Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Learning From Failure: A Modest Introduction

The other day, one of the readers over at the other blog asked a question as sensible as it is timely: why do so many sane people start foaming at the mouth when the subject of this year’s US presidential election comes up? It’s a fair question.  Even by the embarrassing standards of political discourse that apply to the United States these days, the blend of sheer paralogic, parroted sound bites, and white-hot rage that can be heard from the supporters of both major party candidates is out of the ordinary. I spent some time mulling over the question, and I think I know the answer: cognitive dissonance.

That can be explained by a simple thought experiment.  Let’s imagine, dear reader, that you were to go into a Starbuck’s in a hip neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, and ask the people there—dyed-in-the-wool Democrats to a man, woman, gender-nonspecific individual, and child—to describe their nightmare presidential candidate, the person they’d least like to see in the White House next January.

They’d tell you that it would be a political insider openly in bed with banks and big business who spent years in public service pandering to the rich, who is also a neoconservative who pursued regime-change operations against Third World countries and was committed to military confrontation with the Russians. The candidate would have a track record supporting the kind of trade agreements that allow corporations to overturn environmental laws, and would also be dogged by embarrassingly detailed allegations of corruption on a stunningly blatant scale. The candidate would insist that everything was just fine with America, and anyone who disagreed was just being negative. Oh, and it would help if the candidate had engaged in race-baiting behavior, and had insisted that a woman’s claim that she was raped wasn’t to be taken seriously if it was directed at a member of the candidate’s own family.

That is to say, the rank and file Democrats’ idea of the worst possible President is Hillary Clinton.

Now let’s imagine that you were to hop on a Greyhound, get off in Bowling Green, Kentucky, head for the nearest Southern Baptist church social, and ask the people there—dyed-in-the-wool Republicans down to the very last lady, gentleman, and well-scrubbed child—to describe their nightmare presidential candidate, the person they’d least like to see in the White House come January.

They’d tell you that of course it would be a Yankee from New York City, which still edges out Los Angeles in the minds of many of the godly as the ultimate cesspit of evil in North America. The candidate would be a profiteer who made a pile of money exploiting vice, a wheeler-dealer who repeatedly declared bankruptcy to get out from under inconvenient debts. The candidate would be vulgar—you have no idea of the force of this word until you’ve heard it uttered in tones of total disdain by an elderly woman who’s a downwardly mobile descendant of Southern planters—and a hypocrite in religious matters, mouthing only such Christian catchphrases as might help win the election. Such a candidate would of course be on a second or third or fourth marriage, have fathered a child out of wedlock, and would fail to show any trace of pious horror toward gays, lesbians, transexuals, and the like. Finally, such a candidate would claim that America is no longer the greatest nation on Earth and has to make sweeping changes to become great again.

That is to say, the rank and file Republicans’ idea of the worst possible President is Donald Trump.

I suppose its probably too late in the game for both of the parties to do the right thing and swap candidates, so that the Republicans can go back to running a corrupt establishment neoconservative and the Democrats can field a libertine populist demagogue. Lacking such a sensible move, it’s not at all surprising that so many people have basically gone gaga, as Democratic and Republican voters try to convince themselves that they really do want to vote for someone who’s literally everything they least want in the Oval Office. That degree of cognitive dissonance does not make for calm discussions, rational decisions, or sane politics.

We can therefore expect any number of bizarre outbursts as the current race settles which of the two most detested persons in American public life gets the dubious benefit of putting a hand on the Bible next January, and becoming the notional leader of a bitterly divided nation in the throes of accelerating political, economic, and social decline. While that plays out, though, there are other dimensions of politics that deserve discussion, and some of them surfaced in a big way in response to my post last month talking about the failure of climate change activism to achieve any of its goals.

That post attracted quite a few hostile comments and no shortage of furious denunciations. A very large number of these focused on one detail in the post:  the comparison I drew between climate change activism and the campaign for the right to same-sex marriage here in the United States, in that both faced a well-funded opposition that pursued a scurrilous campaign of disinformation against them. The campaign for same-sex marriage, I pointed out, triumphed anyway, so the defeat of climate change activism couldn’t be blamed on the opposition alone; the reasons why climate change activism had failed, while the right to same-sex marriage was now the law of the land, had to be taken into account.

This, however, a remarkably large number of my readers were unwilling to do. They insisted that the goal of the campaign for same-sex marriage rights was a simple, straightforward change in laws that affected very few people, while the goal of climate change activism was a comprehensive overturn of every aspect of contemporary life. Some of them got rhetorical on the grand scale, painting the sheer overwhelming difficulty of doing anything about climate change in such daunting colors that I don’t think all the climate denialists on the planet, backed by a grant from Exxon, could have equalled it. It seems never to have occurred to them to ask whether there was a way to reframe their goal into something more like same-sex marriage—something, that is, that they might be able to accomplish.

More generally, the core of the hostile response was an absolute rejection of the idea that the climate change movement should learn anything from its failure. That’s a surrender more total than anything Exxon’s board of directors could have hoped for in their fondest dreams. Movements for social change that want to win always take each temporary defeat as a learning experience, draw lessons from the failure, and change their tactics, strategy, and framing of the issue based on those lessons, then fling themselves back into the struggle with a better chance at victory. They also look at other movements that succeed and ask themselves, “How can we do the same thing with our cause?” Movements for social change that respond to failure by reaching for excuses and trying to convince themselves and everyone else that the battle could never have been won in the first place, on the other hand, get a shallow grave and a water-color epitaph.

For what it’s worth, I think there’s something even more important to be learned from the insistence that the lessons of the movement for same-sex marriage rights can’t possibly be applied to climate change activism. The same-sex marriage movement was notable among recent initiatives on the leftward end of the political spectrum for two distinctive features. The first was that it went out of its way to violate the conventional wisdom that’s governed activism in the US since the early 1980s. The second is that it won. These two things are by no means unrelated.  In fact, I’d like to suggest that certain habits, which have been de rigueur for social change movements for the last thirty years, have been responsible for their near-total failure to accomplish their goals over that period.

Let’s take a look at those habits one at a time.

1. Piggybacking

This is the insistence that any movement for social change has to make room on its agenda for all the other currently popular movements for social change, and has to divert some of its time, labor, and resources to each of these other movements. Start a movement for any one purpose, and you can count on being swarmed by activists who insist they want to be your allies.  Some insist that they’re eager to help you so long as you’re willing to help them, some insist that you can best pursue your goal by helping them pursue theirs, some insist that theirs is so much more important than yours that if you’re a decent person you should drop your cause and join them, but it all amounts to a demand that you divert some of your money, time, labor, and other resources from your cause to theirs.

Behind the facade of solidarity, that is, the social-change scene is a Darwinian environment in which movements compete for access to people, money, and enthusiasm. Piggybacking is one of the standard competitive strategies, and it really goes into overdrive as soon as your movement comes up with a plan to do something concrete about the problem you’re trying to solve. At this point, your allies can be counted on to insist that your plan isn’t acceptable unless it also does something to benefit their cause. You can’t just fix A, in other words; you’ve also got to do something about B, C, D, and so on to Z—and long before you get there, your plan has stopped being workable, because no possible set of actions can solve all the world’s problems at once.

One of the things that set the campaign for same-sex marriage rights apart from other movements for social change, in turn, is that it refused to fall for piggybacking. It kept its focus on its actual goal—getting same-sex couples the right to marry—and refused to listen to the many voices that insisted that it was unrealistic to pursue this goal all by itself, and they should get in line, join the grand movement for social change, and wait their turn. If they’d listened, they’d still be waiting. Instead, they succeeded.

2. The Partisan Trap

The Democratic Party is the place where environmental causes go to die. To some extent, today’s US partisan politics is the ultimate example of piggybacking; movements on the leftward end of things have been talked into believing that they should put their energy into getting Democratic candidates elected, rather than pursuing their own agendas, and as a result Democratic candidates get elected but the movements for social change find that their own causes go nowhere.

This isn’t accidental. Both US parties have perfected the art of reducing once-independent movements for social change into captive constituencies, which keep on working to elect candidates for one or the other party, while getting essentially nothing in return. The Democratic party establisnment has no more interest in seeing climate change activism succeed than their Republican opposite numbers have in seeing the antiabortion movement succeed; in both cases, that would cause the movements to fade away, as movements do when they triumph, and important captive constituencies would be lost to the parties that own them. It’s much more profitable to the party apparatchiks to toss occasional crumbs to their captive constituencies, blame the other party for the failure of the captive constituencies to achieve any of their goals, and insist every four years that their captive constituencies have to vote the way they’re told, because the other party is so much worse.

The campaign for same-sex marriage rights managed to break out of that trap despite the strenuous efforts of both parties to keep it in its assigned place. It so happens that there are a significant number of gay and lesbian people who are Republicans—who vote for GOP candidates, donate to GOP campaigns, and take part in party activities—and they bombarded their Republican legislators with letters demanding that the GOP do what it claims it wants to do, and get government off people’s backs. This played a significant role in bringing about the collapse of GOP opposition to same-sex marriage, and thus to the success of the movement.

3. Purity Politics

The creation of a movement that included Republican as well as Democratic gays, lesbians, and sympathetic straight people also violated another commandment of contemporary left-wing activism, which is that movements for social change must exclude everyone who fails any of a battery of tests of ideological purity. It’s been pointed out, and truly, that the Right looks for allies to attract while the Left looks for heretics to expel; this is one of the reasons that for the last forty years, the Right has been so much more successful than the Left.

To some extent, purity politics is simply the flipside of piggybacking. If your movement also has to support every other movement on the leftward end of things, the only people who will be attracted to your movement are those few who also agree with the agendas of every one of the other movements on the list. Still, there’s more going on here than that. I’ve written in a previous post here about the way that narratives about race in America have been transformed into a dysfunctional game in which bullying an assortment of real and imagined persecutors has taken the place of doing anything to better the lives of those affected by racial injustice. Purity politics rises out of the same dynamic, and it’s played a large role in taking any number of potentially successful movements and reducing them to five or six people in an empty room, each of them glaring suspiciously at all the others, constantly on the lookout for any sign of deviant thinking.

One of the reasons the movement for same-sex marriage rights triumphed, in turn, was precisely that it refused to get into purity politics. All that mattered, in large parts of the movement, was that you were in favor of giving same-sex couples the right to marry, and a great many people who weren’t in favor of the whole gamut of social-change movements were in fact perfectly willing to let gay and lesbian couples tie the knot. That capacity to bridge ideological divides and find common ground on a single issue isn’t a guarantee of victory, but refusing to do so is almost always a guarantee of defeat.

4. Pandering to the Privileged

No one ever built a mass movement by appealing to an affluent minority. That’s one of the major reasons why so few movements for social change these days show the least sign of becoming mass movements. Since the early 1980s, most activists have framed their appeals and their campaigns as though the only audience that mattered consisted of affluent liberals, and as often as not went out of their way to ignore or even insult the great majority of Americans—you know, the people who would have had to be on their side if their cause was going to achieve any kind of lasting victory.

I’ve discussed in other posts on this blog the extent to which class issues have become a taboo subject in contemporary politics, precisely during the decades in which the once-prosperous American working classes have been destroyed. In our collective conversation about politics, you can talk about race, you can talk about gender, you can even talk about the very rich, but if you talk about another very important divide—the divide between the people who earn salaries and have done very well for themselves, and the people who earn wages and have been driven into poverty and misery by easily identifiable policies supported across the board by the people who earn salaries—you can count on being shouted down. (One of the many advantages of having this conversation on the fringes where archdruids lurk is that the shouting is slightly muffled out here.)

A great many soi-disant radicals have thus ended up trotting meekly along after the privileged classes, begging for scraps from the tables of the affluent rather than risking so much as a raised eyebrow of disapproval from them. Real change will come to the United States when others learn, as Donald Trump already has, that the exclusion of the needs, interests, and viewpoints of wage-earning Americans from our national politics and public discourse has shattered their once-robust faith in the status quo and made them ripe for political mobilization. That change need not be for the better; if the mainstream parties continue to act as though only the affluent matter, the next person who finds a following among the wage class may have a taste for armbands and jackboots, or for that matter, for roadside bombs and guerrilla warfare; but change will come.

The movement for same-sex marriage rights had a great advantage here, in that the policy changes it wanted to put in place were just as advantageous for wage-earning same-sex couples in Bowling Green and Omaha as for salary-class same-sex couples in Seattle and Boston. (If you don’t think there are wage-earning same-sex couples in Bowling Green and Omaha, by the way, you need to get out more.)  That gave their movement a mass following that, even if court rulings hadn’t made the point moot, had already begun to win votes on a state-by-state basis and would have won a great many more.

And the movement against anthropogenic climate change? If you’ve been following along, dear reader, you’ll already have noticed that it fell victim to all four of the bad habits just enumerated—the four horsepersons, if you will, of the apocalyptic failure of radicalism in our time. It allowed itself to be distracted from its core purpose by a flurry of piggybacking interests; it got turned into a captive constituency of the Democratic Party; it suffers from a bad case of purity politics, in which (to raise a point I’ve made before) anyone who questions the capacity of renewable resources to replace fossil fuels, without conservation taking up much of the slack, is denounced as a denialist; and it has consistently pandered to the privileged, pursuing policies that benefit the well-to-do at the expense of the working poor.  Those bad habits helped foster the specific mistakes I enumerated in my earlier post-mortem on climate change activism, and led the movement to crushing defeat.

That wasn’t necessary, nor is any future climate change activism required to make the same mistakes all over again. In an upcoming post, I plan on sketching out how a future movement to stop treating the atmosphere as an aerial sewer and start mitigating the ecological impact of our idiocy to date might proceed. The specific suggestions I’ll offer will be tentative, but the lessons taught by the success of the campaign for same-sex marriage rights will be incorporated in them—and so will the equally important lessons taught over and over again by the failure of other movements for social change in our time.


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Mark Rice said...

You asked where I live that has less vitriol in political discussion. I live in the "Silicon Valley"-- San Jose CA. I will describe the silicon valley:

This is a rather unhip suburban sprawl. Compared to San Francisco or Santa Cruz or Berkely or Oakland or just about anywhere else nearby we are uncool. We are also almost "Conservative" compared to the surrounding towns.

