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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Marcu said...

The next meeting of the Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne will be held this Saturday. All interested parties are invited to attend. For those people who are unsure about the nature of our meetings, imagine a long descent support group with some intentional living discussion mixed in.
If you are interested to join us, meet us on Saturday the 27th of August 2016 at 13:00. The venue is, Vapiano, 347 Flinders Lane, Melbourne Victoria, Australia.

Send queries and comments to limitstogrowth1972[at]

Just look for the green wizard's hat.

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

Roy Smith said...

There will be a Cascadia Guild meeting on Saturday, August 27th at 2:00 PM.

Location will be East Beach Park on Marrowstone Island (near Port Townsend).

All interested parties are welcome to attend!

Please direct all inquiries to roysmith95(at)live(dot)com.

JacGolf said...

JMG, Thanks. I live by the adage of hacking away at the extra will lead to the real (to paraphrase Bruce Lee), but can not get on board with limo liberals who preach one thing but then jet off to another speaking engagement with Exxon. While not aggressive about it, I have reduced my consumption, bought a piece of land that allows me to continue to make enough to live on while slowly going off grid and growing my own. These steps (along with learning the art of appeasing the four horsemen with a pint) are my way of reducing what is required of the planet to support me, while still getting the opportunity to walk in the woods, throw a ball with my dog and walk to the general store in town for the occasional craft brew and grass fed hamburger to grill. By the way, I love the way you described the candidates...I imagine there was some coffee spit up in Seattle and some beer spilled in Bowling green...:) Looking forward to the next steps...but really do not want Retrotopia to be delayed...gotta have a goal!

Eric Backos said...

Greetings to the assembled Wizardren!
We in Northeast Ohio are following Melbourne’s example by holding well-advertised monthly meetings.
The monthly joint meeting of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 will be held at 11:30 AM on Saturday, September 24, 2016. Our location is Ruko’s Family Restaurant, 9385 Mentor Avenue, Mentor, Ohio 44060, (440) 974-1914. Shining the Green Light! Public Welcome! Tables for Failed Scholars. Look for the table topper with the Green Wizard Hat.
Many thanks to John for the posting space on his blog.

Doctor Westchester said...


Thank you for this post. Comparing the success of the same-sex marriage movement and the failure of the climate change and peak oil movements has been an issue on my mind for the past year or so. Many parts of the ideas in this post I'd already worked out, but you have certainly added more to think about.

A little over five years ago, I was listening to a conversation between my minister and a female congregant lamenting why log cabin Republication just didn't become Democrats since they would be welcomed in that party. I didn't say anything but I felt that their idea was problematic. Today, I would tell them that one of the major reasons that my minister is married to his husband and the female congregant is married to her wife is because those log cabin Republications did stay with their party. I doubt that they would believe me.

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...

"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."

I like the way you phrase this!

It seems one think the climate movement could do is break things down into smaller, achievable goals (much like same-sex marriage could be seen as a smaller achievable goal within the greater context of promoting equality betwen people with different sexual orientations). For example, something you suggested in an earlier post - destroying the airline industry - is an achievable goal which would benefit the climate. In fact, it's been accomplished on a small scale - there are countries which have destroyed their local domestic airline industries by improving their passenger train networks, and thus destroying demand for domestic flights.

Ross B. said...

Bought a copy of Green Wizardry for myself and one for my Uncle Tom and Aunt Ann (who turned me on to your fantastic blog). I'm a millennial, and reading your posts has really changed my outlook on the future. I hope to be a role model for my generation, and lead us to a more responsible, sustainable future! Thanks,

Ross B.

Dennis Mitchell said...

I made the mistake of donating to a mainstream environmental group. Now I get an unsolicited calendar every other week from numerous groups. Every pitch seems to be offering a free tote bag of CD of nature sounds. Like I need more crap. It just shows me the people I want to place my hope in just don't get it.

Eric Backos said...

Having some background in construction and engineering, I suspect the process to, “stop treating the atmosphere as an aerial sewer and start mitigating the ecological impact of our idiocy,” will involve a great deal of skilled and unskilled labor. If the habit of trendy male urbanites to dress like lumberjacks in the manner of a cargo cult intended to attract the return of industry is symptomatic of the psychological and spiritual dearth caused by lack of real work in an economy of tangible goods, there may be a ready, willing, and already dressed labor pool for John’s environmental remediation project. Imagine tri-axle dump trucks rolling through hipster districts adorned with signs reading, “Real Jobs for Real Men / All Aboard,” and “Hard, Dirty, Dangerous / Man Up.” On a busy Saturday night, one truck could load from two or three coffee shops, deliver the newly minted workmen to our tent city, and make a return to the hipster district in time for the bars emptying after last call.
What? Yes, the trucks can run on biodiesel. No, burning SVO in a diesel engine takes some tinkering. Yes, we can do that. We’re men, aren’t we?

Jacob Coates said...

I have read the Archdruid Report for many years, although never posted before. Michael has always and continues to have come back each week due to he unflinching insistence what things are, what went wrong and how we might fix them. In essence the truth as he sees it, agree or disagree. This post got me thinking a great deal about the direction people are taking with their political self segregation and just sheer rabid denunciations of the opposing candidate. I fear that it will continue till, as Michael mentioned to in the post, guerrilla warfare and road side bombs. It will continue because people will refuse to see things as they are and admit that they have culpability in getting us to were we are. One things I have learned is that self deceit mixed with perceived failure is a sure fire recipe for self destruction responses.

W. B. Jorgenson said...

As the person who inspired that first half of the post, I've also been thinking about it, and want to say while your answer is fairly accurate for members of political parties, I think, as with so much of it, it also relates to the American Empire. The cognitive dissonance portion is still accurate, but the focus is on the fall of the empire.

Clinton supports the empire, Trump does not. Free trade, as you noted in an earlier post, serves the empire, so tariffs would end a big part of it. NATO, once again serves the empire, so Trump's comments on it, suggesting he'd let it fall apart, involve ending part of the empire. The list goes on, but quite a few of Trump's proposals can be described as walking away from empire. I'd be very surprised if he did, and also wouldn't be at all surprised if new wealth pumps were established, but Trump has attacked a lot of the things that make the empire tick.

I could very well be wrong, but this is what I currently think is happening.

Perhaps it's different in the US, but I've noticed here in Canada a lot of supporters of Clinton get crazed, but rarely do the (few) Trump supporters. I think it's knowledge of what Trump is proposing, the end of the American Empire, is something they claim to want (sometimes with euphemisms such as wanting the US to start acting like a "normal country"), while they support Clinton because they can't stand what it would do to their own lifestyles.

In response to the second half of your post, I think there's another problem: massive cognitive dissonance. Addressing this issue would force activists to abandon the lifestyle they love, the perks and privileges they hold dear. I can't see a way to keep sane and do it. Excluding the small number of people who walk the walk, I think too many activists drive themselves crazy, self sabotage, and engage in all the other destructive behaviors that occur when cognitive dissonance appears.

Thomas Mazanec said...

I don't foam at the mouth when discussing the election.
Puke, maybe...

Blue said...

My mother, a political activist of the affluent liberal (white) type, was recently attending a Black Lives Matter meeting... and on the phone later, expressed to me how puzzled she was that they weren't more excited about feminism, anti-corporatism, etc.

I've forwarded her a link to this perfectly timed article - let's see if she can learn this lesson or if I'm going to get another screed about how it's all intertwined and you have to fix everything at once or nothing at all.



With that said, she's quite far ahead of the curve in her desire to learn from the past in a purely technical sense, and I have good hope that she'll be willing to do the same in a social / political sense as well.

Eric Backos said...

The Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 congratulate Cascadia Guild upon the occasion of your inaugural meeting on July 12, and extend full recognition and reciprocity to your Tower and Guild. May your Tower Light ever shine!

FiftyNiner said...

Thank you! As always, you're able to inject a needed measure of sanity and objectivity into the most exasperating of predicaments. My youngest brother just informed me within the last two weeks that I have made the most complete political turn around of anyone he has ever seen!

I probably don't see it that way completely--but I have made a calculated decision to give Donald Trump the benefit of doubt. Just maybe he can effect some needed changes for the country. Even with his extraordinary ideosyncracies I believe him to have more of the milk of human kindness than Hillary Clinton will ever know!

AN OBSERVATION: My oldest brother is exactly one month and one day older than Hillary. He had a stroke fifteen years ago. The doctor who gave us the diagnosis a month after the event called it a "light stroke." When we consulted with the neurologist he disabused us of the notion that there is anything "light" about any stroke.
My brother returned to work for a time afterwards, but after about two years of struggling with the physical demands of his job he opted for disability. My brother has commented that he cannot understand how anyone who has suffered two episode of DVT and a stroke and who is on a high dose of cumadin could think themselves capable of being President? What is worse for the country is how can the political system be so broken as to let someone's desire for the Office of President so greatly exceed their ability to discharge the duties of the office? (The last sentence is paraphrased from Senator Sam Ervin during the Watergate hearings. Ironic indeed, when one considers Hillary's role in those proceedings.)

Steven said...

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.


In my former life, I was a grad student in political science-a discipline that tends to attract left-wing people, at least at the program I was in-and still have a number of them on facebook where I can read the political essays they post. I've thus been treated to multiple screeds about how it would have been really nice if Bernie Sanders had won the primary, but he didn't, and how Donald Trump is such a horrible, disgusting racist ogre who will do horrible, disgusting things to black and Hispanic people, and any vote against Hillary is a spoiler for Trump, so if you even consider doing any such thing, you're an accomplice in Trump's horrible disgustingness and should be ashamed of yourself. (I remember one such essay having a title that was something like "Bernie Diehards: It is only your White Privilege that allows you to ignore this election!"). I've also ran across articles (on FB and the Liberal end of the intertubez) claiming that Bernie fans are all men who only hate Hillary because they're sexist (one such diatribe referred to male Sanders supporters as "Bernie Bros").

The Republican circles I've been in have been more mixed. One (a Conservative Anglican group) basically agreed not to talk about politics, but I gathered that pretty much everybody there was going to find some right-wing third party to vote for, or write in Ted Cruz. And I think that a good deal of the wage class people in the Virginia Appalachian town I live in are actually enthusiastic about Trump-though this has less to do with Trump himself and more with them hating the Republican establishment so much they'll cheer for anyone who will put a thumb in its eye.

fudoshindotcom said...

Very insightful post!

I'd love to see a coherent strategy for reducing carbon emissions that emphasizes the benefits of reduction for all people, rather than one that puts all it's efforts into vilifying the small number of Profiteers who gain financially from lax regulations.

Blue said...

I also wanted to laugh at the description of Hillary - all too true! I say this as a liberal woman living in a hip neighborhood of downtown Seattle. All of my friends will choke on their Starbucks and threaten to disown me at any hint that Donald Trump might the candidate who better matches their views! (I've had that conversation more than once, and it's not pretty)

So basically... can confirm, your portrayal of latte-sipping west-coast liberals is neither exaggerated nor unearned, in this post and many others.

SamuraiArtGuy said...

As usual, painfully perceptive awareness of the upended state of the race. It is utterly baffling to me to see otherwise calm and resoned aquaintances this election cycle become absolutely frothing ravers. Given both candidates near ledgendary unfavorables, which in saner times would have absolutely disqualified them the race, most folk are not planning to vote in support of their candidate,but rather in hostile opposition to the other side. A "lesser of evils" opposition vote is of course far less satisfying and a lesser sentiment than actually supporting a candidtate. My perception is that the side that manages to disillusion, disenchant, and alienate their base will simply LOSE as voters stay home in record numbers. The Democratic Party is currently licking it's chops in anticipation of a Clinton landslide, but there is still plenty of time for the DNC, through arrogance, incompetence and hubrus, in additon to a perception of election-rigging, can still shove defeat down the throat of victory.

John Michael Greer said...

Marcu, Roy, and Eric, best wishes for the meetings!

JacGolf, you're welcome and thank you. I like the Bruce Lee quote -- very apropos! As for Retrotopia, those'll be coming every other week until the story's complete.

Doctor W., I'd encourage you to tell them that and see how they respond. Next time you meet a Log Cabin Republican, you might ask him or her to explain to you exactly why he or she isn't a Democrat, so you can pass that on, too! ;-)

Notes, thank you for getting it! Yes, that's one of the things we'll be discussing in that upcoming post.

Ross, glad to hear it! Your generation and the generations rising after you are going to have to clean up a lot of really ugly messes that my generation, I'm sorry to say, has made and left for you; I hope some of what I'm doing can help with that.

Dennis, yep. Care to guess what kind of advice I'm going to offer a future climate change movement about that kind of fundraising?

Eric, excellent. Yes, and think of the way that such a campaign will offend the extremists on both sides!

Jacob, that's certainly a possibility -- why not see if you can do something to turn things down a different trajectory?

Robert Mathiesen said...

This post strikes me as one of your most perceptive ones ever. I would note that much the same approach, as implemented by Carrie Chapman Catt, also eventually won women the right to vote in all elections.

What Catt did was focus single-mindedly on that one issue, tossed overboard any and every other progressive cause whenever it seemed to alienate potential supporters. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage were pushed off-stage, especially after they came out with radical critiques of traditional Christianity in the 1890s ("The Woman's Bible" and "Women, Church and State," respectively) -- gently pushed off, but quite firmly. She would have pushed Susan B. Anthony off-stage, too, if Anthony had not tempered her own sails to the prevailing winds to support Catt's one goal.

Catt was opposed to war, but enthusiastically supported the US's entry into WW1 as a political necessity to gain support for women's suffrage. She argued publicly that giving women the right to vote was one of the most effective ways to ensure White supremacy in US politics forever, and to keep other races from sharing in political power. And so forth!

In short, Catt had no use for ideological purity; she sought allies wherever she might find them, even when it meant getting in bed with the devil; she refused to piggyback her cause on any other, or allow any other cause to piggyback on hers; and she addressed her appeal to the (White) poor as well as the affluent. You don't have to like her, or to agree with her views on the other hot questions of her time (and ours), to appreciate the effectiveness of her politics. And it's thanks to Catt that the 19th amendment came to be ratified, and is now part of the highest law of the land.

John Michael Greer said...

WB, of course there's more going on than simple cognitive dissonance! That's just where the foam, or much of it, is coming from. Equally, you're right that a radical movement that pitches itself solely to the affluent is going to fall afoul of hardcore cognitive dissonance, because the people who claim they want to change things are the people who benefit most from the status quo, and thus don't really want to change things. I'll be discussing this further as we proceed.

Thomas, that seems like a perfectly sane response to me... ;-)

Blue, I hope she gets it. Insisting that it's necessary to change everything is a great way to guarantee that you never get around to changing anything.

FiftyNiner, you're welcome. I also find a libertine populist demagogue considerably less troubling than a corrupt establishment neoconservative. As for Clinton's health problems, well, we'll see...

Steven, yes, I've seen the same thing. I wonder if the ranting Clintonistas realize how many of the people they're yelling at may just vote for Trump out of disgust at their antics!

Fudoshin, why either-or? An effective strategy deploys many different appeals all at once.

Blue, I lived in Seattle until 2004 and on the left coast until 2009, when I finally fled screaming, so my portraits are painted from life. ;-)

Samurai, and they're forgetting that at this point in 1988, Dukakis had the same lead over Bush that Clinton now has over Trump. It ain't over yet by a long shot.

Pinku-Sensei said...

My pick for the next victory for personal liberty in the U.S. will be full legalization of marijuana. That movement appears to be avoiding most if not all the traps involved. It's certainly avoiding the partisan trap; the Libertarians and Greens are leading the charge, but more and more Democrats are on board and I know there are Republicans involved, too. I told one of my students five years ago that marijuana legalization, along with same-sex marriage, would be one of two achievements that his generation would help accomplish. One down, one to go!

As for what I'm doing about climate change and conservation of energy, I'm advocating for improved public transportation here in metro Detroit. That's become something of a partisan issue, but at least it's practical and helps the wage class as much as if not more than the salary class.

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, thank you! I wasn't thinking of that example specifically, but I should have been, so thank you for the reminder.

Greg Reynolds @ Riverbend said...

What's happening with climate change activism in the rest of the world ? Are they having any more success than in the US ?

If not, there may be more going on than the four errors outlined above.


Cherokee Organics said...


Mate, I hear you. You totally lost me in the second paragraph. Hehe! What would any apparently sane person be doing in a Starbucks anyway? I am a coffee snob you know. Everyone has their little vices... ;-)!

Apologies to your readers who posted: "quite a few hostile comments and no shortage of furious denunciations". I simply became bored after reading the first few of those particular comments and went off and did something else more productive with my time. Did I miss anything? ;-)! It is a shame I couldn’t use some of that emotional heat to keep the house warm during this cold winter.

You know, when either my wife or I stuffs something up and we do that from time to time, or something unprecedented and unpleasant happens, we sit down once the dust has settled a bit and have a post mortem on the subject to learn exactly what went wrong and what we can do to respond better to that - or a similar - situation in the future. The thing that I have learned from that uncomfortable process over many long years is to: Nip things in the bud before they escalate into a major problem. It is a real shame that people are in a total state of denial about the affairs of our society.

The place "where environmental causes go to die" is the funniest thing that I have read for a long while because it is so true. Hysterical, downright tea spitting all over the keyboard, and a messy business, but so very true.

I seriously question the capacity of renewable resources to replace fossil fuels because it is simply not possible to do so. And I have been verbally attacked for doing so and then talking honestly about it, despite having run the experiment. And the ludicrous claims that people make - usually directed in a form which suggests that my systems must be faulty are totally ingenuous. Then they start to make claims about some potential new technology just on the horizon. And don’t start me up about Tesla power walls… In point of fact those arguments did more to alienate my personal feelings towards so called "greenies" than any other thing. When I first moved up here, I heard local people saying similar things about "greenies" and I was a bit horrified to hear those disparagements. But I totally understand and sympathise with what they are saying now.

On a completely unrelated note, in my travels to the post office this morning to collect the mail, I spotted a local rainforest tree sapling growing along the side of the road in an area that will be mowed. Fortunately for the young tree, it is now rescued and will receive considerable care and attention and hopefully it will well and truly outlive me.



Helix said...

@Thomas Mazanec: "I don't foam at the mouth when discussing the election. Puke, maybe..."

Bullseye! Actually, I've gotten to the point that I don't even discuss this election. Well, with anyone but my friend Bob, who mainly follows politics because it's such a rich source of comedy material. I'll probably have to write him on election day -- again.

As for serious conversations, I don't think I've ever seen such vociferous support from people who basically despise them -- just not as much as they despise the other candidate. Where to begin? And why bother?

Eric Backos said...

How would our Man UP! campaign to recruit trendy male urbanites for work on environmental remediation projects offend both sides? Isn’t actually doing something a three-red-cards offense in the rescue game? In the case of environmental remediation, both acknowledgement of the problem and admission that a solution is possible are necessary. Daunting, but there are enough small jobs to build credibility and momentum – leaking tanks at abandoned gas stations, the soil around neighborhood dry cleaning shops, and similar messes.

Bill Pulliam said...

It seems like the core thread runnign through what you describe is keeping your eye on But if you actually think through what the well-defined goal is, it is likely to sound an awful lot like "dismantling my own comfortable lifestyle." And there's the rub... I havenot seen much evidence that Americans still have any real notion of self-sacrifice for the greater good. I'll be curious to see how you think this might be approached.

Eric -- alas you will find that most of those urban lumberjacks don't have any idea which end of the axe to grab and which to hit the tree with; nor do they care to build the muscle and suffer the aches required to accomplish that task. You're better off looking among all the actual working class men (and women) whose beards (in the case of the men) denim and flannel are not just fashion statements. You won't find them in the hipster districts.

Patricia Mathews said...

Piggybacking, oh, my goddess, yes. It's been going on for decades. I remember way, way back when I still belonged to N.O.W, locally about as respectable a feminist organization as you could get short of the League of Women Voters, just before it dwindled into "five old ladies in the living room." And their arguments that the draft was a feminist issue, the bomb was a feminist issue, everything under the sun was a feminist issue.

When I noted that we were diluting our actions to back people who I had never seen return the favor - even when I simply asked if these other movements had ever returned the favor as a prelude to asking if we weren't diluting our energy - well, you'd think I'd broken wind in church.

And how long ago was that?

jessi thompson said...

Oh man, me too!!! I can't believe how much paper they send me. They put me on lists for a hundred other unrelated charities, too. I took them up on the tote bags, though. I grew up on the ocean, so I saw first hand where all those single use grocery bags end up. It's not pretty. But yeah, those orgs all seem pretty clueless. Now instead of donating, I just make small changes in my own life and then talk about how easy they are whenever the subject comes up. I would love to hear about some more effective things we can do to save the biosphere from ourselves.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG, but in 1988 the conventions were much later, and Dukakis was still at the peak of his "convention bounce" on this date. The trend lines now are really weak, especially in swing states. Honestly, barring something utterly dramatic (and no, further revalations that Clinton is a corrupt liar don't count, that is already established fact and has already swayed everyone who cares) I think people are just gonna march zombie-like from where they stand now pretty much right to the polling booths in November, with little deviation from their resigned, dejected, miserable choices.

Regardless of the outcome, the next four years promise to be "interesting" in all the wrong ways...

Patricia Mathews said...

Steven - when you said "I've also ran across articles (on FB and the Liberal end of the intertubez) claiming that Bernie fans are all men who only hate Hillary because they're sexist (one such diatribe referred to male Sanders supporters as "Bernie Bros")." you described my otherwise best friend perfectly. Her terminology precisely. On that subject, she is *not sane.*

So I don't talk about alternatives with her these days.

John Roth said...

Very nice post, and a lot of food for thought.

I'd like to point out one rather minor item in the characterization of the same-sex marriage movement, though. Think of the term GLBT. One of these letters is not like the other. As someone who is mildly trans, I can say that I couldn't care less about whether gays have a right to marry, other than general sympathy that I have for a lot of good causes. I'm not gay, lesbian or bisexual. The transsexual-transgender movement indeed piggybacked on the gay rights movement. There were a lot of people who didn't like that, didn't think it would work, and thought they'd get betrayed, but it worked, and now the promissory note is in fact being repaid.

That doesn't dilute your main point, which is that things do need to be solved one piece at a time. Trying to solve the world just doesn't work.

Helix said...

"[A] radical movement that pitches itself solely to the affluent is going to fall afoul of hardcore cognitive dissonance, because the people who claim they want to change things are the people who benefit most from the status quo."

In addition to this, such a movement is not going to get the support of those outside affluent circles, and they're somebody's constituency too. I saw this during the Vietnam era, where among my peers it was mainly college students (who could look forward to becoming affluent) who actively protested the war. They developed a kind of disdain for rank-and-file workers, who either supported the war, or adopted a "my country, right or wrong, my country" position. I found it very odd that said college liberals claimed solidarity with the rank-and-file, but on the most pressing issue of the day, looked down on them. Each group despised the other, and neither were looking for common ground.

I see a bit of the same thing going on in the climate-change debate. Among my circle of acquaintances, the college-educated white-collar set are in almost universal agreement that climate change is real and caused by human activities. Not that any of them have made any significant changes in their own lives to reduce their personal impact. Most climate-change deniers I know are blue- (or green-) collar types.

Once again, I am noticing that each camp holds the other in contempt -- not a good development if any positive action is to take place. So the questions is, is there any common ground here, and are there specific proposals that could be put forward that might get support from both camps. I'm thinking of things like federally supported weatherization programs for residential buildings. It's pretty clear to me at this point that this issue is going to have to be addressed in an incremental fashion, if indeed it can be addressed at all.

Carl Dolphin said...

