Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The Era of Breakdown

The fourth of the stages in the sequence of collapse we’ve been discussing is the era of breakdown. (For those who haven’t been keeping track, the first three phases are the eras of pretense, impact, and response; the final phase, which we’ll be discussing next week, is the era of dissolution.) The era of breakdown is the phase that gets most of the press, and thus inevitably no other stage has attracted anything like the crop of misperceptions, misunderstandings, and flat-out hokum as this one.

The era of breakdown is the point along the curve of collapse at which business as usual finally comes to an end. That’s where the confusion comes in. It’s one of the central articles of faith in pretty much every human society that business as usual functions as a bulwark against chaos, a defense against whatever problems the society might face. That’s exactly where the difficulty slips in, because in pretty much every human society, what counts as business as usual—the established institutions and familiar activities on which everyone relies day by day—is the most important cause of the problems the society faces, and the primary cause of collapse is thus quite simply that societies inevitably attempt to solve their problems by doing all the things that make their problems worse.

The phase of breakdown is the point at which this exercise in futility finally grinds to a halt. The three previous phases are all attempts to avoid breakdown: in the phase of pretense, by making believe that the problems don’t exist; in the phase of impact, by making believe that the problems will go away if only everyone doubles down on whatever’s causing them; and in the phase of response, by making believe that changing something other than the things that are causing the problems will fix the problems. Finally, after everything else has been tried, the institutions and activities that define business as usual either fall apart or are forcibly torn down, and then—and only then—it becomes possible for a society to do something about its problems.

It’s important not to mistake the possibility of constructive action for the inevitability of a solution. The collapse of business as usual in the breakdown phase doesn’t solve a society’s problems; it doesn’t even prevent those problems from being made worse by bad choices. It merely removes the primary obstacle to a solution, which is the wholly fictitious aura of inevitability that surrounds the core institutions and activities that are responsible for the problems. Once people in a society realize that no law of God or nature requires them to maintain a failed status quo, they can then choose to dismantle whatever fragments of business as usual haven’t yet fallen down of their own weight.

That’s a more important action than it might seem at first glance. It doesn’t just put an end to the principal cause of the society’s problems. It also frees up resources that have been locked up in the struggle to keep business as usual going at all costs, and those newly freed resources very often make it possible for a society in crisis to transform itself drastically in a remarkably short period of time. Whether those transformations are for good or ill, or as usually happens, a mixture of the two, is another matter, and one I’ll address a little further on.

Stories in the media, some recent, some recently reprinted, happen to have brought up a couple of first-rate examples of the way that resources get locked up in unproductive activities during the twilight years of a failing society. A California newspaper, for example, recently mentioned that Elon Musk’s large and much-ballyhooed fortune is almost entirely a product of government subsidies. Musk is a smart guy; he obviously realized a good long time ago that federal and state subsidies for technology was where the money was at, and he’s constructed an industrial empire funded by US taxpayers to the tune of many billions of dollars. None of his publicly traded firms has ever made a profit, and as long as the subsidies keep flowing, none of them ever has to; between an overflowing feed trough of government largesse and the longstanding eagerness of fools to be parted from their money by way of the stock market, he’s pretty much set for life.

This is business as usual in today’s America. An article from 2013 pointed out, along the same lines, that the profits made by the five largest US banks were almost exactly equal to the amount of taxpayer money those same five banks got from the government. Like Elon Musk, the banks in question have figured out where the money is, and have gone after it with their usual verve; the revolving door that allows men in suits to shuttle back and forth between those same banks and the financial end of the US government doesn’t exactly hinder that process. It’s lucrative, it’s legal, and the mere fact that it’s bankrupting the real economy of goods and services in order to further enrich an already glutted minority of kleptocrats is nothing anyone in the citadels of power worries about.

A useful light on a different side of the same process comes from an editorial (in PDF) which claims that something like half of all current scientific papers are unreliable junk. Is this the utterance of an archdruid, or some other wild-eyed critic of science? No, it comes from the editor of Lancet, one of the two or three most reputable medical journals on the planet. The managing editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, which has a comparable ranking to Lancet, expressed much the same opinion of the shoddy experimental design, dubious analysis, and blatant conflicts of interest that pervade contemporary scientific research.

Notice that what’s happening here affects the flow of information in the same way that misplaced government subsidies affect the flow of investment. The functioning of the scientific process, like that of the market, depends on the presupposition that everyone who takes part abides by certain rules. When those rules are flouted, individual actors profit, but they do so at the expense of the whole system: the results of scientific research are distorted so that (for example) pharmaceutical firms can profit from drugs that don’t actually have the benefits claimed for them, just as the behavior of the market is distorted so that (for example) banks that would otherwise struggle for survival, and would certainly not be able to pay their CEOs gargantuan bonuses, can continue on their merry way.

The costs imposed by these actions are real, and they fall on all other participants in science and the economy respectively. Scientists these days, especially but not only in such blatantly corrupt fields as pharmaceutical research, face a lose-lose choice between basing their own investigations on invalid studies, on the one hand, or having to distrust any experimental results they don’t replicate themselves, on the other. Meanwhile the consumers of the products of scientific research—yes, that would be all of us—have to contend with the fact that we have no way of knowing whether any given claim about the result of research is the product of valid science or not. Similarly, the federal subsidies that direct investment toward politically savvy entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, and politically well-connected banks such as Goldman Sachs, and away from less parasitic and more productive options distort the entire economic system by preventing the normal workings of the market from weeding out nonviable projects and firms, and rewarding the more viable ones.

Turn to the  historical examples we’ve been following for the last three weeks, and distortions of the same kind are impossible to miss. In the US economy before and during the stock market crash of 1929 and its long and brutal aftermath, a legal and financial system dominated by a handful of very rich men saw to it that the bulk of the nation’s wealth flowed uphill, out of productive economic activities and into speculative ventures increasingly detached from the productive economy. When the markets imploded, in turn, the same people did their level best to see to it that their lifestyles weren’t affected even though everyone else’s was. The resulting collapse in consumer expenditures played a huge role in driving the cascading collapse of the US economy that, by the spring of 1933, had shuttered every consumer bank in the nation and driven joblessness and impoverishment to record highs.

That’s what Franklin Roosevelt fixed. It’s always amused me that the people who criticize FDR—and of course there’s plenty to criticize in a figure who, aside from his far greater success as a wartime head of state, can best be characterized as America’s answer to Mussolini—always talk about the very mixed record of the economic policies of his second term. They rarely bother to mention the Hundred Days, in which FDR stopped a massive credit collapse in its tracks. The Hundred Days and their aftermath are the part of FDR’s presidency that mattered most; it was in that brief period that he slapped shock paddles on an economy in cardiac arrest and got a pulse going, by violating most of the rules that had guided the economy up to that time. That casual attitude toward economic dogma is one of the two things his critics have never been able to forgive; the other is that it worked.

In the same way, France before, during, and immediately after the Revolution was for all practical purposes a medieval state that had somehow staggered its way to the brink of the nineteenth century. The various revolutionary governments that succeeded one another in quick succession after 1789 made some badly needed changes, but it was left to Napoléon Bonaparte to drag France by the scruff of its collective neck out of the late Middle Ages. Napoléon has plenty of critics—and of course there’s plenty to criticize in a figure who was basically what Mussolini wanted to be when he grew up—but the man’s domestic policies were by and large inspired. To name only two of his most important changes, he replaced the sprawling provinces of medieval France with a system of smaller and geographically meaningful départements, and abolished the entire body of existing French law in favor of a newly created legal system, the Code Napoléon. When he was overthrown, those stayed; in fact, a great many other countries in Europe and elsewhere proceeded to adopt the Code Napoléon in place of their existing legal systems. There were several reasons for this, but one of the most important was that the new Code simply made that much more sense.

Both men were able to accomplish what they did, in turn, because abolishing the political, economic, and cultural distortions imposed on their respective countries by a fossilized status quo freed up all the resources that had bene locked up in maintaining those distortions. Slapping a range of legal barriers and taxes on the more egregious forms of speculative excess—another of the major achievements of the Roosevelt era—drove enough wealth back into the productive economy to lay the foundations of America’s postwar boom; in the same way, tipping a galaxy of feudal customs into history’s compost bin transformed France from the economic basket case it was in 1789 to the conqueror of Europe twenty years later, and the succesful and innovative economic and cultural powerhouse it became during most of the nineteenth century thereafter.

That’s one of the advantages of revolutionary change. By breaking down existing institutions and the encrusted layers of economic parasitism that inevitably build up around them over time, it reliably breaks loose an abundance of resources that were not available in the prerevolutionary period. Here again, it’s crucial to remember that the availability of resources doesn’t guarantee that they’ll be used wisely; they may be thrown away on absurdities of one kind or another. Nor, even more critically, does it mean that the same abundance of resources will be available indefinitely. The surge of additional resources made available by catabolizing old and corrupt systems is a temporary jackpot, not a permanent state of affairs. That said, when you combine the collapse of fossilized institutions that stand in the way of change, and a sudden rush of previously unavailable resources of various kinds, quite a range of possibilities previously closed to a society suddenly come open.

Applying this same pattern to the crisis of modern industrial civilization, though, requires attention to certain inescapable but highly unwelcome realities. In 1789, the problem faced by France was the need to get rid of a thousand years of fossilized political, economic, and social institutions at a time when the coming of the industrial age had made them hopelessly dysfunctional. In 1929, the problem faced by the United States was the need to pry the dead hand of an equally dysfunctional economic orthodoxy off the throat of the nation so that its economy would actually function again. In both cases, the era of breakdown was catalyzed by a talented despot, and was followed, after an interval of chaos and war, by a period of relative prosperity.

We may well get the despot this time around, too, not to mention the chaos and war, but the period of prosperity is probably quite another matter. The problem we face today, in the United States and more broadly throughout the world’s industrial societies, is that all the institutions of industrial civilization presuppose limitless economic growth, but the conditions that provided the basis for continued economic growth simply aren’t there any more. The 300-year joyride of industrialism was made possible by vast and cheaply extractable reserves of highly concentrated fossil fuels and other natural resources, on the one hand, and a biosphere sufficiently undamaged that it could soak up the wastes of human industry without imposing burdens on the economy, on the other. We no longer have either of those requirements.

With every passing year, more and more of the world’s total economic output has to be diverted from other activities to keep fossil fuels and other resources flowing into the industrial world’s power plants, factories, and fuel tanks; with every passing year, in turn, more and more of the world’s total economic output has to be diverted from other activities to deal with the rising costs of climate change and other ecological disruptions. These are the two jaws of the trap sketched out more than forty years ago in the pages of The Limits to Growth, still the most accurate (and thus inevitably the most savagely denounced) map of the predicament we face. The consequences of that trap can be summed up neatly: on a finite planet, after a certain point—the point of diminishing returns, which we’ve already passed—the costs of growth rise faster than the benefits, and finally force the global economy to its knees.

The task ahead of us is thus in some ways the opposite of the one that France faced in the aftermath of 1789. Instead of replacing a sclerotic and failing medieval economy with one better suited to a new era of industrial expansion, we need to replace a sclerotic and failing industrial economy with one better suited to a new era of deindustrial contraction. That’s a tall order, no question, and it’s not something that can be achieved easily, or in a single leap. In all probability, the industrial world will have to pass through the whole sequence of phases we’ve been discussing several times before things finally bottom out in the deindustrial dark ages to come.

Still, I’m going to shock my fans and critics alike here by pointing out that there’s actually some reason to think that positive change on more than an individual level will be possible as the industrial world slams facefirst into the limits to growth. Two things give me that measured sense of hope. The first is the sheer scale of the resources locked up in today’s spectacularly dysfunctional political, economic, and social institutions, which will become available for other uses when those institutions come apart. The $83 billion a year currently being poured down the oversized rathole of the five biggest US banks, just for starters, could pay for a lot of solar water heaters, training programs for organic farmers, and other things that could actually do some good.

Throw in the resources currently being chucked into all of the other attempts currently under way to prop up a failing system, and you’ve got quite the jackpot that could, in an era of breakdown, be put to work doing things worth while. It’s by no means certain, as already noted, that these resources will go to the best possible use, but it’s all but certain that they’ll go to something less stunningly pointless than, say, handing Elon Musk his next billion dollars.

The second thing that gives me a measured sense of hope is at once subtler and far more profound. These days, despite a practically endless barrage of rhetoric to the contrary, the great majority of Americans are getting fewer and fewer benefits from the industrial system, and are being forced to pay more and more of its costs, so that a relatively small fraction of the population can monopolize an ever-increasing fraction of the national wealth and contribute less and less in exchange. What’s more, a growing number of Americans are aware of this fact. The traditional schism of a collapsing society into a dominant minority and an internal proletariat, to use Arnold Toynbee’s terms, is a massive and accelerating social reality in the United States today.

As that schism widens, and more and more Americans are forced into the Third World poverty that’s among the unmentionable realities of public life in today’s United States, several changes of great importance are taking place. The first, of course, is precisely that a great many Americans are perforce learning to live with less—not in the playacting style popular just now on the faux-green end of the privileged classes, but really, seriously living with much less, because that’s all there is. That’s a huge shift and a necessary one, since the absurd extravagance many Americans consider to be a normal lifestyle is among the most important things that will be landing in history’s compost heap in the not too distant future.

At the same time, the collective consensus that keeps the hopelessly dysfunctional institutions of today’s status quo glued in place is already coming apart, and can be expected to dissolve completely in the years ahead. What sort of consensus will replace it, after the inevitable interval of chaos and struggle, is anybody’s guess at this point—though it’s vanishingly unlikely to have anything to do with the current political fantasies of left and right. It’s just possible, given luck and a great deal of hard work, that whatever new system gets cobbled together during the breakdown phase of our present crisis will embody at least some of the values that will be needed to get our species back into some kind of balance with the biosphere on which our lives depend. A future post will discuss how that might be accomplished—after, that is, we explore the last phase of the collapse process: the era of dissolution, which will be the theme of next week’s post.


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Druid of Shell Creek said...

Another great post. I love how you can point out reasons to be cautiously optimistic that not everything is lost even when discussing the fact that a great many things are coming apart at the seams.

I am observing an interesting phenomenon in the Seattle area, where I live. On the one hand, the economy here is booming quite strongly, much more so than it is in most of the United States. But these good times are pretty strictly limited to those who have not been previously ejected from the ranks of the employed; concurrently with this boom, the numbers and visibility of the homeless population here has completely exploded.

For my part, I am focusing on how to get by by being self-employed, making my household need less in the way of financial input, and spending a great deal of time tending to my spiritual life. This last item I think is going to be very important to our society, and to shaping whatever society transforms itself into, as collapse continues to unfold.

Dave Zoom said...

I am begining to wonder at what point do the too big to fail banks become a threat to national security and are broken up to stave off the collapse or at least to enable the can to be kicked further down the road .

Zoroaster Extropius said...

> some of the values that will be needed to get our species back into some kind of balance with the biosphere on which our lives depend.

I would seriously question that our species has ever been in such ecological balance. In a book called "Too Smart For Our Own Good - The Ecological Predicament of Mankind", author Craig Dilworth lays out an exhaustive case against precisely the view that industrialism is an exceptional period for our species, rather than the same pattern repeated on a grand scale. The thrust of his argument is that homo sapiens grows in population until it reaches the carrying capacity of the environment. Whereas other species would remain in equilibrium at this point, for homo sapiens, the resulting population pressure (manifesting itself as war, social conflict, famine, etc.) creates the incentive for technological development, which unlocks new resources, which allows homo sapiens to grow in population once again until the carrying capacity is reached, and the cycle goes on. William Catton spoke of a similar process in his classic "Overshoot". Notice that the human population was increasingly (albeit linearly) even before industrialism, so fossil fuels are only part of the problem. I would also point to the Pleistocene extinctions that were caused in part by human populations numbering only in the tens of thousands, with technology no more complex than spear and bow & arrow.

Here's a quote by philosopher John Gray expressing the same sentiment: "The destruction of the natural world is not the result of global capitalism, industrialisation, 'Western civilisation' or any flaw in human institutions. It is a consequence of the evolutionary success of an exceptionally rapacious primate. Throughout all of history and prehistory, human advance has coincided with ecological devastation."

In other words, evolution has rolled the dice poorly, human intelligence may be maladaptive in the long run, and we won't go down without taking a big chunk of the biosphere with us. I assume such a perspective is anathema to your druidic beliefs?

Greg Belvedere said...

I love the series of link in this week's post.

A lot more people are living with LESS and a lot more have been thinking about collapsing ahead of the curve. I have had more people read my blog than expected. The last two weeks have been about cooking.

Pinku-Sensei said...

The farther along in your descriptions of the five stages of a crisis you get, the more they look like substages of Strauss and Howe's third and fourth turnings, with the Era of Pretense being the Third Turning, which they also call an Unraveling Era, one in which the old social, political, and economic order begins to fall apart but people continue following it even though the astute can see the seeds of its destruction not only being sown but sprouting. The eras of Impact, Response, and Breakdown look like stages in Strauss and Howe's Fourth Turning, which they also call a Crisis Era. They see that as a time when everything loose in society gets swept up in a whirlwind driven by the dominant issue of the crisis. I wouldn't be surprised if your description of the Era of Dissolution looks a lot like the transition from the Fourth Turning to the First. Strauss and Howe's alternative name for that is a High, but the more astute students of Strauss and Howe recognize that would be a term unique to the American experience. Japan, Germany, and even the UK didn't experience Highs during their First Turnings after World War II. Instead they went through periods of austerity. That's what I expect you to describe next week, even if the period will be beneficial for both the planet and the people surviving the crisis. Those expecting another glorious American High will be mighty disappointed.

Among them will be the people who expect more out of Elon Musk than someone who has learned how to create subsidy dumpsters that lead to his personal and corporate bank accounts. One of Musk's companies mentioned in the L.A. Times article you linked to was Tesla, which, along with Ford, has generated a lot of PR about their sustainability. I don't know how useful those vehicles will be if some of the capital that gets turned to waste and then recycled into resources includes the road system required to make cars practicable.

The film-going public, both in America and in the rest of the world, seem to be getting less than hopeful for a bright, higher technology future, as optimism isn't selling as well at box office as dystopia. "Tomorrowland" has consistently lagged behind "Mad Max: Fury Road" when equivalent weeks after release are compared, including this week. At this rate, Disney will lose money on "Tomorrowland" while Warner Brothers will recoup their production costs on "Mad Max." Also, the top grossing film this week was "San Andreas," which reminds me that you have a Peak California post promised for your readers in the future.

Finally, my students are sensing something coming. More and more of them are asking me when I think the next recession is coming. They know that things are not going as well as they seem on the surface and expect a downturn soom. Based on where I think we are in the business cycle, I tell them next year or the year after that. The response to that is "after the election." We should be so lucky.

Ken Barrows said...

My greatest fear is that energy extraction will be an activity in which marginal revenue cannot be greater than marginal cost. If metallurgy cannot rely on fossil fuels, I can only imagine using charcoal as a sure path to ruin.

Cherokee Organics said...


Is "making believe" another description for the use of thaumaturgy?

Hmmm, yes salesmen. You know I never received any rebates or subsidies for the off grid solar power system here? Buffalo NY is at a latitude of 42.88'N (the farm here is 37.5'S - so receives much more winter sun). I wonder what they reckon they're going to produce over winter? The problem with the big fossil fuel generators is that to be economically viable, they have to be run all of the time. It isn't like you can easily spin them up and down and then mothball them over summer whilst the sun is shining and the solar is producing strongly - oh yeah, and it's not cloudy to boot. I strongly doubt that people, businesses or indeed entire communities have put many brain cells towards the intermittency problem with renewable energy sources. Renewable energies are great, but they just don't produce anywhere near as much or as constant an output as fossil fuel generators - and there is the problem: Our entire civilisation revolves around the concept of a continuous supply of stuff. Intermittency of supply would rudely wake people up from their quiet - or not so quiet, as the case may be - slumber.

Too funny about the scientific papers. I've known several people over the years that have written their doctoral thesis in differing fields and not one of them has passed the common sense test. The common sense test is this: can you explain the main points and benefits of your research in simple English? The responses ranged between: blustering, obfuscation and temporizing. None of which answered the basic question. Fail. And sometimes they attempted to make me feel like an idiot by suggesting that I couldn't possibly understand the research. I've often suspected that the journey through that thesis process has become the primary goal - and they certainly don't like being told at all that there are cheaper ways to go about undertaking that particular journey, but they are happy to seek funding from the public for it.

It is probably a fair thing to say that perhaps Elon's primary source of funding is that he spruiks the myth of progress at a lower cost than if the government actually had to do it and produce results - plus if the whole thing blows up they get to blame him. The funny thing though is that electric cars were around - and quite competitive - over 100 years ago. Battery systems, yes including lithium ion battery systems have been around for years and could have been easily connected up to your grid connect PV system with an automatic AC transfer switch. DC to AC Inverters are an old technology - we even make them here and they're very good! Spaceflight, well didn't the US government get people out of low earth orbit over 40 years ago? It makes you wonder why with all of that, the guy gets listened too anyway. Dunno, really.


Cherokee Organics said...

You are getting my brain working in different directions because I've been putting some serious thought into thaumaturgy recently of the sort that we see in the political sphere. It is a magic that has gained quite the foothold in political debates here over the past decade and the button they are pushing is fear. It is a dangerous and problematic use of magic because in my mind it looks like a snake circling around to bite its own tail. Generally snakes are to be avoided down here because they are very deadly. The problem is that in utilising fear, if they don't deliver the goods - and it is very hard to see how they could - people may eventually start slowly fearing them - because they've learned to fear, which eventually provides a nice wedge for an opportunist. It would have been a much smarter strategy not to use fear in the first place as it is such a circular problem. I've recently been thinking that magic was used because there are very few other acceptable options left. Mind you, there are plenty of actual options left, but each one cuts into the wealth and power at the big end of town.

All is good here and the projects are continuing along nicely. Each time one gets completed, it gets a little bit easier to live here. It really does take a long time to learn to live with less. On an interesting side note, the off grid people here in different parts of the country are saying that this year has been as bad as it gets for heavy cloud and low solar PV production. I'm providing the daily statistics on my blog and it makes for some sober reading. As they say: Yes, same, same, but different! And that would be a good way to describe renewables.



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: A bright idea. Had the first snowfall the other day. It has been cold here and the old timers used to say that cold years are dry years, although it has been wet too this year. What's going on? I started building some concrete stairs near the new firewood shed. Access is everything when you live on the slope of a mountain. Power was connected up to the new firewood shed and I used a small bit of excess power to up light a tree (part of the continuing large scale art works here!). The realities of solar power over winter are discussed - I wish more people were realistic about that stuff. Lots more house construction stuff too with cool photos and fun text!

Tom Bannister said...

Thank you yes! For a couple weeks now I've figured this is where your posts where heading. By that I mean the breakdown of an old order creates many opportunities for positive (and negative) change. This is why i love to learn from history!

For example, here in New Zealand (as a couple of other commenters have said) we are still very much in the ear of pretense. Public opinion is mostly divided between everything is fine, or we are in imminent danger of corporate fascist takeover (I've started pointing out to people the same accusation was leveled at Weimar Germany) -both assuming the invincibility of the status quo. A quick glance at our history will show you the breakdown of old orders and social change can happen very quickly. For any NZ readers who are interested, the last great economic/ social change of course happened here in the 1980s following the final breakdown of Muldoons 'think big' projects. Basically he was trying to turn us into a modern manufacturing industrial economy and failed because we had no one to export to, meanwhile running up massive debts. While the following era was full of free market shock therapy (more commonly known here 'Rodgernomics- named after our then minister of finance, Rodger Douglas), many other radical changes also came to the forefront: Homosexuality legalization, important constitutional reforms, environmental allegation, MMP (mixed member proportion, like the German political system), Treaty of Waitangi claims recognition, the list goes on. The point of course is, as JMG has pointed out so many times, history is usually a mixed bag and many radical positive as well as negative changes were able to made.

Today our Green party holds about 12% of the vote here and are well positioned to influence politics in a big way. No Danger here of civil war here either (80% of the voting population still vote in our parliamentary elections) . I just hope more of my fellow New Zealanders will listen to/notice the opportunities that are coming up. Meanwhile I wish all Americans reading this luck in avoiding anything like a total institutional meltdown in their era of breakdown ;-).

My donkey said...

Three years ago a report claimed that an estimated 21-32 trillion dollars was being held in offshore accounts around the world in order to avoid paying income taxes:

That amount of money represents a lot of solar water heaters, and the money is currently serving no purpose, other than earning interest for the depositors.

