Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Retrotopia: A Distant Scent of Blood

This is the sixteenth installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator, having recovered from a bout of the flu, goes for a walk, meets someone he’s encountered before, and begins to understand why the Lakeland Republic took the path it did...

The next morning I felt pretty good, all things considered, and got up not too much later than usual. It was bright and clear, as nice an autumn day as you could ask for. I knew I had two days to make up and a lot of discussions and negotiations with the Lakeland Republic government still waited, but I’d been stuck in my room for two days and wanted to stretch my legs a bit before I headed back into another conference room at the Capitol. I compromised by calling Melanie Berger and arranging to meet with her and some other people from Meeker’s staff after lunch. That done, once I’d finished my morning routine, I headed down the stairs and out onto the street.

I didn’t have any particular destination in mind, just fresh air and a bit of exercise, and two or three random turns brought me within sight of the Capitol. That sent half a dozen trains of thought scurrying off in a bunch of directions, and one of them reminded me that I hadn’t seen a scrap of news for better than two days. Another couple of blocks and I got to Kaufer’s News, where the same scruffy-looking woman was sitting on the same wooden stool, surrounded by the same snowstorm of newspapers and magazines. I bought that day’s Toledo Blade, and since it was still way too early to put anything into my stomach, I crossed the street, found a park bench in front of the Capitol that had sunlight all over it, sat down and started reading.

There was plenty of news.  The president of Texas had just denounced the Confederacy for drilling for natural gas too close to the Texas border, and the Confederate government had issued the kind of curt response that might mean nothing and might mean trouble.  The latest word from the Antarctic melting season was worse than before; Wilkes Land had chucked up a huge jokulhlaup—yeah, I had to look the word up the first time I saw it, too; it means a flood of meltwater from underneath a glacier—that tore loose maybe two thousand square miles of ice and had half the southern Indian Ocean full of bergs.

There was another report out on the lithium crisis, from another bunch of experts who pointed out yet again that the world was going to run out of lithium for batteries in another half dozen years and all the alternatives were much more expensive; I knew better than to think that the report would get any more action than the last half dozen had.  Back home, meanwhile, the leaders of the Dem-Reps had a laundry list of demands for the new administration, most of which involved Montrose ditching her platform and adopting theirs instead.  There’d been no response from the Montrose transition team, which was probably just as well. I knew what Ellen would say to that and it wasn’t fit to print.

Still, the thing I read first was an article on the satellite situation. There was a squib on the front page about that, and a big article with illustrations on pages four and five. It was as bad as I’d feared. The weather satellite that got hit on Friday had thrown big chunks of itself all over, and two more satellites had already been hit.  The chain reaction was under way, and in a year or so putting a satellite into the midrange orbits would be a waste of money—a few days, a week at most, and some chunk of scrap metal will come whipping out of nowhere at twenty thousand miles an hour and turn your umpty-billion-yuan investment into a cloud of debris ready to share the love with anything else in orbit.

That reality was already hitting stock markets around the world—telecoms were plunging, and so was every other economic sector that depended too much on satellites. Most of the Chinese manufacturing sector was freaking out, too, because a lot of their exports go by way of the Indian Ocean, and satellite data’s the only thing that keeps container ships out of the way of icebergs. Economists were trying to rough out the probable hit to global GDP, and though estimates were all over the map, none of them was pretty.  The short version was that everybody was running around screaming.

Everybody outside the Lakeland Republic, that is. The satellite crisis was an academic concern there. I mean that literally; the paper quoted a professor of astronomy from Toledo University, a Dr. Marjorie Vanich, about the work she and her grad students were doing on the mathematics of orbital collisions, and that was the only consequence the whole mess was having inside the Lakeland borders. I shook my head. Progress was going to win out eventually, I told myself, but the Republic’s retro policies certainly seemed to deflect a good many hassles in the short term.

I finished the first section, set down the paper. Sitting there in the sunlight of a clear autumn day, with a horsedrawn cab going clip-clop on the street in front of me, schoolchildren piling out of a streetcar and heading toward the Capitol for a field trip, pedestrians ducking into Kaufer’s News or the little hole-in-the-wall café half a block from it, and the green-and-blue Lakeland Republic flag flapping leisurely above the whole scene, all the crises and commotions in the newspaper I’d just read might as well have been on the far side of the Moon. For the first time I found myself wishing that the Lakeland Republic could find some way to survive over the long term after all.  The thought that there could be someplace on the planet where all those crises just didn’t matter much was really rather comforting.

I got up, stuck the paper into one of the big patch pockets of my trench coat, and started walking, going nowhere in particular. A clock on the corner of a nearby building told me I still had better than an hour to kill before lunch. I looked around, and decided to walk all the way around the Capitol, checking out the big green park that surrounded it and the businesses and government offices nearby. I thought of the Legislative Building back home in Philadelphia, with its walls of glass and metal and its perpetually leaky roof; I thought of the Presidential Mansion twelve blocks away, another ultramodern eyesore, where one set of movers hauling Bill Barfield’s stuff out would be crossing paths just then with another set of movers hauling Ellen Montrose’s stuff in; I thought of the huge bleak office blocks sprawling west and south from there, where people I knew were busy trying to figure out how to cope with a rising tide of challenges that didn’t look as though it was ever going to ebb.

I got to one end of the park, turned the corner. A little in from the far corner was what looked like a monument of some sort, a big slab of dark red stone up on end, with something written on it. Shrubs formed a rough ring around it, and a couple of trees looked on from nearby. I wondered what it was commemorating, started walking that way. When I got closer, I noticed that there was a ring of park benches inside the circle of shrubs, and one person sitting on one of the benches; it wasn’t until I was weaving through the gap between two shrubs that I realized it was the same Senator Mary Chenkin I’d met at the Atheist Assembly the previous Sunday. By the time I’d noticed that, she’d spotted me and got to her feet, and so I went over and did and said the polite thing, and we got to talking.

The writing on the monument didn’t enlighten me much. It had a date on it—29 APRIL 2024—and nothing else. I’d just about decided to ask Chenkin about it when she said, “I bet they didn’t brief you about this little memento of ours—and they probably should have, if you’re going to make any kind of sense of what we’ve done here in the Lakeland Republic. Do you have a few minutes?”

“Most of an hour,” I said. “If you’ve got the time—”

“I should be at a committee meeting later on, but there should be plenty of time.” She waved me to the bench and then perched on the front of it, facing me.

“You probably know about DM-386 corn, Mr. Carr,” she said. “The stuff that had genes from poisonous starfish spliced into it.”

“Yeah.” Ugly memories stirred.  “I would have had a kid brother if it wasn’t for that.”

“You and a lot of others.” She shook her head.  “Gemotek, the corporation that made it, used to have its regional headquarters right here.” She gestured across the park toward the Capitol. “A big silver glass and steel skyscraper complex, with a plaza facing this way.  It got torn down right after the war, the steel went to make rails for the Toledo streetcar system, and the site—well, you’ll understand a little further on why we chose to put our Capitol there.

“But it was 2020, as I recall, when Gemotek scientists held a press conference right here to announce that DM-386 was going to save the world from hunger.” Another shake of her head dismissed the words. “Did they plant much of it up where your family lived?”

“Not to speak of.  We were in what used to be upstate New York, and corn wasn’t a big crop.”

“Well, there you are. Here, we’re the buckle on the corn belt:  the old states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and across into Iowa and Nebraska. Gemotek marketed DM-386 heavily via exclusive contracts with local seed stores, and it was literally everywhere. They insisted it was safe, the government insisted it was safe, the experts said the same thing—but nobody bothered to test it on pregnant women.”

“I remember,” I said.

“And down here, it wasn’t just in the food supply.  The pollen had the toxin in it, and that was in the air every spring.  After the first year’s crop, what’s more, it got into the water table in a lot of places. So there were some counties where the live birth rate dropped by half over a two year period.”

She leaned toward me. “And here’s the thing. Gemotek kept insisting that it couldn’t possibly be their corn, and the government backed them. They brought in one highly paid expert after another to tell us that some new virus or other was causing the epidemic of stillbirths. It all sounded plausible, until you found out that the only countries in the world that had this supposed virus were countries that allowed DM-386 corn to cross their borders. The media wouldn’t mention that, and if you said something about it on the old internet, or any other public venue, Gemotek would slap you with a libel suit. They’d win, too—they had all the expert opinion on their side that money could buy. All the farmers and the other  people of the corn belt had on their side was unbiased epidemiology and too many dead infants.

“So by the fall and winter of 2023, the entire Midwest was a powderkeg. A lot of farmers stopped planting DM-386, even though Gemotek had a clause in the sales agreement that let them sue you for breach of contract if you did that. Seed stores that stocked it got burnt to the ground, and Gemotek sales staff who went out into farm country didn’t always come back. There were federal troops here by then—not just Homeland Security, also regular Army with tanks and helicopters they’d brought up from the South after the trouble in Knoxville and Chattanooga the year before—and you had armed bands of young people and military vets springing up all over the countryside. It was pretty bad.

“By April, it was pretty clear that next to nobody in the region was planting Gemotek seeds—not just DM-386, anything from that company. Farmers were letting their farms go fallow if they couldn’t get seed they thought was safe. That’s when Michael Yates, who was the CEO of Gemotek, said he was going to come to Toledo and talk some sense into the idiots who thought there was something wrong with his product. By all accounts, yes, that’s what he said.”

All of a sudden I remembered how the story ended, but didn’t say anything.

“So he came here—right where we’re sitting now.  The company made a big fuss in the media, put up a platform out in front of the building, put half a dozen security guards around it, and thought that would do the job. Yates was a celebrity CEO—” Unexpectedly, she laughed. “That phrase sounds so strange nowadays. Still, there were a lot of them before the Second Civil War: flashy, outspoken, hungry for publicity. He was like that. He flew in, and came out here, and started mouthing the same canned talking points Gemotek flacks had been rehashing since the first wave of stillbirths hit the media.

“I think he even believed them.” She shrugged. “He wasn’t an epidemiologist or even a geneticist, just a glorified salesman who thought his big paycheck made him smarter than anyone else, and he lived the sort of bicoastal lifestyle the rich favored in those days.  If he’d ever set foot in the ‘flyover states’ before then, I never heard of it. But of course the crowd wasn’t having any of it. Something like nine thousand people showed up.  They were shouting at him, and he was trying to make himself heard, and somebody lunged for the platform and a security guard panicked and opened fire, and the crowd mobbed the platform. It was all over in maybe five minutes. As I recall, two of the guards survived. The other four were trampled and beaten to death, and nineteen people were shot—and Michael Yates was quite literally torn to shreds. There was hardly enough left of him to bury.

“So that’s what happened on April 29th, 2024. The crowd scattered as soon as it was all over, before Homeland Security troops could get here from their barracks; the feds declared a state of emergency and shut Toledo down, and then two days later the riots started down in Birmingham and the National Guard units sent to stop them joined the rioters. Your historians probably say that that’s where and when the Second Civil War started, and they’re right—but this is where the seed that grew into the Lakeland Republic got planted.”

“Hell of a seed,” I said, for want of anything better.

“I won’t argue. But this—”  Her gesture indicated the monument, and the shadow of a vanished building.  “—this is a big part of why the whole Midwest went up like a rocket once the Birmingham riots turned serious, and why nothing the federal government did to get people to lay down their arms did a bit of good. Every family I knew back in those days had either lost a child or knew someone who had—but it wasn’t just that. There had been plenty of other cases where the old government put the financial interests of big corporations ahead of the welfare of its people—hundreds of them, really—but this thing was that one straw too many.

“And then, when the fighting was over, the constitutional convention was meeting, and people from the World Bank and the IMF flew in to offer us big loans for reconstruction, care to guess what one of their very first conditions was?”

I didn’t have to answer; she saw on my face that I knew the story. “Exactly, Mr. Carr. The provisional government had already passed a law banning genetically modified organisms until adequate safety tests could be done, and the World Bank demanded that we repeal it.  To them it was just a trade barrier. Of course all of us in the provisional government knew perfectly well that if we agreed to that, we’d be facing Michael Yates’ fate in short order, so we called for a referendum.”

She shook her head, laughed reminiscently. “The World Bank people went ballistic. I had one of their economists with his face six inches from mine, shouting threats for fifteen minutes in half-coherent English without a break. But we held the referendum, the no vote came in at 89%, we told the IMF and the World Bank to pack their bags and go home, and the rest of our history unfolded as you’ve seen—and a lot of it was because of a pavement streaked with blood, right here.”

Something in her voice just then made me consider her face closely, and read something in her expression that I don’t think she’d intended me to see. “You were there, weren’t you?” I asked.

She glanced up at me, looked away, and after a long moment nodded.

A long moment passed. The clop-clop of a horsedrawn taxi came close, passed on into the distance.  “Here’s the thing,” she said finally.  “All of us who were alive then—well, those who didn’t help tear Michael Yates to pieces helped tear the United States of America to pieces.  It was the same in both cases:  people who had been hurt and deceived and cheated until they couldn’t bear it any longer, who finally lashed out in blind rage and then looked down and saw the blood on their hands.  After something like that, you have to come to terms with the fact that what’s done can never be undone, and try to figure out what you can do that will make it turn out to be worthwhile after all.”

She took a watch out of her purse, then, glanced at it, and said, “Oh dear. They’ve been waiting for me in the committee room for five minutes now. Thank you for listening, Mr. Carr—will I see you at the Assembly next Sunday?”

“That’s the plan,” I told her. She got up, we made the usual polite noises, and she hurried away toward the Capitol. Maybe she was late for her meeting, and maybe she’d said more than she’d intended to say and wanted to end the conversation. I didn’t greatly care, as I wanted a little solitude myself just then.

I’d known about DM-386 corn, of course, and my family wasn’t the only one I knew that lost a kid to the fatal lung defects the starfish stuff caused if the mother got exposed to it in the wrong trimester. For that matter, plenty of other miracle products have turned out to have side effects nasty enough to rack up a fair-sized body count. No, it was thinking of the pleasant old lady I’d just been sitting with as a young woman with blood dripping from her hands.

Every nation starts that way. The Atlantic Republic certainly did—I knew people back home who’d been guerrillas in the Adirondacks and the Alleghenies, and they’d talk sometimes about things they’d seen and done that made my blood run cold.  The old United States got its start the same way, two and a half centuries further back. I knew that, but I hadn’t been thinking about it when I’d sat on the park bench musing about how calm the Lakeland Republic seemed in the middle of all the consternation outside its borders. It hadn’t occurred to me what had gone into making that calm happen.

The breeze whispering past the stone monument seemed just then to have a distant scent of blood on it. I turned and walked away.


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Unknown said...

Artful and deft prose, that. A great addition to the Retrotopia story.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Yes, 2024 seems about right to me, too.

Marcu said...

The next meeting of the Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne will be held on the last Saturday in May. All interested parties are invited to attend. For people who are unsure about the nature of our meetings imagine a long descent support group with some intentional living discussion mixed in.
If you are interested, meet us on the 28th of May 2016 at 13:00. This month we are back at our original venue, Vapiano, 347 Flinders Lane, Melbourne Victoria, Australia.

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

Just look for the green wizard's hat.

P.S. I have created a webpage where I will post the details of the next meeting and any further details for those who don't frequent the comments here that often. The webpage can be found at

sgage said...

Holy Moly JMG,

That was great... with perhaps a bit too much verisimilitude for comfort...

Phil Harris said...

It was all a long time ago but I live in an area which centuries ago saw a lot of atrocities. Amazingly perhaps, many good lives lived since have repaired a lot of the fabric, but there are still places where you can feel the shadow: very different from most parts of Britain, even half a day’s cycle ride away.

I am reminded of Basil Liddell Hart's famous essay that included reference to the long-lived impact of civil and guerrilla warfare, Lessons from Resistance Movements. I have the essay in a book Civilian Resistance as a National Defence. Countries with such violent history tend to see it re-emerge: Hart quotes Spain and the Peninsular War. When working in the Balkans I perforce became very aware of un-ended war.

Phil H

Nancy Sutton said...

Nothing like a story to paint the "picture that changes the situation" to quote a marketing guru (who should know ;). I've been waiting quit awhile for this one... Thanks, John ;)

Vesta said...

Cool. See you all there.

gwizard43 said...

Happy to be back in the Lakeland Repub! Carr's still hanging on to the notion of the inevitability of progress, it seems, despite his growing perception of its threadbare nature. I can't help but wonder what it is that will finally shift things for him once and for all.

Serendipitously, I was just thinking about GMOs as I read this piece in SciAmer on the need for less Big S Skepticism, which I think you'll enjoy:

He hits several high notes, but GMOs would certainly have fit in here nicely.

Max Osman said...

>The confederacy

I doubt anyone would want to name themselves that. Wouldn't Southronia ( Populace named Southron) be a far better idea?

Most of the population of the south is African American or mixed after all, I doubt that name or that reminder would fly.

jean-vivien said...

Congratulations for a return to the long-awaited Retrotopia series.
I am reaching for my wallet... heading for the tip jar hehe.

One of your most poignant Retrotopia posts, which manages to make the Lakeland Republic a lot deeper than what it appears to be. Both charming and chilling at the same time... Also a nice way of illustrating your Burkean views on the precautionary principle, in the form of narractive fiction.

And the olfactive theme is a perfectly valid way of making sense of everything that's happening in the world just now - Brazil, France, Venezuela, and even the USA. I could comment on my own country, but I'll let those interested find out the details for themselves. Suffice to say, more of the same rioting, now even the cops are demonstrating against the hate they feel directed towards them. Some extremists almost killed two of them in the burning of their police car. The truck drivers are also going on strike, affecting the fuel supply lines. We have already seen that in the past. Same old, same old...

A place like the Lakeland Republic definitely looks like science fiction in today's tormented world ! And yet the narrative of its inception feels much too familiar. Peace always comes at a price, as there is no such thing as a free lunch. I wish you were wrong, but as a denizen of Ecnarf, and not unfamiliar with its History, I know otherwise. I feel a lot like Carr sitting dumbstruck on a park bench... Poor Mr Carr, he is really having quite a ride in the Lakeland Republic.

I would have much more to say, about how the media is starting to convey doubts about technology, or about why I don't believe that the current set of street protests staged in France are viable in the long term, or about the Rescue Game situations that have existed right in front of public sight for so many years. Those will have to wait for another day, as the affairs of daily life feel more important just now.

Brother Guthlac said...

To borrow the line from last week's posting: "nobody in the debate ... would get everything they want."

Conrad Schumacher said...

Great to get another trip to Lakeland, and such a powerful installment to.

I chuckled when I saw the CEO's name - Yates is a well-known seed company here in New Zealand. Although I see now they're owned by a chemical conglomerate, so no doubt they sell our timeline's equivalent of DM-388 (if they aren't already). I find it a bit unlikely that such a 'Master of the Universe' would actually front up in person to a public meeting. Surely they'd delegate to a PR flack instead? I wonder if last year's Air France incident (where two executives were accosted by workers after announcing the axing of 2,900 jobs) was a partial inspiration for this episode?

Christophe said...

Wow! So you decided it was time to lob a gruesome parable over the walls of the echo chamber inside which our political elite have contentedly barricaded themselves. Did something in the news cycle bring you to the conclusion that some of them are finally ready to look beyond their delusional contentment and catch a glimpse of the future awaiting us?

Your contrast of an innocent sunny morning playing hookie on a site that witnessed such passionate mayhem is inspired. Likewise your revealing a future principled political elite having discovered its resolve and moral compass through tearing apart our current corruption, calls into question the American mythos that maintaining order (continuing to progress along our current trajectory) is inherently good, just, and patriotic. You are working subtle magics with great skill. Please continue.

Urban Harvester said...

JMG, in case you didn't see my comment yesterday, I'll give you the short version here. A hearty congratulations for a decade of undoing the established order from a profound variety of directions! The depth and breadth of your work has sparked a transformation in my life and expanded my horizons.

As to the return or Mr. Carr, what a profound episode. This seems like an Omelot moment. Except that in the LR the people didn't walk away from it, they did something about it. What Chenkin said "After something like that, you have to come to terms with the fact that what’s done can never be undone, and try to figure out what you can do that will make it turn out to be worthwhile after all.” Reminds me of the guiding principle you started the ADR with and I think it reflects our position even today. Whatever happens in the next eight years, the hope you put into Retrotopia is very encouraging. I hope that people can have the guts to look at our collective underbelly and actually work to do something about it - and not just act like it isn't really there like Mr Carrs Atlantic Republic has done.

Darby Valley said...

Thank you, I had been missing Lakeland.

PatriciaT said...

Drude! That was AWESOME!

Thank you. Thought provoking & action spurring*, as always.

I have a feeling that in Lakeland - with such a beginning - that schools include a healthy dose of civics in the curriculum, and, that citizens actively participate in fostering the wellbeing of their republic and local communities.

Patricia Mathews said...

Oh, yes. "There the embattled farmers stood, and fired the shots heard 'round the world."

Justin said...

Paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology....

On the one hand, GMO technology has fantastic potential - imagine making complicated chemicals with nothing but some modified e.coli or yeast and some simple feed-stocks (except those required to perform gene editing) rather than a massive chemical plant. On the other hand, we have 'Gemotek'...

Probably for the best that GMO technology won't exist forever, or we're bound to screw up even worse than Gemotek did.

Angus Wallace said...

Thanks JMG, thoughtful as usual.

A datum for you: Adelaide, Australia is trying to reinstall the tram system that we used to have (in the early 20th century, torn down in the late 1950s). I know from personal conversation that there is recognition (at high levels in the state govt) that we need to do this.

There's some hope here, yet...

Cheers, Angus

pygmycory said...

I can picture the situation with the corn happening.

I'm finding I trust less and less that what I read in the media is accurate, and that research papers I read aren't missing important things, or that others saying the opposite aren't being covered up. That makes me very sad sometimes, not least because it is making it hard to communicate with one of my old friends who I was once very close to.

Venkataraman Amarnath said...

You are going to hear, a lot, from people defending genetically altered crops.

Carl Dolphin said...

Dear JMG, kind of funny reading this waiting for a Bernie Sanders rally to start. Looking around, I think some of these people want a "revolution", but have no idea what that would really entail.

Ray Wharton said...

"people who had been hurt and deceived and cheated until they couldn’t bear it any longer, who finally lashed out in blind rage and then looked down and saw the blood on their hands. After something like that, you have to come to terms with the fact that what’s done can never be undone, and try to figure out what you can do that will make it turn out to be worthwhile after all.”

The way we do things as a culture, the scale we do them at, and the investment we put before each project, makes it certain that when a serious mistake in made the consequences will happen on a mass scale. Even with good care and practice mistakes are still made. GMO's represent this danger more or less as well as any of a hundred technologies that could also be thus cast. These mistakes, by themselves, are not a threat to society, societies can weather events that slaughter individuals. No, it is the deception that is deadly to societies, because the substance of society is something which is like trust, if that trust is eroded away completely the society dies a wretched death.

This is a unusually good addition to the retrotopia series!

Dylan said...

Hooray for more Retrotopia!

Last week I ordered Blood of the Earth, Star's Reach, and Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush, and I'm looking forward to them arriving in the mail.

I noticed that your sidebar links for the latter two titles lead to Founders' House and from there to a couple of major online booksellers. I bought hard copies from those sites, but I remember you noting here that the big ones don't pay authors as well as ordering from the small publishers directly.

So I am putting a little something in the tip jar this week. You need to keep doing this work and I want to support you.

Juandonjuan said...

so... Moderate Burkean Conservatism. In a sane Society, would that be the true definition of rational self interest? As opposed to whatever goes by that name in the current consensual delusion. The Lakeland Republic-what might have been and what might yet be. Thank you

Pinku-Sensei said...

That story about the incident that began the Second American Civil War makes the Marches on Monsanto look like walks in the park held by a bunch of amateurs. It completely overshadowed the observations about Antarctic ice melt, loss of satellites, and lithium shortages, all of which are chilling in their own right.

I also have a news item relevant to an earlier installment about the Great Drone Hunt demonstrating how low tech one can be and still have an effect: Drone Over a Middle Ages Festival Taken Down by A Spear.

Peter Attwood said...

