Wednesday, October 07, 2015

A Landscape of Dreams

Maybe it’s just the psychology of selective attention, but tolerably often when I want to go into more detail about a point made in a previous essay here, stories relevant to that point in one way or another start popping up on the news. That’s been true even during this blog’s forays into narrative fiction, so it should be no surprise that it’s happened again—even though, in this case, the point in question may not be obvious to most readers yet.

One of the core themes of the Retrotopia narrative I’ve been developing here over the last month or so is the yawning gap between the abstract notion of progress that we all have in our heads and the rather less pleasant realities to which this notion has been assigned. The imaginary Atlantic Republic, the home of the narrative’s viewpoint character, is a place where progress as we know it has continued in exactly the same direction it’s been going for the last half century or so. That’s why it’s a place where income is concentrated in ever fewer hands, leaving most of the population to struggle for survival via poorly paid part-time jobs or no jobs at all; a place where infrastructure has been allowed to fall into ruin, while investment gets focused instead on a handful of high-tech services such as the metanet (my hypothetical 2065 “improvement” of today’s internet); a place where people make do with shoddy, wretchedly unpleasant consumer goods because that’s what a handful of big corporations want to sell them and there are no other alternatives, and so on.

Now of course the immediate response of many people to this characterization can be summed up neatly as “but that’s not progress!” Au contraire, the changes just noted, unwelcome as they are, are the necessary and inevitable consequences of exactly those technological transformations that have been lauded to the skies in recent years as evidence of just how much we’ve progressed. In the same way, my imaginary Lakeland Republic, with its prosperous working classes, its thriving urban centers, its comfortable clothing, and the like, has those things because it made certain collective choices that fly in the face of everything that most people these days understand as progress.

For instance, to cite a detail that sparked discussion on the comments page last week, the Lakeland Republic has abandoned computer technology—or more precisely, after the Second Civil War and the crises that followed, it rebuilt its infrastructure and economy without making computer technology part of the mix. There were a variety of reasons for that choice, but one was an issue I’ve raised in these essays several times already: when you have an abundance of people who want steady employment and a growing shortage of the energy and other resources needed to build and operate machines, replacing employees with machines is not necessarily a smart idea, while replacing machines with employees may just be the key to renewed prosperity and stability.

That’s an issue in the story, and also in our lives today, because computers have eliminated vastly more jobs than they’ve created. Before computers came in, tens of millions of Americans supported themselves with steady jobs as typists, file clerks, stenographers, and so on through an entire galaxy of jobs that no longer exist due to computer technology. The jobs that have been created by computer technology, on  the other side of the balance, employ far fewer people, leaving the vast remainder to compete for the remaining bottom-level jobs, and this has driven down wages and widened the gap between the well-to-do and everyone else. That’s not what progress is supposed to do, according to the conventional wisdom, but that’s what it has done—and not just in this one case.

Since 1970, in point of fact, the standard of living for everyone in America outside of the wealthiest 20% or so has skidded unsteadily downward. The nation’s infrastructure has been abandoned to malign neglect, and a great many amenities that used to be taken for granted either cost vastly more than they once did, even corrected for inflation, or can’t be had for any price. We pretend, or at least the vast majority of us do, that these things either haven’t happened or don’t matter, and certainly nobody’s willing to address the possibility that these things and other equally unwelcome changes have been the result of what we like to call progress—even when that’s fairly obviously the case.

What’s going on here, in other words, is the emergence of a widening chasm between the abstraction “progress” and the things that progress is supposed to represent, such as improved living conditions, a broader range of choices available to people, and so on. The sort of progress we’ve experienced over the last half century or so hasn’t given us these things; quite the contrary; it’s yielded degraded living conditions, a narrower range of choices, and the like. Point this out to people in so many words and the resulting cognitive dissonance tends to get some truly quirky responses; put it in the form of a narrative and—at least this is my hope—a larger fraction of readers will be able to recognize the tangled thinking at the heart of the paradox, and recognize a dysfunctional abstraction for what it is.

Dysfunctional abstractions, though, are all the rage these days.  A glance through the news offers a bumper crop of examples. One that comes forcefully to mind, just at the moment, is the ongoing attempts on the part of US political and military spokescritters to find some way to talk about the US airstrike on a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, without actually mentioning that the US carried out an airstrike on a hospital and killed twenty-two civilians, including three children.

It really has been a remarkable spectacle, and connoisseurs of weasel-worded evasions have had a feast spread out before them. Early on, the media in the US and its allies was full of reports that the hospital had been hit by an airstrike that somehow didn’t get around to mentioning whose aircraft was involved. Then there were stalwart claims that it hadn’t yet been confirmed that a US aircraft carried out the strike. Once that evasion passed its pull date—the Taliban, after all, doesn’t have an air force, and the public relations flacks at the Pentagon apparently decided that it just wasn’t going to work to insist that they’d somehow come up with one just for the sake of this one airstrike—the excuses began flying fast and thick. The fact that the four officially promulgated excuses I’ve seen so far all contradict one another doesn’t exactly make any of them seem particularly convincing.

What the excuses and evasions demonstrate, rather, is that the US military and government are treating what happened entirely as a matter of abstractions, rather than dealing with the harsh but inescapable reality of twenty-two smoldering corpses in a burnt-out hospital. To the media flacks at the Pentagon, evidently, this is all merely a public relations problem, and the only response to it they can think of involves finding some set of excuses, euphemisms, and evasions that will allow them to efface the distinction between a public relations problem and a war crime.

Now of course it’s not as though this sort of atrocity is unusual for the US at this point on the sorry downslope of its history. The only thing that makes the bombing of the Kunduz hospital at all unusual is that a significant fraction of the targets weren’t locals—they were physicians and hospital staff from the international charity Médecins sans Frontières, who can’t be ignored quite so easily. For well over a decade now, the US government has been vaporizing assorted groups of people all over the Middle East via drone strikes, and according to everybody but the paid flacks of the US government, a very large fraction of the people blown to bits in these attacks have been civilians. Here again, Washington DC treats this as a public relations problem, and simply denies that anything of the sort has happened.

The difficulty with this strategy, though, is that sooner or later you run up against an opponent that isn’t stuck on the level of abstractions, isn’t greatly interested in public relations, and intends to do you real, rather than abstract, harm. To some extent that’s what has sown the whirlwind that the US and its allies are now reaping in the Middle East. In many of the tribal cultures of the Middle East, vengeance against the killers of one’s family members is an imperative duty, and it doesn’t matter how airily the flacks in Washington DC dismiss the possibility that the latest drone strike annihilated a Yemeni wedding party, or what have you. The relatives of the dead know better, and the young men among them are going to do something about it, whether that involves hiking to Afghanistan or, say, joining the current mass migration into Europe, lying low for a while, and then looking for suitable targets.

The same difficulty has shifted into overdrive over the last few weeks, though, with Russia’s entry into the Syrian civil war. Russia’s current leaders are realists, which is to say, they assign abstractions the limited importance they deserve. The Russian presence in Syria, accordingly, isn’t a mere gesture, it’s the efficient deployment of an expeditionary force that’s clearly intended to wage war, and is in the early stages of turning that intention into hard reality. In an impressively short time, the Russians have built, staffed, and stocked a forward air base at Latakia, and begun systematic air strikes against rebel positions; work has gotten under way on two other bases; weapons and munitions are flooding into Syria to rearm the beleaguered Syrian army; the first detachments of Revolutionary Guard soldiers from Russia’s ally Iran have arrived.  Russian Spetsnaz (special forces) and airborne units are en route to Syrian soil, where they and the Iranians will doubtless have something to do besides soak up rays on Latakia’s once-famous Mediterranean beaches.

Meanwhile Russia’s Black Sea fleet, led by its flagship, the guided missile cruiser Moskva, has positioned itself off the Syrian coast. That in itself tells an important story. The Moskva carries long range antiship missiles and an S-300 antiaircraft system; there are reports that another S-300 system has been set up on land, and Russian electronic warfare equipment has also been reported at Latakia. Neither the Islamic State militia nor any of the other rebel forces arrayed against the Syrian government have a navy, an air force, or electronics sufficiently complex to require jamming in the event of hostilities. The only nation involved in the Syrian civil war that has all these things is the United States. Clearly, then, Russia is aware of the possibility that the US may launch an air or naval assault on the Russian expeditionary force, and has the weaponry on hand to respond in kind.

Last night, working on this post, I wrote: “The Russian airstrikes so far have concentrated on rebel forces around the edges of the territory the Syrian government still holds, with some longer-range strikes further back to take out command centers, munitions dumps, and the like. The placement of the strikes says to me that the next moves, probably within weeks, will be against the rebel enclave north of Homs and the insurgent forces in Idlib province. I expect ground assaults backed up by artillery, helicopter gunships, and close-in air support—vastly more firepower, in other words, that any side in the Syrian civil war has had at its disposal so far.” This morning’s news confirmed that guess, and added in another factor: Russian cruise missiles launched from the Caspian Sea fleet, most of a thousand miles from Syria. Once Idlib and the rest of western Syria is secured, I expect the Russians and their allies to march on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s notional capital—and I don’t expect them to waste any more time in doing so than they’ve wasted so far.

All this poses an immense embarrassment to the United States and its allies, which have loudly and repeatedly proclaimed the Islamic State the worst threat to world peace since the end of the Third Reich but somehow, despite a seemingly overwhelming preponderance of military force, haven’t been able to do much of anything about it. Though it’s hard to say for sure, given the fog of conflicting propaganda, it certainly looks as though the Russians have done considerably more damage to the Islamic State in a week than the US and its allies have accomplished in thirteen months of bombing. If that’s the case, some extremely awkward questions are going to be asked. Is the US military so badly led, so heavily burdened with overpriced weapons systems that don’t happen to work, or both, that it’s lost the ability to inflict serious harm on an opponent? Or—let’s murmur this one quietly—does the United States have some reason not to want to inflict serious harm on the Islamic State?

I suspect, though, that what’s actually behind the disparity is something far simpler, if no less damaging to the prestige of the United States. I commented in an earlier post here that the US has been waging its inept campaign against Islamic State as though it’s a video game—hey, we killed a commander, isn’t that worth an extra 500 points? Look at that from a different perspective and it becomes another example of the total disconnection of abstraction from reality.

The abstraction here is “fighting Islamic State.” You’ll notice that it’s not “defeating Islamic State”—in the realm of dysfunctional abstractions, such differences mean a great deal. Obama has decided that under his leadership, the US is going to fight Islamic State, and that’s what the Pentagon is doing.  At intervals, accordingly, planes go flying over various portions of Syria and Iraq to make desultory bombing runs on places where some intelligence analyst in suburban Virginia thinks an Islamic State target might have been located at some point in the last month or so.

That’s “fighting Islamic State.” Nobody can point a finger at Obama and say that he’s not fighting Islamic State, since the Air Force is still obligingly making those bombing runs. It doesn’t matter that none of this has done anything to slow down the expansion of the Islamic State militia, or to stop its appalling human rights violations; that’s in the grubby realm of realities, into which fastidious minds in Washington DC are unwilling to stoop.

Another abstraction that’s getting a lot of use in the current situation is “moderate Syrian rebels.” In the realm of realities, of course, those don’t exist.  The Pentagon’s repeated attempts to find or manufacture some, to satisfy Obama’s insistence that a supply of them ought to be forthcoming, have yielded one embarrassing failure after another.  This is for quite a simple reason, all things considered: the word “moderate” in this context means, in effect, “willing to put the interests of the US and its European allies ahead of their country and their faith.” (When American politicians use the word “moderate” about people in other countries, that’s inevitably what they mean.) Nonetheless, since the abstraction is so useful, the politicians and the Pentagon keep on waving it around. You have to read carefully to find out that some groups being labeled as potential moderates, such as the al-Nusra Front, are affiliated with al-Qaeda—you know, the outfit that the Global War On Terror was supposed to fight.

Such things should probably come as no surprise during the presidency of a man who got into office via a campaign that was never anything more than a blur of feel-good abstractions: “Hope,” “Change,” “Yes We Can,” and the like.  Barack Obama will go down in history as one of the United States’ least competent presidents precisely because everything he’s done has been so utterly fixated on the realm of abstractions. The wretchedly misnamed “Affordable Care Act” aka Obamacare is a fine example. Its enactment has made health care more expensive and less available for most Americans; it took what was already the worst health care system in the industrial world, and accomplished the not inconsiderable feat of making it even worse.

To Obama and his dwindling crowdlet of supporters, though, that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that the resulting mess corresponds, to them, to the abstraction “national health care system.” He promised a national health care system, we have a national health care system—and of course it’s not exactly irrelevant that the privileged few who still praise that system are by and large those whose wealth shields them from having to cope with its disastrous failings.

It’s only fair to note that, deeply immersed in the realm of dysfunctional abstractions as Obama is, he’s got plenty of company there, and it’s not limited to the faux-liberal constituencies that put him into his current address. Listen to the verbiage spewing out of the overcrowded Republican clown car and you’ll get to witness any number of vague abstractions floating past, serenely disconnected from the awkward realm of facts. For that matter, take in the outpourings of the establishment’s pet radicals—I’m thinking just now of Naomi Klein’s embarrassingly slipshod and superficial book This Changes Everything, but there are plenty of other examples—and you’ll find no shortage of equally detached abstractions drifting by in the breeze, distracting attention from the increasingly dismal landscape of fact down there on the ground.

What troubles me most about all this is what it says about the potential for really serious disruptions here in the US in the near future. I’m sure my readers can think of other regimes that reached the stage where moving imaginary armies across a landscape of dreams took precedence over grappling with awkward facts, and once that happened, none of those regimes were long for this world. The current US political system is so deeply entrenched in its own fantasies that a complete breakdown of that system, and its replacement by something entirely different—not necessarily better, mind you, but different—is a possibility that has to be kept in mind even in the near term.


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Unknown said...

JMG, sorry the events of hte week distracted you from the narrative. Reading Michael Hudson's "Killing the Host", though less entertaining, has provided useful thoughts to add to your conjectures. On the subject of the "computer as job-killer" (yes, I'm in the business) ... Lakeland (metaphorically) selects its technological strategies to optimize for its desired social, political, and economic outcomes. It does not eschew technology, as you point out. I look forward to your forays, fictionally, into Lakeland's internal communications and coordination infrastructure to see where you think an optimizing snd socially responsible governance model might come out.

Don Plummer said...

"Spokescritters"--that's a keeper.

I'm enjoying the Retrotopia narrative, not least because I'm familiar with much of the geography your protagonist's train ride took him through. Plus I spent a lot of time in Toledo and northwest Ohio. Toledo the capital city of a partitioned former-US republic? Some would think that's a joke, but I could see it happening.

I'm looking forward to finding out why the Lakeland Republic was isolated for so many decades.

James St-Clare said...

To add to the list of airy abstractions you mentioned, the entire US leadership and media seem to operate in a fantastical dreamscape where the US isn't an empire, has a functioning democracy, still occupies some kind of moral high ground, has a thriving middle class, promotes freedom & democracy, etc. etc. History provides us with many examples of what happens when a nation's castles in the sky come tumbling down as a result of too much exposure to reality.

jonathan said...

karl rove said it very well: we're an empire now and when we act, we create our own reality". the statement was notable for it's arrogance and narcissism, but it also illustrates the child-like faith in the power of abstraction. we often imagine that our leaders take recourse to abstraction simply to avoid unpleasant reality. i'm not so sure that's true. rove really believed that reality could be created by determined actors, just as many economists seem at a loss as to why years of quantitative easing, zirp, nirp and asset buying, i.e. creating more money-itself merely an abstract concept, has failed to juice the real economy.

i'm more and more convinced that what's at work here is a form of magical thinking (with apologies to those of the druidical or wiccan persuasion) in which wishing will make it so. i would almost prefer that our leaders were merely sociopaths that were using abstract ideas to try and mislead the public. sadly, i think what were seeing is perhaps even more insidious than a propagandistic campaign to persuade the public that all is well. our leaders have succeeded in convincing themselves, just as karl rove did, that they can create their preferred reality by sheer force of will. under such conditions, reality based politics, diplomacy and economics are no longer possible.

dfr2010 said...

This sounds a lot like my remark this evening over supper: "They didn't start really talking about going to Mars until we ended the manned space program."

PatOrmsby said...

I'm being told "Bernie Sanders will save the day" by someone in America for whom I have moderate respect (she believes in Space Bats too), and yet here in Japan, "Bernie Who?" Because I seem to be out of the loop somehow, I wonder what your take on him is.

Your books I ordered came! I'm half way through Stars Reach, but off as soon as I hit the Publish button to the annual Kompira Shrine festival in Shikoku, where I became a priestess. So I won't see your reply for a week, but look forward to more Retrotopia, and agree wholeheartedly with what you said this week. Thank goodness someone's saying it!

Patricia Billsdotter
Doomer Porn Guild

Pinku-Sensei said...

Your observations about computers causing more problems than they solve when it comes to employment is one of Crack's 5 Shocking Ways The World Is About To Change. Even the futurists who don't truck with what they see as doomerism agree that computerization is one of the major things that is driving down employment. The author also implicates computers in decreasing privacy and people giving up power for convenience, resulting a major shift in power. About the only future trend that is neither completely appalling nor computer driven involves insects as a food of the future. That last might be healthier for both people and the planet; profit may be another matter entirely.

On the topic of the second half of the essay, the reaction on the left-leaning blogs I've read to Putin's initiative in Syria can best be summed up as "please proceed Mr. Putin." They think that Assad is Russia's problem and they're looking forward to someone else doing the dirty work of cleaning up ISIS/The Sith Jihad. That Putin doing so instead of us pisses off the neonconservatives and other interventionists is just frosting on the cake to them. In addition, at least some in the progressive blogosphere are hoping that Syria turns into a quagmire for Russia. Better them than us!

Eric Backos said...

Dear Mr. Greer, Your Grace, &c.
I am pleased to report this week’s Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Chapter Number 440 meeting is now listed in the MeetUps forum on Splendorem Lucis Viridis!

Ben said...

JMG, couple of things:
1 - In reference to the last paragraph, I would say the Roman penchant for watering down their legions by dividing them in half and then saying "see barbarians! you now face two legion instead of one!" certainly comes to mind...
2 - As for the Russian involvement in Syria, my guess is that, while effective in the early stages, their involvement will quickly devolve into a large scale replay of the Chechen wars of the 1990s and early 2000s. They will make a desolation, and call it peace. Over the long run, I'm not sure this will prove a tenable strategy. The Chechen war is not really over in any meaningful sense of the word. The cost to the Russian state and Russian people was very, very high, and I doubt it put an end to Islamist extremism nor Chechen nationalism.
3 - All that said, I listened to an amusing story on NPR this afternoon, in which the commentator was interviewing some talking head about how absurd it was that Russian was acting unilaterally and against the wishes of the US and the West! Why couldn't the commentator understand that that was unacceptable? And so on... While I disagreed with some of the talking head's specific points, the overall gist that not only does Putin NOT care what the West thinks, and is under no obligation to play by Western rules after two decades of getting kicked around by the West seemed spot on to me a very germane to this post.

Juandonjuan said...

off topic, slightly, but a point to consider- The plane involved -An AC-130 gunship- is a slow turboprop cargo/transport aircraft modified ( among other ways) with a 105 mm howitzer cannon mounted in the port side sliding doorway. The plane flies in a circle and the cannon is fired in a repeated series as the plane's pilots keep the target in the crosshairs. The gun involved has been,iirc, one of the mainstays of tank armaments.
So it wasn't an errant or misguided bomb, it was a targeted, repeated and rerepeated assault. Progress! Efficiency!
Also specifically equipped for night operations, so the excuse of accidental fire, especially for 30 minutes after the doctors called for relief.

Jean said...

Wow. I'm speechless.

Alexander Carpenter said...

In the realm of pernicious mendacious abstractions is also the Trans Pacific Partnership “Free Trade” Pact. Very early in the career of any abstraction it becomes a cultural, social, or political lie. Most personal-identity self-myths are based on shared abstractions, and we ourselves become reifications. We are up to our nostrils in all of these, and madness ensues. We see it all around us. A sufficient accumulation of them brings out the pitchforks. Even those most immune to the extortion, exploitation, and control with cultural- and social-engineering abstractions are at best only semi-sane, and barely competent to wield the pitchforks.

As more than just the Chinese say, “May we live in interesting times,” as we watch (and, despite our huddling in dark corners against the Great Unwashed Chattels and their neo-Feudal owners, participate in) the unfolding and implosion of this dance of automatons.

will said...

JMG, thanks for post. As to "selective memory" - well, I prefer an in-your-face synchronicity, one that only a heightened perception can conjure up, and one that validates, in effect, your take on the subject. Not sure if that would stand up in a court of law, but its what I think anyway. 

Re Obama's incompetency - I'm inclined to agree with the conservative view that O's flailing is pretty well calculated on his part. Given his background and sympathies, he really does want to cut the USA down to what he sees as acceptable size. I imagine that it's not so much that O is by himself bringing about the decline of the USA and western civ - you know, as if the election of a contemporary conservative president would do all that much to arrest the decline - but that leaders like Obama just appear in times of decline. 

jean-vivien said...

I recently noted that the GOP candidate debate was like... a strange puzzle, where each candidate could only articulate pieces of the puzzle without being able to position all the pieces together. That is another core issue lining up with the glass screens of abstraction, the failure to integrate abstractions into whole systems of thought.

And last week I wanted to suggest to the folks of the United States actually building themselves the funeral bunker for their leaders, because it would at least ensure that no taxpayer money would be wasted on a building which was purposed to be bombed to bits anyway. In the same historical setting, the "landscape of dream armies" echoes this line of thinking. Why isn't anyone offering Obama a model of the American Iraq he would want to build ? Something to toy with while the Spestnaz are bombing W. DC. The parallels with the end of the Third Reich are increasingly striking, as will be the bombs. Or color flyers promoting regime change ? The mighty doctors getting a dose of their medecine...

As for closets, there are enough skeletons in there to stage a Halloween party, at least this year you folks won't have to waste any money on the costumes.

And a very recent article on Reuters, which actually talks about strategy... of other governments. My raw feeling is that from now on, the Western media will be talking about actual military strategy, but only since it is just trying to catch up with what the enemies of the Western world are doing. It's not even an Empire of Evil anymore, just an Empire of Stupidity...
I say "enemies"... not for long, at least in Ecnarf.

I think the USA will be admired in the coming years, but not for the glossy, cocktail-table and chicks-in-sport-cars Great Country it once promoted itself to... just admired for its pragmatism, its sense of community, its appropriate tech scene (Green Wizardry, but also the Maker scene, the Indie video game scene...), and in general its ability to muster great pragmatism in order to deal with the host of practical challenges awaiting the Western world in general. People overseas might even order tools made by hand from craftsmen based in the USA through mail order. But that would overlap your Retrotopia, except I wish the harshest thing that continent will have to face should only be a couple of years with the most insignificant government in the world... Being insignificant might even help the leaders of the USA to do their job competently. A reality check is what your great nation truly needs, hopefully not inflicted on a bunker filled with the desperate remnants of the government toying with their model of an hypothetical American Iraq.

peteybee said...

Thanks for hitting these important topics,

Regarding Russian high tech military equipment: could be used to deter Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia (military budget as big or bigger than Russia's).

Regarding the term "moderate rebels" - could be a euphemism for PMC's hired by Syria's middle-east rivals, perhaps former Syrian Army now on someone else's payroll. Gray area. In any case, they ought to be a lot more moderate than committed jihadi's, expected to have the discipline to refrain from decapitating infidels, etc.

