Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Retro Future

Is it just me, or has the United States taken yet another great leap forward into the surreal over the last few days? Glancing through the news, I find another round of articles babbling about how fracking has guaranteed America a gaudy future as a petroleum and natural gas exporter. Somehow none of these articles get around to mentioning that the United States is a major net importer of both commodities, that most of the big-name firms in the fracking industry have been losing money at a rate of billions a year since the boom began, and that the pileup of bad loans to fracking firms is pushing the US banking industry into a significant credit crunch, but that’s just par for the course nowadays.

Then there’s the current tempest in the media’s teapot, Hillary Clinton’s presidential run. I’ve come to think of Clinton as the Khloe Kardashian of American politics, since she owed her original fame to the mere fact that she’s related to someone else who once caught the public eye. Since then she’s cycled through various roles because, basically, that’s what Famous People do, and the US presidency is just the next reality-TV gig on her bucket list. I grant that there’s a certain wry amusement to be gained from watching this child of privilege, with the help of her multimillionaire friends, posturing as a champion of the downtrodden, but I trust that none of my readers are under the illusion that this rhetoric will amount to anything more than all that chatter about hope and change eight years ago.

Let us please be real: whoever mumbles the oath of office up there on the podium in 2017, whether it’s Clinton or the interchangeably Bozoesque figures currently piling one by one out of the GOP’s clown car to contend with her, we can count on more of the same: more futile wars, more giveaways to the rich at everyone else’s expense, more erosion of civil liberties, more of all the other things Obama’s cheerleaders insisted back in 2008 he would stop as soon as he got into office.  As Arnold Toynbee pointed out a good many years ago, one of the hallmarks of a nation in decline is that the dominant elite sinks into senility, becoming so heavily invested in failed policies and so insulated from the results of its own actions that nothing short of total disaster will break its deathgrip on the body politic.

While we wait for the disaster in question, though, those of us who aren’t part of the dominant elite and aren’t bamboozled by the spectacle du jour might reasonably consider what we might do about it all. By that, of course, I don’t mean that it’s still possible to save industrial civilization in general, and the United States in particular, from the consequences of their history. That possibility went whistling down the wind a long time ago. Back in 2005, the Hirsch Report showed that any attempt to deal with the impending collision with the hard ecological limits of a finite planet had to get under way at least twenty years before the peak of global conventional petroleum reserves, if there was to be any chance of avoiding massive disruptions. As it happens, 2005 also marked the peak of conventional petroleum production worldwide, which may give you some sense of the scale of the current mess.

Consider, though, what happened in the wake of that announcement. Instead of dealing with the hard realities of our predicament, the industrial world panicked and ran the other way, with the United States well in the lead. Strident claims that ethanol—er, solar—um, biodiesel—okay, wind—well, fracking, then—would provide a cornucopia of cheap energy to replace the world’s rapidly depleting reserves of oil, coal, and natural gas took the place of a serious energy policy, while conservation, the one thing that might have made a difference, was as welcome as garlic aioli at a convention of vampires.

That stunningly self-defeating response had a straightforward cause, which was that everyone except a few of us on the fringes treated the whole matter as though the issue was how the privileged classes of the industrial world could maintain their current lifestyles on some other resource base.  Since that question has no meaningful answer, questions that could have been answered—for example, how do we get through the impending mess with at least some of the achievements of the last three centuries intact?—never got asked at all. At this point, as a result, ten more years have been wasted trying to come up with answers to the wrong question, and most of the  doors that were still open in 2005 have been slammed shut by events since that time.

Fortunately, there are still a few possibilities for constructive action open even this late in the game. More fortunate still, the ones that will likely matter most don’t require Hillary Clinton, or any other member of America’s serenely clueless ruling elite, to do something useful for a change. They depend, rather, on personal action, beginning with individuals, families, and local communities and spiraling outward from there to shape the future on wider and wider scales.

I’ve talked about two of these possibilities at some length in posts here. The first can be summed up simply enough in a cheery sentence:  “Collapse now and avoid the rush!”  In an age of economic contraction—and behind the current facade of hallucinatory paper wealth, we’re already in such an age—nothing is quite so deadly as the attempt to prop up extravagant lifestyles that the real economy of goods and services will no longer support. Those who thrive in such times are those who downshift ahead of the economy, take the resources that would otherwise be wasted on attempts to sustain the unsustainable, and apply them to the costs of transition to less absurd ways of living. The acronym L.E.S.S.—“Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation”—provides a good first approximation of the direction in which such efforts at controlled collapse might usefully move.

The point of this project isn’t limited to its advantages on the personal scale, though these are fairly substantial. It’s been demonstrated over and over again that personal example is far more effective than verbal rhetoric at laying the groundwork for collective change. A great deal of what keeps so many people pinned in the increasingly unsatisfying and unproductive lifestyles sold to them by the media is simply that they can’t imagine a better alternative. Those people who collapse ahead of the rush and demonstrate that it’s entirely possible to have a humane and decent life on a small fraction of the usual American resource footprint are already functioning as early adopters; with every month that passes, I hear from more people—especially young people in their teens and twenties—who are joining them, and helping to build a bridgehead to a world on the far side of the impending crisis.

The second possibility is considerably more complex, and resists summing up so neatly. In a series of posts here  in 2010 and 2011, and then in my book Green Wizardry, I sketched out the toolkit of concepts and approaches that were central to the appropriate technology movement back in the 1970s, where I had my original education in the subjects central to this blog. I argued then, and still believe now, that by whatever combination of genius and sheer dumb luck, the pioneers of that movement managed to stumble across a set of approaches to the work of sustainability that are better suited to the needs of our time than anything that’s been proposed since then.

Among the most important features of what I’ve called the “green wizardry” of appropriate tech is the fact that those who want to put it to work don’t have to wait for the Hillary Clintons of the world to lift a finger. Millions of dollars in government grants and investment funds aren’t necessary, or even particularly useful. From its roots in the Sixties counterculture, the appropriate tech scene inherited a focus on do-it-yourself projects that could be done with hand tools, hard work, and not much money. In an age of economic contraction, that makes even more sense than it did back in the day, and the ability to keep yourself and others warm, dry, fed, and provided with many of the other needs of life without potentially lethal dependencies on today’s baroque technostructures has much to recommend it.

Nor, it has to be said, is appropriate tech limited to those who can afford a farm in the country; many of the most ingenious and useful appropriate tech projects were developed by and for people living in ordinary homes and apartments, with a small backyard or no soil at all available for gardening. The most important feature of appropriate tech, though, is that the core elements of its toolkit—intensive organic gardening and small-scale animal husbandry, homescale solar thermal technologies, energy conservation, and the like—are all things that will still make sense long after the current age of fossil fuel extraction has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Getting these techniques into as many hands as possible now is thus not just a matter of cushioning the impacts of the impending era of crisis; it’s also a way to start building the sustainable world of the future right now.

Those two strategies, collapsing ahead of the rush and exploring the green wizardry of appropriate technology, have been core themes of this blog for quite a while now. There’s a third project, though, that I’ve been exploring in a more abstract context here for a while now, and it’s time to talk about how it can be applied to some of the most critical needs of our time.

In the early days of this blog, I pointed out that technological progress has a feature that’s not always grasped by its critics, much less by those who’ve turned faith in progress into the established religion of our time. Very few new technologies actually meet human needs that weren’t already being met, and so the arrival of a new technology generally leads to the abandonment of an older technology that did the same thing. The difficulty here is that new technologies nowadays are inevitably more dependent on global technostructures, and the increasingly brittle and destructive economic systems that support them, than the technologies they replace. New technologies look more efficient than old ones because more of the work is being done somewhere else, and can therefore be ignored—for now.

This is the basis for what I’ve called the externality trap. As technologies get more complex, that complexity allows more of their costs to be externalized—that is to say, pushed onto someone other than the makers or users of the technology. The pressures of a market economy guarantee that those economic actors who externalize more of their costs will prosper at the expense of those who externalize less. The costs thus externalized, though, don’t go away; they get passed from hand to hand like hot potatoes and finally pile up in the whole systems—the economy, the society, the biosphere itself—that have no voice in economic decisions, but are essential to the prosperity and survival of every economic actor, and sooner or later those whole systems will break down under the burden.  Unlimited technological progress in a market economy thus guarantees the economic, social, and/or environmental destruction of the society that fosters it.

The externality trap isn’t just a theoretical possibility. It’s an everyday reality, especially but not only in the United States and other industrial societies. There are plenty of forces driving the rising spiral of economic, social, and environmental disruption that’s shaking the industrial world right down to its foundations, but among the most important is precisely the unacknowledged impact of externalized costs on the whole systems that support the industrial economy. It’s fashionable these days to insist that increasing technological complexity and integration will somehow tame that rising spiral of crisis, but the externality trap suggests that exactly the opposite is the case—that the more complex and integrated technologies become, the more externalities they will generate. It’s precisely because technological complexity makes it easy to ignore externalized costs that progress becomes its own nemesis.

Yes, I know, suggesting that progress isn’t infallibly beneficent is heresy, and suggesting that progress will necessarily terminate itself with extreme prejudice is heresy twice over. I can’t help that; it so happens that in most declining civilizations, ours included, the things that most need to be said are the things that, by and large, nobody wants to hear. That being the case, I might as well make it three for three and point out that the externality trap is a problem rather than a predicament. The difference, as longtime readers know, is that problems can be solved, while predicaments can only be faced. We don’t have to keep loading an ever-increasing burden of externalized costs on the whole systems that support us—which is to say, we don’t have to keep increasing the complexity and integration of the technologies that we use in our daily lives. We can stop adding to the burden; we can even go the other way.

Now of course suggesting that, even thinking it, is heresy on the grand scale. I’m reminded of a bit of technofluff in the Canadian media a week or so back that claimed to present a radically pessimistic view of the next ten years. Of course it had as much in common with actual pessimism as lite beer has with a pint of good brown ale; the worst thing the author, one Douglas Coupland, is apparently able to imagine is that industrial society will keep on doing what it’s doing now—though the fact that more of what’s happening now apparently counts as radical pessimism these days is an interesting point, and one that deserves further discussion.

The detail of this particular Dystopia Lite that deserves attention here, though, is Coupland’s dogmatic insistence that “you can never go backward to a lessened state of connectedness.” That’s a common bit of rhetoric out of the mouths of tech geeks these days, to be sure, but it isn’t even remotely true. I know quite a few people who used to be active on social media and have dropped the habit. I know others who used to have allegedly smart phones and went back to ordinary cell phones, or even to a plain land line, because they found that the costs of excess connectedness outweighed the benefits. Technological downshifting is already a rising trend, and there are very good reasons for that fact.

Most people find out at some point in adolescence that there really is such a thing as drinking too much beer. I think a lot of people are slowly realizing that the same thing is true of connectedness, and of the other prominent features of today’s fashionable technologies. One of the data points that gives me confidence in that analysis is the way that people like Coupland angrily dismiss the possibility. Part of his display of soi-disant pessimism is the insistence that within a decade, people who don’t adopt the latest technologies will be dismissed as passive-aggressive control freaks. Now of course that label could be turned the other way just as easily, but the point I want to make here is that nobody gets that bent out of shape about behaviors that are mere theoretical possibilities. Clearly, Coupland and his geek friends are already contending with people who aren’t interested in conforming to the technosphere.

It’s not just geek technologies that are coming in for that kind of rejection, either. These days, in the town where I live, teenagers whose older siblings used to go hotdogging around in cars ten years ago are doing the same thing on bicycles today. Granted, I live in a down-at-the-heels old mill town in the north central Appalachians, but there’s more to it than that. For a lot of these kids, the costs of owning a car outweigh the benefits so drastically that cars aren’t cool any more. One consequence of that shift in cultural fashion is that these same kids aren’t contributing anything like so much to the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or to the other externalized costs generated by car ownership.

I’ve written here already about deliberate technological regression as a matter of public policy. Over the last few months, though, it’s become increasingly clear to me that deliberate technological regression as a matter of personal choice is also worth pursuing. Partly this is because the deathgrip of failed policies on the political and economic order of the industrial world, as mentioned earlier, is tight enough that any significant change these days has to start down here at the grassroots level, with individuals, families, and communities, if it’s going to get anywhere at all; partly, it’s because technological regression, like anything else that flies in the face of the media stereotypes of our time, needs the support of personal example in order to get a foothold; partly, it’s because older technologies, being less vulnerable to the impacts of whole-system disruptions, will still be there meeting human needs when the grid goes down, the economy freezes up, or something really does break the internet, and many of them will still be viable when the fossil fuel age is a matter for the history books.

Still, there’s another aspect, and it’s one that the essay by Douglas Coupland mentioned above managed to hit squarely: the high-tech utopia ballyhooed by the first generation or so of internet junkies has turned out in practice to be a good deal less idyllic, and in fact a good deal more dystopian, than its promoters claimed. All the wonderful things we were supposedly going to be able to do turned out in practice to consist of staring at little pictures on glass screens and pushing buttons, and these are not exactly the most interesting activities in the world, you know. The people who are dropping out of social media and ditching their allegedly smart phones for a less connected lifestyle have noticed this.

What’s more, a great many more people—the kids hotdogging on bikes here in Cumberland are among them—are weighing  the costs and benefits of complex technologies with cold eyes, and deciding that an older, simpler technology less dependent on global technosystems is not just more practical, but also, and importantly, more fun. True believers in the transhumanist cyberfuture will doubtless object to that last point, but the deathgrip of failed ideas on societies in decline isn’t limited to the senile elites mentioned toward the beginning of this post; it can also afflict the fashionable intellectuals of the day, and make them proclaim the imminent arrival of the future’s rising waters when the tide’s already turned and is flowing back out to sea.

I’d like to suggest, in fact, that it’s entirely possible that we could be heading toward a future in which people will roll their eyes when they think of Twitter, texting, 24/7 connectivity, and the rest of today’s overblown technofetishism—like, dude, all that stuff is so twenty-teens! Meanwhile, those of us who adopt the technologies and habits of earlier eras, whether that adoption is motivated by mere boredom with little glass screens or by some more serious set of motives, may actually be on the cutting edge: the early adopters of the Retro Future. We’ll talk about that more in the weeks ahead.


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club lowlow said...

Well it took me several months but I finally finished reading every single Archdruid Report post since 2006. I burned through 9 years of stored wisdom in one profligate reading spree, exhausting a supply of keen insight non-renewable on anything like a human timescale. Now conservation is my only hope as I adjust to the slow trickle of blog posts that the sun, er, JMG delivers on a weekly basis.

Well I guess there's the books too.

Angus Wallace said...

Hi John-Michael,

Great post. Here in Australia, I see some evidence that things are moving in the direction you outline. I'm hopeful, but not confident.

Over the last year, I've been checking out op-shops for vinyl records (I've shopped at op-shops for years, just not for vinyl), and now have a heap of records that I really enjoy listening to. The simplicity and robustness is one thing I enjoy about them (they don't fail catastrophically like CDs and CD players).
So I can imagine still listening to the same records in 30 years time. But it occurred to me that my kids might not share my enthusiasm for them. Not merely "dad's music", but the whole idea of recorded music at all. That would be a laugh!

I've been busy preparing for winter at my place, some details on my blog

Cheers, Angus

Doctor Westchester said...

There will a meetup of any Green Wizards and/or readers of JMG’s blog in the lower Hudson Valley of New York State on Sunday, May 3rd starting at 1:00 PM at the Bread & Bottle Bakery & Wine Bar, 7496 South Broadway, Red Hook NY 12571. They have beer as well as wine and good food. If there are any questions, please email me at doctorwestchester42 at Google mail.

There are plans for a meetup in NYC as well, probably near Grand Central station. A Doodle poll will be taken to pick a date. If you want to be included in this and haven’t already, please email me.

Barrabas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Repent said...

I think we are a long way from what you are suggesting, especially for the millennial generation to move away from their smart phones. Smart phones these days are what classic cars were in the 50's. Everyone who saw the movie grease can appreciate that classic cars and racing were the teen and young adult fad of the age. These days the fad is the newest app on your smart phone:

I can just see the millennial generation huddled around a campfire one day in the far future, laughing hysterically about all the stupid things the previous generations did in their time. That is our cultural legacy.

Poor, impoverished, dislocated people laughing about the absurdities of times long past.

Andy Brown said...

One of the systems which is breaking down under the burden of shed "externalities" are working people - capitalism has been excusing itself from any responsibility to reproduce the labor force that it relies on. One of the side effects has been not only to destroy the morale and creative capacities of the work force, but to expel large numbers of educated, ambitious, thoughtful people from their commitment to participation in the standard economy.

That actually gives me a modicum of optimism that green wizardry (together with a dissensus of other adaptations) will find no shortage of useful new recruits.

Yupped said...

I got rid of my iPhone a couple of weeks ago. It broke and I didn't replace it, went back to my old flip phone. I'd only had it for a year - I needed it for a work project - and it was quite addictive. So gone is instant Internet access (useful on train trips). And gone is constant and easy texting, instant maps and sending of photos hither and dither. I've never done social media (fakebook and twittering), thank Jobs, so I won't miss that.

Dropping back to the old technology really means having more time on my hands. I am spending substantially less time fiddling with my phone. It's amazing how a personal efficiency device took up so much of my time. I notice already that I'm reading more books (joined the library today) and walking more. Plus I'm saving a good amount of money. Much like when we got rid of the TV several years ago now. So, all good.

nr-cole said...

The list from Coupland that you link was written in 2010, just before he did his very bizarre take on the Massey lectures:

His perspective seems decidedly on the dystopic/inevitable fast crash scenario. Not especially useful, but then many people continue to struggle, as they have for over a century, with the constant cycle of destruction and creation of capital and the continuing valorisation of newness/clean breaks with the past under the modernist project. The reality that writings like Coupland's tries to deal with might be on the way out, but it's interesting that it still dominates the field of vision for many people.

Jeff Bastian said...

Four hours and no comments yet. The technobabble stuff must be broken. I guess I could get out a sheet of paper, and envelope and a stamp and mail a letter.

Grebulocities said...

Clinton? Bush? No thanks. Do we ever retire our ruling families?

Don't support the status quo. Vote Halliot in 2016. Change we can REALLY believe in!

Jo said...

A wonderful older woman in my community started a little group a couple of years ago, and called it Living Better With Less, which would, incidently be an excellent motto for all of us aspiring Green Wizards.

She wanted to pass on some of the skills she had learnt over the course of an exceptionally well-lived life, and encourage others to share their own skills too.

Once a month ten to fifteen of us meet and discuss such subjects as preserving, organic gardening, keeping chickens and bees, and various crafts. We have had guests bring us workshops in soap making, fermenting food, brewing beer and making liqueurs and countless other subjects.

None of it is official, all of it comes about through finding friends of friends who are willing to come and teach us something new for the cost of materials. And between us all it is extraordinary the depth and breadth of what we know and can share. And we have also become a close community we can depend on in hard times. After all, in hard times the person you really want to know is the one who can build a solar cooker and diagnose chicken diseases, no?

This is such a simple idea and endlessly reproducible - get together with a couple of friends and share all the 'nana' technologies you know of. Ask someone's mum to come and teach you how to knit socks and someone else's brother-in-law to show you how to brew beer.

The heady feeling of learning how to do something new and actually create real things is positively addictive.

And learning from real people who live in your own community beats You Tube tutorials hollow.

Iuval Clejan said...

Pre-industrial technology took thousands of years to evolve. You can't get back to it quickly by INDEPENDENT "mutations", because it evolved as a highly interconnected network. I think it will take a really long time, more than a few generations. Much pain could be avoided by speeding up the process with a CONCERTED effort of specialists--farmers, engineers, pre-industrial craftspeople, historians of technology, alternative medical practitioners. I mean they don't have to start as specialists, they just have to be serious about devoting their time to some specialized pursuit of this COLLECTIVE effort.

In the intentional community where I live, there are a few such people but not enough. Most are seduced by the current system to make more money with less effort by plugging into the service economy. I don't blame them--they are mostly just trying to survive. The vintner has a day job as a cook. The CSA farmers have such jobs too. The dairy farmers/beekepers are able to scrape by selling raw milk and honey. The wooden spoonmaker left when we found out the owner was going to sell the land because he wanted a mass production factory to produce alot more stuff and employ alot more people. People are still giving it a shot though, with new businesses. I am chainsawing firewood and splitting it (though with petroleum-run machines) for sale. Another guy is milling trees into lumber with a petroleum guzzling saw. Someone else is processing/cleaning wool from local sheep with a propane furnace. I weave cloth with a human powered loom, my partner spins yarn, we bike, we have a bike shop. I help garden and in the vineyard (but we are using tractors sometimes and electrical pumps and other materials from industrial system), I am trying mushroom cultivation, I am trying to build a thermal-solar mirror and storage device, We have water from rain year round and a low-tech way to filter it, we have heat from wood for cooking and heating. But it is just a drop in the ocean, it is kindergarden, without coordination and enough people who devote their lives to this. We need to stop pretending that we can do all this without the industrial machine and look at how we can seriously cut dependence on it. I can't do it all myself though...

trippticket said...

I have a ritual that I go through before I drop a tree in my woods.

I put my hand on the tree, focus my attention on the tree and the local system to which it is connected, and say:

"Please forgive me. I do this ONLY for the good of the whole."

Meaning, of course, that I am dropping the tree to allow more light into my gardens and orchard so that I can feed and medicate my family directly, without the industrial system and its intermediaries, removing our impacts one by one from the total load of that system, and also gaining heating and cooking fuel in the process, kindling, mushroom wood, mulch to conserve water, etc.

Every tree pains me, and I hope they hear my apologies.

We've been at our little southern Appalachian homestead for 3 years now, and I've just posted a spring pictorial at my blog celebrating some of our achievements in that time.

It would mean a lot to me if you would check it out (JMG or anyone else here I mean), and perhaps leave a comment if you feel compelled...

Thrilled as always to be here,

Steward of Rivenwood
Talking Rock
Lower Appalachia

Dan the Farmer said...

As I consider my future housing options, I realize that a place for deliberate technological regression is the avoidance of a septic system through the use of a composting toilet. Flush toilets are fairly simple devices, but if you want a prime example of externalization or increased cost, there it is. My old house has a septic tank, and my plumber says it pre-dates the leach field concept. He says that a system this age would typically have a single pipe that runs generally down hill, dissipating moisture as it goes. I look down hill and see the shallow muddy pond of cattails. Don't swim there.

On the other hand, a new system runs something like $20k, and is a mound of concrete vaults with a footprint nearly as large as my planned next residence.

Luckily, I live in a place with relatively few and simple building regulations. As long as I don't have a pressurized water system, I can have a gray water drain and a composting toilet, such as the "Jenkins System".

I may have to reconsider some things, like how I bathe and wash clothes, but I'm sure there are ways. I believe it will be easier to haul water than to grow, haul, cut, and store a much larger amount of firewood.

John Roth said...

Interesting. May I point out that the initial wave of television adopters thought it would be good for education as well. There may be a pattern here. Gutenberg may have thought the same thing about the printing press.

CJ said...

John, I live in a small town of about 700 people with about 90% of those believing that technology will provide the needed answers. Any attempt to "crash now and avoid the rush" is treated as pure stupidity. I was wondering what green wizardry you have been successful implementing in Cumberland? How did you bring people on board? What worked, what didn't work? Thanks, CJ

Nick said...

Sign me up for the Retro Future! Just bought plans to build my tiny house and begin the journey to LESS.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"[M]ost of the big-name firms in the fracking industry have been losing money at a rate of billions a year since the boom began, and...the pileup of bad loans to fracking firms is pushing the US banking industry into a significant credit crunch..."

As you noted, these facts are conveniently ignored by most in the media. However, they do sneak through even the most bullish reporting. I quoted a Reuters article that reported that the production of oil in North Dakota had declined last month and that the U.S. Energy Information Agency forecast that U.S. oil from shale would fall 45,000 barrels in May, the first decline since the shale boom began. That hiss you hear is the shale bubble deflating. The reporter then tried to spin the situation into a buying opportunity for oil futures, noting that both WTI and Brent were above their 100-day moving averages for the first time since June 2014. In the meantime, the actual prices of WTI, Brent, and RBOB gasoline feedstock were actually down from last week. I'll buy that story when the futures set new highs for the year. Until then, I'm not convinced.

