Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Embarrassments of Chronocentrism

It's a curious thing, this attempt of mine to make sense of the future by understanding what’s happened in the past. One of the most curious things about it, at least to me, is the passion with which so many people insist that this isn’t an option at all. In any other context, “Well, what happened the last time someone tried that?” is one of the first and most obviously necessary questions to ask and answer—but heaven help you if you try to raise so straightforward a question about the political, economic, and social phenomena of the present day.

In previous posts here we’ve talked about thoughtstoppers of the “But it’s different this time!” variety, and some of the other means people these days use to protect themselves against the risk of learning anything useful from the hard-earned lessons of the past. This week I want to explore another, subtler method of doing the same thing. As far as I’ve been able to tell, it’s mostly an issue here in the United States, but here it’s played a remarkably pervasive role in convincing people that the only way to open a door marked PULL is to push on it long and hard enough.

It’s going to take a bit of a roundabout journey to make sense of the phenomenon I have in mind, so I’ll have to ask my readers’ forbearance for what will seem at first like several sudden changes of subject.

One of the questions I field tolerably often, when I discuss the societies that will rise after modern industrial civilization finishes its trajectory into history’s compost heap, is whether I think that consciousness evolves. I admit that until fairly recently, I was pretty much at a loss to know how to respond. It rarely took long to find out that the questioner wasn’t thinking about the intriguing theory Julian Jaynes raised in The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, the Jungian conception Erich Neumann proposed in The Origins and History of Consciousness, or anything of the same kind. Nor, it turned out, was the question usually based on the really rather weird reinterpretations of evolution common in today’s pop-spirituality scene. Rather, it was political.

It took me a certain amount of research, and some puzzled emails to friends more familiar with current left-wing political jargon than I am, to figure out what was behind these questions. Among a good-sized fraction of American leftist circles these days, it turns out it’s become a standard credo that what drives the kind of social changes supported by the left—the abolition of slavery and segregation, the extension of equal (or more than equal) rights to an assortment of disadvantaged groups, and so on—is an ongoing evolution of consciousness, in which people wake up to the fact that things they’ve considered normal and harmless are actually intolerable injustices, and so decide to stop.

Those of my readers who followed the late US presidential election may remember Hillary Clinton’s furious response to a heckler at one of her few speaking gigs:  “We aren’t going back. We’re going forward.” Underlying that outburst is the belief system I’ve just sketched out: the claim that history has a direction, that it moves in a linear fashion from worse to better, and that any given political choice—for example, which of the two most detested people in American public life is going to become the nominal head of a nation in freefall ten days from now—not only can but must be flattened out into a rigidly binary decision between “forward” and “back.”

There’s no shortage of hard questions that could be brought to bear on that way of thinking about history, and we’ll get to a few of them a little later on, but let’s start with the simplest one: does history actually show any such linear movement in terms of social change?

It so happens that I’ve recently finished a round of research bearing on exactly that question, though I wasn’t thinking of politics or the evolution of consciousness when I launched into it. Over the last few years I’ve been working on a sprawling fiction project, a seven-volume epic fantasy titled The Weird of Hali, which takes the horror fantasy of H.P. Lovecraft and stands it on its head, embracing the point of view of the tentacled horrors and multiracial cultists Lovecraft liked to use as images of dread. (The first volume, Innsmouth, is in print in a fine edition and will be out in trade paper this spring, and the second, Kingsport, is available for preorder and will be published later this year.)

One of Lovecraft’s few memorable human characters, the intrepid dream-explorer Randolph Carter, has an important role in the fourth book of my series. According to Lovecraft, Carter was a Boston writer and esthete of the1920s from a well-to-do family, who had no interest in women but a whole series of intimate (and sometimes live-in) friendships with other men, and decidedly outré tastes in interior decoration—well, I could go on. The short version is that he’s very nearly the perfect archetype of an upper-class gay man of his generation. (Whether Lovecraft intended this is a very interesting question that his biographers don’t really answer.) With an eye toward getting a good working sense of Carter’s background, I talked to a couple of gay friends, who pointed me to some friends of theirs, and that was how I ended up reading George Chauncey’s magisterial Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940.

What Chauncey documents, in great detail and with a wealth of citations from contemporary sources, is that gay men in America had substantially more freedom during the first three decades of the twentieth century than they did for a very long time thereafter. While homosexuality was illegal, the laws against it had more or less the same impact on people’s behavior that the laws against smoking marijuana had in the last few decades of the twentieth century—lots of people did it, that is, and now and then a few of them got busted. Between the beginning of the century and the coming of the Great Depression, in fact, most large American cities had a substantial gay community with its own bars, restaurants, periodicals, entertainment venues, and social events, right out there in public.

Nor did the gay male culture of early twentieth century America conform to current ideas about sexual identity, or the relationship between gay culture and social class, or—well, pretty much anything else, really. A very large number of men who had sex with other men didn’t see that as central to their identity—there were indeed men who embraced what we’d now call a gay identity, but that wasn’t the only game in town by a long shot. What’s more, sex between men was by and large more widely accepted in the working classes than it was further up the social ladder. In turn-of-the-century New York, it was the working class gay men who flaunted the camp mannerisms and the gaudy clothing; upper- and middle-class gay men such as Randolph Carter had to be much more discreet.

So what happened? Did some kind of vast right-wing conspiracy shove the ebullient gay male culture of the early twentieth century into the closet? No, and that’s one of the more elegant ironies of this entire chapter of American cultural history. The crusade against the “lavender menace” (I’m not making that phrase up, by the way) was one of the pet causes of the same Progressive movement responsible for winning women the right to vote and breaking up the fabulously corrupt machine politics of late nineteenth century America. Unpalatable as that fact is in today’s political terms, gay men and lesbians weren’t forced into the closet in the 1930s by the right.  They were driven there by the left.

This is the same Progressive movement, remember, that made Prohibition a central goal of its political agenda, and responded to the total failure of the Prohibition project by refusing to learn the lessons of failure and redirecting its attentions toward banning less popular drugs such as marijuana. That movement was also, by the way, heavily intertwined with what we now call Christian fundamentalism. Some of my readers may have heard of William Jennings Bryan, the supreme orator of the radical left in late nineteenth century America, the man whose “Cross of Gold” speech became the great rallying cry of opposition to the Republican corporate elite in the decades before the First World War.  He was also the prosecuting attorney in the equally famous Scopes Monkey Trial, responsible for pressing charges against a schoolteacher who had dared to affirm in public Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The usual response of people on today’s left to such historical details—well, other than denying or erasing them, which is of course quite common—is to insist that this proves that Bryan et al. were really right-wingers. Not so; again, we’re talking about people who put their political careers on the line to give women the vote and weaken (however temporarily) the grip of corporate money on the US political system. The politics of the Progressive era didn’t assign the same issues to the categories “left” and “right” that today’s politics do, and so all sides in the sprawling political free-for-all of that time embraced some issues that currently belong to the left, others that belong to the right, and still others that have dropped entirely out of the political conversation since then.

I could go on, but let’s veer off in another direction instead. Here’s a question for those of my readers who think they’re well acquainted with American history. The Fifteenth Amendment, which granted the right to vote to all adult men in the United States irrespective of race, was ratified in 1870. Before then, did black men have the right to vote anywhere in the US?

Most people assume as a matter of course that the answer must be no—and they’re wrong. Until the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, the question of who did and didn’t have voting rights was a matter for each state to decide for itself. Fourteen states either allowed free African-American men to vote in Colonial times or granted them that right when first organized. Later on, ten of them—Delaware in 1792, Kentucky in 1799, Maryland in 1801, New Jersey in 1807, Connecticut in 1814, New York in 1821, Rhode Island in 1822, Tennessee in 1834, North Carolina in 1835, and Pennsylvania in 1838—either denied free black men the vote or raised legal barriers that effectively kept them from voting. Four other states—Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine—gave free black men the right to vote in Colonial times and maintained that right until the Fifteenth Amendment made the whole issue moot. Those readers interested in the details can find them in The African American Electorate: A Statistical History by Hanes Walton Jr. et al., which devotes chapter 7 to the subject.

So what happened? Was there a vast right-wing conspiracy to deprive black men of the right to vote? No, and once again we’re deep in irony. The political movements that stripped free American men of African descent of their right to vote were the two great pushes for popular democracy in the early United States, the Democratic-Republican party under Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic party under Andrew Jackson. Read any detailed history of the nineteenth century United States and you’ll learn that before these two movements went to work, each state set a certain minimum level of personal wealth that citizens had to have in order to vote. Both movements forced through reforms in the voting laws, one state at a time, to remove these property requirements and give the right to vote to every adult white man in the state. What you won’t learn, unless you do some serious research, is that in many states these same reforms also stripped adult black men of their right to vote.

Try to explain this to most people on the leftward end of today’s American political spectrum, and you’ll likely end up with a world-class meltdown, because the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans and the Jacksonian Democrats, like the Progressive movement, embraced some causes that today’s leftists consider progressive, and others that they consider regressive. The notion that social change is driven by some sort of linear evolution of consciousness, in which people necessarily become “more conscious” (that is to say, conform more closely to the ideology of the contemporary American left) over time, has no room for gay-bashing Progressives and Jacksonian Democrats whose concept of democracy included a strict color bar. The difficulty, of course, is that history is full of Progressives, Jacksonian Democrats, and countless other political movements that can’t be shoehorned into the Procrustean bed of today’s political ideologies.

I could add other examples—how many people remember, for example, that environmental protection was a cause of the far right until the 1960s?—but I think the point has been made. People in the past didn’t divide up the political causes of their time into the same categories left-wing activists like to use today. It’s practically de rigueur for left-wing activists these days to insist that people in the past ought to have seen things in today’s terms rather than the terms of their own time, but that insistence just displays a bad case of chronocentrism.

Chronocentrism? Why, yes.  Most people nowadays are familiar with ethnocentrism, the insistence by members of one ethnic group that the social customs, esthetic notions, moral standards, and so on of that ethnic group are universally applicable, and that anybody who departs from those things is just plain wrong. Chronocentrism is the parallel insistence, on the part of people living in one historical period, that the social customs, esthetic notions, moral standards, and so on of that period are universally applicable, and that people in any other historical period who had different social customs, esthetic notions, moral standards, and so on should have known better.

Chronocentrism is pandemic in our time. Historians have a concept called “Whig history;” it got that moniker from a long line of English historians who belonged to the Whig, i.e., Liberal Party, and who wrote as though all of human history was to be judged according to how well it measured up to the current Liberal Party platform. Such exercises aren’t limited to politics, though; my first exposure to the concept of Whig history came via university courses in the history of science. When I took those courses—this was twenty-five years ago, mind you—historians of science were sharply divided between a majority that judged every scientific activity in every past society on the basis of how well it conformed to our ideas of science, and a minority that tried to point out just how difficult this habit made the already challenging task of understanding the ideas of past thinkers.

To my mind, the minority view in those debates was correct, but at least some of its defenders missed a crucial point. Whig history doesn’t exist to foster understanding of the past.  It exists to justify and support an ideological stance of the present. If the entire history of science is rewritten so that it’s all about how the currently accepted set of scientific theories about the universe rose to their present privileged status, that act of revision makes currently accepted theories look like the inevitable outcome of centuries of progress, rather than jerry-rigged temporary compromises kluged together to cover a mass of recalcitrant data—which, science being what it is, is normally a more accurate description.

In exactly the same sense, the claim that a certain set of social changes in the United States and other industrial countries in recent years result from the “evolution of consciousness,” unfolding on a one-way street from the ignorance of the past to a supposedly enlightened future, doesn’t help make sense of the complicated history of social change. It was never supposed to do that. Rather, it’s an attempt to backstop the legitimacy of a specific set of political agendas here and now by making them look like the inevitable outcome of the march of history. The erasure of the bits of inconvenient history I cited earlier in this essay is part and parcel of that attempt; like all linear schemes of historical change, it falsifies the past and glorifies the future in order to prop up an agenda in the present.

It needs to be remembered in this context that the word “evolution” does not mean “progress.” Evolution is adaptation to changing circumstances, and that’s all it is. When people throw around the phrases “more evolved” and “less evolved,” they’re talking nonsense, or at best engaging in a pseudoscientific way of saying “I like this” and “I don’t like that.” In biology, every organism—you, me, koalas, humpback whales, giant sequoias, pond scum, and all the rest—is equally the product of a few billion years of adaptation to the wildly changing conditions of an unstable planet, with genetic variation shoveling in diversity from one side and natural selection picking and choosing on the other. The habit of using the word “evolution” to mean “progress” is pervasive, and it’s pushed hard by the faith in progress that serves as an ersatz religion in our time, but it’s still wrong.

It’s entirely possible, in fact, to talk about the evolution of political opinion (which is of course what “consciousness” amounts to here) in strictly Darwinian terms. In every society, at every point in its history, groups of people are striving to improve the conditions of their lives by some combination of competition and cooperation with other groups. The causes, issues, and rallying cries that each group uses will vary from time to time as conditions change, and so will the relationships between groups—thus it was to the advantage of affluent liberals of the Progressive era to destroy the thriving gay culture of urban America, just as it was to the advantage of affluent liberals of the late twentieth century to turn around and support the struggle of gay people for civil rights. That’s the way evolution works in the real world, after all.

This sort of thinking doesn’t offer the kind of ideological support that activists of various kinds are used to extracting from various linear schemes of history. On the other hand, that difficulty is more than balanced by a significant benefit, which is that linear predictions inevitably fail, and so by and large do movements based on them. The people who agreed enthusiastically with Hillary Clinton’s insistence that “we aren’t going back, we’re going forward” are still trying to cope with the hard fact that their political agenda will be wandering in the wilderness for at least the next four years. Those who convince themselves that their cause is the wave of the future are constantly being surprised by the embarrassing discovery that waves inevitably break and roll back out to sea. It’s those who remember that history plays no favorites who have a chance of accomplishing their goals.


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caroline said...

Hi! I've been reading this blog for years and have never posted. I am a gay person who has studied gay history but had never encountered this idea that Progressives were responsible for destroying gay culture. I think this is entirely plausible but am curious about what you see as the contributing factors to this. Is it covered in the book you mentioned? If not, what did you learn that supports this idea: "thus it was to the advantage of affluent liberals of the Progressive era to destroy the thriving gay culture of urban America." I'm very interested in this, so anything you have to say to unpack this will be helpful!

Lawfish1964 said...

The principle that evolution is not synonymous with progress is a great insight. The planet is indifferent to what species, if any, are to inhabit it. Climate change has always been a given on this planet. Therefore, species have a constant need to adapt to a changing environment. Failure to adapt in time leads to extinction (just ask the saber-toothed cat, mastodon and giant ground sloth, which all went extinct as the last ice age came to an end).

I hear comments frequently from the doomosphere that we as humans are ruining the planet and will make all life extinct as a result. No doubt many extinctions will occur, but there will also be many species which adapt and therefore thrive under the changed conditions. As one dominant species loses its edge, a lesser species, better adapted to the new environment is poised to replace it.

As you have expressed in your past writings, the universe (and this planet) are utterly indifferent to us. If we go extinct, we go extinct, period. Same goes for every other species on the planet.

O. Hinds said...

Oh. I knew that that view of evolution existed but not that it was so common; in what I recognize as an irony, I thought that people had been educated out of it. Thanks for bearing the bad news.

To quote (a character written by) Peter Watts, "There's no such thing as [i]survival of the fittest. Survival of the most adequate[/i], maybe. It doesn't matter whether a solution's optimal. All that matters is whether it beats the alternatives."
(Though I'd either misremembered the quote as "survival of the least inadequate" or remembered reading that somewhere else in his writings.)

Jill N said...

It seems to me that we are all to some extent prisoners of our own time and place. If we realise this we have a chance of understanding that we are not necessarily right just of that opinion. As we go through life (i.e. age) our opinions should change as we understand things differently. Unfortunately changing our opinion is something to be accused of rather than accepted.
I dislike the terms right wing and left wing. These arose at the time of the French Revolution and we are a bit after that and I am not a hen and have no wings. It is just a lazy way of looking at someone else's ideas and categorising them.
We certainly don't have to agree on anything but in a society we do need to be polite to, and accepting of, each other.

Ezra Buonopane said...

This was a very timely essay, considering the left's slack-jawed shock and incomprehension in response to the recent electoral outcome.

About a year ago, during a conversation about the election, I had a friend tell me outright that "politics gets more liberal as history progresses". I responded by telling him that if that's true, than history must have been moving in reverse for the past few decades, given how "conservative" free market economic ideas have moved from the fringe to the center of political conversation during that time. He looked at me strangely and replied that people were "less racist and sexist than back then", which is admittedly true, but just goes to show how recent the current combinations of positions on issues that make up the agendas of the left and right are.

I never knew that it was the Progressive Movement who pushed the gay community of the early 20th century into hiding, or that the early Democrats deprived black men of the right to vote a century before that, but I am not surprised that those aspects of our history have been deliberately ignored!

Hubertus Hauger said...

I guess, that such narrow-mindedness has quite some evolutionary advantage. May help setting egocentric standpoints as the ruler for the heavens and beyond.

Here I speculate, that this boastfulness is serving the purpose, to push ones mindset over others so as to influence as much people as possible.

Also I reckon, it is more economical, the ease the burden of having to collect knowledge and experience. There is only limited space which the brain offers. Yes. one could fact collecting that “jerry-rigged temporary compromises kluged together to cover a mass of recalcitrant data”! Better one does concentrate on simple but catching ideas. Henceforth one may catch more people with it too. Supposedly an evolutionary advantage that is, in order to gathering people under ones ideological umbrella more easily.

I am rather astonished, that considered our human attitude to be favourably catched by flashy feisty shows, sometimes a bandwidth of knowledge still gets enduring attention too. So hope remains.

However I am convinced, that a human is rather beguiled than educated. Narrow-mindedness is in our nature. Not to consider our imbecility may significantly doom educational efforts towards failure.

zaphod42 said...

Interesting perspective, as always. Shared this one with friends.

Something to consider in considering the "evolution" of history is that history is written by the victors, whether of wars or politics. Whenever I go on a quest of that sort, I keep my BS-ometer handy, and try to find as much contrary material as possible. Even then our penchant to self delusionary insights lends support to those 'facts' that comport with our prejudices.



Erick Lavoie said...

The evolution of consciousness to me is more associated to the development of empathy: namely of considering points of view ever further from one individual self-interest to include an ever wider group of people, animals, plants, and other living beings.

According to that point of view, one individual or group might voluntarily forego some privileges in order to make others enjoy a richer, stable, fuller life than what that had been offered due to their particular initial circumstances.

It might have no immediate benefit to the individual or group doing it but may still be undertaken out of care for a more durable, stable, safe, and rich society.

My donkey said...

I've read elsewhere that humans are apt to be nicer to each other in times of plenty, and less nice in times of scarcity, so that current attributes such as politeness, fairness, and political correctness are likely to diminish or disappear in a deindustrial future among people whose basic needs of food and shelter are at risk.

What does history say? Were people less polite or less politically correct before the industrial revolution? Was it easier to distinguish behavior motivated by survival versus ideology back then?

Troy Jones said...

Ha, great essay; you stepped on some toes with this one. I predict based on my linear model of history that this post will break 300 comments. ;)

It never ceases to amaze me how little most people, whether on the left, right, or center, know about even very basic facts of history. I have used the term "Whig history" before with friends in casual conversation, e.g. Troy, why don't you like "The Man Without a Country"!?, to which I answer, it's sappy Whig history. But 99% of the time I then have to explain what a Whig was, and what Whig history is, and why Whig history is bad. (And yes, I do realize that the term "Whig history" does not directly relate to the U.S. Whig party). Few people have even heard of Whigs it seems. I suppose I could say "teleological paradigm of history", but that just doesn't roll off the tongue quite so beautifully.

It's a pity the term is not more widespread. There is a delicious irony in the Whigs' view that they were the culmination of history, yet today Whigs are not a thing. Francis Fukuyama was not a Whig, but his infamous End of History book was Whig history of the highest order.

Juhana said...

I just finished reading Spengler's "Der Mensch unde die Technik". I would probably call it as complementary annex for his visionary work "Der Untergang des Abendlandes". It describes Spengler's visions about prehistory and predicts, in 1931, disappearance of industrial work from Europe and US, into the Third World. Speaking about precise predictions, there is one!

Spengler's vision about civilizations as flowers in meadow, each living their life only for themselves before withering and dissapearing, and each of them almost totally uncapable to learn from other civilizations, is so much closer to what we actually witness happening in history than this linear idea of progress.

There is excellent, may I say seminal, analysis of Spengler by Finnish historian and philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright. He brings into equation his idea of "bundle of codirectional motives", taking Spenglerian analysis a bit away from it's almost biological form. He uses as one example of this kind "fasces" how church architecture, music meant to be played in those churches and scientific sound wave theory were originally seen as sides of same phenomenon. And it was truly so. Scientific idea of sound waves was originally introduced by Descartes in his "Compendium musicae", and he sees scientific theory of sound as inalienable part of same spiritual quest for "holiness in empty space" as church architecture and church music, which it was meant to serve. Anyone who has truly seen baroque churches knows this is true, intuitively. They are spaces meant to rise into infinity of space, and theory of music and sound born from that theory are just spiritual techniques to serve communal experience of that mystery.

So in summertime of Faustian culture, motivations for spirituality, practical applications of science and science itself were not separate, but one. Faustian longing "to harness the Nature" was very much spiritual quest back then. Examples abound. Only after this strong "fasces" of codirectional motives scattered into separate, and partly mutually exclusive, strands starts the fossilization and decay of Faustian soul. The culture changes into civilization. Von Wright has also read his Nikolai Danilevski, who wrote "Rusija i Evropa", first book intoducing historical cycle theory into Western (?) thinking, in 1869. Spengler has obviously read Danilevski also, many oh his ideas about future Russian civilization are derived from Danilevski, who was hard core panslavist. His book, this "Rusija i Evropa", is oddly Spenglerian long before Oswald himself put pen on paper. I recommend Danilevski warmly for you. He thinks that form of world history is circular. He also represents this group of naturist, almost poetic, historians from Russia that flourished there before Revolution, and who really don't buy idea of linear progress. Orthodox mysticism blends seamlessly into precise scientific methodology, phenomenon not often repeated in Anglosphere history writing. Meyer, one of the great historians, mentions also him in "Zur Theorie und Methodik der Geschicthe", and indicates interest at his ideas at early date (1902). So this cycle theory has long roots, and strong support base, in Europe, but not in Anglosphere. Impact of India and very weirder forms of Buddhism in southern flank of Russian Empire are evident, and German connection to that sub-continent has been long and cast many shadows.

Glenn said...


Off topic, but in response to your request for books on ships and sailing in the previous comments. I posted there, but about then both Blogger and my computer started acting strange, so I don't know if it got through. So a repeat.

