Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Retrotopia: The View from a Moving Window

This is the second installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Readers who haven’t been following The Archdruid Report for long may find it useful to remember that not everything seen along the way has a simple explanation.

From the window beside me, the Steubenville station looked like a scene out of an old Bogart vid. The platform closest to the train I was riding was full of people in outdated clothes.  Most of them wore long raincoats that didn’t look a bit like bioplastic, and all of the men and most of the women had hats on. Up above was a roof of glass and ironwork that reminded me irresistibly of the Victorian era, and let daylight down onto everything. The oddest thing about it all, though, is that I didn’t see security troops anywhere. On the other side of the border, anywhere you saw this many people together there’d be at least a squad in digital camo and flak jackets, pointing assault guns ostentatiously at the sidewalk. I remembered the guards at the border, with their clipboards, holstered revolvers, and old-fashioned uniforms, and wondered how on earth the Lakeland Republic got away with that kind of carelessness.

The train finally rolled to a stop, and doors opened. The conductor had warned us that plenty of people would be coming aboard, and he wasn’t kidding: it took better than five minutes for everyone to file onto the car where I was sitting, and by the time they’d finished coming aboard, nearly every seat was taken. The aisle seat next to me wasn’t one of the empty ones; a family with three children settled in right behind me, one child next to the mother, the second next to the father, and then Mom came up to me and asked if I minded having the oldest child sit next to me. I gestured and said, “Sure,” and a boy of maybe ten plopped into the seat. “Now you mind your manners,” the woman told him, and he rolled his eyes, sighed loudly, and said, “Yeah, Mom.”

That wasn’t too promising, but he had a book with him, and as soon as he was settled in his seat, he opened it and didn’t make another sound . I was curious enough to give the book a sidelong glance; it was called Treasure Island, and it was by somebody I’d never heard of named Robert Louis Stevenson; I made a mental note to look up the name and see if he was somebody new I should check out. He wasn’t the only kid in the car who was doing something quiet, either.  Up three rows there was a girl in a blue checked dress and a bonnet who was reading something, too, and behind me, the two kids in the immigrant family were watching everything and not saying a word, though they didn’t look quite as scared as when they boarded.

A couple of solid jolts shook the car. A moment later, I heard the voice of the conductor outside calling out, “Last call for Train Twenty to Toledo via Canton and Sandusky. All aboard!” Doors clattered, the locomotive up ahead sounded its whistle, and with another jolt the train started on its way again.

The station slid away, and I got a street-level view of half a dozen blocks of downtown Steubenville. The sense of having landed on the set of an old Bogart vid was just as strong. To judge by the couple of clocks the train passed—my veepad was still giving me a dark field and the words no signal—it was right around time for the morning commute, but there wasn’t a car to be seen anywhere; the sidewalks bustled with people, and a couple of streetcars rolled past with bells clanging and standing room only on board. The train picked up speed and left the downtown behind, but further out was more of the same: streets full of comfortable-looking houses and apartment buildings, with people walking to work or waiting at streetcar stops.

Further on the houses spread out, and big gardens sprouted all over the place, with the last fall crops visible in patches separated by stubble and brown earth.  A little further, and Steubenville blended smoothly into the same sort of farm country I’d seen since shortly after the train crossed into the Lakeland Republic. The farmhouses and barns looked well-tended, windmills spun and solar water heater panels on the roofs soaked up what sunlight came through the broken clouds, and the roads I saw were unpaved but had fresh gravel on them.

A little further, and the train passed a work gang out in one of the fields. That wasn’t surprising—back on the other side of the border, you saw prison work gangs doing labor on corporate farms all the time—but these didn’t have the slouch and the least-possible-effort sort of movement you see in convicts. They were working their way across a field, digging up turnips as energetically as if they wanted to be there, and others came behind them just as methodically and carried the turnips away in bushel baskets. It was when I noticed where they were taking the turnips that my mouth dropped open.

Just past the field was a wagon with two draft horses hitched up to it. I wondered for a moment if this was an Amish farm—we’ve got Amish in our country, quite a few of them in what used to be the state of Pennsylvania before Partition, and they’re among the few people who’ve really done well in the postwar era—but the wagon had been painted in colors that, though they’d faded, had obviously once been bright. The people in the work gang weren’t dressed in any sort of Amish kit I’d ever seen, either. I shook my head as the work gang and the wagon slipped out of sight behind the train, wondering what kind of weird place I was visiting. This was the twenty-first century, after all, not the nineteenth!

And yet it was like that all the way to Canton—or, to be more precise, it was some variation on the same theme of outdated technology and inefficient land use. All the farms were absurdly small, one to two hundred acres divided up into the sort of mixed farming that modern agriculture discarded most of a century ago, and I didn’t see any trace of modern agricultural machinery: no harvesting drones, no nitrogen injection systems, no quadruple-wide megacombines, nothing. What I did see left me baffled, not least because there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. In one place I’d see trucks driving down paved roads and tractors in the fields, and twenty or thirty miles later it would be draft horses and wagons doing the same jobs.

The train passed through I don’t know how many little towns, and those were the same way: in one I’d see paved streets and a few cars and trucks, in the next the streets were paved with brick and streetcars shared space with horsedrawn carriages, and then there were a few that had brick streets and no streetcars at all. The thing that puzzled me most, though, was that all of the towns, like nearly all the farms, seemed to be thriving. Every scrap of theory I’d learned in business school argued that small towns, like small farms, were hopelessly inefficient and couldn’t possibly support themselves in a modern economy. I’d guessed earlier in the trip that there must be subsidies involved, but this far into Lakeland Republic territory, that explanation wouldn’t wash. I reached for my veepad reflexively to make a note, remembered as I got it out of my pocket that it wouldn’t get a signal, and put it away, feeling a rush of annoyance at the metanet’s absence.

We got to Canton a little ahead of schedule, or so the conductor announced cheerfully, and stopped in the switching yard east of town to lose some freight cars, gain others, and add three more passenger cars and a dining car to the back end of the train. That went quickly, though it involved a lot of jolts and thumps, and before long we were rolling ahead into the city. Canton was a fairly big town; according to what I’d read while researching this trip, it had plenty of factories until the offshoring fad of the late twentieth century scrapped the United States’ manufacturing capacity and left the nation at the mercy of rival powers.  I’d seen the gutted hulks of old factories outside Pittsburgh and a dozen other cities on our side of the border, and assumed that I’d see the same thing here.

I didn’t. What I saw instead, as the train rolled through the outlying districts of Canton, were what looked very much like warehouses and factories open for business. There weren’t many smokestacks to be seen, but the buildings had recent coats of paint on them, boxcars were being pushed down sidings by switching engines, and a mix of trucks and big horsedrawn wagons were lumbering past on the streets. Further in, the train passed the same mix of of office buildings, apartment blocks, and stores I’d seen in Steubenville, and then we slowed and stopped at the Canton station.

That had me remembering Bogart vids again. From my window I could see at least eight platforms to one side of the train I was riding, and through the windows on the other side of the car I was pretty sure I could make out two more. Signs on the platforms noted destinations all over the Lakeland Republic—Morgantown, Bowling Green, Cairo, Madison, Sault Ste. Marie—and the place fairly bustled with passengers heading for this or that train. Some of the passengers from the car I was sitting in got their luggage and headed out into the crowds, and some others came on board, stowed their luggage, and sat down; and the weirdest thing of all was that everyone seemed perfectly comfortable doing without security troops to protect them or modern technology to take care of their needs.

The train finally got under way again, and I got more views of Canton as the track headed northwest through town. About the time the houses started to spread out and the gardens got bigger, the conductor came through the door behind me and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, breakfast service is now open in the dining car, and since so many of the people in this car have been with us since Pittsburgh, you’re first.  If you’d like to head back four cars, the dining car staff will be happy to serve you.”

Just about everyone in the car got up and filed back through the door. I didn’t. I’m one of those people who doesn’t do breakfast; if I eat anything before lunch I end up with stomach trouble. The kid next to me went with his family, and the mother of the immigrant family took her two kids back to the dining car right after them. The father of the immigrant family, though, didn’t join them. After a few minutes he and I were practically alone in the car.

I half turned in my seat, gave him what I hoped would come across as a friendly smile. “Not into breakfast?”

“Too keyed up,” he said, smiling in response. “If I ate now I’d get sick to my stomach.”

I nodded. “I couldn’t help hearing the border guard say that you’re immigrating. That sounds pretty drastic. If you don’t mind my asking, what made you do that?”

His smile vanished, replaced by a wary look. “The wife has family in Ann Arbor,” he said. “They’re sponsoring us, and I got a job offer when we visited this summer. It seems like a good move.”

“Even though you have to give up modern technology?”

The wary look gave way to something that looked uncomfortably like contempt. “Technology? Like what?”

“Well, veepads and the metanet, to start with.”

By this point it was definitely contempt. “Big loss. I can’t afford any of that keech anyway.”

“Why not? You’ve got as much chance as anyone. Work hard, and—”

His expression said “whatever” more clearly than words, and he turned toward the window and away from me.

“No,” I said. “Seriously. I want to understand.”

He turned back to face me. “Yeah? Did you hear my wife start crying there at the border, once they checked our papers?” I nodded, and he went on. “You know why she started crying? Because she’s been working three different jobs, sixty hours a week plus, to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table—and before you start thinking something stupid, mister, I’ve been working more hours than her since before we got married. This is the first time she’s had anything to look forward to but that kind of schedule or worse for the rest of her life, until one of us gets too sick to work and we get chucked onto the street or into the burbs.”

“And you think you’ll be that much better off here?”

He gave me a baffled look, and then laughed a short hard laugh. “You haven’t been here before.”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Then open your eyes and take a good plutting look around.” He turned back to the window, and I knew better than to try to continue the conversation.

The landscape rolled by. We were in farm country again, the same patchwork landscape of little farms and little towns, with the same weird incongruities between one place and another. I was paying more attention this time, so I noticed some of the other differences: paved roads, gravel roads, and dirt roads; in some places, streetcars and local rail service, and none of these things in others; towns that had streetlights and others that didn’t. At one point west of Canton, as the train rattled across a bridge, I looked down and honest to God, there were canal boats going both ways on a canal, each one with a mule pulling the towrope as though it was two hundred years ago and the Erie Canal was still in working order.

With my veepad useless, I didn’t have anything to do but watch the landscape roll by. The people who’d gone to breakfast trickled back a few at a time, and the conversation I’d just had with the immigrant replayed over and over again in my mind. Of course I knew perfectly well that things were pretty hard for the poor back home, and the statistics that got churned out quarter after quarter showing steady economic improvement were strictly public relations maneuvers—there been a modest upturn after the Treaty of Richmond was signed and the last closed borders between the North American republics opened up, but the consequences of the Second Civil War and the debt crisis that followed it still weighed down hard on everybody.

It’s one thing to have some more or less abstract idea that times are tough, though, and something else to hear it in the voice of someone who’d been on the losing end of the economy all his life. I started to reach for my veepad to look up honest stats on the job market back home—those weren’t easy to find if you didn’t have connections, but that wasn’t a problem for me—and caught the motion just before my hand reached my pocket. What did people do in the Lakeland Republic, I wondered irritably, when they wanted to make a note of something or look up a fact?

I stared out the window, and after a while—the train was most of the way to Sandusky by then—noticed something that made the crazy quilt pattern of old technologies on the landscape a little clearer and a lot more puzzling. The train had slowed a little, and crossed a road at an angle. The road was paved on one side and dirt on the other; I could see tractors in the middle distance off to the left, where the paved road started, and draft horses closer by on the right. Just where the pavement began was a sign that read Welcome to Huron County.

That got me thinking back over the landscape the train had crossed since the border, and yes, the breaks between one set of technology and another worked out to something like county-line distances. That made me shake my head. Had the Lakeland Republic somehow divvied up the available technology by county, so that some counties got the equivalent of twentieth century infrastructure and others got stuck with the nineteenth-century equivalent? That sounded like political suicide, unless the Republic was a lot more autocratic than the briefing papers I’d read made it sound. Then, of course, there was the fact that the farmhouses and farm towns in the nineteenth-century counties looked just as prosperous, all things considered, as their equivalents in the twentieth-century counties, and that made no sense at all. The farmers with more technology should have outproduced the others, undercut them in price, and driven them out of business in no time.

Huron County slid past the window. Farmland dotted with little towns gave way to a midsized town, which I guessed was the county seat, and then to farmland and little towns again. After a while, the conductor stepped through the door behind me and called out, “Next stop, Sandusky.” A few minutes later, the train swung around a wide curve to the left, and ran just back of the shores of Lake Erie. Off in the distance, at a steep angle ahead, Sandusky’s buildings could be seen rising up above the flat line of the landscape, but that wasn’t what caught my gaze and held it.

Out maybe a quarter mile from shore was a big schooner with three masts, white sails bellying out ahead of the wind. It wasn’t anybody’s luxury yacht, that was for sure; from stem to stern, it looked every inch a working boat. From the direction it was headed, I guessed it must have left Sandusky harbor not long before, and was headed east toward the locks around Niagara Falls, or just possibly toward Erie or Buffalo—since the Treaty of Richmond, I knew, we’d been importing agricultural products from the Lakeland Republic, though I’d never bothered to find out how they got to us. I sat there and watched the ship as it swept past, wondering why they hadn’t done the obvious thing and entrusted their shipping to modern freighters instead. What kind of strange things had been going on here during the years when the Lakeland Republic was locked away behind closed borders?


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Max Osman said...

The part where the immigrant swears broke my immersion. Swear words generally are the most conservative of all words but plutting is used in 2029? Otherwise I like it alot.

John Roth said...

Interesting observation about the county-level shift in tech levels. I take it all this was decided by some variation on democratic process?

zoidion said...

Ah yes -- the continuing cluelessness of Car(r) culture.

Dylan said...

The robins are flocking, tomatoes are bursting off the vine, and the Archdruid gifts us a lovely trip down anticipation lane. Harvest season feels plentiful this year.

Eric Backos said...

Dear Mr. Greer, Your Grace, &c.
Our little supper club is going swimmingly, and our reading lists have improved dramatically under your good influence. Discussing Dune and The Blood of the Earth while under the heady influence of fizzy brown sugar water is on this week’s trestle board. Thank you for posting the previous advertisements on your forum. As you suggested, I registered on Alas, I was too late for this week and I hope you could hang our green light in your forum again.
Faithfully yours
The Members of GWB&PA Chapter 440 and Ruinmen’s Local 440

Eric Backos said...

The weekly joint meeting of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Chapter Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 will be held at 6:30 PM on Thursday, September 3, 2015 at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, 9434 Mentor Avenue, Mentor, Ohio, 44060. Splendorem Lucis Viridis! Public Welcome! Tables for Failed Scholars.

Doctor Westchester said...


Off topic for this wonderful post, but perhaps very relevant to our current political situation - perhaps critically so in the near future. Can you recommend a book that has (at least half of) the readability of Galbraith's The Great Crash, 1929 but deals with rise of fascism in the 1930s in Italy and/or Germany? I looked though your posts on fascism and found you suggesting books that were very valuable, but don't seem to exactly to fit the bill for what I would want to recommend.

Peter VE said...

I look forward to the Northeast Republic. Will I see it in my lifetime? Maybe not, but the 6 New England states are about the right size after the Empire goes down.
Maybe I should move back to the town I grew up in outside of Cleveland. We were in the first sweep of auto suburbs after the war, and our neighborhood still had a lot of the apple trees from the orchard it had been until the late '40s. Since then, however, the corn fields to our east have all been swept away and polluted with lawn chemicals and endless tract housing.
Recently I've been visiting a small town on the border of Lakeland, and it seems to be reviving slowly. Part of the revival is the tube mill, which has been running full blast spinning drill pipe for fracking, but there are other signs of hope.

Ángel said...

Great story, I'm really enjoying these series of yours. Narrative is such a powerful way of explaining things.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the universe, another type of narrative...
Our Next Home

Bob Wise said...

We seem to be on a train ride from our times into an ecotechnic future. Here's hoping we get there for real.
-- Bob Wise

Gordon Cutler said...

This series is such a delight---looking forward to the book!

Plato would have banned poets from his ideal republic. I would ban business schools ... and economics departments [would allow, though, finance and economics to be topics in classes on psychopathology] and corporations. Do they exist in Lakeland? Or are they rightly objects of intellectual autopsy by a latter-day Kraft-Ebing and his grad assistants?

You're a national and cultural treasure, John. Long may your digits dance to the music of your erudition on the keyboard of your choice!

Gordon Cutler said...

Oh dear, my first typo here: it's Krafft-Ebing. I'll spare everyone his full name which is long enough for 3 or 4 people ... ;-)

Doctor Westchester said...


It is very amusing that our clueless narrator truly believe that the farmers with "advanced" technology will out produce and drive out of business farmers with more "primitive" technology, when there is a big fat counter example right in his backyard - those charming, total backwards Amish - who, err, are doing really well, unlike almost anyone else who isn't an elite...

Looking forward to next week.

Ing said...

I foraged tonight's chapter for themes to meditate on and came away with the question "What do I outsource?" particularly relating to fear and protection and the word reclamation. Thank you.

pygmycory said...

where do they find the tall, straight trees needed for masts of tall ships? Or do they make the masts of something else?

It looks at first glance like each County picks its own technology level, and their choices vary dramatically. That's my guess, at any rate. Carr's right that differences like that would be difficult to enforce against the will of the people living there.

One thing I wondered: are there any bicycles?

An intriguing second chapter.

RepubAnon said...

Ah, the evil straw-man technology versus the good guy small garden farmers!

The end of the story will no doubt talk about sustainability. Yes, big mega-farms with artificially-produced fertilizers and lots of pesticide use can produce more per acre than smaller farms ... but only so long as there is cheap oil to run the machinery and use as a base for manufacturing the fertilizers and pesticides. Like any other Ponzi Scheme, once the supply of new resources dries up, the pyramid collapses.

For what it's worth, it's the techno side of this story that I find unbelievable. More believable to me would be a more feudal scenario, with a few mega-rich owners with largely robotic farms, guarded by kill-bots, and populated by the mega-rich (the nobles), a small paramilitary force (the knights) running the robotic defenses, some status-symbol servants (skilled chefs, etc.), and everyone else starving outside the walls.

Cherokee Organics said...


Exactly, everthing in the story is human scaled, repairable and maintainble. All makes a whole lot of sense really. Unless of course your status and wealth is of the rentier class, then the story is probably abhorent. ;-)!

Incidentally, I'm always surprised that no one seems to notice just how hard people have to work nowadays to stay afloat. It is very weird.

The other thing that stands out to me is the reporters mental insistence upon competition and putting other businesses out of business as a good thing - without the least thought for the people involved. As you know, I work at the pointy end of my profession and I have often quipped to my customers that I'm not in the business of putting them out of business. Such unrestrained (and massively uneven - despite economists claims of a level playing field) competition is a self defeating activity which only brings short term gains and long term losses.

The recent economic outlooks and statistics here and also across the developed world are taking a slow nose dive.

I like the Lakeland place that you've imagined in your story!



PS: A really cute, but very sick Koala Bear turned up Sunday lunchtime - right to my front door. I spotted a rare and endangered owl and took on the flat pack rubbish stores singlehandedly! Lots of cool photos and I also tell the story of the little lost Koala Bear.

PPS: The Koala has since died this morning. May the little visitor rest in peace.

jean-vivien said...

Dear Mr Archdruid,
director Wes Craven died at 76 last week. His horror movies were both good in their genre, and dealt with the constraints of their genre with some sort of self-reflecting humor. But he died at a time when it would be hard for a horror movie to outdo reality, either in horror or in dark humour.
Here in wealthy Europe, we face three alternatives : watching the horrible news (in Iraq, on our lands...) in morbid fascination, completely shuttering it out to try to keep on living daily life, or trying bravely to walk off the beaten tracks away from conventional visions that are now proving their limits and inanity in the face of challenge more than ever. I guess it's pretty much the same for the denizens of the USA right now.
As I commented here on your previous post, I find your piece of fiction touching, well-written, and well constructed... but not very convincing from the perspective of where I live, outside the US. Yet you do deserve credit for trying the third of the three alternatives, and since it goes off the well-trodden tracks, there are as many ways to do it as there are individuals. Your attitude is very inspiring, especially at a time when inspiration comes in rather short supply.

I need not point out that, even when it has to feature news which will probably be remembered as some of the Horrors of the 21st century, the Reuters website still links to pieces like this one :
You should go and beat up some of those journalists on the head with your wisdom stick if you have one. Or many, for I doubt that only one would suffice till they would wisen up. At a time like this, when you are a reporting journalist, there is no excuse for not questionning one's views of reality.

Ben said...

Enjoying it!

John Michael Greer said...

Max, it's 2065, not 2029, and swear words do change from time to time, especially in times of serious social change.

John, stay tuned!

Zoidion, Dylan, and Eric, thank you and you're welcome!

Doctor W., I wish I knew of one. Most of the histories of fascism I've encountered are very heavy slogging.

Peter, that's the Republic of New England and the Maritimes, and aside from the awkward fact that New England gets hurricanes fairly regularly in 2065, and low-lying sections of Providence and Boston have had to be abandoned to the rising seas, they're doing pretty well.

Ángel, thank you. That magazine cover is a wonderful example of clueless hubris!

Bob, depends on what each of us chooses to do here and now.

Gordon, I'm not yet sure what Carr's going to find in terms of higher education. I'm quite sure a complete lack of appreciation for the faith-based delusions of economistws will be there, but exactly how that'll take shape is quite another matter...

Doctor W., excellent! Keep an eye out for contradictions of that sort; they're common enough nowadays, and I'm sure they'll be just as common in 2065.

Ing, also excellent. That's a useful theme for meditation.

Pygmycory, stay tuned!

RepubAnon, haven't you noticed yet that your future fantasy has no small resemblance to what's on the eastern side of the border? Not all possible futures correspond to the usual poorly informed modern stereotype of feudalism, you know.