Dear JMG, I witnessed Purity Politics last weekend at a protest against animal enslavement (dolphins, elephants,Tigers, walrus, etc) at Six Flags amusement park in Nor Cal. I've been protesting there for over a year, and found a group that is well organized and a couple dozen people turn out on Saturdays.
At the end of the protest, I was sharing some apples I had grown, and The Question I had been waiting for came up from two women "are you Vegan?" I said "no" and immediately I could feel the cold shoulders. I was going to go to lunch with them, but they suddenly had something to do. I really don't see how being vegan is relevant to wanting these poor animals sent to sanctuaries. It's not like I'm protesting at a slaughter house and then going out for a cheese burger. Them wearing VEGAN t-shirts doesn't help our cause either, as it alienates a lot of people.
Overall though the public is supportive of our action and hopefully soon the animals will be free. Baltimore aquariums near you is looking for a suitable sea pen and eventual release of there 12 dolphins. Also SeaWorld is stopping any breeding of their Orcas. Yeah!

jessi thompson said...

I find myself getting dragged into politics and reacting more vehemently than I should (promoting third party candidates and independents, of course) but then I remember that we are voting for Scapegoat-in-Chief and none of them are very different, and besides, at this point it's difficult to tell whether pushing a faster collapse or slowing it down will actually be better in the long term anyway. When you get past the venom, there is a broad, bipartisan consensus that this is the worst possible election, ever. So if you're looking to build bridges with people on the other side of the great political divide, go ahead and join in bashing any candidate, then steer the conversation to the sheer awfulness of having to choose between these two. There's a lot more common ground here than anyone realizes. My grandmother was a reaganite republican that loved the environment and feared global warming. I am a Texan liberal that wants everyone to keep their guns (especially for hunting tasty animals). We all need to stop believing in the stereotypes, ESPECIALLY if you think you might fit one of the stereotypes too closely.

Robert Tweedy said...

I've been wondering why the screaming over politics has been so much more loud this cycle. I chalked it up to forgetting what the screaming was like in 2012. After reading your paragraphs about cognitive dissonance, perhaps I'm right and the screaming actually is louder.

Here's a possible example of the CD effect this cycle. Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic, has written on his blog that he formally endorses Hillary because he was getting death threats after pointing out some of Hillary's flaws. He didn't endorse Trump or any other politician. He has talked about Trump and Hillary in equal measure, but got death threats from some Democrats.

I don't remember death threats being thrown around in 2008 or 2012, but my memory isn't what it used to be. The fear seems to be much higher this cycle.

Shane W said...

In all fairness, Bowling Green is a college (university) town, albeit a middling, state university, WKU (Western KY University, aka "Western"), come to think of it, the other well known Bowling Green in our neighbor to the north is also home to a middling state university, BGSU (Bowling Green State University). OTH, Bowling Green (KY) is home to GM's Corvette (phallic device) factory, as well. Maybe the wage class gay couple works there? Now, if you'd said Somerset, or Corbin, that'd definitely be more orthodox Baptist country--they just voted wet w/in the last few years.
I have a question to pose to professed progressives on the ADR: if progress is the civil religion of our time, and we're no longer progressing, and progress has ended sometime well in the past (I pick 1978, when I was three, b/c I read somewhere that that was when average American incomes stopped rising, but the year/date can be contested, so long as it's well in the past), why continue with "progressive" politics? If we're not progressing, and haven't progressed for quite some time, what's the appeal of "progressive" politics? I'm interested in why people on the list are still "progressive", after JMG has discussed the myth of Progress and the civil religion of progress on this blog and put it in book form (After Progress) For me, I pretty much just dismiss people's continued "progressive" politics as an outward expression of the religion of progress in political form that just hasn't died off yet, and secondly as the psychology of previous investment--these people are just way too invested in "progressive" politics to jump ship now. This is of personal interest to me b/c a fellow local ADR reader identifies as "progressive", and I was questioned in true "purity test" fashion by another attendee of our short-lived Green Wizards group about my "progressive" bonafides.
There is hope! I'm working at a local vineyard/winery in my home county, and the topic of carbon footprint came up, he readily offered that he travels (drives, flies) too much, and that travel is the biggest source of atmospheric CO2--no prompting by me. Recognition is the first step--I've never encountered anyone upfront about it before--the only types I've met in the past are the ecohypocrites who have huge carbon travel footprints that they're totally unaware of/go unacknowledged.
blue collar, here I come! I'm going to be working in the warehouse of a certain well known Bourbon distillery, where my grandfather worked as a government man (gauger, alcohol tax, etc.) I'm kind of stoked. Bourbon seems like a good long descent kind of job, we've been making it here for hundreds of years, and I'm even okay w/the Horsemen of the Apocalypse role, as well (alcoholism will play an important role for people unable to cope with the future bearing down on us, as it did during the Soviet collapse, and will play an important role in bring mortality up and reducing the 7 million of us overpopulating the planet)

Doubt Truth to be a Liar said...

Hey John,

I recently picked up Dark Age America and look forward to reading it.

With regards to today's post, I must say I strongly disagree with the assertion that the gay marriage advocates avoided the mistakes made by climate change activists. The gay marriage movement didn't avoid the mistakes as much as they covered it up with a very slick and effective propaganda campaign.

Take pandering to the privileged for example. The gay marriage movement certainly did a fair bit of that, which explains why the passage of same sex marriage in New York was won by wealthy hedge fund managers and tea party sympathizers. The slick piece of propaganda used to cover up such pandering argues that gay marriage benefits the salaried class or the rich as much as it does wage earners.

The reality of the situation is that for much of its history the institution of marriage has never benefited poor people.

This is true even today as wages continue to stagnate or decline and the social safety net disappears, making it much harder for people to start much less maintain families. Let's not mention the obvious fact that when poor people get married they compound their debts, while couples who are well off compound their wealth.

I suppose one could argue that wage earners and salaried professionals are equal under the law when it comes to their freedom to marry, but this too is erroneous reasoning as laws can have differential impacts in the area of responsibilities depending on the parties involved.

This doesn't really take away from your criticism that such mistakes need to be avoided, but to show that avoiding them isn't the only way to help your movement gain some steam. Sometimes you can play the propaganda game and cover up the mistakes too.

Charles Richardson said...


You are my favorite polymath blogging today and your post today epitomizes why I think so.

Do you really think that organized one-issue activism will be of use in mitigating the Long Descent, or reducing the human wreckage when that happens in earnest?

I thoroughly enjoy your peerless analytic bent, but do you have a punchline issue that could be pressed in this fashion that you yourself think would, say, completely locally stop some of the implosion, or mitigate things long enough for some of us embedded in the belly of the beast to get out a small group of people intact and re-establish sane community? I'd love to hear about that if you are thinking in that direction.

What you did get me thinking about, was that we should all be "preppers" in human nature, small scale political process and leadership, moderating discussions, and consensus building. Those skills may be just as important as gardening to budding wizards facing a trek through Mordor to try to build a better Shire on the other side.

tokyo damage said...

I was skeptical at the beginning of this column, but now I'm more convinced than ever that you're right.

I've read several op-eds speculating like, "The Repubs might turn into a populist, worker's party, and the Dems might turn into a coalition of the rich plus people of color", which , IF it turns out like that, would be a perfect example of your account of the Victim/Savior game.

Definitely we're going to see a 'polarity reversal' of the parties, something we haven't seen since LBJ passed the Civil Rights Act and the whole South went Republican.

And, as for your critics' doom-and-gloom predictions 'discouraging beyond what Exxon would hope for'? Speaking for myself anyway, your OWN doom-and-gloom predictions are one of my favorite things about you, so I hope you're not planning on giving them up anytime soon!

Donald Hargraves said...

Another example of a group that follows your "ignore others, go for your aim" ideas is the NRA. And with Conceal Carry the TRUE law of the land, Open Carry getting near De Facto law of the land status, and the folks looking forward to further advances for the rights of gun owners (such as banning the ability to ban guns from your business) I'd say they're doing very well.

As for the state of the race, I recently had a Hard-Core Trumpian tell me that if I didn't vote for Trump I was voting for Clinton! Proof to me as to how weak both candidates are, as I usually get that from my democrat friends "you're not with us, you're against us" stuff (and got it until I demanded better – and got a roaring silence in response).

Joel Caris said...


Piggybacking sounds a lot to me like the social activism equivalent of inserting yourself into a pre-existing stream of money. I tried to find the post in which you talked about that some time back to link to and haven't had luck, but it seems to be the same basic idea of finding someone else's success and then getting in on it to your benefit rather than going through the hard work of creating your own success.

This post is giving me a lot to think about, especially since I've been mulling the idea of getting back into some kind of political activism. Granted, I'm not sure that's realistically going to happen in the near future just because I'm so busy, but if the right opportunity came along, I might not be able to resist. I would love to get on board with a focused but blended movement dedicated to building a high speed rail system throughout the country in an effort to combat climate change, create better and more comfortable long-distance transit options, and speed the death of the airline industry. I also think there could be some real opportunity to work this message across party lines. The Republican Party seems to be highly opposed to any sort of rail support, but I suspect that has more support among the party apparatchik than it does among the membership. I've taken Amtrak commonly enough to note that it's far from just a mode of transport for affluent liberals; if anything, they're more likely to be flying. Granted, I didn't find out the political leanings of my fellow passengers, but I suspect there were quite a few Republicans on board, either out of appreciation of train travel or it being the most accessible mode of travel for them.

On another issue, I've been formulating a series of posts on the local food movement for my new blog. While perhaps not as clear cut in its success as the same sex marriage movement--which had a very specific goal that has been very clearly achieved--I still think the local food movement has been one of the more successful political movements I've seen in my time. Granted, it has its issues, too, and I think pandering to the privileged is far and away the most pressing. That said, there is a good chunk of the movement that crosses traditional lines and brings in a diverse set of people. My time and involvement in the movement has often had me meeting and interacting with liberals, affluent and otherwise, but I've also run into a fair share of conservatives. There's a very strong libertarian undercurrent to the movement and conservative, libertarian branches to it, as well as another strong evangelical Christian branch that sees local, organic food as basically being closer to God (I believe I'm representing that more or less correctly; my claims come from a number of blogs that I've seen and read rather than through more direct, personal experience).

As part of that series of posts I hope to do, I'd like to look at some of the ways the local food movement could reorient itself, especially as the affluent liberal effect seems to be creeping deeper into it. This post should really help me formulate some of those thoughts, as well as to better trace out some of the reasons it's had the successes it has and some of the reasons it's stalled out in other ways.

I'm really looking forward to you sketching out some possible activities for a new climate change movement. Will that be in two weeks, or do you think its farther off?

Tony Rasmussen said...

Didn't read the comments/"furious denunciations" referred to from a few weeks ago, so forgive me but ... isn't there one critical difference between the two movements: the same sex marriage movement was not asking its opponents to make any real sacrifice. Yes they had to let go of a few ideals, but in reality it affected them basically not at all. The climate change movement otoh demands major sacrifice (theoretically, anyway) from all; obviously it's a much harder battle to fight.

Nancy Sutton said...

Amen,brother!! I (at 70 yrs) cut my teeth on the Whole Earth Catalogue, et al, etc. Finally becoming politcally active, I learned, to my horror, that the 'piggy backing' is soooo true. At a coalition-building meeting to mount anti-Iraq war demos in Seattle in summer of 2002, the Radical Women stomped out when their pet goals were not voted into the top three. Sheesh! Patrick Cockburn was so right, when speaking at the Seattle Labor Temple in the same year, that the lefties have never loved anything better than cutting each other off at the knees... yikes!! That leaves them soooo easy to manipulate and herd about. We are doomed. Thanks for the explication ... now, back to the garden, and plotting water and carbon capture for the upcoming hot times :)

Jean Smith said...

I don't dispute that your suggestions for improving climate change activism may have merit, but I remain unconvinced by your argument that there is no fundamental difference in circumstances between climate change and same sex rights.

It strikes me as implausible that every movement for every sort of social liberalization in every Western country has adopted effective tactics while almost every movement for every sort of economic liberalism has adopted ineffective tactics in every Western country.

What I see is that the western world is shifting ever more to commercial values, following the trajectory that Plato set out in 'The Republic'. The primary commercial value is simply 'more'. Social restraints get in the way of 'more', so do economic ones. Thus, they are all getting swept aside and the activists are no more controlling this then a piece of floating wood controls the tides. One piece of wood washes ashore, another is swept out to sea and history rolls onward.

John Michael Greer said...

Pinku-sensei, I think you're probably right -- we're in the some-states-have-it stage, where same sex marriage was ten years ago, and my guess is that federal legalization will be debated within a few years.

Cherokee, glad to hear about the tree! That action has already removed more carbon from the atmosphere than all the antics of Al Gore ever will. As for the greenies, yes, I know -- the number of people who are fixated on the notion that some technogimmick will allow them to have their planet and eat it too is pretty impressive, all things considered.

Eric, it would offend the radical left because it implies that there's something positive to be said about masculinity; it would offend the radical right because it's offering men an affirmative image of masculinity that doesn't require men to be douchebags toward women, people of color, etc. You'd get outrage in stereo -- and it would all sound pretty much the same from both sides.

Bill, all in good time. ;-)

Patricia, I'm guessing it was in the 1970s, which was about when identity politics and the rescue game started to elbow aside the more robust and effective models of social change organization that led the civil rights movement to victory, got us the Endangered Species Act, etc., etc., etc.

Bill, well, we'll just have to see. I certainly won't argue about the "interesting" nature of the next four years -- as I see it, we're approaching an inflection point from which all possible routes lead down hard.

John, there's a difference between piggybacking and deliberate strategic alliances. If trans people chose to throw their support to the campaign for same sex marriage rights in the hope that they could call in favors later, that was a viable move -- not least because the opposition is the same, and the enemy of my enemy is usually my friend. It's when it becomes de rigueur, and involves diffusion of focus, that it's a problem.

Helix, yep. So the strategy of trying to appeal to the affluent dooms itself twice over.

Carl, I've encountered that also. As I'm an obligate omnitarian -- my body doesn't handle vegetable proteins well, so modest amounts of animal protein are essential to my health -- I'm used to self-righteous tirades from vegans who insist that I must hate the earth because I don't share their dietary opinions. I'll have to do a post one of these days about that habit -- one shared with fundamentalists and the like -- which, it seems to me, is about alienating as many people as possible so you never run out of people to feel superior to. More on this later!

Jessi, good. A nice application of ternary logic!

Robert, my take is certainly that the screaming is louder and the terror more intense. I haven't fielded any death threats for my comments about Clinton, but no doubt that's because I'm not important enough to attract them.

Shane, well, there you are -- never having been to Kentucky, I don't know the local geography at all well.

William Hays said...

JMG, thanks for the acknowledgement of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Having spent 24 years there before moving on, I can assure you it is a excellent college town that might even find room for an arch druid. Your comments on the climate change movement are accurate. I continue to wonder at the thinking of the movement's leadership. The environmental movement was truly hijacked by the clueless, and we are the poorer for it.

John Michael Greer said...

Doubt, I think you've misunderstood my point. The campaign for same sex marriage rights appealed to the affluent as well as the wage class -- that was one of the things that made them successful. The point was that they didn't appeal to the affluent at the expense of the wage class, which is what the climate change movement did.

Charles, punchline issues are exactly what we don't need. Focused activism on a flurry of different fronts, each one tackling some specific issue that needs to be addressed, can certainly mitigate the situation -- and at this point mitigation is the best that can be hoped for. As for "get[ting] out a small group of people intact and re-establish[ing] sane community", that's not my project at all -- and I'm far from sure that any such project can work. More on this later.

Tokyo, have no fear; I see no reason to change my overall thesis, which is that industrial civilization is falling and we're headed toward a long and bitter dark age. What I'm talking about now is how to mitigate some of the uglier features of the transition there, and lay some groundwork for things that might make the dark age just a little less grim than it will otherwise be.

Donald, that's a good point -- and I've been told that a fair number of NRA members have gotten irate at attempts by other causes to piggyback on their organization, so they're aware of that particular trap.

Joel, I think this is the post you're looking for. The next post on politics will probably be four weeks from now.

Tony, are you looking for differences in order to figure out how to emulate the success of the same-sex marriage rights movement, or are you looking for differences in order to excuse the failure of the climate change movement?

Nancy, thank you. I well recall the same sort of thing back when I was briefly involved in antiwar activism, in the early 1980s.

Jean, as I asked Tony, are you looking for differences in order to figure out how to emulate the success of the same-sex marriage rights movement, or are you looking for differences in order to excuse the failure of the climate change movement?

John Michael Greer said...

William, thank you! I suspect the leadership of the environmental movement was in fact anything but clueless; they've done very well for themselves, by and large, by selling out to the Democratic Party and the corporations. It's the rest of us and the planet that lost out.

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...


As a vegan, I've also been discouraged from joining certain pro-animal activist groups because of hostility to vegans.

I forget what the group was pitching (something to improve the living conditions of some animals), but at the very beginning of the spiel, the woman essentially said 'I am not one of those awful vegans, I love eating meat just like you do, etc. etc.' and I was thinking 'uh, if you're going to treat vegans like me as pariahs, then maybe I should find some other way to help animals'. And then she had the gall to end the spiel by saying 'whether you are a vegan or a carnivore, you should work with me.' That's right, after she said a bunch of things degrading vegans, she expects us to join her simply because she's helping animals!

This is just one example - I've encountered many other examples of non-vegans who are trying to help animals who say such horrible things about vegans that I don't want to work with them.

I do sometimes work with non-vegans to help animals because I am more interested in helping animals than ideological purity. However, I do insist they at least respect my choice to be vegan.

Urban Harvester said...

"I suppose its probably too late in the game for both of the parties to do the right thing and swap candidates,"
That was classic!
I very much look forward to reading your sketch for a successful climate change movement. I can attest to how true and seductive the trap is of thinking that to solve A one has to solve problems B to Z. That trap tends to lead one to think there is some critical factor which if only it were removed (I.e. the belief in the triumph of technic progress, or corporate personhood) then A to Z would just naturally solve themselves. Fortunately our country is, I've come to realize, too wonderfully diverse for such golden bullet fantasies to have any actual effect. Retrotopia is a wonderful cure to that trap, but it would be nice if we could get a head start without the imperative of the aftermath of a second civil war! So... can't wait to read it!

RogerCO said...

@Greg Reynolds. I can only speak for the UK, but JMG _very_ accurately describes the problems that have held the environmental movement back since about 1980. All four habits are strongly present today. Possibly there is a fifth habit; if Pandering to the Privileged is about trying to attract mass support only from a minority group (affluent liberals) there is another side of that coin which you could call "Wanting to be Inside". All sorts of big green groups start to want to become part of the political system and so put on the suits, get invited to sit round tables in Westminster and at conferences and are given the illusion that their hands are somewhere near the levers of power. Maybe this _is_ a necessary part of succeeding, but it doesn't seem to have worked so far. At what point did the movement for gay marriage sit around the power table - or did it do its work by getting those who already sit at the table to accept their point of view?

Scotlyn said...

Thanks for this excellent post. I have seen what you are talking about first hand - the idea that if we don't agree 100% on everytjing we can't work together on anything is insidiously destructive of all common sense in the activist corners of the world.

I would like to say that I knocked on doors duting the recent Irish referendum for marriage equality (which in my rural, conservative constituency was won by a nail-biting 33 votes).

Knocking on doors revealed that (around here) if there were small children in the house they were goimg to vote in favour, because "I don't know what my children will be/do when they grow up, but I don't want them treated less than equally."

Meanwhile (and to the chagrin & horror of affluent liberals) the highest positive vote counts (up to 70-80% in favour) were in urban working class areas, with affluent urban areas only voting in favour at around 60%.

Yet the affluent urban liberal types still want to call the working class ones "stupid" for entertaining the kind of doubts about technocracy that wd lead you to vote out of the EU, or doubt that vaccinations are good for health, etc.

If you really looked for 100% agreement about everything before working on anything, you'd have a committee of exactly one.

And even then, you might be of two minds...

Learning HOW to disagree productively is actually an important part of getting things done, and this comment section continually bears witness to how that can be achieved.

Helix said...

@Cherokee Organics "I seriously question the capacity of renewable resources to replace fossil fuels... I have been verbally attacked for... talking honestly about it, despite having run the experiment... Then they start to make claims about some potential new technology just on the horizon."

Undoubtedly correct about renewable resources replacing fossil fuels. Being a math geek, I ran the numbers long ago and concluded that a renewable energy future was going to be far different from what goes on now. I think this lies behind the verbal attacks and the cornucopian belief (desperate hope, actually) that "they'll come up with *something* -- they always do!" Most people in developed countries just have no idea how they would live at that level, although their ancestors managed to pull it off little more than 100 years ago. I think this causes people great anxiety -- they don't know how to survive in that kind of world. Thus they must insist that life can go on as it does now.

Plant a garden, install a wood stove, equip your house for passive solar heat. Teach your children well. They are the future...

Compound F said...

It's very late in the game, JMG, for discussing political strategy. I give you credit for trying. Perhaps I need to dig a little deeper than I thought possible. Everything is horrible, truly.

Matthias Gralle said...

@JMG: I am posting a reworked version of my comment from three weeks ago and do hope that you find the time to answer. Of course, I am looking forward to your post on what might actually work, and in the meanwhile, though I know you prefer to talk about the country you know firsthand, it feels important to look at real examples that have worked or not worked in the past, and the partial examples of success I would like to offer are from Germany and Brazil (@Greg Reynolds!).

1. In Germany, the Green party, which had started out as a very anti-establishment movement, saw the possibility of achieving a share of power in the federal election in 1998. Still, at the party convention in June 1998, the majority of the delegates, against the will of some top officials, voted to implement a CO2 tax that would have increased e.g. the price of a liter of gasoline to 5 German marks (almost triple the price it was). The increased taxation would be used to reduce labor costs (exactly one of your Retrotopia proposals!). I heard live coverage of the convention on radio and witnessed the outrage this proposal caused. Polling numbers for the Greens dropped sharply; nevertheless, they managed to remain in parliament and were included as a very minor partner in the new government formed in the fall of 1998. Their tax proposal was passed in a somewhat watered-down form and with many exemptions for CO2-intensive industries. The other goal they achieved was a long-term plan to shut down all nuclear plants, which was revoked in 2005, but re-implemented after Fukushima.
By the way, the more recent developments in Germany (wind energy, PV) have not been implemented by the Green party. Nowadays, the Greens have lost a lot of their street credibility because many former office holders have taken golden parachutes of the ugliest variety (including nuclear industry!), but belief in climate change is consensus in Germany. That example from 1998 still seems to be relevant.

2. In Brazil, Marina Silva, the daughter of an extremely poor rubber extractor from the Amazon, who learnt to read at 16 while working as a maid and then put herself through university, became federal minister of the environment in 2002. She especially fought to reduce the impact of new hydroelectric dams in the Amazon, but resigned from office and left the Workers’ Party when she felt she was having too little effect. In 2010, as Green party candidate for president, she received more than 20% of the votes. Marina said during the entire “pre-salt” petroleum boom that it was both wrong and foolish to gamble Brazil’s future on petroleum, and that generating hydroelectric power should not trump environmental and social concerns. Since she is visibly not of pure European descent and also member of a pentecostal church, which in Brazil is a marker of low social class, she has attracted very heterogeneous voters, not only the “ecologically correct” upper middle class. In 2014, she suddenly emerged in the middle of the most polarised campaign in recent Brazilian history and was briefly frontrunner in the polls, before being demolished by the incumbent’s campaign (who is now being impeached). Marina continues to be one of the top-polling candidates for a future election.

I think both examples show political strategies for placing the reduction of energy consumption at the heart of a government program. Both took place in a political reality different from the American one with its first-past-the-post system and party duopoly, but might still teach a lesson. Both have had some success, but not nearly as much as will be necessary.

Fred said...