In the meantime, cheap gasoline is prompting people to drive more. In fact, total miles driven in the U.S. over the past year set a new record. Yeah, it only took seven years for that to happen, the longest duration of not setting a new driving record in U.S. history. Eventually, the decreased supply and increased demand will cause prices to increase, but not any time very soon. Maybe by this time next year, the price of oil and other energy will rise high enough to suck the money out of people's wallets and send the U.S. into official recession again. Until then, it looks like a brief return to happy motoring.

Speaking of unsustainable lifestyles...

"It’s been demonstrated over and over again that personal example is far more effective than verbal rhetoric at laying the groundwork for collective change."

This is one of the reasons I think that my entry about 'No Impact Man' was a big hit. Here was someone who was walking the talk and being a good example. The media treated him like a curiosity and his film as a stunt; even so, the advantages of his low-impact lifestyle came through. His wife and kids were healthier, having exercised more and eaten whole foods prepared at home instead of processed food and take-out meals, and the whole family appeared happier. It's a film one of my students found and it's one that I recommend that they watch.

On a more somber note, this past Monday was the anniversary of the death of Michael Ruppert. I'll end my comment right here and observe a moment of silence.

hapibeli said...

Cheers to you JMG. I left Facebook today. Only there because my daughters use it to communicate more than email.
I will continue with Skype so my grand daughter knows who we are, and once l'm sure she knows, it may be bye to that as well.
Google can be a huge source of near instant info, but we know it will fail eventually too.
I really appreciate the compassionate side of you showing up since last week's post as well. Cheers again.

Cherokee Organics said...


All excellent points. Social media has never "floated my boat" as they say, so you won't find me on it. As an interesting side story too: I was once stalked on social media - Facebook, in fact - and only heard about that weirdness through a friend. Yes, the individual made some unpleasant threats, which were happily related to me (the great unburdening, perhaps?), and no further evidence was required that such communication systems had far greater costs than benefits - as I suspect a lot of people find.

Funnily enough, I don't contribute as much these days to the forums relating to solar energy - particularly off grid systems - because there was a bit of a minor difference of opinions. It is sort of weird really, because a lot of the equipment I use here relating to solar power is very old school and locally made. Much of it is still made here and it is all locally repairable too - one of the suppliers operates a factory in the inner north of Melbourne and they were very helpful when needed.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, there was a shift in the preferences displayed by the off grid people towards the newer technology of MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) regulators and lithium batteries. I stuck with the old school and very mature technology of PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) and sealed Lead Acid batteries - and thus was relegated to the fringes.

Man, don't you know that is so 70's? Get with the program, dude!

Hehe! There are benefits to the newer technologies and I can't dispute that. However, there are also downsides to the newer MPPT regulators which have a very nifty trick of varying voltage and amps to achieve the best possible combination so that the batteries charge more efficiently. However, in performing that neat trick which makes them about 10% more or less efficient under some weather conditions is that those devices run hotter. In a hot climate that is no small thing. The electronics here in the battery room have rarely exceeded 26'C (79'F), but I have read accounts of the newer technologies running at more than double that temperature and they require fan forced cooling systems. Fans break or get clogged up with gunk, when you least expect it. The older systems can also be bypassed if for any reason they break, whereas the newer ones cannot be bypassed without major rewiring.


Cherokee Organics said...

The underlying assumption that the people made was that nothing would go wrong with their systems. It is not a gamble that I'd like to make. Also it is worth mentioning that because people are upgrading, some of the older stuff which will have a longer life span is available really cheap second hand. Go figure?

And lithium batteries, well they require a whole new technology called a battery management system in order to ensure that the individual cells don't become out of balance with each other. They are more efficient though and you get more bang for your buck and the batteries themselves are much smaller and lighter than lead acid, but well you know, lead acid batteries require far less ongoing supervision – just because a machine is supervising the system, doesn’t mean that it can operate unsupervised.

So, we have a difference of opinion and I get shouted down for being like: so 70's man! Don't listen to him he lives in a cave! hehe! It would be funny, if it wasn’t really happening.

Just a bit of a brief update on the local group situation here. I must confess that it was profoundly disturbing to say to the remaining members: "The group is dying. I pointed out the severe drop in active members over the past 12 months. I suggested that the cause was the lack of formal process in the meetings which made them hostage to whomever had an idea and they also went over long. I also suggested that the group identify its raison d'ĂȘtre and then conduct activities based around that reason." I repeated the message four times and delivered it in an objective and a neutral delivery.

Well, the disturbing part was that the other people involved in the meeting unanimously blamed the people that were no longer involved. My experience with such responses is that sooner or later when I'm not around, they'll be saying that about me too.

Yesterday I took the novel approach of simply telephoning past members to have a bit of a (group and politic free) chat and see how they and their gardens were growing.

There's no need to tell me that leadership can possibly become senile and out of touch! Hehe!



PS: My latest blog post is up: The leaning tower of water. Some repairs were made to the chickens water system with the help of a visitor. Excess rock crusher dust is converted into a fertiliser. Once again, I'm trialling a tea plant - seriously I must be a sucker for plant punishment! Recent rains revealed a cornucopia of Jerusalem artichokes (triffids alert). Firewood splitting secrets are revealed. Plus the secrets behind the craziest roof design in the Southern Hemisphere are revealed. All good stuff with lots of cool photos.

Sven said...

Couple of items from today’s Wall Street Journal. One is an article saying that now the fracking boom is fizzling, America needs to ramp up production in the Arctic in a big way. There was a real undertone of desperation in the article. The other was an op-ed talking about the California water crisis. The article mentions towards the end in passing that heresy of heresies for the pseudoconservative right: global warming.

It points out that geological evidence suggests that the last century was an unusually wet one for the southwestern United States by historical standards and that the climate will likely be much drier in the future. But the same article goes on to insist that this is something that can be solved by tinkering with the system of water rights, better technology and more rational economic incentives.

It hasn’t crossed the minds of many yet that there is no way in the world that an arid place like California can sustain the sort of large, highly complex society that it has metastasized into without cheap fossil fuels and that the basic problem is that California is grossly overpopulated and overdeveloped. Tinkering with water rights (which is probably a non-starter given the nature of special interest politics, the power of the agribusiness lobby in California and the sheer complexity of the legal issues involved) and building desalination plants won’t solve that basic predicament. It was noted by early European explorers that the Native American tribes in California tended to be poorer and more primitive those of the Pacific Northwest or the Great Plains and they explained this by pointing out that the environment was harsher than the environments that the tribes of the Northwest or the Great Plains lived in.

WW said...

This week you're reminding me a lot of William Gibson. In an interview last October he said "If could have any information from our future, I would want to know not what they're doing but what they think about us. Because what we think about Victorians is nothing like what the Victorians thought about themselves. It would be a nightmare for them. Everything they thought they were, we think is a joke. And everything that we think was cool about them, they weren't even aware of. I'm sure that the future will view us in exactly that way."
It's interesting to me to note the way I get that from his works, which I read as they came out and then revisited... There was a transition from eager anticipation to ambivalence or outright distaste for bits of stuff freshly ripped from blister packs, reeking of chemicals; in retrospect it's difficult to see how I missed the part where none of it was intended for my benefit.

aediculaantinoi said...

So, here's a genuine question that I'm curious about your answer on, and which I've seen exactly no one addressing thus far.

I have driven a car twice--both under duress--and do not (and never have) owned one; I take the bus to get to work in the next town, and otherwise walk. I have never owned a smart phone, and never will, I'm completely uninterested in them and actually hate them. I am not on Twitter, BaceFook, or other social media; yes, I blog and do e-mail, but if those things become impossible in the future, I won't be too upset about it for too long.

I'm also an insulin-dependent diabetic on an insulin pump. When the big crash occurs, if there is not a way to get insulin from where it is made (Indiana?) to where I currently live (Washington state), my life contracts to the length of time that I have sufficient supplies and insulin to live at subsistence levels of it, which (under ideal circumstances) might be as long as six months, or could be mere days, depending on when I last got refills. Stockpiling isn't an option, as insulin goes bad after a year; and even if I did have a stockpile, if there was no electricity, then the insulin would go bad in a matter of days as it needs to be refrigerated.

I am not the worst-off, health-wise, person that I know. What will happen to all of us when things go belly-up? No matter what other changes I would have to make, or have already made (and understand, I do not disagree with anything you've mentioned above), insulin is a necessity for me, and at present, is entirely controlled by a corrupt pharmaceutical corporation, the interstate transport systems, and so forth.

Because no one has actually addressed this topic yet, I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter.

FiftyNiner said...

Just before I read this week's installment I had taken a late afternoon nap and awoke thinking of more of my collapse--specifically the good ol' telephone. We live in a rural area and have only one option for land line phone service and internet. I am allowing myself until the first of June to have a basic cell phone and will ditch the land line and have only the internet through the provider. I have over the years collected the books that I will need for developing my homestead and I plan to make hard copies of essential things I have found on the internet. Then I plan on allowing myself only late Wednesday afternoons and evenings to peruse the web and to possibly order any supplies that I may need.

My hope is that within a year I will have us 90% self-sufficient in food, buying only cooking oil, butter, coffee, tea, and spices. We have a good local supplier of grass fed, free-range beef.

The tasks I have set for myself should pretty well take care of my internet addiction. But, of course, I'll never give up this blog!

Martin Lair said...

Thank you great archdruid for this excellent and rather optimistic report.Indeed the fact that people are starting to leave this neurotic techno-narcissic dystopian and nightmarish cyber-conception of our world by sheer pleasure and practicability is really a good news, especially the fact that it is the young people who will have to face this other future that are going in the good direction.
Though I have two concerns about the future, the first one being the current state of our fields (which are basically dead zones, deprived of any living organisms) all around the world and the second being the possibility that radioactive contamination destroys our next generation's as well as many other species's health and genetic integrity to the point where we cannot perpetuate through time.
Do you thnk we may survive as a species for the next millenias (suggesting there won't be any major one in a billion catastrophies such as nuclear winter or meteorite impact.)
I also wondered if Britany in france, was a good pick for the next 50-100 years as France has massively invested in nuclear and is probably going to face civil war because of its putrid demagogic polity. The region is good for fishing and potato cultivation, it has a strong cultural integrity and we have a good infrastructure for housing extended familly members and practicing extensive gardening
(communities that abide and green wizardery are on my bedside table-).
The trick is convincing my parents to take a plane ticket there once the crisis starts to bite hard as montreal is probably not the best place for us to stay.
Anyway, I hope my english is not too ankward at times, I learned the expressions and the grammar mostly through experience and mimickery so it may be strange at times.

Thank you anyway for all your work, It will probably save my life in the next 20 years as well as thousand of other people's.

John Michael Greer said...

Lowlow, funny! In other words, you've reached Peak Archdruid...

Angus, well, there you are. I read a while back that vinyl has become sufficiently popular again in Britain that there's a top-ten ranking for new releases once more.

Doctor W., glad to hear it.

Barrabas, the problem there is that people think they're supposed to express themselves, and haven't noticed that the first requirement is to create a self worth expressing...

Repent, it really seems to vary between subsets of millennials. What I've been told, by members of that generation, is that there's a sharp divide between those who are completely absorbed in being iUndead and those who have gotten a clue and are learning real skills and distancing themselves from the meshes of the net.

Andy, that's a very common prodrome to revolutionary violence, curiously enough.

Yupped, excellent! Welcome to freedom.

NR-Cole, hmm -- you're quite right, of course. I got it off an aggregator site, and didn't check the date; my bad.

Jeff, you could indeed -- but in this case, it's simply that I had things to do that precluded moderating messages for a while.

Grebulocities, funny. Me, I'm planning on voting for Russell Eigenblick.

Jo, excellent. You get tonight's gold star, partly for suggesting so sensible a project, and partly for being willing to utter the unspeakable truth that learning and using old skills is a lot more fun than staring at a screen.

Iuval, this is one of the reasons I have my doubts about trying to jump straight into a deindustrial lifestyle while the existing order of things still can enforce its demands. A foot in both worlds will be necessary for most of us for a while longer.

M said...

I have a local blog called On April 1, I did a little piece about Google Glass. Toward the end, I reported on rumors of another bit of wearable technology, Googlepants:

“If this is more than just vaporwear,” said a cautious but hopeful Mansfield, “Googlepants will do for pedestrians what the Google Car is poised to do for drivers.” Software geeks and engineers, some with purported inside info, say the pants use radar-like sensors combined with tiny electric pulses to guide the user’s legs and avoid obstacles and dangers, such as smart phone users, texting drivers, and Google Glass wearers.

While I thought I was safely in the realm of farce, exactly one week later I read this:

...The Apple Watch’s most ingenious feature is its “taptic engine,” which alerts you to different digital notifications by silently tapping out one of several distinct patterns on your wrist. As you learn the taps over time, you will begin to register some of them almost subconsciously: incoming phone calls and alarms feel throbbing and insistent, a text feels like a gentle massage from a friendly bumblebee, and a coming calendar appointment is like the persistent pluck of a harp. After a few days, I began to get snippets of information from the digital world without having to look at the screen — or, if I had to look, I glanced for a few seconds rather than minutes.

Yes, The New York Times tech reviewer is ecstatic over the prospect of being prodded by a machine for the rest of his life. (Note that he is already preparing himself to abandon the previous technology!)

Here's the link and a few more choice snippets:

...By notifying me of digital events as soon as they happened, and letting me act on them instantly, without having to fumble for my phone, the Watch became something like a natural extension of my body — a direct link, in a way that I’ve never felt before, from the digital world to my brain...

No more pesky phone fumbles! (So many people have them constantly in front of them, the only time they fumble is putting it away.)

..As the tech analyst Tim Bajarin has written, Apple also seems to be pushing a vision of the Watch as a general-purpose remote control for the real world, a nearly bionic way to open your hotel room, board a plane, call up an Uber or otherwise have the physical world respond to your desires nearly automatically....

Hey, I'll take a private oil supply and all the organic veggies I can eat, please. Oh, and those thousand virgins? Thanks!

What’s most thrilling about the Apple the way it invests a user with a general sense of empowerment...the Watch builds the digital world directly into your skin. It takes some time getting used to, but once it clicks, this is a power you can’t live without.

Bingo! Just as The Archdruid predicted--can't go back, can't live without it! I mean, how to give up that...empowerment!

I'm trying--no car for 2.5 years now, basic clam shell cell phone (constantly figuring how to get back to land line. I always said civilization started down when the phone climbed off the kitchen wall.) I buy mostly used furnishings and clothing, support local agriculture and business.

M said...

Sorry for the long post, had to break it in two, but wanted to pass this on:

Bonus Collapse Economy/Tech Regression Tip:

As the manager of a retail store, I will tell you the latest cash registers are poster children for the external/complexity phenomena. The programming for the simplest task is insane, and they are temperamental, and can be thrown by the slightest of power surges! Another store owner I know said he barely uses 10 percent of the features--he would need to hire a full time staffer to decode, program, train people, etc to access the rest.
I've been collecting scythes to restore. I think I may start to buy a few old registers--I think registers could be needed sooner...

Carl said...

Dear JMG,
Not sure if you knew, but this is the same Douglas Coupland who wrote Generation X back in 1991. I remember reading it and how the term Generation X and McJob caught on in the early 90's.. Also interesting that he turned down a deal from GAP stores for an advertising campaign using G X.

I don't have the links, but I've read that many Silicon Valley executives send there kids to the private Waldorf school in Palo Alto where no computers are used in school and electronics are frowned on at home (including TV).
Related, Steve Jobs is famous for not allowing his children to have iPads. Seems they know something that they're not telling the rest of us.
Lastly, many Hollywood celebrities are buying up old flip cell phones with no smart capabilities. Seems they don't enjoy their naked photos on their smart phones being hacked in the cloud and going viral. One cell phone maker is coming out with a retro flip phone.

James M. Jensen II (badocelot/shiningwhiffle) said...

I got a chance to see my childhood passions — computers and video games — mature from a promising new dimension of creativity and enjoyment into the banal realities of Facebook drama and MMORPGs, those tedious time-sinks that pretend to have something in common with roleplaying games. Not to mention the more frightening aspects like identity theft, cyberbullying, and doxxing.

I've sometimes mused that the computer industry scammed the world by convincing everyone to invest so much of their lives on technologies they're frankly better off without. Which is an awkward thing to believe when you teach computer science for a living and surrounded by friends and family who are all thoroughly invested in the worldview of the geekoisie.

That said, there is some good news in that front. I managed to introduce several friends to good old-fashioned tabletop roleplaying, and a few have even started LARPing; time that once would have been spent discussing video games or TV is now more likely to be spent discussing the politics of the Kingdom of the Sutherlands or my friend's unexpected promotion to Baron of Sudbyr.

And when friends and family get together, where we once would spend hours in front of the TV playing video games like Guitar Hero or Mario Kart, we now spend the evening playing card games or board games, or even just talking. I don't think any of us want to go back.

Andrew Crews said...

John Michael Greer,

I'll just leave this here.

Best Wishes,
Andrew Crews

John Michael Greer said...

Trippticket, congrats on three good years! I'll try to make time to pop over to your site in a bit.

Dan, sounds like a plan. Composting toilets are on the agenda here -- we're in town, so will have to get a UL-approved model, but when funds permit, it's going to happen.

John, do you recall Plato's comment on the effects of writing? Arguments over whether technology fosters learning or the opposite go back a very long way.

CJ, the crucial thing is don't try to bring people on board. Go about your life, do your Green Wizard thing, and don't worry about other people following your example. Some will, after a certain amount of leaning over the fence and marveling at your garden, or what have you; others won't; it's as things tighten up, and your choices continue to work while others don't, that you can expect more interest. That is to say: all this is playing a long game, as long as your life or longer.

Nick, delighted to hear it.

Pinku-Sensei, no surprises there. These days I read the US media only when I want to know how our decline is going to be spin-doctored this time around.

Hapibeli, delighted to hear that, too!

Cherokee, I really wonder where this bizarre inability to think about the lessons and consequences of failure comes from. It's as though the senility of the elites has penetrated much further down the social ladder than it usually does.

Sven, exactly. The degree of detachment from the real world in the US media these days has gone past the merely delusional into the profoundly surreal.

WW, Gibson's a smart guy, so I'll take that as a compliment.

Aedicula, I'd encourage you to go back and read some of the earlier posts. As I've discussed at great length, the future we face isn't one where everything goes belly up one fine day; it's a long, slow, ragged fractal decline, equivalent to the fall of Rome or the collapse of any other civilization you care to name, during which people will scramble to maintain their access to the things they need to survive; some will succeed, others will not. It's impossible to know in advance which resources will become impossible to get in any given place, because that depends on cascading sequences of change in which unpredictable factors play a massive role. Thus you could be unable to get insulin at some point as things unwind, and die; or you could live out something like a normal lifespan and go to your grave from some other cause before anything of the sort happens.

I'd also point out that everyone who's taking part in this conversation is going to die of something. The decline and fall of industrial civilization means that quite a few of us will die of things that an intact industrial society would have been able to prevent. That's part of the normal process. Given your background -- I'm guessing that, like most worshippers of Antinous, you have a solid reading knowledge of Latin -- I'd encourage you to check out some of the late Roman historians who chronicled the last years of the Western Empire and its aftermath; that'll give you a good basic template for the sort of thing we're facing.

N Montesano said...

I have a spouse who both seeks out retro tech for many uses -- we have a dial telephone he restored -- because the older ones are so much better made, and yet loves new gadgets and technology and from time to time assures me that various wonderful things, solar panels, for one, are just going to keep getting better and cheaper. This sort of makes my head hurt. But I find it generally more productive to nudge him along in my desired direction than to argue about the discrepancies.

John Michael Greer said...

FiftyNiner, sooner or later, as the internet becomes unstable and/or unaffordable, this blog is probably going to transition to a column in a magazine or weekly newspaper. All in good time!

Martin, I've discussed the issues around nuclear waste and defunct reactors in this post, and the issues around topsoil in several others; the short form is that neither problem affects every square meter of the planet -- though living a good long ways from the nearest nuclear power plant is probably going to be a very good idea. Yes, I think our species may be good for anything up to several million years to come. As for Bretagne, I simply don't know -- my research has focused on North America, since that's where I expect to face the decline. I hope it does well.

M, that's a great April 1 joke, but you're right -- satire is a real challenge these days, since people keep on doing and saying things that are just as absurd, and meaning them. In your place I'd definitely start picking up old mechanical cash registers and learning how to repair and recondition them; you may be about to found one of the successful businesses of the deindustrial era...

Carl, yes, I've heard the same things. Of course the tech-pushers don't use their own drugs; they know better.

James, excellent! Games are a great opening wedge -- once people remember that it really is more fun without the computer, it's a lot easier to apply the same logic elsewhere.

Andrew, excellent! May I respond with this equally pleasant and topical video...

N Montesano, no need to argue. My guess is that he'll figure it out eventually.

FiftyNiner said...

@ Martin Lair,
Let me assure you that your command of written English is "spot on" as they would say in England. If you had not let that "petit chat" out of the bag at the end of your post I would never have guessed. Don't ever again give your command of English a second thought. Now, if I could only regain the moderate fluency in French that I once had!
All the best to you and a future in belle Bretagne if that happens.

onething said...

I didn't know that vampires were sensitive to garlic.

patriciaormsby said...

Here's something for a little fun:,35788/

Ben said...

I ofter stand up at work for hours at a time. It makes coworkers nervous. It also is a way to get a minimal amount of exercise and a very sedintary job.

On an unrelated note, do you plan on doing another round of Dark Age America posts? For instance, posts on the future of warfare, education, or transportation would all be interesting topics. I could make some guesses what your views on the topics would be, but it would be fun to read. They might even be fun for you to write ;-)

Robert Bazinet said...

Yes! the retro future is, kind of, the past. the less tech one uses, the cooler one becomes. I like it!

Cherokee Organics said...


What an excellent question. I suspect that a great deal of that inability arises from faith in the vast infrastructure in our societies which shields us from the stupidity of our own actions.

I'll give you an example of what I'm trying to say: Down Under on hot windy days, we have a Total Fire Ban declared. This has all sorts of implications and can mean far more than what most people think it does mean. Most of the old timers tend to understand what it means and live within those limits. However, you'll occasionally get some dolt – often weekend farmers - who just don't get what it means and they’ll hear the ban declared, look out into their paddocks and think to themselves, gee, that dried grass is a bit long. So they get into their tractor and start the slasher and trundle around their paddocks - without even realising they're breaking the law. Eventually as happens, the slasher unit on the back of the tractor hits a rock and produces a spark which then ignites the very dry grass and before the person on the tractor even knows it, there is a fire burning behind the tractor which then quickly spreads.

Then at vast expense in terms of resources, energy and volunteers time, the now raging fire destroys thousands of hectares and threatens a nearby town. I saw this happen in Daylesford in 2009.

I suspect that the vast support services which shield us from the worst of our mistakes at huge costs to the community also tend to make us very blind (or very blasé) to risk and failure.

Dunno, there is probably more to it as well. I live in a remote area so have to consider failures in systems, whereas other people seem to be able to ignore that risk.



Nancy Sutton said...

Thanks,John. Might I add that the hypnotic T.I.N.A. of Ms Thatcher... 'There Is No Alternative' ... is not selling with the youngsters. They see all kinds of alternatives :) The operative word is 'see'.. as in, there are now real-life examples of people living successfully off grid and in vivo ;) Long live Mother Earth News! (in spite of that turncoat whose name I forget right now ;)

Another factoid... I think Martha Stewart's success lies in her ability to give the 'swell classes' permission to enjoy the basic deep creative pleasures of DIY... crafts, cooking, gardening, (how to sharpen your pruners ! and have chickens! etc.) These had long been seen as characteristic of the lower classes who needed to save money.

The 'shift' may be happening all over the place, under the radar, in a number of realms, including the spiritual, even! :)

Steve Thomas said...

Great post.

"Most people find out at some point in adolescence that there really is such a thing as drinking too much beer."