For technical aspects, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's primer on how to sail the Barque EAGLE, "A Manual for Square-Rigger Sailing" by Edwin H. Daniels, 4th edition, Naval Institute Press is quite good.

The Australian, Alan Villiers, who documented the last days of the square riggers by sailing on them while writing and filming, wrote over 40 books. "Falmouth for Orders" and "By Way of Cape Horn" might be the most useful for you. My favourite line though, is in "Sons of Sinbad" when he expresses doubts about crossing the ocean in an ancient Dhow with an even more ancient uncorrected dry-card compass as the sole navigational aid. The Master assures him "It is only to Zanzibar, and I have been there before and know the way"

"Cruise of the Cachalot" by Frank T. Bullen, while about a whaling cruise, is an excellent source for ship board life in the second half of the 19th century. Bullen is also an excellent story teller. The chapter involving "Paddy and the Chance" versus the U.S. Whalers in New Zealand is great. I'd sail with Paddy and his Maori in-laws in a heartbeat.

And of course, Joseph Conrad. I'd suggest any of his short stories involving sailing. "Youth" would be good. Incidentally, the movie "The Duellists" is based on a short story of his. One of the few times I've found the movie to be superior to the original; Ridley Scott fleshed out the story nicely without excessive padding.

For general boat information, "Skiffs and Schooners" by Pete Culler, while concentrating on boat building and small boats, is invaluable. I can critique his designs all day, but his philosophy is hard to beat. As a Burkean conservative, you may appreciate it.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

MichaelK said...

This is very interesting stuff. Though many 'progressives' would label it... 'pessimistic' because you are calling into question some of the fundamental 'religious' dogmas of our age, the most important being linear progress, upwards and onwards towards some Utopia which is always just out of reach; itself.

This is typified by the progressives, of both the left and right, who explain the rise of Trump as a disaster for the cause of progress and a lurch backwards in time towards something close to a fascist dark ages a place where even the sun won't shine like it used to. We're all gonna be living under a darker sun and shivering together.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for the corrections. Fascinating! I never quite understood prohibition, no doubt it would have done wonders for my income though! ;-)! Well that also goes to show that: with benefits for some, come costs to others and ugly compromises are a part of our politics. It is a shame that people forget that and don't want to accept that - I suspect that people fail to understand systems (don't mention the solar!). Hehe!

I've rather suspected for a while that the political ideologies are trying to capture a flavour or emotion and so they can identify with that and then go on and do whatever disreputable chunk of business that they are paid to do. Note that I didn't say who was doing the paying! By all accounts, politicians come cheap.



ZombieLord said...

Yup : I had a bit of a shock recently when I was reviewing some literature on prokaryotic versus eukaryotic life. Prokaryotic cells are not "primitive" - they are exactly evolved and will change rapidly to meet any changes in the chemical environment that they live in. In comparison, eukaryotic life is complex with many sub-structures and it stores several orders of magnitude more protein synthesis information in it's DNA. It was a huge shock for me recently to realize that a lot of this extra DNA is literally baggage from the past that eukaryotic life keeps just in case it needs it again. So your comments about "evolution" are highly synchonistic with something in the air right now.

Peter VE said...

I attend an ongoing class on Reimagining Religion at my local UU church. We study the various currents in Christianity, trying to deal with its decline into in irrelevance over the past century. The class is lead by a member of the Westar Institute (The Jesus Seminar). We're currently discussing The God Problem by Nigel Leaves, a survey of a number of Christian thinkers on how to debate about the existence of God, in contrast to the fundamentalist insistence on defending God at all costs.

I was struck by one line: “ The necessity of evangelism is replaced by “post-theistic universalism”, whereby the tribalism of the past fades into oblivion” ( p. 30, The God Problem, Polebridge Press, © 2006). I protested that I could see little evidence of the decline of tribalism, and we had several hot minutes where most of the room were definitely on the side of the religion of progress, while I tried to refer to history and the cycles written about by Toynbee. After discussion, some began to accept my contention that we are all a part of many tribes, and that those tribes can have differing, even contradictory, ideologies or theologies.

Seeing that the class is in a Unitarian Church, there is a great density of believers in the Religion of Progress in the community. There's been a lot of gnashing of teeth, rending of garments and loud wailing about the events of the recent election. However, one of my fellow classmates was just evicted from her longtime position as coordinator of the local Amnesty International chapter. She was told: "Amnesty member leaders are not free to dissent from Amnesty's policies and positions while identifying themselves as Amnesty volunteer leaders." I suspect she's no longer as strong a devotee of the religion of progress.

Sven Eriksen said...

Another meme bites the dust ;-)

whomever said...

An excellent article, and I think it applies to everywhere, not just the US. See how free trade gets switched back and forth between the right and the left. Hawley and Smoot were both Republicans, and opposition to the 19th century UK Corn Laws was a left wing thing to do.

In fact, the very term liberal is a perfect example: In Australia, the Liberal party is the conservative one, having retained the 19th century meaning of the term. In the US, meanwhile, sometime circa 1970 it became a meaningless snarl term used by the right. And now, the phrase "neoliberal" and "neoliberal consensus" have in term become snarl terms of the left for people who are in favor of the status quo (often against people who aren't quite as left wing as they are). In the UK the "Liberal Democrats" are centrists who are the vestiges of the old Whigs. So at this point the term means everything and nothing.

Bob said...

I have heard of the Dixiecrats and their good deeds. How times change (or not, if we use musical chairs as a metaphor).

In your replies to comments on a previous essay, you use the term "left" because that is the label these people use. I don't consider them "left" by my definition, which is shaped by my nationality, which is Canadian. I grew up in a different culture.

Chronological chauvinism is a thing, as is the periodic griping of older generations towards the newer ones. It's another cognitive bias to be kept in mind, or on a checklist for easy reference.

Rags-to-riches-to-rags stories are not limited to individuals. Unless science pulls a series of rabbits out of the magic hat, I'm betting that the next trick will involve rags. I hope they will be colourful.

whomever said...

Cherokee Organics: Actually Prohibition in an Australian context is an interesting subject. You may want to check out the history of section 113 of the Australian constitution, and the worries that SA in particular would go wowser. See also the 1925 WA referendum. Realistically it was never going to happen in Oz due to cultural differences from the US (significantly less religion for starters), but there were definitely people pushing it.

Nachtgurke said...


Liked this one very much, almost as much as your essay about deep time...
Progress vs. evolution, growth vs. prosperity, maybe, a little more anthropocentric, having vs. being... (a must read, in my opinion: To Have or to Be by Erich Fromm)

Seems very much like the essence of all our problems as well as of all possible solutions...

Thanks a lot for another eye-opener!

Scotlyn said...

Thanks for this.

For activists, there is a paradoxical aspect to this idea of social progress, which is this: if you currently do not feel well served by the status quo, an orthodox "progressive" may very well enjoin you to wait patiently, instead of undertaking effective political action. History is surely obliged to deliver increased justice as time passes, your own sense of urgency notwithstanding.

This wee twist on the theme of inevitable progress, was the reason Martin Luther King Jr had to write his book "Why We Can't Wait" and why in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" he expresses such disappointment in the indifferent support of white "progressives" who assumed all would be well if black people could just be patient & let history do its thing without effort on their part.

Scotlyn said...

@Chris I struggled to understand prohibition, too, and especially because the temperance movement was almost entirely driven by women, and of course, turned out to be counterproductive in the extreme.

But when I considered it through the lens of "interests" it actually makes perfect sense. On the one hand you had an economic system that was driving production away from the home - cutting women out of their traditional domestic productive domains - brewing, food production, weaving, textiles, etc. All of these productive enterprises were being squeezed out of the domestic sphere and the skilled control of women and co-opted into the public, economic sphere from which women were then barred.

A woman still had a family to feed and a household to run, but less and less access to the means to do so without relying heavily on the wage a husband could bring home... WHEN he brought it home, IF he brought it home, and IF the publican didn't take too big a chunk of it first.

I think, at that historical moment, women had been backed into a corner and were fighting a pitched battle with publicans for a big enough share of their husband's wages to keep the family fed and clothed.

Circumstances have changed again, and so now the battle lines are elsewhere. And where you find them drawn becomes clearer when you look at interests at play. H/t JMG

temporaryreality (Wendy) said...

A timely essay. I'm about 200 pages into The Coming Fury and it didn't take long to recognize that current notions of what a Democrat or Republican might stand for needed to be relaxed if I wished to follow the narrative and comprehend the trends of that time.

Anymore I feel like I'm in a strange no-man's land - I can neither bear to follow the thoughts (and opinions and posts) of my (former?) peers with whom I attended college and who take pride in their "progressive-ness" and certainty/inevitability provided by evolution in their hoped for direction... but nor do I align myself with their (perceived) opposites. Wanting to neither go forward nor backward, I am becoming curmudgeonly, perhaps. I don't want to align myself anywhere or with anyone. I don't want to hear all the moaning and complaining about "those people" from any side.

Head-in-sand disorder or is this just the inevitable result of refusing to engage in binary thinking? Left? Right? Those terms are losing sense to me. Or does this just make me one of those (despised-by-youth) middle-aged former liberal turned conservative status-quo seekers?

I think this is why I appreciated your "long view" pieces so much (geological time, the fate of the solar system, etc) and found them actually reassuring.

Larry Hill said...

Brilliant as always! I must say as a Canadian I wonder what's happening to your country. It's as if no one in the mainstream media has any critical ability to analyse events any more. A current example is this idea of the Russians "hacking" the election. They certainly may have but aren't we ignoring the hundred or more years that the USA has meddled in elections around the world. It's almost funny! What's lost in the fury raised is what the emails that were found contained....totally lost. I despair......

Tower 440 said...

Greetings to the assembled Wizardren!
The Spring joint meeting of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 will be held at 12:30 PM on Saturday, March 18, 2017. Our location is Ruko’s Family Restaurant, 9385 Mentor Avenue, Mentor, Ohio 44060, (440) 974-1914. Shining the Green Light! Public Welcome! Tables for Failed Scholars. Look for the table topper with the Green Wizard Hat. Contact us at
Our speaker will be Green Wizard Gene Ainsworth, the first member of Tower 440 to travel with a GWB&PA issued “passport.” (Email us for the template.) Gene will report on his People to People trip to Cuba, particularly his research and interviews with the Cuban People to learn about how they have coped with the difficulties, of the electrical grid, lack of utilities and refrigeration.
Many thanks to John for the posting space on his blog.

Bill Pulliam said...

Let's not forget that the late 19th and early 20th century gay male society considered male-male love to be Uranian, meaning celestial and superior to the mundane male-female variety. And alas my favorite quip from that era probably does not quite fit the content guidelines of this blog, essentially stating that "If God had intended men to have sex with each other he would have..." well, lets just say he would have equipped them anatomically in exactly the way men are indeed equipped.

These shiftings and reversals of attitudes and progress and what not should hardly be a mystery to anyone who, like me, was born in the South in the mid 20th Century. When I was a child the white supremacists were Democrats, and had been for as long as anyone could remember. In the late 1960s and especially into the 1970s as the racism was rejected by and faded within the Democrats, I optimistically believed that this meant it was fading from society as a whole. But it turns out it was just migrating to the Republicans. Note that I am not saying that all Republicans in the South are recists, just as not all Democrats in the earlier decades were racists. But if you find an Old School racist in the South today, he votes Republican unless he is over 80 (or more likely, over 90). And many of these Old School racists are relatively recent arrivals from other regions of the country, interestingly.

My question is, is this new? Is this a feature of the 20th and 21st Centuries, or is it actually much older? I suspect it is older, perhaps dating back to the Renaissance?

It also seems to me that a belief in the progression of society towards a more godly space is also widespread among American Christians now, Evangelicals and Mainlines. I know this certainly has not always been the belief among Christians, many of whom in earlier times believed the world was irredemably fallen. Some still do believe this, but it seems a pretty minority view among American Christians now, "left" or "right."

Brian Kaller said...


I recall my fascination discovering that government jobs and sports teams were desegregated after the Civil War, and were re-segregated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In his book "Lies Across America," James Loewen points out that many Confederate memorials were built decades after the Civil War, in places that were not pro-Confederate then, but are now.

Also, My Donkey, older people here maintain that the Irish got selfish and reclusive after the economic boom, and crime statistics back them up. It may be different where you are.

pygmycory said...

A very interesting post this week. I'd noticed some of what you mentioned, but not all the details.

Carlos M. said...

The insight that "evolution" =/= "progress" is a very important one. It is quite ironic how progressives reflexively label their opponents as "reactionaries", when it is easily demonstrable from distant and recent history that they are just as reactive to the circumstances. You know how "evolved" American progressives have become when big businesses jumped on boutique identity politics issues such as transgenderism. Progressives, naturally, they took this as a sign that history is on their side. Having thrown their traditional working-class constituencies under the bus, dismissing them as backward rubes, they've become blind to the way they've sold out to the elite how they're being co-opted in turn.

Cortes said...

The quotation provided by O. Hinds about "survival of the fittest" demonstrates that language, in its evolution, doesn't always change for the better. The original sense of the phrase was "survival of the best adapted" and not necessarily of the most athletic or beautiful.

As for history, pendulum swings seem characteristic of most societies it seems to me. Whether Cato the Elder combatting Hellenisation as Rome's Empire waxed or John Major conjuring up nostalgic images of a mythical semi rural England in his "Back to Basics" campaign or President-elect Trump and his Make America Great Again slogan, the notion that the future is always progressive runs in tandem with the idea that things used to be better. And some societies decide that further progress will be detrimental - see "15th Century " China and its deliberate end to oceanic exploration- to good order. Gavin Menzies's book on the subject is worth a read.

John Michael Greer said...

Caroline, you should certainly start with the book I cited, and then do the necessary research (easy enough via the internet) to find out what other causes were supported by the political figures involved in anti-gay legislation in the 1930s. Chauncey didn't draw the specific connections with the Progressive movement I noted -- I suspect he realized he was already going to stir up a firestorm with the material he pretty much had to include, and decided not to add buckets of kerosene to the flames by pointing out the political alignment of the anti-gay forces.

Lawfish, exactly. If people can simply get over the delusion that progress is a law of nature, it'll be much easier for our species to make the most of whatever time we've still got left on this planet.

O. Hinds, I like "survival of the least inadequate"! Still, to judge by the evidence of paleontology, it's apparently more like "survival of those who happen to blunder into the right place at the right time." I need to do a post here on the lessons taught by glacial refugia during the Ice Age.

Jill, I use the labels "left" and "right" because many of the people I'm talking about use them for themselves. If you don't, why, that's your choice, of course.

Ezra, exactly. I'd also point out that the phrase "people are less racist and sexist now" is true only in a nuanced sense, and given very specific definitions of racism and sexism. There are also other bigotries -- for example, class prejudice -- that have become far more pervasive among the same classes that pride themselves on how they've supposedly outgrown racism and sexism.

Hubertus, all in all, it's about what you can expect from a bunch of social primates who've learned a few clever tricks!

Zaphod, and of course there's that! As Sarah Cleghorn wrote:

"The unfit die; the fit both live and thrive.
Alas, who says so? They who do survive."

Erick, and yet history does not show any such overall trend over time. Rather, it shows that different groups of people expand and contract the circles of people and other beings to which they extend empathy, depending on circumstances.

Donkey, those are valid questions. The answer by and large is "it varies." To the extent that it's possible to generalize, people are nicer to one another when they perceive abundance by the standards of their time -- so that, for example, people in the Middle Ages could feel overwhelmed with prosperity and very eager to share their good fortune when their wealth was objectively way below what we consider destitution today.

Shane W said...

it wasn't until Reconstruction that a lot of the border states realized the true nature of the industrial Yankee North, and truly regretted sitting on the fence and not joining their sister Southern states. The deep shame states like KY bear for not having seceded and turned the tide for the South is, in some ways, greater than the shame the Confederate states bore for losing the war, and why we are determined not to make that mistake the next time around.

John Michael Greer said...

Troy, it might be necessary to come up with another moniker for Whig history, since so many people these days wouldn't know a Whig if one landed on their heads. Hmm...

Juhana, I need to pick up Man and Technics sometime soon. One note, though -- Danilevski wasn't the first person to introduce cyclic history to Europe; that honor belongs to Giambattista Vico, who got there a century and a half earlier.

Glenn, thank you! The ship in question is the three-masted barque Miskatonic, and will be sailing from Kingsport, MA to the eastern coast of Greenland and back, so the sources you've suggested will be highly relevant.

MichaelK, good. It's crucial to recognize that faith in progress, whether it takes a political or a technological form, is a religious belief in secular drag -- and the people who cling to it are facing the same kind of disappointment as, say, the folks who spent December 21, 2012 waiting for something or other to happen.

Cherokee, that seems like a good general assessment! As for Prohibition, though, that was part and parcel of the Progressive notion that the world could be made a better place if only people were forced by law to do whatever Progressive intellectuals thought was good for them. It's a very American sort of delusion, which is why Prohibition never caught on anywhere else.

ZombieLord, exactly. I think it's mostly that the realities of evolution are very slowly bringing themselves to our attention in the teeth of the frantic modern belief in progress.

Peter VE, "the tribalism of the past fades into oblivion." I like that. It's a common fantasy of affluent intellectuals, who convince themselves that their cultural bubble embraces the whole world. What they don't realize, until the fact slams into their faces, is that the fading of the tribalism of the past simply makes room for the tribalism of the future.

Sven, I like to line 'em up and mow 'em down. ;-)

Whomever, that's a very good point. I still use the term "liberal" from time to time, but only of those who use the label for themselves.

Bob, oh, I think the rags will be very colorful indeed. I just hope the color of fresh blood isn't too frequent a part of the ensemble.

Nachtgurke, you're most welcome!

Scotlyn, hmm! That's a very good point, and relevant to next week's post. Thank you.

pygmycory said...

temporaryreality (Wendy)
I'm also feeling a bit lost politically. I'm not really happy with any of my options in the coming BC elections, although some are definitely bad enough I won't be voting for them. ie. the BC liberals are definitely out given their support for every ill-planned energy project that crosses their desks.

I feel like I'm not perceiving the same world as most of those around me, especially those who are politically active. I still want a lot of what the green party and NDP claim to want, but I don't see some of it as possible. I also strongly suspect a lot of what I want most would fail to happen if the NDP got into power.

Anyway, you have my sympathy.

anonymous said...

Another rich irony I would like to add, Mr. Greer, is that the point that any political or social opinion that seeks to assert its dominance over any other one, regardless of how progressive in theory one may claim it to be, automatically becomes a disciplinary one, and, therefore, a repressive one is essential to the thought of the darling of the identity politik pseudo-left: Michel Foucault. Furthermore, he, for whatever else one may take issue with in his writing, wisely pointed out that history owed us no favors-- and certainly did not observe any obligation to make human lives or sensibilities more tolerable or just. Indeed, to him, all actions and subjects were contingent, categorically, upon their vector in space time, their physical environment, and their culture-- in that order. I hope there is more of a space for human agency, but maybe I am naïve.

So, I always find it interesting when my fashionably liberal friends and interlocutors go on and on about gender performativity then segue into some sort of incoherent rhapsody about any number of ideas that would fall under the umbrella of the evolution of consciousness. One wonders, to piggy back off of what you discovered about the history of American men who have sex with men, how the status of women in the red army, or the expansion of rights for Jews and women under Robespierre, jibes with what I can only conclude is a theory of an inexorable march toward some theoretically progressive Xanadu where everyone has the sense to be born rich and attend Byn Mawr.

John Michael Greer said...

Wendy, from my perspective, what's happening is that you're breaking out of a dysfunctional conventional wisdom and realizing that both sides of the failed political binary of our time are pushing disastrously wrongheaded agendas. One of the few things that could help pull this country out of its current power dive is for more people to start disbelieving in both sides, and look for third, fourth, fifth (etc.) options. Thus your comment has given me some degree of hope, for which thank you.

Larry, the chattering classes here in the US are having a collective nervous breakdown. Some of them will get over it in time, and the others will be replaced. In the meantime, no question, it's colorful.

Bill, as far as I can tell, it goes back to the beginnings of organized party politics. Watch the way that the aristocratic and popular parties in ancient Greek city-states grabbed onto this or that pet cause; it all sounds very familiar!

Brian, yep. Ulysses Grant, a Republican president, desegregated the US civil service, and Woodrow Wilson, a Democratic president, resegregated it. No, you won't read about that in most history books!

Pygmycory, you're welcome. ;-)

Carlos, exactly. I'll be talking about that next week.

Cortes, yes, and you'll notice that China came through the age of European empire in much better shape than most non-European civilizations. Japan's slightly later decision to close its borders and reorient its economy to domestic production was a similarly successful gambit. Sometimes going back is the best way to move forward!

John Michael Greer said...

Anonymous, nicely stated, and to my mind unarguable. As for the space available for human agency, to my mind, that functions almost entirely on the level of the individual; the further away from individual action you get, the more tautly things are constrained by impersonal forces. But that's one archdruid's opinion...

Pinku-Sensei said...

Your observations about how the party of Andrew Jackson extended the franchise to nearly all white men but restricted it for African Americans reminded me of my experience editing a book on American political cycles by Michael Alexander (I mentioned his work on historical cycles before in comments two years ago). He determined those cycles by scoring historical events as either liberal or conservative, using the criterion of a liberal event as benefiting the average person, while a conservative event protects and supports the already rich and powerful. I was shocked to find that Alexander had scored the removal of Native Americans from the eastern United States as a liberal action. Today, that would be considered racist and definitely not a liberal thing to do. Michael defended his reasoning by saying it was a land redistribution scheme to take land from non-citizens (or a foreign nation, which Native American tribes technically are) and give it to citizens. That benefited the time's conception of "the average person." According to his criteria, it was a liberal event, even if it wouldn't be seen as one today. As his editor, I accepted his reasoning, even if I wasn't happy about it.

On a related note, the annual fund-raising social events of state and local Democratic parties are commonly called Jefferson-Jackson Dinners. Because of the conflict between the acceptance of racial diversity and equality by the current Democratic and the racism of both of the party's founders, there is a movement to change the name of these dinners to something more reflective of the modern party. One suggestion has been to call them FDR-Kennedy dinners. Not a lot of progress has been made in this direction; tradition is a powerful thing.

Jay Moses said...

eloquent as always, martin luther king, jr. stated this mistaken belief: "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice". the counter examples you cite could be multiplied many times over. how many liberals today recall that gun control as we understand that term, originated in the south in the post civil war era to keep freedmen defenseless? it is also amusing to note that, post the trump election, the left is looking at federalism (a/k/a states rights) in a whole new and more favorable light.
this belief that history has a direction, one that generally accords with the preferences of the observer, i believe is just one more example of the prevailing religion of our times. as tech fans are always sure that new technology will always improve our lives, fans of the arc of history are convinced that the future will prove the rightness of their political and economic opinions. they are as unswerving in their beliefs as ant fundamentalist. it's ultimately a thought and discussion killer. after all, you can't fight history and your arms are too short to box with god.

