Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Retrotopia: The Far Side of Progress

I got lunch at the little café across the street from the Capitol, and then went to talk to Melanie Berger and a dozen other people from Meeker’s staff. We had a lot of ground to cover and I’d lost two and a half days to the flu, so we buckled down to work and kept at it until we were all good and tired. It was eight o’clock, I think, before we finally broke for dinner and headed for a steak place, and after that I went back to my hotel and slept hard for ten hours straight.

The next morning we were back at it again. Ellen Montrose wanted a draft trade agreement, a draft memorandum on border security, and at least a rough draft of a treaty allowing inland-waterway transport from our territory down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and points south, and she wanted them before her inauguration, so she could hit the ground running once her term began. I figured she also meant to announce them in her inauguration speech and throw the Dem-Reps onto the defensive immediately, so they’d be too busy trying to block her agenda to come up with an agenda of their own.

The Lakelanders knew about the proposals—they’d been briefed while my trip was still in the planning stage—and they were willing to meet her halfway, but they had a shopping list of their own.  The trade agreement in particular required a lot of finagling, so the Restos wouldn’t shoot it down when it came up for ratification by the legislature, and I had to weigh everything against what Montrose’s people and the legislature in Philadelphia would be willing to tolerate. Fortunately the Lakelanders were just as clear on the political realities as I was; everybody approached the negotiations with “how do we make this work?” as the first priority, and we got a lot done.

By lunchtime we’d gotten the framework of the trade agreement settled—there would be plenty of fiddling once the formal negotiations got started, but the basic arrangements looked good—and the memorandum on border security was a piece of cake, the way it usually is when neither side is looking for an excuse to start a fight. The inland-waterway treaty was another matter. We wanted access to the Mississippi, with an eye toward markets in the Missouri Republic, the Gulf, and points further south; they wanted to be able to ship goods to the Atlantic via the Erie Canal, to keep Québec from getting expansive ideas about transit fees on the St. Lawrence Seaway. In principle, those were both workable, but the details were tenanted with more than the usual quota of devils.

So we got lunch in the dining room downstairs in the Capitol, sat over in a corner, and kept on hashing out details between bites of sandwich and spoonsful of bean soup. Once lunch was over, we trooped back up to the conference room downstairs from Meeker’s office and kept going. The one big question we still had to tackle by that point was how to handle the difference in technology—our tugs and barges rely on high-tech gear that the Lakeland waterways aren’t set up for, and theirs don’t have the equipment our regulations require—and we talked through I don’t know how many different ways to handle that, before finally agreeing that each side’s tugs would stay on their own side of the border,  their barges would rent portable computer rigs when they were on our side, and our barges would hire extra crew to do the same work on theirs.

Once that was out of the way, the rest of it came together quickly enough, but by then the sun was down and we were all pretty tired. It was a Friday night, so the only people left in the Capitol besides us by then were janitors and security guards, and most of the others had someplace or other to go and somebody to meet. In the end, it was just me and Melanie Berger who walked two blocks north to the Indian place we’d been earlier that week.

We got settled in a little booth, ordered drinks and dinner, sat there for a few minutes without saying much. She looked as tired as I felt. Drinks and a basket of onion naan put in an appearance, though, and took the edge off two very long days.

“Well, that was a marathon,” Berger said, sipping at something that was supposed to be a martini—I’d never heard of one that just had gin, vermouth, and an olive in it, but I figured it was a local habit. “Still, no regrets.” With a sudden smile: “I bet Fred Vanich that we could get the three agreements roughed out before you left for Philadelphia, and this time I get to collect.”

I laughed. “Glad to oblige.”

We busied ourselves with the naan for a bit. “You’re leaving Wednesday, right?” she said then. When I nodded:  “I admit I’m wondering what you think about—” Her gesture took in the restaurant, the other patrons in their old-fahioned clothing, the streetcar rolling purposefully past on the street outside, the unfinished dome of the Capitol rising above the buildings on the other side of the street. “You’ve been here long enough to get over the initial shock, and I’d be interested in hearing what all this looks like from an outsider’s perspective.”

Looking back on it all, it probably would have been more professional to fob her off with a few trivial comments, but I didn’t do that. Partly I was tired enough that I wasn’t thinking clearly, partly I’d been wishing for days that I could talk to someone intelligent about the insight I’d had on the way back from Defiance County, and it probably didn’t help that there was some chemistry between me and Melanie Berger, which seemed to be mutual. So I got stupid and said, “My reaction’s kind of complex.”

She motioned for me to go on, but just then the waiter came back with our entrees, noted our empty glasses, and returned promptly from the bar with another round of drinks. I waited until he’d gone sailing smoothly over to another table before continuing.

“On the one hand,” I said, “you’ve played a weak hand astonishingly well. No, it’s more than that—you’ve taken what I’d have considered crushing disadvantages and turned them into advantages. I’d be willing to bet that the World Bank and the IMF figured that after a couple of years shut out of global credit markets and foreign trade, you’d crawl on your knees over broken glass to be let back in.”

Berger nodded. “I’ve heard that they told President Moffit something like that to his face.”

“But you took every lemon they threw at you and made lemonade out of it. No foreign trade? You used that as an opportunity to build up an industrial plant aimed at local markets. No access to credit? You made banking a public utility and launched what looks like a thriving stock market. No technology imports? You rebuilt your economy to use human labor and local resources instead—and it hasn’t escaped my attention how enthusiastic your population is about all three of those moves.”

“You can hardly blame them,” she said. “Plenty of jobs at decent pay, and banks that pay a decent rate of interest and don’t go belly up—what’s not to like?”

“I’m not arguing. And here’s the thing—so far, it’s insulated you from a lot of trouble. This satellite business is a good example.” I gestured with my fork. “The last three days have been a complete mess in the rest of the world. Stock markets are down hard, and everybody from military planners to weather forecasters are trying to figure out what the hell they’re going to do without satellite data. Here? I know exactly how much time Tom Pappas is going to spend worrying about getting by without satellites—”

She burst into laughter. “Just under zero seconds.”

“If that,” I said, laughing with her. “And the Toledo stock market had three decent days. I don’t even want to think about how my other investments are doing, but here I made two dollars and fifty cents.”

That got me a surprised look. “I didn’t know you had money invested here.”

“One share of Mikkelson Industries. It was a good way to see the market in action.”

She laughed again. “I’ll have to tell Janice that the next time I see her. She’ll be tickled.”  Then:  “But there’s another side to your reaction.”

“Yes, there is.” All of a sudden I wished I didn’t have to go on, but I’d backed myself into a corner good and proper. “The downside is that it can’t last. You’re going one way but the rest of the world is going the other, and all it’s going to take is one round too many of technological innovation out there and you’ll be left twisting in the wind. Right now, what you’ve got looks pretty good compared to what’s on the other side of the borders, but when the global economy finally gets straightened out and the next big wave of innovation and growth hits, what then? Regime change using technologies you can’t counter, maybe, or maybe just the sort of slow collapse that happens to a country that’s tried to stay stuck in the past a little too long.”

She was smiling when I finished. “I was wondering if you’d bring that up.”

That stopped me cold.  I used a forkful of tandoori chicken as a distraction, then said, “I take it you’ve heard someone else mention it.”

“Fairly often. When someone from outside gets past the initial shock, and actually thinks about what we’ve done here—and of course quite a few of them never get around to that—that’s usually the next point they bring up.”

I considered that. “And I suppose you have an answer for it.”

“Well, yes.” She jabbed at the palak paneer. “When the global economy finally gets straightened out, when the next big wave of innovation and growth hits. Are you sure those are going to happen?”

I put down my fork and stared at her. “It’s got to happen sooner or later.”


I tried to think of something to say, and couldn’t.

“The Second Civil War ended thirty-two years ago,” she pointed out.  “The Sino-Japanese war was over twenty-seven years ago. Ever since then, economists everywhere outside our borders have been insisting that things would turn up any day now, and they haven’t. You know as well as I do that real global GDP has been flat to negative twenty-six of the last thirty years, and the last decade’s shown zero improvement—quite the contrary. That’s not going to change, either, because every other country in the world is chasing a policy goal that’s actively making things worse.”

“And that is?”

“Progress,” she said.

Once again, I was left speechless.

“Here are some examples.” She held up one finger. “The consumer sector of your economy has been in the tank ever since Partition. Why? Because you’ve got really bad maldistribution of income.”

“There’s more to it than that,” I protested.

“Yes, but that’s the core of it—if consumers don’t have money to spend, they’re not going to be able to buy consumer goods, and your consumer sector is going to suffer accordingly. Why don’t they have money to spend? Because you’ve automated most working class jobs out of existence, and if you want to tell me that technology creates more jobs than it eliminates, you’re going to have to argue with some very hard figures. You’ve got appalling rates of permanent unemployment and underemployment, and yet everybody on your side of the border seems to think that a problem that was caused by automation is going to be solved by even more automation.”

She raised a second finger. “That’s one example. Here’s another. As technology gets more complex and interconnected, you’re guaranteed to see more situations where a problem in one system loads costs on other systems.  Look at the satellite situation—it’s because so many economic sectors rely on satellite technology that that’s going to be such an economic headache. That’s an obvious example, but there are plenty of others; our estimate is that cascading problems driven by excess technological interaction knocked a good eight per cent off global GDP last year, and it’s getting worse, because everybody outside seems to believe that the problems of complexity can only be fixed by adding more complexity.

“A third.” Another finger went up. “Resource costs. The more complex your technology gets, the more it costs to build it, maintain it, power it, and so on. Any time an analysis says otherwise, some of the costs are being pushed under the rug—and that rug’s getting very lumpy nowadays. Direct and indirect resource costs of technology are like a tax on all other economic activity, and since most of what you do with complex tech used to be done in less resource-intensive ways already, the economic return on tech doesn’t make up for the resource costs. Try telling that to a World Bank economist sometime, though—it’s quite entertaining to watch.

“And here’s a fourth.” She raised another finger. “Systemic malinvestment. Since each generation of tech costs more on a whole system basis than the one before, tech eats up more and more of your GDP each year, and everything else gets to fight over the scraps. After the Second Civil War, your country and mine were pretty much equally leveled. We put our investment into basic infrastructure; you put yours into high technology. We got rebuilt cities and towns, canals, railways, schools, libraries, and the rest of it. You got a domestic infrastructure so far in decay I’m amazed you put up with it, because the money that could have fixed your roads and bridges and housing stock went down a collection of high tech ratholes instead. Sure, you’ve got the metanet; does that make up for everything you do without?

“I could go on. There was a time when progress meant prosperity, but we passed that point in the late twentieth century, and since then, every further increment of progress has cost more than it’s worth—and yet the ideology stays stuck in place. Until that changes, the global economy isn’t going to straighten out and the next big boom is going to turn into one more bust; it’s not going to change until someone else notices that progress has become the enemy of prosperity.”

I was shaking my head by the time she was finished. “With all due respect,” I said, “that’s crazy.”

It was a clumsy thing to say and I regretted saying it the moment the words were out. “That attitude,” she snapped back, “is why we don’t have to worry about technological innovation and the rest of it. One more round of innovation, one more economic boom and bust, and the rest of the world is going to progress itself straight into the ground.”

I opened my mouth to reply, and then shut it again. One more word, and we would have had a quarrel right there in the restaurant, but I wasn’t going to let that happen, and neither was she. So we finished dinner in silence, didn’t get another round of drinks, paid up and went to the door.

She flagged down a taxi. “I’ll have someone contact you Monday,” she said, looking away from me. “Good night.”

I wished her a good night, stood there while the clop-clop of the horse faded into the other street noises, and then started walking back to my hotel. The things she’d said chased each other around and around in my mind. None of it made any sort of sense—except that it did, in a bizarre sort of way, and when I tried to tease out the holes in her logic I had a hard time finding any. I figured that I was just too tired, and—let’s be honest—too upset.

Progress as the enemy of prosperity, I thought, shaking my head. What a bizarre idea.

Something very bright streaked across the sky above me, and I looked up. A little uneven shape of brilliant light with a long streaming tail behind it went tumbling across the stars, faster than a jet. As I watched, it broke in two, and then the two pieces disintegrated one after another into sprays of tiny glowing points that flared and went dark. I tried to tell myself that it was just a meteor, but I knew better.


1 – 200 of 210   Newer›   Newest»
Daniel Najib said...

Happy to say that I received your latest book, _The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth_, yesterday in the mail. I've been reading some Lovecraft in preparation these last few weeks, notably 'The Dunwich Horror' and 'At The Mountains of Madness'. 'Call of Cthulhu' was supposed to be next, but I really want to dig into your book. Are there any other Lovecraft works you recommend before someone starts yours?

In regards to last week's book homework, I'll be taking a stab at Edgar Allen Poe's 1838 novel, _The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket_ up next; from the book blurb: "Stowaway Arthur Pym survives shipwrecks and cannibals on his epic - and increasingly strange journey South, eventually approaching the South Pole." Sounds promising.

Ruben said...

That was just excellent—you wrapped up years of argument in a great little story.

sgage said...

Loved the ending!

donalfagan said...

Enjoyed the episode.

As part of last week's assignment I read Narayan's greatly summarized Mahabharata. But I did find Middlemarch.

BTW, here's some post-apocalyptic art, and a vimeo about the artists:

Bruno B. L. said...

JMG, "progress has become the enemy of prosperity".

This one stands as one of the best phrases you ever wrote on this blog. So much of all your ideas and thoughts are synthesized in it. Thank you. I will use it as often as I can.

Shane W said...

One thing I've been meaning to ask, JMG, I know this is a work of fiction, and authors need to use creative license, but do you really think that digital high tech is resilient enough to last until 2065? Considering how poorly made my last two dumb phones were, I have my doubts...

SamuraiArtGuy said...

Ahhhh... this is where the rub comes a rubbing.

As we dash into the most unpleasant election of my fifty plus years, many of the issues shouted about by the various factions have as a backdrop the costs and resource depletion issues that are the products of our high-tech civilization. Even as I type this on a Mac Pro connected to the Net via a WiFi device in my router... I an very much aware that it would not take much of a dislocation to make the technological pyramid so much paperweights.

Earlier today, Elon Musk was on the media discussing the costs of the high-tech "falcon-wing" doors on the delayed Tesla Model X, festooned with sensors and machine intelligence. Not to mention that his costly fleet of electric vehicles merely shoves energy generation out of the wealthy suburbs and cities where rich Tesla owners live. To replace Gas vehicles with electrics, we have to generate more electricity - if demand rises, you can bet more coal will be burned to produce it.

The notion that "progress" and high tech can be destructive and ever more costly is as heretical to the mainstream as communism and same sex marriage.

Shane W said...

I have my doubts whether the civil religion of Progress is still that resilient to be that strong 50 years from now after gods know what collapse and strife will occur between now and then worldwide. Seems like it's already weakening among the wage class.

Justin said...

The part about the martinis really hit me hard - I thought you kept the cosmic horror to the Innsmouth series!

I've noticed something in various 'futurology' circles (meaning techno fantasy-style futurology). Some voices in the wilderness are pointing out that making a truck driver obsolete with a self-driving truck, then giving him a cheque to replace his lost wages is not actually a healthy thing for anyone, even if the cheque is as big as the wages. I think this is actually more interesting than arguments over who owns the means of production, because it represents the final absurdity of capitalism - the literal replacement of labor with capital. Even someone well-steeped in capitalist ideology can understand that a robot only benefits the robot's masters without a system in place to redistribute the wealth produced by the robot. Furthermore, it acknowledges the social value of work and purpose rather than the crass idea that work is only about getting money to buy needs and wants. I think that these discussions could be construed as progress.

fudoshindotcom said...

The problems of complexity can only be fixed by adding more complexity.................Yup, makes perfect sense if you don't think about it.

Progress as the enemy of prosperity?
To quote Robin Williams, "Blasphemer, you'll smoke a turd in hell for that!"

Just kidding. Sadly, the "serious" responses given to anyone who challenges the approved narrative of progress make not one iota more sense than the jokes above.

Thank goodness I'll be moving to Mars in a year or two, away from this silliness ;-)

Ray Wharton said...

Well, Mr. Carr's purpose in Retro topia is coming pretty clearly into view, and with a side of romantic tingles. I take it you modeled Mr. Carr's completely flustered reaction to the crucifixion of progress on observed reactions.

It is interesting to think that progress could still be so strongly cemented half a century from now. I think I am a whisper more optimistic on that front, the celent seems to be cracking, but that could cycle back track a few more times before giving out. I know that the progress narrative is still lurking in my sub conscious, not rarely I catch it guiding a story.

In relation to last weeks homework, I am puttering through The Divine Comedy of Dante. It is difficult reading, I get the feeling that Dante is writing on a lot of different layers, and the sensation of reading him is that of things going over my head and catching things with but the corner of my eye. The thing that has stood out most to me is the fondness that Dante shows for many of the people he encounters in the inferno. Dante even at one point admonishes himself not to question the justice of it when a person he was fond of was found in the 7th circle. I still ain't far into purgatory. The orders of the sins and the punishments have more thought behind them than I can divine from a first reading, sodomites and usurers are right next to each other in the book for violence against the order of nature; though I suspect that both terms cover more territory with better surveyed boundaries that today's usage of them, but that's just a guess based on the feel of the sections. I recollect the comment you made to me about the chain of being and the ancient game of 'everything in its right place' as opposed to the 'victim game' based morality of today. Dante travels through layers of being that do not give a demons trumpet about victims; at one point I though that the question that the Demon how assigned ones place in the inferno was answering would render today as "What is broken in you?" and the punishment reveals the pain of that malfunction, deprived of what we do to hide from it.

But I don't know all these Italian politicians that seem to fill hell, so there is some meaning where "you just had to know the guy."

JacGolf said...

How do we get a critical mass of people to think like this? There are those of us out here who have gone off grid, begun to detach from the machine, and yet, due to the fact that there is no place in the world without Corp-verment, we are forced at the point of a gun (thank you John Galt) to adhere to the laws of irrationality and progress. I have been reading the comments here for many years and know that there are others, but how does this become more than a fringe element? Or is my thinking that it even needs to be a 'critical mass' event part of the trap that I am in? Good grief. You definitely cause thinking to happen!

gwizard43 said...

A lifetime's worth of cultural indoctrination is tough to shake in just a few weeks. I've got faith in our Mr Carr, though, and the romance angle ups the stakes and keeps things interesting! Can't wait for the next installment - I only hope 'real' world shenanigans don't intrude before we find out what happens to the thoroughly confused-and-beginning-to-realize-it Peter Carr...

