching a leather horse-harness is a long, tedious process that requires me to spend lots of time sitting down and requires minimal attention, but yet more attention if I were trying to read something. I am too easily bored, so TV is just distracting enough to keep my mind occupied.
As you do not watch popular media, I do not know if you are aware of the increase in alternate-history shows of late. To be sure, they are not a dominant genre, but there are more and more of them, and that fact is, I think, significant.
I will mention three popular shows, e.g.:

Vikings -- supposedly about the life and times of the semi-mythological Ragnar Lothbrook. While it does not glorify life in viking era (there are devastating diseases) neither does it portray life in those days as brutally filthy and unbearably miserable, either. Life looks hard, but livable.

Game of Thrones -- set in an imaginary world bearing a very strong resemblance to 14th/15th century Europe and Asia, the vision portrays people's lives as hard, but, again, neither unbearable, nor romanticized. It would be possible to live reasonably comfortably in such a world, even as a peasant (if not being sacked by roving armies. Then, again, a huge number of people in our modern world are experiencing exactly that right now and most have lived through that through the 20th century. North America and Western Europe are the exceptions, not the rule.)

Murdoch Mysteries -- A police drama, set in an alternate, steampunk Toronto, ca. 1890 - 1910. A world that demonstrates that much of the gee-whiz high-tech equipment in "modern" police shows could have been achieved with much simpler devices using engineering of the turn of the 20th Century. There are anachronisms, of course -- DNA wasn't discovered for another 50 years -- but the hypothetical engineering is sound.

The key feature in these shows is they do not presume that all the trappings of modern, pseudo-Jetsons, middle-class North-American lifestyle are necessary requisites for a decent living. Quite the contrary, they assume that decent living can happen without all the plastic and chemicals and electromagnetic-distractions to which we are exposed on a daily basis. They present a compelling vision of living well with much simpler technologies: ones that could be produced using far less energy, far less resources, much more labour, and within the skills available to anyone who cares to learn the requisite craft.

The ideas you present here are slowly percolating into the subconscious of the popoular culture through popular media. But I submit that people are not exactly returning to the past, so much as re-imagining what life with earlier techologies could be like.

daelach said...

Some comments on the Greek situation. I only had researched the figures for 2011, but things won't have changed much afterwards. The Greek trade deficit with Germany was 3.6 billion Euros in 2011. However, it was around 3.2 billion Euros with France and also with the Netherlands, whom nobody is pointing at - strange, isn't it?

Now what took the biscuit was the Greek trade deficit with Russia in the same year - 7.2 billion Euros! Since Russia doesn't export that many things, it had to be fossil energy. Here you see another strong motivation why Greece is turning towards Russia.

Of course, the Greek will not be able to pay their debts, so the austerity stuff doesn't make sense. Defaulting the debts and returning to their own currency will be the only solution in the long run. The downside is just that afterwards, Greece will only be able to import what they can pay by exports. To put it the harsh way: picking olives just isn't a way to afford BMWs. Then again, with global de-industrialisation, BMWs will drop out of fashion anyway.

Some remarks on the latest gizmos - most notably the "everything connected"-stuff, also known as "internet of things". The complexity just is not manageable anyway. They don't solve problems for the customer, they just pop up new problems like hacking attacks. BMW latest "connected drive" issue is just an example of why you don't want that stuff.

While we're at it, olives don't have such problems. Maybe it's not the worst idea to keep the olives and to refrain from the BMW.

As for vinyl records - there are good reasons why they dropped out of mass use. The dynamic range is crap compared to the CD, listening to LPs causes mechanical wear to them (even if no scratches happen), the channel crosstalk is considerable. The original definition of "hi-fi" was made so lousy because otherwise, the then-current vinyl technology would not have qualified as hi-fi at all. There is growth in the vinyl industry from customers who value nostalgia over sound, yes - but the relative growth is impressive only because the base it refers to is so small. So the CD doesn't count as an example where things were better with older technology.

On the other hand, the problem with CD music productions today isn't the medium CD, but the "loudness war" where the dynamic compressors are squeezed out to the max in order to have the "music" sound louder. However, reverting to vinyl is NOT the solution here since the problem occurs already in the mastering, i.e. before the sound is pressed onto a medium.

Laylah said...

I love the idea of a Butlerian Carnival -- there's a project that sounds like fun to take part in! Puritan history of the US notwithstanding, fun gets a lot more takers than self-righteous misery. And it helps put more context around the sense I've always had that physically making things, from kneading bread to throwing clay to spinning fiber, is pleasing in a way that consumption can't achieve. (Around here there's a reenactors' group that focuses on the early days of Fort Collins, in the 19th century, and demonstrates skills from spinning to shaping logs into planks. Such neat stuff!)

Relevant to last year's discussion of scientism, it looks like someone at Salon is either reading the ADR or independently noticing one of the same trends:

heather said...

After raising a family of five kids in a mostly typical, modern western middle class manner, my parents currently live off the grid in a yurt on a mountainside in Hawaii. Their current arrangement is partly by choice and partly by economic necessity; they are building a homestead with several of my siblings and their families there. When I used to talk to my mother about visiting, she often seemed embarrassed by their arrangements- she worried that I or my kids would be grossed out by the pit toilet or bored by the lack of electronic hoo-hah. We had one of the best conversations of my adulthood when I introduced her to concepts from this blog, and saluted her on collapsing early. She was delighted that I, the most "successful" kid of the brood by industrial-world standards, admired their choices and adaptations and saw them as new pioneers, so to speak. Offering her a new mental framework about "progress" and the future certainly gave her a new, more positive perspective about "lacking" many modern accoutrements and our relationship a new mutual understanding and connection. Another unexpected life gift that I credit to our host.

Re. living real life from other historical eras, I recently followed up on a tip from another frequent commenter here, LewisLucanBooks, and picked up the book "How to Be a Victorian: A dawn-to-dusk guide to Victorian life", by historian Ruth Goodman, of BBC historical farm show fame. It was terrific. In addition to many practical arrangements that I plan to try out, the book fostered the simple realization of the prevalence of hunger, the serious threat of disease, and the sheer difficulty of keeping home, self, and clothing clean under resource constraints. All were useful correctives to any romantic notions about a simpler past that one might harbor.

--Heather In CA

Joe Roberts said...

Darn. Another commenter beat me to the Back to the Future II reference. That movie is set in 2015, that shiny future year brimming with technological progress and wonders and hoverboards and whatever else. (I actually haven't seen the sequel, so I can't be too specific.)

The irony is that daily life in 2015, for all its expensive gadgetry, is actually closer to the 1955 of the original Back to the Future, only with shoddier products, meaner people, more stress, and much less cohesion. (Pretty much what you already wrote, JMG.)

David said...


Less on the technology front, but pertaining to the sense of "something about to happen" feeling that is in the air:

I have often wondered, when it came time for the present Union to dissolve (when and not if), what the "spark" issue or event would be. It was readily apparent, I think, to the contemporary observers in ante bellum America that slavery was the crisis issue. Less obvious was that the election of a particular president would initiate secession of the South (beginning with my old home-state slash insane asylum of South Carolina).

But what would precipitate such a reaction today or in the near future? Your narrative in TLG is certainly plausible. I have wondered if the divide over pot legalization might be another candidate, if an over-zealous executive were bent on bringing the legalizing states to heel.

With recent news coming from Alabama, I am beginning to wonder if gay marriage might be another possibility. Of course, much of the state Chief Justice's rhetoric may be just rhetoric, but it was the fire-eaters in old SC that pushed the populace over the edge to secession back in December of 1860. Were the Suppreme Court to stike down state bans, as many expect it will come June, what would happen if Alabama refused? If the state supreme court issued a ruling ordering the probate judges to not issue those licenses? Or the legislature passed a law (as some have discussed) to effectively fire any state worker complying with the federal order?

How would the federal order be enforced? It would be difficult to imagine the feds sending in the 101st to stand guard in each Alabama county courthouse to ensure that gay couples were issued a license. Where would such defiance lead?

Mostly, I think this is another case of a reactionary gas-bag deflating himself, but I do wonder...

I R Orchard said...

I've been around long enough to remember when our local NZ variant of Rockabilly was the very latest and also the assorted other nostalgia kicks have come & gone. I've had my doubts as to the sincerity of them. It's the lazy way out to embrace a particular period as a lifestyle, you know exactly what fashions to wear, what furnishings to buy, how to talk, what to read.... you can look it up in Wikipedia or the like.
Living through the period(s) was just as agonising as today. Gramophones and toasters may have been built like battleships but they cost a small fortune at a time when I was earning about $850 a year.
The theme of this week's essay is a vindication of my inclinations. Time to stockpile garden hoes and forks, hand saws and planes. The time isn't far off when they'll be worth far more than a 50" TV or an SUV. Thanks, JMG.

murph & freeacre said...

One of my first jobs was to try and sell the brand new invention of cable T.V. The pitch was that if you paid for a subscription, you would never have to watch commercials. You can see how that worked out.
We had to get rid of our Teflon after fumes from over-heating killed the pet birds in our home.
I still write checks to pay my bills. Don't have to worry much about identity theft.
I have given up on new vacuum cleaners, after that last three made mostly from plastic weren't up to the job. Now I get old school heavy ones from thrift shops that work well. Hardest part is finding replacement bags for them.
I recently read your "Star's Reach" in paper book form. Loved it.

William Fairchild said...


Thanks for your blog. I often feel like you are one of the very few authors who has the fortitude to say, "Yes things suck, yes they they will get worse, way, Way, WAY worse. Take a breath, calm the **** down, get a shovel and rock the car dangit! You can get out of the snowdrift." My dad always kept a few bags of kitty litter, tire chains, and a trenching tool in the trunk. I cannot tell you how many times I saw a "fancy schmancy" truck stuck, and my fat, bald, old Pop kept toodling along in his rear wheel drive, four door, Buick. I feel you are like Dad. "Toss some weight in the back and keep a shovel handy."

BTW do the have the "chain law" in WA or MD? Out here in the Midwest it is illegal to use tire chains.

On techno-regression, I recommend it, at least on a part-time basis. Part of my job duties at my day job is to train the newbies. Recently I heard the new guy cranking the tug (tractor) over and over and over on a cold day. It dawned on me that they (the millenials) are used to fuel injected, computer moderated engines. "Pump the gas 3 times, hold the pedal down 1/2 way, and crank it", I hollered. He was up and runnin'. Thank goodness that tug has an automatic tranny.

This culture keeps building "smart" fuel- injected, flat-screened, overly-complicated mousetraps, and then is shocked when they find little brown mouse-turds piled up under the kitchen sink.

So I can dig it, ditch the Kindle, get a library card.

As well, have you read "Earth Abides" by George R. Stewart, published 1949? If not, I think you might enjoy it. As will others who follow your work I think.

"Men come and go, but earth abides."
-Ecclesiastes 1:4

"Young man," he said, "are you happy?" The young man named Jack looked startled at this question, and he glanced in both directions before answering, and then he spoke.

"Yes, I am happy. Things are as they are, and I am part of them."

-from "Earth Abides" George R. Stewart

hcaparoso said...

@Lynford1933. How wonderful for me to read your comment! It reminded me so much of my grandfather, who was a wonderful furniture maker, making much of it by hand. I think he worked up into his 80's, too. I know he had a big garden until he was almost 90. He was 95 when he died, and I still miss him and my grandmother to this day. He loved to brag that he was " conceived in North Carolina and born in the TERRITORY of Washington!". It became a state just a few months after his birth. (He never added that part!). I'm 61 years old now and I feel incredibly blessed that I knew that generation and was able to hear his old stories and to learn from them before they left this life. My love for them, I think, helped fuel my desire to gain skills from their era.
Thanks for a comment that brought Grandpa back to life for me!

Cathy McGuire said...

Hmm… the whole idea of simplicity and less is getting an airing at the BBC:

Does managing everyday life feel as if it is becoming too complex and stress-inducing?
…Technology is meant to make everyday life more efficient, but ironically, it too creates it share of unnecessary complexity with profuse password prompts and inboxes brimming with 500 new emails per day…. Could the solution be to create complexity-free zones, which at least sometimes, would help keep us balanced and less stressed.

The suggestions are inane and laughable, but it ends well:

… All of these suggestions have one thing in common that is as valuable as anything you can imagine — they create time. With time comes greater control and less stress. Simplicity is one of those rare states where the old adage that less is more actually holds true.

Dammerung said...

How come your assessment of the situation is so different from, say, that of Terrence McKenna, or Graham Hancock? It makes it very difficult to know who to side with when you've got a collection of equally honest, intelligent, and, dare I suggest, enlightened human beings who agree on the essence of spirituality but totally disagree on the actual nuts-and-bolts outcomes of industrial civilization.

Now obviously the Timewave singularity didn't happen on schedule, but his arguments about the acceleration of human consciousness through use of entheogens seems to have some validity to me. But even if so, does this acceleration take place "somewhere else" rather than the technological world we're all so predisposed to seeing progress in?

There's a choose-your-own-adventure of arguments out there, by brilliant, honest, and well-meaning people, and sometimes I just despair of ever hoping to untangle it all enough to see where I (and civilization collectively) is really going.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

JMG and Steve Morgan, if I may riff a little on William Penn:

Oh yes, well worth reading. So much of what he wrote some Christians (and atheists) and to your point, believers in progress, would still take great exception to. He might consider the latter to be idolaters.

