Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Where On The Titanic Would You Like Your Deck Chair, Ma’am?

Last week I had the enticing experience of being denounced as a racist on one blog and castigated as a social justice warrior on another. As my regular readers know, such entertainments have been anything but rare since I launched The Archdruid Report just under ten years ago. The odd belief that there are only two possible ways to think about any issue pervades modern American society; contradict that habit of thought, break with the conventional wisdom, and propose a third alternative, and you can count on both sides insisting that you belong to whichever point of view they like least.

If this week’s post fields a similar response, I won’t be surprised. Over the last month, we’ve been talking about the convoluted landscape of privilege in American society, and the way that the preferred rhetoric of both ends of the acceptable political spectrum falsifies the actual complexities of privilege that exist in contemporary American life. Some of my readers have wondered aloud, though, what that theme has to do with the broader issues at the heart of this blog’s project—the increasingly bleak future that modern industrial society is building for itself, the particular shape that future is taking in the United States, and the possibilities for constructive action that are still available this late in the day.

In this week’s post, I propose to start tying those threads back together.

One of the things that’s determined by privilege, after all, is which members of a society have a voice in making that society’s collective decisions. When George W. Bush sent American troops surging over the Iraqi border in 2003 and plunged the Middle East into its current state of chaos, for example, that decision was not made by all Americans equally. A small group of ideologues in the inner circles of the Bush administration made that decision, and got it rubberstamped by the President.  A larger circle of politicians, representing an assortment of power centers toward the upper end of the nation’s political and economic hierarchy, either supported the move or chose not to oppose it.

The few million Americans whose wealth and influence give them the ability to make themselves heard by the political system, in turn, either went along with the plan, or contented themselves with the kind of pro forma protests that the establishment has learned it can safely ignore. The rest of the American people, to say nothing of the people in Iraq and elsewhere who ended up bearing the brunt of the Bush regime’s squeaky-voiced machismo, had nothing to say in the matter.

This is normal. Every human society without exception gives some members more say in making decisions than others.  Since human beings are what they are, in turn, every human society without exception hands out those decision-making roles in ways that can reasonably be called unfair. That’s true of all other species of social primates, too, so odds are it’s as thoroughly hardwired into our behavioral repertoire as, say, sex.

I mentioned a little earlier the common American habit of insisting that there are two and only two ways to think about any issue. This is another example. The conventional wisdom on the Left holds that it’s not only possible but mandatory to create a society with no inequality at all, where everyone has the same privileges as affluent American liberals have today. The conventional wisdom on the right holds that existing inequalities are good and right and proper, and reflect the actual worth of the more or less privileged. Both of them are wrong, but they’re wrong in different ways.

The Left’s faith in the possibility of a society of perfect equality, where no one is more or less privileged than anybody else, has deep roots. Christian heretics in the Middle Ages roughed out the idea of a society in which perfect love would erase social divisions and everyone would share freely in all of life’s blessings; most had the great good sense to place this utopian vision on the far side of the Second Coming, when divine omnipotence could be counted on to take care of the practical difficulties of such a system. With the waning of Christian faith, Enlightenment philosophes such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau transposed the old vision into a new key, but lacked the perspicacity to find some existential barrier to shield the dream of a world of perfect equality from the fraught realities of human nature.

The result has been a long string of societies that proclaimed that they had abolished all privilege and made everyone equal. In every case, without exception, what happened instead was that an overt system of privilege was destroyed, and promptly replaced with a covert system of privilege—and since this latter was covert, it was much less subject to checks and balances. That’s why, from the Terror of revolutionary France to the killing fields of Cambodia, utopias of perfect equality quite reliably end up awash in rivers of blood. The American left, though, remains immune to the lessons of history, and once you get beyond the affluent end of the left, you can readily find utopian fantasies of the same kind that drove Robespierre, Stalin, and Pol Pot to their destinies being loudly proclaimed as the next great step in human history.

On the affluent end of the American left, by contrast, the blindness to history takes on a different shape. From the standpoint of the privileged liberal, the only reason everyone in today’s America isn’t equal is the machinations of the Evil Ists—that is, racists, sexists, fascists, and the like, who hold down all of American society’s underprivileged groups out of sheer evil evilness.  Theirs is the logic of the Rescue Game discussed in an earlier post this month; the idea that privilege is structural and systemic, and that they’ve benefited from it all their lives without having to take an active role in the process is right outside their grasp of the world. Suggest it, and they’ll assume that you must mean that they’re Evil Ists and leap up in outrage shouting, "No, no, we’re the good guys!"

Of course there’s another massive problem with the particular form that the dream of a perfectly equal society has taken on the contemporary American left. Most versions of that dream imagine dragging the privileged down to the level of the poor; the current American version, as already noted, dreams of bringing everyone else up to the level of the affluent. It’s a more generous vision but also a far more clueless one, because the privileges, perquisites, and comforts that make the life of an affluent American what it is today are made possible, first, by the breakneck consumption of irreplaceable natural resources at wildly unsustainable rates, and second, by a distorted global economic system that until very recently allowed the five per cent or so of humanity that lives in the United States to consume around a third of the products of the global economy.

I’ve already discussed at length, here and in several of my books as well, the impossibility of keeping America’s affluent in the style to which they have become accustomed. (The short form was summed up memorably by Kenneth Boulding: “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”)  Factor in the cost of giving everyone else those  lifestyles and the impossibility factor soars to Himalayan heights. Understandably, a great many affluent American liberals don’t want to hear this, but facts of this kind are like cats—the more strictly you ignore them, the more they persist in wreathing around your ankles and jumping up into your lap.

The Right’s faith in the fairness of existing inequalities has more flexible roots, as shifts in intellectual fashion have sent the rhetoric of privilege careening all over a broad landscape of ideas. Back in the Middle Ages, the usual argument was that God had assigned each person his or her station in life, and asking questions about privilege was tantamount to questioning God’s good intentions. The collapse of Christian faith in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries sent the apologists of privilege scrambling for other options; theories of racial superiority and Social Darwinism put fake biology in place of religion. More recently, the insistence that modern industrial societies are meritocracies, where each person naturally gravitates to a place consistent with his or her abilities, fill the same dubious role.

That said, the American right remains just as closed to the lessons of history as their equal and opposite counterparts on the left. Track the individuals and families that populate the upper reaches of privilege in any modern industrial society, and you’ll see something that resembles nothing so much as a pot of spaghetti sauce at a slow rolling boil. Individuals and families rise up from lower in the pot, linger on the upper surface for a while, and sink back into the depths. No one formula explains the churning; for every person who climbs into the upper ranks of privilege on the basis of talent, there’s at least one who bullied and bluffed his way there and another who got there by sheer dumb luck—and there are many others just as talented who never succeeded in climbing the social ladder as far, or at all.

The way down is a little more predictable than the way up, not least because it used to be a favorite theme for novelists. I’m thinking here among many others of Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, which follows a wealthy German family from the zenith of privilege through decline and extinction over the course of the nineteenth century. The lesson to be learned here is that a life of privilege doesn’t foster the habits that conduce to the preservation of privilege. Within a few generations, the descendants of the talented, the blustering, and the just plain lucky who clawed their way to the top become clueless and cosseted, unable to deal with the ordinary hurly-burly of life outside their bubble of privilege, and when something disrupts that bubble, down they go.

In ordinary times, as the spaghetti-sauce metaphor suggests, the turnover in the privileged classes is relatively steady and goes on without causing any particular disruption to the pot as a whole. To extend the metaphor, though, there are times when history turns up the heat suddenly under the sauce, a great bubble of steam rises to the surface, and the entire upper surface of the sauce is replaced in a single convulsive blorp. When that happens with spaghetti sauce, the result is usually quite a mess, and the same is just as true of the social phenomenon.

Here a different novel by Thomas Mann is a useful guide—the most famous of his works, The Magic Mountain. What it’s about, if I may sum up an extraordinarily multilayered tale far too crudely, is the world of European privilege in the years just before the First World War. There were plenty of novels written about that theme in the 1920s, when the memory of that vanished era was still fresh enough to be painful, but Mann went about telling his story in a typically unorthodox way. The slice of prewar life he chose, half metaphor and half microcosm, was a tuberculosis sanitarium in the Swiss Alps.

Back before the development of effective treatments, tuberculosis was a death sentence for the poor. Those who didn’t have to work for a living, though, could seek a cure in sanitariums in mountainous regions, where the clear dry air might give their immune systems enough of an edge to overcome the infection. There, with nothing to distract them but conversation and romance, the patients go round the narrow circles of their well-ordered lives, their every need taken care of by swarms of servants. Far below the magic mountain, on the crowded plains of Europe, things were happening and pressures were building toward an explosion, but the feckless viewpoint character Hans Castorp and his fellow-patients—Lodovico Settembrini, Clavdia Chauchat, and the rest—drift aimlessly along until the explosion arrives, the trance shatters, and Castorp is flung, or flings himself, down from the magic mountain and onto the killing fields of the First World War.

It’s a heck of a read and I recommend it to anyone who has the patience—not that common these days—to take in a long, thoughtful, and richly ironic novel. That said, Mann’s take also places the current state of affairs in the United States and the rest of the industrial world in mordant focus. History paid Mann an elegant compliment, because the Swiss town where the International Sanitarium Berghof was located in Mann’s novel is famous today for a slightly different gathering of the coddled and cosseted rich. Yes, that would be Davos, where the self-proclaimed masters of the world gather every year to take in speeches by movers, shakers, and tame intellectuals, and issue oh-so-serious  rehashes of whatever vacuous brand of conventional wisdom is in fashion just then. Look at pictures of the the last few Davos gatherings, and I’m quite sure that you’ll be able to spot Hans Castorp among the crowd, blinking owlishly at the camera. 

Castorp’s vague cluelessness, certainly, is much on display these days, and not merely at Davos. I’ve discussed a great many aspects of that cluelessness in previous posts, but the one that’s relevant here is the way that people high up on America’s social ladder understand their own privilege. By and large, as already noted, the affluent on the leftward end don’t think they have any privilege at all, while their counterparts on the rightward end think that their privilege is a straightforward reflection of their own superior talent, intelligence, and so on.

Here again, the reality is a bit different. The affluent classes in America, as already noted, have the privileges, the benefits, and the comforts they have for two reasons.  The first is that the world’s industrial societies are consuming irreplaceable natural resources at unsustainable rates in order to keep the global economy churning out the goods and services needed to prop up the lifestyles of the affluent. The second is that wildly unbalanced patterns of exchange concentrate the lion’s share of the benefits of that orgy of environmental destruction in the hands of a small percentage of our species. If you want to talk about the 1%, I’m fine with that, so long as it’s applied globally: to the top 1% by income of Homo sapiens. If you live in America and have an annual household income above $38,000 or so, in case you were wondering, you belong to that category.

This is the magic mountain of our era—a mountain of privilege whose inmates either have no idea that they’re privileged, or have convinced themselves that they deserve whatever they have and that those who don’t have the same things don’t deserve them. Far below the magic mountain, in the rest of the world, things are happening and pressures are building toward an explosion, but most of those up there in the heights haven’t noticed. It does not occur to them that there’s anything unusual about their lives, much less that some sudden turn of events could fling them down from the mountain and into a chaotic future for which most of them have made no preparations at all.

What they don’t see, in brief, is that both of the pillars propping up their lives—the breakneck exploitation of finite natural resources and the arrangements that funnel an oversized share of the proceeds to a small minority—are running up against hard limits right now. In upcoming posts I’ll be going into much more detail about how that’s playing out. For the time being, I want to talk about what this means for the structures of privilege we’ve been discussing for the last month.

Let’s take the two pillars one at a time.  A nation that supports itself by exploiting the rest of the world has a very different economic structure from a nation that supports itself by its own efforts. In the latter, the economy tends to be dominated by productive labor, on the one hand, and investment on the other, and the sort of conflict that Karl Marx liked to talk about—in terms of the analysis I’ve been using in these essays, the conflict between the wage class and the investment class—determines the distribution of wealth and privilege in society. In the former, by contrast, it makes more economic sense to offshore the production of goods and services to other countries, and to use the profits of global exploitation rather than domestic savings to provide capital for industry; thus the wage class and the investment class both suffer, while the salary class—the class of managers, marketers, bankers, bureaucrats, and corporate flunkies, all those professions that make their livings by manipulating the wealth produced by others—prospers as never before.

The transition from an economy focused on domestic production to an economy focused on global exploitation takes plenty of time.  In the case of the United States, it took a hundred years, from the first wave of American imperial expansion in 1898 to the temporary triumph of globalization in the 1980s.  The transition the other way, though, happens a good deal more quickly, as a faltering hegemon generally gets shoved aside by rising powers rather than being allowed to decay slowly in peace. The aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse is a good working model here: once the Soviet system imploded, Russia suddenly had to do without the large subsidies it received from the rest of the Eastern bloc, and most of a decade of raw economic chaos followed as the Russian economy struggled to adapt to the task of meeting its own needs domestically. Soviet Russia, it bears noting, was much less dependent on overseas imports for goods and services than today’s America, so the post-Soviet experience should be considered a lower bound for what we’re in for.

The other pillar has similar implications. An economy based on the breakneck consumption of natural resources tends to concentrate influence in the hands of those who control resource flows directly or indirectly, and in today’s America, once again, these tend to be disproportionately members of the salary class. An economy based on the conservation of natural resources tends to concentrate influence instead in the hands of those who own sustainable resources such as land, or those who work directly with those resources; again, the conflict between owners and laborers determines the distribution of wealth and privilege in such societies. Transitioning from a conserver economy to a consumer economy takes plenty of time—in the case of the United States, the better part of two hundred years—while the transition the other way tends, once more, to be much more rapid once the resources run short.

It’s in this context, finally, that we can understand the unexpected revolt of the wage class that’s having so dramatic a role in shaping this years US presidential race. Hillary Clinton, like her already-forgotten Republican equivalents, is a perfect salary class candidate; she speaks for the privileged, and her entire campaign consists of waving around sound bites that signal to the privileged that they don’t need to worry about significant change if she moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Donald Trump, and to a lesser extent Bernie Sanders, are appealing instead to the wage class. I doubt either one expected to get anything like as far as he has, but both seem perfectly willing to ride the wave of popular discontent just as far as it will take them—and in Trump’s case, it seems likely to take him straight to the White House this autumn.

That is to say, what was supposed to be an ordinary contest among the champions of the affluent has suddenly taken on a very different shape. To shift metaphors a bit, the affluent are beginning to notice that their jockeying for position resembles nothing so much as bickering over the arrangement of deck chairs aboard the Titanic. The revolt of the wage class shows that the structure of power and privilege in today’s America is already beginning to shift, and two weeks from now we’ll take a hard look at some of the ways that shift is unfolding and some of the factors that are driving it.

First, though, comes something a little different. Next week marks the tenth anniversary of The Archdruid Report, and I plan on a bit of retrospective—and a bit of celebration. After that’s done, we can roll up our sleeves and get in under the hood of a society and a civilization in terminal disarray.


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Marcu said...

This is the final boarding call for the next meeting of the Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne, that will be held this weekend. All interested parties are invited to attend. For people who are unsure about the nature of our meetings imagine a long decent support group with some intentional living discussion mixed in. If you are interested, meet us on the 30th of April 2016 at 13:00. We are trying a new venue, the Druids Cafe Bar, at 409 Swanston St Melbourne Victoria, Australia.

Please RSVP, or send queries and comments to limitstogrowth1972[at]

Just look for the green wizard's hat.

Graeme Bushell said...

Nice sauce metaphor.

This post reaffirms the need to "collapse now and avoid the rush", or more apropos to this post, to hike down off the mountain. In no small part, as alluded to by another commenter a few weeks ago, to avoid becoming a target when the dream of a perfectly equal society becomes more consistent with the historical version of the dream.


Joseph said...

holy schnike! i've never seen a JMG post with no comments on it.

first, congratulations on your upcoming 10th anniversary. your insights into the current situation are a continuing inspiration.

second, the Trump train is rolling down the tracks and it looks like there's no stopping it. i'm interested to see your thoughts on a Trump presidency - perhaps a column on his first hundred days.

finally - please keep up the great work - we have so few reasoned voices, we need all we can get. many thanks.

Cherokee Organics said...


Well, aren't they naughty denouncing you like that? ;-)! What I find interesting about that reaction is that you in no way indicated that you would get involved or support the activities that you wrote about last week (and also the week before) and yet the reactions were deriding you personally and painting you with memes. To my mind that seems fascinating and very telling.

The language used in the description "social justice warrior" or “racist” leaves me feeling very cold indeed. It is not good.

Well back in the day here, cholera, typhoid and tuberculosis were rife in Melbourne and there was an old Sanatorium up here in a remote central spot in the mountain range – not too far from here. The lake that provided water for the residents is still there today and it is one of my favourite picnic spots in the mountain range. Sanatorium Lake Mount Macedon images.

Interestingly too, the wealthy used to have hill stations up in the more fashionable (seriously, we’re very strange creatures us humans!) western end of the mountain range and there are many old gardens and houses up there. They were escaping the summer diseases - which were not good - down in the city. Up this end of the mountain range were the “Health resorts” for the less affluent and at least one Victorian era mansion remains.

Quote: "while the transition the other way (from Consumer to Conserver) tends, once more, to be much more rapid once the resources run short."

Ah, but of course, those that can produce useful things - stuff that is actually needed - in such circumstances gain the upper hand. If all one has to offer the future is the ability to consume, then my gut feeling is that things will not go so well for them. Til then I have to go and paint and drill some steel before it rains (I may possibly get as much as two inches of rain this weekend – very exciting!).



Repent said...

Fantastic analysis !!

In new age circles, and I am within them, utopia's can't exist because the universe has to exist in harmony between the dark and the light, the yin and the yang, the good and the evil. The more you push the evil away, the stronger it becomes, and vice versa; evil forces create their own demise by pushing away and punishing the forces of good, which then become stronger and push back.

The thing that is worth mentioning is that some survived the sinking of the Titanic. Those fortunate or smart enough to make it to the life boats first lived to tell the tale. So will be the case for modern civilization; those working on self-sufficiency, and who are planning and preparing for the coming events will be more likely to survive to tell the tale of what happened.

I can't wait to read your posts each week. To see what the former head of a minority religious order, who over the past 10 years has slowly become recognized as the living Einstein of the humanities has to say on the present and future of the world.

Fascinating indeed !!

Aron Blue said...

Happy Anniversary! Thanks as always for your wisdom. You are a true spiritual leader with I think a real affection for this tired hurting country.

GHung said...

".... there are many others just as talented who never succeeded in climbing the social ladder as far, or at all."

.... and a minority who didn't see the point in playing the social ladder game at all. Seems like a hell of a way to waste a life, all things considered. One strange benefit of being born into a world of billions is, as long as one doesn't draw attention to one's self through seeking success, nobody notices much. Self-importance should be reserved for things that actually matter. Seeking status for status' sake is over-rated.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160428T033736Z

Dear JMG,

I'd like to repeat a question posed by Jay Moses as a (rather belated, and therefore easily overlooked) comment on your essay from last week. In a posting timestamped "4/27/16, 1:10 PM", Jay Moses wrote the following:

this is an inquiry off topic, but responsive to a comment of yours. you described yourself as a "burkean conservative" which, following professor stanlis (Edmund burke and the natural law), i take to mean a conservatism grounded in the religious conviction that human institutions should be based on natural law as understood in the christian tradition. i am curious as to how this approach to social governance arises from a pagan tradition. i do not, as isaiah berlin did, accuse paganism of undermining all moral absolutes and opening a path for totalitarian regimes. however, i am unclear what neo-paganism has that is comparable to the certain, if flawed, moral guidance of christianity. this is particularly the case since, as your essay above points out, there exists such a diversity of views among pagan groups today.

Might you this week be able to give us your thoughts?



(real name) Toomas (Tom) Karmo


(indication of municipality and country) Richmond Hill (Ontario), in Canada

steve said...

You state that Trump appeals to the wage class, yet it appears that his statement of several months ago that American "wages are too high" has disappeared down the memory hole.

I also question the usefulness of a hard and fast distinction between those who are salaried and those who earn wages. Where I live, in rural Iowa, many salaried workers with college degrees earn $30,000 to $40,000 a year. Though better off than a wage earner making $10/hr I think they share far more in common economically than those making 6 figures and up.

aiastelamonides said...


Speaking of our Alps-going friends, Here is a compilation of the "36 best quotes of Davos 2016," complete with, uh, evocative pictures. I actually cannot tell whether the compiler was trying to be funny or not. "Goals are only wishes unless you have a plan" isn't bad, though.

I like that you point out that the Left has a tendency to imagine that Utopia doesn't exist because someone is deliberately preventing it. You might say that it's a subtle way of dehumanizing the unprivileged. They don't have desires of their own, come the Revolution they'll just melt together behind our banner. The Russian and French Revolutions had to do a fair bit of peasant crushing themselves, if I remember correctly.

Joel Caris said...


As always, thank you for a fantastic essay. I have to say, you can put me in the camp of those who have had the uncomfortable task of taking a hard look in the mirror over the course of these recent posts. I find the salary class versus wage class distinction absolutely fascinating--particularly since I currently fall in the salary class camp. That said, it's all something of an intellectual mess, as I've actually been wage class for most of my life, but feel as though I tend to fit culturally more into the salary class, but also have strong sympathies and leanings toward the wage class. It's all so complicated!

As noted, though, I currently am in the salary class and may yet stay there for the foreseeable future, though my status there is somewhat always at risk and could change at any moment--particularly if the economy tanks, as I continue to expect it will at some point. A variety of life changes are making it harder for me to walk away from the salary class should it look like the best option, but I don't know that that will stop me. The one thing I'll give myself is that I'm not going to be shocked if the world takes a tough turn, and I'm not going to bemoan my fate if I get thrown out on the economic curb. (Well, it's possible I'll bemoan it, but I will not claim it unfair after all the unfair comfort and affluence I've experience in my life.) I more or less expect an economic fall to happen to me at some point, likely not too far off in the future, and my hope and plan is to stay ahead of the curve--or transition gracefully if I don't. If nothing else, I have years of farming experience to fall back on, a determination to continue to work on my Green Wizard skills, and a happy comfort with living with LESS. I hope it's enough, though we'll see.

I will say this (something that I suspect is far too easy for me to say while I still am living in comfort): I do hope that some of the very hard changes that are coming improve the lot of the many millions of people who have been given the short stick for years upon years now, even if it means me taking a major hit in my standard of living. I do not like what we're doing as a country and a culture. I've lived long enough in rural areas and managed to speak to a diverse enough a population (not nearly enough, but enough to see and understand) to know that a whole lot of people are getting kicked and spat on through no fault of their own. It's not right, and it's time for the winds to shift in their favor. I don't know that I look forward to it, because it probably won't be good for me, but I hope that I'll be wise enough to approve of it.

I keep thinking of the comments in the last few posts about what those of us who are privileged (and I am very, very privileged) owe those who are far less privileged. There are small things that I do now that I think work toward the responsibility I owe, but there are undoubtedly many more I should be doing. I don't yet know exactly what that responsibility looks like, but I'm trying to figure it out.

Thank you for making me think about this.

Joel Caris said...

On another note, I hope you don't mind me taking a moment to announce that the proof for the first issue of Into the Ruins, my new quarterly deindustrial scifi journal, arrived in the mail today. I'm going to take some time tonight to look through it closely, but it appears to be in fine shape and I expect to be shipping out the first issue to subscribers in the next two weeks. I am very, very excited for this and I have to say that there are some really fantastic stories in it. I think your readers will quite like it.

There are also letters to the editor, book reviews, and a couple essays. For those of you who perhaps have heard about the journal and have been holding off to see if it would actually come to fruition (and I apologize that it was delayed for a month or so) know that it's coming and I hope you'll consider a subscription. And for those of you who haven't heard of it, please check it out. I honestly think people are going to be pleased with this.

(If you don't want to commit to a full year's subscription, the first issue will be available for sale as a stand alone in the coming weeks.)

JMG, thank you so much for all your help getting this off the ground. I'm so excited to see it actually coming to fruition, and I hope others are, too!

Genevieve Hawkins said...

I can't fathom how the salary class owns all the resources. My experience of them is that they don't know how to grow food, cook, build things or fix things and rely on others to do all of the important stuff. My feeling has always been that if fiat money collapsed, and it was discovered by large percentages of the population that money was inedible, that a more natural order would return very fast. A messy road down though no visions of utopia for me!

fudoshindotcom said...

It may not be a kind thought, but having spent my entire adult life listening to privileged members of our society prove through their discourse that they have no grasp on reality beyond their secluded estates and that they truly believe they are superior to the wage class in every conceivable way, I expect to quite enjoy watching their sly grins turn into stupefied terror as their illusions are wrenched from under them and they're faced with the painful revelation that they possess skill-sets which are utterly irrelevant in these new circumstances. I suspect it will be more than a little eye opening for these hothouse orchids to contend with unmet needs, lacking any bartering chips, while we common folk sip our homemade wine and munch fresh, ripe veggies from our gardens.

I wonder if a corporate attorney will riverdance naked in the mud for two loaves of home baked bread.............................

Carl Dolphin said...

Dear JMG, Interesting article in Vox about American liberals' smugness...I think they've been reading your sight.

The Atlantic followed it up with an article called "Do the Left have a Smugness Problem?"


Mark said...

Congratulations on the anniversary, and I'm glad I've been reading you for at least 6 of those years. Well worth the time and effort. You have a wonderful way of introducing difficult ideas, letting them roll around our brains for a bit, and then taking us further along the path as it clears.

