Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Field Guide to Negative Progress

I've commented before in these posts that writing is always partly a social activity. What Mortimer Adler used to call the Great Conversation, the dance of ideas down the corridors of the centuries, shapes every word in a writer’s toolkit; you can hardly write a page in English without drawing on a shade of meaning that Geoffrey Chaucer, say, or William Shakespeare, or Jane Austen first put into the language. That said, there’s also a more immediate sense in which any writer who interacts with his or her readers is part of a social activity, and one of the benefits came my way just after last week’s post.

That post began with a discussion of the increasingly surreal quality of America’s collective life these days, and one of my readers—tip of the archdruidical hat to Anton Mett—had a fine example to offer. He’d listened to an economic report on the media, and the talking heads were going on and on about the US economy’s current condition of, ahem, “negative growth.” Negative growth? Why yes, that’s the opposite of growth, and it’s apparently quite a common bit of jargon in economics just now.

Of course the English language, as used by the authors named earlier among many others, has no shortage of perfectly clear words for the opposite of growth. “Decline” comes to mind; so does “decrease,” and so does “contraction.” Would it have been so very hard for the talking heads in that program, or their many equivalents in our economic life generally, to draw in a deep breath and actually come right out and say “The US economy has contracted,” or “GDP has decreased,” or even “we’re currently in a state of economic decline”? Come on, economists, you can do it!

But of course they can’t.  Economists in general are supposed to provide, shall we say, negative clarity when discussing certain aspects of contemporary American economic life, and talking heads in the media are even more subject to this rule than most of their peers. Among the things about which they’re supposed to be negatively clear, two are particularly relevant here; the first is that economic contraction happens, and the second is that that letting too much of the national wealth end up in too few hands is a very effective way to cause economic contraction. The logic here is uncomfortably straightforward—an economy that depends on consumer expenditures only prospers if consumers have plenty of money to spend—but talking about that equation would cast an unwelcome light on the culture of mindless kleptocracy entrenched these days at the upper end of the US socioeconomic ladder. So we get to witness the mass production of negative clarity about one of the main causes of negative growth.

It’s entrancing to think of other uses for this convenient mode of putting things. I can readily see it finding a role in health care—“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the doctor says, “but your husband is negatively alive;” in sports—“Well, Joe, unless the Orioles can cut down that negative lead of theirs, they’re likely headed for a negative win;” and in the news—“The situation in Yemen is shaping up to be yet another negative triumph for US foreign policy.” For that matter, it’s time to update one of the more useful proverbs of recent years: what do you call an economist who makes a prediction? Negatively right.

Come to think of it, we might as well borrow the same turn of phrase for the subject of last week’s post, the deliberate adoption of older, simpler, more independent technologies in place of today’s newer, more complex, and more interconnected ones. I’ve been talking about that project so far under the negatively mealy-mouthed label “intentional technological regress,” but hey, why not be cool and adopt the latest fashion? For this week, at least, we’ll therefore redefine our terms a bit, and describe the same thing as “negative progress.” Since negative growth sounds like just another kind of growth, negative progress ought to pass for another kind of progress, right?

With this in mind, I’d like to talk about some of the reasons that individuals, families, organizations, and communities, as they wend their way through today’s cafeteria of technological choices, might want to consider loading up their plates with a good hearty helping of negative progress.

Let’s start by returning to one of the central points raised here in earlier posts, the relationship between progress and the production of externalities. By and large, the more recent a technology is, the more of its costs aren’t paid by the makers or the users of the technology, but are pushed off onto someone else. As I pointed out a post two months ago, this isn’t accidental; quite the contrary, as noted in the post just cited, it’s hardwired into the relationship between progress and market economics, and bids fair to play a central role in the unraveling of the entire project of industrial civilization.

The same process of increasing externalities, though, has another face when seen from the point of view of the individual user of any given technology. When you externalize any cost of a technology, you become dependent on whoever or whatever picks up the cost you’re not paying. What’s more, you become dependent on the system that does the externalizing, and on whoever controls that system. Those dependencies aren’t always obvious, but they impose costs of their own, some financial and some less tangible. What’s more, unlike the externalized costs, a great many of these secondary costs land directly on the user of the technology.

It’s interesting, and may not be entirely accidental, that there’s no commonly used term for the entire structure of externalities and dependencies that stand behind any technology. Such a term is necessary here, so for the present purpose,  we’ll call the structure just named the technology’s externality system. Given that turn of phrase, we can restate the point about progress made above: by and large, the more recent a technology is, the larger the externality system on which it depends.

An example will be useful here, so let’s compare the respective externality systems of a bicycle and an automobile. Like most externality systems, these divide up more or less naturally into three categories: manufacture, maintenance, and use. Everything that goes into fabricating steel parts, for instance, all the way back to the iron ore in the mine, is an externality of manufacture; everything that goes into making lubricating oil, all the way back to drilling for the oil well, is an externality of maintenance; everything that goes into building roads suitable for bikes and cars is an externality of use.

Both externality systems are complex, and include a great many things that aren’t obvious at first glance. The point I want to make here, though, is that the car’s externality system is far and away the more complex of the two. In fact, the bike’s externality system is a subset of the car’s, and this reflects the specific historical order in which the two technologies were developed. When the technologies that were needed for a bicycle’s externality system came into use, the first bicycles appeared; when all the additional technologies needed for a car’s externality system were added onto that foundation, the first cars followed. That sort of incremental addition of externality-generating technologies is far and away the most common way that technology progresses.

We can thus restate the pattern just analyzed in a way that brings out some of its less visible and more troublesome aspects: by and large, each new generation of technology imposes more dependencies on its users than the generation it replaces. Again, a comparison between bicycles and automobiles will help make that clear. If you want to ride a bike, you’ve committed yourself to dependence on all the technical, economic, and social systems that go into manufacturing, maintaining, and using the bike; you can’t own, maintain, and ride a bike without the steel mills that produce the frame, the chemical plants that produce the oil you squirt on the gears, the gravel pits that provide raw material for roads and bike paths, and so on.

On the other hand, you’re not dependent on a galaxy of other systems that provide the externality system for your neighbor who drives. You don’t depend on the immense network of pipelines, tanker trucks, and gas stations that provide him with fuel; you don’t depend on the interstate highway system or the immense infrastructure that supports it; if you did the sensible thing and bought a bike that was made by a local craftsperson, your dependence on vast multinational corporations and all of their infrastructure, from sweatshop labor in Third World countries to financial shenanigans on Wall Street, is considerably smaller than that of your driving neighbor. Every dependency you have, your neighbor also has, but not vice versa.

Whether or not these dependencies matter is a complex thing. Obviously there’s a personal equation—some people like to be independent, others are fine with being just one more cog in the megamachine—but there’s also a historical factor to consider. In an age of economic expansion, the benefits of dependency very often outweigh the costs; standards of living are rising, opportunities abound, and it’s easy to offset the costs of any given dependency. In a stable economy, one that’s neither growing nor contracting, the benefits and costs of any given dependency need to be weighed carefully on a case by case basis, as one dependency may be worth accepting while another costs more than it’s worth.

On the other hand, in an age of contraction and decline—or, shall we say, negative expansion?—most dependencies are problematic, and some are lethal. In a contracting economy, as everyone scrambles to hold onto as much as possible of the lifestyles of a more prosperous age, your profit is by definition someone else’s loss, and dependency is just another weapon in the Hobbesian war of all against all. By many measures, the US economy has been contracting since before the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008; by some—in particular, the median and modal standards of living—it’s been contracting since the 1970s, and the unmistakable hissing sound as air leaks out of the fracking bubble just now should be considered fair warning that another round of contraction is on its way.

With that in mind, it’s time to talk about the downsides of dependency.

First of all, dependency is expensive. In the struggle for shares of a shrinking pie in a contracting economy, turning any available dependency into a cash cow is an obvious strategy, and one that’s already very much in play. Consider the conversion of freeways into toll roads, an increasingly popular strategy in large parts of the United States. Consider, for that matter, the soaring price of health care in the US, which hasn’t been accompanied by any noticeable increase in quality of care or treatment outcomes. In the dog-eat-dog world of economic contraction, commuters and sick people are just two of many captive populations whose dependencies make them vulnerable to exploitation. As the spiral of decline continues, it’s safe to assume that any dependency that can be exploited will be exploited, and the more dependencies you have, the more likely you are to be squeezed dry.

The same principle applies to power as well as money; thus, whoever owns the systems on which you depend, owns you. In the United States, again, laws meant to protect employees from abusive behavior on the part of employers are increasingly ignored; as the number of the permanently unemployed keeps climbing year after year, employers know that those who still have jobs are desperate to keep them, and will put up with almost anything in order to keep that paycheck coming in. The old adage about the inadvisability of trying to fight City Hall has its roots in this same phenomenon; no matter what rights you have on paper, you’re not likely to get far with them when the other side can stop picking up your garbage and then fine you for creating a public nuisance, or engage in some other equally creative use of their official prerogatives. As decline accelerates, expect to see dependencies increasingly used as levers for exerting various kinds of economic, political, and social power at your expense.

Finally, and crucially, if you’re dependent on a failing system, when the system goes down, so do you. That’s not just an issue for the future; it’s a huge if still largely unmentioned reality of life in today’s America, and in most other corners of the industrial world as well. Most of today’s permanently unemployed got that way because the job on which they depended for their livelihood got offshored or automated out of existence; much of the rising tide of poverty across the United States is a direct result of the collapse of political and social systems that once countered the free market’s innate tendency to drive the gap between rich and poor to Dickensian extremes. For that matter, how many people who never learned how to read a road map are already finding themselves in random places far from help because something went wrong with their GPS units?

It’s very popular among those who recognize the problem with being shackled to a collapsing system to insist that it’s a problem for the future, not the present.  They grant that dependency is going to be a losing bet someday, but everything’s fine for now, so why not enjoy the latest technological gimmickry while it’s here? Of course that presupposes that you enjoy the latest technological gimmicry, which isn’t necessarily a safe bet, and it also ignores the first two difficulties with dependency outlined above, which are very much present and accounted for right now. We’ll let both those issues pass for the moment, though, because there’s another factor that needs to be included in the calculation.

A practical example, again, will be useful here. In my experience, it takes around five years of hard work, study, and learning from your mistakes to become a competent vegetable gardener. If you’re transitioning from buying all your vegetables at the grocery store to growing them in your backyard, in other words, you need to start gardening about five years before your last trip to the grocery store. The skill and hard work that goes into growing vegetables is one of many things that most people in the world’s industrial nations externalize, and those things don’t just pop back to you when you leave the produce section of the store for the last time. There’s a learning curve that has to be undergone.

Not that long ago, there used to be a subset of preppers who grasped the fact that a stash of cartridges and canned wieners in a locked box at their favorite deer camp cabin wasn’t going to get them through the downfall of industrial civilization, but hadn’t factored in the learning curve. Businesses targeting the prepper market thus used to sell these garden-in-a-box kits, which had seed packets for vegetables, a few tools, and a little manual on how to grow a garden. It’s a good thing that Y2K, 2012, and all those other dates when doom was supposed to arrive turned out to be wrong, because I met a fair number of people who thought that having one of those kits would save them even though they last grew a plant from seed in fourth grade. If the apocalypse had actually arrived, survivors a few years later would have gotten used to a landscape scattered with empty garden-in-a-box kits, overgrown garden patches, and the skeletal remains of preppers who starved to death because the learning curve lasted just that much longer than they did.

The same principle applies to every other set of skills that has been externalized by people in today’s industrial society, and will be coming back home to roost as economic contraction starts to cut into the viability of our externality systems. You can adopt them now, when you have time to get through the learning curve while there’s still an industrial society around to make up for the mistakes and failures that are inseparable from learning, or you can try to adopt them later, when those same inevitable mistakes and failures could very well land you in a world of hurt. You can also adopt them now, when your dependencies haven’t yet been used to empty your wallet and control your behavior, or you can try to adopt them later, when a much larger fraction of the resources and autonomy you might have used for the purpose will have been extracted from you by way of those same dependencies.

This is a point I’ve made in previous posts here, but it applies with particular force to negative progress—that is, to the deliberate adoption of older, simpler, more independent technologies in place of the latest, dependency-laden offerings from the corporate machine. As decline—or, shall we say, negative growth—becomes an inescapable fact of life in postprogress America, decreasing your dependence on sprawling externality systems is going to be an essential tactic.

Those who become early adopters of the retro future, to use an edgy term from last week’s post, will have at least two, and potentially three, significant advantages. The first, as already noted, is that they’ll be much further along the learning curve by the time rising costs, increasing instabilities, and cascading systems failures either put the complex technosystems out of reach or push the relationship between costs and benefits well over into losing-proposition territory. The second is that as more people catch onto the advantages of older, simpler, more sustainable technologies, surviving examples will become harder to find and more expensive to buy; in this case as in many others, collapsing first ahead of the rush is, among other things, the more affordable option.

The third advantage? Depending on exactly which old technologies you happen to adopt, and whether or not you have any talent for basement-workshop manufacture and the like, you may find yourself on the way to a viable new career as most other people will be losing their jobs—and their shirts. As the global economy comes unraveled and people in the United States lose their current access to shoddy imports from Third World sweatshops, there will be a demand for a wide range of tools and simple technologies that still make sense in a deindustrializing world. Those who already know how to use such technologies will be prepared to teach others how to use them; those who know how to repair, recondition, or manufacture those technologies will be prepared to barter, or to use whatever form of currency happens to replace today’s mostly hallucinatory forms of money, to good advantage.

My guess, for what it’s worth, is that salvage trades will be among the few growth industries in the 21st century, and the crafts involved in turning scrap metal and antique machinery into tools and machines that people need for their homes and workplaces will be an important part of that economic sector. To understand how that will work, though, it’s probably going to be necessary to get a clearer sense of the way that today’s complex technostructures are likely to come apart. Next week, with that in mind, we’ll spend some time thinking about the unthinkable—the impending death of the internet.


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PRiZM said...

Exciting post, JMG! As I read more about "externality systems", I imagined adding another of todays modern lingo onto the word.. footprint. externality systems footprint. It really struck me hard how many people and places can be effected by the choices only one individual makes. So thanks for your new phrase!

We're lucky, as you pointed out in an earlier post, to have many reenactment groups surviving in the USA. There are, fortunately, a ton of people practicing on a regular basis many of the skills one can use in a negatively progressing world.

I agree salvaging will be a profession one can do great things with. I'd like to see schools that helped people to learn and practice skills that had been more common or forgotten, but the infrastructure needed to support such a thing would be large, wouldn't it?

fudoshindotcom said...

Didn't you mean the negatively-alive internet?

Personally, I grew up without it and don't imagine it's demise will be an insurmountable loss. I do, for the moment, use it to locate and purchase negatively-electronic books on subjects that interest me such as permaculture, herbalism, bio-remediation, etc.. It is a convenience, but one I can do without.

Happy Earth Day!

tOM said...

Is contraction decline? Decline seems more associated in my mind with Roman orgies & excess. Shades of Gibbons!
The only living cells which continue growing are cancer cells.
Is contraction a bad thing? When you're overweight?
Wordplay is not substance but gloss.

Humans can not escape dependency. Alone in the wilderness we are unlikely to survive without things or knowledge made by others. In a tribe, in a group, with a history, we can survive. Dependencies will always be exploited, personally or corporately. Independence has more costs than dependence.

Independence based on 19th century crafts may, or may not, be the most useful skills. Gardening may depend on new GMO crops. New pests may need new countermeasures.

While anticipating a continued decline, maybe the best strategy is not to abandon political action for at-home action, but to work to put more enlightened people into power.

Reave Vanshar (Steve McAllister) said...

This is a pretty timely post for me, as my...well, they're my family, even though none of us are related to each other...has been discussing how we're going to push through the next wave of collapse intact. We're a bunch of young and pretty penniless folks, so we hit on the notion of starting kickstarter campaigns to fund a mobile workshop. We're all buiders of one variety or another, and my experience as a blacksmith at reenactment and craft fairs is that someone is ALWAYS needing something fixed, and I've made actual cash money by being closer and friendlier than the nearest Home Depot when someone's pot lid or bike wheel needed fixed.

I'm hoping that we can exploit the latest craze for crowdfunding to gather the capital to build that mobile workshop. We're already planning on building a mobile home, since none of us can see affording land anytime in the near future, and a nomadic lifestyle lends itself nicely to a future full of economic and climate disaster, anyway. It's vulnerable in its own way, of course (for instance, it is hard to have a vegetable garden on the move), but others who, like us, don't HAVE any land to call their own, can consider taking to the road in a serious way.

James Bodie said...

Is it possible to be a back sliding druid? Well, I was never a druid. Back in the '70s, I knew a lot more about gardening, pickling and canning than I do now.
Kim Stanley Robinson had the concept of the Earthers in his Eco trilogy that started with 40 Signs of Rain. While the rolling destruction of climate change was happening, those with jobs kept on keeping on. Thus the pejorative "Earthers". That is the situation I find myself in. An earther in a dysfunctional society.

William Church said...

Learning new skills. Scary stuff but fun too. I keep wondering if maybe there'll be a precursor industry to the salvage one. Going to be a whole lot of patching up and repair done before big ticket items get tossed aside.

And there's a whole lot of small ticket items today that'll be big tickets items in a decade or three.

Meantime I hope everyone's seedlings are doing well. My tomatoes are looking good. Kale is coming up. And pumpkins are next on the list. Good times.


Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

I think I finally grasped today what you mean by "decent, humane, comfortable" lifestyle without industrialization. If you got good at it, it would be a lot like a camp out, except far more interesting, both in terms of what is at stake, and also in terms of the coziness factor, which might rate quite high. How nice would it be to take care of your health so you don't see the doctor, get right with the Absolute so you give up worry, and stop trying to hang on to bourgeoisie existence, so you don't need a lawyer? The main issue seems to be living with a foot in both worlds, right now, without falling for the trap that we can afford to neutrally debate whether more complex technologies are worth adopting, rather than appreciating we are now at the stage where you need to start buying and learning to use a butter churner.

FiftyNiner said...

I have just recently gotten the time to go back and start reading your blog from the beginning. I had read all of 2009 initially, choosing that as probably containing some very appropriate words on the failing US economy. Of course any year of late is no doubt subject to countless PhD dissertations in the economic faculties of our most august institutions. I would bet, though, that they are filled with more of the useless double talk that you point out in this weeks post.
Oh so easy to get an advanced degree when you understand the kind of smoke that a particular derriere requires!

As we go along I am impressed by the way you are narrowing the focus of collapse from the general to the specifics of what people are likely to actually have to do to survive. Your writings have given me the confidence that I have the knowledge and abilities to make a pretty good go of it.

Half of my lifetime ago(1980s) I educated myself completely in organic gardening, from Rudolph Steiner to Albert Howard on through to John Jeavons. the Nearings, etc. I had a couple of years of prodigiously productive gardens before I answered the call to take a job which had me working upwards of 60 hours per week and the gardening came to a complete halt. Looking back, I would have been better off to pass on the job and expand my garden to a small organic farm, but at the time no one around here know what 'organic' meant!

Oh BTW the seed kit 'gardens in a box' that you reference are still available on the internet and I chuckle each time I see them. But I also realize that in the interim my gardening skills have atrophied just as have my writing skills and will require close attention to detail to be back up to speed.

I plan in the next couple of weeks to order my non-GMO heirloom garden seeds that if I am serious and attentive I should not have to order again!

Additionally, I have been making a point of sounding people out as I make the obligatory trips to shop for the provisions that we still seem to require so much of. It is beginning to amaze me at the number of people who have a sense of impending cataclysm--but of course in this part of the world it's all Obama's fault--and I don't have the heart to tell them that he doesn't have a clue!

Steve Morgan said...

Negative growth, eh? Sounds double-plus ungood for the economy. It also reminds me of the news out of Germany about negative interest rates on bonds, which is a way of describing (with negative clarity) the act of paying the German government to borrow your money. Nice work if you can get it.

The discussion of declining living standards and doublespeak is apropos this week as well, as the politicians and corporate media are trying to spin the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal to be somehow good for the US middle class and environmental protections. It's almost as though they're trying to distract people from the obvious results of every trade deal that's been signed in the last 20 years by shouting loudly that this time it's different.

It's no longer surprising to me, but on issue after issue I can't help thinking you're on to something with your hypothesis that all the propagandists from the former USSR have, like the German scientists from 50 years before them, taken up their old occupations here in the USA.

Eric said...

About spit out my beer with your "negative clarity" line! Thanks!

Wondering if you and your wife are going to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.

We went last year and really enjoyed it. Learned a lot too.

I've been working on my vegetable garden for over 10 years and still don't have it the way I want it! That being said I have been learning the Landscaping trade and Horticulture and have been really implementing organics, natives and edibles into my designs and installations. I'm at home with my two boys, but all my free time has been tied up the last month getting paid to help people with their gardening. I'm really loving it. Anyway, that is what I have been doing that fits into your post this week.

Thanks for everything.


pyrrhus said...

O/T question: you have mentioned in the past that it takes a 12:1 ratio of energy produced to energy expended in production to sustain civilization. How is that measured? Seems to me it would need to track energy all the way to the end user.

pygmycory said...

Dependencies... reptile edition! Having geckos means needing reliable electricity for heating. Using heat lamps means having to keep buying bulbs which seem to be designed to die very quickly. I also have assorted temporary warmth-producing items in case of power failures, and fluorescent lights for the live plants in their tanks. One of my geckos refuses to eat anything other than crickets, which means I'm buying live crickets for him at least every other week. It's a good thing I work at a pet store. He won't eat woodlice I catch, won't eat the mealworms I breed at home. If they were diurnal geckos I'd also have to worry about having special UVB lighting for them.

I think that this type of dependency on things few people need is going to hit the reptile hobby hard here in Canada when things fall much further apart. At least with tropical fish you aren't needing to visit the store every week or two for basic food, or replace the heater every few months. There are a lot more people that keep fish, too, so supplies are likely to be easier to find for longer. Out of all the major groups of animal pets, reptiles and amphibians were the last to really catch on and I think this dependency issue is a good portion of the reason (along with the fact that relatively few people love reptiles).