A little more about the quote from No Cross, No Crown: he was not really calling specifically for martyrdom in the way we might think of it today. That was more the Puritans' gig. The lessons Penn has for today are many. If you think of "self-denial" as self-discipline and restraint, with some altruism/caritas thrown in, not to mention some becoming humility in the face of the divine and the messages god might have for one, then what he was saying makes more sense to the modern English speaker’s ear.

This kind of attitude fits very well with LESS, particularly in its more druidical territory. To get more of a flavor for Penn's beliefs regarding nature (and what our attitude towards Earth should be), and the education of children, see "Some Fruits of Solitude and "More Fruits of Solitude," which he wrote in prison. Have you looked at these?

One of my favorite quotes:

And it would go a great way to caution and direct People in their Use of the World, that they were better studied and known in the Creation of it. For how could Man find the Confidence to abuse it, while they should see the Great Creator stare them in the Face, in all and every part thereof? Their [humans’] Ignorance makes them insensible, and that Insensibility hardy in misusing this noble Creation, that has the Stamp and Voice of a Deity everywhere, and in every Thing to the Observing.

He is simultaneously calling for what we would think of as studies in ecology, human self-restraint with regard to ecosystems, and speaking to that sense of the divine in nature that for me fits well with what I understand of druidism. Also relevant for today were Penn's relations with the American Indian tribes: he treated with them rather than making war and respected indigenous ways. You could even say that the above quote displays some American Indian influence.

All in all, his thought was amazingly radical for the 17th century (which got him in trouble), and is still radical today—if it were mainstream, we might not be in quite the fix we’re in.

Matt Wallin said...

While I am aware of many groups you reference, it is very interesting to hear of so many more 'reenactment' groups. I am heartened to think that many old skills, techniques and tools are being rescued from the memory hole. My only concern with all this is that people would use their interest in these lifestyles in an excessively escapist manner, wrapping their minds in a fantasy at the cost of acknowledging the realities roiling about them. When a subculture gets to a certain size it seems that a smaller portion is capable of making a living entirely within that subculture (Deadheads come immediately to mind). It seems that those 'hardcore' then become a model, subject to admiration and emulation within that subculture. Those folks then exercise an increasing influence within the subculture, despite their increasing disconnection with the realities with the wider culture and the world at large. I have to posit that living in fantasy too much of the time is not a positive adaptive trait :)

GHung said...

JMG: It's interesting that you brought up the radical idea of having a paper library, books on shelves rather than an electronic facsimile collection of texts, which really are efficient from a storage and referencing point-of-view. Seems I'm the family book hoarder with a large electronic library as well as real books.

Our school system has gone all electronic (iPads) and dispensed with text books completely. One wonders how they'll teach the kids if/when their cloud-based educational system crashes. I'm going to contact the schools here to see what books I can scrounge from them; math, science, etc..

This essay also meshes well with some recent questions I've had regarding what we value and why. Case in point: I have a copy of the very first printing of Gone With The Wind (May printing), signed by Margaret Mitchell, with dust jacket and a letter to my Great Grandmother from MM saying how nice it was to see her again at the book signing in Atlanta. My Grandmother was a social contemporary of MM in Atlanta at the time, and she, my Mother and Great Grandmother went to the signing; the first signing of GWTW apparently. Turns out the May printing was a 'false start'; the publisher delayed actual publication until June, so this signed copy with provenance is worth a lot; much much more than our family Bible printed in 1720. Go figure.

The reason I've brought this up is that I've considered selling this family heirloom and using the funds to buy more useful things, such as a collection of text books, as I mentioned earlier. Seems to make a lot more sense than holding on to something that has no real practical value (I have another, less valuable, copy of GWTW if anyone really wants to read it). The 8 -12 thousand dollars I may get for the signed copy (Ebay prices) would buy a lot of books of a more practical nature, and some nice goats to boot. Thoughts? Thoughts also as to why societies value things as they do, and how those things are an indication of where a society is on the up/down slope.

GHung said...

JMG: I forgot to add that travelling the world on television and watching pornography are cheaper and a lot safer than the real thing; sort of like having your wars halfway around the world and watching them on CNN. They promised to keep us safe, eh?

Too bad they never perfected smellivision.

Steve storm said...

Hi JMG do you have some good beer recipes for a rookie brewer?

latheChuck said...

A few data points on the effectiveness of PV solar energy, in Mid-Maryland: my system has a rated peak power of 5.25 kW. During this January, it generated a total of 218 kWh, or 7.05 kWhr/day. So you could say that it ran "at capacity" for 1.34 hrs/day, on the average. Our best day, Jan 31, was 17 kWh, effectively 3.24 hours at rated output. Last Jan., our electrical energy consumption was about 560 kWh, so the PV system replaced only 39%. We use natural gas for hot water, space heat, and clothes drying (when wet cloth would freeze on the clothesline), so the electrical demand is mostly for cooking, refrigeration, lighting, and blowing warm air around the house.

No particular moral to the story, just data to consider...

Kathleen Quinn said...

@ Nastarana
Yes we are in the US, fortunately on such a small “worthless” patch of clay and swamp as to be of interest to exactly no one, I am thinking, especially not to the folks I described (the largest farmers/landowners in the county). May it continue. My plan is to sort of fly below the radar, and convince everyone I don’t know what I am talking about. It’s not hard  Thanks for the reminder to make sure it is all locked up right and tight. I was spooked by this article on folks in Florida forced to sell their condos for pennies because the builder wanted to convert them to rental units. Very much a reminder to read the fine print.

As to firearms, yes I have them and know how to use them. As do all my neighbors. Perhaps more importantly, I have great relationships with all my immediate neighbors. That’s a worthwhile investment, too! Thanks again.

Have fun at Flurry! A great antidote for the extreme temps expected here this weekend. I lean towards contras—perhaps we’ll cross paths. I’m easy to find—tremendous enthusiasm and very little coordination! ;-)

svealanding said...

One thing, that might have been mentioned above, is that there is no "way back" as I understand it.

As an example, when oil started to become popular fishermen used smaller crafts that mainly worked near the coast and landed a certain amount of fish. In case one area was fished too hard the fishing would be bad for a while and then other fish populations from other parts of the sea would repopulate the costal waters. This day we have fished so much in teh seas that there are no populations that can repopulate the costal areas.

I am aware that you have not said that we will litterally go back to what once was but I find that a lot of people seem to believe that we might. "It will be like in the 18th century." - no it won't because we don't have the knowledge. That can be handled but we don't have the resources. Two or three hundred years ago there was a lot of low hanging fruits. All those are gone now and if we have to go back and make do with technology of e.g. the ninteenth century we will not have the standard they did, since the technology of that day will not work to extract the depleted resource base of today.

That's how I look at it, maybe I've missed somthing?

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@GHung and all,

I've been buying books cheap at library sales. As they change out their collections and get heavily into electronics, you can pick up all kinds of good stuff (among plenty of dross).

Varun Bhaskar said...


Brilliant! I fell out of my seat laughing with glee when I read the phrase "Butlerian Carnival." I'm do a toast to all of us on the lunatic fringe this weekend. Cheers to all of you!

Also, I wanted to say thank you for the response to me from last week. A thank you from my generation, and I'll make sure understanding of the ecological model spreads!



escapefromwisconsin said...

For most people in today’s America, in other words, the closest approach to the glorious consumer’s paradise of the future they can expect to get is eight hours a day, five days a week of mindless, monotonous work under the constant pressure of management efficiency experts, if they’re lucky enough to get a job at all, with anything up to a couple of additional hours commuting and any off-book hours the employer happens to choose to demand from them into the deal, in order to get a paycheck that buys a little less each month—inflation is under control, the government insists, but prices somehow keep going up—of products that get more cheaply made, more likely to be riddled with defects, and more likely to pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of their users, with every passing year. Then they can go home and numb their nervous systems with those little colored pictures on the screen, showing them bland little snippets of experiences they will never have, wedged in there between the advertising.

Consarn it, JMG, how did you get inside my head (except for the commute and the TV watching)? Must be those Druid powers. I've been coping with this recently and it's got me near the end of my rope. Don't forget the rampant careerism, college degree pecking order, Machivelian politics, enforced cheerfulness, conformity, and surveillance out of 1984. Lately I've been pondering if the only choices left to us in America today are which box we want to inhabit - cubicle or coffin. The latter's looking better than the former every day.

Although I have not read Dune (but should), as I recall, the Butlerian Jihad was launched not because of technology per se, but because we allowed technology to do our thinking for us. What better description is there than this relentless push toward "artificial intelligence," "smart cities," and "the internet of things?" It seems like artificial intelligence is driving out real intelligence, and the smarter the phones the dumber the people. I believe it was Keven Kelly who said the business model of the future is "take any business sector and add AI." I find it hard to see how this is going to benefit anyone but a small handful of companies looking for the next profit sector to milk. I don't need my refrigerator to tweet what the contents are, or need to adjust my thermostat with my smart phone. Yakoff Smirnoff's go-to joke during the Cold War was about how in Russia the TV watched you, but now it's a reality in modern-day America. All I can think of is how useless all this stuff is, and I think others are starting to see that too. We'd much rather have decent food, meaningful work, affordable housing, and reasonable vacation time, but that's not on offer, apparently.

Gregory said...

I agree. This is one of my favourite posts.

The path to a fuller, more meaningful life is opting out of consumer culture and becoming immersed in some of these activities you mention.
I used to think about these things (brewing beer, raising small livestock, gardening, repairing things myself) in a utilitarian sense - as a grim necessity in the face of crises ahead. Having begun to practise these things, I now feel as though they are part of an enjoyable, meaningful life and contribution to a liveable, sane, happy local culture.

latheChuck said...

JMG - In my post about the "new" link between dementia and medications, my intent was not so much to illustrate the corruption of modern medicine, or the hazards of modernity, in general. What I really wanted to say (and didn't express clearly) is that when we see people behaving badly around us, it may be that they are, actually, clinically, suffering from dementia. And that the widespread use of those popular medications can be a factor.

Sure, we can protect ourselves from the side effects of medications by not taking them, but we also need to protect ourselves from the side effects of our demented neighbors (and leaders) who are taking them.

"How could they be so stupid?" we ask, when we see the news. Now we know.

Ozark Chinquapin said...

I'm considering your response to Shane Wilson's comment, and wondering if you think there's any way the Greeks could break free of Germany's attempt to bleed their country dry with at least less of a risk of being involved in a major war? It seems their only options at this point are bad and worse, considering the corner they've been backed into.

Although I have no personal involvement in the Greek situation, I do wonder if we'll be faced with a similar situation in at least parts of the US in the not too distant future. Up to this point, the US has had plenty of third world nations to bleed dry, but once the overseas empire falls apart, I wonder if the US will start catabolizing the weaker and more troubled of the 50 states, putting a few at a time in the position that Greece and other southern European countries have been forced into by the US. Taken far enough, it would probably lead to the collapse of America, but that hasn't stopped the EU from taking that path, and it could keep on going for a while if the majority of the states and the votes were reaping the wealth gained by bleeding the unlucky ones dry.

exiledbear said...

I can't resist -

Scott Bohachyk said...

I was introduced to your blog by my university professor a year ago and I've read every post since then, and even a few from a couple years back.I've tried sharing it with some of my friends and family, but none of them have really shown much interest. I guess I would like to say thanks but "thanks" doesn't seem appropriate... it's closer of an appreciation for creating a space where this topic can bring together a group of likeminded people.

I also felt this was one of your better posts. My frustration and anxiety lies in the fact that almost no one I know personally seems to be interested in this type of discussion. I used to be a teacher and managed to pique the interest of several students, one who is now contacting Charlie Hall for grad school advice, but by and large, it's been sobering to realize how unaware people are. Unaware or unwilling to accept the situation we're now in, I'm not sure.

Anyway, keep it up. I'm trying my best to engage people in this conversation. Do you accept invitations to universities for speaking engagements? uWaterloo, Ontario would love to have you over.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Renaissance Man, Murdoch Mysteries is a retitled series. Original title, or at least the one under which it has been airing on a minor cable station I receive, is The Artful Detective.

It irritates me that the doctor is not wearing accurate clothing for the period, but that is a commonplace of costume dramas not produced by the BBC or ABC. I would expect to see a female physician of that period wearing a white blouse with leg-o'mutton sleeves, a dark close-fitting waistcoat with a menswear-style long dark necktie, perhaps a bib apron over it when she is working. Most women during that decade dressed their hair with tight curls close to the head; this was a blip between looser mid Victorian women's hairstyles and the Gibson Girl do that came in around 1900.

You can usually tell when a period movie or series was made by looking at the clothing, hairstyles and makeup of principal female characters. They are nearly always modified in the direction of the current fashion, perhaps in fear that audiences will think the actress is funny looking if she's dressed right. Bangs are a dead giveaway of a show from the mid twentieth century.

Cathy McGuire said...

PS - I had just about gotten the earworm "Marching to Shibboleth" out of my mind when you had to bring up that word! ;-} Thanks... Firesign Theater - at 5:14)

Greg Belvedere said...