Matt Heins said...

Very interesting.

And certainly timely, as others have mentioned.

I've long advocated for the general suite of social democratic policies modified by what we might as well leave vaguely labeled Americanism (think Scandinavia via Minnesota-Wisconsin-UP plus old-school British Labour, modified by whatever the right must have). The reason I do so is because it is my opinion that given the political, social, and economic situations in both our empire and internationally this is simply the best course forward (non-Church of Progress sense).

This has placed me more or less in the camp of the so-called progressive left for most of my adult life (when I was young I was a real revolutionist). This past year has been something between an eye-opener and a Kafka-esque nightmare from this position, and now threatens to fall apart into complete frothing surreality with this bizarre Red-baiting of not-Red-anymore Russians from the supposed left.

What has been revealed is that very many, perhaps the majority, of the folks in the progressive left camp with me weren't there because their travels in Europe and reading of history had led them to the conclusion that Americanized Social Democracy was the practical solution for our times, as I was. No. They have made clear (though not necessarily to themselves, whose clarity on any matter I begin to doubt) that they were there for rather different, rather strange, and, quite possibly, rather dark, reasons.

So thanks for the thoughts from your perspective, which is substantially different from my own. Definitely something here.

Question: You have discussed what I call the Church of Progress quite extensively over the years, what would you say to the notion that "Progress" has become the sort of meme that both excludes other definitions of that word and attracts people and thoughts that adhere only to one definition of it? What I am thinking of is that the sort of progress one makes in completing a hike, or fixing a car, or optimizing a business or government to current and anticipated near-future circumstances is different from the linear progress towards Heaven/Outer Space/Utopia that the Church of Progress promotes. Until the last few months, I would have sworn most people in the progressive left camp were with me in adhering to the former, pragmatic, definition. Now, it seems that I was very, very wrong, and that the piercing of the false utopian dream is inducing what I can only call madness.

Barrabas said...

Just finished reading Alexander Dugins "fourth political theory" in which he offers an amazing analysis of our post modern late capitalist system from the outside. He points out through Heidegger that post modernism is effectively totalitarian in its negation of time which he calls "chronicide". Our Kronos oriented system devouring its children through total liberalism , pedophilia , the destruction of the past and the future via the hijacking of the present . Vladimir Putin supported this view in a recent speech

I guess a sort of debased and demonic west world style transhumanism is next on the neo liberal wish list . Unfortunately all sides of our dedunct democracy are captured by the post modern liberalism . Trump is no Edmund Burke. The system we have is of Nietzsxhes "Antichrist" , and West World Cyborgia does indeed feature the eternal return . Institutionalised disembodiment . Interestingly , Dugin proposes a conservative system of goddess based "chaosophia" using Heideggers "Dasein " , religion and nature to those unwilling to wallow in the abyss .

LewisLucanBooks said...

Dear Mr. Greer, et all - Every time "consciousness evolving" comes up in conversation or something I read, I always think (tongue firmly in cheek) "Oh, yeah. Some kind of 'great awakening.'" It has always felt, to me, to taste a bit of the quackish end of the New Age movement.

But the reason I signed on to comment was that I ran across something today, that does not apply to this post ... but does apply to this blog. An article "Is An Economic Oil Crash Around the Corner?"

Apparently, HSBC (I had to look it up ... HongKong and Shanghai Banking Corporation ... Limited. The seventh biggest bank in the world) has sent out a report to it's shareholders about an upcoming oil crash. The article is pretty interesting, and a link to the actual report is provided about 5 paragraphs down. Lew

W. B. Jorgenson said...

I was going to post this anyway, as it seems relevant for the blog, also I figure it'll get a laugh from some people. JMG, my apologies if it kills the hope you just developed...

I want to emphasize, Carleton is a reputable, decently prestigious university here in Canada. For those who don't want to follow the link, one of the presentations is called, "There’s an App for That?: Imagining a Canadian Future Free from Sexual and Racial Violence through Speculative Design".

Keith Huddleston said...

I was a debate coach up until last year, so I have a "privileged" window into the mind-set of the young "left" (it wasn't much of a privileged, let me tell you).

While I agree with both your assessment of chrono-centrism and know that it could could cause a "progressive" to have a conniption to hear about it, I am confident you the examples of Jackson and Jefferson wouldn't invoke it.

We were debating a topic to remove Jackson from the $20 and no one could come with any good thing Jackson had ever done. I tried to explain how important the democratic (little d) revolution was, but they wouldn't buy it. . . literally no one would debate that he shouldn't be removed completely.

As to Jefferson, he is as much a persona non grata to our young leftist. Slave owner, etc. The musical Hamilton only seals the deal. The Federalist are the real heroes of the time period. This aint your grandaddy's Democratic Party or Progressive Movement. They are hermetically sealed from their history.

But it's still worth throwing them into hysterics. . . For the youth, I am going to stick to talking about the principal of chrono-centrism in the abstract (come to think of it, doing anything other than effusively praising them tends to get them close to breaking down *sigh* snowflakes)

Then if I need back-up I'll go to the developments for urban gay men.

Repent said...

I get from reading your essay, is that you are talking about the 'evolution' of MASS consciousness. This is something very different from those in the New Age community, where the pursuit of enlightenment, or non-duality is a very private personal experience and that evolution of the mass consciousness occurs one person at a time.

Rupert Spira has a few quick statements about what consciousness is on an individual personal level:

That consciousness, is open, aware, formless, timeless, and immortal. How consciousness transcends the death of the physical body, as well as how to achieve non-duality consciousness on a personal level.

As someone who has pursued enlightenment for several years, I recently had the 'direct experience' of what enlightenment is after all. It can be explained to anyone in 30 minutes and there is no path. I was quite disappointed to realize that I've had the experience of enlightenment since being a baby, and I'd merely overlooked it. Also, that the years spent chasing a phantom idea of spiritual fireworks was completely wasted in the banal direct experience of what it actually was. :(

I still haven't experienced more that a glancing experience of what non-duality is, that goal post seems harder of a goal to achieve, but then again, I might be disappointed when I achieve it as well.

This fellow is an accredited Harvard scientist who claims to have achieved non-duality, and that it is never ending bliss:

Avery said...

Slightly off topic, but I just had a bit of a brainwave about your Lovecraft epic -- did you know that the antagonism between New England idealists and outsiders has existed since the very beginning of American history? I recently realized this while doing idle research about the metaphor of Israel as it was used in early New England. The Separatists (Puritans) referred to Plymouth as the New Israel, and when they allied with some Indians and went to war with others, the Native enemies became "Canaanites" and "Amalekites" in the eyes of Puritan preachers.

This was a metaphor, but it was a pretty severe one-- in Deuteronomy, God orders the complete massacre of the Amalekites down to their babies and their livestock. Christians today try to portray this as a destruction of the Devil's forces because of the creepy and gruesome practices of the Canaan religion.

And yet, even in this early period there were some people who refused to play the Puritan game. One guy in particular, Thomas Morton, was thrown in the stocks and then banished from Plymouth for his disagreements with Puritan religion, and got back at them by writing a book called The New English Canaan, in which he dared to insinuate that New England's native wildlife and landscape looked a lot more like Canaan than Israel, so wouldn't it be nice if we all tolerated different ethnicities and beliefs like the Canaanites did?

It is probably America's first work of ecological literature, but I am guessing the Puritans did not like his conclusions too much... I get the feeling that although portraying the tension of scientific rationalism in the New England landscape is Lovecraft's brilliant innovation, the landscape had been nurturing these kinds of arguments for centuries before he was born.

(This isn't immediately relevant to chronocentrism, but again, everyone who is stuck between scientific ideals and human realities today is living out Lovecraft's modern revision of the original Puritan quest for perfection; Canaan is a lot easier to imagine than it is to live out. Will your consciousness be able to evolve in time? :))

Bill Pulliam said...

Shane -- the Confederacy is romanticized because it died young. Had it survived it might well be quite similar to the modern southern states but without the excuse of having Washington (the synecdoche not the president) to blame it on. Texas and Louisiana could find as much to fight about as Texas and Massachussets do now. Georgia and Tennessee are close to a shooting war over water rights already.

Doc Tim said...

I partially disagree with the reasoning and examples presented as there is a difference between things like equality before the law monotonically improving vs generally improving over a large enough time span at least since states replaced tribes if one wants to argue the pros and cons of tribal vs modern life. Over the history of the state I would say with obvious exceptions that the general trend is for more inclusiveness. If you increase the time scale further though this could always change which I would say is a theme of your blog. Perhaps your notion of chronocentrism can be extended to timescale centrism as we tend to focus on trends over certain time lengths but not others.

Taraxacum said...

I've found it very interesting to observe the collapse of liberalism, especially the sudden drop it's taken in the past 18 months. It was predicted by Emmanuel Wallerstein as early as 1990 I believe, and here it is, right on schedule. One of the major precepts of liberal thought, as I believe you have expressed already, more or less, is that ideals and ideology trump the material reality of the world around us, and I see that much of your readership has already rejected that proposition. I know how you feel about Marxism, but it was through discussions with other Marxists that I myself first became acquainted with the idea that ideologies are the product of the material interests of the classes that produce them, and not vice versa, a concept that cuts to the heart of much of what is discussed in this week's essay. This realization gave me important insight into what is needed to pursue pragmatic goals in the political sphere and elsewhere. It heartens me to see that people of good will and intelligence are again waking up to this reality.

Wendy Crim said...

I hear the phrase "the right side of history" on NPR and BBC a lot. Usually, but not always, from the mouths of American democrats. Democrats are on "the right side of history" in regards to whatever topic is in the news. It's always seemed a weird saying to me. Thanks for this blog entry. Enjoyed as usual!

jbucks said...

Thanks for the reminder that evolution does not mean progress! The linear view of history comes originally from Hegelian/Marxist thought, does it not? It seems to me, though, that the same errors of thinking you point out about a linear view of history could also be present in a model of a cyclical view of history (Spengler, etc). I would guess that any model of history is probably going to be susceptible to someone not being careful about making sure they aren't bending facts to fit the model. Of course, that doesn't invalidate the model, but it would interesting to see whether this happens in books like Spengler that draw on this cyclical history model.

Wendy Crim said...

I am in The same exact boat. Today in the car, after a conversation w my eleven year old ended, I clicked the radio on and it was on NPR. It played for about 10 seconds and I just sighed really loudly and clicked it off. My eleven year old said "why don't you like that man talking, mom?" And I said "I don't dislike him- I don't even know him. I just don't speak that same language anymore and I'd rather keep listening to you."
Kid: "well I don't have anything else to say.
Me: "that's absolutely brilliant. We should all know when we're done talking."
So, I learned a lot in that moment.
But, I really don't recognize my country, I don't like either side, I don't see things in the terms a lot of people in my life do. I don't have opinions about celebrities, I don't know why everyone is more upset about this election than the others...? I could go on and on but your comment expresses what I am going through also.

Wendy Crim said...

Ah, JMG! The most important part of this post for me personally is that I now know there are seven installments of The Weird of Hali. My husband will have them all, of that there is no doubt.

John Michael Greer said...

Pinku-sensei, that demonstrates very neatly that "liberal" and "conservative" are very abstract categories that tend to change their meaning across historical time. Thank you.

Jay, trust me, I get that kind of thing here all the time. You're right, of course, that I could have multiplied the number of examples endlessly.

Matt, I think it's probably going to be necessary to drop the word "progress" entirely for a while, because it's been so heavily frosted with unquestioned assumptions, unacknowledged emotions, and sheer thoughtstopping babble that it stops clear thinking in its tracks. There are plenty of synonyms, fortunately.

Barrabas, no, there you do Nietzsche a disservice. It's admittedly a very common disservice, and plenty of people who think they understand Nietzsche do it, but there it is. As for Heidegger -- oh bright gods. I'd much rather a Nietzschean universe than the verbal slurry of Heidegger! But I should probably discuss this in detail in a future post.

Lewis, yes, I've seen that. I think they're a little premature in their dating; I expect oil prices to begin creeping steadily up this or next year, and spike to economy-wrecking levels again around 2020 or 2021 -- though admittedly that's just a guess.

WB, no, not at all. The clueless ye have with ye always... ;-)

Keith, oh, of course. Jackson's white and male, and thus in the current climate of inverse racism he's personally responsible for everything evil that ever happened to anyone anywhere, just because of his race and gender. I wasn't thinking of the pseudoradical privilege bunnies, though.

Repent, if you want to discuss enlightenment and the attainment of nondual consciousness, I have no trouble with that. The favor I'd like to ask, though, is that people stop using the word "evolution" to describe something that has nothing to do with evolution. Evolution is adaptation to circumstances, and that's all it is. It isn't improvement, or attainment, or going to a higher level, or any of those things, and using the word "evolution" for improvement, or attainment, or what have you helps feed the delusion that history is a straight line leading somewhere we like.

With regard to nondual consciousness, btw, my experiences of it make me question the idea that it can be described as "bliss." If it's bliss as distinct from non-bliss, it's not nondual, because that duality still exists in it. Neither bliss nor non-bliss? That's more like it.

Avery, yes, in fact, I did -- and some of the backstory to the third book deals with refugees from a (fictional) attempt to set up a Canaan apart from the Puritan New Jerusalem, which came to an ugly end. (Fans of obscure early Robert Bloch stories may want to know that the imaginary town in question was called Roodsford, and it was in what's now the state of Maine.) Of course I brought in tentacles and the Black Goat of the Woods, but the basic theme came from history.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill (if I may), so what you're saying is that the Confederacy is the James Dean of American political history?

Doc Tim, er, if you think states replaced tribes with nothing in between, you really need to learn a bit more about history! More generally, though, greater inclusiveness is something that happens during one part of the normal life cycle of civilizations, and then gives way to declining inclusiveness and social fragmentation in the following part. Faith in social progress pretends that the second half of the equation doesn't exist, and fixates on examples of the first.

Taraxacum, even a blind mouse can find a broken clock, or whatever the saying is. ;-) Marxism has huge failings, but the most important of them have to do with Marx's utopian prophecies. The basic idea of using class interests as a tool to understand intellectual currents, though it can be overdone, does very often reveal things the Whig histories of our time like to hide.

Wendy, yes, it's a weird saying. It's even weirder that the left claims to be on the right side... ;-) With regard to The Weird of Hali, glad to hear it. The individual volumes will be titled Innsmouth, Kingsport, Chorazin, Dreamlands, Providence, Hyperborea, and Arkham. Now you know!

steve pearson said...

JMG, Thank you very much for this post. I have been following your blog for 10 years, or whatever. I have learned something from virtually every one of your posts, but this is the first one that has actually upended a fair chunk of my historical world view.It leaves me speechless, as it were. I suppose I could have researched these things for myself, but I guess I was just too lazy and accepted the standard liberal narrative. Wow, thanks again for a bucket of ice water on my head in my 77th year. Never too old to learn something new,I hope.
Cheers, Steve

sunseekernv said...

Scotlyn - not only did the "good housewives" fear the saloonkeepers would cut into hubby's pay,
they feared the saloon girls as well.
Before 1910, prostitution was legal in every state in the U.S., after about 1914, every state had forbidden it. (U.S. alcohol prohibition was 1920 - 1933, so same era of Progressive "reform"). Women were allowed to be "good (submissive and not overly-sexual) housewives", but not wealthy entrepreneurs or other independent minded uppity women like the Everleigh sisters or their employees.

In 1910, the Mann Act (aka "White-Slave Traffic Act") was passed, making it a federal crime to transport a woman across state lines for "immoral purposes".
Thus a period of hysteria, like the current anti-trafficking mania, began in earnest. "Moral entrepreneurs", like the Reverend Billy Sunday, made fortunes traveling around inveighing against the evils of the day; and the more evils, the more to scare their listeners with (and the more the collection plate filled up, and the bigger the crowds and the moral entrepreneurs' egos).

One of those prosecuted under the Mann Act was the black skinned boxer Jack Johnson, who had the audacity to marry white women, and beat a white man to become the first world heavyweight champion who was Black.
That nice liberal Mr. Obama has not yet pardoned Mr. Johnson, in spite of pleas by the likes of both the U.S. House and Senate.

drhooves said...

Another thought-provoking post, JMG - thanks! In school 40 years ago, I used to dismiss history as impractical to applying to the real world, and in an odd way, I suppose I was right. While the lessons of history can certainly help explain where we're going and why, most of us simply break it down into the factoids which best support our overall views in life - and don't bother to connect the dots to better understand how we might consider reshaping some of those views.

The election may have shaken the liberal snowflakes from their dreams, but over the next few years we're all going to get a nasty dose of reality, and Trump seems to have taken the lead in the "no spin" (or at least less spin) approach to politics. He still spins his views, of course, but they are sprinkled with far more grains of truth than his opponents, which for now helped him get elected.

As the facts of the future predicaments we face become more mainstream, I suspect many will abandon their current political views (if they have them) and rally behind leaders who offer food, shelter and clothing as part of their solutions. It may come in the form of "war bands", a police state, or another form. But it will most likely leave what's referred to as "politics as usual" in the dust.

Spanish fly said...

"So what happened? Did some kind of vast right-wing conspiracy shove the ebullient gay male The crusade against the “lavender menace” (I’m not making that phrase up, by the way) was one of the pet causes of the same Progressive movement responsible for winning women the right to vote and breaking up the fabulously corrupt machine politics of late nineteenth century America. Unpalatable as that fact is in today’s political terms, gay men and lesbians weren’t forced into the closet in the 1930s by the right. They were driven there by the left."

Meanwhile, in the USSR...Stalin's hordes mocked German Nazis leaders accusing them of...homosexuality. That happened in the 30s and 40, at the same time as stalinist purges, "scientific atheism" at schools and "dialectic materialism" at russian universities. So Russian homophobia isn't a Putinist invention...It was a Little Father Stalin idea, with older roots in russian idyosincrasy...and first XIXth century marxists...

Even free love champion, F. Engels, was "homophobic", he identified gay behaviour with, ahem paedophilia.

Robert Honeybourne said...

I highly recommend this book

It seems to give a very good explanation of left/right political differences and the passion and misunderstandings . It very much addresses the backgound to a lot of the political issues raised in the Archdruid Report... especially I suspect to people on the left (like me)

It is quite long, so I have an audiobook and listen while I walk to work

I have no shares in the publisher!

Phil Harris said...

Evolution - the biological kind - occasionally leaves entities the same or nearly the same. I rather like this line from Brian Switek: “… the quirks and contingencies of their habitats and lifestyles remained so stable that there was little evolutionary pressure to change. By chance, these lineages occupied an evolutionary sweet spot.”

Cultural evolution contains continuities as much as change – but many cultures seem to have passed through some ‘bottlenecks’ that narrowed the options for descendent ‘lineages’. I suppose language has been one. But then again we have creoles. Alphabets were an interesting idea, and so on....

Modern times have seen some melting pots. Urban structures once they were enabled from food sources derived on a continental or even global scale (bulk transport) typically have become vast compared with previous history. They make their own environment and seem cut off in some respects of awareness (consciousness of priorities?) from extra-human biology. Mass prints derived from earlier proto print technology make for pseudo communities and impose conversational priorities. I wonder about gender. And conformity. And imagination.

I think I see quirky changes. In a terrific photo circa 1899 at my grandfather’s cousin Annie’s wedding the young guys all wear moustaches and there is only one elderly Victorian beard. I heard stories when contemplating growing one as a teenager of beards being shouted at in the streets In England before First World War with cries of “beaver!” And my mother when /I was a child would not leave the house for a bus ride without her hat and gloves. These days we are more likely to get conversations (‘controversy’) about the hijab, and a Muslim singer says in the Guardian: “So to me, the world is catching up.” Imagine!

Other changes: for example, public social spitting is uncommon in my country these days. And, generally, public toilets (bathrooms) are much better kept, which I guess is adaptive change, but perhaps only as long as there are resources to facilitate conveniences (priorities). Awareness could change. Sadly some useful behaviour might never come back. I noticed in the southern Balkans that the ability to rest squatting on heels was restricted to the occasional elderly person – young modern persons would not be seen doing such a thing!

Seriously though there are good customs and public spirit that is hard to do without at any scale, especially when the going gets tough. I cite much history. I go with MacIntyre and Aristotle and telos and ends and purposes therein – blow social science.

Phil H

Bill Ding said...

She didn't say "history is going forward," she said "we are going forward." Progressive people are not people who rely on "history" to make things right, they are people who actively make progressive choices. Speaking as a progressive I can say that we are aware that history is not on our side. Civil societies can collapse into fascism with shocking speed when people give up on progressive ideals, which is exactly what is happening now. I doubt there are many Hillary mourners who think "history" made her election inevitable.

Greg Belvedere said...

The idea that people in the past were less intelligent is pretty rampant and often expressed by believers in progress, so I enjoyed this week's post. I think talk of chronocentrism has the possibility of using the the language of identity politics to get social justice warriors to check their own privilege when they criticize others as backwards. I can think of a lot of satirical possibilities for repurposing their own language to show them their own privilege. "Well of course you think that, you are a 21st century person", "Check your presentist privilege". I'm sure readers here can think of some others.

I also enjoyed learning about recent history of gay culture. I have noticed that some gay folks I know identify strongly with elements of gay culture and subcultures in a way that seems rather tribal and not always healthy. While for others I know their sexual preference is just that.

Scotlyn said...

@Jay Moses, re your Martin Luther King Jr quote (itself a paraphrase taken from a 19th century speech by abolitionist Theodore Parker) it is found at the end of a sermon, rich in the kind of "promised land" imagery with which King encouraged his followers to face into the hardships and difficulties of their actual campaign. Full text here:

However, I do not think you can call King a true believer in "progress" in the sense that JMG is talking about. (Although he is undoubtedly a true Christian believer in God's final redemption of mankind).

This is his considered take on the matter:
"I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth of time. I received a letter from a white brother in Texas which said: 'All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost 2000 years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.' All that is said here grows out of a tragic misconception of time. It is the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill-will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation."

(taken from "letter from a Birmingham Jail" found here )

Gavin Harris said...

@Jill N.
The terms Left and Right in politics pre-date the French Revolution, they were certainly in use in the English parliament during the 17th century and refer to earlier times and which side of the king advisers stood.
I also deplore the insistence of cramming the entirety of the the political arena into a monochrome, two dimensional array. Politics is far more akin to a kiddies ball pit. A three dimension gathering of balls of varying sizes and colours that represent the views, ethics, desires and beliefs of people. Various people hold differing selections of these balls and insist that they are Right or Left or Centre, none of which truly applies. Instead they are simply trying to attach themselves to the group they consider most likely to attract power.

@Larry Hill
"What's lost in the fury raised is what the emails that were found contained....totally lost. I despair......"
Which is the point of raising the furour in the first place. F.U.D. - Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. Though that tactic has been around a lot longer than IBM.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- James Dean and Marilyn Monroe rolled into one! Actually more like the child who died in infancy and whose parents always talk about how much better it would surely have been than their other surviving child with all his or her real-world flaws.