And then there are those of us that don't find that out-- or, rather, that find that out, and then find out that we can't stop drinking too much beer, no matter how hard we try.

I was thinking about just this as I went to bed last night, after a day (I don't have many of them, but I do have a few!) in which I wasted far too much time on little screens...

Many of us suffer from Screen Addiction.

We never figured out that you can have too much Screen, and sometimes when we try to quit Screen we fail.

I think we need a 12 Step program, Screen Addicts Anoynymous. And the steps would go something like:

1. Admitted we were powerless over screens, that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that the natural world could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of Nature as we understood her...

Nancy Sutton said...

Oh, and a quote re: 'it's a problem, not a predicament'....
“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.” - Ursula K. Le Guin

onething said...

Yeah, another odd thing about increasing technology and labor saving devices, is that the whole shebang seems to make us busier and busier. Most people have a lot less time than they used to, and that includes kids. No time to read, no time to write letters, no time to cook slow food, no time to embroider one's pillowcases.

ErosBlog Bacchus said...

I have to say that I am rooting for the internet and connectivity devices to remain an available feature of the portion of the fractal collapse that I'll be alive to see in the next 20-40 years. Less energy and stuff I can manage without mourning; but less stimulation I am not cool with. My life was a constant quest for "enough to read" until the Internet and smart phones together gave me an infinite supply of smart people's opinions and skills to read about. Fortunately, it seems to me that connectivity is cheap in resources compared to energy and stuff. Much of the "cost" of a smartphone today is an artifact of vampire capitalism; Apple can sell a smartphone with $150 worth of stuff in it for $600, so they do; but in other parts of the world where $50 is a stretch for most people, $50 smartphones already exist, albeit with fewer bells, whistles, and designer grace notes. Thus I am intensely hopeful that connectivity and devices to enjoy it with will remain affordable (albeit probably costing a much greater percentage of my surplus productivity) for the remainder of my natural life.

But meanwhile back at the ranch, I'm urgently aware that the $1.00-a-pound carbohydrate staples (mostly dried legumes, noodles, and fresh frozen corn) I enjoy at my local Megalo-Mart are not likely to be a feature I can count on during my (drier, hotter, poorer, more-dangerous weather) retirement-aged future. Those just-in-time trucks won't run forever, and I'm not confident they'll outlive me. And so my "collapse now" efforts are focused on teaching myself the non-trivial skills required to grow food without petrochemical inputs in a place that birthed the term "dustbowl" eighty years ago.

What I'm learning is that permaculture and organic gardening are great tools in the hands of expert gardeners, but the plant carnage that results when a rank amateur stuffs seeds in the local native (poor) soil is impressive in its scale and totality. But slowly (please don't pay any mind to the plant body count) I learn. Each year I perfect something else, or get a few more perennial herbs established, or get one or two more fruit trees up tall enough that the deer cannot murder them.

Judging by my current progress, you'll starve hard if you try to make a standing start on the day the just-in-time grocery trucks stop running. My advice after two years of concentrated effort: start now, and pray that you've got five (or better yet) ten years to learn what you are doing before you need the skills you're learning.

John Michael Greer said...

Onething, good heavens. What do they teach children these days? ;-)

Patricia, my guess is we'll see something similar as a legit headline within a year at most.

Ben, I did kind of drop that one in midsequence, didn't I? Yes, I do have more to say about that, and will work in some posts on the subject as we proceed.

Robert, good. Now go ye henceforth and do that thing.

Cherokee, that's a great example. I'm not sure if it's the support systems, or some other cause of excess chuckleheadedness, but it's a massive issue these days.

Nancy, "There Is An Alternative" might be a good slogan in Britain just now, you know. Just saying...

Steve, if that works for you, by all means.

Nancy, and of course she's right, so long as that phrase "human power" is kept in mind. It's the hard limits of the nonhuman cosmos we need to accept.

Onething, "labor-saving devices" is as much an oxymoron as "military intelligence." They should be called "labor-multiplying devices."

Bacchus, as long as the only thing you're thinking about is the cost of the allegedly smart phone, you're going to be blindsided by the huge externalized costs of the data centers, global networks, power grids, and everything else that goes into giving you the illusion of nearly free data. This is why I keep on reminding my readers that thinking in terms of whole systems is essential!

Ondra said...

Hi, this post reminds me that one of the most fascinating features of your Twilight's Last Gleaming is that you absolutely cannot tell, to which party Jameson Weed or any other of these politicians belong. I understand it as your literary demonstration of the fact that when you leave aside few quite irrelevant topics, the two parties operate in exactly same manner.

Seb Ze Frog said...

Dear John-Michael et al.

you are, as always, right ! And since you always advocate action here is what a friend of mine and myself decided to start working on right now:
iGreenWizzard, an applet to help people implement LESS and join the hype of the Retro Future !

With our best, of course
Seb et al.

PS: as already pointed out, we here still wonder what kind of vegetable "irony" might be.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Perhaps you have heard of the latest mega oil discovery here in England. Last week '100 billion' barrels were 'discovered' just south of London next to Gatwick Airport and the media went into a salivating frenzy, renaming the area 'the new Dallas'. The exploration company's stock jumped by 300%.

A bit late to the party, I know, but we too can replicate the great American delusion of limitless oil!

Little over a week later sober petroleum geologists are saying that, ahem, most of that oil would be unobtainable. As a result the company share price went down by 5%.

I was never that great at maths, but it seems to me they just boosted their share price by 295% for telling a pork pie. Not a bad game to be in, if you can keep a straight face.

Trevor Raymond said...

John-Michael - a comment not directly related to your post, which I enjoyed, but I shall submit it anyhow. In looking forward I've tried to distil the essence of our situation such that there might be some chance of collapsing in to something better. I am an engineer by training and have tried to put together the pieces from a big picture point of view. If you are inclined, have a look at, which explores the potential of organising ourselves around Dunbar's number in a broader context. In part it is an extension of Dmitry Orlov's work on Communities that Abide. All the best, Trevor.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Dear JMG - That section that started "...appropriate tech projects were developed by and for people liing in ordinary homes and apartments," jogged my memory.

Years ago I knew a postman who lived in one of those wonderful old apartment buildings in NW Portland. He had a bee hive in his living room. Plastic tube from hive to a hole drilled in the window frame. It was mesmerizing, watching the bees come and go.

Well, I must be doing something right with my collapsing early. I was startled the other day when a friend referred to me as "thrifty." Lew

Jason Heppenstall said...

More pertinent to this week's post about walking away from what is considered 'normal' in these techno industrial times, I would like to announce that I have written a book that deals with just that. For me, personally, my life changed when I read 'The Long Descent' and in the five years or so since then I have followed your blog, never missing an instalment, and have learned much from both yourself and the other commenters.

Thank you!

So for me, that is what created the genesis of my book - called The Path to Odin's Lake - about a trip (mostly on foot) I took last year from Denmark, where I used to live, to a forest in Sweden. I abandoned all gadgets (apart from a camera) and it was just me, my walking boots, a few camping things and a wooden staff. I took along a copy of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, following on from a discussion here about the use of Stoicism.

I've got to say, it was quite an interesting trip, with several rather unusual happenings. It's amazing what can happen to you when you just strike out with an open mind. For anyone who is interested I have written a bit about my motivations on my blog.. I think the book will resonate with readers of this blog (as well as your other one), in a way you could say that they helped me to write it.

Odin's Raven said...

People can adapt incrementally to what is available and what they can afford. It doesn't have to require any dramatic revelation or decision or even much realization of how much has changed over time.

Phil Harris said...

JMG wrote:
“Most people find out at some point in adolescence that there really is such a thing as drinking too much beer.”

Some of us I admit took longer! In reality too much beer meant one could not dance all night and engage other privileges of meaningful youth!

And later nostalgia for lost time does not serve so well. “Immeasurable pain! My dreaming soul last night was king again... “

Though Cumberland might be different, those kids riding their bikes have a potential range of 60 miles if I remember –– and they can dance and then still ride home in the morning.
Seriously, the kids do better. Though locally in this part of Britland cheap industrial canned cider can be deadly dangerous in early adolescence, ‘drugs’ have become decidedly ‘un-cool’. In some cases of course children carry the pain of their parents’ addiction, heroin or alcohol or whatever.

Phil H

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

@Trippticket: It helps if you plant lots of trees for each one felled, especially if the tree is one of the species which offer easily-established cuttings, suckers, etc. In that case, make sure to plant some of its own progeny before felling; and tell the tree so.

In fact, plant trees constantly, as a matter of a sustained life-habit. And I don't mean just on your own land, as far as you can. I've been guerrilla planting trees for decades now: any bit of promising room, and any reasonably survivable tree-species for the location.

Doesn't matter who 'owns' the land, as long as a tree growing there has a fighting chance to make it to large, mature old age - sometime long >after< all current human players are dead.

In the place where I live, I can walk around and touch trees which I planted decades ago, holding them between finger and thumb when I planted them; but now capable of crushing me flat if they fell on me.

I backofenvelope calculate that by the time I die I'll have planted enough trees, with enough surviving and heading towards big tree maturity after I'm dead, for my total wood-burn for my rocket heat/cook stoves to have been turned negative, on the final balance; a CO2 released/re-sequestered balance likely to be turned overall negative well after my lifetime, simply because of the longer lifespan of big trees, but nevertheless giving me an actually-negative overall footprint eventually.

Just depends on me helping the establishment of enough trees. Young willow-sticks pushed into the damp ground around a nearby dead-quarry pool this morning, for example, to join the clumps of willows which have already established themselves there, with a little help from their friend... :)

Very quick, easy and cost-free with willows, and with a gratifyingly-high survival rate!

On the wider matter of being the change you advocate: In the boatyard where I have my liveaboard boat, I think I'm the only person who has no motor vehicle of any kind, and who can be seen at least twice a week setting out for the nearby town, seven miles away, on my All-Terrain load-lugger bike; all year round, any weather except icy roads (when I switch to my home-built recumbent Python trike!).

I absolutely >never< proletyse about the serious wrongness of personal motorised transportation; and particularly the utter idiocy of indulging in Hummer-style sucker-trucks, or even in smaller, less ridiculous cars, for journeys where they're not really necessary.

Nor do I say much about just how much frieght-weight I can carry on my homemade goliath carrier rack. But the mute evidence is constantly there before their eyes: 30 or 40 kilos of freight often enough; together with the generally understood knowledge that the old guy cycling cheerfully through all weathers all through the year will be 75 this Summer; so - obviously! - it >can< be done; constant concrete examples just can't be gainsaid…

And no elec-assist at all on any of my stable of bought or homebuilt bikes - yet. Maybe when I'm older, and could use a modest bit of help, finally. :-O)

daelach said...

During my study years, I could not afford a car. Afterwards, that changed, but I had become so used to do without that I havn't come around to buying one. Instead, I combine local public transport, national railway and a folding bicycle (taking a folding bicycle in public transport is for free). Occasionally, I use a taxi, also for transporting bulky goods. Or I rent a car, but that's rare - my natural laziness makes me rather stick with railway and folding bicycle because that's more easily accessible.

I've noticed a change in being car-less. Ten years ago, people understood that someone didn't have a car because he lacked the money - but having no car because I didn't want or need a car left them puzzled, and that's not the case anymore nowadays.

With the smartphone 24/7 connectivity - I've never found that attractive, so the smartphone hype passed me by. From what I notice with smartphone owners, that thingy permenantly beeps because some ultimately irrelevant message has arrived, constantly draining attention. That would annoy me. I have an old-style cellphone that I use occasionally, but that I usually leave at home. I just don't want a permanent location tracker bug (no GPS, but via the mobile cells and signal strength).

rube cretin said...

Thanks for another excellent post. As usual it is thought provoking and provides valuable context and guidance for our predicament.

I was intrigued by the final sentence in your latest comment above. "This is why I keep on reminding my readers that thinking in terms of whole systems is essential!" I notice that Jay Hansen has recently updated, 4/6/15, a section of his comprehensive treatment of this subject. Yes, it does include an abbreviated discussion of The Maximum Power Principal and I recall your last comment to me. "I consider the Maximum Power Principle dubious as a description of nature and positively pernicious as a justification of human behavior. Many species, and many human societies, don't act that way." jmg None the less I believe his outstanding work back in the 1990's on his Dieoff blog is some of the most comprehensive whole system synthesis available. Readers who read his analysis and study the numerous links provided in his work will benefit from the experience IMO.

Dan the Farmer said...

Sven said:

"It was noted by early European explorers that the Native American tribes in California tended to be poorer and more primitive those of the Pacific Northwest or the Great Plains and they explained this by pointing out that the environment was harsher than the environments that the tribes of the Northwest or the Great Plains lived in."

I would posit the opposite. When I lived in California briefly in the early '90s, I was amazed by the number of homeless compared to my native Northeast. Some northern plants tend to produce storable food as roots and tubers (from which the plant will grow after the winter), and Euopean honey bees store more honey than other species ("African" bees still being Apis melifera). The northern climate forces the use of technology for survival, where more temperate climates allow living hand to mouth for much more of the year.

Ceworthe said...

I guess Coupland has never seen sheep grazing in the ruins of previous civilizations if he thinks things can't go backwards.

Lawfish1964 said...

Bacchus, I'm with you. It's more than a tiny bit ironic that none of us would be connected with the wisdom we so crave from JMG without the Internet and/or smart phones. I too would be lost for reading material in the absence of the Internet. So much is written lately that I love to read and it's all available for instant download to my kindle. And yes, I've downloaded JMG's work that way.

I too am attempting to collapse now, which appears to be on the same timeline as yours. I started a garden two years ago, so this is my third spring planting. I have experienced some epic failures, but have also experienced some very encouraging successes. Growing potatoes, for instance. My first year, I simply planted two rows and waited until they turned brown and harvested. From 15 lbs. of seed, I got nearly 50 lbs. of potatoes! Now I'm learning the importance of planting deep in trenches, so we can "hill" the potatoes and increase yield.

This year I added a chicken coop and we have a pet Vietnamese potbellied pig who makes buckets of the best fertilizer I've ever seen! My neighbors look at me like I have 3 heads when I'm out in the yard scooping up pig poop and putting it in a bucket. But it sure makes for healthy tomatoes.

I suppose what I'm learning is what grows well where I am located, just like you, Bacchus. One thing I've given up on is squash. The vine borers get it every time. So my collapsed future will not include squash. But it will include cabbage, cukes, lots of beans, lettuce, onions and peppers of all varieties.

You summed up my philosophy perfectly. The time to learn how to grow food is BEFORE your life depends on it.

As for other aspects of collapse, I tried the double-edged safety razor from a couple posts back. I gave it my best effort, but I'm back to the modern double-blade cheapies. My face couldn't handle the constant razor burn and poor shave. That aspect of collapse will have to wait until the real thing. But I suppose then, it won't be necessary to shave daily, so when I do shave, it won't be so bad. The Monday shaves on 2 days' beard growth were good. It was the remaining 4 days that kept me feeling blistered.

Keep up the good work JMG!

Ray Wharton said...

Yesterday I hosted the second session of my Wednesday project Mushroom Academy. In addition to making alot of substrate folks spent 4 hours where barely a phone and nary a screen interrupted. We are exploring the latest research in Mycology, specifically what kinds of plastic junk can be taken from trash piles to grow mushrooms, and how many species will grow on substrate pasteurized with wood ash in water. So its not retro... but its not the techno fancy frack either. In side conversations a chance to build a bat condo and some discussion on making homemade potting soil came up as a bonus.

I try to push back against connectivity, but at the same time I try not to be like the vegetarian in the 80's mentioned in the article... though at least around these parts it is worth mentioning that vegetarians won; I intentionally bring vegetarian or vegan friendly dishes most of the time (not always) to pot lucks. I have been receiving emails this week from old friends wanting to stay in contact after seeing my dire warnings that I will be disconnecting from facebook. The google voice account I use so there is a free place to receive text messages (checked daily!) is getting more service since I did the old fashion thing and memorized my number. This laptop is the big connection I have right now, but I am starting to make motions to be ready so that when it breaks down I might not get another; an old desktop that can support a simple html browser might be more my speed.

But all the push back against technology runs into setting up old fashion systems to do the deed, which is alot of effort. Learning to use paper to organize ideas, keep records, and make plans is a long and difficult process. Especially because modern college degrees do not require literacy in any meaningful sense.

Ray Wharton said...

p.s. If you want to snoop on a group of mostly twenty somethings trying to get our act together look here. I hope it is interesting to y'all, and inspiring to some.!/

myelectricpants said...

Your post reminds me of two of my favorite quotes by the late Terry Pratchett.

"Always be wary of any helpful item that weighs less than its operating manual."


"Progress just means bad things happen faster."

anton mett said...

Speaking of surreal and absurd, I was listening to an economic report this Monday and they repeatedly used the phrase "negative growth" which is strange on a couple levels. It clearly shows the flaw in comparing an economy to a living thing. An economy can increase or decrease it its activity, but growth really only goes one way unless you're Benjamin Button. Additionally, growth inevitably leads to death and decay, which most economists don't believe about the economy.
A contracting economy is so contrary to their thinking that they can’t even be bothered to address it with proper terminology, so you can only imagine how much serious thought has been put into the condition as a whole. The use of “negative growth” shows that the experts still don't believe that the economy can reverse/decline/contract. They have to know "negative growth" is a non-sense term and should be embarrassed to use it in public. I can only assume that they must figure that this situation is so temporary that they can afford to briefly acknowledge it in this silly way and hope it passes before anyone notices. So far I've not hear anyone call them out on it, so it must be working for them.

Morgenfrue said...

On the subject of labor-saving devices... The older I get (I'm 36) the less enamored I am of kitchen gadgets which are an unholy pain to dis/assemble and clean. I set great value on our washing machine - I did all my laundry by hand for a year when studying abroad in Russia, so I know it can be done, but it is truly labor. If I had to wash my, my husband's, and our 2 kids' clothes by hand, in water I gathered and heated by hand, I would disappear 80% of it and get aprons for everyone. We also use a dishwasher, an electric kettle, and a toaster, but those are merely conveniences. The other things are inconveniences that are noisy, hard to clean, and gobble storage space.

I think part of the success of domestic technology is due to the atomization of the family. It can be a lonely task to run a household alone, especially if you are struggling to entertain children under the age of reason at the same time. Completely different if granny or a spinster aunt lives with the family - or even if you are on social terms with your neighbors, and/or have family within walking distance.

Gunnar Rundgren said...

I agree with this, and I do think the extent and nature of externalization of costs is under-understood. Of course, fossil fuels help a long way for this to happen. Markets are also very important in this regard. I just published an article in Third World Resurgence on why cheap food is too costly and how competition makes farmers to externalise more and more costs. "the commercialisation of farming has led us to view land, water and nature as private property and the life of the land, our symbionts, as commodities. It has given rise to the illusion of cheap food by externalising many of the attendant costs such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and the pollution of our soil and water."

Marc L Bernstein said...

I don't own a smart phone or a cell phone, and nearly everyone else I know owns one.

In fact, I decided to remain a volunteer tidepool educator rather than a paid one (something I do mostly on the weekends) because paid tidepool educators are expected to make a phone call to the Laguna Beach police department (if a visitor to the rocks is abusing the tidepool creatures or stubbornly insists on collecting shells) or to the Marine Mammal Protection Center (if a sick pinniped is seen lying on the rocks or up on the beach). On rare occasions a person gets injured while climbing on the rocks and in such cases a cell phone would be quite useful.

Many visitors to the rocks come equipped with smart phones, particularly teenage girls. It is apparently more faddish for girls to carry them around than it is for boys.

The tragic thing about young people these days is that they know more about the latest "app" (application, program) for their smart phone or the latest tv show than they do about the natural world around them. I don't really know what to do about that.

GHung said...

JMG; yet another serendipitous post. I've been attending classes about growing crops in 'high tunnels' (simple low-tech green houses) and the class included suggestions about how to market your production. A part of the course involved the necessity of having a "great website" where potential customers can go to view and purchase what one grows. Eventually, one of the attendees spoke out and said she has been selling everything she could grow for ten years without a website and had no need for such. When asked how she did it, she said; "by word of mouth, and I put out some paper flyers early on". One instructor went on about how that "just won't fly these days. People don't think that way any more". I expect he was following his government script.

Anyway, next week I'm attending a workshop on how to get an 'organic certification', and one of the speakers will explain how to "enhance the success of your organic operation with new technology". That should be enlightening.

I'm still on the fence about the sustainability of growing in a high tunnel - the plastic needs to be replaced every 4-6 years, and it does involve a government grant and annual inspections for four years (to make sure you actually grow things), but considering climate change, that crop failures will be more impactful going forward, and that these structures can significantly improve success rates and extend growing seasons, it seems 'appropriate' to give it a try. There's nothing high-tech about hunger.
More tools for the tool kit.

Leo Knight said...

I just discovered that my library has a copy of "Green Wizardry," checked it out, and started reading. I was born in 1961, so have similar memories of the appropriate technology movement. I actually did the exercise on energy in elementary school, tracing the links from sun to plants, to animals, to decay, to geology, to fossil fuels. Back then, National Geographic did an article on energy. I distinctly remember its breathless optimism about nuclear fusion. Tokomaks! Inertial confinement! Ten to twenty years! That was the early 70s. Oy.

I really liked your depiction of an early 20th century home, especially the battery powered radio. My grandmother lived for many years in a rural home near Havre de Grace, Maryland. The only plumbing was a pump in the kitchen, heat was fireplace and woodstove, an outhouse stood out back. She raised chickens, gardened, hung out her laundry. After her children moved away, she lived there alone, with only a cousin nearby. She finally moved into a "modern" home in the mid 60s. At family gatherings, we marvel at her toughness, but she never saw herself as tough.

I myself could easily do without television, even though this week I geeked out by binge watching "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea." Talk about technological fetishism! Two episodes were labeled with the then far-future years 1973 and 1976! Flying subs! Undersea cities! Atomic everything! Funny how the 'Seaview' always malfunctioned, sparks would fly from the panels, the sub would rock to and fro, and end up, yes, on the bottom of the sea.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

L.E.S.S. = More

Less connected with the digital "world" means more of a chance to connect to the people who are actually in your life.

To return to the theme of bars without TV's, me and some of my friends have noted, in going to an older country-western bar with my grandpa, that none of the people there were staring at their phones the whole time, but interacting and dancing. When the hipsters catch up with their grandparents and ditch the phones than maybe people would actually dance to the live music instead of just taking phone photos of the band that is playing and loading it to anti-social media.

I try to limit my use of the internet as well to: a few good blogs with in-depth articles on collapse, permaculture and magic, and some podcasts of the same. Email instead of facebook. Email has been useful in connecting to teachers & mentors, & friends, but back in the 90's when I was part of the punk scene, I had pen pals, and 'zines were around instead of blogs. When the AD Report turns into a letterpress newsletter delivered in the post I plan to be a well as continuing to make my own 'zines.

The mail art scene was lively, and returning to such non-digital networks will be one way occultists, etc. can stay in touch.

Proactively going retro will also have the effect of "renchanting the world" The sheer availability of information on the internet has actually had the negative leaching away peoples ability to teach themselves, as Josephine McCarthy points out in this caustic-yet-humorous article:


heather said...

@Cherokee and JMG-
Our house was nearly burned down five years ago by a fire started in exactly that way. Our neighbor, a mandarin rancher, was away for a day in late May. His elderly dad felt that Junior hadn't gotten the weeds cut back in the orchards well enough- it was getting to be fire season, you know! So dad got out there with the tractor (with a shovel on the back, as always, in case of sparks), but didn't notice or react to the inevitable quickly enough, and the entire neighborhood was lucky that the resulting fire didn't quite reach the leaning oaks that form a canopy over the only road in or out. Fortunately there is a rural fire station only five miles away, and fortunately we have excellent fire defenses around our house, and fortunately the other neighbors sprung into action to help my husband hold off the advancing flames with a garden hose long enough for the fire trucks to arrive.

I am sure there are multiple morals tucked in there- the folly of being aware of danger approaching, but choosing a response that is already too late for the situation; the importance of being as prepared as possible (structurally and community-wise) for the dangers that you are likely to face; and maybe the realization that, as prepared as we try to be, without a whole lotta luck and some functioning systems, the chances are good that we are going to be toast anyways at some point, eventually.

