Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Prosthetic Imagination

Two news stories and an op-ed piece in the media in recent days provide a useful introduction to the theme of this week’s post here on The Archdruid Report. The first news story followed the official announcement that the official unemployment rate here in the United States dropped to 5.5% last month. This was immediately hailed by pundits and politicians as proof that the recession we weren’t in is over at last, and the happy days that never went away are finally here again.

This jubilation makes perfect sense so long as you don’t happen to know that the official unemployment rate in the United States doesn’t actually depend on the number of people who are out of work. What it indicates is the percentage of US residents who happen to be receiving unemployment benefits—which, as I think most people know at this point, run out after a certain period. Right now there are a huge number of Americans who exhausted their unemployment benefits a long time ago, can’t find work, and would count as unemployed by any measure except the one used by the US government these days.  As far as officialdom is concerned, they are nonpersons in very nearly an Orwellian sense, their existence erased to preserve a politically expedient fiction of prosperity.

How many of these economic nonpersons are there in the United States today? That figure’s not easy to find amid the billowing statistical smokescreens. Still, it’s worth noting that 92,898,000 Americans of working age are not currently in the work force—that is, more than 37 per cent of the working age population. If you spend time around people who don’t belong to this nation’s privileged classes, you already know that a lot of those people would gladly take jobs if there were jobs to be had, but again, that’s not something that makes it through the murk.

We could spend quite a bit of time talking about the galaxy of ways in which economic statistics are finessed and/or fabricated these days, but the points already raised are enough for the present purpose. Let’s move on. The op-ed piece comes from erstwhile environmentalist Stewart Brand, whose long journey from editing CoEvolution Quarterly to channeling Bjorn Lomborg is as perfect a microcosm of the moral collapse of 20th century American environmentalism as you could hope to find. Brand’s latest piece claims that despite all evidence to the contrary—and of course there’s quite a bit of that these days—the environment is doing just fine: the economy has decoupled from resource use in recent decades, at least here in America, and so we can continue to wallow in high-tech consumer goodies without worrying about what we’re doing to the planet.

There’s a savage irony in the fact that in 1975, when his magazine was the go-to place to read about the latest ideas in systems theory and environmental science, Brand could have pointed out the gaping flaw in that argument in a Sausalito minute. Increasing prosperity in the United States has “decoupled” from resource use for two reasons: first, only a narrowing circle of privileged Americans get to see any of the paper prosperity we’re discussing—the standard of living for most people in this country has been contracting steadily for four decades—and second, the majority of consumer goods used in the United States are produced overseas, and so the resource use and environmental devastation involved in manufacturing the goodies we consume so freely takes place somewhere else.

That is to say, what Brand likes to call decoupling is our old friend, the mass production of ecological externalities. Brand can boast about prosperity without environmental cost because the great majority of the costs are being carried by somebody else, somewhere else, and so don’t find their way into his calculations.  The poor American neighborhoods where people struggle to get by without jobs are as absent from his vision of the world as they are from the official statistics; the smokestacks, outflow pipes, toxic-waste dumps, sweatshopped factories, and open-pit mines worked by slave labor that prop up his high-tech lifestyle are overseas, so they don’t show up on US statistics either. As far as Brand is concerned, that means they don’t count.

We could talk more about the process by which a man who first became famous for pressuring NASA into releasing a photo of the whole earth is now insisting that the only view that matters is the one from his living room window, but let’s go on. The other news item is the simplest and, in a bleak sort of way, the funniest of the lot.  According to recent reports, state government officials in Florida are being forbidden from using the phrase “climate change” when discussing the effects of, whisper it, climate change.

This is all the more mordantly funny because Florida is on the front lines of climate change right now.  Even the very modest increases in sea level we’ve seen so far, driven by thermal expansion and the first rounds of Greenland and Antarctic meltwater, are sending seawater rushing out of the storm sewers into the streets of low-lying parts of coastal Florida towns whenever the tide is high and an onshore wind blows hard enough. As climate change accelerates—and despite denialist handwaving, it does seem to be doing that just now—a lot of expensive waterfront property in Florida is going to end up underwater in more than a financial sense.  The state government’s response to this clear and present danger? Prevent state officials from talking about it.

We could look at a range of other examples of this same kind, but these three will do for now. What I want to discuss now is what’s going on here, and what it implies.

Let’s begin with the obvious. In all three of the cases I’ve cited, an uncomfortable reality is being dismissed by manipulating abstractions. An abstraction called “the unemployment rate” has been defined so that the politicians and bureaucrats who cite it don’t have to deal with just how many Americans these days can’t get paid employment; an abstraction called “decoupling” and a range of equally abstract (and cherrypicked) measures of environmental health are being deployed so that Brand and his readers don’t have to confront the soaring ecological costs of computer technology in particular and industrial society in general; an abstraction called “climate change,” finally, is being banned from use by state officials because it does too good a job of connecting certain dots that, for political reasons, Florida politicians don’t want people to connect.

To a very real extent, this sort of thing is pervasive in human interaction, and has been since the hoots and grunts of hominin vocalization first linked up with a few crude generalizations in the dazzled mind of an eccentric australopithecine. Human beings everywhere use abstract categories and the words that denote them as handles by which to grab hold of unruly bundles of experience. We do it far more often, and far more automatically, than most of us ever notice.  It’s only under special circumstances—waking up at night in an unfamiliar room, for example, and finding that the vague somethings around us take a noticeable amount of time to coalesce into ordinary furniture—that the mind’s role in assembling the fragmentary data of sensation into the objects of our experience comes to light.

When you look at a tree, for example, it’s common sense to think that the tree is sitting out there, and your eyes and mind are just passively receiving a picture of it—but then it’s common sense to think that the sun revolves around the earth. In fact, as philosophers and researchers into the psychophysics of sensation both showed a long time ago, what happens is that you get a flurry of fragmentary sense data—green, brown, line, shape, high contrast, low contrast—and your mind constructs a tree out of it, using its own tree-concept (as well as a flurry of related concepts such as “leaf,” “branch,” “bark,” and so on) as a template. You do that with everything you see, and the reason you don’t notice it is that it was the very first thing you learned how to do, as a newborn infant, and you’ve practiced it so often you don’t have to think about it any more.

You do the same thing with every representation of a sensory object. Let’s take visual art for an example.  Back in the 1880s, when the Impressionists first started displaying their paintings, it took many people a real effort to learn how to look at them, and a great many never managed the trick at all. Among those who did, though, it was quite common to hear comments about how this or that painting had taught them to see a landscape, or what have you, in a completely different way. That wasn’t just hyperbole:  the Impressionists had learned how to look at things in a way that brought out features of their subjects that other people in late 19th century Europe and America had never gotten around to noticing, and highlighted those things in their paintings so forcefully that the viewer had to notice them.

The relation between words and the things they denote is thus much more complex, and much more subjective, than most people ever quite get around to realizing. That’s challenging enough when we’re talking about objects of immediate experience, where the concept in the observer’s mind has the job of fitting fragmentary sense data into a pattern that can be verified by other forms of sense data—in the example of the tree, by walking up to it and confirming by touch that the trunk is in fact where the sense of sight said it was. It gets far more difficult when the raw material that’s being assembled by the mind consists of concepts rather than sensory data: when, let’s say, you move away from your neighbor Joe, who can’t find a job and is about to lose his house, start thinking about all the people in town who are in a similar predicament, and end up dealing with abstract concepts such as unemployment, poverty, the distribution of wealth, and so on.

Difficult or not, we all do this, all the time. There’s a common notion that dealing in abstractions is the hallmark of the intellectual, but that puts things almost exactly backwards; it’s the ordinary unreflective person who thinks in abstractions most of the time, while the thinker’s task is to work back from the abstract category to the raw sensory data on which it’s based. That’s what the Impressionists did:  staring at a snowbank as Monet did, until he could see the rainbow play of colors behind the surface impression of featureless white, and then painting the colors into the representation of the snowbank so that the viewer was shaken out of the trance of abstraction (“snow” = “white”) and saw the colors too—first in the painting, and then when looking at actual snow.

Human thinking, and human culture, thus dance constantly between the concrete and the abstract, or to use a slightly different terminology, between immediate experience and a galaxy of forms that reflect experience back in mediated form. It’s a delicate balance: too far into the immediate and experience disintegrates into fragmentary sensation; too far from the immediate and experience vanishes into an echo chamber of abstractions mediating one another. The most successful and enduring creations of human culture have tended to be those that maintain the balance. Representational painting is one of those; another is literature. Read the following passage closely:

“Eastward the Barrow-downs rose, ridge behind ridge into the morning, and vanished out of eyesight into a guess: it was no more than a guess of blue and a remote white glimmer blending with the hem of the sky, but it spoke to them, out of memory and old tales, of the high and distant mountains.”

By the time you finished reading it, you likely had a very clear sense of what Frodo Baggins and his friends were seeing as they looked off to the east from the hilltop behind Tom Bombadil’s house. So did I, as I copied the sentence, and so do most people who read that passage—but no two people see the same image, because the image each of us sees is compounded out of bits of our own remembered experiences. For me, the image that comes to mind has always drawn heavily on the view eastwards from the suburban Seattle neighborhoods where I grew up, across the rumpled landscape to the stark white-topped rampart of the Cascade Mountains. I know for a fact that that wasn’t the view that Tolkien himself had in mind when he penned that sentence; I suspect he was thinking of the view across the West Midlands toward the Welsh mountains, which I’ve never seen; and I wonder what it must be like for someone to read that passage whose concept of ridges and mountains draws on childhood memories of the Urals, the Andes, or Australia’s Great Dividing Range instead.

That’s one of the ways that literature takes the reader through the mediation of words back around to immediate experience. If I ever do have the chance to stand on a hill in the West Midlands and look off toward the Welsh mountains, Tolkien’s words are going to be there with me, pointing me toward certain aspects of the view I might not otherwise have noticed, just as they did in my childhood. It’s the same trick the Impressionists managed with a different medium: stretching the possibilities of experience by representing (literally re-presenting) the immediate in a mediated form.

Now think about what happens when that same process is hijacked, using modern technology, for the purpose of behavioral control.

That’s what advertising does, and more generally what the mass media do. Think about the fast food company that markets its product under the slogan “I’m loving it,” complete with all those images of people sighing with post-orgasmic bliss as they ingest some artificially flavored and colored gobbet of processed pseudofood. Are they loving it? Of course not; they’re hack actors being paid to go through the motions of loving it, so that the imagery can be drummed into your brain and drown out your own recollection of the experience of not loving it. The goal of the operation is to keep you away from immediate experience, so that a deliberately distorted mediation can be put in its place.

You can do that with literature and painting, by the way. You can do it with any form of mediation, but it’s a great deal more effective with modern visual media, because those latter short-circuit the journey back to immediate experience. You see the person leaning back with the sigh of bliss after he takes a bite of pasty bland bun and tasteless gray mystery-meat patty, and you see it over and over and over again. If you’re like most Americans, and spend four or five hours a day staring blankly at little colored images on a glass screen, a very large fraction of your total experience of the world consists of this sort of thing: distorted imitations of immediate experience, intended to get you to think about the world in ways that immediate experience won’t justify.

The externalization of the human mind and imagination via the modern mass media has no shortage of problematic features, but the one I want totalk about here is the way that it feeds into the behavior discussed at the beginning of this post: the habit, pervasive in modern industrial societies just now, of responding to serious crises by manipulating abstractions to make them invisible. That kind of thing is commonplace in civilizations on their way out history’s exit door, for reasons I’ve discussed in an earlier sequence of posts here, but modern visual media make it an even greater problem in the present instance. These latter function as a prosthetic for the imagination, a device for replacing the normal image-making functions of the human mind with electromechanical equivalents. What’s more, you don’t control the prosthetic imagination; governments and corporations control it, and use it to shape your thoughts and behavior in ways that aren’t necessarily in your best interests.

The impact on the prosthetic imagination on the crisis of our time is almost impossible to overstate. I wonder, for example, how many of my readers have noticed just how pervasive references to science fiction movies and TV shows have become in discussions of the future of technology. My favorite example just now is the replicator, a convenient gimmick from the Star Trek universe: you walk up to it and order something, and the replicator pops it into being out of nothing.

It’s hard to think of a better metaphor for the way that people in the privileged classes of today’s industrial societies like to think of the consumer economy. It’s also hard to think of anything that’s further removed from the realities of the consumer economy. The replicator is the ultimate wet dream of externalization: it has no supply chains, no factories, no smokestacks, no toxic wastes, just whatever product you want any time you happen to want it. That’s exactly the kind of thinking that lies behind Stewart Brand’s fantasy of “decoupling”—and it’s probably no accident that more often than not, when I’ve had conversations with people who think that 3-D printers are the solution to everything, they bring Star Trek replicators into the discussion.

3-D printers are not replicators. Their supply chains and manufacturing costs include the smokestacks, outflow pipes, toxic-waste dumps, sweatshopped factories, and open-pit mines worked by slave labor mentioned earlier, and the social impacts of their widespread adoption would include another wave of mass technological unemployment—remember, it’s only in the highly mediated world of current economic propaganda that people who lose their jobs due to automation automatically get new jobs in some other field; in the immediate world, that’s become increasingly uncommon. As long as people look at 3-D printers through minds full of little pictures of Star Trek replicators, though, those externalized ecological and social costs are going to be invisible to them.

That, in turn, defines the problem with the externalization of the human mind and imagination: no matter how frantically you manipulate abstractions, the immediate world is still what it is, and it can still clobber you. Externalizing a cost doesn’t make it go away; it just guarantees that you won’t see it in time to do anything but suffer the head-on impact.


1 – 200 of 241   Newer›   Newest» said...

What a lovely essay, JMG, to touch on some harsh realities.

As you may recall, I work at a middle school as a design teacher. In our second year, someone gave us a 3D printer. For a while I taught classes and workshops on how to use it, but I found myself spending increasing amounts of time trying to fix it; and at the same time my students were going un-taught. I'd turned from the actual humans in my charge, into a servus robotici — a servant of the robot, which is really what a 3D printer is, a CNC plotter capable of moving in X and Y dimensions, and a limited Z range of motion, attached to a feedstock of plastic wire and a heating element.

For all its vaunted technological efficiency, the 3D printer produced a lot of the product which bears the technical name "spaghetti" —a partly-complete model with some sort of code-bug in the middle of it which caused the print head to veer wildly, creating mass amounts of loops and whorls of... cheap plastic garbage. For every "clean print" of a model, I got five or six garbage ones. Some of this was the result of the 3D modeling skills of the students (and their teacher, me, I'll admit).

When the machine broke, I didn't replace it. For one thing, it was expensive to operate, both in terms of my available hours to fix it and set it up for each print and prep it for the next one, and feedstock to keep it ready to generate more cheap plastic junk.

But for another, it didn't teach the students enough for the cost. Sure, they learned some 3D modeling skills. But the printer did not reward care and attention and deliberate action. A sloppy, crude model was likely to print fine, while a carefully-executed and planned model would fail for unknown reasons that could not be determined. The machine rewarded slip-shod design, and threw up obstacles to deliberate care.

Someone gave us the money to buy a new one. And so I persuaded them to let us build a wood-shop with the money instead. Some power tools, to be sure, but mostly hand tools for measuring, cutting, drilling, smoothing, and shaping wood. Imagine: A whole woodworking shop suitable for teaching 3D shaping, for the price of one machine that can do nothing but create junk already ruined for the landfill!

Now someone proposes that I spend the budget I have on LittleBits — premade toys for teaching electronic circuits. With an eye-roll, I point them to the soldering irons and the full case of tiny drawers of electronics parts we already have...

D.M. said...

Speaking of the manipulation of words to modify perceived reality into something that benefits those in power, the concept of being "politically correct". No one ever promised you a life unoffended.

Mister Roboto said...

An immediate family-member of mine remains fond of thinking of well-paying full-time jobs with benefits as "growing on trees" and that the world seems to exist for the purpose of facilitating his fantasy-notions. I suppose this week's post is as good a breakdown of how such a mindset is possible in 2015 as I'm going to find anywhere.

Cherokee Organics said...


In Star Trek, I don't believe I've ever noted what they actually did with the replicated products. A starship - much like a planet - is a very closed system. 3D printers are rubbish – nuff said. When they can do resilient and strong metalwork, I’ll be impressed, till then they are a toy.

PS: The views here are distant, the mountains gently undulate, even when they reach above 6,000ft. The country is worn down by age. Depending on the season the colours are different too. Winter is green and grey, whilst summer is blue and grey. Scars in the landscape are generally distinct and red/brown, with the occasional yellow. The skies are a rich blue, which turns deeper when the day is at an end. Heat brings on the unmistakable smell of eucalyptus oils which hang in the air like a blue haze and obscure distant detail. Every four or five years, the trees will flower and the entire mountain range smells of honey and the buzz of insects reaches its peak. Summer days bring on the drone of grasshoppers and cicadas - it is an unmistakable sound. The birds call in the morning and at the evening, whilst at midday only the fast moving small birds take advantage of the hot lull and you can hear their chirps as they dart amongst the shrubs seeking shelter and feed. None of the birds here sing, but many have lonely and beautiful calls that strike your heart with a depth that is surprising and can’t be easily forgotten. The nights are alive with bats, gliders, rodents and and hovering above all are the owls.



PS: This weeks blog Aerials in the sky covers a DIY antenna, autumn weather closing in, commencing the wood shed project, refurbishment of the overlocker, replacing the intended strawberry bed with a cottage garden, usage of woody mulch, usage of mushroom compost and the commencement of the house construction. Plus lots of cool photos!

Cethlenn Miles said...

From the link regarding the labor force: "In February, according to BLS, the nation’s civilian noninstitutional population, consisting of all people 16 or older who were not in the military or an institution, reached 249,899,000. Of those, 157,002,000 participated in the labor force by either holding a job or actively seeking one."

Retirees, Self-employed individuals, and full time students are not separated from this figure. The 47% estimate, based on that article, is not precisely accurate.

Mind you, I don't believe that it is 5%. I think it's more around 15% in my area of California, but that is a rough guess.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"According to recent reports, state government officials in Florida are being forbidden from using the phrase “climate change” when discussing the effects of, whisper it, climate change."

That reminds me of a story from three years ago when a group of legislators in North Carolina tried to essentially outlaw honest estimates of sea level rise because they would be bad for real estate values. My response to that was I didn't know Canute was the King of North Carolina. The difference is that the real King Canute knew better; he just wanted to make a point about the limits of his power. A better analog would be Xerxes, who ordered the sea be given 300 lashes, fettered, and branded after a boat bridge across the Hellespont was destroyed by a storm.

As for the irony of Florida doing this when the state has been warned it needs to prepare for climate change, I've seen signs of climate chaos there first-hand. When my wife and I went to Florida to see our daughter for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, we drive down Route A1A, the coastal highway between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. The northbound lanes were closed because they were covered by sea water, as the waves had eaten away the beach and the seawall. The odd part was there was no onshore wind and no storms offshore. I knew that climate change had a part in it, but it took months for me to find out that the sea had risen about a foot because the Gulf Stream had slowed down. That's exactly the kind of thing that could happen as the temperature gradient flattens out.

As for the economic damage that is being hidden, in addition to unemployment, there is zombie real estate, which consists of all the foreclosed and abandoned homes that the banks have left to rot, dragging the rest of the surrounding neighborhoods down with them. The housing bust may be over, but its corpses still need to be buried.

Finally, as a reminder of the externalization of environmental damage come home to roost, today as I type this is the fourth anniversary of Fukushima triple disaster, earthquake, tsunami, and meltdown. It may be halfway around the world from the U.S. but the radiation and refuse has been reaching the Pacific coast of North America for years.

pyrrhus said...

As to automation and unemployment, we will soon have driverless vehicles that can operate outside the labor laws, putting at least several million Americans out of work...
As to global warming, when just the annual increase in Chinese coal plant output creates more CO2 than 3 billion Ford Expeditions, talking about American actions is simply a waste of breath...
And really, what civilization ever listened to its Cassandras even when doom was obviously approaching...they didn't and the West won't either.

marxmarv said...


When Brand talks about decoupling economic activity from resource usage, I suspect he's talking about rents and the control of access to knowledge. It's flip of him to fantasize about broad-based artificial scarcity in knowledge when we haven't even started to examine what artificial scarcity has done for basic human needs, let alone real scarcity. Apparently, there must be an economy shaped very much like the one we have now forever, because progress. Sigh. A blivet E won't save the nation but it will keep us just entertained enough...

John Michael Greer said...

Andrew, thanks for that reality check! Nearly everything I've heard about 3-D printers so far has come from fans, who rave about its potential and don't say much about what you can actually do by squirting plastic by computer.

DM, true -- but consider also the way that the phrase "politically correct" has been used by the right as a way to stigmatize any attempt to talk about certain common social problems. All sides participate in the language game these days...

Mister R., would the family member possibly be adolescent? That's a common failing of the age, best cured by a face-first collision with the reality of having to earn a living.

Cherokee, that's another way that Star Trek mirrors the fantasies of the era in which it emerged. Where real spaceflight demands moment-by-moment monitoring of inputs and outputs, supplies and waste, on board the Enterprise, stuff materializes from nowhere when wanted and vanishes without a trace thereafter. Thanks for the word picture of the Australian mountains!

Cethlenn, I didn't say that everyone out of the work force was looking for work -- just that a lot more than 5.5% were.

Pinku-Sensei, that's what I'd heard -- Florida's basically screwed at this point, but nobody wants to admit just how much of it will be underwater within a lifetime or so.

Pyrrhus, even if modern industrial society was willing to listen, it's too late to make the necessary changes -- not enough time, and too few resources left. That's why I've been pointing to other options for the last nine years.

Marxmarv, no doubt. The delusion that enough knowledge will make up for the absence of other necessities is one of the most common and most lamentable logical howlers of our time -- right up there with the notion that if you have enough money, the resources are obligated to show up.

John Roth said...


I’ve held my peace long enough on the “unemployment rate” thing. Let’s start out by saying that the unemployment rate is not calculated by counting people who are collecting unemployment benefits.

From the FAQ:

6. Is the count of unemployed persons limited to just those people receiving unemployment
insurance benefits?

No; the estimate of unemployment is based on a monthly sample survey of households.
All persons who are without jobs and are actively seeking and available to work are
included among the unemployed. (People on temporary layoff are included even if
they do not actively seek work.) There is no requirement or question relating to
unemployment insurance benefits in the monthly survey.

(end of faq extract)

It’s calculated from two nationwide surveys, conducted monthly, called the Household Survey and the Establishment Survey. The first is of 60,000 households, the second is of approximately 143,000 employers. The official definition is: “Each month the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program surveys approximately 143,000 businesses and government agencies, representing approximately 588,000 individual worksites, in order to provide detailed industry data on employment, hours, and earnings of workers on nonfarm payrolls.”

Here’s where to find the official press release: . Note in the first paragraph that “mining” includes oil field workers, and it is, as expected, down.

The “marque rate,” that is the rate that’s usually quoted, is officially called U3, and is one of six different rates calculated by the Bureau of Labor statistics. The official definition is people who are out of work and have actively looked for jobs in the past four weeks. It’s calculated from the “Household Survey,” which is a survey of 60,000 households, and measures unemployment according to the International Labor Organization (a UN bureau) definitions.

While U3 is the “marque rate,” that is the one that’s trumpeted, U4 (includes people who have quit looking,) or U6 (includes people who would like full time employment but are part time employed) might provide a better picture. That’s in table A15 of the official press release. U4 is currently 6.0%, U6 is currently 11%. A number of people think this is low, since it doesn’t include, for example, people who are incarcerated.

Kutamun said...

Of course there are no bedazzled eccentric Australopithecines down in this part of the world , especially those given to hootin ' hollerin ' crude generalisations ...ha ha , mirror mirror on the wall ! ..
I suppose for me the Large Hadron Collider is the ultimate attempt at Imaginary Prosthesis .... It looks like an eight pointed Fylfot with Shiva at its centre , and the grunting hominids that operate it recently erected a statue of Shiva , Lord of The Dance outside the CERN facility after reading the Vedas and conceding the ancient Hindoo had it nailed long ago . Of course , the solstices and equinoxes of the wheel of the year are the best particle accelerator there is , and i bet most of the scientists who approach the quantum field in any meaningful way end up flouncing around Geneva in brightly coloured kaftans and rose coloured sunglasses . Reminds me of when world renowned dolphin researcher Dick Alpert tuned in , turned on , went down to the docks and released his dolphins .
The Gruen Transfer in Australia noted in their book that the average punter is bombarded with something like 4000 images in the average day ..what hope do the kids have . Of more concern to me (as my partner is in social work ) is the prosethesisation of sexuality and the alarming spike in paedophilia and sexual abuse in families , coinciding with the mainstreamisation of porn , which has any number of pederastic memes embedded within it . Still , trashing the planet surely must be linked to trashing the body and the loss of normal sexuality i suppose . No sex no spirit...
Have we become an amphisbae that is unable to reconcile its Archetypes to its Actuality ?