Pinku-Sensei said...

You're welcome. I'm glad you found my example illuminating.

While I have your attention, the question you asked of Bill about whether "the Confederacy is the James Dean of American political history" may have the answer yes (and the Confederacy should feel flattered, if it were capable of such a thing), but if you're thinking of the quote "live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse," that may apply to James Dean, but it was originally spoken by John Derek in the movie "Knock on Any Door." Derek didn't follow through on what his character said, having time to marry four women, including three actresses, Ursula Andress, Linda Evans, and Bo Derek (that man certainly had a type!), illustrating the difference between fact and fiction.

David, by the lake said...


My present experience somewhat echoes your divesting of the conventional "political binary," as JMG refers to it. Perhaps it is that (from a historical perspective) I am not unsympathetic to Trump as a change-agent -- upsetting convention, offending the political class's sensibilities, and generally stirring the pot with great vigor -- but I find myself increasingly disillusioned with the establishment left (and even the further left of the Greens -- the recount theatrics were just stupid) and its overall vapidity. Something new is needed, but times of change are usually also times of chaos, so we are in for a ride. I don't know who is going to rise as a national leader out of this (if anyone), but it isn't going to be someone people expect.

fudoshindotcom said...

I am convinced that, somewhere in the universe, a professor of an alien race is diligently working to lecture coherently, to a class of three-eyed, mottled-green graduate students, regarding the incomprehensible behavior of the human species. Relating to them our unmatched ability to utterly disregard the result from any form of experimentation that doesn't provide the answer we want to be correct. That we then routinely alter the experiment until it does give us what we want, and finally to rationally explain how we've risen to the apex position on our planet.

Wonderful essay JMG.

RPC said...

I'd go a half-step further on your "evolution is adaptation to changing circumstances" and say "evolution is adaptation to circumstances" - period. This explains why during stable eras organisms tend to proliferate into ever smaller niches (e.g. the greater panda or the corporate lawyer specializing in the impact of tax loss carryover), while eras of rapid change result in mass extinctions and the survival of a small number of generalist ("weed") species.

Scotlyn said...

@JMG, My Donkey, and Brian Kaller -re the question of plenty vs scarcity and people's generosity towards one another.

I think JMG is correct that relative abundance is more pertinent than absolute, and in fact there is excellent evidence that what counts most of all is whether the perceived abundance/scarcity exists in a context of greater or lesser inequality. The larger the *relative* inequality the more strain on mutual solidarity and interdependence, and the less generosity (or niceness) will manifest. The same evidence suggests that people on both the high and the low end of very stratified societies are less happy and healthy than people who perceive themselves to be among relative equals, even in circumstances that are very materially deprived.

I have mentioned my own theory about this recently, which is that too much inequality permits too great a rift between action and consequence, as the more powerful can too easily "externalise" detriments and appropriate benefits, and this sets off chains of actors lower down the hierarchy trying to do the same. (ie - grab benefits, while passing detriments to those less powerful). Stressful, and not very "nice", and ultimately self-defeating in ways JMG has outlined, because it gets difficult for anyone to recognise a consequence of an action even when it hits them in the face. (Cont'd)...

Ekkar said...

Ah how you brighten my Thursday mornings (and sometimes Wednesday evenings).
Thanks you.

It's funny to me that your postings often very much rhyme with what I'm thinking about. Just yesterday I revisited the triologes of Rupert sheldrake, Terrence McKenna, and Ralph Abraham; "The evolutionary mind". That lead me to David bohms emergant mind idea, inward to a disscousioun between krishnamurti, Bohm, Sheldrake, Hidley.


jbucks said...

I reread my earlier post and realized I didn't write it clearly. I know that you didn't write anything specifically about models which assume that history moves in cycles in this post, but I believe you have in the past. I'm using the word 'model' here to refer to the idea that historical forces move in any direction at all, and events can be classified according to it. Are you saying that cyclical models are more accurate than linear models of history, or that adhering closely to a model at all makes you prone to inaccurate results?

Dammerung said...

It seems very Taoist in a way - you're never going to make the world better, all you can do is try to adapt to changing conditions. It does explain some things about my more fashy friends. A platform of environmentalism; animal rights; and sending all the black people back to Africa makes more sense when you see it as a response to the pressures of the present than some kind of natural conclusion to the questions of 20th century politics. Sounds like utopians aren't going to be catching any breaks in this lifetime at least.

Degringolade said...

John Michael:

One of you best!

Only one minor observation

"Rather than jerry-rigged temporary compromises kluged (SIC) together to cover a mass of recalcitrant data"

I am not certain that the verb Kludge is appropriate for the state of affairs in science. Kludgey programs do work. Science mostly deals with the idiosyncracies of non-compliant data by ignoring the data and forwarding only data that agrees with theory.

anton mett said...

Quick point that may be useful for distinguishing between the American "Left" and "Right":

Democrats fear big business
Republicans fear government

Basically we all recognize that our lives are influenced (some might say controlled) by outside factors, and most agree that those in power do a poor job of it. I believe the difference between people's political affiliation has to do with which one they currently fear the most. This is of course a gross simplification, but I find it to be the most useful and accurate simplification I've come across.

As far as whether we are more or less sexist, I couldn't say for sure, but I would say that we are definitely more concerned with looks than we used to be. Think of the last time you dealt with a person with bad teeth for example. Can you imagine having a doctor, accountant, or even a waitress with missing teeth?

Scotlyn said...

I recently watched a Jordan Peterson video** in which he considered the same evidence - namely that the happiest, healthiest and *least violent* people are those who perceive themselves to be among relative equals, and concludes that, yes, there is a conservative argument for equality. Or, at least for setting limits that prevent inequality getting out if hand. (I judge him to be another conservative of the Burkean stripe). Now, Peterson's reasoning for this utterly fascinates me! His problem with too much inequality is that it interferes with the human-as-primate quintessential social game of "dominance hierarchy" a game he argues men, in particular, need to play.

* ...continued after a dramatic burst of lightning interrupted my internet connection, and deleted the earlier version of this comment just as I was posting it. If this is a duplicate, however, please ignore.

**Shout out to whichever commenter recommended a Jordan Peterson video a couple of weeks back. I cannot remember who you were, but he is fascinating and, yes, I did watch a good few of them with pleasure.

Keith Hammer said...

consciousness it seems to me simply reflects experience rather than instigates it.the real dynamic is the will which is conditioned by ones habit of mind.our particular habit of mind which is about to run its course in a spectacularly disastrous way began in earnest in the 15th century and like all historical cycles its shelf life is about are quite right that history is not a linear project but runs in the same tiresome cycles time and again. of course whether there is such a thing as human spiritual evolution seems to be a matter of religious faith.

Mister Roboto said...

Thanks for the new information on male homosexuality in twentieth-century America. It's not exactly shocking to me that the pre-sixties left was very anti-homosexuality. Crusades against perceived moral degeneracy were a big part of old-time leftist thought, and communist countries vigorously suppressed any form of homosexual activity or expression on account of those things being forms of capitalist decadence to them. Indeed, the only reason Fidel Castro stopped imprisoning gay men in internment camps was precisely because radicals and liberals in wealthy Western countries (whom Castro would probably rely on to stage massive protests in case the USA ever invaded Cuba) had experienced such a dramatic change of heart about gay rights.

To further contribute to your elucidation on gay history, many cultural historians contend that it was the bonds formed by so many gay men who served in the US military during the Second World War that formed the seed of what would become the resurgent gay community of the sixties and the seventies. The final result has been a very mixed blessing to my way of thinking. The good side is that so many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and now transgender people have "come out of the closet" to people they know that homophobes who aren't completely stupid now have to blunt the vehemence of their public rhetoric lest they seem like hateful jerks to most people. The bad side is that the current "official" gay male community is largely an outgrowth of what I think is a pretty nasty and seedy pick-up bar culture. That a gay man can be out in so many venues now without fear of persecution and harassment fortunately means he can look for a potential boyfriend/husband without having to involve themselves in the old-line gay subcultural morass.

onething said...

This post definitely has me spinning.
First of all, I must repeat that even to use the word evolution in this context seems almost absurd to me, since true evolution, as in something permanent, would have to include genetic changes to the human species. That, in turn, might not be completely ridiculous as the human brain and its nervous system are a very complex interface between body and soul/consciousness. Who is to say how the physical configuration of matter in the brain might influence even things like empathy? After all, sociopaths are known to have different brain functions and may actually have defects that do not permit normal processing of emotional content. But if people want to talk of evolution of consciousness involving social attitudes, then just let them ask themselves: If this newly evolved human newborn were placed in another time and place, would they be immune to that culture's belief system and doggedly persist in having new age responses? If not, then why talk of evolution?

So the real question is, can we reach a stable condition of good society? How would such a thing work? And now we are right back in the arena with which much of this blog already deals.

Meanwhile I am asking myself if perhaps we need new categories of understanding human behavior that are not political labels as such. If the same ideals can be progressive in one era and conservative in another, then maybe what is really going on is that some people are more authoritarian and more willing to impose their sense of rightness upon others.

But I am having difficulty here because while I have a life philosophy that one should never interfere in the free will of another except in direst necessity (which sadly includes children), I can see that this dire necessity will be influenced by my determination that this or that thing is an outrage and must be stopped.
Perhaps a partial answer lies in methods used. I don't believe in force, violence and intimidation. So let us say there were something I find unacceptable, such as female circumcision. That does not mean I think we should invade some country and make it illegal or arrest people. But there are many possible persuasive tactics that could be used to get cooperation.

The only way we can begin to hope for societal evolution is to always, always learn from history. And by the way, being able to know and keep in mind the history of one's species is one of the main characteristics that demarcate the human from other animals in my opinion. Very important. If only we did more of it.

temporaryreality (Wendy) said...

This, by Jay Moses, above, caught my attention, particularly in light of this reddit thread: "this belief that history has a direction, one that generally accords with the preferences of the observer, i believe is just one more example of the prevailing religion of our times. as tech fans are always sure that new technology will always improve our lives, fans of the arc of history are convinced that the future will prove the rightness of their political and economic opinions."

I read some of the top responses and just kept coming up shaking my head at all of the unquestioned assumptions, the sense of inevitability and acceptance, the palpable notion of "progress is in motion and it's good." Except underneath, you can find comments that reveal fear and anger about automation.

I know there was a feather-ruffling moment a few months back when M Smith said she'd much rather automate than hire humans... but I, for one, am anxious about what will happen when that plays out on a broad, society-wide scale. Personally, I've started boycotting the automated check out lines even though they're an introvert's dream. I'll wait in line and greet my town-mate who at least has a crappy walmart job (and I'll go to walmart since it's within walking distance - though will also go to the locally owned store when I happen to already have driven to that part of town). ((SO many stupid tradeoffs and compromises and **headexplode**).

@Wendy Crim - your reply to your kid made me laugh out loud :D And I now listen to nothing when I'm in the car as well.
@pygmycory - I hear ya! Also, if you ever are on the greenwizard's site, I'd be up for a topic on low-input fish rearing (and even breeding). I've got a 45 gallon tank in which red cloud minnows, black neon tetras, assorted shrimp, panda corys, a bazillion snails and heaps of pants don't mind being unheated... :)

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20170112T185241Z

(1) Dear Esn:

The sole effective channel of communication between you and me is this TADR blog. We do not have a functioning e-mail or telephone link, although we are live in the same upper-tier municipality of York Region, and so are almost within walking distance of each other. I will therefore use this TADR blog to remark that over at I have now done the best I could with your remarks on Ukraine (your TADR posting last week, timestamped "1/8/17, 12:31 AM"). My Ukraine-relevant remarks are in the 2017-01-09 or 2017-01-10 posting headed "Peacework and Propaganda", and beginning with the words Does any world-news journalist, in a time of conflict, ever quite avoid breaching the "whole truth" rule? A commenter named "Esn" has suggested /.../.

I remark there on what little I know about Ukraine from my limited experiences of the Ukrainian diaspora, concluding that I just do not know whether any current journalism on Ukraine avoids breaching the "whole truth" rule. This is not very good, I realize, but I lack the background in travel and personal contacts which you fortunately possess.

(2) Dear JMG,

Thanks for discussing maritime matters with sea-knowledgeable Glenn, of Cascadia. Glenn posted to TADR last week, over timestamp "1/11/17, 11:06 AM".

Although I have little to add here, I do want to remark - in case you have missed it - that C.S.Forester (1899-1966) has compelling fiction on windjammers, in his twelve-book "Horatio Hornblower" series. I read one or two of these with profit a couple of decades ago. Forester brings the sea alive in the same magic-of-storytelling way that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle manages to bring the seemingly arid subject of London crime alive.

I know that you are rather averse to YouTube. It is, however, true that a picture can be worth a thousand words, and in particular that a snip of cinematography can convey the atmosphere of a thing with a startling comprehensiveness. I am finding these days YouTube material on the Royal Navy - perhaps not on your own favoured topic of windjammers, but nevertheless conveying something of the flavour of maritime work to us landlubbers. Some idea of how things get done can, for instance, be gleaned from Episode 1 of the YouTube-uploaded British TV series "Devonport".

It is perhaps not always sufficiently remarked how strongly a community or nation benefits from an engagement with the sea. The ancient Greeks and the modern British engaged, to their benefit. One might perhaps argue that the ancient Romans were weakened, in a spiritual way, by their not significantly engaging.

In my own struggles with astronomy and maths, I keep thinking of the sea as emblematic - it is seemingly infinite, and it seemingly transcends human concerns even while facilitating them, in the way maths does. Wordsworth wrote well of mathematical physicist Newton: "Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone".

(Well, as I remarked on my blog last year, these days those "strange seas" are in fact rather crowded, like the harbour I recall from my 1984-1985 Singapore stay - endless ships all docking and embarking, in other words with endless mathematics lecturers and books all vying for attention. But tidewater remains tidewater.)

Hastily, now having to get back to Istvan Lenart plastic-sphere kit for spherical geometry,

Tom (in Estonian diaspora, approx 20 km north of downtown Toronto)

zaphod42 said...


Being a golfer, and somewhat the socialist, I submit:

The Golf Links

The golf links lie so near the mill
That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
And see the men at play.

Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn

Great poet! Enjoy.


Aron Blue said...

I just finished a book of Hawthorne short stories - a pretty blue hardcover edition from the 1930s that I picked up somewhere along the way. The street booksellers of New York City played (and still play) a major role in my overall education. One of my favorite's was Earth's Holocaust, a satirical parable of the Reform Movement, and another favorite was the Maypole of Merrymount, describing a Canaan-type settlement and its destruction by the neighboring Puritans.

I have very much taken to heart your recommendations about the old authors and what we can learn from them.

David, by the lake said...


Perhaps my awareness has been heightened b/c of the discussions on the blog, but the disconnect between terms and images used by people and the historical realities of those terms/images is just massive on the leftward blogosphere. Much shadow-projection ("fascist"), of course. I had mentioned that I saw a certain Jacksonian quality to Trump's approach (referring to his disdain of convention, the political class view of how-things-are-done, and general brash/uncouth manner) and someone responded by talking about corruption, kleptocracy, and nepotism. My first thought was: "Really? Patronage system, anyone? You know, Jacksonian democracy?"

Patricia Mathews said...

Eagerly looking forward to affordable volumes of your Lovecraftian epics!

I do understand where the turn-of-the-century "Progressives" were coming from because I caught the tail end of that mindset. It was a massive drive to clean up everything - whether the gluttonous trusts and corporocrats of the Gilded Age, or the political machines that ran the larger cities, or the Evils of Drink, or the Lavender Menace (a new one on me, but it fits) - Progress = Modernism = Sanitary = Scientific = Centralized = Patriotic. And in the Edwardian period, Genteel and nearly asexual. Cleaning up the slums was part of it and so was the eugenics movement that bore its most bitter fruit in 1930s Germany. Which discredited Eugenics once and for all - until the next time, of course.

And, and this was also (thank you, Aldous, for the phrase) Year of Our Freud, whose teachings and fallacies echoed well into the 1970s in the way women's' problems were handled by the establishments of the day.

BYW, one way you can tell that Sanitation in every sense of the word was the great issue of the day was all the mockery aimed at the Lysol Ladies, who were also supposed to be frigid, judgmental, and the enemy of all fun. Any time you get that, whether then, or the dieting ladies nibbling on their rabbit food and anxiously asking "Does this make me look fat?" and turning anorexic in the weight-obsessed decades barely past, or the obsessive concern with The Proprieties of the 1800s, any time you see a set of rules where the slightest failure makes you Socially Outcaste and being seen trying does too .... where too little and too much overlap, making a maze very few can navigate --- I think you have found that period's hottest hot button, and the next explosion point.

Just my $0.02 here....

Scotlyn said...

@sunseekernv - thanks for the links and the heads up. Truly a lot of different interest groups were pulling both with and against one another, as always. Very interesting reading! Especially the personal stories of the Everleigh sisters and of Jack Johnson.

I would only quibble (and it really is only a quibble) with two somewhat "flattening" implications to your post, if read too literally:

1) of course the "saloon girls" were often mothers and wives themselves - the fact that "housewife" and "prostitute" were understood to be mutually exclusive categories did not make them so in practice (and still doesn't).

2) "good (submissive and not overly-sexual) housewives" is also not necessarily a good description of the women who pressed for legislative suppression of alcohol provision and of prostitution. For a start, it is difficult to characterise people running an effective political campaign (however temporarily successful) as submissive. And of course, what it behooves you to appear to be is not necessarily what you are, in practice. (and still isn't)

Nevertheless, I think you are right and the head-on collision was probably inevitable between the interests of families reduced to reliance on a single wage, and the interests of any of the businesses dependent upon receiving a cut of that same wage. (and may yet be again).

Thanks again for the links! said...

Hi John

Good post. The historical references to how "left" and "right" has changed over the decades on key issues was fascinating.

I have been struck by how the myth of progress is key to many arguments made on issues as wide as Trump, Brexit and other matters. The British former Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote a article arguing for reversing the Brexit result on the basis that it was a retreat from historical destiny. Its probably not a coincidence that Blair was famously ignorant of history.

What also strikes me is the total lack of knowledge of history among most people and the general shallow thinking shown by even educated members of the public. Its a sad state of affairs.

On a different point, I have published my 2017 forecasts and would be keen to hear your feedback.



Cortes said...

JMG: Last year in one of your essays you made reference to how sad you were to observe the apparent deterioration in the quality of blogs issued on James H Kunstler's "What's Up" Monday offerings. I think that, like all honest people, he has taken well meaning criticism on board and acted to address identified shortcomings. Certainly his posts since late October 2016, I guess, have been markedly better than for some time. FYI.

Clay Dennis said...

A little off topic, but relevent to the blog. Today's Portland Bike Blog had an article on mobility resiliency in response to the "Snowmagedon" we got here in Portland the last couple of days. This is not a collapse oriented site but it had a section called " The Hierarchy of Mobility Resiliency." This was in the following decending order: Feet, Bicycle, Light Rail, Bus, 4wd Trucks, Cars. I am glad to see people talking about this, and also to see they did not asume that the newest ( Chronocentrism) was the best.

Anon-y Mouse said...

Long time reader - or at least since your famous "Donald Trump and the Politics of Resentment" piece. First time poster.

Great article as usual - thanks! Given the philosophies of political movements you've laid out here and elsewhere on your blog, I wanted to get your prediction on something: what do you see happening at the "Million Woman March" after the inauguration? How about its long term impact?

I've been reading lots about its identity politics-related difficulties, starting with the NYT article, and most of what I've read kind of falls under "whatever" (i.e., "we don't like identity politics anymore, so anything that goes wrong with anything from here on out is strictly because of them"). What do you think? Will people show up? Will it spawn a movement capable of political action?

Keep up the good work!

temporaryreality (Wendy) said...

duh. I meant white cloud minnows... anyway.

latheChuck said...

JMG- This issue of "consciousness" I think relates to the awareness(es) that we have regarding our membership in various groups/sets/classes. I might start my day conscious of my role as the father in my family (with traditional responsibilities), read a newspaper story that makes me conscious of my position as a Scandinavian-American citizen ("white privilege"), but then read another story that makes me conscious of my residence in Maryland (southern efficiency with northern charm). All of these memberships are concurrently true, but only sequentially in my consciousness.

So, to speak of "achieving evolved consciousness" probably means coming to awareness of the vital importance of being in the set of people doing (at that time) whatever the speaker of the phrase believes (at that time) to be important.

greg simay said...

I wish I could remember the person who said (paraphrase) that the most degrading slavery is to be a prisoner of one's own age. Your essay reminds me of how easily blinkered we can become without an understanding of real history. President Truman said, "There's nothing new under the sun except the history you don't know yet." Thanks for giving me more than a few "new things under the sun."

Here's a scenario: Eating factory-farmed meat becomes a luxury exclusively associated with corrupt elites, with factory farming becoming more and more untenable economically and environmentally. A majority comes to regard the raising of livestock and poultry on a par with running slave plantations, and wonders how anyone could ever have been so blind to the moral issue of animal suffering. We can be cynical and say that this putative moral advance is just a case of sour grapes--people feeling good about foregoing something they couldn't afford in the first place. Or we can say that this is an example of genuine change in moral thinking, a change pioneered by thinkers like Peter Singer. Or, per this week's essay, we should we willing to look at both possibilities residing in the same human breast, and other factors besides.

Varun Bhaskar said...


There’s something darker behind the misuse of the term “evolution of consciousness” to describe ones political ideology. When people discuss the evolution of consciousness using the incorrect definition of evolution they're actually talking about about Social Darwism, that is a political ideology that specifically promotes superior-inferior relationships in society. They're literally speaking about their own political superiority, and following the logic of “evolution" they are speaking about the inferiority of the “un-evolved” person. Catton pointed out in Overshoot that people use several ways to declare one group or another superfluous during periods of overshoot. So, continuing the long tradition of the contradictory ideologies of progressives, we’re seeing that unfold before our eyes. If one does not have an “evolved” political consciousness then one is superfluous and if one has “evolved” then one is essential.

Chronocentrism isn’t just a declaration of the superiority of the present condition over the past, it’s also a statement that those individuals who do not wholly embrace the present condition, which is apparently decided by the elite, have no future.



Sylvia Rissell said...

JMG, thank you for the interesting essay on the difference between actual history and the re-telling of history.

Long ago, I was part of an interesting discussion with a young lady (of sincere and intense religious convictions). She was puzzled by the fact that Crusaders had left Europe to travel to the Holy Lands and kill people there. "They should have known from reading their Bibles that it was wrong." The rest of us tried to explain, in many different ways, that even if a particular Crusader knew how to read his own language, the Bible was in Latin, even if the local clergy would let him try to read it. Eventually, lunch was over, and we gave up. The fact is, she was lucky (in a historical sense), to be able to read, and have a copy of the Bible in her own language.