Funny that you bring up McKenna. I actually think his archaic revival sounds a lot like the Butlerian Carnival. So I do think there is some agreement between the two (never thought I would say that). Though I think McKenna's idea was more of just an aesthetic than what JMG has proposed/identified.

I truly enjoy McKenna. I thought of his critique of the big bang this week when I read about physicists coming out with an alternative model, "Science is saying give us one free miracle and we'll explain the rest."

Having said this, I think he came out somewhere very different from JMG because he was a bit heavy on people like Kurzweil and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I don't care much for Kurzweil, but I enjoy de Chardin and think that if there is progress it is not straight technological progress. Even if you buy into the timewave, it is fractal. So progress does not go forward forever and it is hard to judge the size of a peak or valley.

Repent said...

My kindle got wet and stopped working. This after buying several electronic books, many of which I hadn't completed reading, and now none of them are accessible. Paper has advantages. I have books from when I was a teenager over a quarter of a century ago that are still quite readable. The eight months where I had a kindle will be a distant memory soon, and no I'm not buying another one.

I think I like the 60's culture. (Even though this was slightly before my time) I use psychedelics, I love rock and roll, I have a vinyl record player, and I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about 'what's out there' in space.

Rap singers cursing and dancing about on TV showing their belly buttons hardly compare.

Julian R. said...

I have been one to renounce some things for Gaia, or more specifically hold back from buying certain things while thinking about habitat destruction. I've done this as a pagan after dropping the religion of my family.
I have always found the beauty of old ways and things to be appealing though. So, I've not been bummed out about the downward trend of industrial society. I feel hopeful that some day humans will live a life free of noises from machines or other people's radios, because there will be none.

Growing up riding horses and having fun in a low tech way probably instilled this knowledge in me that happiness can be had without electronics and motors.

My favorite old tools are Austrian Scythes and good quality harnesses for horses.

Thomas Prentice said...

We might also look northwest from Greece to Ireland for yet One More Sign of the Looming Apocalypse:

"Irish govt fears global media coverage of ‘political policing,’ anti-austerity activists say"

"Following three days of “heavy handed” dawn raids on the homes of Irish anti-austerity activists, a solidarity protest was held outside the Irish embassy in London...

"The demonstration was organized after 11 Irish anti-water charges campaigners were arrested, detained and questioned by police...

"[ELECTED IRISH OFFICIALS ALSO ARRESTED]: Among those hauled into police custody were socialist TD (MP) Paul Murphy, and leftist Dublin councilors Mick Murphy and Kieran Mahon.

"All three men are public representatives of Ireland’s Anti-Austerity Alliance, which has campaigned tirelessly against the Irish government’s debt repayment strategy to international and EU creditors.

"!!!Other anti-water charges campaigners arrested by Irish police include two boys aged 16 and 14.!!!

"***Ten*** officers were reportedly dispatched to arrest the 16 year-old, while six officers showed up at each of the remaining activists’ doors."

Read more here from RT

Melissa M. said...

Hmm, it's pretty funny how an essay that starts out describing the rather horrible potential for World War 3, still ends leaving me hopeful.

This song was running through my head for some of it. (warning, non-graphic nudity, and the original non-video version has one bit of profanity)

I like this strategy of partying into the future. Much like a fox cub chasing leaves or tussling with its siblings, the fact that it's fun, doesn't change how useful that experience will be in order to chase rabbits and face foes.

In not unrelated news, I was rather thrilled to discover that in turning a greenwood bowl blank, when it's working right, you can get a spectacular rooster tail of very long shavings flying up into the air (and hopefully not landing on the neighboring student). Dried wood is cantankerous in comparison. (hmm, down the road, those long shavings might have goodwill/barter value as firestarter or packing material.)

David, on a grimmer note, that spark might be the vaccination issue, especially if politicians are inspired by pharmaceutical companies try to make it mandatory, or remove the personal belief exemption. Officials offended by pot, and Fundamentalists offended by Gay marriage, have nothing on the potential savagery of parents (on either side of the issue) if they feel forced to protect their kids.

Carl said...

@Steve Storm,
For some beginning beer brewing kits check or Brew Your Own magazine at for recipes. Byo would have lots of recipes and more beer would sell extract kits and other things you'd need. Also check if where you live there is a brew shop, and they might offer a class or have a club that can help you.
Good luck, Carl
p.s. I started home brewing about five years ago after JMG suggested it as a good fall-back occupation.

oilman2 said...

I have 4 kids (22-30). Their generation reflects a new minimalism and a preference for objects that last, things that are healthier and things that can be shared with friends.

My 22 year old is gung-ho building a low energy organic farm with me. Every weekend new friends come to help and learn building techniques, farm practices and so many things no longer taught in our schools. My 30y/o son refuses to live in anything more than 700 sq/ft in size, and has enough furniture to allow guests to sit - little more. My 29 y/o daughter brews beer every weekend with her friends, or goes to anything resembling folk fairs or goes shopping at flea markets for 'vintage stuff'. My 26 y/o and her husband only buy things that can be repaired, hang their laundry and other things their neighbors consider 'quaint'. She uses the USPO for shipping her quilting, and is known by her name at the counter.

I have heard all 4 express they prefer less complex things, even if they communicate via texting and smart phones. They buy little that does not last, and all are avoiding debt at most any cost - preferring to save and wait.

This is very different from many people - some may be from my mutterings actually being listened to, some from their own experiences buying crappy things, but mostly it is because they earn less and so are choosing to spend more wisely with an eye to a restricted future (per them, not me placing words in their mouths). They want things to last and not be forced to buy a new every few years.

Their Mom reads on Kindle, but they prefer going to book stores and estate sales with me to look for well made and meaningful books - I never have to ask any of them twice. They like Goodwill and flea market shopping, because they are more concerned with clothes that last and are made of cotton - eschewing man-made fibers as a rule. They support anyone making things with their hands over factory made things. They buy laundry detergents and soaps based on ingredients - avoiding carcinogens even if it means paying more. Fast food rarely happens but sack lunches abound, especially on trips and at the farm. And oh that cold, home brewed beer....

They know and smell the change in the wind, and look backwards more because the present is rather bleak in terms of literature, music, basic foodstuffs and community (again, per them, not me). They do not know what is coming, but they all feel something slouching towards them on many fronts.

I just wanted people to know that many young people are not living on Facebook, Twittering their life away or simply playing video games. Many simply have parents that DO NOT KNOW ANYTHING SAVE EXISTING IN A CUBE FARM and going to work and coming home exhausted and wrung out. If something breaks, it is replaced or the proper repair guy called - simple skills like fixing a wiggle-waggle on a washing machine are more and more rare. These young people want more than that - their hunger to know is palpable when they show up to help at my farm...

This type of thinking about our offspring is erroneous, and likely put about by preceding generations making extreme generalizations based on specific experiences. This is bad planning - as we age, we need help - and it isn't going to come from our parents... Sharing what we know is far and away more rewarding than complaining.

Scythe of Relief said...

"...If you want people to embrace a new way of looking at things, furthermore, violence, threats, and abusive language don’t work, and it’s even less effective to offer that new way as a ticket to virtuous misery, along the lines of the Puritanical spirit noted above. That’s why so much of the green-lifestyle propaganda of the last thirty years has done so little good—so much of it has been pitched as a way to suffer self-righteously for the good of Gaia, and while that approach appeals to a certain number of wannabe martyrs, that’s not a large enough fraction of the population to matter."
That kinda reminds of what David Holmgren has to say in ths short 5min clip. :)

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I attended a historical reenactment this evening. It was fun; it ties in with previous writing by JMG about the need to participate in local civic organizations.

The occasion was the hundredth anniversary of the dedication of the San Anselmo Public Library. They performed a partial reenactment of the dedication, opening with a song from the 1915 program (The Gondolier, with piano accompaniment.) Members of our town council in the guise of the historical mayor, library board president, judge and president of the Women's Improvement Club addressed us with speeches containing quotations from those dignitaries. Transitioning to the present, another council member read a poem And Yet the Books by Czeslaw Milosz, we sang Happy Birthday, Dear Library, and had cake and champagne.

They shoehorned a lot of historical background into the speeches. I learned that seventy-five percent of the public libraries existing in the US in 1915 were organized by the efforts of women's clubs. The local Women's Improvement Club's fundraising efforts over a few years fell short of what was needed for a building. They persuaded a local judge and former congressman who had been a law school classmate of Andrew Carnegie to visit him and ask for a donation of $10,000, which he gave.

Carnegie only donated library buildings to communities that showed they could keep the buildings open. San Anselmo in 1915 had fewer than 2500 residents. The city government appropriated several hundred dollars to furnish the library and buy books, and they hired a full time librarian.

Chris G said...

It reminds me of a little musical festival up in Portland, OR called Pickathon, out on a farm bordering woods: a weekend long, mostly indie folk bands (as many as 30 of them!!) - you know, they can tolerably well play quite loudly with just the string instruments (it's almost always mostly strings, the cheapest instruments around with the most bang for the buck)... solar sauna.. the lot of people camp in the woods.. open fields nearby. What's a wonder is people pay to go to a place that it can be reasonably said is MUCH MORE EASILY ACCOMPLISHED ON A REGULAR AND SUSTAINABLE BASIS. It is certainly fascinating what technology has brought about... but I think people are ready enough to not miss it much. Hard things to give up are things like clean water, convenient cooking equipment, a steady supply of food, and books. Music, dancing, conviviality... all are sought avidly by many, and comes with joy and good health to boot - and the whole teetering industrial edifice just gets in the way.

ps there are of course many such music festivals around the country (and there could be many more) and they're all different flavors but Pickathon stands out for its really peaceful vivacity, "chillness", and for lack of a better word genuineness. Easy as it may be, it's also clear that people have devoted considerable effort to transcend the madness being created in our society at people's expense for some wacky idea.

Kevin said...

The "Butlerian Carnival" is alive and well in many places. I was involved in the SCA with my partner and daughter for quite a few years, and the opportunities to learn hand skills were and are unlimited. Currently I have started an "Urban Homesteading School" in our small no-road-access "city" (pop. 13K) on the Canadian West Coast, and we had a delightful weekend on "Fiber and Fabric from the Ground Up" a few weeks ago, with many classes involving re-use and recycling of materials. The local monthly paper featured us in a full color 3-page spread. We're the wave of the future, folks :)

Stephen Heyer said...

John Michael Greer: “The difference between experiencing something and watching it on TV or the internet, that is to say, is precisely the same as the difference between making love and watching pornography; in each case, the latter is a very poor substitute for the real thing.”

Brilliant! I’ve never seen it put like that.

But as soon as I read that I saw Truth, and a lot of things I’d been vaguely thinking arranged themselves into a coherent pattern in my head.

Oh! And just passing through somewhere as a tourist isn’t much better.

Ruben said...

@Steve Storm, and for anyone who may be considering beginning to brew beer.

Go straight to Brew In A Bag, do not pass Go. Collect awesomeness.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

I love my e reader. I crave an iPad. AND my bookshelves are brimming with seventies DIY stuff, as well as JMG's Green Wizardry, Where there is no doctor, and The Knowledge. I am also continuing my education in the healing arts. Acupressure is amazing! More herb will be planted. More barter connection are evolving. All we need is peace.

Stephen Heyer said...

John Michael Greer: “One pervasive thread that runs through the wild diversity of this emerging subculture is the simple recognition that many of these older things are better, in straightforwardly measurable senses, than their shiny modern mass-marketed not-quite-equivalents.”

The sad thing is that often it isn’t the technology that is a fault, it isn’t even poor design, it’s design that is far too dedicated to ringing out every possible cent of corporate profit, to the point of ruining what might otherwise be a good product.

This can happen as readily to non material products like computer operating systems too. Currently, a lot of us here in North Australia are running Windows XP and are thoroughly used to it – it does everything we want.

But of course, Microsoft evidently does not think it can make it’s normal obscene profits out of looking after old products so is trying to force us into later versions of Windows. The trouble is, when we try them we find that a lot of functions we use every day have been put in different places, look different and have to be used differently: We have to relearn them and even then they are still more awkward to use, yet in the end mostly do the same thing and no better.

I suppose it is not surprising that they are less efficient as by XP Microsoft pretty much had the user interface optimized. Changing it for the sake of making things look different enough to convince people to go to the trouble and expense of getting a new version of Windows just had to decrease, not increase its utility.

I guess they had to make it look different as, from a user’s point of view, any real improvements are so slight as to be invisible.

Mind you, for all my disapproval of this kind of corporate behavior there is one USA mega firm that leaves me in stunned admiration – Apple. I mean, where do they find that customer base so enthusiastic (all right, stupid) that it lines up all night so as when the stores open in the morning to pay top dollar and then some the new model that is slightly different from the old one.

John Michael Greer said...

Angus, I'm very much in favor of PV. Even if we lose the ability to manufacture it -- which is a distinct possibility, though not certain -- as a bridge technology, it's a very good option. The thing that has to be grasped -- which has been learned by everyone who actually supplies their electricity with an off-grid PV system -- is that you can't maintain current habits of extravagant energy use on PV; you've got to retool for a much lower level of energy consumption. Of course, once you do that, the options widen out very far indeed.

Øyvind, exactly. I want to hear the Democrats who were drooling all over him six and a half years ago look at that and tell us how much he cares.

Ceworthe, good to hear. As for the Germans, that may be the case; if so, they may not be too happy when history repeats itself.