Repent said...

Amazing article ! Out of curiosity I searched up images of the art you described, and even the Welsh mountains:

As beautiful as this appears, you are correct that the authentic experience of being there would be much better.

As mentioned previously, my psychedelic experiences with Ayahausca are intense. You literally can't put into words the visual and out of body experience that takes place with an Ayahausca trip. I've searched and searched, and I can't find anything, in picture form, or in animations that even remotely resembles my authentic psychedelic experiences. Fractal art is somewhat close, but the actual experience is of living changing fractals, with an immense knowledge download, and other sensations such as joy all intertwined in a tapestry of creation.

I find modern life so boring, dull and bland as to be almost intolerable. I'm no fan of the collapse of civilization, however I can't wait to 'authentically' be alive again...

SIRPAT said...

just found this site....happy happy joy joy!!!!!....great heart and mind stuff.
I did wonder though......does reading "lots" fall under the same catergory as the brain killing t.v or computer??? assuming one is not reading things like the adventures of daffy duck or suchlike???

Greg Belvedere said...

Yes, the 3D printer is the consumer dream.

The hype around 3D printing is very transparent. It is the gross fast food burger, the Star Trek replicator is the commercial with smiling people. Current printers can only really build with one material, not the multiple materials that most products people would want to print require. The cost, complexity, and waste of such a product is staggering.

Speaking of prosthetic imagination, the other idea that gets mentioned with little thought to whole systems by techno utopians is a benevolent AI that will solve all our problems and relieve us of the need to think at all. For many people this will not be a big change.

Candace said...

This is an alternate view from the 5.5% number.

Puts unemployment at 23% ish.

I work at a Food Shelf processing intake paperwork for clients. Today a woman from a family of 4 applied for services. Two parents and two teenage children. All of them were students. One of the teenagers works part-time. Just an anecdote, but I've seen a few other families surviving on student loans. I hope that they do pass a law that will allow student loans to be part of a bankruptcy.

The report of the 5.5% unemployment makes me so angry. They use that number to pretend there are living wage jobs. It is so unfair to the people who have been struggling to find work.

Ruben said...

JMG, I have been a long-time critic of 3D Printing—despite my training in Industrial Design—and much of my criticism comes from the thinking here on the ADR.

I engaged in a protracted argument about 3DP, which was excerpted at 3D Printing in the Home: Fad, Fantasy, or the Future?

If anyone is a glutton for punishment, the full comment thread is linked in the article.

John Michael Greer said...

John, hmm. I'll look into it -- what you're saying differs from what I've read, but of course that doesn't prove anything one way or the other. Please note, though, that the figures for workforce participation I cited are based on the nonincarcerated adult population, and there's a lot of space between 37% and 11%.

Kutamun, as Vico pointed out a long time ago, every society begins in harsh necessity and ends in madness. Ours is no exception.

Repent, if you want a more authentic life, what's keeping you from one? That's not a rhetorical question, by the way.

SIRPAT, as I noted in the post, literature is a way of mirroring back your experiences to you with varying emphasis; it can be used as an evasion of life, but it doesn't have to work that way. As long as you have a life, and not just a reading list, you should be fine.

Greg, whenever people start yammering about AIs, I can't help but think of one of Theodore Roszak's comments about computer banks suffering from chronic electropsychosis. I'm far from sure AIs are any more likely in our future than fusion power, but if they do happen, what do you think are the odds that the present computer industry could manage to make sane ones? I'm not too sanguine about that...

Candace, thanks for the reality check.

Ruben, I'd expect a trained industrial designer to be skeptical of the whole 3-D printing business, just as the sharpest critics of cornucopian claims about oil supplies came from trained petroleum geologists and the like. You know what actually has to be done to get something useful out of the process, so you can't just sit there daydreaming of replicators.

Curtis said...

@ Candace: I think that part of the motivation is to prevent any real action on that front. The solution has been quantitative easing, which still sounds like a terrible, futuristic laxative each time I hear it.

If you used the real numbers, you would need real policies of some sort to deal with the issue. With fictitious numbers, you can pretend fictitious solutions work.

I think Mr. Greer has mentioned this several times, but we have a rentier class living off other people; nearly every real solution of every stripe of left, right, and centre at this point risks challenging them.

Pongo said...

John, I take serious exception to your comment about "hack actors”. There is absolutely no excuse for commercial producers to be casting some untalented hack in a McDonald's commercial when, for almost the same price, they could cast a classically trained thespian with serious training and credits and just happens to be delinquently behind on his/her car/mortgage/credit card/rent payments. Times are no better for actors than they for most everyone else, and I’m embarrassed at the thought that producers are not taking advantage of how easily they could be exploiting some of the best performers in Hollywood.

Kidding aside, at the Los Angeles casting studio where I work - and where 95% of our business comes from the casting of television commercials - it’s not uncommon to see hordes of people trying to snag a very limited number of audition spots. I remember there was one casting director who had one day to cast a video game spot, and had enough time in that day to see a hundred people. To fill those hundred audition spots, he received something like 5000 headshot submissions.

What is more interesting is when you have callbacks and the director/producers/ad agency people all show up, and when you actually get a chance to listen to how a lot of these decisions are actually made, and I will tell you that the prosthetic imagination certainly works both ways, for the people making these decisions are themselves operating from a perspective where their own imaginations have been heavily manipulated. One of the sadder examples is a situation that comes up reliably every six months or so, where the production/ad agency team will decide they want to do something “new” and “edgy” by doing a commercial with an interracial black/white couple, something they’ve exposed to plenty of times in the media but probably not very often in person. And what starts to happen almost every time is that, when they see two actors of different races being all kiss and lovey right there in front of them in the audition, they start having second thoughts, because something about the real experience - not the manipulated media one - but the real experience of watching two people convincingly interact like that makes them feel uncomfortable in a way they didn’t anticipate.

Snoqualman said...

I doubt anyone here will be surprised to see efforts to prohibit discourse about climate change and other problems on a national scale, especially if we get a Republican administration.

JMG, maybe it is just my imagination, but I seem to recollect a few gentle swipes from you in the past at the belief one occasionally sees, that the Northwest is somehow exempt from the problems that afflict everywhere else. As well as how the hyperconsumptive lifestyles of the elite here are often regarded as "environmentalism." I hope we see some more of that in future.

And what a great description of your interesting corner of our planet, Cherokee. Here in the land of silent forests, one often forgets that most, or at least many, forests are not quiet at all.

Jo said...

About a decade ago I read The Lord of the Rings to my oldest children, then aged 9 and 12. It took a WHOLE YEAR, and what delighted me most was the immensely rich and detailed topographical descriptions. Landscape poetry, that I had mostly missed in my solitary teenage speed-reading of that text.

The image that sprang to my mind on reading this post was from Farenheit 451 - the huge TV screens in every house which kept the population docile and drugged on entertainment while their young people were sent off to fight in carefully under-reported foreign wars.

How immensely prescient of Mr Bradbury.

The other effect of electronic media is that it is MASS media. It is too easy to market a product to the whole world, or have an entire population distracted from unpleasant realities by amusing them with the electronic equivalent of a Roman circus.

Reading a book is such a solitary endeavour, with such uncertain consequences on the individual mind, that no wonder it is frequently found to be subversive and subjected to burning by all the most thorough totalitarian regimes..

onething said...

When I read Gone With the Wind I of course had images in my mind of everything, especially the people. One day I saw the movie. It's not a question of whether the movie was well done. Immediately after seeing it, all my images were gone, replaced by the screen actors. Try as I might, I could no longer recall them.

So, I knew better than to watch the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings movies. I'm told they are well done. I will have no part of it. Those books were precious to me, and I (re)read them all out loud to my children, long after they were old enough to read. My son was in high school when I finished the last book. Never much of a reader himself, I was surprised that when he was 6/7 he sat through the entire Little House On the Prairie series.

I've studiously avoided looking at any images of the Lord of the Rings movies, but once while out walking I inadvertently saw a poster outside a theatre, with a hobbit and Gollum. They were awful! And I am vindicated. God forbid I should ever see what they have done to Gandalf.

Derv said...


I was actually going to mention shadowstats before I saw that Candace pointed it out. Great site. What he does is really quite simple; he has a record of all the "adjustments" to calculating GDP, unemployment and the rest that the government has made in the last 30 years or so. He then just backs them out. You can then see unemployment as it would have been reported under, say, Ford. It's not a pretty picture.

The sheer amount of statistical tomfoolery is mind-boggling, to say the least. But the entire edifice now rests upon it, truly. The only way we can continue to service our debt is through financial repression. That requires treasury rates to be below inflation rates. But high official inflation rates would be politically untenable today, especially given all the money printing nationally and internationally in the last 6 years. Yet a lowered inflation rate means a higher "real" GDP number. And just like that, you have the "recovery." It's a simple product of our chosen debt management strategy.

Never mind the fact that GDP prints have error bars of +/-3% anyway, and growth has averaged less than that. This means, even by the government's own admission and figures, that it's entirely possible the last twenty years have been a recession (overall, barring the fluke quarterly spike). Moreover, downward revisions after prints now outpace upward revisions by like ten to one. It's because the models they use to conjure up numbers for jobs and GDP et al. are all based on a "normal" growing economy, which we no longer possess.

It's incredible to see the knock-on effects when a complex civilization's operations and measurement standards depart from the underlying reality. There is literally an entire profession (economists) built upon terrible forecasting using simplified models, that never worked, that fail doubly so nowadays, that have no rational foundation, that have never reflected reality, to explain away why the government numbers which do not reflect reality match their models, and so are actually reflecting reality.

You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried!

jean-vivien said...

The current fantasies about AI are there so that we get for free the role models we have no hope of rising up to be. Just like Lovecraftian gods are there to provide us with a formidable sort of biology, the one that we have no hope of rising up to be... In all of these cases, we are forbidden from thinking of the actual possibilities of humankind's potential. All the more ironic coming from a civilization whose premise is that it will raise humankind to unprecedented heights.

In the meantime, our collective past is being destroyed in Irak for the greed of a few collectors. As for the future, you nailed it nicely. As for our children? They will be grateful for those few parents who have the courage to look coldly and realistically at our collective wet dreams. Remember that bunker in Berlin ? They sacrificed their children first, out of fear that these might prove them posthumously wrong.

You should do a series on parenting one of these days, cause it won't be the easiest occupation to take on.

Toro Loki said...

Nice report for a change. Your last few months have been rather depressing.
Tom Bombadil... Good reference. I notice that the LOTR movies,good as they are,have left out this important figure.
I can only hope that our postmodern "society" may possibly be awakened by such a figure..
Not much of a hope, but then,who would have predicted that an Archdruid would rise to such heights after the slaughter at Angleslee in AD 60?

Toro Loki said...

P.S. it just crossed my mind that I am using a "Christian" calendar.
Do druids have a different way of counting the years? Just curious.

9anda1f said...

Looked into Brand a little beyond your link to The Long Foundation and found him again at the Breakthrough Institute as a new senior fellow. Can't read too much of the Breakthrough site as it's steeped in neurolinguistic programming language patterns ... but it's some seriously sick stuff. All my senses shouted "Danger!" Decoupling and domed cities for the masses ... Biosphere2 demonstrated the feasibility of decoupling. And it looks like Brand has found a new BFF in the Rockefellers.

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG and John Roth,

RE: Unemployment:

The government statistics for inflation, GDP, and unemployment have been changed several times since their inception. Generally speaking, each change has been done in such a way that it makes the headline number look a little better at the time. The cumulative effect of numerous favourable revisions is a statistic that no longer has much meaning.

The website publishes what the stats would look like if they had not been revised using the same methodology. Shadowstats gives an unemployment figure of ~23% from

From the link

The seasonally-adjusted SGS Alternate Unemployment Rate reflects current unemployment reporting methodology adjusted for SGS-estimated long-term discouraged workers, who were defined out of official existence in 1994. That estimate is added to the BLS estimate of U-6 unemployment, which includes short-term discouraged workers.
The U-3 unemployment rate is the monthly headline number. The U-6 unemployment rate is the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) broadest unemployment measure, including short-term discouraged and other marginally-attached workers as well as those forced to work part-time because they cannot find full-time employment.


Val said...

I have the impression that Stewart Brand's credibility as a countercultural catalyst went whistling down the wind a long time ago. The great majority of the most successful and privileged boomers seem to me to be concerned with conserving nothing quite so much as their own comforts and privileges.

Last month a local magazine did a piece on promoting the maker movement in schools, and as is drearily familiar with all such articles I've seen to date, by far the greatest play is given to robots and 3D printers. I now understand more fully why robots have always left me cold, and am coming to positively loathe the very notion of 3D printers. These prosthetic obsessions appear to me to be the greatest impediments to people in the maker movement learning to, you know, actually *make* things - like, with their hands, for instance.

The replicator from Star Trek reminds me of a proposed device described by Nigel Calder in his book "Spaceships of the Mind," published in the 1970s. It makes any artifact or consumer product you want by molecularly reorganizing bits of moon rock or asteroid or whatever else happens to be handy. It's called a Santa Claus Machine. How exactly it is to work was left a little vague. The same book contains a photo of a young man whose t-shirt is blazoned with the motto "Lunar Mine by '89," an exciting development that I am sure we all await with baited breath.

RT has reported that the singer Sarah Brightman will be giving a concert from the International Space Station. In the interview, she enthused about being involved in something so representative of the future. I've nothing against Ms. Brightman, a fine vocalist, but as she is a very famous and therefore - I infer - wealthy individual, this tends to confirm my impression that privilege generally insulates people from noticing unpalatable realities that conflict with their preferred beliefs.

I've been noticing with increasing perturbation the effects of a great deal too much television watching on the mentality of my family members. Their degree of emotional engagement in this unproductive, downright detrimental activity has grown increasingly disturbing. It would be simply catastrophic if the antenna cable or the power cord were to be, say, imperceptibly perforated by tiny pins or needles... They couldn't cope, and would probably have a melt-down.

Karim said...

Greetings all!

JMG wrote: "Human thinking, and human culture, thus dance constantly between the concrete and the abstract"

Would it be inaccurate to say that magic is, amongst other things, to be aware of this dance between the abstract to the concrete and to be able to set one's mind in between both, like a dial, in accordance to what the magician attempts to do?

It is valid to say that for systems thinking, one must think more in the abstract whilst meditative work for instance may require the mind to be set more towards the concrete end of the spectrum?

Andrew Crews said...


I've been putting some thought into the origins of this absurd blindness to whole systems western society faces. I think the blindness itself is another hidden externalize created by increasing layers of complexity of both society and technology. We are essentially drowning in our own abstractions.

I somewhat blame the control systems of the modern household for giving us the illusion of simplicity. Lightswitch on/off, oven on/off, faucet water on/off. I fear that being raised with so many mindlessly simple control systems and sheltered from the inter workings, wiring, elements, valves/pipes, we have left ourselves with an immensely strong habituation of looking for an on/off switch. The mindless drivel surrounding climate change and the environment has us literally looking for a on and off switch. We are not looking for solutions, we are looking for a button to press.

The way someone who has grown up raising chickens on a family farm and someone who has grown up microwaving a bag of pre-breaded chicken tenders have two very different ideas of where chickens actually come from. For the latter person the chicken comes from a bag in the refrigerator. The parents may have to buy the bag of chicken in a grocery store, they are privy too a deeper layer of complexity of chicken production than the child, however they are completely ignorant of the chicken processing plant and transportation warehouse network. For each layer of complexity we have placed we cover the concept of "chicken" in another mental shroud. eventually the number of mental shrouds separating the abstraction chicken from the actual chicken approaches the limit of what short term memory can muster. Each layer of complexity and technology throws the original meaning deeper and deeper into abstraction until it is divorced from anything meaningful. Perhaps there are many negative externalities like this that we are by and large completely unaware of because they are not quantifiable.

Then again this is basically what Vico suggested when civilization reaches the "Barbarism of Reflection". I am not sure if he also noted that the death by abstraction was the principle reason most civilizations were too paralyzed to do anything about their own tragic fate. Is systems blindness really a symptom of the barbarism of reflection?

FiftyNiner said...

I'll be brief--something I realize I have trouble with--but this essay is brilliant. The paragraph about the Impressionists gets an A+! I studied Ninteenth Century art history intensively in college and was amazed by the act of will and the mental processes that were required of Claude Monet to turn out the masterpieces of his later life, after the cataracts were robbing him of his sight. His achievement is no less astounding than the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven written after he hearing was completely gone. I am not yet willing to grant any American artist the same level of achievement. If I did it would have to be in literature and not in the visual arts.

Martin B said...

I've just realised that advertisers make use of the placebo effect. First make you believe it's going to be scrumptious and good for you, then when you actually consume it, you feel that glow of well-being although your body is really degrading from the junk you put into it.

Your account of the Impressionists reminds me of the great ichthyologist Louis Agassiz's teaching methods. He would give a student a specimen or a pile of bones with instructions to see what they could make of them. Day after day they would stare at the same thing, thinking they'd seen all there was to see after a couple of hours, only to realise as the days went on they were seeing finer details, more patterns and connections, and gaining far deeper insights than the first cursory glances afforded.

Bogatyr said...

Great post, JMG, and great comments.

Cherokee Chris, let me add to the praise of your description of your landscape!

I probably need to go back and read the LOTR again, this time more carefully; as Jo mentioned in a previous comment, I speed-read them during my teens, and didn't pay enough attention to the word-pictures. Also, of course, I didn't have the life experience needed to flesh them out.

As a comparison, I've just finished re-reading Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer; my recent experiences of being broke and insecure add a lot to my interpretation of that book this time around.

I'm lucky to have landed a good job. It's taken an age to sort out, but I'm off to Beijing in a few weeks. My old friends there tell me that the Great Firewall is much more efficient than when I was there last, and that access to non-Chinese websites is very difficult. I'm actually looking forward to this enforced digital detox, and having more time to practice tai chi, and sit with people and just talk...

PRiZM, are you still in Dalian?

Scotlyn said...

A lovely post, and surely the first step anyone can take both to collapse in place and to regain the power to live what a commenter above calls an "authentic" life, is one that costs nothing at all (in the financial sense). Just say "no" to being a passive receiver of mass megia. Re-inhabit your own mind and imagination and fiercely protect it from unwanted intrusion.

Your riff on the Lord of the Rings brought some good memories. My dad read the whole of the Lord of the Rings to us four girls, night after night, keeping us spellbound, imaginations on the go. And you are right, Tolkien is a landscape word painter.

It so happens my own childhood landscape was the circle of mountains around San, Jose, Costa Rica, rather sharp and very green. When, as a peripatetic adult I finally settled, it was to be cradled by the softer, more rounded, more russet-toned hills of Donegal, Ireland. Which I know have shaped my sons' sense of place as powerfully as Costa Rica's shaped mine.

John Graham said...

Just for fun I want to share my pet abomination coming out of the series of abomination that was the Hobbit Trilogy (he says, not having watched any of them ;) ).

One of the movie posters depicted one of the characters (I'm going to guess Elrond), perusing something which I suppose had a runic inscription he was deciphering.

The set-up for the picture gave an unmistakeable and distinct impression - I don't know how subliminal or obvious this was to others. Elrond was using an iPad. I mean obviously he wasn't, but the configuration - this was the element that a 21st century person could identify with, that was being evoked. Gaze at the screen, that's the work this world hinges on.

Just wanted to share.

Gloucon X said...

If I was your neighbor Joe, who can’t find a job, I would ignore abstract rates and look at the payroll data, which is an actual count of jobs gained or lost. For example, in Jan 2009 the country lost more than 800k jobs, in Jan 2015 it gained more than 250k jobs. While this might not be cause for jubilation, that change means it is easier than it once was for Joe to find a job. It is evidence of an undeniable improvement in physical and mental well-being for those who need employment; it is not an abstraction.

ed boyle said...

Perception interpretation through abstraction to maintain perceived worldview by distortion of perceptions or conclusions reaching awareness level. Being level experiences. Awareness level abstracts, blocks, interprets to fit perception to ideological preformatted concept, so as to avoid psychological, social shock.

On an individual level denial, living in a fantasy world. If society is healthy this will be treated by caring family, friends, professionals or called eccentric.

On a societal level denial, fantasy is more dangerous the larger the society and the greater the distance between actual reality and distortion.

Life expectation vs. actual experience in society could be termed 'Hope Gap'.This will be cured by reality distortion adjustment(RDA) by the MOT(Ministry of Truth) relative to the HG proportion to psychosocial neccessity. In certain social classes like on Wall Street the RDA will be large, in printed paper, yachts. Lower classes receive infotainment injections via Youtube, Hollywood, govt. statistics propaganda divisions.

I don't want to know the truth. 'Ask me no questions I tell you no lies'. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. New ideas become accepted only once the old scientists(politicians, philosophers) die off. You only accept reality that doesn't interfere with your paycheck(paraphrase).

My time at the local MOT taught me self distortion of perception is the best way to distort perception of others. If you believe your own lies everyone else does too. In Hollywood they say'if you can fake being genuine you've got it made'. The so-called mass media and advertising, as well as the govt. and industry reports to our MOT offices to coordinate Newspeak adjustments to expressive phraseology. We receive instructions from above. The Plan and Reality are completely separate entities. I wonder myself how far the RDA has drifted since my childhood but since old records are eliminated upon reality adjustments to the 'Ever Present' no one knows. Tomorrow will be different. I am uncertain if my marmelade is less sweet due to sugar rationing to be concrete, if I am really so old or if the calendar is being manipulated. Perhaps the MOT is just not told everything,or at least not my division. It is better to believe the RDAs if one is to remain in Acceptable Perceptual Boundaries(sanity). Some of our workers became distorted in perception and were taken off in straitjackets. Sad.

John Graham said...

By the way, JMG, there's a book I want to recommend: Mediated, by Thomas de Zengotita.

I think it's brilliant and some smart people I know think it's brilliant. Excerpt <a href=">here</a>.

And my local library had it.

Steve storm said...

JMG.. I'we been told that one must give credit where credit is due. This is by my recollection your most poetic blog post. We the mortals must bow and scrape our heads in the sand you have truly given us a masterpiece this week. (thank you)

Luke Devlin said...

The link on decoupling you attribute to Stewart Brand appears to be a summary written by Brand of a lecture by Jesse Ausubel? I'm sure he would endorse it, as it's on his site, but still.

Damo said...

I just wanted to second the remark on unemployment statistics. In general, most OECD nations count it in the same manner and it *doesn't* rely on collecting benefits. However, for me, this doesn't change the validity of your point since it is still a highly dubious measure. As you no doubt know, if you stop seeking work (ie give up as there is nothing out there for you) then you are not counted in the headline unemployment rate anymore. The general rule of thumb my economist teacher told me was to just double whatever the headline rate stated to get a reasonable idea. A better measure is nationwide hours worked, and here in Australia at least, it has markedly declined over the past 5 years. Anyway, I only say this because it is the sort of quibble that some people might use to conveniently ignore your entire argument.

On a similar note, here in Australia, since a conservative government changed the rules in ~1998, our official inflation rate *excludes* house prices. That's right, the single most expensive purchase for most Australians is simply omitted like it is not a thing. Coincidence this was implemented just before the largest property boom since the gold rush times of 1890 (and from which the subsequent crash real house prices took nearly 100 years to recover)?

ed boyle said...

I am reading about nation and history in spengler this morning. Richelieu, Cromwell times of fact, action. French revolution time of mobs, ideologies, ideals.

'The impact of a truth is always different than its tendency. In the world of facts truths are means, as far as they rule the spirits and thereby determine actions. Not if they are deep, correct or even just logical but rather if they are effective decides their historical importance. If onee misunderstands them or cannot understand them at all is completely indifferent. That lies in the description slogan... Alone slogans are facts; the remainder of all philosophical or social ethical system is not considered in history.'

So during our era ads, movies, images make reality for the masses. If a cynical Richelieu manipulates that in the background for his ends is another matter. Eco foods, climate change are charged political concepts. A few understand reality behind this but how it changes politics is important. Unemployment, inflation, middle class prosperity are slogans. American Dream perhaps great global slogan.

M said...

One big consequence of people donning prosthetic imaginations is that they tend to immediately dismiss those struggling to see more clearly through the veil as doomers, negative, party poopers, curmudgeons, eccentric, etc., making it all the easier to go on believing the false visions being projected onto their brains, despite the chunks of falling civilization hitting them in the head every day.

This also creates that duality of thinking you have looked at in the past, the either-or, for us or against us kind of thinking that simply doesn't allow for nuance, or much of reality. So even when people react against these untruths, they often simply run to the exact opposite side of the room, and start shouting across, making any real notion of figuring out what might be a good course of action to take virtually impossible. Of course this works just fine for those disseminating the prosthetic images--in fact it could be considered an added bonus.

