Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Peak Meaninglessness

Last week’s discussion of externalities—costs of doing business that get dumped onto the economy, the community, or the environment, so that those doing the dumping can make a bigger profit—is, I’m glad to say, not the first time this issue has been raised recently.  The long silence that closed around such things three decades ago is finally cracking; they’re being mentioned again, and not just by archdruids.  One of my readers—tip of the archdruidical hat to Joe McInerney—noted an article in Grist a while back that pointed out the awkward fact that none of the twenty biggest industries in today’s world could break even, much less make a profit, if they had to pay for the damage they do to the environment.

Now of course the conventional wisdom these days interprets that statement to mean that it’s unfair to make those industries pay for the costs they impose on the rest of us—after all, they have a God-given right to profit at everyone else’s expense, right?  That’s certainly the attitude of fracking firms in North Dakota, who recently proposed that  they ought to be exempted from the state’s rules on dumping radioactive waste, because following the rules would cost them too much money. That the costs externalized by the fracking industry will sooner or later be paid by others, as radionuclides in fracking waste work their way up the food chain and start producing cancer clusters, is of course not something anyone in the industry or the media is interested in discussing.

Watch this sort of thing, and you can see the chasm opening up under the foundations of industrial society. Externalized costs don’t just go away; one way or another, they’re going to be paid, and costs that don’t appear on a company’s balance sheet still affect the economy. That’s the argument of The Limits to Growth, still the most accurate (and thus inevitably the most reviled) of the studies that tried unavailingly to turn industrial society away from its suicidal path: on a finite planet, once an inflection point is passed, the costs of economic growth rise faster than growth does, and sooner or later force the global economy to its knees.

The tricks of accounting that let corporations pretend that their externalized costs vanish into thin air don’t change that bleak prognosis. Quite the contrary, the pretense that externalities don’t matter just makes it harder for a society in crisis to recognize the actual source of its troubles. I’ve come to think that that’s the unmentioned context behind a dispute currently roiling those unhallowed regions where economists lurk in the shrubbery: the debate over secular stagnation.

Secular stagnation? That’s the concept, unmentionable until recently, that the global economy could stumble into a rut of slow, no, or negative growth, and stay there for years. There are still plenty of economists who insist that this can’t happen, which is rather funny, really, when you consider that this has basically been the state of the global economy since 2009. (My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest, in fact, that if you subtract the hallucinatory paper wealth manufactured by derivatives and similar forms of financial gamesmanship from the world’s GDP, the production of nonfinancial goods and services worldwide has actually been declining since before the 2008 housing crash.)

Even among those who admit that what’s happening can indeed happen, there’s no consensus as to how or why such a thing could occur.  On the off chance that any mainstream economists are lurking in the shrubbery in the even more unhallowed regions where archdruids utter unspeakable heresies, and green wizards clink mugs of homebrewed beer together and bay at the moon, I have a suggestion to offer: the most important cause of secular stagnation is the increasing impact of externalities on the economy. The dishonest macroeconomic bookkeeping that leads economists to think that externalized costs go away because they’re not entered into anyone’s ledger books doesn’t actually make them disappear; instead, they become an unrecognized burden on the economy as a whole, an unfelt headwind blowing with hurricane force in the face of economic growth.

Thus there’s a profound irony in the insistence by North Dakota fracking firms that they ought to be allowed to externalize even more of their costs in order to maintain their profit margin. If I’m right, the buildup of externalized costs is what’s causing the ongoing slowdown in economic activity worldwide that’s driving down commodity prices, forcing interest rates in many countries to zero or below, and resurrecting the specter of deflationary depression. The fracking firms in question thus want to respond to the collapse in oil prices—a result of secular stagnation—by doing even more of what’s causing secular stagnation. To say that this isn’t likely to end well is to understate the case considerably.

In the real world, of course, mainstream economists don’t listen to suggestions from archdruids, and fracking firms, like every other business concern these days, can be expected to put their short-term cash flow ahead of the survival of their industry, or for that matter of industrial civilization as a whole. Thus I propose to step aside from the subject of economic externalities for a moment—though I’ll be returning to it at intervals as we proceed with this sequence of posts—in order to discuss a subtler and less crassly financial form of the same phenomenon.

That form came in for discussion in the same post two weeks ago that brought the issue of externalities into this blog’s ongoing conversation. Quite a few readers commented about the many ways in which things labeled “more advanced,” “more progressive,” and the like were actually less satisfactory and less effective at meeting human needs than the allegedly more primitive technologies they replaced. Some of those comments focused, and quite sensibly, on the concrete examples, but others pondered the ways that today’s technology fails systematically at meeting certain human needs, and reflected on the underlying causes for that failure. One of my readers—tip of the archdruidical hat here to Ruben—gave an elegant frame for that discussion by suggesting that the peak of technological complexity in our time may also be described as peak meaninglessness.

I’d like to take the time to unpack that phrase. In the most general sense, technologies can be divided into two broad classes, which we can respectively call tools and prosthetics. The difference is a matter of function. A tool expands human potential, giving people the ability to do things they couldn’t otherwise do. A prosthetic, on the other hand, replaces human potential, doing something that under normal circumstances, people can do just as well for themselves.  Most discussions of technology these days focus on tools, but the vast majority of technologies that shape the lives of people in a modern industrial society are not tools but prosthetics.

Prosthetics have a definite value, to be sure. Consider an artificial limb, the sort of thing on which the concept of technology-as-prosthetic is modeled. If you’ve lost a leg in an accident, say, an artificial leg is well worth having; it replaces a part of ordinary human potential that you don’t happen to have any more, and enables you to do things that other people can do with their own leg. Imagine, though, that some clever marketer were to convince people to have their legs cut off so that they could be fitted for artificial legs. Imagine, furthermore, that the advertising for artificial legs became so pervasive, and so successful, that nearly everybody became convinced that human legs were hopelessly old-fashioned and ugly, and rushed out to get their legs amputated so they could walk around on artificial legs.

Then, of course, the manufacturers of artificial arms got into the same sort of marketing, followed by the makers of sex toys. Before long you’d have a society in which most people were gelded quadruple amputees fitted with artificial limbs and rubber genitals, who spent all their time talking about the wonderful things they could do with their prostheses. Only in the darkest hours of the night, when the TV was turned off, might some of them wonder why it was that a certain hard-to-define numbness had crept into all their interactions with other people and the rest of the world.

In a very real sense, that’s the way modern industrial society has reshaped and deformed human life for its more privileged inmates. Take any human activity, however humble or profound, and some clever marketer has found a way to insert a piece of technology in between the person and the activity. You can’t simply bake bread—a simple, homely, pleasant activity that people have done themselves for thousands of years using their hands and a few simple handmade tools; no, you have to have a bread machine, into which you dump a prepackaged mix and some liquid, push a button, and stand there being bored while it does the work for you, if you don’t farm out the task entirely to a bakery and get the half-stale industrially extruded product that passes for bread these days.

Now of course the bread machine manufacturers and the bakeries pitch their products to the clueless masses by insisting that nobody has time to bake their own bread any more. Ivan Illich pointed out in Energy and Equity a long time ago the logical fallacy here, which is that using a bread machine or buying from a bakery is only faster if you don’t count the time you have to spend earning the money needed to pay for it, power it, provide it with overpriced prepackaged mixes, repair it, clean it, etc., etc., etc. Illich’s discussion focused on automobiles; he pointed out that if you take the distance traveled by the average American auto in a year, and divide that by the total amount of time spent earning the money to pay for the auto, fuel, maintenance, insurance, etc., plus all the other time eaten up by tending to the auto in various ways, the average American car goes about 3.5 miles an hour: about the same pace, that is, that an ordinary human being can walk.

If this seems somehow reminiscent of last week’s discussion of externalities, dear reader, it should. The claim that technology saves time and labor only seems to make sense if you ignore a whole series of externalities—in this case, the time you have to put into earning the money to pay for the technology and into coping with whatever requirements, maintenance needs, and side effects the technology has. Have you ever noticed that the more “time-saving technologies” you bring into your life, the less free time you have? This is why—and it’s also why the average medieval peasant worked shorter hours, had more days off, and kept a larger fraction of the value of his labor than you do.

Something else is being externalized by prosthetic technology, though, and it’s that additional factor that gives Ruben’s phrase “peak meaninglessness” its punch. What are you doing, really, when you use a bread machine? You’re not baking bread; the machine is doing that. You’re dumping a prepackaged mix and some water into a machine, closing the lid, pushing a button, and going away to do something else. Fair enough—but what is this “something else” that you’re doing? In today’s industrial societies, odds are you’re going to go use another piece of prosthetic technology, which means that once again, you’re not actually doing anything. A machine is doing something for you. You can push that button and walk away, but again, what are you going to do with your time? Use another machine?

The machines that industrial society uses to give this infinite regress somewhere to stop—televisions, video games, and computers hooked up to the internet—simply take the same process to its ultimate extreme. Whatever you think you’re doing when you’re sitting in front of one of these things, what you’re actually doing is staring at little colored pictures on a glass screen and pushing some buttons. All things considered, this is a profoundly boring activity, which is why the little colored pictures jump around all the time; that’s to keep your nervous system so far off balance that you don’t notice just how tedious it is to spend hours at a time staring at little colored pictures on a screen.

I can’t help but laugh when people insist that the internet is an information-rich environment. It’s quite the opposite, actually: all you get from it is the very narrow trickle of verbal, visual, and auditory information that can squeeze through the digital bottleneck and turn into little colored pictures on a glass screen. The best way to experience this is to engage in a media fast—a period in which you deliberately cut yourself off from all electronic media for a week or more, preferably in a quiet natural environment. If you do that, you’ll find that it can take two or three days, or even more, before your numbed and dazzled nervous system recovers far enough that you can begin to tap in to the ocean of sensory information and sensual delight that surrounds you at every moment. It’s only then, furthermore, that you can start to think your own thoughts and dream your own dreams, instead of just rehashing whatever the little colored pictures tell you.

A movement of radical French philosophers back in the 1960s, the Situationists, argued that modern industrial society is basically a scheme to convince people to hand over their own human capabilities to the industrial machine, so that imitations of those capabilities can be sold back to them at premium prices. It was a useful analysis then, and it’s even more useful now, when the gap between realities and representations has become even more drastic than it was back then. These days, as often as not, what gets sold to people isn’t even an imitation of some human capability, but an abstract representation of it, an arbitrary marker with only the most symbolic connection to what it represents.

This is one of the reasons why I think it’s deeply mistaken to claim that Americans are materialistic. Americans are arguably the least materialistic people in the world; no actual materialist—no one who had the least appreciation for actual physical matter and its sensory and sensuous qualities—could stand the vile plastic tackiness of America’s built environment and consumer economy for a fraction of a second.  Americans don’t care in the least about matter; they’re happy to buy even the most ugly, uncomfortable, shoddily made and absurdly overpriced consumer products you care to imagine, so long as they’ve been convinced that having those products symbolizes some abstract quality they want, such as happiness, freedom, sexual pleasure, or what have you.

Then they wonder, in the darkest hours of the night, why all the things that are supposed to make them happy and satisfied somehow never manage to do anything of the kind. Of course there’s a reason for that, too, which is that happy and satisfied people don’t keep on frantically buying products in a quest for happiness and satisfaction. Still, the little colored pictures keep showing them images of people who are happy and satisfied because they guzzle the right brand of tasteless fizzy sugar water, and pay for the right brand of shoddily made half-disposable clothing, and keep watching the little colored pictures: that last above all else. “Tune in tomorrow” is the most important product that every media outlet sells, and they push it every minute of every day on every stop and key.

That is to say, between my fantasy of voluntary amputees eagerly handing over the cash for the latest models of prosthetic limbs, and the reality of life in a modern industrial society, the difference is simply in the less permanent nature of the alterations imposed on people here and now.  It’s easier to talk people into amputating their imaginations than it is to convince them to amputate their limbs, but it’s also a good deal easier to reverse the surgery.

What gives this even more importance than it would otherwise have, in turn, is that all this is happening in a society that’s hopelessly out of touch with the realities that support its existence, and that relies on bookkeeping tricks of the sort discussed toward the beginning of this essay to maintain the fantasy that it’s headed somewhere other than history’s well-used compost bin. The externalization of the mind and the imagination plays just as important a role in maintaining that fantasy as the externalization of costs—and the cold mechanical heart of the externalization of the mind and imagination is mediation, the insertion of technological prosthetics into the space between the individual and the world. We’ll talk more about that in next week’s post.

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In other news, I’m delighted to report the publication of a new book of mine that may be of particular interest to readers of this blog: Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush: The Best of the Archdruid Report, which is just out from Founders House Publishing. As the title suggests, it’s an anthology of twenty-five of the most popular weekly posts from this blog, including such favorites as "Knowing Only One Story," "An Elegy for the Age of Space," "The Next Ten Billion Years," and "The Time of the Seedbearers," as well as the title essay and many more. These are the one-of-a-kind essays that haven’t appeared in my books; if you’re looking for something to hand to the spouse or friend or twelve-year-old kid who wants to know why you keep visiting this sight every Wednesday night, or simply want this blog’s best essays in a more permanent form, this is the book. It’s available in print and e-book formats and can be ordered here.

308 comments:

1 – 200 of 308   Newer›   Newest»
r_df34 said...

Hello JMG. I'm glad you mentioned the Limits to Growth again and linked to the Guardian article. I'm wondering if you personally support the LtG World3 prediction. Do you anticipate an inflection point in the next decade or so that will reduce the global population to 3 billion by 2100, and reduce industrial output to 1900 levels in that same period? Is this compatible with the theory of catabolic collapse?

Bob Wise said...

Your remarks about the true speed of the American automobile remind me of Thoreau's wager (paraphrasing):
"Suppose you and I want to travel to a certain city," he said.
"I'll start walking, while you work at day wages to earn enough to pay for a railway ticket. I'll get there first."
(If more than a day's walk, he would work some days to pay for food and lodging.)

Steven said...

JMG,

We live in a culture of distraction. That’s how I express the concept of peak meaninglessness. We move from distraction to distraction, and often combine two or more distractions at the same time: listening to music on headphones as you walk with head down looking at your smartphone; or driving with your smartphone in your lap while you listen to the radio.

As if life itself can no longer suffice.

A pleasure as always,
~Steven

Justin said...

jmg,
nice post. i had a sort of epiphany a few years back when i realized something about the consumer economy and advertising, the way i thought of it was that it sought to monetize or put up toll booths between you and experiences of any kind. the systemic effect is to convince people that they have to pay a fee before being able to experience anything.

i have also had another experience echoing the post, in an online discussion on a forum somewhere awhile back, someone had commented about pornography, remarking that they had struggled with an addiction to it, but were now beginning to get over this. this was actually said in dismay, as they wanted something to give them a thrill again. i said something intended to be very pointed about how it was just colors on a screen and sounds and them playing with themselves. i got roundly called an idiot for this. hehe.

Screaming Sardine said...

Another wonderful post, JMG. Thank you. It's sync wink for me because earlier today I read Ben Hewitt's Freed of that Burden (http://benhewitt.net/2015/03/04/freed-of-that-burden/), which talks about a simpler way of life vs. convenience.

I myself have gone without a washer and dryer (hand-washing our clothes) since 2008. At first, it was because I couldn't afford either one, but now, if I ever had the money to purchase them, I probably wouldn't. There is something very soul connecting when you hand-wash your own clothes - or work with your hands in any other capacity.

Myosotis said...

There's a textile artist I like, who grew up in the rural Andes. Very broke anthropologist parents. So she has been around expert spinning and weaving all her life. One of her comments that's really stuck with me is that the first world/American way of solving a problem tends to be tool-based "How can I get a widget to do this better?" whereas the Andean problem-solving was much more process-based, going though different steps.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

I make my own bread - by hand - and dream my own quiet dreams up here in the forest.

Bread machines are just silly. Truly, mixing and kneading a loaf of bread takes under 5 minutes including the clean up. And bread mix is simply flour, some seeds, a bit of yeast food (often propolis and sugars) and some yeast. Silly. Nuff said.

And the chickens recently didn't recognise some freebie bread as food. True story, they turned their beaks up in disgust and refused to eat it. I had to feed the stuff to the worms.

To me the built human environment is disturbingly ugly. But people seem to like it... Who am I to criticise it?

Tools have to earn their keep here or they get discarded.

Cheers

Chris

PS: I've got a new blog entry and mp3 podcast up: Stumpy seizes the day - Stumpy the house wallaby does a smash and grab with the strawberries. New berry fencing is in the process of being installed for testing. Blackberries galore and manning a stall at the Macedon Ranges Sustainability Festival.

Travis Marshall said...

I want everyone I know to read this post as they are all still in their daydreams. However they would either be so offended by me alluding this is their life that that would never speak to me again. Or even better they would read it and even though it fits like a glove they would somehow think that it meant everyone but them. As taught by Druidry I suppose all one can do is live as they see fit and hope that mimesis will start to set in. Thank you for a good kick in the hindquarters. This post, along with Libya no longer producing oil, and surely many other mid eastern nations to soon follow should really help light a fire. Back to the ever ongoing process of learning how to provide for one's self and community.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest, in fact, that if you subtract the hallucinatory paper wealth manufactured by derivatives and similar forms of financial gamesmanship from the world’s GDP, the production of nonfinancial goods and services worldwide has actually been declining since before the 2008 housing crash."

There is a graph in the textbook I use that shows that humanity has been exceeding the ability of the planet to support our species since 1987. I direct my students' attention to it and then add that populations usually take a full generation to respond to changing conditions, such as exceeding carrying capacity or falling beneath it. I then ask them how long a human generation is. The usual answer is 20 years, meaning that it took until 2007 for humans to respond (the official start of the recession in the U.S. was December 2007, so it works). I then tie it into the law of Barry Commoner that you cited in last week's essay, "there is no such thing as a free lunch; eventually, all debts have to be repaid." I tie all of that together by saying that the period of economic difficulty we've been experiencing for the past seven or eight years is the result of our paying our debt back to nature and that paying that debt back will take the rest of the generation, about 15 years. I don't think they're ready to hear that it will take the rest of their lives and their children's and grandchildren's, although a few of them are figuring that out on their own.

"Even among those who admit that what’s happening can indeed happen, there’s no consensus as to how or why such a thing (secular stagnation) could occur. On the off chance that any mainstream economists are lurking in the shrubbery in the even more unhallowed regions where archdruids utter unspeakable heresies, and green wizards clink mugs of homebrewed beer together and bay at the moon, I have a suggestion to offer: the most important cause of secular stagnation is the increasing impact of externalities on the economy."

Paul Krugman discusses it, but he has no idea, either, although he mentions three suspects. The most commonly discussed is that technological innovation has slowed down, or at least stopped producing effects that lead to economic growth (this looks a little like what you wrote last week). Another, and his favorite, is that corporations and others of the global elite are hoarding too much cash and not spending it, especially on their employees, who would spend it even more. The idea that the problem is too much consumption and not too little appears to be outside of his analysis. Finally, he does worry about a shortage of one resource, people. He has posted that slowing population growth can be a problem for the economy. He acknowledges that too many people is a problem, but that the economy is set up for growth and will fall over like a bicycle if it doesn't continue to move. How to keep the economy upright without growth seems to be beyond him, too.

As for externalities coming home to roost, that's not on his radar. Neither is running out of resources other than people. As I've written before: Peak Oil? He's not having it.

jonathan said...

jmg-re:prosthetics. let me suggest a great old science fiction novel by bernard wolfe entitled "limbo". back in 1952 he described exactly the scenario you outline--prosthetics by choice and the creation of two classes; the enhanced and the unenhanced.
re: economists and externalities. economics, in a strange and ironic way does recognize externalities, but as additions to economic welfare, not deductions. if a corporation pollutes and the pollution has to be remediated, the cost of remediation is an addition to gdp. the post disaster clean up costs of japan's fukushima nuclear meltdown are estimated at 58 billion dollars all of which will be counted in japan's gdp as additional economic activity.

Pinku-Sensei said...


On an earlier topic, an icon of the secular religion of progress passed last week, Leonard Nimoy. I quoted a passage from an obituary of Leonard Nimoy saying that "'Star Trek' was driven by a utopian belief in the power of science and technology to eliminate poverty, end war, cure disease and overcome prejudice. Spock, the Enterprise’s tricorder-toting science officer, was the embodiment of that spirit." No wonder so many mourned. Among other things the actor and his best-known role symbolized, his passing called attention to the promise and later failure of the cult of progress.

Les said...

Last night the wife tried to bake bread - hand made sourdough, of course - when the no more than six year old, Italian, trendy, very expensive, designer electric oven that was on the farm when we bought it, overheated, burned the bread in 15 minutes and then caught fire!

Compare this to the locally made item we bought for our house in Sydney in 1990. Still going strong in 2010 when we sold up and then junked by the new owners within weeks, because it was old.

Everything you've been talking about in this series of posts encapsulated in two loaves of bread...

Task for this winter (or at least as soon as we get out of the current heatwave): build wood fired oven.

Thanks for all your inspiration.

Les

Janet D said...

Hmmmmmm, I think the biggest thing the industrial society has convinced people to amputate is their connection to their own heart/soul. Of course, that's probably deliberate. People who are not well connected to their instincts, intuition, or feelings are incredibly easy to manipulate through thoughts alone, which become ideologies.

You can believe almost anything, if you are divorced from your own reality.

Thomas Daulton said...

This essay is quite deep, philosophically, although of course I and others have noticed this for decades.

One of the first books that "woke me up" to these basic questions was Philip Slater's "The Pursuit of Loneliness", written in 1970, containing a great many criticisms of Vietnam War-era American culture which went completely unaddressed... and so the book reads smoothly without a hitch today, if you just ignore the dates. I read it in 1993 and thought it was about current trends. Have you ever read it, JMG?

Regarding your discussion of prosthetic technology and mediation, Slater had a quote: "The economy will reach its zenith when a product can be inserted in between every itch and its scratch."

Mickey Foley said...