Cherokee, most sorry to hear about the koala. Poor critter. As for "human scaled, repairable and maintainable" -- exactly. The connection between that fact and the evident prosperity of the countryside is not accidental. More soon!

jean-vivien said...

@ Ángel :
I have seen the cover of the magazine telling us to go live on the moon... at this point it bears asking two questions to the journalists who designed that piece of art :
1.- if it's such a good idea, what are you actually doing to bring it into the realms of possibility, except for designing glossy magazine covers ?
2.- is this such a good idea ? Because in spite of the gloss, Our Next Home looks after all rather ugly : dreary bleak grey landscapes more uniform than the views expressed on Faux News.

beneaththesurface said...

DC area Archdruid Report readers:

I would like to organize an informal gathering of AR readers/Green Wizards in the Washington, DC area.

If you are interested, please send an email to me at rwhite at fastmail dot fm

I'm thinking probably late September or sometime in October at a place in the DC area that is easily accessible without a car.

When I was traveling a few months ago, I attended the AR gathering in Red Hook, NY, and I'm inspired to organize something similar where I live.

jonathan said...

bogart! hats! trains that run on time! quiet, well behaved kids! r.l. stevenson! dining cars! small farms! horses! did i mention bogart? and hats? not caps mind you, but real hats: fedoras, derbies, skimmers, panamas, porkpies and borsalinos!
i've got my pleated pants, my hats and my wife looks just a bit like lauren bacall. i'm in cascadia, not lakeland but even so, i'm ready.

Stephen Heyer said...

pygmycory : “One thing I wondered: are there any bicycles?”

Yes, I was thinking the same thing. Going from the first half of the twentieth century I would have expected lots and lots of bicycles, in fact, given the bicycle technology developed in the second half I would have expected lots of rather good bikes.

Remember, lots of even quite advanced technology can be readily reproduced in quite modest, energy efficient, even animal powered, production facilities, especially once you know how to do it.

For the same reason I would have expected lots of electrically powered mopeds. They are actually great for getting around once you have gotten the SUVs off the road (sorry madam, we need your SUV for military patrols and as for getting your children to and from school, soccer, ballet or whatever, get them bikes like everyone else) and banned trucks from the towns except between midnight and 6AM like the ancients did.

Stephen Heyer

Bike Trog said...

Today I finished reading The Postman by David Brin and remembered the author was mentioned here. The comments on his blog about your blog are very entertaining. He made a big deal about vat grown meat, which sounds like something Mr. Carr's country would try.

jbucks said...

Slightly related: just saw this article today about a Viking school being set up in Norway which teaches traditional skills. From the article:

Students at Seljord Folkehøgskule, a college 90 miles west of Oslo, are embarking on a new programme to learn traditional Viking skills such as sword forging, jewellery making and roof thatching, as well as the essential art of axe-throwing.

Using the drawing power of Viking history to get people interested in learning these kinds of skills is not a bad idea.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I was giggling at "some new author" and "how do these people take notes?" but then I reminded myself that this episode is set approximately 110 years after the year in which I learned to read. Going back the other way, I probably don't know very much about the novels people were reading in 1846, or how they took notes while traveling.

I noticed about twenty years ago that in the modern era, if you manage to stay alive awhile, you become a time traveler. Lately when the BBC or cable wants to do a historical period series, they set it in the 1950s! I remember the 1950s!

Kevin Warner said...

Methinks that what is being described here is a steady-state economy ( with the economy being devolved onto a local level which would make it both more adaptable & flexible to local market forces. Wouldn't be surprised too if authority was also devolved onto the local level instead of being centralized at a a capital. I think that this form of government is known as "democracy".
Perhaps what is key here is how JMG describing the Lakeland Republic having been shut out of world credit markets for thirty years after the default of 2032. If so, then that would imply that any capital generated during that time would stay within the local economy to accumulate & grow and would not be siphoned out of the Republic to Wall Street and its kin. The effects of thirty years of capital being invested over and over again in one region certainly seems to be bearing fruit going by the description here. Not bad for what has been contemptuously termed 'flyover country' by east and west coast Americans.

Bob Patterson said...

I think a lot of small countries are contemplating the same abandonment of modern business theory and austerity. Put up the tariffs on most stuff to keep down imports and stimulate local growth and semi-self sufficiency. There might be exceptions that need to be made, but this idea that certain countries are the best to make this or service that is a imaginary figment of a businessman who has no country to care about. Just taking advantage of the large size, easy capital, and the arbitrage of distance to make a buck. So much for the race to the bottom for cheap labor. Business and trade are meant to furnish people livelihoods.

RepubAnon said...

@ John Michael Greer : All I'm saying is that the storyline seemed to show a techno-culture on the Eastern side of the border seemed to assume a more Gilded Age existence, where a number of human workers were required to support the 0.1%'s lifestyle. Today, people work longer and longer hours for less net pay - and the Eastern side of the border is continuing that trend: 21st Century "wage slaves", if you will.

To my mind, it's more believable that given sufficient technological advances, there won't be jobs for the vast majority of the population - no cars for commuting because there would be no commuting. No mega-farms, because the rich would use that land to produce luxury foods for themselves. Machines would supplant the peasant role, and the Malthusian "excess population" would be allowed to starve to death.

Your story seems to present a somewhat less grim future, one where automation hasn't replaced the need for most human labor on the Eastern side of the border. The other side, of course, is living sustainably - but for some reason is not having its resources stolen by its neighbors. It'll be interesting to see why the folks to the East aren't chewing off small chunks of the rich lands to their West.

Greg Belvedere said...

I'm thoroughly enjoying this piece of fiction. I identify more and more with the sentiment of the immigrant father in this story whenever I talk to people about the difference between reality and the techno fantasies people project onto it. I really enjoy the way this story allows for the juxtaposition of these two worlds.

Also, some Dylan lyrics keep popping up when I think of the Lakeland republic "The country I come from/ Is called the midwest."

Chic Noir said...


I've been enjoying the series s o much. Can't wait to read part three.

ErosBlog Bacchus said...

Apropos the regular New England hurricanes in 2065, did anybody else see the sat photos from the Pacific this week? Three category 4 hurricanes all lined up in a neat row would have been worrisome enough without the memes from John Barnes's Mother Of Storms in my head...

John Michael Greer said...

Jean-Vivien, I hadn't heard of Craven's passing; thanks for letting me know. As for hitting journalists with a wisdom stick, I could wear out a forest worth of them without the least effect -- wasn't it Upton Sinclair who pointed out that you can't make somebody understand something if his job depends on not understanding it? The media is in the business of selling products, using, ahem, "infotainment" as a lure to get you to watch the ads. That's their job, and it depends on not understanding the gap between advertising and reality.

Ben and Jonathan, thank you!

Trog, I find Brin highly entertaining; he apparently finds me highly annoying. I hope we have a public conversation someday; it'll probably be worth watching.

Jbucks, given the way Europe is headed, those may be very useful skills indeed!

Unknown Deborah, if I weren't so dedicated an oddball, I probably wouldn't know what novels people were reading or what they were using to take notes on, either. As it happened, they'd likely be reading Alexandre Dumas, James Fenimore Cooper and Walter Scott, who were popular with American readers just then, and they'd take notes in a little leatherbound notebook with blank pages, which many people carried with them everywhere for exactly that purpose.

Kevin, good. Very good. You're paying attention.

Bob, whether or not small countries are doing that in our time, the Lakeland Republic has certainly done so. Stay tuned!

RepubAnon, technological advances are meaningless unless you have the cheap energy and resources to make them function, and we're running out of both. That's the heart of our present predicament, and the inability of so many people to grasp that is one of the most fruitful causes of the acquired cluelessness that's driving the world's industrial economies straight into the ground. Automation only makes sense if energy and resources are cheaper than human labor, and that's already no longer true in some countries -- why do you think so many corporations are outsourcing their factories to Third World countries where so much more of the work is done by hand, at low wages?

Greg, exactly. One of the core themes of this narrative is the conflict between current technofantasies and the increasingly bleak realities that those fantasies produce when applied in action. Another is the unexpected range of possibilities that open up once you realize that technofantasies of the "everything will be automated" sort are recognized as the outdated relics that they are, and a range of policies are adapted to the new reality of a postabundance world.

John Michael Greer said...

Chic Noir, many thanks! I hope you enjoy the rest.

Bacchus, I certainly did. Not a reassuring sight.

steve pearson said...

Doctor Westchester, I would recommend Mussolini & The Pope. I can't remember the author's name, but it is a very interesting account of the interactions between Mussolini and Pius XI and the growth of fascism in Italy and the Vatican's complicity in it.
cheers, Steve

Scotlyn said...

We have just managed to win the winter fodder by the skin of our teeth, from a summer that never quite happened. Vegetables are spare in growth and quantity, the fire seldom let go cold, and I'm certain this year's tree ring will be pitifully thin. Left to our own resources this would be a hungry year.

Much to think about here, we are far from being able to lean on our own resources...

Thanks for putting encouragement into easily visualised narrative form.

Dan Stoian said...

All I can say is the episodes are waaaay too short - the read is very fluid.

Martin B said...

I seem to have grown up in Lakeland. We lived on a 10-acre grape farm on the outskirts of Cape Town in the 1950s. The milkman and the dustman came in horse-drawn carts; a subcontractor came with a horse and plough to till between the vines; I walked down a dirt road to catch the electric trolleybus which ran all the way to the center of town; we rode our bicycles everywhere; and there was no crime to speak of. Water was from rainwater and a borehole, and sewage went into a septic tank.

Our table grapes were exported to London. They had to be perfect. This required my dad to keep shooting the flocks of starlings which would peck the berries. It was very labor-intensive. The vineyards needed cultivating, trimming, pruning, and dusting with vine sulfur. The ripening bunches were trimmed on the vine. After picking they were thinned out and shaped, any green or small berries cut out, the bunches wrapped in tissue paper and packed in wood wool in boxes. The crates were nailed together on site from piles of fresh-cut planks. As kids, our hero was a worker who could knock in a nail with one blow rather than going tap-tap-tap-BANG-BANG. As a special treat we kids were allowed to paste the labels on the boxes.

When the workers were forced to move from the area under apartheid legislation, farm labor became expensive. We tried prison labor for a while. My father, who worked as a lawyer, sold bits of the farm off to keep going. The trolleybuses were replaced with diesels because the overhead wiring was too expensive to maintain and extend, and in any case looked unsightly. We got municipal water after my mother found a rat in the rainwater tank. Farms got subdivided and houses built. Crime rose. We became a suburb.

I'm interested in the mixed landscape of Lakeland. Why are some areas 1950s, and other areas 1850s technology? All will be revealed, no doubt.

So far no mention of currency. In SF novels it's always the usefully vague "credits". Will it be the Lakeland dollar, or a US version of the Euro (not that the Euro is working out so well)?

Incidentally, on our trains at meal times the conductor or chief steward used to come around with a xylophone and play a little tune. Bing-bong-bing-bing-bong-bong. "First sitting" or "Second sitting" he'd sing out. (We were told beforehand which sitting we were allocated.)

BTW, how do you pronounce "plut"? "Ploot" would be my guess, based on the derivation.

averagejoe said...

Hi John, I like the whole way the story is shaping up and the wonderful details. I like the implied suggestion that the truth about the Lakeland Republic has been suppressed as its success would provide a threat to the ruling ‘establishment’ in Pittsburg (or whatever the State is, that the lead character lives in). Being a Scotsman I was particularly impressed by the use of the word “keech”. This is word which I am very familiar with, and was used in the right context. I had no idea that it was familiar elsewhere in the world. Another commonly used word in Scotland is the word “numpty”, for a fool or idiot. I’m particular fond of that one!

Looking forward to the next part.

latefall said...

@Doctor Westchester, JMG re budding fascism
Please let me recommend "The World of Yesterday" by Stefan Zweig. I finished it a couple of weeks ago and it is still emotionally vibrating in me. It is probably going to do so for some time yet. I think it will be most helpful for the audience gathered here.
It is not so much the legal/geopolitical side of things as a culturally focused first person view - which is much more helpful as it is concrete. I am not sure all undertones will be accessible to a North American reader but it will be a worthwile read in any case. Hop to chapeter 13/14 for a detailed description of currency troubles in a German cultural context.

Jeffrey Kotyk (Indrajala) said...

Reading this reminds me of what I've seen in India (while riding trains too): industrial agriculture next door to subsistence farmers with oxen ahead of plows. Urban elites are obsessed with imported consumer technology and ideals of non-stop economic growth, meanwhile the rural farmer's lifestyle isn't really that different from that of his great grandfather. Unfortunately a lot of farmers have been swindled into accepting loans to buy Monsanto products and end up broke, having to sell their land to the big companies and thus the suicide rate is skyrocketing. Industrialization is in full swing, but so many urban dwellers are depressed, to say nothing of the heavy police presence everywhere (machine gun nests in the subway), meanwhile traditional rural communities are fine if left alone. A world similar to what you're describing in this story already exists.

Spanish fly said...

It's comforting seeing how polite and calm are children in 2065 Lakeland Republic...I wonder if this attitude has some relation with the absence of elechtronical gadgets in their lives.
My nephew usually gets very angry when I don't show him Angry Birds game in my phone or my computer. He is very addicted to these machines, and modern (and frantic) TV cartoons, too...Like every children nowadays. In a few years we will see learning problems, agresiveness and maybe antisocial behaviour. However, this single uncle is crazy (so go to hell with him) and mum and dad know how to educate their little moster...err, I mean their son. However, they are a bit fracked now with some of their child "strange" behaviour: ugly jokes, vandalism at home and outdoors, nightmares and too fights at school...
I'm sure these troubles (may I put them under label of techno-anxiety?)are very common in a lot of children in industrialised countries. If we don't regverse this trend we would be jeopardizing our future.

Denys said...

I love the conversation between the immigrant father and Carr. Reminds me of what tourists say when they visit the Amish where I live. How did they keep people convinced that both adults in a household must work over 40 hours a week to survive? Or is it that life was kept so chaotic and unpredictable for people that they didn't even have time to think?

Fascinating that the Amish are still allowed to exist in PA in the future among the techno people. More and more Amish farms have electricity, a computer and Internet and cell phone all in an garage/shed away from the house. They also tend to use an excessive amount of pesticides and fertilizers under the thinking if some is good, more must be better. Some farms are organic though. And some are recognizable from 1800. The Amish vary just like every other group, I guess.

dfr2010 said...

Over coffee this morning, and reading through the first set of comments, a thought popped into my head: Perhaps the reasoning that set the Lakeland Republic on this path was a version of cargo cult mentality. The midwest was called "the heartland" before it was the "rust belt," and thrived in the 1940s. I wonder if folks there, during and immediately after the default, reasoned that since the 1940s was the time of good prosperity, perhaps returning to not only the technology but also the customs of that era would bring back good times. The irony is that in this particular case, the cargo cult idea works, and the people are able to thrive.

Andy Brown said...

Well, you've made me curious. Not so much about the eco-technical solutions to sustainability and down-shifting - which are interesting, but relatively predictable - but rather the political arrangements that underly a technological dissensus organized at the county level. Utopias - fictional or otherwise - have been rightly criticized for having some pretty serious totalitarian tendencies. I'm interested to see how you maintain the consensus within which the dissensus operates. A constitution? A taboo on externalities? A dictator? Thermodynamic necessity? I doubt you'd rest it on enlightened democracy (which would be cheating!)

Kevin Patrick Beckett said...

Great post - as always.
Thought you might be interested in the following:
They have set up `food forests`up here in the frozen north on relatively small plots of land - in one case an inner-city house`s front and back yard - with local produce and some annuals.

They are working on raising awareness of what can be done on an individual scale. I`ve been doing the same for the last 20 years - albeit on a larger scale in my small town - so it is nice to see that it is getting more attention. I believe that as we move forward into greater uncertainty as resource depletion becomes more and more the driving force in social interactions that we will need to see more of this.

Anyways - great post - love how you are blending the topics of your main themes into a nice narrative structure, look forward to how the clash of cultures plays out in future posts.

Travis Marshall said...

Somehow my facetious comment last week about not being able to live without my veephone in the future was mistaken as serious. Completely understood as sarcasm can be hard to pick up from a stranger in a email. I however cannot bear to envision a future where turnips make up a significant percentage of my diet :) On this note I will be cashing it in, or perhaps just feeding them along with the equally unappealing sunchokes that I have planted everywhere to the ducks and chickens. For my childrens sake I hope that some areas of the country will turn out as good as the Lakeland Republic. We actually moved two years ago from the suburbs of Baltimore to an old mill town (Auburn, Maine) that at it's peak in the 50's boasted the largest population in Maine with a whopping 120,000. It has shrunk to about 20,000 but is very promising in many of the ways you speak. I can easily see many a displaced Portland or Boston business coming to snatch up the abundant, reasonably priced, river access, and high elevation warehouse space. It is comprised of mostly blue collar people who do a lot for themselves save the gardening, which I guess is where I come in. Needless to say this blog has given me much in the way of helpful insight and it is much appreciated.

Pinku-Sensei said...

You're following up on the idea that you and Kunstler share about the Great Lakes becoming the site of a post-Peak-Oil regional economy, something I described in Great Lakes cities and their roles in the regional economy. As someone who left California for Michigan 26 years ago, I agree. This part of the continent has much better prospects than California, which is becoming evident in the current drought. Speaking of which, I await your "Peak California" entry you've been promising.

I enjoyed the story itself so far. You weren't kidding when you agreed with me a couple of weeks ago that Bernie Sanders wasn't reactionary enough and you were going to propose something even more retrograde. My only disappointment was that there was no trace of the Cedar Point amusement park when your narrator rolled into Sandusky. I suppose a bunch of abandoned roller coasters would not have fit with the bucolic landscape you portrayed. Besides, the industrious people of Lakeland would probably have recycled all the steel and turned the peninsula the park now occupies into a port. Much more practical that way.

buddhabythelake said...


I have to agree with the several comments already re the power of narrative. a much more effective polemic than one thinks!

I have to share an recent experience that pertains to the present series as well as the overarching theme of the blog. In our local paper yesterday, I found a letter to the editor that I can only describe as a pure, distilled primal scream in the face of imperial decline. The letter was titled "American supremacy at stake in next election" (to be fair, this was likely chosen by the paper's editor rather than the letter's author, but it is an accurate representation of the letter's thesis). I give you the opening two paragraphs:

"American honor, American leadership, American power and American exceptionalism have been degraded for seven years on a feckless, incontinent descent into indivisible insignificance by a liberal, socialist and un-American president.

He has placed the US in a world position that is very comparable to the war situation on Dec 7, 1941. Fortunately, the Manhattan Project physicists engineered a weapon which correctly reinstated American supremacy and ended the war in 1945."

The author goes on support the Donald as a "weapon" that will bring American back, etc.

I sense that we will be seeing much more of this in the future as the cognitive dissonance (similar to what Mr. Carr is experiencing) between belief and experience grows.

As a quick aside, my thanks to JMG for the perspective that I've gained on this issues in the time I've been reading the blog (came aboard with the "How it could happen" series) -- before this, I doubt I'd have been able to read that letter with the kind of fascinated detachment I did yesterday.

Myriad said...

I'm intrigued (as I'm no doubt supposed to be) by these "burbs" back east that the working class fears being "chucked into" if they become ill or insolvent.

Following current trends (though it's necessary to follow them quite a long way), I'm imagining a spread out version of refugee camps or Hoovervilles, with no organized employment or public utilities, and with social structure provided by territorial gangs. Since the armed forces are busy patrolling every public place in the cities (in large part to keep these undesirables out, apparently), their presence within the burbs will be minimal, perhaps limited to drone surveillance and drone strikes.

Among those widely scattered cellars of former residential developments is where you'll find whatever insurgent movements are occurring back east, along with any green wizards. No doubt Mr. Carr is surprised to learn that this feared terrorist class and the loyal urban working poor are the same people.

(Other possibilities are also plausible; for example, "the burbs" could just be an ironic name for a prison camp system.)

Kudos for telling stories that are not only entertaining, but lend themselves to entertaining and informative discussion as well.

One concern, which I'll express as a constructive wish: I hope that our Mr. Carr will eventually manage more coherent and articulate apologetics for the system he represents, beyond "what century is it anyway?" and "but we have smart phones!" A prosecutor (that's you, Sir) with the evidence on his side needn't be reluctant to give the other side the best defense possible. It makes his own case and the verdict all the more meaningful.

peakfuture said...

The "Work hard, and—" bit really makes me think the narrator has bought the worldview of his region hook line and sinker. Like the mantra, "Buy and hold..."

A small tidbit which I liked - the kid responded to his mom with an eye roll and "Yeah, mom," and not a formal "Yes, mother," but still went back to their book. It gives me the sense that kids are still kids, but have returned to an earlier era where reading a book for a long time is considered normal.

So much detail to explore in such a world, and so many questions. Is the Republic of New England more like the Lakeland Republic? Would love to see a map of how you've sketched this out!

Someone in the last installment commented on universities - Harvard and a few other universities in the Boston area are going to be underwater, or at least close to it, by this time.

Kate said...

Great fun! I wondered if you would bring in something about the Amish. I have lived in Amish country in Wisconsin and have former Mennonite friends in Oregon. Although, they do give us a current day example of how to live and farm with less technology, they suffer from population problems in ways that I hope you can weave into your story. At least, to bring in some ideas of how we all might avoid their problems of rapidly growing populations due to large family size and diseases caused by a lack of genetic diversity due to their closed society.

Also, I look forward to you ideas about how the Lakeland Republic folks were able to ramp up so quickly from conventional ag and it's depleted soils to a lower tech, non-chemical farming. One book that comes to mind is Grass, Soil and Hope, or is it Soil, Grass and Hope, which contains stories about a number of farmers who are doing just that. And then there is the biochar story. So much to write about!

