Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Season of Consequences

One of the many advantages of being a Druid is that you get to open your holiday presents four days early. The winter solstice—Alban Arthuan, to use one term for it in the old-fashioned Druid Revival traditions I practice—is one of the four main holy days of the Druid year. Though the actual moment of solstice wobbles across a narrow wedge of the calendar, the celebration traditionally takes place on December 21.  Yes, Druids give each other presents, hang up decorations, and enjoy as sumptuous a meal as resources permit, to celebrate the rekindling of light and hope in the season of darkness.

Come to think of it, I’m far from sure why more people who don’t practice the Christian faith still celebrate Christmas, rather than the solstice. It’s by no means necessary to believe in the Druid gods and goddesses to find the solstice relevant; a simple faith in orbital inclination is sufficient reason for the season, after all—and since a good many Christians in America these days are less than happy about what’s been done to their holy day, it seems to me that it would be polite to leave Christmas to them, have our celebrations four days earlier, and cover their shifts at work on December 25th in exchange for their covering ours on the 21st. (Back before my writing career got going, when I worked in nursing homes to pay the bills, my Christian coworkers and I did this as a matter of course; we also swapped shifts around Easter and the spring equinox. Religious pluralism has its benefits.)

Those of my readers who don’t happen to be Druids, but who are tempted by the prospect just sketched out, will want to be aware of a couple of details. For one thing, you won’t catch Druids killing a tree in order to stick it in their living room for a few weeks as a portable ornament stand and fire hazard. Druids think there should be more trees in the world, not fewer! A live tree or, if you must, an artificial one, would be a workable option, but a lot of Druids simply skip the tree altogether and hang ornaments on the mantel, or what have you.

Oh, and most of us don’t do Santa Claus. I’m not sure why Santa Claus is popular among Christians, for that matter, or among anyone else who isn’t a devout believer in the ersatz religion of Consumerism—which admittedly has no shortage of devotees just now. There was a time when Santa hadn’t yet been turned into a poorly paid marketing consultant to the toy industry; go back several centuries, and he was the Christian figure of St. Nicholas; and before then he may have been something considerably stranger. To those who know their way around the traditions of Siberian shamanism, certainly, the conjunction of flying reindeer and an outfit colored like the famous and perilous hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria is at least suggestive.

Still, whether he takes the form of salesman, saint, or magic mushroom, Druids tend to give the guy in the red outfit a pass. Solstice symbolism varies from one tradition of Druidry to another—like almost everything else among Druids—but in the end of the tradition I practice, each of the Alban Gates (the solstices and equinoxes) has its own sacred animal, and the animal that corresponds to Alban Arthuan is the bear. If by some bizarre concatenation of circumstances Druidry ever became a large enough faith in America to attract the attention of the crazed marketing minions of consumerdom, you’d doubtless see Hallmark solstice cards for sale with sappy looking cartoon bears on them, bear-themed decorations in windows, bear ornaments to hang from the mantel, and the like.

While I could do without the sappy looking cartoons, I definitely see the point of bears as an emblem of the winter solstice, because there’s something about them that too often gets left out of the symbolism of Christmas and the like—though it used to be there, and relatively important, too. Bears are cute, no question; they’re warm and furry and cuddlesome, too; but they’re also, ahem, carnivores, and every so often, when people get sufficiently stupid in the vicinity of bears, the bears kill and eat them.

That is to say, bears remind us that actions have consequences.

I’m old enough that I still remember the days when the folk mythology surrounding Santa Claus had not quite shed the last traces of a similar reminder. According to the accounts of Santa I learned as a child, naughty little children ran a serious risk of waking up Christmas morning to find no presents at all, and a sorry little lump of coal in their stockings in place of the goodies they expected. I don’t recall any of my playmates having that happen to them, and it never happened to me—though I arguably deserved it rather more than once—but every child I knew took it seriously, and tried to moderate their misbehavior at least a little during the period after Thanksgiving. That detail of the legend may still survive here and there, for all I know, but you wouldn’t know it from the way the big guy in red is retailed by the media these days.

For that matter, the version I learned was a pale shadow of a far more unnerving original. In many parts of Europe, when St. Nicholas does the rounds, he’s accompanied by a frightening figure with various names and forms. In parts of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, it’s Krampus—a hairy devil with goat’s horns and a long lolling tongue, who prances around with a birch switch in his hand and a wicker basket on his back. While the saint hands out presents to good children, Krampus is there for the benefit of the others; small-time junior malefactors can expect a thrashing with the birch switch, while the legend has it that the shrieking, spoiled little horrors at the far end of the naughty-child spectrum get popped into the wicker basket and taken away, and nobody ever hears from them again.

Yes, I know, that sort of thing’s unthinkable in today’s America, and I have no idea whether anyone still takes it with any degree of seriousness over in Europe. Those of my readers who find the entire concept intolerable, though, may want to stop for a moment and think about the context in which that bit of folk tradition emerged. Before fossil fuels gave the world’s industrial nations the temporary spate of abundance that they now enjoy, the coming of winter in the northern temperate zone was a serious matter. The other three seasons had to be full of hard work and careful husbandry, if you were going to have any particular likelihood of seeing spring before you starved or froze to death.

By the time the solstice came around, you had a tolerably good idea just how tight things were going to be by the time spring arrived and the first wild edibles showed up to pad out the larder a bit. The first pale gleam of dawn after the long solstice night was a welcome reminder that spring was indeed on its way, and so you took whatever stored food you could spare, if you could spare any at all, and turned it into a high-calorie, high-nutrient feast, to provide warm memories and a little additional nourishment for the bleak months immediately ahead.

In those days, remember, children who refused to carry their share of the household economy might indeed expect to be taken away and never be heard from again, though the taking away would normally be done by some combination of hunger, cold, and sickness, rather than a horned and hairy devil with a lolling tongue. Of course a great many children died anyway.  A failed harvest, a longer than usual winter, an epidemic, or the ordinary hazards of life in a nonindustrial society quite regularly put a burst of small graves in the nearest churchyard. It was nonetheless true that good children, meaning here those who paid attention, learned fast, worked hard, and did their best to help keep the household running smoothly, really did have a better shot at survival.

One of the most destructive consequences of the age of temporary abundance that fossil fuels gave to the world’s industrial nations, in turn, is the widespread conviction that consequences don’t matter—that it’s unreasonable, even unfair, to expect anyone to have to deal with the blowback from their own choices. That’s a pervasive notion these days, and its effects show up in an astonishing array of contexts throughout contemporary culture, but yes, it’s particularly apparent when it comes to the way children get raised in the United States these days.

The interesting thing here is that the children aren’t necessarily happy about that. If you’ve ever watched a child systematically misbehave in an attempt to get a parent to react, you already know that kids by and large want to know where the limits are. It’s the adults who want to give tests and then demand that nobody be allowed to fail them, who insist that everybody has to get an equal share of the goodies no matter how much or little they’ve done to earn them, and so on through the whole litany of attempts to erase the reality that actions have consequences.

That erasure goes very deep. Have you noticed, for example, that year after year, at least here in the United States, the Halloween monsters on public display get less and less frightening? These days, far more often than not, the ghosts and witches, vampires and Frankenstein’s monsters splashed over Hallmark cards and window displays in the late October monster ghetto have big goofy grins and big soft eyes. The wholesome primal terrors that made each of these things iconic in the first place—the presence of the unquiet dead, the threat of wicked magic, the ghastly vision of walking corpses, whether risen from the grave to drink your blood or reassembled and reanimated by science run amok—are denied to children, and saccharine simulacra are propped up in their places.

Here again, children aren’t necessarily happy about that. The bizarre modern recrudescence of the Victorian notion that children are innocent little angels tells me, if nothing else, that most adults must go very far out of their way to forget their own childhoods. Children aren’t innocent little angels; they’re fierce little animals, which is of course exactly what they should be, and they need roughly the same blend of gentleness and discipline that wolves use on their pups to teach them to moderate their fierceness and live in relative amity with the other members of the pack.  Being fierce, they like to be scared a little from time to time; that’s why they like to tell each other ghost stories, the more ghoulish the better, and why they run with lolling tongues toward anything that promises them a little vicarious blood and gore. The early twentieth century humorist Ogden Nash nailed it when he titled one of his poems “Don’t Cry, Darling, It’s Blood All Right.”

Traditional fairy tales delighted countless generations of children for three good and sufficient reasons. First of all, they’re packed full of wonderful events. Second, they’re positively dripping with gore, which as already noted is an instant attraction to any self-respecting child. Third, they’ve got a moral—which means, again, that they are about consequences. The selfish, cruel, and stupid characters don’t get patted on the head, given the same prize as everyone else, and shielded from the results of their selfishness, cruelty, and stupidity; instead, they get gobbled up by monsters, turned to stone by witches’ curses, or subjected to some other suitably grisly doom. It’s the characters who are honest, brave, and kind who go on to become King or Queen of Everywhere.

Such things are utterly unacceptable, according to the approved child-rearing notions of our day.  Ask why this should be the case and you can count on being told that expecting a child to have to deal with the consequences of its actions decreases it’s self-esteem. No doubt that’s true, but this is another of those many cases where people in our society manage not to notice that the opposite of one bad thing is usually another bad thing. Is there such a thing as too little self-esteem? Of course—but there is also such a thing as too much self-esteem. In fact, we have a common and convenient English word for somebody who has too much self-esteem. That word is “jerk.”

The cult of self-esteem in contemporary pop psychology has thus produced a bumper crop of jerks in today’s America. I’m thinking here, among many other examples, of the woman who made the news a little while back by strolling right past the boarding desk at an airport, going down the ramp, and taking her seat on the airplane ahead of all the other passengers, just because she felt she was entitled to do so. When the cabin crew asked her to leave and wait her turn like everyone else, she ignored them; security was called, and she ignored them, too. They finally had to drag her down the aisle and up the ramp like a sack of potatoes, and hand her over to the police. I’m pleased to say she’s up on charges now.

That woman had tremendous self-esteem. She esteemed herself so highly that she was convinced that the rules that applied to everyone else surely couldn’t apply to her—and that’s normally the kind of attitude you can count on from someone whose self-esteem has gone up into the toxic-overdose range. Yet the touchstone of excessive self-esteem, the gold standard of jerkdom, is the complete unwillingness to acknowledge the possibility that actions have consequences and you might have to deal with those, whether you want to or not.

That sort of thing is stunningly common in today’s society. It was that kind of overinflated self-esteem that convinced affluent liberals in the United States and Europe that they could spend thirty years backing policies that pandered to their interests while slamming working people face first into the gravel, without ever having to deal with the kind of blowback that arrived so dramatically in the year just past. Now Britain is on its way out of the European Union, Donald Trump is mailing invitations to his inaugural ball, and the blowback’s not finished yet. Try to point this out to the people whose choices made that blowback inevitable, though, and if my experience is anything to go by, you’ll be ignored if you’re not shouted down.

On an even greater scale, of course, there’s the conviction on the part of an astonishing number of people that we can keep on treating this planet as a combination cookie jar to raid and garbage bin to dump wastes in, and never have to deal with the consequences of that appallingly shortsighted set of policies. That’s as true in large swathes of the allegedly green end of things, by the way, as it is among the loudest proponents of smokestacks and strip mines. I’ve long since lost track of the number of people I’ve met who insist loudly on how much they love the Earth and how urgent it is that “we” protect the environment, but who aren’t willing to make a single meaningful change in their own personal consumption of resources and production of pollutants to help that happen.

Consequences don’t go away just because we don’t want to deal with them. That lesson is being taught right now on low-lying seacoasts around the world, where streets that used to be well above the high tide line reliably flood with seawater when a high tide meets an onshore wind; it’s being taught on the ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica, which are moving with a decidedly un-glacial rapidity through a trajectory of collapse that hasn’t been seen since the end of the last ice age; it’s being taught in a hundred half-noticed corners of an increasingly dysfunctional global economy, as the externalized costs of technological progress pile up unnoticed and drag economic activity to a halt; and of course it’s being taught, as already noted, in the capitals of the industrial world, where the neoliberal orthodoxy of the last thirty years is reeling under the blows of a furious populist backlash.