Marc L Bernstein said...

On the weekends I often work as a tidepool educator at the rocks in Laguna Beach.

One experience that I have had more than once involves some family with 1 or more small children. As I show and describe to a particular child a tidepool organism (such as a sea anemone, a limpet, chiton, hermit crab, sea urchin, etc.) a slightly nervous parent interrupts me and starts to explain to the child how this tidepool organism is similar to a figure from a television show, a movie or (for all I know) a video game.

It's as if the parent does not think that their child can appreciate the actual reality of the tidepool organism, but can only relate to it by comparing it to an imaginary figure from a fantasy show.

Another experience I have had involves the rock formation (the San Onofre breccia) that visitors to the tidepools stand on while looking at the tidepools. On several occasions a naive visitor, usually an adult (!) , asks me if the rock formation was man-made. As soon as I hear that question I have to go into a diplomatic, dumbed-down mode of explanation.

We now live in a culture in which man-made objects and imaginary figures from television and movies are quite often more real to people than the actual natural world around them.

MP said...

JMG - about 18 months ago I went to The Design Museum in London where they had a 3-D printing exhibition. The exhibition was breathless in its discussion about the possibilities of 3-D printing and what it would mean for production going forward especially in the developing world.

Naturally they glossed over how that would really work. I've been to one of the poorest countries in the world (Togo) and a complex machine that can't handle dust and has plastic inputs from China is the last thing they need. Like - how do you fix something that was produced from a 3-D printer? Well, the assumption seems to be that you just print again. How do you fix this glorious machine that will be sent to each village? Nothing. This would end up like the library they had at the village that was built and donated by some Southern US Christian charity - the charity had sent English language books. To a country in French-speaking West Africa. So it sat there unused. Because no one asked the villagers and their leaders what they wanted to do with their village. They just assumed...

They also glossed over something very fundamental - who the hell is supposed to design things? All they could do is show the 3-D printer as something that anyone could replicate things with. But what about original design? What about the waste? What about the fact that this is all oil based? Nothing. Total silence. And no historical context at all as to what it would mean for society nor how production of goods is changed by and changes the very societal context in which it is produced. It was such a wankfest, I actually had to leave. I was livid.

A few days later, I went to the V&A. There was an old hidden dusty part of the vast V&A (old school design museum) which discussed the changes of industrial production over the past 250 years and the impact on society that this had. You could read quotes from great thinkers over that time and understand the direct impact that this massive change in production had on society. It was moving.

And on a similar note, did you see this hilarious article about Google Ventures? The article is called "Google Ventures and the Search for Immortality". It is as bad as it sounds. We must change ourselves as humans and use technology since - “It will liberate us from our own limitations.” These people really hate being human. I truly believe it is one of the great illnesses of our age...

Odin's Raven said...

Have no fear, help is near! This time it's not the US government, nor the squirrels, but the mushrooms.

Here's a story about someone who has developed mushrooms which eat pollution and excrete a nice environment. They also eat insect pests from the inside out.
God knows what they'll do to humans.


Tony f. whelKs said...

One of the most profound changes I have made in my life seems to me to be quite a small thing, but speaking to others that have not made it and still tramp the more heavily traveled road, it appears to be unimaginably monumental. It is, of course, my withdrawal from the world as mediated by the little box of flickering pixels that the majority have installed in their living rooms. I literally do live in a different world to that of most of my neighbours, and I find the term 'prosthetic imagination' a very apt description!

I do still listen to the radio, where, someone once said, 'the pictures are better', but I find it easier to maintain a distanced viewpoint from what I'm hearing. It somehow seems less prone to complete domination by the corporate agenda, or at least that agenda becomes more transparent, and the nuances of strict definitions (such as 'jobless rates' etc etc) become clearer.

One advantage to all this is that I can report that I don't actually know which fast food outlet uses 'I'm loving it' as a slogan, although I do harbour something of a guess as to its identity ;-)

So Florida is to be renamed 'Submarine Base 2' perhaps, to match my homeland's status as 'Airstrip 1'? Has the chocolate ration been increased from 30 to 20 grams per week also? One of the founding tenets of Newspeak is that the unspeakable becomes unthinkable. The unthinkable then becomes impossible. I wonder how long it will be before Florida unilaterally redefines the sea-level datum point rather than admit the actual level is rising?

Slightly more tongue in cheek, about the reconstructive nature of our visions from literature, I should point out that my native soil is in the EAST Midlands, which is OBVIOUSLY Tolkien's model for 'The Shire' - and my experience of the WEST Midlands (as a student in Birmingham) casts that region as the model for Mordor. Though to be fair, I did reside a while in Elgar Country near the Malvern Hills, which I grant could be an annexe of the Shire.

Much to chew on in this week's post, so I'm going to reread it over my second breakfast....

Lance M. Foster said...

As to Brand and people like him, there is an exchange in the movie "Salt Lake City Punk" between a son and his father:

Stevo: "Wait, time out. I just wanted to ask real quick, if I can. You believe in rebellion, freedom and love, right?"
Mom: "Absolutely, yes."
Dad: "Rebellion, freedom, love."
Stevo: "You two are divorced. So love failed. Two: Mom, your a New Ager, clinging to every scrap of Eastern religion that may justify why the above said love failed. Three: Dad, you're a slick, corporate, preppy-ass lawyer. I don't really have to say anything else about you do I dad? Four: You move from New York City, the Mecca and hub of the cultural world to Utah! Nowhere! To change nothing! More to perpetuate this cycle of greed, fascism and triviality. Your movement of the people, by and for the people got you... nothing! You just hide behind some lost sense of drugs, sex and rock and roll. Ooooh, Kumbaya! I am the future! I am the future of this great nation which you, father, so arrogantly saved this world for. Look, I have my own agenda. Harvard, out. University of Utah, in. I'm gonna get a 4.0 in damage. I love you guys! Don't get me wrong, it's all about this. But for the first time in my life, I'm 18 and I can say 'F----- YOU!' "
Dad: "Steven, I didn't sell out son. I bought in. Keep that in mind."

And art is a great venue for thinking about the culture we are living in and how we see "reality". Magritte for example:

"The Treachery of Images (French: La trahison des images, 1928–29, sometimes translated as The Treason of Images) is a painting by the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte, painted when Magritte was 30 years old. The picture shows a pipe. Below it, Magritte painted, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe.", French for "This is not a pipe."

"The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture "This is a pipe", I'd have been lying!"

Phil Harris said...

JMG & All
I have friend Bob who collects striking images with stories to tell. The story of the USAAF nuclear-powered plane project was one such. The reactors needed to be slung well outside the crew compartment for obvious reasons, so hey presto, you have the blue print for the trekkers' Star ships.

We do need to get serious about the USA way-of-life. While you get away with it, we in Europe will follow. Kids looking for paid work? Ouch!
UK Guardian suggests unemployment is very high for British ethnic minorities: “DWP figures show jobless rate of 45% for young black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers with white figure at 19%”.


Greg Belvedere said...

Ha! In the unlikely event of an AI I don't think it would be very well adjusted either. I find it interesting that all the fantasies of AI involve it either becoming our master or our slave. This goes back to what you have written recently about the mark slavery has left on the US, though it is not a purely American fantasy.

Nobody considers that an AI might have its own will and might just want to surf the internet and look at the computer equivalent of pornography all day.

Bill Blondeau said...

@onething: "So, I knew better than to watch the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings movies. I'm told they are well done. I will have no part of it. Those books were precious to me, and I (re)read them all out loud to my children, long after they were old enough to read."

Well done, and well considered. One thing I would hasten to add, though: contrary to your information, these movies are not well made in any meaningful sense. Peter Jackson and his crew seem to be so strongly dedicated to contemptible Hollywood tropes that they felt justified in defacing the movie with them pretty thoroughly.

In terms of box office receipts, they were probably correct to do so. Still, whatever personal love any of the people involved may bear for the books has been corrupted beyond redemption, I'm afraid.

(One partial exception to my detestation of the entire project: Ian McKellen, laboring under the distortions imposed by the screenwriters, actually made an excellent Gandalf.)

Attempting to discuss these movies is one of those topics that makes our host's profanity policy a grievous burden for me. Perhaps this honest sentiment can slip through:

Peter u bagronk sha pushdug Jackson-glob búbhosh skai!

Aenn Seidhe Priest said...

The trouble is all the people who are "within the matrix". You'd think most people would welcome a reality check; reality's different though, mass (corrupted) psychology is such most of them would rather stay with the force-fed processed "virtual reality" of mass-manipulation rather than have to cope with reality - until it finally slams into their faces (just like the drunkard who complains "the road hit him").

There is a bunch of reasons why the industrial civ will keep on running until it exhausts itself - the first one being that it makes money for the privileged few. Meanwhile, human sanity is being gradually reduced by all the conscience manipulation, which is just a modern-day replacement of the likes of church-imposed manipulation in medieval ages...

So if you look carefully at it all, the first task really is proper education, formation of people's consciences. There is a lot of corruption and general faux-thinking patterns left over from previous times, and more accumulating now, and worst of all is, people do get ever more daft than, say, 40 years ago or a century ago. They can't much think for themselves, not just the commoners, but also those who are meant to be the reference/guidance for the crowds. So the big question really is, how can it all be healed? And won't they, the masses, just crash themselves into a wall (together with the industrial civ) regardless? That's what looks bound to happen...

Juandonjuan said...

When I raise the issues that you have helped bring front and center in my life(style) evolution, the most common response(surprise) is but,Progress!!
The other response is, "Stop, my brain is full! To which the response is"maybe you could make some room by junking the false programming cluttering your SoftDrive. Scrapping the television improves the Signal/Noise ratio tremendously.
I still couldn't pick a Kardashian out of a lineup.
Editing Question?
"The impact on/of the prosthetic imagination of/on the crisis of our time..." assuming of...on, but it works 3 out of 4 ways.

John and Candace already touced on this, but I'm surprised that you hadn't seen John Williams' work at ShadowStats before. Year+ old data and analysis typically free, but current reports by subscription.

ando said...


Well said. This reminds me of the non-duality folks who say that they do not exist. The Zen master says,"Run head first into that wall, and tell me you don't exist."

Lawfish1964 said...

I think Donald Fagen had it all summed up back in 1981 when he wrote I.G.Y.:

"A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We'll be clean when their work is done
We'll be eternally free yes and eternally young."

If only he could have envisioned the 3D printer.

donalfagan said...

I used to post about Shadowstats until James Hamilton of Econbrowser, who used to post at the old Oil Drum, attacked Williams methodology in 2008:

Apparently Williams responded:

Hamilton claims Williams told him:
"I’m not going back and recalculating the CPI. All I’m doing is going back to the government’s estimates of what the effect would be and using that as an ad factor to the reported statistics."

As commented the U6 does include higher numbers than U3, but as described in the link below, since 1994 it does not include those, Not In Labor Force, who have supposedly "given up" looking for work.

Gallup has their own measure of underemployment, currently over 40%:

Regarding Star Trek, while it was sold to TV execs as Wagon Train to the Stars, Roddenberry thought of it as Hornblower to the Stars - which to an Aubrey/Maturin fan is not a bad concept. Yes, it did sink to the level of network TV, but it (and Space 1999) offered a few glimmers of forward-thinking scifi here and there. It wasn't as paranoid as UFO or The Invaders.

Ed said...

In regards to your discussion of abstractions and how they blind you to direct reality, you may find further reading in the following very interesting:

(Be careful not to mix up emptiness and meaninglessness. Meaninglessness is just another "empty" concept.)

The Prajna-paramita (Perfection of Wisdom) Sutras taught that all entities, including dharmas, are only conceptual existents or constructs.[13][14]

Though we perceive a world of concrete and discrete objects, these objects are "empty" of the identity imputed by their designated labels.[15] The Heart sutra, a text from the prajnaparamita-sutras, articulates this in the following saying in which the five skandhas are said to be "empty":

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form
Emptiness is not separate from form, form is not separate from emptiness
Whatever is form is emptiness, whatever is emptiness is form.[16][note 2][note 3]

Not seeing this clearly, leads as you say to not seeing cause and effect clearly which leads to bad effects sneaking up on you.

Clifford Dean Scholz said...

Does a nice job connecting previous posts' thesis that price is not equal to cost to the equally heretical notion life is not a reducible to a PR problem.

RPC said...

Addressing andrewbwatts mention of LittleBits: I took my children to a highschool open house ostensibly designed to encourage children to go into STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics). One of the displays was the aforementioned LittleBits. Now I'm an electrical engineer, so I looked at the pieces and said to my kids,"Hey! We can build a night light!" Well, it turned out we couldn't, because the student charged with presenting the LittleBits was only capable of assembling projects from the LittleBits booklet by rote and wouldn't allow anything else. Actually experimenting with the pieces to get an intuitive feel for what was happening was forbidden.

Kyoto Motors said...

“That’s what advertising does, and more generally what the mass media do. Think about the fast food company that markets its product under the slogan “I’m loving it,”(…)The goal of the operation is to keep you away from immediate experience, so that a deliberately distorted mediation can be put in its place.”
This sums up nicely what Situationist Guy DeBord called the “spectacle” – as in The Society of the Spectacle, his most famous book. The Spectacle is not just the three-ring circus drawing the masses under the big top (eg. The Superbowl, the Oscars, or even just a blockbuster movie). No, it does not stop there: it manifests itself – indeed, insinuates itself – into daily life. Regular experience, like eating lunch, is spectacularised by those who have something to gain by manipulating your imagined experience of eating lunch. And they’re loving it!
From what I have come to understand about modernity (industrialism, specialisation, and the creation of a consumer society), the Spectacle is a function of the petroleum-driven economy; it is one way in which established powers have learned to maintain a degree of control in a world of increased freedom and education.

Bruce Turton said...

I was reminded of an old friend who went on from high school to a Ph.D. in computer stuff - specifically AI. His comment that I'll never forget was: "Computers have the intelligence of an earwhig". Never bothered to query him further about those who programme the damn things!

Kyoto Motors said...

Teleportation is another fantasy of Star Trek origins – sort or a secular, scientific version of reincarnation?
Anyway, it’s one of those technologies that belongs in the bin marked “never gonna happen – sorry”
As you quite eloquently pointed out in the past (perhaps it was in “An Elegy for the Space Race”?) not all sci-fi dreams and “prophesies” are destined to come true.
I suspect 3-D printers are about as close to teleportation as we will ever come, and to the emotional appeal is bound to be strong: the fantasy persists. So many people I know, who possibly spend too much time in “cyber space”, have very little understanding of basic practical matters when dealing with, er, matter. I suspect this feeds their inability to grasp the inherent (and obvious) limitations of even the most fully functional 3-D printers.
Clearly a case of excessive complexity, and diminishing returns…

Greg Belvedere said...

@jean-vivien and JMG

I'm looking forward to reading JMG's thoughts on education. I remember watching a lecture he gave that turned up on youtube ( I think it was at the red room) where his answer to the question of how he would have educated his children got cut off in a video edit. Personally, I will send my kids to public school, but will try to supplement their education as much as possible. I try to teach my 17 month old as much as I can on my own and he is never in front of a screen.

I have considered writing about my experiences as a stay-at-home dad (SAHD) in the context of deindustrialization. Many men find their wives working, because our economy is more geared towards the kind of service jobs women do, while the kind of jobs men traditional do have become more scarce. At the moment the blog and potential book would concentrate more on doing the most with the home economy, as my son is young and I don't feel I could give any direction in parenting beyond his current age. But eventually I would incorporate parenting. It would concentrate on cooking, gardening, herbal remedies, entertaining kids without electronic gizmos, and the reasons for doing those things. I think a resource like this, especially one geared towards SAHDs would be welcome. Though I'm sure it would be useful to those outside that target demographic. If I can find time I might start the project soon. Currently reading up on gardening and making plans my garden for when this snow melts.

Matt said...


Don't know if it's just coincidence but your musings on vision, Impressionism and snow have been the topic of much debate of late in discussions of "that dress":

This seems to be many peoples' first realisation that we are all not simply seeing what's out there.


Leo Knight said...

I currently find myself in that unemployed category. My boss informed me that the company will go out of business for good. He has a dispute with the State of Maryland regarding unemployment and withholding taxes. The hopeful talk of re-organizing somewhere else ended.

I applied for unemployment. Because of the dispute, the State says that I did not work or receive income for the last 25 years. I therefore cannot receive unemployment benefits. Fortunately, I have some savings, and my boss gave me a decent severance pay. I can survive for a while. I hope that I can find paying work soon, or things will get very desperate indeed.

Regarding Star Trek, the replicators are supposed to recycle everything, chairs, clothes, poop, etc., back into basic elements, and remake new objects on demand. Unlike 3D printers, the fantasy realm recycles.

This morning, the Today show had a segment on kitchen gadgets "you can't live without." One actually seemed clever, a toaster with clear sides so you could see how brown your toast is. Most of them "sync up" with smartphones to do various things a smart human used to do, such as mix drinks. They had an automated bartender, which you must fill with feed stocks of booze, mixes, etc. It made a drink for the hostess, but she found it too strong. I wonder if there's an app to make the drink to your liking?

They had a "smart food sniffer," a wand-like device which, with your phone, will tell you if food has spoiled, and a "smart pan" which tells you if your food is cooked. Who would want to actually sniff food or watch a pan themselves? There's an app for that!

Brent Ragsdale said...

My response to the news article about the Florida environmental officials ban on speaking of climate change was to send this link:

to a few friends and family. It's a 12-minute video posted by Paul Beckwith, who studies and teaches climate science at the U of Ottawa, which I found highly informative (especially if you like data visualization like I do.) After repeated negative reactions to such emails, I'm usually quite reticent. But such blatant denial compelled me to speak my truth. I'm posting the link here to reach a larger audience of receptive folks who might also share the information. Thanks again for you blog and books. They have taught me a lot.

Peter Jones said...

Excellent essay, thanks! And such a pleasure to read through all the comments and not be assaulted by snarky ignorance, as happens in many online discussions-a sense I'm truly among friends!
This week's post made me recall one of the most remarkable I've ever read-David Abram's "The Spell of the Sensuous". I'm sure many here are familar with it, but for those who aren't, I can't recommend highly enough.

Jason Heppenstall said...

I noticed on the news a few days ago that a pop star was claiming that 3D printed humans were not far off (along with printed food and cities for the Third World and whatever else they could dream up). This was considered newsworthy by 'serious' outlets. I wonder what they would put in the printer cartridges ... mashed up bacon? Soylent green?

BTW Having mis-spent my teenage years in exactly the area where Tolkien used to live I'm sorry to report that there are no visible mountains. The nearest mountains would probably be in Snowdonia, over 100 miles away, and you can't really see these until you get quite close to them (the highest peak is 3,560ft).

Allie said...

Great essay, JMG. Thanks for talking about how climate change is impacting Florida. That was one of my main reasons for leaving Miami Beach and moving back to the old family farm in eastern NC.

Five or six years ago, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties openly discussed the need to drill more municipal water wells along their western borders b/c the ones along the coastline were slowly becoming inundated with salt water due to sea level rise.

The south western corner of Miami Beach was also regularly flooded during high tide when I lived there. Not significantly but the water did come up from the storm drains and a few inches or more were on streets such as Alton and West ave. Talking to locals who had lived there much longer than me, it was a common occurrence for me to hear that this tidal flooding wasn't the way things used to be. Years and years ago, the streets would only get flooded like that due to storm surge or very rarely a full moon high tide.

I moved away about three years ago and since that time Alton road has undergone a major construction project to raise it and improve drainage. I guess they did that just because they wanted to spend money and not b/c of climate change induced sea level rise...

Raising West Ave is next on the construction agenda I hear.

Mister Roboto said...

@JMG: The family-member to whom I refer is going to turn 58 this July. :-/ But I probably don't have to tell you that a lot of Baby Boomers are locked into an extended adolescence that has become largely impervious to the realities of life. And in this particular case, I suspect that a good part of the problem is that these ideas are mostly neurotic coping mechanisms to which he has become overly attached.

Mister Roboto said...

PS: I have my own way of getting a better idea of how many people are unemployed or very underemployed (excluding students, retirees, and self-employed). I take the U6 employment number from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (the one the news-media use is the very misleading U3), and then add ten percent of that figure to the number, so that would make the seasonally adjusted figure for February 2015 something like 12.2% But I am aware that even this method probably yields a woeful understatement of the true picture.

k-dog said...

"It’s only under special circumstances—waking up at night in an unfamiliar room, for example, and finding that the vague somethings around us take a noticeable amount of time to coalesce into ordinary furniture—that the mind’s role in assembling the fragmentary data of sensation into the objects of our experience comes to light."

I find this beautiful but I imagine it scares to death anyone who delights in abstracting themselves as being the center of the universe. All those lost in abstractions of power.

Lots of writing recently recently about manipulation of unemployment statistics. Regarding that subject ignorance is a choice. For those who care not to make that choice the answer is simple. Think and learn.

Ceworthe said...

One thing I find sort of telling, aside from the creative figures, is that when the unemployment is down, the stock market does too, because businesses fear the Fed will raise interest rates. Sort of emphasises more for me that big business is not the little guy's/gal's friend.

GHung said...

It's more than a little serendipitous that a friend sent me a link last night to Brand's latest which I read this morning prior to settling in with a good cup of coffee to absorb this week's ArchDruidReport. I left a short comment there; "Seems Stewarts devolution is nearly complete..... 'gollum!, gollum!'" I've given up trying to be kind to folks of Brand's calibre.

Moving on to this Report sent something of a chill up my spine, with the same link I just abandoned angrily, and your LOTR reference. Being not-so-prone to supernatural and spiritual tendencies, I still have to wonder if this event is indicative of some underlying abstractive process I'm ignoring (or perhaps not abstract at all?).

As for the uncounted unemployed, I fall smack into that category. Prior to 2008, my wife and I held four jobs (two each). Now we have one (officially) between us. Not that I haven't had some fairly pitiful opportunities to return to the roles of the officially employed, but after multiple evaluations of cost vs. benefits, it became apparent that whatever opportunities were available amounted to a net loss, all costs considered. Since we were already making other arrangements, mine outside of the formal economy, we decided to stick with what was working, although on a lower level, financially. Seems there are real benefits in the 'gray' economy, and from producing one's own goods and services (avoiding intermediaries and externalities) that the formal economy doesn't want us to even consider. Harkens back to the days of single-income families that has been so abstractly (and concretely) erased from most folks lists of possibilities.

It would be interesting to hear about what other arrangements readers here have made; how many others have decided to shun the formal economy, such as it is. How's that working out?

That that economy is failing certainly isn't an abstraction to those paying attention. The trick is to find that knife's-edge between what is and the quest to weather the storm of what's to come. Just another tricky day I suppose, out here in the nether-lands, avoiding the traps of modernity.

HalFiore said...

Two points: First, I think the unemployment rate can still have some utility if it is understood as a relative index, with no pretense that it actually estimates, even remotely, the actual unemployment picture. If you think about it, any index reported for a long enough time period, if the change were constantly skewed to present a biased picture, would eventually head toward zero or very large. But the reporting of an absurdly small number has an effect, which I gather might be your point.

The smaller number makes relative change look a lot more significant than it is. So they can trumpet a few percentage points change (in this case, from 5.7% to 5.5%). This gives the illusion, and provides some sort of mental gratification, that changes are occurring. Now apply that change to the U6 number, and it doesn't look nearly so impressive.

My second thought is that, from what I've read, that fast food burger actually does provide something that gives it more appeal than your description of the tasteless atrocity that it, without doubt, is. That particular combination of grease, salt, simple carb rush, and who knows what other psycho-active chemicals delivered in the disgusting package is the result of extensive physiological and psychological research. Whole university departments are dedicated to that sort of research. (At my alma mater it as called "Food Science and Technology," which should tell you all you need to know.)

So, yes, the advertisement is indeed selling something other than the actual experience had when eating the product. But they have you pretty well hooked by the product, too.

Radoje S. said...

Regarding how we see things, I think a quote from C.S. Lewis is apt:

"It's all in Plato, all in Plato: Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?"

Reading through the various pros and cons in the 3d printing article Ruben linked, was the people touting 3d printing kept going on and on about the artisitc things one could make, but never really answered the question about how many things you actually NEED that could be made with one. I mean really, if you look around your home how many things are there that I would need to replace often enough to justify a 3d printer to make replacements. It pretty much insures a continuation of the modern disposable mentality. Jevons paradox would likely come into play as well. I can eaily envision the owner of the 3d printer simply filling their house with 3d printed junk because they CAN. And how this is different than filling their house with Chinese plastic junk from Walmart is never addressed.