I really enjoy your insights into the election. I turn on NPR radio through the day and no matter the show or the hour, can not avoid a story about Trump or Trump voters. Your insight there about the clueless elite not u derstandjng what is occurring for the majority of people in this country, helps me understand the "why" of so much coverage. And it sounds like elite is trying to convince themselves Trump can not win and much like a high school popularity contest, you don't want to be seen with him because he is tainted in some way.

I had an insight myself the other day I wanted your reaction on. Pondering the 18 primary candidates we could have had instead of Trump, none of them were really outstanding. How could a party loose control of its own nominating process by starting with 18 egotists? Usually the party has already self selected an approved slate of no more than six they allow us to pick from. Then it hit me that there really is no power that matters to the elites in the presidency. The power is in the congress who approves funding for military projects, bail outs, and loosening of laws to get out of corporations way. The lobbists work their influence so corporations and the rich get what they want, and the president just signs it. The republican clown car of candidates was a distraction, and Trump and Hillary even more so, so congress can go on raping and pillaging America uninterrupted by answering to the people.

Trump points to this in his speeches. His biggest applause lines are about the corrupt media. People know they are being lied to and left behind. They haven't throw the people a bone in a long time.

Laura Orabone said...

Thank you so much for your extremely insightful post. You've touched upon topics that deeply frustrate me - piggybacking and purity tests, especially. Currently I'm most frustrated with well-meaning environmentalists whose idea of "nature" is, apparently, to lower a dome over it and keep it totally free from humans (who are, of course, outside of nature, not a part of it - so they seem to feel). And these activists gleefully alienate the very people they need most - "Joe Six Pack." We don't have a prayer for achieving awareness of climate change and energy conservation until the 99% of working-class and middle-class people get on board. But all I see is well-to-do eco-hipster folk sneering at the unwashed masses behind their kale smoothies and microbrews, congratulating themselves for being so superior. I have joined - and left - several environmental organizations for just these reasons. All they seem to do is hawk mass-produced crap to affluent donors and exclude/shame everybody else.

Kim Arntsen said...


As one of the commenters who didn't get it last time (but hopefully not one of the "furious" or "hostile" ones), thank you for elaborating on the comparison between the two movements. I can see your point more clearly now, and those are definitely some good pointers for any attempt to "reboot" the climate/environmental movement.

I'm looking forward to seeing what your practical suggestions for change will look like at this very late stage in the game, considering what you've said in the past about how the Hirsch report shows we're basically twenty plus years past the point where we could've done anything meaningful about climate change. Note: that doesn't mean I'm saying we should keep on with business as usual by any means, and of course it'd be a very good idea to stop treating the atmosphere as an aerial sewer and at least try to mitigate some of the damage. In any case, I have a sneaking suspicion your suggestions won't be altogether unrelated to some of the policies we've seen in action in the Lakeland Republic...:)

I'd also just like to say that your introductory paragraphs about the presidential candidates were great. I've never thought about it that way, but it does make a lot of sense.

@W.B. Jorgenson

That's an interesting way of looking at it, regarding Trump and walking way from Empire. Coincidentally, I heard our (Conservative) Foreign Affairs Minister here in Norway denouncing Trump in the media earlier this month, and those were the exact reasons he was so opposed to a Trump presidency in the US. I haven't been following the "debate" all that closely, but I get the impression the left around here supports Hillary by default more because of the "Trump is a horrible racist" meme.

@Shane W.

Even though your question about progressive politics isn't really directed at me, I hope you don't mind if I take a stab at it anyway. In addition to what you've said, I'd guess some would point to things like the success of the same-sex marriage movement (and the LGBT movement in general) as a sign that social progress is still happening, even if economic progress isn't doing so well these days. Then there's the good old "only the evil Republicans/rich people/corporations are standing the way of economic progress" view, even if that probably isn't too common among ADR readers. And of course, some people seem to be using "progressive" as a general-purpose synonym for "left-wing" or even "green" rather than in the more narrow "Religion of Progress" sense.

Kim Arntsen said...

Apologies for the double comment, but I realized I made a mistake and that the Hirsch report was more about peak oil than climate change. Still, as far as I understand we're still well past 2 degrees C warming in any case, not to mention 1.5, so my general point still stands. Once again, sorry about the mix-up on my part.

fudoshindotcom said...


I guess I was thinking that efforts would be better spent on unifying, rather than divisive, strategy. Heavy handed demonization of the corporate profiteers runs the risk of alienating that portion of the affluent who may otherwise be supportive, simply because you've openly attacked their friends.

Shane W said...

Oh, one other thing, Bowling Green is home to one of our most well-known politicians, Rand Paul. He has his ophthalmology practice there. Our other most famous/infamous political contributions is none other than Mitch McConnell, who makes Hillary look like a piker in the political grift department.

Damaris Zehner said...

Mr. Greer,

You're right about the inconsistencies, even hypocrisies, that all reformers display -- that all people display, for that matter. Part of the problem is how hard it is to erase or even recognize our most deeply ingrained assumptions -- so the Viet Name War activists really scorned the working class, not because they'd thought it through and decided that working class people were anathema, but just because they'd grown up with a visceral elitist view. This was perfected illustrated to my mother some years ago. We were living in South Africa in the early 70s, at the height of apartheid. (My dad was a US diplomat.) My mother and I attended an integrated Quaker meeting in Johannesburg, which was filled with people willing to face persecution and arrest for what they believed, although they had never experienced the equality they longed for. There was once a meeting called that my mother attended. Five white people, including my mother, and one black man stood looking over the room. One white woman saw that there were five chairs and said, "Ah, we have enough for all of us to sit down" -- and then shrank in horror at what had come out of her mouth. Despite her genuine views on racial equality, her upbringing -- that a black man would not sit in the presence of white people -- was still pulling her puppet strings.

How can we perceive the invisible strings that are pulling all of us? I suppose cross-cultural experience is good, as is reading books from other times and places. Being willing to get out of the echo chamber would also help. I would pray that we would all be revealed to ourselves as what we really are, but I'm not sure I could handle it!

This blog is very good for me, as it combines beliefs I accept and those I don't, expressed by people of good will and intelligence. Thank you for having the courage to maintain it in spite of some unpleasantness.

Bob said...

Depicting future oil production as a 'Bell curve', or future climate change as a 'hockey stick' did not help their credibility.

PatOrmsby said...

Announcing the 1st Kanto Green Wizards gathering to be held on Sunday September 4 in front of the Asakawa Kompira Shrine, which is about a half hour easy hike from the south exit of Takao Station on the JR Chuo and Keio lines. For a map, go to Google Maps and enter the following co-ordinates:
35.640078, 139.277085

Click the “walking” button. A balloon will pop up with 浅川金刀比羅宮
There is enough detail currently to find the main route up through the small community of Hatsuzawa-machi (初沢町) east-southeast of Takao Station, but I will also try to post a map at the Green Wizards website.

If you come by Keio Line, be careful not to overshoot or you'll wind up at Takao-sanguchi Station, popular with weekend hikers.

Anyone is welcome. A potluck picnic is normally held here on the first Sunday of each month, and the people who attend these are very like-minded with Green Wizardry. People normally being arriving about 11:00 a.m. and stay for the afternoon.

Shane W said...

actually the trans community provided an excellent example of same-sex marriage before it was legal--trans people pointed out that we already had legally married same-sex couples in spite of the laws and amendments against it--when a married person transitions and undergoes gender reassignment, they're still legally married, but now a same-sex marriage. Now, of course, the Baptists mentioned in JMG's article would argue that there no such thing as a transgender person, just a male or female w/bodily and genital mutilation, but that's a discussion for somewhere else.
regarding right leaning local organic food supporters--look among the prepper community--many of them are very peak oil aware, are homesteading, raising livestock, growing organic food, and are as suspicious of large corporations like Monsanto as they are of the government. Go out in the sticks, look for the Gadsden flags, and go a knocking on their doors.
JMG has mentioned this, and I wanted to second it based on my experiences. Most left-leaning, "progressives" I have encountered have their heads firmly stuck in the clouds, fully divorced from reality. Any attempt to bring them down into the practical world is met with an immediate retreat back into the clouds of cluelessness.

Scotlyn said...

Shane W - I always thought of "progressive" politics as a politics of faith in the idea that time itself has a magical ability to introduce continuous improvement (in whatever you consider such improvements to consist).

This notion was discussed at length in Martin Luther King Jr's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" (which became "Why we Can't Wait")

He writes:
"I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation."

Shane W said...

People really need to thing of this election strategically, if you really do want a viable left, and want to pave the way for a President Stein, or for a remake of the Democratic party in Sanders fashion, there's really only one option this election, and that's for a Trump victory over Clinton. The only way for the "Third way", pro-corporate, neocons, BAU Democratic establishment to implode and head for history's exit doors, and for the party to be remade in Sanders' fashion, or to be replaced by the Greens, is for Hillary to lose to Trump. A Hillary victory only reassures the Democratic establishment. Of course, as JMG has said, we're heading for an explosive pressure point any way you look at it, but I'd think most people would prefer the least messy, least violent option.

donalfagan said...

I agree with Pinku that cannabis seems to be on a path to legalization. But AIUI in PA, the right to grow cannabis will be limited to companies licensed by the state. (I've heard there is already some jockeying for those licenses.) I have a relative that wants medical marijuana for pain, and he believes that the police won't be able to tell whether he is using sanctioned or illicit plants. I worry though, that the cannabis license holders will have a strong motive to make sure independents are caught and punished. I'm wondering how that is playing out in the handful of states where cannabis is locally legal now.

Martin McDuffy said...

A few points:

I have been involved in much activism at many levels, and i agree strongly that many activist campaigns seem bent on destroying themselves from within via the pathways you have described. Whether via piggybacking or purity politics, it would seem that many activist projects want to fail. Hmmm, why? Perhaps the magnitude of certain issues, like climate change, can be so overwhelming that success seems impossible from the outset, and trying becomes the goal in and of itself. Winning would require immense work and sacrifice, and might take entire lifetimes. By inserting trapdoors to failure, people can claim righteousness without actually having to carry the cross all the way to the hill, as it were.

Also, I would add that activism falls prey to the overall capitalist economic structure just like anything else that exists within it. Activists need fo pay rent, buy food, etc. and thus they need to somehow find currency. They achieve this primarily by solicting donations, and there is a certain subset of people who donate money to such causes: comfortable liberals. Thus activists become careerists whose job is to perform for comfortable liberals without actually upsetting the comfort of those liberals. This means no radical activity, no suggesting an end to capitalism, no highlighting the need to drastically cut back on consumption, and always maintaining a narrative of happy, clean progress once those dunderheaded conservatives get out of the way.

David, by the lake said...


My modest hypothesis re the future of our political parties is that 1) the coalition comprising the modern GOP is essentially gone and the party will meet the same fate as the Whigs whom it replaced; 2) the corporate business interests, needing a new home, will migrate to the Democratic party, where the establishment successfully fended off a challenge, and a new corporate-establishment coalition will form within the structure of what we know as the Democratic party today; 3) said establishment party will be internationalist in outlook and corporate in economics, mutually reinforcing each other in the desire to maintain/extend the US empire; 4) an opposition party, something wholly new, will form out of the remnants of the further left (now explicitly cut loose) and the working class folks of left and right; 5) said opposition party will take some time to form, as there would be internal differences (e.g. racial attitudes) which would have to be bridged; and 6) the opposition party, in a reaction to the establishment party, would tend to have a nationalistic character. All of this taking place over the next few cycles, perhaps an outline of the new system forming by the 2024 elections?

More generally, one of the most interesting type of response I've fielded when I've aired my plan for backing the US away from its empire and developing a self-reliant, sustainable economy for itself is one or another variant of how the world will descend into chaos and war if the US hegemony isn't there to prevent it and/or that domination by the US is soooo much preferable to that by anyone else. Sigh.

Jo said...

When I saw you had borrowed your title from Swift I knew you were about to propose something outrageous..

What I bring away from this post is a sense of relief that maybe I am not the only one who has found the whole environmental movement ultimately unsatisfying. In commodifying and globalising it has lost its immediacy and its relevancy to local communities.

I think that it is local groups passionate about their own communities who affect real change. It is people who band together to clean up a river, or the mad, eccentric band of enthusiastic old blokes who want to bring back electric trams to my town, and who have lovingly restored a few and take townspeople for rides on Sundays on the five hundred feet of track which is all that remains.. it's amateur birdwatchers who campaign to save wetlands, or dedicated community gardeners or the people re-opening a two-hundred-year-old stone-ground flour mill.

People like these have real skills and passion and big hearts and are changing little corners of their own neighbourhoods for the better, and everyone in the community can see the benefits.

'Environmentalist' on the other hand, has become a dirty word. It is a term generally applied to someone who is against something - jobs, industry, 'progress'. It is not generally clear to the community what the benefit of this might be..

So maybe if environmentalists want to be taken seriously, we need to upskill, roll up our sleeves and do some serious work on a positive project dear to our hearts in our local communities. Then the general public might start listening to what we have to say.

trippticket said...

Oh, man, thanks for this one! It puts a finger on a few patterns that I've been noticing for the last several years (since I went sane, working on that anyway;).

For example, after two years of living in a big tent and hauling around propane tanks to fire our stove, gas light, and space heater, we built a little cabin and opted for a more standard propane service with a tank outside the house, requiring delivery of gas by a big truck.

My grandmother - the poster child of the affluent liberal left - then asked us "how does that fit with your ethics?"

Well, um, how does it not? Our ethic is conservation. By buying a larger amount of propane at a pop we are getting a better rate, conserving our limited funds. Versus other options, propane is a very dense, high-energy resource, conserving space, time, and effort. The only thing left really is to conserve how much of it we use via behavioral innovation, e.g. firing up the wood stove for heat and cooking instead of being lazy and using the propane.

I know what she was fishing for with her question. She was asking why we weren't embracing solar power, or wind, or whatever the affluent left was currently deeming worthy of attention. Conservation most certainly wasn't the right answer. That we haven't added more than 100W of PV capacity since then hasn't helped her opinion much. We don't need anymore right now! Why is the only correct answer to install a full-blown and incredibly expensive PV system??

And now I know. Our actions were making a statement she could get first. But our consistent refusal to follow the affluent liberal script, and employ all the appropriate shiny lefty technologies, was extremely annoying to her. By insisting through our actions that the only real solution was to use LESS, we marginalized ourselves from the party base, and have since been more or less exiled from that part of the family.

Meanwhile, we've made up a lot of ground with our more conservative family members. Go figure. Thanks for enumerating the basic principles behind all this. It's very useful.

Mark Rice said...

I have observed less vitriol this election cycle rather than more. But those with strident opinions have fallen into 2 categories:

1) Those who have first hand experience with a country going insane. One experienced Pol Pot's Cambodia and the other experienced Hitler's Germany. For both Trump is deju vu all over again. But they had not seen this level ob buffoonery.

2) Those stuck in the old paradigms and narratives. These people are stubbornly sticking to the notion that what had been politics as usual can actually arrive at reasonable governance.

Tidlösa said...

I think more Democrats than Republicans experience cognitive dissonance, since many Republicans are White and anti-immigration, so there is a convergence with Mr New York Values at least on that point. Also, according to Breitbart (admittedly a biased source!), Trump and Cruz supporters in some states cooperated, presumably behind Cruz´ back. (Cruz was the candidate for nice Christian ladies in tennis shoes.) On the Democratic side, the hard liberal wing must be very upset about Sanders killing his own revolution and getting back into line behind Clinton.

But yes, the election *is* weird. The Republican Party really has been hijacked by a liberal who does his best to sound like a cross between Ronald Reagan and Pat Buchanan, while the Democrats have been hijacked by a "Neo-Con" who occasionally tries to sound like the socialist Sanders!

I think The Donald is right when he calls himself "Mr Brexit". The only thing that could stop him would be *massive* election fraud. What he will do once in office is another matter entirely. Like you predicted, he has already put out feelers to the GOP establishment, for instance by endorsing Ryan and McCain for re-election. The problem (or opportunity - depending on what side you´re on) is that the issues Trump raised during his populist campaign won´t just quietly go away. Once the genie is out of the bottle...

Eagerly awaiting your article on climate change - I´m one of the pessimists when it comes to building a mass movement for something as radical as a sustainable society, so it will be interesting to read your thoughts on the matter (even if tentative).

SamuraiArtGuy said...

"...and they're forgetting that at this point in 1988, Dukakis had the same lead over Bush that Clinton now has over Trump. It ain't over yet by a long shot."

Absolutely true. At this moment, the Trump campaign seems to be imploding, but that could be tenuous. Both parties have embraced imperial and "enemy-making" neocon foreign policy and unapologetic neoliberal economic policies that have been devastating to the wage class. The Democratic Party, and with Sec. Clinton as their figurehead, still has the power to alienate their base with their abandonment of actual Democratic principles and progressive ideas. Not only have they largely written of the wage class to hew to the liberal privileged, they've also abandoned the educated young people facing tremendous economic challenges that flocked to Sen. Sanders, who they treated as an unwanted outsider, and did everything in their power to supress.

Over the last eight years, they've done everything possible to elbow any appealing potential candidate of the varsity bench in their haste to pre-coronate Sec. Clinton. This has tainted the DNC with an air of fraud, corruption and election rigging. Not that the RNC is doing much better, despite their fiery rhetoric, in office, the GOP votes the same neocon and neoliberal policies for the elites and their owners, while giving their working-class base a Brooklyn Salute. This has kicked the barn door open for the ascendancy of Mr Trump. And their thinly veiled racist hate for the President leaves many Americans repelled, but energizes others nursing their social grievances and perceived loss of privilege and standing, fueled by economic hardship.

I have not forgotten your New Year projection of a Trump victory... and why. But the continued oppression of such a large portion of the population can very easily lead to torches and pitchforks... if not AR-15s. Nick Hanuaer, a "proud and unapologetic capitalist", who earned the ire of the upper-class TED organizers for speaking anti-capitalist blasphemy, agrees...

"If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when."

– Nick Hanauer, The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats, Politico, Jul-Aug 2014

Lynnet said...

yes; probably six years ago I decided to bail on all the multitudinous "environmental" organizations I belonged to, getting sick and tired of receiving a dozen calendars, a drawerful of unwanted greeting cards, offers of tote bags, etc etc etc. I saw they were self-perpetuating, with a little veneer of actually helping the planet. Certainly printing and sending all those full-color calendars doesn't help the planet. Anyway, I removed myself from ALL the mailing lists. Gradually over the years, the incoming flood of unwanted items has diminished to a trickle of address labels. So, it can be done. I kept two "social" NGOs, until they started calling me incessantly to dun for donations. I dropped them too. What do they think? People just LOVE to be badgered incessantly on the phone for donations? Kamikaze behavior.

I'm in perfect agreement with your point about the implications of the word "progressive", and the word "liberal" has been thoroughly tarred and feathered ("liberal" nowadays implying the prefix "limousine"). What do I call myself? To the general public, "moderate" (a word that has not yet been blackened beyond use). BTW I'm reading an excellent book on this subject now: Steve Fraser, "The Limousine Liberal: how an incendiary image united the Right and fragmented America." This is certainly not the first time that the U.S. has been in this situation. The threads of it run all the way back through the history of our nation.

Lawfish1964 said...

Excellent post, as usual. The main difficulty which must be overcome in order for the climate change movement to succeed is to convince people that sacrifice is necessary. You want to drastically reduce consumption of hydrocarbons? Then impose a gargantuan tax on them. I would suggest $2.00 per gallon of gasoline. That single measure would address two problems at the same time. First, it would drastically curtail the consumption of hydrocarbons. Second, it would provide much-needed revenue to address this country's gargantuan debt crisis.

Sure, $4.00 per gallon gas would sting at first, but it's been priced around there in Europe for decades. That's why you see lots of people riding vespas and driving small, fuel-efficient cars. $4.00 per gallon gas would force people to quit driving the monstrous SUV's and show-horse pickup trucks (I would wager about 10% of people who drive pickup trucks actually use them for work - much like the metro-sexual lumberjack folks) and drive smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.

The problem with that solution is that it is politically unpalatable. Neither side would propose such a thing in its right mind. At least, conventional wisdom has it that such a platform would be tantamount to political suicide. However, I recall from your post a few weeks ago that not all successful movements involve promises of unicorns and rainbows. Didn't Churchill muster the British by appealing to their shared need to sacrifice? In my humble opinion, there are people capable of appealing to the masses to actually make a sacrifice to reduce carbon emissions. Who that might be, I have no idea, but I suspect in the next four years, we will see someone emerge along those lines. The times they are a changing.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Dear Archdruid. You are one of the most brilliant dot connectors. This makes so much sense. I have been struggling to put some of these ideas into words. I called what you call "piggybacking" "thinking in bundles." But your term describes the political process much better. Now, to make sure Green party members in Canada read this. The party almost tore itself apart over the question whether to join the movement to boycott and divest from Israel.

drhooves said...

Sane people are frothing at the mouth this election because they're coming to the realization that the Republic has died.

Looking forward to your thoughts on how a climate-change movement can succeed. For now, safely inside my glass-is-half-empty view of the world, I'll stick to my guns and say the complexities of the science, the costs, the shared sacrifice required, and the propaganda from the deniers are significant obstacles to hurdle. It's easy to be a doomer. I'll be looking for your insight and positive spin to help balance that out.

thymia10 said...

I look forward to reading the "specific suggestions" for the future movement that will incorporate lessons learned. I agree with Jessi's experience - I've had several productive conversations with Trump supporters (as a recovered liberal Democrat) recently (because I don't say I support confiscating their weapons, nor that they're racist bigots), while my Hillary supporter long-time friends have nearly written me off, one with a threat that not voting for Hillary risks a repeat of Germany in the 1930's (the social equivalent of Godwin's Law?)

I agree both with the single-issue strategy working, and that movements that don't require sacrifice while those that do often do not. I used to live in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where my husband observed there was no lack of people who prescribed what everyone else should be doing - "but I'm going on co-op in Europe/vacation/etc." (so I don't have to change)

Eric S. said...

I can definitely see the cognitive dissonance shining through and have had to distance myself from many people on both sides I usually get along with fine until after December. What's interesting to me this year, is that the only people who aren't shouting down my ears either about how the system's rigged and we need to burn it all down (I've been a little sad with the behavior from the green side this year, which has gotten an influx from some of the more violent and radical of the Bernie camp, with his moderate supporters running off to Trump or Johnson, or staying around for Clinton and feeding into the cognitive dissonance), of my green party friends this year, though there have been a few exceptions), or about how their candidate is the only alternative to Armageddon, have been my Libertarian friends, who have usually somewhat annoyed me, but are this year walking around enthusiastically talking about their candidate, backing down gracefully if someone disagrees, and displaying actual patriotism and optimism (rather than the "nothing to see here, America's always been great! Voting for Trump is anti-American and means you must be secretly pro-Russia!" "Don't give into their fear, give into our fear instead!" talk that's been passing as optimism coming out of the Democratic Party this year), It's turned the group that's usually the party of angry curmudgeons into one of the only amiable political demographics out there this year which has been almost as surreal as what's been coming out of the mainstream parties and actually making them look a little appealing. And, this year most of my main issues with the libertarians -trade, fracking, things like that- are being shared in at least equal measure by the democrats but with a much less totalitarian flavor and less restriction on the sort of things that could open the doors for constructive action on a personal level. I wonder if part of it is that they're being just free enough from the cognative dissonance to be able to think clearly and campaign in the usual way, rather than getting into shouting matches. There are new narratives opening up this year, but it may be a while before any of them are able to sink far enough in to do any good.

