Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Retrotopia: A Visit to the Capitol

This is the ninth installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator finally has his interview with the President of the Lakeland Republic, asks some hard questions, and prepares for a trip into unexpected territory.

Finch flagged down a cab as soon as we got out onto the sidewalk, and within a minute or two we were rolling through downtown at however many miles an hour a horse makes at a steady trot. Before too many more minutes had gone by, we were out from among the big downtown buildings, and the unfinished dome of the Capitol appeared on the skyline. Finch was in high spirits, talking about the compromise Meeker had brokered with the Restos, but I was too keyed up to pay much attention. A day and a half in the Lakeland Republic had answered a few of my questions and raised a good many more that I hadn’t expected to ask at all, and the meeting ahead would probably determine whether I’d be able to get the answers that mattered.

The cab finally rolled to a halt, and the cabbie climbed down from his perch up front and opened the door for us. I’d been so deep in my own thoughts for the last few blocks that I hadn’t noticed where we’d ended up, and I was startled to see the main entrance to the Capitol in front of me. I turned to Finch. “Here, rather than the President’s mansion?”

The intern gave me a blank look. “You mean like the old White House? We don’t have one of those. President Meeker has a house in town, just like any other politician.” I must have looked startled, because he went on earnestly:  “We dumped the whole imperial-executive thing after Partition. I’m surprised so many of the other republics kept it, after everything that happened.”

I nodded noncommittally as we walked up to the main entrance, climbed the stair, and went in. There were a couple of uniformed guards inside the outer doors, the first I’d seen anywhere in the Lakeland Republic, but they simply nodded a greeting to the two of us as we walked by.

We pushed open the inner doors and went into the rotunda. There was a temporary ceiling about forty feet overhead, and someone had taken the trouble to paint on it a trompe l’oeil view of the way the dome would look from beneath. In the middle of the floor was a block of marble maybe three feet on a side; I could barely see it because a dozen or so people were standing around it.  One of them, a stout and freckled blonde woman in a pale blue gingham dress, was saying something in a loud clear voice as we came through the doors:

“ solemnly swear that, should I be elected to any official position, I will faithfully execute the laws of the Lakeland Republic regardless of my personal beliefs, and should I be unable to do so in good conscience, I will immediately resign my office, so help me my Lord and Savior Jesus.” Three sudden blue-white flashes told of photos being taken, a little patter of applause echoed off the temporary ceiling, and then some of the people present got to work signing papers on the marble cube.

Finch led me around the group to a door on the far side of the rotunda. “What was that about?” I asked him with a motion of my head toward the group around the cube.

“A candidate,” he explained as we went through the doors. “Probably running for some township or county office.  A lot of them like to do the ceremony here at the Capitol and get the pictures in their local papers. You can’t run for any elected position here unless you take that oath first—well, with or without the Jesus bit, or whatever else you prefer in place of it. There was a lot of trouble before the Second Civil War with people in government insisting that their personal beliefs trumped the duties of their office—”

“I’ve read about it.”

“So that went into our constitution. Break the oath and you do jail time for perjury.”

I took that in as we went down a corridor. On the far end was what looked like an ordinary front office with a young man perched behind a desk. “Hi, Gabe,” Finch said. 

“Hi, Mike.  This is Mr. Carr?”

“Yes. Mr. Carr, this is Gabriel Menendez, the President’s assistant secretary.”

We shook hands, and Menendez picked up a phone on his desk and asked, “Cheryl, is the boss free? Mr. Carr’s here.” A pause, then:  “Yes. I’ll send him right in.” He put down the phone and waved us to the door at the far end of the room. “He’ll see you now.”

We shed coats and hats at the coatrack on one side of the office, and went through the door. On the other side was another corridor, and beyond that was a circular room with doors opening off it in various directions. Off to the left an ornate spiral stair swept up and down to whatever was on the floors above and below.  To the right was another desk; the woman sitting at it nodded greetings to us and gestured to the central door. I followed Finch as he walked to the door, opened it, and said, “Mr. President? Mr. Carr.”

Isaiah Meeker, President of the Lakeland Republic, was standing at the far side of the room, looking out the window over the Toledo streetscape below.  He turned and came toward us as soon as Finch spoke. He looked older than the pictures I’d seen, the close-trimmed hair and iconic short beard almost white against the dark brown of his face. “Mr. Carr,” he said as we shook hands. “Pleased to meet you. I hope you haven’t been completely at loose ends this last day or so.” He gestured toward the side of the room. “Please have a seat.”

It wasn’t until I turned the direction he’d indicated that I realized there were more than the three of us in the room. A circle of chairs surrounded a low table there.  Melissa Berger and Fred Vanich, whom I’d met in the Toledo train station, were already  seated there, and so were two other people I didn’t know. “Stuart Macallan from the State Department,” Meeker said, making introductions. “Jaya Patel, from Commerce. Of course you’ve already met Melissa and Fred.”

Hands got shaken and I took a seat. Macallan was the assistant secretary of state for North American affairs, I knew, and Patel had an equivalent position on the trade end of things. “I apologize for the delay,” Meeker went on. “I imagine you know how it goes, though.”

“Of course.”

“And you seem to have put the time to good use—at least for our garment industry.”

That got a general chuckle, which I joined. “When in Rome,” I said. “I take it that’s not one of the things visitors usually do, though; Mr. Finch here looked right past me this morning.”

Finch reddened. “It really does vary,” Patel said. “Some of the diplomats and business executives we’ve worked with have taken to buying all their clothes here—we’ve even fielded inquiries about exporting garments for sale abroad. Still, most of our visitors seem to prefer their bioplastic.” Her fractional shrug showed, politely but eloquently, what she thought of that.

“To each their own,” said the President. “But you’ve had the chance to see a little of Toledo, and find out a few of the ways we do things here. I’d be interested to know your first reactions.”

I considered that, decided that a certain degree of frankness wasn’t out of place. “In some ways, impressed,” I said, “and in some ways disquieted. You certainly seem to have come through the embargo years in better shape than I expected—though I’m curious about how things will go now that the borders are open.”

“That’s been a matter of some concern here as well,” Meeker allowed. “That said, so far things seem to be going smoothly.”

Macallan paused just long enough to make sure his boss wasn’t going to say more, and then cleared his throat and spoke. “One of the things we hope might come out of your visit is a better relationship with the Atlantic Republic. I’m sure you know how fraught things were with Barfield and his people. If Ms. Montrose is willing to see things ratchet down to a more normal level, we’re ready to meet her halfway—potentially more than halfway.”

“That was quite an upset she pulled off in the election,” Meeker observed. “I hope you’ll pass on my personal congratulations.”

“I’ll gladly do that,” I said to the President, and then to Macallan:  “It’s certainly possible. I don’t happen to know her thoughts on that, but a lot of people on our side of the border are interested in seeing things change, and she’s got a stronger mandate than any president we’ve had since Partition. Still—” I shrugged. “We’ll have to see what happens after the inauguration.”

“Of course,” Macallan said.

“One thing we’d be particularly interested in seeing,” said Patel, “is a widening of the opportunities for trade. Obviously that’s going to be delicate—it’s a core policy of ours that the Republic has to be able to meet its essential needs from within its own borders, and I know that stance isn’t exactly popular in  global-trade circles. We’re not interested in global trade, but there are things your country produces that we’d like to be able to buy, and things we produce that you might like to buy in exchange.”

“Again,” I said, “we’ll have to see what happens—but I don’t know of any reason why that wouldn’t be a possibility.”

She nodded, and a brief silence passed. Vanich’s featureless voice broke it. “Mr. Carr,” he said, “you mentioned that you found some of the ways we do things here disquieting. I think we’d all be interested in hearing more about that, if you’re willing.”

Startled, I glanced across the table at him, but his face was as impenetrable as it had been the first time I’d seen him. I looked at the President, who seemed amused, and then nodded. “If you like,” I said. “At first it was mostly the—” I floundered for a term. “—deliberately retro, I suppose, quality of so much of what I’ve seen: the clothing, the technology, the architecture, all of it. I have to assume that that’s an intentional choice, connected to whatever’s inspired your Resto parties in politics.”

Meeker nodded. “Very much so.”

“But that’s not actually the thing I find most disquieting. What has me scratching my head is that your republic seems to have gone out of its way to ignore every single scrap of advice you must have gotten from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the other global financial institutions—in fact, from the entire economics profession—and despite that, you’ve apparently thrived.”

Meeker’s face broke into a broad smile. “Excellent,” he said. “Excellent. I’ll offer just one correction: we haven’t succeeded as well as we have despite ignoring the economic advice of the World Bank and so forth. We’ve done so precisely because we’ve ignored their advice.”

I gave him a long wary look, but his smile didn’t waver.

“Mr. Carr,” Melanie Berger said then, “Since the end of the embargo we’ve been approached four times by the World Bank and the IMF. I’ve been involved in the discussions that followed. Each time, their economists have made long speeches about how the way we do things is hopelessly inefficient, and how we’ve got to follow their advice and become more efficient. Each time, I’ve asked them to answer a simple question: ‘more efficient for what output in terms of what input?’ Not one of them has ever been able, or willing, to give me a straight answer.”

“I had a lecture on that subject yesterday from a bank officer,” I told her.

Her eyebrows went up, and then she smiled. “Not surprising. It’s something most people here know about, if they know anything at all about money.”

I nodded, taking that in. “So what you’re suggesting,” I said, as much to Meeker as to her, “is that the rest of the world doesn’t have a clue about economics.”

“Not quite,” said the President. “It’s just that our history has forced us to look at things in a somewhat different light, and prioritize different things.”

It was a graceful answer, and I nodded. “The question that comes to mind at this point,” he went on, “is whether there’s anything else you’d like to see, now that you know a little more about our republic.”

“As it happens, yes,” I said. “There is.”

He motioned me to go on.

“When I drew up the list we sent to your people right after the election, I didn’t know about the tier system, and I’ve got some serious questions about what things are like at the bottom rung of that ladder. I’ve read a little bit about the system, but I’m frankly skeptical that anybody in this day and age would voluntarily choose to live in the conditions of 1830.”

“That’s actually a common misconception,” Jaya Patel said, with the same you-don’t-get-it smile I’d seen more than once since my arrival. “The only thing the tier system determines is what infrastructure and services gets paid for out of tax revenues.”

“I saw a fair number of horsedrawn wagons on the train ride here,” I pointed out. “That’s not a matter of infrastructure.”

“Actually, it is,” she said. “Without a road system built to stand up to auto traffic, cars and trucks aren’t as efficient as wagons—” Her smile suddenly broadened. “—in terms of the total cost of haulage. That doesn’t keep people in tier one counties from having whatever personal technologies they want to have, and are willing and able to pay for.”

“Got it,” I said. “I’d still like to see how it works out in practice.”

“That’s easy enough,” the President said. “Anything else?”

“Yes,” I said, “though I know this may be further than you’re willing to go. I’d like to see something of your military.”

The room got very quiet. “I’d be interested,” Meeker said, “in knowing why.”

I nodded. “It seems to me that whatever you’ve achieved by this retro policy of yours comes at the cost of some frightful vulnerabilities. Ms. Berger told me a little about the war with the Confederacy and Brazil, and of course I knew a certain amount about that in advance. Obviously you won that round—but we both know that the Confederacy wasn’t in the best of shape in ‘49, and I really wonder about your ability to stand up to a modern high-tech military.”

“Like the Atlantic Republic’s?” Meeker asked, with a raised eyebrow.

I responded with a derisive snort. “With all due respect, I’m sure you know better than that. I’m thinking about what would happen if we ended up with a war zone or a failed state on our western borders.”

“Fair enough,” he said after a moment, “and I think we can satisfy you about that.”

“I’d like to suggest something,” Berger said to the President. “Defiance County is first tier.”

He glanced at her. “You’re thinking Hicksville?”


“We’ll have to find someone.”

“Tom Pappas comes to mind,” she said.

The President’s face took on a slightly glazed expression, and then he laughed. “Yes, I think Tom will do. Thank you, Melanie.” He turned to me. “Have you made any plans for tomorrow?”

“Not yet.”

“Good. The day after tomorror, there’s a—military exercise, I think you would call it—in a first tier county a couple of hours from here by train. If you’re willing, I can have my staff make the arrangements for you to go there tomorrow, have a look around, stay the night, see how our military does things the next day, and then come back. Is that workable?”

“I’d welcome that,” I told him, wondering what I’d just gotten myself into.


Repent said...

Makes you wonder if people in the future will gawk or curse the past? With the failure of the progress narrative, and all the people who are talking about voluntary human extinction to save the wildlife, and so forth, somehow the past now has all of the allure that the future once had.

We once looked forward to more and better, but in your narrative, people look back on abundance as the old and prosperous age of the past.

Even now, I myself no longer desire the future because of decline and the 101 problems coming down the pipeline. I'll sit at home and read an old sci-fi book from the 70's or watch Paul Davis on Solid Gold on youtube, because the past has so much more to offer than the now. The envy of the past, is the envy for the future recast.

pygmycory said...

The next couple of days sound like they'll be Interesting for Mr. Carr. Interesting with a capital I. I also look forward to seeing it. I wonder if excellent knowledge of local terrain and guerilla-style skills will be involved. I guess I'll have to wait and see.

Good for Lakeland for getting rid of the Imperial presidency.

Eric Backos said...

Dear Mr. Greer, Your Grace, &c.
Cleveland, Ohio: The weekly joint meeting of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 is posted on under the MeetUps forum. Splendorem Lucis Viridis! Public Welcome! Tables for Failed Scholars. (Look for the table topper with the green wizard hat.)
Best wishes to the GWB&PA, Tower 1223 as their inaugural month continues!
PS – Thanks for the advertising space, Boss.

Marcu said...

I hope Retrotopia isn't something that can only be achieved after some large scale event, like a civil war or Partition. I would think that these sorts of large scale changes would be easier to implement after a crisis, but hopefully not impossible otherwise. Maybe Mr. Carr will gain some insight regarding how to get the good with as little bad as possible.


The inaugural meeting of the Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne was a great success. All interested parties are invited to attend the next meeting of the Melbourne Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 1223, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 1223, (Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne for short, GWAM for shorter) which will be held on the 28th of November 2015 at 13:00.

The venue is Vapiano, 347 Flinders Lane, Melbourne Victoria, Australia.

Please RSVP, or send queries and comments to limitstogrowth1972[at]
Just look for the green wizard's hat.

olduvaiguy said...

I'm wicked curious what the process was got the Lakeland Republic where it is. Given the people of Portland Maine just voted down minimum wage raise and voted to let developers abort the zoning change process, how in the world did the Lakelandists get so enlightened?

onething said...

I've found 3 states so far with a Hicksville, including Defiance County, Ohio.

Howard Skillington said...

Jail time for wayward politicians?

A republic that insists as a matter of policy that it retain the capacity to feed and clothe itself?

An economy unwilling to be “advised” by conquistadors with laptops and spreadsheets?

Outrageous! How is a neighboring 21st century state supposed to deal with something like that?

Ynnothir Coll said...

There is much to enjoy and ponder in this series. For me, though, the single most enjoyable aspect is the ray of believable hope that lights up the whole thing. Sincerely, thank you for that.

S.Treimel said...

One thing I am enjoying about your characterizations of the citizens inhabiting the Lakeland Republic is their openness and honesty. You've created a set of unique personalities who allow themselves freedom of expression. It is refreshing to read fiction in which the character behave in such an unguarded manner, and speak in such direct terms.

deborah harvey said...

keep it coming. can't wait for the next installment.

Shane Wilson said...

Off topic, but I had to share. GM apparently calls their byzantine distraction system the "Infotainment System" on new vehicles, I kid you not. In black & white in the manual. The first I ever saw that term used was derisively in Jihad vs. McWorld in college (university) almost 20 years ago. Even owner's manuals are imitating the Onion now. The restaurant I was in tonight was full of plague buboes, I mean TV screens, and I remembered your post, JMG. I swear, I think I'm going to start having nightmares where I'm stalked and attacked by screens. I will have to find some kind of screen banishing incantation. I think I will need to pretend to have severe screen phobia (what would the scientific Latin term be for that) and seize up into convulsions whenever a screen is present and demand all screens be removed from my presence. Retropia is a refreshing respite, thank you!

William Hays said...

John, this is a very effective way to describe potential futures. As a transportation engineer I particularly appreciated your point about the problems of maintaining serviceable roadways. Few people can imagine how quickly a modern asphalt road surface can break down in the absence of maintenance and also in the absence of traffic. An abandoned parking lot is a good example: cracking and crumbling pavement hosting hardy weeds and all of it exposed to winter freeze/thaw cycles and summer oxidation. Without the dynamic loading of vehicles, the asphalt loses its binding quality, and the pavement begins its own cycle of collapse.

The end of a modern roadway system is very bad news for small, isolated communities for which some future rail service would never make economic sense. Such communities would indeed go back to an 1830's condition set in a very basic economy which would struggle to export agricultural goods or import anything else.

Nancy Sutton said...

Oh, such joy to see a 'feasible' possibility being laid out for the easiest digestibility! And E Meeker brings the often-passed Meeker Mansion to mind ;)... I note he was born in 1830 ;) So glad, again, that you're laying the economic reality out, also. I think it is the heart of the Beast.