Sukey, thanks for the recommendation.

John, true enough. It's like a bit of graffiti I once saw in a big box store parking lot. "If you had enough, how would you know?"

Shane, oh, granted. I just hear from way too many people who think they want things to crash and burn.

Kathleen, what was the quote from Sinclair Lewis? "You can't get a man to understand something if his income depends on not understanding it," I think it was. Enjoy Dancy Flurry!

Unknown, your daughter is a very sensible girl, and her teachers even more so!

Shane, US boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't do that, and I see no reason why the same phenomenon in the Ukraine would do more. The ugly fact is that Americans by and large don't care if we go do war, so long as it's predominantly the children of the poor who have to do the killing and dying.

Pinku-Sensei, hmm! Is le Nain Rouge any relation to l'Homme Rouge des Tuileries? Might explain a thing or two...

Lucretia, yes, I thought we'd hear from some participants! As this week's post tried to suggest, I think there's a lot more going on in the various reenactment/re-creation scenes than dress-up games, and I'll be talking about the possibilities at more length as we proceed.

Ruben, I'm all in favor of sauerkraut -- it's a significant element in local cooking here in the north central Appalachians, courtesy of a lot of German settlers in the 1700s. I'll look forward to the manifesto.

John Michael Greer said...

Ben, good. It sounds like your preparations for those interesting times are well advanced.

Mickey, okay, got it. I get a lot of people who think I'm actually saying the end is nigh, thus the kneejerk reaction on my part.

Beneath, I've met a lot of them myself. Cracking the myth of the inevitability and invincibility of progress -- that's a tall order, but it's something that has to be done. It's when that comes crashing down that we know the Ring has gone into Mount Doom for real.

Lynford, that's very good to hear! I basically don't use any electric tools in the basement shop these days -- hand tools do the job with a lot less noise and mess -- and I'm glad to hear others are doing the same.

Andrew, it's easy to get sucked into fatalism. Our entire culture is geared to convincing people that their only choice is to go along with the march of progress, even if that march is visibly headed straight over a cliff; it takes time, effort, and reflection to realize that you can choose to do something else.

Mark, you're in the contest!

Adryrn, welcome to the comments page! Yes, I've encountered a lot of young people learning practical skills that way. Now to begin moving gently toward the raw materials you'll be able to get as things wind down...

Marc, I'm far from sure he's right about Japan, but I'm quite sure you're right about the US. It's going to take a hefty shock to snap most Americans out of the trance. Mind you, shocks of at least the necessary intensity are on their way.

Steelkilt, glad to hear it!

Ed, no, not all of us are Wall Streeters at heart, even though it may look that way sometimes. I hear from a lot of people who are taking concrete action to move toward something more sane.

Amazed, I'm not at all surprised. It's fun in other counties, too!

Ben, excellent! I hope you either have apprentices or are planning to get some.

KL, the difference, of course, is that the real 50s had a lot of holdovers from the 1930s and these remade 50s have a lot of holdovers from the beginning of the 21st century. I'll be talking at some length about how that difference shapes the strategy I'm proposing.

John Michael Greer said...

Changeling, thank you. I hope it catches on.

Phil, oh, granted. We're far from the beginning and just as far from the end of this story.

Postpeakmedicine, excellent! I'm delighted on both counts.

Greg, I wonder how many people know that with the most popular e-reader, you don't actually buy the book -- you lease the right to use it for as long as the provider lets you, and they can take it back at any time, without notice. I'd much rather have the physical object sitting on the shelf.

Phil, thanks for the recommendation.

Jill, glad to hear it. The passion for the handmade, and for taking part in that, is an important dimension of all this.

Mister R., no argument there.

Ares, a large and growing number of young people are saying no to the college debt trap, and doing something more sane with their lives. It's to them and those like them that a lot of this is directed. The American dream? These days, in practice, it's an American nightmare.

Jonathan, no doubt someday I'll have to go look up who Brian Williams is.

George, I think the failure of progress is only beginning to seep into the minds even of those who think of themselves as thinking people. As for the limits to reason, yes, I've discussed that at some length.

Yupped, no argument at all. Of course you know my basic thesis: the last three decades or so in the industrial world have been one of history's all-time blind alleys, a period in which our civilization cashed in its hope of a sustainable future on one more round of extravagance and wretched excess. Now the bill's come due -- and LESS, Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation, is the one viable option we've got left.

Dfr, no, you're not part of a trend, you're setting the trend. If I'm right, not that long from now, all your son's friends are going to be jealous of what a cool mom he has!

Jason Heppenstall said...

I was tempted here to rant about the toaster my wife recently bought (which broke after two weeks), the toilet I recently installed with a flushing system so complex it needs an eight-page manual (what's wrong with the old floating ball?) or my travails with trying to replace the battery in the shoddy Kindle I once bought.

Instead I'll just say that I've been recently working now and then as a day-labouring woodman, just to earn a little extra cash. My task is to clear away the brash as the other fellow does the main coppice work. I then have to grade the wood into products - it's mainly hazel so we are looking at fencing stakes, beanpoles, interesting twisty bits for a local rustic furniture maker, and smaller diameter stuff for making arrows. The rest is graded into firewood or charcoal and only the completely unusable stuff gets burned on a big fire.

The funny thing is, between me and my pal, I think we have four degrees. We both lived in London at one point and pursued careers in the media. The forest work is hard, the pay is meagre but the setting and rewards are worth it. It's probably the best job I've ever worked.

Angus Wallace said...

Hi daelach,

Regarding the fidelity of vinyl, you're technically correct that the dynamic range of CDs is usually greater, but (having both vinyl and CDs) I'm not convinced CDs sound better in practice (when the vinyl is in good nick). The point about mastering is very relevant too. I don't know about new vinyl releases, but it's relevant that it took CDs to introduce the "loudness war".

I once heard it said that an audiophile is a person who listens to the equipment and not the music (this is not directed at you, but I think it's a good point nonetheless).

CDs are more robust than vinyl, but when they fail they do so catastrophically (i.e.. a scratched CD is often ruined).

The main thing I love about vinyl is going into an op shop and picking up weird stuff that I'd never find any other way. Also, classical vinyl (Faure, Vivaldi, Bach, etc) is extremely cheap and usually well-looked-after.

Jason Heppenstall said...

A few more data points from my own observations of my family and others:

- My nine-year-old daughter got an ereader for Christmas and is already 'over it'. She requested a new book recently and added that she would rather wait a week for the paper version than get the instant download.

- My sister has stopped using email in her personal life. Instead she has gone back to writing letters with a fountain pen on nice paper. My kids love writing to her, and receiving letters back.

- My wife has found a niche making upcycled furniture using cast off charity shop clothes as fabric. People seem to love it and are willing to pay more for such items.

- This summer I will be helping someone to build a roundhouse made from not much more than wood, straw and cob. I'm rather excited about learning these new skills and the project is being managed by Tony Wrench, who is something of a 'hobbit hole' guru.

As for friends and acquaintances, most people I now surround myself with are doing creative things the 'old fashioned' way. Just off the top of my head I can say that amongst their numbers are brewers, basket makers, bee keepers, fish smokers, cider makers, knitters, alpaca rearers, greenwood carpenters, blacksmiths, garden producers ... and that's not even getting into the astrologers, wassailers, healers, geomancers ... I'm lucky to live in such an 'interesting' place.

There are even some local guys building a steam powered motorbike that runs on wood chips.

So, all in all, no misery here - just doing things a bit simpler than we used to do, and enjoying it.

Cherokee Organics said...


Many thanks, I still chuckle to myself about it.

A storm rolled in here tonight and my lady and I sat on the veranda enjoyed a mead and simply watched the lightening and rain roll in from afar. Nature is truly spectacular and she put on a good sound and light show.

PS: I commenced reading Twilight's Last Gleaming this morning and am enjoying it. The story keeps up a cracking pace. McGaffney's an excellent character and I approve thoroughly, although I have to admit that I'm waiting to read a Blind Freddy reference... By the way, I never before remarked that it was an interesting title for the book too. Very thoughtful.

I'm only about half way through the comments yet and I notice that no one (yet - 142 comments and going strong) seems to have touched upon the concept which you introduced about advances being offset by regressions elsewhere. It is funny how people feel that they and their families are somehow "safe" in an SUV, when they are in fact undermining the very biosphere that support their existence. It is kind of weird way of thinking you have to admit? In societies with a stable or declining resource base, advantages for one person, become a disadvantage for another (or others).



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Angus,

Yeah, good point, and you are entirely correct. Your place is a bit closer to the equator too, so you will get more winter sunlight than here so the numbers for average winter solar PV generation are spot on.

Exactly, I vacuum during daylight hours as do I weld and all of the other things that require heavy usage of electrical energy. Make bread whilst the sun shines is what I reckon.

Thanks for the link, I'll check it out.

Hi Chester,

Many thanks for the correction. Bummer, I thought I had an original thought too. Oh well, the best ideas are other peoples, I guess.

Yeah, there are an awful lot of them. I spotted a guy driving a van the other day promoting a mobile fix up service for the screens. Honestly, what does that say to you, that that service is actually economically viable in the first place?

Hi Cathy,

Yeah, it is weird, but I do revel in my rebellious out of sync life. It is actually good fun and I thoroughly enjoy it.

However, I've had years to accustom myself to the criticisms of others regarding the above and I wonder what the emotional impact will be on males who aren't doing what I'm doing by choice? Dunno, but years ago I had a neighbour who was a stay at home dad who was quite depressive about the situation. He eventually had a "bushwalking accident" and died and I always felt that he'd just had enough and offed himself in a way that left insurance money for the wife and kids. Now the weird thing was that after he was gone, they all looked much happier and brighter. Just sayin...

Did you know that in WWI and WWII, many ladies used to drop feathers off at the houses of conscientious objectors.

We live in an exceptionally homogenous culture and I certainly hope the future brings in a bit more colour and diversity. We could certainly use a different narrative as this current one is pretty boring...



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Kutamun,

I enjoyed the film too and felt pretty much the same way about it.

The conditions are untenable. Unfortunately I also had the thought (blame the sprite on my shoulder whispering into my ear!) that the only way to win the war is to admit that we are there for the oil and simply forget about the whole messy democracy thing.

Hand the whole country over to the war lords split up upon whatever geographical area those people can effectively control. Effectively it becomes a proto-feudal state.

Set up a system of basic rules which are easy to understand for all so that there is a sort of rough and impartial justice for all. It doesn't have to be fair.

Announce to the population your intentions to hand control to locals and tell them that an insurgency will not be tolerated.

Encourage people to get on with work and life and try and extract as much oil and wealth as feasibly possible.

The war lords can be responsible for the welfare and policing of their respective populations.

Then simply wait.

However, sooner or later one of the war lords is going to do something wrong and test the boundaries and your mettle because that is in the nature of people.

The correct response is to then advise the people to leave and then flatten one or more towns completely - thus removing the support base for the war lord (impoverishing him and his family) and making an example of him in the process.

But such actions should be clear to all that that individual war lord has breached clearly understood rules.

Dunno, but what I saw on the film rang alarm bells as it is a costly war of attrition.



The Court Jester said...

Hi JMG. It is always of great value to read The Archdruid Report.Stephen Covey has a comment about indiscriminate viewing of TV: "It is like having a sewerage pipe into your home with the valve open!" - A no-brainer! ... all the way from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Vashti,

Different people put differing values on possessions and I agree that mobility is an excellent survival strategy - on the condition that few others are following that strategy.

I note that your photo includes a cat, would you walk away from your companion animal as you would your books?

No judgement, just stuff for you to think about.


O said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Iscatus said...

Yes JMG, you’re right about the Kindle- it never caught on with me…

Ode But Not To A Kindle

The Kindle’s slim, and yes, it has good looks
But no, it never will replace my books.
Encroaching mildew, paper-mites and dust
Are decorations that I've learned to trust –

These well-thumbed pages with their spines creased white
Have been my comforts on a winter’s night.
I'll never pack them in a cardboard box
Or lob them in a bin like worn-out socks.

Fine substrate both for poetry and prose,
With acid musk that wrinkles up the nose,
Suffusing into furnishings and walls,
The smell of print and paper never palls!

A Kindle may be à la mode and sleek
But books on shelves are more than shabby chic:
Their covers call to mind the many themes
Which have inspired us and enriched our dreams.

Arranged in rows, encased by solid wood,
Their provenance is better understood;
And put on view, they’ll be caressed and browsed;
Those e-books would stay cold and unaroused.

A library brings on a secret thrill,
Accumulated wisdom; drink your fill!
See – books that guide, enlighten and amuse
All intimate together. Now, which to choose?

As kids, we’ll banish villains' evil spells
With wishes found in ancient fairy tales;
As teenagers, with Vance or Tolkien
We’ll take on half the galaxy, and win!

Let love and money battle for our souls
In Regency romances (thank you, girls).
Let’s voyage to Ithaca with Ulysses
And argue ethics with old Socrates;

Let’s study art (view what we’ll never own)
Quote Shakespeare, Keats and poets barely known;
Then with history and science pretend
We know the world’s beginning, or its end.

From epic tomes, to books on wine and food,
We’ll sample all, depending on our mood.
Great minds created them with quill and pen -
With our warm hands, we'll quicken them again.

