Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Fifth Side of the Triangle

One of the things I’ve had occasion to notice, over the course of the decade or so I’ve put into writing these online essays, is the extent to which repeating patterns in contemporary life go unnoticed by the people who are experiencing them. I’m not talking here about the great cycles of history, which take long enough to roll over that a certain amount of forgetfulness can be expected; the repeating patterns I have in mind come every few years, and yet very few people seem to notice the repetition.

An example that should be familiar to my readers is the way that, until recently, one energy source after another got trotted out on the media and the blogosphere as the excuse du jour for doing nothing about the ongoing depletion of global fossil fuel reserves. When this blog first got under way in 2006, ethanol from corn was the excuse; then it was algal biodiesel; then it was nuclear power from thorium; then it was windfarms and solar PV installations; then it was oil and gas from fracking. In each case, the same rhetorical handwaving about abundance was deployed for the same purpose, the same issues of net energy and concentration were evaded, and the resource in question never managed to live up to the overblown promises made in its name—and yet any attempt to point out the similarities got blank looks and the inevitable refrain, “but this is different.”

The drumbeat of excuses du jour has slackened a bit just now, and that’s also part of a repeating pattern that doesn’t get anything like the scrutiny it deserves. Starting when conventional petroleum production worldwide reached its all-time plateau, in the first years of this century, the price of oil has jolted up and down in a multiyear cycle. The forces driving the cycle are no mystery: high prices encourage producers to bring marginal sources online, but they also decrease demand; the excess inventories of petroleum that result drive down prices; low prices encourage consumers to use more, but they also cause marginal sources to be shut down; the shortfalls of petroleum that result drive prices up, and round and round the mulberry bush we go.

We’re just beginning to come out of the trough following the 2015 price peak, and demand is even lower than it would otherwise be, due to cascading troubles in the global economy. Thus, for the moment, there’s enough petroleum available to supply everyone who can afford to buy it. If the last two cycles are anything to go by, though, oil prices will rise unsteadily from here, reaching a new peak in 2021 or so before slumping down into a new trough. How many people are paying attention to this, and using the current interval of relatively cheap energy to get ready for another period of expensive energy a few years from now? To judge from what I’ve seen, not many.

Just at the moment, though, the example of repetition that comes first to my mind has little to do with energy, except in a metaphorical sense. It’s the way that people committed to a cause—any cause—are so often so flustered when initial successes are followed by something other than repeated triumph forever. Now of course part of the reason that’s on my mind is the contortions still ongoing on the leftward end of the US political landscape, as various people try to understand (or in some cases, do their level best to misunderstand) the implications of last month’s election. Still, that’s not the only reason this particular pattern keeps coming to mind.

I’m also thinking of it as the Eurozone sinks deeper and deeper into political crisis. The project of European unity had its initial successes, and a great many European politicians and pundits seem to have convinced themselves that of course those would be repeated step by step, until a United States of Europe stepped out on the international stage as the world’s next superpower. It’s pretty clear at this point that nothing of the sort is going to happen, because those initial successes were followed by a cascade of missteps and a populist backlash that’s by no means reached its peak yet.

More broadly, the entire project of liberal internationalism that’s guided the affairs of the industrial world since the Berlin Wall came down is in deep trouble. It’s been enormously profitable for the most affluent 20% or so of the industrial world’s population, which is doubtless a core reason why that same 20% insists so strenuously that no other options are possible, but it’s been an ongoing disaster for the other 80% or so, and they are beginning to make their voices heard.

At the heart of the liberal project was the insistence that economics should trump politics—that the free market should determine policy in most matters, leaving governments only an administrative function. Of course that warm and cozy abstraction “the free market” meant in practice the kleptocratic corporate socialism of too-big-to-fail banks and subsidy-guzzling multinationals, which proceeded to pursue their own short-term benefit so recklessly that they’ve driven entire countries into the ground. That’s brought about the inevitable backlash, and the proponents of liberal internationalism are discovering to their bafflement that if enough of the electorate is driven to the wall, the political sphere may just end up holding the Trump card after all.

