Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The War Against Change

Last week’s post explored the way that the Democratic party over the last four decades has abandoned any claim to offer voters a better future, and has settled for offering them a future that’s not quite as bad as the one the Republicans have in mind. That momentous shift can be described in many ways, but the most useful of them, to my mind, is one that I didn’t bring up last week: the Democrats have become America’s conservative party.

Yes, I know. That’s not something you’re supposed to say in today’s America, where “conservative” and “liberal” have become meaningless vocal sounds linked with the greedy demands of each party’s assortment of pressure groups and the plaintive cries of its own flotilla of captive constituencies. Still, back in the day when those words still meant something, “conservative” meant exactly what the word sounds like: a political stance that focuses on conserving some existing state of affairs, which liberals and radicals want to replace with some different state of affairs. Conservative politicians and parties—again, back when the word meant something—used to defend existing political arrangements against attempts to change them.

That’s exactly what the Democratic Party has been doing for decades now. What it’s trying to preserve, of course, is the welfare-state system of the New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society programs of the 1960s—or, more precisely, the fragments of that system that still survive. That’s the status quo that the Democrats are attempting to hold in place. The consequences of that conservative mission are unfolding around us in any number of ways, but the one that comes to mind just now is the current status of presidential candidate Bernard Sanders as a lightning rod for an all too familiar delusion of the wing of the Democratic party that still considers itself to be on the left.

The reason Sanders comes to mind so readily just now is that last week’s post attracted an odd response from some of its readers. In the course of that post—which was not, by the way, on the subject of the American presidential race—I happened to mention three out of the twenty-odd candidates currently in the running. Somehow I didn’t get taken to task by supporters of Michael O’Malley, Ted Cruz, Jesse Ventura, or any of the other candidates I didn’t mention, with one exception: supporters of Sanders came out of the woodwork to denounce me for not discussing their candidate, as though he had some kind of inalienable right to air time in a blog post that, again, was not about the election.

I found the whole business a source of wry amusement, but it also made two points that are relevant to this week’s post. On the one hand, what makes Sanders’ talking points stand out among those of his rivals is that he isn’t simply talking about maintaining the status quo; his proposals include steps that would restore a few of the elements of the welfare state that have been dismantled over the last four decades. That’s the extent of his radicalism—and of course it speaks reams about the state of the Democratic party more generally that so modest, even timid, a proposal is fielding shrieks of outrage from the political establishment just now.

The second point, and to my mind the more interesting of the two, is the way that Sanders’ campaign has rekindled the same messianic fantasies that clustered around Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in their first presidential runs. I remember rather too clearly the vehement proclamations by diehard liberals in 1992 that putting Clinton in office would surely undo all the wrongs of the Reagan and Bush I eras; I hope none of my readers have forgotten the identical fantasies that gathered around Barack Obama in 2008. We can apparently expect another helping of them this time around, with Sanders as the beneficiary, and no doubt those of us who respond to them with anything short of blind enthusiasm will be denounced just as heatedly this time, too.

It bears remembering that despite those fantasies, Bill Clinton spent eight years in the White House following Ronald Reagan’s playbook nearly to the letter, and Barack Obama has so far spent his two terms doing a really inspired imitation of the third and fourth terms of George W. Bush. If by some combination of sheer luck and hard campaigning, Bernie Sanders becomes the next president of the United States, it’s a safe bet that the starry-eyed leftists who helped put him into office will once again get to spend four or eight years trying to pretend that their candidate isn’t busy betraying all of the overheated expectations that helped put him into office. As Karl Marx suggested in one of his essays, if history repeats itself, the first time is tragedy but the second is generally farce; he didn’t mention what the third time around was like, but we may just get to find out.

The fact that this particular fantasy has so tight a grip on the imagination of the Democratic party’s leftward wing is also worth studying. There are many ways that a faction whose interests are being ignored by the rest of its party, and by the political system in general, can change that state of affairs. Unquestioning faith that this or that leader will do the job for them is not generally a useful strategy under such conditions, though, especially when that faith takes the place of any more practical activity. History has some very unwelcome things to say, for that matter, about the dream of political salvation by some great leader; so far it seems limited to certain groups on the notional left of the electorate, but if it spreads more widely, we could be looking at the first stirrings of the passions and fantasies that could bring about a new American fascism.

Meanwhile, just as the Democratic party in recent decades has morphed into America’s conservative party, the Republicans have become its progressive party. That’s another thing you’re not supposed to say in today’s America, because of the bizarre paralogic that surrounds the concept of progress in our collective discourse. What the word “progress” means, as I hope at least some of my readers happen to remember, is continuing further in the direction we’re already going—and that’s all it means. To most Americans today, though, the actual meaning of the word has long since been obscured behind a burden of vague emotion that treats “progressive” as a synonym for “good.” Notice that this implies the very odd belief that the direction in which we’re going is good, and can never be anything other than good.

For the last forty years, mind you, America has been moving steadily along an easily defined trajectory. We’ve moved step by step toward more political and economic inequality, more political corruption, more impoverishment for those outside the narrowing circles of wealth and privilege, more malign neglect toward the national infrastructure, and more environmental disruption, along with a steady decline in literacy and a rolling collapse in public health, among other grim trends. These are the ways in which we’ve been progressing, and that’s the sense in which the GOP counts as America’s current progressive party: the policies being proposed by GOP candidates will push those same changes even further than they’ve already gone, resulting in more inequality, corruption, impoverishment, and so on.

So the 2016 election is shaping up to be a contest between one set of candidates who basically want to maintain the wretchedly unsatisfactory conditions facing the American people today, and another set who want to make those conditions worse, with one outlier on the Democratic side who says he wants to turn the clock back to 1976 or so, and one outlier on the Republican side who apparently wants to fast forward things to the era of charismatic dictators we can probably expect in the not too distant future. It’s not too hard to see why so many people looking at this spectacle aren’t exactly seized with enthusiasm for any of the options being presented to them by the existing political order.

The question that interests me most about all this is the one I tried to raise last week—why, in the face of so many obvious dysfunctions, are so many people in and out of the political arena frozen into a set of beliefs that convince them that the only possibilities available to us involve either staying exactly where we are or going further along the route that’s landed us in this mess? No doubt a good many things have contributed to that bizarre mental fixation, but there’s one factor that may not have received the attention it deserves: the remarkable dominance of a particular narrative in the most imaginative fiction and mass media of our time. As far as I know, nobody’s given that narrative a name yet, so I’ll exercise that prerogative and call it The War Against Change.

You know that story inside and out. There’s a place called Middle-Earth, or the Hogwarts School of Wizardry, or what have you—the name doesn’t matter, the story’s the same in every case. All of a sudden this place is threatened by an evil being named Sauron, or Voldemort, or—well, you can fill in the blanks for yourself. Did I mention that this evil being is evil? Yes, in fact, he’s evilly evil out of sheer evil evilness, without any motive other than the one just named.  What that evilness amounts to in practice, though, is that he wants to change things. Of course the change is inevitably portrayed in the worst possible light, but what it usually comes down to is that the people who currently run things will lose their positions of power, and will be replaced by the bad guy and his minions—any resemblance to the rhetoric surrounding US presidential elections is doubtless coincidental.

But wait!  Before the bad guy and his evil minions can change things, a plucky band of heroes goes swinging into action to stop his evil scheme, and of course they succeed in the nick of time. The bad guy gets the stuffing pounded out of him, the people who are supposed to run things keep running things, everything settles down just the way it was before he showed up. Change is stopped in its tracks, and all of the characters who matter breathe a big sigh of relief and live happily ever after, or until filming starts on the sequel, take your pick.

Now of course that’s a very simplified version of The War Against Change. In the hands of a really capable author, and we’ll get to one of those in a minute, that story can quite readily yield great literature. Even so, it’s a very curious sort of narrative to be as popular as it is, especially for a society that claims to be in love with change and novelty. The War Against Change takes place in a world in which everything’s going along just the way things are supposed to be.  The bad guy shows up and tries to change things, he gets clobbered by the good guys, and then everything goes on just the way it was. Are there, ahem, problems with the way things are run? Might changing things be a good idea, if the right things are changed?  Does the bad guy and his evil minions possibly even have motives other than sheer evilly evil evilness for wanting to change things?  That’s not part of the narrative. At most, one or more of the individuals who are running things may be problematic, and have to be pushed aside by our plucky band of heroes so they can get on with the business of bashing the bad guy.

It happens now and then, in fact, that authors telling the story of The War Against Change go out of their way to make fun of the possibility that anyone might reasonably object to the established order of things. Did anyone else among my readers feel vaguely sick while reading the Harry Potter saga, when they encountered Rowling’s rather shrill mockery of Hermione whatsername’s campaign on behalf of the house elves? To me, at least, it was rather too reminiscent of “No, no, our darkies love their Massa!”

That’s actually a side issue, though. The core of the narrative is that the goal of the good guys, the goal that defines them as good guys, is to make sure that nothing changes. That becomes a source of tremendous if unintentional irony in the kind of imaginative fiction that brings imagery from mythology and legend into a contemporary setting. I’m thinking here, as one example out of many, of a series of five children’s novels—The Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper—the first four of which were among the delights of my childhood. You have two groups of magical beings, the Light and the Dark—yes, it’s pretty Manichean—who are duking it out in present-day Britain.

The Dark, as you’ve all probably figured out already, is trying to change things, and the Light is doing the plucky hero routine and trying to stop them. That’s all the Light does; it doesn’t, heaven help us, do anything about the many other things that a bunch of magical beings might conceivably want to fix in 1970s Britain. The Light has no agenda of its own at all; it’s there to stop the Dark from changing things, and that’s it. Mind you, the stories are packed full of splendid, magical stuff, the sort of thing that’s guaranteed to win the heart and feed the imagination of any child stuck in the dark heart of American suburbia, as I was at the time.

Then came the fifth book, Silver on the Tree, which was published in 1977.  The Light and the Dark finally had their ultimate cataclysmic showdown, the Dark is prevented from changing things...and once that’s settled, the Light packs its bags and heads off into the sunset, leaving the protagonists sitting there in present-day Britain with all the magic gone for good. I loathed the book. So did a lot of other people—I’ve never yet heard it discussed without terms like “wretchedly disappointing” being bandied around—but I suspect the miserable ending was inescapable, given the frame into which the story had already been fixed. Cooper had committed herself to telling the story of The War Against Change, and it was probably impossible for her to imagine any other ending.

 Now of course there’s a reason why this particular narrative took on so overwhelming a role in the imaginative fiction and media of the late twentieth century, and that reason is the force of nature known as J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m by no means sure how many of my readers who weren’t alive in the 1960s and 1970s have any idea how immense an impact Tolkien’s sprawling trilogy The Lord of the Rings had on the popular imagination of that era, at a time when buttons saying "Frodo Lives!" and "Go Go Gandalf" were everywhere and every reasonably hip bookstore sold posters with the vaguely psychedelic front cover art of the first Ballantine paperback edition of The Fellowship of the Ring. In the formative years of the Boomer generation, Tolkien’s was a name to conjure with.

What makes this really odd, all things considered, is that Tolkien himself was a political reactionary who opposed nearly everything his youthful fans supported. The Boomers who were out there trying to change the system in the Sixties were simultaneously glorifying a novel that celebrates war, monarchy, feudal hierarchy, and traditional gender roles, and includes an irritable swipe at the social welfare program of post-World War Two Britain—that’s what Lotho Sackville-Baggins’ government of the Shire amounts to, with its “gatherers” and “sharers.” When Tolkien put together his grand epic of The War Against Change, he knew exactly what he was doing; when the youth culture of the Sixties adopted him as their patron saint—much to his horror, by the way—I’m not at all sure the same thing could be said about them.

What sets The Lord of the Rings apart from common or garden variety versions of The War Against Change, in fact, is precisely Tolkien’s own remarkably clear understanding of what he was trying to do, and how that strategy tends to play out in the real world. The Lord of the Rings gets much of its power and pathos precisely because its heroes fought The War Against Change knowing that even if they won, they would lose; the best they could do is put a brake on the pace of change and keep the last dim legacies of the Elder Days for a little longer before they faded away forever. Tolkien nourished his literary sense on Beowulf and the Norse sagas, with their brooding sense of doom’s inevitability, and on traditional Christian theology, with its promise of hope beyond the circles of the world, and managed to play these two against each other brilliantly—but then Tolkien, as a reactionary, understood what it was like to keep fighting for something even though he knew that the entire momentum of history was against him.

Does all this seem galaxies away from the crass political realities with which this week’s post began? Think again, dear reader. Listen to the rhetoric of the candidates as they scramble for their party’s nomination—well, except for Hillary Clinton, who’s too busy declaiming “I am so ready to lead!” at the nearest available mirror—and you’ll hear The War Against Change endlessly rehashed. What do the Republican candidates promise? Why, to save America from the evil Democrats, who want to change things. What do the Democratic candidates promise? To save America from the evil Republicans, ditto. Pick a pressure group, any pressure group, and the further in from the fringes they are, the more likely they are to frame their rhetoric in terms of The War Against Change, too.

I’ve noted before, for that matter, the weird divergence between the eagerness of the mainstream to talk about anthropogenic global warming and their utter unwillingness to talk about peak oil and other forms of resource depletion. There are several massive factors behind that, but I’ve come to think that one of the most important is that you can frame the climate change narrative in terms of The War Against Change—we must keep the evil polluters from changing things!—but you can’t do that with peak oil. The end of the age of cheap abundant energy means that things have to change, not because the motiveless malignity of some cackling villain would have it so, but because the world no longer contains the resources that would be needed to keep things going the way they’ve gone so far.

That said, if it’s going to be necessary to change things—and it is—then it’s time to start thinking about options for the future that don’t consist of maintaining a miserably unsatisfactory status quo or continuing along a trajectory that’s clearly headed toward something even worse. The first step in making change is imagining change, and the first step in imagining change is recognizing that “more of the same” isn’t going to cut it. Next week, I plan on taking some of the ideas I’ve floated here in recent months, and putting them together in a deliberately unconventional way.


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Al Sevcik said...

Here is the address for my contribution to the After Oil 4 story contest.

Eric Backos said...

The Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Chapter Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 will hold their Stated Meeting: This Thursday at 6:30 PM in Cracker Barrel, Willoughby, Ohio at I-90 & SOM Center Road. 6055 SOM Center Road Willoughby, Ohio, 44094-9153.
Look for the table topper with a green wizard hat printed on it.

ATTENTION: THERE WILL BE NO MEETING NEXT WEEK. Instead, we will be at the D-Day Reenactment in Conneaut, Ohio. Please ask for us at the British Women’s Land Army (Land Girls) display in the Commonwealth encampment.

Eric Backos said...

Dear Mr. Greer, Your Grace, &c.
Thank you for your assistance in advertising our venture. As a side effect, I’ve convinced one member to read your other blog. I wonder if other fraternal bodies started as dinner and salon. (Diner and salon, in our case.) The phrase “Pyrrhic Rite” came up while discussing our involvement in the D-Day reenactment. What do you think of the usage? And we hope other Green Wizards will join the fun.

John Roth said...

Interestingly, the part of the gaming culture that does role playing seems to be stuck in the same mindset, and that's enormously influential. There are outliers - the Civilization series comes to mind - but they're rare and don't have a lot of mind-share.

Dave Zoom said...

War against change , goes hand in hand with the american dream , or the pursuit thereof , the USA is special , has a manifest destany so the MSM keeps telling us, so any change must be dangerous , treated with suspicion and denounced at every possible chance , change is to be dreaded and feared .

Denys said...

Gathering workshop presenters in skills your great-grandparents knew for a one day Skill Camp for grown-ups and teens in Berks County PA. Please message me over at the Green Wizards site or reply somewhere below. I read all comments.

If there is interest we will continue monthly or more often!


Christopher Carlisle said...

I love it when you talk Tolkien, even if for just a little bit.

Mark Hines said...

I have been a reader of the archdruid report for a long time. But I have to say that I have been disappointed and surprised that you have delved into political commentary on the current shenanigans of the political parties. I hope you intend to get back to your talking about the collapse of industrial society and what we can expect. It is a much more useful theme than the political one you are on.

John Miller-George said...

I'd rather compare the American election contest to Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" sci-fi series. The old galactic empire is crumbling and doomed to a new dark age. The "Foundation" is created to preserve civilization, shorten the dark millenia, and become the seed of a new civilization. Years flow by and like every plan, events take over. One such event is the arrival of a mutant, called "The Mule", who manages to take over and re-invigorate the old regime before he dies and the crumbling resumes.

I am willing to hope that Bernie could breifly re-invigorate the USA over the opposition of Republicans and Democrats for however long his presidency lasts... BUT... the crumbling will resume in any case.

I hope, not because I expect long term improvement, but because I have grandchildren, and I'd like to have more time to prepare them.

Selfishly (it's genetic) I hope to save my progeny.


Repent said...

Wonderful article as always. I am actually getting tired of all the people claiming salvation or doom is right around the corner. Could we not just have gradual, managed change to some realistic goals, like reducing carbon emissions, a managed and structured down-scaling of the economy back to something that is sustainable in the long run. (Even if that down-scaling would take us to 1890s type of scale)

I happened upon a recent translation of the speeches of Adolf Hitler with English subtitles. In my days growing up in the 70s, I only ever saw footage of him screaming in German on television, and I had no idea growing up of what he was actually saying. (I am no fan of Hitler)

It was very interesting, in the sense that he actually has his audience laughing and giggling in many of his speeches, not what I would have expected. Obviously, he led a war which killed 45 million people, and he led a genocide against the Jewish faith which killed many tens of thousands more, and he is not a hero of history. Still there is something in the content which Hitler accentuates in his speeches that, in my opinion, very closely resembles the comments of many commentators on all of the alternative media websites these days. I cannot help to see the similarities; looking for a scapegoat, chiding the international banking cartels, mocking British and American elites for being interventionists, and so forth. It is very ominous to me that most people commenting on collapse blogs, and alternative media have the same mindset that Hitler had in the 1930s. Scary to think what this thinking has led to in the past.

I never had chance to read the Tolkien novels as a child in the 70s, however there were several animated cartoon abridgements which I was all too familiar with growing up. It actually never occurred to me that it was all metaphors for the world I was living in; that type of realization that most fiction is merely satire of current events was a realization for later in my life. That Star Trek movies were all about the US- VS. Russian and China, (The Federation VS. Klingon's and Romulans) I didn't get it.

William Church said...

You could be right John. But I have to say that I think that the elite have lost control of the dialogue. And they have lost control of it on the right and the left.

I think it has them spooked.

The most important issues this nation faces have been off limits for debate for most of my life. This is the first time I can recall that some of them have been put front and center in a presidential election. This was not in the script.

Will it make a difference in the long run? I don't know. But I do know that the folks who own this country aren't even a little bit happy about the direction the campaigns are taking. They saddled this bronc I'm curious to see if they can ride it.


patriciaormsby said...

It would seem that you (and I) are not as "conservative" as you have been saying. I am conservative in the sense of taking a good look at the traditions that served us well in times when we lived closer to nature and slowly, perhaps selectively, reviving some of those for our own good. We (you and your followers) really are fighting against the "conservation of momentum" as the good old juggernaut heads for the good old cliff once again. Because it was mostly the Democrats who advocated for this kind of change in the direction of our progress, until they got bought out, people still see our general point of view as "left wing." Perhaps we are, after all, the true "progressives"?

I have a friend who wrote a novel about 20 years ago and managed to get a publishing company interested. And then...I am still waiting to hear from her. It's an age of self publishing and promoting one's own stuff by word of Internet. I never got to see her novel--and she is an intelligent lady. Perhaps that's why.

Rowling, meanwhile, is so utterly clueless about so many things, that I wrote an entire novel (now rewriting) to address one or two of the more nagging deficiencies. I also rewrote and posted (bless Rowling's heart, she does encourage fan fics) the hippogriff rescue with the laws of aerodynamics observed to a much greater extent. I think it is actually much funner that way. I can imagine how she must have driven her physical science teachers to dudgeon. In fact, I believe she actually describes one such relationship in her series. I give her credit, too, for admitting that "morality" is not her forte. And she admits to depression, with which I can sincerely sympathize. But she is the one that gets published, and I don't think it is just the imaginative fun world she conjured (I got too depressed to finish reading her series).

At some point, after I finish expressing my own heart, I might turn my pen, for the fun and profit of it, to writing a publishable novel, with tiny hints that I intend it as a farce.

peakfuture said...

Ah, change, the only constant. And fighting it is like fighting the tide.

The real question, for me, is why the resistance to it/ignorance about it is so damn strong, especially in the face of so many unpleasant facts; whether it be the rising deficits, increasing carbon dioxide levels, or lowering aquifers. How did cognitive dissonance get this bad?

Is resistance to unwelcome change in this culture stronger than in others, because of our initial technical capability of *imposing* change on the world?

patriciaormsby said...

@Dave Zoom, the powers behind the scenes have accrued so much power at the frightful expense of so many that any change at all has to be perceived as a dire threat to them. I pity them.

Charles DeYoe said...

Wow, I'm a regular reader though infrequent commenter but this post *really* knocked it out of the park IMO!

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the popularity of superhero stories and how the expected blockbusters based on superhero comics generally underperformed this summer; I hope that it indicates that the trend is starting to recede. There's something really interesting and somewhat worrying about how these characters, transparently created as children's entertainment, are trumpeted by huge numbers of adults the nation over as representing the pinnacle of visual storytelling. Characters in colorful costumes beating up bad guys, really almost always retelling that War Against Change story.
I don't want to say there have never been deeply interesting stories told with superheroes that tell something other than the War Against Change. But those aren't the mainstream movies, as far as I know.

And reflecting on the War Against Change makes me smile when I think how when I was a kid I used to always root for the villains and monsters in Saturday morning cartoons.

Anyway, I mostly just want to say that I appreciated this post! Your take on the political landscape feels incredibly refreshing.

John Michael Greer said...

Al, got it -- you're in the contest. Put through a comment marked not for posting (or send me an email if you still have my address) with your current email address, so I can contact you if your story gets chosen, and you're good to go.

Eric, quite a few fraternal bodies started out as a small group of friends meeting in a private dining room or the equivalent, so you're headed in the right direction. As for "Pyrrhic rite," wouldn't that be a ritual that costs so much that it negates the point of performing the ritual?

John, that doesn't surprise me at all.

Dave, and yet those same media rabbit on about how innovation and change are good. There's a remarkable tangle of paralogic going on here!

Christopher, one of these days when I have nothing else to write about, I may do a post entirely about Tolkien -- he's a hugely important figure in the cultural history of the modern world, for reasons that would mostly have horrified him.

Mark, I write about the things I like to write about, and the absurdity of US elections is one of those things. If you don't like it, well, you know, there are plenty of other blogs out there.

Bruno B. L. said...

JMG, aren't you too focused on economic issues in your analysis? Concerning cultural and moral matters, the Republicans seem to be the conservative party, and the Democrats the progressive party - consider abortion and gay marriage, for example.

Pinku-Sensei said...

I quite agree with you that the Democrats have become the true conservative party over the past 35-40 years as the defended the redistributionist status quo while Republicans have become the party of change. However, that doesn't mean that the Democrats haven't ceased being what passes for a Left party in the U.S. As I explained in the comments to your second essay on Fascism and elaborated on at my own blog, Left parties hold redistributionist ideologies, which the Democrats have consistently done over their history. That doesn't keep them from being conservative. After all, the Democrats were both the redistributionist party and the conservative party in the years before, during, and immediately after the Civil War, while the Republicans were the anti-redistributionist party of social change at the same time. In fact, the Republicans of Lincoln's time were the liberal party by two criteria that I employed when I earlier examined liberalism and conservatism: liberal policies increase participation in politics and society or improve the economic lot of the "common citizen" or average person and ideally do both, while conservative policies defend the power and wealth of those already powerful and wealthy. Emancipation and other policies of Reconstruction could be framed that way.

That precedent of the Democratic Party being both the redistributionist and conservative party prior to the Civil War is not a good one. Neither is the other example I can think of--the Communist parties of the Warsaw Pact immediately before the fall of the Iron Curtain and collapse of the USSR. That doesn't bode well, never mind that the Republican Party is the one using Soviet-era imagery. Oh, well, no analogy is perfect.

Speaking of analogies, if the Democrats are the conservative party, then Bernie Sanders would be the reactionary candidate. He wants to go backwards in economic policy to improve the lot of the common man. He's not as radical as you when you proposed going back to the technology of the 1950s to improve the economic lot of Americans. I guess he isn't reactionary enough.

Finally, "The War Against Change" was on full display in Michigan this week as Democrats protested Trump and the change they fear he represents while he campaigned in Michigan. I'm not sure that was more productive than getting drunk during the debate. It probably wasn't as much fun, either.

John Michael Greer said...

John, if you want to support Sanders for some pragmatic reason, I have no problem with that. The thing that makes me shake my head is when, as noted in the post, he becomes a Rohrshach inkblot onto which people project fantasies of salvation.