However we have fantastic ethnic diversity here. We have Aseans, Europeans, Africans and people from the Americas in profusion. People from India, China, Germany, Argentina, Vietnam, Russia, etc. etc Working here is like being on the bridge of the Enteprise. This is not due to "do gooders" thinking we have to "help our little brown brothers" or anything at all like that. The employers brought many of the immigrants here on H1B visas to lower labor costs. It was "greedy capitalists" who gave us this multi-ethnic paradise.

I like the mutli-ethnic envirement. It is worth the price. The workplace is more stimulating. I have friends from around the world. We have all sorts of ethnic restaraunts that are not part of national chains. The food is good and diverse.

The main industry -- the electronics industry is inherently unstable. A company is only as good as it's last product. The industries are fiercely competative. I have worked for companies that were successfull for a whie and now do not exist. Usually companies that go from success to failure in solid industry fail due declines in the internal culture. The comic strip Dilbert is a documentary describing what happens to large companies. But sometimes the whole business changes and people just are not buying much of what a company makes any more.

Most of the people I know are well educated, somewhat affluent and allege themselves to be "envirenmentalists". They are somewhat "pro - business". Everyone here realises a business is always a tenuous operation always subject to the whims of changing world.

Layoffs are always a fact of life here. Often companies get into trouble and need to cut costs. Sometimes companies are doing well and cut costs.

The executives are not the most trusted or liked people in the world. Even some of the more respected executives are seen as jerks. Sometimes politicians or newspapers talk to the these executive with the idea that they actually represent us. The newspapers and politicians just seem clueless.

I see more talk of politics but not much vitriol. We are looking on in horid fascination. The unstable industries makes us a little more excepting of imperminance. We are always having to change how we think about things.

Those of us who swing more in the Democratic direction see we did not get what we voted for with Obama. And it is a bit more obvious what Hillary is. Somesome supporting Trump almost understandable. The Democratic party is like the good company you used to work for that has descended into Dilbertian (rhymes with Dickensian) ineptitude.

I do have a friend who can not see how a Bernie supporter could vote for Trump. But he is not at all comfortable with leaving old the standard narratives even when they are this borken.

I know people who -- at least in the past -- swallowed the Fox News cool-aid hook, line and sinker. Those people had vitriol. I have been curious about what they think now but have been afraid to ask. However they have not been volunteering their opinions as much as in the past. These people used to have the opinion that everything done by Government is Bad while everything done by Business is holy and pure. Maybe this view is fading. The use of immigrants for pay suppression is if anything getting worse. The companies here are morphing into swetshops. Trump has given "Conservatives" permission to see that some actions by Business is not all holy and pure. He is clearly off the Republican Reservation.

Donnie said...

In regards to the Caesar, Pompey and Crassus analogy that has come up; I find it a fascinating example of how things that aren't identical can still be highly instructive.

In one respect I view Hilliary as the Ceaser in this story. Her (and the Clinton machine) hold on real power might be the only thing preventing criminal prosecution. I'm sure Bill's tarmac meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch was about the grandkids...

I see this as analogous to the legal immunity Caesar enjoyed as a Roman Govonor and how the ending of that immunity was the reason he took an army home with him. When you are checkmated flipping over the chessboard Might be a viable strategy.

Also JMG, let me save you the bourbon (or split it with you) when it comes to people's inability to recognize value in seeing useful similarities between different things. I don't think you have to look any further then the schooling system.

10-15,000 hours of training where the only discriminating ability you need is to determine the one "right" answer from a multiple choice list of options determined by the book/ teacher/a uthority.

Seeing grey areas and subtleties doesn't help you succeed in that world. It is a system designed to create a workforce that would not be a threat to vested interests.

The fact that it's taken the wage class 30-40 years to notice how badly they have been treated before they became politically active shows just how powerfull and successful that system is.

I think the salary class is just as much a victim of that system, only the damage was not economic. The effects of that damage on the salary class is why you had to ban an entire class of comments from this discussion (somethjng I don't remember you ever doing before).

It's fascinating to me how interrelated all of these topics are.

I'm a becoming big fan of the 4th turning thesis. Everything is SO intertwined it make sense why a crisis/ winter/ blender moment is the only thing that can undo 80 years of intended and unintended consequences. I was wondering if you have read the book and what your thoughts were?

Peggy Anderson said...

Shane - the folks at Short Mountain have been there a very long time and have had a lot of influence on the local community and been influenced by it. And lots of people have moved there to be near the sanctuary but not actually on it. That said, preppers are all over rural TN regardless of political leanings. Like Kentucky it is a favorable climate, politically and naturally, for that sort of thing.

If you were on the mountain for Beltane 2016, I was there too (and most other years as well), this year in buckskin loincloth with a 7 letter description of my paternity written across my back

Lisa Mullin said...

Stacey Neanderthal: I'll give you an example of a 'sell out'. Now here in Australia we introduced a very clever campaign to reduce bullying of LGBTI kids at school
It was based on 'humanising' LGBTI people and based on some great hard research.

The right wing and the so called 'christians' went off the planet at this. The vilifying comments about LGBTI (especially transgender) kids. Outright hate speech and the usual homophobic claptrap, that heterosexuality is so fragile that even knowing that LGBTI people exist will turn them gay or trans…. As if.

Now a few LGBTI people in public positions actually agreed with this and they got hammered by the vast majority of LGBTI people (who remember being bullied as kids) and especially parents of LGBTI kids (whose kids are the ones suffering).

We are approaching a vote on marriage equality and a huge hate campaign is brewing up, it’s ugly and again :LGBTI kids are the biggest target (these people are despicable). Now the Govt wants to do a non-binding plebecite, but parents of LGBTI have convinced the vast majority of LGBTI people (and all their supporters) that the cost to LGBTI kids (and kids with LGBTI parents) of such a hate campaign is just too much, that some kids will get damaged and even kill themselves over it. That violence against them and LGBTI adults will increase greatly.

So the consensus is that the better tactic is to not have the plebecite, but wait until a new Govt gets elected in a couple of years, because the price will be too high on our kids. We agree we can wait a bit for marriage equality.

A gay Liberal (our conservative party here) MP has been supporting the plebecite …and again he is getting hammered.

This is not ‘group think’, in both of those examples there was tremendous internal debate (we all talk a lot) before a consensus was reached and by and large the majority of LGBTI people stick to that.

Those people ‘policed’ were contacted by many people and the issues were discussed with them (I tried to convince one of them based on actual facts).
Only when they publicly, in the mainstream media, pushed those points of view did LGBTI people react against them, if they had kept it ‘within the family’ they would have been fine, disagreed with of course, but accepted.

Another little secret of the LGBTI movement, we are very fact driven, we use surveys and scientific evidence to argue many of our points (we have a lot of scientists amongst us). Every new piece of research that comes out is eagerly absorbed and discussed. Our ‘Safe Schools initiative came from a lot of hard research into the impacts of exclusion, prejudice and bullying on LGBTI school kids.

And our internal discussions are really good, lively, passionate, respectful, based on facts, people arguing their points, humorous and all the rest. ‘Group think’ is the last thing that happens. But on big issues we try to get a consensus that we present publicly.

Bob said...

Perhaps the Montreal Protocol has lessons that could be applied here.

Iuval Clejan said...

Hi JMG, I wonder what you think of this new strategy (coincidentally just released by a friend of mine a few days ago)? . It seems to not violate any of your suggestions.

Armata said...

I think the SJW's are going to end up provoking a huge backlash. People are really getting tired of the Rescue Game, the extremist hate-mongering rhetoric, the guilt-tripping and all the rest. Did any of you see Hillary's speech about the Alt Right? Even the New York Times, which everyone knows is a leading propaganda organ for the establishment, acknowledges the Alt Right is positively gleeful. And Fourth Revolutionary War was even more blunt.

Talk about an own goal!

Armata said...

@ Lord Beria:

I love your blog. You have some great insights and I look forward to checking back periodically to see your take on current events.

Shane W said...

BTW, Trump may finally be getting his campaign going. I just filled out an online volunteer survey. I checked that I'd be willing to phone bank, door knock (kinda nervous on that one--hope they vet the ZIP codes), travel to swing states, intern...
I wanted to second Bill, the local GOP had a booth at the festival my small town had recently, and there was a noticeable absence of Trump signs. Rand Paul signs, Barr (House) signs, and state legislature signs, but no Trump.
JMG, actually, Rand Paul probably gets a lot of his support from your Baptists. Remember the post about Satanism, Ayn Rand, the GOP, and evangelicals? So they're really Rand Paul supporting, Ayn Rand spouting, Levayan Satanists. Does that make Rand Paul the antichrist? ;)

Shane W said...

Regarding what JMG said about Trump and the issues, that is why I'm supporting him. If I ignore all the incendiary rhetoric and focus solely on the issues, then I'm in agreement w/most of his agenda. Also, regarding LGBT and Republicans, Trump has gone way farther than any previous nominee to be welcoming, and his history suggests one of tolerance in relation to LGBT people, so I'm inclined to be open to him on that basis alone.

Tidlösa said...

Off topic, but relevant for some of the other themes of this blog, and perhaps for the US presidential elections:

When Brzezinski, of all people, sounds more like Trump than Clinton, things have changed. (Weirdly, I was just going to read his old book "The Grand Chessboard". Synchronicity?)

Bill Pulliam said...

Sorry that message from Peggy Anderson (she is my wife) was actually posted accidentally by me from a tablet still logged in to her account. She was there too but not in a loincloth

John D. Wheeler said...

I'm not so much interested in how the climate change movement can be reignited as I am in how Retrotopia could be implemented in real life (which if replicated could do much to mitigate climate change) -- and I'm hoping that having a civil war in the US is not a necessary step!

Armata said...

More evidence the Brave New World in the European Union is coming apart at the seams. There are reports Swedish police officers are resigning in droves, while Inspector Lars Alvarsjö of the Stockholm Police warns that that the Swedish legal system is on the verge of collapse thanks to the Islamic volkerwanderung and the failure of the senile elites to deal with the resulting problems.

Of course, this only the tip of the iceberg and there are growing concerns we could be seeing the same problems here in the US. Even in the case of Sweden, Pat Condell has been talking and writing for years about the escalating disaster in Sweden and warning that Sweden is only the tip of the iceberg...

Leo Santilli said...

Another thinker I read had a post on similar themes, but in the guise of systemic change (e.g. fighting capitalism instead of just fixing one trade law).

And a good quote "“We think you’re wrong and stupid, come join our movement” makes a really crappy recruiting pitch." Mostly towards the open borders idea, but I think it has broader applications.

And the Greens here have definitely shifted away from environmental issues. All there ads in the center of Melbourne where about a "compassionate approach" to refugees (read let more in). An issue which has negligible impact on sustainability (strictly speaking it's actually bad due to increasing a first world population via third world populations).

Social issues (e.g. equality, income, rights etc) are generally irrelevant to environmental issues. I can't remember who said this, but "Genghis Khan's mongols were ecologically sustainable but a highly unequal and violent society".

inohuri said...

I agree on the negative aspects of polygamy. I see the problem as bride price. If bride price could be eliminated then there could be more fairness.

Another aspect of young men not having women is that homosexuality is supposedly forbidden in many such societies. In "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" Lawrence describes gay relationships as being common as a compensation to the lack of women.

Dowry has other problems. In India it seems some fellows are in the business of accepting a dowry and then their wife just happens to die. Then another wife....


For those who think high speed rail is a good idea look here:

In Seattle we get expensive inflexible trolleys to nowhere and a sometimes under construction and sometimes not waterfront tunnel that might never pay for itself especially seeing as it will soon enough be under water. A lot of industrial Seattle is filled mud flats. King County International Airport / Boeing Field has an official altitude of 18 feet/6 meters. The port may have problems...

I voted for the monorail 3 or 4 times and each time it passed in spite of resistance from higher up that kept demanding we vote right. After millions had been spent on the project it was discovered that the tax to fund it wasn't enough so they unwound the project and no one was to blame. I believe that tax continued and was used arbitrarily elsewhere, I'm not even going to try to look for the details. JMG's description of my town as "fetid" seems about right.

We did get light rail/subway. It passes aaaalllll the way under Capitol Hill with one stop. I believe they gave up on the First Hill stop because the glacial till didn't have the right composition. Funny, they build big hospitals there. This area is basically a sand and gravel pile but above ground stuff gets built..

NJGuy73 said...

"Some folks probably get even more of a kick out of vilifying their enemies than celebrating with their comrades."

Josh FTW

nuku said...

@ M Smith,
Respectfully, it might help the many of us here who are “acronym challenged“, if you would at least have the common curtesy to SPELL IT OUT IN FULL the first time you use one of these 3 letter mysteries in your comments. Not all of us live in the USA, and not all of us are conversant with the thousands of possible 3 letter combinations and what they might possibly stand for. Speaking for myself, as soon as I see a comment full of acronyms, I just tune out and keep scrolling. Maybe you just don’t give a hoot if you’re communicating or not....

ed boyle said...

Regarding multiple marriage, relatively rare due to financials but allows rich men to have more children, single women to hook up in bad economic environment. Polyandry practically nonexistent even if law were to allow it. Practical nonlegal promiscuity, open marriage, polyamory environment due to cultural changes would result in each permanent live in partner having multiple shifting relationships on a dating basis. This would be inofficial but accepted by both sides and satisfy certain social needs. Legal change would follow if this became norm. I suspect very few people are capable of such nonjealous tolerance in relationships so that it is more likely to become gay or bi than to accept flexible multiple partnerships in a deeper emotional sense. Gay monogamy is inherently conservative.

Kfish said...

Speaking of learning from the past for climate change activism, I've just been to Rome in the peak of summer. Temperatures routinely hit 35 degrees Celsius for hours during the heat of the day. Yet the centre of Rome was quite livable without airconditioning. Why? Several things. Narrow streets between tall buildings are shaded for most of the day, so even black cobblestones don't heat up. The buildings themselves are light neutral colours which reflect sunlight. A lot of the streets are orientated to the breezes. Fountains are everywhere, having a cooling effect and providing drinking water for everyone. Older buildings are built with very thick stone or brick walls, staying cool inside. Altogether, it's a stunning demonstration of how architecture adapts to local conditions and one we could well learn from. I came home to Brisbane, Australia, which experiences similar summer conditions. The new King George Square, in the city centre, is a concrete-and-glass monstrosity which now routinely hits temperatures of 50 - 60 degrees Celsius because of its terrible design.