I wonder why the "prosthetic imagination" has gained such a hold. I go back and forth in a "chicken and egg" fashion. Does the prosthetic imagination take the place of something we are lacking as a people, as a culture? I mean, we have enough of a cultural patrimony that you have to wonder why they get any traction with creating false images. On the other hand, I can't deny that fortunes are made through the crafting of the prosthetic imagination. Following the money is usually a safe bet. Still the question remains, why have we impoverished ourselves to the extent that this prosthetic imagination (a great term by the way) as able to fill the vacuum?

481f30de-c8cb-11e4-b0ce-c3eb277ff7bc said...


(this is about the 2004 situation but the general idea still applies):

"The popularly followed unemployment rate was 5.5% in July 2004, seasonally adjusted. That is known as U-3, one of six unemployment rates published by the BLS. The broadest U-6 measure was 9.5%, including discouraged and marginally attached workers.

Up until the Clinton administration, a discouraged worker was one who was willing, able and ready to work but had given up looking because there were no jobs to be had. The Clinton administration dismissed to the non-reporting netherworld about five million discouraged workers who had been so categorized for more than a year. As of July 2004, the less-than-a-year discouraged workers total 504,000. Adding in the netherworld takes the unemployment rate up to about 12.5%.

The Clinton administration also reduced monthly household sampling from 60,000 to about 50,000, eliminating significant surveying in the inner cities. Despite claims of corrective statistical adjustments, reported unemployment among people of color declined sharply, and the piggybacked poverty survey showed a remarkable reversal in decades of worsening poverty trends."

So it seems that by excluding long-term discouraged workers, the effect achieved is similar to excluding those who exhausted their unemployment benefits, since those groups will largely coincide.

Interesting that the phrase "netherworld" is used, not exactly standard econo-speak. The virtue of shadowstats is that he just calculates things they way the Govt used to calculate them, which makes it a bit hard to argue with.

Cathy McGuire said...

Wow! Quite a post! I needed two cups of coffee to wake up enough to grasp it all - you pulled together several concepts really well (rather like the Impressionists) which reminds me of:
No one could see the color blue until modern times

I agree that people are using modern media instead of imagination, and often it's horrifying to see it in action; how they are crippled if I give them something to think about that is non-standard. The "Better Homes and Credit Cards" magazines have imprinted a certain type of living arrangement, which they then use as some kind of proof that this is the "normal human aspiration" for living!

It’s interesting to see people struggle with the first cracks in the system, becoming aware that government/media are dead wrong about something that touches their lives, but having huge difficulties with whether that means govt/media is doing the same thing everywhere (yes). Most people look over that cliff and flinch away. I worry that crippled imaginations will doom many folks into not getting through the bottleneck. I’m working with some of that in my novel, which is about a third posted at this point. (I just wrapped up Chapter 36, and it looks like the end. Chap 12 posted.)

In other news, as I posted yesterday, after comment 287, it looks like we'll have about 10 for our first PNW GW meetup in Portland on March 21st. Even though Hopworks doesn't take reservations, the plan at this point is for those who are closest (hopefully including me, August & Debra from Sweet Home) will get to the restaurant at the 11am opening, and grab a table for 10/12. I've temporarily mislaid your email - please contact me again - sorry!!).

About 4 blocks from Hopworks (which is about 29th & SE Powell) is a large-ish park (26th & Powell), so if there's good weather we could carry our meeting there and continue until we get tired of gabbing.

Chester said...

Every time I read about Florida and their attitude toward climate change, it fills me with dread. Both my parents and my in-laws live down there now, and my wife has her heart set on going back there if we want to have a child.

Beyond the more immediate concerns I have with the place, including rampant crime and terrible schools, the prospect of purchasing a home there feels like the kind of folly one can see 100 miles away. Not that our current place in the nation's capital is much better in that respect, but at least nearby Virginia and Maryland are well-suited for long-term habitation.

I wonder what it would take for South Florida to officially succeed from the rest of the state? The myopic "old South" attitude that pervades in Tallahassee seems destined to sink the more vulnerable parts of the state, both literally and figuratively.

Zack Lehtinen said...


Fortunately, you still wield your wit and sense of humor and irony as sharp as a blade-- right out of the gate, in the first paragraph: "proof that the recession we weren’t in is over at last, and the happy days that never went away are finally here again." Because your insights are devastating and so incontrovertibly substantiated, the accompanying lightness of tone helps "the medicine go down."

I love the way you've built-upon last week's discussion of prosthetics, and slowly, clearly built your case in this essay with those three excellent examples (shame about Mr. Brand's love affair with ignoring externalities and worshipping at the altar of Whiz-Bang Ever-Upward Final-Frontier-ism... And Man, that Florida governor! What an easy target!, yet such an unfunny cascade of consequence he's trying to ignore into nonexistence. Through a mirror darkly...).

Your discussion of seeing, of our automatic and unconscious reference to abstractions even in the processing of something as everyday as a tree, stimulated a particular impression/ memory for me. A had a stepsister (RIP, she succumbed to cancer) who had suffered a serious eye infection which forced its surgical removal; in your description of our unconscious processing of things we see before us-- a tree-- you mentioned that one automatic/ unconscious process we engage is that of determining the viewed objects' distance from us...

I recall from my experiences with my stepsister, and from things I've run-across on this topic, that depth perception-- judgment of distance-- is greatly-to-totally impaired in using/ having only one functioning eye... As I understand it, our mind engsges in automatic, basically mathatical (speaking of abstractions) calculation of distance by "comparing" the two eyes' perspectives... I think trigonometry plays a role...

Anyway, sort of tangential, but it came to mind as another element of what our minds always/ automatically do without our conscious awareness... That theme of mental mediation and abstraction of the concrete, and how "hidden" from us our own astonishing processes/ processing can be.

When these complex, astonishing processes are intentionally "hijacked," manipulated by Orwellian "interests," it is a frightening thing indeed-- as well as so-frequently nauseating.

When one hasn't watched cable/ commercial-filled television in a long time, the falsity and obviousanipulation of not just McD commercials but almost all of what passes as "news" can leave one with a quickly-induced hangover.

I want to mention to your readers, just one additional mention (I made reference once in a previous week's Comment), that I am excited to have completed and self-published a novel (my first) which I hope and believe your fellow-readers might appreciate and enjoy.

I have made the first chapters available to read, free, at this blogspot address:

Thanks as always for being here, JMG. They are just abstractions, but I'm sure im not alone in stating that your words make me feel less alone, less hopeless (particularly for my children and future generations, to whom I've dedicated my novel), and considerably nourished in a time of so much intellectual-equivalent-of-"mystery meat."

I'm Loving It!

KidCharlemagne said...

What a perfect title! This seems to me the very essence if our modern/postmodern predicament. The prosthetic imagination is another term for what Blake called Single Vision:

"Pray God us keep
From single vision & Newton's sleep!"

The entire scientific project and its Frankenstein child technology, has been spellbound by this single vision. They would have us believe that single vision is Reality. It has allowed modern civilization to be hijacked by a rentier class hell bent on remaining the primary beneficiaries of its strange fruit.

D.M. said...

JMG, of course that is what I was trying to get at, reading over what I wrote previously I realize I did not completely finish the thought in writing. Yes, across the political spectrum it is a common phenomenon. I am mostly thinking about the discussion we had on your other blog, The Well of Galabes, about reality, and more specifically the Western cultural artifact of "objective" reality, and some of these mental games people play, mostly with themselves, in an attempt to make some of the more unpleasant aspects of the world they do not want to deal with go away.

Dagnarus said...

On the subject of the actual rate of unemployment the CEO of gallup posted this blog post.

Laylah said...

Not only is Florida refusing to discuss climate change, they're aggressively building as much luxury real estate in Miami as they can (including a multibillion-dollar shopping complex on what a city commissioner calls a "blank slate" that has been providing space for a tent city). This despite the fact that parts of the city already flood during high tides, whether or not any storms are or have recently occurred....

@Snoqualman if you get to any of the farmers' markets around Seattle, talking to the farmers who've been working the same land for a few decades can give some good perspective there - the orchardist I asked about this last fall says he's seen a massive change in rainfall pattern & amounts in the last twenty years or so (almost double the annual rainfall recently), and less predictable winter chill hours (which are vital for some trees to set fruit). It'll hit us a little differently than Miami, but it's definitely not leaving us alone.

Also yeah, the "I'm driving my carbon-offset hybrid SUV to my cabin in the mountains and bringing packaged organic foods to eat" style of self-congratulatory mock-environmentalism needs a good skewering pretty often. Congratulations on your BuiltGreen(TM) brand-new million-dollar houses, guys, you are still part of the problem.

Clay Dennis said...

3D Printer, even the name is designed to engage the consumer imgagination. Having been in the manufacturing industry for 25 years, I can remember these devices before they were called 3d printers. Back in the 90's they were called "Stereo Lithography" machines or" Polymer Deposition Rapid Prototype Device", and found some use in creating protoypes or molds for making castings of real material. But later some wag named them 3D printers to evoke the image of something that would be as cheap and easily operated as a desktop printer. In fact the mass produced motion technology of the inkjet printer enabled these "plastic squirting" devices to be made cheap ( within a certain size range).
Where most people run off the rails in promoting 3d printers is in forcasting the amazing and usefull things they will be able to do in the near future. One of the most common mistakes of Techno-optimists is in miss applying Moores Law. They assume that the rapid reduction in cost and increase in speed of microprocessors that has occured in the recent past applies to all technological fields. Thus the huge numbers of people who proclaim that in the near future that batteries will be cheap and have huge capacity, Drones will deliver packages to our homes and 3D printers will make replacement brake rotors for your car right in your own basement.
The leap from a 3D printer that can squirt out a plastic "happy meal toy" to one that can make a working brake rotor is immense and involves real materials, energy and old school manufacturing technologies like machining and casting that are not getting any cheaper.
Most people do not realize that they have had "3D Printers" that can make metal parts for several years now. They are called CNC Laser Sintering or other such names. I was involved with a manufacturer who had some laser sintered parts made for a new product. The machines that do this cost upwards of $500,000 and use lasers to melt and bond high tech metal dust together. In addition to the need for a powerfull laser, these machines have a working compartment that is heated to nearly 900 degrees because even the expensive lasers used can't melt the metal dust at room temperature. Then this working area has to be flooded with inert gas so melting metal dust does not react with oxygen in normal air. None of these things ( energy, powerfull lasers, or inert gas) or the technical suites that make them possible is getting cheaper. So the future of being able to make brake rotors in your basement is not coming. It is just imagination.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

In the vein of Archdruid's thesis (that we are in catabolic collapse of industrial civilization), has anyone read any John Raulston Saul? He also deplores the inability to think in "whole systems", and his volume "Voltaire's Bastards", I just picked up and started.

peacegarden said...

Wonderful essay as usual, JMG! Nothing like bringing in Monet to get my attention!
I have a practice I use to get “in between” the actual physical sense data and the mediated template. It is called 180 degree looking. You stand or sit out in nature, hold your hands out to the sides as far back as you are able, then soften your focus and bring in your hands until you are barely seeing the movement. Then drop your arms and be present…it is amazing how multidimensional your surroundings are…you are able to experience the whole while being part of that whole…not an observer so much as a participant. This is one of the techniques used to teach tracking and is especially useful as the vernal equinox approaches. Everything is coming into vibrant “there-ness” right now as the snows are melting…the snow melting has a song that is wonderful to hear in concert with the birds, insects, and susurration of the wind through even the smallest branches and grasses. Enchantment, magic, full-bore being. Even hours later, my attentiveness is at a higher pitch.
@ Cherokee organics
Thank you or the beautiful descriptions of your surroundings…quite poetic!
I am so grateful for this blog and on-line community…my deepest appreciation to you all.



David said...

When I take an honest look at my own lifestyle, I fear that I am guilty of much of this form of thinking yet. It is a challenge, certainly, to wean oneself off seductively comfortable (if erroneous) habits of thought and behavior. And this is without taking into account the resistance to change that comes up when interacting with the rest of society.

Taking the discussion of prostheses to (perhaps) a more extreme application, would one not be able to say that writing itself is a prosthetic for human memory? In oral cultures, stories are told, rather than read, and the story-telling is a communal act, not an individual one. Moreover, the stories themselves would evolve and change over time, whereas the act of writing freezes a story in stasis...

Not that I am advocating the abolition of literacy! :)

daelach said...

Actually, "unemployment" is not a problem at all, at least if increased productivity (and not lack of resources to do the work) is the reason. The actual problem is that the resource allocation rights for the individual (known as "money") are tied to income work, at least for the masses who don't live on workless rent income. That doesn't make sense when facing more and more automatisation. The extreme case of 100% automatisation would mean that we would have every possible good (within the resource limits), but nobody could buy them. Obviously, the main benefit of the automatisation went to the machine owners, something that Marx had well noticed.

A possible solution would have been to freeze the living standard, reduce the working hours and deviate from paid work so that the goods produced by the machines would have found their way to the people anyway. Instead, our society popped up the amounts of produced goods so that we still had use for the work force and didn't have to change the allocation mechanism, at least while the resource mining rate could be raised accordingly.

But hey.. that's capitalism: The stores are full of goods, but the people are poor because they lack the money to buy them. In socialism, by contrast, the people are poor because they have lots of money, but the stores lack the goods.

In that way, Star Trek combined capitalism with socialism: People prosper because they have the allocation rights and the stores are full.

In reality, we're going to do the blend in a slightly different way: People are miserable because they lack money, but that doesn't matter because the stores are empty anyway.

daelach said...

3D printing:

Short version: You people can rightfully bash the consumer crap, but you are wrong in that this is all 3D printing has to offer.

Longer version: The consumer machines are cheap crap, of course. You get what you pay for, that has nothing to do with the technology. E.g. you can buy a new tent for $20 - which will not be waterproof and is likely to come apart after just one festival weekend. However, you can't conclude that tents are no good because if you are willing to pay $400, you can get a decent, waterproof and lasting tent.

Some professional machines even can use metal powder through laser sintering, which of course lacks the strength of forged metal, but is still good enough for quite some applications. According to several aviation journals, the door handles in the Airbus A350 are manufactured using 3D printing, which takes advantage of the fact that you can make objects with inner structure (like bones). The result is that the door handles are as stable as before, but the weight was reduced by 30%.

Other printers can use input material consisting of roughly 40% wood powder and some glue for the rest. By controlling the temperature of the printing head, you can even fake wood texture like annual rings. You can saw, drill and grind the result. But despite the considerable amount of wood in it, it is special waste, due to the glue.

The obvious drawback is that such professional machines are not affordable to the end customer. However, there are already companies for 3D printing "on demand", and since they combine many individual customers' orders, they can afford more expensive 3D printers. Economy of scale. That has been the same with large colour 2D prints where buying a colour laser printer capable of printing A1 or even A0 paper sheets would be prohibitive to an end customer who may want just a dozen printouts.

3D printing can have a viable business - not only spare parts (saving logistics and stockpiling), but also prototypes and mock-ups. That saves the expensive tool forms, especially for prototypes where later changes to the forms have to be expected. Or, at least for plastic parts, you can even generate the tool forms using 3D printing - that saves quite some money.

3D printing is an option even for industrial manufacturing if the desired or an equivalent material is available for 3D printers and if the production volume is not that high - like with aircraft, see the initial example, or with components for ships and yachts.

So you are right that 3D printing isn't Star Trek replicators, and that we are not going to print out our goods at home anytime soon, if at all. 3D printing will not replace other production methods either, but it is already complementing them. But although 3D printing has been overhyped, there is some real potential in it nevertheless. Especially if you don't lump together consumer and enterprise application, which are two very different domains.

Gardner's "Hype Cycle" currently sees consumer 3D printing at the "peak of inflated expectations", already plunging into the "trough of disappointment". The "productive plateau" is expected in 5-10 years. Enterprise 3D printing is different in that is as said disappointment phase already behind it and is approaching the productive plateau, which it is expected to reach in 2-5 years.

Of course, such current industrial developments don't take the looming deindustrialisation into account. But that's a wholly different matter which btw. applies to conventional industrial production as well and thus isn't a counter argument specifically against 3D printing.

Mark said...

Anyone who thinks of 3D printing as a manufacturing method doesn't have much experience with the technology. Currently, it is a wonderful tool for prototyping (really wonderful), and perhaps as an educational technology. However, ecept for stuff that is very small, needs little strength, doesn't need to look very good, and can't be more easily produced by other methods, 3D printing is not currently appropriate to manufacture very much. But I see it being more appropriate for a larger set of applications in the not-too-distant future. It won't solve all of the world's problems, but it already solves quite a few, and will solve a few more as the technology matures.

CNC routing and milling, on the other hand, are mature technologies and widely applicable. I find both much more compelling than 3D printing in its current form.

Don't get me wrong, I can't decide whether easy access to technologies like CNC routing/milling/printing are good or bad on the whole. On the one hand, they enable more folk to build their own stuff, and perhaps free them to solve their own problems in novel ways. Democratizing design and manufacturing seems like a good thing. Moving manufacturing closer to the consumer (ie. right into their home), should make the externalities more obvious and eliminate many trips to the store. On the other hand, making it easier for folk to make stuff could push up consumption.

My latest project involving CAD design and CNC manufacturing is bee hives. It will cut the cost of my hives by about half, allow me design to my needs, and the raw materials are locally available. I can see negatives in my choice to build hives locally using CNC, but not enough to outweigh the positives.

I hope the conflict I feel is coming across. This is something I wrestle with on a daily basis and I'm happy to discuss it.

John Michael Greer said...

Pongo, thank you for the report from the trenches! I'm not at all surprised to hear that the creators of the media are also being shaped by it -- believing one's own propaganda is a common malady, historically speaking, and a fatal one.

Snoqualman, you do indeed recall such comments -- the left coast sense of entitlement and the faux-green attitudes were among the things I was glad to leave behind when I moved to Appalachia.

Jo, your children clearly chose a good mother. ;-) The experience of having a story like that read aloud will remain with them for the rest of their lives, and so will the story.

Onething, good for you. You didn't miss anything. I did go see them -- I also saw the atrocious Ralph Bakshi object back in the 1970s, as well as the late Leonard Nimoy's most embarrassing video appearance, The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins. There were a few good moments in the Jackson item, but most of it was cheap cinematic cliches and remarkably bad acting. Your own images can't help but be better.

Derv, Bertram Gross pointed out a very long time ago that economic indicators were already being turned into "economic vindicators," meant to justify policy choices rather than providing information. Since his time, it's just gotten more blatant.

Jean-Vivien, as I'm not a parent, it would be presumptuous in the extreme for me to do a series on the subject. I'd certainly encourage those of my readers who have children, and want to explore the topic of parenting on the brink of the deindustrial age, to get writing!

Toro Loki, most of us use the civil calendar for convenience; the old Druids, as far as we know, didn't worry about numbering years, since each year was a subset of the only time that matters, which is "now."

9anda1f, thanks for the tip; I'll take a look at it as time permits.

Tim, thanks for the data!

Val, those tiny pins and needles do get into the darnedest places. ;-)

Karim, it would not be inaccurate, and it would indeed be valid!

Andrew, Vico doesn't specify the exact forms that the barbarism of reflection will take, but historical examples suggest that the core of it is the failure of anything to mean anything any more -- and a collapse of the ability to think in whole systems or to draw logical conclusions from premises would certainly be a part of that.

FiftyNiner, thank you. My wife has a degree in art history, so I've had the advantage of conversations with her about the Impressionists among others.

Carl said...

The the Unemployment number thing based on UI is an echo on the internet. The number is still distorted in the survey of 60,000 households a month as they strictly define activity looking for work. One maybe collecting UI and not be considered unemployed for the survey!

daelach said...

Concerning ads: I don't have a TV, and radio was killed by ads long ago. Obviously, I do have an internet PC, but the most important add-on for my browser is AdBlock, fed with filter abo lists. I don't see ads on the internet. Not only that it is psychic self defence, but ad servers are an attractive target for hackers to deliver malware when seeemingly surfing some respectable sites.

Oh, and web pages load considerably faster without the ads, tracking mini pictures, embedded Facebook or Google spy scripts and the like.

Mettrodome said...

Really enjoyed this week's post. recently took on a similar topic in an article about how our views of money are terribly skewed by the media (ormind-washing/black-magic if you prefer).
Probably not anything you haven't already thought of yourself, but it is interesting that a comedy site targeting millennials and pop culture is interested in the same topics as green druids.

JML said...

I have only been reading this blog for a few months now, but this may be the best post I've read so far. You're really good at using philosophical logic to clarify concepts. I know a fellow lover of wisdom when I read one.

I really appreciated the part about how the media is spinning employment statistics. I had a feeling that they were using statistical spin but I didn't know exactly what concept they were using to do it. Can you give me a source so I can confirm that the official US unemployment rate is based on how many people are receiving unemployment benefits?

Cherokee Organics said...


Forgot to mention that without those super nifty dilithium crystals the starship Enterprise would be like a giant torch in the sky which would burn in a blaze of glory and then suddenly splutter out. What I mean is that no matter how good the insulation is, that machine would leak heat, light and energy into its very harsh surrounds - and then that energy would be gone. Energy is a flow and you can access a bit of it on its way to somewhere else, but that really is about it. Thanks for the nice words. :-)!

Hi Snoqualman, Bogatyr and Peacegarden,

Many thanks! A person is never alone here as there is always something alive and lurking not too far from where you may be standing.

Newcomers turn up all the time, like the black cockatoos, but they're generally cleared off by the families of birds and animals that live here, unless they can fight it out. Very few birds and animals here are migratory because due to the usually mild temperatures there is usually something for them to eat all year around and both day and night. When they get hungry, they eat my citrus trees....

Incidentally, you can tell when a wombat is not far away because at night their movements are silent, but their eating habits are not. Rip, rip, munch, munch, munch, scratch, scratch, rip, rip... And repeat. They love eating the dandelions and native yams (which are really just a massive dandelion).



Peter Robinson said...

I was interested to read that viewers had trouble seeing the early impressionist paintings as depictions of real objects.

I remember hearing of isolated tribes who had never before seen two-dimensional images being unable to recognize highly-realistic photographs of familiar objects as depictions of these objects. It seems that the ability to interpret a two-dimensional image is an inherited ability or a learned skill.

This leads me to wonder how the skill was first acquired. How could the talented artists who first drew the magnificent cave paintings of animals do this if they lacked the ability to see them as depictions of reality?

Ed-M said...

Hi, JMG!

Well I must say, it's another interesting article you've let out. Concerning those government statistics and the Florida edict (plus the one by North Carolins related by Pinku-Sensei), it really is all about keeping up appearances, isn't it?

Well speaking of Keeping up Appearances, the British sitcom of that name, the main character, Hyacinth, is always presenting herself as being of good middle-class stock and in each episode becomes utterly mortified whenever something happens that causes her working-class roots to be exposed.


Ed-M said...

Sorry, my iPhone ate part of my comment! So now I'll finish.

Unfortunately, our politicians and other officials who are busy keeping up appearances are, unlike Hyacinth from that British sitcom, will likely to be comfortably ensconced in a cushy retirement when reality intrudes upon their appearances!

peakfuture said...


Yes, 3D printing does some neat stuff, and for applications like dental crowns, specialized things, mold making, it can be helpful. But it does require a complex supply chain as JMG has mentioned in the past.

I'll agree that CNC machining is far more useful and ubiquitous these days; did CNC machining also go through a hype cycle?

I've brought concerns over 3D printing to some tech folks, and they come back with "we can make the feedstock with corn!" and (quite literally) "it can give folks in Africa a way to have things built without having to get them shipped."

The latest in 3D printing with embedded electronics is here - ; neat idea, but it makes debugging/replacing things next to impossible, and of course, recycling is another hassle. Cell phone manufacturers will love this - embedded electronics, making things even less fixable and more throwaway. My take on 3D printing has always been a bit of "this is the same stuff that they said about the computer and the 'paperless office'". 3D printing doesn't help you with design, durability, usability if you don't know those things; a color laser printer won't let you draw a nice portrait, and at best, will let you print (waste) lots of paper and toner.

RPC - On LittleBits - yes, that's why I want to teach a course in basic electronics and tubes!

Myriad said...

This week's essay was timely. I found myself, earlier this week, having some difficulty sorting out my reaction to the current Global Population Speak Out project. In a nutshell, they've produced a beautiful large-format hardcover photo-essay book called Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (or OVER for short), to raise awareness of same. (In case the obvious question comes to mind, the book is dedicated in part to William Catton.)

You can order a hardcopy for $50 or view the entire book online. But the organization is also soliciting proposals for how one would use a grant of three to ten free advance copies of the book to "raise public and media awareness of global population issues." In other words, they're not really sure how their book will actually help, and so are trying to crowdsource solutions.