BTW, I saw Dan Price (owns Gravity Payment Co) on TV just now ... he's making his base salary $70K for every employee. Two Princeton profs found that below $70K annually, people were insecure, and they needed no more for happiness (maybe 'Status'.. but isn't he related to 'Mammon'?). Our family of four never brought in more than about $60 at the most, with full & part-time income...but we had learned to value a penny by being raised by single others in the 40's and 50's... a valuable education :)

Mark said...

The other day I was reading about the Battle Of Lexington, and coincidentally, an old friend reminded me it was the Marine Corps birthday. I'd like to go out on a limb, and speculate on the LR's military. "Command", and "Intelligence" are de-centralised; supply is redundant, short lines; it's all low tech; tactics are flexible, with an emphasis on adaptability; small arms ect. are kept in the home (as in Switzerland). Women and children also train in small unit arms, signals and movements, and personal defence.

Although, now I'm trying/training to be Buddhist, and would suggest non-sectarian vipassana as a key training as well.

I do believe, non-violent resistance, and satyagraha, are more effective than violence. I also believe there are exceptions to the rule, and in being well prepared in either case.

I eagerly await the next chapter, hopefully your imagination goes in another direction than mine! OTOH, if this is a "spoiler", I would not be offended if you don't post it.

Aren’t we lucky to have lived in a time and place of relative Peace, and Freedom? (or was it?) I'm getting old, haha.

John Michael Greer said...

Repent, my guess is that nostalgia for a time when we hadn't gotten ourselves so thoroughly backed into a corner will become a potent political force in the decades ahead. The Retrotopia narrative is intended to speak to that.

Pygmycory, you will indeed. I'm looking forward to it myself -- my style of writing is such that I rarely know exactly what I'm going to encounter once I start typing!

Eric and Marcu, delighted to hear that the meetings are continuing. Marcu, I would like to think so, too, but very often major change requires major crises and calamities -- mind you, we'll likely have no shortage of those in the near future, so that's not necessarily a problem here. :-(

Olduvaiguy, we'll get to that. It was a long rough road.

Onething, that's the one: southwest of Toledo, in the heart of rural middle America. Watch for drones dropping from the sky, and you'll know you're in the right place.

Howard, I don't think I'll be giving away too much if I mention that this is rather on the minds of certain people in the Atlantic Republic.

Ynnothir, that's exactly the point of this series -- I want to talk about the potential for a better future than the one toward which current trends are heading, and narrative fiction is an elegant tool for that. You're most welcome!

S. Treimel, thank you. I don't really invent my characters; I start writing, they show up, and then they up and say the darnedest things.

Deborah, stay tuned! We're only about a third of the way through the Retrotopia narrative.

Shane, I simply won't go into a bar or a restaurant that has wall to wall tele-buboes. I reserve my patronage for places where it's pleasant to get a meal or a drink. I suppose learning to twitch and foam at the mouth might be a useful skill, though...

William, thanks for the data! I'd picked that up partly from watching poorly maintained roadways disintegrate, and partly by reading obsessively about the ongoing infrastructure crisis here in the US. The one transport technology that really works well in an 1830 setting, though, is canal transport -- where the geography permits, that's an extremely sustainable, low-energy, easily maintainable method of bulk transport, and you'll see it in use as the narrative continues.

Nancy, thank you. Yes, the economic issues are crucial, and they're going to cycle back through in various forms all through the narrative. I think you'll find that a lot of people in the Lakeland Republic know the value of a penny!

Mark, I have no objection to spoilers, especially when what I have in mind is fairly complex, and draws elements from many different sources. Of course I'm not a Buddhist, and my take on the power and limitations of nonviolent resistance is rather different from yours, but to each their own.

Max Osman said...

We now approach the main question, Horses or Techinkos.

Max Osman said...

>partly by reading obsessively about the ongoing infrastructure crisis here in the US.

Do you recommend a reading list?

Stuart Jeffery said...

Like olduvaiguy, I'm keen to hear how you think the shift in mindset happened. It sometimes feels inconceivable that people start to realise what is happening in government, media and business - especially when I see the neo-liberals voted in repeatedly.

ed boyle said...

The rhine is down to a little over a meter, record low, so that you cannot carry as much goods, have to snd more ships. Tis is one problem global warming will cause for inland waterways. Jesus was a nice touch. Could use a standard phrase like 'so help me ...(fill in favourite deity)' Are they going down road to perdition by opening up trade with atlantic. To be a boor, I again mention RF. 5-7 years to develop import substitutions for all western products, creating new jobs and then export industries. A lifting of sanctions is not desired by RF leafership.Also it shores up power of govt. by showing who is enemy. In Lakeland Republic a similar situation occurred. Isolated, conservative countries think similarly. Countries on water are more liberal than inland countries. Read Russian history to get tips on long term development of a lakeland republic constantly struggling against invasion, etc. by deceitful, highly sophisticated, ireligious, materialistic foreigners just wanting to get hands on natural resources. I take it lakeland's weapons will be simple, robust. USA rifles are from 80s vintages, jam up in hindukush heat, costing lives against Taliban using kalashnikov's. I swear to God, you are reinventing the wheel with your story here. Sorry to be so pesky.

Ian R Orchard said...

Shane W; if you check on eBay or such you can find small remotes with only one button that fire off a succession of "Off" codes that will terminate any TV within range. Keep it discrete and no-one will ever know why that TV randomly goes AWOL.

ed boyle said...

gavinthornbury said...

The Lakeland Republic appears to use the "Modern Morality" which was introduced in the 1970s; anti-agist, ant-racist, anti-sexist, etc, etc. However, this moral system is very much an anomaly in terms of deep history. Arguably, it is a high maintenance artefact of an high net energy society. If so, such a moral system would be unlikely to survive a return to a low net energy society. And arguably, moral systems are no more eternal than empires, but change in response to different circumstances.

Edgar said...

First time poster here, from Sweden. I look forward to each new installment. Being a healthcare professional myself im very curious how Lakeland republic has solved that, is it part of the tiers system? I imagine less specialized medicine and smaller hospitals for our future. Preventive care and primary care is just so much more resource effecient.

Mikep said...

Hi John, So in fifty years from now the USA and with it I presume the US dollar is history, but the IMF and World Bank are still going strong? Isn't that rather like the British East India Company somehow maintaining a monopoly on all trade into and out of the Indian Sub Continent seventy years after the fall of the Raj.
Do the US's instruments of dominion over it's vassals develop a horrifying zombie existence of their own, rather like those frightful face cancers that are able to jump from one unfortunate Tasmanian Devil to another. Or is there another explanation! Illuminati, Rosicrucians, Free Masons the Knights Templar pulling invisible strings behind the scenes perhaps?
I look forward to seeing how the story unfolds.
Many thanks


MigrantWorker said...

Good morning mr Greer,

It's great to know that there is so much more about Retrotopia still waiting to be published!

But I'm thinking what the future might hold for the Lakeland Republic. At the moment, a one-word synopsis of Retrotopia might be:

'A country realises the error of the modern world's ways, and abandons the other countries' mistakes to its great benefit.'

What makes me wonder though is that at the moment, Lakeland Republic has an effective monopoly on these benefits simply because no other country follows its example. If other countries adopt similar policies, which the Atlantic Republic appears to be considering, would it not result in those benefits being spread more thinly? Or would such a Retrotopian block of countries result in additional synergies developing between its constituent countries?


Chloe said...

Interesting - so the Atlantic Republic has a new president, and she just happened to pick an envoy who is picking up the logic and thought processes of the Lakeland Republic impressively quickly? Is that a lucky coincidence, or does Ms Montrose have a plan? (You don't need to answer; I'm sure we'll find out.)

Shane: televisiophobia is recognised, but you'd probably be closer with digiphobia, cyberphobia or mediaphobia. "Putting televisions in restaurants" is one of those things so horrifying I can't quite believe it, even knowing it to be true… But it hasn't spread over the pond, at least.

Leo Knight said...

Thanks again for your weekly dose of wisdom. I've just finished reading Harry Turtledove's "Supervolcano" series, where Yellowstone blows its top, spewing cubic miles of volcanic ash into the atmosphere. As climate changes (colder rather than warmer) and deliveries of oil and othe necessities grow scarce, people dig out older, more robust technologies: the abacus, wind up clocks and watches, land line telephones, kerosene lamps, manual typewriters. It reminded me strongly of a certain Archdruid...

I found your 2011 book "Apocalypse Not" at our library. Very informative and stimulating. Thanks again!

Breanna said...

A device called TV B Gone may be had on Amazon for ~20ish dollars. It unobtrusively fits on a keychain and contains the "off" remote codes for all brands of television. Pressing the button causes it to cycle through all of them until all TVs in range are off. I haven't yet gotten one, but I think it would be worth the price just to see the spell-breaking effect on people.

Ceworthe said...

Delighted to hear that we are but 1/3rd of the way through, as I am enjoying it immensely. Very interested in what the trade items will be. Certainly food and fibers or cloth from Lakeland Republic, but I'm having difficulty thinking of what Lakeland Republic needs from the Atlantic Republic, other than a treaty to not invade Lakeland and mutual aid in times of conflict.

Dan Mollo said...

I'm wondering how many comments you will get this week of people still not understanding your tier system? ;-) From the comments I have read, it seems more like they don't want to understand? Or perhaps can't fathom a future scenario where that is possible. You explain the concept pretty clearly to my mind. Can't wait till you publish this story, nothing beats the feel of paper in your hands when reading.

Odin's Raven said...

Where do the rich live? Is there something like a 'stockbroker belt' or a circle of country houses or chateaux a little beyond daily commuting distance from the city, where they can live luxuriously but not too far from the centre of wealth and power?

If there isn't the fascinating situation of people living in the stone age and knapping flint in one tier, whilst others use flintlock muskets in another, and silicon chips in a third; if it's just a boring matter of local government finance, is there much point in the tier system and its associated (and no doubt expensive) bureaucracy?

If people get what they can pay for, without subsidies from other areas, won't the zones arise naturally? The smallish cities will have the densest population and highest per capita wealth and so small scale electricity provision etc and fairly elaborate urban government and sophisticated culture will be practicable. The rich will have all the luxuries they want in their country seats and can dominate that fairly affluent area, which will be more sparsely provided with roads and luxuries and bureaucracy, but be closely linked economically to the city.More distant areas would be less involved in a cash economy unless able to produce food or materials for cheap water transport. They would be less densely settled and have little in the way of road maintenance, policing or central government regulation. There might even be a frontier zone fading into wilderness where central control is more a matter of lines on a map and agreements with neighbouring states, than of effective bureaucratic control.

If they have lost the fossil fuel subsidy and undergone economic dislocation and isolation as well as destructive wars, the population should be much less than it is today and resources available for bureaucracy and social handouts much smaller. The desire of the central state for road networks could also be much less, as they still seem to have railways, canals and radio communication and could presumably have the equivalent of WW1 era aeroplanes. The rich could have the same, so there would be little need for good roads outside the cities.

It will be interesting to see whether Mr. Carr gets a jaunt in an aeroplane!

Sylvia Rissell said...

Regarding the drone shoot, i am reminded of English villagers encouraged to compete in archery, as training for shooting the French.
A more recent activity, please search on Civilian Marksmanship Program. They hold instructional events and competitions with M1 Garand rifles left over from the Korean war.
I look forward to reading about the drone shoot!

Zach said...

Interesting choice of a location - "Hicksville" is such a resonant name for indicating "middle of nowhere." :)

I'm aware it's a real place - I've been there several times, it's a convenient waypoint between Toledo and Fort Wayne. You keep getting closer to home for me with this narrative; we used to attend church in Defiance. I can definitely see it deciding on Tier 1.


will said...

JMG, thought-provoking as usual.

>> There was a lot of trouble before the Second Civil War with people in government insisting that their personal beliefs trumped the duties of their office <<

Could be a prob, yes, but I'm not seeing "a lot of trouble" resulting from politicians' personal beliefs. Currently, who do you have in mind here?

John Michael Greer said...

Max, stay tuned! As for a reading list, I've mostly been following news stories -- if anyone's done a well-researched, non-polemic survey of the infrastructure crisis, I'd be grateful to hear of it.

Stuart, the neoliberals get voted in repeatedly because they keep the middle and upper middle classes comfortable, and as long as that happens, loudly public crocodile tears to the contrary, the latter don't actually care who or what gets thrown under the bus to make that happen. Once it's the middle and upper middle classes' turn to get thrown under the bus -- and a civil war does tend to do that -- the potential for dramatic change goes up in a hurry.

Ed, by "reinventing the wheel" I take it you mean "learning from history" -- and yes, of course I'm doing that. Thanks for the link!

Gavin, moral systems do indeed change, and the moral code that passed its pull date in the 1970s -- with its obsessive demonization of sexuality, and its equally obsessive hunt for allegedly less than human Others onto which its own unacknowledged desires could be projected -- is no exception to that rule. It replaced the very different medieval morality in the English-speaking world over the course of the seventeenth century, and is being replaced in its turn. It's no accident, I'd also suggest, that what you're calling "modern morality" started coming in right as the first wave of energy and resource shortages hit the industrial world; a strong case can be made that of the two, the older and more rigid code has higher maintenance costs -- after all, it emerged and flourished in an age of unparalleled expansion, and began to break down as soon as the expansion slowed and began to reverse.

Edgar, we'll get to that. Carr's got two schools to visit, one in Defiance County and one in Toledo, and you doubtless know how efficiently schools transmit colds, influenza, etc.!

Mikep, they were taken over by the next set of global hegemons, of course, as convenient vehicles for economic exploitation. In 2065 the World Bank is headquartered in Rio de Janiero and its president is Chinese.

MigrantWorker, since the benefits the Lakeland Republic gains from its policies are not paid for by costs being pushed off onto other nations, the same system could be adopted elsewhere without disadvantaging Lakeland at all. One of the points of the narrative, though it's one I haven't developed much yet, is that decoupling a nation from the global economy, though it requires the acceptance of certain limits, has massive positive benefits -- and it's a game that everyone can play.

Chloe, heh heh heh...

Leo, interesting to see the meme catching on.

Ceworthe, the major import I can see right off the bat is salvaged steel from disused skyscrapers -- the Lakeland Republic's already used most of its stock in the process of building its rail and streetcar systems. Since New York City and several other low-lying coastal cities are having to be abandoned to the rising oceans in 2065, the Atlantic Republic has that resource in abundance, and buyers for Mikkelson Manufacturing among others have got to be looking east with eager eyes.

patriciaormsby said...

@Shane, you must go to Borneo. We spent two weeks there last summer in Kota Kinabalu, and aside from the itty-bitty screens the Chinese tourists were so intently engaged in that you couldn't really see their gadgets very well, they were so hunched over them, we saw a total of one TV screen. It was in a rural restaurant we occupied for a half hour. I was lucky and could sit with my back to it. My husband's eyes glazed over.

John Michael Greer said...

Dan, a lot of people are fixated on the frankly rather bizarre idea that you can't pick and choose from the past -- if you return to an older technology, you've got to embrace all the other technologies, social habits, etc. that once accompanied it. Do you remember when I suggested a steampunk future here, and got deluged with people insisting that steam power inevitably meant returning to child labor, Victorian social mores, and all the other impedimenta of the last era when steam was in use? That's the sort of thing I mean. It's part and parcel of the modern religion of progress, and as with any other religious belief, it takes hard mental work to think one's way past dogmas inculcated in childhood and realize that some of them don't actually make much sense.

Raven, the tier system isn't there to satisfy your desire for fascination, you know. It's a way of talking about the way infrastructure subsidizes technological choices -- and why on earth would there be any particular bureaucracy involved in counties voting on how much tax money to spend on infrastructure? As for the rich, we'll get to see some of that; down the road a bit, Carr is going to have lunch with Janice Mikkelson -- yes, the Janice Mikkelson, managing partner of Mikkelson Manufacturing, and the wealthiest person in the Lakeland Republic as of 2065.

Sylvia, yes, I'm familiar with the Civilian Marksmanship Program. Stay tuned -- the drone shoot is a few weeks off yet, but that's where Carr is headed.

Zach, I was paging through the same road atlas I used to map Trey sunna Gwen's journeys in Star's Reach, and it jumped right out at me. In 2065 it's a thriving farm town; once the Wabash & Erie Canal is reopened -- they're working on it -- a branch canal is planned north from Defiance to give Hicksville direct access to the canal system.

Bruno B. L. said...

JMG, and @Gavin, why do you say that the moral code that passed away by the 70's had a higher cost than the code which is replacing it?

Eric S. said...

Since you introduced the Restos, and the fact that there were a few groups interested in phasing down to a Tier Zero option for the counties, I’ve been wondering what that would look like, and why that might be advantageous given the way the tier systems are defined. The tier one that we’ll be seeing next time, as I recall only offers public police, fire, and emergency infrastructure and presumably military protection and is basically the tier at which people are experimenting with fully pre/post industrial levels of infrastructure. That seems about as minimalist as can get. Going lower than that, I imagine would dispose of taxation, law enforcement, and emergency infrastructure altogether, which seems like it would make those counties natural places for people who wanted to conduct their business away from the watchful eye of the law (be they organized criminals, or outside funded insurgent cells) to congregate. In the Restos’ proposed Tier Zero counties, how would that aspect of government be managed? I imagine a lot of that may wind up being answered when we see exactly what all is provided publicly and how it’s managed in a Tier One county coming up. I expect seeing how the military is governed and regulated may tie in as well, since a Tier Zero county could potentially do its policing with a locally funded, publicly regulated militia. I guess that raises its own questions about just how independent the counties in general are, and how laws and law enforcement are managed on a federal, versus county level.