Sylvia Rissell said...

So many comments on this issue!

There are two possible patterns of change in resource use.

First, a tiny, fervent "In-group" might make great sacrifices to signal great virtue. Two examples of this are monks who fast for religious reasons, and vegans who strenuously and publicly avoid meat. Persuading a person to join the group is relatively difficult, as the person needs to make large changes.

Second, a large number of people might make small changes. Compare rates of smoking from 1950s to 2010, for example. Fur coats are no longer fashionable. Modern cars go further on a tank of gas. Persuading a person to make a small change is easier, as you are not involving their identity or asking them to reject social groups.

Mathematically, teaching 25 families an animal-free recipe that they will enjoy and cook once a week will reduce the amount of meat consumed as much as converting one person to vegan.

This process can be even further sugar coated: publish a cheerful, illustrated book titled "Easy, Healthy, Exotic Tastes From Around the World" that just happens to be full of beans and vegetables. Sure, some people are going to end up adding bacon bits to the dahl, but overall the average behavior will move.

(Personally I'm not a vegan, but my meat consumption varies with my budget.)

Advocating reduction in resource use is fine, but don't shut out the people who make reductions for different reasons, or in lesser amounts!

Cherokee Organics said...


I haven't quite gotten my head around a thought that I had today whilst travelling on the train to and from Melbourne for the Green Wizards meet up. Incidentally the event was a delightful, enjoyable and very polite discussion.

Anyway, I was reading the comments to this essay which I had stored on my dumb phone for that purpose and I couldn't quite help shaking the feeling from within my brain that when I stepped back from the comments and viewed them as a mass from afar, two common threads emerged in the comments.

The first common thread was that people by and large, when they thought about the future, they kind of believed that it would be much like today but perhaps a little bit - but not too much – poorer. And usually other people would be affected by that decline worse than them. And this is despite the commenters claims to the contrary.

The second thread is that by and large most of the commenters are waiting for someone to be elected that will do something different from what has occurred in the past few years and decades. This belief is strongly held, despite evidence to the contrary, and it all seems rather strange to me. The thing that few people have grasped about relocalisation is that as things become more local in the future we as individuals have to become more actively involved in local affairs. There are other ways for this to occur, but they are generally less pleasant and involve over lords and war lords.

Me, personally, I’m not hanging around waiting and I just sort out my own local backyard.

I wouldn't have twigged to that understanding (about waiting for some to be elected that will do something different), except that I have to provide most of my infrastructure which most people in developed countries take for granted, and one of my water systems went completely wrong this week. And I have to find the problem, and repair - or rectify - the matter and it is a needle in a haystack problem. Most people are busy outsourcing their responsibilities and perhaps that is another reason they are so whingey about current politics, despite the evidence that things are going slightly off the rails. Perhaps there is a deep fear that the days of outsourcing that responsibility are coming to a close? Just sayin...

I blame it on the trains really! ;-)!

What do you reckon? I certainly see a huge amount of faith invested and displayed in your political system.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi thenoteswhichdonotfit,

I have no particular issue with anyones dietary choices and I reckon that veganism is a very tough school. I applaud you and as a disclosure, I pursue a mostly vegetarian diet myself and only consume meat when off the farm.

However, I take a minor issue with the last sentence of yours where you wrote: "However, I do insist they at least respect my choice to be vegan."

The questions I have for you is: "Why should we all do so?" and "What is in it for us to do so?"

I've noticed that the word "Respect" is often thrown around usually in verbal conversations to denote that the person speaking it is demanding unearned wealth. To my mind, if the person intends you physical and/or emotional harm and there is a likelihood that they may be able to achieve their aim, then perhaps "respect" is the right word to use to deflate the emotions in the situation.

However, I have seen that word used to demand cultural perquisites that are not based on any other form of reality other than status. And it is not warranted because in that situation respect is an earned thing, so I advise you to be very careful of using that particular word in future.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Helix,

Thanks! All of those are good things to do. But we are also the future, right now, wherever you are.



David, by the lake said...

@Roy Smith

I think, though, that the "harm to society" argument against plural marriage founders on the same shoals that it did against interracial and same-sex marriage. When you've got consenting adults desiring to enter into a formal relationship and seeking access to the legal rights/responsibilities available to paired marriage couples, I don't see how state can deny them, given the principles we've embraced.

Shane W said...

I think maybe we should start a "Melanie & Peter" thread for amorous ADR readers. i must admit, sometimes I click on someone's photo by their post and think "Frack!" LOL...

Shane W said...

I meant a "Melanie & Peter" thread on Green Wizards...

Shane W said...

oh, I know what a beehive of activity it is on Short Mountain. I went to a striptease/pool party/fundraiser at the distillery owners home, and a weekly potluck @ another home the weekend I was down.

Shane W said...

I was wondering what your opinion of organized labor is, and it's role in creating and sustaining the wage class, and its demise and the implosion of the wage class over the last 40 years. Certainly, labor is now as impotent and incompetent as any of the American left today, and in the back pocket of Hillary Clinton save a few outlying unions. Still, I wonder if you see a reformed labor movement having any role in restoring the wage class, and what role labor should play?

Shane W said...

If you take JMG's "There is no brighter future ahead", I'm just not sure of any role for progressive politics as currently conceived. We're not going to end poverty, we're going to become more impoverished. We're not going to reduce disease, we'll see more of it. We aren't going to raise standards of living, we're gong to see them decline. I just don't see anything of a progressive nature about any of the future bearing down on us, if anything, the corrective will be of a Burkean conservative nature of preserving what good we can, as JMG has outlined in Retrotopia.

Shane W said...

Speaking of labor, it seems that on the whole, Trump has enjoyed good relations w/organized labor, and few state and local labor leaders are willing to say much bad about him, and he enjoys a lot of union support, based on on AFL-CIO surveys...

onething said...

Roy, I think you make some good points, although the extent to which rich men will tie up too many women might be exaggerated. In any sane society, you've got to support them all. In practice, the Mormon offshoots in this country who went rogue and refused to stop polygyny are mostly living with all but the first wife and kids on welfare as unmarried mothers. My opinion after reading a bit about them is that it became a sex cult dressed up as religion, but that's another matter.

I do advocate for polyandry. Especially for those living any kind of labor intensive homesteading lifestyle. You really need two men.


I agree with you that the suburbs are not a lost cause at all but might be quite ideal once remade. There's lots of land available for gardening and other crops and trees, and can easily be made into walkable communities with businesses, schools, churches and so on worked in.

william fairchild said...


Boy howdy, you got a bunch of comments this time.

I look forward to your insights on where climate activism can go, however tentative they may be. Two specific suggestions that I saw in the comments, public transit, and passenger rail make a lot of sense.

I think rail may be easier than transit. Public transit is perceived as being for "those folks", the poor, and is not used by middle class suburban types. Driving your 40,000 dollar pickup truck (whose bed has never been used for cargo) or crossover is a status thing.

But if it could be reframed somehow, a good transit system would be a godsend, particularly for the wage class.

Passenger rail on the other hand, people love it. At least in central IL they do. The route that is gaining traction fastest is CHI-STL. From where I live, it costs about $50 to go to Chicago and only $15 to go to STL. That is dirt cheap. Even though I had airline pass benefits, we used it several times. There is no TSA nonsense, and thunderstorms don't muck up the works.

I think that it must begin on a state or regional level. Routes like CHI-STL or Evansville, Indianapolis, Chicago or Billings-Sheridan-Casper-Cheyenne-Denver. In time, the improved regional systems can be linked for a continental service when that becomes necessary.

We have "high speed" rail. I put it in quotes, 'cause it ain't, really. But they did upgrade the lines with concrete ties and such. Now the standard Amtrak diesel electric can run up to 110mph. A similar deal could be done elsewhere.

Here is the thing, this has taken 5-10 years to do. Fullscale consolidation on the 10th street corridor with a multimodal train depot is another 5-10 years away. Time, man, time. We do not have much.

As far as aviation, here I know of what I speak. As a 20 year vet of the airlines, I think they will go away eventually. When I began there were many major airlines. Just before I started, Eastern, Western, Pan Am, and the original Frontier died. Since then, Northwest, TWA, US Air, Continental, Aloha, America West, Western Pacific all ceased operation or merged. Now we are left with the big 3. Delta, American, United, and the outlier Southwest.

The system is a disaster. TSA, though their mission is noble, is slow and bureaucratic. The ATC system is overwhelmed and outdated. Airports are obsolete. (O'Hare is a nightmare). The hub and spoke system is failing- only 3 airlines mean the number of hubs have shrunk. And routes that should rightfully be 737 routes (ORD-DSM) are now relegated to regional jets. The only reason the majors are profitable is temporarily low oil prices, and the concessions they wrung out of the unions.

Give it time. A restored regional rail system, plus an inevitable oil price spike, plus public disgust may be that nail in their coffin.

As to me, I gave up traditional activism some time ago. I am just worn out by it, and embittered. So I work on my own deal. If someone is curious,I talk to them. Otherwise, I just try to be nice. I can't convince my tea party neighbor to take the train, nor get my ex-airline friends to quit their jobs, so I refuse to get bent out of shape.

We, as a society, left the barn door open...

william fairchild said...


Re- pot growers

Buckle your seatbelts, it appears MD and PA have chosen a model similar to IL on cannabis. The results so far in my state, graft, corruption, and endless litigation. Meanwhile needful clients (whether medical or recreational) are effectively cut out of a legal market.

We have a 6 bn dollar deficit and a 120 bn dollar pension shortfall, but the pols and their cronies are happy. Meanwhile, CO enjoys a budget surplus. Go figure.

Ol' Bab said...

Re: Golocyte, "If the Repubs can somehow feel their way to representing actual wage-class interests, they might survive."

Amen to that! BUT... Not going to happen, (Repub OR Dem) because who pays the pols election/re-election costs? Not the wage class, for sure. Oligarchy, all the way. One nation, by the corporation, for the corporation.

You have to stretch a bit to figure a way around this. The pol (either party) would have to be convinced he could still get funding while supporting policies that would be (or be perceived as) harming corporate interests. (Or rich people, near same thing).
FDR pulled this off, with the help of the Great Depression. Scared the hell out of enough of the rich, plus politics (I think) was more rational back then.

Ol' Bab -from Babcock, not Barbara. Still against Progress.

Bill Pulliam said...

On the comments about >2 partners in a marriage, polygamy, etc., interesting how the critics immediately turn to cultural issues. Polygynous societies treat women worse. Cause and effect? Nations that have lighter-skinned people on average are wealtheir. Cause and effect? We shoudl outlaw dark skin (yes that is an extreme argument, on purpose, no direct comparability between monogamists and racists is intended). Multi-partner relationships = traditional polygamy. Really? Polygyny leaves "surplus men." Um, not sure if y'all have noticed, but in American society young straight people aren't bothering to get married at all, even after multiple kids. That "scarcity" argument assumes everyone wants and needs an opposite-sex spouse.

The only people I have seen flockind towards conventional 1+1 marriage lately are the same sex couples. I am wondering if in just a few more years young people will view marriage as a "gay thing" that the straights don't bother with.

Bill Pulliam said...

Oh and a p.s., I have in fact known quite a few polyandrous relationships, and several polygynandrous relationships. In the gay male world, same-sex triples are not terribly rare. Larger groups seem to tend to naturally divide into couples and triples over the years. I don't have enough experience to speak to what happens among all-female groups.

Varun Bhaskar said...

Archdruid and Nuku,

In other words they're addicted to the rage, self-righteousness, and self-pity? That actually makes perfect sense, no addict in the world would take an action that stopped them from getting their fix. I think I can coin a term for it too - Dark Soma. All of the properties of Soma, none of the enlightenment or liberation.


Heh, yup. That's a good way to get yourself kicked out of plenty of faux-liberal circles.



Lisa Mullin said...

Can anyone think of another pressure group that would do this, the majority of LGBTI people prepared to take a hit because our youngest and most vulnerable are at risk?

Here in Australia we are approaching a vote on marriage equality and a huge hate campaign is brewing up, it’s ugly and again LGBTI kids are the biggest target (these people are despicable).

Now the Govt wants to do a non-binding plebecite, but parents of LGBTI kids have convinced the vast majority of LGBTI people (and all their supporters) that the cost to LGBTI kids (and kids with LGBTI parents) of such a hate campaign is just too much, that some kids will get damaged and even kill themselves over it. That violence against them will increase greatly.

So the consensus is that the better tactic is to not have the plebecite, but wait until a new Govt gets elected in a couple of years, because the price will be too high on our kids. We adults can wait a bit for marriage equality, our kids matter too much.

Another lesson for others to learn from the LGBTI community, "never let short term goals get in the way doing the right damn thing".

donalfagan said...

@ Legalized cannabis, seems to be what WBAL meant by "blind" awarding of cannabis licenses:

[[[The state hired Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute to evaluate applications to grow process and dispense the medicine. They scored 146 applications for 15 grower licenses. There were 811 applications for 94 dispensary licenses, and 124 applications for 15 processing licenses.]]]

BTW, my relative has ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis, and prefers cannabis for dealing with the pain. He got in a great deal of trouble for growing his own, though, so we're hoping he will be able to get it legally. I've never used cannabis, myself, though I'm sure I got some secondhand buzz watching Friday night movies in college lecture halls.

@ Polyamory, someone should write fanfiction with Peter and Melanie, and insert themselves as the Mary Sue (or Marty Stu) in a threesome.

Scotlyn said...

@Onething You are so right about how wealth concentrates. It's almost as if where money already pools is "downhill" for all other flows of money as the sea is to all other flows of water. What seems to have broken is the success of any contraflow mechanism (eg evaporation, precipitation) that would bring money back to the start of the cycle again. Tax & spend used to be a way to do this, but that is among the economic balancing mechanisms that neo-liberalism broke.

Scotlyn said...

