Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Last Refuge of the Incompetent

There are certain advantages to writing out the ideas central to this blog in weekly bursts. Back in the days before the internet, when a galaxy of weekly magazines provided the same free mix of ideas and opinions that fills the blogosphere today, plenty of writers kept themselves occupied turning out articles and essays for the weeklies, and the benefits weren’t just financial: feedback from readers, on the one hand, and the contributions of other writers in related fields, on the other, really do make it easier to keep slogging ahead at the writer’s lonely trade.

This week’s essay has benefited from that latter effect, in a somewhat unexpected way. In recent weeks, here and there in the corners of the internet I frequent, there’s been another round of essays and forum comments insisting that it’s time for the middle-class intellectuals who frequent the environmental and climate change movements to take up violence against the industrial system. That may not seem to have much to do with the theme of the current sequence of posts—the vacuum that currently occupies the place in our collective imagination where meaningful visions of the future used to be found—but there’s a connection, and following it out will help explain one of the core themes I want to discuss.

The science fiction author Isaac Asimov used to say that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. That’s a half-truth at best, for there are situations in which effective violence is the only tool that will do what needs to be done—we’ll get to that in a moment. It so happens, though, that a particular kind of incompetence does indeed tend to turn to violence when every other option has fallen flat, and goes down in a final outburst of pointless bloodshed. It’s unpleasantly likely at this point that the climate change movement, or some parts of it, may end up taking that route into history’s dumpster; here again, we’ll get to that a little further on in this post.

It’s probably necessary to say at the outset that the arguments I propose to make here have nothing to do with the ethics of violence, and everything to do with its pragmatics as a means of bringing about social change. Ethics in general are a complete quagmire in today’s society.  Nietzsche’s sly description of moral philosophy as the art of propping up inherited prejudices with bad logic has lost none of its force since he wrote it, and since his time we’ve also witnessed the rise of professional ethicists, whose jobs consist of coming up with plausible excuses for whatever their corporate masters want to do this week. The ethical issues surrounding violence are at least as confused as those around any of the other messy realities of human life, and in some ways, more so than most.

Myself, I consider violence enitrely appropriate in some situations. Many of my readers may have heard, for example, of an event that took place a little while back in Kentucky, where a sex worker was attacked by a serial killer.  While he was strangling her, she managed to get hold of his handgun, and proceeded to shoot him dead. To my mind, her action was morally justified. Once he attacked her, no matter what she did, somebody was going to die, and killing him not only turned the violence back on its originator, it also saved the lives of however many other women the guy might have killed before the police got to him—if they ever did; crimes against sex workers, and for that matter crimes against women, are tacitly ignored by a fairly large number of US police departments these days.

Along the same lines, a case can be made that revolutionary violence against a political and economic system is morally justified if the harm being done by that system is extreme enough. That’s not a debate I’m interested in exploring here, though.  Again, it’s not ethics but pragmatics that I want to discuss, because whether or not revolutionary violence is justified in some abstract moral sense is far less important right now than whether it’s an effective response to the situation we’re in. That’s not a question being asked, much less answered, by the people who are encouraging environmental and climate change activists to consider violence against the system.

Violence is not a panacea. It’s a tool, and like any other tool, it’s well suited to certain tasks and utterly useless for others. Political violence in particular is a surprisingly brittle and limited tool. Even when it has the support of a government’s resource base, it routinely flops or backfires, and a group that goes in for political violence without the resources and technical assistance of some government somewhere has to play its hand exceedingly well, or it’s going to fail. Furthermore, there are many cases in which violence isn’t useful as a means of social change, as other tools can do the job more effectively.

Pay attention to the history of successful revolutions and it’s not hard to figure out how to carry out political violence—and far more importantly, how not to do so. The most important point to learn from history is that successful violence in a political context doesn’t take place in a vacuum. It’s the final act of a long process, and the more thoroughly that process is carried out, the less violence is needed when crunch time comes. Let’s take a few paragraphs to walk through the process and see how it’s done.

The first and most essential step in the transformation of any society is the delegitimization of the existing order. That doesn’t involve violence, and in fact violence at this first stage of the process is catastrophically counterproductive—a lesson, by the way, that the US military has never been able to learn, which is why its attempts to delegitimize its enemies (usually phrased in such language as “winning minds and hearts”) have always been so embarrassingly inept and ineffective. The struggle to delegitimize the existing order has to be fought on cultural, intellectual, and ideological battlefields, not physical ones, and its targets are not people or institutions but the aura of legitimacy and inevitability that surrounds any established political and economic order. 

Those of my readers who want to know how that’s done might want to read up on the cultural and intellectual life of France in the decades before the Revolution. It’s a useful example, not least because the people who wanted to bring down the French monarchy came from almost exactly the same social background as today’s green radicals: disaffected middle-class intellectuals with few resources other than raw wit and erudition. That turned out to be enough, as they subjected the monarchy—and even more critically, the institutions and values that supported it—to sustained and precise attack from constantly shifting positions, engaging in savage mockery one day and earnest pleas for reform the next, exploiting every weakness and scandal for maximum effect. By the time the crisis finally arrived in 1789, the monarchy had been so completely defeated on the battlefield of public opinion that next to nobody rallied to its defense until after the Revolution was a fait accompli.

The delegitimization of the existing order is only the first step in the process. The second step is political, and consists of building a network of alliances with existing and potential power centers and pressure groups that might be willing to support revolutionary change. Every political system, whatever its official institutional form might be, consists in practice of just such a network of power centers—that is, groups of people who have significant political, economic, or social influence—and pressure groups—that is, other groups of people who lack such influence but can give or withhold their support in ways that can sometimes extract favors from the power centers.

In today’s America, for example, the main power centers are found in what we may as well call the bureaucratic-industrial complex, the system of revolving-door relationships that connect big corporations, especially the major investment banks, with the major Federal bureaucracies, especially the Treasury and the Pentagon. There are other power centers as well—for example, the petroleum complex, which has its own ties to the Pentagon—which cooperate and compete by turns with the New York-DC axis of influence—and then there are pressure groups of many kinds, some more influential, some less, some reduced to the status of captive constituencies whose only role in the political process is to rally the vote every four years and have their agenda ignored by their supposed friends in office in between elections. The network of power centers, pressure groups, and captive constituencies that support the existing order of things is the real heart of political power, and it’s what has to be supplanted in order to bring systemic change.

Effective revolutionaries know that in order to overthrow the existing order of society, they have to put together a comparable network that will back them against the existing order, and grow it to the point that it starts attracting key power centers away from the network of the existing order. That’s a challenge, but not an impossible one. In any troubled society, there are always plenty of potential power centers that have been excluded from the existing order and its feeding trough, and are thus interested in backing a change that will give them the power they want and don’t have. In France before the Revolution, for example, there were plenty of wealthy middle-class people who were shut out of the political system by the aristocracy and the royal court, and the philosophes went out of their way to appeal to them and get their support—an easy job, since the philosophes and the nouveaux-riches shared similar backgrounds. That paid off handsomely once the crisis came.

In any society, troubled or not, there are also always pressure groups, plenty of them, that are interested in getting more access to the various goodies that power centers can dole out, and can be drawn into alliance with a rising protorevolutionary faction. The more completely the existing order of things has been delegitimized, the easier it is to build such alliances, and the alliances can in turn be used to feed the continuing process of delegitimization. Here again, as in the first stage of the process, violence is a hindrance rather than a help, and it’s best if the subject never even comes up for discussion; assembling the necessary network of alliances is much easier when nobody has yet had to face up to the tremendous risks involved in revolutionary violence.

By the time the endgame arrives, therefore, you’ve got an existing order that no longer commands the respect and loyalty of most of the population, and a substantial network of pressure groups and potential power centers supporting a revolutionary agenda. Once the situation reaches that stage, the question of how to arrange the transfer of power from the old regime to the new one is a matter of tactics, not strategy. Violence is only one of the available options, and again, it’s by no means always the most useful one. There are many ways to break the existing order’s last fingernail grip on the institutions of power, once that grip has been loosened by the steps already mentioned.

What happens, on the other hand, to groups that don’t do the necessary work first, and turn to violence anyway? Here again, history has plenty to say about that, and the short form is that they lose. Without the delegitimization of the existing order of society and the creation of networks of support among pressure groups and potential power centers, turning to political violence guarantees total failure.

For some reason, for most of the last century, the left has been unable or unwilling to learn that lesson. What’s happened instead, over and over again, is that a movement pursuing radical change starts out convinced that the existing order of society already lacks popular legitimacy, and so fails to make a case that appeals to anybody outside its own ranks. Having failed at the first step, it tries to pressure existing power centers and pressure groups into supporting its agenda, rather than building a competing network around its own agenda, and gets nowhere. Finally, having failed at both preliminary steps, it either crumples completely or engages in pointless outbursts of violence against the system, which are promptly and brutally crushed. Any of my readers who remember the dismal history of the New Left in the US during the 1960s and early 1970s already know this story, right down to the fine details.

With this in mind, let’s look at the ways in which the climate change movement has followed this same trajectory of abject failure over the last fifteen years or so.

The task of the climate change movement at the dawn of the twenty-first century was difficult but by no means impossible. Their ostensible goal was to create a consensus in the world’s industrial nations that would support the abandonment of fossil fuels and a transition to the less energy-intensive ways of living that renewable resources can provide. That would have required a good many well-off people to accept a decline in their standards of living, but that’s far from the insuperable obstacle so many people seem to think it must be. When Winston Churchill told the British people “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” his listeners roared their approval. For reasons that probably reach far into our evolutionary past, a call to shared sacrifice usually gets a rousing response, so long as the people who are being asked to sacrifice have reason to believe something worthwhile will come of it.

That, however, was precisely what the climate change movement was unable to provide. It’s harsh but not, I think, unfair to describe the real agenda of the movement as the attempt to create a future in which the industrial world’s middle classes could keep on enjoying the benefits of their privileged lifestyle without wrecking the atmosphere in the process. Of course it’s not exactly easy to convince everyone else in the world to put aside all their own aspirations for the sake of the already privileged, and so the spokespeople of the climate change movement generally didn’t talk about what they hoped to achieve. Instead, they fell into the most enduring bad habit of the left, and ranted instead about how awful the future would be if the rest of the world didn’t fall into line behind them.

On the off chance that any of my readers harbor revolutionary ambitions, may I offer a piece of helpful advice? If you want people to follow your lead, you have to tell them where you intend to take them. Talking exclusively about what’s going to happen if they don’t follow you will not cut it. Rehashing the same set of talking points about how everyone’s going to die if the whole world doesn’t rally around you emphatically will not cut it. The place where you’re leading them can be difficult and dangerous, the way there can be full of struggle, sacrifice and suffering, and they’ll still flock to your banner—in fact, young men will respond to that kind of future more enthusiastically than to any other, especially if you can lighten the journey with beer and the occasional barbecue—but you have to be willing to talk about your destination. You also have to remember that the phrase “shared sacrifice” includes the word “shared,” and not expect everyone else to give up something so that you don’t have to.

So the climate change movement entered the arena with one hand tied behind its back and the other hand hauling a heavy suitcase stuffed to the bursting point with middle class privilege. Its subsequent behavior did nothing to overcome that initial disadvantage. When the defenders of the existing order counterattacked, as of course they did, the climate change movement did nothing to retake the initiative and undermine its adversaries; preaching to the green choir took the place of any attempt to address the concerns of the wider public; over and over again, climate change activists allowed the other side to define the terms of the debate and then whined about the resulting defeat rather than learning anything from it. Of course the other side used every trick in the book, and then some; so? That’s how the game is played. Successful movements for change realize that, and plan accordingly.

We don’t even have to get into the abysmal failure of the climate change movement to seek out allies among the many pressure groups and potential power centers that might have backed it, if it had been able to win the first and most essential struggle in the arena of public opinion. The point I want to make is that at this point in the curve of failure, violence really is the last refuge of the incompetent. What, after all, would be the result if some of the middle class intellectuals who make up the core of the climate change movement were to pick up some guns, assemble the raw materials for a few bombs, and try to use violence to make their point? They might well kill some people before the FBI guns them down or hauls them off to life-plus terms in Leavenworth; they would very likely finish off climate change activism altogether, by making most Americans fear and distrust anyone who talks about it—but would their actions do the smallest thing to slow the dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the resulting climate chaos? Of course not.

What makes the failure of the climate change movement so telling is that during the same years that it peaked and crashed, another movement has successfully conducted a prerevolutionary campaign of the classic sort here in the US. While the green Left has been spinning its wheels and setting itself up for failure, the populist Right has carried out an extremely effective program of delegitimization aimed at the federal government and, even more critically, the institutions and values that support it. Over the last fifteen years or so, very largely as a result of that program, a great many Americans have gone from an ordinary, healthy distrust of politicians to a complete loss of faith in the entire American project. To a remarkable extent, the sort of rock-ribbed middle Americans who used to insist that of course the American political system is the best in the world are now convinced that the American political system is their enemy, and the enemy of everything they value.

The second stage of the prerevolutionary process, the weaving of a network of alliances with pressure groups and potential power centers, is also well under way. Watch which groups are making common cause with one another on the rightward fringes of society these days and you can see a competent revolutionary strategy at work. This isn’t something I find reassuring—quite the contrary, in fact; aside from my own admittedly unfashionable feelings of patriotism, one consistent feature of revolutions is that the government that comes into power after the shouting and the shooting stop is always more repressive than the one that was in power beforehand. Still, the way things are going, it seems likely to me that the US will see the collapse of its current system of government, probably accompanied with violent revolution or civil war, within a decade or two.

Meanwhile, as far as I can see, the climate change movement is effectively dead in its tracks, and we no longer have time to make something happen before the rising spiral of climate catastrophe begins—as my readers may have noticed, that’s already well under way. From here on in, it’s probably a safe bet that anthropogenic climate change will accelerate until it fulfills the prophecy of The Limits to Growth and forces the global industrial economy to its knees. Any attempt to bring human society back into some kind of balance with ecological reality will have to get going during and after that tremendous crisis. That requires playing a long game, but then that’s going to be required anyway, to do the things that the climate change movement failed to do, and do them right this time.

With that in mind, I’m going to be taking this blog in a slightly different direction next week, and for at least a few weeks to come. I’ve talked in previous posts about intentional technological regression as an option, not just for individuals but as a matter of public policy. I’ve also talked at quite some length about the role that narrative plays in helping to imagine alternative futures. With that in mind, I’ll be using the tools of fiction to suggest a future that zooms off at right angles to the expectations of both ends of the current political spectrum. Pack a suitcase, dear readers; your tickets will be waiting at the station. Next Wednesday evening, we’ll be climbing aboard a train for Retrotopia.


chubasco said...

"Retrotopia": priceless. Sign me on!

Color me among those suspecting the feds have gone full evil, not through willful intent but through simple greed & incompetency like the rest of us. The clown show in Washington hurrying to feed us to the banks has reached it's pull date. And I agree with you, hell follows therein....but what are we to do? Looks like game over in every direction. I hope they (and susbsequent war bands) run out of oil fast enough there's something left to salvage around home base. Not a pretty time to be born really...but back to the garden I go. Life is for the survivors, I'm not about to give up no matter how crappy it gets.

S.Treimel said...

I have been watching some videos by Chris Hedges and Derrick Jensen this past week. I noted that, though they talked about the devastation of the natural environmental by the industrial system and the need to take action, they were very careful in their choice of words. They specifically did not advocate for either revolution or violence.

The U.S. has laws on the books giving itself permission to gather up and indefinitely detain anyone it perceives to speak out against the state, so I remind my fellow commenters to be judicious in their own choice of words. Personally, I'd rather be gardening than donating my time to the government.


Trent Appleman said...

Some of your essays -- such as your successor to the MAD doctrine as refracted through Peak Oil -- really stand out, and this is one of them. I know people who either cannot or will not actually do something either personally or relationally whose thoughts somehow always end up circling around the drain of going out in a blaze of glory. I understand these guys' incompetence in my own way, but I much appreciate your looking at them from another: the resulting picture is much more complete, although it doesn't make me any less weary about the combination of internal and external circumstances which exasperates them while never actually lighting their fires.

One of the things I find interesting about your writing is the way that a given essay consists of a ratio of ideational and polemical content, with some leaning towards the one and some towards the other. I prefer the ones dominated by the former, but I understand the role of the more polemical ones in your project and hope that your pertinent suggestions about intentional technological regression are quietly sinking into the rather more numerous minds of those who are more more moved by polemical than ideational content. I am frankly amazed that the American situation has managed to hang on by its fingernails for so long without bursting into some kind of open unpleasantness, and furthermore I am genuinely concerned that the end of American Empire will become the beginning of the American Inquisition.

I hope that the inevitable recalibration of the United States does not end up shredding exactly the parts of the intelligentsia whose lives are in some wise actually practicing what they preach, and preaching the better for it.

nuku said...

Dear commentators: I hope you will all carefully read JMG’s post and NOT waste your, and our time getting into sideshow rants about the ethics of the use of violence in the political process. As the post states quite clearly, the violence issue is raised only with respect to its possible pragmatic value as a tool/tactic in the process of political change.
Furthermore, it seems to me a careful reading of the post reveals that the major theme is NOT in fact even the pragmatic use of violence, but rather how successful revolution or regime change is actually brought about. JMG’s ideas of the steps involved are clearly stated. A minor theme is when, if at all, in the process violence might be an appropriate tactic.
May I respectfully remind you that JMG’s use of the failure of the climate change brigade and the success of the right as examples to illustrate his theme of the necessary conditions for political regime change is only a rhetorical tactic to further the main argument. History has its uses, but illustrating an argument with examples from current affairs can be more engaging.
In my experience leading men‘s groups and teenaged boys coming-of-age groups, “winning hearts and minds” with a clear and honest statement of where the group is going to end up after the journey, how all the members might benefit in the end, and the possible sacrifices all might be asked to make along the way is a necessary first step to forming group cohesion and energy.

tom peifer said...

Loved it ! As a veteran of the anti-war struggles I have to point out that the unified front did not only bite the dust because a few cells and individuals resorted to violence. The splintering of the movement into a plethora of "single issue coalitions," You know: 'save the baby harp seals,' gay rights, disabled rights, etc., not to question the legitimacy of any of these, but the force and potential strength of a unified movement petered out.

Looking forward to Retrotopia. Since moving to a poor country, I can tell you "the past is still here, it's just not evenly distributed."

Ray Wharton said...

In current events I have noticed some feelers being sent out for a potential alliance between the oath keepers and black lives matter. Obviously there are many powerful parties interested in either facilitating or sabotaging that possibility, and how things play out in the history books is hard to guess. If it works there would be the seed of a new structure of alliances potent enough to enact some very major changes on the status quo. The two groups originate in what to my mind are two of the most powerful sources for disruption, the second amendment libertarians and the African American; the two groups have been played against each other much in history, and in the popular narrative of our culture are enemies by definition. Who could be more racist, the main stream narrative goes, than those rural white, gun toting, confederate flag waving, federal government hating libertarians? Powerful narrative, and there are enough elements of truth to it that it might prevent this alliance, but only a fool would count on that!

I think folks interested in ADR stuff (climate change and deindustrialization) are late to the table to get a good seat in the current setting of power, or for that matter at any of the power structures being set now. Might be able to get a gig as entertainment for the kiddies table or something; put something good together for the next generation of disruption. Seriously working with kids increasingly seems like it could bee a point of best returns, education and that stuff, besides its a wide open field, almost no one is doing it these days.

William Church said...

What is it with these fantasies of violent revolution and their purveyors? I have hard time thinking of a more complete waste of time and effort than these fantasies accomplish.

Man you don't have to be a doomer of any stripe to see a complete laundry list of concrete tasks that need doing. The normal everyman of today has every reason to be concerned about the future. And instead of rolling up our sleeves and making good things happen far too many engage in idiotic fantasies of political violence. I don't get it.

Learn how to roof a house? Do the primary maintenance of a car? Construct a plan to shed debt? Get in shape? Feed a family in a healthy way for far less money? Become a good plumber? Or a thousand other worthwhile tasks?

No, no, no, no, no, no and no. Instead fantasize about getting out the old aught-six and turning into Rambo. An obese modern day Dirty Dozen with hypertension and erectile dysfunction.

Lord help us all.


Ben said...

Looking forward to next week's post!

A good example in Revolutionary propaganda 101 would be the dreary book by Cheneshevsky "What's to be done?" (or in Russian; "what to do?). The book is, as mentioned dreary and hard to slog thru, but it did serve as a remarkably effective piece of propaganda. Cherneshevsky both viciously satirized the existing order and laid out a path to the workers utopia. Granted, was basically a secular attempt at the new testament, but it turned a generation of Russian intellectuals who might have otherwise been disaffected but not particularly dangerous, into Marxist revolutionaries.

Fun side note, the censors of Tsarist Russia allowed it to be published because they thought is was so dreadfully boring that no one would possibly want to read it!

richard b said...

JMG, your blog is the highlight of ny week. I don't know where you get your ideas from, or how you acquired your extensive knowledge base - but the effect of both is awesome. This blog is by far the best of original thinking that I have encountered anywhere.

I find it tragic that you operate on the fringes of society, instead of ar its heart. You should be Obama's chief of staff.

AlanfromBigEasy said...

My entry in your 4th edition Post-Peak Oil short story anthology contest is:

I believe that you have my eMail address.

Best Hopes,

Alan Drake

Bruno B. L. said...