Lithium is one of those things that won't run out; it's already relatively economical to get it from seawater, and that won't run low. Lithium sea water extraction might easily get economically unviable due to the energy cost, but that's more likely with aluminum, which is abundant, but ferociously energy-intensive to refine.

Chris Smith said...

"Progress was going to win out eventually, I told myself, but the Republic’s retro policies certainly seemed to deflect a good many hassles in the short term."

A powerful line that. Followed by an intense fictionalization of where our GMOs are are going to take us (not to mention where are politics is headed). And that talk of "trade barriers" makes my blood boil. It's too close to real.

siliconguy said...

Quote found in another blog on economics.

"In April 2015, Saxo Bank chief economist Steen Jakobsen said that zero rates, zero growth, zero productivity, and zero reforms have left a great many countries adrift in a “new nothingness”.

The products of this nothingness, said Jakobsen, include apathy, stagnation and “an economic outlook based more in peoples’ heads than in reality”. On the cultural level, he continued, the widespread lack of dynamism and new ideas has empowered a political class that is “mainly interested in maintaining the status quo”, even as that status quo provides sharply diminishing returns."

On that last sentence I had to look twice to see what blog I was reading. It's really rare for an economist or politician to admit that diminishing returns even exists, much less that it might apply to them.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Christophe asks, "Did something in the news cycle bring you to the conclusion that some of them are finally ready to look beyond their delusional contentment and catch a glimpse of the future awaiting us?" I was about to ask the opposite question.

By a coincidence that may not be, and which in fact calls into question the concept of coincidence itself, just yesterday, I learned about the "Common Sense Economics" curriculum sponsored by corporate bogeyman-impersonators Charles and David Koch, one of whose lessons is literally called "Sacrificing Lives for Profit" and contains, courtesy of one Dwight Lee ("the William J. O’Neil Endowed Chair Global Markets and Freedom and Scholar in Residence at Southern Methodist University"), the following quote:

Corporations routinely sacrifice the lives of some of their customers to increase profits, and we are all better off because they do. That's right, we are lucky to live in an economy that allows corporations to increase profits by intentionally selling products less safe than could be produced. The desirability of sacrificing lives for profits may not be as comforting as milk, cookies and a bedtime story, but it follows directly from a reality we cannot wish away.

Much to my lack of surprise, he was born in 1941 in Fayetteville, meaning he lived through all 44 years of the first Cold War and probably won't realize it's over for another 44 if he lives that long. Did you actually know about his anti-human screed, or is this in fact a coincidence?

Tom Lehrer famously retired from writing satirical songs after Henry Kissinger got a Nobel Peace Prize, deeming that reality had become satire-proof. In her 1987 one-woman show The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe: a kozmic soup opera (written with then-partner and now-wife Jane Wagner), Lily Tomlin remarked, "No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up." I like having hope -- it keeps me alive -- but it gets awfully hard under these circumstances.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown, thank you.

Robert, for some reason that date keeps coming to mind when I do fiction on the end of the United States. Twilight's Last Gleaming, with its very different narrative of war and dissolution, starts in 2024, too.

Marcu, lift a beer for me!

Sgage, thank you. Good fiction isn't comfortable.

Phil, no argument there. Moving from the west coast into a place where Civil War armies marched and fought has been a lesson for me along the same lines; it's been a long time, but the old rivalries and hatreds are still there on both sides.

Nancy, you're welcome and thank you. The next installment shouldn't be too far off.

Gwizard43, stay tuned! Many thanks for the link -- that's an astonishing thing to see Scientific American publish.

Max, I know quite a few southerners, not all of them white, who would welcome that name along with their independence.

Jean-Vivien, no argument there. You don't need a sniffer dog to tell which way the wind is scented...

Brother G., exactly. That's the rule under which you get a viable representative democracy.

Conrad, that's why I made the fictional Michael Yates a celebrity CEO -- think Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, or for that matter Donald Trump. I can well imagine such a person deciding that their celebrity status would be enough to overawe the crowd, and never quite believing that anything bad could befall them until the crowd stormed the platform. Yes, the Air France executives were one of many things on my mind.

Christophe, no, it wasn't something in the news cycle -- this has been part of the backstory all along, and this was where I'd planned to put it. Still, if it gets through the yard-thick skulls of the affluent, all the better.

Harvester, I did indeed see your comment on last week's post -- I read every comment before putting it through. Many thanks! As for Carr, yes, and that's a crucial part of it -- the fastest way to get to the process of reevaluation that created the Lakeland Republic, it seems to me, is some cascade of traumatic events of the sort I've sketched out here. I hope we can get there in a less ghastly fashion...but of course the trauma is always waiting in the wings.

James Fauxnom said...

Wow, shivers... Excellent!

Cherokee Organics said...


Mate, I hear you, and you have my sympathies.

Adaption to circumstances is such an obvious strategy to me, that sometimes I forget that other people see things very differently. That contrast in the narrative looked quite stark to me. Incidentally, I liked the bit in the story where you slipped in the faith based statement that I hear quite a lot. You also managed to weave a bit of uncertainty in the protagonists thought processes when that mental mantra was thought. Nice one.

If the whole GM thing was clearly superior to all other avenues, then it would be self evident and wouldn't have to be defended through the legal system. The thing I wonder about that GM story is how do you support massive administrative body that backs the entire process, when really what they are selling are seeds for vegetables, other plants, grains and supporting chemicals. I don't see where the margins can be that much higher than for other more traditional forms of agriculture. I mean I could be wrong, but to my opinion it appears that the yields would have to be very much greater for it to make any sort of economic sense. Dunno, really.

I have put very few brain cells towards the election process over in the US, but yesterday morning I listened to a few sound bites and I was quite surprised at the personal attacks and gibes, which seemed to form a great deal of the debates and speeches. I heard Obama making fun of Sanders method of fund raising, and that method seemed eminently sensible to my mind. I heard nasty jibes about "hair hats" and Trump provided a sound bite the gist of which said that America needed to be more unpredictable because they are utterly predictable. And I found myself agreeing with Trump.

A dawning sense of understanding swept over me as I realised that the mainstream players had forgotten to provide for any sort of a vision and were instead relying on vitriol which is not a good look. It was mildly disturbing and unsettling to be exposed to those thoughts in the sound bites because I suspect the speakers have forgotten the consequences of using those tools.

Oh yeah, glad you mentioned the lithium thing. Honestly, I could share a story or two about those batteries, but they are not my stories to share and already I’m on the fringe with the renewable energy community down here. No need to add fuel to that fire! Back in the day there was Nickel-Iron batteries and they were very large, very simple, very resilient, very long lived, but not particularly efficient at storing electrical charge. They looked great too, all in glass jars so that you could see the internal workings. Many of those were sold off with the shut down of huge swathes of manufacturing down here in the early 90’s. Alas I was too young to realise the opportunity. Oh well.



Ceworthe said...

I wondered if this report also was part of the inspiration for the birth defect/GMO part of the story: Of course there are multiple denials in the media including Snopes and of course, Monsanto
Depending on what you consider Upstate New York to be (which is a topic of heated debate) corn is grown in CNY. If you are talking the Adirondacks, then no, there is no corn there. Some consider Westchester county [Anything north of NYC line to be Upstate New York. Those of us in CNY know better ;-) ]
A brilliant, chilling and masterful depiction of where we may be headed JMG. I salute your ability to write so brilliantly.

fudoshindotcom said...

Your writing seems almost to be narrating the history of our future.

With the support Donald Trump has and the Democratic party split between Sanders and Hillary Clinton it seems apparent that the rumbling discontent of the American people with the status quo is growing in volume. I would dearly like to be wrong, but I suspect the blind eye and deaf ear the Privileged elite turn to it will in the end only serve as the dark hood placed over the heads of the condemned before the gallows rope is tightened around their necks. I find it heartbreakingly sad that Intellectuals like yourself could explain to them the fate they are sealing for themselves if only they would listen. It isn't very hard to hear the cracking of the last straw.

John Michael Greer said...

Darby, you're welcome and thank you.

PatriciaT, they do indeed. Thank you for the reminder -- I need to put in an explicit reference to civics classes in the Lakeland schools.

Patricia M, excellent! Yes, I had that in mind too.

Justin, oh, granted -- in the abstract, if you only pay attention to the beneficial applications, GMO technology looks great. Then you start thinking about its many marvelous applications in the fields of war, terrorism, torture, and political repression, not to mention the downside from accidents and ordinary human stupidity, and the picture isn't anything like so pleasant.

Angus, good for Adelaide! That's splendid news. Note to city councils elsewhere: if you've driven down a blind alley and are sitting there with your front bumper up flat against a brick wall, the leading edge and the trailing edge have just changed places...

Pygmycory, I know. I simply extrapolated to GMOs the same kind of carelessness, shoddy testing, and gung-ho thinking that gave us, say, the lethal diet drug Fen-Phen and its many equivalents.

Venkataraman, so far I haven't heard a peep from the paid Monsanto shills or their volunteer cheerleaders. We'll see if they put in an appearance; if so, and their comments don't violate the policy here, I expect to have some fun.

Carl, that's a point I've tried to make here in the past. Political violence is not a game, and it's frankly sickening to listen to hipster would-be Marxists gabble about taking to the streets and leading a revolution, when they clearly have less than no idea what they're talking about. Lenin had a useful comment: "Revolutionaries are dead men on furlough."

Ray, thank you. I'd say, though, that the accidents can be a threat to society all by themselves, if they cause enough destruction to scatter any faith that the people who caused them had a clue. You're right, though, that adding in deception and corruption guarantees an explosion.

Dylan, thank you! Founders House uses Amazon's print-on-demand setup for printing and order fulfillment; that's a business decision on their part, and of course it's their choice to make. I think that's the only Evil Empire link among my book links, though.

Juandonjuan, rational self-interest is a figment because human beings aren't rational and are never just interested in themselves. Moderate Burkean conservatism is a way to think about politics that helps deal with the consequences of those two awkward facts, among others. ;-)

Pinku-Sensei, today's protest marches are basically walks in the park held by amateurs. Gestures of protest on the part of the privileged never changed anything.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

The Southern Confederation might be a name that all voting groups in the South could agree to. Emphasizes regional identity, states the model of government, and acknowledges but puts a little distance from the old Confederacy and all its associations.

Candace said...

Well here's someone cleat as arrogant as Yates. She might even get ripped apart in court.

I wonder if she took the economics class Neo Tuxedo mentioned in his comment.

Dennis D said...

My initial reaction on reading this post was that it needed one of those disclaimers at the bottom, that read "Names changed to protect the guilty. Excellent post, and congratulations on the tin(foil hat) anniversary. I came to reading your blog from the solar enthusiast, hobby farmer, peak oil and survivalist camps. I was raised at the bottom of the wage class, and have made it to the top of the same class. I used to collect conspiracy theories, and saw a lot of truth in them. My opinion on Government stories/propaganda is that I don't need to know what the truth is to know when I am being lied to. After I started reading your blog in about 07, and reading the Long Emergency,that a significant number of the theories were probably at least partially true, but I couldn't affect them, just myself. Since then, I have taken a permaculture course, got licensed in Ham radio and become a Master Mason. Recently I lent my copies of the Long Descent and the Ecotecnic Future, as well as the Druidry handbook to a good friend, who commented that the Long Descent was depressing reading, but connected a lot of dots for her that hadn't made sense before. The surprise was her 16 year old daughter picked up the books and read them, and used them as a basis for a book report in her school class. She is also enjoying your other blog, so there is hope yet.
On a separate note, I have also been reading The Market Ticker, and Karl has made some good points about how Trump could deal with a lot of his promises buy merely enforcing the law as currently written, especially the medical problems. He has brought up the fact the the Oklahoma Surgery Centre ( has posted prices for most surgeries that equal the co-pay of most insurance plans as a working example. The illegal immigrant problem is also solvable by enforcing large penalties against any employer who does employ them. Most would then leave once their illegal jobs dried up.

Justin said...

JMG - oh, sure I agree that in the hands of humans, GMO will always do more harm than good, even if you don't count accidental harm. However, 5 years ago, lacking my current perspective, I would have said that using GMO e.coli to produce an advanced polymer from water and corn was the modern equivalent of using a horse to convert grass into plow furrows. I still maintain my view, but replace the word with "modern" with "some alien race lacking our flaws and possessing some virtues we don't have".

Shane W said...

as someone who's great-great grandfather fought under Morgan and took the oath to the Union "under compulsion", as stated on his Confederate pension, I'd greatly love to rehabilitate the Confederacy's name and establish a new, diverse, modern state under that name that totally repudiates all the nasty scapegoating that's been hoisted upon it over the years.

Cherokee Organics said...


Forgot to mention that the protest in the story reminded me of the: Kent State shootings, albeit with a different outcome. If we forget our history...


Mark said...

JMG - After reading this story I thought, " .... and the commentariate fell silent". Not the first time I was ever wrong.

Your response to Carl: " Political violence is not a game, and it's frankly sickening to listen to hipster would-be Marxists gabble about taking to the streets and leading a revolution, when they clearly have less than no idea what they're talking about" reminded me of the time I was at a Quaker college just before Reagan. Before, I had served in the Marine Corps, and before that grew up shooting targets and eventually competing in 3 position rifle NRA matches. Anyway there was a would-be Marxist who was also around campus that summer, and we were on a crew haying. After hearing about revolution for a month, I invited him to go shooting. We took my .30 Service rifle, and .30 bolt-gun to a public range just outside an army base. As I was giving him safety rules and shooting tips, we were joined by two more shooters. Not college material, possibly prison graduates, they were shooting AK's with folding stocks. I remember after all these years their tattoos and their attitude: "Frack you whoever you are" in essence. I did not risk any conversation with them. They shot fast, we shot slow. Empty milk jugs were the targets that day. Not easy for a new shooter as my friend learned. We both fired 40 rounds, which even with ear protection is enough for a headache for me. Prone, sitting, kneeling with sling support, padded shooting coat, padded glove, and standing (my favourite), great fun.

No more talk of revolution in the streets. I dropped out the next year when my GI bill bennies ran out. Began practising the meditation on Chenresi for all beings (by TangTong Gyalpo); still doing that. "Collapsed" a good while ago; still shooting; but I like to hope that 40 rounds saved at least one life.

Donald Hargraves said...

I'm curious - will the MetaNet even exist when Mr. Carr makes it back to the Atlantic Republic?

Bike Trog said...

My brother is a machinist. He is starting to sound desperate in his belief in manufacturing, which made this country strong, without it we might as well nuke the place, etc. If that's his denial stage the anger will be a humdinger.

Steve Morgan said...

That the satellite destruction and early-stage Kessler syndrome is relegated to page 4 says a lot about the advantages of collapsing now and avoiding the rush. Lakeland at large is passingly interested in it, much in the same way that current newspapers put on page 4 or 5 stories of foreign policy interest that occasionally broadcast the shape of things to come to those who know how to interpret them. In a recent NY Times edition I bought, it was a story about how Saudi Arabia has been financing US incursions in the middle east out of mutual interest and tradition, but that that relationship is becoming strained. There's clearly more going on than was written on the surface, especially in the context of events like the regional civil wars and recent US detente with Iran.

In much the same way, a Lakelander reading the academic story of space debris could infer that the balance of military and economic power globally was about to shift, bringing disadvantages to the satellite-dependent and relative advantages to those with other arrangements for communication, navigation, military power projection, and the like.

In other words, in a world straining under the constraints of the limits to growth, climate change, and the escalating costs of overcomplexity, it can certainly pay to collapse now and avoid the rush.

For instance, if one grows one's vegetables, news reports about huge recalls of produce tainted with some ghastly germs carry a different weight than if one was to depend on a grocery store. Similarly scary stories about credit card breaches, iCrack hacks, and car safety recalls gain or lose importance based on how much a person relies on the system in question.

Thanks for the return of Mr. Carr. The past few essays have been of no small import and certainly educational, but every Retrotopia post brings with it a feeling like a relaxing easy chair in front of the stove during a harsh blizzard.

jessi thompson said...

Depends on which side of the southern states wins. They still fly the stars and bars all over the place. Yeah I'd say the odds of it being called "the confederacy" again are about 50/50, if Mississippi, Alabama,and Georgia became a country. It just depends on which half of the population takes power.

jessi thompson said...

Regarding the profitability and administrative skills of Monsanto

A genetically modified seed is a seed that can be patented. Monsanto makes its money by forcing their customers to buy new seeds every year, because it's illegal to save GM seeds. And they do sue people who have GM DNA in their crops when they have not purchased new seeds that year.

Do me a favor and research organic farmers sued by Monsanto because their organic crops were contaminated by GM DNA through wind pollination. Then read up on the rash of farmer suicides in India and the work of activist Vendana Shiva. Then look up Roundup Ready Soy. That should tell you everything you need to know about how Monsanto makes their money.

jessi thompson said...

I'm not gonna lie, I was a little disappointed last week when I heard you were returning to Retrotopia this week, not because of Retrotopia, but because I thought I would miss an opportunity for your striking nonfiction.

This week's Retrotopia won me over. The gritty realism is utterly convincing. Bravo, well done, and I have no idea what happened on your vacation, but apparently your muse missed you a lot, because I think she's trying to make up for the lost time. I've never seen dystopian writing look so believable in my life.

Synthase said...

I'll bite.

Some argue that the MonsantoBucks™ Shill Program operations manual doesn't seem to have an entry on dealing with archdruids inciting fictional riots. It's absolutely not 856 pages long, and I allegedly only skimmed it. It'll probably come up at the next meeting. Allegedly.

Secondly, as a practicing occultist you are aware that the suggestion in your story multiplied by your not inconsiderable reach is adding to the nocebo effect surrounding GMOs, and I'd like to know why you would do that?

LewisLucanBooks said...

Salutations, Mr. Greer -Zinger of a post. Just saw an article the other day about GMO mushrooms. They got an easy pass, regulations wise, as they added nothing to the DNA. They just removed the tendency of mushrooms to brown. Even so, the phrase "unintended consequences, comes to mind. Glad I started my first patch of Shiitake mushrooms, a couple of weeks ago. Just a commercial kit, but a start. Shiitake with rice, last Thanksgiving's turkey and stock ... fresh green onions, a bit of garlic and sunflower seeds. Oh, my! Lew

Karim said...

Greetings all!

Great story and sounds so real, there is an eerie feeling that you are describing a very likely event in the near future of the US that will tip things over for good in your country. A point of no return, obvious to all that makes a return to previous normalcy impossible.

In my understanding, it seems that such events that could lead to a point of no return would involve the death of many in the US, directly attributable to the actions of a thoroughly corrupted elite.

The gemotek incident involves GMO technology, what types of other major incidents could flare up to this extent? Fracking? Police shoot outs?

By the way, as things are going, it seems to me that Mr. Carr might defect at some point in the future!

John Michael Greer said...

Peter, physical availability means precisely nothing if it isn't paired with economic viability. There's vast amounts of gold in the ocean, too, and schemes to extract it used to be a lucrative con-man gimmick, because so many people think the way you appear to.

Chris, thank you. It's supposed to be very, very close to real.

Siliconguy, good heavens -- can you post a link to the blog? You're quite right; it's astonishing to see something that forthright outside the doomosphere.

Neo Tuxedo, no, I hadn't heard about that! I simply triangulated from the amply documented behavior of big corporations and their government enablers. I wonder whether the Koch brothers would be a little less insouciant about lives on the line if they grasped the fact that they and their families could end up dangling from lampposts if they succeed in convincing everyone else that the very rich are a luxury society can no longer afford.

James, thank you!

Cherokee, I see you've been having some good long talks with Blind Freddy! Exactly; the ruling dynamic in the US political system these days is the replacement of actual discussion about policy issues with loud displays of ritual hostility. They're shouting insults because it's less awkward than admitting that they have no idea how to solve the rising spiral of troubles besetting this country.

Ceworthe, thank you. No, I hadn't encountered that -- I was thinking of the way that the US government is running cover for Bayer's neonicotinoid pesticides even though those are causing mass dieoffs of the honeybees that pollinate our food crops, and similar evasions around the pandemic of harmful and fatal side effects of lucrative drugs marketed by the pharmaceutical industry, among other things.

Fudoshindotcom, oh, granted. I don't share the lynch-mob mentality that so many people on the leftward end of things aim at the upper end of the pyramid. Those who have committed crimes should do time, and the maldistribution of income and wealth badly needs redress, but I have no interest in seeing them decorating lampposts. I'll have some things to say about that in an upcoming Retrotopia episode, as it happens, when Carr has lunch with the streetcar magnate Janice Mikkelson.

Unknown Deborah, you might want to ask some Southerners about that...

Candace, okay, that's a great example. Many thanks!

Dennis, delighted to hear about the sixteen-year-old; she's the generation that can really use this stuff, as she'll be coming of age shortly in a society in rapid decline. The Market Ticker is quite correct about Trump, of course; we actually have many of the laws we need, it's just that the gaudily corrupt government we've got these days won't enforce them.

John Michael Greer said...

Justin, no argument there, though I'd say the process of evolution through natural selection is probably the best manager of the technology. ;-)

Cherokee, granted; people weren't desperate enough when Kent State happened. Next time around that might not be the case.

Mark, thank you. It might well have saved a life -- but it certainly seems to have communicated a clue, which is well up there on the list of good things.

Donald, now, now -- you know I don't hand out spoilers! ;-)

Bike Trog, when the American working class hits the anger stage, blood will flow. It's not going to be pretty.

Steve, excellent! I was wondering if readers would catch that.

Jessi, thanks for giving Retrotopia a chance. I needed to take some time off it to regain a clear sense of where the narrative is headed, but I think you'll be pleased with the end result.

Synthase, funny. If one archdruid telling a fictional story can set in motion a nocebo effect powerful enough to brush aside the placebo effect induced by billions of dollars of Monsanto propaganda, how good is your product?

Lewis, have US regulators actually rejected any GMO product for public consumption? Until they do, I consider all GMO products effectively untested and therefore, according to the precautionary principle, assume that they're unsafe.

Karim, it could literally be anything, as long as it convinces enough people that they have nothing to hope for from the current US government. I chose an event that fits in with the overall theme of the story. As for Carr, stay tuned -- no spoilers!

Ron said...

A piece so well written it made me shudder....

I can not help but wonder if people would really revert to the old ways in the event of a collapse and restart. On one hand people tend to reach back to what they know, no matter how unpleasant it may be, but on the other hand.... If folks are fed up to the point of blind rage, wouldn't they seek for alternatives in order to avoid the same thing happening again?
But I guess I can answer my own question; since when have we learned from history?

I think that our future societies will be small scale, fractured and scattered communities. No larger entities, simply because there will be not enough resources, both in goods as in useable land/water, left to sustain the latter.

Maybe with peak oil comes peak humanity??

Synthase said...

I said you were adding to it; and besides it seems like you're underestimating your reach. I don't know who started it, someone in Greenpeace probably.

There's no real evidence to suggest the safety profile of any GMO is significantly different to the safety profile of its wild-type counterpart. For that matter, actual quality doesn't seem to matter when it comes to the placebo and nocebo effect. Vaccines for example, which have real quality to them, have been seriously sabotaged in this way to the possibly permanent detriment to all humanity. While homeopathy, which is completely lacking substance, is the purest placebo known to science and has helped plenty of people because of that.

Finally as to Monsanto - how good can their PR executives be anyway? Monsanto's public reputation for evil is worse than James Hardie, Enron and David Icke's reptilian overlords from another dimension combined. Yet their EPS (evil per share, as quantified in the annual report in the notes to the financial statements in the auditor's report) is within a range comparable to companies of a similar market capitalisation. Would you hire their PR people?? I wouldn't.

John Michael Greer said...

Ron, peak oil will certainly be peak humanity in quantitative terms -- lacking the insanely abundant torrents of cheap energy we've gotten from petroleum, no future age will be able to support more than a modest fraction of the seven billion or so human beings on Earth just now. It needn't be peak humanity in qualitative terms -- if anything, our descendants might just succeed in learning from one or two of our mistakes, and becoming a little more humane in the process.