On the off-topic topic of sailing, I would like to recommend "Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman", (Doerflinger). The book contains songs, musical notation, and history of work songs of sailors and lumber camps. You will have to go to other sources for lyrics to "frigging in the rigging", but you may not wish to expose your readers to the verses about sensual experiences with tentacled elder gods, or the one about towing the cabin boy on a line to attract lecherous fish-people...

Guillem mateo said...

I've stumbled with a good exemple on the matter you have raised some years ago, while reading about the recent History of Spain, in wich i happen to live, (although im a Catalan)

During the II republic, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, women autonomy, religiuos and Political freedom, to name perhaps the more crucial ones, were archieved.
The Spain of Franquism, lag all the progresive traits mentioned above and, noticeable enough, last four times more years.

Now, the standard vision in today Spain to justify the failure of progress in that particular case is that, well, we suffered some kind of misfortune which somehow left us stuck in the past, and prevent us from folowing up with the rest of Europe in the March of Progress, as you name it. More or less like if you have planned for a trip but your car brokes.

The thing is, it takes you just a little of reading, and another bit of political neutrality to uncover a view quite less confortable: The II Republic of Spain, however progresive and appealing it is, simply failed to maintain the order and peace,mainly because there was no consensus at all in the political sphere, and thus you find that there were continuos uprisings by one or another faction until finally one of them, launched mind you NOT by Franco as in today Spain just everyone belive,put and end to it on 18 July, 1936 (i do not consider the Republic of the war years the same republic of the 1931-1936)

So, that is.History has no predestined direction, and if the political forces that shape the landscape of rights and privileges change, so does the landscape.

Best regards,


Clay Dennis said...

I have a thought experiment that I propose to my progressive ( Liberal?) freinds who are wound up over the Russian Hacking/Trump is Putins Puppet News. I propose the question, if we put the Treason technicality aside what things would Putin make his puppet trump do when he is president? I further specify that these have to be things that would affect or harm the average american. I leave out the Treason charge because it is a thought stopper, not because it is irrelevant . Turns out it is hard to think of bad things Putin could command Trump to do that have not already been done by previoius administrations on thier own. Many of the things you can think of would be an ananthema to those in the establishment but a benefit to the average person. Most of my friends just stammer " but its treason you know".

pygmycory said...

temporaryreality (Wendy) I can't seem to get the green wizard's site to accept me. Not sure why.

With regards to fish and plants, I do use some heat because my basement suite goes down to the low 60sF overnight, sometimes a bit below. I also use a large piece of felt to wrap the tank in every night. This helps keep the tank from experiencing huge day-night temperature differences and unhealthily low temperatures without need for an overpowered heater. My ember tetras, scarlet baddis, and cryptocorne plants seem pretty happy with this arrangement. The anubias is slowly falling to pieces, but it was doing that when I bought it so I'm not sure it has anything to do with my tank.

They've recently outlawed white cloud mountain minnows in BC, despite them being unable to survive anywhere in BC outdoors except hot springs. It's a shame for responsible fishkeepers who kept them in unheated tanks. Some irresponsible fool who dumped his fish into the wild, somewhere in the world, wrecked it for everyone else.

My 2 cents on reduced-impact fishkeeping:

LED lighting is really low energy use, small tanks use less energy than large ones, subtropical fishes and freshwater shrimp like Neocaridina need little or no extra heat, air-driven sponge filters don't need the sponge replacing very often and the air filters use very little electricity and last for decades, old-fashioned thermometers are WAY better and longer-lasting than liquid crystal stick-on ones. Some plants like java fern, cryptocornes, java moss, and anubias have low light requirements. Avoid marine tanks: they cost a small fortune to set up, stock, and maintain. A lot of the fish species are wild caught.

But I bet you knew most of that already.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Dear Mr. Greer, et all - I read some of the comments on the article about peak oil. One really jumped out at me ...

"I'd say isn't going to happen because we have centuries of oil left and long before it would happen we'll be a space faring civilization. That will enable us to bring back carbonaceous asteroids as needed."

I found the comment, due to the information I've picked up on this blog, just ... sad. On the other hand, I used to believe some of the same things.

As far as your call for literature on sailing, a phrase that came to mind was: "Rum, sodomy and the lash!" Not necessarily in that order :-). And not said by Winston Churchill. Your request probably doesn't include fiction, but a few things that came to mind were "Two Years Before the Mast" (actually, that's non fiction), "Captains Courageous" and, of course, "Moby Dick." Lew

sunseekernv said...

Another chronocentrism: "In God We Trust" on U.S. coinage and paper money.
I've heard this fact used to "prove" that "'Merica's a Christian nation".
But it wasn't until the Civil War era, when a "do-gooder" minister wanted to "relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism" and get God on the Union's side in the war. And it didn't appear on the paper money until the red scare of the Eisenhower administration (1956).

anton - if the Democrats fear big business, how come they coddle the banks of Wall Street?
FWIW, my taxonomy is:
The left wing thinks big government is the solution to all problems.
The right wing thinks big/orthodox/uniform religion is the solution to all problems.
The money wing thinks the free market/big business is the solution to all problems.
The technocornucopian (minor) wing thinks new technology is the solution to all problems.
The UFO enthusiast (minor) wing thinks the space brothers will solve all our problems (or annihilate us, ending our problems).

What they superficially fear is the other guys get power and waste time/money/... going down "the" wrong path - "Oh, poor us, misunderstood, unappreciated martyrs" - but that gives a payoff of righteousness, especially as a group.
Underneath that they fear being irrelevant, that life goes on just fine without them and their dogma (maybe even better without them/it).
Primal human fear of abandonment.

Graeme Bushell said...

This week's post seems to me to relate fairly closely to values again, which is close to, maybe the same thing as, ethics. Do you see the "evolution of consciousness" that's in this week's essay, to mean the same thing as "becoming more ethical" by the people who use the term?

I have a litle theory about ethics. It isn't entirely absolute, nor is it entirely relative. When we use ethical reasing, ie engage with a moral philosophy, I reckon most of the time it is really an after-the-fact rationalisation for what we feel is the right thing to do. The fact that that feeling isn't rationally based, is why ethical reasoning is difficult and is often inconsistent. So being ethical amounts to doing what you feel is the right thing to do, *after you have considered the interests of all affected*.

That ethical feeling, in my view, comes partly from biology (we evolved as social creatures) and partly from culture. If you like, a hardware part that comes with being a human and tells us things that are pretty universal like it is wrong to be dishonest, to kill others for fun, etc. And a software part that depends on your cultural programming, including religion or whatever is or isn't part of your politics. (A valid alternative view of course is that the whole thing comes from god).

I'd be interested to hear what anyone thinks about this.


Kevin Warner said...

In developing this week's ideas, there is a theme that has been running through political discourse for at least a century and a half and that is 'the end of history' as a political and philosophical concept. It presupposes that "a particular political, economic, or social system may develop that would constitute the end-point of humanity's sociocultural evolution and the final form of human government". The most recent iteration of this concept was by Francis Fukuyama in his book 'The End of History and the Last Man' back in the 90s.
I guess the idea is that if you can say that it is the end of history, that there is now real point arguing about changing anymore or trying something different as you have reached your final destination. Game over, man! We all know how well that idea has been working out lately so what, liberal democracy allied with global neo-capitalism was not the end of history after all? In any case it was the economist Hyman Minsky that pointed out that 'stability is destabilising' ( which would suggest that an end of history would be by nature brittle. What is certainly true is that the end of the day, the dogs refused to eat the new dog food.
I think that the elites are now realizing that it is not, in fact, the end of history and that they are in for a fight now though their ideas will continue to bring them grief. One such idea at the World Economic Forum is at and seems to say that progress is only to be found in cosmopolitan cities. Perhaps this idea was partially inspired by the county election map of the US 2016 elections which showed America to be an ocean of red with only blue islands indicting city population centres to be seen.
I think that this idea is starting to get a lot traction lately. Recently, a San Francisco CEO, made a hate filled tweet which illustrates this divide ( so maybe identity politics is not dead yet but has reformulated itself into new guises.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Scotlyn - the wives were out to criminalize prostitution for the same reason there were unions who wanted a closed shop. As the phrase of the period went, "Why should men buy a cow if milk is so cheap?" Meant, of course, to keep the young girls from "cheapening themselves." Which, considering the attitude of the period's boys, carried a real and present danger.

@greg simay: when eating meat becomes a moral issue for everybody but the most reprehensible people, you can bet your last food dollar that eating, or raising meat, is becoming all but unaffordable. The pastures are overgrazed, so cows are exclusively for milk and milk products, for example. Widespread vegetarianism takes the ecological load off, and happens if a respected elite leads the way.

Rita said...

@ Scotlyn -- large brewers were among the most organized opponents of women's suffrage because they feared, rightly, that women would vote for prohibition. Women feared not just the economic costs of drinking but also the violence of drunken husband, which, sort of murder the law failed to shield them from. Although Prohibition was a disaster in terms of law enforcement and the rise of gang violence, statistics collected by the Salvation Army did show a decrease in the social harm of drinking during Prohibition. In England the government controlled alcohol through high taxes on distilled liquor to price it out of the reach of the poor, and restrictive hours for the public houses where the working class did most of their drinking. Such laws were not applied to the private clubs where gentlemen could enjoy themselves without fear. Similarly, the consumption of alcohol was not forbidden by US Prohibition, just its production and sale. Individuals and organizations could continue to enjoy the contents of their cellars.

Another cause that would appall those who wish to identify with the Progressives is eugenics. A number of progressives, including some feminists, worried that uncontrolled breeding of inferior types was creating a drag on the nation and possibly threatening the survival of the white race. The recent book _White Trash_ expands on this. Laws allowing sterilization of the unfit were passed in many states. I suspect that such concerns might have contributed to the attacks on gay culture as well. If good physical and moral types have a duty to reproduce any lifestyle that leads them away from marriage and family is a threat.

Doctor Westchester said...


Here’s a rather esoteric thought. You have mentioned before about the broad general tendency toward increasing cephalization over time, especially in the more capstone creatures in our world. I’m sure others who have noticed this take it as a fundamental proof of progress in evolution. Yet it might just be ... adaption to circumstances. Since as it ages the sun is slowly increasing its output, the Earth’s biosphere slowly has more energy available to it. More energy throughput means more possible complexity. Thus the same underlying phenomenon that makes it possible that an ice age doesn’t freeze all water on earth is also making the increasing cephalization possible.

Ozark Chinquapin said...

Thank you for this post, it's one of my favorites of yours.

I'm thinking we're still in the early phases of a major realignment of American politice. Right now is a particularly difficult time to try to predict the near future of American politics because so much depends on what Trump ends up actually doing and how quickly the American empire unravels, but observing the behavior of the left over this election cycle has made me really understand the concerns you've expressed about totalitarianism coming from the "progressive" left in the America of the near future. It could come from left or right, but I see at this particular time in history it being more likely to come from the left because of how central their attachment to the myth of progress is. Plenty on the right believe in some form of the myth of progress as well, but it doesn't tend to be as central to their outlook as it is for the left.

For a while, I was thinking that the myth of progress was losing adherents quickly, but I hadn't realized a crucial distinction until recently, that the loss of belief that progress is happening in the present is very different from the loss of belief in the myth of progress entirely. Right now, there's a lot of people who fervently believe in the myth of progress as an ideal but don't think progress is happening as it should at the present. I see that as a volatile situation. Believers who think progress is inevitable tend to be more complacent, but the present situation where progress is faltering, it seems ripe for political movements that attempt to force progress down all of our throats. At its worst, it could be Fred Halliot, it could also be a situation more like what Venezuela has gone through, a socialist movement that promises too much at a time when we can't afford it and ends up bankrupting the county. The way that many progressives speak of things like the internet, college, and the more extreme forms of medical intervention under the category of entitlements makes me think a Venezuela-type scenario is very possible here if they get into power in our era of decline. A difference I see with Venezuele is that I'd think the Union would dissolve before things got to the point they are now in Venezuela, whether by civil war or a more peaceful means.

Ray Wharton said...

The death rattle of the politics in America is vile to see. It feels polite to avert ones gaze from such shameful things. Since I moved in with my family I have learned more about network news than I wanted, but it degenerates from week to week. The red scare bit has become pathetic, and all degrade themselves for the goal of degrading their adversaries and succeed.

When I was a child a beloved cat was injured by the fan belt of a starting truck engine; tried to nurse him back to health for a little more than a day, but aspirin only goes so far. I am reminded of the cries of Hamlet's final hours when I hear the tone of the TV at a sufficient distance to not hear the words. Strange association, but it is what it is.

After thinking on and off for a bit I am hesitant to make a prediction for this year, things feel so uncertain that the specifics which come to mind feel susceptible to becoming meaningless.

Ray Wharton said...

Evolution is fascinating, no doubt, and to think of the evolution of consciousness itself especially. But, imagining it as having a destination is madness. Tragic so much consciousness if smothered but such a simple mistake. I think there is even worth while speculation about the history of consciousnesses evolution, and even the prospects of variations taking form in the future.

So, sad to say that I don't have the nerve to make an annual prediction, I will speculate on deeper future of the evolution of consciousness, protected from falsification by human life expectancy. Since evolution has to do with adaptation to conditions these predictions will be in the forms of conditionals.

Radio and audio recording will be the most significant technologies from this civilization to affect consciousness if they survive. They change what kinds of experience are available to individuals and groups as much or more than literacy did.

Some of the wider swings of civilization cycles in our history are side effects of writing. Writing causes larger accumulations of stories and administration that our evolutionary history prepares humans for. Cultural adaptations to the extremes of bureaucrats and priests are ad hoc, and prone to reversals. Cyclic cultural consciousness, like a fir forest burning of every few centuries, and stabilizing climax adaptations are both good contenders for finding niches. Consider the relative cycles of Chinese and Western historic civilizations, which I think suggest that a wide variation of cycle lengths and amplitudes are possible.

Radio and voice recording changes the distance in space and time that the power of voice reaches. Cultures with radio will have wide geographic distribution, but quite likely have to share that extent with radically different cultures. Imagine pious Orthodox Punks questioning their child about playing with those Amish boys from across the street. I think that the niche of being intentionally separate with in a larged system will widen, having been pioneered by Jews and several other cultures

Niches for anti-radio, anti-record, and anti-literature societies are likely to be numerous. Even with such technologies covering great distances they need not breed homogeneity. Remember we are experiencing a time of mass consciousness extinction, consider the vast reduction in language diversity recently. There is usually a much larger diversity of cultural forms and therefore variety of consciousness. I expect a return to the mean, the reach of radio will be overcome by the genius of the human soul to form tight nit and mentally distinct cultures despite the radio.

There are so many different ways that these technologies can change culture and consciousness that many paths will be tried, and it is unlikely for a steady of universal pattern to emerge for a long time, even if other conscious pressuring technologies don't emerge.

Just guesses, and deviant trends can insert, but I think it is a good exercise to try thinking of consciousness evolutionally. I start with technology modification. Also consciousness might evolve toward colony species intelligence as egregores continue to adapt to evolutionarilly recent changes in the noosphere. Might climate effect consciousness if globally altered? Could non linguistic hominids make a comeback? Might other species move in on the niche currently filled by human librarians?

Ray Wharton said...

The evolution of ethics is more specific... very hard to call. I think that on any large scale it evolves at a slow rate, consider the life span of a civilization, and how long it takes to accumulate an appreciable number of generations to happen. Also, it seems that there are mutual approaches to ethics that are viable enough to stay in the game and mutually incompatible in a particular instant. The Earth and the Future are big place both, and Evolution does seem to like diversity, so I would guess that many languages of good an evil will continue to thrive, and fight, and even depend on each other. Consider that the individual can at times be selected for selfishness, and at times for maintaining distance, and also for cooperation, depending. In game theory there are many viable tactics, and for any given 'game' what the ideal tactic is cannot be foreseen.

Perhaps this is true of ethical systems too. I mean, some ethical systems might find success by opposing and warring with all other systems they encounter. Some ethical systems might benefit from paraciting other ethical systems. Some by symbiosis. And so on in this fashion.

Do we not already see this in the world?

Each people speaks its own tongue of good and evil, and knows not the tongue of it's neighbor... And yet the form of many a people depends on their neighbor to exist as a flower depends on the insect. The bee and the flower's DNA are uninteligable to one another, and yet they are sexual partners!

The faith in the evolution of moral consciousness though, is it anything except the faith in One Ring of ethics? Stick THAT in a liberal's pipe and tell him to smoke it!

Clarence said...

ethics is about what you do when someone is watching and morals is about what you do when no one is watching. i've been saying "you can't legislate morality" for decades. it's like saying 'you can't fix stupid'. morals and stupidity are individualistic and may or may not be subject to direct influence.

andrewmarkmusic said...

Hi, JMG, thanks for clarifying your position on this issue, one i agree with! My interest is in how mores are tied into energy supplies. I don't see that it was some mysterious workings within consciousness that ushered in the modern era; I believe technology and a certain fuel source brought it on, and with the fuel/ tech came wealth and abundance for a significant portion of an exploding population. This wealth and abundance created the conditions whereby many more people were able to garner privileges which were only available to the aristocratic classes--these privileges included but were not limited to gender and sexual freedom ( issues which were already normalized in ruling classes, at least to a certain degree).. For some time i've held a negative view on this issue in that I speculate the diminishing of these privileges as and if we traverse back into various types of neo-feudalism. I suspect, though, that you've theorized scenerios where these occurrence's are not inevitable, and we can hope for that; but I see, and sadly so; the former being more likely. One would think women and the gay community would be concerned about this issue ( if I'm /we are right) but they for the most part seem oblivious to it !

Peter VE said...

Varun: "Chronocentrism isn’t just a declaration of the superiority of the present condition over the past, it’s also a statement that those individuals who do not wholly embrace the present condition, which is apparently decided by the elite, have no future. "
Bravo. Comments like this are why I read the ADR. This is a salon of the first water.

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

3rd attempt (I copied the text this time) Oh Blogger, how I hate hate thee.

I have a book recommendation for you on the evolution of human consciousness. RE:

"It’s entirely possible, in fact, to talk about the evolution of political opinion (which is of course what “consciousness” amounts to here) in strictly Darwinian terms. In every society, at every point in its history, groups of people are striving to improve the conditions of their lives by some combination of competition and cooperation with other groups."

It's Craig Dilworth's "Too Smart for our Own Good: The Ecological Predicament of Humankind" and I found it dry and depressing yet couldn't put it down. It's a thoroughly researched, multi-disciplinary, and fully annotated tomb by someone outside of academia the offers a comprehensive theory of how evolutionary pressures kluged us together to be the competitive and cooperative species that we are. I found the arguments compelling and the research impressive in both scope and depth. It doesn't paint a pretty picture, but it does give a good overview of what we have to work with.


PS In other literary news I am one third of the way through Atlas Shrugged after several months and half way though The Great Crash 1929 after a day and a half.

team10tim said...

Hey hey all,

Since we are talking about changing political opinions and I am reading The Great Crash 1929 I wanted to share this gem from November 5th, 1929:

"In the New York mayoral race, the Democratic incumbent, James J. Walker, scored a landslide victory over his Republican opponent, F, H. La Guardia, who had been soundly denounced by the Democrats as a socialist."


sunseekernv said...

Scotlyn - Glad you liked the links. Yes, many of the prostitutes then (and now) were/are wives and mothers.

It's also a point that many of the wives/mothers of that era of limited economic (and other!) opportunity for women were driven to the "floating world" because of husbands killed or injured in factory work (and no disability pay if they didn't belong to a union or fraternal organization) or widowed due to disease, or because of abandonment.

People today think, "marriage not working out? Just get a divorce."
But it wasn't easy back when, particularly for working class people. And women's right of contract was limited in many jurisdiction in the US until the early 1900's. Even agreements between a separating couple would be held invalid in the US in the 1st half of the 19th century, so strong was the "marriage is forever, wife is man's property" paradigm then.

Marital Exits and Expectation from the Georgetown Law Review

So disappearing husbands (and wives) were not so uncommon.

Around 1900, some states, however, prospered and profited by the "sin phobia" of the rest of the nation in regards to divorce.
One in particular is well covered here:

John Michael Greer said...

Jbucks, that's a valid question. The point I'd make in response is that cyclical theories of history, if they're based on a solid knowledge of historical parallels, do routinely make accurate predictions about the future, while linear theories of history consistently produce failed predictions. That doesn't guarantee that any particular prediction based on a theory of historical cycles is true, of course; on the other hand, the evidence of history does suggest that every prediction based on a linear theory of history will turn out to be false!

Steve, 'tis an ill wind that blows no minds. ;-) Glad to be of service.

Drhooves, we'll see. I'm thinking just now of what happened in the wake of the last really spectacular reorientation in US politics, the one that followed FDR's victories in 1932 and 1936. A great many positions and habits that had been mainstream up to that time got dropped like a hot rock by the great majority of people who'd formerly upheld them -- and it wasn't because people were flocking to a source of food et al. More on this down the road a bit.

Spanish Fly, fascinating. I didn't know that -- though it makes perfect sense, of course.

Robert, so noted; I'll give it a look as time permits.

Phil, good. Most changes are quirky, and even those that have practical value routinely have odd side effects. That's one of the reasons we can count on getting a future that isn't like the one we imagine!

Bill, I'm delighted to hear that. However, I've heard -- and if you'll glance through the comments, you'll find that many of my readers have also heard -- a vast number of "progressives" (that word "progress" again!) who do in fact speak and act as though they believe devoutly that history is on their side. If you can convince more people on your end of the political spectrum to ditch the sense of historical entitlement and embrace your far more sensible viewpoint, that would strike me as a very good thing.

As for the Clinton mourners, I figure that it's precisely the fact that so many of them assumed her election was inevitable that's caused the spectacular collective nervous breakdown among them. Cognitive dissonance is a very challenging thing!

Greg, by all means start taxing them with their chronocentrism! You'll want to have a handkerchief nearby to wipe off the spittle, though, because my guess is that you'll get a Donald Duck frenzy of no small scale.

Bill, a very edgy metaphor! Thank you.

Pinku-Sensei, nope, just noting that Dean has been turned posthumously into a focus for passions far more widespread than he aroused in his life...

Fudoshin, good. My guess, though, is that most intelligent species have exactly the same problem. If we define intelligence as the ability to create abstract mental models of reality and manipulate them, why, there are plenty of ways to use that ability dysfunctionally!

RPC, I'll gladly accept the correction.

John Michael Greer said...

Scotlyn, that makes sense.

Ekkar, do you know if it's available in a print format? I really do find the little pictures jerking around on glass screens unappealing.

Jbucks, as noted earlier, it does seem to be the case that cyclical theories produce better predictions than linear ones.