Last week I had a difficult time thinking of anything useful to say about my own privilege, other than, "well, yes". This week I'm a bit more ready to see that I'm squarely a member of the privileged class, despite my more recent downwardly mobile adventures (which have been self-directed, another sign of privilege). I can see what's going on down the mountain now, and while I'm a little less close to the top I'm still a 55 year old guy whose life has been shaped mainly by privilege. I can grow my own vegetables and make my own medicine and I've raised my children to be less privileged than I was. But I sense that the next 20 years are going to be increasingly difficult, and I wish I felt more ready.

John the Peregrine said...


You mentioned several times that inequality (either overt or covert) is an inevitable aspect of any society. However, I think you've misrepresented the position of some of your pro-egalitarian critics here. I don't think anyone is denying that inequality exists and is usually unfair, but it exists in a range from "very unequal" to "moderately unequal", and it's in this range that we have a lot of flexibility and realistic prospects of improving a given society. The same human species can produce both Denmark and North Korea. When you adopt the attitude that inequality will be with us forever and there's nothing we can do about it, so we better grow up and deal with it, you sweep the continuum of societies that humans have proven capable of living in under the rug of fatalism.

Mister Roboto said...

As to your characterization of left, it sounds as though you're talking about Hillary Clinton supporting liberals as the affluent ones and beyond that SJWs and maybe splinter-faction communist parties. There are other people such as myself on the left who don't fall into any of those categories, but we are becoming so cynical and withdrawn that it's probably pretty easy to ignore us at this point [not that I especially care };-)>]. One reason I support Bernie Sanders is that when things start to seriously fall apart, I would like to see someone in charge who will try to make the burden of dealing with that less rather than more unfair. But I also know how unlikely that is to come about. So fortunately for me there is also just wanting to throw a monkey-wrench into the Hillary machine without supporting someone I would probably find even more detestable!

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160428T042508Z

I would like to remark, briefly, that I have posted this week again to my own blog, This week's posting is an anatomy of Sorrow, with some suggestions on some aspects of its possible remedies.

Hastily, hoping this small advert is okay with JMG and the ADR readership (I should have instead have made my promo less obtrusive, writing it as a mere postscript to one of my two previous ADR postings this evening),


Ray Wharton said...

Yeah, looks like we are in for a Huge Mix Up.

I think an important thing to remember is that we only need a tiny fraction of our current wealth to live well, so long as it is a well chosen portion. Right now I am doing a feudal lifestyle. Working someone else land and getting paid in kind with shares from the fields. It covers things pretty well. Still puttering with growing mushrooms, they produce well, but not predictably enough for restaurants. Bike parts are another expense. I am over loaded with cloths at the moment, I wonder if that will hold true until the end of the Huge Mix Up.

Some parts for tools. Shelter. Medicine (a local witch or two would suffice). Food. Water. Some books. Interesting conversations. After that life is all bonus!

When I think about it we are still very abundant with our necessities. I would run myself ragged trying to save and use even a sliver of what gets wasted today.

People doing crazy stuff. That is the big thing, it is the most unpredictable. Weather doing crazy stuff is a close second, but around here that would be drought, so I am trying to hedge heavy on that hazard.

Right now I work a lot for little. But the land owner I work for is low down the ladder too. Importantly I am respected by the land owner. Respect is huge, I wouldn't give it up to make $30 an hour making terraces for someone else. It may not be my land, but I have much freedom over designing and experimenting.

Everyone, hone up your skills that produce something basic, clean up the messes of our society lurching, or skills that support those who do. Look into yourself, to see in what way you can offer guidance or education to the deserving poor (the other side of the coin from last week's noble oblige). See also what limits on that there are in your character, emotional or meaning blockages, probing the limits with thought to how fixed they are. Check over things, make sure to address those matters that cannot be helped during a crisis.

The future is unknown, but to mark the 10th year of TADR I think that a refocus of ones own life in relation to taking an active and beneficial role in the Huge Mix Up is a good way.

Here is a Third Story of Privilege. It often isn't earned. But it can be earned! Nobility can be founded in acting virtuously, beyond ones obligations to benefit the people and land around you. What is virtue? What benefits for whom? Those are good questions, try something you imagine to be most promising of what is within your reach, and may Nature Select her own.

We cannot be certain, life is funny. A week ago I crushed my pinky finger with a sludge hammer. Turns our fingers are really good at healing! But, it messed up many hopes. A long time still until it is completely healed. Who knows what breaks next? We try, and we are happiest trying to do what seems cool! I mess up alot building terraces. But when the dirt falls down it isn't damaged, and a shovel put it back up again just as easy as the first time. I hope roots will hold it, maybe not, might have to start over if a big rain comes.

Candace said...

So just a benchmark this gives the income guidelines for SNAP (Food Stamps) eligibility in Minnesota.

PDF warning

It says that a family of 4 making less than $3,335 a month is income eligible for food stamps. (12 x $3,335 = $40,020).

So is the 1% stat meaning per person? My clients at the food shelf will be quite surprised to know they are in the elite. ;-)

John Michael Greer said...

Graeme, exactly. Start descending the mountain now, or face being thrown down off it headfirst by events.

Joseph, thank you. I've been watching the Trump campaign with some interest, but as yet I have no idea what exactly he's likely to do if he wins -- and neither, I suspect, does anyone else, including Donald Trump. This strikes me as a good thing, because we know exactly what Hillary Clinton will do: pursue the same failed policies as her predecessors until they run this country into the ground.

Cherokee, as far as I know, back when tuberculosis was common and hard to treat, you had sanitariums in just about every mountain range in the European-settled world. As for the divergence between producers and consumers -- why, yes, and we'll be getting to that in detail as things proceed.

Repent, I'm delighted to hear that the New Age circles you inhabit have grasped that -- back before 2012, I used to hear from a lot of people who insisted that utopia was about to arrive, and a recognition of the interdepedence of Yin and Yang was not an argument they were interested in hearing.

Aron, thank you.

Ghung, I ain't arguing. I could have gone for an academic career, with the attendant salary, benefits, and respectability, but decided that I would rather be poor and write what I wanted instead. So far it seems to be working out tolerably well.

Toomas (and Jay), no, that's not what I meant by "Burkean conservative," and I'd argue that Stanlis' take on Burke is idiosyncratic and not really representative of Burke's thought. The Christian notion of natural law, in fact, is in many ways just the sort of abstract ideology of right against which Burke aimed his sharpest barbs. What he was trying to do, as I understand it, was to ground politics in the concrete realities of history rather than hauling it up into the realm of timeless abstraction, as the philosophes and their heirs were so prone to do.

It's very hard to make any kind of generalization about Pagan spirituality, but one theme that has deep roots in Pagan thought is precisely a lack of interest in the kind of moral thinking endemic to the Abrahamic religions -- the kind that always comes down to "thou shalt" (or even more typically, "thou shalt not"). You can read Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics from cover to cover without running into any preachment in those terms; the same is true of the moral maxims of other ancient Pagan writings -- say, the Old Norse Havamal or the Old Irish Audacht Morainn. These latter, rather, express their ethics in terms of "do this and that will follow." It's an ethic of informed freedom rather than an ethic of obedience to edict. Thus a Burkean conservatism of the kind I'll be outlining in a future post or series of posts -- one that takes history as its basis and looks toward the amelioration of current problems on a pragmatic basis, rather than trying to force-fit the historically conditioned realities of a society into some kind of abstract notion of goodness -- has a great deal in common with Pagan thought (and also points of contact with some of the other traditions of thought I'll be bringing into play, of which Oswald Spengler may be the most notorious at the moment).

John Michael Greer said...

Steve, a lot of people have questioned the usefulness of that division. So far, all of them have been members of the salary class. Those people who are in the wage class, and recognize the stark disparities of their condition when contrasted with the salary class, seem to find the categories quite useful.

Aias, hmm! You may well be right. Of course it also reduces the Evil Ists to ciphers, so dehumanizing everyone outside the Rescuer category.

Joel, you're welcome and thank you. I appreciate more than you might imagine the fact that so many of my readers who come from relatively privileged classes have taken seriously what I've been trying to say. With regard to Into the Ruins, I'm delighted to hear it -- once it's out, let me know and I'll append something about it on that week's post.

Genevieve, they don't own everything. They don't have to. The salary class controls the distribution of goods and services that flow into the US by way of the tribute economy, and since so little is produced here, that gives them their power. Once the tribute runs short, things will change.

Fudoshindotcom, I have to say -- given most of the corporate attorneys I've met -- that just isn't an image I needed in my imagination! ;-)

Carl, I'm getting that impression too. "Smug" isn't the word I would use, though -- "sneering" fits the bill better, in my experience.

Mark, thank you! The thing is, once you're headed in the right direction., i.e., down the mountain, you can drop all the wasted activities you once focused on climbing, and take the downhill route a step at a time.

John, nah, you've misunderstood me. The fact that there's always going to be privilege in any human society doesn't mean that steps can't be taken to mitigate the negative effects of privilege on the less privileged! Quite the contrary, it's by acknowledging that it's always going to be a problem, bringing it into the light of day, and figuring out ways to hold it in check, that privilege can be tamed and its impacts ameliorated. More on this in a later post.

Mister R., that's broadly true. I meet very few old-fashioned liberals of the pro-civil rights, pro-grassroots organization, "let's roll up our sleeves together and make America a better place" sort. That's unfortunate, as a resurgence of that kind of pragmatic liberalism could fix a lot.

Toomas, nah, it's fine -- you'll notice that I don't blink when other regular readers mention their blog posts or announce Green Wizards meetups.

Ray, and of course that's crucial to keep in mind. Nobody needs a modern American middle class standard of living, and the sooner each of us who has one collapses out of it, the better they and everyone else will be.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Greetings, Mr. Greer - Well. Ten years. I think I've been along for about half the ride. This blog has certainly changed my life and the way I conduct it. Cherished beliefs smashed. That needed to be smashed.

I'm looking forward to next weeks fiesta (and, a truly festive occasion, it is.) Just out of curiosity, could you perhaps give a thought or two to any great changes in your thinking? Any reassessments, hard turns or about faces?

Per usual, this post was thought provoking. The bubbling pot of spaghetti sauce. It's a great literary theme. The rise and fall of great families. I recently watched the film, "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942). Oh, the hubris. The self entitlement. I can't say the rise and fall of the family, gave me any pleasure. In some ways, it was like a traffic accident. You don't want to look, but it's hard to look away. I see the same thing in the place I've lived, since 1983.

The prosperous families with social clout. Usually, a little empire built on small businesses or resource extraction. And a very frugal way of living. The children and grandchildren squandering it all on big houses and toys from ATVs to fancy boats. The world changes, hard times come and it's all blown away. But, I suppose it's sometimes a matter of choice. Either walk down the mountain on your own terms, or fall or be thrown off. Lew

John Michael Greer said...

Candace, you might want to compare your clients at the food bank with the hundreds of millions of destitute people in the Third World who sleep in makeshift shelters, have just enough clothing to cover themselves, get their drinking water from mud puddles and their food from things most Americans wouldn't feed to a stray rat. Yes, people who just barely qualify for SNAP benefits in the US are at the very bottom of the global 1%; that's a measure of the gap between the wealth available to Americans and the wealth available to everyone else.

Ray Wharton said...


Interesting link, I cannot tell the humor factor, if it is intentional.

This seemed a little drastic, I laughed because I remember the same thing from a cartoon I used to watch. The Big Villain is discussing how to deal with a kingdom that will not surrender to his rule with his son, who is a kinda anti-hero in the story.

Ozai Hmm. Prince Zuko, you've been among the Earth Kingdom commoners. Do you think that adding more troops will stop these rebellions?

Zuko The people of the Earth Kingdom are proud and strong. They can endure anything, as long as they have hope.

Ozai Yes, you're right. We need to destroy their hope.'s_Comet,_Part_1:_The_Phoenix_King

It gets pretty dark for a cartoon for the rest of the scene, A plan of burning the Entire nation to extinction. Then goes to a lighter tone after the break :P

Dorda Giovex said...

@ghung: what you write seems like an example of the invisibility of privilege to the privileged themselves. For the underclass climbing the social ladder is a necessity not a choice. Simply being able to choose not to play the climbing game is a privilege, maybe the greatest of all. Freedom from life constraints is something few can afford.

Godfree Roberts said...

'Since human beings are what they are, in turn, every human society without exception hands out those decision-making roles in ways that can reasonably be called unfair.'

Some human societies may be less unfair than others.

For thousands of years China has handed decision-making roles to the smartest people in the country and still do. That's why they make such a fuss – the whole country goes quiet for two days – of the gaokao examination. Out of the millions of bright youngsters who sit, China will choose 27,000 potential future leaders whom they will track and evaluate for 30 years before elevating a handful to those coveted, dreaded higher decision-making roles. At a rough guess, I'd say those 27,000 hires will have an average IQ of 130 – more than enough for a Ph.D.

It's no guarantee that a country's smartest people will do the smartest things for their country, but it appears to offer better odds than choosing candidates based on good looks, personal charm or coiffure. Perhaps that's why they're beating the pants of us right now.

ed boyle said...

My wife says that I have become more crude and aggressive and insensitive since I have switched from salaryman to wage earner. I personally welcome the physical activity, emotional freedom from pure mental stress and looser social atmosphere. Of course transitioning to another social class at 45 was difficult. In my first labouring job several years ago I used to read classics during my break. Now I do that at home. Without my yoga and biking to work all the years I could have never managed this transition anyway. This physical discipline came by way of my father who did simplest hard labour over 40 years but was actually smart enough to make money on the stock market for decades and invest in a bit of real estate and have a nest egg. He was limited to some classics he read in his youth and the french he learned in his quebec youth though. My mother lacked physical discipline and resembles buddenbrooks, magic mountain types. Mixed blood makes for good results I think. Always keep your eye on the ball. What is the ball? the goal in life? Family expectations define individual pursuit of happiness goals. In my case Imixed fatherly physical discipline and mother's love of languages and culture to emigrate to Europe, marry a russia/german, have trilingual kids, invest in real estate, do import export business and follow my personal pisces karma which brings us to JMGs other blog. My older brother were less intellectual, being closer to father,had less education and stayed wage class in hometown USA. Luck admittedly helped me out as I got some inheritance young and was able to get a European passport. So a mixture of luck, culturally inherited and personal capabilities plus family help, friendly employer, wife's excessive native intelligence got me so far. Take out any card and the structure built up over decades would have fallen down. Another career, another country, another wife. I read an article that Americans are using lots of antidepressamnts, are a lot more obese. Education, health are all going down faster due to the exploitation being more radical, systemic than elsewhere. Going against the tide is hard in food deserts without public transport, walkable streets, etc. All my neighbors after five years in new housing tract are getting 2nd cars. In Hamburg I can do without it. Saves money, improves health. In western, southern USA or suburbs generally this choice is impossible. Car is lifeblood. Commute long, family life short, fast food on freeway, equals overweight, depression, medication, mass shootings, high divorce rates, comic book film fantasies turned into real life neo con adventures. So international problems start with liveable detail,human nearness. Inertia through culture against massive suburbia, junk food transition is high in old world. Experiments can end badly. Wal mart, goldman sachs, geography of nowhere, student debt to lifetime servitude,living on credit cards is all social engineering from profit hungry people.

Social welfare industrial state is collapsing here too.EU will end badly, not WW3 like 1940s but disorderly. Stagnation, decay is our future. Buddenbrooks writ large. Living off capital, not interest is a disease. But the total destruction on purpose of the population as in America is extreme. UK is a bit more like that. Models vary.

Greybeard said...

JMG, I must concur with John the Peregrine. As someone who is on the political left, I (and most of my colleagues) campaign to reduce inequalities rather that eliminate them. There is a huge body of evidence that demonstrates the relationship between high levels of inequality with wider societal problems. None of my colleagues are suggesting that absolute equality is either desirable or possible, and certainly none of us support any reduction of inequality that is based around violence or totalitarianism.

Your theme of privilege is great though and I wondered if you might be bringing in to the discussion the theme of aspiration. This concept has been rife since the eighties and it is one that pervades on the left and right with both political spectrums using it to win votes in a form of idealistic bribery (vote for X and you will be richer and have more privilige). For me it is not only a lie and a bribe, but it could be seen as lacking spirituality (a-spiration), i.e. meaning and understanding in the world.

Alex said...

JMG you're going to get a lot of "slings and arrows" because you talk about things that, in our passive-aggressive society, are not supposed to be talked about.

Mike said...

A couple of your remarks puzzle me. The "wage class and the investment class both suffer" – I'm not sure what you're referring to when you say the investment class is suffering. Maybe they're having trouble finding "bankable" investments – but does that really count as suffering? Soon after, you say that "an economy based on the breakneck consumption of natural resources tends to concentrate influence in the hands of those who control resource flows directly or indirectly, and in today’s America, once again, these tend to be disproportionately members of the salary class." But really, members of the "salary class" don't actually "control" much. They're working for someone else – that's why they get paid a salary. If they have a job that involves natural resources, that doesn't mean they're actually in control of setting policy. What they do is generally just implementing policy, or tweaking it around the edges – the accountant of the king's treasury is not to be confused with the king. Petroleum engineers at an oil company (much less marketing people) aren't "controlling the flow of natural resources," they're just going to work and doing their job.

Mike said...

My other question is, are you planning to return to the fiction project you had going here, or have you put that aside?

Bruno B. L. said...

JMG, I notice your essays have become more ominous and are touching on more delicate subjects than before. Is that because we've reached or are about to reach an inflection point, are close to a sort of big change, like a Trump presidency, or what?

Leo Knight said...

First, congratulations on ten years. I have quite a backlog of reading to catch up on!

Regarding Mr. Trump, he reminds me strongly of a schoolyard bully from my childhood, the ruddy face, the contorted expressions, the bluster, even the hair. Speaking as a member of the wage class, son of wage earners, Mr. Trump makes my skin crawl. You mentioned Pol Pot. In my nightmares, that is where he winds up. Quite a step on the Long Descent. As my father used to say, "Watch that step, it's a doozy!"

earthworm said...

JMG said:
"...there are times when history turns up the heat suddenly under the sauce, a great bubble of steam rises to the surface, and the entire upper surface of the sauce is replaced in a single convulsive blorp. When that happens with spaghetti sauce, the result is usually quite a mess, and the same is just as true of the social phenomenon."

Or perhaps like a stew with added lentils; a convulsive blurp might chuck some lentils out, send others down into the depths and push a few others temporarily to the top, but it is easy to forget that a lot of lentils are near the bottom and when the heat gets too high the ones right at the bottom don't rise but get burnt.

We've got a pot with a copper outer that distributes heat that mitigates the risk of burning on low temps, and another stainless steel pot where hotspots can burn and spread even on low heat if we're not careful. With over seven billion lentils cooking, it looks like there are are a number of pots on the go and our western pots are looking increasingly like thin stainless steel.

Whilst 'collapse now and avoid the rush' seems sound, I'm guessing it could end up being a bit random whether we continue to develop in the stew or get crisped at the bottom. Not that I'm complaining... after all, nobody gets to take their meat sack with them.

earthworm said...

' looks like there are are a number of pots on the go and many pots are looking increasingly like thin stainless steel.'

Of course further to that (although maybe more suited to The Well of Galabes), all these lentil pots are in and reliant on a kitchen called 'earth', sitting in a big restaurant of a universe. Now, the cooking gods are maybe experimenting with flavours and textures in the hunt for a more interesting stew, but the lentils better be careful not to assume they are an indispensable ingredient...

Cooking god 1: "So what do you think?"
Cooking god 2: "Maybe a bit heavy on the lentils?"
Cooking god 1: "Yeah, actually I'm not sure the lentils are adding that 'je ne sais quoi'. Maybe I should try chickpeas next."

nuku said...

If you want to get some idea of what 3rd world incomes are, here’s a start:

Your clients need reminding just how lucky and privilaged they really are even though I’m sure they see themselves as disadvantaged. Why not do an experiment and show them how their incomes compare to the other 99% of the rest of the world and suggest that they watch this documentary?

I would love to hear you report back on your client‘s responses.

Damaris Zehner said...

There are so many thought-provoking ideas here! This blog jumpstarts my Thursday mornings better than a cup of strong tea.

Steve, you point out that "it appears that his [Trump's] statement of several months ago that American "wages are too high" has disappeared down the memory hole." I've noticed an eerie phenomenon among virtually all Trump supporters I've heard from: They tell us what they think Trump means, not what he actually says. So if they are questioned about his deportation claims (as I heard on the news one day), his supporters say, "He didn't really mean that. He just means that a temporary measure will be necessary to get the immigration system back into shape." I've heard similar exegeses of every other statement Trump's made -- he doesn't mean THAT, he just means [insert milder form of what the speaker hopes for].

Genevieve, your point about the practical incompetence of the salary class is a good one; sadly, my experience (I teach at a community college and volunteer in a women's shelter) is that many of the wage class, too, don't know how to cook or make practical things. Home economics has been replaced by "consumer science"(What a term!), all-day institutional day care has replaced the natural apprenticeship of parent and child, junk food and junk clothes are cheaper and easier to provide than home-made versions of either -- how would anyone acquire practical skills? It's a sad situation, but of course there are resilient people in every class who will welcome a challenge and learn what they need to.

Mr. Greer, I appreciate your insights into Pagan spirituality. I am myself a devout Christian, but life and (I would like to think) prayer has led me to a similar conclusion about many of the Bible's seemingly prescriptive sayings: that it may be wiser to take them as descriptions of the inevitable unfolding of universal patterns as created by God than as mean-spirited fatwas. So Jesus says, "To those who have, more will be given; from those who have not, even what they have will be taken away." This saying disturbed me for some time, but after many decades of life it strikes me more as a description of the way life, the universe, and everything work than a commandment: Jesus is not poised to snatch stuff away from the needy but simply explaining a hard reality of life as it exists. I suspect that the same may be true of many of the commandments -- the "law" of gravity does not say that if you jump, God will punish you by letting you fall; in the same way, the law that as you reap, so shall you sow is not God saying, "Ha! I've got you now, selfish mortal! Time for some hardship." I am, of course, speaking of the spiritual application of these "laws," not the civil one that was part of the Old Testament arrangement. I realize that the original writers and readers of the Bible may not have seen them in this light, but I still find myself within the fold of Christian thought and tradition, though in one of the more remote corners, perhaps!

fudoshindotcom said...


I apologize for the (shudder) mental image. I did give warning that my thoughts weren't running in a kind vein. I worded it so to illustrate that I believe a large portion of the downtrodden wage class in the U.S. will eagerly and gleefully repay the careless victimization doled out to them by those with privilege, and that the newly dispossessed Elites will find themselves without useful coping skills.

For what it's worth, I hold no personal grudges toward them. My own circumstances are such that I have nothing they want, while they have nothing I need. Perhaps I overstated my expected enjoyment of what's to come. No doubt it will be tempered by a healthy dollop of sympathy for the suffering of other living beings.

Forgive my wild, unruly mind. It has a tendency to carry me willy-nilly down strange rabbit holes from time to time.

Dan L. said...

thus the wage class and the investment class both suffer, while the salary class...prospers as never before.

It's indisputable that the wage class has suffered -- specifically, has seen the real value of its wages decline over the last few decades. However, I'd like to know more about how the investment class has been suffering. I suspect I'm misunderstanding something, but the statistics on wealth suggest that those who rely on income from investments rather than wage or salary are actually doing quite well.

And I don't doubt that many statistics related to economic matters are cooked as a matter of course, but I do have a tough time buying into the notion that they could be cooked so badly that the statistics on the growth of inequality and the stretching of the long tail of wealth could have been completely invented. Exaggerated, sure, but if the ten wealthiest people in the nation (all of them investment class if I understand your taxonomy correctly) are not nearly so wealthy as they are portrayed in the media, certainly they have at least the means at their disposal to get the word out about how badly their wealth has been exaggerated.

Finally, I think it's clear from the Mossack Fonseca leak and numerous wrist-slaps administered to large investment banks for laundering drug money that the investment class is tied in to an invisible and unreported criminal economy of unknown but certainly quite large scale -- which means that much of the wealth of the investment class is unreported in the first place. Now, it's certainly possible that the salary class is actually the one benefiting by laundering money for violent criminal organizations, but it's not immediately obvious to me how that is. I'd appreciate any insight you could provide.

To sum it up in a one-sentence question: given all the overt wealth and privilege of the investment class, and the evidence for an even greater degree of wealth and privilege that is obscured through black market connections and tax havens, in what sense has the investment class suffered?


Scotlyn said...

I clock in at a wage to do a job that would not exist if there were not a large class of salaried inspectors needing to inspect and approve the pieces of paper I generate with the correct boxes ticked, to justify their positions. My waged co-workers produce a consumable product. What they do is useful and would be immediately missed by customers if they stopped.

What I do is a pointless cost this business bears to keep an army of salaried inspectors (some publicly employed, some privately employed - all with various powers to stop production) at bay.

It is not just about salaries, it is also about the powers this class wields. Safety and health regulations, quality certification schemes, environmental management schemes, label schemes - this bureaucracy is a seamless public/private machine. All well-meaning, but ultimately counterproductive, as more and more resources are diverted away from production of goods and services(and from the real quality that arises from paying attention and taking pride) and into production of correctly ticked pieces of paper (or correctly aligned pixels as the case may be).

Scotlyn said...

On another note, today is my last day as a car owner. I have hemmed and hawed, and tried halfway measures, but I decided to accept my 400% insurance renewal increase (aimed at incentivising me to trade my 16-yr-old car for a newer model) as the final push I needed to make the change. As of this evening, it is done.

asr said...

Great post today. Really laid bare the assumptions that both sides make, but prefer to ignore.

As a fellow Maryland resident, I served as an election judge this past Tuesday. The state moved backwards to paper ballots rather than touch screen machines. I felt this was an improvement and people seemed to be able to vote more quickly though a few were horrified at the idea of "paper." Many compared it to filling out the scan tron tests that were ubiquitous a while back. In our fairly affluent precinct where a majority still benefit from the status quo John Kasich and Hillary Clinton won.

