Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Perched on the Wheel of Time

There's a curious predictability in the comments I field in response to posts here that talk about the likely shape of the future. The conventional wisdom of our era insists that modern industrial society can’t possibly undergo the same life cycle of rise and fall as every other civilization in history; no, no, there’s got to be some unique future awaiting us—uniquely splendid or uniquely horrible, it doesn’t even seem to matter that much, so long as it’s unique. Since I reject that conventional wisdom, my dissent routinely fields pushback from those of my readers who embrace it.

That’s not surprising in the least, of course. What’s surprising is that the pushback doesn’t surface when the conventional wisdom seems to be producing accurate predictions, as it does now and then. Rather, it shows up like clockwork whenever the conventional wisdom fails.

The present situation is as good an example as any. The basis of my dissident views is the theory of cyclical history—the theory, first proposed in the early 18th century by the Italian historian Giambattista Vico and later refined and developed by such scholars as Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee, that civilizations rise and fall in a predictable life cycle, regardless of scale or technological level. That theory’s not just a vague generalization, either; each of the major writers on the subject set out specific stages that appear in order, showed that these have occurred in all past civilizations, and made detailed, falsifiable predictions about how those stages can be expected to occur in our civilization. Have those panned out? So far, a good deal more often than not.

In the final chapters of his second volume, for example, Spengler noted that civilizations in the stage ours was about to reach always end up racked by conflicts that pit established hierarchies against upstart demagogues who rally the disaffected and transform them into a power base. Looking at the trends visible in his own time, he sketched out the most likely form those conflicts would take in the Winter phase of our civilization. Modern representative democracy, he pointed out, has no effective defenses against corruption by wealth, and so could be expected to evolve into corporate-bureaucratic plutocracies that benefit the affluent at the expense of everyone else. Those left out in the cold by these transformations, in turn, end up backing what Spengler called Caesarism—the rise of charismatic demagogues who challenge and eventually overturn the corporate-bureaucratic order.

These demagogues needn’t come from within the excluded classes, by the way. Julius Caesar, the obvious example, came from an old upper-class Roman family and parlayed his family connections into a successful political career. Watchers of the current political scene may be interested to know that Caesar during his lifetime wasn’t the imposing figure he became in retrospect; he had a high shrill voice, his morals were remarkably flexible even by Roman standards—the scurrilous gossip of his time called him “every man’s wife and every woman’s husband”—and he spent much of his career piling up huge debts and then wriggling out from under them. Yet he became the political standardbearer for the plebeian classes, and his assassination by a conspiracy of rich Senators launched the era of civil wars that ended the rule of the old elite once and for all.

Thus those people watching the political scene last year who knew their way around Spengler, and noticed that a rich guy had suddenly broken with the corporate-bureaucratic consensus and called for changes that would benefit the excluded classes at the expense of the affluent, wouldn’t have had to wonder what was happening, or what the likely outcome would be. It was those who insisted on linear models of history—for example, the claim that the recent ascendancy of modern liberalism counted as the onward march of progress, and therefore was by definition irreversible—who found themselves flailing wildly as history took a turn they considered unthinkable.

The rise of Caesarism, by the way, has other features I haven’t mentioned. As Spengler sketches out the process, it also represents the exhaustion of ideology and its replacement by personality. Those of my readers who watched the political scene over the last few years may have noticed the way that the issues have been sidelined by sweeping claims about the supposed personal qualities of candidates. The practically content-free campaign that swept Barack Obama into the presidency in 2008—“Hope,” “Change,” and “Yes We Can” aren’t statements about issues, you know—was typical of this stage, as was the emergence of competing personality cults around the candidates in the 2016 election.  In the ordinary way of things, we can expect even more of this in elections to come, with messianic hopes clustering around competing politicians until the point of absurdity is well past. These will then implode, and the political process collapse into a raw scramble for power at any cost.

There’s plenty more in Spengler’s characterization of the politics of the Winter phase, and all of it’s well represented in today’s headlines, but the rest can be left to those of my readers interested enough to turn the pages of The Decline of the West for themselves. What I’d like to discuss here is the nature of the pushback I tend to field when I point out that yet again, predictions offered by Spengler and other students of cyclic history turned out to be correct and those who dismissed them turned out to be smoking their shorts. The responses I field are as predictable as—well, the arrival of charismatic demagogues at a certain point in the Winter phase, for example—and they reveal some useful flimpses into the value, or lack of it, of our society’s thinking about the future in this turn of the wheel.

Probably the most common response I get can best be characterized as simple incantation: that is to say, the repetition of some brief summary of the conventional wisdom, usually without a shred of evidence or argument backing it up, as though the mere utterance is enough to disprove all other ideas.   It’s a rare week when I don’t get at least one comment along these lines, and they divide up roughly evenly between those that insist that progress will inevitably triumph over all its obstacles, on the one hand, and those that insist that modern industrial civilization will inevitably crash to ruin in a sudden cataclysmic downfall on the other. I tend to think of this as a sort of futurological fundamentalism along the lines of “pop culture said it, I believe it, that settles it,” and it’s no more useful, or for that matter interesting, than fundamentalism of any other sort.

A little less common and a little more interesting are a second class of arguments, which insist that I can’t dismiss the possibility that something might pop up out of the blue to make things different this time around. As I pointed out very early on in the history of this blog, these are examples of the classic logical fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam, the argument from ignorance. They bring in some factor whose existence and relevance is unknown, and use that claim to insist that since the conventional wisdom can’t be disproved, it must be true.

Arguments from ignorance are astonishingly common these days. My readers may have noticed, for example, that every few years some new version of nuclear power gets trotted out as the answer to our species’ energy needs. From thorium fission plants to Bussard fusion reactors to helium-3 from the Moon, they all have one thing in common: nobody’s actually built a working example, and so it’s possible for their proponents to insist that their pet technology will lack the galaxy of technical and economic problems that have made every existing form of nuclear power uneconomical without gargantuan government subsidies. That’s an argument from ignorance: since we haven’t built one yet, it’s impossible to be absolutely certain that they’ll have the usual cascading cost overruns and the rest of it, and therefore their proponents can insist that those won’t happen this time. Prove them wrong!

More generally, it’s impressive how many people can look at the landscape of dysfunctional technology and failed promises that surrounds us today and still insist that the future won’t be like that. Most of us have learned already that upgrades on average have fewer benefits and more bugs than the programs they replace, and that products labeled “new and improved” may be new but they’re rarely improved; it’s starting to sink in that most new technologies are simply more complicated and less satisfactory ways of doing things that older technologies did at least as well at a lower cost.  Try suggesting this as a general principle, though, and I promise you that plenty of people will twist themselves mentally into pretzel shapes trying to avoid the implication that progress has passed its pull date.

Even so, there’s a very simple answer to all such arguments, though in the nature of such things it’s an answer that only speaks to those who aren’t too obsessively wedded to the conventional wisdom. None of the arguments from ignorance I’ve mentioned are new; all of them have been tested repeatedly by events, and they’ve failed. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told, for example, that the economic crisis du jour could lead to the sudden collapse of the global economy, or that the fashionable energy technology du jour could lead to a new era of abundant energy. No doubt they could, at least in theory, but the fact remains that they don’t. 

It so happens that there are good reasons why they don’t, varying from case to case, but that’s actually beside the point I want to make here. This particular version of the argument from ignorance is also an example of the fallacy the old logicians called petitio principii, better known as “begging the question.” Imagine, by way of counterexample, that someone were to post a comment saying, “Nobody knows what the future will be like, so the future you’ve predicted is as likely as any other.” That would be open to debate, since there’s some reason to think we can in fact predict some things about the future, but at least it would follow logically from the premise.  Still, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone make that claim. Nor have I ever seen anybody claim that since nobody knows what the future will be like, say, we can’t assume that progress is going to continue.

In practice, rather, the argument from ignorance is applied to discussions of the future in a distinctly one-sided manner. Predictions based on any point of view other than the conventional wisdom of modern popular culture are dismissed with claims that it might possibly be different this time, while predictions based on the conventional wisdom of modern popular culture are spared that treatment. That’s begging the question: covertly assuming that one side of an argument must be true unless it’s disproved, and that the other side can’t be true unless it’s proved.

Now in fact, a case can be made that we can in fact know quite a bit about the shape of the future, at least in its broad outlines. The heart of that case, as already noted, is the fact that certain theories about the future do in fact make accurate predictions, while others don’t. This in itself shows that history isn’t random—that there’s some structure to the flow of historical events that can be figured out by learning from the past, and that similar causes at work in similar situations will have similar outcomes. Apply that reasoning to any other set of phenomena, and you’ve got the ordinary, uncontroversial basis for the sciences. It’s only when it’s applied to the future that people balk, because it doesn’t promise them the kind of future they want.

The argument by incantation and the argument from ignorance make up most of the pushback I get. I’m pleased to say, though, that every so often I get an argument that’s considerably more original than these. One of those came in last week—tip of the archdruidical hat to DoubtingThomas—and it’s interesting enough that it deserves a detailed discussion.

DoubtingThomas began with the standard argument from ignorance, claiming that it’s always possible that something might possibly happen to disrupt the cyclic patterns of history in any given case, and therefore the cyclic theory should be dismissed no matter how many accurate predictions it scored. As we’ve already seen, this is handwaving, but let’s move on.  He went on from there to argue that much of the shape of history is defined by the actions of unique individuals such as Isaac Newton, whose work sends the world careening along entirely new and unpredicted paths. Such individuals have appeared over and over again in history, he pointed out, and was kind enough to suggest that my activities here on The Archdruid Report were, in a small way, another example of the influence of an individual on history. Given that reality, he insisted, a theory of history that didn’t take the actions of unique individuals into account was invalid.

Fair enough; let’s consider that argument. Does the cyclic theory of history fail to take the actions of unique individuals into account?

Here again, Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West is the go-to source, because he’s dealt with the sciences and arts to a much greater extent than other researchers into historical cycles. What he shows, with a wealth of examples drawn from the rise and fall of many different civilizations, is that the phenomenon DoubtingThomas describes is a predictable part of the cycles of history. In every generation, in effect, a certain number of geniuses will be born, but their upbringing, the problems that confront them, and the resources they will have available to solve those problems, are not theirs to choose. All these things are produced by the labors of other creative minds of the past and present, and are profoundly influenced by the cycles of history.

Let’s take Isaac Newton as an example. He happened to be born just as the scientific revolution was beginning to hit its stride, but before it had found its paradigm, the set of accomplishments on which all future scientific efforts would be directly or indirectly modeled. His impressive mathematical and scientific gifts thus fastened onto the biggest unsolved problem of the time—the relationship between the physics of moving bodies sketched out by Galileo and the laws of planetary motion discovered by Kepler—and resulted in the Principia Mathematica, which became the paradigm for the next three hundred years or so of scientific endeavor.

Had he been born a hundred years earlier, none of those preparations would have been in place, and the Principia Mathematica wouldn’t have been possible. Given the different cultural attitudes of the century before Newton’s time, in fact, he would almost certainly become a theologian rather than a mathematician and physicist—as it was, he spent much of his career engaged in theology, a detail usually left out by the more hagiographical of his biographers—and he would be remembered today only by students of theological history. Had he been born a century later, equally, some other great scientific achievement would have provided the paradigm for emerging science—my guess is that it would have been Edmund Halley’s successful prediction of the return of the comet that bears his name—and Newton would have had the same sort of reputation that Karl Friedrich Gauss has today: famous in his field, sure, but a household name? Not a chance.

What makes the point even more precise is that every other civilization from which adequate records survive had its own paradigmatic thinker, the figure whose achievements provided a model for the dawning age of reason and for whatever form of rational thought became that age’s principal cultural expression. In the classical world, for example, it was Pythagoras, who invented the word “philosophy” and whose mathematical discoveries gave classical rationalism its central theme, the idea of an ideal mathematical order to which the hurly-burly of the world of appearances must somehow be reduced. (Like Newton, by the way, Pythagoras was more than half a theologian; it’s a common feature of figures who fill that role.)

To take the same argument to a far more modest level, what about DoubtingThomas’ claim that The Archdruid Report represents the act of a unique individual influencing the course of history? Here again, a glance at history shows otherwise. I’m a figure of an easily recognizable type, which shows up reliably as each civilization’s Age of Reason wanes and it begins moving toward what Spengler called the Second Religiosity, the resurgence of religion that inevitably happens in the wake of rationalism’s failure to deliver on its promises. At such times you get intellectuals who can communicate fluently on both sides of the chasm between rationalism and religion, and who put together syntheses of various kinds that reframe the legacies of the Age of Reason so that they can be taken up by emergent religious movements and preserved for the future.