But is it even possible for these $trillions to be converted into actual goods? Or are they just digits on a computer screen?

jonathan said...

every major social upheaval features a rentier class that pushes the social order to its absolute limits as it tries to maintain its privileged position within that order. the senescent french and russian nobility were pushed aside by revolutions. the british nobility suffered a similar fate at the hands of the urban bourgeoisie. in each such upheaval a new rentier class arose to take the place of the old and cream off most of the surplus produced.
our current troubles represent a very different situation. the depletion of resources here in the early 21st century insures that any surplus beyond mere subsistence will be very small in the future. the next rentier class, if there indeed is one, will be hardly distinguishable from the rest of society.
the final stage of collapse in the approaching future is likely to look much different as compared to the past. the rentier class, regardless of its many faults, at least provided a kernel around which subsequent social organization could occur. difficult to imagine what could serve the same function the next time around.

Agent Provocateur said...


I realize others have pointed out the similarity of your schema to that of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief. Nonetheless, I thought a closer look might be worthwhile. The five stages of grief are emotional responses to not getting what you desire; specifically: not dying or not having someone you love die. In your outline, the thing desired is presumably BAU. Here's how they would line up:

Pretense = Denial
Impact = Anger
Response = Bargaining
Breakdown = Depression
Dissolution = Acceptance

The Era of Pretense is characterized by … well … pretense; itself clearly a form of denial.

When one can't get what one wants and expects (in this case more of BAU), anger is the usual emotional response; so this response fits well with the Era of Impact.

The Era of Response is dominated by thinking (and acting as if) BAU can be restored by more of what will make it worse. Clearly this is as ineffective a response as bargaining with Death. The bargain is always of the form, “If we do x, we can keep what we want”. I understand Death, and the Universe generally, generally does not accept this bargain to prolong life or any other type of BAU.

Depression (though not necessarily clinical depression) has been defined by some as a normal emotional response to prolonged failure to obtain what you want. Consistently not obtaining what you want is the normal result of not doing (or perhaps be capable of doing) what is required to obtain what is desired. So depression is likely to be the dominant emotional response in the Era of Breakdown; though, one can still expect plenty of the previous three emotional responses in rotation or all mixed up.

Finally there is not much one can do but eventually accept BAU is gone for good once it is indeed clearly gone (or going) for good in the Era of Dissolution.

This cannot be such a good fit by accident. I'm not suggesting a conscious or unconscious mimic on your part. Its just that the underlying typical human response to significant loss is much the same no matter what the loss (life or BAU).

Thanks for these series of posts.

Andrew Crews said...


Two year's into college I started reading your blog and and digesting and dispelling all the myths that had been forced upon me as a child. With a sunk cost problems and pressure from my parents, I finished college and became a stereotype millennial with debt working a job as a waiter. My wife did happen to find a decent job and career, but I am in a position I that I saw coming a mile away but was quite helpless to stop.

I still wouldn't change it, because a career in the industrial musical chair rat race has become a waste of time. I think the simplest and most powerful thing this blog and many others has allowed me to do is properly reflect through mediation and reading upon my situation and adjust my expectations. I have embraced the simple things in life a content cat sleeping on my lap, a cold craft beer, a good meal, and stable health. This mindset has not only allowed me to survive but thrive at a point when many of my other contemporaries would be plagued by thoughts of failure and suicide.

On the broader picture: the writing for the next economic "adjustment" is everywhere. I see it in written all over the place in every way imaginable. The most frustrating thing for myself is I can hardly find anyone without an obsession with material wealth or some predisposition with progress. When you said the the majority religion of the western world is progress, that was the understatement of the century. The people who aren't focused on progress seem to be substance abusers with a devil-may care type attitude which used to, but no longer interest me. The last folks are Mennonites who I am frankly intimidated by their archaic religious customs and culture despite probably having the right idea out of all the groups.

The broader broader picture: Looking to the South China Sea or Caspian Region for a proxy war to spin out of control and end the age of the super carrier fleet, leading to the age of shipping container decentralized swarms of cruise missiles.

You really did your research with Twilight's Last Gleaming, which I highly recommend to any readers who haven't read it.

Best Wishes,

Alex C. said...

An excellent read as always.

I do think that you slightly mischaracterize the role of FDR, however. By my understanding, his effect was not so much to "prise the dead hand of orthodoxy" off the American economy as it was to save that orthodoxy (i.e. the American flavor of capitalism) from itself, by whatever radical methods necessary. It isn't the fact that Roosevelt still has so many critics that amuses me - it's the fact that so many of those critics like to portray him as some sort of wild socialist. The actual American leftists of the time had a much better measure of the man: they liked to joke that with his reforms, FDR had carried out the socialist agenda - in a coffin.

The defining moment came at the outset of U.S. involvement in WWII, when many of the president's advisors urged him to fight for powerful measures restricting war industry profits - and he turned them down. For all his public rhetoric about being the enemy of "economic royalists", Roosevelt's most enduring legacy was as the man who piloted America's final and full transition into the era of corporate dominance and gigantic economies of scale - the essential features in what some identify as the 'American Empire'.

As to the part of FDR's presidency that mattered most, I'd say there were three of them. The Hundred Days has already been noted. The second came in 1941, when he personally devised the means by which the U.S. could ship massive quantities of war material and aid around the world entirely at the discretion of the Commander in Chief, and so fulfill the same role as "paymaster of the war" that Great Britain had played in the time of Napoleon. The third came in 1943, when he outmaneuvered both his British and Russian allies by enlisting Stalin's support to overrule Churchill, insisting on a cross-Channel invasion of France the next year - thereby ensuring that American armies would occupy the western half of Europe by the end of the war. (At least one historian has called this the greatest triumph of U.S. diplomacy since Benjamin Franklin persuaded the French government to assist the American colonies in throwing off the yoke of the British.)

On another matter not unimportant to the theme of this blog, I found it fascinating to learn that one of the rare political defeats that Roosevelt suffered came to a scheme he had for the U.S. government to purchase a controlling interest in the oil fields of the Arabian peninsula. The plan had to be shelved after the creatures of the oil company lobbyists in Congress reacted in horror - fearing that if the government got into the oil business for itself abroad, it might start contemplating nationalization at home as well. Still, fascinating to consider how things might have turned out otherwise.


On Napoleon - I have always been taken by the argument that he was one of the greatest examples in history of a man who lived too long for the good of his own legacy. If only he had died sooner...


Here's a question to contemplate - should one form or another of Caesarism emerge in America when the burgeoning crisis truly starts to crunch, from whence will it come? A maverick member of the ruling class, a la FDR? A brilliant but unscrupulous soldier, a la Bonaparte? Or something else?

Don H said...

Your blog is a concise breath of fresh air into a sea of dense analysis and/or hyperbolic excitement. It has always been rewarding and soething to look forward to each week. I am offering up a short story for the contest this fall. As you can read in the synopsis, it is based on a scenario that I include in a long novel that I have published about a post collapse world set in the Great Lakes basin. The short story is published for free on the Smashwords e-publishing web site, where my novel "After the Last Day" can be found for a small fee. I hope you consider this story worthy. Thanks - Don

Lorenzo - said...

Rigtheous! That's all I've been able to come up with after reading any of your posts, and although I'm quite a tourist to your blog, I can tell this feeling like I just gotten my eyes opened up wide isn't fading away.
So, actually this comment was only to signal a typo, you wrote 'bene'(insted of 'been', I pressume) on the fourteenth paragraph, fourth line. Just in case you wanted to correct it.
If you want me to, I can deleate this comment, as it's directed to you and, in my opinion, doesn't add anything to the most likely much interesting disscusion that'll be unfolding the next few days.
Keep it up! You're admired.

Blueback said...

Here the theme song for tonight’s post:

On a more serious note, it looks like the Ukrainian Civil War is starting back up again. Then again, judging from all the cease fire violations on both sides after the Minsk I and Minsk II agreements, it never really ended…

One of things I expect we will see in the near future is the breakdown and dissolution of Ukraine. Ukraine, like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, was one of several artificial states that appeared in the wake of World War I. Fortunately, the breakup of Czechoslovakia into its constituent parts was accomplished without any bloodshed and surprisingly little acrimony. On the other hand, the breakup of Yugoslavia resulted in a bloodbath, and the same is happening in Ukraine.

I think we will see the breakdown of the Westphalian system of nation-states as time goes on, particularly in Africa and the Middle East. Most “nations” in Africa and the Middle East are artificial entities that were created by the colonial powers without any regard for geographical, cultural, ethnic or tribal boundaries. We can already see this process well underway in places like Mesopotamia and the Sudan. The Westphalian system never did make much sense in either Africa or the Middle East, where it goes against traditional institutions and ways of thinking.

I think that we will also see the eventual breakdown of the Westphalian system in the West as the Faustian civilization self-destructs. As Oswald Spengler pointed out, every Culture (in the Spenglerian sense) has its own organizing principal when it comes to nationality and politics. In the Classical world, political organization was based on the Polis, while in the Magian culture, nationality was defined by which religion or sect one belonged to. The Westphalian concept of nationality being defined by residence in or adherence to a territorial nation-state, regardless of ethnic, cultural or religious affiliation, is a distinctly Faustian invention. As the Faustian Culture dies out, so will the Westphalian system and other alternatives will arise in its place.

Meanwhile, there is something very interesting going on in East Asia with the resurgence of the Middle Kingdom. The traditional political system in East Asia was based on a dominant Chinese culture and empire, with various tributary states that had a great deal of autonomy so long as they acknowledged the authority of whomever the ruler in Beijing was. Of course, some states did rebel, with varying degrees of success and the Chinese empire periodically fell into anarchy and civil war, but by and large, that was how things worked in that part of the world. We can already see how the Chinese are re-establishing the old Imperial model with their territorial claims in the South China Sea and their use of initiatives like the New Silk Road and Chinese investment in other Asian countries to establish influence and eventually dominance over other Asian countries.

patriciaormsby said...

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was the privileged apparatchiks that managed to be in line to make off with the resources freed up, and the result was a rise of a lawless oligarch class--the same crowd of well-connected manipulative rogues as before, but in different guise and well favored internationally. They ripped off not only their own people but also anyone trying to extend aid from abroad.

Given what Naomi Klein has told us in Shock Doctrine, we can bet on a lot of people among the current elites thinking ahead about how they can best take advantage of the "era of breakdown." They'll have their own plans in place when the time comes.

I think what is likely to happen, though, is, as you said, a "period of turmoil" in which successive batches of oligarchs and wannabes get overthrown. At some point a much more effective leader, on whom many among the masses can agree, seems to arise. There should be a discussion about what qualities would be desirable in such a leader or group of leaders, and what would be disastrous. (You brought up something about this about a year ago if I recall right, what to watch out for when people start talking about "revolution"--the guy or gal with the "easy answers.")

John Michael Greer said...

Druid, that's what I'm hearing from most of the US: if you're employed, you have a chance of staying that way; if you're not, don't expect to get a job ever again. That is to say, we're well into the transition to the post-employment economy.

Dave, that's one of the things I expect our talented despot to do. He'll need to win popular support, and executing a bunch of bank CEOs and seizing the assets of their banks would be a very effective start.

Zoroaster, not so much anathema as merely unjustifiable on the basis of any broader understanding of human ecology, past and present. Many human societies have established stable relationships with their ecosystems; it's mostly brand new human ecologies that fail to do so, until they get the bugs knocked out of them, usually by way of repeated dieoffs. It's a common bad habit of contemporary culture, rooted in our mythology of progress, to assume that all previous human societies had to be even dumber about the environment than we are, and of course there are books written to argue that point; my read of the evidence, though, is that that's typical modern anthropocentric malarkey.

Greg, delighted to hear it!

Pinku-Sensei, I suspect a lot of Democratss are desperately trying to delay the crash until after the election, while a lot of Republicans are just as desperately trying to speed it up. It'll be interesting to see which side manages the trick.

Ken, at this point every road leads to ruin. The question is where we go after arriving at that destination.

Cherokee, "making believe" is to thaumaturgy what flapping your arms is to flying. It's very popular among those for whom thaumaturgy has failed. Elon Musk is relevant here; the thing he markets is the fantasy that the US can still do the things it did forty years ago, like maintain a manned space program and build functional cars. As for fear -- good. Very good. That's always the problem with using thaumaturgy based on negative emotions; it's effective in the short run but blows up in your face in the long run.

Tom, I hope New Zealand can remain aloof from the approaching era of mass migration; it's one thing to face a mess like this if you have some control over your own national destiny, it's quite another to do so if you've been conquered by someone else, whether or not they treat you the way the British settlers treated the Maori...

Donkey, good. Most of that money is purely hallucinatory, but some of it is being used to extract real wealth from the productive economy, and plugging that rathole will certainly help.

Jonathan, this is where a knowledge of history helps. Rentier classes only end up on top in expanding economic situations. The winning card in ages of decline and fall is held by those who can seize and defend real estate, who become the warrior class of the newborn dark age and the feudal class of the medieval period that follows it.

Agent, very probably so. I'm simply looking at history and saying what I see, so underlying patterns doubtless play a role.

Ray Wharton said...

I am laying in my bed, in a loft above what during the depression was a milking barn, it has a light bulb and a power socket. My vegetables I glean from the biodynamic fields that I work; my protein I trade for, producing oyster mushrooms and receiving eggs, milk, and rarely meat; my bulk foods are available through the farm's pantry. The meals are cooked on a stove with wood I clean up from long ignored parts of the farm. Weekly I host a class on growing oyster mushrooms, it is shockingly easy and requires no tool or supply that would be uncommon in any society this side of the neolithic. I have almost no access to cash, and any goal of mine that involves buying something from the economy, or even leaving these 10 acres, is immediately suspect and generally dependent on the, famous, reliability of one or more millennials; generally such goals must have a good shelf life to be worth getting in the first place. Several things are still dependent on the outside world, the lights, refrigeration, various supplies for the farm which I cannot yet provide local alternatives to for the owners consideration. Also, there are many luxuries I very much want to be able to live better: more fruit, a better canning system, various hygiene supplies, solar cooker, straw box, proper hand made cloths for four seasons, a dry shelter, cellar, composting toilet, a skillet. I live in one of the most prosperous and over inflated small cities in America.

There are a few folks I know who live in a way that is more or less like this and there are sub cultures where we are cool. There is much lust for the era of breakdown to be heard from all corners, generally I am a stick in the mud about this enthusiasm... though I lick my chops at one resource I see just waiting to be released. College students. The banks can hoard their numbers, and the scientists can play their little games, these things are not business of mine, but those colleges... oh those colleges making busy and tired and stressed all these good people I call friends. Most of a persons usefulness is stolen by each semester for those months. Of course there is more to a person than their use, but that too is sullied by these places, and besides these is much need of young people to be used to actually, for reals, respond to the day to day local problems of retooling our communities to remain viable human habitat in the face of a laundry list of potential disruptions. If that waste of human potential were tempered a bit... I can think of friends who are chomping at the bit to throw themselves in divergent and promising directions toward facing these problems, maybe, just maybe, they would actualize that potential and be able to work through some of that laundry list.

There is so much more to do, just thinking of 10 acres, than can be done with the current work force. There are people who want to do the work learn the skills, and taste the just desserts, but some people have a disposition where the hooks of college can dig too deep for even a hedge of wizards to loose.

John Michael Greer said...

Andrew, thank you! Twilight's Last Gleaming was actually very easy to research: take existing technologies, figure out where they're going, and then map onto them the very familiar historical pattern of hubris plus excess complexity plus a competitor willing to change the rules equals nemesis. The fact that the US is doing practically everything in its power to set itself up for military defeat and national collapse is just icing on that particular cake.

Alex, nah, you've misunderstood my point. The dead hand in question wasn't that of capitalism, which of course FDR supported; it was the specific hard-money, "whatever the market does is right" orthodoxy that the Coolidge and Hoover administrations inherited from the Gilded Age. The whole point of FDR's reforms was to prevent a socialist revolution in the US. As for the most likely source of our coming talented despot, that's unanswerable at this point, since what qualifies someone for that position is a set of personal characteristics that can appear pretty much at random; historically, you find it in artillery lieutenants, millionaire politicians, retired KGB colonels, Bohemians scraping out a living painting watercolors and selling them on the Vienna street, etc., etc....

Don, thank you, but I need something I can copy in Word format. If you can make a comment here marked "not for posting" including your email address, we can discuss how best to get a Word file to me, so your story can be entered in the contest.

Lorenzo, thank you. I don't worry about the occasional typo, so long as it doesn't interfere with the meaning -- it's a good way to keep anyone, myself included, from suffering from delusions of archdruidical infallibility.

Blueback, now there's a blast from the past! Thank you for the tune. While you're certainly right that the Westphalian (or more precisely, the 19th century nationalist redefinition of the Westphalian) nation-state isn't long for this world outside of Europe and a few other places, it may be more durable on its home turf; as Spengler points out, the habits of a culture fossilize as civilization arrives, and can remain in place for a very long time thereafter.

Patricia, exactly. The oligarchs are part of the phase of response -- grabbing whatever you can get counts as a response -- and beating them into submission in one way or another is one of the first tasks of the talented despot who brings in the era of breakdown. I wonder why nobody seems to have noticed that the CEOs of the big banks are playing precisely the same role in today's America that the oligarchs played in Yeltsin's Russia...

Ray, thanks for the report from the trenches! You're right that college students are one of the many resources currently being hoarded by dysfunctional institutions -- and turning them loose on society will indeed lead in interesting directions!

Tom Bannister said...

"Tom, I hope New Zealand can remain aloof from the approaching era of mass migration; it's one thing to face a mess like this if you have some control over your own national destiny, it's quite another to do so if you've been conquered by someone else, whether or not they treat you the way the British settlers treated the Maori..."

Oh Granted. Monsoon Asia contains 2/3 of the worlds population and are well familiar with the paradise like Images of "100% pure New Zealand" that form our tourist marketing campaign (Appropriately or Ironically enough British settlers were given a similar rose tinted image of New Zealand by advertising campaigns) . I'm expecting plenty more migration from that part of the world in the long run (and other parts of the world in the short to medium term). Still we have enough productive land to feed a population many times larger than our current populace (4.5 million). In at least the short to medium term I expect New Zealand to remain aloof. Beyond that though, we'll see. Personally I'm hoping we can become the Ireland of the south pacific (following the collapse of the Roman empire I mean), although yes Ireland wasn't a major destiny for migrants of the post roman volkerwanderung...

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks, as usual I'm going to have to ponder and meditate on your words. You know that the more insights I get about these matters, the slower further knowledge progresses in my head. It is a truly fascinating world out there.

Oh yeah, I hadn't forgotten about the Spacebats challenge, but unlike every other previous writing challenge, I haven't rushed this one. Part 2 of the Shaman story is up on the stories blog too. I'm weaving in the bits and pieces that I'm learning, have learned and am guessing at: Shaman Part 2

Sorry, gotta bounce as I'm running late...



Kutamun said...

The U.S " defence " budget alone is currently running around 600 $$ billion per annum , imagine if half of that sucker were freed up to help cushion the long descent . Recently read a terrifying "quarterly " essay by an Aussie defence / intelligence insider who worked for the u.s secretary of defence . He made some courageous concessions , acknowledged that a consequence of our trying to " export freedom " had the unintended consequence of making western democracies into police mass surveillance states . To reverse this , suggests we go in and bomb ISIL to smithereens , as it is beginning to attain a critical mass and function like a state itself . More of the same .. That was the extent of his vision , no acknowledegement of any systemic flaws on our part . Groundhog BAU day . Looks like the Shia Iranians are preparing to go in and prop up Shia Syrians , as JHK noted the other day , Yemen is mostly Shia as is the eastern part of Saudi , where all the oil wells are , so methinks we best prepare for a protracted and bloody middle eastern war to mark the twilight of U.S empire ..

Now i know that yanks can be quite good at doing the whole photosynthetic society thing . When i was a kid in the imperial vassal periphery , i loved those shows like "Bonanza " , "F- troop " , " little house on the prarie " , " the waltons " ( who presumably later started up wal- mart) , and that guy with the racoon cap , whatsizname ? . So come on folks , hurry up and dismantle your empire , get started today ! . Lets all go Photosynthetic ! Lets Get that diffuse warm fuzzy decentralised feel started .. Very Newtonian that a society that refuses limits and embraces excess like ours has spawned a budding Caliphate of people that are very buttoned up , medieval , conservative , restricted and voluntarily ascetic , are they our doppel ganger ? ..

81bda07c-0a7b-11e5-ae3e-cf8ea1fc8aa8 said...

Hey I'm a young guy too, in a similar situation. Lots of people still think progress, growth are going to continue indefinitely. I went through college too and having found out the same things you did, halfheartedly finished and halfheartedly applied for corporate jobs which I knew were "an industrial musical chair rat race", as you aptly put. I just do menial work and live cheap, I volunteer on a farm. I do not understand why we tell children fairy tales, it really set me back because it's a whole big mess to undo.

William Hays said...

JMG, I'm enjoying your stages of transition. The end of the oil age will, I think, drive this transformation in ways we cannot fully visualize. In the area of transportation, for example, Elon Musk's space adventures are not just fantasy; they are contrary to everything we need to be doing in terms of mobility. Steel on steel (i.e. rail transport) remains the most efficient means of getting goods and people from point A to point B, yet we still believe we are destined for the stars. A logical society would be rebuilding the American freight and passenger rail system, finding a far more efficient "Internet" that a post-oil world can maintain, and fully rethink the ideas of urban and rural form. We can learn much from the 19th Century, yet we act as though history has no future for us.

Jo said...

I find it interesting to look at the end of Empire I am most familiar with, and that is the end of the British Empire. Now for sure, that was a very gentle end as ends of empires go, but because it was so recent it is still well documented, and the subject of hundreds of novels, plays, movies etc.

The pattern I see is this: often, it was members of the upper-middle class who suffered most - the ones who felt they needed to 'keep up appearances', keep a maid, and never under any circumstances lower their social cachet by going out to work. They dwindled away on their army pensions, or ever-decreasing investment incomes. Those who survived and thrived were willing to fly in the face of convention - aristocrats who sold their ancient castles and went to live in the Bahamas, or intelligent young people who could see an economic niche that needed to filled and ignored social convention to go and do it.

Think of Lucy Eylesbarrow in Agatha Christie's '4.50 from Paddington' who decided that her degree in Higher Mathematics from Oxford wasn't going to support her, so went on to make her fortune providing a very expensive service efficiently managing domestic crises for the very rich.

Or Mr Charlton in 'Darling Buds of May' who is aghast to discover that the Larkin family earn more per day picking fruit than he does at the Tax Office, and very sensibly throws in his lot with them.

So what can we learn from the end of the British Empire? I see many, many young people who can see that the status quo isn't going to work for them, and are forsaking traditional careers for jobs on organic farms or learning old trades like blacksmithing. They will be just fine as the future unfolds - in demand skills, no debt. The demographic in big trouble is my gen X - we generally have no savings, big debt, and are entrenched in careers which will fall out of favour sooner than later..

If we can flout the convention of our own times - that we need a big house, multiple new cars, annual overseas holidays, the latest technology and perfect clothes in order to give our lives meaning.. and learn to live with much, much less, like our darling millenial children, then we will have a lot of wiggle room to make the future more workable.

FiftyNiner said...

I have come to see the establishment of the United Nations as the last ditch effort to impose the Westphalian system of sovereignty on the entire world. It was obvious from the outset that it was a dubious proposition at best. There are hardly any news stories out of the UN anymore, save for the occasional cultural or "humanitarian" meddling, that is the source of its entire reputation.
JMG, do you see the UN surviving in the long run?

I really do see the complete and utter collapse of the higher education system as one of the major shocks to come to the body politic of the US. Little ol' Alabama has graduated probably upwards of 20,000 students in the last few weeks. They are added to the tens of thousands of others from the recent past who have NO chance of having a job in their chosen field. There is an absolute limit to this absurdity. The only thing anyone has to show for it is an absolute mountain of debt, most of which will never be repaid except by the taxpayers. Is there any hope that at that point we could have a taxpayer revolt against such a scheme?

OTH, one of Alabama's two leading public universities has just announced this Spring that they are within the last $50 million or so of a fund drive that was aiming for $750 million to add to their endowment. Meanwhile the Republican state legislature is having to go into Special Session to deal with a half billion dollar shortfall in the general fund because they absolutely refuse to raise taxes on the ones most able to pay!

KL Cooke said...


"the final stage of collapse in the approaching future is likely to look much different as compared to the past. the rentier class, regardless of its many faults, at least provided a kernel around which subsequent social organization could occur. difficult to imagine what could serve the same function the next time around."

squizzler said...

THis little series has been enjoyable and, like most of your material, well argued and hard to disprove. But I think I have identified something to test the theory against in real time.

A good exampple of this process happening at rate seems to be the football (sorry, soccer) world governing body is collapsing at a a sufficiently accelerated. I guess FIFA is in the age of collapse right now (yesterday the head resigned). I guess it will be dissolved next week. Whilst a sample of one is not conclusive by any means,We will see what happens...

Phil Harris said...

JMG & Patricia

Seizing the assets and/or savings of the Soviet people after collapse was not an entirely risk-free business venture. I remember reports for a few years of 'bankers' blowing-up their colleagues or simply having them shot in the street.

Similarly, briefly, back in 1869 in the original Black Friday panic in New York, 'bankers' (or perhaps a few Tellers) were strung up on poles.