And of course the same bafflement is on display in the wake of last month’s presidential election, as a great many people who embraced our domestic version of the liberal internationalist idea were left dumbfounded by its defeat at the hands of the electorate—not just by those who voted for Donald Trump, but also by the millions who stayed home and drove Democratic turnout in the 2016 election down to levels disastrously low for Hillary Clinton’s hopes. A great many of the contortions mentioned above have been driven by the conviction on the part of Clinton’s supporters that their candidate’s defeat was caused by a rejection of the ideals of contemporary American liberalism. That some other factor might have been involved is not, at the moment, something many of them are willing to hear.

That’s where the repeating pattern comes in, because movements for social change—whether they come from the grassroots or the summits of power—are subject to certain predictable changes, and if those changes aren’t recognized and countered in advance, they lead to the kind of results I’ve just been discussing. There are several ways to talk about those changes, but the one I’d like to use here unfolds, in a deliberately quirky way, from the Hegelian philosophy of history.

That probably needs an explanation, and indeed an apology, because Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel has been responsible for more sheer political stupidity than any other thinker of modern times. Across the bloodsoaked mess that was the twentieth century, from revolutionary Marxism in its opening years to Francis Fukuyama’s risible fantasy of the End of History in its closing, where you found Hegelian political philosophy, you could be sure that someone was about to make a mistaken prediction.

It may not be entirely fair to blame Hegel personally for this. His writings and lectures are vast heaps of cloudy abstraction in which his students basically had to chase down inkblot patterns of their own making. Hegel’s great rival Arthur Schopenhauer used to insist that Hegel was a deliberate fraud, stringing together meaningless sequences of words in the hope that his readers would mistake obscurity for profundity, and more than once—especially when slogging through the murky prolixities of Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit—I’ve suspected that the old grouch of Frankfurt was right. Still, we can let that pass, because a busy industry of Hegelian philosophers spent the last century and a half churning out theories of their own based, to one extent or another, on Hegel’s vaporings, and it’s this body of work that most people mean when they talk about Hegelian philosophy.

At the core of most Hegelian philosophies of history is a series of words that used to be famous, and still has a certain cachet in some circles: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. (Hegel himself apparently never used those terms in their later sense, but no matter.) That’s the three-step dance to the music of time that, in the Hegelian imagination, shapes human history. You’ve got one condition of being, or state of human consciousness, or economic system, or political system, or what have you; it infallibly generates its opposite; the two collide, and then there’s a synthesis which resolves the initial contradiction. Then the synthesis becomes a thesis, generates its own antithesis, a new synthesis is born, and so on.

One of the oddities about Hegelian philosophies of history is that, having set up this repeating process, their proponents almost always insist that it’s about to stop forever. In the full development of the Marxist theory of history, for example, the alternation of thesis-antithesis-synthesis starts with the primordial state of primitive communism and then chugs merrily, or rather far from merrily, through a whole series of economic systems, until finally true communism appears—and then that’s it; it’s the synthesis that never becomes a thesis and never conjures up an antithesis. In exactly the same way, Fukuyama’s theory of the end of history argued that all history until 1991 or so was a competition between different systems of political economy, of which liberal democratic capitalism and totalitarian Marxism were the last two contenders; capitalism won, Marxism lost, game over.

Now of course that’s part of the reason that Hegelianism so reliably generates false predictions, because in the real world it’s never game over; there’s always another round to play. There’s another dimension of Hegelian mistakenness, though, because the rhythm of the dialectic implies that the gains of one synthesis are never lost. Each synthesis becomes the basis for the next struggle between thesis and antithesis out of which a new synthesis emerges—and the new synthesis is always supposed to embody the best parts of the old.

This is where we move from orthodox Hegelianism to the quirky alternative I have in mind. It didn’t emerge out of the profound ponderings of serious philosophers of history in some famous European university. It first saw the light in a bowling alley in suburban Los Angeles, and the circumstances of its arrival—which, according to the traditional account, involved the miraculous appearance of a dignified elderly chimpanzee and the theophany of a minor figure from Greek mythology—suggest that prodigious amounts of drugs were probably involved.

Yes, we’re talking about Discordianism.

I’m far from sure how many of my readers are familiar with that phenomenon, which exists somewhere on the ill-defined continuum between deadpan put-on and serious philosophical critique. The short form is that it was cooked up by a couple of young men on the fringes of the California Beat scene right as that was beginning its mutation into the first faint adumbrations of the hippie phenomenon. Its original expression was the Principia Discordia, the scripture (more or less) of a religion (more or less) that worships (more or less) Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos, and its central theme is the absurdity of belief systems that treat orderly schemes cooked up in the human mind as though these exist out there in the bubbling, boiling confusion of actual existence.