I'm becoming far less sure that Trump has anything like the chance he did for a while, he's started to adopt way too many of Clinton's attack tactics, and is losing track of the one facet of his narrative that actually gives him appeal and separates him from the other candidates... so it does look like we're likely to wind up with a Clinton administration (though there are plenty of wrenches that can be tossed in at this point for either side). The thing I'm most worried about though, is the way that the narrative against Trump's supporters, as well as Trump's ideas (including the concept of decline), that has begun to couch it in terms of national security, with its own set of heavily xenophobic undertones (i.e. the "vote for Trump is a vote for Russia" line), which may lead the next administration to follow through on Trump and Sanders' attempts to resurrect various elements of the 1950s, by reviving the specter of McCarthyism, which in the face of the Trumpistas channeling the passion of a lost election into a domestic insurgency movement, would be ugly... I just can't help but think about situations like Egypt and Turkey in recent history. (And, of course, I can't help but think that it's a situation that would provide a golden opportunity for a foreign power looking to give America a taste of its own foreign policy. It's looking like an ugly and exhausting few years no matter what happens.)...

Eric S. said...

I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to say about Climate Change… But I do have to wonder, even if enough of the movement is able to learn from mistakes and pick up, how much can get done at a time like this? (to draw on the example of the social change movements of the 20th century, you can divide them into separate movements that span the progressive era of the late 19th and early 20th century, and the civil rights era of the mid 20th century, but are relatively silent during the war and interwar periods (the gap between first and second wave feminism in the women’s rights movement, and the gap between the death of Booker T. Washington, and the lead-up to Brown v Board of Education in the African American Civil Rights Movement). It seems like a big part of that was that the crises of the 20th century forced society’s capital into triage mode, and required that resources be re-directed to other more pressing agendas. Do you think climate change activism is likely to take a similar interlude, with the sorts of strategies you’re introducing now entering into the mainstream of the movement in a few decades? And what strategies would you recommend in the interim, while climate change takes a back seat to the other pressing factors that claim society, and the only mention climate change gets is in the context immediate short term damage control efforts (like the ones currently going on in Louisiana right now)?

onething said...


I had heard that Clinton had a couple of health glitches, but not a diagnosis. So it's for sure that she's had a stroke and DVTs?

I try not to be too judgmental toward those voting Hillary, but I consider it shockingly morally bankrupt to do so. What evil and illegal deed would ever get their attention? How low could she sink before it would finally be low enough to disbar the knee jerk Democratism? And I throw Bernie in that camp as well.

You can put all of Trump's odiousness on one side of the scale and it weighs a feather compared to starting WWIII.

onething said...

Oh, yeah, I've been voting 3rd party for 25 years and waiting in vain for my fellow citizens to wake up and do likewise. Now, I might do so again, but this time it may really matter and I think I will probably not do so, even though both candidates are probably decent.

The cheap attacks on the part of some democrats against the Bernie or Bust people or calling white males who vote for Trump racists and so on mean to me that perhaps people are not able to handle a democracy after all.

Nicholas Carter said...

Green Wizard Association organizers: I am curious about there being a GWA in my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana, but I am wondering about the costs, benefits, and in the case of the organizer responsibilities involved in joining and running a GWA. What, precisely, does your Green Wizards meeting look like? What does it ask of your members and officers? What does it do?

Grim said...

Jim, Thank you for the observation on climate change.

I'd recognized some years ago that the Republicans where using the anti-abortion crowd. I think the Republican higher-ups are terrified at what's happening on the state level because the states will eventually ban abortion which will make their faithful lose interest and make the "left" wake up and become united (assuming the cause doesn't get piggy-backed to death like occupy did).

That the Democrats are using environmentalists the same way makes perfect sense. I should have seen it years ago.

Varun Bhaskar said...


I had to stop reading this essay for a few minutes while I recalled the many such incidents I experienced when I was in college. The worst experience with piggybacking I ever had was during my very last semester, during finals week. The California uni system was hit pretty badly by budget cuts due to the '08 crisis. The leftists were in an uproar and kept up two years of marching and protesting, getting nothing accomplished. Finally, during my last semester all the leftists groups came together to stage sit-ins. They released a list of demands targeted at the dean and university administration that included, but was by no means limited to - reduced fees for students, pay cuts for the dean and admin, fully employment for part time teachers, ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine, ending the wars in iraq and Afghanistan, prosecuting Bush administration officials for war crimes, and yeah it went on like that.

Needless to say the student body was not amused by the sit-ins that disrupted our finals week, and the absurd list of demands.

What I still don't get is the psychology behind endlessly trying the same dysfunctional strategies. At some point one would think people would figure it out and do something different. What gives?


In response to your last comment on last weeks post. I agree that BLM isn't an organization, it's a movement. I tried to highlight that repeatedly in my article series which I finished yesterday. However, if you head over to the BLM website it's pretty clear there is some group out there claiming to be the center of this movement. I'm not sure how they've structured themselves but there's probably someone there collecting funds under the BLM moniker. Head over to the website and compare it to this weeks ADR essay, and you'll see my points about their movement.



Alan Harfield said...

Hi, I found this piece very funny, I've been reading a long time and I really enjoyed the recent fiction series. Because I believe solar activity dominates climate change I'm probably thought of as a denier, on the other hand I would always argue that to reduce man made pollution in any way possible is the best approach.


nephilimsd said...

"Let’s imagine, dear reader, that you were to go into a Starbuck’s [sic] in a hip neighborhood in Portland, Oregon..."

As if any self-respecting hipster would be caught dead in a Starbucks.

All kidding aside, I have found Scott Adams' (author of Dilbert) blog posts ( about how Mr. Trump's politics appear to be more libertarian and how Ms. Clinton's appears to be more neo-conservative to be very interesting. He's been writing about this since roughly the time that Trump had been the front-runner in the Republican primaries, and as a registered Democrat, I have to admit that his analysis (along with the Archdruid Report) have swayed me to become a Drumpf supporter (much to the dismay of my family). I have had no shortage of vocal denouncement for my position, but very little in the way of substance when I ask friends and family to support their stance for Clinton. About the best I get is, "At least she's not Trump!"

SamuraiArtGuy said...

Tony Rasmussen said... "The climate change movement otoh demands major sacrifice (theoretically, anyway) from all; obviously it's a much harder battle to fight."

To truly mitigate Climate Change and address Sustainability issues, would require nearly the entire planet to change how it goes about damn near everything. However it has at the movement shaken out that– it's been asking the wage class to make the most, and most material sacrifices, the salaried class to make mostly symbolic ones, (Bring your own bag groceries, buy a Prius), the privileged class hardly any at all, and the poor as screwed over as ever. But the cold hard reality of the numbers and the physics, is that everyone would have to do with LESS, for Americans, a LOT less, like 75% less - of EVERYTHING we've been binging on for nearly two centuries.

Not the most appealing sell. Good luck with that.

Ol' Bab said...

Shane asked:
"a question to pose to professed progressives on the ADR: if progress is the civil religion of our time, and we're no longer progressing, and progress has ended sometime well in the past (...), why continue with "progressive" politics?"

NOW this is fascinating! Two kinds of progressive. Apparently I'm very much a social(?) progressive, deeply appreciative of the sweet and lovely things we have achieved in feminism, sexual freedom from the rules of misogynist fundamentalists, decrease in local AND worldwide violence, increasing intolerance for, well, intolerance. And so much more...
So, did I miss something? Is progressive now solely a descriptor for a person in favor of burning oil?

Maybe we need another word? "Professed" progressives just sounds so like, uh, me.

Ol' Bab, who is not in favor of progress.

blackwingsblackheart said...

Doubt Truth, when you said "The reality of the situation is that for much of its history the institution of marriage has never benefited poor people," you completely missed the importance of marriage for the community. The marriage equality movement began, as I recall, because in the 80s and 90s everyone knew someone who, when their partner was dying of AIDS, had been barred from the hospital, refused leave from work, prevented from planning or even attending the funeral, and/or denied survivor benefits like pensions--all the things that spouses were entitled to automatically. Sure, people were encouraged to get powers-of-attorney and a whole spectrum of other documents, but A. those cost money to draw up and file, and B. all too often, they were ignored in favor of the biological family's rights. Marriage really was about being acknowledged as family, and property or financial issues were definitely secondary to the human rights issues.

Grebulocities said...

That was a very insightful and interesting analysis, as usual. One question: is trying to block pipeline projects such as Keystone XL an example of the sort of tactic you think the climate change movement should use? Preventing new fossil fuel infrastructure from being built drives up costs for fossil fuel companies, potentially making the difference between profit and loss for fracking and tar sands companies who already deal with high operating costs. Critically, it's a narrow and achievable goal which incorporates locals who don't want to see a pipeline placed near (or through, with eminent domain) their property, allied with the environmentalists.

SLClaire said...

In case anyone is wondering how much reduction in energy usage a household can achieve by various classes of measures - demand reduction and loss reduction primary among them - I just wrote about that in my blog. In the post I included charts of our electricity and natural gas usage from 2003 through 2015 along with a description of what we changed and when along the way. That makes the correlation between various changes and energy usage reduction clear. Sealing air leaks and adding insulation was the single most effective action we took, with reducing our thermostat setting from 66F to 60F in the winter the second most effective. I also included charts of how much we paid for each service during the same years and worked out how much we saved last year, at current rates, by reducing our energy use from its 2003 level. It's pretty impressive, almost $1000. Here's the post:

It has long seemed to me that one effective strategy the climate change movement could have adopted was to make it a goal to seal air leaks and add attic insulation to every dwelling in the US that needs it. If it could be made free for everyone, I'd go for that, but if not, it should be on a very generous sliding scale so that anyone below the upper middle class doesn't pay anything for the work. Poorer folks, who often live in older houses that leak badly, leading to very high energy bills that really strain their budgets, would benefit financially in a big way, and feel more comfortable besides. But even rich folks who don't care about energy bills but live in leaky houses might like having that uncomfortable cold draft on their feet reduced, so there is something in it for them. If our savings by reducing air leaks and adding insulation translate broadly, by adopting and achieving this goal we could reduce energy use in dwellings by almost half, which would also reduce carbon emissions.

pygmycory said...

Speaking of Piggybacking, and of alienating your supposed allies, Black Lives Matter recently was invited to take part in the Pride parade in Toronto. They did, and proceeded to stage a sit in protest that shut down the parade for 30 minutes until the organizers of the Pride parade agreed to a set of demands that included a)no police floats in future parades and b) a lot of other things related to distribution of resources and treatment of people of color within the gay community. Later, the pride organizers backtracked on the promise of no police floats or booths.

Cathy McGuire said...

Wow! 55 comments and it’s still early Thursday! Several good things in this week’s post, JMG. I must start, however, by stating that I will be voting for Hillary and I won’t be holding my nose in any way. I won’t try to argue it – I can see there’s no point. But at some stage in a discussion, one must speak up or be assumed to be in agreement – and it’s reached that point. So I will simply say that, as someone with a degree both in communications and counseling, I can read through the lies and deceptions as well as any, plus I’m a glutton for research, including reading 990s from foundations and going back to old newspaper archives. So I’m confident of my perception and choice. I laud you, JMG, for all your attempts to get people to think for themselves, and for your creation of the word “dissensus” and hope that you still believe dissensus to be a valid approach going forward.

I haven’t been following all the discussion on climate change recently. I can read the post, but the amazing, awesome number of comments overwhelm me, what with my writing deadlines and the harvest coming early this year. So I’ll just jump in - the concept of piggybacking is a good point, and I agree that social discourse is getting strangled by the requirement that each person agree with the speaker in all particulars. Some of that, I believe, comes from having our traditional “tribes” shredded and looking for new ones – there’s such a rush of hope when finding someone sharing our POV, and then – they say something outrageous on another subject, and the hope dies. And I’ve often been dismayed by my well-off friends who are “into” ecology issues, but really uncomfortable around the poor – it seems very clear that the poor are getting the brunt of the climate disaster (among other things) and that social justice and climate justice are inextricably linked.

Thanks for lots to think about!! Now I’ve got to go make many quarts of applesauce…

Unknown said...

I was one of the people finding reason for the failure of the climate change movement. In retrospect I realize that we were talking past each other. I have no experience with social movements, I was never an activist. On top of that, I didn't grow up here and it took me a long time to begin to understand the US culture.
My doubts are simply about the ability of humans (i.e. me) to take on this challenge. Don't get me wrong, I have done huge changes in my life. I drive a 25 year old car that I only use rarely, I live in a small town-home that is 15C in the winter, I don't buy clothes or electronics anymore etc. I also convinced my neighbor (it's a duplex) not to water the lawn in the summer. That being said, I cannot even imagine how what I do can be scaled up. Every relationship I was in I had to make big concessions in order to keep the peace. There is a big incompatibility between people that are eco conscious and proselytizing. If you do what you suggest - just show neighbors the good modest life, chances are they won't see it because they don't want to. Plus every barrel of oil I save will be used by somebody else.
I am waiting hopeful for your next post on this topic!

On a totally different topic, I have become very interested in reading about roman empire. The weird part is, all the books that I found stick to superficial reasons for collapse. For example ( or wikipedia never bother to ask why, they just give a laundry list of things that happened. In other word they just present the proximate reasons for fall. I would have guess by now Tainter's view and works in ecological economics would have settled the issue.
I wonder if the reason is because we identify so much with the Roman empire?


JoAnna said...

I whole-heartedly agree with the points you've made in this article, and I'm looking forward to hearing your next post on the subject. It's incredibly sad how little HAS been done to change tack after years of failure, and learning from the same-sex marriage successes should be the natural place to start. And I agree that there's no excuse not to start.

However, as Tony and Jean have pointed out, with the case of same-sex marriage issue, people's complacency and expectations of comfort weren't impacted. No-one had to forgo their plane trip to Acapulco, for example. I'm just concerned that people's overall intelligence (along with their willpower, ethics, pattern recognition, etc.) isn't up to the task of real change. Plus, our educational system has really succeeded in training people to accept massive cognitive dissonance all around them. (I thank the Gods I was homeschooled/unschooled.) I'm reading "Dumbing Us Down" by John Taylor Gatto right now, and it's certainly both depressing and in accordance with a lot of what I've seen from people these days... (Boiling the frog, as they say?)

L said...

An excellent post as usual. It's reading your series of blog posts such as this one, going back to the one on the Rescue Game, that seems to have started me on a movement away from identifying myself as a somewhat unorthodox left wing person, and towards an as yet unknown destination. I'll keep what I find valuable about the left, which is the opinions on equality that they claim to find important when they're not too busy shouting at people. I never really believed in the sanctimonious approach even when I was checking Tumblr daily, though, and while I liked "intersectional feminism" which I suppose is an example of exactly what you're talking about here, I've never agreed with the elements of the left which insisted I had to be a pacifist or a vegan as well in order to be not actively evil. I'm confused at the moment on the economic front because I had been agreeing with things like Basic Income and socialist sorts of ideas for a while, but then I read a bunch of more right wing libertarian blogs, and I can't decide if providing that sort of welfare is actually good, especially in light of overpopulation. The reason I was attracted to Basic Income is because even though I am barely old enough to have done any work, I already decided I hate 9 to 5 non self directed work because it doesn't leave you space to think about anything else and I think the population needs more opportunity to escape from that. My current plan is to live frugally (which ties in nicely with trying to reduce consumerism for environmental reasons) so I can save enough money to retire in my mid 30s at the same frugal lifestyle level, at least, if the economy hasn't collapsed by then.
At the moment I suppose that what I need to do is identify a small number of issues that I can attempt to work on- I'm somewhat easily distracted so if left to my own devices I rarely finish longer projects. I'm going to train to be a teacher, so once I figure out what kind of education I think is best for developing future citizens to have the qualities they will actually need in the long decline, maybe I can make a difference there...
On the topic of planting trees, I like the idea of planting a tree, but I am perpetually confused about where to get good quality trees to plant in a free or inexpensive manner, and also where exactly I could get away with planting them (certainly not in my back garden, the one I have access to at the moment isn't big enough for that).
Thanks again for the continued thought-provoking blog posts,

Shane W said...

Hillary's health. We don't really know, and won't really know. Hillary could either die before the election, or be the first president in a long time to die in office. A good reference is FDR's '44 campaign, when he was deathly ill, yet propped up for reelection. Everyone close to him knew he was unfit for office/reelection and how grim his health was, but it was hidden from everyone else--even Truman had no idea how bad off FDR was until FDR passed. The establishment has ways of hiding these things, and Hillary is protected by layer upon layer of establishment from the outside world. We really don't & won't know about her health.

M Smith said...

Patricia Matthews said, "... everything under the sun was a feminist issue."

The women's movement has alienated me with their assumptions that all women are mommies and therefore that mommies' problems are my problems because of my plumbing. Not a good idea for the feminists to whine to me that there's a "day-care crisis" or for the left to shrill that there's a "war on women" because parents who are not or cannot be home with their kids don't want to pay what day care costs. That's a problem for working parents, not for (all) women (and no men).

Tangentially, I tire of hearing how every social phenomenon must be tested against the immediate gratification (rather than the long-term benefits) of ThePoor. Where is it written that they go to the head of the line every time, but if someone who knows how not to be poor suggests that they limit the size of their families so they won't be as poor, then begin the shrieks of "SO you think only the rich should be allowed to reproduce!!!" along with the armband and jackboot references. The ACA is a good example of this. Today I read that ThePoor, whose 0bamacare is subsidized by strangers, are discovering that they can't buy Epi-Pens for their peanut-allergic kids because of the high deductibles. So the SJWs who wanted the govt to give "free" everything to ThePoor without strings, now want the govt to establish price controls on the manufacturer, if not outright force the manufacturer to give its product away because it "shouldn't" cost that much. For TheChildren!

Mary in Montco said...

I look forward to reading your suggestions next time. Personally, I find your writings to be really insightful, especially for long-term overviews of the long descent we are experiencing every day.

But I think your nearer-term ideas for how to make real social/political/economic/climate change for justice and survival could be far more helpful if you would include in your readings a fairly new book called "This Is an Uprising -- How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century," by Mark Engler and Paul Engler, published by Nation Books.

The authors put successful movements, such as for marriage equality and environmental activism, into a context from Ghandi's Salt March to MLK's March on Birmingham, Occupy, and many other movements, as well as an overview of some major theorists on strategic social change... Their whole intent is to explore in real-life terms -- not just ideology -- why some movements have succeeded, and identify through compelling storytelling and perceptive analysis successful strategies for using our social power strategically and wisely going forward. No magic bullets. No 12-step simplicity.

Good enough to receive high praise from the likes of Naomi Klein, Michelle Alexander, Bill McKibben, Erica Chenoweth, Frances Fox Piven, and many more impressive champions of social justice... The publisher is into their second printing after only 6 months, and has arranged to get it translated into Spanish and Korean (so far...), It's that good. Please read and incorporate it into your broader (and narrower) insights. As an historian of ideas, you're very likely to find it well worth your time.

This is my first post -- can we include links? see:

Bill Pulliam said...

Shane - Oh I'm pretty sure that Clinton can also engineer an implosion of the mainstream left if she tries hard enough. All she has to do is act the same way that every other president has since 1980 and she'll likely get the job done too. I have been pondering if a Trump presidency really is the catalyst needed to trigger real change. I think it is just as likely that he will simply be totally inept and just cause more defocused alienation. The umpcoming financial implosion of Obamacare seems likely to trigger... something. But I an really at a loss to think I can guess what, and what will be different depending on who is in office in 5 months...

Only thing I am pretty sure of is that I am not voting for either of them, a luxury I have by virtue of living in Tennessee. If Trump loses TN then he has lost 90% of the other states as well, so there is no strategic voting to be done here.

Patricia Mathews said...

OT: I agree that both the candidates are horrible, but there is one bright side to them being being seen as the only choice other than a protest vote:

The crash is coming, and whoever wins, it will be on her or his watch. For which she or he will not be forgiven, and their entire faction and ideology will be dragged down right along with them. Which may clear the way for....

....oops. I can hear the shouts of "Ave, Caesar" in the distance as I type this. Sigh. Remember, in his day, the alternatives were Pompey ("Kid Butcher") and Crassus. With the rational moderate Cicero standing by helplessly, and the hard-right fanatic Cato (the younger) ready to naysay the entire system right into the ground. And then we have that quintessential frat rat Marc Antony ....

"Everything old is new again in the same way, in a different way..."

Roy Smith said...

@Nicholas Carter:

Here is my blog post on how to start one of these groups: Host your own Cascadia Guild meeting. As far as your other questions ("What, precisely, does your Green Wizards meeting look like? What does it ask of your members and officers? What does it do?"), we in the Cascadia Guild are holding meetings with the goal of figuring out how our organization(s) will answer those questions. said...

Great post (again) John!

You make some very perceptive comments on the green/climate change movement and why it has failed over the last few decades. I have always thought that if the climate activists focused on one big bipartisan campaign, "dig for victory" and encouraged local people and governments to push for small scale farming across the country, that would make a big difference.

As you say, it is not too late.

Regarding the US presidential elections, I agree with you up to a point. The traditional Republican base are uncomfortable with Trump as much as the traditional democratic base are clearly unenthused with Clinton.

I would add that many ordinary Republican voters (outside the country club bubble) felt totally distant from the Republican party elite in previous election cycles. How many ordinary registered Republican voters had any real enthusiasm for voting for Mitt Romney? Not many, I suspect. Romney couldn't get above 25% of the primaries throughout most of the 2012 election cycle because he appealed to the financially comfortable and even 4 years ago, the majority of Republican voters were looking for something else.

Trump, in his political genius, sensed this opportunity, which has only worsened under the Obama business as usual politics, and swept to power. Trump may not appeal to country club Republicans of the old school type, but he does appeal to blue collar voters, security mums and so on who do form part of the Republican electoral coalition. What will likely make Trump next president is his appeal to the Trump Democratic voters in the Rust Belt states.

My sense is that things are going Trumps way and that he is on course to defeat Hilary Clinton in November.

I also wonder just how many Trump supporters are out there who don't want to admit that they are going to vote for him. I personally know 2 people who would vote for him (if they were American) but have no intention of ever admitting it to anybody. I suspect that there are millions of Shy Trump supporters who will go out on election day and get that secret thrill of rebellion by ticking the Trump box in the secrecy of the ballot box.

If you wish to read more on my thoughts on the US election, check out and follow my blog:

pygmycory said...

@Shane, re 'progressives', I hate the label for the left, since I lost faith in 'Progress' some years ago, and am expecting both a declining USA, and a decline in resource use, living standards, and human numbers globally.

On the other hand, I still value very highly things like a safety net for the poor, a public healthcare system, a healthy environment, a low level of economic inequality, peace, and justice regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation and so on. So many would label me a progressive, even if I avoid using the term myself these days.

sharon vile said...

Mmmm.... I think you're mistaken in characterizing Trump as "rank and file Republicans'" worst nightmare. Firstly, I'm not sure Trump's support necessarily comes from "rank and file Republicans." I'm in flyover country, in a state that is heavily Democrat. An informal poll conducted by one of my facebook friends revealed that, out of 14 respondents, 12 planned to vote for Trump, 1 for Hillary, and 1 for Johnson. All respondents were female.

I have literally never heard Trump's origins in NYC mentioned by anyone.

No sensible person regards bankruptcy as an issue. (Our local business people and small farmers are all too familiar with it--as are many other working-class people.)

As for vulgarity, here in flyover country, you have to realize that vulgarity is viewed in much the same way as colloquial speech versus the King's English: It is many-tiered. Vulgarity is not done at church, at meetings of the Historical Society, or at the Library Book Club. Elsewhere it is rather relished. Nor, when it comes to serial polygamy and illegitimacy, is anyone around here wont to call the kettle black; they can ill afford to. And despite the often-professed horror of "gays, lesbians, transexuals, and the like," there are too many who have openly gay children or other relatives--and many of these are openly supportive of our gay brothers and sisters, merely objecting to the distortion of gay rights issues to encompass matters that infringe on the rights of others. We also have quite a few grannies with black grandchildren, and they are quite displeased when their grandchildren are slighted. Do they support BLM? Well.... If their black grandchildren behaved in this manner, there would be rejoicing in the presence of the angels, if you get my drift.