@jbucks & nuku, I'm very interested in the no-fish zone idea. I live & work in an Irish fishing port & am well aware that fishing policy is one of the areas in which the EU is particularly stupid. We make fishing boats compile huge amounts of paperwork and documentation to submit to platoons of bureaucrats located onshore, creating resentment, a sense of the stupidity of rules made a long way away, while everyone with half a brain knows that no protection of the fishery is actually occurring. I have long argued that we need a) a dialogue between the scientists & fishermen (in which the bureaucrats might be allowed to fetch the coffee) and b) to put all effort into serious zero-tolerance at-sea patrolling of areas in which fish spawn or that are otherwise biologically sensitive & c) outside those zones let fishermen fish - without having to create documents that exist only to "make-work" for inspectors.

PS. Anyone interested in the politics of fisheries should take a look at the map of the sea fishery areas Brexit will remove from EU control. The next biggest chunk of fishing grounds are those that Ireland brought into the EU. Irexit, anyone?

Scotlyn said...

@Varun I will do as you recommend & if not outside of comment section bounds, let you know. Thanks.

Kevin Warner said...

I am afraid that climate change is now happening and cannot be stopped. Through the reasons enumerated by JMG, the reforms that could have been made would have to have been made a long time ago but never were. That particular train left the station about twenty years ago. At this point, we are so screwed that any reforms can only be more to do with salvage operations rather than prevention. When all the carbon stored in permafrost in Alaska, Siberia and Canada is released that will be when the real fun begins.
Hard choices will no longer be able to be kicked down the road - it ended in a cul-de-sac. As an example, what happens when with declining resources that it is announced that through sea level rising that southern Florida will be abandoned in order to save New York city? That's going to go down really well. As for Americans fleeing coastal regions, if you want to know how how they will be treated, then I recommend that you read Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath"!
Internationally the Greens should have been at the forefront of reform but seem to have become mired in their own politics. Just a small data point is what is happening here in Oz with gay marriage as it came up in the essay( The Greens in Germany have their own problems too going by a page I read recently at and shows how a progressive movement can be hijacked and go to the dark side.
I regret to say that things are going to get a whole lot worse before they start to get better. I hope that we enjoyed the ride.

Michael Reid said...

Dear Archdruid, Thank you for the enlightening essays. You have helped bring clarity to my world view. I appreciate your logic and clarity. Your perspectives are like a breath of fresh air. If you are working alone I can appreciate the tremendous effort on your part in reading and responding to the comments not to mention the profound sense formulated in your weekly essays. Thank you!

Jeff Balvanz said...

JMG asked what we could propose instead of the Bakken pipeline. Right now they're hauling Bakken oil on trains. This causes two problems. First, the trains tend to fall off the poorly-maintained tracks, and since Bakken oil is much more volatile than the old kinds of crude oil it tends to catch fire and explode more easily, causing local disasters. Second, it takes up trains and track space that farmers would like to use to haul grain to market. It seems to me that the solution to this problem is to build more and better train tracks, so that there's plenty of room to haul both oil and grain cars that will stay on the tracks where they belong. Then when the Bakken oil field is dry, and the pipeline would be completely worthless, there will be trains to haul other things more efficiently than trucks do.

I wonder, though, how will the people who don't want a pipeline crossing their property and potentially contaminating their water supply feel about a railroad right-of-way crossing their land instead?

M Smith said...

@Cherokee Organics,

I've noticed that that word is often not so much tossed around as flung, not far short of a slap in the face. It's hard to misuse a word that no longer means anything because it was hijacked long ago and now means whatever the speaker wants it to mean, however, I agree that the speaker should contemplate his true intent before uttering it.


If you'd care to say what you really want to say, I'll address it. I don't believe you're that angry because I used acronyms, each of whose definitions is at the top of the first page of the respective google results.

nuku said...

@ M Smith,
What I wanted to say to you re acronyms is exactly what I said; it had absolutely nothing to do with the content of your comments, and there’s no hidden angry agenda. I’m simply expressing my frustration at having to guess, or having to take my time to google, the meaning of various non-word groups of 3 letters with which you, and others, pepper your comments.
My comment was meant in the way of feedback to you, letting you know that for me, and maybe others here, the use of acronyms, which aren’t spelled out in full at least once per comment by the writer, is a block to my comprehension and to you getting your point across to me. It really is that simple.

John Michael Greer said...

Joel, excellent. Precisely -- and you've hit on one of the core elements of a successful strategy, which is that you can't go around talking 24/7 about all the horrible sacrifices that everyone's going to have to make (especially when "everyone" in this case means everyone but the speaker and his or her affluent friends); there has to be some benefit, sometime, to somebody, other than feeling the warm glow of self-righteousness while gazing adoringly in the mirror. And there are very substantial benefits to be had. More on this as we proceed!

Ed, indeed I do; if you reread the text on top of the comment box, the words "concise" and "relevant to the topic of the current week's post" are to be found there, and not by accident, either. You might keep those in mind. ;-)

J8sun, I don't know that I'd consider them activism at all, since their focus seems to be on helping people who have money hold onto it and helping people who want money to get it. Those are reasonable goals, if they can be done without harm to others, but they don't have a lot to do with changing the world -- which is after all what activists are supposed to be about.

Donalfagan, yes, I noted that. Typical; with any luck, when it goes from medical marijuana to out-and-out legalization, something closer to the Colorado system will come in.

Fred, that's a great story, and painfully typical. Obviously they wanted to protest rather than to succeed. Thanks also for the warning about dehydration, which is a real issue, and also for the tip regarding the podcast. One thing -- I'm not on social media, and the podcast has no way for people to contact it other than via social media. Could you, or some other reader who's plugged into Twitter et al., let them know that I'd be happy to appear at some point, so long as they can handle communicating via email and doing an interview over a nice clean land line?

NJguy, excellent. Readers interested in climate change activism, please listen up!

Shane, oh my. Now there's an idea -- insist that those who don't take the consequences of climate change seriously are engaging in "a new form of denialism," and watch the squirmings! As for Starbucks, coffee gives me migraines, and the feeble excuse for tea they serve at those places is better used to dye cheap cotton, so I haven't been to a Starbucks or anything like one in decades. (Funny story: according to persistent Seattle rumor, the hippies who started Starbucks were originally in the business of smuggling cocaine, using big sacks of coffee beans with little bags of cocaine in the middle to evade the drug dogs. They discovered to their surprise that they could make more money selling the coffee, and got out of the cocaine business. And that, as they say, was history...)

Bill, that may be a local thing. Here in Cumberland, Trump signs are appearing all over town; there was a Bernie sign, a big one, on a building in the rich part of town, but that's gone now, and it's all Trump all the time. His local campaign headquarters is about three blocks from my house, in the poor part of town -- by the way, it's very much a mixed-race neighborhood, and not all the houses with Trump signs have white people sitting on the porches. Trump bumper stickers are showing up more and more often...and I have yet to see a single Hillary sign, bumper sticker, or button. This is a blue town in a red county, but it seems to be gearing up to vote blood red in November.

David, good. Moral arguments are the weakest possible arguments in politics: they amount to saying "You should do this because I think you should." You have to give people something better than that. I've found that talking about the way that the pursuit of empire is running this country into the ground is a good tactic in many cases.

Donalfagan, true enough, and it's pretty clearly going to be handled on the basis of who shouts loudest.

John Michael Greer said...

Ecologist, many thanks!

Samurai, funny. Of course that's happened before, too. What restored the United States after 1860 and 1929 was not a coalition of the sane, but cataclysmic violence on the one hand and the near-dictatorial rule of a charismatic leader who completely redefined the political calculus of the country on the other. No doubt something of the sort will happen this time, too.

Sven, no doubt.

Josh, that is to say, you can't build a mass movement for change if you appeal solely to an affluent minority that has no interest in any change that would put their perks and privileges at risk. I find that entirely plausible; the question then becomes whether there are any other ways to build a mass movement for change that don't involve that self-defeating strategy. I'd like to suggest that there are, and we'll be covering those as we proceed.

234567, good. Of course government isn't going to solve the problem, and neither are the affluent. "Let's change the system but keep all our existing privileges" reliably adds up to "Let's not change the system." That shows us that a different tack will be needed.

Jasmine, those are definitely issues, and point up the need to reframe the issue in ways that make intuitive sense to the prospective audience. Can that be done? I think so, and will be discussing whys and wherefores as we proceed.

234567, you've got a smart son. Yes, you can tell him I said so.

Wendy, many of us can't see which comment you're referring to, so please do put in a sentence or so of the comment you're referencing to give us context!

JoAnna, thank you for a thoughtful response -- and I'll have to try those whiskeys if I ever have the chance to get up to Vermont! Your comment about holier-than-thou environmentalists loading guilt trips onto others is dead on, and points up a class issue -- how many of the signs of virtue they demand are only available to those who have a salary class income? Quite a few. To get past that sort of self-defeating trip, it's going to be necessary, as you've said, to look at constructive steps that can be taken by most Americans, not just by the privileged few -- and it's also going to be necessary to be willing to call the privileged few on their hypocrisy from time to time. Also, "negativity and vagueness' -- exactly. Exactly. How often do you see environmental activists speaking in favor of some specific policy, rather than against this or that vague generality? More on all this as we proceed!

Karl, Paul Krugman can convince himself that everything's fine in America because he lives in a cozy self-referential bubble where everyone he meets either shares his income level or is sufficiently deferential that he never has to think about how they live when they're not busy serving him his meals and the like. I'd like him, just once, to go to one of the "flyover states," drive out into small town America, get out of his air-conditioned car, and find out what life is actually like for the other 80%. Not that he ever will!

Ed-M, except that that's not necessarily the case. There are plenty of things that can be done right now, and in the years ahead, to make life for most Americans in a warming world better than it would otherwise be -- and in quite a few cases, better than it is now. One of the many problems with looking at climate change only through the eyes of the privileged is that all they can see is what they stand to lose. Will the more stupidly designed suburbs and their already moldering McMansions have to be abandoned? Sure, but it's only the affluent who live in them. Stay tuned as we proceed...

John Michael Greer said...

Steve, excellent! Precisely; too much of the environmental movement has been saying "We're not like you, we're morally superior to you because we (insert one or more: drive Priuses, eat a vegan diet, support a political party that pretends to care about the environment, put solar panels on our roof as the latest trendy fashion statement, etc., etc., etc.)." That's guaranteed to make everyone else roll their eyes and walk away. As we proceed with the current series of posts on politics, I really do need to do a post on what Patrick Reinsborough has called "defector syndrome" -- the art of promoting a cause so that you alienate everyone who doesn't already belong to it, thus allowing you to bask in the warm self-righteous glow of your own moral superiority.

Stacy, what you dismiss as a herd is the organized movement that makes it possible for you to be bisexual without risking jail time. Gay sex used to be a felony, you know, and it was organized political activism -- kept on track by the tactics that Lisa Mullin has outlined -- that got those laws off the books. I'd encourage you to reflect on that.

Dan, of course the metaphor can be fitted differently. I simply found it funny to conpare the personalities of our two contenders to Pompey and Crassus.

Pygmycory, that's standard on this side of the border, too. It's one of the ways the welfare state keeps people dependent and vulnerable so they don't make their way back into the work force. As for the housing bubble, it seems to be leaking air in a big way everywhere. I'm starting to wonder if the Saudi government had big real estate holdings via shell corporations, and is liquidating them in order to raise money to keep the country from going broke.

Lordberia3, we'll see, but I think that's a very real possibility. As for civil war in Europe, that's one of several real possibilities. Unless the mainstream parties back off their project of flooding the continent with immigrants to break the labor unions and drive down wages to US levels, you're likely to see many countries in the hands of the far right within not that many years, and a lot depends on whether the various rightist governments can figure out how to cooperate with one another in a post-EU Europe, or whether international tensions spin out of control and result in war. One way or another, it's going to be lively.

Bob, funny. Thanks; that's a classic.

Juhana, okay, that's something to keep in mind while raising car taxes here.

Dex3703, yes, that's the Washington State politics I knew and loathed. I hope the initiative passes -- and I suspect one of the reasons the soi-disant progressives hate it is that it shows that responding to climate change can actually benefit people. No, no, it's got to be phrased as pure hair-shirt suffering, so we can wallow in our moral superiority when the masses vote it down!

ed boyle said...


my commenting problems are not purposefully disruptive but rather of the pisces kind, excessively defocussed, emotional. I think writing a lot which you just delete gets me understanding what I think, believe. I don't take this personally. If I were an author the editor would have a nightmare job keeping md on topic. My wife has a Leo laser sharp mind but unkind, very unkind. You are polite, thank God. If we were a physical discussion group I would be in the corner muttering to myself half irrelevant comments most of the time being ignored, smiled at but I think it is better being involved somewhere, though perenially incompetent, than isolated, lonely. I am sure I can contribute to the conversation occasionally in a productive manner when I get a shimmer of lucidity. This why spiritual masters, artistic geniuses often are misunderstood(ha)

John Michael Greer said...

Golocyte, you're conflating "doing something about climate change" with "reversing and/or preventing climate change," which is common but unproductive. At this point we're past the point of preventing anything, and the name of the game is mitigation -- and slowing the rate at which greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere is an important part of that. It's very easy to line up minimal responses ("flying a little less") against extreme projections (neither you nor anyone else knows whether the economic climate will permit all those Chinese power plants to be built) and make action look futile -- which is exactly what all those folks do who yammer about near-term human extinction and then climb into their SUVs to drive two blocks to the Whole Foods market. I suggest a different framing is more useful just now.

M Smith, and you can tighten your analysis even more if you ask, "who are these people who count as 'the poor'?" It's certainly not everyone who doesn't make enough to cover the basics. It consists of specific, relatively organized groups who make their votes available to factions of the Democratic Party in exchange for access to an assortment of government handouts and privileges. Trust me, I know a fair number of people who are genuinely poor, and don't get access to those benefits, because they don't belong to the right (well-organized) categories.

Roy, I know a number of polygamous families, and none of them are one guy and a bunch of women. In fact, by count of numbers, polygyny is less common than polyandry, and polymorphous perversity seems to be the most popular option of all. ;-) Thus I don't think the issue you raise is likely to be problematic at all.