On that cheerful note- great post as always, JMG.

--Heather in CA

ErosBlog Bacchus said...

"...blindsided by the huge externalized costs of the data centers, global networks, power grids, and everything else that goes into giving you the illusion of nearly free data."

Well, I was trying to keep my comment not impossibly long. What I'm sharing is a hope (not a prediction) that when all the accounts come due and external costs are internalized and settled up, we'll discover that some sort of decentralized pared-down solar-powered or even hand-cranked person-to-person and point-to-point packet-radio-driven heavily-cached store-and-forward at-least-regional networked communication system will survive that's cheap enough to use at least partially for recreational purposes. Will it support HD video of endless funny cats? Maybe not. But something like UseNet at its prime? I don't think we know the sums well enough to rule that out.

Vernor Vinge's 1984 book Peace War had as a modest plot point a technologically-suppressed society in the American west that maintained a cottage industry of electronics craftsmen. Their long distance communications depended on careful bouncing of sophisticated radio packets off features in the ionosphere. I don't claim this is a likely outcome or method, I'm just using it as an example of how far it is possible to scale back our recreational connectivity before it's lost altogether.

Even if you're right that we lose most of the electronics industry by the time the fractal collapse process is well advanced, I think the very fractal nature of it is going to allow for manufacture of some scaled-back essential components (traded by burro and windjammer as luxury goods, perhaps, in the deeper future) for much longer than my remaining lifetime. And coming as I do from a family of ham radio experimenters (although I am not one myself) I'm aware of some surprisingly sophisticated and functional devices that a skilled hobbyist can construct by hand with primitive components (like vacuum tubes) that are not beyond the reach of handicraft. Mix in a few simple integrated circuits and display components imported like silk from farthest Cathay (plus a healthy dose of salvaged parts from the midden-heaps of the late 20th and earliest 21st) and I can imagine (not predict) some surprisingly functional devices being, if not sustainable, at least sustained for quite a long time.

Please understand I'm not coming to your blog to argue with you about how much collapse is coming. Your views are clearly-expressed and well-supported. Although I do think that the uncertainties in the data support a spectrum of outcomes at least some of which are more optimistic (especially in the timescale of just one more partial human lifetime) than the ones you describe so well in your writings (and I also think you may underestimate human technical ingenuity in the face of extreme resource constraints) I'm not trying to change your mind or that of your readers. I'm just expressing what I think is a reasoned hope that the "stimulation" part of your LESS rubric may enjoy less lessening then the energy and stuff part of the equations.

Luke Devlin said...

You frequently refer to use of technology as "staring at little colored pictures on a glass screen", yet this seems like a kind of radically materialist behavioural reductionism, a bit like something done by one of Daniel Dennett's p-zombies.

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

Now, I follow Whitman when it comes to contradiction, so I'm very relaxed about this, but confused. Are you saying one of those contains 'meaning' but the other doesn't?

donalfagan said...

In 2000 a show called Malcolm in the Middle debuted on TV. It was better than average, and in one of the first episodes, this kid Malcolm met a kid that didn't watch TV. The kid said his mother told him that TV makes you stupid. Malcolm replied, "TV doesn't make you stupid, it makes you normal."

To some extent I think that is correct. Watching TV, staring at smartphones, and playing RPG games do make you normal in various segments of the population. Drinking too much and driving too fast make you normal in others. Etc.

As we adopt LESS, we may have to deal with a stigma by choosing to be different. (Many of you already know this.) In my previous office I was the peak oil guy after giving a presentation about Roscoe Bartlett's PO conference. It probably put me higher on the layoff list. In my office now I am the bike guy, which is probably less threatening, but still makes me different.

My wife grew up in the vagaries of her dad being regularly laid off and called back to Conrail, so she is on board with frugal living, but even she is wondering why I haven't rushed out to buy another car.

So when times get tougher, I wonder how obviously different I want to appear to the rest of the tribe in which I find myself.

Josh said...

Love it - thanks JMG!

Professor Diabolical said...

This is already happening, as noted by Denninger (ex-ISP CEO)that the loss sales of cable TV means the cable internet lines are no longer subsidized by the lower-cost/higher-profit cable sales. The only alternative then--short of cutting profits, god forbid! -- is to sharply raise the cost of internet service. Boom, your externality just came home to roost and you're now paying the real cost of service.

Thomas Mazanec said...

I have started the hobby of stained glass art. This was done a thousand years ago. True, they used abrasive stones instead of grinders, and lead came instead of copper foil, but I am sure I could learn that if the future turns out like you expect (in the few years I have left to live).

Harry J. Lerwill said...

I put the brakes on adding complexity to our lives a few years ago, when the craze for “connected” home thermostats became popular. If you’re not aware, you can install a thermostat that allows you to change the temperature of your home while there’s no one in it. When work replaced their thermostats, I kept the bimetallic old style ones, similar to what I still keep at home, so that one component does not become a single point of failure.

Just this week a coffee machine making company has developed an espresso coffee maker that will work in zero-G, and it’s being shipped to the International Space Station, where an Italian Astronaut is suffering with only instant to consume. Now NASA has to figure out what to do with the little plastic pods the individual servings were served in, and throwing it out of the window is not really an option. Even within the closed-loop of a self-contained space station, an attitude of “externalities are someone else’s problem prevails.

avalterra said...

I, for one, strongly support a return to games that actually exist on a tabletop not as colored pixels on a screen.

I truly look forward to more of that!


John Merryman said...


I think there are some basic conceptual/philosophic issues people will need to address, in order to re-imagine the world. These are three:

We look at time backward. as individuals, we experience a sequence of events and so think of the present moving along a vector from past to future, but the reality is change turning future into past. Tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth turns. There is only the present and the past is order receding from it. A faster clock/rate of change just uses energy quicker and so recedes into the past faster. The tortoise is still plodding along, long after the hare has died.
This makes time an effect of action, similar to temperature, i.e. frequency and amplitude. Therefore reality is not this narrative history from some initial creation event to a final denouement, but cycles of expansion and contraction. Energy expands, order contracts. Future is where the energy goes, past is where the order goes.

The next is that monotheism has spirituality backward. The spiritual absolute would be the essence from which we rise, not an ideal from which we fell.

The last point is that money is a contract, not a commodity and as such is used to displace more organic forms of social reciprocity and harvest value out of local communities and their environment. Fortunately the banking industry is in the process of cooking their own golden goose and starving the industrial behemoth in the process.

Trying to keep it short, but if this is interesting, here is an essay on the general subject I entered in a contest at FQXI;

pygmycory said...

I find facebook useful for organizing the church veggie garden as well as assorted other practical things. It is easy to waste a lot of time on there, so it helps to only turn it on when I want to do something specific.

Nastarana said...

ErosBlog Bacchus, I was able to get started in organic gardening using the methods developed by John Jeavons and Ecology Action. If you can't afford or don't want to buy the book, How to Grow More Vegetables etc., the most important parts of the method are covered on the Ecology Action website and in its' free seed catalogue. I have found that double digging is the most productive method of gardening around. Some aspects of the method need altered for one's own climate. For example, the nightly watering is necessary for the West Coast soils; where I live now in NY state, daily watering is unnecessary and wasteful.

Permaculture has some good ideas, but needs a lot of work to install and a lot of upfront capital. Furthermore, I and I think, others, don't want to give up the ornamental plants we also like. I happen to think that the horticultural legacy of the last few centuries is one thing from Western Civilization which is worth preserving.

Brian said...

Glad to see this, as I've been, not unconsciously, but without any real agenda, gradually removing the high-tech crap from my life. My computer is about 7 years old (thank you, Linux, for working so well), and I've turned it on twice in the last week. My plain cellphone is basically just my watch and emergency/travel contact machine. I've learned to use steel-nib dip pens to improve my handwriting. I collect working typewriters and have learned to fix a few of their inevitable injuries. Now I'm even using oil lamps for lighting, which is improving my sleep. (When I retire I'll be able to rise and bed down with the sun.) AND ALL OF THIS IS INDEED FUN! Much more fun than staring at screens. Not only that, but I get others interested, old and young alike. Nothing entices like honest enthusiasm.

Archdruid, I hope you're investigating printing presses so that you can issue a newsletter when the grid takes blogs away!

K!EF said...

Hi folks,

great post and encouraging comments, as always.

I ditched the TV over a decade ago and gave up cell phones when I moved to Canuckistan 8 years ago. These two bills not arriving in my mailbox have saved me thousands of dollars which I didn't need to earn and tens of thousands of hours not starring at screens. Still, lots of hours are being spent starring at the screen (probably 3-4 hours each week on this blog alone!).

I read an article in german newspaper about the digital addiction and digital penetration of life in Japan and South Korea : mothers in Japan who couldn't imagine putting their kids to leep without the ipad, people using an app to have virtual dinner guest and so on. One professor for literature said he doesn't think anybody in his university is able to have a deep conversation any more - the ability of the younger generation to focus on a real conversation is that low! Attention deficit anyone? There are now private schools in S.K. who banned the smart screens and raised their tuition fees significantly - they are now drowning in applications, since the students enrolled have a much improved ability to focus. Smart phones - dumb people.

On a more positive note: a small board game store here in town expanded in its new location into a board game cafe - over 500 board games to choose from. Believe it or not, but this store rocks: almost impossible to get a place on the weekend and even during week days, this place is packed with asian ESL students, hipsters, grandparents or parents with their kids, couples in their 30's & 40's and hardcore board gamers. I am pretty sure most of them have a iscreen in their pockets, but to see them actually connect & communicate face to face is a small relief in this izombie world.

@ Rhisiart Gwilym: I've been trying to guerilla plant nut trees in my town here, but many did get cut down. However, I'll plant more trees & shrubs anyway. Have a few hundred seabuckthorn seedlings growing in the coldframe... Thanks for sharing your story, thats the kind of heros I am inspired by.

Oh, btw - whoever mentioned William Coperthwait's book " A handmade life" -thanks so much. One of the finest reads and highly recommended to all green wizards here!


oneotaBill said...

It's a small thing, but after reading the suggestion here a couple months ago, I returned to using a double edge razor! I get a better shave, though I frequently still get a minor nick or two, and it's more enjoyable. I save about $150/year, and I am not so dependent on tech. BTW, I'm 70 yo, and I used a safety razor until Gillette introduced it's first cartridge razor in 1971. My beard is tougher, and it has moved closer to my lips, making shaving a shade trickier.

I am planting five more apple trees today, and we'l plant two blueberry bushes tomorrow. We planted a dozen or so walnut trees seven years ago. We'll be getting delicious, nutritious black walnuts in a few years. And our grass fed cattle provide nutrients for the soil food web, which we're using for the apple trees and blueberry bushes.

JML said...

I own an old flip phone with basic texting and mobile web capabilities. The looks I get are hilarious. I thought about buying the newer model cellphones with high-speed internet, wifi and tons of apps, but I decided not to after seeing how hooked some people are to the phones.

heather said...

I hear ya on the isolation of being at home, alone with exhausting non-stop small people. I wish we could combine households with my in-laws, who came up the hard way in Oklahoma and so have very useful skills and understandings under their belts (plus they are good company). Unfortunately, they became California-ized decades ago, and look at their old country ways as something embarrassing and smelling of poverty. They are politely baffled at my attempts to recreate ways they worked hard to leave behind. They see multigenerational housing, equally, as a sign of failure on somebody's part. But it would be so nice to have "Mom" around to teach me how to make a tough farm chicken tender or to have "Dad" help build (rather than buy) the movable chicken pen, and to be comfortably close by to help as they begin their inevitable age-related decline. I'm cultivating relationships with the neighbors that sort of serve some of the same functions of shared purpose and skills and enjoyment of each other's company, but there's something about family… I'm already laying the groundwork with my kids: "There will probably come a time when you want to go out in the world, and/but you can always come home…"

It's very interesting to think about how reworking ideas about family structure and function could ease the collapsing process. Shannon Hayes, author of "Radical Homemakers", has lots to say about this as well, as does author Sharon Astyk.
--Heather in CA

heather said...

@Mark L Bernstein-
You are already doing something about screen-attached people's ignorance of the natural world. Bless you for your volunteer work teaching people about tide pools! I love you and my kids love you, though we haven't met- you are one of the cadre of amazing museum docents and park rangers and volunteer "explainers" we latch on to in all sorts of settings, who teach us things that we might have learned on our own or from family or community members in other times and places, but now don't. Your work sharing knowledge of and enthusiasm for the natural world is so, so valuable. Don't give up on the kids with their screens- you never know what seeds you are planting.
--Heather in CA

John Michael Greer said...

Ondra, good. I was wondering how many readers were going to catch that.

Seb, funny. Too bad your app couldn't have backdated itself fifteen days!

Jason, I did indeed. That kind of smoke-shoveling exercise is all the rage these days, isn't it?

Trevor, I'll check it out as time permits.

Lewis, hmm! That's an option I hadn't thought of -- of course I know very little about apiculture. It does sound cool, though.

Jason, glad to hear it.

Raven, maybe so, but if you want to get out in front of the curve -- and there's a point to doing that -- conscious awareness of the situation does help, you know.

Phil, Cumberland's in a good place for bike travel -- we're midway on a bike trail that runs from Washington DC to Pittsburgh, through quite a few interesting places en route. So it's quite possible the local kids are covering some pretty fair distances.

Daelach, I've noticed the same thing -- my carlessness has become less of a puzzler for other people over the last five years or so, and I know many more carless people now than I did then. Just one of those things, when you're on the cutting edge!

Rube, my disagreement with one of Jay's theories doesn't make me dismiss his thinking altogether. Glad to hear the update's out.

Ceworthe, mention that to him and dollars will get you doughnuts that the first thing out of his mouth is "But it's different this time!"

Ray, of course it takes work. Everything worthwhile takes work. Glad to hear it's proceeding!

Pants, thanks for both of those.

Anton, "negative growth" -- thank you. That's a choice bit of nonsense, and one that could use some serious satire.

Gary Shannon said...

A few days ago my MP3 player simply stopped working. The tiny plastic case is sealed shut, so repair is out of the question. I realized that if I still had an old-fashioned record player like the ones I had in the 1950's and 60's I'd know exactly how to repair it. Maybe it's time to go shopping in antique stores for a record player.

Sven said...

@ Dan the Farmer

Note that I was referring to accounts by early European/white explorers, who were referring to people, namely Native Americans, who were living in societies before the coming of industrialization and fossil fuels. By going back and comparing accounts of the standards of living of indigenous peoples before the coming of the industrial revolution, you can gain a better idea of what will be sustainable over the long term once the crutch of cheap fossil fuels, the Cult of Happy Motoring and all the rest are gone.

The problem is that while California has much warmer winters, much of it is semi-arid or desert and most areas only receive modest amounts of rainfall for a few months out of the year. Southern California summers and autumns in particular tend to be very hot and dry with little or no rainfall until winter arrives, which is why that part of the country has such brutal fire seasons during late summer and fall. When I was living in San Diego as a little boy, we had to attend an annual wildfire safety lecture given by the San Diego Fire Department at the beginning of each school year, which gives you an idea of how bad the problem is.

Before the arrival of the white man and his industrial technologies, the native populations tended to be sparse and primitive because the land was too arid and too sparse in game and edible plants to support larger and more complex cultures. Go back and read descriptions of the Native cultures in California when the white man first encountered them and then compare those accounts to tribes living in the Northwest. Yes, the winters in the Northwest were colder, but there was a lot more rainfall and the land could support much larger populations with more complex cultures because there were a lot more resources (food, timber, fresh water, etc) available. I think that in the post fossil fuel era, the Pacific Northwest will be able to support relatively large populations with plenty of rainfall for farming, at least west of the Cascades. I expect that the Northwest will be well-positioned to support an ecotechnic society in the future, although most of the population will probably be descended from Asians arriving during the coming volkerwanderung as John Michael pointed out in some of his earlier posts.

On the other hand, I think much of California will go back to being what it was, which was barren desert inhabited by a few nomadic tribes trying to eke out a living from an unforgiving environment. Without abundant supplies of fossil fuels and the vast irrigation and water supply systems that were made possible by the cheap fossil fuel economy, the land simply cannot support large numbers of people. And as John Michael has pointed out, the geological evidence suggests that as the Earth’s climate grows warmer and climate zones shift, the Southwestern United States is going to be a lot hotter and drier than it is today, so living in Southern California in the post-industrial era will be a lot like living in the Sahara or the Atacama without air conditioning or cars. Good luck with that! Conditions in the rest of the state probably won’t be much better, with the possible exception of the northerly areas near the Oregon state line, which from an ecological and cultural perspective are really part of Cascadia rather than California.

I have lived in many parts of the United States and Europe, including southern California, the Napa Valley and the Pacific Northwest, so I have some first hand experience of which I speak.

Anselmo said...

About the lack of interst of the teenagers of your town , I can say that I have observed a equivalent phenomena in the Spanish youngsters. And I must add another changes in some behaviours of population of different ages. Those changes are very slow and only It can be perceived comparing the behaviour of nowadays with the behavior ten years or more years before present, and I hope that all those changes are indicating that has been a change of mentality of most people, for better- I think.

A metaphoric image could be a change in a movement in tectonics plates, that will drive orografic phenomena, etarhquaques and the birth of vulcanoes.

In the same way, I think that we´ll see important changes in diferent and important aspects of our life. Changes that will add to the changes triggered by the peak oil and the rest of consecences of the limits of the growth

peacegarden said...

Excellent essay…as usual, Archdruid.

Recent events have brought me to re-examine the social media monster’s place in my life; our youngest granddaughter (not quite three) had brain surgery last week for cortical dysplasia. Her mom uses Facebook as her main means of communication for family news. It is the only reason I still have an account. My husband and I stayed with the older 3 children for several days while her parents were staying in the DC hospital where her surgery took place (it was spring break, so no school. ) Other grandmother took turns with us. During the course of conversation, she went on and on about her different groups of “friends”, and how important being “with it” and connected is to her…even mentioning how “left behind” some people are (like us, I had to think!). And no conversation about social media would be complete without the importance of twitter for fast breaking news. “People tweet right as emergencies are happening!” etc...

I understand how important it is for my daughter in law to be able to keep the news out there for others to see…she is a very busy woman, a great wife and mom, and I genuinely admire her and her husband. They have 4 children, live on one income and basically do LESS but without the overt connection to collapse. Just frugality and common sense…Yes!

I suppose I will keep my account for now…she’s posting how many seizure free days (8 so far!) our little fighter has had…but I see it more as a necessary evil. I don’t expect others to cater to my choices to be or not to be “connected”, but I also don’t put myself out there to be scorned by the aficionados. Not if I can help it!

As for never being able to go backward to a former level of technology…I say, “Never say never!”



Pantagruel7 said...

Regarding the Republican candidates, I've heard that the theme for the upcoming Republican convention is to be Kabalevsky's "The Comedians." "Right on" I thought.

Varun Bhaskar said...


I've recently finished a series of beginners permaculture classes at the local community colleges, and am spending more time outside finishing up my raised garden bed. I find that I am increasingly unable to stare at a screen for long hours without having a minor freak-out. I think this is partly a result of the elemental shield practice, but also a result of just being in nature.

As I've said before I've gotten a few people to start gardening. I think it's about time I started talking up appropriate technology.



winingwizzard said...

@ Morgenfrue

I agree with you on doing chores alone - it is always faster and more edifying with help, especially with kidlets. The large extended family was a survival mechanism that we seem to have lost in the age of oil. But I am thinking it will come back as population declines.

Meanwhile, friends invited over to help seems to be working well for us, especially doing things on the farm which suburbanites have only read or heard about. They seem to like to learn, once they get past being embarrassed they don't know how to do many things.

Sven said...

The title of this weeks post and a comment from Flagg707 (How live a Victorian Life) in last weeks discussion thread reminded me of some recent posts by William Lind, he of the “On War” columns. He has been promoting something he calls “Retroculture”, which he also uses as a plot device in his new novel “Victoria: A Novel of Fourth Generation War”. I am also reminded of recent posts and comments about steampunk, the growing popularity of reenactment groups, efforts to preserve and bring back traditional skills and crafts and so on. How many other civilizations have had so many people who were eager to jump ship and turn their backs on the status quo? More and more people are discovering that the Cult of Progress has serious flaws and are looking for saner alternatives.

As the cracks in the status quo grow more and more visible, I think we will see two responses. One will be people who continue to wave their iPhones just as Chris Martenson described and live in denial until the crocodiles of reality drag them under. But there are also an increasing number of people who get it and are jumping ship and I believe we will see more of that in the years to come. This will act as a major mechanism of Darwinian selection in the decades to come, especially in countries like the United States where so many people have become dependent on the luxuries, conveniences and prosthetics made possible by the cheap fossil fuel bubble.

Steve Morgan said...

My friends came by the other day with their 5-month old baby in tow. Dad picked up the receiver for my corded land-line phone and held it to junior's ear. "Baby's first dial tone."

For communication, I'm living somewhere in the late 1990s - a home phone, a land line at work, and email (which not so many people really use much anymore). The neat part is that I consistently impress my wife with my ability to call most anyone I know from any phone anywhere by simply remembering their number.

I'm all in favor of the retro future, and I'm looking forward to your treatment of the subject. The past few posts have been great, and I wanted to send this headline your way in case you hadn't seen it:

World Economy Doing Worse in Practice than Theory Suggests

(And no, it's not The Onion)

p.s. Thanks to JMG and all the commenters for the kudos a few weeks back for the Squirrel Case Challenge. It was a fun contest to enter and an honor to be one of the winners.

Cherokee Organics said...


Yeah it is a real drama. It is probably a fair comment to say that it is a whole grab bag of disasters (I should trademark that?) based on the premise that we are trained to look at the world - from a very young age - in ways that don't match the facts on the ground.

Some of the grab bag of beliefs includes:

- Corruption is only a problem for the third world;

- Justice and fairness pervades our society;

- The legal system is applied to all fairly and produces just outcomes;

- Our education systems provides good outcomes for the students;

- If you can't see pollution then it isn't happening;

- House prices will always keep increasing;

- If you work hard you will be rewarded fairly for your efforts;

- Cooking from scracth using raw ingredients takes real skill, time and is not for the faint of heart.

Honestly, I could just keep going on and on, but I became side tracked for a short while watching a magpie looking at itself in a mirror whilst preening (they're very vain birds!). Anyway back to the topic: the whole thing is broken from day 1 and people are trained to simply ignore information that doesn't comport with their rusted on world view. It is pretty scary actually, but the previous example of the backup support services was there to show how much effort goes into maintaining the big charade. A very difficult and expensive beast to maintain.

Oh yeah, about television I wasn't going to say this, but the little sprite told me too and it seems like a good idea at this time: A huge number of parents use television as a respite care for children. It pacifies the children but at the same time indoctrinates those kids into many of the strange myths that operate within our society. And you lot know why television is used in that capacity too.

Hi Heather,

Oh yeah, that is exactly the same problem here. Except that the police would investigate and the tractor driver would be charged with an offence if it was a total fire ban day here.

Hope you are enjoying the photos and all of the weird things I had to do to build the house here given the similarities in environment and climate. Most houses here burn from the roof down and it only takes about 4 minutes. People always say houses explode, but what they're seeing is the roof collapsing in on the structure. Bushfires produce a whole lot of flying embers here - it is like being showered by a giant really hot sparkler - and those embers get into roof spaces and ignite the very dry timbers in there and then it's gone before you know it. That is why I'm building the sheds out of steel for both the structure and the cladding. It is no guarantee, but it does help reduce the risk.



Josh said...

Weren't you saying something about senile rhetoric intensifying as the deterioration of the status quo becomes increasingly harder to deny?

Well get a load of this:

“We shouldn’t be talking about 10 villages that got power for a light bulb...What we should be talking about, is how the village got a power connection for a cold storage facility or an industrial park.”


"The “eco-modernists” propose economic development as an indispensable precondition to preserving the environment. Achieving it requires dropping the goal of “sustainable development,” supposedly in harmonious interaction with nature, and replacing it with a strategy to shrink humanity’s footprint by using nature more intensively.