My proposal is to make a video of burning three or four copies of the book to boil a gallon or two of contaminated water into potability, to demonstrate the real nature of one of the eventual consequences of overshoot. (To wit, things you might value highly for their abstract qualities will likely be sacrificed to sustain more basic needs.) At first I thought that idea was just the smart alec portion of my brain (never dormant since being honed to perfection by twelve years of public school) doing its usual thing, but I've reluctantly concluded that that's the best use I can think of, except for using the book to bash certain deserving people over the head with. (That, the organization couldn't possibly approve, for liability reasons).

In a way this illustrates the phenomenon you discuss in this week's post. GPSO is looking for abstract approaches to resolving a predicament that's very physical in nature, and quite likely having difficulty understanding why they're hard to find. My proposal, while still abstract itself, at least refers to a portion of the relevant physical reality. (The head-bashing one would be less abstract still. Hmm; maybe worth another look.)

I doubt they'll approve the proposal, despite explicitly requesting "outside the box thinking and provocative ideas." But I'll keep you posted!

librarian@play said...

I recommend Thomas de Zengotita's book Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It. He discusses the typical objects of mediation, such as cell phones and TV, but also considers processes and practices that produce a mediated affect. His anecdote about being in a method acting class the day JFK was shot is worth the price of admission alone.

Mark Sebela said...

There is more at work in hooking people on junk food than just advertizing. In fact I would say what the food industry does is not at all different then drug dealers who get their customers hooked. They are manipulating people with our evolutionary programming. By the time most people get to the age of reason the damage has already been done. One can still make changes, but it is much harder the longer it goes on (same as any other addiction). It's not easy for the parents even if they know, but making your kids eat clean until they are older is a gift. If your obese before adulthood you do not have much chance of being slim (5%)and you will always be vulnerable. At least until the crash and we all go on rations of 1500 calories a day of gruel after labouring all day ;)

How the food industry hooked us on unhealthy products

Dan the Farmer said...

All this talk about Star Trek has me thinking about Battlestar Galactica. Not the late 70's thing, but the re-imagined one of ten years ago, which I think did some fascinating things, for a TV show. Everything that's happened before will happen again. The past fall of civilization is the guide to the next fall. There's the struggle between polytheism and monotheism at the change of culture, and the way somewhat polytheistic "angels" come representing the monotheistic deity. The way a culture will hold onto the most banal elements for as long as possible as it hurtles into the void, and acts of God look mostly like odd luck...

Random Man said...

Let us not forget just how vague the definition of having a "job" really is.

For example, if you have a job in which you bank a million dollars in a year, vs. a job in which you make 10,000, both of these are counted as jobs. However, the latter individual could work for 30 years, save all of their income, and still come out with 300,000. Less money than the former individual made in one year.

Do you see my point? Much more important in my mind are measures of income, however imperfect they are. And these measures clearly show that incomes are stagnating except for the very rich.

For the vast majority of us, jobs are no longer a way to build intragenerational wealth like they may have been in the early and mid 20th century for some people. They are just a way to keep a roof over our head, food in our tummy, and away from the prison or ghetto.

There is no meaning to any of our jobs or activities and most of us know this. They neither further the human race or civilization nor do they give us much wealth.

I don't denigrate work, but let us be honest that the industrial system has basically captured all of us to stay on this treadmill forever.

Curtis said...

There is also something very perverse about 3D printers being hailed as the harbingers of "maker culture." People within a culture that make things is fantastic. People can teach each other how to make things and customize them to their circumstances. A 3D printer seems to exist primarily to justify the 3D printer.

I have similar problems with the sharing economy as a term. It has some positive developments, but is a misnomer in many cases. If someone pays you to get a lift, this is a rental. And of course the reason why we have so much "sharing" like this is increased desperation.

JABA said...

I see that John Roth has already hit on the fact that the unemployment rate is most definitely not simply those that are able to collect unemployment benefits. It is calculated based upon a large monthly survey of the population, and the methodology is pretty clearly spelled out at

I feel compelled to pile on a bit here, though I mean no offense by doing so...

The 92,898,000 Americans that are not in the labor force includes retirees and others that have voluntarily left the labor force (stay at home moms & dads, people going back to school, etc.)

I couldn't dig up the total number of retirees in the U.S., but it is the biggest group of persons not in the labor force. The best I could do on the spot was to get the number of U.S. persons that are 65 and over that are "not in the labor force" - that figure is estimated to be 37,273,000 as of February, 2015. This substantially impacts the numbers you cite in this week's blog (though I do not believe it affects your overall views).

I have been enjoying your blog for several months now, and only point this out to help you to prevent people from ignoring your words of wisdom due to some misinterpretation of labor statistics. These stats are readily available for anyone to download at the site.

Bob said...


Thank you for these last several essays. I have a fun health-care related story about externalities and how effed up the system is (FYI; I'm a nurse).

Perhaps you are aware of Jon Huntsman? He is a high standing "businessman/philanthropist" in the Utah and national political/social scene. He is also the owner of a major chemical company (google Huntsman Chemical).

His son was governor of Utah and ambassador to Singapore and China.

His "philanthropy" is on full display as the "Huntsman Cancer Institute", which, funny enough, was created when his *wife developed cancer.

I'll just politely acknowledge the irony...

Make people sick, get rich doing so. Donate to make them well, get called a hero.


(Sorry if this is a re-send. Can't tell when things are accepted.)

Cathy McGuire said...

Arrgh - obviously not enough coffee this morning! The
I've temporarily mislaid your email - please contact me again - sorry!!)
of previous post was aimed at Glenn from Clackamas, who contacted me about joining the gathering...

Also, I found a funny set of images about 3D printing mistakes:
Spectacular 3D Printing Failures. I simply can't imagine any home-printing uses for this nonsense, though I could understand it being used in a lab or engineering prototype facility.

Some of the comments posted today about folks not seeing reality were chilling... not a hopeful sign!

Dennis said...

I remember when I first started reading this blog, you made mention of how one of the reasons why 'environmentalists' have trouble getting traction with proposals is that they don't truly live the lifestyle that they espouse. That was very insightful, and your discussion of Mr. Brand reminded me of it.

A relative of mine, a self-proclaimed Environmentalist, serving on boards of non-profit enviro orgs was stunned that I frequently dry my clothes on a rack in my living room, saying, 'But, I like my clothes soft and warm out of the dryer'. He's very pro-recycling, which is great, but not willing to make statement by giving up creature comforts. (Full disclosure, I do sometimes use a dryer for underwear and socks, but usually hang up jeans and shirts to dry. I'm no angel...)

I have also thought part of the fascination and postive press for 'green' electric vehicles comes from that they are considered to be futuristic, not that they have any substantial environmental benefits when the industrial systems needed to provide such vehicles (both the material for manufacture and source of electricity) are taken into account. I have a friend that has converted a car to electric power, and lot of his interest has been the 'look' of it, the electronic gauges inside, etc., ignoring how nasty the pollution is that produced said
electronics for the gauges, etc. As an aside, the cheering for photovoltaics, which are produced like computer chips, bugs me too. Someone is drinking the industrial effluent from the processes that produce those things. My point isn't
to bash the technologies, just the wilful ignorance of not thinking through implications of producing them.

Another thing that I find strange is how in most recent popular articles on environmental concern anymore seem to fixate solely on greenhouse gas production of various activities or products, so as to ignore all manner of the rather acutely toxic chemicals produced as a result of our electronic consumer products fetish, not to mention packaging waste, off-gassing of fabrics, etc. It is as if the flux and circuit board etching compounds, plastic enclosures, and rare-earth heavy metal production and endocrine disrupters that go into them don't cause pollution in countries that the production facilities where those items are produced were moved to (to reduce externalities here, of course). I don't know if it is just easier to think in terms of a side effect you don't think you can control ('more CO2 from buying this product, but what can you do?') versus 'this produces toxic sludge from the plant, which would make me evil'.

Also, I remember watching some cable tv show (maybe HGTV or a home show) where the discussion was about 'green' or environmentally friendly department store window displays. I thought, maybe not having one at all to display your wares would be the most environmentally friendly statement.... Admittedly, not a good strategy to attract advertisers.

Cathy McGuire said...

A tad off topic, but this is too good not to share:
new Smithsonian Channel docu-series, BOOMTOWNERS

NEW YORK – March 11, 2015 – The oil boom that has been drawing thousands of workers to the Bakken shale region of North Dakota and Montana is the subject of a new Smithsonian Channel docu-series. BOOMTOWNERS, comprised of six one-hour episodes, will debut Sunday, April 26 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.
… The series chronicles the daily lives of people who live and work in the Bakken region, the epicenter of the area’s oil boom. Oil was originally discovered in the area in 1951, but the recent development of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has rapidly transformed the Bakken into one of the world’s leading oil-producing regions.

Oops! I guess you take too long to make a movie these days - and it's already ancient history. As some wag at the Peak Oil Barrel said, "maybe they should call it Bust Town"

Gloucon X said...

JMG said: As long as people look at 3-D printers through minds full of little pictures of Star Trek replicators, though, those externalized ecological and social costs are going to be invisible to them.

The people who make 3d printers have minds full of big pictures of profits. Externalized ecological and social costs will always be invisible to those who make their living producing them. Externalized costs are a function of power. Our society has always allowed the powerful to make profits by brutalizing the ecology and brutalizing people. Think ante-bellum chattel slavery in the US: enormous profits were made by a few, and enormous social costs were paid by the rest of the country. Even today, the country as a whole is still paying those social costs. Obviously externalized ecological and social costs can result from low-tech activities too.

Scotlyn said...

Neurobiology nerds may be interested in one of the early, seminal paper's on perception and cerebral re-creation of the world here (What the Frog's Eye Tells the Frog's Brain) here:

One of the lead authors, H R Maturana, later coined the term "autopoeisis" (to describe the decidedly non-random self-assembling nature of living things) and proposed that to be alive is to engage in cognition, that life and self-awareness cannot be separated.

ed boyle said...

Interesting reading about industrial 3D printing that is real and very expensive.

Toral wage and salary income as % of GDP sinking. Rich get richer. Interest on interest. Robots, computers, intrnet making people superfluous for production and management. Only jobs for which a person is neccessary is waiter, barber, cleaning. So even in china Foxconn putting in 1 million robots. Mass unemployment globally. Revolution would mean seizure of means of production, income and production distribution. Otherwise factories are going broke anyway as demand falls as low wage or automation model kills demand. Capitalism commits suicide 25 years after communism just in time for peak oil. Then we all become self sufficient. The two solution theories to industrial reality fail one after the other.

ed boyle said...

More spengler like reading modern blogs:

'It belongs to the class ideals of the lower class the repect for large numbers, as in the idea of the equality of all, the inborn rights which further is expressed in the general right to vote as also in freedom of speech, above all fredom of the press. Those are ideals, but in reality to the freedom of public opinion belongs the processing of this opinion, which costs money, to the freedom of the press belongs the possession of the press, whch is a question of money and to the right to vote belongs voting agitation, which is dependent upon the wishes of financial backers. The representatives of ideas of ideas only see the one side, the representatives of money work with the other. All concepts of liberalism and socialism were at first set in motion through money and in the in the interests of money...and here was discovered with the ideal of freedom of the press simultaneously also the fact that the press serves those who possess it. It does not spread but rather produces the 'free opinion'.'

This guy was a hardcore realist. Would have been at home as blogger, muckraker.

skintnick said...

Thanks as always JMG. I'm nearly through first read of Green Wizardry and looking forward to joining that online community as the weather here in South Wales warms up and seasonal activities begin.

I just wanted to post this animation for you all not because it will tell you anything new but it does have a very nice presentational style.

All the best, Nick.

Tye said...

JMG, I couldn't help but think of your blog when reading a Bloomberg article that just couldn't understand why consumer spending wasn't behaving like it should in a "booming" job market.
Too funny. That Bloomberg is confused should be no surprise to your readers given it's worldview and precooked data that doesn't account for true unemployment and job insecurity.

Denys said...

So when one spouse wants to "collapse now and avoid the rush" and the other spouse wants to keep things as they are and tweak expenses, how does the wanna collapse now spouse convince the other than collapse is the best idea?

Collapse for us would be moving to a house half the size, locating the house within a few miles of work (right now we are 40 miles from it), and then doing all the work at the "new"house that we did here - insulation, permaculture gardens, etc.

I am listening to one of your interviews on the Extra Environmentalist and JMG you said "there is nothing American's fear more than the appearance of loosing wealth" and I think that might be at the heart of our difference here.

Any help from this community is appreciated!

Laylah said...

@David one would indeed be able to say that writing is a prosthetic for memory, and Socrates did so in the Phaedrus -- which, of course, we know now because somebody wrote it down! I took a course in grad school about the history of the book as a technology, and one of the recurring themes was the way that each new technology introduced to the process had detractors who were certain that this would degrade the abilities of the users, the significance of the text, or both.

And they usually did have a point, but that point was usually outweighed in the popular imagination by the greater ease of transmission allowed by the new method.

Michael Stephenson said...

I don't know whether someone might have already pointed you to this, but it seems a writer at the Onion might have been trying to enter your march of the squirrels competition.,38028/

Moshe Braner said...

Re: seeing if a comment to this blog "went through": after I click "publish your comment" the submit-comment page gets reloaded and the focus is back in the (now blank) text-input box. But, if you go to the very top of the page, you will see text that says (more or less) "you comment has been submitted".

Re: radio has been killed by ads. Commercial radio, well of course. To my sorrow even "public radio" (in the USA) has a fair number of what I would call ads, although they think of them as acknowledging commercial "donors" - with words that include the location of the donor business and what they sell and sometimes even their catchy slogan. For that reason I have stopped donating to our local public radio station. I've told them that they should only broadcast what can be paid for via members' contributions, and accept neither commercial nor government money. But they think they need to "grow".

Ozark Chinquapin said...

In addition to the ways the mass media markets prosthetics and star trek fantasies to people through advertising and science fiction, I notice the more subtle way the culture convinces people to not pay much attention to their own experience and perception, just to go along with whatever is marketed to them. Sometimes I see a news item about a study showing the inaccuracy of human memory or various other flaws in our perception, thinking or senses. I don't take issue with most of those studies themselves, as you've written about here and in greater detail on your other blog, the world we experience is interpreted through our minds and isn't an exact reflection of what's out there. What I have an issue with is the way these things are presented in the media, which so often leads to the messages of "don't trust your own experience, believe what the culture and the media tells you" and also "human perception is flawed, technology is the cure".

That logic doesn't make much sense. After all, culture, mass media and technology are created by humans in the first place, so there's no way putting faith in them will free anyone from what they perceive to be flaws of human perception and thought. It just enriches the pockets of those selling them consumer lifestyles.

I'd also like to take a closer look at the example of the Sun and the Earth, because I've seen it used by others as a fallacious argument. The argument often goes something like "Mere observation shows that the sun revolves around the Earth, and we know that to be false, that's an example of why your own perceptions and observations are often best ignored." The problem is, nobody perceives the sun revolving around the Earth, we perceive the sun rising in the East (often north or south of East depending on the season), making its arc across the sky and setting in the west, then coming up again the next day. Going from that to "the sun revolves around the Earth" is an abstraction, it would be an easy one to make if we didn't know better, but it's still an abstraction, not an observation.

Professor Pan said...

This was very timely for me, as a few nights ago I struggled to fix my mother's inkjet printer with no success. It is clearly something mechanical, not software-related, so I looked into getting it repaired. Well, as I suspected, it was just past its warranty and the cost for fixing it was substantially more than it would cost to get a new inkjet printer.

So off it goes into the toxic scrapheap—a pile of plastic, wire, metal bits, and chemicals. Gotta love planned obsolescence!

As for the relation of words and things, it takes one moderate dose of a classic psychedelic to open those particular doors of perception.

Denys said...

When I purchase your books, which way is most profitable to you the author, JMG? Amazon is certainly the most convenient and they have many of them, but if you gain more of the profit if I buy direct from the publisher, I will do that instead. Thanks in advance.

Roger said...

The official stat that gives me stitches is the inflation rate. Others have commented on it, that after all the economic turmoil of the last generation, the Fed has the supposed ability to keep inflation to within such narrow bounds.

Just think about it: swathes of the continent denuded of industries, cities and towns disintegrating, asset bubbles and busts (energy, tech, telecom, derivatives, real estate) the 2008 banking collapse, TARP, QE, ZIRP, NIRP, pedal to the metal money printing, prices of oil and other commodities soaring and then crashing, foreclosures by the millions, the cost of food, medical care and education skyrocketing.

And we're required to swallow the absurd story that during all this mayhem, the Fed has the control and mastery to regulate inflation at the official placid, moderate pace. What a joke. Where do they get such gall?

Robert said...

Off topic but I think it's relevant to the general purpose of this blog. We've already discussed Ayn Rand here and her doctrine that market fundamentalism, technology and the heroic entrepreneur can solve all our problems regardless of natural limits to growth:


Hercules outsmarts Atlas with feet of clay
Leaves him trap snapped shut in the corporate cage he constructed for himself
And Hercules
Comes down from the mountain
Bearing the grief of the world
On his shoulders

Our Rangers will take down the liar Galt
He creates nothing by himself
The intellectual property from us he stole
The Anonymous fraternity of the common Craft
Our purpose to raise up humankind
Not to serve for corporate gain

Mickey Foley said...

This essay is a good explanation of why I've been reading this blog for so long. ADR has radically altered my conception of the world in ways that counteract the effects of mass media, social pressure and my conventional education. I need a weekly reminder of the deception at the heart of the Establishment, because it still pervades my life. It doesn’t help that I’m living with my retired parents, whose continued comfort (and moral satisfaction) depends on the status quo. I think my generation (X) and our successors are, by necessity, more subversive.

Insofar as "occult" means "hidden," you could say that consciousness of the externalities of the economy has become occult knowledge, with all the transgression that connotes. Ergo, it should come as no surprise that an Archdruid is bringing it to our attention. As we have become more removed from the natural world, knowledge of our effects on the environment has become more subversive.

We've also resorted to sentimentalizing Nature, worshipping it in lieu of helping it, as if it were already dead or beyond saving. Of course, industrial society is the lost cause, no matter how much our culture would like us to believe that Nature itself is endangered. Our ecological niche faces the greatest danger. Progress has convinced many of us that Nature can’t survive without us, when the truth is just the opposite.

I remember being disappointed as a kid when we went on vacation, because the sights never looked as good to me in person as they did on TV. Television inflated their aura. I never understood why restaurant commercials would trumpet their “homemade” cooking. To me, “store-bought” or “industrially produced” beat “homemade” any day of the week. As I see it, the problem for we post-Boomers is not that we confuse the prosthetic experience with the physical, but that we prefer the prosthetic.

I didn’t start eating organic food until my mid-20’s, and only now, at the age of 37, can I say I’ve almost completely overcome my fondness for fast food. Obviously, there was a physical component to the shift in my palate, but I attribute most of the change to an emotional recovery. I no longer need junk food to summon the safety I felt in childhood.

Real Life has been drained of possibilities by the electronically-mediated alternatives. iPods didn’t destroy street socialization with strangers; that technology emerged to fill a void that had already been created by TV and video games. Even we Gen-Xers find it awkward standing next to strangers in silence at the bus stop. Smartphones relieve that anxiety.

The Virtual Reality of TV, video games and the internet is a safe zone with all consequences externalized. It can only meet our needs on a superficial level, but it will never reject us. The Real World offers no such guarantees, and, as people have increasingly opted for artificial activities, there are fewer chances for real human connection. The Real World thus provides less motivation for people to leave their electronic cocoons.

I posted a new essay, "The Dustbin of History," on my blog, Riding the Rubicon, this week.

Dan Stoian said...

The good folks at BBC tell us that "Data from the International Energy Agency suggests that growth in global carbon emissions stalled last year - the first time this has happened without a major economic downturn."

My gripe being those last few words: "...without a major economic downturn." Why are we so blind? Why do we mistake numbers on a computer screen for real wealth?

Jeff Walker said...

As a long time reader who agrees with you on many things, I have to say. While I appreciate the point of your article, I feel your handling of the "Nature is Rebounding" article is not up to your usual standards.

First, as Luke Devlin tried to point out, your repeated attribution of the article to Steward Brand is incorrect. Mr. Brand is simply summarizing a talk given by Jesse Ausubel. It appears Mr. Brand writes the summaries for all The Long Now Foundation's monthly seminars. I am sure that he does not equally endorse the views of all the talks he summarizes. While Mr. Brand, as the host of the seminars and President of the Board of Directors of The Long Now Foundation, certainly has a large role in selecting speakers, that does not make the ideas his own. Mr. Ausubel would be rightly offended that you are attributing his work to other people.

I encourage you to watch the talk being summarized at You'll find much of it a well thought out and researched position. Though your interpretation of the facts and predictions based on those will likely be different. That is more a reflection of your knowledge of things such as peak oil and resource depletion that are not well understood or believed generally.

Finally, The Long Now Foundation certainly doesn't share our view of the future, however, I think it is mis-characterizing their views to claim they are trying to avoid confronting "the soaring ecological costs of computer technology in particular and industrial society in general". They are attempting to "foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years." Based on other material I've seen from them, I'd like to think that they would welcome other well thought out views of the long term future such as your own. Furthermore, I think their fascinating project of the 10,000 year clock (a clock carefully designed in the hopes that it might be able to run for 10,000 years) bears a resemblance to magic as you have discussed it.

I think if you sat down with Mr. Brand you would find the two of you had much in common in your thinking though with import points of disagreement.

The other Tom said...

"The goal of the operation is to keep you away from immediate experience, so that a deliberately distorted mediation can be put in its place."
I've been thinking how, in light of your essay, the daily landscape in so many places, especially suburbs and industrial "parks," has been turned into a prosthetic landscape, where they've denatured nature. The "landscaping" replaces anything that wants to grow there with something alien. I know the native plants and trees in my area, and in a lot of suburbs I don't see a single native species anywhere. It has always made me uncomfortable, being in these places and your essay helps me understand why.
I think it would be possible to grow up in a landscaped neighborhood knowing nothing about where you are from, or in other words, not be from there, or anywhere. All places are the same, they are completely abstract, they are empty. In a sterile environment, people don't form the habits of observation, of living through the senses that we need to live like human beings. Really, in a lot of places the people look dead to me, no passion or real enjoyment.
In a place where every part is interchangeable, where a Japanese red maple is no different than an Acer rubrum, nothing really matters and we're all just parts in a Henry Ford auto plant. When the landscape is irrelevant it becomes a vacuum that needs to be filled, an ideal situation for selling entertainment or propaganda. Nature is always somewhere else, probably an experience you pay for.
All the life around us should be intimate and treasured. It should be known by everyone, for free.
Everyone needs to be from somewhere, or else they are homeless in the deepest sense.
The Frodo Baggins description made me think of the Berkshire hills.
Thanks to Chris for the beautiful description of your home.

exiledbear said...

re: Manipulating abstractions so that inconvenient problems cease to be seen.

I'd like to just shorten it to something that Gordon Ramsay on Kitchen Nightmares liked to exclaim occasionally - "You've given up, haven't you? I can't help you if you won't help yourselves."

exiledbear said...

I'm far from sure AIs are any more likely in our future than fusion power, but if they do happen, what do you think are the odds that the present computer industry could manage to make sane ones? I'm not too sanguine about that.

Did you know that the Apollo 11 landing (well all of them) were done mostly automated by computer? And that the Apollo 11 computer had to reboot 2,3 times during the powered descent? Fortunately, they designed it to recover after having to reboot and to continue flying the descent module (and there are stories about them constantly and randomly rebooting the guidance computer over and over again in the simulator and fixing anything they could until they could fix no more). It's one of those little facts they don't really tell you too much about. I had to actually go look up what a 1202 alarm actually meant, that's how little any of the official media would tell you about it. I think Armstrong switched over to semi-manual landing guidance (where he was manually feeding requests via joystick to the computer) and that took enough load off it so it stopped crashing. People can argue that it wasn't the computer's fault, but it was crashing and rebooting, and when you're trying to land 250000 miles away, I don't think you really care whose fault it is :) And you wonder why pilots don't trust computers too much.

My take (coming from the technical world) on automation in general is that it isn't a cornucopia, you're making a tradeoff. You're giving up something to gain something else. Generally what you give up are the little emergencies, having to have someone watch something all the time, or the requirement to hire teams of people to watch over one thing. You can instead hire one person to watch it all by herself, or one person to watch a whole bunch of things.

What you get in exchange are great big emergencies that happen much less frequently. The big emergencies generally need much more intelligence, creativity and skill to solve than the person you employ to watch over the whatevers generally has on hand. Depending on how automated whatever it is, it could require Einstein level intelligence and creativity.

So they're going to deploy lots of robots and AI - what I'm going to be watching and waiting for is the Big Boner, where someone left off a semicolon in the code which subtly changes its meaning and it doesn't get caught for months or years until some corner case triggers it and then Hilarity Ensues and doesn't stop ensuing for quite a while afterwards.