Redneck Girl said...

End of the InterNet?! Did I just hear the Trump of Doom?!

Give me my blankie and don't you dare say a word about my thumb!


J.D. Smith said...

While I suspect you have addressed the topic previously, this may be an (another?) opportune moment to examine Schumpeter's concept of "creative destruction" in relation to real and financial economies.

Sven said...

"Finally, and crucially, if you’re dependent on a failing system, when the system goes down, so do you."

Reminds me of one of your more memorable posts:

You whom Haggard holds in thrall,
Share his feast and share his fall.
You shall see your fortune flower
Till the torrent takes the tower.
Yet none but one of Hagsgate town
May bring the castle swirling down.

onething said...

I certainly agree about the learning curve, which is why I started to garden last summer. First of all, opening a new patch of ground is a lot of work. I was pleased with my results, but I had a lot of things that didn't do well, and just some mistakes that were rather small, like not knowing that some vegetables are ready very quickly, (radishes, cilantro) and almost missing harvesting them. I didn't realize how huge certain plants become, and so my garden was a mess that I could hardly walk around. Some things like peas, if you don't provide a climbing structure for them, will not produce much and some items absolutely must be weeded, like onions, or they disappear. This year, I am much more organized and much more determined to mulch properly. I have serious tomato cages. This year, I have a much better idea how many pounds of potatoes to plant. Also, I am improving the soil as I go, and it should improve each year.

We've got a local family around here who are a goldmine of information and they are making their livelihood from farming and teaching. Bob Gregory of Berea Gardens (.com) has a website worth checking out. He does week long training seminars monthly, but also has a 6 CD set, each is about 90 minutes long and he discusses more than you might ever have thought of, involving growing things. For example, my nearest neighbor has been vegetable farming for over 40 years and got an award from the farmer's market, yet he took Bob's course and bought the CD set and goes to Bob for advice regularly. If you've got a few bucks to spend, or if you can go in together with some others, consider getting that CD set. Because of him I started my garden with a soil analysis from a competent lab and knew what minerals it was missing and how to calculate what to add. He's a 7th Day Adventist, and once or twice says something of a religious nature, but its pretty low key.

There are other learning curves, such as building community. Chickens are a learning curve. I'm still in the process of figuring out which breeds I want. All that I bought last year are not it.
Oh, and another learning curve for me is seed saving. I saved quite a few seeds, but some things I just haven't figured out how to do it, or they didn't go to seed, or you collect it the second year and I didn't know that.

D.M. said...

I remember reading that before about how economists avoid using words meaning the economy is experiencing contraction. I know one of the words that you never hear when someone says growth is its opposite number, decay. I wonder what kind of world it would be if economists said we are experiencing negative decay instead of just simply growth.

Stacy said...

We bartered today with our teenaged neighbor who is already an accomplished beekeeper. He had ordered three nucs (hive nucleus) and in exchange for a ride to pick his bees up, he showed us how to make the bees that we had ordered at home in our new hive. All of the fun we were having brought another neighbor out into the sunshine who we all met for the first time. She's a botanist and I hope to learn more about my garden together with her. All in all, it was a very productive day.

Tye said...

Sometimes I wonder whether complex economic systems are analogous to complex technological ones. If greater complexity shoves externalities elsewhere, and creates dependencies that subject people to abuse and exploitation (cf health care system), then maybe this is what we're seeing in Greece (dependence on euro resulting in inability to depart 'austerity') and will see with Obama's TPP--greater complexity, greater dependence, more abuse.

Tasha T. said...

Clothes making has been so outsourced in America, that my friends are impressed when I do simple repairs such as sewing on a button or mending a split seam.

I buy everything from thrift stores and alter them to fit, it's the best way I have to get the quality of clothing I want. I crochet my own socks: the only thing I buy new is underwear (and I'm going to start making those soon, too.)

All the 'progress' of overseas clothing manufacture has left us with an inferior product. I can't even go into new clothing stores, especially those targeting young women. Kitchen rags are better constructed then some of these clothes. Price tags don't mean anything, I've seen $300 dresses with unfinished hems.

Manufacturers can get away with it because so many people don't know anything about garment construction. It doesn't matter that the clothing can't even protect you from the elements, so long as you go from heated house, to heated car, to heated office, and back again.

It's going to be a health hazard as more people have to actually weather the elements. At least the people I know can be stocked with warm socks.

Tom Bannister said...

Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength
War is Peace
Decline is Growth!!!! opps i mean negative Growth ;-)

Tasha T. said...


I live with an Iguana, some emergency ideas I've brainstormed:

For heat:

-If the power goes out, wrapping the tank in bubble wrap keeps in heat well.

-Heating slabs of rock in the oven or over a fire, then putting them in the tank for the animal to lay own

-Investing in building a greenhouse

-Investing in led UV lights, they last longer and can run off a battery.

For food:

-try producing their food yourself. Iguanas are easy, just dark leafy greens. Crickets are a pain cause they love to drown themselves in puddles of water, but the peace of mind of knowing you have food for your pet can be worth the struggle.

Also, for future pets, look at ones that are native to the area. I also live with a box turtle and two garter snakes, whom I don't have to worry about at all. If you are near the Great Lakes, there a lots of options!

John Michael Greer said...

Prizm, schools of that kind already exist, though they tend to specialize in particular sets of skills. A friend of mine who is a Civil War reenactor is currently attending artillery school, for example -- learning how to fire a muzzleloading cannon safely and effectively.

Fudoshin, and a negatively miserable Earth Day to you too!

tOM, ah, that old mirage: "work to put more enlightened people into power." We heard plenty about that in the Clinton and Obama campaigns. Do you happen to remember how that worked out?

Reave, give it a try, but have a plan B in place in case the crowdfunding thing flops. You might also put some time into learning how to hand draft horses, because traveling blacksmiths and tinkers with horsedrawn wagons were once a tolerably common sight in cultures around the world, and doubtless will be again.

James, I'd encourage you to relearn all those skills. Now's the time!

Will, the ability to repair and jerry-rig complicated systems is a very useful job skill already, so I think you're on to something.

Matthew, exactly. You get tonight's gold star for getting the point of all this.

FiftyNiner, glad to hear it. Get those seeds planted, and don't neglect the perennials -- does asparagus flourish where you are? That's one of the delights of spring here, and once they're in the ground, you have them for the long term.

Steve, I know. I originally made it as a joke, but the US media these days is so pervasively Pravdaesque that it's hard to keep from taking it seriously.

Eric, not this year -- my wife has the closet stuffed with as much wool as she can spin and then some. By all means enjoy it, though.

Pyrrhus, the mathematics of net energy are extremely complex; I'd encourage you to look up discussions of the subject online or in print media and follow the debates yourself.

Pygmycory, I love reptiles, as it happens, but I prefer them in their natural habitat, where they seem to get along just fine.

JLouis said...

Your post essentially offers a different lens for looking at many of the complex tools and technologies that shape our lives. But don't we also need different eyes for understanding and accepting the clearer picture of reality that your lens provides, as well as different attitudes for acting on what we see? How else can we trade some of the comfort-seeking and passivity of urban culture for the physical and psychological toughness and independent spirit that characterized many of the frontier communities that you described in The End of Empire.? I am reminded of some of my pioneering ancestors who in the late 18th century carved out sustainable communities along the Ohio River, just west of where you live in Cumberland, Md. As they moved west, they had to be very discriminating about which tools and technologies among the growing number available in that era would really make their lives better without burdening them economically or compromising their independence--like durable rifles and wagons that could be repaired locally. What those hardy forebears can teach us isn't about dressing in buckskins and churning our own butter. It's about getting a clearer idea of what our true needs are and experience the pleasures of satisfying them in much simpler, more direct ways.

jean-vivien said...

This post comes as an interesting verbal complement to the "Atlantis won't sink" one.
Indeed language is a potent tool, and using it in subversive ways can strongly help reshape our consciousness. The sword can cut both ways, think of Orwell's double-speak which was a negatively bad example of negative social progress.

So let me enjoy this negatively long moment of negative sleep to submit a negatively insightful comment : one of the reasons behind the current fad for startups and innovation might be because there is a negative abundance of innovative ways to produce actual wealth, and that negative abundance allows for investor's money to be reallocated to find new ways of producing negative returns. Whether the financial system can work negatively well enough at leaving us negatively rich will all too soon be History... in a hopefully negatively short timespan.

As a side note, I would like to add that after all the negative boons the USA's foreign policies has brought to the rest of the world : negatively awesome Transformers movies, the IMF's subsidies for negative development of public services, the negative help of ISIS in the Middle East, the negative peace returned to Irak, Syria and Afghanistan - said rest of the world would be quite negatively sad if the whole nation of the USA could negatively progress a little faster... unless some negatively evil negative cowards can take action to change it from the inside. Fortunately it appears that some grassroots movements will be quite negatively sad to push towards the direction of negatively continuing investments in negatively productive foreign policies.

John Michael Greer said...

Wadulisi, funny. Stay tuned!

J.D., I'm not a great fan of Schumpeter's ideas, but I'll consider it.

Sven, everything in this blog is the unfolding of a single complex pattern of thought, so I'm not surprised you notice the resonances.

Onething, exactly. Interestingly, the learning curve has to be repeated when you relocate -- I'm only just now getting a good handle on gardening here in the north central Appalachians, having learned in the Puget Sound region and then relearned in the high desert in southern Oregon. Some skills transfer, but a lot of things are location-dependent.

DM, I like that. "The economy negatively contracted by 1/3% last year..."

Stacy, thank you. Every time I hear something like that I feel better about the future.

Tye, excellent! Yes, complexity as such -- not just technological complexity -- increases the opportunities for externalizing costs, and market forces make sure that those opportunities will be taken; complexity also has to be paid for -- all those additional bureaucrats have to get their salaries, after all -- which piles additional costs onto the whole system.

Tasha, excellent. I'm guessing you'll have no trouble making the shift to a very successful new career.

Tom, good. Or, perhaps, doubleplusunbad...

JLouis, of course, but that's another theme for another week.

Jean-Vivien, that was negatively negatively negatively negatively funny...

SRBEL said...

what do you call an economist who makes a prediction?

Negatively positive.

Strovenovus said...


Wow. Thank you for this. Do you sound almost ... wrathful?-- in a juristic sense to be sure ... or am I projecting?

Negative growth, huh. Negative negatives amount to a positive signal as a warning, no doubt, but that's a hard path you choose, Archdruid. Negative Archdruid?

I confess that I don't know what the light is, exactly, but I have my beliefs and I believe that I must thank and bless and then doubt and question everything that I have been granted above absolute ignorance,and I live by the light that I find shining, and I trust that there is a light in every corner. Even (Especially?) in those who turn away from the darkness because in order to truly do so, you must first face the darkness.

Positive Primitivism? You encourage art. Are you prepared to get religious about this?

The only externality-free way of living is in harmony with mother nature, giving back exactly how much we take. Time is the rub, it seems to me. More than once you've leaned forward and placed your beard upon the very question of how much of the endowment can be saved.

Speaking of hard paths, I have found it best in my bicycle riding to own a bike that can handle well on a hard packed dirt path. Steel frame mountain, simple gears. I don't ride too far, but I love it.

How will bikes survive? Bike tires made of rubber? Hmmm. Will bikes survive, or how long? Have you read anything on this, or have any further thoughts?


Zachary Braverman said...

The current series of posts motivated me to buy a copy of Green Wizardry. I was pleasantly surprised to find it available here in Japan through Amazon, although I'm aware of the irony that next-day delivery of your book in Japan is dependent on healthy functioning of many of the systems whose downfall is taken for granted in the book.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the quality of the printing. So many books these days seem engineered to begin yellowing and coming apart so rapidly after purchase.

Bike Trog said...

I get a lot of screen time, by pulling metals off TV screens. The scrap I sell probably goes to Asia and comes back as more gadgets, but sometimes I can pass stuff to family and friends for immediate reuse.

Derv said...


Been lurking recently (didn't have much to add and showed up late when there were already 200 comments), but I wanted to say that this was very interesting, as always. I've been brainstorming for a better phrase than "externality system" and have a few suggestions. Naming the concept will give it a firm reality in the minds of your audience.

But first, I'd like to point out how funny I find it that the spell checker in your comments section doesn't recognize "externality" as a word. That pretty much encapsulates the flaws of modern thinking, doesn't it? Anyways, onto my suggestions:

The Externet - I think the term should imply just how dependent we are upon it, and how this externality system is really another element of our "infrastructure" in a broad sense. The externet is to industrial processes what the internet is to information processes in modern civilization. It suggests pervasiveness, interconnectedness, and is decently catchy.

The Rust Dump - The rust dump is the counterpart to the old rust belt; it's the filthy funnel or chemical-laden waste site that pours the unwanted crap out of sight and out of mind. Rust pipe works too.

The Waste Grid - a networked, essential, integral system upon which our modern technologies depend (just like the electrical grid) for their functioning. The four letter alternative for "waste" works as well and sounds better, but this is a PG blog after all.

There's all sorts of fun words we can create for this! For instance, we could call the problems that come from the externet "dilutionitis." The supposed solution to pollution is dilution, until it becomes pervasive and leads to worldwide inflammation. If left untreated, it can lead to pollutionosis, chemical maldependency, or even crudabolic collapse.

Come on, everybody, join in and create your own! Perhaps JMG will take a liking to it and it'll become the next Green Wizardry!

Raymond Duckling said...


If you want to understand a bit more about the craziness of the Silicon Valley's startup scene, you should read Michel O. Church's blog:

Basically, his thesis is that startups are the Disney-preneur version of starting a new business. Rich kids have their future settled, but they need to be "seen to earn it" in order to keep up with the US meme of rugged individualists. So they go to California and use their intangible family connections to get access to the Venture Capitalist cabal there.

So, the whole experience is fabricated, superficially looking like the real thing but with every possibility of failure removed from the equation. Burned through your investor's money to push an idea with no head and no feet? No problem, they knew there was risk involved. Go take this well paying job at your buddy's startup, gain some more experience and try again in a year or two.

And where do the return for investors come, then? Well, this is a sort of arbitrage. The Venture Capitalists of SV take advantage of the fact that old fashioned Corporations do not want to pay for their own R&D anymore, so they take the few viable companies that are produced by their sausage factory, hype those to High Kingdom, and sell both the intellectual property and the engineers who created it (Acqui-hire is the term) for was much as their clueless customers are willing to pay.

For some reason, the executives of Corporations seem unable to grasp the fact that you may attempt to do something and *fail* despite doing everything right. So they'd rather pay much more money for a technology/user_base combo that already exist than what it would cost to fund the in house development of something similar. Somehow I think this has to do with the senility of our civilization's so called leadership.

Andrew Crews said...


That is kind of my strategy going forward. Much of this involves the very internal and reflect view of managing expectations. I used the computer for playing games and socializing with my high school friends from around the country. However, I don't rely on my computer for anything other than some social stimulation. My wife and I have a car but we both are less than a quarter mile from where we work. I germinate and grow and herb garden and some vines out on our porch and am looking for a farmer to pay a reasonable fee too in order to start and summer garden. The far and away most important thing is i don't expect car culture, computers, and easy access to manufactured goods to last and am adjusting accordingly. Far an away the most important thing for the collapse now is preventative healthcare in the form of excellent diet and exercise. lifestyle will be the new health insurance.

People seem to think collapse now means drop everything and homestead in the country. However, I think the smarter strategy is to collapse a bit faster than the world around you, as long as you stay ahead of the curve your fine. Besides, in my experience good habits can only be maintained if you transition slowly, whereas fast transitions are prone to relapse and disillusionment.

As somewhat of a neo-primitivist I just hope I don't alienate myself from the surrounding populace too much. In times of stress I suppose people are more prone to look for scapegoats and anyone a bit too eccentric. Overall, your strategies don't require dramatic lifestyle changes especially millennial of the iphonephobic disposition.

As a reader who hasn't missed a post in the last 3 years, Thanks!

I'd love to send you some good craft stouts from the area just down the blue-ridge someday.


YCS said...

I saw this article linked through Low-Tech Magazine that talked about 'progress' without fossil fuels. The author seemed to get that without the fancy black stuff, people's energy consumption would be far lower, and the world would operate in a very different way. The only funny thing is that he misses the obvious collapse in front of him and ponders over some sort of 'apocalypse event'.

It's amazing that such heretic ideas are being picked up by the generally high priests of the temple of progress (i.e. physicists).


Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

The museum was organized by mountain bike enthusiasts, but according to this article, the collection has expanded to include much earlier models of bicycles.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Frankly, I'm surprised you hadn't heard the term 'negative growth' before. It's been the standard euphemism in business reporting over here in the UK for - I'd say - 20 years. Usually the term is preceded by the word 'temporary', thus reinforcing the inevitability of permanent economic expansion. I could be wrong but I think it was the BBC's craven business reporters who first coined that term.

As for growing vegetables, I'll have to admit that I'm not a big fan of doing so. I grow a few tomato plants, some potatoes and peas and maybe a few beetroots every year, but usually the slugs and rabbits and other beasties make a mockery of my efforts.

Which is why I'm instead growing an edible forest and orchard. Okay, so the lead times are probably longer, but I'm planting up so many fruit and nut trees, vines and perennials that I aim to have a surplus to trade with some of my friends and neighbours - many of whom are very much into vegetable gardening. I'm even experimenting with growing such exotics as olives, oranges, lemons and avocados as I imagine these things will fetch a premium should regular supply lines fail.

What's more, I have my first order for local charcoal this year - 100 bags of it (cooked up in an old oil drum).

Anyway, thanks for this week's post - I'm always negatively despondent to see it.

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

hmmm ...

for "externality system",

how about... "exosystem" ?

Karim said...

Greetings all!

Perhaps we could extent the externality system to include final disposal as it has costs that are off-loaded onto someone else and we become dependent onto the final disposal system too.

As for negative growth, it might be interesting to note that the exact same term also pops up in French media to which we are well exposed in Mauritius under the french equivalent of "croissance negative".

PS: Since JMG wrote about the "electronic leprosy" last time, I have taken to note the increasing number of TV screens in restaurants here also. We haven't reached the wall to wall phenomenon yet but a few screens do pop up here and there.

I can only chuckle at the "outlandish" suggestion about the "impending death of the internet" for the Mauritian Government has recently decided to launch 8 smart cities here (yes 8!) within the next decade!

We live in a truly global world.

Chloe said...

Long-time reader, first-time commenter...

This strikes me as a case of, "I do not think that word means what you ("you" the talking heads, not "you" JMG) think it means." My knowledge of formal linguistics is shaky, but... "Growth" means "to get bigger, to expand" and that is *still what it means* regardless of whatever words you put around it. Adding an adjective means you're making a description of "growth" itself; so taken as read, "negative growth" is "growth with a negative quality", eg "the negative growth in carbon emissions/unemployment/child poverty..." To change the meaning you would have to modify the word itself (ungrowth, degrowth etc), if you were determined not to use one of the handy antonyms for "growth" already in existence, such as "contraction".

(The confusion might come from words like "correlation", but a correlation simply means there's a relationship - that's why you have to specify whether it's positive or negative.)

Therefore a) what the talking heads are actually saying is not what they're trying to say which is the thing they don't want to say (contraction) and b) they've done so by using the word "negative", which is practically taboo in politics and certainly in discussions of growth (growth is good, don't cha know?) so I fail to see how they think it's any better.

In terms of getting ahead of the curve, and as a Millennial - a few of us have recently been trying to convert the rest of our friends to knitting, with various degrees of success, though we are all put to shame by the friend who spins her own yarn (the old old way - with a spindle and distaff). Gardening is a bit tricky in university accommodation, as are woodworking and some other things I'd quite like to learn; unfortunately, the closest uni comes to teaching practical skills is lectures in PowerPoint presentations. Of course it does, because it's set up to prepare people for the world everybody is still convinced we're going to have - something I wasn't brave enough to challenge at eighteen when, being somewhat clever, it was assumed I would get a degree and subsequent "good job". The joke is, studying archaeology gives you a much better understanding of the depth and cycles of time than most people seem to have, and a couple of books about collapse and breakdown even make it onto the reading list, though nobody in the field ever seems to make the connection to our own society. So I've learned useful things over the past few years, but they're not the ones anybody was trying to teach me. I do know how to knap flint and the principles of constructing a smelting furnace, to prove that my degree is not *entirely* useless...

das monde said...

Negative growths, dependency on externality distribution system - we can fun with that indeed. A few more facets could be added. From a thermodynamic perspective, abusing externalities is the fuel of growth - normally, not the only one. But with "genuine" life-supporting resources on decline, reliance on externalities starts to dominate. Like a stuttering old machine, the system starts to ingest the resources more hungrily and leave more waste. Intensity of externality abuse increased manifold in the last few decades, even if at first that looked like a political choice. Say, the liberal left talked a lot about externalities during the W Bush years - noticing particularly how corporations are increasingly granted freedom from externalities costs. By now it is clear that it was not a political bug but a transformational feature.

I R Orchard said...

The death of the Internet? OMG!! No more weekly Archdruid!!

Kutamun said...

Yet with this all this negative talk about negative growth gets me wondering how much economic activity is simply going underground . I suppose there are two economies really . My own locality is loudly written off as " an economic basket case ", there are steadily increasing numbers of people growing their own food , drawing their own water and wood , knocking over their own killer meat , swapping rides , recipes rhymes and yarns ; kid minding and favour swapping . Against the backdrop of abundant water and natural resources it makes me think this place is probably wealthy ! . Yet the local technocrats wring their hands and bemoan the lack of revenue , employment and investment causing problems maintaining the infrastructure ; yet people are steadily reemploying and reinventing themselves . Poor old economy , its wealth is being sucked upwards and made to miraculously disappear at the bottom end and it is beginning to resemble a chip packet fried in the microwave .. Soon we will give it some Soma and pack it off to mexico to forever ride the lonely steppe with Ambrose Bierce ! ..

Erik Buitenhuis said...