In contrast, so far, here in UK there is government talk of selling the 79% public stake in Royal Bank of Scotland - which 'emergency' investment was taken on our behalf back in 2009 by another government to prevent it was thought at the time seizure at the auto tellers and potentially other credit mayhem and results of panic. My guess is that this ‘selling’ is political talk just now, but our Chancellor says of this ‘divestment’: “… on some measures it’s bigger than all the privatisations of the 1980s put together”. All this could be an example of maintaining the very BAU to guarantee future disasters and thus postponing the need to send in the troops to maintain order.

I am British and of course smug! Smile.

Phil H

J Thomas said...

I don't see that things like banks and stock markets are directly wasteful -- they don't use up a lot of resources, they only ensure that those resources are easy to mismanage. They are about control and not directly about waste.

Similarly, consumption by the upper classes is not a tremendous deal. If the top 1% has a lifestyle that does 10% of the consumption, still that's only 10% of the consumption. Not so very much.

The redistribution of resources would matter more for wasteful production. So for example, if we end gasohol, then gasoline availability goes down a nominal 10% compared to what it would otherwise be, and we get a whole lot more available corn if we have a use for it.

If we have to give up on raising lots of corn-fed beef, then availability of beef in grocery stores goes way down, and we get a whole lot more available corn.

Cut back corn production and we get some more available gasoline, fertilizer, pesticides, water (mostly in places we don't need it) etc.

The resources that get freed up potentially have other uses, and if the banking industry doesn't prevent those uses that's good. Provided we have somebody who is in a position to make better use of the things that we used to mismanage.

Why should people give him credit? The banks aren't giving him credit. And people don't trust the money the way they used to. The most obvious reason for them to accept his new money is so he can win a big war that they think needs to be won.

lucychili said...

What would be the first step on a journey in this direction?

Freebooter said...

Sequestration of internal assets by law or force is going to be the only way that resources can be re directed, when in this age of nuclear deterrent outright conquering is a difficult and dangerous proposition.

It's interesting to think of the arc of the Nazi's through the drive to restablish order and prosperity in that failed state. Unwilling to let the forces of communist revolution succeed, Anglo financial backing allowed the party to rise to power, but without an external bucket of cash their solution to rebuilding the state was to sequester the assets of various ethnic and politial groups, using this to re-arm.

Then faced with the inevitable need to gain more resources, the attempt to take the oil of North Africa, and more extraction in Europe and beyond. If the Whermacht had managed to hold the oil fields, no need to attack Russia and an appointment with history.

The fermentation of division on ethnic lines and the genocides that result is a fine smokescreen for the stealing of the wealth of those groups. A well travelled path of the elites who are willing to throw just about anybody to the Wolves as long as it continues to stop people from noticing who the real Wolves are.

What's always suprising is how many willing dogs there are who believe that they too will one day be Wolves.

My point, I guess after this ramble is the possibilty of positives must be weighed against the real danger that the Wolves will unleash the dogs of war and hatred, the process of building the fear and the division is already practiced and advanced.

Quick don't look here, look there at those (fill in for hated powerless group) IT'S ALL THEIR FAULT.

Chester said...

Surprised to hear some measured optimism from you, JMG. I know it comes with caveats and on a specific timeframe, but it's that realism that has kept me coming back to your blog over the years.

The question of how and when American institutions might finally respond to the diminishing returns of our fossil fueled economy has been one that I've been thinking a lot about lately. I'm currently reading Evan Osnos' "Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China" about how people are navigating an authoritarian China in the waning age of fossil fuels.

There are many in this country, particularly on the right wing, who have been known to wonder out loud what the United States could accomplish if policy-makers weren't beholden to democratic principles. I think this view likely understates the calcification at the top of the Communist party, but it does inadvertently touch on the blind spots of our supposedly free system.

Here's one quote from a Chinese video blogger:

"Because we are in such a system, we are always asking ourselves whether we are brainwashed... We are always eager to get other information from different channels... But when you are in a so-called free system you never think about whether you are brainwashed."

It's not just democratic institutions that will have trouble adapting to an age of breakdown; I think it's hard to understate how hard it will be for people conditioned to believing they live in freedom and prosperity to imagine another way, even in the face of hard reality.

But then, perhaps I underestimated people.

Dagnarus said...

On the subject of scientific research. I recently had a colleague make (roughly) this comment to me.

"My current work isn't doing research. It's mainly just going through the literature to find thing which apply to my project. But I can't replicate any of there results."

This is from Electrical and Electronic Engineering. (While my colleague wasn't working on smart grids, I wouldn't hold my breath on any utopian promises related to them.)

Also you talk about people realizing that neither God or Nature requires people to maintain a failed status quo. It occurred to me that while the tendency to maintain a dysfunctional status quo while disadvantageous while in a situation like the one we have now, is probably to some degree necessary for the smooth running of a society in general. It occurs to me that a society which actually had the ability to change course and address all it's myriad problems at the drop of a dime would most likely tear itself apart quite quickly as people naturally disagreed on what are actual problems.

Patricia Mathews said...

Thank you, Pinku-Sensei, you took the words right out of my mouth. I have been following this series and ticking off the phases of the Fourth Turning on my fingers myself. Yes. The Age of Breakdown is what S&H called the Climax.

I don't like their term "High" either, though there are periods in history when it was accurate: the reign of Augustus and the reign of Vespasian being two Roman ones I know of. John Xenakis on the 4T forums preferred the term Recovery, which I find much more accurate. Check out his self-published (POD) GENERATIONAL DYNAMICS. Not the "for historians" version, the original. (And totally ignore his sour-as-Hesoid paleolibertarian comments on the forum - and rampant goldbuggery) his analysis in GD is pretty good.

BTW - for a vivid picture of a post-collapse world, check out a volume of Anglo-Saxon poetry, especially "The Wall".

Lawfish1964 said...

Another great post, as usual!

This whole series got me thinking about my children and what their future holds. So, I posted a query on the Green Wizards forum, entitled, "What would you advise a high school grad?" That remains the dominant question in my mind. As you say, if you have a job, you'll probably keep it, but if you don't forget about ever getting one. That makes me wonder whether sending the kids off to college to get a degree only to discover they can't make any more income than if they'd gone to work instead (my daughter is a life guard and could stay busy 40 hours a week easily) is a worthwhile endeavor.

The responses were great and widely varied. Learn some useful skills. Get a degree in a field that has a future. Learn how to live cheaply. All good advice. We've been collapsing for two years now and the kids seem to embrace it. Yesterday, my son and I harvested 42 tomatoes from the garden and it was the best father-son time I can imagine. We're all anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first eggs from the laying hens. And we all love the process of providing our own food, be it fresh-caught fish, bounty from the garden or eggs from the coop.

My daughter intends to study environmental science and I believe there is a future in that. My son is more of an outdoorsman and I think he would be happy either farming or working as a commercial fisherman. My wife and I have the resources to set him up with whatever he needs to make a living doing either one.

I suppose the larger question is, "Is education in and of itself worth pursuing at today's cost?" Seems to me most of what I've learned of any value I learned through reading and self-study. I've taught myself an awful lot and it seems so foolish to pay so much money just to get a certificate to prove that you're educated.

But enough of my rambling. Thanks again for your continued thought-provoking and exceptionally well-written essays.

Troushers said...

Very enjoyable. As a molecular biologist, your paragraph about science particularly hit home.

It is hard to convey how wasteful and useless a lot of scientific work is to people outside the field. The 3 main requirements for successful career scientists - to publish, publish, and publish - do not select for careful or thoughtful inquiry. The day-to-day process of science as I have observed in multiple institutions is so wasteful of reagents and consumables that it would shock you. We scientists sit at the top of a pyramid, demanding raw materials and factories and specialised chemical manufacturies and chemical processing plants, and it is noticeable how swiftly the costs of research have increased as every step of that pyramid suddenly gains additional costs as scarcity of raw materials and costs of transportation increases. The companies supplying the biomedical field merge or go quietly bust, remove seemingly profitable product lines without explanation, and yet few of my peers seem to recognise or acknowledge the underlying processes at work.

I once sat in a conference and listened to a giant of my field talk of what she saw as the future of research - more and bigger sequencing projects! It is not enough to sequence a single cancer to inform a patients treatment(in theory) - 10 clones, 50 clones, 100 clones can be sequenced! The faint echo you hear is the heavily diminishing return in such an egregious waste of resources. There are genetic diseases caused by single gene disorders discovered in the 80s which have no viable treatment - we know exactly why they occur, but not how to change them back to health without making things worse.

Do not look to any scientist in the hope of saving the current status quo - science is great at converting grant funding into mortgage payments, and coffee into published papers - but it is largely yet another shell game like fracking, albeit one which at least has a chance of VERY occasionally discovering something "useful" - usually something hideously expensive to produce, and of some small measureable benefit at a population level. The truth is, the money spent on that wonder drug to give you 6 more months of life would probably been better spent helping ten or a hundred people survive, ie. using an ad campaign telling you to check any odd looking moles out with your GP. But one is 'progress' and 'r and d spending' and can build someone's career, and the other isn't, and doesn't.

I continue to convert my own wage into resilient personal skills. Thank you for your blog, it has helped.

Gary Sheppard said...

Another great post JMG.
I've been reading your posts for ages now and encouraging others to do the same.
The amount of knowledge you have and the research that goes into your posts always leaves me in awe.
I thought I'd mention something that may be of interest to you.
My other favourite blogger posted today and coincidently touched on a couple of points you raise in your article viz: Elon Musk and externalities.
The author (Tim Urban) has a great writing style and goes into enormous depth to research his subjects.
As you are so well read I thought you might like to check it out:
I suspect that you may put his thoughts into the techno-fix-du-jour category and I would kind of agree but I found it interesting nonetheless.
It always helps to view an issue from an alternative perspective, and apart from the Tesla thing his article has a very clear and well rounded explanation of the mess the world is currently facing.
Anyway, check it out if you get the time?
I have posted a comment on his blog suggesting that he view your posts as well.
I think you two would enjoy each others writing.

Bill Blondeau said...

@My donkey:
"But is it even possible for these $trillions to be converted into actual goods? Or are they just digits on a computer screen?"

I may be off target here, but I have a guess.

The $trillions of which you speak are not actually "resources" that are convertible in this sense.

JMG, in The Wealth of Nature, divides economic activity into Primary (natural), Secondary (work), and Tertiary (financial) sectors. The first two describe real resources, and are thermodynamically bounded; the third does not, and is not.

When financial resources become as radically divorced from material reality as they are now, they are clearly shown to be, not resources in any meaningful sense, but control mechanisms that direct the allocation of whatever parts of the natural and work economies remain to us. The rich are rich not because they have a lot of goods and services on hand, but because they hold the control mechanisms that can obtain and deliver those things.

This is much like the difference between hardware and software in computer programming. Software is not material, but it does have to run on actual hardware, somewhere. In the Era of Breakdown, we will be repurposing economic "hardware" to suit the circumstances; this is salvage. The financial "software" that we use, on the other hand, will actually be highly discretionary.

Economic salvage, in this analogy, is like getting our hands on a bunch of computer equipment that the elites left behind when they made the move from executive suites to lampposts.

Financial salvage, then, is sort of like the software that can be run on those machines, in that a) some of it will be too resource-intensive for our reduced hardware, and b) in a post-lamppost world, we get to choose what to run. Hopefully we'd choose wisely; probably we'll also run some really stupid timewasters...

Hm. Well, all analogies end up in the ditch sooner or later. I'm not entirely satisfied with this one. Still, the distinction between economic resources and financial mechanisms does seem very pertinent here.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Thought provoking as usual. Responses:

1. I've been thinking about the very real drag on our economy of the defense budget and arms production and war-making industry. I suppose it would get subsumed under the banks and oligarchs category, but still, considered independently, the scope and scale, particularly for the US, is breathtaking. That's a lot of solar hot water heaters and other "plowshares and pruning hooks," including infrastructure projects, public transit, education--basically anything for the public good of civil society.

2. I see some signs for hope on the environmental side in somewhat unlikely places. For example, regarding Illinois farm policy, the Illinois Stewardship Alliance reports that:

The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, going into effect in June 2015, guides state efforts to improve water quality at home and downstream by reducing nitrogen and phosphorus levels in our lakes, streams, and rivers. This strategy has been going through a long process of development and will impact farming in such a way that all farmers will have to adapt their operations.

This is significant because it's overuse of synthetic fertilizer on the one hand and confined animal feeding operations on the other that "contribute" so much to our waterways, ultimately, among other negative effects, creating dead zones and fostering to the growth of toxic cyanobacteria in the water we like to drink. It will be interesting to see what adaptations are made and how they'll play out.

Bike Trog said...

Peak Sand. That's everything made of concrete.

whomever said...

Just to back up the discussion of Roosevelt, I remember reading "Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression" and it was remarkable how man right-wingers commented that they were eternally grateful to Roosevelt, as without him there would have been a revolution.

Mary said...

Cherokee -- re: "cold dry" versus "cold wet" years, I always heard (and saw for myself) that the coldest month of winter was also the dryest. It seemed once the temps got below 20 or so F, the air would be bone dry and little to no very light weight snow. That is what made this past winter so fantastical. Hopefully an aberration, versus new normal. Our blizzard month, in which we piled up massive amounts of snow, ranged in teens to well below zero, with the coldest night something below -24 (the temperature at 6:30 one morning). Freaky! Made shoveling that much harder as anybody from the really cold climes can tell you, those cold temperatures suck the energy right out of you. Made for good sleeping, though. Good luck!

Jan Wareus said...

Tnk you JMG for excellent posts - the latest ones made me look for some old SF book and I found it - and remembered your old SF masters I never read. I found Ray Bradbury and a short story by him : The Chicago Abyss (in Machineries of Joy, 1966). What I find interesting in that story is the pointing out of how quickly memory is lost in tomes of collapse. In the same book - 'The Anthem Sprinters' is great fun. Strong cultural coherence can make life worth-while even under terrible conditions.

Mary said...

JMG, just the other day the Wall St Journal was foolish enough to post an apparently satirical article asking "stingy consumers" to explain why they weren't buying, buying, buying. The resulting rage was no surprise. What was a surprise was the reason for much (not all) of the rage. Not just the obvious, expected responses. Also the phenomenally arrogant gall of the masters of wall street propoganda to make satire of their propoganda. The replies were often hilarious. I offered up simplicity, asking "are you mocking us?"
The article is here:

In the meantime, on the homefront I've finally got the better of a brutal spring, and have been taking a well-earned and desperately needed rest. The pastures are in better shape than just a few weeks ago, the garden is in, and after a 2 month hiatus we are finally getting much needed rain. I'm trying to work up the motivation to start regularly updating my blog again. All in good time, I guess.


winingwizzard said...


"The winning card in ages of decline and fall is held by those who can seize and defend real estate, who become the warrior class of the newborn dark age and the feudal class of the medieval period that follows it."

What do you base this on? There are several instances where real estate was abandoned entirely and populations simply departed. Arizona comes to mind, metropoli and West TX as places not really livable without tech.

Links or titles appreciated -

Greg Belvedere said...

The idea that we could start subsidizing things like passive solar home improvements and training in organic farming certainly excites me. I wonder if we could effectively organize to do something like this on a smaller scale now (Obama did have the cash for caulkers program to weatherize homes). I have thought it might make sense for contractors to band together and push for something like this, but I'm not a contractor.

On the long shot that Bernie Sanders gets elected, I could see him supporting such a measure. I could also see him going after the big banks. Though from what you have sketched out it seems like we might have a while before the era of breakdown.

k-dog said...

Another five star description of the condition our condition is in. Yet as the industrial world slams against the limits to growth I can't share your optimism. Something has to give but I don't think belief in growth will be one of the things to come crumbling down anytime soon. Not in the near future anyway. The collective consensus which keeps our societies dysfunctional institutions in place is coming apart at the seams yet there is nothing to replace it with.

You write to people who understand who have plenty ideas of how to keep the human experiment going but this is a small minority which will be pushed aside as the present order dissolves into chaos. You care, I care, most people reading this blog care, but like the 1% who owns everything we are a small minority. We are rich with ideas that greater society can never have. Our ideas are not available to them because we now live in digital isolation. You write to people who read. You preach to a talented choir but most people watch cat videos and are happy with it. Even many people who read find your 7000 words a week a bit of a challenge. You have a healthy readership but it is drawn from a base of hundreds of millions most of whom never digest anything but mainstream media. Alternative media of which you are a part gives them indigestion. Mainstream media and indigestion effectively keeps our ideas away from the masses.

Radio by itself may not have been so bad but electronics has progressed so far now that thought is suppressed, not enhanced, by electronic technology. A century ago people read and talked about politics. They debated and were engaged with their world. Those days are now literally history and America has split off into a thousand subcultures (of which we are one) who each pursues happiness in a thousand different, often incompatible ways. We certainly have dysfunctional rulers but our rulers are skilled in the use of 'divide and conquer' strategy to maintain power and dysfunction. Something has to give but all I see is it ripping apart.

I don't see any 'mad as hell and ain't gonna take it anymore' attitudes emerging. All I see is passive acceptance of the powerless. I don't see how this will change. Lessons learned during Vietnam has equipped our powers that be with tools to suppress dissent and communication of ideas. Only a bad moon can rise as a nightmare of resource depletion envelopes the world. I don't see collective mankind growing a brain big enough to rise to the challenge.

This is a week when I'll actually look forward to a highly critical response from you. If you can please point me in the direction of a more positive way of looking at things.

winingwizzard said...

I am NOT a long time follower of JMG. Came across a cross-post and followed it here a year back.

As things seize and lockup due to things failing elsewhere, personal experience has shown me (hurricane Ike) that there are 48 hours of groceries on supermarket shelves. The recent avianflu-egg-chicken madness is another illustration of where complex things are vulnerable and simple things relatively secure (yard birds). The drought driving meat prices into costlier heights recently is yet another marker of easily disrupted BAU.

Common practice was to store harvest for winter. I just think this is a great habit to get into for the immediate future(s) as they unfold.

@ Andrew Crews

My son has the same issue in finding potential mates and friends - materialism and greed. You are in the minority but there are more of your generation that "get it" than you imagine, and their numbers are being rapidly augmented by the shrinking of work available. Adapt or die will eventually occur for a lot of us.

@ Ray Wharton

MANY of the college age are searching for a better way, but the majority are hypnotized via internet and media blitz that making money is the way. The propaganda stream even threads contemporary music, so it is hard to ignore.

I don't know if it is lust for breakdown as much as change they hunger for - breakdown is not fun. But the answer is to walk away from BAU and do something else, so my herd of kids say. Andrew Crews is right - expectations are misleading and dangerous in these times and those ahead. Expectations are what drive a lot of materialistic folks and make a lot of unhappiness internally. Pragmatism might well be a crazy-good mindset to acquire these days?

ladyimbrium said...

Regarding what the Druid of Shell Creek and the Archdruid said about the post-employment economy; I have noticed that trend but only because I am looking for examples this close to the capital in DC. Most of the people in my sphere of acquaintances have experienced joblessness in the last five years. Interestingly- and this may be a result of our location, our education, our races, our previous employment, or who knows what else- we were able to find some kind of employment within six months. It has not been any of what we went to college for. I and many others consider ourselves 'under-employed' based on the promises made by the post-secondary education system. Personally, underemployment might be the best thing that has ever happened to me. It has provided a kind of buffer between total job loss and preparing to face joblessness long term- even indefinitely. I comment mostly to add a different perspective but also because I am curious as to whether this underemployment that I have noticed is localized or part of a larger pattern.

Thomas Prentice said...

Here is today's interview with the 20-year new york times war correspondent and author Chris Hedges in

"For example, if you compare the breakdown of Yugoslavia with the breakdown of Czechoslovakia — and I covered both of those stories — Yugoslavia was actually the Eastern European country best-equipped to integrate itself into Europe.

"But Yugoslavia went bad. When the economy broke down and Yugoslavia was hit with horrific hyperinflation, it vomited up these terrifying figures in the same way that Weimar vomited up the Nazi party. Yugoslavia tore itself to pieces.

"There’s so many events as societies disintegrate that you can’t predict. They play such a large part in shaping how a society goes that there is a lot of it that is not in your control.

"If you read the writings of anthropologists, there are studies about how civilizations break down; and we are certainly following that pattern. Unfortunately, there’s nothing within human nature to argue that we won’t go down the ways other civilizations have gone down.

The difference is now, of course, that when we go down, the whole planet is going to go with us."

troy said...

"There should be a discussion about what qualities would be desirable in such a leader or group of leaders, and what would be disastrous."

I doubt that anyone posting here will have much of a say one way or the other in who the next "Caesar" will be. Regular people have very little influence over the direction of our government as it is today; when the caesarism phase begins, it will be even less. Probably the least dangerous thing would be to just stay out of the way of any presumptive Caesar-- neither supporting nor publicly opposing. I'm sure it would be exciting to be on the front lines of the revolution or counter-revolution, but there would be a very high chance of death or permanent injury, with no guarantee that one's efforts are really making the world a better place. Focusing on, say, gardening would be much safer, and ultimately much more beneficial to the people one cares about.

And even if the next Caesar has good personal qualities going in, being in such a position tends to make a person increasingly paranoid, vindictive, and ruthless over time. It's probably for the best that America's previous Caesars-- Abraham Lincoln and FDR-- died before their near-absolute power corrupted them near-absolutely. We may not be so lucky this time around. So I would say then, the most desirable quality in any would-be Caesar is that they be old and in ill-health. What their specific policy-positions are-- i.e. whether they are "left-wing" or "right-wing", though I suspect in the end they will be neither-- hardly matters at all.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

How may we fit this conceptual framework of breakdown onto the history of the Empire in the West, say from Alaric's sack of Rome up to St Benedict of Nursia? It is hard to discern a Napoleon or an FDR, or a great release of political and economic and administrative energies, but I MIGHT be wrong. (Could it be, contrary to what I am inclined to think, that the ruler Theodoric is no diminutive opportunist, but a formidable Napoleon?)

My own initial thought, for what it is worth, is that the model of breakdown works better for the collapse of a polity embedded in a viable civilization than for the collapse of a civilization itself.

Revolutionary France was embedded in a civilization that was still on the ascending part of its historical arc.

The America of FDR was embedded in a civilization whose collapse had arguably begun one or two generations earlier, say in the climate of 1914, but which was still to an extent viable. The rank and file of the 1930s citizenry in the Anglo-Saxon parts of the world, and in significant parts of Continental Europe - notably in Scandinavia, and to to the west of the Rhine - continued to regard their church, their legal system, and other core institutions as exercising legitimate authority. What I am trying to say here is that FDR's world was one that had gone soft only in parts, like that tomato with the strictly localized patches of decay - still usable in cooking, upon making careful excisions, and not yet failed to the core.

Perhaps JMG wishes to fit the Rome of Alaric to a different conceptual framework from what he has applied to Napoleon and FDR? Or perhaps I am overlooking some key Roman nuances?


Toomas (Tom) Karmo
(www dot metascientia dot com; Toomas dot Karmo at gmail dot com; VA3KMZ)

PS: I would like to add here that I am carrying on with reviewing Latin, having yesterday completed the first third, i.e., the first 600 or 700 or so lines, of the old circa-1960 Province of Ontario Grade 13 prose reader. It is remarkable how well Latin was taught in this province before 1970. The old textbook has an uncanny ability to even anticipate one's difficulties with its chosen authors (Caesar, Cicero, and a little Sallust): as soon as the pupil is tempted to mistranslate "aedes sacra" loosely, say as a generic "temple", up comes a note explaining that this is a multi-room temple, as opposed to the simpler single-room "templum"; as soon as one is baffled by the reference to "figura" in Cicero's description of art works plundered in Sicily, up comes the note that makes it clear how here "figura" is not the loose "figure" but the more apposite "portrait" (portraiture in the ancient world, in paint applied to panels - wow! how Renaissance); and so on.

I get obsessed with looking for parallels between our own situation and Rome's. Hands-on Latin proves to be in this regard a time machine rivalling the Tardis of Dr Who.

(;; VA3KMZ)

onething said...

I've slowly come to the conclusion over the past few years that at best I can take maybe 50% of scientific or medical research articles seriously. For good information and an interesting read, I've recently discovered a blog by a Scottish doctor who has been particularly bitten by the desire to expose the nonsense of statins as well as the conflicts of interest that goes into the research, and the bullying against open discourse that is going on. Humorous (or should I say humourous?) at times.

shhh said...

I'm particularity enjoying this expostulation. Won't you please write faster? I can hardly wait for the next installment!

SLClaire said...

I'm wondering if college presidents might get in the way of lampposts as well, given that students are graduating without jobs but with crushing debt after stressful years of frenetic work, combined with the continued embrace of the religion of progress on the part of presidents and other administrators.

A few days back I received the latest issue of the alumni magazine from my alma mater. It has named a new president so one of the articles was about him. I had to hold my head between my hands and moan a couple of times.