Or my vision of what would happen with the Robot Future(tm), is they would hire a few smart people to design, build and set up the Robot Factories(tm) and then fire all their asses to Save Money. Then the factories would run unattended for decades, until they encountered some condition that they couldn't handle. And then everyone would go back to the stone ages, because they had fired all the people who knew anything about fixing them, and those people had gone off to I dunno, prepare for the inevitable collapse?

Nm Mm said...

As someone who agrees with pretty much everything you've said in these recent posts, it has surprised me how much I've struggled with them. Reactions have ranged from impatient dismissal -- “Yep, industrial society is bad for the environment and people in all sorts of ways; I knew that; we all did, why are we wasting so many words and so much pomposity on the point” -- to a fair bit of defensiveness. I keep having to chide myself like a lazy student; “Wait, don't just blow impatiently past this; think about it.”
What's triggering all this defensiveness? Guilt, in part, I think; all my efforts to disconnect notwithstanding; I am mired to the neck in industrial society. My homemade herbal remedies and home-cooked meals don't offset driving to work everyday in my car (and to the grocery store, and to visit friends and family...); nor do they offset attitudes like this one; at least until I figure out an alternative way to make filbert milk, you are not prying my blender out of my hands. Guilt for selfishness, accompanied by defensiveness. A feeling of being trapped in this mire, with many of the available choices highly unpalatable, and a sense that, however much I do, it's never enough. But, as long as I don't think too hard, overall, am reasonably happy...
On second thought, maybe it isn't surprising that I haven't liked them much. This is not comfortable.
And having worked through that, guess I'd better spend some time considering prosthetic imaginations. The Other Tom's comment on that point, about suburban landscaping, was thought-provoking.
It seems to me that a prosthetic imagination might be something of a survival requirement in an industrial society, along with a considerable sense of numbness. Because otherwise, being trapped among too much plastic, concrete and steel, surrounded entirely by meaningless artificiality, is suicide-inducing (I mean that literally, not flippantly).

August Johnson said...

Moshe & others - Not only regular broadcast radio has been killed, but most of the really high quality Shortwave Broadcast radio has died. It used to be that you could really get a good idea what was going on in the world by listening to several of the excellent shortwave stations, BBC, Deutsche Welle, etc., but it's now mostly religious broadcasts.

One interesting development:

German Radio Amateurs Breathe New Life into “Orphaned” Shortwave Channel

Some radio amateurs are frustrated broadcasters, and when German national broadcaster the Deutsche Welle closed down a 500 kW shortwave broadcast transmitter near Munich, an entity headed and operated by hams applied for and was granted the vacant channel of 6070 kHz in the 49 meter shortwave band. DARC Radio — which has a business association with the Deutscher Amateur Radio Club (DARC) but is privately owned — now has a 10 kW broadcast station, branded “Channel 292,” up and running, and a new Amateur Radio DX program will debut next month.

Another interesting thing found on the shortwave bands is so-called "Pirate Radio". Seems to be experiencing a revival these days.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Today evening (friday) my 4-year-old nephew came home feeling a little sick. I found him sitting in front of his ipad playing some lame game. His mom asked me to try and cheer him up so I asked him to come with me. I took him to the seeds we had planted last week, he planted a sugar-snap pea plant. His plant and five others had started sprouting. He helped me water the plant and was re-energized, we spent the last 45 minutes running around play fighting after that. The same thing is happening with my friends. I've took them to the gardening store last week and will be taking some more this week. They're all losing interest in the prosthetic world. It takes the energy of our entire civilization a life time to build this wall around our souls, it takes nature literally days to break them down. It is no wonder our would be leaders fear the power of nature.



Kyoto Motors said...

Another term that was frequently used by the French philosophers since the sixties is "simulacrum": that thing which stands in the place of the real thing, without anyone noticing the difference (my simplified interpretation (-: )
More recently I noted Charles H. Smith referring to "simulacrum democracy" with a certain insight and aplomb.
By extension, I have been toying with the term “simulacrum economy” in the age of QE ad nauseum.
Now, it occurs to me that both “simulacrum” and “prosthetic” are two attempts at describing some very closely related phenomena, and are very nearly interchangeable. After all, “prosthetic democracy” and “prosthetic economy” both describe features of a society limping its way down the far side of Hubbert's Hill!

Curtis said...

On a walk with my partner today, we passed the local gym. Right next to it is a sports clothing store. It occurred to me that much of the need for prosthetics and the prosthetic imagination happens because we disembed actions from daily life. An hour of gardening, compost turning, bicycle riding, and walking to the bus -- all things I'm sure many readers in this blog do regularly -- eliminates the need for a gym. That we take so much exercise on machines we don't need -- and buy clothing from a store we don't need to do it -- seems a perfect example of so many of our problems.

(I wonder, too, in the near future how many prosthetics will be turned into tools. I recently read an article where a man turned one of those gosh-awful elliptical machines into a home grain grinder.)

Although I do have to admit that I have not been turning the compost very much since it froze solid. :) I'm still learning the ins and outs of it with my recently found copy of Let it rot and a few other resources. Even so, it seems more prudent to let the compost defrost than to shell out for a gym membership...

FiftyNiner said...

@Jeff Walker
As to Mr. Brand and his views regarding the productivity of tree plantations: He is dead wrong when it comes to the southern long leaf and loblolly pine, and I would assume other species as well. In a college biology class over 40 years ago I had a professor who spent an entire lecture describing the wasteland, that borders on desert, that is a pine plantation. I had never really thought about it although I live in a part of the state where much farmland had been given over to forestry. Dr. Mount had said in his lecture that a pine plantation is a much a monoculture as any you will see and functions the same way. With the small mammals, reptiles and amphibians gone, even the awesome timber rattlers and Eastern diamondbacks have to leave. Left behind is the ravenous pine bark beetle, who when he is found has to be fought with everything that logger man has in order to be defeated. I would suggest to Mr. Brand that he come to the deep south in August, find a safe shoulder of the road to park, walk one hundred yards into the pines and spend fifteen minutes just absorbing the experience--and absorb it he will. The air in there is thick with the fumes of the pine resin and at those temperatures makes it almost impossible to breathe. Loggers are supposed to wear respirators when harvesting the trees, and Mr. Brand will understand exactly why. Add to this the fact that at most the land will be able to produce no more than three successive crops of trees--ninety to one hundred twenty years--and you really are left with sandy soil desert islands pocking this verdant landscape. Not a pretty picture, nor a 10,000 year plan.
On the other hand, I certainly hope there is toilet paper here at least for duration of my life!

Agent Provocateur said...

I've been reading a book called “Shanleya's Quest” to my kids for botany. Its theme is discovering the basic patterns (family relationships) in botany. The author, Thomas J. Elpel, has a brief essay entitled “Nature as Wallpaper” on the inside cover. I think it is tangentially related to the theme of the post this week. The essay reads in part:

“Nature exists as little more than wallpaper in most people's lives … At best, we are sometimes so taken by a scene … that we pause for a moment to admire the wallpaper … The real world, as people experience it, is the world of people and culture … It is when you stop to say “Hello” to this old friend [a flower you recognize], that the plot thickens, and you notice something new … This is my trap to draw you in one flower at a time, to entice you to wander off the beaten track and into the wallpaper, meeting friends and neighbours as you go … Years later you may find yourself in a meadow of wildflowers and wild life … surrounded by friends you have seemingly always known, only to realize how far you have come … There in the distance is what you once called the real world … But now seems like a house of smoke and mirrors … full of self-importance but empty of substance. The real world, you discovered, was the wallpaper all along.

Like colours, you need a name for your “neighbours” (denizens of the natural world) to truly recognize them. Like exploited humans or the unemployed, whether these are not recognized because they are not considered worth it, or because it is too threatening to do so, the social slight of being externalized is clearly unwise. Consistently maintained nonrecognition (externalization of the mind) means these potential friends become enemies.

Nonetheless, I am persuaded those doing the ignoring and distracting basically know the negative consequences of their actions or just don't care one way or the other. It is a mistake to assume those paid to have an opinion speak their own minds let alone the minds of those who pay them. Perhaps there is a little self deception going on; but, basically, those paying the piper just don't care. Their sense of self must be so limited; otherwise, they would not be engaged in the game of privatization of profits and externalization of costs in the first place.

John Michael Greer said...

Martin, excellent on both counts! Agassiz' habit of looking, and looking, and looking again is why he was able to see the traces of the ice age in landscapes that people had been observing, without seeing that, for millennia. It's worth copying.

Bogatyr, thank you. Congrats on the new job; 73 people have read this blog in China over the last 24 hours, so there's at least some reason to think you can get it there.

Scotlyn, I know it was a typo, but "mass megia" is worthy of Lewis Carroll -- a useful combination of "mass media" and "mass magia"...

John, I haven't even seen that image, having less than no interest watching Jackson wreck another Tolkien work -- can you imagine the mess he'd make of Farmer Giles of Ham? -- but it makes perfect sense.

Gloucon, aren't currently reported payroll figures fed through a "birth/death model" that allows the BLS to estimate (i.e., make up) how many jobs were created during the reporting period? I seem to recall something of the sort.

Ed, I suspect somebody's soma ration will be increased from 300 to 200 cc a day shortly...

John, thanks for the tip; I'll put it on the get-to pile.

Steve, thank you.

Luke, hmm! Thanks for the correction; my mistake.

Damo, so noted.

Ed, ads make reality for the masses until the gap between the advertisement and the reality becomes too vast to ignore. We may be close to that now.

M, I think it's central to the whole strategy to put people in enough of a state of cognitive dissonance that they can't handle any questioning of the official reality, since they're already uncomfortable with the gap between that reality and what they actually experience. The defensiveness generated by cognitive dissonance is a useful protection for the system.

Marc, I wonder if the parent is the one who has to use the animated figure as a cognitive crutch...

FiftyNiner said...

@Agent Provocateur
What you are saying is so true about this time leading up to the real collapse. Even the children now here in the rural South are essentially indoor people. I never see kids organizing camping trips to the river or building tree houses or just romping in the woods. Even for the older ones who are involved in hunting large game--mostly deer--the experience is totally mediated by the commercial suppliers of hunting gear.

I was born at a time when virtually everyone I knew had a vegetable garden. Now almost no one does. I feel that our re-acquaintance with nature will come with us all being enrolled in a survival class that we will not be able to cut. Being able to eat will depend on it.

John Michael Greer said...

MP, I'm not at all surprised. Since "Don't be evil" has long since been replaced by Google with "Go ahead, be evil," I suspect the immortality app will consist of a ring, which turns you into an immortal wraith -- a Goo-gul? -- eternally enslaved to Larry Page.

Raven, fungi have been doing those things for millions of years. Paul Stamets, whose work I admire, is just figuring out which mushroom does what, and suggesting that using their natural proclivities probably makes more sense than trying to manufacture something to do the same thing.

Tony, excellent! My guess is that they'll simply leave sea level where it is and insist that the sea isn't rising, along the time-honored lines of Hy Brasil.

Lance, Magritte is a good starting place for this sort of discussion, no question. No, it's not a pipe!

Phil, that's stunning. You may be right -- the world's must hubristic aircraft project as the prototype for the world's most famous starship...

Greg, exactly. My guess is that even if an AI could be built, getting it so that it could experience the world in anything like a sane fashion would take something close to an evolutionary time scale.

Bill, yes, you can swear in Orcish if you like. In the case of those execrable movies, I'll even second the motion.

Aenn, well, of course; even if there was any chance of getting the sort of views discussed here accepted generally, it's thirty years too late and the time and resources needed to turn industrial civilization away from the long bitter arc of decline and fall no longer exist. The question at this point, as I've noted here repeatedly, is simply what we do with the time and opportunities we have.

Juandonjuan, aren't the Kardashians those aliens out of Star Trek?

Ando, exactly. First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is a mountain -- and in all three cases, you can fall to your death from its steeper slopes.

Lawfish, yes, I recall the song.

Donalfagan, one of the reasons I didn't cite Shadowstats is precisely that there are disagreements about the methodology, and there are people -- not all of them trolls -- who get very shrill when Williams' site is mentioned.

Ed, true enough -- and I'm quite familiar with the Heart Sutra, as it happens, having learned at one point in my peregrinations to chant it in Japanese.

Clifford, thank you -- nicely summarized!

Dan the Farmer said...

Denys, I feel your pain regarding convincing a spouse. I've been trying for several years to discuss what real change looks like with my wife. She didn't understand why I wasn't interested in the People's Climate March. I don't understand why she feels the need to drive so much or worry about her clothes that way. Well, that's not going to be an issue. She's moving out and suggests I find someone more aligned with my values, which she respects but doesn't share or practice.

Now I'm thinking I should move into the garage apartment I've been working on for two years, scavenging as I go, and rent the house out. Crashing now...

John Michael Greer said...

Kyoto, I'm far from sure that a world of increased fossil fuel consumption is in any real sense a world of increased freedom; there are fewer legal prohibitions, because dependence on the machine imposes harsh behavioral limits of its own. Other than that, though, I find the Situationist analysis compelling.

Bruce, I know earwigs who would be insulted by the comparison!

Kyoto, exactly. It's not the people who actually work with 3-D printers, by and large, who spoon up the delusion with really big ladles; it's the ones who simply read about them, confuse them with replicators, and use that as an insistence that progress is unstoppable.

Greg, I'd strongly encourage you to write that blog, and let it become the raw material for that book! I think it would benefit a lot of people.

Matt, I somehow missed "that dress." If it's taken until now for people to notice their own role in constructing their experiences, er, a lot of people have failed to pay attention to much of anything...

Leo, ouch! I hope you can get that straightened out promptly. Thanks for the additions to the list of absurd technologies. I saw one in an ad in a magazine at the laundromat the other day: they were pushing an electronic toothbrush with Bluetooth connectivity, so it can track your toothbrushing habits and tell you how clean your teeth are. I wish I was making this up...

Brent, thanks for the link!

Peter, thank you. I'm hoping that the results of establishing a troll-free space will encourage other blog writers and forum hosts to try the same thing.

Jason, my guess is that the view Tolkien had in mind was from one of his many walking tours -- he and his friends used to go for long rambles across the English countryside, staying at country inns. I'm pretty sure I stood on the original of Minas Tirith last June, for that matter.

Allie, a farm in eastern NC sounds like a very sensible place to be just now, especially when compared with the Sinking Lands of Florida...

Mister R., ouch; I'm sorry to hear that. Not much you can do, unless reality applies its Great Big Baseball Bat of Wisdom with considerably more force than usual. As for the unemployment rate, I simply assume that I don't have any way of knowing it, and look for proxy measurements less vulnerable to fudging.

K-dog, I suspect that one of the reasons so many people find their role in shaping their experience of the world terrifying is that facing that forces a confrontation with the cognitive dissonance that pervades contemporary life.

Ceworthe, true enough!

John Michael Greer said...

GHung, yes, Gollum came to my mind as well. Yes, there are higher and deeper issues involved -- things more suitable to my other blog -- but in the meantime, as you note, we all have to figure out how to get by, day by day, out here beyond the Edge of the Wild...

HalFiore, the unemployment index would be informative if it weren't being jiggered on a regular basis. Me, I'm far from sure that its variations from quarter to quarter aren't better explained by who has what political agenda in mind than anything else.

Radoje, there's no mystery about chickens and eggs -- eggs were being laid by reptiles millions of years before the first protochicken! Still, you're spot on to pay attention to both sides of the issue. The impoverishment of the inner life has proceeded in parallel with the mediation and externalization of the outer life, and the various feedback loops between these two processes (or two aspects of a single process) are crucial to understanding the whole.

481f, thank you for this! That may be the origin of the claim, which I've read many times, that the permanently unemployed don't get counted in the unemployment stats.

Cathy, congratulations! Do you have a publisher lined up yet for the print and e-book editions?

Chester, it's a reasonable dread. If you do have to go back there, maintain connections with friends on higher ground, and hope that your family and in-laws will be willing to see the writing on the wall before crunch time actually arrives.

Zach, congratulations also! I'm glad to see more people writing in the field of post-peak fiction -- there's no shortage of interesting stories waiting to be told about the future we're facing.

KidC, exactly. "Wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic moving by compulsion each other" -- Blake, as usual, had it down stone cold.

DM, gotcha. I've had to respond to so many people who see only the other side's redefinitions of reality that filling in both sides is practically a Pavlovian reaction of mine at this point.

Dagnarus, fascinating. Thanks for the link.

Laylah, the raw absurdity of it almost tempts me to write a novel set in half-drowned Miami in 2060 or so, in which the city's elite continues to inhabit a dreamworld of ever-increasing real estate prices, while the real estate they buy and sell so enthusiastically is inhabited only by fish...

Clay, exactly. Of course the technology has actual applications -- the gap I want to discuss is the one that lies between the reality of the technology and the fantasy of the replicator.

Matthew, I know I need to get to him one of these days.

Donald Hargraves said...

If you ask me, the "official" unemployment rates have NO relation to the real situation, and that the job "market" has gone fully haywire (to put it mildly and delicately):

1: For a place with high unemployment, it's amazing just how many jobs seem to sit unfilled for months, if not years. I've long had the impression that those jobs were never meant to be filled – especially since these companies seem to be doing well without these "positions" being filled. Especially since these positions seem to require skills from two different skill-sets picked because they don't really seem to relate in any way.

2: Many of the companies who ARE hiring are lowballing their offers, offering what would be considered High School pay for stuff requiring heavy-duty training complete with massive student loans for many. And, of course, they want people with tons of experience to take the pay of a newly-hired person.

3: My present job includes taking quite a few "failed" truck driver trainees to a bus station to that they can head home, as well as some trips with people still training to be truck drivers. Between the stories of reasons dug out of thin air to "fire" some of these trainees to firing quotas and comments about how many people "get tossed out of training," I wonder what's REALLY going on with the trucking business.

4: Then there's the issue of the people we're supposed to be training as our fellow employees. The last two were busts – the last one didn't even put forth an effort to look busy, and the one couldn't find his butt without a GPS to guide his hands.

So I don't consider the unemployment numbers to be real, or even have any links with reality.

John Michael Greer said...

Peacegarden, hmm! I learned that from a teacher back in the 1970s; she called it "unfocusing," and yes, it's a very useful tool for snapping the nervous system out of its media-induced trance.

David, writing can be used as a prosthetic, and it becomes harmful when that's done. That's why meaningful systems of education include a great deal of memorization, to keep the memory functional, and make writing a tool for expanding human capacities rather than a prosthetic for replacing them.

Daelach, oh, granted. It was an article of faith in science fiction many years ago that the natural result of automation would be a world where everyone had everything they wanted. Of course things didn't work out that way. As for 3-D printers, no question, they have their uses, but they aren't what the current round of cornucopian geek fantasies think they are!

Mark, exactly. Those who treat 3-D printers as replicators are precisely those who don't use the technology -- they read things on the internet and spin fantasies from there.

Carl, fair enough.

Daelach, I do much the same thing. The fewer ads, the better -- and you'll notice that the only ads I permit on my blogs are sales links to my books, so that people who want to know what else I've written can check 'em out.

Mettrodome, it continues to amaze me that what was the lamest of lame humor magazines in my childhood has metamorphosed into so smart and funny a humor site!

JML, as that's been questioned, I'd encourage you to do your own research and find sources you trust.

WW said...

@ exiledbear: "Or my vision of what would happen with the Robot Future(tm), is they would hire a few smart people to design, build and set up the Robot Factories(tm) and then fire all their asses to Save Money. Then the factories would run unattended for decades, until they encountered some condition that they couldn't handle. And then everyone would go back to the stone ages, because they had fired all the people who knew anything about fixing them, and those people had gone off to I dunno, prepare for the inevitable collapse?"

Suspiciously like the society (well, one of them- we are clearly the one with the explosions about magnificent Tamsours) in Vance's Night Lamp?

August Johnson said...

JMG - Just finished reading "Collapse Now..." Great compilation of your posts! They all tie together so well. Interesting re-reading your comments on, for example, Greece on 25 July 102 or Price of Oil on 12 March 2014 given recent happenings.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, don't even get me started on dilithium crystals, and the number of people who apparently believe that there's got to be something of the sort out there -- after all, we can imagine them, right? Therefore the universe is obligated to give them to us, if we just whine loudly enough. Gah.

Peter, the first known artworks date from before our species evolved -- some of the earlier hominids engaged in decorative patterns and very basic representational art. Our species has been making art since it first evolved, which was most of a million years ago. The golden age of cave painting in the Magdalenian was 15,000-10,000 years ago, so it had hundreds of millennia of artistic expression and innovation before it, and there's every reason to believe that the Magdalenian artists did in fact see what they were doing as representations of the world, just as modern representational artists do.

Ed-M, it is indeed about keeping up appearances. The veneer of prosperity must be maintained, no matter how desperate conditions become behind it.

Myriad, I think your proposal is brilliant, and would certainly encourage you to submit it. Of course they won't accept it, but I hope that one or two of the people who read the proposal might begin to grasp the possibility that producing big glossy books about our problems doesn't do much to solve them.

Librarian, it's on the get-to list!

Mark, maybe so, but the advertising is critical -- otherwise people might notice that it's much cheaper to make their own greasy junk food at home.

Dan, I can't speak to that, never having seen the newer version (and having rolled my eyes and giggled at occasional glimpses of the earlier one).

Random Man, and yet I know a substantial and growing number of people who are extracting themselves from the treadmill in one way or another. There are alternatives.

Curtis, oh, granted. A "maker culture" where nobody actually makes things, but they all sit around watching a machine make things, is a consumer culture under another name. Makers actually roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.

JABA, several people have already brought up sites showing that if you keep calculating joblessness the way it was calculated thirty or forty years ago, the figures are much higher than they are today. Have you noticed the recent flurry of articles wondering why nobody's spending money when there are all these new jobs out there? I'd suggest that this is fairly good evidence for the claim that job numbers are being jiggered.

Bob, par for the course. I wonder if it's ever occurred to Mr. Huntsman that his chemical company is part of the reason why so many people, including Mrs. Huntsman, are coming down with cancer these days.

Cathy, thanks for the printing failures link! Now imagine an economy wholly dependent on 3-D printers, a bug in the software, and stuff like this starts coming out all over the planet...

John Michael Greer said...

Dennis, exactly. Exactly! The moral collapse of 20th century American environmentalism was precisely the unwillingness of the privileged to grapple with the fact that their own lifestyles were crucial parts of the problem -- and nobody whose lifestyle is part of the problem has ever really been part of the solution.

Cathy, funny. Hang onto your hat, by the way -- the fracking-related bankruptcies and debt defaults are beginning to pile up.

Gloucon, I'm not talking about the people who make 3-D printers. I'm talking about the people who go around on the internet insisting loudly that someday very soon 3-D printers will solve all our problems by making consumer goods basically for free, and who inevitably bring Star Trek replicators into the discussion, thus showing what they've got stuck sideways in their brains.

Scotlyn, thanks for the link!

Ed, industrial capitalism and industrial socialism are slight variations on the same theme: in one, the corporations are the same as the government, and in the other, it's exactly the other way around. Of course the one that happened to claw its way to the top is following the same trajectory toward failure as the other. As for Spengler, no argument, he'd have made a ferocious blogger -- sitting in his sparely furnished apartment, books piled around him, hammering at a keyboard, crafting next week's post on how the EU is making all the same mistakes as the Ming dynasty, or what have you.

Skintnick, thanks for that. Very elegantly done!

Tye, thanks for this! It's a great example. "Our bogus figures insist that everything is fine -- why aren't people behaving accordingly?" is a common plaint of elites as they slide down the greased slope into oblivion.

Denys, ouch. I wish I had an answer; I'm very fortunate to be married to a woman who gets peak oil and the predicament of our time as thoroughly as I do, and learned the skills of getting by from parents who grew up during the Depression! I've seen quite a few marriages torn apart by this sort of thing, so compromise, and a willingness to leave the subject alone, is probably necessary. Beyond that, I don't know what to say.

Michael, the Onion is a treasure. Yes, I saw that -- they just go from one direct hit to another.

Moshe, at this point, when somebody says "But we need to grow," you can take that as the expression of a death wish and act accordingly, and by and large, you'll be dead on target.

Ozark, excellent! In fact, you get tonight's gold star for pointing out a crucial issue. If human thinking and perception is flawed, are abstractions concocted by human thinking and perception going to be less so? How about manufactured products and a built environment made by human beings on the basis of their flawed thinking and perception? How about a virtual environment from which everything but the direct product of human thinking and perception has been removed? If you want to move away from the flawed aspects of human thought and perception, going deeper and deeper into their products may not be the brightest idea...

Professor P., true, but I prefer less chemical means. A healthy dose of philosophy or a bit of meditation will do the same thing.