That said I agree with you and everyone else who'se saying its time to get real. If the anti-Syrian-government forces, such as they are, should overthrow the Syrian Government, it's a toss-up between (a) warlord-i-stan (b) caliphate, or (c) a military dictator brutal enough to defeat IS, i.e., another one just like Assad.

Lastly, in my opinion, if Russia really tried to conquer all of what used to be Syria, I don't think they'd fare any better than the US would. If Russian leadership really has a firmer grip on reality, and we are at a point where we're cheering this development, it is a bad, bad sign about how far the US has come.

Cheers. All the best!

Robo said...

For a variety of historical, cultural and geographic reasons, the Russians are quite a bit more reality-based than most Americans, so it is no wonder that we react to them and to their actions with a mixture of confusion and hostility.

As you note, the essential quality of civilized 'real life' for most citizens of the USA has been on a relentless downhill slide for decades. Consequently, it seems that many have resorted to living in an optimized virtual world of illusion, enabled by an array of electronic devices and fantasy media. Lately it appears that even our so-called leaders are opting for the dream state.

It so happens that I recently traveled through Toledo, Ohio and happened upon a mostly vacant suburban strip mall where a defunct supermarket space has been "temporarily" occupied by a vast flea-market. Inside.. amongst racks of old clothes, obsolete appliances, worn tools and discarded tchotchkes.. a small, aging tribe of gloomy vendors were patiently waiting to glean some last remaining dollars from the consumer jetsam of the past 50 years. I can only imagine how these people might fare in your prospective Toledo of 50 years hence.

Jason Fligger said...

JMG: Thank you for your elucidation of the situation in Syria. I, like so many Americans, am just too bogged down with daily routines to really try to understand what is going on over there.

frijoles junior said...

If the empire can just keep it's mess together for a few more years, I could be so much better situated. I sure hope our leaders can manage not to get into a war with Russia.

I'm struggling to find strong grounds for optimism on that point. It seems to me that the old guard must have been missing that particular fight.

Repent said...

Excellent post as always!

I think you've lined up the situation perfectly, although there has been economic growth over the last 40 years, it really isn't progress. The quality of life hasn't improved and it has declined. The local municipal council where I live, recently got rid of almost all of the kiddie wading pools; or in some instances made them into automated splash parks because they can't afford them anymore. When I was a kid in the 70's, I'd spend almost everyday at the wading pool with my friends during the summer. This also allowed the teenage lifeguard to have a decent and respectable summer job. Is it progress, they can't afford to give a teenager a summer job, and the kids are treated to the banal push of a button (accompanied by their helicopter parent) splash park instead?

Recently I've noticed a few profound and worrisome changes. Everyone I know, at work, family, ect, has gone mad crazy with trying to win the lottery. As if the trillion to one chance of winning the 50 million dollar prize is an obtainable result. If they took the money they are spending on gambling and shared it among themselves instead, in an alternating pool system, they'd be better off with lesser amounts. This massive shift to compulsive gambling suggests to me that awkward reality is no longer fitting the social narrative, and that people are getting desperate.

Recently, on a routine visit to my family doctor, my quiet and mild mannered family physician told me that all of the doctors have had to install panic buttons in their offices, because people are screaming and yelling at them during visits, especially in instances where they refuse to prescribe narcotics. That's an unsettling circumstance. New signs posted everywhere in the clinic, that abusive behavior is not tolerated. It's as if respectful public decency has somehow suddenly vanished? Also a sign of increasing desperation.

This matched only with the deafening silence and lack of public outcry at the recent events in Syria. You'd think that people don't care that WWIII has recently become more probable? Daily stories about potential US and Russian pilots being on a trigger edge of starting dogfights in the air above Syria has me worried. Yet people at work are worried and fully engaged about ongoing hockey player contract negotiations. I find myself stunned at the disconnect!?

HalFiore said...

I thought I was reading Kunstler there for a while. Now, don't get me wrong, I like -and share- Kunstler's attitude of righteous indignation toward the folly of our leaders, most of the time, if not always where he takes things.

But I think you might be missing, or leaving out, some important aspects of our ongoing failures in the Middle East, which seem to me to be at least as damning as what you've outlined. I doubt that people as smart as Obama and our military leaders totally miss how ineffective our tactics have been thus far. Actually, I think you've overstated their ineffectiveness, but that's beside the point, so I won't argue it. They certainly haven't met their stated goals.

But I think our failures are less about a inability to understand the situation, and more the result of just playing a very poor game of chess. I had to look up Latakia to find it is the major port of Syria. Think about that for a moment: the Russians are ensconced in one of the presumably more secure parts of the subject nation, with "boots on the ground" and more importantly, eyes in the field. They have the cooperation and intelligence resources of the host nation, and allies in the region willing to put more troops on the ground, and the ability to coordinate with reliable Iranian and Syrian forces. We have none of that, having done a masterful job of alienating everyone in the region, with the possible exception of the Kurds.

The result: we have a very limited ability to locate targets, and then just the blunt instrument of air strikes as a weapon. We are living with the consequences of decades of terrible choices, and have more or less lost the ability to project force in that part of the world.

Obviously, I'm not totally disagreeing with you, mainly a different emphasis. I'll grant that you seem to have some good information sources, which I hope you can share with us. Please tell me it's not some guy with a blog.

pygmycory said...

What I don't get is why the USA would intentionally bomb a hospital, especially one run by medecins san frontiers. What could they possibly gain?

But if it was an accident, it's a pretty massive accident. Why did it happen and why did they continue dropping bombs for so long?

Moshe Braner said...

A couple of examples of the dreamscape, much smaller, noticed locally here recently:

[A note to those not in the US: for some strange reason, unlike other merchants, here gas stations (selling automobile fuel) all have their prices posted on large signs.] So, a local gas station thought that changing the posted prices on the signs by hand is too much labor (and labor cost), so they invested in digital signs, where the numbers are controlled by a computer somewhere. After a few months of operation, something went wrong with the labor-saving hardware, and what is displayed is a nonsensical group of letters and other symbols. That's been going on for weeks, and has not been fixed.

Second anecdote, also somewhat related to last weeks installment about Mr. Carr's clothing. Cold weather is setting in here in Vermont, close to freezing at night. I've had a hard time in recent years finding tall slippers to keep my (large male) feet and ankles warm in the winter, indoors, with the thermostat set not too high. The local stores mostly carry nonsensical offerings such as slippers that only cover the toes. Mail-order often brings in made-in-China slippers that are flimsy and 2 sizes smaller than claimed. So today I stopped by a sizable department store that belongs to a national chain. This store, in the few times I've ventured in there, seems to have more salescritters than shoppers, even in December. I couldn't find such (only a few in the women's department), so asked a salescritter. He said it is too early in the season, they'll come in in a month or two. I said "but it's going to freeze soon". Says he: "oh no, it's still 3 months before freezing weather." - Does he live inside the store? Commute by heated limousine from Atlanta? Sheesh.

Kevin Warner said...

Hmm, so many things to unpack in this week's essay. Thursday can never come around soon enough around here. Your writings on 'progress' made me remember the use of the term 'crapification of things' used over at the Naked capitalism website and there is an article there at which talks about the things you talk about regarding our dystopia. The comments are worth reading too and you can see we are all of us already living in the Atlantic Republic no matter where you live.

Talking about abstract ideas of progress taking over from reality-based assessments, there is a perfect illustration of this in operation at and is very much worth reading all the way through. The F-35 fighter is notorious for being in production before design and testing were even completed and it was the idea of concurrency that was responsible for that - putting into something production while it is still in testing as the design process would be so great that testing would only be a formality. Guess how that worked out, go on, guess.

It now appears that the same abstract idea is being used in America's supercarrier construction so that the US Navy may end up with supercarriers that cannot even launch and retrieve aircraft reliably in port much less on the high seas during hi tempo operations. I remember reading your novel "Twilight's Last Gleaming" when it came out in installments back in 2012 and this makes the military defeats in your novel far more believable now.

Meanwhile the Russians are having a field day listening to American shrill comments on their operations in Syria. On their English version news & blog sites, there is a theory that the West was about to impose a no-fly zone in Syria to destroy the Syrian military and let the 'moderate' al-qaeda headchoppers win, hence the Russian military imposing their own no-fly zone. They point out, for example, failings that the West has made such as how ISIS took Palmyra but to do so they had to travel along a 150 kilometer road through a desert with no cover and somehow the Americans missed it? Really? Who is playing who over there?

Doctor Westchester said...

Announcing two Green Wizard Meetups!

The 2015 Fall NYC Green Wizard meetup will be held on Thursday, October 22nd starting at 6:00 PM at Darbar Indian Restaurant, 152 E 46th St. between 3rd Ave & Lexington Ave., NYC, NY (212)-681-4500 near Grand Central Station.

The 2015 Fall Lower Hudson Valley Green Wizard meetup will be held on Saturday, October 24th starting at 1:00 PM at Bread & Bottle Bakery & Wine Bar, 7496 South Broadway, Red Hook, NY 12571.

To RSVP to either event or if you have any questions, please email me at doctorwestchester42 at Google mail.

Cherokee Organics said...


The dirty little secret of the computer geeks is that they defend their positions because they're generally very highly paid for those same positions. I've been in the position of having to hire those people, I know what they're demanding and getting paid. I have this mental image of them as hungry monsters - just like the banks - as they eat all before them without considering where tomorrow’s meal will come from. And to be sure, those computer geeks can demand those salaries, because they're putting people out of work. Economists have a delightful abstraction called: Labour productivity, and they're always banging on about it. But that little abstraction only counts people that are actively employed and sort of forgets about all of the unemployed (or the under employed because they're cheaper). It is shameful.

As a method of healing a very damaged workforce team years ago, I took a much lower salary than my predecessor, used the cost savings to more fairly equalise the pays in the team, immediately walked a troublemaker within hours of taking control and thus the majority of the healing was complete. From the outset I said to that team: What went on in the past was not on, and I will show you the way forward. When I eventually left employment there after about two years, some of the staff cried, I mean there were tears - it was really very sweet. The only person in the team that used to constantly whine about their pay was the computer geek and it used to really annoy because he wanted more money than I was on - with 1/10th of the responsibilities.

Oh, am I'm ranting? It does sound like it.

I hadn't heard about the hospital airstrike but it doesn't surprise me as no one wins hearts and minds with airstrikes on civilian targets out of the blue. If I was a warlord in that conflict, the response I would have to that situation would be the sort that you are referring to: a slow, quiet and effective burn - it is not as if it is hard to figure that one out.

I have been watching the involvement of the Russians and they've certainly decided that it is time to get serious and support the Syrians - Blind Freddy could see that.

No disrespect to the men and women on the ground in our armed forces as I reckon they're doing it tough, but the leadership of those forces must be senile, because how could a conflict become so protracted over such a wide sphere that it has gone on for more than the time that it took to complete World War I and II combined? Why isn't anyone asking the hard question, what are we trying to achieve there and why are we paying for that? It just makes no sense at all and what is worse is that the decision makers appear to be expanding the number of conflicts we are all involved in (please Sir, more!). A divided military cannot fight on so many fronts - sooner or later there will be a defeat, it is only common sense. And for every day that passes with no resolution we lose credibility.



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: All day I dream about chickens where I write about unintended consequences with the new chicken housing project. It is an enjoyable read and some good photos. The farm has just been through an historically record breaking heat wave for this early in the year and the plants are growing strongly. There are some great photos which show the comparison in plant growth over just a few days. Plus, please spare a thought for us down here as there is a large and very out of control bush fire now burning over on the other side of the mountain range in the elevated plains (a map of the fire affected areas is at the bottom of the blog). Next week, I plan to write about that fire given that the subject of the ADR this week is abstractions.

beneaththesurface said...

DC area Green Wizards will be meeting Sunday, Oct. 25 at 2 pm near the Clarendon Metro in Arlington, VA

If you are interested in attending (or staying informed of subsequent meet-ups), please RSVP to rwhite at fastmail dot fm

and I will then tell you our specific meeting location.

pygmycory said...

I'm convinced the current government thinks we're a lot more important and powerful than we actually are. This is likely to be dangerous if the US and Russia get into an actual war. Hasn't our government noticed we're located IN BETWEEN two nuclear-armed superpowers who are getting increasingly confrontational?

I get the impression most of The West thinks they're more important and more powerful than they actually are. There's this idea that we can do anything we set our mind to, and that we are the arbiters of all morality and standards on the planet.

One thing I notice is that a certain friend of mine is very much cheering at reduced infant mortality, raised education levels and similar metrics in the developing world. Increased poverty, infrastructure decay and the like gets dismissed on the grounds that all this is due to increased inequality, which could easily be fixed had we the will. Explaining that increased inequality and clueless elites is often found in declining civilizations doesn't seem to make any impact. It's like poverty here doesn't count somehow.

I think I'm going to have to avoid the subject of civilization decline with her. The discussion got a bit heated when I mentioned the possibility of large-scale migration over many decades from MENA to Europe as a possible contributing factor among many others. It's just frustrating; we used to think so alike on world issues and now on some subjects it's become very difficult to communicate. It's more me that's shifted than her.

Howard Skillington said...

As many have observed, the strategy for both parties in recent election cycles has been simply to field a candidate who “isn’t a Republican” or “isn’t a Democrat,” and hope that on election day fifty one percent of the voting public is more revolted by the other side.

Within this simple framework, Obama was the ultimate tabula rasa on which a voter could scribble whatever he or she wished to think “yes we can” might mean.

My sense of it is that this time a great many more voters have awakened sufficiently from their stupor to sense that neither side is offering them anything at all. Recognizable surnames that voters have been trained for a generation to associate with the presidency no longer seem to be causing any Pavlovian juices to flow.

Given the abstraction that the office has become, one senses that almost any sort of true alternative to the republicrats just might unleash a torrent of support for something that none of us has bargained for. If this were a movie I’d be watching eagerly to see what the heck that might turn out to be; in reality it’s difficult to anticipate such a development with anything but dread.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Six days and counting till the shadow moon. Should be quiet the show.

The abstractions are flowing like water even at the bottom of the pyramid. Not a day goes by now where I don't hear denials about the state of the economy, nevermind the number of businesses that are shuttering here are growing by the day. The result of mimesis is that people at the bottom believe they can abstract away the dangers of the world, just like their leaders believe.



NoHype said...

It wouldn't be surprising if tomorrow's news reveals that the entire Pentagon propaganda team pulled a Heaven's Gate overnight.

They must be eating their souls out with spoons.

A rarely acknowledged paradox of effective public relations (i.e.: telling your story of good behavior well and efficiently) is that it inexorably attracts bad behavior. What psychopath can resist glomming onto a gold-plated reputation?

Most good communicators are empaths in the employ of a power broker. Granted, they should have enough sense to quit when a pragmatic boss is replaced with a bottomless ego wrapped in well moisturized skin. But it's easy to say what they should and shouldn't do with their lives and careers from a distance -- in the abstract.

The reputation of the U.S. military has now been sullied on its own terms; by its own set of definitions. Now that it has reached peak propaganda, the only thing left to do is rotate the PR faces ever more frenetically. The guys and gals behind the curtain won't change, of course. They think there's still some reputation to spend.

Perhaps they haven't heard that Iraq is now asking for Russian assistance, too.

Mickey Foley said...

frijoles junior makes a good point about the old guard missing that particular fight (with Russia, I assume). It seems insane to provoke the Bear, until you remember that may be the only enemy our military is geared to defeat. The US military-industrial complex has never really strayed from its Cold War course. That's the fight for which our elites have been spoiling since 1945. Asymmetrical wars don't provide the definite victories the Establishment requires to maintain power.

But I generally disagree with your take on the US strategy in Syria, JMG. I think our campaign against Islamic State is a token gesture, because Washington knows that defeating ISIS would eliminate the biggest threat to Assad. The US would probably rather see ISIS topple Assad, at which point they would be free to bomb Syria without fear of Russian reprisals. Then they could install a "moderate" (nice technical definition) regime.

Defeating ISIS would require cooperation with Assad, something the US refuses to do. Russia, on the other hand, is an Assad ally and eager to shore up his power. They also have no problem working with Iran, another nation the US won't collaborate with in Syria.

The US is paying lip service to the fight against terrorism, as you point out in your distinction between "fighting" and "defeating" ISIS. But I think the reason is they consider Assad the greater threat, if only in a geopolitical sense. If they have to choose between leaving Assad or ISIS in charge of Syria, they'll take ISIS.

The assumption is that ISIS would be easier to depose than Assad, but letting the civil war proceed that far would surely ignite a regional war, a conflict that (even by narrow US elite standards) would generate far worse consequences than the survival of the Assad regime.

Marcu said...

This week's post reminded me of the recent change in narrative by the Australian government. When the previous Labour party was swept out and the Liberal party swept in, one of the hot-button political issues was "Stopping the Boats" - stopping illegal immigration happening by boat. Up until this point boat arrivals etc. was regularly in the news but as the new government moved in, news reduced to a trickle and then stopped. The stopping of the boats had now become and "Operational issue" and was not to be discussed.

Fast-forward a few years. Recently Australia has decided to take part in the mess that is Syria through a targeted bombing campaign. This time around there is plenty of news coverage with cockpit video provided by the air-force to illustrate how well Australia is fighting bad guys.

The level of censorship clearly shows where the priorities lie.

On a different note. I have made a post over on the Green Wizards forum but I haven't had much interest. I thought I would just mention it here as well. If anybody is interested in a Green Wizards meetup group and can get to the Melbourne CBD please let me know. You can send me an e-mail at limitstogrowth1972 at



Bryan L. Allen said...

Worth repeating what Juandonjuan said - to characterize an AC-130 attack on a ground target as a "bombing" is quite horribly deceptive. Read the entry in Wikipedia on the AC-130 to see just how wrong that characterization is.

Myosotis said...

-Moshe: They're not cheap and I haven't actually ordered anything from them (searching for earmuffs) but these people: seem pretty legit and have warm looking slippers also in Vermont by actual mail-order. (Scroll past the loooong intro)

Steve Morgan said...

Now that Retrotopia is underway, it's been really thought-provoking and enjoyable to read. The mingling with your more traditional posts is providing for some interesting reflection.

On the topic of the senility and death of Progress, a recent event stands out as a marker in my mind. At an interfaith gathering last month, a local university professor discussed a class exercise in which she told the students to imagine they had a working time machine. When would they like to visit?

The most popular eras were the 1960s and 1980s, but all were in the past. No student mentioned anytime in the future. When the professor asked directly, "Who would want to see what 2050 is like?" not a hand went up.

And this is in the belly of upper class privilege, with PV on every roof and luxury cars in the high school parking lot.

As you mention in this week's essay, the time when the US political system - and its global wealth pump - completely loses legitimacy and is open to serious challenge may not be that far off.

jbucks said...

About your first point about technology and labour: Earlier this year, I bookmarked this article about a study that claims to show that 'technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed'.

- The article (Guardian newspaper)
- Link to the study itself

It is a study of census data in England and Wales since 1871. From the article:

' “The dominant trend is of contracting employment in agriculture and manufacturing being more than offset by rapid growth in the caring, creative, technology and business services sectors,” they write. '

Hard to tell whether this means some kinds of, for lack of a better term, bottom-level jobs have simply been replaced by other bottom-level jobs. For example, farming being replaced by bar staff (a job they say has risen).

It also doesn't say anything about pay; whether the new jobs they say have been created are better or worse paid than those that have been replaced.

They show that jobs in technology have risen, they don't take into account the obvious point that technology requires energy, and if we run of out of energy those jobs will disappear.

I'm also a little suspicious that they use absolute figures (showing the number of people employed through the decades) without seeming to take into account overall population growth. Maybe their use of the statistic 'percentage of workforce' accounts for this, but the percentage of workforce doesn't say anything about the total size of the workforce as compared to total population. Maybe someone with more knowledge of statistics can chip in!

jbucks said...

About the Syria/Russia situation:

I wonder if the explanation for the US being ineffective militarily in Syria is mainly because the US, after two wars in the Middle East, cannot do more because US public opinion would be totally against another war in the region. Perhaps the administration feels it would be political suicide to send in ground troops, therefore they make the token symbolic air strikes in the way you suggest simply to look like they are doing 'something' about it.

Russia, seeing this situation, has either simply jumped on the opportunity to gain influence in the region, or, have made a deal with the US behind the scenes to attack Syrian rebels (which the US can't admit in public because Ukraine means that Russia is 'the enemy').

But this is just speculation...

Mike said...

Re: "Before computers came in, tens of millions of Americans supported themselves with steady jobs as typists, file clerks, stenographers, and so on," – even "computer" itself was once a human job description. "Computers," i.e., people who did computation, were part of code-breaking teams in WW2, I believe.

Jim R said...

Well, we haven't seen a General Richard Weed yet but it seems entirely likely now, among the other Druidic predictions.

I shall be scanning the news for one.

Genevieve Hawkins said...

Why wouldn't the US be cheering Russia for destroying ISIS (or ISIL or IS, or whatever they're called to not sound too Israeli)? Isn't ISIS the US sworn enemy? So doesn't that make Russia our new BFF? I mean who the US is fighting and who they aren't is starting to seem like something out of a mean girl middle school clique. I don't know whether it's more depressing if the US military is treasonous or incompetent, but it's looking more like one or the other lately.
Toledo is the perfect capital of the Lakeland Republic....a lot of contrarians and feels like something's gotta give. Deep scars from being sold out to NAFTA still simmering in that town...

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown, about half of my readers who've expressed an opinion want to see more fiction and less nonfiction; about half want to see more nonfiction and less fiction. Right now, I mostly want to explore the Retrotopia narrative, but when situations like this week's news come up, something for the nonfiction fans seems like a sensible bit of variation.

Don, we'll get to that. The short form is that it defaulted on "its share" of the US national debt, which the IMF, World Bank, et al. insisted that the post-US republics all had to pay off, and so got slapped with an embargo and the attempts at regime change already mentioned.

James, true enough! If I wanted to make a complete list of the dysfunctional abstractions that substitute for reality in today's US politics, I'd be typing for a very long time.

Jonathan, the irony with calling current thought patterns "magical thinking," as I've noted here in the past, is that real practitioners of magic don't actually think that way; quite the contrary, repeat Rove's famous rant to any operative mage I know and the most likely suggestion you'll get is that the person who said that needs psychiatric help. That said, you're quite right -- that sort of faux-magical thinking is pandemic in the corridors of power these days, and will bring this country down in flames if it remains too long.

Dfr2010, a direct hit! How did your dinner companion(s) take that?

Patricia, best wishes for the festival! Btw, it'd be "Pat darra (whatever your mother's first name was)" -- second names in 25th century Meriga are matronymic.

Pinku-sensei, I recall a winsomely titled book from the late 1970s, I think it was: Butterflies in my Stomach: The Role of Insects in Human Nutrition. Having eaten fried grasshoppers, I find the idea quite palatable -- certainly more so than the crow that's going to be eaten in DC and elsewhere if the Russians pull this off.

Eric, glad to hear it. I hope the meetings are going well!

Ben, I'm pretty sure that the Russian strategy is to pound the rebels into paste and then hand things over to Assad and the Iranians, who will keep a lid on things thereafter: arguably a workable plan. (The creation of an independent Kurdistan deeply beholden to Russia and Iran, and thus likely to do a good bit of their policing for them, may also be part of the project.) As for Putin, though, exactly -- this notion that he has the least interest in what the West considers "acceptable" or "unacceptable" is really quite funny.

Juandonjuan, yes, I'd read that, and of course it's a valid point. The question that needs answering, though I doubt it will ever be answered, is why it happened.

Jean, take a couple of deep breaths and then tell me why.

John Michael Greer said...