Repent, excellent! It's frightening as well as embarrassing how few people are willing to notice how close today's antigovernment rhetoric is to the ideologies that gave rise to fascism between the wars. The media demonization of the fascists as mere maniacs blinds too many people now to the fact that a lot of people back then found their arguments highly convincing.

Will, actually, I think you're right; the reason so few people are showing any genuine interest in this presidential election is that the collective conversation of our society has gone in directions the current crop of candidates aren't willing to follow.

Patricia, write that novel! I know a publisher that's interested in seeing well-written genre fiction and doesn't care whether the author has a reputation or not, so you may have much less trouble getting it into print than you expect.

Peakfuture, good. Yes, I think part of it is the fantasy of human omnipotence -- "What do you mean, nature can just up and do things? We own nature!" -- and part of it is the creeping awareness that we don't own nature, and if we actually wake up and pay attention, we're going to find out that all our dreams of golden castles in the sky have just come crashing down to the ground.

Cherokee Organics said...


To be candid, I don't know enough about the machinations of the US political system to be able to comment with any level of insight. I appreciate reading your thoughts on the matter though.

The question that my mind comes back to as I'm reading these series of essays is this: At what point does the cognitive dissonance become great enough that supporters no longer vote for these clowns? The way I see it, when the status quo is no longer working for a majority of the population, the only reason for politicians to want to support a lack of change, is because it is not in either theirs or their supporter’s interests.

The broader currents are very easy to understand, but there are many specifics of your political system that I don't get at all. One issue that I don't understand is highlighted in your sentence: "options being presented to them by the existing political order". To my mind that suggests that your political system has been somehow been captured by the political order itself. A larger question arises from that sentence, in that a contender could certainly arise from outside of the existing political order - the rest is practicalities. Certainly it is quite cheap for an individual to register a political party and campaign in a Federal election and many people do and some of them even get into power.

Yes, the war against change. Of course – clear as mud! I might add that evolution is a response to change that results in adaption or die off. Too bad people don't get that, however, you may be happy to note that nature does get it. ;-)! To stay still sometimes is to be overrun by the inevitable changes.

By the way, I never read the Harry Potter stories - or watched the much loved films - as there was always something at the back of mind that repulsed me and warned me off the story. I can’t explain it better than that.

Incidentally, John Crowley captured the meme of change well in his outstanding story (that I'm aware you also enjoy): Little, big. I recommend that story highly to everyone here.

That was very insightful about the avoidance of the Peak Oil debate by the mainstream media. Thanks and that has changed my perspective on the matter. The funny thing is though, is that ignoring a looming crisis does not make it go away and often multiple crises can overlap and intersect and be far worse than they otherwise would have been.



PS: There is a new blog entry up Power struggle. The recent chicken enclosure project required a water storage tank which I moved from elsewhere on the farm. That move required fixing up the plumbing mess left behind and that was completed this week.

Then, in an unusual move, I took a leaf out of the Archdruids essay of last week and wrote a few very short stories to narrate and explain how I manage to live here whilst using so little electrical energy. So many people these days jump onto a podium and tell others to do this and that, that I decided to do something completely different and simply try and communicate how I see the world. Enjoy - it was a very hard entry to write.

Trmist said...

Great post. Love the name of the narrative, " The War Against Change,". Clearly political systems of the developed world are broken, be it complacency, corruption, rigor mortis etc. The jokers vying for public office are more interested in building their post political fortunes rather than serving the public good. The last thing the people at the top of the social and economic pyramid want is change. We are moving into the future without any real leaders at a time just when we need them most.

pygmycory said...

What do people think a useful programme would be, in the (unlikely) event that we could get anyone to vote for it?

Here's my two cents, looking at the USA from Canada:
-rebuild the financing of your healthcare system from the ground up. A single-payer system funding basic healthcare for all. If people can pay for insurance on top of that, they can go ahead, but at least everyone would get the basics, including public health. The fact that the basics are already paid for would also make additional health insurance cheaper.
-get the US government to collective bargain for more reasonable drug prices. If the drug companies won't cooperate, buy the drugs from another country where they are cheaper.
-legalize marijuana and make this retroactive. This will lower policing and prison costs, while reducing funding for criminal organizations. Tax it, too.
-Use antitrust legislation to break up Too-big-to-fail banks, Monsanto and other problem megacorporations.
-do something regarding illegal immigrants. I don't know what to do, but do something else, the current system isn't working.
-simplify the tax code by removing loopholes that only benefit the wealthy.
-go through the military budget and remove all pork-barrel projects, starting with the F-35.
-get out of Syria and Iraq, and close some of the USA's military bases abroad. No more fomenting color revolutions, either.
-simplify the assorted income supports/housing supplements/SNAP etc. into a smaller number of programs with less bureaucracy. Use the money saved to help people at higher rates and to help people who are currently falling through the cracks. Could also use some of the savings from the lowered military expenditures here.
-grants and tax rebates for rainbarrels, improved insulation etc.
-tax unearned income at the same rate or higher than earned income.
-gradually cut subsidies for industrial agriculture (not all at once, you don't want to send food prices skyrocketing without giving farms and eaters time to adjust)
-use some of the money you've saved to plug or at least reduce the deficit
-encourage public transit, bike lanes etc. Now you've gotten out of the empire business, you're going to really need them.
-decide which roads are really needed and maintain them properly. Return non-essentials to gravel.
-no more giving out student loans. Give grants to a small number of brilliant and financially-needy students, but no loans to anyone. This should burst the post-secondary bubble. Maybe give loans for apprenticeship training/vocational programs? but not standard university.

There's a lot more that could be said, but that's my two cents for now.

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Repent (and others):

Back in the early '70s, when I was just starting out as a professor, there was a day when an older colleague on the point of retirement brought into the main office an old 78rpm record of one of Hitler's speeches, and plaed it as a curiosity. My German was very, very good in those distant days, so I listened. Hitler spoke with a heavy dialect accent, which made his speech hard for me to follow in detail. But that turned out to be a plus: I was fascinated to notice in myself, as the record played, that *even though* I could understand about 1/2 of each sentence of his, Hitler's delivery--his rhythms and phrasing, his changes in volume and pitch--were absolutely mesmerizing. I knew what he had stood for, historically, and hated it, but for those few minutes I was wholly swept up in his delivery and would have followed him wherever he led. There was something very like a form of magic, a compelling power, in his use of speech, that was wholly independent of what he had to say. -- Look for that power in the speech of each presidential candidate: where you find it, you find a potential future dictator.

diogenese said...
Intresting read , failure will become a luxury , our political masters do not like failure as you can see by how much money they are willing to spend to get elected , change might rock the comfortable boat they dwell in , the MSM are the same they have comfortable six figure salaries , there is no inovation in media employment just the tired old anchors droning on about how inovation will replace burger flippers and truck drivers , inovation is to replace blue collar not talking heads .

Ray Wharton said...

This core story has another root methinks, the medium of story telling in recent decades, television. A TV series traditionally needed to 'reset' to the same status quo after each episode so that the same cast and sets can be used, and so the various scripts set in the stories universe can be played in any old order with out contradictions too glaring. I remember watching the bland super hero stories of the 90's growing up and thinking to myself something like "The heroes HAVE TO win EVERY time, or things would be so out of control that the series could barely go on. But if the villian wins even once it would upset everything." I remember each episode the bad guys would throw something at the good guys, and after going back and forth for a bit the good guys would finally gain the upper hand and win the contest. Some of the more daring shows (Beast Wars comes to mind as being better fiction than the other frack) would rock the apple cart by letting the bad guys win at the end of a season, which would change everything leading to a darker edgier next season. I was a soft hearted kid and struggled with these changes.

Noticing that pattern in poorly writen super hero fiction for kids is what this pattern reminds me of. The need to preserve the status quo for the practical reason that coming up with something new is hard and risky! Certainly not worth it for a successful tv serial. For a whole nation, dare not even jest!

I guess this issue has been working its way through me as well. Still working on a fiction that sprung out of some soul searching from the other blog, not certain if it will fit the space bats calling or not, either way I am having a great time bearing the story along. Delivery is so much more difficult than conception, in many cases. This issue of having a protagonist change things and how to handle it honestly has been on my mind become of it. I have been shocked to find that it is very difficult to do well, being poorly stocked with such stories, though Conan's willingness to change anything in his way is a helpful inspiration. I find myself agasht at a character I rather like thinking "Gosh, that's really gonna upset alot of stuff." Hmm, Dune also comes to mind for bucking that trend, but then again its sequels fly for some crazy stuff pretty quickly.

Robert Mathiesen said...


I have to disagree. If there is no brighter future, then politics cannot move us toward a brighter future. In that case, one of the most important things any Archdruid can do is to shatter wholly the illusion that national or international politics--any political program whatever, and any candidate for national leadership--can move us toward a brighter future. These last posts by JMG are timely and needed. By shattering all large-scale illusory hopes, he clears the ground for us to nourish real hope for improvement on a very small, local scale: a family, a block, a neighborhood, a very small town ... probably never anything greater in scale than them.

Caryn said...

Thank You JGM for clarifying that. "Swoosh!" over my head. I didn't catch even a glimpse of where you were heading from last week's post & discussion. I'm going to blame it on the fact that there was, (as always) a lot of good food for thought, to chew on, both in your post and in the commentary that sidetracked us. Some great sidetracks, but sidetracks nonetheless.

From your considerable studies of history and past civilizations, would you say this 'War On Change", fear of change is a natural, or human trait? Has it always, (or mostly always) been the case? It would certainly explain the paralysis we, (elites as well as lay-people) exhibit when facing crisis and the dire need to change, eh? Why are we so afraid of change? Even when the status quo is obviously bad, "Better the devil you know!".

As for being a Liberal, and therefore conservative: Yeah, OK, I'd own that. I know we are all in for massive change and upheaval. I'd just prefer to slow it down to a manageable pace. I'd rather we walk or climb down from the mountain peak than be shoved off, stumbling and tumbling, thrown willy-nilly, posterior-over-teakettle to the bottom.

nuku said...

@Mark: As JMG has repeatedly stated in the last 2 posts, he’s NOT actually doing a “political commentary on the current shenanigans of the political parties,” but only using the current election circus as a way of making broader points about the need for change and mind sets that get in the way of imagining anything other than business-as-usual or simply opposing BAU.
I’m sure he could use examples from either USA history or world history to make the same points, but since the election shenanigans are going on right now, using them as the example sharpens the argument.

aiastelamonides said...


I had wondered about the differing reactions to climate change and peak oil in polite Dem-voting society myself, and this is quite a plausible explanation. I expect that part of the reason is just that people in all situations find it easier to stop doing something pleasant than to start doing something unpleasant. Another part is probably that preparing for peak oil usually means preparing yourself, your family, or at most your local community to go down the slope with relative comfort, while most popular responses to climate change affect everybody equally. One of these is a good way of demonstrating your caring universalistic liberal virtue, and the other is not. Thus solar panels are almost invariably marketed as a response to climate change. Besides that, there is the simple inability of many people to imagine that there isn't more energy stored up somewhere on the planet. But there is plenty of room in this particular effect your and other explanations!

I would love to here more of your thoughts on the influence of literature on our current predicaments (I know that, besides Tolkien, you've talked about sci-fi before). I think it is one the best and most fascinating ways of showing how much of what we live with was not inevitable (even given industrialization, democracy, etc on top of human nature). More on Tolkien would be delightful.

onething said...

I figure when peak oil really begins to bite, the powers that be, through the media, will paper it over by making it seem that what is really going on is the need to scale back due to climate change, i.e., will make it seem at least somewhat voluntary.

Steve in Colorado said...

Interesting JMG. You bring up a good point. Perhaps casting change in the role of the bad guy just exemplifies our human conservative predilections.

Among all the myths we have, I cannot think of one that really matches well with our current situation. Where we are in a predicament of our own making, but are blind to both the predicament and our hand in creating it. But I am far from the most literate person on this list, can anyone else think of such a myth/story?

Ralph Bentley said...

The new conservative thing occurred to me a couple of years ago. The republicans have been radical reactionary mode for quite a while now. And the Dems are the ones trying to apply the brakes. As for Bernie Sanders, rolling the welfare state back into place isn't the only part of a liberal agenda; voting rights is a war on the wrong kind of change that comes to mind. Either way, if the Dems can't manage to get it together, the prospect of a cornpone despot is not so far fetched. By far the best analysis of contemporary American politic has to be Democracy Inc. Sheldon Wolin nails it I think with his "inverted totalitarianism." The strong terrifying murderous leader image is not required with a populace gently slumbering in the light of their i-phones.

casamurphy said...

Agreeing in degree with Mark Hines and John Mill-George above; I see the "art of the possible" (Politics as described by Otto Bismarck) as a minor current swirling above the greater collapse trend. I think politics is more a reflection of the current consciousness of the public, rather than a trend-setter of that consciousness. In that regard, it will usually lag far behind current needs for change. I also think that such a lag, matches or indeed feeds, the process of catabolic collapse as described by our host.

In the minor swirling of the current political season, though, Sanders comes across as the the most rational and well-meaning. That's not to say that he would be able to get much of what he wants, but at least he has the courage and elocution to provide a clear alternative for voters who can't stomach Republicans and who want something else to vote for besides the status quo.

Caryn said...

Oh, and just 2 more things:

Yes I agree, I also find it alarming and frustrating that people seem to be looking now to Bernie Sanders as the new Messiah, the Saviour; Just as they breathlessly looked to Elizabeth Warren in her Senatorial work, as they did to Obama…. When will we learn!?

Lastly: How can we have a discussion on the War-On-Change without addressing this age old conceit of "Plus Ca Change, Plus C'est la Meme Chose".

Cheers, & Thanks again.

Dave said...

Both Bernie and Donald are supported because they represent a kind of fury at the established order; Bernie's critique is slightly more polite I suppose. But it seems unlikely either will be elected unless there is a major eruption in the country which really polarizes nearly everyone, especially the (formerly) semicomfortable Baby Boom middle class. Judging by the level of intellectual and perhaps spiritual and historical awareness of the general public, I don't expect a good outcome there. Sanders is the best of the lot, perhaps, but is he able at his age to grow into something he is not now? And if he did so, wouldn't the powers that be neutralize him?
Re Tolkien: I think the appeal is not only the mirroring of the real events/zeitgeist of the 20th century, but also the mythic elements. All societies need or have a mythos to explain who and why they are. It must be in the DNA; the resemblance to the Norse and other myths of a dark time when a previous Golden Age is being compromised, is certainly clear. The dissonance for us is that, despite our assertions to the contrary most of us have made money our deity, and billionaires our demigods. Sauron and Saruman are evil partly because they amass wealth and influence at others' expense, making them both evil and admirable. Our modern Saurons like Shell oil or PetroCanada create Mordor in the Tar Sands mines but also create wealth for a number of investors and others in the hierarchy of those companies, and bring well-paying jobs to some workers, at least. And we all drive or use fossil fuel to some extent.
So although we naturally objectify and project our horrors on the other party, we of course are the guilty party. Until a leader arises who can allow us to acknowledge our own sins of consumption safely and act accordingly and rationally, we're sunk.

escapefromwisconsin said...

My understanding of Sanders is that he is running on a platform to give Americans the social benefits that the entire rest of the industrialized world *already enjoys* - universal health care, education without crushing debt, reasonable vacation time and childcare benefits, and so forth. Doesn't sound all that radical to me. That is, he wants to end the privatized rackets that Americans have to get all their essential services through. I doubt he'd betray his principles like BHO; he'd just crash upon the shoals of the two corporately-funded political parties and find it impossible to effectively govern.

I always explain current politics in this simple homily - the Democrats are the Republicans from 1955-1973; the Republicans are the John Birch Society. Yes, I do think it's that simple. Per RationalWiki:

In their early days the JBS was a somewhat respected institution. However, things soon moved in a more conspiracist and radical direction. For example the JBS at one point claimed that then President Eisenhower was an "agent of the Communist conspiracy" (simply for talking to the Soviet Union as opposed to starting World War III). "Birchers", as they were known, wrote a lot of letters during their early years on various scare issues, such as opposition to summits between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and keeping fluoride out of water supply, from which it could enter our precious bodily fluids and corrupt our purity of essence. The Birchers were frequent promoters of moral panics on everything from the Panama Canal treaties to the nuclear disarmament movement, all claimed to be part of the Communist movement to undermine American security, and shared cross-membership and tactics with early Religious Right groups like Billy James Hargis' "Christian Crusade."...Today, they are most worried about threats to US sovereignty, most particularly the (never actually proposed) union between the US, Canada and Mexico. They are also adamantly opposed to free trade, immigration, and the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the Democrats propose a combination of the "free market" with a social safety net and regulations that Nixon wouldn't have any trouble opposing in his day.

Bill Carson said...

I remember thinking a few years ago during the Tea Party protests how much they reminded me of 60's radicals, complete with a flair for self righteousness and affinity for street performance art. At the same time, the left seemed to be the defenders of the status quo, struggling to not lose the gains achieved during their heyday in the middle of the 20th century.

It reminds me of Carl Jung's idea of eantiodromia, whereby a superabundance of a force eventually turns into it's opposite. The radical becomes conservative, the consevative radical.

jonathan said...

i voted in every election from 1972 until 2008. in 2012 i just couldn't do it anymore. obama's reinvention of himself as the prince of drones was truly the last straw. never again.
on a slightly different note, i'd like to recommend a recently published dystopian novel entitled "the subprimes" by karl taro greenfeld. his very well written treatment of the near future so closely parallels the views you have expressed in your blog that i thought it not entirely unreasonable to suppose that you were writing under a pen name. he even looks a little like you, though without a beard.
i have no connection to the author or the publisher.

NC Jim said...

May I suggest "Little Dorrit" by Charles Dickens as another literary example. In one subplot, the Circumlocution Office is the most comical example possible of government red tape and ineptitude and is headed by the aptly named "Tite Barnacle" (which creature resists change more than a barnacle?). Dickens ridicules this office until the end of the book when Tite Barnacle's son explains that the office actually has a very serious agenda ,wait for it, to prohibit change so that the existing social order and privilege are maintained. Attacking entrenched social order was a Dickens specialty which endeared him to the masses. "Little Dorrit" is a long but great read.


Jamie Mason said...

Than you for a very interesting post as always, but I think I disagree with the notion of casting one party as pro-change and another as anti-change. The way I see is is that both (er all) parties have an ideology which, by definition, can't exist in the real world. The overall attitude of the population exists somewhere between the polarities, and all political parties are trying to change reality in the direction of their ideals and to resist change in the direction of other ideals. After all, if one desires to define himself as a conservative, does he not just need to pick a time in history when his preferred ideals were popular?

On a related note, I found the idea of the democrats being the conservative, anti-change party dissonant with all the "hope and change" rhetoric they use in the campaigns. Of course, there is no longer any expectation of a party's platform to have any sort of internal consistency!

One could also argue that both parties are actually conservative in action but radical (in different directions) in rhetoric.

Thank you again, it's a very thought-provoking topic.

John Michael Greer said...

Charles, me too -- I cheered on Christopher Lee's Dracula and every single giant monster that ever leveled Tokyo. They seemed far more interesting than the other side.

Bruno, not at all. The Democrats are trying to pretend to be a progressive party by supporting a very few social changes (such as gay marriage) while ignoring everything else -- where has Obama been, for example, while all those young black men have been being gunned down by police? -- while the Republicans are trying to pretend to be conservative by picking and choosing a few bits of fundamentalist Christian ideology to support and ignoring the rest.

Pinku-sensei, yes, and that's why I specifically used the terms "conservative" and "progressive" rather than labels with more content. When a society is moving away from liberalism, liberals are conservatives. As for Sanders, exactly -- and I'll be talking about something far more reactionary as we proceed. Stay tuned...

Cherokee, the crucial point in America right now is that most people still think of the difference between Democrats and Republicans as the difference between A and Z, when it's actually the difference between L and M, leaving the rest of the alphabet untouched. Until people start proposing and publicizing ideas that are actually different from "what we have now" vs. "a little further along the direction we've been going," the charade will continue. With regard to Little, Big, I really should post something about that one of these days!

Trmist, nah, we don't need leaders. We need individuals who are willing to get up off the sofa and do something, even when there isn't a leader telling them what to do.

Pygmycory, and within six months of the enactment of that program the United States would be a bankrupt failed state. I mean that quite literally. We can't even afford to keep asphalt on our county roads these days. You've proposed scrapping the means by which the US manufactures fake wealth by the simple expedient of churning out limitless debt, and that's the only thing that keeps this country afloat. We're way too far down the road to collapse to get out of it via the sort of reforms you've proposed -- or, really, anything else.

Diogenese, well, of course.

Ray, Conan's a good role model. You might also consider reading other pre-1980 fantasy and science fiction, in which changing things was something that heroes and heroines very often did.

Caryn, in societies on their way up, changing things is valued. In societies on their way down, it's feared and hated. You know when a society is making the transition from one state to the other when there's all sorts of talk about change and innovation, but nobody actually wants to change things.

Aiastelamonides, it's certainly a many-factored thing; the lasting hangover from the Boomer generation's youthful Tolkien binge is only one of the ingredients.

Onething, there I disagree. It's already happening -- consumption of petroleum products in the US has declined unsteadily but significantly in recent years -- because people who don't have enough money use less oil. My guess is that that's the wave of the future: peak oil veiled by accelerating economic failure.

John Michael Greer said...

Steve, my candidate for the relevant myth right now, as noted here and here, is the fall of Atlantis. Others may disagree, of course.

Ralph, the problem with Wolin's analysis is that, like nearly everybody, he's forgotten that fascism doesn't come out of the status quo. It's a response to the failure of the status quo when nobody in the establishment is willing to do anything to fix what's failed. Mussolini, Hitler et al. came out of the fringes -- and so will the despot who will take over America to the cheers of millions of people who think they hate fascism, because despotism is the only way they can see to get out from under the failed consensus of the political class.

Casamurphy, of course politics is a secondary factor. So are many of the other things I discuss on this blog.

Caryn, or as the Who sang it, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Dave, exactly. Exactly. When a society engages in frantic quests for the bad guy who's responsible for everything wrong, you know that most of the people in that society know at some level that they see the bad guy in question every time they look in the mirror.

Escape, that's not a bad description, except that the GOP between 1955 and 1973 knew how to govern.

Bill, yes, Jung's concept works tolerably well here, doesn't it?

Jonathan, thanks for the tip. No, I haven't read it (nor did I write it!).

Jim, hmm! I'm not a Dickens fan, thus hadn't read it, but I may have to make an exception.

Jamie, don't mistake rhetoric for reality. It doesn't matter how much the Democrats yell about hope and change; what do they actually do?

konrat said...

Just this week I read two books by German ecologist / ornithologist Josef Reichholf. One named "A natural history of the last thousand years", the other named "the life of birds". In both works, the argument that people are irrationally afraid of change plays a rather large role. For instance: He claims that many "invasive" bird species of Europe are actually species that already have a long history here, but at some point were hunted to extinction or driven away by the cold 16th-18th centuries. Like you, he claims that people are against climate change because they want everything to remain in the shape that they're used to. On the other hand, hunting and fishing traditions that no longer have a useful purpose and harm birds much more than (he believes) climate change will, are rarely questioned - because they're traditional.
His idea of a cure for environmental destruction, interestingly, is also very similar to the ideas sketched out in your Cimmerian posts. He says, natural parks and bird protection zones should not be closed to all humans. Instead, they should be open to visitors so people can become interested in and recognize the value of beautiful birds. Birds, meanwhile, should get used to humans, because human cities are a much richer and safer environment for them than agricultural fields and wood-producing forests, which are like deserts from a bird point of view.

He also says that the US is actually much better at all these things than western Europe, so these bird-related concerns might be a bit foreign to you. But I think between him and the permaculture people, the idea that humans should cooperate with nature and its cycles is gaining traction.

Declan said...

Interesting post, my take on these trends is slightly different (although I still agree with most of your analysis).

To my mind, the biggest force of change we see is society being overtaken by 'commercial morality' (as defined per 'Systems of Survival' by Jane Jacobs, echoing Plato in 'The Republic').

The Democrats fight the changes they don't like that are part of this (erosion of the welfare state, every person for themselves, no rights for workers, etc.) while the Republicans fight the changes they don't like that are part of this (limitless immigration, breakdown of family values, lack of respect for tradition, etc.)

Every time the march of commercial morality runs over one party, the other side cheers, and vice-versa. So Democrats endlessly tell themselves that they can start winning the battles against commercial morality that they keep on losing (on unions, worker rights, pollution, etc.) if only they can learn from their great victories on gay rights etc. when in reality, those 'victories' were just commercial morality steamrolling republicans instead of democrats (the cries from both sides of media bias can be understood through this lens as well, with the media as tireless advocate of commercial morality).

Even on the rare occasions where the left wing democrats and right wing republicans recognize their common enemy, they still lose, although the battle is sometimes closer (see the TPP battle).

Arguably, Tolkien was echoing a similar feeling in some aspects of the Lord of the Rings, with Saruman most representing the ethics and threat of commercial morality to the traditional order.

Spanish fly said...

"Tolkien himself was a political reactionary who opposed nearly everything his youthful fans supported."