Your unfamiliarity with those of us who count ourselves among the unwashed is showing.

Matte Gray said...

I've been your avid reader since near the inception, and i continue to marvel at your ability to connect dots and clarify issues for me.

That said, one tiny quibble with today's post: I was shocked to read your statement that GOP opposition to same-sex marriage has collapsed when an entire paragraph in their 2016 platform is titled "Defending Marriage Against an Activist Judiciary" and explicitly denounces same-sex marriage.

Don Plummer said...

@ Cathy McGuire:
Thank you for saying what needs to be said. I won't be holding my nose either.

Eric Backos said...

@ John – Stereo howling from two groups who hate civilized men! I bet it would sound like 20th Century opera.

@Bill Pulliam – Hi! Yeah… the practicalities of recruiting urban lumberjacks intrude… And I failed to recap the remarks that led to suggesting the Man UP! campaign – that urban life is so lacking in psychological and spiritual satisfaction that hipsters would jump at the chance to clean up toxic waste. Well, oops. My sides still hurt from discovering that trendy stores sell premium brand axes as accessories. Maybe I should load up at the hardware store where I live and sell axes out of my trunk in town where I work?

W. B. Jorgenson said...

Kim Arntsen,

I think it's what makes the most sense here in Canada. I don't know about the rest of the empire, but in the Province of Canada, we've always bemoaned the American Empire. It's led to quite a few odd things in the past, whenever our dislike and discomfort with empire meets the reality we like the perks and privileges it gives us...

It's especially the case because we share such a long border with the Hegemon, and share a language, media, and have quite a lot of people cross between the two countries, the effect of which is we are fairly familiar with issues they have. So it wouldn't surprise me to hear that other vassal states populations aren't as troubled as ours is. I would, however, keep an eye on it if I were you, in case the relation gets messy as time passes.

sgage said...

onething said...

"I try not to be too judgmental toward those voting Hillary, but I consider it shockingly morally bankrupt to do so."

Way to not be too judgemental! ;)

W. B. Jorgenson said...

Also, one last addition to the discussion, when Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende says a Donald Trump victory would unsettle and undermine international law, I think he's quite right. Too much international law is internal law for the empire, so any change to either will necessarily involve change in both.

MichaelK said...

The problem with US politics is that it's become incredible partisan almost like a relious schism between Catholics and Protesants, which, as most of us know, 'fueled' an enormous amount of destruction and bloodshed in European wars for centuries.

What we seem to be seeing now in the United States, though not just here exclusively, is symbolic and cultural lines in the sand being drawn, that remind one of the complex social, political, economic, and not leat cultural; polarisations that happen before mass social unrest or even civil war breaking out.

My American family is deeply divided along these partisn, or even sectarian lines, to an extraordinary degree that I find both puzzling and incredibly frightening at the same time. From my own perspective I don't really see that much significant or substantial difference between the two groups, the Republicans and Democrats. My family is rather well off financially and both sides have benifitted substantially from the economic bailouts heaped on them by the Obama adminstration, which to me looked like massive welfare payments to people who'd gambled and lost on Wall Street, often losing millions of dollars, and now received huge subsidies from Washington to cover their loses in gilded halls of Casino Kapital. I thought this was strange and grotesque. The state stepping in to save my relations from going bust and then these same people, the Republican wing or our clan, criticise Obama as president, when his incredibly generous policies save both them and the Republican Party from meltdown. Talk about 'aristocrats' being ungrateful and conceited.

The Democrats in the family despise Trump and the people who support him, and when I say, 'That includes most of the Republican establishment too then.' They aren't amused. They take all of it way too seriously. For me the two parties, and the higher up the ladder own goes, look like two factions of the same party. Kinda like when they were called Whigs and Tories. The differences are far, far, smaller than they appear, especially in elections when everyone seems to go quite mad in the US. I choose to stay away during these periods because otherwise sane and normal people I like, admire and get on with, start acting like their zombies marching to the sound of a very different drum.

Only this time I think it's different. The drum is beating towards something really unpleasant. There'a a venom and hatred in the air that I haven't seen before: It's not just the usual political theatre of the absurd, but something worse. If one looks at the years leading up to the American Civil War, the polarisation and cultural conflicts and changes, there are lot of similarities to the period we live in, with deep, structural, economic shifts, underneath the surface, leading to lurches in power relationships in society that pushes polarisation and conflict from top to the bottom in society and even within families at the micro level.

Whoops! This is getting way too long, sorry. Perhaps an outsiders view of the empire isn't what's needed? Anyway, I don't think the comparison between the gay marriage/rights thing, and the environmental movement's failures to gain political traction in relation to climate change, isn't really apt. I can see why one might choose to make the comparison, only I don't think it stands up to scrutiny.

Clay Dennis said...


You have been gone from Oregon for too long. No one in a hip neighborhood in Portland would be caught dead in a Starbucks. These are exclusivly the domain of tourists, suburbanites and the limo liberals on the West Side. In fact the hippest neighborhoods ( Boise Eliot, Sabin, Buckman) have no Starbucks within their borders. This is partially because most of these neighborhoods were still too grungy for Starbucks back when they made their big push in the 2000's and the small local roaster based shops that sprung up to fill the gap make much better coffee so Starbucks stays away to avoid embaressment. Also in these neighborhoods people are still clinging to Bernie, and have not made the psychosis inducing pivot to Hillary yet.

Helix said...

@Eric S.: "I do have to wonder, even if enough of the [climate-change] movement is able to learn from mistakes and pick up, how much can get done at a time like this?"

In my opinion, very little. The bottom line is that people like the lights coming on when they flip the switch, and people aren't giving up their cars. So what's going to happen is that every square inch of the earth is going to be turned over looking for more coal and oil to burn, and this is going to continue until no more economically viable deposits remain. That or something like fusion is worked out and replaces it. I don't have a crystal ball, but if I were a betting person, I'd put my money down on the former. So my guess is that our children and grandchildren are just going to live with the consequences.

Having said that, I still think there are effective courses of action. Weatherizing existing houses and places of business is a no-brainer. I also think we need to protect domestic manufacturers from foreign competitors who pollute with impunity and/or maintain unsafe or unhealthy working conditions. Two ways to do that are to write environmental/workplace regulations into WTO agreements, or to place tariffs on products originating in such countries in order to level up the playing field. The hope is that those foreign competitors would start cleaning up after themselves. Barring that, at least the playing field would be somewhat more level.

While this last proposal might not address climate change directly, it does help to address environmental degradation, which I view as a related issue. Or am I piggybacking here? ;)

onething said...

Shane, there is a bit of a difference between being a progressive in politics versus the idea of societal progress as inevitable. The goals of progressive politics don't require any particular era so far as energy use or technology is concerned.

Brian Kaller said...


Your piece made me remember a few years in my life when I saw all the things you describe.

As much as I write for Christian and conservative publications, I’ve also been interested in ecological issues, and disagreed with the government invasion of Iraq, so I’ve been well acquainted with liberal groups. I volunteered for the Greens in the early 2000s, and I canvassed for various candidates, spoke at gatherings and wrote most of the newsletter.

I knew some of the earliest Greens, including homesteaders in the Ozark Mountains, and they tried to reach out to a variety of religious groups over single issues like replanting forests or recycling food waste. They spoke to, and corresponded with, various evangelical, Quaker and Jewish groups in the 1970s, 80s and 90s --- I’ve read some of their old papers, and they present a religious and political history of what might-have-been.

When I started volunteering with the Greens around 2000, they included quite a diversity of people; one of the regional leaders was an evangelical Christian, the co-editor of our newspaper was pro-life, and one of our candidates was a leader in the black community. They included former Libertarians, some farmers, and devout Catholics, Mennonites, and Quakers, among others. (Sorry to reduce these people to one-word descriptions, but I’m pressed for space.) We elected several people in rural areas to city and county councils, and some still hold office to this day.

Despite all this, it felt like the Greens – and any burgeoning group accomplishing something – were quickly invaded by a hard core of (for lack of a better word) middle-aged hippie leftist activists, who tended to bully other people at meetings and make gatherings sufficiently rancorous that they drove away anyone but themselves. An old leftists' club set themselves up as Green candidates, interrupted and talked over people who had been Greens far longer than they, and began presiding over meetings as though they had authority.

I spoke at gatherings about how, if we stuck to one single issue – say, replanting clear-cut woods, or building railroads -- and acted like a disciplined organisation, we could use our single-digit percentage on Election Day to threaten or reward the major parties. The loudest voices, though, could only talk about their dreams of winning power and taking revenge on their perceived opponents, and seemed driven more by psychological issues than by strategy.

I proposed that the Greens create home-schooling networks to teach kids traditional skills, and one leftist member responded that we should only teach from “party-approved” books. Some of the more hard-core leftists kept threatening to excommunicate members who voted for major parties in certain strategic elections. I had people explode in anger at me when I suggested that most of what the Greens believed was inherently conservative – hence my presence.

Eventually I was booted from a campaign after I tried to steer the campaign stops to mostly hunting and evangelical groups – which, I thought, would stave off the usual accusations that we were “stealing” votes from Democrats, and would build much-needed bridges. I even called the Promise Keepers to see if we could get a booth at their gatherings. The campaign manager, an animal-rights activist, said that it was either her or me.

My version wouldn’t be everyone’s, of course, but I keep in touch with a lot of activists from those days, people with whom I knocked on doors, walked through farmland, camped out in strangers’ living rooms, and sat through meeting after meeting of rancour, bullying and threats. They were mostly regular working people, struggling at low-paying jobs but willing to put a lot of time in for a worthwhile cause. It took a lot of work for the leftists to drive them away.

Lisa Mullin said...

Nailed it.

I have been making the exact same point in other places (like Ian Welsh's blog) for awhile now and urging others to follow the tactics of the LGBTI movement if they want to get anything done.

Some other points to add:
(1) We police 'sell outs', and we have had some, those who did are quickly brought into line, even a couple of our most senior people in the US got hammered when they started to sell out, one in particular (long a fighter for gay rights) essentially got the boot.
(2) The mitochondrial of the movement is the large number of local groups, plugged into their communities. While that can (and does) cause issues with coordination, it is far harder for them to be co-opted.
(3) Having our own media. With mainstream media being long hostile to us (though not quite so much now) we built our own media.
(4) Passion. A lot of really dedicated and smart people put a huge amount of work into this (and, of course, other LGBTI issues) all totally unpaid, because things like this matter a heck of a lot to us. These are our lives we are fighting for.
(5) Volume. Something would appear on the media, or a blog, or twitter, or whatever. The usual right wing 'christian' homophobic and transphobic comments would come out, and there would always be responses from LGBTI people setting the record straight for the uncommitted to see. We didn't let the haters run unopposed.
(6) Playing the ‘long game’. Despite tactical set backs (and there were many) we kept on track.
(7) Marginalise the bigots. This is partially generational. When some LGBTI hating politician, priest, pastor, (etc) spouts off, becoming ever more extreme, they lose people, especially those younger. Sure those things play to the older hard core, but they are dying off. Those religious organisation that are the most anti-LGBTI are the same ones losing people, and surveys show that it is their opposition (heck say it as it is, hatred) of LGBTI that is driving away the younger people.
This creates a positive feedback mechanism, where those left are the most extreme, therefore their rhetoric becomes ever more extreme, which drives away more moderate and especially younger people.
Eventually they marginalise themselves.

(8) Unity. Despite our diversity we know with 100% certainty that there is a lage and powerful minority that want us all dead. Every single last LGBTI person. It tends to concentrate the mind. Naturally we have internal fights, spats, fall outs and all the rest, but we try to keep it within the family and usually it gets sorted out fairly quickly. Those who go public with internal fights get, see (1), put in their place real fast.

(9) The intangible, the opposition is motivated by hate, we are not, we fight for positive things. So (using Boyd’s model) we have the Moral high ground, we know we are fighting for good things. Which in the end are very simple, just that we are treated like everyone else so we can have reasonable lives.

Are we 100% successful, of course not and we never can be, we still have many fights (transgender rights being at the forefront right now) to go. But we just knuckle down and get into it. Dust ourselves off when we get a set back and get back into it again.

Fred said...

So have you ever noticed that when people are told what to do, they immediately resist it and fight it? It just seems like such a part of human nature in US culture!

The most vivid example that comes immediately to mind is school desegregation in the 1960's. Federal government said it must be done, and armed troops had to go in to enforce it. People are still fighting desegregation of schools. I think this is the source of white supremacy too - once told you have to be friends with a person of another race, then all the hate comes out.

And I think of this some of the source of the climate change failure. The public is told "the science says there is global warming, bad things will happen, but we have the solution, you must stop living the lifestyle you are used too". Of course people deny the scientific findings or ignore it, and (as you say) put the pedal to the medal and burn through resources as fast as possible - "you can't take what I worked for from me!!!!".

There's no involvement with people on creating or crafting solutions, or even on understanding the science. The media shoves information into our ears and eyes the minute you expose yourself to it. The graphics on 24 hour news now is totally laughable if you catch any of it.

If the way it was approached was more of "there is something strange here going on, what do you think it could be" and more openness to a range of solutions and approaches depending on geography and population density, and setting out some good old fashion contests and showing off what people have come up with.....well then you'd have a public engaged and united in creating a different future. Instead its just people complaining how the world is horrible, people suck, our leaders are idiots and all the words physically manifests itself as these waddling at least double their weight people committing slow suicide. Death by cheetos.

Cortes said...

A terrific essay!

Thanks once more.


Superb! I admire your writing skills and your patience.

Myriad said...

Actually escaping a Partisan Trap seems problematic. It wish I could tell our fecklessly supportive minority Democrat state legislators, "If you're not going to put real effort behind environmental issues, we'll support the Republicans instead; at least that way we can help make sure the fracking that you can't seem to stop rakes in as much local profit as possible." That doesn't sound like a very plausible threat, though, even if my group had the verve to dare to make it.

Golocyte Golo said...

Mr Greer, I greatly enjoyed this week's column, and I await your future posts.

But I have a point of disagreement: it appears that the goals of gay marriage and climate activism are irreducibly different. Gay marriage had a clear, achievable, measurable end-state: gay marriage. Climate activism's goals (not subgoals, but goals) can't even be measured on accessible time scales---if all humans died tomorrow of heart attacks and the environment went on without us, it would take a century even for human-initiated warming to stop.

Even the more measurable goal of vastly reducing CO2 emission (excluding human-created land albedo effects, species extinction, damming of rivers, overfishing, .....), the project is on a similar scale as the Soviet goal of abolishing private property---which was deeply humanitarian in impulse though not in execution---and which the Soviet's totalizing authoritarian government only partially realized after decades of trying.

I am *not* arguing that the environmental movement will lead to anything like THAT. I argue *only* that the projects are roughly similar in scale. Both necessitate a total reconstruction of our social and economic systems, and a re-ordering of how each person lives individual life.

I understand the counter-argument is that we can focus just on short-term, clearly achievable goals with widely-distributed benefits. I counter that there aren't any such goals that are meaningful.

Eg. Eliminating private air travel is neither short-term nor realistically achievable. Even its cessation by authoritarian fiat would create large changes to human life everywhere on the planet, but have only minor effects on climate.

Something actually achievable is doubling or quadrupling the USA stock of affordable rail-lines. But I'd argue this would have virtually no impact on climate. Yes, the USA would consume less petroleum----but be swamped by global economic growth and continuing sharp rises in automobile ownership in East Asia, India, and Africa.

The challenge is simply too big. If you flush a toilet, you're using a gigantic hydrological infrastructure, connected to a national electrical system, intricate governance systems, computer systems, financial systems, and a global chemical-industrial complex. If you think sustainable, non-polluting sewage systems are possible without all that... well I'd encourage you to imagine the details of such a system for a town of 1000. Then ask how it could scale up, say, to New York City. If you say "but we won't be living in places like New York City" then I'd say Yes Exactly. You're not talking about limited goals, but radical transformations.

The predicament, ultimately, is that sustainable systems can't support our billions of people, and our billions of people can't be reduced in any humanitarian way on time-scales that matter.

I look forward to being convinced I am wrong.

Joy said...

This reminds me of an article I read quite awhile ago where someone advocated going out and living in a lifestyle that supports a healthier, earth friendly life. Many of the comments were very condemning, along the lines of "you are selfish and only thinking of yourself, not changing the world, etc". I can't remember the link to that article, however you and any of your readers can google "lifestyle activism" or "lifestyle politics" and find a slew of posts written by people who would find your viewpoints quite upsetting. Most of those people would claim the title "progressive". One article I found that is a perfect example: "Lifestyle politics, good intentions, and the road to hell."
"A great deal of energy goes into individual organic gardening and other alternative lifestyles. It bleeds away the energy it takes to organize against police brutality, improve working conditions, defend civil rights, and build for revolutionary changes. The more that people simply try to modify their styles of life and monitor their carbon footprint, the more time Wall Street has to grow its gold bars — as icecaps melt away, imperialist wars escalate, and the majority of human beings become poorer".

Great, change your lifestyle for the better, go to hell. So I suppose if you fly around the world to march in multiple protest movements or attend progressive conferences, you're on the road to heaven. No wonder I've become an agnostic.

Lisa Mullin said...

Joy. But for LGBTI people it is not about "lifestyle politics", it is about our very lives, even our very existence.

That may (or may not be) a valid criticism of some groups, but not for us.

When you have people screaming for our deaths, or to be legislated out of me 'lifestyle' is the last thing we are worried about.

onething said...


Why do you call her Sec. Clinton? Didn't she quit/get fired?


The problem with a large tax on gas is that it would again disproportionately affect the poor, who can hardly afford to get to work as it is. Europe tends to be a bit different, with smaller and more compact communities. To be sure, it would reduce gasoline use but I suspect there would be some serious pushback. Also, surprisingly, it might not make that much of a dent. I understand that agriculture uses quite a lot. what did youmean that the money would be used to make labor more affordable?

M Smith,

You might want to look into the corruption in medicine, pharmaceutical prices, the monopolies they hold so that competition isn't allowed, not to mention price gouging by hospitals and clinics who refuse to divulge their prices to incoming patients, etc. An epi pen, I have been told, costs about 20 bucks in Mexico and something like 200 here. I wish people would stop harping on insurance and begin to look hard at what has happened to pricing in medicine.

John Michael Greer said...

Harvester, exactly. The lure of the single solution is a powerful one. Stay tuned...

Scotlyn, fascinating -- if urban working class Irish people voted strongly in favor of same-sex marriage rights, it seems to me that strategies catering to the affluent are even more out of place in your country than in mine (which is saying something).

Compound F, it's very late in the day. That's why it's essential to try every option that might work, even politics.

Matthias, good. In both cases, it's worth learning from their successes and their failures, and trying to figure out how to emulate the former and avoid the latter. I'm not sure how well either example will play in this country, politics being different from nation to nation -- but in that case, Germans and Brazilians who want to make change happen have something to work with.

Fred, it's a little more complex than that. The GOP is in terminal disarray, split between quarreling factions -- that's why it wasn't able to come up with a short list of consensus candidates, and why Trump was able to elbow his way in. The Dems are still more cohesive, which is why they were able to cheat their way out of a Sanders nomination. Both party establishments are owned body and soul by an assortment of power centers and pressure groups who profit from the status quo and haven't noticed that the policies that profit them are wrecking the country -- a common occurrence in the life of democracies, and one that normally ends either in an insurgent candidacy (say, Lincoln), a dictatorship (say, Mussolini), or some mixture of the two. Stay tuned!

Laura, exactly! And that's exactly why any movement to do something about climate change, or any other aspect of our ecological predicament, has to start by getting outside of the affluent-liberal bubble and doing something different for a change.

Kim, no, you were one of the thoughtful ones, for which thank you. What I have in mind has less to do with policies and more to do with strategies, but yes, the reframing of climate change activism I have in mind will have certain things in common with the reframing of progress I've tried to carry out in Retrotopia.

Fudoshin, if you worry about the tender feelings of the affluent, as we've already seen, you're going to lose. The problem with demonization as an exclusive strategy, to my mind, is that it feeds into the self-defeating negativity of the movement as a whole -- the insistence that saying "No!" is enough all by itself. More on this as we proceed.

Shane, I'm sure Bowling Green is a lovely town, despite its most famous opthalmologist. I suspect you could still find a very nice Southern Baptist church social there, where the sort of opinions I cited would be heard.

Damaris, thank you for sharing that story. Affluent liberals in the US have attitudes toward the wage-earning class indistinguishable from those that Afrikaaners had toward black people in South Africa at that time -- but oh bright gods, don't mention that to them, or you'll see a world-class meltdown!

Bob, exactly. Simplistic models are a bad idea if you're trying to convince people who aren't already part of the choir -- and if you'll glance back through the archives here, you'll find that I criticized the bell-shaped curve model of peak oil early and often.

Shane, that's certainly my take. If the Left knuckles under and votes for Clinton, it has no leverage left at all -- she'll know perfectly well that she could bomb Canada, sell the national parks for strip mining, and legalize slavery, and they'll still line up meekly to vote for her four years from now -- and the DNC will know with equal satisfaction that they could nominate the rotting corpse of Ronald Reagan in 2024, and they'll vote for him too. If having the Democratic brand name is the only thing that matters, the Left is completely spent as a political force.

David, by the lake said...


Just my perspective, but I've (finally) come to the realization that we aren't going to solve the problem, but we can make the results less bad, if only slightly, than they would otherwise be.

John Michael Greer said...

Donalfagan, and that'll last just precisely until Maryland and/or NY legalizes it, at which point people will just take a nice drive or train trip and stock up on the far side of the state line. I know people from PA who visit Maryland tolerably often to shop at our liquor stores, on the same basis.

Martin, little as though I want to, I think you're right: at least some activists want to fail heroically, rather than running the tremendous risks of victory.

David, that seems quite plausible to me. As for the objection, that needs to be confronted fast and hard. I'll see about figuring out ways to do it.

Jo, excellent! Yes, yes, and yes again. There are some other strategies worth including in the mix, but that's unquestionably one of them. The term "environmentalist" also needs to be dropped, hard -- but we'll talk about that in a later post.

Trippticket, oh man. That is so typical. The image matters more than the reality...

Mark, interesting. Where do you live?

Tidlösa, one way or another, it's going to be a wild ride. You're quite right, of course, that even if Trump loses -- with or without election fraud -- the genie's out of the bottle, and the wage-earning classes are going to make their voices heard whether or not the affluent like it.

Samura, I haven't forgotten Hanauer's essay. If the wealthy had the brains the gods gave geese, they'd be looking for an FDR-figure to rally behind, somebody who would upend the existing order of things and allow a moderate redistribution of wealth while still leaving today's rich in possession of their skins and a fraction of their fortunes, because the alternative is car bombs if not jackboots.

Lawfish, the fixation on sacrifice is one of the framing problems I'll be discussing. Yes, that's one of the things that will be required, but it's not the only thing -- and the fixation on sacrifice as the only alternative to business as usual is a hangover from Puritanism that we can well do without. More on this as we proceed.

Ien, please do your best to get copies to Green Party members! I think they might benefit from reading it.

Drhooves, of course there are significant obstacles. There always are. That's what makes politics such an exciting challenge!

Thymia10, I've seen the same things, of course. Stay tuned!

inohuri said...

I thought about posting something on marriage.

I understand that people want to get married because of tradition and for legal access to one another and to receive "benefits" from employers and the state.

I have read a little about the history of marriage and understand it has not always been important or even available especially to the poor.

I read that the major reason the state got into marriage licensing was to prevent marriages such as mixed race or same sex.

I also read that marriage is going out of fashion in some areas in spite of the "benefits" on offer, France for example.

Why is there this push to force the state to allow marriage instead of getting the state out of the marriage business? If people want a marriage contract why don't they just make one up? Oops, then we are back to "benefits" and legal access.

