Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Retrotopia: The Only Way Forward

This is the twenty-fourth (and next to last) installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. At a final meeting between our narrator and Isaiah Meeker, President of the Lakeland Republic, certain unstated agendas are revealed and the future of one of the post-US North American republics takes an unexpected turn...

A taxi brought back to my hotel from Janice Mikkelson’s mansion—one of her flunkeys called it for me—and I spent most of the ride staring out the window and thinking about what she’d said about the prewar rich. I’d heard plenty of stories along the same lines, of course, everybody has, but for some reason my mind kept circling back to the way that they’d dug their own graves and then jumped into them. Why didn’t it occur to them that voting themselves one billion-dollar bonus after another, while driving their own employees and the rest of the country into poverty, was going to blow up in their faces sooner or later?

I was thinking that, staring out at the darkening sky, when a little pale streak brought me back to reality. The dozens of governments and corporations that kept launching satellites even after 2029, when the Kessler syndrome in low earth orbit should have given them a wake-up call, had gone waltzing just as cluelessly into a preventable disaster of their own. I thought of the mess we’d gotten into back home by going long on nuclear power plants in the 2040s, long after it should have been clear to everyone that nuclear power was—what was Fred Vanich’s phrase?—a subsidy dumpster, one more technological white elephant that never paid for itself and only looked profitable because most of the costs were shoved out of sight one way or another. I thought of the war going on a thousand miles south of me just then, and wondered sourly why a species that was so smart at coming up with clever technologies was so dumb about so much else.

The taxi stopped outside the hotel, and I went in, climbed the stairs to my room, and made a phone call. Yes, the call was to Melanie Berger; yes, we spent the evening together; no, I’m not going to go into any of the details. We didn’t talk about progress or technology or the future of the Lakeland Republic, in case you were wondering.

Another taxi brought me back to the Capitol Hotel about seven-thirty the next morning. I tried without noticeable success to coax my electric shaver into giving me a decent shave, then showered and got everything but the day’s clothing packed. I’d considered more than once putting on ordinary bioplastic businesswear for the trip back, knowing that people back home would look at me as though I had two spare heads if I got off the train in Pittsburgh dressed in my Lakeland clothes, but that resolution lasted just about long enough for me to reach into the closet and grab a business suit. The slick clammy texture of the thing made my skin crawl. So I dressed in hempcloth and wool instead, checked my appearance, put on my trench coat and porkpie hat, and headed out the door to my final appointment with the President of the Lakeland Republic.

The weather had turned cold and damp overnight, and stray raindrops spattered down as I walked the familiar six blocks to the Capitol. Another round of scaffolding had gone up on the unfinished dome, and stonemasons were already clambering around up there, laying another course of marble blocks beneath the shelter of brown tarps I guessed probably weren’t made of plastic. Down at street level, people were already picking up the latest papers at Kaufer’s News.  I bought the Blade, glanced at the headlines on the front page:  the fighting in the Gulf and in northeastern Texas seemed to be grinding toward a stalemate; the other North American republics had appealed to the Brazilians and Chinese to stay out of the fighting and try to talk their respective client states into accepting a ceasefire; one of the big Indian telecom multinationals had gone bankrupt—the first corporate casualty of the satellite crisis, though I knew it wouldn’t be the last by a long shot—and stock markets everywhere but Toledo were doing another sickening downward lurch in response.

I stuffed the paper into one of the big outside pockets of my trench coat, crossed the street, and went up  the long walk to the main entrance of the Capitol. It was five to nine, still too early for kids on field trips or photo ops in the Rotunda, so the only people I saw were members of the legislative staff hurrying this way and that, getting ready for what would probably be another hectic day, and a couple of white-haired politicians, one light-skinned, one dark-skinned, talking intently as they ambled toward the Senate end of the building. Me, I headed straight across the rotunda to the door in back and went in.

It still startled me that you could just walk into the offices of the President of the Lakeland Republic. No doubt the uniformed guards in the Rotunda weren’t the only guards in the place, but they were the only ones I saw. I went down the corridor into the front office, said hi to Gabriel Menendez, waited while he called back, shed my coat and hat in the cloakroom, and then through another corridor and the round room with the spiral staircase to Meeker’s office.

“Mr. Carr,” said the President, as we shook hands. “It’s good to see you again.” He gestured toward the side of the room. “Please have a seat.”

The same people who’d been present for my first meeting with Meeker were waiting: no surprises there, though I hadn’t expected them to be sitting in precisely the same chairs. I shook hands all around. “Mr. President, Mr. Macallan, Ms. Patel, Mr. Vanich—” With the faintest of smiles, just for her: “Ms. Berger.”

We got settled. “Before we get to business,” the President said, “I have a bit of good news to pass on:  to you, or course, but also through you to Ms. Montrose. Our State Department heard backchannel last night via an embassy I won’t name that the Confederate and Texan governments are both potentially willing to talk about a ceasefire. No word yet about when or where, much less what terms either side’s likely to demand, but at least they haven’t rejected negotiations out of hand.”

“That’s good to hear,” I said.

“We certainly have hopes,” Meeker went on. “That’s all we have so far, though.” A gesture dismissed the issue.  “I hope you’ve found your stay here—shall we say, instructive.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” I replied. “I don’t mean any criticism at all when I say that in some ways, it’s been two very long weeks.”

Meeker nodded. “Melanie mentioned that you’ve found yourself reconsidering some of your ideas about technology and the like.”

I considered him. “Again, that’s one way of putting it—and that brings me to one last item I’d like to mention before I leave for home.”

“Of course,” said Meeker, smiling. Fred Vanich and Melanie glanced at each other, and I wondered if they’d made another bet.

“I suspect you’re aware,” I said then, “that I had more reasons for coming here than the ones we discussed earlier.”

Meeker turned to look at Stuart Macallan, who said, “Mr. Carr, I hope you won’t mind if I state the obvious. None of us could think of any reason why Ellen Montrose would have sent one of her key advisers here right after the election, when almost any competent staffer could have handled the preliminary work on the the three agreements we worked out. We’ve had plenty of other unofficial envoys come here since the borders opened, of course, and most of them had some agenda other than the one they told us about. We assumed you had one too.”

“With that in mind,” said Meeker, “I’d be most interested in hearing what your other reasons for comong here might be, to the extent that you can talk about them.”

“Fair enough,” I said, meeting his gaze. “You know that Ellen won the election promising across-the-board changes in our national economic policy. She means it, too—we’ve already got the first round of legislation drafted, and everybody’s going to hit the ground running the day after inauguration. I’m sure you know the basic thrust of it.”

“What’s been made public, yes,” said Meeker. “She hasn’t mentioned defaulting on the foreign debt Barfield and his predecessors ran up, but that’s almost certainly going to have to be part of it. Even before this business down south got going, there was no way she could keep her election promises without renegotiating the debt, and that means at least a technical default.”

I gave him a bland look and said, “I can’t comment on that.” He chuckled, and I went on. “The new administration’s going to have its hands full getting the economy a little less dysfunctional, and now there’s what the satellite crisis is doing to stock markets and the telecom industry, not to mention the Confederate-Texas war, to add to the fun and games. Beyond that, though, there’s another set of plans relating to economic regulations, the tax code, and a range of other policies. Those haven’t been made public yet, but when they are, you’re going to find some of them just a little familiar.”

“Indeed?” Meeker said, his eyebrows rising. “Please go on.”

“The short form is that she wants to redirect government support for business away from the high-tech sectors of the economy and into manufacturing and agriculture, and change the tax code and other public policy incentives so that they reward employment rather than automation.”

Jaya Patel waited a moment to make sure Meeker wasn’t about to speak, then said, “I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how sensible that sounds from our standpoint.”

“No. When she suggested it to me, though, I told her to her face that she was stark staring nuts.”

That got slightly glazed looks from the others. “I’d be interested in knowing how she took that,” the President said.

“She expects that sort of thing,” I told him. “You’ve heard about her reputation for blunt talk, right? She hires staff who will talk to her the way she talks to them.  Half the problem with Barfield’s administration is that he only hires people who tell him what he wants to hear.”

He nodded, gestured for me to go on.

“I told her that there was no way the Atlantic Republic could go back to a twentieth-century economy, that nobody would put up with it, and even if we could and they did, it just meant that we’d be eaten alive by less backward nations that kept up with the latest technology. She pointed out that the more we invested in the latest technology the further behind we got, and I dismissed that as the product of outside factors. We had a fine donnybrook—the kind where everybody else on the floor gathers outside the door to listen—and I finally insisted that it simply wouldn’t work. She just smiled and said that it was already working.”

“So she knew what we’ve done,” said Melanie.

I nodded. “I don’t happen to know where she got her information. I know Barfield sent someone from his inner circle over here right after the borders opened, but her report went into a locked file as soon as she got back and I don’t know if anyone but Barfield ever saw it. Ellen’s got connections in surprising places, though. But she told me that policies like the ones she had in mind were working on this side of the border. I simply wouldn’t believe it, and so we made a deal.  If she won the election, she’d come up with some plausible reason to send me over here for two weeks right afterwards and see for myself.  After that, if I could give her a good reason why her proposals wouldn’t work, she’d reconsider them.”

Meeker paused, watching me, and then asked, “And what will you tell her when you get back?”

The words came more easily than I’d expected. “Something that I couldn’t have imagined myself proposing a week ago. I’m going to advise her to go considerably further than she’d planned, and begin moving the Atlantic Republic in the same directions that you’ve gone here.”

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to talk about deep silence by saying it was quiet enough that you could hear a pin drop. That’s what came to mind just then; I’d have had to drop it onto Meeker’s desk—the floor was carpeted—but if I’d done it, nobody in the room could have missed hearing it. Everyone but Melanie was staring at me; she was smiling.

“Well,” Meeker said, recovering before any of the others. “If I may say so, Mr. Carr, that’s quite a compliment.”

“Thank you,” I replied. “I’m not sure whether it’s a compliment to the Lakeland Republic, though, or a criticism of everyone else. It shouldn’t have been so hard to figure out that if you’ve gone down a blind alley, the only way you can go forward starts by backing up.”

Fred Vanich glanced at his boss, and then at me. “It’s a little more complex than that, Mr. Carr,” he said. “Progress, development, going forward. Those are powerful metaphors, and it’s not always easy to think clearly when they’re being waved around by those who have blind faith in them—especially if rich people stand to get much richer by convincing others that here and now, going forward means buying whatever technology they happen to be selling.”

I gestured, conceding the point. “Have you decided how you’ll propose going about the transition?” Jaya Patel asked.

“No,” I admitted. “I’ve only had a couple of days to think about it, and quite a few other things to do in that time. When we get the first couple of rounds of legislation passed, cope with the end of satellite services, and figure out how we’re going to deal with the blowback from the war down south—ask me then and I can probably tell you.”

“If there’s anything our government can do for yours in the process,” Meeker said, “I trust you’ll let us know.” With a sudden amused smile: “For reasons that are not entirely altruistic, of course.”

“I know Janice Mikkelson would love to sell us some streetcars,” I observed.

That got a general laugh. “Yes,” Meeker said then, “but there’s also the point you made when we first talked, about not wanting a war zone or a failed state on your country’s border. If I may be frank, if the Atlantic Republic had kept going the way the Dem-Reps were leading it, it’s an open question whether you could have avoided serious trouble for long. The changes Montrose has announced will help, but it’s going to take quite a bit more to achieve the kind of economic and political stability we’ve managed here. If we can help you make that happen, that’s an investment we’ll consider.” He smiled again. “‘You’ in this case meaning the Atlantic Republic and Ellen Montrose primarily. I don’t claim to know what role you personally will be playing in all this.”

“That’s another issue,” I said. “My position in the new administration was one of the things hinging on my deal with Ellen. Of course there’s the confirmation vote on our side and the usual formalities on yours, but part of our deal was that if I ended up agreeing with Ellen, I was committing to four years as our ambassador to the Lakeland Republic.” I drew in a breath. “So I expect to be back here early in the new year, if everything goes according to plan.”

Meeker considered that and nodded. “That’s welcome news, Mr. Carr.”
“Thank you, Mr. President.” We shook hands. Past the President’s shoulder I could see Melanie’s face. She was smiling as our eyes met.


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John Michael Greer said...

Yes, I decided to go ahead and wrap up the story, postponing other matters for a couple of weeks. Next week's post will be the last episode, and then off it goes to Founders House Publishing for its new incarnation as a book -- and we move on to other themes. In the meantime, you've got one more week to suggest additional themes for inclusion in the narrative; by the time the final episode is posted, I expect to have the manuscript revised and on its way. Enjoy!

Robert Mathiesen said...

Thank you! I was on tenterhooks. Amd wow!

W. B. Jorgenson said...

Hello all, to any in the Ottawa/Gatineau area, we have created a local green wizards group. Thus far, it's two of us, but anyone interested is welcome to join. Our first meeting is Thursday Sept 15 at 6:00 pm, at King Sharma, 205 Bank street. Look for the man with the top hat.

sgage said...

JMG - "I thought of the mess we’d gotten into back home by going long on nuclear power plants in the 2040s, long after it should have been clear to everyone that nuclear power was—what was Fred Vanich’s phrase?—a subsidy dumpster, one more technological white elephant that never paid for itself and only looked profitable because most of the costs were shoved out of sight one way or another."

BTW, I like the arc of the story, right down to Melanie's smile at the end...

But, re: nuclear power, a fellow named Amory Lovins, who started off as a promising sort of eco-economist in the 70's but then became a raving clueless technocornucopian, had just about the most pithy summation of nuclear power I've ever heard:

"Nuclear power is a future technology whose time has past."

And nearly as pithy: "Splitting atoms to make electricity is like using a chainsaw to cut butter."

Looking forward to one last episode...

Justin said...

I've already made more comments and suggestions than I suppose I deserve to, but well, everyone is special on the Internet, so I'll make one more. One fundamental theme throughout your work, especially your nonfiction is that there is almost always a third way out of what looks like a binary situation. It seems like the Lakeland Republic's approach to our challenges represents a third way between, say the path the sort-of-monastic Christian (Mennonite?) order Carr visited earlier in the novel, and the path that the Atlantic Republic is taking. Although I see the merit in the idea of completely reverting to, say, a 17th century level of technology as being an entirely reasonable approach for a small community within a larger, friendly entity like the Lakeland republic, it seems clear to me that without the technologies used in Toledo and other urban centers of the LR, the economic might necessary to purchase the armaments needed to keep the LR sovereign might be too great a burden. I'm curious if these ideas are explored explicitly within the final novel, especially the possible downsides of the Mennonite approach if applied on a national level.

Tidlösa said...

Hmmm... I was expecting a satellite crash in the middle of the Atlantic Republic, or a war between Lakeland and Atlantic, Lakeland responding by shooting down a satellite with one of their crazy scientist masers (I believe somebody else also hoped that this would be the ending)... ;-)

Armata said...

What an awesome early Wednesday treat.

With the Missouri Republic moving in the same direction, it looks like the Lakeland Republic's influence is about to get a lot bigger. Perhaps we might be seeing the emergence of a new major power, based on the wisdom of getting out ahead and taking proactive action to deal with the realities of the deindustrial future. I look forward to reading the concluding post and the book, which I expect I will be passing around copies of to friends and family as a source of inspiration and ideas. Outstanding job and congratulations!

Sven Eriksen said...

Man, you wrapped this up nicely. We've all been cheering on him to get wise. For the movie version I suggest (i.e. demand!) Morgan Freeman as Meeker, Josh Brolin as Carr, Marion Cotillard as Berger and Sam Elliot as the indomitable Colonel Tom Pappas. Make it happen.

Glenn said...

I'm glad to see that the positive part of my prediction for Mr. Carr's future came through. I hope an ex-ambassador will be able to get Lakeland citizenship fairly easily; he knows enough to pass a citizenship test if it's anything like ours!


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

pygmycory said...

With reference to: Yes, the call was to Melanie Berger; yes, we spent the evening together; no, I’m not going to go into any of the details. We didn’t talk about progress or technology or the future of the Lakeland Republic, in case you were wondering.
it is a little jarring to have Peter Carr address the audience directly all of a sudden, and I found it a little jarring. Knocked me out of the flow of the story. I'm saying this as someone who couldn't care less what they were up to.

John Dunn said...

Thanks for the homework assignment, been thinking all week.
-2 wheels are making a comeback - practical bicycles and very small motorcycles for quick delivery of mail.
-AM radio is back, local programming in the day, and turn up the power at night when AM can make the skip. Families cluster to listen to far away sounds. DXing is back. HAMs make a comeback. SW Broadcast returns as the source of far away news. Pour a bucket of water on the ground wire.
-Aladdin Lamps, the ones that burn with a mantle (circa 1910). These don't burn much fuel and have the light of a 60W bulb. About 3/4 the heat output of a space heater. With power out and in winter I've heated rooms to 60+ degrees with two.
-Supply lines for food are decentralized and much shorter. Current approaches make money efficiently, but waste energy. Locavore by necessity. Small gardens,chickens as a gateway drug for goats. Home canning.
-Hand crank tools, and old style tools are back. See Sloane's: A Museum of Early American Tools.
-Water and wastewater an issue. Water is pretty easy with knowledge base, but WW treatment eats the energy. WW Lagoons become a best technology choice.
-Older clothing styles, designed for work and warmth are rediscovered.
-Foxfire and Whole Earth Catalog are studied again.
-Absolutely nothing resembles Burning Man steampunk.
Thanks JMG. --JD

Matt Van de Ven said...


Could you please include a passing remark on a bit more of the social life of the Lakelanders? Your description of restaurants, bars etc is great, but maybe a bit more on what they do for a good time? You may have and I can't remember, but I would love to hear if there is a Fraternal/Club/Society like structure present. It seems it would be a perfect fit (like a good Fedora). I realise it is only a two week timeline, but a passing comment would do it!