I would say that the 5 year timeframe to learn to grow your own fruit and vegetables is only about right if you count that as 5 years worth AFTER you've become independent of the externality system. For most people I see around me, being in the system leaves them very little time to dedicate to getting out, too little to get a year's worth of experience per year. I got to the point of growing all my fruit and vegetables 6 years ago, and could then afford to start working 4 days a week, and I'm now in year 4 of trying to grow all my dinner carbohydrates. I'll let you know if try 4 is successful.

Kathleen Hacker said...

"In my experience, it takes around five years of hard work, study, and learning from your mistakes to become a competent vegetable gardener." I am actually sitting here crying after reading these words. Tears of relief and joy. I am entering my fourth season this year and although there have been some small successes, overall I have felt like a failure. You have given me hope and resolve. Thank you, JMG!

Tony f. whelKs said...

Another interesting - or should that be negatively boring? - piece, JMG. I've recently been mulling over ideas for my 3015 tale, and thought I was breaking some new ground, and here you are already raking it to a fine tilth ;-)

I think the main purpose of the 'negative growth' terminology is not so much squeamishness in actually naming decline or contraction, but rather to maintain control of the framing of the discussion. Even if it's termed 'negative', keeping 'growth' in the phrase serves to keep economic discussion within the 'growth is normal' frame. In a way they are trying to artificially create an 'economic arrow' in the same sense that thermodynamics creates 'time's arrow'. Even though even the attempt qualifies as organic fertiliser of bovine origin...

I must admit, I was expecting you to coin 'externality suite' as a mirror and complement to the 'technology suite' concept you floated a few posts back. It struck me as I was reading that the much vaunted term 'infrastructure' (which we must 'invest' in for the future's sake) is effectively just the sum of a technology suite and its matching externality suite (or system). By and large, I suspect that the big danger here is that failing technology suites can leave us tied to the externalities without the benefits - the worst of both worlds.

Talking of two worlds, particularly the trick that many of us here are trying to pull off, that of keeping a foot in each. What if they're not worlds, but ships? Trying to keep a foot on each of two ships can leave you in a world of hurt once the swell picks up. Gotta choose your time to leap to the lifeboat. Now THAT is an unforgiving learning curve!

Cherokee Organics said...


Negative growth - thanks for the laugh. It would be nice though if people weren't using that term in a serious manner. It is worth remembering that 1929 which was just prior to the Great Depression was a gilded age for economists where their supposed expertise was employed as spruikers for corporations whose sole purpose was to purchase shares in other companies and thereby charge even more for their own shares in turn (the most positive explanation would be goodwill, whereas a lesser explanation would be a Ponzi scheme). The economists have failed to have such a good track record on predictions even in recent years. I wouldn't trust an economist to look after the chickens here for even one day.

Externalities, yes too true. Whoever controls the debt controls the asset. I am quite disturbed at the extent of parasitic gaming that is going on down here. It is breathtaking to behold and the false narratives that are being told are even more mind bogglingly dishonest - they don't even stand up to much observation and investigation at all.

Gardening. I hear you man. I've been at that activity for years and it is an incremental learning experience. Actually, chance situations aside, I reckon the knowledge of that experience can keep a person safe in the worst of times. I could certainly hand the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse a cold one and they'd enjoy it too! We'd be fast friends and I reckon they'd extract a cheaper level of overall costs too.

In your forthcoming discussion about the Internet, it might be worth considering what a monster some of the big name players in the internet industry actually are. They gobble up every bit of pre internet infrastructure before them down under. And it is worthwhile mentioning that they pay very little or next to no taxes down under – they don’t even charge goods and services tax on their services despite supplying them in Australia. How can the local advertising and newspaper services compete with behemoths that aren't playing on a level playing field? They operate like a giant wealth pump. Some of them have even managed to wangle the very same status as a small business despite having truly stupendous revenues, so that means that they are exempted from even the most basic reporting requirements. The problem is that they have forgotten that such parasites can eventually kill the host. I can't help but think that such activities appear to be an enforced foreign policy? There doesn't seem to be any other plausible explanation. Certainly it appears to be making people in Singapore and Switzerland quite wealthy, whilst paying dividends to shareholders in the US. It is quite ugly.



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: Hen's teeth where I finally sourced some second hand and very durable galvanised iron sheeting for the new wood shed - but it is getting much harder to find. The weather has turned very damp here, so I've put some local limestone rocks down across the excavation site. The rhubarb so rudely divided recently has now taken. I discuss how to grow a living fence. The tea camellia has even produced a flower! Lots of citrus, olives and medlar activity too! Plus the house construction is shown and I talk about how the whole frame is tied together. All good stuff with lots of photos.

Denys said...

On growth of the US economy through the 1970's and 1980's.......would it be too cynical to say that it was partially because TV daytime talk shows like Donahue and Oprah made getting a divorce fashionable and necessary, so where there would have been one house with all its pots and pans and furniture, now there were two?

I have met hundreds of people - really hundreds - who look back and wish they had never divorced. Their lives were more complicated and more stressful, the issues they had with their spouse were really their own personal issues, and the process left them distracted, bitter and in debt for decades.

peakfuture said...

Onething mentioned building community - of all the skills, that seems the most ephemeral, but seems one of the most important. If you don't have a hard skill, but are a known, trusted, hardworking person, that can learn, that's a big plus. Someone who steals, cheats, and lies isn't going to be welcomed anywhere. Dmitry Orlov has written extensively on this (Communities That Abide).

This doesn't eliminate the need to learn hard skills, but knowing your neighbors and having trust - can you imagine living without those things? My own experience in upstate NY was that if you didn't pitch in and share, called the local constable at every opportunity ('get your dog off my lawn!'), treated tradespeople you hired horribly - when something went haywire, you were last on the list to be helped if at all. However, if you loaned tools (and returned them when you borrowed them), let people use your laundry room or garage for winter storage, invited people to share the bounty of a garden and so on, you were far more likely to get help when things got a bit rough (i.e., during a winter storm).

Some of the more 'prepper' oriented folks have also brought up things that are also long term projects - like getting in decent physical condition, and changing your diet. Quitting smoking is another, if you have that tough-to-break habit.

There's a (Turkish?) saying, "No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back." You can start by trading in the smart phone for a dumb phone; start biking when you can; getting to know your neighbors; shopping at Good Will. William Church mentioned 'learning new skills' - absolutely yes! That's the first part of my main guideline of 'Invest in yourself, invest in your community."

This all seems so obvious, but implementation is the tough one.

It is a true pleasure to read the comments here, while the Internet still works this easily.

JMG, the 'Death of the Internet' - that's going to be an interesting essay for sure. Looking forward to it.

Lawfish1964 said...

You're spot on about the garden, JMG. I first planted a garden two years ago, so this is my third spring. The first year, I had some stunning successes (40 lbs. of potatoes) and some epic failures (indeterminate tomatoes that grew too far unsupported, squash plants devastated by vine borers, etc.). Last year, the potato crop wasn't so impressive and squash was so infested with borers that I harvested narry a fruit. But my tomatoes produced heavily - so much so that I ended up canning about 8 quarts for the winter. This year is bang on. Potatoes are growing like weeds and I've got 32 tomato plants in a 12' x 8' box that are blossoming and fruiting like crazy (from 40 seeds planted - a 100% germination rate, same as last year; I ended up giving away 8 plants to friends). But a whole row of watermelon failed to germinate and a row of giant cucumber melons is off to a sorry start. As I have learned, the time to learn how to grow food is before your life depends on it.

Your reference to old tools and repurposing also struck a chord with me. One of my wife's contributions to our marriage was an old Singer sewing machine from the 1800's that her great grandmother used. We've had it stuck in a corner of our bedroom gathering dust for 15 years and during a spring cleaning a couple years ago, I decided it was too unsightly and had to go. What use did we have for an ancient foot-operated sewing machine anyway? My wife insisted and we had a strong argument, but the machine stayed. Now that my eyes are open to the coming collapse, I see that machine as one of the truly useful tools we will have post-collapse. Just need to put a belt from the treadle to the machine and it's good to go. No electricity needed.

Great post as usual!

escapefromwisconsin said...

Well, we are already trying negative interest rates to get the economy moving again. Negative growth, negative interest. Let's not forget to add "discouraged workers" for people who are wiped clean from unemployment statistics in our dictionary of economic Doublespeak.

Don't be too hard on economists, though; they have come up with another euphemism that's not quite so cheery: secular stagnation. Has a nice, almost sort of medieval ring to it. And this headline in the Washington Post gives us some hope: Economists have discovered how bad the economy really is. Only took what, 8 years? Maybe they'll discover Peak Oil someday, too.

fudoshindotcom said...

I find it interesting that Americans, in general, see themselves as rugged individualists, and count that an admirable trait.
Every media portrayal of the few remaining cultures that live simply and close to the earth, a lifestyle that inherently embodies those characteristics, are painted as ignorant, uncivilized, and pitiable people. At least in my experience.
We must, in turn, seem hopelessly unskilled to them, utterly incapable of meeting our own basic needs independently.
I.E. last week I passed a young man in his twenties outside a grocery store holding a cardboard sign that read, "Hungry, anything will help.". The small patch of grass he stood in contained at least three common species of edible plants in some abundance.

I think part of me hoped he was pan-handling for the purpose of obtaining money for illicit drugs, rather than begging for food while standing on it.

patriciaormsby said...

I have posted my Space Bats Challenge entry here:
There is one element in it that might possibly disqualify it--a fictional substance that enhances an innate ability of remote sensing that I've heard of among tribal people who have neither negatively nor positively progressed, at least in terms of their externality system footprint. It is one of those things that would likely be debunked, but I'll let you be the judge. It does at least give a female perspective on the future.

winingwizzard said...

@ JMG -
What do you feel about recycling/repurposing as they relate to externalities?

Many things can be repurposed - at the farm, we repurposed pallet lumber as internal siding via a belt sander and design changes, as well as old barn tin, large crating timbers, door and window hardware and plumbing parts.

We did not use all recycled lumber due to dimensional issues - there is very little 16-foot anything as scrap; even 8-foot is hard to come by. We did manufacture doors from scrap and windows from scrap (even the glass was scrap). Of course each window is slightly different dimensions. Lots of the 2nd floor is made from political signage taken down post-election.

Electrical wiring is not available - it gets turned into cash by everybody that finds it. But we do have enough fixtures and switches we have garnered.

No vehicles (tractors, 4-wheelers and trucks are new - all are rebuilt) or implements are bought new.

Do you view this as a way to at least minimize externalities??

I will say that from a tax standpoint, NOT buying new has a negative impact in that current tax laws depreciate everything and thus you don't get much of a tax break until you are neck deep in expenditures.

Yupped said...

I negatively concur about the 5 years to learn to garden well. I agree that in that time you can become quite competent in the basics of growing food plants. But it takes longer I think to learn how to grow at scale, to manage soil fertility for the long haul, to deal with pests and disease, and to work with the supplemental systems that can make a home-grown diet interesting - chickens, rabbits, brewing, preserving the harvest so that you have some calories year-round, etc.

That said I'm not an advocate of self-sufficiency at all, and would love to see these and other sorts of home productivity skills widely spread across a productive community, with people helping each other out. But that will only happen fruitfully in places where basic skills and infrastructure are already in place. That seems to be another reason to get started with the attitudinal and preparatory changes as early as possible - more interesting possibilities will accrue for individuals and communities that have already put the foundations in place when the time comes to get serious about dealing with reality.

jonathan said...

on the lighter side of world spanning collapse, you may want to have a look at this video from "last week tonight":

winingwizzard said...

@ Reave Vanshar -

In Texas, where we have a LOT of horses still, there are only a little over a hundred certified farriers.

As global supply chains stutter and fall apart, it is the little things that will be most missed. Screws of all types are manufactured in places far from North America. Nails are similarly shipped from cheap labor pools, as are bolts and nuts. Hardware will be a very intense recycling business, from where I am sitting.

I purchased two chinese-fabbed window locks for the windows we made last week. BOTH failed on the second latching - the brads were too inane and they simply fell apart. We had to re-brad them correctly to make them work. These were $3 each, and things like this are no longer made in North America. Even the 'proudly made in the USA' stamp is baloney because the parts are made elsewhere...

You will find that recycling or fixing things like door locks or any electric motor is problematic with the newer foreign made stuff - it is minimally designed, and designed for a life expectancy of only a few years. Throwaway stuff does not re-tool easily - one winds up trying to fix really bad design issues.

If you take a spin through the fastener department at Lowes or Home Depot, you will get an idea of how few common fasteners are used in assembly today - most fasteners are minimal or proprietary or troublesome to find - designed that way purposefully to force you back into the 'repair system' or just to outright purchase new instead of fixing it yourself.

Our generator actually had a set of 'dummy bolts' on the cowling that attached to nothing, and we had to purchase a set of torx sockets to disassemble the thing to repair it. In addition, it used both SAE and metric nuts and bolts, as the generator was metric and the motor was SAE - then the crazy torx cowling and carb attachments. Took 3 sets of tools to repair the (LARGE and FOUL expletive) thing. But was still far cheaper than buying new...

ChemEng said...

I am now in my third year of serious gardening. It has been a slow process — your five years sounds quite optimistic. Books and internet articles can be helpful but there is no substitute for doing the actual work. As a minor example, each year I put in more raised beds. As I look at the beds I have installed in those years I can see how my construction techniques have evolved as I learned what worked and what didn’t.

It is also important to be clear about the costs. I put in two dozen blueberry bushes. The bushes are doing great but the birds get all the berries. Which means that I need to install netting: yet more time and money.

I have found gardening to be hard work, but the right kind of work: four or more hours per day of standing, walking, bending, digging and lifting is quite a work-out. I have lost a few pounds without really trying. Gardening is also mentally relaxing (most of the time). I do not carry any technology (including a watch). I completely lose track of time — and that’s good. And I have never paid as much attention as I do now to the weather and the seasonal changes.

The biggest challenge is pest control, particularly if you try to avoid the use of toxic chemicals.

Lynnet said...

@ tOM:
Don't place your confidence for the future in GMO seeds; 95% of GMOs are designed to make crops resistant to herbicides, mostly glyphosate but now including 2,4D. You have to buy the expensive seed, plus the expensive herbicide that the seed is designed for, and hope to get a few crops before the weeds are Roundup-resistant as well.

Andrew A-J said...

I would like to throw out a caution to those expecting technological regression to position them such that they can weather the "negative growth" in our collective future. Although regression removes some of the fantastical elements inherent in today's "advanced" technology, things as simple as sewing machines require use, knowledge, confidence, and care that an unpracticed person simply does not possess. The same applies to bikes, push mowers, wood stoves, garden tools, etc. Just because it comes from the 19th century or earlier, does not mean that you will be able to use, fix or manufacture such technology, in whole or in part, especially now that the west has externalized most of the dependency systems which supported such technologies. Also, we as a society, have allowed the visceral connection with our tools to atrophy, much like we have with our food production. As is the case with gardening that you so accurately expound upon J.M.G, expect a long, dirty, and sometimes painful learning curve if you plan to journey down the road of regression voluntarily. For me, long and dirty is much better than dead, however, so bring on the grease!

Dmitry Orlov said...

There is a language that expresses negatives as malpositives: Esperanto. The Esperanto word for "evil" is "malbono". Very parsimonious.

Mr. Bystander said...

Mr. Greer.

Thank you again for another brilliant post this week. I was locked into your every word as usual. It's funny that you mentioned the survival seed packs because I recently purchased one. There was a good deal on it that I could not pass up. After researching the topic I am becoming very aware of the difficulties of planting and harvesting food and appreciate that it will take a lot of time and patience to learn.

Thinking along the lines of your post, I am particularly interested in figuring out the relevant skills one would need to acquire and a priority order in which to acquire them as we "negatively progress" into the future and "collapse before the rush." Skills that perhaps a typical archetypal inhabitant of our past might have posessed. I'm sure one could teach themselves but it might take a great deal longer than learning from someone else. For example I also purchased a field guide to flora and fauna found naturally in the northeast but learning from that guide has been slow going.

Looking forward to next week's post.

k-dog said...

Your paragraph about a five year learning curve having to be surmounted to be a competent vegetable grower is priceless. In my mind it demonstrates another hidden cost of externalities (which are already hidden to begin with) superbly.

A cultural skill which may have developed from decades or even centuries of slow social evolution can in a heartbeat be lost when the need for it is replaced by 'progress'. Then after the better/cheaper/faster alternatives that negative progress provides becomes unavailable cultural skills lost cannot be recovered. I'm in my second year of acquiring vegetable growing skills and your five year assessment of how long it will takes I'm finding accurate. Last year when I started I was surprised to find that even knowing when to harvest different veggies is difficult when you have not done it before. I thought when to harvest would be obvious. I was wrong.

When the negative cultural advancement that American life has experienced for more than a hundred years from 'progress' comes to an end Americans may find they have less culture than a medieval village on which to fall back on.

The technological wave on which we have surfed and been sustained will inevitably crash on realities shore leaving us wet and gasping for breath. Then we will drown because the ability to go local has been irrevocably eroded.

Brian Cady said...


Here's an attempt to cajole first-worlders toward the only future that'll work:

Using energy eliminates labor, but pollutes.

Those before us brilliantly eliminated use of then-scarce labor with use of
then-plentiful resources. Think Industrial Revolution and fossil fuels.

Now we live in a world emptying of resources and brimming with laborers, and pollution. Think resource depletion and 7 plus billion of us, and climate crisis.

Shifting technologies to reduce resource use by using more labor could
create needed jobs, while sparing now-rare resources, all while yielding
less industrial pollution. It's a win-win-win.

And taxing 'bads', like resource use and pollution, instead of 'goods',
like paying payroll, can lead us toward a workably sane world. Think
carbon tax instead of payroll tax.

I hope the above sums up a perspective I first came across in the writings of E.F. Schumacher, Herman Daly and Hazel Henderson. It guides me to this day, and I hope you'll find this useful as well.

Unknown said...

The externalities of photography are amazing, too. I own a digital camera, true, but I also own some that are much older than I am or about the same age (mid 40's) and increasingly, I'm looking to reduce my externalities for making photos. Eventually, I'm probably going to be making my own capture surfaces (not necessarily film, per se, glass plates) but some of the cameras I own are superbly adapted for that! It will greatly slow down the already slow process of using a view camera if I have to make each plate and coat each piece of printing paper. Of course all this assumes that "basic" chemicals continue to be available at prices I can handle (Silver Nitrate is one of the toughies, but gelatin might also be a real challenge in some situations).

David Condron said...

JMG - A brilliant exposition of the central organizing principle of the Resistance to the System. I only learned this compliments of Hurricane Katrina and reading Harlan Hubbard's Shantyboat: A River Way of life. Learning how to be useful is the basic tool of economic survival. None of the preppers holed up in hunting cabins would survive long term without being useful to their fellow humans. We can "negatively grow" while still enjoying some of the benefits of the System as long as we can discipline ourselves to "eat and remain hungry" as the Desert Father once said. There is a balance between independence and dependence as you noted. But certainly our 21st century challenge is to move in the direction of Independence rather than Dependence. A direction our American forefathers (Native and Immigrant) would heartily approve of, I would think.

pygmycory said...

My two geckos are probably the most egregiously unnecessary dependent thing I do. I got into that because my landlord won't allow ANY other pet(well, I had a praying mantis a few years back that she didn't mind). I asked about everything from chickens to rabbits to fish to gerbils, believe me. But the rent's unusually cheap, I have access to gardening space and we get along really well, so I stay. I think I'm pretty well set up for power outages of multiple days. Over a week, not so much.

Do you have any suggestions for a younger person with invisible disability issues who can't work enough to fully support themselves, apart from cutting expenses to the bone? I've done quite a lot of that already: no car, no smartphone, grow a fair bit of my own food, buy used rather than new whenever possible, learn garden, cooking and textile skills. I tried woodworking but it played very badly with my hand issues. I know full well how vulnerable I am.

mrdeepwater said...

Great post as always. In honor of earth day, Naomi Klein posted on her blog the speech of I.F. Stone during the very first earth day on April 22 1970, whose scathing words still ring true today.

I think one of our most precious resources, resources that will be very much needed in our long descent, are those individuals who are willing to have the hard conversations that attempt to stir the majority out of their delusional thinking and face reality. Individuals such as yourself. Even if only a few take heed, the effort will be well worth it.

Although, from the looks of your blog, more than just a few are paying attention.

Clay Dennis said...

Great Post Today,

You mentioned something that I think about all the time with regards to the externality systems of the bicycle. In the last few years I have been redirecting my long honed skills in metalworking in to bike building. I am always thinking of which items that I use in building a frame and an entire bike that I will be able to get in a collapsing future. This is an important question as the single most fragile, destructive, energy consuming and important to the current economic regime is the automobile. I beleive that the only realistic option that we will have ( beyond walking) when things really decline is bikes in many forms.
Fortunetly much can be done by refitting and repairing the millions of bikes that are collecting dust in suburban garages. The ones that are not up to daily use can be a source of what will become hard to get parts in the future.
But when this is not enough, what parts will still be availible, or can be made on a small scale when the range of technological suites availible to us is far narrower. Unfortunetly the bicycle component manufacturing base in the U.S. has been gutted and is down to a few small makers of high end components that are very high quality but expensive. I have tried to experiment with making as many parts as I can, but this is fairly limited. but possible for things like hubs or crank arms. Making bikes from salvaged materials is also possible, and the best work being done in this realm is in the "freak bike" community. "freak bikes" are bicycle oddities such as tall bikes, bizzare tandems, and low riders. Luckily the ethos in the this community is to be respected you must build your own "ride". This has led to a great number of freak bikes being built from plumbing, conduit, and joined with primative welding. Not pretty but passable when transportation becomes more important than style. The two things that I think may be too technically complex to make from scratch or scrap in the future will be gearing systems ( buy and store a nice three speed hub for your future bike JMG) and tires/tubes. Bike tires and tubes are also no longer made in the U.S. and are absolutely critical to a functioning bike. They also require a moderately advanced technological suite. So anyone who has a bent toward collecting usefull items that will have great value in the future you can't go wrong with bicycle tires and tubes.

Paulo said...

Someone named 'they' said, "it is never too late to start", but I would like to add that the time for planning gardens and career changes is somewhat overdue. I guess I am feeling negative this morning from a little too much wine last night, but the 'News' these days doesn't provide much hope for positive change any time soon.