One was when he claimed that we are moving from a knowledge economy to a creative economy. What on Gaia's green earth is a creative economy? Have I missed something in mainstream culture? Or is this thaumaturgy to speed money from students and parents to the college? He has a business degree from Harvard, just to add to the effect of his statement.

The other was his claim that it was Steve Jobs' time spent in a liberal arts college that led to Apple Computer. Apparently it was the freedom to take calligraphy at Reed College, combined with the training in how to think that is available only through liberal arts colleges, that led Jobs to come up with the innovations in design that made Apple what it is, according to the new president. (Never mind that Jobs dropped out, of course.)

It's not that the president is a bad guy, quite the contrary. It's just that the degree of cluelessness rivals that of bank CEOs, and the effects lead to alienation of young adults who, if a society is to have a future, need to be fully integrated into it. Might be interesting what happens there.

Ray Wharton said...

@ winingwizzard
Even among the youth I farm with the fact that I forego most contemporary music puts me on the outs with folks. All the better! More time wandering around the farm thinking about plants and stuff.

I have taken to pragmatism myself, but I know of too many people who love being farmers alot more than they like farming. Idealism. Being a farmer takes a good number of hours, and those hours are selected by forces beyond any absolute control.

Expectations? That's hard to get around, they are the shadow cast by entitlement. Once entitlement to material goods is over come there are many other forms it can take, more forms than I know of no doubt. Expectations of others... that one I have seen do nasty work. Expectations for opportunity, that one I think is especially volatile.

"interesting directions" That's a good phrase for it. Speaking for the groups I bother to interact with I am eager to see them bloom outside of current confines. It is amazing how insidious the binds that tie a lot of folks to college are, weird nasty head games sorta stuff, diverse to each individual I can bring to mind, but tied to very primal, dare say sacred, feelings. As much as I am eager for the people I get on with to be released, I also understand that a large percentage of my generation are... I don't want to try putting it into words; once the youth as a whole isn't being exausted on the college rat race their energy could go in some very interesting directions, more than a few of them not good to imagine too deeply.

Oh well, break time is over... lovely pollinator garden going in this afternoon, some extra vervain to line meditation circle inside the hedges.

Phil Harris said...

Er… Jo
The end of the British Empire seems to me not at all gentle, but it depends what you mean by gentle. I was only six at the partition of India, 1947, and personal memory of ‘the news’ is vague, but that was catastrophic (perhaps a million dead - plus or minus half million - as millions streamed both ways) and partition was followed promptly in 1947 by India / Pakistan war in Kashmir. Of course ‘we’ had exited by then.

I got to know conscripts who were engaged in the string of minor wars as we withdrew: Palestine (the mandate); Malaya / Borneo; Kenya; Suez Canal well before the 1956 fiasco; Aden; Cyprus (we still have a base); British Guyana. I got told first-hand stories of the usual atrocities. And it was still going on when I was a teenager. And we left behind huge areas across Africa and Mesopotamia with artificial frontiers that carry the nightmares into the present day.


Darren said...

It interests me that JMG seems to use dollars and resources interchangeably........ They are not! Am I missing something? If all the fiat in the world were suddenly spent on real things guess what would happen. No reason to be optermistic here.

John Michael Greer said...

Tom, New Zealand may not be a major destination, either, depending on the viability of long distance maritime transport by the time the voelkerwanderung gets under way. That said, it's an issue to keep in mind.

Cherokee, glad to hear it! You (and everyone else) still have a while to work on it -- I figured giving everyone a little more time this time around would help.

Kutamun, the guy with the coonskin cap was Fess Parker playing Daniel Boone. The US did have a lot of interest in the photosynthetic economy, but most of that dried up and blew away in the early 1980s when we as a nation chickened out and sold our grandchildren down the river to buy one more spree of wretched consumer excess. Goodbye John Denver and John-Boy Walton, hello Gordon Gekko and "Material Girl" Madonna; goodbye sustainable future, hello deindustrial dark ages.

81b(etc.), bingo. It's a heckuva mess, and your generation is one of those that's been handed it. I've tried to do something to get some useful advice into your hands; I hope it helps.

William, no argument whatsoever. Those are exactly the sorts of things that a sane society would be doing right now.

Jo, well, gentle from the perspective of people living in Britain, at least. Still, your point stands: those who recognise that the old rules don't apply any more, and get to work downscaling their expectations and downsizing their lifestyles, will do much better than those who try to pretend that it's onward and upward forever. The phrase "collapse now and avoid the rush" comes to mind...

FiftyNiner, there may be a taxpayer revolt, but far more significant is simply the consequences of economic decline. I expect the student loan bubble to collapse messily in the years ahead, and a lot of that debt will simply have to be written off. That's another thing a gifted despot could do to win mass popularity and cause an immediate jump in general prosperity: declare all student loans null and void, so the debtors can start putting their income into things like consumer purchases again.

Squizzler, it certainly promises to be a three-ring circus!

Phil, it's been rather a while since the British people chopped off the head of one of your leaders, hasn't it? I suspect you're out of practice.

J Thomas, of course they're not directly wasteful -- nor did I say they were. The waste comes because they can be used, and currently are being used, to extract money from the productive economy and put it into the pockets of the already far too rich, who proceed to hoard it.

Lucy, when I have time to read it, I'll know!

Clay Dennis said...

Seems to me that history is setting up the millinnials to be the revolutionary mobs during the age of breakdown. We have created a generation that is both educated and out of work while being burdened by debt and unable to afford the housing previoius generations have grown used to. The hippies of the 60's started out radical but were gradually absorbed in to corporate consumer america. The elites are making a giant mistake by leaving a full generation of Americans on the outside and thus more likely to become aware that the age of pretense, impact and response are over. There is no telling where the next Napoleon will come from, but the folks manning the guillotines and the pitchforks will be the millenials. When the need for massive change becomes obvious they won't have to worry about losing their corporate jobs, pensions, and healthcare because they don't have any.
As a tail end boomer, I sometimes think about the kids coming for us when they become fully aware of the situation they have been handed. This is as good a reason as any to collapse now, and focus on doing good work so we might be recognized as one of the good guys when the millenial mobs arrive. If that doesn't work ,the shrunken head of the famous climate denier or banker on a stick in my yard might.

Varun Bhaskar said...


I wanted to hold off responding this week until I got these two articles up. Two steps forward and I have a new ally in the resilience community willing to write. More people coming hopefully.

So my question is, which of these eras are we actually in and which are we entering?



Blueback said...

Speaking of the corrupting influence of money from Big Pharma and the growing climate of suspicion in the medical community

It seems to me that apologists for Big Pharma like Dr. Rosenbaum are very much amongst those standing in the River of Denial, oblivious to the crocodiles of reality circling around them. People are understandably suspicious of doctors, particularly medical researchers, who take money from the pharmaceutical industry and question their credibility because there have been far too many corruption scandals and because there are far too many people who have become seriously ill or died because of drugs that never should have been approved in the first place but were because of rampant corruption and conflicts of interest in the medical community. Anyone remember Fen-Phen or Thalidomide?

Why do I get the feeling a lot of these people will be having a date with Madame Guillotine in the not-so-distant future? If you listen carefully, you can hear those abalone shells being sharpened as we speak. Age of Pretension indeed!

Jo said...

Phil, of course you are right re the violent end of the British Empire (mentally smacking forehead). Yes I was looking at it from the British point of view, because that is the one that is most visible to us in the west. I am someone who tries very hard to take a world view, but how very easy it was for me to just slip into that anglo-centric view without even thinking. Thanks for that timely reminder, AND how outrageous is it that the vassals of that particular empire paid with blood and sweat and death for all the years of their vassaldom, and then also paid the highest price at the collapse.

And of course, it is happening all over again..

The Croatoan 117 said...

JMG, I am thoroughly enjoying this series. I am curious how the TPP trade agreement plays in to all of this? Is it a last ditch effort by the corporations to save globalization? The fact that the Republicans are supporting Obama on it tells me all I need to know for what it means for average Americans.

Tim Horan said...

Great post Mr. Greer. Ironic that our dysfunctional system may take advantage of a crisis to remove existing political arrangements as we have been doing the same in less fortunate countries for some time now.

As an aside, I remember watching an interview with Michael Douglas about the character he portrayed in Wall Street: Gordon Gekko. He remarked that strangers would approach him and compliment him on playing such a fantastic character, a situation that bemused him no end apparently because "Didn't they realise I was the bad guy?"

winingwizzard said...

@ Ray Wharton

There is a HUGE difference between playing at farming and farming to live - we agree. And it isn't a 2-hour romp across the greenery either - much agreement.

Expectations came near ruining my life - as did complete banishment of the same. The balance is all the difference, and farming helps because you never know what the morrow brings (ok maybe weather forecasting helps...). One-day-at-a-time can make life very different for most people.

@ Lawfish

My youngest graduated last week, and he apologized for wasting so much of my money. I promised all 4 of mine to pay for their college, and blew my top when I found out that Beekeeping was taught by a series of online videos and tests, and the class never met and never even saw a hive. "Liability' was the rationale per the dean. BIG GRRRRRR!!

My lawyer son likewise wishes he had gone another way. The dishonesty and meaninglessness of much of his work and environment has him about to quit the law.

I think that reading and apprenticing make more sense in every field. I think your wondering is valid, and with the internet or real libraries, one can learn the requirements for proficiency in many areas to a greater degree than most universities offer. Throw in the many grad students forced to teach that are incapable, hate teaching or have trouble with the language, and some courses have to be dropped and/or repeated due to staff issues - at STUDENT expense...

My lawyer son had to work over a year before they gave him his first working case.

As a Petroleum Engineer, we have to train those with a new degree for a minimum of 2-3 years in order to avoid catastrophe - essentially an apprenticeship. When we screw up oil spills, things blow up, people get injured or killed or local aquifers get ruined - a novice can get in trouble quickly with one invalid assumption.

Yet all the technical stuff we use when drilling can be learned by working the field in 3-4 years WITHOUT a degree. The degree is simply another filter, snd it is detached management or the 'human resources' bunch that demands it. I prefer hiring those that avoided college and learned the ropes and math the old way - they are much better in the crunch when things are going wrong.

Blueback said...

@ lucychili

I took a look at the link. My first reaction was, “nice sentiments, but a little naïve, don’t you think?” Reading further, I concluded there were some good ideas in the blog post, mixed in with a lot of the usual silliness commonly associated with middle class liberalism these days. Beyond that, as the Archdruid has pointed out, grand utopian schemes for social and political reform are an exercise in mental masturbation at this point and do nothing except act as lullabies. I am much more interested in doing what I can on a practical level and reaching out to those who are willing to listen and helping them where I can.

The world would be a much better place if we would all be nicer to each other and think happy thoughts, but that isn’t going to cut the mustard in the world we have created for ourselves, especially when dealing with the reality of predatory gangs, criminals, governments, corporations and so on, a problem that is going to get a lot worse in the decades to come.

Oswald Spengler also had some very good observations about the futility of pacifism, particularly in periods like the one we are entering, with resource conflicts, escalating banditry, rampant exploitation and the like. There are simply not enough resources to support everyone on the planet, especially as we slide down the reverse slope of Hubbert’s Peak, and this means that groups that wish to survive will need to be prepared to defend themselves against others who have no inhibitions against taking what they want by force. I know that really sucks, but that's the world we live in, and wishful thinking and lullabies won't help. If anything, they make matters worse by distracting people from facing up to reality and doing what they can on a practical level to make things better and cushion the Long Descent.

Greer noted in a comment a few weeks ago that several of his ancestors had been driven from their homelands because they had run into peoples that were better with the gun and the sword than they were. I too wish to avoid conflict wherever I can and would rather look for peaceful solutions, but I have no illusions about the era we are entering and am quite willing to defend myself and those I care about, with deadly force if necessary.

winingwizzard said...

@ Bike Trog -

You can thank zero-interest money - the same bubble it created in the shale drilling arena also made a huge bubble in frac sand. There are even now crazy investors trying to buy and hoard sand pits for when the fracking gets 'back to normal', which is very unlikely as the whole shale oil thing was abnormal in the extreme. And we import 90% of our cement from other places, like Mexico - and we have for many years.

Zero-interest money causes severe aberrations and destroys BAU - part of the process of the dragon eating its tail...

sgage said...

@Clay Dennis

"The hippies of the 60's started out radical but were gradually absorbed in to corporate consumer america."

Not all of them.

winingwizzard said...

@ Clay Dennis

I cruise by Zero Hedge to glean the banker headlines regularly. Over the last few months repeated articles have been thrown out there whose sole purpose is to stir up trouble and start the blame game between older and younger. In reading the comments following these same articles, the vitriol and harshness is all too clear. The boomers are going to be made into scapegoats by the younger set - and with most of government and congress composed of the boomer generation, there is validity aplenty.

Yet this is also another canard, because of many reasons, not the least of which is our lack of adequate representation at state and national level for many decades (pick your reasons, it is truth - read Mark Twain). While there are some few who care not a whit about their offspring, most do. This is another diversion, another circus that accomplishes nothing but managing the populace by diverting their focus. This is a very handy way to get clicks and comments and boost advertising revenues as well...

Patricia Mathews said...

@Varun and everyone - there were viruses attached to the View on the Ground links.
Thought I'd better warn everyone. (!@#$!fracking hackers.)

Doctor Westchester said...


Just a thought. I think most of us consider that we are currently in the era of pretense. However, if the defining ethos of the era of impact is doubling down on what doesn't work because we realized something has gone wrong, there is a possibility that we are already there. The impact event would be the 2008 near meltdown, with all the bank bailouts, QE and even fracking being the doubling down.

I am quite cheerfully willing to accept that this idea is wrong and the real impact event is still in the future. All I can say though, with all the doubling down that already has happened, is that what will then follow the actual impact event will certainly be quite impressive. Excuse me while I find a rock to hide under.

ben said...

shh tom, NZ doesn't really exist!!


John Michael Greer said...

Freebooter, all-out war between major powers may be impossible due to nuclear weapons, but proxy wars, economic and political warfare, manufactured insurgencies, coups d'etat, and a great many other ways for one nation to overthrow another are still very much in play, and are being used right now (hint: Syria? Ukraine?) in the struggle for the world's remaining resources. I expect to see that accelerate, and start taking place in major industrial nations, including this one, in the not too distant future.

Chester, if we actually had functioning democratic institutions in today's America, that would be one thing; it we had a functional autocracy, that would be another. I think the problem is precisely that many Americans think they live in a democracy and actually live in a failing kleptocratic oligarchy. Not all Americans suffer from the illusion just named, and the number who don't is growing fairly rapidly -- thus the difficulty you've sketched out may be entirely temporary.

Dagnarus, let me make sure I understand you clearly. You appear to be saying that even in an uber-pragmatic field such as electrical and electronic engineering, the rate of bogus research is so high that professionals can't replicate published research. Is that correct? If so, the industrial age is over; it's just a matter of waiting 'til the rest of the dinosaur figures out that it's dead.

Lawfish, do not, for the love of the deity of your choice, send your kids to college in the United States. They'll graduate with a useless, tenth-rate education and a debt load from which they'll never recover financially. You might consider instead encouraging those who really want or need college to go to Germany or some other country that still offers a useful education for little or no cost. Certainly, though, those who don't want or need college should be encouraged to stay out of the trap and do something more useful with their time.

Troushers, thanks for the feedback. I know that this is a career-ending move, so would be appropriate only for those scientists who are retired or in the process of retiring, but it would be helpful if insiders in the research business were to publish detailed accounts of just what's wrong with science, in public media where people outside the scientific community can read it and learn what you already know from personal experience.

Gary, thanks for the recommendation. I admit any post headlined "How Tesla Will Change Your Life" hits my gag reflex, unless it follows that headline by saying "by luring you into pinning your hopes on a rich man's fantasy life instead of doing something to actually make your life better, it's going to change your life for the worse," but I'll try to find time to give it a look one of these days.

Adrian, to my mind one of the neglected facts about the US "defense" budget -- how much defending does it actually do? -- is that it's basically a welfare program for big contractors. The rate at which hopelessly substandard weapons systems come out of the US military's acquisitions program suggests to me that nobody's even pretending that the "defense" budget is about warfare any more -- it serves the same purpose as those federal subsidies for big banks, i.e., making a few rich people even richer.

Trog, that's "peak industrial civilization." Everything else is a symptom.

Whomever, good! It's been a while since I read that, so didn't recall that detail.

Jan, I don't recall ever reading those -- will have to remedy that. Many thanks!

John Michael Greer said...

Mary, yes, I saw that! What I found wryly amusing is that their "satire" was copying a serious policy speech by Ben Bernanke back in 2011, which I addressed in a post here. They literally can't figure out why, when their doctored stats show that a recovery is happening, the mere fact that those stats have nothing to do with the real world is keeping the real world from behaving the way they think it should. That's exactly the sort of detachment from reality that leads to violent revolution and the like.

Wizzard, start with any good history of the fall of Rome and the ensuing Dark Ages, and go from there. The exceptions, as you've indicated, are in times and places where entire regions basically became uninhabitable -- in those examples, there was no winning card, other than migrating somewhere else and hoping you survived the experience.

Greg, all in good time. It's going to take the breakdown phase -- the point at which the institutions currently hoarding resources get those resources forcibly taken away from them -- before this becomes an option.

K-Dog, I encourage you to go read a couple of good social histories of France, Russia, the Eastern Bloc countries, etc. on the eves of their respective revolutions. The same culture of passive acceptance of abuses is very common in such times. When people make the transition from actively supporting and believing in the system to passively putting up with its abuses, they move much closer to an explosion -- and the habit of mental passivity is a godsend to demagogues, who can whip people into a frenzy against the existing order of things without having to worry about being challenged by critical thinking.

Wizzard, exactly -- now factor in the fact that people are already responding to these disruptions by, e.g., raising chickens in their yards. It's precisely the interplay between disruptions and responses that's crucial in making sense of the transition to the deindustrial future.

Lady I., well, yes, that's because you live right around the imperial capital, which is one of the few places in the US these days where there's ample economic resources. Take a day trip up the Potomac to Cumberland sometimes, or visit any other smaller Rust Belt city, and see how different the view is!

Thomas, glad to see that Hedges has gotten the memo. Still, he's quite wrong that the rest of the planet is going down with us; after a century or so of chaos and a lot of population contraction, I expect life in much of the Third World to improve substantially, returning to something like its pre-European invasion levels of prosperity, once we're no longer robbing them of every scrap of wealth that isn't nailed down.

Troy, bingo. Thank you for a helpful dose of reality.

Toomas, the major issue is that the decline of a civilization involves multiple repeats of the process. Theodoric was the last talented despot overseeing the last era of breakdown in the collapse of the Roman world; he had several predecessors, each of whom presided over an important stage of breakdown.

Onething, thanks for the link! The more of that sort of thing gets into circulation, the better.

John Michael Greer said...

Shhh, very funny.

SLClaire, I don't know how many of them will end up decorating lampposts, but college administrators these days are presiding over the last days of what used to be a noble experiment and has now become a thoroughly corrupt and abusive business using deceptive marketing to push predatory loans on the unwary. My guess is that the academic industry in the US is facing a massive crash, soon.

Ray, I know. One of the downsides of being young is that it's very easy for the inexperienced to get swept up in collective expectations that don't take their best interests into account; a lot of young men end up dead on battlefields that way, for example.

Darren, I see you haven't been reading this blog very long. I've discussed the tangled relation between money and resources at great length in many posts here, and also in my book The Wealth of Nature, which I'd encourage you to read before embarrassing yourself here again.

Clay, well, we'll see. Such mobs historically tend to cross generational lines.

Varun, as I mentioned in the first post of this sequence, we're in the endgame of the era of pretense, rapidly approaching impact.

Blueback, exactly. A corrupt intellectual elite can get away with this sort of thing for quite a while, until suddenly it blows up in their faces; it doesn't help that when abuses aren't punished, the next round pushes the envelope even further, until finally you've gone over the line into modes of abuse that bring the whole thing crashing down.

Croatoan, the multinationals have been trying for years to get treaties in place that will allow them to ignore national laws whenever those get in the way of making profits or producing externalities. TPP is just the latest version of same.

Tim, of course they realized that he was the bad guy. The people who complimented him were in the process of cashing in their own ideals and embracing the doctrine of "greed is good," and they were delighted to have a role model.

Doctor W., a good solid rock to hide under might not be a bad idea. My guess is that the approaching impact will be pretty colorful.

wiseman said...

There was a rebuttal about Elon Musk from MarketWatch

Now I know that you consider them to be apologists for the current system, sort of apparatchiks. (Even I do) but I still thought that all sides of the story need to be heard before a judgement is pronounced.

To be fair I don't think Musk has any diabolical plans, none of the tech entrepreneurs do. In fact they are genuinely interested in creating something. It's just that they have bought into the "we are smarter than our ancestors" story hook line and sinker, so they must spend every second of their waking hour into creating a world that fulfils their fantasy.

Tom Bannister said...

Bit late for that I reckon. Why on earth did we have LOTR (and then the hobbit) filmed here? ;-)

SLClaire said...

JMG, you said, in response to my comment: "college administrators these days are presiding over the last days of what used to be a noble experiment and has now become a thoroughly corrupt and abusive business using deceptive marketing to push predatory loans on the unwary..."

I was reflecting on my own experience at the college in question and realized with a bit of surprise that it actually did change my life in a lasting and good way. The problem (for the college, not for me) is that it was in the way of the noble experiment you spoke of rather than in my becoming a wealthy alum eager to respond to fundraising pleas. Its positive effect was primarily in the way the many different lines of thought I was exposed to informed each other and became a seed around which my spiritual practices later grew. What I learned in college led me to Zen about 20 years later and informs the meditations I do for my Druidry practice. Even in the second half of the 1970s, however, the pressure to make a career from what I learned in college was enough to strongly influence my decision to drop most of my ideals for a decade or so. Still, between hearing the voices of those of you who have recently been through the college meat grinder and reading the alumni magazine, I realize it's far worse now than it was back then.

KL Cooke said...

"the guy with the coonskin cap was Fess Parker playing Daniel Boone"

Daniel Boone was Fess Parker's 2nd iteration. In the mid 50's he played Davy Crockett. A Davy Crockett craze swept through the nation's young people, promoted by Disney. It only lasted about a year, but it was enough to seriously threaten the raccoon population (which seems to have recovered--certainly in my neighborhood). There was even a song: "Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier." At one time I could sing all twenty-seven verses. And often did.

Then there was Elvis. Then the Beatles. That's what the revolution needs. Marketing!

Sébastien Louchart said...

Hello Mr Greer, greetings from France.

Really thoughtful post as usual. One precision, though. The "departements" of France are not a creation of the Empire. The new organization of the kingdom has been decided in an act of the 22 December 1789 by the Convention, which you can read there :

During the Napoleonic Wars, this organization really extended (to say the least) as several pieces of european land conquered by Napoleon were turned into "departements" whose total count peaked at 130 in 1811 (or 134 taking into account the conquest of Spain). Nowadays, there are roughly one hundred departements counting the overseas territories.

brian lloyd said...

Yes, it is a bit of a shock to hear you sound some hopeful notes at the end of an essay. As you sorted through the dynamics of revolutionary change, you came across some resources - huge piles of money in fact - that would be freed up as the old order moves into the era of breakdown. I think that is a perceptive insight and one that does indeed brighten the prospects of those who, during such a period, will be trying to rebuild a new society - or workable neighborhoods, at least - on a sounder footing. But you then settle for some rather vague speculations about just how those resources might be used at such a moment. The vagueness arises, I think, because nothing in your breakdown scheme addresses the necessity of our getting in a position somehow to impact the decisions that will be made about those resources. If we don’t figure that out, then we will again be at the mercy of those who are making those decisions now. Alas, the hopefulness fades and the Mussolini scenario is left as the least vague speculation left standing - not the impression you wanted to leave, I’m sure, but the one that is bound to reign triumphant if the question of politics - of power - is not engaged head-on.

Brian Lloyd

I R Orchard said...

At the risk of repeating an earlier post (79 and counting....I've been struggling to scan through them) the thought of collapse is especially disturbing. Back when France went titzup, the social infrastructure was comparatively resiliant. The food supplies for cities were from nearby farms, transported by canal or horse and cart and sold at shops and markets within hours or maybe days paid for with coins or barter.

2015: cities are vastly larger and food is transported by diesel trucks/trains/ships/aircraft from across continents or the world and are sold intially to industrial conglomerates then to supermarket chains, paid for via the Internet and EFTPOS or Visa. All utterly dependant on a complex infrastructure that could go down in a screaming heap. During the French Revolution you could always write a letter by plucking a feather from the nearest goose. Try making a pencil, a ball-point pen or an email system from scratch.....

If/when our social/financial structures hit the wall, it's going to be a damn sight harder to revert to simpler infrastructure without a LOT of people being hurt badly in the process. Back in the day, your savings, if any were in a bag under the mattress. Today they're being stored as digital bits in a bank's database. Good luck with that. Hopefully it will be a slow process, giving us time to adapt.

Scotlyn said...