Another measure of Progress, as you seem to have already noted, could be the replacement of natural ability with artificial ability. In other words, the Mytho-Industrial Complex always wants us to replace a product of Nature with a product of machines, e.g. going to a tanning salon instead of lying on the beach. This may be too Marxist for your taste, but I would say that Progress is the process by which the products of Nature (including human handiwork) are commodified or replaced by machine-made goods. (And if you liked that comment, you'll love my blog,Riding the Rubicon!)

M said...

I am happy to see Mr. Illich get a plug! As you may know from my comments, I am a big fan. I think his hope, or wish, at least for some of the countries like China that, in the 70s, still had not gone all in on the energy overdose, was that they would choose to regulate the quanta of energy alloted per capita, thus avoiding the kind of "speed/time trap" you reference here, as well as the idea that, after, as you put it, an inflection point, a tool starts to deliver diminishing returns, until, especially if it is an institutional tool--say, the medical system--it exists mainly to promote its own existence. This also relates well to the energy complexity spiral.

Well, we see what direction China decided to take with that one.

Your use of the term prosthetics hit home with me especially hard today. I work in a store that sells furniture, mostly used, but we sometimes receive donations of brand new items. This morning we got in two brand-spanking new "recliner couches." I guess these are kind of a mash up of a sofa and a recliner. When they came out on the floor, there was a discussion among several customers as to whether the reclining function could still be made to work if there was no power. Yes, each section of this sofa had a control that was plugged in and operated a reclining mechanism!

I was so mortified I had to laugh, imagining someone stuck in the recline position during a blackout. Talk about a prosthetic--an electronically driven device to help one recline, while engaged in watching those little colored pixels under glass, no less! Nietzsche help us.

John Michael Greer said...

R_df34, that's one of the typical misunderstandings of what The Limits to Growth was about. The World3 program did not make predictions; it generated entire families of models, depending on initial presuppositions, which demonstrated that no matter how you twist and turn the matter, limitless growth on a finite planet ends in disaster. So far, the "standard run" model has tracked events very closely, and it will be interesting to see whether that continues to be true; still, it's a source of wry amusement to me to watch how many people try to shove The Limits to Growth into a predictive straitjacket, rather than recognizing the actual points it made.

Bob, good heavens -- do you happen to know where in Thoreau's work that appears? I want to cite it. Thanks for quoting it!

Steven, that's a very good summary. And of course if someone's nervous system is numbed and dazzled by all those dancing pictures, they probably never get around to noticing just now much more richness they could experience by unplugging from the machine, slowing down, and experiencing life.

Justin, the image of toll booths on the road to experience is a keeper! Thank you. The comment about pornography, ditto -- I'd apply the same logic to anything that involves watching little pictures on a screen, for that matter.

Sardine, I hadn't encountered Hewitt before -- many thanks for the link.

Myosotis, I wonder to what extent that American habit descends ultimately from our history as a slaveowning society; instead of solving a problem, our instinctive reaction is to get a slave (now, a mechanical slave, but the principle is the same) to do it for us.

Cherokee, I compliment your chickens on their good sense and self-respect!

Travis, oh, I know. I expect to field dozens of screaming tantrums from people whose minds contain nothing but those little colored images saying over and over again, "You have to keep watching the little colored images..."

Pinku-sensei, the figure I like to use to track the real economy in the US is gasoline consumption. If I recall correctly, that's been declining since 2006. Same principle as your calculation, though: yes, it takes about a generation before the Wile E. Coyote hang time comes to an end and the consequences start arriving. As for Krugman, yes, he's one of the clueless economists out there in the shrubbery I had in mind.

Jonathan, I managed to miss that one -- will have to remedy that. As for the way economists deal with externalities, oh, granted -- and behind it all is the assumption, as puerile as it is pervasive, that wealth is limitless and therefore what's spent on one thing doesn't decrease what can be spent anywhere else.

Pinku-sensei, I watched Star Trek, the original series, in its original seasons -- and even then I thought it was kind of lame. Still, to each their own.

megpie71 said...

The biggest problems with all forms of economics and all forms of money are that they forget the point of their existence - money exists to quantify value in situations of exchange, economics exists to study the flow of value exchanges throughout the econosphere. What has happened instead is that money is mistaken for value (such that things are only valuable or valued if they have a monetary figure attached to their value - sex with a prostitute is valued in monetary terms, and is thus valuable; while sex with your life partner isn't), and the economic map is being mistaken for the territory (so economists insist the real world behaves exactly the same way the highly simplified models economists use to start explaining economic value flows to themselves do). In the same way, people focus on the various economic markets as a be-all and end-all without stopping to think about the various distribution problems the markets themselves were created to solve (for example, the housing market was created as a way of resolving the problem of distributing shelter to people; the food and grocery market was created as a way to solve the problems involved in distributing nourishment to a population; etc etc etc). We're so distracted by the abstractions we've created as problem-solving tools that we've lost track of the original problems we were intending to solve with them.

In the same way, corporations started out as a problem-solving tool - they're intended to solve the problems of organising large numbers of people and distributing resources of time, money, and attention in such a way as to create value. But what's happened is the popular conception of what a corporation is has skipped all those other steps, and just shortcut to "a machine for making value"; this combines with the assumption that all value has to be monetary, and thus you get corporations being regarded as essentially machines for making money for shareholders, and nothing else. So of course the shareholders in various corporations are going to clamour for the right to have their companies externalising their expenses - this is, to their minds, what the company is for. (The corporate CEO who launders their personal extravagances through the company accounts is merely indulging in this tendency to an extreme).

I would argue the vast majority of the societal problems we're seeing at present have come from this tendency we have of mistaking the map for the territory; of mistaking the problem-solving tool for the solution to the problem; of mistaking the machine for the person; the mechanical for the personal.

Marinhomelander said...

The Low-Income Housing Industrial Complex is busy at work in California. It harvests federal and state tax credits, is able to ignore local zoning laws, and avoid environmental Impact Reports. No property taxes are required to be paid. The projects are handed off to non-profits that pay astounding salaries to officials.

The externalities are over crowded schools, traffic jams, a breakdown of community as hundreds of strangers move into buildings that they often abuse, and civic decay.
Worse yet are the higher taxes that what's left of the Middle Class gets to pay.

The winners range from HUD hirelings to Goldman Sachs. All is wrapped in sanctimonious appeals to "fairness" and "sharing".
Profits always flow upward.

www.savemarinwood.org

John Michael Greer said...

Les, very nicely summarized -- and by all means get going on that oven as soon as the temperature permits!

Janet, true enough.

Thomas, no, I haven't -- will have to remedy that. I'm not sure how I could have missed it, as I was reading a lot of things like that in the decade and a half following its publication.

Mickey, well, yes -- that was kind of the point of my post, you know.

M, that's, shall we say, remarkable. I recall recliners from my youth, back in the primitive past when dinosaurs roamed the earth, where the person sitting in the chair had to push or pull on a fairly large lever on the side of the chair, and there was a simple mechanical gimmick inside that raised the foot-support and cranked back the back of the chair to a comfortable position for a nap. No electricity was required, and it seemed to work quite well. I gather such things are as obsolete as trees and flowers these days.

Erica H said...

This post coincided nicely with a Wendell Berry excerpt I read this evening, called "the Branch Way of Doing", a list of behaviors that didn't used to have to be spelled out quite so much as they do these days:


1 – Be happy with what you’ve got. Don’t be always looking for something better.

2 – Don’t buy anything you don’t need.

3 – Don’t buy what you ought to save. Don’t buy what you ought to make.

4 – Unless you absolutely have got to do it, don’t buy anything new.

5 – If somebody tries to sell you something to “save labor,” look out. If you can work, then work.

6 – If other people want to buy a lot of new stuff and fill up the country with junk, use the junk.

7 – Some good things are cheap, even free. Use them first.

8 – Keep watch for what nobody wants. Sort through the leavings.

9 – You might know, or find out, what it is to need help. So help people.


These behaviors contain great meaning, and as a millennial who grew up seeing the antithesis of this wisdom displayed all around me, I am strangely comforted by the thought that I might be happy with what I've got. Why of course I am, when I'm not being told otherwise by clever marketers. They would have me believe I am settling for less than I "deserve" and should be more, want more, have more. How exhausting. I wonder how many other people are as deep down tired of striving for more and more meaninglessness as I am, or was, before I got some sense knocked into me. Thanks for a great post, JMG!

Marc L Bernstein said...

I don't have a whole lot to say that Derrick Jensen has not already said. His latest article is quite pertinent:

http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2777586/confronting_industrialism_if_you_cant_clean_it_up_dont_make_it.html

Some authors I thought of while reading your weblog post:

John Zerzan (Twilight of the Machines)
Lewis Mumford ( The Myth of the Machine)
Wendell Berry (various poems)
Clive Hamilton (Affluenza)
Ted Trainer (The Limits of Technology)

Pitchfork and Crow said...

Hi. That Thoreau quote is from Walden. If you Control-F the quote, "I have learned that the swiftest
traveller is he that goes afoot. I say to my friend, Suppose we try
who will get there first," at this link you will get right to the paragraph: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/205/pg205.txt

Indrajala said...

"...some clever marketer has found a way to insert a piece of technology in between the person and the activity..."

Indeed. Even the simplest of human activities like walking have been disrupted. As I'm sure you know never having owned a car, just going for long walks is often considered odd by people nowadays. As an adult, people (heaven forbid) might think you're poor going to the grocery store on foot with a backpack to do serious shopping, even in the middle of winter (good exercise nevertheless).

Humans it seems are hardwired for a lot of walking, but to use your two legs as your primary mode of transport in much of N.America and increasingly elsewhere is seen as eccentric. Yet if you simply decide to walk as much as possible, you don't need to hit the gym, and you can "stop and smell the roses".

With such an essential activity missing in many lives, I am left wondering if cars are in part responsible for so many mental and physical health problems. If everyone was out walking you'd never feel lonely as you'd inevitably bump into people (remember the idea of a town square, forum and market?). In India and elsewhere I still see this, but increasingly people can afford motorbikes...

Declan said...

A couple of unrelated thoughts:

1) The discussion of the breadmaker this week gets at the increasing abstraction in our society. I notice this in our words where abstractions keep replacing 'reals' at some cost to both brevity and clarity (e.g. buses become transit vehicles, hospitals become wellness centres, schools become educational institutions etc.) - but it seems to pervade everything - increasingly we operate at further and further remove from the 'hands-on' physical processes that actually make things work.

2) On the topic of secular stagnation, it seems that the period following the oil crisis of the 1970's has generally been marked by slow growth (even in the flawed GDP metric) and much of the 'growth' there has been has gone to the wealthy.

But maybe only way to make there appear to be growth while at the same time not crashing into commodity shortages, is to direct almost all of the 'growth' to people who are already so wealthy that they won't actually try to spend (consume) any of their income, they will just plow it back into more 'investments' (driving up prices, but not increasing the demand on actual resources).

But the amount of money now in the hands of the wealthy has reached such absurd levels relative to the size of the real economy (see negative interest rates on government bonds around the world) that I wonder how much further this process can run without suffering some sort of break or schism.

Still, you might have said the same in the early 1990's (and many did) and the system staggers on decades later so who knows? - a long descent indeed.

John Michael Greer said...

Megpie, that's certainly one way to think about it. The fact that some individuals prosper exceedingly, in purely financial terms, by fostering that confusion is also an issue, of course.

Marin, the interesting thing to me is that it's almost impossible to point to any well-funded activity in today's America that can't be described in exactly those terms. The culture of executive kleptocracy is remarkably well established these days.

Erica, you're most welcome. Berry's always a source of good advice, and so is the simple rule that whatever the marketers want you to think can be assumed to be a very bad idea!

Marc, I'm not normally a fan of Jensen, and his simplistic "we stop them" at the end of that piece is a large part of the reason why, but he does make some valid points in that essay.

Pitchfork, good heavens. No, what I'll do is pull my printed copy of the book out of its place on the shelf, and read it again; if I'm failing to remember something that good, it's been way too long.

Indrajala, as an inveterate walker, I can only agree. One of the things I like about the town where I live is that it's poor enough that a lot of people walk.

Declan, it's the assumption that there must be a break or a schism that's at fault. Instead, there's been a long ragged curve of decline -- the decline that's sent standards of living for 80% of Americans steadily downward since 1972, and is gradually turning the US into a Third World society run by despots and kleptocrats. Someone who predicted in 1990, "You know, it's just going to keep on getting worse," would have been spot on.

Blockhill (NZ) said...

The story or voluntary prosthetics reminds me of my recently departed grandmother who, so the story goes, saved up her pennies so, at 16, she and a friend could have their teeth removed and replaced with dentures. The logic being that they lasted longer, were straight, white and easier to clean.

She used to entertain us grandchildren children by putting them in upside down (top set on the bottom, bottom on top) and looking rather mad.

So, you see, you can't make this stuff up, it actually happens.

Joe McInerney said...

Thanks for the hat tip JMG. Jay McInerney is a famous writer, but unlike him, some day I'll have the pleasure of in person study with you, a more talented writer still.

Here's another study, published in the journal Nature in 2012, supporting the imminent collapse time frame in the Limits To Growth scenario.

http://grist.org/climate-energy/were-about-to-push-the-earth-over-the-brink-new-study-finds/

"That dry phrase, “incorporate expectations of biological instability into strategies for maintaining human well-being,” implies a transformation in how humans think, plan, and behave that is hard to get your head around. Humans have been living as if biophysical resources are infinite for so long that we have only the faintest clue what it might look like to do otherwise.

The time in which we can safely make such a transition, however, is running out. These are not normal times."

Val said...

I recall being intensely materialistic as a child, in the sense that you have given that term; but then along came the forces of industrial mercantilism.

It seems a bit ironic that I'm reading this on a cell phone, the only web-connected device in my possession. These are indeed socially corrosive prosthetic devices - notably among college students, I've noticed. Nonetheless, I'd like to get some commercial use out of the cell cam before the thing inevitably attains the obsolescence that was planned for it.

Whether I'll choose to get another such device, or save my meager resources for, say, art supplies, remains to be seen. The cameras do come in handy.

Toro Loki said...

Was just watching Dune, the movie... Again..
The Mentats believe in logic and statistics. Well,I will agree with statistics, but where is logic in an irrational world?
I think Ayn Rand wrote an essay called "How to live a Rational life in an Irrational world"...
I know you don't like Ayn that much..
No one does... But she does make a few good points.

Joe McInerney said...

I attended the truly wonderful "intellectual hootenanny" that is Wes Jackson's annual Prairie Festival in September at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/03/us/prairie-festival-draws-crowds-to-land-institute-in-kansas.html?_r=0

Jackson is a fellow of the Post Carbon Institute and philosopher/farmer extraordinaire. The Archdruid was referenced admiringly by Doug Tompkins in his speech about conservation. And we talk about ADR in my permaculture meeting every month. The realm is growing.

william fairchild said...

JMG-

What a great essay, and such interesting comments. Last week I was thinking how techno-progress in a market economy not only requires the externalization of costs, it requires the destruction of the commons. If I put too many sheep on the common pasture, the range is degraded and my neighbors may show up, faces blacked with stove ash, and burn my house down as a lesson. If however I know there is money to be made in the clothing business, I as the Lord can enclose the pasture, evict the commoners, send the shiftless lazy bums to work at my textile mill with for slave wages, and make a killing. If the range is degraded, I enclose more. If the Blacks or the Diggers show up, I have the King send in the army (or police humvees, if you will) So, in a way, we externalize community (and destroy handcrafts such as spinning yarn and weaving) And of course the shift from agrarian common life to market based city life is touted as such progress! Notice that the word "commoner" now has such derogatory connotations. I wonder if progress also requires increased hierarchy as well. Maybe Industrial Civilization is one gigantic act of enclosure.

After reading this weeks essay and thinking about how lost we feel in our techno-whiz bang prosthetically mediated lives, the image that came to mind was MC Escher's Ascending and Descending http://www.mcescher.com/gallery/most-popular/ascending-and-descending/

When we are in the image, we go round and round, always trying to decide if it is up or down. Only if you pull back and look at the whole picture, do you see it's a crazy illusion that leads nowhere, but way down at the bottom, a stair leads OUT.

I am glad pornography was mentioned. IMHO this is one of the most insidious forms of mediation, on two levels. The words greek roots of the word are porni (prostitute) and graphein (to write). So essentially it is pictures of prostitution, if you will. There are all sorts of moral and ethical considerations such as the objectification and exploitation of women. I heard this show on NPR. They were talking about the sense of touch, and how the tiny hairs on our bodies are evolved to send a signal for pleasure in response to a touch, specific to the speed and pressure of a caress. Obviously porn removes tactile interpersonal intimacy and replaces it with a digitally induced artificial dopamine rush. And the internet took it out of run-down theaters and disreputable video stores and made it mainstream and free for all!

I suppose both Marxists and Capitalists want to convert nature into machines and their products and externalize the costs. They just argue over who should own the machines. Both systems fail in a finite world.

Corporations were a problem solving method, to concentrate capital for a specific purpose for a specific time period. Like the Plymouth Company chartered to expropriate timber, furs, and such to England. The real problem comes in when they become LLCs, insulating the shareholders from personal loss and damages, which puts externalization of steroids. Give them the rights of actual human beings, and now your in uncharted waters. (Here there be dragons!) Also the fact that the nation was founded as a Business Enterprise may have just as many ramifications as our baggage with slavery.

Apologies for being long winded, but so much was interesting.

ed boyle said...

We could list the posthtics by function
mental-calculator, pc
emotional-soap operas
sex-porn
physical by body part-
Legs-cars,transport generally
arms-electric tools, construction equipment

by function-
kitchen devices mixer, breadmaker

Replace socializing-books, infotainment

At any rate the mental, emotional, physical quadriplegic is lacking contact with his soul. I have found that soul is like sum of the other three or that one accesses soul through physical, mental, emotional connections. We are, don't have, a soul, and our presence here is to learn. When we just use prosthetics we cheat ourselves out of our own unique life experience.

ed boyle said...

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Player_Piano_(novel)

kurt vonnegut dystopian automation novel 1952

Joe McInerney said...

And NASA should really have to cite JMG when they borrow his ideas, or at least recommend the ADR.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/14/nasa-civilisation-irreversible-collapse-study-scientists

"A new study partly-sponsored by Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of 'collapse' are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that "the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history." Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to "precipitous collapse - often lasting centuries - have been quite common."

Jaser Arif said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ed boyle said...

Chapter 11 real book of souther bloosom country, the well. Text only found in german. Very pertinent, old man spreads well water with bucket, man tells him build a machine. He says he who lives from machines has machine heart.

By zhuangzi or dschuang dsi.

Zack Lehtinen said...

This post held so many riches. Paragraph after paragraph, quotable, thought-chewing, frequently funny and very ironic lines.

Love that hilarious phrase, "Even among those who admit that what’s happening can indeed happen"... If a gale-force wind is blowing into your face, knocking over your wine glasses and on the brink of blowing over your whole house, you can deny that such winds exist, or that even if they did exist, it has nothing to do with you and you're too busy with "the real world" to trouble yourself about it. But that spilled wine is still annoying, and that "nonexistent" wind still might actually blow your house over.

Lei said...

I like the latest series of posts very much - my attitudes have been largely the same for years, simply because of my cultural conservativism. It feels weird, given my relatively far-left wing political orientation, but I have always been a lover of antiquities and, as a linguist, "linguistic necrophile", genuinely interested only in dead languages (that's also why I, as a sinologist, have ended up with the specialization on Classical Chinese).

Self-critically, however, I must admit, that the time spared by machines (which I am no fan of) would be mostly used for reading non-fiction books (as a typical bookworm, and a mad philologist), or to translate something or write something. Although I cannot say I do not like manual work, although I have outdoor hobbies and love walking through the country, and although I enjoy gardening, processing of food, making wine etc., in those precious moments of free time, I often prefer to cut through the symbolic jungle of letters and sounds, signs and semantic structures - which, in the end, is again a very limited section of reality.

As for the internet (I do not own a TV set), I try not to spend too much time with it. For a philologist, it indeed is a marvelous TOOL, with all those primiary texts, paper on-line. linguistic corpora, or philologist's tools. On the other hand, I know I could do well without that. Deliberately, I refuse to rely on electronic dictionaries and on on-line resources, building a library on the subjects of my interest, including paper reference books, which for my students may look old fashioned. Often, I do not take my computer with my when I go away from my home or office, but take only a book, a small dictionary and a notebook, and dedicate free evening to old-school philology - translating, excerpting, whatever. And you know what? I am convinced that this approach takes you much closer to the text, enabling you also to "touch" and "smell" it and to focus on it properly, in a slow way.

Also, it is known that using electronic dictionaries leads to considerably lower capability of remembering the word - it is very quick and effortless; if you look up the same word in a paper dictionary 50 times, you may be sure you will remember it well. And of course, younger (or less conservative - I am not especially old) colleagues and students tend to employ these tools and prosthetics, not really tools: they do not want to say that real linguistic competence is to know it all by heart, to be a walking dictionary and grammar etc. What would do all these younger people when electronics goes away?

Be it as it may, I doubt that philology will be of any interest in times of crises, and thus it makes no difference. At least, I chose the same approach to sowing, cutting, mowing - no motor-equipped tools - except for a drilling machine, as there are no hand-powered drilling machines at hand and you would hardly drill a hole into concrete with them, heh.

changeling said...

There is other quote from Thoreau's Walden that is worth pondering:

uch is the universal law, which no man can ever outwit, and with regard to the railroad even we may say it is as broad as it is long. To make a railroad round the world available to all mankind is equivalent to grading the whole surface of the planet. Men have an indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of joint stocks and spades long enough all will at length ride somewhere, in next to no time, and for nothing; but though a crowd rushes to the depot, and the conductor shouts "All aboard!" when the smoke is blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding, but the rest are run over—and it will be called, and will be, "A melancholy accident."

Odin's Raven said...

'Progress makes things worse'?

jean-vivien said...

Hi everyone,
in light of this new post, I think this loss of meaning is apparent pretty much everywhere now, not just in the USA. One of this blog's main projects seems to be stripping naked the emperors of our age... unless they were already naked, which might be the point :)
Let us hope that meaning will not be found in violence, as the recent news would suggest (a Korean extremist slashing the symbol of US authority abroad in the face ? One of the US's most fond protectorate's President taking a stance too violent for even the Us's President himself to condone ?). Humans need pressure valves, and violence is one of them.