In the classical world, for example, you got Iamblichus of Chalcis, who stepped into the gap between Greek philosophical rationalism and the burgeoning Second Religiosity of late classical times, and figured out how to make philosophy, logic, and mathematics appealing to the increasingly religious temper of his time. He was one of many such figures, and it was largely because of their efforts that the religious traditions that ended up taking over the classical world—Christianity to the north of the Mediterranean, and Islam to the south—got over their early anti-intellectual streak so readily and ended up preserving so much of the intellectual heritage of the past.

That sort of thing is a worthwhile task, and if I can contribute to it I’ll consider this life well spent. That said, there’s nothing unique about it. What’s more, it’s only possible and meaningful because I happen to be perched on this particular arc of the wheel of time, when our civilization’s Age of Reason is visibly crumbling and the Second Religiosity is only beginning to build up a head of steam. A century earlier or a century later, I’d have faced some different tasks.

All of this presupposes a relationship between the individual and human society that fits very poorly with the unthinking prejudices of our time. That’s something that Spengler grappled with in his book, too;  it’s going to take a long sojourn in some very unfamiliar realms of thought to make sense of what he had to say, but that can’t be helped.

We really are going to have to talk about philosophy, aren’t we? We’ll begin that stunningly unfashionable discussion next week.


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patriciaormsby said...

The February 2017 Kanto Green Wizards will meet at the Asakawa Kompira Shrine on Sunday, February 5. People will start showing up at 11:30 a.m. this time because of a concert later, but most come at about noon. The Kompira monthly picnic is potluck, so please bring something to share.
To get there, go to Takao Station on the JR or Keio line and exit through the south exit (which apparently means going through the Keio part of the station). The small mountain that Asakawa Kompira Shrine crowns is directly west of the station (in fact, the train tunnels under it). For a map, see: .
I am told that the Google map is practically invisible on small, hand-held screens, so it would be best to confirm the location before coming out. But nearly everyone in town knows where the Kompira Shrine is, so if you get lost ask. (It's not the prominent golden UFO thing --that's to the south of the station.)
The forecast as of this morning is for snow in Yamanashi Prefecture, which I have to traverse to get there, so I probably won’t make it. gives a 90% chance of rain in Hachioji, but because they are having the Setsubun Festival, I expect folks to show up anyway, especially since Ikeda-san will open the shrine. The TV Tokyo feature is also drawing lots of interest, and I expect lots of people to show up once the weather is warmer. It will be more like a family gathering this time, but dress for rain! I’ll update this in the TADR comments here and on the Green Wizards site if I get notice of cancellation.

Angus Wallace said...


Newton was certainly a very special person. Not only did he imagine things that no one else did before -- he invented a completely new maths to describe them -- Calculus. Leibnez (a German contemporary of Newton's) was also an incredible genius (who independently invented calculus and was persecuted by Newton for it). This suggests that Newton, genius though he might have been, was not as unique as some imagine.

On a related note, I listened to a very interesting radio broadcast recently, comparing events today to The Gilded Age in the USA in the late 19th century:

Cheers, Angus

Violet Cabra said...

There appears to me an important difference between the sorts of figures that come in the spring/summer and winter of a culture. Using the example of Isaac Newton and the Scientific revolution, it is easy to imagine that if Newton hadn't defined the scientific paradigm someone else would have. Spengler has some great thought experiments in this regard; what if the French had the first Faustian empire rather than Spain or if Goethe hadn't been born? He concludes that the lifecycle of the civilization would be fulfilled through its inmates in some deeply mysterious way, independent of individuals. Perhaps it can be said that there is a certain notational space in a culture that will be explored with its own internal logic regardless of particular people.

If we take a figure, however, in the winter it appears to me to be meaningfully different kettle of fish. If, say, St Patrick hadn't been born it is easy to imagine all Classical literature being lost. There may simply not have been other historical actors primed to do what he did, especially given the utter contingency of his colorful life. Our knowledge of Classical literature is utterly dependent on him and in a way personally entwined with his character. In the preservation of culture it could be said that things will only be saved by people who care, and people may not care, in fact most don't, and the few who do can have enormously disproportionate effects on the future

David said...


Long time lurker, first time commenter. Just wanted to thank you for expanding my horizons quite a bit with your work...would never have known about Spengler et al or investigated the philosophical foundations of magic without you. I've been interested in philosophy as a result of becoming obsessed with Zhuangzi in college, and my question to you has to do with polytheism. Philosophers these days often treat the question of the existence of "God" (singular) but there is nary a peep about the existence of "gods," plural, and this seems to leave a gaping hole in most philosophical speculation. Since you obviously believe in a pantheon of gods, I have roughly a million questions about that works, exactly. What is a god "made of?" Do gods exist prior to human beings believing in them? I gather there's a sort of "spiritual ecosystem" parallel to the "natural" environment in which gods exist? Finally, is the "One" or "Godhead" precisely the same as YHWH? I've done a bit of research and apparently YHWH was originally a member of the "Divine Council" who got "promoted," and may have had a consort in Asherah? Sorry to spam you...feel free to answer as many or as few of those as strikes your fancy. And I'm aware you wrote a volume called "A World Full of Gods" which probably addresses some of these questions, but I haven't got my hands on it yet.


Justin said...

It seems to me like what it means to be human is to be imperfect (the story about Adam and Eve can be argued to be about just that). After all, a bird or a fish or a tree is always a perfect example of its species within the limitations imposed by its genetic and environmental situation. A human, not so much (unless free will is an illusion).

I find it interesting that many successful religions have a physical center. Mecca and Rome are the obvious ones, but I'm sure the Asian religions and many indigenous belief systems have a physical center. We often speak of a moral compass, and I wonder if that's because the brain structures that currently help us through moral dilemmas are built atop navigation systems - which explains why so many make pilgrimages to Rome or Mecca or Uluru. Some Norse pagans believed that they shouldn't even look at the mountains their dead lived in without washing their faces first. Clearly, ideas like this are rooted deep in our psyche and likely evolved out of the mechanisms that got us back somewhere safe every night so the things that live in the dark wouldn't eat us.

In an era of breakdown and climate change there are likely to be many new holy sites.

Doc Tim said...

I fully agree that there is excessive fail that a Deus ex machine, wiz bang fix will come to our rescue, but I do think your case that new is usually not better is overstated. Watching old movies from my childhood, many of our goods are significantly better. Take cars as an example. In the past very few cars made it past 100k miles. And even with its propensity for mind sucking apps, our smart phones which can give us access to all the worlds info is pretty astounding. Perhaps the issue is that our expectations don't keep up. I view us in a time of competing exponential. Many things are in fact improving rapidly, but our problems also increase. As long as the progress curve stays ahead of the problems curve things are rosy.

pygmycory said...

It looks like I must add 'Decline of the West' to my list of books to read. I'm currently waiting for 'Overshoot' to turn up via interlibrary loan.

Patricia Mathews said...

Re: "conflicts that pit established hierarchies against upstart demagogues who rally the disaffected and transform them into a power base." Ave, Clodius! And his merry gangsters.

James M. Jensen II said...

This is similar to the answer I was considering, which was going to be phrased in terms of your Law of Cause and Effect: that every effect has causes of the same scale and at least one of the same kind as the effect.

Within that framework, it becomes clear that while an individual can indeed play a significant role in redirecting the forces of history, they can only do so if the forces are predisposed to go that way anyway and are merely being held back by countervailing forces. Otherwise, an individual simply isn't big enough to change things.

In our present circumstances, the forces that push against decline are already too weak to stop it. At best an individual might hope to slow things down and avoid the absolute worst possibilities, something that a turn from neoliberalism on the part of world leaders would hopefully do. Stopping decline at this point is just not going to happen.

John Roth said...

@Angus Wallace,

While Newton was a central figure, as he said himself, if he saw farther than others, it was because he stood on the shoulders of giants.

For a quick read on some of the fallacies and actual truths about Newton, you might go here: . (the Renaissance Mathematicus.)

John Michael Greer said...

Angus, exactly. Calculus was the next logical step in the development of European mathematics; it didn't have to take the precise form it did -- I'm told that Newton's and Leibniz' versions were somewhat different -- but a mathematical form that broke movement down into infinitesimals was going to happen, and Newton and Leibniz just happened to get there first. Similarly, Darwin and Wallace both independently hit on the theory of natural selection -- again, the next step.

And thanks for the link about Gilded Age politics. I should do a post sometime about the old theory that the history of the Western world did a hairpin turn sometime around 1950 and since then has been running with all the signs reversed (environmental protection a cause of the left rather than the right, and so on.) By that figure it's the equivalent of 1883 now, and so the Gilded Age should be roaring!

Violet, I'm not sure I agree. One problem is that we know so little about the process by which Ireland converted to Christianity that it's by no means certain that St. Patrick did it all himself -- he may have simply been the one who got remembered. Another is that much of classical culture was also preserved in Byzantium, and even more in the Muslim world, and came to Europe from both of these sources.

David, yes, you probably want to pick up A World Full of Gods! Most of your questions, though, presuppose knowledge about gods that human beings don't necessarily have. What we know for sure is that people routinely have the experience of interacting with the superhuman and apparently disembodied intelligent beings we call "gods" -- these events are one of the things usually called "religious experience" -- and can interact with these beings by way of traditional methods such as prayer, ritual, and ascetic or ecstatic practices. What are these beings? What are they made of? How do they relate to one another? All interesting questions, but it's worth remembering that we may have no more capacity to understand the answers than, say, the dust mites crawling on your clothing have of understanding your career prospects or your thoughts while reading this comment!

Justin, I'm far from sure birds and fish are any more perfect than we are. Certainly I've known some very imperfect cats, goats, and chickens. As for holy places, first, you're quite correct that they also exist in Asian cultures -- if I ever have the chance to visit Japan I want to go to Koyasan, the monastery-topped mountain where the founder of Shingon Buddhism (the sect to which my Japanese-American stepfamily belongs) established his teachings, and where according to tradition he remains in meditation waiting for the arrival of the future Buddha. (Think of Merlin in his crystal cave and you know the story.) Vine Deloria Jr. has written forcefully about the role of place as a spiritual theme in Native American religion, and it's very common in the religions of the world. Of course, since we're moving into the historical phase when new religions tend to spring up and take root, new holy places are a pretty safe bet...

James M. Jensen II said...


It's worth noting that the word "perfect" comes from Latin roots meaning "fully made" suggesting it wasn't originally meant to apply to natural things, which are born, as the roots of "natural" suggest.

Evolution muddied this quite a bit: is a chicken really a perfect chicken, or is it an imperfect dinosaur?

John Michael Greer said...

Doc Tim, when you say that movies now are "better," don't you mean "conform more closely to our expectations"? As for the benefits of limitless information, a very strong case is being made by a number of authors that one of the core reasons that we remain paralyzed in the face of world-wrecking crises is information overload. More is not necessarily better -- and the signal-to-noise ratio on the internet is remarkably low, and sinking...

Pygmycory, I'd encourage that, but you'll want to take your time with it. It's not a book to try to read in a hurry.

Patricia, yep. I'm not sure if the current example is Clodius or Crassus! ;-)

James, yep. Notice also that an individual who wanted, for whatever reason, to hasten decline might have no better luck, as momentum works both ways.

Bryan L. Allen said...

Being within the Caltech community (well, next door, but still it says "Caltech" on my paycheck) I've lost track of the number of times I've heard or read words from one of the many many smart people around here how ideas seem to come to a ripening, and it is oftentimes a matter of some mystery (and some noticeable amount of competitive striving) who gets credit for any particular idea or breakthrough. For every Kip Thorne or Richard Feynman there seem to be several more minds who would have expressed the same idea, eventually.

Though he's not won the Nobel Prize as many of his contemporaries have, Freeman Dyson is an absolutely astonishingly smart guy, who said in one interview (Google the string and y'all will find it): "It's true of almost every great idea that you really don't know afterwards where it came from. Our brains are random, that's of course nature's trick for being creative. I have identical twin grandsons, they have all the same genes but they don't have the same brains: they develop independently. So these two identical young men have totally different brains, all the internal structure is essentially random. And that's how our minds turn out to be so powerful: they don't have to be programmed, they can invent things just by random chance. I think that's where [great ideas] come from. All really good ideas are accidental. There's some random arrangement of things buzzing around in somebody's head, and it suddenly clicks."

Hah, I remember you mentioning the power inherent in randomness on your other blog a while back... :-)

As always, best regards!

The Geographist said...

Well-timed post for me; my local used book store just called me up a few days ago saying they had an abridged copy of 'Decline of the West' in. Eagerly waiting to wrap up the novel I'm on now and dig in! Doubt I ever would have known about Spengler without your writing Mr. Greer, thanks for the introduction.