Odin's Raven said...

I don't want to be pedantic about your enjoyable piece of fiction, however the tier system seems to have puzzled a lot of your readers. The notion that it will be bureaucratic arises from your comment to someone in a previous week that there will be fines and enforcement preventing people from living in a cheaper area and freeloading on the facilities provided more expensively by a neighbour. That will require bureaucracy.

More generally, I don't see how this system will differ in results from what I suggest would arise naturally. If the people in a particular area can't afford something, they can't really expect to get much of it, whatever they vote for as they won't be able to raise enough taxes. A well maintained road network, policing or medical or sewage or water or gas or electricity system for instance, in a large, poor, sparsely populated area is scarcely feasible.

The crucial point seems to be prevention of subsidies such as the central government paying for them out of taxation on the whole country.(Were the central government to provide a fairly uniform level of services, it would be foolish for any locality to impose extra taxes on themselves by voting for anything above tier one.) What is the particular, (and popular if it has had to be voted for,) benefit of a legalistic-political-bureaucratic system; and how (and why)is it maintained if it differs from what would tend to happen anyway?

Shane Wilson said...

I think Hicks is a fairly common English last name, so my guess is that the various "Hicksville" were named after assorted famous Hicks (snicker, snicker) Same as the surname Gay (snicker, snicker, hee, hee). Years ago in a different life, I served on a board of an LGBT employee resource group. My work address was on Gay St., and one of my colleagues on the ERG in another state thought that the address on my email signature was a joke or a prank. I told him that, indeed, there is a Gay St. in Columbus OH on which my building was located.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Our first glimpse of Ecotechnic warfare? Well this should get interesting, we already have some idea how the homefront is organized to fend off invasions. The lack of infrastructure and maintenance of natural barriers (forests, marshes, water ways, and etc...) is an excellent way to slow an enemy advance. Frugal economics is a great way to build a material surplus that can be used in conflict, and an avoidance of overspecialization allows for a greater degree of adaptability when it comes to turning that surplus into weapons.

I'm guessing you're going to be pulling a lot out of the classics?



Patricia Mathews said...

I can think of several things about an 1830 Tier One lifestyle that would freak out any citizen of the industrial age though.

The smells and mess inevitably associated with livestock. City folks are paranoid about "not smelling", and the first time he steps in a cow pat ....

Visiting the outhouse on a frosty morning, even though it's a composting outhouse.

Oooh! Being asked to help chop wood for the stove! Guests might not be asked to do chores, but if the folks are requested to give him the full-immersion experience....

Or being asked to wash dishes. By hand. In a sink fed by a pump for cold water and a kettle on the stove for hot water, since the solar water heater has yet to warm up that much after breakfast.

The temperatures at which the people normally keep their homes, however well-insulated. Did he buy a sweater and a matching wool cap?

Being pecked by a chicken, or a goose (ouch!) or -- is he ignorant enough to walk directly behind a mule?

Heh-heh-heh....... evil chortle from someone well acquainted with Forest Service facilities and cold mornings. Though not recently, I admit.

Denys said...

Going back to your observation of the ubiquitous nature of television screens in every space people gather, I wanted to share two interesting things that happened this week.

Our dentist installed TV screens at the dental chairs. Yes at the examining chair so the TV is 12 inches or less from the patient's face. Fox News is often on or some insufferable daytime TV talk show or cooking show. I took our teens in for their dental cleaning and exam and this is what they reported to me. The hygienist says "you can change the channel and turn on whatever you like". Each child reached up and turned the TV off. The hygienist then starts questioning them on why they did that and don't they like TV. We are finding another dental practice. Clearly the TV is there for the staff's entertainment or distraction and I am paying them to do their job which is cleaning and checking our teeth. I feel like I need to put a letter together around this for the dentist.

Second television incident: We toured a shelter for homeless families in our local city, learning about the services provided and seeing how we could volunteer our time. We went through the entire facility which is a full city block. Not one single television anywhere. No screens, no blaring noise, no incessant blabbing. Our person leading the tour shared how the organization helps families develop routines and a new focus on their life. I know they are serious about that because there is no television!

Denys said...

And totally off-topic, did you see the drinking game for the Republican debates by Matt Taibbi.

Following it would induce a coma, but pretty funny none the less.

Dan Mollo said...

I do remember that post. Social, cultural, and technological practices are complimentary yet independent forces acting on each other in various ways, but by no means are particular practices from each a necessary condition for other practices to come into being.

Upton Sinclair said, "it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on him not understanding it." I think you can also say, "it is difficult to get people to understand something when their worldview would fall apart with the understanding."

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@gavinthornbury--Most societies classify people by group characteristics and make distinctions in treatment between insiders and outsiders and more valuable and less valuable groups. However, the criteria for making distinctions vary between cultures in ways that cannot be predicted by energy availability alone.

Racism--classifying people according to their appearance and ancestry and making assumptions about them on that basis--needs to be distinguished from ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is widespread and ancient. Racism is relatively recent. It goes back to the early modern period in Europe. The ancient Romans were very class conscious but not especially racist. They recruited generals and emperors from all over their territory, including North Africans who must have been brown skinned.

The ancient Greeks were sexist and ethnocentric but famously not homophobic; they thought it was normal for adults, especially men, to be bisexual. The Greeks and Romans practiced infanticide casually until Judeo-Christian morality was imposed upon them. These shifts in moral attitudes do not seem to be directly tied to the amount of net energy available.

We are in agreement that moral standards change over time in response to other developments. There are a lot of factors to consider and I don't think outcomes are necessarily predictable. For example, plantation slavery was widespread in the southern American colonies, declined in the Federalist period, and expanded again when the industrial revolution in the form of the cotton gin and mechanized looms made large scale cotton production for export profitable.

Stonecypher said...

I'm new here (Hi), and I have a question about how the "tier system" might work. Let's say Tier One uses tax money to take care of homeless people, while Tier Five does not. It seems like that would cause a problem of all the homeless people in the country flocking to a small number of locations, likely overburdening them while contributing little to the tax base. How might such a problem be overcome? Love the blog. Loving Retrotopia. Peace out.

Tom Fitzpatrick said...

How do they decide on the tax rates for pollution and extraction? Is it up to legislation to decide quarterly/yearly? Is there a body of government? What factors do they take into account for the calculations and how do they adjust for costs they may have missed?

I was wondering if you've heard of the play "Mr. Burns" It takes place after a plague has killed off most of the US population. In the 1st act, survivors gather around a fireplace and try to remember Simpson's episodes. In the 2nd act they are a traveling theater group performing reenactments of TV episodes. The 3rd act is an greek tragedy-like artform that has evolved out of these half-remembered stories sprinkled with modern pop songs that feel out of context, but have a potent message for their audience. For instance the Villian sings Toxic by Britney Spears. The 3rd act largely is a moral lesson on the dangers of nuclear power as their was no one left to decommission them.

Ed-M said...


I wonder how the Lakeland Republic managed to get away with not putting into place the "reforms" and "efficiencies" suggested by the IMF, World Bank, BIS, etc., and the whole economics profession. Greece tried to do something similar under the previous SYRIZA government, and look what happened to them!

Well, well, well... Mr. Carr finally finds out that the LR is NOT a patchwork of technologically differently retrograde North Koreas! :^D

And good on them for ditching the Imperial Presidency.


Yes, it looks like the so-called conservatives and their "fresh" ideas are in the ascendancy. Looks to me like BAU. In Kentucky the GOP candidate for governor staged an upset against a 2-digit lead the DEM candidate had going into the election. Here in Louisiana we have a runoff in two weekends' time to see if our disgraced Senator and GOP gubernatorial candidate will stage an upset over his none-too-liberal DEM opponent who commands a similar lead. Either was that that turns out, it appears that the liberals/progressives may be tuning out of electoral politics altogether... except during Presidential election years, so far.

pygmycory said...

Drone shooting does sound like an interesting hobby/skill.

Hicksville in Defiance County is a wonderfully appropriate name. The fact that it is real just makes it even better.

If the Atlantic Republic makes photovoltaic panels, wind turbines or batteries for them they might find a market in Lakeland. There might also be some use in trading some animal and plant genetics, since I'd imagine those have been isolated for the last while and have developed in different directions. I'm sure Lakeland won't want to replace its locally-adapted Open-pollinated varieties with GMOs, but there may be some hybrids that are worth experimenting with. Some of those Lakeland varieties might be really valuable in the Atlantic Republic, for that matter...

Genevieve Hawkins said...

It should be obvious that following the advice of the World Bank or any centrally organized entity will lead to personal gain for them and not us, but in real life that's what happens anyways. I am curious how exports and imports would be arranged in a place like Lakeland Republic: would it be zero sum (i.e. one import=one export) or would there be the potential for derivative exposure? It seems to me globalization caused a lot of trouble here so I'm curious how to build a better system of trading....

Shane Wilson said...

my take on politics is that it's Nihilism (GOP) vs. Intentional Incompetence/Cluelessness (Dem), just like JMG satirized in his Atlantis post a while back. Of course, Nihilism is more passionate than the fake cluelessness/incompetence of the opposition, so it's no wonder that it's winning. Neither side takes in the vast, gaping neglected majority who is not impressed with either side.

John Michael Greer said...

Will, you might try putting the name "Kim Davis" into your favorite internet search engine and seeing what comes up.

Bruno, the fact that it came into fashion at the beginning of a period of massive economic expansion and began to break down with the arrival of the limits to growth does suggest that, doesn't it?

Eric, I'm far from sure that the Tier Zero idea is more than a slogan on the part of extreme Restos at this point. Still, we'll see.

Raven, the point that you're missing is that a relatively prosperous area could also choose to vote to stay at a lower tier in order to keep more of the proceeds of their own labor, and do other things with those that don't involve tax-funded infrastructure. The value of the tier system is precisely that it removes the pressure to absorb wealth in increasingly complex infrastructure and the governmental systems needed to run it. More on this as we proceed!

Shane, I'm sure you're quite right about that. I suspect you'll find Hicksville a very appealing little farm town, by the way.

Varun, among other things, yes.

Patricia, sure. Now imagine that you've just come through a brutal civil war, and the chickens, geese, cow pats, etc. are all signs that for the first time in a decade, you know you're going to have enough to eat. Attitudes can change very quickly in that context!

Denys, you've got smart kids, and they definitely deserve a better dentist.

Dan, exactly. I may have to reiterate that point in the context of morality sometime soon.

Stonecypher, there's essentially no homelessness in the Lakeland Republic, because (a) the policies already sketched out provide jobs -- including entry level, unskilled jobs -- for anybody who's willing to work, and (b) the direct and indirect government subsidies that keep real estate at unaffordable prices in today's United States don't exist in the Lakeland Republic, so housing is cheap. Solving homelessness by spending tax dollars on it is like putting a band-aid on a cancer -- you need to get rid of the perverse incentives that make jobs too scarce and housing too expensive, and the problem will take care of itself.

Tom, like most other nations, the Lakeland Republic has a governmental department responsible for assessing and collecting taxes, according to the laws enacted by the national legislature. Of course the rates have to be adjusted regularly and that's a matter for politics, which is always an inexact science. As for the play, no, I haven't heard of it.

Ed-M, why do you think they were subject to an embargo, three attempts at regime change, and an invasion? That was the global economy under new Sino-Brazilian management trying to bring them back into line.

John Michael Greer said...

Pygmycory, drone shooting has become quite the sport in the Lakeland Republic. As for trade, I'm not currently sure what, if anything, the Atlantic Republic manufactures, but I bet Amish scrapple from Pennsylvania would find a market in Lakeland grocery stores, if nothing else.

Genevieve, good question -- it will depend, no doubt, on what kind of deal the Meeker administration in Toledo negotiates with the new Montrose administration in Philadelphia.

Bruno B. L. said...

JMG, correlation does not implies causation. One thing could be unrelated to the other. What's not clear to me, though, are the reasons why you consider as "high cost" the moral code that began dying in the 1970's.

Ursachi Alexandru said...


As I remember, you've stated before that this is an intentionally utopian fiction. It's a very important detail, because judging by my own country's quite recent history, this whole historical-period based tier system would stand no chance of being accepted without massive rejection by the population.

Back in the 1980s, Nicolae Ceaușescu was paying off Romania's foreign debt by imposing strict austerity on the Romanian people. Personal cars? Colour TV? Flying? Spending the vacation in some foreign country? The vast majority of people could not even dream of these things.

But most importantly, Ceaușescu and the Communist Party elite were living in luxury, while preaching utopian socialist ideals of equality to a population deprived of oh-so-many things that they, themselves, were very happily indulging in. Not surprisingly, the winds of change from 1989 blew with hurricane speed in this country, and caused a lot of collateral damage.

That certain technologies are sustainable and others are not, I'm not going to argue. It's not what I'm arguing against. It's just that in the real world, the leaders of your Lakeland Republic, democratically elected or not, would most likely be using veepads and all those other gadgets that the population can't access. If it would be a democracy, they would probably have tokeep this a secret, because the vast majority of people do not like being deprived of what they consider necessary, no matter how unsustainable those things may be.

Meanwhile, in Cuba, probably the closest thing today to your fictional country:

"In Cuba people still do not have internet on their mobile phones, but for six months the government has installed in public places some antennas that transmit WiFi signal (...) This has generated an entire black market where people who resell these cards, 3 or 4 CUC.
It is normal to see some streets in large groups of standing or sitting on the floor under Wifi Antennas."

will said...

JMG, yep, Kim Davis would be such an example, but I don't think she exactly represents a tidal wave of refusals to comply with the law. She should have announced her not-comply intent during her campaign for county clerk - wonder if she would have been elected anyway. After all, the gay marriage law came about via Supreme Court fiat; I doubt whether it would have passed by national referendum. Just as an aside, I have no prob with ministers/clergy conducting gay marriages if that is their wont. I do have a prob with the State compelling non-elected clergy to conduct gay marriages if they harbor sincere spiritual convictions in opposition to such. Indeed, a case could be made that they are on firm spiritual ground, even if they are often unable to articulate it - sexual and life-force issues falling into the metaphysical category as they do. How would Lakeland deal with that, assuming not all clergy are on board with gay marriage?

Daergi said...

Always looking forward to the next installment of your blog, whether commentary or fiction.

I've read several of your books over the last 3-4 years but hadn't gotten round to "The Long Descent" until now. It goes along nicely, side by side, with your current narrative. Also, several of your descriptions in it, of what to expect in the future, are already playing out in ways you predicted.

The book was published in 2008 and so, while I've been reading it, I have tried to remember what was going on then and in the months just after. When you wrote in the book about the dissolution of the US transportation network and that we may revert to rail for awhile I remembered that during the lows of the stock crash, late 2008 and early 2009, Warren Buffet bought - lock, stock and barrel - a railroad at bargain basement prices. (That railroad now transports oil from Canada. Though it spills a lot along the way. And the oil in Buffet's tanker cars is the oil that isn't flowing through the pipeline that never got built.)

At the time, Buffet visited the Whitehouse and made several public statements encouraging investors to pile back into the hallucination of the esoteric investment markets; reassure the masses to buy financial-ized products (Stay away from tangible assets. They're no good.) while he himself was making big plays in tangible assets such as the railroad. While publicly he's a big advocate of roller coaster, bubble market investing it made me wonder if, privately, he has a firm grasp of the future of peak oil. Buying a railroad suggests so. Maybe he reads John Michael Greer:) If railroads are obsolete, why buy one. If they are the future a decade or so from now... then what a timely moment to pile in. The old school billionaires riding along Hubbert's curve were once railroad barons on the way up and will be railroad barons again, on the way down; rolling up their sleeves to crack the whip as track is laid.

Moving on from Buffet, my thoughts went to other billionaires - many the new elite of the tech world - buying islands or big chunks of real estate over the last few years for compounds, for the express purpose of survival arks - loaded up with survival tech - their plans seem to be to shut themselves away with their toys.

New billionaires of the tech world still have their religion though. That they will conquer death. That massive supplies of cheap energy to fuel their robot armies is the next discovery just around the corner.

Which type is best suited for the long descent?

Thinking of the tech elite, I remembered an article, from that time, about a strawberry that had genes from salmon successfully spliced into it so that it was more frost tolerant, and I thought the next creation should be "sham" - a cross between a shrimp and a pig. Which is ocean dwelling but is better suited than shrimp to tolerate warming waters and the growing pollution. Which the sham feeds upon to create a succulent flesh suitable for any holiday feast.

The religion of progress is quite seductive, as many already know (who wouldn't want sham), but I think it existed before fossil fuels; it's just become frenetic since then. It is perhaps a fallacy embedded into the foundations of science. I suggest reading Lee Smolin's "Time Reborn." It is the dream to reach the eternal state that is immutable, unaffected by time. Oil has allowed us to pursue the un-pursuable, and to ravage the natural world in the process.

Shane Wilson said...

JMG, I'm still kinda skeptical about how the new global powers are going to proscribe neoliberalism when they themselves have prospered and become world powers themselves by flouting neoliberal doctrine and maintaining strong state control and ownership of key industries. (I'm thinking particularly of Russia and China) I'm also not sure that the only pushback against the neoliberal consensus will come from only Lakeland. Judging by world news, we're seeing pushback against neoliberal consensus a la WTO/IMF outside the mainstream in Europe, Latin America.

Odin's Raven said...

OK, thank you, more as we proceed.