Love your work,



latheChuck said...


Leo Knight said...

I suppose you've heard of the South Korean shipping company Hanjin filing for bankruptcy? Perhaps the kickoff to the big game. I can imagine Mr. Carr reading this headline in the Blade.

Angus Wallace said...


This isn't really a comment on the story, which is turning out very nicely. Do you think that the society you've outlined is sustainable, or is it just one stable step in your model of stairstep decline? If the latter, how would you envisage its collapse (or slow decline) unfolding?

Cheers, Angus

NomadicBeer said...

I am a long time reader, but I rarely commented as Unknown.
This episode explains a lot about the almost religious conversion of the main character.
I can't wait to reread this in book form!
I have some retro suggestions for the story.
First, there is a big difference in perspective between people that lived 100 years ago and the 2050 Lakeland republic. In the past, the life was improving visibly every generation. How do the parents in Lakeland imagine their kids' future? Are there any new religions of the fall (like original Christianity or Buddhism)? I know the book most deals with childless people.
Related, I would like to understand if people become more stoic in facing death?
I would guess that family life is more important too. I would like to see a social event (wedding, barn raising etc). How do extended families stay connected?
On the technical side, I wonder if we see the reversal of today's trend - older people would prefer old gadgets while the young would be very proud in correctly using "new" retro technology like the slide rule.


SamuraiArtGuy said...

That did surprise me, but I'm good with it. I was hoping ot expecting some poking at the current bruhaha in Standing Rock. The Missourri River feeds a massive aquifer, supplying several states, nit just the reservation. The Indians are right, and the historical record is ALL Pipelies burst. ALL. And i predict that the respurces devoted to maintainece and safety will comtinue to be cut as scratching the last remmants of petroleum out of the land grow ever more expensive, or Market Destruction, which you have chronicled, makes it not worth bothering.

But of course Indians have litttle voice, and less poliitcal power, and would they please die off and make room for the victors. What's another broken treaty? The sad truth of traties is that nations only keep to treaties up to the point as temptation and/or national interest makes it advantageous to break them.

But the Indians are RIGHT, and are well aware that we ravage the earth at ultimately human peril. But thinking of the next generation, much less seven generations, seems beyond the capability of the corporatocracy, hardwired to seek only profit and shareholder value.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

There must be rules about fraternization between embassy staff on any level and foreign nationals, since it's something that comes up in any longterm posting. Is there any precedent for an ambassador being in a romantic relationship with a citizen of the country he's an ambassador to? Surely that would raise questions about the objectivity of his reports, discretion during pillow talk and ultimately about allegiance. I can see someone in such a relationship being made a special envoy, but not ambassador.

Patricia Mathews said...

Oh, good! I'll put the print publication date in my day book. The 2017 one I'll be buying at the Pagan Pride festival this month, if such is the schedule.

I had thought Ellen Montrose had sent Peter Carr to test the waters and see if Lakeland had anything she could use, but she's miles ahead of me. Now - how is she going to get her reforms through Congress and their lobbyist puppetmasters?

MayHawk said...

JMG-- Another great episode of Retrotopia, I am looking forward to the final installment.

On another topic: Thanks so much for your Review of Edgar Pangborn's "Davy" in "Into the Ruins" Summer issue. I am enjoying it immensely and plan to pick up more of Pangborn's books as I go along.

Gordon Cutler said...

Many, many thanks for this tale, JMG. It's my favorite of all your fictional writing thus far. And it's got more common sense than our collective political class has managed in my lifetime [I was born in Truman's administration]. Lots of copies will be gifted to friends and family and I know that rereads will do for my spirit and gray matter what bottled oxygen does for folks with emphysema ...

John Dunn said...

Just a few more thoughts.
-The far away becomes the exotic. Carr gets many questions about life far away.
-Young people have wanderlust.
-Carr enjoys the crisp and the smell of line dried sheets and shirts. (Use the sheets as a racey touch...)
-Children play with simple toys.

jessi thompson said...

Wow, you write fast! I'm not a great writer, but if it were me, next would be a few months worth of rewriting and revising, and then finally deciding to send it off anyway even though I hate it haha :) that's probably why I'm not a writer! Best of luck on the book, I hope it reaches a wide audience!

Mark said...

Ahhh, a crack in the Berlin Wall - Berlin PA that is. One theme on my mind is how Indian Point, and other nukes make it through the 2nd Civil War; then there is the AR grid. On the other hand, without Vermont Yankee, salmon, smelt, shad could return to the Connecticut and some other rivers, and estuaries could recover without all the phosphate washing into them. Are there any other positive environmental or ecological effects (of reduced human population) imaginable?

I bow to the productivity of your work, and the quality of your methods and standards. It's as inspirational as it is humbling.

Pinku-Sensei said...

@sgage: "Splitting atoms to make electricity is like using a chainsaw to cut butter." I'm a fan of the Smithee Awards for bad low-budget films. One of their awards is called "Cutting Butter with a Chainsaw," which is "Presented to the scene with the most "overkill," or in which extraordinarily difficult measures are taken to solve an otherwise simple problem." Yeah, that does seem to describe nuclear power for electricity generation.

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, you're welcome and thank you.

Sgage, I've found that in talking about nuclear power, the argument none of its promoters can successfully dispute is that no nation anywhere has had a nuclear power industry without massive ongoing government subsidies. That shows right there that it's not an economically viable industry. Lovins' quips are good, but arguments based on cold hard cash are better!

Justin, to some extent that's implicit in the story; I've been trying to make the point that "retro" doesn't mean "back to the caves," it means quarrying the past for things that work better than what we've got now. But I'll consider it.

Tidlösa, nah, it's a utopian narrative, not a Tom Clancy potboiler. ;-)

Armata, thank you. Stay tuned...

Sven, thank you. Freeman was my model for President Meeker, for whatever that's worth -- but I'd be very, very wary of any studio that set out to film Retrotopia, and would want some degree of creative control.

Glenn, or the future could see the Atlantic Republic become just as comfortable as the Lakeland Republic, you know.

Pygmycory, so noted, but I've used the same device before. It's one of the perks of a first person narrative.

John, they're on the list. I can promise you that Burning Man steampunk is a forgotten fad of the pre-Second Civil War past by 2065; real retro Victoriana, of course, is quite another matter!

Matt, I'm revising the whole story, so it's quite possible to put things in earlier. I've already put in a bit where Carr notices a Masonic lodge and a Grange in Hicksville, btw.

LatheChuck, thank you.

Leo, it does sound like a front page story in 2065, doesn't it?

Angus, I'll be hinting about that in the last episode. The short form is that the tier system allows unsustainable infrastructure to be let go of, as county after county votes to go to a lower tier for economic reasons, while tier one counties have already worked out the bugs of something that's sustainable over the long term.

Nomadic, I like the idea of teenagers getting into the latest old thing while their elders cling to more "advanced" technologies! Your points are on the list.

Joel Caris said...

Wonderful! I don't think I mind the focus on wrapping this tale up, though I'll miss it. Well, at least until it's out in book form. I'm excited for that.

I'll agree with pygmycory that the direct address of the audience by Carr felt a little out of place and jarring. I can't recall if there been a direct addressing like that in a previous episode. If so, I don't think it stuck out to me then.

Overall, the story is wrapping up nicely. I wonder if you have one more surprise in store for us?

I thought I'd mention, if you don't mind, a new post I put up at the Into the Ruins blog in which I solicit some letters to the editor for the third issue by asking people to write what critical issue that is currently unmentionable they would like to see featured as the central issue of a presidential run in this country. I've received some great responses, but would love a few more!

Also have a new post up at Litterfall about the compounding consequences feeding us for those who are interested.

Looking forward to next week's finale!

John Michael Greer said...

Samurai, the Standing Rock business is one more in a long string of rearguard actions by activists who've forgotten that you win when you take the initiative away from the other side. Of course the native peoples are right, but that won't keep yet another environmental obscenity from going ahead -- because all the activists know how to do these days is say "No!"

Unknown Deborah, ambassadors are legendary for getting into, shall we say, highly informal relationships with foreign nationals. If there are such regulations, one gathers they're honored mostly in the breach.

Patricia, remember that Montrose's party also won big in the legislative elections, so she's got a comfortable majority in the Atlantic legislature. Still, good to remember that it's early days yet...

MayHawk, delighted to hear it! Pangborn is a treat, and his deindustrial fiction is really worth the read.

Gordon, you're welcome and thank you. I had a hunch that presenting a positive vision of the future -- something that wasn't just more of the same forever, and wasn't a rehash of Ecotopian orthodoxy either -- might be very welcome...

John, into the list they go.

Jessi, I do write fast -- one of the things I've learned from blogging is how to shift my keyboard into overdrive and turn out prose at high speed. (Though I'm not up to the legendary standard of Michael Moorcock, who supposedly wrote his "Runestaff" novels over a series of three day weekends, one weekend per book.) Thank you for your good wishes!

Mark, I'm assuming that the current nukes were decommissioned in a hurry as the Second Civil War heated up, and the high level waste shipped somewhere else, since the last thing the federal government would have wanted was "dirty bombs" in the hands of the rebels! The AR's nuclear power program in the 2040s involved two plants, three reactors each; only one plant was finished, and the cost overruns and equipment breakdowns caused it to be shut down permanently in 2059.

Justin said...

A couple more points, in no way inspired by other commentators (Clinton's honour):

Descriptions of nice sheets as a racy touch is a great idea. I've often thought that the combination of slow exposures and sepia or black and white photography has made the past look far more sexless and dour than it really was.

I would love to see Carr field questions about life in the Atlantic Republic from some curious Lakelanders. Preferably ending with a smart Lakelander cutting to the core of the problems with the Atlantic model of things, much to Carr's discontent.

Finally, I'll echo Toomas' sentiment that most organizations, however progressive, have good reason to not want their employees to do any sort of horizontal diplomacy with employees of a foreign organization, and however progressive the Lakeland Republic might be, my suspension of disbelief, and perhaps my enjoyment in reading the final story, might be improved upon by reading that Carr's liason with Melanie is illicit.

I also promise to work on my run-on sentences.

James M. Jensen II said...

Re: nuclear power

The problem I've had in talking to my father about nuclear power is his conviction that the whole problem is government regulation making it too expensive. He's absolutely convinced that nuclear power would be super cheap if those crazy environmentalists hadn't made everyone so scared that the government made it super expensive to get permission to build one. I've pointed out that nuclear power never took off without subsidies anywhere but to him that just proves his point and he generally starts talking about how safe nuclear plants are if you're not cheap and incompetent like the Soviet Union.

There's no arguing with a mindset like that.

Armata said...

I was thinking specifically of something you pointed out, that the Ohio River valley and adjoining Great Lakes region is the strategic center of gravity in North America. Whoever controls that area is in a position to dominate the rest of the continent. In much the same vein, Halford MacKinder and Karl Haushofer pointed out that whoever controls the Eurasian Heartland is in a position to dominate the Eastern Hemisphere, which is one of the reasons why I expect that Russia will be a major power for a long time to come, especially since it appears to be rapidly recovering from the late Soviet and post-Soviet malaise and getting back on its feet.

Since the Lakeland Republic's isolation seems to be ending, its influence is about to increase big time and it's well-positioned economically and technologically to thrive in the coming era, I could very easily see the Lakeland Republic ascending to great power status and having even more influence (economic, diplomatic, even ideological) on events over the next century or so.

Candace said...

@ I was trying to think of activities that teens would be involved in that would be "retro". I primarily came up with dances and possibly carnivals. Teens in earlier eras were more integrated into household economies. They didn't necessarily have. The free time that teens of the past 70 years have had. The big deals in most of the history I've read was gettingj opportunities to meet other young people and having some mutual activity, one that could be monitored by adults.

So maybe mentioning youth socials? I think they would be events, not something available just any time.

Of course it could include Cosplay. Maybe Steam punk is long forgotten, but maybe a reprinted novel of Robert Louis Stevenson becomes all the rage and every one wants to wear pirate shirts? I hope they don't get hooked on vampires again! Surely even Lakeland Republic can't evade the onslaught of Lowbrow trash, what is their "Twilight" series?

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.

William said...

Well, when will the book be available? I am eager to buy it and read the entire story again.

Does the Lakeland Republic use electricity? Is so, how do they generate it? Store it? My impression of the region is that there is not a great opportunity for hydro. Could be wind.

Thanks for a great possible vision of a future. (Climate seems likely to be much worse by 2065, though)

Keith Huddleston said...

I hope that Montrose can quickly recruit some very stubborn people, or at least has a lot of supporters very sticky with ideas. Each and every setback will be blamed on these "new" ideas. Or are the people of the Atlantic Republic going to completely ignore their talking heads from here on out? (Which could make them very sticky ideologically, indeed.)

If this is a realignment election, what were the polls/political scientists in the narrative missing? Because wasn't this also an upset?

LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Mr. Greer - When Janice Mikkelson told the tail of having to clean out a bunker of the pre war rich who met a bad end ... well, in the novel "The Mandibles" which has been mentioned a time or two here, there is a similar scene. The young hero is making a cross country trip and on a back road, runs across the remains of such a redoubt. Earlier in the book, there were references to the almost semi-mythical rich who had held onto enough of their wealth after financial collapse, to hold up in such bunkers.

I was trying to think of things that might not have been touched on in your story so far. It's been such a long trip :-). Did Carr ever visit a grocery store or farmer's market? What were they like? Quality? Selection? Product labeling? I vaguely remember a trip to a drugstore or chemist ... maybe. Now I don't think he visited any thrift stores. Or, opportunity stores, as my Australian friend calls them. What IS the second hand / flea market / salvage scene like in the Lakeland Republic? Lew

Dennis D said...

One thing that some people may not be ready for is composting toilets, which have come a long way from an outhouse out back. Perhaps Mr Carr can use one, and be surprised by the simplicity and lack of smell involved. Some designs have a slight suction on the bowl to vent any smells up to the roof. The byproduct could go into the city's methane power grid as well. This eliminates the entire problem of black water waste, the output of showers and such can be used directly on gardens.

Jeff Balvanz said...

@John Dunn:
Re: AM radio. Right now the practice in the US is for small-town AM stations (and they still exist) to reduce power during the night to avoid interfering with other stations on the same frequency due to skip. Many even leave the air at sundown. There might not be as many stations in the LR, though, so that might not be a problem. But do you suppose there are people who run higher power stations near the borders to broadcast to nearby countries? Does someone in Lakeland run Radio Free America? Are there circuits for crystal sets somewhere out on the metanet? Do teenage boys hide in their basements and listen to Lakeland jazz and radio dramas?

Also re Aladdin lamps. Those are wonderful, but will there be an adequate source of yttrium to make the mantles? They stopped using thorium because of the radioactivity concerns, mostly in manufacturing (although some manufacturers of gas and kerosene lamps on the Aladdin model just shipped production to a developing country where they didn't have to worry about contamination). The original mantles were made with magnesium, which isn't a rare earth, but they weren't as efficient.

@JMG: this has been a thought-provoking excursion. Thank you!

Eric Backos said...

This weekend was a first for Tower 440. Some of our membership met with a travelling Green Wizard without first posting public notice. In other words, a clandestine meeting.
The traveler, who may reveal himself at his pleasure, offered insight into top-down approaches. It seems that Tower 440’s origin as a supper club for suburban gardeners is a long-term advantage.
And if the Wizardren don’t mind revisiting a previous conversation, our meeting took place at a local establishment that followed the brick building, glass shopfront, salvaged wood, and industrial lighting motif. The problem was that it was a new-built and completely phony. Being a native Clevelander, I’d encountered the real thing – recommendations available – and found the simulacrum disappointing.
The bit of humor I wrote about filling trucks with workmen for environmental remediation projects from hipster bars is no longer funny. We’ve all run into a person who is both well-heeled and miserable. A whole room full was shocking. There are seven stores in the chain we visited. That style of bar is popular worldwide. Wow.

Jack O' Lantern said...

I really enjoyed this serial. It was a nicely-detailed walkthrough a possible way to cope with the unsustainable costs of progress. Easy, engaging writing style. I look forward to the novel form of this story.

Shane W said...

I'd like it if Carr is confused when he sees a phone number AMhearst 5-5678, and is instructed how to DIAL (not push) it... I just pulled out my grandfather's storekeeper/gauger manual and tables (dated 1940 & 1950, respectively) and will enjoy poring over them. I'm amazed by how meticulous they were and how much pride they took in their jobs back then, and how intelligent they had to be (none of the storekeeper/gaugers that worked w/my grandfather had more than a high school diploma, yet had to have advanced knowledge about distilling)

John Michael Greer said...

Joel, thank you. I'll look forward to the next issue!

Justin, so noted.

James, exactly. There's a fundamentalism of progress, exactly parallel to other kinds of fundamentalism, and like them, it's wedged itself into a self-reinforcing belief system that prevents disproof. All you can do is walk away.

Armata, a future fiction project I had in mind would trace out the geopolitics of North America in the late deindustrial dark ages, and yes, the Ohio valley would be the linchpin region. Unlike other pivot areas -- the Ukraine and northern Mesopotamia come to mind -- it's geographically defensible, and so I suspect its role will be more like that of northern France (the pivot area of western Europe) -- not a zone to be fought over but the heartland of a dominant polity. But we'll see!

Candace, dances and carnivals, certainly; in rural areas, Grange halls hosted a lot of dances back in the day. Cosplay? That seems to be a very modern habit, as it presupposes lots of disposable income plus opportunities to get together with other cosplayers to show off your new kit. I'll have to think about that.

William, it should be available for sale by the holiday shopping season. As for electricity, that's already been covered.

Keith, it was an upset as well as a realignment election, and what the pundits didn't see is the same thing a lot of pundits have been missing of late: the 80% of the population that isn't affluent and doesn't dominate the media discourse also has a say in things, and used it. You're right that I should make that point a little more forcefully.