Yves Ménard said...

I used to read only your nonfiction chronicles, but then I had the idea to look a little bit into the story just to see if we, the Québécois, are still there. I was very happy to see that it is the case !
About the Erie Canal, I remember a conference given in some independantist assembly by a geopolitician who mentioned that this canal was a good thing for us because it released pressure on us.

Bob Patterson said...

I really enjoyed this episode. Of course you tend to judge other cultures against your own and tend to be defensive about it. The "modern' world of satellites, etc described seems pretty regimented, with a top down perspective. The other seems to have empowered re-innovators to develop. I did miss a discussion of debt and how it facilitated a techno centric culture on one hand and a "base technology" culture on the other. The implication is that the former created a lot of debt to advance quickly and the latter, took a slower approach. As you have often said, the God of Progress can be quite fickle. In terms of standard of living, both appear to deliver an acceptable one. On the surface, the low growth model would seem to be more sustainable. But is that really true? Could they survive an extended drought, a crop disease/failure, or malfeasance by someone.

Yellow Submarine said...

Another great post. You've really been on a roll as of late. I love how Melanie Burger neatly summarizes the self-destructive course of action our civilization has been on in the name of progress and why that model will prove to be unworkable as the Long Descent gathers steam.

I see the Kessler Syndrome ablation cascade is starting to hit the upper atmosphere. Speaking of the ablation cascades to come, did you see the latest news coming out of Russia? The Russians are testing a new model of ABM and ASAT that can be fired from truck mounted launchers, hardened silos and will be carried by the next generation of Russian Navy destroyers. They conducted the latest test of the Nudol ABM/ASAT missile less than a week ago. According to reports, the test was successful.

A silo launched version of the Nudol will replace the current A-135 ABM system that guards Moscow against ballistic missile attacks. The Nudol can also be fired by the new state-of-the-art S-500 aerospace defense system, which can engage everything from ICBM's to cruise missiles to stealth fighters and bombers. The land based version of the S-500 is mounted on trucks and can be ready to fire within five minutes after the vehicles halt and start setting up. A naval version of the S-500 is under development for the new Leader class destroyers. The truck mounted version of the S-500 is due to start entering service later this year.

Systems like the Nudol and the S-500 have been developed in response to what the Russians see as an increasingly aggressive and belligerent American foreign policy. I have a feeling that if things continue as they have, its going to end badly, especially since the American Empire is already in serious trouble. This is one of the reasons why I oppose Hillary Clinton. The last thing we need is another neocon warmonger in the White House.

Eric Backos said...

The weekly joint meeting of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 will be held at 6:30 PM on Wednesday June 8, 2016. Our location is Ruko’s Family Restaurant, 9385 Mentor Avenue, Mentor, Ohio 44060, (440) 974-1914. Shining the Green Light! Public Welcome! Tables for Failed Scholars. Look for the table topper with the Green Wizard Hat.

John Brink said...

Wait a minute! Jeff Bezos says we will be moving all of our heavy industry off planet and into orbit where we will find that solar energy works much better. I believe that Jeff and most industrial elite progressives have found innovative ways to circumvent the laws of thermo dynamics, and raw material limitations. I presume it has something to do with his patented star drive and atomic plasma transport deck. I sure hope I can still get free shipping on Mars!

RepubAnon said...

Our visitor seems more and more of a strawman - "Progress" is so 1950s. These days, we call it "Disruptive Technology."

One thing which hasn't been mentioned is self-driving autonomous vehicles - dependent upon GPS satellite signals. Quite fragile, and soon to be impacted in this story by the loss of the satellite networks.

Another thing sorely lacking is any mention of the inevitable wars over dwindling resources. It seems unlikely that absent a massive drop in the world's population resulting from a visit by the Four Horsemen, the rest of the world collapses, and we start seeing a Retrotopia surrounded by failed states - and struggling to fight off low tech raiders.

W. B. Jorgenson said...

I find the reaction to being told the issue is progress quite accurate, at least for today. Suggest that the roots of the problem facing the modern world, which many people admit are caused by "progress", can't be solved with progress, and so many people's minds seem to break down. Not everyone would even agree progress is the cause though: so many people seem to think that it's impossible to claim any connection between it, as if only certain things count. For example, despite the fact it's clear that technology causes climate change, people seem to think the solution is technology.

Off topic, but to those who're interested in my quest to get rid of my phone, I've had to put it on hold for a while. I'm applying for a job as a class tutor, and they require all applicants have a cell phone. It looks rewarding, pay is good, hours are good, and it has enough flexibility for me to continue with my life, and so I think it's worth keeping my phone a while longer. I'll only be doing the job until I graduate in a year anyway, so it's not too bad.

I've also noticed a really weird paralogic here though: forcing me to have a phone when it has nothing to do with the job is apparently "proof a phone is useful", while forcing people to have cars is "an unreasonable infringement on freedom by the 1%". This isn't even different people, but the same people. Although I doubt everyone would view being forced to have cars as being inherently unreasonable, amongst upper class liberals in Canada (or at least my part of Canada) not having a car is a badge of honour, so the paralogic makes sense, but it's still fascinating.

Eric Backos said...

Hi John
Keeping you in the loop - Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 are starting to act a bit like the organizations the names suggest and less like a salon. Topics on the table this week:
Adopting “a formal declaration that their members have the right to whatever political affiliation they choose, and defending that right from zealots and entryists who try to infringe on it.” The exact wording is under discussion and public comment is welcome.
Using English rather than Latin or other classical languages for mottoes and heraldry. The discussion has already produced the proposal that because English will be a classical language soon enough, we should start treating it as such. Public comment is welcome.
We’ve been kicking around the motto. “Shining the Green Light!” seems to work. “Spreading the Green Manure!” was suggested by Rusty, our real life Ruinman. He also suggests calling our get-togethers “diner and saloon.” Many thanks to Tom Karmo in the Toronto Tower for his expert opinion on the subject.
And – what do you think of using a lighthouse for the Tower 440 logo? The lighthouse is a popular motif around the Great Lakes…

Curtis said...

Glad you returned to the Indian restaurant, I was curious about it the first time around! It makes me wonder how you envision global trade happening in this future scenario. I.e. how do they come by all of the ingredients used in Indian cooking in North America? Clearly a lot of it can be and is grown here, but I'm thinking of some of the spices which probably have to he imported. Do you envision it like it was a century or so ago, where there is some kind of global trade in luxuries and things like spices, (which used to be so valuable there were wars fought over control of them!)? If so, is Indian food considered an expensive luxury in the Lakeland republic? Or can you still get the Indian lunch buffet for $10.99 like I can in Toronto? :-)

Mark said...

Huh, one Vermonter names another to DNC platform committee, along with some friends who all got arrested protesting the fracking Keystone pipeline several years ago. We're taking over see!? Don't worry though, we will be, or have, benevolent Lords here - cause Vermonters don't back down - we're made of tough stuff. Democracy. "Monsanto".

I got my Hunters Safety Course completed in March, along with about 20 kids. We learned how to load, unload, carry, and use a tree stand and hunting rifle; surviving in the woods overnight; carrying capacity of the land; first aid; compass; sustainable harvesting. 4 other adults besides the parents. Kids in Vermont participate and speak up from an early age I guess, I never participated in Indiana Public Schools. Never spoke up. Not good at homework assignments either.

I picked T. Hardy's "Jude the Obscure" off the shelf, for the home work, even though Machiavelli's "The Prince" seems more timely. But it was "The Bhava Gita" that I cracked open today. I already know the story, so can't qualify it for homework. I'm listening to the opera by Phillip Glass as I type:

Just trying to imagine this place 120 years from now, today, and could see it being treeless like north of San Francisco, or like the east coast 400 - 600 miles south of here. Eastern White Hemlock range is moving north. If I stay here I'll be moving south.

There could be these: replacing Hemlock here.

Or Timothy. (a longstem grass) In the case of the Lakeland Republic becoming a desert. In which case Vermont will be in New Brunswick. New Brunswick will be under the Arctic Sea. Like they say in the Japanese countryside, "Thanks for all the city people, otherwise they would be here".

Bill Blondeau said...

What an absolutely beautiful ending to the episode -- and, I'm suspecting, to the entire story? This feels like it could be closure.

Retrotopia has been a wonderful ride. The core subjects of what you call "the project of this blog" are often pretty rough going. I'm not sure we need cautionary tales so much anymore: they seem to accomplish less and less. Those who have no clue as yet are going to continue to resist reality like a cat resists getting into a backpack; and the rest of us do not need further education in the shape of ruin and loss.

What we do need are stories about making good choices even in the face of a disintegrating civilization. Traveling through the Lakeland Republic has been exactly that. I think the almost uniformly fascinated responses from the readership here speak to that general longing for hope and sensibility.

Thanks, JMG. For everything.

And... don't be surprised if the Lakeland Republic flag becomes a thing, here in the Upper Midwest of the US.

Peter VE said...

The only thing I would miss in the Lakeland Republic is the wide variety of recorded music I have access to. Although I'm sure they probably have a reggae band keeping the memory of Bob Marley alive.

Raymond R said...

John: What an amazing subversive idea - progress destroys prosperity. Who knows what trouble that idea could cause if it got out of the confines of one weblog

Sheila Grace said...

Love it. Thank you.

Doomstead Diner said...

So you project a variant of the same type of political system after a dissolution of the United States?

On another topic, Ugo Bardi recently did a survey on Renewable Energy, and we're expanding it to the collapse blogosphere. You can take the survey at

Dan Mollo said...

The demise of this satellite on its precarious sojourn through space portends to a similar and significant demise of Carr's entrenched worldview. Both signal the end of an age and the fiery birth of one yet unknown.

Gary in Bama said...

I have never left a comment but reading Retrotopia . Lets just say it shows a world we long for through the eyes of where we are at. A magnificent story line that could be used as a blue print in the future. I know it will have to end but it is an open ended story line deserving of a long life in many parts. Thank You for the entertainment enjoyment and provoking thought it inspires.

Nancy Sutton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Josh said...

This is off topic, but JMG can you please personally reach out to Rod Dreher? I feel like he is so ripe for your analysis but just can't quite get there by himself. You have a huge potential audience through the American Conservative. I know I know, that site is so hit-and-miss....but they could be way more hit with just a little bit of your influence. Yeah I know many of their writers are too wrapped up in a peculiar form of Christianity, I agree it's a drag. But not infrequently there is this glimmer that they might cotton on to the long descent and the unfolding it represents. I'm sure, 100%, that they have a large readership aching to connect the dots in the ways you are able to express....

John Michael Greer said...

Greetings all,

I'm traveling -- off at a Masonic speaking gig -- so won't have time to respond to questions until tomorrow, or possibly the day after. Many thanks for your enthusiasm! Just one note here -- the story isn't ending; au contraire, it's approaching its climax, and there are at least six more episodes in the works before Carr's visit to the Lakeland Republic winds up. I think you'll all be pleased by the conclusion.

alex carter said...

Another excellent Lakeland Republic post. I love the place. I, too, wonder about the Indian restaurant, but considering most of the ingredients for the food can be grown locally and spices are not all that bulky, it seems possible, especially with global warming making the spices and dhal belt move up into the USA.

This is great - like the old serials in the magazines, which is how a lot of works even by Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald etc. got their works published initially.

madtom said...

Somehow my progress-addled brain instantly envisioned the mobile antisatellite weapons that yellow submarine mentioned as being like my cellphone and using GPS input to determine their exact location when they get the order to fire. After all, they need to know which satellites are due to pass over, exactly when, and following what track across the sky.

But surely their designers are smarter than that. At least those who are not operating on cost-plus contracts.

ed boyle said...

Seems like a logical place to finish up with his train ride back or do we get a mad max sequel?

I hope those ideas will become slowly the consensus.When common sense says one thing then people overdo it in extreme.Tech, chemistry as religion. Oxycontin pain reliever is like heroin I read and claims hundreds of thousands of lives due to Overdose, like Prince. Brain tumors, skin cancer rising- smartphones, sun studios. Antidepressives-suicide rate climbs. Microwave ovens destroys food content. Wlan also dangerous. So cancer from cigs denied for decades then admitted. By each new technology corporations use us like guinea pigs. Stock market bubbles live from new ideas not fixing potholes. Ain't sexy.

denmon said...

Bravo! One gem after another! I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon your blog way back when. An intelligent voice in an otherwise cacaphonous tumult of confusion and ignorance. Cautionary but never hopeless. Thank you.

Spanish fly said...

About automatisation vs. employment:

In this impovirished corner of EUrope we aren't scared with that problem:

-Right ideologues tell the same story "more quality and creative jobs" (OK: economists, artists and engineers? Frack off working people that use their hands for more things that pressing keys and screens)
-Left parrots have found Holy Graal: a basic benefit for everybody (there will be money for that, and maybe 70 virgins and milk&honey rivers...)

“Systemic malinvestment. Since each generation of tech costs more on a whole system basis than the one before, tech eats up more and more of your GDP each year, and everything else gets to fight over the scraps"

You have forgotten one more problem, at least in PIGS countries like mine...The ever-growing debt suffocating people and government business.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

Hi JMG (And G'day Cherokee Chris)

Just found an Oz perspective on the F-35 Lardbucket.

A very detailed and highly critical analysis, and a prime example of doubling down on whizz-bang tech and complexity yet ending in a degraded product.

Six years ago, the UK defence procurement organisation admitted to a enforced top-down culture of misplaced optimism, leading to vast cost overruns and boondoggles. I suppose their equivalents Down Under would just shrug.. 'She'll be right, mate..?'



Dorda Giovex said...

in Italy Dante's comedy is high school reading for an entire year. Indeed there are many layers of meaning in the writing and to fully understand it means having a deep knowledge of history, of the political situation and issues of Italy and Florence back then and the row between Church and Empire, of the theology and symbolism deeply ingrained in every aspect of the culture of the time as much as now is technology. Not an easy reading at all but can be rewarding as a window on the mindset people had.
Not that today's italian politics is any simpler...

gregorach said...

"As technology gets more complex and interconnected, you’re guaranteed to see more situations where a problem in one system loads costs on other systems [...] and it’s getting worse, because everybody [...] seems to believe that the problems of complexity can only be fixed by adding more complexity. "

For someone who doesn't actually work in the industry, this is an incredibly incisive and accurate summary of the problems we're increasingly facing in the world of IT - distributed, cloud-based systems tied together with umpteen different frameworks implemented in languages and technologies originally designed for entirely different purposes, dependency chains that aren't even traceable, never mind manageable, stretching across multiple organisations, domains, and protocols... We've entered a stage where it's simply accepted that most things will randomly fail some percentage of the time for reasons nobody will ever understand, and where the main challenge is to figure out how to live with that, rather than actually trying to fix the underlying issues. And of course, the way you live with it is to add even more complexity to the system... But hey, as long as everybody keeps clapping, there's another round of venture capital funding to be had.

I'm constantly amazed that anything works at all.

(Anyone interested in learning more about just how irredeemably modern computing is broken, why all of our dreams of building reliable distributed systems are doomed to be crushed by the unyielding entropy of a cold, uncaring - if not actively malicious - universe, and how we will one day summon the Great Old Ones to destroy all of humanity as a result of badly-implemented error handling in JavaScript application frameworks, would do well to consult the wisdom of James Mickens. Bonus: he's very, very funny, if you're into that sort of thing.)

L said...

Longtime reader here who has only just decided to comment. I can say with certainty that your blog has been one of the most influential on my worldview that I've read.
I just wanted to say how much I'm enjoying the story of Retrotopia. I'm holding out hope that Mr Carr will realise the truth of how much better off the Lakeland Republic is than his own Atlantic Republic, but Progress is a deeply embedded myth in his and our society, so I'm not sure if he will.
I myself gave up on the myth of progress several years ago, though I still don't feel like I have the best skillset for the Long Decline, in part due to my procrastinating tendencies and in part due to the high price of land and housing here in the UK- I managed to persuade my grandma to let me grow some potatoes in a container this year, but I don't have the knowledge or the access to land to try anything much more ambitious on that front. I'm still only 22, so hopefully I'll be able to save enough of my future earnings to spend on things that make me more resilient.
I have a friend who, despite agreeing that current society is going downhill, sincerely believes that everything will somehow be suddenly solved even in the lack of abundant fossil fuels by the discovery of technology involving wormholes. He's a very dear friend and I appreciate him, but I just don't understand why he thinks humans using wormholes or other FTL travel is in any way likely...
Thanks for keeping me thinking about these issues. Your weekly post serves to refocus my mind away from the distracting entertainment that I find it very easy to get sidetracked by and back onto matters which are more important, so thank you for that.

Matt said...


great episode. The schooling of the 4-points in the restaurant might be the most concise yet of your presentations of our current predicament, and I am hoping that more (non-fiction) time will be devoted to teasing out how this works around tech - similar to the way you have more explicitly addressed energy.

This episode has helped me to come to terms better with automation. I must admit my internal response hitherto to the more doomier predictions has been to mutter "well, it's never go happen" due to resource constraints. But, of course, it WILL happen to some extent, despite the resource constraints, whilst making every constraint worse than it would have been otherwise.

And I think this helps to explain why most people don't (and still WON'T) get it - there'll be enough gizmos and 'advances' to be trumpeted, even as we continue our descent. (Yesterday I perused the web site of Babypod, which is essentially a loudspeaker that women can insert into their vaginas to share their iPod/iPhone playlist with their unborn children.) We may struggle for bread, but we will have circuses.

I think it may have been you (JMG) or one of your correspondents who highlights the senses of bereavement that arrive as one adjusts to our situation. One obvious one is feeling the loss of Progress or whatever but another - equally real - associated with the realisation that everyone simply isn't going to 'get it'.

Enjoy your travels,


Brian Kaller said...


Thanks for another great instalment – I’d truly like to live in Retropia. I can see small examples of countries or communities today doing what they did – Iceland, for example, telling the global financiers to stow it after the 2008 crash.

Ireland was isolated for a time after it gained independence – through a global Depression, a World War and a post-war boom, Ireland remained neutral and largely agrarian, and so was little affected. It was poor of course, even poorer than it had been under UK rule – as recently as the 1970s, the GDP per capita was lower than Gabon in Central Africa – but it remained a highly literate society, about as healthy as any Western country of the time. Once it got prosperous, a doctor friend of mine the average health went down.

I’m told that people were very sceptical of over-the-counter stores when they were introduced, as opposed to the old-fashioned kind of store where you simply ask for what you need and the shopkeeper hands it to you. The latter demands that you know what you need, and chat with a man who is also your neighbour; the former demands that you walk through aisles of goods designed to tempt you into buying more.