“Natural systems will not, as a general rule, be protected or enhanced by the expansion of humankind’s dependence upon them for sustenance and well-being,”

Ahh, so through economic development and technological advancement we unhook ourselves from Nature and dependence upon the biosphere. Got it.

"the world would have a better shot at saving nature 'by decoupling from nature rather than coupling with it.'"

Double down and decouple! Why didn't I think of that!

Friction Shift said...

In the spirit of gradually collapsing, or at least powering down, I have replaced fossil-powered gadgets with human powered ones when the fossil machines die. So I replaced my electric coffee grinder with a hand-crank grinder, an electric drill with a couple of beautiful old manual drill braces, and when my electric weed whacker died, I bought a scythe. I have since fallen in love with the quiet and (at least theoretical, in my case) graceful process of scything my grass and weeds.

I have always suspected that scything actually took no more time than using the noisy weed whacker. Just this morning, I came across this YouTube video of a contest between the UK's champion scyther and a hapless chump with a weed whacker. If you want to call it a contest.

OttoKretschmer said...

"Looks like they have noticed the blogosphere and are starting to get worried
From zerohedge this morning
Submitted by Paul Joseph Watson via,

Bloggers, conspiracy theorists and people who challenge establishment narratives on the Internet were all likened to ISIS terrorists during a chilling Congressional hearing which took place yesterday."

onething said...

"Onething, "labor-saving devices" is as much an oxymoron as "military intelligence." They should be called "labor-multiplying devices."

It seems more complicated than that. A washing machine, for example, surely does save time and labor. Perhaps it is the cars. Once, you can be expected to be able to traverse miles in minutes, suddenly the expectation and setup of society begins to require it, and then people are madly dashing to soccer games and so on and so forth. Then, too, when clothes are easy to wash you wash more often and become overly attached to extremely clean clothes and what with cheap clothing, you own lots and lots of pieces. Or maybe it's because we've become kind of homeless, with most adults out working all day, the homefires are untended, and since home isn't as cozy, you might as well come home, spend a few minutes and run out again for fast food. If you come back home, you watch TV, which anesthetizes you to the fact that nothing real, fun, interesting, creative or useful is getting done.

Sven said...

Speaking of Hillary Clinton, have you seen the latest headline from CNN's website? “Despite humility in Iowa, Hillary is who she is”. Seriously, I am not making this up. Truth is truly stranger than fiction in this day and age, especially when it comes to what passes for “news” in the mainstream media these days.

Humility, from Hillary? Surely you jest? That’s got to be one of the biggest oxymoron’s to come down the pike since “military intelligence”. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I think your theory that all those hacks from Pravda and TASS got hired by the “news” media in the United States after the fall of the USSR just gained more credence…

Mr. Bystander said...

Mr. Greer, you've brilliantly explained something my wife and I have already been doing for a few years now without making a conscious effort. We're millennials (she's 32, I'm 29) and surprisingly to most we aren't amused by endless conquesting after the latest gadget. We fill our time with experiencing life and going places with our 17 month old daughter. Even more strange are the stares, puzzled faces and utter shock I get from colleagues because my chosen profession is information technology. I ALWAYS get asked at some point if I'm a "gamer" from everyone I work with like it's a prerequisite for the job. I proudly exclaim that I do not own a game console nor am I interested in virtual reality. I have enough interest in real reality to sustain me. I'm sure I got this quality from my 56 year old father who's never been on the Internet and never owned or operated a cell phone. He's a mechanic for heavy equipment and does car inspections on the weekends. I love hearing him talk about the inspections and how they've changed over 40 years. My dad brings up a good point about the technology in cars today compared to 40 years ago from the viewpoint of a mechanic. You almost need an advanced engineering degree to work on them now. Many more wires and sensors and other components that will eventually go  bad and need replacing for a good expensive price. Thinking along those lines I often wonder how those vehicles will fare as they age on their way down to the lower classes who are onl the in the market for an older used car. Another reason to ditch the automobile.

Looking forward to next week's post. Lately I've been trying to figure out how to get rid of my debt from a false educational promise while developing a craft of useful skills I can develop for a post oil economy and pass on to teach my children.

Mister Roboto said...

As anyone who has dealt with the US medical systems and its related networks can attest, adding ever-more layers of complexity to bureaucracy-dependent systems results in utter paralysis. What you end up with a system where you have to threaten people with professional or legal repercussions to get them to do the most basic things they're supposed to do, and also a system where people in positions of serious responsibility frequently turn out to be the most jaw-droppingly stupid human beings you could ever have the misfortune of encountering. Homer Simpson isn't just cartoonist Matt Groening being cute, there are a lot of people who are that stupid out there! And I really do believe these unwieldy systems that are way too complex and getting worse are just one factor that fosters this sort of intractable pig-ignorance.

backyardfeast said...

Just a note that Douglas Coupland is no techie-dreamer; he's a very cynical satirist. The points you reference, JMG, are most likely intended to be ironically funny, not a true prediction. Coupland is usually looking at the dark side of technology and seeing its extension in the future as a loss.

The lecture series/novel that's being promoted by the article you referenced, _Player One_ is actually a really funny, almost-but-not-quite bit of sci-fi that fits very nicely into JMG's theory of catabolic collapse.

I found it fascinating that our (Canada's) very staid, pre-eminent lecture series producers invited Coupland to make a statement on our current situation, and his response was to bring Peak Oil theory to the fore. Quite remarkable, really. And the "fast collapse" scenario that another commenter mentioned is the driver of the plot at the beginning. But the deeply ironic twist at the end is that in fact, the world does not come to an end at all, but carries on like it always does, with just a change in the scenery thanks to oil stabilizing at $350/barrel. Highly entertaining!

John Michael Greer said...

Morgenfrue, no argument there. The abolition of extended-family living arrangements was a core element of the process by which the market economy took over the household.

Gunnar, thanks for the link and congrats on the article!

Marc, I wonder how much of that is California-specific; your state does have a distinctive culture of its own, you know.

GHung, I see high tunnels as a transitional technology -- won't be around once hydrocarbons get scarce, but for the time being, it's often a useful choice. As for the loud insistence that you can't just work via word of mouth, well, of course the suits are going to say that -- they have plenty of nice courses to sell you. The best local produce here in Cumberland MD is for sale in a beat-up old storefront in the poor end of town, which does no advertising at all except for a sign out front. We learned about it from the neighbors, of course.

Leo, glad you liked it. May I ask you for a favor? Tell some people who weren't born yet when Reagan took office how mainstream environmental awareness was when you were a kid. Ask them if they know what happened.

Justin, I hope you'll be going back to that bar! As for zines, a lot depends on the availability of duplicating technology. I've been keeping my eye out for old mimeograph equipment -- printing presses right now are way too expensive for my budget, but the sort of cheap mimeo that used to be the mainstay of those science fiction and fantasy zines that had gotten beyond hektographs might be a good option.

Heather, sooner or later all of us are going to die. That comes with being biological beings. I find that awareness useful in keeping a sense of perspective when it comes to the risks we'll be running in the future.

Bacchus, do you by any chance have training and/or a degree in electronics engineering? The reason I ask is that so far, everybody I know who thinks that something like the system you've outlined would be possible after the end of the fossil fuel age doesn't have that background. The people I've talked with who do have it -- who know, for example, just what would be involved in building a computer out of individual transistors -- all tell me it's not gonna happen: that if there are computers at all, they'll be like computers in the 1950s and 1960s, huge, finicky, and very expensive to build, maintain, and operate. I'm not a computer professional myself, and thus am quite willing to be proved wrong, but I'd want to see some serious facts and figures to justify the claim that a deindustrial society can support even a massively scaled down computer network that ordinary citizens can access.

Luke, okay, let's take the comparison the rest of the way. Let's imagine that you carry a book of poetry around with you all the time, and constantly interrupt other activities and inconvenience other people so you can read poems. Let's imagine, furthermore, that you insist on communicating with other people by writing sonnets to them, and demand that they reply in sonnet form as well. Finally, let's imagine that you insist that there's no difference between reading a poem about something and actually experiencing the subject of the poem -- that, for example, you insisted that reading a poem about love was the same thing as having a relationship with an actual human being, reading a poem about a forest was the same experience as actually walking out into a forest, etc., etc.

In that wholly imaginary case, would it be reasonable of me to point out that in fact, all you're doing is staring at black ink marks on paper? You bet.

Now of course this implies that there can be situations in which looking at a screen is a useful activity, and I don't deny that at all. It's the attempt to insist that the screen doesn't matter, and more generally that all those technological filters separating people from the real world don't matter, that I'm trying to discuss here.

John Michael Greer said...

Donalfagan, good question. Chuang Tsu pointed out a very long time ago that the right kind of eccentricity makes very good protective camouflage; I'd also point out that in an age when many people will be desperately trying to maintain their access to failing technologies, not competing with them may win you friends...

Josh, you're welcome and thank you.

Professor D., and of course that's exactly how the internet will die: rising costs, declining quality of service, more and more cybercrime, etc., etc., until the information superhighway looks like a city street in the bad part of a decaying inner city and most people just stay away.

Thomas, good. If the religious revivals of the near future like stained glass, you could be set.

Harry, good. We have an old bimetallic thermostat, and you know, it works just fine.

Avalterra, by all means get playing, then! I'm starting to think that board games may be a very useful opening wedge.

John, I'm trying to see what relevance those points have to the issues I've raised in this post. Perhaps you can help me.

Pygmycory, and that's a necessary skill, no question.

Brian, I'd love to get into hand letterpresses, but these days they're absurdly expensive. As I noted in an earlier comment, I've got my eye out for cheap duplicators of the pre-photocopy era. I wonder if anybody has a used cyclostyle... ;-)

K!EF, those two data points -- the South Korean schools and the local game cafe -- are things I've been watching for, so thank you. Peak Internet, here we come!

Bill, glad to hear it. Of course there's a simpler approach to dealing with a beard, which is to let it grow. ;-)

JML, hey, you're going to get strange looks when you're on the cutting edge of the future!

John Michael Greer said...

Gary, vinyl is coming back into fashion, so now's definitely the time to get that record player!

Anselmo, precisely; it's those tectonic shifts in the collective consciousness that matter, and that I'm trying to track -- and in a very small way, to kickstart.

Peacegarden, your granddaughter has my prayers and blessings. That's got to be a harrowing experience for everyone in your family.

Pantagruel, myself, I'd favor "Send In The Clowns," but I'll settle for Kabalevsky!

Varun, good. I'll be talking about the shifts that happen as a result of the differences between onscreen experience and the real world down the road a bit.

Sven, exactly. I hadn't heard of Retroculture; clearly I need to remedy that, so thank you.

Steve, many thanks for the link. That's too funny. I may have to do a contest for squirrelly articles on the economy one of these days!

Cherokee, exactly. The cognitive dissonance builds up until those who haven't forced themselves to become conscious of it go stark staring nuts.

Josh, yes, I've encountered the so-called "eco-modernists" before. What they're saying is that in order to save the environment, we need massive economic growth, which will by definition wreck the environment. That's not just senile; that's psychotic.

Friction Shift, excellent! Many thanks for the video, too.

Otto, yes, that's typical rhetoric in Washington DC these days. The people in charge of falling empires often say such things.

Onething, a washing machine externalizes time and labor. You have to factor in the energy needed to make, ship, and operate the machine, including all the supply chains and raw materials. Does the whole system use less time and energy per load than you would by yourself? No, because all those factories, supply chains, etc. have to be included. It's just that you, yourself, don't have to pay attention to that -- for now.

John Michael Greer said...

Sven, I originally made it as a joke, but you've got to admit, as a serious hypothesis, it has real explanatory power... ;-)

Mr. B, the debt thing is a real challenge, and the fact that you were lied to -- that your whole generation was lied to -- about the payoff for going into debt for college can't be easy. I suspect, for what it's worth, that when the impending economic crisis hits, a lot of that debt is going to be erased -- but we'll see.

Mister R., true enough. I'm not sure whether systems like that attract stupid people or if such systems encourage and enforce stupid behavior; I'd be interested in seeing research into that!

Backyardfeast, hmm! Well, won't be the first time that I misread that sort of thing -- Aspergers syndrome does that. Thanks for the heads up.

N Montesano said...

When I started reading this blog, I felt so ashamed that everyone one else was collapsing now left and right, while I just carried on my comfortable American life. Then I started paying more attention to the comments about their collapse projects, and thought, hey, wait a minute. I've been baking bread, off and on, since age 7 (just took 2 beautiful loaves out of the (electric) oven), been preserving, gardening, starting my own seeds, for years, cook most of our food, refuse to own a dishwasher, generally eschew the clothes dryer in favor of the clothesline and drying rack (though spouse does not, unfortunately) ... at any rate, maybe we're more collapsed than I thought. Though there's always so much more that could be done. I am, for example, nowhere near growing most our food. Hoping that will change this year, with the little farm garden.

N Montesano said...

Someone somewhere above commented on impressing people by being able to remember phone numbers; brought this to mind. I grew up using a rotary phone, so it wasn't a strange concept, but after decades of pushing buttons instead of dialing, it was surprisingly hard to re-adjust to. Once I had, however, using it somehow restored my long-lost ability to remember phone numbers for longer than 2.3 seconds (just long enough for the phone book to fall shut...) I don't know why; presumably some difference in how the brain processes pushing buttons versus dialing? With button-pushing, it feels as though the memory is stored in my fingers rather than my brain, and sometimes they just suddenly crash and delete all data. Highly inconvenient.
Also, I'd forgotten that dialing is somehow more satisfying than pushing buttons.

John Merryman said...


That would require a very long post to even begin to sort out, which is why I referred to the essay linked;

While you are trying to educate people about the situation on how it affects them on a local level, when the reality is billions of people being caught up in this maelstrom, understanding it is more a matter of basic physics. For example the primary expression of energy is the wave and waves go up and down equally, so you can have lots of little waves, or one ginormous wave. Since the crest of a wave is mostly foam and bubbles and that is the stage we appear to be at, the downside seems imminent. Which isn't all bad. Lots of energy is being released from current structures and there are ways to effectively direct it.

As I noted, the biggest environmental issue is the industrial economy which is ravaging the planet, yet the most rapacious social problem is a predatory financial system sucking value out of that economic process. Which while it is forcing it to be even more destructive to social and environmental systems, is also being destructive to the economy on which it is based and if this were to be pointed out on to a broad audience, the powers that be wouldn't look so omnipotent.

This all might take a much longer post to really develop, but I'm off to work. Race horses. Sparks, Maryland

latefall said...

@ErosBlog Bacchus & JMG re integrated circuit electronics and their communication networks

I am on the fence with regard to this. Though probably in a different way than you two.
Of course there is a large scatter in possible outcomes depending on sequence, rate, location, and magnitude of major collapse events.
We can probably agree pretty much on salvage possibilities, with a couple of caveats perhaps. For example information deficit may be a big problem if you go beyond replacing capacitors.

Regarding communication networks I'd like to frame it in a map with coverage of various layers of communication possibilities. Neighbors, smoke signals, messengers with solid state disks, libraries, ham, glass fiber links, you name it. These get you (some) data at a certain latency (waiting time), upkeep, extra cost per "bit", persistence, and intermittency. You (and your community) can trade a fraction of your disposable wealth for these. However the disposable wealth of many communities is arguably negative at the moment. Still you can use some of it for entertainment, some for efficiency, some for both, some taxed, and some contraband. My gut feeling is that these tech suites will mesh far better than they have before and you use one thing for fast low bandwidth (e.g. ask for update on the amazon catalog with reviews via ham) and another thing for bulk data delivery (mailed ssd or books). No netflix or crazy profits on mobile texting. Libraries - absolutely, but you may have their catalogue + summaries at home. What infrastructure will be paid for today is decided by military, industry, and consumers. Their relative say and outlook will probably change over time. Stimulation by screen will probably be a pretty small factor unless it is mainly for efficient population control (both, sentiment and reproduction). It is pretty unlikely (not impossible) that you are generating wealth sitting in front of a glass screen. My pet peeve in this department is a slightly modified version of distance learning based on a ruggedized mp3-player/recorder and swappable sd disks, but that is another story...


latefall said...


Probably the most important will be local circumstances (concentrated energy per person, distance between persons, complexity of local society) as to what possibilities make sense. Imagine Norway in winter: travel sucks, outdoor work sucks, you have energy, but you don't have terribly many people because of sustainable fishing & lack of farm land. So you can try to sell the energy straight, or e.g. try to turn it into a complexity heavy commodity, among many other things: communication network infrastructure and computers. Eventually the question becomes: What is your return on investment for investing in complexity, and perhaps getting into a niche? I'd argue it is relatively high in the long run (though orders of magnitude below what is considered acceptable ROI nowadays, in other words steel-plough-high vs facebook-high).
Let's say 300-year-post-peak-Norway decides to give computers another shot. Would they be able and willing to gradually work back through 60s style computers to perhaps eventually making the smart phones we have today (perhaps with an average lifetime of more than two summers)?
I would say that the first is very unlikely, the latter is a little more likely. Integrated circuits want to be produced on a relatively large (not cottage economy) scale with a high yield, otherwise they get REALLY expensive. A good thing is that they can be made to last a long time (mostly ignored today). Another good thing is that we know how (and will probably remember it is possible in principle - very important in engineering). We don't know how to do this in a resource efficient way - and that is not good.

I liked the screen discussion last week. That was one symptom that really hit me when I came to live in the US a few years ago (left again pretty soon) - a big change from the 90s. I have a hard time keeping my eyes off animated screens - though it helped that they showed sports. In my apartment I had no flat screen tv (had a projector though), no internet, and most furniture was simple and self made. People called it yoga studio.

On the noise front I can really recommend (apart from leaving) noise blocking in-ear buds with a little button to switch on/off with a compatible small mp3 player. I used to make them from cork before you could buy them. Without appropriate masking sound they will only be half as good though. I like to record sounds from outdoor locations for that, but music or podcasts may work as well depending on your kind of work.

donalfagan said...

Related to the ideas about keeping some sort of internet going, I just ran across an article about Zero Rating internet being proposed (by guys like Zuckerberg) in third world countries for free. The catch is that users can only see the sites that pay to be on that service. In India they are calling it, "poor internet for poor people."

The internet is getting less and less free every day. A lot of the sites I used to read now want me to pay a monthly fee.

ZZ said...

Although it is not specifically relevant to this particular article, but more generally to the theme of your blog, I wanted draw your attention to an interesting development in Europe at the border of Croatia and Serbia: a new self-declared "state" was established by people who want to live outside the broken political systems of Europe:

They have submitted their declarations to the UN and the 2 neighbouring countries (who will probably ignore them at best, or arrest them if they prove to be a nuance).

Nevertheless, it is yet another sign of people having enough and wanting to take a different road...

winingwizzard said...

I have been seeing massive Toll Road and Toll Booth construction here in Texas. I am sure these non-governmental toll road companies love their eager, harried road rage filled rats running their paid mazes. However, the only reason to participate in this madness is an insane amount of commuting - in Texas we do not have commuting rail services, probably due to oil reserves aplenty.

The only way to change these things is to vote with your wallet and your feet (ok, your driving habits). The toll madness is going to spread now that .gov has okayed tolls on existing roads if the states want them. They will want them for revenue.

Personally, I do not participate in toll roads - they are amazingly corrupt if you don't pay your toll (to the tune of $175 for one unpaid $1.75 toll); they have an inordinate number of 'privileged' drivers with a propensity for rudeness; average speed is 80-90 MpH and that is unnecessary unless you are running on digital time.

There are no soft shoulders - once in the "toll system", you are corralled by concrete on all sides. In accidents there is nowhere to escape. It is like you are in the chute of a massive assembly line from a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

The noise level of these tollways is staggering, as they are all striped concrete. You roll your window down and it is easily 120 dB due to high mileage tires traveling on ultra-safe concrete. Sound barriers are installed in adjacent neighborhoods by HOAs due to this.

My thinking is just don't use these things - get up earlier, travel leisurely on the old roads listening to music or a decent audio book and don't feed the beast. Do as I did and take a job with less pay closer to home. This netted me 1.2 days per week of free time by foregoing my 2-hour daily commute - that's 5 extra days of my time returned to me per month!!

Tollways are another level of complexity, taxation and control by people without the ability to think and analyze critically. Tollways force me to calm myself every time I drive near one - then I am just sad at the wasted energy and resources, and more convinced that I am NOT the crazy one...

Ed-M said...

Well I saw the first broken iPhone the other day; the screen was nothing but a bunch of shards held in place by a protective film. I had no idea how the kid who was using it wad able to navigate the controls.

As for my partner and me, our iPhones are 2011 models; and when we bought them, we purchased add-on rubber protective sleeves. They really are more like protective shelves, really, and the iPhones can take a lot of abuse without breaking the screen, as I can attest from personal experience. Almost four years now and the screen is still intact, just a few scratched

On the guerilla tree-planting front, I've been doing that with orange seeds and infant citrus seedlings have come up from the ground. I've also rescued a discarded bougainvillea this way; and, the birds simply by eating the fruit and passing the seed have caused many a blackberry and elderberry bush to become established, except here they grow to the heights of small trees, some growing to a 30 foot height!

Tyler August said...


You're on a roll these past couple weeks. I can't help but keep repeating snippets to people. I don't think you have to guess the reaction!


Hm. Which Montreal are you in? If it is the one in Quebec, I think I would rather be in La Belle Province than anywhere in Metropolitan France. As we Anglos say, the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

Glenn in Maine said...

Regarding setting the example: I have found that a great many of my neighbors, friends, and associates are enthusiastic supporters of what we do (integral urban homesteading), but a much smaller percentage of them actually adopt similar lifestyle choices. They seem to derive enough comfort that someone they know is doing something concrete about our predicament, meaning they don’t have to, and that’s as far as it goes. The excuses usually come down to the fact that we are a single-income family while they all both “need” to work, so they don’t have the time to invest in the garden, chickens, bees, etc that we have. It may be that they are still comfortably well enough off that it doesn’t seem applicable to them, and the recent crash in the price of oil hasn’t helped, but there’s not much sense of urgency that I can detect. The kids however are a different matter, in that they get to see what constitutes normal isn’t limited to a fringe eco-hippie sort of situation. That comforts me somewhat. I suspect we need some real hardship to shift the parents though.

Leo Knight said...

I just saw this, and had to share, Japanese craftsmen who refurbish old books:

Patricia Mathews said...

The way the wind is blowing: even Hollywood sees the Retro Future in the latest in the bittersweet generation-gap comedy genre (Xer vs Millennial), "While We're Young". The reviewer notes that the Xer couple is addicted to technology, yet the Millie couple "embrace vinyl records, VHS movies and typewriters", the Xers are obsessed with material things, the Millies "claim otherwise" (the reviewer's opinion), and the younger wife makes artisanal ice cream. [The reviewer finds both couples "unbearably precious and pretentious", but the younger one more so.]

"You don't need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind is blowing"?

Renaissance Man said...

I'm so glad you are writing this and not me. Not because I haven't been saying pretty much the same things for decades, but because you say it so much better.
Two items just popped up in the CBC (or what's left of it after all the cuts -- reality is not only no longer 'friends' with Mr. Harper's government, it's no longer on speaking terms) that are apropos of your observations:
1) A serious look at the really unpleasant effects of fracking:

and the current political argument over some recent statements by the leader of the official opposition on Canada's increasing dependency on oil exports to maintain our economy:

The latter, I think, ties in very nicely with your observations in this week's post.

Nastarana said...

"the Kloe Kardeshian of politics". That is the best description I have seen yet of Mme. Terminal Incompetence. The Republicans voted for a warmongering fool because it made them feel good to do so; now it appears the Democrats are set to do the same.

I think there is quite a lot of going back to older technologies around. Certainly,, useful tools and such are getting harder and harder to come by. Even older, excellent sewing supplies are becoming scarce. Meanwhile, companies like Rogue Hoes and The Red Pig--makers of superior garden tools--are thriving.