Thinking about our civilization in particular, could caesarism just as easily begun during the world wars era? If so, where would we likely be today? (I know, I'm probably spoiling the book a bit).

Raymond R said...

Here is a thought experiment: suppose, miracles of miracles, a new source of cheap power is discovered. In the current political economy, what would be likely outcome? Under current conditions where a small elite control the political and economic levers of society, the vast majority of any benefits from a new power source would flow to that elite, possibly even cementing their dominance for a while. The cost of the wonderful new technology would be born by the rest of society, although it might provide them with new tools to overthrow their oppressors when the time was right.

I generally agree with your view of the cyclical nature of civilization's ups and downs. Someday our great cities will be one with Nineveh and Tyre, lest we forget.

Thank you for another thoughtful post

Ray Wharton said...

Very eager for the dive into philosophy! it is an important turn to be able to take when it becomes apparent that there are unrecognized imps flubbing up thinking and talking. Fairy tails speak well enough about the utility of naming your imps. Like the logical fallacies, learning them boils down to learning names for especially notorious and busy imps who are apt to make weak arguments be misjudged as strong.

I know that Jordan Peterson has become known my a large subset of the commentary here recently, Spengler's observation about the fading power of ideology and the rising power of personality has some reliance to his thinking. Peterson is acutely horrified by the actions of the Ideological state, most especially in a Marxist forum, but to some degree in any form of material rationalist. Body counts from history more that fit this sense of horror. A degree of his politics currently has to do with opposition to the rise of ideology, specifically Utopian ideology especially Marxist, in the political fringes of our own era. There is some cause for this alarm, though I am less alarmed than he is and Spengler is why. I think that it is more likely that personality cults will be the basis for politics of raw power in the coming era than the cold faith in ideology, based on Spengler. Either way these are 'interesting' times, and I think that even Neo-Liberalism is a non-marxist Utopian political ideology, and if stressed sufficiently it has the potential to manifest as horrible a form as Marxism... indeed several times it has come with in sight of the mark. Still of the two the Neo-Liberalism, for its many short comings, I think is the less broken of the ill-born twins; aware of the chance that the trials of peak resources could reverse that judgment harshly.

More likely than Neo-Liberalism fully evolving into a Global Cultural Revolution, as it does in Glen Beck's nightmares and the dreams of the most past loathing of its supporters, is it dying short of that metamorphosis at the hands of the Orange Julius.

I make that aside referencing Mr. Peterson so as to advance another point. The folks most distressed by Orange Julius seem to be misusing cyclic history. Acting as though he were a repetition of a Fascist or Ideological dictator; therefore responding as though to the rise of a horrific ideology. Bannon is the fall guy for the 'this is an ideology of hate' argument. This is a false positive of one cycle which misses a different pattern. There is a distinct lack of ideology, and a distinctive lack of Jungvolk on Orange Julias' side.

"Brutus" would be a more likely final hurrah of Ideology before the age of personality takes definite hold, if such a think came to pass.

The Personal Era I don't think is likely to be safer than the Ideologue Era, but how might the errors of the eras differ in kind?

Ozark Chinquapin said...

The part of the Trump/Caesar similarity that I'm having trouble with is the different timing relative the the peak of their respective societies. Caesar came to power while Rome was still on the ascent, hundreds of years before Iamblichus's time. I've considered similarities between our era and Hadrian's, wall building in both cases coming from a shift from expansion to maintaining existing borders. But then I've also thought the parallel is with a later time, as Hadrian's time was still comfortably within the Pax Romana.

What time period in Roman history would you consider the closest parallel to our time now? I'm thinking it's sometime in the late second or early third century, before the crisis period that started in 235, but I don't have nearly the depth of historical knowledge that you do so am curious about your thoughts. Iamblichus's time seems considerably further along in decline than ours is, and religion at the moment seems to be declining, not resurging as in Iamblichus's time.

What would you say caused Caesarism to reign at such an earlier point in the Roman empire than in ours?

andrewmarkmusic said...

We really are going to have to talk about philosophy, aren’t we?

Oh, goodie! I don't know if you can stomach the 2.5 debacle that was Sam Harris/J.Peterson!

What's the fact of the truth of the bloody matter!

ChaosAdventurer said...

I am looking forward to next weeks stunningly unfashionable discussion, bring it on.
And perhaps in it we will find the deep meaning of your new word, flimpses, that I assume is some new view of future glimpses, or a typo. I know what is probable, but I like the idea of a new word we can have fun with.

Andy, Adventuring in Chaos in Toronto.

A Rat in the Walls said...

Do you have any new predictions regarding the regarding the Second Religiosity? I think Spengler wrote that we should look to the religious forms of the Springtime, and that the coming religions would thus somehow resemble Gothic Christianity. But how?

The other day I met a young man from Minnesota who is a member of a Protestant ministry. His is an "end times" ministry, dedicated to preparing the world for the Rapture. He has regular spirit experiences, and, seeing that I was receptive, told me a great deal about them. He encounters angels of the Lord and demons who take on various shapes, and has more than once seen the throne of Christ. A very interesting and very nice young man, and I didn't see any reason to share my experience that what constitutes "truth" for spirits and gods isn't necessarily the same as "truth" in an objective sense, and visionary experiences shouldn't be treated as journalism. Regardless what struck me was his dedication and energy, and it occurred to me that, in the United States, I've mostly seen that level of religious creativity from the far end of the Nondenominational Protestant spectrum. These things hardly resemble the Christianity of the Gothic era, as far as I know. But on the other hand I have a sense that there might be a traditionalist movement picking up speed among both very liberal and very conservative Christian denominations. But on another other hand, here on the Left Coast the universal religion is a kind of self-worshipping liberalism, dressed variously in Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, or abstract New Age drag. Anyway, what do you think?

I picked up my copy of The Decline of the West about two years ago and have slowly worked through it ever since. I remember being confused and more than a little bit skeptical about him referring to Cecil Rhodes as "the first man of the new age." Two years later, it makes perfect sense.

Google ate my old account with my real name
And I can't figure out how to change the username on this one
But I like the Lovecraft reference

Lorenzo - said...

Unfamiliar realms of thought: here we come! I have truly no conscious recollection of a more enjoyable learning experience, involving a teacher, than my Wednesday nights reading these posts + some of your published work for the past few years.
Thinking now that it might be very fruitful indeed if I were to undertake some kind of regimen to read up on everything since that most relevant, May 2006 post.
As it's been always the case when I comment, I'm compelled to wholeheartedly thank you for your teachings.

Thank you

Shaun said...

A theory open to comment:

The individual receives cultural "programming" at the beginning and to a certain extent throughout the individual's life. These include broad and deeply rooted notions of value, beauty, and moral rectitude. And yet, s/he retains a certain reflexive capacity to "auto-program," to receive feedback and make adjustments to ideology, behavior, etc. This can occur within a variety of constellations of thought/behavior/relationship. One's perspicacity is a function of the ability to integrate signals-- to receive signals from varying sources within a variety of constellations (and to filter out noise), to cross-reference these multivariate signals, accept feedback relative to behavior, and to make necessary adjustments to align with one's "programmed" values. This process is, similar to "broader" processes such as the history of civilizations, cyclic. The life of individual itself is a microcosm of the broader process within which it is embedded. We similarly are an amalgamation of chemicals, "human" cells, bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and abiotic materials, all receiving signals, reacting, cycling.

In this winter phase of civilization, we are "old" before we breathe our first breath. We are tasked to function under the tremendous weight of accumulated cultural signals and apparently contradictory information. Under threat of competition for ever-scarcer resources, we are admonished to choose an exclusive model or ideology through which to interpret this expanse of (mostly) noise. The ability to cross-reference and integrate signals of varying types is thus suppressed and our collective insight (intuition) and wisdom (prudence) erodes.

Mister Roboto said...

A germane quote from Sir Isaac Newton: If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.

We really are going to have to talk about philosophy, aren’t we? We’ll begin that stunningly unfashionable discussion next week. I would be doing a "happy-dance" right now if my almost half-century-old knees would allow me to do such a thing!

SweaterMan said...


Tangentially related to your comment on today's topic but I've always been proud of my bumper sticker that reads "dARWin" to acknowledge both Charles Darwin AND Alfred Russel Wallace as the co-founders of current evolutionary theory. Never had it made into one of those fish-with-legs stickers though. If anyone was to make one though, I'd be glad to have one!

Bill Pulliam said...

Let S be the state of a civilization. Let f(S) be the function that determines the response of that cililization to its state, S, to yield the next state of that civilization, S' :

S' = f(S)

And finally, let S be constrained in some way; i.e. there are limits to what a civilization can do or be.

Given a setup like this, you will very likely find that S winds up displaying cyclic behavior. For an extremely simple example, represent the state of a civilization by a positive integer. And define the function f, as just doubling that number:

S' = S*2

But, S must be constrained to be a single digit, so if S' would be two digits, we drop the first and use only the second (final) digit, the "ones place."

So say we start our civilization out at 3. Remember this number is not a quantitative representation of anything, it is just used for demonstration purposes.

So the next state of the civilization, S', equals 6

Next we double 6 to get 12, but we reduce that to 2 (single digits only; there are limits)

From 2 we then get 4, then 8, then 6 again. And now we hit the cycle 2, 4, 8, 6, 2, 4, 8, 6, 2, 4,...

Sure its is a riduclously simple behavior, but this is the sort of process that creates cycles all over the universe.

So why does a deterministic model relate (kind of, approximately) to human societies? Probably because our brains evolve much much more slowly than our culture. So every generation, the brains that are responding to their circumstances and triggering the changes that will define the next stage of civilization, are pretty much the same brains every time. f(S) is defined by our inherent cognitive and emotional functioning, and it doesn't change very fast, 10,000s of years at a minimun, 100,000s of years for anything pretty big, millions of years for real overhall.

Just be sure you never hit 5... Game Over.

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...

I have been to Koyasan (though only for one night). I've also visited the first five temples on the Shikoku henro trail. If you never make it to Japan physically, there are actually some good books in English about Koyasan and the Shikoku henro trail which can be used for armchair travel. One of them is available for free online - Echoes of Incense by Don Weiss.

I've also hiked a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, and read a lot of books about it. One of the things which strikes me is that, in spite of the Shikoku henro trail and Pacific Crest Trail being so different (one is Japanese, one is American, one is religious, one is secular, etc.) there are a lot of similarities - for example, the practice of o-settai is just like the practice of 'trail magic' (as in, a lot of PCT people describe 'trail magic' in the very same terms that Shikokun henro people describe o-settai). Since you used to live in Ashland and you live not far from the Appalachian Trail right now, maybe you have first hand experience with 'trail magic.

Gordon said...

Sir John Glubb, in his "The Fate of Empires" also charts out these constants in the course of an empire's life. He gives it a 200-250 year lifespan, being approximately 10 generations. Of interest, he notes many similarities between empires at the end of their lives. As an example, he points out that both Rome and the Caliphate, towards the end, were in many ways ruled by women, while their capitals were infested with foreigners and other rent-seekers. His most useful illustration was that of the Caliphate in Baghdad. Towards the end of its power, women were filling posts such as in law and academia that were traditionally the strongholds of men. 50 years later, a woman couldn't walk the streets without a male escort without risk of being accosted.
This is not to say that there are issues with women gaining power, just that it is a symptom of an empire's age. Young empires are very masculine and dominated by masculine men. Old empires are not, and are far more friendly to women. Then, for various reasons, they pass from the scene (often conquered by younger, more vibrant empires.)
William Strauss and Neil Howe also plot out this scenario of the life of an empire in "The Fourth Turning", which shows a strong generational rhythm to history. They note that the Roman "saeculum", or a very long lifetime of some 80-100 years, is the normal span of 4 generations. Within this span, you have a Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, and a cycle of events happens like clockwork. I will point out that in the span of the "lifetime" of the United States, we have had three major "fourth turnings": The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Depression/WWII. Needless to say, we're not only due for another one, but we're in the midst of it as we speak.
As an historian, I have long noted the rhythms of history, but with Glubb on the one hand, and Strauss and Howe on the other, it falls into place.
(I must admit a huge failing on my part though, of not reading Spengler yet. I shall blame my professors for not beating me over the head with volumes of his works! Sadly he wasn't terribly popular in the late-70's/early-80's, so there is that...)
Thank you for the marvelous discourse that you provide every week. Visiting here is definitely a highlight for me!

Brian Bundy said...