In the same way, I heard a radio programme from 1975 talking about something new introduced to Ireland, the “funeral-home,” as opposed to the family laying the recently deceased family member on the kitchen table and holding an all-night wake around them. The announcer described how Irish were resistant to the idea, considering it insulting to the deceased and exploiting the grieving family, turning their most intimate of family affairs into a business. Yet in both cases people adopted them, and people forgot things were once different.

The globalised modern world caught up with Ireland, and if Retropia were real I wouldn’t be so sanguine about its future. Once it opens up as a market, I’d be worried that companies will move in trying to get people to buy things they don’t need, like the hobbits adopting the machines of Old Sharkey in Lord of the Rings.

Shane W said...

@ WB Jorgenson,
there are creative ways around your dilemma besides getting a dumb phone. So you need a phone. Find the drawer where you put all those old phones you've replaced over the years. Find the oldest one still compatible with modern networks. For Rogers/AT&T, this would be GSM--older TDMA has been phased out and no longer works. Not sure about Verizon/CDMA networks compatibility. For example, I had an old candy bar Nokia 10 years ago that was GSM, but had a monochrome screen, very slow data--as long as it accepts a SIM card, it will work. If you're like me and have donated all your old phones (darn it), then go online on eBay and find one, or raid your friends' and family's drawers. Next time people are oogling their dumb phones, whip yours out, and say "it's awesome, it accepts, makes calls AND texts, and it doesn't destroy my attention/focus/awareness of the world around me" or some such. Lots of people are doing this now. If you don't want to get an old phone, you can still get flips from most major carriers.

Renaissance Man said...

Thank you for a good morning's read. I do so love it when an author makes a point while remaining engaging and without resorting to polemics.
And thank you, and every other poster here, for 10 years of helping clarify the ideas I've been grappling with for so very long.
Funnily enough, I just had a similar conversation with a group of friends a couple of weeks ago, (very much like conversations so many others have described here) which sounded a lot like this fictional one. With pretty much the same soar-to-the-stars-or-collapse-in-violent-apocalypse as the only conceivable options my friends could mentally grasp. Thank you so much for helping my clarify the concept of how slow collapse is unfolding so I could patiently try and explain the most likely future. You know: the whole difference between technically possible and economically viable is the key argument and while I have long understood that, I owe you a debt of gratitude for being able to now describe it succinctly.

RPC said...

One thing I dearly hope to read before the story ends is the Lakeland Republic's awareness, if any, of being just a tread on the staircase of the Long Descent. Are they preparing for the serial abandoning of the higher tiers?

Matthias Gralle said...

I think I have finally understood the future that is in store for the Lakeland Republic. While the rest of the world undergoes catabolic collapse, the utopian Lakeland Republic might just be able to manage technological regress in a slow, deliberate manner through the democratic contest between Conservatives and restorationists. The slow decay of pre-partition steel, books etc., which the Lakeland Republic cannot make up for, will on the whole favor the restorationists, and after 200 years Lakeland will be 1760s-1820s style tiers.

This is a bit like Hugo Bardi's fictional advice to Marcus Aurelius: localize and feudalize each Roman city, that is, bring on voluntarily what will happen anyway.

Don Plummer said...

I too enjoyed the ending of today's episode--such an appropriate metaphor for the upcoming fate of the entire progress enterprise.

I'm curious, though, as a native Ohioan, and I haven't come around to asking this yet: The capital of the Lakeland Republic is Toledo, and the narrative is set mostly in Ohio. The capital of Meriga in Star's Reach is Cincinnati, and at one point in the story you mention that "Hiyo" had become a prosperous place (though I'm wondering why it took over 400 years for Ohioans to decide to re-dig the canals!). Are you suggesting that in the future Ohio might indeed become "the heart of it all" (to quote a tourism slogan that has appeared on our license plates and tourism publications)? Currently, of course, we are mostly a flyover state that normally only gets attention during presidential election years because we are blessed, or cursed, depending on one's point of view, with being THE archetypal swing state.

And speaking of Star's Reach, have you thought about a sequel, or perhaps even two sequels? I could envision the narrative going in two different directions: one telling the story of Trey's work with Plummer in the Rememberers Guild, and the other, of course, detailing the continued work at Star's Reach by Eleen and Tashel Ban (and of course their developing love interest). Or you could have several narratives going simultaneously in one volume, sort of the way Tolkien does after the breaking up of the Fellowship of the Ring.

Chris Smith said...

And ... Ms. Berger's point is made as the Kessler Syndrome begins. This is where the cinematic version of this story would end. I can imagine that Kubrick would have either had that ending scene in silence or some music that was silly yet on point (think Dr. Strangelove ending with "Until We Meet Again.") But I digress. Glad to hear that the novelization will continue for several more installments.

I wonder if news concerning the effects of the Kessler Event on the Atlantic Republic will result in Mr. Carr electing to stay right where he is. I can't wait to see.

I am also pleased to have received my "Weird of Hali" book yesterday. I'll get to it right after my homework. My wife owns several translations of "The Tale of Genji" and so I have begun my journey into feudal Japan (non-Hollywood version).

Brian Cady said...

Mr. Greer, the 'progress beyond prosperity' arguement is wonderful. Thanks.

Robert Carran said...

NIce. Really liked the speech on the folly of progress as a goal. I wonder if you've ever read "My name is Chellis, and I'm in recovery from Western civilization." It's one of my favorites, along with the Conan books. I read the Conan books as a testosteroned teen and didn't realize how much they would resonate with (maybe help form) my later critique of civilization. The thing I end up wondering, though, is how do we get back to some balance, and is the Lakeland Republic realistic. Don't get me wrong, the society you set up makes sense and seems to address so many issues in a really coherent and thoughtful way, given the place we're at now. But sometimes I think the opposable thumb was just a wrong turn that led us to manipulation (in both the literal and figurative sense) and an adversarial relationship with nature that is simply unsolvable. I wonder if even the "progress" of domestication of plants and animals was too much already. Like a kind of original sin that's impossible to come back from. Maybe it's just a matter of heeding Sting: "When the world is runnin' down, make the best of what's still around."

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160602T152539Z

Thanks, donalfagan ("6/1/16, 5:22 PM") for your pointer to post-apocalyptic art. Upon researching the lead you have opened up, I found an image fitting the David Dunlap Observatory and Park heritage-conservation case. I have now uploaded the image to my blog, and have sent off a letter to the artist respectfully requesting permission for the upload. (If the permission is denied, then I will have to take the upload down. But it **IS** right to upload first, and to ask later, since otherwise the artist cannot really grasp, with full appreciation of contextual nuance, how the work will be presented to Web surfers.)

This hasty upload is a departure from my normal blogging procedure, under which I make my uploads Tuesday mornings in Europe (Monday evenings in Ontario), in the four-hour interval running from UTC=0001Z to UTC=0401Z.




Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160602T153824Z

News flash, news flash, news flash: The artist has just e-mailed me, I think from New York, granting permission to use her post-apocalypse observatory image. (This line of research was started here at JMG's ADR, through the posting of donalfagan, "6/1/16, 5:22 PM".)

I have emended the caption at accordingly, now chronicling the granting of permission.

Heavens, New Yorkers are fast.



peacegarden said...

Amazing! This was what I’ve been waiting for; the comparing and contrasting of the future envisioned by Melanie and Carr. And it was even better than I imagined! Thank you for this.

We will have to see how much sleep Carr gets and what he does with the disturbing thoughts that must be swirling around and around in his head.

The disintegrating space trash “meteors”…a fittingly lovely touch!



Shane W said...

I must admit, I'm kinda disappointed that the argument didn't get all steamy and end in mad, passionate lovemaking. Arguments and anger can be such a turn on! ;)

David said...


I echo the sentiments of the other commenters re the points made in the conversation (and thank you for showing how useful an "ignorant" narrator can be in making an argument!) -- moreover, I want to applaud you for the ever-so-subtle way you reminded us that LR is no Victorian society. Poor Carr, lonely that night.

Ahavah said...

Just an FYI: The meetings of the Green Wizards Benevolent & Protective Assn., Tower 859, and Ruinmen's Guild, Local 859 of the Bluegrass, are on hiatus for the summer. If you're in the greater Lexington KY area, and you want to "collapse now & avoid the rush", please visit our facebook page and request to be added as a member. All are welcome.

We hope to have a cookout later this year and plan our fall meeting and activities schedule. Hope everyone has a productive summer. in servitio libertas!

Ahavah said...

In the actual book, it might be interesting to alternate chapters about Carr's mission to Lakeland with the events happening to some person he knows back home. Just a thought.

Shane W said...

I'm still not sure I buy this resilience of progress and the neoliberal consensus meme. I mean, we already have popular presidential candidates running on an anti-free trade platform, not too mention counterparts in Europe. Even mainstream economists and pundits are starting to question the feasibility of continuing growth and mention that the national banks are out of tools to fix the coming recession. I'm wondering, JMG, if you're not expecting another post-70s reaction in the future, where the awareness of the futility of growth and progress gets shoved down again and the world collectively buries its head in the sand the way we did in the wake of the 70s.

Chuck said...

RepubAnon - I'm not positive on this, but I believe GPS would actually be more or less okay after a mid- to low-altitude Kessler syndrome, because the GPS satellites are way up in geosynchronous orbit, 26,000 miles up. They're also transmission-only: your car GPS doesn't send anything back to the orbiting satellites, it just takes their pings and calculates where you are. That's not to say that other system failures wouldn't halt them. I wouldn't be surprised to find that communications satellites are integral to something in there.

Hey, I finally wrote my first comment after reading for over a year! First time I've felt like I have something useful to say.

Clay Dennis said...

I like the extension of the myth of progress to this economic corrolary is great. Not only is technological progress not likely to occur in the technical age, but in most cases it would not increase real prosperity, nor has it increased real prosperity in the past. This got me thinking of my childhood. We moved to a Grand Old Farm from the suburbs when I was 8. This was a place that had been in a family for several generations but was sold because there were no more offspring to run it. My father was enamored of modern agricultural methods so he set about getting new equipment and building a modern metal building to put it in. At the same time I was exploring the big old barn with a labrinth of grain rooms, hay trolleys, stalls, and feeding hatches. There were special floors stored away to be put out for barn dances, carts and dollys of unknown purpose ( to a kid) all dating from the multicrop agriculture that was prevelent in the Willamette Valley of Oregon before the 1960's. Even the farm house was a wonder of old features from wide flat stairs leading to the canned food storage in the basement, huge covered porch for wood and detached summer kitchen to keep the heat of the wood canning stoves out of the house. As a kid I marveled at the the richness of the life that must have gone on in such a place. Wondering why the new buildings that got put up were so simple , ugly and shoddy in comparison. A few years later we sold this farm and moved to a different one without the old featurs, so I don't know what became of them. But I have never stopped thinking about how "new farming" never lived up to the images in my head of what things must have been like in the wonderous old buildings at their prime.

Shane W said...

FYI, I searched eBay for "Cingular" (what AT&T was), and there are plenty of working old phones for sale under $10--you can probably get makes and models and search for them for your carrier, or you can try to unlock the phone if you don't want to search for your particular carrier...

Grim said...

I have very much enjoyed this story and I'm sorry to see it end.

Thank you, it's been eye opening.

Dennis D said...

Here is a link on how to fix the modern education system
I have been reading this blog for years, and a lot of his ideas are similar

Eric S. said...

My favorite reminder of the conventional wisdom among the privileged as the world around them fades is Rutilius Namatianus's "De Reditu Suo," a pontification on the state of Rome written in the aftermath of Alaric. He looks at the abandoned infrastructure, the rising poverty, the impacts of a century and more of decline after leaving his comfortable villa in Gaul and his words sound almost exactly like the ones Carr utters about the future of his own home: "amidst failure it is thy way to hope for prosperity: after the pattern of the heavens losses undergone enrich thee. For flaming stars set only to renew their rising; thou seest the moon wane to wax afresh." Everything that has happened is just a temporary setback and progress will resume any day (though less than a generation later… Odoacer). The people who still profit from a belief in the old order find ways to retain that belief... even if it means ignoring their own fates tied to the people who are falling outside of it and are even more determined to do so when that belief is challenged.

Media too could continue for quite some time and reinforce this. The transition from the internet to the metanet in the story shows that they're already working on downsizing the internet, and if maintaining the metanet and a few automated farms and transport/trade/banking networks is the sole thing that's being focused on, at the expense of infrastructure, resources could probably be stretched for quite some time, and those who can experiencing the world through a veepad can let the screen itself filter out anything that contradicts their expectations. At that point, they’d be living solely through the lives of celebrities, so completely immersed in that world, that they experience it as their own. And as long as the barest protection from the elements and starvation are there, mental stimulation could shut out quite a bit… Even now, many people seem to actually believe that they are living the lives normalized by the internet and television and rarely look up enough to notice the mismatch between image and reality. In the world of Retrotopia, the people who still have access to basic necessities and the basic security of a home and access to the high technology infrastructures of the Atlantic Republic are so caught up in their reinforcing echo chamber that they don’t even have to look at the people who are falling out of prosperity or about the aspects of your own life that are falling into poverty.

This fixation on the private lives of a privileged through filtered through the channels of media brings to mind a passage from Spengler:

“Henceforth there are only private histories, private destinies, private ambitions from top to bottom, from the miserable troubles of fellaheen to the dreary feuds of Caesars for the private possession of the world. The formed state passes from nations to bands and retinues of adventurers in whose eyes the population becomes in the end merely a part of the landscape. With the formed state, high history also lays itself down weary to sleep. Man becomes a plant again, adhering to the soil, dumb and enduring.”

At the beginning of the story Carr sees the first hint of poverty, finds it depressing, and turns on his veepad to hide away from it. The natural tendency of humans to hide away combines with the reinforcing factors of high technology to conceal from the eye anything that can’t be concealed from the mind… leads to a special form of those latter stages… not only is poverty temporary, it’s also abstract… even if you’re the one experiencing it… since all it takes to hide yourself from a shabby studio apartment with peeling paint, an aching belly from mostly synthetic food, and the sound of riots beyond the doors is the flip of a switch… and once the switch is flipped… the private histories of the most prosperous of your society become all you experience. (Until, of course… something happens to disrupt the flow, such as the satellite crisis)

W. B. Jorgenson said...

Shane W,

Thank you for the advice, however I've only traded phones in when they break, which seems to happen a lot. It's part of why I'd rather not have one, they aren't reliable and it's a pain when they stop working. As a result of this though, I have no phones to use other than my current one. And changing phones costs money and would force me to either find a new carrier and pay a lot more, or agree to another three year contract. So I don't see either as a good option. Plus, the job will only be one year, so then I'll get rid of my cell.

Additionally ,the application for the job explicitly requires a smartphone, for reasons I do not understand. Phone, absolutely, I can see why they would want applicants to have one, but smart phone seems odd.

I have found a workaround however, given they won't check the phone or require its use, I've turned off as much functionality as possible using the restriction settings. I'll see how well this works, but so far it's going fairly well. If there's an issue I can relatively easily restore it, so I don't think it's an issue.

Ed-M said...

Hi JMG! :^)

Interesting turn of events for Jim Carr and the Lakeland Republic! I hope you'll continue this series but I have a hunch that your fine story has come to an end. And now the Kessler Syndrome causing a small "meteor" to flame out over Toledo has reminded me of the Chelyabinsk meteorite explosion a few years back (a few windows shattered but everything else, safe as houses). If you do decide to write up some more installments I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that the satellite that just vaporised in the Earth's Atmosphere is none other than a satellite that's critical for the Metanet to function.

Mmmmm... doughnuts.

On the homefront (we finally have a clean apartment) my SO has decided to find a job after coming out of years of severe depression. So now he's attending these jobseeker's training job: you get trained a certain way to be successfull in finding a job with a medium-to-large corporate or public employer. It's called the "STRIVE" program. The propaganda the program directors, teachers and facilitators catapault at the students, Good Lord, is something else! It makes me really want to emigrate to Lakeland... NOW.

Unknown said...

I can't wait for this series to end, so I can reread it all at once. I do have some doubts about the high-tech used 50 years from now. The closest thing I can imagine is something similar to a poor African country. I visited Tanzania and they do have some high-tech toys for the 1% while the streets are full of unemployed people (only men, women have to take care of the house, you know) and the tourists live in high-walled guarded compounds. In that case I don't know how many people outside of the 1% would believe in progress?
On a different note, I had a lot of thoughts about your homework but I find it hard to express them. I grew up in a eastern European country and I read a lot of old books from many literary traditions (English, French, Russian). I read them in translations and I realize now how good those translations were! Just try to read great Russian novels in English - they are soulless. I don't know if that is because of cultural differences or the tendency in English today to use small words?

Iuval Clejan said...

Hi JMG, I was wondering whether you would be willing to write either an entry here or a book responding to Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker is an apologist for Progress of the moral kind, something that is becoming rare. Also of the economic kind, which is not as rare. I think his science is OK for homicides declining and a correlation with Leviathan (centralized govt), but wrong (as in terrible statistical analysis) for total deaths per capita declining and any correlation with his other "causes" (feminization, reason and commerce). Also he does not look at the tradeoffs involved in Progress, all the things that have done harm, even as they may have reduced homicides. I would love to collaborate with you on this if you have time to take it on.

melo said...

Any person with a motorbike finally after a childhood stuck out in the bookies, or an African villager getting a solar panel, or a housewife getting a washing machine or indoor plumbing, all are easily understood as progress, hard to argue against I think.
I believe we forget as much as we learn on the way, and much do-called progress has unexpected consequences and frequently comes around and bites us in the ass.
The biggest example of this is nuclear arms and 'atoms for peace, too cheap to meter'.
Ironically the other day Germany was getting 79% of its energy from renewables and actually paid customers to use more as the grid couldn't keep up with distributing it.
I suspect this news will invoke some hearty guffaws in this group. ;)

Christopher Kinyon said...

This post reminded me so much of the U.S. military and its pursuit of more and more technical vehicles and equipment (interesting choice of words, perhaps, since "technical" is a term for a civilian vehicle with a simple mounted weapon). Perhaps future soldiers will focus more on dismounted operations, using equipment easily repairable at the unit level.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

JMG, Hope you're having fun (if that's the right word) on your Masonic travels!

Looking forward to the denouement: is it time for an epiphany of the Joycean kind? Will our hero see the light? I'd hate for him to go back to Philly no wiser than he came. Maybe it will take going back home to make him come to real understanding, though. Or perhaps the seeds of change away from "progress" in his own country will germinate, once he starts talking with the president, whose ear he apparently has. Perhaps he'll get posted back as ambassador or diplomatic liaison.