However about those intimidating international economic bureaucrats; the government can reject their proposals and resist their sanctions. They may be less of a threat to the principles espoused by Lakeland than the international producers and distributors of pretty trinkets and convenient gewgaws. In another half century even more, and more ingenious, gadgets may have been invented. To say nothing of actual drugs. They may be made cheaply available to create addiction and build market share. Not exactly 'brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk, and watch the wall my darlings whilst the gentlemen go by', but smuggling (with its concomitant corruption) could be a major activity if the government tries to exclude such items or impose high tariffs on them. If it admits imports of non-green items made by slave labour in industrial sweatshops or robot factories, say from Tibet, using rare earths or doing the sort of thing that would not be allowed locally, hasn't it sold or off-shored its principles and its conscience, and admitted the thin end of the wedge?

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG re the change in moral code - IIRC, it was the Early Modern "globalization" which caused the tightening strictures, but not the availability of energy. The 17th Century saw a rise in sexually transmitted diseases for which there was no cure, and a tight moral code (not locked in until the 19th century) was the very last thing they tried to combat these - after all else failed. And it did have an effect on keeping them down, though not as much as antibiotics. Antibiotics and The Pill helped loosen the moral code quite a bit, by taking away or softening the consequences.

Glenn said...

Patricia Mathews said...
"I can think of several things about an 1830 Tier One lifestyle that would freak out any citizen of the industrial age though.{Snip!} evil chortle from someone well acquainted with Forest Service facilities and cold mornings. Though not recently, I admit."

Every single thing you've listed is something we currently live with, albeit the kettle is only required during power outages, and we only cook on the wood stove in winter when we need the extra heat anyway; even then we have to crack a window due to excellent insulation of a small space.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrrowstone Island
Salish Sea

will said...

Whoops, Kim Davis assumed office before the Supremes ruled, so she couldn't have included a no-comply clause in her campaign. Yep, she should have resigned.

Maureen Lycaon said...

"Ed-M, why do you think they were subject to an embargo, three attempts at regime change, and an invasion? That was the global economy under new Sino-Brazilian management trying to bring them back into line."

Now I'm deathly curious. Did the Lakeland Republic really stand off the full power of that global economic machine by itself? Or, was the machine distracted by problems elsewhere -- a major war closer to home, economic troubles of its own, or even massive citizen unrest?

Rob Rhodes said...

I wonder if you have written this with a particular age demographic in mind for the LR? Having read a bit on the consequences for medieval England of a very young demographic, I imagine that it is not so young in the LR.

John Michael Greer said...

Well, they've really come out of the woodwork tonight!

Bruno, I've already answered your question. Just because you don't like the answer doesn't mean that demanding a new one will get you one.

Ursachi, perhaps at some point you can go back and read the post and notice that the tier system only determines what infrastructure is paid for out of local tax revenues, and thus has nothing to do with your counterexample. Honestly, it's not that difficult of a concept -- and it fascinates me that otherwise intelligent people insist on misinterpreting it even when I point that out over, and over, and over, and over again!

Will, you know perfectly well that nobody's suggesting that clergy ought to be forced to perform gay marriages if that's against the teachings of their faith. The fact that so many people on the pseudo-Right keep on trotting out that meretricious straw man, as you just did, really does make me wonder if "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor" got left out of a whole bunch of Bibles.

Daergi, good. At the core of the religion of progress lies a whole series of mythic images that, to believers, embody such overwhelming emotional power that reasoned thought becomes impossible once they come up. As for the billionaires, elites do not generally survive the destruction of the system that supports them, especially when they're the ones that wreck the system in question.

Shane, America opposed free trade with all its force when Britain was benefiting from it and the US was on the losing end. The moment the US gained the capacity to use free trade as a wealth pump, US economists suddenly started singing the praises of free trade. I expect to see the same pattern repeat at least once as we slide down the Long Descent.

Raven, we'll be discussing that, too. There's a wider backstory to this narrative than you've seen yet.

Patricia, that's one set of possible explanations, yes.

Maureen, oh, there was much more going on. The post-US international order of 2065 is also less centralized, with two major powers (China and Brazil) and several other nations by no means satisfied with the sort of subordinate status they're assigned by the two great powers.

Rob, good. It's a complex demographic due to two wars, and also to the fact that the tax code (and welfare laws) don't subsidize childbearing. It's not overwhelmingly young, no.

mallow said...

Maybe people are misunderstanding about the tier thing because infrastructure to support technology is often invisible to us these days. Road building by the state to allow cars is physically visible, but the wires that allow phone lines look just like electricity wires so who notices the difference? There are wires all over the place.

And I'd guess a lot of people don't understand infrastructure needed to support the internet. It's always baffled me that mine uses a phone line, and I think other kinds of internet use some kind of radio waves. That might be what wireless broadband or wifi is. And I have no idea if governments provide infrastructure to allow for radio or not. And if I didn't read here I'd never have known that the internet relied on big server farms, whatever those are...

I guess what I'm saying is that for the technologically semi-literate, the infrastructure that supports especially more modern technology is often quite ephemeral and so invisible to us. I do know lots of people who are even more ignorant about such subjects as I am.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for another excellent installment of your story. It really is an excellent way to talk about other possible futures and choices. And, I'm totally amazed that even when you write things in clear and simple English that you still get push back.

If I may be so bold as to suggest something for your story - given the concept of tier 1 is a bit dear to my heart? You mentioned that you may sneak a solar PV panel into the story at some future point - depending on the level of push back you get from commenters.

Well, it occurs to me as a canny tier 1 resident that solar PV panels can be quite useful even after a good and solid artillery bombardment. You see a clever tier 1 resident could grab the remaining and very damaged solar PV panels and remove whatever salvageable individuals cells from a whole different collection of very damaged panels and create a new complete solar panel. You see each solar cell in a solar PV panel works separately from the rest - they're all just wired up in combinations of serial and parallel cells to get whatever voltage you want. If you didn't have to care about maximum efficiency and maximum output a canny tier 1 individual could solder up a whole lot of individual solar cells so that they had a solar panel that could be directly connected up to a battery (or batteries or even an appliance) at whatever DC voltage they required - Meaning you don't actually require high end battery charge controllers and can reduce the overall complexity of a system. That solar panel may not look pretty or may not be particularly weather resistant - but it would sure as heck work out of a lot of salvaged and damaged panels.

I gift that idea to you - free of charge. Plus I do hope that the tier 1 folk come across as highly crafty as people have so many preconceived narratives of what such places are like?

Now on an altogether different note, I had a very strange experience on Wednesday morning. I was stopped in my vehicle in a quiet inner city street by a van full of armed police. Me, being me, got out of the car without invitation and met them halfway to their vehicle so I could get a closer look at what was going on. They license checked me and checked the registration of the car and then alcohol tested me and then nothing. I had a few laughs with the policeman and the tension did seem to dissipate once he got my ID, but still the whole thing was weird.

PS: I now have some serious Internet/modem problems and it looks like my modem may be out of action so I'll have to cut our chat short... It would be nice if these things lasted longer than 2 years...



PS: Before the modem blows up, I have a new blog entry up: Pump up the Jam. Lots of good stuff and cool photos. Enjoy (hopefully the modem survives until the publish button accepts the text). Grrr!

Tidlösa said...

The idea that more "primitive" technology must lead to more primitive morality is very common. I held it myself until quite recently. In reality, pre-modern cultures at similar technological levels had strikingly different moralities: compare the status of women in ancient Athens (bad) to that in ancient Egypt (much better), or the patriarchal gender roles among some nomadic peoples to the Schythian "Amazons" - yet, the Scythians were also nomadic, or the differences between peaceful and warring tribes at the same "Stone Age" level, etc. What I still do fear is that the very *notion* that we have to go back to primitive morality in case of decline will make many people opt for such a solution... I suppose its up to us to stop it.

Tidlösa said...

Oh, here´s a photo of Isaiah Meeker. Heh heh heh... ;-)

Hope the link works!

James Fauxnom said...

Keep up the great fiction John. Not all of us are confused about the tier system. Lower taxes and I don't have to pay for the next county's veepad access? Seems like a political slam dunk.

August Johnson said...

JMG - I can't say that I'm surprised with some of these responses that you saw come out of the woodwork. It seems that often if something that someone says doesn't agree with some pre-conceived idea, the response is to avoid any understanding.

On another forum, in response to several AGW "believers" vociferously denying there had been ANYTHING about cooling published in the 1970's, I pointed to your June, 2014 post The Stories of our Grandchildren

This got me viciously attacked for being a "denier" pretending to believe in AGW to deceive people and using the post of "a debunked denier" (you!) to do so. It was so obvious that they didn't read one word of your post, it's a real easy Google search (coming ice age 1970) to find all sorts of articles in popular press and scientific journals, including page scans, but they weren't having any of it!

RPC said...

Mr. Carr's meeting with President Meeker seems oddly unsubstantive. Is it meant more as a courtesy call than an actual discussion of actions? Or will the latter take place later?

RPC said...

It seems that the Lakeland Republic is a salvage society; I don't see them having the energy available to create metals, glass, even the ubiquitous bricks from the poor quality ores available. As such, is this meant as a portrait of a relatively pleasant way to take a step down the Long Descent rather than a longer-term sustainable society?

will said...

John, recently a couple in NY State were fined a total of 13 k for refusing to marry a lesbian couple, this on grounds that such would have violated a tenet of their Christian faith. The lesbians - who had obviously targeted the Christian couple - then went elsewhere to get married. But if they had returned to the Christians demanding a marriage ceremony, the Christians would have had to comply or face another fining, which they couldn't afford, or jail time. If that isn't forcing the issue, I don't know what is.

onething said...

I'm following the moral code question with some difficulty. It seems to me that the modern moral code had a lot to do with antibiotics and reliable birth control. I have no idea how homosexuality would fit into that picture. It's been reviled in the west for along time, but it seems to me that having a homosexual in the family would generally be a boon as they would be more likely able to help out due to not having children of their own to take up all their resources. But the practical does not always win out. I have always also thought that without modern welfare and/or middle class parents, people will tend to focus on chastity in the female so as to avoid the huge burden of unwed motherhood upon the family. But then, I have just been reading an excellent and detailed history of the whole dynamic that led up to the pilgrims leaving England, and apparently there was quite a lot of that going on, indeed, it was one of the reasons the Puritans were so exercised about their fellow countrymen not being adequately godly.

pygmycory said...

re: lack of homelessness in lakeland. What about people with disabilities severe enough to make work impossible no matter how many jobs there are? Also orphaned children, poorer elderly people with no children, and single mothers with young children? I'm guessing there are some methods of provision for people in these types of situations?

If you aren't subsidizing childbearing at all, surely there's going to be quite a lot of older folk with no children?

Glenn said...

Not for Posting

Or do Post, if you prefer

I don't know if this has been addressed for railroads; but my field, shipping comes to mind. The wind and the sea (or lake) are free. Harbours (except good natural ones), dredged channels, breakwaters, bulkheads, buoys, lights, and lighthouses are not. Currently that's all provided at a Federal level courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard; and paid for from the Federal budget. Does Lakeland do the same?

Or do they revert to the local level? That is to say, waterfront improvements within a County are funded by local taxes at the County's tier? There's obviously feedback potential both ways. Lousy harbours and no aids to navigation will not attract shipping, revenues decline. Good harbours, nice lights, more attractive port, revenues rise. This is also connected with location, road, rail or canal connections and proximity to whatever goods are being shipped too. But most of this was worked out in the 19th century, so except for the ore and coal ports, which are played out by 2065, there will already be port towns at the appropriate places.

In the past, this was addressed at a local level by harbour dues charged. Local craft paid an annual fee, and vessels in transit charged a small sum in proportion to tonnage (freight capacity) per visit. Large infrastructure projects such as breakwaters and dredging of major channels was usually not feasible with this system; so historically such things have been funded at the Nation or State level. I could see Lakeland using this model, with contentious debates in the Legislature with different regions pushing their pet projects, and the Senate (assuming a bicameral system) balancing this against national needs.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Eric S. said...

" I'm far from sure that the Tier Zero idea is more than a slogan on the part of extreme Restos at this point."

Oh no doubt. I'm just trying to imagine what it would look like in practice (which leaves me guessing that the Restos may have some tie to today's anarcho-primitivist movement). If the only thing subsidized in Tier One counties is basic law enforcement and civil government, then it seems like "tier zero" would be lightly veiled code for secession. Even if it hasn't gotten past the point of rhetoric, it seems like potentially dangerous rhetoric in a country young enough and small enough for national unity to be an existential concern (and given what happened to the old US, and especially Lakeland's rocky history with the confederacy, that's talk I imagine Meeker's cabinet wouldn't take lightly.) I guess I'll have a clearer picture next time when I have a thorough overview of exactly what all the tier one counties have access to, and how they fit into the government of the republic at large.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@onething--Unwed motherhood is a lesser economic burden where there are no child labor laws.

james albinson said...

Is there the equivalent of the Sears-Roebuck mail-order catalogue in Lakeland? Before internet shopping, mail order catalogues were big stuff in many countries. How is the mail system in Lakeland anyway?
As always, thanks for thought provoking essays.

John Roth said...


Good point about a lot of people not understanding what “tax-supported infrastructure” means. To take your example: in most places in the US, the infrastructure to support electricity, telephone, cable and the internet is privately owned. If there’s any tax support, it comes in the form of tax preferences or laws allowing the infrastructure right-of-way, and many of the companies pay the municipality a pretty penny in “franchise fees.” There are currently several major lawsuits about the incumbent company, who built the forests of telephone and power poles, not wanting to lease space on them to upstarts - which they’re required to do by law in most places.

The Federal Government regulates who can use what radio frequencies, however the airwaves are not tax-supported infrastructure, they’re part of the way the universe works.

It might be helpful if we had a list of what’s tax-supported infrastructure in which tier. So far, we know that Tier 1 has 1830-style dirt roads and police services (the county sheriff). Presumably, it also has a county government to keep track of deeds and so forth, a court system and so on. We’ll presumably see what happens in municipalities: do they have cobblestones, or are they using the Roman road system?

Note: before it comes up, the problem with Roman style concrete is that it requires volcanic ash from a specific (or specific type of) volcano. Modern concrete chemists are pretty certain that they know how it works, they just don’t have the necessary amount of volcanic ash on hand.

In Tier 5, we’ve got 1950-style paved roads and, I presume, municipal water and sewer. Electricity is, I presume, private, as is the phone system. Daily mail delivery? A whole bunch of etceteras?

@August Johnson.

Amusingly, I had a discussion about that very subject last Sunday at church, but from a different direction: the guy thought that another ice age was coming. One nice thing about Unitarians is that most of them actually think, at least when it occurs to them it might be a good idea. Fortunately, he stood still for the long form explanation.

aiastelamonides said...


Just out of curiosity, what does the Atlantic Republic's military look like? Is it politically powerful? Is it funded by one of the major powers? I have trouble imagining the Atlantic Republic holding itself together at all without foreign assistance.

- Aias

Myriad said...

There's also a Hixville (different spelling, same pronunciation) in Massachusetts.

I have to admit that I share Carr's concerns about military vulnerability, so I'm looking forward to what's coming up later. With everyone facing hard times and resource limits, blitzkrieg-style mass mechanized attacks (including e.g. fleets of bombers) might no longer be a concern, at least from Lakeland's neighbors. That would help, since it's hard to imagine countering such a threat without either going higher tech, or spending massively on heavy armaments.

While shooting drones might be important (and fine sport), I'll be more interested in the rest of the defense-in-depth iceberg. I'm thinking of things like strong firing points built into ordinary structures, agricultural infrastructure (berms, hedgerows, ditches) that hinders vehicle travel over open land, "deniable" roads and bridges, militia practiced in defending their home towns from different directions (war games between neighboring districts, perhaps?), scorched-earth doctrine (maybe), and the like.

But the rock-paper-scissors nature of weaponry and strategy complicates everything. (Hence my Carr-ish concern.) If attack from the AR or CSA would take the form of elite forces in relatively small numbers using high technology, then marksmanship, prepared terrain, hacking/monkeywrenching, misdirection, and occupation resistance tactics will all be of more value than e.g. hardened machine gun emplacements that would just become fodder for laser guided rocket grenades. But if a different enemy (from a failed state to the west, perhaps) notices the lack of hardened machine gun emplacements, they might just send in waves of infantry. Different military philosophies for different borders?

Myriad said...

On a different note, are there public schools in Lakeland? And if so, are those considered part of the infrastructure that tiers regulate? In theory, Lakeland could have everything from one-room schoolhouses where students write on hand slates in lieu of most paper, to the kind of schools I went to with chemistry labs and marching bands and "audiovusual equipment" (film strip projectors!). And at the end of the term, all the students of a given grade/age from all the schools could take the same exams in the same subjects, because all of those trappings have never seemed to make much difference in how educated the students ended up.

That to me metaphorically sums up the whole tier system. Everyone can get food, housing, clothing, education, recreation, and the chance for family and spiritual life, and everyone (at least everyone able-bodied and/or able-minded) works hard for it. Different tiers just go about it in different ways.

So, here's a counterspell that might work against some of the misinterpretation of the tier system: It's not a quality-of-life scale!

Cherokee Organics said...


Ah, the modem blew up and I'm now on my emergency backup modem - which is very slow - so I'll be very quiet over the next week until the matter is resolved and a replacement modem is received. It is nice to have a plan B and plan C, pity most people don't consider such things necessary.