Tom Schmidt said...

Where the PLUT is this train taking us? I'm sorry for the disturbance to what is normally your very polite blog, JMG, but I am a little frustrated at the moment. At least I have SOMEthing to look forward to, linguistically.

BTW, is Mr. Carr a descendant of Nick Carr?

@Deborah Bender
"I noticed about twenty years ago that in the modern era, if you manage to stay alive awhile, you become a time traveler. Lately when the BBC or cable wants to do a historical period series, they set it in the 1950s! I remember the 1950s!"

There are two basic reasons for this, I think. For one, the people with money to spend in the USA are largely white. You cannot make a realistic movie about the present day and have it be all-white, but you can do a historical drama.

The second problem is smartphones: they KILL plot devices. Think of the movie Sleepless in Seattle, or its original version, An Affair to Remember. Enjoyable, but no audience today would buy the premise that two people couldn't locate each other in NYC,

zaphod42 said...

Thank you so much, Mr. Greer, for the trip down memory lane. I remember steam locomotives when I was a lad... the smell was sulphurous, the sound magical, and the sight of a large 4-6-4 very impressive to an 8 year old.

Travel on board was equally amazing. There was a comraderie amongst passengers the encouraged conversation. As a teen I travelled ATSF from Chicago to Dallas (by which time the locomotive was diesel-electric); in my 20's I experienced the City of New Orleans as far as Champaign/Urbana, and years later the CB&Q/BN California Zephyr to San Francisco! There were, indeed, jarring moments as cars were added. Your descriptions were spot on, for which my repeated thanks.


PRiZM said...


Thank you immensely for allowing us the opportunity to read this novel as it's being written. I feel it parallels a lot with our current situation. The Lakeland Republic is similar to the growing movements of people and communities who are trying to break away from this modern lifestyle. And if enough people continue practicing those older, more sustainable technologies, a place like Lakeland Republic could be a possibility in the future. The immigrants on the train are a wonderful symbol for those who are trying to escape this modern lifestyle. At beginning of the train ride they were incredibly nervous, unsure if things would work out. But once they crossed the border, everything became easier and there was more certainty, just as with those who practice green wizardry skills. The beginning can be nerve wracking but once you get past the beginning, things will move smoothly. Mr. Carr is an excellent symbol of those of us who are afraid to let go of technologies, but by virtue of being along for the ride he is being forced to learn a thing or two. And thus far, the entire story taking place upon a train ride provides such a great symbol of the journey we will all make as we go down the Post-Peak train ride.

We are all faced with a choice of which journey we will make. Hopefully we won't choice to be the ignorant Mr. Carr, who didn't even bother to fully investigate the area he would be traveling through. Odds are, since he's an avid user of technology and can't figure out to take notes, he'll probably forget all the important things he has noticed.

I also want to thank you JMG, because this sort of narrative fiction makes it easier to the swallow the pill of what our choices are leading us into. I've followed this blog for the better part of its existence, but I have never felt more called to action, no better realized the consequences of my actions for myself and those who will follow me till now.

Renaissance Man said...

I am enjoying this story, though not as much as your earlier ones.
I was surprised to see the border followed exactly the old Pennsylvania state line. Usually after a war, the line of demarcation follows landscape, around old defensive positions, like the way the East German border did. I guess the peace treaty chose to keep the old line, but I notice that leaves some bits straggling oddly out of place where rivers bend, the way Flag Island, Oak Island, and Young's bay in the Lake of the Woods in Minnesota has since the 1800s.
I would have thought, given Mr. Carr's mental conditioning, that he would have described the houses around Steubenville in far more disparaging terms, and was surprised he did not use the words 'obsolete' or 'ancient' or 'old fashioned' in the usual snide tone of adherents of the Civil Religion of Progress.
Moreover, I would have thought he'd described people waiting at streetcar stops as somehow unfortunate, e.g. instead of, "...with people walking to work or waiting at streetcar stops." I'd expect, "...the poor people having to walk or waiting to stuff themselves into the public streetcars."
I guess he's more open minded and charitable about such things than your average citizen who, as far as I can tell, takes the 20th Century American view that building highways is 'infrastructure' but public transit is 'subsidizing poor people' according to one Mayor in Southern Ontario in the 1980s. (To be fair, this particular Mayor later admitted this was a very bad mistake. This very argument has been quite animated in Toronto in recent years, although the gist of it is less cars vs. transit, but more what kind of transit, the kind that interferes with cars or the kind that goes underground.)

Architrains said...

I smiled at your emphasis on reminded me to grab my 19th-century mechanic's cap my wife made me this morning. I forgot it yesterday and felt a pang of nakedness (and loneliness) there on the daily Turnpike march.

Something that's been rolling around in the rail yard in my head...the Lakeland Republic obviously values their railroads as much as 19th century America did, to still have functioning diesel-electrics. You can run a diesel on just about anything, but the electrical complexities of the traction motors on each axle have bothered me when contemplating the post-industrial railroad scene. Perhaps Lakeland has some artisanal Electronecromancers?

My bets are on the snorting, breathing iron horse, and its blacksmith simplicity. The petroleum-lubricated monsters of the last days of steam will likely fade, but all the 19th century tea kettles light enough for vegetable oil or animal grease could go on forever. And then there's the resilience factor in changing climates, as my favorite news item out of Britain in the past decade demonstrated in 2009:

Can't wait to see where this train is going (interested to see if our narrator will witness a building under construction), and huzzah for the tall ships!

zaphod42 said...

Unknown Deborah/John Michael: your note about J.F.Cooper caught my eye - he is a favorite of mine, having written a novel based (if loosely) on the cousin of my 3rd Great Grandfather, who was "The Spy." The notes were taken BY READERS OF 1846, in all likelihood, in a Moleskine notebook. I have used these for years, and understand that they have a history dating back to the 19th century, and would have been in general use by 1846.

Of course, in 1846 readers would more likely have been reading "The Crater" than "The Spy," and that is interesting in an ironic sense in that it is an analogy of the U.S., and conveys Coopers' doomer state of mind. Perhaps an early read for J.M. Greer? And now an impending read for me.

beneaththesurface said...

I like the part where Mr. Carr notices the book (Treasure Island) the boy next to him is reading and since he never heard of it, assumes it must be a new book. The fact that it could be an ancient book is inconceivable to him.

It reminds me of my latest library work frustration. This past week my manager sent a memo informing us of a new rule for books put on display above shelves: they now have to be books published in the last 3 years. I find this is completely ridiculous and will disobey the rule. Up until now, I had enjoyed prominently displaying some older but high-quality books remaining in our collection that patrons may not be familiar with. I find most of the new children's literature coming in to be of very poor quality.

Libraries like mine celebrate Banned Books Week and like to stress their values of anti-censorship. Yet, I see a tremendous bias against older books. The number of books pulled off some library shelf because they are objectionable pales in comparison to the number of books that are weeded just because they are old and no longer well-known.

Related to older books and also post-petroleum fiction: Several years ago I had asked you if you knew of any children's books with post-petroleum themes and you didn't. I recently learned of one: Henry's Quest by Graham Oakley. I couldn't find it at my library so I had to order a used copy. It's a King Arthur tale with a post-petroleum twist. I thought the writing could have been better, but the pictures are what really stand out to me: A old gas station that is now a cow barn. Flatbeds with sails traveling on old ruins of highways. A repurposed old airplane, etc. More info here:

Several people have encouraged me to write/illustrate a post-petroleum children's book. The idea excites me, though my ideas are still vague at this point, and I'd want to do one that is not didactic.

Brian Kaller said...

I like how it’s turning out so far. A couple of observations:

"Treasure Island" was a nice touch. If we lost our ubiquitous electronic media we would also lose much of our pop culture, and it makes sense that stories from earlier eras might see a revival -- not just because they were more likely to be preserved in physical books, but because the stories themselves would feel relevant again.

Today’s CGI-based films are written to distract an audience with many electronic devices and a short attention span, filled with characters just like the audience. Older novels, written for a slower and vaster world, would seem more likely to resonate with Lakeland inhabitants.

Several fiction genres popular today might well survive, though –Westerns and pseudo-medieval fantasies, for example, or the Amish romance novels so popular with American evangelicals. I could also see some of today’s most popular stories remaining relevant in new forms – Star Wars, for example, passed down as a barbarian saga with its space-ship setting forgotten.

In the same way, I would expect the people of Lakeland to be more likely to know who Humphrey Bogart is than your narrator. I know few people today, raised on internet-based pop culture, who are familiar with classic films, and I would expect even fewer people to in 2065. Films from that era, though, showed a world of less technology and lower energy use, and might find a ready audience in Lakeland. For example, I could see people there -- if they reserve electricity for any entertainment -- gathering in the local pub and watching a Buster Keaton film projected onto a sheet, just as audiences might have a century ago.

Patricia Mathews said...

I noticed you have dressed some of the Lakelanders in 1940s fashions. They are quite elegant, but have you considered the implications of nylon stockings (unsustainable) and girdles? (ditto, and blasted uncomfortable, but the clothing was designed to be worn with them.) Interestingly enough, several of the younger authors - by which I mean Millennials - at this past weekend's Bubonicon looked very 1940s, and were stunning in the modern variations on that theme. Livia Blackburne and Cat Valente, to name two. So perhaps your Lakelanders are wearing more comfortable adaptations of the style?

BTW, the corseting (and boned 18th C waistcoats for men) so universal in the early and middle modern period which does make excellent back support, as any re-enactor or Steampunk fan knows, depended entirely on the availability of whalebone. Oops - Mam Gaia gonna GIT y'all for slaughtering Her sea creatures for that purpose!

Sorry - women do notice and are concerned with such things. Though the 1940s style also included Katherine Hepburn's slacks and Marlene Dietrich's tuxedos - also sensible and practical. And dungarees, like Rosie the Riveter. In farm country one would see a lot of that, and since these people are or were moderns to begin with, women would be wearing them too.

We now return you to the *serious* things that men (like Carr) are concerned with.

Pat, who was born a native of the period.

Leo Knight said...

After reading each posting, I try to imagine how things might play out here. Not well, I'm afraid. All of the farms around here have been covered by housing developments, office parks, nursing homes, etc.

However, some years back, a nursing home went out of business. For whatever reason, it was demolished. In a few days, nothing remained, not even a foundation. The area is now a grassy/ wooded lot. I can imagine gangs of workers deconstructing buildings, sort of an reverse barn raising, salvaging materials as they go, to get down to the earth below.

A question, I know this is 50 years in the future, but how did the Lakeland Republic build up so much rail and rolling stock? Steel can be salvaged, but if oil is scarce, what do they use to run the steel mills? Coal? Biodiesel? Methane?

Dammerung said...

While you paint a pretty picture, I still think the Lakelanders would be a lot better off with ubiquitous access to the Metanet. The cross pollination of ideas and a shared participation in mass media are key parts of cultural health, and it sounds to me like they have more than enough resources to support it, if they're able to do things like delicate filigree ironwork for decorating their trains. We know about biodiversity, but noetic diversity is just as important within the human context.

Aron Blue said...

A sign of great fiction is the way that it stimulates the imagination of the readers. I'm building a Retrotopia playlist of bands I think would fit right in :)

daelach said...

@ Jonathan: Hats came by and large out of fashion with the mass motorisation. First, you have to take off the hat when entering a car, at least since cars became lower. Second, for walking some meters from a house to a car and vice versa, hats are superfluous. So it's kind of logical that the demise of the car will see the rebirth of hats.

The walking distance to a bus/tram stop or train station is longer than for car drivers, and the headroom in public transport allows easily for hats. I don't own a car, which is why I use headgear; though not a hat, but a traditional, artisinally manufactured woollen basque beret, even made in France. (: The civil one, not the military variant. Easy to roll up and store away while being much more stylish than a cap, let alone a baseball cap.

@ Stephen: Electric mopeds are feasible if you have the industry to produce the batteries and the electronics, plus the power grid. Or else you'd need solar panels or wind turbines at home, for which you need the industry to produce them. Not to mention that you can hardly drive them faster than bicycles on gravel roads anyway. However, Lakeland just isn't into wasting resources for by and large useless techno toys.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Greetings from the fabulously corrupt citystate (and deepwater port) of Chicago!

Here is a head and subhead from today's NY Times that nicely mirrors this week's installment of your story:

"Stubborn Stagnation in Wages Take-home pay for many Americans has effectively fallen since the recovery began, a study found." Ironic? Oxymoronic?

I'm enjoying the train ride. As a midwestern woman, I know people who grew up on small mixed farms and still bemoan their loss. I do travel by train through Illinois fairly frequently and have often wished I could see the sights you describe. It would be nice to see the small towns vital and prosperous again.

Somewhat off topic but part of worldbuilding?: Even though Chicago won't be part of your story, and I don’t expect answers, I still can't help thinking about what its relations with Lakeland might be, since I live here and all. Would Lakeland make goods for production and trade them in Chicago for other goods? Would Lakeland sell its grain through Chicago markets? Would Chicago's wily, amoral politicians somehow help insure Lakeland's safety and ability to function as retrotopia? Would iron ore from Minnesota and scrap metal from the salvage trade come down to Chicago to get smelted and either turned into implements for Lakeland farmers or get traded for grain? Is there a thriving commercial fishery for Asian carp? Would young, rebellious Lakelanders (Lakelandians?) run away from their happy homes to test their mettle in the streets or ship out on a big sail-powered ship to see more of the world? Or young rebellious Chicagoans leave for the country (or out of favor politicians get exiled there)?

Even now, to paint with a very--extremely--broad brush, plenty of rural and suburban Illinoisans regard Chicago as something akin to "the great Satan" that they'd be better off without. (State politicians exploit this attitude for their own gain.) Yet all that corn and soy from the country gets traded through Chicago markets, helping maintain rural folks' livelihoods. So I do believe Chicago would cast some kind of influence over much of the region. Especially since there would also have to be water treaties of some kind (though places outside the Lake Michigan watershed could do more in the way of collecting and conserving the state’s abundant water).

Our harbors are perfect for three masted schooners, by the way.

Also, with your indulgence, I've got a new post about backyard carbon sequestration while building topsoil, including the difference between compost and humus, here:

I'm looking forward to the next leg of the journey.

Flagg707 said...

This series has already sparked a lot of thoughts. Keep 'em coming. It will be interesting to see how it develops.

One tangent for this community - can anyone point me towards any modern movement(s) which, for lack of a better term could be styled as some version of the Free Soil Party? While I am typically allergic to political activities, lot's of interesting scenarios seem to spin out of this narrative.

One scenario such as - would it be possible (in the context of US politics) to establish some renewed version of the Homestead laws (probably have to be done at the state level), perhaps via property that has gone back to the county for taxes? Perhaps some sort of program which brings in University ag extension programs (they are always looking for new niches to fill and budgets to justify) to help modern "Pioneers" repopulate rural areas? Some permaculture equivalent of 40 Acres and a Mule?

The reason I ask for examples of what's been tried in the past would be to read up on lessons-learned and work out how best one might set up such a program. Thanks in advance.

BoysMom said...

I'm enjoying the story.

Perhaps I'm barking up the wrong tree, but I suspect that it's not so much what the individual counties wanted in terms of tech--too centralized, but what they had available and could maintain. So if you've got a good diesel source, tools, and mechanics to use them, trucks make sense. If you've already got a neighbor raising draft horses, then go the self-reproducing route.

Family joining family: I like that. That's been a theme of our lives lately. I expect we're going to see a lot more of that, no matter what precisely the future holds. You may not like your country cousins, they may be hopeless cases with the chickens and gardens and all, but they'll take you in and feed you. (The Archdruid's readers probably mostly being the country cousins.)

Keystonekabes said...


I like this story very much. The best way to distribute appropriate level technology for the kind of small scale agriculture described would be cooperative or collective farming, where the tractors powered by ICE or steam engines are not owned by the farm where it is working but by every member of that collective. It seems obvious that for day to day operations draft animals are appropriate but when larger jobs come heavier machinery is available for use by being part of a collective or cooperative. I don't doubt that those cooperative farms form the base of Lakeland's economic pyramid.

In fact 170 years prior to this story's setting I think farmers just like those in Lakeland would never put "mankind on a cross of gold."

Thanks again for a good story.


Sven Eriksen said...

I’m delighted that you have brought back the hat as an essential component of men’s fashion, and I’m endeavoring to do the same myself. Mr. Carr really is quite a dolt, isn’t he? That conversation with the man in the passenger car was so spot on it actually hurt to read it. One thing about being located on the farthest fringes of mainland Europe these days is that the mess going on further south still seems to be a distant phenomenon, but at the same time I’m observing with horror that the collective stupidity that has given rise to all the current events seems to be intensively increasing in force these days. People here are quite literally unable to think or speak from any other place than that blind spot in the soul where an absurdly overdeveloped sense of entitlement dances tango with utter cluelessness of anything that is actually going on. And there always seems to be anger lurking just beneath the surface, a kind of baffled rage of sorts, which is ready to explode whenever the incessant stream of demands put forth by the little self won’t be met. Frankly I’m worried what will happen when the inevitable consequences start showing up here more forcefully than they have done so far.

Hubertus Hauger said...

Guess I am dragged towards gadgets. Last it was about locomotives. Now I focus on bicycles. I am imaging, as bike are high-tec products (needs producing steel tubes, laquering, axle bearing and rubber) while the wearing down of the material will even be accelerating. Therefore a bicycle should ne costly as a horse. While a wooden bicycle may be much easier affordable.

Now, what I find it worthwhile going into consideration, is how do these new nations (Pittsburgh vs Lakeland Republic) keep peace, with such technolocical imbalance? I remember before, when the low-tec aboriginals sat all on "our" riches and were kicked off from the technolocical advanced. I am rather curious, how the predators are kept in check, not to consume that promisful land? (defence, trade-relations, treaties ...?)

Are you showing us something of that, JMG?

william fairchild said...


Thanks for tossing a bone to us on the immigrants. I've worked 60 - 80 hours a week to keep treading water. I feel them. Bright colors. Outlandish clothes. I am thinking Gypsy or Irish Traveller...

aiastelamonides said...


The return of the old-time culture with the old-time technology interests me. There are obvious social and economic reasons for adopting simpler technology and decentralized government, but why so many hats? Why bonnets? Why Treasure Island rather than, for example, The Golden Compass, or something of similar quality by a Lakelander? I assume this was a deliberate choice by the people of the Republic, but I hope to get a look into the history and psychology of that choice, how it came to be so universal, and the attitudes of the children raised in the Republic towards it. How conscious are they that they are repeating a past culture in detail?

Joe Roberts said...

Doctor Westchester wrote:
Can you recommend a book that has (at least half of) the readability of Galbraith's The Great Crash, 1929 but deals with rise of fascism in the 1930s in Italy and/or Germany?

Allow me to suggest The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922-1945 (revised edition), by William Sheridan Allen.

I read that book way back in college, and it's always stuck with me. Exactly as the title indicates, Allen tracks the rise of Nazism through the events and changes in one town rather than at the macro level of history. It's a unique and rather gripping way to approach the subject -- a bit similar, perhaps (other than the fact it's nonfiction), to the way JMG is approaching the topic of the future in this series of posts.

LynnHarding said...

Hello John - I was hoping you were going to Sandusky! My family joined the crowd from Connecticut that settled the Western Reserve right after the War of 1812. I used to spend my summers in a family compound in Huron until the wicked people of Sandusky (according to my mother) started to dump their sewage and industrial chemicals into Lake Erie. The family scattered to the winds. A cousin and I always dreamed of returning to buy one of those farms whose fields slope right down to the shore but we never did do that and he died a couple of years ago.
My brother and I used to row a little pram down Cranberry Creek - a fresh water estuary - that wound through corn fields buzzing with life and smelling like summer. One of my dear relatives turned that lovely place into a marina for power boats. That fact has always kept me humble because I loved that relative. He was not an evil person but he did a terrible thing. I could never feel proud of who I was or what my family was and I felt I could not really expect better of others.
I am glad that Sandusky has survived but I have two questions: first, what do they do with their wastes in 2065 and second, what happened to Cedar Point?

Ed-M said...

Hello JMG, l'Archdruide barbarien,, Your Grace, ect., etc.

Well this episode and the last have certainly been good reads. I especially like his astonishment that a country that defaulted on its debts 32 years ago would have enough scratch, or in the words of the immigrant, "keech", to put themselves back together into a (partial) recovery. Now where does "keech" come from? Has it something to do with the upscale delicacy known as quiche?

Although I do have a quibble with different counties having different suites of retro technologies with the changes right at the county line. To my mind, the differentiation would be more finely-grained, i.e., farms, industries, businesses and even households with early or mid Twentieth Century technologies right next to those with Nineteenth Century tech. Well, the households would group together by technology, methinks.

@RepubAnon, Ah! So the country would have a social system known as "fascist feudalism," eh? (Not fascist, nor feudalist but having the disadvantages of both and the advantages of neither.) Well Lakeland seems to be prospering in some form of a free enterprise system instead. Of course the businesses may be workers' self-directed enterprises, where the workers run the businesses and not some greedy upper-management team appointed by capitalists, which leads into my next comment directed at Gordon Cutler.

@Gordon Cutler, No business schools, no corporations, no school of economics, I like it! Although a case could be said that the old fashioned version of business school (i.e., secretarial school) and schools having curricula on how to run a small business would be there, and corporations only if they're small businesses with workers having a say in how they're run (see my comment to RepubAnon above) not the ginormous combines we have now. And economics? Well I'd have a heavy dosage of Marxian theory in any economics curriculum because Marx really did have good insights in how Capitalism progresses on the way to collapse and exhaustion. Problem is, his (and Engels') solutions were all wrong.

RPC said...

I've finally had a chance to examine maps of our intrepid narrator's route. It looks like the railroad took over the I-376 tunnel out of Pittsburgh? That's about the only way it could avoid plodding (well, zooming) along the bank of the Ohio. Then the border seems to be the existing PA-WV border, so at least part of WV got absorbed into Ohio. And...I'm starting to get the feeling something Really Bad happened to Cleveland...