Mikep said...

Latest news from Blighty, Ken Livingtone yes that Ken Livingstone the former radical leftist head of the Greater London Council and thorn in the side of Margret Thatcher has been suspended by the Labour Party for allegedly being a Nazi sympathizer and anti-semite. To add to his crimes he refused to retract the offending statement concerning Hitler's views on a homeland for the Jews on the grounds that it was "Factually Correct" You could not make this stuff up! What a year 2016 is shaping up to be!

Chris Travers said...

I am in Europe at the moment watching the foreign policies of the US expose fault lines nobody thought existed. I am referring of course to the migrant crisis and the end of an EU without internal border controls. In the last half year I have seen Swedes and Danes go from thinking the problems were temporary to a deep realization that something has changed permanently. The bubble has burst. Reality is setting in. The only real distraction is watching this race with amusement. I would not be surprised, to be honest, if the EU doesn't fall apart within the next year or two. If the UK leaves, I expect Denmark, Sweden, and Greece to follow, and Italy and Spain may not be far behind.

One of the things I have noticed from the elites is that they tend to focus on others' obligations to them, and rarely really the other way around unless they have power to gain from it. So Greece cannot get a bailout but they are expected to run most of the refugee camps and enforce the border laws, or as an alternative let Germany "help" (and by that I mean pay to call the shots). In times of plenty that might be feasible but in instead today all we get is a blame game. Oh, and German threats to kick Greece out of the EU.

Similarly I watch Americans talk about how the EU needs to bring in more refugees and note the same thing. Denmark, perhaps the most anti-immigrant nation in the EU (right up there with Hungary) has done everything they can to avoid taking in refugees and still managed to take in way more than the US in absolute number. So here we also have the empire (the US) insisting that their client states clean up their messes. And so there is a *lot* of racism that develops.

Europe is undergoing one of these steam bubbles you mention at the moment. The old neoliberal center is being de-emphasized and a new center is forming around communitarian nationalism (I daresay something similar can be seen between Trump and Sanders). Syria and Libya are catalysts in Europe.

So what is the catalyst in the US? Who knows but whatever it is, it is welcome.

latefall said...

Puts the recent posts in a perspective, where I like them to be.

Because we will probably re-visit this bit of history in the years to come:
Thanks for the 3 (more) rings -
"There was a very slight bump."

They also have a good one one the Hindenburg, that illustrates the rate of change nicely.

Matt and Jess said...

We're like Candace's clientele: we barely, barely qualify for food stamps--about thirty bucks a month. We might be wealthy globally, but apart from moving into tents (which we've done before, but our kids are older now), there just doesn't seem to be much way to downsize with prices for everything being what they are. I'm having trouble figuring out how to go further down the mountain, I just don't know how to do it. Our diet is already whole bulk foods--oatmeal every morning; toast for lunch; brown rice or whole wheat pasta or bulk quinoa (quite affordable at Costco) for dinner, with roasted bulk frozen veggies and sauce. It's still an outrageous amount of money a month. Our house is barely furnished; I find what I can on the side of the road and once in a while the thrift stores have something that's not overpriced (ten bucks for a dresser). We're sleeping on sleeping bags until we can save up for a mattress, which seems unlikely to happen anytime soon.

I just have to focus on our garden this year, and hopefully the possibility of being able to buy a cheap house eventually. We declared bankrupcty to get rid of excess debt, so hopefully that will be an option in another year and a half. It's ironic that downsizing seems to me to be difficult when you don't have the money to do so.

I do have to say that Trump has me listening to his economic message. Slapping huge fines/fees on companies that outsource labor? Makes sense. Susan Sarandon spoke about the revolution coming much quicker to the US if Trump is elected ( if he manages to make a positive difference to working class folks I think that bubble might not pop the same way it would with four more years of the same. Anyway, congrats on the ten years; I believe I've been reading you for eight of them and our lives are definitely quite different as a result!

latefall said...

@Candace re 1%,
When I did my calculations a while ago I came to 38k$ per person. Not household, if I remember correctly.

Ahavah said...

At least my particular Abrahamic religion used to be a lot more pragmatic and did in fact recognize the yin-yang principle. God wasnt kidding when Isaiah was told: I create good and create evil. In everyday life, all people were recognized to have yetzer tov and yetzer hara, both good and bad inclination. Unlike Christianity, it was recognized the hara is not something you can get rid of. The idea is to channel it into something that at least does no overt injustices or harm to the community. The classic example given is someone who enjoys shedding blood. The are encouraged to work in an industry like a meat market rather than killing wildlife, strays or people. You can use your hara to benefit your community in some way and not be a nuisance to social order. A lot of SJWs are using their ruthlessness and manipulativeness to at least try and do some good with it. :)

As for the shall-nots, that seems to have come in with the ascendency of YHVH, the warrior king male aspect. Genesis admits that back when El Shaddai was the main manifestation of the Divine, Adam and Eve learned good from evil by eating the fruit of the trees of knowledge and were expected to go out and live their lives without a written contract of thou shalts and thou shalt nots. That came much later.

As an aside, it is interesting to me that Eve ate first, and society was originally matriarchal and had a sharing type econony, if anthropologists are to be believed. If you take the story as an archetype, Men ate later, then came into power with weapons and coinage and control over land. Utopians would say we have reached the end of that model and the return of a caring nurturing female sustainbable energy based world is near. That seems to be just the myth of progress in disguise...

Kabbalah symbolizes balance and in a way provides many paths between nodes for people to find their own path - there is not just one way to the top, so to speak. You can take a fully yin path or a fully yang path or wander all over the place. It is not coincidental that kabbalists recognize the feminine aspect of the divine in ways rejected by the western mainstream. We have gone too far the other way.

This spills over into modern life with the idea that might makes right and that money is the measure of success and that excessive exploitation of other people and natural resources is not just necessary but desirable. It describes failing to be salary class as failure, period, and condemns wage workers as conquered peoples who deserve their fate due to their weakness. The fact that not everybody can get an office job, that indeed society cannot even function without the types of jobs wage class people do, is also a refutation of their distorted utopian ideal, and they can't see the obviousness of it. By refusing to acknowledge that every such job is necessary and deserves a living wage, they make it impossible for the economy to find real balance.

David said...


This has been a time of hard lessons for me. Yet again, I find that further refinement is in order (though is it ever truly done?) as I am compelled to return to the fundamentals (which you have consistently pointed out) of focusing on changing my own life (first) and near environment (second), leaving the outer world alone to pursue its folly. I admittedly allowed myself to get sucked into broader political discussions elsewhere and the result profited me little, other than considerable frustration. My wife, very appropriately, pointed out to me recently that I was only dissipating my energy in the effort and wasting what could be put to much more effective use elsewhere (namely, doing the interior work mentioned above). I ought to know better, but perhaps there is hope for me yet.

The point with regards to the global 1% is truly jarring. Thank you for bringing that reminder front and center.

Chris Travers said...

JMG, a note regarding the third world and class in the US.

I lived for 4 years in Indonesia. I have worked in Malaysia.

The crowning achievement of antipoverty policy in the US has been that we have managed to substitute consumer goods for two things, namely other people and productive property. Africa and Asia are both diverse continents but at least in Indonesia, even if you are poor, you have a degree of security in housing and food not present in the US. Water is a bigger problem (a lot of the water poor people boil and drink is polluted and this causes health problems, but hey, look at Flint, Michigan). Additionally the worker protection laws (like in Bangladesh) aim at democratizing access to capital, not democratizing access to big screen television sets. So poverty is qualitatively different.

So no I won't say that poor people in the US are elite. They are in terms of consumption of consumer goods, I will grant you that. But in terms of security of necessities, the system in the US is one of the most oppressive towards the poor that I have seen anywhere in the world. I would argue that even the way that poor people in the US might be globally elite is actually a source of oppression for the poor in the US. The poor Indonesian can get a job at a sweatshop, make wages not high enough to put food on the table but at least that helps out her family, but at the end of the year she is entitled by law to a bonus payment which is likely large enough to buy a noodle cart for her brother. Thus the wages may be low, but the protections that are there turn the wage class into small scale investors. The result? Two out three Indonesians are self employed (in Bangladesh it is closer to 90%). The money will then be paid back and she will likely go into business for herself. That is a just economy.

In contrast the American low wage earner is one paycheck away from the street and has no prospect of helping a family member start a business, No capital. No ownership of anything productive. Nothing but poverty and wage slavery.

So I think we have to be careful. Poverty in Sudan is not the same as poverty in Botswana. Poverty in Indonesia is not the same as poverty in Guatemala. But in terms of the things needed to have a good life, American poor people are not very high up the ladder.

Johnny said...


Thanks for the recommendation of that Mann book, I will look for it and read it. One I liked, somewhat along those lines, was The Comedians by Graham Greene. It's about whites living in Haiti during Papa Doc's reign leading up to a revolution attempt. They similarly are paying no attention to the events unfolding around them. You might enjoy it if you haven't already read it.

I wanted to say too I really valued the last few posts of yours since you've been back. I can understand why they are difficult for people to hear, but I think that is why they are important.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160428T141520Z

Dear general TADR readership,

Clumsy fool that I am, I uploaded in the wrong place in TADR last night (comment timestamped in my ISO-conformant formalism as UTC=20160428T034532Z, and in the "blogger"-branded ISO-nonconformant software as "4/27/16, 9:22 PM", being the 296th comment on the JMG essay from last week, entitled "Starhawking the Privilege Game"). I wanted, to reiterate, to post as the 20th-or-thereabouts commenter on the current JMG essay, entitled "Where On The Titanic Would You Like Your Deck Chair, Ma’am?", and instead in my clumsiness became a very, very late commenter, rather spectacularly becoming the 296th, on an older JMG essay.

I think I am going to forget about this mess, and am going to call off my contest (announced in that mishandled comment) for a blank-replacement in "**BLANK** Institution for the Incurably Goyische". At any rate, I'll call it off someone someone says something suitably incisive about it this week, in this week's set of comments on "Where On The Titanic Would You Like Your Deck Chair, Ma’am?".

Oy vey iz mir, oy gevalt.

(a) personal state of incurable goyischeness, as previously,
and now in addition
(b) incurable clumsiness,


Rita Narayanan said...

*overt system destroyed & replaced by a covert system*....rings so true.In modern India it is fashionable to be severe on Hinduism particularly Brahmins (never mind if many are poor)...but if one observes other faiths socially their societies are sometimes worse.Buddhism was supposed to be a turning away from Hindu caste & is universal in affection/upholds non violence and yet observe Buddhist societies including the sublime Himalayan societies in Tibet & Bhutan :)

Johnny said...

I wanted to ask also, are you a fan of William James' Pragmatism? I was reading his lecture and some of it struck me very much like how I think you approach things. Not so much when he applied his idea to concrete examples, but just as a general approach and a way of thinking about ideas.

barrymelius said...

Very insightful Mr. Greer,It makes me realize that Marx was right all these years in his description of capitalism,his solution however seems to be less useful.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160428T143728Z

Dear JMG,

Thanks for your comment (above, with timestamp "4/27/16, 9:58 PM") on neopagan theologies and Burkean conservatism.

I am going to have to think about this, as time might conceivably permit, and perhaps even at some future stage write about it - whether on TADR or, as a less intrusive alternative, at

I did in the 1970s read Burke's book on the revolution in France (and found it helpful), and did also in the 1970s labour on the Nicomachean Ethics. But this morning, the only quasi-intelligent comment I can offer is that there is a grumpy tradition in Catholicism of bemoaning the ethics of "should". (Kant has been the object of specially vociferous complaint, as has the postwar Oxford analyst Prof. R.M. Hare.) The tradition has perhaps darkly asserted or hinted - I do not know whether fairly or unfairly - that there is something specially Protestant in "should"-centred ethics.

The tradition, interestingly articulated in the postwar UK by Professors Elizabeth Anscombe and Peter Geach, urges a reading of Aquinas, who himself stood within the school of the Nicomachean Ethics.

Perhaps some Catholic analysts can at some point comment further, either here on TADR or via private e-mail to me?




Hubertus Hauger said...

JMG, with your titel: "Where On The Titanic Would You Like Your Deck Chair, Ma’am?" you being ironic, do hit a real point.

There are deck chairs on the three classed Titanic. Deck chairs are for the privileged. Not for the 3rd classed ones. Even, as you so nicely describe who is sitting there. Left wing privileged, chatter boxing about equality, but ridiculing that ideology with themselves comfortably seating themselves in their privileged position. Right wing privilege, pompously shouting about how brainy and big-penised they are, but their bragging reflects how undeservedly they have stumble by sheer luck into their privileged position.

Let me turn to, despite privilege being somewhat a taboo to talk about or openly associate oneself with it, that privilege nevertheless is being tremendously desired. Those deck chairs are clearly the image of what it is all about.
· Once, they are comfy.
· Second they give you better access to sex. Natural law; multiply yourself. Good so, if with such exposed privilege that is easier then.
· Last but not least you are nearer to the life-boats. As on the Titanic the privileged had been so in fact. Check the survival rate and compare to the 3rd classed ones. Significant would be an understatement! So survival is best achieved in a privileged position. Guess who we are descendant’s from. Our predecessors have been privileged once quite regularly.

So, that is, why privileged was, is and ever will be desired again and again. It is one, if not the evolutionary advantage. So everyone, stop being ashamed of it and enjoy the fate, that gifted you with your privilege ... and ... make the best of it for yourself and for others. That would top it!

Eric S. said...

I was having a conversation last night with a friend about the present, the future, the way things are unfolding, the cognitive dissonance growing around us and what can be done, and the conversation turned inevitably to the cabal of wealthy elites and all the nefarious things they'd do to keep and expand their power, this time involving responding to changing climate by buying up houses in all the regions that would be able to support human population, establishing a feudal system, and so on. It seems we've had this conversation a hundred times, and though it's softened somewhat in its apocalyptic furor, it's still where things go.

This time, though, I just kept thinking about the various managers, sales reps, PR teams and so on that I do grunt work for at my job, and that led me to laugh much harder than I usually do at the prospect. I had promotion at work last year that transferred me from the staffing company where I’d been working with the warehouse and workroom staff, to doing the same work with a lot more direct interface with clients at a PR firm, and I’ve since gotten a glimpse of the truly wealthy that I’d never imagined I’d have. After seeing things like a serious conference over the possibility of shutting down the entire office over a broken air conditioner until repairs were completed ("I swear, it's like... 80 degrees in here!"), seeing someone come to the brink of tears after finding out that we were out of the espresso roast coffee and they'd have to cope with house blend for two days, and once spending a whole afternoon in giggles with the property manager scouring the kitchen in vain because a client had reported seeing "an ant," and having to make a physical store run for a client who was in a panic over discovering that the supply delivery had brought tablets, rather than gel capsules of her favorite headache medicine, the last dregs of credibility for paranoia about the capability and malice of America’s aristocracy is gone forever. I definitely feel like one of those sanitarium servants attending to the patients by day, and heading back to the real world and real problems of the city on afternoons and weekends.

It's also been interesting listening to the people around here as this election season has brought a new sense of unease to the environment. Most statements about politics are in low wavery voices accompanied by nervous tittering, by the end of the day, the breakroom television has been turned from the default news stations to the food and travel channels because they “just can’t bear to look at it anymore” and my repeated insistence of "call me old fashioned, but I don't discuss politics in the workplace" every time someone tries to drag me into a conversation about “oh isn’t it terrible that people are actually voting for him?!” (referring to Trump, of course) is starting to look awfully suspicious. Of course, the talk about international vacations and McMansions continues, as well as the drama every time the supply delivery brings chocolate chunk snack bars instead of chocolate chip snack bars (I've wryly joked, talking my work with friends and family, to send an angry mob after me to snap me out of it if I ever turn into one of these people). But of course, there’s a darker angle to all that too. These people aren't bad people. They're clueless of course, and think what they have is normal, and don't even think about the gulf between their 6 figure salaries, and my life on the bare cusp between salary and wage living. But they’re mostly sincere. Thinking about the humiliation they’d face having to live on a real wage off of a real job instead of clinking glasses with McDonalds CEOs and giving presentations on how to get past millennial distrust of big corporation is amusing, but I fear they're facing something a lot worse than mere humiliation in coming years and decades, and that makes my stomach churn.

Наталья Тулинцева said...

"The aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse is a good working model here: once the Soviet system imploded, Russia suddenly had to do without the large subsidies it received from the rest of the Eastern bloc, and most of a decade of raw economic chaos followed as the Russian economy struggled to adapt to the task of meeting its own needs domestically."

This is almost exactly wrong. The USSR was an empire-in-reverse: the Russian center fed the entire periphery, operating the entire imperial enterprise at a loss. Russia's current massive resurgence has everything to do with shedding all of these peripheral freeloaders in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Russia's weakness during the 1990s, following the collapse of the USSR, has much to do with the fact that it was run by traitors such as Gorbachev and Yeltsin, the Western consultants who told them exactly how to rob Russia blind, and the oligarchs they empowered and coddled.

sv koho said...

Congratulations John. Has it really been that long that I have been following your uniquely well constructed thoughts! I am looking forward to your continuing thoughts on our post industrial transition over the next 10 years. This election cycle has been a real eye opener to finding out that the electoral/election system is indeed rigged by both of the principal political parties favoring the elites over the so called wage classes and while every 4 years we vote for the lesser of 2 evils, this time around it may be impossible to discern which choice is the lesser and sitting out this cycle or looking for a third party alternative is the only rational option. The current elite class is our own Bourbon Dynasty and we know what happened to them after 1789.

David said...


An odd side observation perhaps, but your description of the "fall" of privileged families over time ("The lesson to be learned here is that a life of privilege doesn't foster the habits that conduce to the preservation of privilege") reminded me of the buddhist wheel of Samsara: where the gods, devas, and other exalted beings are still subject to the law of karma, and over time will migrate downward again because the circumstances of their existence are not conducive to the pursuit of liberation. Not sure how this directly applies to our situation, but it helped me understand the concept more clearly.

Matt said...


your global 1% comparison is a startling and provocative corrective. It doesn't show the whole picture, though, as it considers only one side of the equation - income. That has to be balanced against the outgoings needed to have a comfortable standard of living in each part of the world.

I don't think I'm saying anything that is new to you though, since the US wage class are in the main part of the 1%, yet still clearly have legitimate grievances. This incomes/outgoings disparity is also an interesting driver of so much migration and outsourcing, where (more or less of) the income available or expected in one location can be played off against the living standards of another.

Getting involved with your blog has been a really interesting ride for me, as a person of the left. The strand I was involved in would perhaps rally more to Marx's slogan "From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs" rather than notions of pure equality. But quibbling at this stage is just another case of deckchairs on the Titanic, as the end of abundance/exuberance dooms the whole project even in its own terms. That's been a wrench, let me tell you, seasoned with some shame as I look back on the way I used to dismiss those who talked about limits to growth.

Well done on the anniversary - yours is such a precious resource. You have ruined the rest of the blogosphere for me, as I can hardly bear unmoderated comments any more.


pygmycory said...

I love the expression 'squeaky voiced machismo'. That's a keeper.

pygmycory said...

I'm thinking it might be good for me to look into what happened to the non-Russia parts of the USSR after the soviet collapse. One problem I have is that 90%+ of the information on collapse focuses on the center of the empire, and I don't live there. I live next door, in what is basically an unusually wealthy resource colony/close ally combination.

I know a bit about Cuba, but what about places like Poland, Ukraine etc? I really hope we don't follow Ukraine's example, but I think we may have more going for us here in Canada than they did. History will tell, at any rate.

escapefromwisconsin said...

Very relevant article from the NYT about the diverging fortunes of the what in this essay is referred to as the "salary class" and everyone else in the "wage class":

For years now, people have been talking about the insulated world of the top 1 percent of Americans, but the top 20 percent of the income distribution is also steadily separating itself — by geography and by education as well as by income...Geographic segregation dovetails with the growing economic spread between the top 20 percent and the bottom 80 percent: The top quintile is, in effect, disengaging from everyone with lower incomes...Political leverage is another factor separating the top 20 percent from the rest of America. The top quintile is equipped to exercise much more influence over politics and policy than its share of the electorate would suggest. Although by definition this group represents 20 percent of all Americans, it represents about 30 percent of the electorate, in part because of high turnout levels...Equally or perhaps more important, the affluent dominate the small percentage of the electorate that makes campaign contributions.

How the Other Fifth Lives (Google the title or open in anonymous window if paywalled)

Also relevant is this Atlantic cover article where the author describes being unable to come up with $400 in an emergency. The underlying reason? Trying to maintain the lifestyle of a wealthy, upper-class white professional with all the outrageous costs and consumption that entails:

Still, we moved to the tip of Long Island, in East Hampton, where we wouldn’t have to pay that exorbitant private-school tuition and where my wife could eventually quit her job as a film executive to be with the children, the loss of her income offset a little by not having to pay for child care...I couldn’t sell our co‑op in the city, because the co‑op board kept rejecting the buyers, which meant I had to carry two mortgages for years. The housing market in New York soured, and I eventually sold the apartment for a steep loss, because I had no choice...Because I made too much money for the girls to get more than meager scholarships, but too little money to afford to pay for their educations in full, and because—another choice—we believed they had earned the right to attend good universities, universities of their choice, we found ourselves in a financial vortex...We have no credit cards, only a debit card. We have no retirement savings, because we emptied a small 401(k) to pay for our younger daughter’s wedding. We eat out maybe once every two or three months...

The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans

Mister Roboto said...

I hope this doesn't come off as too silly a question: We've all heard about the infamous "1%" who control 40% of the nation's wealth. In your schematic of four major classes, would the 1% fit into any of them, or are they a "thing" by themselves?

pygmycory said...

With reference to the global one percent, does that take into account the fact of how expensive food and shelter are in places like the US or Canada? Just thinking that a loaf of bread in Canada costs multiple times what it costs in Egypt.

And that here, you are highly likely to get makeshift shelters torn down if you try and build them. So you are likely to end up sleeping in a shelter or rough a lot of the time. The latter can kill if it is during the winter, or if you run into someone who decides to kill you and figures no one will care about a homeless person.

But I do take JMG's point that there are a lot of people in the US (or the rest of the (over)developed world, that are here considered poor or average, who have things that only the wealthy would have in a very poor country. Even I have things like indoor plumbing, central heating, and adequate food and clothing, at least at the moment.

Ssi grower said...

Mr. Greer I just want to say thank you for your brilliant mind and way of seeing and describing this very interesting world we all share. Your insights are a perennial source of brain food and constantly keep me reevaluating the way I look at things.

Keep up the good work


Stu from New Jersey said...

I love the cat metaphor!

Thanks for your reply to Toomas. "Lack of interest" is a turn of phrase that would not have occurred to me.

Once, as an exercise, I derived "Thou shalt not kill" from natural law: the gods created us as a social species, meaning that the species' survival depends on society.

Therefore, actions which, if widely accepted, would make society difficult or impossible, would endanger the species. Ergo, *sin*!

Having satisfied myself that such a reasoning was possible, I decided that I'd rather garden or brew beer. "Lost interest", I suppose.

avalterra said...


Congratulations on ten years. Like many who have posted here I give you a deal of credit for where I am today.

Currently I am working at a Community College and am using my salary class income to carefully navigate the descent down the mountain - keeping an eye out for both safe places to step down and watching for the occasional rock falling from above.

But in this academic world I am very exposed to the SJW movement and I keep thinking I see a parallel between a great deal of their rhetoric and the early striving of European Communism. They are doing a magnificent job of using the assumptions of our society to under pin their points of view while simultaneously, adroitly, using social media and public shaming to shut down descent. And they love finding a new oppressor (white women and gay men are coming into the cross hairs rapidly).

Is it possible that instead of addressing the problems that we face we will instead adopt some combination (or alliance) between Democratic Socialists and SJWs? Leading to an intensification of the triangulation you described last week rather than a true solution?


p.s. Reading back over this post I feel like I am missing some important perspective but I can't see it so I will risk my humiliation and just post.

beneaththesurface said...

"It’s a heck of a read and I recommend it to anyone who has the patience—not that common these days—to take in a long, thoughtful, and richly ironic novel."

Slightly off-topic, but that sentence reminds me of a book of essays I'm almost done reading, which may be of interest to some people here, who are concerned about the amount of time they're connected to digital media and how it's affecting their minds, imagination, and ability to read long printed works: Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age, by Sven Birkerts.

Back cover summary: "In 1994, Sven Birkerts published The Gutenberg Elegies, his celebrated rallying cry to resist the oncoming digital advances, especially those that might affect the way we read literature and experience art—the very cultural activities that make us human.
After two decades of rampant change, Birkerts has allowed a degree of everyday digital technology into his life. He refuses to use a smartphone, but communicates via e-mail and spends some time reading online. In Changing the Subject, he examines the changes that he observes in himself and others—the distraction when reading on the screen; the loss of personal agency through reliance on GPS and one-stop information resources; an increasing acceptance of "hive" behaviors. "An unprecedented shift is underway," he argues, and "this transformation is dramatically accelerated and more psychologically formative than any previous technological innovation." He finds solace in engagement with art, particularly literature, and he brilliantly describes the countering energy available to us through acts of sustained attention, even as he worries that our increasingly mediated existences are not conducive to creativity.
It is impossible to read Changing the Subject without coming away with a renewed sense of what is lost by our wholesale immersion in the digital and what is regained when we immerse ourselves in a good book."

In my current life I'm trying to limit my time on email/Internet to only certain times during the week (giving me enough time to still read the Archdruid Report, for example), and spend most my waking hours offline. Some of his essays resonated with me and my own concerns and struggles.

Thanks, JMG, for the time and talent you've put into the Archdruid Report over the past decade. While I comment only occasionally, I've read almost every weekly post since November 2010 (when I first heard you speak--at the DC ASPO conference) and most of the comments too. Your writing has made a major impact on my life.