It didn’t have to be learned that way. We could have learned it from Krampus or the old Santa Claus, the one who was entirely willing to leave a badly behaved child’s stocking empty on Christmas morning except for that single eloquent lump of coal; we could have learned it from the fairy tales that taught generations of children that consequences matter; we could have learned it from any number of other sources, given a little less single-minded a fixation on maximizing self-esteem right past the red line on the meter—but enough of us didn’t learn it that way, and so here we are.

I’d therefore like to encourage those of my readers who have young children in their lives to consider going out and picking up a good old-fashioned collection of fairy tales, by Charles Perrault or the Brothers Grimm, and use those in place of the latest mass-marketed consequence-free pap when it comes to storytelling time. The children will thank you for it, and so will everyone who has to deal with them in their adult lives. Come to think of it, those of my readers who don’t happen to have young children in their lives might consider doing the same thing for their own benefit, restocking their imaginations with cannibal giants and the other distinctly unmodern conveniences thereof, and benefiting accordingly.

And if, dear reader, you are ever tempted to climb into the lap of the universe and demand that it fork over a long list of goodies, and you glance up expecting to see the jolly and long-suffering face of Santa Claus beaming down at you, don’t be too surprised if you end up staring in horror at the leering yellow eyes and lolling tongue of Krampus instead, as he ponders whether you’ve earned a thrashing with the birch switch or a ride in the wicker basket—or perhaps the great furry face of the Solstice bear, the beast of Alban Arthuan, as she blinks myopically at you for a moment before she either shoves you from her lap with one powerful paw, or tears your arm off and gnaws on it meditatively while you bleed to death on the cold, cold ground.

Because the universe doesn’t care what you think you deserve. It really doesn’t—and, by the way, the willingness of your fellow human beings to take your wants and needs into account will by and large be precisely measured by your willingness to do the same for them.

And on that utterly seasonal note, I wish all my fellow Druids a wonderful solstice; all my Christian friends and readers, a very merry Christmas; and all my readers, whatever their faith or lack thereof, a rekindling of light, hope, and sanity in a dark and troubled time.


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David, by the lake said...


Your reference of noblesse oblige is an important point. We desperately need a renewal of that ideal.

John Michael Greer said...

Maxine, it's the elemental correspondence. For the spring equinox, the Hawk of May; for the summer solstice, the White Stag; for the autumn equinox, the Salmon of Wisdom. Now Hallmark can do a whole series of cards! ;-)

Patricia, I'll have to get to those one of these days.

David, unfortunately that ideal tends to be embraced enthusiastically only when the privileged have learned the hard way that noblesse oblige is one of the few reliable ways to avoid dangling from lampposts. Mind you, it may come to that.

Moshe Braner said...

Regarding "internet access as a right", have y'all noticed that whenever there is a natural disaster these days, the field reports seem to be mostly about people going to great lengths to figure out a way, not to get food or water or shelter, but to get their "devices" charged?

Oh and BTW, if one wants to pass an occasional short message to distant loved ones, using text messages a couple of times a day, and turning the device completely OFF the rest of the time, will make the battery charge last for many weeks. But no, people need to spend all their time on a-social media.

Also, half the discussions about how to get off the grid, or off fossil fuels, seem to be about ways to charge the "devices". E.g., from tiny solar panels, or pedal-powered generators. How many of the e-addicts know that just the light bulb in the room (even if it is an LED bulb) uses more power than the device charger? And that the energy used directly by the device in its whole life (2 years?) is a small fraction of the energy used to manufacture it?

Patricia Mathews said...

@ JMG - Yes, of course! As a halfway self-taught Wiccan, I work with the elements/directions/Quarters a lot. Spring = East = Air = Birds; Summer = South = Fire = well, I went with the tradition of many desert folk, whether Egyptian or Aztec, and went with the Big Cats - Sekhmet is as perfect a personification of the desert heat as Thor is of thunder - but back to Autumn = West = Water = the Salmon of Wisdom, unless you're on the Left Coast and go with dolphins. And Bear is so self-evident both astronomically and in European (or Eurasian) history.

Interestingly enough, Greek myth not only has Artemis and Apollo born on Delphi to Leto but also says they are Hyperborean, "beyond the North Wind." And Artemis is certainly a bear goddess.

Wicca and Druidry both draw on Celtic sources real or reconstructed, of course.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks. Mr Catton has had my brain working overtime on those matters. Hey, you know what? That book is important enough to undertake a re-reading of it. And so the other day I started just that, and today over lunch I happened to read a startling chunk of information. Our food which is produced via the system of industrial agricultural methods has a negative net energy in that it produces far less energy than is consumed in the production of that output. And then just to be sure, he went on and gave a solid example from 40 years ago. Things can not have improved in the meantime. No wonder people have such inflated expectations as to the agricultural surplus produced from here. The surplus is just not that great using the systems that I do. But the flip side of that equation is that the rest of the eco-system here gets to benefit from the work here. I'm starting to seriously consider the question of choice that I posed to you last week. Perhaps Orwell got it right when he wrote in the book 1984 that Freedom is Slavery? It is a complex matter.

Hi trippticket,

I've always enjoyed your handle! And I must say congratulations and best wishes for your shop. If I were living in the area, I would support your business. :-)!

That is a crazy attitude. Yeah, my lot here do the same, and mostly they look after their own canine business. The dogs have been very busy of late as the local population of deer has increased and as summer has hit here in full force, the deer are moving into higher elevations. Twice now I have caught a herd of deer on the edge of the orchards, and the dogs to their total respect will happily chase the deer (Stag and all!) off into the forest for a fair distance. Dogs are a critical tool, no doubts about it. I've learned to live with all of the different birds and animals that drop by here for a feed but deer are something else altogether and can reach much higher into the trees in the orchard and the scraping of the antlers on the tree bark...

Hi nuku,

Exactly, it comes to all of us in the end and it is a very serious limit. I'm personally surprised that it is a taboo subject in our culture. But no doubts that you are correct in those assertions. Personally, I have no beef with any Gods so hopefully when I pass on such concerns as the ones you raised and are often displayed by some religions adherents don't apply? It seems as good a strategy as any you have to admit? :-)!



Cherokee Organics said...


Well, well, well. Have you noticed that unmentionable things such as: a destination based cash flow tax are now being considered and have serious support behind them? I'd call that a wind of change wouldn't you? And it sure beats sound bites of: Hope and change. Hehehe! We'll see how it goes, but I'd say it is a step in the right direction.



August Johnson said...

JMG - there's not much that Barack Obama has done since taking office that I'm not completely disgusted with, and I've been vocal about it. Even though I voted for him. However, he doesn't remind me of a spoiled brat 5 year old throwing a tantrum or my Father-in-Law with diagnosed Dementia. Trump speaks the exact same way my father-in-law did. You could have a great conversation with him about house construction or real estate, he was quite knowledgeable, but then he'd go off and who knows where it would lead. My wife and I spent 5 years dealing with this, she was her father's legal guardian. Whenever we see another Trump tweet, we both can't help but be reminded of some very stressful times. The subject matter and manner of speaking is identical.

There's a huge difference between Obama's behavior and Trump's. I've never had the feeling that Obama was going to see something in the news that tweaked his nose the wrong way and lash out with something that was going to massively endanger the entire country. I most definitely feel that way about Trump.

If the President doesn't have enough self-control to keep himself from tweeting threats whenever somebody insults his Restaurant or prints something bad about him, he doesn't have enough self-control to be President. Think what people would have said if Obama had lashed out the way that Trump does every time another idiot questioned his Birth Certificate!

My biggest complaint this election is that NEITHER candidate that made it to the election that was worth a d**n. Both were completely unsuited for the office. I knew what Clinton was going to do, all bad. Trump gives no specific clues to the exact details of what he might do, but, at least to me, the generalities are more than bad enough.

I still remember the room I was standing in when Reagan was elected, it was an oh... frack moment. This time I knew it didn't make any difference who was elected, my response was going to be the same, except worse. Unlike many, just because Trump scares me, doesn't mean I think Clinton is any better. Clinton's supporters/rationalizers can't see her lies and Trump's supporters/rationalizers can't see his lies.

I'll end my mention of this subject, won't bring it up again. I'm reminded of something one of the Mexican Astronomers my Father worked with in the 1970's told him. "You know what's the difference between Mexico and the U.S.A? We admit our Politicians are crooked."

Glenn said...


The nautical version of the rhyme is:

Here lies the body of Michael O'Day,
who died defending his right of way;
he was right, dead right, as he sailed along;
but he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong.

In prose the maxim: "right of way is in direct proportion to gross tonnage" is useful advice at sea.

I agree with Unknown, above, those of us piloting 3,000 to 4,000 pound machines down the road at great speeds need to take care and look out for unarmoured road users. Where I live, for instance, there are simply no shoulders; just enough pavement past the white line that they can paint the line. Then it's a ditch, bank or brush. As someone who regularly drives, rides and walks on said roads, I am always hypervigilant. I don't blame other road users, but the State and County who design and build the roads. So far, lobbying has been fruitless.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Matt said...

Bill, Candace and others,

Whilst Christmas is clearly crammed full of pagan influence, the date might be one thing that isn't of pagan origin, at least according to a fascinating article I read a few days ago:

The proposed altwrnative is that the date was fixed to provide a correspondence between jesus' conception and death. There's a great image of the infant floating down to earth with a cross over his shoulder!

Happy Whatevers


Sven Eriksen said...


I'll see what I can come up with, once the Yule pig is devoured. In the meantime, just for good measure, you and your readers might perhaps want to check out Brian Joines and Dean Kotz' 2013 graphic novel "Krampus!", in which the Yule fiend himself is set loose on a Snake Plissken-esque mission to save the holiday spirit...

Silva said...

About books for (well, older) children, may I recommend Ursula Vernon and Howard Tayler's works? (and the slug's story) (and subsequent talk)

Greg Belvedere said...

Thanks for that description it reminds me of the things I have read about the four sacred beasts, as well as some experiences I had when I was younger after encountering... let's just say the siberian version of santa.

He is a pretty well behaved 3 year old. But like the angel with the faces of the sacred beasts, he has many faces. Sometimes animal, sometimes sweet little child.

If given the choice between that description and a 3 year old who has missed his nap, I might take the angel.

David, by the lake said...

I realize it is a minuscule and not (necessarily) representative sample, but speaking of consequences, I've noted several comments on one left-leaning political blog suggest that Trump's public disagreements with Obama on policy positions in these last weeks of the outgoing administration are tantamount to treason and that Obama should fulfill his duty to protect the country from "all enemies, foreign and domestic" and jail Trump before he can take office. These are obviously not intended as serious propositions, but there are also consequences to eroding our societal institutions. People need to think before they post.

Roger said...

JMG, talking about a bumper crop of jerks, what do we make of "campus snowflakes"? From what I've seen there's quite an infestation. Do they assume that they have a natural right to wealth and power, not to mention an absolute right to not be challenged? Does history ever tell us about any aristocracy, hereditary or not, that presumed so much, that had such an towering sense of their own entitlement?

From what I've read and heard, even the most hidebound English toffs had a sense of obligation, for example, to lead in war-time, to set an example, to put themselves in harm's way, even if they did assume leadership as their natural right. Would we ever see such a sense of personal duty in a "snowflake"?

As far as non-English aristocrats go, I think you see a degree of insecurity about their place, that is, fear of being displaced and killed by foreigners or ambitious people in their own realm. I think their idea was that only the paranoid survive, to quote Andy Grove. Do we see any of this in snowflakes?