Unless you already have a solid foundation of skills, land, and preps in place I would think it would be best to face the future being aware that big changes seem inevitable, and not just launch off. Perhaps it would be enough to get rid of debt, move to decent neighbourhood, and embrace living differently. By differently I mean walking, using the library, cooking at home, and enjoying friends. It is never too late to get in shape and relish being fit.

My wife and I have been doing the homestead lifestyle for quite awhile now, and it is a lot of work. I turn 60 this year and have discovered aches and pains I never dreamed existed. Instead of being able to bang in a solid 10 hour day I am finding 6 hours of physical work is about as much as I want to do.

Anyway, the greenhouses are planted, most of the garden is in, firewood is in the sheds, and a new crop of broilers are all of two days old and under a heat lamp. Yesterday, I planted 1/4 acre of potatoes with Russian fingerlings left to plant. The list is so much longer than this because along the way I have built a house and renovated another, plus plus plus. We quit our jobs 1.5 years ago so this was all done while we were working full time.

The last ten years I have been dealing with my mom failing slowly from Alzheimers. Luckily, we live in Canada where health problems don't wipe out families financially. However, my mother-in-law is now in the dementia line up, and lately a few neighbours have developed cancer. I am also a cancer survivor. This list sounds terrible, but actually it has been very positive for us. First of all, we have been able to deal with these challenges and are stronger for it. In addition, we realize and accept just how fleeting and precious our lives and health has been, and now try and enjoy each task and day to the best of our ability. I hope this points back to my first point about it maybe being too late to simply chuck in BAU and launch off expecting imminent collapse. It is important, while embracing deliberate changes in lifestyle and attitude, to also appreciate what we have right now. (I don't even take a hot shower for granted). Tomorrow comes soon enough and our comforts, even health, is fleeting enough as it is.


rakesprogress said...

Another great post. You may be interested in this discussion of a recent Newsweek article about contemporary hobos. I took the opportunity to sprinkle some of your ideas in the comments.


Kim Larson said...

There are so many layers of externalities!

I keep a small dairy goat herd and make our household cheese, yogurt, etc. from the milk. Many of the cheeses I produce rely on commercially produced rennets and cultures, as it eases so many aspects of the production and consistency of the product, which then allows me time to garden, can, bake bread, etc.

Each cheese has far fewer dependancies attached than a block of cheddar from the store, but there remains a constant opportunity to keep learning and refining the process of freeing oneself from the industrial system.

So while I am way ahead of someone who has never milked a dairy animal, let alone made a cheese, I am so far behind my great-great grandmothers' ability to use calf stomach lining instead of commercially produced rennet to form her cheeses, that, were I in the position to need do so tomorrow, I would, once again, be on the bottom of a fairly steep learning curve.

It's a good thing that humans, in their natural, healthy state, are forever curious and perpetually interested in learning new things!

Ed-M said...


Allow me to respond to your two replies to my comments last week; by the time I had a time to write a response, the queue of comments was over 200 long -- which negatively impacts both my iPhone's and the library computers' ability to show a comment box. Ah, Progress!

On iPhones: my present iPhone is the first and probably the last I'll ever own. I've negatively progressed to a clamshell cell phone (my iPhone is locked) and hopefully in the future I'll go from there to a black bakelite rotary landline phone. Directly, of course.

On intersections: consider yourself lucky you live in a small rustbelt town. There are probably only a handful of such intersections in all of greater Cumberland (I used to visit grandparents in Frostburg).

On this week's post: negative growth indeed! If it weren't for the FIRE sector the economic statistics would be very impossible to poker and jigger; but the .gov must, lest the incumbent politicians be all turned out of office every 2, 4 or 6 years.

Dave Z said...

I was going to coin the term 'exonomics', but a quick search shows I've been beaten to the punch.

Still, I think a Primer on Exonomics from your perspective would be a winner!

Thanks for another great post!

Dave Z

Greg Belvedere said...

Dependency is expensive. I love how you boiled this big problem down into such a digestible phrase. I have tried to become less dependent on the industrial system and the extent to which many people will find themselves high and dry when it falls apart fills me with some sadness. I'm not there totally myself, but I keep taking steps.

I can't find anywhere to repair my broken stereo speaker, so I will buy a new one. But when we buy a home and I have space for a workroom I would certainly build my own. If I do it well enough perhaps I could turn it into a small business. As a musician have thought of making acoustic instruments. As a librarian I would also like to get into printing when I have the time and space. For now I still have one foot in each world. But, one thing at a time.

I have already loaded my plate up with the stay-at-home dad blog and more small household projects. I plan to have the first blog out in about 2 weeks. I actually copied part of the comment guidelines from this blog and hope that is ok.

As for gardening, I have had some similar experience. I kept a garden for 3 years in long island, this is my second year doing it in the hudson valley. There was a gap in time where I lived in Brooklyn. We will probably move in a year and while it won't be a change in region, I will have to build the soil up again even if I can transfer some from my current garden and compost piles.

Back to dependency, it does seem that many people still see the problem as down the road. My family and friends in southern California certainly feel this way. I read Cherokee's thoughts on living in dry climates with great interest a few weeks ago. With all do respect to the folk I know in SoCal, I think many there are too dependent on the industrial system to take a lot of the steps he mentioned. And I think the situation will get much tougher there as things get worse.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

A guy who rides my bus pointed out that public school auctions would be a good place to look for mimeograph equipment.

Redneck Girl said...

I am currently beginning a major change in my life. I am losing my best friend and in the process my job as a care-giver is ending. I'm looking for some property to start an organic truck farm and at the same time considering if I should go ahead and take early retirement while there's still money to pay out from SSI. It could tide me over while starting my hugelkulture beds on the farm. I would also have a chance to brush up on my gardening skills with a different kind of raised bed. Toss in some pygmy goats for milk and chickens for eggs and I could be a port in the coming storm for a friend or two.

I 'might' argue with you on a learning curve in gardening. My first raised bed from John Jeavon's book grew like crazy and that was at the head of California's N. Valley in heavy clay. My only issue was in corn, much to the shame of my AI blood! I haven't gardened in years but the soil and climate here in S. Oregon isn't much different except for the agates. After all, I've got nothing better to do after this job is done and building an organic farm would be a vacation after this is over.


Chester said...

@Tasha T.

I think you're spot on about clothes-making and mending as a way to embrace the retro future. I'm trying to figure how to nudge my wife into trying it out as a hobby, because so many of her hobbies these days are screen-dependent. Have to get passed her knee-jerk rejection of "women's work" too. Any suggestions where to start?

I'm embracing as much indoor gardening as I can as a city-bound apartment-dweller. I have dreams of having an outdoor work area as well where I can brew beer.

Any other low-hanging fruit for retro future hobbies JMG? Radio making and repair? Animal husbandry?

Michael McG said...

Thanks again Arch Druid for the great conversation, contexts and example to write a story 1000 years out.
August deadline is looming. I keep chipping away.
I pray we are getting close to peak obfuscation in communications.
The lingo cited is leaching down to ordinary crazy conversation on the bus. Endless lead ups, without punch lines.
Newspeak, now part of the common tongue. New lexicons of urgent cognitive dissonance.

One day here we may wake to the cuddly warmth of sub zero homes. Expecting with a little bit of hollering at city hall all will be made well.

Such is the nature of prevalent expectations in progress of human nature; things will prevail, we will prevail “as is” or a better “to be”, someone or thing will save us.

If not?
“Don’t Worry, the survival seed package is ready with lots of dehydrated water!”
“We will just shovel up the back yard, and be good as gold.”
“Keep a stiff upper lip!” A couple days or less without heat or shelter in subzero will get you that.

My back yards been planted for years. Testing and math show it to cover 3 months for one person.
Got to keep going, August 30 right around the corner.
Thanks again,

Brian Bundy said...

Economists aren't the only ones who can turn a negative into a positive. I for one am looking forward to a time a few months after the collapse of montsanto et al. when opportunities reemerge for entrepreneurs in agriculture. The same will be possible in most all essential industries. There may be less to go around in a world of negative growth, but big corporations are dependent on such stupidly complex supply chains and, as you note, externalities that they will likely collapse before I do. (Side note, spell check doesn't recognize the word "externalities".) What I see coming after the next wave of collapse is a thriving greyish-black market for essential goods produced by real people for their neighbors, family and friends. I may not get rich selling apple tree seedlings, but I will take a lot more pride in it than I do in how I pay the bills now. I started gardening, raising small livestock and learning about propagating perennial foods about a year ago. I have so far to go, but at least I'm on the path. Every few months I meet more people joining the journey and that gives me hope.

Hello... said...

...oh! The IMPENDING DEATH OF THE INTERNET! You titillate me to no end. My best friend/roommate/angel, "Thor", told me the last sentence of this post would make me SWOON!

--Erika Lopez in the MISSION in SAN FRANCISCO (where they are SLAUGHTERING us all without even looking UP from their iphones or out of their google buses)

Michael McG said...

RE Salvage

Around 1990 I partook in salvage operations deconstructing an old Ice House in a rail yard nearby for purpose of recovering and selling valuable massive redwood timber beams it was framed of.

In winters 1880 - 1930, a train would stop by a frozen lake, using hand Ice Saws people would cut blocks of ice from the lake, load them on train cars, take them to the Ice House

Through demolition of the Ice House tons of ice was found intact in sawdust 60 years frozen, crisp edges and blade rasp marks. How is that for efficiency?

The story goes: Ice is delivered to houses for a kitchen Ice Box, also loaded on barges, shipped down river to warm southern climes in spring..

Ice may again be a trade good in a retro future.

K!EF said...

negative growth - this is a "think stopper". Stop and think about that and the magnitude of denial going on with it.

Many economies and the finance sector are entering a new era of accumulating and absurd macro economic anomalies, which seem to increase on a much faster pace lately. I've been reading Galbraith's "crash of 1929" a few chapters at a time, looking for the parallels around me. Almost surreal. Todays chinese houswife's investors replacing the early north american middle class investors, the race to be the first to see the doings of 'the market' via the "ticker" (often hours of delays with sometimes catastrophic consequences for investors) is narrowed down to nano seconds traded by algorithms. What a glass castle. Frightening when you realize the seismic magnitude of impact on todays ueber-dependent nations, cities and yourself.

Found 3 used books today, all 70's appropriate tech (harrowsmith3, yankee lost arts) - nice addition to a small but growing library of appropriate ways. Time to do some thrifting now and then disappear in my man cave tonight to tinker up a theater prop. Works well with the credo to tray to make/build something new every week.

great post btw


Frank Hemming said...

This is partly a reply Jason Heppenstall’s comment (Hello Jason) on growing tree crops. Growing more exotic crops is risky in Britain. Carol Deppe’s sound advice is to focus on what grows best in your area first. I’m getting rid of our Limonella (small lemon) tree which has produced a few fruits but has failed to thrive in the conservatory or outdoors. If it takes 5 years to achieve some success with vegetables, it takes longer with trees. I’ve tried about 10 varieties of cultivated hazel and there are only 2 I would confidently recommend for growing in Herefordshire (Webb’s Prize Cob and Cosford Cob). If you read “requires careful cultivation” in a catalogue (e.g. Cox’s Orange Pippin in the case of apples), don’t risk it unless you have plenty of land.
On charcoal making (which Jason also mentioned) I’m very impressed by this rocket stove charcoal maker, which seems far less polluting than the traditional method.

sgage said...

@ ChemEng, et al.

Re: It takes 5 years to learn how to effectively grow a vegetable garden.

This is very true in my experience. I've been at it on this location for 20 years, and there have been ups and downs. Learning crops/varieties that do well and that I like, timing of plantings, etc.

Here's one dynamic that might take some beginning gardeners by surprise, especially if you are starting up a new garden where there wasn't one before. You might have a very successful first and second year, even third year... but then you find yourself absolutely hammered by pests. It just takes them a while to find you out, but oh they will. I experienced this with potatoes. A few years with no problems, ha ha!, and then just hammered by potato beetles. Same thing with squash bugs - a few free years, and then wham! Not to mention tomato hornworms, which can do tremendous damage very quickly. Slugs, cucumber beetles, cabbage worms, etc. etc. etc. So don't let your guard down...

We've all heard about crop rotation, but sometimes you need to do a temporal crop rotation as well as spatial to interrupt the cycles.

David Veale said...

You're definitely preaching to the choir in my case, as I've been working for well over a decade now to reduce my dependencies (there are a LOT of them!), but I do have one thing to note. As you recently noted, it's more or less a full time job for all involved to simply feed, clothe, and shelter a family, with little left over. Gaining competency in these core tasks requires enormous amounts of time, ultimately approaching the point at which no time exists for making a living in the current economy. If you can coordinate new skills with others (i.e. friend/neighbor x learns leather tanning while neighbor y learns shoe making, and neighbor z picks up fiber processing) you'll be much further ahead. In my case, I find it really difficult to find anyone here in Michigan motivated enough to pick up such skills. So... perhaps locating yourself in a group of like minded folks is of primary importance, if you can find them.

latheChuck said...

Brian Bundy- Regarding selling apple seedlings... I hope you know that apples grown from seed don't produce the same apples. Tasty apples are produced by grafting twigs from trees that produce tasty apples onto rootstock that grows sturdy (or dwarfing) roots. When "Johnny Appleseed" started trees from seed, the apples were only good for pressing into cider. Not that that's a bad thing, but make sure your customers know what they're getting.

latefall said...

@Clay Dennis
I have "bicycling science" on the way to me, but it will first do a couple of stations with other friends.
Can you recommend books helping with "descent on wheels"?

Also, I would be very happy if someone could throw out a list of parts that will be generally useful on various bikes/human powered machinery? I am thinking of long lasting gears, chains, bearings, spoke material, etc. things that you can stockpile well and that have several uses.

Although tubes and such don't last terribly long they are on my list as well. I have mentioned before that there is research on making rubber from daffodils. So be sure you can grow those well ;).

If I am correct it should also be at least theoretically possible to make pitch based carbon fiber. However I think that is a bit of a gamble unless you know a little more about such processes or have a related tech suite you can keep going.
I know you don't like CF for bikes, and for regular (safety) bikes I'd probably agree. "Black metal" design is often the first and last attempt for designing with composites... unfortunate but usually true.
What do you think about the "hase pino porter"? That looks pretty versatile if the surface allows, no?

librarian@play said...

"It’s interesting, and may not be entirely accidental, that there’s no commonly used term for the entire structure of externalities and dependencies that stand behind any technology."

Marshall McLuhan had a term for it: ground. As in, figure and ground, which he poached usefully from Gestalt psychology.

From a collection of lectures and interviews, Understanding Me: "When I say the medium is the message, I'm saying that the motor car is not a medium. The medium is the highway, the factories, and the oil companies. That is the medium. In other words, the medium of the car is the effects of the car. When you pull the effects away, the meaning of the car is gone. The car as an engineering object has nothing to do with these effects. The car is a FIGURE in a GROUND of services. It's when you change the GROUND that you change the car. The car does not operate as the medium, but rather as one of the major effects of the medium. So 'the medium is the message' is not a simple remark, and I've always hesitated to explain it. It really means a hidden environment of services created by an innovation, and the hidden environment of services is the thing that changes people. It is the environment that changes people, not the technology."

Janet D said...


"...TV daytime talk shows like Donahue and Oprah made getting a divorce fashionable and necessary"

I don't mean to derail this thread, but what on earth do Donahue and Oprah have to do with divorce?

Correlation is not causation. The rapid proliferation of no-fault divorce laws (the first signed by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1969, prior to the national appearances of both Phil & Oprah), was the result of an already-occuring sea change in American opinion.

On a note more related to this thread, I concur wholeheartedly with the ramp-up time for new skills. I'm in my third year with Nigerian Dwarf Goats, second year with honey bees (so MUCH harder than I thought), and third rather hit-or-miss year with gardening. All of it has been a hard slog.

My son and I are starting to rear Chantecler chickens - rated in Critical need of restoration and that's turning into another whole learning curve.

It's all hard. I know it will get easier & will be worth it in the end (for my kids and me), but the learning curve = hard work, little reward for a long time. I'm glad this blog is here to keep me going!

Irrational Athiest said...

The crappy part is the people that need the help and education for the retro future that JMG is talking about are the people who are poor, and live in apartment complexes, and have no room to garden, have no job to earn spare cash or have to work too long to have the time to reskill.

I feel like I have to take a job that this 100% rooted in the current economy just to make enough money to cover the costs of existing in the economy and have enough spare cash to get the house with the yard so I can start gardening. I have to invest EVEN MORE inot what is failing to try to carve out enough energy for myself so I can put it to saving my ass for the inevitable collapse.

It's maddening.

Helix said...

@PRiZM - Or perhaps just shorten "externality systems footprint" to "externality footprint"?

sgage said...

@ latheChuck

" When "Johnny Appleseed" started trees from seed, the apples were only good for pressing into cider."

Which was the point, cider being the adult beverage of choice for much of early American history.

Benjamin Franklin once jokingly proposed that it be made illegal to eat apples - they should all be used for (hard) cider!

John Michael Greer said...

SRBEL, whereas here, the answer you'll get will be positively negative!

Strovenovus, I'll leave discussion of future bicycles to those who know the technology better than I do. As for archdruids and wrath, nah, I was amused at the whole negative growth thing; that kind of negative truthiness is, to my mind, a positive sign.

Zachary, New Society does a good job; I'm happy to be published by them. Glad you like the book!

Trog, you're definitely on the leading edge.

Derv, interesting. Very interesting. I'm going to mull over those and other suggestions, and see what jells.

Andrew, excellent. That's exactly what I've been trying to get across here: it's not about running off to the country, it's about changing your life where you are, with what you have, right now.

YCS, yes, I saw that. I've been considering picking up the discussion where that essay left off, and pointing out the central blindness in its logic -- the conviction that industrialism is the only kind of technic society possible, rather than simply the crudest and most wasteful kind. More on this in an upcoming post.

Unknown Deborah, interesting, at least for those within reach of Marin County.

Jason, I don't spend a lot of time on mainstream media, which is probably why I missed it. As for vegetable gardening, it was just one example, of course -- it's something I do, and enjoy, and so it came readily to mind; the same point could have been made about any other activity that involves actual skill, as opposed to externalities.

1ab, hmm. I'll want to think about that.

Karim, that's an excellent point -- of course disposal costs have to be included in the externality system.

Chloe, good -- of course you're quite right, but then the media isn't exactly known for precision of speech, especially when avoidance of clarity is wanted. As for knitting, spinning, et al., glad to hear of it. Have you considered picking up a spindle and learning to spin?

Unknown said...

On topic for the blog, if not for this week's post specifically:
A commenter last week posted a link to an article about Retro Culture. I followed it, ended up poking around the website, and came across this:
The Wolves of Vinland, "a tribe of folkish heathens" formed, apparently, out of the metal music scene in Lynchburg, Virginia. They're the tattooed young guys that Kunstler likes to derogate, yet here they are performing a funeral ritual for Baldr, drinking mead together in the woods until they finish their longhouse, challenging one another to become men (the writer mostly ignores the young women), and purposefully trying to build an alternative to the lifestyles that are otherwise available.
I don't suppose there's a way to know just how much of this kind of thing is happening around the country, and in how many different variations, but it's really something to see.

Tasha T. said...


I've been sewing since I was six, but I really got into making costumes for anime conventions. If you are into cosplay or have kids that like dressing up, that can be a fun, low pressure way in.

Vintage clothes can be a good in too. Once you wear a well constructed dress, it's hard to go back. Thrifting can be a cheap and fun way to get them, if your in to that sort of thing.

As for 'women's work'...
The way I see it, housework is seen as lesser because women are seen as lesser. There is nothing that makes cooking, cleaning, sewing, or childcare inferior to any other task. It is only seen as inferior because it's feminine, and feminine is always inferior to masculine. It's why equality is women wearing pants rather than men wearing skirts: it's a given that women want what men have, but of course men don't want what women have.

In my mind, feminism is respecting the feminine, not rejecting it.

Also, the gendering of task can be really contradictory and silly. Cooking is feminine, but professional Chefs are male. Sweeping up the trash is feminine, taking it out of the house is masculine. Planting flower bed is feminine, mowing the law is masculine.

It's all really silly, just do whatever work you like.

Paul said...

Hi john. I have thre points to make. First of all, the basis of your post was predated by about a decade by a computer game, railroad tycoon. It strongly featured a capitalist element to its gameplay, but it always took the standard maxims with a pinch of salt. "Economists proclaim perpetual growth" and "economists proclaim period of negative expansion " being an obvious parody. What you've seen is nothing new,.

Secondly, can I point you in the direction of two texts? The first and most readily available is called "The World Without Us". It's forward points to an Amazonian family, thousands of men les from any big city, who's lives have been transformed by the automobile's need for rubber. The second is called "Red Rubber" and comes from almost a century earlier. The demand for bicycles, and therefore for rubber created the conditions for atrocities in what was then known as The Belgian Congo. The result of a billion people going from cars to bikes might be an improvement, but it might not be all that pretty. The story of Edmund Morel might be both new to you, and informative.

Thirdly, teaching is a skill in itself. If you know how to teach, then with some training, you can teach anything. As a teacher of a skill that will become of diminishing importance in the years to come, I am looking out for pathways into the future. Currently, none spring out, but I am teaching myself (and making expensive mistakes) how to make backgammon boards. By working this out, in a precise and organised way, I can pass it on. Perhaps someone will teach me something in return.

latheChuck said...

The question of "what hobby could be adopted now, and grown into a career?" brings a couple of ideas to mind. Ideally, it would be something that one can be uniquely qualified for, to provide a product or service that won't soon be undercut by someone else's effort. That could mean something that takes a lot of skill (such as, say, portrait painting), or something that also takes a substantial capital investment (such as mechanical sock-knitting machine, or electronic test equipment for radio development/repair). Some trades can be learned in the household (like knitting), but others require some level of industrial work-space (blacksmithing). Ideally, you'd accumulate archaic "capital equipment" at salvage/junk prices, learn to use it while restoring it, and make it pay off when archaic technology becomes appropriate technology.