Maybe the contradiction between the narratives we have to live in and the narrative that we can infer from reality is one form of inner violence, and the response to that will be to find meaning in outer violence... It is common knowledge among psychologists that sometimes abused victims say they'd prefer some punctual physical violence over continuous verbal violence, since the latter is harder to make sense from. I think it is horrible to have to even think about comparing one form of violence with another, but it is also important to have in mind that what happens inside us sooner or later finds its way in how we relate to the outter world... And how or where we find meaning is one of the most important elements of our inner lives, after all.

In this respect, having to find meaning in passively going through the 120 episodes of the latest fad in TV series every week might be a form of self-inflicted violence... Humans are adapted to a certain scale of narrative content, a certain scale of social group size. And adapted to telling stories as well as hearing them, not just passively going through them all the time.

jean-vivien said...

Pretty much everywhere, people seem to find meaning in attacking the symbol of what they consider an Evil Empire (TM)... When that tendancy comes home to roost... results are going to be interesting.

Phil Harris said...

JMG & All
Thanks to Bob & Pitchfork for taking me back to Thoreau (and for your JMG reaction) and to Erica for the Wendell Berry quote. You remind me that America actually has a culture.


Meaningless? I suppose we think of what to do and what we might carry with us when we are called. Thus Thoreau: “I dug my cellar in the side of a hill sloping to the south … The house is still but a sort of porch at the entrance of a burrow.”
And:
“How much more admirable the Bhagvat-Geeta than all the ruins of the East! … Nations are possessed with an insane ambition to perpetuate the memory of themselves … What if equal pains were taken to smooth and polish their manners? One piece of good sense would be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon. … The grandeur of Thebes was a vulgar grandeur. …”


best
Phil
PS Talking of more recent books: I recently finished Twilight’s last Gleaming”. A good page-turning yarn; I found it hard to put down, which is very unusual for me, though as one of your characters remarks about a certain simile featuring a dinosaur, I likewise don’t need certain images in my head. The physical seduction of President Gurney unfortunately comes to mind. Smile.



Kenaz Filan said...

One note from our regression: the safety razor arrived and gives me the best shave I've had in years, maybe the best shave I've ever had. (And for those who were worried, I don't find it any more likely to cause nicks and cuts than the disposable garbage I was shaving with...).

Our microwave is on its last legs and when it dies I'm thinking about going microwave-free for a while. The benefit of warming food in 30 seconds as opposed to five minutes in a low oven is not such that it makes the power outlay worthwhile -- especially not in a lovely prewar apartment that was never wired for power-sucking utensils. (By the time we get done turning everything off so we can use the microwave, it arguably takes more time than doing something on the stove).

KidCharlemagne said...

Great post as always! I love the notion of unplugging from the artifice of media to regain our senses and calm our nerves. The electronic hive can be likened to a prosthetic consciousness or even God Forbid, a prosthetic mind! Maybe while unplugged we can take out Emerson's Self Reliance as a tonic.
I quote: "Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other." Also the line "Society acquires new arts and loses old instincts" reminds us, if not the lurking economists in the shrubbery, that there is a cosmic and ecological balance sheet that cannot be ignored.

The tipping point happened when we were no longer running in place as a techno-industrial society but started running a deficit of well being as the externalized costs started being absorbed.

Ultra Monk said...

I liked today's post alot.
I read every week, but today is so in tune with what I think, I couldn't help but say thank you.

Chris Farmer said...

Thank you so much for pointing out what almost never gets said, that "Americans are arguably the least materialistic people in the world".
I've always found it both fascinating and depressing how incredibly common the notion is that "our culture is materialistic". I am often amazed at how pervasive this knee jerk judgement is even amongst individuals inclined to think outside our cultural mainstream.
The real grounded material world is dying to a degree from the lack of our culture's attention and care, and many or most of our cultural creatives somehow presume that what the material world truly needs is even less of our attention and care.
I've always tried to point out that our problem is not that we are "materialistic", but instead that we are "shallow".
We are mesmerized by littered dragon treasure, burning half-lives.
Thanks again for your weekly insights

RPC said...

Wait - I'm supposed to bay at the moon?

Heather Boissonneau said...

It's funny, my husband and I were talking about how there is a pervasive sense that something is very wrong with the world, even among people who steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that something is, in fact, very wrong with the world. We decided that one of the things that is causing this malaise is the fact that so much of what we do now is an abstraction of a real activity.

"Social" media is an abstraction of real social activity. Paypal and online banking are abstractions of cash, which itself is an abstraction of items of value. Email is an abstraction of a hand-written letter, Twitter and texting are abstractions of actual communication. Even much of what we do for work produces intangible results. I was a graphic designer and I would "draw" using Adobe Illustrator, which is an abstraction of artistic mediums, to make digital graphics for websites, which is an abstraction of artwork. My husband creates business processes for computer programs used in digital transactions, which is so abstract as to be completely obtuse.

The practical outworking of all of these layers of abstraction is that there is a complete lack of anything tangible to hang onto. Friends, money, work products, artwork, communications etc... are comprised of 1's and 0's hanging out in the ether. There is nothing to hold on to and nothing to take pride in.

I'm not proud of my digital artwork, for all of the labor that I put into it, it doesn't seem real, and it isn't real and any normal sense of the word. I am proud of sweaters I knit, they're useful, and sometimes they're beautiful (although I may have to do some unraveling and re-knitting to get them to beautiful), but most importantly, they're REAL.

I like the idea of "Peak Meaninglessness" it captures what is going on out there very nicely. I think that some of the meaninglessness stems from "Peak Abstraction."

Thank you for your writing,
H

Renaissance Man said...

I'd modify your redefinition of a prosthesis as something that replaces a perfectly useful ability with some unnecessary technical gizmo. In that sense, replacing a lost limb becomes a tool. As a stellar real-world example, you might look back to the early 1800s dentures craze. People with perfectly healthy mouths and who definitely did not need it, were having all their teeth removed to have a "perfect" set made for them. To be sure, it avoided all future cavities, tooth pain, easy to keep white, &c. however...
I was described, many years ago, as 'living in the past' and now I'm quite sure it's where I would like to be. I deal with horses and I recall one bit of writing on tack boxes that observed that, apart from velcro (and tools to float horses's teeth), everything in a modern tack chest would be perfectly understandable to a time-travelling Hittite charioteer or a medieval knight. The suite of technologies dealing with horses has changed, but not that much. Concommittently, there is no peak meaninglessness in the horse world.
As to the bread-machine, we used it so as to have fresh bread in the mornings upon waking up... until it broke.

Mikep said...

Thanks for another thought provoking report on the value of progress. This is, at this very moment being brought home to me by my wife who is currently in the other room desperately attempting to impart a string of abstract mathematical symbols representing a change of tax status to Her Majesty`s Customs and Excises`s automated telephone answering ``service``. Just imagine, I thought, if instead of a coldly rational algorithm at the end of the line there were a wet bag of chemicals in the form of an ape descended biological organism.
On the subject of bread making, my mother has recently stopped making her own bread at the age of ninty due to failing eyesight. She originally started making bread to save money back in the mid seventies, about twenty five years ago she acquired a Kenwood food mixer. Before Ken came into her life she made an OK but not exceptional loaf, after Kenny the bread was as good as any I have ever eaten and much better than most. Of course mum was not a professional baker so this is not surprising. Progress, that is technological progress it seems to me is now a process that replaces skills with hardware. The problem with skill is that it takes time to acquire and it's not possible in one lifetime to acquire all of the skills needed be wholly independent of other people, hence the need for society. Interestingly for the first two million or so years of human existence progress, evolutionary progress if there is such a thing was a process of replacing hardware, biological hardware with skills. In this way turning a bipedal chimplike creature into us. It's got to make you wonder quite what we're currently turning ourselves into.
Breaking news from the BBC. The SFO are launching an investigation into the Bank of England's rescue of the banking industry in 2007/2008. The poo just keeps getting deeper and deeper!
Mike

Kutamun said...
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Karen said...

In defense of bread machines - the thermometer in our kitchen reads 58 degrees this morning. It is minus 11 outside here in NE Minnesota. We keep our house cool and the bread machine allows me a warm place to let the dough rise and/or to bake the bread without firing up our huge gas oven. The product is inferior than a good handmade loaf but much better and economical than the typical store bought bread. I don't use a mix, I have an excellent cookbook with dozens of different recipes tested for each brand of bread machine.

Brian said...

Speaking of voluntary amputations, we are already there. Read this article: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/02/three-volunteers-have-their-hands-amputated-and-replaced-by-bionics/

A media fast is a wonderful experience, mostly because the epiphany happens almost immediately that one doesn't need any of this stuff, just a good book and a way to cook food. My last fast did without electricity and running water; I have to say, I really missed running water. Especially about the fifth day.

My donkey said...

The situation is sad and ironic: building machines that do our work gives us the freedom to complain of unemployment and boredom.

William Church said...

Interesting points John. One of the more insidious ways that tech and consumerism can insert itself into our activities is that of redirection. I've experienced that first hand in some of my most beloved pursuits, namely outdoors while hunting, fishing, hiking etc.

I found that all of my attention was being directed away from the actual hunt or hike and toward the assorted gadgetry that "they" wanted to sell to me. Great lengths we're taken to convince me it was all vital to my success and enjoyment.

Bahhhh... Noise. All of it.

I went old school and the old joy returned. I was back to acting like the boy running around in the hills having the time of my life. It was a valuable lesson.

Your LESS concept applied to my pastimes. Albeit on a small scale. That was years ago and I've never looked back. Tech/gadgetry can do as much damage by redirection as by mediation methinks.

Live simply. Live well. Remain conscious of people trying to insert themselves and their gadgets into your pursuits.

Will

Professor Diabolical said...

Pinku, I'm not sure we have any idea what the carrying capacity of the earth is. I mean, capacity at U.S. lifestyles, or sub-Indian levels? And sustainable or extending an overshoot? If we presume no new technology, what's the level if we only used present technology with intelligence?

I'm not sure anyone can put a number on these things.

Interesting also to say that people are a crisis issue, i.e. population, but that lack of people are also a crisis issue for innovation and GDP. Is everything therefore a crisis issue? (similar discussion is happening over how both high, middle, and low oil prices are all a crisis in their own way. C'est possible?) Likewise, it's can be that both too much and too little consumption are a problem.

Perhaps the real problem is that our models have become so erroneous that we can no longer think straight. I find that taking money, GDP, and other falutin' words out of equation make it more direct to understand: that is, what would you want to accomplish, and what do you have to move around to achieve that goal? It's not "money", it's applied matter + energy.

Contrariwise, if we are persistently achieving a certain end, wouldn't the simplest explanation be that that is our true goal? That is, the true goal is to make a few wealthy and powerful by destroying and/or if necessary wasting the world's resources?

magicalthyme said...

Right around when you wrote how now is the time to cling to the mast with one hand while prepping with the other (or some words to that effect) we were body slammed by climate change here in Maine. After 2 feet of heavy, wet snow in November, which took out one apple and my sole productive peach tree, we had unusually warm weather December through late January, when temperatures plummeted. And we took a direct hit by the January blizzard that dodged a bit east of Boston, followed by 3+ months worth of snow within 3-4 weeks. The winds after the blizzard continued very high, which meant that no sooner had one trudged through thigh-deep snow, the newly tramped path was blown back over. We may also have broken some temperature records here on the coast. When I moved here, our winter lows never got below -15. Our coldest morning a couple weeks go registered -24 at 6:30 am. By 7am or so, it was already -21, which leaves me wondering what it was at 4 or 5 am, typically the coldest times in mid-winter.

As if nonstop shoveling and lugging buckets of hot water from kitchen to barn weren't enough, my arab mare developed a dry, nonproductive cough right around that time. In case it was due to the hay (2014 was a very wet year which increases the mold spore content), I added soaking 30-40 pounds of hay with hot water to my daily routine, so she wouldn't inhale the spores, as well as adding expectorant herbs to her dinner mash. The cough hung on until last week, when we had our first nights above zero since January, when it turned into a nice, wet sneeze. Arabian airways are extra large, which enables them to suck in vast amounts of hot desert air and gives them great endurance. Unfortunately, large aways are not efficient for warming frigid air, which apparently caused her brochial passages to seize up. Happily, she doesn't appear to have suffered any permanent damage and I suspect living in a herd would have offered protection from the worst effects of the cold. Anyway, one chore has been lifted, thank goodness.

My garden areas are now buried under 5+ feet of snow drifts. At work, we joked the other day about looking for crops that will grow in snow. I will be focusing this year on my peruvian purple potatos, since they cannot be replaced. Any extra space will likely go to crops with very short growing seasons.

In the meantime, a cyberfriend in Alaska wrote wondering where they'll start the Iditerod this year, due to lack of snow. It used to start in Wasilla, and then moved north from there in search of snow. Now, 350 miles to the north, Fairbanks is no longer reliably snowing enough. She suggested Boston...

The good news here is, no lives or roofs were lost. My outside work has switched from shoveling paths to shoveling trenches to see if I can protect the barn from flooding. The other good news is we seem to have entered a quiet week with some slow thaw days. Time will tell.

In the meantime, most extraneous, non-survival, activities have fallen by the wayside, replaced by shoveling and naps. It's amazing how much energy working in subzero temperatures sucks out of you. Time will tell which activities will re-appear as time and energy begin to recover.

Mary

Dan the Farmer said...

In the discussion of cars versus walking, I can't help but consider the effective speed of a bicycle.

When I was commuting by bicycle 6 miles every day (round trip, 20 years ago) I would probably need to set aside $10 to $20 a month for repairs and maintenance. This included a couple sets of brake shoes a year, and over several years I replaced virtually every component except the front wheel and brake levers. I broke the rear axle once, probably while carrying that bag of garden lime. After that I built a small trailer. And my groceries were only a few dollars more than they would have been without the bike: $40-$50 per week.

And when comparing my current vehicle ('86 1-ton Toyota, 27 mpg) to walking, I have to think about what I carry on a regular basis. An old farmer told me once: "Never come home with and empty truck." Half the time I do anyway, but I try not to. There's free or nearly free building material, fuel, compostables, edibles, and tools out there. I know petroleum is a false economy, but in terms of cost per value of stuff I bring home, I think I'm doing well.

For instance, today, a friend wants me to visit, and it's a 1 hour drive, but if it wasn't for the snow in my way I'd pick up 1/3 cord of hardwood blocks and pay $7 for it on the way.

That's the problem with most cars: They're empty. Properly used, they carry much more than people.

Rick Ostrander said...

I know you like to trash bread machines, but mine really is a tool, not a prosthetic. I use it to make a delightful white-wheat-rye bread using organic, non-GMO, Roundup-free flours and local honey … try buying that in the stores! I also make boxed gluten-free breads from time to time, mostly to serve to folks who think eating less gluten is important; gluten-free flour is pricey and kind of a pain to work with. My breadmaking is a roughly once-a-month event and learning to scratch-bake is not real high on the list; my partner and I do a lot of cooking using mostly real ingredients, but we don’t eat much bread. Were it not for the bread machine, which I was given, used, we’d miss out on the occasional treat of fresh, wholesome bread, hot and with lots of real butter. If you want to rip electric can openers, be my guest. But please spare my bread machine … I promise to make good use of those three hours and forty-three minutes.

dfr2010 said...

Now now, JMG, I must speak up in defense of my dough machine. I bought it second-hand back in '01 for $10 if I recall correctly, and have certainly gotten my money's worth. I never liked how it bakes, so I only use the dough setting, letting it mix and knead for me. I gave up on the store-bought mixes, and after a little searching found a 1-loaf recipe that is both easy and tasty. Hubby and I have done bread completely by hand before, but baker-forearm jokes aside, my dough machine lets me do other things that are often useful: gardening, chicken wrangling, canning, cooking, or on days my back is acting up, it allows me to knit or crochet while it mixes.

A bread machine falls into the grey area between tool and prosthesis. It all depends on how it is being used.

Dan the Farmer said...

Also, regarding bread makers, I recently found out what happens if you make your own bread dough, roll it thin, fry it in the leftover bacon grease, then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar....

Kyoto Motors said...

Yay. Congratulations on the book!
And thanks for another great post. Glad to hear mention of the Situationists... Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle is an important indictment of the "system" that sees power as it manifests itself in our daily lives. Quite eye-opening stuff, that is sadly not widely circulated.
I remember when the concept of the car as prosthetic was conveyed to me years ago, it became a habit of mine to examine other technologies with the same lens. Prosthetic memory in the form of a hand-held device was an early observation... I have experienced the effects first hand. But in my own defense, I am a responsible smart phone user, I swear!
My final observation is in reaction to my own misreading of the word "mediation", seeing for a second "meditation"! Which doesn't suit the intention of the sentence at all, but rather offers a fine antidote to the condition of being heavily mediated.
;-)

Tom C. said...

@ Bob Wise and everyone else.
re: Thoreau's wager. One of my favorite "children's" books, "Henry Hikes to Fitchburg", is based on this wager. The book is very well done. http://www.henryhikes.com/hikes/hikes.html

Travis said...

Another great one Jon!
Carbon dioxide an externality we all have a part in. Is something we can address personally. The sequestering of atmospheric carbon is something most, if not all, of us can do by ourselves and as groups right now. How?....wait for it....TREES!! Yes lowly trees,which are made of carbon. Forest being the largest sequestering groups of trees and other woody perennials, followed by orchards, which is where my focus is. Orchards sequester large amounts of carbon, tons and tons and then some, throughout their lives. Did I mention they also offer food? I won't go too into this here it is a large subject, but I encourage folks to look into it. Fruit trees have a climb, peak, and decline in the amounts of carbon sequestered throughout their lives. My main interest (with a Oregonian hat tip to the Arch Druid) is Hazelnuts. Hazelnut trees like to be cut down to the ground every twenty years or so, thus bursting fourth with eager new shoots, absorbing atmospheric carbon as they grow. If one were to turn the removed crowns into bio-char, you could potentially lock up carbon for eons and beyond.
Another great thing about trees, is that almost anyone can plant them anytime, virtually anywhere, today! If everyone reading this blog planted ten, twenty, a thousand trees a year, that would make a world of difference to a world of things! Considering how much carbon we all produce and how much wood products we all use, we are almost morally obligated to do this! If you can't physically plant trees yourself, help financially and enthusiastically those who can, and pester your local government ceaselessly to do the same. Here is a couple links on some data about tree carbon sequestering.

http://www.perennialsolutions.org/carbon-sequestering-agriculture-global-warming-solution-piece-remove-co2-from-atmosphere-organic-garden.html

https://www.zotero.org/groups/lis2600_carr/items/itemKey/CARTMHQK

The other Tom said...

Another Thoreau quote: "The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run."
As the songwriter Rodney Crowell would agree, America runs on sex and gasoline. The gasoline part is obvious, but the part sex plays on making us consumer slaves is like the elephant in the room.
I think the greatest obstacle in transitioning to a LESS society is that, in America at least, those who practice LESS will find themselves way out on the borderlands, not only as consumers, but also in the dating "game." Finding a mate is so central to our wellbeing that as long as movies and advertising define what a "good man" or "attractive woman" is, a more nuanced definition of success or integrity will be lost on the vast majority of people.
I am not going to buy a bread maker or a BMW, and as a single man I can attest that the LESS way will certainly repel most single women, who see it as "poverty." I do not mean to make this only a male problem either, as women certainly face their own problems with LESS. Those of us who choose LESS must accept being outliers, in any conventional sense.
I felt it was necessary to bring this up because the fear of being less "successful" socially is the best leverage the business world has in making us obey the consumer ethos. It is the greatest headwind working against a more sane way of life. For most people, the thought of life out on the fringes is too daunting.
Unfortunately, I think Thoreau has become a cliche to many, a name many refer to but few have carefully read.
Maybe if everyone was required to spend a month in the woods on their eighteenth birthday and read Economy, the first chapter of Walden, it would make them more thoughtful people for the rest of their lives.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Have you ever noticed that the more “time-saving technologies” you bring into your life, the less free time you have?

My father occasionally tells a story his father used to tell, about how their Irish housemaid once complained, in an accent he performs a lot like Finley Peter Dunne's Mr. Dooley, of having "too many iv thim modern laabor-savin' convaniences to take caare iv."

[T]he Situationists[] argued that modern industrial society is basically a scheme to convince people to hand over their own human capabilities to the industrial machine, so that imitations of those capabilities can be sold back to them at premium prices.

I'm reminded (as I may have been on this blog before, or maybe it was over at the Well) of the Burroughs quote (from 1987's The Western Lands, the book in which he reached "the end of words, of what can be done with words") about the Industrial Revolution being "a revolution in which a standardized human product overthrows himself and replaces his own kind with machines (they are so much more efficient)."

Neo Tuxedo said...

Steven skrev:

We live in a culture of distraction. That’s how I express the concept of peak meaninglessness.

We are, as Neil Postman warned us lo these many years since, amusing ourselves to death.

Friction Shift said...

Another excellent essay. I am reminded this week of the works of two contemporary cultural theorists.

The first is the French critic Paul Virilio, who has proposed that, in addition to the obvious material pollution and waste generated by industrialism, our communications technologies have polluted time itself. I often wonder if this phenomenon isn't the basis of our culture's inability to see beyond next week. Thus, there are people who, instead of recognizing its obvious insanity, find no problem with the idea of injecting radioactive fracking waste into our groundwater. This quarter's profits now are all that matters.

The other is the British critic Raymond Williams. He wrote that, instead of being too materialist, we are not nearly materialist enough. And followed with:

"It is impossible to look at modern advertising without realizing that the material object being sold is never enough: this indeed is the crucial cultural quality of its modern forms. If we were sensibly materialist, in that part of our living in which we use things, we should find most advertising to be of an insane irrelevance."

Nicholas Carter said...