In the truth follows Retrotopia department: tensions between Chicago and the rest of Illinois are increasing, and increasingly being fanned by various government personnel on both sides.

Well, I confess I've skipped the most excellent homework assignment. I grew up rummaging around in old and ancient literature and then was blessed with a 'great books' college education. I still read an old work of fiction here and there--the last was "Moll Flanders," by Daniel Defoe, an astonishing send-up of life in London in the 18th century. Picaresque would be one word for it, satire another. Rule Britannia, hehehe. Might I respectfully suggest Moby Dick to those seeking challenge and a portrait of American obsessive insanity? Or Milton's "Paradise Lost" as a companion piece to Dante?

onething said...

" which is essentially a loudspeaker that women can insert into their vaginas to share their iPod/iPhone playlist with their unborn children.) "

Way to give the fetus cancer.

John Michael Greer said...

Daniel, the novel's written to stand alone, but it might be a bit clearer if you read "The Shadow over Innsmouth" first.

Ruben and Sgage, thank you!

Donalfagan, I grew up with a children's version of the Mahabharata -- The Five Sons of King Pandu by Elizabeth Seeger -- and while it won't qualify for the current assignment, it's a grand tale, very well suited to firing a literate child's imagination.

Bruno, by all means spread it around! My characters routinely say things I don't expect, and I wasn't expecting that one at all -- but it makes a good meme, and I hop it gets plenty of circulation.

Shane, every "novel about the future" is actually about the present, seen through a funhouse mirror. I set this story in 2065 to make the political and military side of things plausible; I'd be delighted if people were to start bailing out of the delusion of progress and doing something more interesting with their lives right now. On your mark, set...

Samurai, exactly -- I know perfectly well that Melanie Berger has just uttered the ultimate heresy. That's one of her jobs in this story.

Shane, see my previous comment.

Justin, I've been sufficiently traumatized by the rugose, squamous mixed drinks so often labeled "martinis" these days that it just slipped out. (Though I'm not an absolute purist -- I dislike olives, and a relatively dry vodka martini with a twist of lemon is a favorite.) "Martinis" made with champagne, creme de cacao, orange juice, schnapps, etc. would make Great Cthulhu himself shudder in horror. I'm delighted to hear that a few people in the future-fantasy biz have started to notice how stupid it would be to introduce self-driving trucks at a time when we, ahem, have a massive problem with permanent unemployment!

Fudoshin, blasphemy is a source of power. That's one reason why so many operative mages like to use the traditional names of deities in their incantations! So I encourage you to get out there and blasphemously intone such secret names of the Great God Progress as "permanent unemployment."

Ray, I did indeed. I get the completely flustered, unable to speak, and then "that's just crazy!" response quite often when I respond honestly to questions about progress.

Bootstrapper said...

Melanie's speach neatly summs-up what you've been saying about the "myth of progress" and answers the rather disturbing question that Peter had, on his train ride back to Toledo. I think almost everyone has this little, nagging voice in the back of their thoughts, that tells them "progress" and "growth" are not the panaceas the media and governments tell them they are. But most prople are too heavily invested in the status-quo to allow any radical disruptoon to their lifestyles. They fear losing what little they already have, for the uncertain promise (derided in the media) of a better outcome. Niccolo M pointed that out, in "The Prince".

John Michael Greer said...

JacGolf, thank you! Causing thinking to happen is what I'm trying to do. The keys to reaching a critical mass are, first, to get the concept out on a small scale; second, to make sure that the people who think they get it actually understand it, and learn how to counter the usual criticisms; and third, to use pop culture media (such as, oh, just for the sake of an example, a utopian novel) to give the concept as wide a circulation as possible...

Gwizard43, the next installment will be in two weeks; stay tuned!

Yves, indeed Québec is there -- an independent nation with a very important role in trade with Europe, since the ports along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts are flooding in 2065 due to rising sea levels.

Bob, debt is simply a way of managing the abstract tokens we use to shuffle real wealth around. It's not a big deal in 2065, because the massive financial crises that followed the collapse of the United States led to a general shift away from the sort of Ponzi scheme finance the US had been using for decades before that time, and because none of the post-US nations of North America can roll the presses without risking hyperinflation -- their currencies aren't reserve currencies, after all.

Submarine, yes, and I also saw the US handwaving about how we're going to get something comparable, oh, one of these days. An upcoming post will discuss the appalling state of the US military and the likelihood of a serious military disaster in the decade or so ahead.

John, funny. If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. It's a quantum bridge, by the way, so it's got to be a great deal!

RepubAnon, I hear from people all the time who believe in Progress in exactly the terms that shape Carr's thinking. In 2065, driverless cars are dimly remembered as one of the bizarre Ponzi schemes that sucked up so much investment money in the decade or so before the Second Civil War. As for wars over resources, I've already mentioned the Second Civil War and the Sino-Japanese war, and things are heating up between Texas and the Confederacy -- what more do you want?

WB Jorgenson, I've watched the same mental meltdown many times!

Eric, delighted to hear it!

Curtis, good. Notice that the Indian restaurant is the kind of high-end place that an executive assistant to the President and an important foreign politician would go for dinner. That is to say, the spices can be gotten, but they aren't cheap, and the $10.99 buffet is definitely a thing of the past.

Mark, to judge by paleoclimatological equivalents, the Lakeland Republic will be prairie, not desert. The big question when it comes to New England is how the shutdown of the Gulf Stream will affect your climate, and as far as I know there's no consensus on that yet.

Bill, nope -- there are at least six more episodes in the works. The exposition phase is ending, and the dramatic action phase -- most modern utopian narratives fall into these two sections -- is picking up. Stay tuned! If the Lakeland flag and, more to the point, the Lakeland ideas get into circulation in the upper Midwest, or for that matter any other part of the country, I for one will be delighted.

Shane W said...

I meant the old phones from when your contract was up. After your two year contract (3 in Canada, I understand), you are eligible to upgrade your device for free or a reduced price, but you still have your old, perfectly good working order, old phone, which a lot of ppl stuff in a drawer. I upgraded every time I was eligible for a new device back in the dark old days before I started reading the ADR and got a clue. I see this similar to what JMG does with a computer--you're saving e waste from going into a landfill. There's some really cool old Palm Treo's and old Blackberry's still out there! If the phone is made for your carrier, you should be able to just pop the SIM in and go, although you may want to call & provide them w/the IMEI as well...

Shane W said...

I'm having a hard time believing that Carr and his cohorts haven't met the business end of a lamppost or pitchfork by the likes of the poor family immigrating from Atlantic to Lakeland. Though I guess considering that Atlantic will have most of the BosWash corridor and all the elites that come w/it, I'm guessing it will be more of an elite enclave than "flyover" Lakeland.
Be nice for some of us to create a Lakeland today somewhere...
BTW, Schumacher is coming in loud and clear through Melanie...

Yellow Submarine said...

"Submarine, yes, and I also saw the US handwaving about how we're going to get something comparable"

Sorta like Prompt Global Strike, which the US military claimed would allow it to carry out precision strikes around the globe using hypersonic missiles. Problem is, PGS has been under development for the last couple of decades and still hasn't produced any operational hardware.

Meanwhile, the Chinese and Russians were very concerned about the potential threat from PGS and ended up developing their own equivalents, including the Chinese DF-26 "Guam Killer" IRBM (which can be used both to sink enemy ships and conduct precision strikes against land targets) and the Russian Zircon hypersonic cruise missile. The Russians and the Chinese have also recently conducted successful tests of hypersonic "boost-glide" missiles that are launched atop a ballistic missile, but fly like hypersonic cruise missiles and can strike targets with pinpoint accuracy from thousands of miles away.

fudoshindotcom said...


Indeed I will! I read somewhere that satire was once considered a potent weapon of the Celtic bard/ poets, and I am blessed with a truly bizarre sense of humor which I have no explanation for, but which certainly challenges the boundaries of propriety.

As you've no doubt grasped from previous comments the behavior of modern "civilized" Man often leaves me heart-sick. We repeatedly undertake actions that we know are wrong, even harmful, yet do them anyway. This despite the fact that we've never once gotten the desired result. I think industrial society has so widely separated us from any sort of natural existence that we frequently lose touch with any reality, and our sanity, completely.

Call me by any filthy vulgarity that catches your fancy, I'll take no offense.
Call me civilized, and by the God's, you'd better be able to run faster than I can shoot!

John Michael Greer said...

Peter VE, the infrastructure in the upper two tiers is ample to support the manufacture of records made of some bioplastic substitute for vinyl, so why do you think you'd have to do without recorded music? Granted, a good collection of LPs would cost more and take up more space than an equivalent collection of MP3s, but Bob Marley's worth it, right? ;-)

Raymond, why, yes, I had exactly that in mind. I trust you'll do your part to get that idea in circulation outside the boundaries of this blog!

Sheila, thank you.

Doomstead, historically speaking, it's quite common for societies after massive collective traumas to try to reestablish some equivalent of the precrisis system -- look at the number of European nations (including France) that put a monarch back in power after the Napoleonic wars, for example. Of course the fact that this is a, ahem, retrotopia might suggest another reason why the Lakeland Republic has returned to an older form of government!

Dan, good. You're catching onto the way I'm handling the symbolic side of the narrative.

Gary, you're welcome and thank you!

Nancy, good! It's precisely because it's so late in the day that storytelling -- our species' oldest information processing technology -- is the one option left. "Help me, storyteller, you're my only hope..."

Josh, I did so some time ago, and the conversation didn't get far. I suspect that the main difficulty here is that Rod, like most of the people at the American Conservative, has a very strong religious dimension to his conservatism. That's perfectly legitimate, of course, and for that matter so do I, but his religion puts a lot of stress on the claim that my religion (and all other religions outside of a very narrow range of Abrahamic faiths, for that matter) is not merely wrong but evil. I don't return the favor, for what it's worth -- the most I would say is that his religion has an unhealthy obsession with being the only option for everyone -- but it's quite an effective barrier to communication.

Alex, I'm really coming to enjoy the serial form! It makes the process of plotting and storytelling a lot easier when you can do the scenes one at a time, reflect on them, listen to the responses from readers, and then proceed to the next episode.

Madtom, the Russian systems don't use GPS; Russia has its own satellite geopositioning system, and it also uses a lot of high-powered ground-based radar and the like. All in all -- and this will be going into a future post on the rapid decline of the US military -- the Russians would be far less disrupted by a Kessler syndrome or the like than we would.

Ed, I'm not planning on a sequel, no. One of the lessons too many writers never get around to learning is when to say, "Okay, this one's done."

Denmon, you're welcome and thank you. To my mind, the situation is far too serious for the luxury of hopelessness.

John Michael Greer said...

Spanish fly, by 2065, according to the future history that underlies this story, the current leaning tower of debt has long since come crashing to the ground and that particular burden is no longer an issue.

Mustard, thanks for this! I find myself in the awkward situation of looking at my portrayal of the F-35 in Twilight's Last Gleaming and thinking, "You know, I gave the plane more credit than it deserves."

Dorda, I don't have a detailed knowledge of Italian history, but what I've read suggests that Italian politics have been spectacularly complicated since about five minutes after Romulus was born!

Gregorach, thanks for this! I hear from a lot of people in the IT industry, and I also pay attention to the sordid realities behind the glossy propaganda of progress.

L, thank you. I encounter people like your friend all the time. I wonder whether it ever occurs to them that "wormholes" is their name for the Second Coming of Chris -- or perhaps for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin!

Matt, one of the things about modern technofetishism is that it keeps on coming up with more and more absurd technologies, even when I think it's reached the limit. I thought the Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush that texts you stats on your dental care was the outer limits of stupidity. Then a Bluetooth-enabled tampon was announced, and now the Babypod. At this point I'm scratching my head wondering how they're going to manage to come up with anything even more preposterous than that -- but I know they'll manage it.

Brian, the difficulty with Ireland is that it didn't have laws that require each person and business to cover the costs of all their externalities, and they also didn't have strong trade barriers. The Lakeland Republic has both -- and of course it also exists at a time when grocery stores and funeral parlors elsewhere are going broke due to economic contraction, so their chance of expanding isn't high!

Renaissance, you're welcome and thank you!

RPC, no, they're not aware of it, and it won't be discussed in the story, because there are millions of people who aren't yet ready to grapple with the whole arc of decline and fall, but might very easily be able to deal with the concept of scrapping high-end dysfunctional tech. Those readers are the main intended audience of this book.

Matthias, good! Yes, that's how things will probably work out, but as just noted to RPC, I won't be discussing that in the narrative.

Don, the Ohio valley is the strategic pivot of North America; whoever controls it controls most of the continent. The Great Lakes region is also very much better suited to come through the Long Descent in something like one piece than most other parts of the continent, through not having to face sea level rise and having plenty of fresh water handy. Those things have kept me thinking hard about Ohio for some years now. No, there won't be a sequel to Star's Reach, unless some publisher offers me an absurdly large advance for it -- I said what I wanted to say with that narrative, and I have a lot of other things I want to write.

John Michael Greer said...

Chris, well, that's why I write books rather than screenplays! I like stories with a denouement that ties up most of the loose ends and leaves the tale with a sense of completion. Stay tuned for future episodes!

Brian, thank you. Should you feel inspired to spread it around, don't think that I'll object... ;-)

Robert, I haven't read Chellis Glendenning's book -- what bits of it were quoted to me didn't inspire interest. Still, I'm glad you found it useful. As for opposable thumbs, agriculture, etc., I'm far from sure that it's useful to go around looking for an equivalent of the Christian concept of original sin.

Peacegarden, thank you. The conflict between futures is going to be tautened up even further over the next two episodes!

Shane, I know some people find that to be true! I don't, and so my viewpoint characters generally don't, either. As for steamy scenes, now, now -- remember that this is an all ages blog. If Peter Carr is going to tumble into bed with Melanie Berger, it's going to happen offstage -- I'll leave it to future fanfic authors to wallow in the damp and sticky details. ;-)

David, thank you. Stay tuned!

Ahavah, that doesn't really work well with the structure of a utopian narrative. "Back home" in such a narrative is always an approximation of the society the writer and readers inhabit, and the contrast between the imagined society and the real one is what gives the story its interest.

Shane, well, I've already explained the strategy behind it -- I don't know what else I can do, because I'm not going to rewrite the story, you know!

Clay, I'll be exploring it in detail in nonfiction posts as we proceed. The opposition between progress and prosperity in our time is a massive social fact, and can use much discussion.

Grim, it's not over yet; stay tuned!

Dennis, thanks for the link.

Eric, excellent! Yes, and that's a major reason I deliberately chose a clueless narrator from the Atlantic Republic's upper class.

John Michael Greer said...

Ed-M, no, the story has at least six more episodes to go. As for satellites and the metanet's dependence on them, I figured the metanet, like the internet, would go for multiple redundancy and the like. The satellite crisis will degrade the metanet to some extent, for a while, and then fixes will be found -- but the fixes will never work quite as well and they'll cost more, putting additional strains on other potential choke points, as the death of a thousand cuts closes in. Fun!

Unknown, well, why do you think I chose a member of the Atlantic Republic's 1% a a viewpoint character?

Iuval, I'll consider it.

Christopher, there's going to be an extensive post on just that. My guess is that future soldiers will make a lot of use of horses, mules, and the like, since those are good all-terrain transport and can be fueled on hay.

Adrian, thank you. I had a great time -- a speaking gig at a friendly lodge, preceded by a good dinner and followed by a visit to a pleasant dive with good whiskey, is pretty much guaranteed to leave me smiling. As to your speculations about where the story is going -- tsk, tsk, tsk. No spoilers from me! ;-)

Bootstrapper, good. You're paying attention.

Shane, if you want to create a Lakeland Republic, start with your own life and build from there. Choose a tier, start discarding anything that requires infrastructure that tier doesn't have, and bring in appropriate replacements that work with the simpler infrastructure. That's how it starts!

Submarine, exactly. We make noise about X, and then the Russians and Chinese build and test it, while our defense industry has its head inserted so far in a biologically improbable orifice that it's digesting its own hair, and is too busy scooping up the graft to get around to building one of X that works. Sooner or later that's going to result in cataclysmic defeat.

Fudoshindotcom, you and Conan would find plenty of common ground!

Shane W said...

Joining the chorus, but I'm amazed at just how succinctly Melanie distills so much of your non-fiction so powerfully in a short dialog. Power of storytelling indeed.
I guess people not on Facebook have no way to keep up with the Green Wizards group (Raise hand if you aren't on Facebook, raise hand if you aren't on any social media. Raise hand if you don't like Mark Zuckerberg.) I guess if JMG were in the area and wanted to pop in on a Green Wizards meeting, he'd have no way of knowing when or where it is. Besides, all the clueless, mainstream young tech addicts have moved on to an Instagram, I hear, leaving Facebook & Twitter to become the next MySpace...

sgage said...

@ Chuck said...

"RepubAnon - I'm not positive on this, but I believe GPS would actually be more or less okay after a mid- to low-altitude Kessler syndrome, because the GPS satellites are way up in geosynchronous orbit, 26,000 miles up."

Actually, they're not in geosynchronous orbit - they're at about 12,600 mi. such that they make 2 orbits each sidereal day, covering the same ground track.

Still, that's pretty high up there...

trippticket said...

Hey, JMG! The progress being the enemy of prosperity quote is useful for sure, but I personally liked your comment (couple weeks ago?) about driving down a blind alley, bumper to a brick wall, meaning the leading edge and trailing edge have changed places, even better! That one explains my feelings and actions for the past decade-ish so precisely! I'm no Luddite.

I quoted that one to one of my techno-fetishist friends, and he actually seemed to like it. But then, the steadily increasing involvement of my family with his over the past year or so has been eye-opening for them in lots of ways.

As an example, we've been dealing with a fairly serious flea infestation at our off-grid house and when I asked him for his thoughts (his ex was a pet rescue type) he insisted that a regimen of this poison and that growth interrupter was the ONLY thing that would work (not to mention the vacuuming, for which I don't have enough electricity!). When I brought up diatomaceous earth (DE) as a possible non-toxic alternative, he laughed at my love of alternatives for alternatives' sake.

No, I'm not interested in DE because it's a hippie alternative; looking at HOW it works, I actually think it will work better! And less than 24 hours after treatment I think I'm right. This morning I made coffee without the assistance of one single flea...and the dogs and cat who got powdered yesterday are much more peaceful this morning, too!