Good shot, John!. He was a traditionalist catholic disguised like a Celtic Druid...He corrupted celtic mythology, in my opinion (Ok, I'm not a Druid nor celtic believer, but I had enough patience for reading "lord of Rings" with "suspicion philosophy')
It's funny. Some years ago, when financial crisis was starting, some spanish activists (leftists, of course not catholics at all) "fighted" against evil banksters caricaturing them as EVIL MORDOR.
If the average leftists in this country were less uneducated, they would know that Tolkien was his "enemy". However, this 'friendship' between atheist lefties and "papist" writer it's not strange. Manichean schemes are common in western narrative.

You talk about USA Democrats, and I remember Obama's motto. "Yes we can"...Translation to spanish language is...oh my 'gosh'. Look at this.

Private joke for spaniards: "podemos" is a populist-leftist party, the new political fashion in the impovirished middle class, disguised as Syriza friends...

Greybeard said...


The same pair of parties are here in the UK with an emergent leader who is looking at old fashioned socialism (Corbyn). I have been troubled by the progressive term for many years despite my own party (Green) being labelled with it occasionally. I guess the crux is the assumption that progression is made in the current direction but I'm not convinced that it this is correct, after all we can progress through a variety of unrelated careers for example.

Personally I prefer the term radical, although I know that my party isn't that radical at times and often fights the war against change.

In the end I think it comes down to individuals doing something about the situation we are in rather than hope in leaders. It is more about leadership than leaders (the Greens in England almost went to war with each other over whether we should have a leader or a principle speaker). It is also those individuals understanding what is wrong and how to fix bits of it and teaching / communicating with others.

Greybeard /|\

Heian said...

Talking about denial, yesterday i watched a documentary that really shows how humans can keep on going on a failing course even when reality is knocking them over the head over and over again.
This was a followup documentary about dog breeding in Britain....
The first one was made 3 years before the followup documentary.
And more or less nothing had changed exept some small "fixes" that fix nothing in practice.

And they still keep inbreeding dogs, breeding dogs that get sick from genetic causes or have bad genes.
Or think that dogs that are horribly deformed (bulldogs comes to mind) is how the dogs should look like and give them awards on dog shows. Some of these bulldogs need surgery to be able to breath properly.
If you look at the skull in X-ray it looks like something born out of Fukishima.
And if they keep on going on this course many breeds might get so sick and inbreed that they will go extinct.
But they seem unable to change, these so called dog lovers.....

Another thing i have been thinkin about is what the media and many politicans like to call the oil industry here in Norway
When they want to say how great it is they very often call it: The Norwegian oil fairytale.
But doesn't most traditional fairytales contain some lessons or moral teaching?
So what is the lesson or moral from this fairytale?
That some treasures are best left alone, they might be cursed?
Or that unearned wealth can come with a terrible cost?
They never seem to mention that part.

Compound F said...

I just spent two weeks in the hellish nightmare that is the Silicon Valley. So much congestion, so many trees distressed and dying. All motoring along.

They are completely unconcerned with the views of Archdruids, whereas I'm disheveled by such brief moments.

Describing the difference between "their" point of view and mine as a "canyon" does no justice to that difference. And now, Nicole Foss is pointing to the left-field wall at Fenway. She is going to crush it, prediction-wise.

I don't really see any tension between your views and hers.

Max Osman said...

Did you see the recent articles about John Kerry where he said that the dollar will lose it's reserve status without an Iran deal?

Marc L Bernstein said...

I've been a Green Party member for awhile now, probably some 25 to 30 years or so. Along with Chris Hedges I voted for Jill Stein back in 2012, although I now consider myself to be more radical than Stein, who apparently has no inkling that industrial civilization is doomed to catabolic collapse (to use your terminology).

Where do we put James Howard Kunstler, who voted twice for Barach Obama? You (John Michael Greer) know Kunstler fairly well, having been a featured guest on his podcast a few times in the past. Kunstler is brilliant, witty and insightful, and even he was drawn in by the "lesser of 2 evils" notion. He looked upon Mitt Romney with some mixture of disgust, repugnance and enmity.

I got so disgusted with the Democratic party back in the 1980s that I jumped ship. I remember voting for Barry Commoner back in 1980 because Jimmy Carter disappointed me so much with, among other things, his assignment of James Schlesinger (Mr. nuclear power himself) as his energy secretary. Carter is a very decent man but he failed to reverse the trend towards spending ever more tax money on the military industrial complex.

So anyway, I can't vote for Bernie Sanders in the primaries, but I have many die-hard old guard Democratic party friends who are avid Bernie Sanders supporters. I feel towards such friends and towards the "progressive" wing (PDA - Progressive Democrats of America) of the Democratic party as one might feel towards a washed-up prize fighter, once highly skilled and with a promising future but now a mere shell of his former self. The recently deceased Tim Carpenter was a family friend.

As you mentioned, on the off-chance that Bernie Sanders actually becomes president, he would almost certainly end up as ineffective and impotent, hopelessly outgunned by the forces of inertia already present within the political and economic system that exists in the USA. We might get a few thoughtful supreme court justices though, for all the good it would do in the long run.

Could you see Chris Hedges and Cornel West being invited to the White House? How about Noam Chomsky or Richard Heinberg? Such images are so bizarre that it makes me question even the remote possibility that Sanders has any chance at all.

A close friend of mine recently went to a Bernie Sanders rally in Los Angeles. Upon returning she told me that most of the 30,000 or so avid Bernie Sanders fans at the Los Angeles event were quite young, in the 20 to 30 age group. What are we supposed to do, John, throw cold water on them? The situation in this country is tragic, so much so that many US citizens, myself included, don't know what "to do", as if the impulse to do something is called for in any case.

thriftwizard said...

I'm so glad you mentioned Cooper's "The Dark Is Rising" series. I too loved those books & read & re-read them as a child/early teen, as well as the ubiquitous Tolkien, not to mention Alan Garner's Weirdstone & Elidor books, and "The Owl Service" which caused me to plough my way through the entire Mabinogion, aged 12. Somehow they woke in me a tendency to want to look outside, beyond, underneath and through ordinary everyday life and the things we are conditioned to take for granted. Seems to me "The Matrix" is one of the few memes doing the same for young people nowadays, albeit in a darker, more obviously violent and altogether digital way, though Tove Jansson's Moomin sagas, in book form, have a wistful otherworldliness about them, for younger children. I was left bemused by the Harry Potter series; I cheered when they became popular, hoping that they would awaken something in my own children that "The Dark Is Rising" had awoken in me, but I'm not at all sure that they did. The willing suspension of disbelief was too complete, too obvious; not enough hooks into the "real" world.

I'd ask where the story-tellers of the current age are, but I'm sure they're out there somewhere. Trouble is, how will they ever get their tales past the mainstream publishers, who for some reason are very resistant to change...

Bush Al said...

Thought provoking as usual; I wonder if the political class also have a tendency toward conservative when things start to get worse each cycle rather than better?

Tidlösa said...

A Marxist group I once encountered somewhere on the web claims that history repeats itself the third time as burlesque... Any takers?

Spanish fly said...

"What do the Republican candidates promise? Why, to save America from the evil Democrats, who want to change things."

If you change evangelical nonsense and Ayn Rand chatter to (pharisee) catholic costume and “western redemption” thanks to NATO&EU gods, it’s the same crap here. Spanish Right without their local kitsch it’a poor copycat of the beloved American GOP…Anti-trade unions, corporations cheerleaders, jingoistic…Even some morons are noisy climate change negationists…(pre-recorded laughs)
So their natural crussade is save this great country (that some centuries ago was THE empire) from evil red scum and their secessionist minions. Their last petty enemy is populist left party, “Po-demons” (bad translation of right propagandists nickname against the other clowns). Cake fight! (this autumn).

Some pedants say that our right has a strong fixation on medieval wars against muslims, and national unification (by means, deportation of Jews and Moors). However, I think there is not such a thing as “spanish excepcionalism”. It’s the same thing everywhere: stories of good and bad boys, western binarian narrative…But our right clowns are rougher than average european right (our historical speciality is making civil wars).
'What do the Democratic candidates promise? To save America from the evil Republicans, ditto'

Yeah, you Americans have a very idyosincratic politicians, Democrats are not lefties in the European sense, but they fill the void in absence of strong trade unions and socialists parties. Bush Jr. was the spanish right messiah, and then Obama tha same for socialists. Now, Trump is the Big American Hero for “neocon” here and Hillary…errr…new progressive fetish, you bet.

It’s the same black-and-white rhetoric led Syriza party to Greek government against Antichrist - EVIL BRUSSELS BUROCRATS -and their greek “conservatives” minions...with epic results, as we have seen recently (epic facepalm for leftist clowns here).

Open your umbrella, heavy manure storms are all around the world!

Lou Nelms said...

The bridge to tomorrow. Don't stop thinking about tomorrow. The bridge fuel. To what?

When we get over there we'll find it looks an awful lot like it is here. We'll struggle with a foot on each side, never making the transition. We will need to complete the combustion of fossil on this side to maintain this side. And we will need to continue combustion on the other side to build the "sustainable" green and renewable energy infrastructure. Tomorrow will never come simply because our vision of tomorrow is stifled by our stunted imaginations and by the selection of what we have over built. We'll default to the Elon Musks and the Jeff Besos to design our future. We'll let Monsanto feed the world. Because to do otherwise, well, do you want to starve and not make way for another 4 billion?

And we will keep deluding ourselves that we are making progress. Growing. That is the core imperative of all the political stripes. Call it maintaining the status quo. Call it change. Whatever. That is what counts most to the group think of More. And we all all mired in this central equation of political economy in which ecology still takes a distant back seat. There will be money to be made in mitigating our man made disasters. Economies to be built on exceeding the thresholds. This, sadly, is our future. Crap sandwich with a smily face to ease the pain. Our future is built on yesterdays' clusters. We stopped thinking about tomorrow a long, long time ago. Because we simply can't. Our future is selected and out of our freaking control. It is trained. Get with the freaking program already.

Scotlyn said...

Thought-provoking! It strikes me that the urgency of a War Against Change mythos must result from the deep awareness that change is looming(and it for the worst). Though the Change we fear must wear the face of a villain, it may be that the mythos that would help us transition would re-cast Change more, I don't know, heroically? bravely? needfully? if not benevolently. Or perhaps, the plucky band of heroes could "discover" such qualities in Change, or tame it...

As to "leadership," I've always distrusted it, and, in politics (small "p") prefer to seek "alongsidership"...

Denys said...

I wouldn't assume that Trump wasn't invited to the party, so to speak. In Lee Atwater's politics a raving lunatic in the conversation allowed the party to move the electorate and donations from the big guys to where the party leaders wanted for the real battle at election time. The lunatic talker also draws attention away from the real issues and keeps everyone entertained - the media has a story and we all have something to be "for" or "against". It's quite clever really.

Somewhatstunned said...

This is a rather taoistic post, don't you think, JMG? :) I find myself coming at it from a different angle to everyone else, though.

The thing I was reminded of, on reading your scorn about the fear of things changing, was the work of the acting teacher Keith Johnstone. He has been very influential and I bet that I'm not the only reader of ADR who has heard of him - but I am the first one here to cite him as one my of my personal influences (quick shout-out to any lurking Keith-fans). Johnstone is known for his work on improvisation and it is quite clear from his two books impro and impro for storytellers that he is very well read, a sharp and observant natural psychologist, and that he has thought deeply about the nature of imagination and creativity - and well, life.

I am not an actor myself, but at a certain point in my life, it seemed valuable to me take some impro classes because actor-training can give one a number of valuable life-tools (it is about so much more than mere superficial 'pretending'). Anyway, Johnstone says anyone is capable of being engaging, communicative and truly creative, but that one of the reasons people can be fearful and inhibited, can choke back their own creative spontaneity is that they are afraid of things changing - and more specicially we are afraid of ourselves having to change.

So yes, your thesis here is congruent with something I've come across elsewhere.

Denys said...

JMG - your response to Pygmycory just closed a loop for me - the talk of change at the federal/state level is just that, talk, because there is no money for massive programs of any sort. The last huge program initiative in health insurance was a way to prop up job in health care because it is a huge employer. Obama said it himself in an interview (I believe the one with Mark Maron on his podcast) that part of obamacare (yes the president called his program what the fake conservatives on the right call it) was to preserve and create jobs in America. That's the level of desperation we are at - making- up and extending illness in our population to keep people employed.

Well we already imprison children for 12 years in buildings with cider block walls and fluorescent lights, filling their brains with nonsense and then testing them - in our district 50 days out of 180 day school year -to make sure they can regurgitate it well. The teachers are complete strangers to the parents and nothing that happens in those walls can be examined and seen by the community. Children are molested, attacked and emotionally abused by "professionals". In our state of PA the state revokes about 200 -300 teachers' licenses a quarter because of confirmed abuse of the teacher on children.

So yes, the change has to come from people at the micro-level - families, streets, neighbors - taking a stand for some thing different and involving others. Change that requires small amounts of money or energy inputs. We can't push each other away like we have in the past and categorize people into those we like and those we don't like.

And yes, I am working on things here in my community at many levels and I will keep you apprised!

YCS said...

I think you might like the cartoon series "Avatar: The Last Airbender" and its sequel, "Avatar: The Legend of Korra". Although there are some elements of 'The war against change', at the end of every season and series change happens regardless. I always like the protagonists in those series for being resourceful and adaptable to change. It has a healthy mix of magic and spirit interaction inspired from East Asian mythology.

As for 'conservative' and 'progressive', I think one of these days you might have to write a whole post rehashing these terms. Along with 'left' and 'right', they've turned into such verbal noise that it's becoming hard to get your stance across at all. If you talk about peak oil, you're a crackpot far off any current political scale anyway.


Phil Harris said...

JMG wrote “… I’ve come to think that one of the most important [factors] is that you can frame the climate change narrative in terms of The War Against Change—we must keep the evil polluters from changing things!—but you can’t do that with peak oil.”


Like others I find this week’s post important given the reality you point to. Ideas and imagination – and theories - play such a part.

Upbringing is a funny thing – I got into Tolkein and read the whole lot in not much more than a week in the mid 1950s in the midst of sweet dreams of the Shire where I bicycled with our gang. We were not stuck in our suburb. We had been pre-prepared by imaginative radio drama for children and especially by pre-TV historical fiction. And there was a guy called H.J. Massingham who had actually recorded the place with considerable scholarship – the latter mostly missing in Tolkein who seems to have taken what vibes suited him. And there was still bomb damage visible in London and our suburb. And we had memories from infancy of fire on our street – which could be portrayed as Manichean .

What seems extraordinary now, and did so at the time, was my adult experience working for a few months in North America in 1974 in agricultural science research institutions, with a later revisit. Given the almost hallucinatory experience of very similar but different built environments – and organisations - came a realisation that where there was difference, this was change coming our way soon. Such was the trajectory of the fast moving Age of Oil spreading into every cranny. But the wider reality I sensed in the many North American landscapes, and again when my work took me back 20 years later, was how very differently beautiful the place was. I was therefore puzzled by the enthusiasm with which a British imagination (Tolkein) could re-appear in the American psyche –such Anglo-Germanic atavism – and could neglect this beauty, or at least not know what to do with it. It must have been about that time and from there-on that my own critique of Tolkein gained traction and my search for satisfying fictions in literature generally went into serious decline.

This decline was not wholly a positive experience; reading literature is something more than a hobby. Massingham and before him WH Hudson ‘non-fiction’ paid tribute to what he called “natural scholarship shot through with emotion”, and a “quick and sure grasp of topographical pattern”. Thus harking back still has its appeal for me; for example, if we are still going to need farming, then some of the values celebrated by Massingham – and the old-fashioned temperate farming techniques which were a 17thC to 18thC revolution in their day – could be something more than a day-dream. We need to think hard though about the real social environments of 16th to 19thC Britain and where these did not work in North America. I look forward to next week imagining the changes.

Phil H

carol.b said...

Great post. I would be interested to read your thoughts on another theme I see in contemporary fiction: a lot of what my teenage daughters read seems to me to follow a thread of plucky heroes (mostly female) exposing a corrupt and rotten regime only to discover the rot runs deeper than they imagined. I don't think i'm projecting that, and although my daughters are pretty alert to the state of the world (I think) I'm not sure that explains the popularity of these series among their peers. It seems interesting to me that this theme is showing up so much in YA literature. Could it signal an instinctive sense of the future that awaits them?

Dmitry Orlov said...

The War Against Change this certainly is. But what makes it so compelling to Americans—to such an extent that no other narrative can break through and gain mainstream acceptance? I believe it is a promise: that things can stay the same (even as conditions become progressively worse, but we are taught to ignore that). For an ossified, decrepitating, sclerotic society that refuses to believe it is on a long tumble down a steep incline to utter mediocrity, unspeakable vulgarity and appalling inhumanity, this narrative is just what the doctor ordered. I doubt that any other narrative will be able to compete. And when drastic, irrevocable, impossible-to-ignore change does occur, it will make no sense to anyone—because there won't be a narrative to explain it.

Brian said...

Because of my love for story and its work in life, I am very interested in your analysis of last century's fantasy fiction. Yes, I was into Tolkien as a child (and even helped edit a translation a few years back); but I loved him for the created world and the languages. The plot, even then, disturbed me with its reactionary fervor and dullness and boredom and endless driveling pretentiousness. (Don't get me started on those movies.) Rowling I couldn't even begin to read; at least Tolkien could put together a reasonable sentence.

But fantasy is almost always reactionary. (Actually, everything about human society, especially in its decadent phase, is reactionary. It's a rare decade or so that brings actual improvement in the human condition, which is then immediately seen as the norm that we are duty-bound to preserve at all costs.) One fantasy novel that is "progressive" in the current sense of the word is Alex Comfort's Tetrarch. Its depiction of another world with a rational political system is very amusing and has lingered in my mind for decades. An appealing rebuttal of the egregiously, hideously reactionary A Voyage to Arcturus.

Of course, the meaning of the word "progressive," like "liberal" and "conservative", has utterly shifted in the last 60-odd years. It is a bit sad when words change and become even less precise, but that is the nature of language, and it's never been different. Most words, even concrete nouns, are very vague and have multiple, conflicting definitions (try translating anything if you think that's not the case). Is insisting on the original meaning of words reactionary? When people throw around the terms "socialist" and "fascist," having no clue what they mean, I always direct them to the original writings, the manifestos, to find out what it is they think they're talking about. I'm sure I'm very annoying.

I was talking to someone the other day who was going on about how bad the world's getting. I said, Well, yes. But remember, every older generation thinks things are going to hell, because they're old and youth was a time of energy and relative lack of responsibility, so of course the past always seems to have been much better than the present. Things are going to hell, of course, but because of resource depletion and climate change, not because politicians scream more these days and everybody has a Twitter account.

My only real hope, if you can call it that, from a Sanders administration is indeed, if he were able to accomplish anything, he might just slow the inevitable and make us just a bit less uncomfortable for a little while longer than Hillary and the Republicans would. I don't think it's wrong to wish for that. But that's all I really hoped for from the current administration, and even those tiny hopes were dashed. Ah well.

Odin's Raven said...

My goodness, Archdruid! Have you unmasked yourself as Saruman rather than Gandalf? Sauron's trillionaire ring-wraiths won't like competition or power-sharing or proposals for unauthorised changes in the sphere of operations of Mordor Inc.

More prosaically, there's truth in the old joke that if elections changed anything, they'd be illegal. They're entertainment for the proles, like other sporting contests, such as horse racing, wrestling or football, whose honesty is doubtful. If your team or candidate loses, never mind, there'll be another event along soon, where one can cheer or bet, get the supposed inside dope from the stables and enjoy a day out with accompanying boozing and brawling. For the insiders of course, they're more discreet contests, jockeying for position around the trough, fixing the result and making money via the media where the campaign contributions are spent.

More depressingly for the sort of people who imagine that shambling around waving placards, shouting inane slogans, forming committees, and actually voting will turn the moon into green cheese for them, we have Bismarck's reminder that the great issues of the age will not be determined by voting and majority resolutions. Even before the vested interests assumed such total and obvious dominance, Americans had that sharp observer H.L Mencken to remind them that, “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Naturally, such people have little influence on what actually happens. The politicians are smart enough to know the hand that feeds them and how to lick it in hopes of reward. Bill Clinton is supposed to have said that by the time you get to be President or Prime Minister of your country, you realize that the really important decisions are made by someone somewhere else. American politics is known to be a means by which the relatively poor become relatively rich. A few months ago a couple of American academics published a study showing that the wishes of the public have virtually no influence on public policy and legislation, whereas money spent by corporate interests on political lobbying produces very lucrative returns.

Reality outdoes satire. Calgula's joke that he could make his horse a Consul has been surpassed by the Americans who stare in awe at the rear end of a horse in the White House or other public office, and accept its extrusions as wisdom and excitedly debate the relative quality of the equine offerings.Gardeners will have a use for all of it.

buddhabythelake said...


Insightful and challenging post, as usual. I have been looking carefully at my own motivations for a while now, trying to work through the various layers of un-thinking responses and imagery, in order to bare the reality as best I can. This is not an easy task and is emotionally challenging, to say the least.

One of the main takeaways (from your blog and other sources) for me has been that I cannot simply be "against" the "problem." First, as you have phased so well, we face not a problem to be solved, but a predicament to be adapted to. Second, we cannot only be against the current system, but must actively work to construct an alternative. (Otherwise, we are hypocrites and mere noise.) It is not easy to see this truth so starkly, but there it is.

I am hopeful that the local resilience discussion group I'm attempting to jumpstart will be a small movement toward an alternative construct. Small steps, not massive central programs. That is where we need to be working.

Regardless of who "wins" the current presidential contest, I doubt we will see much significant movement unless and until the system gets a recalibration. Congress will remain deadlocked and the central levers in the hands of political class. Oddly enough, I see dissolution into regional nations to be our most plausible path forward, but that may take a while yet.

Thanks again for your thought-provoking observations. Keep writing!

Chloe said...

That might be where the root of the word "progress" comes from, but I'm not convinced that's what it actually means to anybody who uses it nowadays. Half a century ago, for the industrialised world to continue in the direction it was going meant it reached somewhere "better" for most of its residents - or, later, that looked and felt close enough to fool people. That's how the words became conflated, "progress" with "good", but I wouldn't say it means the direction we're going in must be "good", given that people speak of progress as "stalled" or bemoan a "lack of progress" in economic and social issues. Obviously we're still going *somewhere*, so this suggests that "progress", to these people, represents something in particular - a concept broadly applicable to the course of history since the Industrial Revolution: increasing scale and complexity of human society and technology. That people believe this to be inevitable, and are utterly baffled by its apparent disappearance over the last few decades, is a slightly separate issue which does tie into the use of the word "progress" but only in the sense it has more recently adopted, not its original neutral one.

The bafflement largely happens because people don't have a clue about the factors that really underlie growth and contraction, and the contraction/difficulty/lack of progress arises even though nobody seems to have started doing anything differently. The War on Change is therefore rooted in the belief that if we keep doing the last thing we were doing during the good times, "progress" will return - and the fact that the only real, useful change entails individual sacrifice which most people (and particularly the wealthy) can't stomach.

As for the Harry Potter novels - I think there's a case to be made that Rowling knew what she was doing too. It's hard to tell how much the representation of house elves and so on is intended to be read as shown and how much it's skewed by the use of a not-very-bright and easily-led teenage boy as a narrator.

Bruce E said...

Excellent post, JMG. I appreciate your use of precise definitions of "conservative" and "progressive," and especially love how how showed me something riding just under the radar of my subconscious attention through your 50,000 foot view of Tolkien and the Tolkien-wannabes.

Most-recently I've been struck by your notion of "collapse now, and avoid the rush!" In context of recent elections, perhaps the first steps of that notion is already driving the body politic as shown in the 2014 example where more than 2/3 of the voters just stayed home. Perhaps we'll even see "progress" in that direction, encouraged by the GOP through their ballot ID initiatives and the toxic sludge like Trump that all seem designed to de-legitimize the Presidency through an over-the-top deliberate effort to get most of the last 1/3 of the voters to stay home as well.

I've gone hot and cold on Sanders lately. On the one hand I like a lot of his platform as it is expressed, on the other hand I see that even if he wins the Presidency, none of that platform will live to see the light of day. It would be a cruel trick, and like you said not the first cruel trick, to pin my hopes on the beauty of those ideas and let my optimism and faith in those ideas override my hard-won and rationally-based cynicism regarding the efficacy of the federal government as it exists today (or as it can reasonably change to exist in the next few years) as a practical agent of those same ideas.

Recently a friend of mine who has worked with me for 15 years in a huge multinational conglomerate left the company suddenly to take a huge pay cut (not sure how much, maybe as much as cut in half) and become a part of the high school he grew up in. That, in my mind, is what "collapse now and avoid the rush!" looks like on an individual level. I sometimes wonder if it is possible that, in spite of the top-down Tolkien narrative War Against Change coming from those who would be our next President, a bottom-up revolution of a few million such people suddenly cutting their salaries in half and pursuing their passions (and in the process cutting their consumptive lifestyles in half) could take hold and capture the imagination of the masses. Would something like that lend itself to fiction, or are we incapable of processing the stories of more than a handful of plucky heroes resisting the oncoming tides of Progress?

