Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Era of Pretense

I've mentioned in previous posts here on The Archdruid Report the educational value of the comments I receive from readers in the wake of each week’s essay. My post two weeks ago on the death of the internet was unusually productive along those lines.  One of the comments I got in response to that post gave me the theme for last week’s essay, but there was at least one other comment calling for the same treatment. Like the one that sparked last week’s post, it appeared on one of the many other internet forums on which The Archdruid Report, and it unintentionally pointed up a common and crucial failure of imagination that shapes, or rather misshapes, the conventional wisdom about our future.

Curiously enough, the point that set off the commenter in question was the same one that incensed the author of the denunciation mentioned in last week’s post: my suggestion in passing that fifty years from now, most Americans may not have access to electricity or running water. The commenter pointed out angrily that I’d claimed that the twilight of industrial civilization would be a ragged arc of decline over one to three centuries. Now, he claimed, I was saying that it was going to take place in the next fifty years, and this apparently convinced him that everything I said ought to be dismissed out of hand.

I run into this sort of confusion all the time. If I suggest that the decline and fall of a civilization usually takes several centuries, I get accused of inconsistency if I then note that one of the sharper downturns included in that process may be imminent.  If I point out that the United States is likely within a decade or two of serious economic and political turmoil, driven partly by the implosion of its faltering global hegemony and partly by a massive crisis of legitimacy that’s all but dissolved the tacit contract between the existing order of US society and the masses who passively support it, I get accused once again of inconsistency if I then say that whatever comes out the far side of that crisis—whether it’s a battered and bruised United States or a patchwork of successor states—will then face a couple of centuries of further decline and disintegration before the deindustrial dark age bottoms out.

Now of course there’s nothing inconsistent about any of these statements. The decline and fall of a civilization isn’t a single event, or even a single linear process; it’s a complex fractal reality composed of many different events on many different scales in space and time. If it takes one to three centuries, as usual, those centuries are going to be taken up by an uneven drumbeat of wars, crises, natural disasters, and assorted breakdowns on a variety of time frames with an assortment of local, regional, national, or global effects. The collapse of US global hegemony is one of those events; the unraveling of the economic and technological framework that currently provides most Americans with electricity and running water is another, but neither of those is anything like the whole picture.

It’s probably also necessary to point out that any of my readers who think that being deprived of electricity and running water is the most drastic kind of collapse imaginable have, as the saying goes, another think coming. Right now, in our oh-so-modern world, there are billions of people who get by without regular access to electricity and running water, and most of them aren’t living under dark age conditions. A century and a half ago, when railroads, telegraphs, steamships, and mechanical printing presses were driving one of history’s great transformations of transport and information technology, next to nobody had electricity or running water in their homes. The technologies of 1865 are not dark age technologies; in fact, the gap between 1865 technologies and dark age technologies is considerably greater, by most metrics, than the gap between 1865 technologies and the ones we use today.

Furthermore, whether or not Americans have access to running water and electricity may not have as much to say about the future of industrial society everywhere in the world as the conventional wisdom would suggest.  I know that some of my American readers will be shocked out of their socks to hear this, but the United States is not the whole world. It’s not even the center of the world. If the United States implodes over the next two decades, leaving behind a series of bankrupt failed states to squabble over its territory and the little that remains of its once-lavish resource base, that process will be a great source of gaudy and gruesome stories for the news media of the world’s other continents, but it won’t affect the lives of the readers of those stories much more than equivalent events in Africa and the Middle East affect the lives of Americans today.

As it happens, over the next one to three centuries, the benefits of industrial civilization are going to go away for everyone. (The costs will be around a good deal longer—in the case of the nuclear wastes we’re so casually heaping up for our descendants, a good quarter of a million years, but those and their effects are rather more localized than some of today’s apocalyptic rhetoric likes to suggest.) The reasoning here is straightforward. White’s Law, one of the fundamental principles of human ecology, states that economic development is a function of energy per capita; the immense treasure trove of concentrated energy embodied in fossil fuels, and that alone, made possible the sky-high levels of energy per capita that gave the world’s industrial nations their brief era of exuberance; as fossil fuels deplete, and remaining reserves require higher and higher energy inputs to extract, the levels of energy per capita the industrial nations are used to having will go away forever.

It’s important to be clear about this. Fossil fuels aren’t simply one energy source among others; in terms of concentration, usefulness, and fungibility—that is, the ability to be turned into any other form of energy that might be required—they’re in a category all by themselves. Repeated claims that fossil fuels can be replaced with nuclear power, renewable energy resources, or what have you sound very good on paper, but every attempt to put those claims to the test so far has either gone belly up in short order, or become a classic subsidy dumpster surviving purely on a diet of government funds and mandates.

Three centuries ago, the earth’s fossil fuel reserves were the largest single deposit of concentrated energy in this part of the universe; now we’ve burnt through nearly all the easily accessible reserves, and we’re scrambling to keep the tottering edifice of industrial society going by burning through the dregs that remain. As those run out, the remaining energy resources—almost all of them renewables—will certainly sustain a variety of human societies, and some of those will be able to achieve a fairly high level of complexity and maintain some kinds of advanced technologies. The kind of absurd extravagance that passes for a normal standard of living among the more privileged inmates of the industrial nations is another matter, and as the fossil fuel age sunsets out, it will end forever.

The fractal trajectory of decline and fall mentioned earlier in this post is simply the way this equation works out on the day-to-day scale of ordinary history. Still, those of us who happen to be living through a part of that trajectory might reasonably be curious about how it’s likely to unfold in our lifetimes. I’ve discussed in a previous series of posts, and in my book Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America, how the end of US global hegemony is likely to unfold, but as already noted, that’s only a small portion of the broader picture. Is a broader view possible?

Fortunately history, the core resource I’ve been using to try to make sense of our future, has plenty to say about the broad patterns that unfold when civilizations decline and fall. Now of course I know all I have to do is mention that history might be relevant to our present predicament, and a vast chorus of voices across the North American continent and around the world will bellow at rooftop volume, “But it’s different this time!” With apologies to my regular readers, who’ve heard this before, it’s probably necessary to confront that weary thoughtstopper again before we proceed.

As I’ve noted before, claims that it’s different this time are right where it doesn’t matter and wrong where it counts.  Predictions made on the basis of history—and not just by me—have consistently predicted events over the last decade or so far more accurately than predictions based on the assumption that history doesn’t matter. How many times, dear reader, have you heard someone insist that industrial civilization is going to crash to ruin in the next six months, and then watched those six months roll merrily by without any sign of the predicted crash? For that matter, how many times have you heard someone insist that this or that policy that’s never worked any other time that it’s been tried, or this or that piece of technological vaporware that’s been the subject of failed promises for decades, will inevitably put industrial society back on its alleged trajectory to the stars—and how many times has the policy or the vaporware been quietly shelved, and something else promoted using the identical rhetoric, when it turned out not to perform as advertised?

It’s been a source of wry amusement to me to watch the same weary, dreary, repeatedly failed claims of imminent apocalypse and inevitable progress being rehashed year after year, varying only in the fine details of the cataclysm du jour and the techno-savior du jour, while the future nobody wants to talk about is busily taking shape around us. Decline and fall isn’t something that will happen sometime in the conveniently distant future; it’s happening right now in the United States and around the world. The amusement, though, is tempered with a sense of familiarity, because the period in which decline is under way but nobody wants to admit that fact is one of the recurring features of the history of decline.

There are, very generally speaking, five broad phases in the decline and fall of a civilization. I know it’s customary in historical literature to find nice dull labels for such things, but I’m in a contrary mood as I write this, so I’ll give them unfashionably colorful names: the eras of pretense, impact, response, breakdown, and dissolution. Each of these is complex enough that it’ll need a discussion of its own; this week, we’ll talk about the era of pretense, which is the one we’re in right now.

Eras of pretense are by no means limited to the decline and fall of civilizations. They occur whenever political, economic, or social arrangements no longer work, but the immediate costs of admitting that those arrangements don’t work loom considerably larger in the collective imagination than the future costs of leaving those arrangements in place. It’s a curious but consistent wrinkle of human psychology that this happens even if those future costs soar right off the scale of frightfulness and lethality; if the people who would have to pay the immediate costs don’t want to do so, in fact, they will reliably and cheerfully pursue policies that lead straight to their own total bankruptcy or violent extermination, and never let themselves notice where they’re headed.

Speculative bubbles are a great setting in which to watch eras of pretense in full flower. In the late phases of a bubble, when it’s clear to anyone who has two spare neurons to rub together that the boom du jour is cobbled together of equal parts delusion and chicanery, the people who are most likely to lose their shirts in the crash are the first to insist at the top of their lungs that the bubble isn’t a bubble and their investments are guaranteed to keep on increasing in value forever. Those of my readers who got the chance to watch some of their acquaintances go broke in the real estate bust of 2008-9, as I did, will have heard this sort of self-deception at full roar; those who missed the opportunity can make up for the omission by checking out the ongoing torrent of claims that the soon-to-be-late fracking bubble is really a massive energy revolution that will make America wealthy and strong again.

The history of revolutions offers another helpful glimpse at eras of pretense. France in the decades before 1789, to cite a conveniently well-documented example, was full of people who had every reason to realize that the current state of affairs was hopelessly unsustainable and would have to change. The things about French politics and economics that had to change, though, were precisely those things that the French monarchy and aristocracy were unwilling to change, because any such reforms would have cost them privileges they’d had since time out of mind and were unwilling to relinquish.

Louis XIV, who finished up his long and troubled reign a supreme realist, is said to have muttered “Après moi, le déluge”—“Once I’m gone, this sucker’s going down” may not be a literal translation, but it catches the flavor of the utterance—but that degree of clarity was rare in his generation, and all but absent in those of his increasingly feckless successors. Thus the courtiers and aristocrats of the Old Regime amused themselves at the nation’s expense, dabbled in avant-garde thought, and kept their eyes tightly closed to the consequences of their evasions of looming reality, while the last opportunities to excuse themselves from a one-way trip to visit the guillotine and spare France the cataclysms of the Terror and the Napoleonic wars slipped silently away.

That’s the bitter irony of eras of pretense. Under most circumstances, they’re the last period when it would be possible to do anything constructive on the large scale about the crisis looming immediately ahead, but the mass evasion of reality that frames the collective thinking of the time stands squarely in the way of any such constructive action. In the era of pretense before a speculative bust, people who could have quietly cashed in their positions and pocketed their gains double down on their investments, and guarantee that they’ll be ruined once the market stops being liquid. In the era of pretense before a revolution, in the same way, those people and classes that have the most to lose reliably take exactly those actions that ensure that they will in fact lose everything. If history has a sense of humor, this is one of the places that it appears in its most savage form.

The same points are true, in turn, of the eras of pretense that precede the downfall of a civilization. In a good many cases, where too few original sources survive, the age of pretense has to be inferred from archeological remains. We don’t know what motives inspired the ancient Mayans to build their biggest pyramids in the years immediately before the Terminal Classic period toppled over into a savage political and demographic collapse, but it’s hard to imagine any such project being set in motion without the usual evasions of an era of pretense being involved  Where detailed records of dead civilizations survive, though, the sort of rhetorical handwaving common to bubbles before the bust and decaying regimes on the brink of revolution shows up with knobs on. Thus the panegyrics of the Roman imperial court waxed ever more lyrical and bombastic about Rome’s invincibility and her civilizing mission to the nations as the Empire stumbled deeper into its terminal crisis, echoing any number of other court poets in any number of civilizations in their final hours.

For that matter, a glance through classical Rome’s literary remains turns up the remarkable fact that those of her essayists and philosophers who expressed worries about her survival wrote, almost without exception, during the Republic and the early Empire; the closer the fall of Rome actually came, the more certainty Roman authors expressed that the Empire was eternal and the latest round of troubles was just one more temporary bump on the road to peace and prosperity. It took the outsider’s vision of Augustine of Hippo to proclaim that Rome really was falling—and even that could only be heard once the Visigoths sacked Rome and the era of pretense gave way to the age of impact.

The present case is simply one more example to add to an already lengthy list. In the last years of the nineteenth century, it was common for politicians, pundits, and mass media in the United States, the British empire, and other industrial nations to discuss the possibility that the advanced civilization of the time might be headed for the common fate of nations in due time. The intellectual history of the twentieth century is, among other things, a chronicle of how that discussion was shoved to the margins of our collective discourse, just as the ecological history of the same century is among other things a chronicle of how the worries of the previous era became the realities of the one we’re in today. The closer we’ve moved toward the era of impact, that is, the more unacceptable it has become for anyone in public life to point out that the problems of the age are not just superficial.

Listen to the pablum that passes for political discussion in Washington DC or the mainstream US media these days, or the even more vacuous noises being made by party flacks as the country stumbles wearily toward yet another presidential election. That the American dream of upward mobility has become an American nightmare of accelerating impoverishment outside the narrowing circle of the kleptocratic rich, that corruption and casual disregard for the rule of law are commonplace in political institutions from local to Federal levels, that our medical industry charges more than any other nation’s and still provides the worst health care in the industrial world, that our schools no longer teach anything but contempt for learning, that the national infrastructure and built environment are plunging toward Third World conditions at an ever-quickening pace, that a brutal and feckless foreign policy embraced by both major parties is alienating our allies while forcing our enemies to set aside their mutual rivalries and make common cause against us: these are among the issues that matter, but they’re not the issues you’ll hear discussed as the latest gaggle of carefully airbrushed candidates go through their carefully scripted elect-me routines on their way to the 2016 election.

If history teaches anything, though, it’s that eras of pretense eventually give way to eras of impact. That doesn’t mean that the pretense will go away—long after Alaric the Visigoth sacked Rome, for example, there were still plenty of rhetors trotting out the same tired clichés about Roman invincibility—but it does mean that a significant number of people will stop finding the pretense relevant to their own lives. How that happens in other historical examples, and how it might happen in our own time, will be the theme of next week’s post.

194 comments:

buddhabythelake said...

JMG--

I am simultaneously pleased and frustrated when you lay out the structure of a series of posts in advance, as you did this week. On the one hand, I appreciate the interlocking themes and logical process, while on the other, I want to read them all at once.

I don't know if I have mentioned it in any of my previous comments, but I wanted to thank you for being instrumental in aiding my psychological transition on this whole issue -- I believe I have finally made it to the "acceptance" stage :) and I am no longer attempting to "save" that which ultimately cannot be saved. What we can do, of course, is to prepare the seeds for that flowering which may follow, in its own time.

Finally, I was thinking of your last response to my comment (re slavery) on the previous post and I realized that I had allowed "serf" and "slave" to become the same kind of emotive non-words as you had described "fascist" as being. I can see that what you have been describing (I think) is more along the lines of a nominally free peasantry, albeit one highly dependent on a local (war)lord for protection, etc.

postpeakmedicine said...

You should listen to Mike Duncan's excellent Revolutions Podcast:
http://www.revolutionspodcast.com/
It has something to say about the lessons of history and recurring societal convulsions.

Greg Belvedere said...

I look forward to reading about the other eras. I have certainly noticed a lot of denial about our current situation.

I just want to let everyone know that my blog is up and running.

Stay At Homestead Dad will deal with home economics and parenting in the context of peak oil and collapse.

http://stayathomesteaddad.blogspot.com/

I plan to post every Tuesday and I will do my best to make it a useful and enjoyable read.

Thanks.

Andy Brown said...

My 13 year old son was asking about Jimmy Carter today, and he had no trouble grasping a parable I told him of the choice that Americans had made - between Carter's earnest doubts and Reagan's shiny promises. We opted for an era of pretense.

Sven Williams said...

Meanwhile, this morning as you were likely composing this excellent post, the eight Democrats who appeared to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership yesterday folded after a token display of resistance. It's apparent that the US government is entering the twilight of pretense, engaged in a perpetual game of kicking the can down the road, voting for a bill that would accelerate the continued stripping of the glory of Rome by Vandals in expensive suits.

Meanwhile, I just finished filling out and sending my forms to get on Income-Based Repayment to keep the payments on my graduate student loans from sinking me for the time being. So I, too, can see how pretense and impact work out in my personal life.

The elites are senile, and the populace is not unlike the proverbial victims of the "monkey trap" --- a nail-lined hole in a log with a piece of fruit inside, which traps its quarry only because the monkey keeps grasping for the fruit. If it lets go, it can free itself, but it holds on, and the nails dig deeper.

And as Vonnegut wrote, so it goes...

Mr. Bystander said...

Taking your post literally, I think it would be safe to say that most people have felt the irrelevancy of "American Exceptionalist" claims at one point or another in recent years. I can recall the initial days of the Tea Party movement in my closest city (Worcester, MA) being surrounded by a large swath of the general public completely fed up with the lies from our federal government promising things would change and then nothing did. This seems to me like what you have described. Year in and year out since then it's been the same empty words replayed by different empty suits. Like Obama promised in 2008 and again in 2012 that our country would rise out of the ashes stronger than before and things would turn around and we would get back to the golden age of manufacturing. For some of the readers thinking we are just now finding ourselves in the age of pretense, think again. We've been here for a good amount of time now and the era of impact is drawing near. I can't tell you how frequently I am hearing about friends and family these days giving up cable because they can't afford it. This is just one example, but did anyone ever think that would be happening in 21st century America? I certainly didn't and especially not college-educated people with their Master's degree and well-paying jobs. My parents are in their 50's and my mom just cancelled her cell phone and got rid of cable. The transmission in their "new to them" SUV just died. They're really struggling to keep up with the Joneses and only 10 years ago they were in much better shape. I can't wait to start hearing more about the latest campaign promises from a completely disconnected group of people claiming they can relate to these struggles and other who are in much worse shape. Once they get into office nothing will change and we will continue to sink further down the slope of decline.

Shane Wilson said...

Sometimes, I'm grateful to live in a "backwards" state in a "backwards" region. It's within living memory of my parents, and certainly my grandparents, when rural RECCs(rural electric coal cooperatives) electrified rural Kentucky, and people today still don't have "city" water and depend on wells. So I don't see it as that big of a deal. Geez, if your house is plumbed, it should be easy enough to eventually switch over from "city" water to a cistern, and to use a composting toilet and use the greywater on your yard.

andrewbwatt.com said...

The Era of Pretense! Delicious.

I'm reminded of James Burke, the technologist and explicator of the history of science, and his show Connections, here — the place where I learned that the history of technology is largely the history of small improvements in existing technologies being combined with small improvements in other existing technologies, and then being married with one another. Technological suites, or in the language of another system of thought, solve et coagula!

At the start of one of those episodes, he remarks on how, at Arles in France, you can see the remnants of the one of the largest ancient mills in the world, where water power ground grain into flour for the bread ovens of Rome... an early example of offshoring labor costs, I imagine. And, when Rome could no longer afford such a massive factory for flour production, it was mothballed and quarried for the then-new city walls of Arles, because the Roman army kept getting paid with the high taxes even though they were losing all the battles...

I note that one of our great achievements of water power, the Hoover Dam, is approaching its last operating dregs — it used to be 1,050 feet, but at great expense they've installed some new turbines, and they think they can keep in operation until it hits 950 feet. I doubt they'll use the rubble for Las Vegas's new defenses, though... there won't be enough water in southern Nevada to bother defending the place; and LV will have enough rubble of its own to not bother hauling it across the desert by hand, in any case.

And I think this is probably what those readers who accuse you of hypocritical writing are grappling with, JMG. We're a nation that's simultaneously declaring itself on the ascendant while struggling to manage our borders, our infrastructure, a whole series of wars we can't afford, our internal discontents, our external allies and rivals, and the rogue leadership of our economic system — who are breaking down the compact between governed and governors because it's "cheaper"....

And so the downward slope is there, even if you have Five Good Presidents in a row or rack up a few heroic (but expensive) victories on the Dacian frontier or rein in a few financiers in Juvenal fashion or build a few effective walls from sea to sea or river to river. Project Successes are not Operations Successes — you can't fix structural failures with individual success in relatively small-scale programs, and even five good emperors in a row can't fix anything if they don't tackle the right problems.

btidwell said...

no comments, yet. I hope I'm not redundant. Perhaps I'm jumping ahead a few weeks, but one of the largest criticisms I had of JH Kunstler's "World" novels was the way in which he elided and outright ignored the impact of the loss of utilities in the US. I have few doubts about your prediction, but I think it is disingenuous to say people can do quite well without utilities.

I suspect electricity will go first. It is easier to supply water and far more necessary but that wont matter for long. I'm geussing two or three percent of American houses, probably less, don't require central heat. Even here in relatively temperate Atlanta, it gets cold enough to freeze pipes...and people. Once the pipes freeze, and subsequently flood the house, black mold makes it a permanent health hazard. So living in tents, burning the sparse urban wood stock for fuel (a month at most, a little more in the suburbs.)

If that social dislocation hasn't brought the economy to a standstill, the fact that no commercial or office buildings will be usable certainly will. Where will we get the industrial capital to manufacture a billion kerosene lamps, build wick factories, build manual typewriter factories (never mind nobody knowing how to use them)?
I could go on and on.

None of this means the power wont go off, but I don't see how it can just be a hard bump in centuries of decline and not an relatively abrupt end to civilization as we know it and an apocalyptic conflagration.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Yes, the built infrastructure in our society reflects the dominant narrative and lacks a capacity to downscale. I built the house here so that it could be liveable without power or running water and still maintain a reasonable temperature in all seasons. Running water and electricity are nice and all, but some of the early mansions built by the sheep squatters didn't have running water. And when they did install showers, they came with a health warning. Seriously.

John Kenneth Galbraith stated that the rhetoric around speculative bubbles always claimed:
- New and innovative products; and
- The old rules no longer apply. blah blah blah. The Twilight of illusion he called it. I hear it used all of the time.

Your writing reflects your contrary mood. No worries, I get occasionally very annoyed by this stuff too. Mostly, I'm calm, but sometimes I just hear and read things that are so preposterous and they're taken seriously.

A good example of this is that the off grid solar community down here has been providing some honest and frank assessments of the newfangled Tesla battery in box arrangement which is being touted as a revolution in battery storage. Yes, everything goes around in circles in a proper revolution! hehe! Come on, that must have brought a smile to your face? hehe. Well, anyway, whatever, I thought that it was funny...

As an interesting side note, those batteries - which can be paralleled - but require an off grid (or hybrid grid) inverter to actually work - plus an AC transfer switch of some sort provide 3kW of storage. Now that sounds like a lot of energy, until you realise that lifting water (apologies, but that was the example that came to mind that I thought people would understand) at household pressure even 10m (30ft) in elevation takes about 0.5kW of energy. You can try that experiment at home with a hose. Just take the output of the hose higher and higher and you'll notice that the pressure drops. Double the height that you require to lift that water at pressure requires about double the energy (i.e. 1kW) to about a limit of around 30m (100ft approx.). Beyond that lift, the energy required just gets bigger.