John Roth said...

While doing my daily trips, a couple of pennies dropped (do they still use pennies? and who is on them?). Nice use of disensus on the county level. I wonder about the politics involved in setting it up. Carr, of course, is either a well know journalist or works for a major political faction, but is not a government functionary.

Pantagruel7 said...

I like the notions of limited scale instead of growth for the sake of growth. So many features of modern life; plastics, aluminum (a major consumer of electric power), aviation -- could actually be beneficial if kept to a small scale. Even the heavy industry implied by the existence of 1950's style railroads, could be beneficial if kept as small as possible rather than grown to be as large as possible. But the growth paradigm will remain a stubborn case, I fear. At least that's what my reading in economics (which began for me in law school) has taught me. And I, too, like the tall ships. Wind power is a "natural" for moving stuff across oceans. The canal system was to have extended far beyond the Erie Canal. There are remnants of a canal system along the Maumee near Toledo and as far down into central Ohio as Celina and St. Marys. It was the railroads that killed them off, I think. And after that the cars and trucks, and Ike's national defense freeway system.

SLClaire said...

Now I'm even more homesick since you have the immigrant family headed for Ann Arbor, where I was born and raised. Perhaps you've been on a train that passed through? The train station there is tucked into an attractive location near the Huron River. When I last visited in 2004, I was fortunate enough to spend some time walking the trail at Furstenburg Park, on the Huron River and not far from the train station. Hard to say what the civil wars might have brought to the area before the story takes place, but it's got good bones and I can easily see it in 2065 with some streetcars - it's the right size for that - to carry folks around the city and with small, productive farms in the countryside beyond.

I am noticing the flow of the story as well, checking my guesses about how things may have taken shape and what Carr will find with what you've written in the story and your comments. I am also curious as to how "plut" is pronounced. As a chemist I know plutonium is pronounced with a long u like Pluto. When I heard plut pronounced in my head I heard it as a short u, as in the word puff. I would choose to spell the swear word as plute, pronounced like flute, to make the connection to plutonium clear. But that's a chemist's quibble. I'm looking forward to the next installments!

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Patricia Matthews (and JMG),

Re clothes: I wholeheartedly agree about women's clothes. Especially with the comfort and sustainability issues.

When I quit my corporate job lo-these-many-years-ago to pursue a more earth friendly lifestyle, I swore never again to wear high heels and sheer pantyhose, and never have. Most clothes I wear have to be compatible with bike riding, gardening and other active pursuits, and practical for hot summers and cold winters. Which is not to say one doesn't dress up and make an effort (while remaining comfortable) for occasions such as conferences, birthday parties and local civic activities, but as you clearly understand, there are ways and there are ways of dressing up. :)

Graceful and lovely doesn't have to mean constricting!

One would hope retrotopian women would have the freedom to dress as they see fit. Some would doubtless choose heels and sheer stockings, but that's as it happens.

It's odd how in nearly every culture women's clothing becomes so freighted with political and cultural meaning and so often gets used as a method of social control, a way to literally control women's freedom of movement (in so many senses: religious, physical, psychological, social...).

But I do love hats and long raincoats!

Troy Jones said...

Regarding whether Lakeland has the metanet, there are several possibilities there. One is that they have access to the net, but just don't have public wireless. The infrastructure required to blanket the countryside with wireless is not cheap, and likely wouldn't be a priority for them as a society, whereas it would be a big priority for the authorities back east, where the powers that be would want to make sure everyone has easy, continual access to government-approved propa-tainment, not to mention location-tracking of all citizens... for their safety, of course.

Possibly there is a way to access the net or something like it in Lakeland too, but maybe just not with a wireless device on a train. It was not all that long ago that if you wanted to get online you had to do it with a dialup modem and desktop computer. So-- assuming Lakeland still has landline telephony, which I suppose is entirely possible that it may not-- perhaps Mr. Carr can find a way to get online.

Then again, more likely they have decided to spurn the net altogether. That seems to me like a reasonable thing to do, if an objective cost/benefit analysis of the net is done. For all the talk that the net promotes healthy exchange of culture and ideas, etc, it seems to me that, in practice, the net's effect on culture is more deleterious than healthy. Rather than exchanging ideas, denizens of the net by and large tend to seek out echo-chambers of like-minded people who will reinforce, rather than challenge, their already-extant ideas (or else they seek out the numbing effect of overstimulating entertainment). And even where the net is not actively harmful, what little good it does do in the real world just does not justify its enormous cost in resources and labor (talking about the whole cost of the internet's infrastructure, not just a user's monthly access fee).

Presumably the fictional "metanet" works similarly, though probably a bit more tightly controlled and monitored by the authorities.

And that raises the question of whether the metanet is actually something different from the internet, or is it just the same old thing, repackaged and hyped up with a futuristic name?

BoysMom said...

If you are pale skinned and don't care for sunburns, and are allergic to or otherwise find sunscreen unavailable, and spend any length of time outside, you will wear a hat. And once you have worn a hat all day all summer, you feel rather naked without one. Also, if you favor wool coats, they generally do not have hoods, so lack of hat and scarf leads to a cold head. I'm speaking from personal experience here. Perhaps Mr. Carr will get to see a lady defend herself with her hatpin coming up!
Did you know that modern books do not endure time well? All it would take is a lapse in printing to lose many of the newer books. Do regular youngsters nowadays not read books like Treasure Island? My 7th grade son is reading Kidnapped right now, but we home school, so we're hardly regular.

Sven Eriksen said...

By the way, my apologies if that last comment came off as somewhat unnecessarily harsh, even by my standards. I have, among other things, had to interact with Goldman Sachs personnel at work today, so bear over with me, please...

(Also thought to mention that if anybody else have trouble tracking down a hard copy of TGC29, it is also available at Google Books)

onething said...

Average Joe,

Was Humpty Dumpty a numpty?

William Church said...

I'm interested, like a few others here, about the choice of reading materials and the reference to Bogart. It's a fascinating subject to me how individuals and societies show personality traits through their choice of literature, music, etc.

I think people who study music of my generation in a hundred yeats will be spending a lot of time on Dwight Yoakam.... But that might just be wishful hillbilly thinking.


Anna Graf said...

Doctor Westchester, in addition to Joe's suggestion I would like to add Viktor Klemperer's diaries (1933-45), bit don't know if they have been translated into English.

Jo said...

@aiastelamonides - many older 'fashions' weren't just fashions - they were practical. If you don't have much electricity, and all your clothes aren't being manufactured in China, well, skirts and capes are much easier to whip up on your treadle sewing machine than coats and trousers. As technology gets simpler, so do clothes. With only a loom to play with, we would be back to robes made out of a rectangular piece of cloth.

And with less modification of climate (heat, cooling, cars), headgear becomes necessary, and bonnets are practical because you can tie them on. Also, no factories churning out sunscreen, plus global warming = bonnets, hats, or skin cancer. Although I have had some success recently experimenting with home made sunscreen. Did you know that carrot oil and rosehip oil both have quite high SPF values?

As for books, I don't know what the reasoning is there, but I can guess - once you start looking back to the past as a way to inform your future, you might find all sorts of goodies there - including its literature. This is how the ancient Greek classics became such a part of the canon of 'great' literature. During the Renaissance, Western Europe rediscovered the treasures of Greece - science, philosophy, literature, which were the foundations of the explosion of learning which began then.

Lakeland may be the beginning of another kind of Renaissance based on the useful and inspirational technologies and ideas of past glories..

Actually, there is already a large and growing segment of the American population dedicated to reviving classic literature, and that is the homeschooling movement. Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn and The Swiss Family Robinson will most likely be familiar to most homeschooled kids, including my own little Aussies:) and they will also probably be quite open to the idea of becoming enthusiastic members of the Lakeland Republic in a generation's time..

PatriciaT said...

I find it odd that Carr is unable to use his veepad off-line to make notes. Something to do with monitoring or ‘security’ back home that disallows working offline? Is it because of ‘New & improved’ technology in 2065? My laptop and ‘old’ flip phone do not need internet connectivity for me to write notes. What am I missing here?

Also, how did the immigrant family connect with their family in Lakeland? Postal services? Courier?

Patricia Mathews said...

@Brian Kaller - Steve Stirling's EMBERVERSE series makes the same point: a generation or two down the line, the older stories would become more relevant in a world whose technology ranges from medieval to early 19th century. In his world there is either steam nor electricity nor gunpowder ("assume a rational explanation") and their mythology is starting to include fantasy and science fiction because they can't decide what to believe of our literature. "Dinosaurs on islands? Clockwork men coming back from the future to kill their grandfather? Rockets to the moon?"

OTH, a little girl and her best friend decide to have an adventure to go on Quest "to the Fortress of Ice north of Drumheller where the Super Man lives."

And I find this SO realistic, too!

MawKernewek said...

There is one thing I find difficult about this story as far as its believability goes. In Mr Carr's country, the reality of the end of global capitalism favouring the USA and peak oil etc. means that it is economically constrained. As such only a very small proportion of its citizens afford the benefits of high technological civilization. In that case how can it maintain the whole technological infrastructure that supports the 'veepad' and the mechanized agriculture etc.?
The problem with infrastructure in a declining economy, is that many kinds of it still have the same fixed running and maintenance costs however many people use it or not. This is particularly true of the Internet, which I understand is your argument as to why it will not continue to exist in the long run. So what I wonder if how in Mr. Carr's country it does, as far out as 2065, especially given the various dislocations that have happened in this story universe. Evidently mobile internet is widespread enough in his country for Mr. Carr to be surprised by its absence.
The economics of the build-out of Internet service, social media, is that it was very favourable for companies to invest in providing it to users, while numbers were rapidly growing, and its utility grew because of the network effect making it more useful the more people were on it. Those same economics could also work in reverse, with a death-spiral resulting from the same underlying infrastructure costs needing to be supported by a declining user base, and the rising costs driving ever more users away.

FiftyNiner said...

Like any really good read each installment goes by way too quickly, leaving me anxious for next Wednesday eve! You are doing an excellent job of showing the unquestioning acceptance that individuals often make of the "way things are done" in their own society and are dismissive of an alternate vision when they are presented with it. That is the single biggest reason that the United States is in such deep 'doodah' around the world--we just can't seem to understand why everyone on the planet does not accept our view of reality and our way of running the world.
And Scott Walker wants to build a wall between us and Canada! Can true Fascism be far off?
Ronnie Jackson

Steve D said...

I'm really enjoying this story. By happy coincidence, I just finished reading JHK's "World Made By Hand", and it makes for interesting comparisons. For example, I am a bit curious to see if/how you portray the role of religion in The Lakeland Republic (or the country Mr Carr is coming from, for that matter). Either way, I'm looking forward to seeing where this is going. Great stuff!

Eagle '68 said...

The following statement from JMG "Automation only makes sense if energy and resources are cheaper than human labor, and that's already no longer true in some countries" is a easily observed reality in many countries outside of the US, and has been for some time. I worked as an airline pilot for 30+ years and remember clearly, back in 2000 or so, looking out of my hotel window in Mumbai, India, and observing a team of people, on their knees, trimming the grounds around the pool with hand shears. Even at that time in our collapse, it was obvious that human labor, in the Indian Subcontinent, was less expensive than a lawnmower and a small quantity of gas.

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


The veepad is probably an extrapolation of the current technological trend of offloading all end-user computing work to "the cloud." There are laptops and tablets these days so dependent on an Internet connection that they become significantly hampered in their functioning without it.

Speaking of which... I saw an excellent article a while back that said that every time you see the term "the cloud," mentally replace it with "somebody else's computer" and see if you're still OK with the implications. E.g., "Store all your photos in the cloud!" vs. "Store all your photos on somebody else's computer!"

John Michael Greer said...

Scotlyn, unfortunately, that's something a lot of people are going to have to get used to. Just one more charming thing brought to you by the climate denialists...

Dan, thank you! There's only so much writing I can fit in per week, or I'd post more.

Martin, all will indeed be revealed. The currency in the Lakeland Republic is the Lakeland dollar, symbol L$ -- as far as I know, all the republics in the former US have their own dollars, though the exchange rates can be pretty wild. "Plut" is pronounced with a short "u" in some parts of North America and a long "u" in others -- listen to the way people pronounce "plutonium" and there's a lot of variation in the pronunciation of the "u."

Averagejoe, glad you liked that. After Partition, UN peacekeeping troops were stationed in some parts of the former US for a while, and there were a couple of regiments from the Scottish Republic stationed in what's now Pennsylvania; some of their slang caught on with the locals. (In the nonfictional world, I have a friend who's a Scottish expat, and I asked him for likely bits of slang. He didn't mention numpty, but that's a keeper.)

Jeffrey, good. That is to say, the former US in 2065 is a collection of third world countries. Keep that in mind...

Spanish Fly, that's certainly been my experience; children I know who are homeschooled by parents who don't use TV and the internet as babysitters are calmer, better able to concentrate, and are by and large smarter -- as in able to use their intelligence to solve problems, figure things out, etc. -- than those whose parents have let them get addicted to the plug-in drug.

Denys, stay tuned; there'll be a fair amount of information about conditions outside the Lakeland Republic as we proceed, and those will provide my best guess at where current trends are leading those who don't take their future into their own hands. The fact that the Amish are still there, and thriving, is a data point worth noting.

Dfr2010, good. Very good. Stay tuned!

Andy, ordinary unenlightened democracy is certainly part of the picture, but it's by no means all of it. All in good time... ;-)

Kevin, thanks for the link.

Travis, thanks for the correction! Satire's notoriously hard to manage on the internet -- you've probably heard about all the times stories on The Onion have ended up being circulated as real news. And of course I hear from people all the time for whom the thought of living without a veepad-equivalent really is unthinkable!

Pinku-sensei, during the years when the Lakeland Republic was subject to an international embargo, the only available source of steel (and many other resources, of course) was salvage. That's where the roller coasters went, not to mention all the skyscrapers. Now that trade is opening up again, I wouldn't be surprised if somebody rebuilt Cedar Point -- well, unless the space has been taken by harbor facilities or the like.

Andy Brown said...

@ Travis, I've found that sunchokes make great pickles. Crunchier than cucumbers with no problem of "windiness" that I've noticed. Try it before you toss them all to the chickens. Any crop that grows like a weed is worth trying to find a use for . . .

Christopher Kinyon said...

I would like to try more rail travel. At present, for my family to travel by train from Seattle to Spokane is more expensive than driving, and it takes longer. Perhaps someday this will change.

John Michael Greer said...

Buddha, thank you -- the detachment necessary to read that sort of screed and not let it push your emotional hot buttons is a necessary skill these days, and if I've helped you get it, that's good to know.

Myriad, have you noticed that when believers in progress are challenged, their first response is exactly the sort of bluster Carr has been engaged in? It's only when that doesn't do the job that they start looking for anything more serious -- that, or just amp up the bluster. Carr's a smart man, and will get past the bluster in due time.

Peakfuture, I don't happen to know what the Republic of New England and the Maritimes is like in the fictive universe of the story -- my efforts are focused right now on figuring out the Lakeland Republic and the broader international context in which it functions.

Kate, the Amish are going to be a minor theme through much of the story -- they're important to part of the backstory, in particular. As for repairing soil, it's actually not that difficult using organic methods -- a couple of years of fallow with nitrogen-fixing weedy cover crops plowed under at the end of each season, and all the manure (human and otherwise) you can get composted, spread, and plowed in, will make a remarkable difference. (I've done this repeatedly on a very small scale with hideously depleted soil, and gotten excellent results every time.) That's not to say that the Lakeland Republic didn't have some hard and hungry times, but those are fading into memory as this story opens.

Tom, thank you -- the sense of baffled confusion is exactly what I'm trying to convey, since that's what the viewpoint character is feeling. All will be made clear in good time!

Zaphod, I take the train whenever I travel, so the descriptions are based on recent personal experience. Glad you enjoyed them!

Prizm, thank you. That's exactly what this narrative project is intended to do, and it's good to know that it's succeeding in at least your case.

Renaissance, Carr is from 2065 rather than 2015, and a lot of today's attitudes have bitten the dust in a fairly spectacular way. He's used to seeing people walk to work because he lives fifty years further down Hubbert's curve, and cars are for the rich; he doesn't disparage the houses because a lot of what well-to-do people live in is just as old. (In the older parts of the US, living in an old house is already a status symbol in many circles.) More on this as we proceed!

Architrains, the Lakeland Republic has the capacity to build electric traction motors, and a variety of other high-tech-for-1950 gear. They use diesel rather than steam partly because of the fuel efficiency, and partly because they've got plenty of farmland but their coal mines were exhausted in the early 21st century, before Partition, so vegetable oil is readily available but coal is not. As for hats, I wear a cap whenever I'm outside, so it comes naturally!

Zaphod, I read a few Cooper books when I was a kid but never really got into him -- my tastes tended toward science fiction and fantasy, the gaudier the better. Still, in 1846 he was a huge presence in pop culture.

Beneath, write and illustrate your book. Please. The kids who are about to learn how to read now desperately need something that will help them orient themselves to the real world -- that is to say, the world of limits, economic contraction, and collapsing infrastructure that we're actually living in -- as distinct from the unreal world of perpetual progress the media keeps on insisting is real. By all means don't make it didactic; make it a lively romp if you like -- but there are countless eager eyes and grubby fingers waiting to turn those pages.

hcaparoso said...

@Dr. Winchester, also Berlin Diary by William Schirer. He was an American corespondent living in Berlin during the 30s, and the diary is so fascinating. He saw the beginning of Hitler and the Nazis as it was all happening. I found it more exciting than a novel to read, couldn't put it down.
And @ Patricia Mathews, I'm so sorry, have emailed you several times and the emails won't go through. Don't know why. Right now my leg is bothering me so bad that getting together would be difficult. Might actually have to see an md., even though I can't stand them. Homeopathy and accupuncture are not working at all. Am very frustrated. Leg just keeps twisting and is VERY painful. I do hope to meet you, one of these days, in Albuquerque. You sound like a most interesting person, as do all the commenters here. Aren't we lucky to have such a congenial host, to bring us all together?

peakfuture said...

This might be of interest to some-

Many years ago, in the People's Almanac, an idea was put forward that the number of US states be reduced from 50 to 38:

There was also a 16-state version:

There are lots of other future such mappings, from various pieces of fiction (and even in the Wall Street Journal), but these take into account that things might not split on state lines.

These imagined state lines didn't take into account warfare or Peak Resource issues, but they were one attempt to figure how things might go.

Lee B said...

I reside in Wayne County Ohio, which is sandwiched between Sandusky and Canton. The waterways of Canal Fulton are a strange feature to see out here. If desired, rail traffic could resume fairly easily, connecting everywhere along the lake. Tech nearly 200 years old hasn't been completely removed; a wooden water mill in the local paper today had been sawing lumber and pressing cider up until the 70's! Returning to my grandparent's way of life may be possible, if dirty industries and urban masses don't go berserk. Everyone has heard of the burning Cuyahoga river; many local resources are still being fouled and overburdened (even by the Amish). If I was heading to a future Sandusky, I'd be less concerned with Cedar Point and more worried about the aging Davis-Besse nuke plant.

Max Osman said...

Was America defeated like it was in TLG in this alternate history? Isn't this the best case scenerio for life in 2060? Also America split up into many countries and yet the people are still noticably American? Reminds me of my native Somalia

Kevin Warner said...

PatriciaT said...
I find it odd that Carr is unable to use his veepad off-line to make notes. Something to do with monitoring or ‘security’ back home that disallows working offline? Is it because of ‘New & improved’ technology in 2065? My laptop and ‘old’ flip phone do not need internet connectivity for me to write notes. What am I missing here?

Perhaps I may have a different slant on that one. JMG is only extrapolating from current trends here. If you have a computer, then your operating system and its programs work inside the computer itself where they are all installed. Now there is a trend to make more and more of the computers operations work out on the 'Cloud' i.e. a bunch of servers located gawd knows where.
Thus the idea is that eventually all your files will be stored on the Cloud and not on your computer itself (where you may be eventually charged for storage) and your programs like your browser and office programs will do all their processing on the cloud and you will only see the results of the program displayed on your screen. This later bit fits in with a trend where you no longer buy such programs but rent them each on an annual subscription basis and will be locked out of your own files if you do not pay.
If your internet goes out then at least you can do some work on your computer or play a few games, right? Well, there is also a trend to have the operating system on the Cloud as well and not actually installed on your computer. This is what they use to call in the old days a "dumb terminal" where all you had was a keyboard and monitor hooked into some central computer. What this can mean is that if you have one of these computers and your internet is interrupted, your computer then becomes a desk paperweight and this is what is happening to Carr's veepad. Hope this answer helps.

John Michael Greer said...

Brian, as I see it, by 2065 today's entertainment industry will be a fading memory and newly produced vids will be obviously cheap and shoddy compared to the legacy of the past, thus the popularity of old vids, Bogart and otherwise. I'll be talking about that as we proceed.

Patricia, no, I've just mentioned hats and raincoats, also blue checked dresses and bonnets, which might suggest a rather older date for certain styles! Stay tuned; clothing's going to be discussed in an upcoming episode.

Leo, I suspect it was a mix of fuels. You can process steel with any number of heat sources -- and of course they had ample amounts of steel for salvage, what with all those skyscrapers to take down.

Dammerung, does the internet actually promote noetic diversity? Not in any way I've seen. People in America, for example, had more diverse political views and were by and large better informed about current events before the internet than they are today. It's rarely noticed by the tech-obsessed that the internet is simply a way of doing various things that everybody did by other means before it was invented -- and if you don't have the cheap abundant energy and resources to spend on server farms and the like, you're better off using those other means, which are by and large less complex and more affordable.

Aron, glad to hear it. List some of 'em when you get a chance!