Alexander, I tend to see the pitchforks as a secondary factor. They normally come out when the system is already going to bits. The only question in my mind is how close we are to the point that mismanagement driven by the worship of dysfunctional abstractions pushes the US into a crisis from which it can't extricate itself.

Will, I disagree. If Obama actually wanted to cause a decline, there are many more effective ways he could do that; it's the fumbling and handwaving, the endlessly rehashed slogans, and the obsessive management of appearances that lead me to think that he and the class he represents -- including its conservative elements -- are lethally detached from reality.

Jean-Vivien, I was wondering if anyone would catch the implied reference in that last paragraph; thank you. Those "moderate Syrian rebels" really do resemble the imaginary divisions Hitler thought he could summon to the defense of Berlin!

Peteybee, as noted in response to another comment, my guess is that the Russian strategy is to kick butt, hand things over to a highly motivated local despot, and go home to the victory parade. But we'll see.

Robo, in my fictional history, they and people like them became the sole source of consumer goods in the years immediately after Partition, when the devastated Midwest was trying to rebuild some kind of basic agricultural economy and housing stock. Thereafter, some of their kids and grandkids stayed in the recycled-goods trade, while others refocused on new goods once those were available; they're doing fine now, in the stable, quietly bustling Lakeland economy.

Jason, understood. I have the spare time to follow up on stories like these, and try to put it to good use.

Frijoles, move fast. I have no idea how much time you've got left.

Repent, thanks for the data points! It's received wisdom among occultists, by the way, that when people become fixated on winning the lottery, their lives stop. They basically just sit there with slack jaws and blank eyes, waiting for the big check that never comes. It's one of the most dismal self-inflicted hexes I know of.

HalFiore, it's not just some guy with a blog. When something in the news catches my interest, I go to Google News and read anything up to fifty or sixty different news reports, from different countries and political persuasions, sorting through the propaganda and bias and trying to get a sense of the ascertainable facts. Details (such as the armament of the Moskva) get looked up on reputable online sources or in reference books. There's a certain amount of search string fu in getting the useful stories, but it's easily learned from experience.

Pygmycory, nobody outside the US military knows, and in all probability, they aren't going to say. They weren't dropping bombs, by the way -- they were firing a cannon with explosive shells, over and over again for more than half an hour.

Moshe, both of those are fascinating data points. Thank you.

Kevin, the F-35 and the Gerald Ford-class carriers are at the top end of the "can't fight but makes lots of money for the defense industry" sweepstakes. I wonder how many other weapons systems the US military uses are just as dysfunctional, if not quite so lucrative. As for the taking of Palmyra, well, yes, among many other examples. If the Russians succeed in taking Raqqa, it will be very interesting to hear what kind of documents they find in the rubble.

John Michael Greer said...

Doctor W., glad to hear it. I trust a good time will be had by all.

Cherokee, it's ironic that there's so much discussion these days of the anniversary of the First World War because today's Allies are painfully reminiscent of that classic description of the British army on the Western Front: "Lions led by asses." There are plenty of good people in the Aussie military and in ours, but there does seem to be quite the culture of institutionalized senility at the top!

Beneath, glad to see so many meetups! Best wishes for the Arlington meeting as well.

Pygmycory, I know, it's quite the frustrating experience. I wish I knew a way around it, but when worldviews differ -- especially when it's a matter of acceptance or rejection of a set of socially approved mythologies -- misunderstanding is usually the outcome.

Howard, exactly. In today's America, the most likely replacement for the existing order of things may just wear armbands and salute with a very stiff arm.

Varun, I've seen some of the same thing. It's really quite bizarre. Yes, I'm also wondering what the Russians et al. have planned for the dark of the Moon.

NoHype, nicely summarized. If Iraq becomes part of an Iran-Iraq-Syria alliance under Russian patronage, as seems likely now, the US will have suffered its worst foreign policy defeat in my lifetime, and the political and economic consequences will be stunning.

Mickey, obviously I disagree. Certainly the US is fixated on getting rid of Assad, but I don't think it's a matter of sane geopolitics at this point, more a reflexive "Dictator bad!" -- that is to say, another abstraction. Dictators are bad, and if you get rid of them then you get a democracy -- that abstract notion has been wedged sideways in too many American brains for decades now, despite a consistent failure of the facts to follow suit.

Marcu, do you have any idea if the boats are actually being stopped, and if so, what scale of human-rights abuses are we talking about?

Bryan, that's why I used the term "airstrike" rather than "bombing" in my post.

Steve, that's absolutely fascinating. Not that many years ago, that would have gotten a completely different result. That being the case, we may be very close to crunch time; when the children of privilege stop believing the myths that undergird their status, it's late in the day indeed.

John Michael Greer said...

Jbucks, I'd suggest that some technologies do create more jobs than they take away, but computer technology doesn't belong to that category. You're right, though, that it would be most interesting to see a really good statistical analysis of those figures. As for Syria, the way the US is screeching, I don't think any deals have been made -- quite the contrary, I'm far from sure what the US was up to in Syria, but I doubt it had much in common with the official story.

Mike, that's entirely correct, of course.

Jim, "General Richard Weed"? I'm drawing a blank on that. Fred Halliot, perhaps, or President Jameson Weed, maybe...

Genevieve, well, that's the million dollar question, isn't it? As for Toledo, thanks for the comment about NAFTA -- I'm still building the backstory to the Lakeland Republic, and old grievances about trade treaties that sold the US working class down the river (as of course NAFTA et al. did) are good fodder for that.

John Michael Greer said...

By the way, I've fielded a whole string of comments regarding my passing reference to Naomi Klein's latest book, and all of them are basically identical in phrasing. If you guys want to look like rent-a-trolls, you're doing a good job. I'll consider, down the road a bit, a detailed review of This Changes Everything that will point up exactly why I consider it embarrassingly slipshod and superficial -- but that'll depend on how much more canned trolling I get. 'Nuf said.

Scotlyn said...

Re the choice of a Doctors Without Borders target, I can't speak to the specific hospital, but the NGO as a whole stands uncompromisingly for the rights of patients everywhere, a strange notion that has set it on s collision course with the recent rounds of "free trade" negotiations in TPP and TIPP. Doctors Without Borders have been firmly outspoken in opposition to increased corporate control of the pricing and quality of medicines. Inasmuch as the US military is a defender of corporate interests, Doctors Without Borders might not be considered a friend.

Scotlyn said...

Sorry, I should have said that last comment is in response to Pygmygory wondering why the US would target a Doctors Without Borders hospital.

ed boyle said...

I was reading several posts at zero hedge about the 4th turning and 2008 was said to be the start. The beginning of the renewal phase was left open. I think this summer is it. 2nd market crash, Russia and china going on offensive, corbyn, trump in uk, usa and refugee crisis tearing apart fragile European consensus. Atlanticism, petrodollar, usa military domination, nato, EU. In effect in a couple of years the post war order could be gone with hardly a shot fired, no world war anyway. Your fictional account of usa defeat against China would be suprrfluous. USA defeated itself. Russia just had to pick up pieces of their incompetence.

Allexis Weetman said...

How dare you insult St. Naomi! Nah I'm kidding. I read a bit and its confused and fluffy around the edges. Long on hand-wringing but short on solutions. As you have shown with lakeland, solutions need to think outside the box (but within possible solution space).

On computers, robots and jobs. I have a degree in crafts (majoring in ceramics, minoring in glass and fine metalwork)... currently useless but hopefully a future winner. Apologists for automation tell me that new niches will be found for human workers in their hypothetical future. But the developers of robotics and AI state that they want to make their machines better than human in every way. So where is this niche for humans? Azimov understood this and thought that governments would pay their citizens to be content with leisure, but he underestimated the penchant for unthinking cruelty within us. The Tory government of my country has shown us the way they will prefer to handle unemployment.

On Syria. The schadenfreude is palpable in my house. Your book is beginning to look prescient. Putin impresses us with his old fashioned real-politik.

jean-vivien said...

What the unholy infernal place ? This is making today's Reuters front page :
Possible intelligence lapses on Russia being probed

WASHINGTON - Senior U.S. lawmakers have begun probing possible intelligence lapses over Moscow’s intervention in Syria, concerned that American spy agencies were slow to grasp the scope and intention of Russia’s dramatic military offensive there.

News travels fast in America ! I am all out of popcorn now...

Jason Heppenstall said...

It seems to me that abstraction is pretty much the only tool left in the box for our increasingly senile elites. Any politician that dares to dabble with concrete reality is dismissed as a basket-case.

Just last week, here in Britain, the newly-elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that he would never use nuclear weapons. It wasn't long after that the prime minister David Cameron was sitting on a sofa during a breakfast TV show and telling the nodding hosts that "of course" he would not hesitate to incinerate millions of men women and children and that anyone who didn't think this was necessary was living in 'cloud cuckoo land'.

Military tactics aside, and not withstanding the fact that the threat of nuclear annihilations has kept an uneasy peace for a few decades, the difference between the former and the latter man seems to be that the former can relate the abstract world of power politics to physical reality, while the latter thinks it's all one big game.

Marc L Bernstein said...

interesting article:

Commenting to Press TV, Dr. Barrett said that “the American people will be very interested to hear that just 14 years after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, which were officially blamed on al-Qaeda - which even then was called by some people al-CIA-duh, having had relationships with the US in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union - that this supposedly demonized enemy group that we were told was responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001 is now our ally in Syria, and we should to go war with Russia and risk a nuclear war that could end life on the planet in order to punish Russia for fighting against al-Qaeda.”

When I posted this article on facebook I headed it: Is Brzezinski crazy?

Steve Lendman says more or less the same thing:

We are dangerously close to seeing a major escalation in Syria.

KoldMilk said...

jean-vivien, this is less surprising when one considers that US spy agencies have for some time now preferred electronic data gathering at the expense of all other types of (real world) intelligence. The NSA (along with GCHQ, et al.) are the reining agencies at the moment.

One consequence of this emphasis on data from electronic sources is that tech graduates have displaced people with humanities degrees, i.e., there is a shortage of people who understand humans, and the US agencies are stuffed with people who (can only) work with (worship?) computers.

And computers only work concretely on numbers, everything else done on computers relies on abstractions.

Michael said...

Jesus, you pinned it down!

Sue Jaiteh said...

JMG, I would love to read your thoughts on Naomi Klein's book - please ignore the trolls!

jessi thompson said...

general richard weed? sounds like a joke. i bet his friends don't call him rich, or rickie, or rick...... ;)

i think we've already had a few "richard weeds" in high ranking military positions.

thoroughly enjoyed the post. my 2 cents: the us military isn't in the business of ending conflicts hastily, or at all. the longer they can drag it out, the more money the military industrial complex makes. so before we question the competence of any military action, we need to be sure we understand the underlying strategy. i'm no military analyst, but to me, it appears our middle east strategy is to perpetuate chaos to continually resupply us with hateable military targets. securing oil and other resources seems secondary (though also important). just my two cents.

also i think it's tragic they attacked drs without borders, and surprising, but surely it was intentional, and thats sadly not implausible.

doomerdoc said...

I give it roughly thirty years (2008-2038) and the U.S. will be unrecognizable.
That's not that long! Especially when you consider human civilization is what, 6000 years old? And large scale industrialization is at least 200 years old.

Tony f. whelKs said...

Hi JMG - your skewers seem especially sharp this week, and you have certainly skewered some fine specimens for us.

Putin has pulled bit of a blinder, although I'm rolling my eyes a bit at the generic Western response - "but, but, but, he's like just promoting his own national interest, dude" as though that's a privilege to be reserved for the USA or other bastions of 'democracy'.

That said, I don't think his target is 'terrorism' in Syria, any more than it was the "Coalition of the Willing"'s target in Iraq. My take (bear in mind I'm not employed by any geo-political military think tank, so this may be poorly informed... or not ;-) ) is that Russia's interest in Syria is pretty much the same as it was in Crimea. Latakia, meet Sevastopol. The difference is, in Syria, the incumbent regime is happy to have the Russian fleet there, Ukraine's government of the day less so. Keeping one port means protecting the incumbent, whereas keeping the other port required a change. It's all part of a replay of the 19th Century 'Great Game', imho - a big prize for Russia being access to warm-water ports, now as it was then.

Looking at the map, I shouldn't really have been surprised at the presence of a cruise-missile capable fleet there, though I was. I'm probably not alone in that... that gives a lot of coverage of the more fractious quarters of the World Island.

Maybe the most disappointing aspect is hearing British politicians repeatedly describing Putin as a 'thug'. That might just be for PR consumption, but I'm more convinced they believe it themselves, and are seriously underestimating their 'opponent'. Sun Tzu has some choice words on that... we are so ... skewered.

Odin's Raven said...

Maybe much of the difference in the performance of Russian and American forces could be that these people see themselves differently. Russians seem to view themselves as soldiers and are proud of their military effectiveness and of their country's strength. Americans seem to see themselves mainly as moneymakers and makers of deals to make themselves more money and are proud of the technology which they hope will make them personally more money.

Even the American military seems to be infected with this attitude, hence the vast scams like the F-35 and the five hundred million dollar programme to create 'four or five' 'moderate' terrorists. I think there was a report issued on 911 and hence overlooked, that something like $2.3 trillion had disappeared from the Pentagon and just couldn't be accounted for (excluding the official 'black' programmes). Recently I think I saw that this figure is now up to about $8.5 trillion. Then there was Iraq and the pallet loads of $100 bills disbursed without any accounting. Obviously people whose only solution to problems is to literally throw money around find it hard to accept that bullets bombs and bayonets are sometimes more effective and appropriate technologies, and that other people may be more efficient in wielding them.

It's not only the military and the defence industry. The upper echelons of American society seem to feel no empathy for the rest of their people and no responsibility for the state of their country. Its all just a vast collection of looting opportunities. There's now a story from one of Hillary Clinton's guards that when she passed through a rural area she complained, 'What are we doing here? There's no f***ing money here!'

Somewhatstunned said...

JMG said:

I'll consider, down the road a bit, a detailed review of This Changes Everything ...

Gosh JMG, you actually bothered to read it? I somehow managed to pick up from reviews and excerpts that it was unlikely to offer me anything much either practical or analytical and there'd be better use of my reading time. Even without a TV I'm still impressed how much reading you do.

Martin B said...

@ Mickey: It's a bit more complicated than Assad vs. ISIS. Assad is fighting the Syrian rebels for control of Syria, and ISIS is fighting them both for control of the region. Roughly, Assad's in the east and the rebels in the west of Syria, and ISIS is operating in western Syria so it's attacking the rebels which makes ISIS the temporary ally of Assad.

Of course it's much more complicated, with Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia all having a finger in the pie, not to mention Hezbollah, Al-Nusra, the Kurds, various tribal groupings, and the religious divisions like Shia, Sunni, Alawite, Wahhabi, and Christian.

As we know, Israel pulls American foreign policy strings in the region. What does Israel want? I don't know. Israel shares a border with Syria, and occupies the Golan Heights which is Syrian territory. But AFAIK Assad has accepted the reality that Israel is too strong for him and lets sleeping dogs with tanks and missiles lie. So it's not in Israel's interests to overthrow Assad, unless they already have a deal with the rebels. Maybe that is why America supports the rebels.

If anyone can refer me to a good detailed overview of the situation, I would be grateful.

donalfagan said...

Scott Adams offers an argument that letting Russia attack ISIS might be a smart move:

"The Master Wizard filter says that President Obama – magnificent bastard and Commander in Chief – just suckered Russia and Iran into the quicksand while taking The United States out of an endless and unwinnable fight.

And … doomed ISIS in the process.

The United States can’t defeat ISIS militarily because doing so would require killing too many civilians. Russia and Iran will have fewer problems in that regard because they control their media and their leaders don’t need to ask permission.

And let’s say you want to build a virtual wall around ISIS to contain them. You would need a substantial military power to guard the coast.

You need Russia.

Right where they are deploying."

MigrantWorker said...

Well, it has been a long day at the games. King himself graced us with his presence, and presided over the jousting tournament. After many exciting rounds, all of the contenders are now disabled - all except the winner, a new champion. Or rather, the old one; he has won all tournaments in the kingdom year after year for quite some time and defended his title this year also, even if not quite with as much ease as he did in previous years. Here he is: he just finished his celebratory round of the grounds and now stands at the edge of the jousting field, daring any and all to challenge him.

But what is this... a challenger? On foot? The crowd watches in disbelief. Does he really expect to stand a chance against a mounted knight? Doesn't he know what happened to a long string of challengers in the past?

But that does not matter. The games continue! The champion's supporters roar; some with encouragement for the champion, some with laughter at the challenger. And the champion launches into a charge!

Meanwhile his opponent quietly picks up a crossbow...

The knight charges, and what a magnificent sight he is! The shine of the armor; the flutter of the standard attached to his mount; the mount itself, a heavy horse, his steps thundering across the field; the speed at which the knight advances; everything speaks of the champion's power. The crown cheers him wildly as he passes; further down the track, the rest of the spectators boo at the challenger.

Meanwhile the challenger winds up his crossbow with practiced and purposeful motions...

The roar of the crowd subsides. The current champion ruled for so long that the recent tournaments got a bit... predictable. You wouldn't even win much if you bet your money on him. Perhaps it is time for a new champion after all? I mean, the challenger may be a mere foot soldier, but at least he still stands...

Meanwhile the foot soldier places a bolt on the crossbow and takes aim...

...and the champion is left with no good options. If he continues the charge, he will get shot - not fatally, after all the armor grants him a lot of protection, but he will still fall in front of all the crowd to see. Even if he manages to stay in the saddle and overpower the challenger, he will still be wounded and unable to compete in other tournaments. And if he stops, it will be even worse: not only will he personally yield to the challenger, but also it will become obvious that knights in general are no longer an unstoppable force.

So what is the champion to do when the rules of the game change on him? He can't just drop the lance in the middle of the field; he has become specialised in fighting from horseback. He doesn't even have any ranged weapons, since they would get in the way of performing an effective charge. In short, he never fought a fight which we was not equipped to win - until now. He cannot even withdraw from the fight - as opposed to the challenger, who can just leg it at will without his position on the scoreboard changing one single bit.

My guess would be that he would still charge and hope for the best (or more accurately, for the least bad). As long as he gets some support from the crowd, he at least has that to fight for.


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Marcu,

A Melbourne CBD ADR catchup would be cool and a lot of laughs and fun. What have you got in mind and hands up who's interested?



Jim R said...

Profound apologies for my faulty memory, JMG. Jameson Weed.

I understand there's a Spokesguy kicking around by the name of Josh Earnest right now...

Joy Hughes said...

I find this philosophy fascinating. I think it is peculiar to our time of ecological release and rapid growth. During most of human history, when population was bounded by available resources, other philosophies prevailed ( e.g. "Life is suffering")
"I just saw this on Abundance, and I am so inspired to share it. It is from a woman who thinks like this all the time, and she is so happy and fulfilled, Wow. She says in this post In a Women's Forum that helps each other that I am in:
I want to share an important key to calling in the money and opportunities you desire.
Wealth is infinite and it is available to you every single moment you dare to open your heart to receive.
It often shows up in unexpected ways and can always be recognized as divine by the way it makes you feel.
Bless everything you are grateful to experience and enjoy and watch the Universe bless you right back!
Using videos to get your message in front of your ideal clients allows you to communicate the value of your solution in a way that helps them right then and there. It allows them to like, know, and trust you and bless you with divine wealth and abundance by joining your list, becoming part of your tribe, and investing in the transformation you provide.
Everybody wins. And that is infinite wisdom and divine wealth at work!"

Dan Mollo said...

Putin appears to be a very shrewd, realistic, and capable leader, who most likely has a thoughtful and well laid out plan for exactly what he wants to accomplish in Syria. The American establishment is being out-maneuvered here, and all they can do is throw a tantrum like a child (or a senile old man, take your pick). I would not be surprised if an alliance between Iran, Iraq, and Syria became a regional powerhouse in the years ahead, under Russian patronage and to the exclusion of American influence. I read an article yesterday stating that officials in Iraq welcome assistance from Russia against IS, and may use them more than the US.

About "This Changes Everything" I had heard that it was a "very important book" and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Your comment about it makes me want to read it all the more to see what you are talking about. One of the things I've learned from all of your writing is the need to wade through ideas and narratives to look for reality. Perhaps people who don't like that you characterize Naomi Klein's work as slipshod and superficial is because they too think in ways that are slipshod and superficial?

flute said...

The only rebel force in Syria that might be considered "moderate" is the Kurdish rebel force YPG, who, though mostly consisting of Kurds, gladly take along any others who are willing to fight for their cause irrespective of cultural and religious divisions, e.g. Arabs and Assyrian Christians. But, the US cannot support YPG, because the important US ally Turkey does not want another Kurdish "nation" just across their border.

One minor quibble with what you write. The Russian attacks so far have (according to Bellingcat's analysis) not been directed against ISIS, but solely against other rebel groups in Syria. But I suspect, as you wrote here, that Russia's strategy is to first eliminate the weaker Syrian rebel groups and then go on to crush ISIS.

Apart from the US, Turkey also has a navy, air force and electronics to jam, and is a party that is one of the most likely to intervene in Syria. That's probably why Russia has brought along all the advanced equipment. On the other hand, Turkey is a US ally, so you might consider them part of the same block.

Renovator said...

To my mind, Frank Burns, from the 1970's TV series MASH, is the perfect metaphor for U.S. foreign (and domestic, for that matter) policy. A heartless, self-centered, bumbling weasel of a man, who likes to stir up trouble and finds endless faults with others, but when confronted with his own inadequacies will slink, cower and heave fault at anyone else but himself. It's embarrassing, if not calamitous, to say the least...

Johannes Roehl said...

It's not quite as serious as the mess in Syria and the near east but I find other news from last week (that is still making headlines in Germany) also exemplary for a certain strain of "progress": Volkswagen cheating with a software that reduced emissions during tests but of course not in the standard use of those cars. It would have been possible to build cleaner engines but deadlines were tight, money sparse, so they came up with this "cunning plan".

Only now the German automobile workers start fearing for their jobs (the CEO left with a pension of many millions, of course he claims he didn't know anything...) as the prestige of that most visible and prestigious (there are some equally prestigious but none as visible) of industries goes down the drain. (It seems very likely that other companies also cheated in a similar fashion. And maybe not only German ones. My brother joked that the German car manufacturers should set a prize for investigative journalist to uncover similar cheatings by the Japanese automobile companies).

As taxes for cars are to some extent coupled with the rate of emissions, VW customers are also unknowingly tax evaders, and it was already claimed that the company should pay those differences as well. Furthermore, there was some deal a few years ago with the government to hold up the pretense of manufacturing cleaner cars that worked with an average rate of emissions throughout the "fleet" (that is the range of models offered by a manufacturer, allowing more gas-guzzler etc. if it is offset by sufficiently many "clean" models"). They cheated against this agreement as well with the faux emission values...

Justin Patrick Moore said...

Hi all,

Not on today's topic but a piece of news of possible interest to those tracking the Rustbelt Renaissance. This brief article is about the expansion of Port Authority for a 226 mile stretch of the Ohio river and its possible economic impact:

Thomas Mazanec said...

Though it’s hard to say for sure, given the fog of conflicting propaganda, it certainly looks as though the Russians have done considerably more damage to the Islamic State in a week than the US and its allies have accomplished in thirteen months of bombing. If that’s the case, some extremely awkward questions are going to be asked. Is the US military so badly led, so heavily burdened with overpriced weapons systems that don’t happen to work, or both, that it’s lost the ability to inflict serious harm on an opponent? Or—let’s murmur this one quietly—does the United States have some reason not to want to inflict serious harm on the Islamic State?

Sure those questions will be asked? Or will we just go on in the fog we are?

Leo Knight said...