Running water is toast - long term - because normal household pressure is equivalent to a 70m (210ft approx.) drop and unless that can be supplied by gravity...

It is absolutely no different to the problems surrounding oil wells and is actually a very similar energy equation.

Exactly, the future costs soar with each day that passes by and no action is being taken. I'm told many and varied reliable sources that an El Nino event is guaranteed on its way to visit my farm next summer, so the land of milk and honey is going to be seriously challenged and the time to take action was yesterday, today and tomorrow - of which I've been actively pursuing and will continue.

cont...

Cherokee Organics said...

Yeah, the same weary and boring claims are being made here about the speculative housing bubble that is in full swing still. And people use it to confirm their own choices to join in. I bailed on that one years ago right before the US bubbled popped and the waves of that pop were felt even here at the bottom of the planet in a far distant country.

The Louis XIV quote is sheer genius! Too funny - even if it isn't an exact translation. I'm pretty certain someone will come along to correct it, not that it matters...

Yes, I find listening to the words of politicians particularly wearying because I see the magic that they are trying to weave. The current lot here are a fascinating example as they are introducing a superb narrative which could have come from the mouth of a two year old. It is a real credit to them and they are sticking to that narrative like glue and growing it over time. Pity it doesn't match reality and doesn't stand much close scrutiny. The media pundits however lack the ability to ask even the most basic of probing questions and when they do ask, they accept narratives, stories and outright evasiveness as an answer. It is almost as if no one wants to burst the bubble of illusion. I smell fear behind it all, the fear of being confronted by reality. And people lap it up and repeat it back to them... It is not going to end up well.

Reality isn't so bad, you know. Actually, reality is an easier ride and less work than maintaining the pretence which involves a great deal of stress for people. It is a bit sad really.

Cheers

Chris

PS: I've got a new blog entry up: Beeing ahead of the Game. Yes, a very snappy title because I'm talking about the resurgence of interest in mead and how I'm onto cheaper ferments using some of the farm produce here. There is a great photo of the eagle soaring above the farm - trying to snatch a chicken or two I suspect - no luck there, matey! The firewood shed is nearing completion and I also got a couple of trailer loads of firewood into it before the heavens opened. There was sleet here yesterday. Brrr! I tell a sad tale about my experience here in the dysfunctional world of renting. Moving into an unfinished house with no lights and temporary fitting. All good fun stuff and lots of cool photos.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"[T]he closer the fall of Rome actually came, the more certainty Roman authors expressed that the Empire was eternal and the latest round of troubles was just one more temporary bump on the road to peace and prosperity."

The irony is that the population of the city of Rome had been falling for a couple of centuries before Alaric showed up and that the Roman Empire itself was also beginning to decline during the century before the Western Empire collapsed. I discussed this last July when you posted Bright Were The Halls Then. I added graphs that show these declines along with some commentary and posted the result as The Fall of Rome for the Ides of March. The data are quite clear to anyone who would look that something was going wrong. I guess the Romans were afflicted by Fourth and Fifth Century versions of what Kunstler calls the Consensus Trance that led to the delusional pronouncements you described.

As for revolutions, I think the crunch will be the loss of bread and circuses. Loss of electricity will slow down but not stop the circuses, but losing the bread whether from outright shortage and famine or just plain high price will be the cause of a lot of violence. A whole list of countries are suffering from too expensive food, which leads to unrest.

In the midst of our period of decline, there is some good news. Liberia has been declared free of Ebola. That's a relief, but not after nearly 12,000 people in all affected countries have died during the epidemic.

fudoshindotcom said...

I suspect the nearly pathological denial of on-going decline is fueled in part by fear, with only cursory consideration for what living conditions are likely to be in the not-so-distant future, a great many people will be forced to conclude that they lack entirely any relevant skill set. Left only with undertaking a steep and arduous learning curve, unable to see any light at the end of the tunnel, or burying their heads under a pillow and chanting, "No, no, no, it isn't really happening!" choosing the latter is understandable. Such people experience the world through a narrow, restrictive paradigm and thus cannot grasp that a meaningful life brimming with simple joys can be had absent the shiny techno-junk. That reductionist-thought paradigm also accounts for the inability of those in power to consider any useful alternative policies.

Albert Einstein said, "We can't solve problems using the same type of thinking we used to create them."

Perhaps we would be better off giving serious open-minded consideration to ideas proposed by long bearded ArchDruids than to those proposed by narcissistic, suit-wearing, rhetoric-spewing politicians.

Redneck Girl said...

As I posted earlier about my best friend and client, a week ago today I lost her and am now in the process of moving. I'm trying to buy a piece of property with the intention of building hugelkulture beds for organic vegetables to sell in the nearest town. The first place I found on the web to buy was actually not available, the second place, a bit further from a town is, according to the realtor, not suitable because of flooding. As I've said before my mind jumps from a problem to a solution with benefits. Excess surface water means more graze and I don't have to buy as much hay and feed for my animals, using french drains I can transport excess water to dug ponds and perhaps raise organic fish for sale as well. This makes sense to me since I wouldn't want to flood a neighbor who may be down hill from me! Basically when told that tree I've been leaning on is a lemon tree I'll start shaking every tree in the forest for lemons or a reasonable facsimile thereof to make lemonade. In spite of all the cautions of the realtor I'm tempted to go for it. While further from town then I'd like, the possible advantages make it attractive. Besides, I can make the payments! LOL!

My country and civilization maybe circling the sink hole of history, while refusing to listen to anyone with good advice, so why not get creative in my own life? If I'm wasting time and money it'll be in a good cause which is more than I can say for the engravings fetish the oligarchy and their political toadies jealously guard.

Wadulisi

Repent said...

Excellent post as always!

I wish that I could read a history book written from two or three hundred years in the future to see where this is all heading, what happened, who did what, and the eventual consequences. However, I know deep down that there is no book. That now, in my 40 something's I'll likely be long departed before the main events, the full impacts, and the consequences are seen. So I'll resign my focus in to the now of 'What is'.

A fellow from Cleveland has founded the 'Sons of Liberty Academy' with over 30 hours of videos about how we got to where we are now:

http://members.sonsoflibertyacademy.com/

The reality presented is one of a managed chaos, soon to be the chaos without the managing.

I feel that the answers are right in front of me, that the awareness is just on the cusp of my understanding, yet I need something to pull me over that last comprehension hurtle before I can finally understand the truth I am seeking. That further actions can't precede my understanding, and that I am frozen in place until I can fathom a rational way to respond my my dilemma.

This short fictional clip from the 2002 film remake of the movie 'The time machine', comes to mind as the savage moment of clarity that I am seeking, even if the answer is too terrifying to believe:

https://youtu.be/0ZqusBSK2B0

My own questions have taken me on a trip similar to walking on the edge of a razor blade. You have to face your own demons to find a path to your own heaven. To have the right answer, you have to ask the right question. (I don't have mine yet.)

stravinsky7 said...

I don't often post, but I thought you'd get a kick out of this. What a beautiful relevance to your way of writing.

Really enjoying this comic.

http://xkcd.com/1227/

Nestorian said...

Is it true that discussions of the imminent demise of modernity peaked in the late 19th century? My impression was that the lengthy crescendo of progress-optimism extended right into World War I, and that it was the devastating results of that war that first caused some serious soul-searching about the viability of Western civilization on a wide-spread basis.

Of course, there was Nietzsche in the late 19th century, but it seems to me that he was ahead of his time, since his rise to influence did not in fact really take off until the post-WWI era.

Yupped said...

You said "a significant number of people will stop finding the pretense relevant to their own lives".

That seems to me the key trend to watch. Waiting for the establishment narrative to change will be a long wait, as you say. But I see more and more people in my own world experiencing life very differently from the pretend story. The establishment narrative stays the same, but more and more people's actual reality is drifting apart from the story - a little less prosperity, a few less prospects, a little more crumbling infrastructure, day by day.

People don't even have to have a moment of epiphany where they formally stop believing - the narrative just stops making any sense or carrying any currency. So I guess the constant pretense is self-defeating, because it accelerates the separation of the leaders and the led. That seems to be have been one of the key under appreciated trends of the last few years.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dana-milbank-americans-optimism-is-dying/2014/08/12/f81808d8-224c-11e4-8593-da634b334390_story.html

Dave Zoom said...

End of empire / history rhymes
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/BAC_TSR-2
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/F-35_Lightning_II
Although the F35 is yet to be canceled I believe its in its future .
I was born in the era of kerosine light and piped cold water (no hot ) ,I think my grand kids believe I have dementia its so alien to them that there was no TV , telephones in private houses never mind mobile phones , AC ,refrigeration and the myriad of essential ge gaws they take for granted , their world is so much more complex than mine was and mine far different than my grandparents , I am teaching them what my grandparents tought me that all things you REALY need can be provided by muscle and inginuity , electricity is nice but not essential ,with luck it will help them ride out the coming storms .

Ben said...

One of my favorite books from a era of pretense is Andrey Bely's Petersburg. Of course that era of pretense was Imperial Russia

Allan Stromfeldt Christensen said...

"The decline and fall of a civilization isn’t a single event, or even a single linear process; it’s a complex fractal reality composed of many different events on many different scales in space and time."

That's statement implies a lot of ambiguity, but I think that that's the proper approach, even if things can appear a bit contradictory at times. My most-hated unambiguous trope is that of the imminent collapse of the petrodollar (generally just a few months away), something I've been reading since I first learned of the petrodollar a decade or so ago. (I now generally avoid petrodollar articles, and not only because they're often attached to the promotion of a book promising how you can make a killing from the just-as-imminent economic collapse.)

Paralleling that a bit, you've often mentioned (which I think is something that needs to be mentioned by others more often) that energy is required to concentrate dispersed energy. Likewise (and certainly I can't be the first to think of this), it just came to me that (extra) energy is required to release potential energy if the idea is to release it in a slow manner (read: slow collapse) rather than in a fast manner (whoops!). Of course, this doesn't imply that collapse must be extremely fast or extremely slow, but that to inject those periods of slowness will require extra effort/energy to make it happen. Sometimes that energy/effort will be injected (when it's even available), sometimes it won't be. Those injections will come at different times and places. Hence the ambiguity, and likely a bunch of people upset with various prognostications (and perhaps confusion of when's the best time for them to make a killing).

Maybe I'm just stating the obvious.

Certainly none of that would qualify as being called a theory, but perhaps an understanding. I call it my "Plum Tree Collapse" understanding, and if I may, is something covered in a post I just put up.

Collapsing Down the Plum Tree.

... seriously gotta stop referencing that JMG guy so much.

Cheers,

Allan

peakfuture said...

With regard to White's Law - with declining energy availability per capita, we get a declining standard of living. No argument there.

What happens if the denominator (the 'per capita' part) declines faster than the decline in energy? Do things get 'better' in the White's Law sense? I seem to recall arguments that things got better for the lower classes after the various plagues in the Middle Ages, since workers were at a premium; society was still solar based at the time (human/animal/plant based; no fossil fuel use), so net energy available was constant, but population declined.

Makes you wonder if people up the food chain are thinking about this. I did hear the phrase 'useless eaters' ascribed to Kissinger; although he might have not said it exactly (a quick search doesn't turn up a definitive quote), he is the kind of person that might actually used such a term.

Tasha T. said...

This essay bring to mind another essay The Xanadu Effect: "The pattern: Giant buildings go up, markets go down."

For the more aurally minded there is a podcast episode on the same topic.

Both versions go into several reasons for this correlation, from natural cycles to hubris. They also goes into the power large structure can have over people, the ability to make people feel united and powerful (or divided and weak).

Claire said...

Brilliant! No wonder I've been so frustrated in my attempts to talk about what is happening. We are all getting poorer but we don't want to admit it. Its all about vacations to tropical and sub tropical destinations; the era of pretense!

winingwizzard said...

IMHO, the current EoP (Era of Pretense) may actually have been extended by various investment bubbles; real estate, dotcom, fracking, QE, etc. Television and the current propaganda machine, much to Huxley's amazement, seem to be working on hundreds of millions very effectively today. TV effectively abets bubbles and the EoP most effectively. I watch TV news every month or so, but can only tolerate it for a few minutes. But the 'eye of sauron' is everywhere you go, comforting the herd with the same melodies and remedies, as we all discussed previously.

There is no stopping the descent - there is no feasible replacement for fossil fuels that can match them in energy density and flexibility. But it may be that other things (specifically, globalized food production and transportation) that hit the shoals first. The currents of finance, currency and oil depletion are interwoven - and it takes all of these to get food to mouths across the globe. This system is starting to show signs of weakness, as food prices are spiking in different areas across the globe. Gloabalism and international food transport are what keep China livable - without food, China and many other countries (Egypt, KSA, etc.) cannot support their populations due to insufficient arable land. The same holds true for large cities outside of Europe - where growing food is displaced from the populations.

The true issue is hypercomplexity - all these systems are stretched to maximize profits, making them inelastic and susceptible to even minor perturbations and interruptions. Globalism is hypercomplex - and why there are only 48 hours worth of groceries in your local store. JIT inventory systems cannot function sans internet or sans rapid and reliable transportation systems. Grocers are not even set up to handle more than 48 hours of inventory, to maximize profits...

Just some thoughts about bumps in the long ramp to lower energy per capita and a more natural rhythm of life. Avoiding the rush certainly relieves the pressure on a family...

Andrew Crews said...

JMG,

To keep you up to date on current events you might find of interest ole Euan Mearn's has posted a US oil production forecast with the collapse of fracking leading US oil production off a cliff at the end of 2016.

http://euanmearns.com/us-oil-production-forecast-scenario/

In other news I have been getting Twighlight's Last Gleaming vibes from the spratly islands in the South China Sea in which China has recruited some of the islands to be stationary aircraft carriers.

http://euanmearns.com/us-oil-production-forecast-scenario/

the area is ridiculously strategic to shipping routes, fishing resources and has more potential offshore oil wealth than the entire nation of Kuwait. Cruise missile swarm incoming to start off the collapse of an empire?


This next economic stair step down in the coming financial crisis will no doubt leave the boomer generation impoverished without retirement, increase joblessness, and keep our garbage healthcare system further out reach of even more Americans. I am curious where it might bottom out. In my own life I am hoping to get a job with water infrastructure for the small city I live in. The way I see it, if these jobs don't exist, the water system doesn't exist and neither do the people. Trying to make myself invaluable in the economic triage game. Wonderful insight as always!

Karim said...

Greetings all!

Is it appropriate to talk about an Era of Pretense when it appears that most people actually believe the rhetoric they so loudly utter?

Admittedly some do not believe their own rhetoric, some turn away from looking at the obvious, but surely many must believe it.

Would it not be more appropriate to call that the Era of Grand Illusion or alternatively as they say in French "La folie des grandeurs"?

N Montesano said...

I appreciated the recap; have to admit that, while the abstract explanation is perfectly clear to me, sometimes the specifics get harder to maintain a grasp on. For a little bit of irony, there's an old television(!) show that now helps me to imagine the scenario; was on maybe a decade or so ago; Dark Angel. It had a fairly silly pseudo-scientific premise about genetic engineering, but the setting was Seattle, after the U.S. had become a third-world country. So, people lived in high rise apartments, but without reliable access to electricity, and managed in a variety of ways; there were a lot of cell phones around, and familiar-looking bike messengers, but antibiotics had to be bought on the (thriving) black market; there were a lot of over-militarized police standing around ... come to think of it, it may have been a precursor of some larger cities right about now.
Which is a little surreal to me, because in my tiny corner, things still look pretty much as ever; the hard-to-fathom news reports are about distant places on the other side of a very large continent, and I don't travel much. I have to focus to notice what has become routine; the road department reports to city councils that there isn't enough money to maintain existing streets, for example, or the constant efforts by the state to cut back on previous commitments to its retirement funds. The simmering fights between farmers and cities for water. The recollection that the country has not truly been at peace in my lifetime. And then it suddenly looks very, very clear indeed, and yet no one around me is willing to see.

Brian said...

We'd be in a much better position to cope with what is coming if this were more widely understood: 'Right now, in our oh-so-modern world, there are billions of people who get by without regular access to electricity and running water, and most of them aren’t living under dark age conditions.'

I've thought for a long time that to understand our future better, we'd be wise to spend some time in 'underdeveloped' or 'Third World' countries (though I find both of those terms to be arrogant and ethnocentric). As someone who grew up in the 'First World' and then spent a number of years in Southeast Asia and India, it was a revelation to learn that most of the people living in these places weren't living in abject misery, and in fact were leading relatively happy, contented lives, without the massive consumption that I was used to growing up. This in turn led to the realization that, in a direct contradiction to the colonialist attitude that it is our duty to help these poor benighted creatures lift themselves out of darkness, WE have much to learn from cultures and countries that never fully adopted the industrialist-consumerist paradigm. And so I've spent the last three decades or so...

k-dog said...

Very good this week and I eagerly wait to see where you will take it next week in your 'era of impact'. The pretense of being lost in fantasy never really goes away. You pointed that out well. Rhetors with tired clichés about American invincibility are coming our way. Soon the stirrings of an ugly 2016 election will be upon us and we will hear plenty from rhetors of the tired cliché.

l'impact de le déluge va bientôt frapper

I await the 'impact' of your next piece.

Dwig said...

In a bit of synchronicity, just after I read this week's post, I read an interesting essay on nihilism, which covers a lot of ground, from Nietzsche ("revaluation of values"), to Blake ("fourfold vision"), to integral consciousness via Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy (not Wilber!), to holons, to the Sioux (“speaking from the center of the voice”).

I think Preston is looking at our "era of pretense" in somewhat of a different dimension, or conceptual space; he seems to be talking about the evolution of consciousness, or perhaps something like progress toward Jung's individuation.

I wonder: in your five-step model, is nihilism a characteristic of this era, or more appropriate to one of the following four?

And speaking of wonder: "The Horror and the Wonder" is another post from the same blog that I think is relevant to the way I've been experiencing the changing world that the changing I am living in/through.

tawal said...

This episode was the linch pin for me that the Criers have no real concern for the "Homeland":
Kingston_Fossil_Plant_coal_fly_ash_slurry_spill

Response:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-04-11/obama-mulls-sale-of-tennessee-valley-authority-in-budget-plan

The memory hole keeps expanding. I heard today: The only wheels left are the training wheels.
Peace, tawal

John Michael Greer said...

Buddha, you're welcome and thank you. Thank you also for catching yourself using "slave" and "serf" as snarl words -- the ability to notice and stop the habit of reducing words to emotionally loaded noises is a crucial one already, and will become even more so as we proceed down the curve of decline.

Postpeak, I'll add it to the long list of podcasts people want me to take in. When there's more than 24 hours in a day, maybe.

Greg, congrats! May the project thrive.

Andy, glad to hear it. It does seem to be easier for the young to grasp what we're discussing.

Sven, I'm not sure we've quite reached the twilight of pretense yet, but it's surely close.

Mr. B., exactly. I'm pleased, though, to hear that you know a lot of people who are getting rid of cable service. If they'll take the next step and get rid of their televisions, they'll have the spare time and defogged minds to deal with other aspects of our predicament!

Shane, if society's run up against a brick wall, and the only way to go anywhere else is to back up, who's in the lead? Those who have been "backwards" about progressing toward the brick wall!

Andrew, exactly. One of the odd side effects of elective government is that you don't get five good presidents in a row; we probably won't get even one, because a good president would have to start by telling the people that they couldn't have everything they think they want, and that guarantees a losing election campaign...

Btidwell, that's because you're still thinking of some kind of situation that would cause all the power everywhere to go off at once. Not so; as I noted in last week's post, it's already going away a bit at a time, and while that will accelerate, it's not going to turn into the giant off switch of contemporary apocalyptic fantasy. You might also want to read some of the comments from last week's post -- we had discussions of the many people who already live in houses with no power or running water, and get by tolerably well.

Cherokee, no argument there -- reality is a lot more pleasant and functional than the crackpot delusions handed out by modern industrial cultures these days!

Pinku-sensei, the "consensus trance" is exactly the pretense I'm discussing. The main difference is that I'm not at all sure that it's a matter of trance -- there's a fair bit of deliberate refusal to look involved!

Fudoshin, that's certainly a major factor. Another is that most people have been taught to value things that only the industrial machine can produce for them, and to despise things that they can get outside the machine.

John Michael Greer said...

Wadulisi, I'm very sorry to hear about your friend! I know it was expected, but still. May the land purchase go well.

Repent, good. Finding the right question isn't a simple thing -- it took each of the Grail knights years of questing to manage the thing, you know.

Stravinsky, wasn't it one of the Roman moralists who wrote about how kids in his time spent all their time getting drunk, driving their chariots too fast, playing that atrocious music, etc.?

Nestorian, good heavens, no. You might look up the Decadent movement in 19th century literature, which focused on the idea that industrial civilization was on its way to decline and fall; Kipling's poem "Recessional" approached the same thing from another angle; and the waning of the British Empire before the First World War was accompanied by lively debates and discussions about British decline.

Yupped, exactly. The loss of faith by the masses in the American dream -- or, as it's become these days, the American Pretense -- is far more dangerous to the existing order of society than any number of terrorist bombs.

Dave, fascinating! I somehow missed hearing about the TSR-2 -- many thanks.

Ben, thanks for the tip -- I'll put it on the get-to list.

Allan, good, but you're missing one important detail. The process of collapse frees up energy, which then goes to work slowing the collapse process: that's the foundation of the theory of catabolic collapse. Once you allow an portion of capital to turn to waste, you no longer have to invest resources in maintaining it, and you can often salvage useful raw materials from it as well. That's the brake that slows the collapse process.

Peakfuture, yes, that would also follow -- and it's among the reasons why people high up on the food chain are terminated with extreme prejudice in the course of collapse, since their disproportionate use of energy makes their removal more valuable to others.

Tasha, makes sense to me.

Claire, exactly. It's going to take pink slips, or some other highly personal shock, to break through the pretense.

Wizzard, the whole point of the bubble economy of the last two decades is that it props up the illusion that we still have a productive economy of any kind here in the US. When that goes, watch out.

John Michael Greer said...

Andrew, where it might bottom out is a good question, and not one that's easy to settle in advance. It could be quite a ways down.

Karim, as I noted in a previous post, I'm far from sure that people actually do believe the slogans they mouth. The emotional reactions you can get by questioning those slogans are among the things that make me think that what's going on is pretense, not actual belief.

N Montesano, that act of focusing is crucial. It has to be done deliberately, because whole industries make their money by doing their best to keep it from happening by chance.

Brian, no argument. I don't see "Third World" as inherently insulting, though -- I think of it as "third time gets it right..."

K-dog, brace for the impact!

Dwig, I'll have a look as time permits, but it sounds as though Preston is using the word "evolution" to mean "progress,"
which is of course erroneous. Nihilism isn't limited to one of these five stages, btw -- as I noted here before, it's a feature of the process by which ages of reason end, and thus is present in some versions of the five-stage pattern and absent in others.