Synthase, given that unbiased third party testing of GMOs hasn't exactly been encouraged by Monsanto et al. -- quite the contrary, rather -- isn't it a little ingenuous to say, as you do, that "no real evidence exists" for differential health effects between GMOs and the natural life forms from which they've been manufactured? Absence of evidence, after all, isn't evidence of absence, and under the precautionary principle, it would be reasonable to expect thorough testing by people who have no stake in the outcome before allowing the dumping of manufactured life forms into the biosphere and the human body.

With regard to the placebo effect, as a practicing occultist -- you did know that, I trust -- I use it all the time, with good effect, and you might be interested to know that my experience with homeopathy doesn't support the claim that it's purely a placebo-based system. The differences are difficult to quantify, like many direct experiences, but easy to recognize; there are also certain other factors that set homeopathy apart from a pure placebo approach. I've discussed this over on my other blog, on the off chance you're interested.

As for Monsanto's PR people, I suspect rather that it's a reflection of the famous difficulty with putting lipstick on a pig!

Peter Attwood said...

JMG, I wholly understand your point as my example of aluminum illustrates. Aluminum is the third most abundant element in the earth's crust; it's everywhere and in large quantity. But it is extremely energy-intensive to extract. There hasn't been much progress on diminishing that problem - and that's not for lack of trying. I think it's likely that trouble with electricity production could make aluminum a problem rather abruptly, precisely because its abundance doesn't make it economically viable to produce without a lot of cheap electricity.

On the other hand, progress is being made in getting lithium from sea water. Dialysis is quite promising:

Lithium extraction technolology is still quite primitive, unlike that of aluminum, so there may well be room for some reprieves. Not likely with aluminum.

We lived without aluminum until the 1880s, and when cheap electricity can no longer be relied on, we'll have to learn again to do without it.

Unknown said...

JMG, down here in OZ there are more than a few dairy farmers who might identify with your aggrieved crowd. They have just been told by the $95,000 a week CEO of Fonterra, that they will have the price for the seasons milk reduced, and that those still milking will have their price reduced in order to shift the whole seasons average payout to the lower value. This after having been told all season by Fonterra reps that the price was "safe", ok, and one they could budget on. Our cows were dried off with 4 days! One farmer whose wife is a Fonterra rep sent 100 Autumn calving cows to the meat works rather than milk them for a loss.

Watching the various minions, flaks, govt stooges and aspiring politicians try and put lipstick on that pig would have been priceless, but for the fact that my employers are dairy farmers and my income has just taken a big drop. Still, it gives me more time for the domestic economy.

I can see just how easily the body parts could get separated. My aging boss has said some things in the last week that leave me glad I am not on his "come the revolution" list.

eagle eye

Great post, by the way, but then you don't do mediocre.

Yossi said...

Interesting piece in the Guardian on renewables.

YCS said...

Monsanto doesn't need to do much PR for GMOs - plenty of stupid techno-fetishists will do it for them. Case in point, this article . It reveals absolutely nothing apart from garbage in, garbage out.

Even amongst my friends expressing a tiny amount of skepticism for GMOs is some kind of heresy. Nowadays I mostly shut up, because I see no point in arguing against a cult when I can wait for history to prove me right. On top of that, scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson have muddied the water by insisting that GMOs is basically the same as selective breeding (which it isn't).

As usual, I expect everyone to cheer for it until something goes horribly wrong. Add that to nuclear waste, 'geo-engineering' and any other number of idiotic ill-considered ideas and we have a catastrophic future ahead. Sometimes I find it hard to even think about what I'll have to see in the 50-60 years I ahead, if I survive that is.


R.O. Yates said...

On a side note: the day you published this latest blog entry, news leaked that the giant conglomerate Bayer was working on an offer to take over Monsanto. Most folks think of aspirin and other drugs as the focus of Bayer. However, unknown to most Americans is Bayer's huge footprint in the agri-biz.

It will be interesting to see if the US allows this acquisition to take place:

cris said...

Hello JMG,
Reading Retrotopia I see many parallels with Aldous Huxley's 'Island' (I hope you take that as a compliment). I was wondering how a country like the Lakeland Republic would go about preventing treason in all its forms, from the sincere to the abjectly corrupted and from the common citizen to those in high office. You've made clear the importance to the LR of education and national defense and the strive to have a functioning democracy, you also mentioned civics classes etc. Given the importance of the subject to the survival of the LR (the more genuinely different from the "norm" a country is, the more its survival seems to be threatened by the "normal" outside), would you like to elaborate on this? It doesn't have to fit in the narrative, of course, a comment would do. Many thanks.

Larz said...

Holy moly.

Matt Taibbi, dated today 18 May 2016, in Rolling Stone magazine, wrote article "R.I.P., GOP: Trump Is Killing the Republican Party." Much in Taibbi's article John Michael Greer has written about in this blog, at length. JMG, you have fans.

near San Jose, California, USA

Matt said...

Nice change to have a bit of the fiction, although I'm wondering whether this is leading to some additional non-fictional statements around GM?

I thought the tearing to pieces was a bit much. Does that ever happen? I mean the literal tearing to pieces.

Wizard of Tas said...

GMOs are certainly a direct to consumption concern, but something else that would fit the picture, and has been coming across my newsfeeds lately, is the probability that we're breathing micro-plastics.

Breathing it and, thanks to fish, eating it. And thinking beyond the anthropocentric, so are a lot of other critters.
We can't even clean up macroplastics from our oceans, how are we going to eliminate the scourge of micros? We're not. At what density does it start to kill the elderly, the young, and those with other lung issues?
There are too many land mines in this field. I don't feel like hopping and skipping at the moment.

James Gemmill said...

Well! It was certainly a long enough wait for the next installment, but the wait was well worth it.

Unknown said...

Bravo for such a poignant entry to the Lakeland Republic series! I've been reading religiously for quite some time yet never before felt the need to add my own commentary.

Like others I can't help but feel that this is foreshadowing our own future, but what struck me immediately when reading the story was this:

Is it possible that Mr. Yates knew all along that the stuff was killing babies and was a closet eugenist?

Though if he was he probably wouldn't be dumb enough to be a martyr...

Synthase said...

That post on your other blog I have read before, and I've read it again now. It is and remains the single most viscerally challenging beyond-the-impossible idea I have read from you. I'm still not sure what to make of it beyond the initial heresy reaction. Yet I'm still here.

Steve Carrow said...

John Michael- Good read. It may cause me to put aside nonfiction for a while and go on a good old fiction binge.

While you could have chosen any number of potential sparks for the second civil war, GMOs do personify the diverged interests between the profit seeking elites and the rest of us. I recently blogged about GMOs, and there are several other reasons to oppose this technology besides the unanticipated human health effects.

Don Plummer said...

"Progress was going to win out eventually, I told myself..."

So Mr Carr hasn't given up on the myth of progress just yet? How long, and what's it going to take, before he finally realizes that it's about as closely connected to reality as David Ickes' reptilians?

David said...


I haven't caught up on the comments yet, so perhaps this sentiment has been expressed by others, but I must say that this was -- by far -- the most sobering essay of yours that I have read in the many years I've been following this blog. We often get caught up in the rhetoric of change and forget the meaty, gritty, and bloody reality of the process which frequently involves less-than-pleasant things. I had a sudden picture of Maud'dib desperately searching for a path that didn't result in slaughter.

Once more, thank you. "Knowing there's a trap is the first step in evading it."

beetleswamp said...

Very timely out here considering the exchange that went down on the Big Island last week. School kids are getting evacuated due to "mysterious illnesses" and people who get their urine tested are showing elevated pesticide levels that shouldn't exist according to the biotech cheerleading squad. The people have been pushing for buffer zones and testing but the reply from the government is that they don't want to do research because there might not be a problem. Hawaii is basically the ideal guinea pig laboratory for experimental biotech because we have a geographic isolation and a high tolerance for corruption.

Your story makes me wonder if we're headed for a repeat of the Hanapēpē Massacre but with corporate mercenaries vs. an army of starving homeless with chronic health problems.

fudoshindotcom said...


I am certainly not a proponent of violence, nor did I intend to imply that you might be. I was merely making the observation that people can be pushed only so far before resorting to it. I read somewhere that " A Southerner will be polite until He's mad enough to kill you.", and think this is reflected by American society in that the Elite mistake strained civility for complacency, forgetting that Enemies aren't born, they're made. I too hope for just, peaceful resolution but worry, are we past the point where that is entirely possible? Are the Elite so corrupted by arrogance and greed that they'll hear nothing short of gunfire? I most sincerely don't want to believe this is the case. If it is then maybe an economic collapse that levels the playing field somewhat before a cataclysm is reached would be a good thing, allowing empathy to gain a foothold. Perhaps this can all be summed up by the question; Is violent self-destruction an integral part of Human nature?

steadystatecollege said...

Someone may well have brought this up already, but I find myself very preoccupied with the special skill psychopaths have in putting themselves in positions of decision-making power, and the special incentives electoral processes have for drawing them up the ladder.

I'll be curious to see what the people of Lakeland Republic have done, and do on an ongoing basis, to limit the damaging influence of psychopaths and foster highly engaged participation by more common-sensical folk - something along the lines of checks and balances with actual teeth, I'd imaging. So far, from meeting the people LR's populace have put in leadership positions, they seem to have a system that's better than ours.

Zach said...

Oh my.

I had been wondering what could set Lakeland on this path.

That would certainly do it.

Again, you're hitting - very literally - home for me. That corn country surrounding Toledo is my native land.

Powerfully done, JMG.


Howard Skillington said...

Corporate funding of electoral campaigns assures that politicians will enable bad behavior on the part of the private interests that own them. The perverse doctrine that corporations are persons, whose sacred responsibility is to maximize shareholder value to the exclusion of any other constituency or public interest, guarantees a moral race to the bottom. Colossal CEO incomes, rubber stamped by friendly boards of directors and multiplied by stock options, virtually eliminate the possibility that management will mitigate the damage that their corporations are empowered to inflict.

The product of this witches brew is predictable: here we are. How many individuals given this set of incentives to behave badly, without any responsibilities or countervailing threat of punishment, could resist doing so? Everything in America’s capitalist system has conduced to creating the corporate monsters that are ravaging us. Expecting otherwise would be like hoping for Godzilla to turn back from the Tokyo city limits after a committee of citizens carrying bouquets of flowers appealed to his better nature.

As we have seen in numerous cinematic iterations, you can’t stop Godzilla without considerable collateral damage. But eventually he must be stopped.

Thomas Daulton said...

My compliments on a well-written, hard-hitting, revelatory, thought-provoking chapter in your latest fiction saga.

The story of an anti-GMO-corporate riot struck me as an interesting echo of the recent accusations of violence leveled against supporters of the quasi-maverick Presidential candidates, Trump and Sanders. Obviously you conceived these ideas many months ago and new nations, even peaceful Lakeland, are typically birthed in violence anyway. Still it's interesting.

I know you have a dim opinion of the "hipsters" and so forth who are calling Sanders and Trump "revolutionaries," in that young Americans who haven't been Imperial footsoldiers abroad yet have little knowledge of real-life political violence. Nevertheless, I'd argue that many revolutionaries go into their revolution thinking things can be resolved peacefully, and then find themselves driven to violence and acquiring such experience by necessity. The hipsters don't know a thing about violence right now, but I am starting to wonder if some will have those lessons taught to them soon.

In my own opinion, today's news reports of violence from these hipster political activists (on both sides) are probably highly overblown, mainly it's pearl-clutching on the part of establishment mouthpieces. But the two established political parties really have only themselves to blame for whatever violence might originate during this election season and beyond. For at least 3 or 4 decades, every four years like clockwork, each political party has energized its voters by scaring them with fears of an Apocalypse if the other party wins power... ("Supreme Court! Abortion epidemic! Runaway global warming! They're coming to take your guns!") And then every four years like clockwork, come the second week of November, the newly-elected party politicians generally seem to act as if all the pressure is off. There are a number of slang terms for this, including "bait-and-switch" as well as NSFW terms involving anatomical parts and "tease". You can only bait-and-switch your followers for so long before ugliness of one sort or another occurs. I think we're starting to see early glimmerings of real political violence right now, but on the other hand, I have typically over-estimated the speed of political change most of my life.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160519T142138Z

Dear JMG,

Thanks for another wonderful installment.

I would, however, like to ask a question regarding one part of your narrative. You write the following: /.../the only countries in the world that had this supposed virus were countries that allowed DM-386 corn to cross their borders. The media wouldn’t mention that, and if you said something about it on the old internet, or any other public venue, Gemotek would slap you with a libel suit. They’d win, too—they had all the expert opinion on their side that money could buy.

What has, in your narrative, happened to the legal adage that "the Truth Defence is absolute"? I am the scarred veteran of a libel action by a municipal politician, Ms Karen Cilevitz, who favours development on 31 or 32 or so hectares out of the 77 David Dunlap Observatory and Park greenspace hectares here in Ontario. I think that in libel I know whereof I speak - on the strength, in part, of lots and lots of chats with my erstwhile counsel, at Blake, Cassels and Graydon LLP.

Everything pertinent to our conservation-of-greenspace land case, in its alleged libel aspect, is laid out on a pair of Web sites.

(1) The material-in-contention is displayed at I use red for the bits I had, under the terms of the eventual "Settlement", to modify. (I herewith neither affirm that I had to change a heck of a lot nor affirm that I had to change very little. Nope, my lips on this point are sealed, yes ma'am: no affirming of any kind, ma'am, mah lips are SEE-YULLED. Anyone who, speaking hypothetically, might happen to be interested is welcome to search diligently for little red bits, scrolling down and down and down and down and down and down, and looking on every one of those ever-so-long Web pages.)

(2) The central legal materials, most importantly my Settlement-regulated commentary on the "Settlement", can be inspected at

My own understanding, JMG, is that as soon as you prove in court that what you wrote was true, the case against you collapses - no matter what the other circumstances in your case might be.

Further, I think that this principle is pretty common across Anglsaxonia and western Europe, having nothing special to do with the jurisdiction (Ontario, in Canada) in which I have experience.

So in the situation you sketch, all the Internet bloggers had to do was establish in court which countries had the virus and which countries had the border-biosecurity arrangements.

Can 2024 companies like Gemotek sway judges, so that they misapply libel law? If so, can that already happen in 2016? If "Yes" to the latter query, can you perhaps refer to a case or two - not in the full rigour of legal citation, but merely in terms that will make it possible to run a general "Google" search and a "Google News" search?

Perhaps some readers other than JMG will also care to comment, perhaps suggesting a Google search term or two? Such readers could comment right here, or alternatively could send me a private e-mail. I have a special interest in the Truth Defence this week, having this week slammed the University of Toronto pretty hard over at, in connection with that same conservation-of-greenspace land case.

thinking how important is the Rule of Law,

Toomas (Tom) Karmo


in municipality of Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto in Canada

Nastarana said...

I am making bets with myself about how this story ends.

Does Mr. Carr

a. defect

b. go back home a little bit wiser

c. call in an airstrike

As for the soi-disant revolutionaries, a goodly proportion are paid provocateurs and the rest are angling for advancement for themselves and their respective tribes. See, eg, BLM, for a current example of the latter. I would go so far as to say that the Clinton "outreach" to certain designated communities is a vast patronage scheme and scam; her version of hiring one half of the (formerly) working class to kill the other half, except here the plan is to use one half to tax the other. Kill them after they run out of money, then the heirs are left destitute and have to do what we tell them.

I don't necessarily agree about the uselessness of vast march against Monsanto demonstrations because Monsanto has expended great efforts to cover its' products with a blanket of respectability. I suggest that what the domonstrations can do, so long as they remain peaceful--and naturally authorities will attempt to provoke violence--is remove the aura of warm fuzzies from this very dangerous technology.

Sherril Bowman said...

When i saw the title of this article i thought i was going to get to do a happy dance but now i'm just more worried about seeds than GMOs.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160519T143211Z

Dear JMG, and everyone else too:

In his comment timestamped by the blogger software as "5/18/16, 6:45 PM", "Neo Tuxedo" refers with appropriate disdain to some hideous writing by an apologist for the Monsantos of this world.

The writing itself can be retrieved in PDF form, and I believe also in audio-file form, by pointing one's browser to It is then necessary to follow a hyperlink on that Web page, at a text string which reads "Sacrificing Lives for Profits by Dwight Lee".

When half-truths and specious argument are peddled, as by the Dwight Lee at whom "Neo Tuxedo" cites with appropriate disdain, we for our part must all make sure that the unsound stuff gets repeated, again and again and again and again, and gets inspected, by thoughtful readers around the globe.

It has well been said that Truth, being powerful, will in the end prevail.



Amy Olles said...

I gotta admit I was a disappointed to see fiction instead of the blistering commentary on reality presented today. I have been enjoying reading down your latest themes dissecting the political situation in America. And smarting when I find that most hits very close to home, and I'm guilty of being quite privileged even though I tend to think I'm not. You can't change what you don't/won't acknowledge. Maybe I'm not hopeless!
As to your fictional series, I'm glad I read today's installment. I have been struggling to enjoy this series, even though I know it represents the best of how the future could be. I appreciate that even though the technology and energy sources have 'digressed' and older fashioned mindset of how people should behave or be allowed to behave (aka same sex marriage) has not digressed. I love that! The other half of me chafes when reading these installments because I have NEVER seen anything work so well. In my experience, the bureaucracy, ego, and general too many cooks in the kitchen all elbowing each other to death to get their say creates processes that can't work without a hitch, disgruntled but stuck people, and general stress - day in, day out. Granted I'm referring to where I work, but it's a big gov contract that my company is trying to 'run' with the 'help' of the government and NOTHING works. Further, at a municipal/city level I don't see a great deal of smoothness of in incorporating policies that work for the people (bike tx? Seems like an impossible dream). I guess I'm just jaded enough that I don't see how a seamlessly working future could be crafted by any sort of agency that is a governing body of an area bigger than perhaps a household. And even then I can site examples of familial ways of doing things that don't work ;)So I'm trying to breath and consider this a study in what could be, but in reality I'm grinding my teeth because I don't see this EVER happening (which is terribly disheartening) Today's installment did give me pause - perhaps when your freedom from what doesn't work is bought at so high a price, pavements streamed with the blood of people you know...then perhaps that would change the mindset of people enough to craft a way of living that works according to the resources available to them. But even then...I don't know. I want to believe...but I can't get there. Maybe that makes me part of the problem :/

Eric S. said...

On GMOs, I seem to have taken on a viewpoint that angers both sides by suggesting that the entire conversation over genetic modification has collapsed into binaries and generalizations that it impossible to take anywhere useful. Even without discussing inadequate science, the mere claim that “GMOs are safe/ GMOs are killing us!” misses out on the most important aspect of the label GMO – it’s an entire suite of technologies, rather than a single monolithic entity and as such, attempts to make sweeping claims about the entire suite of technologies is utter nonsense. Even if completely adequate and comprehensive research (preferably in the form of longitudinal studies stretched out over a generation or two in order to ascertain long term effects on both humans and ecosystems) proved that every GMO crop presently on the market was completely safe (or not) using those studies to claim that “GMOs are safe/not” is the exact equivalent of using a single drug trial to claim that “all drugs are safe” applying it to all present and future drugs, or using a single recalled drug to claim that any and all medicine is going to kill you. Unfortunately, the way the technology is evolving is that when a new strain gets created, the rhetoric behind it is “it’s a GMO and GMOs have been proven safe,” and then a wave of people jump out of the woodwork and start shouting about the evils of GMOs as a broad category, which makes them very easy to shut down.

Meanwhile, the actual application of GMO technology, contrary to the oft repeated promises about the potential applications of the technology is actually getting applied to things like glyphosphate resistant soy and Bt Maize (i.e. crops with applications I have doubts about even if they worked exactly as advertised with no adverse side effects, since they’re specifically designed to cause large scale disruption of field ecologies), meanwhile, some of the more ballyhooed, but not yet applied potential GMO applications (i.e. plants that grow faster and are more resistant to adverse weather conditions and so on… make me think a little too much about the lessons Australian toads and rabbits, or American Kudzu have to teach us about what happens if you introduce an organism that’s too successful). There’s also the issue that GMO seeds are by their very nature not heirlooms, which affects pretty much anyone interested in farming in the name of self-sufficiency (but that applies to most other forms of hybridization as well). None of the good ideas involved in GMO talk (using C4 Photosynthesis to increase the rate of carbon sequestration in plants, modifying field crops to fix nitrogen for soil remediation, etc.) ever see the light of day, it’s always pesticides or heightened resistant to stronger pesticides to respond to resistant pests. Even the above mentioned good ideas would need extensive testing first and if they were safe they’d only speak for that type of seed.

That entire argument usually gets me called an anti-GMO conspiracy theorist by one crowd, and a Monsanto shill by the other. Meanwhile, in the long term, the fact that GMO companies can rest on the prestige of the entire suite of technology without ever having to look at every new crop on its own terms, and the fact that the public is insistent on denouncing the entire suite of technologies on principal every time it comes up without discussion pretty much guarantees that eventually something like what you’re describing here will happen, with Crown of Thorns derived Saponin Corn (in response to Bt corn, and/or plant derived saponin pesticides ceasing to be effective) being inadequately tested because “hey, it’s a GMO, and the science on GMOs is settled, right?” while all legitimate concerns are outright ridiculed because “they’re just anti-science.” With neither side realizing that there can never be any such thing as “settled GMO science” for the same reason there can never and will never be such a thing as “settled drug science,” every GMO strain being a unique stand-alone entity that has to be tested on its own terms.

Thomas Daulton said...

...I'm just saying -- revolutions have to start _some_where, as you point out in this chapter of Lakeland. Hipsters are all about the irony. History, too, often seems to favor irony. It would be highly ironic if a class of people branded as effete trend-followers turned into real revolutionaries after experiencing a disproportionate crackdown by the Establishment... stranger things have happened. Might even be fiction-worthy! ;-)

buzzy said...

Part 1 of 2

As a 4th generation Atlanta and a 10-12th generation (white) Southern I can say flatly that “Southern Confederation” won’t fly. The relatively recent controversy over the Georgia state flag should be instructive. The flag was changed to include the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia, popularly called the Confederate flag, in 1956. In the early-mid 2000s a series of NAACP boycotts of other states triggered our Democratic governor to change our flag to an amalgamated mess that contained the 1956 flag as an inset, but no other prominent depiction of the Confederate flag. As I recall we finished dead last in a state flag beauty contest the year it was adopted. This change, which was legislated but not voted on, caused a huge outcry. The subsequent governor, our first Republican since Reconstruction, ran on a platform that featured the flag as a main issue. When the replacement was based off the 1st National Flag of the CSA (the Stars and Bars) there was a strong if unsuccessful push to depose him. I recall walking out of a high school assembly when the new governor had just spoken in south Georgia and the entire block was full of protesters waving the old flag.

Liberal bastions like Atlanta, Athens GA, and similar might be open to “Southern Confederation”, but too many powerful people rely on constituents for whom our soil is red from soaking in Yankee blood to demure on our name. I think the best that liberal and/or non-white Southerns could reasonably hope during the founding days of such a project would be for the adoption of “CSA” as the standard moniker outside of formal settings, and just maybe a CSA flag based on the 1st National flag or the Bonnie Blue Star that would allow a bit of polite distance from the harsher realities of slavery, segregation, and white domestic terrorism that the Confederate flag has come to represent for many people.

buzzy said...

Part 2 of 2

As for GMOs and safety testing, it’s not that the safety tests haven’t been done, but the ones that have suffer many of the same issues as modern drug safety tests. New drug applications with the FDA require safety data from 3 non-human species before you can proceed to Phase I trials in healthy humans. These safety trials are often of limited duration, in animals and humans. As trials proceed from Phase I to II and III you start testing in people with the target illness. These people are often very carefully screened to not have many if any additional complicating conditions, such as extremes of age, weight, pregnancy, or other diseases (with their own drug regimens) often seen with the specific malady that is being treated. The duration of drug exposure in these trials typically maxes out at 6 months. The companies pay all costs for the trial, have in-house statisticians process the data, and pay a user fee to the FDA to facilitate review of the data. If I as a lay person want to see the approval data I have to hope it got published, which there is no obligation to do (link 1). All of this can be sped up or waved if the treatment or disease is deemed of particular importance. Who does the FDA use to evaluate drug approval data and if a treatment is particularly important? People who have experience doing so – from the pharmaceutical industry.