That may not seem like fertile ground for a philosophy of history, but the Discordians came up with one anyway, probably in mockery of the ultraserious treatment of Hegelian philosophy that was common just then in the Marxist-existentialist end of the Beat scene. Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson proceeded to pick up the Discordian theory of history and weave it into their tremendous satire of American conspiracy culture, the Illuminatus! trilogy. That’s where I encountered it originally in the late 1970s; I laughed, and then paused and ran my fingers through my first and very scruffy adolescent beard, realizing that it actually made more sense than any other theory of history I’d encountered.

Here’s how it works. From the Discordian point of view, Hegel went wrong for two reasons. The first was that he didn’t know about the Law of Fives, the basic Discordian principle that all things come in fives, except when they don’t. Thus he left off the final two steps of the dialectical process: after thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, you get parenthesis, and then paralysis.

The second thing Hegel missed is that the synthesis is never actually perfect.  It never succeeds wholly in resolving the conflict between thesis and antithesis; there are always awkward compromises, difficulties that are papered over, downsides that nobody figures out at the time, and so on. Thus it doesn’t take long for the synthesis to start showing signs of strain, and the inevitable response is to try to patch things up without actually changing anything that matters. The synthesis thus never has time to become a thesis and generate its own antithesis; it is its own antithesis, and ever more elaborate arrangements have to be put to work to keep it going despite its increasingly evident flaws; that’s the stage of parenthesis.

The struggle to maintain these arrangements, in turn, gradually usurps so much effort and attention that the original point of the synthesis is lost, and maintaining the arrangements themselves becomes too burdensome to sustain. That’s when you enter the stage of paralysis, when the whole shebang grinds slowly to a halt and then falls apart. Only after paralysis is total do you get a new thesis, which sweeps away the rubble and kickstarts the whole process into motion again.

There are traditional Discordian titles for these stages. The first, thesis, is the state of Chaos, when a group of human beings look out at the bubbling, boiling confusion of actual existence and decide to impose some kind of order on the mess. The second, antithesis, is the state of Discord, when the struggle to impose that order on the mess in question produces an abundance of equal and opposite reactions. The third, synthesis, is the state of Confusion, in which victory is declared over the chaos of mere existence, even though everything’s still bubbling and boiling merrily away as usual. The fourth, parenthesis, is the state of Consternation,* in which the fact that everything’s still bubbling and boiling merrily away as usual becomes increasingly hard to ignore. The fifth and final, paralysis, is the state of Moral Warptitude—don’t blame me, that’s what the Principia Discordia says—in which everything grinds to a halt and falls to the ground, and everyone stands around in the smoldering wreckage rubbing their eyes and wondering what happened.

*(Yes, I know, Robert Anton Wilson called the last two stages Bureaucracy and Aftermath. He was a heretic. So is every other Discordian, for that matter.)

Let’s apply this to the liberal international order that emerged in the wake of the Soviet Union’s fall, and see how it fits. Thesis, the state of Chaos, was the patchwork of quarrelsome nations into which our species has divided itself, which many people of good will saw as barbarous relics of a violent past that should be restrained by a global economic order. Antithesis, the state of Discord, was the struggle to impose that order by way of trade agreements and the like, in the teeth of often violent resistance—the phrase “WTO Seattle” may come to mind here. Synthesis, the state of Confusion, was the self-satisfied cosmopolitan culture that sprang up among the affluent 20% or so of the industrial world’s population, who became convinced that the temporary ascendancy of policies that favored their interests was not only permanent but self-evidently right and just.

Parenthesis, the state of Consternation, was the decades-long struggle to prop up those policies despite the disastrous economic consequences those policies inflicted on everyone but the affluent. Finally, paralysis, the state of Moral Warptitude, sets in when populist movements, incensed by the unwillingness of the 20% to consider anyone else’s needs but their own, surge into the political sphere and bring the entire project to a halt. It’s worth noting here that the title “moral warptitude” may be bad English, but it’s a good description for the attitude of believers in the synthesis toward the unraveling of their preferred state of affairs. It’s standard, as just noted, for those who benefit from the synthesis to become convinced that it’s not merely advantageous but also morally good, and to see the forces that overthrow it as evil incarnate; this is simply another dimension of their Confusion.

