Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Future Hiding in Plain Sight

Carl Jung used to argue that meaningful coincidences—in his jargon, synchronicity—were as important as cause and effect in shaping the details of human life. Whether that’s true in the broadest sense, I’ll certainly vouch for the fact that they’re a constant presence in The Archdruid Report. Time and again, just as I sit down to write a post on some theme, somebody sends me a bit of data that casts unexpected light on that very theme.

Last week was a case in point. Regular readers will recall that the theme of last week’s post was the way that pop-culture depictions of deep time implicitly erase the future by presenting accounts of Earth’s long history that begin billions of years ago and end right now. I was brooding over that theme a little more than a week ago, chasing down details of the prehistoric past and the posthistoric future, when one of my readers forwarded me a copy of the latest Joint Operating Environment report by the Pentagon—JOE-35, to use the standard jargon—which attempts to predict the shape of the international environment in which US military operations will take place in 2035, and mostly succeeds in providing a world-class example of the same blindness to the future I discussed in my post.

The report can be downloaded in PDF form here and is worth reading in full. It covers quite a bit of ground, and a thorough response to it would be more the size of a short book than a weekly blog post. The point I want to discuss this week is its identification of six primary “contexts for conflict” that will shape the military environment of the 2030s:

“1. Violent Ideological Competition. Irreconcilable ideas communicated and promoted by identity networks through violence.” That is, states and non-state actors alike will pursue their goals by spreading ideologies hostile to US interests and encouraging violent acts to promote those ideologies.

“2. Threatened U.S. Territory and Sovereignty. Encroachment, erosion, or disregard of U.S. sovereignty and the freedom of its citizens from coercion.” That is, states and non-state actors will attempt to carry out violent acts against US citizens and territory.

“3. Antagonistic Geopolitical Balancing. Increasingly ambitious adversaries maximizing their own influence while actively limiting U.S. influence.” That is, rival powers will pursue their own interests in conflict with those of the United States.
“4. Disrupted Global Commons. Denial or compulsion in spaces and places available to all but owned by none.” That is, the US will no longer be able to count on unimpeded access to the oceans, the air, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum in the pursuit of its interests.

“5. A Contest for Cyberspace. A struggle to define and credibly protect sovereignty in cyberspace.” That is, US cyberwarfare measures will increasingly face effective defenses and US cyberspace assets will increasingly face effective hostile incursions.

“6. Shattered and Reordered Regions. States unable to cope with internal political fractures, environmental stressors, or deliberate external interference.” That is, states will continue to be overwhelmed by the increasingly harsh pressures on national survival in today’s world, and the failed states and stateless zones that will spawn insurgencies and non-state actors hostile to the US.

Apparently nobody at the Pentagon noticed one distinctly odd thing about this outline of the future context of American military operations: it’s not an outline of the future at all. It’s an outline of the present. Every one of these trends is a major factor shaping political and military action around the world right now. JOE-35 therefore assumes, first, that each of these trends will remain locked in place without significant change for the next twenty years, and second, that no new trends of comparable importance will emerge to reshape the strategic landscape between now and 2035. History suggests that both of these are very, very risky assumptions for a great power to make.

It so happens that I have a fair number of readers who serve in the US armed forces just now, and a somewhat larger number who serve in the armed forces of other countries more or less allied with the United States. (I may have readers serving with the armed forces of Russia or China as well, but they haven’t announced themselves—and I suspect, for what it’s worth, that they’re already well acquainted with the points I intend to make.) With those readers in mind, I’d like to suggest a revision to JOE-35, which will take into account the fact that history can’t be expected to stop in its tracks for the next twenty years, just because we want it to. Once that’s included in the analysis, at least five contexts of conflict not mentioned by JOE-35 stand out from the background:

1. A crisis of legitimacy in the United States. Half a century ago, most Americans assumed as a matter of course that the United States had the world’s best, fairest, and most democratic system of government; only a small minority questioned the basic legitimacy of the institutions of government or believed they would be better off under a different system. Since the late 1970s, however, federal policies that subsidized automation and the offshoring of industrial jobs, and tacitly permitted mass illegal immigration to force down wages, have plunged the once-proud American working class into impoverishment and immiseration. While the wealthiest 20% or so of Americans have prospered since then, the other 80% of the population has experienced ongoing declines in standards of living.

The political impact of these policies has been amplified by a culture of contempt toward working class Americans on the part of the affluent minority, and an insistence that any attempt to discuss economic and social impacts of automation, offshoring of jobs, and mass illegal immigration must be dismissed out of hand as mere Luddism, racism, and xenophobia. As a direct consequence, a great many working class Americans—in 1965, by and large, the sector of the public most loyal to American institutions—have lost faith in the US system of government. This shift in values has massive military as well as political implications, since working class Americans are much more likely than others to own guns, to have served in the military, and to see political violence as a potential option.

Thus a domestic insurgency in the United States is a real possibility at this point. Since, as already noted, working class Americans are disproportionately likely to serve in the military, planning for a domestic insurgency in the United States will have to face the possibility that such an insurgency will include veterans familiar with current counterinsurgency doctrine. It will also have to cope with the risk that National Guard and regular armed forces personnel sent to suppress such an insurgency will go over to the insurgent side, transforming the insurgency into a civil war.

As some wag has pointed out, the US military is very good at fighting insurgencies but not so good at defeating them, and the fate of Eastern Bloc nations after the fall of the Soviet Union shows just how fast a government can unravel once its military personnel turn against it. Furthermore, since the crisis of legitimacy is driven by policies backed by a bipartisan consensus, military planners can only deal with the symptoms of a challenge whose causes are beyond their control.

2. The marginalization of the United States in the global arena. Twenty years ago the United States was the world’s sole superpower, having triumphed over the Soviet Union, established a rapprochement with China, and marginalized such hostile Islamic powers as Iran. Those advantages did not survive two decades of overbearing and unreliable US policy, which not only failed to cement the gains of previous decades but succeeded in driving Russia and China, despite their divergent interests and long history of conflict, into an alliance against the United States. Future scholars will likely consider this to be the worst foreign policy misstep in our nation’s history.

Iran’s alignment with the Sino-Russian alliance and, more recently, overtures from the Philippines and Egypt, track the continuation of this trend, as do the establishment of Chinese naval bases across the Indian Ocean from Myanmar to the Horn of Africa, and most recently, Russian moves to reestablish overseas bases in Syria, Egypt, Vietnam, and Cuba. Russia and China are able to approach foreign alliances on the basis of a rational calculus of mutual interest, rather than the dogmatic insistence on national exceptionalism that guides so much of US foreign policy today. This allows them to offer other nations, including putative US allies, better deals than the US is willing to concede.

As a direct result, barring a radical change in its foreign policy, the United States in 2035 will be marginalized by a new global order centered on Beijing and Moscow, denied access to markets and resources by trade agreements hostile to its interests, and will have to struggle to maintain influence even over its “near abroad.” It is unwise to assume, as some current strategists do, that China’s current economic problems will slow that process. Some European leaders in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler among them, assumed that the comparable boom-bust cycle the United States experienced in the 1920s and 1930s meant that the US would be a negligible factor in the European balance of power in the 1940s. I think we all know how that turned out.

Here again, barring a drastic change in US foreign policy, military planners will be forced to deal with the consequences of unwelcome shifts without being able to affect the causes of those shifts. Careful planning can, however, redirect resources away from global commitments that will not survive the process of marginalization, and toward securing the “near abroad” of the United States and withdrawing assets to the continental US to keep them from being compromised by former allies.

3. The rise of “monkeywrenching” warfare. The United States has the most technologically complex military in the history of war. While this is normally considered an advantage, it brings with it no shortage of liabilities. The most important of these is the vulnerability of complex technological systems to “monkeywrenching”—that is, strategies and tactics targeting technological weak points in order to degrade the capacities of a technologically superior force.  The more complex a technology is, as a rule, the wider the range of monkeywrenching attacks that can interfere with it; the more integrated a technology is with other technologies, the more drastic the potential impacts of such attacks. The complexity and integration of US military technology make it a monkeywrencher’s dream target, and current plans for increased complexity and integration will only heighten the risks.

The risks created by the emergence of monkeywrenching warfare are heightened by an attitude that has deep roots in the culture of US military procurement:  the unquestioned assumption that innovation is always improvement. This assumption has played a central role in producing weapons systems such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is so heavily burdened with assorted innovations that it has a much shorter effective range, a much smaller payload, and much higher maintenance costs than competing Russian and Chinese fighters. In effect, the designers of the F-35 were so busy making it innovative that they forgot to make it work. The same thing can be said about many other highly innovative but dubiously effective US military technologies.

Problems caused by excessive innovation can to some extent be anticipated and countered by US military planners. What makes monkeywrenching attacks by hostile states and non-state actors so serious a threat is that it may not be possible to predict them in advance. While US intelligence assets should certainly make every effort to identify monkeywrenching technologies and tactics before they are used, US forces must be aware that at any moment, critical technologies may be put out of operation or turned to the enemy’s advantage without warning. Rigorous training in responding to technological failure, and redundant systems that can operate independently of existing networks, may provide some protection against monkeywrenching, but the risk remains grave.

4. The genesis of warband culture in failed states. While JOE-35 rightly identifies the collapse of weak states into failed-state conditions as a significant military threat, a lack of attention to the lessons of history leads its authors to neglect the most serious risk posed by the collapse of states in a time of general economic retrenchment and cultural crisis. That risk is the emergence of warband culture—a set of cultural norms that dominate the terminal periods of most recorded civilizations and the dark ages that follow them, and play a central role in the historical transformation to dark age conditions.

Historians use the term “warband” to describe a force of young men whose only trade is violence, gathered around a charismatic leader and supporting itself by pillage. While warbands tend to come into being whenever public order collapses or has not yet been imposed, the rise of a self-sustaining warband culture requires a prolonged period of disorder in which governments either do not exist or cannot establish their legitimacy in the eyes of the governed, and warbands become accepted as the de facto governments of territories of various size. Once this happens, the warbands inevitably begin to move outward; the ethos and the economics of the warband alike require access to plunder, and this can best be obtained by invading regions not yet reduced to failed-state conditions, thus spreading the state of affairs that fosters warband culture in the first place.

Most civilizations have had to contend with warbands in their last years, and the record of attempts to quell them by military force is not good. At best, a given massing of warbands can be defeated and driven back into whatever stateless area provides them with their home base; a decade or two later, they can be counted on to return in force. Systematic attempts to depopulate their home base simply drive them into other areas, causing the collapse of public order there. Once warband culture establishes itself solidly on the fringes of a civilization, history suggests, the entire civilized area will eventually be reduced to failed-state conditions by warband incursions, leading to a dark age. Nothing guarantees that the modern industrial world is immune from this same process.