Capital equipment which requires little skill to operate might be attractive as a target of thieves.

But we don't know whether conditions needed to revive old technology will be upon us within the lifetimes of any of us here, so it may turn out that we are simply preserving, rather than reviving, archaic ways. There's nothing wrong with equipping future generations for a slightly easier time in a much harsher world.

One fantasy occupation: keeper of a private non-circulating library, perhaps focused on DIY topics. Charge admission to the reading room, and charge more for the pen, ink, and paper for taking notes! Accumulate the books now.

Another fantasy occupation: transcriber of radio-broadcast news for the locally-produced newspaper. In a world where most people may have neither the time nor the technology to listen to distant broadcasts, they might pay for a daily or weekly summary.

Alex Leong said...

I want to start off by thanking you for what you do. It's an enormous service to us readers and I have personally benefited in so many ways from this knowledge. Story time: last night, the theoretical physicist Michio Kaku came to my university to give a speech called "The Future of the Mind". I was intrigued by the premise of the speech, which was supposed to dispel naive notions of what the future should contain (according to pop culture and advertising).

Maybe I should have seen this coming, then: He arrived and proceeded to spend an hour enthusiastically talking up digitization as the way forward for the human mind. Yes! Instead of scaling back on our dependence on gadgetry, he argued that in the decades to come, we should all look forward to such things as driverless cars, electronic/smart paper, interactive wallpapers with smart functions e.g. e-doctors and lawyers. The audience around me was clearly enraptured by this gushing of techno-utopianism - they seemed really eager to bury themselves under even more abstractions and gadgets.

Then he finally got around to talking about the "future of the mind." What he actually meant by that was, you guessed it, more digital abstraction. He spoke magniloquently of photographing dreams, implanting memories (so one could fondly remember the vacation they've never taken), unlocking the secrets of our unconscious. And memorization would be a thing of the past, as inventions like Google Glass or smart contact lenses feed us constant streams of information about reality. How do they not realize the cognitive loss this would imply?

A year ago, I would have been as enthusiastic as the rest of the people in the audience about this vision of progress. I like to think I know better now, I'm 23, and it's a good time as any to have gotten off the ride. I'm steadily weaning myself off the mindset of convenience I've been taking for granted. Keep up the great work, JMG.

magicalthyme said...

It's a sea change here at Magical Thyme farm: I've just this week left one of my p/t jobs, which will leave the job for somebody else. That income will be replaced -- with a raise -- by early social security this fall, freeing me up to work on the farm and start seriously learning new skills. Just in time, a hospital tech had to stop working in the lab (glove sensitivities) and has been consigned to paperwork until her doctor ok's her return, helping to ensure that I get enough work there to get me through the summer. "Your profit is by definition someone else’s loss," or in this case, 2 tandem games of musical chairs and just as I gave up one chair, another one freed up "over there." I even scored a week's vacation from the p/t job, and was freed of the exit interview, when they called and told me not to come back this week. (It helps to have legitimate, provable complaints against management, yet to tough it out and give 2 week's notice. Apparently one or two managers in particular decided it would be prudent to be generous!)

So this week has been spent recuperating, reading, thinking, working hard at restoring my severely damaged pasture, and ground training for the horse's in the barn aisle, with a focus on desensitization. Maizie wore a surcingle for the first time today; nothing phases her.

In my future, I finally see time to expand the garden, learn to spin, re-learn to knit and sew, and possibly chickens. I'm thinking Icelandics. Oh, and maybe next winter, for fun on the cold, dark, indoor nights, start learning dulcimer.

So much to do; so little time. I'm wondering about the feasability of hand spun wool row covers...

Heady times, these...


The other Tom said...

Don't worry, everything will be alright.
To extend negative growth in our quality of life (NGQL), the Trans Pacific Partnership is coming soon. Sure, we'll be competing with people who are used to making $2 a day, but competition hones our skills. We'll have to work a little harder, that's all. I'm not saying we'll reach prosperity in our lifetimes, our your grandchildrens, but in 200 years or so the tide will lift all of us to the middle class, IF we stay the course. There is no other way. We will grow and grow and it will go on and on, forever and ever. Don't let the naysayers get you down.

Seriously, though, I've been thinking for a long time that economic displacement can be an Ivy League education for those who respond by transitioning to LESS, by necessity. In eastern Connecticut I know a lot of people, both rural and in towns, who've been collapsing for years, many of them halfway there. Of course, they would all say that if this is a blessing in disguise, it certainly is well disguised.
This morning I walked around town on my errands and met three separate people who initiated conversations about how we are going to live without money, how to buy a house with a group of people, and what tools we should buy before the next financial crash. These three people have no particular political or philosophical agenda that I am aware of, and I doubt if they even know what the TPP is. Yet they know which way the wind is blowing.
I've been noticing this a lot lately. Some people are surprising me with how much they get it. After so many years of the same economic nonsense, it seems that more people have quit listening.

John Michael Greer said...

Das Monde, exactly. The production of externalities isn't a defect in the system, it is the system.

Orchard, when that happens, you'll just have to subscribe to the print newsletter!

Kutamun, that's a fascinating point, and one that I'll want to look into.

Erik, by "a competent gardener" I don't mean someone who can grow all his or her plant-based food; what I mean is someone who can reliably provide a significant amount of fresh fruits and vegetables for the table. That's within reach in five years for most people, given the necessary investment of work and study.

Kathleen, you're welcome! One of the nastier features of contemporary popular culture is that it insists that everyone ought to be an instant expert. That's one of the many ways our society uses shame to enforce conformity. To get past that, and remember that anything worth doing requires time and sweat to learn, is a potent source of freedom.

Tony, "externality suite" is good -- I'd likely have used it if I thought of it.

Cherokee, that's interesting to hear about the internet companies. Most of them get tax breaks here, too -- which is of course just another form of government subsidy. I'll have to look at the profitability of the big internet firms, and see how likely they'd be to make money if they had to compete on a level playing field.

Denys, while I don't think it was just a matter of talk shows, laws and social customs encouraging divorce will have been attractive to the marketing industry for the same reason that breaking up extended families was -- the more households, the more consumption.

Peakfuture, true enough -- and implementation is always the hard part. I'm not sure if "talk is cheap" is a Turkish proverb, but it's a useful one.

Lawfish, exactly -- you now know quite a bit more about gardening than you did, and the most important thing you know is how much more you've got to learn. As for the sewing machine, hang onto that puppy -- those are going to be immensely useful down the road.

Escape, yes, I saw that article. The Post is wrong, though -- the economists haven't yet figured out how bad the economy is. They've just started to notice the gap between their pretty models and the facts on the ground; over time, that gap will widen into a chasm that will swallow them.

Fudoshin, Americans like to fantasize about being rugged individualists, but by and large they're meek and terrified conformists, for whom the least whisper of disapproval from their peers is more frightening than death. That kid would have been horrified if anybody had suggested that he eat those plants -- unless gathering wild plants becomes a fad, that is.

Jack Ellis said...

Dear JMG,
I read Han's Fallada's story of 'negative progress' in the Weimar Republic, "Little Man, What Now?", a little while ago, partly in response to issues raised by this blog. The strongest impression I had was the way almost all of the dependency relationships between citizens, state and businesses were betrayed, one way or another.

I was struck, though, by how hard it was for many of the victims to escape from these dependencies. Gardens needed land. Rent needed to be paid. Medicines needed to be bought - in cash.

Can I ask a naive question? During times of (economic) collapse, food is still being grown, and still being needed. Services - admittedly different services - still need to be bought or sold. Reading your blog, one could imagine that we could just step away from the wreckage and build our own, new/old economies of hemp and corn, rabbit skin and horsepower.

But reading Fallada, I never got an impression of this happening at the time. Why?

I understand what you mean about the time lag the change requires - a skills trap bites, like an energy trap... Do you think this was just a matter of time? Was it happening, quietly around the edges, awaiting conditions to explode? (I do know my grandfather went bush, rabbit trapping during the depression, but our family was still part of 'the bigger economy', and a job at the shipyards was much preferred).

fudoshindotcom said...

You're absolutely correct about how horrified Americans are of incurring the disapproval of their peers.

I've rendered a few people speechless by telling them, when they ask for advice, that the only fertilizer I use on my plants is my own urine and point out that 1. it costs nothing
2. saves water
3. works outstandingly
4. is ecologically sound
5. is always available

Upon regaining their composure and finding that the logic of the practice is inarguable, the usual response is a stammering, "Yeah, but.......".

Cost of fertilizer: zero
Looks on their faces: priceless

Steve Carrow said...

Regarding "reinternalizing" external skills, and being an early adopter of the retro future, one could do worse than finding a nearby folk school and taking some classes. You will not only be able to select and work on skills from the past, but you have a great opportunity to engage with or create a community of like minded folks. I did a brief blog post on my recent experience, and plan to sign up for more.

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, got it -- you're in the competition.

Wizzard, recycling -- or as I prefer to call it, salvage -- is a very important way to reduce your externalities. I use obsolete computer equipment for that reason -- no additional equipment has to be made to meet my needs, and I keep some gear out of the e-waste stream, so it's a plus all 'round.

Yupped, I certainly didn't mean to imply that after five years you can stop learning -- just that at that point, you can reliably contribute fresh produce to the dinner table. Of course it's possible to get much better than merely competent.

Jonathan, funny. Many thanks.

ChemEng, if you're like many of the gardeners I know, the next two years will see a lot of things come together.

Andrew, exactly. Old technology is emphatically not plug and play -- you have to learn how to use it, and then you have to learn how to use it well. All the more reason to get working on that immediately if not sooner!

Dmitry, fascinating. I wonder if that's what Orwell was satirizing with Newspeak's "Ungood."

Mr. B, good -- thinking through what skills you'll need and how to learn them is crucial. The list will differ from person to person, of course, which is a good thing.

K-dog, all of which is yet another good reason to get working on the learning curve now, while information is relatively easy to find and there's still some shreds of a safety net in place to deal with the inevitable failures.

Brian, curiously enough, I covered all these points (and a great deal more) in my book The Wealth of Nature, which draws extensively on Schumacher and a number of other figures from the appropriate technology era. (Those same points were also covered in blog posts here back in 2009 and 2010, for that matter.)

Unknown, make sure you live within range of someone who raises cattle or pigs, and gelatin won't be the least trouble -- it's made by boiling down skins, tendons, ligaments and bones. Silver nitrate is a bit more touchy, of course.

David, one of these days I should do a post about why thinking in terms of "resistance to the system" surrenders the initiative to the system. That's a massive issue -- have you noticed that ever since the left stopped offering any alternative to the status quo, its ability to attract popular support has been dead in the water? More on this as we proceed.

Pygmycory, understood -- you do what you can. As for suggestions, a great deal would depend on what you can and can't do, given your disability issues. Certainly social connections with others would be critically important for you, even more so than most others; beyond that, I'm not sure what to say.

onething said...


" Have to get passed her knee-jerk rejection of "women's work" too. Any suggestions where to start?"

Ha, ha, as a city-bound apartment dweller, I suppose I could very well ask you why don't you make and mend clothes yourself? But since moving to the country and embarking on a homesteading lifestyle, I have come to realize that women's work is really a blessing, most often quite preferable to men's work. The stuff I do that tires me out is negligible compared to what my husband does. Maybe what happened with all the women's lib angst of the past few decades had to do with a reaction to the lack of respect and power over their lives (not letting women vote!) but then got confused into rejecting all the traditional roles. In a nondindustrial life, women can hardly survive without men's strength. Before we moved here, I used to eat out all the time because we had such great places available. My husband stayed home and cooked pork chops. Before we moved here, we came up to work on the place on a monthly basis for a few years. There are no restaurants worth eating at for at least 25 miles, more like 50. I noticed that we fell into traditional roles real quick. Yes, he could cook, and clean the kitchen, but I found that what he was doing, building a shed, digging trenches, felling trees, shaving them of bark and making them into posts, mixing and pouring cement, lifting heavy bricks, MINING for rocks - you get the picture - all things that I very much wanted done, made me all too glad to provide him with hearty meals and free up as much of his time as I could.

In fact, there is so much heavy work to be done on a homestead, that I have come to the conclusion that polyandry might be a very practical lifestyle.

tOM said...

@JMG Clinton enlightened? After he gutted welfare and abandoned health care? Intelligence does not equal wisdom. Hitler was pretty smart and look what happened. If it weren't for knee-jerk anticommunism, Johnson might have been revered as the author of American Greatness.
We need to reform the world, not abandon it and think we can escape in some far corner. We can't. If America collapses, you will need more than gardening and sewing skills to withstand the new local warlords.
Ostrich tactics only work for a short time to avoid unpleasantness.

John Michael Greer said...

mrdeepwater, thank you. I'm pleased to say that the sort of discourse this blog is trying to kickstart does seem to be getting more traction of late, but we'll see.

Clay, thanks for the info! I don't expect to use a bike -- walking is quite literally more my speed, as I have neurological issues related to Aspergers syndrome that make me a pretty fair peril to life and limb at much more than a walking pace -- but I'll keep gears in mind as potential barter goods. Have you explored other ways to transfer power from pedals to wheels? Might be worth doing...

Paulo, I don't recommend that anyone act as though total collapse was imminent. As I've been saying all along, we can expect a long ragged descent toward the deindustrial dark ages, not a sudden splat! That said, a range of economic and political factors seem to be moving toward crisis with unusual speed just now, so hunkering down in place is probably the best option for most people for the next few years or longer.

Rakesprogress, fascinating. Thank you.

Kim, exactly. It's very much a step by step process.

Ed-M, bakelite sounds like a plan. I do consider myself lucky -- and chose this town very carefully -- but there are about a dozen such intersections in Cumberland; I know where they are and avoid them. As for negative growth, one of these days I'm going to take the last quarter century of economic statistics and subtract the metastatic growth of the financial industry, and see what's happened to the real economy; unless everything I've seen is wrong, we've had a quarter century of nasty economic contraction, papered over with banks.

Dave, I'm definitely thinking about exonomics.

Greg, of course you can borrow anything you like from my comments policy rant; I'd be happy to see that sort of thing on many more online forums. Good to hear that the blog's coming soon. As for your point about dependency, spot on -- it's amazing how many people know in the abstract that there's massive trouble coming, but can't make the mental leap to the fact that it's impacting them right now.

Justin, thanks. I'll keep that in mind.

Wadulisi, my condolences. This has got to be a very difficult time for you. I hope it all goes well.

Michael, good. The dehydrated water is particularly choice!

Brian, I'm far from sure that the collapse of Monsanto et al. will be something that you can put on the calendar -- though I'd be delighted to be proved wrong. My guess, rather, is that the blackish-gray market is going to emerge in the interstices of the existing order as that meets fewer and fewer human needs and become more and more detached from everything but the abstract world of finance -- but we'll see.

John Michael Greer said...

Erika, stay tuned! A bit further down the road, I'll also have a post on Peak California; the overpaid geeks in the Google buses won't like it one bit. ;-)

Michael, that's fascinating. I knew that icehouses were efficient; I had no idea they could keep ice frozen for sixty years. Recovering that technology would be worth doing.

K!EF, excellent. I probably need to do another post urging every single person who reads this blog, and hasn't yet picked up a copy of Galbraith's The Great Crash 1929 to drop everything right now and go get one. It's an enduring immunization against the kind of economic twaddle that speculative bubbles generate.

Frank, thanks for the data!

David, yes, but that's also one of the reasons behind LESS -- if you cut your expenditures, you can often arrange to work fewer hours at your day job, and thus have more time to put into activities that have a future.

Librarian, interesting. I may have to give McLuhan another read.

Athiest, here again, that's where LESS comes into play. Slash your expenditures, and you won't have to put as much time into the dying economy.

Unknown Jonathan, yes, I've seen that. It's unfortunate but predictable that this sort of thing inevitably seems to gravitate toward the sort of cultural politics that involves jackboots and armbands.

Paul, I'm familiar with the history of the Belgian Congo, and the role of rubber in it. Have you considered the difference between the amount of rubber needed to put four tires on a car and the amount needed to put two tires on a bike?

LatheChuck, good. I'll have something to say about private libraries down the road a bit.

Alex, you're welcome and thank you! I wonder whether it ever occurs to the people who applaud Kaku's fantasies to think of the political implications of a world in which the government and big corporations get to edit your memories and control your sensory access to the world.

Magicalthyme, glad to hear it. May it all work out well!

John Michael Greer said...

Other Tom, the rose-colored goggles do seem to be slipping off more and more faces these days. More reasons to hope...

Jack, there are at least two reasons why people don't just walk away and build a different economy. First, very few of them can imagine doing so -- the idea that the economy is a tool that can be changed or replaced, rather than just the way things are, is very hard for most people to grasp. Second, of course, the entire structure of governmental and economic power depends on people doing what they're told, and legal and extralegal force gets deployed against those who are too obviously not doing what they're told.

Fudoshin, excellent. That earns you tonight's gold -- or, shall we say, yellow-colored -- star.

Steve, true enough. Those are important resources!

tOM, no, I didn't think you'd get the point. When Clinton and Obama were running for office, the whole leftward end of US society fawned at their feet, insisting that they would be exactly the sort of enlightened leaders you're calling for. So what you're saying amounts to, "Hey, it didn't do a bit of good the last two times, let's do it again!" Sorry, not interested; change has to begin from the level of the individual, with changes in how we live our lives, or it's just different clowns in the same dreary show.

William Zeitler said...

'Myth' is one of those odd words that denotes both itself and its opposite (e.g. something 'inflammable' is that which WILL and WON'T burn) -- that is, a 'myth' is something that is utterly false, or eternally true. The Atlantis Myth (in the 'eternally true' sense) is certainly one that applies to our predicament (which you exploited marvelously a couple posts back) but there's yet another 'myth', methinks.

And that would be the Titanic. (Just because it occurred historically doesn't mean it isn't also mythically true.) "The Titanic is unsinkable!" ("Nothing can stop Progress!") But one has to wonder about those awful moments in which each individual -- from the captain down to the 3rd-class passengers -- came to the realization that all they had been told about the 'unsinkable' ship was disastrously wrong, that any further efforts to save the ship were futile, the ship simply could not be saved, and the choice was lifeboat or doom.

WE have the luxury of making that psychological transition over a period of years -- they had about 2 minutes.

Frank Hemming said...

Thanks for this post JMG. It raises several issues I’ve been mulling over lately. Not only does it take a few years to learn how to grow veg, but the seeds you can buy from the garden centre aren’t necessarily the ones you need to provide “serious food”. I’m still building up my stock of “peasant” seed.
In Britain vegetables are mostly considered to be an optional addition to a meat meal. If you want to provide the bulk of your food from vegetables you need to grow peas and beans. However most people grow peas as a sweet addition to the meat meal, but the peas themselves don’t have much food value, nor can they be kept through the winter without a freezer. For food value it’s better to grow a more starchy pea like a marrowfat. These are grown on a farm scale, but the seed is not generally sold at garden centres. Fortunately the dried peas sold in supermarkets are cheap and are easily grown, usually as self supporting dwarf pea plants. However if you wish to grow a greater quantity per unit area it’s hard to find a tall marrowfat pea or other good drying pea. Dan Jason of Salt Spring Seeds has found that some tall snap and mangetout peas make good drying peas. I have obtained Latvian peas from the (British) Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library. These grow tall and produce prolific crops of starchy peas good for “mushy peas”.
I have obtained beans from the HSL which grow well for me too. Beans intended to be grown as French or snap beans are the ones you can buy from garden centres, but it’s the mature (shell or dry) beans you need for food value. Borlotti beans can be bought from garden centres but I have found that they don’t always mature in time in Herefordshire. I’ve had much better results with a heritage borlotti bean “Gramma Walters”. Beans from central and Eastern Europe work very well for me, and I now grow ones from Romania, Georgia, and Ukraine; all countries where people relied on beans as a main source of food. One of the hardiest and most productive is from the Cherokee, the”Cherokee Trail of Tears”.
I’ll also repeat the recommendation of other people after previous posts to read Carol Deppe in “The Resilient Gardener”. She describes in great detail how to save potatoes for seed year after year avoiding their serious disease problems.
Of course it's far cheaper to buy dried beans or peas, but the home grown ones taste far better.

hedgehogcircus said...

There was an interesting report on the radio here recently about the effects power saving devices and the uptake of solar power was having on the electricity retailers in New Zealand. One city council planned to install LED street lighting that would cut the city's power bill, but was told the lines company would increase their charges to compensate for the loss of income. Power consumption here has levelled off in the last few years, and an aluminium smelter that currently uses 15% of the country's power is likely to shut down in the next decade. It makes me wonder what unforeseen consequences we might see when a significant amount of people take steps to reduce their dependency on the various systems discussed in this blog. The point was made that as more consumers switch to solar, it may push up the bills for those who don't as the power companies try to recoup the costs of expensive infrastructure. The lesson might be to collapse early, as the longer you are stuck in the system, the more it will cost you.

changeling said...

JMG, "whoever owns the systems on which you depend, owns you"

Here is interesting bit of negative progress:
Farmers prefer older versions of tractors, because GM is fleecing them on repairs and don't allow any modification to patented software.

Pierluigi Dipietro said...

Concerning Negative Climate Stability

Permafrost is melting, and the clathrate below, too.

Result: PermaFires.

The fire season has started three months before the usual (July), this year in Russia.

I suppose that things are messing up faster than we projected in the models.

Chloe said...


I've considered spinning, yes - like I said, I've got a friend who already knows how (it's rather hypnotic) - but I have a habit of trying to do everything at once and overwhelming myself, so I'm making an effort to stick to learning a few things. Baking bread and knitting socks are the current main projects (along with playing the fiddle - the ability to provide live entertainment being likely to earn good will at the very least for a long time to come, and at the moment also free food, entry to otherwise expensive events and a fair bit of money - and I speak from experience). After I've got more of a handle on them, who knows?

Edde said...

Greetings John Michael,

Degrowth and degrowth movement?

As usual, an excellent post.



squizzler said...

The bike versus car thing is a great example of a technical solution being viable only after public subsidy favouring it over other choices.