Benjamin Elliott said...

I want to note something I've seen in this discussion of wage/salary class, in particular among the comments, but now brought into the open by JMG. That is the belief that there is some cataclysm right around the corner that will completely upend the divisions, leaving former wage workers on top of the new social hierarchy, and former salary workers grubbing for scraps. This fantasy is nice, and has a long, long history, dating back at least to Matthew's account of Jesus's remarks on a memorable day next to the sea, and probably further, but is all too often just that, fantasy.

JMG and readers should know well the power of consciousness-altering magic, and recognize its practitioners in the cadres of managers, directors, coordinators, and so on that make up the salary class. I have a management degree, and while the vast majority of the classes were focused on the minutiae of administrative systems and the details of the magic rituals (in the rather dull forms of statistical analysis, performance evaluation, etc.) needed to manipulate them, the pure management theory classes were clearly introductions to the kind of rawer magic needed to reach into the heads of others and take some control of their consciousness. The slippery but very real rules to changing consciousness in business take all sorts of names, like "managing up," "creating consensus," "game theory," "changing the paradigm," "social entrepreneurship" and so on, but they represent real skills that don't disappear when circumstances change.

I don't mean that privilege is "earned," whatever that means, or that it is unshakeable, but that the same methods that many (not all) salary class types have used to attain their current position in the current order are easily transmutable to a new order. Obviously the details of econometrics are nonsense without the current economic order, but the ability to convince others to join your organizational scheme? Timeless. And I don't mean the eerie charisma of the cult leader, just the boring, everyday skills of the entrepreneur. The ability to create a vision in someone else's head that makes them more likely to do what you want and then to create organizational structures that reinforce those visions and behaviors is management. (Many of the Arch-Managers refer to a split between "leadership" and "management", intentionally creating tiers of value in order to enhance the prestige of higher rungs and make demi-gods of "leaders", but that is a faction to which I don't belong.)

And management is a skill that has survived every cataclysm so far.

Thank you for reading, and to JMG for continuing to shed some light on the silliness infesting far too much of our public discourse. I've been reading for years, but to my embarrassment have only today figured out how to post here without identifying my business as the source of my opinions! I look forward to participating in the conversation here.

Gottfried Wilhelm Melvin Hicks-Leibniz said...

JMG - another great post. A lot to ponder. I need to re-read it again :-)

On a related note, the Trump phenomenon seems to be amalgamating much more than the "wage class". How do you make sense of this?

Wealthy, well-educated voters helped carry Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump to victory in this week’s East Coast primaries, a demographic the famously blunt-spoken billionaire had struggled to attract in the past.

His sweep of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island on Tuesday included wins in some of the richest and best-educated counties in the country - like Fairfield County, Connecticut, and Newport County, Rhode Island - and added to victories in his more traditional strongholds of white working-class neighborhoods.

Exit polls from Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Maryland showed Trump winning about half of Republican voters with college degrees, and over half of Republican voters making more than $100,000 a year.

pygmycory said...

Scotlyn, congratulations on ditching the car.

NS said...

Just wanted to second the comments about poverty taking different forms in different countries, and to point out that a dollar goes a lot farther in many "third world" countries than it does in the U.S. A person making (say) $10k a year in India is much better off than a $10k (or maybe even $39k) a year person here.

Don Plummer said...

@Leo Knight--Donald Trump makes my skin crawl, too! To me, he's a buffoon who has no idea whatsoever about what he's getting himself into. And his racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and misogynist rhetoric has poisoned the atmosphere for many, including students and neighbors of mine, many of whom are immigrants, racial minorities, and Muslims (often, they belong to more than one of those categories). I can sometimes see the fear on their faces when we talk about the possibility of a Trump presidency and what might mean to them.

To me the idea that a Trump presidency might be a "good thing" is about as likely as a tornado ramming through a junkyard and producing a 1974 Corvette. I'm quite aware of HRC's shortcomings, but would a Clinton presidency pursuing "the same failed policies as her predecessors" bring down the USA faster or with far more collateral damage than a Trump presidency would? I'm not sure I'm willing to risk Trump on that basis. Plus there's always the possibility that Bernie Sanders' campaign has taught Clinton a few vitally important lessons about the mood of the electorate and that she might just modify some of her policies in light of those lessons and make some real, substantive changes that would help people. But then again, perhaps that's not much more likely than a Trump presidency being a "good thing." Who knows?

We have to make our choice based on what we know and on our own intuition. Right now, my intuition tells me that Trump as president would be a very, very bad idea.

RogerCO said...

Dear Mr.Greer, Usually I read the weekly offering and think "yes that's right", or even "YES!". Occasionally I'm moved to ask a question, but this week I twice found myself thinking "that's not quite right".

The first point that stopped me short was the spaghetti sauce model - it may be true on the west side of the Atlantic but considerably less so in the UK in particular. There is very very little new entry to the privileged elite. Just enough to keep the rest of us thinking that someday I, or my children might make it in by luck or talent or sheer chutzpah, but basically our pan has long since gone of the boil and a crust has formed through which nothing rises.

In fact I wonder if your model is even true for the US any more. From afar it looks like your privileged elite are pretty much the children and grandchildren of the previously privileged.

People and families do sink as privilege gets ever more concentrated and extreme but I do wonder how accurate your model of continual churn is even for your country. It was easier to breakthrough in the 16th Century in Europe, and perhaps in the 19th Century in the US, but in a mature and declining civilization one of the classic problems is that social mobility upwards all but ceases - the elite becomes self-perpetuating.

The other problem I had was the implication that it is the unsustainable nature of the exploitation that creates the privilege that causes its downfall. For sure the limits to growth are an added dimension this time around, but there have been plenty of previous occasions when a privileged elite has sleep-walked into oblivion, usually taking several other classes with it, without necessarily hitting any limits other than becoming detached or alienated from the conditions on which their privilege depends.

Your sequence of posts a year or so ago describing the operation of the imperial wealth pump provided for me a more general description of why implosion becomes inevitable as the elite ends up eating itself.

Planetary limits are certainly providing an extra dimension this time, and start to look like they may well make the question of how and why an elite loses control irrelevant.

However part of our problem perhaps is that if the planetary limits had not been reached then this particular elite would not yet have reached the condition for its collapse. A 'normal' end to civilization typically results in an interregnum of a couple of centuries or more whilst the successor gets its act together - but the succession is implicit in the collapse of the old order.

So the effect of planetary limits may be to force a collapse before it would naturally occur, and with the succession not determined. I guess that makes the Green Wizard task of preserving a useful body of practical knowledge even more important.

The chuntering of the wage class finding expression in Trump, Corbyn, Sanders, BoJo et al seems to have nothing to do with acknowledging planetary limits to privilege - as you point out a $38k household income puts you in the global 1% - in the UK that is equivalent to less than 2 adults on minimum wage earn. The chuntering is of a class who seek to replace the old elite with a new elite making the same old planetary mistakes.

It may be interesting, but it is no part of a solution to the crisis which lies beneath.


jessi thompson said...

As a wage earner making $20,000 a year as a single non parent, I disagree. I have to work 50-60 hours a week to make that much money by juggling 3 jobs at a time and then selling art or crafts on the side. I do not get sick leave, vacation days, medical insurance, or any other benefits. In most wage jobs you are expected to work even if you're sick, unless you bring a doctor's note, which is more problematic when you don't have health insurance. I turned in 5 w2's and 2 1099's last year in taxes. The difference between $20,000 in wages and $20,000 salary can be worlds apart. Granted there is a big gulf between $40,000 in salary and $100,000 in salary, but I think the difference in quality of life is far more important than the difference in dollar values.

mgalimba said...

JMG and all:

you might enjoy this:

BoysMom said...

The flip side of "The poor will be with you always" would surely be that the privileged will also be. Privilege by your parents' social status being perhaps the most common, but also other privilege. It would behoove us all, especially those of us raising the next generation to consider what to teach them about who ought to be privileged, in what ways, and what the responsibilities are that go with having privilege. Women and children first is an old one, speaking of the Titanic, as is honor your elders. Popular among my set is a line from Spiderman that all our kids know "With great power comes great responsibility", a modern phrasing of noblesse oblige.
Should we offer privilege to people in certain fields? Perhaps midwifes should be protected from homicide charges in the event of childbirth deaths? Farmers protected from being drafted for militia service? What about religious privilege?
An interesting little example: the Water Master here cannot be charged with trespass: he has the right to enter and inspect any land for illegal and/or improper use of water at any time. He can't do anything else--can't check that you're only growing legal crops, or that your field hands are legal, for example. The Sheriff has more restrictions on when he may enter, but also broader options for action once he's complied with the restrictions.

James Bodie said...

A very good post this week. As a wage earner, I would like to offer some sympathy to the salary class. Wage earners benefit from collective bargaining. When corporations go bankrupt, wage earners have some legal protections, salary managers, not so much. Salary managers are raised to those positions in order to screw them out of overtime. If you are a wage earner and are offered a management salary, remember to say "thanks, but no thanks."

Clay Dennis said...


I think the great "unwinding" for the Salary class will be especially fast in the U.S. because most of them have the assets that separate them from the wage class stashed in things that will not prove to be useful when we rapidly contract to a conservation based economy. At one time a member of the Salary ( or business) class might have their wealth tied up in modest rental homes or farm acreage. Now it is "saved up" in a flashy but impractical Mcmansion or soon to be worthless vacation home at the beach or in the desert or swampland of Florida. The rest of their assets are in a couple of expensive cars, an outdoor kitchen and an investment portfolio full of google and twitter stock and perhaps a few subprime energy bonds.

At least the some of the wage class folk will still have their toolbox full of tools and a useful skill. The fallen salary class millennials ( now at wage class economic levels with salary class signifiers) will have bikes, some art, music or craft skills and youthfull health . Perhaps the impoverishment of the millennials with student loans and Mcjobs is fates way of helping them along the path to contraction early so they don't go crazy like their salary class parents are going to.

Lynnet said...

Investment class includes many millions of people that are trying to support themselves in retirement from their IRAs or other invested assets, or a rental house or the other side of a duplex. Of course it's better than NOT having such investments. But it's very far from the 0.01% elite. Social Security is not wages, not salaries, and not entrepreneurial, so would probably fit into investment class for lack of any other place. I'd guess that is what was meant.

Alex said...

Pygmycory - come on down to "silicon valley" and live on $10,000 a year, no running water, no AC/heating, no window screens (so mosquitoes are a thing) no car etc. And I'm better off than a ton of people here.

Alex said...

BoysMom - where do you live, Arrakis? I've never heard of a Water Master.

patriciaormsby said...

I've just opened up a new Word file and will keep it on hand when I'm reading the comments. Last week you were explaining the essence of Burke's criticism of the left, and it was so succinct--a real economy of words--but it catches where the left, in its enthusiasm, tends to go wrong. Allow me to quote you:

"The problem with the Left -- as Edmund Burke pointed out trenchantly more than two centuries ago -- is that it tries to make human social life conform to an assortment of abstract notions that have no grounding in history or actual experience, and trying to force a society to conform to arbitrary human concepts is as reliably disastrous as trying to make an ecosystem do the same thing."

It reminds me of the criticism the right had for communism, but their way of explaining themselves was so flawed it was easy to laugh them off. Their point, or at least how it was being interpreted, was that people have to have a profit motive or they lose hope, or some such nonsense that was easy to find counterexamples to.

On this week's topic, I had something in mind, but I'm just about to get ushered out the door, so later!

John Michael Greer said...

Lewis, I hadn't thought of that, not being much of a film watcher, but you're quite right about "The Magnificent Ambersons." My wife, who's rather more literate than I am, mentioned that there's also an entire genre of Victorian English and American novels on the same theme.

Godfree, of course. The fact that privilege always exists doesn't mean that it's abused with equal vigor in every society -- just that every society either has to figure out ways to ameliorate its effects, or deal with the consequences of leaving it to run wild.

Ed, the situation over here isn't just a matter of more drastic exploitation -- there are also the economic consequences of global hegemony, which you can also trace in the social history of 19th century England and the like. But it does seem to be worse here than in many other industrial countries.

Greybeard, I'm glad to hear that your end of the leftward scene has acquired that sort of common sense. I've had enough brushes with the utopian-idealist end of the left, though, to know that the sort of thing I described in my post is very much alive and well in the contemporary American left. Your analysis of aspiration is interesting, though the ghost of one of my Latin professors is itching to point out that your etymology's off -- aspiratio is from ad + spirare, "to breathe toward" or, as we would say, "to pant after." The image of greyhounds chasing a mechanical rabbit does come to mind!

Alex, yeah, I expect to get tooth marks all over my ankles for this.

Mike, it's very common for people faced with the specific class analysis I'm using to take "investment class" to mean only the very upper end of the investment class, and "salary class" to mean only the lower and middle part of the salary class, as you've done here. That's not what I mean. If you get most of your annual income from return on investments, you're in the investment class, even if your income is fairly modest. Many retirees are in the investment class; so are people who followed the advice of a once-popular book, spent ten or fifteen years stashing away a lot of money, and now live on that instead of working. The bulk of the investment class doesn't have access to the financial jiggery-pokery of the very rich, and they've been hit hard by the very low rate of return on safe investment we've had for decades now.

Similarly, the salary class doesn't just include the petroleum engineers and the marketing people -- it also includes the CEOs. While individual salary class members may have only a limited role in setting policy, collectively the salary class does the lion's share of this. Furthermore, the last half century or so has seen a spectacular shift of power in the corporate sphere from boards of directors (elected by investors and thus beholden to the investment class) to salaried corporate executives, whose compensation packages have soared into low earth orbit as a result. That's the context for my suggestion that the investment class has lost ground relative to the salary class over recent years. Note that this doesn't mean that they're as badly off as the wage class -- simply that there's been a shift in wealth and influence that needs to be taken into account.

sgage said...

@ Alex,

'BoysMom - where do you live, Arrakis? I've never heard of a Water Master.'

You made me laugh! That does sound somewhat Arrakian, doesn't it? Now please excuse me - I must get back to adjusting the boots on my stillsuit...

John Michael Greer said...

Mike, I do plan on returning to Retrotopia in due time, and also to the broader question of what I've come to think of as "the Retro future," returning to things that worked as a functional alternative to the sort of sunk-cost fallacy that guides most public policy these days. Still, I've got some other things to talk about first.

Bruno, the ongoing process of slow collapse has been speeding up quite a bit recently, and yes, that's shaped some of my tone. The choice of more controversial subjects? That's happened partly because I've covered most of the uncontroversial ones, and partly because my readers haven't gone shrieking off into the distance when I started bringing up edgier topics. I think people really are ready to hear this stuff.

Leo, so noted. I personally find Clinton even more troubling -- venal, incompetent, and utterly committed to policies that are running this country into the ground.

Earthworm, yes, you could take the metaphor in that direction!

Damaris, oh, granted, it's possible to take the apparently prescriptive passages in the Bible that way, and arguably wiser to do so. I'm sure you're aware, though, that by and large they have not been taken that way. All too often, rather, they've been turned into demands to shout at other people -- and this, of course, despite Jesus' forceful injunction regarding motes in one eye and beams in another! Mind you, I'm not saying that a morality of "if/then" is better than one of "thou shalt" -- each has its strengths, its problems, and its besetting sins. I simply meant to point out the fact that you can't really build a politics of natural law on the basis of Pagan tradition, but a Burkean politics of history is another matter.

Fudoshin, oh, I get that. It's just that corporate attorneys aren't particularly edifying spectacles, and neither was Riverdance!

Dan L., you'll want to read my response to Mike further up the comment thread. The short form is that you're treating the very top end of the investment class -- the sort of people who have access to Mossack Fonseca-type gimmickry -- as though it was the whole of the investment class. The vast majority of people who get most of their annual income from investments are nothing like so wealthy, and many of them have been clobbered financially by the steep decline in returns on investment in recent decades.

Scotlyn, exactly. Do you know the five stages of the Discordian historical cycle? If not, they're Chaos, Discord, Confusion, Bureaucracy, and Aftermath; Europe's deep in the fourth stage now, America's stumbling into the fifth. I may just have to do a post on that!

In the meantime, many, many congrats on becoming car-free! It really does open up a world of possibilities.

ASR, up here in poor and rural Allegany County, it was Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump by a mile.

Mikep, I wonder if they realize that all this just guarantees the neo-Nazis a hearing outside the circle of self-proclaimed respectability.

Chris, I've been watching that as well. Has it occurred to you that the US is using Europe as a borderland, comparable to the American Southwest, in which migrating populations can be absorbed without penetrating too close to the imperial core? If Juhana's right, warband formation is already well under way in Europe, so Toynbee's analysis remains right on track.

siliconguy said...

"[Hillary's] entire campaign consists of waving around sound bites that signal to the privileged that they don’t need to worry about significant change if she moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

I read that and flinched. That is what I thought in 1992 when the other Clinton was elected. Three years later Clinton, Gore, and Babbitt had wrecked my career, since I had been working in a resource extraction industry in the Intermountain West. That administration did me over good. 20% less pay and no benefits at all after the forced job change. It took me until 2004 to get back to where I was in 1992. My own personal lost decade.

I'm glad you defined your "salary class" as well. "the class of managers, marketers, bankers, bureaucrats, and corporate flunkies, all those professions that make their livings by manipulating the wealth produced by others". There are a lot of us officially Salaried-Exempt that do not fit your definition. So I will not be offended when you insult or pick on them. I am quite aware I am not one of the privileged, despite the rescue game, which is why that gimmick annoys so much.

There is a copy of Magic Mountain in the local library, but it's checked out. I'll have to keep my eye out for it.

John Michael Greer said...

Latefall, yes, the Hindenburg also makes a good metaphor.

Matt and Jess, understood. I'm not saying that it's easy being poor in America; it's harder than it was when I made less than the poverty line, and that was hard enough. My point is simply that it's even harder elsewhere.

Ahavah, there's a pragmatic streak all through the Abrahamic faiths, of course. It's just that there's also the other aspect -- to be fair, this seems to show up in all prophetic faiths. There may be something in the experience of being a prophet, and being ignored by most of your listeners, that encourages simple formulas and a tendency to want to shake people until their teeth rattle!

David, it's a lesson I have to keep learning, too. The journey is always one step at a time.

Chris, of course it's complex to measure the relative condition of groups of people in different cultures, environments, etc. I was simply using income as a rough guide.

Johnny, thanks for the recommendation -- I'll put it on the get-to list.

Toomas, my immediate thought was the Allan Sherman Institute for the Incurably Goyische, but I'll happily await other suggestions.

Rita, and of course Buddhism -- like every other religious movement -- promptly worked out ways to develop its own formal hierarchies and systems of privilege. it really is inescapable.

Johnny, the only James I've read is The Varieties of Religious Experience, which was one of the assigned readings for the course of study that got me consecrated as a Gnostic bishop. (Long story...) He's on the get-to list.

Barrymelius, the Russians had a popular saying in the Yeltsin years: "Everything Marx said about socialism was false, but everything he said about capitalism was true." Not the first time that somebody saw very clearly what was wrong and then offered a hopelessly dysfunctional plan for fixing it!

Toomas, that's interesting. I don't have a lot of exposure to the complexities of Catholic thought; it's good to hear that the Aristotelian mode of ethics has gotten some attention there, and anybody who has grumpy things to say about Kant's moral theory is welcome company!

Hubertus, so long as "making the best of it" includes not using it to harm or disadvantage other people, I suppose so.

Eric, yep. I've had quite a few opportunities to encounter people at that level of the salary class, and a few chances to mingle discreetly with those higher up -- a writer sometimes has such things happen -- and the impression of utter fecklessness and cluelessness is the thing that has stayed with me. I have a hard time believing that America's overprivileged can wipe their backsides without help.

Yellow Submarine said...

"Mikep, I wonder if they realize that all this just guarantees the neo-Nazis a hearing outside the circle of self-proclaimed respectability."

The European political establishment appears to be hell-bent on driving their own people into the hands of the far right.

One of the things that always struck me about the history of Weimar Germany is that the failure of the German establishment to deal with Germany's problems after the Great War pretty much guaranteed that parties on the radical right and the radical left were the only viable alternatives by the late 1920's. By the early 1930's, the only question was who would win, the Nazis or the Communists?

These days, the actions of the senile elites and the SJW's in Europe seem to be ensuring that the peoples of Europe will face a similar choice in the near future: would you rather be ruled by Sharia law or by the neo-fascists? What a choice!

John Michael Greer said...

Natalya, can you point me to sources that document that? (I'm sorry to say they'll need to be in English; I had three years of Russian in high school, but very nearly the only thing I remember from that is some colorful profanities.) This differs so completely from everything that I've read on the subject that I'm going to want to see evidence.

SV Koho, no question, this election is quite a spectacle. I sometimes think the only way to make it better is to go all-out Roman, arm the candidates with gladiator gear, and give the thumbs down to the fallen.

David, that's a fascinating comparison, and makes me wonder if the wheel of Samsara has any connection with the medieval European wheel of fortune, which diagrammed the social churn in a memorable image -- the figure rising says regnabo ("I shall rule"), the one on top says regno ("I rule"), the one going down says regnavi ("I ruled"), and the one on the bottom says sine regno sum (hard to translate, "I am powerless" is probably closest).

Matt, oh, granted! It's a complex thing -- and of course people can have legitimate grievances that have nothing to do with their income level. I quite understand about the blogosphere; I pick and choose my blogs carefully, and avoid most comments pages, as I have limited patience with trolling and the rest of it.

Pygmycory, the Ukraine is a good test case for how to do a lot of things wrong. Some of the southern republics, of the kind Gary Shteyngart parodied so brilliantly in Absurdistan, might be better examples in general, as they share mineral wealth and sparse population with your country.

Escape, thanks for both of these. It fascinates me that all of a sudden the media is willing to talk about the divergence between the wage class and the salary class. Either I chose a good moment to launch into that conversation, or I have more readers in the opinion-manufacture industry than I thought!

Mister R., that's a valid question. Some of them are investment class and some of them are salary class. It depends on whether most of their annual income comes from investments, on the one hand, or kleptocratic compensation packages on the other.

Pygmycory, thank you for getting what I was trying to say.

Ssi grower, thank you!

Stu, "lack of interest" is a more powerful force in the history of ideas than I think most people realize. The ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, by and large could care less what people thought about the gods. They simply weren't interested. If you did things that showed disrespect for sacred things, that was quite another matter, and would get you exiled if you were lucky or killed if you weren't; asebeia, sacrilege, was a death-penalty offense in Athens, for example. But heretical ideas? They simply didn't care. In the same way, the rhetoric of moral hectoring is popular in some traditions and just not of interest in others.

John Michael Greer said...

Avalterra, I don't see that as likely or, really, even as possible, because of one of the core features of contemporary American leftist thought. Where the right seeks allies, the left seeks scapegoats, and glories in how many people they can alienate from their cause. You mention that white women and gay men are now being lined up in front of the circular firing squad; white woman and gay men have been significant constituencies of support for the left. How effective of a coalition do you think they can build when it's gotten to the point that, say, only disabled lesbian women of color are welcome in progressive circles?

Beneaththesurface, you're welcome and thank you! I'll put Birkerts on my (lengthening) get-to list.

Benjamin, while management in one sense or another will no doubt survive, it's unwise to conclude from that fact that (a) the people who currently fill managerial roles will keep them, or that (b) the explosive metastasis of management at the expense of productive labor, the dominant feature of the US economy since the end of the Second World War, is sustainable. I'd encourage you to consider what happened to those countless thousands of managerial professionals employed by the Roman Empire when Rome fell -- hint: they were not immediately hired at their current salaries by the invading barbarians. I'll be discussing this at quite a bit of further detail as we proceed.

Gottfried, what that shows me is that Trump is succeeding in expanding his base outside his initial wage class support. That's one of the reasons I think he has a very good chance of winning in November.

NS, and I'll just second my comments responding to this point above. ;-)

RogerCO, of course the replacement of one set of privileged people with another isn't a solution to the underlying collision of industrial society and the hard limits of a finite planet; I hope nothing I said suggested that it was. At this point we're well past the point at which talkng about solutions is useful; collapse is under way at its usual pace, and the only "solution" will be the usual one of decline and fall. The shifts in the structure of privilege, rather, are factors in the crisis of our time that many of my readers may find useful to keep in mind, not least because their capacity to deal with the widening spiral of crisis may be rather sharply affected by sudden changes in effective status and access to resources.

Jessi, a very good point.

Mgalimba, thank you! The thought of the Cthulhucene as a descriptor has a definite rugose charm.

BoysMom, that's an excellent point. One of the advantages of talking openly about privilege is that it allows such conversations to happen.

James, and of course that's also an issue.

Clay, yes, and that's very true. It used to be standard to accumulate wealth in forms that could be cashed in readily at need. Now it's standard to accumulate wealth in the form of illiquid toys. Not a good strategy for the longer run...

Lynnet, exactly. Thank you.

Patricia, thank you. Yes, exactly, and this touches on some issues I'll be covering in rather some detail in an upcoming post.

Siliconguy, one of the major changes in American society over the last couple of decades is that the salary class is being split into a privileged affluent half and a much less privileged and poorly paid half, and the latter has only just really begun to grasp that its interests no longer lie with the affluent half. As that sinks in, convulsive change is likely. More on this soon!

Submarine, and the fascists usually win that contest. Those who do not learn from history...

Benjamin Elliott said...

"'s unwise to conclude from that fact that (a) the people who currently fill managerial roles will keep them, or that (b) the explosive metastasis of management at the expense of productive labor, the dominant feature of the US economy since the end of the Second World War, is sustainable."