JMG, I have mixed love/hate feelings for your cliffhangers.
Anyway, the US is far from being the only country on earth that is currently in a pre-revolutionary state. Here, down south, in Brazil, we're also going through a very similar path: nobody trusts the system anymore, long lived and revered institutions are now the object of spite, and the general social climate in the country is of hate, mistrust and fear from the future.
The current system is seem as a hindrance, an obstacle to the progress of the country, that is, as something that needs to be removed or radically changed in order to allow the nation to thrive. In that aspect, it is fundamentally different than the revolutionary process current undergoing in the US: the American revolutionary process you describe is a catabolic process, a step down the ladder - things need to get simpler in order to make the American society work again. In Brazil, the system must be changed in order to allow the country to go one step up the ladder, to develop, get more complex. Revolutions can be made either to progress or to regress, that is.

James Python said...

An excellent post, JMG- following your weekly posts is one of the highlights of my week each week.

The crisis of legitimacy surrounding "liberal elitism" by "ordinary Americans" does indeed seem to be picking up a lot of ground- the sheer numbers and enthusiasm behind figures like Donald Trump and Alex Jones, figures who would seem to be "extreme" from the perspective of official media figures, attests to this.

I think that one potential source for growing delegitimizing of the perceived "liberal elite" is the decline of trust in colleges. Donald Trump has gained a lot of momentum from callously disregarding and mocking "political correctness" and therefore tapping into the repressed frustration of many people over what they perceive to be a handful of college professors and politicians' attempt to suppress their free speech. Of course, the distrust in "liberal academia" risks falling into total collapse within ten years if enough young people graduate 120,000 dollars in debt for a Liberal Arts degree that not even a fast food or janitor job will result from. The growing perception that universities are "liberal indoctrination mills" that charge exorbitant rates for worthless degrees and insurmountable debt will likely contribute to a rebellion against the people who have functioned as the very symbol of "liberal elitism": upper middle class (often) white professors who make six figures and work 5 hours a week (however untrue this stereotype may be for the majority of professors) who somehow claim to be against the very thing they are. As more ordinary americans fall further into poverty, resentment for that class of people and lack of illusions about just how little legitimate research lies behind the aura of academic privilege they embody will likely add fuel to the fires of populist Right Wingism.

Shawn Aune said...

So what you're saying (sarc) is that we the left does decide to get violent right now they should make it look like the violence is coming out of the Libertarian Right.

That tactic could be used by the existing power structures too to beat down the reputation of an apparent threat.

Batalos said...

Sad but true.

The question is - why the Right were so much better organised in this case. I don't think that they had an exclusive access to the thoughts u've described here - thats quite basic after all, not some quantum mech topic or so...

Dammerung said...

Expanding on last week's conversation about populist rage against the machine... I can only assume that you've heard about the latest candidate making a splash on the scene, Deez Nuts, polling near the double digits?

Sheila Grace said...

Fantastic! And as always, delivered with exacting clarity and depth. From the (semi) high desert, through the smoke of burning trees and billowing dust from eroding fields we look forward to boarding that train.

Will & Sheila

Joe McInerney said...

The writer Chris Hedges shares the outline of needed change with JMG. He is one of many eloquent voices calling for non-violent civil disobedience to halt the lurch of industrial capitalism.

Chris Hedges at Moravian College: The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I agree that the populist Right is intentionally bringing about prerevolutionary conditions in the United States, though we might not agree about the timetable. The Fox News Channel profits enormously from propagating sedition night and day. No one seems to think there is anything remarkable about that.

I also agree with your take on the American Left after WWII, and I offer a partial explanation for its fecklessness. In the immediate postwar period, much of the leadership of the peace movement, the Civil Rights movement, various leftist organizations and the cultural movements that allied with them was drawn from the Silent Generation, and they were very serious people. After the assassination of President Kennedy, these political and cultural leaders were largely supplanted by Baby Boomers in their late teens and early twenties. Teenagers are not known for their rationality or their patience. I think demographics have a great deal to do with why left wing political analysis shifted from the Port Huron Statement to the Weather Underground, and tactics from teach-ins to smashing the windows of storefronts on Telegraph Avenue.

GawainGregor said...

Excellent points Archdruid! In fact one can reasonably assert that those parties calling for violence are agents of the establishment flushing out "traitors". Case in point, Louis Farakons' call for 10,000 willing martyrs. A relative of mine was undercover in California in the 60's where 5 out 7 of the "leadership" of a radical group were law enforcement hellbent on delegitimsing the movement. Patience is indeed a virtue.

pygmycory said...

It seems to me that a lot of the work of delegitimizing the government in the USA has already been done. I think you're saying that the far right fringes has done a lot of alliance building already. That suggests that if a revolution happens in the USA in the next few years, it will probably come from that quarter. Oh joy. What a thing to live next door to.

I look forward to accompanying you on your jaunt into the retro future. It sounds interesting - and I am curious to see what forms it might take if it moves beyond the hobbyist groups like the SCA.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"What, after all, would be the result if some of the middle class intellectuals who make up the core of the climate change movement were to pick up some guns, assemble the raw materials for a few bombs, and try to use violence to make their point? They might well kill some people before the FBI guns them down or hauls them off to life-plus terms in Leavenworth..."

I can point you to an example of almost exactly that happening. If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front documented what happened to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) when they pursued a campaign of property destruction against developers. For their pains, they were the subjects of the largest domestic terrorism investigation U.S. history. In terms of suspects, I can believe it. As far as stopping development, they were far less effective than the bursting of the housing bubble.

Other environmental activists were less violent, but they still ran afoul of the law. Two years ago, a group protested the construction of the Enbridge tar sands pipeline in Marshall, Michigan, a pipeline that had leaked into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. One of their number skateboarded in the pipe. He was arrested. He retained a good lawyer who got his charges dismissed. The stunt paid off for him, as the Green Party of Michigan nominated him as their candidate for U.S. Senate the next year. Others didn't fare so well, as eleven people in the next protest were arrested. I think they ended up getting convicted. As for stopping the Enbridge pipeline, it didn't work.

On the other hand, protests against the Keystone XL pipeline seem to have helped delay it. Four years after it became an issue, President vetoed legislation authorizing the part of Keystone XL that crosses into the U.S. from Canada. That was a bone handed out to a "captive constituency," even if it really doesn't mean much in the long run. Cheap oil will probably delay the pipeline even longer.

Fabian said...

Political violence as a tool and as the endgame of a revolutionary movement:

Mao Tse-Tung, who basically wrote the book on modern guerrilla warfare, pointed this out as well. He noted that any successful insurgent movement goes through three phases.

Phase One is the organizational stage. The emphasis is on creating a political movement, recruiting activists and sympathizers, building alliances with other disaffected groups, propaganda, fundraising, arranging for safe houses and so on. The revolutionaries generally avoid violence at this stage, since it would be premature and counterproductive. There's no point in provoking a crackdown, tipping off the authorities as to what's coming and alienating the public before the revolutionaries are ready to begin their armed struggle. The preparations for armed struggle are made very carefully and quietly. Ideally, the authorities have no idea what's in store for them until full blown guerrilla warfare breaks out and government buildings, security forces and so on start coming under attack left and right in a wave of coordinated attacks staged for maximum propaganda and intimidation value.

Phase Two is the classical guerrilla warfare stage, where the insurgents are militarily weaker than the establishment and use tactics that maximize their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. This means raids, ambushes, hit and run attacks, sabotage, assassinations and other guerilla tactics.

Phase Three is only attained by the most successful insurgent groups. This is when the establishment is clearly losing the war and the insurgents have gained military superiority. The emphasis at this point is transitioning towards conventional military tactics. The guerrillas are reorganized as light infantry, with artillery, air support and tanks if available (think Cuba in the late 1950’s as the Batista regime started to crumble, the PLA in the late 1940’s as the Chinese civil war was entering its endgame or the Haganah during the Israeli war of independence in the late 1940’s). The goal is to finish off the establishment once and for all by crushing them militarily and seizing control of the government and the country.

It’s very common for insurgent groups to transition back and forth between phases as the fortunes of war shift. An insurgent army may initiate Phase Three prematurely and be forced back into Phase Two, usually with heavy losses, like the Viet Cong after the Tet Offensive. In some cases, the insurgents may find the war is going really badly and transition back to being an underground political movement (Phase Two back to Phase One), eventually taking up arms again when conditions shift back in their favor. This sort of thing requires careful planning and organization, a keen appreciation of the socio-political situation and human nature, and a great deal of flexibility and adaptability.

John N. said...

Fascinating. I try to follow trends in non-mainstream political thought, and it's become evident in the last few months that the chaotic energy, enthusiasm and trollish online presence that a few years ago was found in the DailyKos crowd has shifted to the "alt-right". It is there that I see a huge current of deligitimisation of establishment Republicans. Witness the recently coined slur "cuckservative", which your readers can search and follow to some surprisingly dark places. Trump is just the nearest convenient lightning rod. It likely won't stop there.

As far as pressure groups and power centers, we're at the point where white nationalists convene wearing suits rather than skinhead attire. There's a surging backlash against feminism, and anti-corporate/Wall St. rhetoric is at least as ferocious as on the left, but often with the added spice of anti-semitism and anti-multiculturism.

Interesting times indeed. Looking forward to the next few weeks!

Chris Balow said...


For anyone who might harbor wishes of changing the order of things in a positive way, it seems that we really are limited to small-scale individual, family and community action. Moving up to a larger scale than that--say the state, regional or national level--the would-be revolutionary must whore themselves out to existing power centers and pressure groups. Unable to shuck their demands and influence, the old order is inevitably replaced with something even worse. As beautiful and pragmatic as one's vision for the future may be, it must remain within a relatively small circle, as the greater powers in the world would never tolerate it--unless it served their own ends. And those ends, we know, are bound up in a way of life that has no future.

latheChuck said...

richard b - Refer to one of our "founding texts": The Foundation trilogy, by Isaac Asimov, to see that those on "the fringes of power" can actually be at its very core. You may know who's writing the ADR, but you never can tell who might be reading it.

Jason Fligger said...

I think the climate skeptics recently made a mistake in their attack on Pope Francis. Regardless of what one might think of the papacy, it seems to enjoys more legitimacy for Christians than many world governments. I admit that the recent scandals may have weakened the papacy but somehow the historic resignation of Benedict and the selection of Francis seems to have sent out a new shoot of legitimacy. Most governments have not been able to force out new shoots of legitimacy from their dying trunk. Perhaps these small shoots of papal legitimacy are the result of a concomitant loss of faith in governments.

John D. Wheeler said...

The US armed forces may not do a good job of "winning hearts and minds", but I think the "color revolutions" are doing an adequate job of delegitimatizing governments.

One question you didn't ask, but kind of answered anyway, was do you really want a revolution? (Dmitry Orlov addressed that a month ago.) Revolutions are about transferring power. I'm with Jack Spirko on this one, what we want is not a revolution but an insurrection, taking away power from the center, not just changing who has it.

John Michael Greer said...

Chubasco, the garden's a good place to start, and a refusal to give up is essential -- but "what are we to do?" isn't a rhetorical question, you know. Stay tuned!

Stephen, yes, I've noticed that Jensen in particular has toned down his rhetoric sharply in recent years.

Trent, plenty of people in prerevolutionary France were amazed that the Bourbons just kept on blundering along for so many years, too, so you're in good company.

Tom, if you'll reread my critique, you'll find that I noted that the violence and its aftermath were merely the last gasp of a failed movement. The critical flaws, at least from what I saw of things, were, first, that the movement was unable or unwilling to communicate to anyone who didn't already agree with it, and second, that it was equally unable or unwilling to identify potential allies in society as a whole and build the kind of alliances that lead to systemic change. Those mistaked guaranteed that it would fail, and splinter into single-issue movements.

Ray, I saw that. If the populist right can forge a working alliance with the African-American community, crunch time could be very close indeed -- thus it's a safe bet that every conceivable dirty trick will be played in an attempt to prevent that. It'll be interesting, in the sense of the apocryphal saying, to see how that works out.

Will, ah, but if you want to avoid having to do anything useful, fantasizing about violence is a great excuse.

Ben, the Tsarist censors were really slow on the uptake. They let Das Kapital through, too, because they didn't understand it.

Richard, thank you, but if I was Obama's chief of staff, there'd be no way I could say any of these things.

Alan, got it -- you're in the contest.

Bruno, true enough! Do you have any reason to think that the Brazilian situation is being funded by foreign powers, by the way, or is the approaching revolution entirely homegrown?

James, that's a huge issue. The academic industry -- it really does deserve that name these days -- has set itself up for a really ugly fall, what with the absurdly high costs, the proliferation of useless degrees, and the transformation of academe into a dishonest sales staff for predatory loans. Yes, that will likely feed into the implosion of what I tend to call the liberalism of privilege, and in a big way.

Shawn, oh, no doubt there'll be any amount of false-flag violence: the government will do things and blame them on the rebels, the rebels will do things and blame them on the government. That's business as usual.

Batalos, the problem with the left, as I see it, is a bad case of self-righteousness mixed with an even worse sense of entitlement. "Of course we'll get our way, because we're right!" is the mentality involved, and it's hard to name any other way of thinking less likely to yield productive results.

Nano said...

Yes, yes, yes a million time yes! Narrative time!

John Michael Greer said...

Dammerung, I hadn't -- thanks for the heads up. If I had any interest in becoming the next dictator of America, I'd be rubbing my hands together and cackling right about now.

Sheila, thank you. Stay safe -- every bit of news I get from out West makes me more concerned about the people I know there.

Joe, civil disobedience won't do a bit of good unless it's preceded by the two steps I outlined in this week's post. Without a solid effort to win the loyalties of the masses and the building of an effective network of alliances, it's just a tantrum, and an ineffective one at that.

Unknown Deborah, I think that's part of the problem. Still, those same people are now getting on in years. Why haven't they learned a thing from their failures?

GawainGregor, the radicals I knew when I was in college the first time had a useful bit of advice: "Anyone who advocates violence against the government in public is either an idiot or an agent provocateur." It still applies!

Pygmycory, climb on board. We're headed a long way further than the SCA has gotten!

Pinku-sensei, exactly. Those are classic examples of what happens if you treat violence, or for that matter protest, as a strategy in themselves, rather than using them in the service of a strategy that can actually work.

Fabian, Mao knew what he was talking about. To my mind, he should have paid more attention to the first, ideological and cultural phase of the struggle, but that's a quibble.

John, will you do me a favor? The next time somebody refers to someone else as a "cuckservative," find an excuse to refer to some other GOP politician as a "Kochservative." It's a meme whose time has come.

Chris, no, that's not what I'm saying. Do me the favor of reading back through the post, and you'll see that trying to work with existing power centers is exactly the strategy I identified as a common cause of failure in the left. No, you identify the potential power centers that are predisposed to sympathize with your cause, and the pressure groups whose interests will be advanced by your victory; that's who you bring into alliance, and then you attract others because you've already delegitimized the existing order and people are looking for something else. The left is so used to acting from a position of weakness that an astonishing number of people seem to have no idea how to act from a position of strength!

Jason, people are frankly desperate for leaders who will actually take their concerns seriously.

John, if you take power away from the center, you're going to impose sharp limits on the ability of your regime to get anything done, at a time when getting things done will be as essential as it is difficult. I've argued before that the problem with the US in particular is that there's too little power at the center -- the entire political system is so gridlocked that even the most essential tasks can no longer be done, and the system can be looted with impunity. That's not something that happens to strong centralized governments!

Ray Wharton said...

Another current thing I have noticed isn't in the news, its in the mood. More and more I over hear things that break from the main stream script uttered publicly, which ain't news to anybody I suspect, but what gets me is how narratively mixed up it is. We talk here about how folks use stories to form groups "You think about the world with this set of stories and explanations? I do to, let's get coffee! You would love my roommate." For that to work you gotta keep your stories straight, well I am hearing all kinds of new mixes of different ideologies. I don't want to get into examples because I don't think I can do justice to the stories, since they aren't my own; I am trusting that y'all can imagine up what I am talking about, maybe check for observations of the type in your life.

Its like the different opinions are, um, melting. Yeah, that's it, melting. They are getting all liquid and flowing into one another like butter and chocolate chips. Seems like new and unpredictable combinations could crystallize really fast if conditions were to change. Big changes of course are in the breeze, as is said here, target rich environment.

What to do on a personal level for me comes down to the seasons. Gonna go visit my folks for a few days, then start putting together preserves to poor man my way through the winter. While visiting my floks maybe decide on some self made work for the winter, I am leaning toward restarting my mycology project (wasn't cost effective in veggie growing season, makes more sense in the winter). In addition to that maybe work on the thinking needed to put together my own hedge of wizards, start some appropriate technology clubbing. The ideas in this post about leading folks if you got a destination I think could apply to things more practical than revolutions and making messes; maybe those same ideas can be applied to the problem of collaborating on simple things like tool shares, group pantries, and appropriate tech classes; gotta apply it to myself first, I've come along way as a hedge wizard, but it would be a good time to take my game up a notch, inspiration and direction are vital, and it seems the limiting resource for many of my projects.

MayHawk said...


Great post. I'll be waiting at the station ready to board. The trip looks to be exciting!


OldProle said...

Good, well thought out piece. A+.

The Left has maintained for a long time that violence is a bad strategy because the target (The Establishment) happens to be much better at violence than anybody else is. The Establishment is also not unobservant. (It hires people who specialize in being observant.) Any strong revolutionary movement, viciously violent or as peaceful as fields of clover, is not going to be left alone to pursue their strategy, however benign it tries to appear.

"The Left" -- socialists, communists, labor organizers, labor unions, civil rights workers, their lawyers, their leaders, etc. have been the recipients of several sustained attacks by The Establishment and its surrogates. One of the first was the Red Scare of 1919. It featured pretty crude violence authored by The Establishment: lynchings, assassinations, beatings--the works. The communists were busy on a couple of good projects in the 1930s--labor organizing and civil rights work. After WWII The Establishment weeded them out of responsible positions and/or blackballed, blackmailed, disgraced, compromised, etc. as many of them as possible. Homosexuals were targeted at the same time; they found homos about as unappealing as communists.

In 1957 the FBI began COINTELPRO which targeted civil rights groups; the KKK (not a civil rights group); anti-war groups; Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); socialists again -- the new crop; the Black Panthers; and so on. This lasted through 1971, when a lucky burglary of an FBI office by a Citizens Investigation revealed the program to disrupt the left. There was much publicity, official investigations, and a climb down by the FBI.

So, we know that the Establishment didn't stop trying to screw up the Loyal Opposition. Nixon's Dirty Tricks squad, CREEP, cabinet members, and all sorts of other people were involved.

Then there is the post 9/11 (maybe pre-9/11) domestic spying which the government has undertaken with the help of AT&T et al.

So, my point is this: Please don't think you will be left unattended by agents of the United States Government. IF some group shows capability and success in delegitimizing The State, The Establishment, The Economic Regime, The Political System, etc., THEN they will be in the crosshairs of some federal agency or a surrogate. They don't play nice.

beneaththesurface said...

It occurs to me that the fringe radical activists who advocate violent insurrection against the existing order actually share a pervasive weakness of mainstream culture: an inability to understand the limits of human power, and the myth of human omnipotence. When I read arguments for violence from certain radical environmentalists, for example, I find their logic problematic. If small numbers of people commit acts of violence against "the system" -- what will change in the culture, besides making their underlying cause seem even more fringe, and causing even more misery and bloodshed? Somehow certain activists like to think that only people (and specifically those as "enlightened" as them) have the power to bring down the system, when nature herself will ultimately bring it all down.

I don't consider myself absolutely a pacifist, though I am no fan of violence, and generally am in favor of non-violent responses to conflict whenever possible, at least in how I live my life. A few years ago I read some of the writings by Jensen and others who associate with Deep Green Resistance, who call for stopping the industrial machine by whatever means possible, even if that means violent action. From a strategic perspective it didn't seem to make much sense to me. When the enemy is the industrial machine, who is the target? Who is the perpetrator that is destroying ecosystems and stealing from the future? It is an entire culture; of course, with varying levels of complicity by people within that culture, but it's difficult to pin down which people or places or institutions to eliminate, because the culture is almost everywhere. Sure, you can kill a few CEOs, or burn down an SUV dealership, or whatever, but the culture will still remain, and there a feedback loops that may even perpetuate the evils of "the system" further in response to your violent action in ways one can't always predict. Systems thinking, understanding flows and feedback loops, not isolating into parts a complex ecosystem -- all are important in political strategy.

Over a decade ago, I participated more in political protests than I do now, including a few nonviolent civil disobediences, some of which I felt were disempowering. Though civil disobedience can sometimes be an effective strategy (the 60s civil rights movement is a good example). The one area of civil disobedience I wholeheartedly endorse is non-participation as much as possible in the consumer economy. That's a type of disobedience I do everyday; I don't have to go out to some special protest to symbolically express my desire for someone else to enact some change. Not buying achieves results, however small, right then and there, and is empowering in so many ways. Although I don't always agree with the opinions expressed by Adbusters, I have supported Buy Nothing Day (though it should be more than a day), and would be happy if it were to replace Earth Day, which I hate.

Donald Hargraves said...


Ray Wharton said "In current events I have noticed some feelers being sent out for a potential alliance between the Oath Keepers and Black Lives Matter." Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter has been challenging Democratic Presidential Candidates, often taking control of the venues.

So...have the feelers been bearing fruit? Methinks it's possible.

Wouldn't be the first time – I actually remember seeing some postings of "Green Tea" Meetings, where Greens and Tea Party folks would meet to discuss various points of agreement and disagreement. So that White Radical Right reaching out doesn't surprise me at all.