@RayW "expectations are shadows cast by entitlement" that phrase is a keeper! Thank you.

Barry Downard said...

I'm a long-time lurker on your site, and as someone who is keenly involved with local biodiversity issues here in South Africa, I believe your site to be one of the most worthwhile sites to follow.

I have been following the last posts with great interest.

Two points:
1. You say, "The $83 billion a year currently being poured down the oversized rathole of the five biggest US banks, just for starters, could pay for a lot of solar water heaters, training programs for organic farmers, and other things that could actually do some good."
I'm no economist, but I'd like to ask about where that $83 billion comes from? I assume it's ultimately from the tax payers? If so, isn't there an implication that, as the tax paying middle class gets (is getting) squeezed so rapidly into oblivion, and unemployment, the funding for that $83 billion is actually likely to start drying up at the same pace? In which case, at the rate things seem to be going... sooner rather than later? But, at the same time, wouldn't that mean that the same amount of money might not be available to pay for the good things you go on to mention? Again, I'm simple folk, so I apologize should I have this all wrong!

2. Here in South Africa, we have an interesting relationship with your theories, and I believe I'm actually seeing your process happening in accelerated real time before my eyes. On the one hand, as much as we have elements of "first world", there is much that is third world (and due to corruption, mismanagement, cronyism, "my time to eat" greed, etc. much of the first world element is rapidly deteriorating into third world). This means that many are already on the way to living collapsing/collapsed lifestyles (together with the many on the African continent who have never known anything but a collapsed lifestyle).
On the other hand though, there appears to be a mad dash to try and catch up to the standards set by the west, at all costs. Especially when the signing of international contracts open up the Aladdin's cave of potential financial kickbacks.

This and the politically expedience of providing patronage to help remain in power (I believe you call it "pork barreling" in the US?), means an increasingly small section of the population being increasingly taxed by increasingly hungry "leaders"... it's simply unsustainable. Watch this space!

Thank you for sharing your interesting thoughts!

Best regards,

nuku said...

34 years ago Glenn Martin, a young Kiwi guy inspired by The Jetsons TV show, began work on a personal "jet pack". It turned out to be not a real strap-on-your back jet pack (that idea couldn't really fly), but ended up a fairly large gasoline engine powered twin ducted fan “platform“ that sorta works.

His company, which was touted by many here as the ultimate example of the go-getter innovative backyard inventor spirit, went public recently with the majority of shares went to a Chinese company. In a surprising move, Martin himself just quit his namesake company because the new directors favor concentrating on selling the jet packs to military, search and rescue, and other Government Funded Entities, effectively abandoning his dream of Joe Bloggs and family jetting around suburbia.

Obviously these MBA dudes decided to go for the deep pockets/pig trough of tax-payer money, proving yet again your observation that much gee-whiz-ain’t-that-cool technology can’t fly without Govt subsidies.

nuku said...

@Ben and Tom
Back in the 80’s and 90’s there was a “satirical” NZ politial party called Serious McGillicuddy whose members dressed in Kilts. The first promise in their Manifesto was: if elected they would take New Zealand off ALL world maps. I’ll vote for that!

Kutamun said...

Hi Adrienne Ayers Fisher - to put the US military expenditures into more focus for you , (600 billion ) , Australias entire federal budget is $400 billion ! . Next best military expwnditure is China at $130 billion and Russia at $70 billion . Coeporal Agarn and Sergeant Orourke , however , got by at firebase " Courage " with a great sense of humour and 60 chickens ...lets not forget Captain Parmenter " the scourge or Appomatox " , cheers !

Varun Bhaskar said...

@ Patricia thanks for the heads up. I'll get that fixed today!

Dagnarus said...

@John Michael Greer

That is probably going to far. My colleagues research is related to how to control an electrical system so as to use the least amount of energy possible while still fulfilling its assigned tasks (I don't want to give to many specific details). It turns out that finding an optimal way of using a systems resources in such a way is NP-hard. I believe I discussed NP-Hardness before here in a comment but as a refresher, There is a class of computing problems called NP-Complete problems, for the last 50 years or so nobody has been able to create an algorithm which is guaranteed to be able to solve any but the smallest of NP-Complete problems in a reasonable amount of time (Where a reasonable amount of time could be in the range of the life time of a human being to that of a star). If anyone were to create an algorithm which was guaranteed to find an optimal use resources for an electrical system in a reasonable amount of time, it would be possible to solve all problems in the NP-Complete class with that algorithm (with slight modification in a reasonable amount of time (hence NP-Hard). As nobody has done this in the last 50 years, nobody is likely to accomplish it in the next 10, and the suspicion amongst most people who deal with such things is that, such an algorithm does not exist within the set of all possible algorithms. An example of an NP-Hard problem is that of constructing a mathematical proof, a process that can take anything from an hour to multiple life-times (Hopefully that was somewhat coherent.)

Anyway the upshot is while in general it is impossible to ensure computation within a reasonable time frame for such problems, it might be possible to ensure that you can find a sub-optimal solution in a reasonable amount of time, or find a subset of instances of the problem for which it is possible to find a solution in reasonable time, or other such things. This also means that it is possible to publish research papers which show how your method works really well, without showing that this is only the case for a very specific set of problem instances which you created specifically for the purpose of showcasing your method. I think this was the main issue he was referring to (although from listening to some of his talks I think he did come across at least one case were the algorithm didn't do what it was advertised to do).

I hope that helps clarify things and didn't take things to off-topic. It probably isn't an immediate problem for somebody who just wants to construct an electrical circuit. But it is relevant to for anybody who wants to make society energy efficient through the use of smart grids, as coming up with a way of optimally allocating energy using them is NP-hard.

Barry Downard said...

JMG: In your response to Thomas above, you say, "I expect life in much of the Third World to improve substantially, returning to something like its pre-European invasion levels of prosperity, once we're no longer robbing them of every scrap of wealth that isn't nailed down. "

As I mention in my earlier post, based on what's currently happening in South Africa (and from what I see in probably most other African countries), the leaders and politically connected within the country will gladly be taking over the previously colonialist role of robbing every scrap of wealth. Aloota continua.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

" I think the problem is precisely that many Americans think they live in a democracy and actually live in a failing kleptocratic oligarchy."

Bingo. Brilliant. Which of course means that the "passivity" gene that is activated will make the truth hurt all the more when it finally crash lands on top of their cranium, as they're out there collecting illegal rainwater, working three jobs, or having their kids taken away due to their "neglect", while the governors go around relentlessly upholding standards.

Lawfish1964 said...

@Winingwizzard -

Thank you. You and I seem to be in about the same place. My wife insisted that our kids go to a local private school, so I said if that's what you want, get a job to pay for it, which she did. I still think it's a gargantuan waste of money. But I made it very clear to both of my kids that if they want to go to college, they need to do well enough academically or athletically to get a full scholarship. Fortunately, my daughter (rising senior) knocked the ACT out of the park, so she will likely get a full ride somewhere. My son (rising sophomore) is a genius, so I expect he will do the same. I absolutely will not let either of them borrow a nickel to go to college. They get the picture.

But I still agree with JMG's assessment that they'll end up with a piece of paper that's nothing more than a ticket to enter a field where the learning actually begins. If I were an 18 year old HS grad now, I think I'd become an electrician's apprentice and learn as much as I could about DC solar. I think local (meaning at your house) solar with battery power will be very much in demand in the next 15 years.

The other advantage I've made for them - the 30 acres of hardwoods. I will happily subdivide that property into 5 acre tracts that they can have gratis in order to build a modest home, preferably with as much passive solar and off-grid power as possible. That's a pretty nice advantage to have. Far better than a diploma.

Martin B said...

I think Americans forget the talent infusion they got in the 1930s when some of the best and brightest minds of Europe fled to the States. They would have given any arc of decline a temporary lift.

The atom bomb, the computer, and the integrated chip might not have existed without Hungarian refugees.

donalfagan said...

These ages seem to be a reasonable structure, but (as I'm sure many are aware) one part of the world may still be in Pretense while another has already moved on. I'd even say that different neighborhoods will remain in Pretense, even different members of the same family will remain in Pretense or Response while others are going through Breakdown or Dissolution. Some people may still be in Response as they are dragged out of their limo.

Ed-M said...


Excellent post. I really like how in your second paragraph you imply that Business As Usual brings on the very chaos it's supposed to be a bulwark *from*.


Ed-M said...

Doctor Westchester,

The impact you're describing actually has had some preliminary impacts already. 9/11, Katrina and the 2008 financial meltdown. These are what can be described as the fallen fragments of an incoming celestial body. The main 'asteroid' is yet to come!

Hari said...


I thought you might be interested in the below article about breakdown in the USA in bbc news titled the " age of consequences" ..

I really appreciate the steady stream of insight that you have been providing to all of us over the years :)

Thank you so much!

Gabriela Augusto said...

This time however our fossil fuel slaves are running away doesn't matter what. The game is to pretend they are still around and if we behave, work hard and obey, we will have a share of their labour. But it’s delusional, just as delusional as are the DAX, the DOWNJONES, the bank profits and the negative interest rates of insolvent countries. I am not so optimist, I don't think the resources are there for 9 billion people even with modest lifestyles. I hope I am very very wrong.

Ed-M said...

Slightly off subject, but this article on wind power relates to how dependable electricity will be after breakdown: about 4 to 9%. But the article doesn't mention that. Nor does it mention the difficulties of ramping up the quantity of this power.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Long and somewhat off topic, but I couldn't help myself.

Part One:
Re college and whether it is worthwhile, very respectfully, I'd like to encourage us all to avoid thoughtstoppers and blanket statements on the subject. To say college is not worth the money or won't get you anywhere begs the questions: which college or colleges, why does one go to college and to study what, and what does one expect to get out of it?

Yes, the system is rife with abuse. Many for-profit colleges exist basically both to milk taxpayers and defraud students. Administrators, like hospital administrators and top executives at corporations, are paid far too much. Course offerings can be egregious. One can go on, of course, as one can about almost every other large American industry. It's true most jobs do not require a college degree to learn to do them well, that employers use the requirement for a degree as a mere screening device, that students and their parents willingly take on unconscionable amounts of debt with dubious results.

However, there is more to the story. Part Two offers some notes, a few of which I've written in this comments section before.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Part Two, re college:

a). Which college are you talking about? If a student is interested in a traditional four-year degree, the first two years can be done at a community college for low cost--or even free, if the student qualifies for the honors program which many CC's have. CC's have articulation agreements with public and private four year schools so that credits are transferable. Many CC's have small classes which offer more personal attention than huge classes at the big state schools, and they are taught by instructors, not grad students.

Often, middle class families shun this option, as not having enough status, but I have seen many students do well in this system, and graduate with a two year certificate or degree that enables them to find jobs, or go on to complete their BA elsewhere. My niece is an ER nurse, having done this very thing and graduated debt-free.

b). Why go, and what does the student plan to study? Here we enter true complexity. Is one going for career training? For liberal arts? To accrue debt so one can party for four years? Because one really is of a scholarly nature and can best work in an academic environment? To gain practical skills? Is the student willing to live at home while going to college? These questions must be addressed by the student and parents. If considered honestly and realistically, the answers might lead students to a variety of institutions or apprenticeships, or to the choice to do something else while figuring out what to do.

There is no all-purpose degree. There is a tension or conflict between liberal arts and career training. It seems to me that some subjects really do need the organization and rigor offered by structured programs, and that at the present moment, the right college can offer the best available options. Please notice I said the right college, not the biggest, most famous or most expensive. Practical skills can be learned at CC's, or through organizations and groups.

Part of the problem is definitions: some of what we call college is really career training that companies no longer do. Training costs are thus shifted away onto taxpayers and individuals--it's another form of corporate welfare.

c). Regarding expectations, it is sad but true that a college degree is no guarantee of a good job and that the game is rigged in many other ways (for example, only well to-do students can afford the unpaid internships that help them enter a field, etc.). Our economy is in decline. Thus, serious attention to the student's and family's expectations and goals--and how they match with reality--is extremely important.

I've seen students from poor families whose goal was to get a certificate or degree and be the first in their family to step out of poverty, which they accomplished. I've seen students from affluent families squandering their chances, partly due to over-inflated expectations and an unwillingness to adjust to realities.

My family is middle income with no connections of any sort. My children are millennials. My son won college scholarships and now works as a photographer, much of which he learned how to do in a series of low-paid production jobs combined with self-study and practice. My daughter lived at home and worked during college and then attended a professional culinary arts training program; she now has a job as a pastry chef. Neither is rich, but both are self-supporting. I am glad both went to college because they took advantage of the intellectual opportunities on offer and I believe their lives are the richer for it. I believe their education will help them navigate the future, whatever it brings.

simon.dc3 said...

Thoroughly enjoying this series JMG. Thank you.

And we're fully in the Era of Pretense as evidenced by Haruhiko Kuroda, head of the Central Bank of Japan, who yesterday concluded his 4-page opening remarks to the 2015 BOJ-IMES gathering of Central Bankers by saying:

"...I trust many of you are familiar with the story of Peter Pan, in which it says, 'the moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.' Yes, what we need is a positive attitude and conviction."

And Japan, who's central bank is the creator of the term Quantitative Easing when they started it back in 2001, is on its umpteenth QE. Much good it's done it.

I guess they'll say the fact they're still threading water is proof it's worked, for never will they stop and question their mental construct itself.

Something they ought to do before some decide to bring out the guillotines to sever the sociopathy.

It is time to get the popcorn and wear shades.

Clay Dennis said...

Had an interesting experiance last evening that gives me a bit of insight in to the subtleties of how things work on the ground in the age of impact. I went on a 5000 person bike ride that kicks off Portlands semi-underground 3 week bike festival, Pedalpalooza. While nothing like a real protest with violence and focused pushback from the authorities, it was a giant bike powered mob breaking the rules at whim. We rode up and down the largest streets in Portland, blocking both lanes of traffic and ignoring all red lights. This left motorists stuck at intersections while a 1/2 mile long stream of cicylists passed playing load music and ringing bells. There were no permits or permission, just the power of a large group. We passed many cops who could do nothing but passively look on as they too were trapped at intersections. This went on for 2 hours with no intervention by authorities, and mostly waves and smiles from the people on the street along the way. Only the folks who had driven in from the suburbs for dinner seemed angry, as they waved their fists, not understanding how their happy motoring could be delayed by these cycling misfits.
I won't equate such good natured frivolity with the more serious and deadly actions going on in Ferguson or Baltimore but this ride demonstrated a few things. A large fast moving group backed by a politicaly powerfull and vocal constituancy ( the portand bike community) can cause the enforcers of law and order to back off and accept the inevitable. Like a tiny tryout for what can happen at the tipping point where the Pretorian Guard for the elite realizes that protecting the status quo is just not worth it any more and they give up and go home, or join the mob. I have no misconceptions that if this same group was headed towards the bank tower with torches they would be met with the full force of the police department. But it is a tiny window in to how things will work in the future just the same.

Gabriela Augusto said...

Dear JMG,
somehow I managed to not copy the complete text into your coments box. It ocurred to me that the breakdown of the Roman empire ocurred when the militar abandoned their posts to go to Rome looking for their pay. When they left , slaves promptly fleed collapsing the economy that was already strugling to support th militar and the burocrats. Our fóssil fuel slaves are also fleeing...

Lawfish1964 said...

@Adrian Ayres Fisher -

Excellent points. I spent a miserable two hours with the school's "college counselor" being told things like "Don't get sticker shock - if tuition is $40,000, we can usually get it down to $20,000 or so." This man's job is to push the students to go to the most expensive and "prestigious" schools in the country so the school can spout about how good the school is. The other big lie is "scholarships." The school bragged at the last commencement that the graduating class got $7,000,000 in scholarships. Divided by 96 students, that's $72,916 per student. Care to bet how they calculate that "scholarship" number? Each kid applies to an average of 8.5 schools. If each school offers some kind of discount from full advertised tuition (which nobody but the richest fools pays), then the real "scholarship" number is more like $8,578, because the kid can only go to one school and they no-doubt count every "discount" offered as a scholarship.

I've concluded that the colleges have picked up on the old retailers' trick of doubling the price and then having a 50% off "sale." These aren't scholarships, they're rebates and incentives, the same garbage used by car salesmen to obscure the true cost of what's being purchased. And most of it is funded by high-interest debt which can't be discharged in bankruptcy. I agree with JMG - some despot may find his way into a position of leadership by offering a complete forgiveness of all student debt.

The 2-year community college program tied to a university looks like one of the more honest good deals going and my daughter is seriously considering that, based on what kinds of offers she gets from the schools to which she applies.

Greenie said...

"Troushers, thanks for the feedback. I know that this is a career-ending move, so would be appropriate only for those scientists who are retired or in the process of retiring, but it would be helpful if insiders in the research business were to publish detailed accounts of just what's wrong with science, in public media where people outside the scientific community can read it and learn what you already know from personal experience."

Troushers made very valid points on the scientific establishment. JMG, I have a blog that does exactly what you said above ( I mix the discussions with some scientific discoveries, but had been generally critical of over-abundance of super-expensive and meaningless science.

Please take a look at the paper criticized in the following look. It sells genomics based techno-dreamland and the author claims to know what will happen in 2035 by extending a straight-line from the last 10 years.

We even published a paper exposing the positivity scam, but positivity is one of the religious symbols of the day.

artinnature said...

Hi JMG and gang. I'm really enjoying this series and of course all of the "400 level" comments.

I'm not able to get through all of them these days let alone comment much, as I'm growing the largest garden of my life this summer along with building the largest stone wall, and like you JMG, I've built a few gardens (and walls)! The garden: potato, tomato, parsnip, arugula, spinach, strawberry, fig, blueberry, Asian pear, thyme, cilantro, sage, pea, green bean, dry bean, flour corn, kale, raspberry, winter savory, Swiss chard, broccoli, ground cherry, butter lettuce, oregano, squash, sweet pepper, hardy kiwi & zucchini. The wall: 22 tons of stone total, only three tons yet to be built.

I just wanted to share a local data point that made my jaw drop. We were driving though one of the more "consumery" parts of Cascadia the other day, something I rarely do with all of the Green Wizardry projects at the urban homestead. On a busy corner I noticed one of the ubiquitous "sign-spinners" advertising something or other, but something wasn't right, her motions looked rather robotic. Turns out "she" was a mannequin, with a motorized sign spinner instead of hands, and a car battery behind her feet making the magic happen. So this is where we are, its too expensive to pay a real person to spin a sign, lets get a robot instead, much cheaper, and look how much sexier we can make her look!

Cheers from Cascadia and thanks for what you've been doing here for ten(!) years now.

John Michael Greer said...

Wiseman, of course Musk doesn't have diabolical plans. He's just getting rich, using government dollars and really good PR to do it. As I said, he's a very smart man; it's just a pity that so many people think what he's doing is going to accomplish anything other than getting Elon Musk rich.

SLClaire, understood. I went to college from 1980-3, and then again from 1991-3, and got to see a decade's worth of transformations in the academic scene that way -- and I have enough contacts in the academic industry to know that it's gotten much, much worse since then.

KL, the Crockett show was before my time. Thanks for the correction!

Sébastien, thanks for the correction -- shows just how much you can trust a US public school education.

Brian, this is a single blog post, not a book, and so there are points I didn't cover in it. I've discussed at some length already, on this blog and in my book Decline and Fall, what would be needed in order to get something other than a Mussolini clone in our immediate future.

Orchard, yes, it's a disturbing thought, and an even more disturbing reality. That's why I've put so much time into trying to get people to pay attention to what it involves and how to get ready for it.

Barry, those are two very solid points. At the moment, the US government is paying its bills via the printing press, using roughly the same strategy the government of Zimbabwe did a little while back; the only reason that strategy hasn't yet blown up the same way is that the US has enough global clout to make the rest of the world keep taking dollars. Of course it's unsustainable over the long term, but so is nearly everything else currently happening in the US.

Nuku, well, there you go. Another good example of today's realities...

Dagnarus, okay, thanks for the clarification. I probably need to find a good layman's discussion of NP-complete and NP-hard problems, as that ties into some other things I've been studying recently.

Barry, oh, granted. That's standard practice in the early stages of imperial collapse -- a lot of Roman tributary kings looted the bejesus out of their territories as Rome started to crumble.

Matthew, well, yes -- but notice the other side of the coin, which is that people who are used to thinking of their political system as goodness incarnate can very easily flip to seeing it as evil incarnate, rather than (say) recognizing it as flawed but reparable. Once you bring absolute moral claims into the political arena, and people get used to those, they tend to use them by preference -- and they don't really care which one, so long as they can use some such category.

Martin, good. Who was it who argued that Hungarians are actually superintelligent aliens from Mars? One of the Manhattan Project scientists, iirc.

Tom Schmidt said...

Wanted to return to a theme from last week, repeated this week. You wrote: The United States in 1929 had a precious metal-backed currency in the most literal sense of the term. Paper bills in those days were quite literally receipts for a certain quantity of gold—1.5 grams, for much of the time the US spent on the gold standard. That sort of arrangement was standard in most of the world’s industrial nations; it was backed by a dogmatic orthodoxy all but universal among respectable economists; and it was strangling the US economy.
In the US economy before and during the stock market crash of 1929 and its long and brutal aftermath, a legal and financial system dominated by a handful of very rich men saw to it that the bulk of the nation’s wealth flowed uphill, out of productive economic activities and into speculative ventures increasingly detached from the productive economy. ...The resulting collapse in consumer expenditures played a huge role in driving the cascading collapse of the US economy that, by the spring of 1933, had shuttered every consumer bank in the nation and driven joblessness and impoverishment to record highs.

Contrast with a post of yours that I made required reading for some college students: The Economics of Entropy, where you mention the primary economy (nature and the biosphere), the secondary economy of human labor using natural inputs, and the tertiary economy using and securitizing secondary economy materials. (July, 2009 was a brilliant month). The point to make is this: using gold or silver, which the earth gives up in desperately small quantities, ties the tertiary economy back to the primary economy. Try as man has, we are unable to print gold.

Now, you DO have a valid point about the scam in the 1920s. A private organization and financiers could print many more certificates to gold than gold existed; given the ability to "print" gold, in the words of Plunkitt, they "seen their opportunities and they took 'em." A brief overview of the flaws of the gold exchange standard is here. The reason those banks were shuttered in 1933 is that there were FAR more claims on the gold they held in reserve than the gold to supply them; in addition, FDR had planned to steal everyone's gold to make his economic program easier to put in place, and having it all in a few thousand banks than millions of homes was more convenient.

So long as our means of exchange is not tied to the primary economy, we will continue to blindly overuse resources. The blowoff phase of the Industrial Age really got underway as we ended silver coinage in 1964, then closed the gold window in 1971, then completely decoupled the dollar from gold in 1973 (I think the last official price was $50 an ounce, still what is printed on one-ounce coins.) said...

Since I work in the health care field, I keep abreast of goings on in the research world and in health care. A blogger I follow on Wordpress posted a link to an economic blog regarding problems in health care. While I find the basic tenets of this particular economic theorist to be rather lacking, the post was interesting and inspired a post of my own on population medicine, guidelines, and the resulting failure for the individual.

I think this may perhaps be the worst time in history to be in the health care field if you actually want to help people.

Tom Bannister said...

Haha! I didn't they were once a political party! The McGillicuddys still exist though they're merged with the greens these days. They're more like a kind of hippy community/commune now.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for the extra time, it is appreciated as I'm personally juggling quite a few different projects. But then that is also normal and has been for many decades now.

I mentioned my foray into dog food production and had a major win this morning. Poopy the pomeranian spat out his old commercial dog biscuit and did his demand stomp/dance for the new fangled home made dog biscuits. Now that wins brownie points that does!

It does make you wonder about inflation by stealth as my incentive for producing the biscuits was that not only did they cost a whole lot of money, but the quality had dropped recently, whilst they still looked the same as before. Dogs are not easily fooled on such matters. It makes you wonder about the rest of the industrial food production system?

So much food gets made here from scratch that I don't really notice the wider goings on. It is also worthwhile noting that it takes a lot of effort and experimentation to understand how to go about producing quantities of food without it becoming a massive burden. Cooking is meant to be fun.

Hi Mary,

Brr, that is massively cold. Thanks for your story as I have no idea how to cope with such extreme weather. Brrr!



Howard Skillington said...

Considering the likelihood that we will face a number of fractal cycles through your stages of collapse, it appears likely that at the national level we will have to go through the federal powers’ attempts to defeat the adversary of its own citizens, for which huge amounts of planning and resources have already been allocated. In that regard it strikes me that the militarization of local law enforcement is likely to backfire against them fairly early in the sequence of events.

In the rural south many attach their self-concept as citizens to the state or even the county in which they live rather than the federal government. Even if such men are inculcated with a sense of patriotic “duty” to follow orders against their fellow citizens, that loyalty isn’t likely to outlast the first cousin who gets shot or the first busload of neighbors sent off to a Yankee internment camp.