John Michael Greer said...

Denys, thank you for asking! The best thing to do, if you can, is to get books from a locally owned full service bookstore; that's a plus for authors, because most bookstores order two copies when a customer orders one, put the extra on the bookshelves, and if it gets bought, restock: that way lies steady sales, and a happy author. (I also love bookstores and would like to see them thrive, for whatever that's worth.) If you don't have a local bookstore of that kind, please do go directly to the publisher's website and order it there -- I get a bigger share of the purchase price. The huge discounts Amazon demands from publishers to maintain its stranglehold on the industry come out of my royalties, and so I get a small fraction from an Amazon sale of what I get from either a bookstore or a publisher-website sale.

Roger, no argument; these days it's not uncommon for me to hear edged jokes on the order of "Yeah, inflation's under control, but prices keep going up anyway."

Robert, I don't normally welcome poetry here, but the thought of Heracles decking John Galt with one blow from a heavily muscled Hellenic fist is too good to pass up.

Mickey, that's a fascinating concept: knowledge of externalities as a form of occult knowledge. Here's my question: what abilities to shape the universe of our experience do you gain by embracing that form of occult knowledge?

Dan, because if people let themselves realize what's actually happening, and how close we are to real trouble, they'd run screaming out into the night. Especially for those who've invested everything they have in the fantasy of perpetual business as usual, crunch time is getting very, very close.

Jeff, so noted; I was mistaken. I took the piece as Brand's, partly because it was presented as such in the websites where I first encountered it, and partly because it resonates so closely with the ideas Brand himself promoted in his recent book Whole Earth Discipline and elsewhere. I took the time to watch the video, by the way, and I don't consider it a well thought out and researched position -- quite the contrary, to my mind it's yet another example of Bjorn Lomborg-style cornucopian cherrypicking, of which we have quite enough already, thank you. As for sitting down and finding common ground with Brand, finally, no, there you're quite wrong; as just noted, I've read his Whole Earth Discipline, and with any person who could write that book, I have no intellectual or ethical common ground whatever.

Other Tom, excellent! I'm going to give out one of my very rare second gold stars in a night for that -- you're quite correct, of course, and the manufacture of denatured "natural" environments is a critical piece in the externalization of human thought and imagination.

Bear, it's more than just a refusal to do anything about our problems, it's the flight into a prosthetic reality in an attempt to pretend that the problems don't exist. Your image of the robot future is all too plausible, btw -- you might want to consider that as the basis for a piece of fiction sometime!

Nm Mm, I think another large part of it is the impact of cognitive dissonance, which is extremely uncomfortable for the human psyche. One of the core gimmicks of the prosthetic imagination is to keep people caught in a series of doublebinds that generate cognitive dissonance, since that makes it easier to get them to distract themselves with the media, or what have you; talking about the kind of thing I'm talking about here makes the congnitive dissonance all too apparent, and people get angry and brittle as a result.

John Michael Greer said...

Varun, what can I say? I'm delighted. If that continues, it's going to be a lot easier to deal with the mess ahead.

Kyoto, good. The term "simulacrum" has its own virtues, since it stresses the way that what you get from the prosthetic economy isn't what you're told you're going to get, but an imitation or representation of it. That's a core part of the strategy, since you remain dissatisfied and so ready to buy something else to meet the unmet need -- and of course it's just a simulacrum, too, so the dance goes on.

Curtis, of course! Down the road, you can look forward to exercising in freezing weather by chopping wood for the wood stove, you know. ;-)

Agent, thanks for the book tip! I'll have to look that one up. As for the people who promote the prosthetic economy, I think you underestimate -- or, shall we say, "misunderestimate"? -- the human capacity for self-deception and acquired stupidity. People can convince themselves of some amazingly brainless things if they think they can get something from doing so.

Donald, thanks for the reality check from the trenches! As a self-employed author, I don't have a lot of direct contact with the sort of things you've described, but what I hear from friends and lodge brothers certainly seems to point in the same direction.

August, thank you! I'm frankly startled by the number of predictions of mine that have scored a hit recently -- though I'm glad to say not all have done so; that the world got off its backside and did something to slow down the Ebola epidemic is an immense relief, for example.

Caryn said...

Thanks for another great essay, JGM! So happy to have a stool in this virtual living room for these weekly essays and discussions.

Denys said...
"So when one spouse wants to "collapse now and avoid the rush" and the other spouse …"

Denys; I am in the same boat as you in that respect. In other respects, I'm pretty sure our situations are very different, but hopefully still helpful to relate.

We are US expats living in Hong Kong for the past 16 years. Our now teen sons are absolutely thriving in an exceptional international school, far more than we could hope to give them anywhere in the US. We stay here primarily for that. We did a massive shrink/collapse starting a few years ago when my husband lost his job and our finances drastically decreased - It was hard, but in a lot of important ways, it was a blessing in disguise.

The furthest I've gotten in bringing the husband along in properly collapsing is an agreement that in 3 years, when our youngest graduates high school, we can move back to the US and go for it. The one security we were able to keep is our home in very rural Wyoming, so an off-the-grid collapse would be very do-able. This course of action will of necessity be sped up if his current job here in HK ends, or anything else out of our control forces our hand.

In the mean-time, there IS something to be said for tweaking / incrementally collapsing-in-place to prepare one for such a big change.

From our Western culture, my husband finds change to LESS dubious and hard to swallow, I'm a change, collapse, go-native maniac and even I'M finding only possible to integrate incrementally). But done incrementally, We've both been able to see and mentally process the costs and benefits of adopting new LESS (in our case, traditional Chinese) methods. I suppose in light of JGM's essays - willingly, even happily shedding our prosthetics, piece by piece, as opposed to having them stripped from us in one big rip.

All of this personal story in (a probably ham-fisted way of) explanation to suggest that maybe your spouse would accept a timeline of such a bigger change as moving house, (or changing to a closer job?), and in the mean-time, continue implementing ways, in-place, to LESSen your load?

This week's essay is spot-on in this question - so much of our ability and probability of enduring any societal upheaval depends on our mental/emotional flexibility. IMHO, incremental changes flex the muscles of mental/emotional adaptability. I truly think this is the biggest hurdle to overcome.

Also, I wanted to acknowledge your post from last week in which you described the hostility and aggression in your neighbors and colleagues - as I've noticed this sharply as an outsider only coming back to the US sporadically over the past years. In my limited visits, I think you're right, there is a palpable aggression and discontent, a feeling of almost panic that seems to have grown. You said you are exhausted, but Kudos to you for mediating and helping them through their own (whether they realize it or not) prosthetic stripping transitions.

Best Luck to you and yours,

John Michael Greer said...

By the way, I got slack over the last few weeks about deleting posts with profanity in them, and the inevitable result followed: a flurry of posts full of more profanity. Sigh. You know the rules, folks, and I assume we're all sufficiently grown up to be able to come up with ways of expressing irritation and disgust that are less childish than that tiresome handful of overused terms. From here on, once again, any post that uses profanity will be deleted without comment.

John Michael Greer said...

Caryn, thank you. It interests me that up until a few years ago, the generic peak oil marital crisis involved a husband who understood what was happening and a wife who insisted on having the middle-class lifestyle of her dreams. Now, it's very nearly half and half -- I've met as many women as men who get it, and as many marriages under strain because the wife gets it as because the husband does.

N Montesano said...

JMG wrote, "Nm Mm, I think another large part of it is the impact of cognitive dissonance, which is extremely uncomfortable for the human psyche ... and people get angry and brittle as a result."
Yes, I think you're right; had not thought of that (honestly, I seem to be barely intelligent enough to read this blog), but I can feel my mind turning away, wanting to avoid the topic. An odd experience. Guess I'll have to work harder at focusing on the topic anyway.

N Montesano said...

Speaking of how the mind creates the world we perceive from assorted sensory data, I've just remembered a weird experience from about 20 years ago. I was driving, got lost, and came up to an intersection that should have been familiar, but seemed wrong and confusing. Finally, I realized I was facing it from the opposite direction than I'd thought. I had the distinct sensation or impression of a physical mental map floating up and rotating around to the correct orientation. It made me dizzy. Quite disconcerting.

Jo said...

Denys, I think there are two ways to have a disagreement with a spouse. The first is where one partner is really struggling with the issue at hand, maybe disagreeing with you, but wrestling profoundly with it out of respect of your ideas and opinions. In this case I think Caryn's suggestions above are really valuable.

The second is where your partner is not willing to engage with your ideas at all, which argues a high degree of disrespect for you as a person, a situation which led to my own divorce eighteen months ago. In our case, we married young, straight out of university, and I stayed home and raised a bunch of children and read a lot of books, started gardening and made a lot of jam, while he climbed the corporate ladder and spent a lot of time in business class and plush hotels.

He is, of course, part of the demographic that has the most to lose from LESS - his wealth, his career, his identity - and I am the demographic who has the most to gain - with no established career I can dabble freely in green wizardry practices which gives me the option of living on very little.

Do you remember the 70s TV show 'The Good Life'? Tom decided he wanted to live a more meaningful life, so chucked in his job and became self-sufficient in Surbiton. And lucky for him, Barbara was right behind him. But what if Tom had been married to his posh neighbour Margo? Or Barbara to the sybaritic Jerry? Well, that is the trajectory our marriage took..

My ex-husband and I still like each other a great deal, but have no common ground on which to exchange ideas. Our roads diverged..

But interestingly, we started out with similar values. And I really do think that the relentless pace of the executive life and the rarefied atmosphere of the of a life lived in boardrooms insulated ex-hub from the realities and values of life as lived by ordinary people.

And it is a terrible pity, because once he was an immensely practical hands-on person who could fix or build absolutely anything. And now he lives on the tenth floor in an immaculate apartment and only uses his hands to tap out countless emails..

Andy Brown said...

The Germans, being both observant and blunt, apparently have a word, verschlimmbessert, which means to make something worse by improving it.

Tony f. whelKs said...

I realise this is at bit of a tangent to the core discussion, but I think enough mentions have been made to justify pitching it in anyway...

On the whole concept of AI = particularly the belief that a genuine, self-reflective consciousness can arise - I am highly sceptical. I cannot offer a properly argued rational case for this, but I do have a very strong gut feeling about what will ultimately prevent its occurence.

Put simply it is this: I do not believe a self-reflective conscious can be developed that is not embodied. Without a physical body that interacts with the wider world, I suspect no self-awareness can emerge and without this there can be no self-purpose. In effect, all an AI can amount to is an extremely complex machine bound to its initial 'training', remaining incapable of conceptualising an 'I'. I also suspect that the mortality of a body is also a significant factor, and - although I hate to use the term - even if we mimic intellect in a machine, can we ever create a 'soul' in one?

As I said, I can't really put a solid foundation under this belief, and it is tantalisingly shrouded in shadow. I'd be interested in others' viewpoints, though I suspect it may be more suited to the Well than the Report.

ed boyle said...

Expats interesting reading impressions how americans have changed. Goalposts change abroad in asia, europe as well i suppose as we hit economic skids, take on technological prosthetics. If I get back to states would be interesting to get a feel. Incrementalism I know from adjustment to sports routine, diet, reading. Everyone discusses adapting to coming collapse.The situation seems to be different for everyone, everywhere and forced collapse is most likely to force adaptation, unemployment, income reduction, etc. Faux ecothinking is not my bag as I am antisocial. Who could I play hypocrite to? Just imagine having cash for a prius, eco vacations in jungle. If i could plant a garden, land too expensive, too little time. Wife is addict of cop/detective series. Big TV, too much electricity. Hotwater heater on roof saves on gas for washing up on sunny day but not on heating. Insulation and windows good but cheap solar for electric would be useful. Rabbits for meat? Wife talks about beehive. If we had a bit of time and cash we could do a few things. People with kids, jobs, habits have trouble making changes. Lost my desk job from crisis, got a manual low paid job and wife took part time to make it up. So my yoga, biking paid off in ability to do hard work. Panic over possible inflation and worries over rent got us to buy a govt. subsidized eco house. Now we have no cash reserves but are closer to where we should be. This all happens in stages. I bet economy will hit skids globally soon enough and more decisions will be forced on a lot of people which will in the end be healthy for them. The rat race is money based consumerism but oranges and bananas don't grow up here and at the store I get lots of fruit year round with cash. If I can all my own fruit, berries, veggies, mushroom, have own chickens for eggs and produce own energy this will likely be in concert with my local neighborhood as I am average guy, slow adapter, conservative don't stick my neck out kind of guy. This is why a periodic step down crash is good. Wife, neighbours, coworkers, society suddenly accepts, helps with next step in self sufficiency and you can see what is really useful. Prepper end of world stuff or zerocash hippy backwoods selfsufficiency is not mainstream stick in the mud enough for me. There are ecovillages here but that is like joining a commune. Anonymous city life being just like everyone else but having no car, doingyoga, gardening is no big deal. I can afford a better life now because I live cheaper and always saved and that goes for diet, sport in terms of health too. Gradual adaptation, hard work, adjustment. If I am in the middle of modern life but still think like my depression era parents and despise modernism from my gut(and this conservative skepticism is also antieco skeptic as well, out of sheer obstinacy) then I will probably come out ahead in the end. Whoever buys the newest Windows or Apple product before the bugs are worked out gets lots of headaches. Of course in my own hobbies, like yoga, tai chi which don't need group adaptation I can play out my inner radicalism to the core. Internet blogs are also an outlet from conformist suburban boredom.

Thomas Prentice said...

JMG, for your reading pleasure...

Fossil Fuels Will Save the World (Really)

Wall Street Journal / REVIEW section, p. C 1

The Saturday Essay / Weekend Edition, Saturday,14 March 2015ce

Assembled with proud incredulity by thom prentice thomprentice (at)[gee] mail (dot) comma

[The first authentic self-deconstructing - and rather long - story in the history of deconstruction. M. Derrida would be proud.]


“Fossil fuels reversed deforestation saved whales and let us grow more food on less land.”

“The argument that fossil fuels will soon run out is dead, at least for a while…. The shale genie is out of the bottle…And the shale revolution has yet to go global.”

P. 2 Subhead: The Bright Future of Fossil Fuels

“That fossil fuels are finite is a red herring. The Atlantic Ocean is finite, but that does not mean you risk bumping into France if you row out of a harbor in Maine.”

[A call in to my crack dealer has not yet been returned; I intend to advise to cancel orders for the next seven months; instead I’m going to read everything I can by the author of this piece, “Matt Ridley”, author of “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves” and a member of the British House of Lords. Hence the quotation marks around the name “Matt Ridley”. Plus “Matt Ridley” is an owner "of land in northern England on which coal is mined" but who applauds displacement of coal by (fracked) gas in recent years.”]


“Fossil fuels gave rise to the West’s ‘Great Enrichment,’ vastly improving lives.” [Of the One Per Cent and their courtiers and courtesans.]

“…fossil fuels were a unique advance because they allowed human beings to create extraordinary patterns of order and complexity – machines and buildings – with which to improve their lives.” The next time somebody at a rally against fossil fuels lectures you [rather than the crowd] about her concern for the fate of her grandchildren, [why is it “HER”?] show her a picture of an African child dying today from inhaling the dense muck of a smoke fire.” [No accompanying picture printed by the WSJ.]

“As American author and fossil fuels advocate Alex Epstein points out in bravely unfashionable book, “The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels,” the use of coal halted and then reversed the deforestation of Europe and America.”

"Although the world has certainly warmed since the 19th century, the rate of warming has been slow and erratic.”

“Arctic sea ice has decreased but Antarctic sea ice has increased.””…14 peer reviewed papers, published by 42 authors, many of whom are key contributors to the reports of the IPCC, have concluded that climate sensitivity is low because net feedbacks are modest.”

“…the warming rate has never even reached two-tenths of a degree and has slowed down to virtually nothing in the past 15 to 20 years. A turning point to dangerously rapid warming could be around the corner, even though it should have showed up by now.” [Whaaaat?!]

“We should work on ways to absorb carbon dioxide from the air, by fertilizing the ocean or fixing it through carbon capture and storage.”

Recommended additional WSJ reading:

“Wine Headache? Chances Are It’s Not the Sulfites” by Lettie Teague, [with heavy emphasis on the “Chances Are” as opposed to, like, evidence]

OFF DUTY Section, p. D7

heather said...

Agent Provocateur-
Thanks for the mention of the kid-friendly botany book. I checked it out and the artwork is beautiful, plus I liked the story excerpts I saw highlighting the teaching and learning relationship between the child and her grandparents. I'm ordering it to read with my kids (and learn from myself). I will also mention the book over on the Green Wizards forum in the discussion thread on collapsing early with kids on board.

Denys and Caryn-
I too am in a "mixed marriage" as far as awareness of the decline goes. We allow each other a fair bit of space- I garden and can, he plays his computer games and watches TV- and we meet in the middle around the less controversial shared interests like the kids. It's not his fault that I have changed over the course of our marriage- had my "awakening"- and he has not yet. I keep working on the ideas with him as gently as I can. Every news story and purchasing decision is an opportunity for discussion, but one has to be careful- JMG is right that it's very threatening to always be chipping away at your spouse's faith in the religion of progress. We just had a very disheartening (to me) conversation around space exploration that showed me that he really still hasn't given up that belief that humankind is meant for the stars. Sigh. At least with our host's insight about Progress as a religion, I can respond more sensitively, realizing that I am challenging some very important core beliefs in someone for whom they have worked fairly well so far. As usual in marriage, I'm attempting to employ patience and kindness and persistence, but also just to let things be and do my own thing, and leave him the right to do his. I don't have the right to choose his worldview for him, but I can try to share mine as the opportunity arises. I really hope that the dawn of his understanding won't be too late, but that's not within my control. I can be as prepared as possible myself, however, and be ready to be the rock if his worldview is forced into an abrupt change by outside circumstances. Good luck to you and yours.

--Heather in CA

JABA said...

JABA, several people have already brought up sites showing that if you keep calculating joblessness the way it was calculated thirty or forty years ago, the figures are much higher than they are today. Have you noticed the recent flurry of articles wondering why nobody's spending money when there are all these new jobs out there? I'd suggest that this is fairly good evidence for the claim that job numbers are being jiggered.
You're right about this of course, but it is tangential to the issue that I raised and actually kind of illustrates the problem that I was trying to point out: Things are bad enough without posting wildly inaccurate claims such as, “Still, it’s worth noting that 92,898,000 Americans of working age are not currently in the work force—that is, more than 37 per cent of the working age population.”
Unless of course you consider my 83-year old mother-in-law “working age”.
I’m not trying to be provocative. I’m just pointing this out because it could potentially raise questions about your credibility for newcomers to your site.
Personally I think there are some positive aspects to seeing the drop in labor force participation. After all, if one were to adopt your LESS approach there’s pretty good odds that at least one family member would drop off the official roles and either work off the grid or focus on household services. For all of her faults, Elizabeth Warren did marvelous work on the “two-income trap”.

Travis said...

Excellent! You are indeed a poet my good sir. Very funny as well. You are surely the George Carlin of Druidism.
This essay reminds me of an idea I used to play with. If there was a continuous hum, even a loud hum, started before ones conception, could one become aware of the hum? I guess culture could be considered such a hum. Thanks again! (sorry if this post's twice)

RoseRedLoon said...

Greetings JMG

I am a long time reader and I am thrilled with the brilliant comments lately. What a wondeful salon this is, and I'm finally motivated to chime in.

I am a professional data modeler, meaning I create abstract models of the who, what, when, where, and how facts about business systems, with the end goal of creating computer systems to run them. It is a difficult job, involving a lot of interpersonal dynamics and politics, because I must analyze and articulate the business, reflect it back to them, and guide them towards consensus. On the other end, I must turn these conceptual models into technical specifications and database designs. This is an activity that no one enjoys, but I stress to them that if they don't make decisions, then some random guy in a cube somewhere will make it for them when they implement the lines of code that automate their business processes. What strikes me as funny is that those lines of code are referred to as the "physical" part of the system, because they are so much less abstract than the upstream conceptual models we use to communicate with the business. Within the computer systems themselves are the seven layers of the OSI model, ranging from graphical user interfaces to the physical wires connecting the machines.

If I do my job well, I hope to contribute to mnemonic, easy to use interfaces to the systems that represent the true intentions and requirements of the business. The reality, however, is that most decision making is really done by the programmer, because everyone shies away from the hard work of examining and constructing the abstractions. If they are lucky, the programmer is intelligent, dedicated, and has the necessary business knowledge to make this happen. There are many such heroic programmers out there, but I don't recommend it as a way to run a business.

As satisfying as my job is when the models are elegant, at the end of the day, it is the sensual, material world that delights me. It is time for some serious gardening, and my muscles are still sore from the ballet class Thursday night. I have recently added high quality chocolate powder to my morning coffee (how I shall I miss coffee). As it does every week, this blog, our host, and its lively commenters will go on my morning gratitude list - written by hand of course.

Carnegie said...

I had the opportunity of going to Maker Faire Atlanta this year, and while what you say is spot on regarding 3D Printing, JMG, I also notice that there is a huge amount of interest in "traditional" skills -- and it's not transparent. Similarly, today I went to an event at the county feed store, and while there were ample displays of downright silly stuff (grow your veggies in this tiny, electric orb!) there was also a real scythe for sale as well as plenty of useful blacksmithed bits and bobs. I picked up the smith's business card on my way out.

It seems there are as many people clinging to their prosthetics as there are folks abandoning them. Perhaps my optimism for the current generation of young people is not misplaced.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Speaking of statistics, the one that drives me crazy is "Cost of Living". In the interest of full disclosure, any increases in both my small retirements are tied to that. But I think what bothers me more than the piddly little yearly increases is that they feel like an insult to my intelligence. The supposed cost of living indexes are totally disconnected from the reality on the ground.

Delete this if you must, but it's a quote from Twain. "Lies, Damned lies and statistics." Seems to cover what we've been talking about, this week. Lew

Greg Belvedere said...

My deepest thanks for the encouragement. I have been trying to find a useful place to direct some of my intellectual energies lately. The fact that this one deals with something I live and breath daily has put it in my mind recently. The mark of approval from someone I admire so much seals the deal for me.

I'm going to start writing and get a few posts ready before I put them up. This way I can have a buffer that will let me come out with a blog about every week, even if life makes it hard to make deadline one week. I plan to have something within a month.

I plan to have commenting guidelines similar to the ones here. I love the kind of polite diverse discourse that happens in this comments section. I recently commented on an article about the NHMRC homeopathy study and was quickly reminded why I have not commented on an online magazine in years.

Speaking of the great community here, thank you to peacegarden for the 180 degree looking exercise. I will have to try that when the rain lets up.

I have no shortage of things to write about. Now I just need a decent name. Which is tougher than I thought. So far I'm thinking something along the lines of:

SAHD economics, homestead dad, de-industrial dad,

I'm not really crazy about any of them. I will have to think about this further, or just go with the first one. Suggestions from all are welcome.

Jason Heppenstall said...

JMG - my apologies regarding Tolkien and his inspiration. I jumped to the pretty thoughtless conclusion that he would have got his inspiration in his boyhood home of Hall Green in Birmingham, which is in the metropolitan region knows as the West Midlands. The true West Midland region is far larger and stretches to the Welsh border - where mountains may well be visible.

I also read that he was an avid early motorist, tearing off on adventures in his open-topped car. He later regretted this when he could see the damage cars and their infrastructure was having on the landscape.

Curtis said...

Hi Denys, although you've gotten some wonderful advice from other posters, I thought I would also add my two cents.

Me and my partner are on quite different pages, too. If we were to put people on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most "Greer," I would say I'm about an 8 while my partner is about a 4. (By the way - someone should propose what we can call a 1 - who is the most photo-negative of Mr. Greer's views? :) )

But what makes a big difference is that he is willing to support my efforts and does things, outside of the context of preparing for collapse, that still help. He's helped cut back expenses, gotten insulation in, biked more, driven less, spent less, supported businesses that are going to be useful (local organic gardening) and the like. Also, when I sat down to finally talk to him about my recent mental issues--I'm struggling with peak-induced anxiety/depression--he did not deny my emotions, say I was crazy, or otherwise try to invalidate what I said. It was a huge relief - I realized I ultimately have a spouse in my corner even if he isn't on the same page.

I think if I were in your position I would be most concerned if your partner opposes your efforts or tries to deny what you're going through.

As an aside, you sound like a very thoughtful, lovely woman. If we could renovate our home so that our basement was turned into a lovely apartment, you sound like the kind of person I'd like to have as a "collapse co-houser." :)

Myosotis said...

The other Tom:

I don't have the time to search around and find it friends arriving soon, but I distinctly remember a botany study from a few years ago that surveyed the plants found in different US metro areas and surrounding countryside.

One was Phoenix and the others were not desert, so not just a close cluster of cities. The conclusion was that the plants found within cities are more similar to other cities than to the areas around them. I found that very surprising. Then I moved to a big city.