I think that, in the past, American aristocrats, even if not in the old-world model, assumed they had commitments, for example, Bush 41, who served in WW2 as a bomber pilot, and JFK, who served as a PT boat skipper, and his brother Joe who died in the air service.

But I think that the downslide came in the Vietnam era. I read that only two grads of MIT died in Vietnam as opposed to some fifteen former students of a Boston high school in a neighbourhood of Polish and Italian immigrants. You hear about sons of the rich, like Mitt and Dubya and Trump, that managed to avoid service or at least the more kinetic aspects of it. You hear about Republican chicken-hawks who won't stint on sending others into battle. But shared sacrifice? No more, not like before.

So what name do we assign to the new ideology? Snowflake-ism? Or to their mode of behaviour? Snowflakery? When these people get out into the real world, have they got any idea of what confronts them? There's no safe spaces. Even if that odious gang currently tormenting Syria and Iraq gets dispersed, the economic and societal factories that churn out their like will still exist. There's a multitude of challenges, military and non-military, that come with eight or nine billion aggressive, resource-hungry people. They will have to be confronted. Are the snowflakes up to it?

Even if the snowflakes manage to acquire power, I suspect that such delicacy of sensibility won't be of service to them, nor their presumption to safety. I think their time at the apex will be short.

Patricia Mathews said...

A dissenting voice on a couple of things -

Little Orphan Annie. You who so strongly advocate children (and adults, of course) pulling their own weight, and dislike the sense of entitlement that means "I don't have to help!" are praising a poem whose narrator is a privileged family child who os pleased to be playing with toys while Annie does all the chores. Which child are you identifying with? Annie? Or the narrator?

You do not want use the 19th Century German "scare the kids witless" verses like the ones quoted ("cut off their thumbs for thumb-sucking") as guides to child rearing. We don't take them seriously, just as examples of going over the top for emphasis. The original writers, while they did exaggerate, were serious. At least according to Alice Miller, whose books make out a plausible case for a philosophy based on "breaking the child's will" to unquestioning obedience by any and all means, being responsible for the mentality which went along with the Holocaust. She uses period sources to document the brutality with which this was done, and cites two simple factors: the unquestioning obedience, and a volcanic mass of underlying rage in the brutalized child grown up. Incidentally, nowhere does she claim all children were treated like this, merely that many were, and that Hitler himself (like Stalin, which is also on record) had such an upbringing. So I would be really, really careful that a concern for consequences has limits like everything else.

(Incidentally, it was a German himself - 15th century - who memorably compared people and their treatment of ideas to a drunken peasant trying to ride a horse. "First," Martin Luther noted sardonically, "he falls off on one side, gets back on, and then falls off on the other side."

Me, I note that at least the peasant wasn't roaring down the Interstate the wrong way at 100 mph, with the power to do the amount of damage 20th history has shown we can do. Even if the peasant did wake up with a mouthful of hay and horse droppings, since at least the horse knew where home was and how do get there. Even with Hans Hayseed on his back bawling out alehouse songs and falling off. Which - to push the metaphor further than it wants to go, very few of us do any more.)

Christmas Carols: I love the sincere simplicity of Silent Night, which, done right, actually conjures up the little country church with neither organ nor orchestra. Just the pastor, a guitar, and the congregation singing in a straightforward A major key.

BTW, "I'll be home for Christmas" ceases to be mushy if you know the context, which I learned very late, from a Popejoy Hall production of Irving Berlin's songs staged as a tour of the 20th century. The period is the very early 1940s, and the next song in sequence was "Suppertime."

At any rate, The Grey Badger stumps off with best wishes for Christmastide/
Midwinter. May the light ever return.

sgage said...

@Patricia Matthews,

I was not 'identifying' with anyone in the 'Little Orphan Anny' poem, or maybe each in turn. I was just reminiscing about a poem remembered from my own childhood. The entire poem was very evocative and has a big sense of the world behind the veil. Must we politicize it using modern notions of social justice? There were times and places when relatively well-off families 'took in' orphans. Why not learn about that? How are orphans treated now in various parts of the world?

As far as 'Struwwelpeter', I was certainly not advocating that people use it to train up their kids! Again, I was just remembering a book from my own childhood. Although I will say, even as a small child, it seemed like a parody of something or other, funny. It certainly didn't terrify me into being good. The illustrations were over the top (funny), even to a little kid.

I honestly don't think your moralizing was quite called for.

nuku said...

Hi Chris (Cherokee),
I’m not sure if this story is true, but I read that Henry David Thoreau was on his deathbed when a friend called in a minister to give the “last rites.” The minister asked Thoreau if he’d “made his peace with God”, to which Thoreau replied “I’m not aware that we have ever quarrelled”.

At 72, in relative good health, but with the Grim Reaper no longer a personal abstraction, I’m very much aware of the this ultimate limit and how its perceived both by myself and the people around me here in NZ.

I once spent a late Fall in a 1700’s stone farm house which looked out over Lake Zurich. I awoke one cold misty morning, looked out of my 3rd story window to see a tall old man, dressed entirely in black, reaping the late wheat crop with a curved wooden handled sythe. Nothing in that scene was modern; just the golden brown wheat field, the man in black, his sythe, the lake in the mist. Elemental, mythological, timeless. Images and myths connect us to the larger realities, human and non-human, in which our lives are embeded.

Kevin said...

Here's an important data point on a trend previously predicted by the Archdruid. It seems a little off-topic for the week, but then again maybe not:

Shane W said...

Knowing what I now know about the shape of the future, I wish I'd been raised more resiliently, and not had as "soft" an upbringing, and I think that the progressively "softer" and more indulgent parenting of each successive generation after the Greatest will prove deadly in upcoming years. I wish I'd been raised as strictly as my grandfather, there seemed to be an ethos by my great-grandfather that "I'm going to be hard on you, but the world will be much harder". If had children, resilience and challenge would be the order of the day.

Candace said...

Hopefully no too OT.

Certainly I wonder what the consequences of this will be

I know I've brought it up before. I just can't tell if I'm worried about nothing? Sent previous articles around to family and friends asking if they had heard of it, they all read a variety of media and my email was the first they'd heard of it. I've even emailed other alternative media sites and a site that is supposed to be a first amendment watch dog. I Have received no response from any of them. I have asked a friend who is a retired lawyer to read it, she said it wasn't her area of law so she didn't really have any insight into it .

Well, hopefully. I'm worried about nothing. I'm just wondering, could our government now label "climate change" and "peak oil" or any thing similar Russian propaganda? I believe Trump already labeled "climate change" Chinese propaganda. So does that mean that TAR could be labelled a propaganda site? Am I reading too much into this?

KL Cooke said...

"Krampus the Yuletide devil"

That had me rolling on the floor.

KL Cooke said...

"Krampus the Yulefiend"

Keeps getting better.

Robert Mathiesen said...

You all need some background on "Little Orphant [sic] Annie" before rushing to judgement one way or another.

Basically, it was set in the situation of my wife's great-grandmother, Mary Corbit, and it was a very common situation at the time. Mary's parents had fallen in love across social boundaries in England sometime around 1850. He was a son of a wealthy English family, and she was an Irish servant girl in the household. To marry against his family's wishes, they fled England for New York. There they had three children, two boys and Mary. When Mary was still too young to have learned which day of the calendar was her birthday, her parents died of one of the diseases that regularly swept through the New York tenements in those days. Friends of the young couple, who knew their story, wrote to his parents back in England, and the grandparents sent a relative across the ocean to inspect the orphans, The two boys reminded that relative of their father, but the girl more resembled her dsspised mother, so Mary was rejected and dumped into a New York orphanage, while her brothers were taken back to England and a life of privilege. When Mary was old enough to work, she was sent westward on one of the Orphan Trains. She got as far as Muncie, Indiana, where she finally found someone who would buy her from the orphanage for a servant, to serve until she was 18. This was George W Seitz, who owned a hardware store. She was treated well for a servant, but when she turned 18 and her term of service was up, she west to Colorado to find a husband in the silver mines there. (She was a plain woman, and she thought her chances of marrying well would be better in a place where men considerably outnumbered women.) In Leadville she met and married a mining engineer, Isaac Taylor Tallman, and they had two children, the younger of whom died as an infant. Mary had fond enough memories of her time with the Seitz family that she made the hard trip from leadville back to Muncie to show them her new baby; clearly they had all parted on good terms. True, she had been a servant in the Seitz household, like Annie in the poem, but thought herself fortunate to have had that life instead of a much shorter life filled with much harder work in the slums of New York.

The poet, James Whitcomb Riley, was also from Indiana, and he was born within a year or two of Mary Corbit. The orphan trains were a regular thing in his day, and Irish servant girls bought off from them, like Annie in the poem or Mary Corbit in real life, were a common thing for the time and place where he lived. In those days even privileged children did not have a life of leisure: they worked, too, though their work was less "menial" than that of the Irish servant girls. The Seitz's son would have started working in the family's hardware store all day long at about the same age as Mary began to spend her days doing household chores, and the Seitz's daughter would have had work of her own all day in the house, though her work would not have been as menial as Mary's. The evening was the only time when everyone normally had some time off, to rest and relax as a family together before going to bed. In the poem, the servant girl and the family's own children amuse themselves together around the fire with scary stories.

(to be continued)

Robert Mathiesen said...

(continuation of previous post)

Yes, there were different levels of privilege back then, as there always are. But any child below the top layers of society would spend his or her days working. If you had loving parents, your work might be light, and you might hope to be taken care of even if you became disabled and unable to work ever again. But mortality was high, and no child could afford to take for granted that there would always be loving adults to look after them. Children knew that, too. If you, a child, wanted to live and become an idnependent adult, you would have to work all your days, startig as soon as you were old enough to do any work at all. That was just how a child's life was, unless you had been born into the very top ranks of the privileged.

And for my money, that sort of childhood producd a crop of tougher, nore resiliant grown-ups from the children who survived it, than today's usual manner of doing childhood.

Patricia Mathews said...

@sgage: I'm sorry you interpreted a dissenting opinion as a personal attack. It was not so intended.

doomerdoc said...

Although I don't have children myself, it is worth pointing out that middle aged Americans also have an extreme sense of entitlement.

This is true for different reasons. For middle aged Americans, they feel entitled to reap the benefits of the consumer economy of American empire, forever. The stock market will always increase, their homes will always go up in price, their pensions will give them an income, etc. In their minds, they have worked hard and earned it.

Which may be true, but nothing lasts forever. And they will individually be subject to decay and mortality, like everyone.

Nastarana said...

Dear Roger, could you please define or explain what is a 'snowflake'? Does the term refer to spoiled brats, youngsters who are immature and naïve, a not unusual circumstance among the very young, or anyone with some certain kind of political orientation? Or does the term perhaps refer to people who refuse to spend such cash as they might have in support of our wonderful mass production and mass consumption economy?

One factor I see missing from this discussion so far is the sense of entitlement and refusal to accept consequences of people in business who think they should be guaranteed a profit no matter what bad decisions they make. TARP is the most obvious case in point, but one could also point to the whining of the tribe of auto dealers and insurance salesmen that they will be "put out of business" if their town extends public transportation for anything other than taking seniors from the assisted living center to the shopping areas.

SoSickThisIs said...

I'm a teacher as well, and you are so right! I could have not said it any better.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Robert Mathiesen - thank you very much for the context. And I am very glad your great-grandmother-in-law had a good enough life with the people who took her in as a servant that she went back to see her foster family. And thank you also for the explanation that all the children had their own work to do as well. I guess I was picturing something far more dire. Actual knowledge is always welcome.


Shane W said...