It is a great example because you are wrong when you assert "when all the additional technologies needed for a car’s externality system were added onto that foundation, the first cars followed [bikes]". In fact the first steam carriages, road "locomotives", were too much for the highways of the day. Railways were the response to these problems. Then the pedal powered bicycle was invented, and road surfaces were improved for bikes. It was only later when the road surfaces had been improved and pneumatic tyres were in use that the older idea of the self propelled carriage could be re considered - in other words the playing field had been shifted by subsidy.

Then history gets re-written. It is thanks to the huge propaganda offensive from the car and road lobbies that that many believe the bicycle is an older and lesser technological achievement than the motor car.

George Coles said...

Thank you again for such a wonderful post, Mr. Greer. I don't know if this fits into your "externality systems" but please consider a Bloomberg news report from April 23rd entitled "World's Biggest For-Profit College Chain Plans $1 Billion IPO". Is the current "higher"-academic system (supposedly based on enlightenment progress) simply another technology for the accumulation of wealth at the very top?

Brian Cady said...

JMG, I read and love 'The Wealth of Nations', and may well have borrowed from it without realizing, in piecing together those thoughts. Thanks for your work.

Brian Cady said...

Wooops, I meant read and love '
The Wealth of Nature'...

Thomas Reis said...

I only can tell you what it will be different here in styria and also Swiss from pre industrial times. The diet was very depend on the chestnut and acorn and other nut trees. also these regions always traded salt or ore with other regions. But how can we grow trees that fast. On the other side fertilizers will be rare and most forgotten art how to use your own human waste. For example the birth town of Arnold Graz depend on huge salmons and sturgeons from the mur all gone cause of the river dams etc. civilication is not only a heat engine it is also a monkey trap when it comes to food supply!

Chester said...

@Tasha T.

The cosplay angle is a great idea! My wife and I are big nerds and she relishes the opportunity to dress like a student at Hogwarts or characters from other books. I actually don't know why that never occurred to me before...


I probably should learn how to do it myself — especially when it comes to mending things — but I'd be fine wearing rags outside if it was socially acceptable. Just not one of my interests.

I agree with both of you on the subject of what's "feminine." I think a lot of good was tossed out in the quest towards perceived equality. I'm hopeful we can all claw our way back towards fulfilling work, whatever the gender norm.

Sean Adam Boucher said...

Hi, John, this will be my second comment on your blog. I hope you're not too burned out with comments on this one (I see there are 110 already).

If not, I'm wondering: do you experience a sense of emotional loss thinking about the devastation being suffered by the non-human world at our activities? If so, how do you cope with these feelings? Lately, I have been experiencing quite sharp anxiety and a good deal of grief because of what I know is happening to the natural world (and great swaths of humanity, as well) to keep industrial civilization churning forward. You always seem to address these issues with quite a level head, which I respect, but it's hard to imagine being myself being emotionally neutral about something that involves such colossal pain. What are your thoughts? Maybe I just haven't been living with the knowledge for long enough. Part of the reason I ask is curiosity, and the other part is that I'm interested in the coping methods of other people, especially those in the intellectual thick of it.

Thanks a lot for all you do.

Patricia Mathews said...

Speaking of Retro as the path to LESS -

When I first read your 3-part story in AFTER OIL 1, the first part didn't seem either unusual or deprived to me at all, but rather, that the materfamilias was a spoiled brat. It came to me later that with one glaring exception, what you were showing there was a perfectly standard early-40s Christmas. Except that in the 1940s, the family would have gone to church on Christmas day as a matter of course. It was only when I deliberately put my head in the cluttered, screaming cacaphony of Christmas at my daughter's house that I understood, dimly, the difference.

In meditation fairly recently, at a time when my thoughts and feelings were getting muddled, I brought them to the Lady-as-Gaia (herein is a sales pitch for the beautiful Millennial Gaia image put out by the Church of All Worlds, but I digress), and was told with pleasant good humor "except ye become as a little child..." with enough sideband information that I knew how to take that.

Yes, indeed, without taking the Period Nazi route. I am using what pleased me then as a guideline, and the period's tech and standards as "normal", within the limits of what is available now. It seems to be working: "Your Mileage May Vary."

Wolfgang Brinck said...

Re the clothes, sewing and mending skills, my wife has wanted to learn those for some time and finally found the time to do so. Not being one to work in isolation, she started an upcycle group which meets every thursday evening at which point our living room turns into a sewing studio. She charges a minimal fee to attendees to cover costs. We have acquired about 4 sewing machines that we put at people's disposal. In the process, I have learned how to wind bobbins, thread the machines and adjust thread tension on all of them. I have also learned something about thread size and needle size. I am not much of a sewer myself. I do large sewing projects such as tents where pretty or neat is not so much of an issue as with clothes.
Meanwhile, my wife has tapped into all kinds of discarded clothes streams. One recycling organization has even given her group a once a month dumpster diving pass where members go to the recycling center and rummage through discarded items and bring home anything they want. I don't usually sew when the group meets but will sometimes cook for the gang. But I do observe and see what my wife does and pick up some ideas related to the manufacture of clothes, alteration techniques, fitting, etc. We also have a garage full of clothes and fabric that form the starting point of many of the sewing projects. Most recently my wife made two rugs from upholstery samples. My contribution was to consult on the design.
My wife also hosted a class recently on traditional Japanese clothes mending techniques which she used on an old dress while we were camping. She sat and mended while I read to her in the shade of a creosote bush out in the Mojave desert. Quite a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
My wife has also taken up haircutting and mustache trimming and works on me whenever she deems it necessary.
And on it goes. We do not need to be experts to start on something, but we can become competent in the process of doing it.

Clay Dennis said...

@ latefall, The bible on building bike frames is" The Paterek Manual" which is availible on the authors website. Not sure about any good books on bike repair which is also a very usefull skill. The bike items I would save would be; chains, tubes, tires, spokes, brake pads, cables,freewheels, and various rear sprockets. The problem with other things like front cranks etc is that they are specialized and don't intermix well, unless you plan to have spares for a specific bike.

@jmg, The answer to operating a bike without shiftable gears as found with a derailer or internal geared hub can be found by looking in to the past just as you recommned with other technologies. In the old days bikes were frequently build with several sprockets on the rear wheel and crank so that the rider would just get off and move the chain from one gear ratio to a different one when entering or leaving a hilly area. It is a modern extravagance to be able to constantly change gears for every tiny change in grade. Such a setup can be easily cobbled together by a competent bike mechanic out of salvaged parts also.

Roger said...

As you say JMG every utterance from central banks and the economics profession are all so twisty-turny and upside-downy that you need a mind like a corkscrew.

Tech bubble, telecom bubble, derivatives bubble, real estate bubble. We still haven't learned.

Bond bubble, I don't see any bond bubble. A real estate bubble? Here? In Toronto? Boring, old Toronto? Don't be daft, the fundamentals are sound.

Oh, they say reassuringly, maybe a soft-landing, don't worry. Tell me JMG, have you ever seen a "soft landing"? Does such a thing exist?

The mendacity is truly impressive and the liars truly polished. They've had generations to test tricks on people to see what works and what doesn't. They learn. But we don't. We keep getting fooled. No doubt, we'll get fooled again.

Realization is something that dawns only slowly. People want to think the best of others. It's hard to accept that it's a monumental con, that the fix is in, the system is rigged against you, that people and institutions are ravenous thieves. Your starry-eyed credulity makes you your own worst enemy.

But "truth" (like an empty bank account) and "facts" (like the need to eat) are stubborn things. And, in this place, we see such stubborn truths and facts spread relentlessly.

Sound fundamentals? THAT is truly daft. In this place jobs go overseas relentlessly.

I think that most people, even the most willfully blind, even the people most psychologically and financially invested in the matrix of lies, will finally see things for what they are - Wizards (charlatans), with loudspeakers and screens and pyrotechnics...

jonathan said...

re: urine as fertilizer--works great! human urine has a npk ratio of about 11/1/2. 2 drawbacks-it lacks the micronutrients that many plants need and, depending on your diet, it may be too salty or wrong ph. rather than deposit directly in the garden dilute with water 10 to 1, or direct deposit your urine (males may find this significantly easier than females) onto your compost pile. in any case, get over the ugh factor and don't waste this resource.

Ric Steinberger said...

One of the things we’re likely to loose this century is semiconductor technology. With that loss goes: the Internet, GPS, flat screen TV, transistor radios, LEDs, mobile phones, satellites, modern airplanes and high speed trains, modern cars (which we’ll lose for lots of reasons), computers like the one I’m typing on.

What we may have a chance to hold on to: tube based radios and TVs (probably black and white, for less power). If anyone’s left who can relearn how to make vacuum tubes, coils, capacitors, resistors, solder, etc., then we’ll get to hang onto wireless communication. We’ll also need lead batteries, or some other simple power storage and supply systems.

Loss of GPS means that “ordinary" mapmaking might return. The lack of zillions of mobile phones and color TVs means that people might actually be gathering around radios for news and information again…. and to hear weather forecasts.

The first drop down may be to a world something like the one of the 1880s to the 1920s.

winingwizzard said...

RE Veggy Growing...

There are micro-climes and micro-ecologies in every little niche of the world. Veggies are sensitive to these as they are soft bodied organisms.

Our initial solution at the farm was nearly instantaneous planting of productive fruit trees and canes. These, once established, are hardier, perennial and much lower maintenance. However, you must be able to can to save the fruit back for later.

We are going on year 3 in the fall, and expect some crops this year in plums, pears, mayhaws, blackberries and blueberries.

Another thing we have tried, successfully, is what we call "guerilla Fukuoka", where we encourage local varietals and their close cousins and plant massive bunches in favorable appearing spots on the property. That is it - they make it or they don't - all we do is hold off the hogs to give them a shot. This year we look to have a bumper crop of blackberries, Maypops, green beans and melons. And we did little but plant and slight weeding to let them establish.

Just some thoughts for those who are worried about veggies. And if you have acorns, you have your staple already - for flour.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Kim Larson - You might look into the cardoon plant as a source of rennet. Nothing I've tried, myself. But, it sounds promising. Promising enough that I got some seeds to plant, this year. And, parts of it are supposed to be tasty, all on it's own. I seem to remember when I was researching this, that there were a few other sources of rennet. But, cardoon suited my climate and uses. Lew

Tina Ulrich said...

I'm a librarian at a community college. I see quite a bit of "negative learning" going on.

Pinku-Sensei said...

@Changeling: "Here is interesting bit of negative progress:
Farmers prefer older versions of tractors, because GM is fleecing them on repairs and don't [doesn't/won't?] allow any modification to patented software."

One of my students told me that story just yesterday. I wish I could say I was more surprised about it, but having observed the progressive encroachment of copyright enforcement into entertainment and software during the current century, it's the kind of action I was already halfway expecting. I'll have to add this to my list of 21st Century crimes that computer technology makes possible. As for it being an example of negative progress, I'm not so sure. It certainly qualfies as true progress in terms of both increasing technological complexity and increasing profitability. In terms of what it means for the consumer, I prefer a term brought up in the comments to our host's The Steampunk Future, the German word Verschlimmbesserung, an improvement that makes things worse. I think that loan word works just as well if not better for the concept, as negative progress implies technological retrogression, an entirely different idea.

@fudoshindotcom "Happy Earth Day!" And a belated Happy Earth Day to you as well! I was wondering when someone here would wish our host and his readers that and you did it in the second comment. I was also wondering what the response would be, as the day is a favorite of bright green types who wish to power our current life style with renewable energy sources. That won't happen, but that didn't stop me from featuring a wind farm and solar-powered plane to celebrate the day.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Dear JMG - An article on the "Ain't It Funny" page of our local newspaper caught my eye. About a man in Colorado Springs who took an emphatic step back from technology. He took his computer out to the alley and shot it 8 times.

The article stated that he had been "fighting his computer for months." More likely, fighting an unsupportive tech support. I was uncomfortable with the headline, that referred to him as a "frustrated technophobe." He was cited for firing a weapon in the city limits. Penalty to be decided by the Judge. Lew

Renaissance Man said...

Gosh, what do they teach Druids these days... ;-)
Glad to share that discombobulating feeling of learning something that 'everyone else' already apparently got born knowing. I first came across the term 'negative growth' 30 years ago (!) in economics class; the same class where I noted that our current economic theories & policies have no way of dealing with the fact that our planet is finite and therefore, ultimately, limited, to which the official answer was -- is -- 'yes, but that [problem] is a long way off'. If Growth is the only doctrine by which a functioning economy can be imagined, then everything must be seen and described in terms of growth. Seems I intuitively understood Edward Abbey & Wendell Barry before I ever heard of them.

I must thank you for making me feel much better about collapse and what it entails. Somehow, I had to shake off the miserable memory of existing in abject poverty in the midst of plenty, a very, very depression-inducing situation, indeed. I'll be as independent of external systems as possible, but that still leaves me very dependent. But less than most, I'll wager.

Collapse, according to you, involves using less energy & resources, as little as possible right now. Thus, I have reduced the energy footprint of my paid-off house by 65% since I moved in. There is yet still lots of insulating work to do and I am still dependent on the natural gas system for heating and must be for the forseeable future.

I bake my own bread (mostly because I'm cheap - a 10Kg bag costs the same as 4 commercial loaves); it's ridiculously easy and because it tastes so much better (even though sourdough starter smells like turpentine & looks like toxic waste).
Still, I'm dependent on the systems that bring that bag of flour to me and the electricity for the oven. The same goes for homemade beer & wine.

I learned how to forge metal, make castings, weld, & use a lathe. (not expert, but well enough.) Right now, it's purely for fun, because it's far, far cheaper to just buy screws &c from the hardware store. Even so, I'm dependent on propane and welding gasses and electricity for the grinders, not being able to make charcoal &c. in the city.

I produce some nice pieces of leatherwork, know how to make saddles (western ones) and will eventually figure out how to make harness leather, boots, & other specialty items. Even so, I'm dependent on the leather wholesaler for the materials, threads, and other fixings.

After 10 years, I can be quite confidently certain that, as a gardiner, I am an utter failure, having produced in toto something less than a basket of tomatoes and a few salad greens. However... it seems I do have a talent for producing superior compost from yard & kitchen waste and with help from my horse. (Yeah, go ahead... insert 'full-of...' joke here). Though this, I contribute to my friends luscious vegetable gardens, who, in turn, invite me over for dinners. But I'll keep trying. Maybe I'll get it right someday.

Renaissance Man said...

I know horses. Quite well. I know how to train them, how to work with them, and how to own them. Not enough to work professionally, mind, but better than most. Maybe I can use that, someday, when the economic landscape changes. I'm looking forward to the day when there are no more motor vehicles roaring along the roads, but until then, I'm still dependent on my truck for all things horse. I'm dependent on the farrier, the vet, and whoever grows the hay for the barn. (I do ride my bicycle around the city rather than drive, whenver possible.) But... I need my city job to pay for my country hobbies, because they aren't economical, at least not yet, even though I no longer work overtime shifts, ever. (I do find notions of working only as much as needed, i.e. cost of owning car discussion, previously, to be utterly laughable. Whoever got hired to work only as many hours as the employee needed? One contracts to the employers needs and employers need regular, predictable service, even in pre-industrial, pre-monetized economies.)

I don't know how far this constitutes 'collapse', as I still feel a bit as if I'm trapped on the tracks with a train coming, surrounded and held in place by a crowd of oblivious people, especially when I consider what might happen to the supply chains on which I depend, but as I've fared much better during the past two economic crashes than most around me, I'm thinking maybe my future isn't as dark as it might be. Your writings seem to confirm that I'm on the right track. If I'm still dependent, at least I'm more confident in my ability to improvise, adapt, and overcome.

Apropos of ancient technologies and knowledge, are you familiar with Chateau Guedelon project?

pygmycory said...

Fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression are the big problems. Possibly mild Asperger's, certainly tendencies in that direction, some old repetitive strain stuff in my wrists and hands. Lack of energy and physical strength is a big problem. I tend to do projects in small pieces of 10min-half an hour, and what I can do goes up and down dramatically from day to day. I also get stupidly stressed out over silly things and have panic attacks, or get too upset and or in pain to care and drop a whole bunch of projects at once.

I've been working on the community integration with some success: I run the local church food garden, and am good friends with my land lady. Too much dealing with people is exhausting and working in a pet store certainly is quite a lot of that. I love it and hate it at the same time.

As you may have guessed one of my best assets is my skill with non-human organisms of many types. I have a BSc Biology going underused. If I had reasonable energy levels I'd go find myself a live-in apprenticeship on a small farm. But there is no way in the world I can do the amount of physical labour required.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Fudoshin and Jonathan--In regions facing a fresh water shortage, like around here, people are encouraged not to flush the toilet after every urination. New dual flush toilets are expensive. When I move to somewhere with enough space to make compost, I'll set it up in a way that is convenient for urine disposal.

james albinson said...

"Richard's Bicycle Book", Richard Ballantine and others, in most of its forms, is a reasonable start on cycle maintenance.
There are many others and early editions might be found in the natural haunts of green wizards (2nd hand bookshops).
Derailleurs may be repairable but 3/5 speed hubs are a bit tricky.

John D. Wheeler said...

Here's an interesting twist on "negative progress": a 3D printer that does not use software or even electricity -- and can even use clay or pasta dough rather than plastic!

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

I did enjoy contemplating this post as I biked my normal 5 1/2 mile commute to work, cars whizzing past (traffic worse now that gas prices are lower).

Sadly, I've discovered that biking is fraught with class issues. Some people to whom bikes might be useful see cycling as either a recreational activity indulged in by rich folks or an undesirable mode of transportation necessitated by extreme poverty. So they avoid biking since they don't want to be associated with either social category, particularly the latter. Meanwhile, said affluent people often wouldn't consider biking for transit, thus embodying the stereotype. This is starting to change in both communities, but not as fast as one would wish.

I agree about the five year timeline for gardening. This seems to be true for quite a few activities. I've heard it said about classroom teachers and chefs. Of course finding a more experienced gardening mentor or group of mentors can help immensely in terms of gaining knowledge and avoiding mistakes. I learned much from my mother-in-law. A friend of mine belongs to an organic gardening group.

This brings me to useful skills: it seems to me that intangible social skills are also worth cultivating. Negotiation; working with others to carry out projects; persuading others to come together to do something for the common good; helping groups (such as one's family) keep at something through difficult times--skills like this also take time, practice and experience to develop.

I love hearing about all the homesteading. As an urban person lessening in place, I'd like to hear more from other urbanites. There are plenty of us doing our backyard composting, vegetable gardening, crafting, etc.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

RedNeck Girl,

Best wishes to you in your transition time, and I do hope you come to a good living place.

Adrian said...

Fudoshin, nowhere near as shocking as me declaring to my work colleagues that I use my menstrual blood to fertilise the veggie garden patch. That comment must have sealed my reputation... (why buy blood and bone?!)

I've also used second-hand soft cotton baby wraps which I've cut up and sawn into small squares and use as "wee wee wipers" - cost me about $2 (precious Aussie dollars), reduced toilet paper consumption by 80% or so since I am female.

I could go on, but I have to get going and feed the chickens, collect some eggs, and potter around merrily...

Unknown said...

@LewisLucanBooks--On an email discussion list I participated in long ago, a woman who repaired office machines said that the photocopiers from police departments sometimes came in with bullet holes
and no explanation.

John Michael Greer said...

William, true enough. I'm reminded of the satirical Onion headline, "World's Largest Metaphor Hits Iceberg, Sinks."

Frank, interesting. Here in the US, starchy peas aren't widely available but beans are another matter -- there are scores of varieties of good drying beans available here, and I know a lot of people who grow them.

Hedgehogcircus, exactly -- when a system is in decline, its demands on those who participate in it tend to soar, and so the sooner you disconnect from it, the better.

Changeling, good for the farmers. That sort of thing is going to play a large role in the first few rounds of negative progress.

Pierluigi, yes, I've been tracking that. Business as usual is very nearly over at this point.

Chloe, fair enough -- one step at a time is a good approach, and the skills you're already working on have a lot to offer.

Edde, what I've seen of it so far has the odor of academia all over it -- that is to say, good ideas ineffectually presented. I'm willing to reconsider that, of course.

Squizzler, hmm. I'll look into it.

George, got it in one. The US academic industry is a machine for turning young people into lifelong debt slaves with the active connivance of the banks and the federal government. Learning? Talk to a professor sometime about how much the administration cares about that.

Brian, I thought some of those points sounded a bit familiar! ;-)

Thomas, true enough -- but I hope you're planting trees anyway, for your descendants if not for yourself.

Sean, I grew up with a clear sense of what was happening to the natural world -- that was tolerably common in the 1960s and 1970s; the one thing that differentiated me from much of my generation is that I didn't drink the koolaid when Reagan took office. So it's a familiar thing, and I learned long ago that meaningful action is the one reliable cure for despair.

Patricia, excellent! You get tonight's gold star for noticing that. I actually used 1930s customs rather than 1940s, to get the sense of pervasive economic depression, but other than that, spot on.

John Michael Greer said...

Wolfgang, your wife is clearly going to be a major asset to the local community as things wind down. You're a fortunate man!

Clay, many thanks!

Roger, there is no such thing as a soft landing from a bubble. That's simply the fact of the matter, and an evening's reading in any good history of speculative booms and busts will prove it. When promoters babble about soft landings, you know that a smoking crater strewn with wreckage is in your future.

Jonathan, no argument there.

Ric, I'm going to quibble a bit, as it's possible to make simple semiconductors -- that is, individual diodes and transistors -- from rereadily available materials using basement-workshop technology. What will be going out of existence is integrated circuits. That said, you're right that most of the technologies you've named will go the way of the brontosaur once integrated circuits price themselves out of availability. For what it's worth, my guess is that the first drop will be to something like 1950s technology, with the jolt downward to the 1920s further down the road. More on this soon!

Wizzard, that's certainly a strategy, though a lot depends on how much land you have. Those of us (such as myself) with urban backyard gardens generally need to pursue more intensive approaches.

Tina, I bet -- and a lot of negative knowledge being circulated, I'm sure!