Please note I just described the process for drugs. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the process for GMOs is more haphazard since the FDA has been in the drug business in some form since the 1930s, whereas GMOs are a new issue since the 1980s. Where are the requirements for generational studies in multiple non-human species eating typical concentrations of GMO feed before allowing limited trials in humans? Where are the biodome fields to test how pollen dispersion impacts animals and other plants (GMO genes in wheat appear to have escaped this way over a decade ago, even though GMO wheat hadn’t been approved; link 2)? For that matter, where are these types of studies for conventional pesticides, herbicides, and organic alternatives like Bt spray? GMO technology has wonderful potential, Golden Rice coming first to mind. However, the insistence from GMO boosters that the limited tests that have been done are adequate and skeptics should stop kvetching about wanting better data are tiresome, even when they have some good points, such as how promotion of monoculture should factor more in our discussions of GMO and agriculture then is currently the case (link 3).

Myriad said...

This is some of your most powerful fiction yet, Mr. Greer.

You've turned a corner in this narrative by revealing more of the depth of your main character. Carr's reactions in the final paragraphs, especially his connecting Lakeland's "calm" in 2065 with Senator Chenkin's retrospective understanding of the events of 2024, can only come from a perceptive mindset reflecting some of your own syncretic proclivities.

The assimilation of turning-point events has profound and interesting effects on a local culture, generations and even centuries later. I've lived in places along the Lexington Battle Road, including the nastier parts not emphasized in school books (the Bloody Angle; the roadside houses in Menotomy), and found myself absorbing those cultural fragments—notably including the sympathy and respect for the storybook "enemy"—and passing them along. I've also noticed that while Salem, Massachusetts has become practically a witch-themed theme park for tourists, many people in Danvers, Massachusetts (the former Salem Village, where the conflict and panic originally boiled up before the venue shifted to the court house in nearby Salem Town) will still, to this day, reluctantly say their piece about what happened there over 300 years ago and then suddenly remember being late for important appointments.

Nineteen, four, and one died in Salem in 1692 (by hanging, privations of imprisonment, and pressing, respectively); Eighteen Lexington townsmen (plus one Regular) were killed or wounded on Lexington Green on April 19th 1774; which by the way was 250 years plus ten days before the Yates Massacre (or whatever the Lakelanders call the event forty-odd years later). The dates and numbers certainly resonate!

I have an odd prediction to make. If the process of coming to terms with formative events in Lakeland continue to run true to historical patterns, then Lakeland should experience a literary flowering within a generation of 2065, led by authors who grow up among the stories their grandparents and elders like Chenkin tell. I wonder if among those future towering literary figures will be one named Carr.

Clay Dennis said...


This latest addition to your tale of retrotopia well illustrates what I have always thought was one of the greatest examples of the senility of the elites her in the U.S. In most banana republics and third world dictatorships as the income and political power gaps grows extreme ( or starts out that way) those in power are carefull to set up a portion of the army, security forces, palace guards in separation from the public they are ment to control, possibly with violence. Often this is down tribally, geographically, racially or by putting the troops and their families in special sections of town with special privileges, or by bringing in foreign mercenaries. The elites in the U.S. have been drunk on their own storyline, that the average joe worships and respects them just as Mr. Yates did. So, when things really break down, and as you have pointed out in the past, the police or army forces that they think will protect them from the angry mobs will most likely switch sides or go a.w.o.l. If they don't do this right away, they will the first time they return home to the suburbs after shooting rioters and find their homes burned down, or see their brother in the crowd.

Violet Cabra said...

This winter I traveled two months in Argentina para mejorar mi castellano. It was an informative journey on many levels. Of course it was very helpful for me to improve my grasp of spoken Spanish and meet very interesting people. One of the people I stayed at was a Radical Faerie who had worked for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (an anti-free trade social democrat) before Macri (a neo-con) took over (I arrived a month after this political shift. the atmosphere was tragic). My friend had, or course, lost his job. He told me that when Videla took power 600 concentration camps were built. Of course, these were funded by the United States through Operation Condor. Walking through Buenos Aires, there are plaques on the sidewalks saying, in translation "This person lived in this neighborhood. They were disappeared on this date because of states sponsored terrorism" People in Argentina are very politically engaged. There are neighborhood political groups that meet weekly to eat sandwhiches and chat about projects. Often they do things like build gardens in slums. My friend took me to some demonstrations. There was such a good vibe and I was deeply inspired. Also, no one bothered me for being from imperium. People had the subtlety to see that I had no choice in regards to where I was born I was not treated as a representative of empire. I did have some lively discussions about the appeal of Donald Trump, tho.

The point I'm getting at rather obliquely is that when I imagine a civil war in the United States I see something similar to Videla's Argentina as a major possibility, especially if the insurgents are funded by a hostile foreign power. The one bright side is that the next generation will likely by way more politically engaged. I'm reminded of this by the scene you paint of the CEO being torn to threads. If China or Russia got a hand in the game when that happens I shudder to think of the possibilities. The other major possibility I see is a bunch of failed states a la Syria or Somalia, or a dour combination of the two.

Does this sort of reality figure in the Retrotopia narrative, JMG? What is the scale of atrocity you're imagining? Also, what is the scale of foreign involvement with the Civil Wars? You mentioned early on California being a failed state which China brokering a cease-fire. Were there concentration camps built with money from Shanghai or Moscow? Mass graves dotting the landscape? It's really hard for me to imagine that the US will be able to restrain from some industrial/assembly line slaughter of humans before the dark ages roll around, but perhaps I'm being too pessimistic.

A question I have for others, especially other youngish people (I am 28) is how do you level with the reality that your life may likely end in the next decade or so thanks to other people deciding you have a identity that they will do what they can to destroy? How does this inform your actions? Personally I try to do as much world repair as I can being kind and present with humans and planting food and medicinal plants around so there will be something to cushion the fall even though I don't expect to live long through times of intense political unrest; viz. I'm trans, Jewish, look "ethnic" enough to get crap at times, and am clearly a witch. I stand out, which is a major liability in times of unrest, especially I imagine with the sort of reactionary revolutionary politic that is gaining strength in the political right. Personally, I find strength in my practice of Judaism and also simply my love of life in my body on this beautiful planet and simple wonder of the natural world. I'm curious how other people who are aware of the perilous nature of these times wake up every morning and put one foot in front of the other.

Hawkcreek said...

I've felt for a while now that you have been suppressing the revolutionary inside you. Today's piece was great, but left a bit of the imprint of a musket showing inside your robe.
I promise to send cake with embedded hacksaw blades to you when they take you away. If I am not in the adjoining cell.
I would bet that your prose stiffens the spines of the angry, more than the radical talk shows could ever do.
Great work - keep it up

donalfagan said...

Nice to be back in Willoughby, err Lakeland.

Last year I saw some kid wearing a Lakeland sweatshirt. Yesterday I was looking for apartments on Walkscore, and ran across his neighborhood, which is bound by railroad tracks, Patapsco Avenue and Route 295.,_Baltimore

Only a few months ago, there were a lot of people theorizing that Trump was only running in the GOP race to help Clinton win the presidency. After the events in Nevada, I'm wondering if it isn't the other way around.

SLClaire said...

Oh dear, another confession to make. I worked for Monsanto when I was working for pay, from 1984 through 1992, as a research chemist. That's what brought me to St. Louis. I worked on the chemical side of the corporation, not the bio side, not that it matters because the chemical side had blood on its hands too. I'm shaking as I write, because I can feel how the events in the story could happen. That's who Monsanto's CEO was when I worked there (except that he lived in flyover country then), and who it has been since. It's the same with all the other big corporations. The CEOs and anyone from middle management up are the true believers. Have to be, to stay there, to do that kind of work.

I feel like I have blood on my hands, too. Not because of my work at Monsanto so much. As far as I can tell, nothing I worked on has been commercialized. But I did buy in to progress at one time. I tried being a yuppie. I'm still in the position of living partway in industrial civilization and enjoying its comforts to a degree even as I continue to chip away at the connections I have to those comforts. I feel very much like Mary: I'm trying to face what I have done and still continue to do, to acknowledge the harm I've done, and then to do something worthwhile with what has resulted. To try to atone for what I've done and to help to birth something better.

Don Plummer said...

John, re. your reply to Dylan regarding Founders House: Do your comments mean that we can only purchase those titles through the big online bookstores? I was thinking of asking our college bookstore to order one or more of the After Oil publications for me. I would rather deal with local booksellers, of course.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160519T174558Z

"Every nation starts that way [sc in violent conflict]," says Mr Carr.

The endlessly interesting Mr Carr reveals a possible educational deficiency.

Canada was in essence born in 1867 as the culmination of a peaceful process of negotiation started at Charlottetown in 1864. Canada acquired the formal ability to formulate its own foreign policy (through the Statute of Westminster) in the 1930s. Absolutely full formal nationhood, achieved through the "repatriation" of the Constitution in 1982, was a formal and de jure attestation of a state of affairs which had existed de facto for decades - perhaps (I say this subject to professional, lawyerly, correction) since the Statute of Westminster, or even since the resolution of the 1926 King-Byng constitutional crisis. If violent conflict is to be sought in the founding of Canada as a nation, it can be found only (1) in those localized police operations - it was Ottawa that was the cop-cum-brute - which were the two Riel rebellions under Queen Vicky; and (2) in the small War of 1812 (long before the 1864 Charlottetown conference); and (3) in the remote past, in the subjugation of New France (a violent process culminating in the 1759 Québec siege). Although the First Nations in Canada suffered heavily, and continue to suffer, their situation has never, at any rate outside the pair of Riel rebellions, had the aspect of war.

Similar points can be made for Australia and New Zealand.

Similar points can be made also for Singapore. Singapore seceded peacefully, albeit amid bad temper, from Malaysia in 1965.

Malaysian independence in 1963 was itself in essence peaceful. I hedge with "in essence" simply because some might, in a debating spirit, try to argue for a blurring of the record through colonial Malaya's struggle with an armed 1950s insurgency.

The case of India is specially instructive. Here is a nation whose primary agency of creation was the Gandhi programme of political nonviolence, Satyagraha. The subsequent war over Partition is less a part of the founding of India than a regional conflict. Perhaps it could be admitted that Pakistan, as a nation, was born in violence, when the political errors over Partition erupted in regional terms.

Through dearth of reading, I am not sure what to say about Japan. Perhaps Japan features a history of internal disputes, without a real birth-to-nation-through-violence?

In Europe, points similar to my point regarding Canada, and the like, can be made at least for Norway (peacefully separated from Sweden in 1905 or so) and Slovakia (peacefully separated from the Czech Republic some time after the demise of European communism). The cases of Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, the Low Countries, Greece, Finland, and the Baltics are admittedly more against me than for me. There are perhaps specially daunting complexities in the Balkans, and there are still other corners of Europe (such as Hungary) in which I run up against my own ignorance.

I would now like to raise the question: How well educated is Mr Carr in history? The points I have just made are commonplace, within the reasonable reach of today's ordinary newspaper readers and today's ordinary patrons of ordinary bookstores. But perhaps education has declined by Mr Carr's day?

Do you, JMG, sense that Mr Carr will be able to field today-still-simple questions like "Who spearheaded 19th-century German unification?" and "Which principal tribes or ethnicities filled the power vacuum in 5th- and 6th-century Italy?" Or is he, rather, operating at a lower level - say, at the level at which one simply fields Grade Four questions, such as, "Was the last Roman emperor deposed in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th century?"

What seem to you to be the basic limits of Mr Carr's education?

Tooomas (Tom) Karmo

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160519T175202Z

PS: Thanks for a small touch regarding Mr Carr today, namely the trenchcoat. I hope we get to find out more, some day, about his diplomatic mission and his paymasters.


Greg Belvedere said...

Even if someone does not adhere to the precautionary principle and believes GMOs have been proven safe (which I do not), GMOs have a terrible track record when it comes to delivering on their claims. Traditional breeding methods produce much better varieties. Most of them are just a way to boost sales of the herbicide they are resistant to. Or they try to market golden rice to fight vitamin A deficiency in places where it does not make sense to grow rice, but could grow crops rich in vitamin A that don't require as much water. If they are going to start messing around with things they don't understand, they could at least try to fix a problem that needs fixing like trying to engineer bananas and cocoa plants that can resist the fungi that might wipe them out.

I use the precautionary principle to justify my avoidance of preservatives and chemical additives in food. Ok, studies have not proven them harmful, but they also have not proven them safe. We have much higher rates of all kinds of diseases (especially cancer) than before their introduction. So I stay away which is not too tough because I only buy the most minimally processed food (canned tomatoes, dried pasta, the occasional condiment when I don't have time to make my own).

The obliviousness of the gemtek CEO reminds me a lot of the elites scratching their heads and pounding their fists over the the anger displayed by Trump and Sanders voters. They can't imagine why people are so angry. I heard David Brooks on the radio yesterday admitting that he got it wrong about Trump voters and him getting the nomination. He talked about making a point to get out of of his NY/DC bubble more in light of this (which kind of surprised me), but he still talked condescendingly about how mistaken the wage class is on free trade and immigration. He even cited Burke while doing so! That gave me a laugh. I agreed with his sound bite, "Trump is the wrong answer to the right question", but he downplayed the poor economy and placed the blame on a disappearing social institutions.

sara drew said...

Hello JMG and community

I found this blog last September, drifting around looking for a voice of sanity. I live in a little corner of Devon U.K., where there are interesting things going on, re EU referendum and many others. I commented for the first time just a couple of weeks ago when you reached your 10 year anniversary and mentioned my love of Tolkien (spelled correctly now!) It is a splendid thing to live in the land which is the source of inspiration for the Shire and my home is I like to think, in the Bree Land, so out of the Shire and a bit more edgy. We must, perforce mix with the big folk!
I have found your blog stimulating, challenging and frightening, but always interesting. I have done a lot of back reading and am currently reading about peak oil and magic, but that was late last night and I couldn't take in the philosophy lesson. It was lovely to catch up with Retrotopia again today - and thought provoking - I share with other commentators a sense of 'things brewing' but of course they happen more quickly when viewed through the backward lens of history than as they unfold on the ground. I haven't agreed with everything I read here -many views expressed are very different to how I have been used to thinking about the world. I value the civilised forum and the chance it affords to comment and gain confidence. I really value all the comment and dialogue.
I popped to the local shop for milk earlier and almost laughed out loud at the headline in one of the newspapers -me and my fellow Brits are to be given a legal 'right' to high speed broadband! Also I saw an interview with Helen Sharman who was the first Brit in space 25 years ago. The interviewer asked her about the future and she talked about colonies on Mars and said that the UK will miss out on 'the future of the human race' if we don't send more astronauts into space. It seems that no one, just no one, is asking where the energy is going to come from. But good news- the Guardian newspaper web site reports that Portugal ran for 4 days straight on renewable energy! And on the fifth day...

dax said...

Wow. This is just the most moving installment yet. I agree with the commenter who said that this really adds depth to the story.

It hit home for me, too. We had a president in Haiti who was particularly brutal. He was literally torn to pieces by the crowd when he was overthrown.

There was a scene in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale where a man is torn to pieces, and I had to tell a friend that it's not only possible, but has happened.

Aron Blue said...

Well this was the best edition yet. I've always enjoyed the story, but I noticed this time how lively and powerful the writing has become.

I'd like to share my collapse story a little bit. I was working as an ESL teacher, MA in TESOL from CUNY (look at all those capital letters! That's how you can tell I was in education LOL), but trying to continue my music career. I had to have something to "fall back on" though, so I did what I thought was the responsible thing. No health insurance, contract work that was never steady or reliable, heavy bureaucracy and hidden rules that kept me from doing my best work as a teacher, and not very much music.

So I cut all my expenses down to the bone, went on benefits, and started playing music full time. I live on about 1K a month in Brooklyn, New York. Now I can put in those hours of practice that you need to have in order to be a master musician. I'm healthy because I can go to the doctor now (Medicaid). I'm going to get to see an audiologist! I'm so excited about that I can't tell you. I would never have even tried to afford that before, and musician ears take a beating. This is the best time I have ever had in my life, and it's because I collapsed. I'm living a very small but rich and enjoyable dream.

If you don't mind, I'd like to post a link to my song Judge Hardy again, because it's certainly relevant to the story this week, AND this is the studio version, not the live one. Here's the link to Judge Hardy (and a recipe for homemade juice-wine). Judge Hardy is #7

Hugo Costa said...


Hmmm.. This got me thinking. Do you think that there is a possibility that the microcephaly caused by the Zika virus is not just an unfortunate mutation but the result of accidental human intervention (through larvicides as suggested by a report from Argentinian physicians)? These possibilities are not even reported by the press. And they're shouted down as 'conspiracy theories' - a well-known thoughtstopper that now is even used by Clinton supporters to defend election rigging by the DNC.

Another thing that is not reported by the media are the increase in cancer rates and malformations in Argentina since the introduction of glyphosate. There was a very good but little known French documentary (Transgenic Wars) that even interviewed the pro-GM Argentinian Science Minister who admitted that there is a correlation between the increases in malformations and cancers and the advancement of the agricultural frontier in cities nearby. By the way, 99% of the GM crops currently planted have been designed to resist a ceraptain kind of herbicide or to emit a pesticide. Predictably, within a few years resistant weeds or pests infest the crops and a cocktail of various herbicides is used. In Argentina they discovered that the most dangerous component of the Orange Agent was being used among others.

It has been amusing to see how GM lobbyists have associated GM foods with Progress. Anyone who is against it is shouted down as "anti-science". So it's no surprise to see people as Neil De Grasse Tyson in favor of it. It's just one more step in the direction of human dominance over nature. In his facebook page, Bernie Sanders positioned himself in favor of GM labelling, a completely non-radical position. The most liked comments were of his supporters saying they were against those measures because, you know, science. Never mind the funding of research and universities by GM corporations or the blackout of the media to what happens in countries where GMO's are cultivated.

nrgmiserncaz said...

JMG - Loving the latest installment. On an unrelated note, I was enjoying the following video about a guy cycling & climbing through Kyrgyzstan when he unwittingly points out the harsh realities of a collapsed empire. Starting around the 7:00 min mark you get a pretty up close and personal look at the country.


Ed-M said...

Well it looks like you've pulled another one out of the Archdruid's hat!

I wanted to respond to last week's post on Burkean Conservatism, but as after I read it on Thursday, there were over 200 comments on it the next day... and the puter I was on couldn't load it. :^(

Personally I can see this happening in the United States under either two of the now-presumptive nominees. Trump, in the release of his short list of SCOTUS nominees, has indicated that it will be as business as usual for the pseudo-Conservative side of the Washington Consensus. The neo-liberalism and the culture wars distraction is literally tearing the country apart!

Ed-M said...

PS I like your King Penthius reference! Heheheh. x^)

zaphod42 said...

John, you really need a "like" icon... Sometimes there is so little left to say - a mark of excellent writing, I'd say.



Hereward said...

I haven't been a big fan of Retrotopia due to everyone in it behaving like the Waltons on happy pills and a fundamental flaw I believe would undermine the tier system - the fact that a human trait is to compete which would quickly result in one tier winning out.

Having said that, you won me over with this episode; a little humanity crept in and you gave the GM industry a broadside - bravo! My personal fear wrt GM foods, however, is less that I think they might poison us, more that they will become ubiquitous monocultures reducing the insect population and diversity and potentially falling foul to some disease that then wipes out the whole wheat crop in North America, say.

pygmycory said...

A few years back (2012-2013) I got involved with a DIY biology group that was messing around with genetic engineering. We didn't actually do very much before I left, but I did learn quite a bit about the practicalities of genetic engineering.
1)engineering bacteria is vastly easier than working on eukaryotes like plants or animals. The latter was beyond our means entirely.
2)genetic engineering has recently gotten a lot easier to do on a shoestring budget and with limited equipment. This makes the DIY biology movement possible.
3)This depends on buying certain genetic building blocks made elsewhere, which must be transported and stored cool. That means that while some stuff can be done in a converted garage or equivalent, it is heavily dependent on reliable refrigerated transportation. It isn't terribly resilient.
4)I'm not sure where things have gone since then, but I know the local group didn't actually create anything interesting, so I don't think I missed much by leaving them.
5)Safety testing any produced organisms would have been beyond us.
6)Traits such as disease and drought resistance are better conferred through standard plant breeding techniques.
7)In particular, disease resistance is much more long-lasting when it is polygenic, or when a plant has multiple genes conferring full or partial resistance to a disease. This is because it is much harder for a disease organism to develop tolerance to multiple traits than to a single trait. Genetically modified plants almost always use just one disease resistance gene. This means they are very resistant initially, but tolerance develops faster, and once it is developed they are useless. (I have to reccommend a book: Plant breeding for pest and disease resistance, by GE Russell 1978. It is old, rather technical, and hard to find, but it is fascinating if you want to learn how disease and pest resistance was bred into plants using traditional methods, and what the pitfalls are)

And that doesn't even begin to discuss all the problems with how GMOs have been used in practice! There's a few useful ones, like E.coli engineered to produce human insulin, but so many of them have been things like Roundup-Ready corn that we'd be better off without.

pygmycory said...

And have you heard that Bayer and BASF are interested in taking over Monsanto?

barrigan said...

On the subject of the placebo effect, it's always befuddled me that people seem to view the it as somehow ethereal, illusory, or imaginary. Certainly, when scientifically testing something, you do need to compare whatever it is you're testing to be measured relative to the placebo effect, but that doesn't stop it from being a real effect with real results. If there were no real placebo effect, after all, there wouldn't be a need to normalize for it in scientific experiments!

Yellow Submarine said...

Glad to see Retrotopia back. I look forward to see the rest of the story, including more on the origins of the Lakeland Republic and how it managed to avoid getting sucked into the same trap as the Atlantic Republic and other successor states. I find Carr’s comment about how he hopes the LR can survive, but doesn’t see how its possible, rather amusing because in the long run, its societies like the AR that don’t have a future since they are wedded to a status quo that is already starting to come apart at the seams.

You were talking last week about doing a series on postmodernism, which I am also looking forward to reading. I think there were some useful observations to be made by the postmodernists and some of what Spengler had to say sounds at times like an early form of postmodernism. But the postmodernists got carried away with the obscurantist mumbo-jumbo and mind games and the New Age malarkey about how we create our own reality and ended up jumping the shark.

We can see how postmodernism has had a destructive effect on academia, but here is another interesting manifestation. It seems that prior to the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, the Israeli Defense Force developed a new doctrine that was based heavily on French postmodernist philosophy, the aptly named SOD (Systemic Operational Design). SOD also incorporated a lot of the trendy nonsense that was being pushed on the US military by people like Donald Rumsfeld and Admiral Cebrowski under the guise of Network Centric Warfare, Effects Based Operations, etc, etc, barf, barf.

Unsurprisingly, the result was a confusing, incoherent and largely incomprehensive mishmash that most Israeli military officers had a great deal of difficulty making sense of. When the IDF attempted to apply SOD to a real world war zone, namely South Lebanon in 2006, against a militarily competent opponent, the results quickly veered toward the comic opera farcical, bringing Karl Marx’s famous observation about how history tends to repeat itself first as tragedy and then as farce to mind.

Needless to say, the result was a disastrous defeat for the Israelis, even though the IDF had an overwhelming advantage in numbers, firepower and technology. At the peak of the 2006 War, the IDF deployed 50,000 troops with hundreds of jet fighters, attack helicopters and tanks, most them state of the art. Hezbollah defended South Lebanon with a single infantry brigade of 3000 men. Even given the terrain based advantages that Hezbollah had, the IDF should have been able to inflict a sharp and devastating defeat on Hezbollah before pulling back out. Instead, the Israelis suffered their worse military defeat in nearly 2000 years.

You had also talked about doing a series on deindustrial warfare. As someone who comes from a military background and still pays close attention to military matters, I am interested in seeing how you envision warfare evolving in the not-so-distant future.

Unknown said...

Nice play on that random word genentech. Watching the narrators process as this tale unfolds is enlightening in itself.

BTW Little if anything of lasting value remains in Ashland, you might not recognize it.
E coli signage by the creek, just like Plano Tx ! Talent is next to feel the love as investment class obviously plans to collapse somewhere "quaint and unspoiled"

Everyone to whom I introduce your brilliant work wises up pronto. Keep up the great work.