Regarding poor health decisions and increased mortality, I wouldn't get too bent out of shape about it. A lot of people have a death wish now and it gets expressed in various ways. Willfully neglecting one's health is just one way. A lot of people simply don't have the will to live in a post-progressive, post-"American dream" world, and express their death wish in various ways. Think of how death rates & alcoholism shot through the roof in the post-Soviet USSR and Eastern Europe. We'd better just steel ourselves towards it all. Besides, neglecting your health and expressing your death wish has a certain logic to it from a certain perspective, and if you just realize that Mam Gaia is way too overcrowded and there just aren't enough resources to go a around anymore, perhaps you can feel compassion and understanding to those expressing their death wish.
I'm really amazed how many young people have bought into the "savings account" lie about Social Security and Medicare. When I tell them that no, Social Security and Medicare are not "savings accounts", that money that is withheld from their paychecks goes directly into some old person's Social Security check and Medicare, they're rightfully outraged and want an immediate end to the practice. Most young people do not believe in an independent old age, and think that old people no longer able to provide for themselves should be dependents like children. They think that this would inspire a sense of responsibility towards younger generations by the old if they knew they would be dependent in their old age.
I used to tutor immigrant children in a branch library in a heavily immigrant neighborhood, but stopped b/c I got so discouraged that I was unable to stop the digital and commercialized tidal wave of shale. I really felt that there wasn't anything I could do to go against such a tide of shale, but I do feel it is unfortunate that only the wealthy can afford to send their kids to Waldorf schools while low income folks have to put up with digital and commercialized shale. Perhaps I gave up too quickly, and there is a way to go against the overwhelming tide?

Shane W said...

Honestly, if younger people were making the living wages that their parents and grandparents were, and were able to afford to take care of their families on their wages, the way their parents and grandparents were, then they probably wouldn't mind having Social Security and Medicare taken out of their paychecks, but Social Security and Medicare withholding of paychecks that already don't go far enough is just too much for them.

Anselmo said...

I hope that you have enjoyed your druidical celebrations.

About the high worth of the fairy tales for the children are of special interest the books wrote by Bruno Bettelheim that say that It have different messages that aid the children in the evolution by succesive stages of their live.

latheChuck said...

On the topic of ignoring consequences, and reasons for poverty: The father of a friend of mine has some residential rental properties. From time to time, he hires help for maintenance and cleaning. He tried to call on a man who had previously been a good worker, and whom he knew to be in need of work, but the man's (government subsidized) mobile phone wouldn't take the call. After the work was done, the landlord and laborer met again by chance, and the landlord asked why the laborer couldn't be called. "The government only give us 120 phone minutes a month," he said. "That only lasts about a week."

Now, I may not have the right number for the the total number of minutes, but I think you get the idea.

My mother told a story about an impoverished single-parent mother for whom their church offered to purchase some groceries. "Oh, that would be great, because the kids have no milk, and I'm out of cigarettes." When the food was delivered, the recipient called out from the couch: "Just leave it on the kitchen counter. I'll put it away when my [TV] show is over." [I got these quotes third-hand, so I won't pretend that they're word-for-word accurate, but that's the gist of the story that was told to me.] How does a person of charitable intent proceed from this point? To what extent does an offer of charity entitle one to dispense advice as well?

(As I learned from my first wife, every offer of assistance can be regarded (fairly or not) as an indictment of the recipient's competence, and an attack on their ego. Giving "gifts" is not at all as simple as we might expect.)

onething said...

"I'm just wondering, could our government now label "climate change" and "peak oil" or any thing similar Russian propaganda? ...Am I reading too much into this?"

I don't think so. I'm worried too.
They could also label climate change denial as propaganda. Don't fixate on your own beliefs being denied. We either have free speech or we don't. Any nonofficial ideas could be outlawed.

John Michael Greer said...

Moshe, yes, I've noticed that! I've also noticed that it's rare to hear any discussion about how to get those immense server farms the vast supplies of uninterrupted power they require -- and without the server farms and the rest of the gargantuan infrastructure of the internet, of course, those devices arent' worth much.

Patricia, well, there you are! The Druidry of the Druid Revival does indeed draw on Celtic traditions, mostly medieval through 18th century Welsh lore, with a good healthy dollop of Iolo Morganwg's inventions -- and of course he was a bona fide Welshman, so whatever he cooked up is Celtic by definition, isn't it? ;-)

Cherokee, I know. I read it over again every couple of years, and find something new in it every single time. I'd encourage every reader of this blog who doesn't alreaydy have a copy of Overshoot to run right out and get a copy -- it's frankly more important and more worth reading than anything I've written.

August, fair enough. I'd characterize the difference between Obama and Trump differently; it's simply a matter of which of them cares about appearances. Obama is profoundly concerned with maintaining the right image -- that's why he made a speech at Hiroshima deploring nuclear weapons, while his administration was busy launching a nuclear arms race with Russia. Trump doesn't care about images, so he tweets about launching an arms race. Still, we'll see.

Sven, thanks for this! I'd also recommend the novel Krampus the Yule Lord by Bron, which pits Krampus against Santa Claus in today's Appalachia in a struggle to the death over who rules the Yuletide.

Silva, so noted! My wife is a major fan of Ursula Vernon's and loved Digger, and enthusiastically seconds your recommendation.

Greg, so would I!

David, am I the only person who thinks of Verruca Salt when I read this sort of thing?

Roger, I think there's more to it than that, though yes, the children of a privileged class who are systematically shielded from having to deal with the consequences of their decisions usually do turn out pretty feckless. More on this as we proceed.

Patricia, by all means dissent, but you're misstating the context of Little Orphan Annie pretty dramatically. The poem makes it clear, if you know the habits of the time, that all the other kids have been doing chores until well after dinner; and in a society with no social safety net, the habit of hiring orphan children to help with the domestic economy was an effective way to keep them from starving in the streets. As for fairy tales and Alice Miller, I've read her work, and find it a sustained exercise in cherrypicking. The same habits of childrearing that gave us Adolf Hitler also gave us the great humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, you know, and a vast number of perfectly ordinary men and women as well.

Robert Mathiesen said...

@Patricia Matthews:

You're very welcome, Pat. Both my wife and I came from families that had and cherished very many family stories, some going back as far as the early 1600s. When I was a boy and we took long car trips, my mother actually taught my brother and me how to tell stories, not just reciting a memorized text, but shapimg the story around a core line of narrative according to the interests of the people who were hearing you tell it.

John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, yes, I saw that. Expect to see much, much more of it as we proceed.

Shane, well, there's always time to teach yourself self-discipline. There used to be an extensive literature on the training of the will; you mostly find it in magical literature these days, but it used to be mainstream. It might be worth reviving.

Candace, it's worth worrying about. This country is heading in some very ugly directions -- and of course has been heading in those directions for quite a while now.

KL Cooke, you're welcome. I have a not very secret fondness for musical parodies; the HP Lovecraft Historical Society's collection of Cthulhu carols, containing such classic Arkham favorites as "I'm Dreaming of a Dead City" and "Away in a Madhouse," is very much my style. ;-)

Robert, many thanks for this. That was my understanding as well, though I don't have the family connection you have.

Doomerdoc, true enough.

SoSickThisIs, thank you.

Shane, most people I know my age and younger -- and I'm in my mid-fifties -- know perfectly well that Social Security won't be available to them once the Boomers get through with it. The money we pay into it benefits them, not us -- but then that's just one of the many fun things about living in the US these days.

Anselmo, a good point. I haven't read Bettelheim in way too long.

LatheChuck, back before the current sense of universal entitlement got bolted into place, it was standard for people to draw a distinction between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. The difference was that people in the former category were poor through no fault of their own, and could be expected to recover economically with some well-timed help, while those in the latter category got poor through bad habits or bad judgments, and would just end up in the gutter again no matter what was done to help them. The usual habit was to restrict charity to the former category. That's an extremely upsetting concept to many people these days, but in a time of harsh limits, it's generally necessary.

Candace said...

@ onething
My apology, you are quite right!

Rita said...

Glen - re roads. Some counties may be in a double bind in that if they improve a road at all they may have to meet new Federal standards for width, and markings, and separation of functions i.e a bike trail cannot double as pedestrian walkway, that would require widening the right of way, which would entail buying more land along the road. Even if it is only two feet on each side it adds up. A case of the perfect becoming an enemy of the good. I have attending planning meetings in my community, which has narrow, shoulderless roads and this was the response of the county engineers to suggestions of bicycle trails or equestrian trails.

Re snowflake--I have commonly seen it used to mean someone who seems to feel that they are such an unique individual that the ordinary rules should not apply. As in expecting a special early administration of the final exam because they have to be home for break in time to leave for the Bahamas with their parents. The parents obviously share this POV since they made travel plans that conflict with their child's schooling. The forum section of the Chronicle of Higher Education is a treasure trove of such tales, as college professors vent to one another.

In training children to become responsible adults I think we need to bear in mind the contradictory messages of Christian culture. Children are seen by some as innocent little souls, in need only of gentle guidance. But at a deeper level many regard them as little "limbs of Satan", steeped in original sin and needing severe treatment to steer them into something approaching a godly life. Other cultures do not share this view. Japanese culture, for example, does emphasize hard work and discipline, but it comes out of basic belief that human children want to be successful humans just as squirrel babies want to be successful squirrels and need loving guidance to accomplish this. The human soul is compared to a mirror, which is always ready to reflect the light, although, like a mirror it may become soiled by the trials of daily life. I recommend the Parent Effectiveness Training books of Dr. Thomas Gordon. They emphasize communication and identification of what the problem actually is. They adopt the I-statement approach or Dr. Carl Rogers. For example, instead of "YOU are a bad, noisy boy." say "Slamming the door hurts my ears. Can we close it more quietly?"

I remember reading once that Native Americans were deeply shocked by the fact that the Europeans beat their children.

We might also consider the flip side of the helicopter parent: the parent who cuts the kid loose at 18, disclaims any responsibility to continue paying for education or anything else. This seems to be the attitude of some divorced non-custodial parents paying child support, basicly firing their kid for the supposed crimes of ex-spouse. I had college students in my classes who were working a 40 hour week while carrying a full load of courses despite having parents who could easily have afforded to help. Needless to say, dozing off in class because you work the night shift at the casino does not lead to academic success. I predict that some of these people will end up dying on a park bench because when the safety net fails their kids will not be inclined to take mom or dad in or pay for their care elsewhere.

Christmas table discussions reveal a general unwillingness on the part of relatives and friends to accept the idea of actual or looming resource shortages. There is plenty of oil, I hear repeatedly.

Unknown said...

​I would define civilization itself as the padded room and indeed one with many layers of padding. So the question is, at what layer of padding does one's comfort zone lie? These layers go back at least to early agriculture and arguably further. The US laid on a more finely crafted layer with the Declaration of Independence, resulting in a new kind of space which inevitably the human penchant for wealth and power found comfortable for actions leading over and over again to consequences which finally brought us the Great Depression followed by the New Deal, which, although a 'couple of centuries' of liberal ideology is mentioned, I suspect may be the layer which creates the most discomfort for those desiring 'freedom' to ignore these consequences and who have also failed to learn from experience. How many layers then do you want to remove to get just the right amount of padding for your particular circumstance?

quoting Canon fodder:
"Here’s the rub - sometimes a person’s circumstances are really a product of their own choices. In other words, consequences. How do we as society differentiate between the two? In western social democracies, for the most part, we don’t. Should we? Should people be allowed to suffer because of their own actions?" No, a person’s circumstances are never entirely a product of their own choices or are only to a very small extent. The question must also be asked: Should people be allowed to suffer because of the actions of others?

If one doesn't feel the need for any padding, well, even hunter-gatherers required a culture, so one may be seeking an Ayn Rand-ish utopia fantasy world where only the strong(est) deserve to tthrive. We may yet get something like that but I don't think you'd find it likeable. And noblesse oblige seems to be far less effective than social democratic welfare programs, which for all their drawbacks have forestalled further violent revolution--perhaps for better or worse......


Unknown said...