RogerCO said...

Fascinating to read this from the other side of the pond and translate it in terms of our own political elite with Labour (Democrats in your terms) currently very much in that conserve-ative postion vis-a-vis the neo-liberal Tories and providing a massively entertaining spectacle of a leadership selection where one Jeremy Corbyn is filling pretty much the Bernard Sanders position as the left's great white hope of someone to lead the War On Change for them.
Its extraordinary to see the hopes being piled onto the wagons of the Corbyn train by seemingly sensible greenies, lite-radicals, fellow travellers all desperate for a belief that the circle of business as usual can be squared with the need to fit within harsher constraints. Whatever the outcome of the selection the axles on those overladen wagons are going to collapse.
What crawls out of the wreckage remains to be seen, as I imagine you too will find out by the end of your 2016 election season - good luck with that, I've got some fruit trees to nurture in the real world.

Stu from New Jersey said...

One of the biggest tools in the kit of the war against change is the propaganda to "Vote for the man, not for the party". Money can make you believe almost anything about a particular person. And if that person can make you believe that something useful can be done without thorough changes in other bodies (like Congress, for instance, or the government bureaucracy), then the professionals win.

I had the interesting experience of running for office a couple of times about ten years ago as standard-bearer for a small party. I encouraged people to vote for me not *just* because I was the best candidate, but also because my party was superior to the big two. Got a lot of horrified glances!

btidwell said...

The duality of Sanders and Trump make my blood cold, as you indicated, we are ripe for a dictator. From what I gather, both derive much of their popularity from the fact that they are so strident and willing to thumb their noses at the establishment which makes them appear "genuine." Never mind that Trump is an utter buffoon of breathtaking dimension and absolutely none of sanders great ideas will ever see the light of day win or lose. Someone is coming who is both iconoclastic and pragmatic, and not "serving the people."

The American people settle for this status quo because deep down they know they are helpless. Last week I posted a meme on my Facebook page that said voting was an exercise in futility. That provoked a heated exchange with one "friend" about voter suppression and Hillary saving the world. I posted a link to a recent Princeton University study that shows that public opinion means virtually nothing and we are living in an oligarchy. His response was a dejected, "Fine! I guess we just all give up." People cling to Sanders and Clinton out of fear and desperation, pure and simple.

It strikes me that, as interesting and intelligent as this blog community is, it is still it's own bubble. People cling to the status que because they can't imagine anything better and can't bear the thought of anything less. Steinbeck said, "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires." An economy that isn't growing means everyone must accept being stuck close to where they are. That dream of future success, however unrealistic, is the only thing that gives meaningless lives of drudgery and empty consumerism a semblance of meaning.

Personally, I think a small town local life would be living on hell's doorstep. For me such a life is unbearably suffocating and boring beyond tolerance, but at least I understand it and can imagine it. The average American has atrophied to the point they don't even have the skill set to even think about getting up from their TV set and meeting the neighbors or finding meaningful activity in their life. You have to teach several hundred million people how to have a conversation beyond last night's Game of Thrones episode and what the word "hobby" means before an alternate future can even be considered.

Brian said...

Your discussion of Tolkien and resistance to change reminded me of this old post at Salon by David Brin making a lot of the same points. Good stuff.

davidchuter said...

I think you are being a little unfair to Tolkien, and thereby actually weakening your argument. (I speak as one of the generation which discovered his books in the 1960s).
First, there is no way in which LOTR is a celebration of war. Tolkien had fought as an infantry officer in WW1 and been wounded there. The land of Mordor, in his book, is a pretty exact evocation of the landscape of the Western Front. Tolkien mentions that practically all his close friends died in that war, and indeed his own son was a pilot in the Air Force in the Second. He knew far more about the reality and the effects of war than most of his critics. It is made very clear in the book that Sauron cannot be defeated in battle, and the only hope of victory lies in a couple of very unheroic and ordinary beings demonstrating extraordinary bravery and defeating Sauron through skill and guile. All the battles in the book, as Tolkien emphasis, are simply diversions. Thus, the book belongs to a much older tradition which celebrates not war, but courage and endurance even in the face of certain defeat and death: the world of the Norse sagas he loved, but also of the Iliad.
Nor is his vision of society really hierarchical. There are kings, but they are warrior-leaders and wise governors, not kings in the Renaissance and modern sense. Many of the groups featured in the book are in fact essentially communitarian. In turn, this is because the theme of the book is not war but power. It is an allegory of the corrupting effects of power, no matter who wields it and for what purpose: this is why Aragorn refuses to take the Ring himself, because it would tempt him too much. This fear of power not only puts Tolkien in the tradition of the English socialists, like William Morris, but also the anarcho-syndicaists who looked to spontaneously organising communities, not hierarchies of power.
And like Morris, and like many of the early Socialists, Tolkien looked backwards to a pre-liberal capitalist society, where people were not just factors of production, where much land was held in common, and where money was not worshipped to the exclusion of all else. And now that we can see the havoc wrought by liberal capitalism, pushed to the extremes that were always inherent in it, can we say that the War Against Change that you identify is always a bad thing? The great lie of liberalism is that you can have it both ways: onwards to a radiant future, always better than the past, but without sacrificing anything worth keeping from the past itself. In fact, liberalism is simply a machine for destroying societies and replacing them with consumer-units. A war against this seems eminently justified to me. Obviously Tolkien would not have expressed things this way (he was born in the 1880s after all) but it's hard to argue that his anger at the destruction of the countryside of his youth, and its replacement by factories and towns, as well as his fear of power (especially relevant in the 1940s) don't have something in them relevant to today.

Pongo said...

As one of those former "Obama is the messiah" voters of 2008 I've refused to get too excited about Sanders, even though I consider him preferable to anyone else in the field. About five months ago I made a prediction to a friend that there would be a serious challenge to Hillary from the more leftward (or more conservative, to use your parlance) wing of the party. I told her that dissatisfaction with Hillary was going to be such that some previously marginal figure was almost certain to pop up, seize the populist imagination and cause a serious crisis for Clinton's candidacy. We'll see what happens next, my personal prediction from here is that the Clinton campaign will play nice for a while in the hopes that Sanders burns out on his own, but if he doesn't then Sanders is going to be gruesomely crushed by the Clintonämmerung machine. That will leave such a bitter taste in the mouths of so many Sanders supporters, and affect Clinton's image on the whole in such a negative way, that it will help push her Republican challenger over the margin to victory (assuming the Republicans nominate a reasonably non-ridiculous candidate, of course).

Tidlösa said...

Concerning the different reactions to climate change and peak oil, at least in my social circles, the difference is due to the fact that peak oil is definitive, and hence beyond all reform programs (and therefore beyond the Western idea of progress, which the left and the Greens also believe in), while climate change can be framed as something that can be stopped by political action and hence fits the progressive narrative.

I know, it doesn´t make any sense, but there you have it - you can apparently march against climate change, but not against peak oil?! In some strange way, purported actions against climate change give us the illusion that we are still somehow in control. We are still progressing.

I suppose you would reframe this as "War Against (Climate) Change". An intriguing perspective, and it will be interesting to see how you wrap it up in next week´s post.

I second those who, for pragmatic reasons, vote for Sanders. I mean, the United States were somewhat better in 1976 than in 2015, surely? Think about those solar panels on the White House roof! ;-)

RPC said...

Would you say part of the definition of "progressive" is that the vision it proposes be ahistorical (i.e. it's never existed)? If so, I'd propose that both parties are conservative: the Democrats want to restore the conditions of ~1973 and the Republicans those of ~1898.

MIckGspot said...

In line with this weeks topic I offer a humorous change promise line from a famous Minneapolis Minnesota 4th Ward Democrat Alderman candidate of about 1930 (Ole Peterson).

Ole had a heavy Swedish accent when speaking English, particularly as it pertains to street paving material. When reading the quote below I advise it be done out loud
with gusto in your best faux Swedish/English accent.

Ole Quote "When I'm elected Alderman you will get: lights in the alleyway, a new library on Lyndale Avenue and your assfelt along the Parkway"

William Meisheid said...

It seems to me that you give little credence to the concept of absolutes, primarily moral and ethical, and therefore cannot consider heroes who fight against the debasement of those primary inviolable constructs. This concept of absolutes formed the foundation of our "inalienable" rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and to fight for their continued existence would, from your position, mean fighting against change.

Change is not always good or right, but change is always occurring. I think the failure of this piece for me is the failure to separate good change from bad change and the allowance of absolutes or inalienable rights to be contended for.

This failure to allow for absolutes is why I see the muddying of evil in your argument to in effect be tied to being for or against change (you seem to embrace Mordor or Voldemort and change as your good), rather than good being contending for the fundamental moral and ethical absolutes that undergird who we are versus evil being those who seek to destroy/change those foundational constructs.

pygmycory said...

Drat, the USA really is stuck then. Not that I didn't think it wasn't, given the political logjam.

Helix said...


Your comment brings to mind a passage attributed to Machiavelli:

"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things, because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old condition, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new."

Perhaps a bit cynical, but I think the old guy was on to something.

I also think this underlies a lot of what we see during elections: The new guys are always preaching change because the masses know the deck is stacked against them. So changing the system sounds pretty good to them. Once in office, however, those who promised change find out very quickly that the power conferred upon them by their office is a poor match against the beneficiaries of the current arrangement. This was evident as early as Thomas Jefferson's administration, of which he later wrote

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

It appears that the pattern has been with us for a very long time.

A final quotation is from Max Planck:

"A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

While this might seem like a depressing point of view, I see a lot of hope in it. Much has been made on this blog about the popular resistance to such obvious dilemmas as peak oil, resource depletion, and so on. But this resistance comes from those with established stations in life, for whom change means uncertainty and possible loss of position. But, of course, those people must eventually pass the torch to succeeding generations. It is those generations, if anyone, who will see these dilemmas as self-evident, and will begin the task of implementing such effective responses as are possible.

Or not. Time will tell.

pygmycory said...

I guess that means the USA is a bankrupt failed state that just hasn't realized it yet.

The other Tom said...

My town in eastern Connecticut is very left Democratic, left in the sense of New Deal/Great Society Democrats. Bernie Sanders is the man here and the political conversations wrestle with the same issues you have outlined in this essay: what do we do, in the grip of a political system that is entirely a facade, where the real power is exercised by the same people who designed the Trans Pacific Partnership.
Most people I know here are very aware of how doomed and futile the national political system is long term, but in a country where about 50% of the population depends on some federal funding/program for medical care, the short term aspects of survival are a real distraction.
So the same people who know that a President Sanders would hit a brick wall of corporate lobbying will still hope for dialing it back to 1976, so at least their Medicaid/Social Security will last a little longer, and one more generation can afford college.
A lot of people here believe that the only real power they have is to withhold money/work from the plutocracy, to not allow anyone outside their network from profiting from them. I am trying to practice that, in every way I can.
As far as the arbitrary definitions of progressive and conservative is concerned, for my own amusement I enjoy reminding my Republican friends that Nixon signed all the major environmental bills: the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and the law establishing the EPA. I've met a lot of Republicans who admire Theodore Roosevelt, who was perhaps the most radical "progressive" ever. His administration put an area the size of France under federal control, as national parks and forests.
I've often wondered how much the ubiquitous sports culture here infuses our politics and every other aspect of life. In a binary struggle between two teams, there's no room for other options. John Kerry was ridiculed just for using the word "nuance," so an artificial, simple clarity is required to play in this game.

Clay Dennis said...

I love the " war against change" analysis. Just the other day a friend and I were discussing the phenomenon that you brought up in the Harry Potter reference ,except with relation to fictional super heros. It had just occured to us that the common super heros from Superman to Batman all used their powers to defeat villainous villains who were trying to disrupt the system, but never used their super powers to defeat the real enemies of the people such as Banking and Financial Leaders or Environmental Despoilers. We didn't have your insight about the " war against change" but rather contemplated how cool it would be if Superman had vaporized a building full of Banksters with his heat vision or slung a bag full of coal executives in to space. Most people think that comic books and such are edgy and not part of business as usual, but when you really think about it the toe the party line just as much as prime time television or movies.

Revere T said...

Could these be the opening moves in your ploy to spearhead an ecofascist revolution and become America's first Supreme Druid?

If so, I have my tree-of-life flag and big black boots all ready to go! ;)

TashaTeaLeaf said...

In my mind, American politics jumped the shark when Obama said, "So sue me" to Congress. (Though he wouldn't be the first president to metaphorically flip off the other branches)

It bothers me how much stock people put in the president, as if the executive branch is the only branch and the president is the entirety of that branch. Most of the people who actually run the country, (clerk, advisers, lobbyist, etc) stay the same from administration to administration.

My own person politics lean towards Anarchy: the government is not going to come save you; you have to save yourself.

Carmiac said...

I can only really think of one big, popular movie in the last while that wasn't (at least on the surface) The War Against Change. Mad Max Fury Road is set in a post-collapse world where the collapse is actually caused by likely things such as peak oil, peak water, climate change, inequality and fascism. I don't know how much that narrative will stick around, because most people I've talked to about the movie like to not think about that bit, but it was nice to see some acknowledgement of it on screen. It may help that George Miller is in his 70s, and doesn't have to worry about his legacy.

Mister Roboto said...

I think Bernie Sanders by virtue of being a bona fide social democrat is more sincere than Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ever were. But I do realize that if he were elected, he would nonetheless be hamstrung by the demands and agenda of the political class that truly runs things. The empire rules the emperor as much or more so than the emperor rules the empire. That said, I probably will hold my nose while filling in the arrow for the Democrats one more time because the Republicans want to rip up the treaty with Iran and start another war in the Middle East. If I can do anything to stop that from happening (which is, I realize, is a questionable proposition from the get-go), then I probably should.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

JMG, and others;

Ah yes, Susan Cooper. Well do I remember reading that series and later reading to my children: at the end, magic is gone. Now what do we do?

As a contextual side note, when the series was published, England was going through an unprecedented loss of countryside, including land and animals. Hedgerows that served as habitat for animals were being destroyed to make way for larger fields and farming was being transformed to the modern industrial model, to the immense detriment of English wildlife. And perhaps old country ways. I can imagine the old ones of the light being very upset indeed. Also, nice meta-analysis of plot. I suppose “The War against Change” plot could be a subset of “A Stranger Comes to Town,” one of the (I think) five universal plots.

As a result of this post, I am grappling again with the concept of change, or I should say, that since change is baked into the universe cake (the whole time-space continuum thing), with how humans grapple with and try to manipulate change: by thinking about and planning for the future while trying to hold on to the good parts of what we have (your old cultural conservators project comes to mind, as does some of the environmental conservation and restoration I’m involved with); by trying to stop change altogether, especially of the cultural kind; and by using the idea of change, attempting to harness change, as a way to physically manifest ideas in the real world that may or may not be of benefit to the denizens of the living earth. (Please notice attempt at ternary thinking.:))

the last is what dovetails with your plot analysis. A real world example is that in the first half of the 20th century one could go nearly anywhere by streetcar and light and heavy rail. There was no real reason to “change” things except to improve upon the system (more networks, better streetcars). Subsequently car companies and oil companies colluded to buy streetcar lines and put them out of business. While cars were enormously attractive and many people bought into the nascent car culture, others asked why these changes were necessary and how would they improve anything, and even tried to fight back.

The response was “don’t get in the way of progress!” backed up by plenty of money, power and political influence. Ironies abound. Change changes and has a habit of getting out of control. The law of unintended consequences takes over, often early in the process. Of course that particular change led (in part) to the enormously complex ramifications--pollution, sprawl, dangerous GHG emissions, obesity, public health problems, crumbling infrastructure, inefficient travel, and on and on, that we live with today.

So, one has to ask, or at least, I am asking, which changes imposed by other humans are worth embracing and which worth fighting? And it seems to me emphasis should be on “imposed by other humans.” Which set of humans, and what are their motivations? Also, if one, or a set of ones, can extrapolate trends, in part by utilizing some sort of holistic idea of how systems operate, perhaps it makes sense to grapple with human-imposed changes, so as to avert the worst, as those people that remained in favor of public transit did all those years (and continue to do). But it also makes sense for these “sets of ones” to create alternatives. Which brings me around to looking forward to next week’s post.

Purple Tortoise said...

Regarding Tolkien and resisting change, perhaps it's worth pointing out that in his mythos, it was the desire of the Elves to prevent the fading of the glory of the Elder days that motivated them to create their Rings of Power, which in turn enabled Sauron to create his Ruling Ring and gain much power thereby.

Greg Belvedere said...

The penultimate paragraph gets at a point of curiosity and frustration for me. People get very worked up about climate change, but some of those same people need a primer on peak oil and why it matters when I mention it. I think it makes them uncomfortable for the reasons you state and in many cases they express this and ask me why I would have children when I seem to think the world is going to become so terrible. I usually respond by saying that times are always tough and people still had kids. I also point out that people lived with much less than we have become accustomed to and still found joy and meaning.

As for Sanders, he will get my vote but I don't have any messianic illusions about him. Though many of my acquaintances do. If he manages to get a legislative majority perhaps he can get a few worthwhile things done, instead of squandering the opportunity like Obama. But we'll see. I just can't stomach Clinton and I'm glad an alternative has showed up. I think in order for most presidents to be effective they need to have movements that put pressure on them. That is why Nixon looks so damn liberal by today's standards. Left wing movements put a lot of pressure on him.

backyardfeast said...

JMG, It's so bittersweet to be reading these posts in the middle of our election campaign up here in Canada too. As I'm sure you know, we have 3 major parties vying for leadership this time around. Our incumbent Conservative party, which has created more change over the last 8 years then any government in recent history by dismantling long-treasured political and social institutions and trying to actively discourage any semblance of a functional democracy (and getting away with it largely, too, thanks to public distraction, apathy, and cynicism). This has been a radical government in that sense, and is indeed hated and feared by many (including me!), despite its focus-group-tested campaign slogan of "strong, stable, government" (now is NOT the time for change! They repeat, given the economic uncertainties, which they regularly exploit).

The other two parties illustrate exactly what you describe. Traditionally filling roles of the centre and the left, they are difficult to tell apart at the moment, which both leaders are finding challenging. Their campaign slogans tell the tale: the Liberal party's is "It's Time for Change" and the New Democratic Party's is "Ready for Change". Yup. I know I've said it before, but honestly, you can't make this stuff up. Their campaign/party colours are red and this what you mean by L and M differences?! The Liberals are hoping that their candidate, son of our illustrious leader in the ostensibly boom years of the 60s and 70s, will create warm fuzzy memories of the good times and that this will be enough for people to elect him; the NDP is harkening back a little further to it's roots in founding Medicare and promises more traditional social programs. Both parties, in other words, want to go back to the future.

Luckily, we do have a very intelligent Green Party leader, and it seems likely they will win a few more seats this year, but a very tiny number overall. I'm hoping like crazy that one of the Conservative opponents wins, but my fear is that, as you describe with Clinton and Obama, even if they do, they won't actually *undo* the radical changes that the so-called conservative party has wrought...

PS: I'm really looking forward to your next series of posts. I find the re-imagining incredibly difficult. I think the environmental and collapse movements rely WAY too much on visions of the idealized agrarian past for their visions of the future. I watched the BBC series "Tudor Monastery Farm" last year, set in 1620. Although an excellent series, I found it heartbreaking to realize that their society was completely unsustainable too, ecologically, and contained all the roots of our current crisis. They just got away with their paradigm because the scale was so small (in population and energy availability). Imagining our future completely outside of our current paradigm seems an incredibly difficult feat for our measly human brains, apparently, which personally I think is why the doomer scenario is so appealing: it's easier. Sadly, the collapsitarians don't seem to do much imagining of what kind of society might grow out of the apocalypse once it passes...

Mark Rice said...

I have seen the Democrats as a conservative party for a long time. On the positive side they want to conserve the environment -- to the degree their corporate masters let them. On the negative side they seem to conserve an overly complicated body of law and regulation. The other party is complicit in this too. Complicated regulations are often weak regulations and favour the large companies over the small.

If the progression of progress is down, I can see why we would have a war on change. Saying we will have to make do with less or with LESS is a tough sell. Reagan won by saying we did not have to face the future. He said "It is again morning in America".

steve said...

"That’s exactly what the Democratic Party has been doing for decades now. What it’s trying to preserve, of course, is the welfare-state system of the New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society programs of the 1960s—or, more precisely, the fragments of that system that still survive."

Imho, the evidence points squarely in the opposite direction, that powerful elements within the democratic party has been front and center in attempting to dismantle New Deal and Great Society programs.

It was Bill Clinton who famously "ended welfare as we know it" and abolished the New Deal's AFDC, along with New Deal era banking and commodity market regulations It was Obama who put social security on the table during the government shutdown wars, and who told Romney that both of them had similar views of social security. And it was Obama who continues to grant medicaid waivers to states so that they can privatize medicaid.

Most dems long ago left their working and middle class constituency in the dust and bought into neoliberalism as much as repubs.

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...

I didn't fully appreciate how much the 'War Against Change' story (not that I called it that until reading this post) dominated much of English-language fantasy fiction until I read the novels of Jin Yong, who is probably the most popular Chinese novelist of the 20th century, and certainly the most popular Chinese novelist of fantasy fiction (okay, technically it's martial arts fiction, but it's similar to fantasy fiction). The basic Jin Yong story (best exemplified by The Smiling Proud Wanderer, though these themes can be found in all of his novels which cross the 1,000 page mark) is that power corrupts - though the rulers of the status quo may seem noble, and the people challenging them may seem evil at first, when the protagonists dig deeper below the surface, they find that the rulers have some awful skeletons in the closet, and that some of the people insisting on change have reasonable (and non-evil) reasons for doing so. But if the protagonists choose to support the cause of change, it's generally a tragic mistake, since as soon as a new order is established they will become as bad as the old order in short time. The best thing the protagonist can do is going to a secluded mountain / island / etc. with their loved ones (who are often originally the other side of the status quo/change conflict as the protagonist) and withdraw from civilization.

william fairchild said...

Dang! You would have to go and pop my bubble. Tolkien is one of my favorites.

I think the reason "conservatives" like him is his traditionalism (the influence of the Roman Church). I think the reason "liberals" (particularly environmentalists) like him is his reverence for nature. This goes to the fact that humans (particularly artists) cannot be reduced to simple dualities.

To answer your question, why are we frozen into two positions, staying the same, or progressing? I would submit that here, in the US, a large reason is the two party system that developed. Alternative visions, third paths, etc. are excluded from serious consideration by arcane state laws which allow Rs and Ds on the ballot automatically, but exclude Greens, Libertarians, and so on. i.e.- In IL you need 50000 sigs to get a 3rd party candidate on the ballot. A R or a D- 5000. My numbers may be a bit off, but the point stands.

My conclusion is that the political establishment (and maybe the public at large) does not want change. They a return to the Glory Days. It seems to me this boils down to "I keep my stuff, you come up to my level". The method of getting there just differs. A new Reaganism or a new, New Deal.

It will be interesting to watch the D debates. When Sanders is asked "What is the difference between a Social Democrat (socialist) and a Democrat, his answer will determine if he is real, or a "sock puppet".

BTW, I think the book "The Road to Wigan Pier" by George Orwell includes many useful insights, including the idea that the machine (industrialism) must continue, despite the political order. I think we live in that delusion now.

Christophe said...

Thinking of the War Against Change as the dominant social myth makes me wonder how the alternative story lines that have captivated me relate to that myth.

Ursula K. LeGuin's novels usually follow a hero who is the agent of change, but whose limited understanding creates change of questionable effect. In the Earthsea series, the heroes and heroines mostly regret the changes they have unleashed and work to undo them. In the Dispossessed, outside forces continually try to use the hero's potential for change to bolster the status quo, while he tries to get enough understanding of his world to effect real change instead. In The Left Hand of Darkness, the frozen rigidity of the status quo fights against any change, and change only becomes a possibility when the hero begins to recognize the rigid assumptions within himself. LeGuin saw that change was needed but feared it would come without the necessary deep understanding.

Frank Herbert's novels usually follow a hero who is the agent of change against a corrupted status quo to which he previously belonged. In the Dune series, the heroes' compassion for the disempowered causes them to question the system, revolt against it, and eventually mimic it. In Whipping Star/The Dosadi Experiment, bureaucratic gridlock provides cover for unseen torture, which the hero can only stop by manipulating the legalities of contract law against the system. In The White Plague, the hero has a psychic break when his high status as a scientist does not protect him from the suffering of war but does allow him to create a plague that causes everyone else to suffer as he had. Herbert saw the evil of the unchanging system but saw change merely as variation, not remedy.

Orson Scott Card's novels usually follow a hero with awesome ability to effect change whose talents are weaponized by the status quo. In the Ender series, the heroes' and heroines' desire to understand and build understanding with others is challenged and manipulated by demonizing propaganda from the status quo, so the changes they effect must be atoned for with better ones. In Songmaster, political intrigue and treachery turn the hero's truthtelling talent into a hidden weapon, which he finally chooses to direct against the corrupted establishment. Card saw the status quo as powerful enough to distort change away from its intended effects, thwarting real change from ever taking place.