Tawal, of course they don't care about "the Homeland." All they care about is abstractions. More on this as we proceed!

Chloe said...

I must say, JMG, I admire your tenacity in the face of blank incomprehension. (But... but... iPhone!) What bothers me more than the psychological barriers is the general inability or unwillingness to deal with complexity (e.g. the belief that ebola will either kill everybody on the planet or isn't worth worrying about at all). There are few things more exasperating than illustrating a point with small words, big writing and clear diagrams and be greeted with understanding nods, sage "I get its" and a question that makes it apparent the listener hasn't the faintest clue what you're on about. Schools have a lot to answer for.

So does my university, because the mention of White's Law just reminded me of something: we've never been taught about it. I study archaeology; looking at the development (less so the fall, funnily enough) of societies and civilisations is what we *do*. However, it's - shall we say unfashionable - to suggest that the environment or the resource base or anything similar has a significant effect upon the pathway of a society - to say so is derided as "environmental determinism". This leads to the always-fun task of trying to explain the existence and form of a society without, in fact, explaining anything at all (towns just... develop, all right? Because human agency. Or something).

If anybody's still wondering, a direct translation of the Louis quote is, "After me, the flood", which is a bit more poetic if a bit less descriptive.

Gabriela Augusto said...

Alaric and his army roamed around the Italic Peninsula for nearly twenty years before finally attacking Rome. Two decades of warning and the empire could not produce an army to defend Rome. This fact clearly indicates that the roman empire was no longer by the time Alaric came into the picture – there was not enough people in the empire thinking that it worth defending it. That also makes us suspect that while the literate population of the empire was still in “pretense”, the “impact” was already in full swing for a significant majority of the others.
Among us, the numerous baby boomer generation is still benefiting form a system that no longer effectively serves later generations, unemployment numbers (not stats) show that many and more a effectively living “outside the empire” already, and as this fraction grows the question is who or what will be our Alaric. Because when he comes, and he will come in form of a finance, military, environment or religious crisis, who will stand up to defend the Washington or Brussels?

Ares Olympus said...

John, your 5-era names are good and simple, and my mental pattern matcher compares to Churchill's 1936 quote, similar at least in the coming WW2, connects "era of pretense" to "era of procrastination" and "era of impact" as "era of consequences":
“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”
http://www.churchill-society-london.org.uk/Locusts.html

It also connected me to Bill McKibben's NYT opinion piece trying to call out Obama's
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/opinion/obamas-catastrophic-climate-change-denial.html
-----------
This is not climate denial of the Republican sort, where people simply pretend the science isn’t real. This is climate denial of the status quo sort, where people accept the science, and indeed make long speeches about the immorality of passing on a ruined world to our children. They just deny the meaning of the science, which is that we must keep carbon in the ground.
-------------

Myself I was unhappy by McKibben's rhetoric, at least its obvious that "denial of the status quo sort" is something close to 100% of everything we do, almost by definition.

Keeping fossilized carbon in the ground is a rational solution to long term risk, but when a population is addicted to the short term benefits, and has debt to repay, and income to protect, only a dictator can be expected to tell the truth.

I don't think McKibben's goals can be politically realistic, but I'll believe we're serious when we impose a revenue neutral carbon tax at least, and import tarrifs against other countries that don't do the same.

President Carter gave some good speeches at least, some 38 years ago now, and tried to invoke religious sacrifice, and we chose not to take his good advice either. It's nice we can be reminded online:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmlcLNA8Zhc President Jimmy Carter - Report to the Nation on Energy, February 2nd, 1977
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCOd-qWZB_g Jimmy Carter: Crisis of Confidence July 15th, 1979

In our wider predicaments, James Howard Kunstler's book "The Long Emergency" was the first one that clarified the nature of our short memories, so if we awoke from a coma in 2035, we might be shocked by the world we'd see, but if we get there by ordinary waiting, it'll all seem quite normal.

And 2065's surprises will be something similar.

Phil Harris said...

JMG
A bonus of your encouragement to create fictions for the future is that when we follow your suggestion we shine a light into our current assumptions.

The other day I was wondering how many of our buildings would have glass in their windows, and asked myself by what date window glass would be again a cherished rarity?

best
Phil H

tropicaltomatina.com said...

One thing that struck me upon arriving in Australia was the sheer amount of money and "wealth" displayed rather opulently - most visible in the selection of cars on the roads - so many shiny, brand new (or almost brand new) cars around. I thought this was a big city thing, but now I live in a regional area, I see it is rather prevalent.

I wondered how could this be, and gradually learned the truth, which is that many people, including those on average incomes, get easy credit and buy a brand new car with no comprehension, or concern for, the overall amount they end up spending in the end. Pretense (or delusion?!) is alive across the whole spectrum it appears... (I'm happy to report the 1998 Toyota Camry I paid $600 for 3 years ago is still running excellently, with 262,000 kilometres on board and counting.)

Meanwhile, we've had the government announce the proposed budget for the coming year - the same government who not long ago made an election promise to increase paid parental leave for new mothers to 6 months (currently 18 weeks), leaked out on Mother's Day, no less, that what we will get instead are cuts to the existing scheme. I initially thought that was a satire article when I first read it, but no, it's for real... Monica

Andrew H said...

@Cherokee
The values you quote are a bit off and a little confusing. kW (kilowatt) is a unit of power, KWHr (kilowatt-hour) is the unit of energy. The amount of power is immaterial to the height you can lift water. The only difference it makes is to the amount of water lifted. I have a 30 W pump that can lift water up around 30 metres (but only 3 L per minute).

Normal town water pressures are a bit variable around the world. But in Western Australia the Water Corporation is obligated only to provide water at the rate of 20 litre (a bit over 5 US gallons) per minute at a pressure of 150 KPa which is equivalent to 15m of height. This level is certainly quite useable (does us OK).

Water flowing at 20 L/min at 150 KPa is equivalent to 50 W of power. Given losses due to inefficient pumps and pipe friction that would mean a 100-150 W motor could supply the standard rate OK.

One commercial pump I looked at used a 0.5 KW motor and it could easily supply around 3500 litres per hour at that pressure, equal to the full guaranteed rate for about 3 houses.

Many systems use higher pressures, but pressures around 70 M of water height as you suggested would have a good chance of burst water pipes.

Cheers
Andrew

M said...

This period of pretense can make it difficult to determine where to place my energy. I have been involved in my small river city's civic life since moving here 15 years ago, specifically in the area of city planning--building the local economy, making the city more walkable and bikeable, limiting the destructive impacts of overdevelopment and additional cars and parking.

A few years back, we successfully defeated a plan to turn our waterfront into a "faux" transportation oriented development, a buzzword (ab)used by developers that in this case would have brought none of the plusses of a true TOD and many negatives to the community. (I suspect some of our success may have been related to the 2008 bubble pop.)

Now things have heated up to an even higher degree, with many hundreds of "units" planned along the creek this time, all promising to increase our tax base. Along with this comes new cheese stores, beer joints, and galleries to serve the tourists from NYC.

We have the seeds of some good projects happening in local food production, a flea market and farmers market in town, markings and parking for bicycles, etc.

Is it worth it to continue battling the pretense of basing our economy on being a bedroom community and a tourist destination, or do I concentrate on nurturing the seedlings and let the next financial bust take care of the pretense? I also wonder how much to talk about peak oil and many of the other themes on this blog while doing battle--it can often be used as ammo to make one appear a marginal, fringe kook.

George Coles said...

Another fascinating post, Mr. Greer. I don’t think you will be surprised to find that many in my country (I live in Canada) and yours are facing this ecological and economic anxiety by putting their trust in demagogues, small and large. I’ve read some of your
fine posts on this…and I think it’s important to continue stressing the real fragmentation
of our civilization from a political view. Paul Goodman had wrote how technology and all its practical applications is truly a moral philosophy. We have the ability to choose how we use and distribute our technology. And yet, as John Ralston Saul,our illustrious Canadian thinker has noted, in times of crisis, societies tend to seek out “heroes,” instead of self-reflecting and adjusting to the times pragmatically. Saul goes on to remind us that out of the first four modern (post 1750) republics - Corsica established by Pascal Paoli, America (fated to be led by Washington and Jefferson), France, and Haiti – three of them were essentially conquered by Napoleon, who is at heart a beloved strongman with a liberal uniform. A few years ago I read an excellent book by Eric Hoffer entitled “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements”. Like you, he humbly uses history as his guide for the future. What he saw was that civilizations in decline tend to latch on to political nd/or religious mass movements
– some good, many bad. Mass movements are often directed by charismatic leaders who may drive their society in unwanted directions (Hitler and Mussolini are good 20th C. examples). I had to make mention of these items in order to buttress
your case that societies do not have to take a gradual path – they are more than able to fall off cliffs. To make a finer point on your argument, who is to say that the next regime will even allow today’s version of the internet to remain? To paraphrase you Mr. Greer…it is insufficient, at best to believe that “it’s
different this time.”

Lawfish1964 said...

Brilliant post, as usual.

Your post has sparked a flood of thoughts in me. First, as I was watching the Dr. Phil show yesterday (not so much watching as it being on while I checked my social media), the famous Amish guy, Lebanon Levi was touting his new book. He mentioned that the Amish don't pay social security because they don't believe in insurance. I remarked to my son that I wished I could stop paying social security tax on religious grounds. He said, "But Dad, if you do that, you won't get social security when you retire." I had to remark back, "Son, I'm not going to get social security anyway."

Last week, I had a 2 hour excruciating appointment with the college "counselor" at my daughter's private school (not my idea - my wife insisted on private school, so she got a job to pay for it). What an eye-opener. The first thing he said was "Don't get sticker shock. The advertised tuition is like the sticker price on a car. Your daughter will get scholarship money, so the real cost is less." After a horrible two hours, I came away with the realization that what colleges have done since I attended was the old retailers' scheme of doubling the retail price and then having a 50% off "sale." When I attended a state institution in the 1980's, the tuition was roughly $1,200 per semester. Now that same school charges $9,500 per semester, but everyone gets a bright futures "scholarship" that discounts the tuition by $3,000 per year. So the real tuition is $8,000 per semester. Thank God she made a 32 on the ACT so she might get some actual meaningful scholarship money and get the tuition down to something close to what her education will actually be worth.

Meanwhile, in the 10 years I've been with my current law firm, I've watched the local office shrink from 11 lawyers down to 7. When I started here, our large office was fully occupied by lawyers, paralegals and secretaries. Since then, we've shrunk by about 30%. Yet one of my partners just spent $35,000 on a USED Tahoe! He told me that and I told him I just spent $36,000 to buy 30 acres of land in the woods. Does this guy not see the writing on the wall? I suppose the age of pretense can be equated to the age of denial.

asr said...

It reinforces the theme of this post that the quote is actually attributed to Louis XV not the XIV. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apr%C3%A8s%20moi%20le%20d%C3%A9luge
Pre-revolutionary France both peaked and began its inevitable decline under Louis XIV. Read about Louis XV and his imperfect attempts at "reform." France staggered on for 60 years from 1715-1775 under his reign. Our own decline might not be quite so gradual.

fudoshindotcom said...

After you pointed it out I started thinking about the cognitive dissonance engendered in our system of valuation.

One simple example can be easily illustrated by comparing a gas-powered rototiller with a garden hoe. The tiller, overwhelmingly, is considered to be more valuable, based on the supposition that it is faster and easier than using a hoe. Considered from a wider paradigm this fallacy becomes obvious. The initial monetary cost, to regurgitate Thoreau, must take into account the increased number of hours worked to earn the difference in price. We must then add the cost, in hours worked, of maintenance; oil, gas, replacement parts, Time spent on trips to the store to obtain those items. Since maintenance is a recurring event the expenditure of time is continual. I posit that the tiller is, in fact, not faster but significantly more time consuming.
To address the notion that it is easier I would mention the disparity in labor required to earn the difference in price, the work involved in maintenance, and the additional work needed to sustain productivity in soil more deeply disturbed by the tiller.
Seen from here the tiller starts off with a negative value that sinks relentlessly over time. In comparison to the manual-powered, easily maintained hoe it is neither faster nor easier. Dragging the incorrect suppositions regarding the tiller out into the light it becomes fairly obvious that the hoe is not only more valuable, but needs only a tiny fraction of the externalities inherent in the manufacture and use of the tiller.

donalfagan said...

Even though they both seem like decent guys, I think the elections of both Obama and Pope Francis represented damage control - or "pretense" - after the disastrous terms of their predecessors. Obama presents a far more reassuring face to the rest of the world than preppy-turned-redneck GWB, and South American Francis appears far more saintly than Ex Pope Benedict XVI, who did little to quell the child abuse scandal, and may have helped cover it up. But neither has really changed the direction of the organizations they supposedly run.

One can also note the efforts of Chipotle, McDonalds and other restaurant chains to give the impression that they are going to be serving healthier food. I suspect that the people who can still afford to eat out also want to believe they will be scoring some healthy food.

Then there is the self-driving car ... sheesh. Every time I have to use use a self-checkout and get stuck in a loop, I imagine a car self-driving into an abutment while the control panel reads, "Error Detected: Please Contact Technical Support."

Speaking of bizarre tall building projects: http://thesmartset.com/the-tower/

peakfuture said...

Ah, but how do the folks at the top of the food chain get "exterminated with extreme prejudice?" when surrounded by a ubiquitous security apparatus?
Since this will all happen in a fractal collapse landscape, how might that look?

In your multi-part bit on the breakup of the US, there weren't any big takedowns of the elites; things simply wound down at home (although, in the category of life imitating art, the government of Texas responding to Jade Helm sounds somewhat like a watered down version of the way things happened in your story).

Or is this something that might happen after the cards get reshuffled? Or, is it simply that the elites can't do what they do (you can't run a huge invasive security apparatus without the energy to do so), and they self-downgrade?

Cathy McGuire said...

Another wonderful post. I haven't gotten to the (numerous!)comments yet, but wanted to get this in before it got long:
I've started a link list of the entries for JMG's next writing contest over at www.greenwizards.info - please let me know if I've missed any so far.

Also - one of our Canadian members who received the mailing list tells me that Customs opened and resealed it (with their little message tape) - not wanting to be paranoid, but I guess they might have taken a copy of the list, to add to their data pile (in their own paranoia)... who knows? Just thought I'd give the heads up. I thought snail mail would be more private than email... sigh...

Maxine Rogers said...

Hi Everyone,
I became terribly ill when I was only 30. Before that, I ran, lifted weights and did a lot of scuba diving. Any attempt to tell me then that I was always going to have this illness and just had to live within my new health means would have been soundly rejected.

Denial got me into a lot of trouble because I made bad decisions but it also gave me the hope I needed to carry on. I think that is the situation now facing the denizens of industrialized countries.

I try to be gentle with people who are facing a shrinking standard of living. I try to be helpful and positive. I know what it feels like to have your certainties stripped from you. Denial is the best they can do at the moment.

FiftyNiner said...

JMG,
I just read yesterday that 31 per cent of all Russians believe that they will be invaded by the United States. On its face, how ABSURD! But is it? I have tried for longest time to figure what sort of result the "pols" and "defense" establishment hope to gain by trotting out at every chance their beloved "twins" of "American Exceptionalism" and "Technical Superiority" backed by their unshakable faith that all will be well in the long run, while everything that the US touches ends up irretrievably worse for us, not to mention the poor folks that our politicians have convince themselves they are only trying to help.
While I was in the kitchen fixing breakfast for myself and my two brothers this morning the TV was on the Today Show and I heard(I don't watch) the confrontation between the young female college student in Nevada and Jeb Bush! The amazing thing about this to me was that it affirms that the young are beginning to pay attention.
My question, though, is what are the chances that we can make it through this patch we are in without a major war that could morph into the worst kind of cataclysm? My own view is that if we can get to the financial collapse that will evaporate all those paper fortunes, the plutocrats will be so busy trying to figure how what has happened to them that they will be too stunned to act. However, when they sense that the pitchforks are coming for them, they will do all they can to divert the peoples' attention outward to a foreign scapegoat.

William Zeitler said...

I note that 'pretense', the first of your five phases (pretense, impact, response, breakdown, and dissolution) corresponds nicely to the first of Kübler-Ross's five stages of death and dying (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). I don't expect your five stages to match up neatly one to one with K-R's, but I suspect they'll rhyme!

Diana Haugh said...

And of course even Gibbon, in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, mused about how and when the next Dark Ages would replace the civilization he was witnessing rise in the nascent Industrial Age.

Lord of the Barnyard said...

Thanks for all you do.

Here is an article I found interesting:Nautilus: What the deer are telling us.

Deer have so-far largely escaped Malthusian predictions.
It suggests that some creatures can prolong (far beyond most predictions) an inevitable crash from overshoot, to the point even of thriving (in certain aspects) in the meantime. Deer and humans being the relevant examples here.
Doing so doesn't exempt one from the longer-term result, but it sure seems like a free pass in the meantime. Ignoring, of course, all the, uh, externalities.

Shane Wilson said...

One of the major stair steps down for the U.S. will be loss of its empire and attendant wealth pump. Expect shortages, lines, and wildly fluctuating prices. The third world is a good example of what that will look like.
Last week, JMG, you mentioned massive immigration into Europe, but how will this pan out after the EU stops being the U.S. preferred client state, with preferred access to the wealth pump? Unless they make similar arrangements with Russia, what will be the draw? Europe is already massively overcrowded, and depends on preferential trade to feed itself. What will keep the masses coming? Existing wealth to loot?

Fred said...

It will take a lot more thinking for me to synthesize a coherent idea regarding the loss of electricity. Without even getting into the fact that our entire economy depends heavily on the electric grid, a few randomly organized thoughts and questions follow:

1) One of the important contributions of electrification is the simple ability of the electric light bulb to provide lighting during dark, evening hours that can then be used for educational purposes and self-improvement; reading/study. Electrification has been shown to be a basic tool allowing a population to lift itself out of poverty.

2) Prior to universal electrification, the population was agriculturally based and rooted in a social system of extended families; largely self-reliant.
a) What are the social/civil repercussions of a “diaspora of individuals” that is reliant on electrification to connect them to their family and social networks upon which they depend? What are the repercussions for a population acclimated to the benefits of universal electrification? And what are their political, psychological and emotional reactions likely to be as these benefits are lost?

3) What happens as cable tv service disappears for many and:
a) The “circuses” portion of “Bread & Circuses” ends for millions of bored, frustrated, unemployed and disenfranchised people?
b) The information control (propaganda), mind control (and behavior control) aspect of mass information disappears as a control tool for TPTB?

Granted, the loss of electrification may initially follow a process of triage, sort of like a New Deal, “Rural Electrification Project” in reverse, but I doubt that the unraveling process will be gradual, either. An electric system can be built up slowly, but a mature system requires economies of scale in order to function.
Our current electric system is approaching the end of its anticipated useful service life right now. The consequences of its dissolution will certainly be profound; not just a simple reset to nineteenth century conditions. I would expect that there would be compounding effects; in negative directions. And I also expect that TPTB will move heaven and earth to keep the system up and running as long as is possible (presenting its own set of negative feedback loops).

Travis said...

@postpeakmadicine- thank you for link. This site is fantastic.
@ Greg Belvedere- Thanks for your link. As a parent i am very interested in checking out your work.

Last but not least thank you JMG for your always priceless two cents.

figure i should pay it forward by sharing a link to another podcast plus that I find very important www.permaculturevoices.com It's title pretty much speaks to its content.

Ruben said...

@HalFiore

From last week--many Rocket Stoves have been built with "Mexican Floor Tile".

Rocket stove pdf

But check out the comments on this forum for an easy alternative.

Ceramic Liner

Dave Ruggiero said...

I remembered your post from two weeks ago saying "regular access" to running water and electricity, and sure enough that's what it said when I checked. I didn't find that a surprising prediction at all - after all, how many interruptions does it take for service to be "irregular?" Not many, particularly if you're trying to make a living in the cyber-economy that is supposedly going to save us. It's interesting that so many people seem to have skipped that word, though, but I think the thought of the lights going out (at all) terrifies plenty of Americans. They don't know what to do with themselves in the meantime.

I wanted to send along a link: apparently Greenpeace released a report last week pointing out the high energy footprint involved in the Internet and saying that the energy used to watch a movie over streaming video isn't all that much less than that involved in driving to your local theater. Looks like there's a little more attention being paid to the costs that don't show up in your monthly bill.

Varun Bhaskar said...

Archdruid,

Maybe a projection of the next ten years would be helpful?

bryant said...

Great essay; thank you.

It is interesting to me that once the 'scales of pretense' fall from your eyes, the whole world looks new and different...and strangely distorted. When someone still in the grips of pretense says something, it takes a moment to understand what they are saying, as it seems so incongruous.

When the sanitary sewer was forced on us, I watched the pipe being installed. It was only eight inches wide and served the entire neighborhood. It seemed incredibly vulnerable to clogging and simple sediment accumulation. Fast forward a year, and a huge vacuum truck appears on the street in front of my house… to clean out the sewer. I spoke to the operator; he said they clean out the sewers every other year. That was 2004. Bad things happened to the county’s finances in 2008 from which they have never recovered. I spoke with another vacuum truck operator this year and told him I would see him in a couple of years; he said, “oh no, we only clean out every three to four years”.

So I looked up the price of his truck and all I could find were fully depreciated, twenty-five year old versions; they were selling for $70,000. I’d guess a new one might cost $500,000. Decreasing tax revenues and escalating debt costs suggest that a day may come when there are no vacuum trucks or they are only used in wealthy neighborhoods. Once the sewer clogs, the sanitation implications are… well, pretty crappy. as are the public health implications.

Michael McG said...

Dear Archdruid,

Is the “collective imagination” constrained by decades of intense conditioning and training geared to use a reality of ever increasing energy and materials as a means to thrive?

By thrive I mean to maximize the use of such energy and materials in any given moment of time to hold and improve social status.
I believe the answer is yes. It is human nature to maximize the utility of any environment to survive and thrive. I’m trying to include this conditioning theme question in my story.

On the treadmill and can’t get off, I think the elite of our times are less senile than is generally portrayed but like many are bound to imagination constraints brought on by generations of conditioning.

Well before guillotines’ become stylish I expect a global time of Proscription such as what happened in Rome near its peak where packs of elites prayed on each other to maintain social status and bring on the glorious new.

Easy money = One Senator vs. Hard money = One hundred thousand plebs.

I’ve been reading your blog and books for a number of years and found you to be very consistent/realistic in terms of time frame predictions whereby themes of change emerge over time rather than highly specific events at particular times.

Thanks for your lack of pretense in divination and sharing of historical knowledge (A history of the end of time).