While reading this week's essay, ne of my favorite Monty Python skits came to mind. It involved an apartment complex which, to save money, was induced by hypnosis, and remained standing as long as its residents believed in it. I have seen so many real world events this could apply to.

zaphod42 said...

That was, undoubtedly, the best post you have done yet... and you have been superb to date. It deals incisively with the banal "efforts" of the present occupants of the White House and of the Pentagon do determine a national strategy, find a connection between the assorted locales of interest and any parallel US concern, or to even effectively deal with any of the many monsters we have henceforth created.

Where is our national Putin? Trump? Hardly! Clinton? Give me a break! Even Bernie Sanders, as fun as he is to consider, is not in the same league. Perhaps there is someone out in the 'wilds' of America who can lead us as clearly as Putin leads Russia; and if there is, the one thing I would be on is that (s)he is not a "captain of industry," and cannot operate in either political party in this nation, as they are presently constituted.

Moreover, if we do not find such a leader, should one exist today, the inevitable consequence to which you referred will be in the category of "worse."

And so, in the end, we se that the candidate who campaigned on the theme of "hope" has been effective only in destroying hope; the candidate of "change" has been 'more of the same' The man of "yes we can" has done more to make what needs to be done improbable if not impossible. And has become the worst nightmare of liberals who wanted, at last, a black President. The first black person in the White House has become one of the worst of all time. That this has nothing to do with his race, but rather with the polity, will do little to offset this setback to equality. Already it is worse, and the paradigm shift has barely begun.

Justin said...

Yup. Earlier this week I caught Obama on TV making a statement about Russia in Syria. All he could muster as a response was a verbose digression into the optics of the situation; "Russia is operating from a position of weakness" was the telling quote. LOL. It was a moment where I realized that for Obama, everything is about posturing and image making. Saying the Russians are weak means something in that realm. Elsewhere, does not matter.

Helix said...

A depressing and yet oddly edifying summary. A truly pathetic spectacle.

I guess what depresses me most about all this is the peanut gallery lining up for a shot at the next presidency, out of which we will -- at best -- select the least sleazy to "lead" us. Thus our prospects have been reduced to -- once again at best -- yet another unsteady downward slide.

On another topic that seems somewhat related, I have recently been meditating on the recent shooting on Oregon. While watching news coverage of this event, I was struck by the similarity of this event with the usual TV fare on offer. I came away with the impression that Harper-Mercer was simply making real what we see on TV almost every night. And while I don't play video games, my impression is that once again, Harper-Mercer merely brought out the mentality behind the "Doom" genre of the video game space into the real world. I'd be interested in JMG's and other posters' ideas here.

We're doing this to ourselves. And I don't see us stopping anytime soon.

George Coles said...

Well done, Mr. Greer. Thank you for the post. Important sections
in this post made me think of the following quote:

"Never answer the question that is asked of you.
Answer the question that you wish had been asked
of you." -- Rober McNamara.

Eric S. said...

Regarding the quagmire of abstraction, privilege, and denial among America's elites, have you been following the way that over these past few months the stock pundits have been openly rejoicing every time a new bit of dismal data about the economy gets released? It's like the last decade of economic policies have created in the elites a Pavlovian response to economic decay that's caused them to salivate in response to economic hardship in anticipation of more free loans and more stimulus packages. They've gone from insisting that "the fundamentals are sound" all the way off the cliff to admitting that everything's unraveling but that it's only going to hurt the people who work for a living, and can only help the people who skim off the top. I seem to recall a time when that sort of sociopathic thinking was at least veiled in some degree of euphamism. The language that's been coming out of that corner of society has been even more dizzying and strange than it usually is.

onething said...

About the downward sliding living conditions, couldn't it have been true that progress did increase it for all if the increased production had been widely shared, and even the taking of jobs by computers ended, instead of in unemployment, in fewer hours at the job?

Denys said...

I'm trying to think of examples for this statement "great many amenities that used to be taken for granted either cost vastly more than they once did, even corrected for inflation, or can’t be had for any price."

The only place my brain is going with this is how we use corporations and businesses for the things families and communities used to provide for one another - elder care, child care, education, apprenticeships, farming, and house watching while one is away. So deep is our mistrust of each other that we believe more in the statements and slogans in advertising than we do in the words of our families and communities.

Another thought is the postal system. It still delivers mail regularly, but when I must ensure that something reaches someone in a timely matter, my first thought is "oh no, not the post office". I go to Fed Ex and pay $18 or something more and am guaranteed that they did their job and delivered the envelope to the right person in a timely matter. It's really quite ridiculous. The post office even with its most expensive option will not guarantee its delivery of items by the time they said they would do it.

What did you have in mind?

FiftyNiner said...

"President Jameson Weed?" So close to 'jimson weed', the ubiquitous hallucinogenic weed. Is there a connection or am I over thinking something? Anyway, the name has a nice sound, though somewhat aristocratic.

Dammerung said...

I continue to object to your characterization of technological complexification and mechanization as "getting rid of jobs." The problem isn't mechanization, it's that the wealth from mechanization has been monopolized through too-clever-by-half financial machinations. All these unemployed stenographers and the like should have jobs, and would, if the benefits of an expanded capital base hadn't been hijacked by the .01%. Why don't I have a personal tailor? Why can't I afford to hire an interior decorator? We have all this idled labor just sitting there waiting to be utilized, but the problem is, no one outside the Big Club can afford to hire them because the actual benefits of expanded productivity have been monopolized.

Russia is serious business though. They didn't go into Syria half-committed. They aren't there to please a voting bloc or hand over taxpayer money to their military industrial complex. They're there to bust some terrorist heads - and the heads of anybody who tries to get in their way. Those S-300s (or S-400s?) aren't there to defend against the "extensive" Islamic State air force....

Sven Eriksen said...

As much as I enjoy spending time with Mr. Carr over a cup of coffee every Thursday morning, I'm glad you take time off once in a while to comment on current events also. These events in particular could certainly use it...

Helix said...

@Frijoles - I don't think a war with Russia is in the cards. What's happening in Syria right now is in some ways similar to the Vietnam war -- it's a proxy war between the great powers played out in a relatively insignificant 3rd world country. I think the US will very quickly conclude that it cannot win by direct intervention there, and will therefore try to sabotage the Russian efforts in the long run through intermediaries.

At least I hope these clowns have that much sense.

Odin's Raven said...

If America's politicians really are so crazy as to attempt to enforce a 'no-fly zone' against Russia,after the American airforce is no longer flying because it no longer exists, perhaps part of the peace settlement could be a war crimes trial before the United Nations, Nuremburg style.

Wouldn't it be great to see Obama, Netanyahu, King Salman and their leading generals and bureaucrats impeached before the world on the charge of plotting aggressive war against Syria? Oh yes, things like attacking Yemen and bombing hospitals and wedding parties could also be on the charge sheet.

What would be a suitable sentence? Perhaps 99 years plus life in Guantanamo, wearing orange overalls, handcuffed into stress positions, subjected to loud noises and regularly tortured?

adamatari said...

While I generally find your work to be enlightening, this particular article doesn't particularly sit well with me on a couple of points. First, Russia is not any more wise in foreign policy or military action than the US. They just are in a phase where they are more agressive. I'd like to remind you that the US looked quite strong when it first waded into the wars that have now become semi-permanent drains on its resources - neither the Taliban or Saddam's military could put up much of a fight, until they reformed as unconventional forces and dragged it out. Russia may be more successful with Assad but it's far to early to cheer for Russian "strengh" or compliment them on how much better they do things than the US. They are also stepping in after the US bombing campaign, which I suspect is very much on purpose.

Secondly, Obamacare hasn't stopped the bleeding but it HAS made healthcare cheaper and more accessible to lots of people, particularly poor and near-poor people in states that accepted the medicaid expansion. Not to mention people with pre-existing conditions. A lot of people are getting healthcare for the first time in years. What it did not do is "fix" the American healthcare system, or stop the rise in costs, or weaken the corporate control of that particular trade. So people who have money are paying more, to subsidize those without money and to keep the fat cats fat.

I would say the shape of decline is not a narrowing of choices in the consumer realm, but rather a rise in prices of neccessities (rent, education, health care, transportation, and so on). There are more consumer choices than ever, but equally they are harder to find offline as amazon and other online shopping have done major damage to traditional retail. So for the wealthy, life is great, but for everyone else things have definitely gotten worse. An iPlaything is no replacement for homeownership or an education without crippling student loans. And those quality good that do exist are not easy to afford if you are putting more and more of your income into staying off the streets.

The rise in the price of neccesssities - basically, economic rent seeking - is, to my mind, perhaps the biggest issue. Income inequality is an abstract but rent is very real. When I say the rent is too damn high, people blow it off, but from my experience and what I see, even higher wages don't mean much if all of it gets sucked out by rising rents. When you say the abstract is being treated as more important than the real, what comes to mind for me is the price of rent, police brutality, and infrastructure issues. All things that are not addressed concretely even by "progressives" like Bernie Sanders. Heck, look at the marijuana issue - politicians have talked but it was outside groups that wrote the laws that were passed by the people in the West that legalized it (and it has turned out to be very simple and boring in practice). Major change simply is not coming from traditional politics anymore.

k-dog said...

"let’s murmur this one quietly—does the United States have some reason not to want to inflict serious harm on the Islamic State?"

Murmur indeed, should the Islamic State be actually defeated the war on terror would be reduced substantially in scope and the manufactured domestic fear of the Moslem horde might abate. With insufficient shiny objects left to distract, the American people could become critical of our government's disenfranchisement of them and their future survival.

Perhaps mine is an exaggerated and speculative perspective but inhabitants of suburban Virginia Suburbs are highly motivated to preserve and keep their pay checks coming. If that means annihilating a few hospitals from time to time it is all part of a days work to them. They take comfort in contemplating the 'bigger picture' as needed and should that not work pharmaceuticals are used I'm sure.

None of what I postulate here would bubble up into the realm of conscious awareness in the Virginia Suburbs except among those sufficiently sociopathic that their minds do not feel the need to protect against the harsh reality of their actions and how the town-house mortgage gets paid.

I'm enjoying your story and the essay breaks you are shoehorning into the weekly instalments. Keep it coming.

latheChuck said...

Re: Naomi Klein, here's a review that should put the topic to rest:

william fairchild said...


You raise alot of interesting points.

After reading last weeks post I was reminded of Potter's shoe store. They are many decades gone, but you could get a pair of shoes that fit, lasted, and could be repaired. Now the street they used to be on is populated with payday loan outfits, tattoo parlors, and pawn shops. And the WalMart is way on the east end necessitating a 30 min car trip or a 1 1/2 hr bus ride. I think this speaks volumes as to what was done to local economies.

I see the effects of robotization everyday. We named our two new kiosks "Tony" and "Melissa" after the employees who were laid off when they were installed. Not only does it cost jobs, but it degrades community, it destroys the interaction of one person to another. You don't have to be polite or considerate to a robot.

On Naomi Klein. The Shock Doctrine was a fine piece of work. I hve not read This Changes Everything. I've read many climate books. They generally follow the same pattern. Here is how dire it is. We reach an inflection point. And presto! Solutions! Of course people differ as to whether the market or a populist groundswell will deliver them. Klein seems to fall on the groundswell side. But they always seem to end up at the same point, a green energy revolution th at allows us to continue to live exactly as we are, just emission free. I just am so tired of that nonsense, I don't have the energy to read it. Paul Gilding's the Great Disruption was in the same vein and really dissapointing.

Whether or not you agree with Putin, one must confess, at least he is competent.

Helix said...

Micky Foley, JMG, and others have essentially pointed out the complex and chaotic forces at work in the Middle East. Many of these are the result of oil in combination with national boundaries determined by colonial overlords, who hardly had the best interests of the indigenous populations at heart.

IMO, the best solution is to encourage a mid-east "summit" where all parties sit down with a view to redrawing national boundaries. "All parties", by the way, includes Israel, Palestinians, ISIS, Kurds, Turks, Iraqi Sunnis and Shi'ites, Saudis, Iranians, and... well, pretty much the whole lot. Notably absent would be the US and Russia.

It wouldn't work, of course. At least not at first. In fact, the first result might be renewed hostility between the parties -- not that there isn't a lot of that anyway. But it would plant a seed that could eventually bear fruit. The seed is the idea that the current boundaries were put in place for the convenience of colonial administration, and especially not to unite people but expressly to divide them. The fruit is that someday down the line, TPTB in these countries recognize that greater cooperation among them will pay dividends in a world dominated by superpowers. Kind of a Mideast Union counterpart to the European Union. And while a redistricting may not be practical, a measure of autonomy for the various populations might paradoxically allow for greater unity.

Nah! What am I thinking?

Moshe Braner said...

Thank you Myosotis for mentioning - whether you buy anything there or not, that site is worth visiting, as it has a wonderful Lakelandish attitude. They say their staying in the business for 35 years is due to their "unprofessional" conduct, i.e., their refusal to stoop to the conventions of the race-to-the-bottom mail-order trade.

Keith said...

Hello John,

I very much appreciated this week’s posting. While I am very much enjoying the story over the past few weeks, I guess I like my philosophizing neat. Plus, reading fiction as a serial is maddening.

Dysfunctional abstractions are all the rage up here in Canada too, during our federal election. A particularly odious example has come up, as the current government has decided that the abstraction of “Canadian values” can be used to evoke a fear of otherness. In this case, our government has decided to ban the wearing of the niqab at the oath taking part of the citizenship ceremony, and to explore a ban in all public services. Whipping up fear of someone’s religious beliefs is cast by our demagogues-in-training as a reasonable approach to gender equality. Intolerance with a smile.

Using an abstraction allows politicians, and perhaps the public that supports them, to exploit anxieties while ignoring the ugly reality that bigotry inflicts on real people.

Great post as always.


gwizard43 said...

Very astute and incisive analysis of the current geopolitical state of the world, and especially of the role that our adherence to and reliance on abstractions have played in creating it, IMO. Zero Hedge posted something similar, if a tad hysterical, recently:

Given your statements about 'the potential for really serious disruptions here in the US in the near future' - with which I agree - I'm curious to know if you ever considered, or what you think about as one 'dissensical' approach - expatriation?

It seems to me that seeking a life based on Green Wizardry outside of the core imperial regions (i.e. US and allied nations) in areas that still have functional traditional communities (aka interdependent socioeconomic groupings) as can be found, for example, all throughout rural and quasi-rural areas in Latin America, might make more sense in the days to come than staying put, IF that is, one accepts the challenge to earnestly and truly assimilate into said communities, in full recognition that this can easily take many, many years.

For those of us who do not feel a strong emotional attachment to America - while recognizing the difficulty of overcoming the 'cultural DNA' that is our heritage - it seems to me that practicing Green Wizardry in areas less likely to be quite so dramatically impacted by the coming Age of Consequences (in many cases simply because the foregoing Age of Affluence passed them by!) - especially if that involves a Tea Party dictatorship or something similar! - in more peripheral climes may be a viable option.

I'm curious to know what you and other readers of TADR think about this?

team10tim said...

hey hey JMG, RE: This changes everything

I imagine that you readers fall into two camps. Those that read it and loved it and those, like me, who haven't read it. I looked it up and the basic premise seems sound, that what we are doing isn't working in a big way and in order to avoid wrecking the place we need to go in a radically different and more ecologically sound direction.

How did Naomi drop the ball? Did she says that we could have our planet and eat it too or that her personal version of the right way was inevitable or that everything will work out if 'The Man' just comes to his senses and stops keeping all the good ideas down? I'm pretty sure that things are not going to work out in a big way so if she suggests that everything will be coming up roses then I understand your criticism. But I haven't read the book so I don't actually know what the argument that you're not having with the trolls is about. A little light might diminish the heat here.


william fairchild said...

On Obamacare-

It does have some practical benefits, primarily medicaid expansion for those states that opted in. The burder on ERs was seriously reduced. Overall costs long term come down some. (diabetes is treated early and managed rather than excalating to amputation and kidney faiure) But the abstraction of "socialism" and "the market" came into play. Obamacare is not socialist (with the exception of medicaid expansion), unless you consider giving taxpayer dollars (premium subsidies) to private companies (insurance rackets) socialist. What is particularly galling is that many families can't afford the deductibles and copays on their bronze and silver plans anyway. And the enrollment process is still a disaster. Oh and premiums increase every year.

IMO, healthcare is a public good and a human right and therefore the profit motive and private capital controlling healthcare is inappropriate.

latheChuck said...

re: attack on Kunduz hospital. US forces wouldn't just go attack a hospital at random, or even if it were known to be treating the enemy. But if they believed that friendly forces were being attacked from "those coordinates", they could well believe that "those coordinates" deserved counter-attack. So then there are some questions to investigate.

Did the Taliban actually use the hospital staff as human shields, believing that using the hospital would make them immune?

Did the Taliban mount a deception operation, such that US forces were led to believe that an attack was coming from "those coordinates"? If they could spin up a bit of theater ("War of the Worlds" radio broadcast comes to mind) that makes action urgent, the chance of carrying off this propaganda coup increase.

Did anyone on the US side realize that "those coordinates" corresponded to the MSF hospital?

Suppose the Taliban staged a deception based on the idea that THEY were attacking the hospital, so US forces would hurry to "defend" it, and the coordinates would be very close. And then, assuming that they have a trusted spotter on the ground, maybe they could manipulate damage reports to walk the attack right into the hospital? Let's not assume that the only "insider attack" is an explosive belt under an Afghan uniform.

latheChuck said...

Re: Naomi Klein ("This Changes Everything"), again...

Not having read the book, only the reviews, I'll try to summarize: 1> We're ruining the planet. 2> We're practicing capitalists. 3> Therefore, renouncing capitalism will save us.

To simplify it further, the argument is:
"If we continue to practice capitalism, then we will ruin our planet; therefore,
if we do not practice capitalism, then we will not ruin our planet."

This is not a logically valid argument, whether or not you agree with the original premises. I don't see why we should let it distract us from more productive efforts to understand what's going on around us, and what we CAN do to prepare for likely futures.

Steve in Colorado said...

I think the situation in Syria is more complex, with several sub-themes, than is typically portrayed in the media and most other discussions.

Both Russia and the US have their public face to what is going on. And of course there are also their real private agendas.

For Russia, it appears to be support for their man Assad, against all enemies. That is why at least so far they have been taking out Sunni groups opposed to Assad which were largely backed by the US (e.g. the "moderates"). No doubt, they will eventually get to ISIS itself, but their goal appears to be support for their man in the region so that they can keep their military port on the Med. They also seem to be building a Shiite support group in the region. If they succeed at this, it will change the political/military landscape in the ME, making them a key player.

For the US, it isn't clear they have a strategy. Perhaps they were/are hoping for a replay of Russia in Afghanistan, hoping to bog them down in a Sunni/Shiite war. But so far at least there is no indication they have a game plan. Properly done such a plan could work, there is a great amount of Sunni-Shiite hatred to play off, and Saudi Arabia is not likely to stand by and see a strong Shiite military alliance form in their back yard. Whether TPTB in the US can pull that off is another thing.

As always in the ME, there are plots within plots within plots. The real long term goals may well still be below the radar.

Gaianne said...

@ jean-vivien--

That Reuters article on intelligence lapses is very funny!--and an important indicator that US policy is in deep disarray. Essentially various US leaders are casting around for whom to blame, and intelligence agencies are never in a position to go public with how they were ignored by their bosses, since everything they do is classified secret.

This fits very well with the theme of this week's post. The White House--and in their own way, the Pentagon--create their own reality, and reports from informants and analysts who collect concrete facts are often ignored or rewritten by their superiors to better fit the prevailing group-think. When this goes wrong--as it often does, the blame is pushed down the hierarchy.

The funniest part of the article is the expression of surprise that Putin has made use of tactical surprise. But Putin has always made use of tactical surprise--not least when his goals are explicitly stated.


Dave Ruggiero said...

I can't help but feel that if the current crop of American politicians had been in charge in 1941, they'd be anxiously trying to locate a group of "moderate Stalinists" to ship jeeps and boots to in Moscow. Apparently our leadership doesn't realize that we don't have the ability to manufacture a third side to this civil war entirely out of thin air - especially now that most of the "moderate," pro-Western Syrians have decided, quite rationally, that their best option is to head to Europe.

Of course, we're hamstrung by the fact that we declared Assad a war criminal a couple years ago and insisted that he had to get out. The Russians have been in his corner all along and so the situation comes across as a little simpler to them. Nonetheless...isn't there somebody in the upper levels of our political leadership who's learned how useful it can be to apologize and admit that you were wrong? Makes me wonder what their marriages must be like.

Ron said...

According to the German "Deutsche Wirtschaftsnachrichten" ( did the Saudis call for a holy war on the Russians, claiming it to be a Christian crusade....
Makes one wonder....

Bob Patterson said...

Having experienced life in the 1950-60's, I think a lot of modernity is basically a style choice. I could easily live with receive-only internet access exclusively at libraries. The number of people who feel they need and want TV seems to be dropping significantly. Nobody back then worried about money being worth anything. Letters were still a legitimate form of communication. In essence, life was not bad. You might argue about various aspects of social justice, and we have made progress there. But technology had nothing to do with that. In a similar vein, have innovations like the debit card had any great beneficial effects on the common person,or were they just a more efficient way for large vendors to handle cash equivalents.? I look around the kitchen and the microwave is the only really modern device in there.

Bob Patterson said...

Re: Syria - most of what I hear is political spin on ignorance. Who is doing what top whom? Nobody seems to know. Everyone is there taking some sort of action. Maybe this is how it felt just prior to WWI.

pygmycory said...

How does canned troll taste? Does it make decent pie?

Airstrikes on a hospital that continue for half an hour despite pleas to stop... The whole situation makes no sense to me. It just doesn't compute. It really does sound like a war crime, but I can't think why anyone would want to commit it.

If Medecins san frontiers is considered a problem, I'd expect character assassination attempts, obfuscation, cutting them out of the loop as much as possible, and pressuring other actors not to do business with them. Murdering their field workers and patients from the air just makes the USA look evil without decreasing MSF's influence.

I was talking to said friend again, and she started talking about drone shipments of fresh vegetables to ships at sea. Headdesk. If that happens at all, it won't last very long.

nrgmiserncaz said...

As an Engineer who has spent his entire career in industrial automation, we all know that corporations are NOT trying to find ways to replace the jobs that automation eliminates. They are very direct behind closed doors (I'm the guy who closes the deal so I'm privy to the details) about the need for efficiency and getting rid of people if possible - especially skilled positions like electricians, etc. It is not in the corporations interest to care one whit about jobs - that's what politicians do.

I often use the abstraction "corporation" but I don't have meetings with corporations or build things to specifications written by corporations. I deal with people, and people want to keep their jobs and go on vacation and watch TV. If they lose their job, well that's a problem. So they write bid spec's that make a process more efficient and eliminate people. They make things automated so that they don't have to hire a skilled operator to run the machine - they can pull in anyone from the bus stop across the street to do it for way less money. Computers and technology are used ALMOST exclusively in my industry to eliminate jobs.

The funny thing is that a huge percentage of the people in my building are aware of the problem but can't really do anything about it because they would lose their job too. As long as we have an excess of available energy it will be more profitable to get rid of good jobs than to create them.

Clay Dennis said...

JMG, With this latest round of thinking in abstractions and senility exhibited by U.S. leaders, do you still want to back the theory that collapse will be slow, and stairstep down a bit at a time. ( hopefully I am not mis interpreting your work here) . I seem to remember that it has been your contention that modern leaders have many policiy levers they can pull, and work -arounds for things like hyperinflation, currency collapse, or global credit collapse that would keep the U.S. moving along at reduced level of prosperity ( perhaps 1950's) but no immediate elevator ride to the 1850's or 1750's.