Adrian, I'm pretty sure that during the years when the Lakeland Republic was subject to an international embargo (and at least three attempts at regime change), Chicago handled a lot of surreptitious trade, smuggling Lakeland agricultural products to the dryland republics of the west and lumber, iron, and oil back across the border into Lakeland territory. Even though the borders are open now, Chicago still handles a lot of trade, and the Lakelanders see it as a necessary, convenient, and occasionally very desirable evil. Exactly how things will work out now that the borders are open is an interesting question. Yes, by the way, Asian carp are much eaten in Chicago and elsewhere around the lakes these days; there's a carp sandwich that's become one of the classic Chicago dishes.

Flagg, I don't know of any movement heading in that direction; you might consider starting one, since it's a good idea.

BoysMom, good. It's more complex than that, as I hinted in the intro, but we'll get to that.

Keystonekabes, ha! I think that that's the first time anybody's quoted William Jennings Bryan on this blog.

Sven, I know the feeling. The combination of cluelessness and a cancerously overdeveloped sense of entitlement promises to work out very, very badly here as well.

Hubertus, yes, we'll be discussing the military dimension at quite some length. Since Partition, the Lakelanders have had to deal with three attempts at regime change, one invasion, and a threat of nuclear bonbardment from the Republic of Texas, and you can expect detailed information about how those turned out.

William, well, in a sense...

beneaththesurface said...

Well, with that encouragement of yours, JMG, I might just have to finally begin the project of a post-petroleum children's book! When I start drafting it, I may want to get feedback from people here. Though feedback from children would be important too since they're the audience.

When at work in library's children's section, I often feel like I'm an anthropologist trying to understand the culture and myths implicit in contemporary children's literature. Sometimes I imagine I am someone from a very different society and time, perhaps thousands of years in the future, looking at today's children's books, and I contemplate how I might interpret them, and how utterly strange they are. I think there is a tremendous disconnect between most children's literature and the real world beyond the page. I feel a calling to remedy that in some small way...

John Michael Greer said...

Aias, stay tuned; we'll get to that. For what it's worth, though, I'd rate The Golden Compass on the level of toilet paper compared to Treasure Island.

Lynn, human and animal manure are far too valuable to waste in 2065 -- in Sandusky, as in most towns and cities, they go into municipal composting facilities, and are sold to local gardeners and farmers in the surrounding region. Urine is equally valuable as fertilizer. Graywater has various practical uses. Nothing just gets dumped into the lake. As for Cedar Point, as I noted in response to a question above, it was chopped up for scrap during the years when the Lakeland Republic was under an international embargo; now that steel is easier to come by, it's possible that somebody will rebuild the roller coasters, but we'll see.

Ed-M, "keech" is a Scottish term for excrement, and as I noted in response to a Scottish reader above, it got into common use in that end of North America because a couple of regiments from the Scottish Republic were stationed there as UN peacekeeping troops after Partition. As for the differences in technology, don't assume that Carr's out-the-window assessment tells you everything you need to know!

RPC, that's the one. Federal troops tried to blow up the tunnel during the retreat from western Pennsylvania, but didn't manage it.

John, all in good time!

Pantagruel, growth for its own sake works as long as you have an expanding supply of energy and resources. When that goes away, growth for its own sake becomes a self-defeating strategy, and eventually the economists will figure that out, too. As for the canals, one of the crucial factors there is that railroads, and then the interstate, received immense government subsidies with which canal shipping couldn't compete. We'll be discussing that as things proceed.

SLClaire, as noted in an earlier comment, different people pronounce it differently. I've heard "plutonium" pronounced with a short "u", almost a schwa, as well as lengthened out into a long "plooo."

Troy, the metanet is a more centralized, less flexible, more tightly controlled version of the internet -- it compares to today's internet roughtly the way that broadcast radio compares to amateur radio. They don't have it at all in the Lakeland Republic, for reasons that will be discussed in detail.

Sven, no, it wasn't unnecessarily harsh -- and dealing with Goldeman Sachs is enough to make anybody ready to condemn the human race wholesale!

William, good. None of it is accidental.

PatriciaT, nah, the problem is that veepads are entirely based on the so-called "cloud" -- all their programs, data files, etc. are on server farms, not on the veepad itself. It literally can't do anything but access the metanet, and requires that access to have any functionality at all. We're not there yet, but as you've probably noticed, a lot of computer types want us to head there.

Max Osman said...

Where are the Barbarian Warlords though? or is this not the right time for them?

John Michael Greer said...

MawKernewek, good. I'll answer your question with a question: most African countries these days have cell phone service. Is the cell phone net the produce of their own resources and economies?

FiftyNiner, when true fascism arrives in the US, it will present itself as the only viable alternative to the Scott Walkers and Hilary Clintons of the world. That's the thing nobody gets any more about fascism: it's not more of the same. It seizes the abandoned center of the political dialogue and gets much of its strength from popular disgust with politics as usual.

Steve, religion doesn't play a huge role in this narrative but it'll be in there.

Eagle, exactly! There are already a lot of industrial products made by hand in Third World countries because that's cheaper than automation. Right there you have the reason why the fantasy of "the end of work" -- which, by the way, has been being predicted since the 1920s -- will never be more than empty air.

Christopher, I know. The western two-thirds of the US has really lousy rail service; it's quite a bit better east of the Mississippi.

Peakfuture, fascinating.

Lee, nuclear plants can be shut down safely if there's anyone around with the very basic resources needed to do so. All the nuclear plants in the Lakeland Republic were shut down after Partition, as part of a UN project to keep the fragments of the US from destroying each other.

Max, at the time of the story the US has only been split up for 36 years -- plenty of people grew up in the US, and so yes, there's still a lot of what passes for American culture and habits. It takes longer than that for new nations to pick up their own cultures and habits.

Beneath, I'm delighted to hear that. If there's anything I can do to help the project along, let me know.

Max, they're fighting in California at the moment.

MawKernewek said...

@JMG I still would say that business people in Africa are still putting up the cellphone towers and the basic infrastructure (even if they're not manufacturing it) in the expectation of continued growth in usage. Without that where would the economic motivation to maintain it be?
I am also a little sceptical how far the trend towards cloud computing will continue after the first big failure. Hacking is one thing, because people won't think it will happen to them until it does, but a big data loss after a cloud provider goes bust or is revealed to be cutting corners on its backup policy may put the brake on it.

Alex said...

Doctor Westchester, the novels of Erich Maria Remarque are a go to, his great novel about world war one was written when he was rather young, he went on to write great novels covering about the same time period as his own life. So he's done a couple covering the era you're interested in.

I figure plutt rhymes with mutt...

Ladybug Farm said...


I teach Civics and Economics to relatively high achieving, high school seniors. Hobbesian through and through, they have difficulty conceiving of any other ways to live. They are crippled by fear.

Over the course of my career I have become increasingly nervous about the future of this country. Peek oil and climate change aside, it is this fear; fear for their safety, of the "other", one's neighbor, and the "outside", coupled with the increasing isolation and narcissism brought on by consumer tech, that has me concerned. Where I once had students that went on to reject the dystopic trend and walk into a life in their gardens, these kids are exposed to the real life problems of the ecocidal "American Way of Life" and are losing all imagination. They immerse themselves in reactionary fantasies and games and conceive of nothing else but the cut throat world of market neoliberalism and tyrannical state power in service of their protection. The one's raised by the bourgeoisie are actually the worst because they are inculcated the imminently practical, elevating it about the hard work of building something different. Rather than just walking away they walk away from choice.

They are running head long into the arms of the beast.

We began the year introducing them to the notion that governments and economic systems are the results of the narratives societies tell themselves and reinforce through culture, that institutional power has an existential interest in promoting its narrative, and that limiting the field of vision of the population is a necessary tendency for civilizations. That the state is really just all about power. It could careless about your way of life.

In this respect, I am hopeful that this story will help plant some seeds of alternative ways of living that transcended their knee-jerk rejections of "utopias". Maybe they'll begin to think about new ways to live, the good life, and "EUtopians".

Working to hold nihilism at bay and feeling like a failure,

MigrantWorker said...

Hello mr Greer,

Long time reader, now coming out of the woodwork for the first time.

I wonder what gave the American population of your story such a widespread disgust with plutonium that they based a common swearword on it. Were there numerous, ekhm, mishaps in the nuclear plants - or did the civil war escalate to the point that atomic bombs were used?


FLwolverine said...

Re: bonnets - bonnets and other headgear also help keep one's hair clean. Even in the 1950's and 60's, it wasn't common (in my experience) for women to wash their hair everyday, partly because it took so long to dry (unless you had a very short haircut). Blowdryers helped change that. There are probably no blow dryers or electric curling irons in Lakeland.

Re: corporations - the corporate form was created to limit the liability of investors for the debts and obligations of the enterprise. The limited liability encouraged entrepreneurs to take risks and allowed them to raise money from people who didn't want to risk anything more the amount spent on their stock shares. In the 18th century there wasn't another legal form that permitted this limitation of liability (altho some prototype corporations had other labels). Today we also have the limited liability partnership and its variations for the same purpose. The limitation of liability was such a foreign concept that statutes were needed to authorize the corporate form.

The corporate form and limitation of liability are not bad things in and of themselves. Like a lot of things in life, it depends on how they are used. Whether they exist in Lakeland will, I suspect, depend on whether there is a need for them. Since corporations are by definition creatures of the statute, the Lakekand government could regulate them quite strictly.

Tony f. whelKs said...

Hi JMG and fellow readers,

Here's an interestinbg snippet from today's news which I'm sure will not surprise anyone here (or even anyone in Retrotopia, for that matter):

"An extra hour a day of television, internet or computer game time in Year 10 is linked to poorer grades at GCSE, a Cambridge University study suggests.

The researchers recorded the activities of more than 800 14-year-olds and analysed their GCSE results at 16.

Those spending an extra hour a day on screens saw a fall in GCSE results equivalent to two grades overall."

Professor Diabolical said...

Speak of the devil: an article referencing both your mid-states AND Ecotpia.

Donald Hargraves said...

One thing I remember about roller coasters is that many cities had their own amusement parks, including their own roller coaster. It may not have thrown you upside-down five times, but I doubt people will be looking for that after 50 years of decline and stabilization.

In short: if Cedar Point exists, it's probably as a municipal park, for Sanduskians. Canton, Steubenville and Toledo probably have their own roller coasters.

birgit said...

Greetings JMG: As a disenchanted internist I have been exploring ways to collapse now; the sick-care industry and health insurance racketeers are not just greedy but actually not very adequate at addressing health care needs. I usually hear that our pre-industrial medicine lifespan was just 20 years, so of course those unfortunates didn't`live long enough to have our rates of cancer, dementia and diabetes. Your Retrotopia may have found the Victorians' secret to good health: this article details the "golden age" of mid-victorian England, when the lifespan exceeded the contemporary statistics:Clayton P, Rowbotham J. How the mid-Victorians worked, ate and died. Int
J Environ Res Public Health. 2009;6:1235–53.

Max Paris said...

Hey JMG,

Where are all the bikes in the Lakeland Republic?;)


Patricia Mathews said...

@hcaparoso - what email address did you use and how was it spelled?

my email address is Or did you try my gmail address? I don't normally use that much, but your messages should not have bounced.

Also if your subject includes "Green Wizards stuff" I will be sure to see it even in the junk mail box, if Microsoft Safe Screen or whatever the fool thing is called, has kicked it over there.

Note - One T in "mathews", not 2; and no "p" . The Green Wizards print list misspelled my name and email address for all it was supposed to be cut-and-paste from the actual. The universal tendency to "correct' the spelling of the name strikes again!

And I will set you up as a contact.

Undergoing a health crisis right now, but will let you know.


sgage said...

daelach said...

"Hats came by and large out of fashion with the mass motorisation. First, you have to take off the hat when entering a car, at least since cars became lower. Second, for walking some meters from a house to a car and vice versa, hats are superfluous. So it's kind of logical that the demise of the car will see the rebirth of hats."

Men wore hats right through th 50's into the early 60's - just look at any movie or TV show from the 50's. I've heard it suggested that it was the presidency of JFK that put an end to ubiquitous hat wearing - he never wore a hat, and it set a trend...

WW said...

My daughter has just started on Treasure Island. There's no meta commentary involved, we don't home school and it wasn't because I'm making a conscious effort to preserve the classics. She wanted something to read and I gave it to her because it's a good story. It's even my copy from when I was her age.

I noted the bit about the lack of security troops with some interest. At one time I was employed as a Security Officer, which is to say I was paid to stand somewhere (or sit if I were lucky) and look a certain way to make people feel better. It was very educational, that job. Nowadays when I need to provide someone with security, I give them a hug. And maybe also a good book.

Ed-M said...

JMG, I should've known it had nothing to do with "quiche". A little searching and I found it rhymes with "beach" instead. (I hope no one pronounces the ch in "beach" as sh.)

As for "plut" as a syllable in Pluto, plutonium and plutocrat, have you ever heard pronounced so that it rhymes with "foot"? because in Michigan, the noun "root" rhymes with "foot" and not "route" or "flute."

Nastarana said...

There was a time, a few decades ago, when people used to pride themselves on being perfectionists. I have seen the attitude of perfectionism described as a vice masquerading as a virtue and I wonder of the current buzz word 'efficiency' is not also a vice pretending to be a virtue.

I note with interest that the landscape in the Lakeland Republic features both farms and home gardens. I would like to point out that, contrary to current popular opinion, home production produces wealth and therefore increases the wealth of a nation or community, which wealth can be invested in productive enterprises and the amenities such as hospitals, libraries, parks, and so on which ensure a better life for all.

Sylvia Rissell said...

As for the cost of '30s and '40s stylish ladies' clothes, i would guess that some of those raincoats are covering patched and well-worn feed sack dresses.

I look forward to your next installment.

Pantagruel7 said...

Since there has been quite a bit of discussion of Robert Lewis Stevenson, as well as Scots slang, I'd like to put in a good word for Stevenson's last, unfinished, and in my opinion finest novel; "Weir of Hermiston." If you've never read it, it's a delight! The self-styled "Great Beast" himself was a fan of Stevenson, and it was from reading his autobiography back in the 70s that I came across Stevenson's tale of Archy Weir and his father, the hanging judge.

BoysMom said...

I have kids. The older two, both boys, are twelve and eleven. They want books with big ideas, real characters who are close to their ages, with real problems, and NOT romance. Reading currently: Rick Riordan, Zoey Ivers, Joseph Delany, Robert A. Heinlein (juveniles), Ray Bradbury, and C.S. Lewis (Narnia) for fun; J.R.R. Tolkien (younger in Hobbit, older in the trilogy), Kidnapped, Ivanhoe, Watership Down for school. (You can see where the lines kind of blur there in the middle, right, with Inklings on both sides?) There's a real dearth of new books for kids who are good readers who aren't into romance (oh, the complaints about romance in Harry Potter!).
If you're aiming at a younger age group, I have them, too, and they have even more trouble because they can't jump shelves to the adult classics. So they always jump generations. Little Britches, Little House, The Boxcar Children, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Burgess books, etc.
Well, as you can see, I'm always happy to talk about kids' books.

Cathy McGuire said...

I'm eager to see what happens at the narrator's destination - why he is traveling and who he'll meet! It's wonderful to see the ideas take flesh in a story. And for anyone who wonders at the narrator's "blindness" about the flaws in his culture, take a look at this unbelievable example of blindness and "it'll be different this time - trust us" that has cropped up in one of the more sustainable/green towns in Oregon:

Nuscale Hopes to Change the Conversation on Nuclear Power
It’s not intuitive,” Conca acknowledged, “but nuclear actually has the lowest environmental and health impact versus the amount of energy it produces.”
(they can say that straight-faced, after Fukushima, Chernobyl, 3 mile Island??)

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG: Raincoats, hats, and mention of Bogart, "and my imagination has done the rest for me." Which is very good writing, I'd say! Just a tiny handful of clues to trigger a familiar picture. And a tip of the fedora to you!

weedananda said...

Western MA area ADR readers:

I've been inspired by others' efforts recently to put out a feeler about a possible meet up of Western MA area ADR readers/Green Wizards...I imagine there are quite a few of you out there. It would be such a pleasure to connect face to face.

If you're interested please send me an email at:

I live in the Northampton area so the venue will likely be near there (I would make every effort to arrange for a location on the bus route). Hope to hear from you soon.


Greg Belvedere said...

The "everything will be automated" idea has gotten a lot of play in the media lately. But as you have noted it is cheaper to pay low wages than to build machines. My sister-in-law works in the fashion industry. A few years ago she travelled to China to visit one of her company's factories that makes designer bags. The factory was not what she imagined and it amazed her how much was done literally by hand, even if that meant handling very hot materials.

An idea that often gets mentioned alongside "the end of work" is a basic guaranteed minimum income. I think by itself this actually might make sense, at least in the short term. It would put money in consumers pockets instead of funneling it through often ineffective bureaucracies. I'm curious what your thoughts are on this. I read a great article last year that detailed all the attempts at implementing it, but I can't seem to track it down at the moment.

Robert Mathiesen said...

On the pronunciations of "plut":

There are two different pronunciations of "long u" in many varieties of American English. One is like the "oo" in "goose"; the other is like the "u" in "Tuesday." Often the choice of one or another is determined by the consonant sound just before it, but especially after an "l" the choice depends on which word it is, not only on the consonant before it. For me, "loose" has an entirely different vowel sound that "lewd," and there is even a minimal pair: "loo" versus "Lew." But many other varieties of American English wipe the signifying difference out entirely, favoring the one or the other. I would expect that "plut," like "plutonium" and "Pluto," could be pronounced either way. And then there are the "short u" pronunciations, which might be like the "u" in "putt" or like the "u" in "put." I like the variety!

Shane Wilson said...

As you've noted on here before, adopting an older technology does not equate adopting the social mores in effect at the time the technology was invented. I'd love to see a storyline where Carr assumes that Lakelanders must be sexist, homophobic, or racist, and is baffled to find out otherwise. Being gay or of color is less an issue in Lakeland than in Eastern Seaboard, despite the older tech. That very few people go to church or practice Christianity despite the older tech, compared with Eastern Seaboardia.

daelach said...

@ sgage: That's a popular myth, but how would JFK had such an influence in Europe? In fact, JFK was not setting a trend, he picked it up. If you want to name a US president who contributed to the hats' demise in the US, then Eisenhower would be the choice, with the subsidiaries to the interstates highways.

Another thing and just a feeling from today with the "real" whateverpads - I don't own a "smartphone", nor do I routinely carry my old-fashioned cellphone with me. I looked around when commuting with public transport, and I started to feel somewhat alien among all those smartphone zombies around. Frightening, in a way.

peakfuture said...

It got in my head to collect a bunch of maps of the after-America that could be, and put them in one place:

I went through How It Could Happen by JMG, and a few other sources (like the 16 and 38 state versions of the US mentioned previously).

1) I don't have JHK's last novel, and I know there was some details of the geography of the US; if someone wants to put the data in a comment, I'll mock it up.

2) I don't recall the sea level rise in Star's Reach; 30 m? 60 m? Or more? Both were posted. The political landscape may have changed drastically - but the landscape (and shorelines) will also have been modified significantly!

aiastelamonides said...


That's a bit drastic! I concede that Treasure Island is better written (though my memory of the prose is rather hazy in both cases) and more exciting on the page-by-page level, but in its full sweeping arc His Dark Materials (if not The Golden Compass as a stand-alone book) has vastly more for the imagination to work with, including things that few other books have at all. (I suspect that our difference on this point has a lot to do with my having been a child when I read it- besides introducing me to several worlds of imagination, it was also one of the first really melancholy endings that I ever read. I also was too young to react strongly to the negative depiction of religion.)

While we're on the subject, where would you rate A Wrinkle in Time, if you've read it? In my mind it is a sort of misty dream-vision sister to His Dark Materials. I get the sense that it is more up your alley than the other.

jean-vivien said...

The view from Europe is rather... jaw-slackening. I always assumed that collapse would take the shape of an Asterix comics : a few brave Gaulois tribes doing their own affairs in the forest under the nose of a giant but harmlessly stupid Roman occupier. Instead of cartoon characters and nice colors, here is what we turn out to have : blurring the lines across the political landscape, and the distinction between good and evil. Unarmed but ever powerful human tides, questionning every national identity. Disagreement between countries in the face of unprecedented stresses. Jobs disappearing progressively, and always the most disastrous policies for our economy. Monsters in the middle-East, but monsters of our nation's own making, coming back to attack our cultural sentiments.

The displacement of populations is happening in our countries right now, it just isn't very widely distributed yet. Like the future, kind of. Reality is pretty messy, it is here... We only manage to impose narratives upon it, afterwards, in retrospect, sort of. Countries have gone to war for less than all of this, and I feel rather queasy. Unlike the USA, Europe can deal with energy shortages, but it faces a lot of geopolitical problems : looming conflicts, populations displaced, epidemics...

2015 has been horrible in France so far, and the news these days view like dystopian science-fiction. Always, this feeling of both disbelief and abandonment, like I can see a great danger ahead but nobody has a credible solution and it's so easy to bury my head in the sand. And also, I wonder : if noone believes in the statu quo anymore, we will have to believe in something, but what are we going to choose to believe in ?

Whatever choices we take now, we WILL face traumatic disasters and harsh events. John Michael, for the journey to Retrotopia, you are quite right to skip straight to the sunny side of History, because the stormy side that will precede it can no longer be avoided right now.

@RepubAnon, Greg Belvedere : a society will not survive very long if it tries to develop around technological automation. The supposed damage inflicted upon society by automation destroying jobs is pretty absurd : if automation is so awesome, so powerful... what good has it done to help deal with the stresses inflicted upon the Western world over the course of this year ? Have the hoardes of drones solved the ISIS crisis ? For a long time to come, societies around the world will be subject to stresses even stronger than the ones we face right now. Just now the failures of automation are harsh, but think of what those failures would like 50 years from now !