John Michael Greer said...

Mallow, I think that's part of it. As it happens, I think I've figured out why people are going so far out of their way to misunderstand the tier system, and I may just do a post about that next week.

Cherokee, I may just do that. I'm planning on having windmills (yes, I know "wind turbines" is the usual phrase nowadays, but Lakeland is old-fashioned) and solar water heaters all over Defiance County, but the occasional salvaged PV system might also put in an appearance. As for the roadblock, fascinating. I wonder just what's being kept out of your news media...

Tidlösa, a very good point. BTW, the portrait isn't quite right; as noted in the story, President Meeker has dark brown skin -- that is to say, his ancestors came from Africa.

James, Thank. You. For. Getting. It.

August, I've seen that same sort of thing way too often. I wonder if the people who do it realize that all they're doing is making the denialists look plausible.

RPC, it was indeed a courtesy call, since Carr is there to check the place out, not to carry out negotiations. As for your second question, stay tuned...

Will, you'll have to provide me with a link; the only case like that I've been able to find on the internet involved a couple who were fined for refusing to rent a venue to a same sex couple -- they would have faced exactly the same fine if they'd refused to rent to an interracial couple, an atheist couple, or a Muslim couple, since public-accommodation laws rightly prohibit discrimination in that context. If you can give me an example of of someone who was actually charged for refusing to perform a same-sex marriage, not for refusing to rent a venue, bake a cake, take a picture, cater a meal, or what have you, that's a different matter.

Onething, I'm far from sure it was as pragmatic as all that, not least because plenty of societies with no effective birth control have managed things in completely different ways.

Pygmycory, that's a different matter, of course. In the US, up until the middle of the 20th century, most counties had institutional frameworks in place to take care of those who couldn't take care of themselves; the county farm -- a big piece of real estate with residential care for the mentally ill, developmentally disabled, and others who couldn't take care of themselves, which not incidentally produced most of the food needed for the residents -- was a common institution all over rural America. (If you've heard old jokes about "the funny farm," that's what they were talking about.) A society with a lot of entry level jobs for unskilled labor can usually employ those with mild developmental disabilities, by the way.

There's a family story of mine that may be relevant here. One of my great-great-grandmothers had Downs' syndrome. That's a retrospective diagnosis, mind you; all that anybody knew at the time is that she had red hair, very short fingers, and never did learn how to read or write. She loved to cook and was extremely good at it, though, and loved children; by all accounts she had an unfailingly sweet disposition; and so my great-great-grandfather on that end of the family tree courted her, married her, and considered himself the luckiest man in that end of Washington Territory. My grandfather, who was a firefighter and far and away the best firehouse cook in Grays Harbor County, learned everything he knew about cooking from her, and always insisted that she was better than he was; he used to reminisce about her now and then. The point I hope this makes is that in a less technologically complex society, a lot of people who fall through the cracks in today's industrial society can find places where they're valued for what they can do, rather than being punished and despised for what they can't do.

LarasDad said...

perhaps some visualing might help those readers that think '40s/'50s (let alone 19th century) life is next to unbearable. May I offer, courtesy of Ilargi at TAE, the photo respository hosted at

THE 100-YEAR-OLD PHOTO BLOG | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

This is the link to their site and just one of their more than 6000 images (from 1905).

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, I do prefer! That's an excellent point, and one that I'll have to consider. I know that canals are privately built and funded, like railroads; harbor improvements may be subject to the same rule -- I can easily see the city of Toledo, for example, voting to raise money, by taxation or stock sales, to improve its harbor and thus boost the amount of maritime trade that comes its way -- but yes, I could see lively debates in the legislature over funding harbor improvements, not least because the Lakeland Republic has an armed coast guard on the Great Lakes, capable of functioning as a navy at need, and that would need good harbors and a range of facilities.

Eric, I'll have to think about that.

James, good question. I'll have to look into the infrastructure requirements.

Aias, we'll get into that shortly.

Myriad, we'll get into that shortly too. A number of people have asked about how the Lakeland Republic would defend itself; I have an answer to that, but it's best heard firsthand from the inimitable Colonel Tom Pappas, LRA, who will be appearing in the next episode.

As for schools, why, yes, and they're funded and operated on a township-by-township basis, rather than county by county. (Those of my readers from outside the US, or from those parts of the US that don't have townships, will want to know that a township is a subdivision of a county, which typically runs its own school district, water and sewer district, etc.) Carr will be visiting two schools, a one-room publicly funded schoolhouse outside of Hicksville and a very nice private school run by the Capitol Atheist Assembly in Toledo, so you'll get a good look at the ends of the spectrum.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, I hope the exploding modem at least produced a nice bang and flash to entertain the wallabies! Best wishes for a prompt and nonexplosive replacement.

LarasDad, many thanks for this!

Tidlösa said...

A propos the portrait of Meeker, yes, I wrongly read "light" brown and since his first name was Isaiah, I thought "Sephardic Jew" (De Leon was such, from Curacao). But yes, Isaiah Meeker does sound Black, when I think about it...

Maureen Lycaon said...

I know of one case where at least some of an empire's elite did manage to survive its collapse: Roman aristocracy in Gaul in the fifth century. They survived largely by learning to work with the new barbarian system, even intermarrying with barbarians, and in some cases by seeking high offices within the Church. (My source here is Roman Aristocrats in Barbarian Gaul, by Ralph Whitney Mathisen.)

@Odin's Raven: "There might even be a frontier zone fading into wilderness where central control is more a matter of lines on a map and agreements with neighboring states, than of effective bureaucratic control." I would be surprised if such a zone didn't spring up -- I've been reading The Art of Not Being Governed recently, which has altered my mind a bit. ;) I wonder if Greer might tell us how the Lakeland Republic interacts with such refugees from the state; does it try to bring them back into the fold? Hunt them down? (It might very well, if they became bandits preying upon local citizens.) Trade with them, as southeast Asian states did with hill people?

@mallow: It's fascinating how people can't see the infrastructure supports for so many things. I watch YouTube documentaries on climbing Mount Everest a lot. The documentaries emphasize the low oxygen and extreme cold of the Death Zone, and just how dangerous climbing Everest is. Almost always, some commenter will demand to know why someone doesn't just build a cable car or ski lift to the top!

Jeanne Labonte said...

Have finished reading your latest installment of Mr. Carr's adventures in Lakeland. It's amusing to see the magic word 'efficient' being waved at the Lakelanders in an attempt to get them to buy into whatever snake oil the IMF is peddling. It's very reminiscent of similar magic words being waved about here in New Hampshire over the Northern Pass Project. Nobody is being fooled, of course. It's really all about the shareholders, not the people who are allegedly on the receiving end of the so-called 'benefits' such a project would create.

@Denys. You should switch to my dentist. There are no TVs near the dental chairs and the big flat screen in the waiting room shows a slide show rather than television broadcasts. Apparently my dentist and her husband are avid photographers, so her patients are treated to a stream of pictures of moose, bald eagles, big horn sheep, etc. Way better than Ellen or the View.

Misty Barber said...

This installment has me interested in the stories of the founders and founding of the Lakeland Republic and also its war heroes. Many of whom are probably still alive and encouraging the mimesis process in politics, culture, and industry. Great job.

On a sad note I think that the black swan we've been waiting for just happened in Paris.

Misty Barber said...

Here is an idea to incorporate bicycles into the story: freestyle BMX as a spectator sport, status symbol, and rural pastime. Let the bicycles fill the void left when quads and two-stoke dirt bikes became too expensive to operate.

jean-vivien said...

Update on the attack situation in France, part 1 of 3

Dear readers of the Archdruid Report, dear John Michael, dear Patricia, dear Deborah, dear Phil, Cherokee and all other Green Wizards,

I am writing these words in very dire times for the land where I live. The perils in question are mostly human in nature, though there might be extremely complicated ecological causes at their roots as well.
Yet again in this year of 2015, another hideous terrorist attack, unprecedented in its horror and scale on our soil, has stricken our nation right in its capital, Paris.
First of all I'd like to give some background of where we were when it happened... on a general background.
Like most other rich nations in the world, we were concerned with the usual suspects of global problems : climate disruption (with the COP21 summit...), mass migrations, economical decline...
The political scene was getting troubled lately : the two major parties seemed to be veering towards a union, left and right, against the threat of the mounting far right.
On the local level, I try to live in a very big city, where our biggest concerns have become to get healthy vegetables or food from the countryside and avoiding the overcrowded tourist packs in the city center.
This (big) city is rapidly gentrifying, due to soaring rent levels, but the poor areas are still populated by the poor during business hours, it's just that they have to come from increasingly far away in the outer suburbs.
The big plans of the elected left running the city are to make the city even bigger, and close it to cars. basically, raze a lot of old houses in the suburbs to make big public transportation works and chase all the cars away from downtown Paris.
At this point it remains an open question whether the hidden intents are to chase poor people even further away from the affluent city center, help Parisians get to know their suburbs more, or help the poor folks locked away from the center to get easier access to it.
Bad news from the economy has not faltered, public investments in infrastructure construction work is decreasing, threathening dozens of thousands of contract jobs...
Living inside Paris, even in somewhat poorer conditions, has become a privilege in posh areas.
Having a wage job is
Tough noone would have articulated it loudly, everybody in offices is trying to run the daily routine in the hope that enough hushing would tame the disastrous effects of IT offshoring, mergers on unequal footing against companies from other rival rich countries...
But the hidden undercurrents of human perceptions were not exactly channeling very bright perspectives.
Until tonight, that is, where the game has been raised to whole new stakes.
The cat is out of the bag now.

jean-vivien said...

Update on the attack situation in France, part 2 of 3

Even just watching the news on TV/websites makes it still hard to bring my thoughts together in a coherent train of thinking.
Tonight what happened was pretty severe : a friendly soccer game attended by our very President and held in France's biggest stadium, on the beginning of the outer suburbs in a poor neighborhood, was rocked by detonations.
The police force outside did a good job as kamikaze bombers tried to assault the stadium. Still, the President had to be evacuated.
In the meantime, three horrible distinct street shootings took place against the customers of cafes in the popular evening area of the Eastern center in Paris.
But the worst was a hostage assault on the most popular concert venue downtown for young people, which lasted for two hours - a record time for an assault of our special forces who did a really quick job of getting ready for assault.
The total assessment is pretty gruesome : around forty people killed in the cafes and the stadium, but most horrific, as the special forces discovered, were around 80 people killed inside.
Plus all the other people who got wounded, and the psychological trauma to the witnesses... not saying to the entire nation, in our blessed age of information.
Then ensued the emergency speech and disaster visits of the President. Entire areas of the city center locked up by police... public transportation in large parts cut off.
All the media are talking about a situation of war, and about the emotion that all journalists and witnesses experience.
And behold, the President himself declared the state of emergency nationwide, and the closing of borders (!). Nationwide home raids are now allowed to be conducted at need.

France, as the night between November the 14th and the 15th of year 2015 comes to a close, has become a nation at war.
Even if the temporary chatter dies off in a few months, the hidden undercurrents of human perception have been irremediably changed.

jean-vivien said...

Update on the attack situation in France, part 3

On a level of perspectives, given the current language of the media, we are at war, and it will sooner or later boil down to three options, taking sides (that gives two), because the media are commenting both on the powerful ability of the perpetrators to inflict terror, and on the competent response of our police/special forces. And retreating to the countryside.
For the record, the downtown areas stricken were VERY close to the Charlie Hebdo offices, stage of the infamous Januray 7th of this year's attacks.
The population will have to choose, in terms of political solutions, between the fascism instituated by the current, undisputable government of national union, and the fascism promoted by the National Front.
The previously de facto, and soon to become official now after the attacks, government of national union is defending the interests of mostly big corporations and the financial rentier class.
The Front National features an almost-Communist plan of relocalisation of the economy, but their true intents when they come to power, when it comes to the economy, are probably on a par with their hateful take on immigration and reinstatement of the death penalty.
I am not sure that the notion of a political party will make much more sense from now on, it wasn't making sense already anyway.
I have no idea, and noone could bring themselves to phrase it out loud, how a certain religion will sort itself out. Not like some other monotheist religions don't have their own problems right now...

I am writing these comentaries on one of the few years we probably have with a somewhat free Internet.
I have no idea what will unfold from this mess. What will I be doing to make living in the coming years ? Executive ? A mix of craftswork and gardening / tending chickens ?
Earning a living as an office executive will probably make sense for quite a few more years, but given the current state of the economy, and how quickly or abruptly normalcy can be shattered, even the most diehard believers in te global economy, deep down, are extremely worried.

Update on the attack situation in France, part 4

Since a more constructive vision of the future is definitely in order right now, I am taking the liberty to publish my own translation into French of JMG's Retrotopia posts. It takes time, both to perform, and to make it known in France.
I would be very honoured, and very pleased, if some of the French, or French-speaking, Wizards hanging around this blog would share this translation with people who could enjoy it better in the language of Molière.

The rest is on the way...

Best of luck, so foul a day I have not seen. Good night and good luck. The game is changing. NOW.

jean-vivien said...


I don't know if this is a Black Swan, but the soccer game went on despite the attacks on the Stadium.
Either the crass stupidity and corruptness (they are asking for volunteers to help organizing the Euro, in spite of all the millions the FIFA heads are making !) of professional soccer would not even be shaken by a Balck Swan, or it was the safest thing to do, since the kamikaze bombers didn't manage to get in.

pygmycory said...

I think you are right that quite a few people with milder disabilities would do better for themselves under Lakeland circumstances than those in modern western nations. A tighter job market with higher wages ought to mean more possibility for negotiating things like shorter work hours with employers, and more ability to live off the proceeds of those shortened hours. I might do better at supporting myself in Lakeland. I don't know.

I'm a bit leery of the farm idea - I know that in Britain there were major problems with mental asylums being horrifically cruel and badly under-resourced, and that that was part of the reason so many were shut down. Unfortunately, there then wasn't enough help given to the people who were now out in the community, helping to drive homelessness and other problems. I believe there were similar issues in the US and Canada as well.

Maxine Rogers said...

I have been reading the whole collection of essays and got as far as 2013. I can no longer gain access to the older essays. The web site needs tinkering with.
Max Rogers

Ursachi Alexandru said...

JMG, I understood that, my point is that I do not see such a system being willfully accepted by most people in a democratic society.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Misty Barber - not just the attack, but the French government's reaction to it. The short version: essentially, martial law. Full details to be found in the comments on Brin's Blog, where a heartbroken French reader began the comments with that news and others added details.

We'll hear more later today from the mass media, at tedious and speculation-filled, opinion-filled length, but that's for starters. And no, it does not look good.

Ed-M said...


"Ed-M, why do you think they were subject to an embargo, three attempts at regime change, and an invasion? That was the global economy under new Sino-Brazilian management trying to bring them back into line."

Maureen Lycaon's comment to this has me wondering, too, as to how the Lakeland Republic fought off that alliance. And how it managed to keep further interference with its internal affairs since the '49 treaty.

And where is Russia in the thick of this? I would think it was part of that global alliance. A few months ago Dimitri Orlov posted a speech by Vladimir Putin that basically endorsed the globalized economy (free trade, unfettered capitalism, etc., but without Washington supremacy).

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG - school visits.

We already saw that Peter Carr passed a public school on the way to Toledo and was surprised that it didn't look like a medium-security prison. This tells you what he sees as the norm for schools. I think he had better also tour a Toledo public school in a less affluent neighborhood as well as the one-room schoolhouse and the high-end private school, both of which he could mentally file under "special cases." The public school would open his eyes a lot wider, I think.

Jim R said...

JMG, I must agree with Gavin on this issue:

... It's no accident, I'd also suggest, that what you're calling "modern morality" started coming in right as the first wave of energy and resource shortages hit the industrial world; a strong case can be made that of the two, the older and more rigid code has higher maintenance costs -- after all, it emerged and flourished in an age of unparalleled expansion, and began to break down as soon as the expansion slowed and began to reverse.

Based on the evolutionary biology discovered by the scientists who wrote The Beak of the Finch, and I think this applies to humans as well, the strict moral codes are one manifestation of hard times, while the more liberal codes arise when "the livin' is easy". The finches would breed promiscuously when the rains came and made the island green, but during the drought times, and it was the females driving this, they became very picky about their mates. The mate had to have exactly the correct beak shape for the type of drought-tolerant seed plant for that finch species.

Even though the first draft of shortage appeared in the '70s, it was very much peak time. We have arrived at a secondary peak now. I expect that as the sea of cheap energy dries up, people will adopt a much more, ahem, 'Amish' view to social relations.

Brian said...

John Michael Greer wrote in a comment: 'Dan, a lot of people are fixated on the frankly rather bizarre idea that you can't pick and choose from the past -- if you return to an older technology, you've got to embrace all the other technologies, social habits, etc. that once accompanied it.'

Exactly - why don't more people understand that? Similarly, in adopting new technologies so many people seem to assume that you have to take the whole package, that there's something strange about mixing 18th or 19th century technologies with those from the 21st.

Shane Wilson said...

I'm curious as to Lakeland's view of our own time, the late 20th-early 21st century. How have they written that history? I can't imagine they think much of the generations that ignored Limits to Growth, but am curious just how Lakeland history texts cover the era.

Phil Harris said...

Thanks jean-vivien for updates.

jean-vivien wrote, quote: "I am not sure that the notion of a political party will make much more sense from now on, it wasn't making sense already anyway."