On the story writing front, I’m experiencing exponential growth in character dialog and struggling to rein it in so as not to have a 10 hour movie script rather than a short story. I may kill off some of the chattier people and hold a remembrance for them to save words. Woe un to them. ;>)

Thank you for another inspirational view of our times.
Michael (ever faithful Plebeian)

Vilko said...

Dear Mr Greer:

When the electricity supply becomes unreliable, running water also becomes unreliable in urban areas, because moving it through the tubes requires electrical power at the water treatment plant. There's one near my home, here in France. According to a friend of mine who used to work there, their power generators can provide electricity for only two days if the grid is down.

If the grid remains down after two days (as could happen if power stations are targeted during a civil war) millions of people will have to live without electricity and running water. All city life comes to a halt, and I'm afraid that food shortages will begin when the food stores are empty, a few days after the grid is down.

There will be no gas at the filling stations anymore, for it is pumped out of underground tanks by, you guessed it, electrical pumps. Supermarkets, either in France or in the USA, don't store food for more than a few days. If the trucks stop coming, the shelves are empty in three days.

Large, modern cities without electricity (and therefore without running water) would be unlivable and would have to be evacuated.

Imagine living without electricity and water in an apartment. No running water means no flush toilets. If you have a garden, you can use a chamber pot and empty it in a corner of the garden, but what do you do in an apartment?

I guess, though, that the process will take some time, and the evacuation of the cities will take years, rather than days, and will be a result of resource depletion rather than violence. But whatever the cause will be, what will be left behind will look apocalyptic indeed.

Very few people realize that our daily lives depend on a relatively small number of power plants which could be easily destroyed, the power transformer being the easiest target.

Don't rely on wells in urban areas: where I live, east of Paris, some people still have wells (it used to be a village), but the underground water is either gone or polluted.

Incidentally, Louis XV, not Louis XIV, said "Après moi le déluge". They had very different personalities (Louis XIV, the Sun King, would never have made such a callous joke).

changeling said...

Mr Greer,

great post! However I have small observation: my country (Poland) last 25 years were one of best in last 200 years. I've run in that fact every time I tried to broach a topic of decline. It is hard to convince people that decline is inevitable when most of their life passed during quarter of century of progress.. I think that part of USA elite's senility (and believe in future of abundance) can be attributed to the fact that they also had three decades long run of enrichment.

Clay Dennis said...

I am going to stretch this thread a bit and speculate on what I think will be the most likely events to bring us to the end of the era of pretense. I agree that we are deeply embedded in this era and it seems that there is almost nothing that can't be ignored, spun, lied about or blamed on criminals, terrorists or crazy people. I believe that an upcoming series of three events coming together will portend the end of this era.
The next financial crash " temoporary setback" will occur in the near future kicked off by any number of not so black swans such as greece, shale crash, stock reversals or retail impolsion. But this by itself would not be enough to shake us from the era of pretense as it could be papered over with more printing etc.
The next factor will be the first significant loss of global military/economic power that may not be devastating such as in " Twilights last Gleaming" but enough so that other countries start ignoring us and pursuing their own best interests. This has happened in small doses with Syria and Yemen. But something such as having our proxies run out of the Ukraine, or having the Germans change sides would be enough.
Then thirdly, having the current trajectory of oil prices, drilling costs and demand destruction that is now battering the once stable oil market play out to its conlclusion of severely reduced oil avaiability.
I think the three of these will come together to quickly cause a significant situation for those living here on fantasy island. We here in the USA will be stuck with our domestic production of oil from traditional wells. This is probably somewhere from 5-6 million barrells per day. As we currently use 17-18 million barrells per day this will be a massive shock to america's auto centered lifestyle. It would bring us to an average oil per person of most of the world so in the big scheme of catabolic collapse it will only be a small step. But to the average motorist it will be a giant change. 5-6 million barrells of oil per day is about enough to keep trucking, agriculture, electricity generation and chemical feedstocks going with little left over for any consumer transportation. The effects of this can left for future disussion, but I doubt it can be covered up, bringing an end to the age of pretense.

Patricia Mathews said...

peakfuture said...

"Ah, but how do the folks at the top of the food chain get "exterminated with extreme prejudice?" when surrounded by a ubiquitous security apparatus?"

I have a friend born and raised small-town blue-collar who answered that one immediately. "Their security guards shoot them."

She also pointed out that maids and gardeners move among these people freely, have eyes and ears, and some of them have grudges. Or no-good relatives. or whatever.

Lawfish1964 said...

Fudoshindotcom, I loved your post on the roto-tiller. I said something similar late in the comments last week. Worth a re-post:

Cathy McGuire, I loved your comment about the backhoe. I'm in my third season with a back yard garden and am still going steeply up the learning curve. Last year, I bought a tiller attachment for my weed-eater. After my first tilling with it, I posted on Instagram that it was the best $100 I ever spent.

Two weeks ago, however, I had to turn over half my beds. I started with a shovel and quickly encountered so much difficulty with dollar weeds that I decided to put on my knee pads from my tile-setting days and dig by hand with a spade. Now the weeds are seriously at bay, the soil has never been better tilled and the crops are responding in kind! It's so hard to shed the mentality that a power tool will always do the job better. I fear I will be putting my tiller attachment on e-bay as it comes nowhere near doing the job that just getting down in the dirt does.

jonathan said...

climate scientists have largely concluded that the world will be unable to reduce carbon emissions enough to keep warming below the 2 degree threshold (by 2020) necessary to prevent really bad stuff from happening. now there's a new argument: the 2 degree threshold can be met by 2030 by instituting an aggressive program of "negative emissions" by planting and harvesting immense amounts of bio mass, burning it for energy and burying the resultant co2. how clever is that? draw co2 out of the atmosphere, burn the biomass and capture the greenhouse gas output.
i am not joking. very smart people actually believe this could happen. see the latest ipcc report on climate change here: http://mitigation2014.org/. having made zero progress limiting greenhouse gasses with renewables, emission controls etc. the newest answer is a vast new political and technological leap forward to GROW renewable fuel and capture and sequester its co2 content.
pretense or self-delusion?
you just can't make this stuff up.

avalterra said...

JMG,
I think you nailed the biggest problem you have in communicating your thoughts. Your view is just too big for most people to handle. For most people collapse is not something they can imagine happening year after year, decade after decade. For them when the internet goes down they assume Mad Max will be pulling up in the drive way. If they loose electricity they assume they will be living in a mud hut. The idea that their grandparents likely lived at least part of their lives without electricity, running water or indoor plumbing and that they might return to that level of resource access is just unthinkable unless it is apocalyptic.

AV

Bruce E said...

Hi John -- first time you'll be reading a comment of mine but I've been reading you for about a year now.

If you ever get the inclination, could you attempt the painful and thankless (and ultimately, self-deprecating) task of attempting to intuit and even quantify the pace of collapse?

A lot of your writing points to a relatively-slow collapse (over centuries), and then sometimes I am struck by simultaneous shorter-term (i.e. within the next 10-20 years) predictions that seem to intuit a significantly-more painful decent than I might predict, although in principle I certainly don't disagree with the downward trajectory.

Consider your thought experiment a few weeks back, where birth rates drop just a tad and life expectancy drops from 80 to 77 years or so, and we have a sustained 1% population decline. On a personal level we might not "feel" such a change, but in 2035 we'll look back and see that the US has dropped from ~320M to ~260M people. While certainly downward in trajectory, it's not the apocalyptic vision others might come up with where we have a massive die-off of >10% of our population in a few months' time, perhaps several such punctuated decimations over the course of a decade.

If somehow per-capita GDP rises slowly, say 0.5% per year, on a personal level (assuming all gains don't go to the top 0.01% of us and inequality doesn't get horribly-worse) we might feel like things are gradually improving over time or at least not getting worse, but that will be belied by a GDP that falls from $17T to $15T in that same 20 years, and chances are that even in such a rose-colored scenario that economists will never be able to imagine that a slowly-contracting economy is a good thing.

To play with this overly-optimistic "soft landing" scenario, what it White's Law relating per-capita power consumption and per-capita GDP growth has been broken? The energy industry has recently been publishing some hopeful graphs that seem to suggest that over time things like load-side efficiency has decoupled the relationship between energy growth rates and GDP growth rates. (This decoupling is most-likey the rise of the bubble-based financial sector, which has morphed to something like 40% of our economy without burning 40% of the energy, and since it is most or all of the GDP growth in the last decade or so, White's Law may not be as broken as I might wish it to be...)

Let's say the energy industry's hopes are not entirely unfounded, and that through some combination of personal load-side efficiency and conservation measures (on the aggregate), per-capita energy consumption also goes down slowly, say another 0.5% per year, in which case we go from 87 to 64 quadrillion BTU over that period 2015-2035. While energy production certainly cannot keep rising every year, could it perhaps keep up with this kind of contraction?

This is just to put some numbers out there, to put a shape to the curve for a "slow crash" intuition, and to challenge someone like you to point out what is fundamentally wrong and overly-optimistic about such a soft-landing scenario and why nobody who is paying attention should waste much time on such a hope for the future. I'm guessing that finance and credit are simply not prepared to deal with downward production rates, that there is something house-of-cards-ish about the Ponzi schemes that have sustained us to this point, that once it starts to go downward it's more like a freefall and less like a pleasant trip on a glider.

What do you think -- any hope whatsoever for a soft landing at this point?

Michael McG said...

Fred, Let me chime in on one of your questions please?

3) What happens as cable tv service disappears for many and:
a) The “circuses” portion of “Bread & Circuses” ends for millions of bored, frustrated, unemployed and disenfranchised people?
MickG perspective – People will put on their own Circuses and find/produce entertainment of one sort or another. I for one am working on my show. Right now, there are many neighbors who enjoy playing music with me and swapping stories in my neck of the poorer inner city scene (back yard or front steps). Why we even drink a beer or two while doing so and make plans to help each other out with various projects. I see storytelling revival and local music get to-gathers as a huge growth in our progression.

b) The information control (propaganda), mind control (and behavior control) aspect of mass information disappears as a control tool for TPTB?
MickG – Information control and TPTB will localize more and the structures for such revert to those of the past. The flow of info will slow greatly. TPTB will change/evolve to use less IT intensive means of control though it will likely be centralized through Corporate/Governmental/Religious,Trade structures. Good examples of this would be the Hudson Bay Company of 1700s, Labor Unions, Trade Guilds, Gangs, Political Parties, Churches, Clubs of various sorts. Those who are organized and connected will always have a superior ability to compete/survive and hopefully, have more fun. Fun? Yep! In my opinion this is a much better control mechanism than fear. TPTB have used Fun for years as a control mechanism, there is even new evidence coming out that those who constructed the pyramids did so not as the whipped slave dogs portrayed in some movies but rather as a worthwhile rewarding community effort where you could meet interesting people and do good things together.
BTW – My multi state electric provider spends hundreds of millions annually just to remove growing tree branches from wires. This is called ”Vegetation Management”. I would imagine as time pushes budget priorities, the trees may start to get more than a light clip every few years causing great squealing from the tree owners. As our collective ranges of options narrow: it is my desire that us humans become better and faster at prioritizing and making decisions based on both short and longer range impacts. I believe that is our next evolutionary hurdle, to get better making decisions.

Frank Obits said...

@btidwell wrote: "I'm guessing two or three percent of American houses, probably less, don't require central heat."

I was born in 1944 and still remember the treks to the outhouse through the snowdrifts of a Michigan winter.

It was a glorious day when we got indoor plumbing, but then we had to worry about the pipes and toilet freezing. Our solution was a 100-watt bulb under the kitchen sink and a small kerosine heater in the bathroom. Some arrangement had to be made. On cold winter mornings, it wasn't unusual for the teakettle on the wood-burning kitchen range to be frozen as solid as a rock.

I think, my friend, that your definition of "require" is different than mine.

Daddy Hardup said...

Interesting. I've seen Jared Diamond's work (e.g. Guns, Germs & Steel) criticised for its 'environmental determinism'. Is this a snarl term used by post-structuralists to decry anyone who posits the existence of a material world beyond and underneath the chains of signifiers? As if the ivory towers of the university didn't rest on such a world?

Dwig said...

"... it sounds as though Preston is using the word 'evolution' to mean 'progress', which is of course erroneous".

Well, it's not quite that simple. It would be closer to say "increase in complexity", although each stage in Gebser's model (which Preston uses as a basis, but not his entire worldview) has what Gebser called an "efficient manifestation" at the beginning, and a "deficient manifestation" later, which is similar in some respects to the decline phase of an empire or civilization. The current stage, called "mental-rational" by Gebser, has been in its deficient manifestation for some time now.

To me, though, the question isn't so much whether the models (maps) that Preston describes, as what insights they trigger by studying them, and comparing them to more common models. (Then, of course, there's Blake...)

On second thought, Preston's musings might be more appropriate to the Well of Galabes than here.

John Michael Greer said...

Chloe, well, of course -- dismissing any ecological influence on human history as "environmental determinism" is essential to preserve the rhetorical force of a different kind of determinism, the determinism of progress: the claim that all human history (and prehistory) always had to result in where we are now, that our kind of technological society is inevitable and leads just as inevitably to whatever future we're supposed to want this week. That's crucial, after all, if people are to be made to forget that they can choose to have a different future -- and making people forget that has been an essential part of American metapolitics since 1980 or so.

Gabriela, excellent! Keep in mind, though, that Alaric may be no more abstract this time than he was last time. Here in the US, he may be the leader of the insurgency the so-called "drug gangs" are evolving into; in Europe, the leader of a mass migration from the Middle East, etc. When civilizations fall, such things happen.

Ares, I also noted McKibben's plaint. The sad thing is that he thought, and apparently still thinks, that the eco-cant retailed by the Democratic party means something.

Phil, excellent!

Tomatina, er, were you under the impression that your government thinks it's obliged to pay any attention to its campaign rhetoric the moment the election is over?

M, I'd encourage you to consider fighting where you think you can win, but don't mention peak oil or anything like it under any circumstances. Leave that to the archdruids on the fringe, who don't have any reputation for respectability to worry about.

George, good. I've written at length in previous posts about the possibility of fascism and other self-defeating mass movements in the deindustrial age; those are among the things that can drive the sort of sudden crisis which, as noted in my post, is part of the long descent.

Lawfish, most of the younger people I know are openly contemptuous of the suggestion that they might get Social Security when they're old. I'm not planning on seeing a penny of it. Thus I'm not sure why your son was surprised!

Asr, duly noted -- thanks for the correction!

Fudoshin, excellent! That's exactly the sort of whole systems thinking that has to be learned and practiced now, and even more so in the future.

Donalfagan, if self-driving cars ever become common, I'm quite confident the phrase "blue screen of death" will become considerably more than a metaphor in short order...

Peakfuture, the way ruling elites always get removed -- by their own bodyguards. The moment the rule of law finally goes away, the bodyguards have no reason not to have weapon-related accidents happen to their employers, and every reason to want all that unearned wealth for themselves. Historically speaking, that's one of the most reliable events in the implosion of a civilization, as I've noted in previous posts here.

PatriciaT said...

Thank you JMG for yet another wonderful post.
As seen from many archeological studies, the ruins in Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico provide a fine example of a culture that went through a spectacular era of pretense before its demise. To summarize some points from a well-cited (IMO) Wikipedia article: The building complexes, contructed using vast quantities of lumber and stone, were the largest in North America until the 19th century(!). The area became a major trade and cultural center of the Ancient Pueblo (Anazazi) people begining in the 800s and in full swing a century or two later. It was toward the end, during the 'building boom' of 1020 to 1050 when the largest and most elaborate of the complexes were built and thousands of trees were cut down in the immediate area and far beyond. The death knell was sounded around 1140, after a ten year drought, as people began leaving the Chaco Canyon complexes; more droughts followed and the area was abandoned by 1450. Resource depletion and mismanagement occurred on a massive scale in an area that was marginal to begin with and subject to intermittant droughts.
From what I understand, cutting down forests causes or increases the severity of drought. I've heard that the area in and around Chaco Canyon still suffers the effects of what happened over eight centuries ago (maybe the area would have recovered by now if only those pesky Europeans had stayed on their side of the pond). One can only imagine what would have occurred had they lived during these modern times. Oh - wait! Nevermind.... Another major new housing development is planned for the far side of sprawl-ville. Never mind that there's a chronic and intensifying water shortage, or plethora of existing abandoned relatively new houses (not to mention abandoned buildings throughout older parts of the city), or the lack of decent jobs and more major employers leaving than staying or moving in. The sheer waste of energy and materials that would go into building this project, plus future costs, as well as the destruction of precious natural habitat, is simply mind-boggling. I hope it doesn't go through. And while the many voices of reason may yet prevail and keep the project from going forward, it's not likely. But maybe, just maybe, the voices of reason can delay the project until it gets stomped to bits when the era of impact hits.
Again, thanks to you JMG, and to all those who share comments. 'Hearing' your 'voices' of reason - practical, realistic, affirmative, instructive, non-judgemental - has been helping me to deal with my personal demons and, step by step, doing more with less.

John Michael Greer said...

Cathy, many thanks for the heads up!

Maxine, granted -- but the longer people remain in denial, the fewer opportunities for making a better future for themselves they're going to have.

FiftyNiner, I don't expect a major war in the pre-nuclear sense of the word until technology declines to the point that nukes can't be kept in viable condition, because the risks of nuclear escalation are simply too great for any government to risk; that's why there hasn't been all-out war between major powers since 1945. Instead, I expect proxy wars, insurgencies, economic warfare, sabotage, cyberwar, and the like, which will have the same result but pose fewer existential risks.

William, fascinating. For what it's worth, I wasn't thinking of the Kubler-Ross stages at all when I put together the five stages in question!

Diana, he did indeed. That sort of thing was much discussed until fairly recently.

Barnyard, it's exactly the externalities that are at issue, of course.

Shane, Europe may be overcrowded but it's less so than the habitable parts of the Middle East and northern Africa, and it also has ample water supplies. Starving and desperate people aren't going to worry too much about other details.

Fred, good. These are the sorts of questions that people should be thinking about. Answering them would take a good-sized post, not a mere comment here, so I'll simply encourage you to follow up your idea about rural de-electrification; cutting rural areas and poor neighborhoods out of the grid isn't difficult, and would save electricity for the rich and privileged -- at least for a while.

Travis, you're welcome.

Dave, good. Yes, I did indeed say that, and I also noticed how many people immediately acted as though that useful qualifier wasn't there at all.

Varun, I don't know that it would be, because it's very hard to nail things down to that sort of strict timeline. Are you familiar with catastrophe theory? This is that sort of thing; that something's going to give is certain, but when and where -- that's another matter.

Bryant, good. I'd encourage you to get a composting toilet sooner rather than later, and learn how to operate it; that way you won't have to rely on the sewer system when it, shall we say, craps out.

Michael, the collective imagination is indeed so constrained -- that's why it's crucial to develop individual imagination, and learn how to think things that you're not supposed to think.

John Michael Greer said...

Vilko, it depends on where you live. Many US cities and towns outside of the plains regions have gravity-fed water systems that will keep going for quite a while without electricity. Remember also that utilities can prioritize electrical supply to critical services -- such as water treatment -- while letting poor and peripheral neighborhoods go dark for prolonged periods.

Changeling, in the US, the good times ran from the end of the Second World War to 1972, and things have been contracting here since then. That doesn't seem to have made most Americans more willing to grapple with the reality of decline!

Clay, possibly, but if I had to guess, I'd predict that what pushes us over into the era of impact will be something nobody is expecting.

Jonathan, thank you -- a first-rate example of an era of pretense in action. No, you can't make this stuff up. Writing political and social satire during an era such as this has to be the world's most difficult job -- how do you top the absurdity in what people are saying every single day?

Avalterra, I know. That's why I keep on bringing it up, and trying to help people think in sufficiently large terms.

Bruce, I've done that many times here. There is no one pace of collapse; it's a fractal process that moves at different rates at different places and times. There are lots of little breakdowns you barely notice, a amsller number of larger discontinuities, and then every so often a real whopper that leaves plenty of carnage and ruin in its wake. Some people and places will land soft, some hard, and some will be splattered across the surface. As for quantification, we'd have to settle on a specific metric, and then explore just how relevant that one metric is to the broader issue of overall decline and fall.

Daddy, a nice summary.

Dwig, and yet complexity only increases when there's an increase in energy per capita, and decreases when this goes down. Here again, it seems to me that the temporary spike in energy per capita and its results caused by fossil fuels is being mapped onto all of history, with unhelpful results.

Patricia, you're welcome and thank you. Just think of the interesting ruins we're storing up for future archeologists!

William Knight said...

"A good example of this is that the off grid solar community down here has been providing some honest and frank assessments of the newfangled Tesla battery in box arrangement which is being touted as a revolution in battery storage."

I think this is a great example of the current phase of pretense. I've been hearing from a number of people recently who have latched onto the Tesla battery as our latest technological salvation.

From what I can tell, this is just another rich person's toy, as the battery is very expensive, requires extremely advanced technology and has rather limited battery life.

That's fine for an electric car, but if you want to get people's homes off the grid, why not develop the 100-year old Nickel-Iron battery instead? It has much better battery life and is far more environmentally friendly (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nickel%E2%80%93iron_battery).

I wonder if the lack of patentability on that older technology might have something to do with it.

Kutamun said...

I think modern day Great Britain herself is a vivid example of what Americans can expect in the next few decades to befall their own ailing empire ;
Out of energy both literally and morally , increasingly beset by secessionist forces , ruled with an iron fist by a decrepit elite who still insist the Sun will never set on the Raj ( military / industrial complex ) ; headed by an ageing monarch ( progress ) who is adept at avoiding the guillotine , always seeming to find something to buy just a little more time . Her borders being swamped with disgruntled populace of former colonies , bankrupt , battered by climate change with a plethora of ill will around the world that she generated herself .
A morally decrepit , entitled and increasingly outraged and bewildered domestic populace ( how did it come to this ? ) , drug and crime epidemic . A still substantial military with a proud history capable of projecting some force but not of achieving dominance , based on past glories UK still fancies herself as a mover and shaker and has her finger in many pies .
Uncanny how similar you both are !
In breaking news The New Mad Max film does not disappoint in illustrating the type of degenerate war band culture JMG has illustrated many times in his writings . This one seems to explore the nature and role of the feminine principle and water in such a society , that is , the principals of feeling , emotion , cooperation and connection . All the main characters struggle to discover , reduscover or maintain this connection within themselves while being pursued by a mad dictatorial former military officer who guards " the citadel" one of the few remaining places capable of sourcing water and growing vegetation . Max and the Valkyries flee and proceed far into a blasted desert before the epiphany of realising they must run the gauntlet back to the citadel , take it by force and establish a gentler , more feminine though still fierce rule. . The concept of elevation crops up again and again , and this is most definitely not a society where equality can ( or should ?) play a part . Hope you enjoy it as much as i did !

peakfuture said...