I agree with both statements. Anyone who has worked knows managers who fill unnecessary roles incompetently. I just picked up an odd note of millenialism in some of the comments. Sort of a "when the (insert apocalypse here) happens, my boss will fall form his lofty middle-management perch, and I will make him grovel for some of my potatoes," which ignores the persistence, or at least very slow unraveling of social strata. Many, but not all of those occupying salary-type positions are there because they used social skills to get there, and that doesn't entirely go away except in the very very bottom reaches of a dark age, and maybe not even then. (After all, even a subsistence village has a headman who can convince others to do what he or she wants, right?)

I do agree that the US economy right now is characterized by far too many people counting and distributing beans, and not enough people growing them. We steal the beans from the rest of the world through fancy financial trickery and sheer threats, creating surplus bean-counters. But even in decline, there are beans to be counted.

Candace said...

@ Nuku. Thanks for the links

Most of my clients make less than half of the guideline numbers. They are also aware that things could be worse. I don't think bringing up global numbers will be all that helpful. It would be too much like trying to start a poverty Olympics completion and make people who are going through a hard time feel attacked.
It's true that the people at the food shelf do have the good fortune of having a place to store and cook food. The people who can't store food are more often using other resources like the daily lunches at the soup kitchen. Sometimes people who are camping will use the shelf but they have problems of losing the food to the weather and animals.

@ JMG. Yes it is interesting that people who are marginally eligible for food stamps are in the global 1% income-wise. No doubt someone will see it as a good justification for cutting the program some more.

team10tim said...

RE: Наталья Тулинцева and JMG,

RE: "The USSR was an empire-in-reverse: the Russian center fed the entire periphery"

I've heard this claimed before (unfortunately, I forget where I read it) and I'm trying to find some evidence either for or against it. Everything I can find through Google is from after the 1990's. I'll let you know if I come up with anything.

Also, and on topic, the existence of privilege and social status in societies isn't a bug it's a feature. As social mammals hierarchy and status are inherent to our condition in roughly the same way our brain stems and digestive systems are inherent to our condition. It isn't so much that it's good or bad so much as it is simply what we've got to work with.


Ray Wharton said...


Your link very much reminds me of reading later Heidegger. I didn't know the old man's influence was still so present in the deeper abysses of academia.

"that it mat­ters what sto­ries tell sto­ries, it mat­ters what thoughts think thoughts, it mat­ters what worlds world worlds. "

Alex said...

Ahavah - I call that the principle of "the good psychopath". Say you're a person who's OK with killing, for instance, well, you can use that for evil or use it for good. I sure hope I turn out to be one of da jooz because the more I learn, the more I feel like they're on the same sheet of music as I am.

Chris Travers - in 3rd world countries, people don't tend to kick their kids out to sink or swim at age 18, they don't slam the door in the face of relatives who have hit a hard spot, etc.

Pygmycorey - When I lived in Costa Mesa, California, a Middle-Eastern grocery opened up nearby so of course I had to check it out; they always had pita bread out front and very cheap. Out front as in just outside the door, and the price was very low. Apparently that's a custom, and why outside the door? If someone could not afford the 50c or whatever it was a package, they could grab it and go, and so what? A hungry person eats.

NS - I make just a bit over $10k and have to pay 13% taxes too, and live in a building zoned as storage with no running water. Such is reality in San Jose, California and I feel a hell of a lot luckier than tons and tons of people here.

beneaththesurface - I dread the day my old dumb phone dies, thank goodness new dumb phones are still available. Tech has been a big sh!t sandwich for me, and I am hoping to make some sort of a portable-skill life for myself doing cartoons and caricatures. You can paint with mud. I may consider doing a blog where I have the cartoon 'o' the day, but absolutely refuse to use any "graphics program" I'll paint with my mud, or whatever medium, and then scan it.

Alex said...

Don Plummer - you made me laff! "A tornado plowing through a junkyard and producing a 1974 Corvette!!"

BoysMom - Really, where do you live that a Water Master is a thing? Just general area in case you don't want to compromise OPSEC, I'm just curious.

RogerCO said...

@team10tim Privilege and social status are not a feature of human nature, they arise when a society starts to generate enough surplus to require a management class to look after it - typically the keepers of the granary become a priesthood and by having the power to alleviate famine the people start to see them as being closer to 'god'.
This really gets going at the point that there is sufficient surplus to support cities and the specialisation of labour and alienation from the means of subsitence that comes with that development and the expectation of continuing growth creating the theoretical possibility that one day I might get privileged - it is a feature of civilization not society.

Earlier agrarian communities may use a gift economy to smooth out changing fortunes and the role of the chief is that of chief giver and hardest worker.

The question is what will happen to privilege in a de-growth situation - usually it ends with blood being spilt. And how far round the cycle do you have to go before a gift economy becomes viable again. Is it possible to produce metal tools without a privileged class? What level of technology can be supported by a zero-growth society without a privileged class arising?

BoysMom said...

Alex, High Desert in the Western USA. The Water Master is the person paid by the water rights holders to make sure no one is stealing someone water, that if the senior rights holders (in our area, the Tribes) call the water, everyone else turns their pumps off, etc. People out here used to shoot each other to settle water disagreements. Now we call the Water Master, and if someone doesn't do what he says, we sue. Much safer.
There are lots of Water Masters, each with jurisdiction over a relatively small area. Ours works about forty hours a month in the summer, eight in the winter. He's not elected, but we do vote on who to hire, and we the water rights holders are all neighbors: we hold on one particular creek and its tributaries. Everyone likes our current Water Master except for that one grumbly loudmouth who doesn't like anyone anyhow anyway so who cares?
No problem with answering, just was at symphony rehearsal, Beethoven's IX, all evening.

Unknown said...

To those wondering how the salaried class benefit at the expense of the wage and investment class, the New Zealand Dairy industry is a classic example. The dominant force is a nominal co-operative processor, Fonterra. It is owned by farmer shareholders. My brother is employed as a wage worker and his class are treated with contempt by the management. His bonus last year was an Easter Egg. I kid you not. This for meeting production targets. The Salaried managers got cash, some in very large lumps. Wage slave morale adjusted accordingly.
Right now farmers (the investor class) are being paid below the cost of production, while the management are claiming they made a record profit. Some of the more cynical observers are suggesting the profit is an illusion designed to deliver contractual bonus payments to the managers.
Debt levels in the industry are high, and the salaried mangers have been talking up the industry through a period of supply shortage and good prices, which has now been over corrected due to a big increase in European production co-incidental with the removal of subsidies and the Russian embargo. There has been a recent purge of an excessively bloated management structure, but within my brothers part of the organisation there are still a number of individuals whose role remains a complete mystery.

Those who do the real work and take the real risks get shafted while the salaried class collect their salaries, benefits, perks and make the decisions about who gets what.

Graeme Bushell said...

Hmm... A lot of people are commenting about the relative cost of basics in different countries, when thinking about that "global 1%".

I think that's right, to do the analysis properly one should equate the income in different currencies on a Purchasing Power Parity basis, not an exchange rate basis.


jean-vivien said...

Hi everyone,

ten years on and this blog still rolls more than ever. Congratulations !
This is one of the media that have made me realize how different the USA can be from Europe... and why reality here has never been like what we are used to seeing on TV or in movies.
But I get the weird idea that, for most of the people living in the USA right now, reality is just as different from what is shown on the glossy screens.
And yet at the same time, this blog manages to, both at once, feel so American and somehow always hit home with its insights.
On some deeper levels, we are two Christian industrial societies, with all the common particularities that it entails behind the divergent pathes we took across History.
The more you talk about America, and the more I feel how different and yet how so similar we both are.

Regarding this week's post, and the magic mountain, I guess it boils down to one simple factor : actual physical proximity between members of different classes do enable the priviledged to not just empathize with but also participate in the other classes' daily lives. And human nature being what it is, that participation can manifest just as a scornful attitude, or just as mundane help.
What is gnawing at the social fabric like moths on a rampage is the isolation programmed by the arrangements of daily life. The car culture has done that to perfection. The consumer culture has also managed to insulate the primary economy from the rest of society.
This tendancy to abstraction is also driven by the logic of the wealth pump : isolate externalities elsewhere far away.
A society where the ressources needed to create that isolation are dwindling away is a society where sooner or later all classes of society have to walk elbow to elbow. This is what happened in World Wars and the military, to some limited extent. A common idea here is that our mandatory military service period has at least that advantage, that even if it proved often a waste of time for people (like, guarding clothlines under the rain), at least it provided people from a broad range of social backgrounds an opportunity to socialize and live alongside on a daily basis.
We'll see how this plays out in terms of social dynamics.
But the simple idea of rubbing shoulders with the lower class provides a simple, practical and meaningful concrete first step towards LESS, for those who are too afraid of the idea of an integral lifestyle change.

jean-vivien said...

Basically, my thnking is that it takes too many ressources, and creates too much tension, to maintain the priviledges created by physically isolating people from each other, just like the priviledges created by displacing externalities far away.
And the one externality that we had to bear as a consequence of that choice, that is, the loss of meaning in our social order, by far exceeds the material returns of that strategy. Why do you think that people are so easily radicalized ? Besides the same strategy is creating externalities that start to hit home as gloabal ressources are rarefying under environmental pressure.

Danil Osipchuk said...

JMG and team10tim

As Natalya I'm also amused to hear that Russia was substantially subsidized by Eastern countries in the socialistic block. I wonder what form this aid was taking. Was it a direct hard currency transfer? Or cheap labor? Agriculture products or industrial product on a big scale? Or may be resources (just kidding)?

I certainly do not remember anything of the origin with the exception of rare (and very expensive) consumer goods - like furniture, musical instruments and clothes. Not available to most of people.

Quick searches in this context show that indeed it was the other way - both in the socialistic block/client states and inside the USSR with the regard of Russia and other republics.

And that is very easy to reason about - after all Russia had most of the resources and man power both inside Soviet union and across the block. And tried to use them to buy loyalty, to put it bluntly.

Ctr-F "subsidies" on a page:

Or this book which seems to be partly available online (hope the links works) has a chapter "Who feeds whom" in the context of USSR or starting from page 167:

Quotes from there: "If the lack of republic services trade balances and time series data, plus distortions in Soviet pricing methodology are discounted, an answer can readily by supplied: The Russian Federation dominates as the principal net generator of resource outflows to all remaining 14 republics. (page 176)"
followed by discussion of possibly distortion in data and then:

"It bears to mention, however, that Russia's net creditor status in world market prices is so dominant that it is largely insensitive to significant variations in the coefficients used to translate foreign currency prices into their domestic price equivalents."

Bruno B. L. said...

JMG, as for the process of collapse been speeding up, that matches a part of my experience. I've been hearing people, more and more often, in regular conversations, ask "What the hell is happening to the world?" when hearing about the latest bad news. I usually reply "Well, we're not in the nineties anymore". People usually understand what I mean. For an American, I believe the phrase would have even more impact, the nineties having being America's imperial zenith time and all.

Don Plummer said...

@Alex--I have to admit I didn't come up with that analogy. I borrowed it from creationists, who use it to mock the theory of evolution that they really don't understand to begin with. But who says we can't use it in other contexts?

Martin B said...

Here in South Africa we have just celebrated Freedom Day, the anniversary of the day we all stood in long lines, black and white mixed, and voted overwhelmingly to end apartheid and bring in majority rule.

In 1994 the African National Congress formed the new government, taking over from the all-white National Party. With 4.5 million whites out of 55 million total, the government will be African for the foreseeable future.

The "previously disadvantaged", to use a popular term, now control the government, the treasury, the civil service, the police, the defense force, the law courts, the education system, most municipalities, and the many state-owned enterprises like the railways, the harbors, the airports, South African Airways, the national electrical utility Eskom, the Post Office and telecommunications backbones, and access to mining rights, fishing rights, and many other rights.

In short, it was a genuine handover of power from a dominant to a subordinate group.

And the result? Actually, not much has changed, to the dismay of many radical lefties.

A few Africans cosied up to the big corporations and became very wealthy. Others have gained wealth through government contracts of dubious legality (the "tenderpreneurs"). Many thousands have advanced through secure government jobs. There are now more blacks than whites in the middle class.

The government has built more than a million homes, tarred streets, provided electricity and water connections, and vastly increased pensions* and welfare payments.

In business, there are affirmative action programs, racial quotas, and preferential tender rates. Entry-level jobs like store clerk, bank teller, and receptionist, which thirty years ago were all white, now are overwhelmingly staffed by black people.

So Africans have made huge strides. Yet if you listen to talk radio, especially late at night, you will hear a parade of Africans complaining that nothing has changed. Because whites still live in the nice suburbs and hold the top jobs. Because the privilege of a good education, inherited assets, and very few indigent family members needing support, allow whites to get and keep a larger proportion of their income, despite black and white earning equal salaries.

And the lesson from this? I'm not sure. Certain social structures seem to be baked into the cake. It will require massive and unpleasant forces to change them.

There's always the chance of a race war. I put it at 10-20%. But most violence from the African side is directed at refugees from the rest of Africa, who are believed to be stealing jobs, and business rivalries like competition between rival taxi associations.

But I think the most likely triggers for major social disruption are war for control of declining natural resources; and those old standbys, famine and pestilence.

*I'm in the investment class, being retired. I have a state pension, a small private pension, and I pick up the odd house-sitting and DOS programming gig. I own my studio apartment, but no motor car, TV set, heater, microwave oven, or bicycle. I have an old laptop and a 2nd-hand Blackberry. My income is about two hundred dollars a month. I get by okay, but need dental work and a hernia op. I don't know where the money will come from. I'm scared to use the state health services, which can be excellent, but can also be awful.

Howard Skillington said...

" because my readers haven't gone shrieking off into the distance when I started bringing up edgier topics. I think people really are ready to hear this stuff. "

I hope this is true. In my experience, both here in North Carolina and among friends elsewhere with whom I correspond, the only rational explanation for my concern about collapse is/must be that I am delusional. Over a decade of patiently pointing out the innumerable signs of approaching collapse hasn’t appreciably budged their complacent conviction that “it simply can’t happen.”

I do think your readership is ready to hear this stuff, thanks to your admirable and enlightening work. Perhaps others of your faithful readers are having more success in spreading the word than I am.

Swift developer said...


"Also, and on topic, the existence of privilege and social status in societies isn't a bug it's a feature. As social mammals hierarchy and status are inherent to our condition in roughly the same way our brain stems and digestive systems are inherent to our condition. It isn't so much that it's good or bad so much as it is simply what we've got to work with."

Yes, that seems to me the conclusion as well.
This is why I asked last week about the difference between culture and privileges. It seems that privileges and culture are interrelated, one giving life to the other and vice versa. No good nor bad. In fact, the whole issue of privilege becomes rather moot. The more I think about it, the more I tend to believe that the wordt "privileged" is an invented thing to be used to "accuse" people. I.e. it is a "leftist" word without merit on its own.

Donald Hargraves said...

I have my own version of the simmering pasta/rise-and-fall-of-families concept:

1st Generation: knows poverty, works to escape it.
2nd Generation: knows of poverty, works to avoid it.
3rd Generation: has heard references of and about poverty, is too busy dreaming/chasing his own tail to avoid it without help.

(Personally I'm wondering if the above mythos is a sop given so as to help resign people to the present dictatorship of the middle men. The Elite seem to be very much resilient, even with the turnover.)

Unknown said...

There is another aspect of wealth and influence that your pot of spaghetti metaphor does not take into account, the ability of the wealthy and powerful to project their status onto future generations. You might want to search for an obscure book, "The Son also Rises." It's based on a body of research into uncommon surnames in a variety of societies and serves up a few surprises like the pre-Maoist powerful popping up a generation or two later as leaders of the Chinese Communist elite.

Dan L. said...

Dan L., you'll want to read my response to Mike further up the comment thread.

Many retirees are in the investment class; so are people who followed the advice of a once-popular book, spent ten or fifteen years stashing away a lot of money, and now live on that instead of working. The bulk of the investment class doesn't have access to the financial jiggery-pokery of the very rich, and they've been hit hard by the very low rate of return on safe investment we've had for decades now.

Thank you for the patient clarification!

Eric S. said...

"Far below the magic mountain, on the crowded plains of Europe, things were happening and pressures were building toward an explosion, but the feckless viewpoint character Hans Castorp and his fellow-patients—Lodovico Settembrini, Clavdia Chauchat, and the rest—drift aimlessly along until the explosion arrives, the trance shatters, and Castorp is flung, or flings himself, down from the magic mountain and onto the killing fields of the First World War."

The buildup towards some sort of explosion in America are continuing to build. News this morning is that violence at a Trump rally in California poured out into the streets as protestors began attacking the people trying to leave, and punching one in the face, then turning on cops and police cars, when law enforcement began trying to separate the two groups. The actual election campaign doesn't even start for another month and a half... It's going to be a long year, and the pressures are building. I'm really starting to wonder if the year is going to manage to go by without something profoundly ugly happening.

(by the way, on a lighter note, when this series gets bound in book form, if "A Single Convulsive Blorp" absolutely must be the title. The subtitle of course, will depend on how fast events move. It could wind up that, for the first time since you've been writing on this subject, much like Thomas Mann himself you'll find yourself having to do some last second revisions before publication to account for the fact that you're writing a history book rather than a commentary on the current state of affairs.)

One thing said...

Onething here. I was not planning to comment as I'm not home and don't know if I'll have trouble posting. I wanted to respond to what RogerCO said at 11:34 pm. After reading Rebalancing the World and Daniel Quinn's stuff and also Jane Goodall, I've come to the opinion that Roger is correct. I do get a bit tired of how people constantly think we are hardwired to behave as chimpanzees, although it is definitely down there! But - last common ancestor 12 million years and we have changed a lot. Democracy is the natural human value. It is done by pretty much all hunter-gatherer societies I have read about. Leadership is there, usually wisely chosen, but they do not have much brute power. And yes, voluntary redistribution of wealth is also a common feature.

So what happened? In my opinion it went wrong when we became civilized. Whether it is some kind of fall or just a growing process I am not sure. Whether there is hope that we will overcome it I am not sure. But I do note that with civilization, we have actually regressed away from democracy and now use actual chimpanzee bodily postures that (so far as I can tell) were jettisoned by the human race long ago. I am referring to kissing of hands, bowing and scraping before the alpha male, and also giving the alpha males right makes right power.

What causes people to regress? Some kind of emotional trauma. At least, when children and even adults are feeling very bad or insecure, they can regress to infantile behaviors. I am not sure if it was a bad transition to civilization itself, or a world trauma as I think occurred at the Younger Dryas, or both, or just an evolutionary process.

Phil Knight said...

Should have pointed this out earlier, but Bertrand Russell wrote an essay that prefigures the logic of The Rescue Game called "The Superior Virtue of The Oppressed":

patriciaormsby said...

I can vouch for what Natalya was saying to some degree. Unfortunately, I don't have references, but this is what I was hearing from people in the Russian Far East and from various -stan dwellers who were travelling around on business in Russia in the late 1990s. The USSR sent lots of adventurous young people out to the undeveloped periphery and they also allocated a lot of resources to getting nomadic tribes to settle into European-style communities and supporting them in a lifestyle that was not sustainable over the long term. When the USSR collapsed, that support ended. Enough of the tribespeople remembered how to live off-grid that a fair number of them just gathered up the reindeer, shrugged and went back to their traditional ways, a few have tried to make a stand in their modernized digs by attracting in adventure tours, and quite a number took to alcohol and other forms of suicide.

I haven't been back there in over a decade, but my impression is that aside from restoring pensions and making businesses more viable by reining in some of the worst corruption, they have not allocated resources to the periphery like they did when it was a social ideal. Certainly they extracted resources from the periphery. One example I know of is a mine in southern Buryatia that closed when the USSR imploded because it was economically unsustainable. The workers were left on their own, and continued mining the ore, producing the metal (I forget which) and trying to sell it, with individuals averaging about a dollar a day for their efforts. It was grim.

Ekkar said...

Thanks for another good post!
It's A funny thing how often I am aware how much my chicken flock resembles human societies, or vice versa maybe? Within the flock there are cliques, as well as in and out groups, and of course the bottom chicken, who if the circumstances work out just righ, can make it all the way to the top. Once at the top, just as you pointed out that rising powers attack suddenly a faltering power often violently, or atleast remorselessly. Once the top hen becomes sick, or old, or for whatever reason can not sustain her position o power, the other chickens will break her down ruthlessly, possably pecking her to death without intervention. Then a new queen is crowned. Basking in her possition until alas, her rule too comes crashing down.

. said...

I've just read (wikipedia sorry...)that after Adrianople "the magister militum of the Eastern Roman Empire, Julius, feared the Gothic populations elsewhere in the Eastern Roman Empire, both civilians and those Goths serving within army units across the Empire. After the events of Adrianople, they could ally themselves to Fritigern and spread the crisis to even more provinces. Julius therefore had those Goths near the frontier lured together and massacred. By 379, word reached the Goths in the interior provinces of the massacres, and some rioted, especially in Asia Minor. The Romans put down the riots and slaughtered the Goths in those places as well, both innocent and guilty."

I can see the exact same scenario unfolding in Europe. There are already those who talk about, say, razing the suburb of Molenbeek where the Brussels/Paris jihadists were helped to hide out on the basis that you can't tell the loyal from the disloyal. Although no one discusses treason these days that's basically what they mean.

But Byzantium survived the mass migrations while the Western empire went under. Did it survive because it was that ruthless?

What could someone in Julius' shoes have done at that time that didn't involve such massacres but still preserved Byzantium's borders?


Raymond Duckling said...


You have to take into account that living at the Imperial core is just expensive. USD$40K is a lot or money in the global south. By example, that kind of yearly income put's you definitive in the 0.99% at my (admitedly rich and privileged) city of Guadalajara. The cut off rate to support a family here with a measure of dignity but no luxuries is probably closer to USD$4K. And that on its turn would be considered serious money at some downtroden towns not more than a couple of hours from here.


> Privilege and social status are not a feature of human nature, they arise when a society starts to generate enough surplus to require a management class to look after it

This is simply not true. Even in hunther-gatherer societies, the master hunstman carries a lot of prestige, and so does the herbalist/midwife. You can bet that either of their chances of making it to tribe elder are way better than those of the average joe/jane.

pygmycory said...

Alex, surely you're allowed to convert to Judaism even if your ancestors weren't jews?

Violet Cabra said...

Hello all, as per usual I've been loving this weeks installment of TADR as well as the lively comments. This entire series on the dialogue around privilege has been informative and fascinating for me.

Recently I've been struggling with homelessness mediated by my substantial class privilege. This has amounted to me staying with a friend in Western Massachusetts for some time as well as my family in Eastern Mass. My situation is complicated by having just gotten a job in the western part of the state. This relates to the Magic Mountain part of the discussion - my parents, having wealth, means that I can buy things light fruit trees, herbs and whatnot and plant them all around their property. I do a lot of public plantings in Western Massachusetts, but never have any budget, it is incredible to just talk my family and then buy three peach trees and plant them that day! What a difference from working at farms for plant credit, or transplanting nettles and elder from the woods! I've been meaning to get solomon's seal for over a year now. Today I went to the garden store and bought half dozen plants and put them in a shady part of the lawn. In a few years I'll have amply root stock to propagate far and wide. This is unspeakably thrilling to me.

While I acknowledge the problematic ways my family lives, at least some of their wealth can be used to make a little cushion on the way down the magic mountain. Also, I'm excited to be connecting with the neighbors! One family is Jewish and I'm carpooling with them tonight to Shabbat, which is so, so exciting for me. I'm excited to connect more with my neighbors and am interested to go to a new synagogue. Relatedly, my friend I've been staying with in western mass and I had a radical Seder where we had nettles and yellow dock root as part of our maror and and discussed food justice (globally, "the bread of affliction" is the food of the poor and exploited. it is white rice, tortillas and frybread.) and examined our privilege. We also been having an ongoing conversation about tzedakah and tikkun olam and how that informs and motivates us to donate our time and energy towards public planting of edible and medicinals as well as doing plant walks, herbal workshops and other education to help empower people to have the tools to get on the LESS train. We are, of course, concerned about the larger fall from the mountain and wish to help cushion the collective. Given the political situation here in the states that may turn out to be impossible, but I'd rather go down planting!!

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Dear Alex,

You do know I hope that anybody can convert to Judaism? Since you are thinking about exercising the Right to Return, make sure the conversion ceremony is performed by an Orthodox rabbi; if it's performed by a rabbi from a more liberal denomination, the PTB in Israel might not recognize it as valid.

Expect to have to undergo a part time course of study for up to a year before being permitted to convert. That is a good idea as you need to know what you are signing up for and what you are leaving behind. Expect the rabbi to question you very closely about your motives for seeking conversion and to try to talk you out of it. These are just the dragons at the temple gate. Feel free to rabbi-shop if you live in a place where there is a selection. Rabbis, including Orthodox rabbis, differ enormously in temperament, senses of humor, and what they think is important.

If it turns out that your Jewish blood is on your father's side of the family, you might have to undergo conversion anyway before making aliyah, because Orthodoxy only counts matrilineal descent.

If you were to make aliyah (emigrate as a Jew: literally means "go up"), the Israeli government will send you to Hebrew immersion school (Ulpan) for free. But Israel is a very different place than the U.S. and I don't advise burning your bridges until you have lived there a while and know you can handle it.

MayHawk said...


It has been a while since I have made any comment to this blog. But this posting has really shaken my tree so to speak. I never thought of myself as ‘privileged’ even though before retirement I was a member of the Salary Class or was for the last half of my working life. I was a member of the Wage Class prior to that. And now I find that I am not only a member of the 1% but am living on top of the mountain of privilege. It has been a difficult shift in perspective and consciousness.

On the positive side my anger at those I perceived as affluent and privileged has dissipated. It is hard to remain angry at a group after finding that I am a member of that group. Now I have only disgust at my own blindness and pity for fellow members of this group. The evidence was always right in front of me but I chose to ignore it.