Am I seriously suggesting that the drug-soaked ravings of a bunch of goofy California potheads provide a better guide to history than the serious reflections of Hegelian philosophers? Well, yes, actually, I am. Given the track record of Hegelian thought when it comes to history, a flipped coin is a better guide—use a coin, and you have a 50% better chance of being right. Outside of mainstream macroeconomic theory, it’s hard to think of a branch of modern thought that so consistently turns out false answers once it’s applied to the real world.

No doubt there are more respectable models that also provide a clear grasp of what happens to most movements for social change—the way they lose track of the difference between achieving their goals and pursuing their preferred strategies, and generally end up opting for the latter; the way that their institutional forms become ends in themselves, and gradually absorb the effort and resources that would otherwise have brought about change; the way that they run to extremes, chase off potential and actual supporters, and then busy themselves coming up with increasingly self-referential explanations for the fact that the only tactics they’re willing to consider are those that increase their own marginalization in the wider society, and so on. It’s a familiar litany, and will doubtless become even more familiar in the years ahead.

For what it’s worth, though, it’s not necessary for the two additional steps of the post-Hegelian dialectic, the fourth and fifth sides of his imaginary triangle, to result in the complete collapse of everything that was gained in the first three steps. It’s possible to surf the waves of Consternation and Moral Warptitude—but it’s not easy. Next week, we’ll explore this further, by circling back to the place where this blog began, and having a serious talk about how the peak oil movement failed.

*************
In other news, I’m delighted to report that Retrotopia, which originally appeared here as a series of posts, is now in print in book form and available for sale. I’ve revised and somewhat expanded Peter Carr’s journey to the Lakeland Republic, and I hope it meets with the approval of my readers.

Also from Founders House, the first issue of the new science fiction and fantasy quarterly MYTHIC has just been released. Along with plenty of other lively stories, it’s got an essay of mine on the decline and revival of science fiction, and a short story, "The Phantom of the Dust," set in the same fictive universe as my novel The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth, and pitting Owen Merrill and sorceress Jenny Chaudronnier against a sinister mystery from colonial days. Subscriptions and single copies can be ordered here.

225 comments:

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Nastarana said...

Dear Patricia Matthews, the problem you mention is why I decided to teach myself to draw patterns. Clothes off the rack and commercial patterns are designed for a hypothetical figure no one has, even before middle aged weight gain sets in.

Dear Varun Bhaskar, I have been following the interagency spat. I can't decide if Clinton, Inc. is still trying to steal the WH, or just trying to stay out of jail. I think what is clear is that the countries which have been interfering in US elections, not that I blame them, are KSA, Israel and China. There also seems to be a Ukrainian/Russian émigré faction which has sunk tentacles into the Democratic Party.

Thank you for the comments about canning, Lathe and August. Water bath canning I will not do. Sorry, too many hot, sticky afternoons in a kitchen helping my mother. I have been parboiling grated carrots, turnips, etc., and drying tomatoes in the oven, and then wrapping the prepared veges in freezer bags in log shape. You get out the log, and chop off an inch or two as needed.

Nastarana said...

Here is the link on the interagency squabble which seems to have disappeared above.http://www.voltairenet.org/article194344.html

Voltaire net is one of the designated Russian propaganda sites, AND is not American. At this point, I am not sure that the WaPO can tell the difference.

inohuri said...

"The 1930s Germans called it gleichschaltung. Look it up."

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/12/bring-out-your-dead/

I did.

SUMMARY OF CONCEPT OF
GLEICHSCHALTUN

https://users.stlcc.edu/rkalfus/PDFs/033.pdf

M Smith said...

Oh nuts, pg reminded me, the Lardbucket was one of the stars of Dr. Strangelove! Wish I'd worked in a joke about it. Obviously, someone had impurified my precious bodily fluids, and I forgot.

But I'm still flailing with an attempt to make a clever joke about the Wombat of Entropy moving at Moral Warptitude speed. Or something.

hapibeli said...

Just for you JMG Hehehehe!