At that point I can imagine those assault vehicles and high-tech weaponry falling into the hands of outraged men who know the area terrain, are quite comfortable with firearms, and are not averse to following the orders of, say, their local sheriff.

My guess is that Security planners anticipate this and intend to bring in troops from other regions whose loyalty remains to The Nation. Hundreds of mini-wars pitting national guardsmen against newly-forged local militias, being fought with the finest equipment our tax dollars have been able to buy.

My guess is that the locals will prevail, at least in this part of the country, but the carnage that may be wreaked on the way to that fractal stage is not pleasant to contemplate. And then the victorious militias, bolstered by the weaponry abandoned by the vanquished federal forces, can start to turn on each other…

winingwizzard said...

@ Adrienne Ayres Fisher

I agree that blanket statements can be wrong, and there is no one-size-fits-all path. However, I will throw this out there:

Based on what I learned in my 6 years at University between 1975 and 1983 (time off in between), our children are entering college and most have to do remedial study due to poor public education. The classes are much less involved and the material shallower, the expectations less. The number of good and committed teachers in the initial (first 2) years is pathetic at most institutions. The number of alleged teachers who struggle with English has risen dramatically, posing further problems. Internet classes and textbooks are rape of a most egregious form, and allow teaching remotely with little engagement other than wrote memorization and regurgitation - fine for pre-med, pre-vet and pre-dent where the basics need to be memorized but awful for engineering and many other fields where analytical thinking is required.

I base this on my children attending Texas A&M, University of Houston, University of Texas, North Texas State University and Arizona State University. 3 of my 4 went to community college the first two years then transferred to larger schools. One had 4-year athletic scholarship and each of the others had scholarships as well. 3 of 4 stayed on the Deans List.

My kids were TRYING to get an education and all left with degrees BUT felt very shortchanged. Counselors and other such nonsense always guided them into fields where a PhD was required to make more than a very basic living - not by coincidence.

JMG is correct - outside the US and in particular Germany and Russia offer some very solid science and technical degrees. America has dumbed things down even in the pre-med arena. I took the MCAT practice test a few years back and aced it - but haven't been in school for almost 40 years - and look at everything that has been documented and discovered in that time.

barath said...

JMG, if you're interested in computational complexity theory, the wikipedia article on P vs. NP is a good starting point. But I'd recommend going beyond that (if you have time and interest) and getting Introduction to the Theory of Computation by Sipser. It's an excellent (yet short) textbook that is remarkably easy to read and requires no math or computer science background, just general mathematical maturity.

John Michael Greer said...

Donalfagan, true enough. The sequence of eras is of course schematic, and subject to a great many local variations.

Ed-M, you're welcome and thank you. It never hurts to remind people that hubris is the past tense of nemesis.

Adrian, while it's important to recognize that any summary of a complex situation is going to be a generalization admitting plenty of variations at the individual level, I don't think it's fair to dismiss the current crisis in academic education as a matter of thoughtstoppers and blanket statements. It's been shown over and over again that as a result of the stunning increase in university costs, the average graduate today will never recover financially from going to college -- all the additional income earned over a lifetime, and then some, will be eaten up by the burden of college debt and interest. That's a massive issue, and it's especially noticeable given the fact that most other countries haven't loaded that sort of burden of predatory loans onto their college students. Thus my suggestion that those who actually need a college degree -- and a great many American high school graduates would be much wiser to go for an apprenticeship or some other non-academic option instead -- should go to Germany, or some other country that welcomes foreign students and provides a good education without a vast burden of debt.

Simon, I see that sort of blather on the part of central bankers as a tacit admission that they have no idea what's happening with the economy. I note also that it makes hash of the old "rational actor" theory -- if all participants in economic activity are rational actors coolly maximising their gains, as the theory claims, how come millions of rational actors are being irrationally pessimistic?

Clay, um, you're missing an important point. You're white, and I'm willing to bet that a good majority of the other participants in the bike thing were, too. If you and your fellow bikers had skin of a different color, you'd be recovering from tear gas inhalation and rubber-bullet bruises right now, if not worse.

Gabriela, an excellent analogy!

Greenie, of course Troushers made valid points; they're parallel to points I've made here repeatedly in previous posts. (It doesn't hurt that during my time in college I witnessed serious scientific fraud being treated as business as usual in two different departments in two different universities.) Many thanks for the links to your blog, and kudos to you for doing that; if science is going to survive the end of the industrial age -- and that's an open question at this point -- serious attention by scientists to the corruption of the scientific enterprise may be an important part of what helps it squeak through.

Artinnature, congrats on the garden and the wall! As for the robot, well, yes, and no doubt the geekoisie will be babbling again about how all the people pushed into unemployment by mechanical sign spinners can get new work doing -- er, um, ah, something or other we haven't quite gotten around to robotizing yet...

John Michael Greer said...

Tom, using gold or silver as money doesn't tie the tertiary economy to the primary economy at all. The primary economy is the natural world, which doesn't mine gold and silver for us! Nor does the supply of gold and silver increase and decrease in step with primary biological productivity, or any other measure of the primary economy's function. All you're doing is taking a sector of the secondary economy that's limited by hard geological factors -- mining involves human labor, so it's secondary rather than primary economy -- and using that to create an inelastic supply of tokens for the tertiary economy. As I've pointed out in response to previous comments, having an inelastic money supply benefits the rentier class at the expense of the productive classes, so it's understandable that investors (i.e., members or would-be members of the rentier class) would prefer an inelastic currency; the whole structure of gold-bug rhetoric is simply an expression of that preference. Yes, as a participant in the productive economy, I have a different opinion...

Tinfoil, not being in the belly of the beast, I'll take your word for it. Me, I just have as little to do with the sickness industry as I can.

Cherokee, please pass on my compliments to Poopy -- clearly a canine of good taste. Do you think the dog biscuits would be tastier if they had some ground banker in them?

Howard, yes, exactly. I could also see a situation where the police and security forces are no longer under the control of the central government -- consider the way that police in NYC and Baltimore have responded to attempts by city government to bring them under some kind of discipline -- and so you have a three-way mess with militarized police who take orders from nobody, local militias who take orders only from their own, and a central government whose orders are increasingly ignored by all sides, mix it up and bring the whole country crashing down.

Barath, thanks for the recommendation. I'm not at all sure what's included in your idea of "general mathematical maturity," though -- remember that I had a liberal arts education that stopped with algebra and geometry.

patriciaormsby said...

Simon, within Japanese culture there is some degree of give and take which ameliorates some of the dishonest tactics you are witnessing. The social contract is still largely in place, saying the elite are not separate from the folks that serve them, and making it a point of shame for them to abuse their privileges too openly. The elites abroad cherry picked the bits of Japanese culture that served them, devoid of the context in which they arose and functioned. An example that comes to mind is the Waltons urging their "associates" to see Walmart as their "family," but not reciprocating by treating them as you would family. The short terms in office of Japanese prime ministers attest to the hardships of being a leader in Japan. We will see how Abe fares, however. If American elites favor him, he may be around for a while, picking up their tactics. We are seeing more and more news about "black employment," in which "black" means "abusive." Coca-Cola and IBM have been among the abusers, but Japanese companies too, as they struggle in a failing market. Citizens are at least having a conversation about where this is leading.

Japanese culture also has the concept of an "official reality" (tatemae) versus the "real reality" (honne). It's an admission of official lies, which are recognized as necessary in order to get society to function smoothly. The fact that this can lead very easily to abuses is also well acknowledged. I think this arose out of Japan's long experience with tyranny. (Ieyasu Tokugawa is a really fascinating example of a "talented despot," btw.)

Still, I think most Japanese have not given any thought to where endless QE gets you. A lot of people, though, recognize that if Japan had gone ahead and crashed two decades ago instead of "saving face" and kicking the can down the road, it would have been hard, but we'd be rebuilding.

In light of the lessons of this series and the comments, I'd say one big advantage to Japan, along with the tacit recognition of imperfection of its system, is the conservatism of Confucianism in advocating stability even if it means accepting some amount of abuse. If the wheels come off the system in the near future, this will be a saving grace. If the collapse is too delayed, however, many of the younger generation might not be aware of the benefits of toleration, and they might be amenable to the persuasions of radical revolution.

jcummings said...

@Clay and respondents re: boomers.

I have to say, its possible for the boomer generation to both love their children AND want to have their cake and eat it too. This is the generation that will spend hundreds on fancy camp gear to have freshly ground and brewed coffee on a mountain peak. These are the folks who spend thousands on hair and skin treatments - cosmetic "enhancements" of every kind, then show up at the gala in a $70000 Tesla expecting to be lauded for their greenness. It is an oversimplification, and of course a generalization, but this IS the generation who created more wealth than any other before or since or ever will again, and they mostly squander it on suburban real estate and botox. For every one boomer who really cares and has spent their lives working for change there are a thousand who live in 4000 square feet of air conditioned emptiness surviving on Atavan and Amazon Prime.

Gloucon X said...

KL Cooke said...A Davy Crockett craze swept through the nation's young people, promoted by Disney. It only lasted about a year, but it was enough to seriously threaten the raccoon population. Then there was Elvis. Then the Beatles. That's what the revolution needs. Marketing!

Funny but true! That’s what the 1970’s back-to-the-land hippy organic farmer movement needed. I was looking at a list of top box office films from the 70’s to try to find one film that could be even tangentially inspirational to such a movement, but couldn’t find any. It’s kind of funny to notice that movies in the seventies were just as dumb or dumber than the ones today. “Smokey and the Bandit”!?

John Denver was popular, but I never associated him with any social movement, and neither did any of my friends. Country music was popular before, during and after the seventies and actually seemed to peak in the eighties.

Btw, there are actually some interesting books out there about the Hippie phenomenon. There was one in particular that predicted that counterculture values would take over America, it’s called The Greening of America (1970) by Charles A. Reich. It’s a laugh-out-loud funny read because of how wrong he was.

latefall said...

re Going to Germany for (sustainable) STEM education, and more

I would put it this way: If you survive German STEM education there's a good chance you can make it pretty much anywhere. That is not exclusively related to the content taught there, but also to "soft" factors. You'll often hear 30% change subject of study, and some 10-20% quit outright. If you're fresh of the boat the (often psychological) hurdles may be significantly higher for you. Also, if you study a "hard subject" or "too popular subject" within MINT (German acronym for STEM), loss rates can be significantly higher, mine was 80%. Last time I checked there was still very little in the way of coaching and service (the latter applies to varying degrees to RoW in general). If you want a free(ish) education - that will probably be true in general. "Tolerance to frustration" is the top requirement for an engineering student. People socialized in these parts of the web should be above average though.
Anecdotally, I have a partially American cultural background and was on the verge of being kicked out until my very last written test. I ended up with okay finals, at an okay university. Started a PhD at a slightly more reknown university and was effectively shanghaied to "run the lab" (postdoc) of a leading US university before I was done.

Now if you're seriously toying with the idea - I would first refer you to countries like Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, and Switzerland. They are generally more humane in their interaction with non-assimilated persons. This is not unrelated with being small countries, they also have a relatively high standard of English skills - which will more often reach a level only found in German metropolis areas. Also the named ones are quite often more "nimble" in effective public policies and action.

If for whatever reason you stick with Germany (e.g. because of the relatively big coherent network of orgs) here are a few pointers:
Find a couple of institutions that do a lot of teaching in "English". Mine was English past basic training.
I don't speak from experience but to get your general survival skills up in Germany I suggest you go traveling/interning for a year or at least a summer. Ideally find a German or other European who has similar interests to partner up with for traveling. Places to look: FSJ (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr), wwoofers, select festivals, NGOs, and ideally organizations with strong ties to the educational institution you're aiming at (use internet/Research Gate). If you come from American military or elite background (and are cool with US foreign policy) you could also look for Atlantik-Brücke (think AIPAC). Avoid large blobs of Americans initially - they'll suck you in. More later...

latefall said...

I just came back from a climate & "development durable" conference on the Mediterranean area (medcop21), usually I am busy with other things, but it was around to corner so I "hopped the fence".
It is pretty impressive how little of what is going on in (non-Brittany) France and other southern places seems to make it into the news. I assume I am not correct if I want to generalize the perspectives I got at the event to the general population (or the even the elite). But it *was* graced with the (brief) presence of le président de la République française, noteworthy because his second in command (Valls) was shot at last time he came for a visit.
Also the age of breakdown/dark age was represented nicely in the form of the mayor of Hebron, and the (woman!) mayor of (a part of) Nouakchott (twin city to Tucson) talking about resilience (

If you want to know more about the German part in the SDGs (sustainable development goals) AND would like a German language refresher, I suggest: - this is a congressional advisory board on the subject. The first speaker is from , probably one of the first addresses in these matters. Internship?
Synopsis: Planetary boundaries, and industrial nations as the real "need to be developing" nations.

The congressional committee on storage of nuclear waste:
I am sorry this will be too long (and German) for most of you to listen to but it has a few real nuggets in there. Some of the voices re risks and technology / linearity of thought are fully in line with what JMG has described on the ADR. They consequently want to address this from a different angle including the "bigger picture". Most don't want this to be quoted out of context but I'll do it anyway. The technical/scientific subcommittee tasked with staking out relatively reliable data boundaries for when they *could* assume to get to the point that they could "lock the door" (but keep the key) came up with:
2090 - 2170. This sounds honest - but of course only marginally reliable. It is also interesting that they are currently moving away from having a solution, as the location discussion will be started fresh after reviewing how they got to the ones they had in the short list up till today.

Overall I have to say it is really soothing to hear these discussions going on in the "high places". The psychological impact of this is not to be underestimated. I think they should consider subtitling these meetings. It would give considerable ammo to many small initiatives around the world.

Martin B said...

In practice, the way regional utilities get around the problem of allocating electricity demand to many different suppliers without an optimum algorithm is to use an auction system. Each supplier submits quantity and price, and a price that clears the market and meets demand is agreed on.

This can get very complex, shifting from hour to hour, and additionally with speculators buying and selling supply contracts based on what they think the weather etc will do.

For a head-spinning overview, read

Patricia Mathews said...

A thought about terminology, religions theist and secular, and the beginning of the end:

Up though 17th century at least, probably well into the 18th, individuals in the abstract were often referred to "souls", as in "A village of 200 souls."

By the time the 19th century rolled around, a more common term was "citizens", as in "American citizens believe....." meaning the civil religion phase was now entrenched.

In the 1920s there was a massive drive to keep the economy buying by pushing the peoples' identity as "consumers". Today, the same news story will say "Consumers are voting for...." or "consumers think...."

Now, my view of that term is the implication of - consuming. Gobbling down resources, goodies, whatever as their primary identity, like so many infants. Mitt Romney's "47% are parasites." But a friend of mine who works in a nonprofit organization serving the poor refers to her people as "consumers", and when I challenged that, said "That's what they prefer to be called." Because it makes them, verbally, at least, full participants in our society.

I am going to suggest that when the American public, each and everyone individually, accepted that label, we had entered the beginning of the end, the mega-Age of Pretense, as it were. (I believe in megaCycles in history because I have seen them in my readings, if not laid out as such. B They come in different sizes: the Roman Dying Republic megaCrisis was a lot less important than the Fall of Rome itself. And by me, we are now in a megaCrisis, if not a MacroMegaCrisis.)

At any rate, when being called "a consumer" is one's claim to be a full participant in society, the axe is in the air and ready to fall.

Just my $0.02

jindiaries said...

@Dagnarus, I studied NP-complete problems in grad school, applying evolutionary algorithms (a branch of AI) to a scheduling problem. Fun stuff, totally useless skill, of course. But what it taught me about scientific research is that finding good sample problems was the hardest part . Published authors pick and choose interesting examples that demonstrate their thesis, of course, but I believe it is not out of dishonesty, but because it was difficult to find interesting ones, at least in my field of study (parallel processor scheduling of loops represented as graphs). Most heuristic algorithms could keep up with non-deterministic ones for trivial problems, so finding cases that makes your research standout was a real challenge. Randomly generating sample inputs was a lot of hit-and-miss work. So when you find a good one, you are so excited you just run with it. If I had pursued my PhD I was going to build a "problem generator" - a methodology and open API for other researchers to use. I doubt you can get a doctorate for that because it's not original research, but it certainly would have carried the ball forward.

@Gary I followed your waitbutwhy link to the Tesla article and didn't get very far with the techno-utopianism, but I did read the AI articles. I was a bit amused when I realized that the thesis about progress increasing exponentially (rather than linearly) depended on, well, that exponential increase would keep going without disruption. The author simultaneously rebuked the linear thinkers without realizing he was making the same mistake, albeit with a different equation. I did like his writing style, though, and perhaps if he abandons pretense he will be a powerful writer.

I also notice that AI researchers seem to disregard the whole body system when studying intelligence, they posit that it is only a function of the brain. I'm a former dancer, and my husband was a professional football player, and we both find that assumption ridiculous.

Sorry for straying from the topic, but I hope it is tangentially related to the overall myth of progress and provide another view from the scientific trenches.

Thanks as usual (TAU? TAUJMG? I think we need an acronym for our repetitive but heartfelt gratitude!)

Ed-M said...

JMG, thanks! I like the joke, too.

RE your response to Howard: this is the sort of thing I had in mind two weeks ago when I said "maximum apocalypse possible."

@ Howard, and some regions outside of The South like New England, the PNW and California have loyalties to their specific area as well as at present the whole country. But I suspect they will no longer be loyal to the federal government when people find out their neighbors or extended family have been shot or sent to a Dixie internment camp.

Add to the mix Southern soldiers fighting for the central government up North, and Yankee soldiers doing the same down South, finding out their friends, neighbors or relatives have been 'disappeared' by the self-same government. I guarantee, it will not be pretty.

The other Tom said...

I've followed the conversation about higher education from the perspective of one who did not attend any university. Perhaps my view as an outsider makes it obvious to me that part of collapse means that the idea of everyone going to college will be an absurd extravagance, that the old way of educating oneself with books and networking, curiosity and energy will be the path for 99% of us. Maybe this is a good thing. What use is a formal education to those without the internal drive to learn? I've met so many people who went through the motions of a college education, only to lapse back into the same intellectual lethargy as the less educated population. (ADR commenters excluded, of course)
I know people always talk about the benefit of being in a culturally rich environment with such a diversity of smart people. Many of my friends insist that this opportunity to mix with extraordinary people made the crushing debt worthwhile, so they are taking on a much greater debt for their kids. I gently point out that college is not the only way to have this experience, that those who are inner directed will find a way. Being self directed is what they will need for the rest of their lives, so why not start early?
I feel like I am on dangerous ground just saying this because education is such an emotional issue, even more than happy motoring. But let's face it, paying ridiculous amounts of money for anything you can do on your own is not going to be an option.
I often think of my great uncle as an archetype of what a successful post collapse person will be. Born in the late 19th century, he went to eighth grade but he was a voracious reader and a man who mastered several trades, built his own house, lived off the land during the Depression, held two patents and never stopped learning. He was always paying attention. He lived the Golden Rule.
I have and still use his old Stanley tools. They used to engrave the date of manufacture on them in the early 1900s. A nice legacy.

John Michael Greer said...

Gloucon, yes, I remember Charles Reich's opus. Iif you want a real laugh fest, get that, a copy of Marilyn Ferguson's The Aquarian Conspiracy, that book on "cultural creatives" that made a splash a while ago, and Theodore Roszak's last and saddest book, The Making of an Elder Culture: all of them trying to insist that the Boomer generation would save the world by just existing, and thus very popular among Boomers who wanted to cling to the messianic self-image of their generation without actually doing anything to earn it.

Latefall, many thanks for both these -- and yes, it's good to see governments less clueless than ours actually thinking about these things.

Martin, an interesting example of the way that market exchanges do sometimes work the way Adam Smith said they would. Many thanks.

Patricia, no argument there.

Ed-M, I don't know that a common or garden variety civil war leading to failed-state conditions -- a process through which quite a few nations have passed recently -- deserves the label "apocalypse"!

Other Tom, I'm with you. I had the great good fortune to be able to go to college when it wasn't so crushingly expensive, and got a degree without racking up debt, but even so I know plenty of people who didn't do college who are at least as interesting, thoughtful, and prepared for existence as any college grads, and frankly more so than many. In any sane future, when the academic industry is whittled back down to its proper scale, college will be for those who actually need it -- say, ten per cent of each year's high school graduates -- and apprenticeships and other hands-on training programs will be much more common.

John Michael Greer said...

By the way, it's been wryly amusing to note the way the last two weeks have gone in this blog's intersection with the trollosphere. Last week I fielded any number of denunciations from gold bugs. This week, it's Elon Musk fans, who all want to talk about what wonderful things he's doing, and of course slip in a plug for how wonderful the Tesla is to drive, blah blah blah. I'm not sure if he's got that big of a fan club, or if he's got his employees coming up with canned screeds. Either way, since they're too busy praising St. Elon to address the issues raised in the post, they're not being put through.

Rita said...

I just finished reading a book called _Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve_ by Ian Morris. The author divides history into three major sections based on the number of calories used. Foragers AKA hunters and gatherers are lowest, farmers next and fossil fuel using societies highest. No surprise here. But as the sub-title implies, his real topic is the influence of modes of living on moral values. Foragers are mostly egalitarian because a potential despot can be laughed off, ignored, driven away or run away from. However in the absence of a central authority, foragers have a higher level of interpersonal violence, up to 10% chance of a violent death. Farmers form hierarchies partly because some forms of farming require organization (irrigation systems) and partly because larger populations settled in one place require structure. Then the replacement of human labor by machines in fossil fuel societies allowed a return to egalitarian ideas and a further reduction in violence. There is lots to argue with in this theory, and interestingly, the book includes responses by Richard Seaford, a professor of Ancient Greek literature; Jonathan D. Spence, an expert on modern China; Christine M. Korsgaard, a Kantian moral philosopher; and Margaret Atwood, novelist. The major point that struck me, as a reader of this blog, was that Morris pays little attention to the issues of resource depletion. While he mentions the possibility of global collapse he seem more impressed by the possibility of continuing technological progress culminating in Kurzweil's singularity or something similar. In considering the possibility of collapse he focuses more on climate change and possible political conflicts than on actual shortages, which seems curious given his earlier talk of 'hard-limits' as reasons to move from one production modality to the next. Anyhow, you might find it worth a read. It is part of a series about human values published by Princeton University.

larrykulesza said...

@Clay and sgage

"The hippies of the 60's started out radical but were gradually absorbed in to corporate consumer america."

"Not all of them."

Roger that.

Ahavah said...

Last call for a Bluegrass area ADR/Green Wizards get together on Sunday June 14th at 5pm. BBQ (weather permitting) and potluck. If you aren't on the GW forum email me for details via that google service to missgayle55. Come discuss how we can all collapse early and avoid the rush. Hope everyone is having a great weekend.

Ed-M said...

Hello again, JMG!

Ha, ha, Well! Just so we're on the same page, my term "maximum apocalypse possible" does not equal an actual apocalypse! (The latter requires the extermination of the wicked, i.e., Romans, and the triumph of the righteous, i.e., Jews, Christians.) And I wasn't the first one to come up with the former. The credit, or blame if you prefer, goes to the secular cycle historians Strauss & Howe in their description of the War Between the States, found in The Fourth Turning if I'm not mistaken.

Ed-M said...

@Gloucon, I never associated John Denver with country music, but rather the worst schlock and dreck from the 70s, which S&D includes the Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, and (gaaack!) Apple's Way.

Now we know why sustainability was repudiated with the election of Reagan (besides Carter). Hollywood in its perverse way made it seem awful!

Caryn said...

Thanks, JGM:
Another great post and I do appreciate the positivity in the outlook. Of course we know that between the era we are in (Pretense edging into Response) and the point at which resources are freed up and can be allocated to more useful production - there will very most likely be a fair amount of messy chaos, destruction and pain and death in many quarters. For those eager to see the Elite baddies strung up on lamp posts and struggling poor good guys finally getting their due - I'm sorry, I just don't think it works that way. Many of those baddies got to where they are because they are ruthless, smart and selfish - they will or do have options and they will use them. Some of the more public figures may be strung up, but they will likely not be the ones who know how it works and who actually orchestrated this mess. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think revolutions tend to act more like tornados tearing up everything in their path, than like that biblical angel of death selectively killing the first born in each house not marked by lamb's blood. This is the part I'm not looking forward to.

On colleges: I find this also very sad and worrisome, having two high schoolers who will be in that choice / predicament / position in a few short years. I believe very much in the value of a good liberal arts education to create a well rounded critical thinking citizen / soul, (NOT consumer!!) I was one of those unusual thirsty learners. I, somewhat blindly, took the risk of taking on enormous debt to get through undergrad and grad school - both of which were spectacular in quality. I don't regret a minute of it. I haven't found any of the 'useless' knowledge I learned to be actually useless. YET: I can't encourage my sons to do the same, as their debts will be far larger and the quality far more dubious. And finally: they are not me. If they are thirsty learners, they will have to make that decision themselves. I'm encouraging them instead to at least take a gap-year or two, work and travel, and find out what they want to do and if it includes college then we'll tackle that then.