So we all agree here that the future of work is human labour. The idea of a minimum wage supposes the framework of a nation-state. For a lot of people, that framework won't be available right away, and the biggest question will not be how much to be paid, or to be paid a minimum wage, but just to ensure a minimum usefulness of their labour to the people who matter most to them.

RCW - said...

Howdy JMG - NRN

Thus far, we've only seen a view from the outside looking in, and maybe more importantly, through a window moving at speed. As a stereotypically superficial male (I can't speak for the gentler sex), some single friends & I have a saying for when we spot a woman while driving that she may be "40-40" meaning she's looks great at a distance of 40 feet @ 40 MPH, only to later discover otherwise when seen close up. Maybe it's just a variation of "all that glitters is not gold."

I'm licking my chops for the chapters when the protagonist arrives at his destination & sees life on the other side up close & personal. Further as a compare & contrast, it might also be enlightening to accompany a similar character who lives in the west & travel east. I guess for now, it'll have to to tune in next week, same bat time, same bat channel

Stuart Cram said...

Mr. Greer,

I was waiting to comment after last week's story said that the protagonist was going to Canton. I relocated there from Eastern Ontario in order for my wife to complete her medical training. Our daughter (who is chocolate skinned btw!) was born here and would be in her early 50s when the story takes place. Will have to make sure she's handy with a clipboard and revolver ...

As a Canadian it's amazing how wealthy this city/region was and how far it has fallen. The architectural beauty of the churches, schools, older houses shows that this was once a great place to live. It'll be fun to think of the tow-path as being restored to its former use as I walk it the next time we're over that way.

I've lived in a few parts of the US: South Eastern Louisiana, Central Connecticut and North East Ohio. What is always amazing is how rich the rich are and how poor the poor are. Truly mind-blowing to see the mansions and the shacks that people live in America. I think it's hard for outsiders to understand until you live amongst it yourself and see how a half dozen miles can separate incredible crime/poverty and wealth.

If I could make one suggestion would be the add a 'No Top Down Solutions to be Proposed' disclaimer on your comments sections. The way you divided up the counties was a stroke of genius, and anyone proposing a solution to America's troubles beyond the county level should be summarily ignored. I think Canadians are probably as guilty as anyone of running off lists of how America's problems could be solved in top-down manner. I think this is because historically that's how we have solved our problems. Maybe we need to move beyond that mentality.

Thanks again

sgage said...

daelach said...
"That's a popular myth, but how would JFK had such an influence in Europe? In fact, JFK was not setting a trend, he picked it up. If you want to name a US president who contributed to the hats' demise in the US, then Eisenhower would be the choice, with the subsidiaries to the interstates highways."

That's fine - I don't insist on the JFK myth. But hats were 'in' for men right through the 50's into the early 60's in the States, and then suddenly they weren't. I don't say it had to be JFK, but I don't think the Interstate Highway System had anything to do with it. And how would that influence Europe, anyway? ;-)

"Another thing and just a feeling from today with the "real" whateverpads - I don't own a "smartphone", nor do I routinely carry my old-fashioned cellphone with me. I looked around when commuting with public transport, and I started to feel somewhat alien among all those smartphone zombies around. Frightening, in a way."

Having never owned any kind of mobile phone, smart, stupid or indifferent, I totally understand what you're saying here. It is indeed frightening, even as I see it manifest in my own family. I am somewhat an object of derision among my young nieces and nephews. And I'm a guy who made his living for a couple of decades in the IT biz. Which might be why I want nothing to do with mobile phones, particularly 'smart' (gag me) phones. :-)

John Michael Greer said...

MawKernewek, exactly -- even when there's no actual prospect of growth, the expectation of growth still governs such actions. That's what's going on east of the border, too: because everyone knows that sooner or later progress and economic growth has to resume, we've got to have metanet service all over, right? Even if we have to take out huge loans from foreign bankers, run the country into the ground financially, and sell off assets to satisfy the IMF, it will pay for itself eventually...won't it?

Ladybug/Ward, it takes a special kind of courage to stand there and fight for something you believe in when all the evidence suggests you're losing; thank you for doing that. For what it's worth, I think the nihilism is a temporary phenomenon. The same thing was pervasive in the US after the First World War, and then imploded in the face of the Great Depression. I expect a replay of that in the years and decades immediately ahead.

MigrantWorker, I mentioned that in last week's comments. The Federal government took to using plutonium-jacketed artillery shells in the last couple of years of the Second Civil War as a terror weapon -- a bunch of people were hanged as war criminals for that once Washington DC fell -- and street slang for the shells was "pluts." From that came "to plut" as a verb meaning, basically, to terminate with extreme prejudice, and then "plut" as a general expletive.

FLwolverine, curiously enough, we'll be seeing some interesting twists on corporation law as things proceed.

Tony, it's certainly no surprise to me. Those things eat your brain.

Professor D., thanks for the link.

Donald, and now that there's enough steel to rebuild roller coasters again, that may well happen.

Birgit, thank you for that! I'll see if I can chase down a copy.

Max, have you ever noticed that when I describe any kind of green future, nobody asks that about any other technology? It's just the bicyclists who are guaranteed to post, asking, "Where are the bikes?" I sometimes wonder if bicyclists are insecure or something.

WW, good for you. It's a romping good tale and deserves to be handed to every child who can read at all. (And to be read aloud to those who, for whatever reason, can't.)

Ed-M, yes, and I've also heard it pronounced to rhyme with "put" and "shut." There's a lot of vowel variation in the American language!

Caryn said...

Thanks, JGM: I'm very much enjoying the ride! I'm also looking forward to seeing where Carr alights, who he meets, what he is doing there, (& BTW, what is HE wearing?).

As a former Costume Designer: ubiquitous hat-wearing waned and went out throughout the 60's, (apart from those outrageously fabulous zoot-suit and 'Shaft'-inspired "pimp-hats" complete with loooong quail feather, but they were really decorative only and came later as a reaction to the reaction). It probably WAS afforded by the auto-culture's lack of necessity and the mass availability of home blow-dryers, but it was also an acceptance of the social and sexual revolutions of the 60's, the move visually to more look (appear to BE) casual or "more real". A full rejection of the detested repressed, buttoned down Eisenhower 50's. I remember as a kid and teen in the 70's, we'd wash our hair on Sunday evenings only. Even this, my depression-era Grandmother thought was a bit of excessive luxury. As has been discussed here so often: There is always a peer pressure for folks to keep up, to be 'modern', (Progress!) or be seen as hopelessly left behind. In the early 70's, I remember that affecting the way people dressed themselves very acutely. Very few people under the age of 60 resisted.

You can never underestimate the pressures of 'fashion'. Some people in any given society definitely wear things that are impractical for the sake of looking good, (or what they perceive to be looking good). This has always been true, throughout human history. The desire to visually adorn and express ourselves has always been with us.

That said: In terms of the historical costumery, I think your imaginings are probably right on target. We often look to past eras for fashion inspiration and at some time those pioneer/prairie fashions WILL come back, (much to my chagrin) complete with gingham. Yikes. Not by far, my favorite period. The Bogart & Bacall 1940's OTOH, YES!! I'm guessing those in retro-1940's are the trend-setters? The City-Mice? Wonder if the ladies draw their stocking seams on, up the backs of their legs as well? :)

I love hats and yup, working or walking outside they're at the very least extremely useful. Bonnets are hideous, IMHO, but they also are super functional as they don't take up any room on the side of your head that a broad brimmed hat does and the ugly chin-tie keeps it on in hard winds. (Is it really windy in the Lakeland Republic?) I'd hope my 2065 bonnet was at least something like toddlers' Ozzie-Cozzie flap-doodles. No, forget it. I'd still wear a nice moderately brimmed straw hat with a string tie. Bonnets are just too dowdy to be bourne.

I have to admit, (don't ask how I know this!) that long dirndl skirts are actually more comfortable to move around in, even if one is working in the fields than trousers, in addition to being far easier and fabric efficient to make, and so basic, it can be designed/adorned in countless styles. It has 'legs', longevity.

So, if this becomes a movie or play, can I costume it! ;)

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

The wooden roller coaster on the Santa Cruz boardwalk has been operating since the 1920s. You only need steel for the rails and the wheels.

John Michael Greer said...

Nastarana, good! The role of the household economy in national wealth will be coming in for some discussion as we proceed.

Sylvia, not at this point, though that was doubtless the case in the first decade or so after Partition. That said, there are a lot of plain, simple, comfortable dresses, not to mention blouses, skirts, shirts, trousers, etc., made of locally grown cotton and hemp, under those raincoats.

Pantagruel, hmm! I'll have to put that on the get-to list. I haven't read it.

BoysMom, The Phantom Toolbooth! I don't think I've heard anybody mention that book in decades, but it was a major fave of mine, not least because it contains more rancid puns per square inch of page than any other book I've ever read. Thanks for the blast from the past...

Cathy, of course they can say that straight-faced. Telling outright lies with a straight face is the essential job skill for corporate flacks.

Patricia, thank you!

Greg, I have real doubts about a guaranteed minimum income -- it sounds great on paper, but so did the social-welfare programs of the Sixties, which promptly turned into an Orwellian social-control system that has done immense damage to communities across the country. I'm also far from sure that it makes any kind of sense to subsidize the abolition of jobs, which is what that amounts to, at a time when going back from automation to human labor is arguably a necessary step. More on this as we proceed!

Robert, true enough! I've had fun noticing, for example, how the words "poor," "pour," and "pore" are pronounced in different parts of the US; where I grew up, they're pronounced exactly the same, but that's not the case in a lot of other areas.

Shane, er, you do know that I'm the head of a religious organization, don't you? I'd encourage you to be a little more careful about equating sexism, homophobia and racism with involvement in a religious tradition; that may be true of some religions but it's emphatically not true of all.

Peakfuture, the sea level rise in Star's Reach is 50 meters. You might also consider putting in the new national borders: Meriga extends from the Appalachians to the Missouri River; Nuwinga is the current New England; Genda is Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes; the Coastal Allegiancies extend down the eastern seaboard from Maryland south to where Florida used to be, up to the Appalachian crest; the Meycan empire has expanded into California, Texas, and those other parts of the Southwest that aren't completely uninhabited; there's an empty zone extending between the Rockies and the Sierras and Cascade ranges, which is as dry as the Sahara and a lot more polluted, and nobody lives there; and then there's the Neeonjin country, which runs along the coast from far northern California up to the Alaskan panhandle, and is inhabited by the descendents of Japanese boat people. I may be generating a map of that for an upcoming project, in which case you can certainly post it.

John Michael Greer said...

Aias, well, to each their own. I didn't encounter Pullman's fiction until I was adult, of course, and I also encountered it after running across Pullman in another context, and that may well have prejudiced me against the novels -- I don't have a lot of patience with the pompous-jerk end of the atheist scene. Still, if the book made a difference to you when you were young, that's something in its favor. As for A Wrinkle in Time, I did indeed read it -- it was published the year after I was born, and was hugely popular for the next decade or so. I liked it a great deal at the time, and still enjoy it -- also the three children's novels of Joan North, also popular around that time, which have similar themes but English settings and a less overtly Christian flavor.

Jean-Vivien, Europe's close to the cutting edge of things right now. I don't envy you the experience! I suspect, though, that Act II of the tragedy will be set more on this side of the Atlantic.

RCW, good. I expect to keep Carr well and truly flummoxed for a while yet, until he starts figuring out what's actually going on in the Lakeland Republic -- and then the fun really begins.

Stuart, thank you. I don't get a lot of people proposing top-down solutions these days, and when I do, they're usually helpful targets for criticism in a forthcoming post, so I don't want to chase them off quite so completely!

Caryn, there's a fair amount of wind in the Lakeland Republic, especially close to the lakeshore -- Chicago isn't called "the Windy City" for nothing. The dividing lines between quasi-1940s clothes and the gingham-dress-and-bonnet look are among the things that are more complex than they look -- stay tuned! -- but yes, you could probably costume this story very creditably if it ever becomes a movie, which it won't. (Ecotopia didn't, and it's sold close to a million copies.)

Unknown Deborah, so now that the Lakeland Republic can import lumber in significant amounts, wooden roller-coasters are an option, too.

Hubertus Hauger said...

As for the matter of religion; I guesstimate strongly, that it will play an important part in the real future. Its done so all over the world and troughout all of history, as far as I know. Being driven by evolutionary force, the existing religions will prevail and adobt to the changing enviroment. Two elements I see as particulary influencial. Thats both unfullfilled love and overhelming fear. With such do religions work all the time and quite substancially.
So shrines and temples with leaders will be found on every corner, if not in every house. What I see in particular about religion, is, that it adresses these two essential human needs with twisted turns more often (symbols, rituals, magic, etc.), instead of adressing it straightforward. I recognize that being due to the twisted nature of our emotions, mental turnmoils and social turbulences, in order to deliver a frame for stabilicing and relaxation.
Also I guess, that both intermingling and aparthaid will take place and form the evolving future religions.

Stephen Heyer said...

John Michael Greer : “Max, have you ever noticed that when I describe any kind of green future, nobody asks that about any other technology? It's just the bicyclists who are guaranteed to post, asking, "Where are the bikes?" I sometimes wonder if bicyclists are insecure or something.”

Yep! We are! That’s because we know everybody hates us, largely because we have a mature technology that has almost unchallengeable efficiency and can be produced almost anywhere at almost any level of technology. (Yes, wooden bikes are practical and doable.) Ok, I guess we do tend to be annoyingly confident that we are morally superior to everyone else, especially car drivers, but that’s because we are :)

Hey! This started off as humor, but I’m not sure it is any more.

Seriously, I can see the problem for anyone writing or filming, well, basically science fiction, about a low energy future: Street scenes that look like National Geographic photos of Peking rush hour in 1967 somehow ruin the whole effect.

As for the other technology, it’s plain from the script so far that all will be revealed in good time whereas the absence of what you would think would be a prime and highly visible technology, one that would be shaping the towns as much as the car now does, was kind of noticeable.

On the other hand, I’m very impressed with your “Mixed Technology” and Mixed Agriculture. I’ve been sort of pondering on the usefulness of this very practical idea, already widely used in the Third World for some time so was really chuffed when you made it a central theme for your latest effort.

Stephen Heyer

donalfagan said...

I enjoyed The Golden Compass (Northern Lights) and The Subtle Knife, but The Amber Spyglass was a clumsy resolution. Particularly bad was that clergyman/killer plotline that fizzled out.

Stephen Heyer said...

John Michael Greer : “PatriciaT, nah, the problem is that veepads are entirely based on the so-called "cloud" -- all their programs, data files, etc. are on server farms, not on the veepad itself. It literally can't do anything but access the metanet, and requires that access to have any functionality at all. We're not there yet, but as you've probably noticed, a lot of computer types want us to head there.”

Hi John,

Down here at the edge of the world (Australia) the “computer types” I know, rather than pushing it, are getting a near hysterical attack of the conspiracy theories about the whole cloud thing.

And once they explain to the heads of the businesses they service that the “cloud” is not some magical, eternal place where their data will be safe and accessible for ever but rather just another set of servers, but carefully hidden so that (one guesses) there is no legal comeback if it all evaporates, the managers become rather nervous about the whole thing.

In fact, I have just spent about 3 weeks hard work trying to find away around the efforts of the supplier of our accounting software to force us into said “cloud” and onto the treadmill of two yearly $1k or $2k “upgrades”. Incidentally, I kind of wonder what these “upgrades” are supposed to do as software 4 generations out of date still does everything we want it to do.

Mind you, I can see why the software suppliers are wildly enthusiastic about the whole cloud thing: With their customers vital business records “on the cloud” that they control, their customers are, what’s the term, that’s it, “trapped like rats”.

There is also the even more serious question of what happens if something (war, national disaster, sabotage, EMP or whatever) happens to those servers or anywhere on the links between them and us. From what I know about loss of records of even single firms, I would guess that the loss of access to financial records for any reasonable amount of time by tens of thousands of Australian businesses would plunge Australia deeply into National Disaster territory.

To quote one of my Susan’s favorite pieces of wisdom “Efficiency is the enemy of resilience”.

Stephen Heyer

Patricia Mathews said...

@Caryn: When you said "I have to admit, (don't ask how I know this!) that long dirndl skirts are actually more comfortable to move around in, even if one is working in the fields than trousers, in addition to being far easier and fabric efficient to make, and so basic, it can be designed/adorned in countless styles. It has 'legs', longevity," I remember when I made that discovery.

I was a member of the SCA and went to Grand Outlandish many a time before other things intervened. It was there tat I realized how very, very sensible our ancestors' clothing really was! The ankle-length skirt (my best style then was the long skirt and knee-length T-tunic) makes it far easier to cross creeks or to 'water a bush'. Wearing a cap to bed helped me stay warm, and wearing a headwrap all weekend means you never get your hair dirty. And ask me about Grand Windlandish, when having brought a thin yard-wide long white head veil saved me from getting a lungful of dust! (New Mexico. East of the Sandia Mountains, down onto the prairie. Yeah.)

And as I mentioned earlier, when I went to the skirt-blouse-and-bodice look, it provided great back support.

Both the SCA and Early Medieval Studies will teach you one thing, if nothing else - OUR ANCESTORS WERE NO FOOLS!!!!!

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG - bicycles make such good sense! Why are you so determined to avoid them? And you know, hard rubber tires, or even stranger substitutes have been used when there were none of the 20th century sort available.

Nastarana said...

Dear BoysMom, I had girls and now granddaughters. No boys. Two generations of girls have been delighted by Patricia Coombs Dorrie series. If you are an Evangelical Christian, please allow me to point out that Dorrie and her friends are practitioners of white magic only. Also very good, and much enjoyed by my family have been the Magic Schoolbus series. The original books only; that travesty put out by PBS is to be avoided.

Some libraries and bookstores do still have collections of Newberry award winners. The middle years of the 20thC seem to have been a sort of minor golden age of historical fiction for juniors. Adam of the Road was the first "chapter book" I ever read, and it sparked a lifelong interest in history. Also of great merit is The Trumpeter of Crakow, and there were many others. Alas, school libraries of the kind into which I used to bury myself, are no more. There is no place left now for unpopular kids to hide. Boys might like the boy with dog in the wilderness tales of Jack Kjelguard. As for Walter Farley's Black Stallion series, I am afraid that horrible recent movie version rather put me off them.

Mr. Geer, might I respectfully suggest replacing cotton with linen when you get around to describing clothing. The mallow which produces cotton is, I believe, a swamp plant in origin, rather like celery. Ancient Egyptians grew it in the Nile Delta. It requires copious amounts of water, not to mention an unbelievable array of chemicals when grown in commercial quantities. Linen fabric is far more comfortable and durable than all but the finest cotton. The flax stems do need to be retted, by all accounts a nasty job, but one which could be shared by all, or some sort of pounding equipment ought not to be beyond the technology of your Lakelanders. I believe flax does not deplete soil like cotton does, and flax has a myriad of uses. For work clothes, do not forget hemp, wears like iron and, judging from the samples I have seen, would breath like linen.

Dear Caryn, I agree about the comfort and practical nature of long skirts, though they need not be dirndl. I also am intrigued by the medieval ladies costume of a shift, a sort of combination of lightweight slip and blouse, over which skirts, vests, coats etc. can be tied or buttoned. Bonnets need not be made from chintz; there are some rather nice ones shown in the most recent BBC Pride and Prejudice made in plain colors and substantial fabrics.

The other Tom said...

After reading your blogs for a year (an anniversary of sorts) I am impressed by your Mr. Carr character, at how you have breathed life into a character so unlike yourself, a character so stuck in his own culture and class.
Mr. Carr's reaction to the immigrant family reminds me of the vast separation of what people experience today in the U.S., based on their occupation and financial situation. Much like Mr. Carr, many of the people I have met who had the good fortune to live affluently are completely clueless how the majority working class lives. Also, a variant of the same "immigration" is happening today, with people deliberately collapsing from middle class aspirations, giving up the desperate hanging on of middle class status so they have time to live like human beings. Some counties or towns are more amenable to dropping out than others, so these are the places where people like the immigrant family are going now. It makes me laugh when the mainstream media puzzles over why so many have quit looking for jobs, because the pay of most jobs is so miniscule that in adapting to that, a culture of refugees from the mainstream economy has grown, at least in my area.
Perhaps an early symptom of societal decline is when maintaining middle class life becomes so all absorbing of time and thought that people become inaccessible to one another.
@Doctor Westchester. I agree with Alex about the novels of Erich Maria Remarque, specifically A Time to Love and a Time to Die. Although it does not describe the rise of fascism, it follows the life of a German soldier on leave from the Russian front. More than anything I have ever read, this put me in the shoes of someone trapped in a truly fascist society. He and his contemporaries are all doomed, and they know it, and the book traces out the interior lives of people with no future. I read this several years ago and have been haunted by it ever since.

Glenn said...

Andy Brown said...
"@ Travis, I've found that sunchokes make great pickles. Crunchier than cucumbers with no problem of "windiness""

We too, have noticed Jerusalem Artichokes give us severe gas. Are you using a quick vinegar pickle, or salt based fermented pickling techniques?



in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Speculations on who Mr. Carr is and the purpose of this trip.

He is not a spy or a journalist, or he would have made provisions for note taking. He claims to have elite access to information. If he were a business leader or had a government position, he would be fretting about traveling without bodyguards. If he were a celebrity, he would have expected the emigrants and some of the other travelers to recognize him.

I conclude that he has elite status not for his personal accomplishments but because of familial connections. My first guess is that he wants to talk to a relative who defected. My second guess is that he has been sent on a diplomatic mission, not as a negotiator, but because his person has some significance on account of his family. Perhaps he is going to receive something or deliver something of symbolic significance.

John Michael Greer said...