Trump as a figure out of Hegel;

http://www.newyorker.com/podcast/political-scene/mark-bauerlein-talks-to-kelefa-sanneh-about-the-intellectual-case-for-trump?intcid=mod-latest&popout=true

Shane W said...

Sorry I'm just now responding, but I've been busy with the holidays. I made Bourbon balls for a party (I think it is the state confection of KY), among other things...
JMG, you asked about pushback regarding social change among wage class evangelicals. I was discussing an article I'd read about how the Southern Baptist Convention was in the process of conceding the culture wars and turning inward. I'd mentioned that the new leader (Russell Moore) of the SBC was a Calvinist, and had taken the denomination in a decidedly inward direction, while not necessarily changing SBC doctrine on social issues. I'd also mentioned how common tolerance of LGBT people was amongst younger evangelicals. Many people in the CUUPS (Unitarian Pagans) group were visibly uncomfortable with the idea, and pushed back against the idea of conservative change (no, they are still political, they are still pushing a political agenda, their not moving inward, they're still homophobic and intolerant of other beliefs.) It was as if they needed them to be the "Other" to rail against.
Other conversations of a more political nature that I've had amongst members of the CUUPS group, the local Fairness group (LGBT), and my older lesbian couple were pushing back against the idea that the GOP is moving away from social issues. Mentions of Trump's tolerance leads to charges that Pence is the one calling the shots, and more outright denial that the GOP is capable of change. I'd mentioned how free the Paul/Gray Senate race was of sexual orientation issues, of Hoover's (incoming state House speaker) commitment to focus on economic, not social issues. Mostly, there is an outright denial that such a comment was ever made, it is ignored totally as if the comment was never made while the person goes on about how evil and unchanging the "Other" is, sometimes, it is accompanied by offense, as if you'd broke wind at a cocktail party. However, I'm probably not the best person to ask about these things. If you really want to get inside the head of one of these people and know the thinking, or lack thereof, behind them, the person to ask would be Ahavah, if she hasn't left the readership b/c of "antisemitism" due to favorable comments you've made towards elements of the alt right. She seems positively petrified of the upcoming legislative session here in KY, let alone the national scene.
I will say that I was at the house of some of the people from our Fairness group, and I could not get over the difference in attitude. They seemed much more level headed and less panicky than at the meeting among the kids. Personally, I thought that the calm attitude was the more appropriate attitude to have among the kids. The panicky, hateful, hysterical tone of the adults over the results of the election at the meeting seemed very irresponsible.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, nah, the decline sets in at the zenith. The fall is later.

Keith, so noted.

Chevalier, thanks for the link.

Phil, fascinating -- and worth keeping an eye on.

Bob, fault-finding that doesn't lead to accurate predictions, viable alternatives, or both, is simply a form of whining. It leads nowhere. Accurate prediction allows you to choose your own course of action to take advantage of advance knowledge; I own a house, for example, despite a very modest income, because I correctly predicted the housing bust of 2008-9 three years in advance. That's a very concrete value of prudence!

Dan, no argument. I think there are some good ideas there; on the other hand, cliodynamics has fallen into the classic trap of premature quantification, in a very big way. If your conceptual models aren't good, quantification just means you're wrong to sixteen decimal places.

Zaphod, the peak of Western civilization came in the second half of the 19th century -- the period when European nations literally owned the world, and also the high point of technological innovation (which, despite the usual cliche, has been slowing since the 1880s). So we're more than a century past peak already, with the decline picking up speed around us. Whee!

Lordberia3, I think we've definitely passed peak globalization, and it's going to be a very rough road for a while as a result. With regard to the Russian-influence accusations, that's predictable -- Putin infuriated the globalists by prying Russia loose from the economic domination of the multinationals, so he's their favorite whipping boy these days.

Jeffinwa, they did indeed. (You'll want to imagine those words spoken in that very distinctive croaking voice used by those who inhaled...)

Rita, yep. That was one of the things that facilitated the end of the Roman order in western Europe: your barbarian warlord settled in, proclaimed himself king, and said to the slaves on the big plantations, "The land's mine now, but you can farm it in exchange for a cut of the produce" -- and the cut was much, much smaller than the tax burden imposed by distant Roman bureaucrats. Pretty quickly all the former slaves, now upgraded to peasants, were happy with the change, and the literate, formerly privileged former elite got to lump it.