Nastarana said...

Mr. Geer, am I to understand that you agree with Abbe Berruel, that there was a conspiracy or three, which brought about the French Revolution? Apparently no less than Edmund Burke, who corresponded with Berruel, thought there had been.

The one thing which American elites will not tolerate is alliance between black and white working folks. The last time there was the beginning of such an alliance was during the progressive movement of the last part of the 19thC. At that time the American establishment funded the NAACP, using Jewish model minority bagmen as intermediaries, while at the same time directly funding the KKK, in order, I think, to drive the two groups apart.

Gloucon X said...

Interesting. How would you apply these lessons to the failure of your own favorite cause--the Peak Oil movement?

HalFiore said...

I'm not sure it's all that helpful to look at the climate change "movement" and its lack of success in terms of revolution. I've never seen anything or anyone in the climate change debate that I would describe as revolutionary. Except for a small fringe (the "deep ecology" movement) that I was involved with in the 80s, you would have a hard time applying that word to the environmental movement in general. It was, and mostly remains, a hobby of the comfortable middle class, and there is little interest in causing any real revolutionary changes that would remove that comfort.

Even organizations that started out pretty radical, such as Greenpeace, had devolved into professional pressure groups by the time I got involved in the movement. Climate change was just barely beginning to enter the activist consciousness at that time, and, other than providing some rhetorical ammunition, was generally punted to the academics.

They, a conservative lot by nature, had their work cut out for them just reaching a consensus. Which is actually kind of appropriate, given all of the uncertainties in the science, but it sure didn't help in motivating the public to interest or action. Here was an issue that requires some pretty intense scientific inquiry and understanding to get a handle on, not to mention to communicate to the uneducated.

I'd be interested to know what you think a potentially successful approach would have looked like. Assuming that you had a group with a firm enough grasp on the issue, early enough to actually make a difference. Starting with step #1, who exactly would you target for delegitimization?

economicilliteracy said...

Batalos - I think your question is best answered by that hoary old political maxim: "The Left look for traitors, while the Right look for allies". It's only a maxim because it appears to be true.

Which is another way of saying that I think the Left's post-war project is dead. Despite the warnings of Monbiot on the one hand and the vision of Paul Mason's Post-Capitalism on the other, the Left has neither the coherence nor the strategy to effect change - it's too fragmented and far too comfortable arguing with itself to have any effect in the real world. This has resulted in a political void that the Right will eventually fill.

So in my view the next revolution will come from the Right - although perhaps not quickly. Despite the rhetoric (and the astounding collection of guns) in America, I observe from a distance that Americans are not quick to spring to revolution.

Some sectors of your society are under the sort of provocation that can only come from an occupying army - see Ferguson for an example - yet there are no armed insurrections against the occupiers, no roadside bombs aimed at the occupying force .... which leads me to conclude that there is yet a shared vision for a better society in America. The leaders of those communities may be preaching outrage, but they seem quite some distance from preaching armed revolt, and I think the political discourse has not yet failed. For instance, gay marriage may be a divisive issue in some states, but the fact that it happened at all underlines the fact that your democracy can still effect social change.

So despite the warnings and portents - that JMG spots long before the rest of us mere mortals - I am optimistic about the next few years in America. Positive changes may yet occur that could surprise us all.

FiftyNiner said...

You certainly get me thinking in different directions! I agree with you that the gridlock in the central government renders our's among the least effective on earth. If that is so then the corporations are indeed making all the pertinent decisions. ( I can't wait for that to come to an explosive end for Monsanto!)
This post made me realize, however, that you and your readers--myself included--are ahead of the populace as a whole on how precarious our current predicament is. At sixty-three I am in no health to join the revolution!
I am wondering why Alabama, except for Mobile and Baldwin counties, was excluded from Jade Helm.
Either Alabama is considered so patriotic as to not be a threat to TPTB, or it is so full of armed good ol' boys as to better be left alone. There is a strange cachet that adheres to the "Cradle of the Confederacy"! But living here in the woods south of Montgomery, I must admit that I don't know the answer. Things seems to be going on as usual. I have known several young men who have done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. My draft number was 7 during the Vietnam war and I would have gone if drafted, but if I were a young person now, even if there were a draft, I would not have gone to Iraq or Afghanistan. On my last trip to the big box store I ran into the mother of a young man who was the member of a Black Hawk crew in Afghanistan. She told me that he is now safely out of the military. He lost his best friend and apparently any enthusiasm for what he was doing over there.
As I type this I am hearing on the radio that the FBI has just said that ISIS now has a presence in all 50 states!

Bike Club Vest Prez said...

I started with peak oil years and years ago by making friends with Jay Hanson and participating in his Energy Resources mailing list. There have been a lot of good technical blogs about peak oil since, but this blog is the only good resource I have found that addresses what works and does not when change is upon us. So thanks for that.

My friend Creature told me that if I was in to sustainable living, I should get a bus and live in that. At first I was skeptical -- buses are gas powered, after all. But I have since seen the sense of it. Buses are also small, and at least potentially mobile. Now I have bought in to an RV cooperative. The yearly fees are less than the property taxes on my house in the burbs. I talk to folks about my plans. I say "Why do I need all this stuff? I don't want to take care of all this house and stuff." Usually, I get a lot of agreement. People nod their heads and see the sense of it. I mention this because I think this could be part of a vision of the future. An arrangement where we spend less time and money taking care of our stuff, and more time focusing on what is really the key to our happiness -- our relationships with other people. Family, friends, community. A vision that includes the idea that our lives can be happier without all this material baggage.

I actually agree about the (in some circles) unfashionable patriotism. I have been a lot of places. I do like this country. It is very much my home. But how did the rich take control of the political process such that the concerns of the average citizen hold so little weight. I have a pet theory that television had a lot to do with it. It goes to a different location in the brain. It makes us more susceptible to what is superficial and irrelevant. Also, Citizens Unites cannot have helped. Any comments on my pet theory?

Dorda Giovex said...

This post explains very well why false flag tactics are very effective ways for the establishment to fight movements in early stages of the revolutionary process. I feel that western countries have made large use of these tactics in the last 50 years, first in Europe during the '70 and '80 (Italy especially) then in us (twin towers, Boston etc.).
I also feel that most social justice movements have been infiltrated then delegitimized not only by using violence but also by steering the movements into taking politically counterproductive stances. (See trade union deligitimization and separation from worker's economic defence for example).
Climate change has a strange status: it is an inherently conservative message ... yet it clashed with gop's revolutionary goal to create a new aristocracy through hyper-capitalism. The left, a conservative party mimicking a progressive one picked it up and watered it down (all dreadful predictions were and are conveniently set for the year 2100. far away enough to be politically irrelevant)

flute said...

Thank you for one of your more insightful posts!
I can see an example of what you describe in the radical animal rights movement here in Sweden. After failing to attract enough popular support, they have in their frustration turned to misguided acts of violence, in many cases only leading to even worse conditions for the animals they tried to "help", e.g. when opening the cages in mink farms to let the animals out into starvation in cruel nature. This of course only marginalises the movement.

Lou Nelms said...

Speaking of violence: We are all actively and collectively violent participants in the war on earth. As American consumers of energy and resources and leaders of the American Way of living on earth, we are exceptionally violent. As consumers, right or left or whatever, we have largely adopted the corporatist, technocratic mindset. The right has mastered the political/economic technique of creating common enemies of consumerism -- threats to the American Way of living large. They have largely reshaped the concepts of freedom along the lines of choices of which machines take us down the hard road most inefficiently. Freedom to continue down the river of oil. Freedom to keep your tank full. Freedom! With all the muster of empire. We have no choice but to be violent actors on this stage we keep set. No matter how you cut it, no matter how you attempt to cut your cord from it with whatever alternative life ways, you are still attached to it and will remain a violent participant in the war on earth. Down this river of oil. Down this big grow.
As I prepare for my morning commute on the hard road. Considering my own violence to earth, my own cog in the machine. To what end? So clear the pane. It pains me. So, speaking of violence, I am full on in it. With all the muster of empire. Patriots gamed.

tout uncommon said...

A short question with perhaps a long answer, or none. How do you perceive the
events in the Middle East over the past decade or so with the rise of groups
such as Al Qaida and ISIL in attempting to overthrow existing power structures
and regimes in order to establish a new order there? Way off topic, in a certain
sense, but at least relevant to the ideas of revolutionary movements and the use
of violence....

Odin's Raven said...

If you are more concerned that something should be done, rather than who should do it, perhaps it would be useful to change your rhetoric to appeal to those who are likely to be in a position to do it.Prudent hedging of bets was also practiced by such successful survivors in leading positions as Themistocles, Marlborough, Talleyrand and Franklin.

Denys said...

The right also has played it that everyone has neighbors who are lazy (waiting for hand outs from Obama, and if they are in unemployed or underemployed it is because of this laziness), and immoral (to believe that the government doesn't have a right to regulate every human function is somehow abhorrent). So the horrifying thought came to mind that the reason the right wants these Oathkeepers and their ilk to hold onto their military grade weapons is so when they say, "right" neighbors turn against "left" neighbors? It won't be the government or military directly taking over our country, but those that follow the right's belief gunning down their fellow citizens. Wonder how they will identify those that have to be eliminated?

Mat F said...

So - considering the stakes and the trajectory, sabotage on a massive scale to shorten the transition period to a carbon minimal future might also be an effective strategy, or how do you see that? (Think Holmgren & others already veered into that field lately)
At least, if one were willing to live
A) with the violent counter-reaction of existing power-centers and
B) could face the weight of collateral damage
e.g. collapse of high-tech, resource-intensive health care, social support systems, mass-starvation and poverty (for those 10% in industrialized countries not already starving under the old regime, probably non-elites would be hit more than resource-controlling elites in the early days)

donalfagan said...

Love the Salvor Hardin title. For some reason it reminded me of Hardin talking to the dilettante archaeologist from Anacreon.
WRT to violence, I think we saw with Occupy, and more recently in Ferguson and Baltimore, how even demonstrators committed to peaceful protest can become portrayed as violent when fringe elements go black bloc. WRT to the failure of the left, and the success of the right, I think the pendulum swung as far to the left as our fossil fuel bonus allowed, and was inevitably going to swing back the other way. On facebook, some of us were discussing Hillary's statement to Black Lives Matter activists:

“I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.”

I tend to think that you have to change hearts, enough hearts anyway, but I think as the economy unravels hearts are hardening in the wrong direction.

Rita Narayanan said...

The *sacrifices* that environmentalists ask of people/governments can only be compared to the early Christians (who chose soul over material comfort/compromise)....all modern revolutions have been bloody(so it is us vs them) or like in India, a sort of unity against a foreign enemy. But the glamour of such revolutions fuelled by articulate leaders often create false illusions which have severe implications for the internal health of society.

IMHO this task is going to be very difficult since a large part of the world dreams of living like Americans. :)

Many of the environmental elite in terms of education,sensibilities & disposition closer to the western educated class..... strike a note with the masses *in terms of a cause* & the masses are on board with their interests being taken care off by a hip brigade(a lot of money & talking comes from rich western foundaions too).

India had a stream of very educated, liberal minded leaders are the dawn of 1947 who preached egalite but none of them resembled the middle class let alone the poor.

the problem is the West has tasted the fruits of material advancement but many have not......thus the task that lies ahead very ardous.


RCW - said...

Written better than a decade ago, State of Fear, written by Michael Crichton, is a fictional novel, wherein the plot & characters are used to weave the tapestry of this topic of tactics. I reckon it's time to borrow it from the public library to refresh my memory.

gregorach said...

I'm coming to the conclusion that a large part of the reason why the "climate change movement" has fared so abysmally badly is simply that they don't really want to succeed. They want to be able to say they tried, but they don't actually want to make the sort of changes that they know, deep in their hearts, are really required. They want to keep their comfortable middle-class lifestyles, and blame somebody else for the consequences.

The idea that any more than a tiny minority of them might now turn to political violence is ludicrous. If you haven't got enough conviction to give up your car and your annual foreign holiday, you're certainly not going to take up arms and start killing people.

As for why fantasies of redemptive violence are so popular... In addition to being a wonderful excuse for inaction, they're almost the only story our society tells itself any more. The only resolution to a story that we can still imagine is for the hero to defeat the bad guy in a bare-knuckle fight at the climax of the third act, after machine-gunning a horde of mooks.

Cherokee Organics said...


An effective dispel. Incidentally, Sun Tzu who was a pretty switched on dude in such matters recommends to take the whole (or I'm suspecting as much as possible). That means infrastructure, people and cultural institutions too. I suspect that relearning the skills of democracy would be quite useful at this point in time as a useful defusing technique as people could re-engage with the political system instead of feeling alienated. That may assist with keeping the whole as going down that particular rabbit hole will wipe out a lot of that very useful whole.

Mind you, my gut feeling is that people are both itching for a fight and someone to blame, which is a bit sad really.

In such circumstances, perhaps it is far more useful to stand aside (hopefully) and let others duke it out whilst maintaining a fair degree of usefulness so that you are left in one piece. With a bit of luck there will be a place in the sun after the dust has settled - good luck though!

Interestingly, I took up martial arts as a teenager because I wanted to learn how to fight so that I could avoid fights. They were an unfortunate aspect of life down here. There's theory and then there's practice. Just sayin...

You handed an excellent warning message to those that clearly need to hear it. Honestly, they sound like two years olds - cracking the sads! (feel free to use that Down Under expression as it paints a vivid illustration)



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: Manure happens. Manure is serious business down here and I moved quite a bit of the stuff this past week along with quite a few fruit trees. The house batteries are now full most days as that sun keeps climbing higher in the sky and this is the final week of the solar power statistics. Plus lots of house construction stuff and the blog passed 50,000 reads this week! Bring it on people! Hehe!

Cathy McGuire said...

I'm looking forward to Retrotopia. I think fiction is a wonderful way to get people to imagine something different from BAU. And that's desperately needed. Speaking of fiction, I thought I'd mention that I've posted the final chapter on my novel Lifeline over at - those of you who hate reading in segments can go back to November 2014 and read the whole thing.It will be up for a while still, but not forever.:-)

Paulo said...

@ William Church

Excellent comment, imho. Of course I am one of those who build, plumb, plant, harvest etc.

I just wanted to add that opting out of strident side taking works very well, too. In my little corner of the world we just go on with our private lives. The few "Thou shalt nots" we follow are the usual....adding on "no drunk driving (beyond our dead end road)" to the list. As for the rest of the interfering state agenda our attitude seems to be a cross between Ghandi's march for salt and Steve Earle's 'Copperhead Road".

Oh yeah, we hold our nose and vote, but of course this is Canada and we don't seem to have too many Trumps up here. Corporate Theivery abounds, but our family supports whoever best supports what we call, 'the workingman'.


TashaTeaLeaf said...

In order to give people an image of a potential future your have to have actually thought about the future, which many people in reactionary movements don't do.

If they have thought about it at all, it's in vague platitudes like, 'a better future' or 'living with nature' rather than an actual, concrete reality.

A reactionary movement is almost by definition working in the past, responding to events that have already happened.

A revolutionary movement has to work in the future, laying the foundation for events they want to happen. But once again, in order to lay a foundation, you have to know what you're actually building.

Mark Rice said...

For a long time I have thought the yuppie envirenmentalists should seek an alliance with the hunting and fishing crowd. These groups have some interests in common.

Now I see a lot of common ground between the libertarian teabaggers and those of a more "occupy" persuasion. Both groups are upset with the security state, the expensive foreign wars, and more.

one gun said...

JMG, love the post. I don't usually read your genre of fiction but I'm going on vacation so the timing might be a perfect time to make an exception.

My liberal friends become enraged when I point out how the Fundamental Christian Movement and the Political Global Warming Movement (as opposed to the actual science) have the same structure, attitudes and ultimately the same end.

As to violence, whether it is against sex workers, ELF burning mansions or cutting utility cables/infrastructure (the current crime of fashion here in the west) the revolutionary can't seem to fathom that it is the ongoing criminality that gets them caught. I will be curious to see who is behind the utility damage this time. It's becoming a toss up of who is angrier these days.

My conservative friends take the position that as collapse happens they will ride the changes down the slope. They think me liberal when I suggest that predicting which change will be gradual and which will be instant is sometimes difficult to predict and because of this they might want to rethink how they plan to ride the wave down. The devil is in the details.

I believe the truth lies somewhere between the two camps. I tell them all the same thing: You make your choices and you take your chances. Choose wisely.


peakfuture said...

Regarding an alliance between the Oathkeepers and the Black Lives Matter folks, there's an interesting book I read a few months ago - "The Negro and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms." A very well documented and well written book on some of that overlap. I've always wondered why all minorities don't embrace responsible firearms traditions. One of the great parts of the book is the discussion of how that tradition morphed over time to the situation today.

On insurrection/revolution, JMG brings up some points that are reflected in Max Boot's _Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present_; violence is only a part of the whole package.

As large organizations and large operations become less possible (due to peak energy and peak resource concerns), things will play out differently than in the resource rich 20th century.

The quote, "Anyone who advocates violence against the government in public is either an idiot or an agent provocateur." is probably the best one I've ever heard in this realm. ADR-folk; what are other classic "rules of realistic change" might we post for all wanna-be revolutionaries?

Spanish fly said...

About USA political collapse:

'it seems likely to me that the US will see the collapse of its current system of government, probably accompanied with violent revolution or civil war, within a decade or two. '

Please, do not push the red button...

About political violence:

When I was a teeenager student, I remember University political fanzines calling for insurgence against the system, they had a lot of AK-47s and molotov cocktails. They were inofensive people, it was only the "porn" of violence without real sex...a pack of midle class cowards. Only some times leftist morons burned a spanish flag o made "terrific" graffitis over the walls of government offices.
There were too right-wing fascist morons, they made the same lithurgies, although sometimes attacked a poor black or chinese dude...
They were also REAL political violence from the Basque Country. It started in the FRanco dictatorship. Then, a lot of progressive spanish people had some friendliness to the secessionist basque people, but when the spanish regime changed to "democracy", basque groups continued on the same. It went worse, because they believed that killing civilians would be a good pressure to spanish government to be a free country. So in the 80s, ETA group put bombs at some supermarkets killing a lot of civilian people (not policemen or military), so secessionist groups and parties were isolated by their own violence. They started also killing nationalist basques because they were too moderate basque people fd up and became enemy of them. OK very clever, boys... They finished pleading for a political arrangement, and now Basque keeps being spanish soil...Secessionist terrorism has been more sucessful in avoiding basque independence than jingoism from the spanish right.
If you go to Northern Ireland, it's not the same song, but it rhymes a bit...
Red Brigades in Italy kidnapped former Prime minister Aldo Moro and killed him...Moro was a moderate politican that wanted alliances with communist left, so extreme left made dirty job to the right and extreme right, that did'nt want alliances with "moderate" leftist...

I'm not a pacifist, but I agree with you that brainless violence is not a panacea.

There is an old Italian film about stupid leftists using violence, "Allonsanfan" from 1973(Italian '70s had a violent outbreak of extremist terrorism, from right and left groups). I suppose that bombastic "green warriors" don't know it. What a pity. It has a very interesting ending...(in Italian)

The last s**t I want to see is green warriors doing dirty job green yihad-ISIS style("witness me!")to the negationist lobby...

hapibeli said...

Thanks JMG. Always a pleasure to peer inside your head, even if we only get the topmost layers! :-)
As a Vietnam infantry vet, I know about violence and its mental, emotional, and spiritually dislocating effects. Those who advocate it, rarely have experienced the wholesale problems it brings to anyone involved.
Your explanation of the enviro movement's failure is spot on. Their "we can still have it all" arrogance is disheartening and foolish in the extreme. My hope is, that here on Vancouver Island, we can control the rightward swing of the body politic, that always exists underneath any seemingly, "civilized" exterior.
I look forward to your digression in the coming weeks.

Spanish fly said...

"The U.S. has laws on the books giving itself permission to gather up and indefinitely detain anyone it perceives to speak out against the state, so I remind my fellow commenters to be judicious in their own choice of words. Personally, I'd rather be gardening than donating my time to the government."

Yeah, good caution. At this side of Atlantic Ocean there are some laws against mere praise of terrorism actions or terrorist groups. DEfinition of that speech crimes is so vague that every stupid sentence written or spoken in media, www or even iphone will be used against you, if you are a mischievous citizen according police files (for instance, having been arrested while protesting against your neighbour eviction).

trippticket said...

I like the way Rusted Root put it:

"Back to the Earth, I screamed,
But no one listened to me.
Back to the Earth, I lived,
And they all...followed."

I have found that choice of tactics to be excruciatingly valid in my own life. People follow what we do with a lot more interest now that we don't talk about it (much), than when we just yelled about what needed to be done all the time. No one cares much for that.

As always I thoroughly enjoyed your post, but I do want to take issue with one comment, the one about accelerating climate change because of the failure of climate change activism. I disagree. From a systems perspective, decreased human access to energy and resources translates into decreased additional pollution, no matter how you cook the books. That's one of the "silver linings" my own blog refers to, and that you take such issue with.

Now, I'm not saying that accelerating climate change isn't baked into the cake already by our previous actions, coupled with positive feedback mechanisms, but the way I read your statement, you're claiming that the rate of human impact on climate change will accelerate in the future because of the political failures of the past. As a fairly polished systems thinker, that just doesn't follow to me.

BTW, just finished "After Progress," and found it much to my liking...

Tidlösa said...