The spread of failed states around the periphery of the industrial world is thus an existential thread not only to the United States but to the entire project of modern civilization. What makes this a critical issue is that US foreign policy and military actions have repeatedly created failed states in which warband culture can flourish:  Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Ukraine are only the most visible examples. Elements of US policy toward Mexico—for example, the “Fast and Furious” gunrunning scheme—show worrisome movement in the same direction. Unless these policies are reversed, the world of 2035 may face conditions like those that have ended civilization more than once in the past.

5. The end of the Holocene environmental optimum. All things considered, the period since the final melting of the great ice sheets some six millennia ago has been extremely propitious for the project of human civilization. Compared to previous epochs, the global climate has been relatively stable, and sea levels have changed only slowly. Furthermore, the globe six thousand years ago was stocked with an impressive array of natural resources, and the capacity of its natural systems to absorb sudden shocks had not been challenged on a global level for some sixty-five million years.

None of those conditions remains the case today. Ongoing dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is rapidly destabilizing the global climate, and triggering ice sheet melting in Greenland and Antarctica that promises to send sea levels up sharply in the decades and centuries ahead. Many other modes of pollution are disrupting natural systems in a galaxy of ways, triggering dramatic environmental changes. Meanwhile breakneck extraction is rapidly depleting the accessible stocks of hundreds of different nonrenewable resources, each of them essential to some aspect of contemporary industrial society, and the capacity of natural systems to cope with the cascading burdens placed upon them by human action has already reached the breaking point in many areas.

The end of the Holocene environmental optimum—the era of relative ecological stability in which human civilization has flourished—is likely to be a prolonged process. By 2035, however, current estimates suggest that the initial round of impacts will be well under way. Shifting climate belts causing agricultural failure, rising sea levels imposing drastic economic burdens on coastal communities and the nations to which they belong, rising real costs for resource extraction driving price spikes and demand destruction, and increasingly intractable conflicts pitting states, non-state actors, and refugee populations against one another for remaining supplies of fuel, raw materials, topsoil, food, and water.

US military planners will need to take increasingly hostile environmental conditions into account. They will also need to prepare for mass movements of refugees out of areas of flooding, famine, and other forms of environmental disruption, on a scale exceeding current refugee flows by orders of magnitude. Finally, since the economic impact of these shifts on the United States will affect the nation’s ability to provide necessary resources for its military, plans for coping with cascading environmental crises will have to take into account the likelihood that the resources needed to do so may be in short supply.

Those are the five contexts for conflict I foresee. What makes them even more challenging than they would otherwise be, of course, is that none of them occur in a vacuum, and each potentially feeds into the others. Thus, for example, it would be in the national interest of Russia and/or China to help fund and supply a domestic insurgency in the United States (contexts 1 and 2); emergent warbands may well be able to equip themselves with the necessary gear to engage in monkeywrenching attacks against US forces sent to contain them (contexts 4 and 3); disruptions driven by environmental change will likely help foster the process of warband formation (contexts 5 and 4), and so on.

That’s the future hiding in plain sight: the implications of US policies in the present and recent past, taken to their logical conclusions. The fact that current Pentagon assessments of the future remain so tightly fixed on the phenomena of the present, with no sense of where those phenomena lead, gives me little hope that any of these bitter outcomes will be avoided.

There will be no regularly scheduled Archdruid Report next week. Blogger's latest security upgrade has made it impossible for me to access this blog while I'm out of town, and I'll be on the road (and my backup moderator unavailable) for a good part of what would be next week's comment cycle. I've begun the process of looking for a new platform for my blogs, and I'd encourage any of my readers who rely on Blogger or any other Google product to look for alternatives before you, too, get hit by an "upgrade" that makes it more trouble to use than it's worth.


Marcu said...

The Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne is turning one! This October meeting will be our one year anniversary. I would like to thank all of our regular members who make the time to attend as well as all the visitors who have attended. I would also like to express my gratitude to John Michael Greer for sharing all his insights and letting us advertise our meetings here on his blog.

The next meeting will be held on the last Saturday of October. All interested parties are invited to attend. For those people who are unsure about the nature of our meetings, imagine a long descent support group with some intentional living discussion mixed in.

If you are interested to join us, meet us on Saturday the 29th of October 2016 at 13:00. The venue is, Vapiano, 347 Flinders Lane, Melbourne Victoria, Australia.

Send queries and comments to limitstogrowth1972[at]

Just look for the green wizard's hat.

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

W. B. Jorgenson said...

To all in Ottawa/Gatineau, the next meeting of our local green wizard group is 6:00 pm on November 3 at King Shawarma, 205 Bank Street.

Talon Talonicus said...

It's funny but, when I read the list of JOE "predictions", it seemed more like a wish list.

drhooves said...

Another fine post this week, the topic of which is central to the realm in which America is to suffer quite a lot in the next 20 years - the loss of military dominance. Most every other nation on Earth, including many "allies", will be happy to join in on the beat-down. As a former climatologist in the USAF, this is an unpleasant outcome, but reading through the JOE report indicates the Pentagon (and the Federal government) are clueless about the real root causes at hand. The report is all flash and no substance, and not really even that much flash, with paragraphs of 25 cent words stating essentially nothing.

As for climate change, it's certainly going to be a factor in the Long Descent, but compared to resource depletion, pollution, and political/economic upheaval and war, my guess is that it'll be on the back burner. Without a doubt, the problem of dealing with refugees will be front and center in the next two decades.

Shane W said...

Some of my wage class coworkers like to speculate about how the US will go down, but almost none of them have faith that the US will stay together, except for the conspiracy theory, New World Order types.

Graeme Bushell said...

Thanks JMG. One wonders whether they document is for public consumption, and the military is well aware of these issues.
On the other hand, as they say, never attribute conspiracy where stupidity will suffice.
I would have listed fossil fuel depletion in the as well, but I understand you wanted to limit it to 5.
Sea level rise is a huge issue. It won't take too much to render virtually all port infrastructure unusable. Goodbye international trade, goodbye navy (given the coincident resource limits).


NomadicBeer said...

Here's hoping that someone high in the US military reads this.
I don't think there's much they can do to stop these things from happening, but at least they can prepare to minimize the damage.
By 2035 US might be a military dictatorship. This is something of a best case scenario, the worst being a failed state plunged in civil war.

donalfagan said...

I can relate to the Blogger probs. My office upgraded our Outlook and suddenly no one could dump emailed product submittals into that software. I was trying to rent a car online from Enterprise for three days. I called and they told me their new website doesn't work right, so to use Enterprise classic.

Finally saw two Clinton lawn signs - in a well-to-do area around here.

There's a funny Western PA video here, called, "Yer Stupid."

GHung said...

"More of the same" has always been a fairly safe assumption when one is forced to make predictions. Then, again, a Wise Man here said it's "never different this time", eh?

As for the warnings about cyber-mischief being now, out here in the trenches the current scuttlebutt is largely about hacked emails and the Clinton campaign's 'collusion' with the media; rigging the election and all that. As Gomer Pile was want to say; "Surprise! Surprise!"
For some reason I dusted off my copy of Manufacturing Consent, almost thirty years old, and I'm certain that book was no more prophetic than Joe-35 pretends to be. It was merely exposing us in real-time. Only the technology has changed.

ganv said...

Provocative as always. But I don't see a serious path for Moscow to become a center of global power in this century. Greater than Europe? Europe has pioneered many of the environmental and social programs that are most promising for the next century, and it seems to me unlikely that they will be overtaken by Russia. Beijing already is a global power and its influence will be much greater than many expect. Populations of 1.3 billion (China) vs 0.14 billion (Russia) doesn't make an equal partnership. And I think you underestimate the USA. I would give us a better chance than any other current power except maybe China to maintain political cohesion and international influence through the coming century. There are deep problems, but there is also a strong multi-ethnic culture that has a better chance of maintaining cohesion through the coming crisis than most other societies.

Gabriela Augusto said...

Dear JMG,
could it be the case of "magical thinking" in the Pentagon? To hope that history will be put on hold until they figure how to deal with presente challenges is quite comparable to "the universe conspiring to help us achieving our goals". Maybe The pentagon is consulting with Rhonda Byrne...
I will miss your post next week

Shane W said...

Maybe you could just take the Retrotopian leap and go full on offline, with just a print edition? Though I guess people are still too digitally addicted for you to have wide dissemination if you did that.

Trevor Davis said...

Wordpress and Pelican are two popular open-source blogging platforms. You can either self-host or many websites will host your blog for you. Wordpress requires a "dynamic" webhost (i.e. PHP / SQL) whereas Pelican actually "compiles" your blog into static html on your computer and then you just need to upload it to any "static" web host. I've used Dreamhost for Wordpress hosting before for a work project, they seem popular. I prefer Pelican (easier/cheaper to host, easier to backup, much harder for an upgrade to cause problems, can deployed to any static webhost) but if you aren't comfortable with the command-line Wordpress probably makes a better choice since you can do all the writing and configuration through a web page GUI. People have ported their blog from Blogger to either of these before.

dfr2010 said...

A slightly different take on the JOE-35 (from an enlisted-level Army vet) is that it may be intended to be a criticism of current foreign policy ... but officers don't dare make such criticism publicly or directly. But, if it's put into a report presented as a preview of future potential threats, then the implied suggestion is to make changes to current policy to prevent such future issues. Officers need to be able to navigate workplace politics, and the top brass need to be able to work with civilian politicians if they want to succeed.

johnhavey said...

You might want to add thermodynamic oil collapse, which is briefly outlined at the end of this post:

It is discussed by the same author in the middle of a podcast with Jim Kunstler here:

And outlined more fully by the originators here:

blue sun said...

Thank for for a consistently brilliant analysis week after week. It's amazing what you do.

I don't think I can explain it, but I think I've decided (reluctantly, reluctantly) to vote for Trump. Well, maybe I can explain it. Basically for a single reason.

From what I can gather, Hillary will likely start a war (ahem, "conflict") with Russia. From what I can piece together, Trump is most likely to pull us back from senseless wars (assuming he's not assassinated and Pence takes over, a possibility for sure). I'm usually the type to vote third party out of principle, but in this case I think this single issue is important enough to override all the completely unconstitutional and immoral stances that I expect Trump to take in other matters.

I'm very seriously considering Darrell Castle or Jill Stein but I honestly think a vote for Trump is the most likely to prevent this country from going to war with Russia. (In fact, just allowing the US to avoid Clinton may relieve some of the "pressure" you allude to that would build up in the wage class over the next 4 years under a Clinton presidency, a pressure that in the long run could make domestic conflict aggravated enough to ultimately become a civil war.)

So, I've reached the conclusion that a vote for Trump is a vote in the interest of greater peace. Do you think that's a reasonable evaluation of the candidates' foreign policy? Do you think it's defensible?

I know you're probably reluctant to give advice on who to vote for in the national election, but your post this week has made this issue seem even more pressing.

cynndara said...