However I don’t think I will be ‘staying on the mountain’ so to speak much longer. The pension fund that is 75% of my income is in trouble and I doubt it will survive the next financial impact which I feel is not far off. After that I will make what ever accommodations I need to the changed circumstances. Or I will perish. Neither options particularly disturbs me. After all I’ve lived a long full life up to now.

On another matter; I hope the Garlic I sent to you last year is thriving.

Best regards


pygmycory said...

$10,000 US per year is about as much income as I've had any year since I left uni, and far more than some years ie. $1,300CAN. As for central heating and so on, you'll notice I said 'at the moment'. I've never had AC in Canada, but that isn't essential up here. Not having window screens in a basement suite can be a problem due to rodents as well as mosquitoes, and yes, we do get mosquitoes in Canada.

Since the building was full of holes, the rodents got in anyway no matter what I did with the windows. The squirrels were sort of funny, but the rats were too much, especially since their droppings kept falling out of the ceiling on the fridge and the kitchen counter. I couldn't afford to move out of my parents' basement (and yes, they did charge rent for much of this time even if it was low), and they were unwilling to set traps in case of harming squirrels, so I stuck up plastic with tape to keep them out of food prep areas, and was super careful to keep all food in rodent-proof containers. The stove didn't work so I had a hot plate and a toaster oven that couldn't be used at the same time without blowing a breaker. It worked, mostly. The rodent problems went on for many months, until they started having mouse problems upstairs.

Heating is a much bigger deal than AC here. I've always had some form of heat, but sometimes it has been pretty sketchy. This is a problem at -9C. I got problems with the windows freezing shut, frequent chillblains off the concrete floor, and the cold aggravating my fibromyalgia symptoms. There were also mold issues inaccessible behind the shower, but at least it had a working shower.

I was pretty glad to have a roof over my head, and pretty scared of losing it.

I've never had a car, and I'm not planning on it.

The place where I am now is better than the place I described. I guess what I'm trying to say is that just because I'm doing ok right now doesn't mean I always have been, or that I expect it to last forever.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Congratulations on ten years! I can truly say that your essays, and the wide ranging dialogue among the commenting community have greatly influenced the way I live my life, in material and immaterial ways.

Re privilege: yes, always a constant in every society; in some societies manifested by status rather than material goods. Loved the magic mountain trope: it reminds me that these days, privilege includes being able to live in places where the air is reasonably clean, water drinkable: petcoke is not being piled up near by, nor is the new trucking facility with the resultant poisonous diesel particulate matter located next to the neighborhood elementary school.

I confess to being a little surprised that the discussion of privilege is considered controversial and something kept quiet. Maybe this is because I know a few community activists in Chicago working to improve their neighborhoods, and it's very clear the power and privilege structures they are dealing with. Very out in the open, you might say. On both sides. Also, it seems to me that anyone discussing income inequality, from Thomas Pikkety to the Occupy folks to the Fight for Fifteen movement, to academic analyses of the effect of wealth on US policy and law and much else, have more-or-less been talking about this for a few years now--but it's really, finally, at last coming out into the open with this election cycle. I look forward to reading the continued discussion in this space.

To me, privilege partly involves a level of material and emotional security, if not great financial wealth--enough food, clothing and decent shelter, a fair amount of personal safety plus a resilient family structure and some personal freedom. (These are things in increasingly short supply, of course, hence the uproar.)

By these terms my upbringing was privileged. We children were taught that "the world does not owe you a living" and "from those to whom much is given, much is expected." Giving back to the community was expected and we were required to learn practical skills as well as do well at book learning. We were also taught to treat everyone with respect, not just members of our own class. Ethics and integrity were always more important than financial success. Frugality was a virtue. I never didn't have an awareness of the role of privilege (and the complexities implied by the term). Now that I think about it, it was, even then, a very old-fashioned way to be brought up.

Yet my husband and I have raised our own children the same way.

My own writing has been deeply influenced by the archdruid's, as in my latest post Ethics and Ecosystem Interactions .

pygmycory said...

JMG, thanks for the suggestion on the southern -stans. I think that's well worth looking into.

FLwolverine said...

RogerCO: What level of technology can be supported by a zero-growth society without a privileged class arising?

I don't know the answer to your question, but you might find it interesting to read a series of posts by Ugo Bardi on Edo Japan, which he says is one of the only available examples of a steady state economy. Here's a quote from one of the posts, with a link. The linked post contains further links to the other essays. As Bardi indicates, there was definitely a privileged class.

"We tend to see a steady state economy as something very similar to our society, only a bit quieter. But Edo Japan was very different. Surely it was not paradise on earth. It was a highly regulated and hierarchical society where it would have been hard to find - perhaps even to imagine - such things as "democracy" or "human rights". Nevertheless, the Edo period was a remarkable achievement; a highly refined and cultured society. A society of craftsmen, poets, artists and philosophers. It created some of the artistic treasures we still admire today; from the katana sword to Basho's poetry."

Bob Patterson said...

I think the most important pillar is debt. Oceans of debt, channeled by people using it to exploit others. It is economic worth that is basically worthless, yet it can be redeemed at face value. Created by the Fed, banks, and anyone who can create a debt instrument that someone will buy. The biggest peak we face is not peak oil, but peak debt. When no one will buy the debt generated due to lack of faith in being repaid, things start to unravel.

On another subject, the recent OPEC meeting was pretty amazing. Iran wanted to go back to it's production levels prior to sanctions, but Saudi Arabia would not have it. So all these countries which desperately need revenue from oil could not agree on production limits to raise the price. This is the first time politics and religion, not the economic health of Arabia, have driven Saudi oil price policy .

FLwolverine said...

RogerCO: Privilege and social status are not a feature of human nature,

On the other hand, several species of non-human primates form social groups within which there are dominance hierarchies. Surplus and management wouldn't seem to be factors there. Perhaps human practices of privilege and status arise out of this same tendency/need/instinct for levels of dominance and are indeed a basic aspect of human nature. (Not an anthropologist.....)

Yinyura Mima said...

@JMG, "sine regnum sum" literally means "I've no kingdom" (or "I am without kingdom", my english is not good)

@Alex, don't know where BoysMoms is, but you can read about Water Master duties at Cedar City, UT in I think every place where irrigation by channels is done has some sort of Water Master (here we call him "Tomero", "toma" is the place where the irrigation channel takes water from the river -the verb tomar means to take)

Brian said...

Not really related to this week's post, but some interesting fodder for the retro-future thought processes - if you haven't seen No Tech Magazine and Low Tech Magazine, they're well worth a look. Some of the ideas are out there, but I can imagine many of the old technologies showing up again when society as a whole realizes that fossil fuels aren't going to well out of the ground forever.

Congratulations on 10 years, John. That's traditionally the tin anniversary, I believe. I'd make a joke about tin foil hats, but I can't seem to think of one that doesn't end up being offensive to this crowd, and I have nothing but respect for the commenters and our prolific host. Thanks for all you do.

Phil Harris said...

Tim (@team10tim)
“RE: Наталья Тулинцева and JMG,”

Soviet grain production,_Presentations_and_Conferences/Yield_Reports/Grain%20Production%20in%20the%20USSR%20Present%20Situation,%20Perspectives%20for%20Development%20and%20Methods%20for%20Prediction.pdf
This paper from USDA 1981 gives a reasonably good picture of Soviet production and demand up to that time. Great strides had been made but there was an ongoing shortfall because rising production had not caught up with increasing demand. There was increasing demand for feed for livestock and what was missing was a capacity for corn growing. (Corn production however has increased recently after 2000 – see the next link.) However, given an ongoing yearly shortfall in total grain of 50 million tons in 1981 it seems unlikely that USSR could be said to have fed much of a ‘periphery’.

However things have changed from 2000.
Quote: “The grain-growing belt of Central Eurasia, shared by the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, extends almost 20 000 km, from the Carpathian Mountains to the Amur River valley in the Russian Far East, and offers significant underutilized grain production potential. These three countries of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) have recently re-emerged as leading grain exporters; their share in the global grain exports rose from 1 percent in 1991 to 18 percent in 2013 (Liefertet al, 2013; FAOSTAT 2013)”

Total grain has not recovered to USSR levels (I o nly had quick look) but there seems still much less grain going to feed meat animals and this appears to account for the ability to export.
Some interesting graphs and numbers.

Rita said...

JMG--You used the simile of a greyhound chasing a mechanical rabbit. You might be amused to know that animal rights activists forced the tracks to switch to a large foam bone as the lure. Yes, people actually put time and energy into making sure that mechanical rabbits were not being cruelly used. Sometimes I get the feeling that as a society we are in the position of a condemned criminal complaining that the warrant for his execution has been printed in a font he dislikes.

sgage said...

@ Violet Cabra:

"I'd rather go down planting!!"

I think I've you've just given me my new motto - thanks!

Anselmo said...

According a russian economist called Mikhail Khazin, there is another perspective more with respect the fight of Clinton versus Trumph.

The fight between two groups who rule the USA economy. The financiers (Clinton) and the isolationist (Trumph).

The firsts seek to preserve some time more , the global economy by the mean of sacrificing the US economy. The seconds seek to disconnect the Unites states of the global economy.

Each one of this options involves goals different in fields of crucial importance, which in some cases are in conflic

Ahavah said...

For those who asked - yes, anyone, whether they have or suspect they have Jewish ancestry either side mother or father, and even if they don't and don't have a Jewish relative anywhere - they can convert to Judaism. As someone mentioned, it is a process of 1-3 years. Circumcision is still required for men. They will not do a conversion to someone who is married to a non-Jew who is not also converting. Either the whole immediate family converts or you're ineligible.

However, if you make aliyah and your conversion is not with an orthodox Rabbi (and even if it is with a modern orthodox rather than an ultra orthodox rabbi in some cases) your conversion will not be recognized by the Rabbinate. One of the reasons I'm not interested in moving there is that my husband is a conservative convert. That means the Israeli Rabbinate would not consider us married, would not consider him Jewish, would not allow him to be buried in a Jewish cemetery, etc.

There is a difference between having the right of return, which anyone with a Jewish grandparent or a conversion with any branch of Judaism is legally entitled to have, and actually being legally considered a Jew for family court purposes once you reach Israel. The family courts (births, adoptions, Jewish status, marriages, divorces, and burials) are all under the control of the ultra orthodox and they do not tolerate non-orthodox conversions for any reason, nor families that have been secular or atheist. And even if your family has been practicing Judaism for generations, you have to have the right documentation, three generations worth at least, which is nearly impossible since the holocaust for many families. For a male convert married to a native born Jew, though, their kids would still be considered Jewish even if the marriage is nullified.

If they reject a woman's conversion, her kids are considered non-Jews even if they were born after her conversion, and her marriage to a native Jew is considered null and void (rather like Catholicism, which simply does not recognize state marriage certificates for Catholic parish members, or certificates from clergy from some other branch of Christianity).

So aliyah is not for the faint of heart. Even people born in Israel have this problem, not just immigrants. Thousands of young couples have to go out of the country to cyprus or greece to get married, because the state will recognize a marriage from abroad for tax purposes, inheritance, etc. But the Rabbinate will not.

There are groups fighting this monopoly on status rulings, of course, but as long as the political situation requires other parties to work with the UO, nothing substantial is ever going to change.

Grebulocities said...

Here's an interesting article in the NYT. It seems the higher ed bust has begun in earnest.

This article focuses on small private colleges, but the bust is more general and seems to be affecting less selective institutions everywhere. Seems enrollment has fallen for the last couple of years or more at most such schools. It's become more pronounced here in Illinois because of the budget crisis; state money to public institutions was abruptly cut off, and the less selective public schools are suffering seriously and furloughing faculty and staff. Chicago State, in the South Side ghettos, may fail entirely. The state government did recently get around to approving a fraction of the usual funding to the state universities for this fiscal year only, after letting them go without funding entirely for 10 months, but the future looks bleak.

As for the small private colleges, they had been playing a game of competitively raising tuition rates. People had been treating the college tuition "sticker price" as a sign of status. In the language of economics, tuition turned into a Veblen good: the demand curve ran in reverse, so that higher prices led to higher demand. Colleges that tried to cut tuition suffered losses and status and saw decreasing enrollment, so an arms race developed that made the bubble even more pronounced.

In fairness, the actual price to attend those colleges was usually considerably lower than advertised: most students would get at least some "financial aid" from the colleges in the form of grants, offsetting some of the sticker price increases. The rest was of course made up of loans. So they raised prices dramatically, but offered rebates for some of it once they were in. What could possibly go wrong?

Varun Bhaskar said...


What I'm getting out of this series of articles is that there are two sets of privileges and reciprocal obligations, those that exist due to historical circumstance and those that are created by society to deal with historical circumstances. The most obvious of the former is birth, but it gets more complex for the latter. During exigent circumstances, like war, a portion of previously unprivileged peoples are granted temporary privileges. Citizens become soldiers and are treated accordingly, at least until the war ends. Those temporary privileges can certainly become permanent, but it isn't necessarily so.

That's what makes the rise of charismatic leaders so dangerous for the current set of privileged, because the first order of business is rearranging the distribution of privileges in a way more favourable to the charismatic leader. The change is permanent.

This also opens up an interesting option for the commoners. During periods of social upheaval it becomes very possible for commoners to increase their privilege by a) organizing with other commoners to create a new circle of privilege, or b) use their particular skills sets to bargain for more privileges.



Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Alexa--I really liked your story about proprietors of Middle Eastern grocery stores setting packets of pitas outside the door where a desperately hungry person could just take them. After a while it reminded me of something. The great twelfth century Rabbi Mosheh ben Maimon, aka Maimonides, who was born in Spain and died in Egypt when those places were ruled by Muslims, wrote something called the Golden Ladder of Charity.

Rambam ranked the various ways of giving charity according to how much they spared the dignity of the recipient. Giving someone charity in such a way that the giver does not know who the recipient is, and the recipient knows who gave but does not have to look them in the face and ask, is ranked above the middle. Giving grudgingly and only when asked is at the bottom and arranging for someone to have a job so they can support themselves is at the top.

In Maimonides' time and place, Muslim and Jewish scholars (and a few Christians) studied and discussed religious matters together. Perhaps the grocer's way of feeding the poor arose out of that milieu.

nuku said...

Re Fontera and the New Zealand dairy industry:
The Fontera setup is that dairy farmer owners as members of the co-op (most NZ dairy farmers are members) receive a yearly dividend based on co-op profits (mainly sales of milk powder to countries like China). Obviously the company makes more profit when it can buy raw milk cheaply. Its thus in the company’s interest to pay its own members a low price for their raw milk. On the other hand, the farm owners, as individual business people, make less money when milk prices are low. It seems that bigger dividends never quite make up for lower raw milk prices.
Meanwhile, The salary class CEO of Fontera receives NZ$94,000 per WEEK. His salary is not tied to company profits or lack thereof.

Kfish said...

Privilege is a funny thing. My grandparents made the climb from farming to big-time landlording through sheer hard graft, so I've heard the 'three generations from poverty to poverty' story my entire life. As my grandparents get older, they've started telling the stories about the hard early days much more frequently and pointedly.

My generation of the family has split into two paths: we all went to university, but my mother tried to raise her kids with minimal ostentation, while my uncle went BIG. I hope my cousins have some common sense under the surface, but they've been raised in the very poshest circles our town can provide, so their sense of normal has to be badly skewed.

John Michael Greer said...

Benjamin, of course there will still be beans to be counted. My guess, though, is that a lot more of them will be counted in Beijing and elsewhere, and a lot fewer anywhere in the United States.

Candace, no doubt.

Tim, exactly. Privilege exists among every other system of social primate, and attempts to get rid of it seem to work about as well as attempts to get rid of sex. Thus, as you say, it's something we have to deal with.

Unknown, thank you -- a classic and all too common example.

Graeme, no doubt. Are you volunteering to crunch the numbers?

Jean-Vivien, that's a worthwhile point -- the reason privilege is invisible to the privileged is that the less privileged are kept out of their sight, by our current social and technological arrangements, car culture among them. It'll be interesting to see how long that lasts.

Danil, thanks for this. Apparently the widely circulated claim that Russia was being propped up by imports from eastern Europe was US propaganda, then. Good to know.

Bruno, that's a nice cogent way of putting it!

Martin, thanks for the data points!

Howard, oh, I know. My readers are a very small subset of a very large population -- but at least there are a few people who don't run screaming off into the night when I deal with an edgy topic!

Donald, that's because the turnover isn't all or nothing, and very often people move up or down a modest level at a time. Compare the families at the top of the heap in America in 1860 and those that had a similar status in 1960 and you'll find vast differences, but it takes that sort of time scale.

Unknown, I'm trying to figure out why you think that refutes what I've said, when I noted the way that families remain at the top for several generations at a time.

Dan L., you're welcome.

Eric, funny. No, that won't be the title, though it may be a chapter heading. I like titles that tell the reader what kind of book it is, and there's so much convulsive blorping going on just now that they'd likely get confused!

Unknown said...

Mention of "The Son also Rises" was not intended as a refutation. I agree with your basic premise and think your metaphor about a pot of spaghetti sauce might be misunderstood by some as a more complete remaking of the power class than you intended.

John Michael Greer said...

Onething, er, if you're tired of people pointing out that human beings are social primates whose social behavior closely resembles that of all other social primates, you're going to face a lot of frustration here and elsewhere. I found Quinn's books specious -- it's long been fashionable for people in complex societies to fantasize that people in technologically simpler societies are paragons of virtue, without any of the social problems of more complex cultures. Anthropological research doesn't happen to bear that out, but the fantasy remains. Democracy, far from being natural to human beings, is fairly rare; it has to be constructed and then guarded against any number of forces that tend to tear it down, and history shows that eventually every democracy falls. The tendency on the left to insist that democracy is somehow automatic in human beings is a core reason why leftist groups are so bad at democratic process -- they don't grasp the fact that democracy doesn't come naturally and thus requires constant maintenance, so you get government by clique or an endless series of quarrels that end up tearing the group to shreds.

Phil, thank you for this! A fine and eminently worthwhile essay.

Patricia, many thanks for the data points.

Ekkar, exactly. I tend to use baboon troops, which I read about extensively at one point, as my standard model, but chickens will do just as well!

.Mallow, I wish I had an easy answer.

Violet, I hope the homelessness thing isn't too hard on you. "I'd rather go down planting" is a great slogan, btw.

Mayhawk, why, yes -- thanks for asking. For some reason all the alliums are going ape in the garden this year, and I have a veritable forest of garlic, courtesy of your bulbs. (Yum.) Many thanks!

Adrian, thank you. Privilege is like sex -- if it's openly discussed it can be dealt with in a healthy manner that avoids a lot of problems; if it's kept in the closet and treated as a taboo subject, things can get very twisted indeed.

Pygmycory, you're most welcome.

Bob, there I disagree. Debt is simply a system of arbitrary tokens that are used to manage the distribution of actual goods and services. It could be replaced with a different system of tokens -- say, metal-based currency -- and once the turmoil of the transition was over, things would go on more or less as they had been. Crucially, the choice of a token system doesn't affect the two pillars I discussed -- the global dominance of the US and the reckless consumption of natural resources -- as these could both function under any system of tokens you care to name.

Yinyura, I think it would have to be "regno" rather than "regnum" because, unless my memory plays me false, the object of "sine" takes the ablative.

Brian, hmm! I hadn't thought of the tin anniversary. That suggests something I'll have to add to the festivities... ;-)

alex carter said...

Unknown (Deborah Bender) - To clarify, on my Dad's side it's WASP as the day is long, I've got relatives on that side who are in the DAR.

On my Mom's side, things are hella Kosher. Either my Mom hung out with a metric f!ckton of Ashkenazic Los Angeles Jew or she was one. Gesundheit, Kosher, Bubula, Dreck, were word I grew up with as much as the Foobar, Crash (as in to sleep) Blivet, etc of the hacker-speak of my dad.

Hahahaha a Jew is found surviving on an abandoned island. He's built two shuls. The rescuers ask him about, why two? He says, "Oh, I never go to the other one".

Right now I think my two greatest local resources are the local Reform temple, est. during the Civil War or so, and good ol' Chabad. Once I have the genetic go/no-go in, then I'll pay for a decent genealogist because I really want to know about Mom's folks' "cigar store", maybe the building is still standing. I want to find out if they really came from Vilnius, and I want to see if I have surviving relatives from other branches of the family.

As for Hebrew, I've loved the look of the letters since I was little. In fact, coconut leaves that soaked in water, like in a pond, would get these strange markings on them and I used to imagine that they were Hebrew and would save them, thinking I could learn to read them. Like they had messages that were important or something.

But wait, it gets weirder: It's only a decade or so ago that I learned about the winding of tefillin, but I used to do that when I was little! I'd take a rope or a piece of hose or something and wind it on my left arm. Standing, not sitting.

You know, the first generation of electronic calculators, if you tried to divide by zero, they went nuts. I feel like the same thing; there are things that are just too much for us. I like to say, to understand God is like an ant trying to understand a supercomputer. I try to understand the thing that is all things and I'm like a little ant here, wiggling its antennae, wiggle, wiggle.

John Michael Greer said...

Rita, I'd say you're joking but I know better. The things people will do when they're trying to distract themselves from their own complicity in injustice...

Anselmo, yes, that's also part of it. Clinton is a neoconservative, with the usual neocon obsessions about invading other countries and overthrowing governments; Trump isn't.

Grebulocities, thanks for this! The college bust is going to be huge.

Varun, excellent. I'd encourage you to work that out in more detail and get an essay on the subject into your paper.

alex carter said...

Unknown (Deborah Bender) - to me this stuff is all common sense. I'm a free hand with panhandlers downtown and was one before I lost everything and became a panhandler myself (for a few months in 08) Unknown charity is best and I want to try giving an idea to PBS/NPR that they make an "anonymous" donate route, I don't want a book bag, I just wanna give you money OK? I think they may get a lot of donations that way.

Ahavah - I have saved people and I have saved a crashing plane. I once tried to "take out" a pickup truck with my head. I've been called a lot of things but gutless isn't one of them. I've said it before and I'll say it again: If I'm gonna die poor and in the street, it might as well be in the homeland as here. And, if I can take a knife meant for a Sabra, all the better. I must have some kind of knack for languages because the Army sorted out me and this other guy, and we went into this room where they taught us, saparately, a "synthetic language". We came out and conversed in this language. I can glottal-stop with the best of Polynesians, and as far at the ckhckhckhckhckhckh thing yeah can do that too. I am "ami" in Hebrew, how cool is that? Oh, I'll answer: Very cool. I know about ulpan, but plan to have a fair amount of Hebrew under my belt before I ever get there. Look up the "Aleph Beis Song" on YouTube and never underestimate the power of a rabbi with a guitar. It's a good way to learn the Hebrew alphabet for Anglos.

Kevin Warner said...

In reading your post this week (congrats by the way on 10 successful years of essays) and its comments on privilege I keep on being reminded of passages out of the book "World War Z". Forget the idiotic film whose only resemblance is its title, the book itself talks a lot about how societies have to make radical changes downwards in order to survive. The US Army is reorganized into something resembling a Civil War-era army; former 'cubicle mice', casting directors, copyright lawyers and the like have to go to classes to learn real life skills from what were their former peon servants and tradesmen whose prospect frightens some more than the zombies themselves. Eternal privileges associated with whole classes of people vapourise as a rock-solid way of life ceases to exist - you get the idea.
Any chance, by the way, of down the track doing a post on education? Not on how it stands at the moment (there is too many fish in that particular barrel to be shot at) but on how it should be done for our generation onward in order for us to cope with a centuries-long contracting economy and lifestyle. I keep on thinking that it may resemble a 19th century style of education but that may be simply a lack of imagination on my part.

alex carter said...

JMG - I think you're onto an obvious thing we're all not-seeing. College is a huge bubble. The time I spent in college was a huge waste. I'd borrow books from the library and study on my own, before. In fact, I borrowed a copy of "Basic Electricity" by Sparks and Rees for about 2 years! When I finally returned it to the Mo'ili'ili branch of the library, they didn't even demand a fine, just looked puzzled.

If I were to do the tech route again I'd have gotten the FCC license with radar endorsement, the CET which is tough, gone to work for a company for a few years for some "polishing" then gone on my own. But more realistically, art would have been the ticket.

alex carter said...

Damnit, there was an anti-Trump demonstration today and I didn't know about it or I'd have been there.

I need to to do a cartoon and "copyleft" it so everyone can multiply it and no one can monopolize it through copyright.

FLwolverine said...

Re greyhound lures -

Some stories are too good to be true, and I'm afraid the one about animal rights activists defending mechanical bunnies fits that bill. I had heard (and the quote below from "all about greyhounds" states) that the concern was that chasing a rabbit shape created blood lust in the dogs. Rescuing greyhounds has been an ongoing crusade by numerous groups; those trying to place retired or rescued greyhounds with real people don't want the dogs to have a pit bull reputation. The information page does say that some tracks have dropped the bone shape and gone back to stuffed bunnies.

"Most lures were originally rabbit-shaped, but in the mid-1980’s there was pressure from animal rights groups and some humane societies to change the lure shape because the rabbit shape allegedly implied or even encouraged hound blood lust. Many tracks changed to a bone shaped lure at that time."

alex carter said...

Regarding tefillin it gets stranger yet! I had bangs when I was little and I used to get frustrated by them, so I used to take a lot of Mom's bobby pins and bind 'em up in a solid bang-bobby-pin mass that weighed heavily on my forehead. So imagine me, with this mass on my forehead, winding up the ol' improvised tefellin on my arm of the day, standing, in the garage in Costa Mesa, California. (Hebrew coconut leaves came later, when we'd moved to Hawaii Kai).