Lewis, hmm! Kudos to Shriver for getting that edgy. As for the shops in question, they're on the to-consider list.

Dennis, composting toilets would be used outside of the cities -- in town, fecal waste goes straight to the power plants via basement tanks pumped out by municipal workers. The residue is sold to farmers as fertilizer, as noted in an earlier post.

Jeff, you're welcome!

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, a lot of people are miserable these days. Most Americans hate their lives, and with good reason. The question is simply how to point out to them that they have options other than continuing to lead lives they hate until they drop.

Jack, thank you!

Shane, okay, that's a good one. Of course he'd have no idea how to use a rotary dial, and would have to read instructions or get help the first time he tried it!

gwizard43 said...

A highly satisfying penultimate chapter!! Thanks very much, JMG. :)

I've just started reading Fleming's 'Surviving the Future,' and already I can see some parallels between the Lean Economy and Lean Culture he describes, and your description of the Lakeland Republic.

Fleming does have a thing for the concept of Carnival (even makes it into the subtitle) - perhaps you'd consider some mention of a carnival as revived in the LR?? Could even work nicely as a central theme for a many things can happen at a shared ritual like carnival, after all, where our 'second natures' (in Fleming's terminology) are allowed to come out and play!

BTW, I would absolutely LOVE to see you review 'Surviving...', or at least give your view of the views outlined in it - which certainly seem to align well with the philosophy and practices you've espoused and explicated here in the ADR over the years.

Ondra said...

Dear JMG,

regarding some suggestions what to include in your story, I have been thinking about one thing. I would like to know what states are included in Lakeland Rep. (I guess Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Illinois, Wisconsin), and of you could somehow talk also about their internal variability. I mean, it is still a huge territory, and given the decentralized character of its politics, there must be lot of differences between regions.

I am already setting funds aside for purchase of the book.


Claire said...

Hi John Michael,
I'm loving the narrative. What I really want is more of it.

I'd like to have a glimpse at the domestic economy. With a mostly agrarian population I'll bet that there is a larger number of goods produced for direct consumption. I'm sure that will expand into cottage industries and craft work done in the home during bad weather. What portion of the available market goods might this provide to urbanites? Are there temporary markets and market days in tier 1 (or other counties) rather than (or in addition to) permanent shops?

I'm also curious about the salvage economy. I know you've said this is RETROtopia but it seems to me you've already included elements of 'future' in the power generating systems and elsewhere. It would be great to see a bit more of that blend of new efficient systems and design, and salvage and re-purposing along side the retro technology. But maybe that's for another story.

Can't wait to have the finished book in my hands.
All the best,

patriciaormsby said...

In a short paragraph near the middle, with Meeker speaking, "comong" should be "coming"

I'm looking forward to the book, with so much input from your readers! One of my purposes in writing collapse fiction was to get my thoughts together, working through the implications of what I had learned, and then hear what others thought about it. I quickly discovered that nearly everyone around me thinks Star Wars is the future and refuses to take anything else seriously. Through your blog you have cultivated a nice community who doesn't just dismiss a healthy step back from the technological pinnacle as pessimism.

I was thinking "Christmas presents" as I read through the first ten or so comments. I'll have to look for signs of intelligent life among the intended recipients, however. Also, I want to order a copy or two in a way that profits you.

Oh, and I still haven't subscribed to the newsletter, because I have not heard back how much I should add for shipping. Or how is the excess used, because I certainly don't mind donating.

Keith Huddleston said...

If my comment on the tension between an upset and a realignment election helped you with even a sentence of your book, I am honored.

Your work, as well as Jacob Lund Fisker's, has changed my life. The short version is less debate coaching and more vegetable gardening, less driving and much, much more walking.

And next I will try to build more community, trying to make a little bit of a Retrotopia by organizing my street, o starting time bank, or even joining a faith community.

You were a beacon of light in a time of darkness. Thank you.

patriciaormsby said...

Oh yes and I forgot to mention, the first meeting of the Kanto Green Wizards went well, with one new person besides me who reads ADR (that is more than I was expecting). Moreover, the Asakawa Kompira community, including Japanese, is very interested in the "Green Wizardry" concept, and I'll have to summarize and translate information for them. I have your Green Wizardry (the HTML tags didn't work for me) book, but could you recommend a particular post that would catch the essence of the concepts?

Dennis Mitchell said...

I would like to see you start a whole new story about the Atlantic Republic's retrolution. I do have to admit I'm not looking forward to anymore real world presidential stuff. Reality is getting a little harsher every day.

Candace said...

It occurs to me the earlier version of cosplay would costume and/or masquerade balls, certainly not several days of a convention with panels. If it was a once a year seasonal type of party, that might be more financially sound.

Glenn said...

Armata said...
"I was thinking specifically of something you pointed out, that the Ohio River valley and adjoining Great Lakes region is the strategic center of gravity in North America. Whoever controls that area is in a position to dominate the rest of the continent."

Those of us living West of the Front Range beg to disagree. To be precise, in a broken up United States, the west will not be part of what you are calling the United States. Whether or not we are dominated by some Asian power, or go our own way, North America will not have any continent spanning countries in the Lakeland scenario.

I am a tad more sanguine about the future than our host. I anticipate a functioning, stable, California Republic; Cascadia and an Alaska with a greatly reduced population, though the Aleutians might repopulate, largely with natives. The intermountain west will be sparsely populated except for Deseret (I think the Mormons are cohesive enough to make something work). But this continent will definitely have distinct and separate eastern and western regions with little interaction. There's going to be a lot more "empty" in the big empty between them.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Urban Harvester said...

A welcome twist there JMG! Ha! So like William Weston our hero gets the girl and gets to stay on in his adopted utopia, but without having to turn his back on the society he came from or its values (and actually Weston lost the girl didn't he...?). Quite strong, that. And subtle. Callenbach really did try too hard, and it felt like his certainty in the superior social ideologies of ecotopia were being forced upon the reader as the solution to all of our problems. Thanks for (in my opinion), delivering by not falling into that particular trap!

Peter Attwood said...

I continue to wonder how the LR handles the massive refugee flows from its neighbors, especially Texas and the Confederacy - and how come even the miserable in the suburbs seen in episode 1 weren't already coming in large numbers.

John Michael Greer said...

Gwizard, I'll consider both those.

Ondra, yes, those are the states. I'm not sure how much I can do with differences in the different parts of the country, because all of it takes place in what's now northwest Ohio, but I'll consider it.

Claire, added to the list. The domestic economy won't be easy, but I might be able to squeeze in a reference here and there.

Patricia, there seems to be a problem with the email connected to the print edition site; I'm working on getting that fixed.

Keith, you're welcome and thank you.

Patricia, the nearest thing to a single post that sums up green wizardry is the one that started the series of posts, Merlin's Time. If you'd like to translate it into Japanese, btw, by all means!

Dennis, I won't be writing that, precisely because I want each reader to imagine that for himself or herself. As for the presidential race, understood; there are some crucial issues of politics still up for discussion, but I'll try to rein in the election chatter.

Candace, that's an excellent point -- I hadn't even been thinking of masquerade balls. Hmm.

Glenn, no question, the Pacific rim is its own geopolitical zone, and especially in a changed climate -- when the dryland west goes to Saharan levels of aridity -- it's going to have about as much in common with the rest of the continent as the north African coast has with sub-Saharan Africa. A lot depends on the level of maritime travel that remains viable; the strategic center of the Pacific basin, if tall ships stay in use, could as well be either Japan or Australia.

Harvester, Callenbach was basically reinventing the utopian genre -- and his success can be measured in the deathgrip the Ecotopian vision still has over so much of the green left -- but yes, he did make some mistakes, and that was one of them. I tried to learn from those.

Peter, there aren't any refugee flows yet, and if the ceasefire happens, there won't be. As for immigrants from elsewhere, we saw one family at the beginning of the story, you know, and there have been many more. Since the Lakeland Republic has effective control of its own borders, the number of immigrants is kept to a level the economy can sustain. (Europe and the US could do exactly the same thing if they wanted to, but letting in mass migration is so convenient a way to force down wages and break the power of the unions, so the governments in question wink and pretend to care...)

Mean Mr Mustard said...


"Why didn’t it occur to them that voting themselves one billion-dollar bonus after another, while driving their own employees and the rest of the country into poverty, was going to blow up in their faces sooner or later? "

A billionaire majority owner of a 'Victorian Warehouse' is currently in spot of reputational bother. Draconian discipline and working conditions imposed on a large workforce on zero hour minimum wage was then topped with lengthy security checks - once clocked off - the company's contempt and distrust of its workforce effectively pushing them under poverty wages.

Yesterday, we saw the owner submit himself to the security regime on an 'PR open day' - only to reveal to the surrounding press that he was carrying a huge bundle of £50 notes. Talk about hoist by his own petard.

The answer to Mr Carr's question appears to be hubris. Their money just makes them disdainful, thinking they're much smarter than the rest of us - but obviously that just ain't so.



Karim said...

Greetings all!

Interesting end to the narrative. May be the end is not the end, a sequel to describe how the atlantic republic goes the way of the lakeland republic in a not too distant future?

Hi Jensen II, along the same line of thinking as your father, I have a friend who was indignant that we still did not have nuclear powered batteries for home use that would last years!

Needless to say we don't spend lots of time exchanging views about the future of human civilisation!!!!

MigrantWorker said...


I would like to suggest including some information about the Lakeland Republic's poor into the book. We did not hear anything about them in this series of posts - of course that's understandable given that much of the action takes place in the prestigious parts of a capital city and/or among the rich and powerful, and a blog post can only be so long - but the poor, as they say, will always be with us.


Somewhatstunned said...


When the film comes out, should it be called: Forward to the past?

Clarence said...

At the opera, Janice M. might mention that Mr. Carr had just missed the annual fund raiser, a masquerade ball. Also, perhaps, inviting him to attend should he be able to return in the future.


Jo said...

I am really enjoying the way this plot is panning out. I was hoping that Carr wouldn't just ditch the Republic and emigrate to Lakeland. This is a much more satisfying solution.

Clearly Peter Carr has not so much been given the job of Ambassador from the Republic, as Ambassador TO the Republic, sending back dispatches from the front of a new society and new way of thinking.

And I can't help but feel that we as readers can take up that same role - we have been on a journey through Retrotopia, and now it is our responsibility to take on a similar role as Carr in our own dysfunctional Republics. We have seen what is possible, now we have a tangible goal to work towards... Retrotopia in our own backyards.

Thanks JMG.

Jo said...

@ Patricia Ormsby

I sent an email to Stone Circle Press about international shipping a while ago, and had an answer that they had fixed it. If you check on the site, they now have international shipping charges, although to be honest, it is still not entirely clear which one to choose. I will go with the most expensive one and that should cover it! said...

Subcultures like Burning Man Stemapunk or Cosplayers could play an important role in a deindustrial descent. As traditional employment becomes more and more rare, people could turn their hobbies into real jobs and their subculture into a support network.

At the end of the process, current subcultures could become something between monastic orders (in rural areas) and medieval guilds (in urban areas), with each subculture specialized in a specific field:

- Nudists => Agriculture and food processing
- Burning Man => woodwork and furniture
- Cosplayers => clothing

Morgenfrue said...

Not cosplay! Local amateur theater.

latefall said...

Re scenes:
Hunting, tracking, trapping, nutrition, and ecology school project for adolescents:
Including the production of a slingshot from absolute scratch (grow Russian Dandelion for rubber, labor intensive but low tech - just what you need at that age)

Perhaps also burial customs could be addressed. I think there is potential to say a lot with very few words.

Library buses (or rather detachable streetcar sections) as used in some parts of France or Scandinavia. Also small book exchanges have become a lot more common in many places, perhaps that could be somehow combined.

Cash-less economy (e.g. three way barter, or simply writing up on tab), general tolerance (if not desire) to leave some accounts unbalanced so as to keep a relationship.

Repair shops - I would imagine the flea market and thrift scene is perhaps somewhat disappointing for a large number of goods. If they don't terminally break, or go out of style there are not that many good I would expect to be available commonly.

Cheap(ish) publicly accessible bio/chem labs. I was thinking in the direction of trying to keep up e.g. food safety, but not do total overkill in food production regulation. So you'd work similar to 100 years ago, but you routinely take samples and quickly (pneumatic post? pidgeon?) turn them in to a lab that tracks them and evaluates them. Since paths are short you could rapidly (radio) intervene if something raises a flag. The product batch in question may not have to be removed from the market even then. Educated consumers may be able to decide if it is an issue by themselves. A food producer could learn what went wrong and could improve the process, with no/little legislation necessary. Perhaps the general theme would be consumer "protection" (really: emancipation).

Re Montrose's jibe:
One more reason for sending someone like Carr may have been the need for an ally in the skeptical camp, who knows their language, sensibilities, etc. Thus not only will the gambit assure a decent due diligence, it changes the ratio regarding for/against - and more importantly, is very likely to guarantee Montrose the initiative for a while. The opposing camp will first have to figure out if there aren't more de facto (or potential) converts in its ranks. Running internal policing at a time of crisis is usually very tough on the ability to hold together a power structure in the long term.

Patricia Mathews said...

Before anyone says any more about sheets drying on the line, please wash some and hang them out on a regular basis, especially in inclement weather. Apologies to those who already do. But at my age, I am overjoyed that commercial laundries exist for the big stuff. Especially quilts and comforters!

And my underthings go on a rack, usually indoors. Probably a hangover from having been reared in an age when this was the norm.

Bill Pulliam said...

Ah yes, that is how people actually change. Not by being told, but by being shown. Montrose is a wise leader. Show your neighbors that your ideas work, and they ,ight just give them a try. That was always the failing of the now-defunct greenie movement here, way too much talking and little to show on the ground.

I may have missed this being discussed, but is it just a coincidence that the recently-ousted party in the Atlantic Republic had essentially the same name as the party of Jefferson and the other slaveholders in the early days of the USA?

Tidlosa -- that would be interventionism, which seems very much to be not the Lakeland way.

Sven -- excellent casting choices!

Scotlyn said...

JMG and Candace,
I just want to say that, as I recall from my long-ago days studying anthropology, there have been very few places and times indeed when attention to personal adornment, particularly on the part of the young and nubile (of both sexes), was absent.

Dressing up should not require a large disposable income, if the skills to produce interesting finery are present, but to spend inordinate amounts of both time and (if used) money on adornment, festivals, rituals, entertainments and celebrations is human. Those are what we live (and strive and earn) FOR.*

*and this is true EVEN when we lack security in the matter of basic survival needs.

Patricia Mathews said...

@ Keith - it sounds like a realignment election, which I've seen about 3 of in my lifetime, and I know what the polls were missing. They couldn't get their heads out of "The way it's always been, except for some noisy kids and pesky outliers.

For example, "What? A movie actor, in national politics? Flash in the pan."
"I don't think the country's ready for a Catholic president."

Or else, the president campaigned on X, and saw that Y had to be done, and did it.

"That Man In the White House is a Traitor To His Class! And his wife is even worse! (And she's as ugly as sin, too.) And what's that rumor about That Man being a cripple?"

"Backwoods lawyer with a vulgar sense of humor and no style at all ... hasn't got a chance. Especially with three experienced, intelligent Compromisers of great stature on the political scene. One of them will be nominated and the hillbilly can go back to his log cabin and puff on his corncob pipe."

Okay - I wasn't there for the last two. Caught the tail end of the administration of the penultimate one, though.

Lili said...

To your point about the cluelessness of the elites, every ten years I make an all-out effort to help bring about change through the political process, and every ten years, like clockwork, I am reminded that that just isn't how empires end. There is no such thing as decline and reform. I don't know whether the elites don't see it coming or just can't stop themselves. I do know that while we don't treat greed as a disease, if left unchecked it does kind of act like one, and on an epidemic scale.

Thanks for this series. I've enjoyed it and look forward to reading the finale.

Ludovic Viger said...

Great! a new JMG's book to add to my collection. My roommate says I have so many of your books that the bookshelf is on verge to collapse. There is no rush :)

@W.B. Jorgenson count me in.. feel free to email me lvigero at gmail

Eric S. said...

Well, that's a twist. I'd actually thought Carr's attitudes were representative of the party he was representing, it kind of makes me wonder what it was about Ellen's campaign that made Carr agree to sign on with her cabinet in the first place, given their stark policy differences.

Re: Retrotopia the movie: Freeman I suppose is fair for Meeker, I was picturing Meeker as my Lodge's previous Master and that's who I would choose to play him in a movie ;-). That discussion does kind of make me think about the role of cinema in Retrotopia in general, I can definitely understand the decision to trade in network television for Radio, both from an expense standpoint, from a tier standpoint, and from an ideological standpoint but as someone who really does have a fondness for cinema as a medium (but doesn't care for television), I do hope that there's a place in the Lakeland Republic for old fashioned reel, film, and projector theaters. It is after all, something that existed in some form in every tier offered and in its modern form in 3 out of the five, it's hard to imagine an entire country rejecting motion pictures as a technology out of hand. Not a recommendation, just a musing and a hope that imagining retrotopia as having a place for a few small scale film-makers isn't too out of line with the values or intent of the story.

David, by the lake said...


I am, of course, happy-sad to be (almost) at the end of the narrative, but very much looking forward to the novel version. Count on two purchases from me -- one for my shelves and another to be donated to the local library. This story needs to be pushed out to the broader public so that they can begin to see alternatives to what they've been taught. A civilization rests on the foundation of its stories, something you've pointed out in any number of ways, and we need to be telling new ones for a new time.

Doug said...

JMG, I reacted negatively to Carr's "rich people" comment. I'm not one, but his narrow pejorative use of the term after his meeting with successful Lakeland citizens was surprising, and not characteristic. I love the anti-progress illumination, but to conflate this important topic with anti-wealth, seems to be...2016 populism?