Does anyone here know of books written about the historical cycles in native american cultures? As a kid in the pacific NW, native cultures were portrayed as wise managers of Eden living entirely in harmony until white men (proceeded by small pox) arrived. I'm looking now at maps of their settlements in the Bellingham area where I live currently and even with my healthy adult cynicism it's hard to discredit the vision. Villages consisted of a few communal houses each home to some 40 or so people. Bellingham is a city of 80,000 now. From information I can find it seems like the region may have housed 2-4 villages of a few hundred people at most. In a part of the world where food literally swims up stream to you, how did their population stay under control? How did their cycles play out. Was it appreciably different from western civilization. Is that due to agriculture or some other factor? Was there a cultural restraint or is the vision of the noble savage just part of our mythology? I recognize that the lack of written history makes it a difficult study, but it seems worthwhile to learn from people who managed to occupy the same area for hundreds of generations without turning it into a desert. I suppose the root of my question is if the cycles we're discussing are inevitable in any human culture, or if they are a direct consequence of agri-culture. If so, are other forms of culture more stable?

Ray Wharton said...

Life is very repetitive. That is essential to the possibility of using language. Nietzsche observes that logic relies on the fact that we can treat separate incidents as functionally similar. Put another way the very possibility of rationality, at least in the form we know and love, relies on the fact that events in the universe are effectively repetitive. Like cows. A cow being born doesn't just happen once, it happens dozens of times, not exactly the same, but so similar that we can distinguish cows from non cows with nearly perfect consensus.

Also, those things that repeat, don't just repeat as having the same shape or form again and again. The repeat having the same 'unfolding' or plot... not precisely the same, but similar enough to trigger the same recognition.

Basically, if Civilizations are a 'thing', something worth talking about at all, it would be shockingly strange and unusual for them not to have a recognizable pattern of unfolding. Though there are two counters worth considering. The first, and by far most likely is abortion; that is to say that something disrupts the plot before it gets very far along so fundamentally that it never goes further. But, for something as large as global Civilization to be killed prematurely at this point, which certainly possible, would take an external disruption of abnormal scale. Something one in several million years. Which while possible, isn't likely enough to dwell on. The other case would be some kind of emergent behavior; which I think is what the progressives are faithing about. When I consider emergent behavior in my imagination (sorry that I have flown away from my more principled start) it doesn't emerge 'all horns and thorns, sprung out fully formed, knock-kneed and upright' but instead manifests repetitively and vaguely, almost tentatively, until such time that the pattern has established itself as something with staying power. No doubt our civilization, in its glorious oddity, has spat forth some emergent behavior, but an emergent behavior exceptional enough to phase shift the patter of Civilization to a difference of kind I don't see evidence of at this time. Some of our technology might have seemed arguable 60 years ago, but today the technologies which may very well distort the wave form of Civilization future are not, in my eyes, mature enough to change our civilizations general pattern.

I would argue that Writing was a technology which sufficiently distorted longterm human patterns to fundamentally distort the rhythm of human culturation, but even so significant a change still fell vastly short of making the shift to an immortal utopia. I suspect, for what it's worth, that radio, phonograph, rifle, and certain agricultural discoveries might, if they can evolve into a endurance form, joining writing as a phase shifter of long term human culture. But even if this guess is accurate, it is very very unlikely they would make a Culture or a Civilization immortal or utopia. Quite the contrary, for several cycles of the Year of Civilization they are more likely to be disruptive and invasive as cane toads in Oz.

patriciaormsby said...

JMG, you are the only person I know who uses "beg the question" in the original sense. Hopefully this week's post will remind a few others. It's a useful term on its way to obscurity. Most folks will look at you in puzzlement if it doesn't seem to jive with the current meaning of "demand, in whining tones, an answer." In its absence, I suppose "circular argument" will still do.

I was reminded this week of a cartoon in B. Kliban's "Whack Your Porcupine" (1977, only $2.95) of an old guy looking out his window at the stars, saying "There goes that rotten Halley's comet! It makes me sick! I want to vomet!"

I love how each week's topic here is so often a surprise, and it is good that you grab opportunities to talk about these things as they arise. People tend to tune out if the content is predictable. There is quite a lot this week that I want to copy and send off (with attribution) to relatives who are now pointing fingers all around, saying, "What will you tell your descendants when they ask you why you didn't help stop Trump?" Then again, they too are playing their own particular role in the historical cycle. I doubt hysteria has a happy ending, and probably ought to just shut up and let them rant without making myself into a target.

@Lewis Lucan Books, off-topic, but thank you for your reply in last week's comments! Aokigahara is part of my neighborhood (anything I can reach on foot in less than a day). It is haunted and yet haunting. I could rhapsodize about the ancient path that bisects it from Lake Shoji, where followers of the Fuji Sect would purify themselves before climbing. Loving hands built a road to suit royalty, stacking up basalt.

@JMG, I hope fate grants you an opportunity to visit Japan. Lots of folks here would welcome you.

johnhavey said...

When you lean toward cycles you are likely to lean as well toward fractals: cycles within cycles. These historical cycles take place within cycles of climate and extinction. But the interesting thing is not if they happen, but rather at what degree they are happening. Will the economic crash be a modest recession or a Greater Depression? Will the Sixth Great Extinction be an historical event or the end of history, or the end of us?

Ben Johnson said...

JMG - I agree that a cyclical pattern of history makes a lot of sense, and the specific examples you cite make sense. Newton perched on the shoulders of giants, thus, he set the stage for modern (Newtonian) physics.

However, you've also argued that the course of Western history would have resulted in now industrial revolution (as we know it) had the winds not favored William of Orange's fleet in 1688. Indeed, with an absolutist on the English throne, and one of the progenitors of modern Western liberalism crushed in 1688, would the Western world not have passed into the autumn phase almost two centuries earlier? Or, taking the weather out of the equation, if William had been weaker of resolve, might Europe (and by extension, North America), have turned the wheel much quicker?

Mark Hines said...

"Most of us have learned already that upgrades on average have fewer benefits and more bugs than the programs they replace, and that products labeled “new and improved” may be new but they’re rarely improved."

JMG, My wife experienced a classic example of this just today. She has had for several years a program called Roboform on her computer that automatically fills in the user name and password on any site requireing it. This keeps you from having to remember all the passwords. Well, just yesterday, Roboform did a major upgrade, which was supposed to be an improvement. But what it did was it erased all her secure logins and kept her unsecure ones. She had to go back in and spend time getting new user names and passwords for her financial, and membership sites and others. So New and improved isn't always better. The old version worked just fine for her without any glitches.
Just thought you would like an example.
Keep up the good post.
Love your book Retrotopia. Have read it several times.

Jay Cummings said...

I kind of love when you try to throw off your readership at the end of your posts. You know perfectly well by now, we read your blog precisely because you speak intelligently about things like philosophy. Dive deep, it's what we want.

Karl Ivanov said...

Great post as usual. In a comment last week, you said, “You might be interested to know that I've thought through how I would react if something were to happen to prevent the Long Descent and give our civilization the kind of "long tail" that, say, ancient Egypt or traditional China had, some thousands of years of relative stability; I think I'd deal with it pretty well.” That is actually a question I have been wanting to ask you for a long time, because while your arguments have resonated deeply with me, I have been afraid of acting on them due to the nagging, irrational part of my brain that says, “but what if it's not worth it? What if they do think of something?"
That has been ringing increasingly hollow, and if I could go back and do things differently, I think I would. Even so, I have to pose the question to you- would you feel your life was wasted if they did “think of something?”
I will say, I don't think that your ideas are wasted effort, whatever our civilization's fate. They have enriched my life at any rate. But still.

NomadicBeer said...

this post is whetting my appetite for more - I hope I will learn a lot in the following weeks. Philosophy is one of my (many) weak points. I am an extreme reductionist, which is useful in navigating modern life but can be a hindrance when digging through history and philosophy.

@Violet Cabra: I think your idea is important, and it make sense to me. Going up on the energy curve there is a lot of room for trial and error and a lot of discoveries will be made given time.
On the way down both energy and time are in short supply so being in the right place at the right time can make all the difference.

@Doc Tim: I think it depends on the timescale you are talking about. For example I have a car that is almost 30 years old and it runs with no problem. The engine is simple enough that it can be fixed with a couple of tools. Most of today's cars have so many moving pieces that they suffer minor failures all the time.
The other thing to keep in mind is that different technologies reach their peak at different times. For cars it was probably two or three decades ago. For computers ten years ago (my latest laptop from work already started to lose hardware components after three months). There might be technologies that are still on the positive side of the improvement but how many? I can give you a long list of worsening things, starting with houses, medicine and government.


Karl Ivanov said...

I personally only have two major quibbles with your perspective on the future. The first is, I have not seen the math done myself. You stated in a previous essay that in order for industrial civilization to exist, it must have an energy resource with an EROEI of at least 11, while the best wind can do is 7. So- all we have to do is get wind power up to 11? Or some combination of wind, solar, and hydro, to add up to an EROEI of 11? I can’t say that you are wrong to say that this is not possible. I just want to know where your numbers come from. It certainly makes sense to me that solar panels don’t make solar panels at the moment, nor is any other renewable resource produced without the use of fossil fuels, and that because of that reality, transitioning requires advanced investment. Many people I have argued with can be led up to acknowledging this much (well, not economists- they scream “Malthusian!” as if that settles the argument) but, having got that far, they are always sure there are still enough resources left for us to make that advanced investment. How can I demonstrate to them that this is not the case?
The second has to do with the historical theories from which you draw your ideas. The previous theories of cyclic history were all based in agricultural civilizations. I think it's fair to say we have no idea what cycles humanity went through during the hunter-gatherer phase, all though it's also fair to guess that that age did have cycles of its own. If the 'technic revolution' is indeed as big a deal for our species as the agricultural revolution, this throws a bit of a wrench into the certainty of cyclic history. This isn't to say that progress is going to fix everything, simply that we have no idea what a civilizational cycle in a technic society looks like.

heather said...

Darn,I was hoping your speculation about the length of Caesar's fingers would make it in to your description of him here. I snorted out loud at that bit late in last week's comments.

I am looking forward to the upcoming discussion of philosophy. I also hope you return to explore the alt-center political concept. I am coming to think that knitters-together of our frayed and rapidly further-fraying society are badly needed, and I wonder if those of us who are gaining experience through this blog community at looking for larger patterns and alternatives to dualistic thinking might not be good candidates for those roles. A master course from you in practical civics, complete with hands-on homework challenges, might be just the thing to kindle a movement. I like Violet's concept that the few people who care about preserving a culture can have a disproportionate effect on the future. It seems that the alt-center political culture,if that's what we're going to call it, needs preservationists sooner rather than later.

--Heather in CA

greg simay said...

Hello John,
A few thoughts inspired by your current and past few blogs:
1) An excellent book about the taboo subject of class in America is Paul Fussel's excellent "Class". Though it dates from the 80's it's still an insightful guide. In my view, Fussell identified two American classes that were intellectually vigorous: the "upper proles" of skilled craft workers and the "upper middles" of professionals. In Dmitry Orlov's terms, the upper middles of lawyers, high-level managers, digerati, etc. have allied themselves with the technosphere. The skilled craft workers, at least potentially, can be allied with the biosphere and would, at least potentially, be in a better position to survive the shrinking of the technosphere. So you have two competing "natural aristocracies" though the craft workers have, by and large been deprived of a proper education when it comes to politics, etc. In the 18th century there arose a group of self-described "mechanics" who, inspired by Newton, did their own experiments rather than rely on authority. Your blog is facilitating communication among the neo-mechanics who are doing their own personal experiments that are causing them to lok at this world with fresh eyes.
2) Perhaps Trump vs the establishment is, in the context of this century, the early stirrings of a "biosphere" party rebelling against a "technosphere" party?
3) Perhaps the next religious awakening will take consciousness seriously as something more than something reducible to phyiscal phenomena? A philosopher like David Chalmers is a good place to start.

heather said...

It's a good thing we are heading into philosophy next week. I can't imagine what a "perfect person" would even mean.
--Heather in CA

Keith Huddleston said...

Does the cyclical methodology say anything about how tolerant/intolerant the new religiosity is likely to be?

The examples I can think of show the stakes to be very, very high for picking the winner. Or . . . is the real danger is staying with a clear loser too long?

As as aside, my sense of faith is extremely non-dualistic, really close to Daoist, but I have no desire to be burnt, nor to take hemlock. . .

Just trying to figure out if there can be any informed strategy for this part of the wheel's turning.

brett rasmussen said...

On the subject of some new energy source like a thorium molten salt reactor, for example, coming to our rescue, I tend think of it as a no-rescue rescue because even if it was cheap and had a high net energy it would not save us from our predicament. It may allow us to continur along the path we are on for a little bit longer until some other limiting factor besides energy brought us to heel. In other words, even if we find a virtually endless energy source we will still mismanage our affairs so badley as to destroy ourselves.

On the matter of Gaius Julius Caesar, he was the subject of a lot of negative propaganda by his political opponents, especially after his death. Referenses to a high pitched or effeminate voice, homosexuality etc should be taken with great caution, this type of school yard level criticism is quite effective and tends to have good staying power but is not necearily accurate. We see these techniques used in today's politics eg Donald Trump aka Donny tiny hands.