Also I remember my Mom talking with a friend, who was from Austria. "Australia?" I asked. "No, Aus-tria". "Ohh, Austria", I said. And there was something about Israel, "Is-real?" I asked. No, I was told, Israel. "What's real?" was my question and it was explained to me that it's a country called Israel. "Oh," I finally concluded and to help me remember, "It is, real". This was met with great approval.

My mother could not seem to get along with anyone. Thinking back now, given that anti-Semitic statements were as common as scratching your nose, there may be a reason for this. She taught me to never do things that were not Kosher (honest, ethical) never cross a picket line, and by God if there was a show on TV about the Holocaust we were going to watch it no ifs ands or buts. Not even Jacques Cousteau had priority.

Hubertus Hauger said...

@ JMG says: “… it's long been fashionable for people in complex societies to fantasize that people in technologically simpler societies are paragons of virtue, without any of the social problems of more complex cultures. Anthropological research doesn't happen to bear that out, but the fantasy remains. Democracy, far from being natural to human beings, is fairly rare; it has to be constructed and then guarded against any number of forces that tend to tear it down, and history shows that eventually every democracy falls. The tendency on the left to insist that democracy is somehow automatic in human beings is a core reason why leftist groups are so bad at democratic process -- they don't grasp the fact that democracy doesn't come naturally and thus requires constant maintenance, so you get government by clique or an endless series of quarrels that end up tearing the group to shreds…”

In most discussions with people, I observe an oversimplification of complex situations. That one mentioned, I find in all talk about how people will live together in changed circumstances. Even, I saw, it doesn’t matter, which ideology one is accompanied with. Them speculating, how their ideal society will flourish, but generally what hinders in every day life is ignored and kind of fairy-tale happy ending context be imagined. So left-wing thinkers just sadly ridicule their idealistic approach, by even starting in their actual gatherings, not so seldom them cliquing together and tear one another apart in endless series of quarrels.

What I see is, that a council debate need skills more complex. Easier it is, for a person with unenlightened self-interest, to push oneself with force into a group. The strongest is going to be followed for a time automatically indeed. So, if there is no space and resources, to build up the know-how, needed for group leading, single leaders are the evolutionary preferred first choice. They need much less knowledge and assistance to work. Therefore they can easier succeed.

However, I would not agree, that in history, democratic towns, city-states and confederacies, as history shows eventually falling. You could easily twist the argument around and say, history shows that eventually every dictatorship falls.

Instead I see human societies being quite complex fabrics. Them oscillating between the extreme positions of organizing themselves from only single leadership to total equal group leading. GMG, do not fall into the trap of over-simplifying now the opposite position. I see your assumption of democracy being automatic, as false. Neither so is autocratic rule automatic or even the major ruling body. In my view it’s a mixed intermingled dynamic, whipping from one state to another back and from. Complex and complicated.

Giving historical example; As a catholic Christian I see the church’s community structures over the last 2000 years. Whereas orders do have a mixed processing of decision-making. From choosing leading figures to functionaries there is a mixture at work from majority vote, over consensual agreement to abbot decisions. Either or, they can all work hand in hand.

Giving contemporary example; Living-communities I visited or informed myself about in detail. They show either different ruling structures from consensual decision-making to leaders giving general or detailed instruction. Often over the time changing their ruling body in either direction is common. So it is a floating process. Never fixed eternally to one ruling body.

I agree, that people fantasize about simpler societies being free of the social problems of more complex cultures. Instead democracy has to be constructed and then guarded against any number of forces that tend to tear it down. History shows that eventually they are teared down. However they are build up again and again all over.

I disagree, that democracy is fairly rare. They are not on the verge of extinction. But there is an ongoing struggle between the ruling forces for dominance. Never one side is going to succeed forever!

Matchstick Warrior said...

As if to prove everything published in recent weeks on class, in the UK we have just had the (partial) resolution of a massive colluded class, police and (Murdoch) media cover-up into a disaster at the Hillsborough Football ground 27 years ago.
This whole episode has been a disturbing illustration of the lengths upper classes will go to in order to smear what they perceive to be the lower classes over an incident that was ultimately caused by the inconsiderate nature of those in charge of the police force at that time. The Murdoch media chose to side with the establishment and hyped the smearing of the 96 people, of all ages and backgrounds, who were literally crushed to death in overcrowded stands.
This week, a small victory has been chalked up against this class superiority behavior as the police force involved was found to have been at fault. This paves the way now for those who were in charge to be appropriately prosecuted for the actions, the subsequent defamation of the football fans, and hopefully perversion of the course of justice.
And whilst the whole of the media celebrates this long overdue victory, the press of the Murdoch empire remains steadfastly silent.
It is interesting how this microscosm of events in the world so perfectly illustrates everything that has been written about class in the last few weeks, and disturbing how much it pervaded, and continues to pervade, British society as it does in your descriptions of American society.
Perhaps, as you point out here, it is hard-wired into our behavioural nature. In which case we are in a cycle that as a species we are doomed to repeat over and over, as we blindly repeat collapse over and over. For all we consider ourselves clever and intelligent as a species, we are in fact really quite stupid as a result of our intelligence.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown, thanks for the clarification. If I were to go beyond the metaphor, I'd probably present a Dungeons and Dragons model -- every generation, you roll D6, and if you roll a 1 a privilege-devouring snobosaur pounces on you and drags you down 1d6 social levels. That seems to reflect the stochastic reality of class.

Kevin, I've had in mind for some time now not merely a post but an entire series on education, but other things keep pushing it aside. Still, its time definitely needs to come fairly soon.

Alex, I'm far from the only person who's noticed that the entire higher education industry is in massive bubble territory, and when that bubble pops it's going to leave quite a crater. Care to buy a used Harvard? One may be up for sale in due time. More on this in an upcoming post!

FLwolverine, thanks for the info!

Hubertus, of course every dictatorship eventually collapses. In fact, dictatorships tend to collapse sooner than democracies do. Neither dictatorship nor democracy, nor any of the other options, is "natural" for human beings.

Matchstick, the cycle of rising and falling civilizations has been going on as long as there have been civilizations, and I don't expect it to stop in the lifespan of our species. Countless human beings have lived thoughtful, creative, interesting, and worthwhile lives anyway, and countless more will continue to do so as long as our species lasts. I grant we're not actually that bright -- we have, after all, only as much intelligence as our ancestors needed to dig roots, hunt gazelles, and keep out of the way of the occasional leopard -- but we are what we are, and might as well get comfortable with that. As for the Hillsborough business, glad to hear it and I hope the families get some kind of recompense for what they've been put through. Do you think the courts would stand for having the people responsible put in the stocks for an old-fashioned pelting with rotten vegetables and brickbats?

Matt said...

JMG replying to Mister Roboto: "Some of them are investment class and some of them are salary class. It depends on whether most of their annual income comes from investments, on the one hand, or kleptocratic compensation packages on the other. "

I'm thinking along the same lines as Mister Roboto, this group is in some sense a Thing, even though it cuts across any particular definition of social class. For one thing, it's hard to make a clear distinction on the income source for many of them, since telephone number salaries are usually accompanied by generous share option schemes, and many senior executives can flit from engagement to engagement with varying balances of income.

Given this flexibility, my sense is that there is not a strong new/old money type distinction in this group, partly because their self-image promotes the ideas of leadership and entrepreneurship across the board. They also seem to be quite happy increasing each other's wealth considerably, whether derived from ownership or salary, and seem to have been very successful in massively increasing the gap between those at the top of organisations (whether owners or salaried executives) and their average employee.

This business and wealth elite also wield a great deal of concentrated power, either directly by their actions in small groups at the top of multinational corporations who can affect thousands of lives with the stroke of a pen, or through the intensive lobbying of governments and so on. Ties with influential people from the ranks of politics are further cemented with the revolving door syndrome where civil servants rotate between government jobs and private companies and consultancy firms, and elected politicians holding executive positions in organisations ("it keeps us connected to the real world").

For me, this seems to indicate a greater commonality of purpose and interest than is provided by the investment/salary distinction, and certainly sets them apart from the other members of those classes, like pensioners and lower-level functionaries. Does that make it a separate class, or just a ruling elite?

alex carter said...

JMG - I see companies giving potential employees tests, maybe extensive ones, because not only are there a bunch of dunderheads graduating college without real skills, but there's stuff like Indians paying other Indians who are professional test-takers to take the test for them. And you don't want to miss out on the un-colleged genius like I've known a few of who can be "one of the few live sled dogs on the team" in a company.

Colleges are gonna crater big.

And what the F*CK is the deal with college sports? How in hell did that come about? Ohhh yeah, good old anti-Semitism. For decades, I'd say most of the 20th and into the 21st century, your life would be made if you scored X number of touchdowns for Stanford, and I've met people who made their lives that way, but I (hopefully) see that coming to an end.

I mean, in HS I was a jock, not that I participated in HS sports but I could walk, paddle a surfboard, for miles, and I'd wear the "portuguese man-o-war" stings proudly. I knew about the life of the body, physical exertion and endurance. But school was for study.

Ursachi Alexandru said...

"The Soviet Union was an empire in reverse," I saw in a comment here.

I really don't know what to say about this. Let's look at the constituent Soviet Republics themselves. Moldova, for example, fell into near anarchy during the 1990s. All those subsidies from Moscow were gone and their already modest standard of living gave way to massive poverty. Still, it was also one of the main suppliers of agricultural goods in the Soviet Union. And let's not even speak about Ukraine.

As for those "Eastern European freeloaders" - I can't speak for other countries, but Romania was basically pillaged in the 1940s and 1950s through "SovRoms:"

In 1958 the last Soviet troops left our country, unlike in most other Warsaw Pact members where they stayed until the Cold War was over. Most of what was consumed here was locally produced, and most of that want into exports by the 1980s, to pay off the country's foreign debt. And it was paid in full, at the expense of a severely impoverished population. Then, 1989 happened...

JMG, I'm watching your country's elections with much interest. Donald Trump has repeatedly said that he's willing to make a "new deal" with Russia, and that has significant implications for our region. Especially for those here who think that the U.S. is somehow obliged to spend millions of dollars on our security, just because we say so. I have serious doubts that he's willing to walk his talk though. He seems to have a long track record of saying one thing and doing the exact opposite.

Meanwhile, Russian jets keep making close approaches on U.S. military vessels in the Baltic Sea, while our prime minister wants a permanent NATO fleet in the Black Sea. I'm wondering for what, though? So that they can keep telling the Russians that they are "seriously concerned about their irresponsible actions?" You're right that the U.S. doesn't seem to know what it's doing these days.

Cherokee Organics said...


Beware Russians offering presents! I'm being funny, people. Honestly!

Anyway, I heard that particular Russian tale at the recent funeral of my wife's uncle. The now deceased uncle was one of those guys that makes everyone else look bad as not only was he an architect, but he picked up languages easily, music had multiple degrees etc. Anyway, because of his age and the Cold War, he was fluent in Russian and also Spanish and a multitude of other languages as well as music all of which he achieved with a lot of work, but he also had a flair for making things look easy. A tough act to follow for sure.

So, the story that was told in the eulogy was that he travelled to Russia several decades ago and waited patiently in the line for customs to allow him entry into Russia. The person in the queue ahead of him was of Cuban origin. Clearly the customs person and the Cuban national were having some difficulties communicating and there was no love lost between the two people of different origins.

At that point the uncle stepped in and acted as a translator between the Russian customs guy and the Cuban national. The sentiments that I have read here in the comments above were also expressed by the Russian customs guy and that was a long time ago. The uncle diplomatically avoided mentioning those Russian concerns to the Cuban national and he merely translated the very basic administrative details which the Cuban national had to follow in order to enter the country. All was soon good and in order.

With that problem out of the way, the Russian customs agent apparently treated the now deceased uncle with courtesy and respect and allowed him into the country.

I can only relate that particular story as it was told to me a few months back.

My gut feeling about the concerns expressed in the previous comments was that investments can initially offer a good return before eventually souring and perhaps those people are referring to the end game and not the initial returns. Of course, it is unreasonable to expect an empire to expand for no gain because it simply costs real wealth and the adventures all have to produce a solid return, but eventually all investments fail. That’s entropy.

I suspect that you have attracted some very interesting customers in your readership! And the opinion-manufacture industry are also perhaps bored, suffering from extreme hubris and possibly looking for an edgy perspective? Certainly I have noticed several weird coincidences recently, but I'm prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Oh yeah, whilst I'm writing about unmentionable topics.

This 1% meme really annoys me - and not from the perspective that you write as I totally agree - welfare is an effect of surplus wealth as is 401K's, tax breaks for the wealthy, superannuation, investment returns etc... It drives me bananas reading about that stuff because I've travelled to third world countries and I've seen how people live there. We really spend an inordinate amount of time outsourcing those responsibilities to someone or something else, because when people talk about food stamps as well as the rest of it, what they are actually saying is that someone or something else owes them a living. My understanding is that no one owes us a living and that distribution of wealth that we all enjoy in first world countries is certainly not being shared in other countries. I dunno, the whole thing seems very weird to me as if somehow we all got lost and ended up worrying about our entitlements instead of what we can offer and/or produce. Dunno.



Nestorian said...


Regarding the contrasts you drew earlier in the thread between the starkly absolutistic moralizing of the classical monotheistic faiths versus the more flexible character of polytheistic/pantheistically oriented religions, two points:

First, as in so many areas, Eastern Christianity differs subtly, but profoundly, from Western Christianity on this particular point. Without getting too elaborate, allow me simply to point out that the English word "sin" is a translation of the Greek "hamartia." The term literally means "missing the mark," as, for instance, when shooting an arrow at a target.

This way of conceptualizing sin differs fundamentally from that of Catholicism and Protestantism, and paves the way for a more flexible, less rigidly absolutistic practical and pastoral approach to human moral flaws. (Fundamental differences in the Eastern and Western Christian conceptions of Original Sin are also very important here, but too complicated to address within the confines of a blog comment.)

Second, there is currently an epic revolution going on with regard to this nexus of moral issues in the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis very recently released a new apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, in which he basically reverses the traditionally rigidly absolutistic Catholic condemnation of divorce and remarriage as simply a species of adultery.

The consequences of this development promise to be far-reaching and profound in their effects. Many traditionalist and conservative Catholics (not quite the same thing) feel profoundly betrayed by Pope Francis, and he is being widely (and correctly) accused of introducing Situation Ethics into the very heart of Catholic moral teaching. And Situation Ethics amounts, in essence, to an objectivist moral system that can be flexibly adapted to the nuances of particular circumstances - that is, it is "flexible" in the sense I think you are getting at, and not rigidly absolutistic.

At the same time, Situation Ethics is not a form of relativism, but merely recognizes that objective moral truth depends upon the unique and unrepeatable nuance associated with each particular and concrete moral circumstance. As such, all attempts to universalize the objective moral content of any given particular concrete situation into sweeping moral universals are bound to over-rigidify morality in the precise manner that is endemic to traditional Western Christianity in both its Catholic and Protestant forms.

One might say that, after over 1600 years of the rigid moral absolutism of the imperial papacy (which began with Pope Damasus in the late 4th century), Pope Francis has finally corrected the Catholic conception of sin to accord with the one that has been the truth all along - namely, the Eastern Christian conception of sin as captured by the root meaning of the term "Hamartia."

Pope Francis' recent Exhortation - indeed, his entire papacy to date - has also elicited an unprecedented crisis of authority within Catholicism. Pope Francis is leading the very people who take Catholic Magisterial authority seriously as an alleged mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit to begin harboring grave doubts about that particular faith conviction. This is absolutely huge inasmuch as Church authority - and, in particular, papal authority - constitutes the epistemological linchpin for the entire system of Catholic belief.

Even though you yourself are not a Christian, you might want to pay some attention to the ongoing Catholic developments I have just described for purposes of tracking the trends with which you concern yourself in this particular blog. Thanks to the Ecumenical Movement, of which Pope Francis is a forceful advocate, the effects of his actions in revolutionizing Catholic morality promise to ripple out across the entire contemporary landscape of religion and spirituality in the years and decades to come.

One thing said...

JMG-"Onething, er, if you're tired of people pointing out that human beings are social primates whose social behavior closely resembles that of all other social primates, you're going to face a lot of frustration here and elsewhere. I found Quinn's books specious -- it's long been fashionable for people in complex societies to fantasize that people in technologically simpler societies are paragons of virtue, without any of the social problems of more complex cultures. Anthropological research doesn't happen to bear that out, but the fantasy remains. Democracy, far from being natural to human beings, is fairly rare; it has to be constructed and then guarded against any number of forces that tend to tear it down, and history shows that eventually every democracy falls. The tendency on the left to insist that democracy is somehow automatic in human beings is a core reason why leftist groups are so bad at democratic process -- they don't grasp the fact that democracy doesn't come naturally and thus requires constant maintenance, so you get government by clique or an endless series of quarrels that end up tearing the group to shreds. "

Human beings are social mammals, yes, and share some characteristics with them. I don't even think there are nonsocial primates. But when we use such phrases over and over, it tends to take away fresh thought. Human beings are quite a lot more than social primates, and as I said, 12 million years has wrought some important differences, language for one.

I think it is a very interesting topic. What are human beings and how has their evolution made them unique? I do not idolize non civilized human groups. I am sure that among them is great individuality and differences in thoughtfulness, kindness, and intelligence, just as with us. I've read about laziness, fecklessness, cruelty, even murder. And if it is a tenet of the left that democracy is natural to humans, I have never heard it. The thoughts I have about it are largely my own. When reading some things, the point was not about these topics directly. But I have noted that in reading about anthropological commentary, it is a repeatable tendency that while you have leaders and mild differences in status, there is not any absolute authority of the "Off with his head!" kind. When I read Jane Goodall I was struck with amazement when she wrote about the physical bodily postures that beta male chimps would adopt when submitting or afraid of an alpha. I immediately recognized that these are done to the pope and to kings, for example. And I wonder, did the native Americans ever display such postures? I am asking. Maybe they do. I find this significant.

I did find some aspects of Quinn's books unlikely, such as his supposition that the peoples of the American southwest simply decided to walk away from civilization. We now know that there was a drought cycle at that time which no doubt was the cause.

It would seem that the big problem humans have with maintaining democracy in the face of complexifying its society is mostly a problem of numbers. When you haveatribes in which all the elders know intimately the characters of the young adults, it is not hard to know whom to trust with what sort of responsibility and to largely prevent incompetent leadership.

I don't think I have any particular unrealistic hopes, since I find the human condition somewhat despair-inducing. But like you say, plenty of people lead very meaningful lives under all sorts of vicissitudes of history, and which I am doing. I DO wonder if perhaps we might eventually improve, integrate our tribal selves with our civilizational/intellectual selves and spiritual selves.

Violet Cabra said...

sgage, so glad you like my motto!

JMG, thank you for your kind words. I've certainly had to release a lot of attachments concerning my priorities. That being said I've struggled with homelessness in one form or another my entire adult life. it does wear me out, but then again I'm an herbalist. For the past two months or so I've been taking eluthero tincture everyday and I've been watching with surprise and amazement as the dark circles under my eyes disappear - even with all this stress! Sarsaparilla helps me tone and coordinate my endocrine system and normalize energy levels. Lemon balm does me well to reduce my sympathetic excess (raised heart beat, sweaty palms etc), while peach leaf helps me come down, sleep, and deal with hot flashes. Of course, there are ample nettles, burdock, chickweed, cleavers and violet leaf currently which I take daily, which are excellent to ground me and build up my reserves. So while the stresses I'm experiencing aren't new my skills and coping mechanisms are much more refined and help me be more resilient. Gotta go help my mom plant her garden

Nancy Sutton said...

Perhaps OT ... or not... Ran Prier's first 'discussion' re: power and freedom...hiding the 'power' of elites in the guise of 'freedom'. etc.

DaShui said...

Greetings ADJMG!
I find your title referencing the titanic appropriate.
As everyone knows, on the titanic there were several rich men who decided to go down with the ship, instead of using their priviliage to secure a seat on the lifeboats.
Would that happen today? I'm not so sure.

Mean Mr Mustard said...


"Care to buy a used Harvard? One may be up for sale in due time".

Why, you'll find four right here - American Texan / Harvard&id=0

ranging from just $150000 to a mere $250000.

I've had the rare privilege of being flown in the North American Harvard - twice - over Cape Town. And without the onerous burdens of ownership. That pleasure flying most surely puts me in the .01% elite, and just for a handful of ZA Rands...

(Fly-Speckled Grin) Mustard :-)

Jeanne Labonte said...

sine regno sum literally translates as ‘without a kingdom’ but ‘they rule’ probably captures the spirit of its meaning better.

Recent headlines suggest we may be in for a long hot summer in more ways than one. Weather-wise, a record busting heat wave in Southeast Asia is making life more miserable than usual for the impoverished. In politics, anti-Trump supporters are kicking up a fuss at a Trump rally in Orange County which interestingly enough has been mirrored across the Atlantic where in Germany, left wing demonstrators protested outside a right wing party conference in Stuttgart. One of the platforms being decided on is a ban against burkas and minarets. Shia activists have stormed the Iraq parliament in protest over a deadlock on candidates for the Cabinet. And in a story on BBC Trending which I found especially troubling and saddening is the latest ‘trend’ (if you can call it that)
It’s a measure of how empty some people’s lives have become that they would consider this a ‘cool’ thing to do.

Is this the sound of the iceberg crunching against the hull?

Cathy McGuire said...

I have been away for the last two posts, due in part to health issues that severely limit my computer use (and I’m using much of that to write stories & poems – sorry!). But I continue to appreciate posts and comments alike (tho it might take me a week to read them all). I can certainly agree with the idea of clueless privilege - many of the poets I meet with are middle class (ie: they spend more monthly on clothes or books than I do on everything) and recently the vacation trips to Europe or wherever are interrupting our weekly poetry gatherings. I try and bite my tongue when these discussions are held. When I hear them complain about their problems, I sigh… I doubt any of them has a week’s water stored, and food seems to be mostly prepared meals (organic, of course). But I can’t hang around with the wage class, either – the ones I meet scorn literature and history (useless!) and are full of anger at the “lesser races” who have taken the jobs they honestly wouldn’t do (like lawns and picking the local crops). Pretty much only the Green Wizards combine economic simplicity with educational sophistication. So, thanks, and congratulations on 10 years of wonderful blogging!

One thought I’ve had a lot when people talk about “wealth” – many “undeveloped nations” have a real wealth of knowledge and living with Nature, and if we weren’t bleeding them dry, would probably be fine with their lives even if it amounts to “$2/day” because money isn’t how they judge wealth (that’s not talking about their rulers who have been truly poisoned by the Western idea of wealth and luxury). Chris Travers’ comments in this regard are very interesting. I’ve never travelled in the world, so I don’t know, but what I see in some videos is a different kind of wealth and access to basics than we have. Of course, climate change is causing disasters in many places, and if we weren’t stealing their resources to fix our climate change crises, we’d be in almost as bad shape as them!

And to the commenters talking around the “privilege” of the lower US classes, remember also that for now it’s extremely expensive to live here (I see you’ve acknowledged that in comments, JMG). I was astounded when I shopped at a large chain the other day (I rarely go in them) – it seems that even the cut-rate store prices have jumped and “basics” are incredibly spendy! So – for now, it’s tricky to simplify. And I say that as someone who’s now below that 1% mark JMG postulated. For some services, it’s all or nothing – you have the money to live in a house or apt (with the first/last, utilities, appliances – can’t keep food in a window cooler there! – etc.) or you’re on the street; and that is expensive too, unless you want to lay down and die. As someone else mentioned: It's ironic that downsizing seems to me to be difficult when you don't have the money to do so. I agree – that’s what I’m running into.

As an aside, I can’t believe you introduced the whole spaghetti sauce meme without a shout out to the Pastafarians! LOL! The Flying Spaghetti Monster may be all that can save us! And just in case folks thought Oregonians weren’t weird… um… fun-loving, I was following a license plate yesterday: “THULU” – couldn’t fit the C, but we get it.

I had a nice visit recently from a fellow Green Wizard who’s been reading this blog for years but says he’s never commented. William, I think you should comment – your statements were insightful and I think you can contribute. It’s fun here in the comments section! :-)

From an older topic, re: that it might be helpful to envision the world’s issues other than in non-fiction, I’ll be having a full-length book of poems published in October, entitled Elegy For the 21st Century, including one of the best poems (I think) I’ve ever written, “The Love Song of G Dubya Bushwack” – with apologies to T.S. Eliot.

Thanks again for 10 years (I've been reading for 9).

Yellow Submarine said...

"Submarine, and the fascists usually win that contest. Those who do not learn from history..."

The Hungarian-American historian John Lukacs has argued that the main motivating emotion of the radical Left is fear, while the main motivating emotion of the radical Right is hate. He argues that fear, while it can produce acts of aggression and persecution (as in Stalinist Russia and Maoist China), tends to produce a defensive and reactive mindset. He argues that even the brutality of Marxist regimes is motivated more by a desire to do unto their enemies (real and imagined) before their enemies can do unto them.

By contrast, he argues that hate is an emotion that is easily transmuted into a lust for revenge, power and conquest and therefore is a more powerful motivator for those who seek power.

"Where the right seeks allies, the left seeks scapegoats, and glories in how many people they can alienate from their cause. You mention that white women and gay men are now being lined up in front of the circular firing squad; white woman and gay men have been significant constituencies of support for the left. How effective of a coalition do you think they can build when it's gotten to the point that, say, only disabled lesbian women of color are welcome in progressive circles?"

Eric Hoffer notes in "The True Believer" that when we hate someone, our first instinct is to look for allies. I think Lukacs distinction makes sense here when combined with Hoffer's insight, while the left's tendency to look for scapegoats and call out those on their own side who are suspected of being insufficiently pure could be explained as an instinct that stems from fear, just like Lukacs argues.