I work with small farmers in a valley outside of Seattle. Half of our funds come from the 'wealthy', who wish to see small organic farms thrive in the face of development. The other half of our funds come from the 'state', which are merely redirected tax receipts. Neither the wealthy nor the taxed should be considered as a sustainable subsidy for local agriculture, yet that is where we find ourselves today. What is progress in this model? So far, we know we need to connect 'wealthy' landowners who do not wish to farm, with young farmers (the New Peasantry) who are okay working the dirt for not much money. They aren't making a living, they're living a life. But they can't do it yet without outside money.

Helix said...


Duke Williams said...

Sorry to use the comment area for a none comment on this post. I have no other way to contact you.

I thought this link to a mainstream business site about an HBSC report would be interesting to you as a public event.

The report details the very near - 2017 - oil issues you have been talking about for years.

A surprising acknowledgement of the inevitable.

Helix said...

@Justin re "the combination of slow exposures and sepia or black and white photography has made the past look far more sexless and dour than it really was."

In that regard, I remember a conversation once in the early 1970s. This was the heyday of the sexual revolution, and the topic was, of course, sex. In particular, the abandonment of the concept of "premarital" when discussing it. There was an elderly lady in our group. She taught piano and we all loved her. Someone commented to her, "I guess this is all kind of an affront to your generation, isn't it?"

Her reply: "Don't you believe it. Not even for a second!"

I loved that old lady. Down to Earth at a time when that wasn't all that common.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160908T142556Z

Dear JMG,

Thanks! This is a satisfying ending, with a southern cease-fire in the offing, and with the Atlantic Republic itself about to overhaul domestic policy.

I hope, however, that you will not be miffed if I remark on two points that might also attract the attention of your eventual substantive-stylistic editor at the publishing house (assuming the house is sufficiently funded to assign you such an editor, as part of its "book development" process).

(1) Carr's account of Atlantic Republic intel is questionable: I know Barfield sent someone from his inner circle over here right after the borders opened, but her report went into a locked file as soon as she got back and I don’t know if anyone but Barfield ever saw it. Inept though Atlantic might be, they will have been getting, either through ordinary channels or through covert channels, the principal Lakeland newspapers and magazines. Such reading, plus superficial debriefings of even untrained travellers, will have given Barfield's team an overview of Atlantic nuts-and-bolts - the county tier arrangements; the available ranges of consumer goods; the state of the telephone network; the organization of industry, including labour relations; and so on.

Even in the Cold War, the picture of USSR day-to-day life available to casual American readers (let alone to White House teams) was not too skimpy. And Lakeland, unlike the USSR, is an open society.

(2) I have to concur with Deborah ("9/7/16, 5:28 PM") and Justin ("9/7/16, 6:49 PM") in querying the reasonableness of a romantic liaison between a Lakeland national and an ambassador, i.e., a Head of Mission. You reply to Deborah ("9/7/16, 6:40 PM"; I paraphrase) that diplomatic annals abound in romantic liaisons. Oddly, however, I cannot think of any, at the level of Head of Mission. It could be that I am not adequately read. But in what I have read, I do not seem to see Heads of Mission apprehended in ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay. We get other awful stuff: some writer linked to UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office says, notably, that yes, the Diplomatic Pouch really has been used (perhaps in some African case) for moving a live human being from State A to State B. But Head-of-Mission in a liaison? Here what mainly comes to mind is the 1960s spook-novel Smith and Jones, in which security specialist "Drillpig" recalls inspecting the personnel file of diplomat Smith or diplomat Jones, and finding in it that damning sheet regarding future career path, with that damning annotation "Not above Second Secretary."

Also, it is a little depressing, though admittedly true to some actual recent American practice, to find the Atlantic President so casually rendering a mere political adviser, as opposed to a career diplomat, Head of Mission.

It's your book. But were I in your shoes, I would consider in the revision process retaining the romantic link, and retaining the idea of Carr going to Lakeland on a multi-year posting or secondment, and yet dropping the idea of Head of Mission. Car need not suffer the indignity of sitting in some Embassy slot "not above Second Secretary". There must be some more creative way of getting him into the Atlantic Republic, for the longer term, perhaps even under dual citizenship. Maybe other commenters here on ADR will have ideas?

Hastily, respectfully,


Donald Hargraves said...

Wonderful chapter, and while I was afraid there was to be a coup with Mr. Carr being called back (with threats of war if he didn't return) I have to say the idea of him returning (instead of just staying) is an intriguing twist on the Utopian Narrative – and with a losing bet as its basis to boot.

One question does pop up to my mind – if Mr. Carr was a die-hard believer in progress and got into a deep argument with Mrs. Montrose on the idea of going backwards, why was he with her team and not with the Dem-Reps who had run the nation over the past forty years? What would cause him to shift – if he had indeed shifted?

RPC said...

I'm thinking of two points, both more related to the backstory rather than the actual plot.
First, the citizens of the Atlantic Republic elected Montrose and her party by a landslide. How was that possible with the super-advanced voting technology controlled by the Dem-Reps and Microsoft Diebold Corporation?
Second, I'm sure you're familiar with the enthusiasm of recent converts. It would be interesting to see Ms. Montrose trying to rein in Mr. Carr when she's used to having to drag him along like an unwilling burro!

Albatross said...

Hi Mr. Greer, The link to "Retrotopia: Inflows and Outputs" in your answer to William regarding electricity doesn't work, at least not when I click it (I get "Sorry, the page you were looking for in this blog does not exist."). Looking up the topic from the list (4 Nov 2015) I found, to my relief, that it's still there. Ok ... back to reading the comments. / Juri Aidas

Howard Skillington said...

Imagine: a country that would rather have a neighboring sovereign state that is thriving, implementing sound, sustainable policies, and amicable, rather than a resentful failed state from which it had extracted every possible bit of wealth and stolen every shred of dignity. I daresay the Deep State regards the very idea as subversive. But perhaps after it has collapsed…

Spanish fly said...

I love the smell of telecom collapse in the morning...

Spanish fly said...

30 years more of "peaceful" economic contraction scenarios: a good recipe for a half dozen of Cheno-Fukushimas.

James M. Jensen II said...

Submitted for your consideration:

The new iPhone doesn't have a headphone jack. You need either a cumbersome adapter to get audio through the charging port or a wireless set of headphones.

"The audio connector is more than 100 years old," Joswiak says. "It had its last big innovation about 50 years ago. You know what that was? They made it smaller. It hasn't been touched since then. It's a dinosaur. It's time to move on."

That quote strikes me as the essence of Carr's original position. Let's get rid of technology that works simply because it's old and replace it with technology that has issues (connectivity, battery life) that those "dinosaurs" inherently don't have.

No thanks. If I upgrade my phone at all, it won't be to one of these... y'know, we really need a word that's the opposite of "dinosaur." A word for something new for newness sake and the worse for it. "Mutant," in the bad sci-fi sense, fits the bill but has too many other connotations from the same bad sci-fi.

HalFiore said...

I don't understand your comment on the Standing Rock affair. Wouldn't this be exactly what you prescribed for the climate change movement? Like gay marriage, it's a limited, achievable struggle in which a human face can be put on the bigger issue, clear lines drawn, verifiable results, and little direct cost to the public. As such it's maybe as significant to the larger struggle, but then I didn't think too much about that, either.

David, by the lake said...

Just as a side note. I experimented last season with a small patch of chicory in my community garden plot, harvesting the roots for a coffee adjunct. This year, I planted an entire 3x20 ft bed and recently began harvesting. (I take the roasted root to work and use in my coffee there.) I've tried various proportions, even all/mostly chicory, and found the resulting brew to be pleasant -- different, but pleasant. Plus, it has the coolness factor of drinking my own labor ;)

dltrammel said...

I'm so glad you didn't "Clancey" out the ending with some hyped up drama/crisis. Much nicer to have an adult ending.

As for the objections to the talk to the audience concerning Carr and Melanie's evening, I too found it slightly out of the flow but understood the way you used it (as a fellow writer). If you have room for a middle long addition, I think I have a idea that could address several people's suggestions.

Have Carr phone Melanie, and offer to get together but have Melanie say she needs to stop by someplace first. Have her be a bit vague and mysterious as to where. Then have her pick him up and take him to a visiting carnival. Say her brother is working as a roustabout at the carnival. Melanie is dropping off letters from their mother.

One thing I haven't seen is whether common people can just walk up to their politicians and speak their mind. I imagine in the Atlantic Republic where Carr is, that body guards would swiftly intervene. You might have a few people recognize Melanie and come up and ask her questions. She could put them off with "I don't know much more than the newspapers have right now" and "wink, wink, I'm out with a NEW friend please".

You could show some of the social life of teenagers interacting. Have a band and a dance floor, watched by chaperons of course, where they can meet and pair up. Kind of like a school dance. Carr invites Melanie to a dance. And then when the song is done she can suggest they leave.

That might provide a sort of interlude before the seriousness of the final chapters. That even though there is a war in the South, that in Lakeland, life goes on.

llamawalker said...


Regarding Nuclear Power: I had two separate conversations recently on the topic and was presented with two near identical responses that left me, I guess, astonished. When talking about the future of energy (and the nuclear industry specifically)with two twenty-something, college educated individuals, they both gave a shocking perspective on the legacy of nuclear power/waste. It boiled down to "who cares". One said they'd rather decimate a relatively small geographical area as opposed to allowing fossil fuel emissions to destroy the entire planet, and the other responded by hoisting up post Chernobyl Ukraine as a wildlife refuge otherwise impossible without the 1986 disaster. I was expecting the regulation argument, the fuel reprocessing argument, anything but the apparent apathy I encountered. Still mulling it over! Wow.


Unknown said...

Why the use of the term, flunkey?


David James Peterson said...

Not exactly on topic but finally re-found this video (Music video satire of Trump). It is a perfect example of an attitude that you'd written about, where if we make something the way it was then we have to make it exactly the way it was (with all the less desirable stuff)
The gist of the video is that if Trump “makes America great again”, bringing back the care free days where “Men were men” and “Girls were girls”, and just generally having ‘freedom’, then we’ll have to:
Lose Rights for gays
Make raping a date okay
Remove warning labels on Cigarettes
Make smoking in restaurants is okay
Make work place sexual harassment okay
Put the wife back in the kitchen
Make domestic abuse of women okay
Make racial discrimination okay
Bring back Jim Crow laws
Bring back school racial segregation
Bring back child labor
Bring back Polio
Give Native American's Small Pox blankets
Bring back Lynching

Myriad said...

A few possible details that come to mind:

1. Glass, the importance of. I've visited the sites of 18th and 19th century glassworks; even back then they had rather large energy footprints. Affordable window panes would have to come from a glass industry comparable in scale to Mikkelson's streetcar company (which would also be a customer, of course). Achieving this would have been a major milestone during rebuilding, when long-boarded-up windows and store fronts would have begun literally coming back to light.

Example: glass beverage bottles that get collected not for recycling but for re-use. If from a large brewer, the brewer's logo might be embossed in the glass, instead of a paper label. (Easy to note in passing in any bar or restaurant scene.)

Shutters on the windows of the elegant houses, that (Carr notes) are actually functional, because (perhaps Carr can deduce) storms happen and replacing large glass panes is a significant expense (or at least, back-order wait) even for the wealthy.

Glaziery as another of the revitalized craft trades.

2. Ruins and salvage. I figure you don't want "ruinmen again" in this novel, but it stands to reason that if there were once a lot of higher-rise buildings and big-box stores and giant "elder care" complexes and the like around the cities, and there aren't now, there's more scrap steel around than could easily be used, or even easily be removed to somewhere else. Not to mention vehicles, construction machinery, war materiel from the CWII; and a lot of concrete still in situ and so forth. Wartime damage and requisition (or post-war pre-embargo business deals) might have reduced the mass, but can't be expected to have cleared out (even if it burned down), for instance, every ugly ex-chain hotel at every freeway exit.

Along railways (and also canals) would be a logical place for heavy salvage yards; perhaps a glimpse in passing? Unlike in typical apocalypse tale window dressing, such a yard would likely be busy with human activity.

3. Phone systems have been discussed extensively in an earlier Retrotopia comment thread. The problem with dial phones is that the dials (as they originally worked) were peripheral devices for "exchanges" which were originally building-sized electromechanical machines. It's unlikely that Lakeland would re-create those monsters, just for highest-tier and inevitably temporary usage, when in the near term a refrigerator-sized digital unit could do the same task (as anathema as importing and using one would be to LLR economic philosophy), and in the longer term, live operators using patch panels would replace the dials and exchanges (so why not rebuild it that way from the start?). Either way, telephony would be expensive, and used for business and important communications instead of social recreation.

4. To include in popular forms of recreation, consider board games, which seem to have periodic bursts of popularity and creative design every few decades, despite (or perhaps because of) technological progress.

As a more speculative prediction for group social events, instead of (or in addition to) masquerades and the like, low-tech LARP (live action role playing) might have a place. Even though it's only retro to the early 1980s, theater-style LARP is (I believe) in the category of things that could have been done decades earlier if someone had invented it and worked to popularize it. This list of games planned for an upcoming LARP convention might give you some idea of the range of subject matter and play styles that are possible.

daelach said...

So Mr. Carr indeed fell in love in Lakeland and will stay there, in the mid-term. Only with a totally different background that what I had been figuring early on. (: But the agenda behind his trip came really surprising, as well as the stance of Montrose.

Maybe Mr. Carr will receive a nice hand-crafted Lakeland chess set as a gift when he starts his new position? I bet they do make these in Lakeland, and they will be more pleasing than the holographic projections they have in the Atlantic Republic.

peacegarden said...

Oh, what a treat! Thank you for all you write, but most of all for the fiction; it takes us away from the linear, intellectual patterns we use most frequently nowadays, and takes on a journey ensnaring the imagination and sense of wonder.

Well done! I can’t wait to have the book in my hands and in several holiday gift bags (recycled, of course!) as holiday gifts to a select group. I’m thinking of the local library systems, as well as individuals.

Wizard’s hats off to you, sir!



pygmycory said...

'Tis your story, so you do what you want. It really did knock me out of the narrative, though, so I figured I'd mention it.

donalfagan said...

Future news from The Atlantic Republic:

pygmycory said...

Speaking of defense of the status quo, loss of initiative, and fighting the long defeat, does it strike anyone else that Tolkien's elves lost the initiative about the middle of the 2nd Age, with the fall of Eregion? Possibly at the War of the Last Alliance, but certainly no later. After that, it felt in many ways as if they were just waiting to die (or sail away to Valinor, but close enough).

I know this is a bit off topic, but I am wondering how close the feeling one gets from the elves, and Gondor, in Lord of the Rings is to a real declining civilization. And if the popularity of Tolkien's work has anything to do with the fact we're living in a real declining civilization.

Roy Smith said...

A number of years ago I served as a nuclear propulsion trained Navy officer, and was also a keen observer of the doings of the civilian nuclear power industry for a while. With that background, I offer the following observations:

The economic non-viability of nuclear electricity generation is usually heavily overstated, particularly as it seems to ignore the level of subsidies that its main competitor, coal-fired electricity generation, receives. Most analyses that dismiss nuclear power based on economic grounds seem to be more examples of motivated reasoning than clear-headed analysis. I could go on at length and in detail on this particular subject, but I will spare your readership, as it is only tangential to my real point, which follows.

The risk of catastrophe does exist, as we all know. With proper management and a proper institutional culture, this risk can be adequately mitigated, and for an economically reasonable cost. The U.S. Navy has managed to do this for over 60 years. However, the "proper institutional culture" I mentioned is extremely demanding (when it comes to nuclear power) and is potentially a very fragile thing; no other organization that I am aware of has managed to establish this kind of culture for any significant length of time, and I have my doubts as to whether even the Navy (which has a significant advantage in that as a military organization, it can impose cultural norms on its people in a way most other organizations simply can't) will be able to keep this up for an indefinite amount of time into the future. In particular, for-profit corporations as we have them in the modern industrial world and the institutional culture I see as necessary to support nuclear power can't really co-exist.

The bottom line is that while I don't see economics as a major obstacle, and individual humans can certainly be trained and individual systems can be designed in ways that make the odds of catastrophic failure virtually non-existent, it seems unlikely to me that any human society has the capacity to organize a whole industry with the level of engineering competence and consistency of performance to safely use nuclear power as a significant method of electrical generation for the long haul.

PatriciaT said...

Off topic but related:

From the blog of a present day ruinman in Chicago, a bittersweet tale (mostly bitter, I'm afraid):

"...he boasted about smashing a 19th century residence for his giant soulless edifice..."

The author of the blog (which is part of a larger website) sells and writes about items that he salvages from buildings before they are demolished in the name of progress. While the Urban Remains website sells stuff, there is a good bit of explanation and history about various (late 19th - early/mid 20th century) artifacts and how they were used.

@JMG - Again, thank you for this series - great read. I am looking forward to buying the book.

Joel Caris said...


I'm aiming to write some upcoming blog posts based on a comment I made here a couple weeks ago about reorienting our trade policy toward a more protectionist mode in an effort to help create new wage-earning and physical labor based jobs, as well as dampen down the rampant tertiary economy.

I like Carr's quote in this week's installment:

"The short form is that she wants to redirect government support for business away from the high-tech sectors of the economy and into manufacturing and agriculture, and change the tax code and other public policy incentives so that they reward employment rather than automation."

I'm really interested--for those posts and otherwise--if you have any good sources you could recommend that would get into what kind of economic and trade policies and government support might help to do the above. I think I'm going to pull your own The Wealth of Nature off the shelf for a review, but any other good sources you might recommend off the top of your head? I have to admit to too much ignorance on this subject. That seems like one of the results of political and economic policy debates that don't actually debate the pros and cons, winners and losers of specific policy.

Thanks for any help you might have! Also happy to hear from other commenters with good suggestions.

weedananda said...