I´m glad to hear that Derrick Jensen has finally taken his meds, and don´t sound like a bad ultra-violent video game anymore, if that´s indeed the case - I stopped bothering about him a few years ago, during the DGR´s conflict with "Queer" activists in California. No, I wasn´t there, but we do have Youtube even in Sweden, LOL.

As for revolutions, I believe it was Lenin (no stranger to such) who said that revolutions happen when the government can´t rule in the old way anymore, and the people can´t stand being ruled the old way anymore - the point being that *both* conditions must apply for a revolution to happen. Thus, apart from all the preparatory work (which you mentioned splendidly!), there has to be a severe crisis for the actual revolution to happen. But yes, the United States does seem to fulfill Lenin´s conditions - that´s actually somewhat scary, since (as you and several others have pointed out already) the populist Right is much stronger than the left.

What seems to be lacking is a centralized/national force that can tie all the loose ends together. There is no Ross Perot or Pat Buchanan in the presidential race, only a clown like Donald Trump. Even competent and dangerous populists are in short supply these days!

I wonder if this is a new thing? There were more or less competent people ready to take over France after the fall of the aristocracy. There were more or less competent people ready to take over Russia in 1917, etc. But in the United States, we have a crisis not only of the system, but also of the opposition! Now, *that´s* scary, since it might lead to even more chaos and outright anarchy if and when the system implodes.

Perhaps this is typical of societies in the "long descent" - the dissidents are just as confused as the establishment. Even the alternative guys are in a process of degeneration and decomposition. Where is Toynbee´s "universal church" when we finally need it?

Let´s hope that when a competent opposition finally emerges, it will be of the more, shall we say, progressive bent than a certain "Fred Halliot"... Or, for that matter, Derrick Jensen.

Tidlösa said...

I´m eagerly awaiting the Retrotopia stuff. OK, will it include those old-fashioned type writers or manual double entry book keeping? If so, I´m in! ;-)

Ed-M said...

One of the flaws with the Left (or what pathetic remains there are of it here in the USA) is the ubiquitous presence of fault lines between the various causes, each competing with the others for money for its own just causes! It really doesn't occur to any of them to do something than lobbying, stageing protest rallies and deluging the donor base with dire "Look-What's-Going-To-Happen-If-Our-Side-Doesn't-Win-And-We-Won't-Unless-YOU-Donate-Money-Now!" pleas for money.

Of course the Righters don't hurt for money but they do it too.

And sometimes they, too, call for violence. Like this Texas Conservative who has called for fighting the LGBT movement and community whilst brandishing a sword.

Now as far as Left-wingers calling for violence, I don't know much but I do remember Chris Hedges writing once in a Truth-Out article that eventually the just causes will require violence, but those who are parents must strictly maintain nonviolent: violence would only be an option for the young and single. IIRC, he also stated we aren't at that point yet.

But I think the real reason why the Right is so successful and the Left is not, is because the Right receives so much more money, anonymously, from big donors. Plus there are the media outlets (Fox News, Clear Channel). What I'm saying is, millions stand behind the Right, and I don't mean just people. Or do people really think Alex Jones got to where he is on a shoestring?

Karim said...

Greetings all

JMG said :" Next Wednesday evening, we’ll be climbing aboard a train for Retrotopia."

If I understand well we board a high speed electric train at first and end up walking the last mile to Retrotopia because the steam engine broke down some where along the line!
Sounds interesting!

wagelaborer said...

Never underestimate the power of money.
My community radio station is now in the midst of its biannual fund drive. We are trying to raise $16,000 to keep on the air. Last spring it took 3 weeks to make it.
Meanwhile, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest have unlimited funds to spout right wing propaganda.
It is unfair to look at the results of a billion dollar campaign and attribute it to some sort of populist, grassroots organizing feat.
The right wing delegitimization of government is not some spontaneous American movement. It is the billionaire's plan to drown it in the bathtub. Leaving only the military-industrial complex and the militarized police, of course. You don't see right wingers complaining about our heroes, now, do you?

whomever said...

Great article, but my thing about the Right is this: It's not clear to me that they ARE "telingl them where you intend to take them". Oh, there's a mish-mash of hotbutton issues that will take about 6 months once the Great Revolution succeeds (Ban Abortion! Kick Out The Illegals! Remove Obamacare!), many of which are impractical (everyone knows the really deporting all illegals will be a) impractical and b) completely tank the economy). What then? Maybe I'm just not reading the right places?

pygmycory said...

I think the left here in Canada at the moment is doing a bit better at alliance-building, at least in BC. A lot of it is connected to opposition to pipelines, which is connecting environmentalists, First Nations, people who live along the coast and depend on it for their livelihood, and civil liberties activists who don't like Harper's attempts to discourage/repress dissent on this issue.

It makes it very difficult for anyone wanting to win election in BC in all but the most conservative areas to openly support pipelines. Of course, you still get governments reneging on promises after the election's over... but with the crash in oil prices it looks like it may well have killed the Northern Gateway for at least the next few years, and maybe Kinder Morgan as well.

At the moment there's a lot of emphasis from lots of different groups on defeating the Conservatives, at that may well happen. We'll have to see - the election's not until October so there's plenty of possibility for things to change. The political parties on the center-left are in competition, not alliance, as always, so there will be plenty of vote-splitting.

Bruno Bolzon said...

JMG, some of the groups that had a prominent role in last Sunday's round of protests have very strong ties with libertarian and conservative American think tanks. Also, a large fraction, if not all, of the new Brazillian right-wing movements are inspired by right wing Anglo-American intellectuals, ideologues and pundits. More than that, I do not know.

Bob Patterson said...

The problem with violent change is that once the power structure "everybody agreed" was corrupt and dysfunctional, looses legitimacy, a frenzy of "every man for himself" splinters the opposition in a myriad of ways. The post French revolutionary times were very confusing. Most of the revolutionaries had no intention of dethroning the king. Factions and pressure groups, some not above using violence in the furtherance of their own agendas all try to dominate. A wise man would best go on vacation until things settle down. Better that than get trampled in all the mayhem

The major similarity of the present to pre-revolutionary France is that the 99% feel they have no way to express themselves, politically or in the media. Power has been locked in and change is locked out. You vote for someone and it is meaningless.

I think is is plausible that the US will split into several autonomous regions that generally share an economy and culture. A Western republic of CA, NV AZ, OR, a Southwestern republic of NM, TX LA, OK, a Florida republic, A Southern republic of, MS, AR, AL, GA,SC, NC, TN, VA, A New England republic of CT, MA, ME, VT, NH, RI a Mid-atlantic republic of NY, PA, MD, NJ, OH, MI and so on. The borders of these regions will probably rivers or mountain ranged, rather than the arbitrary state line.

Bob Patterson said...

It is sort of hard to tell someone to "go garden" or do things yourself when government entities have recently tried to outlaw home growing of vegetables, working out of your home and even working on your own car.

Bruce E said...

I love the direction these posts are going, JMG. Your discussion of how the right-wing has properly cultivated the pre-revolutionary environment whereas the left-wing has completely failed at this largely because they've identified their causes with those in charge, such as President Obama, and thus cannot bring themselves to actively/consciously de-legitimize the federal government. There is a revolutionary zeitgeist that Sanders is tapping into in much the same way that Trump is tapping into it, a general sense that the status quo is leading us in fundamentally the wrong direction. However, what Sanders and the Dems lack and the GOP has (though Trump probably will not get access to this) is the practical foundation for a revolution, a solid group of people who will be in place to support the revolutionary program once it starts. The GOP has, I think, deliberately shot themselves in the foot by cultivating the least-popular Congress of all time, but that unpopularity itself feeds their goals of de-legitimizing centralized power in D.C.

Last week I told you about a colleague of mine who recently left our large multi-national conglomerate corporation, took a huge pay cut (maybe as much as half or more), and pursued a long-self-denied passion in the public high school he grew up in. You agreed with me that this is perhaps a way to "collapse now and avoid the rush!" and mentioned that if it caught on that it could tip the scales and accelerate the larger collapse by undermining the fragile processes currently keeping things together. Another less-drastic example of this is another colleague of mine who didn't leave but asked for a 20% cut to his salary in exchange for a 4-day work week. An even less-drastic example is myself, who ~3 years ago was working 55-60 hours per week (only getting paid for 40 hours of course because I'm salary/exempt), dropped to ~50 hours per week a year ago and in the last few months find I'm approaching the 40-42 hour per week range and coasting into a straight-up 40 hour workweek, combined with taking all of my vacation and other paid time off. All of these examples are the exact opposite of Jeb Bush's plan to establish 4% annual growth primarily through productivity gains by increasing the average hours per week people are working.

I'm wondering if such a bottom's-up revolution towards "retrotopia," starting with a piece-wise rejection of the American Dream(TM), might be a nonviolent method to start this party off. It is certainly preferable to the impractical top-down pipe dream of Progressives where a President Sanders, through the sheer power of his socialist rhetoric inspiring the masses combined with an intelligent set of policies drawn up by a small army of wonk-wizards, steers the country towards retrotopia from his helm in Washington and tweaking the marginal tax rates upward by 5%.

Good stuff. Can't wait to see more.

Aubrey Romero said...

I'm ready for the journey by train, the only trains I've been on were in museums and haven't run in decades. I have very little baggage, but it can be easier to learn that way.

Robert said...

Violent revolutions never achieve their aims. This is partly because so much more of the old society always continues into the new one than the revolutionaries want or realise and partly for another reason. There is a situational logic in revolutions. Disparate groups unite to overthrow an existing regime but once they have succeeded in doing so the cause that brought them together is gone and they then fight one another to fill the power vacuum that they themselves have created. These internecine struggles, usually savage, among erstwhile allies perpetuate the breakdown of society far beyond the overthrow of the old regime and delay the establishment of a new order. The population at large feels under threat from the unending social chaos and in these circumstances a strong man who can bring the warring factions to heel and impose order comes forward and meets with widespread support, or at least acquiescence. Thus a revolution carried out in the name of civil liberties, or equality, or to bring a tyranny to an end will itself end by putting into power a Cromwell, a Napoleon or a Stalin. All revolutions are uncontrollable and all revolutions are betrayed. It is in their nature that these things should be so. This fact makes belief in violent revolution as a method of changing society not only irrational and delusional but profoundly immoral.

And yes anyone in a group who openly advocates violence is either an idiot or a provocateur.

Stuart Jeffery said...


For me the defining part of this week's piece was the failure of the climate change movement to provide that convincing vision outside of its own members. Your comparison with Churchill calling for shared sacrifice harps back to last week's piece on the war against change which he was clearly fighting and as you note this is a far easier call to action.

Had Churchill called for shared sacrifice to prevent climate change and avoid the problems with peak oil by permanently reducing consumption and the economy I doubt he would have been quite as successful no matter which actor gave the speech on the radio on his behalf.

It is that vision of the future, a green future that people would vote for, that has been difficult to articulate. The visions of a green future that I have seen have been thaumatologically (is that a word??) trounced by the populist political lies supported by biased and corrupt media.

How do we overcome the Tea Party / UKIP / right wing biased and corrupt media?


SLClaire said...

I don't know why anyone would pay for a history degree when they can read your blog for the cost of a used computer with a sufficiently decent browser to read your blog and an Internet connection to receive it. (And they wouldn't have to pay that if they used the computer their taxes have already paid for in their local public library.)

I too am looking forward to your posts on Retrotopia. As a recent small contribution toward a nascent Retrotopia, in the past week I bought a ladies pocket watch from around the turn of the 20th century for what a friend of mine who enjoys buying at estate auctions paid for it. The engraving, the artistry of the face, the intricacy of the movement ... even the most expensive watch of current manufacture cannot compete. It runs but not well and needs a crystal, so I entrusted it to a local jeweler who contracts with another local jeweler who knows how to restore these beauties. So not only am I preserving a watch that represents among the finest in technological regression for my use, but I am helping in a small way to keep the skills required to maintain such a timepiece alive.

futuredave60 said...

I agree strongly with this weeks post, but we may be overlooking a third point. Another factor in a successful revolution or regime change is a vision of what the future could look like if your ideas are implemented. I think that currently there is no clear vision of what a sustainable, fair, and equitable society looks like. If such a vision could be communicated in a manner that is clearly understood by the large majority of the population, then they could begin the process of moving in that direction, identifying the parts of the current paradigm that do not work as they should, and choosing ways of living, eating, getting energy, voting, etc. that do work toward the goal. This would make the violent portion of the revolution unnecessary as we would already be heading in the right direction.

There are many ideas of how a society could and should work, but they are not clearly outlined and understood. Some individual ideas are floated, but they can easily be discounted as being socialistic or otherwise not constitutional out of hand without serious discussion. A broader outline of the goal should be fleshed out.

Here is a place to start. I have a quote from Paul Hellyer (check him out) on my wall: "Earth can be a paradise planet, a model for this sector of the galaxy, clean air, clean water, clean oceans, abundant wildlife, free energy, health and education for every human being."

MIckGspot said...

"To a remarkable extent, the sort of rock-ribbed middle Americans who used to insist that of course the American political system is the best in the world are now convinced that the American political system is their enemy, and the enemy of everything they value."

I am one of those people and it took a long time to move to that spot as it also did to believe in human caused climate change as put out by the Climate Change scientific community. Everyone I've ever interviewed on the subject of Climate Change has strong opinions on the subject but no one ever read any of the reports from the IPCC or sources other than headline pablum.

I advocate for more violence against the oceans as they rise. People should face the water and pound their fists into it, Unloading a couple magazines from that assault rifle or double stack pistol into the ocean may be good for the soul too. Faux violence I call this sort of action is a good way to get rid of nasty psychic energy build ups as is taking up a martial arts practice.

Such a small percent of people in the West have experienced real hard nosed violence. Per my experience this is a good thing.

Rita said...

@ Batalos--you ask why the Right is so much better organized in their attempts to discredit American institutions. I would recommend the works of George Lakoff. He is a linguist who began studying metaphor in language. He came to believe that metaphors are more important that they are usually give credit for and that they structure our thinking rather than being merely decorative flourishes on our language. One example he gives is that since we are an upright species we tend to value high over low. So we speak of having a high position in a company, or higher ideals, or low motives, low-down sneaking cur as an insult, and so forth. Since our vision is concentrated to the front--movement forward is valued over movement backward, which is very pertinent to JMG's comments about progress as an unquestioned value. Now to the political point. Lakoff demonstrates his books that the Right has spent a great deal of time, money and other resources on think tanks such as the Cato Institute. Bypassing the regular universities, which they see as bastions of liberal thought, they have used these other institutions to hone their language. For instance, they will frame arguments with particular terminology which cripples opponents if adopted by them. It is very difficult to argue for something that sounds as terrible as a "partial birth abortion" for instance. Someone may be for estate taxes, which sound like they only affect rich people with estates, a word that calls up images of landed gentry. But a 'death tax' just sounds wrong--tax people for dying, that's not fair.

M Smith said...

The Dow hit a low for the year today after step-stumbling down for several days. It's happening.

Don H said...

JMG, this is very helpful since I have been thinkiing about the position that the DGR manifesto took some years ago. If Jensen has softened that would be interesting.
In Canada, the story of the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec)adds support to your thesis. Violence ahead of what the population supported did not kill the independence movement, but it did not succeed in provoking them to action. Indeed, the two referenda in the past 40 years failed. Emotion did not overcome perceived benefit of remaining in the federation. In the same way, anarchists etc doing street battle with police at G20 meetings do not spark the population to action but only strengthen the position of repression. Looking forward, as always, to your next post.

Greg Belvedere said...

The caption for this picture of kayakers protesting oil drilling comically gets at a similar point.

James Python said...

Thanks for your response JMG- I agree. I'll add one more little speculation about how this will play out:

I think that just as some of the most popular folk myths to be told these days by young educated people are about the "backward, primitive, superstitious, pre-rational and pre-scietnfic" peoples of the past (a motif extended to the people of the present who lack college degrees) I argue that within 30 years, many of those very same people who will be alive to tell the tale of it will be trading that narrative in for its exact inverse.

Instead, the myth will be about a group of young people and their parents who were scammed into betting their entire life savings, plus 30 year-long debts large enough to buy a house or a sports car, on a piece of paper at a campus where, somehow, all the classes were taught by people other than the professor and if the professor ever did come, he or she mostly just wasted people's time by ranting about politics or using made up words and jargon with, ironically enough, no empirical verification or scientific basis. After 6 years of lingering on campus due to a few more requirements each semester that kept them from graduating, the student finally emerges 130,000 dollars in debt for a piece of paper that are somehow a dime a dozen these days (somehow, every waiter and bar tender all got masters degrees)

Debt collectors, however, relentlessly call the graduate, his family, his boss, and his relatives night and day and threaten to sue him or put him in prison if he doesn't hand over 1,700 dollars a month. Though the value of the college experience still feels somewhat fresh and valuable 5 months after graduation, 15 years after graduation it has become nothing but a bitter memory. 25 years later, when the institution where he graduated has long since been shut down due to dropping enrollments and tougher restrictions on student loans, the rationale behind why that money should still leave his monthly income become even more nonsensical and by the end, masses of graduates take to the streets to burn their degrees and their debt papers.

Myths of the "pseudo-intellectual who scammed me" will provide fodder for another social taboo. The very same "rationalist" character archetype who is the hero of the age of "progress" will likely morph into the "pseudo-intelectual" villain of future folk tales. I think some sort of dogmatic religion (the exact inverse of that figure) will take hold in that future, with Islam being my bet for the most likely contender (given how much mainstream Christianity in America has been watered down to appeal to consumerist, middle class people through the "prosperity gospel.")

Cherokee Organics said...


There are a whole lot of other ways for actual change to take place that don't involve the sort of activities called for by some people. As you quite rightly point out, they do require shared sacrifice and that is one of the keys to co-operation, although that requires a cultural shift.

I've often wondered whether at the core of the call to violence is a dirty secret in that people are seeking to maintain their own perquisites at the expense of other people? I mean wasn't that policy at the core of the Roman Empire economic system?

It looks exactly the same to me, but with a mildly different ideology - but essentially the outcome is the same.

The other thing that comes to mind is that the people that are currently funding the delegitimisation may be excellent at managing that side of things. The hands on side of the equation is a whole different matter and I certainly wouldn't chuck my support behind them, as they - to my mind - have no experience whatsoever in the down and dirty side of things and their existing controls arise from the existing order - which they're busily trying to delegitimise. I strongly suspect that their hubris may be their undoing - but that is their problem.

I recently had the opportunity to witness someone take on the system and they were thoroughly stomped by the system.

Incidentally, environmental activists used to regularly be arrested and go to prison. That was like a revolving door way back in the early 1980’s when the state government of Tasmania was trying to dam the Franklin River. It was almost farcical. Too bad it appears as though the mining interests are eating away at the core protections on the west coast of that beautiful and very large island.



DaShui said...

I don't know if you know but you made it on a rightist website:

nuku said...

@futuredave60: I might respectfully suggest that if you’re going to give a clear vision of what a future might look like in order to motivate people to move in that direction, I believe its important to frame that vision in accordance with something attainable in the real physical world in finite time.
To frame the vision in terms of a “paradise earth” with “free energy” and everything “clean” might appeal to folks who buy into the Big-Daddy-In-The-Sky-Heaven-Is-Our-Destiny mythos, but is not going to cut it with those of us who see earth as a place with limits and human nature as a non-perfectable mixed bag of tricks.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@beneaththesurface--Torah-observant Jews have a Buy Nothing Day every week. From sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday it is forbidden to handle money or engage in any kind of commerce. This and other observances on the Day of Rest are intended to give people a respite from their usual occupations and a taste of what life will be in the World-To-Come.

There are a lot of maxims and pronouncements from rabbis that keeping the Sabbath is what enables the Jewish people to live. Coming from a not very observant family, this meant nothing to me until recently. However, your remark ties into the posts JMG has written about the psychological dimensions of our problems. Rules and practices designed to give ordinary people a regularly occurring period of detachment from BAU, instead of delegating the experience of detachment to cloistered celibates, might support ordinary people's ability to conceive of a different way of life.

pygmycory said...

With reference to avoiding violence - Among other things, I notice that JMG suggested a while back that revolutions/major change that avoids wrecking the political machinery stands a much better chance of not degenerating into horrors like the Great Terror in France. So nonviolent revolutions are better in results than violent, provided they succeed in reaching power in the first place.

pygmycory said...

On another topic, it looks to me very much like the next financial crash is gathering steam. Remember to hang on to your hats.

MIckGspot said...

JMG - TY for the brilliant insight on opportunities in the realm of Conservatives and Black Lives Matter. I will test the waters with some interviews of Black Lives Matter people to see what may fly.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Robert--The American Revolution was a violent revolution and it achieved its aims. None of the things you describe occurred. Internecine struggle following military victory was kept in check while a national constitution was drafted; in the meantime, the state legislatures kept civil order and minimal functions of government going. Elected delegates from the several states ratified the federal Constitution in an orderly way. The first President was chosen essentially by acclamation, but he was no Cromwell, Napoleon or Stalin. He served two terms in office and retired to his plantation voluntarily. Over the next thirty-two years, nonviolent transfers of power between leaders of rival political parties occurred repeatedly. The United States operated under the Constitution of 1789 until the breakdown of order in 1860, and President Lincoln ran for a second term (in an election he expected to lose) during the Civil War.

As to why the course of the American Revolution was different from many others, perhaps that was because it was moderate, indeed rather conservative, in its aims. It was not preceded by widespread disasters, and it did not seek a wholesale restructuring of society.

John Michael Greer said...