It seems to me that our leaders have exhibited such senility and fuzzy abstract thinking that their responses to future global military, finance, resource shortage, and climate disasters will most like make things worse and speed our way down the elevator shaft to preindustrial times. I realize that history demonstrates the concept of catabolic collapse very convincingly, but it seems like our technological society has created a situation where our leaders ( 1%, global elite, etc.) can be so insulated from reality and real world feedback that they may incompetant and foolish on a scale never before seen in history.

pygmycory said...

The Russian ambassador asked Canada to join Russia in its Syria coalition, on grounds that the US intervention we've been involved with has been ineffective.

No word on any response from Canada, but I doubt he'll get a positive response.

Jill Grow said...

Reminded me of the quote (GK Chesterton, I think) I have posted on the wall of my cubicle:
The business of the Progressives is to go on making mistakes.
The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.

Almost seems to be true...

Roger said...

Abstractions? Oh yes. Another way of telling howlers. Vague terminology, subject to multiple interpretations, so as to deflect charges of lying.

"Globalization" they call it, just to obscure what's really going on, what the real agenda is.

Maybe it's just my paranoia working overtime JMG but maybe the United States federal government has something akin to a Ministry of Silly Talks whose mission it is to distract and mislead.

Now, given that this is the US, I would further imagine that the function has likely been privatized.I mean, why work for a paltry civil service wage when you can set yourself up in a lucrative private business behind a corporate screen? But I digress...

See, this may explain such phenomena as Hillary's hilarious accounts of her email server which have gone something like "I wasn't watching, I wasn't there and besides I tripped."

Would a civil servant have come up with this? JMG, it only SOUNDS like amateur hour in the State Department. When you're confronted with the possibility of accusations of law-breaking, you defuse it with protestations of cluelessness. This sounds like a professional clean-up crew at work.

"Abstractions" as you say. Stay away from concrete facts, don't talk specifics, no, you say things like "I was busy, the pace and volume of work was tremendous ..." I mean, who can argue with that?

Was it cluelessness or was it deliberate law-breaking? Was there evidence of a guilty mind? Or was Hillary like the shop-lifter that walks zombie-like out of a store with his loot clearly visible in hand, and, if apprehended, protests his innocence, saying if he wanted to steal wouldn't he have concealed the object? No, he's no thief, he's just having a bad day.

When Wall Street stands accused of massive fraud, they say, no, it was only a massive failure of common sense. We're very, very smart which is why we're entitled to all this money. But, geez, sometimes we screw up.

Or, alternatively, when government bureaucrats stand naked and exposed to charges of monumental folly, they deny that it was folly at all. No, you see, all the apparent foolishness was to bedazzle the enemy with misdirection and deceit. See, Obama's phoney war against ISIS was just to exasperate Putin and draw Russia into a quagmire it can ill afford.

B.S. you say? Are you sure? Look, Russia is already neck deep.

Was Hillary's email server hacked? No doubt. But just wait. The spin could be that this was fully anticipated and so the server was loaded with counter-intelligence (that is, lies). Where was all this counter-intelligence? Well, remember all those deleted personal emails? Full to the brim. Clever no? And no, they'll comment no further as this involves issues of national security.

Absurd you say? My imagination working overtime? Maybe. But no more absurd than what we've heard so far. I mean, if you're going to lie, tell a big one.

You wonder, isn't it less trouble to show some due diligence before one acts? Yeah but you see, JMG, my experience in dealing with government is that, by and large, you're swimming against a tide of sloth and indifference.

How does government inflict so many absurdities and ludicrous injustices? Simply, they just don't give a damn. Nobody in a bureaucracy is responsible for anything.

I think you had said in a previous post, people find themselves in increasingly desperate and futile struggles with government departments that don't even pretend to carry out their mandate. And why should they even pretend?

They know that the citizen is powerless. There's a gross asymmetry in knowledge and information and especially in resources. For guys like you and me, taking on the government is like a solitary herbivore fighting a pack of wolves. Do you want to take on the government? Good luck. If you fight according to the rules, you abide by rules that THEY'VE devised.

Roger said...

JMG, begging your indulgence, to finish off my last comment:

Which brings us to the issue of those enraged young men from those violent corners of the globe. I don't think they're as docile as the herbivorous inhabitants of North America. They don't meekly follow our rules, that is, rules set up by our governing elite to protect them from us.

While we yawn or laugh at bizarre Hillary-esque lies, or we bemoan what the governing class dumps on us, or, if we're really mad, we get a lawyer, I would agree that these aren't necessarily the traditions of people in other parts of the world. Especially, as you say, if their village has just gone up in smoke. They don't sue for damages, rather, repercussions tend to be of the more kinetic variety.

Now don't get me wrong, discussing these things is very refreshing. But will it do any good? Of course, it gives your readers a heads up, it gives the view of other sets of eyes. Forewarned, as they say....

But as far as deflecting the course of the future, well, that's another thing. Because I've found out over and over that people don't listen and people don't learn. Least of all governments.

Dau Branchazel said...

The only thing that comes to mind is World War III. There are so many fingers in the festering oily pie of the Middle East, and now the two regional superpowers, Russia and Iran, have reached in with two hands, and are overtly militarily involved in the mix. Add 2 cups of Russian cruise missiles; 3/4 oz. Iranian special forces; Bake on high heat for as long as it takes. Salt to taste.

And all signs seem to point towards them being either on the fighting for the "them" side of things, instead of for the "US". Russia, also, is not constrained by the western preferred type of pretense. They have an image to uphold, without a doubt, are not forehead-deep in twenty years of denied imperialism faecal matter. To they're mind, they are now buffering, and playing the long game of humiliating the "US", while bringing the "them", into their sphere of influence. What country isn't more maleable once they are indebted to you for ridding them of the scourge du jour? Syria will suck the sores off Russia new imperial feet after this is through. Even Iraq is on the verge of inviting Russian cruise missile strikes.

Goodbye status quo.

Now what do we know about dramatic shifts in the status quo; in the political equilibrium...

max said...

Last week listened to Lawrence Wilkerson's lecture "The Travails of Empire" in which he discusses the trajectory of our current empire. Very much in line with your thoughts, I think.

Note on ACA. Family works in a hospital that reports "negative impact" due to the high medical deductibles (know single mom, one child with epilepsy - $800 monthly medication costs, $300 monthly premium and a $13k deductible!). Watch for hospital closings due to budgetary problems, and/or accelerated medical industrial complex consolidation.

Hubertus Hauger said...

@ Repent: "... Everyone I know, at work, family, ect, has gone mad crazy..."

Just today I talked with a friend, crossing that particular subject. We are all under so much pressure. So many people seem to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Myself included. Quirky reactions where I go. We are right in the middle of the anticipated collapse and it maelstrom is dragging us along.

@ HalFiore: "...we have a very limited ability to locate targets..."

May be there is another most simplest reason for the immobility of the US-warforce in Syria. The collapse is making itself noticable.
Lack of ressources! That is the hardware. Maybe even the software is insufficent. Not enough money! Everything on the limits! And that for sure one cannot publicly annouce that.
Couldn´t the US-Cavalery have enterd just via Israel, with their super logistics. Just a few ten-thousand troops. Just like Russia is doing today. I completely guesstimating, but it is not far-fetched, that the US-army can not even spare such numbers in fightforce anymore. Not enough means available.
We have finally reached the limit of growth, hurra!

latheChuck said...

Re: Naomi Klein, just one more comment...

Saying "let's abandon capitalism; whatever comes after it just has to be better", sounds kind of like "let's just overthrow [Saddam Hussein, Ghadaffi, Assad, etc.]; whatever comes after just has to be better."

(I meant to write that in my earlier post.)

Shining Hector said...

Man, sometimes I think you'd do well as a prophet for one of the Lovecraftian elder gods, speaking truths so unbearable they can turn an ordinary mortal who makes the foolish mistake of reflecting on them into a babbling lump of jelly. The idea that our leaders are inept, Machiavellian, short-sighted, vain, avaricious, callous, etc. is infuriating, but it's a concept I can find to simultaneously be an unacceptable state of affairs yet ultimately be strangely comfortable with for reasons I'd rather not contemplate. The idea that they genuinely are completely out of touch with reality and their transparently false narratives aren't simply a smokescreen to a credulous public while they wink at each other behind the scenes, but instead represent what they've internalized and sincerely discuss with each other behind closed doors, is nothing short of horrifying.

Not sure if this was a piece of the tapestry you just wove, but I think back to the popular quote from Putin's recent UN speech, "Do you even realize what you've done" or something along those lines depending on the translator. At first I took it as a rhetorical jab. Now I wonder if it was a sincere question. After that, I wonder if he asked it knowing some people would recognize it as a sincere question. Then I wonder if the perfectly accurate answer would be "no, not really". Each step along the way makes my stomach sink a little further.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Sorry to add to the pile of Naomi Klein posts, but I read an interview with her about 'This Changes Everything' and right from the outset she made it very clear that her own lifestyle of cosy middle class consumption was off-limits for debate. Here's the actual quote from the article:

"Klein does not easily fit into most people’s view of a committed environmentalist. She drives a car (it is a hybrid). She flies, already a lot more than most people, and is set to rack up air miles that would make her, by her own admission, “a climate criminal”. There is a brightly coloured plastic playhouse in the garden that was probably made in China. Yet she confesses to getting weepy when she thinks about the future under climate change."

Leading from the front, then.

Glenn said...

"Joy Hughes said...
I find this philosophy fascinating.{Snip!}:
I want to share an important key to calling in the money and opportunities you desire.
Wealth is infinite and it is available to you every single moment you dare to open your heart to receive.
It often shows up in unexpected ways and can always be recognized as divine by the way it makes you feel.
Bless everything you are grateful to experience and enjoy and watch the Universe bless you right back!
Using videos to get your message in front of your ideal clients allows you to communicate the value of your solution in a way that helps them right then and there. It allows them to like, know, and trust you and bless you with divine wealth and abundance by joining your list, becoming part of your tribe, and investing in the transformation you provide.
Everybody wins. And that is infinite wisdom and divine wealth at work!""

I've heard this before, it was from a "circle" one of our female neighbors attended. Turns out, it was actually an ordinary pyramid scheme. Most con jobs are based on the greed, or need (if you wish to be polite) of the victim.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Pantagruel7 said...

Re Jonathan's post on Karl Rove: Rove also said "As people do better, they start voting like Republicans...unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing." Now just how are we to take that statement? I think it should be regarded in the light of some writings of Leo Strauss, who is apparently very popular among Republican intellectuals. He advocates writing in multiple levels of meaning: one level for the cognoscenti, and the other level for the masses. I often wonder about what specific historical event Rove might have had in mind in the passage that Jonathan quoted.

Moshe Braner said...

Regarding the loss of jobs due to automation, I agree with the view that it's not the automation, it is the concentration of the benefits of automation. IOW, when I was young we were told that technology will bring us leisure. Instead, some lose their jobs while others are pushed to work overtime. I blame greed, both that of the 1% who keep the productivity gains to themselves, and that of the 80% who would rather work full time than share the work that there is. Me, I'd rather cut down both my work hours and pay, and have more time for other pursuits. But I am not allowed to - another way the system prevents the obvious solution.

chubasco said...

Anyone else thinking Putin's timing may have been calculated to aggravate the EU refugee crisis? I couldn't think of a better way to stick it to them for the sanctions if I was an evil mastermind. EU is losing bigtime on both coasts.

Glenn said...

"Dave Ruggiero said...
I can't help but feel that if the current crop of American politicians had been in charge in 1941, they'd be anxiously trying to locate a group of "moderate Stalinists" to ship jeeps and boots to in Moscow."

Ah, Dave, were you aware that after Hitler started Operation Barbarossa in June of 1941, that we shipped a great deal of war material to the Soviet Union via both the Murmansk Run (over the top of Norway and the White Sea) and the Bering? IIRC, that included 4 Wind Class icebreakers for the duration. Shipmates of mine collected the Cyrillic labels from the machinery and control panels after their return.


USCG, Retired
in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Unknown said...

Thank you for the reality check, though it's a hell of one this week!

Having grown up, and for a time attended, a prep school that produces many of the people who end up in the halls of power, I can't help but think that these people feel that they can do no wrong. Their connection to reality is rather tenuous to begin with and so help to further insulate the "deciders" from the mood of the general public and what is really going on. After a career in academia and non profits (fantasy worlds of their own) and shifting by circumstances into working retail, I can really see that the mood of the people is getting more desperate. I had a customer yesterday who wanted a particular item that we could not readily get and told him so. He then reminded me that he was going to spend $20,000 at the store...okay, but you still can't get it, dude.

In any case, do pop over to Orion magazine and check out Charles Mann's new article on the "Fantasy of Peak Oil". He suggests that there is an "infinite" amount of oil that we can get with technological means. He goes on to say that our problem of global climate change is not one of scarcity of resources, but one of abundance and that we'll have to cut back our consumption to slow the inevitable.

Thanks again for your blog, Mr. Greer. As someone posted earlier, Thursday morning can't come around quickly enough around here!

Tad Lyford
Unknown in Maine

Varun Bhaskar said...

Annndddd the Russians are bombing Raqqa

latheChuck said...

Moshe: I have a pair of these, and they're great for keeping my feet warm in the winter (when the room temperature is around 60F).

If someone else makes something like this without the polyester / polyurethane fabrics, that would be worth mentioning.

REI is a co-op store, so I guess I should say that your purchase may infinitesimally increase my annual dividend.

MawKernewek said...

I expect most of the sabre-rattling from the NATO countries against Russia is for show, having more to do with the arms industry of said countries seeking to sell their products. Even the sanctions on Russia are perhaps a way of protecting those industries from Russian competition, since it would be unpatriotic for a defence minister of a NATO country to buy weapons from an 'enemy'.

Having said that, there's plenty of room for some sort of misunderstanding over the skies of Syria with tragic consequences.

John Michael Greer said...

Ed, my fictional account of a Sino-American war in Twilight's Last Gleaming was simply another way of talking about how America is defeating itself. Doesn't surprise me a bit that it was the Russians rather than the Chinese, and Syria rather than Tanzania; those are details.

Allexis, exactly -- and of course "better than humans" presupposes the reduction of human beings to machinery in the first place. Since machines are better than humans at being machines, why, yes, the machines win. Unfortunately for the geekoisie, their whole fantasy depends on limitless supplies of energy and other resources, which the universe cruelly fails to provide.

Jean-Vivien, get some more popping; the show is just getting started.

Jason, I'll be interested to see what Britons generally think of the difference between those two politicians' statements.

Marc, we are indeed -- unless somebody notices that the result of that escalation could be the collapse of the entire system of US hegemony. All it would take is an attempted US air strike being savaged by Russian antiaircraft batteries, and the myth of US invulnerability has just gone out the window for good.

Michael, thank you!

Sue, I'm definitely considering it.

Jessi, I think that could be a factor, yes.

Doomerdoc, I'm not arguing. Political systems can change very fast -- consider how little time it took to transform the Russian Empire into the Soviet Union -- and a system as desperately dysfunctional as the one in the US could fall apart very suddenly.

Tony, Putin's taking a calculated gamble. If he can take out the US- and EU-funded mercenaries and militias, and give Assad the necessary help to get public order restored, he can probably bring the troops home -- except for those permanently stationed in Latakia and Tartus! -- and leave a relatively stable ally in place. He may be wrong, but from his perspective, it's a logical thing to try.

Raven, that's unquestionably part of the problem. Money is in some ways the uber-abstraction, and just as vulnerable to disconnection from reality as any other abstraction.

Stunned, it's not as though it's particularly heavy reading -- a fluffy little journalistic piece pushing a simplistic argument with a boatload of unstated agendas. I got it from the library and read it on a slow afternoon, between more interesting books.

jonathan said...

@jmg: hence my preemptive apology to the celebrants of druidry and wicca. unfortunately, i can find no better phrase than "magical thinking" to describe the form of mental instability that infects so many of our leadership class.

Marcu said...

Have the boats been stopped? I wish there was an accurate way to know. According to the government they have been stopped. One of the favourite sayings of the recently unseated prime minister was "We stopped the boats!", which sounded more like he was trying to convince himself than stating a fact.

The government were quick to move the "refugee processing centres" off shore to Nauru and Papua New Guinea where the government appointed contractor Transfield services could deal with the "problem".

The issue has basically disappeared off the media here and the only time I hear about it is when severe abuses crop up in some of the more fringe sources I follow. Internees being raped, committing suicide, sewing their lips shut and children growing up behind barbed wire fences are all taking place out of sight and out of mind.

I don't know what the answer is but I do think the problem will be getting worse as climate change starts to really bite.

Two is a company! Let me just find a nice venue to meet up and I will get back to you.

dfr2010 said...

@JMG: my dinner companion - hubby - merely chuckled and went right back to telling me about the article he'd read. He said today that he views those science-y articles as interesting and entertaining, but admits we probably wasted our best efforts on "smart" phones and the like.

For those thinking (hoping?) the attack on the MSF hospital was a mistake: I do not believe that. If it had been a mistake, not only would there have been a sincere-sounding apology in hours (as opposed to a half-(*donkey*)ed apology days later) but the pilot and gunner would have immediately been named-and-shamed along with facing courts-martial. I suspect whoever gave the order is politically connected, or has serious dirt on the politically-connected. It may take decades to learn the truth.

As for Syria, I stated emphatically a few years ago when the govt first started to "arm and train" the "moderate rebels" that there are no such creatures, and they really don't need training because as early as summer of 2003, I heard the infantry talk about attackers coming across the Syria-Iraq border to hit patrols, then running back to the Syria side where our troops could not follow. My brother-in-law scoffed, saying, "That's ancient history by now!" It is not only our elites that are willfully senile/ignorant/clueless.

Dau Branchazel said...

Whether the boats are stopped or not is not the only question in town. What are the governments true ends in treating people this way? Is there a simple explanation for what has been a cruel deterrent strategy. I feel like Australia's history as the worst place on Earth for prisoners to be sent, undergirds the policy of offshore detention. The Norfolk Island of twenty-first century Australia.

Maybe they have "succeeded" - if you can call such atrocious actions successful - but do the ends justify the means? For me, no. Many have died at sea, but only the the survivors are in hell.

John Michael Greer said...

Donalfagan, if America wasn't trying to hold onto global hegemony, and the US actually wanted to harm the Islamic State, letting Putin take on Islamic State would be a very good move. The difficulty with that hypothesis is that if the US actually wanted to harm the Islamic State, it would have actually done something to harm Islamic State over the last thirteen months, and it hasn't.

MigrantWorker, funny. And apropos.

Jim, good heavens, no need to apologize! I was just trying to figure out who you had in mind.

Joy, the classic privilege bunny's metastasized sense of infinite entitlement! I got to hear a lot of that when I was living in oh-so-liberal Ashland, Oregon, where it was generally used either to sell pyramid schemes or to explain why it's not necessary to have compassion for the destitute and downtrodden.

Dan, by all means read Klein's book. As you do, I'd encourage you to ask yourself two questions. The first is whether she actually offers a concrete alternative to the things she's criticizing; the second is whether she provides any evidence that her alternative would be any better.

Flute, the Russians have done only a few strikes at Islamic State itself, but those appear to have hit significant targets. I haven't seen any evidence that the US bombing campaign has done more than inconvenience a few stray camels.

Renovator, I'll have to take your word for it -- that wasn't a program I watched.

Johannes, that's a good example -- more abstractions ("clean emissions") generated by subterfuges and handwaving. I wonder how much of Germany's supposed success with green technologies has been produced in the same way.

Justin, that's good to hear. The Ohio River and the waterways and canals that connect to it will be of immense economic and political importance in the millennia ahead.

Thomas, they're already being asked, outside of the US.

Leo, funny! Yes, that's about right. I suspect the Ministry of Funny Policies is in there somewhere, too.

Zaphod, I think of Obama as one of history's great examples of the Peter Principle. He'd be perfectly fine in any position in which he didn't have to make crucial, reality-based decisions all the time. In such a position, he's as bad as George W. Bush and very nearly on a par with Warren Harding.

Justin, exactly. Saying "Russia is weak" doesn't change the fact that the Russians are taking decisive action and could care less what the US thinks about it.

Helix, exactly. There are plenty of other countries in which guns are readily available to the populace, but mass shootings are vastly more common here than elsewhere. Why? That's the question nobody wants to ask, because they're scared of the answer.

Iuval Clejan said...

As far as computers replacing people, yes, but why focus on computers? This has been true since the beginning of the industrial revolution: the Luddites nailed it. New jobs are created but less than old jobs, and usually stupider, less edifying, less artistic freedom, more stressful (with a few exceptions for scientists and engineers and even then I wonder if science was more fun in the times of Galilei and Newton). Exactly the opposite of what the cornucopians of the industrial revolution promised.

Fabian said...

I agree with your assessment of Russia's long term strategy in the Middle East: Smash Daesh and other insurgent groups in Syria and Iraq and then hand over control to Iran and other local allies, with the Russian military as the heavy sledgehammer that can be brought in if necessary.

This is how the Russians pacified Chechnya. They found several Chechen clans that were willing to switch sides and work with them and got them to do most of their dirty work. David Goldman ("Spengler") had some great observations on this in one of his essays. Today, Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov is essentially a feudal lord who swore fealty to Vladimir Putin. So long as he keeps things under control in Chechnya and doesn't get too big for his britches, he pretty much has carte blanche to run things as he sees fit.

Speaking of Kadyrov, he started his own private army, the Islamic Legion, modeled after the Légion Etrangère. He offered its services to Putin and noted that the Islamic Legion would be well suited for situations where it would be inadvisable for the regular Russian military to get involved. Several hundred Kadyrov loyalists did fight in Eastern Ukraine as members of the Death Battalion.

Kadyrov also asked Putin for permission to send the Islamic Legion to Syria to fight as an infantry division. While Putin has not officially given permission, a Russian admiral recently reported that several thousand volunteers from Russia, Chechnya, Dagestan, Eastern Ukraine and elsewhere are already headed to Syria to fight alongside the Syrian army and indicated the Russian government has no intention of stopping them.

John Michael Greer said...

George, thank you for the quote!

Eric, yes, and it's another grand example of the way that abstractions take precedence over reality in today's America. I really wonder whether any of these buffoons have considered the possibility that when the real economy of goods and services falls apart, it won't matter how many quadrillions of dollars in derivatives they've got...

Onething, that is to say, you'd like to see the unemployment shared out more evenly. In theory, that might have been an option.

Denys, a century ago all US cities and most towns of any size had cheap, clean, effective public transit provided by streetcars and urban rail systems; parks were by and large clean and well maintained, and so were most other public works; the mail was delivered twice daily, six days a week; outside of the really big cities, there was little homelessness, because real estate was inexpensive and cheap lodging readily available; a vast number of goods and services that you can't get any more were readily available, and the quality of clothing and household goods was by and large vastly better than it is today; doctors made house calls, which cost about as much as a visit from the plumber; and so on. I could go on at great length.

Fifty-Niner, excellent! Yes, that was deliberate. Similarly, the names of the two presidents who succeeded him are deliberate jokes of equal obscurity.

Dammerung, you're assuming that mechanization actually produces additional wealth. In some cases it does so, and in that case it becomes a matter of distribution. In other cases no new wealth is created -- the machines simply do jobs that used to be done by people. Computer technology, with some minor exceptions, belongs to the second category -- it doesn't produce new wealth, it simply redistributes the existing wealth in a more unequal way.

Sven, thank you. Sometimes current events just beg for commentary.

Raven, unless the Russians or Chinese have managed to figure out how to knock nuclear weapons out of the air, that's not likely to happen. On the other hand, if somebody ever does figure that out, the US is going down very hard, and yes, war crimes trials will doubtless follow.