Thoreau makes a similar part in the Baker's Field chapter of Walden; the eponymous farmer is trapped in a cycle of working unnecessarily hard to afford more food than he needs because the unnecessary work makes him abnormally hungry. Thoreau points out that if he stopped eating so much he could stop working so hard, and would be less hungry.
Also, to go off-topic: Long ago in the discussion of Magic I mentioned the concept of Dark Epistemology, but despite some ribbing couldn't explain what it meant. Thanks to some interviews by JMG I now have the language: The online rationalist community is a collective of amateur Theurges with two idiosyncrasies. One is the belief that Thaumaturgy is a fraught field, at best comparable to an emergency medical operation such as an amputation, and at worst the most dire sort of magical malpractice. Their second quirky belief is that all traditional ritual practices are inherently Thaumaturgical. The irony is that their belief that all wizards are Thaumaturges of a black stripe is probably what prevents them from looking to magic instead of reinventing the wheel.

Dagnarus said...

When reading this I immediately started thinking about

http://progressquest.com

A game which also automated the pressing of buttons.

Hawkcreek said...

Great essay - as usual.
It made me think about the value of bicycles. $100 spent on a good used bicycle still seems to be a good advertisement for that small bit of progress. I can go as slow as a snail, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of the day, or I can push a bit harder and get my exercise for the day, and get to work early. Maybe the time saved will let me read my favorite Thursday morning essay without the boss griping about it?
Sometimes "saving" time can be used for nothing more than enjoying doing nothing during that time.

Andy Brown said...

On the Thoreau quote about taking the train, there is a fantastic children's book based on it that I used to read to my boys: Henry Hikes to Fitchburg.

Kelly said...

Hi Mr. Greer,
Excellent post, as usual! The idea of “peak meaninglessness” really spoke to me personally and describes my experiences as our family goes through voluntary collapse. What I've discovered, quite by accident, is that those very human activities you mentioned, such as making bread and other “simple, homely, pleasant” activities, are what give meaning to my life.

If I spend my days wandering aimlessly from bread machine to computer to TV-–such that without them it would take me days to recover natural sensory experience --what meaning does my life have? It wasn't until we started changing our way of living that I realized I had reached my own personal peak of meaninglessness. Something had to give. Now that I've gotten some distance from that peak, I can see it for what it was, and every day I savor the depth of meaning I now have in my life - such as making pancakes from scratch with my homeschooled son this morning with eggs I collected from my chickens yesterday.

Of course I am taking some time to read the little colored pictures that make up your blog post this week, but nowadays time spent in front of the computer makes up only a small part of my life. Plus, reading your words each week certainly does add meaning to my life! I choose what I ingest carefully.

Part of this collapse we’re currently undergoing certainly will involve the personal collapse of many people, and I hope they discover, as many of us here have, that the collapse of meaninglessness can also bring the return of meaning into our individual lives.

Kelly

Brian said...

JMG - I work as a programmer. I find many of your posts resonate with me in my work. The increasing complexity of the technological systems that we use to run the world, the diminishing returns that result from their overuse or misuse, and the externalities they create are things I deal with every day.

I thought you might enjoy this post illustrating so much of what you've been writing about for years:

http://stilldrinking.org/programming-sucks

If you've ever done any programming you'll enjoy it that much more, but even if you've never written a line of code in your life, I think you'll get the idea.

To be fair, most of the time I enjoy my work because it's intellectually challenging and requires me to constantly learn new things and new ways of solving problems, but the downsides you discuss are also constantly with me as I code away. To keep myself sane I try to spend a lot of time reading books, playing board games with friends, and taking long walks, none of which involve looking at an electronic display.

Myriad said...

The claim that the twenty biggest industries wouldn't be profitable if their environmental costs were internalized looks like it might be overstated, due to a misread nuance. Somewhat contrary to the article's headline, the actual finding reported in the Grist article is, "Of the top 20 region-sectors ranked by environmental impacts, none would be profitable if environmental costs were fully integrated." (emphasis added)

In other words, it's not the twenty biggest industries in e.g. revenue or employment, but the twenty most damaging ones, that would become unprofitable if they had to pay for the damage they do. That's rather less surprising.

Also, they're not listing entire industrial sectors per se (one might read it and think shipping, energy, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, mining, automotive, etc. as separate industries on that top 20 list, but it appears that's not the case), but regional industry sectors, so that for instance coal power generation in eastern Asia and coal power generation in North America count as two separate entries in the list.

The finding is still significant (and could still make the stronger statement true, if the most damaging industries are also the biggest ones, and/or if all the biggest industries are piggy-backing on the most damaging ones to a sufficient degree). But as usual, definitive answers about the true costs of most things in a complex interconnected economy are more elusive than we wish they would be. It could very well be true that the entire industrial economy would be unprofitable if its natural capital costs were internalized, but showing such things definitively remains a challenge. For instance, one must determine present internalized values for units of non-renewable resources, which is inherently problematic. A value of infinity brings all meaningful computation or comparison to a halt, but any finite valuation can only be arbitrary and can eventually lead to a contradiction.

In other news: it appears to me that all of our Squirrel Case Challenge entries have been outdone; indeed, put to shame; by Pornhub's satirical tech offering from this week. For old-fashioned propriety's sake I won't describe it or link to it, but googling "Wankband" will reveal all.

Finally: The new book is a wish fulfilled for me, for exactly the reasons you describe. Thank you!

AngelusCruentus said...

Collapsing now to avoid the rush is much easier said than done. My assets exceed my liabilities by $20-30,000. That's not enough for even the most useless scrap of land in most places; I've seen tiny plots of land with a condemned shack on top go for ten times that amount, even in deeply inhospitable environments like Salinas. I can't collapse even if I wanted to because I need the job to maintain the roof over my head, and the car to get to the job, then I'm so damn tired at the end of the day (and so are most of my friends) that more often than not I end up sprawled in front of the color light box because I don't have enough energy to do anything else.

I try at least. I get a great deal of personal satisfaction from cooking my own meals from near-scratch as possible, for instance. But being able to live a post-collapse lifestyle is actually a kind of privilege in a way. Ironically, for a lot of younger-ish (30-somethings) people like me, we don't have the base capital accumulated needed to collapse.

Andy Brown said...

I love Justin's image of tollbooths going up on the road that connects us to experience. I'm imagining a nice grassy path that is "improved" with pavement, guard rails and festooned with flashing billboards extolling the advantages of tollboothism. Of course you have to pay now for those improvements.

backyardfeast said...

Great post, JMG. There was a doozy of a story here on the CBC a few weeks ago that seems relevant: the Bank of Canada is calling our times a period of "negative inflation". But don't worry, it's not deflation, because not ALL prices are going down! In fact, what's actually happening is that prices for many things are going up, because the Canadian dollar's purchasing power is way down, because of the oil price crash. Gas at the pump here, ironically, is back up to about the same price that it was when oil was selling at $100/barrel.

So for people on the ground, don't worry, everything's getting more expensive AND there's no economic growth. Good news! It's not deflation!

Lots of eye-rolling around my household these days as the ragged decline continues...

Goldmund said...

This weeks post, along with one of a few weeks back wherein you claimed that a simpler, "steam punk" future could actually be fun reminds me of a fascinating (live long and prosper Mr. Spock) phenomenon I've been aware of for quite some time now. Whenever an extreme weather event, such as a heavy snowfall, temporarily shuts down the city (i.e. halts all travel by car, truck or bus) forcing people to walk or ski if they want to go anywhere, I've noticed that a sort of collective euphoria sets in, as if people just awoke from a dream and were being taught how to live again. I'd see them out walking in the middle of the street, without an agenda, just wanting to be outdoors to experience the wonderful mystery of Winter and greet their neighbors. If anyone was foolish enough to drive their cars and ended up stuck in a snow drift people from all over would come running to their assistance, get behind the bumper and start pushing until the car was freed, laughing and cheering loudly when they succeeded. (Of course the driver would end up stuck again a few blocks on and the scene would repeat itself.) There were some, of course, who would complain about the inconvenience but most seemed to relish these holidays forced upon the city by Mother Nature and wish they would happen more often. Its these experiences that convince me- and give me hope- that as alienated as people may have become (with "amputated imaginations", as you put it) in this techno-crazed world we've created there seems to be a living soul buried deep inside everyone that can awaken, as if from a dream, and find its way back to a truly fulfilling, meaningful, non-destructive way of life. Unfortunately we here in Minnesota got a snowless winter this year. Thanks to climate change all the big storms moved to the east coast, yet somehow I finds this comforting too. There are some things that we will never be able to control, only learn to adapt to. The sooner we accept this the better it will be for all. Take care.

Goats And Roses said...

Bob Wise and JMG: I recognized that anecdote immediately. The original passage is from Walden and here quoted: " One says to me, 'I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to travel; you might take the cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country.' But I am wiser than that. I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot. I say to my friend, Suppose we try who will get there first. The distance is thirty miles; the fare ninety cents...Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night; You will in the meanwhile have earned your fare, and arrive there some time tomorrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season. Instead of going to Fitchburg,. you will be working here the greater part of the day."

This passage was brought to life in a wonderful children's book called Henry Hikes to Fitchburg by D.B. Johnson. The book details all the wonderful things that Henry saw and did while on the way to Fitchburg, while his friend was doing unpleasant chores.

sgage said...

@ Janet D said...

"Hmmmmmm, I think the biggest thing the industrial society has convinced people to amputate is their connection to their own heart/soul. Of course, that's probably deliberate. People who are not well connected to their instincts, intuition, or feelings are incredibly easy to manipulate through thoughts alone, which become ideologies."

Yes, and I'd take it a notch further. We have been carefully trained to amputate our connection with other people - this is part of the evil genius known as 'marketing'. We are a social species, so we feel the gap when we are made to feel separate. 'Marketing' is all about creating and widening this gap, because then you can convince people that they can fill it with 'product'. And the beauty of it is, of course, the gap can never be filled by product after the buzz of acquisition has passed, and so they must consume, consume, consume. And wonder why they're still miserable. Just have to consume harder, I guess.

It's really quit

onething said...

When I was a small child I visited New York City, Brooklyn, a few times. It wasn't all bad but I saw it so. I was horrified by the noise and the garishness. The absolute saving grace of my childhood was some woods nearby, with a well-beaten dirt path on the high side of the stream. I used to go there after school by myself just to run and run along it.

Moving to California in the Los Angeles area certainly reinforced my hatred of cities. I had heard the phrase that such and such was a beautiful city, but I always thought the speaker must be mad, a contradiction of terms.
It was only a few years back that I visited Kiev, and also the better parts of London, and then I was amazed. Kiev is a stunningly beautiful city. Visiting some of the colleges and churches in Cambridge, looking at these amazing edifices, 800 years old, so old that the stones leading into the narthex are worn down, scooped out and I thought about the fact that these buildings were build to last, built so beautifully, and built in a time of so much less power than we have now.

Last year I had occasion to be in Manhattan. There is so much money in Manhattan it boggles the mind. But yes, it is beautiful. Building after building, endlessly interesting just to gaze upon them, each one ornate, lovely windows. There was a small park nearby, and just the public bathroom in this park was stunning, with stone, and marble, and inlaid work.

I don't understand how this can be, that now when we have power tools and cranes and oil run vehicles all we build is cheap, ugly crap, and the rich don't seem as inclined to build things of the sort that, even if the volk live in small and unadorned dwellings, nonetheless, very beautiful buildings and landscaping in which they can partake are part of their daily fare.

Clay Dennis said...

As a reformed technophile engineer who has spent much of his life designing prosthetics ( in the sense of your essay not artificial limbs) I have come to realize the costs and satisfactions missing from these technical solutions to invented problems. As I was on my daily 15 minute walk to my shop from the rail station a few weeks a ago I was thinking random thoughts, as is often the case when one allows themselves to be disconnected from technical distractions , which ran to an experience I had in childhood with the effects of technology.
I grew up on a farm on the fringes of the Portland Metro area but at the time it still had the structure and culture of an earlier time. Everyone had a telephone, but only one in the house. Since this was long before cell phones, and because everyone spent most of their time in the barn, or fields calling someone to arrange a visit was an exercise in futility. So it was common to just go visit, or stop by the neighbors to borrow something without calling ahead as most people do now. This had many beneficial side effects ( or just natural situations that were later negated by the externalities of the telephone.)
One of these was the simple uncomplicatedness of not having to arrange things in advance etc. Another was that people ( even doing dirty farm work) rarely dressed as if they were ready for bed( except after visiting hours ( a nod to Jim Kunstler here.) It gave you a much closer and more intimate realtion to your neighbors as you would just roam their farm or house looking for them when needed. Also the custom of these time ( and earlier) was that if you showed up when they were working you were expected to pitch in and work too, as long as you were around. You were no longer a visitor or spectator in their lives, but a participant. The list of benefits to this arrangement goes on and on. But the punch line is that even the lowly landline telephone has many negative effects that might overshadow its benefits when everything is accounted for.

Kelvin said...

I really liked Bob's paraphrase of Thoreau's wager. It reads like a proverb.

Thoreau, however, is less succinct.

I have The Variorum Walden Annotated and with an Introduction by Walter Harding, (New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1962) on page 61 of which appears the wager:

"I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot. I say to my friend, Suppose we try who will get there first. The distance is thirty miles [to Fitchberg]; the fare ninety cents. That is almost a day's wages. I remember when wages were sixty cents a day for laborers on this very road. Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night; I have travelled at that rate by the week together. You will in the mean while have earned your fare, and arrive there some time to-morrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season. Instead of going to Fitchberg, you will be working here the greater part of the day. And so, if the railroad reached round the world, I think that I should keep ahead of you; and as for seeing the country and getting experience of that kind, I should have to cut your acquaintance altogether."

Later in the chapter "Sounds," Thoreau rhapsodizes from page 108 to 113, on the Fitchberg railroad. Evidently, he had rather mixed feelings.

But I love the book. Three days suspension in the 10th grade for a case of silly insubordination presented me with golden hours spent reading the book cover to cover.

Gunnar Rundgren said...

Couldn't agree more on what you write about materialism. In 2009 I wrote a blog post discussing this: "A real materialism would represent the difference between good handicraft and crap from the industrial mills. A real materialism see to the tastes and smells of the food and value it for what it is. A real materialism would choose a wooden house or a stone house over a concrete block. Let us celebrate, birch wood, marble, iron, yes let us even celebrate oil as a wonder of nature and respect its real value." The full post: http://gardenearth.blogspot.se/2009/03/towards-new-materialism.html

Ed said...

There is actually a way to calculate what GDP is taking out all the monetary trickery:
http://market-ticker.org/akcs-www?get_gallerynr=5117

You may enjoy the post as well (this is not my blog)
http://market-ticker.org/akcs-www?post=229893


Courer du Bois said...

"...some clever marketer has found a way to insert a piece of technology in between the person and the activity..."

When I am making bows and knapping flint at French and Indian war events, inevitably people will come up and ask me what I am going to do with the end products, as if they cannot be used. It blows my mind.

My wife has had people came up to her, point at the chickens cooking on the spit and ask us if we are really going to eat them. As if we throw out the camp food at the end of the day and go get McDonalds.

Modern society has continually told people that they can't do these things. That somehow they need modern technology's help.

I don't really have a point, I guess I'm just venting.

CDB

Amy Olles said...

thank you for so elequently and accurately catagorizing all the subtle knives of the industrialized culture. You have helped me solidify the disjointed thoughts in my head on this subject. as a trained mechanical engineer, working on the most complicated of technological defense aviation programs for a living (ehem), I often find myself the odd woman out when I don't join the herd of my cubemates in racing out to purchase all the latest 'technological advavcements' available to those in the middle class. I have always preferred the satisfaction of hands on labor and hobbies vs newest iphone, video game, fastest car etc. I have never been able to successfully defend myself against the castigation of my peer group, when my proclivities are brought into the light, other than to joke that I am an engineer and a luddite, making me akin to the crazy cat lady in their eyed. secretly during these discussions, I find myself thinking "why would I spend money on these trifles that are nothing more than glorified entertainment distraction devices? why would I continue to deny myself the pride and pleasure of having hobbies and satisfaction of living my life more on my terms than by the latest apple product release?" I listen to these people talk of theirnlives outisde of work and it sounds horribly boring...tv and buying things....entertainment instead of production.
thanks to this latest series of blog posts, I finally have the words to turn the discussion in a productive direcction, instead of just cracking self depricating jokes and trying to change the subject. now I can couch the issue in terms of tools vs prosthetics. for example I want to learn to use a slide rule this year as it is a long lasting, non battery powered tool, as opposed to a calculater- battery powered prosthetic.
thank you JMG for your exquisite essays each week. I truly enjoy reading them and they challange and educate me.

Clay Dennis said...

I would anticipate that the biggest pushback I would get if I suggested getting rid of basic telephones ( as in my previous post) or automobiles in any circles outside the ADR would be " what would we do in an emergency". This seems like the fallback excuse when defending many entrenched technologies, and is intended to play to some kind of manipulated sense of morality. But in reality most of the emergencies are created by technology . Without electricity there would be no electrocutions, without cars no car accidents, etc. Also without technological crutches people would work harder, and eat better so there would be fewer health emergencies. And without these travel and communication devices we would live closer together in larger groups so there would be more people around to help, or send down the road to fetch the local doctor.

Ed said...

"All things considered, this is a profoundly boring activity, which is why the little colored pictures jump around all the time; that’s to keep your nervous system so far off balance that you don’t notice just how tedious it is to spend hours at a time staring at little colored pictures on a screen. "

I urge you to be careful when reducing any activity to it's fundamental core then using that as a way to undermine the activity itself. While I appreciate your point, it can' very quickly slip into nihilism.

When you really think about it, time spent communing nature is just a mostly hairless mammal imagining it has some separate existence and is somehow doing a good thing by now bonding with a greater whole. This is all vane egotism, one collection of atoms (person) along side a larger collection of atoms (forest); neither is actually separate so this ersatz union is really just a way for the mammal to further enforce it's imaginary separateness by noting how different it is from other mammals who look at screens all day.

See how I took a thing of beauty and destroyed it? My interaction with you is mediated by a screen; and it's beautiful. Don't let it decay into a throw away strawman.

I really enjoy your blog btw :)

onething said...

It seems to me there are two possible answers to my question. One is, perhaps in the way we have been discussing how wealth can be more apparent than real, that it really is less feasible financially to build great buildings than it was in 1900, maybe even already in the 60s and 70s, when the shoddiness took off.

But I'm also thinking about the idea of addiction, as people are addicted to porn or video games, maybe as a culture we have become increasingly fixated on money to the exclusion of aesthetics.

Steve Thomas said...

I cannot get the image of the amputee society out of my head.

I'm picturing a world in which people keep their limbs, but in which the fashion is to have the skin, muscles, tendons-- every bit of flesh-- stripped from the bones, which are then polished and coated with a protective paint and connected by electrical wiring to the central nervous system. The rich can afford bone treatments that last for years and wireless connections, while the poor make do with clumsy wiring jobs and limbs that occasionally fail (a matter of serious concern to the liberal parties.) In either case, the sight of human flesh-- puffy, wet, stinking flesh, skin rippling with the movement of muscles, sweat pouring out in the sunlight -- is treated with the same revulsion with which we currently treat body smells or hair on women's legs.

Eventually, of course, the fashion would spread beyond the limbs to the genitals (New Acme brand Penix(R) feels better than the "real thing," without all the mess.); the torso (Try Acme brand Digestron (R): All the digesting power of a stomach, with none of the waste!); and the head (Actually, replacing most of the brain with some combination of internet and television would have been the first order of business).

In such a scenario, how long would it take people to realize that they are dead?

willow said...

There is a Gary Larsen cartoon; an oily-haired salesman-snake has a machine, and he is telling the surrounding group of credulous-looking customer snakes: "You just place your prey inside the "Coils-O-Death" and it does the rest!"

Greg Belvedere said...

I agree with the general idea of this blog post. But I feel I should point out what seems like a contradiction. You wrote something that seems completely at odds, with what you wrote in this month's Well of Galabes blog.

"Whatever you think you’re doing when you’re sitting in front of one of these things, what you’re actually doing is staring at little colored pictures on a glass screen and pushing some buttons."

"You could as well say that a poem is explained by saying that it consists of black marks on paper: a true statement, but one that misses most of what’s meaningful about the phenomenon."

On the one hand, I could not agree more with the general sentiment of this week's blog. I find myself living an increasingly less mediated life. I can count the times we have ordered take out this year on one hand (and that was mostly because the sink was backed up), I make my own bread, I garden, I prepare herbal remedies, I try to unplug as much as possible, and I do things by hand that most people prefer a high maintenance machine for. I'm always looking for ways to do things more simply and directly, avoiding prosthesis if you will.

However, I think there is something to be gleaned from exploring what seems like a contradiction between the sentiment expressed in your two blogs. I keep decreasing my electronic media consumption and while I don't argue about the signal to noise ratio out there, I think on a certain level your argument in this weeks blog too closely resembles the one you criticize in galabes. I think people are doing more than looking at colored images on a screen, just as people reading poetry are doing more than staring at black marks on a page. Though perhaps it depends on the particular medium. I grew up with video games, but the older I get the more it seems that the people who still play them are just looking at colors and pressing buttons. But I would not say that applies to me reading this blog and commenting.

Then again, perhaps it is an error of logical typing on my part.




Stuart said...

You can help babies with colic by stimulating several of their senses at once, for instance by placing them atop a running washing machine. So maybe we all just have a massive collective case of colic. Come to think of it, colic is a dysfunction of the body's, er, externalising functions.

This reminds me of something I've noticed about screaming babies on airplanes. People HATE them. I did too, until I observed that the baby was just saying what we were all thinking. Now I don't mind the noise, and when someone expresses disgust I just want to say to them, "I'm with the baby, this is in every way an awful experience."

Mickey Foley said...

Well, I'm glad I at least grasped the point! And I'll still take credit for rephrasing your point in terms I find more direct :^)

In trying to make a living outside the Corporate Matrix, I've run headlong into externalization. The non-profit I'm now working for insists on calling me an "independent contractor," thereby externalizing responsibility for the provision of my healthcare, savings and taxes onto the gov't and I. Robert Reich recently wrote about this corporate trend: Why We're All Becoming Independent Contractors. But, even as we take on a greater load, we're being given greater freedom from the mind control. The more responsibility I've taken on, the more confidence I have in my own self-reliance. Ergo, I feel less dependent on the mainstream society. It has also put me in touch with people I never would've encountered before, broadening and strengthening my social support network.