Ray, that's fascinating. I'll keep an eye out for similar phenomena -- that's the kind of thing that happens when a culture's officially acceptable narratives start really falling to bits.

MayHawk, see you at the station!

OldProle, every movement for social change faces that sort of challenge. The American left is unique, or nearly so, in its insistence that it somehow ought to be exempt from the opposition faced by every other movement for social change.

Beneaththesurface, hmm! That makes sense. The notion of human omnipotence, and the sense of entitlement that goes with it, is pervasive everywhere else in today's industrial societies, after all.

Nastarana, nothing so organized as a conspiracy. There were simply a lot of middle-class intellectuals who wanted to see the French monarch replaced by something less obsessively class-ridden and autocratic, and who had the great good sense to go to work to make that happen, starting with the end of things they could influence most directly: public opinion. Their exclusion from political and economic power actually turned out to be a huge strength, since they weren't tempted to push the river: they just kept on jabbing away on the ideological plane until the French monarchy had become an object of ridicule and contempt even in the eyes of the people who benefited from it. The Revolution followed promptly.

Gloucon, that's a subject for an entire post, which will follow in due time. The very short form is that exactly the same points can be made: the peak oil movement failed to take its case effectively to the public, then wasted its time trying to pressure existing power centers rather than building alliances with potential allies, and basically fell over and died when the price of oil came back down. It didn't flop as completely as climate change activism, which is why there are still quite a few people reading this blog -- but it didn't achieve anything like what it could have, if it had gotten outside the protest-mentality box.

HalFiore, the obvious targets to start with would be the petroleum industry and its paid whores in the media. Imagine posters popping up in cities across the country, and in media: different pictures of landscapes ravaged by extreme weather, over the slogan BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE PETROLEUM INDUSTRY. Imagine individual spokespeople for climate change denialism targeted by name and called out as liars in the same anonymous, unanswerable way. Meanwhile essays show up in any periodical that will take them, talking about all the jobs that would be created if only the federal subsidies for the petroleum industry were to be spent instead on a nationwide program of conservation and homescale alternative energy.

Then you go from there -- hammering on the culpability of fossil fuel industries and their spokesflacks for extreme weather disasters, and all the benefits that would accrue to ordinary people if the tax money being wasted on the fossil fuel industry were to go to something more productive, like putting a solar water heater on every roof in the country, and on and on in every imaginable key, from every imaginable angle. Every time the opposition comes up with talking points, you target them, hard, and don't worry about playing fair -- they're not, you know.

There's more, much more, that can be done along the same lines. All you need is a handful of people who can write well, a little money, and a willingness to think outside the protest-mentality box and seize the initiative from the other side, and away you go.

FiftyNiner, probably because Jade Helm was simply a domestic-insurgency exercise, not the declaration of war on the American people that it's been spun as by the populist Right...

Prez, I think television certainly has something to do with it. There are plenty of factors, but that's one. I trust you don't own or watch one!

Kutamun said...

I suppose its not inconceivable that the corporate state might decide to attack itself by way of discrediting the environmental movement in a sort of domestic false flag. They would have to be losing the war against greenies to initiate this sort of drastic action but at the moment they are not losing so why bother ?
Nelson Mandela makes some interesting points in his "long walk to freedom " about his parties decision to arm themsleves at one point against the all pervasive white apartheid afrikaaner apparatus . Once they started actually training they realised the enormity and difficulty of the task , which fortunately many in the group agreed would most likely end in disaster as schoolteachers with hunting rifles tend to get massacred by combat hardened special forces . Undoubtedly their intellects saved many from being killed .
What may be the subtle difference between guerilla warfare in places like vietnam , south america and iraq versus the united states and apartheid south africa ? . I think many of the sucessful insurgencies are able to utilise the support of the populace against the invader as camouflage to melt away , whereas in the U.S at present i think you might find yourself demonised , relentlessly harried and unable to trust anyone , and pursued by the most elaborate high tech surveillance system the world has ever seen ; more like a criminal , which would make it all but impossible , at present .

DeVaul said...

This was a good synopsis of the so-called climate change movement. At the risk of being deleted for not being a true believer, I would like to relate my experience with Greenpeace and how I came to stop supporting them.

Usually, they sent me requests for money by mail, and for many years I would donate a small amount to them because I believed in what they were doing: confronting polluters directly at the source of the problem. I really admired that. No other organization would do that.

It was after Greenpeace suddenly jumped on the global warming bandwagon that I began to wonder what exactly they were doing now. One day, I received an email from them talking about the evils of burning coal and other fossil fuels. I decided to respond after some thought.

First, I should mention that I grew up in Eastern Kentucky, that I worked in the coal mines, that I saw with my own eyes miles and miles of destroyed mountain tops and whole mountains blown up at strip mines and pushed over into ravines, burying alive everything that lived there. Once, a red fox escaped, and a co-worker tried to shoot it, but I stopped him. My crew knew how I felt about the environment, and that I was ready for any kind of fight they wanted to dish out, so he relented.

The fox got away, but little else did.

So, one day Greenpeace sent me an email some 30 years later, as mentioned above. I decided to respond to it and ask them a direct question. First, I reminded them that the email had reached me via coal burning plants in Ashland, Ky, and then over huge power lines running from there all the way to Lexington, Ky, where I now live. (Their letters reached me via oil and gas). I told them that I assumed they were aware of this and approved of it before sending it to me.

My question was quite simple. Had they informed their members here in Kentucky that after ceasing to burn coal, oil, and gas, that they would have to live without electricity, and that this was the proper way to live? I told them that it was, but had they informed everyone of this and were they willing to do the same in DC?

Their response was Freudian. It side-stepped my question, or rather ignored it completely, and pretended that I had agreed with them on every matter and that they appreciated my support of their cause and then asked me for more money. In truth, I expected not to hear back from them, but this startled me. Were they living in reality still, or not?

I decided to try once more, asking them to answer my question and give me the details of their vision of our future once the evils of burning coal, gas, and oil had finally ceased. Of course, they had no vision of such a future, since they would have to give up their computers, their phone gadgets, their rubber diving suits and speedboats, and the oil, gas, and coal necessary to power all of it.

I never heard back from them, but the letters asking for money still come even though I quit long ago and asked them to stop cutting down trees and burning oil to deliver these useless letters to my home. They ignored me, and continue to do so.

The last environmental organization worth the name had decided to jump off a cliff into a world of magic and make believe. I fully believe that all of America will follow suit rather than face the real alternative: that there are no dilytheum crystals waiting out there to be found and our lives must change if we want to leave a living environment to our children and grandchildren. The so-called baby boomers and the generations before them have no such plans, and the younger generations are so consumed by gadgets that only a catastrophic crisis of Nature will get them to look up and see the world around them.

By then, it may be too late, but I hope not. As a Deaf person, I can see the world around me very clearly, as the gadgets do nothing for me at all, but I cannot force others to stop using them or pay attention to what is around them. The Romans called it "bread and circuses", I believe, and it works. It works really well.

John Michael Greer said...

Dorda, there again, revolutionary movements have been dealing effectively with false flag operations for hundreds of years. It's only recently that the left seems to have lost its ability to recognize that the other side doesn't have to play fair. As for the spinning out of climate-change disasters to 2100 -- no argument there. Right now, towns in the western US are being burnt to the ground because all the firefighters are busy elsewhere, collapsing glaciers in Greenland are causing tremors that are showing up on seismographs thousands of miles away, and Las Vegas may have to be abandoned to the desert in the next decade because there's no more water. The catastrophes are here. Deal with it.

Flute, exactly. Yes, and we have the same sort of stupidity in the animal-rights scene in the US, too.

Lou, so? What are you doing to change your own life?

Uncommon, way off topic, too large to tackle in less than a series of posts, and I prefer to focus on events here in the US where I have some chance of knowing what I'm talking about, so I'll pass.

Raven, who are you addressing?

Denys, it's important not to make the mistake of thinking that "the Right" is a monolithic bloc. It's not; the populist Right, the people I've identified as building a successful revolutionary movement, has very little in common with the establishment Right, the people who more or less run the government these days. The Oath Keepers are people who've quite literally taken a vow to defend the US constitution against the US government; where does that fit on your spectrum?

Mat, a clueless and hopelessly ineffective approach to a complex problem. The faster a system collapses, the easier it is to build it back up again -- and of course it's not irrelevant that neither you nor everyone in the world who thinks the way you do have anything like the resources needed to bring the system crashing down before you're (a) gunned down by SWAT teams or (b) torn to bloody gobbets by furious mobs who've suffered from the consequences of your actions. Next question, please!

Donalfagan, you have to change hearts and minds to change anything at all. That's one of the reasons Hillary Clinton's approach has racked up such an impressive string of failures over the years.

Rita, oh, no question, it's going to be a mess everywhere, and a lot of people in the nonindustrialized (and never-to-be-industrialized) world are going to long for an American lifestyle long after the last resources that might have supported that are gone forever.

RCW, by all means. By the way, is there such a thing as a nonfictional novel?

Gregorach, thank you. You get tonight's gold star for stating the unpalatable but true in uncompromising terms.

Cherokee, no argument there! Reviving the skills of democracy is among other things a way of undercutting the legitimacy of undemocratic governments. As for "cracking the sads," I'm still trying to parse that... ;-)

Cathy, congrats on finishing the novel! If I may speak from experience, that's not an easy thing to do.

aiastelamonides said...


Hurrah for Retropia!
Sorry, I mean Retrotot- no. Repto-.... Um, hurrah for Retorp-
Retirem- no, that's not right....

Well, whatever it's called, I'm excited.

(Retropotamia, the old-school river valley.)
(Reprotopia, any place designed to look like another)
(Reptotropia, the third-rate TV show about scaly land animals living between 23º26' N and 23º26' S.)

But seriously, this is a highly sensible post. I'm glad that you are focusing on the practical point of the limited effectiveness of violence. Too often discussions of this or that proposed policy assume that it will work exactly as planned, and that only the moral value of the plan is at issue.

The point that the same rules apply to internal and external attempts at revolution (e.g. to the hypothetical Green uprising and to the Iraq War) is illuminating.

Regarding a possible right-wing revolution, I expect it would resemble the original American Revolution (or the Chinese Civil War, or the current Syrian mess) more than the French Revolution. (I'm not arguing against you here- the steps leading up to either kind of revolution are similar.)

Violet Cabra said...

JMG, many thanks for your weekly essays - now and again they help me organize both my experiences of the outer world, my readings of history and my navigation through collective narrative.

In the spirit of retrotopia I'd love to share my most current blog post: kitchen witchery: an exploration of the medicinal uses of culinary herbs:

This project is largely informed by the great early 1800's herbalist Samuel Thomson who touched about a quarter of the American's of his day with his simple, accessible, effective, and let's not forget ecologically sustainable method of healing.

Eagerly awaiting next week's journey into narrative fiction!

best wishes,

John W. Riley said...

JMG, here is the link to my entry for the contest. Thanks for the excellent work you do.

John Michael Greer said...

Tasha, exactly! Thank you for getting it.

Mark, have you considered trying to help make those conversations happen? Somebody's got to take the first step, you know.

One Gun, oh, granted. It's that sense of entitlement again.

Peakfuture, I'd like to hear more useful slogans as well. That's the best one I recall -- well, that and "People who say you're either part of the problem or part of the solution are part of the problem."

Spanish Fly, if I had my way, the button wouldn't be pushed. Unfortunately there are a lot of people in this country who don't seem to share that feeling.

Hapibeli, thank you. I've known a lot of people who've dealt with violence up close and personal, as you have; I consider myself fortunate to have missed out on the experience!

Trippticket, no, that's not what I was saying. What I was saying is that because climate change activism flopped so dismally, our best chance to prevent the oncoming wave of climate catastrophes has gone whistling down the hot and dusty wind. Much could have been done -- but unfortunately very little was done, and so we have to deal with the consequences.

Tidlösa, one of the reasons I've wondered more than once if an outside power is funding the antigovernment propaganda et al. in the US these days is precisely that there's so little sense of an alternative being proposed. The most likely result, if that goes on, is disintegration into failed-state status. As for typewriters et al., stay tuned!

Ed-M, revolutionaries of the left have always been underfunded. That hasn't stopped them elsewhere.

Karim, funny! No, it'll be a plain diesel-electric train (burning biodiesel, btw), and it'll go all the way to its destination. That said, keep an eye out the window as we ride!

Wagelaborer, as I pointed out to Denys above, don't mistake the populist Right for the establishment Right. As for money, again, every left wing opposition movement in history has had to scramble for cash, and quite a few of them succeeded anyway. Looking for excuses for failure is not a useful habit -- learning from mistakes and doing something different next time is.

Whomever, get out there into the websites of the populist Right. They've got a very clear notion of where they want to take the country: back to where it was before the 1960s.

Joe McInerney said...

JMG, thank you, point taken regarding the tantrum of civil disobedience. First gain the loyalty of the masses and reach out to form pragmatic alliances. Our permaculture community does both but I have not appreciated the effort from this perspective. However, Chris Hedges is worth listening to.

John Michael Greer said...

Pygmycory, glad to hear it. Once the fracking bubble crashes good and hard, the collateral damage may make both pipelines nonstarters for decades or more.

Bruno, sorry to hear it. In that case, Brazil may be in for a very nasty time.

Bob, not necessarily. It depends on whether the people who are pushing toward revolution have any clue what to do with power once they have it. As for gardening, etc., you do what you can, and evasion is also an option.

Bruce, that's certainly one way to start. To my mind, the crucial thing is to start and not stop. Having collapsed ahead of the rush in one way, what's your next step? Always have a next step, and always be taking it, and you'll go far.

Aubrey, see you at the station!

Robert, you're massively overgeneralizing. Violent revolution, like the nonviolent kind, can achieve its ends so long as the ends are actually achievable: ousting a tyrant, abolishing a specific set of abuses, extending the vote and civil rights to a wider population, and so on. Any kind of revolution, violent or otherwise, that fixes its sights on Utopia is of course going to fail, but that's a matter of the impossibility of the goals, not of violence or its absence.

Stuart, good. Exactly; you have to have a vision of the future that actually appeals to the people -- not, please note, a vision that you think ought to appeal to them. As for how to get past the usual opposition, well, how did Britain's original Independent Labor Party, back when that was its name and the electoral system was controlled by the Liberals and Conservatives, get past the barriers in its way?

SLClaire, excellent! Thank you for stating the crucial point so clearly: this old technology is more elegant, more effective, more beautiful than its modern pseudo-equivalent. Hold onto that thought; there's no more unspeakable heresy right now, and no more crucial fact.

FutureDave, your quote from Paul Hellyer isn't a vision, it's exactly the kind of vague feelgood slogan that the left has been using in place of a vision for forty years now. What sort of institutions are going to make that slogan a reality? How will people live? How are we going to get there from here? Without that -- and in detail -- it's just vapor.

Mick, on the other hand, you can stand there and watch the ocean rise, and let it teach you just how important human beings and their self-indulgent fantasies are in the great scheme of things. That seems more useful to me!

M Smith, I'm not going to go that far yet, but it might be happening. Let's see what the next two months bring.

Don, exactly. You can see that same story played out wherever violence gets used in the absence of the preliminary steps I've described.

pygmycory said...

That's sort of what I'm figuring - at this point I think the west coast pipelines are unlikely to get built because it won't make economic sense, so we may have won that particular fight. I hope. The one out east I'm not so sure of.

John Michael Greer said...

Greg, exactly. There you have the reason why the American left has accomplished zilch in the last forty years.

James, I'm already hearing both those narratives. The emergence of the cold, bland, incapable-of-compassion rationalist as villain is particularly evident just now.

Cherokee, exactly. Violence can be many things, but in a declining society, it very often covers an underlying logic of "I've got mine, Jack."

DaShui, yes, I saw. I have a fair-sized readership over on that side of the political spectrum.

Pygmycory, good. Yes, that rule still applies.

Mick, please do!

Kutamun, and why do successful guerrillas enjoy the support of the population? Because they've succeeded in the first stage of the process outlined in my post, of course.

DeVaul, this is a good space for those who aren't true believers. One thing, though -- they don't believe in dilithium crystals. They believe in getting your money. The slogans are just slogans, backing one more corrupt PR scam.

Aias, I like Retropotamia! I assume that there, everybody's relearning how to write on clay tablets and worship at ziggurats. ;-)

Violet, excellent -- Thompsonian herbalism, yet. Good for you. Make sure you pack some healthful herbs for the trip, though you'll be able to replenish your stock once we get to our destination.

John, got it. Put through a comment marked "not for posting" with your email, and you're in the contest.

onething said...

JMG, are you (and others) saying that mainstream media such as Fox News and right wing financiers are already engaging in the delegitimization process? I think of them as part of BAU and status quo.

onething said...

Deborah Bender,

I agree with you about the Sabbath. As a connoisseur of the religions, I think the Sabbath is Judaism's best idea.

peakfuture said...

There's a bunch of quotes on revolution in many places:

In keeping with the thread of the reality of violence, one of the best I ever heard (on Letterman, no less) was, "War is no fun when the other side shoots back."

jansprite said...

Hello, All:

I didn't know if I would get a story to gel before the deadline, but it all came together yesterday. Here is my entry for the latest contest.

(doesn't seem quite right, but that's how it came up for me)

My level of expertise on the internet these days has gone downhill rapidly over the past few years -- when all the social media took off, I stayed behind. I think what I'm trying to say is that I'd like to collapse now and avoid the rush, but I can't seem to reach the ground to do that, it's like the press of the crowd keeps me afloat despite my efforts to dive.

Well, just really want to say that there are only three blogs I remember to read regularly anymore, and the Archdruid writes two of them.


Tidlösa said...

I´m a bit surprised by the comments that "no" violent revolution works. What about the American Revolution? It was violent, involved a foreign intervention on the side of the revolutionaries, and achieved its goal: independence from Britain and (eventually) more democracy. The Civil War was also a succesful revolution, since it abolished slavery in the South and ushered in Reconstruction. The counter-revolution (Jim Crow, etc) came later.

And what about all the national liberation movements that succeeded, both in Europe and the "Third World"?

Sometimes, a revolution works for the revolutionaries themselves, but not necessarily for the majority. The Russian revolution got off the rails in this way, but it worked toleraby well for the privileged bureaucracy! True, even the bureaucrats lived in fear of Stalin (the top dog bureaucrat who often killed his own kind), but after Stalin´s death, the system finally settled down for BAU, so there was no need for the Soviet elite to question the success of the revolution. That came later, when the system was stalling and became out-competed by Reagan´s USA.

The realistic/Utopian thing is important, I think. Even a violent revolution has to be realistic. That´s why the Jacobins failed: their "socialist" program and terror worked as a temporary crisis measure when France was besieged by foreign armies, but soon became unworkable, both because the economy wasn´t "ripe for socialization" (to borrow a Marxist phrase), and because the terror had deprived Robespierre of potential allies (since he killed fellow Jacobins and leftists, too). Thus, Robespierre (who was probably a Utopian at bottom) was doomed to isolation and failure, and more realistic leaders took over. Napoleon, anyone?

Perhaps I spoke too soon about the Right. I´ll check out the populist Right/establishment Right distinction. The idea that Blacks and White right-wingers may become allies sound crazy on the face of it, but I´ll check that out, too. (The Oath-Keepers were mentioned in Swedish media, complete with huge color photos of the same. About the day after JMG´s prediction that there may be an armed insurrection in the West and South on of these days. Ooops.)

Of course, last time around White Southerners and Blacks united (the Populist movement of the 1890´s), the alliance failed and the South got Jim Crow instead...

Clay Dennis said...

The interesting thing about todays situation with regard to stopping climate change is that the violence part is not necessary. If we were to acheive the first part of your prescription and have wide spread support for what actualy needs to be done to slow climate change then all that is needed is a large scale massive permanent debt boycott. Because our economy and finance system is built on a pyramid of credit based on the car loans, house loans, student loans and credit cards of the average person then it would all collapse which would be a giant step towards limiting climate change. The interesting thing about this approach is that it would force those participating to examine what slowing climate change really means as a debt boycot also means the collapse of pensions, investments, retirement savings, insurance and BAU so their can be no fooling oneself as to the outcome. Unfortunetly most people are not ready to give up those things to stabalize the climate so it is no more likely we will get enough support for a violent revolution then we would get for a debt boycott driven collapse.

tiotiomi said...

Space Bats Entry

The story is Cycle:

Thank you for the opportunity to enter!

Jo said...

Here in Australia the Left has fallen to pieces and the Right, having been handed this political gift, has failed to anything with it, as it has not a single idea that appeals to ordinary people. The far Left appears to be run by people who have gone into a little self-pitying, hoi-polloi-hating huddle. The Greens Party in Tasmania is derided and despised because all it ever does is protest, and, as the general populace sees it, threaten jobs in this state with very high unemployment.

What the Greens appear to fail to see is that Tasmanians are already greener than the Greens Party. Practically every Tasmanian has chickens, fruit trees and vegie gardens, we don't drive much in our small communities, and most of us don't fly much because we don't earn much. We buy local food and make jam. And we all love the wild places we live in, and don't see why we can't sustainably earn a living from them as well. The Greens could gain so much traction here just by working with the local communities rather than protesting shrilly. Winning hearts and minds..

jbucks said...

Looking forward to the posts on Retrotopia!

Can you or any of your readers suggest any books on a) the history of the French revolution, b) the creation of a successful civil movement which has achieved change (for example: JMG suggested to another poster that he/she look at how the Labour movement in the UK initially became successful)?