Well, the JOE list may not be imaginative, but that doesn't make it wrong. None of their predicted problems is going to go away. For instance, the use of ideology to win and shore up support from potential soldiers and allies is at least as old as ancient Persia, so why would ideological conflict NOT be an issue in 2030? Threats to US sovereignty and territory go along with recognition that the US is an empire on its downward curve; the admission that we will be actively required to defend not merely our imperial interests but our home ground is a mark of just how much has changed in the last 20 years. Antagonistic Global Rebalancing, disrupted commons, and "shattered and reordered regions" all go hand in hand with the end of the Pax Americana. When empires die, everything that seemed settled previously is once more up for grabs. You don't seriously think that the New World Order is going to emerge victorious and completely impose its domination in less than 20 years, do you? I suppose China COULD succeed in a rapid reordering following either a natural disaster or civil war in America. And both are possible. But neither is so certain that the Pentagon doesn't need to be thinking about the Long Descent. And no doubt cyberwar will continue ad infinitum, at least until enough people get tired enough of "progress" and its costs to invest in pre-internet operations. Could happen by 2035, or might not. All depends on how much various players lose to theft, intelligence hacks, and lost productivity, and whether it continues as a constant niggling irritation or something really big goes down spectacularly.

Of course, your list is just as valid and a bit more interesting because less obvious. I'm especially interested in the "loss of legitimacy" issue. Both The Guardian and the Post had articles today addressing the possibility of civil unrest following the elections due to loss of legitimacy. It made me wonder if the Powers That Be have decided to go ahead with Article V given that the same idea was showing up in mainstream outlets on both sides of the Atlantic on the same day. Now, if the Masters of the Universe are opting for a Constitutional Convention, that can only mean that they think they can control it. But can they? And if they do, would the results be accepted as legitimate, or would the armed working class decide to give up on the Union entirely?

As always, though, a thought-provoking read. I will miss ADR next week.

David, by the lake said...


First, just to get my reaction to your end-of-post announcement off my chest: "Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!"

Ok. Purged now. I can go on.

The bright, shiny object in your list is, of course, item #1. (Well, they are all bright and shiny, but it is the brightest and shiniest.). My wondering-out-loud question is, "would the crisis of legitimacy be restricted to the federral governmental structure or would there be bleed-over to infect perceptions of state-level institutions as well?" My initial response to myself is that it would be circumstance-dependent, but the fact that there 50 distinct state governments versus one common federal government would suggest that the odds of at least some state systems retaining legitimacy in the eyes of their citizenry would be reasonably good. (I've always liked the term the Chinese have for this concept -- the Mandate of Heaven. It was the Duke of Chu, if I recall correctly, who is supposed to have originated it.)

The recent shifts in the Philippines exemplify your point re our marginalization. I wonder how many people are completely missing what is occurring right in front of them and will simply wake up one day, befuddled, in a world where our influence is only a fraction of what it was. I would think that a once-reliable satellite looking at joint exercises with China would be discussed more prominently, particularly in an election season. We seem so completely clueless...

Thank you, again, for your work here. We need to spend time thinking on these possibiities and considering how we might respond, even only at the community level. Even if the options aren't great, some forethought is better than no plan at all.

latheChuck said...

Without addressing our current political unpleasantness, I'd like to express the observation that our current environment seems to consist of two camps, each of which is willing to dismiss the evils discovered in its own camp, while assuming the worst about the hints of evil within the other. And I think this is a natural result of so many, many betrayals of trust by the structures of our (global) society.

Do you trust your hospital? "ECDC has published 'Estimated burden of healthcare-associated infections higher than that of infectious diseases such as influenza, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis together'." (from

Your bank? "California launches criminal probe into Wells Fargo account scandal"

Your sport? "The NFL’s Concussion Problem Still Has Not Gone Away" (not to mention doping scandals in almost every competitive sport).

Your church? "One in 50 priests is a paedophile: Pope Francis says child abuse is 'leprosy' infecting the Catholic Church. Pope Francis quoted as saying figure included bishops and cardinals"

Your military? "Three US Navy flag officers have become the highest-ranking officials thus far punished in the Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) bribery and corruption scandal, each receiving a letter of censure from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus."

Where can you look, and not find corruption? I suspect that it becomes easier to tolerate "a few bad apples" among your friends when it seems like everyone else is cheating. And, conversely, it's also easier to assume the worst when the smell of scandal wafts out of the camp of your enemies. If you know that you're tolerating corruption in your own camp, it's even easier to charge that it's happening on the other side. "Defense through offense"; sometimes that works, for a while.

And then, there's this: (The story claims that the incident was incited by a prisoner with prior experience with cannibalism, by the way, not that 'ordinary' prisoners were forced into it by utter starvation.)

W. B. Jorgenson said...

Does anyone else feel like it was written more about the past twenty years than the future?

latheChuck said...

Give the military planners some credit... they're not expecting the current raft of problems to have dissipated in twenty years! It's not as if they think victory and peace are at hand, if we just push a little harder.

Allan Stromfeldt Christensen said...

I suppose you've probably already gotten plenty of advice and done your research about various blogging platforms, but I'll mention this just in case, and for those who may be interested.

If not blogger/blogspot, the common alternative seems to be Wordpress. Next to that, probably Medium. There's a few other lesser known ones such as Joomla and Drupal, none of which I've used myself (I rather ridiculously hand-coded my entire blog from scratch, but which then gives me a ridiculous amount of freedom -- albeit rather tedious freedom). If I hadn't of hand-coded my blog and were to start again, I'd probably go with Ghost. It's an open-source platform strictly for blogging, and seems quite nice-looking and easy to use. Their prices can be a bit dear though, but being open source there's the option to self-host a Ghost install yourself. For the novice (like me), that would require getting your own domain (I use Hover) as well as an account with a web hosting service (I use A Small Orange) that has cPanel installed on its system, which then has Ghostery available as an easy one-click install via Softaculous. You can read about that here. You would need a bit of computer savviness to host it yourself, but not too much. But you would of course be on your own (so to speak) when it came to dealing with any trouble shooting issues.

Steve D said...

Kind of funny - you would think the MIC would be actively seeking (or manufacturing) new kinds of threats so as to market new, "innovative" weapons systems to counter them, even if said threats were purely fictional and/or utterly unlikely, rather than just cranking out more of the same junk to counter more of the same threats.
Is this another sign that the "creative minority" is all out of creativity? Or are they honestly that out of touch with reality? (Or both...)
Along a slightly different path, in light of the threats you outlined, if you could play Santa Claus for the US Military, with what would you gift them this Yuletide (whether hardware or doctrines/ideas or anything else you could think up) in order to help avert disaster in the coming years?
Cheers and thanks for another intriguing post!

Fred said...

One of your most powerful posts. It pulls together many of the points you've made over years into an clear actionable list. Hope the DOD has a check in the mail to you!

May I suggest Wordpress for a new platform? More robust, community sourced coding and upgrades, and you could add in Patreon support links. The admin of the comments is easier too. I heard 80% of the websites that exist use Wordpress so it will be around awhile.

one gun said...

Interesting post.

From your list, I wonder if #1 will cause #4 to be U.S. warbands within the U.S. Not from outside.

Changing demographics to Latino might mix with an ever worsening economy to make the U.S. economy look more like Latin America's.

It's said the national pass time in Mexico is finding clever ways not pay their taxes. As, "Freedom" in the U.S. is stifled by the government rooting out tax cheats I reminded that most shooting in revolutions are started by the government putting the citizens in a lose/lose situation. Those situations usually end in the point of a gun. That's usually when the revolutionary first shoots.

It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.

Nastarana said...

The JOE list seemed to me to be a list of here are the destabilizations we have to provoke in order to maintain our hegemony.

Tower 440 said...

Greetings to the assembled Wizardren!
We in Northeast Ohio are following Melbourne’s example by holding well-advertised 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 Wednesday, December 21 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. Contact us at
Many thanks to John for the posting space on his blog.

Patricia Mathews said...

On the crisis of legitimacy - the latest issue of The Atlantic had an article length review of the life and work of Jane Jacobs, including her 2004 book Dark Age Ahead. Her thesis was that gentrification, megaprojects, and massive developments had so ghettoized the urban working classes that their environments were now as barren as the most remote and rundown village. I'm putting this badly ... I know a lot of residents of remote villages and urban barrios could give you as many counterexamples as there are people. Albuquerque isn't much for megaprojects, thank all the goddesses of civilized life. (Oddly enough, they do tend to be goddesses .... Athena, Inanna..)
But I also know what she means.

The article put it much more clearly. Here's the link.

And I misquote the world's new poet laureate, "It didn't take a weatherwoman to know which way the wind is now blowing."

Juandonjuan said...

I think that, like so many things in our current setup, the J O E projections are as much about justifying procurement/pork barreling as about any real, linearly extrapolated threats. That, and the institutional blindness that sets in when there have been no real challenges to the established wisdom that the possibility of failure is not truly recognized.
Arthur C Clarke's short story "Superiority" says it about as well as can be said.

out here in the real world, the disconnect between virtual and practical reality seems to be accelerating, but the residents of the virtual world don't get outside enough to notice.

Raymond R said...

Great post John. I suspect that there are a few intelligence analysts who would like to make the kind of assessment of the future that you have made here but to do so would, at the very least, marginalize them and possibly end their careers. Large organisations are often pretty harsh on those who don't toe the party line

I look forward to your return - enjoy your trip

HalFiore said...

I read the report instead of listening to the debate. I am certain the content will be far more relevant to our futures than whatever was said in Nevada tonight.

Dennis Mitchell said...

I guess we will always be fighting the last war. Just once we should try concentrating on the next peace.

John Michael Greer said...

Talon, funny!

Drhooves, my fifth context for conflict explicitly includes resource depletion and pollution as well as climate change, so that's already in there. As The Limits to Growth pointed out, it's precisely when resource depletion and environmental disruption turn into the two jaws of a contracting vise that we're really screwed.

Shane, fascinating. I remember the way that harcore anticommunists insisted, even after the fact, that the Soviet Union couldn't actually collapse -- what would they do without their favorite devil?

Graeme, resource depletion is in context #5, so it hasn't been ignored!

NomadicBeer, military dictatorship is one option; a constitutional convention that dissolves the Union and allows groups of states to found smaller, less conflicted nations is another; a failed state is yet another -- and of course there are more. The future's a complicated place.

Donalfagan, the secretary of my Royal Arch chapter had his computer put out of action by a cascade of Windows 10 updates, so I know it's not just me!

Ghung, the problem with "more of the same" is that it assumes that choices in the present have no effect on the shape of the future. Since it isn't different this time, similar causes have similar effects, landing us in a changed though equally familiar mess.

Ganv, Europe is falling apart as we watch; while the EU will hold together for a while yet, anti-EU sentiment is rising steadily and will have the same impact across Western Europe it's already had in Britain. Nor has any European country shown the least willingness to expand its military to deal with the dangers of a post-American world, while Russia is rapidly building the foundations for a return to superpower status and China, as you've noted, is already there. As for the US, this country is a hollowed-out shell, so close to national bankruptcy that it can't even afford to keep its roads paved, and riven with intractable political stresses that are likely to tear it apart sooner rather than later. That is to say, I disagree with your assesment!

Gabriela, that seems appallingly plausible...