Sorry JMG I just sent a comment in response to Canon fodder's comment of 12/22/16, 10:08 PM and failed to address it as such. Hope it can be salvaged--Thanks


Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG - well, I am glad to have had the context explained to me. I had truly imagined something out of Charles Dickens, or for that matter, the kiddie lit classic The Little Princess. (Which is not the best of that author's works: The Secret Garden is. And the only one I really find to be of lasting worth. Your Mileage May Vary.)

And BTW, hanging over the heads of all those set in, say, 1910, is what will be coming down the road for those kids (and Mister Toad) 4-7 years later. (Oh, yes, I can just see Toad up there in a biplane taking on the Red Baron.) But I digress. And obviously should read up on midwestern rural life in the 19th century.

Kevin said...

I have a bit of family history that tends to support the picture sketched out by Robert Mathiesen. My maternal grandmother was born in Denmark in 1893. As a small child she moved with her parents to the San Francisco area. Shortly thereafter both her parents died in an epidemic of scarlet fever, leaving her an orphan. She was taken in by a wealthy local family. I haven't heard that she was particularly abused, but they certainly didn't raise her as their own daughter; they treated her as a servant. So I'm not surprised to hear information which suggests that that was standard practice.

Since I've linked to a bummer article about U.S. life expectancy, I'll try to compensate with some better news linked from Peak Prosperity's "Good News Friday." It seems real progress has been made in developing a vaccine against Ebola:

It's by no means perfected, but apparently there's some hope of that. Of course the vaccine, having been developed at public expense, has been handed over to Merck. Let's hope we can all afford it or the successor vaccine in event of a pandemic.

Kevin Warner said...

A small talking point from the cultural wastelands - all this talk about Krampus and like characters has reminded me of a similar character as depicted in a modern TV series called "Futurama" and who was named Robot Santa Claus ( Robot Santa Claus would visit on Xmas murdering anyone in sight and creating Christmas-themed mass mayhem while earth's population barricaded themselves in their homes in sheer terror.
For a taste of what he was like, see the video clip at and a typical song from here is "Santa Claus Is Gunning You Down" ( and now I am wondering if this character was derived for Krampus. It came out that while people were barricaded in their homes on Xmas, they would form closer bonds between each other so it was not all a loss.

Hubertus Hauger said...

JMG, I am speculating with others about your motives and objectives to write this weeks topic. I would be interested in your feedback.

While I actually do not argue with you about drawing attention on the responsibility of the left movement by partaking in the consumerist movement as to were put workers to, in order to partake in the industrially accumulated wealth formerly and more recently for the US inhabitants contra-productive development of their economical well-being thru to the support of immigration and globalisation. This is as I understand you for the formerly having pushed up the wasteful life of the overwhelming part of the population towards that unsustainable level, why the recent part the USA is now collapsing and recently helping for jobs going abroad as well as cheap labour entering, thus accelerate the impoverishment of the same population beforehand made so over-consumptive.

Instead, the only thing I, at such occasion do observe is your blaming attitude, which I do not share. As I see it, we are all blindly and due to forces most of us are unable to overcome, behave as we do. Like a drug-addict, we tumble into our common disaster. We are irresponsible. We cannot help it.

I understand you angrily arguing against it, in your idealistic hope to change the tide of fate, despite that you know and repeatedly talk about it, that its human nature and disaster will enfold no matter what we do whatsoever.

We only can go with the tide along, hoping to stay afloat, while the maelstrom carries us along.

Contradictory so you seems to wish, that there would happen a turning around of the leading leftist fractions, in order for the whole society to become a movement preparing for the impact of "post-peak" collapse.

Thinking of myself, I see that supposed habit of you reflected within myself. The conservative since long I see as hypocritical towards saving people and environment, due to widespread but unenlightened self-interests, in spite of the saviour rhetoric. Still I had expected till recently, that the leftist rhetoric of saving people and environment to be for real. However I had to recognize, that there applies the same unenlightened self-interests, contradicting the rhetoric like you so often does describe.

However I guess, that before you and we all can accept that lost cause we have to undergo the five steps of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross´s mourning process. And the first is to start arguing, like I saw how you did here!

Phil Knight said...

Regarding the "deserving poor" versus "undeserving poor", it's interesting that modern progressives tend to ascribe the Victorians' employment of these categories to their innate cruelty, rather than to the fact that the Victorians had a much smaller resource base than we do.

This seems to be a general progressive tendency - to posit that the people of the past innately behaved in bad faith, through ignorance or cruelty, and not because their choices were restricted by the absence of the lavish resources we have.

111DFC said...

Just in case you decide to publish it:

If you have seen the german film "Das weisse band" where there is a quite interesting explanation of how the childhood is detroyed by a kind of neglection and rough treatement, based on the "justice" and "righteousness", full of physical and verbal mis-treatment, but this is, at the end, is not the more important thing, but the "separation", the emocional distance between the fathers and children. Dr Allan Schore talks about the "proximal abandonment", where the fathers are phisically present, but emotionally absents

In the same film, (that I recommend to see), the wife of the "boss" (an aristocrat) go away to Italy and then she return bringing a fat italian woman as nannie of their children, you can compare, in the film, the kind of care, the feeling of love, of the italian "mamma" with the rest of fathers and mothers of the german village, the lack of touch of the skin, the separation bewteen the body and the sensitivity, the lack of music in the loving words for the little crying child...

For this film’s director, this kind of systematic "killing of the empathy" in the childhood explain what happens in 1933 and later on in Germany

The spartans or the english upper-class are master in the technology of "killing the empathy", in the childhood, to convert human beeins in "machines of power-grabbing", with the disruption of the normal human brain formation, minimizing the contact with care & love, and make them relentless

No, in the early part of the life, for all the mammals (tigers or whales or chimpancees or humans", the "puppy" "need" to feel the unconditional love of their parents/caretakers, that is the way the normal brains develop; forget the "justice". This in the Old Times was convert in myths, for example in the "Mothers" as for example the "Great Mothers" of the Mediterranean and Middle East, and Christianity copy this in Maria

Today the brain of many children are not formed by an excess of "permisiveness" but for an emotional neglection & deprivation that fathers try to fill with "stuff", this makes the people develope a "lack of meaning" (Durkheimian "Anomie") and I thing explain some forms of disorders epidemies (ADHD epidemy) or addictions (to drugs and consumerism) in order to "fill" a vacuum that it is impossible to fill, because as Lacan said "all petition, all human aspiration, is, at the bottom, a demand of love" (the "lost" love), simply "the man travels from significant to significant" in this search

You need the "love" before the "right", otherwise it is only terror

The society need to recover the cult of the "Great Mothers", why not start with the Mother Earth?

Nastarana said...

Mr. Greer, are you willing to entertain the notion of deserving and undeserving rich, between those among the wealthy who have earned the respect of the rest of us, and those who have not?

Educators, polishing their halos, will tell you that of course there are 'consequences' in school. When children misbehave, "consequences" follow, as by an act of nature. Now I think part of the responsibility of adults in charge is that we impose penalties for bad behavior.

David, by the lake said...


Thank you, John. The Verucca Salt reference made me smile.


Interesting that you should phrase the challenge that way (tidal forces). I am reading Miraculous Abundance by Perrine and Charles Herve-Gruyer. With similar imagery, at the beginning of the first chapter, Charles describes an experience navigating powerful Amazonian rivers by finding the threads of the counter-currents every current creates and maneuvering within them, thereby operating contrary to forces that would otherwise overwhelm human power.


The above applies to our discussion as well. Gardening in the cracks, as we've said.

Somewhatstunned said...


every offer of assistance can be regarded (fairly or not) as an indictment of the recipient's competence, and an attack on their ego.

I think that is true. Here, for the little it is worth, is the attitude I would try to take in the sort of situation you describe. If you decide to give something, you decide to give it, because you wanted to, because you thought it a good thing to do. Having done so, I would tell myself firmly that I have no real business judging the response the gift receives - I did not give it in order to receive their grateful thanks and I know nothing really about the inner workings of the giftee's mind and the full details of their circumstances.

Giving "gifts" is not at all as simple as we might expect

Indeed! There is a strong need for reciprocity, because receiving a gift puts one, in some sense, in the giver's debt and giving them something in return restores the balance and the giftee's autonomy. An effective reciprocation can be as symbolic as conventional words of gratitude, or as tokenistic as a trivial action (eg dinner guests doing the washing up).

In the anecdote you describe, what is shocking is that there was no reciprocation. The generous interpetation of this is that the single-parent was so battered by long-term grinding impoverishment that they felt themselves to be sinking below the level of normal sociality. The only way to psychologically balance such a depth (and hence retain some shred of self-respect) is to assume the heights of a grand person who is degining to accept your charity, or to re-frame the gift as their "due" for which reciprocation is not needed.

But before I get called naive, let me add that I try to take this sort of generous interpretation as a matter of strategy

Mean Mr Mustard said...

Hi JMG and all

Consequences be damned... If the Arctic has now melted some more, resulting in global weirding causing the Rain in Spain to fall mainly on our out of season leafy salad crop, well, we can fly it in a bit further from the US instead.

As JHK (with his Salad Shooter) would say, It's All Good.

Bah Humbug! from a very non-Victorian 14 degree UK Xmas


Somewhatstunned said...


There used to be an extensive literature on the training of the will;

Do you mean people such as Émile Coué? If not, then who?

Just an excuse to send you (belated) seasonal best wishes really (I'm relctucant to clutter up your virtual mantelpiece without the excuse of something else to say).

Shane W said...

but we do get "set in our ways" as we age, and making the change at my age is way uglier and wrenching than so many of the kids nowadays that are seem to be doing it so gracefully and with ease. Still, ugly is better than not at all, and is still better than most of the Gen X'ers I know with their heads firmly buried in the sand, stuck in the 90s. Geez, when I think back upon the total embarrassment the 90s were, and what I did w/that decade, I have to hang my head in shame.
Ah yes, changing consciousness in accordance with the will. Seem to have heard something about that. :)

Shane W said...

Yes, but JMG, we're at the critical mass whereby the non beneficiaries of Social Security & Medicare (Gen X, Millennial, post-millennial, possibly tail end of Boomer) vastly outnumber the beneficiaries (Silent, Boomer). There's enough clout amongst the non beneficiaries to bring about either an immediate end or a radical restructuring to Social Security and Medicare, if they organized. You are right that 50 and under do not believe they will benefit from Social Security & Medicare, but they are still misinformed about how it is paid for. They still believe the lie that Social Security & Medicare taken out of paychecks goes into an account somewhere to be paid out later in old age. They don't realize until you explain it to them that it is a pay-as-you-go system whereby money taken out of their paycheck goes directly into some old person's Social Security check/Medicare benefits. It really is the sleeping giant.

Juhana said...

Good article again, JMG. It has been fascinating to witness how you have disseminated almost organic lifespans of failed political movements in your home country. The way how you profile the rise and fall of civilizations and human infrastructures in general has been unarguably greatest offering of your blog (for me at least). You treat these often delicate subjects as someone with background in biology would examine evidence of human cultures. This attitude has wider implications than just in this “peak oil” or “net energy” scene. It is a new way to see human species during it’s voyage through time and space, through history, as one piece of complex ecological puzzle. Overshoot and bottleneck events are very real, and they are already shaping faith of mankind, but story tells also about tragedy and comedy of cultures being born, living and dying. I have come to a conclusion that when oral, and much later written, traditions enabled human tribes to differ ecologically from each other by means of generationally transmitted traditions and culture, it was final revolution that take us away from the common path with other primates. The epochs of these metanarratives, cultures and civilizations, are the true great stories and tragedies of our species.
So I have a question for you. Historical research has been able to recognise civilizations as far back as to ancient Sumer and Egypt. There were probably sophisticated cultural spheres before that, during Neolithic, but their traditions did not leave behind written records so their legacy is truly lost. Megalithic temples of Malta prove that there was highly sophisticated culture around the Neolithic times, but that is all they can tell. People can project their own fantasies and hopes into these impressive megalithic sites around Europe, but they truly are only their own projections. Still, some justifiable guesses can be made. So what you think? Has earliest cultures we know earlier predecessors from which they sprang? If so, can our civilization be forgotten as totally as those? And was the high point of Western civilization truly during 18th century, as Spengler suggests? And if you think so, why? Here in Europe TRUE conservatives are both monarchist and advocates of aristocracy. For them, French Revolution was tragedy that derailed Western culture from it’s true roots. Monarchy, Christianity and reverence of legacy from antiquity were tripod legs of this original Western identity. And of course they are right. Those truly are bastions of what it means to be Westerner. Only people in relatively young countries of European diaspora can thin otherwise. But was the pre-Revolution truly high tide of Western culture, and why? And what was in the revered legacy from imperators of Rome and philosophers of Hellas?
I truly hope that you find inspiration to answer for these quite large questions. Your outlook at these things is deeply honoured, even if totally different cultural and geopolitical environment inevitably causes deep differences between our understanding of world.