Don't forget George Carlin's comment "It's called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it."

I think there are a few 'comedians' who have hit the nail on the head, George Carlin and Bill Hicks were two who got it. Luckily, they followed the dictum, "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you."





Myosotis said...

We had a request from the company owner at work today that paralleled that classic height of a flagpole math problem very closely. And it was a fine sunny day.

I was surprised and disappointed that no one else understood what I was doing, measuring the two shadows, then solving the proportion. (I did have to use pen and paper it wasn't even and my mental math is slow). I told them it had probably come up in math class sometime when they were 11-15.

If something gets forgotten and lost that quickly, by relatively bright, educated folks, then I can see a lot more how knowledge gets lost to society.

Steve Morgan said...

Given the recent string of plugs for regional meetups, I hope you won't mind if I spread the word about one for the Colorado Front Range. We're aiming for Saturday May 30, location TBD depending on who responds and where they live. Interested folks, please check out the forum post over on the Green Wizard site:

http://teresamcguffey.com/greenwizards.org/?q=node/34620

William Zeitler said...

Kübler-Ross makes it clear that the five stages of death and dying aren't sequential -- they're a seemingly random walk (my analogy) amongst the five stages until the end. Much like your characterization of the 'death and dying' of our civilization as 'fractal'.

Interesting to consider that the death of one human (composed, by the way, of trillions of cells) might exhibit some of the same characteristics as the death of a civilization (composed of a billion or so humans?).

pyrrhus said...

I looked up the specs for the Tesla Powerwall: 10 Kwh ($3500) and 7 Kwh($3000) capacities available, maximum amps 8.6, peak power 3.3 Kw, 92% efficiency, weight 100 KG, DC-AC Inverter NOT included, requires professional installation.
Quite expensive and very limited capabilities, IMO, a generator is certainly much cheaper...

Brian Weber said...

I quite liked your description of decline as "pretense, impact, response, breakdown, and dissolution," and immediately saw how well it fit the Roman imperial era. But when you started talking about Augustine as living the age of pretense, I got confused. Surely someone who witnessed the Imperium's vivisection and died within 30 years of Romulus Augustulus' birth was seeing the breakdown phase!

With many here I like history, so let me lay out how I saw Rome potentially fitting into your model. Cliché as it may be, I'd say Rome's high water mark was the ~100 year period of the 'Good Emperors,' as dubbed by Gibbons. This extended period of internal peace and prosperity may correlate with the USA post WWII till present. In your 5-phase model, it would appear this is the Pretense phase. Then the onset of decline came with the Antonine plague, affecting the close-quartered army especially severely and initiating man-power and taxation crises that Rome was never really able to resolve. The famous Crisis of the Third Century would appear to be the "Impact" phase, and the Diocletian reforms and aftermath the "Response" phase. Then "Breakdown" would begin roughly with Theodosius, and accelerated under the (morbidly) comical Valentinian III... who overlapped with Augustus. Breakdown bled into Dissolution, and total oblivion came around 600 or so with the disappearance of the Roman senate (which, curiously, survived the fall of the Empire itself).

I would be interested to hear about how your view of the 5-phase model differs!

Steve Carrow said...

JMG- from the eighth paragraph: "...the more privileged inmates of the industrial nations....". This is merely a side note to your main point, but that word "inmates" really jumped out at me for some reason. Just wondered how intentional you were with choosing that word, when plenty of less evocative words would have done. Choosing words is central to your craft, after all.

That one word affirmed once again the fact that we as individuals are not in control of the big picture, and are captive in a forward rushing chain of events. While I am actively working to improve my personal and local situation, as a people, our destiny is rather locked in at this point.

Tat Loo said...

I suspect that the many thousands of Americans in the capitalist sacrifice zones of Detroit, Baltimore and Pine Ridge who are (or are about to be) without running water and power, are often thought about by the privileged classes in the same way as the Afghans, the Iraqis and the Somalians who have to make do without dependable or daily access to those utilities i.e. they are not thought about at all.

The same cognitive blinders and studious ignorance used to overlook humanitarian crises in far off lands are so well practiced at this stage that turning their application domestically is just second nature.

hedgehogcircus said...

The Era of Pretense, indeed. I almost snorted tea out my nose when reading in the weekend paper that Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s chief business advisor Maurice Newman not only does not believe in climate change, but says it is all part of a UN plot to implement a world government. He said:

"This is not about facts or logic. It’s about a new world order under the control of the UN. It is opposed to capitalism and freedom and has made environmental catastrophism a household topic to achieve its objective."


http://www.businessinsider.com/afp-australia-pm-advisor-says-climate-change-a-un-led-ruse-2015-5

Response has been surprisingly muted…….

Meanwhile the property bubble in our shaky isles of New Zealand continues to expand, with the prices of some houses in our largest city increasing by up to NZ$1000 a day. And this is for a city built on a volcanic field – I guess an eruption might be one way to prick that bubble. I am very glad I purchased my little slice of bindweed infested paradise when I did, as there is no way I could afford it at today’s prices.

Crow Hill said...

JMG: I live in the “third” world and am happy that you think of it as "third time gets it right..." It’s true people are very creative, do lots of things with simple tools, and are laid back (most of the time) with a good sense of humour to get along.

I admire those young guys with fashionable hairstyles who are perfectly relaxed driving a horse cart in the motorized mega city traffic for instance.

However where they are not getting it right at all is that, as Winingwizzard mentions, they lack food sufficiency. They lack sufficient arable land for the present population—it was totally sufficient at some point in the not very distant past, maybe in the 1950s.

Here baby-boomers span the generations from neonates to the “babyboomer” generation in the American sense, with a few points of inflection in between.

Scotlyn said...

It seems the era of pretense has intensified the already fraught relationship between the American western states and their water resources. Wyoming has apparently criminalised the collection of environmental data, and in particular the collection of water quality data... http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2015/05/wyoming_law_against_data_collection_protecting_ranchers_by_ignoring_the.html

Chloe said...

JMG, true, but what's interesting is that archaeology doesn't *entirely* subscribe to that sort of determinism either, because 1. historically, this was connected to a lot of racist ideas (i.e. "progress is natural and expected... but only for white people") and 2. the evidence that progress is not linear is too obvious to ignore in the archaeological record.

The trouble is, given the same starting point (i.e. technological suite and other aspects of culture), there are really only two reasons societies will develop differently: a difference in the environment, or a difference in the people. So you find that you're not actually supposed to ask *why* Society A became a complex urban civilisation while Society B next door stuck to herding and small villages, or why Society C collapsed in on itself... Even though that's ostensibly exactly what you're doing. But it's not quite the same as a presumption of progress, because it is at least acknowledged that A, B and C all exist.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Ah, but of course!

I came across this description of the Great Depression this evening which related to this very area and thought that you'd appreciate it.

It was written by a very long term resident who witnessed the events of the time, and left a written record of the history of this area as seen from her eyes:

"if he had a wife and child, received 8s 6d per week (unemployment payment). This allowance came in the form of coupons, or order, for which the recipients could obtain food and drink from his milkman, butcher, baker or grocer. The dole was officially termed - sustenance. Common parlance reduced the maintenance to susso. (Food stamps, anyone?)

In some cases the strugglers found that the money which had to be spent on food, rendered them unable to pay their rent. Evictions were frequent, and not always peaceful.

The homeless generally sought refuge with relatives, and many braver souls, to whom begging was degrading, and to whom sustenance was equally humiliating, searched far and wide for jobs. Many - jumped the rattlers (slang for the country trains) risking death and imprisonment to travel the country by a free ride on the goods train. A number travelled interstate, but for some it was the swag (an oiled canvas bag to sleep in) and the open road and a chance to work in the bush. They travelled the highways in thousands, and some of the fortunate ones found work, others existed by hand to mouth, cutting wood, and offering to do odd jobs for a billy of tea and a bite to eat.

Throughout the Depression many children went barefoot to school, and left it to assist their families, lucky enough to have land to eke out an existence by growing their own vegetables and cutting timber. Some were lucky enough to have cows and horses on their properties, and grimly held on through the bitter years. Others beaten by the hardships, simply shouldered their swags, and walked yet again.

As times became economically better, these wanderers drifted back to the cities and the families they had deserted. The stauncher ones stayed on their land, gradually improving their humble shacks."

The reason I mention this is because - sigh - there is another instalment of the Mad Max film franchise which was (or is about to be) recently released. I thought that it may be useful to provide an actual account of those times as an antidote to the more colourful fantasies that get thrown around these days.

As an interesting side note, this past week I have had to face three individual and completely unrelated attempts to rip me off. Seriously, what is going on? This almost never happens to me. Two of them have been resolved in my favour after a lot of hard work, but one still hangs in the balance. It is not a good sign, but who knows it may have been coincidence?

I’m trialling the dog food and biscuits tonight. It tastes alright to me, but time will reveal the canine perspective.

Cheers

Chris

Odin's Raven said...

Comfort is the fruit, not the root, of civilization. Luxury used to be recognised as a source of the moral decay which destroys civilization. In the Era of Pretense 'Hopium' is a dangerous drug.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Andrew H,

I re-read my comment and noted only a single error. Thanks for tipping me off to that. The error related to the battery capacity which I wrote as 3kW, when in fact it should have read 3kWh (i.e. supply of 3kW for one hour). The discussions by people who are in the know about all things off grid electricity related appear to be not revealing good things about those batteries. I wonder at the claims being made about them...

JMG, you'll like this (or be amused by it anyway) - A revolution in energy storage I'm sure was said about them somewhere...

Back to the reply...

kW is the measurement of energy used or produced at a particular point in time. W (Watt) is equal to V (Volts) x I (Amps).

kWh is the measurement of energy used or produced over a period of one hour.

Seriously, 3 litres of water per minute for a lift of 30 metres for 30W of energy... Hmmm, I could actually fill a 10 litre bucket and simply walk it up hill in less time. Just sayin, but 3 minutes and 20 seconds is quite a long time you know…

The smallest of the 12V pumps here provides 17 litres per minute of water to a similar head at 60 psi and uses only 96W of energy.

The larger transfer pump which uses 1kW of energy provides 6,000 litres of water per hour and can lift as high as 28 metres. That isn't a bad effort. To lift much higher requires daisy chains of either pumps or water tanks or a very powerful and energy hungry pump indeed.

Of course, an individual house does not have to withstand such pressures, but on a system level where you have to supply multiple houses then you bet the pressures are big! That is why they're called mains... Imagine if your neighbour turned on their water taps and you lost your water pressure. Ahh, the things we take for granted as an everyday thing.

Incidentally, I recall someone telling me a story of a fire at a local pub many years ago when the mains was either turned on or off too quickly (people were a bit over excited, I guess) and the hammer from that action burst the mains water supply. Oh yeah, the systems are far from infallible.

PS: I’m enjoying discussing water and pumps etc. but have promised not to speak about such matters again. Lead me not into temptation! ;-)!

Cheers.

Chris

Vilko said...

Mr Greer,

Thank you for the info about gravity-fed water systems. I remember now that Californians get much of their running water from the snow which accumulates in the mountains during the winter. I don’t think that cities like Chicago have gravity-fed water systems, though. In the Paris region (11 million people) we don’t, for we get our water from rivers, especially the Marne and Seine rivers. As you say, when we’ll hit the ‘impact’ phase, electricity will be progressively restricted to critical services, like water treatment plants.

In the Third World, they have petroleum-powered electricity generators, which they use during power cuts. Of course, it only makes the energy problem worse. I wonder if the poor will actually leave the cities before they become truly uninhabitable (no electricity, no water, no food in the stores). In Detroit, they stayed in spite of urban decay, because they have nowhere to go. The first ones to go will be those who have the means to resettle elsewhere, and who have prepared their exit. The truly poor will be the last ones to leave.

@ Patricia Mathews: "Their security guards shoot them."

Four solutions, here:

1. The Stalin method. Since everyone is a threat, even you servants, you seduce your chambermaid. Being your mistress, she has a lot to lose and nothing to gain if you die. She can spy on the other servants. Then you periodically ‘purge’ your closed collaborators, servants, etc. The problem is, the more people you eliminate, the more covert enemies you make. Expect to die alone.

2. The Hitler method. Be very chummy with your chauffeurs, bodyguards, secretaries, etc. Treat them well. Knowing that they’ll never have another boss as good as you are, they’ll be faithful to you. It worked, all the low ranking employees who worked for Hitler liked him and remained loyal to him until the end. But it couldn’t offset the fact that eventually the war was lost.

3. The Don Corleone method. Stop hiring people you don’t know as security guards. Do like mafia dons, hire relatives or co-ethnics. It works… Or not. I’m just thinking of Jean-Marie Le Pen who has just been ousted by his own daughter from the party he founded.

4. The Howard Hughes method. The aviation tycoon hired Mormons. They are very loyal people, and they don’t drink alcohol.

@ Clay Dennis: « We here in the USA will be stuck with our domestic production of oil from traditional wells. »
I read a study made by a fellow Frenchman several years ago. Interestingly, AFAIK it hasn’t been translated in English. The author wondered what would have happened if the USA had been unable to import oil after 1970. His study shows that the real income of the average American would be roughly equal to that of a Spaniard. Not impressive, but enough to live decently, First World style.

IMHO, if the USA had a Spanish economy, it would have had to amend its health system, which would seriously dent Spaniards’ incomes. And amending the US health system would be very difficult to do. Another consequence would be that a poorer USA could no longer maintain a huge military. Given the political and financial weight of the industrial-military complex, that would be quite difficult and painful to implement.

Bruce E said...

Thanks JMG, I appreciate how you patiently and attentively answer every person who comments on your blog, including my first one. :-)

Short of going back to May of 2006 and reading through ~400 posts I have missed (I may do this anyway, since I do enjoy your style and message), is there perhaps a way to more-quickly find one or two posts where you approach the question of pace in greater depth? (I'll try the almighty Google a few more times if I can come up with the correct combination of words that yield less than a billion irrelevant results.)

I'm also interested in any treatment of skepticism towards White's Law, given that I am surrounded by economists (I'm a consulting engineer in the electric power industry) who have convinced themselves that recent trends and technologies have either broken the link or even disproved the link between per-capita energy consumption and per-capita economic growth.

In any case, I'm looking forward to where this is going. Thanks for doing what you do!

Raging Bull said...

JMG,

Thanks for another splendid post. Reading about the era of pretense, it occurred to me that you might have quoted those wonderful lines by the German idealist Hegel:

"The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk."

On a more general note, I have a question about the narrative of collapse: to what extent is the peak oil movement an American cultural phenomenon?

It seems to me that although the impact of resource depletion will be baleful almost everywhere, there is a special urgency to its expression among American commentators - an idea which you seem to acknowledge in your comment about American collapse becoming just a gaudy spectacle for other nations.

As a Brit living in Korea, I am curious about which countries or regions of the world you think will adapt most skillfully to this new era of crisis.

Andrew Roth said...

Lawfish/JMG:

What many people don't realize about the Amish vis-a-vis Social Security and Medicare is that they're community-insured to the hilt. This arrangement is quite effective and equitable, but it comes at a price that few English (as the Amish call us) would ever be willing to pay, namely, total submission to an intrusive de facto government run by the community, in particular by its elders. This form of community governance verges on the early church communism described in the Book of Acts. Refusal to submit to the community government or attempting to chisel on one's obligations of mutual aid to other Amish in one's sect ultimately leads to excommunication, a decision that can be made on very short order if there's a strong community consensus in favor of it.

Most of the concerted agitation that I've heard against Social Security, by contrast, comes from "go Galt" moochers and self-dealers who are diametrically opposed to the Amish lifestyle in word and especially in deed. They're obviously just looking to evade their communal obligations to the welfare of other Americans. Many would argue that the American public is too large, diverse, and fractious a community to be sustainably insured in this fashion, but in any event, payroll contributions to Social Security and Medicare are, with a few limited exceptions, legal obligations binding upon employees and employers operating within the United States. Deliberate evasion of these obligations strikes me as fundamentally antisocial and lawless.

The virulence of the agitation against Social Security in the US and the willingness of American employers and employees to evade payroll deductions (an underreported cause of the system's looming (but exaggerated) insolvency) are among the reasons that I've been looking into immigrating to Canada. This sort of selfishness disguised as concern for the national budget seems less common north of the border. I'm 32, and I very much hope that these systems are still operating in my old age. My guess is that the Canadian Social Security and Medicare systems won't collapse unless they encounter insurmountable structural insolvency (i.e., the failure of the Canadian state), but that their US counterparts are much likelier to be fatally sabotaged by concern trolls.

The apparent willingness of people my age and younger to dissolve Social Security in order to take revenge on the Boomers worries me sometimes. More broadly, the vindictive selfishness at play here offers some idea of why the US has had such a vicious and incompetent response to the current economic troubles. Bitterness about having to support the national pension plan is just the tip of the iceberg. Going back to colonial times we've had mainstream political elements hatefully demanding to soak the poor, and going back at least to Bacon's Rebellion we've had civil unrest as a consequence.

It's no coincidence that Social Security was introduced in the US at a time when Europe was falling into the grip of communism and fascism. FDR was a savvy fellow who probably saved the hides of the wealthy peers who savaged him as a class traitor, and the American republic, too.

Bike Trog said...

That cracking sound is America's back going out. Knees are next and everything else later.

Varun Bhaskar said...

Archdruid,

Yeah, that's the 10 & 3 rule. Never try to project under 10 years or over 3 months.

I checked some mundane astrology sites. Several are predicting July-August for the official start of Great Recession Part 2.

I'm getting the calm before the storm feeling, so something is brewing somewhere. Hope it's not in my back yard.

Regards,

Varun

Roger said...

As you say JMG, pretense.

For decades it's been OCD-like repetition. "Tax cuts" they quack, tax cuts are the remedy. Or de-regulation. Or another international, mega free-trade deal. Over and over and over. It's tiresome. You want to avert your eyes.

People like Paul Ryan, living in a story-book world of past greatness, look into the camera earnestly and, without flinching, tell your fellow citizens and the world the answer. And they'll tell you what isn't the answer, see, re-distribution is un-American, an increase to the minimum wage is a job killer etc.

In other words, the rich aren't nearly rich enough, they need more as an incentive or they get depressed and start to think about razor blades.

But it's the same old. We heard it all half a life-time ago. Remember what they were saying?Remember those days? The nightmare of Vietnam was over, the ranting ayatollahs freed the hostages. And it was Morning in America. Shortly the oil-sheiks would be put in their place, and, in due course, the Soviet gerontocracy would tear down that wall. No, seriously, you don't have to shiver in a thread-bare sweater. Or re-use your tea bags. No worries, all would be well.

OK, you're right, you do have occasional up-dates to the play-book. Because now it's QE. QE for years. Yeah, I know, they say QE is over. But when it's evident that the latest round failed, it'll be more QE. Until when? Until the economy achieves "escape velocity". Or something.

Sometimes it's the pretense of having a clue, you know, all the tall foreheads with the PhDs and the Nobel prizes. Or the high and mighty pretending to have the well being of the country foremost in their minds. You know, so many of us are like turkeys convinced that the farmer has their best interests at heart because every day he comes with food and drink. Until one day he shows up with a knife.

onething said...

Chloe,

That is interesting about your discipline rejecting environmental determinism. Of course, the word "determine" is more rigid than necessary, but do they think it is just accidental that igloos are made of ice? I had once read a book which made a pretty good case that civilization could not develop without beasts of burden, and mentioned that in North America, there were really no animals that could serve that purpose. Buffalo are much wilder than other cattle and could not make good oxen, horses disappeared from this continent a long time ago. In South America there are at least the smallish camel family types, alpacas, but nothing like that up here.

عبد المنعم المشايخي said...

History is the core part of the universal laws that govern these oblivious unaware and wretched humans, as if there are no other forces working in the universe but him. It is simple and clear we reap what we sow. Our universe is built on accountibility, this is why we have all these voices calling for wake up. Thank you for the waking call.

Cathy McGuire said...

Small hints that in some places the pretense is wearing away (read the whole thing):

The Woman Who Chose to Plant Corn
by Charles Eisentstein: Not long ago, a Diné (Navajo) friend of mine, Lyla June Johnston, sent me a one-line email: “I am not going to Harvard… I am going to plant corn.”
Her statement signals a profound divergence from the path she’d set out on when she was an undergraduate at Stanford University. She is choosing instead to learn the lifeways of her culture, to become fluent in her language, to relearn traditional skills, to be intimate with the land. The dominant American culture does not encourage such a path.
… Please do not mistake Lyla’s choice for an exercise in ideological purity, as if she wished to avoid the taint of power. A better explanation is that she knows that Harvard is not where the action is. There are other paths to walk that are no less important, and it is crucial that someone walk them. I see more and more young people seeking them out today, from within the dominant culture and from its margins. They are walking out of our civilisation’s Story of the World; some are not even entering it.
The best and brightest are abandoning the ship, and even those who remain aboard are participating half-heartedly as they sense the inevitable shipwreck. Eventually even going through the motions of complicity becomes intolerable, as our hunger to live a meaningful life draws us towards a new and ancient story of interconnection, interbeing, and social, personal and ecological healing. Yet few of us are free of the programming of our youth, our indoctrination into the values of system; therefore our exit can be messy, subject to hesitation, relapses and diversions. As Lyla told me more recently, “While I know intellectually why I am doing this, I am still so brainwashed it is hard to really know it from my body.”...

Eugene Kimzey said...

That project would be the Santolina developement outside of Albuquerque. The water people say that there is enough for the project even as we are under water restrictions in our 4 th year of drought. We live in the Land of Delusion here.

Tom said...