Kevin said...

Whatever new religions may happen to develop in the decades and centuries ahead, I hope they won't be as anti-intellectual as Christianity and Islam proved to be in their early phases. Their histories appear to me to be chequered with violence, intolerance and cultural vandalism (for instance, the systematic destruction of other cultures' religious and artistic artifacts) to a remarkable degree. Is this typical, according to your reading of history, or something of an exception?

The historical role you sketch out for yourself, modeled along the lines of Iamblichus, reminds me of a concept developed by Morris Berman which he calls the "New Monastic Individual" (NMI), meaning someone who quietly sets about to help conserve some aspect of their dying civilization that they value, typically at a modest scale, alone or in participation with like-minded others.

When young I wished to be one of a wave of artists in some new renaissance, a cultural transformation - maybe a transition to the kind of world we might have had if we hadn't blown our energy resources out our tailpipes. But as you and Berman seem to suggest - and I think that the observable evidence by and large supports your contentions - now it appears that the role of anyone desiring to do something creative or constructive is liable to be more like that of Iamblichus. This realization comes as something of a shock, and calls for serious recalibration.

RogerCO said...

I'm very much looking forward to some help getting to grips with Spengler; I have found The Decline of the West quite difficult reading and have stalled about half way through, putting it aside for the past 9 months for works more accessible to my current state of understanding.
I find it is often difficult going back to sources of ideas - the language and cultural context can seem impenetrable and I guess that is why much philosophy consists of commentary on earlier philosophers.
Thus Arne Naess is much easier to read than Spinoza and certainly what an Archdruid of our time has said here about his understanding of Spengler seems to make sense to me - teasing those ideas out from the original is hard work and I thank you for your help.

DoubtingThomas said...

Fortunately there's plenty of logical fallacies to choose from. Ad hominem, Ab Absurdo and the use of emotive prejudicial language are quite popular on the Internet. You are not immune to their allure yourself. Spengler has his critics. Your choice to ignore those critics doesn't automatically invalidate them. That's just your choice. Prejudicial motivational assumptions are not evidence. I find it intellectually dishonest to use such tactics to dismiss inconvenient details. I appreciate you want to stay on message but those tactics are quite obvious and do you a disservice. You are obviously a clever well read intelligent man, I don't see why you stoop to them.

You keep trying to deny the role/effect of innovation & chance in our civilisations. Claim unspecified litanies of failures. As you have used in comments yourself before, "What makes you think that the universe will deliver innovation / chance on your schedule/lifetime/area?".

Funny thing is, Spangler overlooking innovation doesn't have to invalidate your pet theory, but ignoring the effect and attempting to use the tactics above does weaken your defence. Spengler defined money as being the dominant power in our age and considered blood as the only power strong enough to overthrow money. Personally I lean to a translation of "love" to the term blood rather than 'family, race, ethnicity'. A rise in consciousness provoking more love of our fellow man could change things for those carried along with it. Those who chose not to might just fade away. We ( inc you ) don't know. Spengler, some pal of Hitler until he fell from favour, had a theory and 30 years later Philosophers like Adorno critiqued Spengler. Decades later so do I.

I'm afraid that this weeks post doesn't shed any new light. I was looking forwards to a revelation.

You said last week your theory had some validation. Have you had those validations peer reviewed or is it just your personal score keeping? The effects of congnitive dissonance, confirmation & selection bias strike us all.

It's ok, I'm not expecting an answer. I've decided to move along. Overlooking the unsubtle attempts to condescend is a chore. I learned while here so all is not lost. I understand we are post peak oil and that it will progressively cause changes to society. I also understand now why Trump won. So thank you.

Your preferred predictions are clear but I'll let the future unfold as it may and focus on futures with different attributes to those preferred by yourself. I'm not a follower. I even avoided reading your blog timeline in time order to prevent being carried along. I've bought several of your books as payment for your educational services so Thank You again.

John Michael Greer said...

First of all, to all who are cheering the coming discussion of philosophy, thank you. We've got a long strange trip ahead.

Bryan, Charles Fort used to say that it steam-engines when steam-engine time comes around. I suspect he knew what he was talking about.

Geographist, Caesarism did begin between the wars; I'm sure you can name some of the Caesars. It generally takes several rounds before it finishes overturning the corporate-bureaucratic state. This is round 2.

Raymond, good. Very good.

Ray, "the Orange Julius" is a keeper. The differences between the age of ideologies and the age of personalities -- that's a complex matter, and will need a post of its own in due time.

Ozark, I'd draw the distinction differently. Rome wasn't anything like as dependent on the exploitation of nonrenewable resources as we are. If we had an economy that could continue indefinitely without running out of raw materials and trashing the biosphere, the convulsions immediately ahead would lead to a plateau of uncertain length, or perhaps more than one such plateau broken by short dark ages and eras of recovery. Since our civilization chose a much faster track to ruin -- it's not the only example of the type, btw; the Mayans did the same, by exploiting their vulnerable soils to the point of collapse -- the stages pile up a bit on the Winter end of things.

Rat, the Second Religiosity doesn't always bring in repetitions of Springtime. Sometimes it brings in exotic new forms -- think Christianity in late Roman times; sometimes you get weird mutations of the local faith instead. It's anyone's guess whether Christianity in some new form will become the dominant faith of our Second Religiosity, or if some other emergent faith or group of faiths will do so.

Shaun, as we'll see shortly, it's even more complex than that. Each individual has some habits of representation that are hardwired in biology, some that are culturally inculcated, some that are the product of personal experience (especially in childhood), and these are automatic in nature. Under some circumstances an individual can learn to change the latter two here and there, and there are known ways to mediate such changes, but they're not easy. Since our understanding of the world depends utterly on how we represent it to ourselves, such changes amount to transformations of the world -- more on this soon!

SweaterMan, glad to year it.

Bill, nice. That's rather reminiscent of Stephen Wolfram's work, you know.

Notes, thanks for this. I have a short book by the American occultist Manly P. Hall on his trip to Koyasan -- he was a serious student of Shingon Buddhism, among many other things, and integrated its teachings into his philosophy in some intriguing ways. I'll consider finding some other books!

Les said...

JMG, it was back in 2015 that Andy Brown introduced us to the German word “Verschlimmbessert”, meaning to make something worse by improving it.
I humbly submit “kaputtreparieren“ meaning to break something by repairing it.
Funny how when I introduce this concept to people stuck in the old paradigm, they agree that whatever doodad they just bought disappointed them and that it seems like a trend. Then next week, there they are in the queue waiting to buy the latest iWhatsit.
Also, thanks to your and Jessi‘s smack upside the head last week, I finally updated The Edible Forest‘s web site – looking back, maybe we have achieved something after all. And so much more to go. Boredom‘s never an issue around here…

John Michael Greer said...

Gordon, Glubb, Strauss & Howe, and Spengler are all dealing with cycles of different lengths, though they nest neatly within each other! Spengler's dealing with cycles around a millennium in length, in which art, science, and culture are as important as politics. I definitely recommend reading him, and if at all possible the full two-volume version. He was a great favorite of the Beat poets, if that's any incentive.

Brian, the only Native American cultures that had the classic cyclic phenomena were the urban ones. All the urban Mesoamerican cultures -- Aztec, Toltec, Mayan, etc. -- followed the usual patterns, and there's evidence that the mound-building cultures in the Mississippi Valley did also, though we don't have as much evidence there. Non-urban cultures go through much gentler fluctuations, and don't have the sequence of long steady rise followed by decline and fall. Compare what's known about non-urban Native cultures with the Mayans, the best-documented (since we can read their writing) of the urban Native cultures, and you can see a lot about how that works.

Ray, the reason I don't worry too much about emergent behavior is that we've used our shiny new technology to make mistakes that were old before the Pyramids were built. Eventually some new mode of human society might emerge that has a different arc through time, but despite our machines, we're acting just like a bunch of Babylonians...

Patricia, by all means send it around! If it slows down the histrionics at bit, that would be welcome. I hope I do get to Japan someday; there are a lot of places I'd like to visit, and people, too.

Johnhavey, you figure that out by seeing how the cycles mesh. This cycle of economic ups and downs produces ordinary recessions, but when it combines with this other cycle, you get deep ones, and so on.

Ben, in that case we would probably have had political centralization a lot earlier, as happens in most but not all other civilizations. For that matter, if the industrial revolution had started in France rather than Britain, Europe would be a single French-speaking nation today with rural backwaters where people remember other languages. There's a lot of room for variation of detail within the cycles; something will fill this or that slot, but it needn't be the same shape as the one that did so before. More on this as we proceed!

Mark, if I put up a website and asked people to post examples of that sort of thing, it would crash due to sheer traffic.

Jay, oh, I'm not trying to chase people off. I'm just giving everyone a chance to draw in a deep breath.

Karl, if they do think of something, the things I've chosen to learn and teach still mean that I have, and will continue to have, a richer and fuller life than I'd have had if I'd embraced the frankly bleak lifestyle of the technology-dependent couch potato, or what have you. So I'm quite comfortable either way.

The EROEI requirement has been calculated several times; I'll have to chase down the sources, though. As for the differences between technic and agricultural civilizations, if we ever get a mature technic civilization -- one that doesn't depend on self-terminating cycles of resource extraction and pollution -- that may indeed be different. We don't have one of those, though, and so far our civilization is following the standard track.

Jay Dee said...

It's possible to take the deconstruction of the unique genius theory of history a step further by describing it as an ideological artifact of historical writing. History is a narrative form and needs characters to inhabit its stories if they are to be readable. Add to that an ideological preoccupation with individualism (characteristically American, but since spread to the rest of the west at least) and you're all set. Albert Einstein is the paradigmatic example: you need a flamboyant man with an interesting haircut* to be the leading man in your story of the new physics. It'd be an interesting meta-historical project to track the transformation of characters in historical writing from the exemplary individual (ie. secular saint) to the Promethean genius of high modernism.

*Ha! There may be hope for our gracious host yet! ;)

John Michael Greer said...

Heather, funny. Don't worry, I haven't dropped the alt-center concept. I'd encourage you to explore it on your own as well, though.

Greg, it's been a long time since I've read Fussell's book, and I don't know that I can comment on it on the basis of my very thin memory of it! As for the Second Religiosity, it won't care about philosophers; like other religious movements, it'll take its impetus from raw religious experience, and proclaim itself in the language of faith and salvation rather than that of reasoned discourse. That's why it has such power when reason has run itself into the ground.

Keith, nope. That depends very much on fine details of cultural style.

Brett, I won't argue about the no-solution solution. As for Caesar, there was plenty of propaganda on all sides, to be sure, but everybody I've ever met who had the kind of facial and neck tension you see on his statues had a high shrill voice, so I tend to take that much seriously.

Kevin, Christianity and Islam were mildly anti-intellectual in their very early phases, profoundly pro-intellectual in their middle phases, and took on their present opposition to rationalist materialism in the culture wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Remember that Christian monks and Muslim scholars were responsible for preserving nearly the entire corpus of classical science, logic, and mathematics! A lot depends on how effectively people like me succeed in bridging the gap between the fading age of reason and the rising tide of new religious movements, but it's absolutely standard for religion to be the main force for cultural and intellectual preservation in a dark age, and I don't see that changing.

RogerCO, I'll keep that in mind. It might be worth going through Spengler in detail in a series of posts, but we'll see.

DoubtingThomas, you keep on demanding that a single short essay should contain the kind of documentation normally found in a book; if you want the failures as well as the successes specified, you might read through the archives, where I've talked about them at length. You also keep insisting that I dismiss the role of innovation and chance in human history, which is really rather odd, in that I discussed at some length in this essay the role that innovation plays in history, and I've discussed chance at great length as well. That they're part of the cycle, rather than an exception to it, doesn't deny them a place.

Talking about motivations is not necessarily a fallacy, when arguments are repeatedly used to support an obvious preexisting agenda. For example, if it's possible, as you suggest, that some unexplained change in consciousness will provoke more love for our fellow man, isn't it just as possible that an equally unexplained change in consciousness will provoke less love for our fellow man? If not, why not? Of course we both know the reason: faith in progress demands one and not the other.

That said, if you don't find these essays of interest, then by all means find something more to your taste. The internet's a big place, and it's a lot easier to find people who support your point of view than mine, you know.

Les, a nice bit of German. I'm still trying to think of a way to talk about what I suppose should be called iFailure, the way that technologies that supposedly fill human needs actually fill abstract representations of human needs and leave the needs themselves untouched, but that's going to require quite a bit of discussion.

John Michael Greer said...