Arun said...

Dear All, Greetings from Kerala in South India. I am a regular reader writing in for the first time to submit an entry for the great squirrel case challenge. I enjoyed writing it. Hope you all enjoy reading it.

Thanks, Arun

Trent Appleman said...

Since we are all in a circle sharing senses of crescendo I will play too. We're in a deepening Multipolar Cold War. I feel like there are 3 Great Powers now as there was a sole-Superpower Period most recently, and that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization may become much more firmly defined. Also, the difference in media coverage of the organization in the West vs Eurasia is significant.

Your sort of successor to the MAD doctrine, stockpiles declining in tandem with bluffing on a grand scale, influenced me In tandem with your neo-regionalism towards speculation about the likely results that neo-regionalism would have in the event of a war between two or more of the three Great Powers, being Russia, China, and the US. The term is deliberately borrowed from the early 20th century, which had a different conception in place than ours of superpowers.

If Peak Oil does indeed result in the denouement which you have been sketching out, then it would seem that WW3 is likely to exhaust the parties participating in it; that as, to accelerate a drift towards neo-regionalism which was already inevitable in the context of Peak Oil. Various labels have been floating through my mind, among them “The War Without Victors” and “The War Without a Post-War Economic Boom”.

The crescendo we are living is truly beautiful.


latefall said...

The situation is indeed lamentable, and there is plenty of blame to go around. If I am right even a German Marshall Plan (loan IIRC) would not cover it by now. And it isn't even about investing or rebuilding, it is to cover running costs (no destruction of war). Olives and sustainability indeed.
There are two big problems I see now: Organizations have created a problem that goes well beyond currently acceptable individual levels of corrective measures. Sure the organizations were all driven by people in the end. But it is not the same individuals you can reach with corrective measures, compared to the ones with the majority of the responsibility in producing the situation.
And of course neither Germany nor France come out very clean if you look at e.g. frigates, submarines, or Siemens for example. More:
I really feel sorry for the young Greek people. Their new political leadership may represent a glitch in the Matrix and all, but in the end they are still caught between thermodynamics and a creditor that paid the last installment for WWI debt in October 2010. Ceworthe may have a point (and then some).

@Germany in the EU
The other problem is that I think JMG is quite right when he stresses how important the EU is for the average peace loving German (as well as other European). Even though one may take issue with some of Herfried Münkler's conclusions I think his analysis of WWI is pretty sound (, paraphrased: Empirically, if somethings starts to go seriously wrong in Europe there is a very large probability Germany will pull the short straw some time before it pans out. Germany is in a position that tolerates very little reckless behavior and should keep that in mind. By the way Münkler gets the end of empires, cycles, and sustainability.

At the moment there is a bout of very nice discussions held in the German parliament which chime well with this blog: sustainability (no/different growth, earth system boundaries, questioning of progress, tech regression), nuclear waste storage (admission to failure & censorship, now want public outreach and participation - send in your stories perhaps?)...
Of course this is only one relatively bright facet of a much more complex (and frustrating) network. Still, especially when they were discussing the public participation stuff I had the impression they were thinking of us a little (more so if you are young and can speak German ;)).

Eric S. said...

There’s a glimpse of the difference in quality between older and newer ways of doing things that’s been very close to my heart over these past few months in the form of quality care for the dying. My father was diagnosed with cancer 3 times over the last 15 years starting in 2003. The first time he went through the traditional treatment process and once he’d made it out with a few fried glands and bodily systems that would never quite be the same he vowed never again. Three years ago when it came back, he chose to fight it on his own terms and went into spontaneous remission after a year. 5 months ago it came back, and he once more opted out of treatment, but decided he was ready to let go of this life, opting into home hospice care. Since it’s a free service, he never had to deal much with being poked and prodded, a nurse would come by once a week or so to take his temperature and blood pressure, possibly take some blood to see how the disease was progressing and the hospital chaplain would come by a few times a week to talk with him and see how he was doing emotionally, but he never had to set foot in a hospital. Overall, the entire home hospice program reminded me more of the old black back family doctors that used to exist.

When his health took a dramatic plunge last Friday, I went home to be with him during his final days. The nurses came by a few times to help turn him and change him, but he got to spend the whole dying process sitting up in his own bed, holding his dog with me and my mother rubbing his legs and singing his favorite hymns. He fell asleep for the last time Monday night and I slept by his side for the entire night so I could be there for him if he crossed the threshold, my mother couldn’t quite handle the death rattle anymore by that point. At around 4:00 in the morning, my mother woke up in the night, came in to kiss him on the forehead and say goodbye one last time and he drew his last breath, then, my mother blew out the unity candle from their wedding that she’d kept lit from the moment he began to slip away and with a breeze and a whisper he was gone. There was a beauty to the whole process… there were some hard hours early on, but at some point his body just realized what was happening to it and took over, helping him slowly retreat within like it had been preparing for this moment since the beginning. All I could think this weekend was that if I could die, I would want it to be like this… which was, well… in every way the old fashioned way of doing it.

His brother and mother came by at one point during the first day, though and had a very different perspective on the whole thing… they were horrified… they kept asking why he wasn’t in a hospital, why there was no oxygen tank (which the hospice nurses had said would just dry him out and make him uncomfortable)… why they didn’t have a drip with sugars and fluids in his veins… They were even suggesting that we even give him a tracheotomy and put him on a breathing machine to stop the death rattle… They didn’t have an answer on how any of that would do anything to make his death a better experience for him, and all of those suggestions were things that would have just drawn out the process and prevented his body from doing what it was designed to do. It would have stripped his death of everything he’d expressly wanted it to be. They wanted that because that’s what death was to them “supposed” to look like. It was the civilized, advanced way of dying in a medical system designed to prolong life rather than ease its end.

oilman2 said...

As a lot of people are comparing old/new designs and tech, let me share an example of hypercomplexity, corporate mentality and reality...

In "farmland", we generally operate on slim margins, have money constantly tied up in future production and require simple but reliable performance from equipment.

Faced with what was available, I chose a 1974 International tractor with fresh mechanical makeover. My neighbor bought a spanking new John Deer (our saying is "Nothing Breaks Like a Deer...). There is no ECU on my tractor, and every tie rod and bearing is overbuilt for purpose.

When the JD tractor broke, it sat in the field for 2 days. Another tractor was required to pull it out of the field and then get it on trailer to go to the shop. It was 9 days to get his JD back. My neighbor, normally quite handy mechanically, told me that several things make him likely to pursue my antique tractor philosophy.

The JD is designed to meet specifications - who wrote them is a mystery - but only to meet them. Sheet metal is half the thickness of my Intl, and it bends like cardboard under actual heavy use. Tie rods of his 65hp are smaller than my 50hp, and the injector pump is a single piece assembly with built in filter. When it fouls or breaks, it is a smooth $1800 plus labor compared to my simpler field replaceable $400 pump.

The JD has an ecu, and the JD ecu is encrypted. You cannot even hack it effectively using normal computer diags - it must go into the shop. If you break the encryption, you have JD on your back under the DMCA, as the encryption is copyrghted... There are numerous "safety features" which are lockouts - if they malfunction, the JD is useless and must go to the shop. Many of these safety switches and such are bolted in with weird combinations of standard, metric and Torx nuts and bolts. My neighbor is beyond disgusted with his new $90,000 JD.

My generator was designed the same way, with proprietary fasteners (which I replaced to make it user serviceable). There were even 'dummy' fasteners on the housing, attached to nothing - you have to understand where things SHOULD BE attached to avoid trying to remove 'ghost fasteners'...

These are intentional design decisions - from the decision to only MEET a specification produced by management to the obvious efforts to force you back into the dealers arms for repair of everyday components. Kubota, New Holland and Mahindra run similar philosophies sans encrypted ECU.

When manufacturers design products to force you to return to them for repair, they force you to make a choice. If they all do it, you can still move backwards and refuse to play this insane game. But most people are conditioned that 'new' is better, and 'warranty' is necessary as insurance against high cost repairs!

Hypercomplex insanity is present in far too many places where simpler is both better and more reliable. Safety is fine, but designing products that attempt to replace common sense leads to more complexity. It is impossible to 'fix' stupidity. Designing for idiots as operators and being simply greedy for maximum profits are what leads us down this road where we turn around and look for a more logical and effective path - regressing to earlier generations with reduced complexity and more reliability.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

One of the things to keep in mind when winding back the clock to the time of your choosing is that one of the key pre-industrial life skills was dealing with hunger, that is learning to be hungry because you don't have as much food as you would like.
The discovery of agriculture partially got rid of the problem of hunger because it allowed people to produce a surplus of some sort of staple. Still, there were crop failures or losses of stored food to rats and late winter and early spring were months when hunger was not uncommon. I think that the practice of fasting which was part of many religions was an attempt to ritualize a skill which many people had to practice unwillingly, that is the skill of going hungry.
So when working on your pre-industrial life skills, don't forget fasting.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

Speaking of re-enactments... last Saturday my spouse's tap dancing troupe did a "radio" variety show at a local old folks home. Her group did two routines, a trio from the local symphony orchestra played some selections from Carmen, two different ukelele players did songs from the "American Songbook" era, (not as good as Tiny Tim in my opinion...but still great), and our friends The Williams Family sang a few rounds of acapela folks songs from the British Isles and Appalachia. It made for a good Saturday afternoon.

Every Winter Solstice another group of our friends puts on a party and variety show with stuff like the above, plus juggling, comedy, etc. There is homebrewed beer and a pot luck. The people who started it came to the conclusion that "we can entertain ourselves". And create community while doing so. This is very much different than the isolation of television.

( Even at the library where I work, most conversation revolves around ones viewing habits. It's as if Americans have forgotten how to talk about anything else. )

These kind of events can create cohesion for these subcultures and help them grow.

Alphonse Houner said...

A movie character obsessed over the Internet searching for an elusive presence. Then it was suddenly revealed and his world changed. I sometimes feel the same way, driven by a foreboding sense that things are coming apart and one obscure event will provide an undeniable signal of the unfolding that will fulfill my fears. No such luck, it is all unraveling like a well-worn sweater. A hole here then another there and at some point the thing either falls apart on its own or you pull a thread and it unravels.

The holes are there today and they are not very small and it is looking like the thing will lose bits and pieces until a thread bare shadow of the original is all that is left. Perhaps this is similar to the unraveling of the Roman Empire subsequent to the third century C.E. They didn’t seem to realize what was going on and then it wasn’t going on at all. Perhaps the real question should be what was our “third century” and where are we in the process now?

This was a very good post and for those of that have followed your writings, and took action, there is some solace in knowing that your actions have not been for naught. Then again, the most recent report from NASA, released on February 12th, indicates an unlivable world by late this century in which case it is all for naught.


FiftyNiner said...

Very good reading JMG--I only found this blog a couple of weeks ago. 2009 was awesome.

Paula said...

Everything old is new again. You should enjoy this one:

patriciaormsby said...

JMG, referring back to last week's post, if I ever have the chance to meet you, I will have a hard time not acting like a 14-year-old with a crush. I know that the "peak oil aware" are not a large group, but in my heart I think you are as great as the other authors like Catton who have inspired me.
There are several parts of this week's essay that are really quotable, your note on combining religion and politics in particular. When I first became a Shinto priestess and an ambitious acquaintance said, "Pat! Let's make a new religion!" that is what came to mind. I'm not as articulate as you, so I just looked down and sort of walked away.
@ Marc: Japan, I think, has a long way to plunge before anything but the most superficial form of retro culture will begin to appear. From what I can tell from my rural outpost, Japan is going through a sort of cultural collapse. I don't think it will turn out the way Dmitry Orlov describes, though. Japan'll collapse in its own way.
Rural communities are dying out, as the young continue to move to Tokyo, because that is what is necessary in order to achieve the expected level of material prosperity that would allow a young man hope of marriage. Despite the poor state of Japan's economy, the big cities still offer some work opportunities, because frankly there is not a lot of competition. Most of the young people I know in their 30s are single, living with their parents, working as temps or not at all, and have no prospects for their future.
My town held its last annual Obon dance more than five years ago. I attended an ancient festival at a local shrine recently, and this year they'd discontinued using the services of a priest. (I would perform this for free, but the town is just not interested enough.)
I became a priestess to help support a community (in Tokyo, and still lively, but undergoing a similar crisis of attrition). Shinto makes an effort to keep certain pre-electricity techniques alive by training their priests in their use. They do not share this knowledge with the public, but perhaps in the future they will have an opportunity to do that.
I sometimes think, though, that most people in Japan would rather sink into a fairy-tale world and slowly starve while pretending to be happy than face a future without "progress."
I had a student in her 30s who loves Disneyland, and she was in a class with several students in their 60s, who perceived an unfolding tragedy and were not hesitant to say so. I cheerfully suggested to her to "create your own Disneyland here in town!" That went over like a lead balloon.
She and I inhabit two separate universes.

Joe Roberts said...

Thinking of social disintegration and lack of national cohesion, the events of the past week in Alabama make me consider how tenuous the Union of U.S. states really could be in a time of reduced resources and a lack of federal power or will to defend federal supremacy.