John Michael Greer said...

Joe, good -- but I haven't yet seen permaculture propaganda that really reaches out to the masses and undercuts the status quo, so you may want to revisit your approaches there and put more resources into that utterly essential preliminary.

Pygmycory, get to work delegitimizing it!

Onething, that's why I specified the populist Right. Faux News and right wing financiers are the establishment Right. One of the pervasive bad habits of the Left is that of treating the other side as a monolithic presence, rather than looking for fault lines between different right wing pressure groups and power centers that can be pried open and exploited.

Peakfuture, thanks for the link.

Jansprite, glad to see it. Please put through a comment marked "not for posting" that has your email address and the name you want to appear as the author's byline, and you're in the contest. (That goes for everyone else who's submitted a story and hasn't gotten me an email address, by the way.)

Tidlösa, well, yes -- there have been plenty of successful revolutions that used violence to manage the final transfer of power.

Clay, that seems simplistic to me. Do you really think the government would refrain from, say, reinstituting indentured servitude as punishment for the crime of defaulting on your debts? There is no one size fits all solution; study the ways that radical change happens in history, watch the ways successful revolutionaries work, and you'll come to understand the sort of full court press that's necessary to force radical change.

Tiotiomi, got it. You're in the contest.

Jo, have you considered helping to start an alternative party that will do what you've suggested the Greens could do (knowing that they won't)? Someone has to take that first step...

OldProle said...

People interested in what a post-industrial, post fossil fuel world might be like may want to read EARTH ABIDES by George R. Stewart, published in 1949. It's at first a fairly typical post-apocalyptic novel. 99.9% of the earth's population abruptly dies in a plague, and a very small scattering of survivors remain, and the plague is gone.

A very small group forms up somewhere near San Francisco (Berkeley or Oakland, I suppose). They are in no way ideal candidates for a survival community. What Stewart does from this point on is trace the gradual descent from a 1949 technological culture to a primitive one--over the course of 60 years. There is first the catastrophic loss--the population and all its skills first, then in the first year, electricity (when hydro-electric fizzles out), and everything dependent on it; frozen food in the markets, lighting, motors, pumps, and so on.

Year by year, more and more is lost, more things given up, more adaptations made. The ecology changes; in the dry season, fires burn unabated. Deer and other grazers eat their initial efforts at gardening; predators eat their chickens. People get sick and survive, or not. A few children are born; a few people die.

The intervals in the story lengthen out; 20 years later, that sort of thing. Ish, (a nickname) protagonist and leader of the group, tries to steer the community in the direction of maintaining literacy, maintaining sanitation practices, and so on; the community isn't interested; they don't learn a lot, they give up on gardening for the most part, they revert to open defecation, and so on. He remains the small group's leader, but finds there are severe limits to what can be done, practically and politically.

He devises a gift to give the people which he hopes will help them survive. In time, Ish grows very old, and dies. The community has survived, even flourishes, but is much different than Ish thought and hoped it would be.

What is great about the book is that Stewart stays focused on the story of how he sees technology fading rapidly away, and how people might develop sensible if unexpected solutions (or not) to their predicament of technology loss. Events are not all good, by any means. The story does not end in a paradisiacal victory, but the ending is still satisfying and tilted toward upbeat.

jbucks said...

I'm a frequent reader of the Guardian's website for news, and I notice a different character to the type of news they display in the various sections of their website. For example, if you click on a Culture, in the various subsections (Books, Music, etc) often the type of articles there are interviews/stories with authors or musicians which explain their motivations, describe how they fit into the various artistic 'isms', and so forth. These articles have the character of being positive - if you for example are the kind of person who wants to do creative work, then the effect of reading all this gives one (or at least me) the sense that they can contribute to this type of activity.

However, if you read the section of the website titled Environment, you will usually find, with a few exceptions, articles of the character of bad news - the rain forest being cut down, less restrictions against fracking, etc. Which is not to say that it's not important to read about this, it is to the credit of the Guardian that they at least report on these types of problems. But you don't often have stories about local initiatives which have worked, on HOW they worked, on the people behind them, and so on. So the flavour of the Environment section creates a sense of hopelessness in contrast to the Culture section of the website.

Sure, the Guardian is a newspaper and not a campaign group, but I guess I point this out as a small example of one way of how the climate change/environmental movements have failed: reading any of them gives a person inclined to care about these issues a sense of anger and concern but no sense of being able to contribute to solving them in a way that's not trivial (ie, changing to energy saving lightbulbs).

As much as Buckminster Fuller had progress-based motivations, he did make the myth of progress concrete for people to give them something to rally behind. In the same way, maybe it would be helpful to have, hmm, a Mythology of the Unnecessarily Discarded, to look have a look again at what humanity has thrown away to see what could be brought back to use and will help people deal with what looks to be coming.

Jo said...

Good lord JMG, I would rather gnaw my arm off than start a political party. Gah! However, luckily for me, I am not convinced that joining the political game is the answer. There are so many grass-roots groups doing practical things as they work towards a better world. We can all join one of these, or start one, and eventually, a coalition of these small groups may just coalesce into a sensible political party or movement, or maybe they will just continue quietly to change their own little corners, and influence very, very local politics. Also luckily for me, as I know you will ask this next, YES, I am involved in one such group. We have started small, sharing and learning homesteading technologies, but are growing by the month, and starting to think of ways to spread the joy further in our community. I think this bottom-up approach to changing the world is so much more satisfying than a top-down approach, also things get done on no budget and action comes from the community rather than being imposed upon it, all of which would be my platform anyway, if I were to start a political party :)

Tom Schmidt said...


(everyone knows the really deporting all illegals will be a) impractical and b) completely tank the economy)

As a member of "everyone," I am familiar with the 1954 program by the name of Operation Wetback, which deported over a million illegals back to Mexico. it seemed to be both practical, and from numerous evidence sources, the economy from 1954 to 1962 seemed to be doing quite well: increased production, decreased poverty, improving conditions for black Americans leading to the Civil Rights movement.

Given the increased use of resources by residents of the United States, I should think you'd back such a program if only to reduce the carbon footprint.

Dagnarus said...

I think one way in which this time might be different :) Is the issue of dependence. When the Bolsheviks were convincing the farmers and factory workers to rebel it would be somewhat easy for them to envision themselves being able to produce goods and services without the current order, similarly before the french revolution it seems likely that the middle class could easily envisage there businesses being able to continue without the king. But what about the data entry clerk today? If people were to overthrow the current regime today, which in my view is really the corporations, is it obvious to them how they will then be able to supply for themselves? Would the workers in a factory be able to take it over and produce marketable goods when the various components required to produce a salable product are scattered all across the planet, what are the prospects of the various office fauna without the corporations to furnish them with paychecks? As you have stated, if the current imperial wealth pump were to be shut off, the economy of the US would collapse. This seems to be part of the reason why Syriza flopped so spectacularly in Greece. Sure it's true that the EU is looting the country, but it's also true that Greece is reliant on the EU for imports and for a viable currency. Thus you have the more rational people on the left realizing that it would be insane to leave the Euro, and that they should wait until a more opportune time when they will be ready. What they don't mention is that it will never be an opportune time, they have no plans to become ready, if they did the EU would ruin them, and because of this every day there position becomes weaker and weaker. As a computer scientist this looks similar to a "Greedy Algorithm" (I'm not certain what mentats will call it) which at every step always make the decision which maximizes utility, an obvious algorithm, but also one that can get stuck in less than optimal solutions. In any case I think one of the necessary steps any group interested in revolutionary change would be to create a system in which they are not completely dependent on the current regime for there sustenance.

Thomas Prentice said...

Here is LAST REFUGE OF THE INCOMPETENT from NAKED CAPITALISM which echoes themes of te Archdruid Report, this time for a wide audience of contrarian economists and other unsavory finance-type characters who are nevertheless open minded and generally critical thinking types. Plus it is monitored by establishment types.

Yves Smith introduces that article by Richard Cook "HOW COMPLEX SYSTEMS FAIL." I did enter a comment suggesting further research could be done at Archdruid.

blue sun said...

Since it's been a topic in recent weeks, I thought you might enjoy Ted Rall's cartoon, "The Evolution of the Left," from back in 2007. For me, it validated that vague uneasiness I felt being a card-carrying member of the Democrat party, and made me feel comfortable with my decision to become an Independent. I never forgot this cartoon. It is still as searingly accurate now as it was then:

Varun Bhaskar said...


People who are openly speaking of violence on the internet are either fools or insane. If their names aren't already on a list, they soon will be.

Your observations about the left-wing are spot on, but I would like to add a small observation from my corner of the country. There is no real left-wing left in Wisconsin. Madison, the former center of the activist community, has fallen under some sort of malaise. I got conformation from a former activist just this week. It's like the left wing, after years of defeat and failure, have just kinda given up. In a weird way I'm kinda glad to see them gone, most of them were always focused on high-minded causes and resolved very few problems. They also made it too easy for average person to tune out city and county politics. Of course now there's a massive power vacuum, no ones up to the challenge of filling it.

I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say about retrotopia, perhaps it will inspire some of us to write about what the retrofuture will look like in our own locals.



Maria said...

I'm a little late to the party as we're having one of those interesting (in the apocryphal sense) summers. (Self, husband, and cats are fine.) I'm looking forward to the next installment! I've got the perfect wardrobe for the adventure packed in a carpet bag and my hair in pin curls. I'll bring along some vintage cookbooks since somebody's got to keep the group fed. No jello salad, I promise. :)

jean-vivien said...

Hi everyone, haven't caught up with all the comments so far, not even read the post in its entirety. I wanted to share the thought I had : in our mass media consuming culture, maybe the heresy does not stem from thinking of violence, plenty of instances of which are visually represented, but from taking one given way of achieving means to an end, and then subjecting it to actual constraints and requirements. The originality would be to see a particular process not just as the wet dreams of escapist fantasies, but as a tool in the real world, subject to actual constraints and requirements.

jean-vivien said...

And on another note, the Dow Jones is reaching record lows again... Greece's PM has just stepped down, the 2 Koreas are skirmishing again, China's stock market is crashing, and industries are stalling. The age of populism and war is closer than we think.
Whatever conversation we are having about narratives, it needs to be done without wait.

jean-vivien said...

@ jbucks
Indeed, most of the press reporting on environment focuses on depicting violence, which ends up having a similar effect to wet dreams. Neither nightmares nor dreams can help deal with reality until there is a new vision willing to confront and accept the real world. This dream/nightmare mode of functioning is precisely why current press reporting fails to connect the dots and call the latest bunch of news a breakdown point. Perhaps because unlike pragmatic visions, dreams or nightmare can fulfill themselves in twisted ways ? If the press would phrase honest wording about our predicaments, a culture used to only dream or nightmare might react counterproductively, and start destroying itself along with all the rest of the social fabric. Whereas dealing with actual constraints and demands would avert that counterproductive effect, but is a totally unknown mode of thinking in the mainstream culture at this point.

onething said...

JMG said,
"Onething, that's why I specified the populist Right. Faux News and right wing financiers are the establishment Right."

OK, in my question, I was putting together also from some of the commentary. Someone mentioned that Faux News is constantly delegitimizing the govt. I also wonder about Glenn Beck. Someone gave me a novel by him on CDs to listen on a trip. Interestingly, I would put this friend in a mixed category, sorta hippie, sorta fundamentalist right wing. In this novel, I heard things that surprised me because they sounded like leftist stuff to me, yet it was written for the Christian right. There was a group in this novel called the Founders Keepers, which was probably a thinly veiled reference to the Oathkeepers. I'm not sure what to think of Glenn Beck. Which side is he on? Why did he leave FN?

LewisLucanBooks said...

Salutations, JMG - I've read several articles, recently, about an alliance I find a bit unsettling. The infiltration of most branches of the Armed Services by the more fundamentalist strains of Christianity. It seems to have started in the military academies (officer material) and is now so firmly entrenched that rank and file who do not want to "get on board" are put under pressure to get with the program, or get out. Thoughts? Lew

RogerCO said...

Thank you so much for this essay JMG. Both at a personal level and in the context of my own green activism it is salutary (health giving).
Jeriah Bowser's Elements of Resistance is also interesting on violence.
A Rough Guide (do you have that series of travel books over there) to Retrotopia sounds like good material for planning my future life journey.

HalFiore said...

I started to write a long, drawn-out apologia for the climate change movement, but I don't think it's necessary or helpful to your purpose here. I think what you've written would be appropriate to a large number of failed attempts to bring about change in this country that could legitimately be called "revolutionary," including radical environmentalism. Just that, from my ring-side seat, no such movement ever existed for climate change, in particular, and not much more than that for the much larger issues around the ongoing environmental holocaust in general.

Architrains said...

"Retrotopia." That rolls off the tongue a lot better than the "Steampunk Sustainability" that I've been throwing around lately. Can't wait to see what bits and pieces of the past you appropriate to populate your vision of Retrotopia with.

Regarding some of your earlier pieces that really spoke to me, the spirits of Gustaf Erikson and Augustin Mouchout are walking among us: (maybe a stretch for solar steam, but it's a start)

Those two projects (that I follow regularly) give me heart that maybe the future won't just be mucking around in some kind of barbarian village society. Perhaps the barbarians will be ruled over by a "traders guild" of highly mobile, transportation-technology-literate people wearing the regalia of the 19th-centruy and wielding goggles and wrenches yet!

Glenn said...

OldProle said...

"People may want to read EARTH ABIDES by George R. Stewart, published in 1949. It's at first a fairly typical post-apocalyptic novel. 99.9% of the earth's population abruptly dies in a plague, and a very small scattering of survivors remain, and the plague is gone.

A very small group forms up somewhere near San Francisco (Berkeley or Oakland, I suppose)."

North Berkeley, just in the foothills. "The Avenue" is a fictionalized Arlington Avenue; "San Lupo Drive" is San Luis Obispo Drive; "the rock" is Indian Rock Park. I grew up across the street from the intersection of the Arlington and San Luis Obispo, and "the creek" ran through our neighbor's property. Yes, I too find it one of the best post-apocalyptic novels; the protagonist is an ecologist, and clearly stands in for the author's point of view. When Ish finally gives up his preconceived notions of civilization and recognizes the value of play as a learning tool is a high point of the story for me. Not to give away the story, but it is the death of hope and dreams that let Ish take effective action.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

P.S. Three old former laying hens become 6 quarts of soup yesterday and were canned today. And another crock of pickles started; sliced because the gherkins got too big while we were slaughtering chickens.

Jeanne Labonte said...

Speaking about the delegitimization of the existing order bring to mind a magazine article I read years ago (unfortunately I don't remember which magazine) written in the early nineteen eighties by a journalist who was revisiting the Soviet Union after a long absence. He was shocked not by the decay of the economic structure (he expected to see that) but by the change in attitude of the people. As an example, a young woman he spoke to who was thinking of leaving the country told him she took a trip about Moscow thinking if she saw someone smiling, she would stay but leave if she didn't. She saw no smiles.

The journalist was later drinking in a bar with an acquaintance who lived in the city. He was shocked to see a huge fight suddenly break out in the bar for no apparent reason, dozens of people with fist flying and bottles breaking.

But most saddening was the interview he did with his acquaintance, an old Party member, who was mourning the decline of the communist ideals he had so dearly cherished when he was younger. He said that what was the worst to him was that people weren't just ignoring these ideals, they were openly laughing at them.

It's not at all surprising that roughly ten years after the article was written that the Soviet Union under Gorbachev's futile attempts to reform it, collapsed and broke up.

It's even more uncomfortable to see the current process in this country of selecting candidates to run for the highest office in the land, once a highly anticipated event, now being mocked as a 'circus' and openly laughed at. Your prediction of a collapse a decade from now may not be too far off.

GreenEngineer said...


I completely agree with everything you say about the practical issues around political violence. I live in Oakland so I got a first-hand view of how the so-called Black Bloc completely undermined any potential for popular support of the Occupy movement (not that that was their only problem, by a long shot).

Also agreed that leadership, particularly revolutionary leadership, requires a vision and the ability to communicate it. And the climate change movement has failed on that front.

But I do think you're being unfair in your analogy regarding climate change leadership. When
Winston Churchill told the British people “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” his listeners roared their approval.
They were facing an obvious and immediate threat in the form of an hostile invading army. That's immediate, visceral, and obvious. Climate change is an entirely different kind of threat - temporally distant (at least, it was), abstract, and non-obvious to the technically untrained. All of the things which make people rally to a call of shared sacrifice are missing from the threat of climate change.

I think your point about the failures of the climate movement are on target, but you also need to recognize that they were facing a much greater leadership challenge. How would you suggest that such a challenge be met?

Dwig said...

Some thoughts triggered by this post, and the comments:

If I remember correctly, the Arab Spring revolutions didn't have that kind of organizing ahead of time. The critical factors seem to have been two: the people were not only disenchanted, but desperate (lacking sufficient basics such as food and water), and had gotten to the point where they were no longer afraid to risk death in order to create change. (It's unfortunate that only one of the revolutions, in Tunisia, resulted in an improved government -- time will tell if it lasts.)

Here's a few delegitimizing memes I've come across: "I'm a citizen, not a consumer", "illiberal" (as a counterpart to "cuckservative"), "Vote 3rd", "increase quality of life, reduce quantity of stuff" (inspired by "The Story of Stuff").

Also, some organizations and people who are moving in the direction of relocalizing local economies and promoting conservation (and thereby gradually starving the industrial economy). (Note that this doesn't involve explicitly delegitimizing the government.)
- Green Wizardry
- Transition initiatives
- WWOOFing (
- Farmers' Markets, Consumer Supported Agriculture
- Individual and community gardens.
- Local currencies, to promote a robust local economy
- Bicycling as a means of transportation, not just recreation
None of these amount to a great wave of change, but they stand to help at least some people "collapse gracefully".

Finally, I'd like to recommend the essays of Wendell Berry. Over the decades, he's been developing a well-fleshed out concept of community, based on the foundation (literally and figuratively) of a relationship to a specific area of land, the ecosystems to be found there, and the ethics needed to create a sustainable relationship that binds the people to the land, to each other, and to the rest of the ecosystem. He definitely walks the talk: he's a native of Kentucky (hi DeVaul!) and after an academic career, moved back to his home town and has farmed there ever since.

A good place to start with his essays is the book "Standing by Words", in good part because of his exploration of the kind of language that can withstand and replace the increasingly meaningless chatter put out by the corporate media. (There's also a nice comparison of a committed marriage with a committed relationship to a farm.) For more recent essays on the harm done by the industrial economy and the nature of local economies that could legitimately be called sustainable, the book "Citizenship Papers" is reasonably representative.

John Michael Greer said...

Jbucks, it's been long enough since I did a really thorough study of either of those issues that I no longer have a reading list handy. If anyone else has suggestions to offer, by all means.

OldProle, a fine book, that. Thanks for the reminder!

Jbucks, exactly. That's what I was talking about in the post two weeks ago.

Jo, fair enough. The problem is that so many people who could actually launch something worth having into the political realm feel the way you do.

Dagnarus, that's one of the reasons why we're moving closer and closer to real change in this country: as the fraction of people who are actually employed shrinks, and the fraction who are employed doing anything actually productive shrinks even faster, the issue of dependency is less relevant, because so many people aren't getting anything out of the system anyway. That's the process that gives rise to what Toynbee called the internal proletariat, the people who live in a falling civilization but don't share in its benefits or ideology, and whose withdrawal of support from the system plays a significant role in dragging it down.

Thomas, I read Naked Capitalism daily -- one of the handful of news aggregator sites I follow. Of course it's lagniappe that they routinely link to these essays in their daily Links page! Yes, I saw the Richard Cook article, and he makes some very good points.

Blue Sun, thank you for that! A fine summing up of what I was trying to say -- the business about a picture replacing a thousand words or so remains true.

Varun, the collapse of the privileged (and thus domesticated) Left is a good thing, because it leaves a space open for something else -- preferably something less dysfunctional -- to emerge. Thank you, in other words, for the good news!

Maria, I'll see you at the station. By all means bring a cookbook or two, but there'll be diners, road houses, and country inns along the route, and the train has a dining car. My passengers go in style!

Jean-Vivien, what you're saying, if I follow you correctly, is that paying attention to reality is the ultimate heresy. I can go with that -- especially when reality seems to be playing hardball at the moment.

Onething, Faux News only delegitimizes Democrats and Democratic programs. As for Beck, he's an odd duck, and very much his own man. I was rather startled a few years back when he praised one of my blog posts on his show.

Lewis, yes, that's been going on for a while. It may end up crippling the ability of the US military to function as a fighting force, too.

John Michael Greer said...

Roger, we do indeed get Rough Guides on this side of the pond. Mine may be a little more of a Weird Guide, but we'll see.

HalFiore, true enough -- for all the money and talent invested in the climate change movement, it was a tremendous flop, and never got close enough to the capacity to cause change to merit the title "revolutionary." That's part of my point.

Architrains, thanks for both links! I've been following ventures like these for a while now, and to my mind, they're very hopeful.

Jeanne, exactly. One of the reasons I made that call was precisely by comparing the situation in the US today with the situation in the Soviet Union and its satellites before the Berlin Wall came down.

GreenEngineer, I've already discussed that in detail. The two critical things that were lacking, to my mind, were (a) a willingness to lead by example, by adopting the kinds of lifestyles they were trying to get everyone else to adopt, and (b) a willingness to deal with the reality that they were in a fight, and couldn't just sit there and expect the other side to cooperate with them.