Lew, I saw that. It sounds like a good idea to me, though I'd encourage those who want to imitate the action to avoid the legal penalty by using a long-handled sledgehammer instead. Back when I was involved in the Society for the Eradication of Television, that, a good set of gloves, and the sort of transparent face shield that kids in high school metal shop used to wear, were the standard tools, and there's something profoundly soul-satisfying in applying your own muscles to the task of reducing a TV (or, equally, a computer) to mangled fragments. (If you lay out a canvas groundcloth, btw, it's easier to sweep up the remains to take to your local e-waste disposal site.)

Renaissance, I gather that "negative growth" may be a Britishism only recently imported to the colonies! As for collapsing now and avoiding the rush, yes, it sounds as though you've got a pretty good handle on it. No, I'm not familiar with Chateau Guedelon; I'll look it up as time permits.

John, fascinating. My question in that case is why not just use your hands, and maybe a potter's wheel, and skip the robotic middleman?

Adrian, one of the easiest ways to control Americans is to convince them that not doing what you want them to do will make people think they're poor. The marketing industry has been ringing that Pavlovian bell for decades now, and most Americans just keep drooling on cue. Getting over that really rather silly hangup is a basic step toward freedom, and survival, in these times.

Troy Sanchez said...

I fear the prepper pimp. Those who stockpile spam and ammo or get into self sufficient living aiming to use their stockpile or harvest for future social and economic dominance and acquire a spouse by barter or coercison.

latheChuck said...

Just another fantasy occupation: builder of small musical instruments, such as harmonicas, or their close cousin, the squeezebox/accordion. You'll need a lot of relatively small tools, various raw materials (but not in great quantity), practical designs, and years of practical experience. It's the sort of manufacturing that could probably be done in a spare bedroom, and a fine reputation could lead to better profit margins. I imagine that, to some extent, you could add increasingly specialized tools (fixtures and jigs) as the business grew, tools that would be of little interest to any thief (or tax collector).

Caryn said...

Thanks for another great post and discussion, JGM and friends:
It's Sat. morning and I finally have the time to sit down and join the (virtual) living room. Yay!

Now, see, Just from the sound of it, I would have thought "negative progress" would be what the mainstream is rolling blindly on with - like those K-cup coffee makers -more expensive, less coffee, less taste, tiny cups, more trash, no control over your precious cuppa! - newer & shinier but worse. Whereas "positive regression" sounds to me like Green-Wizardry: less bells and whistles to go wrong, more control, easier access, less expensive, total control for your specific personal likes. As an extra plus: far less externalities dumped onto other people and coffee grounds to make makeup with or put into your compost. Win win!

On the dark side of my own 'positive regression': I think I've just killed my pineapple tree.The food thing not going well this week. It wasn't growing straight, then another shoot came up from the roots and the tiny pineapple just stopped growing. I thought it needed to be replanted to a bigger pot, but when I tried it just broke off like a dead twig. UGH!!! I've always had a brown thumb and I'm not sure this apt.-terrace-potted-plant gardening is working out for me. I'll need to seek out local help, unless someone here has any advice on tropical plantings. (?)

On the urination thing: Human waste / night-soil has a LONG established history here in Asia. Apparently solid waste/feces is far better as fertilizer than urine though. Wars were fought in Ancient Edo, (Tokyo) over the price and control of human night-soil. Edo in the 1600's had a sustainable population of over 1 million people and this practice was instrumental in keeping the crops from the countryside coming in, as well as keeping the city sanitary and habitable, (so now we know why Japan has developed the rep. for being so pristinely clean). There are a number of articles, (use the google now while it lasts!) about the history as well as current practices in rural China. Too many for me to choose one to link, (& I think I've just been 'Great-Firewalled', a lot of stuff is not coming through or coming through only in Chinese).

I'm really lucky collapsing here in China, there's a huge swath of the population that got left behind/never caught up with 'modern convenience' and still know loads of how-to's of LESS living and reusing/recycling EVERYTHING, both rural and urban. They're teaching me tones and I don't feel like a freak following their leads, (although I know I look like one to my fellow expats - the biggest hurdle to overcome is to not care!).
I won't ever be able to totally feed myself from my tiny terrace garden, just the occasional treat of a homegrown tomato, sour baby orange, pomelo, hopefully eventually another pineapple, but not enough to rely on for sustenance. The only thing we've grown and can rely on is Aloe Vera for mozzies, cuts and burns & shampoo.

In this rambling: I would venture to my fellow urbanites: No, we probably won't be able to grow all of our own food in our bathtubs or on balconies - But that's OK. We can still make it. Urbanites have never done this and yet they have survived. JGM, I know you have said this in past posts, & I get that, that we will/are developing tradable skills and products to buy or barter for foods. I'm looking into making soaps and cleaning products from easier to find and less toxic sources, (Aloe? haha). Whatever it is - I agree - we can learn best by looking to history and how people in our situation in previous cultures did it. Look to the folks in our own communities who are already at the bottom of the economic food chain and learn how they do certain things. & yes, look to other cultures, especially if you're in the USA, as Americans, HAVE indeed been hood-winked out of a genuine DIY mentality.

Caryn said...

cont. from last post:

re: lack of DIY motivation: This I can link:
The Century Of The Self

Most of you may have seen this, if not it's fantastic viewing, explains a lot of why we are where we are. This helped me put things into perspective and break with the mold of expectations. Hope it helps others too.

@Tasha T. Chester & spouse,
This is my background also! We need to sit down over a glass of wine and chat! Or barring that due to geographical barrier I'd welcome a virtual connection (while it lasts): If you are on Facebook, can you 'friend' me? Caryn Banker. There are a number of sewing. quilting and crafting groups that share tips, info and ideas. I've also been sewing since I can remember, on a machine since I was about 6 and formally educated in clothing and textiles. BC, (before children),I was a professional costume designer for theatre and film, then fashion designer… In short: I've spent many years of my working life paying the rent as a seamstress, tailor, draper, dyer, & costume craftsperson. There's always great info and tips to share. I'd love to hear from you if you are amenable.

Lastly - (apologies in advance) sticking my nose in to the bicycle discussion - I don't know, guys. I'm dubious: I've visited a rubber plantation in Thailand and from what we saw and were told: one tree can produce about 1 rubber-band's worth of rubber in a few weeks. The gruesome history of the Congo, (and Malaysia and Burma/Myanmar as well) doesn't surprise me in the least as it's a highly useful/desirable product but fairly labour intensive and it would take a whole forest to make 2 bicycle tires, let alone 4 auto tires. They're made from petroleum products nowadays aren't they? I don't know how they could be produced in any quantities post petroleum. (?)

N Montesano said...

@ Pygmycory,
Wanted to mention a couple things that help me, in the event you haven't already tried them:
1. a big foam roller. It's a silly thing; probably other similar-sized items would work as well. It's maybe 5-6 inches in diameter, and maybe three feet long or a little less; long enough and wide enough to support your whole spine -- but Not your shoulders. You lie down on it, feet flat on floor, with the shoulders falling off each side, and arms on the floor. Relaxes the tendons in the shoulder and all down the arms. A physical therapist sold mine to me a few years ago for rotator cuff problems, but it also does wonders for my carpal tunnel syndrome.

2. Herb tea. Specifically lemon balm and oat straw, for anxiety. My favorite combination is lemon balm with dried raspberries and ginger, with oat straw added when the lemon balm isn't enough to do the trick. Lemon balm grows like a weed around here, so it's easy to dry a lot for winter. You can dry it by tying the stems together and hanging it upside down somewhere, like the kitchen. If there are some type of flavorful, soft berries available growing wild in your climate -- blackberries are invasive in mine -- or you can grow or trade for raspberries, perhaps you could gather and dry them? Maybe a dehydrator could be found on freecycle, or second-hand.
As for self-support, might you be able to grow and sell fresh herbs, or dried herb teas, or herb/vegetable starts, or some such thing not overly labor intensive? I doubt it would make a full living, but it might help eke things out. I recently read a little book titled "Profits from your backyard herb garden," and was considering whether I might be able to use some of the suggestions in it; perhaps it would also be useful to you.

Tasha T. said...


A book you might like is The Complete Indoor Gardener edited by Micheal Wright. It's less than $7 used, including shipping to Canada. It covers topics from bonsai, to tiny water gardens, to growing from kitchen scraps. It also has a section of advice for disabled gardeners.

It's full of pictures and diagrams and it's a great source for people who want to really grow plants but need to work on a smaller scale.

I personally love it, and refer to it regularly.

Scotlyn said...

JMG, you said: "unless everything I've seen is wrong, we've had a quarter century of nasty economic contraction, papered over with banks."

Ha, ha, that is so aptly put!

Cherokee Organics said...


No worries, although the waters are deliberately murky in such financial areas, but perhaps and maybe they are somewhat clearer here because the last of the salmon have been taken from the river a year or two back here? Many multi national corporations here appear to be paying little to no tax – whilst at the same time meeting their legal obligations... Did you not repeat the saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch? As Bones McCoy the original doctor character in original Star Trek said: "It's life Jim, but not as we know it". We're paying for all these apparently free Internet services which we all enjoy, but it is not paying for them as we know it. :-)!

What was with the actor William Shatner apparently not attending the funeral of his fellow actor Leonard Nimoy anyway? I watched an interview with the two captains of the Starship Enterprise which was hosted with Whoopi Goldberg - Star Trek Captains Summit - and it appeared that the actor William Shatner, from my inexperienced perspective, struggled reading basic social cues and Leonard Nimoy understood that lack and helped him along as best as he could. It was interesting to watch and observe.

Anyway, I had a major epiphany today that I work one month per year just to pay for the years supply of dog food and have started putting some serious thought into getting rid of that financial burden. Things are coming together here very slowly, but surely. It takes such a long time.

Thanks for the work that you do.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi everyone,

As part of the whole learning process, it is also important - perhaps - to learn how to undertake a serious and honest post mortem of your errors. Over the years, I have destroyed some perfectly fine bits of old school equipment here and have then had to laboriously restore them back to their former glory. Nothing teaches you what bits of equipment to respect and treat gently than that particular process.

Hi Greg,

Glad to be of help. It is agriculture, but not as we know it. ;-)!



latefall said...

@Clay & James
Thanks for the pointers - will get going on those as time permits!

Last week I wrote quite a few high level (uncertain) thoughts on that issue. If you like, I'd appreciate some bashing, though I think we'll land almost on the same page (or at least chapter) eventually. Of course our probabilities and timings are likely to be pretty different.

@JMG (&Ric) re the electronics & IC issue
Did you have a closer look at yet? My gut feel is that he would be one of the few people I have come across that:

a) share your vocabulary to a sufficient extent
b) are pretty critical and outspoken with regard to "progress and downloading you brain"
c) would have the background and standing to advance this, and other discussions a bit (or perhaps get realigned a little).

Apart from the above I assume some people here would get a kick out of such a discussion run in welsh with subtitles ;). I know I would.

Perhaps the old Border Brewery people could host one side of a skype call? Or someone could smuggle JMG over to Felixtowe if he takes his summer break? I am not sure, but perhaps I can wiggle something with CMA...

dfr2010 said...

A recent example of dependency and externality: the current outbreak of avian influenza will be showing up in a grocery store near you. Along with several commercial turkey farms, it recently hit a large commercial egg farm, requiring 5.3 MILLION birds to be killed. It boggled even my mind that just one farm would have quite that many birds.

Just before that bit of news hit, one of my neighbors had come down the road to shoot the breeze a bit, and once again wondered about my laying hens and if they even paid for themselves. He again asked if I could sell him eggs for the same price as the grocery store. I just gave him a look and said, "Now you know better than that!" Thankfully, he has given up on questioning the meat side of the chicken operation, as he knows my answer will always be, "You've tasted my chicken."

I can't help but wonder if his opinion will change with this year's events in animal agriculture.

While we did not order turkey poults, a point we had considered over this past holiday season, yesterday I tried once again to caponize some cockerels, and out of three, I think I have one actual capon, one half-capon, and one still full cockerel, who will get another go at the capon idea probably next week. Hubby and I decided while cleaning up yesterday that caponizing is "hardcore chickening."

Andrew H said...

@Willian Zeitler
The English word 'inflammable' has never meant that something won't burn. It has always meant something that is combustible. The confusion has arisen very recently in response to efforts to avoid confusion.

The two words 'inflammable' and 'flammable' have slightly different etymologies, and slightly different meanings as commonly used now and in the past. Both words come originally from the Latin 'flammo' (present transitive case) meaning 'I burn', I set on fire', 'I excite'. However the prefix in- was not the 'in-' meaning not or indicating negative (eg inattention, invariable etc) but came from the prefix en- meaning “to cause (a person or thing) to be in” the place, condition, or state named by the stem" (e.g. as in such words as enshrine, encourage, enliven). In this case the en- quickly turned into in- to give 'in-flame' and 'in-flammable' etc. It was not only applied to combustion but also to human passions (to arouse anger etc). We also get the word 'inflammation' from it.

On the other hand, the word 'flammable' is a much more recent invention, first being used around the early 19th century. It seems to have been used exclusively to refer to combustion. It never entered common usage and was considered dead soon after. However much more recently it was decided that the word 'inflammable' to denote highly combustible fuels, could be confusing, particularly for those with poor English language skills. As a result the word has been reinvented and is normally used only to indicate combustible fuels.

Unfortunately the reason for its resurrection seems to have been self-fulfilling with many assuming that since 'flammable' means combustible then 'inflammable' should mean the opposite, without learning its true meaning. It might not cause confusion when on the back of a fuel tanker but it certainly has resulted in confusion in many other situations.

An interesting note is that the French word for non-combustible is 'ininflammable'.


latefall said...

@Tasha & Chester
I tend to agree. I've worked as de facto head of lab with some "cream of the crop" kids in academia.
You could have gotten 20-50% more output from these places if you just stuck someone in there who knew their way around household chores. Many of the intelligentsia are also prone to take offense if you suggest they do some menial task - even though these often help kicking up useful ideas.
Very high end composite work (think fighter jets and rockets) are extremely closely related to precise textile work and baking complicated layer-cakes. I am better in the latter (been doing cakes and from-scrap-cooking since age 5). A kitchen is one of the most functional and versatile places in today's household. But do be careful with cross-contamination if you're playing with toxic stuff... :)

We just bought a lot of seasonal fruit that I plan to turn into marmalade tomorrow. We also picked up cloth that my wife really liked and we'll turn it into something (having a shop with a good selection helps). She had done a project with my mother two weeks earlier, and now she is hooked. I had dragged the two into the shop then as well (and we up-cycled a couple of pillows).
Since it is a little difficult to get out into nature as much as I would like to I thought I'll do the following:
pick & identify some plants (preferably abundant and useful), dry press some, and draw others perhaps while they are fresh. Drawing them attentively makes you see and remember them in a different way. Needs almost no space or money, you get something to put on the wall and it addresses a useful skill set.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...


Re anxiety and grief owing to "devastation being suffered by the non-human world at our activities?"

As a person definitely "in the thick of it," as you say, and having lived through many stages of that anxiety, despair and grief when younger, I agree with JMG that the one cure is meaningful action.

One good place to start is by learning as much as possible about your own local ecosystem. Learn as much as you can about general ecology.

As you learn you can start helping in a variety of ways. This may require personal attitude and lifestyle changes and will definitely require living a more earth centered life. Your spirituality may even change.

There are so many ways to help. I propagate and grow native plants, help manage a local oak woodland savannah and educate others--besides the general efforts to live a less carbon-intensive lifestyle, including gardening, home cooking and so on. But I know people working on getting food composting going on a community level, and others working on water management and protecting birds. There is so much meaningful work to be done!

Congratulations on your uncomfortable awareness. You might be at the gateway to what could turn out to be a deeply resonant life full of challenge and reward. At least I have found it so.

August Johnson said...

JMG – I have to make a comment that concerns both Education and the preservation of knowledge. I’ll tie them both to Ham Radio and older ways of doing things.

I’m a Volunteer Examiner (VE) for Ham Radio licenses, at our test session this last weekend there was a man in his late 20’s who came to take the Technician license test. He said that he had a reading disability and it would probably take him longer and asked if we could accommodate him. He’d been studying very hard and wanted to take the test. We offered to help him and it was clear that he probably didn’t read or write at more than a 3rd or 4th grade level. He took about twice as long as the other applicants but he ended up passing with a quite respectable score. After the session, I talked with him for a while and he said that he’d discovered Ham Radio while looking for ways to learn basic electronics and felt that this was a good way to get a decent education without spending major money on a college education. He was VERY motivated, and it was obvious that he didn’t have a lot of money. I’m sure that this is going to help his reading ability also!

For anybody who wants to learn about basic electricity and electronics, studying for and getting a Ham license is a very good path to take. It’s not just valuable for communications!

I’ve been putting together a large library of How-To books covering a large variety of subjects covering gardening and growing food, water conservation and rainwater collection, diy solar heating, cooking and PV, house and shed construction, etc. Of course I also have many, many older books on electricity, electronics and radio. I especially value the books that tell how to do things in earlier times.

I find that using modern electronic and radio test equipment with microprocessors that do everything for you often prevent you from getting a real understanding of what you’re working with. I really like using older basic test instruments such as analog voltmeters, simple oscilloscopes, basic signal generators. Then there are the classic lab instruments for measuring components; the Wheatstone Bridge for resistors and the fancier LCR bridges for capacitors and inductors. Here’s a picture of three old LCR bridges I have, made by General Radio and Heathkit. The older GR Bridge on the left was made from 1933 through 1959, the Heathkit one in the middle was a clone of the GR. The GR Bridge on the right was introduced in 1960. All use the same basic circuit. All will measure components to about 1%, in fact the standards in all of these are still good and they still meet factory specifications.

I suspect these will still be good 100 years from now. Can you say that about your fancy meter of today? When using one of these you end up understanding what you are measuring. If you get an old Shallcross Wheatstone Bridge like I plan on doing, you can measure resistors to 4 significant figures, that’s between 0.1% and 0.01%. Often these are available in good shape for around $50.

Oh, and all of this stuff is easily repairable too.

I’m hoping that anybody in the Pacific Northwest of the US who is interested in learning about Radio or Electronics will contact me, I’ll be happy to help you get whatever learning material or equipment you might need. There’s a lot out there for cheap if you know where to look. Salvage is GOOD! I’m going to write a post on this on the Green Wizards forum.

Michael McG said...

Lots of comments this week regarding handling of Malbono - Human Waste which brings up another future-retro line of business: “Out Houses”.

I used to clean fish for vacationing WW II vets as a tyke. According to post fishing campfire drinking stories, Outhouses were very common in my City of Minneapolis up until the War.

As early teens, the vets used to take sport in tipping them over, sometimes people were using them as the tipping happened.

Often used in storytelling to describe people of very sturdy Outhouse construction the phrase “He was built like a brick Sh*t house” was invoked in honorable memory to heroic pals not present.

All those guys I knew have passed on now.
I’m sure they are chuckling from their new dimension remembering such adventures.

Despite having to go through some horrible war experiences (those are other stories), for most of them; sharing laughter and good spirits were the norm.

Being built like a Brick Outhouse was cachet.
Perhaps having such will also be in the not too distant future?

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG: Well, you caught the entire wartime vibe dead-on, though. Including the shortages which made a ham for Christmas a real treat.

Patricia Mathews said...

@NMontesanto to Pygmycory: THANKS!

You can get those big foam rollers just about anywhere when swimming season starts up; they're sold as pool toys/aquatic exercise items. And for the herb tea suggestions.

Pat, with a similar collection of ailments.

Doctor: "And what problems would you like to address?"

Me: "That there's a million and one small things wrong with me."

Doctor: "Well, there are 76 reasons for that!"

Me: Grinning and laughing.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

JMG, I have an idea that would provide a small additional income stream from this blog, while propagating ideas you are trying to raise awareness of. Sell automobile bumper stickers (I know, but many of us do drive cars, vans and trucks) with slogans and catch phrases from this blog.

"Collapse Now. Avoid the Rush". "There Is No Brighter Future Ahead" "Finite Planet (circle with a slash over) Infinite Growth" "Positive Regression" "I'm a Green Wizard"

Obviously you are not going design these yourself. You choose the pithy slogans and ask one of your supporters who can do simple graphic design on a computer to turn them into the appropriate kind of files for screen printing.

Cafe Press is an online business that will take a logo you supply them and manufacture coffee mugs, T shirts and the like bearing that logo, on demand. In exchange for a cut of proceeds, they ship it, handle payment, and send you your share of the money. There are probably other services that work similarly. You would probably want one that does not restrict your advertising the stickers here, as you do your books.

Steve in Colorado said...

Hmmm, the end of the internet. Is this your way of telling us JMG that you're taking next week off ;). If so, enjoy your vacation...

In mulling over your posts the past few weeks, I keep coming back to how very much tied into the whole system the concept of externalities really is, often in ways that were not considered initially. Whether you are trying to shove something off on others or you are trying to do the opposite.

A simple example is recycling clothing. Personally I have been doing this for decades, and it sounds like quite a few other posters here are doing it as well. I think it is a great idea: reduces waste, puts a greater life into already spent resources, reduces out of pocket costs, and more. One of the great win-wins that those of us living at the edge of Western civilization can make use of. But if we were to take the broader systems view, we would see several ways this activity is dependent upon the very system and wastes that we recyclers are attempting to avoid, and how it may have other effects as well.

It is only because we live among a very affluent people, who have way more clothing than they need and keep buying more, that there is a steady stream of functional used clothing for us to scavenge. Also, as those who have been doing this a while have likely noticed, the quality level of used clothing has been going down for years; finding a high quality Pendleton shirt on the used racks is a rarity now a days.

Like it or not, this activity is tied in many ways to mainstream society. If the mainstream starts accepting cheap, shoddy clothing, well that's what we will have to choose from. If they suddenly were to stop their addiction to buying even more clothes, our supply of used apparel dries up.

Please don't take this the wrong way, recycling clothing is great. For now, it represents a good way of extending the use of resources and many other worthy things. At the same time, it only is an option as long as the majority of society is being wasteful and gluttonous about clothing. Perhaps when that ends, there will be more incentive for more of us to learn spinning, weaving, tailoring and the other crafts that go into making our own clothing. Until then, it keeps many of us from spending the extra time to learn and practice these skills.