Adamatari, obviously I disagree. First, the Russians so far have done a far more competent job of entering into the conflict on a much less lavish budget than the US has managed for decades. Whatever happens hereafter, that's an impressive achievement. Second, Obamacare has driven up premiums to the point that many people who are eligible for insurance can't afford it, and pushed up deductibles to the point that a vast number of people who have medical insurance still can't afford medical care. On the other hand, if you want to talk about rent seeking, I won't disagree at all -- the single most important reason that life is so difficult for so many Americans is the amount of rent-seeking parasitism on every productive dimenison of the economy.

K-dog, that may well be part of it, but I wonder if that's all of it. My hunch -- and it's just a hunch -- is that there are wheels within wheels at work here.

John Michael Greer said...

LatheChuck, while the article has its own problems, it certainly nailed some of Klein's.

William, Potters' Shoe Store is exactly the kind of thing I had in mind -- goods and services that people want but can't get any more, because it's more profitable to industry to push shoddy crap instead. As for Klein, she's playing much the same game, though from a different and somewhat more interesting angle.

Helix, in the best of all possible worlds...

Keith, "Canadian values" -- oog. Down here it was "family values." Both phrases basically function as excuses to hate.

Gwizard43, for some individuals, in some situations, leaving the US could be a viable option. Stop for a moment, though, and ask yourself this: the way the US is behaving these days, what kind of a welcome do you think expatriate Americans are going to face in much of the world as the US goes further down its current road? The pervasive fantasy of entitlement, by which so many Americans convince themselves that they ought to get whatever they want and be welcomed wherever they want to go, may not be a useful guide any more, if it ever was.

Team10tim, er, do you realize how arrogant that first statement of yours comes across -- as though nobody who read Klein's book can possibly find it shallow and meretricious? As for the rest, that'll wait for the review, thank you.

William, when I say that Obamacare has made medical care more expensive and less available, that's not disproven by pointing out that some people benefit from it. A lot more have been harmed by it, and soaring premiums and sky-high deductibles are a very large part of the reason why.

LatheChuck, until and unless an independent international body investigates the Kunduz hospital airstrike, I for one won't believe anybody's story. As for Klein, good -- that's the standard logic these days on the left. "X is bad, therefore anything but X must be an improvement!" Ahem...

Steve, the Russian strategy is fairly clear -- or, at least, their actions make sense in terms of their stated policy. US actions make no sense in terms of our stated policy; I'm not sure they would make sense in terms of any stated policy at all.

Dave, no argument there.

Ron, that's been reported elsewhere as well. The Saudis have gotten themselves backed into an unenviable corner at this point, and seem fixated on making things much, much worse for themselves.

Bob, modernity is a style choice, and it's also about passivity -- the technologies of every other period require more knowledge and effort to use, which is part of their charm.

RCW - said...

Those dreams are nightmares for the victims of idiotic imperial force & folly. I think Thomas Merton said it best in one of his poems:

"Do not think yourself better because you burn up your friends & enemies with long-range missiles without ever seeing what you have done."

August Johnson said...

JMG - Oops, I accidentally deleted my example of the fraudulent misconception that Obamacare has brought affordable Healthcare to low income people. What it has done is brought so-called affordable Health Insurance to those people. They most likely will not be able to afford to use it to obtain Healthcare.

My wife and I, through our lifelong living frugally and simply, are able to take care of our own Healthcare expenses while still living on an income that many would consider below poverty. So that we would not have to pay a penalty for not having Health Insurance, as decreed by Obamacare, we signed up for the Bronze policy that would be totally covered by the subsidy. The government is paying ~$750/month directly to the Insurance Company for the two of us.

OK, now we have wonderful Insurance for Healthcare, right? Well, not for most low income people. Since there's a $5000/year deductible per person we're still responsible for a slightly reduced pay schedule until it's met. A 15 minute appointment will run $150 (Reduced from $190), and having a mole checked out with a biopsy was >$700 (Reduced from ~$900). What low-income person that you know will even be able to use that insurance?

To get a policy that begins to cover expenses, you have to fork out $200-$500+ each month in addition to the ~$850 subsidy (for 2 people). Obamacare didn't change a thing for low-income people, what it did was somewhat help those middle-class people who already have a decent income but couldn't get insurance through their employer. For the Low-Income person, all it did was offer the Insurance Company of free money for a policy that won't be used.

Fabian said...

A couple of interesting essays arguing that American claims about “Russian weakness” and Obama’s claim that “Russia doesn’t make anything” are grossly over-exaggerated and pointing out that the Russians are pursuing a long-term strategy of economic development that plays to their strengths, instead of pursuing a course of instant self-gratification and trying to paper over the cracks like we are here in America.

Here another I came across, arguing that after the disastrous attempt at neo-liberal “economic reforms” failed, the Russians decided to pursue their own path of economic development, one that rejected becoming a resource colony for the US and EU, while also declining to pursue the East Asian model of low cost export-oriented manufacturing in favor of a strategy that takes advantage of Russia’s strengths and talents.

As the experiences of Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler show, underestimating the Russians as opponents has been one of history's riskiest and most dangerous bets...

John Michael Greer said...

Pygmycory, canned troll resembles a dog's breakfast, so you might consider feeding it to Fido; I wouldn't recommend using it in pie.

Nrgmiserncaz, exactly. The elimination of jobs is deliberate, and companies have good reasons to do so -- reasons that have a lot to do with the structure of taxation, and with subsidies for fossil fuels and the like. More on this as we proceed.

Clay, I've noticed that a lot of Americans have a hard time keeping track of the fact that the survival of industrial civilization and the survival of the United States are not the same thing. Could the US plunge into a really disastrous political and economic crisis overnight, mismanage the response catastrophically, and devolve into a Third World failed state? Sure. Does that mean that everyone else in the world would jump in after us? Not a chance. As I've been pointing out for a very long time, the US in particular is close to crisis, and its implosion will likely bring about a period of global politics and economics as difficult, and as bloody, as the one that ran from 1914 to 1954 -- you know, the two world wars, the Great Depression, the rise of Communism, the end of European colonial empires, et al.? That, in turn, will be one set of incidents on the broader slope of the decline and fall of industrial civilization.

Pygmycory, that does sound like the Russian sense of humor!

Jill, almost?

Roger, I learned a very useful rule long ago: "never blame conspiracy for something that can be adequately accounted for by stupidity."

Dau, exactly. If the Russians can pull this one off, the status quo in foreign affairs is over for good.

Max, I frankly expect the medical industry in the US to suffer a pretty fair collapse in the years immediately ahead. We've got a medical-pharmaceutical bubble, and it's going to turn into a really ugly bust.

LatheChuck, good. I discussed that same thinking in a post a while back, but it bears repeated viewings.

Hector, that's high praise! You're right, though: if Nylarlathotep, the crawling chaos, the soul and herald of the Great Old Ones, were to rise up before us in his crimson robes and utter words of chill import sufficient to strike terror into the hardiest soul, I doubt he could do better than to simply state the obvious fact that the people in charge of the United States of America are living in a dreamworld of dysfunctional abstractions, living lives so detached from the rest of the cosmos that they really have no idea what effects their policies are having.

Jason, I get suspicious anytime anybody spends their time weeping about climate change. So often it's an excuse not to do anything about it. If I do that review of Klein's book, it'll probably be titled "This Changes Everything (Except Naomi Klein's Lifestyle)."

Pantagruel, the phrase "target-rich environment" comes to mind.

Moshe, here again, what you're saying amounts to suggesting that unemployment caused by technology simply needs to be distributed more evenly. Yes, in theory, that's an option...

latheChuck said...

Re: my speculation on Kunduz -- I didn't intend for those comments to be believed as the most likely story. I don't know anything about it other than what I hear on the news. I'm just trying to open consideration of the vast variety of ways that the attack could have been the result of US negligence (potentially criminal), rather than US malice. I'm reminded of Aikido: use the opponent's strength against him. I'm sure the Taliban understand that principle.

August Johnson said...

JMG - you said "the technologies of every other period require more knowledge and effort to use, which is part of their charm."

Interestingly, just last night I was reading some late 1940's QST magazines. The author of a article describing the quite complex receiver he'd built started by saying something to the effect of "Increased simplicity of operation is always accompanied by increased complexity of design." Sound familiar?

It's odd to now be looking back at what was thought to be complex and seeing that it's simple by comparison to today's design. ummm... Progress?

Robert Mathiesen said...

Karl Rove's quote, "when we act, we create our own reality," is telling. A friend of mine, working as a service person during the dedication of Bill Clinton's Presidential Library, overheard Rove say a more extreme version of the same thing to George W Bush: roughly, the American President and his advisors make and unmake reality; it is they alone who get to say what is real and what isn't, who give shape and form to reality as they see fit.

There's a long, long backstory to this very widespread attitude in American culture. It begins with the American Swedenborg churches and Mesmerism. It picks up steam with Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, Mary Baker Eddy, Emma Curtis Hopkins (and Malinda Eliot Cramer on the West Coast). It finds its first institutional homes in Christian Science and the various religions of the New Thought movement. It is reformulated in openly magical language by William Walker Atkinson (also known as Theron Q. Dumont, Theodore Sheldon, Yogi Ramacharaka, and at least one of the "Three Initiates" who wrote _The Kybalion_), and then by Al G Manning. And finally it entered mainstream (nominally Christian) culture with Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, and now _The Secret_. Even today, in the early 21st century, it retains its hold on a very large number of Americans.

This odd American point of view seems (to me) to be a complete mystery to most Europeans, who were never heavily influenced by these 19th-century American authors and movements.

I grew up in that world, and I learned my first magic there. (So did Dion Fortune and several other well-known writers on magic and esoterica.) So I can say with some assurance that the first principle underlying all its thought is this: the physical world of matter and energy, in time and space, is nothing more than an old collective hallucination, an alluring delusion, a total illusion. Only thought, mind, spirit, etc., have any reality at all, any permanence. (As I grew up and learned more about magic, I discovered just how false that first principle is, though I still have a sort of emotional attachment to it as a hangover from my childhood.)

People, even Americans who were not born into that sector of American culture, who were not raised in it, may find it hard to fathom how anyone could actually believe such things. However, they do believe them, even when they later give lip-service to mainstream views as a form of protective coloring. And I expect that careful genealogical research would discover that a sizeable fraction of our elite politicians and would-be statesmen are descended from parents and grandparents who had read these authors and joined these movements; and they have a sort of "mind-over-matter hangover" inherited from their forbears.

John Michael Greer said...

Chubasco, wouldn't surprise me for a moment.

Unknown Tad, everything I've heard about the way that scions of the upper class get raised in America these days makes it sound like somebody set out to come up with a factory to produce clueless twits. As for Mann's bit, that particular delusion is wildly popular among privileged greens, since it feeds the fantasy that the universe is under our control and depends on us to save it. Impact with brick wall in 3,2,1...

Varun, I wonder if the US government would accept a bid to fire the CIA and hire me instead. It really isn't hard to figure out what the Russians are doing -- all you have to do is say, "what would a competent commander do if tasked to do what Putin says Russia is going to do?"

MawKernewek, in terms of Europe, I'm sure you're right.

Jonathan, understood. I considered calling it "economic thinking" for a while, since economists so often practice it, but that never caught on.

Marcu, that's about what I expected. Remembering the history of the late Roman empire, I'd watch for signs that the guards have become corrupt enough to sell weapons to the refugees...

Dfr2010, makes sense to me.

Dau, no argument there. I suspect this is all going to end very, very badly for all concerned, including the citizens of Australia.

Iuval, I've focused on computers because there it's so obvious. There are some technologies that actually do create jobs, and interesting jobs at that -- lens technology is one, the suite of technology involved in building and running railroads are another -- but it's a question of where to slip in the opening wedge.

Fabian, Kadyrov is on the cutting edge of the new protofeudalism; he's got his own army, bound to him by personal (rather than institutional) loyalty, and can deploy it anywhere in the service of his liege lord. I really do think Putin ought to simply get himself crowned Tsar of All the Russias and cut back on the pretense!

RCW, I ain't arguing.

August, exactly. If my wife and I were to sign up for Obamacare, it would cost us more than our house payment; we have no reason to think the claims about how much subsidy we'd get are true, as a very large number of people discovered this last tax season; and the deductible and co-pay would be so high that we'd still have to declare bankruptcy in the event of any serious health crisis. That's equally true of many other people I know.

Fabian, thanks for the essays. I'd be happier if more people in Russia had an eye toward what's going to happen as fossil fuels (theirs and everyone else's) run short, but Russian culture copes well with extreme adversity, so I figure they'll muddle through one way or another.

John Michael Greer said...

LatheChuck, I tend to think that Dfr2010 has a good point: if it was actually an accident, you'd think there would be a fast and meaningful apology, followed by a serious investigation, not the orgy of backside-covering maneuvers we've seen.

August, why, yes, it sounds very familiar. Me, I find skill more interesting than technological complexity.

Robert, fascinating. Of course I'm familiar with the history, but it never occurred to me to connect that with the behavior of today's politicians. Hmm and again hmm!

Fabian said...

One dynamic that I think people overlook is the degree to which the delusional and corrupt fools running the US military and political system have squandered so much of the Pentagon's budget and resources on useless projects like the F-35 and LCS and idiotic campaigns in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and how much this has hurt the US military while giving American rivals a chance to catch up when it comes to military technology and fighting power.

The Russians have been developing an impressive new range of advanced new weapons systems, some of which have already entered service, such as the Su-34 and Su-35 fighters and the Yasen and Borei class submarines.

Due to enter service within the next few years are the Tu-160M2 heavy bomber (a new-build version of the Tu-160 White Swan with stealth technology and state of the art weapons, electronics and engines), the PAK FA stealth fighter, the S-500 Prometheus mobile long range air defense and ABM system (according to manufacturer Almaz-Antey, it can hit airplanes up to 600 km away and intercept cruise missiles, stealth aircraft and ICBM's), the Armata tank and the Kurganets IFV (BMP replacement).

For the longer term, the Russians are also developing the PAK DA stealth bomber (next generation follow on to the Tu-160), the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile (scramjet powered missile that travels at Mach 7-8), the MiG-41 (a Mach 4 interceptor and spy plane based on the MiG-31) and a whole new generation of nuclear submarines, with SSBN, SSGN "carrier killer" and SSN "hunter-killer" (anti-submarine) versions planned. So the American military could end up losing its much vaunted technological superiority as well and find itself outgunned and outclassed on the battlefields of the near future if the US is stupid enough to blunder into a war with Russia.

PS You mentioned that if the Chinese or Russians found a way to neutralize the American nuclear deterrent, we could see America come crashing down in a hurry.

The Brazilian journalist and political commentator Pepe Escobar has been arguing that once the Russians start deploying the S-500 Prometheus in large numbers, Russia will become effectively invulnerable to American ballistic and cruise missile strikes. While such claims need to be taken with a large truckload of sodium chloride, its worth noting that it was Obama's predecessor that made that particular nightmare a possibility by unilaterally abrogating the ABM Treaty and ignoring Russia's warnings about the possible consequences of doing so and that Obama has done nothing to reverse that decision.

Unknown said...

JMG and Helix

Tomxyza here. Look up the book "On Killing" by Grossman. He clearly lays out the issue Helix bought up and offers significant insight into the history. A very disturbing read.

August Johnson said...

JMG - Agree about the skill vs tech complexity. I sat down for an hour tonight and copied CW again, I've let that skill lapse and need to get it back. Quiet nights are good for that!

Karl Ivanov said...

Longtime reader, first time poster,
Let me preface these comments by saying that I have not put in nearly the time or effort in studying these issues as the Archdruid or many others who comment on this blog. These are merely the questions and musings of one ignorant American.
In the short term, it seems Russia and China are outmaneuvering, or at least working hard to outmaneuver, America in the squabble over the remaining resources of our finite planet.
But are the Russian and Chinese leadership actually any wiser when it comes to facing the reality of planetary limits and peak oil? Even if their societies are less dependent on fossil fuels than our own, they too are part of world industrial civilization, dependent on its common way of doing things, and will be forced to downgrade their economies and lifestyles as it comes unglued. I should think facing up to this fact is as unpalatable to their elites as it is to ours- not to mention the rest of their society. I wonder as well, will winning geopolitical battles at this point in the arc of decline help a nation longer term, or will the nation be better off that collapses first and avoids the rush, willingly or otherwise? Will the nation(s) that ends up more powerful in the final round(s) of collapse end up better off in a dark age, worse, or is it impossible to say?

On a personal note I must thank you, John Michael Greer, for the good you have done for me and my family. Your blog helped inspire my mother and grandmother to revitalize our family farm in Alabama. When I am home, we often read the weekly posts aloud, and they have sparked many a lively debate. Your writings on magic have given me a new perspective on the interesting clash between my very academically centered upbringing (everyone on my mother’s side and many on my father’s are Ph.D.s or equivalent) and the needs of the physical discipline that is my profession and passion, classical ballet. Ballet teaches one a thing or two about abstractions, reality, and the relationship between the two that scholars often, in my experience, fail to face. I don’t know what chance my art form has in a collapse, but their is some hope for it- it survived the French Revolution, and actually ended up thriving after several communist revolutions.
I must say I cannot see the future. I do not know where our civilization is headed, the degree to which your forecasts are right or wrong. But the fine details are irrelevant- the central point of this blog is clear. Our society is dependent on fossil fuels- these are being used up- we do not at present have an energy source with which to replace them. Thus, it is in our interests, individually and collectively, to use less. That is enough for me to try to work on changing my lifestyle, to the extent I can.

Tye said...

Thank you for a wonderful essay. On the one hand I think we should in fairness realize that Obama is constrained by a hostile Congress. But heck, he could be tougher --cf Teddy Roosevelt. And the 'abstraction' vs 'reality' dichotomy ignores the exhaustion of the US votery for endless war. Recklessly expended in oil lust, we no longer have a stomach for on-the-ground fighting. Putin knows this. This whole discussion reminds me of your prior discussions, a la Toynbee, of Roman Civ dissolution, where detachment from the reality of the Visigoths ran head on into hungry and determined Huns. Although I think Putin in not the victor-to-be. Probably opening salvos showing the cracks in our empire mind-set.

John Michael Greer said...

Fabian, I'm by no means sure that a US-Russian clash right now would end well for the US, but of course you're right in the longer run -- Russia is building weapons systems that can be used to fight, while the US is building weapons systems that are designed for the sole purpose of carrying out devastating raids on the US treasury. That can't end well -- for the US, at least.

Unknown Tomxyza, thanks for the book tip.

August, I look forward to having quiet nights with nothing approaching deadline someday!

Karl, many thanks! It's always good to hear from someone who's made constructive use of these essays. With regard to your point about Russia and China, of course you're quite correct; whoever comes out on top this time around will be the target du jour in the next round of crises, if they last that long. In the long run no nation wins the game of Decline and Fall; it's just a matter of the shape of the trajectory, and that's hard to predict. "Collapse now and avoid the rush" is intended as advice for individuals, families, and local communities. Above that scale, I'm far from sure that any advice will help much.

Tye, of course there's more going on than I could fit into one weekly post! You're right, though, that Putin isn't the final victor. As I noted to Karl just above, in the game of Decline and Fall, no nation wins.

HalFiore said...

JMG, thanks for your reply. As it turned out, I did pretty much what you described after I posted - and got similar results. It is actually an old skill I remembered - but don't use much anymore - from the old days of Metacrawler and Dogpile. Do a search. What a concept.

It seems the web experience has become much more passive over the years, and I hardly noticed. Now there always seems to be Some Dude With a Blog, or, worse, a Youtube video that explains everything.

It seems one is supposed to think that if it's not on the first page of a google search, it doesn't exist. Good to see someone who still does it the old way.

steve pearson said...

I had never heard that there was a Gerald Ford class of carriers. That is delicious; the person who came up with that one must either have a wicked sense of irony or be brain dead.Perhaps there could be an Edsel class of tanks or a Louis XVIth school of social welfare.
As to the American habit of abstract and delusional thinking, during the Vietnam war they always reported Vietcong/NVN casualties as 10 times their own. I remember one report of an American company being ambushed and wiped out with all 180 men killed; the Vietcong losses were reported as 1,800.
As to Obamacare, my daughter, a 32 year old middle class worker, ended up paying almost double for much worse coverage than she previously had.In the immortal words of Bob Dylan " Tell me, great hero, but please make it brief, is there a hole for me to be sick in"
cheers, Steve

Kevin Warner said...

Re: your own comment that "everything I've heard about the way that scions of the upper class get raised in America these days makes it sound like somebody set out to come up with a factory to produce clueless twits"

This made me go back looking for two articles that I had read on the subject. The first is called 'The Coddling of the American Mind' at which talks about how, in the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like which is having a chilling effect on what their teachers can even mention in class.

The second is called 'The Disadvantages of an Elite Education' at and is an extensive article on the warped values that are instilled on our 'elite' in places of higher education who's students now, apparently, cannot even stand the idea of solitude or intimacy.

Don't get me wrong. This is not just an American phenomena. Not even close. The appalling quality and lack of decent manners of leadership in major Western countries nowadays demonstrates to me that they must have been exclusively recruited from the shallow end of the genetic pool. This leads me to believe that the only pragmatic changes that will be taking place will be mostly on a local level.

Scotlyn said...

Ye have the First Sight and the Second Thoughts, just like yer granny. That’s rare in a bigjob.’

‘Don’t you mean second sight?’ Tiffany queried. ‘Like people who can see
ghosts and stuff?’

‘Ach, no. That’s typical bigjob thinking. First Sight is when you can see
what’s really there, not what your heid tells you ought to be there. Ye
saw Jenny, ye saw the horseman, ye saw them as real thingies. Second
sight is dull sight, it’s seeing only what you expect to see.”


Tiffany Aching conversing with the Kelda, Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett.

The "First Sight", the ability to see what's really there, not what you expect to be there. An exceedingly rare quality that you manifest in spades, JMG. Thanks for the stories, and the First Sighted commentaries on the world, in equal measure.

Cherokee Organics said...


Well yeah, of course. I finally came across your oft mentioned Conan quote from Beyond the Black River: "Civilisation is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always triumph". Unfortunately, I recall that another commenter mentioned that quote a few weeks back, but it is worth repeating for its sheer elan!

Speaking of dud leadership but good fighting forces, another quote from that story comes to hand: "The river could be patrolled constantly. But the Government wouldn't do it. Soft-bellied fools sitting on velvet cushions with naked girls offering them ice wine on their knees - I know the breed. They can't see any farther than their palace wall. Diplomacy - hell! They'd fight picts with theories of territorial expansion. Valannus and men like him have to obey the orders of a set of damned fools. They'll never grab any more Pictish land, any more than they'll ever rebuild Venarium. The time may come when they'll see the barbarians swarming over the walls of the Eastern cities!”

Very relevant to today, I reckon.

As a funny side story, I was enjoying a quiet coffee Thursday morning after picking up the mail and weekly supply of fresh milk, and reading that story (it is an impressive looking beautifully bound and massive book) and chuckling quietly to myself and was interrupted by a lovely older lady who asked me - from a sense of curiosity I suspect - what I was reading that was making me chuckle so. After a short conversation I believe that I failed to convince her that it really was a rollicking good story.

The weather here has truly reached the bizarre stage because I sat on the veranda this afternoon and watched what appeared to me to be a monsoon - accompanied with large hail - dump a short, sharp and heavy rainstorm over the farm - after which the sun reappeared as hot as before the storm. Weird stuff. The fire is still burning out of control though…



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Marcu,

Cool. As a suggestion, the city has plenty of places, or if you are on the northern side of town Lygon street in Carlton would be good too? I'll leave it to you.