(Though admittedly, I think the true power of DE lies in making the user meticulously clean up every bit of the airy powder after treatment!)

trippticket said...

Also, I appreciate your homework assignment, and was attempting to read Milton's 'Paradise Lost' before giving up on this one for now. This is such a hard time of the growing season to get that much time away! (And I'm a painfully slow reader, unlike some of you.) I am, however, almost finished with the first issue of Into The Ruins, and have enjoyed it immensely! Especially Cathy McGuire's story 'Naut. Keep it coming, y'all!
Tripp out.

RPC said...


"If you're in the greater Lexington KY area, and you want to "collapse now & avoid the rush", please visit our facebook page and request to be added as a member." Intentional or not, this is a wonderfully ironic sentence!

fudoshindotcom said...


Perhaps only in the disdain for extraneous possessions, pathological refusal to take responsibility for our own actions, and the convoluted, politically correct language used to create plausible deniability when our words are scrutinized for meaning.

Axe's are for chopping firewood, not people.

When the power of love outweighs the love of power we will have peace.

David said...


I've been thinking of late on your suggestion that the tipping event for the US will be a military defeat. For some time, I resisted the notion, believing that we could begin the "Lakeland transition" -- raising tariffs, reorganizing our industry, giving up our empire, and generally disconnecting ourselves from the global financial and economic system -- w/o having to go through that kind of firestorm (literal in the case of Retrotopia's history, more economic in the case of TLG). However, I am beginning to admit to myself that we cannot progress (sic) along that path unless and until the existing dominant narrative is clearly and definitively debunked by actual experience. And this necessarily includes the military dimension, else there will always be the lingering "we were never defeated in the field" narrative. (Not that there won't be some of that anyway, regardless of facts.)

Of course, your other main point in this blog has been to start individually where we each are and not wait on world circumstances before acting. So I will be spending this afternoon working in my beds at the community garden and perhaps brewing a new batch of chocolate stout this weekend.

latheChuck said...

Chuck- Actually, GPS satellites are in a Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) (12-hour period), not geostationary (GEO). Other satellite-based navigation systems: Russia: GLONASS (MEO), Europe: Galileo (MEO), China: Beidou (GEO), India: IRNSS (GEO). If space junk takes out GPS, it will probably take out GLONASS and Galileo, too. If hostile impacts take out GPS, the damage to GLONASS and Galileo will just take longer. Whether the debris would reach GEO or not, I don't know.

latheChuck said...

Update on satellite navigation: the second-generation Beidou (PRC sat-nav) includes MEO, GEO, and inclined geosynchronous (not geostationary) satellites.

Howard Skillington said...

A failed educational system, shortage of skilled workers, chronic unemployment, pervasive lack of job satisfaction, poor quality products… All of these problems could be addressed by the reestablishment of an old system: apprenticeships, under the tutelage of master craftsmen, with standards set and maintained by crafts guilds.

Such a development would not be politically possible in today’s world. It would mean that a handful of corporate executives and financiers would no longer be able to engineer the flow of wealth upward into their own accounts. But post-collapse, it could imaginably take hold again. Granted, the reestablishment of a guild system would be a bit more retro than the Lakeland Republic as you have imagined it, but quite possibly a better fit for the actual world that is to come.

In a labor-intensive world many more jobs would be created. Rudderless young people could find meaningful vocations and get good training. Craftsmen would again command respect and be well compensated for their work. Far fewer resources would be wasted on disposable products.

Of course, many present-day Americans would be dismayed that this would result in owning a lot less stuff. It would also likely result in the demise of self-storage facilities.

Instead, a world in which people had an opportunity to develop their talents, devote their labor to building fine, lasting products that families would be proud to pass on from one generation to the next. The idea might mystify Peter Carr, but it sounds pretty good to me.

Nancy Sutton said...

Re: JacGolf's comment on how to get the message (progress is the enemy of prosperity) 'out', and JMG's use of a Star Wars phrase (perfect example of telling a whole story with one tiny 'verbal' picture -something marketing has perfected, btw), shows how something familiar to everyone is an excellent vehicle for creating the needed meme. As OWS got the '1% vs 99%' into many brains, which, I think made a lot of stuff in the news more 'visible' and laid the groundwork for Bernie's support. (If we don't have a name for something, it is invisible, ala language molds culture... or is it vice versa? ;)

So, let's get on it...

Also needed, I think, is a broader definition of 'progress' that includes it's downsides. The usual response is, 'Wrong! look at all the health, longevity, communication, transportation, etc. benefits!' So... where is our 'picture' ... from Star Wars?

And 'prosperity'... showing something other than more '$hiny $tuff'... hey, could use that visual... "Is more $hiny $tuff really happiness?". Etc. Just thought of "Yes, $ is time.. do I want to trade the hours of my life for more $hiny Stuff?" .. that's too long, but...

We've got to start somewhere, and John's Retropia has already gotten the ball rolling :)

Nancy Sutton said...

I guess I should put this suggestion here... re: Bob's request for more debt explication in Retrotopia. I just started Bernard Lietaer's 'Rethinking Money' and it begins with that most precious, and rare, of stories... a simplified history of money! (PS his most famous book, 'The Future of Money' is really good on the whole subject.)

nr-cole said...

I think the thing that most surprised me about this installment (and perhaps the most unexpected thing in the story so far) is that Melanie Berger comes off as fairly shaken up after her argument with Carr. Most of the Lakelanders we've met seem pretty unflappable about dealing with outsiders. They've gone through the critical mass you've described with JacGolf, and they readily understand how their system works and how to explain it.

I expected Melanie to be not especially surprised and probably a little bit amused at Carr's sticky devotion to the progress myth. Could it be that she's disappointed because she really did think he was coming around?

nr-cole said...

My apologies for the double comment. Given the military discussion happening this week I wanted to drop a couple of links about relative military capabilities and strategies between the US and Russia.

Debunking popular cliches about modern warfare.

How Russia is preparing for WWIII

Personally, I don't think I'm quite as reassured as the Saker is that the military minds in the US who know how disastrous war with Russia would be are in enough control to prevent it from happening. Without naming names, there seem to be plenty of dangerously clueless politicians positively itching for a hot war.

valekeeperx said...

JMG wrote...
"I thought the Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush that texts you stats on your dental care was the outer limits of stupidity. Then a Bluetooth-enabled tampon was announced, and now the Babypod. At this point I'm scratching my head wondering how they're going to manage to come up with anything even more preposterous than that -- but I know they'll manage it."

My money's on the iSuppository. Analyzes feces and bowel movements, and of course, uploads data to the cloud for more anal-yzing. ;-)

whomever said...

Meanwhile, back to reality, record flooding in Houston AGAIN with deaths, two months after last time and no end in sight. And Lake Mead keeps setting new lows. I had assumed that one of Las Vegas, Phoenix, New Orleans or Miami would be the first cities where reality would start being impossible to deny, but wow, Houston. I assume that they can't live in denial at this point, but denial is pretty potent.

Ed-M said...


You said: "Ed-M, no, the story has at least six more episodes to go."

Glad to hear it. THis is what I get for posting my comment before reading everybody else's. <:^P

"As for satellites and the metanet's dependence on them, I figured the metanet, like the internet, would go for multiple redundancy and the like. The satellite crisis will degrade the metanet to some extent, for a while, and then fixes will be found..."

Glad you didn't take me up on the offer, then. I'd have to fork over X number of dollars, and... no doughnuts for me!

"-- but the fixes will never work quite as well and they'll cost more, putting additional strains on other potential choke points, as the death of a thousand cuts closes in. Fun!"

Yes, more fun than a barrel full of pigeon droppings. Even now our IT and modern computing gives us much amusement many a time! In the form of viruses, site-not-found messages when the machines damn well know the site still exists, and email messages returned as undeliverable when you know the email inbox on the receiving end is capable of receiving it. Just as Gregorach said.

Shane W said...

I know you have your own plans, JMG, and aren't about to share them, but, I'm hoping that this was Carr's "road to Damascus" moment...

Grebulocities said...

It looks like the economy is actually picking back up, finally, and this isn't just a function of statistical manipulation the way it was for several years. You know how I know? Driving mileage has shot way up, apparently now eclipsing the old peak in 2007. Lots of people are now taking long road trips again, apparently. Obviously the lower gas prices thanks to the oil glut are the biggest factor in that, but the fact that people feel they have money to spend on needlessly driving around enough to beat the old all-time high would indicate that demand destruction isn't as strong as it was from 2007-2014, and oil prices are low for supply-side reasons.

Of course as we all know, "strong economy" in the 21st century is shorthand for "a large bubble is being blown". Still though, it's remarkable that the Happy Days of American Motoring have become undead, and are now wandering America mindlessly consuming oil again. OOOOOOIIIIIIILLLL!!!

Here's the NYT article, which comments glowingly about the recent trend. The only downside mentioned is climate change, and it's only mentioned so that it can be dismissed because we're supposed to have a national average of 54.5 mpg by 2025. It quotes some tame intellectual at UC Davis: “[The new efficiency standards] will more than offset the behavioral increase of more driving,” he said. “In 10 years vehicles will be consuming half as much fuel as they do today.” Even if we grant that somehow we can double the real average efficiency of vehicles in under a decade, they don't even consider that it would be better to drive less while still consuming less gasoline per mile. And there isn't even a mention of highway accidents and fatalities!

william fairchild said...


Once again, you have used fiction to raise needlesome questions and force folk to confront some of the dark thoughts they harbor in the secret closets of the mind. Well done. I can see how Melanie unnerved him. She stated "the Truth", but in an incisive, yet gentle way, that suddenly made him ask "Is God (Progress) real? If not, what then? Is Heaven still possible, or am I just future worm dung?

I tease my young co-workers about their reliance on smartphones. Regularly. With malice, aforethought. But underneath the teasing is a serious question. What to do when the car gets stuck in a ditch in a blizzard, and the cell batt. dies? The googleized, flat screen, interactive world ends in a frigid whiteout. For a generation trained to believe Silicon Valley can innovate their way out of every predicament, that replicators are real, this must be disconcerting, to say the least.

W. B. Jorgenson said...

Shane W,

Allow me to apologize if I wasn't clear earlier, but I have no old phones. I would hold on to one until it stopped working all together, then proceed to get a new one, but as long as it worked, I wouldn't bother getting a new one. And in Canada at least, or with my provider anyway, the upgrade locks you into a new contract, so I don't think getting a new one would help me. If it turns out I'll still be required to have a phone more than a year from now I'll downgrade, but otherwise, I'll live with what I have for the time being.

Yellow Submarine said...

John Michael said

I find myself in the awkward situation of looking at my portrayal of the F-35 in Twilight's Last Gleaming and thinking, "You know, I gave the plane more credit than it deserves."

There was a recent classified study conducted by the Australian Defense Force which simulated air to air combat between groups of F-35 Lardbuckets and Su-35 Flankers, which are the most advanced Russian fighters currently in service and which the USAF considers to be the most capable non-stealth fighters in the world. The simulations used the latest classified engineering and intelligence data available for both the Lardbucket and the Flanker.

Apparently, some of the results were leaked to the press. According to reports, the study concluded that a group of F-35's engaged in air to air combat with a group of Su-35's and with all other things being equal could expect to lose five Lardbuckets for every two Flankers they shoot down. The funny thing is, we already know that Chinese and Russian stealth fighters scheduled to enter service in the near future, such as the Chengdu J-20 and the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA, will be even more capable than the Su-35...

Oh, and wouldn't you know it, but there is a story out today in the Russian press about some of Russia's new hypersonic missiles. Prompt Global Strike indeed, but from Mother Russia...

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Tripp - To get rid of fleas. I put a bit of soap in a bowl of water. When I go to bed, I flip over a small table and use several rubber bands to secure a small solar flashlight to the table leg, and shine the light into the bowl. The fleas leap into the light, fall into the bowl of water and drown. You will see fleas in the bottom of the bowl, every morning. I just keep it up til I knock back the infestation. Works for me. I also posted this over at your blog. Didn't know where you'd see it first. Lew

Varun Bhaskar said...


I can't wait until this story becomes a book. The ideas you're exploring in your utopia are fantastic, I wonder how they would translate to other places in the world like India or Europe.



John Roth said...


Self-driving cars presuppose a certain level of technological sophistication. At that level, there are a lot of ways of figuring out where you are: GPS is only one of them. Triangulating on the network of cell phone towers is another. Dead reckoning is another. Without that level of tech, self-driving vehicles aren't really in the mix, though. In any case, I'm not all that convinced we'll get there before the crunch hits, Elon Musk's fantasies to the contrary.


Actually, GPS satellites are in medium orbit, approximately 20,000 miles up. They're not in synchronous orbit, with is quite a bit higher. Those are communications satellites, and since they're spaced out in the same equatorial orbit, it would be very difficult to get a really high speed collision from them.


The internet does not depend on satellites for one simple reason: time lag. It takes time to shoot a signal up there and then back down. The internet is almost completely a web of fiber optic cables except for the "last mile" into subscriber's homes, with cell phone data a very expensive secondary "last mile" option.

Sylvia Rissell said...

My copy of "weird of Hali" just arrived. I now need to decide if I cut out fabric to make a shirt (not compatible with novel-reading) or knit (which is compatible with reading). What a dilemma!
I really want to make the shirt soon.

I look forward to another half-dozen chapters of Retrotopia, I do hope Peter Carr can get his head sorted out. Keep up the suspense!

Justin said...

Howard Skillington said:

Instead, a world in which people had an opportunity to develop their talents, devote their labor to building fine, lasting products that families would be proud to pass on from one generation to the next. The idea might mystify Peter Carr, but it sounds pretty good to me.

The book The Machine that Changed the World, which is a book about how lean production at Toyota triumphed over Ford-style mass production has some very interesting insights about work and motivation. Although I suspect the average collapse blog reader may turn their nose up at a book about globalized just in time auto manufacturing, there is actually quite a lot of value in the book.

One thing I found quite interesting is that Saab experimented with a production model where teams of ten or so workers would assemble two cars a day rather than the typical model where each worker would perform the same task over and over again. Although it sounds better to work in a team to perform a complete task rather than just do the same thing over and over again, worker satisfaction did not improve, and neither did productivity or quality.

What Toyota did, which actually worked, was to make workers responsible for the maintenance of the parts of the manufacturing line that they worked on. If a machine was nearly about to start producing out of spec parts due to wear, it was their job to get it fixed. In contrast, in a Ford plant, a machine operator was not responsible for the machine - if it got so out of tune that it produced out of spec parts it was the production engineer's fault. Quality, job satisfaction and productivity all increased.

I think the takeaway is that personal ownership of one's work, even if the work is dull and repetitive, is the path to satisfaction, quality and productivity. Conversely, technocratic management and taylorism leads to misery, errors and unintended consequences.

Ahavah said...

@RPC. You're not wrong, just as decrying the lameness of technology from a blog is a wee bit funny - but we have had little luck reaching people just by posting here and on the green wizards page. We posted all the spring meetings here and there and reached 3 people. To build the community, we need to reach people where they are. We aren't luddites, any of us, or we would not be reading these posts. We will use it while it lasts. And then we'll move on.

temporaryreality said...

might I submit one correction for your future draft? Since you're providing numeratives for the Civil Wars, this week's reference should be to the Third Sino-Japanese War. The first two were in 1894/5 and 1937-1945. The second in particular is still a source of tension (informal, on a popular level) between the two countries - perhaps a factor that leads to the third (heaven help us) in your story.

Also, if you (folks, not JMG in particular) haven't ordered a copy of Into the Ruins, do so! It's got great stories and engaging commentary.

Yellow Submarine said...

fudoshindotcom wrote

"As you've no doubt grasped from previous comments the behavior of modern "civilized" Man often leaves me heart-sick. We repeatedly undertake actions that we know are wrong, even harmful, yet do them anyway."

Reminds me of one of Robert E Howard's more famous quotes from one of his Conan stories:

“Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”

donalfagan said...

@Grebulocities, 538 sees a slowdown

Ahavah said...

An interesting chronicle:

Shane W said...

I don't think the irony was intentional, which brings me to another point. The talking heads are exasperated by Trump's constant lying, sometimes only a few seconds after he said the exact opposite, or denies saying something two minutes after he said it, all the while very genuine and oblivious to it all. But the exasperation is misplaced, Trump is us, and we are Trump. I repeatedly encounter this obliviousness--the environmental activist w/the huge carbon footprint who's always driving or jetting somewhere, the digital addict who denounces tech, etc. I've been flabbergasted by the disconnect, thinking it was hypocrisy, but it doesn't even rise to the level of hypocrisy, people are just that oblivious, totally unaware. So the tweet storming Trump, who says one thing one minute, and denies it or says the exact opposite the next, is us, we are Trump, we really are that unaware and that oblivious.
@ valkeeperx,
We're close. I once knew someone w/severe bowel issues who swallowed a pill cam. He wondered whether he should wave before flushing the toilet after passing it.

Shane W said...

The excitement is building for the next recession! Even JP Morgan is predicting one. Here's hoping that this is the beginning of what leads to Retrotopia. Fingers crossed...

Cathy McGuire said...

Thanks, TrippTicket! I appreciate the kind words... I confess I'm behind on the reading homework, too. Planting is taking up huge amounts of time! And I have to keep going back to review the earlier posts of Retrotopia because my memory isn't what it used to be...I"m enjoying what I've read so far, though! Thanks, JMG!

Ian R Orchard said...

Grebulocities:"The only downside mentioned is climate change, and it's only mentioned so that it can be dismissed because we're supposed to have a national average of 54.5 mpg by 2025."
It sounds very comforting doesn't it, but I recall an interview with a climate expert at least a decade ago when he was asked how much to we need to reduce our emmissions to to avoid the 2ºC precipice. He said " Oh, to about 12%". That's TO not BY!!
I'm uncertain how that fits the 54.5mpg by 2025 but if NZ is anything to go by there will still be a lot of 2016 models on the roads in 9 years and the only way they'll get national averages as good as 54.5mpg will be to introduce draconian warrant of fitness requirements like Japan that force any vehicle over 10 years old (or thereabouts) off the road, which will go down like a dead rat.

John Michael Greer said...

Shane, well, I've had plenty of time to brood over these things, so it's not surprising that the products of my imagination can come up with better snappy summaries than I can. ;-)

Tripp, that metaphor is also going to be included in the discussion, as well as a third way of looking at the self-terminating nature of progress, which I've been setting up since early in the story but haven't alluded to yet. Stay tuned...