Shane, I appreciate the fact that blogging gives me complete control over the text, ads, and comment moderation -- and it's also a heck of a lot less work than bringing out a print periodical. For the time being, it's the best medium for my work -- though of course that's just for the time being.

Trevor, thank you -- but a fair amount of what you've said is frankly over my head. Still, I see I have a bunch of research to do.

Dfr2010, maybe so, but JOE-35 doesn't make any proposals other than "we're going to keep doing the things we're doing right already." I'm not sure that fits your thesis very well.

Johnhavey, again, context #5 includes resource depletion and its knock-on effects. I wonder why so many people seem to have had trouble noticing that.

Blue Sun, you're right that I'm reluctant to give advice on who to vote for! I'd say, though, that if that's your considered analysis of the situation, go ye forth and cast that vote.

Tidlösa said...

Very good post! You wrote that the Pentagon´s five points are really describing the present, not the future. The chilling thing is that your five points *also* describe the present...

John Michael Greer said...

Cynndara, the point I think you're missing is that most of the things listed in JOE-35 will lead to different challenges in the future as they continue to shape events. For example, "antagonistic global rebalancing" leads to a situation where the rebalancing is over and done with, and the US is on the wrong side of it -- basically, my context #2. In the same way, "disrupted commons" leads to a state where the commons are no longer disrupted -- they're securely under the control of hostile powers, and the US is shut out of them or at least has its access sharply restricted. As for your question of timing -- yes, I think it's entirely possible that by 2035, US global hegemony could have gone the way of the Soviet Union, and the US as presently constituted may well have gone with it.

David, it really does depend on the state, but in my experience, most people feel a good deal less antagonistic toward their state governments than toward DC -- there's a sense, accurate or not, that citizens can still have some influence on state politics. That's not true of every state, of course.

LatheChuck, welcome to the standard phenomena of an imperial nation in freefall.

WB, it reads to me as though it's written about right now!

LatheChuck, fair enough -- that's true!

Allan, and computer savvy is exactly what I don't have and would like to avoid having to develop. I'd be willing to pay a modest monthly fee in order to have the blog site I want, and an actual human being to call who will fix things if the latest software update screws things up.

Steve, I don't think they want new threats, because everybody's so busy justifying throwing more money down the current set of high-tech ratholes meant to deal with the current set of threats! As for what I'd like to put under the Pentagon's tree this Christmas, a sudden cold realization that the US could really, truly lose a shooting war -- not just have to withdraw without a definite victory, but lose in the sense of having to accept terms dictated by the victors -- would do a lot of good. It's the army that thinks it's invincible that's most likely to dissolve completely when the battle turns against it.

Fred, thank you. I'll keep that in mind.

One Gun, yep. If the US descends into failed-state conditions it could turn into a major breeding ground for warband culture very, very quickly.

Nastarana, I'd rephrase that: "here are the destabilizations we think we have to provoke to maintain our hegemony, because we're not clever enough to realize that the consequences will destroy us."

Patricia, thanks for this! I read Dark Age Ahead when it first came out; it could have used more attention to the history of previous dark ages, but the thesis Jacobs argued has its merits.

Juandonjuan, I'm sorry to say you're probably right.

Raymond, no argument there, and thank you!

John Michael Greer said...

HalFiore, thank you for the vote of confidence! There are many times when I'm glad I don't watch TV; tonight is unquestionably one of them.

Dennis, as long as we concentrate on how to get to the next peace, instead of counting our doves before they hatch!

Tidlösa, well, yes -- but the point I'm trying to make is that things can become much, much, MUCH worse than they are right now...

patriciaormsby said...

The Kanto Green Wizards will hold its next picnic on Sunday, November 6, concurrently with the community picnic of the Asakawa Kompira shrine. For directions to the top of the small mountain near Takao Station in Hachioji, where the shrine is located, see my post on the Green Wizards blog. It is potluck, and likely to be lively, with guitars and singing and a short Shinto ceremony (requests for norito inclusions welcome--health improvement, disaster prevention, world peace sorts of ideas). I am thinking of adding a brief show-and-tell lecture series on Green Wizardry topics, such organic gardening and solar cooking.

I try to show up at 11:00 a.m., but things don't really get started until 12, so aim at that time. People start wandering away at about 3 again, and we wrap things up at about 4.

jbucks said...

No disputing what you've written here, but one thing that strikes me when people claim that China and Russia are on the rise is that they make the assumption that China and Russia will successfully surpass their own problems. For example, environmental impacts will have a arguably greater effect on China because it has so many more people than the US, China is trying to stop the outflow of capital by its citizens who are worried about the stability of its currency, and corruption seems to be widespread there. Maybe I'm wrong with this, by I understood that China is economically linked to the US because of how much money the US owes China, so aren't their fates pretty tightly linked? I guess what I'm trying to say - why won't the same forces you have written about here (particularly warbands and environmental impacts) also have a great impact on China and Russia?

Forgive my sloppily written comment, I'm trying to comment before rushing out to go to work...

Donald Hargraves said...

On the Lawn Sign front (and off topic): Lawn signs are finally exploding out here in NW Indiana. And, for the most part, they're for every race – Governor, Representative, local city seats, county seats – every race, that is, except the President. Outside of Highland, there's been only two signs for presidential candidates; and the one for Trump was hidden so that only the homeowner would see it as he pulled onto his driveway from the alleyway.

I also saw a bunch of signs for both Clinton and Trump on a road near St. Joseph, Michigan.

Evidently once someone decides to take a stand than others join in. Which implies to me that there's not a lot of people ready to take a stand for a candidate at this late date.

The Geographist said...

It's the warbands that scare me most when contemplating the future. I would much appreciate any literary recommendations you might have on the topic JMG. Thanks for the post!

Cherokee Organics said...


You know, it is funny, but I was talking with someone recently about how free things on the Internet are not quite as free as they seem!

As you are probably aware, I also use blogger but have also set up a webpage which I "own" (although lease is probably the correct term) for the the blog podcasts as well. The page can be found here: Podcast for Fernglade Farm Weekly Blog.

It has been quite a learning experience, but I would be happy to converse with you on this subject as a possible solution to your blogger troubles. I for one would miss your weekly blog!

I've gotta bounce as the sun is shining and outside work is calling me!



Agatha said...

Hi JMG! Love your blog and have been following for a long time. I'm an author, too. Started out on blogger for my own blog, then tried to go to Wordpress because everyone thinks it's great. Hated it (way too technical for me) and ended up on Weebly. Everything is pretty much drag and drop and very easy to work with. Customer service has been good. Just don't buy a domain name from them (if you want something other than a .weebly site), because they are too pricey. Hover has been a good company for domain names if you want that (also really easy to use, good customer service). Safe travels and good luck with your hunt for a new blogging platform!

Allan Stromfeldt Christensen said...

Well if you don't have the computer savviness I suppose you can count yourself lucky. Me, I was given a computer back in the early '80s at 5-years-old and was duly plopped onto a seat so that I could learn how to program (no joke). I didn't go very far with it, although I seem to have a knack to grasp it all if I really want to, which for the most part I don't.

That being said, and as I'm sure you know, if not Blogger/Blogspot then the overwhelming alternative that everybody else seems to use is Wordpress. I don't know much about it, but I do know that there's a free version as well as a paid version, the paid providing support I presume. Wordpress kind of puts me off for whatever reason, but that's just me.

The other one that I've seen used often is Medium, which Nafeez Ahmed uses (Insurgence Intelligence). Medium seems pretty straight forward to use, and I do believe it's free. I don't know what kind of service they provide though.

Last of all there's that Ghost that I mentioned. It seems that it can get pretty dear, so I checked to see if there were any reputable services that hosted Ghost at a more modest price (since anybody with a decent amount of knowledge -- not me -- could set up a company/website to host Ghost blogs since Ghost platform itself is open source). Although they were cheaper than Ghost itself, none of them really stood out. And on top of that, at least half of those Ghost hosting services that existed back in 2014/2015 had closed up shop. That being the case, I don't think I would trust the ones remaining with an important blog.

It seems to me then that it's either Wordpress, Medium, or pay Ghost themselves to host your blog (which I'd say could be trusted). I don't know what you meant by "modest", but Ghost's prices don't seem very modest to me. $80 for 350,000 hits a month, or $200 for 1,000,000 hits a month. The $200 does get you telephone service though (a rarity with these things, as I'm sure you know).

Hope that helps if you hadn't already decided on something.

patriciaormsby said...

I agree with Graeme that JOE-35 sounds like pablum for consumption by a bewildered public. I wonder if any of its authors actually expect it to be taken seriously. I recall writing such drivel for a bureaucracy. For my successor I left instructions on how to take the main points of the minutes of a meeting, strip them of anything that might be vaguely embarrassing to anyone imaginable, and then puff them up to an appropriate size with empty sentiments.

That Jade Helm was in response to threat #1 is a "conspiracy theory." (I no longer take anything seriously unless it has been declared a conspiracy theory, though, beware, those are heavily salted with red herrings.) #2 is being addressed with a credible threat to devastate Russia in a nuclear first strike, because, you know, those people are just so intractably "evil." As for #3-5, however, America bears an uncanny resemblance to a self-beached whale.

One question has repeatedly returned to me as I read various news sources these days. Is it a common feature of empires in the early stages of collapse for a small but noteworthy bunch of vicious women to accede to power, or is this just part of the unique dynamics in America this time around? The reason I'm thinking about this is the word "witch" is getting thrown around with uncommon vehemence, referring not just to Hillary, but also several other prominent American women. I've not heard such anger against Merkel, for example, though surely she had to be ruthless to get as far as she has gotten. There was similar anger against Thatcher, though I do not recall hearing "witch" used. It would take massive public fury, I think, to drive something like the Inquisition. I'm seeing people like Zhirinovsky (Russia's answer to Trump) start pointing to Hillary and saying, "See? Women should never have been let out of the kitchen!"
The one Empress in China's history had a terrible reputation for cruelty, which she cultivated intentionally, because that's what it took. She is said to have remarked that it just was not a position for a woman, precisely for that reason. Any sign of weakness, and womanhood is frankly assumed to be one, invites attack.
In ancient Japan, where woman had an amazing degree of equality to men, roles were nonetheless divided, with women in charge of spiritual affairs (i.e., values) and men in charge of political ones (i.e., interests). I'm wondering if there is a sort of socio-biological dynamics hardwired into our species that impedes women's advance until there is enough of a breakdown of order that a few very determined ones can claw their way up the ladder, but that their tactics are so appallingly cruel that, by association, women are once again sent back to the doghouse.
I think where society is more localized, women would be able to rise to their own capacities and play a more equal role within a commonly accepted framework. I love your positing a powerful female priesthood in Meriga, and hope women will not be dragged into the mud by all the mayhem that is just stretching its membranous vampire wings.

BTW, have a great trip!

Repent said...