Varun Bhaskar said...


My generation refers to doing things that are the mundane duties of being an adult, such as paying bills and cleaning ones home, as adulting. It’s used to describe the separation between normal life, which one assumes is called “kidding,” and the day-to-day responsibilities of being an adult. Over and above looking after their basic survival, the majority of their time is spent keeping themselves entertained. Social organizing, such as community building and civic participation, is give plenty of lip service but never backed up with action. They want to live carefree lives without considering that the only reason their childhoods were carefree was because someone was doing the majority of caring for them. Unfortunately, this leaves those of us who do recognize our responsibilities with a whole lot of caring to follow through on.

The street is filled with the clatter of cans being kicked, and littered with the ones left behind.

By the way, you’ve mentioned books on the training of will power several times. Could you name a few? I would love to pick on up and polish up my will. I found this one by doing a google search:



Robert Mathiesen said...

@ somewhatstunned and Varun Bhaskar:

Training the will was a large part of the New Thought Movement that began around 1875 in the United States, and it produced some genuine classics.

For my money, one of the very best of these books was written by the eminent folklorist, Charles Godfrey Leland (1824-1903). Originally published unde the title, _Have You a Strong Will?_ in 1899, it went through several evisions at its author's hands before reaching its final form in 1903. It has remained in print ever since, though more commonly under the titel, _The Mystic Will: A Method of Developing and Strengthening the Faculties of the Mind_. You can download it from several places on the web, including the Internet Archive. Don't skim it, though it's written in a deceptively esay style. For maximum understanding, go through the book slowly and thoughtfully, take notes as you go, systematize its process in your own words from these notes, and then go bck and read it slowly again.

Another truly excellent book on the subject is _Mind Power_ (1912), by William Walker Atkinson, also downloadable here and there from the web. This book, like Leland's, had a somewhat complicated publication history before reaching its final form in 1912. Atkinson was extraordinarily prolific as an author, publishing under a good number of pseudonyms such as Yogi Ramacharaka and Theron Q. Dumont. He is also probably all three of the "Three Initiates" who are mentioned as authors on the title page of the famous small book, _Kybalion_.

And yes, Émile Coué belongs here also, and his works have some value -- though I prefer Leland and Atkinson, which seem to me to be more meaty and profound.

Shane W said...

One thing I've noticed that is causing a lot of rage amongst the younger salary class is whereby the older, privileged generations keep the younger, disadvantaged generations continually indebted to them. They control the purse strings and have the financial clout. However, rather than being the recipients of the privileged generations largesse, the younger generations would much rather have the opportunities that the older, privileged generations had to provide for themselves. That's why it's so important for younger generations to end old age entitlements and retirement.

Glenn said...

Rita said...
"re roads. Some counties may be in a double bind in that if they improve a road at all they may have to meet new Federal standards for width, and markings, and separation of functions i.e a bike trail cannot double as pedestrian walkway, that would require widening the right of way, which would entail buying more land along the road. Even if it is only two feet on each side it adds up. A case of the perfect becoming an enemy of the good. I have attending planning meetings in my community, which has narrow, shoulderless roads and this was the response of the county engineers to suggestions of bicycle trails or equestrian trails."

I didn't wish to bore the list with details, since standards vary from place to place, but since you bring it up, I will go into some specifics. The road in question is 22' fog line to fog line, with two 10' lanes, one each way and a double yellow center line. The right of way is 60 feet, enough for almost triple the road. One of the problems is that it is a State Highway, which means the decision makers are literally far removed from the issues. Existing power lines, fences and covering ditches etc would need to be addressed; but the cost of adding both separated bike and pedestrian or equestrian paths is quite feasible. This Low Tech article explains the costs:

In our county (Jefferson County, Washington State) there isn't a legal problem combining pedestrian, equestrian and bicycle traffic on one path. We have a rails to trails path a few miles away that is designated as such a combined use, and all users have been considerate and tolerant of each other.

The challenge I have for our legislatures is if we're doing so well, we can afford the paths. The failure to build the paths is an admittance that in 10 or 20 years _all_ roads will be paths for unpowered transportation because only the military, rich criminals and the criminally rich will be driving.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

John Michael Greer said...

"Unknown" Chuck, that's a useful metaphor, not least because it suggests that there may be an optimum level of padding, somewhere between none at all and way too much.

Patricia, one of the reasons The Little Princess was such a success in its time was precisely that it took a common phenomenon -- the orphan girl becoming a servant -- and combined it with the fairy-tale cliche of the princess being forced to work for a wicked stepmother or the nearest approximation thereof. As for the First World War, tell me this -- do you read today's literature with an eye toward the kind of future we've got hanging over us? If not, it's worth trying.

Kevin, if it's in the hands of any firm in the US pharmaceutical industry, we can be quite sure that the moment an epidemic breaks out, some perfectly valid reason will be found to boost the price per dose by 2,000% or so. Grumble grumble kleptocratic swine grumble grumble...

Other Kevin, heh. Very modern.

Hubertus, with all due respect, when people insist that we don't have any choice in the matter -- unless they're talking about something where we really don't have a choice, such as death or the finite nature of concentrated energy reserves -- I see that as a copout. Each of us makes choices all the time. Each of us can choose to make change happen in our own lives, or not. With that in mind, I think the motive behind this week's post ought to be pretty self-evident...

Phil, yep -- if you start from the assumption that modern progressives are mostly interested in feeling morally superior to everyone else, in the past as well as the present, you'll rarely go wrong.

111DFC, do you expect a Druid to disagree with that last comment?

Nastarana, of course -- and in fact I introduced my idea of one of the "deserving rich" in the person of Janice Mikkelson, the streetcar magnate in Retrotopia. I would define the difference between the two precisely as the presence or absence of a strong sense of noblesse oblige -- the awareness that those who have wealth, or more generally privilege, owe to the society that grants them wealth and privilege a return on that society's investment in them.

Mustard, we may not be that far away from the point where there's nowhere on the planet to fly it in from. Hang onto your hat...

John Michael Greer said...

Stunned, Robert Mathiesen's comment just above covers the same ground I would have. There's a lot of very good material out there, but Leland and Atkinson are among the best.

Shane, if it's ugly and wrenching, all the better -- the heavier the weight you lift, the greater the strength you build. As for Social Security, maybe so; we'll see how that unfolds.

Juhana, that's a good question. I personally find it improbable that human beings identical to you and me lived as hunter-gatherers and nothing else for half a million years, and then all of a sudden five millennia ago up and started building cities all over the place. Rising sea levels since the end of the last ice age may well have covered over an earlier round of urban societies -- there's actually some hard evidence for this -- and the foreshortening of history caused by the myth of progress is of course also an issue. It would not surprise me, all things considered, if it turned out that there had been advanced civilizations during the last ice age, different enough from our idea of advanced civilization that many of its scattered relics weren't even recognized as such. (That was John Michell's hypothesis in The View Over Atlantis, though he was much more of a visionary than a (pre)historian.)

With regard to European civilization, I tend to agree with Spengler that it reached its cultural peak around 1800, but it reached the zenith of its global power around 1900 -- in that year, most of the planet's surface was ruled either from European capitals or by European diaspora societies. (Britain alone ruled a quarter of the planet's land surface directly, and dominated much of the rest.) Then came 1914, and in the forty years that followed -- Sarajevo to Dien Bien Phu, basically -- that fell to bits. Now? Over the long run, once the US implodes, I suspect Europeans are going to have to decide whether they'd rather accept Russian suzerainty or learn to pray in Arabic.

And the European diaspora, as usual in such cases, will go its own way. Spengler was right there, too, in pointing out that a civilization never really outgrows its original homeland; attempts to export it are only skin deep. You might be interested to know that there's an old tradition in occult circles that America won't have its own civilization until sometime in the 26th century...

Varun, yep. "Adulting" -- somebody's got to be, er, "kidding." As for books on will training, again, Robert Mathiessen's suggestions are spot on.

David, by the lake said...


As another local example, my city had to forgo federal grant money for one of our planned bike/ped trails b/c the (very) specific requirements attached to the grant would have made one section cost something on the order of $120 per lineal foot, due to the need to cross wetlands via a boardwalk and no provision made in the aforementioned requirements made for such an event.

Shane W said...

I've been doing my genealogy, and have prepared my application for Sons of Confederate Veterans. I'm taking JMG's Retrotopia CSA prediction seriously, and laying the groundwork accordingly. The Calif. and Cascadia secession movements look promising, though it's premature at this time. Still, secession and dissolution of the Union is an idea that will keep coming up up, each time with more seriousness, until the Union is either peacefully, or not so peacefully, dissolved. The South had it right, we're not a United States and do not share a common nationality. If at first you don't secede, try, try again...

David, by the lake said...


Perhaps totally OT (though I'll try to shoehorn it in), but an idea that I would be interested in exploring: one of the consequences (shoehorn!) of our situation in the US today and our imperial path, as I see it, is that a return to the pre-administrative state (pre-imperial) Constitution will not be enough to hold the country together and that we will actually have to step back to an even looser structure, restricting federal power even further and operating with much more local sovereignty. Some kind of middle ground between the Articles of Confederation and the (original) Constitution. What might that middle ground look like?

Cherokee Organics said...


Well, that is one point of view. Another point of view is that without your communication I would not have read the book! And also a further point of view is that because of your communications, I was able to read the book without descending into a dark place or throwing a temper tantrum. I'm at acceptance / realism and it is a nice place. There really is a need for an initiation ceremony for people facing the future.

You know, if you ever decide or want to really annoy people. And I mean really, really, annoy them, have you ever considered writing about how the various social security systems are breaking apart at the seams? To my mind it looks like a break down in the agreed upon social fabric. Down here, they changed the retirement age recently to 70 for my generation and nobody seem to notice. And the ease with which the legislation got through an otherwise gridlocked parliament was very telling in itself. Of course Parliamentary benefits and pensions are going away too because of that, but that is another story.

After the hottest Christmas day here in 18 years (70 years for Adelaide) at 36.3'C (100'F), the mass of humid oppressive air outside right now makes the place feel like the tropics. I've often wondered whether this increase in humidity is one of the feedback loops which people don't tend to consider when it comes to global weirding? Certainly it will change the face of agriculture as humidity tends to increase the recycling of plant material into soil. What people may not understand about that is that it means diverting a substantial chunk of the plant matter that people currently consume into food for bacteria, fungi, yeasts etc. Those little critters will be the winners out of global weirding in the end I rather suspect.

Hi nuku,

Thanks for the awesome story and image!



Jessica Rooney said...

JMG: "Have you ever heard "The Star-Spangled Banner" in a minor key? It's harrowing."
Thank you for the music lesson. I went and listened to that YouTube link and I couldn't help but see a scene of total devastation with a few survivors wandering dazed through the wreckage. There was one part in the middle that felt a bit upbeat. 'We'll (eventually) make a comeback." That kind of feeling, but then the last part made it clear that the slightly upbeat sentiment was utterly unrealistic.

Patricia Mathews said...