Ezra Buonopane said...

Excellent post, I was beginning to wonder if you had given up on retrotopia.

I heard somewhere (I forget where) that the recent spike in gluten intolerance coincided with the introduction of Roundup, and that many people who think that they're gluten intolerant actually are reacting to the Roundup. I could definitely imagine Monsanto engaging in the level of denying difficult realities for the good of the profit margin depicted in the post.

As for the political situation, it does indeed seem to be nearing an explosion. I have a friend who supports Bernie Sanders and pretty much can't restrain himself from screaming obscenities every time he hears the words "Hillary Clinton". On the other side of the aisle, Donald Trump appears to be doing a respectable job of splitting the Republican Party in two. Both have attracted a level of supporter enthusiasm unheard of in previous recent elections.

Yellow Submarine said...

Have you seen the latest polls? They suggest that Trump is starting to pull ahead of Clinton, while Sanders would still beat Trump. We still have five and half more months to go before the general election, but it looks like you called this one as well.

Sanders has beat Hillary in all the recent primaries, but thanks the way the (Un)Democratic Party has rigged the game in favor of whoever the establishment candidate is, I think that Sanders chances of getting the nomination are slight. I still hope he can pull off an upset and force a contested convention, in which case he might be able to convince enough delegates that Hillary is unelectable (which I think she is unless she can successfully pull off the kind of shenanigans that Joe Kennedy, Mayor Daley and LBJ pulled in the 1960 presidential race to ensure JFK won) and that he would be the better choice.

I am still rooting for Sanders but will definitely vote for Trump if Hillary gets the nomination.

Glenn said...

fudoshindotcom said...
[JMG, {Snip!} Are the Elite so corrupted by arrogance and greed that they'll hear nothing short of gunfire?]

Duke: "Good lord, the overture is automatic weapons fire!"

Chinese Minister: "As it so often is in life, Mr. Duke."

--- Doonesbury

in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Rita said...

I was somewhat gobstopped by the coincidence of your scenario with the article about the Argentine scientists claiming that the larvacides in the water, rather than the Zika virus were responsible for the increase of microcephaly in human babies. I think the science fiction writers union might consider a crystal as an unfair advantage. :)

On another note, I just finished trying to finish _The End of Alchemy_ by Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England. He is advocating some sort of change in monetary policy and fiscal policy to get the world economies moving again and to guard against further shocks as in 2008. But I was constantly struck by how much his analysis avoided the idea that there are actual physical constraints on growth. The only approach to such an acknowledgement was an assurance that there will be no lack of new technology. Not a mention of peak oil, declining soil fertility, climate change, drought, etc. He is obviously an intelligent and educated man, but seems as oblivious to the limits of the physical world on which the financial world ultimately depends as a Victorian maiden aunt was supposed to be to the sexual facts of life. I can't say that I actually recommend the book--it is very long and dry and seems to be written in some language parallel to English--that one can seem to understand each individual sentence of but still not feel that one has really understood.

Looking forward to your next book.

Neo Tuxedo said...

@Greg Belvedere, I hadn't heard about that Brooks interview, but I'd heard about Brooks' decision to get out of the bubble, via driftglass, one of the nominally-left blogs I follow. Just this past Tuesday, in fact, DG reported on how that's going, with Brooks' first stop being at the home of his friends Stewart and Lynda Resnick:

Who are the very best kinds of friend for David Brooks to have, since they also happen to be #358 on Forbes' 2016 list of Americas Top 400 Billionaires [...] having made some considerable fraction of their vast fortune by gaming the loophole-riddled agricultural water rules in the drought-stricken state of California.

So not exactly the Joads.
Or the Jukes.
Or the Kallikaks
Or even the Clampitts.

Just good, old-fashioned American Medicis whose social mission happens to align perfectly with David Brooks' vision of an American where the government has faded quietly into nonexistence and we are ruled by benevolent, ambitious plutocrats who really only want what is best for us.

(Warning: the post contains one word of profanity, and the comments contain three instances of another word. DG deletes most of the same things as our host, with one exception: profanity. He doesn't shy away from using what Trey sunna Gwen would call "hot language," and he doesn't have any objection to his commenters using it as we see fit.)

Ray Wharton said...

@Peter Attwood

"Still years from commercialization, the system is based on a dialysis cell with a membrane consisting of a superconductor material."

I cannot say that your article is persuasive. This sentence alone is just about a deal killer for me. Time will tell, but it will do so with out my investment.

John Michael Greer said...

Peter, that article reminds me forcefully of the puff pieces issued by algal biodiesel firms: "here's this wonderful pilot project that looks really promising, years away from commercialization, and don't ask us any questions about the economics because we'll answer with handwaving." Until somebody crunches the numbers and finds out if this will produce battery feedstock at a price that actually makes sense, it's pie in the sky.

Of course there's also another problem; it's not as if anyone's done the necessary research to find out if lithium in seawater has some important function in the microbiochemistry of sea life, or anything like that: "Oops, we've just extracted so much lithium that the oceans are no longer viable for twelve hundred ecologically crucial species of oceanic plankton -- who ever would have thought?" One of these days, probably after way too many preventable disasters, it might finally sink in that blindly tinkering with the chemistry of the biosphere is a really bad idea...but clearly that sort of obvious common sense hasn't arrived yet.

Unknown Eagle Eye, it amazes me that the corporate goons who do this sort of thing never seem to notice that there might be serious consequences to their actions. I've discussed that odd detachment from reality in a previous post, but the more I see of it the more bizarre it seems to me. Do they really think that the people they're messing over are just going to sit there forever staring blankly?

Yossi, yep. Now let's see if they ever get around to talking about whole system costs and net energy.

YCS, understood. These days, listening to the cheerleaders of progress insisting on the ineffable goodness of every officially approved technology reminds me of nothing so much as listening to a Scientologist waxing lyrical about the virtues of L. Ron Hubbard.

Carl Dolphin said...

Tearing apart people did happen in a Game of Thones episode during a riot in Lanisters, but I don't know what it was based on. Pretty horrific.

Spanish fly said...

'Most of the Chinese manufacturing sector was freaking out, too, because a lot of their exports go by way of the Indian Ocean, and satellite data’s the only thing that keeps container ships out of the way of icebergs. '

If Chinese shipmen doesn't want to emulate Titanic shipwreck, they could avoid dangerous Cape Good Hope crossing Red Sea and Suez Channel- sending not-too-big ships...OH WAIT!! Somalia, Yemen, zombie Saudi people, Egypt, and some renegade from Palestinians and ISIS heirs.
There would be a lot of bearded islamist junkies and/or just desperate hungry people, waiting for cheap sea treasures. Chinese Navy would be probably alone in this new sea route. With USA breaked up, Russia busy against Moslem Tartarian hordes...what allied could be shoulder to shoulder with China? Errr...Israel? Brits after EU escape? Ukraine? Turkey? Catalonia? The Vatican? I think there would be few strong and operational navies in that future time. Oh, and modern fleets need a lot of satellital telecom...
The best solution against piracy and icebergs for Chinese merchant navy could be sailing the Pacific to Panama and cross the channel. Maybe with Brazilian and Mexican permissión...
They could

John Michael Greer said...

RO Yates, yes, I heard of that. So we've got Bayer, the manufacturer of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides, merging with Monsanto, the manufacturer of carcinogenic Roundup -- maybe they could name the conglomerate Omnicide, Inc. and be done with it.

Cris, yes, I take that as a compliment! When the great majority of a nation's people feel that they have a stake in the nation's survival and that their government is protecting their interests, though, treason is rarely a major problem. It's when people are alienated from their government and national community that treason abounds. I'm sure that the Lakeland Republic has its share of citizens who sell secrets to foreign powers and the like, but they have to step carefully because the mass of public opinion is against them.

Larz, that's interesting -- and not the first time that points made in this blog have been picked up elsewhere. I wonder if it would be useful, or at least entertaining, to encourage readers who observe this sort of thing to post something in the comments saying "Mr. Taibbi, it looks like you've been reading The Archdruid Report," and appending a link to the post from which material seems to have been borrowed.

Matt, yes, it happens. Mob violence can get really, really ugly.

Wizard, I could have chosen any of dozens of poorly tested technologies to use as the centerpiece of this scene; I just needed something that would portray, in vivid terms, the downside of blind faith in progress. Yes, microbeads could also have served the purpose.

James, thank you!

Unknown, based on my own encounters with the very privileged, I tend to think of them as far more often clueless than malicious, with their minds so cramped by a life spent in the echo chamber of extreme privilege that it never occurs to them that the world may not be what they think it is. Thus Yates' folly in going out to talk to the crowd -- it never occurred to him that they would do something other than listen politely to him and do what he told them, because that's the way every single other human being he'd met in his adult life had behaved.

Synthase, I respect your willingness to stick around. It's been a source of quite some frustration to me that so many people in the scientific and skeptic community have abandoned inquiry in favor of a rigid dogmatism that refuses to ask questions about the presuppositions of current theory. The decadence of one of the great achievements of the human mind is a bitter thing to watch.

Steve, I ain't arguing. While I could have used any number of other technologies for my fictional example, GMOs were the obvious choice, for reasons you cite in your post among others.

John Roth said...


The 2022-2024 time frame is when the US has its Pluto return. I don't think I need to belabor the symbology of Pluto in the astrology of nations.

Yellow Submarine said...

Omnicide, Inc as a proposed name for the Bayer-Monsatan merger? Fits pretty darn well, if you ask me.

The proposed name reminds me of a story I came across. One of Bayer's subsidiaries was the company that invented and manufactured Zyklon-B for the Nazi death camps. Bayer and its subsidiaries also made widespread use of slave labor in its factories during the war.

So chemical atrocities and biocide for profit are nothing new for Bayer. The only difference is the target being exterminated. During World War II it was Jews, today its bees. I wonder who will be next?

buzzy said...


My personal suspicion, having not studied Zika deeply but knowing a bit about fetal development is that Zika is attracted to neural cells on it's own, hence cases of autoimmune Guillain Barre syndrome on Yap. However, something about the larvacides used in Brasil primes the pregnant woman and/or the fetus to respond to Zika in such a way as to result in microcephalic babies. I live in the humid American South and work in a neonatal ICU, so I'll be interested to see if next year, when Zika will have had plenty of time to move in, if we start to see microcephalic babies, or if the first few cases of infection, teratogenic or not, cause a mass mosquito eradication effort with larvacides, and then we get malformations. We shall see...

sgage said...

@ Ray Wharton,

"Still years from commercialization, the system is based on a dialysis cell with a membrane consisting of a superconductor material."

Still wondering how in the heck to commercialize this, the system is based on a dialysis cell with a membrane consisting of unobtanium. Venture capital welcome.


sgage said...

@ Yellow Submarine:

"During World War II it was Jews, today its bees. I wonder who will be next? "

How does the old formula go?... First they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew. Then they came for the bees, but I was not a bee...

Humans are next.

John Michael Greer said...

Don, stay tuned! ;-)

David, you're welcome and thank you. A lot of this fiction project has been dealing with gritty realities of a different kind -- providing banking services to consumers, shipping manure along canals to tier 5 power plants, running public and private schools, etc. -- and, as a work of utopian fiction, it's been focused on what could be achieved in each of these areas. That's led some readers to find the whole project rather bland. I think it'll read differently when it's in book form, and the harrowing realities of the Second Civil War discussed in the opening episodes, and some other harrowing realities we'll be getting to as we proceed, provide a contrasting backdrop for the image of a society that more or less works.

Beetleswamp, "they don't want to do research because there might not be a problem" is one of the most elegant evasions I've seen in a good long time. Of course what's actually happening is that they don't want to do research because there might be a problem, and then they'd have to do something about it. If I were one of the officials in question I'd be very careful about attending public meetings...

Fudoshindotcom, oh, I get that. I'm still hoping that a political and economic crisis of sufficient severity can stop this short of civil war, but the odds aren't looking at all good just now.

Steadystatecollege, I find the whole set of curretly popular claims about psychopaths and power very dubious -- it strikes me as yet another manifestation of the habit, very common on the leftward side of American culture, of pathologizing and demonizing the people they don't like. (Another example is the claim that people who vote for the GOP have "authoritarian personalities.") The Lakeland Republic uses the same means to keep its politicians and officials in check that other healthy representative democracies do: effective checks and balances, backed up by public debate and a lively competition between rival political parties that often expresses itself via each party trying to catch the members of other parties in illegal behavior. Is it foolproof? Of course not; nothing in the real world ever is, but it works better than any of the alternatives.

Zach, thank you.

Howard, nicely summarized. In the Lakeland Republic, they had a particularly rough fight with Gojira, and it shows.

Thomas, oh, I don't object to hipsters in general; any group of people that recognizes the virtues of fedoras gets a certain amount of tolerance from me for that fact alone, and I remember well the days when I was young and clueless, too. I'm thinking specifically of the subset of them that likes to spout Marxist revolutionary babble without having the least notion of the human cost. Maybe they will become an authentically revolutionary generation, as you've suggested, but a lot of them are going to have the experience of watching their friends blown away by gunfire if that happens.

Genevieve Hawkins said...

Great work I've wondered a few times in this Retropia narrative how you saw the second civil war fleshed out. This is dangerously close for comfort besides just GMOs I've been wondering recently if the Gardasil vaccine, ostensibly to prevent cervical cancer, causes a large amount of permanent infertility in young women. The teen pregnancy rate in the US has plummeted at the same time as the abortion rate has also dropped. This is rarely mentioned and when it is, is treated as universally good news. Most of the Gardasil vaccine injections were done to preteen girls in the last 8 years, meaning most of them are still teenagers or young adults. In a depressed economy a lot of them would not be actively trying to get pregnant at this stage in their life....

Yellow Submarine said...

In the Hour of Decision, Oswald Spengler had some pretty choice words about the drawing room radicals and wannabe revolutionaries of his time, writing

"They are all infantile, these Romantics; men who remain children too long (or for ever), without the strength to criticize themselves, but with perpetual inhibitions arising from the obscure awareness of their own personal weakness; who are impelled by the morbid idea of reforming society, which is to them too masculine, too healthy, too sober. And to reform it, not with knives and revolvers in the Russian fashion — heaven forbid! — but by noble talk and poetic theories. Hapless indeed they are if, lacking creative power, they lack also the artistic talent to persuade at least themselves that they possess it. Yet even in their art they are feminine and weak, incapable of setting a great novel or a great tragedy on its legs, still less a pure philosophy of any force. All that appears is spineless lyric, bloodless scenarios, and fragmentary ideas, all of them displaying an innocence of and antagonism to the world which amounts to absurdity.

Even though he was an arch-conservative, Spengler had a grudging respect for the real Leftist revolutionaries of his time, like August Bebel and Vladimir Lenin, but he had nothing but contempt for the fashionable trustafarians and pampered middle class activists that infest so much of the radical Left these days.

Ray Wharton said...


It varies, mostly I try to avoid anger, or displaying it. Seek useful stuff to do that make sense in war or peace. Mostly just gardening, lots of gardening. Mostly helping others, recently I have been too unstable to hold down my own projects, too sensitive to what's up, but I can help other on my good days. For the last few months I have been in such a funk I can barely relate to society at a deeper level than sleeping at my parents and going to a local farm to make test gardens. They have spots that have been over grown with weeds, so I can experiment as I please in those places, because it cannot be worse than the weed seed back. I work hard, and my family isn't that into the veggies I bring home, but it helps the soul. Experimenting, playing with gardening, feeling how much it takes to really feed people. Until I find a better relationship to my society I have trouble holding down a job or business, but I can work like live stock. Better than a horse, more self directed, more versatile with tools, more force per calorie.

I worry about how to take care of my parents, they are getting older, they still take care of me, I rely on them much currently, but I want to be able to help them if things disrupt. My Dad works in irrigation, his job is very nearly as safe as human habitation in my region is, and his skills are not easily replaced, working old canals is a subtle art form. But his health is the only thing holding up my whole family. I crave to be in a place to support him.

I don't worry too much about violence, people know people where I live, my neighbor likes me, she works in dispatch. Things could get bad and I could just sit it out. I have traveled, made peace among bad dudes. Violence, war, these don't worry me, might roll snake eyes, but there are many ways to roll snake eyes. You have more trouble hiding, but healing skills are huge, they earn REAL cred in a crisis, we each have a unique hand to play.

The poverty of war, that is frightening, I know the taste of poverty, tasted it on purpose when I saw this stuff coming, its bad. But, during a war? That could get crazy.

But its all in the soul, that's what matters. If you have something good to do, something worth staying out of trouble for, then what matters trouble?

I have been very isolated recently, I had been making good inroads into bringing up good things for discussion, but since moving I have had trouble connecting. No, its not the move. It the time. Rhetoric, tensions, everywhere, very heated, makes conversation hard. Today I was blessed, got to listen to a friend talk about her family issues, it helped me to listen.

I just want this era to be over, the acted out pantomime of a society around me is a nightmare. Maybe I just need to get out more.


I like the Essays, but mostly this blog is therapy a guiding star in a world that I would other wise be hopelessly lost within. I am so happy to sometimes contribute little gems, but mostly the privilege you extend to your posters to have our little rants is appreciated. Many have few other who can hear the confusion.

John Michael Greer said...

Toomas, the reason my fictional Gemotek corporation was able to win those libel suits was actually referenced in the story -- they had a preponderance of expert opinion on their side, ready to testify that the DM-386 corn couldn't possibly cause fetal lung malformations, and that there were some cases of stillbirth due to fetal lung malformations in countries that didn't import DM-386. (There are, after all, some stillbirths due to fetal lung malformations everywhere.) Truth may be an ironclad defense in a libel case, but what do you do when the truth has been obscured by the corruption of science by corporate money? Any sufficiently well-off corporation these days can flood a courtroom with hired shills in white lab coats with Ph.D.s in the relevant science and a long string of publications funded by corporate-friendly interests, who will say what their paymasters want them to say, no matter how dishonest it needs to be, and be rewarded by a new research grant. In my story, that's what Gemotek did -- and since so many people in the scientific scene these days believe in the unequivocal benevolence and harmlessness of GMOs the way that medieval peasants believed in the existence of hippogriffs, that seems unhappily plausible to me.

Nastarana, stay tuned! ;-)

Sherril, granted. For Monsanto to be given a taste of its own medicine, I recommend that all existing and future Monsanto products receive rigorous safety testing, using the CEO and other executives as the guinea pigs. Having each one start by drinking a bottle of Roundup might be a good start.

Toomas, thanks for the link!

Amy, understood. One of the most ghastly consequences of the wholesale betrayal of collective ideals that has made today's America what it is, is the way that it's withered the capacity to imagine anything better than the sclerotic and dysfunctional mess we've got today. Barack Obama's crassly cynical 2008 campaign, in which he spewed sound bites about "Hope" and "Change" and "Yes We Can" and then turned around the moment he was in office and betrayed the hope, denied the change, and told the American people "No We Can't," is in many ways a perfect summary of the last forty years or so. It's hard to remember that things have been better in the past, and can be better in the future -- hard, because it hurts so much in the context of the utterly unsatisfactory present. I'll do a post on this as time permits.

Eric, that's a reasonable stance. I'm not too happy with the suite of GMO technologies as a whole, but would have been willing to settle for rigorous third party testing (by actual third parties with no financial stake in the products) and reasonable labeling laws. If the GMO industry is going to argue for the right to dump whatever inadequately tested product on the market that it wants to, though, I'm going to side with the anti-GMO movement: we face less harm from no GMOs at all than from the overfamiliar consequences of scientific arrogance and corporate venality.

Thomas, I'd like to see that story!

Buzzy, thanks for the feedback from Dixie! That was my impression as well -- here in western Maryland, five miles south of the Mason-Dixon line, just west of a Civil War battlefield, and in a part of the country that was divided more or less evenly between Union and Confederate supporters, I've had long conversations with people I know who can tell you exactly which CSA units their forefathers served in, and in which battles they fought. Thanks, though, for the reminder about the Bonny Blue Flag! I could see that becoming a workable compromise banner for the new Confederacy -- enough historical resonance to please the traditionalists, but a certain distance from the battle flag and its later uses. If that's the case, no doubt the song "The Bonny Blue Flag" would be a likely national anthem, with "Dixie" having roughly the same role "America the Beautiful" has in the USA.

Candace said...

For those missing the non-fiction side this week.

This post is particularly relevant.

"That was why, for example, a Christian mob in 415 CE dragged the Neoplatonist philosopher Hypatia from her chariot as she rode home from her teaching gig at the Academy in Alexandria, cudgeled her to death, cut the flesh from her bones with sharpened oyster shells—the cheap pocket knives of the day—and burned the bloody gobbets to ashes. What doomed Hypatia was not only her defense of the old philosophical traditions, but also her connection to Alexandria’s patrician class; her ghastly fate was as much the vengeance of the underclass against the elite as it was an act of religious persecution. She was far from the only victim of violence driven by those paired motives, either. It was as a result of such pressures that, by the time the emperor Justinian ordered the last academies closed in 529 CE, the classical philosophical tradition was essentially dead."

John Michael Greer said...

Myriad, thank you! I think your prediction is quite likely to pan out, all things considered. It would certainly fit historical patterns.

Clay, exactly. One of the all but universal events in revolutions in history is that some of the regime's military forces go over to the rebel side. That's when you know you've passed from ordinary turmoil to Big Trouble.

Violet, no, things worked out differently in this future history. I'm pretty sure that at least one foreign power sent arms and funding to help the rebels once the Second Civil War broke out, but there were never any concentration camps -- just a steady worsening of trends already present here and now over the eight years separating 2016 and 2024. There were some major urban riots in 2022 and 2023, and the first stirrings of rural insurgency, but nothing wholly out of the ordinary before the Birmingham riots blew up, National Guard units switched sides, and the Second Civil War was on. There were atrocities on both sides in that war -- there are in every war -- but nothing on an epic scale, since both sides were trying to attract support from the masses.

As for the possibility of being targeted due to your identity, I have a different perspective on that. My working guess is that later historians will say that the triumph of the campaign for same-sex marriage in the US marked the end of the road for the era of moral scapegoating that was ushered in by Jerry Falwell and his ilk in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The attempt to whip up a frenzy about transgendered people using public bathrooms is already being met with widespread derision -- and when that moral panic crumples, as it will, what then? (Maybe we should have a contest for the next thing for social pseudoconservatives to get into a swivet about.) We are entering a different era, one in which politics rather than religion is framing social conflict, and the themes over which people will struggle and die are still just beginning to take shape -- but my guess is that issues of religious and gender identity will drop into the "who cares?" category in the US for the next thirty to forty years, while other issues entirely become the hot buttons du jour.

Hawkcreek, like most people who are historically literate, I know that history involves a lot of violence, some of which is directed at appropriate targets. Thanks for the offer of a hacksaw blade, though!

Donalfagan, good! Certainly the obsessive support for Clinton on the part of the Democratic party nomenklatura is a godsend for Trump's campaign; Sanders would be very hard for The Donald to beat, but an arrogant, venal political hack with no talent for campaigning and nothing to offer but a continuation of a status quo most Americans loathe? I see a very real possibility of the Dems suffering an epochal defeat in November.

SLClaire, we all have blood on our hands. I can't cook a meal without melting part of Greenland or buy vegetables without indirectly drawing down the planet's dwindling oil reserves. Thus Mary Chenkin's comments apply to me, too, and all the rest of us.

Don, hmm! I think you can order them through ordinary channels -- and your local bookstore should be able to tell you that promptly, since everything's computerized these days. Please give it a try, and let me know what happens.

steadystatecollege said...

Re: psychopaths in power - I don't see it as a left-right thing. I spend a lot of time observing mostly local politicians and local politics, and the party differences are minimal at this level. What strikes me is that the fairly common-sensical, relatively knowledgeable people won't run for office, because the people in office - regardless of party - are either actually idiots, or pretending to be idiots to avoid responding to hard questions in an authentic way, or taking firm positions on controversial issues. Very often they defer to staff, or direct staff to make a certain set of recommendations, so they can appear to be deferring to staff. I suppose it boils down to irresponsibility.