Sahsah, exactly. It's all a matter of wanting to feel superior, rather than wanting to make actual change.

nuku said...

@ Scotlyn,
I can’t count myself very knowledgeable about New Zealand’s fishing regulations. I only have first hand knowledge about the small 6km square coastal “Marine Reserve“ which lies just in front of my house. This area was mostly fished by recreational fishermen in private craft, so its not relevant to your question which seems to concern commercial fishing.

With regard to New Zealand’s commercial fishing, a good start might be

I think you’ll find that in NZ there‘s a lot of paperwork, a fair amount of poaching, a fair amount of cheating on the regulations, etc. Its a valuable resource, and that means there will always be those who want more than their fair share (whatever that is). There will also always be tension between overzealous officious regulators (no shortage of them here!) and those who want more freedom to exploit the resource. In practice, there seems to be a reasonable balance here between govt. regulations based on scientific research into fish stocks and “sustainable” fishing technology, and the fisher folk who do the hard dirty work out on the rolling sea.

Right now there is a political controversy concerning the Govt’s plan to establish a large no-fish marine reserve around the Kermadec Islands located about 150km north of NZ, and within NZ’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This url will take you to the “pro” side of the debate. Some Maori organizations are protesting the proposed reserve based on their claim to ancestral fishing rights in the area.

I can sympathise with your frustration at having your fisheries controlled from afar by the EU. On the other hand, it may not be any better “after the revolution” when the local idiots get to stick their fingers in the pie. In any case good luck, its an important resource which deserves to be managed for the good of all including the fish!

nuku said...

@ Varun,
You said:
“In other words they're addicted to the rage, self-righteousness, and self-pity?

No, not what I said. In my comment on “secondary gain” and why people persist in dysfunctional behavior, my point was that people keep doing dysfunctional behaviours because, for them in their world, there is a positive payoff or consequence of some sort that makes the harmful behavior worth doing.
Addiciton may or may not be involved.
In the example I gave, the woman made herself fat (a behavior she didn’t enjoy and wasn’t healthy for her), because it resulted in her not being attractive to men, thus not getting “hit on“ when her husband was out of town, thus not being tempted to having sex with strangers (which she’d done in her past), and resulting in the payoff, the “secondary gain” of not putting her marriage in jeopardy. In her case, over-eating and getting fat might have looked like an eating addiction, but it was not. It was harmful behavior in the service of a particular, largely unconscious, goal.

On the other hand, if feeling rage, self-righteousness, and self-pity was a goal or outcome that someone wanted, and indeed might even be addicted to, they could come up with a behavior which put them in the position of being, in their eyes, the undeserving victim of some oppressor. Then as a response, they could justifiably indulge their goal of feeling rage, self-righteousness, and self-pity.

j8sun said...

Propaganda or Toynbee’s “barbarians” overrunning the citadel?

Patricia Mathews said...

"Good theory. Wrong species." Round 3. Round 1 being E.O. Wilson's famous comment about communism and ants; Round 2 being my observation that Ayn Rand's economics & psychology worked very well - for solitary big cats. Now, from Brin's Blog, meet Homo Economicus:

" This fascinating article by David Sloan Wilson calls it: “the WEIRD People problem.(Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) Researchers often think they’re studying “Homo sapiens“, but actually they’re studying a particularly peculiar form of cultural psychology. This is because, until recently, most studies have been done with WEIRD undergraduates. But, it turns out when placed in cross-cultural perspective WEIRD undergraduates are psychologically rather unusual and a really poor model for our species psychology.

But it gets… weirder. Wilson interviews Joseph Henrich, who says, “Not only do we find that the Homo economicus predictions fail in every society (24 societies, multiple communities per society), but instructively, we find that it fails in different ways in different societies. Nevertheless, after our paper “In search of Homo economicus” in 2001 in the American Economic Review, we continued to search for him. Eventually, we did find him. He turned out to be a chimpanzee.

"The canonical predictions of the Homo economicus model have proved remarkably successful in predicting chimpanzee behavior in simple experiments. So, all theoretical work was not wasted, it was just applied to the wrong species.” said...

Thanks Armata on the positive feed back on my blog ( - please feel free to become a follower as any update I will send will pop into your inbox.

John - I agree that it is a real possibility. My thoughts are that there are certain countries in Western Europe (France, Benelux, Netherlands, Germany and Sweden) which are vulnerable due to changing demographics of major urban civil unrest/insurgency by radicalized young Muslims based in the major cities in the future. Already, major cities have "no go" areas where it is dangerous for the police or even military go to in uniform.

The percentage of Muslims is growing as a population and in France around a quarter of young people are of Muslim origin. Of course, the majority of Muslims are not extremists, but polling suggests that a significant minority are.

As we enter the era of Scarcity Industrialism, the appeal of Europe (which is based on our wealth) will decline as Europe starts to crumble under the huge pressures of the Limits to Growth meta-trend. I suspect that as the materialistic charms of Europe die, the appeal of the alternative vision propagated by radical Islam will grow among an alienated and un-integrated Muslim youth.

At the same time, as you correctly point out, populist right-wing parties will be coming to power across Europe and the potential for a potentially huge and violent clash will be obvious.

My feeling is that you will get to serious civil unrest at some point in the future in Europe and we will certainly come close to a urban civil war before authoritarian right-wing governments move on to crush it. Whilst there is room for intra-European warfare in Eastern Europe among different nationalistic governments, in Western Europe, I see a greater likelihood of the various right-wing governments joining together in a post-EU club unified by the overwhelming need to crush militant Islam.

Shane W said...

RE: unions,
JMG, you haven't mentioned them yet in Retrotopia, but isn't part of going back to what worked a strong labor movement w/a strict management(salary class)/labor (wage class) separation? Wouldn't the workers making the streetcars @ Mikkelson belong to the machinists union (or maybe steelworkers? some other union?) If Retrotopia goes back to society and being "joiners" (Fraternal orgs, etc.), wouldn't they also join unions and bargain collectively?

Shane W said...

In other news, Morehead and Rowan County, of Kim Davis fame, is going to celebrate their first pride festivals. Seems the infamous thrice married county clerk provided the impetus for organizing both the Morehead and Rowan County pride festival.

Shane W said...

I wanted to second what Bill said. I simply don't personally get sexual possession, though I understand the concept, personally, I just don't feel sexually possessive. I was so relieved to find the leather community where sexual possession is not an issue, and saw how people can create varied relationships. @ this point in my life, I'm probably more interested in being a third than anything.

Matt and Jess said...

Just popping in to say I've really enjoyed reading this week's post and all the comments. I'd be interested in hearing more about the poor people who don't have access to benefits because they're not in the right categories. For us, we've found that until you start making a great deal of money, it's almost not worth it financially to try to have a family and make a higher level than what will qualify you for medicaid, food stamps, child care assistance, etc. Once you hit that dollar amount that disqualifies you from benefits, all of a sudden you're own your own and not making enough to cover the difference of the benefits you had before. That's a hard, hard transition, especially when it takes you several years to start making enough to slowly have enough breathing room, as normally happens through the process of career/wage advancement at work. For us, we ended up going through a bankruptcy, and I don't think that's uncommon. Finally, we're starting to do ok. For us, that means we put a little into savings each month, and we don't have to draw from it two days before payday to purchase food. We're *just* getting by. But it definitely seems like it's stacked to make it as difficult as possible to start getting ahead when you start at the bottom.

And who's the person who put Star's Reach on hold at the Madison Public Library? Now I've got to read it today so I don't accrue fines. How dare you!

Anselmo said...

I think that the teachings given for the agit- pro movements that you refer in your post, are not of aplication for the climate change movement . Because the climate change theory have been employed, in no small degree , as a “geo estrategic weapon” (according Mr. Putin) aimed mostly against the economic growth of China and India, and his fate will be the fate of a tool which have lost its utility.

The politics is the art for the fight for the power, and for the politics no scientific theory is important.

patriciaormsby said...

@Tidlosa, regarding Brzezinski's turnabout, folks on another forum I haunt are saying it is likely just a change in tactics and to expect a real surprise. They said this in connection with reports that in several European countries people are being urged to stock up a month's food. I have trouble imagining the neocons just shrugging and throwing in the towel. Everyone's onto their recent style of gambits. Goodness knows what they'll try next.

Mary in Montco said...

JMG, sorry you feel that way about my suggestion of "This Is an Uprising."

I am no where near paid to sell this book. I simply find that it offers extremely useful insights for how change actually gets made by humans in both the short and long term. My honest opinion, fwiw, is that your evaluation of the "success" or "failure" of Klein, McKibben, et al., is short sighted and misses how their work, with its hits and misses, is helping drive the change you want.

Similarly, Bernie's campaign has more than met my personal definition of success, by massively building broader American understanding of how our elections and government actually work, building action, and exposing just how mainstream his/our values and policy desires are. He came much closer to winning than I ever expected, but that was never my definition of his success. His frame about millions of people coming together was also on target. So I was dismayed at your earlier broad brush dismissal of Bernie supporters. You were right about many; but that's also how those people are learning. A lot of us already have more insight than you gave us credit for, and we're not done.

Likewise, all our current environmental organizations have obviously not reversed the power of the huge fossil fuel profiteers, nor have they broken the institutional corruption of our government by said corporations. So glad we got Obama to veto the KXL pipeline, but that's one skirmish, not the whole enchilada. But we really need to examine what it takes to actually save our human habitat Earth. On the ground. In real time. With real humans. In the real situations we find ourselves in. Your Collapse Early and Avoid the Rush is one powerful component for individual action. But we also desperately need the social power of communities, if we can muster it.

Every article on your other blog site,, where I first found you (and you're the one author I follow every week), is evidence of thoughtful people working diligently, as individuals and as communities, to have an impact on how we think and act about climate change. None of them has yet "succeeded" in the ways you fault our current environmental organizations. But they are growing the phoenix that will rise from the ashes. (LOVE your "Star's Reach" as one vision of how that might go.)

I love your writings on our long descent in it's many forms, both your nonfiction and fiction. But I find your characterizations of current efforts of your fellow humans to find ways to ameliorate and reverse the worst of our society to be disappointingly broad brush. True about some of us, but blind to much else that is going on. There are many of us out here who are doing good work, as best as we can, learning all the time from how it goes,and working against time. That's essential for how the necessary understandings and undertakings are growing and spreading.

I expect that your next writing will include many helpful prescriptions... I only want your writings and guidance for effective change to be as insightful -- and useful -- as they can be.

IMHO, "This Is an Uprising" would help fill in some of what look to me like blind-ish spots in your writings. I offer it only in friendly hopes of expanding your and all our ability to save our planet for all of us as best we can.

OTOH, it's only one book. The ideas will spread whether you personally read it or not.

My two cents.


Jim Irwin said...

great article, I do not always agree with your conclusions but love how your analysis breaks big picture things into logical patterns...

Philip Hardy said...

Hello Mr Greer

The failure of green activism I place very firmly in the character of many of the activists themselves. I joined the UK green party in 1989 after their success in the European election. I found my local party to be a small clique best defined by who they hated, with their activism centred on animal rights action directed at upper class fox hunters. Their other major activity was infighting among themselves and with other environmental groups. They were not a likeable lot. Dispirited I did not renew my membership the following year. In the same year I joined the Sealed Knot (SK), an English civil war re-enactment society, yes, a bit incongruous for a green, but if you wish to have some experience of living in a pre-industrial society I recommend re-enactment societies. I found a very diverse group of people who were very welcoming, and quickly accepted you into their society, as long as you returned in kind. Many have great skill in hand making items, from a gun smith in our regiment who made many of our muskets, to a knitting circle that made the soldiers socks. Others had great knowledge of the lifeways of common folk in the 17th Century, used to great effect in living history pageants (quite an eye opener, especially in manners compared to today!). Any group of people will have some level of politics (and the SK’s Field Officers were notorious for it!), but that I stayed nineteen years in the SK only leaving due to ill health, says a lot about the people. I still stay in touch with a couple members of my own regiment who live locally to me. I cannot say that about any environmental group I have known.

Best regards

Philip Hardy

Fred said...

JMG - I tweeted the Warm Regards podcast folks about having you for a guest and will update you on this comment thread.

Fred said...

I feel compelled to share this distinction taught at Landmark- yes Werner Erhard's baby - because of its relevancy to this post and its usefulness.

On Day One they teach the distinction Racket which is a fixed way of being accompanied by a persistent complaint. Rackets are those things we say about another person or group of people. Some rackets I have had are: my mother-in-law is selfish and crazy; the people in this town are unfriendly; no one wants to work on peak oil issues.

I could dig up and show anyone a great amount of evidence proving that what I think about my mother-in-law, the town and people in general is right. Friends would agree with me. In an online forum, I could find allies who also find that people don't want to work on issues.

When I'm running a Racket on someone, my whole focus is on being right and making the other person wrong. Everything I do an say is about dominating that person or avoiding being dominated by them. I justify my words and actions, and invalidate each thing they say and do. I win; they lose.

And in all of that......I avoid responsibility.

When I could speak up, take an action, or have a conversation, I can avoid it because well other people are (fill in the blank) and so I don't have to do anything.

I miss any opportunity of satisfaction, vitality and love because I've pushed people away and sorted them out. I end up not standing out and working on the things that matter because Rackets.

To drop the Racket and give it up completely and be truly open is not a once and done realization. For me its got to done over and over and over again. Noticing when I am pointing out there at something "wrong" and using it as a reason to not do something here. Rackets occur to me as culturally encouraged. The meme "avoid toxic people so you can be happy" comes to mind.

In the course after this distinction is introduced to a room of 75-150 people, it takes the group about six hours to accept that it could be possible that they are running Rackets on the people in their life. Their constant complaining about their spouse, children, work colleagues and on and on isn't getting them anywhere and allows them to just stay where they are justified in not doing anything. Its fascinating to watch what happens as people give them up and are just open to seeing people anew.

John Roth said...

Re: Al Gore

That viral e-mail was current in 2007, according to Snopes and a few others. As of 2013, the Gore mansion had been retrofitted to more energy efficient standards, is running on geo-thermal and solar power and a lot of other improvements. It’s even got LEED certification (I don’t know what level).