Heather, I am going to try to express this as gently as I can. I am a woman entering old age, late 60s, fortunately in reasonably good health for now, and I think I can speak for others like me when I say I don't want to spend my remaining years being someone else's housekeeper. I spend lots of time with my grandbabies, time during which the TV is kept OFF, and I try to teach some DIY skills. But I also grow heirloom roses, spend time reading the works of history and literature I accumulated during my working years--I cannot BELIEVE what libraries choose to discard--and am taking up hand quilting. I happen to think those things are also important, or anyway, they are important to me. I cannot reasonably expect either of my girls to make room for book and plant collections, and lets not even mention fabric! Furthermore, I am not able to keep up the pace contemporary life demands of my children and I think I really should not be expected to do so. I put one child through college and am available to the offspring of the other, but I also planned carefully for retirement so that I would be able to live the way I like.

heather said...

It's not really dying that I'm afraid of, (though fire probably wouldn't be a great way to go). Reflection and meditation have shown me that what I really fear is not being able to take care of my kids. Hence my focus on coming to understand what taking care of children as they grow and mature into people who can take care of themselves (and others) really means. Your work here (and on your other blog) is deeply relevant and meaningful to me in coming to understand the context of that work. Thank you for gently pushing, always.
--Heather in CA

Tracy Glomski said...

JMG wrote: “I wonder if anybody has a used cyclostyle...”

Alas, not I, but for what it’s worth, I have at least operated an addressograph. The model that I ran utilized steel cards which each bore an individually stamped mailing address. These were pre-loaded into slotted frames. The plates swapped into place one-by-one with an action resembling that of photographic slides in a projector, and they received ink from a ribbon, and they left impressed type on the envelopes or postcards that fed through.

That was how we sent out all the member mailings during my first few years of employment at a local history museum. It was fun and sometimes frustrating, because the machine had something of a tendency to jam. I imagine it ended up at the city auction after computer addressing began. That’s what happened to a lot of the old office equipment there.

daelach said...

@ JMG / Bacchus: I do have a (master-equivalent) degree in electronic engineering. I clearly support the position of JMG here because I do know what the resource footprint even of small electronic devices looks like. It is incredible how much resources have to be poured into a small chip with just some grams mass, how complex and global the supply chains for various necessary materials and ingredients are.

To give an impression of what I mean: I remember a study from the early 1990s, and they figured out that making a standard desktop PC (which was much simpler back then!) required as much resources and energy as making a complete electronic-free CAR, like the original VW beetle from the 1950s.

It isn't a counter argument that iGadgets are smaller than a desktop PC because it isn't the housing case nor the PCB that requires the resources, it's the electronics.

One of the problems is that the real resouce demand only starts AFTER the raw materials are there, i.e. in the production process. Which means that recycling isn't a promising approach, completely unlike e.g. things made of steel.

Focusing on the energy consumption of the end-devices is irrelevant since their production and not operation is what counts. Plus of course the infrastructure like servers, mobile base stations and the like, each requiring even more electronics which are so resource-craving to produce. Again, the operation itself isn't the actual issue, though all the server centres with air conditioning need a lot of power themselves.

The main reasons for computers built of discrete transistors is that (1) those are much easier to manufacture, and that they can be tested individually after the production, sorting out the broken transistors. Maybe even slightly integrated chips will be possible. And (2), the big and complex production facilities required for modern computer chips are VERY expensive to set up, and that can only pay off if you have mass production (economies of scale). With the resource base for mass production gone, only much simpler production facilities will be viable, and those will only produce much simpler technology.

Shane Wilson said...

My guess is that future civilizations excavating California and Nevada will find it all very surreal. It does have a very dreamlike quality to it. The California dream.

ErosBlog Bacchus said...

JMG, no electrical engineering background personally, though my father the 1950s-1960s electronics hobbyist had a couple of years at Cal Tech in that field. (The wide adoption of integrated circuits took the joy out of the hobby for him because they were hard to solder by hand.) So I'm for sure not trying to make any sort of argument from expertise or special knowledge. I know some words and concepts, but I'm not qualified to make or assert any of the relevant technical judgments.

Re "...the claim that a deindustrial society can support even a massively scaled down computer network..." all I can say is that I'm not trying to make that claim, or anything very close to it. I'll freely grant you that there's a level of potential deindustrialization beyond which my hoped-for vision of a surviving communication network is impossible. If humanity is deindustrialized to the extent that you predict, the day will come when the last chip fab on earth will be struggling to remain in operation. And some years or decades after it fails, the ad hoc communications network of my imagination may truly become impossible.

I do reserve -- but am not asserting here -- some doubt about the amount of industry a post-fossil-energy world might retain. But I'm not here to argue about my own doubts, which don't even rise to the level of arguments anyway. So I tried not to let my residual doubt inform what I actually said.

No, my assertion here is that given the fractal nature of decline, that last chip fab may be somewhat deeper in our future than the general decline of globalized industrialization. And if that hopeful sentiment of mine proves correct, weird hybrid networks of weirdly-constructed devices may preserve our connectivity considerably past the expiration date of our broader industrial culture. As I've said repeatedly, it's a hope more than a prediction. If you don't think it likely, well, fair enough; I'll grant that you've spent many years thinking much harder about these things than I have, and may therefore have the right of it.

heather said...

Thanks for the thoughtful (and gentle) reply. Fair enough. I won't ask you to be my housekeeper, nor would I ask my MIL to be. I work very part time, mostly from home, because I do prioritize making a home for myself, my husband and kids- it just seems to me that maybe each nuclear family unit doesn't need its own entire house (lawnmower, dishwasher, vacuum, washing machine, etc.), and that sharing households might have some task efficiencies possible in terms of fewer lawns to mow, fewer separate meals to cook, etc. Your retirement activities sound lovely (and important to me too) and I can appreciate your desire to have space and leisure time to pursue them, after years of service to your family (and ongoing babysitting, how wonderful!). It feels like either my inlaws' home or ours (both have plenty of extra space, I will confess) could accommodate both families without crowding past the square footage that, say, I or my parents grew up in, with room for everybody's collections and tools. Certainly, having little people around might crowd the pace a bit (ahem). My MIL seems to have too much time on her hands- no real hobbies like those you listed- and unfortunately spends a lot of it buying stuff for my kids that they don't need, which then get delivered in huge loads in the 4 or 6 times a year that we do see them (2.5 hours away). Of course every family's situation is different, but it seems like there might be a better way for some of us. Plus, I truly do worry about my inlaws as they age- wouldn't think of dropping them in a "home" where I'd have no real idea how they were being treated- and feel like combining households when it is self-evidently beneficial to both families might reduce any possible worries about "being a burden" or "imposing". If Mom and Dad are already part of our daily lives, then our caring for them when they need it will be natural all the way around, not a big fraught event.
Thanks for pointing out a perspective on the situation that I hadn't thought of.
--Heather in CA

Myriad said...

I could build a computer out of individual transistors, but it would be as JMG's other correspondents said: large, delicate, slow, and power-hungry. That's pretty much what mainframe computers around the 1950s and 60s were.

However, there are many digital devices that aren't fully programmable computers that can be made with far fewer transistors. Things like shift registers and character encoders/decoders (the things you need to turn a telegraph line or radio link into a text TTY instead), line selectors (what a telephone operator does), digital clocks with multiple functions and alarms (the billion-transistor circuitry of your smart phone is really slacking off when it performs that thousand-transistor task), and music/effects synthesizers.

An old book called The TTL Cookbook (still in print!) used to be my bible for this kind of hardware, using chips that each contain (usually) four separate logic gates of a given type, One such chip can be replaced by about 25 individual transistors, so any of those designs could be replicated using individual transistors in about a five times larger box. (And yes, if you connect together enough of those sorts of various digital modules you have a CPU, but by then it's room-sized.)

That kind of task-specific digital logic design is mostly obsolete, because even for the simplest functions (e.g. a toaster) it's now cheaper to use a processor and program it to perform that function. But on the other hand, it's not very difficult, so where transistor manufacture exists there will likely be some kind of electronic inter-polity messaging system even if it doesn't resemble the Internet in capabilities or public accessibility.

The other side of the retro-computing coin is the potential in salvage of all those processors and other large-scale integrated circuits, in appliances and cars and everywhere. For instance, if you have an intact chip from a pocket calculator and a power source, the rest of the device (keyboard and display) can be made of low-tech materials, and far more durably than the originals.

The imagined "Almagest" mentioned in my After Oil 2 story is something similar: a preserved ROM module containing the text of several hundred books, accessed via simple switches and a hand-cranked mechanical binary address counter. For output, instead of the more complex process of converting the binary characters into text, the device simply strikes a different percussion sound (a bell, drum, or wood block) for each bit in the encoded character being read. Adept users learn to "read" the text directly from the combinations of sounds, at about five times the speed of telegraphy.

The combination of salvaged LSI chips and available manufactured transistors (with other basic parts) would make a lot of things possible, albeit more likely in the military, public works, academic, and business spheres than any "personal devices." In other words, retro to the 70s instead of the 60s.

George Coles said...

Your posts have become a weekly enjoyment, Mr. Greer. I suppose this is one good thing to having a computer in the Public library. I would like to share the following:

From Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and It’s Discontents:

“One would like to ask: is there, then, no positive gain in pleasure,no unequivocal increase in my feeling of happiness if I can, as often as I please, hear the voice of a child of mine who is living hundreds of miles away or if I can learn in the shortest possible time after a friend has reached his destination that he has come through the long and difficult voyage unharmed? …

…If there had been no railway to conquer distances, my Child would never have left his native town and I should need no telephone to hear his voice; if travelling across the ocean by ship had not been introduced, my friend
would not have embarked on his sea-voyage and I should not need a cable to relieve my anxiety about him.”

In short…there is always trade-off to progress.

winingwizzard said...


That is a great example of hypercomplexity vs simplicity... I would bet that it would have been a tie, provided the scyther had taken his time. EXCEPT... the cost of the scythe is lower, much fewer externalities, no fuel cost, no noise to speak of, decent cardio workout for the entire body, no stupid weedwacker string to deal with and you can scythe without wearing shoes....

Also interesting if you watch the body motions of the scythe vs the weedeater - scythe is long, smooth and flowing. Weedeater is short, stooped and choppy - guess which one your back will prefer?


Sven said...

"Looks like they have noticed the blogosphere and are starting to get worried
From zerohedge this morning
Submitted by Paul Joseph Watson via,

“Bloggers, conspiracy theorists and people who challenge establishment narratives on the Internet were all likened to ISIS terrorists during a chilling Congressional hearing which took place yesterday."

I saw that, during the Two Minutes Hate aimed at RT News. What the Congresscritters have pointedly ignored is that these Russian information warfare efforts are in response to the insane and despicable Russophobic hate propaganda being peddled by the US government and mass media. Of course the Russians are going to respond and try to get their side of the story out. Also note that Lisa Wahl’s famous on-air temper tantrum and walkout was a staged event that she announced beforehand on her Twitter account and that she was working with a neocon activist named James Kirchick who has staged other anti-Russian and anti-RT media stunts before. No surprises there!

It seems to me that the hysterical propaganda campaigns by the establishment, whether aimed at Russia, RT News and Vladimir Putin or at Americans who dare to challenge the establishment, is a sign of fear and desperation. These people know the wheels are coming off, they are terrified of the implications, they don’t know how to stop it since all the old remedies no longer seem to work and they are reverting back to their deepest and most atavistic instincts.

As John Michael has pointed out in the past, these people know that a major insurgency is almost inevitable in the near future and they are making preparations, by passing blatantly unconstitutional security laws, by stockpiling weapons and ammunition and by mounting increasingly brazen propaganda campaigns against all those would dare to disagree with, much less stand up to them. But I see that as a sign that these people know the end is near for them and the corrupt establishment they work for, not as a sign of strength and confidence. When that day comes, I will say “good riddance to bad rubbish”. I think there will be quite a few of these people serving as hanging decorations from various lamp posts and trees in the not-so-distant future.

In the meantime, I am honored to be counted in the company of people like Edward Snowden, Noam Chomsky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, even if I don’t always agree with their political views.

James M. Jensen II (badocelot/shiningwhiffle) said...


You've mentioned multiple times that, post-Internet, this blog will transition to a newsletter or magazine column.

Have you considered how you'll get the word out about the new medium to your then-former blog readers?

latefall said...

@daelach & jmg re silicon:
In case it makes anyone feel better I have creds a little upstream of electronics, though I've moved away from ICs since my masters equivalent. Still, I have worked in a clean room, with silicon, but mostly nano, not so much micro, and very little electronics or MEMS.

There was a nice (engineer) hands on description of industrial very large chip fabrication on reddit a while back (can't find it anymore). It led me to believe if you make compromises and don't customize terribly much you could cut costs significantly. I have acquaintances that worked in cleanroom tech and my take is there is very, very large potential to cut resource costs there as well - although it'd take a lot of trial and error to boil it down. Something industry does not seem to feel it has time for just now. And it is absolutely possible to run into showstoppers that cannot be simplified (e.g. diagnostic instrumentation).
I am not sure about recycling. You'll get the rare elements I guess, but not necessarily save much energy. If I remember correctly the (mostly energy) cost breakdown is currently: make 80%, use 20%. The make breaks down into 40% refining and 40% processing in fab.
If you design your product accordingly I can see ICs in use for several decades (redundant features, perhaps diffusion adjusted geometries). Eventually use energy may become dominant (especially for always on infrastructure).

Perhaps a few more words on "smartphones". In the early 00s I was convinced something very much like the iphone would hit the market and I would have to buy it. If not because I wanted it, then because I needed it to "remain competitive". I ended up skipping it and going for another brand because the contracts were ridiculous where I lived. I had become used to having PDAs (personal digital assistants, casio, palm, SL5500, n810) long before that. For me they were genuinely useful, even without phone connection. I expect this to be even more true when things slow down more. Of course they'll have to look different for different people. When I finally got my smartphone I downloaded very few apps because I already knew what I wanted. For most people I see they are primarily mobile billing machines (or ad pushers), and secondly status symbols or entertainment devices.
They have potential for so much more useful purposes as PDA. On the other hand a paper notebook and a book of stamps will cover many of these for a lot less.

latefall said...

While we have digital tech:
Perhaps something to hook green wizardry up with and give them a dose of systems thinking on grassroots level?

[...] has developed this crowdsourcing platform where citizens work with experts and each other to create, analyze, and select detailed proposals for what to do about climate change.

Another (183pp) bit that looks a little more like old-school local action can be found here:

Of course the place (close to Harvard & MIT) is not exactly representative but perhaps one can learn learn a few things from what they are doing...

Cathy McGuire said...

@Nastarana: I also planned carefully for retirement so that I would be able to live the way I like.
Having just come back from caring for a mom who thought she'd planned for an independent elderhood, and from my weekly lunches with a 91-yr old friend who's gotten moved from her house to an apt. closer to children (against her will), I just would like to say that it's quite possibly not going to be that simple. I see the challenges of sudden memory-loss and physical decline making it imperative to have someone - either stranger or family - assist with daily life; the "choices" of in-home assistants who are paid minimum wage and working several other jobs; the "assisted living" that requires an elder to give up Nature and the food they love, and many other things... and I realize that I (just reaching 60) am going to have to plan differently - maybe it wouldn't be "first choice" to help out at home in exchange for living with family, but that might actually beat out the other options - and if decline (personal and societal) continues as unexpectedly as it has been, we can't count on buying our way into independence... I'm thinking hard about how I could find a little corner of someone's life, a way to be useful but not to have to do the heavy lifting that I'd be incapable of... and get to know that someone sooner rather than later...just my opinion.

Sven said...

Speaking of vinyl and books, the town where I live used to have a local indie music and movie store that closed several years back due to economic conditions and having to compete with the likes of Amazon and Mal-Wart without having their economies of scale and ability to bully suppliers into giving them deep discounts.

About a year and half ago, the gentleman who had owned that store and one of his former employees went back into business as partners. They opened up a new store that sold not only movies and music CD’s, but books and vinyl records as well. When I stopped in the other day, I noticed they were remodeling the place. I asked one of the owners about it. She said that they have actually been selling more books and vinyl lately than DVD’s and music CD’s, so they are reducing the floor space devoted them and expanding the floor space devoted to vinyl and books. I take this sort of thing and the growing popularity of old fashioned record players and vinyl records as an encouraging sign.

PatriciaT said...

Thank you JMG for yet another thought provoking post.

One commentor to this weeks post (Grebulocities) brought up the name "Halliot". That made me curious, and the resulting search brought to a previous ADR post (Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - Fascism and the Future, Part Three: Weimar America ). The whole scenario you sketched out was pretty intriguing, with one snippet in particular that caught my eye: "Meanwhile, the economy’s getting worse in the same slow uneven way it’s been doing for years. Two of your friends lose their jobs, and the price of gasoline spikes up to $5.69 a gallon, plunges, and finds a new stable point again well above $4." That entire post was a fascinating read in light of the nauseating situation of politics as usual.

nuku said...

Friction Shift and others into scything: I’ve seen a few videos comparing petrol weed whackers to scythes, always on flat non-bumpy ground. I’d like to change over to scything, but do scythes also work well on very uneven/bumpy/ sloping ground?

OttoKretschmer said...

Television is based on a greek word which means " farsighted " ! If so , what is behind the current preoccupation with flat screens ? Personally i didnt mind the old cathode ray tube electron gun pointing at me and blasting away for hours on end , but these days , it seems Flatness is chic .... Is this a reflection or recognition of the milieu interior or inner life of most of western industrial society ?

Jo said...

Dear Archdruid, I just LOVE gold stars! Because I was that girl at school, sadly. Also distressingly argumentative.

I would like to return the favour and award you a gold star for your reply to CJ's question, which is a big one, basically, 'How do we change the communities we live in?' Your reply - that changing the world is not the point of living with LESS at all - is the pivotal realisation that has indeed changed the way I live.

For many years the thought that nothing that I could do individually would have any effect on society at large kept me from making significant change in my life. That was my excuse for not 'being the change I wished to see'. The real reason was that I was scared and uncomfortable about that change, and was convinced that all my neighbours, family and friends would think I was completely mad. But the thought that nothing I could do would change anything after all was a brilliant, seemingly rational cover-up for my conscience.

Your posts over the last few months, and comments directed to me and others, challenging us as to what WE are doing personally, right now to turn our lives in the direction of LESS, have been the catalyst for recent changes in the way I am living.

That and a re-reading of To Kill A Mockingbird. Atticus Finch didn't set out to change the world - and he didn't change it. He just did what he knew was right, did the only the thing he could do so that he could continue to look his children in the eyes.

But he opened a space for conversation about a forbidden subject in a town where once there had been a wall of silence. And every time we do something contrary to societal expectations, each of us does the same thing. We may be considered strange, wrong or contrary but we open the possibility that there is an alternative to the status quo.

So really, individual change is a paradox. No, having a vegie garden in the front yard is not going to make a difference in the sense that all the neighbours are going to follow suit. Some of them will think you are mad, and others will ring the council and complain.

But at the same time, growing food in the front yard opens up the possibility of growing food in a front yard. Or growing food at all. The neighbours may discover the amazing truth of a home grown apple, the neighbour kids might learn that a pea grows on a vine, not in the frozen food section at the supermarket. And that causes a tiny tear in their perceptions of 'normal'. And when individuals (whose individual efforts won't change anything, remember) all over the city, start to plant apple trees instead of silver birches, then the neighbours are going to start to see a 'new normal' for growing food.

But someone has to plant the first apple tree. Just like someone had to buy the first iPhone. And every day we have the choice to plant the apple tree or buy the iPhone. And each tiny choice will pile onto each other tiny choice and send society in one direction, or another.

And thanks to the individual choices of many people in my community and others on-line, and here at ADR, who all choose to plant the apple tree on a regular basis, I also have a 'new normal', which is to plant the apple tree more often than buying the iPhone..

John Roth said...

Daelach, latefall, etc

Re computers. I think a little real world experience might help this discussion. I'm in my early 70s and retired. The first system I worked on, fresh out of college, was an 8K (that's 8 thousand, not million, 6-bit characters) IBM 1401, built out of discrete components. I'm 6 feet tall, and I couldn't see over the top. It could move a five character field from one place to another in 207 microseconds, or somewhat less than 5000 of those moves per second.

That was state-of-the-art in 1960 for something a medium-sized company (a few hundred workers) could afford.

There is not only no way an individual could afford something like that, there is nothing useful an individual could do with it.

Sure, it was far cheaper to manufacture the discrete components, but it still required mass production to get all those resistors, capacitors and so on and so forth, which in turn required a thriving trade in radios, televisions and similar devices to consume the electronics.

Tye said...

JMG, with all due respect, and there is alot, Luke has a profound point. Black marks on paper can be garbage or. perhaps. enticements to enlightenment. Colored images on a screen can be pointless distraction or a rendition of Shakespeare. What about your blog? Marks on a screen?
May be a small point, since I feel you are simply illuminating the meaningless character of contemporary, corporate-sanctioned 'entertainment' and encouraging our energy toward more satisfying (and survivalist) human interaction. But still, there is such a thing as Art.

Caryn said...

JGM: Thanks again for another thought provoking, encouraging essay. I'm late to the party this week as we've made another step down in LESS, and my family are all a bit busier, doing more around the home - surprisingly really enjoying it - even the teens!

Hi Five to fellow Guerrilla planters! Haha! I thought I was the only crazzzazy out in the park at night, doing that! I just couldn't bear to see my patio trees die after they'd outgrown their pots.

To Heather - just wanted to interject; the intergenerational family under one roof that you describe is a long held and still VERY strongly adhered to practice here in China, rich or poor. From what I see, in most cases it works very well.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Applause for Myriad's comments about 1970s digital electronics. I studied basic electronic theory in the early 1970s. The textbook had diagrams for counters assembled from flip-flop circuits made of discrete components. The devices I worked on in the mid seventies consisted mainly of discrete components with a few simple integrated circuits of the kind Myriad describes, soldered into printed circuit boards with some hand wiring.

Those circuits were for measuring instruments and industrial control. Useful in the future or not? I dunno. I developed an appreciation for the way the boards looked, with various diode and capacitor designs, colorful striped resistors in several sizes and transistors standing up like tiny water towers. Wire wrapping, something I never learned how to do, also has esthetic qualities, as does tying down bundles of wires with bicolor cotton cord in continuous larks-head knots instead of with plastic cable ties.

Nixie tube numerical readouts are the neatest devices ever. Seven segment liquid crystal numerical readouts are nowhere near as cool. Nixie tubes look like they belong in a mad scientist's lab. I wonder whether a future generation will appreciate the remnants of mid twentieth century electronics technology the way we admire late Victorian steam locomotives.

Morgenfrue said...

Heather, Nastarana, Cathy M, etc
I have to say I was surprised at the idea that living with one's children and/or grandchildren is equivalent to being their housekeeper. Heather's response was very gracious, I think.

I have two perspectives on this, both informed by the other. I live abroad so I am across the world from my own family in California, so my sisters will have to look after our parents. But we have my MIL here. She is active and fit and just approaching retirement. She's financially responsible and very independent. We've never discussed it but I expect at some point that we will be living together. Where I live we have universal health care and that includes district nursing and care homes. The at home care is one thing, the care homes are something else.

My other perspective is that I am a district nurse. My workday consists of biking around part of the city and providing nursing care at home. There's a wide range of users of our services. Some are active and have a fine network, and just need some wound care or someone to dispense all their medications. But in my experience most people have a period at the end of their lives where they are dependent on other people for some, if not all, of their most basic needs. How this plays out in reality depends on their personal history, their family and friends, and how much they and the system can cooperate. Some homes are disgusting, with a shut in resident who is completely isolated and will barely let us in the door. Others are neat and tidy, and function fine inspite of some level of incapacity.

This personal collapse from an active elderhood can come gradually, with a loss of strength and mobility, through disease, or just aging, or a loss of memory. Or it can happen fast - I have been present in a professional capacity when we use a locksmith to break in when someone doesn't answer the door or telephone.

I don't know what the system will look like in 5 or 10 years when my MIL may be needing help. But my long term plans include the possibility that she will be living with us - or we with her - for mutual benefit, and certainly not for free housekeeping and babysitting. An independent elderhood is one thing, but it is difficult to guarantee that you will transition straight from independence to death. I would encourage anyone of a certain age (and everyone really) to give some thought to what arrangements you can make for a period of time when your needs may be great and your contributions little. Especially if the system is no longer in a position to catch you as you fall.