JMG: You asked: I'll answer. Except for some science fiction, the contemporary fiction of any sort that I've read is as oblivious to what's coming down the road as the 1900-1910 era fiction was of the impending Great War and its aftermath. What they are crying doom about when it's not all existential blah, is right-wing politicians and fundamentalist religion and the death of all that is lovely, liberal, tolerant, and civilized at the hands of the same. Occasionally climate change.

But I'm not the best one to ask. I lost interest in contemporary literary fiction some time ago, finding it boring, pointless, or distasteful, and not worth digging for whatever gems there may be. This is not 'moralizing' but an individual aesthetic gut reaction. (I also found myself becoming excruciatingly bored with Analog SF magazine, which had been a favorite of mine since I was 10 and it was Astounding SF. For what that's worth. Same old, same old.)

I enjoy novels written by writers who have turned out good murder mysteries and by certain sf writers, who are keenly aware that a novel must be about something and must have a plot, unless they turn pretentious when they do so. And they, too, seem as oblivious as the rest. For what it's worth.

Caryn said...


For me, this is such a good and immediate discussion. Your comment is spot on, and an essential point and part of a healthy child-rearing / society-rearing process. Thank You for including it here. I would agree, punishments for bad behaviour hardly work, and in the long run would most likely backfire into some truly horrid adult behaviour if they are uncoupled from love and caring, the rewards of good behaviour. Like yin and yang, they must go together because good and bad are both relative - there is no good without bad to compare it to, and vice versa. (I might add, this is not restricted to parents, but to us teachers and care-givers too, in our however-limited capacity with the children in our care.)

I would add to your list of sources of 'de-empathizing' children; Iris Chang's "The Rape Of Nanking'. The first 1/2 of the book is an in-depth study on the careful desensitization of young Japanese boys for future harsh military service. They were taken from their families and raised in a sort of 'boot-camp' at a young age, (7 year old, or so, as I recall, although I'm not sure). I understand there was some measure of this harsh, de-empathizing culture dating back to the days of the Samurai, (Patricia would know more about this, and can maybe chime in?), but it was stepped up purposefully by the military prior to WW2.

These examples, however, IMHO were intentional systematic processes of human behavioural manipulation - and for specific causes, (war and creating 'perfect' warriors) I don't think it is innate in human nature to treat each other and especially for parents to treat their own offspring with no love, only cruelty, and neglect. I would not argue that there are some that are cruel, innately - however, I do think they are outliers. Neither would I argue that (especially neglect) is seen often now, but I suppose that is also a result and sign of how far gone our society has gotten to. We've fallen apart.

I'm not a Druid, but I think starting with the love of and for Mother Earth / Mam Gaia is and was an essential tenant to embrace for us silly weak, fragile humans to find any kind of peace and happiness here on her belly.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Thank you very much!



Shane W said...

A distinction needs to be made between the "deserving old", who've looked after future generations, and the "undeserving old", something our current system of entitlements doesn't do...

Justin said...

JMG, about "Adulting". My grandparents (and 100 generations before them) had an entire community that pushed them into "adulting", normalized it and the lack of technological progress and social change made the notion that one would grow up to be like your parents utterly normal and nothing to be bothered by. My parents may not have had community, but they had economic stability and a culture they were confident in - so some errant gametes turned into a healthy family even if a maternity-grade wedding dress was involved. Strangely enough, after the initial accident, a deliberately-created sibling of mine was created.

Now, in addition to the economic uncertainties which hinder family formation, there is a culture which actively discourages settling down and family formation. Nearly every young woman I know grew up watching Sex and the City, a show about four hyperpromiscuous young ladies who apparently find happiness through pseudo-anonymous sex. The protagonist's futures as miserable cat ladies is not shown.

Although modern youth culture certainly deserves criticism, there is a very real issue of cultural engineering grossly distorting human expectations and roles in rather perverse ways. I do hope that this is a pendulum situation and that hopefully it will oscillate towards a happy medium, where the deviant 3% or so are happily tolerated, but the normal 97% adopt more or less traditional roles, which are traditional for good reasons.

Fungus the Photo! said...

The celebration is one that was hijacked by Rome. The 12th day is actually the most important one: the day of perihelion, closest approach to Eden or the less old name, Saturn, aka Sol. Now it is usually 7th Jan, due to passage of time.

Shane W said...

All this talk of "deserving" and "undeserving" reeks of good, old fashioned judgment, something people who don't want to be judged shriek loudly that we should not do. Methinks the lady doth protest too loudly, that those shrieking about "being nonjudgmental" are doing things they feel guilty about.

latheChuck said...


Your reference to "Sex in the City" as misleading to young women prompted me to search for evidence in support of a rumor I'd heard, that the show was really about the behavior of gay men, but trans-formed (so to speak) to make it more appealing to the mass market. A Google search for "Sex in the City writers" automatically suggested "sex in the city gay writers" as a related topic, and accepting that suggestion produced a list of over 34 million hits, of which I have only looked at the first page. (The first page of the list, that is, not even the first page of the items on the list.) A sample: Lauren Hutton Slams “Sex And The City” Writers: “Guys Who Are Sluts” ... “It's written by guys, who happen to be gay, who are sluts. (from Huffington Post, 2008)

If young heterosexual women grew up taking the show's characters as roll models, I too worry for the consequences, both for themselves and for the young men they encounter.

When "anything goes", nothing matters. In the stormy future, secure and committed pair-bonding will matter to all of us. (After over 20 years of secure and committed marriage, I heartily recommend it. Who else are you going to call for a ride home after your colonoscopy? Who else would sit in your hospital room and check for medication errors?)

Kjell Aleklett said...

When ASPO was formed in 2002 the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the USA's Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected that the rate of oil production in 2030 would reach 121 million barrels per day (Mb/d). It was these projections against which ASPO protested. The article that Colin Campbell and I published in 2003 showed that conventional oil would reach its maximal production rate (peak production) at 71 Mb/d in 2010. In reality, the peak occurred at a little over 70 Mb/d in 2007. Since then, production has decreased. If we added in unconventional oil except fracking we saw a peak in production in 2013 at 85 Mb/d. Like the IEA and the EIA, we did not include oil from fracking in our production estimates from those times. To state that the Peak Oil movement failed is thus a mistaken assertion. Instead, what has happened is that the IEA and EIA are now adjusting their predictions to more closely align with our prediction from 2003. In the meantime, the world has partially succeeded in compensating for the decreased production of crude oil. However, according to the IEA's World Energy Outlook report from October 2016, there are now signs that world oil production, (that, when including oil from fracking, was 93 Mb/d in 2015), will have decreased during 2016 and there is much to support that it can be as low as 80 Mb/d in 2030. Rather than fail, ASPO has instead made the world conscious that the scenarios presented by the IEA and EIA in 2002 were unrealistic. The manuscript of our new book, Our Global Addiction to oil – depletion, fracking, and reduced climate threat” has very recently been sent to the publishing house Springer for publication. When that has occurred we can, once again, take up this discussion on whether or not the Peak Oil movement failed.

Donald Hargraves said...

Finally listened to a couple versions of The Star Spangled Banner in a minor key. Goes from ominous to mournful – almost as if it was being sung by "the hireling and slaves" mentioned in verse 3 as they were taken to the gallows.

Of course, a lot of our folk songs have had their teeth removed. I learned this one day looking over an old history book as a 9 year old and reading these lyrics to a song about building the railroad I had learned in music class:

"So it's drill ye terriers drill
Drill ye paddies drill
Oh it's work all day
no sugar in your tay
working for the UP Railway"

Nothing about the change, just the lyrics as (I remember them being) written above being different from what I had been taught, but it definitely set my tihsllub detector on, leading me to know when something important was being messed with – even if I didn't know WHAT was being messed with.

Tony Hammock said...

Yuletide greetings, JMG. Thanks for your efforts, and I enjoy your writing very much.

BoysMom said...

Merry Christmas and Happy Holy Days to you all on this, the third day of Christmas!

I'm rather surprised that it was left to me, at the end of The Archdruid Report's week, to observe that as the real Saint Nicholas is famed for punching heretics and leaving dowries to save young girls from prostitution, it's rather obvious that Santa Claus is not he, but rather a spirit of the Religion of Progress.

One leaves Santa Claus an offering of cookies, one receives a reward of mass produced goodies. That Santa Claus rewards his worshipers by using proxies, well, what would one expect from a spirit or deity of such a materialism oriented religion? (I am not quite sure where exactly the line between a spirit and a deity of such a religion is drawn, but I cannot think of another entity so worshiped by the adherents of Progress, so perhaps deity is the correct term here.)

Of course there is a good deal of overlap between old Saint Nicholas and the new Santa Claus, as Santa Claus is usurping the older Saint Nicholas' position, and there are a good number of folks fighting back against Santa Claus, and often hampered by older relatives who wish to spoil the grandchildren. Goodness knows I've had more than one argument with my mother over whether or not my children should be told that Santa Claus is real, and I do not care if I am spoiling her fun by not lying to my children!

Another brief thought, are we raising children to adulthood or to continued childhood? It seems to me a great deal of trouble for young people today could have been avoided by adults remembering that children must become adults if they are to thrive and raising them up accordingly, rather than trying to raise them while preserving their childishness.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Dear Mr. Greer - Off topic, but touches on things you've discussed, before. And, might be a good resource for future writings.

I picked up a new book from the library. "Junk: Digging Through America's Love Affair with Stuff." (Stewart, 2016). Junk in all it's permutations. There's a quit good chapter on space junk, with a fairly recent interview with Donald Kessler.

There's also a short section on junk science, which you've discussed in the past. Apparently, a Harvard scholar, scientist and journalist named John Bohannon submitted an incredibly flawed bogus article about a cancer wonder drug to 304 open-source online journals. 157 of them published the deeply flawed article. Lew

Shane W said...

In the spirit of Barbara Ehrenreich's "Bright Sided", I do so wish someone would write a book, "The Joys of Judging, why 'non-judgementalness' is ruining you sanity and how to find inner peace through judgement"

Shane W said...

I don't necessarily think monogamy is necessary for strong families. I, for one, wouldn't mind seeing the end of romantic marriage in favor of good, old fashioned platonic or arranged marriage, whether straight or gay. I, for one, wouldn't mind seeing a return to Victorian or pre-Victorian norms whereby it's okay to step out on your spouse, but the marriage is sacrosanct and must be honored for life w/out severe social consequences. Today's obsession w/romantic love is bizarre, IMHO. I would like to see a return to "wed lock" without necessarily requiring a monogamy that never really existed the way people imagined it did. I would, however extend an egalitarian right for women to step out just as much as men, so long as they never, ever considered breaking the bonds of marriage. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Besides, as social primates, humans don't really do monogamy well, though they probably can manage to stay married, given enough societal pressure.

Shane W said...

Do you really think Christianity will hold strong in Europe? I thought a lot of Europeans were abandoning Christianity, and that the older polytheistic religions were making a comeback, particularly in Scandinavia (Norse gods & goddesses). Christianity just seems the handmaiden to progress and zooming off to the stars. Still, you would know better about it's relative strength vs traditional polytheism (Norse gods & goddesses)

Shane W said...

regarding sex, I, for one, would love to live in a society where lots of activities are tolerated and accepted, yet never discussed in mixed company. While I'm hoping that we've shut the door on sexual puritanism for good, I'd be glad to see a resurgence of good, old-fashioned discretion, where there's a time and place for everything, and where one could indulge in anything privately, yet still have tasteful discretion about not discussing it with any and all.

jessi thompson said...