It's worth noting that while the Left continues to engage in the sort of circular firing squad behavior we have been discussing on the other blog and has been busy alienating key allies like gay men, white women and Jews, the radical right in many countries has been reaching out to those same groups.

Figures on the far right in Europe like Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders have been reaching out to the gay community over concerns about the homophobic tendencies of Islamic fundamentalists and the sharp increase in gay bashing in European cities with large Muslim immigrant populations. There was a recent poll that showed if national elections in France were held tomorrow, more than half of France's gay population would vote for the Front National.

It's worth noting there are a number of leading figures on the far right, like Jack Donovan, who are openly gay and this also makes it easier for the far right to reach out to the gay community as the Left turns on gay men.

Likewise, the explosion in rapes and other acts of sexual violence directed against non-Muslim women in European cities with large Muslim immigrant populations and the refusal of the senile elites in the EU to even admit the problem exists, much less deal with it, is driving white women into the hands of the far right. Every time an atrocity like Cologne or Rotherham happens and every time the left insists that those who object (including rape victims who come forward) are racist and Islamophobic by definition, it increases the appeal of the radical right to white women.

Figures like Wilders and groups like the English Defense League have also been reaching out to Europe's Jewish community, again using concerns about Muslim immigration and Islamic fundamentalism to built alliances. Wilders has established himself as an outspokenly pro-Israel politician who spent time living in a Kibbutz as a young man and emphasizes his ties to right wing Israeli politicians like Avigdor Liebermann and Natan Sharansky, while the EDL has a Jewish Division.

Bob McGregor said...

@Chris Travers Thank you for you counterpoint to the JMG argument that the US "economic underclass" is still in the "global top 1%." Comparing the "US poor" to the "Third World poor" is a difficult economic, arithmetic, and philosophical exercise. A "US poor person" might have no cash for food, but also own a large, flat-screen TV. The "Third World poor person" might also have no cash for food, and no TV, but eat food from their own garden. They, or their family might even own the land containing the garden. A hundred and fifty years ago, more people in the US were self-employed than they are now. They're more more "consumer product richer" now, but what is that worth if they are not self-employed, and self-supporting? Meanwhile there are ostensibly more "severely poor" people in Indonesia, but they are also self-employed with their own noodle cart.

Ahavah said...

An interesting blog piece that describes how democracy and under-regulated "free" markets are at odds, and how the market has or will win. Specifically mentions how the crash of the American econony will precede the crash of western styke global economics.

Cherokee Organics said...


Oh yeah, I might add that in the future you will probably hear those same tales told about how the US was an empire for the good of humanity, global policeman etc. etc. Of course the end game looks like those above comments because as costs exceed returns, empires fall. And how many people want to talk about the good old days when that wealth pump was running full steam ahead and it wasn't in their best interests to discuss such dirty politics? Where did that wealth come from? ;-)!

You could probably weave a character into one of your stories talking about that rubbish meme? Anyway, it would make for an interesting comparative to the current characters in the story? Dunno.



Christopher Henningsen said...

What fun to see a shoutout to the Magic Mountain! I must have been too young when I read it though, because the social commentary bit passed me by almost entirely. I just remember a humorous story about a hypochondriac's interactions with his enabling doctor's other patients. Then again, it might also be that I'm a bit tone deaf to descriptions of societies, because 'Gone with the Wind' came with a similar feeling - engaging, even relateable characters, but a baffling and almost obtuse society.

On the subject of privilege, I find it interesting that I am far more open to acknowledging my privilege as someone born in the West than as a member of the western middle class. I suspect it's a combination of my privilege as a born Canadian being much more apparent and the dialogue around that privilege being much less acrimonious. Even though my privilege as a white male is never as apparent as when I travel abroad, I've yet to meet someone on these travels who feels entitled to attack me simply for having it. A side effect of the western 'no privilege here' mindset perhaps.

It's much easier to develop a sense of noblesse oblige when the people one has an advantage over aren't being reflexively belligerent. Which is the main reason why I wish everyone would just lay off 'The 1%' already, there are plenty of positive examples among that demographic no matter how one chooses to define it.

Shane W said...

to be able to live comfortably on $4K a year sounds like a dream. It will be many years of catabolic collapse and attendant strife before the US ever reduces its bloated, byzantine bureaucracy/salary class enough for $4K to be comfortable. I used to look wistfully when Mexican migrants would come in to the credit union to close their account b/c they were going home--I wish I could go with them...

EasyParenting said...

It is interesting to see liberals referred to as the leftward end of the political spectrum. Outside of the present-day USA,liberals are generally regarded as centrist. unlike liberals, leftists traditionally see issues in the light of class analysis, while rightists, aka conservatives, support the class system, and centrists, aka liberals, pretend class doesn't exist.

Thomas Daulton said...

Greetings, JMG,

Deep in the comment section from last week you popped out one of your characteristically trenchant witticisms by noting, (words to the effect of), "Middle-class liberalism is on a perpetual quest to rid the world of Evil, but the source of Evil can never, ever be identified as middle-class liberalism."

I thought you might like to read an essay which identifies middle-class liberalism as a major source of the country's problems. I am certainly not saying your witticism was wrong -- more like, here I found the one tiny exception which proves your rule:

The Disconnect Between Liberal Aspirations and Liberal Housing Policy is Killing Coastal U.S. Cities

I'm not going to bother pulling any quotes because the essay is pretty brief and well worth a read, well-written. Note that it also touches upon subjects of social class, the economy, and wealth disparity, so I am quite sure you'll find it pertinent and worth your time to read.

Christophe said...

Bob McGregor wrote, "Meanwhile there are ostensibly more "severely poor" people in Indonesia, but they are also self-employed with their own noodle cart."

That Indonesian noodle cart owner is pretty squarely centered in the middle class. Who would risk eating at his cart if he were truly poor? While there certainly are differences in the experience of poverty between the first world and third world, do not fall into the trap of attributing some kind of resourceful nobility to third world destitution. In Yogyakarta I watched low-caste immigrants teach their children to pick through garbage dumpsters that reeked so fouly locals took other streets to avoid going past them. I witnessed a poor woman pick through her own vomit to re-consume the larger chunks rather than go hungry.

Even within the middle class I cannot remember how many funerals I attended for people who were in minor motorcycle accidents, but could not get any medical care. Indonesians do not choose the risks and dangers of poverty that are forced on them, they have no alternative. A lot of luck is involved in surviving third world poverty, even more in climbing out of it.

alex carter said...

DaShui - There used to be a "noblisse oblige" that you served in the armed forces, so that rich scion JFK almost gave his life for his country, and his older brother did. There used to be the understanding that if you were advantaged, you paid back. This is no longer the norm, see Dubya's "military career" for a reference.

Nancy Sutton - I used to hang on Ran Prieur's every word, but since he did what we all should do, wait for a wealthy parent to pass away and inherit enough month to buy a house, and have enough in stocks and bonds to make what I have to work for, he's become very specious. Music, video games, blaaaaahhhhhh....

Mean Mr. Mustard - Haha! From the time I caught a drone hovering over my boss's backyard, I've found drones fascinating, but I have nowhere near the money to get into that hobby, and I've realized, if I were flying a drone, I'd be constantly worried about fuelstate/batterystate, what if I run into this, where are those power lines, yadda yadda. So I sit back and watch *other people's* drone videos on YouTube. Great fun, no worries. You can watch about regular planes too, the Ercoupe, the SR-71, the X-15, Northrups' indescribably beautiful jet-powered wings. For R/C and drone stuff, I highly recommend Flite Test, those guys are just so positive, and have so much fun, it would put a smile on the face of the suicidal.

John Michael Greer said...

Matt, of course it's also a thing in itself. That's the point I was trying to make about intersectionality. Where you stand on the social ladder isn't purely a matter of class, or race, or gender, or annual income, or what have you; it's all of these things taken together. My discussion of salary class and wage class is largely a way to point to a division that public discussion in America has generally ignored in recent decades -- a division that seems to be having a huge impact on our current national politics just at the moment.

Alex, I'll be discussing all that as we proceed.

Ursachi, that was what I heard. Clearly there are two very different sets of claims in circulation here, and it may take quite a bit of digging to extract the facts. As for the US elections, I don't imagine anybody knows what Trump would do, not even Trump! I suspect much of the enthusiasm for him comes from the fact that everyone knows exactly what Clinton would do: her foreign policy is identical to that of George W. Bush, and we all know how well that turned out.

Cherokee, worrying about access to the gravy train is a common occupational hazard of living in an imperial society with plenty of tribute flowing in from conquered provinces. It'll be a while before it sinks in that the gravy train has run off the tracks...

Nestorian, yes, I've heard that about Eastern Orthodox morality before. That said, the point I was trying to make wasn't a distinction between absolutism and flexibility, but between the sources of moral knowledge. Is a moral choice a matter of knowing and following a set of moral laws, rigid or otherwise, handed down by a deity? Or is it a matter of balancing the claims of often incompatible virtues in a situation where no choice can ever be without its downsides and its reasonable alternatives? The concept of hamartia presupposes that there's a single target at which to aim, and from which divergence can be measured in some sense -- but what if ethics is conceived, as it was by Aristotle and Plotinus, not as hitting a target but as carving a statue -- starting with the rough block of ordinary human behavior and shaping it in accordance with a sense of proportion and virtue until it becomes something great? At that point we're in a wholly different world.

With regard to the situation in the Catholic Church, you're quite right -- a major watershed is approaching. The terrain on the far side hasn't yet been determined, but I suspect some of it will be very rough indeed.

Onething, as I see it, what 12 million years and the development of reflective consciousness have done for humanity, in political terms, is that we aren't forced to accept the baboon model of social organization. Most of us do, most of the time, but under the right circumstances, with a lot of hard work, we can have something like democracy instead. We didn't stop being animals, or mammals, or social primates, when we became human -- humanity is a fragile, unstable, bug-ridden but spectacularly creative layer over the top of the firm foundation of the animal, that allows us to modify that foundation in certain ways, under certain circumstances, for a while. You're right that this is a very interesting topic!

Violet, glad to hear it. We've got a patch of Solomon's Seal three feet by four feet in the back yard now -- that was one plant with two stems when I got it five years ago, and now it's a junior forest. And nettles, burdock, chickweed, cleavers, and violet all grow there too, which makes me feel as though I'm on the right track. ;-)

Nancy, no off topic at all. Is Ran still around? It's been a while since his essays were all over the peak oil scene.

DaShui, a classic example of noblesse oblige. No, you wouldn't see Elon Musk or Bill Gates doing anything of the kind!

Mustard, funny.

Jeanne, that or the sound of water gurgling on the lower decks...

John Michael Greer said...

Cathy, congrats on the forthcoming book! Once it's available, by all means email me a link where it can be purchased and I'll post that. As a reader for nine years, you're one of the really early adopters -- I think that means that you're one of the cool kids, and everyone wants to have lunch at your table. ;-)

Submarine, which Lukacs book is that from? It's been a while since I've read him, and I clearly need to go back over some of his writing, because you're quite right -- his distinction makes sense of a lot of things.

Ahavah, thanks for the link.

Cherokee, no doubt. We get that sort of drivel now in the US -- politicians babbling about the US as a global force for good, et cetera ad nauseam.

Christopher, maybe so, but it's also a lot easier not to be reflexively belligerent when people with privilege show some noblesse oblige, you know.

EasyParenting, the US hasn't had a European-style left on any kind of scale since the Second World War, so the liberals are kind of the left by default.

John Michael Greer said...

Thomas, thanks for the link! A very solid essay -- I may be citing it in an upcoming post.

alex carter said...

Cathy McGuire - What you describe is writ large in San Jose, California. You must live middle-class or live in the street. I've met people living in the street who had a retirement income of maybe a grand a month, but could not find a place to stay. I think I hooked up one guy, a Navy vet, with services, at least I don't see him on his regular sleeping bench any more. Another guy, another Navy vet, was toyed around with by the "helpful" agencies but he's given up. The city of San Jose has 7000-odd people sleeping on the street on any given night.

Bob (farmer?) McGregor please don't hit Peter Rabbit with the rake! Anyway, yes, there are different kinds of poor. Most people will not panhandle, and even less people will come up with cat toys, coffee-bean bracelets, ojos de dios, bundles of rosemary, or finally, "awareness" ribbons, all hustled with a fine line of patter. Pretty much, being self-employed at the survival level is illegal in the US. A thing out where I live is the illegal temale seller, who will be in a parking lot of a large store and will say to you as you walk by, "temales-temales" and if you are smart, you buy some because they are good. But they get busted regularly. Thou Shalt Work Corporate Or Else.

Yellow Submarine - You guys need to find your present-day Martel The Hammer because you need him.

Shane W. - I lived in Gilroy California for a few years and it's a "Mexican" town, and since I am somewhat tan I blend in, gringo enough for the gringos and moved with zero friction in the most "Mexican" areas, so people confided in me: Mexicans are going home. I was once at a huge garage sale, a large Mexican family had been financed what's essentially a mansion, and now the economy was crashing, and they were selling off everything, they even had a AGA stove. They looked very bewildered. Deer-in-the-headlights look. Just one family of many; at least in Mexico they have some kind of family; US society is atomized and it's every man for himself. Even against your own family. I lived on a "permaculture" place there in Gilroy but what essentially happened is, like Dan'l Boone, I "settled the wilderness" (the place was kinda messy) and now all these other people live there and as I perceive it, fighting like cats in a sack. But I got by on very little money there; one year I calculate I only made $1500 cash money. If only people could get along!

alex carter said...

JMG - If I live, I want to start a blog, probably on Wordpress but Blogger's fine, with a daily cartoon and one of the *many* subjects I want to cover is things people get wrong with the English language, rein/reign being but one example. I think I might want to "copyleft" them, then offer high quality posters for $20 postpaid, like The Oatmeal does, and originals for a hundy or so.

There is no way in f*cking hell I'm going to learn any "graphics" program, they will be hand painted/drawn and scanned. Even a mediocre scanner is really good these days.

English is a bastard of a language and I mean the literally as well as figuratively. But it is the world "lingua franca" LOL that irony is not lost on me!

While I'm poor as a church mouse, due to my WASP father and his interest in English - enough to get a degree in it from Dartmouth - one class asset I can't shed is my rather good command of English.

I put in my time as a professional bench repair tech and unofficial job as apologist for the English language at a large tech company. It really awakened me to how nonsensical English can be, and yet, how many subtle nuances can be expressed using it. It is the language of the Bard, after all!

111DFC said...

Hi JMG. Very insightful post as usual

As another commentator pointed out, to own a social privilege is not a human feature, in most of the human history, as an specie, the humans beings have no privileged social status; of course they are not equal, but there were not abstract contracts or any coercion that allow a privilege system to exist and last, as is the case of the hunters-gatherers, where the anthropologist cannot see clear social or status differences between them

It is with the "cereals kingdom" in Middle East, Center America an Far East, where the easy accumulated and durable grains of wheat, corn and rice allow them to be used as money and then be managed by the few as taxes and/or debt as a way to shackle people, in order to built complex civilizations, which are essentially privilege systems
Also the militarized chiefdom has a privileged system based on coercion and force from an aristocratic class

In a gift economy, as those of the hunter-gatherers, who receive more is who give more, and "more for you is more for me", because every person is inside the "gift circle". The best hunter as no reason to allow the meat of the hunted animal to be rot, to "accumulated" it, but to "make a gift" to the others, as a mean to receive good gifts from them in the future. But this system is not abstract, nor fixed, and all the system is based in social bonds .The wealth circulation is a way to forge social bonds because the wealth is based on the help and friendship of the others; because one men alone is less than nothing


111DFC said...

General Gallieni, before to be the hero of the Marne battle, was the first governor of Madagascar after the french conquest, and the first act as governor is to put a per-capita tax to all the conquered people, and then suddenly everybody has to accumulated some small pieces of metals with the face of a foreign king to avoid punishment, and that make people compete each others. So, if my neighbour has a leg broken, in a gift economy both he and I lose because there are less “gifts” in circulation; but in a monetary economy I keep a “competitive advantage” over him and I can have more metal pieces than him, so I am richer. That is the way a competitive system is always associated to a monetary system based on scarcity and the progressive destruction of the bonds in the group

The same way was used by all colonial system in the world, the first act of Julio Cesar in Galia was the tax “pro-vincae” (“for the defeated” in latin), as a way the conquered people pay the army that subjugated them, and at the same time allow the same worthless metal pieces to be used in abstract markets as a “universal means of exchange” that allow even more worthless metal pieces (coins and debt) to be poured into the system to sustain and increase the privilege of a few romans.

Now USA issues the main part of the money globally in circulation, so all of us pay an “imperial tax” (“seniorage”), because we are provinces (“pro-vincae”) of it. Money, debt, markets, state, debt-peonage and privilege are all the same system

As David Graeber pointed out: “to understand why a free promise becomes a debt you have to notice that always in the shadow there is a man with a gun”

This Age will finish with a huge bonfire of abstract contracts

Ursachi Alexandru said...

JMG, supporters of every empire will claim that their conquered provinces have benefited from their occupation. The same with the countries they forcefully brought into their sphere of influence. There's no such thing as a "reverse empire." Sure, those provinces and countries may receive subsidies for infrastructure and such, but it's only to facilitate their exploitation by the imperial power.

Nestorian said...


I don't think your view of things is necessarily incompatible with the Eastern Christian view, because our respective metaphors are combinable. The concept of hitting a mark, or else missing it to varying degrees, applies to a chisel just like it does to an arrow. The sculpture that results after a lifetime of chiseling is either maximally exquisite or not - again, to varying degrees - depending upon the sum total of on- or off-the-mark chiseling that has gone into it.

As for the sense of proportion that makes the resulting chiseled statue something great, in the Christian tradition, that ideal is referred to under the rubric of holiness, or sanctity. That has been my personal ideal of moral striving for a quarter century - virtually my entire adult life. In principle, that way of conceptualizing a moral ideal is not incompatible either with the modality that I think you have in mind (correct me if I am wrong) - namely, one rooted in Aristotelian virtue ethics.

The major difference between the Judeo-Christian holiness ideal and that of Aristotle himself (but not necessarily of Christian advocates of Aristotelian thought) consists in which virtue is accorded primacy in the ideal. For Christians, that is the virtue of humility, but Aristotle himself is on record as rejecting humility as a virtue.

Based on what I know of pantheism/polytheism, it may be precisely on the matter of humility that there is also a fundamental divergence between pantheism/polytheism and classical monotheism when it comes to identifying the principal virtue that ought to guide the chiseling of the ideal statue. This divergence originates in the differing metaphysical foundations for morality in belief systems which posit the reality of a creation ex nihilo versus those that do not. If, ultimately, we come from nothing due to the sheer gratuitous gift of a divine Creator, then that necessitates a different sort of relationship to Ultimate Reality than if we do not ultimately come from nothing, and the exact nature of that relationship to Ultimate Reality necessitates the primacy of the virtue of humility.


Nestorian said...

Aside from the humility issue, there is also the question you raised of whether there is always only one ideal target for the chiseling or not. I think that in many cases in daily life that is indeed the case, but I definitely will grant that there are circumstances in the messiness of ordinary life where a reasonable case can be made for multiple conflicting targets, none of which entirely match up to the ideal.

In the end, though, I do not think that the second sort of situation fundamentally upends the aptness of the moral metaphor suggested by the term "hamartia." The messiness and ambiguity of lived experience as it frequently presents itself can be accommodated within the hamaratia paradigm - perhaps by located the target to be aimed at in such instances one level of moral analysis above that of the immediately messy circumstance.

If you think about it, that is exactly what Pope Francis was trying to do in his new Exhortation when it came to divorce and remarriage. He would say that in many cases, allowing divorce and remarriage, while ostensibly a "missing of the target" with respect to the goal and purpose of marriage, is in fact a "meeting of the target" on a higher level of moral analysis because it better satisfies the requirements of the law of love for all concerned in that particular, morally messy circumstance.

In the Eastern Christian tradition, that pastoral approach is captured by the distinction between acribeia - the letter of the law - and oikonomia - the application of the law to the concrete, messy realities of actual life.

The other major area where we perhaps disagree is on the question of objectivism versus relativism. As I said before, my rejoinder to conservative and traditionalist Catholics is that situation ethics does not necessarily imply a capitulation to relativism. In point of fact, Christians are in a position to have their objectivist ethical cake and eat it in a flexible and non-rigorist fashion - a la Pope Francis and Eastern Christianity. But I know from what you have written in the past that you are not bothered by the specter of relativism in quite the same way as classical Christians are.

peacegarden said...

@Violet Cabra

Love the slogan! I will hold a space for you in my time sitting with the plants…you seem to be very resilient, but we need all the allies, human and plant, we can find.

Like JMG, we are loaded with nettles, burdock, chickweed, cleavers, and violets, and are waiting to plant the arnica, lemon verbena, St John’s wort, agrimony, hyssop and more yarrow grown from seed…too wet today, after an inch plus of blessed rain last night. We did get the Indian tobacco in the garden yesterday…but we can’t plant in “mud”.

Keep planting!

Peace, Gail

peacegarden said...


We have two of the three Goldenseal plants showing up where we planted them last fall…I hope we will have as much success with them as you have had with the Solomon’s Seal…that plant is abundant in nearby woods, but we would like to have some along the edges of the woods here in our side yard.

The nettles are just about to flower, so we need to harvest a good big bunch for some nettle porter homebrew.

I have to agree with Violet that it is a very good thing to be able to purchase plants and seeds to surround ourselves and our neighbors with food and medicine…I know I am privileged, and hope to use that privilege to plant seeds of usefulness, in one way or another.

Thank you for 10 years of quality writing…it has made a profound difference in my husbands and my life…green wizards in training…always training…so much to learn and absorb. So much to put in place as a practice.

Thank you.

Peace, Gail

pygmycory said...

There are plenty of poor people in the west who don't have a large screen TV. You can generally assume that anyone who's couchsurfing or homeless doesn't have one, along with more important things like a reliable roof over there head, for example. Please don't assume that everyone who is poor is just below the poverty line. It is perfectly possible to be way, way below that.

Honyocker said...

Kurt Cobb posted this on his Resource Insights blog this morning. It looks to me like he might be reading some of your posts, also.

zach bender said...

the story about the mechanical rabbit seems apocryphal on its face. racing greyhounds for sport involves multiple cruelties to the dogs themselves, and obviously animal rights activists would have no interest in tweaking the bait.

i see no reason to denigrate animal rights activists on this site, nor vegans on galabes. a vegan does not envy you your cheeseburger. if i am not in a position to humanely raise and slaughter animals for food on my own, my choice not to support factory farming -- which incidentally is a huge contributor to atmospheric change -- need not be disparaged here.

animals are quite obviously sentient creatures, who differ from humans only in certain mental processes [which one can argue have sent us down this path].

Christopher Henningsen said...

JMG, very true, though we seem to make more cynical assumptions about one another in this mountainous atmosphere. I suspect the problem is further compounded by the fact that those very wealthy individuals who do have a sense of noblesse oblige tend to focus on the world's very poor, who also happen to lack a voice in public discourse. A noble's obligations used to be to his workers and community, but exhortations to 'think globally, act locally' mean very little to a member of the highly mobile modern elite. Consequently I suspect it looks like the wealthiest have abandoned their obligations when in many cases, they've simply widened their scope and focused on the areas with the most acute pain.

Yellow Submarine, I have a slightly different analysis of the political wings' respective motivations, and I'd be interested to hear what others think of it. I never understood what separated the political right from the political left until I saw a succinct summary in a book on writing of all places. The author suggested that right wing people wanted the state to act as a father, while left wing people wanted the state to act as a mother. This kind of Freudian-level gender bias seems to me to tie together the disparate beliefs that characterize these groups. From a Buddhist perspective the major disturbing emotions then wouldn't be aversion and fear but aversion and grasping, which seems more in line with the rhetoric I encounter. Both groups after all display and encourage quite a bit of fear, just of very different things; The Left thinks right-wing fears of violent outsiders are overblown ('A given American's much more likely to be killed by a traffic accident than a terrorist') while The Right thinks left-wing fears of economic insecurity are overblown ('finding a job's not so hard if you're not lazy'). Of course, having a bias for masculinity, the right would also prize bravery much more highly, which might give the appearance of a more fearful left. But I think in actual fact, while the left fears the absence of the desirable much more than does the right, it also fears the presence of the undesirable much less. I must admit that the current 'circular firing squad' behavior of the left is not well explained by this narrative, unless it is simple greed for the dwindling supply of 'rescuer' positions.

I find it noteworthy that while the right is seeking allies among homosexuals and Jews, the left is also working very hard at attracting Muslims, even when it comes at the cost of alienating large demographics like homosexuals and Jews. I don't think it is a coincidence that this is happening at a time when the leader of the Catholic church seems determined to return it to its collectivist roots. It might be that religious fundamentalism, long harbored by the political right in the West, is on the move.

Interesting times indeed...

temporaryreality said...

Question for JMG and all commentariat,

how might one go about evaluating such claims as "Clinton's foreign policy differs little from Bush's" or suggestions that we've had 20 years of repetitive/identical policies coming out of both parties' control of the white house?

Are you coming to this conclusion just based on having had a finger on the political pulse of the US for a good number of years? How are you evaluating? Both parties try to paint themselves as being different from each other. I've fallen for it, I guess, being a not very discerning or a particularly sophisticated thinker.

I ask because while I can intuitively see the continuum, I wouldn't know how to make this argument in real life because I can't back it up with any evidence. I don't even know how to talk about politics (and thanks to the Galabes reader Steve Thomas for suggesting learning some symbolic logic, something I've never been trained in and am much the poorer for not having been exposed to)

Alex Blaidd said...

JMG, I thought you'd enjoy this article if you haven't seen them before!

"How Soviet Artists Imagined Communist Life In Space."

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