Legislators or judges in states could simply choose to disobey a federal directive or law in blatant disregard of the federal system, as Judge Ray Moore of Alabama has done this past week, and such actions, while small on their own perhaps, could quickly snowball into a multi-headed crisis the federal government is in no position to counter (never mind reduced resources; the idea of an actual U.S. civil war declared by the president/feds, as opposed to civil unrest from the ground up, is pretty much unthinkable today).

It seems amazing that something as trivial as same-sex marriage could instigate such as series of events (trivial only in the sense that SSM inconveniences nobody and costs nearly nothing to implement), but it is the issue meeting the most resistance in conservative quarters these days.

My primary point is that Americans think the federal system is unsinkable only because we think it is unsinkable; once rogues in the states start defying the system and don't get the federal pushback they got in the 1860s and 1960s, we might see how fragile the system really is.

Dave Stoessel said...

Collapseniks have felt a crisis is coming "anytime" for 5-10 years. So is the feeling "true"? I don't doubt my perceptions but may underestimate other's willingness to fall down.
My first thought is that there is a LOT of waste in the system and squeezing it out may take a while. Food and utility prices could double and many in the middle class would still eat. Retirements may be threatened but many would not be hungry for a while.
We are NOT going to war with Russia over Ukraine. Our military is overextended and not winning.
Consider your own likelihood of going bankrupt if you could make perfect $100 bills in your basement. Our government can and will do so until the world dumps it as a reserve currency. As that is happening we will segue way to new money... I fear the game has years to run. I simply wish for a nice clean "jolt" that will expose some machinations that will BEGIN to raise some awareness among citizens.

Tye said...

JMG, re your comments on technological regression, today there is an article on the possibility of future loss of ALL information from our age, from the founder of the internet, no less. His solution, though, is more technology.

Greg Belvedere said...

JMG, I would guess very few know about the licensing terms and this was true even amongst people with e-readers I talked to about my idea. Explaining the licensing problem to people was one of the biggest obstacles I faced, but it was also not something I could omit. I could see a lot of people glaze over as soon as I mentioned it. For all the talk about innovation in the tech startup community, I found the people in it very hesitant to actually try something new. They just wanted a new variation on an idea that had already been successful. If you can't boil the idea down to a one line pitch that used the formula, "It is like the x of x", people have a hard time with. I can't tell you how many times people suggested I try to create "the netflix of books".

Christophe said...


Kudos for learning about the magical benefits of lime plaster. It's antiseptic and self-healing qualities make it far superior to gypsum. Also its ultimate strength once it finishes curing after a hundred years or so -- it ends up durable as limestone rather than crumbly as chalk. Lime is locally available and can be used to dissolve one's enemies without a trace (not recommended).

Unlike portland cement, lime reabsorbs all the CO2 that is released during its transition to quicklime. It's firing temperature is much lower than portland's, so much less fuel gets burned. By adding controlled amounts of pozzolans, lime can be turned into hydraulic lime cement with a much broader range of properties and uses than portland cement.

So many rich and superior traditions have been offered up before the altar of the Great God Progress. Let's cut the false god's belly open and reclaim all that it has consumed. Then we can throw the demon in the lime pits and dance rings round while it slowly dissolves (makes for a more silky, workable lime to boot.)

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ GHung - That's quit a find. For a lot of reasons, skip E-Bay.

You might check to see if Sotheby's, Christie's or Butterfields's Auctions are having any upcoming all book sales. Swann's Auctions specialize in books and printed material. Include the letter, and be sure to mention it if contacting any of these people. It will enhance the value. Auctions are a crap shot, but, considering the quality of what you've got, you'll probably do well.

Americana Exchange ( is an eye opening look at the rare book biz.

Yeah, selling off family stuff can be a wrench. But putting the money in plants, equipment and animals is so satisfying. It eases the ache. I know, I've done it. Lew

Edde said...

Greetings John Michael,

Great post, THANKS!

We do hand made acoustic music at Imaginary Road House (which is my bike shop during the day;-). Not sure what era that comes from, feature "old time" music and dance, blues and folk... We have a '53 Rockola juke box that played 78s and an acoustic piano. Not quite '50s juke joint;-)

Paraphrasing Emma Goldman, If I can't dance I won't be in your revolution.

@Clay Dennis - Yep, carbon fiber IS a poor substitute for steel bikes. Lugged, fillet brazed, tig welded - all good though the first two are much lower tech.

That said, imho most one speeds and fixies are nothing more than a trendy sales trip for youngsters. People who use bikes for more than play need gears to help tote loads (try a Long John with a single speed, loaded with 100 plus pounds of stuff and need to get up a half-mile long 6% hill). And older & less-abled folks need gears to be able to haul themselves up hills. Of course 9, 10, or 11 speed cassettes are nonsense but even 3 speeds or 5 make good sense. Internal gear hub transmissions, even though they are more complex, are often easier to use and are more durable. YMMV.

BTW, I operate a bike shop (mostly recumbents and recycled uprights) and have since '95.

Good luck to us ALL!


The other Tom said...

I can't resist jumping into the conversation about physical books vs. electronic books.
I have a personal library of perhaps 500 physical books that line the walls around me. It is comforting, to be in this room. I have not saved everything I have read, only the ones worth browsing again and again, to freshen my perspective. When someone comes over to have a Guinness and bs,this is the room we hang out in. Many of my books have my own index page I slipped in so I can quickly find favorite passages, relevant to whatever we talk about.
I have noticed that people who read exclusively on screens often read differently than those who read hardcopy. They are in a hurry, more likely to skim than read deeply. I think this is OK if you are trying to extract bits of information but useless for anything profound or subtle. I am tired of hearing people say they read a classic novel in an evening. If it was worth the experience, then what's the hurry? I can ask them about Dostoevsky novel a month later and they barely remember it.
I think internalizing knowledge is a far deeper influence than pulling a fact up on your smartphone, taking a quick look, then letting it back into cyberspace. A lot of people now have forgotten that the patterns and connections are more important than fragmented information. I realize, from the quality of the comments, that ADR readers totally get this, but I think much of our modern insanity results from this fragmentation of thought.
At the risk of meandering too much I think it is exactly the same dynamic that numbs personal relations and makes Americans crazy. They don't think their own stories are important, and they don't want to "waste" time on anyone else's stories either. Should it even be surprising, that this country is crazy?
I had an epiphany on this 20 years ago when I did a cross country bicycle trip and was looking forward to returning home to share some experiences. What I found instead was that no such conversation ever happened because everyone was working 70 hours a week and they were too overwhelmed to talk about anything but their jobs, their house, etc. This was a fork in the road for me because I absolutely cannot live around those who think hanging out with friends is a waste of time, and now I am in a place where people know how to "waste" time.
A book or trip or any experience becomes kind of meaningless when you can't share it or bring it home. After all, Ulysses was gone for 20 years and he got to tell his story.
The relevance of this, I hope, is that in a LESS condition our stories will be important again, whether they come from books or from our own experiences.

Phil Harris said...

Courtesy of your respected blog and audience I want to record my personal commemoration of this day, the 70th Anniversary of the bombing of the city of Dresden. This raid was part of a "terror bombing" (Churchill’s phrase) campaign aimed at civilians and their housing and infrastructure.

I recommend the book Slaughter House 5 by American POW and author Kurt Vonnegut. Looking today for reference in UK newspapers I can only find the conservative Daily Telegraph making remotely suitable acknowledgement. In some of our other papers there is spin and revisionism.

On this solemn day I reflect on the dreadful campaign. I was 4 years old at the time and remember vividly the earlier fire in our street on the outskirts of London. I can still here a woman, trapped in her house with her young children calling to our mother, but see no justification for what was later done to the German cities. I understand a case can be made that the terror bombing was a war crime.

Phil Harris

Moshe Braner said...

Hey Edde: at least those in-hub gearing things are not computerized! Since I seem to be older than I've ever been before, and my work is 9 hilly miles away, I do use an electric-assist bike (a couple of times a week in the warmer half of the year - this is Vermont). Got several of the same model so I can swap parts. When the electric motor stopped functioning on one, I found out that the (computerized) controller circuitry inside the case is embedded in a layer of epoxy about an inch thick, so not fixable or even diagnosable. Anyway, once I don't have the commute, a regular bike will suffice for the closer errands. Meanwhile, if it wasn't for the e-bike, I would rarely bike at all, and get even more out of shape. Appropriateness of technology is a function of the environment you use it in.

Regarding vinyl and CDs: CDs did not introduce the "loudness war". It was a combination of changing musical genres (to the worse IMO, but I'm old :-) and (perhaps not unrelated) the appearance of the Sony Walkman (portable tape-cassette player). As people started listening to music while walking, running, in noisy cafes or subways, or simply while driving cars, more often than at home, the dynamic range of the technology was no longer relevant, and even somewhat softer passages in the music were no longer acceptable. CDs just happened to come out at about the same time, so suffered from the same "mastering" fad, in some genres anyway.

Vinyl can last a long time in storage, but not very long in regular use. Much of the music I listen to (and dance to!) came from LPs (and even 78s) directly, or via cassette copies - but I've digitized them and play them as MP3 files. The issue IMO is not whether the exact technology I use at the moment is sustainable, but what does it take to sustain the diversity of musical cultures through the current bottleneck of cultural uniformity. For me, that includes digitizing recorded music (first the cassettes that self-destruct just sitting on the shelf, and eventually some of the hundreds of LPs I still have sitting around) - and also playing music myself, on an acoustical instrument.

And for medium-level tech, one my my roles as I see it is to keep various things working, by using my skills in electronics and soldering, along with the huge mass of spare parts in old surplus hardware that will still be with us for a long time as we descend through "scarcity industrialism".

Carl said...

Dear JMG,
Sorry not related to this weeks post but scientists confirming what you predicted about mega droughts out in California and the southwest from your July post last year.

A major study will be published soon. The climate scientists say to expect these long lasting droughts at the end of the century but I'd say we got it going on now in northern CA . Today in Napa it is suppose to be 78 d f and there is NO snow in the sierras below 8000 ft and about a foot above that. This summer should get interesting.

Shane Wilson said...

Oh, I was thinking of the poor, conservative, rural, white working class that makes up the bread and butter of the U.S. military regarding civil unrest. They don't even have the appetite for going after ISIL, and that's the epitome of evil. Rural conservatives' opinion of Putin run the gamut from ambivalent to supportive, they certainly aren't going to want to go to war with him and Russia. This is where the senility of the elites comes in and their misjudging the masses.
For those scapegoating the South, gay marriage is just an issue that certain politicians think they can benefit from saber rattling. Granted, people in the South and other conservative areas still demonstrate higher levels of opposition to gay marriage, but it's not an issue they care THAT deeply about. Hense, the noticeable lack of protest, while gay people go about getting their marriage licenses in peace. There's no George Wallace standing in the courthouse door. The governor of Alabama has stated that the state should defer to the courts. As for the weakness and incompetence of the Federal government, you don't have to be conservative in the South to recognize that. People of all political persuasions accept that as truth today.

Renaissance Man said...

Unknown (Deborah)
Murdoch Mysteries is the original title; started as a three TV movies in 2004, produced by a Toronto TV Station and Cable company.
It is chock full of anachronisms and fanciful inventiveness: Steampunk. What we could do with 21st C knowledge, 19th C technolgy & Beaux-Arts style. Murdoch manages to invent sonar, metal detectors, radio, flies a monoplane (15 years before the first one ever flew & years before the Wright brothers flew at all), drives an electric car prototype, hobnobs with almost every famous person from that era, &c., &c.
It is hardly historically accurate.
But I enjoy it because it is possible to do these things with with 19th C tech, even if that didn't happen, it could have. We don't need IC or plastic chips to achieve the same effects.
Just look at the discussions about ham radio here: Radio could have been produced with 19th C technology, even if no one had got around to inventing it yet.
I just rather like the idea that it's possible that we might be able to maintain a higher standard of living during the inevitable coming dark age than previous dark ages, or that when things begin to recover, people may have access to labour-saving technology not necessarily powered by coal & oil. I wish I could preserve some victorian spinning & weaving machines that were powered by water wheels via overhead shafts, for example, or create a wind-powered metalshop, or...
Obviously I cannot do much about that, personally, but I'll do the little bit I can, preserve some books and knowledge & hope for the best.

whomever said...

Maybe slightly off topic, but it's interesting to think about Dune itself in
this context (Note I only ever read the original; the general consensus among
my friends was
to ignore the sequels). The universe of Dune is obviously in its own
dark ages that might well match the ones we might be coming upon; an unstable
feudal arrangement, shrunk trade and lost technology, corrupt
center desperate to get the vital resource they need and eventually falling to
the hungry war-bands.

The thing I find especially interesting is that you read it and think "ok,
spice=oil, obvious metaphor, etc", but then you realize it was written in
1965, and therefore predated all the various oil shocks, Iranian revolution
and the Saudis not being America's poodle. You have to wonder if Herbert
sensed what was going to come?

It does post-date Hubbert's paper, which I suspect Herbert would have been
familiar with, as he seems quite into ecology and systems.

editor said...

Found this on Wired magazine. Seems computerized tractors break down and can't be fixed by the farmer. Consequently there is increased interest in older non-computerized tractors. Less down time.

Laylah said...