Fudoshindotcom, so noted, but that's still more than enough to have an agreeable conversation.

David, I'd like to think we could get from here to there without passing through one mother of a crisis, but I don't think it's going to happen. Our society has worked so hard at wedging itself into a corner that only a massive shock will be sufficient to jolt us loose. On the other hand, this country is working overtime at the project of generating such a crisis, so it's not as though we necessarily have to wait forever...

Howard, well, yes. That's why I put in several passages about apprenticeships in the narrative already.

Nancy, good. I'm mulling over other ways to say the same thing -- some of them for this story, some for other applications -- but everyone's welcome to the party.

Nr-cole, good, you noticed that. Stay tuned! (And thanks for the links.)

Valekeeperx, good. I'm partial to the iShoes, which text you to remind you to take every single step.

Whomever, the worse it gets, the more tightly people will cling to denial. It'll be for the young to look around and call the situation by its true name.

Ed-M, exactly. We've already passed peak internet functionality; from now on, the costs will climb and the benefits will slump, year after dreary year, until every bit of creativity and intelligence is gone and people endure the internet only if they have no other choice.

Shane, heh heh heh. Stay tuned...

Grebulocities, that could mean prosperity. It could also mean the beginning of mass population movement, or the increasingly frantic search for jobs causing more and more commuting hours, or any number of other things. One swallow does not a summer make, nor does one uptick in one statistic make a recovery!

William, thank you. Keep on razzing 'em!

Submarine, well, there you are. I had J-20s vs. F-35s in my novel getting a three to two kill rate, and it sounds as though a one to five kill rate would be more like it.

John Michael Greer said...

Varun, you might consider sketching out some such scheme for another part of the world, if you're minded to and seeing whether you can make something interesting and workable out of it. I don't know enough about other countries to make the attempt.

John, I know -- though it's anyone's guess how some future "metanet" might function. That said, I've assumed that the metanet in my story won't be crippled by the satellite crisis, though a lot of other things will be.

Sylvia, life's just full of those difficult choices, isn't it? ;-) I've already got a publisher lined up and rarin' to go for the book version of Retrotopia, so it should be out sometime this fall if all goes well.

Temporaryreality, good point. Thank you.

Ahavah, many thanks for the link.

Shane, "the excitement is building..." No doubt! I'd love to see someone do for economics what Peter Schickele did for classical music in New Horizons in Music Appreciation, and present an economic forecast in the language of, say, a stock car race.

Scotlyn said...

This is a very good installment, and I'm glad there is more to come. I'm still reeling from the installment before this one and my coincidental discovery that my small town contains a number of teenage girls injured by the Hpv4 vaccine. One single class, with maybe 40 girls in it, has four cases. Post HPV4Vaccine Syndrome seems to include neurological damage, autoimmune attack on various systems and organs, endocrine disruption, menstrual irregularities and ovarian depletion, and of course crippling fatigue... But, it couldn't possibly be the vaccine, which is safe, so doctors won't enter details on vaccine adverse event registries, and the girls and their families (and I hear the odd boy in some cases) struggle with mysterious and serious illness met by official brick walls, media scepticism and derisiin from the progress-is-omnibenevolent brigade. Heartsore.

Scotlyn said...

Brian Kelleher, the funeral home may have caught on in Dublin & other towns, but not in the country. The Irish wake is still a strong tradition here. When my husband's uncle died in his bed, in our home, he didn't have to leave it. We rang the undertaker and a neighbour and didn't have to make ANY other calls. The undertaker came out and did the washing, dressing, layimg out, & placing in an open coffin left on top of the bed he had died in. The neighbour gathered a work crew that quickly put the house & yard to rights, set out the blessed candles, made mountains of ham sandwishes and a river of tea, and let the countryside know the news. The next two days our house was open to all comers, as is traditional, and (as is fitting at the death of an old person who has lived a long full life) there were many tall tales told about him, and much laughter too. perhaps 300 to 400 people would have passwd through our doors in that time coming, saying a prayer at Paddy's bedside & then spemding an hour or a half hour chatting with others over tea. Paddy was not alone at any point through the night, and on the third morning with neighbours still present, we took him to bury, as were his wishes in the churchyard after a solemn funeral mass.

fudoshindotcom said...


I imagine you're correct. Most likely a more sensible conversation than some I've experienced.

Yellow Submarine,

I've recently been exploring contrasts between modern "civilized" behavior and what's generally considered the "primitive" behavior of earlier societies. Violent retribution aside, I've come to think "primitive" interactions on the whole demanded a higher level of courtesy, honesty, and directness.

Shane W said...

so we got three people from here and Green Wizards--I'd say most people here would say that was good. How many people have shown up from Facebook? I'm reminded of Patricia's post last week about the emoticon Bible--at what point does making the message accessible destroy the message? Is the medium even compatible to the message? Is an intelligent tweet an oxymoron? Once I went to the farm, the postings stopped here and Green Wizards (Cleveland and Melbourne, I see, have managed to continue meeting regularly.) I pleaded and begged for people to post work parties (my living situation is precarious, so I have to help others w/their yards, instead), to no avail, no postings. I linked a friend who makes homemade home care products to do a workshop (no response). I also encouraged people w/knowledge to share to have workshops. (no response)
Unrelated, but I overheard a conversation at the drugstore while buying sunscreen between the cashier and another patron about the patron's daughter getting harassed by Facebook or some other social media. I'm reminded of JMG's comment that social media and the internet existing to distill pure nastiness from people. I wanted to say, "well, that's what she gets for being on social media and opening herself up to that kind of bullying. Cancel social media, and you won't have to worry about that," but I know how firmly people's heads are wedged in their posteriors, and I know that such a comment would engender a Carr-like "that's crazy" of incomprehension at best, or pure rage, at worst.

Shane W said...

I was so disappointed the '08-'09 recession didn't lead to a full on Depression. I was really cheering for it. Even then, before I followed ADR, I knew that kind of shock was necessary to change the system. I was so disappointed in the resilience of the global economy. Now, thanks to the ADR, I know that while a severe economic crisis is necessary to bring on changes (that may lead to a Lakeland), it is not guaranteed that the changes won't be worse! Ah, the vagaries of real life predicaments!
I still respectfully submit that the Confederacy is the new nation most likely to become Retrotopia, based on our lovely Southern tradition of "backwardness", conservatism, and criticism of progress--we even have an anti-progress/capitalism/industrialism manifesto in I'll Take My Stand. Related to your other blog, there's a definite appeal to the though of Confederate Heathen soldiers fighting in the name of Thor...

Cherokee Organics said...


Yay, for the continuing Retroptopia story!

The weather was awful here today. The wind was strong, the clouds scudded low in the sky and the rain fell. It was the perfect day for the beach. And my wife and I had the beach all to ourselves (or mostly so). It was a huge stretch of coastline and it was a pleasure to walk along and watch the waves roll in driven along on a strong storm. I couldn't help but notice as we walked along the sand whilst the tide retreated, that the most recent storms had been eroding the dunes far higher than I'd ever before seen. Vegetation had dropped from the top of the small dune and sat on the sand at an unusual angle. There was even a set of timber stairs where some of the posts were sitting in mid-air, and some of the drains dumping storm water into the ocean were much higher than the surrounding sand. It was mildly surreal and I wondered if the locals or the local council had even noticed? The local council had thoughtfully erected signs warning of the impending collapse of some of those dunes though. My gut feeling is that they need to dump some rocks on the ocean side of the dune – and quickly.

On a more positive note, I'm a mostly vegetarian, but we did partake of a few local battered and fried scallops which were very tasty. Yum!

Thank you very much for the new word too: finagling. Nice one. :-)! Certainly a bit of that gear goes on. I may have mentioned to you that I'm currently reading Michael Lewis's book The Big Short which documents the story and some of the characters behind the shorting of the US property market in the lead up to the home property price crash. And certainly there was a lot of finagling going on.

The thing is that from my perspective, relying on an asset bubble - which may pop at any moment - to temporarily allow a large disenfranchised and excluded portion of a population to somehow pretend that they are consumers again, but only if they borrow funds, is just so very wrong. And you know what, I walked past a bank this morning that was offering a teaser rate of interest (albeit at a discount of a bit over 1%) on a home loan mortgage. And the teaser rate was compared to a rate - which came with a written warning - which despite reading the fine print several times, I just failed completely to understand what it actually meant.

I know it is unfashionable to mention such things, but surely, somehow, we could all get to a point where ones labour was honestly rewarded? I dunno.

Quote: “how do we make this work?” as the first priority - is an expression of co-operation between different groups towards a common goal. Fancy that! I like co-operation as a tool and it certainly gets more done than the unfortunate fixation on individualism that seems to be a rather recent change to our society.

Also, it is nice to read that Mr Carr is a true believer. That was an enjoyable touch in the narrative. The response from the delightful Melanie makes Mr Carr look not so good. And he missed an opportunity due to his pig headedness too. Well done him. I see plenty of what I call: "Can't be told" going on down here. And in fact, I had to stomp one of those types earlier this week and I won't even recount what a person thoughtlessly said to me on the beach this morning. Is it me or does it seem that people’s ability to communicate complex ideas and concerns appear to be limiting as their exposure and experience with digital media increase? It is a bit 1984, don't you believe?



Doctor Westchester said...


I would suspect that debt is still a problem for the Atlantic Republic in 2065. Even if the current pile of obligations have crashed and burned, the AR would certainly be encouraged to build a new one by future IMF and similar organizations.
You have covered the reasons previously of course. Debt is a key part of most imperial wealth pumps. The interesting point is that for the identical transaction, say the sale of government bonds by a country, whether that country is the wealth extractor or the extractee depends pretty much entirely on the county’s ability (or perceived ability) to exert military force over others. Thus, for now - barely, our sales of Treasury Bills or Bonds allows us to extract wealth/tribute, while Greece is in totally the opposite situation.

I would think that the AR’s pursuit of high tech projects would involve such debt, since I doubt that they be making any of the components for it internally. Very similar to what happened in the recent past where we profited mightily from building power stations and electrical networks for third world countries that did nothing but addict said countries to systems they cannot sustain.

That being said, I can understand why you would not want to add such an additional issue front and center in Retrotopia, since it would probably detract from the issues that you are covering. Perhaps there will be a place in another story for addressing the black magical powers of this type of token.

Scotlyn said...

Another thing I must say, having arrived in Ireland in the midst of the "Troubles"...

It's very hard to hear "self-driving car" and not think "self-driving car bomb"...

Phil Harris said...

JMG wrote in one reply: “As for opposable thumbs, agriculture, etc., I'm far from sure that it's useful to go around looking for an equivalent of the Christian concept of original sin.”
(Robert Carran had written:“… Like a kind of original sin that's impossible to come back from.”[Writing of ‘wrong’ inventions / evolutionary turnings]

I agreed with JMG. A thought then popped up for me about the way we structure or re-structure our thinking. My thought: ‘believe in or preach hard enough ‘original sin’ or whatever, and we are liable to inculcate it.’ One of Christianity’s better ideas, impossible of course but worth a try, is that we can start over again with potentially better result. Babies mostly try to do that, which is why we say they have promise. Smile.

Phil H

onething said...


I have just recently discovered diatomacious earth and really don't know how I have lived without it. In addition to eating it I keep finding more and more uses. Yesterday, while watering my potatoes I noticed some potato bugs and went for the DE. When I came back with my next water pail, the bugs on the previous row were dead. I'm particularly interested to see if I can control flea beetles with it, as they are very persistent and completely wipe out my ability to grow eggplant, an apparent favorite, but they were on my potatoes yesterday as well.

An interesting problem occurred at work recently. A woman came in with such a bad case of head lice that workers were wearing shoe covers and full protective gear, which is usually quite unnecessary, but they were literally dropping off her head onto the floor. And after the treatment with the usual poison from the pharmacy, they did not die. Apparently there is now a new, resistant form of head lice, which isn't surprising, is it? A nurse suggested mayonnaise, which she had had to use for her daughter, and some was ordered from the kitchen. I believe that did handle it...but it would have been fun to sprinkle a nice dusting of DE onto her head and watched the movement just stop. There is also a tiny little mite that chickens get and we sprinkle DE on their backs and they are no more. Amazing stuff.

Robert Carran said...

Wel, I wasn't exactly going "around looking for an equivalent of the Christian concept of original sin." Certainly not a fan of any religion that is based on a patriarchal deity, guilt, sin, and punishment. Just noting the parallel of knowledge being a wrong turn to manipulation possibly being a wrong turn.

Do you not agree that there is a relationship between our ability to manipulate our environment and our separation from the cycles of nature? It sure seems to have been a great facilitator of the positive feedback loops of modern civilization.

I've struggled with the progress issue ever since college, when I graduated with a degree in biochemistry and decided not to pursue that career. My reason could be summed up with the antibiotics issue: the more you put energy into such supposed solutions, the more the bacteria will respond and render them useful at some point. Meanwhile, our natural immune systems have degraded. And then there's all the demands and effects of the technological suite (is that the term you use?) of producing antibiotics.

I was reading a book about Edison back then and came to the conclusion that invention is the mother of necessity more than the other way around.

It seems to me that we are almost hard wired to be in a tribal setting and I just wonder if civilization allows us to express our nature, at whatever level.

Some say that what ever we do is natural, because we came out of nature. I think that renders the word "natural" without meaning, so we may as well stop using it. I would posit that "natural" means that which exists outside of human consciousness of being separate from nature (a self substantiating reality) and the concomitant manipulation.

Nastarana said...

Dear Mr. Greer, I surprised myself and finished my assigned reading. Maybe I am at the right age to be able to read James. I couldn't abide Darles Chickens as a teenager, but a decade later I was reading all his novels.

Anyone reading Dante nowadays probably needs a good commentary. There are now some really good translations out by Mark Musa and Alan Mandelbaum: no need to hobble oneself with the likes of Sayers or Longfellow.

I am still betting with myself about how it all ends in LR. I am taking the pessimistic bet. I think someone else who is not the newly elected govt. owns Carr, and that person or faction is likely to decide that LR cannot be allowed to exist in its present, autonomous form. Sets a bad example for the plebs elsewhere. Carr will have been sending back reports, which LR may or may not have intercepted, and he will shortly be receiving instructions to probably present an ultimatum.

About the present incompetence of the US military establishment, that gives me yet one more reason to not vote ever anyhow for Mme. Never-saw-a-weapons-system-or-war-she-didn't-love. Might I respectfully request that a post about this subject be published before the next election, if not before the convention in July?

Ed-M said...

Hello again, JMG!

"Ed-M, exactly. We've already passed peak internet functionality"

And commercial media web pages used to have a "print" button on them, too, so you could get the webpage printed out as a document with the text, and sometimes relevant photos, only. Now you have to print out the whole damned webpage at a cost of 15 cents a page, whether you print it at home, at the public library, or at a commercial print shop with public computers for the customers. And usually, the whole width of the webpage doesn't come out, because it runs off the right-hand-edge of the paper page.

As my SO's old friend Edie Gillette used to say, "They got you right where they want to."

And past peak satellite orbital functioning, too. From Space News, an article stating that the present orbital difficulties can be overcome, and the future Kessler Syndrome can be avoided, with hard work.

The gist of the article states that we can solve the problem by establishing, and keeping up with, a contemporary space situational awareness. Which means every launcher, whether national, international, public or private, has to report on their object launched or to be launched and what it is expected to do, and where it will go. Problem is, the launchers don't want to have to conform to such requirements!

"Many collisions in space can be avoided, but in order to do so, we will need a robust space situational awareness capability and the capability to respond and maneuver assets in space quickly. No amount of hysteria at home or jawboning abroad will eliminate the need for monitoring, avoiding and someday, cleaning up space debris. It’s time to get on with it."

They really think they CAN avoid a Kessler Syndrome! Which, and the last scene in this Retrotopia installment, reminds me of a song from 1979 to the tune of "Pennies from Heaven":

When you're standing in the summer sun mid-July,
You may find Skylab dropping down from the sky.
So if you see it falling, start moving fast,
And hope you're not stuck in a line, waiting for gas.
Your chances are six hundred million to one,
That one could just be you, so look up and run.
Five hundred pieces falling, each one weighing a ton,
THere'll be plenty of Skylab for E-v'ry-one!

John Roth said...

People are waking up. Here's one from a guy I know in Canada only from his internet presence, and that because we're in the same field: software development. This is about the strongest language I've ever heard from him:

"I have a prob­lem late­ly: When I look in the mir­ror, I see a left-wing ex­trem­ist. I’m un­easy about my strength­en­ing be­lief that Free En­ter­prise is gonna ru­in ev­ery­thing good un­less we take a knife to its tes­ti­cles first."

Read the whole thing. This I don't recognize some of the people he refers to, like

Don Plummer said...

Re. diatomaceous earth: I hadn't heard of it as a control for fleas until recently. I chiefly used it as a fining agent for homemade wine (along with bentonite, a clay material that absorbs something like twice its volume in water).

We used cedar spray to take care of fleas. It seemed to work well; plus it made our couch smell like a cedar chest.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Shane W and everybody: I wasn't sure which blog to post this to. Today I called the head of my Circle, whom I have always thought of as our high priest, to confirm something I overheard via a telephone conversation at a science fiction club meeting. That one of our members had been hit by a car last week, and one of the science fiction people was talking to her like a no-nonsense mother.

When I asked the Circle priest about it, he protested "I PUT it up on FACEbook!" And when I asked him for details, he had me wait until he could scroll down and find the entry, which was from May 28th; he couldn't tell me off the top of his head. He did reassure me that, as the science fiction fan had noted, no bones were broken, just bruises, and our circle member was OK. Though under heavy pain killers even if she would put Marcus Aurelius to shame for Stoicism.

Of course, I've missed Circle several meetings running due to immobility at first, and also low endurance for sitting on other people's less comfortable chairs for too long (post-hip-surgery, recovered in many ways but not totally.) Even so...

"I put it up on Facebook?" That's IT?!?!? Sound of air slowly leaking out of a formerly solid respect....

Shane W said...

I remember how struck I was by the requirements in Canada to maintain your car in good working order to maintain registration. That would never fly here in the US, we're way too poor of a country. Even the states that ostensibly have vehicle maintenance/safety inspection requirements don't enforce them anymore. They can't--we're too poor, too car dependent, and our vehicle fleet is way, way, way too old for that to ever fly. If they started enforcing inspection and maintenance requirements in the states that still have them, there'd be riots by the wage class...

Shane W said...