HalFiore said...

If this were social media (or something), I'd very much "like" Jo's remarks...

margfh said...

Planning for retirement is anything but a sure thing. As someone with a (very modest) teacher's pension from Illinois I'm sure not counting on it.

Liking your in-laws and living with them are two different things as I found out. My in-laws moved in with us 3 years ago though they were quite elderly so not really able to contribute much other than financially (which is very appreciated). I really liked them and thought it would be fun to have them living with us. We have lots of room so that shouldn't have been an issue. Unfortunately I found out that I didn't like them nearly as well when they were living with us (and my husband has issues as well). My father-in-law was only with us for 4 months so now it's just my mother-in-law. They both took over the kitchen for hours everyday just eating, reading the paper and basically just all over as they did when they lived in their own home. My mother-in-law was quite distressed that I couldn't spend time just drinking coffee and chatting with her. We've kind of adjusted but she's had to give up a lot too. I've been taking notes so I remember what it's been like when or if the time comes that I have to move in with one of my kids.

I do kind of think we are all entitled in a way though and have a hard time sharing even a lot of space and adjusting and compromising with those that we end up living with. I see that in my mother-in-law and myself.

I think these kind of living arrangements will be in many peoples' future. Our family should have had more of a conversation beforehand.

Nastarana said...

Cathy McGuire, I think a lot depends on temperament. I, as a natural born hermit, am perfectly willing to trade a shortened lifespan for (relative) independence while I do yet live. Furthermore, this next is going to be difficult for some to comprehend, but, as an physically unattractive female in a society which places great emphasis on pulchritude, and given American male hatred of plain women, I have always taken it for granted I would eventually die by violence.

Heather, may I respectfully ask, what on earth are you doing with expensive, energy guzzlers like dishwashers--that is what kids are for--and vacuum cleaners? OK, maybe a shop vac to clean up the bad spills, but obstreperous kids can be handed a broom. As for lawns, have you considered a planting of useful herbs, likely not illegal or frowned upon, and you don't have to tell the neighbors the herbs can cure your colds? I profoundly respect your decision to make a home for your family, and honor you for it, but your MIL is a grown-up and will make her own decisions. I think you do have a right of refusal of what toys you allow into your home. Maybe you could gently ask for books or sturdy science equipment or art supplies.

I hope green wizards will not repeat the mistakes of former social movements and adopt a hectoring, holier-than-thou tone towards their families and neighbors.

sean carter said...


I count myself as one of those people who has crashed now to avoid the rush - and could not be happier.

Back during the crash of 2008ish I had an awakening of sorts after looking around at the lunacy surrounding me here in Calgary Alberta. Oil and gas capitol of Canada, home to lone individuals driving around in the biggest pickup trucks you've ever seen, and suburban sprawl that matches anything in the US. So much waste happening all around me and in a way, I was part of it.

That economic crash led me to decide that more chaos was most certainly coming so after a couple years of planning I quit my job and opening a bike shop that focuses only on selling cargobikes and city bikes.

Its been 5 years now and we've blown through all of our best projections. In my mind, the only reason that has happened is we've tapped into a vein of people who want a simpler life - who want L.E.S.S. Our customers tell us all the time that they've "decided to sell one of our cars" or "we sold both our cars!" or "sold my big house in the 'burbs and want to live closer to where we work and play".

In my mind cargobikes are appropriate tech for inner city families. Cheap, can haul the kids anywhere, carry 400lbs of whatever, and like you said - is fun!

Retroliving is the new black.

Thanks JMG for your incredible insight and maybe one day you'll come see us retrogeeks in Calgary.


August Johnson said...

@John Roth et al - ABout the IBM 1401, almost certainly that system would have been leased, not bought. Purchasing that system would require several million of today's dollars. Leasing the system was all most companies could afford. Take a look at this info about the 1401 system:

IBM 1401 Data Processing System

Notice also the power requirements, not only in the power drawn by the system (3 - 12 KW) but the additional air conditioning required (additional 3-11 KW).

The other Tom said...

Hi JMG, et al:
Once again, I need to express my gratitude for this blog and to all the commentators. Since I discovered this blog last summer it has become a Wednesday night fixture in my life. Now I cannot imagine my life without it. This is a wonderful community that helps me to keep more honest with myself in my effort to live a real life.

@winingwizzard, your description of the commuter nightmare reminded me of how important the "intangibles" are in a society that runs on numbers.
I have often marveled at how people in modern society can become so seemingly oblivious to their own senses, and sense of wellbeing. There are so many of us who cannot see the aesthetics of their own lives, or lack of it. They live in an endless chasm of concrete, noise, and superfluous stimulation, and then wonder why they are crazy.
Several years ago I was between jobs and had a choice between a job 20 miles away on the highway and another job only three miles away. The more distant job was far more lucrative and would last longer, but I chose the closer job renovating a house because most days I could walk there through the woods. I could leave my tools in the house and enjoy my "commute" through hemlock ravines in a river valley, on a trail that came within 100 yards of both my home and the one I was working on. I would get up in the morning feeling exhilarated to go to work! It was spring, the woods alive with birdsong. I would check on the beavers and the painted turtles, in the soft green light that filtered through the trees, with only the sounds of water and birds.
An advantage of LESS is that it is possible to make this choice. I don't care how much the other jobs pay; when life can be this good, I'll take it any day.

Roger said...

JMG, you talk about our serenely clueless elites.

The way I see it, "intelligence" is a many faceted thing. At work I've dealt with lawyers with reputations as top notch intellects not only by virtue of their negotiating skill but also a seemingly bottomless memory and ability to comprehend and retain convoluted, endlessly run-on verbiage that you find in law books that would utterly baffle a lesser being.

I've seen university under-grads with astonishing depths of mathematical insight that even impressed hard-to-impress professors. They sure impressed me at least.

But, the thing is, I've seen brilliant lawyers that can't bloody add. And mathematically talented people that cannot write coherent three word sentences. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating but not by much.

My own take is that, notwithstanding certain limitations (like the inability of some mathematicians to spell), the intellectual A-Team goes into mathematics and the hard sciences. And maybe law (I'm not in any of the foregoing).

But what does it take to be one of the "elites" you mention? Does it take some kind of outsized and exaggerated mental capability? Having seen some of them up-close, I don't think it's an Einstein-ian power to visualize or anything approximating it. I think it's more along the lines of personality traits, among them energy, ruthlessness, focus, ambition.

However, to me, what it takes to be a truly effective national or societal leader is a different type of intelligence, that is, a generalist of sorts not typical of the Intellectual A-Team League. Not someone that we would typically think of as "genius".

Not someone that would make a good lawyer or mathematician or physicist but one rather more exceptional, one that can take patterns of sparse and fragmentary and maybe inaccurate information and knit it all into pictures that approximate reality. It requires a type of insight and judgment that neither people in the hard sciences nor mathematics typically possess. Nor law. At least, not that I've seen.

Nor, for that matter, do you see that type in the business world although you do sometimes see something like it. In business you typically have to make good decisions on the fly with woefully incomplete facts.

The problem is taking what you do in a business, with its own set of incentives and priorities and modifying and magnifying the decision making process to a setting that's national or international in scope, that is, orders of magnitude greater in size and complexity than an individual corporation. That takes a rare talent. Not often found.

Do I see that kind of ability in today's elites? Nope. Too bad really. Today's world, inter-connected as it is, needs such a type. People that can take bits and pieces, shake them into a working model of the world, take a deep breath and make a good decision.

What you see instead in today's elites are pretenders. Maybe good for making money, maybe people possessed of rare ambition or vision of a sort, but very limited and specific.

What are the results? The invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, insane, impractical economic policies based on models of human behavior that have only a glancing connection to the real world.

And also, what you get, as you say, is serene clueless-ness. Or, if not utterly clueless, serenely self interested and self serving.

As you might say, the day we realize that our own survival depends on our up-ending or ignoring our elite is the day the world changes.

Ed-M said...

Hello again, JMG.

I finally saw your response to my last comment of last week. Very thoughtful! :^)

I've now been noticing how people drive after work lets out. People seem to be very angry and are in a great hurry to get onto the Expressway and get home, and know they will get there verrrrry slowwwwly. If you're at a traffic-lighted corner where you're on the downstream side of both streets, expect to go the long way around the intersection instead off attempting to cross alongside of two streams of cars that are turning left.

John Roth said...

August Johnson,

Most companies couldn't afford one, which is why I specified a mid-sized company with several hundred employees. A company a tier down would have used a service bureau if they had needs that could actually be helped by computerization. It really didn't matter whether they leased or bought, if you had one you needed the floor space, operators, places to store tapes, climate controlled room with raised floor, etc. All that was a major part of the price. We seriously considered integrating the IBM 705II, with its racks of vacuum tubes, into the building's heating.

As a couple of other commenters have pointed out, there are a lot of things you can do with discrete components that are far more useful than building a computer. And the technology to build discrete components and small scale integration (which another poster mentioned) is 1950s, 1960s technology. It wouldn't be hard to retain if there was a will.

Michael McG said...

Nuku: RE scything and uneven bumpy/sloping ground? Its been a long time but I will share a few things about Scythes from personal experience when I cleared Rail Road right of ways in the 1980s using them.
1.Unlike power weed whackers and brush cutters, scythes don’t do any work at all, it is the people behind them that do the work. :>).
2.If there is any woody material (with a diameter larger than ½ inch and or dry and hard) interspersed with the smaller vegetation you want to clear it first use a Brush Hook to take it down first, keep the hook sharp with a file, swing low and slow.
3.Don’t expect to get a super finished look, go slow with the Scythe to start, make sure the blade is sharp and the handles are well attached with good bolts. Often on older Scythes which have not been used lately, the handle bolts will be so rusted they are close to failure so replace them as needed. Use gloves even if you have tough hands.
4.Even if you’re in great shape take it easy to start with as you need to use your whole body to make the thing work and lots of your body parts may not be used to working together in the integrated manner which will evolve as you practice this.
5. Keep the blade sharp with a file.
6.Make sure your footing is good. Feet planted a little beyond shoulder width, wider if on an embankment.
7.Once again, go low and slow, form is more important than speed to start.
8.Have some fun while you’re doing it.
9.Yes you can do this on bumpy uneven ground even if it is strewn with boulders.

Dan the Farmer said...

I heard a story of a student in the late 70's or early 80's who lived in a dorm. The room was a bit cool, and space heaters were not allowed. The student bought a ~10 year old computer, which was about the size of a fridge, and plugged it in. Computers were allowed. It didn't do much, but the dorm room was toasty.

latefall said...

re 50s-70s computers
@John Roth: I think we agree, though my focus was not so much on the individual in this case anyway. I can imagine something like that to have a place in a heavy artillery battery. Perhaps weather forecasts or data conversion (archives). Not much else comes to mind at the moment.

@Myriad: I must have missed your After Oil story. Will need to remedy that. Sounds good - just one quibble: displays may be an issue. I think some type of e-paper would make sense if it can be produced, but that is unlikely at late salvage stage I assume. Retro displays need relatively much energy. It may indeed be cheaper to train someone to listen to clicks and clonks where possible.

re scything
@nuku: My beginners impression is that (gently) sloping or slanted ground is not really an issue. Uneven ground and overgrown rocks are problematic.

re cargo bikes
@Sean: Hooray for cargo bikes! If stuff didn't get stolen so much here (or I had the money not to care) I'd probably have one. It would be cool to have one for each condo and perhaps pool some of the shopping.

re MIL et al
That is a very interesting conversation - does anyone happen to know of research or literature in that area? I found some things from Mary Catherine Bateson that make me consider buying "Composing a further life: The age of active wisdom". It is still a few years out for me (the last great-great recently died after having lived too long (his opinion), the majority of the greats is dead, and the living need care, so it is probably a good time to sit down with parents to start talking). Perhaps I can get the annotated version of the book handed down to me then ;).
The other part of it is death. Does someone have good "primers" on that? I came across Sidney Wanzer, but perhaps someone can recommend something from other cultures as well? Or something that is a little more from the LESS perspective?

@Nastarana: May I be so blunt as to ask if you have made preparations due to your expectation?
Also, do you know of evidence that physically unattractive females have a higher likelihood of death by violence?
To be honest I had toyed with the idea of being prepared to help with "downgrading the looks" of female family members, perhaps combined with optional use of H2S (hopefully in extremely minute quantities) in certain crisis situations.

Ahem, the beets are coming along nicely on the window sill, to end on a cheery note.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Late to the party. Just came in from a morning leading a workday with college students, teaching some ecosystem knowledge and woods management in a local woodland. Later did a little foraging and brought home some garlic mustard to eat. Low, low tech.

Re elders & where they should live. My millennial daughter recently moved in with my 80-yr. old mother who lives in a large condo. They both like the situation and for some reason it's easier for everyone than if either moved in with me and my husband. I know of several other young adults in the same living situation. My siblings and I go over there frequently and provide backstop so there's no overburdening.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Cathy,

There is much in what you say.

During the past year, I have had the acquaintance of a couple of people that work in the aged care industry. Now I described it that way because it is an industry and the individual businesses are owned and run in order to produce a profit (whether they acknowledge that or not. Not for profits describe profits as surpluses - whatever!). Therefore staff levels are kept at the bare minimum to meet legal standards. Families often have expectations of care that can far exceed the ability of those businesses ability to implement and often those families lack the funds to meet their expectations.

There are of course alternatives, and it is worthwhile noting that the arrangements in place today are not the arrangements in place even half a century ago. As JMG noted above in the comments, the family unit has been broken up in order for the market economy to get a wedge in on that action.

The stories those people told me about the system were neither pretty, nor were they nice - and they often remarked that things were now much better for the patients than in the good old days. They do a tough job, there are no doubts about that.

From personal observations of friends and acquaintances, I have to suggest that a lot of the elderly are medicated for potentially fatal conditions such as pneumonia only to then have them linger for many months and years. As an observation, we hold on too tightly - and I can say this from experience as having in the past been forced to make a decision about another person’s life.

As a further observation, a great number of the baby boomers whom I know are suffering ethically and emotionally with the decisions that you yourself raise. It is not just the baby boomers either as a Gen X friend recounted to me that when their remaining parent died, they were forced to consider the very real situation that they were next in line and this is an unpleasant and difficult realisation for a person.

I dread speaking of such matters because in the past some have said to me in bitterness, well you've had years to get used to your situation. In turn I have replied, yes and you have had many more years with your parents than I. No one comes out of that discussion well.

All the best and please understand there is no perfect situation, there are only decisions - whether they are made or avoided.



Friction Shift said...

@nuku, I have found scything over rocky ground to be challenging, but my technique is still developing. Scything on a slope is not too difficult if the terrain is fairly even. When the ground gets too uneven, it may be time to break out the sickle. There are different lengths and styles of scythe blades, too. A shorter blade is better for rougher terrain. Also, there are scythe blades designed for cutting brush rather than grass.

Myriad said...

Regarding the current surge of interest in excessive connectivity, I think it's very likely that it will dissipate considerably in the future, even if it remains at its current pricing and availability, and even without any principled social movement against it. It's a fad, and that's what happens with fads. Especially when a capability that used to be expensive becomes very cheap, and everyone piles on and over-uses it for a while. It reminds me of the early days of "desktop publishing" when every printed document you saw had twelve different typefaces and liberal use of the "bold outlined shadowed underlined text" option.

A lot of those TV screens discussed last week are there for the same reason. They got cheap. A flat screen costs less (at least in initial outlay) than a typical framed piece of modest quality original artwork of the same size. And yet, for the moment, they still retain a trace of the cachet they had when they were expensive enough to give distinction to the boardrooms of Enron. That won't last another two years, after which those gratuitous screens will seem about as stylish as out-of-season Christmas lights.

How many current fitness-tracking-wristband users, two years from now, will still be interested in looking up how many steps they walked that day, let alone sharing that information with the world? Probably about as many as will still be on whichever brand-named diet they're currently on.

Resisting such marginal fads is the purview of the older-and-wiser. The greater imperative, for anticipating decline or collapse and preserving retro methods, lies in resisting (that is, practicing alternatives to) technologies that are actually useful. GPS navigation devices, for instance, can seem like a wish come true; who hasn't gotten lost or been forced off a familiar route and wished for an omniscient at-hand giver of accurate directions? But I've never owned one. So this morning, during a twelve-mile walk through an unfamiliar trail network in a state forest, which I was navigating using the sun and an analog watch, the one time I crossed a paved road, a driver pulled over and asked for directions because their GPS navigation device had led them there for some unknown reason. (Due to being unfamiliar with the area, I wasn't able to direct them to their destination, but I was able to tell them what road they were on, which direction they were going, and where up ahead they could get further assistance.)

Similarly, my wife and I resisted using cell phones. When we're apart we coordinate by sharing a plan in advance, having long-established backup plans (e.g. how long either of us will wait if the other is delayed and doesn't show up as expected), and trusting in one another to make choices that make sense when confronted with the unexpected. We don't need to know each other's exact status at every moment of the day, and we rather pity those who do seem to need that, via a constant stream of text messages and calls. "He/she will be so worried/confused/angry if I'm ten minutes late and I don't notify him/her of that in advance!" Wow, and you married them anyway?

We do now have cell phones while traveling, "for emergencies." This is at the insistence of older and younger relatives, who otherwise (they have assured us) would suffer unbearable anxiety at not knowing for certain we're not dead in a ditch somewhere, for up to hours at a time!

So those appear to be some of the costs of some of the most useful features of connectivity. Losing the ability to negotiate the world without the prosthetic device, and correspondingly, losing the ability to trust one another's ability to negotiate the world even with it.

latheChuck said...

This discussion of extended-family housing is very timely: we'll be settling my 86-year old father-in-law into our house tomorrow! He'll use the bedroom vacated by our 27-year old son, next to the one occupied by our 17-year old son. Why now? He's recovering (nicely!) from a series of strokes, but can no longer live alone (MIL died about 10 years ago).

We're hoping that this sets an example for our boys as to how we wish to be treated when our time comes to be cared for. ("Be the change you wish to see.")

It's a busy weekend: volunteering with the neighborhood swim club fund raiser("building community?" check), presiding over a church board meeting ("building community?" another check), tending the garden ("increasing self-reliance?" check), tending the church garden ("demonstrating self-reliance", check), mowing the lawn with the mechanical push-mower ("post-petroleum solutions?" check), laundry on the clothesline ("PPS?" another check), moving in the FIL ( ), and I have four ham radio events scheduled for next week!

BTW: Our 5 kW-rated solar panels have produced 1.3 MWh since Christmas (2014).

Myriad said...

(I normally don't make this many different comments, but there's a lot to chew on this week, and I had a lot of time walking and thinking this morning.)

So... regarding washing machines. I can certainly see the possibility that once all the relevant costs were weighed, washing machines only externalize time and labor, without actually saving any. But without actually doing the analysis, can we say that's necessarily the case? In other words, is that always necessarily the case for all technology? Or for all powered technology? Printing presses? Looms? Saw mills?

We could internalize all of the world's labor into vast scriptoria and still not produce all the books that have actually been printed, so there must be labor savings somewhere.

Maybe just not in washing machines in particular, then.

Jeremy Meadows said...

Dear JMG et al,

On an interesting and (tangentially) related note while contemplating L.E.S.S. I was lead into the idea of fasting,
specifically intermittent day fasting.

It relates rather well, in that to fast successfully, you need to better at occupying your own time constructively, giving up the addiction to the stimulation that food is so often used for (with greater will-power as a benefit).

I've looked at and am now doing the 5:2 fasting scheme. I found it has made me appreciate the food I do eat hugely more and consider it's origins and nutritional value a lot more.

While the (modern) science surrounding the health benefits of intermittent fasting is still developing it would be fair to say that it offers many proven, and some potential health benefits that are currently untreatable or highly medicated for.

It is quite literally a low energy method of preventative and sometimes corrective health care, and directly enables each individual to enjoy and appreciate less 'stuff' being necessary in their lives.

Enough rambling from me now, I just discovered the other blog which is helping me through the long hours between each post from you here!

Shane Wilson said...

Regarding retirement, a financial crisis could rapidly reorder the economic system in favor of the young and able bodied, and I'm not sure if people have truly internalized what that means. A default or other governmental financial hiccup could jeopardize the ability to pay Medicare and Social Security. JMG has repeatedly discussed the ponzi nature of investments and their instability in a contracting economy. Retirement is part of the rentier class and subject to that volatility, and those investments are as subject to the market as any. I'd be interested in JMG'S take, but a financial crisis of the one we might be facing potentially could reorder the economy in favor of the young and able bodied by eliminating the government programs and investments that retirees depend. I'm not really looking at whether Social Security, pensions, or 401k's are earned or deserved or anything of that nature, because I'm not sure it will be relevant in the government or institution's ability to pay. I've talked to people who talk as if the status quo will continue, but I'm not so sure that a young, able bodied person won't be an important economic asset if we are facing a full on Depression or worse. If I were a retiree, I'd only consider my hard assets (property, possessions) as something I really have and can count on. Pensions and 401k's are probably in the worthless paper category JMG has discussed. Not far behind are government programs. Greece is probably a good idea of what we'll be facing shortly.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi James M. Jensen II (badocelot/shiningwhiffle),

Did not John F Kennedy say: "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country".

Has it ever occurred to you to send your postal address to JMG and test whether that is a functional messaging service? Don't they teach you nuffin in skool theze dayzs? hehe! Sorry mate, but it does seem like a sort of obvious thing to do. Naughty ocelot! hehe!



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Deborah,

How cool are nixie tubes? Thanks for the memories of a more elegant time.



peacegarden said...

@ Heather
Your idea of combining households while elders are still in reasonable health is a good one…it is also a hard sell given the societal values of “independence”, the “happy nuclear family”, and “retirement: when I finally get to do what I want!”. The household economy has been torn asunder; we have all these wonderful appliances and time savers, each house a full set, and so little time (it seems). The atomization of our culture has swept away any semblance of extended family (that’s for poor folks, you know) and any given Friday evening or Saturday morning, mowers operated by individual house owners or their employees can be heard manicuring totally useless lawns, all to mimic the landed gentry. It makes me laugh, but feel teary-eyed at the same time!

Notice I say house owners, not home owners; the two have vastly different meanings to me. Home is so much more than house, but you already know that!

We are older and retired. One adult child is temporarily living with us right now, but she has plans to move out at the end of summer. We are not “there yet” with any of the children (10 between us, second marriage) where there is a desire for combining households. What we are able to do is to invest in good tools and declare them “family” possessions; so far we have a “family” mower, extension ladder, smaller ladders, wood splitter and chainsaw, and assorted hand tools as well as some power tools. And I can’t forget the poultry plucker my husband built for chicken and duck harvesting. We live near enough to be able to share these freely. It helps that we bought a tow-behind trailer, and are able to get things back and forth.

You live far enough away that our approach might not be practical…but are there something or many things that your elders can bring to the table when visiting... special talents or skills? I’m thinking something like, “Instead of buying so many things for the children, could you make memories with them sharing something you enjoy?” Perhaps baking, sewing, knitting, gardening or building infrastructure outdoors, or just lying on a blanket out under the stars sharing the awe and wonder of it all…you know what I’m getting at, but only you and your husband know them well enough to figure out how to approach this idea…it may be too much, but it could be amazing! Of course, this can also be reciprocal..."What can we do while visiting you?"

I am afraid we will have to wait for the moments when there can be openness to living together…loss of a job, poor health and/or mobility, some tragedy that makes it seem acceptable. We have just been trained to reject the whole idea, as good an idea as it may be.



Phil Harris said...

JMG & All
There has been discussion of both Permaculture in arid areas, and what the suburban gardener anywhere might do to contribute to more a self-sustaining life. Tucson, Arizona does not appear to have an enticing prospect on either count, but… when I wrote a 2-part post for The Oil Drum back in 2008 I quoted and linked to a Tucson suburban plot that I saw as beautiful. I just checked and these guys are still going. And the city seems to be catching on. It’s a whole new microclimate! Prolonged drought might drive them out in the end, but I see seeds for a better civilisation. (See also the old guy in Mexico that Brad visited.)
JMG wrote to CJ: “... it's as things tighten up, and your choices continue to work while others don't, that you can expect more interest.”
Very best

Phil Harris said...