Speaking for myself, for one thing, I'm better suited temperamentally to report on community affairs than run for office, so that's what I do. I can't glad-hand, or ask for money. Also, I'm not an idiot, and don't want to pretend to be one to play the game, stroke the egos, etc. so I have no interest in spending hundreds of hours of my time intimately engaged with people who are playing those games, trying to get work done.

In any case, working is not what is going on at the local government level right now. It's posturing.

Maybe LR hit rock bottom and the posturing had to finally stop, which made room for the workers to get into office. Just lonely and frustrating out here.

I suppose part of the response will need to be groups of serious people running in blocs, to increase the odds of having at least one fellow hard worker.

siliconguy said...

"For Monsanto to be given a taste of its own medicine, I recommend that all existing and future Monsanto products receive rigorous safety testing, using the CEO and other executives as the guinea pigs. Having each one start by drinking a bottle of Roundup might be a good start."

Oh come on; that is completely uncalled for. I can poison you with iron, copper, or zinc too, and yet lack of any one of them in your diet will also kill you. Dose is rather important.

However, I did like the way you brought back the shadow of the old Thalidomide tragedy. They forgot to test that on pregnant animals too. Those who want to ban animal testing forget that not all chemical reactions are in the database. Even more so in biochemistry.

W. B. Jorgenson said...


As another young person (I'm currently 20), here's my method of coping to my knowledge my life is finite and likely will end early: first of all I'm planning ahead. I've created a collapse now plan, and I intend to follow it as best I can. Second, I'm seeking meaning where I can find it: which for me is nature, friends, and children. Third, I try to make sure people like me, as much as possible while keeping honest with myself, to reduce the risk of them turning on me in the future.

I fully realize my life expectancy is likely far lower than most people think, and the way I cope is to reduce the chance my life ends early and make it meaningful. Personally I'd rather have one more year if it's meaningful than another century of meaningless life.

I wish you the best of luck with finding a way to cope, and I know it's not easy, but it's something that has to be done.

John Michael Greer said...

Toomas, good! As it happens, you're quite correct to question Carr's historical literacy. This is a man who's never heard of Robert Louis Stevenson or David Bowie, remember; he's the natural outcome of the current pixelization of knowledge on the internet -- what he knows, he knows extremely well (for example, the history of jazz) and what he doesn't know doesn't exist at all. General education? Almost completely absent in the Atlantic Republic. As for your broader point, the nations of the British Commonwealth are a bit of a historical anomaly, you know; Britain's one of the very, very few imperial powers in history to relinquish its colonies without much of a fight. Carr's dictum isn't always right, but it's right rather more often than not.

Greg, exactly -- I was also thinking of the baffled attitude of the current punditocracy to the Trump and Sanders insurgencies when I sent Michael Yates to his death on the platform.

Sara, thank you. "Where will all the energy come from?" If I could, I'd get that question put on the business end of a branding iron and apply it to the tender portions of the anatomy of anybody who babbles about this or that allegedly wonderful fantasy future, where we all zoom around on jetpacks or what have you. Do you know, by the way, why jetpacks have never been viable? Because you can't carry enough fuel on your back to stay in the air for more than a couple of seconds...

Dax, thank you for reminding me of the Haitian example. You're quite right, of course -- it happens, has happened, will happen.

Aron, many thanks -- and also thanks for the music! I'll consider this a soundtrack for this episode.

Hugo, I wonder if it's ever occurred to any of the people who insist that this or that inadequately tested corporate product equals Progress that if they keep it up, and cause enough preventable disasters, people will end up rejecting the entire concept of progress. I'm already seeing shifts in that direction.

Nrgmiserncaz, thank you! And thank you also for the link; yes, "haunting" is the word for it. Large parts of the US will look like that in due time; some already do.

Ed-M, no question, it's going to be ugly whoever gets into the White House this November. As for Pentheus, you know, I didn't even think of him, and I should have. I was thinking of the September Massacres during the French Revolution, and also -- I've been rereading Herbert Marcuse, with an eye toward where he ran off the rails -- Freud's fantasia of the primal horde and the killing of the father-despot.

Zaphod42, thank you! (Re your offlist comment -- I'd be happy to, but I don't seem to have your email. If you can put it in a post marked "not for comment," I'll respond as soon as time permits.)

Hereward, thank you! The thing is, your argument doesn't work because it misstates the consequences of competition. Let's compare two counties; one county has lower taxes and fewer amenities, and the other has higher taxes and more amenities. Those who like lower taxes consider the first county the winner, those who like more amenities give the prize to the second. The same lesson is taught by Darwinian selection: in any complex setting, free competion produces a diversity of viable options, not a sterile uniformity.

Renaissance Man said...

Wow. That's a great piece of writing.
Thank you.
I'm just trying to conceive if it is true that every nation in history (including any native tribes) anywhere that doesn't have some bloodshed as an incidental starting point.

Germany, obviously, came together out of the Franco-Prussian war. Spain, sure, out of the defeat of the Caliphate. Switzerland when the four Cantons rebelled against the Austrians. Italy, as a result of Garibaldi's campaign. Plenty of modern states came into being as a result of the Great War, and I suppose many states can point to some war that brought their antecedents into being.

But not all, I think.

Did England have an incidental point at which they became a nation? Recent archaeology is casting doubts on Bede's account of violent invasion by the Saxons, but England, indeed all of Europe, has innumerable battles and constant strife as they evolved into nations over centuries soaked with blood. Can any given battle or war be truly said to be the point at which France, or Holland, or Denmark came into being? Some of them have borders that change almost from decade to decade over time. Marriage has been a frequent means of territorial expansion, too.

Even Canada, despite what we popularly tell ourselves about peaceful devolution from colony to Dominion, has a lot of warfare, but I'm not sure if any one particular violent event really qualifies, at least not the way Paul Revere's Ride does in American history. The question of when Canada began has several points of candidacy: when the French first took land from the Iroquois, although I cannot recall any particular incident of violence that established the trading post that became the city of Quebec, there were certainly plenty of violent incidents and wars over the subsequent 150 years before the next possible candidate: when Wolfe defeated Montcalm. Maybe the U.S. War of Independence which drove out all the loyalists who migrated to and colonized Upper Canada (sort of a violent event by proxy?), maybe the War of 1812 that pretty much solidified Canadian Identity, maybe it was the 1866 Fenian Raid that prompted the Charlottetown conference that resulted in Confederation.
Maybe it was 9 April 1917 at Vimy Ridge that psychologically tied the nation together and earned Canada a place amongst the nations at Versailles, not just as a colony.
But for most of these Canada already existed as a polity, if not a completely independent nation, which, in fact, didn't happen until the signing of the Constitution in 1982, an event that has no violence associated with it at all.

Ray Wharton said...

@ Aron Blue

Your music is amazing! That song scratched an itch I have had for years, since the first time I hear 'Country Death Song' by the Violent Femmes. 'Judge Hardy' is what I didn't know I had wished 'Country Death Song' were.

onething said...


Your post on GMOs was quite interesting and I learned from it. I see that it is more complicated than I knew, which tends to be the case about things, doesn't it? I had also noticed that while I've heard vague assertions about wonderful things GMO may do, what we actually get is Roundup and poisoned ecosystems. Maybe a bait and switch? Maybe they knew it all along?

It also tells me that the knee-jerk decision to reject all GMO, which you decry, is the right one. I shall continue! Sure, I can imagine in a better world that some real good innovation might occur, but I also know that it will be drowned in a mass of unsafe ones, and that the will to test carefully really isn't there. Perhaps a detailed knowledge of the suite of technologies is in order, but in the meantime, doesn't it make sense to reject it if, say, we had labeling, unless and until each consumer is personally knowledgeable about every particular GMO crop that may be in a food item?

Dennis Mitchell said...

I don't know why we have put up with the medical catastrophe in the USA. Just the type of straw to finally wake us up. Guess we don't blame the doctor's. Too busy blaming the other party. The VA killing vet's didn't do it. Us sheep won't do a thing till we hold our dead babies in our arms. How sick is that. From my point of view I hold anyone who votes Republican or Democrat responsible. You didn't vote the the crooks out. You didn't hold your own party's politicians feet to the fire.
It is great to get back to Retrotopia.

jessi thompson said...

Oprah Winfrey did a show about mad cow disease in the United States. She immediately got sued by the beef lobby. She had only told the truth, and had not committed libel. The court agreed with her. However, this was only after a very expensive protracted legal battle, and even though she won, she never mentioned mad cow disease on her show again, and just watching the experience unfold served as a strong deterrent to other media outlets. That was Oprah Winfrey, how much do you think she can afford to spend on lawyers? What chance does anyone else have?

heather said...

My brain just froze at your phrase, "a DIY biology group messing around with genetic engineering". I'm sure that you and your co-experimenters were just explorers in the tradition of healthy scientific curiosity- nothing wrong with that!- but the idea of a shoestring lab in a converted garage messing around with bacterial genomes... Well, that's somehow just not what I want to be imagining when I'm trying to go to sleep tonight. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Never mind... But thanks for the interesting bit about how disease resistance is conferred. I am not surprised that the genetically modified disease-resistant plants are quickly made obsolete by nature's superior engineering team.
--Heather in CA

jessi thompson said...

You have a valid point. However, the problem is none of these individual GMO varieties are adequately or independently tested, and when you do finally track down independent studies, it's usually small sample sizes and individuals working on their own time out of University labs that for one reason or another can never fund their research, but even with the small sample sizes, the results point to serious health, safety, and environmental concerns. The reason people reject GMOs out of hand is because none of them are conclusively proven safe, unless you take biotech's word for it. If they were really safe to eat, wouldn't they be willing to mention that they are GMO foods on labels? How much money did biotech spend to prevent that from happening?

heather said...

This week's Retrotopia post feels so very plausible to me. I have been reading about civil war lately- not a very cheerful topic, but one I feel the need to better understand, given that I am coming to believe, as our host does, that it is not unlikely in our fairly near future.

Two other books using the toolkit of narrative fiction to explore the experiences of ordinary people during civil war are "Enemy Women", which is set in the American civil war (don't be put off by the love-story marketing- it's really not just fluffy chick lit), and "Lighthouse Island", set in a dystopian future of disrupted climate and authoritarian government. Both are written by Paulette Giles, an author I've only just discovered and will likely read more from. In addition to actual first-person historical accounts, I wish that those Americans glibly calling for violent political revolution these days would read some convincing fictional accounts like these (and, of course, like our host's "Twilight's Last Gleaming") and reflect a little more about what an actual civil war might do to those on all sides, including their own.

I'm feeling fear like that Violet describes, not so much for myself as for my children, who will be just coming into young adulthood in the mid 2020's. I'm choosing to channel that fear into teaching them as much as I can now, and also working with a youth organization in our community (4H) which focuses on developing children's civic leadership and participation and service to others, and teaches kids from the ages of 5-19 how to engage in public discourse and decision-making using a modified form of Robert's Rules of Order. I am praying that the seeds I'm planting and nurturing now may make some difference in the future these children will face.

And like others have mentioned, when I just can't think about it any more, I go dig in the garden for a while. I am thankful to the weeds that they provide an outlet for my anxious energy. ;)

--Heather in CA

EntropicDoom said...

This week's Retrotopia was a wonderful return to a complex and intriguing story. After catching up and rereading the past chapters, I happened to find a copy of Michael Cimino's film Heaven's Gate at the library. It is the restored Director's Cut at 216 minutes. I mention this because it is relevant to the discussion thread for this week's story. It is also a great movie, far from the industry's current fare of crass CGI Super Heroes. I have only seen one movie in a theater in the past year, but have seen plenty of the classics from the library on DVD's.

In the movie, the wealthy Stock Owners in Montana declare war, in 1890, on the newly arrived immigrants and hire cutthroats to murder the foreigners staking claims in Johnson County. The county Marshall, played by Kris Kristofferson, sides with the poor and in real life Mr. Averell was hanged by the wealthy as a lesson to all. This was at the same time as the execution of Joe Hill, made famous by the song of the same name.

The movie only ran for only one week, in 1980. It was pulled by the studio because it got such bad reviews. Months later it was butchered into a much shorter film, thereby destroying the master negative. When this shorter version was finally shown, in late 1980, in the greater national market, it met with whithering disdain from the critics, the public and the rich who were defamed by its storyline. It killed the studio that spawned it. The movie faded into obscurity.

Now, thirty-five years later, it is a seldom seen classic film, restored from the color separation negatives by Cimino. It has a remarkable currency and an immediacy that speaks to today's political situation. It is also very slow by today's hypersonic action movies that are long on effects and short on meaningful story.

For the young Americans of today, who are saddled with school loans and living in their parent's basement, the future appears to be joblessness and deeper poverty. Their world and the world of other Americans, in worse circumstances, are comparable to the immigrant victims in the film. The young with no future, are partly Sanders followers, who will assemble in both Cleveland and Philadelphia this summer for “Chicago, 1968 Redux.” Today's party leaders are the Stock Owners of 1890 in modern dress and just as clueless.

Seeing Heaven's Gate as history rarely told and applying it to tomorrow's confrontations continues another chapter of the troubled and fractured America empire, but this time with a Billionaire as the leader of the pack. What a wonderful weirdness reality takes when the gods go crazy. Where is Howard Zinn when we need him recording and documenting this new chapter for our grandchildren.

The film gave fresh images and meaning to the Retrotopia story for my imagination to play with and my mind to ponder. We all await the next chapter and the coming reports from whatever happens in the convention cities, this next month. Thank you for your abilities for conger up and illustrate alternate worlds.

John Michael Greer said...

Pygmycory, I admit the thought of people messing around with bacteria in their garages does not fill me with confidence for the future. Hey, let's insert genes for antibiotic resistance into Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes the Black Death -- what could possibly go wrong?

Barrigan, that's an excellent point. The placebo effect is an extremely powerful healing modality. If our culture wasn't so terrified of finding out that the mind really does affect the body, we'd be figuring out ways to amplify it and use it for healing, not relegating it to the control-group end of pharmaceutical research. (And as we figured out how to amplify and use it, we'd figure out what a significant chunk of traditional magical lore is actually about...)

Submarine, fascinating -- I hadn't heard of the SOD fiasco yet. Doesn't surprise me a bit that a system based on postmodernism would flop good and hard. Thanks for the link, which is definitely grist for the mill.

Unknown, thank you. Yeah, I'm glad I got out of Ashcan -- er, Ashland when I did. Sedate old towns in the Appalachians are more my style.

Ezra, I'd heard the same thing; my wife has celiac disease and so keeps tabs on a lot of things in the food-intolerance sphere. The soaring rates of serious food allergy since GMOs entered the food supply are interesting -- it would be nice if someone would do a well-funded, objective, non-whitewashing study on that. Roundup would be another good place to look.

Submarine, indeed I have. It's going to be fascinating to watch, if Clinton gets the nomination, how her cheerleading department in the media will deal once Trump goes all out on "Crooked Hillary" and hammers her with the same kind of repeated out-of-the-blue body blows he used to flatten his Republican opponents. As his poll numbers climb and hers slide, it's going to get really colorful in the establishment media echo chamber as they try to argue the country out of its visceral rejection of the status quo -- never realizing that nobody outside the echo chamber listens to them at all. Do you recall when George Will insisted at the top of his lungs that the Berlin Wall wasn't coming down, it came down within the week, and he spent the next month or so quite literally babbling half-connected sentences in print? It'll be like that.

Rita, the thing that differentiates me from most science fiction writers is that I stopped believing in the myth of progress, and so I can actually write about the world in which we live (and will live in the future), rather than getting stuck in Walt Disney's Tomorrowland, trying to pretend that the paint isn't peeling and half the rides haven't already ground to a halt. Thanks for the capsule review of Mervyn King's book; I may take a look at it, and see how its prose stacks up to, oh, James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. I've read books by serious economists that made “Oftwhile balbulous, mithre ahead, with goodly trowel in grasp and ivoroiled overalls which he habitacularly fondseed” seem clare as glarse.

(So to speak.)

Carl, it happens in really savage riots now and again.

Spanish Fly, exactly. Now you know why they're freaking out.

John Michael Greer said...

John, there's something else significant at that time astrologically, though I'd have to go back to notes I did a while back to find it. I may do something on the other blog on that one of these days.

Submarine, granted. Poster child for total corporate amorality? We has one.

Genevieve, fascinating. I admit to wondering if that was done deliberately.

Submarine, classic Spengler! Yes, it applies -- except that our society is hardly "too masculine, too healthy, too sober."

Ray, I'm delighted to have found so many people who are on the one hand interested in hearing my far from little rants, and on the other willing to talk courteously and intelligently with me and one another, so I definitely get that.

Candace, good! Yes, and that was also somewhere in mind.

Steadystatecollege, what I meant by referring to the leftward end of things is that it's almost entirely the left that likes to demonize its political enemies using psychological language. The right does it using moral language. Same song, different words. As for why the political system seems to favor dysfunction these days -- well, no government on earth will ever be better than the people it governs, and a lot of Americans are pretty massively dysfunctional these days...

Siliconguy, I was speaking parabolically, of course. I'd be perfectly happy seeing the corporate executives get randomly sized doses so we could determine what the LD-50 of Roundup is. ;-)

Renaissance, of course! Don't assume that Carr speaks for me -- I do know who Robert Louis Stevenson was, for example!

Dennis, I have no idea why people in this country have been so passive in the face of the gaudy corruption, abuse, and kleptocratic profiteering of the medical industry, even when it costs a lot of people their lives. Makes no sense to me.

Jessi, I hadn't heard about that, but it's a great example. Thank you.

Heather, I'm delighted to hear that your kids are in 4-H! That's a solid organization and one that teaches many of the same skills the old fraternal orders use -- including the modified Rules of Order. Good for you -- and good for them.

EntropicDoom, fascinating. I wasn't aware of the movie at all -- admittedly I don't do much in the way of visual media. I wonder if it would help to encourage young people to throw parties, watch the movie, and talk about the parallels...

Mean Mr Mustard said...


You sometimes speculate on a brewing US domestic insurgency as anger boils over, and describe the tipping point of Yates' sticky end.

But it seems a heavily policed and polarized population with 80% now in the poorhouse will endure massive hardships. In Venezuela there are chronic shortages of food and basic medicine, constant power cuts, drought, extreme murder rates and inflation running at 400% and rising fast. And their oil production is faltering.

This daily blog follows the ongoing collapse of a fast collapsing state. That is, when their electricity runs, and while their internet works.



Matt said...


I am not disputing that horrible things happen in mob violence, and the violence you describe makes for a powerful chapter in the Retrotopia story.

My quibble is more around the physical act of tearing a human body to pieces. This didn't seem to me to 'ring true' and risks undermining the verisimilitude of the fiction. If you had the mob drag the body behind an SUV (a la ISIS) I could buy it, but the idea that a (presumably unarmed) mob did this with their bare hands seems incredible.

The wiki entry on dismemberment ( demonstrates a number of ways that *organised* groups have taken on this grisly task, and all of them seem to require an element of tooling and non-human energy.

I'm only persisting to the second message because you make quite a thing of it in the chapter, but I'll leave it at that now.



Κασσάνδρα said...

Dear JMG,
I really enjoyed this retrotopia installment. I especially liked the lithium crisis as I have done some research on the subject, as you probably remember. The thing that astonished me is that the insurgencies and the second civil war in the USA of retrotopia started in 2026. I always expected that the resilience of the current political-economic system will break later, in the 2030s. 2026 is frighteningly close (I am 47 so if the universe allows me, I will probably see it, but maybe by then I will have already seen worse things in Greece; I am eagerly anticipating your essay on the geopolitical-economic situation and future of Europe that you promised us).
Another query I have is where are the war bands? As I understand it, Lakeland Republic managed to avoid the war band stage of collapse due to some good leadership and luck but what about the other nations? Or is the war band stage later in the collapse timeframe?
Finally, I read again all 16 installments and made the following chronology of events. Please check it and tell me if it is correct:

Retrotopia chronology of events:

2020. Gemotek introduced DM-386 genetically modified corn.
2021. Net attack of USA infrastructure by Chinese.
2024 (29 April). Toledo crowd killed Gemotek CEO Michael Yates.
2026. Riots started in Birmingham and the National Guard units sent to stop them joined the rioters. Second Civil War started in the USA.

- Provisional government. Law that banned genetically modified organisms.
- Constitutional convention
- Debt crisis.
- World Bank and IMF demanded abolition of Law that banned genetically modified organisms
- Referendum that affirmed Law for banning of genetically modified organisms with 89%.
- Partition.
- 3 attempts at regime change in Lakeland Republic between the Partition and now.

2029. Low Earth Orbit Kessler-syndrome disaster.
2032. Lakeland Republic defaulted.
2032 to 2062 Lakeland Republic out of world markets and under embargo.
2030s. Turkey at war with Kurdistan.
2049. Brazil and the Confederation invaded Lakeland Republic but failed.
2062. End of embargo. Lakeland Republic opened borders.
- Lakeland Republic has been approached 4 times by World Bank and IMF.
- Last 6 years. Increasing pace of Geo Synchronous Orbit satellite failures.

(is 3 years after Treaty of Richmond and is still 21st century, therefore we assume it is between 2063 and 2090).

War in California. Chinese try to broker ceasefire.
War in Balkans.
Hemorrhagic fever epidemic in Latin America.
Antarctica melts. Jokulhlaup (glacier underneath melting) in Wilkes Land of Antarctica.
Kessler-syndrome started in Mid Range Orbits of satellites.
Texas and the Confederacy in dispute over natural gas drilling too close to the Texas border.
Lithium crisis. World is going to run out of Lithium in about 6 years.
Yuan has substituted the dollar as the new world currency.

Mrbluesky said...

JMG said

"I'd be perfectly happy seeing the corporate executives get randomly sized doses so we could determine what the LD-50 of Roundup is. ;-)"

The trouble with an LD-50 is that, after half the population is dead, you have to kill the survivors. But I guess that in the case of Monsanto executives, that would be a bonus!

Long-time lurker, first time poster; thank you Mr Greer for your weekly islands of sanity.

BTW - Here, near Avalon, we have a local council run by Druids including the mayor and his deputy :-)

Justin said...

Regarding Gardrasil, I admit to wondering as well. They're giving it to boys now too. As much as I think the anti-vaccine crowd is a little silly, I find the idea of mandatory vaccinations (which Gardrasil is on its way to being, if it isn't already in some places) pretty disturbing. For all the talk about individual rights and bodily autonomy that comes from the corporate rightleft, it certainly doesn't apply to the government.

Susan Roberts, MDiv, OTR/L said...

Thanks for all your inspiring posts & essays. I look forward to them every week.

I have 4 decades of work as an occupational therapist - most of it in pediatrics. I have had a front row seat for the autism epidemic and so I see the similarities in this chapter of Retroropia. Of course, in the current epidemic of autism (as well as childhood type 2 diabetes, obesity, fatty liver disease, etc, etc) there is not one convenient toxin, but the cumulative effect of hundreds of thousands. Add to these, the almost total extinction of unstructured children's play - where children blew off some stress & its accompanying inflammation. We're at least two generations into this mess so epigenetic variations are being passed on. Lots of finger pointing & mounting rage in parents & grandparents.

The official party line calls autism essentially a "hopeless" diagnosis and says the best we can do is provide expensive Applied Behavioral Analysis - an approach I believe will go the way of electroshock therapy and iron maidens. (Ooh, boy, wait til you see the ruffled feathers that comment brings on). I know from personal experience and lots of "anecdotal" evidence from parents, providers, and people with autism, that changing diets to eliminate processed foods & spending hours, days, & years teaching these kids to play produces "miraculous" results - but very little corporate profits - so that even mentioning them in medical & educational communities results in varying degrees of shunning.

I teach seminars for professionals on techniques for developing self-regulation (physical & emotional balance) in children with autism & ADHD and I speak to the importance of food & play in achieving this. I generally get a positive response as these approaches make sense, but most of the participants hands are tied in carrying these out due to institutional restrictions. The cracks are getting ever wider and the alternative healing communities grow as more and more people fall through.

I would not be surprised to see parents & granparents lead the "revolution". They are that angry. Fortunately we also have many articulate people with autism who can speak to the blessings of neuro-diversity. I hope to see this change occur through returning to sustainability - Retroropia style - without the bloodshed. In fact, I pray for that with each seminar that I teach.

onething said...