In regards to synchronicities that you mentioned at the beginning of your post, I personally also experience relevant, too close to be coincidental, synchronicities essentially every day. At first I would write them off as 'good luck', or 'pure coincidence', but as these experiences became more common, these somehow morphed into the mind-boggling, impossible to have this many, timely, right on cue occurrences, exceeding any reasonable doubt, it was for me to conclude that something larger is at hand.

As an example, today, the very moment before I opened your essay; I had the question floating in my mind 'I wonder what the future is hiding in plain sight that I have missed?' Twenty seconds later I opened your post to the EXACT same title for your essay as was the question in my mind. It was uncanny.

Coincidences can be expressed as probabilities. 10 to the 28th power to one that I had the exact question in my mind before opening your essay today. With the next synchronicity the probability of coincidence will be 10 to the 29th power to one against and so forth. I am flabbergasted and beyond any reasonable doubt in my experiences that synchronicities are real; and this phenomena points to something that is far deeper occurring in my life that I can't even conceive of being possible?

I know you don't like mixing your two blogs, however did I correctly observe you have subtly done so here today with this observation at the beginning of your essay?

Sheila Grace said...

Have a safe trip, I just did, and it was the last goodbye and farewell to my trips via flying. The transition from magic to drudgery has followed its course as far as that’s concerned. Now a new transition from faux convenience (centralized dependency) to practical magic (decentralized self-accountability) is ahead of me and that is a trip worth taking.

#1: While traveling I noticed that to a person, not one voiced anything counter to this.
#2 & #3: much easier to learn about via alternate internet since 2001 - after shooting the TV.
#5: I threw in my background in Environmental Science and he added his Test Engineer career from the noncommercial side of Boeing, we brought back basic laws of Physics vs Economics/GDP/perpetual growth and there have been a lot of gut punch moments. “hey wait a minute???”. Your posts have been invaluable in pulling it all together.

#4: As someone who has ranged far and wide, my personal forays long ago took me out of the cushy suburbs into the shadowed urban streets of the largest east coast city where I learned from experience that very often; entirely different laws abide as opposed to what was expected in neighborhoods that had not had the luxury of breaking down.

Observing that first hand is not remotely the same thing as trying to imagine (what might happen), and that, I suppose, will take many coddled persons by surprise. In-group (organized) street codes are one facet as detailed in D.O.’s five stages of collapse, the other cannot be comprehended by logic – that is the one that emerges when youth, testosterone and the exhilaration of ‘we can take anything we want’ becomes the order of the day.

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

I haven't had the time to chew this over yet, but my first nebulous thought is how different the JOE-35 is from the Bundeswehr report on peak oil:

DFR2010 may have a valid point, but the Bundeswehr report seems like a forecast and the JOE-35 seems like a hindcast. Again, I haven't spent the time to chew this over, but my first response, my instinct is saying that it's all over but the crying.


Barrabas said...

Yes i think your Druid nose has been sniffing the wind quite well with technology platforms of late . I cant prove it , but i keep getting the sense that what started out as being benign and helpful tech to make our lives easier and improve communication is being progressively replaced by the will to power of the underlying corporations to manage and mediate THEIR content which is being helpfully provided by you and i on a regular basis . One can sense their increasingly intrusive presence as they seek to profile and contain each and every participant .Quite the conundrum with a body of archival work such as the ADR which you may gradually lose control over depending on their whim. I hope it is all being removed from blogger and siloed somewhere safe .
Cheerio ...

Wendy Crim said...

I think you're right.
I share this phone with my daughter. I use it to look up recipes, find grocery coupons and read some blogs. This one, Automatic Earth and Club Orlov. I get the print version and I much prefer it. I plan to continue.

William Hays said...

Back in the 1970's I was a transportation planner for a metro planning organization in a large mid-west city. My task was to predict traffic volumes on roadways for the year 2000. This was the era of punch cards. We divided the region into nearly a thousand zones and ran huge matrices to predict vehicular flow.

Once I presented the study to stakeholders (local, state, and federal) the reaction was alarm. A particular expressway could not have 175,000 vehicles per day in 2000, I was assured. Instead, I was directed to "moderate" my predictions to be compatible with group-think.

Of course, the traffic did reach those levels around 2005; a lack of growth in the community in the 80's and 90's was the only impediment. The point is that the authors of the JOE35 report may well have anticipated other issues, but the final product must never disrupt the status-quo. Sleep well.

Wendy Crim said...

I've never voted for a republican. I'm from a long line of democrats. I voted for Jill Stein in the last election. I've reached the same exact conclusion you have. Trump may be a buffoon, but he's not a war monger. My parents would probably disown me but, I hope Trump wins. I don't want to be at war with Russia! At times though, I think it really doesn't matter who wins. The future is bad no matter who wins.

Grebulocities said...

It's occurred to me over the last four years of following world events that we're not really in something like the base case of The Limits to Growth. In the base case, resource shortages cause economic activity to peak and begin declining at some point in the ~2010-2040 time frame, with pollution serving only a secondary role. That's not quite true - the outlandish cornucopian claims about fracking were exaggerated, but none of the TOD or ADR predictions for fracking came through as imagined either: it's not exactly financially healthy, but not in any geological problems. Given abundant energy, resource extraction from ever more marginal supplies can keep going for quite a while longer as well.

Instead, we're in something like the high-resources case. Acute materials shortages are unlikely to happen globally for a few more decades, and the crises the US is facing and will face for the next 30 years come mostly from the types of unforced errors that characterize a declining imperial society with a disconnected and decadent elite, along with a slow but steady increase in distress, not measured by conventional statistics, that continue hurt ~80% of the society even while net growth, while anemic, is probably still positive by any reasonable metric.

In the high-resources case, we do get a reprieve until mid-century. The global problematique is still very real, but the steadily rising spiral of resource and environmental problems is still not enough to stop growth all by itself for a few more decades. Then both of the jaws - pollution and resource depletion - strike with a vengeance in the second half of the century, causing a much faster and deeper crash for our descendants to deal with on top of the already-shaky situation. But all the while, there is still a whole lot of potential for electronic doodads and gizmos to continue to "advance" in ever more addicting ways, so that the myth of progress may survive in privileged circle for many more decades. For the sorts of people who read this blog, that's a much harsher truth than that we'd undergo that fast crash now.

You did a great job capturing this reality with the veepads of the Atlantic Republic. "Progress" will still be alive and kicking (if in its later years) in our cultural mythology for the lifetimes of the people who read this message.

Scotlyn said...

Could Robin Hood's merry men be called a warband? If so, I shall be seeking and consuming tales of Maid Marian, and her like, with a view to throwing light on the options warband formation provides for women. I'd welcome any reading suggestions on this topic.

Maverick said...

You might consider typepad as an alternative to blogger.

As far as collapse goes, you might find it interesting to know that many rich Indians are reconsidering US and Europe as their preferred choice for immigration. Reasons being political instability, economic depression etc.

I spilled my coffee when one of my expat colleague said that he considers many Indian cities safer than Paris, Stockholm.

Ursachi Alexandru said...


Ukraine is not, at least yet, a "failed state" comparable to Afghanistan or Libya, and since I'm living in a country that actually borders Ukraine I can confirm that, otherwise we would be very busy trying to prevent a spillover. As of this moment, that is not the case.

Those conditions only apply to the Eastern parts of that country, as of this moment. And as an American who has repeatedly claimed to not be "lecturing the rest of the world," your claim that the destabilization of Ukraine is because of US involvement, and without even mentioning the fact that a certain neighboring country has been actively involved, with boots on the ground, in that conflict strikes me as a bit inconsistent to say the least.

Sorry if this message is a bit condescending. I live in a small country and I have very little empathy for large countries, their interests, "near abroads" and so on.

Peter Wilson said...

Hell, I suspect there's one hundred or more people who read this blog who would happily give you a website, and technical service on that website, for free, given the service you give to the world with your writing. I'd do it, a cloud computing platform, software as a service (and yes, with a backup), is cheap as chips, a few dollars, and you'd run Apache and Wordpress on top of that.

Esn said...

An excellent post, particularly about the danger of "warband culture". I really think that the enormous threat to civilization that it poses is mostly not recognized by the Western elites who allow it to spread.

However, I think that you are misunderstanding the lay of the land when you say that "it would be in the national interest of Russia and/or China to help fund and supply a domestic insurgency in the United States". It seems natural to think that way, because the US indeed has tried to start domestic insurgencies (sorry, "democratic protests") in both countries in recent years. But note that Russia and China have not, yet, reciprocated the favour.

Perhaps this is because, unlike the US, they have a historical memory of and relatively recent local experience with "warband culture", and see in it a danger of blow-back that makes it not worth the risk to use the tactic.

Russia had the near-societal collapse of the 1990s, in which the state nearly ceased functioning and "every little boy dreamed of being a gangster while every little girl dreamed of being a prostitute", as well as the Chechen & Caucasus conflicts. Vladimir Putin, in particular, frequently in his speeches frames his battles as battles against lawlessness. For example, see 3:30 here, about the Middle East:
And in particular, Putin's 2015 speech to the UN:

A few quotes:
"I would like to stress that refugees undoubtedly need our compassion and support. However, the only way to solve this problem for good is to restore statehood where it has been destroyed, to strengthen government institutions where they still exist, or are being re-established, to provide comprehensive military, economic and material assistance to countries in a difficult situation, and certainly to people who, despite all their ordeals, did not abandon their homes."

"We should all remember the lessons of the past. For example, we remember examples from our Soviet past, when the Soviet Union exported social experiments, pushing for changes in other countries for ideological reasons, and this often led to tragic consequences and caused degradation instead of progress."

China had its early 20th century chaos, and the ongoing Uyghur conflict. Russia's and China's actions beyond their borders in recent years (that I can think of) have been about creating stability, including by building massive infrastructure (like the Silk Road Economic Belt), strengthening state institutions (both at home and abroad), and trying to tamp out the chaotic wildfires of statelessness that Western military interventions and 3-letter agencies have helped cause (most visibly in Syria, but also in places like Montenegro).

My sense is that both Russia and China would, by far, prefer to have a stable and non-hostile (though competitive) United States than one that is in chaos, because they see the chaos itself as a great threat to themselves. I'm not at all sure that the US elites feel the same way, though - after all, the last time the rest of the world's manufacturing capabilities were destroyed, the US became a superpower and the world's top economy.

. said...

The Green Wizards of Ireland are happy to announce our inaugural meeting. In traditional Irish fashion we’ll be meeting in a pub - TP Smith's, 9-10 Jervis Street, Dublin 1. It’s just beside the red Luas line stop at Jervis. Meeting at 6pm on Saturday 19th of November. All are welcome to come along and we’ll hopefully have a green wizard’s hat on our table.


Greenie said...

> I'd be willing to pay a modest monthly fee in order to have the blog site I want, and an actual human being to call who will fix things if the latest software update screws things up.

I will help you do it. What is the best way to contact you?

Phil Harris said...

I much admire the thoroughness of your approach. Your analysis has been building over the years.