" Is it me or does it seem that people’s ability to communicate complex ideas and concerns appear to be limiting as their exposure and experience with digital media increase? It is a bit 1984, don't you believe?"
Ding, ding, ding, ding!!! Bullseye. We have a winner. Couldn't have said it better myself, Chris. I'm seeing this up close and personal this summer. Ain't pretty...

Shane W said...

More related to last week's post, but I just talked to someone who's getting a graduate degree in sustainable (third world) development who's never heard of EF Schumacher...

Shane W said...

have you not read JMG's posts regarding conspiracy theories and how they fulfill people's need for control where none exists? Occam's razor, nuff said...

Cortes said...

Another intriguing episode, with properly cliffhanging hook to the next instalment; thank you.

Two brief points:
First - the previous episode saw Mr. Carr go back to Kaufer News and its "snowstorm of newspapers and magazines" which I venture to hope means that the Lakeland Republic has no great media conglomerates but instead has a number of separately owned companies with different policy lines. If this point has been covered before please accept my apology for not having paid sufficient attention.
Second - is it not ironic that one of the greatest of futurist writers (Ray Bradbury) also homed in unerringly on the utter vacuousness of so many "useful " gadgets . Your comment about the Bluetooth toothbrush triggered the memory of his story "The Murderer" which predicted the uses and abuses of mobile telephones.

alex carter said...

Grebulosities - I think many of us would be interested in stats on:

The price of gasoline now vs. in 2007

The increased mileage of cars. Electric cars are big now, as are high-mileage cars.

The increasing hassles of traveling by air. Remember there were hours-long lines a week or two ago, Americans' memories are short but not that short.

The much-higher real unemployment rate. Not the official numbers, but the real ones - fair number of those trips might be one-way, to move selves and families back to Aunt Pauline's In Toledo, to ride out the hard times.

Likewise, there might be a lot more people parking their wife and kids with a relative and becoming "rubber tramps", driving where there's at least some kind of work, picking fruit etc., and sending money back home.

I remember after losing everything in the last crash, for the first time I had money, and a fair amount of it, in my pockets because I'd sold off everything I could dispense with, stopped paying my bills, and did, yes, a long-distance car trip to a friend's in the next state, where I let the car be repossessed a few months later. Sometimes what looks like exuberance is really dying throes.

patriciaormsby said...

@WB Jorgenson, I sympathize with your situation. You'd probably wind up blacklisted like a few of my friends if you spoke up like they did about absurdity of needing a mobile phone for your job, especially an allegedly "smart" one. A friend of mine in Japan managed to continue delivery work without a phone (this was ten years ago, I don't know if he has managed to continue, but I still see operational public phones about one/km, so it is likely he could). His company was happy because he was not distracted, playing games on company time, texting while driving, etc. Likewise, I have managed to hang onto an "on-call" sort of translation job by being near my landline at agreed on times. You have to go the extra mile to make sure the work is safely in their hands before you go out, but they are happy with the result. The discrimination in Japan does not seem to be quite as intense as in America, so I am lucky, but it also appears to me that the level of discrimination in Britain has decreased, with fewer rabid attacks on the functionally impaired recently in comment sections, so it may be a phase.

I would expect the latest research results confirming carcinogenicity of the microwave frequencies involved to produce a backlash at first (Prof. Olle Johanssen in Sweden (Karolinska Institute) appears to have been forced into early retirement as a direct result), but once the hysteria dies down there may be a growing demand for the right not to irradiate oneself and one's family.

patriciaormsby said...

@JMG, indeed, I am such a naughty blasphemer! Calling the true believers "phone-heads" and so on. But I have a tender heart, and will buy a little "Tetsuwan Atom" (Astroboy) doll, put it on my altar and make offerings--perhaps the jumbo peanuts that were created by irradiating normal peanuts, which so far seem to be a uniquely innocuous, even healthful addition to our enjoyment of life--with my sincerest condolences once the Great God of Progress gives it up and gets the frack out of the way!

John Michael Greer said...

Scotlyn, these days, that's par for the course. As long as the medical industry makes its profits, who cares about the patients? That is to say, there are very good reasons why over on this side of the pond, where that sort of thinking has gone into overdrive, so many people used alternative health care.

Shane, I'll agree with you that the Confederacy is likely to become Retrotopia when I read that Southerners are ditching their cars and air conditioners. Mind you, I'd like to see it!

Cherokee, thank you. Yes, that sounds like a marvelous day at the beach! When my age was still in single digits, we used to go out to the Washington coast, where the water's always icy and the weather is usually gray and damp, and the wind blows off the gray ocean across long gray beaches and low gray dunes into conifers so dark green they look black. To me, that's still the most beautiful place in the world, and my default for a nice day at the beach has nothing to do with sun and scanty clothing. As for digital media -- yep. The internet, for all the yammering about how information-rich it is, is actually profoundly impoverished in terms of information. Lots of data, but very little information. More on this in a future post!

Doctor W., yes, and indeed that's been hinted at indirectly in talking about the World Bank and IMF trying to push loans on the Lakeland Republic. I won't be front and centering it, because the main focus of the story is elsewhere, but it's going to be referenced a little further on.

Scotlyn, a refreshingly cold bit of realism. Thank you.

Phil, exactly. The idea that all or most or much of what's wrong with our decisions here and now can be conveniently credited to something someone did a very long time ago strikes me as an unhelpful evasion.

Robert, I'm one of the people who reject the idea that human beings are in any way separate from nature. That doesn't mean that everything we do is good or healthy or beneficial -- it's pure mawkish sentimentality to consider nature any of these things, unless you mean to establish a system of values that differs sharply from those popular in the western world just now. (There are Druids who've done that, saying "Nature is good" -- meaning not "nature corresponds to human ideas of goodness" but "we take the ways of nature as the basis for our sense of values.") Nature includes leeches, tapeworms, and bubonic plague; it includes death and decay just as much as life and growth; it embodies the processes that brought our species into being and the processes that will wipe us out in due time.

Looking for some wrong turn that human beings made presupposes that there's a right and wrong in nature, that we know what it is, and that we have any business passing judgment on the evolutionary history of our species. I reject all those. To my mind, when you start looking for some awful mistake in the distant human past, your thinking is being influenced by the Christian heritage of our culture -- and not for the better. For all we know, after all, our species came into being because Gaia wanted the thermostat nudged up a couple of points, and all our capacities and limitations were given us so we could accomplish that goal!

Nastarana, heh heh heh. Stay tuned! As for a post about military incompetence, as it happens, that's way up on the stack, due to some details I learned about a short time ago. More on this very soon.

Ed-M, oh, I'm sure that it's still theoretically possible to avoid the kind of Kessler-syndrome catastrophe I've used as a plot element in Retrotopia. I'm equally sure that the things that could be done won't be done, and the end of the space age will follow in due time. It'll be fun to watch the shooting stars...

John Michael Greer said...

John, fascinating. That's a good sign -- thanks for the link.

Shane, you bet they've never heard of EF Schumacher. People who get degrees in "sustainable development" go into careers pushing First World "sustainable" technology at high prices onto Third World countries. The thought that Third World countries should act in their own best interests, tell the developed countries to keep their high-tech trinkets, and build their own economies on an intermediate-technology basis is utterly unthinkable to such.

Cortes, you're welcome and thank you. You're right that I should clarify the point about newspapers -- yes, the newspaper and magazine industry in the Lakeland Republic is diverse and decentralized, with hundreds of independently owned local newspapers and nearly as many competing publishers in the magazine trade; that'll go into the revisions for book publication. As for Bradbury, one of the things that set him apart from a lot of other SF writers -- and especially from most of the current crop -- is that he was willing to ask hard questions about technology. That used to be much more common; have you read E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops"? It was written before the First World War, and got the internet and all its limiting effect on the mind down cold.

sgage said...

@ Shane W said...

"Even the states that ostensibly have vehicle maintenance/safety inspection requirements don't enforce them anymore. They can't--we're too poor, too car dependent, and our vehicle fleet is way, way, way too old for that to ever fly. If they started enforcing inspection and maintenance requirements in the states that still have them, there'd be riots by the wage class..."

I think you are extrapolating from limited data. I'm here to tell you that in New Hampshire, the motor vehicle inspection requirements, both safety and emissions, are rigorously enforced, every year. I have had to get work done after inspection in order to get my sticker - usually I know what needs attention, and get it done beforehand. I was just talking to a woman at my corner store a couple of days ago who was lamenting all the stuff she had to get done to pass inspection.

Nor have I heard about too many states dropping inspections, or not enforcing them. I lived in California for a few years, and they take at least the emissions requirements very seriously.

We're poor alright, and car dependent, but around here, Motor Vehicle Inspection is just a fact of life that you deal with.

Kevin Warner said...

I know that the punch line to your essay was the idea that 'Progress as the enemy of prosperity' but that was not what struck me. When reading your essay and I came to the line 'There was a time when progress meant prosperity' I had to get up and walk away from the computer to process that little thought. So simple and yet so profound. That is exactly what it meant once.
I thought of those towns in the late 19th century Australia that would pool their resources and raise subscriptions to pave the roads, light the streets with gas lights, build hospitals and schools, etc. It was sort of an unmentioned belief that each generation had a duty to make life better for that following and so you just got on with it and that prosperity would result from these investments to the public good - and it worked!
Nowadays we have a breed of politicians that deem their job be to manage people's expectations to accept a lower standard of living as time goes by with more onerous restrictions in our lives but it wasn't always like this. Our society was not always a homage to entropy but was something that was to be grown and made better on a continuous basis. Our standards of living will certainly change and we may - eventually - learn that adopting different standards of living isn't always the same as a lower standard of living.

As an aside, I understand that there are over 500,000 chunks of space debris over 1 cm in size circling the Earth today. I also understand that billionaire Elon Musk plans to launch 4,000 satellites into Earth’s orbit starting next year ( so I guess that deflector shields are a thing now?

Patricia Mathews said...

Lakeland vs Atlantic here in New Mexico --

The Sunday Albuquerque Journal's Section B ("Dimension," whatever that means) had a long back-page article on today's "digital natives", a.k.a. "Generation Z1" (whatever that means - I think a mixture of late Millennials and early "New Silent," as I dub them.) All sorts of people were trying to understand them, apparently in order to sell them something or to reach them politically. It was hard to tell because the entire page was spattered with what looked like blotches of gray powder from a printing process gone astray and left uncorrected.

The front page article, equally long and unblotched, was about calf-branding time at Acoma Pueblo, and the participation of the younger people, with a concluding quote from a 17-year-old participant who was planning to be a veterinarian. And not one bit of that article was aimed at "how do we sell something to these kids?" Rather, it was a detailed and loving description of how the calves were treated and by whom, with what rituals, and how far back the tradition went. (At Acoma? Time out of mind.)

You can imagine which one felt more connected to *real* reality. Viva el pueblo!

Anthony Romano said...


I'm thankful the 08' recession didn't go full depression. My dad, a highly skilled carpenter, lost his job and never found employment again. Fortunately my mom kept her employment and my parents were able to hang onto to their house. If it was a full on depression, who knows what would have happened. I'm hoping the next stock market dip takes it time getting here, I'd like to get out from under my student loan before it hits. I predict there will be debtors prisons in the future.

I get the desire to "get on with it already" so to speak. But getting on with the collapse means a whole lot of ugliness for billions of people. As disfunctional as things are now, it can get much worse for a much larger number of people. Retrotopia is a vision, not a prediction.

This is probably beyond the scope of the Retrotopia narrative you have in mind, but I wonder what will happen to the LR over the next few generations. Will the grandchildren who never saw the civil war understand the values of their parents when they come to power?

Or much like the grand children of the Great Khans, will they forget what it took to build the empire, and destroy what their ancestors built through short-sightedness and complacency? Will they take the relative prosperity for granted, we likely can't know that ahead of time.

trippticket said...

Lew, thanks for the advice. We've done that same trick before with tea lights, which isn't the best use of tea lights, since they don't burn around the edges because of the cool water not allowing them to liquify completely. I thought maybe the heat was as responsible for drawing the little buggers in as the light (sounds similar to a metaphor used around here occasionally). Hmmm, internet trolls likened to fleas. I can live with that.

Thanks for the reminder!

heather said...

@Shane W-
I often find myself disagreeing with ideas that you post, and then having to go off and think about why I feel that way. But your post about "Trump is us" and lying to ourselves strikes me as exactly right on. I hadn't faced the fact that one of the things I find most objectionable about Trump (and the acceptance of same by his followers) probably touches an uncomfortable nerve for a reason. Now I need to go off and think some more about THAT. Thanks for pushing my buttons and putting your ideas out there.
--Heather in CA

Don Stewart said...

A recent post featured Edmund Burke. I wonder if you are aware of Dacher Keltner's debt to Burke?
'In 1757, a revolution in our understanding of awe began thanks to Irish philosopher Edmund Burke. In A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Burke detailed how we feel the sublime (awe) not just during religious ritual or in communion with God, but in everyday perceptual experiences: hearing thunder, being moved by music, seeing repetitive patterns of light and dark. Awe was to be found in daily life.'
Don Stewart

alex carter said...

Anthony Romano - Debtor's prisons are already a thing in the US. People have gone to jail - and been kept there for long periods of time - for such things as owning their local lumber yard money. Anyone who doesn't believe, or hasn't experienced, that debtor's prisons are a thing, are members of the comfortable class who probably benefit from it and aren't even aware of it.

sgage - vehicle safety inspections were a thing where I grew up, in Hawaii. They wanted your brakes to work, headlights, everything. The sticker was $15 in the 70s, and I used to paint fake ones for $5 - it took careful painting, no brush strokes could show. Here in California, what's happening is people are giving up their cars if they can.

JMG - obligatory link for "The Machine Stops" - a very good read.

Robert Carran said...

"and that we have any business passing judgment on the evolutionary history of our species" Isn't the adoption of progress as a religion a part of the evolutionary history of our species? Do you not pass judgement on that?

I consider myself a radical, in the literal sense: getting at the root of the problem. In my farming experience, thistle has been one of the most problematic, because it is so darned prickly and deep rooted. You can yank it out by hand, but that is almost not worth the time because the root is so big and deep. I use a specific tool that reaches a good 8" deep to pull up as much as I can. To relate it to our discussion, I would consider that your analysis goes 4" deep and I would like to go the 8" deep route. Please don't hold me to the math, I'm just spitballing : ) You advocate a return to previous levels of technology, which I think totally gets at the root. I also very much appreciate your promotion of voluntary adoption of various levels of technology, as that provides for liberty and rich experimentation.
AND, I am troubled by your repeated assertions that I am "looking for some wrong turn" and that it is a Christian influenced folly. I am pretty sure that these are both not true and suspect that you are responding to perspectives you have experienced that look like what I am saying, but aren't the same, in important ways. Maybe a change of language would help. In permaculture, there is the term "type 1 error". It refers to a decision or a pattern of decisions that set up a disfunctional inertia that is extremely difficult to ameliorate. Commodification of labor resources and natural resources is a good example. I am convinced that the effects of this are severely destructive. It is an abstraction that destroys the spirit of the resources that it is supposedly valuing. So, in terms of the Lakeland Republic, is this not an issue, in your opinion? To get down to it: do you think commodification and managed capitalism are viable options?
To put is simply, you advocate for going back to previous, simpler technologies; I advocate for going back even further. We may even be forced to by global events. I have no idea what the coming collapse will look like, but I definitely resonate with the parameters you've outlined.

I certainly don't think that nature or the universe is good or bad, it just is what it is: mysterious and magical. And from your comments, I extrapolate that you think the word "natural" actually has no meaning. I strongly disagree. Language, as any abstraction, is severely limited. But to, in effect, discount a language concept as having no basis in reality is a mistake, in my opinion.
And I don't know how tongue in cheek your reference to Gaia wanting us to raise the temp of the earth was, but I consider any assignment of intentionality to Earth as absurdly anthropomorphic.

Patricia Mathews said...

Although, sometimes I think it's less a matter of lying or hypocrisy, than it is of "unclear on the concept." I have run into the latter a lot more in my daily life than I have deliberate deception.

That is, among ordinary people; I'm not counting those whose living or access to power depends on feeding the public their pet line of feedlot sweepings.

M Smith said...


"Even the states that ostensibly have vehicle maintenance/safety inspection requirements don't enforce them anymore."

Not true in California, Georgia, or North Carolina. You're the first person who's said the inspections aren't enforced. What is your source?

Weren't you just complaining about someone else making statements you deem untrue?

Mark said...

JMG = thanks for the PDQ Bach link: "....the players seem just as confused as the audience ... "

Also, thanks for the ADR, the moderated comment space, and the replies to the comments, which so often surprise me, not just because they are so different than my replies would be (to the same comment) but because they are so much more helpful to the commenter than mine would have been. It's almost as if you were more concerned with others welfare than I. Quite possible, since I tend to be angry with people for fracking up the most beautiful, creative, (and unstable) planet in the universe, possibly. I guess remembering the planet doesn't belong to me - perhaps it's the other way 'round - might be called for!

I just respect your facility for changing minds.

Shane W said...

I know I'm late and won't probably finish by Wed., but I always turned in my assignments late anyway (at least the first time in college(university)), I got Wuthering Heights to read...

Shane W said...

I know, I felt the same way. I thought our Green Wizards group would be a oasis and safe place away from the pressure to use social media and exclude those who exercise their right of technological choice not to use it. I thought we could practice older, more personal forms of communication, like phone calls, I was wrong.
I know that emissions are enforced for smog, but I didn't realize there were states still enforcing vehicle safety inspections. California may still have vehicle safety inspections on the books, but they don't enforce them. Not at least when I was there. I never had to pass anything but smog when I lived there.
that seems very selfish to me. We all should be willing to fall on our swords, if need be, so that our children & grandchildren may have a better future, and we should do so graciously. It's the honorable thing to do, and was the norm until recently. I know I am willing.

NomadsSoul said...


Just finished "The Machine Stops".

Very poignant and relevant to both today and Retrotopia.

Thank You for the recommendation.

Nomads Soul

Shane W said...

Thanks, heather. I love hearing about your family, btw...

Shane W said...

Touche, JMG (about Dixie), although sociologists blame air conditioning for the hordes of Yankees moving South. IDK, I'd love to know Bill's take on the South giving up the myth of Progress...

Ahavah said...

Charles Hughes Smith predicting economic collapse 2016-2016:

alex carter said...

Shane - I was born here in California and have lived here for years, and I've never had to worry about anything but smog.