Shane W.- Part 1
Shane W.- On monogamy, there are biological reasons that predispose men to cheat more often than women in general, and the same biological reasons make women less likely to cheat most of the time, except when they do cheat, they are more likely to do so when they are most likely, in their cycle, to get pregnant. (There are a lot of studies about this in the science of ethology, if you're interested, it's the science of how evolution guides behavior. It's all fascinating stuff.) Extramarital sex creates many risks in sexual relationships, including STD's and pregnancy outside of wedlock, which is why it has been taboo. Today, individuals are free to explore open relationships of all kinds (involving consenting adults), but once you step outside of the norms you encounter a territory with risks that aren't normally covered in the usual social narrative. Of course, that line is yours to cross, and you are free to do so. I know many people who have chosen this type of lifestyle, some happily, and some with ghastly unforeseen consequences. As with anything, when you step into the realm of the taboo, you walk alone.

Arranged marriages can work beautifully, but unfortunately, to build a society on arranged marriages, one of the most common ways to enforce the permanence of marriage to a stranger is to keep one of the sexes in a socially inferior position, and it's usually the woman. The majority of places that continue to arrange marriages hold women under strict laws.

The most interesting alternative to the traditional marriage I have found is called a walking marriage. Basically, families live in a matriarchy headed by the grandmother. All her descendants live with her. When couples pair up, the man goes to sleep in the woman's bedroom every night and then returns to his mother's house in the morning. All his work and the fruits of his labor go to raising his nieces and nephews. There is no marriage to speak of, if the relationship ends, he just stops spending the night. It has no affect on the children if the relationship ends, in fact there is no word for father. The "fathers" are the uncles. The family unit is based on blood ties with people you have known your whole life. That said, I don't see our culture changing in this direction any time soon, or ever, really. For our society, I agree we need to emphasize a stronger commitment to marriage. I think if people had more time at home to be together, instead of working hours of every day with strangers while your spouse works with other strangers and strangers raise your children in school, all our social bonds would be stronger and it might be a lot easier to be faithful to your spouse. I think all our social problems come from the drastic departure from the tribal life we evolved to live and the agrarian life we lived after that. This separated, mechanized way of life destroys social bonds of all kinds and replaces them with electronically mediated simulations of contact.

jessi thompson said...

Shane W- Part 2

I would also like to point out that bringing back the multigenerational home solves a lot of problems, including but not limited to: daycare, social security, isolation of stay-at-home moms, mortgage payments, latchkey kids, loss of skills like sewing and cooking, loss of family history, the abundance of household chores, etc.

You are right to question the current arrangement because it's clearly in decay. However, having been raised by hippies, I would say increasing promiscuity by itself solves nothing, and if you think that sex outside marriage would make staying married easier, I would say you're missing the big picture, and the urge for promiscuity is actually a symptom of a much bigger problem. Again, I think all these problems come from how far our society has deviated from the lives we evolved to live. We are changing the world faster than our DNA, bodies, hormones, brains, and cultures can keep up, and the social fabric is tearing apart as a result.

Fred the First said...

It is interesting to me that non-parents and parents of only children will state rules for raising children like this - "if only parents followed what I say, then all children would be wonderful!" The rule could be each gluten-free, go to a certain school, spank, don't watch get the idea. The world is full of advice for parents.

What you quickly discover if you have two or more children, is how vastly different those children are despite coming from the same genetic parents and being raised in the same household. You also discover that they have a certain personality and internal drivers that as a parent you can shape slightly with a lot of effort, but at the core they are who they are. If you have a child who is emotionally, physically, or socially outside of the normal range for children, it will impact your family and marriage in ways you can not imagine.

Parents in this society are endlessly beat-up in the media and in conversation. People says things about parents that you could never say about any other group of people. Parents are human beings trying to do their best. It might not always look like that from outside. They have children who are very different from each other, little support from community (yet lots of judgement and condemnation), a government system which demands attention during all waking hours, and a specific performance expected. No wonder so many mothers specifically are on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills. Our society is driving parents crazy.

I was born in 1968. My mother left my brother and I, both under age 7, to play outside all day in the old manufacturing town we grew up in. The yards were found to be full of lead and other toxins decades later. We weren't allowed in the house except at dinner time. Sandwiches were handed out for lunch and we drank from the hose. When we moved to a suburban development, we were given a key to let ourselves in after school, ages under 9, make a snack, do our homework because both parents said they would not help with it, and do chores before 5pm. We then ate dinner and roamed the neighborhood until dark with the other children doing minor vandalism.

Any of that is cause for social services to come where we live and investigate these days. Perhaps it is different in poorer area of the country. But in suburban mostly white areas, leaving children alone or letting them roam will get you unwanted attention.

Justin said...

Shane, yes, I think people need to understand why discretion and restraint are important, and that life isn't a consequence free buffet of pleasures with only "the man" standing in your wsy.

Izzy said...

Late posting to note: my introduction to your writings came from progressively reading through the Encyclopedia of the Occult at the library here in rural-est PA (it was a nice surprise to find, though I can't check it out) while visiting parents. I'm back here, doing the same, and just came across the entry on "magik" etc, and your comment that "fortunately for the language, none of these have caught on." As a magician who's also a snotty English major, I'd like to thank you for that bit of editorializing. :)

Maxine Rogers said...

Hi All,
I want to comment on the Sex in the City characters growing up to be old cat-owning ladies without the benefit of children, grandchildren and husbands. I have seen enough brutally bad and or unfortunate families to think a nice cat and independence plus some close old friends sounds much better.

In addition, the Sex in the City women could think back on many funny and pleasurable exploits. They will not be troubled by their bi-polar daughter crashing into the depths of despair, again. They will not have a police constable come to their house with their son's still-warm wallet that was taken off his body after the car crash. They will not have to hold their tiny grandson as he dies of cancer.

The cat will be happy to sit on the bed when they are ill with a cold and their old girlfriends will be along with soup and gossip. Old girlfriends are possibly the most valuable of all things.

I have never had children because I never wanted any but I have suffered much from watching my young friends struggle through life. I am sure it would have hurt much worse if they were my children.

Yours under the red cedars,
Max Rogers

Shane W said...

IDK, I think it's a false binary to posit Puritan/Victorian monogamous norms as the only option for maintaining society. I tend to agree w/JMG that sex phobic norms reached a peak during the peak of Western industrial civilization and then went into decline thereafter, and the abandonment of sex phobia since the 70s is a result of industrial decline. There are plenty of sexual norms across societies besides traditional Western monogamy. The ancient Romans were very sexually open. As Bill has mentioned before, probably the optimum living arrangement for gay men would be a home of 5-10 guys. I could see where a homestead based on such an arrangement would be very successful.

Patricia Mathews said...

Thank you, Maxine. I have both: children, and my cat lady independence, now down to one cat, Spot. My ex found a woman who could either dismiss his constant carping as just noise, or who he felt no need to constantly pick at; I never remarried nor wanted to. "The triumph of hope over experience" does fail when experience reaches a certain paralyzing point. Our youngest daughter has been seeing to his comfort - their comfort - in an assisted living apartment near where she lives, and also keeps in touch with me. And after a long period of getting over the effects of a bad marriage, I have been very content as a freedwoman. Selfish? But it saved my life, sanity, and ability to be a decent person.

Izzy said...

Also, as a "hyperpromiscuous young woman," I'm with Maxine Rogers, thank you very much. I had--and have--a lot of fun.* My friends who acted like me and want children have them; I myself would rather be an aunt to them (and to my sister's kids), while maintaining a lifestyle where I can come home when I want, with who I want, and get a lot of sleep. :P

That said, I'm all for knowing the company in which it's appropriate to discuss your sex life, and that in which it's not. Like Friends Of Friends You Can't Stand and Other People's Fashion Choices, sex is generally better discussed with close friends over an appropriate amount of alcohol.

* And the consequences have generally been things I can prevent at least as much as I can prevent getting hit by a drunk driver tomorrow, or that I can get over with time and occasional medical procedures. No need for hand-wringing or pearl-clutching on my behalf, but, again, thanks anyhow.

Izzy said...

Added comment: FWIW, my friends and I never had much patience with the Sex in the City girls--for all the "ZOMG anonymous sex" hype, three of the four characters are tiresomely neurotic about finding a Relationship and How To Make Him Commit and what it *means* that he didn't call and blah blah blah. Far *too* traditional, really. ;)

MawKernewek said...

@Donald Hargreaves

No sugar in tea - is that the influence of the Cornish in the "Upper Peninsula" who traditionally didn't have sugar in tea due to the Wesleys concern about slavery in the plantations?

As far as the "deserving poor" concept, I perhaps unfairly see the Victorian concept of that as being "people like us", excluding people too brown, too different of religion, too Irish etc. who were labelled as "undeserving poor".

One of the concerns that could be expressed about non-monogamy would be that if most people didn't know who their father actually was, in a fairly small community there could a greater likelihood of accidental inbreeding in the next generation.

Donald Hargraves said...

The song referred to Irishmen and/or Chinamen, and the "no sugar in your tay" refers to being paid so badly that you forgo simple comforts (like sweetness in your tea).

Robert Gillett said...

Here's a modern take on a Grimm fairy tale for you, Trumpelstiltskin

Bob Brown said...

A bit more on self-esteem, Hopefully, I can explain why I think the distinction I’m trying to make is important. We agree that many people in our society do not have “healthy” self-esteem, you feel that many people have too much self-esteem (an overly inflated sense of competence and self-worth) while I feel those same people actually lack self-esteem (I’m certainly not saying that they lack mental or emotional issues :).
We are in agreement that our society does a poor job with self-esteem by taking away the consequences of one’s actions and always telling young people that they are great no matter how they perform (trophies for everyone). If you believe that they are developing too much self-esteem from the way society is raising young people that implies that we are doing the correct things but too much of them. So if we just cut back on what we are doing and stop at the correct amount of self-esteem everyone would have “healthy” self-esteem. I.e. give out fewer “trophies”.
If you believe that society’s approach to self-esteem is fundamentally wrong, that indicates a very different course should be taken. I feel that the current approach is producing young people who lack “true” self-esteem but have given by society either a sense of entitlement or the knowledge that if they act with a strong sense of entitlement they will get away with whatever they want. You might see this as “artificial” self-esteem (or mental illness) taking the place of “true” self-esteem. They learn to act entitled but actually have a low sense of competence and low sense of self-worth. By always telling young people that they are doing great when they know they are not, we cause confusion. They are never quite sure how they are doing, because they hear they are great no matter how they act.
So I think we would agree that having young people live in a world where there are consequences for their actions, both good and bad, would help develop “healthy” self-esteem. It would allow them to earn that sense of competence and self-esteem and they would be much more mentally healthy and resilient.
Hope that my writing is adequate to get the idea across and gives some food for thought.
Thanks for all the thinking you’ve caused me to do.

joanhello said...

I know I'm a little late on this one, but I feel an urge to point out that there are, in the anthropological record, societies whose child-rearing customs don't include anything we would recognize as discipline, and the kids turn out just fine. However, they are technologically simple societies in which child-rearing is still integrated with adult work and social life. One thing young animals do is imitate their elders, and the children in these societies grow up surrounded by adults working and getting along with each other. Furthermore, from toddlerhood, the children are given miniature versions of the adults' tools made to the same quality standards. That includes bows and arrows that shoot true, and any small creature that a little hunter brings down will be added to the family meal with appreciation just as an adult hunter's would be. There's also no really onerous work. Some is dangerous, and the young may be forbidden to participate until they reach a certain age, but there's none of the miserable backbreaking labor that you start to see with the invention of the animal-drawn plough. The work is pretty much all the kinds of activity that are widely practiced as hobbies in the industrialized world: hunting, fishing, gardening, crafts, etc. Children don't have to be forced to do it.

In a preschool classroom with ten three-year-olds for every adult, the kids will mostly end up imitating each other, and problematic behavior patterns that might have been the short-lived eccentricity of one kid can be multiplied and reinforced to the point where it may take years to eradicate. Simple immaturity can also be strongly reinforced. And the nuclear family home in which Mommy and one child are alone together pretty much all day is not much better. One way or another, we prevent children from learning their adults roles (or even appropriate social behavior) in the natural way of our earliest ancestors and then we have to beat it into them.

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