Morfran, it's a common delusion. Five hundred years ago, the death-pangs of medieval society were identified by the Robert Anton Wilsons of that time as signs that the Age of the Holy Ghost was about to dawn. Five hundred years from now, there'll be some other excuse handy for those who want to claim that it's different this time.

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, many thanks for this!

Varun, hah! That's good.

Breanna, so noted.

Candace, fourth stage trembling on the edge of the fifth. The bipartisan neoconservative consensus lumbers ahead!

Grebulocities, I wish there were such a place. Ron Patterson's doing a good job over at Peak Oil Barrel, but yeah, I miss Energy Bulletin and The Oil Drum like anything.

Bob, thanks for this. I'm wholly unfamiliar with the RevLeft forums, but it's a very solid essay.

Sylvia, I'll consider that.

LatheChuck, that's just stunning. I think the senility of the elites has just reached the point where drool puddles in its collective lap.

David, thank you. I'm glad that somebody got the point of that comment by Owen Merrill!

Merle, hmm! I think the post you're remembering is this one. That said, I'll definitely consider at least a few posts on philosophy, since there does seem to be some interest.

Varun, to be expected. The neocons are desperate to hold onto the levers of power; they thought they were going to get a nice shiny war in Syria, and now that mean Mr. Trump is going to take it away from them.

Nuku, hmm. That'll take some thought.

Cherokee, The Return of the Wombat! (Doubtless preceded by The Fellowship of the Wallaby and The Two Koalas. No, it wasn't too subtle, at least for me -- and as far as carrying a burden, it was an honor. You might be amused to know that I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first saw a copy of it.

John Michael Greer said...

Bob, funny. Guy McPherson is still here because too few people hold those who make predictions accountable for their failures. A lot of other people who talk through various improbable orifices about the future are still around for the same reason. That's one of the reasons I review my predictions at the end of each year, right here in public.

PG, hmm! That's very promising indeed.

Nastarana, many thanks.

M Smith, funny. The Wombat of Entropy smiles myopically in your general direction, and then goes back to nibbling on everyone's energy supply.

Hapibeli, oh bright gods. One of Clinton's more breathless fangirls assigned her the same status. I think that means by definition that neither one will ever amount to much.

Shane, many thanks; yes, that's the sign I was waiting for. Twenty or thirty years ago, if Christian fundamentalism had started to unravel, the American left would have cheered. Now they refuse to consider the possibility, because that would remove their sole remaining reason for existence. Postliberal politics, here we come...

Tom Mole said...

Hi JMG. I really enjoy these posts wandering off into the literature - I'm not widely read and you've simultaneously introduced me to both Hegelian philosophy and Discordianism, the latter of which is funny as heck. Damned if I know where else to hear about these things, outside perhaps some peculiar university lectures which I won't get to attend. Much appreciated.

Fred the First said...

I second @Bob's double feature. Also I'd love to know why peak oil writers publicly and at times viciously disagreed with each other.

Vince Busch said...

Again, you've added a new dimension to my thinking. Thanks very much. Easy to quit and be marginalised, especially if you (think you) rank among the 20%. Why do you use the fall of the Berlin Wall as a reference point, and not 1980/81 (or even the 1930s)?

temporaryreality (Wendy) said...

(to continue on the practical tangent...)
A few "commit now for later benefit" type projects that are worth considering: building a greenhouse or hoophouse (and purchasing replacement panels) - to extend your growing season and/or allow for growing traditionally imported plants (vanilla and ginger come to mind, but also some tropical fruits). Seedlings can be sold.

Replace carpet indoors with something that doesn't require electricity to clean (wood, linoleum, laminate, etc).

Upgrade pots and pans to cast iron (can be used on stovetop, in coals, or in (wood-fired) oven, making it very versatile).

If somewhat distant travel is a necessity, consider a moped. (As a caregiver to an older parent whom I'm trying to keep home as long as possible, I still need a car, but I'm toying with the idea of a moped for local-but-distant-&-it's-104F-outside kinds of uses).