Dwig, the reason why the Arab Spring had so few positive results was exactly that the preliminary steps didn't get taken, and so it was pretty much a given that the new boss would be the same as the old boss. If you want real change, you've got to be ready to put the time into preparing for it. The memes and organizations, mind you, are good starting points -- but they're just starting points, of course.

ed boyle said...

My wife just pulled up a kilo of potatoes from one plant. This was just an experiment. She has lots of berry busjes, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, wants to get a bee hive. Tne yard is about as big as a postage stamp but russian survivalism and german efficiency marks her mixed family heritage. I went jogging 2 hours yesterday, first time in decades. This helped me sleep and calmed my nerves. Yoga and tai chi practiced intensively have given my body enormous founts of flexibility and energy which I have to burn off to 'ground' myself. This seems a good way. So my family's personal transformation in a small format for post PO survival continues by slow adaptation of body and resources. When collapse comes and I am strong, flexible, have stamina, am self sufficient and satsfied within myself then who is up there in politics will not bother me nor the winning ideology as I will be among the strongest, most adaptable. I have gone from shy to outgoing, accepting of all types of cultures, foreign types, people of all ages and background by working side by side physically with them all. This is a result of collapse phase 1 since 2008 crisis. I have outlined our response. Apparently the next phase is upon us in the macroeconomy, geopolitics. 7 year cycle. Each time more people fall by the way side. I want to keep growing, adapting to the end, always coming out a sort of winner, making lemonade out of fates lemons. Best motto is to become the change you want to effect. I was resercing voluntary work and learning to teach my oh so precious yoga. Maybe I will nd up visiting sick or learning to use my chi energy to heal or just hug people. Life offers opportunities. My son said he had found inner peace. He is 16. I laughed at that the whole day, presuming his dry humour was laughing at my 'spirituality' but no he insists things don't bug him anymore and this as his argumentative family screams around the dinner table. The buddha has found company. I figure my hugs transfer my energy from my exploding heart chakra and stabilizes him. The other kid is nervous, only hugs his mom, who does no spiritual practice, relaxes through gardening, ironing and a glass of wine. But a mother's love is 10 times stronger regardless. So I had to get far away from mine to find myself and learn to open my heart without her, God rest her soul. Humans and their society go through phases. The basic power is within each of us, we only have to discover and utilize it.

nuku said...

JMG: Could the process of revolution or regime change be different in a country with established democratic institutions (in the sense of having real elections and more than one party) and in a country with none (dictatorship, oligarchy, monarchy)?
I raise the point because it seems to me that in a democracy some, maybe most, opposition groups naturally try to work within the existing democratic system by taking over an existing party or creating a new party because they believe the change they desire can be achieved by working within the existing system. As long as the existing democratic institutions themselves are perceived as workable and desirable as a way of government, there will be a reluctance to de-legitimize and destroy that system since the majority of people would have some hope of change through the ballot.
On the other hand, in the case of a country with no working democratic machinery at all, deligitimizing the existing system would be easier because most people opposing the existing power structure perceive themselves as outside of it with no hope of changing it “from the inside.” And the pool of people “outside the power system” would be larger.
I know I’m not know very clear here, just trying to tease out a thought.

Jo said...

Ok dear JMG, I am a teensy bit confused here - you have been saying than even a political leader with a heart in the right place would not be able to make change within the current political system at this point, and now you are suggesting that I start a political party? Don't you feel a tiny bit bad throwing me to the wolves in that fashion?

Or are you suggesting local politics as a way to change local conditions? Even so any aspiring idealistic politician would be facing a ridiculous challenge within the system.

I must admit, I do have a bit of a political vision, and it is this - if enough of us quit depending on The System, quit buying Stuff, learn crafts and arts and useful things, barter with friends and neighbours, set up co-ops, take care of the elderly and sick and disadvantaged in our communities, then politics will just kind of fade away, because nobody will be paying it any attention. Especially when we all get rid of the TVs, and you get hold of that mimeograph machine to distribute ADR - then we won't need the internet either:)

In my grand, retrotopian vision, no government official would get paid more than a nurse or school teacher, and all of them would be local. The local population would all get to vote on all federal laws that affect them, so that their MP (Member of Parliament, or whatever US equivalent) could hop on the train every quarter with a truly representational list of voting stances on all the bills up for debate. There would be NO political parties at all, just local representatives from each voting district.

You can imagine how far I will go in my political career..

Denys said...

Thank you for pointing out I was lumping the right together. i wanted to throw in another revolution that didn't go as planned - South Africa. I was in Swaziland from 1991-94 (the years between when Mandela was released from jail and when he was elected president). FW DeKlerk, the then president, let Mandela out of jail I believe because he didn't want him to die in jail and become a martyr. The continual violence blacks did against whites and against each other would spin totally out of control. The violence was completely ineffective in that few white people were going to ever give up or share their privelage (jobs, housing, wealth). Black killed white, white killed black. There was no vision of what South Africa would look like and act like if it wasn't an apartheid community, so even if all the whites were killed and their things taken, there wasn't the knowledge or expertise among the black population to run the corporations and government.

And I using he terms blacks and whites because that is how it was discussed there then.

I always wondered how much the U.S. Government interfered with what was going on in South Africa. Some of the world's largest uranium mines are there. Gold and diamonds too for corporations to sell.

And of course America is just as must apartheid as South Africa ever was in its separation of races - housing, schooling, and work place.

Jo said...

@ Architrains, I really enjoyed those links and will be adding reviving sailing ships to my political platform, as apparently I am starting a political party soon.. luckily Tasmania already has a Wooden Boat Festival every year..

I have quietly decided not to ever get on a plane again if I can help it, exceptions being rushing to the aid of my children if they ever need me in some far-flung destination. Unfortunately for my plan, I live on an island, but there is an overnight ferry to the mainland, also the option of crewing, completely inexpertly, on yachts which need ferrying north. Although that might create an emergency of my own, of course, as I am no sailor..

I have done a little research though, and found this wonderful website by a mad train enthusiast, with information on how to travel all over the world by train, ferry and cargo ship. Oh, the places we'll go..

Varun Bhaskar said...


"The domesticated left?!" I love this phrase, can I use it for an article series?

Nastarana said...

Dear GreenEngineer, I don't know about the Black Bloc, I will have to take your word about that, but I pretty much knew the occupy protests were over when the immigrant rights people showed up. That group has no interest in taking down Wall Street or banks, wanting, instead, a larger share of swag for its own members.

I think that an alliance between BLM and the OKs likely to be somewhat hostile to green wizards and to people doing more with LESS. There has been a lot of chatter on sites like daily kos and others lately about "comparative privilege" which, as near as I can tell, amounts to something like: How dare you stop spending? When you guys don't buy we don't work. Meanwhile, the dominant note I can hear from various parts of the right is a kind of angry conformism, as if to say: How dare you criticize Monsanto, Walmart, MickeyD, etc.? Can't you dippy hippies understand than when everyone supports Big Corps., everyone prospers?

People collapsing in situ will face opposition. I wonder what might be some good tactics and strategies a wizard or even an urban gardener can use to deal with his or her enemies. Particularly, what can work for us muggles who don't use magic?

Dwig said...

"... the reason why the Arab Spring had so few positive results was exactly that the preliminary steps didn't get taken..."

Well, they did succeed (in North Africa, at least) in a narrow sense: they got rid of the old boss, which was my main point: given a high enough level of "pressure" built up, even a highly repressive dictatorship can be overthrown. Unfortunately, as you pointed out, the post-revolutionary phase is unlikely to be a significant improvement unless a good foundation can be laid in the pre-revolutionary period. (And in Libya, of course, there's still no "new boss".)

I'm wondering if the energy peak might be (a cause of) a black swan event. One of the early casualties of a tottering regime will likely be the energy infrastructure. In such a case, the "power centers" that will be least impacted would be those who can best adapt to a faltering energy supply, and find ways of organizing and operating that don't rely on deploying massive amounts of energy (a decentralized organization would likely be useful). The current "powers that be", who are religiously committed to the belief in perpetual abundant cheap energy, aren't likely to be very adaptable.

Thomas Daulton said...

Someone else brought up Michael Crichton's "State of Fear" as an example of fiction which depicts JMG's notion that the Greens turn violent. Geez, JMG, I thought we established last week that you have better taste in fiction than Crichton!! ;-)

JMG once discussed Fascism and more or less the definition was that Fascism is a pathology of Democracy which occurs when the popular masses become frustrated at the gridlock and cronyism of an entrenched unresponsive bureaucracy, and then bring into power a leader who cuts through the bureaucracy using personal power and expedience, which ends up sacrificing justice, and ultimately Democratic rights, laws, and protections themselves. Well, it seems like Donald Trump's campaign is fueled completely by popular frustration at the gridlock and cronyism of an entrenched unresponsive bureaucracy. My God, how embarrassing it would be for America if the name "Donald Trump" went into history's hall of infamy along with Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. Still, Americans worship business and failed businessmen so much, I am starting to think that outcome is more and more likely.

william fairchild said...


Good on you! Your criticisms are timely and on point. I would just add that a change movement can either be reformist or revolutionary. The reformers want to tweak the system, to change it so that it meets their goals, but the basic institutions, or structures remain in place. The reformers just get a seat at the table. The civil rights movement, leading to the voting rights act, leading to the Congressional Black Caucus would be an example of this. A revolutionary movement wants to dismantle the power stuctures and institutions and replace them. The Cuban revolutionaries or Zapatistas might be an example.

Part of the problem is that the climate movement is largely reformist in its tactics, but the change they are asking for (decarbonization) is revolutionary in nature. IMO, they don't really acknowledge the breadth of what they are asking for. They just think, as JHK puts it, you can run the interstate highway system, the US Army, WalMart and DisneyWorld by other means. The thinking runs, if we get the right people elected or force through the right policies, we can have privileged middle class lives in solar suburbia.

As well, in order to have radical change, you not only need shared sacrifice, you need shared suffering. In order to have revolutionary action or effective resistance take place, you must have a population that is experiencing the effects of oppression on a wide spread basis. They will then give aid and comfort to the radicals. The quatering of troops, capricious searches, onerous taxes, etc. affected not only the Franklins of the Colonies, they affected the merchants, farmers, and servnts. Therefore the Patriots had support to fall back on.

Now one can make a cogent argument for fossil fuel dependancy being the driver of much suffering, but here the size of the nation and time lags work against us. Humans have a short time horizon. Even though we see the effects of climate chaos right now, for example the western drough and resulting wildfires, this is not much more that a curiosity to folks in the Midwest. Their fields and forests are green. And of course some of the worst effects are at least 10 - 40 years away due to the inertia in the climate system. People do not revolt based on potential future suffering, they revolt due to suffering in the now.

Sadly, once these effects are widely felt (persistant drought, megafloods) even m8re terrible effects become locked in. Sea level rise, or God forbid, runaway greenhouse. This is leading to desperation in some quaters, hence the call for violence with out the necessary steps you outlined. The fear is, there is no time.

But we live in a different world now. Not only do we still have a relatively fat and happy middle class and a confused working class (no suppot base in the population) we have the full power of DHS, NSA et al operating under the Patriot Act and the NDAA. This pretty much guarantees a backlash from the public and a one way trip to Supermax.

So violence at this stage is useless and is in fact suicidal.

william fairchild said...


Another thought popped in my head. I was at a Methodist PPRC meeting some years ago (us Methodists do love our potlucks and our committees) and we were discussing the next years direction. I suggested making climate justice part of our mission work. The associate pastor made a statement that we couldn't go there because it was asking people to change their "entire lifestyle". And here I thought the Gospels were all about changing entire lifestyles and lives. Silly me! But it was a clarifying moment for me and very depressing. When the existing structures won't ackowledge the seriousness of the problem (or its existance) revolution may be called for. But violence, again, at this time is suicidal. Revolution won't happens anytime soon. It is a waiting game until the suffering is widely shared and the pot boils over. But by then there is no guarantee which direction it takes. My inclination is it will be to the Right with a neofascist flavor. Much easier to blame transpeople, gays, Mexicans, Arabs and the dreaded Left than to blame ourelves.

Charles Justice said...

JMG, I think you are being unfair to the climate change movement. It's basically only been a movement for the last ten years. We're talking about a movement that wants people to alter their comfortable consumerist lifestyles in order to prevent a disaster happening in the indefinite future. Hardly an easy task. And then there is the counter-movements fueled by corporations with virtually unlimited war-chests.

You are right that the real threat of violence and disorder comes from the right, they not only have muddied the waters by undermining people's faith in government and building a misguided faith in the market, they have also created conditions of austerity that are accelerating our slide into economic dystopia.

There is an alternative to violence and that is a religious response to the crisis. Here's my historical analogy: During the fall of the Roman Empire, Christianity replaced paganism. Christian institutions such as monasteries helped maintain agriculture and preserved knowledge, in the form of copying ancient manuscripts. This created a bridge from the ancient world to the modern. It can be done again. My guess is that permaculture could develop into such a religious movement.

Ozark Chinquapin said...

I've been noticing more and more lately some alliances seem to forming between the local food and natural health movements (which I consider myself a part of) and some elements of the populist right. I have mixed feelings about it, one of the strengths of the movement so far has been its lack of partisanship, growing amongst certain elements of both the left and the right. On one hand, such an alliance could bring more support to the cause, on the other hand I'd hate for it to become a partisan issue that divides along party lines like so many others have become.

The mainstream left has in general been worse than the mainstream right on these issues (the leftward-leaning states often tend to have more codes, regulations, permits needed and other barriers to sustainable living on a low budget, selling products etc than the right-leaning states do). There is more of an opportunity of alliance with those on the populist right who, even if they're not directly involved, may see it as government overreach and a violation of freedoms.

Talking to people on both ends of the political spectrum about this and other issues, I see enough similarity between supposed opposites and more and more people such as myself that don't identify as either left or right. I wonder if the whole left/right dichotomy is unraveling and the lines will be redrawn. The terms left and right will probably still be used but mean pretty different things than they do now.

Ed-M said...

JMG, "Ed-M, revolutionaries of the left have always been underfunded. That hasn't stopped them elsewhere."

It seems to me that there are three obstacles to the Left getting traction here in the USA (as well as elsewhere these days, like Russia).

1. First, is my own experience with the Left in Boston. In 1993, in the winter months before a gay & lesbian March on Washington, I had the privilege of meeting up with the Boston contigent's organization at one of their planning meetings. My partner and I took the subway, and when we arrived, we were late. Was the meeting organized like a proper group meeting? It was not. Everyone had broken up into their own little planning circles, each group trying to come up with a consensus. We were so disgusted we immediately left. At the March on Washington itself, we found that the Boston contigent was absolutely, positively LEAST organized of every one contigent there.

2. Not only is the left outfunded; they are outgunned, as I hinted at (and failed) in my previous comment where I was talking about about the media. Having read other comments here, I noticed that there are a LOT of establishment right media posing as populist right: i.e., Fox News, talk radio (Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, et al) and the Tea Party, which started out as populist in 2008 but got hijacked by the Republican apparat very quickly. Now it's only pseudo-populist like the above-said media. And the establishment media, which is slanted toward the establishment right anyway, knows very well how to keep the base that would supply the populist right under a spell and within or loyal the GOP: read this excellent interview of Noam Chomsky by Seung-yoon Lee on the manufacture of consent. The principal reason why today's media are the way they are, he says, is because the media are mostly owned by large corporate conglomerates, and because they have not the readership, but the advertisers as their chief clientele. They report news and catapult the propaganda in a manner that pleases the advertisers. And he says it's gotten worse in recent decades because of the increasing concentration of ownership and the deaths of many a small media outlet both in small markets and large.

3. The Left really doesn't have anything to offer the masses so long as the masses are psychologically invested in the Religion of Progress and its goodies (growth and consumption). I picked this information off the net, wherein it is told that a climate scientist, frustrated by the public's non-reception of climate change, persued a degree in human psychology and then studied and researched why this was so. He found out that the current public are so psychologically dependent on growth and consumption to such a degree that the cessation thereof, even in individual cases, would constitute an existential crisis for them.

jean-vivien said...

yes that was my line of thinking : the will to transpose our imaginations into tangible - and sometimes hard - realities has become heresy, since our imaginations have been secluded into consumer products detached from us. This is where this blog joins territory covered by your other blog... Here in Ecnarf, we have not just adopted those consumer products, but embraced them. And yet, pragmatism is not verbalized as one of our core values, so we just practice it every day without thinking. But in the USA, you may apply the old adage that a nation starts to decline when its virtues become vices, for instance pragmatism becomes heresy. Which is a predicament - not a problem - that we will most probably not have to face, and no imaginations will need liberating here. Note that we did have one of our most formative events across the 20th century, Mai 68, featuring one motto among many others, "Let's put imagination in power".

Here in Ecnarf, we do have our share of problems too : soon the influx of migrants will reach us, and we will embrace its dark corollary, the evils of violent populism. This article looks like one of your stories about the future :

Violence is not just a tool for grassroot movements, I suspect it can be used by institutions in just the ways you describe, but in order to comfort their legitimacy instead of undermining it. The easiest way would be to rally most of the population against the usual scapegoats, in light of the migrant crisis for instance.

Cherokee Organics said...


Yes, I agree. It is a simple and effective way to increase the available resources and energy per capita. In the aftermath of the episode in Rwanda, that was found to be the case as what was dressed up as an inter-tribal pogrom, was in fact a settling of long held grudges and scores.

In fact there is a strong argument to suggest that the world's industrial (which is a very ironic moniker) countries pursue that very strategy of active violence to maintain its own share of resources and energy. The golden rule of "do unto others" applies here very strongly and it hardly surprises me at all when our own strategies are turned around and used effectively against us.

If we were a bit more honest about our dealings with the rest of the world, our responses to those surprises would be more appropriate. I'd have to suggest that the lies that we tell ourselves about our own activities in other countries gets in the way of appropriate responses to external threats of violence. Further to that I'm constantly surprised at how effective that abstract threat of external violence is projected into our cultures.

Given the choice of using that meme of fear as a policy, I'm unsure whether I would actually use it as doesn't seem to be a policy with a long shelf life.

Strange days.



PS: Apologies everyone, I gave the totally wrong html link to the weekly blog here: Manure happens. Good help is hard to find! Hehe!

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Denys, you wrote, "And of course America is just as must apartheid as South Africa ever was in its separation of races - housing, schooling, and work place."

Though my knowledge of the apartheid regime is based entirely on reading, not direct observation, I strongly disagree with this. Late-stage apartheid South Africa was a police state for whites and coloreds as well as blacks. I think that the conditions in the Deep South during the Jim Crow era (from the collapse of Reconstruction until the Lyndon Johnson administration) were comparable to apartheid in many ways, as the legal system, economic system, culture and politics were dominated by the goal of maintaining a strict racial caste system by use of state and private terror and violence.

After the passage and enforcement of federal Civil Rights legislation, even the most racist parts of the United States are not like South African society under apartheid. To give but one example, police may demand ID from African Americans who enter white neighborhoods, and may harass, arrest and even kill them with impunity, but they are not doing so under color of the law. Dark-skinned people are not required to have a government issued pass to travel outside their own neighborhoods. There were once "sundown towns" in the United States; they do not exist any longer. In apartheid SA, blacks did not have the vote. In the US, a majority white electorate elected and re-elected a biracial President. The kind of rhetoric that equates any repressive, unjust, racially unequal society with apartheid is like equating every authoritarian regime with the Nazis. It does not contribute to understanding what is actually going on.

Ray Wharton said...

For a few years I have thought of encouraging good terms between the hippies and the hill billies to be an important goal, which in certain areas is exactly what this would amount to. I think that it is important to remember the dizzying diversity of the right at the moment, there are many fragments of it which are quite cool, even as there are a few veins of nasty through the category as a whole. Much like the greens or the "progressives". Now is not a time to hold tightly onto the traditional categories, now is a time to appreciate that they are actively in flux, and on the local level the forms they are changing into are quite receptive to influence from the basic driver of these matters, basic social relationships.

I think it was in the comments of this blog a while back I read that the line between good and evil is not drawn between races, nations, or ideologies, but runs through every heart. If the categories that have been holding people apart are in flux, as I feel them to be, now may be a time to reach across those former rifts, and to find individuals who are, for your intents, of good heart. People of good character can be found in most groups, connecting with them now has a chance to make a big local difference. At the moment I am far from Fort Collins, and can feel that in this place the categories mean something different than they do back in FoCo. Much is based on where folks of decency congregate. Certainly on a national level power blocks may form which could be more or less friendly to the kinds of activities that Green Wizards tend to like to do, but what happens on a national level aggregates the local. Depending on how we treat folks with in and beyond the emerging categories in our personal dealings and relationships feeds different possible national potentials. Holding onto old categories could be more costly than normal if this is true. Even if national trends are caught in winds greater than our breathing, islands of diverse local character can be refugia in times of trouble. A handful of fortunate green wizards may suffice to cause such a change.

I am working on some ideas that might someday contribute to manifesting a group of green wizards or the like. I would appreciate the opinions of others here, what would be the intention your ideal green wizards group? (remember that there is no right answer, any possible answer limits many strengths and weaknesses.)

Karim said...

JMG wrote "the peak oil movement failed to take its case effectively to the public, then wasted its time trying to pressure existing power centers rather than building alliances with potential allies, and basically fell over and died when the price of oil came back down."