Jay Dee, good. Very good. Yes, and that's something we'll also have to talk about; the thing is, to get there we're going to have to apply a screwdriver and some wrenches to the entire concept of history, and see what's under the shiny box that surrounds it.

KL Cooke said...

Violet, you are always one of the better participants here.

nuku said...

@Doc Tim,Re “cars are better“:
Depends of course on what one means by “better” and by “the past”. You’ve chosen one aspect, longevity. You didn’t specify a reference date, i.e, are you talking about cars from the 30’s, or later? On some measures, older cars are IMHO “better“. For instance, ease of repair by the owner, simplicity (no electronic modules), cheaper. I had a 1974 Toyota HiLux pickup that I could repair and tune myself. It got reasonable gas mileage and when I sold it after 10 years of use, some of it on rough roads hauling full loads, it was still going strong with 200k on the clock.

Gabriela Augusto said...

Dear JMG,

one can not tire to thank you, and the forum for the weekly dose of rationality and common sense so severely missed in these troubled times.
That said, I do disagree with you in one point: there is something special an unprecedented about our civilization when compared with all the others we know of: its size and scale. In the improbable event that our civilization would collapse in the next hour or so, the event would be acutely felt by billions of people across the world, and would be a life changing event to everyone except a few thousands scattered here and there.
The failure of such a vast and complex system as never been registered before, and whereas the thing is unfolding by the book so far, we can not know what will be the consequence of failing of the next thread. I do hope we have more three or four generations to deal with this, but I would not be surprised if some "minor" war or social convulsion somewhere, would send us back to the countryside much sooner than expected.

Iuval Clejan said...

The reason I object to the determinism of the cyclical historians but not to the many laws of physics or the one law of biology (evolution) is because life is more flexible than inert matter and humans even more flexible than most animals. Some of us have the ability to learn from the past and model the future, the ability and desire to get out of boxes once we can see them and better yet, once we understand the nature of their walls. So if we really understood the nature of Empire and had the desire to not repeat it, why would we be doomed to repeat it? I don't buy the argument based on a fundamentally selfish human nature, as it has been shown that we have just a fundamentally cooperative and even altruistic nature. The problem is how to give a competitive edge to groups that choose decentralization and altruism over groups that choose Empire.

Mean Mr Mustard said...


Your predictive powers exceed Nostradamus, who only dealt in vague quatrains... Not only did you call it for Trump over a year ago, but earlier, you also noted the possible stark choice, well before he emerged to take over the GOP.

"The hardest of all political choices, though, comes when the conflict lies between the bad and the much, much worse—as in the example just sketched out, between a crippled, dysfunctional, failing democratic system riddled with graft and abuses of power, on the one hand, and a shiny new tyranny on the other. "

Here's my rather obvious prediction - I don't think he, due to his fixed winner/loser mindset (or any in his authoritarian clique) will ever gracefully relinquish power. You now have an Emperor for Life. And that imposition, in turn, will provoke the domestic insurgency you have repeatedly warned of.


Cherokee Organics said...


I look forward to being schooled in philosophy. Out of sheer curiosity: is this series of essays forming the core of any forthcoming books?

I'm reading Jason Heppenstall's (a commenter's here) excellent dystopian future fiction book: The Seat of Mars. I'm quite enjoying the story which is a dark satire and am also learning much about Jason's part of the UK. I recommend the book. Then next up is your book "Retrotopia" which needs no introduction here, but I also recommend that book to all too. Then a book on manure by a contrarian farmer going by the name of Gene Logsdon, the title of which will not pass your blog moderation process - don't blame me, I didn't name it - he started it! Hehe! Then, I will begin reading about Song Lines. I really needed a break after reading Overshoot twice in rapid succession. There really does need to be some sort of initiation process by which a person can absorb the contents of a book like Overshoot and not be majorly bummed out by the content. I don't reckon many people are up for the implications of the contents though and it is quite a confronting tale which has profoundly changed my worldview.

I'd imagine philosophy has a similar effect on people? Maybe? Dunno. The thing I'm looking forward to about your essays is that acknowledging different understandings of the same world that we all inhabit can maybe provide a more flexible worldview? Dunno. But I do see many people stuck with a single narrative and when it doesn't work, they double down on the belief systems or the efforts to support that narrative, and well, to be honest, there are better and easier approaches. They might not like them though, is my gut feeling! Dunno. It sure is going to be complex.



Phil Knight said...

I wonder if, in political terms, we would have arrived at Caesarism by the 1950's, if it wasn't for Hitler having been so extreme and unbalanced.

I think Hitler's legacy might come to be seen as having given Liberalism an extra 70-80 years of artificial life. It's interesting that he is still the bogeyman that liberals conjure up to ward the undecided away from the populists.

Bob Wise said...

Thanks for reminding me of the definition of "begging the question." I knew it was a logical fallacy, from a mandatory semester course in logic half a century ago at UF, but had forgotten exactly what it meant. I just knew it grated on my ear every time a writer used that phrase to mean "suggests the question.." Have to read Spengler again.

DiSc said...


I generally approve of your view of decline taking a long time, possibly centuries, and not a few years, or seconds, Hollywood-style.

I do make my own argumentum ad ignorantiam, though, that things might still worsen all of a sudden and in a spectacular fashion after all: the modern world has nuclear weapons. There are claims that a single nuclear exchange could cause a nuclear winter and hasten the demise of iPads considerably.

Also, you seem to equate our present situation with Rome's at the time of Caesar: if Roman history is a good measure, and if we do not nuke ourselves to oblivion, we still have three centuries before actually collapsing.

I compare our situation more with the fourth century: the system was already collapsing in the third century (the 1930s), but was temporarily saved by a new US-centered international order, just like the Roman world was temporarily saved by Diocletian.

Obama would be a sort of new Constantine, blood-thirsty and vaguely idealistic. The Edict of Milan is the new NATO, where all Western countries function essentially as American-controlled territories.

A new Alaric is about to be born among those peoples that the Empire fought, but failed to integrate (any of the desperates pushing on the European borders).

From here on it is pretty much all downhill, and it is over within a century.

MichaelK said...

Dear JMG,

I'm warming to you and your style, even though (sorry) I do think a little bit of 'editing' might improve things a bit on occasion. But, I'm inclined to think that Steven King needs a good editor too! Your stuff does have an almost 19th century scale, scope and pace, which is good for real readers, but most of my students wouldn't get very far. Not your fault. It's the times. Inspired by you, and my young hipster friends, I've grown a long beard as well, which is much admired by the ladies.

You make lots of good points. The idea that the world is a big wheel and it rotates is linked to obervation. So much does go and come back again, repeating endlessly. Night follwed by day, the seasons, the movement of the Sun. This is, of course, linked to agrarian societies. Modern industrial societies broke the wheel of fortune and set us on a course towards the... stars. We're chained to that rocket I'm afraid. These are, obviously, the wheel and the great engine racing along a track towards a brighter and better future always just beyond the horizon, just models. You are correct, challenging the dogma of progess, gets some incredibly strong reactions from people. This I think has a lot to do with how successful industrial and tech society appears to be, almost 'magical.' What, could possibly go wrong?

Too long, sorry.

Newton was also an... alchymist, and was obssesed with the super-natural and had a lot of very strange views and attitudes, which isn't meant to detract from his genius or achievements.

Caesar seems to have outraged a lot of conservative aristocratic opinion in Rome. He was criticised for wearing his tunic too low and open, whatever that really means. I think he may have been playing a long game, creating a network that would prove useful in the future whilst at the same time diverting attention from what he was really doing because an open campaign was a very dangerous thing to do in Rome.

Essentially Caesar wanted to 're-connect' the people of Rome to the structure and ideology of the state once more. In many ways he was a... populist. Ordinary Romans saw him as their champion and friend, whilst the aristocrates saw a threat to their rule. Was Caesar a democrat? Probably not as we'd understand things. He was a very successful military commander, which shouldn't be over-looked. So he was very popular with the army and the common people, both of which he needed if his 'reform progamme' was going to be successful. In some ways he resembles a kind 'proto-fascist' leader, a bit like Cromwell or Bonaparte, and for some of the same reasons.

Caesar saw the growing chasm between the the aristocrats and the people, the 1% and the rest, as a threat to the effecacy of the army and the state, going forward. And I suppose he was right, after Caesar there was civil war and the Republic was replaced by monarchy and full-on aristocratic rule, which, arguably led towards the decline of the Roman Empire.

Phil Harris said...

O man of his times! Could we have done more? They used to say of the fallen in the Great War, there would have been more poetry, more science, and more music. Or Keats might not have died from TB when barely more than a youth.

So, I propose a rhetorical question. If a certain JM Greer, AD, had been 25 years earlier, what difference? Yeats was already there well before; the Celtic fringe of Empire had probed visions; a Golden Dawn had looked to the East further back than Rome or Hellene. Tolkien had played history with the tropes of good and evil. Already, Spengler, Toynbee, had responded to global reach and provisionally synthesised the fruits of industrialised 19thC scholarship. Glubb had been in the military cockpit.

Two of the main rhetorical assumptions at the ADR have been, firstly, the great curtain that is Climate Change and secondly the practical and resource limits to industrial expansion (let alone ‘individualism’). A third might be the ‘missed opportunity’ when America might have got it.

When a new reality hove in sight in America and an honourable man from old tradition and family (peanut farmer) stepped up, there was a brief window of opportunity, or so JMG might have thought. America – and, we see of course the World - blew it! “We are three or four decades too late to go down that path now” – I might paraphrase slightly.

O, the word that might have made the soil fertile again!

PS. Bill Pulliam is back! I cannot judge his mathematics, but looks positively Pythagorean from my angle.

Mary said...

@Keith Huddleston,
I'll hazard a guess. Given the context of population overshoot, resource depletion and, unlike the Mayans, no unoccupied place to migrate to start over, I expect the new religiosity to be intolerant to the point of genocide.

We see it already happening in regions with few resources and high poverty.

As a member of an unprotected minority I've noted that intolerance from neighbors and co-workers has morphed since the election of 2000 from verbal assaults, exclusion and ostracism to incursions on my property and attempts on my animal's lives.

Once population levels decline sufficiently, then it could shift to something more supportive. I don't expect to be around long enough...


beetleswamp said...

Sometimes I'm a little ashamed of myself for not being more skeptical of your ideas, but as far as I can tell you've consistently provided the most inclusive model for our collective trajectory over the past few years simply because you are one of the few who considers historical precedents beyond the past 3 or 4 decades. All I could come up with is that you seem a little too optimistic sometimes, but the little sprinkle of horror here and there in your writing puts such concerns to rest.

Your mention of philosophy really made my ears perk up, though. Can't wait to unpack that tea set.

. said...

JMG, I think you were saying last week that universities might be about to notice how reliant they are on federal funding. Trump just tweeted this about the Berkeley 'antifascist' riots against this blogger called Milo who they claim is a fascist:

"If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?"

They might have to choose between their right to permit violent no-platforming for people they deem to be fascists vs. funding their own university. That could get very interesting!


Dylan said...


I was just getting back into Spengler, Chapter 1, last week. With a sense of almost mystical apprehension I read his description of Cecil Rhodes as the forerunner of a new kind of Western man who would eventually be calling all the shots- in short, a businessman with an oversized ego- about a hundred years after Spengler's time.

Another neat thing is that although Spengler knew that a world-empire dominated by a single Western power was on the horizon, at the time of his writing (mid-WWI) it was still an open question whether that power would be German or American (he uses both as examples of the 'winter' or 'civilization' tendencies in a culture's late development).

I'm fascinated by his assertion that his philosophy (the morphology of history) would be THE LAST original development in Western philosophy- thereafter it would only be possible for Westerners to look at philosophical developments as symbols of developmental stages, rather than as pressing 'problems' to be solved. (Because by his lifetime the problems pertaining to Western thought had all been discovered). That's how I interpret this prediction at least, in light of the way the history of ideas was discussed in my undergraduate courses.

For me, at this moment, this feels like a thought that's too big to get outside of and have a look at. I hope this is what you'll be addressing next week?

Jeff said...

Your argument is too deterministic for my taste, but you probably knew I would say that.

Robert Carran said...

One thing that people who insist there is going to be some abundant energy source discovered miss is this: even if there were such a thing as "zero point energy" (which is, of course, nonsense), it wouldn't change the fundamental reality that we live on a planet with limited resources and space. In my view, an easy and abundant energy source available to all would be disastrous.

And in the current freak out among the well meaning liberals I know about the train wreck that is Cheeto in Chief, I consider it my roll to point out that opposing Trump is a game of whack-a-mole that drains energy from what we really need to be doing: collaborating on a local level to grow our own food, provide our own energy, housing, healthcare etc. It seems to me that any energy spent fighting this empire only legitimizes it.