Perhaps having a rich ambivalence to both change and continuity is a healthy survival adaptation in social primates. Things could get better; they could get worse; and they could do either through change or lack thereof. Understanding and compassion seem to be the only guides my reading has offered.

BoysMom said...

This gave me an odd bit of insight that perhaps would've been more useful four years ago, or not: the Ron Paulian crowd (most of whom regard his son with the sort of disgust shown to sell-outs) hooked up with the Republicans. The problem being there, that the Republicans didn't really want a bunch of people who preferred the federal government as it behaved pre-WWI. No wonder the two groups were such a total mismatch--most Ron Paulians I communicated with voted third party, as usual, when election day came around. It was already too late, of course, but when the current scheme isn't working, we all know turning back is more reasonable than continuing on.

So we should keep on at the local level. Ah, well, I prefer dealing with idiot politicians I can personally chew out when they do something stupid. Speaking of which, there are some County Commissioners . . .

Coboarts said...

When I first read The Hobbit, I was 18 years old and had taken off to explore Mexico. The thing that spoke to me was the spirit of adventure, of putting your foot on the road and seeing where it might lead. Later, travelling around Great Britain, I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I loved the stories and reread them not that long ago, but there was something bothering me, and you have clarified it with precision in this week's post. The way that the Harry Potter series ended (at least the movies, I've only read the first book) also seemed to me to be “wretchedly disappointing."

The war against change is a backdrop that permeates so much of our mentality, and enacting real and deep change is the task at hand. I don't know that this would be the right path if the world that we lived in was truly stable, and I wonder if the war against change is a by-product of the internal realization that the built world (millennia old) is based on dominance and exploitation. You have intrigued me again with your direction, destinations ahead!

Johnny said...


I thought you would enjoy this Onion video:

Steve in Colorado said...

JMG, yes, thank you for the links. It was great re-reading your April 1 post. Still one of my favorites.

And while I don't doubt that your myths will will be forever repeated to future generations (may it be so), I was looking for something more mainstream in Western or other cultures where the hero(s) end up smacking their foreheads and saying "It was all our fault, how could we have been so stupid?" That story line seems to be mostly absent from current mythologies.

Perhaps it has been too long since a major crisis has hit (or at least one that could not be conveniently blamed on the gods). Or perhaps the message of such a myth would be too subversive to the establishment. Anyway, I will keep looking...

Ed-M said...

Allo Archdruide barbarian!

Marginally connected to this War on Change is a little tidbit from my college years. One fine day as I was inquiring about the university's Army ROTC (this was 1980) I was shown one of their vacant classrooms --- it was typical Army stuff, very different from the greater U.; but there was one this one wall one peculiar painting: a defiant cartoon US Soldier facing down the various cartoon enemies of the past, all the way back to the War of Independence and including both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. But one peculiar thing the artist of that painting did, was that he had put a caricature of one war opponent the US came to a draw with, and of another the country lost to, in with all the victorious wars, for better or for worse, of the past. It's like they didn't want to admit they were not winning wars anymore.

Strange, that.

John Roth said...

I read the Lord of the Rings long enough ago that I don't really remember when. Then I read Bored of the Rings. I thought the antics of Frito, Goodgulf and company, and especially the Ballhog were much better than Tolkein. Especially what happened with the magic pool that showed the future. And the V-8s. Goes to show my sense of humor, I suppose.

Now that I think of it, Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" is another major booster for the war against change. It may just be more influential than anything that's been mentioned.

John Roth said...

Thinking of the health care perplex. There are a couple of things that don't get mentioned all that much in the Single Payer arena. The first is that the federal government's current outlays for health care on a per-capita basis are roughly equal to what our peer countries pay for universal health care on a per-capita basis. If we could wave a magic wand and get rid of all the bloat overnight, there would be no problem paying for it.

The other thing, mentioned by a couple of the posters, is that it would immediately collapse unless we got rid of private health insurance. Completely. Across the board. That gets rid of the health insurance companies, and it also gets rid of employer-pay health insurance as well as letting companies move funds in retirement plans earmarked for health care to pensions.

Of course, the likelihood of any of this happening is close to zero. While it would get a lot of big companies on board: "We don't have to buy employee health insurance any more? Wowser!" there are a lot of other interests that would be upset. Machiavelli's comment about the hazards of instituting a new order of things comes to mind.

Rebecca Zegstroo said...

Everyone is looking for the door into the bright,happy summer of 1968 - pre-peak. It was onward and upward for everybody. There were plenty of blue collar jobs for Fred and Barney that paid well enough for Wilma and Betty to stay home with the kids in their cute bungalows. Cushy white collar jobs for George so he could raise kids in a sophisticated urban apartment. Dr Bleedin Bronowski promised us Man will continue to ascend on his own cleverness.

Reality is too hard to look at. Who can even imagine? The anger and blaming are already ugly. Where can we go? What can we do? There is no sure refuge.

And so I frighten myself, but have no answer. The wet, lush Pacific northwest is dry & brittle. Mobile seems the way to be. Or guess a good place and fortify. Try everything, anything. It's a carp shoot.

Mickey Foley said...

I agree that there is a War Against Change by the elite, but have you ever heard of a political campaign's rhetoric that wasn't principally based on a call for change? The current theme of every American politician these days is: "The other side is leading America astray. We have to take America back and return her to the right course." If anything, the rhetoric of both parties is regressive, not that it bears much resemblance to their policies.

No current politician wants to be identified with the Establishment. The status quo is denounced by all public figures. Of course, the extent to which any of these aristocrats is willing to tinker with the edifice that supports their status is dubious at best. But what of the unwashed masses clamoring for change? Are we really so intellectually bankrupt that we can't imagine an alternative to the officially-sanctioned narratives?

I don't believe it. Even in an apparently nihilistic story like "The Walking Dead," there's a deep yearning for community and meaningful social roles that can't be measured in quarterly earnings or contained in cubicles. If you haven't seen the show (or graphic novel), I would suggest checking it out. It's striking how the group of main characters reject the refuge of a spotless subdivision. The houses look pointless and sterile compared to the dirty, vicious world outside the community's walls.

I think they've realized that they can't go back to their pre-apocalyptic lifestyles. To me it seems an apt metaphor for our situation. Even though their existence is often harrowing, they find comfort in each other and meaning in their commitment to each other.

nuku said...

Re Change: I’m reminded of the enduring myth of the “Three Wishes.” The essence is that a (usually poor or common) man is gifted 3 wishes by a stranger. The 1st wish is always a “test” that the gift is for real, and is always for something absurd and/or inconsequential like “a big meal on the table“.
Having proved that the wishing works, the man (sometimes with imput from his wife) wishes for a “big thing,” like “everyting I touch turns to gold.”
When the bad consequences of the 2nd wish are manifest, the guy’s favorite daughter and his food turn to gold, he panics and the 3rd wish is always for things to return to the way they were.
This cautionary myth is about the unintended unforseen, negative, consequences of change and may give some insight into a deep fear of voluntary human innitiated change.
Humans being big-brained curious primates, there is always a tension between the need for stability so that life is not too chaotic, and the need for change to relieve boredom and explore creativity.

the Heretick said...

An interesting exercise is asking a typical Democrat if they have ever read the Manifesto, and a Republican if they have read Common Sense. For that matter, how many people have even heard of Brave New World? Try it, you will be shocked, or not.

Sanders lost me when I saw a quote where he expressed that w/o better education the USA could not compete in the global economy, when said economy is a big part of all our overall problems.

As the Sheriffs in No Country for Old Men agreed, it's not the one thing, not the one thing.

Container ships, Supertankers, suburban sprawl, super-highways, and super-men, they serve the few, there is no doubt; but this is simply the power play. Even things out and you are still shipping materiel halfway round the planet and back, burning fuel, etc, etc.

Truth of the matter it is the whole kit and kaboodle which is dragging us down, down, down.

You can be damn sure that if yours truly ever gets enough swag together to reasonably bolt?

I'm outta here.

Andropos Nebulus said...

Similar to my comment last week, I have to say, again, that I don't understand the timbre of much of the conversation here, or even some of the Archdruid's own comments. In particular, I don't understand the obvious sentiment for Sanders, or for the leftist ideals being floated. (I'm choosing not to talk about rightists, as there seem to be far fewer of those in the conversation).

Some months ago, the Archdruid warned that we might be facing a 1914- or 1789-style period of convolution, maybe starting this year. He has also warned of a foreign-funded Syria-like domestic insurgency, and has warned that the USA is in a state of fragility resembling the 1980's USSR and it could soon be our December 1991. Any such thing would almost immediately cause a broad stepdown in economic activity, after which we likely won't be debating safety-net expansion but whether we can feed/hydrate Los Angeles, how to warm 1.5M refugees in winter including 450,000 children (a less serious issue for Syrians), and if any healthcare at all will be available for most people.

Look, I'm sure the Archdruid would say these things (domestic insurgency, etc) might or might not happen right away. But in any case our major systems are likely to break down within 20 years, and certainly within 50 years.

That is SOON.

So if we really take this message seriously, why are we debating the merits of 1976-style liberalism or its fall? If our social-support systems are going away, no matter what (and soon!), isn't it rational (for instance) to discus whether we should step these systems down voluntarily, in stages, creating suffering but at least giving individuals and localities some time to create their own systems....?

Or should we, Bernie Sanders-like, keep our systems running as strongly as possible, even expanding them while we can, to keep as many people healthy and alive for as long as possible..... despite the near-certainty of a catastrophic, chaotic breakdown, that won't be planned or staged, but concomitant with general breakdowns that *force* the end of our social systems?

Obviously those aren't the only possibilities one could advocate. But to my mind, if are going to talk about the (futile) national policy landscape at all, this seems like where the conversation ought to be.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla said...

I can think of a few parts of modern sci-fi/fantasy that break the mould you’ve outlined above. The first is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series in which he has a whole slew of characters whose main role is to serve as a catalyst for change. Cohen the Barbarian and Rincewind the Wizzard are prime examples. Half the Discworld books are also about various civic figures trying to find ways to adapt to social and technological change in their city.

Another example is Dr Who the alien Time Traveller who gleefully travels through time and space causing explosions and inspiring others to act against the established order. The Doctor himself is not averse to change, being able to adopt a whole new personality and appearance instead of outright being killed.

And lastly Max of Mad Max fame who is a mythic figure that wanders in from the wastes and causes just enough chaos to allow ambitious locals to upturn their political structure or maybe just survive long enough to carve out some civilisation amid their new dark age.

Robert Mathiesen said...

I think none of the commenters so far have done full justice to Tolkien's deep vision of power and its perils -- which is indeed the theme of the Hobbit and LOTR. Yes, power corrupts.

Aragorn, like Gandalf, is wise enough to refuse the Ring.

Galadriel, who is far far older than Aragorn and far more capable and wise even than Gandalf, is seriously tempted to take the Ring for a moment (and she terrifies poor Frodo as she fights with the temptation). But in the end she finds enough strength in herself to refuse the temptation -- *barely* to refuse it, I dare say.

So the great and the good cannot help. But what about the little ones of the world, Frodo and Sam?

Sam is willing to help Frodo bear the burden any way he can, even though it destroy him in he end. But Frodo sadly (and unwisely, as the sequel shows) claims the burden is his to bear alone, and he actually is up to the task *until* almost the very last moment, when he stands on the brink above the fires of Mount Doom.

And then what happens? The ring is not destroyed by any noble or wise at at all. It is destroyed only because of the hunger and greed of Gollum, the single most loathly and despicable character in the whole story. Had Frodo killed Gollum when he had him in his power, as he and Sam wished, as they thought he deserved, all would have been lost forever. At the key moment, not knowing it to be the key moment, on general principles Gandalf urged the virtues of mercy and pity, though even Gandalf did not foresee what Gollum would do in the end.

Tolkien was Roman Catholic. He would have known something of the recent events that had led up to the Catholic dogmatic definition of Papal infallibility in 1869-70. And he would have known of the famous dictum of the Catholic Peer, Lord Acton, on that occasion, that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority."

For Tolkien, the fictional world that he had created was saved not by a great protagonist, a good and virtuous and heroic man (or elf). Nor was it saved by a small protagonist, however humble or good or otherwise virtuous. It was saved in the end by an evil action of a wretched and corrupted protagonist in his hunger for power, nearly a stranger to anything virtuous or good or heroic.

I think there is a key lesson for our age in that insight of Tolkien's. I am no Roman Catholic, but I think Lord Acton was onto something very important. We remember the story as of Frodo, a small and common Hobbit, saved the day. He nearly did, but in the end he did not save it. It was Gollum who did the last needful thing that saved day. Without Gollum all would have been lost.

We may finally have need of the Gollums of our own world as we face the present crisis.

Andropos Nebulus said...

I know I share my confusion with some other commenters. Seriously, why the *heck* are we discussing the fall of 1970's style liberalism? Good or bad, Reagan or no Reagan, the social systems that worked in periods of increasing median wages and expanding net free energy are going to function *much differently* in an era of social dis-cohesion, declining wages, and falling net free energy.

I suppose the sentiment is that the Left *should have* pivoted toward recognition of a less-wealthy, less energy-intense future, and *should have* led us down the path of preparation..... and the lament is that instead they pivoted toward reacting to destructive Republican-ism.

But unfortunately, Reagan or no, Republicans or no, I doubt any message of a poorer, harder, less energy-intense future *could ever* have make headway (for long) even in the best of circumstances. And certainly not after Prudhoe Bay or the re-opening of Saudi oil spigots.

This is a democracy, and people vote their interests, their ideology, or their morals. Few, very few, vote on Club-of-Rome-style long-haul projections or on historiographical models of social cycles. And even if they did, you would never, ever, get majorities to agree on what should be done (let alone how much should be spent) to deal with the projected situation 50 years in the future.

To those of us who like (or liked) leftist politics, I want to encourage you to get off of Bernie's attempted return to halcyon liberalism of USA c. 1976. We believe our near-term future is more like eastern Europe of 1917-23. Or Robespierre's France. Or late-Zhou China. Or none of those, just steady and inexorable impoverishment. What, for example, would an effective policy for Rome have been c. 234, just prior to the Crisis of the Third Century? Putting more resources into the urban grain dole? Do we even believe what we've been saying here? Or are we mostly just angry at Reagan and them hate-loving Repubs? Sometimes I can't tell.

wolfbay said...

Back in the early 70s I set up a honey bee hive in my parents back yard on top of their shed in New York City. The authorities came to the house and threatened fine or imprisonment unless I got rid of the bees because they were a danger to the community. When bees are foraging for nectar and pollen it's difficult to get them to sting unless you bother them or step on them. Even standing right next to the hive it's unlikely you'll get stung. Finally in 2010 New York City legalized bee hives in the city. So it took the bureaucracy 40 plus years to accept the facts and realize the law was a mistake. This is a small example of how hard it is to change the status quo even when the facts are on your side.
I should add that in places like central and south Florida it's a different situation because Africanized bees can be much more aggressive.

" Ignorance is bliss" and helps to maintain the status quo.

John Michael Greer said...

Konrat, things may not be quite as bad on this side of the pond, but it's still a message worth hearing. Thank you.

Declan, interesting. I'm not sure I agree, but will have to read Jacobs and see.

Spanish Fly, nah, Tolkien corrupted Norse mythology, with a side helping of Finnish (he took a lot of ideas from the Kalevala). He doesn't seem to have borrowed much at all from the Celts, even though he modeled one of his Elvish languages on Welsh.

Greybeard, of course the word "progress" can be interpreted in different ways. I'm trying to overturn the automatic American way of interpreting it to mean "good." As for your final point, no argument there at all -- until individuals start by changing their own lives, a change of leadership isn't going to do squat.

Heian, excellent! You get this evening's gold star for mythological literacy. It amazes me that so many people forget that fairy tales are full of horror, tragedy, and ghastly consequences for stupid actions.

Compound F, the only difference is that Nicole has been predicting for something like a decade that total economic collapse is about to happen. She's been wrong year after year, and I think you'll find that she's wrong this time, too -- we may get a whopper of a crisis, but there's ample negative feedback available to make the result a long ragged mess rather than a fast plunge into the abyss.

Max, yes, and I was startled that he actually said that, in public. I think everyone knows, one way or another, that that's going to happen, but up to this point nobody's been willing to mention it.

Marc, I'll let Jim speak for himself. As for the cheering Sanders fans, if they're using messianic fantasies about yet another candidate distract them from the hard work of changing their own lives, yes, a bucket of cold water is probably called for.

Thriftwizard, Alan Garner was another of my faves, too. As for Rowling's opus, to borrow a phrase from Tolkien, disbelief didn't so much have to be suspended as hanged, drawn, and quartered.

Bush, history would tend to support that hypothesis.

Tidlösa, as long as the burlesque doesn't involve striptease. The thought of any of the current crop of candidates doing a bump-and-grind while removing their clothes is not one I care to imagine.

Spanish Fly, I wish an umbrella would be enough!

Lou, and all the while that future has been trickling away with each barrel of oil pumped out of our rapidly depleting reserves. That's why it's crucial to try to imagine a different future.

Scotlyn, or the plucky band of heroes could realize that the change that everyone fears is actually the change that's needed, and help midwife it into being...

Denys, oh, it's entirely possible that some factions in the GOP want Trump as part of the clown show. There may be factions among the Democrats who are praying for that, too.

blue sun said...

As far as how it's applied to Climate Change but not Peak Oil, you can also see the fractal pattern of this narrative as it applies to other things in life that cannot be framed as a war against change. Like human death and other inevitables. They are really more outcomes than they are "changes," but we've been taught that we can avert any outcome when we put our best minds and enough money on the task. (Hence Google's current research efforts into reversing aging and eliminating death.) The rallying cry sounds something to me like "NOTHING IS INEVITABLE!!!"

When one accepts that rallying cry, it casts any discussion of things like Peak Oil or human mortality out of polite conversation. After all, when there are no limits, nothing is inevitable, right?

Ralph Bentley said...

"Ralph, the problem with Wolin's analysis is that, like nearly everybody, he's forgotten that fascism doesn't come out of the status quo. It's a response to the failure of the status quo when nobody in the establishment is willing to do anything to fix what's failed. Mussolini, Hitler et al. came out of the fringes -- and so will the despot who will take over America to the cheers of millions of people who think they hate fascism, because despotism is the only way they can see to get out from under the failed consensus of the political class."

I agree that Wolin does sort of see it as gestating from within. However, Fascism is an established fact in America today (privatization of the public sphere is almost complete). it's taken place right under our noses. This is why the inverted totalitarianism theory resonates. Look around us and we find hapless figureheads in public office while the real power resides elsewhere. The 2001 Bush administration was one long daring daylight robbery. At the end they just backed the trucks up to the Fed and openly hauled away the cash. The history of this takeover, the first decade of the new century, could be pasted together from the headlines of the newspapers of the period, in one-inch tall letters. And we still apparently don't get it. The message remains un-received.

I think maybe change is too light a word for this. The breakdown of the ecosystem? Hmm. What we are headed towards is transformation. Change sort of feels like the seasonal variation of fashion or a new car or a new president. What is called for is more like transformation; proactively reimagining ourselves as a society and as individuals. Not sure the general public is really up for that.

Unknown said...

JMG, you listed several problems: "... economic inequality, ...political corruption, ... impoverishment , .... national infrastructure, .... environmental disruption, .... decline in literacy .... collapse in public health, among other grim trends." The thrust of your post suggests that poplar political movements are not addressing these problems in any really practical manner and what's needed is a magnitude of change that is basically beyond what is generally acceptable to think about in our current culture. From reading many of your other posts, I pretty sure that you agree that the consumption of the planet's physical resources by humans is unsustainable and, if not corrected, will eventually lead to a collapse of the human population from its current levels to something sustainable - which will be much less than 7B .

If we would like to mitigate this collapse it seems logical that we would think about both human reproduction practices and consumption behaviors as high value areas to affect "change". It seems to me that current concept of a mostly autonomous family unit with mom and pop and their own "private" children is something we should discuss. After all, prior to the advent of agriculture and the establishment of nobility, warriors and shamans to hold land and peasants, the rearing of children was undoubtedly much different - say in the time frame of about 50K years ago. Lots of writers focus on ways to reduce human consumption of physical resources; however, it seems highly unlikely than any conservation plan will succeed with an infinitely growing human population. Maybe we should discuss the way we reproduce?

As it stand now, our current concept of "family" appears to be one of those sacred things that can't be changed. For example, the UN "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" codifies our deep belief in our right to maintain a private "family" and reproduce at will according any kind of belief system we may be operating under. A few highlights from that document:

- The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
- Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.
- Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family....
- Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance....
- Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; .... to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
- Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Should we not even have a discussion of our breeding and child-rearing habits? Is there a more sustainable model? Or, will we just focus on things like eating less meat while we drive even more species into extinction?

Caryn said...

@ Andropos Nebulus:

I'm sure that's a good question - what would you suggest regarding civic action?

I mean, I think it's pretty accepted here that individual and personal and family preparation are top priority, LOCAL civic involvement /community and preparation are secondary. I think those are a given. Maybe in 50 years we won't have to worry about national civic responsibility, as the US will split into regional nation-states, but for now; what would your course of action be? Inaction? Looting the grain-dole barrels or simply letting them run dry? To be clear, I don't think you're talking about "suffering", of the poor as this happens, but death and (they won't go quietly into the night), destruction. I think this exacerbates and hastens the fracturing and fall of civic social structures / civilization.

As I said above, I'd just prefer to walk, even run down the steep, ragged slope rather than be thrown off. IMHO, social safety nets would help foment a slower transitory stage for more people.

I actually did reply to your same query on last week's thread. I can only guess, you did not see it, (it was posted on Wed, very late for that thread), or dismissed it without merit as you did not answer, (if it's the latter, hey, fair enough).

Moshe Braner said...

Marc wrote: "Could you see ... being invited to the White House ... Richard Heinberg? Such images are so bizarre that it makes me question even the remote possibility that Sanders has any chance at all."

- some years ago it came out that Bill Clinton read Heinberg's book (The Party's Over?) and even wrote notes in the margins. Noticed any consequences from that, in his (or Hillary's) public pronouncements? It is THAT sort of thing that tells me that the inertia in the system is more massive than a black hole.

Myriad said...

It seems, per your thesis, that our grand Canoe of State is actually pointing the opposite direction that everyone pretends it is. Hence the people who pretend to paddle it are actually pretending to paddle the other way from where they pretend they are pretending to paddle it.

Which way the current is actually moving might be a further consideration of great interest, but it actually doesn't matter, because we're drifting with it either way. Perhaps attempting even to dip a paddle in the water risks overturning the canoe, or maybe we're you-know-where with no paddles left at all. In any case, the reversal you pointed out doesn't suggest to me we should turn around in our seats or try to turn the canoe around yet again. It simply underscores the fact that we're drifting. That's how it becomes possible to be confused about the direction in the first place.

This may ultimately relate to a phrase I've been hearing fairly often since I began discussing these matters on other message boards: "political will." Usually, I hear it in the context of claims that some substantive deliberate collective change, or some great project (e.g. a massive alternative energy build-out), is possible because "all we need is the political will." (That seems to be the engineers' version of "they'll think of something." They have thought of something, but some other "they" has to make it happen.) The implication is that political will is easily conjured up in whatever amount needed (perhaps by "strong leadership"). But in fact, political will is exactly what we don't have and can't seem to obtain: the ability to put paddles into the water and push, to propel the vessel somewhere.

Less metaphorically, political will relates directly to the ability of a government to address long-term problems by enacting measures that cause immediate and broadly shared short-term and medium-term hardships—and remain in power while doing so. Historically, this has been most visibly achieved during all-out warfare, but just declaring metaphorical war on something (poverty, crime, drugs, terror) obviously doesn't do the trick.

(I'm reminded of the 1980 campaign of John B. Anderson, the last time I recall in American politics of any such overtly hardship-causing measure being proposed and actually garnering some support, and not coincidentally, the last time I personally participated in a national political election campaign. At the time it felt to me like a last chance, but in hindsight it was apparently already too late.)

Now, your other blog has a lot to say about individual will. Political will, as best I can tell, is similar in some ways but very different in most. (It's not quite the same thing as political power, nor resources nor wealth nor military might nor any other conventional dimension of power.)

Individual measures for preparedness and mitigation, such as LESS, are based on making use of individual will rather than expecting effective collective (on the regional or national scale) political effort.

So, like other commenters apparently, this leaves me wondering where you're going with this. A possible way (besides fascism) to generate political will, perhaps, or additional ways to get by without it? Ideas about what we might do with it if we only had some are, alas, already plentiful.

(Cue chorus of: "If I had the One Ring, ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum…")

John Michael Greer said...

Stunned, I'll have to check Johnstone out as time permits. The fear of change as rooted in the fear of being changed -- yes, that works, doesn't it?

Denys, exactly. The whole system is cracking under the strain right now; it's way past the time when repairs will work.

YCS, have those appeared in non-graphic, written form? I'm not really into visual media; if they were turned into novels, though, I'd consider checking 'em out.