Sadly, a great liberal arts grounding and the well balanced perspective it creates is probably a remnant of a time gone by, a luxury of the past. For everything gained, something is lost. Feeling a bit like a character in a Chekov play. I can hear those cherry trees being chopped down and the bitter but inevitable storm of change is coming.

So, back to the garden and the kiln and such, trying to get ready in time.

James Fauxnom said...

2022, The Fresno Bee: Elon Musk Begins Camel Breeding Program in California. After selling his stake in Tesla Motors and SpaceX, Elon Musk is set to make waves with exciting new developments in animal husbandry. A spokesperson had this to say.

"Thanks to recent advances, camels are gearing up to be the next hot ticket item this century. Frankly, we underestimated America's commitment to creating a clean energy future and that somewhat muted sales at Tesla and SpaceX. We are absolutely going to need camels for our future mars colony, and as a bonus domestic sales are projected to be quite strong in the meantime."

Denys said...

Public school and most colleges are vestiges of the industrial system of creating "human resources" to act as part of a giant machine to produce products or services. The more levels of this schooling you go through the more qualified you are as an employee to not disrupt the system as it is.

So if you believe the system as it is today won't exist in ten or twenty years, then you need to pull your family out of that system of schooling. It is fracking with your ability to think and wasting much of your family's time and energy. Learn a performing art to entertain when there is no more media, master everyday life skills, meet the neighbors, and get your life back.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

Re Elon Musk, I suspect America was always particularly susceptible to con men. Mark Twain, novelist, essayist, standup comic and social critic first featured the type prominently in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The antics of the two con men in the novel seldom get much comment partly because people are distracted by issues of race and partly I think because the type is so prevalent in America as to be invisible.
The idea that anyone can get rich in America is preached so widely that con men hardly have any work to do. The marks are ready to get taken. All the con man has to do is promise something for nothing and the suckers line up ten deep.

Dagnarus said...


I didn't necessarily want to suggest that people were being actively dishonest, (although I confess that comment did suggest such, when it should have tried harder not to). That said if you just read the latest articles for many of these things you might come away a lot more optimistic than you should. I should also point out that, from my understanding, my colleague was reading papers which were more directly focused on solving the particular problem he is working upon.

@John Michael Greer

If I might ask what particular aspects of the topic of NP-Completeness and NP-Hard are you interested in? Why these things are grouped into one class? How the complexity analysis works? The various ways in which people solve such problems?

Also would it be possible to critique my explanation. That may proof helpful to me.

larrykulesza said...

Thought this might fit with one of this week's comments threads:

Peak professors, perhaps?

Denys said...

This is crazy - California is sinking

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Wolfgang Brinck--Mark Twain lost all the money he made from his early books to bad investments. That is why he had to spend his latter years being a showman on a grueling lecture circuit; it probably contributed to the bitterness and pessimism of Twain's later and less known writings. The death of his wife, the collapse of Reconstruction and the U.S. government's brutal suppression of the Philippine independence movement probably also darkened his views. Mark Twain's life story says a lot about America.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Ed-M: That's because John Denver, The Waltons, etc, were sweet and mushy, and if you're an Xer, sweet and mushy is as guaranteed to violently turn your stomach as it is to please my own generation. Just wait until my grandchildren start dominating the culture and prepare for sweet and mushy again. Though with a mildly satirical edge.

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG, James Fauxnom, and Wolfgang Brinck - Elon Musk is so wildly applauded because, while Carl Sagan's job as the Pope of Progress was supposedly taken over by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Elon Musk stepped into his cultural niche with the flair and bravado of a born promoter.

John Michael Greer said...

Rita, it always fascinates me when people say, well, the transition from foragers to farmers involved a huge loss of freedom, but the transition from farmers to the far more regimented lifestyles of the industrial age was a liberation! No it wasn't; the average medieval peasant worked fewer hours, had more days off, and handed over a smaller fraction of the value of his labor to others than the average US employee. The people who are saying that there's less violence now than there was in the past are right, because civilization is a scheme for replacing violence with repression. You're right, though, that another gaping hole in Morris' argument is the fact that the industrial age is a temporary phenomenon.

Ed-M, so noted. Thing is, a common or garden variety civil war is far from the worst plausible US future I can imagine...

Caryn, no, you're not wrong. It's going to be a mess and a half, and even after things hit the breakdown phase and some of the wreckage gets hauled away, there will be a lot of rough times ahead.

James, funny. That'll only happen, though, if there's a government subsidy for camel breeding...

Denys, nicely summarized. "Collapse now and avoid the rush" applies to education as elsewhere!

Wolfgang, no argument there at all.

Dagnarus, it's more general -- the entire subject of the distinction between problems that can be solved by predictable formulae and those that can't is of serious philosophical importance when assessing the claims made by the current crop of rationalists about humanity's alleged ability to understand the cosmos in a rational fashion.

Larry, yes, I saw that! Peak everything.

Denys, it's been sinking for decades. My question is at what point the sea comes rushing into the Central Valley...

Patricia, no argument there. And to combine that with a laser focus on loading up with government subsidies -- sheer genius!

Dagnarus said...

@John Michael Greer

Ah, then you want to look into "Decidable vs Undecidable" problems as well then. Just to be clear anything which is in the set NP-Complete can in fact be solved by "predictable formulae". For the NP-Complete problems which I can think of the algorithm to solve them is quite simple in fact, the same for a great deal of interesting NP-Hard problems. The problem is writing an algorithm which will can solve the problem before the heat death of the universe, i.e. it's technically possible to solve any and all NP-complete problems, it's just that given the resources available not necessarily practically possible.

If a problem is undecidable then it is impossible to construct an algorithm which is guaranteed to give the correct answer in all cases. Any algorithm designed to solve such a problem must necessarily give the incorrect answer for some inputs, or else for certain inputs it will run forever. Of note is that determining whether an arbitrary argument expressed in first order logic is valid or not is undecidable (at least for a computer program), thus there is no upper bound on how long it might take for any particular open problem in maths to be solved. This discovery was made in 1936 independently but to different researchers, see "The halting problem".

Cherokee Organics said...


Well yes, good tastes, intelligence and an excellent pedigree are traits of the Pomeranian canine species. Except for those really small lap dogs which are a bit shaky and often have bulging eyeballs, I must exclude them from the above observations. Now of course there is a reason for that exclusion because the last time I met one of those small shaky things, I said to the owner, I really like Pomeranian's, they're very clever dogs. I went to pat the dog and the little blighter bit me - in between shakes too (seriously). It is an extraordinarily difficult thing to look both vulnerable and aggressive at the same time. My only advice is this: Don't underestimate Yoda who was also small and vulnerable looking - bright sharp teeth it has! But who also just happened to carry a very large and very deadly staff.

It couldn't do any harm and the dogs would certainly benefit from the protein. hehe! I suspect that one day in the future there will be an excess supply of bankers looking for a new trade because it doesn't appear to me that there is much longevity with the shenanigans going on. They'll be around for a while yet, but one day they'll realise that perhaps it isn't a good idea to be in the business of putting your customers out of business because that kind of destroys your own revenue stream in the process. Just sayin...

PS: You are definitely a professional bad influence. The reason for that compliment is because I bought a hat from a local country market today. It's a nice hat too. It is made from Harris Tweed and to be truly honest I had no idea what that material even was until reading the blog comments a few months back. When the guy at the stall was doing the hard sell on the hat, he mentioned what it was made from and I was thinking to myself: Gawd it’s a small world! Hehe! I now look every bit the peasant farmer my great-father probably was. Evening Guvnor.

PPS: The guy had at the market stall had a very cool looking Harris Tweed jacket too. Very cool. On a related note the editor informs me that the day of the hipster is coming to an end and norm-core will soon be the next big thing. You’ll be happy to note that there is absolutely nothing for either you nor I to worry about in that prediction. Hehe!



Joyce said...

If you want to see the Era of Breakdown on an on-going basis you do not have to look far. In Canada, we now have a neo-liberal Prime Minister who is undertaking the wholesale dismantling of our democratic institutions which were, more or less, still working until he achieved a majority with 39% of the popular vote (in 2011). He has destroyed our statistical information by eliminating the long-form census; he has attacked and gotten rid of the oversight of public institutions such as nuclear energy; he has thumbed his nose at parliamentary institutions and been deemed in contempt of parliament; he has bailed out our banks and lied about it; he has muzzled our scientists from speaking to the media or attending scientific conventions; he has underfunded our scientific libraries so that books and research documents have been misplaced and in some cases destroyed and libraries have been closed; he has balanced the Federal budget by taking away from public institutions and downsizing them 10% year after year; he has begun taking part in Middle Eastern wars by supplying officer trainers and by bombing from the air; he has supplied Saudi Arabia with military equipment; he has passed numerous omnibus bills that have demolished environmental protection for waterways and has closed certain research; he has decided that only one industry needs to be supported and that is the polluting tar sands; he is planning to make trade deals that will further undermine our agricultural and local sectors (TPP); he has passed an Elections Act that will make voting more difficult for areas of the population who do not usually vote conservative (aboriginal and youth); he makes decisions based on which population "base" will support him and thus is all-in for Israel no matter what actions they take; he attacked Putin's role in the Ukraine in order to get the Canadian-Ukrainian vote; he supports an ugly monument to the victims of Communism in order to get that vote. Now I feel sick to my stomach as the list could go on and on and on.

Canada will never recover in a hundred years!

Globus Pallidus XI said...

Well said as usual.

However, living with less will not save us. Consider that per-capita energy consumption in the United States is down significantly from it's peak in the 1970's, but post-1970 cheap-labor immigration policy has increased the US population from what would have been a stable 240 million level to 320 million and accelerating.. The continued increase in total US energy consumption is because massive forced population growth is canceling out reductions in per-capita consumption. Obama has almost totally opened the borders to the third-world: it becomes increasingly likely that the US population will significantly surpass 1 billion by 2100. We could reduce our individual standard of living to subsistence and STILL use as much or more energy as we do now...

Consider also that as population densities increase, the costs to keep a single person alive even at subsistence increase radically. An extreme example: think about how many resources are required to keep a person alive in the space station. Less extreme, past a certain level of population density you MSUT use chemical fertilizers, and energy-expensive water pumping and treatment plants etc.

I blame us for denying the ultimately supreme power of population growth (there is NO level of conservation or technological achievement that cannot be easily wiped out by the rich forcing the population ever upwards), and kowtowing to the corporate propaganda that all such talk is 'racist'.

Bob Patterson said...

Pics of two houses in Albany , OR.
As I recall you used to livr there. Enjoy.

Marinhomelander said...

Another massive example of hypocrisy relative to resource depletion:

In California, people are being required via their local water district, to use 20% less water.

Corporations are exempt as are fracking companies.

I thought corporations were "people"? If they are exempted from this civic participation, then maybe they don't deserve the rights of a citizen?

Bob Patterson said...

Your comments, as usual, are cogent, but allow me to retort (quote from Mr. Jackson of "Pulp Fiction"). Compared to both the eras you reference 1790's and 1930's")we are an urban/suburban susidized population. In both those eras, the majority or near majority of people lived on the farm, engaged in direct marketing of goods an sewvices. Today we are educated to perform as a cog in advanced capitalism, where milk comes from cartons and meat comes from Burger King.

Let's look at a Roman style collape - in other words a huge vacuum of politics, law enforcement, subsidies,food distribution and monetary stability. Besides the huge numbers of people subsidized (no judgement here)by food stamps, social security, welfare and unemployment insurance, everyone would be effected by a monetary collapse. The trucks would stop rolling. Not because there is too little oil (although that may happen), but because they have no idea if they will be paid in anything of value. "Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" portrays a political/monetary system overextended in ambition and lacking the resources to sustain it, along with a government-debased currency.

As the Fed says over and over, it is a matter of confidence. And you can coast quite a while on your reputation and "gunboat" diplomacy (lot of that by the US lately). In other words, things were centralized and the center could not hold (to mix metaphors). People grasped for some sort of stability, which was provided by warlordism on a local or regional scale. Sort of a more organized Mad Max scenario.

Thanks for your wriings.

Bob Patterson said...

I guess i did my own versiopn of Elon Musk. My partner Johanna, saw an opportunity to participate in Nevada "solar demonstration" program of Nevada Powere, Inc. (owned by Warren Buffet). It was presumably forced on them by the DOE. It consisted os a PV solar installation on the roof, all the necessary inverter, etc and a credit for all the power we sent back to the grid (no batteries). This was subsidized by the US and NV governments to the tune of 40%. Of course only 10 installation were authorized that year. Really hekps in the summer with the A/c bills, but is of limited help in the winter (need wood heat).

Christophe said...

Never having paid any attention to Elon before, and seeing such weird arguments in this week's comments, I went to Wikipedia (I know, John Michael, but I didn't want to waste my time researching a soi-disant master of the universe on legitimate sites.) To me, the most interesting bits about Elon are that he was severely bullied as a child and that he fled South Africa for Canada before his universal military service started. He had Canadian residency through his mother, so Canada was an easy stepping stone to get to the US.

All the rest of his delusional beliefs about humanity's destiny in the stars seem to be variations on this successful coping strategy from his youth. His internalized myth may go something like: if you find yourself in an untenable, life-threatening situation, a sanctuary must always exist beyond the reach of that threat, and you may have to pass through several interim stages or locations on the way to your final destination. Surely a very powerful mythos for a problem solver who enjoys teasing out complex, staged solutions. But also very powerful blinders for a frightened child who can not tolerate the thought that there may be no "out there" to which to flee from the dilemmas of our own creation.

Anyone who overlooks our final destination wrapped six feet deep in the bosom of mother earth and substitutes a destiny in the stars or disembodied AI, seems to have some unresolved issues about his own death. If only a man as intelligent as Elon could grapple with his unresolved fears, he might actually become wise and have something of value to offer humanity in these times of change. Until then, he is distracting celebrity entertainment.

Bob Patterson said...

It is always a silly proposition to presume to tell the younger generation what they shoul,d study and what skills they should acquire, but here goes. Stop wasting money on college. a previous poster thought Environmental Science was a good path for his child. When the chips are down, who will pay for his expertise?

The education college provides is poor and pretty useless (maybe physics is an exception). If you want to attend college for a particular branch of knowledge, find a way not to pay for it (auditing?). Acquire skills through books, trade schools, youtube, apprenticeship or whatever. Think in terms these occupations: plumber, metal worker/blacksmith, market gardener, bee keeper, cook, sewing person,
carpenter (emphasis on manual tools (ala "The Woodwright's shop")), animal care,
electrician (dubious, but maybe), mason, bicycle mechanic, martial arts instructor, archer, gunsmith (you have to face facts), language teacher, musician, poet (dubious, but maybe), artist or any combinations of these.

jean-vivien said...

Hopefully more of the voices of sanity rising up to speak on the education front :

Technology Won't Fix America's Neediest Schools -- It Makes Bad Education Worse

Patricia Mathews said...

@Cherokee re Pomeranians - in my observations, I have never known them to have the slightest idea idea size they are. And that goes for Chihuahuas, dachshunds, and every other breed. It seems to be left out of their genetics.

Hope you grabbed the jacket as well. Talk about making out like a bandit!

Tom Schmidt said...


I quote noted expert, um, you, about the three economies: If the primary economy consists of the natural processes that provide goods and services to human beings without human labor, and the secondary economy consists of the conjunction of human labor and natural goods that produces those goods and services nature itself doesn’t provide, the tertiary economy consists of the circulation of monetary goods and financial services that, at least in theory, fosters the distribution of the products of the secondary economy.

Also, from The Anti-Ecology of Money: Schumacher, in Small Is Beautiful, drew a distinction between primary goods produced by natural processes, and secondary goods produced by human labor, and pointed out that secondary goods can’t be produced at all unless you have the necessary primary goods on hand.

So when you wrote The primary economy is the natural world, which doesn't mine gold and silver for us! Nor does the supply of gold and silver increase and decrease in step with primary biological productivity it was a bit at odds, especially with Schumacher. Gold and silver are elements, and we cannot "produce" them. (Interestingly, there are gold-fixing bacteria that can concentrate the stuff for us via natural processes.) Iron is as well, but it is usually present in oxidized form. Iron and gold are pretty much useless in the form given by nature (silver makes for a great antibiotic), but can be shaped into useful items by human labor in the secondary economy.

to part 2:

Tom Schmidt said...

Part 2:

Gold us pretty much useless in a non-electronic economy. Makes good replacement teeth, and it's a fine roofing material if you can afford it. And it's pretty. So mining it, when you've run out of the "free" gold available as nuggets in stream beds, is not a productive activity; it's useful at producing tokens, and the difficulty of the task (most gold mining today would not take place without "cheap" fossil fuel) makes it something not done by most people.

I've pointed out in response to previous comments, having an inelastic money supply benefits the rentier class at the expense of the productive classes, so it's understandable that investors (i.e., members or would-be members of the rentier class) would prefer an inelastic currency; the whole structure of gold-bug rhetoric is simply an expression of that preference. Yes, as a participant in the productive economy, I have a different opinion...

I'm not a gold-bug, fwiw. It's a fact that there are not enough ounces of gold on earth for every human to own one (another example of overstretch of resources). As far as tokens go, are you familiar with the book Debt: The First 5,000 Years? The thesis: credit pre-existed money, rather than being an outgrowth of it. This would confirm that a gift economy was primary in human history.

My problem is that counterfeiting gold by creating certificates lets us pretend that we have secured from nature what we have not (and cannot.) This lets us pretend we have received more benefits that pre-exist secondary labor than we have, and gets a boom going. The boom must go bust because nature simply cannot cash the checks we have written against it.

Do you have a suggestion on a form of money that IS tied to the primary economy? Or should we look, like 5th-century residents of Britain, forward to a future of no gold and silver coinage and a local manorial production economy? It occurs to me that the same process plays out today, with people burying silver and gold coins in the yard to keep them "safe" from home robbers in a time of collapse. I wonder if anyone will ever dig up our hoards?

Thanks, as always, for the thought-provoking articles and comments.

Caryn said...

@James Fauxnom:
They've already tried the subsidized camel thing. It failed. They left the camels out in the Northern NV high desert to die or fend for themselves.
My sister and her family live near Carson and there is a sort of make-shift camel sanctuary we visit when visiting.

Apparently at the beginning of Desert Storm the army thought it would be a swell idea to train and use camels as all-terrain vehicles and assistants in their desert adventures They imported them to train in their bases in the North NV desert, then would fly them back to the Middle East as needed, just like soldiers. They would also be great pack animals for local use, (desert + camels = makes sense, right?)
The problem was that camels' foot-pads are soft. They're used to soft sandy desert. The US western desert is all hard-packed earth and rock and it tore up the camels' feet, so they were not able to function. The army abandoned the project and simply turned these poor animals out into that hard unforgiving desert to their own fate.

A local guy there has created a sanctuary for them. He caught them or enticed them with food. feeds and waters them and they wear these hand-made little, (actually fairly big) booties on their feet. His "zoo" / sanctuary has now grown to include a huge host of exotic creatures who are like retired show-girls from Las Vegas. Used and discarded tigers, lions, ligers, ostriches, llamas, etc… from Las Vegas shows. He tries to rehome them into more suitable habitats, but few get rehomed. They're old.
We go and visit him and donate money whenever we are there. It's not ideal, it's very hot and he has little money to keep them, but so far it's still limping along.

So if Musk is going into the camel business, he'd better start with camel booties.

John Michael Greer said...

Dagnarus, many thanks. All of this is grist for the mill.

Cherokee, thank you! Delighted to be of service -- or of influence. ;-)

Joyce, I'm sorry to hear that Canada is heading down the tubes in the same way the US is.

Globus, nothing will "save us," if by that you mean preventing the end of the industrial age and the descent into a long and bitter deindustrial dark age. That's baked into the cake at this point. The point of living with less is to find ways, on an individual, family, and community basis, to cushion the descent and get as much as possible of value through the bottleneck.

Bob, no, I lived in Ashland -- still, thanks for the pics!

Marin, nah, you got it wrong. These days, corporations are people, but human beings aren't. Didn't you get the memo?

Bob, I'm talking about mechanisms of collapse, not issues of scale and consequences. You'll find the latter discussed at great length in my previous posts and books.

Christophe, that makes a great deal of sense. Many thanks.

Jean-Vivien, Slashdot published an article criticizing technology? Slashdot??? I think I need to go get my smelling salts.

Tom, so? You're the one who was saying that using a gold or silver currency somehow ties the tertiary economy of money back into the primary economy of nature, which it doesn't in any economically meaningful sense. Gold in any economically relevant form -- gold that's been mined and refined -- is a product of one very small corner of the secondary economy, which depends on the primary economy only to the extent that every other economic activity does. You could as well claim that paper money is tied to the primary economy because the paper is made of trees.

I'm not sure I'd go as far as saying that I look forward to a moneyless economy based on personal relationships, gifts, and customary exchanges -- I'm aware of the practical value of money, especially when it comes to a society's ability to support such rarefied economic specialties as professional writers -- but if history is anything to go by, and I believe it is, that's where it's headed. As decline kicks in with ever-increasing force, the money system -- any money system, no matter what it's based on -- will be gamed and distorted so relentlessly by all those who have the power to do so that people will simply stop using it altogether.

Gloucon X said...

Ed-M said...
@Gloucon, I never associated John Denver with country music, but rather the worst schlock and dreck from the 70s, which S&D includes the Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, and (gaaack!) Apple's Way. Now we know why sustainability was repudiated with the election of Reagan (besides Carter). Hollywood in its perverse way made it seem awful!

Ed-M: I wasn’t the one who brought up John Denver or The Walton’s, JMG did. So you might want to direct your comments to him. He seems to be saying that they were important, inspiring models leading people in the 1970’s to live sustainably. See below:

JMG said: Kutamun, the guy with the coonskin cap was Fess Parker playing Daniel Boone. The US did have a lot of interest in the photosynthetic economy, but most of that dried up and blew away in the early 1980s when we as a nation chickened out and sold our grandchildren down the river to buy one more spree of wretched consumer excess. Goodbye John Denver and John-Boy Walton, hello Gordon Gekko and "Material Girl" Madonna; goodbye sustainable future, hello deindustrial dark ages.

Well JMG, it seems that JD and John-Boy inspired some(Ed, Patricia) to reach for the barf bag rather than to practice sustainability. What say you?

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

I'm sure this has been posted before, but I saw the whole movie:

The Middle Class going the way of the buffalo.

lucychili said...


I guess I think that expecting the planet not to shake us off while we fight it out is naive.
The current approach is reductive and reuires that we know less and less about our impact on natural systems because that might stand in the way of profit(tpp, tpip).

Capitalism is sociopathic, biopathic. I do not think there is a future in riding it out using the current economic model.

If you imagine bubble cities of limited gmo monoculture, compliant population which do not have the tools or training to ask questions attempting to run a war with all external elements, including water and food for anyone not within their value proposition then farming it out is not an option.

Nature's usual response to us when we reduce things down to masses of the one thing we value is to attack it with all the lovelies which depend on that for their existence. The planet's systems are adaptive and loath such anomalies.

I think it is necessary to think about different economic models because the current trajectory is not viable for anyone in the long term.

Aligning profit with ecological health seems to me to be a fairly pragmatic path.
If the underlying mechanism for profit is facing in the right direction it will at least reverse a dysfunctional reward structure.

pg said...

Melville's _The Confidence Man_ (1857) may be worth a look, too.

Dwig said...

A bit of Wendell Berry that seems appropriate to this week's post:

"It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibilities that have been turned over to governments, corporations, and specialists, and put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and household and neighborhoods."

The industrial revolution prospered in part by destroying viable communities; it may be that the regeneration, viability, and vigor of communities will hasten the breakdown and dissolution of centralized industries, and be the benefactors of the resources thus released. It's a nice picture of hope, anyway, and I'm seeing a steady increase in discussions about it, and even conscious attempts to create it.

Dwig said...

Bernard Lietaer has an interesting talk/slide show on the crisis of our single-currency monetary system, and a proposal for a "monetary ecology" to provide a balance between efficiency and resilience to counter the natural breakdown that's inevitable with single currencies. There's some evidence, in the form of monetary crises in which complementary currencies arose "bottom up", e.g., Austria during the Great Depression and Argentina during the IMF-imposed "austerity". (I've heard that it's also been happening in Greece.)

I anticipate that local currencies will flourish here as well, especially since there's fairly good information available about them, for a while at least.

Caryn said...

Again, re: Higher Education:

College is not a trade school. It was never meant to be. If you are looking or advising your young-un's yea or nay to college based on their future job prospects / earning power, and based SOLELY on that alone: Higher Education is probably not for you, or them. Look, I understand Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I'm not knocking anyone who chooses to solely learn a trade and hope for the best with the human development thing. We all have to eat and we can only do what we can do, right? But there is a misconception in the expectations, (and subsequent evaluations) of college, I think.