We are talking about a global ‘civilisation’ not an American one. Russia as always is European although it has its own distinct integrity. (You can’t ‘liberate’ the Russians from Russia, or vice-versa!) China has industrialised over two decades and joined the global interconnection. China contains many serious contradictions in its present state – for one it shares the planetary limits with the preeminent USA – and has the special problem of maintaining the rural livelihoods of nearly half a billion people during massive urbanisation. Within the dominant form of modern civilisation – the urban megalopolis – the adoption of modern urban habits, particularly of diet and transport, has significant global interaction – ‘footprints’ - and shapes the near future, including the ongoing galaxy of dire consequences.

Can I chime in on ‘Europe’? Germany needs Russia in some form of symbiosis. At the simplest level we can see Germany’s energy needs. These dominant States in Europe are both threatened by civil wars and by subsequent failed States within or on the European border. We can see the results where USA policy has opportunistically helped promote or exacerbate instability in the surrounds of the ex-USSR. What was it in the good old days (some earlier version of JOE perhaps?): “Keep Germany down and Russia out”? The Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East and North Africa are “near-abroad” for Europe (which must include Russia).

Dimly in Britain we have agreed a messy choice. We stay with the USA. It would be funny if it wasn’t serious. Our working class or its remains has nowhere obvious to go, real or imaginary. And we can’t send several millions of ‘others’ home wherever that might be. We can demonise and blame Putin however much we like, and we do, but we can’t ‘control our borders’ and at the same time try to promote air travel and trade expansion, anymore then we can change the weather or whatever tidal surge is in the offing. It looks like in the meanwhile we are going to try a massive expansion of nuclear electricity and a return to educational separation at age 11, with grammar schools for elite public education alongside the private schools of the ruling class. At 75 I can look forward to being 15 again!

Phil H
PS I can’t see it actually being in Sino/Russia interest to promote civil war in North America. A failed USA would be far more dangerous than a collapsing Soviet Union. It doesn't mean that 'somebody' isn't going to do the promoting of course.

Shane W said...

JMG, I'm wondering if the glaring gap of the JOE-35 prediction can be explained by the persistence of the civil religion of Americanism among the military? It's just unthinkable among military brass that the US could face an existential threat. You've often said that the US would face an existential crisis if it lost a war and had to accept an unfavorable peace. Americanism seems to still be well and strong among the military brass, and it does make sense that the upper levels of the military would self-select for devout believers. Our disastrous foreign adventures are saturated with the civil religion of Americanism.

Maria said...

Thank you, JMG. This post spoke to my former-military husband in a way he understands. We are finally having serious discussions about preparing for an 'interesting' old age.

Shane W said...

@blue sun,
I'm precisely where you are, for the reasons of foreign intervention, trade, and the economy/debt. My analogy is that it is better to slide, tumble, and stumble our way down the cliff w/Trump than to take the flying leap off it that Hillary most definitely entails.

. said...

If warbands are difficult to quell by military force, what can be done to protect yourself against them? Presumably protection money/bribery would be acceptable but that becomes a vicious circle. Plus in the case of Europe the warband formation coincides with the violent ideological competition aspect - jihadist warbands always contain a core of true fanatics so can't really be bought off so easily.


Edgar said...

My thoughts about the pentagon official document is that it will state what they percieve to be in their interest to state. This may or may not be their actual assessment.

Cherokee Organics said...


This is perhaps your darkest essay yet. My gut feeling was that you were not writing to your normal audience perhaps? Anyway, it is not a bad idea to communicate those urgencies. I have long felt that foreign and domestic policy in the US is way too predictable. Interestingly enough I have read that gun smuggling is on the rise down here too.



Tyler August said...


Given your stated preferences, I'd suggest BlueHost (or equivalent, feel free to shop around) and WordPress for blogging. BlueHost can give you web hosting and a domain for a few dollars a month ; loading WordPress software on that hosting account is a matter of pushing two or three well-documented buttons. By paying for your own hosting account and wordpress license, you are free to decline future upgrades to the software.
(FYI, WordPress also has a free version that hosts you on, but you're locked to their updates and their ads.)

You may also wish to check with your local Internet Service Provider. I don't know about Appalachia, but here in Canada many ISPs toss in a certain amount of web space with their plans as a bonus that nobody uses. So you may already have everything you need to get started migrating away from Blogger, without any extra cost.

FiftyNiner said...

@Blue Sun,
I watched the third debate last evening and had a chilling moment regarding Clinton and what she might actually do if she were President. When she said that there was only a four(4) minute window to order a nuclear strike--and using that "fact" to justify never letting Trump have the nuclear codes--for me, it was the most frightening thing I've heard in this campaign.
All I could think of was the final scene from "Thelma and Louise" only in Clinton's version the whole country is in the back seat of the convertible while she and Huma Abedin take us over the cliff!

The irony of all this is that Clinton despises the military, but apparently is convinced that they are capable of executing any order that she could give, including attacking Russia! That will manifestly not end well for the US. The moment of an actual defeat for the United States as JMG has suggested, may not be as far off as we would like.

A vote for Trump is the only hope we have at this point for stepping back from the precipice.

Tidlösa said...

Perhaps somebody has mentioned this already, but the most sensible strategy from a American pragmatic perspective (if I´m permitted to give Pentagon Christmas presents and advise) is for the United States to evacuate large parts of its global "sphere of influence" and regroup/retrench behind a "near abroad" or "cordon sanitaire".

In the Middle East, that could mean giving up the Muslim world, except a few key nations like Egypt, Jordan or Turkey (they can also keep Israel). In Europe, it could mean giving up the Balkans, etc. Then, make a deal with Russia and China, hoping that *they* could stabilize the parts of the world the United States has abandoned, so that we don´t get a string of failed states or warband zones.

I think Trump is groping in the dark towards such a strategy, while Clinton (and Ryan) don´t even try, instead pinning their hopes on a final decisive crusade in Syria to stop the US imperial rot. Unfortunately, it´s possible that the imperial elite won´t get it until its too late, and even Trump is aggressive on some fronts - against Iran and against China, so he could probably be manipulated by some globalist faction. (Some of his supporters are also aggressive against Russia, such as Giuliani and Christie.)

The best scenario would be a multi-polar world with a balance of power (and even trade relations) between three or four great power blocs, and a few smaller ones. In fact, I would consider such a situation progress! Your favorite pretender to the great power throne, Brazil, would of course get a piece of the action.

However, you are right that things can get *much* worse, even assuming that the great powers don´t exchange nuclear warheads, or North Korea snaps. One clear and present danger which already exists is the collapse of Mexico into a warband zone, which could spill over into the US Southwest (assuming it hasn´t already). The warbands are already here...

Overall, both this weeks post and last weeks were among your best!

David, by the lake said...


I think you are correct re the general perception folks have that their state governments are more responsive. While people here in Wisconsin, for example, may feel frustrated with the state at times, I don't hear state politicians talked about as "creatures of Madison" the way people talk about "creatures of Washington." (On the other hand, I do think there are regions of states that feel or have felt unrepresented. When I worked in Denver a decade and a half ago, there was substantial sentiment among the more rural counties that the state government essentially represented the Denver and Colorado Springs metro areas and no one else. If I recall correctly, the county just north of where I lived, Weld, was one of the group of counties that more recently wanted to secede and form their own state.)

I have often wondered, in the absence of the bonds of empire and the benefits flowing inward from that imperial structure, is a nation as diverse and as large and the US even tenable? Had we not been the rising power we were historically, would we have been limited to a smaller, more concentrated form (and the rest of the continent aggregated into other entities perhaps)? Neither here nor there at this point, but it reframes the idea of disintegration of the Union as more of a "right-sizing" given the limitations imposed by culture and size. That is, our present structure is a temporary form enabled only by that imperial wealth pump. An alternative to fragmentation would be to adopt a looser federal structure, but that would be a tough pill for federalists to swallow.

Your point about the resource constraints is an important one. I don't think people realize how prominently resource conflicts loom in our future and how imperative it is that we reduce our reliance on finite resources and resources outside our borders. Unfortunately, with respect to the national level, I think we can pretty much write off the next four years as far as any productive steps being taken. If anything, we'll be digging our hole that much deeper.

We have our work cut out for us, for sure.

Fred said...

The mention of the impact of illegal immigration pushing wages down is important to bring up as that is the key issue at the bottom of the pay scale. At the top of the pay scale is HB1 visa's and all the mostly Chinese and Indian nationals let in to this country and given very high paying salary jobs. These are job that should be going to American raised workers, but corporations would rather bring in a foreign national than train our own to do it.

I personally know a dozen professional salary class immigrants who came in on these visas, totally overstayed their visa, still collect their salary and pay taxes, and it completely makes me angry. People feel they have a right to be here. Ok, whatever happened to following the law that gives you your rights?

Echo Beach said...

Michael, greetings from England,

Thought provoking stuff. I can't help thinking that JOE 35 may be the best case scenario.... There are a lot of intelligent, competent people in the defence sector so I'm certain that the possibilities you raise have been considered, and to some extent, planned for. I'm also certain that any discussions of an internal threat would, understandably, be keep confidential.

I do wonder if the changing balance of world power away from the US will occur over a much longer, multi-generational time line. After all, the British Empire reached it's zenith shortly after World War One but, within 30 years, was engaged in a rapid process of de-colonisation. It was also just after World War One that the United Kingdom itself began to disolve with the creation of the Irish Free State. Since then we have seen an increasing seperation between England, Scotland and Wales, which will, I believe, ultimately lead to Scottish Independence, and probably a reunited Ireland. Despite all the above, the UK is still seen as an attractive destination by many economic migrants and refugees, many of whom are prepared to risk their lives on the way here.

The recent vote to quit the EU is a bit of a wild card, but seems to be the most obvious sign of the beginning of the end of globalisation, but this too could take many years to play out...

As they say; we live in interesting times!

Iuval Clejan said...

There is another fact that can be extrapolated from the present, or actually from the shallow past of human civilizations: how instruments like the military become self-serving institutions, forgetting their original goals. In the case of the military that was defense. In the case of the government it is governance, or coordination of various human needs. Your first point, loss of legitimacy is an example of this phenomenon, which has occurred in past civilizations. But it is much to expect the military to be self-reflective and self-critical, or at least those who do in the military may expect to be marginalized as someone here pointed out. Actually, the Clintons should know this, given that the idea was first put forward (as far as I'm aware) by Carroll Quigley, Bill Clinton's guru/mentor/professor. He was not a ROP devotee in that he noticed historical cycles and even tried to find causes for them (which he claims was not done by Vico, Spengler or Toynbee), saw tradeoffs among various human needs and social instruments created to address them, but had a heavy bias towards Empire (his definition of civilization is a culture with an instrument of expansion), considered native and environmentally friendly cultures which did not have said instrument to be "parasitic", and saw social inequality and innovation as two necessary ingredients for said instument. What do you think of Carroll Quigley's legacy apart from the instrument/institution theory?

Brian Kaller said...