I'm thinking about how the populations of north and south America were nearly wiped out by measles and influenza and I wonder if we might be heading in that direction? Do we know for sure that the measles and flu viruses will be swept off the face of the earth by vaccination? If not, could we be making a mistake we might deeply regret for these nonserious infections? Possibilities of epidemics in the future have been bandied about here. It might be something as mundane as a resurgence of these viruses in a resistant form in a population that no longer has the ability to tolerate them.

Was it worth it? Not for me. I recall the day I got my measles shot and the talk my mother gave me about it. She thought it was great I would never have to go through the measles. She had 4 children sick with measles when I was 2 weeks old. That must have been fun! I never got it. I was breastfed. Since then I've been vaccinated two more times and as a nurse, I get titers drawn when I get a new job. There has been a see-saw with my immunity for both measles and mumps. One time I got just the mumps shot because my immunity for measles was OK. On my last titer a year ago, I had mumps immunity but not measles. So it only lasts a few years. So far as I know, I have a good immune system, in fact it seems better than average. But now they are recommending these shots every 10 years, or at least the Tdap. So now I am 58 and have no immunity to measles, which is bad for adults to get. I've been immunized 3 times.

I had a friend who got chicken pox in her 40s and was hospitalized. Would my mother have given me that shot if she knew I'd have lifelong problems instead of lifelong immunity? I think not. It's funny that my titers always show immunity to rubella, for which I had the natural disease sometime in childhood.

I just found the following excerpt which shows just the sort of problem I've been wondering about. Because mothers no longer have true immunity to measles, babies are getting measles, when there are outbreaks, at younger and more dangerous ages in infancy:

From an Oxford Journal of Infectious Disease:

Achieving protection against measles presents particular challenges. The highest case-fatality rates occur in children<12 months old worldwide [1–5]; recently, epidemics in the United States have shown a shift of peak incidence to infants<12 months old [6–9]. Infants as young as 6 months old are now susceptible to outbreaks of imported measles in the United States as a result of the earlier loss of transplacentally acquired measles antibodies in infants born to mothers with vaccine-induced immunity to measles [10–13]. Most infants in the United States are now born to mothers who have vaccine-induced immunity to measles, which is associated with lower measles antibody titers,

Sarah Chenkin said...

Dear JMG. I was driving home from "Whiskey Creek woods", a rarely visited forest below a shopping center not far from my house. I was listening to Indian carnatic music on my car audio and thinking about all the people lined up going the opposite direction, to work in their dreary offices and talk on their cell phones during free minutes. I thought about how different my life is since I started reading your blog in 2006.

I was engaged in a meditation exercise to create a (physical reality) bee hive in an urban garden in Philadelphia. I considered the astrological timing, the consiousness of members of the community garden only one of which I know, how to involve family members (who have been devastated by the state of the world) how to split my hive, mantras to use in the process to enable me to find the queen and make the new colony successful.

I arrived home to read your blog and feel a sense of calmness and belonging, as if I live in that Lakeland World, which I do in my spirit.

I hope there is some way to avoid being involved in the bloodshed.

jean-vivien said...

Somewhat in line with this week's agricultural tone, France has repeatedly opposed the European Commission for the past few weeks over a decision to not blocking some chemicals, including Glyphosat pesticide, the main component of Monsanto's Roundup.
The twist here is that Glyphosat has been used for many years and working tolerably well, without much damage, for taking care of small jobs like weeding out public spaces and individual private areas.
A possible outcome, if the French politicians behind the row had their way, would be that the biggest agricultors would still be allowed and able to use it in considerable amounts, albeit in a controlled fashion, and therefore would keep poisinning us all as well as our food supply, whereas private individuals would have their hands tied while they have no other means of taking care of small weeding-out tasks.
I fear that this would be a restoration of priviledges reserved to a few, at the expense of everybody else who get their hands tied. All under the guise of good intents.
Hopefully I am wrong, but so far the EU has been known for imposing top-down safety regulations for a lot of things (electrical installation, water evacuation), in the name of collective safety, that mostly favour big corporations and penalize private individuals.
If I were wrong, though, this and many other recent developments - I am obviously thinking of Brexit here - would seriously undermine the legitimacy of European construction.
Not all processes of collapse need to go through the streets, sometimes it just happens for political reasons... unless it gets too much out of control. With every election, politicians are throwing fuel on the fire, waving almost hateful racist rhetorics... This example here could very well be motivated by political interest.

Seen on LeMonde's website's front page :
Polluants chimiques : Ségolène Royal se dit prête « à poursuivre le contentieux contre Bruxelles » 14
La ministre de l’environnement Ségolène Royal, à l’assemblée nationale, à Paris, mardi 10 mai.
Paris défend une réglementation contraignante et rigoureuse des polluants chimiques alors que la Commission européenne fait bloc depuis 2013.
Perturbateurs endocriniens : l’histoire secrète d’un scandale 62
Perturbateurs endocriniens : ultimes manœuvres à Bruxelles des scientifiques liés à l’industrie 1

Chemical pollutents : Ségolène Royal states herself ready "to pursue row against Brussels" (14 comments)
Environment Minister Ségolène Royal, at the National Assembly [our Parliament], in Paris, on Tuesday the 10th of May.
Paris defends a constraigning and rigorous regulation of chemical pollutents whereas the Europen Commission takes bar against it since 2013.
Endocrine perturbators : the secret History of a scandal (62 comments)
Endocrine perturbators : endgame manoeuvers in Brussels of the scientists linked to industry (1 comment)

Donald Hargraves said...

I'm curious – does anyone remember the Flavr Savr Tomato? The first GMO to be brought to market, it was successful enough but ended up being a high end product due to its production costs and transportation requirements. When the high end market decided they preferred their products "all natural," the Flavr Savr Tomato disappeared from the store shelves.

In a way, that seems to be the theme of Genetic Modification – Anything the people might actually be good – whether it be tomatoes that can be picked ripe and stay ripe until use or rice with vitamin A as part of the grain (Beta Carotine is a form of Vitamin A that's water-soluble.) ends up going by the wayside, whereas anything that turns our large-scale farmers into pesticide and herbicide disposal experts by turning the stuff into semi-edible foodstuffs enjoys great success.

A massive betrayal of the GMO promise, if you ask me – and rather symptomatic of how Tech has been going these past thirty-plus years.

onething said...

Omnicide is perfect.

"One of these days, probably after way too many preventable disasters, it might finally sink in that blindly tinkering with the chemistry of the biosphere is a really bad idea...but clearly that sort of obvious common sense hasn't arrived yet."

And the sciency types are the worst. They ought to be the best! I've noticed lately that for the kind of thinking that really matters, IQ isn't all that helpful.

"One of Bayer's subsidiaries was the company that invented and manufactured Zyklon-B for the Nazi death camps. Bayer and its subsidiaries also made widespread use of slave labor in its factories during the war."

Well it is certainly good that this company turned over a new leaf and is now a respectable and trustworthy manufacturer of pharmaceuticals.

Violet Cabra said...

Ray, your strategy sounds wonderful to me. Sorry to hear about the lack of stability. I've recently gone through something similar and I lost a lot, and can relate. I'm happy to hear that your dad has a good job and that you're doing experimental garden pots. In regards to it being all about the soul, I totally agree, but also view the soul as a biological entity, the breath of life that enlivens the physical form. While I accept the possibility of death, I still acknowledge my attachments to the forms of my life, my body, and my spirit that fills it. While I do not believe that consciousness ends at death (instead moving on to an astral existence untethered by physicality) I find that I love physicality. It's such a buffet of concrete experience!!

JMG, Many, many thanks for your perspective!! I certainly hope that you're right in terms of future history. The US has created so many death squads in other parts of the world that it's hard for me to imagine the same strategy not being used here by hostile foreign powers interested in feeding a fractured USA into their wealth pump. Again I hope that I'm very, very wrong and that history more closely follows the course you've outlined.

In terms of my identities, again thank you for your perspective. Perhaps growing up bullied, with a family line heavily marked by attempted genocide has marked my sense of place in society. Not sure how accurate my own filter is on this, and am thus very grateful for reading yours! I have felt a certain shift in the larger culture, and frankly do hope that sane, relevant political options become more pertinent to finding place within larger society than more biological or religious identities. I'm very curious btw, if you have insights into "the themes over which people will struggle and die " that are just starting to take shape right now - is this social democrats vs anti-free trade nationalism vs an anachronistic investment in the Dubyobama consensus? Something more inchoate as of yet? Something that only coalesces in a sweep of violence like the CEO being killed in Toledo and the Birmingham riots leading to civil war where people get partisan real fast? There are political changes I feel afoot, but they remain rather opaque to my attempts at categorization in their incipient forms.

W.B, Thank you for sharing your approach. I too try to focus on the creation of meaning, and creating strategies for survival as well. For the past 8 years or so I've been delving deeper into a more meaningful life. The thing is, the more I do it the more attached to living I become! It's so rewarding and meaningful! This seems to be a paradox that I am still lacking maturity to fully apprehend; how to really accept the profundity of death with grace while holding the meaningfulness and beauty of life in a human body on this planet

heather said...

Thanks, JMG. 4-H really is a great organization for kids, and in fact for their parents, to learn to work together, to take personal responsibility, and to live up to a code. While it can suffer from the same internal politics and bureaucratic tendencies as any organization, I consider these a feature, not a bug, as they provide teachable moments to discuss with the kids the types of forces they will certainly have to contend with in the future.

For readers unfamiliar with it, 4-H has historically been an agriculturally oriented organization supported through the county agricultural extension service that teaches young people how to do traditional skills, such as raising livestock to exhibit and sell, and doing cooking, preserving, and handicrafts. (Think blue ribbons at the county fair.) These are still strong components of the program, but other projects have also been added over the years, depending on the knowledge and willingness of the local adult volunteers. My kids have thus been able to try out photography, archery, chess, and web design over the years, in addition to the aforementioned. The ten kids in the Junior Master Gardener project I lead learned about plant science and ecology, started plenty of seeds and took cuttings from my garden to grow at home, and also grew a row of produce to donate to the local food pantry. (Sorry to brag, but I am very proud of their hard work.)

The name 4-H comes from the pledge which the kids recite at each meeting and try to connect to their own actions across the year: "I pledge my Head to clearer thinking, my Heart to greater loyalty, my Hands to larger service, and my Health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world." This is something I can get behind.

I encourage anyone with kids ages 5-19 to check if there is a club in their area, or if not, to consider starting one (even, maybe especially, in urban settings!). A quick Google search will get you going. And for those readers looking for something constructive to do with their time and energy (or a channel for their concern about the direction of the world), please consider volunteering with your local 4-H club. You don't need to have kids, just willingness to engage. Even if you don't think you have skills to share, the organization can provide co-leaders and curriculum on dozens and dozens of topics. If you DO have skills- knitting, say, or small engine repair, or woodworking, or watercolor painting, or what have you- you will be ever so gratefully welcomed.

Sorry, I'll stop the commercial now. It's just nice to have something to be enthusiastic about in this sometimes-bleak world.

-- Heather in CA

Mark Rice said...

It seems the second Civil War was more about establishing a true old fashion nation state that has sovereignty and independence from the multinational oligarchies than breaking away from the rest of the U.S.A.

This reminds me of one of Dmitry Orlov's acerbic statements about how there are almost no nation states any more. Most "Nations" are subservient to their corporate masters. The only nation states are the enemy. (Iran, Russia etc.)

Eric S. said...

@JMG and Onething: No arguments on either of the things you say. I personally prefer good old fashioned heirlooms for a variety of reasons (one of the chief being the fun of having access to unique vegetables you can’t get at stores). However, my issues with GMOs are about on par with my issues with most varieties of overly hybridized crops, or with other, more conventional industrialized agriculture. There’s certainly a scale there, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that round-up ready crops are necessarily worse than the habit of using increasingly larger and larger amounts of round-up on fields that it’s designed to replace (I think the studies that have been done in that area have shown that fields where GMO crops are grown have slightly better biodiversity than fields where conventional insecticides are used, but not by much and don’t even begin to compare to small intensive non-GMO organic plots that don’t use pesticides at all). It’s all part of the same big, messy system and I’d prefer to see the funding and resources being put into GMOs being put towards things that would actually do more good than harm, such as providing incentives to individuals, homeowners associations, apartment complexes, and businesses who participate in “food not lawns” initiatives or a variety of other options… Even with the most optimistic projections for the future of GMOs, there is just nothing to excite me about a promised future where our entire food supply consists of artificial variants on the same species of corn and soy… And the fact that the people who have taken up shaming and humiliating anyone who has problems with the technology or any aspects of it (alas, way too many of them friends from my days in college studying human ecology, sustainable development, and natural history who, sadly, seem to have gained a very different set of values out of that program than I did) are essentially using bullying tactics to force you to buy a product, doesn’t sweeten me any further.

But I figure if the advocates of GMOs want to turn their advocacy for their product into a moral crusade, the least I can do rhetorically with them is set a bar for them and a fairly low bar at that, of a minimum in longitudinal testing on human subjects and on fields, for each and every new variety of seed developed. That’s the average amount of time it takes for adverse effects of things like lead, asbestos, and tobacco to emerge so it seems fair. But, considering that the first variety of Bt corn was developed in 1996, and within the past 20 years several new varieties have already been developed and marketed without a single longitudinal study them, my bar will probably never be passed. So yeah… if I had to pick a side, I’d be firmly against, but I find that taking the middle ground and acknowledging crops on a case by case basis rather than addressing the entire technology collectively makes people think more, and makes them more uncomfortable. Especially since it renders discussion of things like C4 rice meaningless because it doesn’t even exist yet. Which keeps the discussion tightly centered on the real world, and the adequacy (or lack thereof), of the experimentation on the crops that do exist, (which is so far pretty disappointing as far as experimental design goes). My standards also allow different strains to be viewed separately, so that, if a strain of C4 rice was developed and began testing, I’d look at the crop and the experiments themselves, without once referencing experiments on Bt Corn, which means that, theoretically, it would be possible for some GMO products to be less problematic than others. I figure setting clear, but strict standards while being willing to keep an open mind as long as those standards are met is a fair way to hold on to my values without being dogmatic about it. Of course, with our polarized culture, even that fair line of division is enough to get ridiculed…

mr_geronimo said...

Great story, maybe the best from retropia series

James Fauxnom said...

Speaking of clueless elites about to be torn apart by a mob, this seems like a good example of their illogic.

Clay Dennis said...

My thinking on GMO's has much to with what their creation might change or eliminate from the ecosystem. A big problem is, do we know how they will effect existing species? I will paraphase a quote that I remember from Stewert Brand back in the 1970's before he went nuclear. " When tinkering with the universe, first save all the pieces".

Hereward said...

That was not quite the competition I had in mind, allow me to explain.

Nature is uncompromising, the varied environments she offers do lead to beneficial competition as you describe and, as a result, perfectly adapted species for those environments. However, a desert creature suddenly dropped into marshland is unlikely to survive long.

In the Lakeland Republic, however, the county lines are more or less arbitrary and humans, unlike the natural world example given above, are quite capable of adapting from tier 1 conditions to tier 5 conditions or vice versa. What is therefore likely to happen is that a majority of Lakelanders decide that tier x provides a good compromise between taxation and comfort and so all the tier x counties start to fill up. As a result they start to prosper and maybe even become overpopulated. Meanwhile the lower tier counties experience dwindling populations and may not even receive enough revenue to keep their limited amenities going. Tier x counties then look at their neighbours and make them an offer: cash for land. Alternatively, the councillors in tier x-n counties see how things are going and hold a council meeting at which they decide to upgrade (n could equally be negative in which case it should read downgrade here) their tier to stop losing so many people. Either way, pretty soon the whole of Lakeland Republic is tier x.

pygmycory said...

The DIY Biology involvement I had was the last gasp of my belief in Progress as useful. I liked the idea of getting genetic engineering out of corporate control so that it could be used for something more useful than creating herbicide-resistant crops, but like a lot of you, I was a bit worried about the idea of people playing around and doing who-knew-what, possibly with little idea of what they were doing. So I joined the group, to see if something useful could be done, and also to prevent stupidly-dangerous ideas from taking off.

It was actually a lab belonging to one of the members, who had his own little biotech startup, so ours wasn't in a garage, and I think it was better set up than most of these things.

What did we actually do:
-we grew yoghurt bacteria, only some of which survived.
-we made lab strain E. coli glow (standard thing I did back in 2nd year bio. at university)
-we looked at diatoms and fungi under the microscope
-we chased down information on yoghurt bacteria and gut microflora in the scientific literature.
-we talked A LOT

That's about it for while I was there. I think they might have done one or two more things after I left, but it has now closed down. I think most of these groups, don't do any more than we did. There's a few larger groups in places like Silicon Valley that do a lot more:

I'm more worried about individual researchers with their own minilabs than the public groups, since they are harder to keep an eye on. With the public groups, things like putting antibiotic resistance into Yrsinia pestis would get noticed and shut down fast. Most of these labs aren't set up to safely handle human pathogens anyway. Bad stuff coming out of them would likely be accidental - like some twit taking home glowing plants (involves eukaryotes, so not an easy project) they designed, and then having them release seeds so you've got glowing weeds in the neighborhood that you've no idea if they're safe. That would be quite bad enough, though I think the main result of that one would be the local lab getting shut down and a lot more regulation of these groups around the world. That might not be so bad.

With lone individuals or a couple of friends with a lab that they don't invite random people to, some nasty stuff could well come out of them at some point if transportation links keep working reliably. That's where you could find malicious stuff like intentionally creating drug resistent Yrsinia or other resistant pathogens.

onething said...

As far as psychopaths in power is concerned, I also don't think of it as a left-right issue, or an exclusively political one. I rather come at the question from a different angle. If studies finding a small percent of the population is psychopathic or semi psychopathic are true, then where are these people? What affect have they had on society through the ages? What do they do and what motivates them?

"Do you know, by the way, why jetpacks have never been viable? Because you can't carry enough fuel on your back to stay in the air for more than a couple of seconds..."

How can that possibly be true? What sort of fuel are we talking about? I had thought gasoline...

Yellow Submarine said...

"Submarine, classic Spengler! Yes, it applies -- except that our society is hardly "too masculine, too healthy, too sober.""

All too true. In fact it seems that our society has become quite the opposite. I think Spengler had what was left of the Faustian Culture of his time in mind and failed to realize just how fast things were going down hill.

Shane W said...

I recently had a similar discussion w/a friend, but the biggest concern you should have is with having, and particularly showing, a very wealthy lifestyle. As JMG has said, prejudice based on gender identity and religion is on the way down right now. However, the wealth and class gap is white hot and boiling right now. So, if you live a frugal life and don't sneer at the wage class, and meet people at their level with compassion, you should be okay. For example, if I went to the local dollar store/Save a Lot and did a random poll of people to see if they had been abroad, could ever afford to go abroad, or could imagine ever going abroad/being able to afford to go abroad, I'm sure the poll would be a big, fat goose egg (unless I did a bilingual poll, that would skew things a bit) There may be a very rare chance that an Anglo in a mixed marriage with an immigrant had travelled by car to Mexico to meet the in-laws, but I wouldn't count on it.
I look for people in the South to pick the name Confederacy precisely for the charged effect it has on Yankees and the Southern straw man they love to beat. Today, there are a lot of "Southerners of Convenience" (aka, carpetbaggers) who live in the South for opportunistic reasons (lower taxes, milder winters, affordable housing), yet have no intention of assimilating into the South, and continue to sneer at the South and mouth anti-Southern stereotypes. You also have the hipsters that Buzzy mentioned, who hate being in the South and want to create some little San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, etc. carbon copy in the South. By reestablishing the Confederacy, all these people will flee phantoms of lynching and slavery that they're certain will come to pass, but never will. Once they've fled, we can then establish our own immigration laws. I fully expect the African American community to stay--they've already collectively voted with their feet to leave (Great Migration), and are now voting with their feet to come back (Reverse Great Migration). They know where home and their roots are, and will probably fight like hell for their part of it.

Yellow Submarine said...

I read recently that Sanders is talking of staying in until the convention, in part because he is trying to push through reforms for the nominating process that would open up the process and make it more difficult for the establishment to rig the game (imagine that, democracy for the Democratic Party. What a concept!).

Meanwhile, Hillary's supporters are whinging that Sanders' staying in that long is distracting Hillary from focusing on Trump and from reaching out to demographics like younger voters that have heavily favored Bernie and whose support Hillary needs if she is to have any hope of winning the general election.

But if Hillary was a decent candidate capable of running a competent political campaign and actually had something to offer other than terms 5 and 6 of the Dubyobama administration, none of that would have been a problem in the first place. Just more evidence of what a flawed candidate she really is and why she's having so much trouble. But then again, she got beaten in 2008 by a first term US Senator that most people had never even heard of prior to the 2008 presidential race, namely Barack Obama. She will probably get the nomination this time around, but I think Trump will mop the floor with her in the general election.

PS - Did you see that several prominent neocons, including Robert Kagan, have announced they are voting for Hillary even though they are registered Republicans. I can't say I'm really all that surprised, especially in Kagan's case.

After all, not only is Hillary a neocon whose foreign policy has been indistinguishable from George W Bush and Dick Cheney, but Kagan's wife is none other than Victoria Nuland. You may recall that Nuland is Obama's Proconsul for Eastern Europe and the architect of both the latest color revolution in Ukraine and the Obama administration's disastrous Russia policy.

Dmitry Orlov had a great blog post a couple of years ago about Hillary, Nuland and some of the other neocon warmongers in the Obama administration.

SLClaire said...

I know you won't tell us what will happen ahead of time, but it has occurred to me that there is another possibility for Mr. Carr that I haven't seen discussed in the comments so far. We know that AR's newly elected president Montrose has rejected the demands of the Dem-Reps to go back to business as usual, so it appears the AR as a whole is in the stage of realizing that business as usual is no longer viable. We know from the newspaper report that satellites in mid-range orbits are goners, meaning lots of problems for countries like the AR that depend on them. We know Carr's high up in AR governance and will be reporting back to AR everything he learns in LR, and he's learned plenty due to the negotiations he's been tasked with carrying out. Carr might realize that the LR's experience has much to offer to the AR to ease the difficulties of the post-satellite era. In this case he wouldn't stay in the LR, but upon his return he would advocate for some of the LR's policies being adopted in the AR. With the AR being between a rock and a hard place, Montrose and her administration might be open to applying some of the lessons Carr has learned from the LR to the AR. I'd like to see that, to watch something good spread. And if it does happen that way, I can say I told you so. ;)

astroplethorama said...

@JohnRoth: "The 2022-2024 time frame is when the US has its Pluto return."
It's a bit more complicated, cycles-wise. Astrologically, 2020 looks to me the more crucial year. There's a Saturn-Pluto conjunction in Capricorn -- virtually guaranteeing an authoritarian crackdown -- and a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction, heralding the start of a new twenty-year political-economic era. March 2020 -- featuring a cluster of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto -- looks like the month to watch.

Yellow Submarine said...

The latest epic fail by Hillary Clinton, which has gone viral and become the butt of jokes all over the country. Hillary is fast becoming the poster child for the incompetence and cluelessless of the senile elites.

Varun Bhaskar said...


I've had the unfortunate experience of witnessing a food riot once in my life. It was a very small riot, only about 20-50 people. It was still terrifying.

Here in the midwest I can see so many issues that might set people off. Everyone I know faces our reality with such dignity, but it's not hard to find the simmering anger underneath. I could see many events setting off that anger, but something that kills kids? Gods I don't think the blood letting would stop for many years.

I also find it a bit worrying your minds eye keeps fixing on 2024, that's only 8 years away.



Yellow Submarine said...

"This reminds me of one of Dmitry Orlov's acerbic statements about how there are almost no nation states any more. Most "Nations" are subservient to their corporate masters. The only nation states are the enemy. (Iran, Russia etc.)"

Which is why the elites in the US and EU have targeted Russia and Iran. They are the ones standing up to the NWO, asserting their national sovereignty, developing alternatives to Westernization and refusing to back down.