Somewhere along the line of mass marketing college for absolutely everyone - the correlation of 'college degree' and 'higher income' became confused with a singular step-by-step causation. "To get a higher income - you must go to college". "If you go to college - you will automatically command a higher income!" And these days: "To survive, you must go to college". I don't think that has actually ever been strictly true.

Before subsidized, guaranteed student loans and the mass marketing of college degrees to everyone; of course most college grads made a higher income because they came from families in a higher income bracket already. If they could afford college, they could also afford to start Jr. off in the family business, or to see him through the rough years of starting a career in another field, then hey! Guess what? He succeeded!. There were always the rare exceptions- super-bright kids on scholarships; But for the majority of us, The Great Unwashed: college was out of reach. The dorms were filled with children of the rich, (and that one lone scholarship kid that wore shabby clothes and no one talked to).

In my personal opinion - this does not render a broad based undergrad education useless. The goal is to introduce a young person to a wide variety of disciplines, arts, letters and cultures to see a bigger picture and formulate a broader perspective in their own lives and whatever work they then choose to go into.
The traditional goal was to educate those scions to be thoughtful and wise as they would also inevitably inherit positions of power and decision. Philosophy, history and the arts are very helpful in shaping a decent, far-sighted and compassionate decision-maker. Perhaps for some colleges, even the mass-marketing drive was held to extend this lofty goal to everyone.

You can be a very very good, successful and even wealthy engineer or surgeon without ever having read or understood 'The Great Gatsby'. In that pragmatic sense, 'Gatsby' is worthless. It does nothing to enhance your work or your finances. OTOH You may have a more informed personal philosophy of what you DO with your wealth having read and understood 'The Great Gatsby' and how you live your life in relation to that wealth. There's a good chance that life will be better for you and for those around you. There's also less chance that you will turn into the next uni-bomber or Dr. Goebbels, (with your skill completely divorced from humanity) out of sheer ignorance.

If we're headed back to a neo-medieval society, most of us can look forward to a time when our descendants won't even have to learn to read or add beyond their fingers. Sitting around thinking about how to be a better human being or how to apply our skills to better society or better a life -

That will again be left to a neo-Elite.

Denys said...

Keep in mind that public school and college are the greatest funded projects of our time. The collective annual budget of public school K-12 across the US is larger than the military budget. The steady stream of contracts for cafeteria food, text books (changed out every few years!), standardized testing, and even that ubiquitous pink soap in the bathrooms, are a way for corporations to count on a steady flow of income funded by taxpayers. No one would dare disrupt public school. What would families do with their kids all day long? That is likely what you are hearing people moan about now that school is out.

Notice too that as the population of children has gone down since the boomers, the amount of education each person needs in this country has gone up. More schooling = steady income by those that provide products and services to schools. But the media would have you believe that the number of dumb people is so great is in this country that we must be protected by sending them for more schooling.

Out of the hundreds of college graduates I know, I can count on one hand the number that work in the field of their college degree. That is how useless that degree is now. Except that degree shows you are good at sitting in place and taking orders - no matter how stupid - from authority and jumping through hoops to get the grade.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Yet more re higher ed:

JMG said, “I don't think it's fair to dismiss the current crisis in academic education as a matter of thoughtstoppers and blanket statements. It's been shown over and over again that as a result of the stunning increase in university costs, the average graduate today will never recover financially from going to college”

I completely agree about the crisis in education, as I thought my comments made clear. There may be some kind of general default on loans coming, which would have interesting results, to say the least.

To digress, the crisis goes beyond economics, since the industry mirrors the prevailing structural problems in the American economy and society as a whole, including those of economic inequality: for instance, the bulk of the teaching is carried on by low-paid, part-time adjuncts with no benefits, many of whom themselves were duped into thinking that a graduate degree would gain them entry into a real academic career. All that student loan money is being siphoned off and going…somewhere.

What I mean by thoughtstoppers and blanket statements is generalizing from personal or anecdotal experience or even what one reads in the media. As I tried to show, for families, the questions surrounding college attendance are very complex and there are no generally applicable answers. It is difficult to navigate among the stories being told by the industry itself (such as lawfish pointed out about college “aid”) and by the media. (One of the complexities is figuring out the purpose of higher education, which, to Caryn’s point, is a question of values as much as economics.)

There is also the task of distinguishing between “the average graduate” and various cohorts of graduates. What colleges did different groups go to, and what were their majors? What were the outcomes? What are the socioeconomic factors involved? A more granular analysis might show a range of social and economic results depending on factors involved. Having this kind of information would make it easier to give more nuanced advice, and would also help families weigh the true costs and benefits (including non-tangible) of a proposed course of study at a particular college or training program.

One of the structural reasons for the high cost of college is the American way of organizing our approach to paying for things that are in the interest of the public good. Those countries where one can get a good, reasonably priced or free college education are often those countries with very high taxes that also offer national healthcare and good public transit. Just saying.

A problem is, though, that even though we are in the process of collapse, our economy and society are still very much in existence and young people somehow have to figure out a way to survive, to earn enough money to pay the rent and buy food. As things stand now, with only a high school degree and no other training, a person is going to have a much harder time than a college graduate, even though most available jobs do not actually require college-level training and education to do. And, unfortunately, it gets worse: to access many “good” jobs that used to require a BA, candidates now must have a graduate degree and internships on the resume.

And, I, myself, keep coming back to the question, what is education for?

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...


you said, "If we're headed back to a neo-medieval society, most of us can look forward to a time when our descendants won't even have to learn to read or add beyond their fingers. Sitting around thinking about how to be a better human being or how to apply our skills to better society or better a life -

That will again be left to a neo-Elite."

Yup. Well, maybe perhaps to the monks and nuns living in the monasteries of whatever religion is in ascendence and to the servants of the neo-elite. Warlords and nobles hire on scribes, bards and, if very sophisticated warlords and nobles, philosophers. :)

Yossarian said...

I have to chime in regarding Canada (and a sort of rebuttal to Joyce).

I'm not fan of Harper, but to blame any sort of potential collapse of Canada (or industrial civilization) on him is ridiculous. Our "far left" political party (the NDP) would be no better. Even the "Green" Party supports much of the business as usual sort of stuff that will get/has gotten us into trouble.

Joyce, your comment reads like a big conspiracy rant that will convince very few people.

Heian said...

So another way you can look at it is that in the era of breakdown stories and ideas that until now has been hidden in the fringes of society (most likely a rapidly growing fringe) and shunned by the mainstream society now has a change to get picked up and adopted in mainstream society and tryed out in practice.
If history shows us anything is that these new stories and ideas can turn out to be just as bad in practice as the old stories and ideas.

If you take a look at many of the articles on ZeroHedge for example, most of them seem to view that the problems in America is because of a sick financial sector, to big goverment and in some cases a bloated millitary (Bring the troops home!) And if only you could decorate some lampposts with the Federal reserve, the CEO's of to the big to fail banks and/or the millitary industrial complex and get rid of pesky regulations and laws, happy times would be back again for the american middle class.
Oh, and dont forget to bring back the gold standard. :-) Since fiat currency apperently a modern work of evil and where never ment to last and only precious metals is truly money.
Even though China managed to use paper money for many centuries.
If stories like that where to be picked up and tried out in practice by a charismatic grafitti painter with a funky mustache from California who ended up as president, it might get interesting.

Also brings me back to the story about Cuba when they found themselves without oil imports from the Soviet union.
Luckily they had the right people in the right place at the right time who got people with the political power to listen to their ideas about food production. (Being a dictatorship might also have helped)
Without those people with those stories the goverment might have forced the population into the fields at gunpoint to try and replace the machinery with forced labor or something equally bad.

Tom Schmidt said...


You run a comment section like the best high-brow college seminars I've attended. The value is not just in your original post, but in the contributions of commenters and your curation of them. I'm honored to be among them and will be using the model myself.

For those commenting on higher education, yes, it's a scam. It's desperately into overstretch. There is a need for education, and it will be dramatically downscaled, practical, and not using Federal student loans.

JMG wrote: Tom, so? You're the one who was saying that using a gold or silver currency somehow ties the tertiary economy of money back into the primary economy of nature, which it doesn't in any economically meaningful sense. ... You could as well claim that paper money is tied to the primary economy because the paper is made of trees.

Paper is a secondary product (unless you want to literally unwrap a hornet's nest) of trees (and in the case of US currency, cotton); turning that paper into tertiary token-indicators is "easy" compared to the "hard" task of separating metal from ore (since most of the alluvial precious metals are gone). I think your suggestion is that there is no money that can be tied to nature, so we will always have the problem of overshoot using it. If so, then the end of the money economy is necessarily an ecological boost; as lucychili wrote here: Aligning profit with ecological health seems to me to be a fairly pragmatic path.
If the underlying mechanism for profit is facing in the right direction it will at least reverse a dysfunctional reward structure.

Further, I'm not sure I'd go as far as saying that I look forward to a moneyless economy based on personal relationships, gifts, and customary exchanges -- I'm aware of the practical value of money, especially when it comes to a society's ability to support such rarefied economic specialties as professional writers -- but if history is anything to go by, and I believe it is, that's where it's headed.
I agree with you about the utility of money; it especially empowers trade at a distance where localised circles of trust do not extend. The end of coinage after Mohammed's conquests cut off Western European trade with the East meant an inability to transact first at a distance and then locally; those buried hoards would have been useless in the 800s.

You're a bit like a modern St. Benedict, rushing around the edges of the collapsing civilization to preserve the knowledge you can for future times. One thing mentioned was the process of building topsoil, to replace that we have strip-mined via industrial "agriculture." I bought a copy of Direct Use of the Sun's Energy on your recommendation; I guess we're all learning the lessons of Holocaust-era Jews with respect to real education, which cannot be stripped away.

HalFiore said...

I have posted a topic on the Green Wizards forum that some people might find of interest.

It is a response not directly to Ray Wharton, but inspired by some things he said.

I have been trying to find a way to make some acres of Mississippi Delta farmland available for the use of a person or persons interested in trying their hand at small-scale farming. It was historically in conventional row-crop ag, and has mostly been fallow since 2007. See the discussion under my name if interested. Also see my intro in the GWF for the embarrassingly confessional description I gave, little of which I could change.

Anyway, if you are, despite what you've read here, determined to give farming a try, check it out.

brian lloyd said...

Re higher education:

The current educational scheme, and the role of universities within it, is not ours to shape or reform. It serves the same powerful interests - big corporations, the military - that the political system serves and will continue to do so as long as those interests remain in the saddle. If we want an educational system that meets our needs we will have to create one - not just in our heads, but as one part of the general rebuilding and resettling we will be undertaking to survive the collapse of the present system. Those of us who believe that this rebuilding and resettling will likely occur at the local level on a small scale should probably try to redirect our thinking in that direction right now rather than agonizing over the state of contemporary higher education.

When I do that, I usually run up against an idea that was popularized by the Occupy movement. If you are not going to go the centralized-political-authority route (some new political party, a guerilla combat unit, etc.), then you need a means of getting things done that is consistent with an egalitarian, or horizontal, kind of set-up. For Occupy, that was the working group - a group of people who assembled voluntarily to accomplish a specific practical task. These groups, at their best, combined knowhow (expertise, if you prefer) with grassroots enthusiasm and initiative. So, in the world that takes shape in the many and diverse self-determining localities that will begin to emerge as the collapse proceeds, what starts out as a working group - say, to build houses and barns or to improve crop production without destroying/depleting soil - might evolve into a hands-on training ground for architects and botanists. This education would be totally free and would not require all the credentialing and licensing that is the hallmark of academic professionalism and the cause of so much elitist posturing. I imagine some sort of apprenticeship situation, where folks with the necessary technical knowhow pass it on to others and supervise their first efforts at construction or plant stewardship. Instead of all the bureaucratic rules and regulations, you would rely on mutual trust: architects and builders would have been trained in the community, would live in the community, and everybody involved in a project (part of the working group) would be able to supervise, make sure no corners were being cut. Everyone could also take responsibility for how the place is going to look - could design some beauty and whimsy into the building we live in and use. All this presumes the kind of rootedness that folks like Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder believe is probably our only means of salvation in any case.

In the short run, of course, these locally-based working groups would function alongside existing universities. No need to burn anything down or hang anyone from a lamppost. But people who want to learn about something would have a real, living alternative to the corporate university or liberal arts college. This alternative would grow in importance (and in appeal) as the breakdown accelerates and our resettlement of the land proceeds.

Brian Lloyd

Ed-M said...

@JMG: Thing is, a common or garden variety civil war is far from the worst plausible US future I can imagine...

Well the worst I can imagine is once the US collapses, everybody will fight each other like starving rats. I figure the only way we'd get anything that closely resembles an Apocalypse is World War III, with all the nukes (ain't gonna happen...).

@Patricia Matthews: That's because John Denver, The Waltons, etc, were sweet and mushy, and if you're an Xer, sweet and mushy is as guaranteed to violently turn your stomach as it is to please my own generation.

To tell you the truth, John Denver and those shows didn't turn my stomach back then; but later on in the 80s the memories of them left me with *such* a bad aftertaste! Being born in late 1960 (school year '61), I should be a Boomer, but my outlook is more like an Xer. Guess that makes me a Joneser.

Just wait until my grandchildren start dominating the culture and prepare for sweet and mushy again. Though with a mildly satirical edge.

I did like the MAD Magazine parodies!

@ Gloucon X AND JMG:

(Gloucon X said) I wasn’t the one who brought up John Denver or The Walton’s, JMG did.... He seems to be saying that they were important, inspiring models leading people in the 1970’s to live sustainably.

(JMG said) Goodbye John Denver and John-Boy Walton, hello Gordon Gekko and "Material Girl" Madonna; goodbye sustainable future, hello deindustrial dark ages.

What I remember of the 70s country shows was this: The Waltons were about 1930s nostaligia; Apple's Way was about theis California family fleeing to rural Iowa and live their old suburban lifestyle in a live grist mill out in the country (the most bizaare scene was when the family drove in a Ford station wagon down a exurban road singing "Take Me Home, Country Roads"); and Little House on the Prairie, which was about life in the 19th Century on the frontier, I found to be extrememly boring, I only watched one episode. I liked the MAD Magazine parodies, though.

And yes, John Denver sang about the country and living out in the country but I don't recollect him singing about any sort of sustainable living. And being an avid plane pilot, he was certainly no role model for suatainable living!

I think the appetite for those tunes and those shows came from the ennui of living in typical US suburbia.

Susan J said...

“The 300-year joyride of industrialism” (love your turn of words!) was not limited to resource extraction and the ability of the land to hold waste.

In America industrialism didn’t take off until after 1850, less than 200 years ago. It was preceded by the rise of American capitalism in the early 1800s. What powered the early American economy was slavery, the huge profits it realized that were invested in Northern industry and banks, and the steady demand for new agricultural land. This last was the driving force behind the expansion of the national boundaries of the USA. Northern farming families moved westward to escape the growing industrialism. Southern landowners moved westward to escape the destruction of monocropping and to increase the acreage of productive cotton land.

The humanitarian costs of industrialism, capitalism, and carbon-based energy are substantial and ongoing.

It’s not just industrialism that is going down. Western civilization is going down. How do we cope economically, socially, and spiritually?

FiftyNiner said...

@Susan J,
We have the idea in our heads that what we are seeing is the decline and fall of Western Civilization, but I really do think that what we mean is World Civilization. Even using the best of JMG's analyses of the predicament that humanity is in, it really does apply to the whole earth.
The irony is that before mid century, China will have gone through the entire trajectory of industrialization and will be facing collapse just like us and all of that will have happened from the time of Nixon's Trip to China--less than a hundred years. There is no doubt that the Anglophone world and Western Europe will suffer the most in the decline, but that too is only relative to the second and third world economies which will never have the chance to make it into the first world created in the twentieth century.
I really do feel that the two great challenges that JMG has talked about--Peak Oil and Climate Change--are about to become teachable moments for all the "doubters" in this country and around the world where ever they may be. Our esteemed Archdruid is in the position to be a voice of sanity and wisdom in what will no doubt be a rough ride!

About People - Sustainability is all about people said...

Are we to be driven by our own stupidity. That we will not allow ourselves to see what we should be doing To do what is right really requires an intelligence that is not very common

Denys said...

Education isn't a system. Education is something that one seeks for oneself. No one can give it to you or set it up for you to follow in a regimented, systemized fashion. If you went to public school (and even most private and religious schools) you were treated like something being made on an assembly line in a factory, passed through point by point and given specific inputs.

I suspect JMG is mostly self educated and not formally schooled in everything he writes about, and look at the richness and deepness of thought about the past, present and future. Every economist I read can only see a future they were trained to see through their school degrees - rosy utopia in every corner of the globe.

pg said...

On the formal Ed/Learning front: am not sure about entering the discussion about whether college is still a valuable experience: it's been seven yrs since I taukght in a college-level classroom; but your (pl) comments made me think perhaps I could offer a thought or two from the point of view of a long-time teacher, who grew up in a family of teachers (all in what you would call the Humanities). My two siblings & I had a father who would have loved to have been a history teacher. Circumstances did not allow for that. He was drafted into a war. But he kept reading; taught himself languages via index cards, installed roofs, made pen and ink drawings on order for some income, etc. He never got to go to university. But he never stopped being inquisitive, and gently sceptical. Those habits of thought matter a great deal, I think. I've seen that sort of "brain wiring" in my students who made the greatest leaps,over the years, in civilian colleges and elsewhere. (That is, students who are itching to learn, question, even be confrontational--as a pedagogue I serve them, not just the existing order. If I'm a good teacher, I'll know my subject so well I can handle all kinds of questions. My own hero in this is Leonard Susskind, a phenomenal teacher. His Stanford continuing ed classes are brilliantly available on YouTube, etc.
Point being: the environment kids grow up in is enormously important for preparing them. For anything. By the time kids get to college it's generally too late for perfessers to make much of a difference. The Jesuits had a saying (which I'll paraphrase/butcher): give me a child before he is six, and I'll give you a devoted servant of the Church.
If parents read, play instruments, write poetry, do charity work, fix things, take care of the wounded and suffering, chances are good the offspring will do, too--or, at least, retain the memory of HOW to do all these things.
Why is this preparation important for more complex "intellectual" work? Because the kid is used to being versatile. To tolerate ambiguity. To even have a sense of humor. And, maybe even, to appreciate paradox, especially the paradox of principles, as that exciting, and frustrating, time when one tries to come to grips with a deep, basic question.
By the time I got freshmen into my (English) Composition classes most were already set in their ways. A few times I could and did make a difference: usually with ESL students; one time with a Hispanic young lady who was trying terribly hard to fit in: the way to her feeling more confident was through grammar. I showed her, on paper, with a graph, that she already had internalized a system of grammar more precise than that of English. (Cf the layers of the past tense in Spanish.)
To JMG, this is likely nothing new. The discipline of Latin has its advantages.
All those pesky categories have their purpose.
If you know what they mean, what they can do, and how they allow you to think.

JMG, you seemed to advise possibly going elsewhere, like Germany, for higher ed. It's been decades for me so I asked my sister today during a phone call about how a foreigner might proceed (she's a retired Semundarstuffe II teacher).Short version: a huge bureaucracy, varying quotas, separate requirements in individual "States" (Nordrheinwestphalen is not Hessen is not Bademwürtemberg, etc.)and it all goes via embassies, other institutions, and if you like Franz Kafka's writings, and have his temperament, you might make it past the Numerus Clausus, if you're so brilliant you might as well get scholarships for Stanford. The days of Joseph Campbell, and others like him, taking a ship to Europe in the 1920s, to broaden the mind, be gladly received with a letter of recommendation, are long gone.

donalfagan said...

@ TVstuff
I grew up watching Lassie/Jeff's Collie, My Friend Flicka, and The Real McCoys so I thought the Waltons was a positive change from the corny image of country life presented in Mayberry, Hooterville and the Beverly Hillbillies. All my GFs worshipped Little House because they had read the books and because of Michael Landon, but he suburbanized the setting for TV. Landon once said, "I'd never send my kids to school with no shoes," even though that's how it was in the books and in reality. I don't recall ever watching Apple's Way, but I did watch the Jimmy Stewart Show, which was set in a small town, and wasn't as bad as its ratings.

nuku said...

@Susan J
Re “It’s not just industrialism that is going down. Western civilization is going down. How do we cope economically, socially, and spiritually?“

Coping with the first two depends a lot on your physical location; its going to be very different games in the USA and say Pakistan.

How to cope spiritually/emotionally with the long descent of Western Civilization is a big question with potentially as many answers as there are people. The way you frame your question presupposes that like many of us commenting here you accept the long descent as a given and see no way “out”. I might say the same of my death, which at age 70 is no longer something hovering on the far horizon of consciousness.
I humbly suggest that you look at how you cope with the inevitable reality of your own “going down” and death first, then see if that way of coping might also work in experiencing the bigger picture.
For me, listening to Leonard Cohen‘s “Ten Songs”, J S Bach’s solo cello pieces, watching classic movies like “Grand Illusion”, reading Graeme Green, Shakespeare, letting the full tragic/comic story of being human settle into my bones, is a way of coping.

Patricia Mathews said...

Age of Breakdown: no comment.

Patricia Mathews said...

AND - "Somewhere over the rainbow" -

Denys said...

This is what collapse looks like......dropped the car for inspection with a full tank and it was returned to me with 1/4 of a tank. Someone at the garage siphoned out 10 gallons of gas. I can't put on a locking gas cap because of the emissions test they need access to the gas tank. Or so I was told.

So someone at the garage felt like the needed or deserved $30 worth of gas from my ten year old minivan. Really trusted this locally owned garage for service for the past 7 years and seriously disappointed in the breakdown of trust.

Ed-M said...


About the Little House series, Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie were required reading in the 3rd and 4th grades respectively. Big Woods I consumed ravenously, but I found Prairie to be a bit dull. I must have outgrown the genre over the summer; plus, living a life in the forest always appealed to me.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thought that you might like this ground breaking study outlined in the following article: Australian cities at increased risk of flash flooding as temperatures warm and deluges intensify, experts say. I'm not saying Derr, but if they'd just phoned me - or even sent an email - I could have told them that and it would have saved a whole lot of time! Not to mention Blind Freddy's opinion.

How any could ever think that in a warming world, the weather patterns would stay constant is well beyond me. Of course the tropical storms are reaching further south here (north up your way) and getting more intense. That's because they've got more energy to draw from...

The other thing I like is that the report says that: "They are urging local councils to redesign sewerage and road infrastructure as a result." Like who is going to pay for that. Perhaps the elves and/or fairies should? I'm sure the researchers are very sincere and also serious individuals but still, the level of disconnect is truly amazing.



Gloucon X said...

Ed, thanks for the comments on rural themed US TV shows, I agree with your observations. I thought JMG’s response on the effect of popular culture on the idea of sustainability was interesting, particularly with regard the period of the 1970’s-1980’s which he says was so crucial to where we are today. I think it leads to a number of fascinating questions about when the idea of sustainability entered the public consciousness in America.

I think the counterculture and hippie movement did have a big role in spreading the idea among young people. Joni Mitchell's song, Big Yellow Taxi (1970), which predated John Denver and the Walton’s, is one example of this. Sometime in the early 70’s I was was watching some variety show with my WW2 generation parents and they played the song with an accompanying cartoon that acted out the lyrics. Even my parents were quite touched by this song. Art reinforces ideas in a way that can reach into the soul.

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
And they charged all the people
A dollar and a half to see 'em

Hey farmer farmer
Put away that D.D.T. now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees

Mat Brady said...

Is it wrong that I would like to see this blog series done as a big budget star-studded movie?

nuku said...

JMG: Looks like at least one of the mega-rich 0.1% is losing sleep thinking about those down at the broad base of the food chain, but I notice he isn’t downsizing yet:

Cartier boss with $7.5bn fortune says prospect of the poor rising up 'keeps him awake at night'

Ed-M said...

Hi Chris,

They also could have seen previous flash flooding footage on YouTube that have been posted in the past, say, five years.

As for obtaining the dollars for all that road and sewerage infrastructure, the councils down there could take a page out of Monty Python, and tax all foreigners living abroad!


Brian said...

The Onion has evidently been reading the Archdruid:

Now it's safe to say, it's all true!

Pinku-Sensei said...

@Patricia Mathews: Era of Breakdown=the Climax--yes, that's a good correspondence. By that standard, the Era of Impact=the Catalyst. I like that, too. However a lot of the people at the Fourth Turning forums would say that the Catalyst happened in either 2001 or 2008. Calling 9/11 The Age of Impact may be in poor taste, but as the Emperor of Austria said in Amadeus, there it is. That means we've been in the Age of Response, not Age of Pretense, ever since. I think the reason is that most people are searching for a responses to a crisis other than the one our host is writing about. As for John Xenakis, I'll grant him that he got the name right for the First Turning--A Recovery. As far as I'm concerned, that makes him like a stuck clock--right twice a day.

Brian said...

A true sign that your predictions are, if anything, too conservative:

This signals the end of anything like the 800 years of Anglo-American jurisprudence or the pretense of democracy. And what's truly astounding is that there's almost no press coverage of this epochal insanity.

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