Dammerung, of course. Everybody is trying to work out a mental response to their current situation that seems to make sense, whether or not it makes sense to anybody else. BTW, any thoughts why so many people who are passionate about animal rights have no time for human rights? That's not just limited to your fashy friends -- you can see it just as clearly in the behavior of PETA and the more radical vegan types, for example.

Degringolade, no question, there's some really dubious practice in science, but there's also a lot of kluging. (I spell it that way, by the way, because "kludge" to my eye should rhyme with "trudge," while "kluge" last I checke rhymes with "huge.")

Anton, you need to come visit the Appalachians sometime. Most people here, including waitresses, can't afford the more expensive forms of dental care, and so missing teeth are pretty common.

Scotlyn, and that also makes sense. I don't agree, though, that there's any gender difference in the habit of playing dominance hierarchy. The pecking orders I've watched in action in women's lodges and women-run spiritual groups are every bit as savage, and played with every bit as much gusto, as in their masculine equivalents.

Keith, good! You and Schopenhauer would get along well. ;-)

Mister R., oh, granted. There's always a pendulum effect, by which something that's been repressed expresses itself in an overblown and dysfunctional form when it first breaks through, then settles down to something less messed up. Give it another two generations and my guess gender identity will be no big deal.

Onething, good. For what it's worth, I think it's always possible to make things better, but I don't imagine our species will ever achieve a wholly good society -- and if they did, it would probably last fifteen minutes and then shift gears into something less idyllic. Human beings get bored with happiness way too easily!

Wendy, the one thing I'd point out is that the imminent obsolescence of most jobs has been being predicted over and over again since I was a small boy. We'll see just how far it actually goes -- and just how savage the backlash becomes...

John Michael Greer said...

Toomas, many thanks. I've visited a couple of YouTube videos on sailing tall ships, but don't get a lot out of them, thus the interest in books.

Zaphod, Cleghorn was really quite good, wasn't she?

Aron, so I notice. Glad to see it!

David, good. Corruption, kleptocracy, nepotism -- like having your charitable foundation pay for your daughter's wedding? Hmm...

Patricia, good! Yep, that's the movement.

Lordberia, of course -- it's precisely those who know little about history who find it easiest to shoehorn it into the arbitrary scheme of progress. Your predictions look reasonable, but of course we'll see.

Cortes, glad to hear it.

Clay, that's promising indeed.

Mouse, protest marches don't create movements. It takes a huge amount of old-fashioned grassroots organizing to actually build a movement that can accomplish anything, and doing that with any degree of effectiveness requires letting the membership decide exactly what causes they want to push forward. The top-down model that's been fashionable for the last thirty-plus years, in which an inner circle of professional activists tell everyone else what they will be upset about, doesn't work -- that's a core reason why activism has become so toothless during that period -- but I have yet to see that fact have any impact on the leftward end of the activist scene.

Unless that changes, the Million Woman March will accomplish zilch, zero, nada. The marchers will march, Trump will make a dismissive tweet or two and then ignore them, the media will go into yet another saliva-spraying meltdown for the five minutes it takes them to get distracted by something else, and that will be all. If you'd like something concrete to come of it, read up on how political activists used to do grassroots organizing back when the left used to win now and again, and then get out there and start rousing the rabble!

LatheChuck, maybe so. I simply assumed it was fashionable doubletalk, brought in to replace the word "ideology" when that went out of style.

Crow Hill said...

JMG: Good to be reminded that in making political decisions like voting one should review beyond the labels of right/left/name of party what the party actually stands for. Unfortunately except in a direct or semi-direct democracy there’s no chance to vote on an issue by issue basis—there’s activism of course.

I think that the overall “good” that is targeted by politicians worldwide today is summarized by the notion of economic growth, and everything that’s good for economic growth is good full stop.

Issue/political tendency variable (JMG quote): “how many people remember, for example, that environmental protection was a cause of the far right until the 1960s?”

I wonder where along the political spectrum this issue stands today. Rich people invest their money and work in corporations that don’t have any consideration for the environment or nature, so would be anti-nature even though they’d enjoy a safari in Africa to relax from the stresses of their corporate or otherwise high-income jobs.

Poor people (with the exception of indigenous people) give priority to getting jobs, keeping prices low which economic growth promises to provide, so have little time for environmental concerns. I do remember though a lady from Latvia who was complaining that the forests in her country were being cut down and exported to Scandinavia for production of furniture (Ikea?) and therefore losing the cost-free pleasure of a walk in the woods.

JMG quote: “When people throw around the phrases “more evolved” and “less evolved,” they’re talking nonsense, or at best engaging in a pseudoscientific way of saying “I like this” and “I don’t like that.” Exactly. It all depends on the criteria used to decide what’s better and what’s worse. Many things are good from one point of view and bad from another. Darwin proposed that evolution was comparable to the growth of a coral or a bush: it grew simultaneously in many directions.

John Michael Greer said...

Greg, well, except that as factory farming becomes too expensive, people will raise chickens and rabbits in their backyards. Small, local, organic livestock operations are actually quite common already; a good many people I know get half a pig or a quarter cow once a year; and as the commercial food supply becomes too expensive and too unsafe -- the rate of bacterial contamination is already ghastly, and rising -- there are plenty of other options waiting to step in.

That said, granted the possibility of your hypothesis, the rest does follow, yes.

Varun, good! Yes, that does follow -- and we'll be talking about it next week.

Sylvia, I've had conversations like that as well. As for "Frigging in the Rigging," the only version of that I know was by the Sex Pistols, and lacked the verses you mention. Clearly some Innsmouth garage band has done a cover of it with new lyrics!

Guillem, that's an excellent example; thank you.

Clay, funny! Let's see -- no doubt Putin would make Trump stop sending American servicepeople off to the Middle East to get killed in endless, pointless wars; he would make Trump stop bankrupting the US in order to cover the costs of defending European nations that won't pay for their own defense; he might even get Trump to ditch the endless series of drone strikes, regime-change operations, and so on that Obama's spent eight years pursuing with unquestioning enthusiasm, and which have plunged whole regions into chaos and misery. Oh, I know! He'd probably make Trump import a whole bunch of Russian caviar, too. I bet a lot of Democrats don't like caviar! ;-)

Lewis, that comment is...precious. (Sigh.) As Charles Dana, I've already thought ofthat -- we have a copy of the Harvard Classics here at home, and Two Years Before the Mast is one of the books it includes. I should probably reread Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle, too.

Sunseeker, good. The notion that the US used to be a Christian nation isn't just chronocentrism, it's rank historical fabrication; this country has been a bubbling cauldron of wild religious diversity since before it was founded.

Graeme, I plan on doing a couple of posts on ethics, starting with Nietzsche's discussion of the subject, and I don't know how I could comment meaningfully on your suggestion in less than that kind of length. Stay tuned!

Kevin, buying into the fantasy of the end of history is one of the most predictably disastrous traps in the history of human thought, but it's very seductive. I expect to see much more of it as "progress" comes to an end.

Crow Hill said...

It was interesting to learn about the varying attitudes to homosexuality over recent times.

Attitude frozen in time in many ex-British colonies, where the colonizer reproved homosexuality. Now those countries are blamed by Western countries for what is today considered as an anti-human rights stance.

John Michael Greer said...

Doctor W., not esoteric at all. It seems quite reasonable -- though I'd want to see if there's any other evidence of a correlation between cephalization and energy throughput before going further with it.

Ozark, that's a crucial distinction. People will gladly jump from one version of the faith in progress to another -- from believing that social progress will save us all to believing that technological progress will save us all, or vice versa -- but to let go of the fantasy as a whole is a huge step, and it won't come easily. The one thing outside of progress that believers in progress can jump to is a belief in an impending apocalypse. I'm waiting to see if we get a recrudescence of that on the Clintonist end of things shortly...

Ray, I know -- that's why I didn't make any specific predictions this time around, other than a continued acceleration of all the trends that are driving this country and industrial civilization as a whole along the downslope of their respective histories.

Clarence, hmm. Would you care to offer some evidence for that claim?

Andrew, as I look across history I simply don't see a consistent correlation between repression and scarcity. Societies living in scarce conditions, like those living in lavish conditions, have been scattered all across the spectrum from easygoing and egalitarian to brutally hierarchical and repressive. That being the case, I don't know that there's necessarily anything to worry about.

Tim, I'll give it a look as time permits. Thank you!

John Michael Greer said...

Crow Hill, why, that's the point of political organization. If you assemble an organization with a significant number of voters, and then tell both parties, "If you support our cause, you get our votes; if you oppose our cause, you don't" -- and then stick with that no matter what -- you can get what you want. Watch the way AARP and the retiree lobby generally have played both parties against each other to get their way; that's how the game is played.

sunseekernv said...

team10tim - thanks for the book recommendation:
Craig Dilworth's "Too Smart for our Own Good: The Ecological Predicament of Humankind"
It has a long preview on Amazon and looks like a great compendium of many good ideas. I like that he starts out with the laws of thermodynamics. Would seem to be a good follow-on read to JMG's books: "Green Wizardry" and "The Wealth of Nature".

However " [...] by someone outside of academia ..." seems incorrect.

Per his website he is a "Reader in Theoretical Philosophy", Uppsala University, so quite inside academia...
Looks like he might have some interesting things to say about science.

Robert Honeybourne - I second your recommendation of The Righteous Mind

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for the explanation and to be honest, I wish Progressive Intellectuals would stop messing around with my life! Honestly, have they nothing better to do? Of course such things are an expression of the surplus energy sloshing around in the system.

Oh, I'm on the final chapter of my second read of the book "Overshoot" and I just wanted to share a particularly choice intellectual smack down by the author, who it must be said has a rather delightful way with words. Anyway, the smack down is as follows: "This is manifestly not the case"! Haha! I had to laugh when I read that this morning and it is a true tea spitting bit of verbal genius. You know, I've felt myself thinking that exact thought when dealing with cornucopian's, but never in the field of battle could I have come up with such a smack down. What a book!

I did not have a chance to ask you about your memory as to when you first came across that book? Your comment piqued my interest, but alas other matters interceded. Have you had a chance to re-read that book?

I once lived in a dry suburb too which was a very strange experience as it was completely unexpected. I'll recount the story soon. The chickens need to run around the orchard!



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi whomever, Scotlyn, and JMG,

Well it is funny that you mention prohibition down under and the general strangeness of that restrictions. For a start have those wowsers not heard of the Blessed Sacrament? I'm pretty certain they use a very dodgy wine in that gear? Hmmm... Of course acceptions have to be made to general rules... Honestly most fruit will ferment into alcohol with very little assistance on behalf of humans. I may tell a story about that over the next week or so.

Anyway, I digress - as is my usual habit. Ah, that's right. The temperance league. Well, many years ago when I lived in a grungy share house with four other people in the upper crust suburb of Camberwell in Melbourne, I discovered to my absolute horror that it was a "dry" suburb and had no pubs within its boundaries. It was mildly surreal to discover that little shop of horrors...

I would have thought that in an Australian context such things were abhorrent concepts. I mean don't those intellectuals know nuffin bout their history? Way back in the day their was a successful military coup down here: Rum Rebellion. The government was lead by none other than William Bligh (of the mutiny of the bounty fame) which just goes to show that some people can't or won't learn from failure! Just sayin...

The upshot of all that is that the context for such a thing as prohibition down here would lead to open rebellion. Give it a go if you dare!



Unknown said...


interesting essay and discussion, as always.

A couple of thoughts

maybe that pervasive idea of "progress" has it's roots in religion and the notion of becoming a better person in order to reach the after life, nirvana or whatever the desired end state happens to be.

perhaps the erratic nature of what the so-called left and right sides of politics do has more to do with the psychopathic nature of those involved at the upper levels and their "whatever it takes" approach to gaining the required level of support to attain power than anything else.


eagle eye

Clarence said...

graeme, jmg;

i will to try to respond with background on my views on ethics, morals and stupidity in another post. the difficulties of expressing my thoughts in print format are sometimes extreme. that an errant touch on a keyboard can consign an hour's effort at said expression to the empty ether is another matter.

Tidlösa said...

Excellent essay. One of your best! I was aware of most of the issues you mentioned (they used to confuse me when I was more dogmatic), except the gay thing. However, the gay stuff you mentioned do explain some curious “anomalies” I noticed when reading about the early 1900´s. Such as: where did all the emancipated gays come from? Or: why were pro-gay leftists considered strange?

Here in Sweden, prohibition was a huge issue about a century ago. In 1922, Sweden even organized a referendum on prohibition. 50.8% voted “no”, but 48.8% actually voted “yes”. While the referendum was non-partisan, it was a public secret that many Social Democrats and Communists supported prohibition. The Social Democrats even had their own temperance organization, the National Order of Verdandi (it still exists). While Sweden never got prohibition, Swedish alcohol and drug policy has always been very restrictive. I used to hang out in Swedish leftist circles about 30 years ago, and what I noticed was that pro-drug positions were considered controversial. Many leftists supported anti-drug organizations, including groups so restrictive that they would probably be considered “conservative” or even slightly fascistic had they existed in, say, California. One of the most restrictive anti-drug groups, the RNS, was actually formed by leftists, something probably unknown to its present members! The same with Hassela-Solidaritet, another restrictive group. Interestingly, Denmark – a neighboring nation to Sweden – has exactly the opposite attitude to drugs and booze, so there the leftists are probably closer to the Left Coast variety. This can lead to interesting cultural clashes (I´m almost tempted to call it ethno-centrism) between left-wing radicals from different nations…

Prohibition was an issue in many other nations, too. In Russia, the Bolsheviks kept the prohibition of vodka originally imposed by the Czar during World War I! In Germany and (I think) Austria, the Social Democrats had their own temperance lodges, like in Sweden. However, the German Social Democrats and Communists were also pro-gay and “pro-sex”, something highly unusual at the time. Lenin criticized the sexually liberal attitudes of the German Communists in a famous conversation with Clara Zetkin.

(To be continued)

Tidlösa said...

(Continued from a previous posting)

As for American history, I think many leftists and liberals have repudiated Jefferson and Jackson due to their racism. The liberals have found an intriguing substitute in Alexander Hamilton. Since Hamilton and the Federalists represented the “moderate”, “conservative” or “right wing” faction of the American Revolution, this is richly ironic. But then, I suppose the elitist banker connections and filibustering interventionism of Hamilton may subconsciously appeal to liberals, I mean, think Hillary Clinton, LOL. Interestingly, I wondered about 20 years ago why no leftist or liberal supported Hamilton, since he was against slavery, supported industrialization and wanted a “dirigiste” economy, in contrast to Jefferson who was a slave-owner, agrarian romantic and called for a free market. At the time, I suppose most leftists and left-liberals were still too much into Thomas Paine to bother about the Founding Fathers, but it seems I almost called it!

Incidentally, the right-wingers have their own version of Whig history and strange anachronisms. World history has inexorably moved forward until its zenith in the Eisenhower presidency, but it´s been pretty much downhill from there (with Reagan as a temporary stop gap). Also, right-wingers have a tendency to think that everything looked like during the 1950´s throughout most of history (or at least American history). They seem to have apotheosized a very small segment of history, about a decade or so of specifically US history.

Note also the following weirdness: conservatives love Teddy Roosevelt (whose political program sounded like FDR´s!), libertarians like Andrew Jackson (an authoritarian machine politician who trampled the constitution underfoot), and militia groups adulate George Washington (who would have suppressed them á la Janet Reno if given have the chance). Since I´m an equal opportunity offender, I also wonder why so many leftists seem to hate the Roosevelts, both of them?

OK, enough irreverence for today… ;-)

Tidlösa said...

A new posting.

There is an obvious connection to “Retrotopia” here. I admit that I found “the gay angle” (and the other tolerant angles) unconvincing at first, some kind of hippie anachronism in fact. However, I suppose part of the solution is what you said in a previous response to another poster: yes, people become tolerant when society is more stable, secure and affluent *but the definition of stability, security and affluence is in itself culturally constructed*.

This explains why the Lakeland Republic is so tolerant, despite having gone through a civil war, a refugee crisis and some kind of brutal revolution… Unrealistic, perhaps, but not entirely impossible!

The opposite is also true: insecurity, instability and want are – above a certain limit – also subjective questions. I´m extremely worried about certain things (none mentioned here), despite having a living standard and security far above, say, the genocidal hell hole of South Sudan, and I´m pretty “intolerant” towards those who threaten my circles in the sand…

Tidlösa said...

I forgot to mention one thing when discussing America. I´m sure you know that the first American territory to give women the right to vote was Wyoming! From Wikipedia (sorry for quoting them):

>>>On December 10, 1869, territorial Governor John Allen Campbell extended the right to vote to women, making Wyoming the first territory and then United States state to grant suffrage to women. In addition, Wyoming was also a pioneer in welcoming women into politics. Women first served on juries in Wyoming (Laramie in 1870); Wyoming had the first female court bailiff (Mary Atkinson, Laramie, in 1870); and the first female justice of the peace in the country (Esther Hobart Morris, South Pass City, in 1870). Also, in 1924, Wyoming became the first state to elect a female governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross, who took office in January 1925.Due to its civil-rights history, one of Wyoming's state nicknames is "The Equality State", and the official state motto is "Equal Rights".

The second territory to give women the right to vote was Utah in 1870, but in that case, foul play was involved, since the Mormon "People´s Party" simply wanted to extend the conservative Mormon block vote. Wyoming´s decision seems to have been genuinely "feminist", though.

Note that Wyoming is in, ahem, fly over country...

Scotlyn said...

@JMG, it would be remiss of me to leave you with the impression that Jordan Peterson thinks women do not play "dominance hierarchy". He is a subtle thinker who has devoted 40 years to studying the problem of evil and how to arrange society in such a way as to avoid it. His thoughts on this are as broad as they are long (many of them gained by wandering through territory familiar to yourself - ie myth and fairy tale, and Jungian archetypes)...

I am not yet certain how much of his thought I agree or disagree with, but I find his thought extremely interesting to grapple with, and would like to give it a fair accounting.

What I do understand him to say is that "male dominance hierarchy" is a social game of extreme antiquity (300 million years at least), well understood throughout the animal kingdom, and that male animal bodies walking around today carry the "equipment" (brain chemicals, etc) required, both to be good at playing it, and to find it endlessly satisfying and engaging to play. He believes that there is a satisfying and enriching way to play it, and that preventing boys and men from playing it in that way can lead to *worse* consequences - ie warband formation, violence, nihilism, cruelty, and all the truly destructive orgies of mass violence unleashed in the 20th century.

I sense he is (slightly) less interested/invested in the kinds of games women and girls play, mainly because his primary project is rescuing the male psyche from its entrapment in postmodernist culture. However, when he does comment it is to acknowledge that girls and women are:
1) obviously engaged in their own dominance hierarchy game, though it has different stakes and different rules of engagement from that played by men (this part of his thought remains too thinly addressed, though), and
2) women remain outside of, and are a perennial challenge to, the game of "male dominance hierarchy" - especially since the real stakes in *that* game (as he sees it) is the attention of women. (this part of his thought is more developed).

I hope not to have done him an injustice in the above brief sketch of his thinking.

As I said, I am interested, but not yet wholly on board with it.

David, by the lake said...


Re my previous comment on the shadow projection by the left. It is embarrassingly empty, and the accusations read almost like the standard list of blasphemous practices attributed to whatever heretical group one was persecuting back in the day. Your worship Baphomet! You spit on holy icons! You engage in perverse sexual practices!

David, by the lake said...


I accidentally hit submit.

I was just going to end by observing that now we have calls on the fringe left, apparently, for martial law to be declared in order to prevent Trump from taking office. Talk about foolish...

Bill Pulliam said...

So thoughts about "evolution"and "progress," actually on topic (wow!)...

In the fundamental sense, there has undeniably been an evolution in the western world over the last few centuries towards ideas of more inclusive human rights and notions such as equality. The trend has certainly not been monotonic, but is has been pretty strong overall in the long term. And it is easy to see how many people would mistake this for an inevitability and a sign that we are becoming our higher selves, more advanced and purer than our predecessors. Especially since most people consider a hundred years a long time, and 300 years like almost the entire span of human history.

Of course what (to my mind) has really been happening in this time is technological innovation and the rise of the energy slave. It is far easier to free your slaves and stop forcing women to devote their entire lives to child rearing and household work when you have energy slaves to do this work for you. There's no need to work your workers to death when you have machines that were never alive doing the jobs instead. But we like to think we are more than just a bunch of economic expediencies, so we embrace grander visions of our higher selves evolving towards a state of perfected grace.

Longer term history has shown of course that these trends are not in any way irreversible. Those genies can be put back in their bottles pretty fast when times get hard.

I have never quite understood where the oppression of homosexuality fits in to this, and why it seems to focus especially strongly on the male-male version. I don't actually see how having a percentage of unmarried childless adults in society is harmful; indeed it has proven to be quite useful, providing a population to be caretakers, clergy, educators, artists, scholars, explorers (ever notice how the 19th Century "Mountain Men" in the American West often traveled in twos?) and the like. Other than strange and arbitrary Abhrahamic taboos against it, what is the harm? We throw aside all the other Abrahamic tabboos willy-nilly when they are inconvenient, why is this one such a big deal?

Phitio said...

I do not agree. It seems to me that you are confusing the "evolution" mechanism (randomness in change and selection) with the "evolution" interpretation.

Starting from bare molten rocks some 4 billions year ago, I assume that something on Earth has "evolved" a bit with time.

Yes, there was back and foths, inversions and reprisals, no linearity at all. But there is undeniably something in the "universal laws" that pushes towards complexification.

On the issue of Consiousness, and What it is, I suppose that we cannot infer it from phisics, neither evoke it from "complexification" (because "complexity" in itself does not support the origin of consiousness in any way).

Consoiusness consstitues an "hard problem" as you probabily know. DOes it evolve? WHat it means "evolve"? That it changes? Yes it changes, indivisually and collectively,for sure, but there should exist a general direction to embrace the idea of evolution, or we are simply talking of randomness.

We have to study history to answer, but limiting the study to a few hundred years is doing a poor job.

At least, we should embrace 50.000 years of human history to define a trajectory, if one exists, to our collective consciousness.

From my point of view, a direction exists. We indeed learned from past history. The problem is that we learn veeeery sloooowly :D

Have a nice day

Scotlyn said...

@PatriciaM and Rita and Sunseeker - you have all added texture and nuance to the question of what various groups of women were up to at an interesting period! Thanks for all your responses to my posts. @Patricia the comment that "sanitation" was a unifying obsession of the time did seem to make good sense of the way different issues were strung together then. I'm less clear on what could be today's overarching obsession theme. Certainly food and eating are an arena in which obsession is rife. "Inclusivity" might be another. But if anyone wants to hazard a name for this beast, I'd love to hear it.

donalfagan said...

These are mostly quotes of what I've been reading about the coming of the crude caudillo:

I know, I know ... "We'll see."

Nancy Shirley said...