Also on my extremely long (but slowly getting-to-some-of-it) list is learning some basic pottery. While it's probably possible to put together an evaporative cooler (link provided by Robert Mathiesen, above) with terra cotta gardening pots if you can find the right shapes, I'd like to learn to make clay oil lamps. I’m planting two multi-purpose olives in my front yard and oil+lamp+wick equals light and good cheer when things are iffy. Then I’ll be able to knit while snacking on home cured olives, lit by lamp light. :-)

And re: the knitting topic – my skill level with the drop spindle is decidedly chunky, but maybe it’s time to work on that. I have the benefit of being near the Yolo Wool Mill which seems worthy of exploration. Also, there’s a northern CA “thing” afoot, called Fibershed that has links to other fiber producers and projects.

What an interesting batch of responses my question generated. Thanks, all!

(oh, and David, I’m completely jealous your town has the Wood Type museum. We have a tractor museum… I’d much prefer anything related to letterpress!

Zerowastemillenial – how in the world is it possible to be bored, there’s so much to learn and do!!

latheChuck – I could get into the repair and upkeep of old sewing machines and typewriters but crikey, there just aren’t currently enough hours in my day!)

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Really? I get that as that book is a bit mind blowing and a real perception changer.

I doubt that I will be able to look at the world the same way again. And I fell into the trap of thinking that: If I had one minor criticism of the book then I'd have to suggest to Mr Catton that there have been other cultures that have not fallen into the same trap. And then he wrote about what I was thinking about and I realised that my thoughts were irrelevant because he is writing about the world as it is from the perspective of a sociologist and ecologist and not how we imagine it to be. It is not a book for the faint of heart. Oooo, he had a very sharp eye!

Hey, I have to bounce, but this one is huge: Mass data loss fears as Australian Taxation Office suffers Hewlett Packard Enterprise equipment crash.

I have an internal BS alarm which is screaming air raid sirens style warnings at me about this matter, because the story does not ring true to me. I rather suspect that they were hacked and not even the biggest computers in the Southern hemisphere were grunty enough to ward off the attack. I also rather suspect that they considered themselves too big to fail and the data was possibly also too large to be able to be backed up. I have heard of instances like that only very recently and it is good to know that there are limits to the volume of data that can be stored. Of course tech heads will say that there are no limits to the amount of data that can be stored, but they are talking rubbish. They can be ignored with impunity! Yes singularians would be wise to take note of this failure.

Gotta run, but this is huge.

Cheers

Chris

Bill Pulliam said...

latheChuck -- because tomato varieties vary greatly in acidity, boiling water bath is no longer recommended, pressure canning is. A pressure canner is not a difficult device to obtain or operate; not a whole lot more difficult than the water bath in reality.

Maxine Rogers said...

Hi LatheChuck,
I agree that one does not need a pressure canner for tomatoes but it is necessary to add a bit of lemon juice to each jar because they are not acid enough by themselves. I do want to ask if you have ever tried to eat store bought canned tomatoes after eating home-grown and home canned tomatoes? I have and the store bought tomatoes are disgusting.

Everything you produce for yourself in the garden, the orchard and eggs and meat from your own farm will always be much more nutritious and tasty than anything you can buy commercially. This is because you cut out all the other people who need to make a profit on your food so you do not have to cut corners in quality. Trust me, home produced is worth it even if the dollar cost is the same as buying commercial crap food on sale.
Yours under the red cedars,
Max Rogers

latheChuck said...

Bill / Maxine - Thanks for the tip on new low-acid tomatoes now requiring pressure canning (or supplemental acid). At our house, the tomatoes get eaten fresh as fast as their produced, though.

My favorite thing for canning is applesauce. I get "cooking apples" (culled from the bins due to scratches, bruises, or other imperfections) at $10 per half bushel, which I take to be about $0.50/lb. So, I save money on the materials, and they're available during the months when we're heating our home anyway (so extra heat in the kitchen is a bonus, not a cost). But, as you've said, the quality is really outstanding. Commercial applesauce makers must be cheating us somewhere, maybe squeezing the juice out first, and making "applesauce" with the dry pulp + sugar. Or maybe they just add too much water.

M Smith said...

A small suggestion for the "practical" list: I started a germination room about 18 months ago. It's very small, and I keep the rest of the house at 58 in the winter and rarely use AC. But the germination closet is lit by enough CFLs that they produce warmth, and I stuff a towel under the door to decrease the exchange.