When I read the JOE points, before even reading the rest of your piece, I had the same thought you did – that this describes the present, not the future. I was also struck by their apparent assumptions that the USA is entitled to unimpeded access to all commons, that the US cyber-war measures should not face any credible defence, and that, in general, the USA – meaning the executive branch of the federal government – should be able to do whatever it wants. Anything else, apparently, is a crisis.

Mind you, I’m quite fond of my native land, and have tremendous respect for the troops sworn to protect it – more respect than the government has had lately. I have to admit, though, that most other countries in the world don’t share these assumptions.

The Irish don’t travel the world thinking that everyone should look up to them because they’re Irish, even though they usually rank far ahead of the USA in “most popular country” surveys. Most don’t assume that the Irish government should always get its way, or that its current political system should last forever. As far as I know, most Australians, Canadians, Indians and Brazilians don’t think so either, yet I daresay many might love their countries and have tolerably good lives.

The USA losing its superpower status could turn out to be beneficial for many Americans --- money that currently goes into maintaining an empire could be freed up for other uses, the global resentment against the USA might subside, and more regional economies and democracies could flourish.

I know you’ve proposed the same things, in everything from Twilight’s Last Gleaming to Retropia, and I know it’s all hypothetical – realistically, the decline could also get very painful indeed. It helps me, though, to know that it doesn’t have to be.

Violet Cabra said...

These political and military developments and their implications are utterly ghastly and their imminence makes them all the more so. While I've logged many, many hours learning a few basic skills to help weather these storms, it is clear that this sort of convergent contingency necessitates a focus not just on works, but also on faith. There is no way to be fully prepared for this sort of thing.

I've been reading Jung in the past few weeks after finding his book The Undiscovered Self 'randomly'. His analysis of the need for people to know themselves deeply in order provide stable to political institutions seems very apropos. Jung then also writes about the need for religion to counterbalance "mass-mindedness," allowing for an extramundane ethical system so that the exigencies of the mundane are less apt to turn people into monsters. He also makes the insightful point that once people pass a certain threshold of emotionality it is impossible for them to think. It is eerie to see so many of my peers grow increasingly mass-minded, although there are a few notable exceptions, especially amongst those who have religion. I've noticed a certain pervasive psychic shallowness even amongst some of my most economically prepared peers. More than a few years ago, I see not only people speaking in media soundbites, but increasingly retreating into childish behavior. It, tragically, seems that people look around themselves, feel the inner stream of divine causality, and decide that if they hide under the bed maybe our future won't find them.

In my walks in the woods I sometimes experience in the psychic ethers the ghastly karma of European conquest and colonization of North America, and can't help but wonder if there has been some sort of mysterious draw towards such short sighted and self-destructive action in the realm of politics. If the collective memory which resides in the land has made the masses more supportive of exactly the sort of politicians the would help lead to a balancing of collective karma given that the land creates our bodies and is an ever present part of the collective and individual psychic existence. To me, the spirit of the times seems to indicate that there is more depth in the road we've been going down than merely standard-issue late-period civilization decadence.

Andrew said...

Hi JMG. I'm reading (on your recommendation) David Fleming's amazing Lean Logic at the moment and he mentions one of the ideas you discuss here, a time fallacy that he calls the permanent present. That is, an assumption that the future is same as the present so we should make decisions on the basis that the world won't change. And then he says this: "this presumption of a constant present is a leading symptom of the dementia that afflicts the judgement of governments... the patient is so elevated, so far removed from ordinary life, so taken up with a global vision, so protected by experts, so busy, so short of sleep, and so absent that he or she has no sense of time or place." My job brings me into contact with a lot of very senior business people and this description struck such a chord with me I had to sit numbly with the book on my lap for a moment.

On a related note, if any readers of the archdruid report are contemplating buying Lean Logic, do so. It is expensive but gives you the feeling we all know from reading this blog, when an insight just opens a window in your mind and the world looks different than it did a moment before, about every second page. There is an edited paperback version called Surviving the Future out soon I think too.

Ben Johnson said...

JMG - Had a Retrotopia morning at work yesterday. The IT people were installing an update to Windows and, shocker, the computer aided dispatch program had to go offline for the update. On top of that, the new CAD program we use is a pain to operate and, according to more senior coworkers, is much less user-friendly than the older CAD program it replaced. Fortunately, our radios remained functional, so no monkeywrenching for them. For backup, we use a high tech system of paper cards, pens, and a holding rack for organization by squad and beat. I would love to switch to cards full time and let the IT gremlins run Windows updates for the rest of my career.

As far as the JOE, I remember reading a JOE from around 2008-2010, that explicitly listed climate change as a national security risk. I wonder why it got dropped for this edition?

Eric S. said...

How long does it take the language surrounding some of these topics to change in the modern arena, though? For instance, in the case of domestic insurgency and Civil War, would the word “civil war” ever appear anywhere in official channels? It seems like the way we talk about military situations has gotten so layered up in newspeak that there’d be no honest way to discuss these topics (for instance: America officially hasn’t been involved in a War since WWII). A modern Civil War would look absolutely noting like the Civil War of the 19th century, in which you had two sovereign powers with presidents, militaries, laws, resource bases and chains of command declaring war on each other and marching into battle. It’d wind up looking much more like… well… modern civil wars (such as the situation in much of the Middle East), where you’d have multiple different factions with completely different goals and interests going against both each other and the government often-times within the same states. A Civil War would be very difficult to follow it seems and could wind up going on for years before regular people even started using that term, and of course you’d never see the word “civil war” appear once in a single government press release. We wouldn’t have “insurgency groups,” we’d have “agitators,” “violent protestors,” “rioters,” and so on, and even if they used more martial sounding names like “militia,” they’d do their best to make sure the word carried the mocking connotations it was given during last year’s Oregon situation in order to deflect any concerns of organized military action, and if actual damage was done, the phrase used would be “domestic terrorism.”

Actual loss of legitimacy would be purely the result of the spread of certain dangerous ideologies that would have to be rooted out… Any acknowledgement of the marginalization of the United States would be attributed to Russian and Chinese propaganda, rather than actuall Russian and Chinese ascendency, and the official word for monkeywrenching warfare would be that favorite term that is as broad as it is empty: “terrorism.” We’ve seen how warband formation is handled with the way ISIS has been treated, and we’ve already acknowledged the eerie silence that follows every time an environmental prediction that was being used as a political tool actually comes true.

In other words, when anything is acknowledged as happening at all, the official list is going to be providing the code for the problems you presented in your own list. Which means it’s going to take extra work to read through and interpret current events.


Re: Blogger issues: Does that mean the Archdruid Report is going to be switching to the print version full time? Or will you just be switching to a new site?

onething said...

Goodness, Blue sun, my sentiments exactly.

Patricia Mathews said...

Well, Trump has openly stated that if the election goes against him, he'll take other steps. I don't think he's just whistling Dixie here.

Another woman who didn't need a meteorologist to tell her which way the wind was going to blow - J.D. Robb. Her futuristic police procedurals have their many flaws, but her backstory of The Urban Wars (starting date given as September 11, 2001) seems dead on. Especially her postwar NYC, where you can buy soy dogs from carts on the streets, and similar signs of shortages and rundown infrastructure at the height of that period's version of the 1980s (the cops's partner's *parents* are aging hippies) and in one book, a fugitive war criminal from the Urban Wars (an ex Homeland Security guy)features prominently- well, she hit the nail on the head there, too, I think. Best case scenario, that is.

Don't believe anything she has to say about space travel. Or offworld penal colonies. Now when a bad guy escapes from one to Earth without sucking vacuum somewhere in from his lonely rock way out there, and hits the ground running without any microgravity-induced loss of strength. I'm not even sure Robb realizes they'd be under microgravity! And the expense ... shakes head. But she sure has the Bad Recovery part down cold.

Come to think of it, she's Irish.

Patricia Mathews said...

P.S. I did not watch last night's toxic waste dump - and still spent a sleepless night with the pangs of - too much chile yesterday? There's no justice in this world.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20161020T145752Z

Dear JMG,

Thanks so much for this.

I'd like to put in my own two cents' worth regarding your disagreement with "ganv" (his posting timestamped "10/19/16, 4:21 PM").

(a) It is true, JMG, as you say in dissenting from ganv, that the USA is going down. A country that produced last night's debate (I read the transcript pretty carefully) is a country whose institutions are losing legitimacy. It's as Dmitry Orlov once wittily wrote, that the cosmos abounds symmetries; we have the positron and the electron, the up quark and the down quark, the swiftly collapsing SU and the swiftly collapsing US.

(b) But, JMG, ganv does make a good point when he remarks on the probable shape of the emerging Moscow-Beijing diplomatic condominium: Populations of 1.3 billion (China) vs 0.14 billion (Russia) doesn't make an equal partnership. To ganv's population statistic I would like to add the asymmetry in industrial capability. Russia exports almost no manufactures to North America and the EU, being if anything still worse at making things than North America and the EU themselves are. (Vovan Vovanitch should have tried turning this industrial situation around, but he has failed. He is the new L.I.Brezhnev.) China, by contrast, exports every imaginable thing, across the entire spectrum of technological complexity - textiles at the one end, tablet computers at the other, and all things between.

It might be helpful here to note (a Russian friend and I pondered noted the point this week) that Russia's ancient intellectual DNA owes something not just to Byzantium but also to China, via the Mongols.

Russia has a kind of future, and (being a tough, ancient people, like the Chinese) has possibly a less dark future than the USA. That future might involve, however, being a junior partner in a Chinese diplomatic sphere - a sort of 21st-century equivalent of what the post-1945 United Kingdom (a junior) has been to the USA (a senior).

Toomas (Tom) Karmo (in Estonian diaspora, near Toronto)

PS: Dear Patricia Matthews ("10/19/16, 7:34 PM"): Thanks so much for your pointer, namely to an analysis of urbanologist Jane Jacobs. A sentence from that publication, regarding efforts in the late-and-unlamented SU to educate Americans on SU culture through a glossy magazine, is specially fine, to the point of deserving quotation here: The Soviets produced a counterpart publication, Soviet Life, but despite its editors' best efforts - "Leonid I. Brezhnev's Reminiscences," "A Guide to the 15 Union Republics," "Tashkent, Seattle's Sister City" - it somehow failed to attract a commensurate following in the U.S. :-)

PPS: The same Russian friend as has pointed out to me the presence of Chinese chromosomes in the ancient Russian intellectual DNA remarks on the current trade in SU Kitsch (the Red Army belt buckles, the Lenin ashtrays, the golden stars). Authentic SU Kitsch commands high prices, I suspect both among western connoisseurs and back in the former SU. I would love to buy some, but cannot afford it. Now, however, you can get cheaper, imitation SU Kitsch. This gets manufactured in the same powerful country as manufactures our other consumer goods.

Pedro Pinho said...

"as do the establishment of Chinese naval bases across the Indian Ocean from Myanmar to the Horn of Africa, "

Actually, and most incredibly, China is atempting to establish a foothold in the Atlantic!