I would enlarge that to include policy-makng bodies both across and central to the EU. "It wasn't making sense aready anyway."

Of course, also, beware a weak man having to appear strong. The alarming example of Bush II springs to mind. And of course France will continue to bomb Syria. Apart from closing the borders and declaring war on ...? the declaration on bombing seems to be the first policy statement. I guess the Greek classical tragedians had plot-lines for all this stuff.

My French is not Moliere's standard, but best wishes for your project.

and very best to you all


Daergi said...

My sympathies go out to the French readers of this forum. It is a horrible loss from a despicable act.

May you fight for your civil liberties harder than we did here in the US after 9/11. I know many people here now who live, not in fear of terrorists but in fear of the brutish authority that spawned from those events.

Daergi said...

I wasn't confused by the tier system or by the mixing of technologies from different eras. There are certain activities that I get great enjoyment out of performing them by hand or with simple tools that would be absent if I just pushed a button. Not everybody is enamored by the latest thing.

While the tier system makes logical sense, to let people have choice to pay for what they want, I wonder how it would look several generations on. Children don't always maintain the same economic level of their parents and some reject their parents' lifestyle choices. Often, different generations want completely different things then the generation before. Changing the services in a tier to meet changing wants would be easier going from low to a higher tier, but not necessarily so easy to go back.

Choice and difference used to be respected, but now we are supposed/required to want the same things. Difference in individuals is looked upon with suspicion. In the tier system you can be different, but you must declare it by where you choose to live.

Caryn said...

JGM: Thanks again for this: entertaining us, informing and teaching us with this story and all of these essays, and for providing this space for us to exchange ideas, questions, answers, dialogue on these 'interesting times' we are living in.

Jean-Vivien: Thank You also for this update of the situation on the ground. I think even for people like ourselves, who know a fractal collapse is under way, who see that it 'will be coming'; it can still be very unsettling when it actually happens - when a big chunk of the structure crashes down. Many heartfelt sympathies to you and yours and your city and country right now. My thoughts and prayers for finding a sane and humane way forward. As with all peoples I've encountered, I don't really doubt a sane response is possible and probable amongst the common French people. The problem lies #herewegoagain! with the leaders, their senility and moreover, their agendas.

Caryn said...

RE: some other recurring questions on the story here:

1) Retro-tech = retro-mores? I would tend to agree with Jim R, hard times does seem to encourage populations to tighten their social morals. Abundant times allows people to loosen them. BUT from the reading so far, Lakelanders are not experiencing hard times. Advanced or complex technology, (or societal structuring) is quite separate from scarcity or abundance, fear and insecurity vs. security. Lakelanders are low tech but they are secure. Pre-Columbian, Native North American tribes had extremely egalitarian, democratic structures and they were as low-tech as it got!
Maybe we need to revisit history to see where/when/if very strictly conservative morals coincided with existential insecurity? They certainly coincided in the Medieval ages, and the Victorian, (a.k.a. Dickensian) age, regardless of societal and technological complexity. IMHO, That is happening right now as well. In terms of the story - I would expect Atlantic Republicans to be more socially conservative than Lakelanders as they're less secure, as we saw with the plastic bag carrying immigrants Carr meets on the train to LLR.

2) It may be only a matter of time, (decades yet?) for LLR to feel a real military threat from Sino-Brazil? (Unless Meeker is assassinated and replaced with a Sino-Braz - friendly puppet?) Bordered on the west by mountain rough-necks, then chaos in CA/west-coast, Atlantic Republic doesn't sound strong enough to be a real threat and with Carr there - we can see they are trying to form some sort of alliance anyway. What about their neighbors to the south?

re: the IMF: My understanding of how the IMF and Global Bank work is mostly from reading John Perkins's "Confessions Of An Economic Hit Man". A massive loan is foisted upon a poor but resource-rich smaller country, with a suitable bribe going to the president or dictator, the rest going to foreign, (USA /Western) corporate contractors to "build infrastructure". They build say, a factory for another USA/Western company and the infrastructure to serve it and it alone. Nothing goes to actual infrastructure for the people and it often destroys their water, land and ability to sustain themselves - (forcing them to seek slave-wage jobs in said factory). Then because the poor country has not actually gotten anything, it has not 'developed', it cannot pay back the loan and is forced to barter for a song or give away it's natural resources. If a duly elected president, like Meeker, consistently refuses this deal, (offered by the Economic Hit Men) he is assassinated (by the CIA Jackals) and replaced with a puppet who will. In the western media we simply hear of another despotic dictator being taken down or a coup in a chaotic 3rd world nation - #aren't we lucky we have Freedom? #nothing to see here, move along. Central and South America, Indonesia, Middle East, on and on and on. These loans, this hegemonic take-over is not offered to a resource poor country because there is nothing to , well, steal from them. What resource does LLR have that( presumably Sino-Brazilian) corporations want? Why is the IMF wolf at the door?

Thanks again.

Peace and good harvests to all of you. :)

Rita said...

I am fascinated by the dark psychic underbelly revealed each time some reader explains that a reversion to older technologies has to mean giving up such luxuries as racial, sexual and religious equality. Let us take this to an admittedly ridiculous extreme.

The highlands of New Guinea harbor several cultures based on swidden agriculture, with yams as the primary crop. The women and children do most of the gardening while the men raise pigs and guard the village and fields (and their women) from raiders from other tribes. As part of the formation of the warrior culture the boys are taken from their mothers at about 8 and go to live in the men's house. They are considered to be female in essence since their bodies to this point have been nourished largely by mother's milk. To turn them into men they must spend the next several years ingesting male fluids--i.e. they are expected to fellate the adult men. Then they are initiated into adulthood and have their chance to nourish future men.

If I asserted that any culture that adopted semi-tropical slash and burn agriculture had to adopt this cultural pattern I would be considered a nut case. It is certainly possible that some future society would come up with something similar, just as slavery will be revived in some areas, feudalism in others, Senates and Doges, etc. But nothing about swidden agriculture or yams dictate the rites of passage for a society that practices it.

Shane Wilson said...

are townships going to be created in parts of Lakeland that never previously had them? KY, for example, never had townships and has never had that division. (That may be a way of the county consolidation I was talking about--making current counties into townships which are then part of a larger county?)

John Michael Greer said...

Tidlösa, these days, if you meet a man in America whose first name is the name of an Old Testament prophet, rather more often than not, he's of African ancestry. I'm not sure why, but there it is.

Maureen, good. They survived, and some of them even managed to retain a certain modest amount of wealth and influence. Were they the ruling class in post-Roman Gaul? Not by a long shot -- and elsewhere in the empire, of course, most of their peers had long since been hacked to ribbons or worse by barbarians whose sole interest in them was where they'd hidden their gold.

Jeanne, exactly. That's one of the reasons I'm going to insert assorted jabs at the cant practiced by economists throughout this narrative.

Misty, you'll be meeting one of the war heroes in the next episode, and there may be a founding mother showing up sometime soon. As for BMX, though, I've pretty much decided not to bring bicycles into this story -- precisely because so many people who don't ride bicycles now, and will come up with endless excuses not to ride them now, insist that bicycles have to be important in any green future.

Jean-Vivien, many thanks for the detailed update! What a ghastly situation; I wish I could say that it was incomprehensible, or even surprising, but of course it's neither. The increasingly explosive mix of religious conflict, environmental breakdown, and volkerwanderung that's shaping the paired destinies of Europe and the Middle East has been pushing in this direction for rather a while now. I hope France can cope with the crisis without becoming a caricature of itself.

Many thanks also for the translations! I hope somebody can think of a good site on which they can be posted -- I don't know much about French internet venues.

Pygmycory, the situation was very similar here in the US. The old county farms were abolished in the name of medicalizing the treatment of people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities, who were then put into huge, expensive hospital facilities paid for by state governments. The Federal government then took over funding them as the US welfare state expanded. Then, in the Reagan era, there was a great outcry to get people out of institutions and into community treatment centers; the institutions had their budgets eliminated, but somehow the money for the community treatment centers never showed up, and so the mentally ill and developmentally disabled were dumped on the street, where they are today. The old county farm system would be a major step up at this point.

Maxine, unfortunately I have no control over Blogger's management of the website. You might post a complaint to them.

Ursachi, you're drawing that conclusion from the point of view of a nation that hadn't experienced the full-blown consumer-industrial economy. The people of the Lakeland Republic experienced it, and got to see the other side of it. They've learned that more technology means fewer jobs at lower wages, for example, and they've also discovered that if you have to pay for the infrastructure you want to use, a lower level of infrastructure has real attractions!

Ed-M, again, the Sino-Brazilian alliance has had a lot on its hands, and we'll be getting to the reason shortly why the failed invasion in '49 wasn't repeated. As for Russia, in 2065 it's in no condition to do much on the international stage; the exhaustion of its petroleum reserves has deprived it of its major source of income, and it's been locked in a grueling, inconclusive war with Muslim insurgents all across the southern reaches of Siberia since the 2030s.

Patricia, two schools will have to do -- I have a lot else to cover, and we're already a third of the way to my intended word count.

Anthony Romano said...

Rita! Thank you for bringing up the Sambia, their culture is exactly what I thought of when others began arguing that "modern morality", which is highly specific to Eurocentric civilization, and discounts all other societies, has to develop along paths related to technological progress and energy.

When I was an undergrad studying anthropology, one of my professors said something along the lines of "If you want to see an example of any western cultural norm turned completely on its head, look to Papau New Guinea."

Anthony Romano said...

JGM, It just occurred to me that maybe part of the reason people haven't grasped the tier system is that we haven't yet seen an example of people living in a low tier county who, through whatever means, have access to technology from higher tier. I don't have a good example in mind, but such an example might give some context into how this would play out for individuals, families, and local governments/organizations.

Actually, that last sentence gave me an idea, maybe local organizations form, and people agree to donate money (not taxed) to put in pieces of infrastructure, such as maintaining/paving certain stretches of road, that bolster their collective trades.

One modern example I can think of this idea is local climber's associations. Rock climbing is still largely a subculture in the United States (a bit more widespread/recognized in Europe), and receives little support beyond access rights from government agencies. So local cooperatives have formed, climbers donate money, and dedicated members use that money to replace hardware (metal anchors and the like) on highly trafficked climbs to help keep conditions safer. Far too many people have died rappelling/lowering off of anchors that 'looked' good but were decades old and structurally rotten. It isn't a tax, it is all voluntary, but it promote the greater good within this specific community.

John Michael Greer said...

Jim, but times aren't hard in the Lakeland Republic. Recall the immigrant family on the train; they were looking forward to a much higher standard of living in the Lakeland Republic than they had in the Atlantic Republic. The problem here is that you, like Gavin, assume that fewer technological trinkets necessarily means that times are hard; au contraire, when people are secure in their homes and their possessions, know that they can count on three square meals a day and a steady job at a living wage, and feel that they have some control over their destinies and the hope of a good life for their children, a lack of video games and dancing Santa dolls isn't likely to leave them feeling horribly threatened and deprived.

More generally, analogies from nonhuman species do a very poor job of predicting human behavior, just as analogies from one species are by no means definitive in making sense of others. If you look at the history of human morals generally, you'll find that which behaviors are considered moral and which are considered immoral vary drastically, irrespective of such things as technological level, degree of food security, and the like. Economy is not destiny!

Brian, that's enough of a hot button issue that I'm probably going to be devoting a post to it shortly. The idea that you can pick and choose among technologies, and embrace those of an older time if you don't happen to like the ones currently on offer, is blasphemy in the eyes of the religion of progress, and it elicits some remarkably irrational behaviors from the faithful.

Shane, that's a valid question, and I'll consider weaving it in.

Daergi, good. One of the things that will be clearer as the narrative continues is that the Lakeland Republic is still very much in flux, with the institutions of the embargo years beginning to reshape themselves to changed conditions. Stay tuned...

Caryn, you're welcome! Exactly -- from the perspective of its residents, life in the Lakeland Republic is pretty comfortable and secure. As for the various ploys of China, Brazil, and their allies, again, there's a wider picture at work, and we'll see some of that as things unfold. All is not well in the global economy, not by a long shot.

Rita, thank you. That's a sufficiently cogent analogy that you've just earned tonight's gold star.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Honor and pity to the security guards who did their jobs and lost their lives protecting the people in the stadium from bombs.

patriciaormsby said...

JMG, that story about your great-great grandmother is really heart-warming!

Tidlösa said...

Concerning morality/technology, I sometimes wonder whether our modern society gives us “tunnel vision” on this point, since there is only one modern society, and it´s everywhere. However, “pre-modern” (note the modern-centric term!) societies were incredibly diverse.

Many people do indeed believe that “economy is destiny” since the modern society is dependent on a certain kind of economic structure to survive, usually a form of capitalism, and (of course) a certain kind of technology. Since the economy is global, nations trying to stay out of the system will be forced back into the fold (sometimes through sheer economic necessity), making it “obvious” that “the economic base controls the superstructure”. However, the diversity of “pre-modern” cultures seems to suggest the opposite: different “superstructures” are compatible with the same economic base, making politics or culture more important than economy.

I find this fascinating. While it may be difficult to change an already established pre-modern culture (if it works, people will rather stay with it), it seems that the “founders” of a pre-modern society have a wider range of options available to chose from than us moderns! Our modern culture is so dependent on its economic and physical infrastructure that we are simply dragged along with it, upwards (in the best of cases) or, ahem, downwards…

This may explain, for instance, why women´s equality is won under similar circumstances in all modern cultures (labor shortages and/or the expansion of a service sector being important factors), while pre-modern cultures have vastly different gender roles which cannot be predicted in advance based on their way of subsistence. Anthropologists used to believe that horticultural societies were often “matriarchal” while pastoralists were always “patriarchal”, but this doesn´t seem to be correct – diversity is much broader!

Disclaimer: I´m not saying that women´s rights were won without a fight – my point is that certain conditions in society made it easier for the powers-that-be to eventually concede women´s rights (or for women to get organized at all).

A propos New Guinea, Margaret Mead´s classic “Sex and Temperament” covers three vastly different New Guinean societies. The book is controversial, due to its description of a “matriarchal” society, but I think it proves the point under debate here: there is no necessary correlation between mode of subsistence, level of aggression and gender roles.

OK, hope this wasn´t too theoretical… ;-)

As for France, I don´t want to start a controversy here, but I believe now is the time for the Western powers and Russia to finally get together and negotiate (and enforce!) a settlement in Syria. As for the “Islamic” State, I´m still waiting for the next moonless night in Raqqa…

Tidlösa said...

More on tunnel vision...

It almost scary to see how fast things change sometimes. I have faint memories of a time when the idea of Chinese supremacy sounded like science fiction (one billion Chinese were still riding those accursed bicycles!) and people smirked when Brazil demanded a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (Brazil was Copacabana, poor Black street kids and the accursed carnival).

Circa 2000, the BBC showed a "how will the future look like” documentary, set around 2030. Russia and the EU were on the verge of a war over oil resources in the Arctic, Europe built super-large fences to keep out migrants coming over the Mediterranean, and (wait for it) the United States had a Hispanic president who railed against how America was oppressed by the imperialists! As one of the fake “talking heads” on the show expressed it: “America is the only first world nation that thinks like a third world nation”. This still sounds science fiction today, but with the American debt crisis, Chinese hegemony and a rising Hispanic population, who knows?

Also, every time I watch bad TV shows about “doomsday preppers” and similar people, I get the feeling that these guys sounded *completely nuts* just 15 years ago, but now… They will become main stream in the near future!

I like the Lakeland global narrative, since it contains both items that probably have been discussed among the cognoscenti for a long time (the China-Brazil thing but also the decline of Russia, usually connected to its low birth rate) and other options that sounded very speculative until recently (I won´t mention which ones – too hot!) or still sound “out there”, such as America splitting into a dozen different warring states. To me, the message is: yeah, sure, you may *think* these are the scribblings of a mad hatter, but…THINK AGAIN.

Trust me, I do!

WLB said...

JMG: This is off-topic and not worth wasting the others' time (or a reply) so it need not be posted, but I always have fun wondering how names in fiction get chosen by the author. Macallan was a favorite scotch of mine before I finally hung up my alcoholic spurs; Tom Pappas is a favorite comic. (But apparently Google knows the name better as an Olympic athlete. That I learned today; sports is not my thing.)



patriciaormsby said...

Jean-Vivien, my profoundest sympathies for the hardship hitting your great city! And thank you for describing it from your perspective. I recall feeling similarly after Fukushima. For most Japanese it was a profound awakening. The warnings about nuclear facilities turned out to be true. It marked a turning point in people's perceptions of human mastery over nature using technology, and many became willing to sacrifice their own comfort to try to conserve energy and make nuclear unnecessary. Since then, hidden poverty in Japan has become an issue, that people here are, in fact, aware of.
Regarding America, 9/11 came across to me as a shock, but not a paradigm changer. I felt sorry for whoever turned out to be responsible. (My perception of that event changed later.) For me, the government's response to Katrina really gave me the sense we'd hit a hard limit.
Assess the situation, revise plans, move forward, and do definitely tell us how it goes!

margfh said...

Very interested in how disabled individuals and the very elderly will be supported in the Lakeland Republic. As sister and guardian of three disabled brothers I am very concerned with the future. All three get disability and medicare but only one gets any other assistance due to how our mother set up their finances. Each brother is in a different living situation but doing well for now. One is able to mostly take care of himself and has Section 8 housing but the other two are in living situations that do not take any government funding. All three have had community jobs in the past but only one does now.