I have also read that in Tibet there were a few different marriage contracts and one person could be in several at once.

That could have been attempted. A few standard Federal contracts that could also allow marriages of more than one man and one woman as some people prefer, isn't it odd they aren't mentioned here in this hotbed of equality? A woman,in love with two guys wants to marry them in either one or two contracts - why is there anything wrong with that if it is honest and upfront? "Bigamy" laws are about a particular type of fraud and are really unnecessary. Polygamy laws....

Oh, well. Back to the dihydrogen monoxide website. I do better there. It's all true but a bit biased. Well proven science, not like this social stuff.

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, oh, Trump could still blow it. As I noted back in January, it's still entirely possible that Clinton will win; it's the strength of the mass movement that's coalesced around Trump that's the important thing, not the man himself. As for the possibility that a foreign government or three could use the current bitterly divided state of the US as a way to stir up trouble and bring America down a couple of pegs, why, yes, and I've been pointing that out for quite some time now. Can you think of anything that would delight Putin, Xi, and Khamenei more than a bitterly disputed election here in the US, riddled with accusations of fraud, followed by paired domestic insurgencies -- an urban insurgency on the part of disenfranchised African-Americans and a rural insurgency on the part of disenfranchised wage-class people of multiple colors? I can't.

As for how much can be done at this point -- we're already screwed. The question now is purely how bad it gets -- and that's still a question that matters. More on this as we proceed.

Onething, the frantic accusations being flung at Sanders voters show just how desperate the political elite is to hang onto its power at all costs. It's not the people who are responsible for those!

Grim, exactly. Thank you for getting it.

Varun, it's a basic rule of psychology that if people persist in a dysfunctional habit, it's because they're getting some kind of emotional payoff from it that, to them, outweighs the practical disadvantages of failure. Think back to the radical activists you've known, and I think you can probably figure out what the emotional payoff was (and is).

Alan, and a climate change movement that wanted to win would make room for people like you and direct some of its outreach toward your point of view. If the climate is already variable due to solar flux, do we really want to pile on increased variability by dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? Of course not! The fact that a sleeping grizzly might have its own reasons to wake up in a bad mood is no reason to poke it with sharp stick, after all...

Nephilimsd, "At least she's better than Trump" is actually very promising. Ask them "Oh, really? In what way?" -- and be prepared to point out all the ways that she's much, much worse than Trump. Her rallies are nearly empty, while Trump's are overflowing; that says to me that her support is very shallow, and could break tolerably easily.

Grebulocities, that's a good example of one of the core mistakes of contemporary activism. What are they proposing instead of the pipeline? Anything? Anyone who knows the least thing about strategy knows that if all you do is respond to your opponent's moves, you're going to lose. To win you have to take the initiative, and that means you have to have a positive goal to offer people. More on this as we proceed!

SLClaire, excellent. Yes, that would be one good approach -- and notice that it would actually help people, by lowering their energy bills. Insisting that the climate change conundrum can only be framed as a call to suffering is one of the bad habits I'll be discussing at length as we proceed, and as you've pointed out, there are ways around it.

Pygmycory, a classic example. Sigh.

John Michael Greer said...

Cathy, if voting for Clinton is what your conscience says you need to do, then by all means go ye forth and do that thing. It'd be pretty silly, all things considered, if I denounced piggybacking and the partisan trap and then insisted that green wizardry requires voting for candidate A instead of candidate B! I think you're making a disastrous mistake; presumably you think the same thing about me; and it's exactly the capacity for two people who disagree about one set of very important issues to find common ground to work together on some other set of very important issues that needs to be developed if we're going to get past the current political flustered cluck and make useful change happen.

Unknown, understood. The thing is, human beings have found it possible to set aside immediate gratification and devote their time and energy to a difficult task many, many times in the past. World War II was won because people in all the allied countries put up with shortages, rationing, and the deaths of a lot of young men in order to overthrow the Axis powers; the same spirit could be evoked again, given the right circumstances. Yes, I'll be talking about that as we proceed.

With regard to the Roman Empire, that's a very good point, and I think you're quite right -- we avoid asking why because we're afraid of the answer...

JoAnna, so? If you're interested in winning, rather than in making excuses, you look toward the example of same-sex marriage rights and say, "Okay, there are differences. How can I minimize them by reframing the climate change narrative? What lessons can I learn despite the differences?" It's the unwillingness to do this, and the repeated insistence that...

Oh bright gods. It just sank in. You and everyone else who's brought up this same endlessly repeated thoughtstopper -- what are you saying?


John Michael Greer said...

As I was about to say, before my computer took an unusually forceful keystroke as a reason to post a half-completed comment, this is the same delusional thoughtstopper we've been dealing with here on The Archdruid Report since day one -- the insistence that because A is different from B, you can't draw any conclusions from A to make sense of B. I need to do some serious brooding, probably over a glass of good bourbon, to figure out why this is so deeply embedded in the automatical reactions of our society, and comes popping out mindlessly like the bird from a defective cuckoo clock whenever I suggest a comparison that isn't an identity. Hmmm...

One thing, though: from this point on, if anybody tries to post a comment that just reiterates the claim that I can't compare the campaign for same-sex marriage rights with the campaign against climate change because (insert canned reason), I'm simply going to delete it. I already addressed that. If you can't be bothered to deal with what I said about it, I can't be bothered to approve your comment. 'Nuf said.

L, good. I encourage you to keep searching, and don't accept anyone's ideas just because they belong to this or that or the other label. The next politics, which is what needs to be built just now, will throw all current categories into a blender; that's what happens when a nation enters the kind of political stasis ours is now in, where the only set of policies that are acceptable to the political class are policies that are running the country into the ground.

Shane, granted. Like everything else about this election, Clinton's health is going to be surrounded by a fog of partisan nastiness from all sides until long after it's all over.

M Smith, there's more than one side to the EpiPen business, as I think you know; it's not just the poor who can't afford them, and the sheer profiteering involved in a 500% price boost is also an issue.

Mary, this really reads like a sales pitch, you know; if you're being paid to promote the book, you need to learn how to do it a little more subtly. As for endorsements by Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, et al., er, have you noticed that under their leadership the various movements for social change have basically gone nowhere? If they've recommended the book, that actually makes me less likely to buy and read it, since the endorsement suggests that the book embodies the same kind of professional-activist thinking that's run the current left into the ground.

Patricia, oh, granted. I tend to think of Clinton as Pompey and Trump as Crassus -- does that work for you?

Lordberia3, I suspect there are a lot of Trump supporters who have never mentioned that fact to anyone, just as there were a lot of Brexit supporters who only expressed their support in the voting booth. We'll see whether that's enough to swing the election.

Sharon, a spirited response! I based my comments on what I've heard from dyed-in-the-wool Republicans I know. For what it works, I hope you're right; the kind of attitudes you've sketched out would make for a far more constructive approach to the world's problems than the sort of thing I discussed, and lightly parodied, in my essay.

Candace said...

@ weatherization
You do know that this exists Each state has weatherization programs. That's how I got help paying to insulate my attic. You should check with your utility provider to see if they have a Neighborhood Energy Challenge.

@ Shane. I have usually described myself as a tree hugging vegetarian liberal. I don't actually know what progressive means. I thought it was tapping back into the turn of the century (1900s) religious movements for social change. Since I'm not part of an organized religion, I don't identify with it.

NJGuy73 said...

The LGBT rights movement had Heather Has Two Mommies, Will & Grace, and The Ellen Show.

The movement against anthropogenic climate change had Captain Planet.

Enough said.

John Michael Greer said...

Matte, the official party platform means nothing the day after the election. Look at the number of GOP congresscritters who have been backing away from opposition to same sex marriage rights over the last five years.

Eric, yep. I think I remember a Philip Glass piece that sounded a lot like it.

MichaelK, I'm not arguing. If you ever have the chance, read Bruce Catton's book The Coming Fury, which is a history of the runup to the Civil War; the atmosphere of poisonous partisan hatred Catton discusses is uncomfortably like what we see around us in the US right now.

Clay, funny. Okay, make it a West Side Starbucks full of people who have made the turn to Clinton!

Brian, I know. I've seen the same thing. One thing that any movement for social change at this point has to embody, if it's going to accomplish anything, is some way to screen out the privileged Baby Boomer radicals who have been driving movements for social change into the ground since the 1970s. I'm working on options; several suggest themselves.

Lisa, thank you for this! The LGBTI movement has really provided a stellar example of how to make social change happen; it would be helpful if more people who claim to want change would learn from it, rather than insisting at the top of their lungs that this or that or the other difference means that they can't possibly learn anything from your successes.

Fred, good. Among the real problems with the climate change movement, as I noted in the earlier post, are its reliance on the rapidly waning prestige of science, and its fond and fatuous belief that if somebody in a white lab coat got up behind a podium and said "X is true," everyone would forget all the countless times scientists have been wrong in the past, and take their words on faith. It really was clumsily handled, and something less dogmatic and more open-ended, as you've suggested, would have done a lot better.

Cortes, thank you.

Golocyte, it sounds to me as though you're arguing that climate change activism is a waste of time, because there's no conceivable way that it can accomplish anything useful. Is that really what you believe?

Joy, and of course one millimeter behind all of the yelling is the frantic terror on the part of affluent liberals that they can't possibly give up any of the tiys and trinkets for which they've bartered their souls. There's a story about a guy named Faust that comes to mind here...

Inohuri, some people like to be married. (I'm one of them.) Our culture traditionally grants certain legal benefits to married couples. To my mind, that's reason enough to expand those benefits to other people who like to be married but, for reasons rooted in a particular set of religious beliefs, haven't been able to marry until recently. It really is that simple!

Justin said...

Re: Epipen. I need one, or I will die if exposed to an allergen that isn't going away anytime soon. Although I'm not personally affected by the price hikes due to health insurance through work and living in Canada, I personally would not shed one single tear if someone were to murder the CEO of Mylan.

Too much of our politics in the West revolves around "doesn't affect me, lol".

Ozark Chinquapin said...

I'm interested in hearing your ideas about what might actually work. I've tended to personally think that the all the fossil fuels that have a high EROEI and can be extracted with relatively simple technology will be dug up eventually, since as they get more scarce they become that much more valuable, and the likely scenario of decline where centralized governments give way to warbands in more and more of the world, it's hard to imagine they won't be exploited at some point. Still, that leaves room for a successful movement to reduce the rate of use (and thus the rate of climate change), and possibly keep some of the fossil fuels with more marginal EROEI or that need a higher level of technology to exploit from ever coming out of the ground.

One thing that I personally always like to point out about climate change is the massive subsidies that go into fossil fuel intensive areas. Take your example of the airline industry, if it wasn't for massive government subsidies it wouldn't have ever become the behemoth that it is, this link shows some of the ways that tax money has supported the aviation industry over the years, which completely dwarfs the money the government has put into Amtrak (and yet Republicans criticise amtrak and turn a blind eye to airline and road subsidies).

I don't get the obsession with schemes that would expand an already bloated bureaucracy even further that seem to permeate the climate change movement, focusing energy on stopping subsidizing the fossil fuel intensive industries could have a much broader appeal and bring in support from small government conservatives and libertarians. Many of the conservative climate change deniers seem to think that climate change was a myth invented by the elites to increase their power and authority and screw ordinary people over, so reframing political approaches to climate change to focus on things that don't involve any new bureaucracies and saves taxpayers money seems a much better strategy. Some of the climate change skeptics would be in favor of ending the subsidies to airlines for reasons unrelated to climate impacts.

I also wonder if business interests that may benefit from those changes could end up being allies too, as seems to be happening in a major way in the marijuana legalization movement, which I think is on the road to success. It's a double edged sword for sure as they will try to tweak the cause to their agendas (A blatant example of this from the marijuana legalization scene is the (defeated) ballot measure in Ohio that would have legalized marijuana growing only on ten farms in the state, which were owned by those rich investors who got the measure on the ballot) Still, having business interests with money that may benefit there to counter the opposition could get the cause on the national stage. For example, if airlines lost their subsidies, bus and train would be much more competitive and be growth industries. If, as is the case with marijuana, some powerful interests saw the potential for a new era of growth in bus lines if the playing field were leveled, they could back that cause with gusto.

inohuri said...

I hope you didn't get the idea that I am against marriage. I would like to participate in that sort of responsibility and it ain't likely.

The disruption that I would like to see would end the state's monopoly on who marries whom and how they choose to go about it.

This would need to be standardized somehow but it wouldn't be necessary to seek permission from a bureaucrat. It would be more like a will - a form, some witnesses and signatures.

I suspect some of my neighbors are continuing polygamous relations quietly. It would seem that some of them were forced to break marriages in order to immigrate to this sometimes unforgiving USA. Of course they don't dare to try to do anything about it and I'm not quite a dumb enough infidel to ask.

Patricia Mathews said...

Does that work for me? On the button! With Ted Cruz as Cato the Younger, and Mitt Romney as Cicero.

And Bill Clinton as an overaged Marc Antony?

Bike Club Vest Prez said...

I once sat next to the deputy administrator of BPA at an engineering conference. I asked him how he managed all those interests that want to win. He corrected me. He said, "No, they want to walk away from the table and say that they have benefited." It was an important insight to me (as is what I learn from the Archdruid Report). It seems pretty clear that the folks backing Trump (and Sanders, I think) are not benefiting from their government, while paying the costs of the policies. I have been thinking about the hot-button issues that get Trump followers motivated -- immigration, trade, others -- mostly things seem set up to benefit the wealthiest 20% and/or the poorest 10%. The middle 70% pays the cost with little or no benefit. Still better than anarchy though.

nuku said...

Re your comment “Varun, it's a basic rule of psychology that if people persist in a dysfunctional habit, it's because they're getting some kind of emotional payoff from it that, to them, outweighs the practical disadvantages of failure. Think back to the radical activists you've known, and I think you can probably figure out what the emotional payoff was (and is)“.

Some psychological theories call this “secondary gain”. One example is the formerly slim, single, and very promiscuous woman who, now happily married to a traveling salesman, allows herself to become moderately obese so she won’t be “hit on” by men while her husband is away and be tempted to betray her marriage vows. She doesn’t like being fat and is always going on and off diets, but for her the secondary gain of this behavior is an honest and secure relationship.

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

RE: The USA can't withdraw from its empire because we're the world police and everything would go to hell if we stopped. (paraphrased)

From Noam Chomsky:

"To mention only one obvious example, polls of international opinion by the leading US polling agency (WIN/Gallup) show that the US is regarded as the greatest threat to world peace by a huge margin, Pakistan far behind in second place (presumably inflated by the Indian vote). Polls taken in Egypt on the eve of the Arab spring revealed considerable support for Iranian nuclear weapons to counterbalance Israeli and US power. Public opinion often favors social reform of the kind that would harm US-based multinationals. And much else. These are hardly policies that the US government would like to see instituted, but authentic democracy would give a significant voice to public opinion. For similar reasons, democracy is feared at home."



jbucks said...

Some years ago I made a naive attempt to campaign against deep-sea overfishing. At that time I was working as a graphic designer (that's what I studied at university), and so I thought that I could help by creating a website which showed all of the various sub-issues within the broader overfishing issue, and how they were connected ('fishing down the food chain', bycatch, trawling, etc). I spent two years of my free time reading scientific papers, articles, etc, and put together an illustrated website - and it was a failure. Why? Because it wasn't a campaign, it was an educational website - to say nothing of my stupid assumption that a website could change anything by itself.

Here's what I would do differently I was doing it now (which relates to your post):

1 - I would identify the single concrete thing that could be changed which would have the greatest effect. With fishing, that would be to create no-fish zones where fish populations and their habitat could recover, and do this with the cooperation of local small fishers.

2 - I would then look for 'bright spots' - find campaigns or initiatives which have succeeded to learn from them. For example, there was a region in New Zealand (I forget where) which introduced a no-fish zone, and once fish stocks replenished a few years later, local fisher's catches increased, because fish don't stay in no-fish zones. So the protected area ended up being supported by local fishers. Win-win!

3 - I wouldn't then make a campaign to 'introduce nationwide no-fish zones!', I would instead make a campaign for a much smaller, defined area, like a town. It's much more concrete to say 'Establish a 30 square kilometer no-fish zone in the Bay of X!'. After that, it's years of hard work to actually run the campaign.

I don't think you can effectively campaign to change the behavior of people who won't give something up. You instead campaign to change the behavior of people who sit somewhere in the middle, who would do things differently if given a simple, concrete plan with clearly defined benefits. If you have convinced enough people, you get critical mass, and the resisters either change their minds or they are too small of a group to care about.

In the face of an overwhelmingly large, 'impossible-to-change' problem, break it down into smaller issues, and continue to break the issues down until they are achievable. You'll know you are on the right track when you can explain your campaign in a sentence.

jbucks said...

I forgot: some books on the topic: Switch by Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick by the same authors, and How to Win Campaigns by Chris Rose.

Joel Caris said...


I was mulling earlier this week the idea that free trade agreements support the American empire, which also brings excess wealth and resources into the country, but that free trade agreements seem to also be wreaking a lot of economic havoc on this country. They've destroyed a lot of good, working- and wage-class jobs in this country. It's my opinion that the country would be quite a bit better off economically if we were to back out of the free trade agreements we're currently in. Granted, it might create some initial chaos, but I expect it would be a long term benefit. On the other hand, I was having some trouble squaring that with the idea that these agreements ultimately serve as wealth pumps, bringing extra treasure to America.

Add into this W.B.'s insightful comment above about Trump's agenda being, in many ways, an anti-empire agenda--even if he doesn't pitch it that way and, I would guess, doesn't view it that way himself. Furthermore, I imagine there are plenty of people in this country who are anti-free trade agreements but wouldn't necessarily agree that they would like America to take a cut in the share of wealth and resources it currently receives. How do you square all this?

And then it hit me that--and you've more or less written this, but I guess it sometimes takes time to all fall into place--you could engage in an anti-empire agenda (though not labeled as such) that would enrich and improve the lives of a good number of people in this country even while reducing the overall national wealth and consumption. Crafted appropriately, what you would do is raise the standard of living of a large portion of the population that have been getting a boot to their neck for the last few decades by creating economic arrangements that would bring back a number of good wage-earning jobs while crashing a good chunk of the wealth and prosperity of the affluent. It seems to me that, at its root, this would be a movement to rearrange the U.S. economy to focus on actual physical goods and services (the secondary economy), complete with tariffs and other forms of protectionism, while penalizing the money (tertiary) economy.

This could quite easily be a positive campaign, too, as you would actually be working to improve the lives of more people than you would be hurting. Your focus wouldn't be on the affluent, it would be on the many different ways you would revive the secondary economy and return well-paying jobs to this country that are rooted in actual physical goods and services. Meanwhile, you could have the secondary benefit of reducing overall consumption and emissions while beginning the process of re-building the sort of real-world physical economy that is going to be absolutely necessary to cope to whatever degree we can with climate change, resource depletion, and ecosystem collapse. Finally, new projects that don't currently feel feasible (say, a national high speed rail system) may suddenly become much more so if you have a functioning economy that assures a good deal of people that they'll actually get built to the benefit of workers and the country and won't simply turn into pet projects that run billions over their budgets and primarily enrich consultants and engineers.

Hmm. There may be holes in this, but it feels like there's a real idea here.

John Michael Greer said...

NJguy, and Heather Has Two Mommies is still in print, while Captain Planet has long since dropped off the tube. Here's your assignment: how can climate change activism learn from the difference?

Justin, and unfortunately that will change when CEOs discover that they do, indeed, need to care. That could be done via federal racketeering charges; it could also be done in less legal ways. I'd much prefer the former.

Ozark, excellent! We'll be talking about those subsidies, and ways to use them politically, as we proceed. We'll also be talking about finding allies among industries that benefit from climate change remediation, and why making new bureaucracies is just another favor to the affluent -- who gets hired by those, do you think?

Inohuri, personally I have nothing against polygamy among consenting adults, and if anyone wants to insist that it violates the Bible, (a) that book has no legal force in our republic and (b) perhaps they can explain to me why all the good guys in the Old Testament have multiple wives. If polygamists want to petition for the right to multiple marriages, they have the example of the same-sex marriage rights movement to show them how to go about it.

Patricia, too funny. All we need now are Catiline and Caesar.

Prez, exactly. When people want to win, you get the kind of stalemate we have now. When people want to take home some benefit from the negotiations, you have the basis for constructive compromise. Do you remember how many people responded to my post offering a Burkean conservative argument for same-sex marriage by insisting that no, we couldn't make any allowances for people with religious objections, they had to be forced into obedience? That's the kind of arrogance that makes constructive compromise impossible in today's America.

Nuku, exactly. There are a million different examples. Gregory Bateson's work on double-binds covers this in useful detail.

Tim, and the thing is, they're right. The US long ago stopped being anything but a predatory empire outside its borders, and the blowback from that is building to hurricane force around us.

Jbucks, excellent. That's a very good example -- and a very good idea in its own right. Notice also how the no-fish zone functions as a managed commons, which benefits everybody so long as everybody has to follow the same rules.

ed boyle said...

I know you often nix my comments as I get off topic, weird, overpersonal. At any rate reading the very focused comments here which took up all the issues I strafed but in a more detailed way satisfied me that people see same things happening. Golocyte is probably right. Reform impossible, activism useless, system needs a collapse. US empire for example is not healable. Soviet Union collapse was a good thing. Dissidents did not take over, they just remained anti-putin, pro-american 5th columnist dissidents. Dissatisfied people have a gene for being that way. Normalos get in line with averages, whether it is weatherizing, gardening or globetrotting on cheap vacations. Basically energy costs, availability, debt collapse, climate weirding destroying infrastructure and agriculture will decide game, not activism by early adopters but rather mass panic, outrage. 5 year drought in cali stretches to ten or 20 years, NYC gets hurricaned or subway flooded annually, global crop surplus sinks to negative due to bad weather, water shortages in all major producers, etc. Get out the popcorn and watch the show.

Gay politics not my thing. I usually try to figure out where it came from. Is it civilizational, historical anomaly, evolutionary? Bored straight male objectivism. If it reduces population surplus while simultaneously making many happy, as opposed to nun or monk surpluses of middle ages, I can see advantage biologically as adaptation to the current global situation. Sexual partnership used to be about having someone to look after you in old age, religious imperative. Deviation in small communities destroyed inner cohesion. Urban anonymity eliminated this problem. When cities die out so will sexual deviation from norm. This is my difference of opinion with largely rural, smallish towns lakeland. But this has been argued 1000s of times on PO blogs. Women's, minorities rights don't have to disappear in a low energy, PO world. Human brain, emotions are infinitely malleable. Any sexual behavior if encouraged could become mass phenomenon, if sustainable in the society.

great post btw. If hillary gets to destroy America this would allow a better transition than discrediting anti-imperialist Trump. Whoever gets in will preside over inevitable decline, have little influence even from the top.

j8sun said...

Early Retirement Extreme and Mr. Money Mustache are blogs on early retirement through frugality, with a heavy dose of conservation. They are both at least partially motivated by climate change and peak oil. Would these qualify as examples of successful activism to you? They avoid the four horsepersons, I’d say. While they may never be more than niche movements, they do target the biggest polluters, the affluent.

Their advice is relevant in a long descent, and might be easier to buy into for a person who refuses to see they’re in descent. And if the money disappears anyway, at least they learned to live on LESS. I expect a renewed interest with the next recession, so I’m making sure everyone around me knows about them now. And besides ERE has a link to The Archdruid Report, when they are ready to explore. Like I did. Also, Green Wizardry is a great book which seems to have avoided the four horsepersons well!

donalfagan said...

After I posted about PA licensing cannabis, I came home and saw that MD is doing the same thing. It made the Baltimore news because they are planning blind awards of licenses (to dodge charges of favoritism), and critics complain that minorities may be excluded from receiving licenses.

Fred said...