@oilman2 re: your first comment, bless you for noticing the potential in the younger generation, even those who DO spend a lot of time on their much-vilified iDevices. I've definitely been using my time on social media sites to talk to 20-somethings in other cities about our various projects and skill acquisitions, and to share information and support. There is definitely a lot of mental junk food available through those little screens (effectively a limitless amount, relative to an individual's available time), but they can also be a mechanism for transmitting much more productive messages.

Like texting somebody to ask if she's free next weekend to help gather windfall apples from the vacant lot for a batch of cider. ;)

FiftyNiner said...

In reference to what Joe Roberts posted about the goings on in Alabama over the past week or so, it does raise questions as to how the society will collapse; but as a resident of Alabama who lives in the woods, I am confident that this is not the time nor the issue that will bring that about. Most of the Probate Judges in the state have much more to worry about from being named in a federal lawsuits than in having to deal with the contorted ravings of Roy Moore. Just as George Wallace was forced out of the door of the University of Alabama, the Alabama Chief Justice will be made to understand the primacy of the US Constitution and the applicability of the 14th Amendment. Wouldn't it be wonderful, though, if the Supreme Court of the United States were forced to deal with the ridiculous notion of "sovereign immunity" as a result of state and federal lawsuits sure to be filed in this matter?

Kutamun said...

Cherokee ,
I love it mate , you could be President , sounds exactly like what theyve done !
World consumes 90 million barrels a day , Murica chews 20 of em , soone China will be chewing 20 ( currently around 15) ....simple
Have you checked out the trailer for the next installment of Mad Max ? Looks awesome
Stay safe up there

LarasDad said...

@ Eric S.

Thank you for that wonderfully detailed narrative of your father's passing, especially this " but at some point his body just realized what was happening to it and took over, helping him slowly retreat within like it had been preparing for this moment since the beginning."

I too witnessed my father's last breath (at age 91) but have always felt somehow guilty of having allowed him to die cruelly of starvation/dehydration (with the informed consent of his wife, my mother). He was in hosptial as he could no longer swallow without choking (after a succession of mini-strokes and suffering from advanced Lewy body dementia) -- but he also had a no intubation order in his POA.

So I think as I internalize your words that that sense of doubt and angst will also "slowly retreat within".

Again, thank you.

samadhi said...


I've been reading your blog for a while now but this is my first comment.

I've noticed your outlook has taken a sharp turn towards doomer territory lately. First it was about ebola spiraling out of control. Next low oil prices would crash the fracking industry kicking off a depression. Now it's about Ukraine igniting the next global war.

I think you are getting a little anxious about the next step down. I've been expecting it too but I don't see it happening in any of the scenarios you are putting forward and I think this is going to hurt your credibility. I think taking a step back and explaining events as they unfold rather than trying to predict the precipice before we step off it would be a more appropriate stance to take. Making predictions and watching them fail to materialize can only hurt you in the long run.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"Is le Nain Rouge any relation to l'Homme Rouge des Tuileries? Might explain a thing or two..."

According to the webmaster of EsoterX, the answer appears to be yes. Both Le Nain Rouge and The Little Red Man of Destiny are descended from the Nain Rouge of Normandy, a subtype of Lutin, or French domestic spirit or fairy. Both of them share the characteristics of being harbingers of doom. However, Detroit's Red Dwarf isn't actually a French immigrant to the New World. As "the demon of the straights," he appears to have been known to the Native Americans/First Nations people before the French ever settled in the area. Perhaps he was a similar kind of local being who was interpreted by the French as something familiar to them and then took on the characteristics of what they assumed him to be. I'll stop there, as discussions of theota, theoregions, and the theosphere really belong at your other blog.

Stephen Heyer said...

Dave Zoom: “There has been very little technological progress since the invention of the intigrated circuit , everything else is a variation on a theme.”

You know, until fairly recently I thought the same thing, but then I noticed a tidal wave of new developments exploding out of the labs. And I do mean exploding, rather than one new method of, say, extending the lifespan of mice by 15% or 20% there will be a half dozen, ditto for new treatments that attack essential chemical pathways in cancer cells without harming normal cells, or revolutionary advances in solar cells or microprocessors or new high strength materials (Hey! Metals are making a comeback).

I think what is happening is that somewhere around the turn of the century new techniques and machines became available that made it a lot quicker, easier and cheaper to examine many fields in unprecedented detail. That is about 15 years ago which is just about right for the leading edge of the explosion of new developments to be moving out of pure research and into pre-production.

Another 10 to 15 years will put product on the street.

Rather than technological progress slowing, it’s looking more and more like we’ve just gone through another event horizon like the one that occurred unnoticed a century ago and gave us the 20th century. But then, event horizons are far more easily seen in retrospect.

By the way, in this usage an event horizon is not a singularity, it is a historical period where from before it people are unable make any worthwhile predictions about what life will be like after it, in fact they usually don’t even see it until it is well past.

So how does all this fit into the discussion about some people (even me) preferring some older technologies and social arrangements? Well, it shows that reality is complex: Some new technologies are just more useful or attractive than others, some are worth replacing old technologies with, and some older technologies still turn out to be superior and lots are perfectly adequate, if that is what you like..

Then of course situations vary, one technology might be superior in some circumstances but inferior in others. For example, as peak oil, peak phosphate and peak lots of stuff begin to hit agriculture, it looks like agriculture in the near future is going to be a complex mix of systems ranging from traditional large scale (vast open fields, huge tractors) through vertical farms in the heart of cities to traditional, small, intensively hand cultivated organic farms, each according to local conditions.

Ok, I know that in the long term a lot of this might not survive collapse, but I’m primarily interested in the area of the future I’m likely to experience. Incidentally, a lot of sensible, knowledgeable folk have a gut feeling that some huge and hairy beast is waiting around the middle of this century, that is, if humans don’t do their usual trick and destroy themselves for no good reason.

I’d kind of like to meet that beast, but know that is a big ask and would probably require access to some of those anti-aging therapies the mice are enjoying.

Myosotis said...

Even my friend who is a software engineer and big tech believer is learning to do leather working for his SCA costume.

What a surprisingly fun way of thinking about making changes. I see a lot of this around me, but Portland is currently very trendy for the self-conscious sort of hipsterism. I've noticed that the people who commit to the very Portland lifestyle always seem to have well-off parents. A little discouraging.

valekeeperx said...

Greetings all. Observations from the Left Coast. (Apologies if OT)

Very challenging to make heads or tails of things these days. While I don’t doubt decline and descent, expressions of firmly rooted belief in Progress continue apace here in the Land of Make Believe (SoCal). Shiny new residential housing spreads are blooming (in formerly fertile farmlands), massive new “logistical distribution centers” (i.e., warehouses) are tilting up, and our political and corporate elite have broken ground on the multi-boondoggle high-speed rail system. Cargoism? Build it and they will come……

All of this in spite of the new normal of drier, hotter weather and less water. Funny how the usual conditions (hot and dry) of the area are given a special name (drought) apparently to convince ourselves or others? that we don’t actually live in a desert or is it just to add a little more drama to our lives? Folks, rain has always been the unusual event here……in the future, it will just be more unusual (see the link).

More observations (paraphrased)
“We should just build more desalters. We’ll never have to worry about running out of water ever again." As long as we ignore the man behind the curtain, you know, the one pulling the levers and pushing the buttons that provide the massive amounts of energy needed to push the water through the desalter membranes, and the supply chain that provides the replacement membranes, and the wells and pipes to collect the source water, and the pumps and pipes to distribute the cleaned water, and deal with the brine wastes, and (whispered) the costs, and……

“It will start raining again soon and bring things back to normal. (Nevermind that we’ve known for some time now that California can experience dry periods lasting decades, even before we started messing with the ecosystems.)”

“Hey, did you hear about Kanye?......”

Sigh......gods help us.

Time for a substantial helping of fermented and distilled liquid refreshment. Now that’s a proper use of water.


D. Mitchell said...

Interesting post today JMG. I am a buff for earlier decades, not because it looks pretty or whatever, but because it feels more real. I was raised by an Amish couple for a short time and still find myself wishing to live in the way they did. I have made many moves towards using less electricity, including cooking on a wood stove during the winter, heating with wood, making home improvements with basic supplies, hand sewing, canning at home, gardening and making our own meat.

Many of my friends and family do not understand this mode of living. They believe I do this to torture myself or prove to everyone I am some sort of domestic guru. The truth is I find happiness living this way. It reminds me of my Amish parents and makes me feel closer to nature. Nothing is closer to nature than having to plant, weed, harvest, and put up food on her schedule not our own. Also, nothing reminds you how much we waste either.

I find joy in living as simple as possible. Many others do my own home my husband is a technophile that believes technology will save us. I am trying, slowly, and patiently to show him that there isn't a magickal fix around the corner. He also patiently suffers through my renovations that bring our home closer to an ideal 1800's homestead than a 2015 homestead. Together we manage, though it has lead to some interesting compromises.

There are many other's I have found that would like to live an off grid, as in no electricity, existence, but have not found how to do it. I know how to, but enjoy the internet and safe lighting too much to go off grid right now. In the meantime we are making out house better at using what energy we do use, reducing the energy where possible, and making sure that the energy we rely on in the future will be there.

This tax season we hope to get a solar batch hot water system in our house. We also hope to hook the stove up for hot water during the winter. If we are already using it for heat and food, why not hot water to wash the dishes too?

We hope to put Ivy on the side of the house that gets hammered in the summer and makes it much too hot as we live down south. We are also adding "whirly birds" for hot air to escape in the summer. We repainted the roof with highly reflective paint to keep the attic cool. We are adding more insulation also. All of these changes do not add electrical burden, but should help our home be cooler, as it is more of a little box baking in the sun than a home.

We are taking your advice seriously, before going completely off grid...make the home more energy efficient. Thank you for all that you do. Dody

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Joe,

You've gotta be quick here. hehe! There was a song a year or two back by the most excellent local story teller: Seth Sentry about his frustration with science that they hadn't yet delivered on the hover board. I suspect that he is most unimpressed by the lack of progress compared to the claims: Seth Sentry - Dear Science

He's an excellent hip hop artist. Aussie hip hop certainly has its own flavour and is unlike anywhere else on the planet. I can recommend some other tracks if anyone is interested?



John Michael Greer said...

Barnyard, glad to hear that my mutterings were of some help.

Vashti, I'm not sure if you've been reading this blog long enough to have encountered my references to the remarkable blindness to whole systems that's pervasive among the tech-minded these days. What you've said, though, is a great example. These books you think you're going to keep downloading -- do you have any idea how much physical infrastructure, powered by how much fossil fuels, is needed to keep that capacity available to you? You don't see the pallets of new hard drives being unloaded at data centers every single day to replace the ones that burn out, the megawatts of power being burned every day to run those same centers and the rest of the internet, and so on down the very long list of requirements, but that doesn't mean they don't exist -- and counting on their continued existence seems, shall we say, quite a gamble to me.

Andrew, I'd forgotten that line! Many thanks for the reminder.

Tracy, thank you -- that's a good one to add to the list.

RPC, if you got reenactors from every era in which human beings have fought other human beings, the ones at one end of the line would carry stone-tipped spears and wear mammoth hide. Homo sapiens is a very warlike species.

Glenn, you're going to need some money until the money economy comes apart completely, and I have no way of predicting when that's going to happen. For now, one foot in the old reality and one foot in the new is pretty much a requirement.

Clay, doesn't surprise me at all -- plastic is, well, plastic. As for gears, I'd noticed a lot of teenagers on one-speed bikes; if I were to get into bicycling again, though I'd probably go for a three-speed, since that's as many gears as I ever tended to use even when I had a ten-speed back in the day. On a hill, low gearing is kind of useful.

Joseph, most human beings in most of the cultures in human history have "gotten it," in your phrase. Modern industrial civilization happens to have a carefully cultivated blind spot to our connection to the rest of reality. That bad habit will be whacked out of us in good time.

Travis, go ye henceforth, then, and do that thing!

Kyoto, bicycling is certainly one option. Me, I'd be happy to see streetcars and old-fashioned urban rail.

Beneath, good. "Come to the dark side; we have more entertaining crafts..."

Cathy, thanks for the anecdote about advertising; with your permission, I may use that one of these days.

JML said...

I really like the paragraph about television. I plan on reading a book titled Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander.

John Michael Greer said...

Anna, excellent! And of course there are proven ways to subvert attempts at containment,as long as you're approaching the thing from the point of view of strategy.

Bob, which incentive's the greatest varies from person to person. One person's motivated by the practical issues you've noted; another reacts viscerally to the nauseous vulgarization of contemporary pop culture; still another might be motivated by religious insight, or what have you. To my mind, it's important to include as many incentives as possible.

Justin, I'll take your word for it -- the thought of common ground between William Morris (whose work I enjoy very much indeed) and John Cage (I'll pass, thanks) makes my head hurt. Still, the broader point you make is valid, and I'll be talking about it next week.

Bob, how many of the corporate people you know are giving up their jobs voluntarily and embracing LESS, and how many are being forced out? If it's more the former than the latter, life may get interesting soon.

Shawn, exactly. Get past scapegoating and slogans, and most people have a surprisingly clear idea of what we all need to do. It's just a matter of finding a critical mass.

Moshe, I agree. No matter what gets kluged together to keep some kind of money system running as the wheels come off the current casino economy, money in the twilight of a civilization is a trap, and moving as much as possible to moneyless economies is one of the reliable ways out of it. Mind you, as I noted to Glenn from Maine above, as long as the system stays in place, some money will be necessary, but that need can be minimized.