When I was active in the Occupy Asheville movement years ago, I realized that it was fundamentally flawed in it's strategy. For example, there was a group organizing a trip to South Carolina to protest Duke Energy building a nuclear plant. I suggested that rather than drive down there, burning a bunch of fossil fuels, making signs, and yelling at buildings, we could spend our time and energy creating a solar panel collective so we could stop paying Duke to fight us. I got some resonance on the idea, but no action. That's about when I gave up on the movement.
On a practical note, I'm even beginning to wonder if solar panels are too complicated of a technology to be a viable long term solution, considering what's to come.

Bob Brown said...


It seems to me that one things is very different this time. We, in developed countries, have burnt through natural resources globally at a rate unlike any past civilizations. And have become accustom to having those resources at our fingertips while becoming more and more disconnected from the natural world.

How does that fit with the cycles of history? Is it only a matter of scale?



Chris Hope said...

Those who deny the cyclical nature of history seem to ignore the likelihood that some unforeseen event may only postpone the decline rather than reverse it, or stop it. If, for example, we discovered some new concentrated energy source it might buy us some time, but eventually the new energy source would hubbard and we'd have to deal with it, probably much the way we are dealing with peak oil. On a human scale of time, a few hundred years may seem like forever and for those of us living now, it is, for all practical purposes. The cycle may be disrupted, or postponed, but that's not the same as proving history is linear rather than cyclical.

Ray Wharton said...

Concerning the difference in important of individual figures at different points in cycles.

The Cultural phase of a civilization is very dynamic and easily subject to incorporating novelty into its own its character, while as it ages the gaps open for novelty to be added become mor and more 'self defined' meaning both defined by the particular civilization and defined by the pattern of civilization. For example, if we assume that there is a general niche that Civilizations oft have, shaped like Newton or Pythagoras as the case may be, the niche is also unique to the degree that only Nixon could go to China, Pythagoras and Newton if switched couldn't have filled each others rolls. Newton was so western he was even born of Christmas for Christ sake (we might suppose).

When the thing being grown is less manifest, like in dark ages, the individuals can be seed bearers, a common type, but what particular seeds are brought and the after-touch of the hand that plants the seed is projected on large. The same general patterns of Civilization apply, such that no seed bearer can just fluke up a seed stock that produced perennial Newton-niches, or some other unbred beast. But, when a forest is freshly burned, which keystone seeds arrive first can make a fundamental long term difference, like the difference between Newton and Pythagoras repeated on every tree crown. Not that these differences yet show any signs of being predictable, but considering how very few civilization we have observed and in what low resolution, we are many civilizations too early to have strong empirical grounds for knowing what aspects of the character of a civilization might be predictable; and that even assumes so herculean work in record preservation and epistomology for such questions to be explored beyond the hypothetical.

I can the concept, along with Seedbearers, and Green Wizards, Spengler's Greenhouse.

Michael Robles said...

Hello all!

I was wondering if you have heard of the concepto of Black Swan. I am guessing you have. Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He is the author of Black Swan. Paraphrasing, it says that worldviews are changed 180 degrees after highly improbable events of high risk occur. The name comes from the account that black swans where, well unthinkable, to Western Culture. Until they where found living in Australia. If you have the chance you might enjoy reading such book.

I was wondering if some event, say the extinction of pollinators, could mean that many fruits and vegetables that depend on them could cause a severe distress on human nutrition, thus compromising severely a long descent that takes a multi-generational time-frame, but rather a messy one.

The history of biology is full of examples of species extinction that leads to an unpleasant collapse of other populations. Some being faster than others. So I wonder if Theory in Cyclical History takes into account the biologic-material reality of humans as animals that rely on the health of extended natural communities.

Oh, that reminds me I saw this super cool video of how wolfs shape rivers. As wolves move herds of herbivores into specific grounds it allows the growth of forests with stop the erosion and build up water channels that becomes rivers. No humans without water, so no humans without wolves!

Hope you are enjoying some wonderful deep breaths of pure air, and some sunshine to brown your skin.

Gavin Harris said...

For those who would like to view Spengler's "Decline of the West", an on line copy can be found freely here ( Note: I heartily recommend buying the book. Reading a physical book is a great pleasure and, more importantly, still possible once the rolling brown outs arrive. But if you are cash strapped, or just want to see if it is a book that you want, then check out the on line version.

I for one am happy with the move into philosophy, I was actually on earlier today researching the works of Hannah Arendt, following a BBC Radio 4 program discussing her life and works this morning.

Regarding the cyclicality of history and civilisations, those that attempt to deny those cycles and claim "its different this time" are fighting against fundamental human nature. Even those who say, "well if we're aware of it, surely we can change it" are going to fall before it. Several psychological studies have looked at the distribution of psychopathic personality in positions of power and they have regularly turned up the fact that prevalence of people who score highly on that scale increases as power increases. e.g. the percentage of politicians or of senior company executives who score highly on the psychopathic tests increases, often several times over the national average. Such people are attracted to wealth and power, are typically short term thinkers, in that they want to get that power as fast as possible, and they want to both retain and grow that power. They are also lacking in empathy with other people and tend to act to remove anyone competent enough to be a competitor.
i.e. over time the powerful gain more power and wealth, are blind to those who they deprive of it and remove those who would temper their activities. which is why they end up getting overthrown by the masses led by an equally psychopathic personality, in this case often one who is a demagogue.

As you argue, as history cycles it creates "roles" for people. As in your example, as we change from Rationality to Religiosity, we have a role for people who can make sense of that change and explain it to people - whether they want to listen or not. It doesn't matter which actor steps into that role, and they may be good or bad at it, the role exists because the change exists. Its going to be a matter of luck whether you get Laurence Olivier or Sylvester Stallone stepping forward. Given the breadth and size of any civilisation, I would expect several people to step into such roles. While efficiency would seem to indicate that someone who performs the role better will be more likely to succeed in that role, blind luck is probably a stronger influence. :)

Nastarana said...

Dear Gordon, I was a generation ahead of you, late 60s early 70s, and we didn't read Spengler either. For us, it was all Marx all the time, and one's private life to be managed by reference to the imagined precepts of Herr Fraud, all well mixed with young adult hormones, a toxic stew which I now believe left many in my generation permanently intellectually challenged. I credit a course I took in Economic History with reminding me of the importance of common sense and that theories have to be grounded in some kind of observed reality.

kabobyak said...

I agree that we can't predict either a uniquely splendid nor uniquely horrible future. However, one factor in the equation of predictability would be what is unique to history, at least for the last seventy-five years, and that is the presence of tens of thousands of nuclear warheads and hundreds of nuclear power stations around the globe. If the probability is high that social or state instability will likely occur in it's various expressions (revolution, civil war, election of demagogues, etc.), I would argue that the probability would be pushed closer to the "uniquely horrible" position. Not to predict that it will happen, but that the threat is great enough that we should work to minimize it.
It seems to run parallel with the "bright future of progress" narrative, that many view the nuclear danger as over or at least under control. As Soviet archives have been opened, we have learned how close we may have come to that "uniquely horrible future" (search "Stanislav Petrov"). As NATO pushes to Russia's borders with troops and missiles, there is almost no discussion in western media or government hearings as to the wisdom of this bellicose saber-rattling; we hear only groupthink as to "Russian Aggression". Those who would like to see a more open debate on such a critical issue (e.g. Stephen Cohen) are rarely seen in the mainstream media.
I must say it was brilliant strategy by those with an interest in a new cold war ( fantastic levels of weapons, profits, and career security) to successfully bring into the fold many "liberals" and "progressives", exploiting the disgust with all things Trump, by ramping up unproven or truly bizarre claims about throwing the election for Trump. For many who were in the streets opposing the Bush wars, the CIA has been transformed into a benevolent and trustworthy institution.

Nastarana said...

Dear Patriciaormsby, it is by no means certain that the president will complete his first term, or that he will be still alive in 2020. Certain elite, I use the term advisedly, factions (neocons, Clinton Inc. being among them) want their grand war, they want it now, and they are not about to let a little thing like loosing a general election stop them. The convenient belief that the nation state already resides in the dustbin of history allows believers to pay no attention to that antiquated ritual called elections. Opiate of the masses, don't you know? Your descendants, gazing out over a planet of which a fourth to a third has been turned into nuclear waste may well ask why did you not get behind President Trump when you had the chance.

J Gav said...

JMG, It's almost as if I'd been expecting this one, and with some anticipation I might add.
Does history repeat itself? "Yes," said Jean Baudrillard, "but it stutters."
How does time move? "Vous êtes victimes du temps," wrote Paul Valéry, "L'heure n'existe pas."
Yes but, assuming it does move, would that be in a cyclical or linear fashion?
It's been some while since I read Spengler but what remains of a brief 'take-away' would sound something like this: Cyclical, not linear. Look for broad tendancies and repetition over time, preferably without neglecting context when discussing a specific culture or civilization.
As I'm sure you're aware, Spengler was roundly savaged, not only by philosophers like Heidegger and Popper, but also economists such as Hayek and von Mises. As I recall, the main accusations concerned his supposed over-reliance on (misuse of?) analogy, and, more generally, his unabashed historicism. However, in Greek, if memory serves, 'analogia' simply means 'proportion.' It seems Spengler was proposing an examination of history which not only assigned meaning to a time and place but also sought to provide a way to situate those times and places in a bigger picture?
In any case, and I'm not sure why, while reading this post I found myself thinking of something you wrote here last year. It pointed to the confusion so frequently encountered nowadays in the way the notions of "facts, values and interests" are treated.
Looking forward to next week's post. I wouldn't be at all surprised if you got some comments doggedly resorting to the 'straw man fallacy.'

johojo37601 said...

Spengler did the heavy lifting on the cyclic theory of history you discuss, but because of his own circumstances seemed to see Germany as the active focus of history in the West. Later, in the 1950's, Amaury de Riencourt turned Spengler's ideas toward a stimulating interpretation of the USA as focus of crisis during the latter phase wherein a thousand years of Western cultural ferment settles into decay of a now-aged civilization. I suggest de Riencourt's "The Coming Caesars" as introduction to such American focus of Spenglerian cycles. (By the way, I prefer the original by Amaury de Riencourt, not the so-called "co-authored" version someone recently put together because of a lapse in the original title's copyright.)

Dammerung said...

So many people were still talking about me in last week's edition that I want to note that yes, I'm still here; no, I haven't killed anyone yet; and yes, I'm still reading your comments. Words do still pass here. Nevertheless, I can't help but notice that none of the Kurds spend their time trying to argue the finer points of the Hadith while the Islamic State (so called) lays down covering fire for their retreats.

If there's going to be a mad scramble for power then there's simply going to be one. What's the point of casting heroes and villains in such an environment? If a lot of people are going to die in a competition for resources, then I have just as much right as anybody to define my own motivating values and fight for my own conception of what the future should look like. Antifa seems to want Nazis more than anybody, so let's give the people what they want and send them the invoice with postage due. Those who made straight white men into the villains of history should not now find themselves surprised that we intend to play the role to the hilt.

As for a Second Religiosity, I always felt I showed up a little early to that party, but I must admit that JMG has well beaten me to the punch. I wonder how much of it is upbringing and how much of it is innate. I've undergone spontaneous alterations in consciousness that convince me that there's more going on in life than the conventional paradigm wants to admit, and it seems to have happened in spite of my religious upbringing rather than because of it. What I would really like to see is the foundation of something like white Shinto. To re-enliven the natural world with spirits. Spirits of the mountain, spirits of the river, ancestor spirits, so many spirits you can't throw a rock without disturbing half a dozen. Combine that with the theological complexity and syncretism of Mahayana Buddhism, and you've got yourself a real religion on your hands. I'd really hate to see something as stodgy as Christianity retake its crown but maybe it can't be helped given its long history as the spiritual foundation of the West.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

JMG, and Bryan Bundy re Native American cultures and cycles:

(To those who may be Native People reading the following, I do not want to sound as a white know-it-all, but offer it as part of my endeavor to come to understand Native American cultures and beliefs in a genuine way as opposed to “Euro” stereotyping, lying, and generally misrepresenting.)

Two good books I’ve been reading lately are The First North Americans: An Archaeological Journey, by Donald Fagan, and An Archaeology of the Soul: North American Indian Belief and Ritual, by Robert L. Hall.

While these works do not explicitly discuss cyclic time/events/history in the sense being discussed here, they do draw from archaeology, history, old ceremonialism and comparisons among cultures to the extent that one can begin to grasp a sense of the diversity of cultures, and not only how they survived, but how they evolved and changed. While I agree that the urban cultures of Meso- and South America (and the Mississippian) did display more overt, sharp cycles of decline and fall, the non-urban cultures also went through cycles, and indeed, through periods of rise, decline and fall. The old peoples seemed to be very aware of this—again, intellectualized in the same way we might do, but fully taken account of in oral histories and ceremonies based on astrological movements of planets combined with a mythos-based, practical knowledge of the natural world. A common concept of time and change seems to have been of continuity threading through cycles nested within cycles. (How the arrival of the horse disrupted plains cultures is an interesting story in itself.)