Martin Larner said...


I chuckled when you said about uttering in a low whisper that maybe the US doesn't really want to defeat ISIS.

There are several reasons for this. One is that a defeat of ISIS would largely remove the pretext for US presence and military action in the region and we can't have that can we?

Another is that the US's regional allies such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Turkey and perhaps Israel have been supporting ISIS pretty directly. I'm willing to bet that if the money used to buy all those Toyota trucks was traced, it would point back to the Gulf Monarchies somewhere.

Another reason is that US presence in the region is geared around Regime Change, not fighting ISIS which is probably another factor in why the attacks haven't been too effective. Sure, the US has been attempting to prune the bad bits like a metaphorical rose bush, but I certainly wouldn't want someone of that level of incompetence let loose in my garden.

There's also the fact of the DIA report available at Judicial Watch that clearly demonstrates that the US Government knew the "Rebels" they were trying to pass off as "Moderates" were dominated by Salafist/Al Nusra/Muslim Brotherhood types, that this support would result in some kind of "Caliphate" and that to the West and it's regional allies this was a desirable outcome.

So all things considered, ISIS is a creation of Western - mainly US - foreign policy and although there isn't a unified policy within the US establishment, their tendency to double down on failing strategies is continuing to drive it forward. It's interesting that Obama commissioned a study to ascertain if arming "rebels" or whatever had ever had a positive outcome (considering that the US has been doing this since Afghanistan in the 70s and we ended up with the Taliban and al Qaeda). The CIA (I think) who did the study basically came back and said that no, it never turned out well and on the contrary has consistently been a negative disaster. Obama's reaction? You guessed it. More of the same. I've lost count of the amount of times that competent field agents and analysts warned against such policies and were overruled by the Executive.

It's been interesting watching people like Samantha Power declare that "Russian bombing will provoke Extremism" as though US bombs are somehow blowback immune. I do also feel that Putin won't make the same mistakes of Afghanistan in the 80's and Chechnya and they're working on the basis of a proper strategy and better intelligence than the US. Putin doesn't want a confrontation with the West and it looks to me as though they're pushing towards a situation that will force a peace settlement in which Assad will remain for the time being and not create a power vacuum.

As for the Kunduz bombing, it's definitely deliberate and my best guess at this stage is that it's punishment for the MSF policy of treating the wounded of the "other side" in a conflict as well as the designated "good guys", and it will be followed by an attempt to use the event as a precedent to establish "legality" - the kind of legal approval you only get when you pay a flack for the express purpose of coming up with a convoluted way to declare the indefensible, legal.

I agree that had it not been deliberate, an attempt at apology would have been made - although as you suggest, it would be treated as nothing more than a PR problem with some rhetoric followed by an investigation in which "failings" are discovered but no-one is actually held accountable except perhaps some low ranking fall guy, and a bit of cash chucked at the victims families after a long drawn out process culminating sometime in 2023.

daelach said...

A number of remarks concerning Russia's action in Syria:

- it took the US totally by surprise that Putin launched his cruise missiles. The secret services were inefficient. No wonder - NSA & Co have taken the habit of spying on their own civil population and on their servile vassals. Sending "national security letters" to US companies, requesting backdoors and server access is not effective against a nonconforming opponent. Perhaps they start to understand that Putin's aquisition of old-fashioned typewriters was not a PR gag?

- the cruise missiles hit their targets at a distance of 1500km. Go to the south of the Caspian Sea and draw a circle with a radius of 1500km around it. Lo and behold, the whole Persion Gulf is in range! Putin has just told the US that their aircraft carriers are fish in case of a confrontation.

- the S300 air defense systems would make a hard opponent for the USAF.

- the US war strategy over the last decades has been: Sent bombers, bomb the whole target country to the ground, destroy every defensive capabilities as well as civilian infrastructure. When the enemy is helpless, ground troops may be sent. The two points before have just told the US "your strategy has passed its pull date".

- the 2002 manoeuvre desaster ("millenium challenge") was 13 years ago. It's only now that the US elite starts to grasp that changing the rules of a manoeuvre just might not be a winning strategy against a non-complying opponent. Reality can be such a

- the US have more military toys than Russia, but if some cruise missiles could be used to sink a carrier fleet, Russia's somewhat weaker economy would have to produce so much less than the US in such a war that the economic outcome would imply an American defeat.

The helplessness of the Western reactions deserves some popcorn:

- The US complain that Russia didn't announce the strikes. Oh no, what a surprise - perhaps Russia didn't want the US to give word to the ISIS forces for carrying some civilians to the targets? And when have the US ever announced airstrikes to Russia? Entitlement dreams blowing up!

- NATO secretary Stoltenberg complains that Russia is using up to date weaponry (not that long before, he complained that Russia's weaponry was outdated). Why, does that mean the NATO hadn't used up to date weaponry? If so, why not?

- Some days ago, Brzezinski claimed Russia would be helpless in that area if cut off from home. Think again.

conclusion: the US just realised they have been caught with their pants down. Plus that Iraq and Iran (full of oil that rightfully should belong to the US!!11) are lining up with Russia. Let's see when they will throw out the petro-dollar (and let's prepare a lorry full of popcorn for that day).

If the European vassal regimes were not so utterly senile and corrupt as they are, they would recognise it's high time to re-adjust their politics towards Russia.

@ JMG: "what would a competent commander do if tasked to do what Putin says Russia is going to do?"

There are certainly some competent officers in the US military - given the sheer numbers, that's a safe statistical bet. The problem is that it's part of the senility of the elites that they don't recognise them. Moreover, it is also part of the elites' senility that they prefer to listen to incompetent leaders who are in line with the elites' dream world than to listen to a competent one who isn't.

It wouldn't even astonish me if most of the top level ranks in the US military aren't there because they are competent leaders, but because they are good at demanding things from the tax payer which make sure that the tax dollars get channelled to the "right" companies - see e.g. the KC-46A tanker aircraft affair where the USAF ended up with a second class tanker aircraft. Only that this isn't exactly the most useful skill in case of a confrontation with a serious opponent.

onething said...

Onething, that is to say, you'd like to see the unemployment shared out more evenly. In theory, that might have been an option. "

Well, not exactly. If automation brings greater productivity, then a 40 hour per week job should not be necessary. Couldn't we have gotten a 30 hour workweek, or a 4 day week, or what have you?

Raymond Duckling said...

On the topic of automation,

I'd like to recommend to those who have not yet heard of it, to Eliyahu Goldratt's novel "The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement". It is a bit outdated, and firmly framed in the Abundance Capitalism paradigm, but even back then it was clear that automation never was not such a fantastic idea. The story is about one Alex Rogo, manager with actual technical chops, who sets out to save his and his men's jobs by reorganizing the factory floor in a financially distressed American company. Not a work of high art, but an entertaining and enlightening read if you ask me.

The reason I think this is relevant is because it highlight a pervasive bias of ideological origin amongst the moneyed class. The reason to exist for complex machinery (aka automation) is to displace labor, period. It does not matter that it cost more to do that, this is a fact already known to the executives. The bias is the thing that says that there are two kinds of expenses: salaries are *bad* and capital investment is *good*, even if it costs more.

This bias is enforced by accounting practices. Good costs (automation) are recorded as investment and not seen as an expense at all. They are thought to "accumulate" in the assets sheet. Bad costs (aka salaries) are recorded in the books as money leaving the company (energy moving off-system). Even worse, since employees keep earning a salary every week/month, they are recorded in the liabilities sheet.

Of course, entries in the assets sheet are not really valuable just by themselves (unless you are a corporate raider with an eye to hostile take over and liquidation of the company, but that's another story). So, once you have fallen in the trap of recording your automation expenses in the asset sheet, you will experience pressure to make those assets pay for themselves. You will find yourself trying to run those machines as close to full capacity as it is technically feasible to do, regardless of how much (if at all) money that actions will earn you.

ourgreattransition said...

Not sure if you've seen this bit of abstraction in the European news this week? "Sweden wants to become the first fossil fuel-free country in the world - how will it work?" - Now that's an accomplishment! Oh wait hang on, just electricity generation? That's great and all that but what about transportation, agriculture and manufacturing? What about the embodied energy of all those lovely consumer goodies you just *have* to buy? Oh, you don't mean those. Well never mind then I suppose. Yipee...

Wonder how red some of the backs are from the collective back slapping that must inevitably go along with such pronouncements? The article fails to put any of its bold statement into context, or indeed, accuracy.

Don't get me wrong, it's a positive step, albeit a bit late. But I can't help but think that this article confirms our societal lack of understanding of energy and fossil fuels. We just don't get it, it seems.

onething said...


Perhaps your mistake was taking the Bronze. I chose the silver, which was essentially the same, in fact, exactly the same as I had had with my employer. What Obamacare did for me was decouple my job from my insurance, for which I have been very grateful, as my job was sort of killing me, but you have to keep so many hours per week to qualify for employer-assisted insurance. And for some reason, with Obamacare, those required hours increased from 20, to 24, to 30.

I was able to change to 2 part-time jobs and get the insurance through the Marketplace (Obamacare). I had to pay a monthly fee, but I saw that the bronze plan was useless. Also, the premium was about the same as I had paid through my employer. However, the next year the premium more than doubled, unconnected to my income. At that time, due to changes made in my life, we now qualified for medicaid. With medicaid, all was free, although we have not used any healthcare except for my once in 6 months appointment. Husband does not go.

But then, a couple of months ago, we got a confusing set of brochures in the mail, via medicaid, telling us to choose from one of three insurance companies. I was confused, called the medicaid office, and the person there was obviously incensed by the whole thing and said, "They are giving us a number for people to call. We don't know anything about this, and they did not tell us!"

So, it appears we have all been handed over to the insurance companies!

Obamacare has personally benefited me but I've been annoyed for years the way people focus on getting insurance, when the costs of medical care are so outrageous. Indeed, Obama said while he was campaigning in '08 that if the costs were not contained they would eventually bankrupt the nation. As recently as 2001-2003 I was able to purchase as an individual, for myself and 3 kids, good coverage for 300 monthly, then it went up 50 per year. Now, for a family of 4, it costs well over a thousand.

Travis said...

On the subject of technologies "successes" and abstract thinking; We live rural in a small town in Oregon. In it"s heyday it was a thriving logging town.
Now instead of an industry that employees logging crews of ten people or so, one would see two old men on high-tech machines that do the work of fifty people.
Obviously the recognition that "our" and "our technology's" specific progression and "success" does not come up as a reason. Instead the culprit is an abstraction the always evil and dangerous "environmentalist." So it goes...
Here is a link to one such technological job killer. The music to the video is a bit silly, non the less.
Thanks again for another insightful post!

Travis said...

oopsy. here is that link

Denys said...

Heard an interview on the radio yesterday with a leader of the PA State Representatives talking about the ongoing stalemate in PA on the budget. The representative is Republican from Bucks County and when it came time for him to respond to what a Democratic representative said about increasing the state income tax, he said "I am offended by what my colleague said and my feelings are hurt. I can't move forward with this discussion."*

The interviewer suppressed a laugh. I groaned out loud.

I am so annoyed and shocked that grown adult men in elected office are talking about how their feelings are hurt when it comes time to discuss issues. What a bunch of sissies.

*Not an Onion article.

MindfulEcologist said...

I too was struck by the need to investigate the role of video games on our youth culture after the latest school shooting. Helix and anyone else interested can read more at Meaness Training.

Denys said...

JMG said "a century ago all US cities and most towns of any size had cheap, clean, effective public transit provided by streetcars and urban rail systems; parks were by and large clean and well maintained, and so were most other public works; the mail was delivered twice daily, six days a week; outside of the really big cities, there was little homelessness, because real estate was inexpensive and cheap lodging readily available; a vast number of goods and services that you can't get any more were readily available, and the quality of clothing and household goods was by and large vastly better than it is today; doctors made house calls, which cost about as much as a visit from the plumber; and so on. I could go on at great length."

OK so 1900 - 1930 or so? I was born in 1968 and I don't have any memory of clean parks or much else of what you mentioned. I figured I had to go further back than the 1970's.

I have a question about context of those things you mention. The adults of a century ago are as culturally different from us today as the we are from the Chinese or the Russians of today. I believe some of what we experience is as much to do as how we treat each other with such contempt these days. People dismiss people who don't agree with them and have long lists of grievances and grudges. People in 1910 couldn't afford to do that - work needed to be done and many hands were required to do it. There was no way to buy your way out of work. If you wanted apple pie, you peeled the apples, sliced, cooked and baked them. No quick run to the grocery store for it.

I really don't see much interest in people in working these days. And what people consider work is laughable. How does sitting around a table talking, then emailing a bunch of people for hours qualify as "work"? Obviously people are busy. We hear a lot about how busy everyone is. But work. No way. People really believe that if they watch a you tube video about how to make something, then they know how to do it.

indus56 said...

Another well reasoned and expressed account of impressive range. I did wonder though if you'd be willing to venture more on Naomi Klein as pet radical, and on her _This Changes Everything_ in particular. The Leap Manifesto does seem a bit patched, but overall I have tended to find her helpful, though I can't confess to have read the latest book.

I suspect some of your critique would address implausible claims of a post-carbon transition that might purport to leave Everything Else Unchanged, but if your critique runs to a more searching interrogation of something along the lines of ecosocialism, I'd be glad to read it.

Varun Bhaskar said...

Oooo, sorry Archdruid. Turns out the competence disqualifies you for about 90% of government jobs. I would suggest doing hard drugs to help re-qualify you, but I have feeling that even on those drugs you would probably still be more qualified than most of the jokers currently running the government. It looks like the French are claiming responsibility for the bombing, which is weird to say the least.

By the way, are you watching the Republican implosion, and the Democrats crowing in victory? I feel like this would be a great time for the universe to gut punch the country.

Ursachi Alexandru said...

JMG, you mentioned in the past about how Western policy has thrown Russia and China, former adversaries, into each other's arms. I'm about as able to predict the future as anyone else, but I suspect that their current alliance of convenience will be very fruitful in the short to medium term, but will come undone once the next round of crises hits, and they will descend back into their initial state of adversity. I'm especially curious about how Siberia will fit into their future relationship.

August Johnson said...

@onething - Well, considering that our averaged spending on things that would be covered by a "higher level" insurance plan is significantly less than just the premiums we'd have to pay to get that plan, the bronze plan is least cost when everything is considered. Anything more would cost us even more. We are doing what's best for us, considering our low usage of Healthcare services.

My point was how this doesn't help a low-income person without savings get Healthcare, since they can't afford to pay for anything above the Bronze level and then still can't afford to pay the required fees and charges.

Yes, absolutely nothing has been done to reduce the costs of Healthcare. In fact I see this as just helping to drive up the costs even more! It's not going to be very long before this whole system caves in on itself. When you have costs increasing at 10%-12%/year, you don't have to wait long! People don't understand the exponential function!

Leo Knight said...

I knew Latakia sounded familiar. In the novel "Alas, Babylon," a US war plane tries to shoot down a Soviet spy plane with a heat seeking missile. The missile locks onto a locomotive pulling a train full of munitions instead, and hilarity ensues. Coincidence? Synchronicity?

Anselmo said...

To write a commentary about your posts, usually involves the challenge of to address various different issues in each of your essays.

The war of Syria in the context of the crisis of our world is an issue absolutely secondary, but we live in this time, and the Syrian question is affecting directly to our lives, now.

Your stark and realistic ideas about the affairs in Syria, in my humble opinion are very correct. But I have some reflections that I would like to submit to your consideration:

1º) The actuation of USA is not the exclusive result of the will of Obama, there are another groups with different projects. So we are not seeing a politics but various politics, in some cases contraries against the others.

2º) The public image of USA and the West in general have suffered a fatal discredit.

3º) Russia China and Iran have formed a military alliance, and I fear that we´ll see the proof of it in few days. In my humble opinion the terrestrial attack will be executed by Iran troops. Russia and China will aid this terrestrial offensive, with electronic means, air force, navy and logistic

Greg Belvedere said...

My politics veer to the left in most instances, but I have found talking to my liberal friends about Obamacare infuriating for exactly the reason you cite. They assure me that it is making healthcare cheaper and more affordable for people and find it very inconvenient that my personal experience does not match the reports they read. As a veterinarian, my wife used to get insurance through the AVMA. Because of Obamacare that reasonably priced plan (relatively speaking) disappeared. It was a PPO which had a lot less hoops to jump through than the overpriced HMO she now gets through her employer.

When I tell people I don't have insurance they recommend I get it through the exchange. The cheapest plan for someone my age is over $350 a month. For someone who would treat all but the most severe illnesses with alternative medicines, it makes no sense for me to purchase this. So I have to weigh the cost of buying insurance (which still won't cover much due to deductables, copays, and all kinds of complicated abstractions that make me feel a bit ill just thinking about them), vs paying the penalty. For me this is not some kind of abstract wonky discussion about health care. It is an issue that directly affects my life. I get that it made a few needed fixes to the system, but those are very few and I live in a state that already had those laws in place. This is such a great example of people being attached to abstraction. A lot of my friends on the left see this as some kind of step towards universal single payer healthcare, when it is nothing of the sort.

I do hope the medical bubble pops and soon. It drives me nuts that I have to pay a fine for not buying health insurance I won't use. At some point the penalty will cost more than the insurance and I will just have to buy. JMG will you buy a cheap plan once the penalties get too high?

I will leave you with a little Frank Zappa quote that feels apt.

Republicans is fine,
If you're a multi-millionaire
Democrats is fair,
If all you own is what you wear
Neither of 'em's really right,
'cause neithor of 'em care
'bout that hot-plate heaven,
'cause they ain't been there

Fabian said...

Here's a great parody video I came across.

When an empire and its leaders come to be seen as pathetic laughingstocks by the rest of the world and have lost whatever credibility they had left, that empire is close to its terminal stage, if it hasn't already entered it.

valekeeperx said...

Hopefully, not too far OT, but it was brought up earlier.

Fifty-Niner wrote,
"President Jameson Weed? So close to jimson weed, the ubiquitous hallucinogenic weed. Is there a connection or am I over thinking something? Anyway, the name has a nice sound, though somewhat aristocratic.”

In response, JMG wrote,
“Fifty-Niner, excellent! Yes, that was deliberate. Similarly, the names of the two presidents who succeeded him are deliberate jokes of equal obscurity.”

I read the series of How It Could Happen essays as they came out (as well as Twilight’s Last Gleaming) and found them very instructive and enjoyable. But, I have been always been somewhat confused by the choice of Jameson Weed for the president’s name. On the surface, I’ve always understood that it is a reference to the perceptual effects of toying with the plant by westerners and the delusions of the senile political elite. At the same time, I’ve read about how the plant was used by indigenous peoples here in North America. Particularly, it was used in rites of passage for young men, by other tribal members in other rituals, and was used by shamans for magical spirit flights. It was used medicinally as a pain reliever, as a sort of antivenin against poisonous bites, and to alleviate bronchial and nasal congestion. It was also used to increase strength and stamina, and alleviate hunger while hunting or on other extended travels. The Nahuatl word for the plant is rendered as toloache, which roughly means to bow one’s head in reverence. So, the plant was highly respected, if not the subject of outright worship.

Given your broad background and respect for the spiritual methods and practices of others, as well as druidic work with plants, and considering the relationship that indigenous peoples had with the plant, this name choice for the president as a deliberate joke has never made sense to me and seems a little dismissive.

Maybe I’m just a little daft and over-sensitive, but please understand that this comes from a place of sincere respect.

Best regards,


Fabian said...

My guess is that dfr2010 is right on the Kunduz hospital bombing. Solomon at SNAFU pointed out that because the US military is so highly centralized and bureaucratic, with a risk averse, “zero defects” mindset, every airstrike has to be approved by a senior officer, a full colonel or a navy captain if not a general or admiral. So yes, this was probably an attack that was personally approved by someone high up in the chain of command, someone with a lot of political influence, and now they are desperately trying to obfuscate what really happened.

I have also heard from people I know in the military that one of the reasons why the American air campaign against Daesh has been so ineffective is because of over-centralization. Since a senior officer must personally approve each airstrike, it can take hours for a strike to be approved. It doesn’t help that these senior officers are almost invariably sitting in an air conditioned headquarters hundreds or even thousands of miles from the scene of the action. Micromanagement and technology worship at it worst.

I have heard lots of stories of American pilots who saw a nice juicy target, like a large truck convoy, an obvious defensive position or a sizeable troop concentration, but circled overhead for hours waiting for permission to strike. In many cases, the target was already gone or the planes had already returned to base because they were low on fuel by the time permission was given. Or someone high up in the chain of command denied permission to carry out the strike and a high value target was allowed to get away while the American aviators fumed in vain. So the fact that Daesh was able to successfully capture Palmyra in spite of having to travel over 150 km in terrain perfectly exposed to air attacks does not surprise me in the least.

Jason Panno said...

"If Iraq becomes part of an Iran-Iraq-Syria alliance under Russian patronage, as seems likely now, the US will have suffered its worst foreign policy defeat in my lifetime, and the political and economic consequences will be stunning."

I'm curious, what 'foreign policy defeat' from before your lifetime would you say was worse than this? Was that just a choice of wording on your part or am I seeing this as a bigger blow to America's empire than it really is. Has the USA ever lost this badly before?


You might have seen this already. Trouble in other parts of the empire, the unraveling seems to be accelerating...

It's surreal watching all this play out.

I've been a lurker hear for quite awhile, reading every post and all the comments each week as far back(atleast) as the begining of your series on empire that became 'Decline and Fall'. Before that I bounced around different parts of the peak-oil and prepper blogosphere going back as far as 2004-5. So it's not like I haven't been expecting this, it's just... weird seeing it finally happen. Especially with how unaware most of the people around me seem to be.

I really wish I had prepared more for this...

I suppose I am better off than most Americans, I've 'collapsed before the rush' to a certain degree, and considering I was among the working poor at the get go I have some experience doing without, but, I really wish I had done more to prepare.


Disinterested Observer said...

Re: LatheChuck and other comments about the MSF hospital destruction.

MSF is highly reliable and has stated unequivocally that no one was firing from the hospital compound. Note that the hospital was in a large compound and not integrated into the city. The building itself was surrounded by significant open space. So this seems certain.

The US had been given the geo-coordinates of the hospital many separate times.

Since there were no Taliban inside the compound using it as a firing platform it is pretty implausible that the Taliban had any means to trick the US into firing on it.

Note that the Afgan govt does not like MSF at all as they treat injured with no regard to affiliation.

Just a couple of weeks before the incident under discussion Afgan Special Forces raided the MSF compound.

My speculation: The US got played by the Afgan's. In that during the fight they saw the opportunity to hit the hospital by claiming to the US (whom they can ask air support from) that they were under heavy attack from the hospital by the Taliban. Note that there were not actually any US forces with the specific Afgan forces in this part of the fight apparently. There was huge shame to the US and the Afgans for losing control of the city earlier and while they were expelled the MSF was treating mostly Taliban and civilians. Not so good from the Afgan perspective. So trick they US into a nighttime air strike. Problem solved from their perspective as they could care less about anyone complaining about it.

It would not be the anywhere near the first time this basic ruse has been used to get the US to target someone we would not deliberately hit. Rival tribes, political opponents, etc. It happens all the time.

Cherokee Organics said...


You're good! - I've been waiting for this article for - what is it now? Months or years - but brace yourselves people over in the US:

Police Taser drones authorised in US state.

Your prediction has more or less come true about the use of drones against US citizens. Chilling stuff. The sad thing is that the US is always about 5 to 10 years ahead of us down here on such progressive reforms. ;-)!