Mexico changes one’s perspective. From reading along in the blog and comments I have a number of observations.
Images:
For the most part Mexicans consider the USA as number one in the world. I have shown university classes videos of Detroit and I had them read a news article about the water shutoffs. They cannot believe what they see and read. The images they get from movies, TV, and popular opinions of the USA are completely contrary to this. Yet they still admired us in many ways. They want Mexico to be more like the USA.
Food:
Although much of Mexico is being undermined with convenient packaged junk food and drink, especially the lower classes, and thus, obesity and diabetes abound; there are still good large public food markets with fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish. A traditional Mexican diet purchased from these markets is about as healthy as the diet of pre-1950’s.Food distribution is by trucks. Because Mexico is a mix of semi-arid desert, Central Highlands, and Coastal Lowlands, it has with an infinite array of microclimates, almost anything grows somewhere; and the transportation is not much more than 3-4 hours in most cases. Mexican society was quite localized in the past and could revert back to that in many cases. Even without improved hydrology Mexico could probably feed itself. Their definition of what constitutes food is much larger: including fried leather, insects, hooves, intestines, weeds, odd semi-wild fruits, cacti, and so forth. All large cities have wholesale food markets called Central de Abastos where the trucks come in and unload. Retailers, illegal street vendors, and any person who cares to can come here and buy in almost any quantity they want – no restricted access favoring large business. This system provides food that is usually much fresher than the USA’s long distribution systems.
Economy:
About 50% of the national economy is illegal (or the “informal economy” in professional speak) = street vendors, beggars, parking lot attendants, men renting public curb parking spaces in cities, people cooking in their homes for parties, professionals taking cash, selling anything on the streets, street performers, clowns, peanut salesmen at red light intersections, window cleaners, popsicles in the heat, umbrellas in the rain, pirated movies, computer programs, music, and on to the limits of imagination. This economy would also include whole industries like narcotics, illegal mining, timber, etc. The USA has heading this way in a more open way under the guise of the economic advancements of the tech revolution. I consider Amazon, Uber, and the like not much different than electronic street vendors. The illegal economy doesn’t do taxes, thus it impoverishes the public sector. The illegal economy responds to immediate needs faster than any economist can theorize; thus at the first few drops of rain, a plastic poncho saleswoman is on the street selling plastic garb for a standard price. Some consider this to be more resilient from a social perspective – they are probably right. But it is a race to the bottom. Many beggars and street vendors make more per day than a teacher. The world’s richest man at $78 billion is Mexican. From my perspective it seems clear that the USA is going through a program of Latin Americanization. We can expect more and more black market activity.
(continued below)

Tom said...

Corruption: Mexican corruption does not need explanation, it is systemic. In contrast, the USA system of corruption is less obvious because it is systemitized behind a mask of legal maneuvers disguised as good business practices.
Low Expectations: This is probably one of Mexico’s great strengths. They expect very little of their leaders and society. They would like a better system, but accept what comes. They can endure much more than Americans can imagine, they have a culture of enduring. However, one big thing that Mexico does not have to endure is life-threatening winters. Temperature comfort is easily attainable.
If you break a leg, it is your problem. If a dog bites you, you should have known better. Most people don’t go to the police if they have been robbed or hurt. You learn not to look for logic in everyday life, anything can happen.

Steve in Colorado said...

@William Knight

William, the reason the old Ni-Fe batteries have been largely ignored is that they have a very high self discharge rate. That means that just left alone your stored energy will go away; a substantial percentage in just a matter of days. While they may last for many decades, the amount of energy they loose is generally unacceptable now a days; especially where total energy input is limited. Conventional lead-acid batteries are a much better overall energy storage system. Li based batteries have the potential to be even better, but I'm still waiting to see...



@Cherokee Organics

Do you have a link to that discussion of the new Telsa battery, I'd like to see it?

And as the other poster commented, you are confusing KWH and KW. A 3 KWH storage battery can pump a lot of water from a cistern for general household use, and even a fair amount from a not too deep well, with plenty left over for other electrical needs (as long as you are not doing irrigation or other large scale water uses).

whomever said...

Since the subject of Roman history has come up, a while ago I read an interesting theory about the cause of Roman collapse: Peak Slaves. See, the Roman economy largely depended on cheap slaves (for the mines, farms, etc), which they got from conquest. Once they ran out of places they could conquer, the underlying economic factors changed and the society never quite adapted. So maybe the real peak was at Teutoburg forest? Can't find the article now so can't remember if there were a lot of concrete cites, or if this was just an off the cuff theory.

Speaking of empires, I'd be interested in your take on the Ottomans, who also seemed to start falling apart as soon as they ran out of places to conquer. So maybe it's a common pattern in empires. The Chinese were wise to keep to themselves I suppose.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Roger and Eugene: also from Albuquerque, in the business section of today's JOURNAL: the news that corporations have started telling us why they don't want to move here, and it is NOT that we don't low-ball the taxes-wages-and-regulations, nor bribe them enough. It's that the airlines have been scaling back their service to the Sunport and eliminating direct flights to major markets around the country.

Remember what the AD said about services to the periphery being cut first?

P.S. if anyone has read the ExxonMobil puff piece ... I mean, annual report...we are entering a new age of energy abundance! Because they are getting so much better at scraping the bottom of the barrel! Not to worry! "Energy" being defined by EM exclusively as oil, gas, and byproducts thereof. No news to us, of course.

I send some of this news on to a friend online under the heading "You can NOT make this stuff up!"

Steve in Colorado said...

@ pyrrhus

you said...
"I looked up the specs for the Tesla Powerwall: 10 Kwh ($3500) and 7 Kwh($3000) capacities available, maximum amps 8.6, peak power 3.3 Kw, 92% efficiency, weight 100 KG, DC-AC Inverter NOT included, requires professional installation.
Quite expensive and very limited capabilities, IMO, a generator is certainly much cheaper..."

You are comparing apples and oranges here. These batteries are only intended to store energy which is created and converted elsewhere. You need an inverter, charger, and possibly other parts (like a wind generator or set of PV panels or other power source) to make a complete AC power system out of them.

A generator will provide you backup AC power, as long as it runs and you can supply fuel (don't forget those fuel costs when doing your price comparison, and figure in how long those cheap generators run until they break, and how much in related costs you'll have, like oil and spark plugs). BTW cheap gas generators generally run $1/KWH for the power they produce.

For what the Tesla batteries were intended to replace (lead-acid storage batteries in a alternative power system) they are priced pretty well. Large L-A batteries run around $500-$1k per KWH of storage, for the better ones. The Tesla's are much less expensive than that.

If (perhaps a big if) they prove themselves, something we won't know for some time yet, and really are that efficient and really last, they will probably be a decent deal, and an improvement over what we have now.

Eduardo Martinez said...

Your writings on our energy predicament is spot on, as always. May I suggest other lines of thought that you may or may not like to pursue. Mankind does have a way of engineering a 'soft landing' or more realistically a 'softer landing' if it was willing to pursue a voluntary population reduction program in advance of our energy descent. What fascinates me is mechanisms behind why we wont do this; why we wont even have a discussion about doing this; and why we continue to do the exact opposite in the short term to postpone the consequences of overshoot. Your thoughts please.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

JMG, you wrote, "Andrew, exactly. One of the odd side effects of elective government is that you don't get five good presidents in a row; we probably won't get even one, because a good president would have to start by telling the people that they couldn't have everything they think they want, and that guarantees a losing election campaign..."

Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson. I count that sequence as a great president followed by four good ones. Possibly the longest unbroken run of good presidents in US history.

Two of them came into office via the midterm death of their predecessor, but they each won at least one election. Some may disagree about Lyndon Johnson, but he was a good president on domestic issues. Had his successor gotten the US out of Vietnam more quickly, I believe LBJ's war escalation would be remembered as a serious misstep but not as an absolute disaster.

I agree that the chances of the US getting even two good presidents in a row now are slim, for the reasons you give. Our last good President might have been the first Bush, precisely because he was modest in his aims and promises; that cost him re-election.

Ed-M said...

Well here in New Orleans the Era of Pretense is strong! No one talks about the levees anymore, thinking they'll hold when the next big hurricane shows up. They're designed for a 100 years' storm when they should be designed for the likes of Katrina, Ivan, Betsy and Camille.
Also the RE bubble is still inflating: $1,300 a month now for the average 2 BR apartment! And the new $2 billion hospitals are set to open, and the only thing the papers will talk about it is how much of a boost their soon-to-come opening will have on the local economy.

Well it could be worse: we could have Pretense-on-steroids like greater Boston! They have jumped into the "Innovation Economy" with both feet. And criticism is not allowed, even from the owner of a dildo store who complained about the poor: her landlord (a company called The Dance Center) gave her six months to close up shop, and leave. They gave this reason: "We found a demand, and we filled it."

http://www.thebaffler.com/salvos/the-peoples-republic-of-zuckerstan

architrains said...

I read this post this morning, and looking over the news noticed an NPR story about MIT easing up on students in the wake of their suicide rate exceeding the national average. The over-achievement and burnout-factor of the top-end of university programs these days has been on my mind a lot since I started architecture school seven years ago, and still bothers me after 3 years out of it. There was a spate of student deaths at East and West coast architecture schools while I was studying, and the student arm of the AIA was abuzz with trying to find a solution - all the students had died in car accidents caused by sleep deprivation. Luckily I never lived more than two blocks from campus, but I did drive five hours from home to school after the Thanksgiving holiday with a raging fever from the flu, because I couldn't afford to not be on campus to finish my project (I viewed it as a greater injustice to repeat a year of school - and thence a year of tuition payments - due to not finishing the project on time). The only solution the schools had was locking studios after hours, not actual reduction of workload. Could it be the increasing sacrifice of "good" education is caused by society doubling-down on education to combat the issues of decline? Which only leads to the pretenses that: each generation is less tough than the last, more education is needed for everyone, and that there will be a job for you when you graduate. The impacts are already afoot, with graduates entering the workplace "used-up" and burned out, and droves of angry unemployed debtors behind them.

valekeeperx said...

JMG,

Good stuff as always. Looking forward to subsequent posts in this series as well as future posts in general. When the time comes that the internet is no longer available, please count me in for a subscription to your weekly newsletter/magazine/periodical.

Though slightly off topic, I thought I would share this Dave Barry quote I came across the other day:

“Government economists are always hopeful, for two reasons:
1. They have jobs.
2. If they aren’t hopeful, the president will fire them.”

Best regards to all

valekeeperx said...

JMG,

Regarding the civilizational decline phases (zeitgeists?) you outlined this week, how do they correlate (or perhaps they don’t) with the resource eras you describe in The Ecotechnic Future? Specifically, the End of Affluence, Age of Scarcity Industrialism, Age of Salvage, and a nascent Ecotechnic Society.

In developing my own understanding of decline, I’ve tried to map out some mileposts and correlations that will develop/occur along the way. Such mileposts would include the end of US hegemony/greater empire, loss of US client states/end of NATO, dissolution of USA (loss of internal empire), end of Western Civilization, and End of Industrial Civilization.

Best regards

valekeeperx said...

JMG, et al,

Observations from southern California (aka, Pretense, Inc):

The California Dept of Transportation has projected that the state will need $80 billion over the next 10 years just to repair and maintain the state’s existing roadways. However, current available funding is only $20 billion over that time period. Note that this does not include funding for building new roadways, though new housing and development continue apace in many places (in the midst of an historical dry period nonetheless).

A bankruptcy judge upheld a plan by the City of San Bernardino to continue full payments to the fund for public employees’ and retirees’ pensions. As a state employee, I guess this is good, though I expect that eventually public sentiment will turn and funding will be, um, like discontinued, or perhaps before that, the value of pensions will evaporate as part of greater financial calamity, or perhaps the funds will just be like totally “acquired” and stuff by larger financial interests. At any rate, I don’t expect much of anything to be there 10 years hence when I could retire. Not that it matters, since I am working to develop some sort of green wizardry type “pension” that will work for me and the loved ones in the years to come.

Dudes, here’s mud in yer eye (and yer garden) and stuff. ;-)

Ahavah said...

This past weekend I attended the SOAR conference in Pikeville KY discussing economic development for SE KY. It was surreal in a way, listening to all these people claim high speed broadband is going to save Appalachia, if they just draw up plenty of strategic plans and map their resources adequately, install more build ready industrial parks with 3 lane roads and utilities already going to the empty sites, and get educated. Not once did anyone question the viability of trying to lure busibesses to places with no transit, and touting the "competitiveness" of SE KY wages (read: low) or ask themselves if they did manage to saturate to local market with kids who can code how thbat would stop them from having to leave to make a decent living. And not one peep about peak oil or depletion of other resources. Their whole playbook seems to be from 1995. They can't even think of any better ideas, or understand that BAU just cannot help them. We had hoped to glean some ideas to scale down and use in depressed urban areas, but I heard nothing truly useful. Our restorative justice program would probably have more positive economic impact than anything they presented (and it is not really designed with that focus at all). I was really disappointed, and sonewhat alarmed. If Appalachian people don't get it, who does?

Rebecca Brown said...

I've got a data point for you, JMG.
May is a big month for selling mattresses in the retail cycle, particularly Memorial Day weekend. As per usual, I've been seeing and hearing a lot of mattress sale ads this month.

What's not normal is that all of the companies doing the advertising are offering financing, most for as much as 60 and 72 months.

That's right -we are now so broke, and so addicted to debt, that we can now take out 6 year loans on our mattresses!

Why do I have the feeling that somewhere, someone is bundling these loans and selling derivatives based on them???

Doctor Westchester said...

JMG,

I've often wondered if the fact that the British Empire never had a chance to build up a really good era of pretense was also a factor in their sensible choice to give their empire to us. They could have gone down with their fingers clasped in a death grip around it like we're planning to do.

Mark Rice said...

The website Do The Math has been doing the calculations that show our civilization is in deep dodo. The people who visit this site are people who are not dringkign the pretense coolaid.

Thee author of this website did a survey of the Myers Briggs Type Indication of the sort of people who visit this site. They are mostly INTJ personality types. It seems as though only a small percentage of the population has the temperament to see past the illusions in times like this.

heather said...

Vilko-
In case you are interested in more detail on CA gravity fed water supplies: as far as I know, only irrigation systems (i.e. non-potable water, only for agriculture, landscaping, and livestock) are fully gravity-fed from snowmelt runoff. Drinking water from snowmelt runs into reservoirs, but then must be pumped through treatment systems before entering municipal drinking supplies. (Water wonks, please correct me if I am wrong.) It is these pumps which determine the water pressure for the great majority of CA citizens who are on municipal supplies ("city water").

In my rural area, we purchase gravity-fed irrigation water as runoff from the Sierra Nevada mountains through a system that was built by the gold miners in the 1850s. Not quite the Roman aqueducts, but still pretty impressive. You are not allowed to treat this water at a household level to purify it for drinking, though. Our drinking water comes from a pumped well, 250 feet deep, which produces 5 gallons per minute (for now). We pump this water into a 5000 gal. underground storage tank and then pump it again into the house. Lack of power for pumping would fairly quickly become a problem, but from what I've read a hand pump is not feasible for such a deep well. I am continuing to investigate other possibilities. (Unfortunately moving to a wetter area is not on the table for my family right now. Time and circumstances may change that- we will see.)

Apologies to everyone who is by now sick to death of hearing about water in California. I'll do my best to follow Cherokee Organic Chris's lead and shut up about it already. Unless, you know, it comes up... ;)

--Heather in CA

heather said...

Cathy McGuire-
I read the full "Woman Who Chose to Plant Corn" story and found it very hopeful. It is good to know that some people are finding their way back to traditional cultures which may support them in the turbulent times to come. They have already survived worse than most of us can imagine, inflicted by the dominant culture, both with deliberate greed and malice, and through profound ignorance. It is too much to hope that those cultures, which we have ravaged for hundreds of years, will somehow be willing to offer the dominant culture knowledge or values or anything, even an example, which would help soften its descent. Considering our history, we don't deserve that from them. But at least I can wish them well.
--Heather in CA

Dagnarus said...

@Chloe @John Michael Greer

On the subject of "Environmental determinism".
Amongst most of the people I've seen/heard arguing for the existence of free will (Which admittedly likely isn't the cream of that crop), they generally don't seem to differentiate between individual choice (Which I would argue the individual does have control over), and the outcome of their choice (Which I would argue they do not, excepting). Yes human agency allows humans to choose how to use the natural resources they have access to in many and varied ways. But those natural resources (along with various other factors) will determine what choices will lead to successful outcomes, which will lead to wise civilizations limiting their choices accordingly, and unwise civilizations failing.

Caryn said...

Thanks for another thought provoking essay, JGM;

When I first found AR, I really enjoyed reading it because- FINALLY! I'd found someone (and in fact, a whole community of folks) who not only 'got' it but articulated and reasoned so succinctly what I've been seeing for years, but could not make sense of myself. I've never had a problem understanding the concept of fractal collapse, (Could it also be called 'geometric collapse'?) or White's Law - it just makes perfect sense, right?

While I still appreciate it, these last 2 posts, I have to admit were not fun to read, but fill me with greater urgency to get down to the business of preparing/collapsing. Yikes! How to prepare my teenagers?! (CAN I prepare my teenagers?)

I think if we're in the Era of Pretense, we must be fairly far along in it, to the Emperor's New Clothes stage, no? It doesn't honestly feel like anyone truly believes anymore that any of these bubbles or fixes to keep us on that starry ever-upward trajectory of progress are actually going to work, Do they? Not in the long run and not for the populace, only maybe for themselves and their cronies. Even the politicians these days don't work very hard to hide the fact that their policies and proposals are their own personal & crony corrupt money-grabs before it all goes belly up. (& that is not just the USA, of course).

If people are getting angry at you, I think that's where the anger is from - it's not like you're peeling the scales from someone's eyes. Those protective scales have long ago fallen off on their own and have been replaced with makeshift band-aids. It's the crummy, flimsy band-aids you are knocking away. They already know the truth. They're just not emotionally ready to face it. Ditto for 'not understanding' the process of a fractal collapse. It's not only easy to imagine and visualize, it's happening now around us - it's just painful to accept.

I think the parallels to Elizabeth Kubler- Ross' 5 stages of death/bereavement is a brilliant observation - regardless of the sequencing disparity.

On a brighter note: I'm stubbornly not giving up the terrace garden and with the help of a green-thumbed friend have some lush, greens and spices thriving in little pots. Cherry tomatoes just pushing up from the soil. Aloe Vera has new baby shoots, pineapple tree is sulking, but holding steady, lye on order for soap-making and the kiln at work back in order, so I can get back to it. This week, we've successfully taught 72 2nd graders to tie knots, thread needles and sew running and blanket stitches. Something useful. YAY!
Heading over to Green Wizards to see what's news.

Cheers, & thanks again,

Crow Hill said...

@Eduardo Martinez: I believe the reason why it might be impossible to reach a global voluntary population reduction programme is the following:

Optimum populations per country can be calculated. The Global Footprint Network has produced such figures based on biocapacity.

Countries would likely be ready to respect them, IF it were not for ethnic and religious diversity WITHIN the country.

According to what criteria would the optimum population for each of those groups be decided?

That seems to me to be the hopelessly intractable problem which will lead us to destroy our human life base and many other species with us.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Tomatina,

That assumes that the budget passes the Senate and it was described as "feral" by the present incumbents. Not that they did any better, anyway. Did you notice the rebates in the budget for Nanny's? Who can afford them...

I believe the average age of registered vehicles in the country is about 10 years old. My little white Suzuki is older than that - just. Maintain and repair is my advice. New cars are a mugs game.

Cheers

Chris

Mister Roboto said...

That I've spent the vast majority of my life in this "Age of Pretense" certainly goes a long way towards explaining why the society I have always known has been so recalcitrantly narcissistic and dysfunctional. I'm really at the point where I feel as though I've lived long enough, and I'm only 48 years old.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Exactly: "what pushes us over into the era of impact will be something nobody is expecting."

But of course, when infrastructure lack resilience, and is in a state of disrepair, it is unable to face even mild system shocks.

I faced this very problem that you mentioned in the summer of early 2014 when a bushfire threatened the farm from an historically completely unlikely direction. Believe me, I have spent the past year and months since that date taking appropriate responses to that particular threat. But then, there was the tornado one Christmas day a few years before that... Still, I was prepared for that one and the house didn't get blown away... Nice Christmas present too...

It is definitely the things that we do not consider that have the greatest impact and the biggest shock value.

Decline is real, it is happening all around us, be aware.

PS: I always understood that you meant the word "reliable" with last weeks discussion. Years ago, and I mentioned this to you many years back, I was in Kathmandu in Nepal and they had scheduled brown outs. The same thing now happens here on very hot days when the electricity system is not coping with the demand. They call it load shedding here, which has a much fancier ring to it, but has much the same effect.

Cheers

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi William,

Thanks and I believe that there is a commenter here that utilises Nickel Iron batteries in an off grid household setup.

They're very good batteries, but very inefficient. All batteries are compromises and I use sealed Lead Acid batteries. They may have as much as a 25 year life span, but who knows until they're dead...

Cheers

Chris

Andrew H said...

@Cherokee
I don't want to prolong a rather off topic discussion but just a few points.

I would agree that a universal high pressure mains water system supplying virtually unlimited water is going to be one of the longer term casualties of the decline. Not because of lack of power to pump water though, but rather the disintegration of the pipe network and other infrastructure.

However it is relatively simple to supply running water at reasonable pressure for a household, even without electricity.

I am not sure why you say that you require a 0.5 or 1 KW motor to pump water. I suspect you might be thinking of an electric powered, on demand, water pump. These certainly require the type of motor you mention but are a rather recent development. While they have become almost ubiquitous, and might be convenient, they are not the only solution, and in some ways, are a rather poor and unnecessary solution to providing running water for a household.

A much simpler solution is to use gravity feed from a header tank. That is the simplest, cheapest and most reliable way to maintain constant water pressure in the face of hugely varying flow rates. (Most town water supplies use a gravity fed system) Plus one doesn't need the rather high pressures normally supplied. A reasonable head of pressure can be supplied from a simple header tank on a stand. For many years, both my grandparents and parents and all the neighbours in a small town on the outskirts of a major city had such a system, with the header tanks usually around 5 to 6 metres off the ground. It gave perfectly adequate flow rates using the appropriate plumbing designed to work at lower pressures. Plus it had the advantage that one could turn on all the taps without a loss of pressure.

For an idea of the power requirements to lift the water from the ground level storage tanks, we currently use water from the mains system at a rate of about 360L per day (this is significantly more than when we subsisted on rain water collection). This equates to around 1-2L per minute of sunshine during the day. Even a 5 watt solar panel with appropriate electric pump, would pump sufficient water during the day to supply that level of consumption, using a header tank of reasonable height. Also consider that a single person with a pedal powered pump could pump that amount of water in 5 to 10 minutes. (That used to be one of our chores at my grandparents', pump the water by hand, which took about 20 minutes every few days.)

Enough said, I think, on my part.

Cheers
Andrew

FiftyNiner said...

@ architrains
Your post sure brought back memories to me! I enrolled in the School of Architecture and Fine Arts at Auburn University in the fall of 1970. I was interested in architecture and thought that I would be pretty good at "design" but I was unsure of my ability to master the "engineering" side of the profession.
As a result I enrolled as a fine arts major with the intention of changing to architecture if things went well. I was matched with a roommate in the dorm, who was an architecture major, and his experience made my mind up for me. From the very beginning he had projects that required him to be up all night long and invariably if he came back to the dorm at all before classes it was at dawn or just in time for breakfast.
The word at Auburn was that when Biggin Hall, the new Architecture building, was built in the late 50's that the lights had been turned on and had never been turned off! that was no exaggeration.
I guess some things never change. OBTW, my roommate became a practicing architect in the Atlanta area. I admire him for his dedication.

Ahavah said...

Friends, we are planning a green wizards/ADR get together, a pot luck and if weather cooperates a bbq, on June 14th at 5 pm. If you are interested, you can contact me via that google provider by calling me MissGayle and tacking the number 55 on the end. :) Hope everyone nearby can come!