Thank you for your thoughtful response to my earlier comments. I read through the comments and your responses each week and this week I appreciated your response to Varun about the emotional payoff people receive from dysfunctional behavior. Six years ago while out with friends conversation turned to an empty lot in town that was being paved to make it a parking lot. I listened as motions ran high as it was decided that the town officials were clueless because everyone knows that empty lot could be turned into a community garden. How could they just do this paving with out consulting the people? They began to organize a protest, when to have it, what to put on signs, the message the town needed to hear!

Any adult who lives in reality as defined by our current laws knows that a lot in a town has a property owner and the owner of the property was making the decision for the parking lot. Zoning laws dictate what property owners can do, and any improvement or building on a lot goes before a zoning board for review and approval and then to the town itself. The government didn't decide willy nilly to just pave a lot!

So I said it - well not all that - but I did say, "Did you go into the borough office and ask from a place of curiosity what the status of the lot is? And your idea for a garden and where that could be located and who to work with to get it done?"

Faces turned red in anger. I was told I just didn't get it and conversation was the last thing required. Six years later these former friends still don't talk with me, still protest and complain about the system and how the system is ruining everything. They are just so fixated that the problem is "out there with them" and therefore unsolvable. Its amusing to watch their comments on Facebook or other online formats. I doubt they are reading this one - ha-ha.

So a real climate change movement needs to push all those career protestors out, or maybe just ignore their existence? How do we do that? I mean the minute these people have an opportunity to display self-righteous indignation, they just show up chanting and marching. That was the crack-up about the protestors in Philly for the DNC - it was all career protestors and each person had their "thing".

Fred said...

Have a quick cautionary tale/preview of coming attractions - its been in the high 90's the past 3 weeks in SE PA with high humidity. Friend who is a healthy 60 years old (in fit shape and with no health issues) and lives without air-conditioning was rushed to the hospital for dehydration. They had to give her 4 liters of fluids to get her rehydrated. She couldn't figure out why she collapsed and was dehydrated because was drinking a gallon or more of water a day. Doc said its not just water, its the electrolytes and those get flushed out when we sweat and drink so much water.

Her daughter who visits her daily is an emergency room nurse and totally missed the signs of dehydration in her mom. So what I got from this is we have lost what it looks like when people are suffering, and our knowledge of health and what it takes to maintain it, is also not sufficient.

Fred said...

I have zero affiliation with this podcast, but wanted to recommend a new podcast Warm Regards.
Warm Regards is a podcast about the warming planet. The show is hosted by meteorologist Eric Holthaus. Co-hosts are Jacquelyn Gill, a paleoecologist at the University of Maine, and Andy Revkin, a veteran journalist at the New York Times. The show is produced by Stephen Lacey.

They are looking for guests JMG!

Last show they commented about how they get skewered by those in the climate change movement if they step outside of what the allowed discussion is. They've been shocked that those in the movement respond that way to people who are trying to share the science of climate.

NJGuy73 said...

JMG, first, I'll spell out what climate change already knows:

Social change does not come from Supreme Court opinions or marches down the DC mall. That is where we see the flowering of social change. The seeds are planted when it is decided that one generation will be taught differently, and that generation grows up while previous ones die out.

Now, I'll spell out what activism can learn from the difference is this:

When teaching little kids your message, don't be ham-handed. Don't make it out to be a white hat/black hat matter. Little kids see these cartoon characters doing stuff they could never do, led by a supernatural figure. That makes cleaning up the planet look like something only super-powered people can do, and kids know quite well that they don't have magic rings. They'll get the message that it's up to someone else to make good things happen.

So instead, make being environmentally-conscious look normal. Show ordinary kids turning over mulch piles in permaculture sites, and make it seem like fun. Show them running windmills and make it seem more fun than any video game. Write a book that shows your vision of what the world should look like, and make it seem like any other vision isn't even conceivable.

Shane W said...

@Ol Babs, others,
I'm fond of JMG's theory that it was the end of progress in the 70s, when we hit national peak oil and first encountered limits to growth, that allowed misogyny, sex-phobia, including sexism & homophobia, and racism to begin to die. So equality, the kind that's come about in the last 40 years, is not progressive, it's post-progressive.
RE: Global warming:
I had a conversation with an affluent, salary class liberal who thought he was intelligent b/c he listens to NPR. Of course, climate change deniers were idiots and morons--how stupid could you be to deny global warming, right? As I began to tick off the consequences of global warming (coastal flooding, abandonment of low lying cities, 50 meter rise in sea level, collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic sheets, etc.), I got all kinds of pushback as to why that won't happen (tech fix, not happening, we don't really know the consequences of global warming, can't be proven). So, according to him, people who reject the overwhelming evidence for global warming are morons/idiots, yet he stands there and rejects or denies every possible consequence of global warming? It boggles the mind...

Shane W said...

i've been pretty much avoiding all discussion of the election except for here. To the extent I do talk about it, I talk logically, about Trump being the logical consequence of electing Reagan in 1980, etc. Logic always shuts down discussion. I also talk about acceptance, and being in acceptance of things being exactly as they are supposed to be in this moment--that we wouldn't have the presidential election we're having if we weren't meant to have it. To the extent I talk about issues, I talk about the need to avoid war with Russia, and how disastrous that would be. So those are all real conversation stoppers...

Shane W said...

Yes, marijuana will be legalized, no, it will not be a big deal. Most people have been stoned or know what stoned people are like, so the effects are marijuana are no great gift to society. Nor are they the horrid dangers or the gateway drug of Reefer Madness fame, either. People enthusing over the wonders of cannabis legalization are simply reacting to its polar opposite, the "Reefer Madness" era, when all sorts of evils were attributed to weed. It's really no big deal, and getting stoned is no great gift to society.

Shane W said...

Somebody already beat me to the punch, JMG, you should know from Seattle that hipsters don't go to Starbucks, they're anti-Starbucks, and pro-local, sustainably harvested, fair trade, organically grown coffee shop aficionados. :)

nuku said...

@Jbucks, I live in New Zealand, in fact right next to a small no-fish zone. The keys to making it successful were/are:
1)carefully select a no-fish zone area that will actually work in practice for the resident species of fish and that can be policed easily.
2)identify the largest possible number of communities of interest (commercial and recreational fisherman, divers and snorklers, people concerned with promoting biodiversity, and nature lovers in general).
3)educate these folks about how the zone will help each community to reach its particular goal. More fish for the fisherman, nice place to dive and watch fish for the divers, etc.
4)provide a way for all these folks to influence the people who make the enabling legislation.
5)get the locals behind the project so they help identify the inevitable poachers.
6)provide stiff penalties for poaching.
7)Once the zone is established, do follow-up research to monitor how the project is going, publish the results in the local press, and continue to raise public awareness about the zone’s advantages.

In short, chose your battle ground wisely, have a coherent battle plan, muster the troops, and be in for the long haul.

The establishment of small coastal no-fish zones has worked well in NZ. I’ve seen a Tongan attempt to establish a no-fish zone for giant clams fail because the locals didn’t fully understand the long-term advantages to themselves (giant clams live for up to 50 years). They saw it as something that was being set up and forced upon them by environmentalists from outside the country.

Lawfish1964 said...


I didn't say anything about the tax revenues being used to reduce labor costs. I said the revenue could be used to pay down our national debt (which in reality is unpayable absent hyper-inflation). To me, any measure which forces people to use less petroleum is good. I'd be happy to ride my bike to work if I didn't work in a stuffy office where being dressed in bike pants doesn't pass the dress code. Perhaps very expensive gas would change that mindset.

Shane W said...

when she said "lifestyle", she meant eco-friendly, low carbon, organic, not LGBT

Shane W said...

Interesting anecdote:
when I was going to the Faerie Short Mountain Sanctuary, I got lost, took a wrong turn, and ended up on a prepper homestead. Oddly enough, I think probably both the peppers and the faeries were doing a lot of the same things (making food from scratch, growing food, making things by hand, etc.)

Bill Pulliam said...

As I look around here in rural Tennessee lately, I just kind of get the feeling that politics and traditional activism are dead. Our county primary election last month had not one single contested race. In this supposedly contentious and hot-blooded presidential election, there are almost zero yard signs for any candidate. On the 15 mile drive between here and the next town over, there is ONE yard sign, for Trump. That is it. This is not normal. At least it didn;t use to be. When we moved here in 2002, shortly after that a huge greenie permie movement sprung up in town. We were a Transition Town (tm) and a hotbed for Financial Permaculture (tm) whatever that was. All faded away. Not a word about it to be heard or read anywhere. It is as though everyone has just looked at teh government and the ;egal process, and all its disfunctions, given it a big shrug and muttered "whatever," and just walked away from it.

What will fill this void? Whatever gets a strong foothold first may well be The Future.

David, by the lake said...

Re the marriage discussion

My teenage daughter (who has, as I've previous mentioned, help guide me through the maze of the gender and gender-identity spectrum) has asked me what I think the "next" marriage issue would be. I answered without hesitation: "plural marriage." The fundamental logic which supports the argument for allowing same-sex marriage (contract theory, legal relationship between consenting adults, no-harm principle, separation of civil law and religious law) applies equally to parties seeking a plural marriage relationship and legal recognition of the same rights and responsibilities.


The broad concept you describe sounds much like the approach I've advocated (and which has drawn the responses I mentioned to John above) -- relinquish the empire and its associated costs, "win" the resource conflicts by not fighting in them, develop a self-reliant economy within the long-term sustainable capabilities of our nations resources, reorient/resize our military for a strong defense (but only defense) to protect those resources, and reduce/restrict trade as needed to protect the self-reliant economy from outside predation. We can't prevent the world from falling into a fight over the remaining scraps of resources, but we don't have to participate and we can certainly bloody the nose of anyone who comes poking around our territory.


Re the argument for/against empire, I have been largely staying away from the moral argument in my discussions "outside". I acknowledge that I consider empires to be de-humanizing, but then proceed to base the argument for my plan of retrenchment on purely pragmatic grounds -- the US empire, whether one deems is a good thing or a bad thing, is in decline; rather than fight that decline, end up losing everything anyway, and winding up in an end-state for which we are totally unprepared, I argue that we ought to pro-actively give up the global power currently have and reposition ourselves as I've described, taking advantage of the fact that we would at least have some control over the process and be moving to that end-state in a prepared fashion. And the responses generally are the ones I mentioned earlier, peppered with arguments against isolationalism, turning our back on the world, etc, etc. Or "we aren't an empire, the empire isn't in decline, and we're obligated to maintain it in order to protect the world from itself anyway." It is humorous, in a resigned, cynical sort of way.

donalfagan said...

This is a version of the story I mentioned before:

[[[The head of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland is asking the governor to intervene in the awarding of medical cannabis licenses because the selected companies lack diversity, denying minorities the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an emerging industry.

"I am completely disappointed with the medical marijuana commission and the decision that they have made in terms of awarding licenses," said Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, chairwoman of the black caucus. "Clearly, there was no effort at all to factor in minority participation and make sure that it's inclusive of everybody in the state of Maryland."

Members of the black caucus and others have raised concerns that the 15 preliminary licenses for growing medical cannabis and the 15 licenses for processing the drug, which were awarded this month, mostly went to companies led by white men. Lawmakers and some losing applicants are mulling legal action.

According to the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association, one license went to an African-American-led company and two went to companies led by women. Some critics note that African-Americans are disproportionately prosecuted for marijuana use and now are being shut out of profiting from the legalized industry.]]]

In short, it seems clear that MD and PA will be limiting medical marijuana production to an approved list of growers and processors. Being able to get medical cannabis would be good for my sick relative, but having to buy from a limited group of providers seems like less of a cause for celebration.

W. B. Jorgenson said...


I'm almost certain Trump doesn't view his policies as anti-empire. If he did, he'd also want to cut military spending down to more reasonable levels, and wouldn't be anti-China. If he put those two in place, I'm pretty sure he'd hit all the steps necessary for the end of the American Empire, in a reasonably peaceful way too. It wouldn't be perfect, but it beats holding on to it until it drags the country down with it.

MindfulEcologist said...

Hi John and everyone,
This is the kind of post that helps clarify my thinking and for that there really is no way to say thank you enough. I am always amazed how powerful it is to call a spade a spade - and how difficult it can be to get to that point when what is involved is so intimately hooked up to powerful emotions such as our hope and fear, love and hate.
Yesterday's mail delivered Dark Age America. I am savoring the read but even so far I really must say your accuracy of message and clarity of delivery has reached a new level. Nice work in the great work.
Though this might be more relevant to your other blog I wanted to share that I recently completed a set of two posts dealing with the difference between dogmatic and non-dogmatic faith. As the true believers carry on their destructive ways into the days of the crumbling empire it seemed a useful addition to the cognitive tool belt for those working hard on thinking for themselves and not being swept up by the collective. The post is called Kindness is Powerful.
I also wanted to share a title from '96 you might want to look into if you have not already (I know your get-to-it pile is probably already higher than your roof but isn't that the way it always is?) Anyway the title is Under the Influence; The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics by John Goldhammer. As your posts attention turns towards activist groups and what they can or cannot accomplish, this might be timely.

All the best to you and to all participating on the comment threads.

SamuraiArtGuy said...

onething said...

SamuraiArtGuy, Why do you call her Sec. Clinton? Didn't she quit/get fired?

Just a semi-journalistic affection/hornorific, as it was her last Public Office. Not that I am particularly impressed with her conspicuously hawkish tenure as SOS. In the current rancorous political discourse, I try to refer to the candidates somewhat neutrally and respectfully and avoid the unproductive name calling that become the defacto standard. Conversely, I try to refer to Mr Trump as Mr Trump, and not one of his many nicknames.

Of course this all could be a conceit on my part, but it suits me to indulge it.

SamuraiArtGuy said...

JMG said: "Oh bright gods. It just sank in. You and everyone else who's brought up this same endlessly repeated thoughtstopper -- what are you saying? 'IT'S DIFFERENT THIS TIME!'"

I'll stick my tongue firmly into my cheek and take the contrary view. It's Different This Time because the Republic as we've known it might not survive this one, or be damaged beyond restoration by any conceivable coalition of the sane. The forces leading to decline are too well established and have too much momentum – and both candidates will have ample opportunities (tho' not necessarily by design or intent) to accelerate them through their self-indulgent or corrupt (or both) choices of policies.

Say what you might about the unfolding century, it's certainly not going to be BORING.

Sven Eriksen said...

Quote JMG:

"All we need now are Catiline and Caesar."

I'm sure they will put in an appearance in due time...

Josh said...

JMG - I have a slightly different theory I'd like to hear your opinion on.

I think the success of the same-sex marriage movement, compared with the impotence of the climate/environment movement, can be attributed at least in part to the fact that a successful outcome is not threatening in the least to the personal and professional lives and lifestyles of affluent liberals. (Perhaps you have noted this in previous posts?)

Socially progressive affluent liberals get an emotional "high" from publicly displaying ideological generosity towards ethnic, religious, gender, and sexual identity minorities. Supporting these groups is a tremendous opportunity for virtue signaling, especially in the social media age. What's more, a "win" policy-wise leaves everything intact for privileged affluent liberals, and they can celebrate a victory and congratulate themselves for their nobility and compassion. A "loss" policy-wise is almost as nice, since the neanderthal, bigoted Republicans and conservative Christians can be vilified to the extreme. Some folks probably get even more of a kick out of vilifying their enemies than celebrating with their comrades.

I believe these issues of identity politics around gender, race, religion, etc. have swollen to occupy so much of our national discourse precisely because affluent liberals can support the progressive agenda as vociferously as they like - while gaining opportunity for virtue signaling among one's friends and the chance to denounce and denigrate one's opponents - without any real threat to the status quo. If identity groups win policy victories, it doesn't cost affluent liberals anything.

However, on environmental/climate issues, these same progressives turn reactionary, in my opinion. As you have often noted, when the discussion turns to the types of fundamental economic changes necessary for human society to operate within the constraints of a livable planet, progressive affluent liberals take the position of "yeah but...iPhones!...Tesla cars! and wind!...robots to do our farming!" and other variations on the common sort of grasping denialism.

The reality is that a "win" policy-wise for the environment/climate (granted, unimaginable with the current politics) would spell the end of the status quo socio-economic status, privileges, and comforts of affluent liberals...all the way down to deeply held personal and professional identities (existential crisis). At some level, maybe subconsciously, many affluent liberal progressives sense this, and it disturbs them. I think the cognitive dissonance around this partially explains the intensity with which some progressives now insist that former Bernie supporters *have* to vote for Hillary. If Hillary wins, it means the status quo is safe (for a little while). Trump obviously is a huge X-factor, much more likely to threaten the current order. When affluent liberals denounce Trump, on the surface it can be about his attitude towards minorities and identity groups - beneath the surface it could reflect affluent liberals' fear of substantive change.

If you think about it, affluent liberals’ support for identity groups is grossly self-serving in a lot of ways.


Josh said...


Your thesis that all either party has to do is wave the scary other party in front of their constituents in order to get enough support to eek out elections is right on, in my opinion. Wedge issues are really helpful to the parties for crystalizing this sort of polarization. However, in my view, most "regular Americans" (Democrats or Republicans, even many or most conservative Christians) share a live-and-let-live attitude on most things - I see this as being a characteristic part of our culture. From time to time, fervor and polarization can be stoked up by the parties and media (manifest as the latest outrage in the "culture war") to the point that "live-and-let-live" gets over-rided on some wedge issue in time for an election. My sense is that "live-and-let-live" finally won out on same sex marriage, and correspondingly its utility to the parties as a wedge driver dissipated. I suspect that successful campaigning by marriage equality activists helped the process, but in the end I think it was mainly just the prevailing "live-and-let-live" ethos of our culture.

If this explanation is sound, then it suggests that politicians are dis-incentivized to really do anything (make change) on polarizing issues. It is more valuable to the parties to have us divided into neat constituencies and fighting each other - in other words, *not* to resolve these issues, but to maintain active tumult.

Social issues work well for this purpose, since they are mostly emotional/psychological in nature. They are about things that people have strong feelings about, like abortion, which don’t necessarily have a “right answer” in the sense of some scientifically demonstrable fact, but come down to folks’ beliefs. But when it comes to physical issues of environment, energy, economics, stoking the culture war doesn’t really work. Could this be why we spend 99% of our time arguing over gender identity, etc., and 1% or less talking seriously about unsustainability and overshoot?

onething said...


"On the other hand, I was having some trouble squaring that with the idea that these agreements ultimately serve as wealth pumps, bringing extra treasure to America."

It isn't exactly the case that eliminating the free trade agreements would bring less wealth to the U.S. Rather, there is an international corporate wealthy elite who bring this wealth to themselves and their offshore accounts. That they often live in the U.S. is almost irrelevant. In other words, its a concentration of wealth to the detriment of a more sound economy.

234567 said...

I have thought that climate change (formerly global warming), well, is just a beast of a thing to try and quantify. Politicians can be relied on to ignore it (Hillary making plane flight of 20 miles, for example) unless it is a full-on, tangible crisis that threatens their position immediately. Government just works that way, crisis to crisis, self generated or not.

But climate change is not 'in your face', so it doesn't come up often, and gets pushed to the back burner. What mitigating it entails is not BAU, so politicians ignore it until they cannot, because business wants BAU. What is required is changing personal habits, and for some reason people in the world rely on .gov to pass laws to force them into change. That never works - whatever the issue is seems to squeeze into black or gray markets and persist.

I think what is needed is actually a change in lifestyles, and to accomplish that, one has to bring out the big guns and make people desire to dial it back.

Sci-fi breeds the future - just read some of the old stuff, which we are living in shades of today. I have solar powered satellite internet at my farm. Solar powered fuel and water pumps, lots of little things are solar. We use a hand washer and do our work clothes daily - hang to dry overnight. We switched from AC only to AC only in Jun-Sept, and let attic fan doe the spring and fall months. Even with the greenhouse fans and aquaponics pumps running in summer, our electric bill is only $150/month. Every time we add a solar panel and a 12V battery, another decrement in the bill occurs.

You cannot do this in apartments or offices - they are not designed for it like they were in the 1930's. And there are so many laws against things like vegetables gardens and such, or permits (sorry, isn't that a form of tax?) that requires some know-nothing to check your work.

I am having a difficult time seeing how these entities of .gov will ever let go of their slice of pie (taxes/permits/regulations/etc.). They add them constantly - and the real purpose is graft. The load is very high now, high enough that many of us are going the guerilla way.

So waiting for .gov to help with climate change is waiting for more permits/taxes/regs and less financial resources to tackle it.

I think what is needed is a religion almost, something grassroots and not astroturfed. It means lowering your expectations and looking around you at the world, and there are many people who refuse to do this, much less actively seek it.

Just some thoughts...

Jasmine said...

Dear Mr Greer

Good post. There were a number of things I was thinking of saying but they have already been covered. I know that this is a little off topic, but I have been thinking about recent attempts that have been made to highlight peak oil and why it is difficult to get people to understand the subject. One of the problems is that all previous oil shortages have come about as a result of political events, like the Arab oil embargo, world war 2 etc and this has shaped our perception of what peak oil will be like. While there are lessons to be learnt from these events, we can easily forget that peak oil is driven by geology and not politics and geology acts on a different time scale from politics. As Harold Wilson said “In politics a week is a long time” and previous oil shortage came about over a very short time scale. Peak oil however is a process that will take place over decades. This is something we forget at our peril as when oil shortages do not happen overnight like they did during the Arab oil embargo, we can easily assume that there is no problems. Peak oil is more likely to manifest itself in decreasing EROI, demand destruction, stagnating economies, financial crisis etc. With all this other stuff going on it will be easy to miss the underlying cause.

234567 said...

My son said it best (age 24):"The system is designed to take more money as you make more money - that's it plain and simple. So the solution is to not make more money. That means not living on credit, paying things off and buying things that last and are simple - with cash. And barter and trade all you can - because that is a transaction they cannot even begin to track. That's why I tilled garden in exchange for a case of jam - it stays between us."

I'm proud of him...

Wendy Crim said...

I love this comment.

JoAnna said...

Ok, let me rephrase my concern, and add my perspective on how it relates to solutions. (For a drink to go with these conversations, I'm partial to our local Vermont WhistlePig Rye, or Rowan's Creek bourbon.. ;))

​I completely agree with you that the environmental movement has been guilty of all 4 of the points you mentioned. In my opinion, it has also paralyzed people by shaming and yelling at them, reinforcing the mistaken notion that the only way to "save" nature is to remove oneself from it. (As if we could...) That whatever humans do, we'll probably just screw things up even more. As my friend and permaculture mentor Ben Falk likes to point out, the logical conclusion to those types of arguments is really just suicide -- if you really want to "leave no trace" that's pretty much your only option, since we are all a part of nature and can't get outside of it, no matter what technological progress tells us.

This is where I feel the main flaw of the environmental movement has been, as you've pointed out: activists use a bizarre guilt complex to shame (and often, exclude) people who aren't vegan/green/whatever enough, which causes many to stick their fingers in their ears and ignore whatever inward knowledge they might have that their lifestyle is unhealthy or hypocritical. The only way to address this is to meet people where they are, and give them direct, simple, participatory goals to accomplish. To help them feel connected to nature, and not to believe the "leave no trace" B.S. To own their own footprint and attempt to actually do some GOOD with it, to the best of their knowledge and abilities. (I loved the idea someone here tossed out of getting hipster-lumberjack-dressed guys from the cities to go out and get some real work done.) This focus on positive impact is what drew me to permaculture years ago, and which I think is missing from the environmental movement today. It sounds to me like that's what you are driving at in this series as well. Focusing the movement on simple, concrete (and VERY specific) steps, paired with campaigning for the curtailment of subsidies to fossil fuel industries, could provide positive direction for the movement, and hopefully arrest the drift of negativity and vagueness it has fallen in to.