In this way, Capitalism seems to be opening the door for the next seral stage in the succession of human civilizations. (Can you tell I'm reading "Overshoot?") Marx had the same theory, although he was far too sanguine about the process and the result. This is what gives me hope for the kids being taught in our crumbling schools. If all they learn is that the system doesn't work for them anymore, they'll be smarter than I was when I graduated (which was dumber than when I started school). They'll know enough not to buy into the American Dream. They'll reject pseudo-materialism, making them less likely to choose the corporate or the (officially) criminal path.

But even after that intellectual obstacle has been hurdled, there's still an emotional gauntlet to negotiate. The friends who would've been most supportive of my choice to simplify are apparently too busy to socialize anymore. The friends I'm still in touch with are less receptive to this viewpoint. My parents, with whom I'm living and on whom I've become increasingly dependent emotionally, don't approve of my decision. Hopefully, I'll bust through this rough patch soon, but it highlights the social barriers to escaping the civil religion of Progress. When the people most inclined to help you escape are stretched too thin to lend a hand, you're pretty much on your own. Ironically, I think that's the situation those of us inclined to escape least want to be in.

Moshe Braner said...

I agree with the jist, but must object to the denigration of bread machines as a concept. First, they do not require that one use a premade "mix". I've made many, many bread loaves in a machine, and used whole wheat flour, dry yeast bought in bulk (one teaspoon per loaf), water from my well, and a bit of salt and oil. But why use a machine rather than do it by hand? To bake bread without a machine one needs to learn to recognize when the dough has the right level of moisture. One also needs to be around to monitor the rising of the dough, somehow keeping it warm for hours, and then move it to the oven, then removing from the oven when done. Most people have trouble being around and paying attention that long, and might want fresh bread in the morning or when they return from work. If the machine means the difference between homemade bread (from picked ingredients) and commercial bread, isn't the homemade choice a plus?

That said, in recent months I've gone on to keeping a sourdough culture and processing it by hand. It takes planning ahead, but I only bake bread once in 10 days or so so I find the right days. E.g., take the starter out of the fridge Friday morning, add water & flour, add yet more Friday evening, then spend some time Saturday morning mixing and kneading, then monitoring the slow rise, and baking in the late afternoon.

I've also used the "no knead" recipe a number of times, that does not require any special equipment, nor that one have a sourdough starter. And of course does not require kneading, if that's a problem.

I should also report that most bread machines are built to break and to not be repairable. E.g., the paddle that kneads the dough is made of plastic that soon cracks. Or the drive belt stretches over time and a replacement is not available. Been there done that. Some brands and models are better.

Sven Eriksen said...

Many good points being raised this week, but one thing in particular struck a chord with me with regards to something that I have always found rather puzzling. Quote JMG: “…so long as they’ve been convinced that having those products symbolizes some abstract quality they want…” This is very true, but it is by no means limited to the realm of shabby consumer products. Having grappled with it for a bit (and it’s well worth doing so), I’m beginning to see it as a deeply ingrained pattern that is at the heart of nearly every activity that people in industrial society engages in these days. Not only is any activity you’d care to name bent towards creating or acquiring something that is utterly symbolic in nature, but the symbolic value itself is consistently and systematically derived from the odd fact that the symbolic object or action for all practical purposes always amounts to exactly the opposite of whatever it is that it is supposed to be symbolizing. It is a remarkably persistent and ubiquitous pattern, and it fields examples galore: People routinely submerge themselves in debt (anti-wealth) in order to acquire objects that symbolize wealth, they submit themselves to e-dumbuh-cation at increasingly clueless institutions to obtain papers that symbolize the very capacity for thought that gets mercilessly butchered in the process, they strive to symbolically save the environment with even more technological complexity, create symbolic health care systems that makes everybody sicker, and attempt to symbolically return to nature by substituting food and material from plants and animals with green marketed crap that comes straight out of the laboratory. It is equally persistent on a smaller scale, in the way most people make decisions, respond to situations and otherwise go about the business of their daily lives. I would invite readers to look out for it wherever they go. I for one find my workplace to be the far better arena for observing this, as it is more frequently taken to its logical extreme in that particular setting. It has a definite batesonian flavour to it, and as such the third leg of the tripod will necessarily be the insistence that the conflict between the two injunctions must never be addressed.

I belive this particular thing deserves its own name. Suggestions, anyone?

jim said...

Hi John,
When I read the title of this weeks essay “Peak Meaninglessness” I thought that this would be another essay that hits me personally. You see I am divorced and live by myself, I have no children, my parents don’t have much longer in this world (both almost 90) and although my job allows me to solve some technical problems (I am a development chemist) I am deeply unsatisfied and this year I turn 50. It doesn’t feel like peak meaninglessness to me, it feels like the trough of meaninglessness.

But I do have you to thank for showing me the bottom of this pit of meaninglessness. Your short story of the frightened and failed Frodo marks a turning point for me. That story was meant for me. I have been a frightened and failing Frodo.

I have slowly started the journey to giving my life the purpose it has been lacking. And you know, now sometimes I get these waves of very pleasant feelings/ sensations/ emotions when I am “walking the walk” and for some of the ideas for how and ware I should go.

Gaia Mundi (the living world) created me and has important things for me to do.
And I have been putting Her off for far too long.

Sven Eriksen said...

Ed, very good of you to point out about the reductionistic narratives leading to nihilism. These are not to my taste, either. I’d like to add though, that the part about the lights bouncing on the screen is not about reducing and activity to its fundamental core, but rather about reducing it to a blunt narrative about basic physical components, and that is not in any way the same as “core” or “essence”. That particular point needs to be made, because it is precisely the act of mistaking the latter for the former that throws open the gates to the pit of nihilism, and having the differences between the two clearly in mind is arguably the best safeguard we have against it.

ed boyle said...

All this breadmachine talk. The bane of ancient women's lives was stone grounding grain to flour. A mill with a donkey was liberating(history of technology book).

peacegarden said...

I must recommend a visit to Risa Bear’s blog (risashome.blogspot.com)in which she shares a poem written in response to the elimination of a list of words deemed by Oxford University Press to be no longer relevant to a modern day child. It brought tears to my eyes; we are well and truly fracked if children don’t need to know what an acorn, a dandelion or a meadow are.

Loved the bread making analogy and the story of the fancy oven failing @Les…belly laugh made up for earlier tears. You truly can’t make this stuff up!

We are getting another round of snow, freezing rain and more snow here; my daughter who lives in Minneapolis has had fewer inches than we this winter (south central VA in the foothills of the Appalachians)!

Peace,

Gail

pyrrhus said...

When considering the bogus nature of GDP as reported, also consider the fact that salaries and pensions of all government workers are included, so every raise given to these useless drones increases GDP.

MindfulEcologist said...

"hand over their own human capabilities to the industrial machine"

This brought to mind a quote by Arthur Conan Doyle, "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact."

Your current analysis is knocking off some of the monkey-shine used to confuse us in the industrial world about just what it is to live in these environments. Shockingly inhumane on so many levels. It was not easy to convince thinking and feeling adults that some shiny car or other bauble is of more value than our elderly relatives, children and grand-children.

Sowing discontent with real life has been perfected by all these advertising PHd.s far as I can tell.

Keep taking the hammer to the hollow idols. The cracks are beginning to reach their critical thresholds in this strange year.

I offered my own take on meaninglessness this week as well. Guess it's in the air...

ed boyle said...

Are pharmaceuticals-antidepressiva,etc. Mental prosthetics?

antibiotics and shots for kids could be a crutch to immune system. Spraying crops prosthetizes weeding.

It seems amish idea of selecting acceptable tech after generations, being very late adapter, is appropriate.

Moshe Braner said...

Clay Dennis said: ... the biggest pushback I would get if I suggested getting rid of basic telephones (as in my previous post) or automobiles in any circles outside the ADR would be "what would we do in an emergency".

- funny, in the many images I saw of post-tsunami Japan, in between the wrecked houses, fallen utility poles, beached boats and upside-down cars, in streets mostly blocked by debris, there was almost always one transportation tool in sight, besides people walking of course: the lowly bicycle.

Varun Bhaskar said...

Archdruid,

I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine about Miyamoto Musashi's "The Book of the Five Rings," and the ring of the void. During the discussion I pointed out that video games are a wholly useless activity, since it doesn't really train your senses. He argued back saying that he experienced the fifth ring during some game sessions, where he dominated his opponents by pushing all the right buttons without even thinking about it. I asked him how that was related to the void state that Musashi talks about, and he responded that it was very similar because his hand eye coordination was so perfect that he could commit the action without thinking. I pointed out that the void state and his gaming literally couldn't be similar. He asked why and I pointed out that when a martial artist is fighting they're on their feet and using at least five senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch, and spacial. Not to mention that you're using your whole eye, tracking natural colors, natural sounds, and objects in three dimensions. I asked him how this could possibly be similar to sitting in one spot while drunk or high (as most gamers are), staring at a screen designed to stimulate your senses, and pushing buttons. He had no answer.

I've started teaching him meditation to show him a glimpse of the unconnected world. I pray when spring comes I'll be able to take some of these people outside, away from their bloody screens.

In another news – here are some stories I've been working on. http://bonesofourempire.blogspot.com/

Regards,

Varun

Bike Trog said...

Homemade cappucchino without an expensive machine could be a bigger lifestyle change than homemade bread. The daily cappucchino drive is a significant part of traffic here.

Scotlyn said...

A long ago memory. Living in a mobile home, with partner and small baby, and the television being a "presence" that we eventually found too intrusive. What still stands out from the week after it found its way to the second hand shop, was the amazing re-discovery of the fact that partner and baby had faces! Yes, faces that welcomed you and drank you in, and made you wonder how you'd ever not noticed the thrillsomeness of that in ever so long!

SLClaire said...

Yesterday morning I did something relevant to last week's and this week's posts: I learned how to put a sharp edge on my garden tools with a file and appropriately deployed muscle power.

You might be thinking that I used to take my tools to be sharpened, or maybe that I used to grind them on an electrically-powered grinder. No, I didn't do either. What I did was ask my husband to sharpen them. He used a file and muscle power, same as I did. But since they aren't his tools (he has plenty of his own tools to keep sharp and does that), my asking him to sharpen them represented an externalization of the cost associated with sharpening (my time and effort). Even as tiny an externalization as that still puts the experience at a remove from me. I was depriving myself of the meaningfulness of doing the work myself, of understanding exactly why a sharpened tool works better, of the connection between the work and the result.

So yesterday I took up the file and the tools and figured out how to put an edge on my garden tools. In the case of my favorite hoe it was long past time to do that. It no longer had an edge at all. No wonder it was so ineffective last year. When I was done, the hoe had a nice sharp edge, ready for work next month. But I gained something more than a sharp hoe, more than the knowledge of how to sharpen it when it next needs it. Each time I learn how to do something myself, unmediated, it feels real and meaningful. I would have lost out on the sense of meaning, of the connection between work and result, if my husband had sharpened the tools, even though I could have used the tools for their intended purposes.

Irrational Athiest said...

Me and my wife started banking our own bread a while back, and when I was talking about it with my 'foodie' boss, he asked what breadmaker I was using, I said 'my oven' and he got weird and quiet.

Oriol said...

Hello John, first time writing here,

I'm so glad to hear about your new book. I've got nearly all your books related to this blog and I was afraid that some of your bests posts here would not be put in paper due to not being part of a series of posts.

I've got a question about this, is there a chance that "A Pink Slip for the Progress Fairy" is included in this anthology? I loved that piece of history fiction.

Thank you for your brilliance and eloquence, reading you is always a pleasure.

Greetings from Spain.

latheChuck said...

I was going to defend my bread-making machine, on the grounds that it allowed me to enjoy fresh, organic, whole-wheat bread this afternoon, mixed, kneaded, and baked while I could shovel snow and refine my ham radio skills. But then I realized that, with careful planning, I could just as easily have blended the activities. I realized that the actual value of the bread machine is that it relieves me of planning and scheduling, and THAT's something to think about.

E-mail and social media relieve us of scheduling real-time communication with friends. To procure the ingredients of a home-cooked (and even home-grown!) meal requires additional effort in planning (what shall we eat) and scheduling (which items will keep fresh longest).

One the other hand, I believe that the bread machine takes less energy to operate...

August Johnson said...

All this talk about Bread Machines, how it's so hard to make bread without them! Yes I used to have a Bread Machine, bought it about 10 years ago and used it all the time. Never really liked the screwy shaped loaves it made. It died a few years ago and I went back (I used to make bread by hand before machine) to making my bread by hand.

About 5-10 minutes to mix and knead, rises in the kitchen at whatever temp it is (60-80 F depending on the time of year) for 1 hour, then I do another 5 minutes of punch down and divide in half and put into 2 glass loaf pans. Into the cold oven (electric) for maybe another half hour, then I turn on the oven, when it's up to temp I set the timer for 35 minutes. Presto! 2 nice loaves of bread. The texture is much better than the same exact recipe made in the machine! And no stupid cavity in the loaf from the paddle. Much easier to clean the loaf pans than the pan for the machine.

Once I forgot and let the first rise go for over 2 hours, still great bread. It's NOT THAT HARD!

Rita said...

Just thought I would point out that misplaces aesthetics were not the only reason for people having all their teeth pulled and replaced with dentures. Crowns, bridges, root canals and so forth were expensive, especially since they usually took more than one visit to complete. For a poor person with bad teeth, one visit to pull them all, another to fit dentures may seem more economical than numerous trips to pull bad teeth one at a time. At least this is the reasoning I heard from my grandmother who grew up poor in the Ozarks. Born 1910 she told me once that the family was so poor they didn't even know there was a depression going on.

John Michael Greer said...

Blockhill, that's the problem with trying to write satire these days -- the real world is so much more absurd than anything you're likely to think of. I wonder if we'll ever reach peak absurdity!

Joe, apologies -- now I feel like an idiot. Will get the name corrected pronto.

Val, you could always get a camera, you know!

Toro, I find the book far more interesting, not least because it explores the limits of Mentat reasoning. As for Rand, I'll pass -- the slobbering adulation of psychopathic rapists that fills so much of her fiction is stomach-turning, at least to me.

William, good. I'll have much more to say about mediation as we proceed.

Ed, yes, but there are also tools mixed up in there -- the human body isn't too good at pounding nails, drilling holes, etc. The distinction's worth keeping in mind.

Joe, I'd rather they credit Oswald Spengler!

Jaser, actually, the cyborgs are less likely to endure than human beings, since they have such precise and unforgiving requirements for new components, energy supplies, etc. That's one of the benefits of old-fashioned biological systems like you and me -- we're pretty good at running on whatever's available.

Ed, or Chuang Tsu -- that's the usual English romanization.

Zach, thank you. It's an endless source of amusement to me to listen to dignified authority figures insisting at the top of their lungs that Hy Brasil is not sinking...

Lei, philology may not be "of interest" in times of crisis, but it's one of the few sciences that to my mind is worth preserving no matter what -- lose languages, particularly dead ones, and a chunk of humanity's heritage goes away for good. Glad to hear that you're pursuing sustainable philology!

Changeling, that's good -- and square on target.

Ric Steinberger said...

Externalities aren't equally bad to everyone. What's that mean? Allow an example, based on Garrett Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons.

Suppose I'm a big, bad power plant owner. My plant burns coal and it pollutes the regional air and eventually the entire atmosphere causing respiratory illness and contributing to global warming. I don't pay anything to use the atmosphere as a dump because that's the way the laws work.

But wait a minute - don't I have to breathe the same air and suffer the same consequences? Not at all. My profits allow me to buy a whole house air purification system so me and my family can breathe clean, fresh air (even though the air filtering system itself produces more pollutants).

This is what we have today, if we scale up this simple example: A relatively small, very wealthy and powerful group of people who own much of the world's wealth and externality producing industries. They are able to use a small fraction of their wealth and power to build "healthy" bubbles for themselves for most of their lives.

As long as their externality free bubble lives are allowed to continue, they will use their political power to continue exactly what they've been doing.

So: externalities for thee, healthy bubbles for me.

oilman2 said...

At our farm, we decide what makes sense to do and what to spend on. In doing so, we use a sort of PEROEI (Personal EROEI) as a basis.

Yesterday, son wanted to purchase a gizmo for the bees that is designed to drain directly into mason jars as the honey is produced. It was $250 - so we had the sit down. PEROEI would not be impacted with this "amazing new beehive design" - one still wants to check the health of the bees and the hive regularly. Not looking in on them is just nutty in the age of Monsanto. So that is not going to be an advantage.

Next, would it allow us to avoid buying a centrifuge? Well, not really, because eventually you have to split hives and such. Centrifuge required when getting into each box.

Additionally, at $250 per 'self harvesting' hive, compared to $25 per hive to make a nice Langstroth, we could increase production more with the same money.

Then what about the other issues - such as breaking the glass jars in transit from the bee area? And then cleaning them up, because they get nasty in the sun and dust and rain. We don't have many black bears around, but coons sure go for any honey they can smell and not get stung in doing so. This has coon and possum madness written all over it.

And then, we are stuck buying these special parts for this thing in perpetuity.

So, from a PEROEI standpoint, this makes no sense - the old way fits better into raising, gathering and delivering honey at lesser overall expense and risk.

Second discussion was on putting in another well - turns out that this huge sunk cost has a long payout. Based on rainfall over the last 4 years, putting in above ground rain catchment cisterns will net the same amount of water as we are after with the well. Wells require pumps and power and $12,000 just to dig.

Cisterns cost $3500 and the guttering and valving $300 - placing them on the high ground means gravity fed water pressure without a pump working.

From both cash and PEROEI - cisterns win for us, especially in the maintenance, time and cash departments. Yes, constructing them will take a couple of weekends, but the well would take one weekend to get in and then there is the maintenance and the power it uses. Cistern maintenance consists of draining a single valve every few months to drop out the sediment - no puling the pump or screen out as i conventional well.

And lest we forget, the cash we use is all from trading our time to someone else - renting ourselves out for salary or hourly wages. Free time IS free money.

For us, PEROEI seems to let us work out what makes sense to do and what is just a bell, whistle or "conventionally accepted" approach or technology.

John Michael Greer said...

Raven, progressing toward what?

Jean-Vivien, I wish I could find a reason to disagree. A great many people are likely to find Frantz Fanon's vision of redemption through violence the one form of redemption they can imagine.

Phil, oh, I know. There were some scenes in that book I wish I hadn't had to write!

Kenaz, dump that microwave! I'm convinced that having one of those things in the kitchen automatically subtracts 15% from the quality of the food cooked there, whether it uses the microwave or not. ;-)

KidCharlemagne, you get this evening's gold star for quoting Emerson. Of course you're quite correct; no matter how fast you shovel, if the dirt you shovel out of the pit just slides back down on top of you, the end result is going to be your own burial.

Monk, thank you!

Chris, excellent! "Our problem is not that we are materialistic, it is rather that we are shallow" -- that's a keeper.

RPC, aren't you already doing that? If not, have a beer and give it a try.

Heather, glad to hear that you and your husband are paying attention! Peak abstraction is a major factor in the current mess, no question.

Renaissance Man, fascinating. Glad to hear that horse tack has resisted the rush toward gizmofication.

Mikep, that's a very interesting point -- that human innovation focused on the development of human skill until the industrial revolution, and since then has focused on the elimination of human skill. Hmm. That's going to want some brooding.

Kutamun, tell your breadmaker to machine up and deal! As for Airbuses et al., I wish I could say that any of that surprises me.

Karen, a couple of generations ago everyone in Minnesota baked bread, and their heating systems were probably a good deal less efficient than yours. Do you happen to know how? Might be worth learning, before the supply of bread machines runs out...

Dau Branchazel said...

Hi JMG, this was one of those posts that will no doubt find its way into the next collection of essays, although it warrants a book of its own.

I can't find the exact quote I am thinking of, but Karl Marx had something to say about the commodification of all human interactions, essentially like the toll idea mentioned. He expressed concern about a trend and extrapolated it to a possible future where you'd essentially be paying money to talk, if not breathe.

I'm no Marxist, but considering the nature of social media today, he was not so far off.

John Michael Greer said...

Brian, I've lived without running water; it takes some planning and some hard work, but you can wash yourself perfectly well if you're willing to haul the water. That said, I prefer running water, and hot water at that -- thus my fondness for solar water heaters and woodstove waterbacks, both of which can give you a good hot bath without benefit of fossil fuels.

Donkey, it's more ironic than that: building machines that do our work gives us the opportunity to suffer from unemployment, poverty, and boredom.

Will, excellent! That's exactly the sort of epiphany that I wish were more common: the recognition that too many gizmos spoil the experience.

Magicalthyme, ouch! I'm hearing from more and more people who are getting slammed by, ahem, externalities like that one. I hope the spring isn't too late.

Dan, in a saner society, there would be a scattering of trucks (fueled by biodiesel) all over farm country, and they'd cost enough to rent -- due to internalizing all the externalities -- that you'd plan truck-related errands with neighbors so that every inch of the way, something was being hauled somewhere useful. Or you'd hitch some horses to a wagon and do it that way...

Rick, it's easier to bake by hand than it is to use the machine. I mean that quite literally, having taught more than a dozen people how to bake. Those three hours and forty-five minutes? You only need to put about ten of them into mixing, kneading, and shaping the loaves; you can do whatever else you want during that time. Still, if you want to remain dependent on a prosthetic, don't let me stop you.

Dfr, your choices are yours to make, but as far as I can see, a prosthetic's still a prosthetic.

Dan, yum!

Kyoto, thank you. Meditation as the alternative to mediation...hmm. I may want to meditate on that.

Tom C., and everyone else who referenced "Henry Hikes to Fitchburg," thank you! I'd never heard of that book, and clearly need to read it!