So there is co-dependence at several levels back to the society at large. And perhaps an unexpected tie, in that the supply of cheap used clothes keeps many from learning skills that would make them more independent in obtaining their clothing.

It is very much the same for the other side of externalities as well (however the large corporations and gov'ts do have an advantage in that they can play on and profit from the arbitrage, in the short term at least). We all are tied into "the system," often in ways and with consequences we may not fully appreciate.

Perhaps it is just another example of "it's hard to see water if you're a fish."

winingwizzard said...

@ Fudoshindotcom

We use a privy at the farm. It is on skids so we can move it. Dig 6 ft deep hole with tractor auger, then fill, then move privy and fertilize some more.

It works - things grow better in the former privy zones...

dltrammel said...

Speaking of negative, what had me laughing this day, was an ad on the radio for a new car. Tucked into the "fine print" was the comment "May result in negative equity".

Doing some investigation I found this can means two things, first we all know that cars lose value as soon as you drive off the lot. That is a $30K car becomes a $25K car as soon as it is sold.

Also, the way they set up the payment schedule on loans now, you front pay your interest. Your first month's payment may be 90% interest and 10% equity, your last month's reversed, 10% interest and 90% equity.

Most home loans are the same, the lender wants to be able to recoup their "vig" as soon as possible.

So while you may have been paying 2-3 years on that loan, the car is still worth less that what you owe. If you use it as a trade-in, the dealer rolls that difference into your new loan.

I've also heard that some car loans are now done for more money that the car is worth. A $30K car gets a loan to repay back $35K.

What this lets the lender do is make the monthly payments lower. And since most people only worry if they can afford the payments each month, not how much they pay over the life of the loan, then it sounds like a great deal.

The elite just keep finding ways to skim an increasingly thin share of the total wealth into their bank accounts.

Green Wizard lesson 101, don't go into debt, lol.

Me I just bought a second car, a nice little truck for $3K pulled from savings. No loan. My sister and I live close so this give us both a back up auto if either of ours breaks down.

And it gives me a vehicle to see about finding a way to profit outside of the established food chain.

Green Wizard lesson 102, redundancy protects you from the Collapse.


As for the 5 year learning curve so commented on, I would have said 10 given the way that life seems to keep pulling a beginning gardener out of his classes. The Cult of Progress tries its darnest to keep pulling us back into the rat race.

Due to a broken foot at work, I missed my window to get in early crops, but last years left over heritage onions are coming up in droves.

pygmycory said...

I grew up reading The Complete Indoor Gardener whenever I got really bored; it is a good one. Trouble is, my garden is already pretty busy growing food that I eat, and I’m not sure how much more of the lawn my landlady will be ok on my cannibalizing. I’ve been increasing the size every year. A dehydrator is something that would be quite useful, and I should maybe put some effort into finding one this year. Most of my preserving is done via freezer at the moment, which is potentially vulnerable to prolonged power outages.

M Montesano
I grow lemon balm but haven’t found it to be hugely helpful and was considering composting it. What I do like is mint tea. It seems to help clear my mind if I’m overstressed. I haven’t tried the blackberries or raspberries in tea. They usually go on my breakfast cereal.

The foam roller is an interesting idea . It sounds about like a foam pool noodle? I can imagine it being helpful – I may keep an eye out for a pool noodle the next time I’m near a dollar store.

I think part of what I need to do is spend less time on the computer and see what that does.
Thank you both for the suggestions.

Scotlyn said...

@Chris re dog food - my "hand on the rope" is a job in processing petfood ingredients from fish by-products (left over from human consumption processing). Though our products are 100% fish, I was shocked to learn that it may be only 8% of what ends up in the can. Apparently peas and beans make up a lot of the bulk there. Pricewise, though, commercial pet food will only get more expensive because, believe it or not, humans are increasingly in competition for more of what used to be the waste stream from food processing. We used to get paid to take away fish scraps, then we got it free for the collecting, now we pay for it and struggle to source supplies, as more and more is being mushed back into the higher value human food chain (though prob at the lower value end of that).

These are global trends as far as I know, they might help frame your thinking on this. For what it's worth, our own dogs thrive on our scraps, always have, despite severe warnings about this practice. We know what they are eating, because we're eating it too.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Redneckgirl,

Sorry for you loss in the near term. Life is ephemeral. It is sometimes hard to be the one that is left behind. Find purpose and strength in that purpose and remember to grow some corn. The Indians grew painted mountain corn varieties in your cooler northern climate.



Frank Hemming said...

Hello JMG,

I thought this extract from a Simon Hoggart article might amuse you.

"But my favourite political myth involves Peter Mandelson. The story goes that he was buying supper at a chippie in his former Hartlepool constituency. He asked for haddock, chips and "some of that guacamole" - mistaking the mushy peas for avocado dip.

It's a perfect Mandelson story, involving his metropolitan tastes and ignorance of working-class life. But he never said it.

The mistake seems to have been made by a young American woman student who was helping Labour at a by-election. She, of course, had never seen mushy peas. Neil Kinnock claims to have attributed the story to Mandelson, as a tease.

And Mandelson's biggest mistake? He used his newspaper column to deny the story. That was fatal, since it only gave it legs - and now, like all other victims of political myths, he is stuck with it for life."

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi onething,

Stop encouraging the editor here! Too funny.



YCS said...

Hi August,
Your work seems fascinating! Do you write anywhere regularly? I'm studying Mechatronics right now and it seems that most universities nowadays only teach the theory part of analog electronics and then move on to digital. Being forced to learn microprocessors has made me realise how much more embodied energy they require to remain versatile. If you have a recommended set of texts you would recommend to learn ham radio/analog electronics in general I would love to have the list.


Lou Nelms said...

Bicycles. Cars. Technologies for mobility. A central question for us is the tension between mobility and territoriality. And of the expectations driven into us that progress and one's measure is tightly associated with not only one's upward social mobility but one's physical mobility. Places you have been and places you need to see and experience. In contrast with the idea of finding root in one place, in a territory. Of building a big world in a small place vs. ripping small places in search of the big world, of globe trotting for the perfect wave. Become the native in your own empire slaying nativity scene. The meek must inherit the earth. Without the sword. Without the guns. Bear your cross. At the mega crossroad. Noah on. Viable with the viable wild earth.

John Franklin said...

I was given this as retort recently:


Clay Dennis said...


A tidbit for your future post on California. My wife was recently at a water utility convention with several high level water utility managers from California. They seemed to be rather oblivious to the big picture consequences of the drought. But instead were focused on the financial effects, which is that when the product you are selling is water, then when you have less of it to sell your revenue goes down so that you can no longer pay off the debt you used to build the system for all the present and future ratepayers. An obvious consequence of a market based economic system meeting " negative growth". One short term way to stave this off is to charge more per unit above a minimum use, to in effect tax water wasters, and rich users such as golf courses and beverly hills swimming pool owners. But this week in California a state court ruled this type of pricing illegal. A great example of how established institutions can not adapt to new circumstances and help move the whole society down the hill to collapse.

N Montesano said...

@ Patricia Matthews,
:D An aunt now in her 80s has been telling me for years, "Don't get old, Honey." Uh, not sure of the merits of that suggestion! But at 45 there are sure a lot of parts that suddenly start aching in ways I never realized was possible, even 10 years ago. Guess I'd better get used to it! Am glad if the suggestions help.
Pygmycory, yeah, I think different herbs work for different people; fortunately there are a lot used for various calming purposes, and a lot can be grown in pots, if you're out of garden space. I hate having anxiety attacks; best wishes for finding a good solution. You sound like a very tough, resourceful person; am guessing you're being a little hard on yourself, some days.

Glenn said...

Bikes VS. Cars

Just some gross numbers, and recognizing that the Archdruid was presenting just one convenient example out of many possibilities.

There are roughly a billion private autos and taxis in the world. There are not enough resources for each individual to own one. OTOH, each one weighs at least 3000 lbs (a little less than 1.5 Metric Tonnes), while an average single person bike weighs about 30 pounds (My own bike, a 1991 Bridgestone CB-1 with a chrome-moly steel frame, good but not fancy high tech) or a little under 14 KG. So a bike uses two orders of magnitude less than (1/100th of) the materials used in a car. Converting the world's cars to bikes (example purely to demonstrate resource use) could provide a bicycle for every single person in the world, with almost 400 pounds (180 KG) of material, mostly steel, per person left over.

The obvious benefits in the undeveloped world are staggering, and would greatly outweigh the inconvenience in the richest industrialized world.

That being said, humanity lived for hundreds of thousands of years without any vehicles, and civilizations have existed for thousands of years without wheels, much less cars or bikes. JMG is not sure even bicycles can be made or maintained in a post collapse society.

So why do I bring this up? Why is it so important? I think our host may be wrong, but I certainly wouldn't bet on it. No, it's important because the first world in general, and the U.S. in great particular has built it's infrastructure around the automobile, and we can't afford to change that very much during prolonged economic contraction and industrial collapse. But the mobility of the bicycle can provide the bridge that let's us at least survive with our built environment.

So collapsing early by changing from car to bike is a good way to stay ahead of the curve.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Greg Belvedere said...

It looks like another tech bubble is set to pop soon. This does not surprise me given how many crazy startups get funding.

FLwolverine said...

@pygmycorey - foam rollers are great tools for relieving muscle stress, but they are not the same as "pool noodles". The foam roller has a bigger diameter and more density. You can look at one in e.g, Target and compare it to the pool noodle before buying anything.

Here are a couple of online videos about how to use one. The information is consistent with what I've heard from personal trainers except for one thing noted below. Good luck.
Caution here: the "back" exercise shown here involves rolling the spine between the waist and bottom of the shoulder blades. I was told by trainers never to do that because it put too much weight and pressure on the ribs.

FLwolverine said...

@JMG - I took my first lesson in spinning with a drop spindle on Friday. Please convey my admiration to your wife for mastering this skill - it ain't easy! :-)

nuku said...

@John Franklin
Re your population factoid: this was a retort to what?
If you got all the world’s population standing shoulder to shoulder (4 persons/square yard)you could cram them all into about 0.6 square mile but what does that prove or disprove?
They sure wouldn’t last long would they?

nuku said...

@Steve In Colorado
Re recycled clothing: Brilliant example of how even something that looks on the surface like an all round winner depends on, and is indeed created by, The System its embedded in, and has
not-obvious consequences like people putting off learning the skills of making clothes from scratch.
JMG has talked about the recycle economy in general as a stage on the down-slope of industrial civilization. The recycle economy is predicated on the preceding “boom“ economy which had the abundant energy and resources to create the “stuff’ that later is available for recycle when resources and energy get constrained.
Way before oil, civilizations on the down-slope were always pillaging the ruins in their midst for building materials.

John Franklin said...


If you got all the world’s population standing shoulder to shoulder (4 persons/square yard)you could cram them all into about 0.6 square mile but what does that prove or disprove?

Right. That part misses the point. It's about natural resources, not space, and I replied accordingly.

I was more interested in the part about the Columbia River, since I was under the impression fresh water issues were more dire than it implies.

John Michael Greer said...

Troy, I'd encourage you to turn that fear into a motive for action; to the extent that you collapse now and avoid the rush, you won't need to turn to such a person for your basic needs, and thus will weaken his power.

LatheChuck, quite possibly yes. I suspect anything connected to live musical entertainment will do fairly well as things unravel.

Caryn, not everyone is good at growing plants; fortunately there are many other useful skills you can learn, and I suspect some of your Chinese friends can teach you plenty about them. Living in a country that's had to deal with war and extreme poverty in living memory is quite an advantage in times like these.

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

Cherokee, I'll be talking next week about just who's paying for all those free internet services. It's an interesting issue, and one that will play an important role in the death of the internet.

Latefall, I don't do Skype -- I use salvaged computers, which don't run fast enough -- and don't expect to be visiting Britain for the next year or two at least (though I'd like to!). Still, thanks for the suggestion!

dfr2010, yes, I heard of that. The bizarre hypercentralization of food production in the US is one of those trends that was guaranteed to end badly, and seems to be getting very close to that point. I'd encourage all my readers in the US who have garden plots, chicken coops, and other food production facilities at home, to consider planning for some extra production this year.

August, thank you for this. I want to second the encouragement of ham radio as a way to get some very useful skills.

Michael, for what it's worth, I hope that composting toilets become more common than outhouses -- the former are much more efficient at getting nutrients into the soil, and that's going to be a critical need in the years ahead.

Patricia, fascinating. Not sure if it was half-conscious memories of family stories, or just taking the Depression-era lore I learned from old Masons and Grangers, and factoring in the changes that I expect to see.

Unknown Deborah, hmm. I'm certainly willing to consider it; is anyone interested in doing the graphic design?

Steve, good. One of the complexities of getting by in the declining years of a civilization is the need to balance preparing for the future with finding the most effective ways to survive the present. Right now, salvage is an effective strategy, because there's so much waste to be put to good uses, but it's crucial not to let salvage become the be-all and end-all, because sooner or later it'll run out. Thus the approach I've suggested here, which is to have everyone choose a few areas in which to concentrate your energies on all-out do-it-yourself, and get by in other areas via salvage and similar gimmicks. One hand for yourself, one for the ship...

John Michael Greer said...

Dltrammel, I hope the foot heals well! We also have onions coming up beautifully after wintering over, and the greens are very welcome in miso soup.

Frank, the thought of anyone confusing mushy peas with guacamole makes my head spin! Still, I'm glad to hear the story's been assigned to a politician, so the poor volunteer doesn't have to suffer the obloquy. ;-)

Lou, without the sword and the guns, you won't have a territory for long. Sorry, but there it is; my ancestors lost their territories in several different parts of the world because somebody else was better with the swords and guns than they were.

John, a classic thoughtstopper. Notice how it relies on the logic of externalization -- a city the size of Texas (268,820 square miles, compared to the 305 square miles of New York City) would still take an entire planet worth of farmland, fisheries, watersheds, and other resources to maintain its population, and the transportation costs to get those resources to the end users would be vastly greater than they are with the population distributed around the globe.

Clay, fascinating. I'll definitely factor that into my future post on Peak California.

Glenn, whether or not bikes are sustainable in the very long run, they're certainly a good option here and now, and likely for many decades into the future.

Greg, thanks for this! Your timing's good; I'm assembling sources for the Ponzi scheme dimension of the internet, which is considerable.

FLWolverine, she says many thanks, and encourages you to let yourself have a learning curve of reasonable length. It took her a month of evenings, and many fumbles, to get her first ounce of wool spun into yarn.

John Michael Greer said...

Jonathan (offlist), you might want to try tipping again in another day or so. If that doesn't work, I'm happy to take checks or money orders; make another comment marked "not for posting" with your email address, and I'll zap you my mailing address. In either case, many thanks for your generosity!

Lou Nelms said...

John. Thanks for the reply. My reference to swords and guns was rhetorical. The bottleneck into which we are about to squeeze would be much less distressing without all the arms and armories of empires which represent not only a great opportunity cost but will add immensely to the anguish of our passage through the gauntlet. And make no mistake, the individuals out there who are most well armed and mostly likely to use them share nothing of our earthly values. My shotgun that I discharge twice a year for deer meat wouldn't provide much protection in a truly dystopian setting. And if it really comes to that I don't think there is any territory that will be worth defending. This mix of guns and cars, the tensions between mobility and territoriality is the source of much of our current mess. It would be great but probably extremely naive to think we'll not take the mess with us into the great gauntlet.

gregorach said...

A very timely post! I've experienced both ends of this, just this very weekend... On Saturday, I was basically extorted for a fairly significant amount of cash by a plumber to clear a particularly recalcitrant toilet blockage. On Sunday, I peened my scythe blades back to razor sharpness, and turned my compost heap.

Using and maintaining a scythe is definitely one of those things that seems simple enough (and indeed it is, in theory) but which requires a lot of actual practice to get any good at... But it's a skill that I suspect has a long future ahead of it.

latefall said...

I would have been surprised if you did skype. Actually, after I logged off I thought I should have mentioned snail mail.
Personally I've made an effort to revive that method a little for me. Many concepts can be conveyed much better with a little drawing - and few things beat paper & pencil for that (drop in a microSD-card for 0.5 g and you can cover a lot of ground).

Originally I was thinking more along the lines of someone dropping by on horseback with a self made loudspeaker and a (relatively new) notebook, perhaps even a projector if one with a nice story can be found...
Make the form suit the subject.

Ah well, if one looks at the bigger picture, this little bit hardly seems to merit much haste. And perhaps he'll find here himself if we say (write) cynefin three times in a row: cynefin, cynefin, cynefin... [listens attentively]

McMaven said...

Unknown Deborah, JMG

I'm a graphic designer 60 miles east of Cumberland in Williamsport, MD, right along the C&O Canal. I'd be willing to take on the design portion of a potential bumper sticker project. I also have a friend in town (he brought this blog to my attention back in 2009) who has an in-house setup for such an undertaking.

Greg Belvedere said...


I have mentioned McLuhan's figure/ground concept more than once in the comments here. Glad to see someone else had similar thoughts and interesting that it was another librarian.


You are most welcome. That is why I sent it along. I'm looking forward reading about the demise of the internet.

Ed-M said...

JMG, I'm keeping my iPhone until it becomes obsolete or wifi hotspots disappear, whichever comes first. Then it'll quickly become a museum piece!

Twelve or so such intersections in your town?! Wow! Such is the curse of streets and roads designed by traffic and highway engineers for motor vehicles only with pedestrian accommodations only an afterthought if even then. We in N.O. are cursed with several score of such intersections.

BTW, can't wait to hear what you have to say about the death of the Internet.

Ed-M said...

John and JMG, the one thing that that poster said about the world's population fitting into an area as big as Texas at the density of NYC, is that the larger the area or more thickly settled the area, the roadway, railway, subway, water, sewer and other internal infrastructure needs increase exponentially. Even more so if the area *and* density are larger.

donalfagan said...

Illuminating article on why photovoltaic panels have gotten cheaper, but less sustainable:

Ray Wharton said...

I mentioned not long ago that I was getting off facebook, the digital spirits (gremlins if you please) were helpful and broke my computer for me to help. Life has been nice with out a computer, well into The Lord of the Rings instead of digital surfing. This have been some very positive negative progress!

I also wanted the share with this councle of the wise that in Fort Collins many flowering species and the sprouting of fall sowed crops have been 2 - 3 week earlier than locals can recollect. Interestingly insect activity is waking up much closer to its usual pace, hardly can anyone agree that they are even a week early.

Personally I am happy to say that most of my fundimental needs are disconnected from the externality system (using this phrase!), save the over strong binds that hold my farm lords to it. If the externalities glitch too strongly the micro kingdom where I am the lone serf could staggar, and I'd be in the soup! I have weakened a couple of these connections, and strengthened the back up systems. But I feel kin to the warriors of Valhalla seeing those jaws scratching sky and earth turning toward them from the horizion and under breath I sometimes observe to my fellows "we are too few". Too few for the many externalities that have to be hemmed in. Too green still for the task, and lacking capable masters and teachers; save a few Druids and Wizards reached through the most externalized of all bridges; how this way of communicating reminds me of a way of communicating over distance I read about just last night, in a book written before the internet was dreamt, who knows what forces look in on each communication, and what ways of looking into hearts they might possess? Some externalities cannot be touched until certain key rings of power are set away for good, so be it the back up systems can be prepared in the shadows reguardless. May our green house be retrofitted to be passive, that a power outaged not have the power to destroy the season in an evening or an ice storm; may our irregation ditches be dug so that by sweat of brow and grease of elbow the crops could be sustained through a broken pump; may the wind breaks grow swiftly so that our crops need not live at the mercy of providers of agricultural fabric.

A group of good friends are working on putting together a communal living arrangment, I will not jump to join, but if they have the courage to face likely failure (I stressed courage over hope) then I say very well, the chance of modest success would be a lovely neighbor to my life, and failure would be a maturing source of wisdom, provided that backups are strong enough to protect people. Alarmingly most of them cannot imagine porperty prices in Fort Collins falling, and imaging that if things went that pear shaped that it surely would not matter, imagination is under practiced, or more likely its censorship too well practiced.

Thank you all, as always, for this the Last Formly Fourm.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

More on Bikes vs Cars

Thanks, Glenn, for the numbers regarding car use, including use of steel and materials. On the other side are maintenance and long-term use, for which I have no aggregate figures, but consider: it costs several thousand US dollars a year to run a car. My mid-price 2004 hybrid bike (tough tires and frame, built for urban situations) costs about $150.00 a year to run, mainly because the local bike shop does my maintenance for me and I do buy parts or accessories such as a helmet and front and rear lights from time to time. I do not expect to buy a replacement bike any time soon, if ever.

In terms of fuel, er, food, cyclists who have gardens and cook at home using mostly non-industrially-processed ingredients also lessen fossil fuel and industrial supply chain dependence. Plus saving money.

Bike salvage collectives such as Working Bikes in Chicago offer free maintenance lessons and also are a good place to get used bikes.

Then there are the health benefits of the regular cardiovascular exercise. I feel that part of collapsing includes staying as healthy as possible, which includes, if able, regular physical exercise. Obviously, people with physical jobs/livelihoods such as homesteaders don't have to worry about this, but many of us in urban and suburban areas could do with more fitness--even walking.

In coming years I expect to see more cargo bikes in use as their economic benefits become more evident.

Clearly, as JMG points out, bikes may not ultimately be a long term solution, but should be more in the mix now. I do use the family car when unavoidable. Still, I'm often surprised at the number of environmentally conscious people or regular folks who don't use bikes when nothing--not poor weather, not busy roads, not physical disability--prevents them. On the other hand I know some right old codgers, male and female, who cycle in all weathers and on all occasions.

Janet D said...

A very good article to read, albeit it pertains more to last week's post. We might call the digital process' affect on the brain: "Negative Focus".

Why can't we read anymore? Or, can books save us from what digital does to our brains?

I especially love one of the quotes near the end:

"Those who read own the world, and those who watch television lose it." -Werner Herzog

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