According to some religious beliefs, including the Hindus, the world gets worse over time, not better. It starts millions of years ago with the Satya Yuga (golden age), the the Tretya Yuga (silver age), Dvapara/Dwapara Yuga (Copper or Brass age), and the last age we are now in the Kali Yuga (iron age).

In the first age all humans were happy and followed Truth. As each age progresses, mankind becomes more and more evil. Lifespans get shorter and shorter. Society becomes more violent and destructive.

Then everything comes to an end, and the big cycle (Maha Yuga) starts again.

Personally, I don't believe in 'progress'. I believe we are headed downhill instead. (Hindus believe in reincarnation. The goal is for Soul to learn from all these experiences.)

BFM said...

I also post in a left-leaning political forum. A prevailing belief there is that the Democratic Party has betrayed its core principles, that it used to be much more left: an antiwar party with firmly "progressive" (another word with multiple meanings) values that once put the interests of "the people" first. The posters in that political forum tend to believe that if the Democratic Party would only "return to its roots," then it would attract back people like them, people who were once evidently enthusiastic about the party, and the party would become once again the vigorous defender of policies that are antiwar, pro-worker, pro-equality, and anti-corporate excess.

When I point out that it was Democrat Lyndon Johnson who drastically escalated the Vietnam War, let alone that the segregationist South was within some of the posters' lifetimes a one-party state run by Democrats, I get met with silence. (I don't go back any further than that, as it would be too easy to do so.) When I point out the Democratic Party has always been, by necessity in a center-right country, a catch-all grab bag of politicians with a gamut of belief systems, I'm usually ignored.

These posters are remembering, of course, a specific set of circumstances that existed in the 1970s and 1980s, in an interim without a viable, nationally competing third party, during which some national Democratic figures (Jesse Jackson, for example) advocated for what today we'd call "progressive" causes, and even a presidential candidate (Mondale) stated outright that taxes would need to be raised. At a state and local level, the Democrats, particularly in cities with high percentages of well-educated people, ran candidates with very liberal (to use the word in vogue then) platforms. Tom Hayden was a Democrat. What else would or could he be?

Many of the posters in this online forum were in their twenties and thirties during the 1970s and 1980s, and thus have that period fixed in their minds as "how it always used to be." (The fact during that period, the catch-all Democratic party had establishment figures like Robert Byrd and Sam Nunn representing them in Congress, and that the only Democratic president elected during those two decades was a centrist, doesn't get a mention.) Instead of acknowledging or recognizing that the period they remember so fondly was just twist in the never-ending historical sweep of political realignment, they remember it (selectively) or cling to it as "what always was and should be again." Unfortunately, as you describe more fully in your post, this rigid thinking appears to be the norm in human behavior.

Bob said...


I thought it was the other way around. Ethics (or lack thereof) guide the individual, morals are what society imposes.

Dammerung said...

If I had to spitball something, I'd say it has something to do with the species that are going extinct while humans have never been more overpopulous. That's the express justification of /pol/ - complaining about the loss of cheetah and rhino populations is another way they have to needle the bad behavior of black people - but I'm pretty sure that's the underlying psychology of PETA as well. The general perception is that we aren't going anywhere. The elephants, however, are an irreplaceable natural resource. If nothing else it's all a very tangible reminder that there is a whole compendium of ideas that our culture considers heresy simply to entertain, and just thinking about them is in and of itself sufficient cause to brand one an apostate without a moment of regard given to whatever conclusions one may ultimately draw. The medium is the conviction and the sentence.

Donald Hargraves said...

I've always found the first third of Atlas Shrugged a slog. The rest moves faster, but its sheer size means you're still investing a lot of time and effort in it.

(Read the book twice. Misspent youth and all …)

Ekkar said...

JMG, you said; "Ekkar, do you know if it's available in a print format? I really do find the little pictures jerking around on glass screens unappealing".

Aspergers I presume? Nice to meet you. I'm ADHD. :)

As for print, don't know. I would say perhaps just turn the monitor off and listen.
The triologes, to me, is no loss to not see and only listen. Which if you have not please do. It is very good.
The other; "the emergant mind", would also work to just listen and not watch. No loss of content, however, to me, seeing krishnamurti, David Bohm, and Rupert Sheldrake sitting around BS'n is a great treat.
None the less, I will look for some printed versions an let you know.

Chris Charuhas said...

Does consciousness evolve? Great question! At a fundamental level, I think the answer is, "It can, but it doesn't have to." This is true in both a personal and cultural sense.

A person's consciousness can evolve, and indeed most people's does, as we move through Piaget's Sensorimotor, Preoperational, etc. stages. But it doesn't have to. Intellectual evolution can stop, as in "special needs" children. Other aspects of consciousness can also stop evolving in otherwise "normal" adults who just can't seem to reach the advanced stages of moral development (Social Contract, Ethical Principles) that Kohlberg identified.

The same is true for cultural consciousness. It can evolve, but often doesn't.

In his book Spiral Dynamics, Don Beck described several stages of cultural evolution: Tribal, Warrior, Traditional, Modern, Postmodern, Integral. Cultures (and one's cultural awareness) can progress from one to the next. Progressing from one stage to the next, however, isn't easy. New stages of culture arise not to satisfy one's wish to see the world as benignly "going forward," but to solve intolerable, previously intractable problems presented by the previous stage.

For example, living by The Book, whether it be the Bible or the Koran, is a big improvement upon living by the whim of some exploitative emperor. Living in a society where Science has replaced The Book as the final authority on things has advantages, too, as many people who didn't get polio and who did get life-saving antibiotics would observe.

But progress, as Mr. Greer notes, doesn't always qualify as evolution. The thing about evolution is, it builds upon what came before, and this is just as true for consciousness and culture as it is for biology. If you don't include what came before, you can't really transcend it, and you have to go back until you do.

That's where our culture is now. The United States has progressed to a cultural center of gravity in Beck's Modern stage, but it hasn't incorporated the positive aspects of the stages that came before. Tribal societies may inhibit individual initiative, but they're also remarkably cohesive and in tune with their environment. Traditional societies can become hidebound, but they also inculcate the positive values of duty and honor.

In laying waste to Tribal life on this continent (something that continues today, as US corporations work to shove an oil pipeline through Lakota territory), our culture lost something vital to a healthy society: earth-consciousness. In discounting the Traditional worldview as obsolete, our culture came to lack the sensibilities that come with it, such as order, restraint, and fairness.

In order to truly evolve, to take power and deserve it, political liberals must get right with that guy who has the God & Country bumper sticker on his pickup. And in order to evolve as a nation and a society, we must incorporate the positive aspects of the societies that came before us in history--ALL of history. Until we do, we'll just keep bonking our heads against the barrier presented by the evolutionary principle of Include and Transcend, repeating our mistakes until we finally learn from them.

Ekkar said...

Here is a link to the book in which the tiologes were born;

The talk with Sheldrake, krishnamurti, Bohm: "The nature of mind", is only in video format.

Popps said...

The cooperation/competition tension has been fundamental to human social relationships throughout our evolution as a species. It seems that, depending mainly on resource availability, one or the other dominates a particular human group; but both are always present. With the more efficient exploitation of resources during the industrial revolution, cooperation gained, especially after the two world wars of the 20th century and the nuclear standoff that came after. Now, with that resource exploitation efficiency falling, competition is gaining. The rise of Donald Trump, ultra competitor, is evidence.

Ekkar said... is a link to a PDF of a Rupert paper. If you are not familiar with his work and "Morphic Field Theory", I reccomended giving it a gander.

Be well!

anton mett said...

Q: if the Democrats fear big business, how come they coddle the banks of Wall Street?
A: I don't think the left is known particularly for coddling Wall Street banks. However, we may be crossing wires with terminology a bit; I am talking about voters, and I believe you are talking about politicians.
To keep it short, ALL politicians do in practice "coddle" the wealthy. The difference is that the left politician states they want to have regulations (ie put government in charge) whereas the right says that they want to get rid of regulations (ie let big business be in charge). I think that is a fairly accurate portrayal of what most of our major party politicians state as their goals.

environmental issues-left wants more regulations to protect the environment
-right wants the free market to be allowed to self correct
employment-left wants safety and higher wages
-right wants to create jobs and corporate profits/higher stock prices
health care-left universal access, more restrictions on profits for insurance and drug companies
-right wants to let business decide who and what they will insure
Possible counter-example:
abortion and recreational drug issues-right tends to wants government controls
left tends to be more hands off. Since this is mostly handled by the judicial branch, I don't give these much thought as neither party makes much progress either way.
foreign trade & immigration-neither party seems to be wholly on one side or another

In practice, their policies may very well likely have similar outcomes of hurting and impairing individuals while supporting big businesses, but their stated intention is what most voters have to go by. Deciding what policies will actually do requires access to current and historical information, an deep understanding of law & economics, statistical analysis, foreign affairs etc. Due to a lack of access, ability, or education, for most voters, this is either impossible or at least very difficult. Therefore we vote based on the stated motivations of our representatives and hope they are competent.

To be fair, the right would say I am framing this incorrectly. Instead of choosing between government and big business, they would say it's government vs the individual. I would reject this notion however as most of the business regulations primarily affect businesses.

Also, I would reiterate that I believe this comes down to what the voter fear the MOST. This does not mean that the typical left voter loves all government and thinks it can do no wrong or that the right thinks their employer has the right to do whatever they want as long as the paycheck is in the mail. I'm sure there are people that are like that, but most people I know are usually complain about who's controlling their lives about 60/40 or even 55/45 one way or another.
I would also say this is more fluid than say one of your barometers of religion. Changing religious views drastically is usually only happens once or twice in a lifetime. Changing employment happens all the time. Say you're a waiter and you lose your job because the health inspector closed down the restaurant you work at? Grr... stupid government should get their noses out of our business. Say you ate at that restaurant and got food poisoning causing you ruin your day (job interview/date/concert/whatever). Grr... stupid business, someone ought to keep them in line. These could all be the same person within a month or two, much more likely to change than say, "a fetus is a person" to "women have a right to control their own body" and back again.

Christopher Henningsen said...

What is your opinion of the argument that being able to build more symbiotic relationships and perform genuine interspecies or intertribal co operation is nearly always a beneficial adaptation?

It seems intuitive that a newly evolved and more effective predator or parasite would face evolutionary pressures that a newly evolved and more effective symbiote would not. To the best of my knowledge, old growth forests have more interspecies co operation than pioneer plants. There are counterexamples in history of course when less empathy and helpfulness were the better fit. And perhaps it's a function of reading history in a progressivist culture, but those do seem to me like a minority.

None said...

Mr. Greer,

given your previous writings I thought you might be interested in this article. Or perhaps you've read it...

russell1200 said...

Per Progressive's anti-gay stance:

Kevin P. Murphy's "Political Manhood: Red Bloods, Mollycoddles, and the Politics of Progressive Era Reform" does a pretty good job of summing it up. Even looking at the publishers summary gives you enough to get the drift.

In short, progressivism (think Teddy Roosevelt) liked to portray itself as a manly movement opposed to the effeminate ways of the new urban class. And given the Fabian birth control policies put in place (forced sterilization), it could get to be pretty serious.

Donald Hargraves said...

What I find interesting is the "progressive" shift from "Improve the society, fix the individual" to "Individual freedom, society (as a whole or corporate) must adjust." From Prohibition to Legalization, from The Lavender Menace to LGBT rights, from Labor Organizing to Consumer's Rights, and from The Need to Populate The World With Good Human Stock (the unspoken side of Eugenics; echoed today by the Quiverfull movement) to Birth Control for all, the Progressive movement seems to have shifted its focus to the individual.

Can't help but wonder if the shift itself is a symptom of the decline of the United States of America.

Joe Roberts said...

[JMG: Please delete the one-letter test comment that went through before this one!]

I'm intrigued -- okay, confused -- about how anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of relatively recent world history can think that events unfold in a one-way path towards inclusivity and tolerance.

Of course the most famous 20th-century example that counters such a naive belief is Nazi Germany, the very example of which makes people tune out ("'Godwin's Law' alert!"), but which is as instructive, in some senses, as any other historical example of history's ragged twists and turns.

In the late 1920s and very early 1930s in Germany, not only was there not a single law singling out or discriminating against Jews in any way, but Jews -- many of whom were not in the least bit religious -- were also woven deeply within the fabric of German society. Even that sentence would have looked odd to most of them in 1928; it would be a bit like saying, "Jews are woven deeply into the fabric of the USA in 2016," a statement so self-evident and obvious as to be potentially offensive (so, not only because it's a strained metaphor!).

Since we have seen -- within the lifetimes of some people whose hearts are still beating -- what a society can do to a scapegoated part of its population: going from treating them as fully equal under the law to considering them "subhuman" in a short period of time, I don't understand why anyone would continue to believe in straight-line "progress" towards some nirvana-like future. I use the Nazi example because it is likely the one most known to your readers, but it is actually far from being the only possible such example.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Concluding from your response to Graeme's and my own comment. A conversation about ethos then? Lead on!

Peter VE,

One of the reasons I keep coming back as well. Just a little surprised it came from my keyboard. :P



Ed-M said...


Now THIS is a great post! One of your best, ever... as another poster stated above.

Yes, I've read Gay New York. It turns out that Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of NYC in the 1930s was BFFs with FDR. He was mentioned in the book because, iirc, he segregated the prison cells by sexual orientation. If you were in the "gay wing" of Riker's island prison, you had to look out anytime you were in the common areas because of the so-called reputation of the section, which followed you.

There's another book out, Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity by Robert Beachy, and it describes gay culture in Germany but especially in Berlin prior to the rise of the Nazis. There were reversals in German gay men's struggle for freedom both in the 19th Century before just German unification because of a disgusting sex murder in a well-trafficked park which to me was an unacknowledged homophobic hate crime followed by a similar attack on a child who survived, and again in the Great Depression when the German Reichstag could no longer deal with social issues because of the economic situation and because of political fighting both in the parliament and outside in the streets.

bicosse said...

Very thought-provoking, thank you.

I'm pleased to say that history teachers at school (in England around 1980) introduced me to the concept of Whig history and warned of its absurdities. They sometimes did so with reference to the parody by Sellars & Yeatman, '1066 and All That', which imagines a British school history textbook of the 'Our Island Story' type garbled by a schoolboy trying desperately to answer exam questions. Of the Catholic Queen Mary trying to reverse her predecessor's Protestant policies it says that her reign "was, however, a Bad Thing, since England is bound to be C. of E.[Church of England], so all the executions were wasted."

Anthony Romano said...

A few thoughts on this essay...

This all my way of saying that Chronocentrism seems a fairly natural and relatively innocent part of human behavior. That is, right up until people forget that it is a symbolic narrative and is one way (of many) to make sense of the world. Once we cast that narrative as a fact, as in the "myth of progress", it begins its transformation into a thought-stopper.

MLK's speech about the arc of history was intended as politics, and it was brilliant and inspiring politics, even if it falls apart in the long view of human history and deep time.

On a side note, much has been made of the rise of the alt-right communities in the MSM (even leaking into the commentary here a bit), but little has been said about the emergence of the "dirtbag left".

The campaign of Bernie Sanders and the failure of Clinton have really opened opportunities for left-leaning folks to re-evaluate their politics and ideologies. It is one of the silver linings I'm seeing in Trump's victory. If Hillary had won, the "progressive liberals" would have marched on and the outsider voices from the left would be stuck in the wilderness again.

The so-called "dirtbag left" is one of those voices that has gained a bit of traction and recent coverage in news outlets. The most visible voice in the dirtbag left is the Chapo Trap House podcast which savaged the neo-liberal politics of the Democrats and Clinton throughout the campaign. Rather than linking to a glowing are two hit-pieces about Chapo (and the dirtbag left). One from the right and another from the "progressive liberal" crowd.

Second side note. I was thinking about our societies widespread misunstanding of how evolution works and also the claims that technology will "evolve" and save us all. It made me think of the Betamax. A case where "superior" technology was out competed by a "primitive" competitor. Betamax was not the best fit for the environment it was subject to. That's how evolution actually works.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Scotlyn- one of Steve Stirling's Emberverse characters remarked that men play dominance games the way dogs do, and women, like cats. Another of his characters gave her opinion as "Men h ave hammers. We have needles."

@Bill Pulliam - in Star's Reach, when Trey wondered why two Old Believers would be on the road instead of in the shtetls and ghettos of settled territory, I came up with three explanations: itchy feet, and a love of theatre, were #s 2 & 3. Trey would not have thought of my first explanation, since he knew very little about Old Believers, and taboos of same-sex pairings would have made no sense to him.

Patricia Mathews said...

Scotlyn - I don't know what the current obsessions are, partly because I think they are still in transition from those of the '90s,and partly because I've aged out of any need to care. IF you can't drop out of conventional society when you're over 75, when can you?

Cortes said...

I read the following in the latest article on wallstreetonparade and was struck by the words of the current chair of The Fed:

“I also worry a great deal about inequality and the fact that the largest share of gains from aggregate productivity growth have gone to workers at the top of the income distribution. And the gap we’re seeing, as I mentioned, between wages of those with a college education and high school or less have just continued to increase. I mean you can look at some measures that suggest that real wages of high school educated workers have essentially been stagnant for several decades and there’s some recent research that shows that a far smaller share of young people – if you think about the American Dream, that people expect their children to do better than they did, for generations to progress – a far smaller share of young people today are doing as well or better than their parents than was true for most of the post war period.”

Yellen looked particularly troubled when she cited the following research study, stating:

“Labor participation rates for prime age men have continued to move south, which is a disturbing trend. A very shocking finding, this was a finding of the individuals Angus Deaton and Anne Case – Angus Deaton won the Nobel Prize last year [he actually won the award in 2015] is that the mortality rates of high school educated whites in the 45 to 54 year age bracket are actually rising, which is an extraordinary difference from what we’ve seen in other countries and in the post war period and it seems to be related to suicide and health issues that maybe relate to substance abuse. The hypothesis is that this is a consequence in reflection of greater economic insecurity. So, obviously, those are very disturbing trends.”

Rita said...

@BFM -- It is interesting to see the changes in political party reputations through my lifetime. I was born in 1948 and spent many hours with my grandmother, who was old enough to recall WWI. She regarded the Democrats as the party who kept getting us into wars. Wilson, Democrat, WWI; Roosevelt, Democrat, WWII; Truman, Democrat, Korean Conflict; Kennedy and LBJ, Democrats, Vietnam. The ultimate unpopularity of Vietnam converted the Democratic Party to a less warlike stance, and the Republicans became the warmongers under Reagan, and the two Bushes. Weirdly, this seems reflected in the reversal of color identification. Red is usually seen as a warlike color. The Communists were the evil 'reds' and loyal conservatives were blue, like the Tories in England. Now Red is conservative Republican and supposedly liberal Democrats are blue. Very odd.

On Progressives vs. gays, I have another connection. During the time in question the acts labeled as homosexual were illegal (for both sexes BTW, m/f couples have been prosecuted under statues against 'sodomy', or in that wonderfully comprehensive language of the law, 'the detestable and abominable crime against nature'). Therefore any business that openly catered to those labeled as sexual deviants would have had to bribe police and other public officials to stay in business. The Progressive drive to clean up public corruption would have had the side effect of driving businesses that relied on that corruption underground or out of business. Later, after Prohibition strengthened organized crime many gay bars were run by or paid protection to the Mafia.

I notice that those who believe in the evolution of consciousness tend to take it for granted that theirs is evolved.

Justin said...

JMG, I went and read Consciousness and the Bicameral Mind, which is, er, mind-bending. I don't completely buy it, but at the same time, I couldn't help but consider the previous state of bicameralism as being equivalent to The Garden of Eden, or for that matter, Evola's golden ages. Of course, it makes sense that more complex functions might very well have evolved to produce hallucinations in lower order functions in order to make the lower order functions carry out the purposes of the higher order functions. Of course, you could say the same thing about cable TV.

I have to say, it is intriguing that the archaeological evidence suggests that anatomically (including the stuff inside our skulls) modern humans existed for about 100,000 years with very little cultural change (at least in terms of the material artifacts they left behind) - and then suddenly, boom, agriculture and all that comes with it. There are a lot of other hypotheses than the one elaborated on in Consciousness and the Bicameral Mind.

Pygmycory, I think low energy fishkeeping would be something interesting to blog about! Remember that people used to keep a fairly wide variety of fish before electricity.

I have a 20 long and some stuff in my closet, I admit to being tempted to set up a tank. But I have a cat already (who requires far more resources than a small fish tank).

pipermichael said...

The Force is with you my friend.
You are a voice of reason in a world gone mad.
But you must understand, that casting pearls before swine, causes the pearls to be ground into the mud, and the pigs to get pissed off because they are not food they recognize.

V. Else said...

Well said. You only have to encounter the supreme sophistication of Catullus' time to realize how backward we have become in the last 2000 years or so. As I age I find it increasingly tiring to worry about progress, living as I do in a seasonal cycle that comes round again each year, while I decline. That doesn't depress me, it comforts me. I wish my society could learn to accept the truth that all things decline, yet somehow live on in the circle of life. Then we'd stop thrashing around and be grateful for the day given to us.

Hubertus Hauger said...

GMG: “…I don't imagine our species will ever achieve a wholly good society -- and if they did, it would probably last fifteen minutes and then shift gears into something less idyllic. Human beings get bored with happiness way too easily!”

Funny and awkward … I feel reading this.

As a catholic and in private personally too I am still struck by that old philosophical question; Why are we here?” Actually it was a central topic for the believer, fixed centrally in our old catechism. Even a welll orthodox topic nonetheless quite relevant in my opinion. And my dearest practical philosopher George Carlin has a similar anarchic approach in his answer. I never seem to get tired to refer to him. So if one hasn’t seen yet, please watch here:

Getting back on track; That weird approach that we humans cannot be happy long, because we get easily bored and then will act mischievously. As the old proverb does say: If its getting boring, the donkey goes straightforward onto the frozen lake with its brittle ice.

Or to use another reference, Monty Python. Their central mantra is, world isn’t harmonious and not becoming so, because its such a chaotic mess and continuing being so. They couldn’t recognize any progress for the better, except for that quite dynamic and shacking evolution.

Aand so here the circle get´s completed! It all makes sense! There is none!

Except the one we find, for the time being. And then … another cycle … !

dltrammel said...

"pygmycory said...
temporaryreality (Wendy) I can't seem to get the green wizard's site to accept me. Not sure why."

Cory, (and anyone else who wants to get on the Green Wizard forum), send me an email at dtrammel at green wizards dot info, and include the user name you signed up with and I will get you approved and able to post ASAP.

If you haven't checked it out, or haven't in a while, I ask you do. We're getting into alot of great discussions on how to adapt as Collapse finds us all.

We are also talking about a regional meet-up later this year in St Louis, with a few lectures and talks at the big Sci-fi convention Archon in October. If you are within driving distance of us, please stop by and help us put it together.

Justin said...