Travis, why, yes -- and that's a core reason why everyone who pursues the study program in the Druid order I head has to plant and tend at least one tree during their Candidate year. Druids have this thing about trees, you know. ;-)

Other Tom, give it a little time. Based on my readership, there are about as many women as men interested in green wizardry, appropriate tech, and LESS; as the numbers rise and networking proceeds, I think you'll find that finding a partner who shares your interests will become a lot easier.

Patricia Mathews said...

Instead of focusing on bread machines, I'm going to add a more obvious example. Suppose a complete novice wants to take up knitting. She goes down to the craft shop and the manager - whose income is affected by the number of big-ticket items sold - sells her the latest cutting-edge knitting machine. Totally computerized, with hundreds of pre-programmed patterns; just add a pre-measured amount of the yarn especially sold for this machine (do NOT use any other!)

After the first few tries, she finds herself oddly dissatisfied and totally bored, because she's not really knitting at all. The only thing this is good for is making money selling "home-knit goods" perhaps. So the machine gathers dust in the back room, along with the treadmill she bought because her doctor wanted her to walk 10,000 steps a day; and she wonders what in the world is wrong with her that she can't bring herself to do *anything*!

Pat, with a half-done hand-crocheted hat waiting for me to have a spare minute. (Midterms were last week.)

Kutamun said...

I think with this post we are trenching now into the very heart of the artificial environment , portayed powerfully in " the matrix " moves , and in the philosophy of Jean Baudrillard and his " desert of the real " . We dont normally associate the hero archetype with the earth path, but i suppose there is a lot of heroic endeavour required to recognise and unplug from said tech prosthesis , especially while the system is still running full steam and most of us are enmeshed in it .. Baudrillard was said to be one of the inspirations of the Matrix Meme , and he even wrote a book specifically about America called , quite originally " America " . Theodore Roszak has plenty to say about the built environmemt in " where the wasteland ends ", named after TS eliots famous poem and DH lawrence was very much in this vein also ..
There is a psycho spiritual point of diminishing returns with use of tech , just as there is a spiritual one . Up to a point it can make things easier and more enjoyable " not all tech is bad " , beyond this point a strange sense of Ennui , listless unfulfillment is evoked , just as with the Airbus pilot . At this point , i suppose we are removed from our activities and our world , which obviously is not agreeable to the sometimes social primate who has evolved peeling his / her own bananas , after all, its not rocket science is it ...haaghahahahaha
There have been a lot of dirty little secrets of covert bread ownership coming to light this week which makes me think " why has JMG attracted a veritable coven of artificial bread making subversives to his orbit ?"
Does the Archdruid have an unacknowledged deep harbour somewhere in his interiority where a little colony of elementals carries out illicit bread making day and night, using machines if all kinds that they love ?

John Michael Greer said...

Tuxedo, the housemaid and Burroughs were both onto something!

Friction, hmm! I haven't read either writer. Two more to add to the large and growing get-to stack...

Nicholas, that's fascinating. I wonder how long it'll take them to get a clue.

Dagnarus, now if they can just replace the person playing the game with a computer. Oh, wait...

Hawkcreek, a bicycle can function as a tool -- to expand human capacities, rather than replacing them. More on this as we proceed.

Kelly, there's nothing inherently wrong with looking at little colored pictures on a glass screen, so long as you remember that that's all you're doing, and do it for some purpose that means something to you.

Brian, I've never done programming, so missed most of the jokes -- still, many thanks for this!

Myriad, many thanks for catching that. One of the advantages to posting my first-draft essays here is that readers catch details I miss!

Angelus, that's because you're stuck on an outdated and irrelevant fantasy of what "collapsing now" is supposed to be. I apologize if I sound irritable just now, but I've been saying over and over AND OVER AGAIN that I am NOT talking about running off to a farm in the countryside, which -- as I've pointed out many times before you got around to it -- most people can't afford. I'm talking about collapsing in place -- where you are, with what you have, right now -- by learning skills, cutting unnecessary expenses, rebuilding the household economy, etc., etc. -- all the things I've been talking about on this blog. I know it takes work to get past the false dichotomies and broken-record presuppositions of today's collective thinking, but I'd encourage you to put in the effort, because if you do, you'll find that you have choices that don't amount to having to decide between a) business as usual and b) something you can't do anyway.

Andy, it's a good image, isn't it?

Backyardfeast, funny! Of course nobody wants to use the word that was used for this the last time around: stagflation. It'll be even more interesting if and when it tips over into hyperstagflation...

John Michael Greer said...

Goldmund, hmm! You're right, and that's a very good point indeed.

Goats, many thanks. I'm still startled that I somehow managed never to encounter that book.

Onething, good. I'd like to suggest that the reason the older architecture is so beautiful is precisely that the people who built it didn't have the kind of energy resources we do. I'll explain why in a future post!

Clay, I get most of my best ideas while walking; Nietzsche used to say that you should never trust any idea that didn't come up while you were on a walk.

Kelvin, like me, Thoreau was rarely succinct!

Gunnar, thanks for this!

Ed, thank you -- now if I can just get the page to load...

Courer, no, you have a point, and made it well. I've seen the same sort of stunning cluelessness myself.

Amy, be aware that the better you can phrase your objections to the prosthetic lifestyle, the more people will treat you like a crazy cat lady. It's not that they don't get it; it's that they can't handle it. That said, I'm delighted to hear that you'll be getting a slide rule! "An elegant instrument of a more sustainable age..."

Clay, true enough.

Ed, notice how roundabout an argument it took you to accomplish the same thing I did by simply saying that watching little colored pictures on a screen is, in fact, watching little colored pictures on a screen. You might consider reflecting on the difference, and what it points up.

Onething, two good suggestions -- I'm going to have to look into the first one, in particular.

Steve, sounds like the making of a really first-rate science fiction novel, except you won't get anybody to publish something like that these days. Still, very good indeed.

Willow, good! Thank you.

escapefromwisconsin said...

"Imagine, though, that some clever marketer were to convince people to have their legs cut off so that they could be fitted for artificial legs. Imagine, furthermore, that the advertising for artificial legs became so pervasive, and so successful, that nearly everybody became convinced that human legs were hopelessly old-fashioned and ugly, and rushed out to get their legs amputated so they could walk around on artificial legs."

Once again, no matter how crazy you make something in your head, it can't be crazier than the mad world we are actually living in:

-- Several News of the Weird stories mentioned Body Dysmorphic Disorder sufferers who sought the ultimate treatment: amputation of healthy body parts on irrationally aesthetic grounds, led by castration-desiring men. Now, 15-year-old Danielle Bradshaw of Tameside, England, also wants a useful leg amputated -- but not irrationally. Her "developmental dysplasia" caused the amputation of her useless right leg, but the resultant stress on the left one has weakened it, and besides, having taken up competitive running, she wants Oscar Pistorius-style blades instead of her current prosthesis, which slows her down. However, no hospital has yet agreed to perform the surgery, considering the leg's continued functionality and Bradshaw's young age. [Daily Mail (London), 9-18-2014]

http://www.newsoftheweird.com/archive/nw141109.html

See also: Three Men Have Had Hands Amputated and Replaced With Bionic Versions (Gizmodo). Admittedly their hands were paralyzed, but still...

Last Redoubt said...

All the dreams of my youth have been fulfilled and become the nightmares they truly are. The bill has come due for all of those externalities that were hidden behind the curtain. Now I see and feel them everywhere.

John Michael Greer said...

Greg, no, not an error of logical typing, an error of contextualization. If somebody were sitting on the couch reading a book of Robert Service poems, and said that he was experiencing the Alaskan tundra, then it would be appropriate to point out that, no, strictly speaking, he was reading a bunch of printed words on paper a long way away from Alaska, and the experience of doing so is not the same as the experience of being in Alaska. That's the difference I was pointing up in this week's post.

If the reader on the couch were to talk about his experience of the poetry as poetry, on the other hand, it would be beside the point to insist on the black marks on paper, other than to marvel at how so simple a set of stimuli can produce intense esthetic experiences. In the same way, if you want to talk about watching little images on a glass screen as such, without confusing it with other kinds of experience or treating it as a substitute for the latter, that's a subject for discussion all its own.

Stuart, I can sympathize with the babies, too. As for colic, hmm. Yes, that would seem to follow -- too little sensory stimulation, leading to a worldwide infantile temper tantrum...

Mickey, my guess is that what's going to have to happen is that people interested in living with LESS are going to have to network and support each other. As things get tighter, I confidently expect believers in progress to invest more and more of their emotional energy in various cargo-cult ideologies, and become less and less willing to deal with the world as it is -- and that can, and very likely will, lead in some very ugly directions indeed.

Moshe, it's actually not that hard to mix and raise dough, etc., by hand. Fussy foodie recipes aside, there are hundreds of good, simple, easy recipes that take ten to fifteen minutes of actual labor spread over a three hour period, and can handle the normal variables such as temperature fluctuations just fine!

Sven, that's fascinating. Of course you're quite correct -- I can think of a dozen more examples without even trying. Yes, it needs a name, and some serious discussion!

Jim, I'm glad to have helped. You're right, of course; each of us is here to do something other than sit on the sofa. If you're ready to get up and go to it, then blessings on your path!

Ed, the human body isn't very good at turning seeds into flour; thus a tool is called for. There are various tools that can be used to grind grain, and choosing one that's efficient in its use of muscular energy and resources is a perfectly valid thing to do.

Peacegarden, that's horrifying. I think of what that classic Oxford don JRR Tolkien would have said about that! I may just have to start a campaign to encourage people to make sure their children and grandchildren all get to know the words that Oxford doesn't want taught to children any more.

Pyrrus, and the salaries of CEOs are also included, and so every time those useless drones get a raise or a bonus...

John Michael Greer said...

Ecologist, was that an intentional Nietzsche reference? (For those who haven't read him, Twilight of the Idols is subtitled How to Philosophize with a Hammer.) If so, it's a timely one. Yes, it's a strange year, and likely to get stranger as we go.

Ed, no, at this point you're pushing the metaphor far beyond the point at which it stops being useful.

Varun, excellent. It's easy to pretend to be in control of everything when all you have to deal with is what fits through the digital bottleneck. As for your stories, glad to hear it! Oddly enough, I'll have an announcement to make on that subject in the not too distant future... ;-)

Trog, I'll leave that debate to fans of the beverage in question -- coffee of any kind gives me migraines.

Scotlyn, that's one of the reasons I won't have one of the accursed things in my house.

SLClaire, excellent!

Irrational, "weird and quiet" -- yes, I see that reaction a lot. I think it's largely rooted in terror of heresy.

Oriol, that essay isn't in Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush -- I put together the collection when I was on break May and June. I'll certainly keep it in mind for a future collection, though!

LatheChuck, sure, as long as you don't factor in the manufacturing costs, the supply chain for parts and raw materials, the disposal costs, the ecological impact of toxic pollutants from manufacture and disposal, etc., etc., it's really quite a bargain!

August, Thank. You. For. Getting. It..

Rita, interesting. That's not a perspective I'd heard before, but it makes sense.

Ric, exactly. That's why they're externalities -- external to the balance sheets of the people who are profiting by them.

Oilman, that works!

Dau, fascinating. I'll have to chase that quote down -- unless one of my Marxist readers would care to help out!

Patricia, good -- though I don't doubt we can find passionate devotees of knitting machines who will defend their prosthesis of choice!

Kutamun, well, I said a while back that I was going to head further out into unexplored territory, didn't I? Here we are...

Justin said...

@Dan Brauchazel

Paying money to speak, yes, you pay money for the internet and phone. :)

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

There is an alternative GDP available at Shadowstats: http://www.shadowstats.com/alternate_data/gross-domestic-product-charts That has secular stagnation starting in 2000 or 2004 depending on how you like to look at it.

Also, regarding the images on the glass screen "This is how I explain computer problems to my cat. My cat usually seems happier than me." http://xkcd.com/722/

Jo said...

Another excellent conversation that is sending me further down the path towards The Good Life every week.

Erica - thank you so much for that Wendell Berry quote - I read the entire short story that it comes from. Brilliant! That is exactly the kind of life I am trying to craft for myself - one that is as marginal as possible to the market economy.

Angelus, and anyone else out there who is miserably 'trapped' in the 'work-travel-consume-sleep-work' paradigm, do read that Wendell Berry short story quoted by Erica I'll add it again here to save scrolling up the comments):

https://www.threepennyreview.com/samples/berry_f14.html

I have begun this year by refusing to buy new, and by beginning to make do and mend, or make from scratch what I used to buy. I was initially very resistant to the whole idea, but felt I had to try for ethical and social justice reasons (yes, the externalities inherent in buying new). But what I have found is an extraordinary freedom (from mindless consumption), an increase in the sense of community and an anchoring in the place where I live, and a real sense of pride that I can actually make and mend things that once I would have bought or thrown away.

It is so much more meaningful, peaceful,and yes, just plain fun, to have swum out of the swift-flowing current of 'business as usual' and be washed up on the beach of 'don't need to go to the shops anymore'. Not that it isn't hard work, but the nature of that work is different. Making bread by hand, for instance, means that there are fifteen to twenty minutes of mixing and kneading to do every few days. That is a little window of time that my children know they can sit across the kitchen bench and tell me what they need to tell me. If there are no children about, it is twenty minutes of perfect quiet time accompanied by the rhythmic, soothing action of kneading, that is one of the happiest, most meditative moments of my day.

Crazy busy high-powered executives probably pay a fortune to some meditation guru for a week a year to achieve a pale imitation of the kind of calm happiness that I get as a free bonus to an activity that, ironically, started as a cost-cutting exercise so I could work less..

The more I pursue a lifestyle based on LESS, the more I seem to be heading towards Peak Meaningfulness..

pyrrhus said...

Pyrrus, and the salaries of CEOs are also included, and so every time those useless drones get a raise or a bonus...
Very true--it's just that government salaries and pensions are at least 100 times the size of CEO compensation for public corporations--government being about 20% of reported GDP in the US.

FiftyNiner said...

JMG,
In your capacity as Archdruid, I beg forgiveness for using a microwave to heat my vending machine hotdog all those years ago in the college dorm.
(My brother has bought at least two high end($400 range)microwaves for the house which I and my mother refused to use to cook actual food, so they ended up being the world's most expensive popcorn poppers!)
As to bread machines, a friend gave me one of the original versions of this strange contraption years ago. I set it on the counter and somehow our cat caused it to crash to the floor and broke the plexiglass dome. Considering how heavy it was, we never were able to figure out how she made it fall. I pretended to be much
more broken up about it than I actually was. I didn't bother to scold the cat!
In my own journey to simplicity I am collecting versions of the kitchen gadgets that are included in the end matter of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook.
They are sufficient to any job in the kitchen, even today.

Sylvia Rissell said...

I'm reminded of a commercial I saw several years ago. It was a pitch for a plastic envelope of freeze-dried soup powder. The voice over talked about when you add the contents of the envelope to boiling water "you ACTUALLY make soup!"

I was never able to decide if I should be angry, or laugh.

As for knitting machines, I have some experience with them. They do "plain knitting" very rapidly and evenly, but are somewhat fussy about the yarn you feed them (not too thick, not too thin, not too weak or it will snap). You can't fold up the unfinished project and put it in your purse/pocket/backpack with the needles and a ball of yarn.

I am currently learning to operate a circular sock machine (an Erlbacher Gearhart reproduction), and am still learning all the tricks of that. However, I'm not going to give up my #1 steel double point needles, because there are too many cool sock patterns that the machine won't do.

The economic decision of machine or hand knit tips toward the machine if you have a reliable source of good yarn and plan to sell the product, but if you are only going to use homespun to make family items, knitting needles are much less expensive and much more flexible.

(as always, do the research, figure it out for yourself and your situation...)

Marc L Bernstein said...

I have 2 disagreements with Derrick Jensen, and they might be similar to yours.

(1) Garret Hardin's 1968 essay "The Tragedy of the Commons" was profound and describes quite well most (It doesn't deal with malice or deliberate sabotage. That's another story.) of the environmental and ecological problems that we face in the world today. Derrick Jensen apparently thinks that Hardin's seminal 1968 essay was not profound. He mentions that indigenous tribes would never allow any of its members to overexploit an important common resource.

The problem with Derrick Jensen's claim is that it assumes that adequate information about the status of a common resource is available to everyone. This fact is simply not true in any but the simplest cases. In the modern world, the externalities of an economic activity are often obscured, sometimes deliberately. When those externalities are obscured, groups of people can exploit a resource without having any sense at all of the deleterious consequences of their actions. This is where the tragedy comes in.

(2) Derrick Jensen focuses on bringing the present highly destructive industrial economic system down "by some means". I sympathize with his melancholy, horror and desperation.

However, when you factor in human nature, it seems evident that a person would usually do better by setting an example in their own lives for others to follow instead of beating their head against the brick wall of the juggernaut of economic growth, industrialization and wanton exploitation.

Living simply, not having too many children, learning basic crafts and repair skills, learning organic gardening, disengaging from a good portion of the fossil fuel based economy, etc., while encouraging others to do the same is more likely to be effective than sabotaging industrial equipment, although there may be cases where such activities have their place.

Is this similar to your complaints about Derrick Jensen?

In spite of this, I admire Derrick Jensen. He's a very beneficent figure in our difficult times, all things considered.

David James Peterson said...

There was a conversation, several years back, about increasing the taxes on the Natural Gas producers in Arkansas that use Hydro-fracking. Each Well needs several hundred semi-truck loads of water, sand, and drilling mud for the Hydro-fracking procedure (something not necessary for a conventional Natural Gas well which would only need drilling mud). Since each semi-truck on average does one-thousand times the damage of an average car to the road surface, the idea was that the normal taxes on natural gas production needed to be increased to pay for the damage which would be done to the roads. The Natural Gas producers argued that they wouldn't making any profit if the taxes were increased, they eventually won from what I remember. What did increase since then is that the State passed a ten billion dollar bond along with a sales tax increase, which is being spent on the State Highways. ...So for a little while the natural gas companies will get to pretend they're not losing money, and the State of Arkansas will pretend that the natural gas companies aren't tearing up the roads and costing the State money.
On another note. Oddly, I had a dream one or two weeks ago which featured an arm which was severed, altered, and then reattached to my arm (I had a distinctive feeling that the arm had some sort of manifest evil). The dream had me wondering what it meant, perhaps it was a prelude to this idea of Prosthetic technology.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

A couple of notes regarding bread making:

if you are using whole wheat flour, preferably stone ground, there is no real kneading required. This does make a dense, hearty loaf, but good. I usually knead it a bit in the bowl before the first rise. The other trick when making it this way is to have a somewhat wetter dough than you would with a fully kneaded, part white flour bread. Also, in a cold house, quick-rise yeast works pretty well.

Saturday is often a cooking day (making ahead for the week and doing more complex recipes) so I start the bread first before getting into chopping vegetables or whatever. When the house is cold, the first rise can take up to two hours and the second rise in the pans an hour. When you're doing other cooking, the kitchen heats up, of course, so that's another advantage of scheduling this way.

I also often cook (but don't make bread) after supper so we have "home-made fast food" the next day when we come home hungry. Vegetarian chili has been simmering this evening as I write this.

Brother Lawrence experienced the presence of god in the kitchen while cooking and doing chores. A meaningful life indeed.

Ed said...

It would be interesting if you extended your examination of lack of meaning, infinite regress, and technology to its core. The individual separate self, truly the ultimate technology we have invented and all share as a species.

I tried to touch on this I my earlier comment but failed :)

Self and other is the ultimate prostetic acting as a buffer between reality and the observer. If we are to preemptively collapse lets go all the way and wipe clean the sleight fully.

Even if we run out of cheap energy; man with broken perception will endlessly fail to navigate the sea of cause and effect. Negatave externalities will always be exported onto others as long as "other" exists. Technology (as you have very beautifully noted) simply amplifies the effects (good or bad). Our sins are the same as they have always been, but our arms are much longer.

Much respect,
Ed

SweaterMan said...

@Goldmun & JMG -

Google "flagstaff arizona internet outage" and you'll see the same sort of interaction, just not with a Mother Nature cause.

It was actually great - at the local watering hole I frequent the bartender remarked that it was "gettin' too damn noisy in here" because we were all forced to talk rather than stare at cellphones.

Lots of folks just told their boss they were leaving for the day and bailed out of work to go enjoy living rather than sit behind a screen that was no longer connecting them to anything...

And, frankly, as an IT guy, it was nice to shrug my shoulders and say that this was a thing I COULDN'T fix.

I joined those who were bailing early for a celebratory glass of local ale!

Tye said...

Wow. Very thought-provoking. You've expanded the concept of 'externality' the limit---to not only mean the pushing of costs onto someone or sometime else, but also to include the foolish sacrifice of human potential. whatever we call it, modern life surely creates a deep emptiness when we separate ourselves from our food, nature, and each other. And I can't help but think our current 'free market capitalism' ethos puts the separation process on steroids by making everyone else our competitor. Even waiting in line or driving in traffic makes us competitors, and more separate and alone. The young kids--mine included--seem to be catching on though, altho they can't articulate what's wrong yet. They know something is.

AngelusCruentus said...

I guess it's pretty tough to understand what collapsing in place means then. After all, I'm still totally dependent on petroleum products to get by in the status quo. Maybe what you mean by it is something totally unique to each individual within the context of their place, social status, and economic resources. I've talked about gold and silver before, so maybe I can interpret collapsing in place as learning banking skills and how to manage risk and speculate, since the resources I actually have are the resources that have traditionally served people as money. It's not easy because personal judgement and flat out guesses and luck play a big role in how things turn out, no matter how much we desperately search for good advice.

Screaming Sardine said...

I make bread by hand here in cold northeastern MN. My thermostat is set at 55 degrees, so it gets chilly in the house. To help my dough raise, I turn the stove on at 200 for a few minutes. Then I cover my dough and put it in the stove. I sometimes crack open the oven door for a couple minutes so it's not too hot. The dough raises just fine. If I have the crockpot or dehydrator going, I'll put the dough near those. In fact, I just made some sourdough bread tonight. :)

I've heard that turning the light on in the oven - with the door closed - gives off a good amount of heat. I haven't tried that, as I've never had a working light in my oven.