I'm bummed to see Retrotopia drawing to a close but look forward to reading the final version in book form. Several others have expressed interest in knowing more about the LR's judicial/law enforcement/jail-prison systems and I'd like to second that. Do they have the death penalty? I'm also interested in knowing more about the health care system/medicine/end-of-life care. Is opium poppy cultivated to provide the raw material for extreme pain relief/palliative care? As always, thanks for all you do and for this terrific story.

Myriad said...

Oh, another one I meant to include:

5. A rational tort system that doesn't stifle practical solutions by overpricing risk. I assume that in Lakeland, if a homicidal lunatic puts poison in medicine bottles, the consequences are on the lunatic rather than the medicine manufacturer for failing to make the bottles lunatic-proof.

That's needed to make many of the other retro systems possible, so it almost goes without saying, but perhaps things are still like the present day (or even worse) back in the Atlantic Republic. If so, Carr might be shocked at (for instance) the tort risk the organizers of the drone shoot seem to be taking, should a stray shot hit someone a mile away off-site. Or at the streetcar operators, for allowing passengers to jump on and off quickly without waiting for a complete stop and raising multiple redundant safety gates first. Or even just the cabbies' horses; they could kick someone, after all, or an animal rights activist group could file a class-action suit on their behalf…

Or did the crises of the second civil war already put an end to that, even back east?

Patricia Mathews said...

Don't knock cosplayers - their hobby gives them real sewing skills. At least among the ones I've met.

Bob said...

Apologies if you mentioned it before, but do the Lakelanders enjoy baseball or soccer? Please say "yes".... I'd think both sports would be much more amenable to deindustrialization than say football, simply because both are easy to play and enjoy on an ad-hoc basis. I suppose basketball might also still be popular with it being the Midwest and all...

Thanks for the engrossing yarn.

RPC said...

Somewhatstunned: how about Past Forward?

Kyle Schuant said...

Numbers aren't always a sign of progress.

Violet Cabra said...

Something I've been wondering since the beginning, but have neglected to ask, is if the poor folk working 70 hour weeks in the Atlantic republic at various low paying jobs have a little gardens with some culinary herbs and baby greens to flavor and add nutrition to their rice and beans? Do they even eat bulk or can they only buy over processed industrial food? I could imagine it going either way and being true to life, but the implications of either food culture would be, of course, profound. It's a pretty minor detail in some respects, but does have bearing. I wonder how retro are the citizens of Carr's nation in the little spaces they are allowed to be and how much this has bearing on Montrose's desire to emulate the Lakeland republic

deborah harvey said...

haven't read all comments but wonder about level of health care, hospital and doctor availability.
really enjoyed this fiction.

John Michael Greer said...

Mustard, exactly -- and they've forgotten that the future tense of hubris is nemesis.

Karim, as already noted, there'll be no sequel. I may do a retrospective post on the story and explain why in more detail.

Migrantworker, I've added that to the to-consider list.

Stunned, funny! I actually considered that title before settling on Retrotopia.

Clarence, hmm! Possible.

Jo, thank you for getting it. You get today's gold star for perspicacity above and beyond the ordinary internet standard.

Ville-Nouvelle, I'd be interested in seeing some evidence that these things are more than a form of conspicuous consumption before accepting that claim.

Morgenfrue, hmm! That's definitely going into the list.

Latefall, all added to the list.

Bill, excellent! You got half the joke embedded in the name "Dem-Reps." The other half is that in early 18th century England -- say, the Regency era -- a "demi-rep" was a high-class harlot.

Scotlyn, of course, but in the vast majority of cultures the act of dressing up and making oneself look attractive was done, among the poor-to-middling classes, in a variety of fairly inexpensive ways. I'm not at all sure, based on the cosplayers I know, that cosplay counts. (There's also something decidedly interesting about the passion with which so many people in modern industrial society try to be something other than people in modern industrial society; I'll have a post about that down the road a bit.)

Lili, an important lesson of history! Well put.

onething said...


On the contrary, this sentence:

I would love to see Carr field questions about life in the Atlantic Republic from some curious Lakelanders. Preferably ending with a smart Lakelander cutting to the core of the problems with the Atlantic model of things, much to Carr's discontent.

should have been longer, with a comma instead of a period after Lakelanders.

onething said...

James Jensen,

" if you're not cheap and incompetent like the Soviet Union."

Were the Japanese also cheap and incompetent? Anyway, soviet stuff was often very rugged. I remember one guy who came here in the early 90's walking with me through some partially constructed houses. He thought they looked awfully shoddy and he slightly jumped up and down on the floors and everything shook. He said, you build your houses out of Popsicle sticks.

Berserker said...

Blogger James M. Jensen II:
Instead of "dinosaur" or "mutant" how about "coelacanth"-the living fossil that has survived almost unchanged for something like 200 million years!

Armata said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shane W said...

People were also very attached to their exchange names (AMhearst, LAkewood, etc.), and all-digit dialing was an unpopular move forced on people by the Bell System. Lakelanders might be just as attached to their exchange names, too. San Francisco went so far as to form an Anti-Digit Dialing League led by S I Hayakawa...

Shane W said...

I bet those of us over 60 or 70 still remember their childhood exchange name...

Kevin Warner said...

Last week when you asked for things that could go into the expanded Retrotopia story, I suggested an election featuring paper-based ballots. I would like to amend that suggestion if I could. An actual election might be disruptive to your story-line as there is no mention of any pending elections in the Lakeland Republic.
I thought perhaps that what this ballot could be about would be a referendum on a County deciding whether to move up/down a Tier to illustrate the point that the tiered-county system is not set in cement but has flexibility built into it for robustness sake. It would still serve to illustrate to Carr what happens when there is a Republic-wide election. Just a thought.
Speaking of robustness, I saw something that could very well have come out of the Lakeland's workshops at which is a flat-pack light truck that can be assembled in half a day by three people and is rugged enough for African roads. Yeah, I know, it is still a chemically-powered truck but it would not be a bad thing to have available as a stop-gap solution as asphalt roads are converted back to dirt roads since there are not the resources available to maintain them any longer.

Armata said...

John Michael,

We have been discussing Entryism on The Other Blog as a tactic used by extremist groups, particularly on the radical Left, to subvert and take over other groups and movements.

Well, wouldn't you know it? Permaculture News has an excellent article out about Entryism, including what it is, how to recognize it and how to counter it. The article notes that Entryism has been used by far right groups and corporate shills, but it has been primarily used by radical Leftists seeking to take over not just the neo-Pagan scene but movements like Permaculture and the Transition movement and use them to promote their own agendas.

The article even has a very detailed discussion of the SJW ("Social Justice Warrior") phenomenon that is absolutely invaluable and spot-on, especially for liberal and community groups that find themselves being infiltrated by SJW's. It's a must read for everyone, liberal and conservative, irregardless of whether you are interested in Permaculture or not.

John Michael Greer said...

Ludovic, I'm just doing my part for the bookshelf industry... ;-)

Eric, don't assume that the policies that Carr objected to were the be-all and end-all of Montrose's platform! As for cinema, I'm considering it. I'll have to work through the details of having cinema production in the Lakeland Republic when for thirty years it was basically shut off from the rest of the world, and so the market for movie sales was very small; live theater would arguably have been more viable, though it's not impossible that a movie industry might get under way after the borders opened.

David, thank you!

Doug, you've missed the point of Carr's reflections. It's not wealthy people that he's criticizing, it's wealthy people who are stupid about their dependence on the rest of us, and so think they can push the rest of the world to the wall and not pay a brutal price. It used to be the case that most rich people realized that their wealth obligated them to give back to society -- look up the Carnegie libraries sometimes for a great example. These days, the attitude of a great many rich people is "I got mine, Jack, too bad you're starving"...and that attitude is a good way to guarantee that they're going to end up dangling from lampposts in due time.

Helix, thank you!

Duke, not a problem. Many thanks for the link!

Toomas, first, you've apparently forgotten the briefings that Carr received before he went. The report that got roundfiled certainly wasn't the only intelligence the Atlantic Republic had about its western neighbor; Carr's ignorance is primarily that of someone who had a lot of other things to be concerned with until a few weeks previously, and knew about as much about conditions in the Lakeland Republic as I know right now, say, about conditions in Estonia. (And without looking it up, I couldn't even tell you the name of the Estonian head of state or which party he or she leads, for example.) Second, we've already settled that the post-US republics of North America share the USA's entertaining habit of appointing politically well-connected amateurs to ambassadorships, the same habit that made Shirley Temple the US ambassador to Czechoslovakia and John Kenneth Galbraith the US ambassador to India. (In all such cases, the subordinates are State Department professionals who do much of the actual work.) Will there be difficulties about a relationship with a foreign national? Of course -- but we'll get to that...

Donald, because Montrose's New Alliance isn't explicitly against progress -- it's simply opposed to the continuation of a failed business as usual, and Carr is on board with that. (For example, he supports Montrose's plan to renegotiate the AR's foreign debt.) Think of him as one of the relatively conservative Democrats who supported and advised FDR, because they figured his plans, radical as they were, were better than the failed orthodoxy he was trying to overturn.

RPC, electronic voting didn't outlast the old Union -- it turned out to be so easy to hack that in the 2020 election, Bozo the Clown won the presidency. That was covered up really fast, and the parties quietly settled things on the basis of their internal, honest, and highly secret polls, but by 2022 every state had gone back to paper ballots.

Albatross, I checked it, and somehow a close quote slipped in there. Try this one instead.

John Michael Greer said...

Howard, excellent! Yes, that's one of the implied contrasts...

Spanish Fly, not to mention the bankruptcies!

James, that's a good point. May I make a suggestion for the term you want? Neosaur. Something brand new that's a dinosaur on delivery.

Hal, okay, let me try again. When's the last time you saw an environmental demonstration that was for something?

David, excellent! You and Carr can share a cup sometime. ;-)

Dltrammel, so noted and I'll consider it.

Llamawalker, at least they're being up front about it. Still, you're right -- it's a bit stunning to have people going, "Oh, who cares who gets poisoned over the next quarter million years, just as long as I can keep my iTrash charged..."

Unknown David, because Carr's an outspoken type and has been using that kind of language all along.

David James, too funny. I'm surprised they didn't insist while they were at it that we have to bring back the Crimean War, the Mongol invasions, bubonic plague, and stone tools.

Myriad, all added to the to-consider list.

Daelach, I'm glad the plot twist surprised you! That was the plan. Not sure about the chess set, though I'm sure they make very nice ones in the Lakeland Republic, and chess is played with verve and enthusiasm in certain bars and public parks. Dominoes, too.

Peacegarden, you're welcome and thank you!

Pygmycory, so noted.

Donalfagan, many thanks for the link. We're getting fairly close to crunch time -- I'm glad to see someone is noticing this.

Pygmycory, that's an excellent point. The elves gave up the initiative, and after that it was all downhill. I'll have to brood over how much that feeds into the popularity of Tolkien in our time, but it's certainly possible.

Armata said...

Speaking of own goals, have any of you seen this latest PR disaster from Mal-Wart? You would think someone involved would have realized this was a really, really bad idea...

Bob said...

James Jenson -

I had the exact same thought when I read Apple's press release. Honestly, my thought was "Newer doesn't mean better; Apple designers are idiots. This is a perfect example for Mr. Greer."

In the immortal words of Nelson Muntz (reference "The Simpsons")...Ha Ha.

The clueless, Apple haz it.

John Michael Greer said...

Roy, the risk of catastrophe is not the issue with nuclear power, and it intrigues me that at this point, nuclear power advocates almost always try to bring the conversation back to safety, which they used to avoid like the plague. The issue that matters is economic viability. Coal is not the main competitor to nuclear power, and hasn't been for quite a while -- largely because at this point, with the rapid decline in the quality of available coal reserves, coal is also a subsidy dumpster. The main competitor to nuclear power is combined cycle natural gas turbines, and economically speaking, those eat nuclear power alive. Yet the point I made still stands: nobody anywhere has ever had a commercial nuclear power industry without massive ongoing government subsidies, because nuclear power is a financial black hole. That isn't true of coal, or oil, or natural gas, or any other energy technology except for ethanol and a few of the gaudier forms of solar power.

With regard to maritime uses of nuclear power, are you at all familiar with the history of the SS Savannah, the world's first and only nuclear freighter? It was just as technically successful as the US Navy's nuclear program, and a total financial dud. The only reason that the Navy can afford to operate nukes is that war doesn't have to make a profit.

PatriciaT, I wish they'd demolished the developer instead. I'm sure he had a few parts worth salvaging.

Joel, I'd be delighted to know of any other discussion of the way that the perverse incentives of the current US tax code penalize employment and reward laying off workers. I'm not familiar with any, and would be delighted not to be a lone voice in the wilderness on this topic!

Weedananda, those have gone into the to-consider list. Thank you!

Myriad, my guess is that the current tort regime went out the window in the wake of the Second Civil War, when everybody wrote new constitutions and renegotiated the terms of the social compact. Still, I'll look into it.

Patricia, I'm glad to hear it.

Bob, that's an excellent point, though by November baseball season is iirc over, so Carr isn't likely to watch a game in progress through the window of a train. Yes, both are played in the Lakeland Republic; I may find some way to weave baseball into things, since it's so much a retro-Americana thing.

Kyle, and progress doesn't always make things better.

Violet, nope. They mostly live in urban tenements with nowhere they can plant seeds at all, unlike their opposite numbers in the Lakeland Republic, who can get spaces at community gardens and are encouraged to grow window boxes. I'll see if I can fit that in somewhere.

Deborah, that's been covered in an earlier episode. General practitioners are extremely common, being trained by apprenticeship, and they're paid for on what used to be called a "lodge trade" basis -- a group of people contract with a physician, they pay him a flat sum per month, and he takes care of all their ordinary health care plus referrals when necessary. It worked really well before the AMA destroyed it, since it kept a lid on doctor's profits...

John Michael Greer said...

Armata (if I may), laughter is much more effective than outrage. I suggest you start pointing out, in response to things like this, that electing Donald Trump means bringing back the Hokey Pokey, the War of 1812, the Spanish Armada and the worship of Mithras. (Not that I have anything against the worship of Mithras, mind you...)

Shane, I'm 54 and I remember both of mine -- we moved when I was in second grade, from the CHerry exchange to the VErnon exchange.

Kevin, hmm! Possible, though the only county he visits outside of Toledo is already tier one. I'll put it on the to-consider list.

Armata, that's the best thing I've heard about permaculture in a couple of years. Thank you -- and I'm delighted to hear that they've caught onto the problem with letting professional activists hijack your organization and divert it from its agenda to theirs. As for Mall*Wart, literally nothing they could possibly do would surprise me, unless it involved showing some class and treating people decently.

Bob said...

JMG - Baseball would have certainly ended by early November, especially without lights to aid evening games, but I bet that there would still be fans sporting team hats or other paraphernalia. I would also expect children would be playing pickup games of some kind or another, since they're no longer planting themselves in front of a CRT screen after school. Anyone remember stickball?

As a diehard Chicago Cubs fan, baseball is near and dear to my heart. Hopefully by 2050 they will have won a World Series. Hope springs eternal.

sgage said...

Shane W said...

"I bet those of us over 60 or 70 still remember their childhood exchange name..."

Trinity. I absolutely remember my childhood exchange. My phone number was TR4-76xx. I remember when we were suddenly supposed to say '874', instead of 'TR4'. And I also remember not getting touch-tone until very late - we were rotary dial right through my high school years. I also remember when zipcodes came along, and the standard 2 letter state abbreviations. The 60's were full of 'progress'.

Bob said...

Addendum: a radio broadcast of a baseball game beats a televised version by a country mile. It takes real talent to cover the play-by-play of a game; think Vin Scully, Pat Hughes, or Bob Uecker. Aural silk, I tells ya.

Auriel Ragmon said...

CItrus 2813, later 12813 Glendale CA
Jim of Olym

Ozark Chinquapin said...

Since you're asking for additional input, I'm wondering if the book version will have any encounters with Lakelanders that take issue with some ot the the things going on there, to get more of a variety of perspectives? It just seems that although we hear about the conflicts between the restorationists and the conservatives, the Lakelanders that Carr meets seem to have such similar views on everything, except for religion. It would seem more real to me if he encountered more people who had some grievences, even it they on the whole thought highly of the way their country was going. He could meet someone who is worried about the effect that Lakeland's recently opened borders are having on the culture, and someone else who's happy about the open borders because they're looking for other cultural influences not readily found in Lakeland. Someone else could be a struggling artist or musician who's more experimental with his music than the tastes of most Lakelanders and complains about Lakelanders' conservatism in artistic tastes. Someone could be angry about how a canal being built will impact their farm. All of those people would still be glad they live in Lakeland rather than the neighboring republics that are basket cases, just wishing some things were a bit different.

I think having such encounters would perhaps make the story appeal to a broader audience by showing that different subcultures are alive within Lakeland that don't agree with the dominant culture on everything, but still for the most part respect the positive things the Lakeland system has done. I know for myself I can see a lot of good ideas in the Lakeland system, but the whole story also gives me the sense that I'd feel out of place there. I also recognize that the story takes place in one small time and place in a large country, and the experience of other places and subcultures within Lakeland may be quite different than one would get among government people and those catering to them in the capitol, and one brief visit to a nearby rural area. But, I'd be interested in hearing from a few Lakelanders who have grievences, it would loosen up the sense of conformity that I get from the narrative as it is.

Ozark Chinquapin said...

What about including some references to some of those critical of Progress in the American past? Thoreau comes to mind first, seeing many of the negative consequences on that way of thinking when the myth of Progress was still young. Aldo Leopold is also notable in this regard, directly questioning progress in "The Sand County Almanac" right about the time when its effects were rising into the highest gear. And, Leopold lived in Lakeland territory as well (Wisconsin).

sgage said...