JMG & future digital
‘Thank you’ to all the experienced people giving us relevant info here on ADR: I am impressed by the vast scale and embedded energy and astonishing supply chains involved in the current ‘low cost’ electronic stuff.

The following could never be internet and smart phones, drones etc… but It is just possible that in the next 100 years while electronic Hi Tec fades because industry is being scaled back, that DNA encoding might fill some of the role. At the moment this is just more ‘vapour ware’ and a sustainable technology is not in sight, but who knows if it gets cheap enough soon enough, simpler versions could be carried through the bottleneck?

PS I used cDNA technology back in the days when it was more like a cottage industry, but could not remotely contribute anything now to long term data storage as in the Wiki article.

Nils Peterson said...

One for the record books and a note that past technologies might have real value in the future

Morgenfrue said...


Can you try to be more specific about the death primer? I looked up Wanzer - do you mean a primer for assisted suicide?

If it is about preparing for death, either your own or a family member's, books about hospice might help.

If you mean the nitty gritty of preparing a corpse for burial, you can try to find an old nursing textbook - it is basically the same as a bed bath.

MawKernewek said...

The best local produce here in Cumberland MD is for sale in a beat-up old storefront in the poor end of town

I have noticed that an organisation that promotes what is termed as 'graduate employment' around here, more than anything else, advertises jobs in something that boils down to marketing. However for most of these I fail to see how you really need a degree in anything particular or really anything at all, to update the company social media profiles. There is something to be said for the idea that if you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door.

Of course on this side of the Atlantic in the UK our living rooms are smaller so a large old school cathode ray tube wouldn't fit in the room. In fact I believe the UK housing stock has smaller sq. m per person than anywhere else in the EU. I have a link here which is somewhat flawed because it looks only at homes being built now, and calculates space per person assuming that these homes are being built for the average household which they probably aren't which compares the amount of floor space in different countries.

Yucca Glauca said...

As a 21 year old who grew up on the internet, I'm always a bit surprised when people who otherwise seem to get resource depletion get really into trying to save computer technology. Why? What exactly do computers do better than the alternative? Now look at the big list you came up with, and cross off all the ones that are either pointless or impractical in a world without fossil fuels to throw around. What's left?

A major component of my college education has been learning to use Geographic Information Systems. Any city planner or warlord at any time in history would have killed for the sort of things you can do with a GIS, but without satellites providing us with up-to-date imagery, most of that utility vanishes. There are still measurements you can take on the ground, but without fossils fuel transportation to get your researchers all over the landscape, the process of data collection takes so much longer than the process of analyzing the data by hand that trying to speed up the latter process is pointless. You can throw out the whole infrastructure needed for any vestige of computer technology to remain and replace it with a single skilled cartographer.

The same can be said for most other exclusive uses for computers--we need computers to manage massive amounts of data, but we only have massive amounts of data because we have computers and fossil fuels.

Instant communication over distances is probably the one use that's really worth it, but as JMG has pointed out multiple times, that can be accomplished by much simpler radio technology.

Then there's internet culture. Let's just say that I'm not the only member of my generation to look back with disgust when we think about what we were exposed to as pre-teens with computers in our bedrooms.

I predict that the last internet meme will be uttered when my generation's children ask us what the internet was like and we reply, "Nothing of value was lost."

Cathy McGuire said...

@James M. Jenson II: You've mentioned multiple times that, post-Internet, this blog will transition to a newsletter or magazine column. Have you considered how you'll get the word out about the new medium to your then-former blog readers?

About a month ago, I mentioned that I would put together a green wizards mailing list - you can choose whether to be "public" or "private" (only going to JMG). I'm just about to put together the public list - each person who opted to be "public" will get a copy of the list, so we can contact each other. Of course everyone has made a solemn green wizard vow that the list will not be used for sales or shared w/o permission. Anyway, if you're quick and want to be on the list, email me at c athy (at) cat hy mcg uir m (take out the spaces, use the at sign). Be sure to indicate public or private list.

Cherokee Organics said...


You're going to like this article for sure: How Australian scientists are bending the rules to get research funding

In an environment of stable or declining resources, then someone's gain becomes someone elses loss. One of the biggest belly laughs I get is when I read grandiose claims about a steady state economy. Our culture is such that people try and game other people for advantage - it is a bit black magic really. Anyway, it is not a good look.

And whilst we're at it, a couple of weeks (or months - not sure) back I mentioned that the very excellent science communicator Dr Karl Kruszelnicki has decided - after a public backlash - to donate all his earnings from spruiking the governments Intergenerational report. Who would have thought that the government would either appear lie or misrepresent information whilst at the same time relying on the prestige of science to give that report a level of respectability? Gobsmacking!

Oh yeah, here's the link: 'Deep regret': Dr Karl Kruszelnicki to hand over Intergenerational Report pay



Myriad said...

@latefall: You might not have missed anything. The story is "A Mile a Minute," and the Almagest is only mentioned in passing. What it is and how it works isn't described at all; we learn only that it's a generally known source of old tech info that exists in that setting, and that accessing it requires learning a "peculiar drums-and-bells language." It's one portion of a lot of background world-building I was trying to wedge (by implication) into 7500 words.

(Hopefully, such Almagests would include built-in output buffering, because otherwise amplifying the output current enough to make a click or clonk would be tricky.)

@Unknown Deborah: I never got to build anything with nixie tubes, but sometimes encountered them (along with other great retro features like core memory planes) in old lab instruments when putting together data acquisition systems.

Along with the aesthetics of populated circuit boards, the aesthetics of the traces of unpopulated boards can be pretty cool too. Schematic diagrams are also worth a mention.

Finished wire-wrapped panels look cool (especially backplanes), but weren't actually much fun to build; they required special expensive component sockets with those long square prongs, special wire, and a whole different set of tools. The work was done from the blind side, meaning you usually had to make and then follow a list of coordinates to connect. It had, in other words, the feel of doing work by hand that was designed to be completely automated.

@Phil Harris: Nature has been doing pretty well with DNA data storage for the better part of a billion years, so it definitely has potential. I'm wondering, though, how some post-collapse far future civilization is going to manage to find those microscopic records, and if they did, what they'd think of the contents thereof. Might make a good story (hint, hint).

@Bacchus: Over the years I've followed maybe a dozen blogs consistently, all wildly different. Yours has been one of them, due largely to your insightful commentary (though the, um, pretty pictures don't hurt either). I'm accustomed to those sites all being separate little worlds with nothing in common except their creators being smart and interesting. Seeing you here is therefore a bit eerie, if that makes any sense.

Shane Wilson said...

Thanks for that. It gives me solace to know there are people out there that feel the way you do about the internet. It makes for a brighter future.

latefall said...


Mostly I am looking for something in the direction of assisted suicide, but not exclusively...
How do I put it?
How to figure out that your part in the play is up without waiting for the fat lady to sing?
I think it'll be a mix of gerontology, suicide, hospice, psychological aspects and plain organization. I'd be particularly interested in information that can forecast how the rest of the plot would look like if you come up with certain symptoms at a certain age. E.g. arthritis, mental degeneration, cancer, or cardio issues will play out very differently for you and your family/caregivers. Also my impression is (and I may be pretty off here) that many people say they'd rather want to go early than late - but most seem to cling to life well past that. How does the psychology work there? Are there tricks to set up and recognize your cue better? Perhaps also some "hard research" on how to make it easy on the rest of the family?

re Wanzer
I found something I assume is a translation of "To Die Well: Your Right to Comfort, Calm, and Choice in the Last Days of Life". Amazon also suggests "A Better Way of Dying: How to Make the Best Choices at the End of Life" as something possibly useful.

re burial
Hmmm... I had not thought of that. Recent tradition was to keep things very simple in the family. I'll probably stick to that as much as is legal/advisable.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Regarding frail old age, one of my older relatives was able to stay at home and independent all the way to the final illness with the assistance of two very good paid helpers who came in for a few hours a day and genuinely cared about the person they were assisting. If I were able to hire help of that quality, I would not complain. (Nor did my relative).

Only one household among my younger relatives might be willing to take me in if I were very frail in mind or body; I'm not counting on them. My tentative plan if I have advance warning of something that will render me helpless involves a walk to a clearing in the woods, a lot of morphine or sedatives, and turkey vultures. But I don't want to make the turkey vultures sick. Would that be a problem?

Cathy McGuire said...

One more comment about the Green Wizards mailing list:

I've gotten a few emails from folks wanting to be on the list, but only giving me their email addresses... fine as far as that goes, but it won't help if the internet goes down, or JMG decides to go paper. (It would help if the blog or forum died, though...) It's okay if you don't want to share your snail mail address, but as long as you're clear that I can't mail you a list (I'm not gonna email the list because of my generalized anxiety about security... I'm gonna snail mail them). Sorry if I was unclear.

latefall said...

Thanks for your comment, I've been waiting for it. I assume you were addressing me and ErosBlog there.

Unfortunately I don't have the time to answer comprehensively just now, but I'll try to do so later.

Let me say a few things though:
0) I am undecided on the issues. Personally I do not like to work with computers very much (wreck the workflow and interface is horrible). Still I will probably miss it sometimes. But I wouldn't necessarily want to pay for it (I already went for a good while without net at home for that reason).
1. After we've burned up this perhaps single chance we have of developing into something significantly different than a more complex form of yeast, we sit here with a mountain of people, a mountain of predicaments, and a mountain of data and knowledge.
We won't be hanging on to the people. We don't have to worry about predicaments going away. We can (and in my opinion should) worry about our knowledge and our data going away. So we need means of archiving and learning. Big time. And here I refer you to Myriad 6:17 PM. Do you know how many Joules you burn through to archive a word, say on good paper (while the civilization is falling apart around you)? And a computer? Also, who is to decide what data we should archive for the long term? Modern man? We can hardly claim to be qualified by superior foresight.
2. A difference in scale can lead to a difference in kind.

"Then there's internet culture." In my opinion that should be a plural. My take is that there are extremely important cultural currents that got strongly amplified through the internet. That much of it is rotten now should come as no surprise though, looking at TBTF, NSA, and empire. I'd just want people to be a little careful what they wish for - irreversible self fulfilling prophesies are serious stuff. And only because a certain portion of the population is morally bankrupt everything else that vaguely coincides in time or space is not necessarily tainted beyond repair.

John Michael Greer said...

N Montesano, I've been discovering that quite a few people have done a fair job of collapsing already for other reasons. It still counts!

John, ah, I see that you haven't been following this blog for long. I've discussed all these issues at quite some length over the last nine years. If you don't have time to read the archives -- admittedly that's quite a task at this point -- you might consider a keyword search or two before making sweeping assumptions about what has and hasn't been covered here.

Latefall, well, yes -- salvage is already a growing economic sector, and we can expect it to grow substantially. Much will depend on the working life of salvaged electronics components, but I've been assuming all along that there will be some in working order for a long time yet -- my novel Star's Reach had a handful of laboriously repaired computers still in working order in the year 2480, for what that's worth.

Donalfagan, exactly. The internet was the product of the last major boomtime of industrial society, and is poorly adapted to an age of economic contraction. I should do a post on that -- it'll be amusing to see the geekoisie flocking in to pretend that I haven't said anything about economics, so they can propose technical solutions to a relentlessly nontechnical problem.

ZZ, yes, I saw that. It'll be interesting to see how long that lasts.

Wizzard, that's a great example of the way that the benefits of technology decline as the costs rise. Your response is a good one, too.

Ed-M, if you have to have an iPhone, no doubt a protective sleeve is a good idea. Myself, I prefer to avoid being inconvenienced by a broken iPhone by not owning one at all.

Tyler, how many of them get apoplectic, vs. the number that get sullen? And do any of them actually get the point?

Glenn, again, it's a long game. As their ordinary lives stop working, my guess is that you'll see more interest.

Leo, thanks for the reminder -- I need to add hand bookbinding to a list of skills to recommend!

Patricia, fascinating.

Renaissance, both of those are classics. BTW, don't dismiss your own prose style -- the comment about Harper's government and reality is choice.

Nastarana, thank you. Mind you, it's not as though the current inmate of the White House has been particularly clever about avoiding futile wars...

John Michael Greer said...

Heather, you're most welcome. Raising children to be ready for the future we're facing is a tremendous responsibility, and I'm pleased to see people taking it seriously.

Tracy, hmm! I don't think I've encountered the addressograph before -- many thanks. The cyclostyle, btw, was a Victorian copying machine: the knowledge lectures of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn were printed on one, which is how I know about them. There are still a few around, but I doubt I'll ever find one!

Daelach, thank you. I doubt you'll be surprised to hear that that's what every other qualified electronics engineer has told me.

Shane, no argument there. I should do a post one of these days on the likely fate of California.

Bacchus, I encourage you to go do the research yourself. That way you can plan for the future based on knowledge rather than on vague hopes.

Myriad, all of that makes sense to me, for whatever that's worth. I hope the Almagest appears in other stories of yours, btw! It's an intriguing idea.

Sven, maybe so. Be careful what you wish for, though; a viable insurgency here in the US could as well trigger a prolonged period of conflict, in which government forces and insurgents alike pay no attention to little things like the human rights of noncombatants, and what used to be the US comes to resemble a failed Third World state. Not all changes are for the better, even if the starting point is not good.

James, of course. Since the internet isn't going to go away overnight, once it starts to break down, there'll be a transition period in which print media can be ramped up and word of the ADR's new format can be communicated by various means. I really do need to do a post on how the internet will die, don't I?

Latefall, yes, economies are certainly possible. My question, though, would be whether -- in a declining economy beset by multiple crises -- it will make any kind of sense to use the resulting chips for consumer goods, or whether instead they'll mostly go to governments, militaries, and essential industries. I suspect the latter. Thanks for the links, btw.

Sven, that's very good news indeed.

Patricia, well, it wasn't too hard to take the situation in Weimar Germany, adjust to fit the current resource and energy situation, and go from there. I still think that's quite a plausible scenario, for whatever that's worth.

Otto, funny. A case could be made!

heather said...

Cathy McGuire, re "finding a little corner" in the life of some sympatico person- have you considered northern CA? It's quite nice here, aside from the whole drought thing... Well, and the wildfires. Um, and earthquakes... Well, OK, there are some nice people.... Actually, a few too many. Ah well, it was a thought... ;)

Caryn, yes, from what I understand intergenerational living is still the norm in many parts of the world, as it was here before we lost our collective senses some decades ago. Of course, among some social classes it still persists here, but is seem as somehow embarrassing by the mainstream.

My parents and four siblings (and their families) and I have lived in many different combinations as circumstances shifted over the years. Now, alas, they are all far away and the family I married into doesn't have the same sort of history. As others have commented, I expect this sort of situation to become normal again here as economics force it, but I wonder how long the stigma will last. In my opinion, notwithstanding the kind of compromise and accommodation that margrh rightly pointed out is necessary in sharing space and interaction (with anyone!), this is one aspect of LESS that I actually think is better and would like to voluntarily move toward. Of course there are awful, difficult family living situations, which are best dissolved ASAP, but in my opinion the model of one nuclear family per overlarge house is just asking for waste and loneliness.

Nastarana- a hectoring and holier-than-thou tone- I will certainly try to avoid that. Thanks for the reminder.

Peacegarden, right on. Negotiations of all types with the inlaws will continue. :) That's what you do with family, right?

John Michael Greer said...

Jo, thank you! That's exactly the point: green wizardry is not an excuse for trying to get other people to do something, much less an opportunity for self-righteous display. It's simply a set of choices that, from my perspective, make sense and offer some hope for the future.

Tye, er, did you read my response to Luke, or are you just ignoring the points I raised?

Caryn, glad to hear it. A happy collapse to you and yours!

HalFiore, I'd be happier publishing this in a weekly paper, of the sort that existed in profusion before the internet. As it is, my choices are constrained by the available media.

Sean, delighted to hear it. I haven't been to Calgary since I was a child, but who knows? So long as the trains still run there, it's a possibility.

Other Tom, you're most welcome, and thank you!

Roger, yes, I've noticed the same thing. There's also the aspect that nobody mentions, which is that your place in America's caste system primarily depends on how much money your parents made, which is not a very good predictor of intelligence.

Ed-M, you're welcome. I plan my walking routes to avoid such intersections as a matter of course.

Dan, funny. Yes, that makes sense.

Myriad, that's a good point. It occurs to me that the rhetoric around iPhones these days has a lot in common with the rhetoric around LSD in the 1960s -- some of us still remember how that was going to transform the world, the way connectivity is supposed to do so these days.

Myriad (again), it depends on the degree of externalization. A printing press operated by hand does indeed save labor; one person's close attention to typesetting makes up for hundreds of people paying the same attention to pens and paper. Once you start using extrasomatic power, though, you've got major externalities, and they mount up very, very fast.

Jeremy, sounds like a plan. Joseph Greenstein, one of the last of the great old-time strongmen, used to fast every Thursday; that and plenty of plain clean water were the foundations of his health regime, and the guy got well past his 84th birthday, with a level of fitness that a lot of athletic 20-year-olds can't match.

Shane, got it in one. It's been a while, but I did a post on exactly that topic.

John Michael Greer said...

Phil, it's quite possible that people will be able to figure out ways to survive in Arizona through the drought years -- just nothing like as many of them as live there now. As for DNA, a lot will depend on the technology needed to read it; that's usually the bottleneck.

Nils, thanks for this! A useful reminder that simple mechanical technologies can accomplish plenty, if given the chance.

MawKernewek, in the US, when a company offers classes on job skills, you can basically assume that the only thing the classes actually do is put money into the pocket of the outfit that offers them. I don't know if things have gotten quite so bad in Cornwall, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Yucca, every time I hear that from someone in your generation -- and I hear it increasingly often these days -- my sense of the range of possibilities still open for the future expands a little. Thank you.

Cherokee, thanks for both of those. There's a certain bleak reassurance in knowing that the US isn't the only place where science has become that corrupt.

Somewhatstunned said...

JMG said:
I really do need to do a post on how the internet will die, don't I?

Yes please! Although your prediction that I might live to see its demise (at least in its present form, usual caveats about usefulness blah blah etc etc) sounds far too good to be true.

A small secret part of me sighed with relief when you first said it on your blog and this has been part of the reason I've formed such a positive of impression of yourself.

(yeah, sure, well aware of the irony - but, given my rerading habits and interests, there's a good liklihood I would have encountered JMG's writing even in a non-internet world).

Graeme Wood said...

As a newby to your delightful diatribes I wonder why you are not more widely acknowledged and create a more vibrant debate.
Would it help if you were a current Harvard Professor? Would it help if you were not so weird looking to most under thirty five year olds? Could you have more impact if you were coming from the 'Centre' rather than from such an easy shoot-down-as-crazy Archdruid?
I have no problem with the latter 'crazy' persona but it ain't no way to win over middle America, let alone Russian Oligarchs or Chinese Crony Capitalists.
Maybe time to stop hiding behind your beard and join the mainstream where most of us struggle in the real world.

latefall said...

This makes me cringe a little but I thought I'd share an interesting example of "internet culture". I you have kids that "don't get it" but should perhaps you can slip this under their radar:

Fate of the World is a PC strategy game that simulates the real social and environmental impact of global climate change over the next 200 years. The science, the politics, the destruction — it’s all real, and it’s scary.

Lead Designer: Ian Roberts (BBC Climate Challenge) with climate modeling by Prof. Myles Allen (University of Oxford)

Tammh said...

@aediculaantinoi and other type 1 diabetics

I think that, like low tech radio, the resource cost/benefits of low tech insulin treatment of type 1 diabetes make it something that both could and should be preserved through the collapse. However, like radio, its preservation is dependent on a dispersed pool of people actively practicing and passing on production techniques. My sister is T1 diabetic so I also have a personal interest. This is the results of my research so far:

1. low tech refined, injectable animal insulin works ‘ok’ for many people, evidence is: (a) mean life expectancy of T1 diabetics at birth of 45yrs if born 1939-1945 and diagnosed around 10yrs old; (b) Eva Saxl and her husband (with no medical or chemistry experience, in WWII Japanese occupied Shanghai) kept several hundred diabetics alive (including Eva) for four years, refining animal insulin in a home lab using a 1921 recipe.

2. current paradigm focuses on stabilising blood sugar at the lowest level possible to maximise long term health. Instead a focus on minimising required supplemental insulin may worsen blood sugar control but make insulin treatment feasible with severe resource constraints and may help retain limited beta cell function. ie, only enough glucose/insulin to maintain mucous secretions, sex hormones, avoid brain starvation and keep out of ketoacidosis, ketones (fat) can fuel everything else without insulin. Public T1 relevant research exists on: eating very low carb, avoiding common autoimmune food triggers, retention of limited beta cell function by some T1s, and herbs to protect organs and/or incrementally improve glucose utilisation.

3. imminent patent expiry on early insulin formulations – so domestic charitable or university linked labs could legally manufacture ‘no-frills’ insulin once supplies become restricted (as a sort of charity for the poor). If not, history from warzones and the third world indicate that likely alternatives in early stages of collapse include (expensive, dubious quality) black market generic insulin imported from third world manufacturers and domestic manufacture by existing drug gangs. Detailed recipes are available which appear to be involved but reasonably doable for someone with access to animal pancreases as well as a variety of basic chemistry equipment and consumables. Eg internet search: ‘Banting 1925 Noble lecture’, ‘On the Preparation of Insulin’ by Somogyi, Doisy and Shaffer 1924 and ‘Experiments on the chemical behaviour of insulin’ 1924 thesis by George Alles.

4. reuseable/sharpenable needles and reliable urine testing techniques are also important. Working out how to make the chemical reagents and consumables like filter paper (or simple substitutes) from local sources will be important to long-term preservation.

JMG always asks what people are doing themselves to prepare. I can’t ethically justify doing the necessary animal testing prior to any significant collapse. However, I’m learning herbal medicine as part of my collapse repertoire of tradeable skills and I plan to start practicing chemistry techniques for refining and purifying various substances within the next year.

peacegarden said...

@ unknown

Certain plants are heart stimulants…foxglove in particular comes to mind. Too high a dose would be good for what you envision. Morphine may be hard to acquire. Some brandy might be relaxing.

Turkey vultures figure in my scenario, too!

The trick is knowing what is coming while still having the capacity to act. The alternative is having a deeply trusted person who would be willing to help…not an easy thing to ask.



Phil Harris said...

Thanks for the comment and idea for a story (hint hint).

Well, I began one a couple of weeks ago, but the DNA recollection was just yesterday. One big subject for sure is that future Almagests will be read by people who can no longer reproduce the observations that led to the vast majority of 'our' theory / tools - "knowledge".

There is a brilliant analogy that opens Alasdair Macintyre "Beyond Virtue" - h/t somebody here on ADR - where he conjectures a future loss of science (Chapter One; "A Disquieting Suggestion") and compares it with the loss of historical context, ancient Greece onward, that surrounds our contemporary thought structures and our modern attempts at meaning.

Still, we can romance it a bit! Smile. Looking forward to more stories (hint hint).


Jo said...

Heather et al, it is intriguing to read of your thoughts on living with family. I have just managed to persuade my parents to come and live in the same state as me - they are planning to settle about twenty minutes drive away, which is so much better than the several hours' flight away they are now. I saw how much they were involved in the care for my grandparents in the last years of their lives, and couldn't imagine how I was going to achieve that at such a distance.

I do consider this very much a part of my 'collapse now' plan. They may very well live another twenty years and who knows how expensive flying interstate will be by then..

Another thing I wonder - why on earth did we move away from our family in the first place? It seemed like a grown-up, independent thing to do, but moving away from your whole extended family just as you are having children is insane.

Take my advice young 'uns, and just don't do it.. stay close to grandma. And not just for babysitting - for emotional support, and rich inter-generational relationships, for that sense of safety that the best kind of family gives.. of course, this is only sensible advice if you have that good kind of family.. but if you do, don't waste it!

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