This morning, I needed to melt some baking chocolate. I put it on a plate in this closet, and an hour later, it was soft enough to mix into the cheesecake batter. Didn't go near the stove or have to keep watch over it so it didn't burn.

I've also used it to warm refrigerated cat food for ten minutes so the cat doesn't bring it all back up, and plan to raise bread dough in it this winter. We don't need no stinkin' microwave! (I realize it's easier to do these things when you're not rushed for time and have few demands on same.)

Shane W said...

In all fairness, not all the people at the Pagan group were resistant to the idea of evangelical change, some acknowledged it. The attitude at the Fairness group was more universal, though the Fairness group is salary class while the Pagan group is wage class.

zerowastemillennial said...

@Tidlösa:

It's amazing how threatened the Marx-descended radicals (syndicalists, workerists, etc) are of harder greens. I've seen the paranoia morph into calls for murder on more than one occasion. One of the conclusions I came up with was that radical leftists of that sort are inherently progressivist/humanist, and are threatened by the dual loyalties of the environmentally-minded. Man is still the measure of all things for them.

@trippticket:

I've been de-digitizing slowly but surely, and I can confirm that withdrawals do happen at first. They've done a fine job of getting us to confuse silence, stillness, slowness, and introspection with boredom. We are a culture of dopamine addicts - quit any good drug and you'll reel from its absence for a while before hitting on a new equilibrium.

Once I got rid of the smartphone, it only took me only days to become alienated by the compulsive phone-checkers like your friend!

Unknown said...

Nuku,

There are a couple of possible reasons for NZ Labor's failure to put up a decent effort.

1/ Inbreeding has sapped all clarity of vision and filled the party with hacks who are in it for the game itself and not for what they can do for the nation.

2/ They are well aware of what the light at the end of the tunnel is, and do not want to be held responsible for the carnage that will accompany it.

More broadly, political parties the world over are failing, largely because they are entirely comprised of individuals whose required acceptance of conflicted interests renders them incompetent to manage the task of government. Once that is understood it becomes easier to see what is required to make democracy work. It looks like a parliament dominated by independents who represent, as opposed to party politicians who dictate, and who work cooperatively to find solutions that deliver the greatest common good, as opposed to ramming their ideology down our throats while making sure their maaates go home with the loot.

August Johnson said...

Bill / Maxine / latheChuck - Last year we took over 170 lbs of very not for eating apples and cut out the bad spots (wormholes, bruises, rotted parts) and canned huge quantities of Applesauce, Apple Pie Filling and froze lots of Apple Pudding. Until I started making my own applesauce a few years ago, I had no idea just how vile the commercial product was!

Patricia Mathews said...

JMG: Bloomberg has an article on Cumberland, MD, entitled "All the brains are moving to Boulder." Colorado, that is. College town! Yuppies! Boutique stores! My niece-in-law works there.

https://www.google.com/search?q=All+the+brains+are+moving+to+Boulder&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

Nancy Sutton said...

Regarding 'must hate/fight' the 'enemy'... I'm getting lots of emails from liberal candidates I supported...NOW the message is 'we must fight'... the word 'fight' is in every one. It's like they never heard Bernie's first speech after Trump's win... 'we will cooperate where we agree... etc.'

It looks like there is a central 'service' that is 'helping' to write these emails (typically always ending in 'donate' please)... and they are too dense to realize that 'divide and conquer' has a diversionary, weakening effect. Hmm... now who might like to 'control' the most ardent liberal folks? who's actually tried recently? could it be the DNC?

Phitio said...

Dear Mr Greer,
if Hegelian reasoning is constantly worse than a flipped coin, then it IS a good predictor.
To have the better possibilities of a "good decision" can be obtained simply by choosing the opposite suggested by it

On another side, I don't buy very much in the discordianism approach. The History itself says that we have galaxyes, stellar systems, planetar systems, and a particular palnet (between countless other similar to ours) inhabited by living organisms with a very complex structure of biology and also by human beings even more complexified, to the point that we can believe that chaos is indeed the true form of reality (and in the meantime drinking beer from a highly complex tool as a beer can) :D

Not exactluy an oozing cloud of scattered plasma of particles as at the beginning

Have a nice day

:D :D

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