Phil, you've touched on one of the subtle tragedies of 1960s America, the way that an entire generation turned its back on the mythic possibilities of this culture and country to fixate on a handful of foreign models. That happened in occultism as well -- the US had a huge occult scene before the 1960s that was by no means dependent on British models, but in the wake of the 1960s, nearly every American who was interested in occultism at all acted as though all magic was invented in Britain between the founding of the Golden Dawn in 1887 and whenever Gerald Gardner finished making up the original Wiccan Book of Shadows. Most of what had been American occultism went extinct thereafter. Fantasy fiction was the same way; there used to be an immense amount of it that drew on the American experience, but in the wake of Tolkien et al., everything had to be castles and dragons and some mix of Celtic and Germanic imagery. I grew up in the middle of that and it shaped my imagination profoundly; for me, for example, a place like Glastonbury has a magic that I've never felt anywhere on this continent -- but I'm painfully aware that that's a distortion and a blindness that came to me from the cultural and social context in which I was raised.

Carol, fascinating. I don't read any significant amount of young adult fiction these days, so wasn't aware of that.

Dmitry, good. Of course I'm not trying to get a narrative past the filters on the average American brain -- I work out here on the fringes, where archdruids lurk in the shrubbery and green wizards bay at the moon. Those who pick up alternative narratives, after all, will be disproportionately represented among the survivors of the coming mess.

Brian, fantasy has generally been reactionary in our time, but it does not have to be that way. L. Frank Baum, who invented the imaginary-world fantasy -- that I know of, Oz was the first imaginary country ever to get its own map -- was anything but reactionary, and wove a lot of his own political and social thought into his stories. William Morris, who invented the epic fantasy, was one of England's leading socialists. There are many other good examples. It's precisely the fixation of fantasy on reactionary themes that I want to challenge here.

Raven, of course not. The issue I'm exploring is what narratives can be spread among the dwellers around the Sea of Nurnen and the plateau of Gorgoroth so that, when Sauron's realm collapses of its own weight, something different might be helped to emerge from the mess.

Buddha, exactly. The only workable option is to start where we are, with what we have, right now.

Chloe, of course not. When people use the word "progress" nowadays they mean a tangled mess of utopian fantasies, unthinking emotional reactions, and unexamined assumptions about past and the nature of human history. I'm trying to get past that mess so we can talk about the future in terms that actually make sense.

John Michael Greer said...

Bruce, that's certainly one way to collapse and avoid the rush. If enough of the people whose skills and insight are keeping things patched together and more or less running step aside and go do something less useless with their lives, that in itself might be enough to push the system over the edge.

RogerCO, yes, I'd gathered that something of the sort was under way from comments from my British friends and readers. I suspect it's going to be a spectacular mess on both sides of the pond.

Stu, exactly. The conversion of politics to a celebrity cult, by the way, is one of the things Spengler predicted well in advance.

Btidwell, I'm making a start by teaching a quarter to a third of a million readers a month (this blog's current readership) that there are things more interesting than the latest media thingy to talk about and reminding them of the existence of hobbies. Where you are, with what you have, right now...

Brian, Brin fascinates me. You'd think that someone with his intelligence, and the kind of taste for absurdity needed to enjoy Bored of the Rings (which I also find sidesplitting), would be able to shake himself out of the utterly uncritical blind faith in the contemporary mythology of progress that pervades this essay and so much of his other writing.

David, obviously I disagree. I think you're reading far too many of your own ideas and ideals into Tolkien -- which is easy to do; for the first decade or so after my original encounter with the trilogy, at the age of eight, I'd have said exactly what you did. Read through it again sometime and step back from the magic long enough to watch the rhetoric. In Middle-earth, war against the bad guys is always a good thing because, well, they're so evil, and it's all their fault anyway, and of course the kings and nobles are kings and nobles because they're wise and good. Where have we heard these lines before?

As for comparing Tolkien with Morris, there you've got things exactly backwards. Tolkien was profoundly familiar with Morris, of course -- I don't think there's a fantasy novel in the English language from before the Second World War Tolkien didn't read -- but several important aspects of the trilogy can be seen as a critique of Morris and his ideas. It's surely not accidental, for example, that Tolkien chose to give his wizard nearly the same name as the great villain of Morris' The Well at the World's End, Gandolf of Utterbol -- or that the quests that frame the two stories are so precisely opposite each other in their nature, even though they begin and end so similarly.

Pongo, that's possible, but the Clinton campaign is really stumbling at this point due to the candidate's inability to rouse the least enthusiasm outside of her own small circle of fans.

Tidlösa, yes, and that's very much part of it as well. The fantasy that purely notional action like participating in a march can stop things from changing is very important to a lot of people.

RPC, nah, the Dems don't want the conditions of 1973; there are all those banking laws their rich friends don't like that they'd have to reenact, for example. Nor does the GOP actually want the conditions of 1898 -- what would they do if the US was no longer the most important nation on the planet? That's why I suggest that the Dems actually want the conditions of right now, and the GOP wants things to keep going further in the same direction they've been going for the last forty years.

Mick, and I bet he kept his promises!

streamfortyseven said...

Marc L Bernstein “Upon returning she told me that most of the 30,000 or so avid Bernie Sanders fans at the Los Angeles event were quite young, in the 20 to 30 age group. What are we supposed to do, John, throw cold water on them?” Yes, please.

Bernie Sanders has been a de facto Democrat since 1990, and has been used to kill off third party organization in Vermont since then, see: Bruce Dixon, of Black Agenda Report, has what I think is a pretty good take on Sanders: - “The job of the sheepdog candidate is to herd leftish voters and activists back into the Democratic party one more time by giving perhaps sincere but limited and ineffectual voice to some of their issues.
Of course every sheepdog candidate since Jesse Jackson in '84 and 88 always folds his tent at the end of primary season to support the main corporate stooge Democrat for the November election.” As for the hysterical Republicans, the one who will emerge from the idiotic fray will be Jeb Bush, and the Democrat will be boring old Hillary - although JMG and I have a running bet on this. I predict Trump will mount an independent challenge in the manner of Ross Perot, which will end up, by hook or by crook, going nowhere.
Since the introduction of electronic voting machines, under centralized long-distance control, it only matters who counts the votes. We have an ongoing federal lawsuit about that very matter here in Kansas, where a professor from Wichita State University has found some very interesting statistical anomalies in the results for Governor Brownback’s re-election, which he won by a very narrow margin. The Kansas Secretary of State is stonewalling like crazy, refusing to release results which are public records. He’s controversial for other reasons - he wrote numerous immigration laws for states like Arizona, and parts of the Patriot Act, too, which have spectacularly failed judicial scrutiny. And he just threw out 20,000 votes which he’d ruled “provisional”, important in an election where the margin was just over 22,000 votes. On top of that, his office was given prosecutorial power over election laws by the Kansas Legislature, last year. So we may be in for some interesting times here in Kansas.
I was having a conversation this afternoon with a twentysomething friend who works as a bicycle mechanic, and he doesn’t vote in national elections, because the outcome doesn’t matter. I told him he was right and I don’t vote in national elections, either, or support candidates for national office. It’s a waste of time, energy, and money. As for state elections, see above, they may no longer be a means for changing government; but local elections, that’s another story entirely.
Back in my senior year in high school in 1974, after working on a political campaign, I was invited by the Minority Leader of the Kansas Senate to be one of his legislative assistants. I came in and started talking a bit about “evil” Republicans and “good” Democrats, and this lasted for a couple of days, and then the Senator sat me down in his office, closed the door, and stopped his calls, and he explained a few things to me. Namely, that when the elections finished, people were no longer Republicans or Democrats - he and the Republican Majority Leader were close personal friends and they worked together on legislation. Partisan talk was just for the voters, after the election, it, and the banners and the platforms and all that stuff was put away in the closet, so to speak.
My take is that government will step in the way of change, of fight against people bringing it about. In the end analysis, people will have to fend for themselves - national health care and other national systems for social welfare - or even state systems - are in a state of collapse and cannot possibly survive. It’s going to come down to neighborhoods and people, representative government will collapse and become largely irrelevant at best, a hated enemy at worst.

e3b4fc9e-4248-11e5-b4dd-979516c406a4 said...

Fresh off of a meditation retreat where I had a profound experience of impermanence, which is just change with fancy clothes, I'm pleased to see this as an upcoming topic. Looking forward to next week's post!

John Michael Greer said...

William, I'd put it much more strongly than that. When people start talking about moral absolutes, all they're actually doing is claiming unearned authority for their own moral preferences and prejudices. As human beings, we have no access to the absolute; if there are moral absolutes, our minds are too finite and our capacities for knowledge too limited by our biological and cultural frameworks to have the least idea what they are; all we've got are our ideas about morality, which are -- like everything else human -- flawed, historically contingent, and constantly changing. That doesn't make moral ideas unimportant; they're the codes we've evolved to enable us to live with one another without cutting each other's throats too often -- but that's all they are and all they can ever be.

The claim that some particular set of flawed, historically contingent, and changing beliefs are objectively knowable moral absolutes is very common in history, of course. It normally leads straight to the demonization of those who disagree, with violence a likely outcome. Figures such as Sauron, Voldemort, et al. are great examples here, because they're wholly imaginary portrayals of pure unmotivated evil -- as I noted in my post, they're evilly evil out of pure evil evilness, without any other motive than that. The history of the last century and a half is full of examples of what happens when that sort of thinking is applied to actual living human beings -- and the rhetoric of moral absolutes you've proposed here is a crucial step, arguably the crucial step, down that ghastly road.

Pygmycory, "stuck" is a massive understatement. At this point, to borrow a lively colloquialism, the USA is screwed, blued, and tattooed. As for a bankrupt state, again, I'd go further: it's a failed state that hasn't realized that fact yet.

Other Tom, disconnecting as far as possible from the government feeding trough would also be a useful step, but that's one that very few people -- including those who rail the loudest about government handouts -- are willing to do.

Clay, that's one of the reasons I haven't been able to stomach superhero comics since my misspent youth. It was just too much of a disappointment that Green Arrow never got to pin Goldman Sachs execs to the wall with well-aimed arrows!

Revere, gah. Don't even joke about that!

Tasha, is that anarchy, or simply the recognition that the government isn't there for your benefit?

Carmiac, I have a sneaking fondness for the whole Mad Max franchise, precisely because it's not just rehashing the War Against Change. It treats drastic, cataclysmic change as something that happens, has happened, and will continue to happen, and deals with individuals coping (or failing to cope) with the consequences.

Mister R., for what it's worth, my guess is that the GOP doesn't actually want anything of the kind; they know perfectly well that even if a US attack on Iran didn't put two or three carriers on the bottom of the Indian Ocean and turn the necklace of US bases along the Persian Gulf's other shore into smoldering rubble, the result would redefine the word "quagmire" and finish the process of tipping the Middle East into all-out war. The reason they're yelling so loudly about it is that it's Obama's treaty.

Adrian, excellent. Exactly; once you get past the rhetoric of progress and start talking about specific changes being carried out by specific groups of people, to benefit some people and harm others, you've got the basis for clear thought, and thus for strategy.

John Michael Greer said...

Tortoise, a very good point. That's the thing about Tolkien; he wasn't a simple thinker by any means. There's an immense richness to his version of the War Against Change, and a clear sense of its potentials for evil as well as good, that you just don't get in most of his imitators.

Greg, Nixon also looked so liberal because in his day, there were plenty of liberal Republicans and plenty of conservative Democrats. Washington state, where I grew up, tended to have them more often than not; four-time state governor Dan Evans was a leading liberal Republican, for example, and all-but-eternal senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson was a nationally famous conservative Democrat. All that went by the boards in the wake of the Reagan counterrevolution.

Backyardfeast, the challenge of trying to imagine something that isn't just more of the same is huge, no question. I'll be exploring one potential vision in the weeks and months ahead, but that's as much to get other people riled up enough to go off in their own directions as anything else.

Mark, a society terrified of change is going to be a hard sell for anything. I'll be talking next week about how to get past that.

Steve, the Dems want neoliberalism to retain some elements of the welfare state -- that's as much as they can imagine, and the sum total of their disagreement with the GOP.

Notes, if those are available in English, I'll have to chase one or more of them down. A very Taoist sort of fiction!

William, Tolkien's one of my faves, too. I can enjoy the man's prose without buying into his politics.

Christophe, there's quite a bit of good imaginative fiction that doesn't follow the War Against Change narrative. It's mostly the vast torrents of crap that are locked into it.

BoysMom, local politics remains very much worth one's time -- you may not be able to vote for anybody, but there are certainly people to vote against!

Coboarts, I read the first three Potter novels and saw the first movie, and drew the line there, so I'll have to take your word for it!

Johnny, the Onion is always worth a look!

Steve, the Atlantis myth is about as mainstream as you can get -- ask somebody on the street sometime if they've heard about Atlantis if you doubt that. It's precisely the fact that it's a living myth that causes so many people not to treat it as "real" mythology.

Ed-M, the first time the US is actually defeated in a war -- not just bogged down until we walk away, but actually forced to accept terms dictated by the other side -- this nation is going to have a world-class collective nervous breakdown. I'm far from sure the nation as a political and cultural unit will survive the experience.

John, fascinating. The Campbellian monomyth doesn't have to be a War Against Change -- the one who goes off on an adventure can return transformed, and transform his or her community in turn -- but you're right that that's not how it's usually used.

John Michael Greer said...

John, the medical, pharmaceutical, and health insurance industries are also massive manufacturers of imaginary wealth by way of stocks, bonds, and other forms of investment paper, all of which are predicated on the supposedly limitless growth of health care expenditures. That's why the system we have is so baroque; it's not about health care, it's about propping up the financial side of the economy.

Rebecca, it's once you grasp that there's no sure refuge against the coming of change that the possibilities begin to open out in front of you.

Mickey, that's the fascinating thing about current US politics. Everyone claims to be against the status quo, and the policies they propose to change the status quo are exactly the policies that created the status quo in the first place.

Nuku, good! That's two readers who have a decent level of mythological literacy. You get tonight's gold star.

Heretick, ah, but nothing's dragging us down, we're marching boldly down in the bizarre conviction that the direction we're going is up.

Andropos, not everyone on this blog shares your distaste for 1970s liberalism, you know -- nor does the level of crisis I'm predicting preclude maintaining some sort of social safety net for the vulnerable in at least some places.

Lucius, of course. The fact that the War Against Change dominates contemporary imaginative literature doesn't mean that there aren't exceptions; in fact, it tends to mean that the better authors are the exceptions, because they've got the talent to come up with original narratives. As I noted to Christophe, it's the vast torrent of crap that fixates on the War Against Change.

Robert, I don't know that anybody but Tolkien himself could do justice to his very distinctive vision!

Andropos, er, you may want to sit back and breathe deeply for a while.

Wolfbay, which is one of the reasons why those portions of the country that have overactive regulatory bodies might be best avoided just now. Not everybody has to face that sort of thing, you know.

Blue Sun, exactly. The delusion that nothing is inevitable -- at its root, the delusion of human omnipotence and entitlement -- is among the most disastrously wrongheaded of the ideas driving us toward catastrophe.

Ralph, as I've noted here before, your use of the word "fascism" is based on a total misunderstanding of what fascism actually was. What we have in America today isn't fascism, it's the sort of normal authoritarian statism you get in most societies under strain. When fascism comes to America, it won't be waving the banner of the status quo; it will be the great alternative to the status quo, the movement everyone's been waiting for that will break through the gridlock, pry loose the fingers of failed policies from the throat of the nation, and fix what's wrong -- just as it did when it came to Italy, Germany, et al. People in Weimar Germany used to insist they lived under a fascist government, too, and that's one of the things that helped Hitler seize power and show them what fascism was actually like.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown, yes, and how do you propose to effect change in either of those areas? People have been insisting for three quarters of a century that we have to "do something" about population and overconsumption; has any of that rhetoric actually accomplished anything? Doing the same thing you've done before and expecting something else to come if it isn't a useful strategy -- nor, by the way, is whacking a straw man, as you did with your comment about eating less meat. (I invite you to find a post here where I suggested that.) There are quite a few things that can be done; all of them require leading by personal example, and proceed from there. If you're interested, you can find extensive discussions in the archives, or you can stay tuned for further explorations.

Myriad, good. These days "political will" is a way to avoid dealing with the hard fact that the US no longer has the resource base or the productive economic sectors to engage in any project large enough to matter. That song you quoted at the end, there -- wasn't that from the famous musical "Balrog on the Roof"? ;-)

e3 etc., a good solid sense of the impermanence of things is worth cultivating in times like these, no question. Stay tuned.

Avery said...

Hi JMG, today I came across a zine devoted to making fun of religious cults and spiritualists, and it occurred to me that this conforms very closely to the War Against Change monologue you described in this week's post. Religious cults propose that there is more to the world than what we can see in front of us -- what could possibly be more destabilizing to the modern, secular nation state?

And although someone raised gay marriage in these comments, this is an even better example of the present-day confusion between conservatism and radicalism. Does anyone remember the 1950s to 1980s, when the homosexual lifestyle was a purposeful liberation from the bonds of marriage and family? How did this transform into a desire to settle down and integrate, and when did that current begin? The answer is not "progress" -- it's in fact the capture of a radical movement by practical, conservative forces.

Denys said...

What do you think of the work of these folks ?

Scotlyn said...

I will add (though I don't want to bang an unpopular drum) that Terry Pratchett's plucky heroes often do just that - come to a deeper understanding of (and sometimes even befriend) their adversaries while encountering and confronting them.

A mythos of a Change that is spiky and difficult, perhaps, but transformative and worth befriending, may start to happen somewhere in the cracks in the dominant narrative...

Denys said...

Dmitry said "utter mediocrity, unspeakable vulgarity and appalling inhumanity"
These words describe exactly what has been going on in America's public schools. 98% of the country spent 8 hours a day in this environment during their formative years. It has shaped who we are and not in a good way. The cruelness I observe between children, adults and children, and adult to adult, I can't help but wonder if public schooling is the source.

Candace said...

For me, imagining something different gets stymied by the fact that I still have to deal with things as they are now. Having a place to live etc... I think that is the appeal of the apocalypse senario for some. If the now you have tl deal with isn't there you can start from scratch. Disengaging from the current system is reallly difficult when money is required to have a place to be in.

I feel like I keep missing something. I know that you are not saying that people should run off and forage or homestead in the country. But I have difficulty imagining what disengaging looks like. There was the previous discussion about going "retro". My friends just think I'm unnessecarily austere. I mentioned to a friend that I thought that the young people who are addicted to their "media" will be particularly uncomfortable when they no longer have access to the internet, my friend looked at me like I was crazy. People around me clearly believe that all the present technology to which they are accustomed is here to stay. If people can't imagine not hacing access to the internet anything but BAU is going to be difficult to imagine.

I'm looking forward to the next posts, I know my imagination is lacking!

Jo said...

@ carol b, I absolutely agree with you, I read most of what my teenagers read, and I am struck by how much that is popular right now is fantasy fiction, and set in a post-apocalyptic future, in new, often much poorer societies grafted on to the ruins of our current world. It seems that writers other than Archdruids are preparing young minds for a very different future..

You know I don't think young people are much surprised when faced with the fact of a fading future. It is those of us who are middle-aged and comfortable and with a lot to lose when the status quo exits stage left, that proclaim the loudest that business will always continue as usual..

davidchuter said...

JMG - Fair enough, we can disagree about Tolkien, but I think that you fall into the twin traps of seeing things that aren't actually there in the text on the one hand, and reading back into Tolkien's writing opinions and prejudices expressed by his many imitators, who mostly, I'm afraid, produced rubbish. The "change" that's being fought in the book is not social or economic, its the aggression from Mordor, brought about by the consequences of the unrestrained Will to Power. Although Tolkien disavowed direct comparisons, it's obvious that the LOTR was written partly in the shadow of WWII, when a coalition of nations did actually conduct a War Against Change, and, thankfully, also won. The Fascist parties they fought were always quite clear that they represented a modern, scientifically based concept of race and society which would sweep aside old-fashioned decadent democracy and usher in the modern world. Their opponents were dismissed as nostalgic reactionaries.
Why is this important? Liberalism, for all its faults, has not been as violently destructive, but, as you yourself point out, it sells a simple model of progress, and delegitimizes all criticism in advance by presenting its critics as reactionaries who can't get with the modern world. Fighting against that ideology implies thinking that some things are actually worth defending, and that life and society are not eternally renewed like motor cars, with better models. In practice this is what most of us do think.
Incidentally, the comparison with Morris is not with "The Well" but with "News from Nowhere", which presents a vision of a blend of tradition and modernism which has always informed a certain concept of socialism. Tolkien was writing in a different tradition, but the similarities (especially the distrust of power) are there all right.

das monde said...

It is ironic that well-known transformational Hero Journey myths turned out to be grounded by change aversion. What genuine change mythology do we have then? "Star Trek" looks like a stationary equilibrium as well.

I am holding back my nihilism against Sanders (and Corbyn in UK) if only because their kind of "no nonsense" activism was conspicuously absent in the leftish upper circles for decades. It is just interesting that they are here, making the phobia dilemma (whether they would be too "dangerous" or inefficient) very secondary. The welfare state standard of the 1960s was worthwhile to hold on (or to return to) - if that is really possible.

It is intriguing that the political progress (for both US parties, and gradually everywhere) since 1970s is measured by dismantling welfare states. The one-directional political dynamics since then may look like a determined change, after all. That change towards faster collapse might even be sensible, if it would indeed be too much hassle to educate, convert and save everyone.

wolfbay said...

Mr Greer
I appreciate your subtle suggestion that we get the heck out of NYC. We did long ago and our bees are now on our Farm with our goats,chickens and ducks. We heat with wood and have a solar PV system. The regulatory environment here is very relaxed!

Steve from Lakewood said...

Along the line of your comments about change, you might read the Dictator's Handbook by Bruce Bueno de Mesquite (think I got that right from memory--the book is in a box somewhere...) The first part of the book is about local American politics and only gets to the Sadaam Husseins of the world much later on. The endorsements on the cover might lead you to believe that his ideas have been vetted and approved of by Important People and three letter agencies. The executive summary is that leaders anywhere will do whatever it takes to remain in power (within the limits of their conscience, I might add, so your local city council cannot be compared to the brutality of Sadaam or Hitler, say), and this means furthering the interests of their base--and you ain't part of their base, never mind you might be part of one of the blocs that they count on come election time. In this light, even change (think Conan as a neutral example from fiction) might be implemented in furthering the end of reign perpetuation. This is a bit different that the fictional resistance to change in so much popular literature, and the popularity of that literature tells a story in itself (although I must confess my mind doesn't want to linger over the issue). It resonates back and explains a lot of 19th century politics in this country, for instance, from the White House riots following Jackson's election (there wasn't enough of the promised graft to actually go around), to my maternal grandfather getting a quarter for his first vote when he was 12 (the last Republican he ever voted for, ever). Politicians will do what it takes.

It makes me hope, nervously, for some third party candidate that might actually offer a worthwhile choice. I have no illusions, however........

Brian said...

JMG,you bet, there is good fantasy out there that isn't reactionary. That's why I mentioned Tetrarch. My point was that most people are by default reactionary and therefore our popular art must be pretty reactionary, or it won't be popular. Since we've been buckling down for decades to deny reality even more than usual, Tolkien and his myriad imitators have become incredibly popular. But this whole "good v. evil" movement in fiction and film really bugs me (look at what Disney did to the gentle Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast fairy tales - every movie has to end with an epic battle between good and evil).

We all pretty much adapt to whatever circumstances we find ourselves in until they become intolerable and any hint of change, for good or bad, will bring on stress. Some us deal with the coming societal changes by learning what we can and trying to prepare ourselves, others fight to preserve the status quo, others watch television. I think your essays help us learn and understand ourselves a little better so we can prepare more efficiently. And it's always interesting to find out more about what makes our species so damned weird.

RCW - said...

"...a fellow is more afraid of the trouble he might have than he ever is of the trouble he's already got. He'll cling to trouble he's used to before he'll risk a change." - William Faulkner, Light in August

Howard Skillington said...

Regarding today’s young adult fiction it’s worth noting that The Hunger Games, while it stops short of providing a vision for a new, better world, does differ from the herd in one important respect: it obliterates the unexamined assumption that, if the other side is The Bad Guys, then ours must be The Good Guys.
In the end the heroine faces the terrible fact that our despotic leader is just as evil as their despotic leader. With the decapitation of both factions the reader is left with at least the implicit notion that a new and different world must now be built.

N Montesano said...

Very much enjoying the discussion and looking forward to the coming posts. Meanwhile, I practice thinking, by reading here, and trying to live a little more like my immigrant grandmother. And constantly encourage everyone I know to garden, cook and preserve, on the premise that even if they only do it a little bit, the knowledge and practice will serve them well as things get worse. Gave my sister-in-law potato starts last year; after growing and eating them, she told me she'd never buy store potatoes again. Possibly it was hyperbole, but That felt like an accomplishment.
One of my heroes is Coll (I think that was his name; it's been 30-some years since I read the books) from Lloyd Alexander's Taran the Wanderer series. He had been a warrior and Doer of Things in his youth, and now he's old and a bit cynical (realist!) about how that tends to work out in practice, and he just really, really wants to be left alone to farm, a concept utterly baffling to the young hero yearning to go off and Do Great Things.