I could go on at length but just wanted to mention a couple things. The disability advocate community is vehement that all people with disabilities should be in the community and not in any type of institutional situation. While many thrive in community situations the amount of care of those with severe disabilities is not economically sustainable.

Secondly, it is becoming very difficult to staff group homes etc as the pay is low and the job is often very difficult (this goes for caregivers of the elderly as well). My daughter is a director of casework at an agency in Chicago and she is constantly having to hire new people. She has been attacked physically on several occasions.

I think I'll post something on Green Wizards in the next few days on this issue.


Aron Blue said...

I think this has been mentioned at least in passing before, but I'm curious to learn how Lakeland deals with the vices we humans love so much: booze, drugs, gambling, prostitution, etc. I bet the homebrew and ciders are intense, not to mention the craft that goes into producing Lakeland Republic whiskey. That's called an export product-- maybe the whole reason Carr is there LOL!

If not for export, maybe there's a few stills, especially in the more rugged tiers?

And here's Willie Nelson in 1984 with Whiskey River

Patricia Mathews said...

John Michael Greer said...

" Tidlösa, these days, if you meet a man in America whose first name is the name of an Old Testament prophet, rather more often than not, he's of African ancestry. I'm not sure why, but there it is."

Oh, that's no mystery to the daughter of a Social Gospel preacher with a blunt (or sharp!) hillbilly tongue, who also had a mission in San Francisco's Hunter's Point back in the day. Consider the historic importance of the black church, and then note how the Old Testament prophet really spoke to their condition.

Now, hear the words of the prophet Isaiah! (Soundtrack by Georg Frederich Handel. Sing along if you like. I'll carry the alto line.)

"Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill laid low ... and the crooked made straight!"

He's talking about God taking a mighty bulldozer to the social landscape of his day ... and just about every other day in recorded history. (And anyone who reads the local papers out here and is singing in the choir this season will be singing "And the CROOKED MADE STRAIGHT!" with considerable vim and vigor, even as I did back when my voice was a lot more reliable.

And Amos ... well, I won't quote Scripture here at the length needed to back up the assertion, but the most resounding and epic translation is still the good old King James Version. Here endeth the sermon.

Roger Arnold said...

This is semi off topic, but does relate to the post-oil fiction genre that's been mentioned. It also relates to differences between 'Retrotopia' -- and why it's a refreshing world to visit -- vs. some alternatives.

I just finished reading Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Water Knife". I can say without reservation that it's an impressive piece of fiction in the post-oil / climate change genre. I don't necessarily recommend it. It's a deeply troubling extrapolation of trends that we're living through now. That's exactly what it was meant to be, but it's not for the faint of heart. Definitely not a book for the YA audience.

'The Water Knife' takes on directly a period that 'Retrotopia' mercifully passes over: the near-term collapse period and how the collapse of the US might unfold. What makes the story so horrifying is that it's so credible. It's well-rooted in the history of water rights in the Southwest and the building of 'The Cadillac Desert'. As I read it, I found myself reluctantly agreeing that, yes, this is how it could happen. What it might look like.

Bacigalupi's story has believable characters, behaving in ways that real people do behave, when circumstances dictate. The book is emphatically not about 'good guys' vs. 'bad guys'. It shares that insight with JMG's writings and world view. The only real villain is our collective stupidity in living in denial and failing to act on issues that should be obvious. Feeling powerless, we carry on, pretending that everything will somehow work out. Well, sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.

Shane Wilson said...

Lakeland seems pretty diverse by todays standards for the Great Lakes states, which impress me as being whiter & less diverse than other parts of the US, particularly in the rural areas. What accounts for this? Increased in-migration from collapsed/chaotic/ungoverned diverse areas like California/Nevada/Arizona?

Shane Wilson said...

I know a 1st generation Polish-American who is a capitalistic as capitalistic can be, always looking for a way to make a buck, and has all the faith in the world in the US and the "American way". I don't have the heart to tell him that he came too late to the party, and it wouldn't help if I did. He'll find that out on his own, but I'm not sure I want to be there when his faith is shattered...

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...


As chance or Providence would have it, I today discovered Elgar's choral rendition of an abridgement of Cardinal Newman's "Dream of Gerontius".

It proves overwhelming, to a point beyond easy description on a blog, to follow the libretto from while listening to Sir Andrew Davis conducting in St Paul's, London, around 1997, on YouTube. Part One of Sir Andrew Davis's interpretation is at (an upload of 2011-10-31, under username "Don Goncau"). Part Two is at (likewise an upload of 2011-10-31, likewise under username "Don Goncau").

The climactic fortissimo, at which Gerontius has a momentary glance of the Godhead before pleading to be healed in Purgatory, comes some seconds after 00:47:00 of Part Two.

In considering Paris, it is necessary to consider not the victims alone but additionally the perpetrators. The depth of turmoil (the despair? the rage?) that led them to commit their crimes at first defies comprehension. One is tempted to think (now, again, as in 1917 Petrograd or 1933 Berlin) Well, this does not from a standpoint of ordinary human psychology make sense. And yet it in the end must make sense. Most human things have, in the end, an explanation which is banal and shallow. We may some day, discovering the explanation, find the criminality pitiful.


near Toronto

gjh42 said...

Shane - I expect that the big inner cities of the area which have large minority populations today proved uninhabitable at the former densities, or during the war were simply destroyed, and refugees would have scattered throughout the region. This on top of other migrations/dislocations in wartime could easily account for wide diversity.

Scotlyn said...

If you don't mind, JMG, I actually have an interest in the answer (the unanswered answer) to Bruno's question.

He put it like this: "why do you say that the moral code that passed away by the 70's had a higher cost than the code which is replacing it?"

And you answered the "why do you say" part of the question with (paraphrase) "because the change indisputably coincides with a general shift towards shrinking resources"

I suspect he asked for clarification (and, in any case, I do so now), because the really interesting question, to my mind, is the *detail* informing the suggestion that morality has costs, ie: what features of the prior moral code were, in your view, the costly ones, and what features of the replacement moral code reduce those costs?

Apologies if this question turns out to be a "beating of a tired drum".

Christophe said...

JMG wrote "Tidlösa, these days, if you meet a man in America whose first name is the name of an Old Testament prophet, rather more often than not, he's of African ancestry. I'm not sure why, but there it is."

During our slavery period the African diaspora in the US was only exposed to the Old Testament, which made very little criticism of slavery. The New Testament containing most of the rhetoric about humility, voluntary poverty, turning the other cheek, etc. was considered inflammatory for slaves. The body of "spiritual" songs that grew out of slavery times draw almost exclusively from the Old Testament, just as the body of "gospel" songs from the 20th century draw mostly from New Testament imagery.

I'm not sure whether its the songs keeping the older biblical names alive, or cultural memory of dimly-recalled stories and teachings, or reclaiming names from further back in one's family tree. Despite being very intermixed, the African and European diasporas identify with distinctly different forms of Christianity, leading to their different name preferences.

Ursachi Alexandru said...

JMG, do you know my country well enough to make such a claim?

In large urban areas like my city (around 300,000 inhabitants), we are well into the full-blown consumer economy. Low paid outsourced jobs? I work in one of them. Low-paid flipping-burgers jobs where many university graduates end up? Plenty of those as well. High paid jobs in IT where only a few can get in? We have that too. Banks everywhere, German-owned hypermarkets taking over, car ownership higher than ever, you name it, it's happening here.

And if I tell most people here about your tier system, and apply it to our own adminstrative divisions, they will think that I'm proposing a mix of the Ceaușescu era and the time of Vlad the Impaler. And I'm including those people who live in the countryside and live off of subsistence agriculture. Those who you people in the West probably assume that are better off not being "corrupted" by the outside world, and are happy living the way they are. And I think that I lived long enough in this country to know the general mentality of my people.

Again, I think that a real-life Lakeland Republic would be ruled by hypocritical politicians (democratically elected or not) that would use things like veepads and the metanet, and would indulge in imported products while preaching sustainability and self-reliance to the masses. And that a black market for out-of-tier products of various sorts (depending on availability) would be flourishing.

But of course, I don't live in the USA, so maybe I am underestimating the potential will of Americans to live more modestly than present-day Eastern Europeans. Maybe history will prove me wrong, either way it's all speculation.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Christophe - thanks for the elaboration on the Old Testament prophets and the black church. I didn't know that, but it makes horrid sense. Though -- if they didn't think Isaiah and Amos et. al. weren't inflammatory, they weren't listening!

Somewhatstunned said...

Scotlyn asked JMG:
what features of the prior moral code were, in your view, the costly ones, and what features of the replacement moral code reduce those costs?

Don't know if this was JMG's reasoning, but I assumed that what he meant was that stricter moral codes take more effort in everyday social "policing" by the whole of society. So I read the comment as meaning "costly" in a primarily non-monetary sense.

Of course there isn't a sharp division between the monetary and the non-monetary. For example, if your moral code excludes a whole bunch of people from polite society (for example unmarried mums and uncloseted gays) you have 1) the mental cost as each person sternly disapproves (takes precious mental energy to hate something) 2) the local social cost as people are arbitariliy excluded from important parts of life (fewer potential friends and helpers) and 3) the wider social cost as such reviled people are prevented from making their full contribution to the work of wider society.

With cost 3) you *do* hit actual economic costs and I thought what JMG meant was that only when there are resources to burn can we be so cavalier about rejecting anyone's potential contribtuion.

Dunno if I'm conviced by this, but it's an interesting thought (though of course I don't know if it's what JMG was driving at).

Ed-M said...


Ouch! Russia must be hurting then. Right now it's reindustrializing and I've read recently elsewhere on the internet that Putin's advisors are denying climate change, perhaps thinking it to be a Western plot to deny Russia her industrial potential. But googling for the link to the article only came up with something from 2013...

Now on the Muslim insurgency... wouldn't southern Russia proper (i.e., the Caucasus) be affected, too? That's where Chechnya, Dagestan and other Muslim-majority regions are, at the present day.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Christophe writes, "During our slavery period the African diaspora in the US was only exposed to the Old Testament, which made very little criticism of slavery." It is true that the Tanakh* contains rules about how household slaves should be treated but takes the institution itself for granted.

On the other hand there is the second book of the Bible, Exodus. This book is about how the Israelites were once a free people, were enslaved by a Pharaoh, suffered terribly and were oppressed, and were liberated by the hand of God under the leadership of Moses, Aaron and Miriam. You can't teach even a redacted version of what Protestants call the Old Testament without teaching Exodus because the book culminates with the giving of the Ten Commandments. Enslaved blacks took hope and inspiration from the Book of Exodus ("going out"). Negro spirituals and the code words for the Underground Railroad contain references from Exodus. It's no accident that Harriet Tubman was called Moses.

The Jewish holiday of Passover is about the Exodus story. Throughout most of the twentieth century, political alliances between African-Americans and Jews were partly based on an understanding of a common history, even though for the African-Americans slavery was a recent memory and for the Jews a distant one.

There is a certain thread of Christian apologetics which paints the Tanakh as oppressive in its message and the New Testament as liberating. IMO, it takes a highly selective reading of both collections to support that thesis.

*Or as English-speaking Jews call it, "the Bible". Tanakh is an acronym of the initial letters of the Hebrew words meaning "Law", "Prophets" and "Writings". Those are the titles of the three sections in which the books are arranged in Jewish Bibles. The "kh" is a sound we don't have in English.

onething said...


My understanding is that in Lakeland the internet infrastructure for things like veepads and metanet don't exist.
But that is not your point. However, a person there can buy all the black market goods they want, but if they require electricity, for example, and they live in a nonelectric county, how will they plug them in? If they want to maintain their own solar or micro hydro for electricity, they can do that.

I'm not sure how it works in Toledo. Can people use all the electric they want if they can pay for it? That could create a problem if too many people did it. Perhaps they institute a rationing system?

John Michael Greer said...

Anthony, that's a valid point. Voluntary financing of projects for public benefit is a very old custom -- that used to be what corporations were for, and we'll be seeing one of those in action as things proceed -- and of course a trip to a tier one county is coming up shortly. I doubt that will stop the misunderstandings, though; this whole business is becoming increasingly reminiscent of some of the other times when I've touched on a modern taboo. More on this in this week's post!

Patricia, thank you. It's among the reasons I have trouble buying into some aspects of today's culture of contempt for those who are mentally and developmentally different from the norm.

Tidlösa, exactly. The mythology of progress, with its insistence that every other form of human society is a station on a linear route that leads to us, and through us to the stars, draws a great deal of its plausibility from the fact that if you live in a society dominated by modern industrial technology, you really don't have many choices -- you have to adapt your life to the machine.

WLB, nah, talking about the construction of a narrative in a post that's part of that narrative is always on topic. I don't invent my character names consciously -- I listen for them, and am routinely surprised by the names, and the characters, that turn up. Those of my readers who followed Star's Reach while it was a blog may be interested to know that I had no idea who Plummer was when he turned up -- he was as much of a surprise to me as he was to Trey and Berry! In the same way, the characters in this narrative are simply the people who come strolling into the story from the recesses of my unconscious mind, with names attached.

Margfh, we'll see some of that shortly, and more as things proceed.

Aron, the Lakeland Republic doesn't restrict distillation, brewing, etc. -- I think we'll see a small distillery in Hicksville, and I know Carr is going to have an encounter with Kentucky moonshine at the drone shoot. As for other vices, hmm. Yes, that does have to be addressed, doesn't it?

Patricia, thanks for the explanation!

Roger, one of the reasons I haven't yet made time to read Bagucigalpi's fiction is that I've heard from a lot of people that a lot of it is harrowing stuff. I get enough of that on the news, thank you.

Shane, my experience with the midwest is that it has very large nonwhite populations, and not just in the biggest cities. That's what's guiding the demographics of my story.

Scotlyn, if I must. All I said was that since the older morality came in with the first period of industrial economic expansion and went out with our first brush with the limits to growth, it was dubious logic to claim that our post-1970s morality was the product of prosperity and would be replaced by a return to that older morality. Bruno insisted on reading this as me saying that morality depends on economics, and demanded that I justify a claim I didn't make. Simplistic theories that make moral codes a function of some external factor such as economic prosperity or the reverse do not hold up in the light of history. That's what I'm saying. It's rather tiring to use no stronger word, to have people respond to that by insisting that I must be making exactly such a theory, and demanding that I justify it!

John Michael Greer said...

Christophe, interesting.

Ursachi, of course not. Still, there must be some drastic difference, since you keep on insisting that the people of Romania would be horrified and outraged by the suggestion that they be allowed to vote on how much of their tax money gets spent on infrastructure. That's what the tier system is. That's all it is, and the fact that you're still trying to redefine it as some kind of Stalinist system whereby an oppressive government prevents people from having the technologies they want, no matter how often that misunderstanding is corrected, shows me that you're simply not paying attention.

Or maybe there's something else going on. All this is rather reminiscent of some of the other times where I've said something very straightforward on this blog, and a certain fraction of readers have consistently misunderstood it even when the misunderstanding was pointed out to them in so many words. Hmm...

Ed-M, oh, quite possibly yes. The war in southern Siberia is simply the biggest theater of the conflict.

team10tim said...

RE: modern taboos

I'm reading The Red Book Liber Novus Reader's Edition about Carl Jung's Red Book. He had this to say: One without a myth "is like one uprooted, having no true link either with the past, or with the ancestral life which continues within him, or yet with contemporary society."

It is very difficult to break with one's myth, even if one knows in the back of one's mind it is headed for ruin. To give up a very base level of certainty in one's understanding of the world at large is daunting prospect. It's like the old saw 'you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink' but with an added component of some rather unpleasant water. To mix metaphors 'you can lead a man through the technical details of our ecological predicament but you can't make him drink the coolaid."


Hubertus Hauger said...

@ Ursachi Alexandru: "JMG, I understood that, my point is that I do not see such a system being willfully accepted by most people in a democratic society."

How I see that is, that the public does strongly deny reformistic degrowth ideas for the benefit of the people. Actually, not only them others, but also each of us individually. In the competition between frugality and growth, growth is rather prefered, isn´t it? In the past decades we ourself are the best example for that choice. From all the many comrades of green or social thinking, I´d say that a majority has been absorbed by collecting material goods up to roof-top. For accountability thats an average of 10.000 pieces per person. So I agree, doubts are rather legitimate. We will not become frugal voluntarilly.

And, I do not accept the argument of the ruling classes greediness. The rich and powerfull will enjoy more sweets, than the ordinary fellows. Has been and will be forever and ever! So far so bad!

Yet, JMG is fully entitled to let his fiction bloom, to enligthen us with creative ideas. Also, as frequently mentioned, in his narrative there is a strong motivation, which could let the transition become succesful. Collapse! It will help us people to turn around. So I consider that tier system as something not unrealistic anyway.

Alison Russell said...

I think a lot of the confusion about the tier system stems from your initial characterization of it based on specific eras. Most of us now understand you to have meant "the percentage of tax revenue spent on infrastructure at that time," but as has been pointed out, there is significant conflation by many people of "infrastructure" with "technology." There's also the problem of people equating "not subsidized" with "can't have." The two ideas are clearly not the same. Combine that with the difficulty determining what infrastructure is paid for by the state and what is privately owned *today* and it can be difficult to separate the two.

If the tier system is only about the amount of tax money spent, and not the type of infrastructure available, we might well see counties at the same tier that have chosen to prioritize entirely different types of infrastructure. Counties with significant waterways might choose unpaved roads, while those without might choose paved roads, but both could be tier 2 counties.