Hubertus, religion tends to be particularly important in hard times, and the future history I've sketched out has no shortage of those. That said, the identity of some of the religious and para-religious communities in the Lakeland Republic, and elsewhere in 2065 North America, may startle some readers!

Stephen, in my experience bicycles appeal powerfully to a minority of adults and not so much to the rest of us. I don't doubt there are bikes wheeling down the roads in at least some parts of the Lakeland Republic, but the incessant attempts by bikophile readers to insist that bicycles ought to be all over all my imagined futures have made me a bit grumpy on the subject. Do you recall the people who insisted that I absolutely, positively had to put bicycles into Star's Reach?

As for moral superiority, er, when we still lived in Seattle, my wife worked in a neighborhood through which a lot of bicyclists rode. She was constantly being harassed and, in no small number of cases, almost struck by bicyclists who were infuriated that she would cross at the crosswalk, with the light, when they wanted to blow on through. I had similar experiences, though I tended to stay away from the main bike corridors when walking. I'd be a bit more sympathetic about bicyclists asking cars to share the road if bicyclists themselves were a little better about sharing it with pedestrians.

With regard to the lack of enthusiasm about the "cloud," though, I'm delighted to hear that. The whole "cloud" business strikes me as almost indescribably idiotic, and I'd assumed on that basis that of course the geekoisie would embrace it with squeals of delight.

Patricia, see my grumble to Stephen above, and my earlier grumble to Max Paris. I'd doubtless be more sympathetic to bicycles if so many of their devotees didn't push them on me with all the enthusiasm of Jehovah's Witnesses canvassing for converts.

Nastarana, I suspect there'll be a fair amount of cotton in the Lakeland Republic, if only because climate change will be rolling the cotton belt northwards, and there are a lot of people in the US who know how to grow it. It can be grown organically, by the way. Linen's an interesting possibility, though -- I'll have to look into its cultivation requirements -- and I know that one mother of a lot of hemp is grown there as a fiber crop.

Other Tom, I know enough people who think like Carr that it was really easy to figure out how what he'd say and do. It's a common type in today's America!

steve pearson said...

Two novelists who catch the feeling of 1930s Europe and the rise of fascism are Rebecca Cantrell with her Hannah Fogel series, mostly in Germany and Alan Furst, all over Europe. He, by the way, is one of my favorite authors.
On the shift, long dress issue: it is basically all I ever wear around the house. Most comfortable garment there is; don't even need underwear. I know women who garden in them.
cheers, Steve

Steve in Colorado said...

Just a few tangential thoughts on a couple of topics here:

re the Cloud:

Computer technology has a repeating cycle from centralized processing and data storage (mainframes, cloud) to the localized version (PCs, smart devices) and back again. It is uncanny how it regularly swings from one extreme to the other. Each rising new wave is sold as the perfect solution, fixing all the shortcomings of the "other" current way. And of course no one remembers how the current solution was sold the same way a few years prior. I have come to believe this is really just the HW/SW manufactures needed to sell a new generation of product.

re bicyclists:

While the technology is likely a keeper as we descend the complexity downslope, I tend to agree with JMG about the attitude of the current set of bike riders. They seem to collect an amazingly self centered group of individuals who complain mightily about others not following traffic rules and common courtesy yet feel free to ignore both themselves. Rarely have I seen a group with so many members that have such an immense urge to become a hood ornament.

ViewFromHere said...

There are still a coffee shop talk memories of Flax production. Flax stems are made into linen, the flax seeds are a healthy oil and food, can be animal feed, and even fuel. The gentlemen at the coffee shop remember when we had a flax stem process machine right here in this small town of 400 people out on the rainfed prairie.

Flax processing went the way of the vegetable processing that was down the road 9 miles. You'll never see a more beautiful field than a field of flax flowers- a lovely blue.

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG - OK, now I know where you're coming from. In my neck of the woods, there are two kinds of people who ride bicycles. One is in street clothes and street shoes, and is carrying bags or a backpack or has something in the basket, and is as likely to minority-poor, and students. They are bicycle riders, and I tend to make way for them when I'm in my car. I'm bigger than they are.

The other is CY-clists! All decked out in bright-colored spandex and special shoes and expensive helmets and hunched over expensive bicycles - like the two I passed on a local street that was built as a residential street back in the day but became a local thoroughfare still with the same two-cars-passing, no-white-line design. Stopped at an intersection side by side as if they owned the road. Riding in a straight line past the parked cars without swerving no matter what was coming up behind them or towards them. Second in annoyance only to the Urban Commando vehicles I call "vehicles on steroids" on the same streets, hogging a lane and a half becuse they are the big dogs and the rest of us are mere pups.

But my reason, and that of a lot of others, I might guess, for missing them on the downside of Hubbard's Curve is that historically they were of great importance on the way up, in the US and in Britain - very, VERY much in Britain, can't speak for the Continent - and still are in many a partly or non-industrialized nation. Almost like seeing a revised Middle Ages without horses, or Mexico without burros.IF they're not there - why are they missing?

Myriad said...

"Myriad, have you noticed that when believers in progress are challenged, their first response is exactly the sort of bluster Carr has been engaged in? It's only when that doesn't do the job that they start looking for anything more serious -- that, or just amp up the bluster."

Or they drop some variation of "well, I can see there's no reasoning with you" and withdraw from the conversation. Yes, I've noticed that, to put it mildly.

"Carr's a smart man, and will get past the bluster in due time."

That's good to hear. Of course it's a novel so there's plenty of time, but it appears Carr has quite a complex and challenging role to fill! Your utopian story also embeds and addresses a dystopian one, back east, that's visible only from Carr's comparisons and reflections.

It'll be interesting to find out to what extent he's the perpetrator or victim (can be both, of course) of the oppression in his homeland. For instance, does he really find the presence of heavily armed security forces in public places comforting (a detail that would distance Carr from most present-day American readers), or is he misrepresenting his thoughts to conform to a propaganda narrative? His perceptions of what he sees are obviously distorted, but how reliable a narrator is he even about his own feelings? In due time, of course.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thought that it might be worth mentioning that I didn't read any mention about a single solar photovoltaic panel on any roof in the Lakeland Republic. That is a good thing because my take on the matter is that they'll last at best 50 years after the last factory shuts down. And many of them won't make it that long...

With the windmills I was also interested whether they were for generating small quantities of electricity or they were for mechanical power such as grinding and/or pumping? Historically here the windmills were used for pumping water, whilst rivers provided the more reliable energy for grinding/milling grains. As an interesting and fun fact for you, many of the large granite multi story mills are still intact just to the north of this mountain range and there are a few of them. I doubt that they have the wheels, mechanisms and stones though.

Degraves Mill - Heritage Listed

I like hats. If you notice the photos on my blog you'll see that I wear hats all of the time because hats keep your head warm during winter and provide shade for your head and eyes during summer. Keeping the hair out of your eyes on windy days is also a useful thing - especially when fresh water may not be easily accessible to wash wind blown grit out of your eyes.

Well, I pursue that strategy here because it is totally 100% effective. There is no other game in town as far as I'm concerned. I received my home insurance renewal yesterday in the mail and noted that it has now increased to $1,700 per year (an increase of 18.8% over the previous year). There will come a time when insurance is a comfort for the very well to do. Already half the houses up here have no insurance...



Robert Mathiesen said...

The problem I have with bicycles is that they seem to be an addictive technology, just like handheld electronic devices, TVs, skateboards, and a good number of drugs (legal or otherwise). Fast flowing motion is one of the more effective ways people entrance themselves, and bicycles provide that sort of motion in spades.

Living near a college, I meet up with bicycles everywhere, and a good third of the people who I see riding them are clearly in some sort of trance or "zone." These "zoned" cyclists go much faster than cars are allowed to go. They appear not even to see stop signs and pedestrians, and they have no sense whatever of the difficulties that the driver of a car backing up has in perceiving fast-moving objects behind them, or where a car's "blind spots" may be.

And then there is the fervor with which some cyclists push the bicycle as a superior means of getting around. It reminds me of nothing so much as a drug addict's urging his drug of choice on everyone he meets as the best way to become a superior sort of human being. That's as repellent as the rotting carcass of a three-days old dead dog.

In saying this, I do not mean to single out cyclists for any unique condemnation. One could say equal and worse things about a huge fraction of the people who drive automobiles, for instance.

In short, bicycles would be just fine except for the effects they have on many people who ride them a lot. The same could be said of computers or televisions.

Patricia Mathews said...

Another note on clothes: the trenchcoats that were so typical of the Bogart era have a unique historical origin. They were issued to the troops in World War I (hence the name), and in the various economic collapses of the 'tween wars period, veterans wore them who could afford no other outer garment.

This from a novel *written in period.*

John Roth said...

@Stephen Heyer

Bicycles are an interesting idea, but there are a couple of issues. While wooden frames are undoubtedly practical, given the right types of wood, the actual issue is the drive trains and the tires. The bicycle chain was a late 19th, early 20th century invention that requires some decent metallurgy and that wears out under constant use. Rubber can be grown using “Russian Dandelion,” in the climates common in the Lakeland Republic, and was apparently grown during WW II with a yield of 110 liters per hectare (sorry about not translating them to US terms). The Russians claimed 200 liters per hectare.

The more important issue is: why bother? Bicycles require decent roads unless you want your back teeth shaken out; they require a supply chain and similar. If you use them for work and shopping, they require parking space. There’s no reason that appropriate counties in the Lakeland Republic couldn’t manufacture bicycles, the real question is: why bother? I get the impression that there are some very smart people in the Lakeland Republic that think about the repercussions of various technologies that they might introduce.

On a different subject: as far as the cloud goes, there is a similar concern in the U.S. as well, although not as advanced. That’s one of the (many) things that’s pushing the Open Source movement. Could I suggest that some of your accounting types collectively (horrors!) fund an open source project to build a free small business accounting package? I’d suggest using Go and Python for the front end; works like a champ.

Caryn said...

Hahahaha!! Sorry, Apologies, but I'm doubled over with laughter at your response re: Bicyclists! I share your sentiments, at least here in Hong Kong. Maybe in a more wide open sane city it would be a good idea, but we're a VERY bike-UN-friendly city: gridlocked auto, bus and pedestrian traffic in town, and here on the south side: tiny twisty roads, HUGE buses that literally cannot fit onto their side of the road, lots of traffic and still more pedestrians. The cyclists here are all young adult, (Gweilo) serious looking fitness cyclists kitted out like Lance Armstrong. And yes, they get on people's nerves because they do ride aggressively. Although one can agree or disagree with the attitude, (I understand it at least), I just cannot for the life of me wrap my head around challenging a 3-5 ton BUS!! Regardless of one's attitude, if you zip quickly in front a bus, you're going to die! Must be something in the air pollution that disables one's sense of spatial awareness? Self preservation instinct? I don't know. It's a real noggin-scratcher.

Now OTOH: Those big Dutch Granny-Trikes with a basket or crate on the back for schlepping heavy stuff would be very handy in the country lanes of the LLR.

On another note: I certainly hope your predictions are wrong about the future / wasteland between the Rockies and the Sierras. That's our beloved homestead in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Maybe wishful thinking, but it has been home to largish populations of Shoshone, Bannock and Crow people for centuries. Then fur trappers, Tie-hacks and German WW1 POW's who decided to stay and make it their home after the war. Very fortuitously, the Fracking explorations have not found enough potential gas to bother with us. They did come through about 5 years ago, caused a big uproar, even set up 1 lonely rusted oil pump. It sits off a dirt track, up in the mountains, with it's head down, like a giant, forlorn mechanical crow, completely still and silent. (Incidentally, I did a few days of internet sleuthing to find out who owned that well and found it was a NYC hedge-fund group that was selling shares of it as the next big oil boom to suckers, er, clients. So, when you talk about a 'fracking-bubble, I know exactly why it's going to pop). But then they left. They found nothing. There WILL likely be a wasteland on the other side of our southern mountains, The Wind River Mountains heading into Pavilion and Pinedale. Whether or not my own family can get back there before the manure hits the fan, I hope it survives and thrives. People there have never really been 'un-collapsed'. But hey if the folks Back East think it's a wasteland, all the better; Keeps the riffraff out. :)

Nastarana: It's not the chintz that bothers me about bonnets. It's the shape that infantilizes a grown woman's head. They look adorable on babies, IMHO, not so much on grown-ups. Conceding it's a superficial style issue for me. :)

Greedily looking forward to next week's installment!

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown Deborah, heh heh heh. Mum's the word...

Steve, agreed and agreed.

View, the prairie where? That information will help me chase down details.

Patricia, you'll find that quite a few things that were there on the way up aren't necessarily there on the way back down. Massed smokestacks are an example that has already been mentioned. The reasons why bicycles aren't common? We'll get to those.

Myriad, he does indeed have a very complex role in the story -- there's an entire dimension to what's going on that won't be made clear until the end. You're also quite right that the contrast between the Lakeland Republic and "back east" -- the latter, of course, being a linear extrapolation from what the USA is doing right now -- is a very important part of the whole narrative.

Cherokee, excellent! I was wondering if anybody was going to notice that. No, the Lakeland Republic doesn't do much with PV cells, for reasons we'll get to. (I'll whisper the word "externalities" as a hint.) The windmills are of various kinds -- there's water pumping going on, also a variety of mills, and also homescale electrical generation for various purposes -- you saw a lot of that in the rural US before the grid extended out of the cities, a windmill and a set of batteries that provided power for a radio and a light bulb in the kitchen for a couple of hours after sunset. As for hats, agreed -- I wear a cap whenever I'm outdoors. It really is a useful thing.

Robert, fascinating. That makes a good deal of sense, and explains some aspects of the cyclist mentality I hadn't really made sense of yet. Also, a very colorful metaphor!

Patricia, understood, but a society that's deliberately doing a retro trip might choose to do the trench coats anyway, because they really are practical garments in the kind of weather the Midwest gets in autumn and early winter.

John Michael Greer said...

Caryn, that's fascinating. So bicyclists behave (or rather misbehave) in the same way in the very different cultural settings of (say) Seattle and Hong Kong. That really does suggest that Robert's right and there's something addictive and consciousness-altering in the technology itself.

Denys said...

@Viewfromhere we just attended a demonstration by a doctoral student who studies 14th century Italian paint and had the opportunity to mix pigment with linseed oil to make paint. Linseed oil is made from flax seeds (obviously!) and so its wonderful uses go back at least 600 years. She gave a different term for the mixing but it was done by using a granite mortor and table top and more like squishing it together than stirring.

Denys said...

On this bike conversation - the Mennonites by me ride them and it is casual steady focused cautious riding. Maybe it's the skirts and caps, or suspenders and straw hats keeping them slowed down. So if we gave bike riders a wider brimmed hat and billowy clothes that would have them go a reasonable speed???

I do think it's the technology addicted who ride bikes like they are in a video game.

Fabian said...

John, I know this is slightly off topic, but you have been officially listed as one of the "three superstars of the doomer porn blogosphere" on the website of Martin van Creveld, the renowned Israeli military historian. Listed alongside yourself (referred in the post as "The Wizard") are Jim Kunstler (AKA "The Curmudgeon") and Dmitry Orlov (AKA "The Provocateur"). At least you are in good company!

I remember how Jason Godesky's rants helped put you on the map. This should help make you a true superstar ;-)

steve pearson said...

On the subject of cycling fast: I have done quite a bit of riding and I think the feeling one gets is similar to what a runner gets; I believe phenerome is the word, though probably not the spelling. Of course that is not an excuse to be a posterior orifice about it. I fear though, that that tendency manifests in most forms of transportation,as well as many forms of discourse. Thank you, JMG, for saving us from the latter.
cheers, Steve

daelach said...

Bicyclists are just as normal people as car drivers when it comes to "morals". The main difference is that when a bicyclist is a frackhole, he has only the power of his own legs to make that attitude become reality while a motorist has 2 tons mass and 150HP under his command. But as a matter of fact, it is the motorists who are more careless; the accident statistics for Germany show that in the vast majority of car/bicycle accidents, it was the car driver's fault. Same for car/motorcycles, by the way.

A practical problem will show up with the drive train, yes. No way without heavy industry. It bears worth remembering that the reason why bicycles were invented in the early 19th century was the bad harvest in 1816, caused by the eruption of the Tambora vulcan in 1815. Horses could not be fed. So why not just using horses which breed themselves without industry? It has already been mentioned that a bicycle is worthless without decent roads, so the road maintenance has to be added to the drive train problem. Externality?

Plus that there are really few people who will use the bicycle in bad weather, let alone winter, so the whole other transportation system has to be dimensioned to take up the bicyclists anyway. Or the city has to be planned in a way that eliminates the need for traveling longer distances ("city of short ways"). In that case, bicycles would not be a necessary component of the transportation system, but a nice-weather add-on, i.e. a kind of luxury.

daelach said...

As for trench coats, I was looking for one this year precisely because it's a very practical garment when you don't have a car. From spring to autumn, it isn't cold here, but when it's raining, then it is usually also rather windy, which makes an umbrella pretty useless.

It was incredible, most of the trench coats available have a high plastics percentage and make annoying sounds. Disgusting. I did find one of pure cotton, but at 300 EUR, and the care label read "don't wash". What a bummer for a piece of clothing designed for dirt weather.

I ended up in an army store where they had US trenchcoats from the 1950s/60s at 50 EUR, including the removable woollen thermo liner. A friendly green, not olive drab, fine for civil use. The quality of that thing is stunning, they don't make something like that anymore. I had to think of an earlier JMG article with things becoming a little shoddier each year, and that becomes frighteningly obvious with such a huge time gap.

Another garment I'd expect to see in Lakeland are woollen ponchos. Easy to make out of a rectangular blanket with a slit for the head and a reinforcing collar. I've made such a thing for myself. With a belt aorund the waist, that's quite comfortable. In cold weather, long and narrow (140cm x 10cm or so) pieces of wool ends to wrap around the underarms plus a scarf do the trick.

daniel said...

Speculation on who Carr is: The whole setup seems very reminiscent of a split Germany, and I would guess that a mass defection from east to west is brewing. Carr has been sent as a minor member of the clueless elite in an attempt to understand why people are so keen to move, because loss of the working poor will cripple the eastern economy. The endgame is likely an expansion of the LLR east, either wholesale by integration, or as an effective facsimile.

Re: Guaranteed Minimum Wage (or Universal Basic Income, whatever label you like), I agree with JMG that what is effectively a wage subsidy may not be long term a stable solution; however in our current (broken) economic arrangement it can make a lot of sense. Local produce and crafts are generally labour intensive and thus expensive in a high wage economy, struggling to compete with oil subsidised mass production. Now one can either remove the oil subsidy (by taxation for example, hitting the poor even harder), or one can subsidise wages. In trials of UBI there is generally a flourishing of local small business, because the constraints allowing a subsistence wage economy are removed.

Finally, on bicycles and why the LLR doesn't have many. The need for a significant number of bicycles is based on the transport premise of a suburban city structure - moving people large distances regularly. Thus the thought is that if cars are removed then bicycles must replace them. A true urban/rural structure, which it seems has developed in LLR, generally requires drastically less mobility as everything one needs on a daily basis is within walking distance (or serviced by public transport that the greater urban density can support). Hence the use case for bicycles is much weaker - short trips one walks, and longer trips, perhaps to the city, imply a purpose and movement of luggage or goods (shopping) for which bicycles are not suitable.

Somewhatstunned said...

Oh dear. I'm kind of on public record as - well not exactly a bike-advocate but more of a anything-but-driving one. Anyway, I suppose I'd better add that I've said most of what I have to say about this elsewhere.

Just as JMG has a "comments policy" for moderation, I have a "comments policy" for the comments I leave. One of which is not to get sucked into arguments - so I've almost broken that rule, darn, and I'll just leave it at that. I wouldn't be sorry if the social internet had never been invented - then you could just read stories and make of them what you will, (if you disagree with the author on any points, you can just go "phooey! What do they know?"). With the illusion of intimacy which the net creates it gets very difficult to have the same relationship to fiction as with a book - it all feels so much more personal - but not in a good way.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks very much. I assume the Lakeland Republic keeps peace with its more militarised neighbours by paying them a tithe in the form of food exports?

I was wondering about all those guards keeping everyone "safe" back at the start of the story as they'd be expensive to maintain. Large standing armies tend to impoverish economies in fairly short order - even Sun Tzu provided good advice about such matters.



Mike said...

I’d suggest that the poor attitudes to and of (some) cyclists are largely a function of infrastructure, and arise as a consequence being forced to share it with either pedestrians (who get annoyed) or drivers (who will kill you) in the event of conflict. If cycling is to work as a form of transport - such that it is used en masse by ordinary people - it seems to require dedicated infrastructure such as that seen in the Netherlands.

It’s also worth noting that one of the reasons reason road surfaces were improved early on were due to campaigns by cyclists - for example in late 19th Century Chicago, streetcar tracks were paved over with large boulevards for the exclusive use by bicycles!

It is possible that the decline in the status of the motor vehicle (which currently affords owners with privilege over lowly cyclists and pedestrians) may mean that such infrastructure may be desirable in the future but in a post-peak decline any investment in the same may simply not be available (and using the Netherlands as a reference may no longer be possible later this century due to sea level rise).

Even if a dramatic reduction in the presence of motor vehicles meant that existing roads could be used by cyclists without being killed, the surface of brick roads may make for an uncomfortable enough ride that a horse would be preferable. Streets paved with setts come a close second to hills as being something to avoid when cycling where I live (Edinburgh, Scotland)!

Keith Huddleston said...

I assume one trend that has somehow managed muddle foolishly along "out East" is the incarceration rate.

The United States right now is the world's largest per-capita prison state. Or, if one is suspicious of the books being cooked by North Korea and China (a wise enough suspicion), we are already in their league. While we are not formally Fascist, we are already Authoritarian in ways the average person can't even imagine (or can't imagine as anything less than natural).

Do simple "tough on crime" slogans promoted by a highly consolidated news media, "mean world syndrome" content, and private prisons all still exist out East?