And just in case the housing bubble has dropped off peoples radar, I spotted this article: Average Victorian home loan jumps $61,700 in a year. No need to read the article because the title really tells it all and my choice quote was:

"The average new loan for an owner-occupier in the state has increased nearly 20 per cent in the year to August to $378,100, official figures showed on Friday.

This is faster than the 10.6 per cent lift in Melbourne home prices over the same period, and the strong growth suggests many buyers are responding to record low interest rates by borrowing more."

What that suggests to me is that the increase in the supply of money has far outstripped any underlying growth in real world income. It is hardly surprising given our main exports: coal, iron ore and gas have all plummeted in price, but nobody seems to want to take a hit to their incomes. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh well, when the inevitable riots take place, at least the police will have taser drones at their disposal, but then they will probably be impacted by the economic bubble explosion too and may feel some serious sympathies for their fellow humans. Where will the anger be directed is an interesting question.



Odin's Raven said...

Here's an interesting article by someone aligned with your viewpoint:
Tulip Bulb Society

Myriad said...

The abstraction here is “fighting Islamic State.” You’ll notice that it’s not “defeating Islamic State”—in the realm of dysfunctional abstractions, such differences mean a great deal.

I'm not sure there's such a big difference there. Phrasing it as "defeating Islamic State" would merely bring into play a different kind of dysfunctional abstraction, one that's increasingly common and particularly frustrating: the pretense of dictating outcomes.

Certain executives have always had the privilege of declaring what they want to happen, and leaving it up to others to figure out how. In government, the very process of making laws encourages that kind of thinking. News reporters generally play along. They'll write something like "This new law will keep guns out of our schools," as though the text is going to leap off the pages of the Congressional Record and grab the firearms out of shooters' hands, instead of whatever the law actually dictates (such as, a zero tolerance policy that requires third grade students be punished for pointing a finger and saying 'bang!' in the schoolyard).

But, executives are supposed to have underlings who immediately translate the "what's supposed to happen" into concrete measures that are both practicable, and likely to have the requested outcome. They might often fail at achieving the latter part, but they're supposed to at least try. More and more, instead, the requested outcome itself just gets passed down the chain of command. "We need more customers!" from corporate management doesn't turn into improved products, better service, more attractive prices, or even more advertising; instead, the minimum wage employee at the counter finds his performance suddenly being evaluated by how many customers come to the counter, something he has (assuming he's not driving them away with abusive behavior) no control over.

At the big box chain store my wife works at, there are many formal "policies" that sales people are supposed to follow without exception to improve customer satisfaction. One is that each customer must receive the sales person's undivided attention for as long as they need it. Another is that no customer may be kept waiting for a sales person's attention. These absolute dictates obviously become mutually contradictory the moment two or more customers show up at the same time. Both of those policies are clearly desirable in the ideal case, but rather than take measures to ensure that they are practicable (e.g. by arranging for adequate staffing at peak times), the corporation merely demands the employee make good whether it's possible or not.

As a result, all the policies become a joke (in a manner that reminds me of production quotas in the former Soviet Union), as the store managers have no choice but to report back to Corporate that of course every one of them is being followed to the letter. Meanwhile, it should be no surprise that at some stores in the same chain, the service is poor even when staff is available. A fact that Corporate no doubt finds perpetually bewildering...

And my wife's is, by today's standards at least, a good service-sector job at a good and genuinely useful store where she enjoys helping people with real needs. Things are clearly much worse elsewhere.

I can't help wondering if something similar is happening in the U.S. military chain of command. For example, that the individual infantryman is being ordered simultaneously to carry out assigned missions regardless of adversity using all force necessary, and to avoid harming civilians at all costs. After all when you're "an army of one" you can do two different contradictory things simultaneously, right?

Myriad said...


There's an old joke about managers (or dictators, generals, etc.) declaring "the beatings will continue until morale improves." I think we're actually worse off than that today! At least the beatings represent an attempt, as misguided and counterproductive as the joke implies, to address the actual problem. Today's version would be "We've hired a top consulting firm to perform quarterly morale surveys, from which we'll compute monthly morale improvement targets and organize low-morale-coping-skills workshops where we'll talk about the problem until it goes away by itself." That program would then be quietly discontinued after two quarters, after 62% of participants polled respond, "we prefer the beatings, thanks."

One more thing about the habit of blindly dictating outcomes: it does appear to parallel, and could be related to, the growth of the complexity of technology. When the user sets the dials (so to speak) for the immediate needs of the task at hand, a simpler tool suffices, but the operator has to know what she's doing. Tools become far more complex when they're designed to allow the user to directly specify the desired end result instead. Those complex tools put us into the role of clueless executives demanding results without understanding or contributing to them. Does that train us to prefer abstractions?

Decades ago, noticing these trends of technology not only being misused but seemingly being deliberately designed to encourage misuse, I formulated "Freitag's Law" (yes, sophomorically named for myself). Which is: "Never use a tool that's more intelligent than you are."

It was a joke, back then.

Lizardx said...

It's been well known for ages, since western capitalism really started, that automation does not occur first, it occurs long after manual version of the automated task have been around for a long time, and it's always done only once it's actually cheaper to pay for that process than it is to pay wages to the workers. In a sense, maybe one could postulate that rising wages cause automation. You can see this happening in china right now, in near hyperspeed, by the way, re labor first, then increasing automation. I just automated a guy's job out of existence. Cost? About his yearly salary. The replacement is faster, more accurate, and scales up without an issue. He was a single point of failure for the firm.

I find a very useful antidote to the complete nonsense being spewed by the US media to be, I like that site, as do many others, enough for the US government to attempt their own lame version of anti russian web site. But the US gov doesn't grasp that one big reason is popular in the west is that it's consistently anticorporate, particularly anti-US Finance corporate. I'll resist the temptation to hold my breath until the US gov funds a similarly anticorporate state media resource. One thing I like about state run sites like, al jazeera, bbc, and so on, is that their biases are clear and fairly open, they are biased towards the state that runs them, so it's easy to just skip that type of weighting.

One thing that wasn't emphasized in your overview this week was the intensely corrupting influence of what Eisenhower so astutely warned about, the military industrial complex, a term now so familiar that we stop realizing just why he warned about that, it was precisely for the reasons we see today: military engagements carried out in order to maximize two things: current military industrial profits, ie, weapons sales, using up weapons systems, replacing parts, etc, and to guarantee the generals who decide x today a future position as a high paid advisor/lobbyist for the same contracting firms their decisions profit today.

China and Russia, and India, to a lesser extent, you can be absolutely sure, are hyper aware of this fact, all their recent weapons systems development is clearly aimed at highly defensive focused, but also very robust and cost effective strategy.

Re the Russian Syria engagement, that's no mystery at all, Putin met with Obama a bit over a week ago, and a week later, the Russian engagement began. That doesn't require rocket science to understand. It does lead one to wonder if Obama finally realized he is essentially powerless to change the US system from within, and basically just gave Putin the go ahead to actually deal competently with the syrian situation. Obama does after all detest Netanyahu if I remember right, and may not be as fond of the Israeli lobby as others in the US administration. I know, I know, I'm trying to find even a hint of spine or active intelligence in Obama, but I have to suspect there there may be a touch there.

I can't personally stand pseudo-intellectuals like Naomi Klein, I've read that type of stuff off and on my entire life, and it's always the same, roughly: provide a decent overview or analysis (at best, for this type of writing), then have some totally absurd, highly fantasy based 'what to do about it' last chapter or two. One thing I find particularly irksome about her and her ilk is their extreme fondness for using air travel, for self promotion usually, while preaching to the choir about climate change. I believe you occupy a tiny subset, numbered possibly in the sub 10s, globally, of people who are A: aware of the situation, and publishing about it, and B: live their lives consistent with that awareness, ie, no car, no air travel unless absolutely necessary, etc.

Caryn said...


Well, Thanks again for providing reality and a forum ( it's the only place I know of) to actually discuss reality without the bulk of the discussion fighting the blank stares of the distracted; the folks who can't see, who refuse to see what's right in front of them.
Shining Hector put it exactly as I feel; It's devastating - I would prefer to embrace the evil-geniuses-conspiracy-theories. It's far more horrifying that the theory that really fits their actions is that they really are that incompetent and really do believe their own nonsensical rubbish.

The first glimpse of this horror I found was in John Perkins's "Confessions Of An Economic Hit Man". While the tales he tells of his work as a 'e-hit man' bring a tsunami of emotional outrage and salacious impact; what I found most important and again horrifying, was explanation that these big shots, these global movers and shakers are not the plotting monsters we'd expect. They're just humans, with families, dogs, kids... who are smart and really good at the game, but not prescient enough to REALLY see or digest the destruction they are wreaking, nor the inevitable blowback it will have on all of us, including themselves. They also wear blinders of distraction. Insomuch as there is a conspiracy: They are just really powerful people who's interests sometimes align, so they work together - to gain MORE money and power. They cannot see and our societal narrative has never allowed for 'enough is enough'. No matter how powerful they are - they want more. An oversimplified way of saying it is - in terms of power - they are penny-wise and pound-foolish. I'm sure there are more succinct and appropriate quotes, but at the moment, they elude me.

The one bright, (light) spot in this week's essay was the reference to Naomi Klein. I was blown away by 'The Shock Doctrine', it was incredible work. Yes, especially for an author capable of that - 'This Changes Everything' was an embarrassment. I read it some time before I found the ARD and this forum of ideas - and still as I was reading it, I couldn't help thinking Naomi herself was spinning her own delusion. She's lost it. She can't face the reality that this problem IS too big for us to tackle, (at least in the established methods we, (she) know and accept). Unfortunately, my sweet son bought me that book for my birthday, with his own first-job money - I'll never be able to chuck it!! Haha.

Auriel Ragmon said...

Long term reader and only a marginal commenter here.
Two things: My wife and I (I'm pushing 80 and am not a strong person) put up a 200 foot heavy duty field fence over the past two weekends, had to dig out all the old posts, put new posts in concrete and unroll 100 ft. lengths of heavy woven fence. Involved our truck, two fence stretchers, one home-made, and a come-along. Voila! all stretched and stapled to the posts.
Now we have to dog-proof the low parts. And we got the basic info from Yootube...
Second: Interesting novel published in 1967, by William Borden called Superstoe, about two guys from North Dakota who take over the US gummint by various means, mostly nefarious.
Obviously out of print for a long time, but darkly hilarious!
Jim of Olym

Auriel Ragmon said...

Oops! Best price for Superstoe on Bookfinder is $71!!! Looks like I have a rare book.
Jim of olym

Glenn said...


Reading all the ACA gripes has me somewhat puzzled. Are you all middle class or upper middle class people living in red states? Seriously. We're living below the poverty line in Washington State. A blue state, which accepted the Medicaid support. WA added dental coverage to the ACA. My military retirement health coverage is great, and satisfies the ACA insurance requirement, but does not cover dental. So, we are eligible for the State Dental coverage at no cost to us, due to income level.

My brother and his wife (contractor and nurse) are also living slightly below the poverty line. Before the ACA they paid over $500 a month for catastrophic only coverage with a $5K deductible. They now have complete coverage at no cost to them. The biggest winner is the local hospital, which now gets paid by Medicaid for treating their family; formerly since they were so poor, the hospital would not charge them for urgent care.

So in Washington State the ACA has been a clear improvement for very poor people and the rural hospitals. YMMV.

Yes, it's paid for by taxes. Which we pay a great deal of our income in. Washington's tax structure is one of the most regressive in the nation; property, sales and Business and Occupancy tax, but no graduated income tax. I'm glad to be getting something back for a change.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Ben said...

JMG - My guess would be that if they commit ground troops, they will get their own Iraq. Don't forget that the Chechen conflict drug on as a open war for several years, and is still a festering sore on Russia's southern border. I agree that they will attack with a much greater ferocity than the bumbling West, but ground troops on their part would probably not be advisable. Besides, they'd probably rather let the Iranians put their boots on the ground.
All that said, they are pulling off quite the foreign policy coup. And all the while, my guess would be that the head honchos at the Chinese Politburo are laughing their butts off at both of us for messing around in the Middle East.
Side note, just read an article on saying that IS has advanced to within a few miles of Alleppo. So, question for you, give their tenacity, and the fact that you have called them a nascent warband before, what are the chances all this backfires on Russia as it is doing on the West? Russia does have a sizeable Muslim population in which Islamist militants do hide, and Russians are just as brutal, maybe more so, than white folks are to minorities in this country.

Caryn said...

Me again! I have a lot of thoughts and replies this week, but I'll just add one more:

As I work in one of those factories churning out clueless elites. Of course, you know - we're not trying to produce dunderheads, but most of the establishment, (admin, faculty and parents) can't seem to get past the ideal of offering MORE opportunity, more protection from anything bad, making things easier, more entertaining, more immediately fulfilling to the kids. (Your lesson plan is not fun enough. You're not engaging them enough, not making it exciting enough…) They want the kids to soar like eagles, but they don't want them to have to suffer the hard work of building up the muscle in their wings. After all; it's 2015! Technology! We've surely found an app for that by now, no?! Socially; the kids are in a bubble - the adults around them want to protect them totally - and the CAN, so they do. They're simply not exposed to very much in life that is hard or negative or doesn't go their way. Academically, it's a great education, but in life-skills, it simply cannot be, because we grow and become stronger from hardship, not ease. Sadly, the academics themselves are not even accessible without some boring work put in, so they are also often lost on the kids.

I adore my little students, I often feel like the subversive Auntie trying to sneak in tangible skills and more importantly the idea that nothing worthwhile in life is easy. To really enjoy making art, music, playing a sport, anything - you have to build up your skill and muscle and there's just no getting around it - it's hard, boring, slogging, tedious work before you can actually fly. You also have to get your hands dirty, but so what? You can wash them. Such is life. I know I sound like an old meanie; a Calvinist, Victorian, tight-lipped spinster, but IMHO, by providing so much for them, we are failing them. On the social interactions front: well, that could take a whole blog in itself!

My students come from the privileged class. In any collapse, some of the parents may have the means to withstand a lot of bad weather. They may be OK, but I do really worry for them. My subversive, old grannyish efforts are fighting against a tide.

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...

I am actually finding the upcoming Taiwanese presidential election even more entertaining than the American one, mainly because - I'm not sure you'll believe me - the KMT candidate (the KMT is the most powerful political party in Taiwan), Hung Hsiu-chu, is even more detached from reality than Clinton, Jeb Bush et. al. I'm not sure how to describe just how cringe-worthy her rhetoric is to someone who is not familiar with Taiwanese society. Imagine a major Canadian politician claiming that Canada is the rightful ruler of the United States (as in, the government of Canada ought to be the sovereign government of the entire United States), and that Canada is really a part of the United States, and that someone should change the school curriculum in Canada to reflect that Canada merely part of the United States, and that anyone who objects to this curriculum change, or even suggests including Quebec and indigenous history, are part of a group of hooligans who are ruining culture and society.

Lots of KMT politicians are leaving the party or threatening to leave the party because they think being associated with Hung is political suicide.

The leadership of the DPP (the opposition party) is significantly more realistic (granted, being more realistic than Hung is a very low standard), and all of the polls indicate they are going to win the presidency, and possibly, for the first time, win the legislature as well.

John Michael Greer said...

Hal, you're welcome and thank you. I used to go to the newspaper racks in the public library -- back when the day's newspapers were hanging in racks in your average public library, with multipronged wooden skewer-oid things to support them -- and do exactly the same thing.

Steve, yes, I was also struck by the felicity of the name of the new carrier class. Maybe they can rename the F-35 the Flying Edsel -- though the name I coined for it in Twilight's Last Gleaming, the Lardbucket, is probably closer to what the pilots will call it once it goes into service.

Kevin, I grant that it's not solely an American thing -- in particular, I've heard utterances from Tory politicians in the UK that push the borders of clueless absurdity at least as far as anything US politicians have said.

Scotlyn, funny. A good solid Pratchett -- and thank you.

Cherokee, hmm. Maybe I should put Robert E. Howard on the required reading list for the Lakeland Republic's military academy!

Martin, that's entirely plausible.

Daelach, and you'll notice that the US just pulled its one carrier in the Persian Gulf out in a hurry. Someone in the Pentagon realizes what the score is -- and knows that one US carrier sent to the bottom by cruise missiles is all it would take to pop the bubble of US global power forever.

Onething, that's exactly what I'm talking about. You've got to reduce hours worked by a quarter, you have everyone go to 30 hours a week rather than laying off one person in four.

Raymond, exactly. In the US, at least, the tax code is also set up to reward "capital investment" and punish hiring workers, so that just amplifies the same phenomenon we're discussing.

Ourgreattransition, no, I hadn't seen that yet. It's a classic, and typical of the way that establishment Greens finesse the real fossil fuel costs of industrial society.

Travis, exactly. Thanks for the news from the front lines!

Denys, oh dear gods. You couldn't make these things up.

MindfulEcologist, thanks for the link!

John Michael Greer said...

Denys, when I said a century ago, I meant that precisely -- 1915 -- though you could generalize out for a good quarter century in either direction.

Indus56, I've put a hold on the book at the local public library, so should be able to do a review in a few weeks. Yes, it'll go beyond the fantasy-island talk about powering a modern upper middle class lifestyle on wind and sun.

Varun, the Democrats may be crowing but their anointed front runner loses in polls when matched up against most of the plausible GOP candidates. Time to get more popcorn popped...

Ursachi, of course! As I've noted in previous posts, it took the US a huge amount of misplaced effort to drive Russia and China into each other's arms, since the two countries have very few interests in common and may causes for rivalry. Once the US is gone, no doubt things will heat up between the bear and the dragon -- just as things heated up between Russia and the US once Hitler was squashed. Of course that didn't save Hitler, and it won't save us, either.

Leo, good heavens. I didn't remember that detail at all. Thanks for the blast (literally) from the past!

Anselmo, all those seem entirely reasonable suppositions.

Greg, my guess is that at the rate health care premiums are soaring, the penalty will always be cheaper than the cheapest health care plan.

Fabian, that's not a safe assumption. Satire directed at the other side's leadership is an ancient practice, and is as often aimed by fading powers at the leaders of rising ones as the other way around.

Valekeeperx, oh for crying out loud. I wove a reference to Datura stramonium into the name of the president in Twilight's Last Gleaming because the herb in question is a potent hallucinogen -- I know people who've taken it, for what that's worth -- and thus suggests something about President Weed's state of detachment from the hard realities of my fictional 2025. In the same way, Leonard Gurney got his name from his role vis-a-vis the body politic of the United States -- and no doubt you could find some reason, if you work at it, to insist that by calling him that I'm being disrespectful to undertakers. Please don't cross the line between sensitivity and concern trolling!

Fabian, micromanagement by top brass is by all accounts pandemic in the US military, and it's enabled by computerization -- another way in which computer technology "progresses" toward dysfunction.

Jason, agreed. I've been watching and waiting for this for decades, and it's more than a little eerie to see it finally playing out!

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, given the gizmocentric fixations of today's US governments -- national, state, and local -- all I have to do is take current technology and look for the most counterproductive use of it, and I've successfully forecast the next few steps of, ahem, progress. Of course those taser-equipped drones will drop easily enough when hit by a shotgun shell, or even a stone from a sling...

Raven, nice to see such sensible talk spreading.

Myriad, granted, but "defeating Islamic state" would arguably have given rise to a different set of dysfunctional behaviors. Aiming for an arbitrary goal (or worse yet, as you point out, two or more contradictory goals) and leaving subordinates to figure out how to get there produces one kind of common failure these days, but another comes from those situations where the leadership figures want to be seen doing something about the crisis du jour, without concerning themselves with whether their actions have any results or not.

Lizardx, one of the things that I find most entrancing about all this is the way that the US politicians and media insist at the top of their lungs that they can't figure out what the Russians are up to, when the Russians have explained patiently over and over again exactly what they're doing and why. Our leaders seem to be so busy trying to create their own reality that they literally can't process when reality turns out to have other ideas!

Caryn, I should probably do a post one of these days about all the ways people try to convince themselves that somebody must be running the world, even if they're running it into the ground -- because the alternative is to accept that the world is not subject to the human will, that it has its own agenda and doesn't care in the least what we want. Most people in modern industrial societies find that latter idea unspeakably terrifying.

Auriel/Jim, good honest work never hurt anybody. Quite the contrary!

Glenn, no, quite a few of us are working class people who live in blue states, and we're still getting screwed by Obamacare. By all accounts the expanded Medicare program, from which you're benefiting, is one of the few dimensions of the program that actually helps anybody, and those of us who don't qualify for it or live in states that don't have it don't share your experience.

Ben, I figure that the Russian boots on the ground will be limited to Spetsnaz and airborne forces taking out high-value targets. As for the latest news about Islamic State, of course -- the al-Qaeda forces in the north of the country have had to pull troops away from their own eastern front in order to try to counter the Russian threat from the west, so IS has been able to advance against the weakened forces that remain. Watch what happens when the Russian-Syrian-Iranian advance finishes clearing out the al-Qaeda affiliates and slams into Islamic State.

Caryn, exactly. That sort of thing always starts out of misplaced affection, the desire to shield the children from bad feelings and unwelcome experiences. The result is uniformly disastrous, but try telling that to doting parents!

Notes, okay, I'm impressed. Hung could clearly run for the GOP nomination here in the US with some chance of success!

Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...

"By all accounts the expanded Medicare program, from which you're benefiting, is one of the few dimensions of the program that actually helps anybody, and those of us who don't qualify for it or live in states that don't have it don't share your experience."

Well, for Ghu's sake, lean on your state legislature. Ours has actually been quite responsive.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Martin B said...

Inuit used bolas to catch birds in flight. They might be the most effective low-tech weapons against taser drones.

Scotlyn said...

Caryn, @JMG, A neighbour was commenting on a family with one 11-year-old daughter, who, though compassionate, intelligent, funny, was also too successful at the "but, I WANT it!" gambit. Her parents had not yet succeeded in finding the wherewithal to deny her. I experienced my own lads as "limit-seeking missiles" when they were wee, and found that if I set the limits they sought promptly and firmly they settled down without a fuss to get on with all the other things they were free to do and explore. I had a vision of this wee girl testing and seeking, testing a d seeking to find where the limit IS and continually being denied what she clearly seeks by her doting parents who can only see as far as what she "wants". A microcosm of future hurt.

Nastarana said...

People looking for the intellectual antecedents of Mr. Rove's malleable reality doctrine might want to consult a new book, Kissinger's Shadow, by Greg Grandin.

P. 16, Grandin quotes Kissinger to much the same effect, "Kissinger said it four decades earlier", quoting a passage in which a young Kissinger claims the USA needs realists willing to create facts.

I would tend to look for the origins of what I call a doctrine of malleable reality in National Socialism with its' notion of triumph of the will, but, the trends identified by Mr. Matthieson above might well have predisposed many Americans to not question Mr. Rove or his policies.

Travis, greetings. A wise government would put guys like you in charge of managing forests. I doubt anyone knows them better than you do.

Ursachi Alexandru said...

If by "Hitler" you mean a common enemy, quite possibly. However, Hitler's Germany found itself playing a significant role after it recovered from the war, as an importaint ally of the superpower du jour. It all depends on whether the United States breaks apart or not. If it doesn't (at least, not in this century), it might lose its superpower status but it might also be co-opted as a major ally of one of the new competing superpowers. Tiny Britain, while not a superpower anymore, still counts as a significant presence in global politics, so I would imagine the USA, as dysfunctional as it may get, to keep having at least as much authority, if it doesn't break up.

Nastarana said...

The Russian govt. has just announced a homestead program for Siberia. Only Russians citizens need apply. Watch for a lively trade in forged Russian identity documents.

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