It's just that on less positive days, I see how easily distracted people are, by TV and Facebook, or by the promise that someone else (government, technology, etc.) will fix everything for them. When that happens, understandably I think, it leads me to wonder whether we really have it in us to change, hence the concerns I expressed in my earlier post. I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on what we can do!

Karl said...

(Tongue in Cheek) - Everyone, please don't worry - Paul Krugman has explained everything. He said today that "No, Donald Trump, America Isn’t a Hellhole". Well, that settles it. Back to business as usual.

Yep, our elites are still senile but they are coordinated enough to spit out nearly identical headlines/copy.

And it's not just Trump, I saw a complaints by Green party supporters about the wave of articles about "anti-science" "vaccine-denier" Jill Stein which were obviously coordinated.

I also watched Hillary's speech yesterday. Another attempt at what you termed the "rescue game".

Ed-M said...


Crikey, 151 comments already!

You've given a short rundown of the four peculiar habits of left-wing movements since the 1980s that have stymied these movements from going forward; and I have to tell you, those habits really are peculiar to the left.

But I believe there's something or some things additional that contribute to the hindrance of the anti-anthropogenic-climate-change movement.

The first of course, is the gross hypocrisy of some of the leading lights campaigning for the reduction of Carbon Emissions while hardly doing anything themselves, the prime example being Al Gore and his 36-room mansion in Tennessee. When one of these guys says to Joe Grabasandwich, "You HAVE to reduce your carbon footprint, drastically!" while all they've done was change to Fluorescent Lightbulbs, bought a Prius, or even had an expansive and expensive Solar PV System to show off their (faux) green bona fides and don't give the guy any ideas on how to shrink the impact in a way that won't cost him a bundle -- probably because the things he CAN do, like the things SLClare did, is SO 70s, which make these pseudo-greenies cringe. Now what does that say to you?

The second, I think, is a lot more formidable, and that's about future reward for present sacrifice. People would gladly sacrifice for the time being so that they, or their kids, can live better lives somewhere down the road. At least I hope the American people would but I'm not too keen on them doing so these days.

One of the other commenters just said, and I forgot which, that we in the United States would have to reduce our fossil fuel consumption by 75 PERCENT. That's a heck of a lot to ask for, particularly since our built landscape literally mandates automobility and incessant driving. I mean, are you going to tell the average American that they are going to have to crowd into the inner cities and stay there for the rest of their lives, since living carbon-free in the typical US suburb bascially means a daily Bataan Death March (hat tip to JHK) or a bicycle trip in a hot wet blanket, just to get to school, to work, to get groceries, to do errands and so on; and their children, grandchildren, etc., will have to live in the same place essentially for ever, so that we can trade in Near Term Extinction -- which is what the IPCC's Business As Usual scenario implies -- for a lesser Hell On Earth? I don't think so.

Which is why Climate Change Activists instead are trying to compel governments to force businesses to decarbonise their cultures, practices and products. Which means, of course, that the financial and investment sector must divest in fossil fuel companies, which the Rockefeller Foundation and other concerns have proceeded to do. Now there's a $13Tln pool of money pulling for renewables and decarbonisation. But I don't think the Activists have thought this through, nor thought out the implications for the people at large, including their wealthy and upper middle class donor base.

Jess sayin'

Steve Thomas said...

Wrote this last night, forgot to post it; the discussion may have moved on in the meantime.

On Clinton-Trump Hysteria, thank you. I've been saying the same thing about people on the Left (hadn't thought about the Right) in so many words. If you went back in time to 10 years ago and told people that if you can just be patient, in a decade we'll have a major candidate who openly calls George Bush a liar and pledges to re-negotiate NAFTA, they would jump for joy. Fast forward ten years... Well, it turns out we have to vote for the neocon that supported every foreign war and free trade deal of the last 2 decades because Hitler or something.

On the failure of the climate change movement... One of the lessons I draw from the success of the gay marriage movement is that the message that worked is "We are just like you." This was pushed at every level-- gay people are just people who happen to have a different preference in one particular area. I know for a fact that there were voices within the movement pushing against this-- I remember about 15 years ago reading an article in a far-left joining which cited approvingly an action in which "Radical Queer" activists had plastered their campus with images of hardcore gay porn with the caption "We Are Not Just Like You." From this vantage point it's easy to see which message works, and which doesn't.

The environmental movement I think has completely failed in this regard. On the one hand you have radical groups like Earth First which deliberately flout every social convention they can-- as though dreadlocks, dumpster diving, polyamory and never bathing had anything to do with protecting forests. Then you have the middle-class prius-drivers who flout their eco-piety and look down their noses at others. Finally, you have the name brand activists who come out of the Democratic Party or, worse, Hollywood and don't even bother trying to relate to the proles. I'm very much including myself here. When I was involved in radical politics I made it my business to alienate people, and couldn't see past the delusion bubble I had surrounded myself in.

I wonder how to get past this? To be "openly environmentalist" (I hate that word) but also be "just like anyone else"? It would surely require personal action and also mixing with others of all walks of life, without the usual self-righteousness. What else? I don't know.

Stacey Neanderthal said...

Wow. Trying to follow this whole discussion all the time would be like a full time job, except the getting paid part. I've only skimmed it a little bit, but here's some things that are salient to me:

1) Brian Kaller said:

Despite all this, it felt like the Greens – and any burgeoning group accomplishing something – were quickly invaded by a hard core of (for lack of a better word) middle-aged hippie leftist activists, who tended to bully other people at meetings and make gatherings sufficiently rancorous that they drove away anyone but themselves. An old leftists' club set themselves up as Green candidates, interrupted and talked over people who had been Greens far longer than they, and began presiding over meetings as though they had authority.

I spoke at gatherings about how, if we stuck to one single issue – say, replanting clear-cut woods, or building railroads -- and acted like a disciplined organisation, we could use our single-digit percentage on Election Day to threaten or reward the major parties. The loudest voices, though, could only talk about their dreams of winning power and taking revenge on their perceived opponents, and seemed driven more by psychological issues than by strategy.

2) Lisa Mullin said:

(1) We police 'sell outs', and we have had some, those who did are quickly brought into line, even a couple of our most senior people in the US got hammered when they started to sell out, one in particular (long a fighter for gay rights) essentially got the boot.
(8) Unity. Despite our diversity we know with 100% certainty that there is a lage and powerful minority that want us all dead. Every single last LGBTI person. It tends to concentrate the mind. Naturally we have internal fights, spats, fall outs and all the rest, but we try to keep it within the family and usually it gets sorted out fairly quickly. Those who go public with internal fights get, see (1), put in their place real fast.

My perception is that Brian is pointing out a real thing that exists and that Lisa is showing us how the psychology works.

As a newly-out-of-denial bisexual man, I have to say that I'm ambivalent at best about having anything at all to do with this Liberal-Army-Co-opted LGBT{Q,2S,I,A,whatever} community that works along those lines. I don't do HERDS!! They're stifling. Original thinking is clearly not welcome. That's all bad enough by itself, but what qualifies as "selling out"? For example, I think that persecuting Christian bakers because they won't make wedding cakes for us is nonsense. There's no reason to interfere with the way another person centers their soul just because they're making you find a new baker. So I guess if I want to be out, then I have to hide that belief, lest I be "corrected" and brought back into line, right? Yeah, good luck with that!!

Dan said...

@JMG/Patricia, and who would Caesar be in this analogy? Even if you grant Trump's claimed wealth (which seems highly exaggerated), he would still be small potatoes compared to Crassus. In fact, if you take Crassus' 200 million sesterces and adjust it to ~2010 he would be worth about $170 billion which would make him richer than anyone on Earth today. Buffet/Bloomberg/Gates (the first two have actually made political noises, whereas Gates less-so but is closer in wealth) seem closer analogies to Crassus.

I myself see a closer parallel to Caesar than to Crassus. Caesar had a bit of a playboy youth. He was highly endebted and the entire Gallic operation was a means to establish a power basis via populist outreach. Consider that Caesar was then abandoned by the Roman political establishment, and in fact directly threatened after he did secure his power basis via the Gallic wars. The march on Rome was his bold response to that threat.

pygmycory said...

On the subject of marriage and poverty, here in BC, income assistance (welfare) and disability benefits are lower if you are married or in a 'marriage-like relationship'. In particular, two married people on disability get $250 each for rent. If you're single, you get $375 for shelter. If you're disabled and married to a non-disabled person, you get nothing for shelter costs. I believe similar numbers are true for people on income assistance. Rent of one bedroom in a shared apartment in Victoria is most often $500+. A batchelor or 1 bedroom is $800+ most often.

As you can see from this, there's a financial disincentive to marrying if you are likely to depend heavily on government supports in BC. The 'marriage-like relationship' status is determined by the agency doling out money, so there is a danger of them deciding you are married to your roommate if you share bills, a bank account, and/or live with the same person for more than 9 months at a stretch. Given that roommates are near-essential for making ends meet if you don't happen to luck in to a VERY low-rent apartment, or are able to work a significant amount, this can easily lead to major problems for people who aren't even married.

pygmycory said...

In other news, it looks rather like Housing Bubble 2.0 is leaking badly in London, San Francisco, New York, Miami, and possibly Vancouver. I think the last may be in the 'Wile E. Coyote has just run off the cliff edge, but hasn't looked down yet' moment.

Don't take my word for it, but now's probably NOT a good time to buy housing in any of those markets. said...


Agreed that the shy Brexit voter had an impact on the eventual result.

I would say that living overseas, it seems that the social stigma of being a open Trump supporter is far worse than being a Brexit support if you mix among educated, middle class and salaried folk (like I do).

Indeed, I would not admit to a soul that I was thinking of supporting Trump as the social reaction would be extreme. I don't know if the same levels of stigmatization are the same in the States but certainly on online forums the hatred towards openly Trump supporters (racist, bigot, fascist, Nazi) is frightening.

My hunch, and it is only that, is that among American voters who mix with liberal, college educated professional circles, the natural reaction will be to keep quiet about their intentions to vote for Trump and take their revenge in the ballot box. And their percentage number of the electorate are probably much higher than even in the UK during the Brexit referendum.

There was a very interesting UK programme on the rise of Trump recently which discussed this issue.

The most startling bit was at the end. A Trump impersonator was asked, based on peoples reaction to him (as Trump), how he would do at the polls. His answer - Trump would win by a landslide.

Regarding Europe, the rise of the populist/far right continues to grow. I would be interested to know your thoughts on whether Western Europe may enter some kind of civil war in the future.

Bob Patterson said...

Nassim Taleb has brilliantly written about "black swans" and the failure of complex systems. A 2 billion dollar radiation clean-up has been caused by using organic instead of inorganic kitty litter when storing nuclear waste.

Juhana said...

Writing from NW Europe, I have not great amounts of information concerning fall and decline of environmental movement in US. But your essay gave some insight about phenomenon that was new to me. This commenter of yours, Stacey Neanderthal, also nailed the puritan world view of SJW activists by quoting two very revealing commenters and taking obvious conclusions. Thanks for that, Stacey.

Here in Finland we have working railroad system. Railroads are HEAVILY subsidized from taxes, as are small, local peat power plants and that kind of stuff. We have something called "luxury tax" attached to private cars. Portion of this luxury tax is half of car's price. So, if manufacture's price for car is 150 000 euros, it costs here 300 000 euros. You also pay very hefty car tax every year, just for owning automobile. Gasoline has also over 100 % tax attached to it. If oil company sells gasoline with x price, it is x times x here. You are instructed to be very stingy when using gasoline, because it truly hurts your wallet even now, when oil prices are down. One litre of gasoline costs some 1,3 euros at pump even now, if it is "biodiesel". Purer oil products cost even more.

All this environmental "guidance" is done by pragmatic mainstream parties. Loony Left fanatics have only negligible part in all this stifling of private car ownership.

If fanatics such as described by Stacey Neanderthal in his comment would have say here, there would be heavy resistance against their policies. Not now, because all this stifling and taxing of car ownership is done only for pragmatic reasons, by pragmatic parties. They never talk about Loony Left subjects, but boring subjects such as deficits when they raise car taxes even more.

Actually, Loony Left is active here is one field of Social Change For Better Future (tm). It is immigration. And oh boy they have stirred Finns into resistance mode so dangerous it has not been seen here in orderly North for generations.

If they had been active also in private car field, I could enjoy cheap, happy motoring in our country for decades to come.

dex3703 said...


While I partially disagree with your premise on why the climate change/environmental movements have failed, you hit the nail on the head in terms of the piling-on, circular-firing-squad for intellectual purity means of failure.

I-732 is a Washington State ballot initiative to establish a state carbon tax. It was designed by an economist to solve two unrelated problems, but in a way that yokes them in what I find a constructive way. Money raised by the carbon tax is rebated to citizens via a 1% reduction in the sales tax and the elimination of the onerous B&O tax leveled on businesses (WA has no corporate tax per se; the B&O tax is a blunt instrument that clobbers small businesses but lets bigger concerns off).

Yes, this mixes two things, but it's straightforward enough, and takes advantage of the fact that 1) people are concerned about climate change and will do a little something for it, and 2) it's well acknowledged that the WA tax system is an unfair mess hated by everybody. I think it's smart to link "cutting taxes" with a carbon tax.

Your observation is trenchant in that the usual suspects are not supporting and trying to hobble this initiative. A competing initiative went nowhere because everybody's pet cause had to be addressed, argued about over and over, and made ideologically pure. This competing initiative tried to get I-732 to join it; in other words, to give up its signatures. When I-732 wouldn't do it (after a long comment and discussion period), the losers are being sore. The "progressive" voter guides do not endorse I-732 exactly because it focuses on only one (or two conjoined) issues.

This past year has made me see why those on the right hate "liberals".

Joel Caris said...

Hi Shane,

Oh yes, I've met the preppers, homesteaders, and survivalists--more on line than in person, but some of the former, too. I certainly got linked to by them fairly regularly back when I ran my old blog, Of The Hands, as well as the evangelical Christians I mentioned before. Granted, I would say I tapped into that audience more than the preppers--maybe because of the tone of my writing, maybe not. But there's a whole contingent of people also tied into the Weston A. Price foundation and who are big fans of Sally Fallon and her Nourishing Traditions cookbook (I'm also a fan, but not nearly so hardcore about it as some) and that's the audience with which I seemed to be most popular.

My favorite, though, was always having conversations in person, and I've had a number of them with conservatives, libertarians, and people on the rightward political end of things. There's a lot surrounding food, skills, homesteading, connection to the land, and so on that you can connect on regardless of political differences--and having those conversations actually helps to open up broader political conversation some of the time. It also helps each of you understand that the other is a human being with their own beliefs and motivations and particular ways of viewing the world, rather than just some enemy who must be defeated.

One of my favorite aspects of farming and the local food movement is the way it's served to expose me to people outside my typical cultural confines and how it provides a bridge across those cultural differences. It does that in a way I don't see very often.

Golocyte Golo said...

Golocyte, it sounds to me as though you're arguing that climate change activism is a waste of time, because there's no conceivable way that it can accomplish anything useful. Is that really what you believe?

Yes, that is what I believe.

I think climate activism will, at best, push the needle a bit in Western countries, but the slack this frees up (which won't be much) will only make more fossil fuels available to E. Asia, SE Asia, Indian, and African economies, where climate change activism (a luxury of the comfortable) won't catch on anytime soon. Keep in mind that China emits twice, yes twice the CO2 that the USA does, and in 10-15 years it will likely emit 3 times what we do, and India will likely overtake us for the no. 2 spot.

That's right. In 10-15 years, China and India will add about 2 additional USAs worth of carbon dioxide emissions. Anybody still want to say that flying a little less is going to do anything?

Contrary to this fatalism of mine, I'd opine that the larger environmentalist movement has immense possibilities for the kind of limited, immediately beneficial action we're talking about. Preservation of endangered species, protection of wilderness, halting of deforestation, protection of fisheries, etc are GREAT ideas, the legacies of which may be some of the few gifts our society can send forward to the peoples of the far future.

Actually it might be great if we can CAUSE a few extinctions too, like eliminating as many infectious diseases we can (though the ship may have sailed on that one), and eliminating as many human-borne parasites as possible. Guinea Worm may be permanently gone soon, which must surely be one of modernity's great legacies assuming we actually pull it off.

What I think most likely is that the CO2 emission problem will be automatically eliminated in 30 years, give-or-take a decade or two, when all the slow forces we talk about on this blog (energy depletion, political dissensus, military overconfidence, decreasing marginal returns on technological complexity, stupidity of leaders) finally cause a serious break, and major violence returns. I believe our economic systems are substantially more vulnerable than they were prior to the 1914 war.... partly because of so much more wealth is hallucinated now, partly because interconnectivity and specialization leads to vulnerability, and partly just because the tower is so much higher now.

On the other side of that crisis, we will find----like the Confederates and Texans in the story----that a great deal of our infrastructure is cost-effective to maintain but not cost-effective to rebuild. We will resume civilization on a lower level, and CO2 emissions will be much lower automatically.

M Smith said...

Regarding my post about why everything must be vetted with ThePoor, and only ThePoor, in mind: People have been focusing on the pharma company and mentioning their corruption and overlooking the point, which is that stupid agendas give rise to stupid law. I'm not defending Pharma, and I happen to agree that the cost is outrageous. (I will note that in Mexico, one pays $13 for an incredible lobster dinner with two beers, but I choose to live here, not Mexico, and that includes paying what I'm billed here, not Mexico.)

0bamacare is a prime example of stupid law written when everything is measured by whether it benefits ThePoor. Before ACA, ThePoor went to the ER, got treated, and may or may not have paid the bill. Post ACA, the middle class has for the most part bought outrageously priced "insurance" that they can't afford to use, and ThePoor (wait for it) go to the ER, get treated, and may or may not pay the bill. Nope, that's for law-abiding suckers whose traceable assets can be seized by collectors, or the IRS. ThePoor don't have to worry about that. The middle class, however, can't sleep at night.

And it didn't help ThePoor. No one in the US was "denied access" to medical care in the first place, and Medicaid programs had already existed in every State for decades. (In the US, a hospital ER must treat anyone regardless of their ability to pay, so that was always a lie.) But they surely made criminals out of some people who refused to capitulate to the Ruler's decree, did not buy insurance as commanded, and did not pay the fine/penalty/whatever it had to be called.

0bamacare isn't even a good example of my point, really, because it was never intended to help ThePoor, it was a blatant gift to Big Medicine. donalfagan's posts about medical MJ sum it up much better:

"...MD is doing the same thing. It made the Baltimore news because they are planning blind awards of licenses (to dodge charges of favoritism), and critics complain that minorities may be excluded from receiving licenses."

"The head of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland is asking the governor to intervene in the awarding of medical cannabis licenses because the selected companies lack diversity, denying minorities the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an emerging industry."

It's got all the SJW buzzwords: diversity, denying, minorities, and complain.

I couldn't find the reference to the blind awards, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the SJWs could manage to find a blind/lottery "racist".

Once again, the chorus rises: ThePoor (whether they're called minorities, diversities, of color, families, or women) are "hardest hit". Once again, ThePoor should go right to the head of the line, even though they didn't measure up. When someone is forcibly included for a COMPLETELY irrelevant reason, even though s/he couldn't meet the same criteria that 15 others met, uh, don't you kind of worry that they're incompetent? Might wanna think twice before you light up...

If history is any gauge, MD will be tied up in lawsuits while people go without MMJ, the crybabies will eventually be given licenses, and will promptly go out of business NOT because of racism, NOT because of "white privilege", NOT because of the Evil Rich who stole all their money/stole their land/enslaved their ancestors, but because they didn't measure up in the first place.

Quo vadis?

Roy Smith said...

Regarding plural marriage, I think there is an argument to be made against it, based on the harm to society argument. This harm is NOT that some people will be offended by polygamy, which is irrelevant. On the micro-level, plural marriage is just like same-sex marriage, in that it is harmless to society as a whole. However, if polygyny (multiple women married to one man) becomes wide spread (as significant numbers of muslims and mormons would like to see happen) without a concurrent increase in polyandry, then the problem becomes not enough women to go around, leading to lots of unmarried young men with no realistic prospect of marriage. There is a fair bit of sociological research that demonstrates on an empirical basis that societies that allow polygyny are generally more violent, treat women and girls badly, have higher levels of economic inequality, have less paternal investment in children, and are less democratic in governance, among other things. I've never heard of any group that systematically advocates for polyandry, but there certainly are groups that do so for polygyny, so my concern is that opening the door for plural marriage will in practice mean enough men will have multiple wives that significant numbers of young men will be left without any practical access to women at all, and all the social dysfunction that would follow from that situation.

Golocyte Golo said...

Fred, you asked How could a party loose control of its own nominating process by starting with 18 egotists?

I would like to add to JMG's comments, and state that, despite a façade of strength, the GOP knows that demographic and religious changes will make it a minority party in 2 decades or less, unable to win any kind of national majority.

So they are undergoing an identity crisis now, and are internally split over their direction. There are several internal factions pushing it in interesting new ways, and I think there's a chance they will actually grope their way to the some portion of the "unoccupied middle" that JMG talks about. If they manage to do this, we will all be the beneficiaries, even those of us who dislike the Repubs.

That "middle" is easy to see, as JMG has pointed out: the Dems are increasingly the party of the elite liberals and the dependency class. They claim to represent wage-class Americans though they do not. If the Repubs can somehow feel their way to representing actual wage-class interests, they might survive. If they retrench and pander, Ted Cruz-like, to their traditional base---or worse, succumb to Right Wing versions of identity politics: the alt-right, the Ayn Rand-esque libertarians, etc---they are doomed, and probably so are we. For Caesar cometh.

sahsah said...

Having spent some time in activist circles, the first lesson they should probably learn is humility. Most of them seem more interested in demonstrating their (supposed) intellectual and moral superiority than actually getting anything done. I think this leads to another problem, that they spend a lot of time and energy trying to get their opponents to admit that they (the activists) are right and just, rather than focusing on the change they want.

Jo said...


"I mean, are you going to tell the average American that they are going to have to crowd into the inner cities and stay there for the rest of their lives, since living carbon-free in the typical US suburb bascially means a daily Bataan Death March (hat tip to JHK) or a bicycle trip in a hot wet blanket, just to get to school, to work, to get groceries, to do errands and so on; and their children, grandchildren, etc., will have to live in the same place essentially for ever, so that we can trade in Near Term Extinction -- which is what the IPCC's Business As Usual scenario implies -- for a lesser Hell On Earth? I don't think so."

You know, I think we all get our knickers in a knot about things that are so easy to fix - suburban sprawl without walkable schools, shops, services? That is solved by one stroke of an urban planner's pen - all it requires is rezoning. We have so much real estate, spare space and abandoned lots all over suburbia which could easily be turned into commercial zones, with public services and community gardens and all sorts of good things. Two blocks away from my house a Steiner school is operating out of an old nurse's home. I think they pay the council a dollar a year or so to rent it, and have turned an abandoned eyesore into a beautiful asset in our neighbourhood. My daughters have had dancing lessons in two separate church halls and a beautiful Georgian house transformed into a dance studio. Libraries can operate out of vans, medical practices operate out of premises that were once private homes, and last night I bought dinner from a selection of adorable hipster food trucks and caravans that congregate at a local park several nights a week. In times past many businesses have operated out of people's homes, and the one good thing you can say about a McMansion is that it generally has plenty of space for multi-use occupancy!

I think that we tell ourselves stories based on our current experience - ie, this or that is a complete impossibility because this is what we have always known. I think this is where JMG's philosophy of 'look to history for answers' is brilliant, because history certainly shows us that the future we are facing has been lived before with great verve and success. If we change our story from 'this can't be done' to one of 'this MUST be done, so how can we get from where we are to where we need to be, without blaming, shaming or excluding anyone, and with as much good will as possible?' then we will begin to create an excellent future indeed..

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