Carol, I wonder if there's any way to work out a rescue operation to get those paper copies when they get chucked. I pick up discarded books from the local public library in much that same spirit, but if the thing could be more organized, it might help.

Bdyl, I'm not greatly interested in politics, so you'll have to find someone else to help you there. To my mind, politics is symptomatic, not causal, and I'm considerably more interested in working on the level of causes.

Renaissance, interesting. No, I wasn't aware of that.

Daelach, the single currency, not the balance of trade, is the most important feature concentrating wealth in northern Europe at southern Europe's expense. That, and of course loans forced on nations so that investors in those nations don't take a loss on even the most stupid investment. Those, not trade, are the key factors in the Greek debacle. That said, keeping the olives and ditching the BMW sounds like a good plan to me!

Laylah, I saw the Salon piece -- that and a couple of other recent essays are going to get a post soon. Once again, it looks like we're nearing an inflection point.

Joe, I may just have to read up on the supposed 2015 in Back to the Future II, and do a post comparing what we were supposed to get with what we got. It might help some people get a clue.

John Michael Greer said...

David, for what it's worth, I don't think either of those issues will do it. There's still a lot of residual loyalty to the current system here in the US, and a great deal more of the assumption that nothing is ever really going to change. Something has to break that. In Twilight's Last Gleaming it was military defeat, and I still think that's a likely option, but it might be something domestic as well. Still, it's not enough for the federal government to make itself look evil; governments do that all the time and stay in power. The federal government has to make itself look weak; that's when the knives will come out.

Orchard, I think you've missed the point of the post. I'm not claiming that the Fifties were a halcyon time; I'm claiming that they were a time when people got by on a lot less energy per capita than they use today, and that Fifties technology is therefore much more likely to be viable in an energy-constrained future.

Freeacre, thank you! Have you considered sewing reusable cloth bags for your vacuum cleaners?

William, I have indeed! A professor of ecology in the first college I attended, back in 1980, recommended it to all his students. A good lively read, and good to inspire thoughts, too.

Cathy, the media dabbles with it now and again. The thing to watch for is if it starts becoming a steady presence.

Dammerung, in McKenna's case, it's probably because I didn't fry my brain on way too many drugs. The Timewave didn't just flop in 2012 -- none of its predicted concentrations of novelty showed up on schedule, and so it probably belongs in the same drawer as all the other failed theories of history out there. As for Hancock, I don't happen to know much about his predictions for the future, but his claims about the past are one of the things I use to get a room full of stodgy Masonic historians chuckling at the beginning of one of my talks. He's got some interesting things here and there, but Freemasonry being imported to Earth by refugees from Mars in 11,500 BCE? Come on.

Adrian, many thanks for this! I was hoping that one or more of the Friends on this list would comment and provide some context; I've read Fruits of Solitude -- it's in volume 1 of the Harvard Classics, which I'm delighted to own -- but nothing else of his.

Matt, the thing I'd point out is that inhabitants of the cultural mainstream spend all their time in fantasy, too -- they think they live in a world where it's possible to have infinite growth on a finite planet, and human action can't possibly wreck the natural cycles that support our existence. I'm far from sure that exchanging that fantasy for one that's less toxic is any kind of problem.

Ghung, to my mind, everything depends on how much value you and any other family members you have place on that book. If it's something you treasure, or that younger generations of your family will treasure, don't you dare sell it -- the money's not worth the loss. If it's just a curio, though, cash it in and do it quick, before the investment economy hits enough of a bump to bring down the price of collectibles.

Steve, nope -- I'm fond of beer but don't brew it myself, at least at this point. Why do you think I'm so enthusiastic about encouraging other people to get into brewing? ;-)

LatheChuck, that sounds about right.

Svealanding, there are some specific cases where there's no way back. There are others where that's not the case -- for example, nothing stops you from downshifting from an electronic tablet to a paper notebook and a pen, from email to paper mail, from driving everywhere to walking, or what have you. The claim "there's no way back" in general is mythology -- part of the religion of progress, which, like all mythology, fastens on a few specific events and uses those as paradigms for human existence in general.

John Michael Greer said...

Varun, thank you. Just one of the services I offer...

Escape, it doesn't take mysterious Druid powers, just open eyes and a willingness to talk about what everybody knows and nobody wants to discuss.

Gregory, excellent. Thing is, if I tried to talk about it in terms of having fun, it would be dismissed as nostalgia. I'm taking a risk with this post in mentioning that yes, a life less hag-ridden by technology really is more fun.

LatheChuck, okay, and that's a valid point. Reason I reacted the way I did is that I'm beginning to assemble raw materials on another post on the suicide of science, and that's a useful data point.

Ozark, the US has been pumping wealth out of some of its regions for a very long time. Why do you think so much of the South and rural West are mired in intractable poverty, despite the agricultural wealth produced there? It's our old friend the imperial wealth pump, bleeding the periphery dry for the benefit of the centers of power.

Bear, thank you!

Scott, you're welcome. I don't generally do university speaking gigs, since the audiences are more resistant to what I have to say than just about anyone else -- understandably so; young people who've mortgaged their futures on the fantasy of upward mobility generally aren't willing to consider the possibility that they're chasing a phantom, will probably never get out of debt, and ought to be learning handicrafts instead!

Repent, then by all means go get yourself some tie-dyed shirts and John Lennon glasses, decorate your pad with india-print bedspreads, and, like, keep the faith, baby! One of my favorite bumper stickers, which I've seen on the back of a VW bus this year rolling down the streets of this little Appalachian mill town, simply says, "The Hippies Were Right."

Julian, those are first-rate tools. If you feel like giving things up, by all means give them up -- but consider doing it, as I suspect you are on some level, joyously, as a way of embracing other things you value more.

Thomas, good gods. Does the government really want another round of Irish Troubles? They may just get it.

Melissa, those shavings will be worth their weight in light sweet crude as firestarter -- you might consider collecting them, drying them, and then making them available to your friends and family in little recyclable cloth bags. A match or, better still, a flint and steel and a little bit of charred cloth, and you can get a nice flame fast with dried shavings. BTW, thanks for the song; if Druids could get superpowers, the one I would most like to put in an application for is the one that would allow me to cause natural environments to appear magically in sterile modern settings -- ivy, rabbits, and all.

Oilman, you've raised some very sensible kids. Congratulations; that's not an easy thing in this age.

John Michael Greer said...

Scythe, well, what can I say? Great minds think alike. ;-)

Unknown Deborah, if that variety show were to rent an inexpensive stage somewhere and sell tickets for a show once a month, with a mix of new and familiar acts, I bet they'd get a decent turnout. We're about ripe for the first steps toward a revival of vaudeville.

Chris, that sounds like a lot of fun. Being a member of my generation, I have a hardwired appreciation for electric guitars well played, but these days I'd rather listen to someone strumming a mountain dulcimer or doing something complicated and sweet on an acoustic guitar.

Kevin, you're on the real cutting edge; the tech-geek types with their iEverythings are so twentieth century!

Stephen, I had roughly the same experience when I thought of the comparison. It really does put certain things into perspective.

Ien, whatever works for you, go ye forth and do that thing. Just don't rely on the e-whatsit for everything!

Stephen, I use XP also -- it's easy to do, as long as you make a habit of using old computers from the local tech-recycling store or from friends who've upgraded. I do wish somebody would come up with a good freeware OS that does to Windows what OpenOffice does to Word et al. -- replaces it with a good-enough equivalent that doesn't require dependence on the Dark Lord of the computer industry.

Jason, sounds like an excellent career move to me! As for your family and friends, it sounds as though they've gotten a whole basket of clues, neatly wrapped and distributed cheerfully to all and sundry. Your nine-year-old's attitude is particularly cheering to this old-fashioned lover of printed books.

Cherokee, many thanks! I don't recall at the moment whether I got in Blind Freddy reference or not -- I spent a lot of long nights hammering that book into shape, and am still a little vague about some of it. As for the point people are missing -- why, yes, they are. I propose, in an upcoming post, to make it clearly visible to Blind Freddy, at least.

Jester, that's a fine metaphor. Thank you.

O, yes, but consider the possibility of having fun at it while we're doing it.

Ben, the ability to turn a good readable occasional poem is another skill worth cultivating -- many thanks for displaying it.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Steve storm,

Try country wines like meads, ciders and lemon wines. Honestly, you can't stuff them up.

A good starter book is Craig Hughes: "How to make Cider, mead, Perry and Fruit Wines".

With that book under your belt and a few experiment brews, you'll be spotting possibilities with all sorts of organic products.

People fixate on beer, but it is technically quite complex compared to the above drinks.



John Michael Greer said...

Arun, excellent -- you're in the contest!

Trent, that's quite plausible.

Latefall, if they're discussing that sort of thing in public in the Bundestag, it might just be possible to head off the worst end of the possibility curve. That's a very positive sign.

Eric, my condolences. The loss of a father, even when it happens in a natural and appropriate manner, has got to be a gut-punch of an experience. That said, it's good to hear that there are still people in this country who have the courage and common sense to take the one thing in this world that's inescapably theirs -- the experience of death -- out of the hands of the sickness industry, and do the thing in a dignified, humanly becoming manner.

Oilman, that's a great story. I'd have to guess that people who know how to rebuild old tractors are doing quite well just now, too.

Wolfgang, an excellent point, and one that can be broadened. Learning how to deal with not getting something you want is a crucial lesson, and one most of us will get to practice in the future -- might as well learn how now.

Justin, okay, that's two readers commenting about a nascent revival of what looks very much like vaudeville. One more and I'll be ready to announce a trend!

Alphonse, we simply don't know what's going to happen with the climate. All we can do is take up the challenge and see what happens.

FiftyNiner, thank you!

Paula, thanks for that also.

Patricia, I'd have probably just said, "No thanks, I'm happy with the fine old antique I have now." In regard to the abandonment of Obon and Shinto ceremonies at festivals, that's appalling -- I wonder if they have any idea how much will unravel if that's allowed to go by the boards. Not just culturally -- I'm currently researching a book project on the relationship of traditional religion to agriculture and soil fertility, and coming up with some astonishing things. (I'd like to discuss that with you sometime via email, if that's of interest.)

Joe, good. That's exactly the issue, of course -- the federal government remains in power only so long as anyone who refuses to play along gets stomped. One obvious display of weakness or incapacity, and it's all over.

Dave, you're thinking in terms of fast collapse. We're already in collapse; it's just a longer, more drawn-out process than Hollywood stereotypes make it look. Spinning the presses makes money but it can't produce real wealth; the middle class may still eat as the economy comes apart, but what happens when those who actually do the day to day labor that keeps the system running no longer get enough to eat, and either starve or walk away, a little at a time?

Tye, thanks for this. There's a bleak humor in watching someone insist that the only solution for data loss is to make sure that the data's in the most transient storage medium of all!

Greg, thanks for an excellent example of the way that the word "new" nowadays means "another rehash of the same old thing," and anything actually new is unthinkable. Now to work out more ways to undercut that...

Cherokee Organics said...


I look forward to that future post and will keep an eye out for Blind Freddy - you never quite know when he is going to stumble into view! It truly surprised me that no one has tackled that difficult realisation. Perhaps it was my travels to the third world that took away any form of pretence? Blind Freddy would know the answer for sure, but I haven't spotted him for a long while now – perhaps he is needed elsewhere? Who knows?

The farm scored about 1.2 inches of rain last night, but it is now exactly like the Amazon rainforest (which I've actually been too) here tonight. The inside of the house is at 75% humidity and tomorrow promises a high of 36'C (about 98'F). Think I'll start early tomorrow with the outside work. That is global weirding for you...

Incidentally, fiction comes from the heart so it is hardly surprising to me that the details are a little bit fuzzy for you.

Hi Kutamun,

Haha! It is a good plan isn't it? It is certainly how I would set out the chess pieces and it is also the lowest cost option that yet still provides an adequate return. There would be a bit of grumbling though from domestic and international groups. The simple answer is to cut off their funding or tax exempt status and they’ll be towing the line before...

I have often had both the pleasure and responsibility of being the boss and once or twice over the past few decades upon announcing my departure I have had subordinates tear up and openly cry. Truly I had nothing more to give them, it was just my time to go.

Anyway, at those times I was very uncomfortably reminded of Galdariel in the Lord of the Rings speaking to Frodo:

"And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”

What a strange thing our lives are. Temptation to power is a strong drug, whilst strict limitations are a freedom that few understand nowadays. How do you feel that you measure up?

PS: Hope that you received a decent dump of rain. It was very well received here.



KL Cooke said...


"My kindle got wet and stopped working. This after buying several electronic books, many of which I hadn't completed reading, and now none of them are accessible. Paper has advantages. I have books from when I was a teenager over a quarter of a century ago that are still quite readable."

When I was a young teenager in the early 60's Grove Press had recently won the censorship battle and published Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer in paperback. I had a copy that I used to read in the bathtub, so my mother wouldn't catch me with it. One time I goofed and dropped it in the water. After it dried out I could still read it just fine.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi lathechuck,

Those figures are exactly what I would expect at about 39'N latitude. I'm at about 37.5'S and suffer a bit of over shadowing in the early winter mornings.

Good work.


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