Patricia Mathews said...

Re: The War Against Change in literature & the media, an egregious example - STAR WARS I, II, III by George Lucas' numbering. The prequels, with Queen Amidala et. al. As reactionary as you can get and still claim to be science fiction. I won't pick it apart here; Brin did a marvelous job doing that.

In local energy politics - the current hassle in New Mexico over cutting back on the use of coal in a local power plant. Anything that will cost PNM - or the ratepayers - one red cent is being fought tooth and nail, whatever the other costs are. I know, that's a dire oversimplification of the issues, but it is THE bottom line.

And as I told a friend, I will talk to my children about the economy and about climate change, and even about when America's oil peaked, and they will listen, somewhat. But I have had a long, hard struggle to be regarded as sane enough to have any credibility at all in my family, or even to stay out of the Cuckoo's Nest (and all successes took place once separated from them), that I keep things on a level they will comprehend, for fear of being adjudged both crazy and senile and treated accordingly. Cowardly? You bet. But the standards held up on this blog, used as a measuring rod, have stripped me of many illusions about what I can do. BTW, the friend said "Rant on; we're fellow inmates in the same asylum."

"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

Ozark Chinquapin said...

JMG, have you read George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series at all? Despite the setting having lots of the typical fantasy clichés (medieval imagery, castles, dragons etc), it does away with the whole idea of moral absolutes. The characters that do the nastiest things are shown to have very human motivations rather than being pure evilness.

As for change vs conservatism, that's portrayed as far from black and white. There's plenty of conservatism in that world, but also characters that break the stereotypes and ones who change things. The world its set in has its own history that the reader learns gradually more about, a history in which there are both long standing traditions and great changes that have happened.

Since the series isn't finished yet, a lot is still unknown, but I do think one of the reasons the series has gotten so popular is that people are fed up with the simplistic thinking of so much fantasy that you're describing.

Myriad said...

"Balrog on the Roof"? I was thinking "Gandalf on the Roof," because he spends a considerable interval up there on top of Orthanc, while the roof would be the last place I'd expect a balrog. But of course, that's also true of fiddlers, which is part of the point of the original title, so I guess you're a step ahead of me again. :)

As for political will—no, I disagree, in that it's not just money and material resources alone. The same present lack of political will precludes measures that would save money and resources, such as terminating expensive unsuccessful programs (military weapon projects, drug enforcement, industrial subsidies, education-related mandates, take your pick). Or telling the public (and having the public accept) "we tolerate tens of thousands of deaths per year to have the freedom of automobile travel; we can tolerate a possible few hundred more to have the freedom to assemble for public events without herding through metal detectors." Or anything remotely resembling rationing. (When politicians railed against the boogeyman of "rationing health care," were they not admitting that the supply of health care is inadequate to cover every collective want? And if so, then isn't rationing it actually a good idea?) There are, of course, individual reasons why each of these and many other proposals are politically untenable, from vested interests to sunk-cost fallacies to unreasonable public expectations of perfect safety. Those reasons all contribute, just as limits on money and resources do, to the present lack of political will.

That's why dramatic social restructurings including fascism and totalitarianism can drum up political will, even though they cannot directly create wealth or material resources. They can convince or force people to take risks, defer desires, and otherwise act against their own individual and immediate interests in support of the cause. That's also why the prospect of fascism looms when political will is otherwise exhausted.

Or so it seems to me, at the moment. I am, of course, staying tuned.

Steve W. said...

IMHO, I think a lot of people dismissing and ridiculing Donald Trump as an "absurd" candidate is a huge mistake. It's obvious that he has hit upon a very angry nerve here in the USA. I happen to feel that we are the closest we've ever been in recent history to a dictatorship or at least a "strong man" presidency.

I really don't think it would be that hard for Trump to win, even as a 3rd party candidate, and he could do it with a platform that would resonate with a lot of people: close off the borders, impose martial law in urban areas to stop unrest....but he could also attract a "LOT* of support if he offered to cancel Americans' student loans, medical bills, etc. -- and if he offered to do it while saying he would ignore Congress, I don't think Americans would be disappointed, considering how extremely unpopular Congress is right now. Trump could say he will no longer listen to Congress because they're "bought and paid for" already.

I am really interested to see where the global economy and political scene goes in the months ahead.....

Dagnarus said...

One of the conclusions which I have taken from my understanding of Game theory, specifically the prisoners dilemma, and chicken, is that it should not necessarily be expected for a society made up of individuals motivated by rational self interest to behave in a manner which is either or rational, or in there best interest. Not that I necessarily believe that our society is made up of rational individuals. That said I suspect that a lot of the sub/conscious desire for a man on horseback has its roots in the fact that most people know that they are not willing to go without if they can con someone else to do it for them, therefore everyone else must feel that way too, therefore we need somebody else to make us do what needs to be done, (although hopefully just everyone else).

buddhabythelake said...

@Blue Sun,

What comes to my mind when folks dispute the inevitability of what we're facing is Asimov's Foundation series...we are experiencing (psycho)historical forces which are constraining our options and funneling humanity into a much-narrowed pathway. We have choices, but it may be that we don't care for any of them. And that's just how it will be. We'll have to get used to it, one way or another. Trantor will fall.

Unknown said...

JMG - our little exchange here seems to have gotten off on the wrong foot! Please know that I bought your Long Descent book when it first came out and I'm a regular reader of your blog. I think your long-descent thesis is still one of the best analysis of our situation and I've recommended your books and blog countless time. My comment about meat had nothing to do with your writings - sorry if I implied that. I often listen to public radio and frequently hear authors advocating people should use crop land to directly feed humans instead of feeding cattle, etc. I'm sure you're familiar with the argument. I also agree with your "leading by personal example" and recall your comments about things like turning down home heating thermostats - in our home, we do many such simple things that agree with your advice. Also, I'm a bicycle advocate and work in our community to promote ways to cut down on automobile use. However, I do think that there is a limit to personal example and public advocacy is needed - after all, it was your book that got me started thinking about a lot of issues.

Apparently, something in my comment struck you the wrong way. However, the main point I was trying to make was in support of your contention that most people resist change - and what could be a bigger change than rethinking our beliefs about family and reproduction? I certainly wasn't think about doing the same thing over again!

As to your question: "how do you propose to effect change" - I was merely suggesting that it would be a good idea to have a public discussion of reproduction rights. China did this and the debate over their policy rages on. The US has largely just focused on the "right to life" debate and not on the larger issue of sustainable population. OOH, I doubt that this discussion will occur in the mainstream media until the need is painfully obvious. OTOH, in a forum like this, it just seemed to me that this discussion was possible. If there ever is a wider agreement that the US should address this issue, there are lots of ways to effect change. Probably the most effective is just the bully pulpit to advocate for small families as was done at one time in Japan. Of course stronger measures can be taken with tax codes and other public policies. However, at this time, I'm only suggesting that sustainable population be considered a legitimate part of the public discourse - which currently only seems to be acceptable on the fringes of our culture. Clearly, this topic is unwelcomed by many people - but it seems to me that you're not adverse to unpopular ideas! However, if you feel that discussing the population issue is pointless - I can respect that.

BTW, I can't figure out why I come up as "Unknown" in your blog as I've joined your site, used a Google name for the comment, etc.

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...

The only three novels by Jin Yong (whose is also sometimes called 'Louis Cha' in English) which have been formally published in English are The Book and the Sword (IMO his worst novel), The Fox Volant of Snow Mountain, and The Deer and the Cauldron. Of these, only The Deer and the Cauldron is a major work. I haven't read the John Milford translation myself, but what I've read about it indicates that much has been lost in the translation. That's not a surprise since it's Jin Yong's most satirical and witty novel. Even though some people say it's his best novel, it's certainly not representative since Jin Yong chose to go against his usual style in many ways (for example, The Deer and the Cauldron has the only Jin Yong protagonist who would rather live in a bustling city than on an isolated island/mountain playing music and reading literature with his loved ones). Nonetheless, The Deer and the Cauldron is what I recommend you read if you want to experience Jin Yong's fiction in a printed English translation.

Of course, if you're willing to read online fan translations of Jin Yong novels, you have a lot more options.

Helix said...

@Unknown -- Re: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family" and the rest of the UN Declaration...

Perhaps in theoretical or philosophical sense, but in a practical sense, history is clear that rights that are not defended by those who claim to hold them will prove empty in short order.

Beyond that, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the list of "rights" you mention is fraught with dilemmas. The primary dilemma is "who will defend those rights?" And if there is an entity powerful enough to defend these rights, is it also powerful enough to trample them?

While the UN Declaration might be a warm and fuzzy starting point, it leaves aside the very difficult details of implementing and maintaining legal and social structures that embody them. To cite just one example, the "right" from your post that I quoted above may stand at odds with other "rights" in the UN Declaration such as #17, the "right" of ownership. We are commonly born into a world where everything short of the air we breathe and perhaps some large bodies of water is "owned" by someone else. I think we can agree that these are hardly sufficient by themselves to support a decent standard of living. Given that this is the case, does my right to a reasonable standard of living require others to surrender some of their rights to ownership? Who will decide how this dilemma will be resolved? And if some entity has such authority, can we really say that our right to ownership is even real? Furthermore, if that entity has the power to transfer our right of ownership to another, what is to prevent that authority from simply appropriating our property for its own benefit?

Another example which you yourself alluded to is the dilemma of a perpetually growing population on a finite planet. We don't have to extrapolate very far into the future to see that almost every one of the rights enumerated in the UN Declaration will fall victim to the "right" to marriage and family if left unchecked.

Implementing social structures that embody such rights is a snarly task, and one that can never be completed to everyone's satisfaction. At best, we can only come up with something that most of us are willing to live with. And in the end, the only guarantee of our rights is our power and willingness to defend them against usurpers. As Wayne LaPierre quipped, "freedom is never an achieved state; like electricity, we've got to keep generating it or the lights go out."

Unknown said...

If this post on the War on Change had a soundtrack, that old chestnut "Stand Up for Judas," wherein Jesus is today's Democratic Party, would need to be on it:

Jesus was a conjuror, miracles were his game
And he fed the hungry thousands and they glorified his name
He cured the lame and the lepers, he calmed the wind and the weather
And the wretched flocked to touch him so their troubles would be taken
And Jesus knew the answer
All you who labour, all you who suffer only believe in me
But Judas sought a world where no one starved or begged for bread
The poor are always with us, Jesus said

So stand up, stand up for Judas, and the cause that Judas served
It was Jesus who betrayed the poor with his words

Bob Patterson said...

One of the fallacies I often hear is that given a certain financial trick, the US will become a huge exporter like China, like Germany. In the 1970's the US did export planes (Boeing, Lockheed, MacDonald-Douglas), computers (IBM, DEC, various PC makers) construction equipment (Caterpillar, Deere)and various luxury goods (Tiffany). and agricultural products. et even back then, we were running huge trade deficits with Japan and sometimes Europe. Bring this picture forward to today - planes - most are produced under co-production agreements with customer countries US content varies between 20-40%, computers most of the market had migrated to laptops and tablets, major US brands do fairly well (Apple, etc) but production is Asian. In Asia, knockoff brands do very well. For construction equipment, most production has migrated to Korea and China. Agricultural products still do fairly well.

I would contend that the US has never been an export oriented producer This can be traced to certain cultural biases being present. A.) English measurement Ever have a car that required Whitworth standard wrenches? B. Refusal to alter goods for foreign markets, and establish foreign marketing efforts. Maybe American standard sizes are all wrong, etc. C. Be responsive to requests, information availability, and quality problems of overseas customers. Germany has always had a heavy focus on these issue, the US, not so much.

Roger said...

Re "other grim trends"

As you say there's some very odd beliefs given the very plain evidence directly under our noses. For example, a "progressive" in this neck of the woods believes that current shambolic family arrangements represent, um, "progress". And - cough - "traditional" moms and dads that stay together and raise the kids conform to a laughable Ozzie and Harriet model that only exists in a fictional 1950's TV-Land.

See, by this way of thinking, there's something wrong with un-divorced and happily married moms and dads. They just aren't with it, they aren't tuned in to modern times. This model of the family is so out of step. Why did they marry? That is SO un-hip. And, if they married, why didn't they divorce? Isn't that the thing to do? I mean, who is it nowadays that doesn't have an ex, that hasn't been through a bitter break-up? Isn't staying together indicative of a character defect, a timidity, a lack of self-confidence maybe?

So moms and dads divorce and the politically correct cant is that the kids will be OK, that the kids adapt to whatever living arrangement takes shape with its impoverished single-parent-hood or its ever shifting cast of live-in "partners" or "significant others" or whatever it is that people call their boyfriends-girlfriends nowadays. Because it's the adults that have to be happy first.

Now, I'm no family counseling professional. But I've seen some of the mess and, from what I've seen, this is bunk. The kids are not ok. They're screwed up and stressed out. I've heard a few teachers of long experience say that once upon a time they'd have two kids out of thirty that acted up but now it's a half a dozen and you can't keep a lid on things. And the teachers cite the kids' troubles at home. I've seen Brady Bunch style families cobbled together from divorce and re-marriage where, in one situation, out of four kids whose lives were up-ended, one got so depressed as to require medication and another kid got so unhappy that he tried suicide - twice.

Yet, by the para-logic (or whatever you want to call it) of the "progressive", whatever you come up with as a family arrangement is the OK thing. If you complain that, by your own eyes, it sure don't look OK, you're unthinking and unenlightened, talking anecdotes and ignoring scientifically obtained facts and evidence. But I wonder how many others see what I see. How many anecdotes does it take?

Bob Patterson said...

It is fairly obvious that both political parties in the US caught on to the cycle - less regulation of business and pro-business legislation = more campaign contributions = less regulation etc. Happened in England too, with "New Labour". The failure of these parties that re-oriented from working people to big business to deliver any benefit to those working folks is now pushing these parties back towards their roots (Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn). Too much happy talk about how great things will be and too mush selling the farm to business interests. And yet the finessing continues.

A note about Bernie Sanders. As he does not come from the depths of the party (from the fringe, actually), he may face the situation a US Senator faced, not too many years ago. A senator from Connecticut Lowell Weiker) switched from running as a Republican to running as an Independent. He was elected, but soon realized he was ostracized by both parties and in effect became immobilized, politically.

Bob Patterson said...

RE: Healthcare. It was all well and good for employers to be the source for cheap, affordable health insurance, when it was very affordable in group plans and gave the employer a big hold over their employees. But now is has become much less affordable (at least for the non-managerial class). I mean the greeter at Wal Mart has no company paid medical insurance, but you can bet the CEO does. As it usually does, when faced with a problem, they say, "Let the government take care of it. After all what do I not pay taxes for?".

DeVaul said...

I am so glad you wrote an article about this phenomenon, which I had been pondering for several years now. I never read any of these books, or watched any of the movies mentioned until my children showed an interest in them. Actually, I cannot claim any literary knowledge outside of Mark Twain (his complete works), Arthur Conan Doyle (his Sherlock Holmes collection), and Voltaire (Candide only).

However, these movies all viciously and wantonly violated all of the rules of story telling that my father had passed down to me while I was growing up, and I could not understand how anyone could not be outraged by these movies, especially their endings, which are beyond ludicrous.

I will give one example: in one of the hobbit movies, some elves make a prophecy about what will happen to the guy carrying the ring -- he will die. So far so good, but what actually happens? He is miraculously rescued from death at the last minute and goes on to live out his life in relative peace and quiet. Huh? (For that matter, numerous main actors "die" repeatedly during the films and then miraculously "reappear", making a mockery of the whole concept of the grieving process and even the idea of life and death itself.)

The whole point of a prophecy is to set the stage for its fulfillment and the only thing that really matters is how the hero will face his destiny. That is the "real" story -- the manner in which he confronts his fate. But that has all been tossed out the window by pretending the prophecy never even existed.

I have often wondered if this was based on Jewish religious thought, which does not accept death at all and believes (?) that everyone will live forever -- if not here on earth, then most certainly in a wonderful place somewhere "out there".

However, I never saw these movies from the viewpoint of a contest between those who want to change things and those who want the status quo. That was a keen insight, and I believe you are probably right. It helps me to understand the outrageous violations of basic story telling much better now and I am glad you saw that. I have also noticed that movies that do not follow this pattern tend to be unpopular even though they are excellent movies and well acted. Some are filled with famous actors, but they are largely unknown because they do not follow the "War Against Change" plotline, which I suppose is the only thing our culture cares about now.

Anyway, thanks for a great and insightful article on modern literature and cinema.


jean-vivien said...

The mythology of progress is all about material change, so the war against change is a war against changes in the way of thinking, or the mythology. The question I asked last week, why does the stock market react to job data only by ficusing on the Fed's next interest rate hikes, may have to do with being stuck in a mythology where the outter world (Main Street) plays little role.
"Adrian, excellent. Exactly; once you get past the rhetoric of progress and start talking about specific changes being carried out by specific groups of people, to benefit some people and harm others, you've got the basis for clear thought, and thus for strategy."
It may be that fighting change in mythology is a way to maintain mythology in a state where it defends certain arrangements favouring the fighter. The science of economics lately seems bent on defending what is amounting to a mythology (free market, etc) justifying the channeling of wealth towards the financial sector.

Adrian wrote "I can imagine the old ones of the light being very upset indeed." In Lord Of The Ring, the Elves are fighting the Dark Lord even though they know that ultimately their age is ending anyway, regardles of the issue of the war. So they are not really fighting against change, they are fighting in spite of change, to make the best of their waning presence.
In nowadays' fantasy industry, Elves represent the hidden force of nature, some lost sense of beauty and magic in the world. In this way, they are fighting against change, under the justification of fighting for a long-lost Golden Age. But in the centuries before ours, folklore represented Elves as Impish beings, constantly playing tricks on unwary humans and, in a way, playing the role of tricksters or, if you will, fighting for change.
This evolution, which may only be my own perception of the varying ideas humans have made of Elves as an occult force, goes hand in hand with your posts treating dreams about machine. We dreamt of a world where everything would be treated as an object, a long time ago, and we got that reflected in our aesthetics. Take biology, and the inconvenient aspects of it... take the way people nowadays view animals as mere objects of cuteness (and of cute videos) while willingly ignoring all the more organic aspects of caring for an animal.
From an occult perspective, maybe the Elves actually are our perception of some occult forces. In this case, have we come to worship the wrong gods ? That would explain why the images of Elves now manifest to us as nostalgia, whereas they used to represent an invigorating source of natural forces. In the end, it may appear that human projects are made of belief in certain gods or deities, and a lot of the predicaments described in this blog can be traced back to the shift from one object of worship towards another.

Rain said...

I want to know where to submit my story for next contest. What is the process?

onething said...


Unlike JMG, I do think there are moral absolutes, that good and evil are quite simple. Therefore, I'm interested in your take on it. My take is simply this, that aggression against other beings, which involves the use of deception or violence or the threat thereof, for one's own benefit and at their expense, is what evil is.

Naturally, that does not include things like taking a life in order to eat. I'm talking about aggrandizement of one's self via the practice of diminishing what is rightfully someone else's.

And actually, taking more than what nature can provide is a form of it.

zentao said...

Dear John Michael,

I always like to start off with a bit of home-made distilled spirits followed by 5 minutes of Running Man and then a solid chaser of Blazing Saddles...

Although the elites have a real tendency to end of over-crowded as long as the proles are in the right position hopefully they can end up not getting caught up in the gears...

Denys said...

Your observation of kids and divorce.....the parents are divorce are not OK either. I was in a workshop where people shared biggest regrets and divorcing the spouse of their child was the greatest. These adults realized it was their own issues that drove them away from their partner, or their partner away from them. The process of divorce and custody was years and years of pain, regret, remorse and loss. In a time of such relative peace and prosperity over the past 30 years in the US we seem to have created our own personal dramas.

Janet D said...

@Unknown. I agree on the "population thing" (BTW, I didn't read JMG's comment back to you as critical, just more as honest questioning). For me, it's one of the main reasons I stopped participating or being interested in any of the Abrahamic religions (not looking to start a debate here). I don't hesitate, in the rare circumstance for this subject to arise with anyone, to calmly and kindly state that I think it's immoral for a religion to encourage reproduction beyond replacement levels. It's a very, very small thing "to do" (besides giving money to population-related charities) and it's definitely not always a pleasant conversation that follows, but to me, it's important to put that thought out there. Population size WILL be controlled. We're just choosing the unconscious, ugly way, e.g. having outside forces greatly reduce it through miserable means.

John Michael Greer said...

Avery, true enough. I also think of the way that second wave feminism was transformed from a movement that actually questioned many of the basic presuppositions of modern society into a movement to convince middle class white women to embrace roles previously assigned to middle class white men.

Denys, I have very mixed feelings about them, and since Stewart Brand has rather too much to do with them -- and his descent from environmentalist to nuclear-industry media whore has been very troubling for this former Coevolution Quarterly reader to watch -- I don't follow them closely.

Scotlyn, I honestly wish that Pratchett had taken the time to write some serious fantasy. He was good enough to have shaken the genre out of its doldrums.

Denys, no argument there. The hours I spent in the public schools were, of all the hours of my life so far, the most completely wasted -- and by and large the most miserable as well; and yes, I know that the schools have gotten much worse since I escaped.

Candace, if you have the chance, you might have a look at my book Green Wizardry, which covers some of the options for disengaging. Don't worry about what other people think, by the way -- by and large, they don't.

David, well, we'll have to disagree, as I think you're missing a great deal of what Tolkien put in the trilogy -- and yes, I'm quite clear on the difference between his work and the trash churned out by the Tolkien-imitation industry after his death. As for Morris, again, I'm quite familiar with News from Nowhere, but his fantasy novels are to my mind far more important -- which may well be why they've been shoved into the memory hole so comprehensively. The Well at the World's End in particular is a profoundly political book, and embodies a critique of political socialism that gains immense force from the fact that its author was critiquing it from inside.

Das Monde, almost anything can be turned into a version of the War Against Change if you simply tinker with it enough!

Wolfbay, glad to hear it.

Steve, I'll see if I can chase down a copy sometime.

Brian, I disagree that most people are reactionary by default. There are times in which that's true, and times when it's not -- and the saturation of the media by the War Against Change makes me think that a lot of people right now are interested in change, and those who benefit from the lack of change may just be nervously aware of this.

RCW, testimony for the opposing position duly noted.

Howard, interesting. I didn't know that -- I haven't read the series.

N Montesano, indeed it was. Coll son of Collfrewr, if my memory serves me right -- and I loved those books, too.

Patricia, I sometimes think it's precisely that people have an uncomfortable awareness of just how close we are to crisis that so many of them get so uncomfortable when the subject is mentioned.

Myriad, okay, in that sense I'm not going to argue. I think, though, that a new American fascism is going to find its options very sharply constrained by the fact that even with a lot of the graft and fossilization removed, the US doesn't have anything like the resources left to play the role it played in the 20th century.

John Michael Greer said...

Ozark (slightly out of order), no, I don't tend to read series until they're finished and I know what I'm letting myself in for.

Steve, I ain't arguing.

Dagnarus, that makes sense. Factor in the reality that every human society is made up of irrational actors and the appeal of a despot who will make people do what they think they ought to do anyway is even easier to understand.

Unknown, here again, calling for a public discussion of reproductive rights is nothing new; that's been being proposed since the 1960s, with zero results. Talk, as Zen masters like to say, does not cook the rice, and trying to start a conversation that nobody else is interested in having may take a prize for least productive action ever in a world on the brink of cascading crisis.

Notes, okay, a friend of mine who's literate in Chinese has mentioned "Fox Volant of Snowy Mountain," which I assume is the same book you've mentioned. I've wanted to take in some Chinese gungfu fiction for a while now, and will put Jin Yong on the get-to list.

Unknown, somehow I managed to miss that song!

Bob, exactly. After the Second World War, when the US was left with the only significant industrial plant that hadn't been pounded by bombs, we could export to the rest of the world because we were the only game in town. These days, most of what we export is raw materials, for the reasons you've noted -- and you're right, also, that that's not likely to change.

Roger, I have a very mixed read on that. My parents divorced when I was ten, and that was very hard to live through; my wife's parents remained married until her mother died, and she feels that a divorce would probably have been better for all concerned, especially her and her siblings. That said, today's culture of entitlement and instant gratification very likely leads to a lot of bad marriages and a lot of equally bad divorces.

Bob, exactly. If Sanders gets into office, his capacity to do much of anything will be minimal unless he agrees to go along with business as usual -- and if he does so, his election won't matter.

DeVaul, the movies were total garbage. It's pretty common for movies to be worse than the books they were based on, but in my opinion, Peter Jackson took that to new lows. The prophecy you mention? That's not in the books; Jackson stuck it in there, along with a lot of other idiotic tinkerings. (Note for the Tolkien-literate: "Peter u bagronk sha pushdug Jackson-glob bubhosh skai.") The books themselves are considerably more thoughtful -- admittedly this wouldn't be hard -- but problematic, as I've suggested, for other reasons.