Bush moved into a new 8,000-square-foot-home in 2009 - double the size of the Crawford ranch, and keeps the old ranch as a weekend getaway. (That’s essentially what it was when he was President anyway.)

It may help someone feel morally superior to keep circulating outdated information when accurate information is just a Google search away, but feeling smug usually doesn’t cook the rice.

@Lisa Mullin

My observation on why the LGBT crowd has maintained enough cohesion to fend off the parasites and the turncoats is that it was founded in blood. Seriously. I don’t know the situation in Australia, but here in the US the gay rights part got its start in the Stonewall riots. And the trans part of the community has a Day of Remembrance for the transgendered dead. Someone is murdered simply for being trans every other week or so.

I think it was Benjamin Franklin who quipped on signing the presentation copy of the Declaration of Independence: “We must all hang together, or we will most assuredly hang separately.”

When the climate change movement can get that level of motivation, maybe it’ll start doing something.

Fred said...

Throwing this out here - there is a new free online course Reclaiming Our Broken Places, A Introduction to Civic Ecology. Several local folk signed up for it and perhaps you'd like to gather a few like-minded folks in your area to do it too. I have no idea t's worthwhile or any "good", but I am looking forward to constructive conversation and new ideas.

Ed-M said...


Judging by your choice of words, "Georgian house", "caravan," and "Steiner school", you must come from that part of the Anglosphere that is *not* on the North American Continent, and living in suburbs where the street layout is conducive to adapting buildings to different uses. Here in the United States, most suburbs, i.e., those built after the Second World War, automobile suburbs are built to automobile scale and are not especially adaptable to different uses due to the size and required travel distances involved. This misfeasance in the construction and layout of living arrangements, particularly in those areas built since the mid 1970s, is not conducive to reintegration and repurposing into more functional, close-knit communities. In your more recently built USA suburban commercial strips, the big boxe stores are set back so far from the highway you'd think you can't see one on the otherside of the higway from the one you're at due to the curvature of the Earth!

OTOH, the prewar suburbs are far more adaptable because their layout and construction are more similar to those of the suburbs of the UK. However, most of these suburbs are now *inside* of the central city limits, which is why I made reference to people crowding into the cities....

Robert Carran said...

Boy, was that a ham fisted, condescending, dismissive, generalist rebuttal to what I considered some very well thought out and based in real life experience retorts to your comparison of climate change activism and gay rights. Super disappointing.

inohuri said...

i suspect the KXL pipeline was cancelled for not nice reasons.

The industry may have no longer needed the large investment. Their workarounds (other pipes repurposed and rail) were better than the cost and perhaps they could see they would not be making much, if any, profit from bitumen until oil prices rise considerably.
Pumping tar must be difficult. I believe it is liquefied with toxic solvents which would make a leak that much worse. For rail it would also need to be diluted or the cars would need to be heated to get it out.

They may have requested the veto which was set up to make Mr. Obama look good.

j8sun said...

JMG said “but they don't have a lot to do with changing the world -- which is after all what activists are supposed to be about.”

I didn’t really make a very good case for that, did I? I’ll try and do better. I’d describe their type of activism as collapse now and avoid the rush, under the cloak of early retirement.

The ERE author was a successful physicist, “retired” around 30, to write his blog. He later became a hedge fund manager, and the blog is now running reposts of his work. But he claims to continue to live on $7K per year/per person in his household, and has done so for more than a decade. He lives in the SF area, in an RV, no car. The MMM author is a retired software engineer that claims to live on ~$24K a year for a family of 3, doing so for about a decade also “retired” around 30 to raise his kid and “save the world”. Both saved in the neighborhood of 70% of their income while “working”. And their blogs are about the skills (such as DIY repairs, gardening, cooking, and home brewing), attitudes (philosophies like Stoicism, Buddhism) and practices (low cost housing in walk-able/bike-able areas, with minimal to no driving) needed to do that. Neither is what most people would really call retired, but they could be. With their frugal lifestyles the amount of money required for their type of active “retirement” shrinks proportionately.

It may not be a path open to everyone, unfortunately, and it has its risks. But if every affluent and want-to-be affluent person in America were living this way, what would happen to fossil fuel usage, CO2 emissions, and general sustainability? I see it as at least a step in the direction of sustainability. And it’s quite subversive if the reactions I’ve seen are any indication. On a scale of good versus harm, I think they are doing some good, and doing it among people who may not normally ascribe to the idea of sustainable living. I should have sent these two posts as examples of their activism rather than their home pages:

Ozark Chinquapin said...

Another missed opportunity for the climate change movement is taking advantage of common interest with the sustainable ag movement. Not piggybacking, just the recognition that they both have a common interest in building high-carbon soils. Building organic matter in soil has so many benefits to growing crops sustainably, and it mitigates climate change by taking carbon out of the atmosphere. It's also something that can be done by anyone with access to even a small plot of land, and because of its other benefits appeals to many who don't necessarily care about carbon footprints than much but want to grow and eat good food. Plenty in the sustainable ag movement have pointed out the climate connection, but few in the climate change activism movement have taken notice. The climate change movement does sometimes mention the negative side of agriculture's carbon and methane emissions, but from what I've seen doesn't seem interested in building allies with people working to change that.

In fact I've noticed a disturbing trend in the last ten years pushing these groups further apart, and again it's largely come from the climate change side. Ten years ago, it seemed like critiques of industrial agriculture were getting into the mainstream, particularly in the leftward end of it. Since then, there's been a lot of propaganda out there saying the industrial agricultural system is on the side of "science" (with the same thing happening with regards to medicine too), based on very selective science that's riddled with conflicts of interest. I don't think that's hurt the sustainable food movement too much, it keeps on expanding despite increased opposition, but it does seem to have distanced the mainstream left from criticizing industrial farming, since they don't want to be seen as on the wrong side of science. The climate activists are especially prone to this way of thinking about science, and that's put a wedge between them and the food activists.

Caryn said...

@ Ed-M:

"Bataan Death March"! I laughed so hard when I read that, I spit water all over my keyboard! Because I've done that schlepp! I still occasionally do to get to my job here in rural Wyoming. I'm going to be thinking of that every step I take now.

Hysterical, Thank You for that!

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, okay, that makes sense. You're in one of the very few parts of the United States that's actually prospering right now, riding the crest of the current tech stock bubble. It'll be interesting to see how well the trends you've outlined survive when the bubble pops and things tighten up again for a while.

Donnie, thanks, but I enjoy bourbon. I think current habits of education certainly feed into it, but I think there's more to it than that. Still cogitating...

Bob, I'll consider that. You may be right.

Iuval, hmm. It seems to me that they're trying to foster networking among different activist groups, which could facilitate piggybacking and purity politics -- though it might also help the groups grow past that. I'll be interested to see if anything comes of it.

Armata, I noticed that. The Clinton campaign really does have a genius for that.

Shane, I'd like to think that the Antichrist would have more class than Rand Paul!

Tidlösa, if he really means that, and isn't just spouting protective ink like an irate cuttlefish, that's a huge change. We'll have to see what happens.

Bill, now you've disappointed me. I'm sufficiently old-fashioned to find the notion of a festival where women go around wearing nothing but loincloths and body paint an appealing thought. ;-)

John, it can be implemented starting one household at a time. I encourage you to give it a try!

Armata, the habit elites have of isolating themselves in self-referential bubbles is a major factor in sudden social change. The situation in Europe is a classic example -- and the change may arrive very suddenly, and messily, indeed.

Leo, thank you for the link! Once a movement for social change buys into the systemic change line, you can pretty much assume that their policies will start sliding over toward those that support the status quo, such as flooding the job market with immigrants to force down wages and thus prop up salary class lifestyles.

Inohuri, I voted for the monorail the first two times too, then fled Seattle never to return. I'm not surprised that things have remained just as idiotic there as they were!

NJGuy, "probably"? Certainly.

Ed, no, polyandry is tolerably common; as I mentioned, I know people in not-legally-recognized polygamous marriages and polyandry is as common as polygyny. You may need to get out more!

John Michael Greer said...

Kfish, thank you! A good practical detail, worth keeping in mind as mitigation of climate change becomes the order of the day.

Sylvia, exactly. It's not about hosting the Austerity Olympics -- "I can parade my renunciation of this, that, or the other more dramatically than you can!" but encouraging broad shifts in consumption and lifestyle, which can take place a little at a time.

Cherokee, oh, granted. The civil religion of Americanism still has a certain amount of clout in our collective psyche, and the notion that somebody or other really can fix everything if we just put him or her into office runs very deep. Of course it's also a good way to evade changing one's own life...

Shane, I've been saying for a while that somebody needs to create a dating site for Green Wizards. I've heard from a fair number of people who would like to have relationships, serious or otherwise, with others who have gotten out from under the religion of progress and no longer feel any need to recite its credos at the drop of a hat!

With regard to organized labor, that's a complex issue and one I'll have to mull over.

William, I think public transit could be made to work if it was approached in the right way, but you're certainly right that regional rail is an obvious place to start. I'll have some suggestions about that as we proceed.

Bill, I do know a fair number of mixed-gender couples getting married, but other than that, no argument at all. Polygynandrous relationships, to use your term, by far outweigh either polygynous or polyandrous relationships among the more-than-one-partner people I know.

Varun, I don't know that I'd label it an addiction -- that term is massively overused these days -- but they're certainly into the rush. "Dark Soma" is an elegant coinage, by the way.

Lisa, I can think of one. The Jewish community here in the US is very good about organizing enforcing consensus on issues that matter to it, even when that requires postponing something a lot of members would like. Here again, I suspect it's because memories of violent persecution are not that far back in anyone's mind.

Donalfagan, if people want to do slash in the privacy of their own keyboards, that's their business, but please don't encourage them; the characters in my stories are more or less personal friends by the time I finish writing a book, and I'd really rather not see them deployed as inflatable dolls in somebody's masturbation fantasies.

Kevin, I ain't arguing. The question is whether it's going to be possible to minimize how much worse we make it, and mitigate some of the consequences.

Michael, you're welcome and thank you.

Jeff, good -- you're starting to ask the right questions. The question to my mind is whether there's something we should be proposing instead of fracking at all.

John Michael Greer said...

Ed, I'm quite aware of that. If I thought you were being deliberately disruptive I'd simply have kicked you off the blog. As it is, I appreciate your on-topic comments, and can certainly tap the delete button as needed.

J8sun, I couldn't access it so can't tell you.

Patricia, oh my. So Homo economicus is actually Chimpus economicus! (Yes, I know, the proper scientific name is Pan troglodytes, but Pan economicus sounds like an aspect of a Greek deity worshipped by merchants.) That really is delicious.

Lordberia, I doubt that the Islamization of Europe will get that far. The backlash is already building so forcefully that I expect to see far right parties in power in several major European countries within a decade, and forced expatriation of Muslim immigrants promptly thereafter.

Shane, as noted, I'm considering that. With regard to Morehead and Rowan Counties, I wish 'em a great Pride Festival! I'm not sure what you mean by "sexual possession;" I don't own my wife and she doesn't own me, you know, we just happen to prefer monogamy. I know, it's sick and wrong! ;-)

Matt and Jess, a lot of poor white people have no access to post-public school education because the affirmative action programs are set up only to take ethnicity into account, not class disparities. That's an example of what I mean.

Anselmo, I was speaking specifically of the climate change movement here within the US. Yes, it's also been deployed overseas by the US government in the attempt to maintain American hegemony, of course.

Mary, as a professional writer, I'm fairly well up on current trends in marketing books, and your initial comment really did come across like a publisher's press release -- the sort of thing that a viral marketing staffer would dump onto a blog if he or she wasn't very well trained. You may want to revisit the way you wrote of the book to try to avoid coming across that way elsewhere in the future. With regard to the book, you've certainly convinced me to wait until I can find and read a relatively objective review of its strengths and weaknesses before shelling out money for it. Movements for social change have been spinning their wheels in the same ruts for forty years now -- just for example, can you name a single major piece of environmental legislation that has been gotten through during that period comparable to the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts? -- and to my mind, the Sanders campaign means nothing until it actually affects legislation and public policy, which it has not yet done. (I hope it will, but I'm not holding my breath.) If the book simply rings changes on current overfamiliar and underperforming radical strategies, it's a waste of good trees.

The steps I will be proposing in upcoming posts require a lot of the conventional wisdom on the left to be chucked into the dumpster; I expect the Naomi Kleins and Bill McKibbens of the celebrity-radical class to ignore or denounce what I have to say if they ever hear about it, which isn't likely; the audience I'm aiming for is the rising generations, who are inheriting the half-wrecked planet that's being left to them by the failure of today's headline-seeking activists to have any impact on the environmental crises of our time, and may be motivated to try something different for a change -- the kind of change you don't have to believe in but can actually make happen.

John Michael Greer said...

Jim, thank you.

Philip, I hope every radical activist in the western world reads what you have to say and thinks, very hard, about the implications. For what it's worth, I know people in reenactment groups focused on our Civil War, and by and large they seem to be just as pleasant and mutually supportive, and just as skilled in old-fashioned crafts.

Fred, thank you for passing on the word! What you're calling a Racket seems parallel to one variety of what transactional analysts call a script -- a canned story line that people act out in their lives, assigning other people whatever roles the script requires, as a way of not facing their actual relationships and actions.

Robert, I gather it stung! Still, if you don't want to learn the lessons of forty years of failure, then you don't.

Inohuri, check out the rate at which fracked oil is being produced. It's down very sharply, iirc. That in itself suggests a reason...

J8sun, thank you for the further explanation! I certainly don't think that they're doing anything harmful, quite the opposite; anyone who collapses now and avoids the rush is part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Ozark, good. Very good. One of the ways you can tell when an activist movement is in the process of selling out is that they start buying into corporate sales pitches of various kinds. The climate change movement has certainly done so -- look at the way they're basically shilling for the wind turbine and solar industries, while neglecting a lot of other things (like carbon sequestration in the soil) that could do a lot of good.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- Oh there are plenty of women there attired exactly as you describe! In fact I helped one of our companions paint up her partner. It's an anything goes place.