Incidentally, not only do I remember my telephone exchange, and that old phone number, but if you were to dial that number today it would ring on the exact same dark red rotary dial wall phone in the kitchen that I used throughout my childhood/young adult-hood. It's right next to a small bathroom off the kitchen, and you could take the phone into the bathroom and shut the door and get a modicum of privacy to talk to your girlfriend, e.g. ...

Yes, one of my brothers bought the ol' family home when my parents moved on to other adventures in the 70's, and he still lives there, and that phone is still there, still working, at the same number. 60+ years later. Good ol' Western Electric equipment - pretty much unbreakable.

Philip Bridges said...


Talk about art imitating life. National Public Radio's Science program last week reported on the development of clothes made of polyethylene that will supposedly make the wearer feel cooler in hot weather. Polyethylene is our most common plastic, used in the production of plastic bags, food wrappers, and many other products. Two layers of polyethylene with a thin cotton fabric between the layers are assembled and then punched with very small holes to create a garment that supposedly makes one feel cooler in a hot environment. Progress like that makes one consider nudity as the preferable alternative.

HalFiore said...

JMG, I see your point as far as the outside interests, from whom it's probably fair to say much of the Climate Change angle is coming, but don't you think the plains tribes are fighting for something? Their burial grounds, water supply, etc? Of course, it is compatible with the larger goals, and this is how for me it has a certain consistency with the gay marriage issue.

Back when I was heavily involved with environmental issues, we tried whenever possible to provide a positive goal. We found, e.g., that it was more effective to fight for Wild and Scenic Status for a popular or beautiful remote stream than to always be fighting rearguard actions. After losing our first big battle over the Stanislaus, it became much more effective to fight for positive protection for the Tuolomne and American. Unfortunately, some overly busy person or govt agency almost always has their designs on any unmarred space, so opposition work will be with us, I'm afraid.

All to say I see the issue as a bit more complex.

AS for cinema, many early movie houses began life as vaudeville theaters, and continued to serve both functions for long times. I occasionally worked the Paramount in Oakland back in the 80s, and I'm sure it's still hosting live theater, music, and cinema. It was (is, I hope) a beautiful art deco style structure with a full ornate proscenium and a serviceable, if shallow, stage. It contained a full fly-house with counterweight system, though I'm pretty sure Lakeland would have chosen mostly to revert to hemp rigging and sandbags. Probably an orchestra pit, though my memory fades.

Showing films would be a matter of flying a screen and building in a projection booth somewhere in the house. Well, and a sound system. Maybe live music with silent films?

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Shane - BUtler 9 - 7638. It was a Portland, Oregon exchange. I'm 67. Lew

Dear Mr. Greer, et all; The recent posts on progress, reading my copy of "Dark Age America." The concept of normative space. The Apple ear phone dust up. Over the past couple of days I've decided that the epitaph for our age will be "They Couldn't Leave Well Enough Alone." Second and third choices would be: "It's what our customers asked for" or "It's for your convenience." Lew

Clarence said...

re: baseball. Have the kid selling the newspaper 'extras' sport a Toledo Mudhens baseball cap or jersey.


Ian R Orchard said...

I'd be keen to hear a little more of the backstory of how the various new states came into existance, although I'll concede that too much detail may get tedious and interrupt the Retrotopia narrative. It would probably be a rollicking good yarn in itself, as a prequel.

Glenn said...

Standing Rock, and Taxes;

Regarding the Standing Rock Sioux pipeline debacle and environmentalists always being "against" things. Read Jim Wright's Stonekettle Station essay for September 7th. As usual, he articulates it better than I can.

JMG, question about Lakeland's Taxes. You've established that they don't tax income, or anything else they wish to encourage. So, what is taxed, how are the rates determined, and are they progressive or regressive (I left out flat, because the effect is always regressive)?


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea'

John Michael Greer said...

Bob, okay, those are good points. I doubt anything like the current professional franchise system exists in 2065, so the Cubs may be a lot closer to their origins than to the team as it now exists, and the World Series -- if it exists at all -- will be something considerably less commercial.

Ozark, that's uncommon in the utopian genre, but it's on the to-consider list. So is naming something or other after Aldo Leopold -- though I want to avoid the Ecotopian model here also.

Philip, or nice comfortable hempcloth, cotton, and wool...

HalFiore, of course the issue is a lot more complex, but the tribes are still fighting to preserve something, not fighting to take new ground or push the other side onto the defensive. Again, that's my point -- as long as the other side is deciding where the battle's going to be fought and what the stakes are, you don't have any hope of winning, because you've surrendered the initiative.

Clarence, okay, now I'm going to have to look up the Mudhens!

Ian, yeah, too much backstory is a burden. I don't intend to write a prequel any more than a sequel, though.

Glenn, not quite. They don't tax earned income, defined as wages, salaries, royalties, and dividends below a certain dollar amount per annum. They do tax income from interest, speculation, and any other form of income where you get money for having money, and those are taxed progressively. They also tax every use of natural resources, whether as raw materials or as a dumping ground for waste, at a flat rate that covers the total cost of remediation or replacement, plus all knock-on costs to the rest of society. Since the government is a great deal smaller and less intrusive, the income from those sources is ample.

Clarence said...

re: Mudhens. A reference for the rest of the readers. M*A*S*H was a very popular tv series through the 80's. One of the characters is from Toledo and the Mudhens received several mentions in the course of the series. A small subversive action to make you look up some pop culture.😁


Scotlyn said...

Yes, of course. Dressing up and expense need not go together. But my point is, it is far from uncommon for people to rank dressing up and arranging rituals, entertainments, and celebrations as being more worthy of spending your hard-earned *whatever* on than mundane survival. (Cue thousands of ineffectual sermons against poor families going to moneylenders to arrange communions, weddings, funerals, christenings, bar mitzvahs, etc.)...

There is a related apocryphal story anthropologists tell each other when they gather. (I've heard two or three versions). It seems Mr/Ms Ethno Grapher spent time with the Elsewhere Natives who were nomadic hunter gatherers with little by way of material culture. Ms Grapher recorded songs and dances and returned to the Academy in the West where she wrote up a deep & significant analysis of Elsewhere Native traditional dances & songs. A year or two later Mr Grapher returns to Elsewhere with a film crew and plays some of the recordings to the Natives and asks could they do some of the dances again for a better quality broadcast. To great guffaws from the Elsewhere Natives who say: "but that was last years song, and no one arranges their dancing beads like THAT anymore. Do you want to see the new ones?"

Coco said...

First, thank you for the highly enjoyable narrative. Well done.

And, since asked, I second the request for an incidental character/s who is less agreeable/plucky/kind/content/earnest than the rest we´ve met. Is no one irritatingly negative in Lakeland? No one insufferably judgemental, hypocritical, unethical or simply greedy? They don´t need to be mustache-twirling evil, just unpleasant.

I also wonder if Carr wouldn´t be more surprised by the quality of the food. Even if he´s accustomed to eating well back home, I assume industrial agriculture is the norm. Wouldn´t fresh, organic, free range food, expertly prepared, be something of a shock to his palate?

I just found out that we live in one of the lowest income counties of the country. Less distance to fall!

Again, a highly enjoyable series. Thank you.

Cherokee Organics said...


That was a very sweet ending and I do hope that the character Peter ends up with Melanie, but then I am a romantic deep down. I can’t believe you blithely skipped over the developing relationship of Peter and Melanie! Did you perhaps believe that we would not notice? Hehehe!!!! For some strange reason, with all of your recent hints about the direction of the story, I believed that the story would have had a much darker ending... For some reason I had a mental image that the returning train with Peter Carr on board would be taken out by an IED. Dunno why.

If you may indulge me with recounting a little short story from the sayings of Wu Tzu...

"The Lord Wen once assembled a number of his subjects to discuss affairs of state: and none could equal him in wisdom, and when he left the council chamber his face was pleased.

Then Wu advanced and said:

In ancient times, Lord Chuang of Chu once consulted with his lieges, and none were like unto him in wisdom; and when the Lord left the council chamber his countenance was troubled. Then the Duke Shen asked and said: 'Why is my Lord troubled?' And he answered: 'I have heard that the world is never without sages, and that in every country there are wise men; that good advisers are the foundation of an empire; and friends of dominion. Now, if I, lacking wisdom, have no equal among the multitude of my officers, dangerous indeed is the state of Chu. It grieves me that whereas Prince Chuang of Chu was troubled in a like case my Lord should be pleased.'

And hearing this Lord Wen was inwardly troubled."

Just sayin... My, my, but that Wu Tzu dude had a sharp tongue with some great insights! :-)! And, I tell you what, but I have been there too and been the only dissenting voice - which got drowned out.

Thanks for continuing the Retrotopia story and I look forward to the next instalment. Incidentally, I believe zinc which is quite an important and useful metal is now in short supply and no further large deposits are being exploited because they haven’t been discovered (that is code word for not existing if ever I saw it used that way).

Incidentally, I have almost finished reading your book Innsmouth. The joy and delight that you had in writing that book shines through to me in the words. I reckon you must have had fun writing it? So when is part two and three being released?



Unknown said...

JMG, if I may, I think your choice of not considering a movie version of Retropia will cost you a golden opportunity to get your message out to a wider audience, and perhaps more importantly, to that wider audience faster. It was your reply to Jo that focused my mind on this issue. That, and your critique of others in the change business. There are more movie makers out there than just the big studios. Yours would be a great project for some indie producer looking for something different to break into the mainstream with. Crowd funding is a thing, and I suspect your audience is better heeled than you know. I pledge Aus$100 to start the ball rolling. I say this because, while I read books, my partner is not a great reader, but she will sit and watch a movie, and if it interests her she will watch it several times to wring the full meaning out of it. Watching it with her and our son would start a conversation in a way that would never happen with a book, likewise with many other friends and family. I understand your reticence but I would regret not pointing out the opportunity you would miss to do humanity a great service.

James M Jensen, re a word for regressive progress. Many years ago two friends of mine invented "posterous" as a joke. They used to roll it into conversation just to see if anyone spotted it and asked what it meant. In over a year I was the only tone to spot it. It is a word seeking a meaning, and as mechanical fitters, both could be relied upon to understand the idea that progress is not always better, and sometimes its just posterous.

Roy Smith, re nuclear power. Safety is moot when your reactor is situated on a big ship that amounts to nothing more than a slow moving target for any one of the many enemies your nation is going hell for leather to generate. You seem to have entirely missed the existence of that very major point.

All the best form a very wet Tasmania.

eagle eye

Eric S. said...

@Halfiore: that's exactly the sort of thing I was thinking of too, the days when cinema was part of the theatre going experience, mixed into vaudeville culture and was much more decentralized and a lot freer. I have a hard time picturing a reason for Carr to encounter that end of society, he's dining with diplomats and attending the finest operas. But I can imagine some of the pop culture of the masses being projected on (plant resin based) celluloid. It'd be the domain of street and stage performers working with stage magicians and hobbyists, so the products would be much more in the vein of Georges Méliès films, but that's an art form that so long as the chemical process behind making photosensitive celluloid is not forgotten could continue well into the de-industrial dark ages, and it doesn't have to be the centralized behemoth the film industry is today, or the mind-numbing propaganda engine that's been discussed in the past.

Sylvia Rissell said...

I can imagine a vaudeville skit where a visitor (wearing bioplastic) from the Atlantic Republic tries to use his Vpad and stumbles around blindly "trying to get a signal". Various Lakeland types will either help, hinder, or ignore him.

trippticket said...

"James, exactly. There's a fundamentalism of progress, exactly parallel to other kinds of fundamentalism, and like them, it's wedged itself into a self-reinforcing belief system that prevents disproof. All you can do is walk away."

1) I have no idea what this is in reference to, but it reminds me of this South Dakota oil pipeline protest, with people driving their cars from all over the country to gather in solidarity. Um...driving your cars? Aren't you just reinforcing what the "bad guys" are doing? I think I'll just stay home and work in the garden instead.

2) On a related note, I saw another of those Fight Breast Cancer license plates on a slick 4-series twin turbo BMW the other day while running errands with my jet-setting friend. Got a lot of dead air from him when I popped off "you want to fight breast cancer, grow your own food and stop driving your fancy sports car!"

3) We have been correcting some lighting and ceiling fan problems around the farm lately, and when I picked up a "dark sky" light fixture for over the barn door, my friend (the same friend just mentioned) really laid it on thick about how important that was, to battle light pollution. Then I came back with "I don't worry too much about light pollution, since the entire planet will be slowly getting darker every year from here on out, probably for the rest of Earth's history." More consternation.

There is rarely a greener alternative without employing the LESS principle, but it sure is a lot easier to feel pious about your green pet peeves when you aren't willing to make actual changes to your way of life.

I guess one of the main hurdles left now is to stop participating with this internet thingy...

David, by the lake said...


Since the post touches on economics, this might be considered on-topic.

So we've reached the point where we acknowledge that we are pumping a massive asset bubble, but assert that it has infinite capacity and is "unpoppable" because we are inflating cash and cash is completely under the control (sic) of the central banks?

Eric S. said...

@JMG and Armata: I'm pretty sure that the Lakeland Republic -did- bring back the Hokey Pokey. How else do you explain the entire country turning itself around?

Scotlyn said...

I would like to concur with others that the revelation that Carr went to Lakeland essentially "on a dare" set up by Ellen Montrose was a truly surprising, and also very pleasing, plot twist.

In ref to the discussion between yourself and Halfiore, I agree with both of you, and can do that (I think) because it does not seem to me that your points are mutually contradictory.

To win, it IS absolutely true (per JMG) that you must stop reacting and choose the stakes and the battleground. I am certainly looking forward to your posts making proposals in this regard.

But likewise, in order to not lose (per Halfiore) once someone has determined that the battleground shall be your land, and the stakes shall be the springs of your livelihood and well-being, you MUST mount a defense - ie you must react.

Defense of one's home in the face of attack is not a seizure of initiative, nevertheless if you fail to defend it, you've lost already, and will have no opportunity to change the stakes or battleground.

It seems to me that defending what matters to the heart and to those one cares about will always be powerfully motivating. (and is very much evident in the case in point).

And a movement with a vision changing the stakes and the battleground, so as to win, will be much energised if it were to connect its vision with that kind of motivation.

Justin Patrick Moore said...


I've been loving this story. It will be great to hopefully get a print copy some time. That-being-said, it was nice to get my first print version of The Archdruid Report 'zine. Now I can stay caught up with your essays while on the bus -or streetcar that starts officially today here in Cincinnati (southwest Lakeland Republic). I can only hope the streetcar is as successful as Mikkleson's company.

All the best!

Morgenfrue said...

Is there anyone who can enlighten me as to the point of cosplay? Is it really just adults using their precious time and money to play dress up? I get theater, and historical reenactment, and if I grit my teeth the sca, but cosplay I find mildly embarrassing. I just don't get it. (Which is not to say that people shouldn't be doing it, if that is what blows their skirts up.)

But do we really think that such unpragmatic pursuits will make it through the gap, so to speak? I find it much more likely that people will develop sewing skills by sewing garments, bedding, quilts, mending, refurbishing and so on- and likely from childhood.

SamuraiArtGuy said...

Hello,Hal, actually i do get it, and JMG does hit it here.

Hal, okay, let me try again. When's the last time you saw an environmental demonstration that was for something?

Spot on, the Native Folk are between a (Standing) Rock and a hard place, with little political power vs the Corporatocracy, and can safely be ignored by both our political leadership and (most of) the Media. Who let Lawence O'Donnel's leash slip? . But they don't consider themselves environmental activists, they're fighting for their lives, and the cause resonates.

But JMG is correct in the state of Environmental Activism. For the most part they are presting a choise between two negative scenarios. Eventual doom through environmentla degradation and respurce depletion. Or... Wait for it...IMMEDIATE degradation of their lifestyles by getting by with a lot LESS... of just about EVERYTHING. 75 PERCENT less, by some estimates, less food, less electricity, less leisure time, less clothes, smlaller houses and cars, or no cars, less toys. Real appealing, and not offering an appealing third alternative. Most people, Amaericans in particular, will readily choose present comfort and hypothetical future crisis versus shitcanning their current lifestyles in the here and now, absent any appealing alternative. Futhermore, most of the movement seems to have the expectation that the lions share of the sacrifices will be borne on the backs of the already embattled and misrerable wage class, so they're gojing to sign up for more misery?

"I like my TV, SUV and smartphone. So $&@#% that noise. I'm sure our grandchildren will figure something out with some unknown future miracle tech."

The reservation Native protestors do have this going for them, they are HARDLY salary class - they are America's poorest of the poor, Prisoners of War in all but name. In many cases at the absolute bottom of our Welfare Class.
That gives them a certain moral ligitimacy versus the unmasked greed of the Energy Corps. Whether that will be enough, remains to be seen. Largely depends on who owns the relevant judges.

Patricia Mathews said...

Speaking of keeping cool in hot weather - I lived in Indianapolis in late childhood, in the days before air conditioning. You can fend off "cold and wet" with warm wool clothing, as we did back then. But hot and muggy? That can be as life-threatening as hot and dry for the fragile sick and elderly. And swamp coolers do not work when it's muggy. Refrigerated air calls for as complex an industrial plant as any other modern amenity.

And --- Peter Carr would probably suffer miserably without it. It would be extremely interesting to see, not only how Lakeland handles this (I know of several ways, but most of the building for the climate workarounds I know are desert-oriented, which is not the same, and I was too young to be interested in how it was done when I was last in the Midwest.)

As for Carr ... oh, yes. He'd think of it as one of the basic necessities of life. May as well ask him to go without food, water, and heat! And I'd buy tickets to see that!

Olivier said...

A big thanks and admiration for your engagement with readers.
Your narrative fiction and day to day practical storyline is indeed extremely powerful in regards to make people imagine a positive possible future.