Bruno Bolzon said...

JMG, and @Scotlyn, that's exactly what I did, I admit. Thank you for pointing out that error.

Alison Russell said...

Some thoughts on the lack of "subsidized parenting" and care for the disabled in the Lakeland Republic:

It might not be all that difficult to afford children. Most of the "subsidized parenting" we get in the US is in the form of tax credits and deductions on personal income. Income in LR is not taxed, and I suspect most residents of LR find it easier to support themselves *and their families* on what they earn than many of us do now. I expect the stigma currently associated with children remaining in their parents' house well into adulthood will be gone, so there will probably be many more multigenerational households, with the accompanying live-in childcare, etc. It's also possible that families with young children might choose to live in lower tier counties, making it easier for the family to live comfortably on a single income, and allowing one parent to stay home.

This also applies to care for the disabled. Multigenerational households would allow the grandparents to care for their grandchildren, and in turn for their children to care for them as they age.

The ability to earn a living *at home* will be what allows families in LR to afford children, eldercare, and care for those disabled enough to need constant support. I would expect that Cottage Industry will again be a viable livelihood in LR, rather than the supplemental income such activities tend to produce today. People in LR will still want baskets, sweaters, scarves, socks, etc. All those small items that are made in factories today, on automated equipment, can easily be made at home with manual labor, or small manually operated machines. Even a single parent can afford to raise a child if work can be done from home, and childcare doesn't have to be found.

Phil Harris said...

JMG & All

We have a common interest in maintaining conditions of life, given predicaments and limits and nonnegotiable thermodynamics and our parent biosphere – our home-world trumps any narrow economics or other flights of fancy. Thus we live and die.

Both industrial and agrarian systems typically throw-up oligarchic forms of government creating in both its widest or intensely local sense 'geopolitics', including warfare, dominance, 'wealth pumps' and etc.

And we have an important interest in migration.

I was born 1941 after the major European population movements that accompanied the shift in agrarian to industrial employment (and after the decline in previously rapid growth rate - high fertility rates trumped high infant and child mortality and ferociously low majority living standards, (standards of warmth, clothing, nutrition, sanitation, work-related injury, minimum health care, income security). JMG has mentioned before how badly imperial Britain treated its working class, home and abroad. I agree. However, Irish migration (largely agrarian) to British mainland was still evident in my child hood.

British immigration? Stable doors and etc. ...?

Britain might be different? We all in Britain in effect live in large cities, even if our postal address might be in some countryside. Our city life is situated in a rather small and very inadequate cultivable area. We rely on fossil fuels, trading and wider food-producing areas, but so do all urban areas these days.

Our post-WWII immigrants were from ex-Empire, Black Caribbean and then much more noticeably, Indian sub-continent. This immigration from mostly non-industrial areas followed previous flows to urban areas. (We did not suffer the huge relocations seen in Germany and E/C Europe and Balkans - refugees/'ethnic cleansing' and etc.)

The next big happening is 21st C - see below - EU enlargement, 'open borders' within EU (imitating USA?). Refugees from war zones are important but the numbers are yet relatively small.

I witnessed the end of most British working class industrial employment as we transitioned from coal to petroleum and natural gas and out-sourcing. This resulted in a social catastrophe, but not in terms of minimum living standards; see my list above. These latter have improved with modernisation. I witnessed 'old' poverty and its consequences for example in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland in the 1970s. The area in England with fewest migrants is NE England where I live now, but this de-industrialised area has worst prospects for youth unemployment. We have 'modernised' poverty! (A small note: farming employment round where I live is perhaps less than 5% that of the agrarian past, and I have witnessed a modern reduction of more than 60% in the last 30 years.)

Scotland? We have 'open border' for 300 years and I feel 'at home' there despite my southern origin. (Our children have maternal mitochondrial DNA from the Gaeltacht.)

British migrant stats:

India is the most common country of birth among the foreign-born, but Poland tops list of foreign citizens in the UK

Descending order for a) Foreign born and b) Foreign citizenship
Country of birth /Share of all foreign born /Country of citizenship/ Share of all foreign citizens

India 9.4 Poland 13.0
Poland 8.7 India 7.1
Pakistan 6.4 Ireland 6.5
Ireland 5.1 Pakistan 3.8
Germany 4.0 Romania 3.0
South Africa 2.6 Italy 2.8
United States 2.5 Lithuania 2.8
Nigeria 2.4 United States 2.7

Thanks to Robert Mathiesen for terrific précis of Pilgrim and Puritan origins. I have copied it!

Ursachi Alexandru said...

I understood that, but defining it in terms of historical periods (1950s, 1920s) I think would turn off a lot of people. And I don't know how people living in the same country - except for higly decentralized ones maybe - would accept that infrastructure taxation could vary so much from one district to another. After all, infrastructure is a matter of national security, not just local preferences for how much money goes into it.

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG - I was also moved by your story of your great-grandmother, though I think things were at their worst for people like her back around midcentury, when "Institutionalize them all" was the order of the day. (Remembering horror stories of our own home for the developmentally disabled, though the release of the patients has generated some horror stories of its own.)

Anyway, here is her local equivalent, who I remembered simply because he is moving out of town.

Shane Wilson said...

I guess everything is relative. Coming from the South, one of the striking things about the rural Midwest is the relative absence of black, and to a lesser degree, Latino people, and upon returning to the South, one of the signs that you are home again is the presence of black and Latino people in rural areas.

Martin B said...

A niggling detail about the tier system occurs to me. Where exactly are the boundaries drawn?

I ask because the boundary between my suburb and the next runs down the middle of the road. In Lakeland this could result in one side of the road being tar, and the other side dirt, which seems ludicrous. Not to mention ownership of the sewer line that runs down the middle of the road.

To make the tiers self-contained, you would need undeveloped buffer zones between them. But those undeveloped zones would also need an authority to maintain them. A federal tier that all contribute to, perhaps?

I can see many a devil in the details!

Renaissance Man said...

I was not going to comment, just enjoying the read, but some of the comments impel me to add my few words, even this late in the week.
The economy of LR sounds very Ricardian/Georgist in nature, with a wide distribution of small farms and small businesses and widespread access to resources. If so, then there would be very little unemployment, if at all and no great disparity between the richest and poorest, and even the poorest would be rather well-off. That is what has happened historically whenever such systems have been implemented.
Therefore, in the tier system, some people will choose to keep services, even if it means higher taxes.
Case in point, in 2011, Mayor Ford (before he became the embarrassing staple laughing stock of late-night comedy TV) pretty much represented the TEA Party attitude of suburbans who felt neglected and overtaxed and under-serviced and resented the appearance that the downtown core was getting all the services. He promised to end the 'gravy train' at city hall of overpaid unionised civil servants, to lower taxes, &c. He hired KPMG to produce a report to show that he could save much tax money by eliminating a large number of unnecessary departments, offices, and services. Apparently his solemn vow not to cut services wasn't as solemn or important as his vow to cut taxes.
The citizenry reacted.
Despite being airily dismissed as 'a handful of professional protesters and activists' thousands of people turned up to make representations at the various hearings. Meetings lasted for 18 and 20 hours at a time. The overwhelming support was to keep services, even if it meant higher taxes. Services such as the Riverdale Petting Zoo, the urban forestry department, and community recreation centres and swimming pools. In the end, the services were kept, and voter turnout in the next election was up 15%.
The whole question revolved around what, exactly, are the services we need or want and the stark conclusion was that, the bulk of services we demand as a city are in direct proportion to the inability of poorer people to pay for their own services. It also touched off a discussion on what is the function of government, what services should be provided, which are absolutely necessary, and so forth.
Your Tier 1 counties are not necessarily mired in poverty, they simply decided they do not need, say, a civic recreation centre, but rather those who wish to spend time swimming become paying members at a private health club, whereas Tier 5 provides public pools and gymnasiums and recreation centres for free. Tier 1 only maintains gravel roads, whereas by Tier 3, the roads are paved with asphalt. Tier 1 has private vehicles, but they pay higher maintenance costs because the roads are rougher. There are plenty of places that still have unpaved roads in Ontario, I can assure you, and the people drive trucks and SUVs with good reason. I suspect when gas becomes very expensive, many will start to drive horse-drawn buggies again.
Of course, all that assumes that people can afford to choose, which is what all the discussion in Toronto was about in 2011: there are a lot of voters who cannot afford to be members in private clubs, whereas most of those hoping for lower taxes can. Again, if the economy is set up along Georgist lines, where resources are taxed but not income, distribution of access to resources becomes widespread and even the majority of poorest people become wealthy enough to choose.
I submit LP probably uses something as simple as photo ID presented at the desk of the library in a Tier 5 county to determine that someone from Tier 1 needs to pay a fee to get in. But anyone from Tier 1 can afford to (because of the savings in lower taxes).

John Michael Greer said...

Tim, true enough. Another way to say the same thing is that if you've learned only one way to make the world make sense to you, you'll react viscerally against anything that threatens to take that away from you.

Alison, good. In point of fact, that's beginning to happen in the Lakeland Republic, as we'll see shortly. As for care for the disabled and so on, exactly.

Bruno, thank you.

Phil, interesting. A very different situation from the one on this side of the pond.

Ursachi, okay, let me get this straight. Referring to a year, even if it's just as a convenient way to sketch out the level of infrastructure in a given tier, is so horribly traumatic that it will cause people all over Romania not to notice that they're being given the right to choose the infrastructure their local tax revenues will pay for, and it's so shocking to you personally that you keep on insisting that it must amount to some kind of Stalinist scheme? Fascinating. Oh, and it's not a matter of districts inside a county, as I've noted over, and over, and over again. Are you sure you actually understand what I've been saying?

Patricia, interesting. I'm glad you liked the story!

Shane, also interesting. It's always possible that you and I have visited different parts of the Midwest, of course -- and I don't claim to have been to more than a few places there, for that matter.

Martin, the tiers aren't self-contained, they just differ -- ahem -- in what infrastructure the taxpayers are willing to pay for. In the event that a road runs right down the line between one county and another, and they're in different tiers, the county governments would doubtless have to work something out -- and it's not impossible that if there's a quarrel between obstreporous county councillors, a road here or there might end up paved on one side and dirt on the other.

Renaissance, good. One of the differences between 2065 and today is that petroleum is very scarce; internal combustion engines generally run on vegetable oil using diesel engines, and fuel is far from cheap. That's an important reason why horsedrawn transport has become common again across the Lakeland Republic -- horses can be fueled on grass, hay, and oats, which are much cheaper than vegetable oil, and their waste output can be sold, where the waste output of cars is subject to tailpipe taxes that aren't cheap.

donalfagan said...

I find the tier confusion surprising, given that we essentially have a tier system already in the US. Our tiers are based on population density, resident wealth and ethnicity, and we don't necessarily get what we pay for, but there are definitely different levels of taxation and service. Gentrification is an example of turning a low service tier area into a higher-service tier area.

The bit about the road paving reminded me of a story. In 1965, when my folks moved us from Long Island NY to rural Maryland, my parents were aghast that we had to drive on so many loose gravel roads until we got to the paved county roads. But they were perplexed that there were no lines on the county roads. It turned out that every year, the contract to repave the roads was carried out about three months after the contract to paint the lines, so for nine months a year there were no lines on the roads. None of the locals saw this as a big deal.

Shane Wilson said...

maybe there is a cultural disconnect between Ursachi, Eastern Europe, and countries that adopted the global consumer economy relatively later than ones that were in the vanguard (like North America) so that the products of such economy, like digital trinkets, etc. are still valued in the former while viewed with increasing skepticism in the latter, not to mention a newer, smaller country 50 years down the road like Lakeland. And maybe you just can't mention a particular date in Eastern Europe without getting a visceral reaction to Communism, Fascism, or despotism. It's hard enough getting North Americans not to relate certain dates to slavery, etc when their countries were relatively democratic at the time, maybe it's just downright impossible to divorce the two when the date in question connects to some form of despotism then in effect.
I've noticed the same incomprehension when trying to discuss collapse related things with immigrants, regardless of their class or backgrounds.

Shane Wilson said...

Kinda off topic, but I'm wondering if with this latest round in Paris, we're seeing the first of the forming of a single people out of formerly infighting groups of what remains of white Europe, similar to what JMG has mentioned of the future of Europe, akin to the Cymru of Britain once the Anglo-Saxons came in.

PRiZM said...

Concerning the diversity of peoples in the Midwest, I'd venture to say those who have lived there for some time know best. I lived in Northeastern Minnesota (Iron Range) for 10 years and traveled quite a bit through Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My experiences were quite similar to Shane's. The larger the city tended to result in having more diversity.

Having lived in Texas the first 17 years of my life, I experienced much more cultural and ethnic diversity than I ever experienced in Northeastern Minnesota and subsequent travels in the upper, Western Midwest.

There were many who relocated into Northeastern Minnesota though who had previously lived in Chicago, Indiana, and Ohio. They largely represented the class of people commonly referred to as "white flight," having quite a prejudiced view towards the people they left behind as the source of all their problems in those areas. So connecting the dots, I'd venture to say that there is quite a bit more diversity in Midwest regions of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and the lower peninsula of Michigan, with less diversity in most of Wisconsin, the UP of Michigan, and Minnesota.

I don't know that if these assumptions were accurate, that it will would really change the story much as thus far, the story has entirely taken place within the state of Ohio, but should it expand to include the areas mentioned above, I'd definitely consider the experiences of others familiar with those areas.

Shane Wilson said...

experiences of the Midwest:
I lived in Delaware, OH (North of Columbus) & Columbus in the late 90s-early 00s, and traveled extensively in the area (Mich, Ind., Ill.) as part of my work on the Employee Resource Group. Generally speaking, a town had to be at least 20,000 or so to even rate a small African-American community (say, maybe even one AME/Black Baptist church) There was virtually no Latin American communities outside of the major cities @ that time. The most significant immigrant groups were from the Middle East, etc

Shane Wilson said...

Again, if Lakeland has been taking in a lot of refugees since the end of the 2nd Civil War, particularly from the ungovernable West, that could definitely change the demographic balance. My guess, as I said before, is that the Confederacy has already adopted official bi/trilingualism just to maintain the peace.

Ray Wharton said...

Finest news source.

Crow Hill said...

JMG: What’s your opinion about the feasibility of retrofitting big cities for the long descent.

Patricia Ormsby: I was unaware that some people were electrosensitive. It must be difficult for you in many places of the world as it is.

On a lighter note the French comedy clip of a person who has become allergic to electronic devices (CYPRIEN – TECHNOPHOBE):

Stuart Jeffery said...


Sorry about about the delay in response (I can be a little hard of thinking sometimes..). I commented previously on this blog post about how the mindset shift in Retropia could have happened and you replied that some form of civil war would be a likely scenario.

My question was probably phrased poorly. I was particularly interested in how you though the mindset might become one that embraces sustainability, especially as I can only think of one short lived example, Cuba c.1990 (which wasn't triggered by a civil war but an oil crisis).

Every example of civil unrest / war that I can think of has not resulted in a conscious change towards sustainability, so I wondered what else might trigger that change in your story.

Kevin Mayer said...

How very strange and relevant to my own experience all this is. I am a teacher of art on one campus of one of our great state university systems (State University of New York - SUNY). I am currently in my eighth year of service as an ill-paid adjunct, which gives me an outsider's perspective...; I am in my 50's, in short the sweet spot where I have much to offer and still have the energy and enthusiasm necessary. In other words I am at my peak as an educator.

In broad terms my task is cultural transmission, a species of initiatory ritual, to pass on that which was given to me, without which the thread is broken, and the fragile legacy of western art dies after a generation or so. This may come as a surprise to most people: how temporary and temporily tenuous the thread of culture is, whose continuence we take for granted. we are accustomed to thinking that if it is digitally archived on Google (we've got technology dude!) culture is permanent. It is not so. Just think, how much of the ancent classical world has been preserved? We are accustomed to thinking that all is safe. It is shocking to realize how liitle has been preserved... a few speeches of Cicero ( I would much more like to hear from his critics and enemies), but most consigned to oblivion. Hardly a complete world. I would have people understand how thin is the pavement they walk on.

As for current technology, just understand that the university continues to invest in its core (technology upgrades, building construction on campus, etc.) to the point where it has made it impossible for me (rural, unable to afford highspeed internet, old computer) to connect with the university communications system. Think what it means for an institution of higher eduacation to sever ties with it's own faculty, to "go dark" to its own faculty, in its quest for modernity, progress and enlightenment. I watch, bemused.

MIckGspot said...

Hello Mr. Stuart,
RE: Sustainability - I picked up a good comment on that yesterday and added it to my collection of Bizaritudes which is growing exponentially every day. No dis to your cogent comment, just sharing some twisted thinking being bandied about which I find a bit of humor in but taken more broadly is an example of refuting reality while trying to affirm a social belief. I think the source was BBC in a conversation on Climate Change.

"Everyone can agree we need a more sustainable future"

Here is the Bizarre breakdown.

1. When has "everyone" ever agreed on anything? (If everyone was two people I would not quibble but the show has many millions of listeners across the globe and included them in the context).
2. How can a future be sustained if it does not exist yet?

Over critical? Maybe, per my observation these sorts of statements (which attempt to portray as fact a condition which is not likely to be challenged however unlikely the statement is, while at the same time hold a logically impossible thesis) are spreading like a wildfire now.