I'll look around for the article. Later.

Curtis said...

Mr. Greer:

Granted, I don't have usable wood trees on my own pathetic 1/8th of an acre lot, but growing up rurally, I learned how to chop and pile wood, and am more than ready to do it again.

In the meantime, the thermostat stays at 60F most days. The next two co-goals of mine are to learn to use a sewing machine (used of course!) and to make some simple insulated window coverings.

Sven Eriksen said...

Quote JMG: “There's a common notion that dealing in abstraction is the hallmark of the intellectual, but that puts things almost exactly backwards; it's the ordinary unreflective person who thinks in abstractions most of the time, while the thinker's task is to work back from abstract category to the raw sensory data on which it's based.”

This is something I've been thinking for years, but always found it rather difficult to articulate effectively, especially when trying to communicate it to others who often ask me about certain philosophical or spiritual matters. Thank you for putting it so plainly. With regards to the “thinker” vs. “the ordinary unreflective person”, though, it is my observation that the latter category quite frequently gives birth to a third as those who merit that description aspire to act out the image society has given them of what an erudite person is, and what he or she is supposed to do. It's not pretty. It goes as follows: Take the normal habit of unconsciously, yet compulsively, relating to the world through the mental abstractions you happened to inherit, shift it (very self-consciously) into overdrive, while at the same time seek to accumulate (preferably from the internet) as much of other people's mental-abstractions-run-amok (and the results thereof) as you possibly can. Now make it your mission in life to educate others... I coined the term “belief sponge” a while back, and so far it has done a pretty good job of summing it up. I've noticed that people most prone to it are those who are into giving some form of instruction, sports coaches for example. Examples galore comes to mind. Freshest one was a couple of days ago, during brake from sparring in the dojo, when one instructor didn't like the silence and started giving a lecture about the reason human beings were able to experience joy was because their bodies contained lithium, and went on about it and why people actually did things like being outdoors was really just to get more lithium and on and on... Managed to control the urge to ask him whether he had figured this out himself, or had had this tremendous insight bestowed upon him by the internet. As I sat there quietly finishing my tea, I couldn't help wondering if I was the only one who could hear how dumb this sounded, or if everyone else was also being awkwardly quiet for the same reason as I.

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG, "The best thing to do, if you can, is to get books from a locally owned full service bookstore; that's a plus for authors, because most bookstores order two copies when a customer orders one, put the extra on the bookshelves, and if it gets bought, restock: that way lies steady sales, and a happy author. (I also love bookstores and would like to see them thrive, for whatever that's worth.) If you don't have a local bookstore of that kind, please do go directly to the publisher's website and order it there -"

Alas, in Albuquerque, there are two such bookstores left, one in the North Valley (7 mile drive from where I live, near the University), and the other, in the Far Northeast Heights, a 10 mile drive.

University Bookstore? It is to laugh. Ignoring the textbooks upstairs, half the store is given over to Lobo-themed consumer goods; the rest is heavy on such topics as "Psychology and Self-Help", "Business and Marketing" etc ... many of the latest best-sellers, and, granted, a good deal of Southwest-themed and Native-themed literature, much of it from UNM Press. So - to burn the gas and support your local independent booksellers? Or to throw up your hands and order online? Which I do, and will do directly from the publisher from now on.

hapibeli said...

Yes Onething. The movies removed much of my youthful images of Tolkein's books, but hey! Those folks have done a FABULOUS job with their image making! Majestic! awesome! Supercalifragalistic expi...yeah. You know.
I watch a lot of movies ( they come free...but, sssshhhhhhh, don't tell anyone)
I can't see paying for what is mostly dross. The 2 or so out of 10 can be wonderfully entertaining. This too will go away with the internet.
Many the books I read from our library system aren't much better.
What I've been learning is loving kindness, compassion, generosity, humor, and most of all gratitude. This brings me an acceptance of our predicament.(Thanks JMG for all of your insights and solutions)
Thinking harshly about anything only brings harshness back to you.
Build community, learn skills to live without cheap energy, as those times come closer, keep a clear head and heart, and try to inspire as you live your life within today's parameters.
Otherwise you live in the imaginarium of the current paradigm.
As the old saying goes; be in it, but not of it.

latefall said...

@ heather, for your partner re space escapism:
"I would bet that most members of our society would put us living on the Moon and Mars within a few hundred years. I think they would be shocked to learn that the experts largely disagree."
- See more at:

Re 3D printing, I'll keep it short (had written on this before):
Thanks Ruben, saved me a lot of time - but I would want to emphasize again:
a) techs aren't all about consumer products, even though it is relatively hard to get your head around once you got rid of most industrial production as a society.
b) thinking in tech suites gets you further. Will a plastic 3D printer compete with mass produced injection molding? You can see (polymer) 3D printing as a subset of polymer extrusion that has been massively scaled down/consumerized (maxed inefficiency). There are very few tasks where one can assume they'll beat other manufacturing methods, just based on the physical the physical limitations that come with the above. Rapid prototyping is another (important) matter. Also if you look at the method as just one more way of additive manufacturing it puts things in a more useful perspective I'd say.

Also there is potential in very complex/organic/inhomogeneous/biomimetic applications I would assume. E.g. if you can't get the whole product done in "biological cell factories" maybe your can still do some of the sub-structures (if you can place your stuff well enough in XYZ). You won't be casting "complex growy stuff" into molds most of the time, as it would not give you enough control.

In other news my "Overshoot"s arrived, in paper :). It is really good, thanks for the advice! I'll let you get back to pulling apart 3D printing and get away from the screen.

Oh, just one more thing since topics included LongNow and abstraction. This image stood out like a big fat target to me:
featured on
which has a couple of nice (looking) recommendations for books, notwithstanding. Maybe a little light on the ecological side of things. Hmmm.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG and Other Tom,

Firstly: thanks. It is both a privilege and responsibility to live here.

Secondly: If I found a dilithium crystal during one of the excavations here - I'm working on a wood shed site, in fact this very morning - I'd quietly bury it back over again, intuitively recognising that the outcomes for the area would not be good.

Other Tom raises an excellent point. Of course standardisation of the built environment is a key feature because our culture views people as economic units. It is in fact the very polar opposite position of disenssus. Even those people whom lead different lives from the cultural norms have been absorbed into the dominant culture. The built landscape was the easiest way to achieve that. Force everyone to live in similar arrangements and they will conform - because they have no other choice. I've always considered that the need to dominate is actually a sign of the underlying brittleness of a culture, because if it was acceptable to the majority, the culture wouldn't need to dominate.

I was having this very discussion last night about the imminent shut down of the car industry here. Not only is it sheer dumbness from a strategic point of view – Sun Tzu and Wu Tzu would have something to say on the matter – but it will put 250,000 people out of work and they are not economic units, despite what the ideology of our culture like to paint them as.

You can see this process in action this week as our Prime Minister berated Aboriginals for wanting to live in remote communities as: A lifestyle choice. Read between the lines and what he is threatening is for them to conform to the dominant culture or risk losing their government benefits. In addition to that he is threatening the vestiges of that Aboriginal culture which derives meaning from the land itself that the tribes are associated with. But the legal system as it stands blocks access to that very land which was once theirs. The comment was deeply disturbing.

Anyway, no better instruction could be found on the matter than the city of Canberra - which because of the sheer homogeneity of the built landscape - I find to be personally quite unsettling. It really is a bizarre place. Apologies to all of the readers that live there.



thriftwizard said...

I live in an area that Tolkien visited often, and eventually retired to. And when I drive or walk northwest from our little medieval town towards the next town up the ancient Roman road at dusk, I see the watercolour landscape of the Barrowdowns, liberally dusted with ancient tombs and earthworks, shading off in the far distance into imaginary mountains. You would swear they're there, you can see the slopes and gullies and the snowcaps lit by the setting sun, but they're just cloud banks on the western horizon.

And if you have ever driven down the flanks of the Cleveland hills to see the chimneys of Middlesborough belching filth into the dark-stained sky, you've seen Mordor...

Dave Stoessel said...

My prosthetic imagination is having a hard time figuring out when to get rid of all my money. I have three children not yet married and settled in their imagined future and, careful steward that I am, would like some wherewithal to help when necessary. The way forward using LESS is a useful guide but what then is the money for? Should I take it to the nearest altar and sacrifice it? Community building sounds like a good idea but I live in a defense industry Republican stronghold that loathes our current community organizer in chief. They are good people just dependent on war-making products such as missiles and drones for their livelihood(think Hannah Arendt). WE know those fancy contracts are going away but when is the question. I didn't think they could make up money this long and get away with it but apparently citizenship is not what it used to be. I have a bad feeling about our labeling these rag tag refugees all over the world as terrorists giving us permission to eradicate them with our precision munitions. We are not even trying to make friends. We think you buy friendship. In my town, LESS is not on the radar screen. The Chamber of Commerce is expecting more "development" and our Congressperson is always pushing for NASA and DOD budget increases. Maybe they will never run out of money. A nice 20% RIFF might engender some thoughtfulness about our real current predicament. I am going out to dinner. You can read my fretful musings at

Mark Rice said...

Off this weeks topic--
An alternative theory of cycles in history:

The idea is humans fall into 4 categories. We have the religious, warrior, merchant and worker. We had a time the religious were in change, then the warriors. Recently the merchants have been in charge especially in the west. Resistance to this is in China and Russia. Eventually the religious will be in charge again.

onething said...

Tony whelks

"Put simply it is this: I do not believe a self-reflective consciousness can be developed that is not embodied. Without a physical body that interacts with the wider world, I suspect no self-awareness can emerge and without this there can be no self-purpose. In effect, all an AI can amount to is an extremely complex machine bound to its initial 'training', remaining incapable of conceptualising an 'I'. I also suspect that the mortality of a body is also a significant factor, and - although I hate to use the term - even if we mimic intellect in a machine, can we ever create a 'soul' in one? "

I've thought about this, too. The thing is, I can only ask questions. What is it that animates a body? Is it the consciousness, or is there a life force that is a different thing? I tend to think there is definitely a something which animates. But I am not sure it is the soul. If we are composite beings, of how many basic parts are we composed? As Rumi asks, "What is the soul? If I could taste one sip of an answer..."

I do not think we can ever make a machine that approaches the complexity of a body, and even if we could, I do not think that the mind (consciousness) arises spontaneously out of physical complexity. Nor do I think consciousness can ever be manufactured.

If we could create a viable physical body, what about the life force? And if we had that, while I don't think we can create consciousness, it is possible that a conscious entity could come inhabit it.

The author of the book My Big Toe proposes that there can be no such thing as consciousness without free will. I believe he is right. Motivation itself is the divide between animate and inanimate things. Every living cell acts with motivation.

I have wondered if our own bodies are extremely complex machines, although that seems unlikely. I am not sure it is really possible for our bodies to be running on autopilot. It seems there ought to be a governor. Then, too, there is an interface between that which is not really physical such as the emotion of hope or despair, that then impacts the body, such as the immune system.
It's amazing how little we know, and people speculate according to their preferences.

oilman2 said...

3D Printing - like smart algorithms and computers and spreadhseets - is a job killer and money multiplier for the owners of companies.

In my former business we manufactured high tech diamond drill bits for the oilfield. These required: a designer, an NC programmer, a mold machinist, a parts machinist, a mold assembler and a mold loader. Each of these jobs were in excess of $75k per year in salary or wages + OT.

Using a 3D printer to print these complex molds works effectively, as I have actually done this repetitively. The net result is the designer prints the mold, and the mold loader loads it. Thus the NC programmer, mold machinist, parts machinist and mold assembler are permanently asked to leave the building. I know - I was instructed as engineering manager that I had done a "great job" - now go lay those guys off.

That is 4 jobs on 2 shifts or eight $75k per year jobs gone from the system due to 3D printing 'efficiency' when correctly applied.

Cui bono? Well, I didn't get a raise, and the overhead was decreased by 66% which went directly to the bottom line, not to mention selling off over $2,000,000 of used equipment that was no longer needed.

The funny thing is, as machinesand 'expert systems' replace us, they are not taxed, so again, cui bono? These "excess employees" seem to be another externalizing of business costs when you boil it down. But as the robots and 3D printers and software and computers are NOT TAXED, the digital wave washes a lot of folks out into the frothing unemployment sea, sans paddle or even raft.

No - I no longer work there, but we were the first to execute it correctly and it will happen in other places too. Efficiency only benefits the few, not the many, IMHO. Might be simply due to population density, but it is the world we are moving into as long as oil is cheap enough.

Gloucon X said...

JMG said: “Gloucon, aren't currently reported payroll figures fed through a "birth/death model" that allows the BLS to estimate (i.e., make up) how many jobs were created during the reporting period? I seem to recall something of the sort.

We could spend quite a bit of time talking about the galaxy of ways in which economic statistics are finessed and/or fabricated these days.”

JMG, how far do you want to take this idea that all the economic figures are made up? We could apply that logic to other categories of data, like energy. All the energy data is released by corporations and governments and so it too could be faked. There are no green wizards in Riyadh working at the Ministry of Petroleum to verify the data for us. Yet these are the sources of the data on which our peak oil concerns are based.

John Michael Greer said...

Montesano, very often the best way to deal with cognitive dissonance is to bring it fully into consciousness. It's when the dissonance is half-conscious or wholly suppressed that it's most uncomfortable. When you find your mind trying to turn away from some such issue, pick up a notebook and a pen, ask yourself what it is that makes you uncomfortable about it, and write the first thing that comes into your mind, without editing or censoring the output at all. You may be astonished with what comes out.

Andy, German is a marvelous language!

Tony, have you read The Emperor's New Mind by Roger Penrose? He makes a strong case for the suggestion that AI research is basically barking up the wrong stump.

Ed, adaptation in place is basically the name of the game at this point; I've noted already that the way things seem to be shaping up, those who haven't yet moved out to a rural farm probably won't have time or opportunity to do so.

Thomas, yes, I've seen it. I probably should have included that in there among the examples of prosthetic reality, as it's a corker.

JABA, I don't recommend using the "you need to do X so that people don't dismiss you" argument -- it makes you sound rather like a concern troll, you know. If my occasional mistakes keep readers on their toes and remind them that they need to think and do research for themselves, all the better.

Travis, "the George Carlin of Druidism" -- now that's a new one! Thank you.

Loon, the thing is -- as you know -- abstractions also have their beauty. It's the use of them as a flight from the concrete that's the difficulty here.

Carnegie, the thing I've seen is that people start out all gung-ho over the 3-D printers and so on, and then notice that they're just pushing buttons and waiting for the thing to work, while the guy over there at the lathe is having all the fun wielding the cutting tool and sending shavings flying. Pretty soon they're off the 3-D printer and learning how to use the lathe.

Lewis, no argument there -- and I'll let the Twain quote pass, because it's Twain.

Greg, I'd encourage you to choose a name that doesn't need to be translated -- SAHD doesn't communicate much to the acronym-challenged.

Jason, good heavens, no need to apologize! I'd heard about his driving also; according to one bio, he used to go blowing through intersections without slowing down, shouting "Charge 'em and they'll scatter!" After a few such experiences, his wife Edith talked him into getting rid of the car...

John Michael Greer said...

Curtis, a pair of very solid goals. Let friends know that you can make insulated window coverings, and you may just find yourself with a new part-time income.

Sven, yes, and that's a good point. The amateur pedant, the faux-intellectual who thinks that reciting data is a workable substitute for thought, is even more common now than in the past.

Patricia, well, there you are. In that case, yes, the publisher's probably your best bet.

Latefall, that chart is stunningly dishonest -- no one with the least background in the intellectual history of the Middle Ages would agree with such a claim (and you'll notice how casually the chart erases the Muslim world, India, China, etc., all of which had very different trajectories). If I wanted to do another post on the way that the myth of progress has been used to falsify the shape of the past, that graph could be exhibit A.

Cherokee, the more I hear about the way things are going down under, the more I shake my head. It almost makes me wonder if Australia has become convinced that if it wants to be an important country, it has to act like the United States, right down to the clueless head of state...

Thriftwizard, I know it's not what Tolkien had in mind, but I saw Mordor up close the first time I went past an oil refinery. Vast black towers with flames rising from the summit, the fumes, the general air of desolation and biocide -- it's shaped my imagination of the Plateau of Gorgoroth ever since.

Dave, do you recall the good advice of the old-time stock market player? "The market can remain insane longer than you can remain solvent." The same is true a fortiriori of the money system. Hang onto it while it's still useful; it may still be useful for longer than you expect.

Mark, Ravi Batra was talking about that in the late 1980s, as I recall.

Oilman2, exactly -- and you've noted some of the perverse incentives that make it profitable for companies to replace employees with machines. I'll be talking down the road a bit about how those could (and should) be reversed.

Gloucon, people in the peak oil scene have been talking about the make-believe numbers on oil reserves coming out of Riyadh and other Middle Eastern capitals since the late 1990s. The whole world these days is a gigantic poker game, and everybody's bluffing about what they have -- that's simply the hand we've been dealt, to push the metaphor a bit further. That's why there's so much attention paid to proxy measures and other roundabout ways of gauging who has what and who's doing what, which are harder to fake.

ed boyle said...


been reading spengler and that is why it is so slow going and fundamentally challenging. He is like a guy who has to program a robot for common sense. First you got to understand what you understand.


spengler said free will is a western idea. Magical arab early christian culture saw god as oversoul and we are all one consciousness -part souls-without free will, guilt, fault or punishment and even asking about god's plan was sin. Jesus thought like this he says. Free will is northern european individualism post ca. 1000.

Denys said...

Thank you everyone for your sharing your experiences. We've been having an ongoing conversation for 8 years now about the future, climate change, peak oil, etc. The question is what to do about it on family scale. Moving out to the cabin in the woods or the rural farm plot was not going to happen for various reasons. We love our current home and neighbors and moving would mean new house problems and new neighbors - the great unknown.

I think this struggle is real for most people and if I had a magic wand if would be spouting out compassion for all of us.

JMG would you like some reports from the field?

Went to a different Home Depot yesterday - one in the rich home area - and there was a representative from Makerbot there demonstrating their 3D printer called the Replicator It was oozing out colorful plastic figurines. It sells for the low low price of $2,899.00 And there are 12 different colors of plastic you can use to make your trinkets. Bright garish plastic, but hey won't that look good somewhere on the mantel?

Had a friend go to the Adobe software conference last week. The chief marketing officer for Coca Cola was there and her presentation was on how Coke doesn't sell soft drinks, they sell........(drumroll)......happiness! Everything they do is to make people feel happy. She gave many examples of their past marketing on this. Coming soon their push button machines where you can mix all their products together to customize your own drink, will work with an app on your smart phone so you can save your drink recipes and share them with friends! The machine will know your soda choices and you can bluetooth link your phone and the machine to have it dispense automatically! Oh, the possibilities are endless.

Lastly, in rural PA school districts, there is a new initiative called 1 to 1. This is a great name, no? It means 1 iPad to each child and the child has unlimited use of the iPad all day and zero paper textbooks. Everything is done on the iPad. This starts in Kindergarten. In other school districts, the expectation is children bring their own devices and they can use them all day including at recess and lunch. Well, haven't the school staff made the management of children so much easier? When this technology push started a decade ago, I said to a teacher friend that teachers should be pushing for how children need people, not tech and how teachers can teach skills that tech can not. If the teachers went along with all this tech, then their jobs would be eliminated because the classroom would just need monitors/babysitters, and the tech would do all the teaching and tracking of scores. My friends response was "Well that is a dark thought.". Yeah, well, classroom monitors at $15/hour are cheaper than teachers at $80K a year so it will be done for cost reasons soon, I'm sure.

Thank you for you generosity in sharing your thoughts with us!!!

Clay Dennis said...

JMG, An even greater stretch of the imagination than the contrived employment statistics is the illusion that most of the jobs that people have are actually productive. By actually productive ,I mean that they create some kind of physical or knowledge return that equals the resources that can be purchased with the paycheck from that job. In the U.S. we have had a fully intermediated economy for so long that we have mostly forgotten what an actual exchange of labor for resources really is. Back in the 90's there was limited amount of discussion about this in the main stream media as we were outsourcing manufacturing jobs and a few economists and pundits would debate the sustainability of the "Service Economy", or the even trendier "Knowledge Economy". but as the number of people who engage in manufacturing and farming dwindles this debate has all but disappeared. Most people now accept that any job they do is real and entitiles them to the resources that we get from the paycheck.
In fact we have acheived an "Alice in Wonderland" employment world where the further removed a job is from real work, the more highly rewarded in money it is. One only has to compare an Organic Farmer to a professional athlete, financial analyst or reality television star to see the reality of this statment. Where the resources come from to compensate folks who work in un-usefull jobs is of course a huge topic that is covered at length by many authors and this blog in particular. But I believe this is one of the biggest tricks of all, that millions of people can go to work each day and curate twitter feeds, analyze sports, or be full time high school athletic directors, and in aggregate that can make up a real economy. In reality the jobs most people do in America are no different than the homeless guy who stands at the freeway offramp with a cup, except they are better paid, and the homeless guy is not fooled about his situation.

N Montesano said...

I will try that, thanks.

dermotmoconnor said...

Regarding the graph showing the hole left by the Middle Ages, the armarium magnum blog describes this object as "The Stupidest Thing on the Internet Ever". The site has some really well written attacks on such examples of 'conflict thesis'.


Cathy McGuire said...

This seems to fit with your theme of "peak meaninglessness" too well!
…There seems to be a certain sentimental connection to the PDX carpet, which has inspired a social media phenomenon with travelers - dropping their carry-ons to snap a picture of their feet. The carpet acting as a backdrop for the journey ahead, or the first steps back into Portland….Some companies are paying tribute to the carpet in the form of merchandise. Rogue ales recently rolled out their “PDX Carpet” India Pale Ale.
PDX’s “Made in Oregon” store, according to Szymanski, has had a hard time keeping the carpet pattern apparel in stock, “case in point right now, we have about three pages of back orders on the PDX carpet socks.”
…What will happen to the old PDX carpet? The airport plans on handing large sections of the carpet over to third party retailers, who will then sell or disperse pieces to the public.

Insanity... total insanity... with a healthy dose of merchandising.

Cathy McGuire said...

@JMG I saw Mordor up close the first time I went past an oil refinery.
I grew up with those, passing them every time we drove from NJ to visit family in Long Island... the stench was literally nauseating. And I remember when one blew up - I was babysitting and an ungodly roar outside got me to the window - the entire night sky was red, like the end of the world. A very scary thing for a 12 year old alone in a stranger's house with a stranger's kids! Some tank in Elisabeth had exploded (it was in the 70's)... mordor indeed!

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Denys - Anytime the word "choice" is thrown around by The Powers That Be, I want to run like heck. It's right up there with "empower the employee". Lew

AlnusIncana said...

(Reposting this here, since I by mistake posted this in an old post, this was intended to appear friday.)
A very nice post!
It's good to get a nice pat on the back sometimes (I haven't had a TV since I moved away from home 12 years ago.)
Unrelated, I have personal reasons for celebrations!!
Today is the last day on my cubicle work.
After a youthful mistake of going into a career that wasn't for me, and 5 years of toiling away to recover from that mistake, I am now in position for a second change.
I look forward to all the extra time to spend on my Green Wizards projects enormeously.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Ed Boyle--Jewish theology has had free will and personal responsibility as its bedrock for more than two thousand years. If you read the Tanach (Bible) in approximately the order in which the books were composed, you can see a gradual transition from collective responsibility and generationally inherited divine rewards and punishments to complete individual responsibility. The Prophets argue both sides of the question.

By the rabbinical period (after the canon was closed) the triumph of personal responsibility was pretty complete. Hillel would have been horrified at the assertion that human beings do not choose their actions.

Jewish tradition generally regards "God's plan" as being part of the revealed part of the religion and therefore beyond argument, but the Bible contains several stories about people who disputed or bargained with God about the details of the plan's execution and were not punished for doing so. One might make the case that Job's troubles came about because he didn't question enough. If Job hadn't been so upright and obedient, the Satan would not have chosen him for a test case.

Gloucon X said...

John Michael Greer said...The moral collapse of 20th century American environmentalism was precisely the unwillingness of the privileged to grapple with the fact that their own lifestyles were crucial parts of the problem -- and nobody whose lifestyle is part of the problem has ever really been part of the solution.

If our intention is to reduce the overall destructive impact on the ecology of this planet, then focusing one by one on privileged individual’s lifestyles while ignoring the lives of the mass of humanity is not going to get us there. A better way would be to focus on rebuilding communities so that everyone can move towards the kind of LESS lifestyle that helps all people and the environment. A focus solely on individual lifestyle is a romanticist lone-cowboy approach -- it is a delusion to ignore the fact the we all live in community. It isn't a very holistic approach.

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