That's very interesting because here in far far away Mauritius I have been closely involved in raising public awareness of environmental, energy and peak oil and other social issues. We (a small number of activists!) actually managed to get a number of trade unions and small political parties interested in energy and environmental issues to such an extent that a number of environmentally damaging projects were derailed and the public discourse from Government officials to the private sector and the press have and are responding to what very fringe movements have been talking about. Of course, Mauritius is still very much fossil fuel run and our dependency on fossil fuel is not going down, nevertheless people are beginning (just beginning) to ask a few questions (only a few!) about the current state of affairs.

At the last general elections in Mauritius (we have had general elections in this country since independence in 1968) of December 2014, a small political party made a lasting impression by obtaining 3.4% of the votes on a leftist platform coupled with environmental and energy issues. (I took part in the elections!!!)

At one point I felt I was getting nowhere with zero results, but actually I think I was too harsh with myself. An alliance has been forged between some trade unions, small political parties, environmental and citizens movements and we even had decent press coverage!

This curious, shape shifting alliance is not very strong, very informal, quite vaporous and includes lots of people with conflicting aims, purposes and beliefs, yet it remains!

I was seriously thinking of letting go at one point, but in view of what you wrote John and what other readers have said, perhaps I should not!

Cherokee Organics said...


I must have been very bad in a past life to have been kept so busy in this life! The deadline for the latest Spacebats story competition is fast approaching and that point has not been lost on me.

Chapter four of my Shaman story has now been posted on the web. Mate, this story is epic and is by now the longest piece of continuous fiction writing that I have ever done.

Mate, how you write those long novels and keep a coherent narrative and fast paced story is well beyond me, and I have a new respect for your powers as a story teller!

Anyway, you may note that to a small extent all the recent reading of the Conan stories - inspired by you, no less - has had an impact on my story and I decided to add a bit of darkness to the Shaman story. Hope everyone enjoys it or at the very least aren't put to snoring!

I'm seriously busting to get over to the Well of Galabes... However, work first and play later is the motto here.

The final chapter in the story - where all will be revealed - will be written over the next few days.



Patricia Mathews said...

@ William Fairchild. Who said " The reformers want to tweak the system, to change it so that it meets their goals, but the basic institutions, or structures remain in place. The reformers just get a seat at the table. The civil rights movement, leading to the voting rights act, leading to the Congressional Black Caucus would be an example of this."

That's right. The Civil Rights movement also ended legalized segregation once and for all, despite the nasty little ploys the segregationists have been using ever since to reinstate it de facto. It is no longer the law of the land anywhere in the United States. We did it - we got what we wanted, and what we thought would be a simple cleanup job that the older generations were too war-weary to do - without any of us shedding blood. All the bloodshed was on the other side, and it totally delegitimized the segregationist cause in the eyes of the nation and the world. And yes, I know those tactics wouldn't have worked against Hitler, but they worked fine against the opponents we had.

WE WON. We didn't overthrow 'the system' - we overthrew a rotten part of it. Cut it out of the body politic. No longer the law of the land.

And that, sir (dusting off my hands) is how the Silent Generation does things.

In fact, it was a member of my own generation, a woman, who referred to the taste for spectacular gestures, bloodshed, and leaving wreckage behind one as in an action movie for teenaged boys, saying "The will to be stupid is a powerful force." BTW, I have never had a clear explanation of what "the revolution" entailed or wanted when my immediate juniors were crying for it, and think I will go to my grave not knowing, because I don't think it ever had one beyond the romance of "It's Sistwer Jenny's Turn To Throw The Bomb."

The other Tom said...

As always, this blog and comments have expanded my view from my little corner of the world.
I was not familiar with Oathkeepers until now and after reading up on them I find it disturbing that some of the military and ex police, the ones to whom violence is not an abstract notion but very real, consider laws and government authority legitimate only if they align with their interpretation of the Constitution. Apparently, if the courts do not correctly interpret the law, Oathkeepers will supplant them and do it for them.
I guess civilian control of the military is not important to them, as it was to the Founders. If Truman had not been able to fire MacArthur in Korea we could have had a gigantic US/China land war on the scale of the Russian Front in WW2.
I don't run into people who are that radically right here in eastern CT but there are some who get their worldview from talk radio and are convinced that any government is useless. If I can have a particle of influence in the world I feel it is my duty to call them on their bs, to point out that to whatever extent we get rid of government something else will fill the vacuum, and right now it is likely to be corporations and their private security forces. It is important for those of us who want a more gentle collapse to say to these people that local government is very useful if we are going to keep the water on and get anything done.
To your point, this would be an example of deligitimizing the political system, even in a nominal democracy. (I believe you are in NZ? Anything comparable going on there?)

zentao said...

This is the age of video game and cartoon violence...Those who consider themselves violent likely cannot even bring themselves to kill a chicken.

There must be a great awakening in spirit before there can be some kind of change...

"How does one choose the technique of attack? There is no choosing. It happens unconsciously, automatically, naturally. There can be no thought, because if there is a thought there is a time of thought and that means a flaw." (Deshimaru)

We live in the time of "upload my consciousness" and "taxes are the answer to climate change".

Taxes are a sign of incompetence in a species...

Denys said...

@Deborah Bender
Everyone was free to move around South Africa when I was there in the 1990's, although inside our passport was a bar code for each time we entered the country that was scanned again when we left. The U.S. government was nice enough to give us two passports - one with a South African visa and one without so we could travel to countries that did not have diplomatic relations with South Africa such as Malawi at that time.

FW DeKlerk's government began unraveling the apartheid laws and people were "free" to travel technically but in reality everyone had their place. It is like that here in the U.S. You must live in an area where everyone around you looks like you.

A white friend of mine is working to build an actual pedestrian walkway between an all minority public housing project and her block of apartments in Philly. Yes, segregation is that bad even In a "blue" voting area which has had over twenty years of African American mayors. She crossed the street to the housing project and struck up a conversation with a woman sitting outside. The woman told her flat out she was in danger, and my friend had actually endangered the safety of the woman herself "you don't know who is watching and what they will think we are talking about". My friend was shaken to the core.

I would encourage you to go South Africa if you can. It's a beautiful country, and you can see with your own eyes how much it is like the U.S. Except they have less of those pesky laws regulating everything and a lot less lawyers. It was a lot like what I imagine the Wild West being like - people enacting what they thought of as justice and keeping those they didn't want or like out of their neighborhoods. I saw a black man gunned down with an AK 47 and left lieing in the field, and the remains of another man who was necklaced and left in the street. Necklacing is where they slip a car tire down over your body which holds your arms down to your sides. Then they pour gas over you and light you on fire. We saw this poor man after the fire had gone out and the smell was unforgettable.

To get back to JMG's point on violence not being effective in revolutions, that was the point I was supporting in my experience in Southern Africa. There was lots of violence there in the name of black freedom and none of it did much to change the living conditions of black Africans. Even Mandela being president didn't do much as you will still find black Africans living in shanty towns and white Africans living in compounds. My neighbor has done several trips in recent years to KwaZulu to encourage people to stop cooking on an old kind of kerosene (they call it paraffin but it is what we call kerosene) stove in their shacks. They tip over and Thousands of kids a year get burned. Their parents often abandon them in orphanages then because of the high medical care/costs and being disfigured they can't marry them off and if they are missing limbs or fingers that means they can't work.

If you want current "on the ground" info, you could probably contact a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa.

Candace said...

@The Other Tom,

You do realize the courts are largely owned and operated by corporate America, hence the Citizens United ruling. So I'm with the Oathkeepers in as much as that ruling does not support the constitution.

@ Zentao

Taxes are one way to attempt to bring externalized costs, pollution back into the calculation of the actual cost of things. i.e. pollution. If Karma actually existed they wouldn't be necessary. You wouldn't pollute because you wouldn't want the blow back. Since people can pollute with impunity and make others live with the consequences of their actions, taxes seem to be as close as we can get to a substitute. Of course the people with real power can also transfer the taxes to others as well, so it's true maybe we shouldn't bother.

HalFiore said...

John Michael, I think we're just talking past each other. When you say "all the money and talent invested in the climate change movement," it has me scratching my head. Are you maybe talking about Al Gore? J/K ;)

Because from what I've seen over the years, climate change has been at best a significant fraction of the campaign budget of a few major environmental groups and scattered small fringe groups. Only in the last decade or so has it spawned a few organizations dedicated specifically to that cause. The fact that the main one in this country is known by a "dot org" should tell you all you need to know about how long it's been around, and how seriously it should be taken. A name that basically means, "visit our website and we'll entertain you with cool graphics and stirring sentiments," will hardly appear to represent a revolutionary vanguard.

I hope I'm not coming across as belaboring a minor point. I'm trying to get at what you're suggesting about movements. Are you saying that some group of people should have taken climate change more seriously, effectively to the point of forsaking the rest of the field of social and environmental concerns, and then waged a revolutionary struggle over that issue? And that mostly before a consensus had been reached, even among climate scientists?

How many years do you recon such delegitimizing and outreach efforts as you recommend might have taken to bear fruit? I think these things usually play out over many decades. Climate change has barely been in anyone's awareness for three of those.

I think a lot of what you're saying can quite legitimately be thrown at the environmental movement in general, and at a large range of social "progressivisms" which seemed to be flourishing in the post-WWII landscape. It's a critique that I think could serve a very useful purpose, though I doubt it will be heeded by many activists, for way too many reasons to go into here. I just think you weaken your case when you go after a movement that was largely, from my view, nonexistent and would hardly been able to do any of the things you suggest even if it had'nt been.

One last point, and then I hope I'm done other than a point I want to make later to the readers: The climate change issue, as opposed to movement, also had the misfortune of being hijacked by a rogues gallery of opportunists beginning with Al Gore in the 90s and also including a number of leftist organizations that essentially took it as another way to aggrandize themselves and beat up on their enemies/oppressors. This did not help a bit, either.

jessi thompson said...

Buy Nothing Day, what a cool idea! I'll participate from now on, though it won't make very much difference since I've never participated in Black Friday ever in my life. I used to see footage of Black Fridays and not recognize or understand what it was. So really for me that means I also won't buy groceries or gas on those days. In the last few years I also refuse to buy anything or visit any business on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day, believing all workers should be able to stay home with their families. Unfortunately, as the affluent lose the ability to cook for themselves, more and more people in the lower classes are forced to work those days.

August Johnson said...

I see a major problem with the Climate Change groups is/was that virtually all of them are about what someone else should do. How many people who say they care about the Climate Change issue apply this concern to their own lifestyle? I see this with some very liberal friends of mine, who are constantly bitching about deniers. Yet they live a very profligate lifestyle, several ocean cruses each year, always jetting to conferences (sometimes several in a month), buying every imaginable goodie, etc. Their lifestyle is totally indistinguishable from the most hardened denier.

I am met with complete silence when I attempt to bring up the subject of "LESS" and talk about what we are doing (not doing) in our own lives. This also seems to apply to just about every "Activist" for the "cause" that I've seen.

nuku said...

@TheOtherTom: Yes, I do live in New Zealand, specifically a smallish town at the top of the South Island called Nelson. Several ex-pat Yanks live here including me, who I sometimes describe as a “refugee from the Evil Empire“.
Regarding the political scene here: Though I’ve been here since 1989, I’m no expert as I tend to view politics as a kind of sideshow. So here’s my slightly cynical take.
The level of political debate here has gone steadly downhill in the last 20 odd years, and now we have as 2 term Prime Minister of National Party (on the “right” side of the political spectrum) a guy who bills himself as a “businessman” with no history as a politician, who plays the “I was poor kid raised by my single mom in a state house; I made it to the top but I’m still one of you ordinary folks” card, and likes to pull the pony tails of cute young women “just having a bit of fun”.
In reality, the guy spent his working life making millions in commissions in London as a currency trader at Morgan Stanley, in other words, a gambler (with other people’s money). He cut his teeth working for an older guy who made mega millions betting against the NZ$ in the 80’s. His self-confessed political legacy will getting a new flag for NZ and selling us out to the multinationals via the Transpacific Trade Agreement.
His party is deep into the process of privatization, and there are proven links between the PM’s inner group and right wing groups in the USA from whom they have learned all the “dirty tricks” such as using social media/radio talk show/blogger attack dogs to discredit the opposition without looking like bad guys themselves. They like to talk about NZ’s “Rock Star Economy” while covertly blowing more hot air into a huge housing bubble.
The Labor “left” and the Green party are both playing catch up/reaction mode with no real viable alternative vision, just tweeks on BAU. There’s various groups of Maori (the Polynesian folks who were here when the Brits arrived) who mostly are trying to get their own fingers in the public pie either through alliances with the main parties (we have MMP elections here), or through the courts. They occasionally play the environmental card in their role as “traditional Stewards of the Land“, and some of them have a healthy distrust of the White Man’s shinny toys.
There is a growing apathy and mistrust of the political process among some young folks and those who like myself aren’t so head-down-ass-up in the system that we can see over the piles of bullshit to what’s actually going down.
In terms of the first stage of JMG’s process, NZ is a bit behind the USA in that most folks still buy into the “clean green Land of the Hobbits” image, and economic desperation is still mostly seen as somebody else’s problem. It could all change very quickly though. Being an island nation in the Pacific, we are at the far end of the supply chain for shiny goodies and oil.

Martin B said...

I live in a country that has one of the few examples of a successful non-violent revolution, South Africa. Basically, the established power saw the writing on the wall, negotiated the best deal they could, then handed over power to the up-and-comers. And it worked out, more or less.

If the Fossil Fuelites decided to hand over power to the Greens, what sort of deal would the Greens agree to? I don't think the Greens have an agreed-upon program or a cadre of leaders with broad legitimacy like the African National Congress did, hence JMG's comment, "the spokespeople of the climate change movement generally didn’t talk about what they hoped to achieve... [But] ranted instead about how awful the future would be if the rest of the world didn’t fall into line behind them."

I learned about the importance of getting the support of power centers many years ago when I was very involved in politics. I made a speech at a national party congress advocating a certain policy our party should adopt. I thought it was self-evident that this was the way we should go. It was the only policy that was attuned to our ideals. In my naiveté I believed it was only necessary to put the plain facts before people and they would agree with you.

As I was talking, I noticed the audience's eyes kept shifting away from me, and I wondered what they were looking at. Eventually I realized what was going on. Seated behind me on the stage were the half-dozen or so top people in the party, and the audience was gauging their reaction to what I was saying before making up their minds.

Bear in mind these were educated, middle-class, successful people, yet they were not prepared to make an independent decision. They wanted to see which way the wind blew first.

I finished my speech to a polite spattering of applause and was treated like a pariah from then on. My proposal was too premature. Now, years later, it is an accepted part of policy and no one remembers it was any different.

Joe McInerney said...

@Ray Wharton
"I am working on some ideas that might someday contribute to manifesting a group of green wizards or the like. I would appreciate the opinions of others here, what would be the intention your ideal green wizards group? (remember that there is no right answer, any possible answer limits many strengths and weaknesses.)"

I will be seeking you out Ray. I am an electrician and PV installer with peak oil, permaculture and environmental ethics interests.

I lived in Fort C and participated in its activist community for a long time. I'm in Boulder now. Saw your Google group page. I will be in touch. Joe

Tony f. whelKs said...


Another Space Bat alert - just scraping the deadline, as usual. It really wanted to be a novel...

You should have my contact details on record, but let me know if you need a refresh.

Dau Branchazel said...


Here is my contribution to the current story competition. I welcome comments and contributions from all.

Marlow Charles said...

Read this ADR in very very close succession to a lot of reading into Aleksandr Dugin (Putins Rasputin). Fascinating & eerie.The characters who have influenced Dugin ( Evola & Guenon) are similarly intereting. Dugin (and his ilk) is very dark & forboding.

Revolution & Retrotopia. Mmm...I need to think a lot more on this. Links in a chain going a long long way back.

Denys said...

@MartinB "And it worked out, more or less."
I'm curious by what you mean as "worked out". By every statistic, black and colored South Africans are significantly worse off now then they were in 1994 when Mandela was elected president.

Peter Attwood said...

I'm reminded that the French Right, if by this we mean the aristocracy, did a great deal of the softening up of the monarchy in the 1780s, just as their analogues have done in the States. The Parlement of Paris's campaign against Marie Antoinette in 1785, and the culmination of the aristocracy's campaign in the Day of the Tiles in 1788, were leading contributors in the calling of the Estates General. The aristocracy quite intentionally made France ungovernable, including by provoking the budget crisis.

They set it up, but it worked out a little differently, as some clearly understood as they prepared to "sneeze into the basket." It's no sure thing that the spadework of the US Right will be inherited by them. History is not fair that way.

Martin B said...

@Denys "And it worked out, more or less."

When I say "it worked out", I mean South Africa is today a modern, democratic republic with regular elections and peaceful changes in leadership. Compared with the disaster of a race war that was predicted for us, this is success. Had things gone the other way we would look like Syria today.

In the context of JMG's article, the point I was trying to make is that a negotiated future can work, even though one of the parties will be badly disadvantaged, provided it is seen as better than the alternative.

As whites, we realized that majority rule would mean the loss of political power, probably permanently, and along with that jobs in the civil service and state-owned enterprises (of which there are many), and control of the police and the army. But we got guarantees that property rights would be respected and signed on the dotted line.

Google the CODESA negotiations for more specifics.

I disagree with your assertion that black and colored South Africans are worse off. There are now more middle-class blacks than whites, mainly people with secure jobs in the civil service. Welfare payments are much more wide-spread, to the benefit of the black community, and there has been a massive roll-out of housing, electricity, clean water and tarred roads to poorer communities.

Which is not to say everything is peachy. We are not Switzerland, we are a third-world country. Crime and corruption are rife. Our currency has lost three-quarters of its value against the dollar. Population grows faster than the economy, resulting in increasing unemployment. Hell, it's 35%, and over 50% among the youth. We're as bad as Greece and Spain now ;o)

Marlow Charles said...


Thought I would comment on your response to MartinB (possibly for no other reason than that it was adjacent my comment and that I felt affinity for what he had to say. I too am a South African (working internationally).

I believe that his opening paragraph is indeed correct and that the rest of the comment is well observed.

(One really needs to live for a long time in a place (and be observant and honest enough) in order to understand it's people's complexities)

N Montesano said...

Trip day! I have such hopes of learning useful skills and thought patterns from the Retropians to apply to my own life, that I am even leaving my beloved garden -- and in harvest season, too. Spent 10 minutes at the station yesterday, wondering where everyone was, before I realized it was the wrong day, and had to go home again, feeling foolish. Ah, well; at least I'm packed, and know where the station is.

peacegarden said...

All aboard! Can't wait 'til tomorrow morning. I am packing a nice basket of finger foods to share, and an herbal first aid kit(never know what we will encounter on the journey to Retropia).



Martin McDuffy said...

Some useful advice, but there are many who have no desire to see any of the current power blocks courted. There are many who want to see a revolution not in name only, but in the very way we perceive ourselves and the world around us. Changing the nameplates on the mahogany desks might be the goal of the American far right, but this is not so for the far left.

If that means that the revolution we need must wait until the full pain of economic and ecological collapse set in for real, and the notion of middle class privilege has long left the living consciousness, so be it.

Hubertus Hauger said...

I just wonder, how that will work? No cheap oil from below, but only expensive vegetable oil available. In times, where there are still 300 Million ex-US people need food. Isn´t the energy input of oil-grops about equal, to what we get out of producing it? So will production of vegetable oil not be extremely costly? Will oil be used up extensively then? I see it a dilemma for oil and electric power likewise. I ask myself, if the cost will be affordable at all?

Maybe you can put a production cicle of vegetable oil into your novel. So we could imagine. how it realistically could be done. Would be enlightening to leave wishfull thinking behind. Which I see poping out in me and everyone I observe. Suppose, it´s due to the lack of knowlegde, being imprisoned mentally in that colden cage of cheap energy driven culture, not yet living in that harsh future life with no cheap energy available anymore.

RCW - said...


Feasting on this piece of fiction has left me frustrated, having been conditioned & spoiled by one-hour martinizing, minute rice & microwave oatmeal. Whenever I plan to lunch at a popular Brazilian steakhouse in Baltimore (that satiates the animal protein glutton in me), I skip dessert the night before & breakfast the day of, so as to get my fill.

After having digested "Retrotopia".part 3, I feel as I do after having fasted 18 hours, driven to the restaurant only to be stopped at the front door by the Maitre D' & told to wait, while mouth-watering aromas waft into the foyer, exciting my salivary glands & further whetting my appetite. When one is famished, patience seems more like an obstacle than a virtue.

william fairchild said...


IMO, an On Being interview might not be a bad choice. Should Krista Tippet invite you, I hope you would accept. She seems to do a lot of research before she does an interview and strikes me as generally pretty insightful. I would love to see how your messages would go over with the NPR crowd. Are most NPR junkies liberal elitists? You betcha! But there may besome folks waiting in the wings to hear your messages, they just don't know you're out there. What was it Pope Francis said, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable? I say go afflict them.

On a much more important note, you have an absolute knack for tossing literary bombs, lighting the fuse with the question "what if?" and then letting this community creatively explode. It is a gift, and I for one am deeply appreciative. I think it speaks to a strength of character seeds of ideas and then trust others to cultivate them in ways you may not have chosen. This is what a teacher does. Way Cool!

@Patricia and @JMG, thanks for the clarification. A funny story, my day job is with the airlines (I know, I know, Boo Hiss, but it helps pay the bills in the interim). My friend Kara was checking a passport and she asked me what nationality was Deutch. I said, "Kara, Deutch is German for German." A week later, same deal. She asked me what nationality was Espana. I said, "Kara, Espana is Spanish for Spanish." We still laugh about it.

So "Wm., Nihonjin is Japanese for Japanese" LOL