Ed-M, there's an excellent book about interwar Berlin, Three Comrades, which offers (I think) a slightly more realistic view of interwar Berlin than either the neo-nazis or their opposite numbers offer. The reality is that interwar Berlin was host to a lot of things which, unlike open homosexuality, are pretty objectionable. One consequence of the economic depression was a lot of prostitution, including child prostitution - which included homosexual child prostitution. Given that we know that sexual traumas can cause big psychological problems later in life, it would not shock me in the least to learn that some Nazis were victims of this sort of thing, or had siblings who were.

Scotlyn, I'm the one who's shilling for Jordan Peterson. Jordan Peterson thinks that Nazism and Hitler was all about ORDER AND PURITY. Go watch some footage of the Nuremberg rally - Nazi Woodstock. It's electrifying. (This is Jordan Peterson's explanation): The searchlights forming a cathedral of light, the organized marching, etc, were all powerful expressions of ORDER AND PURITY in a chaotic, disgusting era. People loved it, just as the odds are (in my case I know it's a certainty) which you would have.

So, JMG, I will offer an explanation for the question you asked Dammerung (why do people with so little concern for human rights care about animal rights)? It's because animals are without sin. To circle back to the bicameral consciousness hypothesis, and the idea about the story of Genesis possibly being about the transition from bicameralism to modern consciousness (Peterson, again, offers an alternative explanation which explains why Genesis is about the origins of consciousness), eating the fruit of knowledge and gaining the knowledge of good and evil is something that only humans got up to. So, animals, which of course any good Nazi would have said are better or worse dependent on their genes, are presumably always perfectly moral expressions of their genotype in the circumstances they exist in. But of course, one has control over animals. If you subscribe to racist theories about race and behavior, humans of other races become especially dangerous animals who can be exterminated in the same manner as rats or insects who spread disease. The Nazi idea of Jews, for instance, is of a people who are racially predisposed to commit evil, whereas members of the Aryan race are people who are racially predisposed to do good things. This isn't a uniquely Nazi philosophy, if you read the Old Testament critically, there's no shortage of hypocritical tribal conflict and genocide there. (Of course, many leading Nazis thought that it was necessary to throw out the Old Testament and rely only on a fusion of Nazi ideology and the New Testament)... the irony is, um, rich.

Mongo, At The Moment said...

What any political party called itself in the past shouldn't be confused with current history -- both Democratic and Republican parties bear little resemblance to those of Jefferson or Lincoln -- or FDR and Eisenhower, for that matter.

In short, it doesn't matter what any party calls themselves or even what they claim to be -- like any individual, they have to be evaluated by their actions. What do they do? And whose interests are being served?

And, who says changes in consciousness, or anything else, are always forward in motion? Devolution is just as valid a possibility.

onething said...


"We throw aside all the other Abrahamic taboos willy-nilly when they are inconvenient, why is this one such a big deal?"

I'm going to guess that homosexuality makes a lot of hetero men uncomfortable because, in my philosophical opinion, and especially if we're going to dwell upon matters of evolution, the invention of the male (way back nearly to amoebic times) had a primary purpose which was to house sperm to be served up on a moment's notice whenever the female seemingly capriciously needed it. In this way the male serves life and we must all serve life. The female of course serves life more directly by giving birth to it.

But because of this timing issue, the male must be quite vigilant in his awareness of the female and her moods. Thus, a very deeply inbuilt sense by men, (and I must say corroborated by someone above who mentions Peterson's ideas about the male game that is 300 million years old, the main point of which is the attention of women) of the grave importance of this deep mission, this deep sense of what life ought to be about is to some extent slightly mocked by having men in their midst who are not quite playing it.

Wendy Crim said...

I found that NY mag piece to be awful. I've never heard of the "dirt bag left" thanks for posting this.

team10tim said...

Hey hey sunseekernv,

RE: However " [...] by someone outside of academia ..." seems incorrect

You are quite right. I'd like to say that I meant that he was outside of his field with a radical theory. He follows the same formatting and notation practices as the rest of academia but isn't beholden to the dogmas. I'd like to say that I expressed myself poorly, but you are quite right, I'm flatly wrong to put it that way. Still, I found book to be so far outside the realm of anything else I had read from inside the various academic fields of concern that I DID put it that way. MEA CULPA


Nancy Sutton said...

This may be the transcript of the first (of 3) discussions in 1982, at Ojai, CA, between Krishnamurti, Sheldrake, Bohm & Hidley ... don't know
if it entails the 2nd and 3rd.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Rita,

That is total genius! "I notice that those who believe in the evolution of consciousness tend to take it for granted that theirs is evolved."

Well done!


Scotlyn said...

@PatriciaM I just want to say I always love your posts and find them witty, learned, wry and wise. If I lived near you and you would encourage such a thing, I would call round with casseroles and warm socks & similar in trade for conversations and stories. At 56 I am 20 years behind you - a twenty years I still seek role models for. Thanks for shining on here.

Sylvia Rissell said...

I want to add this chart to the discussion of progress:

The graph represents a cultural and technological "best practice", because the "highest reported (female) life expectancy" is from the country that got it right, in that particular time period. The increase in life expectancy starts in the 1800s, and covers a span of time with many changes in technology, society, and medical science. If we assume correlation is causation, women (and men) benefit from better nutrition, safer childbirth, cleaner water, widespread vaccination, and hundreds or thousands of other changes.

I suspect the curve also correlates with per-capita fossil fuel use.

The challenge for a person/family/society trying to plan for decreased fossil fuel use is to figure out which of these many beneficial innovations can be maintained without the coal/oil input.

Let's not just go back to 1840.

fastdomino said...

" As for Prohibition, though, that was part and parcel of the Progressive notion that the world could be made a better place if only people were forced by law to do whatever Progressive intellectuals thought was good for them. It's a very American sort of delusion, which is why Prohibition never caught on anywhere else."

In the early 20th century, alcohol was banned in both Norway and Finland and in 1922 a referendum was held in Sweden. With the figures 49% against 51%, alcohol was not to be banned. Close call.
The only political party that took a stand, and they supported a ban, was the Communist party. Fact is, scandinavia was drinking itself to death at that time as ruthless companys payed workers in booze and created deep misery. So, maybe a difference here, this was not a cause mainly driven by christian morals but by the ugly face of poverty and misery which struck hard on families.
Even so, this American delusion is maybe not so American after all.
In the aftermath of the referendum, the Social democrats created a state monoply on alcohol which still holds to this day, and I do support it.

And left is right, and right is left depending on were you stand in time. As Frank Zappa put it, it´s not what you say, it´s when you say it.

Kimberly said...

I recently read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and couldn't help but see many parallels between Huxley's predictions and this post. Huxley demonstrates very vividly how much morals and ethics are the product of a time period. One example that stands out is that readers in the 1930s struggled to wrap their minds around the fact that in the future promiscuity could be considered to be morally superior to monogamy. Reading about characters condemning their peers for not having enough partners seems absurd to us, but Huxley is thinking outside the limitations of chronocentrism and realizing that the people of the future will *inevitably* condemn us as ignorant, we just don't know the specifics. We assume that we can use the mindset of progress to end up on the so-called "right side of history," but too often the right side of history is simply the mightiest side of history. It is hard to say how future generations will view things like the current progressive mindset, especially in light of resource depletion.

One trend that I find upsetting is the idea that all buildings named after people who were not morally perfect (according to current standards) in the past should have their names changed to honor more contemporary moral people. This contributes to an even more limited chronocentric mindset and discourages us from learning anything about the history of thought and ethics. It tells the public that the only ideas that matter are the ideas of NOW -- a frightening embrace of ignorance and thought orthodoxy, in my opinion. If we have no room for flawed humans in our history, we will not have a history.

Dan Mollo said...

In regards to consciousness, one interesting, though in my opinion unconvincing, take that I have seen in the blogosphere is over on Decline of the Empire. His hypothesis, which he calls Flatland, states in a nutshell that there is a fundamental integration problem with consciousness and the unconscious mind, that humans in general have no idea what they are doing or why they do it (what he calls whistling in the dark), and they are primarily ruled by unconscious drives. Humans supposedly filter reality, all the time, for to sole purpose of protecting their conception of themselves, their group, or their standing within the group, and that confirmation bias is a feature, not a bug. Humans are completely unaware that they do this. They also have the inability to grasp long term existential threats, and thus are incapable of changing their behavior in any meaningful way to mitigate these threats (such as climate change, etc.) He is also not a fan of the term cognitive dissonance, as this does not properly describe adequately the fundamental disconnect between consciousness and the subconscious, which is absolute.

He also postulates that humanity's sole relationship with nature is in terms of how it relates to human's and to economic advantage, that we are incapable in the general sense of seeing any intrinsic value in the natural world, but are only capable of exploiting it, even if that exploitation is focused on creating such things as natural spaces, which still ends up serving the purposes of humanity.

This is an extremely simplified explanation, his three Flatland essays and his regular blog postings are essential if you want to get an idea of his thinking. As I said, I find his ideas unconvincing, though I think his writing on group dynamics and information filtering is interesting. I get the sense that most of his thinking is influenced by his extreme misanthropy. He is completely disgusted with humanity. I think he likens himself to Arthur Schopenhauer. I say that because he wrote an essay comparing himself to him. He also ridicules doomers, though much of his writing reflects the same doomerish thinking that he criticizes (he is convinced that humanity will be extinct is the next 200 years or so.) He definitely does not think highly of most other people writing on the blogosphere, and has openly criticized you, Gail Tverberg, James Howard Kunstler, and Dmitri Orlov (who he despises) as not knowing what you are talking about. Not too long ago he criticized your book Dark Ages America as yet another ploy to make money off of book sales. I don't think he read it. He also complains constantly about people not commenting on his blog. When people do comment, he generally ridicules them. Gee, I wonder why no one comments.

Sorry if this went off topic but I saw that some people were commenting about consciousness and wanted to bring this to your attention and the attention of your readers, if they are at all interested in visiting his website that is. I still find your blog, besides the excellent essays, the only blog that has a comments section that actually has intelligent discussion and thoughtful responses from both you and the readers.

Shane W said...

The point of establishing or reestablishing a Confederacy is to divorce the South from the toxic utopianism/idealism that dominates other regions. To suggest that it is based on utopian thinking misses the point, as it has always been about avoiding the utopian thinking pervasive in the Yankee norm. Sigh, talking past each other again, Bill. Oh well, don't need a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing. Faith in the US is at all time lows amongst the younger generations. Generational replacement should be enough to do the trick. It's all over but the shouting. It's very odd that Trump of all people is set to follow in the footsteps of Lincoln and FDR and be a crisis president that holds the Union together by any means necessary. Of course, if he fails in that endeavor, I'd be just as satisfied w/dissolution so long as it was peaceful. What is so strange to me is to see so many people on the left draping themselves in the flag and embracing a dying Americanism with so much fervor when it wasn't too long ago that they were so fervently anti-US, like during the late 60s-early 70s. Of course, there are leftist secessionistas working on campaigns as well. Interesting times.
One of our local gay bars is a relic of that time period, and has been queer space for as long as anyone remembers. Rumor has it that it was a gay speakeasy in the 20s. The only thing that has changed since I was sneaking in there underage over 20 years ago is that the ashtrays are gone. Everything else is exactly the same.
Mid-20th century opposition to homosexuality was very modern, progressive, and scientific, based on Freudian psychoanalytic theories widely accepted that pathologized homosexuality. Then came the 1973 declassification of homosexuality as disease by the APA, and the old norm began its descent to where it is today as a fringe, discredited theory embraced by an ever shrinking evangelical base (even evangelical fundamentalists are abandoning antigay attitudes) Still, NARTH (antigay psychology group) still exists, much like the WCTU (Womens Christian Temperance Union), and I'm sure that there are members of this readership that still subscribe to the notion that homosexuality is pathological and that the 1973 decision by the APA was wrong and politically motivated.

Shane W said...

I'm still baffled as to why Russia's interests are diametrically opposed to ours, and the MSM (mainstream media) hysteria surrounding Trump is outrageous. The whole Rosie O'Donnell call for martial law is too much They really have no idea just how close they are to pitchforks and lampposts. Trump's supporters out here in red America are not amused, and deeply offended, and it's not at all hard to imagine a besieged Trump successfully imploring his supporters to rally to his side, and the rank and file of the police and military (who are, far and away, Trump supporters) either standing aside or even joining in. This is not funny, it's getting too serious, the elite really have no idea what they are doing.

David, by the lake said...

John, et alia--

Perhaps I am putting too much significance on this, but I am concerned.

I spent several hours last night in a multi-person comment discussion on PoliticalWire. People are just not thinking about the rhetoric they are spouting and the longer-term consequences of their words and actions.

The chronocentric element here is that folks are taking our governing institutions and structures for granted and are blithely unaware of the corrosive effects their words have upon the social compact which binds us together. As a declining power, the US is particularly susceptible to this.

For any who care to see the actual conversation, sort the comments by newest and find my first-level comment (under my old "buddhabythelake" handle) part-way down ("Again, what goes around, comes around...") -- last night's conversation was down-thread from that.

Viewing this through the lens of "a change in consciousness through an act of will," I fear that there is a lot of bad juju being put out there by unthinking people.

Patricia Mathews said...

Not chronocentrism, exactly, but for everything you've been talking about in the establishment mindset, squared and cubed:

Start your rebuttal checklists now, friends.

temporaryreality (Wendy) said...

JMG - while I'm pleased (?) to be able to offer you some small amount of hope about the change in political-thought winds among the crowd of once-progressive-leaning and now floating in the wind folk, I have to wonder if what we'll actually see is simply more voter apathy as people start casting about and coming up empty-netted for candidates. I've watched a section of a Noam Chomsky interview Requiem for the American Dream (which as Ekkar smartly suggested, can just be listened to) and he points out wording in the Constitution and among the framers' other writings that show how it was intended to benefit privileges of property owners and further concentrate wealth and power... and that leads me to the heretical thought that perhaps the Constitution isn't the holy writ Americans claim it to be especially due to the trajectory of its adherents to NOT systemically remediate inequality (viz. interests rather than values). Not that I have any better options at this point, but that reveals mostly the challenge of this interstitial moment - nothing looks particularly great.

re: the automation and loss of jobs - it HAS been touted for quite a long time, after all, it's the hallmark of the industrial age, no? that skilled work gets replaced by industrial scale piece-work, broken into its simplest bits? Then when those bits are so simplified a machine can do them, that's the next step, gradually? Are you saying that though you've been hearing about job obsolescence since you were young that it HASN'T become more of an issue or was that just a statement of observation that people have been talking about it? Sorry, just trying to clarify what you said vs. ways I could interpret it.

Pygmycory - well, I didn't know about that kind of filtration system, so that's helpful! My 6 gallon tank is filterless (just the plants), as are the two 1 gallon beta tanks (filtered by water change, essentially) but admittedly the 6 gallon is underpopulated by fish (currently one lonely Endler's who needs some buddies). I'm going to look into changing the big tank to a sponge filter (from a current Fluval filter w/ a variety of media). And the one-strip of LED's makes for pretty dim lighting, so I alternate with a fluorescent tube....

Justin - maybe there's a dietary cycle in there to take advantage of - breeding small fish and the culls get given to the cat? :D

haha, maybe we do need an aquarium subthread or blog ... or help getting Pygmycory onto the green wizard's site :D

pygmycory said...

I used to have a tropical fish blog, but found I was actually losing money by writing it, so I took it down last year. If I do it again I'll use a free site, but it might make more sense to finish writing that manuscript on keeping fish on a budget, and try and sell an e-book on the subject.

Justin said...

There's a lot to unpack here, especially Trudeau's masterful non-answer.

Shane W said...

Seems as if we've inverted "Keep Calm and Carry On" into "Panic and Meltdown". Sigh, this cannot end well...

Shane W said...

Just found out that a friend is going to DC to engage in "aerobic exercise", as JMG put it. Of course, lots of carbon will be burnt getting to and from KY to DC to engage in "aerobic exercise". Sigh...

Shane W said...

I'm all but certain that when I get the time off, I'm going to visit the farm in Eastern Ontario, and I'm seriously going to talk to them about making plans to buy some land there. I work with a guy who regularly goes back to Guadalajara, and I'm dying to go with him sometime...

Patricia Mathews said...

Thank you, Scotlyn! Would love to meet you at the Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque one day - or at the small local independent coffee shops.

@ontehing - I heard a much simple explanation of why straight men may be freaked out by the existence of gay men.

"A man may be looking at me the way I look at women! And planning to do me the way I daydream of doing the women I look at that way! (Or for some sorts, more than daydream.) And reduce me to an object of his lust!") Not that he'd put the latter in such hifalutin' terms.

Also, for panic about the transgendered, "If you can't tell the boys from the girls, how do you know how to treat them?" With a heaping side dish of "They deceived me! I do not like to be deceived!"

And the uncanny valley for the effeminate male, with another huge side dish of "Oops! Urk! I almost found him cute!"

Patricia Mathews said...

Personal OT post - "I can see clearly now..." out of my right eye. Cataract removal Wednesday. Fall down and give thanks for that high-tech flower of our high-tech age, though with a touch of "Does that put me in the privileged affluent class these days? A mere retired bookkeeper?"

Yes. As Strauss & Howe pointed out in Fourth Turning (still a helpful book, though it overestimated the Boomers turning into respected and moral and simple-living elders. Badly.) My cohort sneaked through on the coattails of GI benefits - and add to that, a lot of young people (apologies, Shane, I know what you say) tend to find us likeable and helpful. Which I do try to be. Not having much else to offer.

Dagnarus said...

The problems with most ideologies is that they are impeded by some physical constraint. Usually rooted in human biology. This can cause them to go dark quite fast. For example in one conversation with a progressive the subject of soviet scientists using selective breeding to domesticate foxes came up. I wonder if the misanthropy experienced by many former dreamers is similar to the antipathy Hitler felt for the Germans when they turned out to be men of flesh and blood, rather than Aryan gods capable of conquering the entire world.

canon fodder said...

To my way of thinking, chronocentrism is endemic to the human condition. We live in the present, and what we remember is filtered by what helped us survive until today. We hopefully learn from history, either personal or societal, to preclude cutting our time here short. Knowing the sexual proclivities of ancient Greeks may be titillating, but hardly germane to surviving in the gender fluid urban jungle

Taking this a bit further, I would propose that our personal recollection of history is based on an exponential moving average. That is, we remember most what just happened, and on an exponential decaying line, events in the recent and no so recent past.

We commonly talk about what happened yesterday, or even last month. Get beyond a year or so, and significant editing takes place. Frankly, I don’t really care what I had for dinner in January of last year, so it’s long forgotten. It doesn’t relate to surviving today. However, if it gave me food poisoning, I probably remember exactly what I had, and endeavor to avoid a repeat occurrence. So as the years accumulate, we remember the big events (kids birth, kids leaving the house, kids coming back...) and things that affect our ability to survive and thrive, and let the rest fade away. We also remember the theme song to Gilligan’s Island, but that’s a whole different discussion.

It works the same way at a societal level. We lump history into weeks, then months, then years, then decades, then centuries. On the TV home shows, it’s common for people to say, rather despairingly, that something is “so 90s.” The whole decade gets lumped into a single decor style. Get gets even worse as you go back. The whole notion of ‘antebellum” can mean a style that was around 30-40 years before the civil war. The “dark ages” lumps together anywhere from 200 to 800 years of history.

As you point out, modern day liberal thought leaves out many tidbits from the past. This selective view of history is reflective of what is necessary for the liberal left’s group to survive. If the liberal left admitted that the problems facing the gay community in the 1980s that they wanted to solve was largely caused by the same liberal left back in the 1920s, the gay community would probably told them to shove off. Thus, the exponential moving average of history allows people and groups to function day to day, blithely unaware that previously they advocated an entirely opposite position. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. The social stances we took as young adults could be radically different from what we have today. It does, however, smack of hypocrisy if we stand up and proclaim that such and such opinion is the natural evolution of social norms, when we advocated the opposite in our youth.

Chronocentrism serves us well if we use it to filter the past, not judge it. The social etiquette relevant to Elizabethan England would be hopelessly anachronistic today. On the other hand, the agricultural knowledge from Elizabethan England could be very relevant tomorrow. History can be very useful. Let’s just hope someone remembers the right part when we need it.

Justin said...


On male/female differences in dominance hierarchy behavior. I agree with JMG, women do it too, but in their own way, and perhaps that's the critical problem that has to be solved in mixed-gender places. If the women are there playing by their rules and the men playing by theirs, both sides will perceive the others as cheaters.

I've long had the strongly held intuition that something that would do a lot to patch things over in our society would be for there to be spheres of activity which were exclusively male or female. I still don't have a rational explanation for this theory, but the idea that dominance hierarchies could be settled among people who are all playing the same game is a compelling one. It's worth noting that just about every human society, patriarchy, matriarchy or something in between, probably had this feature whether they knew it or not.

I can't find it now, but Peterson has a wonderful exploration of the adage "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game" - taking the meaning of game as 'group social activity with rules' - this makes sense because you want to be invited back again, and losing fairly 30% of the time is better than winning 70% of the time for a short while before being disinvited. If the game is Monopoly, being disinvited from future Monopoly games is a blessing, but if the game is going hunting or engaging in courtship or managing rice paddies, you probably want to follow the rules.

nuku said...

@Anton Mett,
Re people with missing teeth: the “we” you refer to must be people in the upper privilage percentiles of industrial societies like the USA. Among the less privilaged and in most of the 3rd world missing teeth are a pretty common sight.

However I do agree in a lot of the world which is exposed to social media there is an absolute and obscene fixiation with beautiful looks, weight, health, wealth, looking young, etc. Envy is no longer the “green eyed monster”, a major sin, its now something that one is supposed to glory in provoking in others, and a spur to one’s own “progress” toward becoming just like the perfect person on that Fakebook page you can’t stop looking at 10 times a day.
How sad...

Crow Hill said...

Kevin Warner : Thank you for the link to the WEF article about cities. Still if cities can be a melting pot to better digest the realities of today's world plus leave more space to nature with our ever-growing population. The technical question is do they actually do that?

I also found interesting the linked article about the "precariat". The disappointment was that the remedy is business as usual, i.e. continued economic growth. Not really surprising if the author is attending the WEF .

nuku said...

Re sailing: I take it you’re interested in sailing, but I missed the context. Is it a sailing voyage you are going to do or just general interest? As a lifelong sailor with about 100,000 miles at sea in private yachts including 3 of my own, my advice if you are interested in going sailing is to start with a small dinghy. Learning to sail on a small dinghy (less than 16 feet long) gives you a “seat of the pants” experience of wind and water and how a boat interacts with these two elements. Mistakes mostly just end up with you getting wet. Skipping this stage is sort of like learning to fly by starting out on a 747 or twin engine plane instead of a Piper Cub. I’ve met thousands of sailors in my 73 years and the best ones, cruisers or racers, started in dinghies.

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