Few comments from me:
- would it be possible to have more details on the governance and decision model used in Lakeland republic? IMHO, the election system (choosing masters to write the law, instead of choosing the best laws), the presence of professional politicians, made me wonder how the lakeland republic managed to keep greed, lobbies, media influence and human power lust under control to have near 30 years of real progress for all.
It would be excellent if you could shed more lights on working alternatives of real democratic governance e.g. Sortition, direct voting on decision/laws instead of representative leaders, non-professional politics with single mandate, ...
- would the corn-belt still be the corn belt in 2065, considering a very likely different climate all together? Have you considered giving some clue or ideas of climate change and disruptions that happened between 2016 and 2065 ?

Looking forward to the final book, I need to do my part and find a way to make a French translation happen.

Your long descent book and this draft retrotopia made me change my plans and future. Thanks - Olivier.

Ed-M said...


Jeez, 137 comments, so far! At least it's not over 200 but it will be tomorrow! (A nervous LOL)

In Lionel Shriver's The Mandibles, in the second part of the book, there's this retrotopia (not completely retro -- it has wireless telecommunications) that the USA has marked as a jurisdictione non grata called The United States of Nevada. Of course, what was implausible to me is that in the book, the USA has gone so far up the blind Progress Alley that most everyone is compelled to wear a chip (the Mark of the Beast!) implanted on their person and the IRS is this quasi-god who sees all and knows all, because of, you know, money.

@ John Dunn 9/7/16, 4:53 PM -

"WW treatment eats the energy. WW lagoons become a best technology choice."

So do biological wastewater treatment greenhouses. The sewerage delivers the noxious waste as natural resources for the plants therein who recycle it as nutrients for aquatic creatures which then can be harvested along with the plants. And them's good eatin'. Better yet, no lagoons that emit an intolerable *smell*.

@ Doug 9/8/16, 6:50 AM -

"So far, we know we need to connect 'wealthy' landowners who do not wish to farm, with young farmers (the New Peasantry) who are okay working the dirt for not much money. They aren't making a living, they're living a life. But they can't do it yet without outside money."

You are right to call them the New Peasantry. This sort of business model is actually planting the seeds of a new feudalism. But with the internet and at least with coordinating committees, a.k.a., non-profits, we're better off than the lumpen-proletarians in the ancient and vast Roman Empire were. They had to link up with the wealthy landowners all by themselves.

And some landowners today are setting aside their lands as privately-owned wildlife refuges, hoping to link up with others and with government lands to form wildlife corridors. I bet some were back then, too.

@ Spanish Fly 9/8/16, 8:44 AM -

"30 years more of 'peaceful' economic contraction scenarios: a good recipe for a half dozen of Cheno-Fukushimas."

Worst case scenario is 400-something of them. That's how many nuclear power stations we have world-wide.

Helix said...

JMG: Following on from Myriad's points, one serious fly in the ointment is agricultural production: in particular the demands made on the soil for food production. Right now, a lot of soil nutrients take a one-way trip from the field, to the crops, to a city or suburb, and then to an underground septic field, sewage treatment plant, or convenient river or ocean. While there is some modest recycling, it's nowhere nearly rigorously pursued. It's also expensive, being essentially another trip in the opposite direction as that taken by the food.

Nevertheless, in a future of phosphate and potassium depletion in particular, it will become a mandatory step in maintaining soil fertility. And as energy sources become tighter, a lot of this work may well become manual. This is not a prospect that most people embrace with much enthusiasm.

Any thoughts on how this might be handled in the Lakeland Republic?

pygmycory said...

Armata, I'm not sure US salary-class liberals count as 'left'. They abandoned just about everything that made them left wing years, if not decades ago.

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

Hi JMG et al,
I have very much enjoyed Retrotopia--Is it possible to pre-order it from the publisher?
Plot suggestions; 1) Carr returns to Atlantic, troubled because he knows that if he accepts appointment as Ambassador, he must give up his Amour; But if he declines it, he must give up his career. When he meets the President on returning, she already knows about his Amour thru her spy network. She makes someone else the Ambassador, demotes him to "Charge d'Affairs" or other lesser position that does allow for dalliance, and sends him there with the delegation anyway.
2) There are already cultural differences between the MidWest and Atlantic states in the US. Consider the in-your-face interaction style of many New Yorkers, vs the more-communitarian but also more private interaction style of MidWesterners. Was the adoption of a Retrotopian style of government aided by MidWestern culture, and did it reinforce that culture once adopted? How hard will it be for Montrose and her team to overcome isolation, selfishness and rudeness that characterize much of the urban East? Or did people learn how to get along with their neighbors and help each other during the 2nd Civil War?
I recently moved from the urban East-Coast Baltimore to rural Western British Columbia, and have often been struck by the much stronger community ties that exist out here in BC. I'm not saying it is all better, but much is different here.

pygmycory said...

JMG, glad you liked it. I was a bit worried I was way off topic.

Incidentally, I think one big factor in the decline of Noldor was their failure to marry and have kids at a decent rate in Middle-earth. Part of the fault of this is probably basic elvish psychology as Tolkien wrote it, but a lot of it is the fault of the Laws of the Eldar, which don't allow remarriage after the death (or leaving behind in Valinor) of a spouse. This leads to a lot of lonely people, and also to people leaving for Valinor to go see if their partner is out of Mandos yet. It also leads to people not marrying unless everything is absolutely peaceful, which it rarely is in Middle-earth. Seriously, among the descendants of Finwe in the second age you have no marriages and one child, while there are two deaths and the extinction of the direct male line, and the High Kingship. Those laws are not suited to Middle-earth conditions at all.

Then you've got large numbers of people up and leaving for Valinor every single time there's a war in the second or third age, and people knowing that they can just up and leave if things get bad. I tend to think this reduces their attentiveness to what is going on around them.

And the desire for things to stay the same, as embodied by the three elven rings. And when the Rings failed at the end of the third age, and change arrived in Lothlorien and Rivendell, what happened? Lothlorien disbands completely, and Rivendell loses much of its population as the elves leave for Valinor. Adaptation to a changed world: epic fail.

Meanwhile, the elves of Mirkwood successfully pass their Kingship down, move the nation as needed, and are the only elvish realm of decent size surviving into the Fourth age.

pygmycory said...

Neosaur means 'new lizard'. I suppose the baby bearded dragons at the store would count! They're a lot cuter than the sort of things you're talking about, too.

pygmycory said...

JMG, I got the impression near the start of the story that there are a significant number of people in the Atlantic Republic living below the radar out in the ruined 'burbs', possibly as squatters. Are they growing vegetable gardens? They'd have the space.

Helix said...

@Roy Smith re "for-profit corporations as we have them in the modern industrial world and the institutional culture I see as necessary to support nuclear power can't really co-exist."

And that's really the crux of the issue, isn't it? I live not too far (upwind) from a nuclear power station in central Virginia. As it turns out, the plant was built on a fault line! Not a fault line. ON a fault line. The plant is designed to withstand a 5.9 earthquake, but we had a 5.7 a few years back and it took some quick, deft manual intervention to prevent a catastrophe. I'm not confident that the plant would survive a 5.9 earthquake.

Of course Fukushima is the poster-child example. The nuclear plant there is in a known tsunami zone. There are even monuments dotting Japan's northeast coastline warning of the tsunami peril, including one warning residents not to seek higher ground on the hill on which it stood because it was swept clean in a previous tsunami. Yet the backup generators were installed at ground level! Obviously, it's cheaper to install them there than in an elevated location, and so that's where they were placed, with results we're painfully familiar with. Investigations following the disaster revealed that company officials had known about the risks, and had furthermore falsified safety records for at least 30 years.

Given today's environment of hypercompetitive markets and lax regulation, I'm pretty sure that cost-cutting shortcuts will just about always be taken in the name of profits.

And don't even get me started on storage of radioactive wastes.

Ozark Chinquapin said...

I'm not sure if this would be something for Retrotopia or not, but it goes with the theme of the story.

I'd be interested in a more in depth discussion of mechanization's effects on the economy. A major point of the book seems to be that mechanization takes away jobs and stifles the economy. I imagine anyone who's thought much about it realizes that mechanization reduces the need for human labor, but then that's part of the grand vision of progress, isn't it? Machines replacing human labor was going to mean that humanity would be prosperous with far less human effort, everyone could work few hours and have lots of leisure time. It didn't actually work out that way, but I see that vision still holding enough sway that many people reflexively support any mechanization thinking it will make everyone's life better. Although now, the grand vision of progress has faded a lot, replaced by a belief that mechanization and other means of "progress" are simply inevitable and can't be any other way. I see your story addressing the latter view quite well, offering an alternative way forward. Still, I'd be interested in hearing a more in depth discussion of why, even during the zenith of the era of cheap energy, mechanization never delivered the benefits that so many writers up until the mid-20th century (and many even now) assumed would come with it. I read Ecotopia recently for the first time, and I saw the same ideas there too in green clothing, as green technology gave them all a 20 hour workweek.

I mention this because I personally haven't come across anything that addresses directly the failings of why mechanization fails to lead to the lives of leisure that so many assumed would happen. Sure, there's plenty out there that has pointed out the unsustainability of industrial society, but there must be more to the mechanization issue than just resource limits, as it wasn't delivering as promised even when energy was at its cheapest.

latefall said...

Re Theater, masquerades, cosplay and waste of resources
Skip to 26:50 of David Graeber and David Wengrow: Palaeolithic Politics and Why It Still Matters:
I can recommend watching/listening to the whole lecture as I found it pretty good at dissolving thought stoppers.

Re soil quality and cycling nutrients @Helix
Trains running at night, barges, or perhaps temporary canals (let them silt up eventually) could do something. I don't think ropeways could handle the mass, not convinced the other methods would work sufficiently. Perhaps you could just move the stuff upwind/upstream and wait for it to disperse over a century or so?

Re Nuclear power and expertise
Perhaps you will find this data point interesting to follow then:
It does not need a containment, because the crew is highly professional and has long experience with the thing (in contrast to the typical Western outsourcing apparently). That is at least the rationale of the safety commission. Being upwind of a capital city in a geopolitically moderately stable region (electricity price hikes led to unrest) does not bode well.

Re Sortition @Olivier
You mean looking in the direction of Etienne Chouard, right? The is lots of interesting thought there. I recently learned of a slightly more gradual approach (apparently being discussed in Greece to some degree):
If people do not vote, it is counted as a vote for representation by sortition. I think that could work very well in many European legislations. From my perspective the first-past-the-post system used in the USA introduces so many unhealthy dynamics that this is probably where I would start tinkering. Coalitions, consensus, and compromise are very unsexy but generally helpful ingredients I'd say.

Ahavah said...

@ Patricia Mathews

While we do have outdoor laundry lines, they have hardly been used this year due to the ridiculous amount of rain followed by high humidity we have had. Instead, we placed two cedar boards on opposite sides of a partition in our basement, and put the eye half of some heavy duty hook and eye sets about 6" apart on each of the boards. We have a total of 7 eyes on each board. We then used hooks as endpieces of laundry line and strung them between the boards in the basement, with an oscillating fan blowing toward them to help with stiffness. (You'll need an extra package of hooks, as the eyes only come with one.) Make sure you find studs or use anchors to put up the boards and they can absolutely hold blankets, quilts, comforters, mattress pads, heavy towels, and other weighty things. We have never had one fall down.

This knocked our electric budget down by about 30% alone - we only use the dryer now to fluff things on the fluff cycle or to dry batches of little things like socks or dish rags. At our old town house, we had the same system in the dining room - with the boards painted the same color as the walls. When we had guests over, we strung lights and streamers instead of laundry lines, and everybody thought it was awesome. They never realized it was camouflage for laundry drying. :) You can also use hangers to dry many things on your shower curtain rod overnight, with the exhaust fan on to send the humidity outside. They are certainly sturdy enough for heavy towels and comforters. Just make sure you clean the tops of the rods before you toss things over them - they do get dirty up there, believe it or not.

Hope this helps.

Justin said...

SamuraiArtGuy, my former-environmentalist Baby Boomer parents are seriously suggesting that I go back to university to get a masters degree, pHd or more and develop a new energy source to help with 'climate change' (which I think is often a codeword for 'running out of dino juice'). There's just no helping some people. They fly about half an Earth circumference a year for pleasure too and between them drive 150 km a day. They're vegans though, so it's OK.

olivier64 said...

@JMG You'll forgive me if I suspect a smidgen of coquetterie in your claim to be a lone voice in the wilderness. If you read, say, the Bill Bonner Letter you'll see that there is considerable overlap, at least on economic and some social matters. For instance Bill inveighs indefatigably against what he calls zombie companies and zombie industries, i.e., your subsidy dumpsters. His style is mocking and detached, not truculent (Kunstler) or didactic (you) but still at times it's like he is channeling you or vice-versa.

This is significant because he is (or was) the chairman of Agora Publications, a tentacular publishing concern that is probably the largest publisher of financial newsletters in the US. Agora and its affiliates boast a database (although not necessarily a readership) with millions of names in it, which I find credible. They are not quite mainstream, indeed they are proud contrarians, but almost by definition neither are they a voice in the wilderness: they are much too big for that.

Cortes said...

I raise my glass to salute you, sir!


One of the original farm distilleries of Speyside, Macallan became legal in 1824 when Alexander Reid obtained (or was persuaded to obtain) one of the new licences issued after the passing of the 1823 Excise Act. In 1868, James Stuart took the lease and rebuilt the plant. His ownership ended in 1892, when he sold Macallan to one of the giants of Victorian distilling, Roderick Kemp, who had previously owned Talisker (although he never owned both distilleries at the same time). Kemp’s ancestors – in particular the Shiach family – retained ownership until the 1996 takeover by Highland Distillers (now Edrington)." Presumably ancestors is an error for descendants, but otherwise...

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@JMG and Ozark Chinquapin--Aldo Leopold Normal School. Thoreau Elementary.

Armata said...

Good news about Standing Rock.

The Army Corps of Engineers has suspended the project by withdrawing the necessary permits and has said it will revisit its standards for ensuring that First Nations voices are heard in cases involving Native lands.

olivier64 said...

@Unknown While neither a movie or a TV adaptation is likely, in my opinion Retrotopia: a succession of vignettes with hardly any plot or action, is poor movie material and much better suited to a TV series. Stretching it over several episodes would also enhance its impact because viewers would have time to mull over the material between episodes, which would serve the didactic purpose of the story very well.

Jo said...

@ Ed M

Continuing our previous conversation re suburbs - you are right, I do live in an inner suburb of a very walkable, older regional city built by the first settlers in Tasmania. I was kind of using it as an example of what can be done.

Everything I have ever heard of the Great American Suburb is indeed abysmal - I looked up some images on-line, and you are right, they are truly dire from the standpoint of being liveable in a car-free society. Did you notice the plot point in last weeks ADR post where Mikkelson is salvaging a gated community? I see you have read The Mandibles? A bit familiar, isn't it?

However, major catastrophes and civil wars aside, the future I see for suburbs is this - inner cities will become more an more gentrified and expensive, as the wealthy always get first dibs on the best bits, and the best bits will be a walkable neighbourhood. Suburbs will be left to the poor, and will become less and less regulated. Lack of transport will mean that those trapped in the suburbs will have to organise their own communities, which will operate largely on the salvage economy for some time. Those big box stores have lots of steel in them, after all! Many abandoned houses will indeed moulder away, and after a couple of decades there will be a bunch of green space, returning to wilderness, which can then be farmed - much like what is happening in Detroit right now. I think what we may see is the re-emergence of 'villages' - small, walkable communities, little centres of commerce and community retained among the rubble and returning fields of the old suburbs. Of course, there will no doubt be much violence, poverty and degradation to get through first, as is also very much in evidence in Detroit..

But think how much better it would be if there were political will to help that process along in a safer and more orderly fashion, in the manner of the Atlantic Republic's new government..

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Patricia,

I do not have air conditioning in my house and there are plenty of passive ways to get around that problem. It can get to 114'F in the shade here too. And right now outside it is 99% humidity. Of course it can be done, but it is worth considering that our housing stock reflects our desire to mechanically heat and cool the insides. We as a society don't generally live, where we live, if you get my meaning. We are perhaps the great pretenders!



donalfagan said...

@Cosplay: Morgenfrue, my daughter is an anime fan, so I used to take her to Otakon every year. First year, she dressed up as Sonozaki Shion, so I put together a costume as Kuraudo Oishi. Then she was Kudo Shinichi, so I was Professor Agasa. And so on. We met a very nice group of people there. Dances and skits would just break out in the crowd, and we could jump in. She felt that she was among her kind of people - which for an Aspie is a good feeling. I have felt that way working in theatre, and felt that way at the Age of Limits conference, so I can understand. Perhaps it is similar to Civil War re-enactors, or going to the Rocky Horror Show every weekend.

KL Cooke said...

maybe off topic (I'm not sure what the topic is this week), but an interesting essay regarding the election.

ganv said...

This story has me puzzling over why we so adamantly pursue new things even when we know change will most likely be for the worse. People see the problems around them and imagine solutions, but for a system as complex as human society, they can't imagine the other problems their solution will create. I suspect we will see a backlash against the innovation mania of the past couple of decades. With Gates, Brin, Page and Zuckerberg as the success stories of our era, it is natural that innovation became an obsession. But we now live in a world where very few invest a decade in doing something right because everyone assumes the world will be so different in 10 years that it isn't worth the effort.

John Michael Greer said...

Clarence, fair enough -- but the team actually exists, as it turns out, and so I may well do something with that. Thank you!

Scotlyn, too funny. There were similar problems with folklorists in early 20th century Britain trying to find the authentic ancient handed-down-from-forever customs of the folk, while the folk themselves were doing what they normally did and changing things every single year. This is one of the reasons why I never bought the claim that Wicca had been passed down unchanged from the Neolithic...