Steve in Colorado said...

@Heather in CA

A couple of possibilities exist, even with a 250' well:

1. There are hand pumps designed for deep wells. They put the "guts" of the pump down below the water level and link it mechanically to the level on top. They are not cheap, and generally will not coexist with a submersible electric pump.

2. Another option would be to replace the AC well pump with a PV powered DC pump. This would get your well water up to the cistern regardless of the state of the grid power. From the cistern, a simple hand pump would likely work just fine for getting water out.

Not cheap or easy to do yourself options, either of them. But they would both give you a water supply when the grid goes down.

Ed-M said...

Caryn, on the similarity between the Era of Pretense and the Emperor's New Clothes, I think it is not the case of the Emperor having no Clothes, but rather, that the Clothes have no Emperor. Succinctly explains the senility of the elites and the lack of substance in the economy right there. ;^)

Ed-M said...

@ JMG, @ Doctor Westchester, @ Dagnarus, @ Caryn et al,

Yes, it does seem that the USA seems to be gunning for the maximum apocalypse possible, with the rest of the world looking on with immense glee at our suffering (ie, with the maximum schadenfreude possible). Gods forbid, though, that our politicians and policy makers are insane enough to go Pre-nuclear and then Nuclear with Russia... that would ruin everything.

Redneck Girl said...

I'm doing some serious considering here on how to fund buying this property. An on-line campaign sounds good as well as going ahead and taking my retirement. I'll get the minimum amount but it would tide me over until the beds start producing and I've been seriously considering the fact that if I don't take it now I may never get ANY of that value back considering all the creaks and groans coming from the economy. I can't think of a worse place to be than in senior housing when the money flow dries up.

OTOH, a producing farm, set up to be easy to care for and a point of refuge in that kind of social storm makes a whole lot of sense to me. It would keep me very active with a genuine purpose in life.

And having an information gathering network based there would be good for a lot of the Green Wizards. How many itinerant farm hands and travelers could stop off, work a bit, rest and leave little reports of potential trouble spots in Cascadia for the governing counsel of free farmer citizens to pass on to a legitimate government?

Just a Jeffersonian fantasy after all.


Wadulisi

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Thought that you might like this article about the recent super storm in the state to the north of here: NSW community of Torryburn still isolated after bridge washed away in super storm

Hi Steve,

Those batteries operate at very high DC voltages and as such are possibly not suitable for your intended use of water pumping.

Tesla home storage

Hi Heather,

hehe! Yeah, I'm actually a bit bored by the whole topic too! hehe!

Hi Andrew,

The little pumps that you speak of were not designed to operate for long periods of time. They tend to burn out pretty quickly if you try that. The old timers used to use wind mills (you may have seen them) to pump the water up to the header tank at low pressure.

Cheers

Chris

Matthew Heins said...

"Three centuries ago, the earth’s fossil fuel reserves were the largest single deposit of concentrated energy in this part of the universe;"

Even assuming that "this part of the universe" = planet Earth, this statement is incorrect. The radioactive elements in the crust have more energy potential, then and now.

You are right that the United States of America is not the world. I wonder if someone who had undertaken as careful a study of China's society, say (or Russia's, or Iceland's, or South Africa's or what-have-you) as you have, then comparing it to historical scenarios, as you have, would come the same conclusions as you have and make the same global predictions as you do?

Because not all economies are the same. Some haven't even been tried out yet. The American Empire's economy is unique. Like a fat man eating a bacon cheeseburger and french fries with a pitcher of yellow beer, we've taken energy per capita way past the point of maximum benefit and into the realm of immediate and lasting harm.

In terms of your concept of industrial civilization, American society can likely be said to define the high end of energy use per capita. The low end has also been defined. That would be the energy use per capita of the societies that participated in the First Industrial Revolution, which was powered by sun, water, wind, and muscle, with coal playing a minor role for heating largely, and also some early chemicals. Somewhere in between is the point where energy use per capita crosses from benefit to harm. Somewhere in between is the point where energy use per capita is indefinitely sustainable with current technological understanding and applied science. How do these points relate? If the latter is near the former, then energy use per capita is not a key factor in whether a technical society sustains itself or goes into decline. Social, political, cultural factors may well be the determinants. So, while from reading your books and blog since The Long Descent was first published I imagine you will disagree, I find it highly unlikely that historians several centuries from now will look back on a global dark age as you predict. Based upon my own studies so far, I believe that the indefinitely sustainable energy use per capita is close enough to the benefit/harm line as to be no matter. And therefore I am doubtful that in this century and the next, absolutely no society will find a combination of social organization, political structures, cultural outlooks, etc., that achieves this, and then be able to spread it.

But we shall see, I suppose.

Anyway, my two cents. Thanks for the writings. Interesting stuff.

John Michael Greer said...

William, good. Do you happen to remember those articles a couple of years ago discussing the very hard limits to the world's useful lithium deposits, btw? It's telling that nobody's mentioning that in the context of Musk's latest bit of cranial flatulence.

Kutamun, I don't do a lot of movies, and probably won't get around to the latest installment of the Mad Max franchise, but thanks for the tip.

Peakfuture, no argument there.

Myosotis, good. I'd encourage you to find a bright teenager who wants to learn, and teach 'em how to do that.

William, that's one of the interesting things about whole system processes -- scale isn't as important a factor as it is in some other contexts, and the very small and the very large can copy one another in pleasantly strange ways.

Pyrrhus, of course -- but as an excuse to ignore decline, which is its real function, the Powerwall seems to be performing to spec.

Brian, I was being sloppy, of course. It's an interesting regularity of history that the intellectuals are among the very last to get the message, and keep on trotting out the verbiage of a departed age long after it's stopped being useful; thus Augustine's relatively late position in the sequence.

Steve, it's quite deliberate, of course. I'd encourage you to reflect on just who keeps the doors locked.

Tat Loo, of course. What's more, they'll keep it up until the moment they themselves join the ranks of the invisible.

Hedgehogcircus, of course. Admit that global warming is a reality, and you have to deal with the fact that progress is a self-terminating, temporary process -- and that's something that very few people can face just now.

Crow Hill, there's no way that a planet with seven billion people on it can have food security, in any real sense, so I don't fault the third world for that.

Scotlyn, no question, the fight against facts has become increasingly desperate of late.

John Michael Greer said...

Chloe, interesting. To what extent does the field these days allow the idea that there might be different, and even opposing, kinds of progress, and to what extent is it still a matter of where you are on the preordained line from the caves to the stars, and the only question is whether you're moving or not?

Cherokee, as I recall, the incidence of actual or attempted ripoffs goes up sharply in the latter stages of a boom, when the limits are beginning to be felt. That might have something to do with it!

Raven, hopium and despairoin are both deadly drugs just now.

Vilko, as with so much else in the US, everything depends on where you live. No, Chicago doesn't have a gravity-fed water system, but a great many Americans live in cities and towns that do. Thus we get another round of what's shaping up to be the classic American model of decline, which is very local: here a town, there a city, over there a rural district, all skidding downhill at different rates.

Bruce, I've discussed issues of timing to some extent in The Ecotechnic Future. As for the dismissal of White's Law, I've found in practice that there's literally nothing you can say that economists will hear; they'll insist that White's Law can't apply to us, and if you ask them why, you'll get something that amounts to "because it can't apply to us." It's not a matter of facing skepticism, but of trying to confront an airtight (and almost thought-free) dogma.

Raging Bull, there's a huge European peak oil scene. I don't know how much traction the peak oil concept has gotten elsewhere, though.

Andrew, oh, granted. I'm not opposed to social security, I just assume that it's not going to be there once the Boomers finish battening on it.

Trog, it's a real question which bone will break first -- so many are strained to the snapping point.

Varun, I think we're already in the second round of the Great Recession, based on observation of the few unmanipulated stats. Still, it could get a lot steeper in the summer or fall.

Roger, "quack" is certainly the right verb!

(name I can't read), you're most welcome.

Cathy, yes, I saw that. It's good to see, but I wonder how many yuppies are justifying their own lifestyles by pointing at those who are making other choices.

heather said...

Steve in Colorado-
Great ideas, thanks. I had already looked into #1 and discarded it for the reasons you cited. I hadn't thought of the combination approach #2, though. We already have a PV system, but it's grid tied and thus useless when the power is out. A stand alone PV panel for a DC well pump would make a lot of sense, and it would be pretty simple to drop a hand pump into the underground storage tank when needed if we had it on hand "just in case".

I find it easier to "sell" home infrastructure changes to the constituency here at home if I pitch them as emergency preparations (we do have a lot of temporary power outages, and have found water availability to be our greatest weakness at those times) rather than as part of a decline narrative. Era of pretense, indeed. It seems that, to successfully navigate these times, one needs both the insight to see through the pretenses and the ability to play along with them when it's expedient. Complex skills for complex times (or maybe they just seem so to a simple person!)

--Heather in CA

John Michael Greer said...

Tom, interesting. "So far from God, so close to the United States" still seems like a good summary.

Whomever, good. Yes, a lot of the more expansionist sort of empires crack up once they run out of people to conquer and enslave; compare that to current talk about "energy slaves" and you may notice some parallels.

Eduardo, I'd encourage you to look up how many times that's been proposed, with precisely zero effect. The world is full of marvelous plans that would bring all kinds of benefits if human beings could simply be made to stop acting like human beings and do what reformers want them to do. Since human beings persist in acting like human beings, though, all such plans are wasted breath.

Unknown Deborah, for some arbitrary value of the word "good," maybe. I grant you Roosevelt and Eisenhower, but Truman and Johnson were mediocre, and I wouldn't put Kennedy even that high -- his reputation is a posthumous hagiography plastered over a profoundly flawed man and a largely failed presidency. I find Seymour Hersh's The Dark Side of Camelot far more convincing than the effusions of the Church of St. JFK.

Ed-M, when those bubbles pop, the impact will be impressive. I'm currently writing a novel set on the Massachusetts coast north of Boston, and to the extent that it strays into near-future speculation -- a point I haven't decided yet -- the aftereffects of the tech crash on Boston will play a significant role.

Architrains, good. More and more often these days, I hear from teenagers who have taken a beady-eyed look at the college trap and are doing something else with their lives.

Valekeeper, every so often Barry hits one out of the park; this is one of those. As for the interface between the eras discussed here and the phases in The Ecotechnic Future, nah, the eras are on a much shorter time scale. We'll go through all five here in the US on the way from abundance industrialism to scarcity industrialism, and then probably repeat it over again at least once as we move through the remaining phases.

Ahavah, of course it's surreal. I doubt anybody actually believes that any of these things are going to "save" Appalachia, whatever that means, but there's money to be made by mouthing the slogans just now.

Rebecca, six year mortgages on a mattress...okay, that's really, er, special. Many thanks for the data point!

Doctor W., I think they would have done so if we hadn't taken the empire from their limp and prostrate hands at the end of the Second World War. I doubt there'll be much sympathy shown in Britain for that selfless service of ours, though. ;-)

Mark, of course it's a minority. It always is, when a civilization is going down.

Dagnarus, which is why the Stoics put so much emphasis on doing the right thing without obsessing about the consequences, which you can't control.

John Michael Greer said...

Caryn, exactly -- as I noted in a previous post, a lot of features about the world today make sense if you assume that everyone knows what's coming, and most of them are just clenching their eyes shut and hoping it doesn't hit until they're dead or something.

Mister R., you came of age right about the time the age of pretense was really hitting its stride, without a lot of chance to experience what things were like beforehand, and you're aware that we're facing a real mess just as you're getting deep into middle age. That's a tough row to hoe, no question.

Cherokee, let me make sure I have this straight. Your area of Australia is now getting Third World-style brownouts on a regular basis in hot weather? Okay, we're even further along the curve than I thought.

Ahavah, did I miss where you said what region you have in mind?

Ed-M, for what it's worth, my sense for a very long time is that when the US implodes, it's going to happen very suddenly, with the kind of vertigo-inducing abruptness that we saw during the fall of the Iron Curtain: not maximum apocalypse so much as the popping of a soap-bubble. But we'll see.

Cherokee, that superstorm wouldn't happen to be one of those hundred-year storms that happens every three or four years nowadays, would it? ;-)

Matthew, were you under the impression that those radioactive isotopes came already concentrated enough to put into fuel rods? In their natural form, they're a minute fraction of the ore, and have to be concentrated using vast energy inputs from other sources. The thing that makes fossil fuels so unique, as I keep on having to point out, is that they've already been concentrated for us by biological and geological processes...and that is why my post said, ahem, "the largest single deposit of concentrated energy in this part of the universe."

Caryn said...

@Ed-M;

The Clothes with no Emperor' is definitely a stronger as well as more sinister visual than the other way round. Thanks, I'd never thought of that - very good point.

As for the rest of the world indulging in schadenfreude when the USA collapses-

On the one had: yes, of course. Brash American interference, hegemony, wars, etc. have not endeared us to most countries.
BUT as we saw in 2008, (both in the economic collapse and in the presidential elections that followed) - the rest of the world cares about what happens in and to America because their own economies are intricately tied to America's - they have skin in the game. There are a few countries, companies and entities who have made real changes since 2008 to disentangle themselves from the giant octopus of Wall Street and the international markets/casino, but for most; their economies will be right behind America's in a fall. China's current economy is not sustainable without US trade and they know it. I SUSPECT somehow, disentanglement or having a plan-B plays into China's recent South China Seas aggressive actions, but I don't know how exactly. (anyone here following that development who can enlighten me?)

Our downfall over here will probably happen later and will look very different than the one in the US, as JGM pointed out - it is within living memory of the populace that it all fell apart catastrophically before. Many Chinese people still by far, favor tangible financial assets - land, property, even putting their money into highest quality diamonds and gems as 'flee-in-the-night-portable-wealth', not just for pretty jewelry. I can hazard guesses as to how this will play out, (especially for us expats here), but I won't, I don't really know.
I am sure though that any schadenfreude will be short lived if enjoyed at all, as (most of) the rest of the world will be too busy bailing water out of their own sinking ships.

RE: possible nuclear war with Russia, Our politicians haven't done anything without a financial pay-off since, idon'tknowwhen! I don't understand a financial pay-off in that. Maybe someone more knowledgeable on it can comment. (?) Definitely something worth talking about.

Thanks again.

Nigwil said...

Indeed the Era of Pretense is hiding some pretty nasty snakes among the long grass of verbiage and deceit. As you correctly point out (as you have before), the issue of nuclear waste is something many communities will have to deal with for millennia. But it has the potential to get exceedingly messy before it settles down to the point where a carved marker saying "Beyond here there be Death!" in the local dialect is all that's required to keep sensible folk safe from this hazard.

The great technological end-time achievements of the Maya and other prior civilisations had the useful habit of just lying there quietly growing moss when their priests, victims and deities went away.

We are not so lucky. One of our end-time techno-achievements is embodied in the rather troublesome matter of about 440 nuclear power plants scattered around the planet (and another 60 under construction plus a few more 'experimental' reactors) which require sustained external power supplies to keep cores and waste fuel ponds cool, over human inter-generational time frames. Under any plausible scenario 'going forward' this level of centralised planning, entailing deliberately and prematurely shutting down base load generation to make it safe before the rest of the grid goes down, seems to be an unlikely possibility.

France in particular is in a real catch-22 situation in this regard as it gets a very high proportion of its energy (over 75%) from nuclear. A staged shutdown of all those 60 or so reactors runs the real risk of the grid collapsing completely due to demand exceeding non-nuclear generation capacity long before the last plants are in cold shutdown with all their fuel rods in huge air-cooled rain-fed spent fuel ponds, or in cask storage in that very useful place: 'somewhere else'.

Considering the cost of tidying up one reactor at Three Mile Island (a job not yet done) one reactor at Chernobyl, and now the three (four? six?) reactors at Fukushima, we are already at the point where we cannot gather sufficient resources together to tidy up even those three sites to a 'safe for ever' state. What about the other 437? Where will the cash and effort and planning come from to attend to those in time?

But without casting aside the pretense that all is well and will continue to a bright and glorious future, the real consequence of such dangerous myopia is the rapid failure of the electricity distribution grid and prompt and enduring ‘Fukushima-type’ consequences at a NPP near you. Dodging the down-wind plume from burning fuel pools (50 or more in the 'former U S o A') has the potential to become one of the most popular reason for international travel during the great unraveling, albeit on foot.

Les said...

@JMG, WilliamK, Chris, Steve, et al, re: Elon Musk’s miracle batteries as pretense.

JMG: you euphemised Musk’s new idea as a brain f..t – I think it’s much more than that, more like a very considered strategy to ensure the survival of both his company and his reputation.
The one thing everyone ignores with the Tesla powerwall is that, like the F-35, it is a technology that is supremely good at its primary mission.
In the case of the powerwall, that mission is propping up a share price. When you fail to sell laptop batteries to all the major car companies, but you have committed to a ‘super factory’ to build those batteries, you need a new story to tell to keep the suckers investing. “Hey, let’s sell batteries to all those people with grid-tie photovoltaics!”

Next year, there’ll be the marinised and containerised version of the powerwall, designed to keep global shipping functioning.
The year after, the high-g version to power the latest creation of Virgin Galactic.
And so on, ad nauseum.

As for the tech aspects of this piece of cr.p (sorry JMG, I find euphemisms difficult to come up with), when you consider that they are first generation lithium laptop batteries in a fancy box, you can chuck all the predictions out the window – eg, if you want them to last more than a year, your capacity is 3kW/h not 10. If you want to kill them instantly and burn your house down, overcharge them once (easy to do with a fault in the charge controller). If you want to kill them a little more slowly, but still way too quickly, discharge them fully a few times. Etc, etc, etc…

As for Ni-Fe, William, as Chris suggested, I’m running a set of Nickel Iron batteries in my (almost) off-grid house. As others have said, they are very inefficient – 65% to 70% of the power going in is able to be got back out. They’re also difficult to monitor to see what the state of charge actually is, so overcharging to buggery is the default method of operation (given the current price of pv panels, inefficiency is pretty well irrelevant, however).

Finding charge controllers and inverters that will work with them is also a bit of a trial, as they charge and discharge over a much wider range that lead-acid or Li-ion chemistries.

On the plus side, they have a proven long life (as much as 80 years;, they don’t care about being overcharged or overdischarged; they can be run without charge controllers or inverters without damage. If you do manage to poison them (usually with CO2 in the water), you can clean them out and add new electrolyte to get them going again.

They aren’t the easiest things to live with, but they work well when you treat them right. After nearly two years, I am still trying to develop a functional set of superstitions that will allow me to manage the batteries effectively. As it is, I run out of electrons occasionally still. I also distill and use 20 litres of water in the batteries every three to six months.

But I sure wouldn’t buy anything from Tesla.

Cheers,
Les

Leah Gayle said...

Ahavah here: Oops, sorry about that - for those of you who do not have a green wizards login, the location is Lexington KY for our Sunday June 14th get together. Hope to see you there!

Also for some strange reason my laptop won't sign me in with my tablet login. Computers make me crazy.

Dagnarus said...

@JMG

I don't see how you can determine what is right without considering the consequences. After all there are a lot of people who take it as writ that increasing GDP, living standards and pushing forward progress are unalloyed goods, and they might have a point, if you don't consider the consequences.

brodix said...

One minor quibble, in that I see the financial chicanery as destroying the industrial behemoth, by siphoning as much notational value out of circulation, before it would have otherwise collapsed.
Thus potentially leaving more resources for the future, than if the process had been more true to its own better interests.
That the greed of the elites is helping to implode an otherwise unsustainable system.

Ed-M said...

JMG,

Yes, when the tech bubble crashes greater Boston will be in a very bad way. Serves them right for replacing their socioeconomically diverse population and the vitality that goes with it for Office Fauna.

And if you haven't picked a spot for you novel yet, may I suggest Newburyport?

Also, when I said maximum apocalypse possible, I was thinking something on the lines of the breakup of Yugoslavia. I don't think we'll get off as lightly as the (former) Soviets!

Cherokee,

One month after the storm and the town still has no vehicular bridge? Haven't the NSW government enough parts for a Bailey Bridge? (We call them Acrow Panel Bridges in the USA)

Shane Wilson said...

@Tom, Ahavah,
Things change much faster than attitudes. Latin American attitudes towards "El Norte" and Appalachia's desire to "catch up" with the rest of the country will probably die a slow death. It's why I'm hoping for a particularly fast, bubble popping, spectacular fall that JMG mentioned in his response to Ed-M, if nothing else, it will be an unmistakable sign that the dominant American model has failed and is not to be emulated.
I must agree with you, Tom, regarding Mexicans, at least my experience with immigrants here in the U.S. I find them uniquely situated to weather the coming storm with flying colors. Their resilience, social bonds and etiquette, and willingness to make the most of a situation with little complaint, and even a good attitude, will serve them well in the future we're facing, and puts them head and shoulders above the average depressed, demoralized juero. But getting them to see that is another story, since they've bought into the myth of "El Norte" as much as anyone. I do what I can. As an outsider, I point out the strengths of their culture, how I value them in contrast with the dominant juero culture, I encourage them to maintain their traditions, and most of all, I encourage them to view the dominant juero culture with a critical eye, seeing its flaws and drawbacks, and that it's a house of cards/ smoke and mirrors game that won't last. I'm trying to establish a local immigrant sustainable ag program that focuses on corn and three sisters planting. I'm grateful for the opportunity to take breaks from juerolandia, and am grateful that I don't even have to go very far to do so. It's good for my soul to take breaks from the ugliness that the dominant culture has become and to see a better way of handling poverty.
I've lived in KY my entire life, and if I had a nickel for every program the commonwealth has spent on "catching" Eastern KY up with the rest of the country. Talk about the myth of progress. Ever since Night Comes to the Cumberlands and Johnson's ARC, Appalachia has been one big subsidy dumpster for every harebrained idea to bring Appalachia "up to speed" with the rest of the U.S. SOAR is just the latest in a long line of failed ideas. Nobody dare ask if Boston or San Francisco are sustainable models for eastern KY, or even if it's possible to emulate the wealthy regions. Meanwhile, permaculturists and homesteaders are streaming into eastern KY in search of cheap land and a light regulatory hand (the freedom to do what they want without enforcement breathing down their neck) unnoticed by the powers that be. If anywhere is going to host the monasteries of the coming dark age, to preserve culture and knowledge, here in North America, it will be Appalachia.

Ryan Sharon said...

'hopium and despairoin are both deadly drugs' - you are on a roll in the comments this week. Hilarious!

As for the ad of pretense, living near the
SF bay area, it is on full display...real estate bubble, tech bubble 2.0...I understand that societies have difficulty with long term memory, but the dot-gone bust was only 15 years ago...talk about powerful denial.