Bruno Bolzon said...

JMG, I wonder how Carr's country still manages to have tech gizmos like the veepad and a metanet in 2065. Empire would be down by then, and whatever is left of the former US of A would be a much impoverished nation. How could it afford such luxuries?

earthworm said...

JMG said: "Linen's an interesting possibility, though -- I'll have to look into its cultivation requirements -- and I know that one mother of a lot of hemp is grown there as a fiber crop"

We did a course on flax processing recently - very versatile stuff and the people who ran the course gave us enough seed to do a trial planting.

They mentioned two methods of retting - dew retting does not give the pungency of water retting, but it does take longer.

Tyler August said...

re: Bikes,

JMG, are you speculatively ascribing some psychological or magical property to the bicycle? 'tis possible, but I would like to advance a different hypothesis. Who is running you down, in Seattle or Hong Kong? Parents with their children strapped to the back? Professionally-dressed women on the way to the office? Or men in brightly-coloured spandex and Lycra?

I'm willing to bet your picture of a cyclist is that last one -- he, the big-C Cyclist, does often behave as described. Much like the automotive-enthusiast gearhead, he gets a thill out of speed and an intellectual enjoyment of the technology. And when the built environment is as terrible for cyclists as it is in much of North America (and apparently Hong Kong, by the description), he's the only one willing to risk life-and-limb for the sake of a bike ride.

As an aside, more than just the built environment is set to discourage everyone else; a great deal of influence has been spent convincing the public in this country and elsewhere that the bicycle is a toy for children, not actually a tool of transportation; you unconsciously echoed this when you referred to most adults being disinterested. Being asked at stop signs why you lost your licence, having passers-bye ask how many DUIs you've accumulated, or speculate otherwise why you might be too stupid or incompetent to learn to drive. (This is apparently becoming prevalent in Asia as well, but the attitude seems well-nigh universal in North America.)

Now, let's go elsewhere. Somewhere where the culture treats the bicycle as a tool like any other, and where the built environment does not discourage it. Let us go, not to Seattle or Hong Kong, but to Copenhagen. About the same percentage of the population is the big-C Cyclist, wearing Lycra and riding aggressively. The rest of the population is comparatively indifferent; those are the parents with kids in the back, the professionals in suits, and everyone else. They, by and large, ride quite slowly, conservatively, and are not, in general, a threat to pedestrians. Exactly how in North America most people aren't aggressive-driving, hot-rodding gearheads, but still default to the car as a means of basic transportation, even if they would otherwise be uninterested in it.

Finally I should point out observation bias, something we regularly encounter as well: we overwhelmingly notice the cyclists you are forced to interact with, and especially remember the altercations. So in our memories, the wearers of Lycra find their numbers swelled beyond all proportion, because the more reasonable commuters have no reason to stick in our memory. In my town, I very rarely see a bicycle on the sidewalk; certainly less than one-in-ten. Even fewer cyclists are foolhardy enough to run red lights at major intersections. And yet, when there is public discussion, that's all most people seem to remember: one time I was almost ran over; one time I almost hit a guy. The bike-commuters they pass twice daily without incident? Most people deny they exist, because they have no reason to remember them, and, indeed, probably never noticed us in the first place.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Since one addiction often feeds another, Denys, you're probaby right about the cyclists who ride as if they were in a video game. Another factor, too, is simply that -- at least for young males -- the adrenaline rush you get from close calls with your own death can itself be addictive. I've talked with young men who call themselves extreme drivers or maximum drivers, where the whole point of being on the highway is to hone your reflexes to the point where you can survive risky moves that would guarantee the death of most of their fellow young drivers. When I mention the possibility of their killing others in addition to themselves, they just shrug it off. So it's not just cyclists ...

Dirk & Joh's Wildswan said...

Reading the Guardian's opinion page on Jeremy Corbin's rise in the Labour party, and the fear exhibited by the Labour Party's elites, It is fun to see the parallels in your protagonist's 'view of, and misunderstanding of the reality he is seeing.
The British elites can't or won't see the coming storm(no matter who wins their future government), is denial of the populace's deep anger. Listen to the statements of Donald Trump's followers on the opposite extreme.
What a hilarious scenario shaping up in today's world, of angry left and angry right. May never the twain meet! ☺☺☺☺☺☺☺😜😜😜

team10tim said...

RE: RE: RE: the bicycle: footnotes from the footnote nerd (sort of):

The average distance between married couples before the bicycle was two miles. After the bicycle it jumped to eight miles.

Bicycles were only possible because of advances in machining technology, specifically grinders, from coal chemistry. Drilling, cutting, milling, etc. we're all well known for at least a century before coal chemistry developed a hard enough shapible material for precision grinding. The precision machining from bicycles paved the way for cars and airplanes. (Arreys and Warr, or just Arreys, or just Warr, technological cycles or revolutions or something, Arreys and Warr do first rate work on energy and economic development. After William Stanley Jevon's they are the best energy economists that I know of and I read their earlier work and then forgot who wrote it.)

Personal anecdotes: I worked in retail for 15 years and I noticed that people who biked to work had kick stands and bike locks and people who biked as an activity didn't. When I asked why they didn't have a kickstand or bike lock the answer was always "because of the weight." Now, if you are in the Tour de France I can understand that reasoning, but if your not it makes much less sense.

Bicycles are an Indisptutably efficient technology, and elegant technology, but their biggest champions are indisputably inelegant at conveying it to the rest of the world. Bicycles are efficient, low tech, reparable machines that have great utility and precision grinding and vulcanized rubber should be around for the long haul (the i cans had vi aniseed rubber 2,000 years ago from morning glories) .

Sorry about all aspects of the grammar and punctuation in this post. I'm writing from an iPad without a keyboard or muse and I can't correct things easily including the autocorrect which turns Incans into I cans and vulcanized into vi aniseed)

I'm currently living in Hangzhou, China and there are huge number of bikes. Most of them are functional. I only see spandex and no kickstands on the bikes of westerners. Hangzhou has a great bike rental system where people can check out a bike like one might check out a library book. When western bike enthusiast tell me that I need a bike and I mention the bike checkout they are always disappointed.

There is definitely some pathology going on with bike enthusiast, but don't let that get in the way of the excellent characteristics. Of bicycles as a technology.bicyles meet most of JMG's criteria for technologies the are useful and will last, but they fail in much the same way that the environmental movement failed in that they are popularized by shallow clueless jerks.


My old boss was a bike enthusiast and he never once biked to work. Several other employees who were concerned about the environment or their personal health did bike to work. The boss would drive 50, 100, 200 miles to go on a nice bike ride, but he couldn't/wouldn't bike to work.

Again,I appolgized for the poor formatting, grammar, spelling, and structure of this post. I normally revise my posts but my tech won't allow it this time


steadystatecollege said...

Thank you again. I'm really enjoying this series.

Last weekend I took my homemade, repairable, small-scale non-electric printing press to a Maker Week event here in State College. Most of the event was set up around the wonders of 3-D printing, but the organizers put out a call for people who tinker at home and make things, so I put my press on my Radio Flyer wagon and trundled it up the hill to do some demonstrations.

Best question of the day was a man who came up to me, asked what it was, and when I told him "It's a printing press" pointed vaguely around the back of it and asked "Is this where you inject the plastic or something?"

The hardest question to answer - because people's frame of reference is so narrow - is "Why did you do this?"

I said some things about fossil fuels, post carbon planning, the value of non-corporate information for participatory democracy, and thus the need to prepare for non-electric dissemination of community news.

I also sidled along the admission that I built one partly because an archdruid whose blog I follow has recommended construction of small scale, repairable, non-electric technology, and I take his advice seriously.


Phil Knight said...

Regarding cyclists, I noticed a big change in their behaviour with the introduction of the cycling safety helmet, which seems to give them a sense of imperviousness similar to that of car drivers. Also significant was the decline of the classic gent's or lady's bicycle in favour of the mountain bike, as the bicycle became less about utility and more orientated towards leisure.

I used to cycle to work on an old 3-speed gent's bike for practical reasons - it meant I didn't have to buy a car, but almost everyone else who cycled in was doing it to "get fit" or "do my bit for the environment". This was at a company that made diesel engines! Apart from the masochistic aspect, there's also the fact that bicycles are less regulated and systematized than automobiles, so you can get away with bad behaviour more easily e.g. taking short cuts, riding while drunk, endangering pedestrians etc.

I think bicycles nowadays are basically cars for people who need to express various anti-social behaviours - masochism, self-righteousness, risk-taking - that are no longer possible in actual cars.

Morgenfrue said...

(Sorry if this is a double - the first one disappeared.) I wonder if bikes will be more successful in places that already have a culture and infrastructure that supports them. I have lived in Copenhagen for 13 years and almost all bicyclists are regular people in regular clothes on street (as opposed to racing) bikes. We have dedicated bike lanes that are curbed both to the street and the sidewalk, and have their own lights at intersections. Most of us who are commuting, or grocery shopping, or transporting our children, are not very pleased by the speed and aggression of those who are charging by on racing bikes in their fancy gear - it's the equivalent of someone trying to drive freeway speeds in a crowded city and then getting upset with everyone else for being in the way. This lifestyle/fitness cyclist seems to be more evident when I've been in the U.S. and Germany. I would be surprised if bicycling died out right away here, but not in the U.S. - how many adults in the U.S. have a bike? Here I can count dedicated non-bike-owners, out of everyone I know, on the fingers of one hand.

As an aside, I too am interested in the clothing aspect, and have enjoyed reading the other (women's) comments on experiences with historic skirt lengths and such. I'm not an expert on historic clothing but I do sew, and I think when considering the idea of working people's clothes (as opposed to the upper classes), they were often designed to provide ease of movement in woven fabrics which would not have as much give as the knitwear and stretch fabrics we are used to today (and which would be difficult to sew by hand or with only a straight stitch on a treadle machine). From what I can understand, women of the working class wore corsets or bodices that were nowhere near as tight or shaping as those of upper class ladies; these allowed for a greater range of motion while providing a smooth line under clothing, supporting the trunk and back, as well as providing support to heavy skirts. Those with more knowledge on the subject please do correct me if I'm wrong, and if anyone can recommend some reading on the subject I would be grateful. I doubt that modern brassieres will make it down the slope, what with their techno power fabrics and elastic and metal wires. Interesting to see what takes their place...

steve pearson said...

Woke up in the middle of the night laughing at myself for having said pheneromes when I meant endorphens. If one produced the former, they would be wasted from from a speeding bicycle. Always handy to have incipient dementia to blame it on.
cheers, Steve

Robert Mathiesen said...

Here in Rhode Island we have long-distance paths that are meant -- and labeled and painted! -- to be shared by walkers and cyclists alike. On these paths, in contrast to city streets, it is the cyclists who can and do inflict serious damage on the walkers, but are not at much risk of being killed themselves.

And, just as there are frackhole drivers who target cyclists, but many, many more drivers who are so entranced by the road or distracted that they don't even notice cyclists, so on these joint-use paths there are a few frackhole cyclists who seem to target walkers (as if the paths ought to be for them alone) but many, many others who seem so entranced by their fluid, fast movement that they barely notice walkers, or notice them only at the very last minute. Many of these cyclists have wonderful, high-tech cycles that are almost completely silent in their running, and also hardly ever seem to have even a small bell or a horn to warn walkers of their approach from behind.

So (for me) it's not primarily an issue of cyclists versus motorists, as daelach framed it. It's also -- and for me, it's primarily -- a question of entranced people on wheels and the ease with which fast, fluid wheeled transportation (either car or bicycle) can put a person in a "zone" or trance. That's what makes both things -- motorized vehicles and bicycles -- so obnoxious and problematic to me.

As a man in his 70s, now somewhat deaf and not capable of rapid evasive movement, I simply can't use these walking/cycling paths safely any longer. So I'm really tickled off at those cyclists who fly down the paths in near silence at the greatest speed they can manage, oblivious to us walkers. And, I am very sorry to say, they are close to 75% of all the cyclists I encounterd on those paths when I was a bit younger and could still walk on them safely. In my own experience, the percent of frackhole drivers I encounter on the roads is far lower than that 75% of cyclists.

Even though the bicycle is far superior to the automobile in terms of its impact on the environment, in my own limited experience it seems a very toxic technology in its effects on the psyche of cyclists. (To be fair, commuter cyclists are rare here. Most of our roads in RI are so hideously narrow and convoluted that commuter cycling is quite risky even on relatively untravelled roads. In my much younger days when I cycled to work, I was nearly killed several times by cars, always on little-traveled roads.)

Patricia Mathews said...

@morganfrue re your last sentence - stays. Metal or boned stays such as the ones in the RenFair bodices. And/or lacing, depending on your need. Sports bras of knit fabric, or further down the curve, bias-cut woven fabrics. Or simply breastbands such as Roman women wore, or halters.

**We need to form a post-industrial clothingmaker's guild. BYO crochet hooks for starters; mine have provided me with a complete wardrobe of caps for all weathers, plus a headband that can serve as a hat brim for string and fall. Also some simple basic patterns for pants, shirts, and skirts. And yes, ponchos, to be very sure. **

Lee said...

I really enjoyed some good laughs on these comments, thanks!

To start with: "The whole "cloud" business strikes me as almost indescribably idiotic, and I'd assumed on that basis that of course the geekoisie would embrace it with squeals of delight. "
Many people I've been around since moving to Austin, TX a few years ago are definitely technophiles. The geekoisie word gave me a good belly laugh.

I also chuckled while reading about cyclists. I myself enjoy riding bikes and would love to be able to cimmute by bike. Still, I've seen the exact negative behaviors mentioned here.
Riding swiftly along does feel empowering. Maybe many cyclist take this feeling too far and get over confident. Also, articles written to cyclist encourage them to hold their space on the road to keep auto drivers aware of cyclists having space. That accounts for some of the behavior, I think. Last, people are frequently selfish while driving cars OR bikes. They will cut off and dangerously pass slower people. So, I think they behave similar to aggressive car drivers and choose to disobey what slows them down, yet uphold laws against bigger vehicles.
The spandex clad road bike riders are called roadies by commuter cyclist and mountain bikers. There is some overlap of a biker being involved in more than one type of cycling, but more often people stick with one type of style. Roadies don't even wave at commuters sometimes. To be sure, there are commuters in street clothes that act like they own the road too. Especially the fashionable not helmet wearing types that feel too beautiful for a helmet. They're daring and they ride daringly.

As for tech questions, tires do require rubber and wheels require precision ball bearings. They're part of the same technological sweet as the automobile.
Maybe all rubber needs to be saved for trucks, wagons, and farm equipment? Steel or wood wheels work well enough, but rubber helps make a wagon able to handle slightly rougher roads /trails.

There are other people farming successfully with draft animal power aside from the Amish and other Anabaptist groups within North America. Economic research has been done to show using horses as being more profitable do to less overhead, the offspring to sell, and the manure for use on the farm.

That was published in Rural Heritage Magazine.

Another terrific publication is The Small Farmers Journal, a quarterly journal that focuses on draft animal power and promotes small farming practices.

I'm definitely enjoying this story!

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

One fundamental difference between bicycling and both motorized transport and walking is that on a bike it takes substantial muscular effort to stop and start up again. If you want to travel on a bike, conservation of momentum is your friend. Urban traffic controls (stop signs and traffic lights at short intervals) are designed for cars and are intensely frustrating for cyclists. It's almost as if they were deliberately placed to make bicycle transport as difficult as possible.I understand the temptation to blow through those stops.

Some towns here have been putting together a flatland path for muscle powered town transport (pedestrians and cyclists) and already the pathway is not big enough for the both of them. They are proposing to put in bumps and kinks to slow down the bikes. The obvious remedy of segregation has not occurred to them, I suspect because the planners neither walk nor cycle.

We also have a heated struggle over recreational trails in the parks. The mountain bikers want to be allowed on all the trails and they want to go fast. The equestrians and hikers share trails amicably, but cyclists run down the hikers or force them off the trails; they spook the horses and cause serious accidents. The walkers and horse riders are calling for law enforcement on the trails, as if we had the money for such a thing.

I agree completely with Mike that mass bicycle transportation works better with dedicated roadways just for the bicycles. I'm for that though I don't ride myself. It's hard to retrofit a city built for automobiles; you have to remove street parking or ban private autos from the route, and the merchants don't like that.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

In the Lakeland Republic, I would expect to see rickshaws, pedicabs or electric golf cart type vehicles for hire downtown, for people loaded down with packages or not mobile enough to walk very far from the streetcar lines. Any of these would be less expensive than a hired horse carriage. I would also expect to see hawkers with pushcarts. All these forms of transport work best in cities that are not hilly.

donalfagan said...

I bike commute every day now. Until recently I used a folding bike to be less obtrusive on the morning train, but I eventually found that my older full size bike is much kinder to my knees. Now I take light rail so early that there is plenty of room, and ride all the way home in the afternoon. None of my bikes have kickstands so I usually lean them against the wall or stow them under my desk. I do feel a rush from cycling (which I think is from endorphins, not pheromones) and look forward to the ten mile ride. I only wear spandex in cold weather - under my trousers - but I used to wear it for weekend rides in Central PA.

There are a lot of jerks on the road, and some of them ride bikes. I have noticed what I call the dick move. If I am riding slowly for some reason, some fellow will overtake me then coast right next to me with pawls ratcheting. This has happened often enough that it can't be accidental. I used to say 'Hi' when I passed other cyclists, but some took that as a challenge, so now I just ignore them.

A recent issue of Streetsblog points out that one failure of American bike planning is that it is dominated by men with expensive bikes. Recreational riders want separate bike paths, but women are vulnerable on isolated paths, and everywhere I want to go is on the regular streets.

I've offended a few people by noting that auto drivers in the wealthier neighborhoods to the East of I-83 are far more territorial than the poor people to the West. But they are. So I ride through mostly black neighborhoods.

Road bikes do require pavement for fast riding, but I have ridden the dirt paths of the C&O canal on a 3 speed Raleigh with 1 1/4" tires. That was before mountain bikes were popular. So I don't think the decline of roads will kill off cycling right away. Recreational cycling will likely take a hit for a lot of reasons, one being exposure to assault and theft, which is already happening here in Charm City.

Cherokee Organics said...


In all of the discussions regarding bicycles, I noticed that nobody seemed to notice the role of the rubber trees. I may be mistaken but I thought that Ficus elastica are suffering from a die off? Rubber is a fairly important component of tyres. Plus Florida is the only part of the US where rubber trees can be grown, but if I'm not mistaken in my geography, you would have put large chunks of that state underwater based on your references to the fate of other eastern coastal states.

Sure there may be subsitutes for rubber but nowadays most of those involve Oil based products. Plus I'm having serious troubles trying to imagine telling a farmer to grow hectares of dandelions during the growing season just for the latex. As an interesting side note, I grow lots of dandelions here out in the herbage as they are great bee food over high summer, plus their broad leaves keep the subsoil cooler.

The old timers used to have steel shod timber wheels on their carts etc. Probably a good reason for that too.



buddhabythelake said...


If you have an opportunity to get up/over/by Two Rivers, WI, we are home to the Hamilton Woodtype Museum, one of the few remaining such museums and active letterpress printing operations in the world (apparently) -- folks come from all over (including Europe) for the annual Wayzgoose event (Nov 6-8 this year).

Stephen Heyer said...

Sorry John for having contributed to the start of the whole bicycle thing.

Everyone else: Let up folks, this is as artistic endeavor and John Greer is the writer, he gets to decide what is in or out. Indeed, any such endeavor, and a scientific paper is one too, has to decide what is going to be included and what is not. If arbitrary cutoff points were not used the six degrees of separation thing would rapidly drag the whole universe into the discussion.

The way I see it John Greer decided not to cover bikes and similar technologies in much detail and I now understand why: In the first case, they would tend to take over the whole story and in the second the model of the future they would tend to predict is not one most people would want to read about or watch (see my earlier comments on this).

Let’s just move on from the whole bicycle thing.

Stephen Heyer

Stephen Heyer said...

daelach : “A practical problem will show up with the drive train, yes. No way without heavy industry. It bears worth remembering that the reason why bicycles were invented in the early 19th century was the bad harvest in 1816, caused by the eruption of the Tambora vulcan in 1815. Horses could not be fed. So why not just using horses which breed themselves without industry? It has already been mentioned that a bicycle is worthless without decent roads, so the road maintenance has to be added to the drive train problem. Externality?”

Actually, there is a much bigger problem, one that modern people completely disregard: Horses take a huge amount of land to support, especially away from the temperate rich soil lands, and a lot of time each day brushing, fitting and removing harnesses or other gear, looking after hooves and such like.

Only those of us who have both small properties and horses realize this. Our 3½ acre fairly fertile creek flat property can about support one horse or a large family of humans working it Chinese style, not both.

I used to wonder why the upper middle classes in the great cities traded their horses for the early buggy type cars as soon as they became reliable (about 1907, see footnote). It is only after we got horses that I realized just how expensive it would have been to feed, house and care for a horse, in, say, the London of 1907. Then there is a whole weary process of harnessing it into the buggy every time you want to go out and the opposite when you come home, plus all the other care.

It’s so much easier and cheaper to just crank over your little horseless buggy’s engine and off you go.

I suspect that there will be more motor vehicles than we suppose in the future, but they will be small, light, simple, extremely fuel efficient machines designed to move competently but slowly (by our standards) over roads we would scarcely acknowledge as such.

FOOTNOTE: These days most people just don’t realize how good the cars of 1907 were on the roads they were built for. It’s well worth while looking up the 1907 Peking to Paris Race or better yet watch the 2006 TV series from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reconstructing it. In it a group of Australian adventurers led by Lang Kidby OAM, and including "Top Gear Australia" co-host Warren Brown, re-enact the 1907 Peking to Paris car race in five 100-year-old vehicles identical to those in the original race.

Stephen Heyer

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