In places like Hawaii, where I grew up, historically most roads were sleepy enough that you could get away with marginal brakes, headlights not working, etc. Hence the safety inspections. Even as late as the mid-1980s, I've been treated to the sight of one Samoan driving a car to get somewhere, with another Samoan sitting on top of the engine, hood up, holding something so the engine would run well enough to get where they were going, probably just up the road to a friend's house or a repair shop - this was on a road that cut though the University Of Hawaii campus on the island of Oahu. This kind of thing would never fly in California, where driving is a mandated part of life, or has been, for so long. Have marginal brakes or non-working headlights and well, Darwin will weed you out.

Anthony Romano said...


I wasn't aware of that, but I'll certainly believe it. All the more reason to get on with paying off my debts. What I have in mind is more akin to mass incarceration and gulags for people not lucky enough to land a massive salary after falling for the college scam (myself). Forced labor in the name of progress.


Selfish? Perhaps. Sure I'll go ahead and cop to that. I'd just rather find a way back from the ledge we are on, rather than saying "screw it" and jumping into the maws of violence.

I'm of age (turned 29 today) to likely be fed into the meat grinder of the coming civil war that you so happily agitate for. If things go the way you want them to, I'll be conscripted by one side or the other and eat a chunk of lead some where in middle Nebraska for some nonsense cause or another, and my fiance? well, she'll be raped and murdered by one side or the other. That is how wars work.

So selfish? sure. But I'd do anything to keep her from falling on that particularly useless and cruel sword. If that makes me a cultural coward then so be it.

I hope you don't read this as antagonistic. I just have real reservations and fears about the future. War isn't pretty and only people who've never fought a war have the luxury of wishing for one.

patriciaormsby said...

A couple of notes: as of about 18 years ago, when I had one of the early hand-held Garmin GPS devices useful for stuff like hang gliding and trekking through wilderness, you'd turn the thing on and it would give you a map of satellites floating by, whose signals it was receiving. If there were at least three, the computer would triangulate from the satellites' predicted positions at that time and give you your position down to about 100 meters. Those satellites were not in geostationary orbit, and I don't know if that has changed since, but triangulation would not work, I think, with a line of satellites above the equator. Thus GPS would be vulnerable to the Kessler Syndrome.

Regarding spices for Indian food, there are only a few such as cinnamon and black pepper that really need a tropical climate. Turmeric grows okay in temperate zones, but if winter temperatures fall below freezing, you have to dig up and store the roots until spring, and the result is you don't get quite as much yellow from them. That would be hothouse, or maybe trading with Texas. This year, I've finally had luck with cumin. It just seems to need a rain-free microclimate and rich soil. So now I am proudly Mexican food-independent right here by Mt. Fuji! I do very well with Thai and Indian food, too, but the trade in turmeric and black pepper will be important. (Both are also important medicines for us.)

Shane W said...

an important thing to remember is that can kicking exercises only serve to make for an even worse crisis in the future. There's really nothing we can do to prevent the consequences of our actions...

Cherokee Organics said...


Thank you for your story, and as I was reading it, I felt as if I was travelling along with you and your memories. The beach over winter really is the time when nature shows who is the boss.

Over the past few days, the east coast of this continent has had what has been described elsewhere as a Frankenstorm which is a combination of a massive super cell and king tides. I believe that description is a derogatory name, but the storm was a big one and has washed beaches away, dumped huge quantities of rain both of which have caused massive flooding along the coastal towns and cities (including Sydney) all the way down to the island state of Tasmania.

Record floods in Tasmania

NSW weather: Collaroy swimming pool collapses as giant waves hit beachfront houses

NSW Weather: Drone captures Collaroy destruction

My thoughts go out to any and all people affected by the severe weather and flooding.

I look forward to reading your thoughts on data versus information. People certainly tend to confuse the two issues.

Oh, given that it is now less than three weeks to the winter solstice, I've started including the daily statistics again from the solar photo voltaic off grid power system on the blog. It makes for interesting reading. I do get rather disturbed by peoples faith based statements that they make about renewable energy systems...



Sylvia Rissell said...

@Shane W:
There is a difference between "Im going to help my kid with rent so my grandaughter (who loves and respects me) can live in a safer place"
"Im going to eat a bullet because a sometimes-rude internet stranger says I am a waste of space and the cause of all his problems."

One is supporting family...the other is giving up any hope of ever being useful or helpful ever again.

Shane W said...

I think you mentioned you were a millennial once during one of the generational discussions. Your parents & possibly grandparents peered into the future, were horrified by what they saw, then buried their heads in the sand by putting their short-term, immediate needs and concerns ahead of your generation's welfare. Why would you want to do what was done to you to future generations?
Due to a mail delay, I just now got Into the Ruins, and I am blown away. I'm amazed at the wealth of talent here, and in awe to be in its presence. I had only a small little part reviewing some for typos & grammatical errors before forwarding them on to Joel. Joel, it is awesome. I am inspired. I would love to have a bigger part in it. Oddly enough, it made me reflective about how I am in the world...

Chris Balow said...


Regarding your response to Don ("the Ohio valley is the strategic pivot of North America") do you see some of it's large cities (Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, etc.) as the future power centers of a deindustrial Ohio Valley? Or, in keeping with your assessment from a few years back ("Cities of the Deindustrial Future"), would those populations centers be too large to maintain themselves as well as the smaller cities, like such as Huntington, WV? Maybe the large urban centers would likely maintain their status, but still suffer a good degree depopulation in the process?

David said...

It really is amazing to see this post's dialogue mirrored in actual conversations. I propose the idea that the US ought to substantially disconnect from the world economy and construct a sustainable, self-supporting economy off the to side while everyone else fights it out for the remaining world resources and words like "ludicrous," "unworkable," and "drivel" get tossed back at me. Truly fascinating.

Jon from Virginia said...

Gene Logsdon has passed. There is a short mention on his website, The man could write- In addition to "The Contrary Farmer", his most famous book, he wrote a book about how to make a traditional manure pack for animals confined in winter, "Holy S---", that I read in one sitting, and I'm a town boy with clean hands. He was nearly as prolific as our host-that is just the one that I own.

Here is a nice sample, from his post "Dancing with the Weeds"

"Fighting weeds in the beginning of farming was something of an art form and not so back-breaking because many people “made light the task.” In the early Middle Ages, without metal-bladed hoes, the first agriculturists used a forked stick in one hand and a hooked stick (called a weed hook) in the other. The idea was to avoid bending over so much. Advancing across a crop field, the farmer used the forked stick to push down the top of a weed and pin it to the soil surface until, moving forward, he could step on it with one foot while his other foot was holding down the weed he had previously pinned to the ground. That weed he would pull out of the ground by hooking it close to its base with the weed hook in his other hand. Thus he would glide forward: pinning down a weed ahead of him while simultaneously hooking and pulling out the one behind him already pinned down. As he did so, he left the pulled weeds in neat mulch rows for the later harvesters to walk on as they cut the grain. The whole process required practiced skill and an athletic sense of measured balance. Dorothy Hartley wrote in her fascinating book Lost Country Life (1979) that this rhythmical action “was perhaps very like a swinging dance.” To make sure the work did not get too oppressive, the weed dancers were allowed generous noontime breaks for napping, so old medieval records reveal."

Aron Blue said...

@Grebulocities As a supplement to your data point about the uptick in driving, this link popped up on my Facebook page.

W. B. Jorgenson said...


Sadly most people reject studies showing phones cause health problems out of hand. Most of the ones who accept it then insist it's not a valid reason to object to them because microwaves cause cancer too, and nothing short of saying "I don't use a microwave" will convince them it's not a valid comparison.

At which point the argument gets sidetracked with "How do you heat up food?" and I eventually give up. It's too much effort to deal with people sometimes. It's one of the reasons I'm unhappy with the fact I was raised upper class, it means that as I now try to simplify my life most people I know are unable to understand it.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I've been driving in California for decades. When I was younger, I didn't maintain my vehicle. I got stopped a couple of times and given a fix it ticket for a light or something else obvious to a traffic cop. That's the only form of enforcement I'm aware of. I've been registering my old car by mail for decades without ever being required to get an inspection.

California enforces its tailpipe emissions laws vigorously. Every two years, you have to get the car tested at a state approved shop before you mail in the registration fee. The test results are sent directly to the DMV and if you don't pass, you have to repair the car before registering it. The state will also pay you $1000 if you send your old polluting car to a wrecker.

M Smith said...


"I was so disappointed the '08-'09 recession didn't lead to a full on Depression."

Aaaaand weren't you also just now calling someone else selfish because he didn't want to die in a war you're agitating for?

Shane W said...

I was thinking economic Depression (which I think is baked in @ this point), not necessarily Civil War (my preference for dissolution is via Con Con like JMG outlined in Twilight's Last Gleaming)

alex carter said...

Anthony Romano - In other words, our prison system as it stands now. Prisoners do a TON of manufacturing and labor now, from taking airline reservations over the phone to making US military uniforms; do you think the Wehrmacht and the SS were the only soldiers to wear prisoner-made uniforms? All that has to happen is for the prison system as it stands now to be enlarged, as it's gradually enlarging now. The public is already on board, if you went to prison you must have done something wrong.

Jon From Virginia - Also, a basic hoe isn't that hard to make. Take any flat rock and sharpen it, and make a hoe. You can also just use a stick with a "base" where it was taken off a larger branch, and make a decent hoe for soft soil. Also, there's always sending the kids out and having them pull weeds. This is why weed pulling, and dish washing, don't bug me now. As a kid I did so much of both that they became meditative activities.

Aron Blue - I think I could really enjoy living out of a van, and traveling around a bit. The problem is, it takes either some kind of money like a pension coming in, or some way to make money that's very portable. But yes, as more and more Americans are becoming homeless or seeing it happen to their family and friends, not all are willing to huddle in fear while they wait for it to happen to them. Not a few are intent on at least making the system have to work a bit to plow them under and becoming mobile as a "rubber tramp" is one way to do that.

alex carter said...

W.B. Jorgenson - The current philosophy on electromagnetic radiation damage is, below the energy level where it's called "ionizing radiation", the only damage is heating damage. "Ionizing radiation" is stuff at the short wavelengths of X-rays and shorter. So, as current knowledge would have it, unless your cell phone is radioactive, there's nothing to fear.

There's a lot of obfuscation on this subject because almost everyone has a cell phone, and for everyone who wants to sell you one, there's someone else who wants to sell you some snake-oil gadget to keep you from "getting cancer" from it or something.

But perhaps the most impartial large-scale test is to simply check for cancer rates among those who are exposed to lots of RF radiation over time. This would include people like military radio and radar personnel, people who work around cell towers, people who work in and around radio and TV transmitting stations, etc. And there's no higher rate of cancer among these people.

alex carter said...

Unknown (Deborah Bender) - Yes, I was going to add the in a way the safety inspections are in force in California but they're ongoing. Fix-it tickets are a real thing.

latheChuck said...

A quick comment on the utility of GPS: it's not just "where" you are, but also "when". That is, to solve the equations for location also requires solving them for time. With four satellites in view, you can solve for latitude, longitude, altitude, and time of day, and the time estimate is VERY accurate. It is so accurate that electric power stations use it to synchronize phasing and switching of the grid flow, and wireless communications networks use it to arbitrate whose turn has come to transmit (and whose to receive), on a millisecond by millisecond basis (so your conversations seem continuous). Some radio broadcast stations synchronize multiple transmitters, so you can travel from one broadcast cell to another without noticing.

In fact, a 13 MICROsecond glitch in GPS operations took a UK broadcaster off the air.[ ... "The world is dependent on GPS for a vast range of critical applications from navigation to financial trading, and precision docking of oil tankers to high tech farming."

latheChuck said...

Re: auto inspections ... Here in Maryland, exhaust emissions are tested every two years, and an overall safety inspection is required for a sale. I suppose they're saying "you can't poison your neighbors for more than two years at a time; and though you can let your own car deteriorate into an unsafe condition, we won't let you pass off your problems to someone who can't (or won't try to) discover them on their own."

John Roth said...

Speaking of people who don't like what they're seeing: has anyone else read Unnecessariat by Anne Amnesia? . I'm told it's making the rounds these days.

latheChuck said...

On the importance of a social life: I was invited to a party in honor of the high school graduation of a neighbor's son. While there, I made the acquaintance of the spouse of a relative of the boy's father... who is involved with international banking. If I heard him correctly, he said something like this: "The global economy is now like a type-1 diabetic. It only survives by constant monitoring and intervention."

This reminds me of a time I went wading in a nearby creek to escape summer heat. I slowly walked downstream on a sandbar with water up to my ankles, then knees, then hips. As long as I walked along with the flow of the water, my footing was secure. As soon as I changed my mind, though, and tried to walk upstream, I could only maneuver from side to side, not into the current, and my sandbar got narrower and narrower until I was forced to swim. The big difference is, I only needed a few swimming strokes to reach a bank that I could climb out on.

patriciaormsby said...

@WB Jorgenson, I have no envy at all for the upper classes. The last time I attended a sumptuous banquet with a few Self Defense Force generals and other amazing people (ironically, this was for a friend opening a sword smith foundry after years of apprenticeship), we all got food poisoning, and the last time I was put in the first class cabin (never again!) I had to spend the whole flight watching a spoiled brat with his itchy trigger finger on his cell phone. Moreover, the friend who had me investigate what new pollutant was causing widespread illness in Tokyo in 1996, from which I learned about what the Soviets called "radiowave illness" and that I had been increasingly affected too, was upper class (and it really is a credit to the US that we automatically assumed the ability to be friends), and when push came to shove, phone use had to be rationalized, whereas I had the freedom (and it really is a freedom) to reject it. Japanese friends have expressed envy that I have a medical excuse for rejecting cell phones. One human rights aspect I had been missing was the misery of being on call for every emotionally needy person you know. The Japanese are not allowed to say "no."

We might not be folks near to you, but just know that there are lots of us out here who will be very supportive when you are able to ditch the little b*gger and sympathetic while you aren't.

Interestingly, I read something yesterday that is directly related to our predicament, though it was based on the 911 absurdities. It was a comment at Zero Hedge, but was so insightful, I copied it all over to a Word file. It is here: Comment by Radical Marijuana, June 5, 2016, at:

It is long, but among the things he says are: "While it is difficult to discern what actually happened, since so much evidence was summarily destroyed, and no proper criminal investigations were allowed to happen, it is possible to determine who had the official legal power in order to enable that destruction of evidence and obstruction of the proper legal procedures to happen." and "Civilization controlled through the excessive successfulness achieved by enforcing frauds becomes increasingly psychotic. There are no ways to resolve that situation than through eventual psychotic breakdowns. Welcome to the Bizarro Mirror World Wonderland Matrix Folks. Everything here operates in the most absurdly backward ways possible. Since everything that civilization does became based on a long history of backing up lies with violence, as Orwell wrote, people are brainwashed to perceive that "2 + 2 = 5"

I earmarked it because I think it relates to the decline of the US as a superpower that JMG says he will address soon.

I'll be out for the next two weeks, so will probably miss the ability to contribute to what promises to be a really fascinating discussion.

Varun Bhaskar said...


That's probably going to have to wait, but it's a thought worth considering. Strange thing is, I don't think the hop to retro would be that hard in India. The country already has one leg in each world.



alex carter said...

Varun - I few up in the USA in the 1970s, trust me I know about one foot in each world. Foraging/fishing for food, weighing less than 100 lbs, sewing up tears in my clothes, the whole bit. The USA does not seem to be willing to look back at how poor most people were even that recently, and the only "nod" I've seen toward is is, in a once-popular TV show about the 1970s, "The Seventies Show", all the characters are skinny.

barrigan said...

@latheChuck - Right. GPS and similar systems are so precise that things like relativity have to be taken into account in the calculations, otherwise things don't work.

I think a major contributor to the Kessler syndrome will be the simple fact that the reason we can tell where a satellite is in space is because it's transmitting. If it disintegrates, only the part(s) of it with transmitters will be broadcasting its location (assuming the transmitters remain functional).

On a side note, I finished JMG's "homework" yesterday - read Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth." One of my more unexpected discoveries was that the English translator helpfully converts the temperature measurements out of Verne's original Celsius and into Fahrenheit, and even makes a note that he is doing so!

Tidlösa said...


This is seriously off topic, but since you discussed Cthulhu and "Cthulhu for president" before, you might find this funny!

Cthulhu for President, because *No* Lives Matter! :D

Patricia Mathews said...

Today is the New Mexico primary. By now it's a mere formality. We'll go into the second half of the year with two cars headed for the same cliff: one driven erratically at 95 miles an hour by a man who's been whooping it up all year and navigates by the seat of his pants; the other by a hard-headed businesswoman whose expensive, high-tech GPS assures her that she's on a major interstate and the bridge ahead of her has not fallen into the arroyo below. After all, who is she trained to believe? The GPS, or her own lying eyes?

Peter VE said...

I finished my homework! I decided that I should read the oldest known tale, so Gilgamesh it was. The tale is a short one, and Gilgamesh did not seem to have learned much during it. I learned that we need to revive the worship of Ishtar, on the other hand.

W. B. Jorgenson said...

Alex Carter,

I have no doubt that a lot of studies show no effect. And I wouldn't be terribly surprised that is the case for most people. Personally, I've seen no health changes since I got my phone, nor when I leave mine alone for some time as I often do, so for me it's a non-issue. However, to dismiss the studies without reading them is what bothers me.

I'd be very surprised if the effect of slightly heating a part of your body, as keeping a phone in a pocket does, has no effect whatsoever over very long periods of time though...


I think the plight of my class is unfortunate, but largely self-inflicted. I'm a little surprised more upper class people aren't sick given the quality of what passes for "food" for many of us. The less time I have to spend in an upper class environment the better. I'm also a little surprised at how little privacy upper class folk have these days, by choice. So many let strangers monitor our entire life in the name of "security". So no, I won't miss the life when I'm able to leave it. And I too won't envy those who keep it.

onething said...

Robert Carran,

I really appreciate your logical analysis of ideas, however, I noted an ironic twist in this remark:

" but I consider any assignment of intentionality to Earth as absurdly anthropomorphic. "

In my opinion, it is you who are anthropomorphising here. If I grok you aright, you seem to assume that only human beings are conscious. Therefore, if we think there may be other types of beings we can only be anthropomorphising to impute the possibility of consciousness as by definition only humans have it (perhaps mammals slightly).

Ray Wharton said...

@ onething

Are you claiming that Robert is absurdly anthropomorphizing intentionality?

Ed-M said...

Morris Berman dug up this little nugget and posted the link on his blog, Dark Ages America:

«Oldest ‹Older   1 – 200 of 210   Newer› Newest»