Jean-Vivien, good. The habit of consigning nature to the past, to be viewed through a nostalgic haze, is one of the prime delusions of our age.

Rain, the details are toward the bottom of this post.

Zentao, whatever floats your boat!

Fabian said...

John Michael,

Your revisionist take on the Lord of the Rings and critique of Tolkien’s politics remind me a lot of The Last Ringbearer , by a Russian paleontologist named Kirill Yeskov. It’s available as a free download here. Even though I am a great fan of Tolkien and actually agree with a lot of his political views (I consider myself a paleoconservative with strong traditionalist leanings), I also believe in the value of dissensus and exploring different alternatives and points of view. It’s one of the best fanfics out there and well worth taking the time to read.

Michael Aquino (yes, that Michael Aquino) also had a very interesting fanfic portraying events of the Silmarillion and the Lord of the Rings from the perspective of the “bad guys”, including Melkor, Sauron and the Witch-King of Angmar. It used to be available as a free PDF through Aquino’s personal website, but print and ebook versions can be ordered via the Evil Empire and other online sources.

Denys said...

"Do I hear 8%? Bobby Jindal?"

Comments show that author isn't alone either.

Denys said...

Have you seen the reports of small towns in CA without water because the towns' wells don't reach as far down as the large farmers? They set up water stations for people to get water to bring back to their homes. Homes with zero running water. What??? If a home owner or renter didn't pay a water bill and got service discountinued , the home would be considered uninhabitable and the local gov would kick them out. Guess local gov can't kick people out because there is nowhere to go with water?? Crazy.

Kutamun said...

A lot of the dialogue here seems to be looking for a mythic narrative to transpose over a failed political system to try and revivify it to produce a better world . I guess since the fall of Communism a lot of washed up marxists are skulking around here out on the green fringes to try and piece something back together for another assault on Mt Doom . What would serve best ? LOTR , Narnia , Potter , Dune , Madmax , Enders Game , Earthsea or Foundation ?. It seems to me to be something of a bear pit to view these fables purely in collective , materialistic terms . I think they are mostly alchemical tales that encourage the reader , each and every one of us to clean up our own individual kingdoms , melt , the ring , reforge the sword, depose the dark lord or what have you . If everyone did this , some new and worthwhile movement would follow in its train in short order .
Some lefties would see this no doubt as too individual and narcissistic , but there it is . The Potter tales seem to inspire the most revulsion i believe because they perhaps focus too closely on one individual , rather than saving the entire planet , which is not what uncle Karl recommended . Mr Potter also suffers much scorn for taking the mickey out of people who practice magic , and there are just as many among them who take themselves too seriously as there are in any other social milieu .
When too many internal individual Hitler / Dark Lords are in power , an external one ( in person or ideology) is guaranteed to appear . No point pretending our politics or systemic condition is anything other than a reflection of us collectively , which in turn is a group of individuals .

Janet D said...

@ JMG, who said to Avery, " I also think of the way that second wave feminism was transformed.....into a movement to convince middle class white women to embrace roles previously assigned to middle class white men"

Thank you. I have thought much the same for years. You should have seen some of the reactions I received when I decided to quit my career to stay home to raise my kids (hint: the kindest was the accusation that I was "setting women back"). That's when I realized modern feminism had devalued the feminine role (and worth) as much as any misogynistic men ever had.

re: random notes on the increasing speed of collapse...staring me in the face every day. The West is ON FIRE....EVERYWHERE. We were headed to Kamiah, ID next week to attend the Nez Perce Pow Wow - a spectacular thing. Or it would be, if ALL of Kamiah were not entirely either in flames (12,000 acres uncontrolled currently) or waiting to be evacuated. Same story in so, so many places in CA, WA, OR, ID, AK, and MT right now.

People here in Kennewick (SE WA) were all up in arms this week petitioning the Irrigation District to "get water from the Columbia" (no, let's not get rid of our lawns....let's just take more water from ever-shrinking rivers!) due to all the water restrictions we've had, until they were told we would have to build a $150 million pumping station and face years of litigation (with the related costs) to pull ANY water from that mighty river. People just can't believe that they can't have what they want when they want it.

Sigh. Think I'll go switch to CNN to see what entertaining thing "the Donald" has to say tonight. At least the clown show can be mildly amusing at times.

nuku said...

Re population reduction/control: I’ve already done my bit. I have no offspring out of choice, not because I wanted to save the planet, but out of personal desire for freedom of action, not wanting the economic/emotional responsibility of children, and not feeling any instinctual drive to “pass on my genes.” At age 70, I‘ve never felt any regret or sense of loss, but that’s not to say that for many folks having kids is a deeply felt necessary part of a “complete life” both on the individual psychological level and on the social level (in most societies not having kids, or even just having one, puts you on the fringe).

There’s obviously a built-in survival of the species instinct going on; making babies is about the easiest thing anybody can do, and having sex is inherently pleasurable. No intelligence or ability of any kind is required beyond having the basic functional physical apparatus. On the other hand, NOT making babies requires some degree of thought and self-control. So there’s a strong bias towards population increase. Except for religious communities like nun/monks and Shakers, I would hazard the guess that ALL societies who control their population numbers do so in response to environmental pressure, and usually these societies exist in places like islands or circumscribed geographical areas where the environmental limits are obvious.

In the real world of peak everything, IMHO, it is total no-brainer that world population will decline either with through voluntary action on the part of individuals, govt control as in China’s one child policy, or the more brutal/chaotic effects of starvation and climate change. Population decline WILL happen; how is an open question.

I personally applaud your suggestion that a discussion is a good idea, but I have absolutely no faith that world population decline will happen in an orderly/rational manner.

Jo said...

@ Scotlyn, Terry Pratchett's later works are some that I go back to over and over again. 'Thud' which tackles the problem of religious fanaticism, and 'Snuff' with its themes of slavery, and how we treat 'the other' in society, whoever they are, well, both of them are genius and make me feel like I want to be a better person. Oh, and the Tiffany Aching series - every time I don't want to walk the second mile, but do anyway, it's partly because of my religious upbringing and commitment to doing the right thing, and partly because that's what proper witches do:) Also, the concept that what makes witches properly witchy is that they really SEE what is going on rather than just following the herd. Prompts a certain amount of thoughtfulness in my daily life. (Bear in mind what I know about proper witches would fit among the tea leaves in the bottom of a teacup) I think Pratchett's genius is to take a really useful concept for living a good life, and wrap it up in such dry, hilarious prose that it sticks in your head to pop out at the very moment it is needed.

And to tie this comment back into this post - uncomfortable change is a real part of the plot lines of Pratchett novels. They often end with the characters having been faced with various inconvenient truths, and by the end of the series the Discworld society is significantly different to what it was in the beginning..

Cherokee Organics said...


Very interesting and the same thing holds true of politics here as well. The carry on over the past few weeks down here in that realm has been almost infantile. It is embarrassing to watch.

I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the story: Little, big. One of the many points of interest in that story for me was how with all of the changes during the story and particularly at the end, turned all of the existing social status and arrangements on their heads.

On a serious note, I had to read the story a few times to actually make head or tails of it as it was complex and many layered story whilst at the same time presenting a very simple story. At the time, I wasn't sure whether I wasn't investing too many brain cells towards the story, but from hindsight, I reckon that more would be revealed now from another reading.

However, Conan is holding my attention right now and honestly, I'd completely given up on fantasy stories in recent years but this one is seriously hard to put down.

Have you received any updates from the publisher as to when your latest fiction book (?) is going to be published?



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Phil,

Thanks very much for the update from your part of the world on last week’s blog.

You may be able to protect your worms from the rats by employing galvanised steel or food safe plastics such as polyethylene? Dunno. The rats are unable to get into the worm farm here - thankfully.

Nice work with the urine and wood ash, both are excellent soil additives. Good work!

Mate, the cherries are virtually done here by the end of January (your July), so enjoy those fruits! Yum!

Too funny about the running around the fells (which I assume is hills). Living on the side of a hill means that such activities lack a certain, well, shall we say, charm? Hehe! A slow and steady amble up the hill doesn't leave you feeling knocked out!



roseredloon said...

JMG, Regarding your observation that the reference point is either assumed, implied,or ignored in discussion of conservation, progress, and change (from what, towards what), I am reminded of this cartoon:



Bob Patterson said...

For an interesting fictionalized version of the Catherine Fitts/J.M. Greer/J.H. Kunsttler/ Naomi Klien potulated future, check out "The Perip[eral" by William Gibson.

streamfortyseven said...

There's no War Against Change, there's only the Preservation of the Status Quo, and everybody is involved in it, until at some point, they aren't, and then the change is sudden, arising from the most unlikely catalyst - the murder of a priest in Poland, four people with candles walking in the evening in Berlin in East Germany, a street vendor self-immolating in Tunisia. And no Establishment opinion poll can predict it, there's just a general loss of faith in the ideals which hold that society together. The indoctrination loses hold as the institutions which produce the indoctrination lose all credibility and moral force. The Vietnam War was lost because the US Army ceased to fight the Viet Cong and NVA, and started fighting its own officers; schools churn out an entire generation with unmarketable degrees and lifelong crushing debt; political campaigns and parties are no longer treated with interest, but derision - hence the Republican Clown Car Crew and the spectacle of Obama and Clinton and Bush, and the Corporate Shill Congress, utterly disconnected from the people who pay for it all. Public schools enact draconian and utterly insane policies, shackling and drugging students, and shipping them off to juvie jail for the least infraction, police murder at will with absolute impunity, and on and on.

This can't continue, in no society in the historical record has this ever continued - and the end is totally unpredictable as to the incident which brings about the paradigm shift.

By the time I'd got around to trying to read Tolkien, I'd already read Jacques Maritain and Chesterton and Lunn and John Henry Newman, so Tolkien was pretty pale in comparison - I couldn't see the attraction for Tolkien amongst the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, Teresa D'Avila and San Juan de la Cruz would have been better choices, but they require work. Of course, at that time none of the scandals which have destroyed the credibility of the Church, leading to a closer examination of early Church history on my part, had seen the light of day. There's always this business of knowing the tree by its fruits, although D'Avila and de la Cruz remain universally valid.

As for moral absolutes, I offer this: "That which you hate, do not do to your neighbor. That contains the Torah and the prophets, now go study." - and on a deeper level you realize, of course, that you *are* your neighbor.

Bob Patterson said...

Article about the amazing rise of Jeremy Corbyn (the U.K.'s "Bernie Sanders"0

Bob Patterson said...

Article about collapse of Texas frackin

Greg Belvedere said...

The exclusion of The Scouring of the Shire from the LOTR movies was disgraceful, especially since they could have easily fit it in if they left out the slow motion reunion scenes at the end.

Thomas Daulton said...

Hola, JMG,
Just expressing solidarity, that Cooper's "Dark Is Rising" series was hugely influential on my youth as well. On the positive side, besides the breathtaking literary imagery, it fostered in me an appreciation that magic arises from nature and nonhuman agencies, (not a wizard bending the Laws of Physics to his personal whim), that magic awaits under every rock and around any corner. It also emphasized that everyone has something to contribute to a team, unlike the more individualistic techno-fantasy stories so common in American culture now. (Contrast the first few books of the series with the execrable movie version of the first book, to see how Hollywood worships the "Chosen-One-Charismatic-Leader" prophesy. On second thought, if you didn't already know that a movie version existed, please forget I said anything. Don't touch that abomination of a movie with a 10-foot pole.)
So it was a bit difficult to read your criticism of Cooper, but I have to admit that I have noticed "The War on Change" in most of the popular fiction across all genres lately. Even my beloved Star Trek - the most common episode plot falls into that category. And Trek is one of the better examples. After the series gained momentum, at least they made a regular effort to understand why the dangerous stranger (alien) wants change, and to think if there might be any safe compromise. Most of the other popular sci-fi has not been nearly as visionary nor predictive. Many people have discussed why dystopias have been more popular than utopias recently, but I think you have hit on part of the answer. For 30 years or so, sci-fi has been terrified of proposing radical changes in society and depicting them in a positive light (except for the bland assumption that technology will continue to solve more and more problems of a strictly materialistic type.) Much of the modern fantasy and sci-fi I read lately has fallen into the mold of "If we allow this change in society, and push it ad absurdio, a dystopia will result, and nobody wants a dystopia." (I'm certainly guilty of writing dystopian fiction myself.) Ray Bradbury once said, "I don't write to predict the future. I write to avert it."
As for Tolkien, like most works of classical art (of sufficient complexity and subtlety), IMHO his books have become a Rohrschach blot upon which people loudly project their own biases and desires, telling us less about the artist's intentions and more about themselves.

Unknown said...

I honestly wish that Pratchett had taken the time to write some serious fantasy. He was good enough to have shaken the genre out of its doldrums.

As a fellow fantasy lover, have you read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? Or Robin Hobb's books? Her Forest Mage series in particular I think you'd really enjoy.

team10tim said...

hey hey JMG,

Talk about population control. There is one example. The Chinese started their one child policy after one of their ministers was exposed to limits to growth. It's one of the very few examples of rational thinking about the future that I know of.


Michael said...

While I share your outlook that the future will inevitably involve a kind of going Amish to survive, I also believe in staving off as much evil as possible. Currently, Senator Sanders seems the best hope for that. Obviously (as we have seen with Obama) he cannot do that alone -- many people will have to be elected out of Congress in an electoral revolution -- but I prefer to hope that some good may still be done in the political realm.

UnhingedBecauseLucid said...

["I’ve noted before, for that matter, the weird divergence between the eagerness of the mainstream to talk about anthropogenic global warming and their utter unwillingness to talk about peak oil and other forms of resource depletion."]

That is the single, [creepily] strangest thing about the situation that is driving me completely nuts...

I think you should devote an entire post on this matter alone because the "going out of their way to avoid it" is getting pretty weird...

August Johnson said...

Yet more echoes of the run-up to 1929:

American stocks keep rolling with the punches.

Once you've read Galbraith's 1929, this feels eerie.

Phil Harris said...

@ Cherokee

Thanks for continuing our conversation; our host permitting!

Our worm composting had some close calls over the 18 years from when I was given a colony as part of my ‘leaving-present’ from my original work. (smile)

We used/use a 330 litre ‘compost bin’ supplied by local council at low cost and sited it in the shelter of an orchard on some recycled galvanised wire mesh to keep out the rodents. It is not ideal and really needs some insulation over the winter and some young rats broke in twice and once I put in a small dead rabbit – the toxic H2S nearly extinguished the worm colony. Still it does for all our kitchen waste as we eat mostly veggies and use very little meat. We put in straw that helps keep the compost not too soggy for the worms. They survived anyway.

We cheered ourselves this last week by eating only (almost) food we have grown ourselves. A small fraction of what we would need in the way of calories for a year of course – we buy grains and legumes – but it inspired us to greater things! Potatoes with beans (Vicia faba still in green pods) and lots of leaf veggies and our own fruit made it kind of special. Herbs helped.

Fell-running like wrestling was a competitive sport for young shepherds back in the day. They could run across the high rough-grazing grounds. Nowadays it is mostly lean hard-looking 35+ year-olds – not so many shepherds - some of whom also do Mountain Rescue in their spare time. At anything over 3000 feet from here north or west you are pretty much in arctic tundra, (think rescue over difficult ground), and at lower levels it is rough heather and mires mixed with a little grazing. (There are people who are trying to bring back the native trees, which would make better sense on much of the terrain than such sparse grazing habitat.)

Phil H

Chris Travers said...

One thing that is interesting about this though is that Middle Earth was intended by Tolkein to be both a critique of change and a critique of the status quo. Tolkein always said he was a Hobbit at heart, and he also said in one case that Sauron was a literary device but Saruman was the embodiment of real evil of the sort we see around us. But Saruman represents the industrialist, the progressive, the agent of industrial change, while the hobbits are rural-dwelling folk who prefer a simple life.

So you have in Tolkein the same sort of thing as in Sanders, a move to reset towards the past, using the past to critique the present. I think that's legitimate (not that I think Sanders is looking back to the right time though).

I think one thing that is happening is that we cannot know the past for sure, nor can we know the future. So sci-fi, history, etc. become ways of arguing about the present. One aspect of that narrative becomes the question of change. Is it good or bad? How to ensure change is good? These aren't easy questions.

Someone once defined history as "argument from the past." I think there is some wisdom in that.

Doug Anarino said...

You paint Bernie supporters with quite a wide brush! I did not vote for Obama or Clinton, because a casual glance at their policy statements made it obvious they were going to sell right out. I do not expect a Sanders presidency to change everything overnight, or to bring us back to some golden age - I’m just looking at a set of policies and deciding they would be a good direction for our nation to head. And I looked at his record, his personal history, and his funding sources before deciding that I trust him to do his best to implement them. What else can an engaged voter do?

I’m disappointed you didn’t take up my challenge to describe a hypothetical candidate worthy of full-fledged support. What would their platform look like exactly? How easy would it be for the media to twist up the proposals and confuse everyone?

Bernie’s platform is not radical, so could actually be adopted. He’s right though to say it will take a political revolution in the current climate, and yes, some in the movement will harbor messianic visions. But this campaign looks like a relatively harmless and maybe even helpful channel for this sort of energy - who knows where it will go if he doesn’t win and we have to go through another round of sell out?

Bob Patterson said...

Desperate for tax revenue? Chicago institutes taxes on any data downloads by any business.

latheChuck said...

Another expert who isn't quite clear on the concept:

From the Washington Post magazine, August 16, 2015, interview with Gina McCarthy, age 60, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
"I'm focused on [climate change] now because I don't think it is a doomsday scenario. I actually think we have the solutions now, which is why I think we have a better chance than ever to make that big leap forward. That's why I spend all of my time on it."

What's the most environmentally unfriendly thing you do?
"Probably the fact that I fly a lot. ... I fly back and forth a lot to visit my family in Boston because, for the most part, they don't get to Washington."

I'm very curious as to "the solutions" that she refers to.

I also wonder whether she's considered that the best passenger train service in the country runs between Washington DC and Boston, and yet, it isn't even mentioned.

Do you think she'd somehow feel less guilty about flying so much if, instead, her family flew down to see her? I hope not! (And she does mention, by the way, that she does NOT buy carbon-credits to offset her travel impact.)

latheChuck said...

Having just seen "The Lego Movie", I noticed immediately that the theme was "Bad guys want to preserve everything Just The Way It IS, while the hero struggles to preserve change and variety (dissensus). I don't see many movies, so I suspect that there were some sly references to other popular adventure movies. I really liked this one.

John Roth said...

@ Unhingedbecauselucid:

I don't find a divergence in the way people keep avoiding talking about resource depletion. They don't talk about it in the context of peak oil, and they don't talk about it in the context of climate change. People talk about climate change for several reasons. First, it's here, now. Anyone who wants to open their eyes and look can see it. Second, there's a well-funded group that's beating the drums about "we need to do something about it," even though we've sown the dragon's teeth and have no choice but to reap the harvest. Following on the second, there are a lot of ideas out there about what to do about it. They aren't going to work, of course, but saying that isn't allowed.

People don't talk about resource depletion because there aren't any solutions on the table that let people keep on with their current lifestyles. The people who talk about resource depletion are people who, for the most part, have looked the dragon in the face and accepted that the current situation isn't sustainable for anyone, including themselves.

Apropos of that, I just came from Sunday worship at my UU congregation. The sermon was on the Pope's encyclical. Reverend Christine didn't pull any punches about needing to cut our profligate lifestyles, but as far as concrete suggestions, nada.

Debra Johnson said...

JMG - Just finished reading your book, Twilight's Last Gleaming. Great story!

victorcosby said...

I thought Tolkien was more of a Christian anarchist who was resistant to changes that were destroying his cherished the English countryside: industrialism, mass society, war, fascism, centralization and abuses of power... you know, stuff we should all probably be resistant to generally if we want to have free, healthy, and open societies.

From a letter to Christopher Tolkien [from his father J.R.R. Tolkien] 29 November 1943
[In the summer of 1943, Christopher, then aged eighteen, was called up into the Royal Air Force. When this letter was written, he was at a training camp in Manchester.]
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973)
My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) – or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy.... The most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity."

Steve Douglas said...

Though I am 66, I missed the Tolkien thing entirely when it struck all my friends in the mid-60s. A friend of mine from that time still reads the trilogy every two years. I'm with you, JMG, after seeing the first film, I was done with seeing any of the others, but then I felt you would have had to have read the trilogy as often as my friend does to understand even a little bit of those movies.

What I got into instead, were the fantasy series written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which Ballantine began re-issueing about 1964. I'm not talking just about Tarzan. Burroughs wrote several other series (or a series of series, if you will) on other worlds (Mars, underneath the Earth's surface). I found these works utterly compelling, but at this great distance, I'm not exactly sure why.

So, never had any interest in Tokien, because I had Burroughs, and then I was done with fantasy worlds. So I find your analysis in your essay fascinating, but at the same time I wonder why neither you nor anyone in the comments mentions Burroughs at all. For one, he's definitely an American fantasist. I wondered if you know of Burroughs and what you think of his work.

Denys said...

Interesting local happening - local paper published the salaries of municipal employees including police for our entire county. Police make $105,000 per year base salary, plus full medical and a pension (so that would mean their cost is more like $400,000 to a municipality). The median income where I live is $34,000. This makes police officers - and teachers for that matter because their salary here is $80,000 per year - able to live in the best areas of the county, drive the nicest cars, and go on vacations (posted all on Facebook).

On Facebook under this article about salaries, people are outraged that they published employees names next to the salary numbers. They are not outraged at the amounts made. How can they not be outraged that police make 3 times over the population??? When did local municipal government employees, especially police officers, start making these kinds of salaries?? I've attended public meetings on and off the last ten years but this seems to have creeped in somehow.

jasmine Assessment said...

Dear Mr Greer

Great post but there maybe something you have overlooked. I suspect that the reason why the theme of” the war against change” has so much power over our cultural imagination is because we think we live in the greatest civilisation there ever was. Of course our civilisation has it problems like world wars and depressions, but these problems are gradually being solved because of progress. By this logic anyone who opposes progress is by definition evil. And likewise anyone who does not like our civilisation must be evil, because we are the best civilisation there has ever been.

Glenn said...

Denys said...
Interesting local happening - local paper published the salaries of municipal employees including police for our entire county. Police make $105,000 per year base salary, plus full medical and a pension {Snip!}

Same situation here in Jefferson County, WA. If you work out the numbers based on a nominal 40 hour week and 50 week year (2000 hours), it's $50 an hour, which I think is reasonable for a well educated, well trained professional. What's criminal is that the rest of us are paid so little for work requiring equal training, education and skills. I don't blame all the gov't employees, I blame the private employers and the workers who have bought into all the anti-union sentiment designed to pit worker against worker.

I think one of the most valuable things in the "Little House" books was the ideal that one was self-employed, whether as a farmer or an artisan; Pa only sought paid work when absolutely nothing else was possible. It wasn't entirely true at the time the books were set, but it was an ideal. Part of the value of it was that one wasn't the victim of the wage market, rising at the time. Of course, she who is self employed is everyone's worker, and the "price market" can be pretty brutal too. In the end, there's a lot to be said for maximum self-sufficiency, good community and as little involvement in the cash economy as practical.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

P.S. Activation Authourization Septic Inspection this morning, butchering our meat chickens tomorrow morning. A little closer to that self-sufficiency each day.

Thomas Prentice said...

Archdruid, this from today's UK Guardian: "Mass grave reveals prehistoric warfare in ancient European farming community

Shattered skulls and shin bones of 7000-year-old skeletons may point to torture and mutilation not previously observed in early Neolithic Linear Pottery culture"


As I wrote on my FB page, I REALLY did NOT want to know this. I want to retain my adulthood-generated infantile childhood belief [based on some evidence as pposed to superstitition] that small, local, tribal, agrarian, indigenous social groups were better than what we have now.

Then I ask: Is THIS what WE would be life 7,000 years ago? Are WE what THEY would be like with mass communications media and the Internet, drone bombs and nuclear weapons, killer cops and the rest today?

This is profoundly, morbidly, primevally disturbing, stunning and depressing. But maybe because the NAS study itself is 'not yet released to the public' on our TAX DOLLARS no less, it is diffult to find any evidence of anything else let alone context and a literature review outside of what the Guardian reports here.

rapier said...

Widespread prosperity is a Liberal project. Conservatives have always been against it. Prosperous, secure workers are less likely to defer to their betters, their bosses. They forget their place. They become willing to take risks. All these things are anathema in a truly conservative society which is one with a small aristocracy, a small and loyal middle and a large lower class which knows its place.

A very long term growing and prosperous middle class which was the dream and seeming reality of post WW2 America, until the first oil crisis, was in the end, as I said, a liberal project. And Conservatives opposed it for all the usual reasons, but none of the real reasons why such a thing cannot exist in a long term. Chief among the real reasons why are thermodynamic/environmental.

Still in the end Conservatives are on the right side of history, but for the wrong reasons. Still, advantage conservatives.

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