Cheers,
Tracy

John Michael Greer said...

Escape, I pity the authors who write for The Onion. The effort they must make to stay even that hairline further into absurdity than the world manages all by itself...

Redoubt, fair enough. Given that situation, what are you going to do in response?

Tim, it would be interesting to see a five-year smoothed average or a linear regression run on those numbers. Eyeballing it, I'd put the end of growth and the beginning of permanent contraction right around 2000 -- which would fit very nicely with the other signs of snowballing decline going on around us.

Jo, the funny thing is that it doesn't matter how much more obviously satisfying, meaningful, and happy a life you can have with LESS; people just keep bleating, "Oh, but I'd be so miserable if I wasn't constantly chasing the latest lump of consumer trash..."

Pyrrhus, true, but on a cost-per-useless-drone basis, the CEOs are pretty impressive, you have to admit.

FiftyNiner, I think there's some kind of blanket absolution for venial technological sins committed while in college -- though I admit I was on the other end of the spectrum there, living in an unheated cabin with no electricity and running water and milking goats before I went to classes! Please extend my compliments to your cat, who is obviously a feline of intelligence and good taste.

Sylvia, if you personally can make constructive use of a knitting machine, by all means. Have you tried using a knitting loom rather than a machine for the same purpose? My understanding, which is admittedly that of an observer, is that you can do all the same things, with less trouble with finicky yarn, nearly as fast on one of those.

Marc, I'm not really interested in getting into a discussion of my disagreements with Jensen. He has his take on things, I have mine, and I encourage people to read his books and mine and make up their own minds.

David, that's a classic example. Interesting about the dream!

Adrian, good advice all round! Sara and I routinely cook big pots of soup, stew, chili, etc. for the same reason: it's a lot easier to have hot tasty food in a hurry.

Ed, hmm! That's getting deep into philosophical and spiritual territory, deeper than I usually go on this blog, but we'll see.

John Michael Greer said...

SweaterMan, I read about that -- and was fascinated. I had no idea that all of northern Arizona depended on a single cable for its internet access! If that's the level of redundancy involved, the internet may be around for less time than I'd expected.

Tye, good. You get it. You're right that a lot of people know that something's gone very wrong, but a lot of people have trouble articulating it; one of the main themes of this blog is helping to come up with articulations that work.

Angelus, no, banking with precious metals isn't what I'm suggesting. If you're having trouble grasping what I've said, you might consider reading the Green Wizards posts here, beginning and continuing to the end of 2011. My book Green Wizardry also covers the same ground.

Sardine, exactly. It really isn't that difficult to get dough to a working temperature. Like most ordinary cooking tasks, it's been made far more difficult than it has to be by foodies and the prepared food marketing industry.

Pitchfork and Crow said...

JMG - Thanks for the mild reprimand earlier in the comments. And you shall access your hard copy Walden far sooner than I can read the online text, since I have to toil away the day to earn my internet payment, electricity and computer costs. I better get a hard copy at my local bookstore.

Carnegie said...

I found a sudden scarcity of meaninglessness in my life once I discovered my mother's unused, forgotten mountain dulcimer. As I read this post, I play and sing a haunting dog latin (gibberish) refrain: "Samia dostia, ari aditida, tori adito madora..."

In this post JMG is onto something but doesn't quite spell it out. Eventually, all that work - the bread making, the beer brewing, the harvesting - has to be for something or it will feel like suffering. Many people today do the work to get their bread but are not sure what they're doing it "for" other than a night of computer games.

Traditionally there are two things that have worked consistently across all cultures, often combined: socialization and music. The harvest was culminated with a great harvest festival, the spring day with a spring song, and you could really lose yourself in the moment, compared to the many things we do today where we try to achieve that effect but often don't quite get there. Our obsession with immortalizing times of happiness (with photographs, videos, et cetera) may contribute to this feeling of unwellness as I'm not sure such times were ever meant to be experienced in anything but the present moment.

Alan Watts wrote that his ideal afterlife would be an eternity of losing himself in moments of his own creation and imagination, experienced vividly in a sort of dance (or something like that, I never really understood Watts).

The point is, playing instruments like the mountain dulcimer, even alone, can be a "for" that all your work allows you to do. It's meditative. You can lose hours doing it and finish smiling without the slightest tinge of guilt. If you're a good player, you make other people nearby happy. I was surprised to learn in one of Ruth Goodman's documentaries that far more people in the past took up some kind of music even though fancy instruments such as pianoforte remained privileges.

Other people will find more appropriate "fors." Maybe computer games are okay for this. I don't know, but it doesn't seem like it. A good novel may work just as well.

Val said...

JMG, if I do get a camera, it'll be a mechanical one: no motor, no battery. Sick of expensive gizmos that break down.

It's principally for photographing art work, and reference subjects for the same. Having one's own darkroom would be ideal.

August Johnson said...

JMG - I can't remember where I read it now, but some time ago I read something about the myth that bread had to be kneaded "forever" and was so much work. Seems that this came about from the idea that if you didn't put lots of work into making the bread, you weren't really doing a decent job of caring for your family, it became an ego sort of thing.

However, any more than just enough kneading actually is detrimental to the bread. Once it feels right, all the ingredients come together smoothly, STOP!

I also get these same sorts of conversations when I'm talking about using less "sophisticated" Ham radios. There's just something about the "feel" of using a 1965 Drake TR4 or a 1970 Yaesu FTdx-570 that you don't get with a modern computerized touch-screen radio. Of course, I grew up with my dad’s 1945 Hallicrafters SX-28a receiver in my bedroom! For sheer looks, there’s the 1956 Hallicrafters SX-101 receiver. I’m currently restoring this one, now have all the missing parts. Oh, these also make sure the bench doesn't float up off the floor!

I’m not a tech “luddite” because I like the older stuff, my career has been working with the latest technology in research fields of Astronomy, Physics, even Chemistry. I even was involved in building an Astronomy experiment that flew on the Space Shuttle in the early 1990’s. I just always felt that the older equipment was better made and nicer to use!

Ray Wharton said...

A five year old was playing with a vase of flowers, pulling off leaves and pedals, putting them in small piles and rolling them up together. She asked her Dad and I "what am I making?".

Neither of us could guess, and asked her to tell us what it was. "Flower Cigarettes" she said "but you smell them, not smoke them."

Sadly I don't even know the names of the flowers in the rolled leaves, but those tubes of pedals were the most wonderful thing to smell! I enjoyed mine for a long time, the aroma got more interesting each time I took another smell, sniff, whiff, or inhale of the pedals.

I might imitate this habit as I wander the farm I apprentice at, and bum flower sniff to people like natures own roll you own. by the way RYO is a better way to enjoy tobacco than factory smokes, though grow your own is beyond my current capacity. It was a vivid reminder of the sense of smell, which in urban life can become meaningless. My sense of smell is vastly under developed! I realized tonight that so many artificial things and materials smell awful or wholly uninteresting. The realm we created with industry, full of prosthetic and devices, almost completely lacks in interesting aroma compared to the most mundane of living tissues. There is no accounting for taste, but lets be blunt, none of our concoctions have ever matched a fragrant flower for beauty of aroma.

The sense of smell had to be simply cut off for people to not notice that detail about us not being materialists. Car companies long ago notices that the shape of the car was most important to how it sold. The look, appearance, image of the thing. We are idealists, but with very confused (or would this be discord?) ideals. Of course what would that matter to American Materialists? A materialist should have a good sense of smell, the sense that connects most deeply to matter (chemistry is the study of matter, and the nose is tuned to chemical music our science has no theory of). Maybe we could do well to be more materialistic?

Christophe said...

As a musician and music teacher, the first prosthetics that popped into my mind were all the outputs of the recording industry. Everyone used to participate in some form of music creation, and everyone used to partake of live performances by others. Whether carolling door to door, attending a barndance, being presented at a debutante ball, cooing a lullaby, or playing mouth harp in a railcar, the experience is completely different from listening to a recording.

Now endless gadgets have been inserted between most humans and the music we all instinctually create and appreciate. And those gadgets have helped to intimidate and isolate us from live musical experience. From anti-social earphones to equally anti-social amplification to computerized distortion of natural sounds to impossibly high performance standards to the unvarying predictability of recordings after the first hearing, every technological advance distances us from the real joy of being a musical creature.

Yet, for many of us, the joy of music experienced through the technological filter of recordings is among the most cherished memories of our lives. If the mediated experience can be that powerful, imagine how fulfilling, terrifying, frustrating, and transcendent the real thing can be. Go forth and be musical! A banjo, balafon, nyckelharpa, accordion, gamelan, dulcimer or conga is waiting for you!

Raymond Duckling said...

One very surreal experience I had in this regard happened a couple of years ago in a Christmas party my wife and me attended with some old college friends.

At some point during the evening, out of 12 adults in the room, only my wife, another sane lady and myself where engaging in normal social interaction. The rest of the people were each lost in either their own smartphone, or sharing one smartphone between to adjacent people. They were even people sitting across the table that were texting each other instead of talking for Heaven's sake.

Not much later, a good friend who also happened to attend the same party approached me and told me - in the apprehensive manner that people use when trying to convince someone they care about to stop embarrasing themselves - that my professional image as and engineer was being damaged by my refusal to purchase and show myself using the latest gizmos. My answer was that if you see a pilot sending the family by train, you have to be real dumb in order to board that plane.

No, I don't hang around much with those guys anymore :(

======

One more note. In general, programmers do get the difference between tools and prosthetics. There are evergreen debates whether some "tool" or another does extend one's mind or just enable dabbling with stuff one don't really understand. The problem with the industry is that all tools are hard to use, and require training in order to master. Therefore, it's almost always the prosthetics which pay the bills.

Gloucon X said...

John Michael Greer said…
I watched Star Trek, the original series, in its original seasons -- and even then I thought it was kind of lame.

Really, lame compared to what? What American television shows did you prefer in 1966?

team10tim said...

Off topic,

I was digging around at shadowstats to find a GDP chart over a longer time frame and I found this graph of consumer debt vs consumer debt minus student loans. I knew there was a higher education education bubble, but...
http://www.shadowstats.com/imgs/2013/832/image008.gif

source: http://www.shadowstats.com/article/no-513-individual-income-and-investments

Jo said...

A traditional European peasant way to get your bread sponge to rise in cold weather is to wrap it in a cloth and pop it into the bed that a family member has just vacated, using all that body heat trapped under the goose-down quilt.

Bread dough will actually rise even in the fridge, just much slower. It is a very forgiving medium.

While I was making pesto in my food processor this afternoon using this year's basil harvest, I began to wonder how Italian nonnas made pesto traditionally. It took me some minutes before I came to the conclusion that those big granite mortar and pestle sets are not just a yuppie kitchen-decorator item, but can be used to make actual food. I will keep a look out for one at a garage sale..

Like Fifty-Niner I am hoping to assemble a set of kitchenware that I can use without electricity but still efficiently preserve the harvest, something my great-grandmother managed with flair, but that I will have to relearn via trial and error.

Denys said...

We used to have active dissent in our culture against the mainstream - the Vietnam War protests, the Civil Rights movements - and now I can't help but wonder if the people who would be on the streets are all staring at blogs on blinky screens and complaining about the state of affairs. It is often commented on blogs that they are "real news" and that they aren't the media. But isn't the sheer volume of these blogs acting like the traditional in its effects? The plethora of counter culture blogs are anesthetizing those of us who sense something is wrong; we are reading, reading, reading, and commenting and goggling for solutions. Or is it just me?

I admire the 20-somethings still protesting in St. Louis and using Twitter to show what is happening around the country in terms on police brutality. They are actively working to disrupt the bureaucracy by sitting in, closing off streets, holding vigils in public spaces and offices. Its brave work. They use Twitter as a loud speaker/walkie talkie (not a scrolling source of information). If you want to see what they doing, two to look for are Deray McKesson @deray and Johnetta Elzie @Nettaaaaaaaa (Johnetta doesn't use her real name on her Twitter because being a woman, it is unwise to use your real name on Twitter or anywhere really.)

I'm looking forward to more of us being disruptors and doing more things to break the system draining our salaries and savings (large pensions for public workers, healthcare, property taxes for public babysitting/schools, etc).

Greg Belvedere said...

Well, I'm very conscious of when I'm watching colored images on a screen. But I can only speak for myself.

Your discussion of prosthetics reminds me of a quote from Henry Miller's Sexus that the situationists Deleuze and Guattari used in their work The Anti-Oedipus.

"The man who looks for security, even in the mind, is like a man who would chop off his limbs in order to have artificial ones which will give him no pain or trouble."

When I tell people I bake bread they mention bread machines, but I have no interest. I have heard people make a case for them, but I don't knead one.

Greg Belvedere said...

I'm also very curious what kind of bread you bake. I have seen you mention that your wife has celiac disease, so wheat breads are out of the question. I know many grains don't have gluten etc., but I know little about good alternatives that don't rely on specially marketed flour and still make a nice bread.

latheChuck said...

Since the externalized costs of manufacturing and disposal of my bread machine are already spent ("baked in the cake", so to speak), yet the incremental cost of baking in its small oven is obviously less than heating my large kitchen oven, I suppose I might as well keep using it until it breaks.

Why do there seem to be so many bread-machine users commenting here? I think it's because there's a wide range of practices. On one end of the scale, I get hungry, drive to a fast-food restaurant, place an order, and I get a paper sack containing something like bread with something like meat inside. On the other end of the scale, I anticipate needing bread just about every day for the rest of my life, so I develop a culture of sourdough-starter, a coppiced fuel-wood lot, and a shed to season the wood so it burns hot and clean. The bread machine is somewhere in between, which is, if nothing else, a step in the right direction.

Lou Nelms said...

Does anyone's resistance to technologies that mediate, buffer or substitute between one and the natural world have anything to do with how early in one's life he is immersed in primary nature? Do we have a native frame with nature that we received very early on?

Greg Belvedere said...

I have also been thinking about the legend of John Henry (I'm listening to a lot of Lead Belly lately). Throughout the evolution of his story he has been either an example of someone standing in the way of "progress" and doing a job better than a machine, or a cautionary tale of what happens when someone tries to stop it. Perhaps we could adopt the first version.

Paul Milne said...

Hooray! As I started reading this post I was thinking to myself, "You know, JMG should really publish these essays in book or pamphlet form, to get us weaned off the infernal computer-reading-thingy." And lo and behold, there's the book at the end I was wishing for! Magic, or what?

Strovenovus said...

My wife and I ditched our microwave oven a couple of years ago. We have hardly missed it.

Sometimes, when things are feeling rushed, she or I imagine that it would be simpler to quickly heat up leftovers.

We have adapted to this situation by reserving adequate time to prepare meals. It turns out that taking the time, rather than relying on technology is the simpler solution.

And as your post eloquently notes, taking one's time and focusing on what one is doing in the moment also tends to increase the sense of purpose-- and therefore meaning-- in one's life.

SacredEater1 said...

Hello Mr. Greer -

Would you be able to provide a list of the essay's in your newest book or point me in the right direction as to where I'd find this information?

I've been enjoying your blog for years. I hope you commit the majority of TheArchDruidReport to a book sometime, not just the top 25. They are all, in general, illuminating and thoughtful pieces.

Thanks.

H said...

Rick Ostrander, be aware that if you're using the same machine to make bread with gluten and "gluten-free" for gluten fashionistas there is no problem, but if you get a real coelic client, you'll probably hurt him.

It's real hard to avoid cross-contamination on bread machines.

nrgmiserncaz said...

The other Tom said..."but the part sex plays on making us consumer slaves is like the elephant in the room. I think the greatest obstacle in transitioning to a LESS society is that, in America at least, those who practice LESS will find themselves way out on the borderlands, not only as consumers, but also in the dating "game."

I think this is VERY important and has not been addressed adequately. Much of the consumerism and power grabbing in our world is part of our inherent human drive for status. Unfortunately, the way we "acquire" status now is by owning the right car or house or watch or whatever. Our fear (driven by marketing) of not having enough status to find and keep a mate is very powerful. In the past (e.g. hunter-gatherer) our striving for status helped ourselves and the group but the requirements were skills, loyalty, courage, etc.. These are things that can't be bought.

hcaparoso said...

@AngelusCruentus,"since the resources I actually have are the same resources that have traditionally served people as money.". With due respect, I just wanted to say that resources are also the skills you have in your head and hands. Yes, you need to work for a living, but are there skills you have that can help you get around the store bought market such as the knowledge of making cloth, your own clothes, raising food organically, cooking your own food from scratch, making your own bread? I think that is what our host, the Archdruid, is trying to say. Forgive me, Archdruid, if I got that wrong.
On another note,all this talk of bread machines is kind of a pain. Al. You need to make bread is flour, water, yeast, and salt. If you do it the Italian way of making a well on the counter with you flour, you don't even need a bowl. And in a pinch, you don't even need an oven. I make tortillas often just using a cast iron skillet to cook the rolled out dough. And the Irish made their soda bread in iron pots (bastibles)over the fire, or thinner ones in skillets on the stove, before they had ovens. And soap can easily be made at home. Let's not over think this, friends!
Anyway, my best to you, AngelusCruent, and no disrespect meant!

hcaparoso said...

@Carnegie, or lots of us do things without electricity, simply because we enjoy it! It is not "suffering" if we love what we do. Right?
@Jo, a much cheaper alternative, and one I have employed for many years, is to make your pesto in one of those very big, inexpensive, Laotian style mortar and pestles. I always did it when the kids were little and once, when someone gave me a food processor, I used that and the kids all complained! "No Mom, it doesn't taste as good"! Spoiled children!
@latheChuck, please forgive me, but I don't see how a bread machine is somehow between take out food and a fancy wood burning oven. Wouldn't bread you mixed up, kneaded, let rise, etc, then baked in an electric or gas oven be between? Sorry, just asking.
And many thanks, all, and including our Host, for the wonderful community I get to enjoy every week!

sgage said...

@ Gloucon X said...

John Michael Greer said…
I watched Star Trek, the original series, in its original seasons -- and even then I thought it was kind of lame.

Really, lame compared to what? What American television shows did you prefer in 1966?"

I, too, watched the orignal series. I, and all of my friends, thought it was simply uproariously funny! I had a cheap little tape recorder, and we used to make parody episodes, complete with sound effects, music (produced vocally), and everything. I would really love to be able to listen to one of those tapes now!

SLClaire said...

Here's something I thought about this morning that might extend the argument you've been making recently.

You've talked about technological process as increasing technological complexity. That increasing complexity has costs associated with it that are externalized, eventually leading to collapse of one or more systems on which the costs of complexity are externalized.

There are two other kinds of progress you mentioned at the beginning of your essays on progress, namely economic progress and social progress. I wondered if these two kinds of progress also exhibit increasing complexity leading to externalizing of costs leading to breakdown of the essential systems being forced to bear those costs.

It seems to me that increasing intermediation resulting from social progress also involves externalizing costs. For instance, medical insurance is a form of intermediation between doctors and patients. Many people laud universal medical insurance as progress. However, insurance creates costs to externalize. Insurance companies build office buildings and replace them on a whim. They require an increasing use of paper forms and later, computers and internet and must externalize those costs. I can think of other kinds of social progress that work similarly and, like insurance, link up with increased technological complexity and its effect.

Economic progress seems to be measured as increasing GDP. That too involves an increase of externalization, often through increased technological complexity. Increasing intermediation also increases the GDP, as when people go to paying jobs and then have to hire out cooking, cleaning, and care for family members.

Does this make any sense, even in the very rudimentary form in which I've developed it so far? It seems to me that all these forms of progress connect together through different sorts of increasing complexity and resultant externalization of costs.

Stein L said...

While I truly enjoy rereading my copy of Walden; or, Life in the Woods, I am also amused by the number of conversations I've had with people who claim Thoreau lived all alone for the duration, like a hermit, in the deep forest.

He was a little over a mile from the nearest community, to which he would go at least every other day. He had Sunday dinners with his mother, who was also kind enough to wash his clothes. In the part of the book where he makes an account of expenses, he makes a reference to the fact that a bill for laundry has not been presented, thus skewing the total.
And Thoreau had frequent visitors at his cabin, as well as passers by, particularly on the road by his bean field.

This does not undercut the fact that the book is a powerful rumination on our place in the scheme of things, and particularly on the benefits of self-sufficiency and of resisting the headlong rush for the new.

Yet, Thoreau was definitely not an hermit.

Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homoeopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs.

Moshe Braner said...

Screaming Sardine said:

"To help my dough raise, I turn the stove on at 200 for a few minutes. Then I cover my dough and put it in the stove. ... If I have the crockpot or dehydrator going, I'll put the dough near those. ... I've heard that turning the light on in the oven - with the door closed - gives off a good amount of heat."

- yes, all good ideas. I often put my bowl of activating sourdough mix overnight near the wood stove or in some other warmish place. And after the kneading, let it rise in the (propane-fueled) kitchen oven that's been briefly on, has the (60 watt) light bulb on, and/or in which I also placed a covered pot full of hot water and/or am simultaneously cooking something on the range above it. The oven is an insulated box. Rather poorly insulated relative to, say, a "haybox cooker". But it's still a good box to create local warmth in. With sourdough, unlike fast-acting yeast, the rise of the dough can still take 3-5 hours, but what's the rush?

BTW when I replaced the kitchen range a few years ago I selected a model (out of only two available in the USA) in which the oven can be used even while the electricity supply is absent. Light it with a match, and it has no "glow bars" - and no "pilot light" either. Of course the range top can also be lit with a match. Little details like that can make a big difference in a future of intermittent grids.

As far as kneading, I find that I "need to knead" the sourdough quite a bit in order to absorb enough flour into it (a bit at a time) to make it less runny while rising. Otherwise it flows over the top of the pan, etc. Perhaps there is some other mixing trick I need to learn, to achieve that without a longish kneading session. Still only perhaps 15 minutes.

Bob Wise said...

Re Thoreau's wager, it's somewhere in his essay on living at Walden Pond. I'll have to get it from the library and look up the passage (I was paraphrasing, not quoting.) I donated my disintegrating copy of his works a year or so ago.