"Polygynandrous" was coined to describe the mating system of the Dunnock, a common European songbird. Group marriages, shared child rearing, multiple males and females in one big happy family.

Bill Pulliam said...

Just drove in a different direction to one of our other neighboring towns, all county roads and 2-lane highways. Still, not one single campaign sign for any presidential candidate, major or minor, in 15 miles. Not sure why the difference between here and what JMG sees in Maryland other than the fact that maybe both campaigns have written Tennessee off as a dead certain Trump victory so they are spending no resources here. But Tennessee was a dead certain Romney victory in 2012, McCain in 2008, and Bush in 2004, yet still there were lots of campaign signs in those years. Makes me wonder, if Johnson and Stein had the resources that the major parties do, they might be able to make a serious play for this state, with Libertarian Johnson sweeping the suburbs and Green Party Stein running away with the hipster core of cities like Nashville (which is now Portlandia on the Cumberland).

Shane W said...

that sounds like a lot of people on this blog: salary class people who've saved money, bought land, collapsed early and avoided the rush, and live a very modest, low impact lifestyle. The people you describe could be our very own Cherokee Chris, Tripp in GA, Cathy in Ore., and many other frequent posters to this blog.

Shane W said...

it seems the Morehead/Rowan Co. pride tests were a hit, based on the paper ( They had a discussion about being the impact of being queer in rural areas.

Shane W said...

Well, consider it done, JMG. I'll make a "Melanie & Peter" thread on Green Wizards! And my lightning rod personality doesn't even have to be an impediment, as I regard arguments as foreplay (I had an ex who would get a migraine and have to go lay down during an argument--it was so disappointing!) As regards sexual possession, I meant that as an objective, non-judgmental descriptor of expecting one's partner to be sexually exclusive to the other, and considering any activity outside the relationship (cheating) to be a serious transgression of the relationship. I understand how it works, it's just not something I feel personally.

Shane W said...

BTW, now that I'm 40, I really get a kick out of describing myself as an "old" person when some 20-something finds me attractive. I'm like, "have you ever been with an old person before?" Of course, it's even more interesting to see the apoplectic reaction of Boomers when I tell them I describe myself as "old"--they seem to really have a problem w/aging...

Golocyte Golo said...

Golocyte, you're conflating "doing something about climate change" with "reversing and/or preventing climate change," which is common but unproductive.

Perhaps, but if the goal is "doing something about climate change," or mitigation, then I'm not sure what the clear, measurable aim is. It seems like anything can be declared "success" whether there are any measurable effects on climate change at all. If we aim for clearly measurable change, then.....

neither you nor anyone else knows whether the economic climate will permit all those Chinese power plants to be built. Yes, we are in perfect agreement. The economic climate determines a GREAT deal, like whether several more USAs worth of emissions will come online in *one decade* or not. Our mitigation efforts will never determine so much. Never come close.

What we are doing is sweeping the floors and tidying up a burning house. Maybe the winds and rain will extinguish the flames, or maybe the fire will rage higher. We don't and can't know, but whatever the case, our tidying efforts are unimportant to the outcome.

I suspect that what we're really discussing is the aim of being in a society with the kinds of people who want a tidy house. That is, I think many (perhaps most) have the goal, in fact, to live in a society which is conscientious of the natural world. The real aim is social change.... not climate change. Whether or not the evidence points to actual effectiveness in treating changing climate, we want a society that cares.

Shane W said...

Okay, the official "Melanie & Peter" thread on Green Wizards is now established!

Helix said...

@Cherokee Organics re "But we are also the future, right now, wherever you are."

Exactly. At this point the issues have been talked through to the satisfaction of anyone who cares. Time now for planning and action.

onething said...

Regarding whether or not the Sanders supporters will ever really make a difference or coalesce into something useful, they got a good swift kick in the gut by Sanders himself, who utterly caved, which is highly discouraging. When highly discouraging things happen, apathy and confusion reign, such as when the assassinations of the 60's took out every real leader.

pygmycory said...

Patricia Mathews - right theory, wrong species. Good point, and funny to boot.

unfrozencavemanguitarplayer said...

In general I agree with your piggybacking/purity argument, but would like to present a slightly contrarian example. I used to be on the email list of the Human Rights Campaign. As a good liberal and supporter of gay rights, I dutifully signed all of their petitions. Then the following occurred (going from memory, so anyone is free to correct any misremembered historical details): Target made a huge campaign contribution to a typical corporate puppet politician who was running for Governor in Kentucky and happened to be anti-gay-rights. HRC raised a big stink. So far so good. I'm on board. No problem. Then the solution that HRC comes up with to allow Target off of the hot seat was to insist that they donate an equally astronomical sum to a pro-gay-rights corporate puppet Kentucky governor candidate. Sorry, but I will not support any organization that promotes corporate oligarchy, whatever their stance on gay rights. HRC was dead to me from that moment forward. I still support gay marriage, but not HRC.

But generally, I appreciate your insights and will share this post with my lefty comrades. Thanks for your weekly salvos of wisdom.

Patricia Mathews said...

Uh, John, your taste for women dressed in body paint and loincloths is to your credit as a healthy and hetero male, but have you stopped to consider how many women at such festivals have been going there for 20-40 years? Would you be as pleased to see our elders in their next-to-nothing at the upcoming Beltane? Sorry .... when I stop snickering....though it's a very educational sight for those whose image of an attractive woman comes through the mass media, which I'm sure yours does not.

Pat, who prefers robes for a reason!

Ed-M said...

JMG said…

There are plenty of things that can be done right now, and in the years ahead, to make life for most Americans in a warming world better than it would otherwise be -- and in quite a few cases, better than it is now.

Except the “Progressive” climate change activists dismiss them all out of hand because these solutions aren’t fashionable, or don’t cost a bundle, or most importantly, don’t make them feel morally superior. So what it boils down to, is that the only solution that passes their muster, other than the fashionable purchases and retrofits, is sustained political action by the majority of the people.

One of the many problems with looking at climate change only through the eyes of the privileged is that all they can see is what they stand to lose.

Well that explains their few meaningful actions (if any) in light of their rhetoric of dire worst-case scenarios. I read climate change blogs, too, and there the même of Near Term Extinction is slowly creeping in like a camel nosing his way into a tent; while at the same time, that other même of They’ll Think of Something is holding its own (e.g., Tesla Cars, Tesla Power Walls, and now Nikolai Motors’ Flexfuel Diesel-Electric semi tractors being trotted out as The Latest Thing That Will Save Us All), so long as we get our politics in order and our politicians in line.

Will the more stupidly designed suburbs and their already moldering McMansions have to be abandoned? Sure, but it's only the affluent who live in them.

Well where will the poor, the wage class and most of the salary class live? Right now it appears that the cities are becoming enclaves for the affluent, despite real estate bubbles beginning to break all over… except here in the City of New Orleans! Right now we have a median household income of either $35- or 44-thousand per annum depending on who's doing the statistics and a median price of all houses and condos on the market at about 350 Grand.

Ed-M said...


Glad you like it! I lifted it off of James Howard Kunstler's Home from Nowhere and his TED Talk on the abominations of modern architecture, highway engineering and (sub)urban planning and zoning.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Sorry, didn't mean to put words in your mouth. I was drawing a conclusion from what you and the archdruid said. I'm curious, how did they identified the secondary gain?


You're right. Basically any habit is called an addiction nowdays. This particular phenomenon isn't quite the same thing as a drug addiction, but it sure mimics some of the characteristics. I think this calls for a full essay about Dark Soma to clarify the difference between an addiction and this particular phenomenon.



M Smith said...


Writing me an angry, ugly post showing anything but "respect" therein is not the way to get me to do what you want. You could have googled each of the 3 acronyms in the time it took you to write that spite.

I see things written which strip my gears too: text-speak, lack of caps, the last sentence deliberately left unpunctuated, sometimes all sentences left unpunctuated. I don't get in a froth and scold the poster. I skip the post.

Bill Pulliam said...

Oh, a p.s. Another polygynandrous species is the Bonobo, which of course is one of our closest living relatives

Robert Carran said...

Good lord. "I gather it stung". No, it was just really disappointing. The condescion of that reply outmatches the original in your post. And didn't get to the meat of the matter at all. I was trying to get at what I consider some hardcore grassroots challenges of the environmentalist, new paradigm movement that I think your post didn't address. I want on the ground solutions, and understanding the barriers is important to me. Granted, my post was acerbic, but it was in response to your invective. Don't get me wrong. I think you have a unique and superior understanding of history and patterns and an unmatched ability to put it in simple and clearly defined, creative ways. AND, i think you have serious blindspots and arrogance, and a dismissive attitude toward critique or dissent that is a disservice to your cause. Sure there's a bunch of BS reflexive responses to what you write because it's challenging the paradigm. But I think you often write reflexively as well, assume critiques fit your existing narrative of critiques, and resist questioning your narratives perfection. It's impressive how you read so many responses and respond back. But I have found it too common that you respond without fully considering or understanding the poster's viewpoint. Not just me, but others I have read.

Shane W said...

A lot of people here who identify as "progressive" mentioned that they would like to conserve the social changes that began in the 60s and 70s for the future. Conserving things is conservative in the true Burkean sense, so "progressives" are conservative. JMG, please tell me if my logic is off here...

Shane W said...

there was a quite large older lesbian showering outdoors @ Short Mountain when I went. Nothing left to the imagination. As far as the pool party, I still have to work at not being intimidated by nekkid women...

beneaththesurface said...

Walking three miles home from work this evening, I was contemplating the discussion on climate activism, especially your comment on how the focus on shutting down the Keystone pipeline was a wrong strategy. I seem to agree with you, and I was reflecting why. It seems to me that a lot of climate activism has been focused on supply/extraction-side industries: stopping pipelines, fracking, Arctic drilling, etc. While I wouldn't say those goals are wrong, I think there should be more emphasis on demand-side industries being held accountable for climate change. Yes, the airline industry is a good example of that, but I could think of many others (even framing ending commercial advertising towards children--as certain countries already do--as a climate change issue). The benefits of this change of emphasis would be that climate change activism would be less likely perceived as against the interests of the working class (who depend on those extraction industries) and focused more on targeting industries that support higher-income lifestyles. It certainly would challenge the way of life of middle-to-upper class liberals. Also, climate change activism focused on demand-side industries would make more apparent how rich industrial lifesyles are driving climate change. When some activists try to shut down a pipeline, it's easier for richer people to agree from a distance, without any awareness of how their way of life is driving the need for the pipeline.

HalFiore said...

I doubt that such a thing as a movement for marriage equality existed up until just a few years ago, and then only after some progress in that direction had already happened. Indeed, I can remember when the question of whether gay marriage was even a desirable thing was a hotly debated topic among members of the gay community. As for the much larger, older, and obviously more difficult general movement for human rights for LGBT people, and to which the climate change movement is arguably more fairly compared, I think you would find that almost all of your points are debatable, though I'll say you have made some solid observations of how a lot of that kind of p4rocess works.

As someone who was involved with many, mostly environmental efforts during the 70s through 90s, I can attest to having seen rock solid examples of all of the 4 traps you list, between members of the activist LGBT community and the environmental movement, the Democratic Party, and all mostly within the milieu of appealing to the professional class.

I have the feeling that the fact that marriage equality became an attainable goal in such a remarkably brief period over the last few years has surprised activists more than anyone. I'm frankly not sure where to credit it. In some ways, I fear it may end up being an eternally divisive booby prize in much the same way that affirmative action was for the supposed victory of the civil rights movement, that is to say, something that helps the upper middle class without really doing much for the bigger picture.

nuku said...

Regarding the “secondary gain” in my example, the psychologist interviewed the overweight lady, and determined that her weight gain was not a physiological problem, had been slim in the past, and had been able to lose weight by going a various diets but always fell off the wagon and started binge eating again. In the process of exploring her life history, it emerged that she’d been very promiscuous in her younger days, basically went to bed with any guy who showed interest in her. Finally she’d met her husband, highly valued her marriage, but when her husband was away on selling trips, she said she was worried she might revert to her previous behavior. It was the psychologist who identified the secondary gain of being fat as a way to dealing with her fear of cheating on her husband. The lady acknowledged the connection and developed other ways of dealing with her fears. When that was done, she stopped binge eating and regained her normal weight.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, glad to hear it. As for the lack of campaign signs, that's interesting.

Shane, from my side of the thing, it's simply a matter of keeping an agreement that was mutually and freely made by both participants. Still, your mileage may of course vary, and monogamy certainly isn't for everyone!

Golocyte, the issue of clear and measurable aims is important, and I'll be discussing that in an upcoming post. I don't think it's just a matter of sweeping the floor while the house is on fire: it's a matter of facing a brush fire and deciding which areas you can effectively soak with the hoses and water you've got so they don't burn up. More on this as we proceed.

Unfrozen(etc.), and that's a choice you have the right to make. The difficulty is when every movement is expected to address all the world's problems at once.

Patricia, my wife is 55 years old and decidedly Rubenesque in figure, and I find her very attractive indeed with her clothes off. One advantage of ignoring the mass media is that I appreciate the fact that women look like women and not like oversized Barbie dolls, say.

Ed-M, yep and yep. As for the housing prices in New Orleans, well, I know of cities in flyover country where houses are even cheaper...

Varun, I look forward to reading the essay!

Robert, you say you want on the ground solutions. My post suggested four of them -- it identified four serious problems that have hamstrung activism for the last forty years, and pointed out how the same sex marriage rights movement got out from under those and won. I also explained in some detail why the criticisms of the comparison between the same sex marriage rights movement and the climate change movement missed the central point of my post. If I get dismissive of some of my critics now and then, it's because so many of them seem to be much too busy pounding their fists and yelling in outrage to deal with the points I try to raise. You might try addressing those points next time, instead of just reaching for the nearest available insult.

Shane, nope. Your logic is square on; as I've noticed before, the Democrats are the conservative party in today's America, trying to keep things the way they are.

Beneaththesurface, dead on target, as far as I can tell.