Cherokee / Heather: please DO go on about water! Far from being boring it is much on my mind as we are on a 65foot well with an AC pump. I am researching off-grid options, but I'd also like to learn more about truly low-tech options like pitcher pumps. Additionally, if either of you know much about low-tech water treatment I'd love to learn more: we have ridiculous amounts of iron hydroxide (ferrous so requires oxidation, filters are useless) and iron bacteria.

Tye said...

To my mind, your "Age of Pretense" seems a predictable response to cognitive dissonance. When one's paradigm is threatened, we're hardwired to cover our ears and shout "la la la" louder.
Curious to me is the role of scapegoating in this process. The pain of dissonance leads to assigning blame on a cause--any cause--so long as it isn't a fact that the assignor can't handle. Eg, jews blamed for the indignities of the German people in the Weimar era, where WWI reparations were impossible to pay without hyperinflation. More examples in the vilification of immigrants, blacks, gays, etc. If humans are hardwired to scapegoat in times of cognitive dissonance, who's in the batter's box?

Steve in Colorado said...

Hi Cherokee Organics

Thanks for the link.

I was aware of most these "problems" with the new Tesla batteries (I have several friends who work in AE, and used to dabble in it myself some years back).

They forum folks are right, these new Tesla batteries are not a drop in replacement for most any existing AE system. They work at much higher voltages, and their charging algorithms will need to be quite different than the ones for L-A batteries (remember the fires in Apple laptops a few years ago from their Li batteries). So most existing equipment is not going to work with them.

Still, marketing issues aside, if these batteries have a comparable lifespan and live up to their specs then they will be a cost/performance improvement over what we have now (opps did I say progress).

I too have L-A sealed batteries as do some friends in their AE systems. We've all were thinking that when those batteries die, the Tesla's or something like them would be an interesting upgrade; even if it requires new a new inverter or the like. I'm just hoping my old batteries last long enough...

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

Two things. First a data point from China. A while back you said that you had x many page views from China a week, 60 if memory serves. Blogger is blocked in China, one can get around the Chinese firewall with a VPN but it makes the traffic appear to come from somewhere else. Whatever number you are seeing is a lower bound. I don't know if it is possible to get a good number.

Second, the term "third world" is kind of insulting if one knows the origin of the phrase. It came out of the Cold War. First world refers to the western industrial democracies. Second world refers to the communist countries and third world refers to everything else, sort of. Not Switzerland or Sweden, the socialist countries in the armed neutrality camp, they were assumed to be on our side for some reason.
After the Cold War ended and distinctions based on ideology made less sense it was rebranded the global north and the global south for a little while, but that didn't really stick. Developed, developing and undeveloped are the current terms and they roughly translate to on our side for years, coming to our side, and haven't decided to join our side yet. Of course they will join our pro progress team, what other option is there?

Thanks,
Tim

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Pew Research recently released two studies on religious populations. One is a projection of the percentage of the world's population that will be affiliated with various religions between now and 2050. Muslims are increasing at a faster rate than others.

The other is a study of current American religious affiliation, based on data gathered in 2007 and 2014. One striking point in the US study is that the overall percentage of professing Christians dropped more than eight points in seven years, and almost all the drop was due to a decline in affiliation with mainline Protestant denominations.

An analysis of the two studies with particular attention to non-affiliated (atheist, agnostic, "spiritual but not religious" and no particular religion) and Pagan populations may be found here:
http://wildhunt.org/2015/05/shifting-religious-landscapes-pew-releases-two-new-studies.html#disqus_thread

Shane Wilson said...

Ahavah forgot to mention the location of our potluck. This is the official kickoff of the central KY green wizards! We'll be discussing small holding, postindustrial permaculture farmers squatting on long abandoned former thoroughbred horse farms! :)

pygmycory said...

I agree we're in an age of pretense. That said, I do get a general sense that most people here in BC feel there's something wrong even if they aren't sure what or what to do about it. The younger ones often 'get it' better than the older. We at least know that the reason we can't find decent jobs isn't laziness or lack of trying.

Speaking of things going downhill, I lost my only shift at work this week and my rent went up this month.

John Michael Greer said...

Nigwil, yes, I discussed all that in an earlier post. It's fascinating to watch the way that anything nuclear seems to attract extreme fantasies these days.

Les, that makes sense -- now that the electric car's a flop, Musk has to find some other use for his battery factories. I'd still encourage anyone who takes his hype seriously to look up the limits to the world's economically extractable lithium deposits.

Ahavah, many thanks -- I hope it goes well!

Dagnarus, you might want to hit the nearest decent library and pick up a book on the philosophy of ethics. Whether or not ethics depend on consequences is one of the issues philosophers have been debating since about a week after philosophy was invented.

Brodix, that's an interesting point, and one that I'll look into.

Ed-M, thank you! I've already chosen the setting, though; you won't find it on most maps, but it's an easy bus ride south of Newburyport at the mouth of the Manuxet River, a tumbledown old port town with a bit of an eerie reputation...

Ryan Sharon, thank you. Yes, I had the Bay area among other places in mind.

Tye, good question. It's hard to predict that in advance.

Tim, I won't use "underdeveloped" or "developing," since the countries in question are never going to have the chance to "develop" and the overdeveloped countries are going to revert to the Third World mean soon enough.

Unknown Deborah, yes, I saw that. The ongoing implosion of the Christian used-to-be-mainstream in the US is a remarkable event, and probably needs an archdruidical response one of these days.

Pygmycory, ouch! I hope you've made preparations and can handle this next round of collapsing ahead of the rush without too much trouble.

Mark Rice said...

"Since human beings persist in acting like human beings, though, all such plans are wasted breath."

I wish this was not true. If humans were as wise as they were clever, our civilisation could de-growth itself. But as it is, de-growth will happen with a lot of help from the four horsemen.

Bogatyr said...

An ADR meetup in China?

We seem to be quorate...

Prizm, I'll be in Dalian next weekend; I'll send you an email later today.

I'm based in Beijing.

Caryn and team10tim, I gather you're also here somewhere - whereabouts?

Mister Roboto said...

Mister R., you came of age right about the time the age of pretense was really hitting its stride, without a lot of chance to experience what things were like beforehand, and you're aware that we're facing a real mess just as you're getting deep into middle age. That's a tough row to hoe, no question.

Thank you. But when I think of the kids now becoming men and women who were born in the second half of the nineties and the first half of the "aughts", my heart just breaks into two bloody, broken pieces. They will be the sub-generation whose first part of coming of age will have been in the twilight years of the age of pretense, while the second part of their coming of age will be during the initial years of the age of impact. How does a young person even begin to process something like that if they haven't been told the whole truth????

Dagnarus said...

A bit it late, but I thought this was relevant to the current post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/13/solar-road-power_n_7275278.html

Lawfish1964 said...

Andrew Roth:

I think you read something into my comment that was not there. First of all, I am a baby boomer by 15 days, so my desire not to pay social security tax is not motivated by any desire to stick it to the baby boomers.

Second of all, I pay 100% of my legal obligations, so I don't know why you reference lawlessness. The problems I have with social security are two-fold. One, I will pay into it far more than I will ever get back, even assuming it were to somehow remain solvent for another 15 years. Two, it simply won't be there in 15 years. The program is a Ponzi scheme that relies on endless growth to finance it. Actuarily it is insolvent now. So I will have the pleasure of paying a welfare tax my entire working life only to be left holding the bag when it's my time to collect.

Good luck relying on Canadian social security. It suffers the same structural unsoundness, namely a zero-growth population. But I would encourage you to "emigrate" there. Immigration occurs when people come to this country.

Odin's Raven said...

The Era of Pretense has apparently reached the point that in California people are painting their lawns green!
Green California
A different sort of Green Wizardry?

Patricia Mathews said...

@ Mister Roboto: you asked "But when I think of the kids now becoming men and women who were born in the second half of the nineties and the first half of the "aughts", my heart just breaks into two bloody, broken pieces. They will be the sub-generation whose first part of coming of age will have been in the twilight years of the age of pretense, while the second part of their coming of age will be during the initial years of the age of impact. How does a young person even begin to process something like that if they haven't been told the whole truth????"

There's where books like FOURTH TURNING come in really handy, because it's happened before and will happen again; some of us have tracked such things back to Ancient Rome and certainly to Medieval England.

OK - In England, France, and Germany, and nations in between, the Lost Generation got that double whammy and so did the GI (US terminology; Air Raid in England, I think.). The difference being the latter did live to see a recovery of sorts: a High in the States and an Austerity Recovery in the UK.

The kids you're looking at - little kids? teenagers? college age? know something's wrong, badly wrong. They, too, will live to see a recovery, but it won't be the one promised them by their elders, which historically has led to a quiet cynicism - blast! I wish I had some biographies to point to! But my brain is befuddled this afternoon.

Pat, 1939-20??, "born between Saturn and Mars."

Patricia Mathews said...

@Lawfish 1964 - never mind the official demographers; you are not and never were a Boomer. People your age are culturally and psychologically Xers in every way that can be measured except by those who look at bumps on graphs.

If you have no conscious memory of the age I grew up in, called "the Fifties" for convenience but actually ending (in the States) with the Kennedy assassination, you are an Xer. As are my children.

If you have no conscious memory of the pre-Reagan years, you are a Millennial. And if you have no conscious memory of a pre-Crisis Era world (still arguing over whether the turning point was 9/11/2001 or the bursting of the economic bubble in (more argument 2007 or 2008) you are a contemporary of my grandchildren, and very like me in many ways. We spent our childhoods knowing things were bad out there.

Hope this clarifies some things.

Pat, 1939 - 20??

pygmycory said...

I'm all right provided nothing happens to disability, and my mom has agreed that if things totally fall apart and there is no help I can go and live there, though I'd need to find a way to help fund the household. It's just really frustrating because I was trying to be less dependent on government supports.

For now, I'll have more time to spend in the garden and learning to use my new-to-me sewing machine, which is not a bad thing at this time of year. Maybe I'll get more shifts later - I'll have to see how this plays out.

Spraypainting California's lawns green is indeed a wonderful metaphor for the era of pretense, all the sadder because it is really happening.

latheChuck said...

Random notes:
I was in a modern medical facility in the Washington DC area today, and noticed multi-language signs asking "Have you been in West Africa lately?", and plenty of hand-sanitizer dispensers. These hand-sanitizers, it seems, have some non-contact sensor so you don't risk picking up a germ while preparing to kill the ones on your hands. But then I heard a conversation between a couple of staff members: "Still no batteries for the dispensers?" "No. I don't know when we'll get them." Maybe that's why I didn't see anyone sanitizing their hands...

A moment ago, a trailer for a story on All Things Considered (NPR news magazine) promised to defend The Luddite movement. I can hardly wait!

On Saturday, I conducted a ham radio communications exercise, where I sat on 7205 kHz from 10AM until 3PM (with a few breaks), just inviting contacts. I logged 56 stations, from South Carolina to Massachusetts and west to Ohio. In most cases, the audio quality was better than my cell phone, even when the other guys were sending 5-10W. (I was using 100W.) The antenna was a simple wire dipole about 20' above the ground (home made). This is, I think, about what we should expect for a fine summer day, on the 40m band. Longer distances are more likely at night.

onething said...

"Second, the term "third world" is kind of insulting if one knows the origin of the phrase...Developed, developing and undeveloped are the current terms, "

Yes, it is quite important to stay abreast of the latest, noninsulting, terms for the same things.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Things are not good here, if anyone actually bothered to notice!

Hey, I spotted this article and heard John Kenneth Galbraith's long dead chuckle at our sheer folly:

Market 'close to boom conditions' as sale prices rocket past reserves

No disrespect to the reporter but given how silly the title of the article is, let's extend the silliness a bit further and mix some metaphors for good measure and say that that particular horse has sailed and/or the ship has bolted. Honestly, when all we have left is smoke and mirrors it makes me shake my head in disbelief... ;-)!

Cheers

Chris

Caryn said...

Bogatyr:

A China meet-up sounds great.

I am in Hong Kong. No longer livin' the highfalutin' life that allows much travel, but if you ever find yourself down here, contact me and I'll take you out to a good dai pai dong for dim-sum, or maybe a hike along the Dragon's Back.

I am on Green Wizards and Facebook. Let me know. :)

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, exactly. Another way to put it is that our species is still just as much a part of nature as any other, and its occasional bursts of excess population are taken care of in the time-honored fashion.

Mister R., the interesting thing is that I'm encountering a growing number of young people who get it -- who know perfectly well what kind of mess they're facing, and are getting ready for it. They're not the majority, not yet, but there seems to be a surprisingly large number of them.

Dagnarus, funny. I'm sure you noticed that they very carefully didn't talk about how much it cost to build the road, compared to other ways to get the relatively modest trickle of power it brought in.

Raven, that's quintessential California! Thanks for the link.

Pygmycory, glad to hear it. I hope things work out well for you.

LatheChuck, that business around the dispensers is very nearly a perfect metaphor for our time. Many thanks!

Cherokee, good. When a rocket is close to the condition of going boom, furthermore, you don't necessarily want to be standing near it!

Boulderlovin Cat said...

I can't wait for your Massachusetts novel and loved your reference to a certain writer I like to read on dark nights at home alone. On a related note, I have to thank you for an introduction to the writings of Clark Ashton Smith. Have really enjoyed discovering his writings.

John Michael Greer said...

Cat, glad to see that somebody caught the reference! The project is coming together remarkably quickly, so I should have something to announce within a few months. In the meantime, this might be amusing.

nuku said...

JMG and Mark Rice:
“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good from evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either- but right through every human heart- and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of hearts, there remains an unuprooted small corner of evil. All religions contain truth because they struggle with the evil inside a human being: whereas political revolutions destroy only those carriers of evil contemporary with them (and also fail, out of haste, to discriminate the carriers of good as well). And they then take to themselves as their heritage the actual evil itself, magnified still more.”
A. Solzhenitsyn ‘The Gulag Archipelago’

Bogatyr said...

Prizm, I can't find your email address. Maybe you could text me on:

One eight five 1905 0802?

That number should let you find me on WeChat too (Caryn , feel free to add me as well)

Denys said...

JMG - how do your phases relate to the generational theory in the Fourth Turning? I read that work back in 20010 and it was the first modern work I read that said history was cyclical. As an Gen X'er I identified with many of the characteristics of that generation description and definitely saw the selfishness of the boomers and resolve of the silents.

Speaking of selfishness of boomers, did you ever read Albert Brooks 2030? I can't help but to think that our "greatest generation" is going to continue to grab the remaining resources for themselves and leave the younger generations to do without, because well, they will just have to think of something for themselves. And my gosh, they deserve it. (Words I hear people say often - they are buying or doing such and such because they deserve it.)

Dagnarus said...

I'm not certain if they made any thought whatsoever about cost. I found it interesting how commenters immediately leaped on anybody who dared mention cost, even the ones who just pointed out that it would have been far more cost effective to deploy regular solar panels. I wonder how many people nowadays have any understanding of the concept of opportunity cost.

Also, http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/crime/alabama-jail-forced-to-release-prisoners-after-it-ran-out-of-food/article/433527

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Denys--as one of the earlier born members of the Baby Boom generation, your comments certainly pushed my buttons. As a group, we Boomers have some traits and modes of behavior that are, to put it mildly, annoying, and that I wearily recognize in myself. Even if we were as a group wise, saintly and altruistic, the mere fact that there are so many of us and that middle age is the time when people typically occupy the seats of power and influence would be bound to cause resentment among younger generations who are impatiently waiting for us to get out of their way. That's how many Boomers felt about their elders in their own youth, and payback's a female dog.

Still, since you write "selfishness of boomers . . . I can't help but to think that our "greatest generation" is going to continue to grab the remaining resources for themselves and leave the younger generations to do without," do take note that the oldest Boomers entered adulthood around 1967, just shy of fifty years ago. Have you noticed that in the past half century, most of the philanthropic organizations, service organizations, youth organizations, churches, organizations for social improvement like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, environmental protection organizations, civic improvement organizations, arts organizations etc., have dried up and blown away for lack of volunteers and donors? Who do you think has been giving money and time to those organizations for the past fifty years? Do you think they run and fund themselves?

Patricia Mathews said...

Signs of the times - I've noticed an upsurge in places offering a package of services which includes tooth-whitening, waxing (hair removal), etc. Historically, hairdressers and the like have done very well in hard times and among impoverished populations (or why Mme C.J. Walker became a millionaire in the early 20th century.)

We can forget the earnest psychological analyses of Beauty Myths, Women loving/hating their bodies, etc - actually one step above "the little dears do it to *feel better* about ourselves!" but still no more valid than "frills and vanity."

It's a hard-nosed investment by women with any hope of being attractive, in gaining a competitive edge over other women in every market going, from getting jobs (yes, it is an edge there) to getting men (guys, read SISTER CARRIE for why that matters.)

Those of us who can no longer dress the mutton as lamb - and this was one of the few pieces of good advice Anton LeVey ever gave us - are concentrating on good cooking, making people feel at home, and being ourselves. Because that's where OUR competitive edge now lies.

So - I call it a sign that Main Street knows very well what Wall Street refuses to admit. And a possible paying trade or barterable skill for the Great Decline.

Ed-M said...

JMG, I'm looking forward to your novel then! Hope it's far enough in the future so that at this present time, the run-down port to be is gentrified, much like Marblehead, Beverly and Scituate Harbor.

Caryn, point taken on the entanglements of the other countries with the USA, particularly dollar-denominated trade. Other countries are doing bilateral trade deals in their own currencies. China and Russia inked a deal recently, which explains why the US did a color revolution and the new regime is waging a proxy war, both on Russia's front porch.

Patricia Matthews, I was born in 1960 yet remember nothing of the 50s, early 60s or even Kennedy's assassination. My birth year makes me a Boomer (Joneser), but my earliest memories make me an X-er!

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG: You predicted this!

http://theweek.com/articles/555734/benedict-option-why-religious-right-considering-allout-withdrawal-from-politics

latheChuck said...

Following up on the Luddite story, here's how it ended (emphasis added).

GOLDSTEIN: A few people made a lot more, but Bob Allen, an economic historian, says lots of people made less.
...
ALLEN: Well, it was certainly, I think, in their interest to wreck machines. They were acting rationally, and I think to say that they were irrational and opponents of progress is a big mistake.
...
GOLDSTEIN: The traditional economic response is these problems are temporary. Technology makes everybody better off in the long run. But one of the things the Luddites have to teach us is the long run can be really, really long.

[According to the story, wages for workers "barely budged" for 50 years as England's industry developed, so industrialization was bad for at least three generations of labor. That's what he meant by "really, really long".]

But isn't it reassuring that technology makes EVERYBODY BETTER OFF (in the long run). But if you have to wait a few generations to see the beneficial effects, it seems more precise to say "technology makes the survivors better off", an argument one might make about any revolutionary reign of terror.

Cathy McGuire said...

JMG - I'm delighted to hear you're working on another novel! I can't wait to read it! I am always amazed that you can get so much writing done! And your contests have revitalized my own fiction writing, and I'm very grateful.

Re: Pretense beginning to wear off - here's a Pulitzer Prize winner now among the "lower class", writing up his own story so others can understand what it's like to live poor (I applaud him for that courage):
http://www.iasc-culture.org/THR/THR_article_2014_Fall_McPherson.php
…Like a lot of other people, I started life comfortably middle-class, maybe upper-middle class; now, like a lot of other people walking the streets of America today, I am poor....

John Franklin said...

But isn't it reassuring that technology makes EVERYBODY BETTER OFF (in the long run). But if you have to wait a few generations to see the beneficial effects, it seems more precise to say "technology makes the survivors better off", an argument one might make about any revolutionary reign of terror.

You concede too much, Mr. theChuck. It's not an argument. It's a bald assertion.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

To my previous list of things that Baby Boomers contribute to the commonweal, I will add human rights organizations and all the Boomer grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren because the parents are dead or incapable.

Brian Weber said...

LatheChuck, it's a bit facile to mention wages but not prices. A quick check shows broad price deflation through most of the 19th century, with wages remaining broadly stable. In fact the purchasing power of those wages actually more than doubled. This was likely unmentioned because nobody in the press seems to be able to challenge a dominant narrative, one of which is that industrialization, guided age, etc was uniformly bad for workers. Reality is complicated!

Denys said...

@Deborah Bender
I'm not sure why what I said is eliciting such a defensive emotional response from you. Boomers enjoyed the most wealth of any generation. The fact that they spent a few percent of it (the last time I looked up what Americans give to charity it was like 2% of income) to "do good", does that change the fact that they got the mother load and continue to want more. Like every other Gen X family we are paying 15.3% of our gross salary on social security and Medicare to take care of older generations. We are never going to have anyone take care of us in a similar way.

Adrian Skilling said...

A perfect characterisation of our current state I'd say.

I think the era of pretense might help explain the UK situation of almost total loss of trust in mainstream politicians and a high proportion for voting for other parties in the recent election. Nevertheless, the right-wing Tories narrowly won by selling the people the lie that we have a strong growing economy (last figure is 0.3% growth)

When you say,

"but the immediate costs of admitting that those arrangements don’t work loom considerably larger in the collective imagination than the future costs of leaving those arrangements in place."

I'm very reminded of mathematical optimisation and local minima. Imagine a marble stuck in a valley, there may be a much lower (cost) nearby valley but it requires we climb a hill to get to it, which is more costly so the marble stays put. Now imagine the valleys and hills shifting with time. Eventually the local minima we are in rises in cost compared to the surroundings and the marble rolls downhill to a new minima. Most of us behave just like the marble, only a few have the foresight to see to the next valley and the motivation to get there over the hills.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Denys,

Wow, I wasn't aware of how high your social security and Medicare rates are over in the US. Wow, 15.3%! That appears to me to be one of the most beautiful scams I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing (I thought that it was bad here at 9.5% + 1.5%). And where is that money being spent? Is it used to "invest" in securities (charming terms, both)? Are the contribution rates stable or have they increased over time?

When you step back and look at the big picture, that scheme appears to reduce consumption for goods and services, which in turn reduces the possible inflationary impact of printing money. And "investment" asset prices are reinforced and supported. The top end of town must be falling over themselves laughing at us all! hehe!

The real problem will arise when the intersection of: people wanting to liquidate those "investment" assets into cash; the number of people entering the system declines significantly; and/or the population no longer desires to support the current or increasing rates of contribution into that system. Oh yeah, it'll be interesting.

Still an even bigger perspective will reveal the system to be the shell game that it is and perhaps as it appears not to be really based on "real world" assets then perhaps they genuinely will actually think of something. They got this far printing money without causing an inflationary spike, which is a real credit (pun intended).

Incidentally, with all of the shenanigans going on with exchange rates, things are actually getting more expensive down here regardless of what the official inflation figures say. I discovered yesterday that my chainsaw which I purchased many years ago now costs several hundred dollars more than at that time in the past. Ouch.

Cheers

Chris