The Russian government recently banned GMO's and is actively encouraging organic agriculture. Russian leaders, including Vladimir Putin, have openly compared companies like Monsanto to terrorist organizations that are just as dangerous a threat to public safety and national security as Daesh ("ISIS") or Al Qaeda. Here are a few links of interest that the readers of this blog may wish to look at:

There is a bill before the Duma that would classify ecological damage and health problems caused by GMO's as acts of terrorism and allow individuals and corporations responsible to be prosecuted as if they were terrorists or terrorist organizations. This is one of the reasons why I and many of the people I know have become very pro-Russian in recent years.

I would say the pushback against Monsatan and its ilk has already begun and it is Mother Russia that is leading the charge. Spengler predicted that the next great civilization would come out of Russia and that Russia would not begin to truly flower until it freed itself from the shackles of Petrinism. I think we can see the early stages of that process under way.

Matthias Gralle said...

I'm glad to see Retrotopia back! Still waiting for a glimpse of where the Lakeland Republic might add end up decades after this visit by Mr. Carr, since it clearly isn't sustainable either, very much living on salvaged materials and books written before its foundation.

I have spent the two-month hiatus and the weeks about current politics reading the archives, and find some things I posted a few months ago have been mentioned before. Particularly, I have commented that not the entire Roman Empire suffered the fate of Britannia, that Byzantium survived. Others have done so, too - does Stephen Heyer still read this blog? Now I have read up on the fate of Greece in the 7th century and come to the conclusion that it is much more frightening than Britannia or Noricum. What could be more frightening than considering that Olympia, Elis, Corinth and other sites with a 1200 year history of written literature, constitutions and traditions completely vanished from the written record in the 7th century AD? They appeared to be well in 530 (there were more than 80 cities on the Peloponnesos), but after 620 there is not a single inscription or coin to be found until the 9th century. According to Florin Curta (much of his work is available on ResearchGate), a large part of the Balkans, what is now Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia, was simply abandoned by human beings between 620 and 670. This is much more unsettling than imagining Slavic barbarian hordes overrunning the Empire. Constantinople, of course, continued intact and with some literary tradition preserved. However, the first chronicle written after the New Dark Ages, Maximus' Chronicle of 820, depended on a Syriac source - because apparently for 200 years nobody had even bothered to write down yearly events in most of Greece!

To come back to this week's post: the Lakeland Republic is truly a great utopia and not at all to be taken for granted. Of course, China, India and Japan offer counter-examples where written tradition never completely disappeared.

Matthias Gralle said...

Another slightly off-topic comment: After reading most of the archives and comments, I am surprised to have seen no mention of Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self and A Secular Age. The themes of "background attitudes" underlying the surface creeds, the emotional foundations and stories underlying "conversion" to atheism and materialism, the historical background to the religion of progress, the epistemological priority of human interactions and "games" over "naked facts", all of this seems very relevant to this blog.

Another book that seems quite relevant to the blog's themes and has only been mentioned in comments, as far as I can see, is David Graeber's Debt. I am particularly fascinated with the chapters about how Islam, Christianity and Buddhism tamed the money and debt-based systems in the centuries after the demise of the great Roman, Han and Maurya empires. Graeber puts a very positive spin on the "Middle Ages". I think his very weak anarchist responses to the last two centuries' lessons have largely obfuscated his interesting historical lessons.

donalfagan said...

JMG, you may already know, but I just got an email from about this situation in Cumberland:

Unknown said...

JMG, its rare I take issue with your take on things but in your replies there is a statement that I find arguable.

"The Lakeland Republic uses the same means to keep its politicians and officials in check that other healthy representative democracies do: effective checks and balances, backed up by public debate and a lively competition between rival political parties that often expresses itself via each party trying to catch the members of other parties in illegal behavior. Is it foolproof? Of course not; nothing in the real world ever is, but it works better than any of the alternatives."

It is my considered view that party politics as currently conducted is in large part responsible for the very fubar state of many nation states that masquerade as "healthy" representative democracies. The party system has become a haven for the psychotic, the ideological, and the bizarre, and rewards manipulation and narcissism. It is a very useful funnel for corporate cash ti use to misrepresent and manipulate and it is imho, almost entirely responsible for the current state of affairs.

It is axiomatic that a problem can never be solved by the same thinking that created it and I submit that we need to go back to first principles and ditch party politics. What is required is a move back to a dominance of the political sphere by independent representatives who then behave in a manner congruent with the Darwinian principle set out here:
"The same lesson is taught by Darwinian selection: in any complex setting, free competion produces a diversity of viable options, not a sterile uniformity."

Applying the Robinson Rules to such an assembly is far more likely to produce a useful outcome than a bunch of party politicians trying to tear each other down so that they may sit at the top of the pole and force their will on those below. It is precisely that unedifying spectacle that has the voting public spewing venom at their television sets every evening at news time.

The trigger for this view was watching the Tasmanian Greens walk away from a fight about a very badly sited pulp mill by ignoring a serious dioxin issue because their ideological support for plantation forestry as a means to avoid native forest logging was gamed by government and the plantation industry. Never mind the environmental and public health harm, we must not cut down any more native trees, and we will achieve this by ensuring thousands of hectares of introduced weeds are maintained in the landscape. It ended in farce, the agreements were reneged on by an incoming right-wing government and the pulp mill died as its proponents went belly up because they were actually too stupid to see that building a pulp mill put them in competition with their wood chip buying clients who stopped the cash flowing before the mill was approved. The approval process did reveal who the political parties really worked for tho.

What to do? As I see it the missing link in the political evolutionary ecosystem is an organisation that promotes the value of independent political actors to the general public and counters the massive effort being made by the status quo forces to convince the voters that party politics is a viable meme. Such an organisation would have no political agenda of its own other than to increase independent representation. A big task, I know, but from my reading of the public mood, one made easier by the phenomenon of resonance.

Looking forward to your reply, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to raise the matter.

eagle eye

Yellow Submarine said...

In addition to Crooked Hillary, Trump is trying out another nickname, "Heartless Hillary".

This is going to fun to watch. An embarrassing spectacle to be sure, but fun. There was an article on Limbaugh's site not too long ago pointing out that Trump won't play by the rules. There won't be any pulled punches like McCain did with Obama, where he declined to go after Obama on Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright because McCain was afraid he would be accused of being "mean spirited" or "racist" for doing so.

Trump's presidential campaign instead will resemble Russia's recent military campaigns: smart, well executed and targeted against the adversary's weak points, but ruthless, aggressive and conducted with a complete lack of regard for what the political establishment, the chattering classes and the mass media think and say.

You can bet your last dollar that all of those Clinton scandals that Bill and Hillary have desperately tried to cover up, obfuscate or explain away will be dredged up and the more that Hillary tries to attack Trump, the more Trump will ramp up the pressure. When Hillary attacked Trump on his alleged behavior towards women, Trump brought up the various Bill scandals involving women, including allegations of rape and big payoffs of hush money. Look at how Trump demolished Cruz not only by calling him "Lyin Ted Cruz" at every opportunity, but also by leaking allegations to the press that Cruz had had multiple affairs after Cruz's allies ran an attack ad aimed at Trump's wife. I recently read an article about Whitewater, suggesting that will be another line of attack against the Clintons.

Again, I am reminded of Russia's Syrian campaign, where the Russians responded to every terrorist attack against them, like the bombing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai by Daesh and the shooting down of a Russian warplane by the Turks, by ratcheting up the pressure even more, while complaints from Western governments, NGO's and mass media fell on deaf ears in Moscow.

Forget the popcorn: time to fire up the grill and break out the hot dogs and beer...

Justin said...

Yellow Submarine, that's a great link - the odds are good that we're going to see a discontinuity sometime during the latter half of 2016 - also, does anyone know how we got to nearly the halfway point of the year so fast?

W. B. Jorgenson said...

Susan Roberts,
As an autistic I have to say I fully agree with your point of view. I find I function significantly better when I eat real food. Much of the improvements appear in ways that merely make me more "normal", so I truly believe that food is a key aspect of the autism epidemic. Considering how much the kind of food appears to affect my health and the mind is not it's own thing, I think it's clear food would affect my mind as well.

Violet Cabra,
It's a weird thing, and I know the feeling. I wish I had better advice, but I don't know what to say other than to wish you luck.

pygmycory said...

Eric S., I think my take on genetic engineering is fairly similar to yours. I lean heavily towards the 'against' due to the way GMO crops have been used in practice. The little foray into DIY Bio convinced me that traditional plant breeding and hybridization is a better tool for getting new and useful varieties without handing large corporations control of our food supply, or having unexpected disaster as a result.

David said...

As a number of others have mentioned, I've also seen the pro-HRC commentary on several blogs berating Sanders for his "selfishness" and "ego". I am openly committing to all readers here that I am cutting myself off from all comments, save here (ok, and WoG, but that's it). I have gotten way more confrontational and less respectful than I ought to have been, even given some of the snark people were dishing out. Cold-turkey, the only way. Repeating my mantra that the system can't be saved, and focusing on building what I can in my community. Eventually, I will learn.

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

Regrettably, the LD50 of Roundup is being researched by their customers in India.
Indian Farmers are Committing Suicide because of Monsanto's costly GMO Crops
: "What’s really disturbing is that often time farmers commit suicide by drinking the insecticide shipped to them by Monsanto."


John Michael Greer said...

Mustard, I don't claim to know enough about Venezuelan society to comment intelligently. The United States? Not so much -- and I stand by my claim that we're very close to domestic insurgency here.

Matt, good question. All I know is that there are a significant number of reported cases. If I may be a bit gruesome, if you have five or six tolerably strong people pulling on each of the available limbs, it seems quite possible to me that something will give. Still, it's possible that knives or the like played a role.

Cassandra, the Second Civil War started in 2024, not 2026, and went on until the fall of Washington in 2028. Talks among the various insurgent factions in 2028 and 2029 failed to find common ground, and Partition happened on August 1, 2029 -- that's when the USA was formally dissolved and the Lakeland Republic, Atlantic Republic, et al. came into being. The provisional government of the Lakeland Republic functioned from then until 2032. The referendum about the World Bank/IMF proposals was held in 2031; the Lakeland constitutional convention met in 2030 and 2031, the new constitution was adopted by popular vote in late 2031 and came into force in 2032, when the first elections were held and the first president took office. The LR defaulted on its assigned share of the old US national debt immediately after that -- the provisional government wanted a legally elected government to make that decision. The Treaty of Richmond was signed in 2062, and that's when the borders opened; this story takes place in November 2065. The four attempts by the World Bank and IMF -- one was in 2030, and the other three were in 2062, 2063 and 2065. Does that help?

Mrbluesky, all the better. ;-) Glad to hear that your local Druids are fulfulling their civic responsibilities -- of course Druidry is much less eccentric in Britain than elsewhere!

Justin, they're giving it to boys too? Yeesh.

Susan, I have Aspergers syndrome and agree with you wholeheartedly. It's certainly possible for people with an autism spectrum disorder to learn coping behaviors that will help them get by in a mostly neurotypical society -- I've done it and I know other people on the spectrum who have done so as well. A healthy natural diet is important; so, in my experience, is avoiding television and other media of the same sort -- overstimulation, especially if it's constant and jarring, is a real problem; so is avoiding the kind of medical treatment that consists of drugging the patient into numbness. Thank you for teaching people to move toward less self-defeating modes of dealing with autism!

Onething, fascinating. Thanks for the heads up; I'll have to look into this.

Sarah, so do I. I think there's still some hope, if enough people find the willingness to change their own lives and serve as role models -- the more people "collapse now and avoid the rush," the less pressure there'll be on dwindling resources and the more flexibility as large systems break down. But it's very late in the day.

Jean-Vivien, I gather that things are heating up rapidly over in ecnarF. Thanks for the data points!

Donald, I do indeed. The Flavr-Savr had another little disadvantage -- it tasted like mildly sour syrofoam. The high-end market wasn't impressed.

Onething, you're right about science fans, which is frankly weird. The whole point of science is asking the hard questions and never treating any answer as final -- and yet you get vast numbers of people who claim they're all about science for whom anything uttered by somebody in a lab coat is The Absolute Truth and any challenge to an accepted theory is heresy to be shouted down.

pygmycory said...

JMG, I wonder what would happen if a bunch of people put on lab coats and announced that a rejected-knowledge item was true?

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG: " I have Aspergers syndrome and agree with you wholeheartedly. It's certainly possible for people with an autism spectrum disorder to learn coping behaviors that will help them get by in a mostly neurotypical society -- I've done it and I know other people on the spectrum who have done so as well. A healthy natural diet is important; so, in my experience, is avoiding television and other media of the same sort -- overstimulation, especially if it's constant and jarring, is a real problem; so is avoiding the kind of medical treatment that consists of drugging the patient into numbness. Thank you for teaching people to move toward less self-defeating modes of dealing with autism!"

****Amen to that!!!!****

Pat, feeling a whole lot better since I started eating fresh whole organic foods. And rapidly getting back on them as my (now repaired and mending) bad hip allowed me to do anything but stick a ready-made dish in the microwave. (And don't get me started on hospital food. But I was probably higher than a kite most of the time in the hospital anyway.)

John Michael Greer said...

Violet, you're most welcome. The thing is, the US habit of sponsoring death squads, like most of the gimmicks central to US foreign policy since the Reagan revolution, has been hopelessly counterproductive. Like random drone strikes, it appeals to the faux tough-guy attitudes of a certain class of intellectuals that's rather too well represented in the US national-security community, but it doesn't achieve the goals it's supposed to achieve. This is why the Russians and Chinese, who are pragmatists, don't use it. The Chinese these days don't seem to think much of funding revolutions at all; the Russians like to find a local proxy that can accomplish their goals for them with minimal collateral damage and without alienating any more population blocs than necessary -- watch how the Syrian government, with Russian advice, has been careful to accommodate Kurds, Yezidis, and other ethnic minorities in Syria, with an eye toward building a coalition against the US-, Turkey- and Saudi-funded jihadis.

If the Russians were to fund a domestic insurgency against the US government, in exactly the same way, their probable strategy would be to direct money, arms, and equipment to those groups most likely to establish a stable regime friendly to Russia as soon as the fighting ended. Death squads wouldn't help that project, quite the contrary, and so you can bet that the Spetsnaz advisers who parachute in to help out the rebels would threaten a cutoff of Russian aid to any group that got into that. It's only the US that seems to think that a permanent state of civil war is a good idea; the Russian approach is to stomp the enemy, end the fighting, sign half a dozen trade agreements and go home.

With regard to the causes and issues that I expect to be central to the conflicts of the future, my working guess is that gender and religion are going to be supplanted by politics and class. By and large, nobody's going to care if you are Pagan or transgender -- but in much of the country, if you wave around a lot of visible wealth or support a return to the Dubyobama consensus, you'll risk getting stomped, while in wealthy coastal enclaves, if you say anything sympathetic about the wage class or don't show enough sorrowful agreement when people talk about what a wonderful president Hillary Clinton would have been, you'll be out in the cold very, very fast. Where it goes from there will depend on variables that haven't yet been settled, and may not be settled for a decade or more.

Heather, that sounds very much as though the founders of 4-H knew their way around the old fraternal order system! I'm a little surprised the organization doesn't have an adult equivalent; it might be time to start one...

Mark, nation-states basically didn't exist until the seventeenth century and I'm far from sure they'll survive the twenty-first. They're the distinctive political form of European civilization, exported like many European ideas to the rest of the world; they have their problems, though just at the moment you're right that they offer certain protections against corporate kleptocracy. (Note to the capitalists among us; Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, argued that government by an exclusive group of merchants was of all forms of government the very worst; I think he was quite correct.) You're also right that the Lakeland Republic is a classic nation-state -- that's one of its retro features, after all.

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, oh, granted -- and taking the abandoned middle ground is a useful strategy in any debate of this kind. That's why, for what it's worth, the law passed by the Lakeland Republic's provisional government banned GMOs until adequate testing could be done, not absolutely; I wanted to suggest that middle ground, and to hint broadly that the World Bank et al. were the ones on the extreme end of things.

Mr G., thank you!

James, thank you also -- if I ever feel that I don't get enough mindless hubris in my reading, I'll know right where to go! That's really quite stunning.

Clay, it still stuns me that Brand went from that sort of common sense to pimping for nuclear power and GMOs. Sigh...

Hereward, you're assuming that the majority of Lakelanders will decide that they like one tier more than the others. I would argue that this is an unlikely outcome. In today's America, for example, there are many people who prefer low taxes and will do without public amenities to get them, and there are also many people who prefer public amenities and will accept higher taxes to pay for them. That division isn't resolving toward a mean, because it represents serious, enduring value differences. In the same way, some people in the Lakeland Republic like a higher level of technology -- streetcars, electricity, and so on -- and are willing to pay higher taxes to get it, while others will prefer the lower taxes and are fine with a lower level of technology.

Enduring value differences are actually quite common in complex societies. We see them in everything from the different levels of taxation and public amenity in different US states and counties, to the fact that in most areas you can tune into one radio station to listen to country music, another to listen to rock and roll, a third to listen to classical music, and so on. People have different needs, wants, and tastes, and uniformity rarely exists unless it's imposed by force or fraud. Thus I expect, given the tier system, that different counties will continue to be at different tiers because they'll attract people who value different things.

Pygmycory, okay, thank you for the explanation. That's rather less scary.

Onething, jetpacks have used a variety of fuels. It takes a vast amount of fuel to get anything to lift straight up against gravity without the assistance of wings -- that's why the biggest part of the space shuttle on launching was a huge fuel tank, and why the vast majority of any rocket's weight is fuel. Assume you can carry sixty pounds on your back, and let's say half of that is the jetpack; the thirty pounds of fuel you can carry won't get you into the air for more than a short hop.

Submarine, not quite the opposite. It's certainly the opposite of healthy and sober, but masculine? It's not a feminine society, in any meaningful sense of the word "feminine." What it is, instead, is childish -- even infantile -- without the mature qualities of any gender. As for Robert Kagan cheerleading for Clinton, oh my. I wonder if he realizes just how effectively Sanders and Trump can use that against her. "Here's Mr. Neocon himself, the guy who thinks that sending your kids to die in the Middle East is a great idea, and he likes Hillary. What does that say about the kind of president she would be?"

John Michael Greer said...

SLClaire, heh heh heh. Wait and see!

Submarine, I don't know that I'd consider that an epic fail, but then I have high expectations for epics. Perhaps a lyric fail -- or even a limerick fail. ;-)

Varun, I see the same thing here. We're moving closer by the day to an explosion, unless the clueless affluent get a clue...

Matthias, hmm! Many thanks for the historical data point. I'm not surprised -- the abolition of Pagan agricultural/religious practices and the cutting down of sacred groves, many of which were located where they were to stop soil erosion, drove catastrophic topsoil loss in Greece during the early Byzantine period -- worse than the soil loss after the Mycenaean era, which is saying something; you can still find both in strata on the sea floor all around Greece. I'll chase down Curta's work and integrate it into my models. As for Taylor and Graeber, I haven't read either one -- I'll put 'em on the get-to list, though that's, shall we say, "yuuuge" just now.

Donalfagan, I do indeed already know. Thank you.

Unknown Eagle Eye, eliminating parties has been tried -- a lot of US cities have elections that are nonpartisan by law. It didn't help any. What seems to work, instead, is to reconnect parties to the grassroots and make them what they used to be -- run from the bottom up rather than the top down.

Submarine, nah, the Russians are surgical -- their intervention in Syria was far more precise and economical than I'd expected, and thus even more impressive. Trump isn't surgical. If the brutal treatment he dealt out to his GOP rivals is anything to go on, this election is going to resemble nothing so much a mixed-martial-arts cage match, no holds barred, winner take all; Trump's going to go in there like a gorilla with a bad case of 'roid rage, and Clinton's reputation and political prospects are going to be pounded to a bloody pulp. Yeah, time to fire up the grill.

David, welcome back to the grownup's table. ;-)

Tim, ah, all the more reason to do properly controlled trials on Monsanto executives -- we can't use anecdotal data, after all!

(Yes, I know. It's a hideous situation; sometimes gallows humor is the only response left.)

Pygmycory, it's been tried. The entire science of parapsychology got thrown out of the scientific establishment for making the attempt -- and we're talking here about people with doctorates from first-tier universities with reams of peer-reviewed published papers to their credit. If you can find a copy, James McClenon's excellent book Deviant Science: The Case of Parapsychology documents with great clarity the impressive irrationality with which our supposed defenders of reason and science put dogma before data in this case.

steve pearson said...

@ onething, et al, Interesting about the vaccinations, etc. I am 76; I had measles, mumps, chicken pox, pneumonia and god knows what all else( the disease, not the vaccination) as a kid and have had very little since.
My daughter was unvaccinated until she went to college and they wouldn't let her in otherwise. So far, so good on her health, though her immune system is probably not as strong as mine.
@yellow submarine, et al, I read a very disquieting article by David Stockman today about the likliehood of Clinton appointing Victoria Nuland secretary of state or national security advisor if she gets in. I had thought that I would just take my barf bag to the polls with me and vote for Clinton because of Trumps racism, but I begin to wonder. I don't think I could ever vote for Trump, but I might have to leave that bit blank, or vote green, unless, by some miracle, Sanders gets the Dem. nomination. What a disgusting set of choices; interesting times. I guess Obama was just a pretty face.
I suppose one had better get the popcorn ready, along with several bottles of wine to wash it and ones sorrows down.
cheers, Steve

Unknown said...

JMG, re independents versus political parties. I am not arguing for the elimination of political parties, that would leave the nutbags with nowhere to go and nothing to cling to.
Our local government in Tasmania is mainly free of party politics, and where it is not I observe that more effort is expended on pursuit of party point scoring than good governance, and the voters know it and respond accordingly, having a pool of worthwhile independents to vote for.

What I am proposing is an organisation to promote the value of independent representation at state and national levels, and doing so in part by focusing on and publicising the behaviors that make all parties dysfunctional. In time parties might be formed by individuals who understand the value of properly structured representative democracies and thus avoid the toxic behaviors, but currently such organisations are as rare as rocking horse poo, and here in OZ even Blind Freddy is very well aware of that fact.

By far the largest problem with the party game as currently played is that it has driven almost all of the decent and competent individuals from the political playing field, leaving us with a choice that is largely psychopaths, narcissists and their enablers. Unless and until that sort of personality can be reduced to a harmless minority in government the decline will continue. Good and decent people no longer aspire to party politics, as far as I can see.

Speaking of the decline, you mentioned in your reply to Violet the propensity for death squads and other gratuitous violence as being a hallmark of American political intervention in other nations affairs. That sort of conduct certainly has precedent, in the reported exhortations of the Levite priests to the Judean tribe in the old testament. Is it a coincidence that the same Neocon clowns who promote this stupidity are also inveterate Zionists?

Phil Knight said...

Regarding Trump's brutality, I'm waiting to see if he has the sheer chutzpah to refer to Hillary's husband as "Rapin' Bill". He must have already thought of it (his followers have been seeding this meme for at least a month) so it will be interesting to see if/when he deploys it.

Cherokee Organics said...


Oh, just thought I might mention that when I was in high school one of the kids may have been a Thalidomide kid as he had hands where his shoulders were and no arms. I realise that the drug had been withdrawn by that stage and didn't have the heart to ask the kid, but certainly he was showing those same problems.

I wonder whether you had that drug story in mind when you wrote this installment?



Susan Roberts, MDiv, OTR/L said...

And another detail about those we call autism spectrum "disorder". I have read many accounts of shamans who probably fit that profile. Most have been in anthtoplogical texts where i read between the lines, but more recently in Rupert Isaacson's book, The Long Journey home, about his experiences with his son. If, we live in a universe where there are no accidents, then perhaps in some way this epidemic preserves abilities we have otherwise bred, therapized, & educated out of existence.

HalFiore said...

Every heart knows its share of doubt. Doubters and people with unorthodox, even heretical opinions and beliefs can be found in every religion, every denomination, I'm pretty sure every congregation.

I wonder if Senator Mary Chenkin might be an outlier among the faithful.

David said...

"Welcome back to the grown-up table."

Thanks, John. I feel rather foolish for having left in the first place! This environment is far more constructive. Not sure what I was thinking.

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