Coco, the food's a good point. As for the other, remember that this is a utopian narrative, and having lots of helpful people to explain this, that and the other goes with that genre. If I was writing ordinary science fiction, I'd have done a much rougher, more problematic society -- those make for more interesting plots -- but the point of a utopian narrative is to point up a better way of doing things, and talkative, friendly tour guides are kind of indispensible.

Cherokee, many thanks for the Wu Tzu story! I wonder if we can pick up a shipping container or two of ancient Chinese sages and turn 'em loose -- the intellectual carnage would be worth the price. Thanks for the tip on zinc -- I'll look into it, and add a zinc shortage to the list of headlines. As for The Weird of Hali, I'm not sure what the current schedule is; I think the publisher's waiting to sell off the first volume in hardback before he brings out the second. (The third is in final edits right now, and the fourth is 3/4 done; you may be interested to know that Dr. Miriam Akeley, as a result of a long and intricate series of events, is crossing the Cerenerian Sea on a galleon to find Randolph Carter...)

Unknown Eagle Eye, I didn't say that I'm not willing to see Retrotopia in movie form. I said that I'd be extremely wary and demand some degree of creative control. The one time I've had somebody approach me about a movie version of one of my books, the guy wanted to take Star's Reach -- a story about how we're not going to the stars -- and turn it into a story about how we're going to the stars. I could just as easily see some studio decide to film Retrotopia, and then turn it into a morality play in which adopting past technology by definition means you also have to adopt Victorian social mores, massive infant mortality, and ultimately go back to the caves. That's the conventional wisdom, after all, and you don't make a box office hit by contradicting the conventional wisdom.

Sylvia, that would be hilarious! I don't know if I can fit it in, but we'll see.

Tripp, understood, but I'll miss your comments.

David, sure, in the words of Irving Fisher, the economy has reached a permanently high plateau. (As I quietly strap on a crash helmet...)

Eric, maybe that is what it's all about. ;-)

RPC said...

"RPC, electronic voting didn't outlast the old Union -- it turned out to be so easy to hack that in the 2020 election, Bozo the Clown won the presidency." One could argue that Bozo the Clown is going to get elected in 2016 (regardless of which major candidate wins)!

John Michael Greer said...

Scotlyn, of course, but my point yet again is that if all you do is wait for the other side to attack something you care about, and only then try to organize a resistance to it, you lose. The best way to preserve the things you care about is to mount so relentless an attack on the other side's positions that they're too busy defending their own ground to threaten yours. It baffles me that this is so difficult for so many people to grasp!

Justin, delighted to hear that you've got a streetcar! Now to get the rest of the system in place, moving people cheaply and conveniently all over Cincinnati...

Patricia, there's a reason I set this in November, you know. He'll have some months to get used to the weather. (I'm still working on it -- Cumberland, MD is plenty hot and humid at the moment...)

Olivier, thank you! Since this is, ahem, a Retrotopia, I'm taking the old-fashioned system we have in America, returning it somewhat to its roots, and bringing in a couple of other well-tested features, such as proportional representation, that have also proved themselves in practice. It might be interesting to do a story with some kind of very different system, but again, the point of this narrative is that there's much of value to be quarried from the past. With regard to the corn belt, yes -- corn is grown from the plains states of North America south all the way to the equator, so it'll be viable over the long term as long as there's enough water.

Ed-M, interesting. I haven't read The Mandibles yet, though I'll doubtless make time to do so one of these days.

Helix, already covered. Manure, human as well as animal, is purchased by tier four and five municipalities, shipped via canal, and fermented to produce methane for electrical generation; the residue, which contains all the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, is sold back to farm country as fertilizer. Combined with green manures and other soil-building agricultural practices, that yields steady crop yields for the indefinite future.

Emmanuel, it'll be available for preorder in the not too distant future -- the contract's already been signed, and it's just a matter of final edits at this point. I'll post something when the sales link goes live. As for your other two points, I've pretty much settled the plot, and as for the behavior of East Coast types, I come from laid-back Seattle, and I don't find East Coast people especially abrasive -- I wonder if that stereotype is a bit overblown.

Pygmycory, you really ought to write this up in detail and put it on a Tolkien website somewhere. Take an Elvish pen name, and present it as an analysis -- written, no doubt, in Mirkwood in the early Fourth Age -- of the rise, decline, and collapse of the Noldorin colony in Middle-Earth during the Second and Third Age. I think a lot of Tolkien fans would delight in it; certainly I would!

With regard to squatters in the Atlantic Republic, that's a good point, but they're a somewhat different population from the working poor. The squatters have dropped out of the system completely and scrape by on what they can grow, salvage, and barter. Hmm...

Ozark, that's a major question, and something that probably deserves at least one post all to itself. You're right that there was a massive disjunct between what everyone expected and what actually happened -- several disjuncts, actually. I'll want to brood on that, do some research, and see what comes of it.

James M. Jensen II said...

Forget the Hokey Pokey! Trump might bring back "My Mother the Car"! If that's not enough to make your blood run cold, nothing is...

John Michael Greer said...

Latefall, I'll pass on the video clip -- perhaps you can summarize?

Olivier, is Bonner talking about progress as the enemy of prosperity, or criticizing the idea of progress as an ersatz religion? If so, I'll be greatly impressed; if not, well, I'm quite comfortable out here in the wilderness, you know.

Cortes, thank you! Yes, I did have that in mind -- it's a favorite Scotch of mine -- when I named the character.

Unknown Deborah, I always wanted to attend an Abnormal School...

Armata, thus saving the Clinton campaign from being caught in a vise between its petroleum industry donors and its progressive voters. I hope the ban stays in place after November.

KL Cooke, the topic of this week's post is of course Retrotopia. As for the Claremont article, I'd love to have the author sit down with one of those people on the left who like to talk about the conservative juggernaut steamrollering its way over everybody -- I wonder what the two of them would do when they realized they're both using the same cherrypicking methods and the same language of fighting the War Against Change in the teeth of an unstoppable enemy...

Ganv, I hope so. Your comment, btw, helped inspire a new word; retrovation. This is the process of bringing in something old that works to replace something new that doesn't. It's the wave of the retro future... ;-)

RPC, poor Bozo would be deeply hurt to hear you discussing him in those terms!

John Michael Greer said...

James, funny. By the same logic, you know, voting for him will bring back the buffalo, restock the seas with fish, and get rid of those annoying people who talk to their cell phones in the middle of movies... ;-)

Jo said...

From my previous comment - 'first settlers in Tasmania' - by which I mean white settlers, of course. It is still painfully easy to mis-remember the original settlers of our island.

For those who are interested, probably mostly the Australian readers, I have just finished reading 'The Secret River' by Kate Grenville, concerning the disastrous clash of cultures when Australia's first white settlers met its original inhabitants. I highly recommend this very thoughtful novel. It is not only pertinent to that time and this place, though. At its heart it examines the immense difficulties faced by Europeans who could only see this continent in terms of their own culture, history, climate and social mores, unable to see how the Aboriginal population had settled so successfully in place.

I think we face the same difficulties now going into the future - we can't wrench our heads out of the rut of 'business as usual'. What we need to do is face the realities of our situation and come up with a completely different paradigm for our future successful societies to rest on - a paradigm that isn't 'progress at any cost'.

In Grenville's novel, there is a very, very tiny chink that opens to reveal what might have been possible had the Europeans had the humility to look at another culture and learn from them instead of exterminating them.

Retrotopia is another lens in which to see another possible future, but to take hold of that, as a global society, does require a lot of humility. Relinquishing our hold on the dream of endless progress and being more powerful than Nature itself is going to be very psychically disturbing on a very large scale.

pygmycory said...

JMG, I could write it from the perspective of a gondorian academic, possibly supposedly coauthored by someone like Arwen or a Mirkwood elf. That could work, and it would be fun to make references to academic disputes that don't exist. If I do, I'll let you know when I put it up.

jessi thompson said...

For the actual survivalist bunkers, it might make sense to talk about the wars over who got to hold the bunkers as successive groups take them. But that would be a part of the dystopian future where we collapse quickly and everyone fails to make the transition, not Mr. Greer's narrative.

Hammer said...

JMG, I will miss Retrotopia because it gives me a break from thinking about the disastrous hardships of the future.

It's a weekly ritual: every wednesday night I go to the Archdruid report, and if the post is non-Retrotopia, I read it and worry about how the future is going to be so bad. Throughout the next day I feel empty and sad.

Then on Thursday I read one or two older posts from a few years ago, and become intrigued and interested, and my fear disappears. And the process repeats next week.

With Retrotopia I gained some relief every other week, but now it's gone. Actually I wonder whether this is a good thing. I'll get over my initial fears more quickly, and then I can start planning and acquiring the knowledge I need.


When I first joined, you said there are 5 stages of adjusting to the prospect of the real future, and the first one could be compared to the death of a family member.

Yet I only experience that feeling every Thursday for a few hours, and it's only as strong as the death of a pet fish, if I had one.

I have been in a bubble of privilege for my entire life and have never experienced any hardships. The most difficult thing that ever happened to me is adjusting to a college lifestyle, and that was solved in a few days.

Perhaps I am not feeling any grief because I have no hardship to compare the upcoming economic collapse to? Or am I just feeling it slowly, week by week? What have other readers said in the past, JMG?

jessi thompson said...

If that invention ever hits the market it might just be the thing that makes me cash in my chips and move to remote Alaska. Nuclear scares the bejeezus out of me, because I have worked at far too many jobs in a wide variety of industries and if you're working to make a profit I know you're cutting corners somewhere, it's the way the game is played.

jessi thompson said...

Funny you should mention, I just visited our local Renfair, and it's full of what you might call "cosplayers" and also includes resources for pagans and all sorts of equipment for members if the society for creative anachronism. It's a hotbed of ancient skills from metal smithing and sword combat and falconry to sewing, darning, archery, lace making, and even making chainmail. It's in the middle of farm country, too...

jessi thompson said...

Follow up question: is bristol Wisconsin in lakeland? Or is it part of the chicago republic? (It was the bristol renfair)

jessi thompson said...

Another option would be a substantive crush, where they both just barely restrain themselves from doing the deed. You could build a lot of sexual tension that way and never fully release it, except maybe a meaningful glance when they both realize they will be seeing each other a lot more in the future, or some such hint that they might abandon propriety with wild abandon some ambiguous point after the end of the book. Just a thought.

jessi thompson said...

That's disturbing. I remember seeing a lot of bizarre plants out walking the summer after Fukushima (in Illinois). Dandelions with really fat stems, flowers that were unusually large or unusually small, etc. I suspect we all got a lot more radiation than we were told during the initial meltdown before the containment.

jessi thompson said...

There are a few issues with this. First of all, how certain are you that human civilization can retain the capability ofsafely handling nuclear waste over thousands of years? No human civilization has ever lasted that long, statistics tell you that we will lose the ability to contain the mess long before the waste is safe and (hopefully) long before humans go extinct.

Secondly, nuclear energy is not carbon neutral. For example, all the uranium (a trace mineral) is mined using trucks that burn fossil fuels. Helen Caldicot has a lot more information on the dangers of nuclear energy. Gail Tverberg has some great analyses on "green" technologies and the ways they're currently manufactured. For example, solar panels manufactured in China are made by burning coal. Should we really burn that coal to mke solar panels? Or should we burn the coal to make something more low tech and durable? Or should we focus on drastically cutting the amount of energy we consume to begin with?

KL Cooke said...


"As for the Claremont article, I'd love to have the author sit down with one of those people on the left who like to talk about the conservative juggernaut steamrollering its way over everybody..."

What I found noteworthy about the essay, within the context of the conservative source in which it appeared, is the degree to which it illustrates the schism in the Republican Party. The anonymous author taking to task his fellows for preferring the illusory comforts business-as-usual. A similar fissure among the Democrats seems to be papered over by the capitulation of Sanders and a media generated Greek chorus of “Never Trump.” (I’m no fan of Trump. I think he’s the most dangerous kind of con man—he believes his own con.) If Trump should prevail, I think he will be rendered ineffective by the same obstructionism faced by the current President, only much more so. It may be the Republican Party will go the way of the Whigs, or continue as a rump party, like the Communist Party in Russia that continues to exist in a desiccated form. Regardless, it seems business-as-usual will prevail to the inevitable cataclysm, whether that is arrived at suddenly or gradually, and Retrotopia (in whatever “real world” form it might come about) can only happen in the aftermath.

Attractive as is the Retrotopia you have painted, hesitancy to embrace your vision comes from pessimism that there will be enough like minded participants to bring it about.

Cherokee Organics said...


That would be very amusing to watch. No doubt that they'd have something very clever to say about the state of the world and the delivery would be worth observing too.

As to zinc, I tracked down a Reuters article from last year which as to be expected is very bullish and basically makes the claim that it all doesn't matter: Zinc's infinitely stretchable deficit deadline: Andy Home.

The interesting thing is that: "some of the world's biggest mines come to the end of their natural lives without obvious like-for-like replacements." The Century zinc mine has since closed.

The article then goes on to claim that existing operators are extending extraction on existing mines. Also older mines are also being re-opened and re-worked. But essentially the message is that new large zinc mines have not been found - anywhere. I'd like to be wrong on this matter.

Incidentally, zinc is one really important metal. Certainly the effects will be felt by the Retrotopia timeline. Ouch!

I'll check out the Permaculturenews link too. I used to write for those people.



Martin B said...

@ James: How about "coyotic" for something that is new for the sake of newness and worse than what it replaces?

The derivation is Wile E. Coyote who runs over a cliff and hovers in the air for a moment with his legs spinning before crashing to the ground.

@ JMG: In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, there was a lot of destroyed property, and presumably many owners of property who died intestate or whose heirs died with them or were scattered to the winds.

What legal arrangements were made to regularize the situation? There were large profits to be made from salvage, but to whom did they accrue? Who got control of abandoned or ownerless properties? Were entire neighborhoods razed as in present-day Detroit to cut the costs of maintenance and provide further salvage opportunities?

trippticket said...

Dear Archdruid,
I imagine my departure from the internet will coincide roughly with yours! Whatever I add to or subtract from the conversation, I do so enjoy the company around here...

I expect to witness rural de-electrification (in effect if not in deed) within my lifetime though, so I will be subscribing to more than just Into the Ruins for my future snail mail reading! The second issue of which was at least as good as the first, btw, folks, and both very high quality.

onething said...


" I personally haven't come across anything that addresses directly the failings of why mechanization fails to lead to the lives of leisure that so many assumed would happen."

I suppose it is because the owners of the means of production weren't willing to take less than the maximum they could extract from their businesses. Getting a living on a 20-hour work week would mean being paid a higher wage, basically. The idea that we would have a short work week somehow implied that there weren't people siphoning off the top everything they could; it implied that we had some sort of true communism, in which the workers owned the factory.

Unknown said...

Re: baseball
The professional season goes into the fall, but at almost every other level, from semi-pro on down, it's a spring and especially summertime sport.
Both my grandfathers, one from a small city and the other from a very small town, played in summer "twilight leagues" all through their twenties. As I understand it, in the city there were teams organized by large employers, churches, or lodges. The small towns all had a town team made up of the young men who'd been the stars in high school. In the summer, the guys who farmed presumably had somewhat more time than during the spring or fall,the ones who'd gone college were home, and the sun stayed out late. So there were evening games against nearby towns several times a week, and they were social events.
(My grandfather who played on the town team was a catcher, the only position that puts you very close to each of the other team's players, one at a time as they come up to bat; he had proud stories of the trash talk between him and George Bush of the Kennebunkport team.)
All that to say, Mr. Carr's visiting in the wrong season to see a game in progress, but he could certainly see a well-kept town field tucked in for the winter, with a banner on the fence bragging about being the home of the 2065 _____ County champions.

latefall said...

The specific part had some examples of people buried with inordinate amount of ornaments (e.g at the max of last glacial period), who don't appear to have been anywhere close to being what we commonly understand as "kings" / chieftains or similar.

Also, they list examples where you have hunter gatherers with many of the features of sedentary people. If I understood correctly they want to advance the hypothesis that sedentary => hierarchy, and hunter & gatherer => egalitarian is a false binary, and some hunter & gatherers may have consciously shifted from one to the other seasonally. They would use some of the seasonal overabundance to test out political systems in a temporary/playful style, in order to know what they'd be getting into if they went down that road. So one could argue a form of LARP has been around for a very long time.
There is a bunch of other interesting (for me who knows very little about these things) bits they touched upon, but unfortunately it is without proper references. But if you'd prefer more detail in text I am sure his page can help:

olivier64 said...

@JMG Bill Bonner may no be quite the arch-enemy of modernity but he does talk a lot about the law of diminishing returns, for instance.

SamuraiArtGuy said...

Armata said...
"Good news about Standing Rock.

"The Army Corps of Engineers has suspended the project by withdrawing the necessary permits and has said it will revisit its standards for ensuring that First Nations voices are heard in cases involving Native lands."

An unexpected reprieve and a blessing. Wopila tanka. Pilamaye tunkashilayapi.

But we ain't out the oil slick JUST yet. The powers that be would like nothing better than to shove this out of the news cycle, so they can "get on with it" without so much public scrutiny and sympathy for the Standing Rock Sioux. Note the critical word "paused". Fight on. Stand up. DON'T LOOK AWAY. Many leftist sites wrongly proclaimed the pipeline "killed", which is hardly the case. #MniWiconi

As for going on the eco-offensive, for Traditional Native Americans to take it to the Corporatocracy woukd be a signifigant push, given the lean resources avaialable to that community. Of course taking up with well heeled allies is one of the traps for any movement, discussed in previous posts. But I recall the activites of AIM in my youth, they appeared essentially out of nowhere to assert Red Rights, taking over Federal Facilites, Alcatraz Island, etc., at a time when many Americans thought that Native Americans had been exterminated or completely assimillated. But AIM sure as f**k took some inititiative.

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