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20161020T153509Z

Dear JMG,

Over the coming two decades, it might be worth keeping an eye on possible creeping militarization in American society. Having lived just one year in the USA, and that back in the Gorbachev era, I can't comment intelligently. But a country in deep cultural trouble might start moving in a military direction. People disgusted with the political process will try to put their faith in some institution or other. The two main options at the moment seem to be the admittedly troubled Church (not historically a power in the USA) and the military (perhaps to some USA minds now - I speculate - more promising).

One of my fears, as an admittedly uninformed outsider, is a military coup by 2035 or so, with the whole USA entering a soldierly lockdown in the manner of Rome under Diocletian.

Perhaps you can some day weigh this coup scenario up against the more widely discussed, to some extent competing, scenario of a Second Civil War, and indicate where you find the balance of USA probabilities to lie?

On the level of private, practical decision-making in those current USA clients which are Canada and Estonia, I like cultivating the "Monastic Response". Under this approach, we give up on wider society for the time being (knowing that whether we get Diocletian or we get Civil War, the traditional Pax Americana is in any case wrecked), and yet work hopefully in our own little local municipal or neighbourhood spheres, saving what bits of culture we can save.

having soon to turn here in the Canadian-Estonia diaspora to maths studies
(my own effort at "saving bits of culture"; initial bits of the second problem set
from chapter 2 of James Munkres's Topology beckon today),


Phil Knight said...

Here in the UK we're about to have the privilege of seeing the might of the Russian Navy squeeze through the English Channel. It is being catastrophised by the Daily Mail here:

What I find fascinating is how feeble this fleet is compared to the vast armadas that spanned the globe during World War II. And their NATO opposition is even more denuded. For all the obsession with technology, there is an increasingly cheap and scruffy feel to modern war. Military uniforms are more and more beginning to resemble overalls, or casual sportswear. During the conflict in the Ukraine, the protagonists were dressed like drug dealers or amateur boxers.

I suspect that if there is another world war, after all the prestige weapons are quickly used up or destroyed, it will quickly become a ragged and aimless affair.

BoysMom said...

I read recently that the USA (and much of Europe, the credit was laid on Catholicism) is a nuclear family culture, while many other cultures are kinship cultures, namely, that we put much less value on more distant family ties and more on individualism and nuclear family. Now we all are aware of the much-lamented collapse of the nuclear family here.
I'm curious if anyone knows of any historical examples of highly individualistic imperial collapses. What I've read of the historical warbands is that they were extended family groups, and if that's necessary for group cohesion, then only some parts of the USA and only some social classes will be able to form them. My own cousins have dispersed worldwide, and I can't see a scenario in which they both need to and are able to return to a non-existent ancestral home. Wage-class folks seem to stay closer to old family homesteads, and thus be more likely to form clan-based groups.

John Dunn said...

Drug cartels are operating as war bands. Certainly within their own countries.

Damo said...


Hi John,

If you wish to change blogging platforms, you may want to consider (not to be confused with self-hosted solutions).

It is a free (with optional paid tiers) blogging service which gives you a reasonable trade off between freedom, customisation and ease of use. Having used both blogger and I would say that the latter is perhaps easier but YMMV.

Like blogger, has a many themes and options. I have used it to create personal blogs (e.g. Http:// and educational websites (eg It isn't perfect as you are still subject to the whims of a 'cloud' service with all that entails. You will also lose google PageRank's and SEO stuff (the algorithms will consider you a brand new website) although i understand this can be mitigated somewhat.

I have been learning all this over the past few months helping a small college in rural Laos. I am happy to share if you have any other questions.


Edward said...

What's a green wizard to do if there are war bands that will come and pillage everything that was painstakingly put together? It kinda takes the wind out of your sails.

Nicholas Colloff said...

Excellent analysis as usual except that I will demure on the prospects of China - the demographics alone (with the world's most rapidly ageing population and one of its most unbalanced) should give pause - and in spite of significant Russian wishful thinking, there is no traction in China, now or in the foreseeable future for an alliance (the last time that was tried, it lasted, even with strong ideological commonality, less than a decade...

Thomas Daulton said...

Funny, now I haven't read the actual JOE-35, only your snips, but I seem to remember a JOE-25 (or something like that, my memory is vague) which predicted climate change, refugees of climate change, and even an indirect nod towards warbands ("stateless actors" and "asymmetric warfare") for the year 2025. Not in so specific and unflattering ways as you have laid out, but in some ways perhaps _more_ perspicacious than the JOE-35. Which got me thinking about the process of institutional and cultural forgetting. I also know more than one Peak Oil-er who got impatient with waiting for the sudden crash, decided the best thing to do was to milk the system while there's still time, and gradually transformed back into a "muggle" -- not specifically denying and repudiating the reality of Peak Oil theory, but in every tangible respect now acting like someone who's never heard of it.

It amazes me that a person _or_ institution could go through the "Peak Oil Initiation" as you have called it, see the world through new eyes, and then walk _backwards_ and pick up the old eyes once again. (I guess my amazement is a symptom of not being able to fundamentally give up on the Myth of Progress, it still colors my thoughts.)

You have often warned or begged us not to let this or that facet of civilization "be lost" or "forgotten". I wonder if you'd care to examine it from the other side: how exactly do people and cultures forget hard-won truths so quickly? Because it seems from my observing that, although civilizations take centuries to collapse, a profound forgetting can take less than a generation. Like (** sorry to pop-culture geek out **) I used to think it was silly the way George Lucas depicted it in Star Wars, that there were in the recent past huge armies of Jedis who flaunted The Force openly in public, had massive institutions and buildings, and then less than 20 years later when Luke grows up, most people think (like Han Solo) that The Force is a hoax. I used to think that was unrealistic but now I'm not so sure.

You have ruminated in past columns about arts and technology are lost in a dark age, but I'm not sure you've written an in-depth exploration of the process by which this happens. Mostly I think you've written that during a collapse when it's hard to keep food on the table and the wolves and warbands away from the door, your average citizen has no time to practice the subtle skills and techniques necessary to keep fine arts alive. But forgetting doesn't only happen _after_ the collapse is underway, it happens even in the best of times. Right now Donald Trump is grousing that the election may be rigged, and all the same people are deriding him for that impossible belief, as were bemoaning the rigging of elections in 2000 and 2004. In part as you've written that is the "senescence" of elites who believe they control what they do not in fact control, but this particular forgetting is also based on fear of the truth.

Might be an interesting solo topic for a column, instead of just discussing in passing. To delve into all the many and disparate ways that people and cultures forget hard-won truths.

pygmycory said...

I used wordpress for my blogs when I was doing that. It too, can have annoying updates. Some of them can be avoided, others you are stuck with. A large amount of computer savvy is not required to use it. I don't have that either.

Mountain said...


I do web for a living. How many pageviews a month does your blog receive and how much is modest?

MichaelK said...

Roaming around the US in the pick-up truck I bought for next to nothing was a wonderful and rather frightening experience for me. Okay, my truck wasn't exactly a Mercedes, but the state of the roads was shockingly bad, compared to a country like Germany where they seem to do nothing else but repair their roads. I kept thinking about ancient Rome and their network of roads built to tie their empire together and they symbolized the empire too. What does the dreadful state of US roads and brigdes symbolize?

I spent a lot of time off the beaten track in what one might call 'Trumpland.' I found the people really interesting and friendly, open and desparate to communicate and get a response. It was a question mostly of me looking like I wanted to listen that sparked and fueled the process.

The hurting is palpable. The signs of infrastructral decay are hard to miss and the closed stores in mainstreet and the abandoned mills. The economic and political polarization is... dangerous. It reminds me in many ways of the period before the Civil War where one part of the country seemed intent on 'demonizing' another. Today it seems to be the 'white working class' that have been tatooed with absolutely dreadful labels; racist, homophobic, sexist, ingnorant, stupid, uneducated, unsophisticated...

It's like many urban liberals/left people, and lots in 'Medialand' have a kind of cultural concept for the white working class, which is pushing these people into the gutter and into the waiting arms of political demagogues. This is dangerous.

This is a vast subject, the tectonic plates of history moving under us. How much can anyone really understand about this?

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...

Recently, I travelled to the State of Jefferson, and the impression I got from the local people is that they see the national government as more legitimate than the California state government - which would explain why they are trying to form a new state within the union rather than leave the union. I think their website ( is rather full of Americanism. However, the California state government will fight their efforts tooth and nail, because if Jefferson leaves California, it will take most of California's current water supplies with it.

Dorda Giovex said...

this might be a good read about a woman with power in a failing empire. My opinion is that it does not matter .. the beginning of collapse is caused by useless upper class with a misplaced sense of entitlement messing up everything and not even realizing that they are losing loyality.

David, by the lake said...

Others may have posted or commented on this already, but our "leadership" is reaping what it has sown:

Choice quote from Duterte (edited for presentation here): "America does not control our lives. Enough bullsh--."

Straight-up announcement of realignment. Wow. I wonder how this is playing inside the bubble.

Shane W said...

Unlike some, I take it as a given that we will divide up Nine or more nations, but the devil is in the details for me. Though I probably will indeed be living in the Confederacy in the next ten years, if I don't leave, I'm not at all convinced that it will be worth living in, considering the insane ideas most Americans now have regarding people, history, government, darn near everything! I'm reminded of JMG's post last summer discussing revolution, where he was discussing the French revolution--the predicament is that while the status quo is intolerable, what replaces it could be worse. Was Stalin really an improvement over the czars?

Robert Mathiesen said...

Thank you, Pedro Pinho, for the link to the article about Chinese initiatives in the Azores. I had not known about this. I think it might have strategic implications far beyond the obvious military one, at least here in the costal Northeast of the United States, where there is a fairly large Azorean diaspora. Do you happen to know whether there is anything similar going on (on a much smaller scale) in the Cape Verde Islands, since we also have a large Cape-Verdean diaspora here as well? An easy way for any foreign power to ramp up the incipient crisis of legitimacy within the US would be to work to improve the economic lot of the homelands of the diasporas that we have here, especially where members of these diasporas are already somewhat disprivileged.

Ezra Buonopane said...

Given how quickly the United States's advantage in the global arena after the cold war disappeared, how long do you think the Sino-Russian alliance will maintain its grip on the world? China's recent loosening of population control measures and encouraging/forcing of rural citizens to move into cities and become dependent on the fossil-fueled global economy are likely to create very large problems in the coming decades. Much will depend on how quickly they can reverse that process as they realize that the model of development that they're trying to emulate is a dead end. I also think it's very likely that China and Russia will resume their old rivalry once the US is out of the way, competing for control over smaller satellite states. Russia has a pretty clear advantage there, largely due to the fact that Russia can meet a much larger portion of its demand for natural resources from within its borders, while China will be forced to rely on some sort of imperial wealth pump to support its vast population. If they're any smarter than the US, they may be able to agree to stay out of each other's way (with Russia controlling the atlantic hemisphere and China controlling the pacific, or something like that), but conflict between them seems to me the most likely way Chinese/Russian global hegemony will end.