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

All this talk about bread machines, I feel like I have to go and get one to find out what you're all talking about.

Kidding, I won't be doing that. I don't need another machine to go sentient on me when they all rise up against us.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Several people have touched on an idea that I realized several years ago. A lot of people have lost the ability to plan more than 5 minutes in the future. The example I usually use is that I know I'm going to the store, which store, that I will have to write a check (bank closed, ATM down) so I fill in everything except the amount, before I leave the house. Simple concept, yes? Seems to have escaped a large segment of the population. I think some machines have taken away, or intermediated between a person and the necessity of planning ahead. But those machines might not always be around and there are always gaps.

Reading this post reminded me of something. We all love our treadle sewing machines, but ...

Years ago, I saw a video (remember those?) about the history of the Sears company. Especially the early mail order end of things. They talked about how Sears' marketing of the treadle machines really helped make the company.

But ... before the treadle machines, there were traveling seamstresses who would show up, maybe once a year, and stay for a week or two. They carried replacement thread and needles. Trimmings, buttons and pattern books.

Old clothes could be mended and updated. Maybe one "for good" entirely new outfit. Underwear for the entire family for a year.

Sometimes friends, relatives and neighbors would come in from surrounding farms. Local gossip and news from far away was exchanged. Recipes, home medicine, child rearing tips, household management tips. It was a real exchange of all kinds of information.

Comes the treadle machine. Suddenly, sewing has become a very solitary occupation. It was something I had never thought about.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@oilman2 - Thanks for the analysis of the "new" flow hives. I don't have bees, but have been thinking about getting a hive. I saw the flow hives on-line and the only thing I could think off was "what if you want some of the wax?"

You're ROI from a beekeepers perspective was very helpful. Thanks. Lew

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi oilman2,

A very thoughtful response regarding the flowhives. I love rocking the boat when it comes to bees, because they really need some help, but that flowhive... I dunno man. Top bar hives seem to be the least problematic for the bees, but I use Langstroth hives here as you say they’re cheap.

My gut feel was a bit of horror when I saw the video because people being what they are, they would strip the entire hive of honey without putting too many brain cells towards why the bees are storing honey in the first place. People struggle with accepting limitations so there’s no point in putting the kids in charge of the lollyshop!

When you open up a hive, you are up front and personal with the bees, whereas that flowhive video had a couple of hippies pouring honey directly from the hive onto pancakes. How they did that was beyond me, because the bees would be absolutely livid if that was going on... At that point I smelled a rat.

PS: Welcome to my world of water storage above the ground. Gravity is a wonderful thing and the energy cost of pumping water from ground level back uphill only a small head / elevation is negligible compared to that of bringing water up from a long way underground. Personally I'd follow both above and below ground water storage methods for long term systems, but favour the above ground storage as you can see what is in there and vary your usage accordingly. That is how it is done down under. If water comes from under the ground, who knows how much is in there until the well runs dry… Limitations are pesky but real things.

Cheers

Chris

Myriad said...

When I got to the paragraph about externalization of the imagination, my first thought wasn't obvious things like television, but tabletop role playing game sourcebooks.

When Dungeons and Dragons was invented in the seventies, various groups of people invented and engaged in a very creative and rewarding kind of play. Over time, that play resulted in collections of materials: settings/maps, lists of characters, creatures, story elements like enchanted artifacts, rules for resolving various special situations, adventure "modules" and so forth.

Those original inventors promptly packaged those collections up as "official authorized" source materials for everyone else to use to play the game. Thus tabletop role playing as we still know it today was born.

But it never thrived. Not really. Everyone knows that was because it was a thing for nerds (back before nerds were ever even slightly cool), but there was another hidden problem. It rarely worked well. The progress and outcome of most games didn't make the players feel their characters were the adventuring protagonists they were supposed to be. (The many flavors of dysfunction that could ensue are hilariously documented in the comic book "Knights of the Dinner Table," among other places.)

When it did work, it was often because groups of players learned to break the official rules in various and often rather fundamental ways. Different ways of breaking the rules led to different styles and philosophies of play, generating heated debate over which ways were appropriate. These debates could never be resolved because the basic assumption behind them, that the published materials were a reasonable starting point for all such departures, remained (and remains) taken for granted.

After much trial and error, I worked out my own philosophy of play, disregarding not only major parts of the rule books but also the basic assumptions behind them. Later, once I'd run numerous successful game "campaigns," I too had notebooks full of original maps, creatures, story elements, and so forth. I thought, "I should publish these for others to use," and then I realized the problem. That would be re-setting the same trap I'd escaped from. The content of those books was the output of our play, just as the original D&D source books were the output of those first D&D games. Put less charitably, they were the waste product of our shared creative fun times. And trying to use someone else's waste product as your input, your fuel… is not going to work well, in general.

This is an unimportant example in the greater scheme of things, but it makes a good metaphor for understanding more important system breakdowns. Whenever I see a system struggling with perversely persistent problems, I now look for an output being mistakenly used as an input, or at least, a by-product being confused with the desired output.

For example, in the American education system, the educated student should be the main result, and the various evaluations and ratings of the student along the way should be a by-product to be discarded once the process is complete. Quite the reverse is true instead. Imagine the relative fates of two teachers, one who graded thoroughly but failed to educate, and another who educated thoroughly but failed to grade. The former will likely retire after a long career; the latter won't last a semester.

Even more pervasive: the redirection (beginning many decades ago) of the various kinds of social gatherings named "parties," from a shared endeavor to entertain one another to the shared passive consumption of pre-made entertainment such as recorded music and (later) video. The activity had to be re-designed to adapt to using what should have been the output—the entertainment—as the input. The step from there to everyone sitting in the same room watching and listening to their own hand-held devices was a small one by comparison.

Unfulfilling? Yeah; that follows pretty obviously.

Myriad said...

Regarding microwaves: if you take a tool and attempt to use it as a prosthesis, the results are not likely to be good. A microwave oven is actually a useful cooking tool, but it's not a robot chef. Most people using microwave ovens, I've found, don't even know how to change the power level setting, which is a bit like using a conventional oven but keeping it heated to 500 degrees F no matter what you're trying to cook. Rapid cooking at high intensities is something microwaves are terrible for (which makes the early marketing to the contrary very unfortunate); ironically, they're best for applying small amounts of heat gradually. A double boiler is often a good low-tech substitute, but the microwave is more flexible. And yes, you do have to be aware of how microwave heating variously affects starches, fats, proteins, cell walls and so forth. Don't nuke carrots if you're not planning to mash them.

Something else that can be used as a tool or misused as a prosthesis: cookbooks. (Showing that the problem isn't unique to high-tech artifacts.) It's hard to learn to cook without using recipes, but if the cook thinks what they're ultimately learning is how to correctly follow recipes to achieve the correct results (which unfortunately is often how the subject is presented), it becomes an intimidating rather than fulfilling activity. Given the seeming choice between turning the task over to a robot, and acting as a recipe-following robot themselves, it's no wonder that so many choose the former option.

A cookbook that's been put to really good use is full of hand-written annotations. Not that a treasured notebook of family recipes (somewhat like those role playing game sourcebooks) can't be a wonderful end product of decades of kitchen experience, and an immeasurably valuable legacy tool. It's just that it mustn't become a straitjacket.

Steve Morgan said...

Sven wrote

"I belive this particular thing deserves its own name. Suggestions, anyone?"

The phrase that came to mind after reading your point and examples was "spiritual allopathy", but your mileage may vary. Like JMG, I can think of plenty of examples of the dogged pursuit of the opposite of one's inner (or outwardly expressed) desires. Thanks for pointing it out.

Bob Wise said...

PS Re Thoreau's wager: It's in Walden, at about the 15% mark (of the entire text.) It's more specific than I recalled, concerning a 30 mile trip from Concord to Fitchburg. But then he generalizes: "And so, if the railroad reached round the world, I think that I should keep ahead of you.."

Jo said...

I have been re-reading Walden over the last few weeks as well - I have only been able to manage a few pages at a time, then I have to put it down for a few days, because it feels like Thoreau is yelling out of the pages straight at me.

Emerson, who owned the land on which Thoreau built his cabin, and in whose house Thoreau spent some years as tutor to his children, spoke at Thoreau's funeral and said he was the most argumentative man he knew. I can just imagine Emerson's relief at hearing Thoreau's plans to build a cabin - 'Yes, of course, old chap, take as much land as you want. I think the FAR side of the wood would be best.. maybe near the pond? Excellent, off you go, God speed, let me know if you need to borrow a spade or a hammer..'

All of Walden is a tirade against Peak Meaningless, which unknown to Thoreau, had not actually peaked yet. He was mad as hell at at it just as it was getting into its stride. His entire experiment at Walden Pond was an attempt remove as much of the mediation of 19C 'modern' life as possible, 'to front only the essential facts of life' and therein find out what life really means..

And yet.. his experiment at Walden lasted only two years. He decided that he had several more lives to lead, and this was only one of them. I think, from my reading, that he concluded that the stripping away of the 'meaningless' and the cultivation of the 'meaningful' happened principally in the mind, and did not depend on living in a cabin in the woods. Whew, that means I can stay in the suburbs. But, he recommends a quiet mind that recognises that what society offers is merely smoke and mirrors. What we can do without - those expensive prostheses - makes us stronger and more fully human.

'Cultivate poverty like a garden herb... Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them... It is life near the bone where it is sweetest. You are defended from being a trifler... Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.'

from 'Conclusion' in Walden.

Samsara said...

LONG time reader, 1st time posting.

Another perfectly beautiful article John. Soo many good points, this one and the last one.

Do you happen to remember a commercial on TV back in the '60s about national campaign on physical fitness?

In the commercial had a head in a box being carried by a humanoid robot. It sat the head down on a table, the head was thinking and talking to other heads. At the end the head in the box called for the robot wanting to go. But the robot didn't come.

He kept saying 'Z12, I am Ready to Go, Z12, I am ready to go, Z12 are you there? Z12

Anyways, I immediately thought of the commercial when reading the Prosthetic part. It seemed like the perfect end result...

Peter VE said...

That's a lot of discussion on bread. My two cents:
Every so often I look at nice shiny Kitchenaid mixer, but I stick with the hand dough whisk and the no-knead recipe. 5 minutes work, then overnight to rise in the oven (with the light on for a couple hours). The low yeast & long rise gives you the sourness without a starter. The only problem is that a loaf never lasts a whole day for a family of 3.....
I'm slowly getting rid of all those electrical kitchen gadgets that take longer to clean than the time they "save" to do the task. But I replace them with stuff that would have been right at home in my grandmother's (cook's) kitchen.

trippticket said...

@LewisLucanBooks:

Lew, old friend, if I may interject here regarding the Flow Hives...

I'm not generally one for shiny new technology, as you well know, and I respect Oilman's PEROEI calculus, but:

For the moment, my comment on the Flow Hive "Full Reveal" video sits at the top of the list. Check it out if you would. (If it's not at the top when you get to it, I comment on YouTube as MrTrippticket, and hopefully it will still be relatively easy to find.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbMV9qYIXqM

There are serious problems with Langstroth beekeeping, for the bees at least, and anyone who touts this convention as the gold standard for beekeeping is more than a little suspect in my book. Their lynchpin argument seems to be that honeybees really rely on us to take care of them, so we need to be able to access the innards of their nest whenever we feel like it. To me this is upside down. Honeybees can bloody well take care of their own business...if we're not screwing up their business whenever we feel like it.

From my comment:

"Zee Germans have a word - yeah, OK, in any other language it'd be 2 or 3 words - for a concept that seems to be getting missed here in the comments section: "Nestduftwärmebindung". It introduces the notion of a combination of heat and scent that provides a beehive with its unique, nurturing and disease-resistant "nest atmosphere," which should not be disturbed. In this view, it is incumbent upon us a beekeepers to respect the bees' need to maintain this nest atmosphere and to design hives and management protocols that disrupt it as little as possible."

This point seems to get missed whenever Langstroth-style hive managers pop in to educate everyone else on the subject.

I don't know what the long-term success of the Flow Hive will look like, and I certainly acquiesce to as much in the rest of my comment, but if nothing else, this new hive is excellent at getting to the honey without disturbing the nest atmosphere. And I would imagine it could be opened when it does indeed need maintenance, for us that is, like when/if it becomes propolized beyond functionality.

My dream scenario would be a modified top bar brood chamber with a Flow Hive honey super above. In fact I'll be testing this exact arrangement out over the next couple of years at the homestead and with my school program. Will report back with findings.

Tripp out.

trippticket said...

@Lew, by the way, don't stop with the beeswax. Get the propolis, the bee pollen, and the royal jelly too while you're in there! You might just get repaid with a, ahem, longer than average lifespan for your trouble...

latheChuck said...

hcaparoso: When I said that I thought that a bread machine was "in between" fast food and a wood-burning oven, perhaps I was being too terse. The spectrum I actually had in mind went something like this: fast-food, bakery bread from the grocery store, bread-machine bread at home, gas/electric oven at home (yeast), gas/electric oven at home (sourdough), and wood-fired sourdough in a clay-lined oven. I put wood-fired sourdough at the end not because it has some exotic flavor to make a gourmet swoon, but simply because it's the least reliant on external support. Maybe the final stage is a well-insulated community bread oven which is never allowed to go cold, and so never needs much fuel to get hot again?

The other Tom said...

@Lou Helms. "Does anyone's resistance to technologies that mediate, buffer, or substitute between one and the natural world have anything to do with how early in one's life he is immersed in primary nature? Do we have a native frame with nature that we received early on?"
My own totally subjective opinion is an emphatic YES.
Many of my earliest important memories are of long days exploring the woods, of feeling welcome and at home there, and eventually an unspoken, perhaps unconscious awareness that it could all communicate with me, depending on my attitude and willingness to listen.
This is a powerful influence, perhaps like a conscience that will not let you forget when your life goes too far into Disneyland. My own notions of truth, beauty, art, religion, and what makes a good life, to a great extent were born from my earliest experiences in cool rocky ravines under ancient hemlock trees, or maybe watching a sunrise from a peak.
From there it's always a life on that edge between one's own ineffable knowledge and dreams and the demands of the business world, or whatever you call it, and feeling so blessed and fortunate to have had this direct experience.
There were times when I got a little too involved in making money, my job, and always a sense of regret and loneliness overtook me, and made it impossible to continue living outside my own real experience.

onething said...

JMG, I couldn't tell if you were serious when you said microwaves decrease the value of food even if it isn't cooked in it. I'm really interested in getting ahold of any facts that might induce my husband to throw the thing away.
+++++
Well, I'm a pretty decent cook I guess, but bread is something I've never gotten successful at. Problem is, the bread falls, usually near the end of the oven time. I got a breadmaker thinking it would solve the problem, as anytime anyone gave me bread machine bread, it was always perfect. So, I bought a used bread machine. Somehow, I have the same problem even though I follow a recipe.
Now, I'm not really eating bread anymore as I've been influenced against wheat. But I was giving up and buying it.

Daniel_in_KC said...

Hello JMG,

I look forward to your next post every week. I don't have a comment on the content but want to make note of an observation I have made when visiting your blog - I have noticed my laptop consumes nearly 100% of the CPU processing power and my laptop gets 'hot' when your page is open. If I close the page then the CPU usage drops to below 25%. I have tracked this to the strip on the right hand side of the page (Below the 'About JMG') to be rapidly dithering up and down several pixels very rapidly - the actual blog text itself is not doing this. I have noticed this in both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

ed boyle said...

I am still reading Spengler.Amazing quote, insightful:

'But history teaches that the doubt in faith leads to knowledge and the doubt in knowledge after a time of critical optimism (leads) again back to faith. The more the theoretical knowledge liberates from believing acceptance,the nearer it approaches self removal. What remains is alone the technical experience'.


This is human mental/faith/technology bootstraping in a nutshell. You have a way of life with a culture, civilization. You lose faith, get critical, find new ideas, get inspired by your smartness, shiny new inventions, concepts. Self doubt creeps in as the results become apparent. You withdraw into nature, self, contemplation, find God. After a while doubt creeps in about the validity of your spiritual experience, its depth, hypocrisy, legitimacy towards others. Agnostic rationalism rears its head. You toy with new ideas, tear down traditional values, culture, forms, invent things. Rinse, wash, repeat.

In the end technological experience is left.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Many thanks. The dogs turned their noses up at the bread like products too - and lets be brutally honest here: The dogs are quite happy to eat wombat or wallaby scat. I've caught them mid munch and they always look suitably guilty too, but industrial bread - no way! Just sayin... It ain't good.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention this one. It's snorkel time here for the economy. This is no laughing matter either. I mentioned quite a few months ago that sooner or later the superannuation funds here (a system similar to your 401K's, but it is an accumulation system like a bank account, rather than the defined benefit system of the US) would eventually work its way into the owner property market. I said that it was the last source of funds here and that it was an inevitability, but never seriously believed that the laws would be changed so radically. Super fund money is put away for retirement, not for boosting the prices in the property market – but perhaps I am naïve in this viewpoint?

At the time some people responded to my prediction saying that this was already possible and I agreed that it was for the purposes of investing in housing for rental returns – which is a minor but growing part of the housing market. But this change which is being mooted is the whole next level - which is exactly what I predicted:

Joe Hockey raises prospect of first home buyers using super to enter property market

Mate, that really is it. That is the final rabbit up their sleeve and whilst I knew that it may happen, I never seriously wished to see it happen.

It gives me chills thinking about it because that is the end game and it is all downhill from here on end.

Hang on for the ride people and get the printing presses going. It is going to be a wild one. They've bought a little bit of time doing that change, but not much and it doesn't look good.

Cheers

Chris

Karim said...


Greetings all!

JMG wrote: "The best way to experience this is to engage in a media fast..."

Not a bad idea! Actually I do have internet free days every now and then, especially Sundays. It is amazing how much free time this suddenly generates. Worth the try.

Please try not to be too harsh on prosthetic technology, some of it is really useful, like spectacles lenses!

Of course modernity has pushed the logic of prosthetic technology to an absurd level and paying the consequences via externalities of all sorts.

On a side note, I managed to grow a coffee plant in my garden and the mother of one of my employees turned the harvested coffee beans into ground coffee, I was amazed how good it tasted!

Achieving sustainability one step at a time.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

jean-vivien wrote, "In this respect, having to find meaning in passively going through the 120 episodes of the latest fad in TV series every week might be a form of self-inflicted violence... Humans are adapted to a certain scale of narrative content, a certain scale of social group size. And adapted to telling stories as well as hearing them, not just passively going through them all the time."

Not everyone who gets involved in watching all the episodes of a TV series is a passive watcher. Some write fan fiction.

You might have seen paperback novels that are spun off a popular TV or movie series, using the show's regular characters in new plots. These are written by professionals. Amateurs do a similar thing. They write original short stories and novels set in the universe of a particular TV show and featuring its recurring characters.

Most of this fiction is written by women. The plots tend to focus on romance, including relationships that do not occur in the original show, or are only hinted at as subtext. The readers are other, mostly female, fans of the show.

Most of this fiction violates copyright, but as long as it circulates only in the fandom and no money changes hands, the owners of the TV program usually tolerate it. Occasionally, the better fanfic writers get tapped to write the commercial books.

There is an academic study about this phenomenon by Camille Bacon-Smith. It's called Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth (University of Pennsylvania Press 1992).

I came across fan fiction as a result of getting intensely involved with an obscure television series about a modern-day vampire passing as human and working as a police detective in Toronto. The series had a special effects budget of about fifty cents but the acting was good and so was the cinematography and art direction. I had nobody to discuss the show with so I joined an email list run by fans (this was in the early days of the Internet, before TV programs had websites and blogs and Wikipedia entries). The best fiction on the Forever Knight list was as good or better than the scripts of the actual show.

Dagnarus said...

It seems to me that "externalities", the act of dumping the costs of ones own activities, only cover about half the story. That which is missing is what I will hesitantly call "internalities", or the act of reaping profits from activities in which you did not participate. While we can see that burning oil has many serious externalities in the form of pollution, there are also many internalities associated with it's "production", or more accurately it's "extraction". Under the current paradigm we can't for example say that the depletion of the Saudi oil fields are a cost put onto future generations, that oil belongs to the Saudi's or whoever else managed to make the oil somehow there's. But how can they make that resource there's? That oil was created by biological/geological processes which took place long before the first human even came into existence. I think a large amount of the modern world's delusions come from the fact that we seem to just skip over the act of converting oil, soil, minerals and any number of different things into the private property of human beings without ever taking into account that these resources where created by natural processes that those who received ownership usually had no involvement in and in most cases took time on geological scales to be built up. By overlooking this we don't just fall into the trap of thinking there must always be some new resource just waiting to be discovered that we can loot, we miss the fact that a majority of the economic activity which has occurred over the last maybe three hundred years has been based upon the humans laying claim to resources which they did not create and burning through them in an amount of times which is infinitesimal compared to the what was required to make them. (I of course realize that my comment is a rehash of what is already contained on this blog.)

Jason Heppenstall said...

Very late to this conversation, so I'll let Tolstoy do the talking:

"No one has yet added up all the heavy, stress-filled workdays as well as the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives that are wasted to produce the world’s amusements. It is for this reason that 'amusements' are not so amusing."

From "Path of Life" (1909)

Ed-M said...

Hi y'all.

Ruminating on this week's post and some of the comments, I think that people who buy material objects to fulfill non-material (i.e., emotional, spiritual, etc.) needs do so because the glowing advertisements make it out that the object will fulfill that need, scratch that itch, and do on. It's sort of fetishistic and talismanic, in a way: a kind of magical thinking.

And utterly futile. No wonder Mr or Ms Purchaser feels unfulfilled, still, and the object purchased gathers dust in the spare bedroom.

Varun Bhaskar said...

Archdruid,

Ha, awesome. I have a full moon tide of stories now, the muse has kicked in something fierce. The worlds welcome to melt down this year, once warm weather hits I'll be spending more time unplugged.

I found the beginning of an old story on my hard-drive. I'm reworking it into a journey through India, after during the years of reconstruction. Set some time after the flash wars.

Regards,

Varun

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