HalFiore, to my mind, what happened with marriage equality was simply that a large section of activists in the LGBTI movement all focused on a single readily definable goal, out of the many possible goals that would advance their position, and pursued it with the kind of focus (and avoidance of the boobytraps I mentioned in my post) that gets results. Now they've moved on to other goals, and if they can repeat the same process, there's very little limit to what they might achieve. Now imagine the climate change movement doing exactly the same thing -- focusing a great deal of its energy on some specific, readily definable, positive goal, and throwing all its considerable resources into that goal until it's won, then moving to the next goal. Wouldn't that get a lot further than the current approach?

Shane W said...

I would like to mention that non-discrimination/civil rights laws are still on the LGBT agenda in all the states and localities that don't currently have them, and remained on the agenda here in KY. The push for a statewide Fairness law, as we call it, has been gathering steam, but doesn't look likely in the near future, but small towns and counties are debating the issue, like my city and county...

Shane W said...

Since you live in a border area, I was wondering if the decision to live in MD was intentional? Did you intentionally choose MD over WV? I'm thinking the taxes are cheaper in WV. Also, WV can be a swing state, so your vote would count more there. I think you did say once that WV is 3 mi. from your house...

Shane W said...

Doonesbury, which is the epitome of liberal salary class cluelessness, perfectly encapsulated what we've been discussing here this past Sun. In it, the character was dreaming that Bush won the primary and was debating Hillary in boring fashion about some mundane issue, then is woken out of his dream by his wife to a Donald Trump soundbite, followed by the wife asking about the kind of house they want to buy in Vancouver.

Degringolade said...

Hello John Michael

In honor of "Stars Reach", I present this hopeful note.

Shane W said...

I started to back away from the Democratic party and progressive politics w/Barack Obama's first campaign. I'd actually volunteered for his campaign (hangs head in embarrassment). They promised that if he got elected w/a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, that all these wonderful progressive policy goals would be accomplished. Well, that happened, and then the ball got dropped until the tea party took over the Senate in '10. That really soured me. To my thinking, the only way that I can have a voice is if I abandon so-called progressive politics for their failure. I simply cannot reward failure or fear-mongering. They simply aren't accomplishing anything, and I'm thinking it is intentional. Of course, after reading the ADR, I now have a much better understanding of what's behind that failure...

Scotlyn said...

@Varun I have gone to where I find an excellent guide to the history of the initial coinage of the term by three women, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza, during the Trayvon Martin murder case, and their subsequent trek to St Louis under that banner 4 weeks after Michael Johnson was killed there. From which point, I imagine the term exploded into general consciousness and use.

They say:

"#BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society."

They also say:
"#BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression. We have put our sweat equity and love for Black people into creating a political project–taking the hashtag off of social media and into the streets."

In this last, you can almost hear the way the words "Black Lives Matter" serve as a counter-spell to reduce the power of the daily reinforcements of the idea that "Black Lives do not Matter even a little bit."

These women are pretty specific about the nature of the situation they are responding to, and their firm intention to stop being erased, to stop raising children to be incarcerated and killed.

They do not claim to "own" the movement, and clearly hope to have started a larger conversation and to have spurred action on a larger stage than their own. On the other hand, they do claim that full acknowledgement of their own role in originating the term, and full recognition of the conditions in which they did so, is due from anyone making use of it.

And, they point out, as all our destinies are entwined, they believe that achieving black freedom will benefit everyone else, including me, too.

For myself, I accept this. If it is the case that the state can kill black citizens with impunity, then it can kill citizens with impunity - and that includes me. For me to live in a state that does not kill citizens with impunity requires (among other things) that I join calls for the state to stop doing so, wherever I see this happening.

Otherwise, the police state is already here, and that with the complicity of a significant part of its citizenry.

If you have some interesting points to make rebutting this, I'd be interested in reading them, and responding to them elsewhere. Please post a link, and I will take this conversation there (with apologies to JMG).

Scotlyn said...

As a general comment, it seems the political activism that works best can be summed up as:
We are like you - or at least, are not unlike you. Is there any reason for you not to work with us on X?

Whereas, stressing all the ways in which "we" are completely unlike [and also, coincidentally, superior to] "you" is guaranteed neither to win friends or influence people.

In these unsettled times, I can only conclude that there must be a huge payoff for the "Superior Sneer Stratagem" that now dominates activism and polarises debate.

PS (I don't grant this stratagem is only found on the leftward end of activism, though it is definitely far from immune.)

Shane W said...

I think what we're seeing with our politics is none other than the progress or apocalypse meme that you laid out here so long ago. Either we're progressing politically, or we're entering the apocalypse, which is why people get so apoplectic about Trump and start ranting about nuclear winter and stuff...

Scotlyn said...

you are mulling over Keystone & similar as follows:
"how the focus on shutting down the Keystone pipeline was a wrong strategy. I seem to agree with you, and I was reflecting why. It seems to me that a lot of climate activism has been focused on supply/extraction-side industries: stopping pipelines, fracking, Arctic drilling, etc."

I think these actions are much more straightforward to understand - they originate from those with direct ties to the land being crossed or fracked or drilled. That is to say, there is a very immediate motive of self-defense of home and hearth involved. I find these actions are likeliest to bring together people of disparate ideological stances, as the immediacy of protecting one's own land, water, air, biodiversity, quality of life, etc takes precedence over "left" "right" "green" "red" etc.

I am in the cross-border northwestern part of Ireland which is considered suitable for fracking, and the local, non-partisan determination to stop this happening is visceral and not ideological.

Bill Pulliam said...

Another datum - just drove to the small city / exurb 30 miles from here, what should be Trump's stronghold. Still, only one yard sign in the whole trip, that for a local candidate

O. Hinds said...

I don't know if you've seen this yet, but I rather quickly thought of your work when I did:

Scotlyn said...

@beneaththesurface just to clarify, as I didn't address your second point... obviously many different strategies and tactics are needed, and I'm not dismissing the ones you favour.

But if "the environment" means anything motivational, it is that each of us is connected to a specific place, whose land, water, air & biota feed us and give us life.

It would be very strange indeed if it were not those living at the dirty end of the oil industry, and directly paying its costs in terms of degradation of *their* land, water, air, biota, were not the first to mount a resistance... as they have everywhere extraction takes place.

It is not at all surprising that people at the "clean" beneficial and technologically-served end of that industry are slow to do likewise.

Joining the two ends together by facilitating communication between activists in either might have a stronger effect than might otherwise be thought.

Patricia Mathews said...

OT, but - what to expect in the Long Descent. From After Oil #X? No... from Agatha Christie, 1950.

From A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED, published 1950, therefore written around 1949 or so ...

"You know the Fuel Office won't even let us have the little bit [of coal] that's due to us each week --not unless we can say definitely that we haven't got any other means of cooking."

"I suppose there was once heaps of coke and coal for everybody?" said Julia, with the interest of one hearing about an unknown country.

"Yes, and cheap, too."

"....There was lots of it there?"

"All kinds and qualities---and not all stones and slates like what we get nowadays."

"It must have been a wonderful world," said Julia, with awe in her voice.

Glenn said...


For whatever it is worth, I found this essay much more usefull than your July Post-Mortem discussion of the Failures of Climate Change Activism. I was one of many who found the comparison in your previous essay to be one of apples and oranges; mostly on the basis that a difference of scale is important ("Quantity has a quality of it's own." Frequently attributed to Joseph Stalin regarding WWII).

The current essay does a better job of paring away the aspects related to scale and addressing the difference in tactics.

On other topics. A banner year for fruit here. An early and warm spring gave us quite a start. All the cherries did well except pie cherries (which are usually prolific), and we've got over a hundred pounds off our three dwarf pear trees (D'Anjou, Red Clap and Bartlett).

Thank You,

in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Shane W. - OK. I give up. Who's "Melanie & Peter?" And, yes, I Googled it. :-). I didn't see anything that seemed to apply to a thread. Contact thread? Personal Contact Thread? Must be some cultural reference I missed along the way.

By the by. Before Short Mountain, before Wolf Creek, before Elwa ... there was a collective in Seattle. I didn't live there, but close by and hung out with those folks from time to time. I see RFD is still being published. Boy. That's longevity. Lew

Eric S. said...

@Shane: Regarding the term "progressive," I'd always thought it referred specifically to the grab-bag of policies, reforms, and political philosophies of the Progressive Era, which lasted from the election of the first Roosevelt to the and of the first World War, which was defined by opposition to government corruption, pushes for equal rights for women and minorities, publicly managed commons (particularly public lands and infrastructure), economies managed through corporate and income taxes, regulations on big businesses including set standards for product quality, pollution, and working conditions, as well as restrictions on trusts and monopolies; with modern progressives also incorporating elements of the New Deal era (particularly regarding high taxes on the wealthy and welfare for the poor) into their political philosophy as well. That might not be the way most modern progressives are thinking when they call themselves that, but it's one way that the word could be reclaimed to describe a coherent political position rather than a narrative about the future.

Varun Bhaskar said...


We can carry on this conversation either at my blog: Bones of Our Empire, or on the green wizards boards.

However, before we do I would urge you to look at this section, and this section

I see Gender issues, globalism, nuclear family structure, and sexual identity issues all rolled into a single package.


Thanks for the information, it'll help greatly with the essay!


Also sorry about carrying on the BLM discussion here, we'll move it else where so as not to be off topic.



Shane W said...

none other than our very own Retrotopia characters...

Scotlyn said...

Varun, yes, I read those, too, and yes they link many strands of experience. But I really don't get the sense that they are playing a Rescue game (ie standing above/outside and awarding victim points)... the strands are interwoven in their own experience of the world. And they are not making demands as to what the activism of others *should* entail.

As best I understand them, they are saying something like "IF you use these words "Black Lives Matter" please respect our experience in raising this cry, please don't erase our experience while using our words."

One might say that too many strands dilutes the message, or that there is a proper etiquette for this kind if thing, but really, how politely should we exoect people to deliver a message as succinct and urgent as "stop killing us"...

And if they add nuances and say: "stop killing us because we're black, also stop killing us because we are female and black, stop killing us because we are queer and black, stop killing us because we are poor or foreign and black, stop killing us because of all the ways we appear to be people who don't matter". Does that really dilute *that* message too much?

Marriage Equality campaigns have been run everywhere by LGBTQ groups (ie - multistranded ones). And so, although these successful campaigns have a character and focus all their own, their history *directly* links them to the Stonewall Riots, which most credit with the beginning of visibility and increasing acceptability of queerness. The riots themselves, a reaction to police brutality, were very much driven by the specific experience black transgender and black queer people had acquired through lifelong dealings with the police. It was one of those "Enough" moments that happen.

If Black Lives Matters has a goal it is more like that of the Stonewall Rioters - to say, to themselves and others "enough is enough, we matter and you no longer can convince us we don't".

This is not so much a campaign as a necessary precursor to one, or perhaps to many, concievable effective campaign(s) which could arise in the future. When it might even circle around and join the voices of those crying "stop killing our home earth" - in a future effective climate action campaign.

Glenn said...

LewisLucanBooks said...

"Before Short Mountain, before Wolf Creek, before Elwa"

Wolf Creek, Oregon; in Josephine County? The first place I lived in Oregon was the side of a mountain above Graves Creek in upper Sunny Valley. Small world.


in the Bramblepatch
Marowstone Island
Salish Sea

Ed-M said...


And until the recent floods, Baton Rouge used to be one of them! :^(

Ed-M said...

Bill Pulliam,

Soeaking of Trump, here in New Orleans I have not seen one political sign for *anyone* since Bernie folded his campaign.

Zero, zip, nada, none.

Apparently both Hillary and The Donald are hated down here.

jessi thompson said...

In the soil near a very old former dry cleaning shop, scientists discovered a microbe that had evolved to break down dry cleaning chemicals. We don't have to save the WHOLE world, she does take care of herself sometimes ;)

NZ said...

JMG, thanks for the post.

The whole notion of cognitive dissonance explains much that is plaguing working people today. Such a condition creates a psychic barrier that precludes undertaking effective action that would make ones life better. It is distressing to consider that our leadership actually promotes this state of being for it's own survival and interests. It is the exact opposite of a sane and healthy society.

The trouble is the current culture seems to be operating similar to a black hole. It is sucking everything into the universal abyss.
Competition, selfishness, and greed being the underlying forces driving the whole system. It is a system that promotes death not life, and as time goes on, that observation is undeniable. The panic level is rising because people instinctively feel this reality and are not prepared for the consequences. They are busy making excuses for a failed system.

Choosing to promote life over death is the principle that crosses over all social barriers- except for the sociopaths currently calling the shots. The question then becomes, can a different culture and society be built? We are really in the first stages of this development. The pull of selfish interest seems to win out though.

Debra Johnson said...

Hope. That's something I have a hard time gaining anymore - not in my own soon to be 63-year-old life - but for the lives of future generations. JMG, you recently said, "The Democratic Party is the place where environmental causes go to die." If only that were the worst of it. Living at the edge of a commercial forest, I'm not surprised to walk down that road and find people's trash. If it doesn't fit in your can, it's cheaper and easier to dump it where nobody's looking. I don't like that, but I get it. What I don't get is driving into a neighborhood and seeing all the trash along the street. We can't stop people from tossing cans and papers from their cars, but why is it okay to just let it lie where you live? Sure, I realize some people physically cannot bend over and bag a beer bottle, but most of us can. So then I go to a potluck where bins are set out with obvious signs indicating to put one's food scraps here, paper trash there, utinsils in another bin, plates one more. Yet I still saw a pile of plates in that bin with piles of food on top of them. Do we have to be so rude to people that clean their homes, provide live music, put up tents, brew beer for us that we can't respond to their simple request to scrape our own plates?! This complacency about our own trash explains a lot about our complacency about the trash throughout our little planet.

ronanpeter said...

Me too. It's spot on

Vic Postnikov said...


thoroughly enjoyed your post. The philosophy of Retrovation is totally consistent with my theory of "elegant symplicity", an artistic approach to simple but wholesome life. The retrovation of technology could be paralleled by retrofitting the old stuff into the new pieces of art. This would bring additional joy to those who refuse to consume mass production items and have an artistic vision.

Also, I think that "co-creation with nature' is a powerful way that could spare human efforts and relieve nature as well.

I would gladly translate your books (as I do sometimes your articles) into Russian. I think you will find a rewarding auditorium.

Again, many thanks.

Yours, Victor

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