Also, urban/non-urban seems to me to be too sharp a dichotomy, at least in North America, because of the way tribes and villages organized themselves, the way life was so entirely governed by the seasons and the way ceremonialism and ritual worked to draw groups together and then disperse them.

Also worthy of note and something I’ve mentioned before is the prophecy of the seven fires, which presents ages in human society, and how each age influences the next in ways that are not strictly cause and effect. Some say we are in the age of the Seventh Fire now.

I think that North American culture is deeply influenced by the histories of the cultures that were on this continent prior to the arrival of the Europeans (dragging along Africans). I suggest that a reading of Spengler should be tempered with a knowledge of American history (of the last 15,000 years) because Europe is partly a story of indigenous peoples developing and striving against each other, whereas, our story is that of invaders bringing a culture with them and it turning into something different. American culture is not necessarily synonymous with western culture (in the classic sense), in my view. Which of course does not obviate Spengler's larger idea of historical cycles being discussed here.

Jerome Purtzer said...

JMG- Great Post! Thanks. I'm sure you've heard of the Hills Group, a group of oil field engineers who discuss the rapidly falling EROI of the FF economy. Their calculations seem to dovetail perfectly with your theories of Catabolic Collapse. Their calculations also model the Australian Government funded study in the early 2000's, that Australia subsequently tried to repress because the conclusions might cause wind spread panic in the populace. The major conclusion was that after 2017 nothing that people might do with unconventional oil, or attempts to squeeze more out of legacy fields would overcome the overall decline rates and EROI worldwide.

Dan Mollo said...

With regards to the idea of innovation as a driver of change that doubtingthomas has brought up, whenever someone argues this I always bring up the fact that though innovation can indeed create new and unique ways of organizing society, performing physical tasks, thinking about the nature of reality, etc., there are hard limits on how far this can go.

Constructions of social interactions in a society, complex or otherwise, will always be limited by the human need to form social groups which are constantly in a state of in-group cooperation or conflict while simultaneously conflicting or cooperating with out-groups. Ibn Khaldun is useful here, as well as some of the ideas that have been built upon him by Cliodynamics (without the relentless quantification of data, I should add. I do not find that useful.) This constant balance between cooperation/conflict, although able to create large, cohesive societies, can also just as easily destroy those societies. Works that look at the cycles of history provide in-depth examples of this (Vico, Spengler, Toynbee, etc.), which you have been writing about for over 10 years, so of course I do not need to mention them here. To the point, this precludes the idea that society is always going in one direction.

There are also hard limits on technological innovation due to the fact that any new innovation is limited by available energy inputs. At present, I think people too often mistake innovation with imagination. Though I can imagine a machine that can spirit me away to the furthest reaches of the universe, I can not in reality create a machine that can actually do this, and not because I lack the necessary skills to build one. There is most likely no physical way anything like this can ever be built because of resource and energy constraints. At present, current innovation of existing technology is generally just a more clever way of using existing principles to do something slightly different, and usually with a higher energy cost (the "smart" phone is a good example.)

Finally, with regards to thinking about reality, I think the scientific method is perhaps one of the greatest innovations of mankind, but of course even this has severe limitations. The scientific method is useful where appropriate, but does a poor job in many other aspects of human life, such as religious or spiritual thought. How can anyone realistically use the scientific method to explain the existence of a god or gods, who are completely beyond the scope of our limited perceptions? There are ways to bridge the gap, but science is definitely not one of them.

I feel like I am preaching to the choir here, and I don't really have the voice for it, but when someone claims innovation, I have to offer a retort.

Jordan said...


It's essays like this on the long view that keep me coming back to the Archdruid Report, even when I disagree with or am angered by some of your other posts on current events.


Seaweed Shark said...

This was a well-turned essay, a pleasure to read and as always, I find your work enlightening and something to reflect upon. Having buttered you up I shall now perpetrate criticism. I see two problems with your approach that, as far as I can tell, you have never addressed with care.

1. Spengler and Toynbee both propounded theories of history grounded in something like metaphysics. Spengler is deeply grounded in concepts out of German romanticism: the ineluctable personalities of civilizations, the mystery of historical appearances, and so on. Toynbee attempts a much more British-empiricist approach but despite his vast marshaling of historical data, he also grounds his historical cycles in the mysterious irreducible emergent qualities of large groups of humans acting over time, essentially a very sophisticated version of "what goes up must come down." I own and treasure the works of both these great writers, but Neither of their systems appears to have anything to do with resource depletion. Spengler says nothing about it, and Toynbee only mentions it in his last writings, in an "oh, that too" kind of a way. This seems to set up a situation in which you can't have it both ways: if the USA is failing because of resource depletion, that's just a technical problem and yeah, some smart person could come up with a solution, as many smart people are attempting to do. If the USA is failing due to the mysterious metaphysical forces of rise-and-fall, then oil and gas depletion don't have much to do with it, and this rather crimps much of what you've argued on your blog, though admittedly only tacitly in this essay. I've never seen you address that challenge: if you have, please let me know.

2. You never have clarified the time frame. In this essay you talk as though the current populist US President and some current political donnybrook can be mapped onto the history of the Roman Empire. If I remember right, when Julius Caesar was killed, the Roman Republic may have been effectively dead but Roman civilization still had several hundred years to run; its creative phase may have ended but by some accounts its great days of power were still a century in the future. But leaving that aside, I'd like to ask, if you had been living in 1932 -- well into the great depression and with populist movements on the rise -- and you had been reading Spengler, whose work had recently come out in English, would you have foreseen the next 50 years of US global dominance? How about if you had been living in 1865 in a nation wracked by recent civil war, not yet completely put back together, and with a president many considered a populist demagogue recently assassinated, would you have seen the massive economic growth of the coming decades? Despite your admirable and impressive grasp of history, your overall argument seems very much grounded in the historical period that happened to intersect with your own existence, especially in the years 1970-2005. Who would have guessed that those few decades would be the turning point of all human history?

Forgive me if I have missed it, but I haven't seen you address either of these, which don't seem to me to be fluff arguments to be dismissed with a wave. Best wishes and thanks for your engaging and inspiring efforts.

John Crawford said...

Good posts the past two weeks. Pursuing the "Second Religiosity" idea further I found a reference to an earlier post of yours which is next-up on the quick read list.

I have just started your recent book "Dark Age America" and, though only a chapter or so in, have found it very much to the point. It is refreshing to see the quick analysis of the environmental on the ongoing decline of our civilization.

After that well, it looks like I will have to read Spengler for the first time.

Nice job, thanks...

C.M. Mayo said...

Some of things you say in this essay helped me to clarify an argument in an essay of my own. So thank you. And in general, thank you. Your essays are a pleasure to read.

Violet Cabra said...

Thank you for your response, John Michael Greer. It helped me realize that I've been subscribing to the belief in the historical trope that one person can make all the difference. From an ecological standpoint that is, of course, absurd. one population can make all the difference, and an individual is not separate from that. So St Patrick may be the symbolic person coming to us 1500 years later, but is clearly not the only historical actor who acted equivalently

Shifting my thinking on this matter is frightening, as it is clearly something inoculated in me, perhaps when my parents read A Wrinkle in Time out loud to me as a young child, but it is also enormously liberating. The Historical Figure has such an unreasonable amount of pressure; the pressure of the mythos of history. To eliminate that mythic pressure, to accept that there are others carrying equivalent seeds into the future, is to help personally balance my psyche and remove a terrible and dread burden from my inner life. My actions are still something I can regard as important and meaningful, but no longer have to be horribly stilted. I'm utterly grateful that you choose this subject for this week; if historical models are simply tools we use to apprehend the past I might as well choose one that allows me to be effective, still do the things I love, and be more inwardly balanced.

Paulo said...

Very enjoyable post. I am reminded of my old Philosophy prof who invited me into his discussion forum about the time I started reading and posting to The Oil Drum. I simply did not have enough time for both and declined, but now, (after 10 years) I am returning to my roots, I guess. I am quite excited about it, to be honest. Talk about full circle!!

This apparent Decline is similar to Dudley Warner's mis-attributed statement, "Everyone complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it". I share the misgivings of many, I sense the disconnects, but will continue to make up my own mind. I might call it my version of 'critical thinking' with a dash of self-confidence tossed in, but I remain wary. It is a fine line between cynicism and 'going along', and I sometimes wonder if it even matters? So, just like the weather problem, I always ask myself, "What's next for me and mine"? Some answers might be, "go to a good place", "collapse ahead of the rush", or as my daughter used to say when she was 3, "Don't worry don't panic".

Last week I responded that the 'Serenity Prayer' might be a decent first step. In fact, it is probably one of my final solutions to this Decline. I have already done the relocation. I have rebuilt the energy efficient home. I have helped my children become established in their own lives. We have built up our gardens and work our woodlot. We have become more than debt-free and maintain our health. We are 'of community'. But the fact remains, I sense The Decline and see it unfolding, everyday. The Decline is as obvious to me as The Weather, and there isn't too much I can do about it beyond what we have already accomplished in our family.

Rather than Spengler, I choose Thoreau for understanding. In particular, I find these two sentences particularly meaningful. "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary."

To live in the moment, to live deliberately, and to be grateful, for as Thoreau said, "living is so dear". And I also do not wish to 'practise resignation' and do not believe it is necessary. Okay, The Decline is upon us. Our leaders are now coarse people and have been so for generations. Our leaders are now plundering kleptocrats. Our civilization is in obvious planet-destroying overreach. I can't fix it and to dwell on the situation without personal solutions at hand is to invite depression inside. It will ruin my life and take away my serenity. To lose my belief in gratitude is for me, sacrilige of the highest order.

I do not pretend to have the answers. However, I do know that it is wrong to accept what is unfolding as anything other than wrong and disgusting. Imagine, a President who once used a cigar to penetrate a young intern is lauded as succesful and trotted out to campaign for his wife as a 'positive'. Imagine, recent Presidents also caught lying, cheating, or protecting oligarch thieves and thought to be even better than the current newly-elected version. Now, we have the genital grabbing coarser version, whisking into events in a private jet with gold plated seat belts and toilet handles; a President who tells the desperate populace they are, "tremendous", "really great" and "wonderful". And of course all our common enemies are, "really bad dudes", "terrible people" and "really really bad people" conducting "carnage", "So Sad"!!!. Oh My God. Is there anything left we can do other than pray?

Nancy Shirley said...

Discussing philosophy is fine by me. I have a B.A. in Philosophy that I got in 1976. (I also have a B.S. in Computer Science that I got in 1982.)

Which Spengler edition(s) would you recommend me buying? On Amazon it was hard to tell which one to pick.

PhilipW said...

EROEI is a very blunt measurement; like GDP it erases many important details of what is actually happening. Crucially it completely omits any qualitative information about WHAT is being achieved by the energy expended. So while it's obvious that all renewable energy sources will have an EROEI much less than fossil carbon, our ability to achieve the same, or more, with less energy is improving all the time. While much of this efficiency gain is currently being wasted, the potential is there for us to run a recognisable civilisation on a tiny fraction of our current energy use, if and when we have to.

So far humanity has progressed through three major phases, the hunter-gatherer- clan phase, the agricultural city/state and now into the very early stages of an industrial-technic global civilisation. Each was and will be subject to cycles; notably accelerating and each growing shorter. The Romans managed a thousand years or more, the British Empire several centuries, the American version will barely manage 60 years. I predict there will be no great or enduring neo-Chinese Empire, the cycles are now too short to allow it to fully form.

In my view history does not so much repeat as rhyme. Rather than endless closed circles, it moves in fat lazy and open-ended spirals. As each loop overlaps in time we can recognise patterns from the previous cycle, but equally when viewed orthogonally the underlying shifts and displacement is plain. Trump's America is not the same as Ceasar's Rome, however tempting the pattern is. They may be in a similar phase, and there is much instruction in observing this, but they are not located in the same place.

Crucially, as suggested above, we are transitioning from an era of nation-states and empires into an era of planetary connectedness. I use this phrase to contrast with the usual notion of capitalist 'globalisation', free-trade and all the now familiar toxic consequences that fall from this. Yes the fall of the great fossil empires will be noisy, painful and protracted, but at the same time and in response to these changed circumstances ... we will evolve different modes of thinking and acting in order to survive.

Survival in this turbulent world will be about two things; using available resources effectively and remaining strongly connected both socially and politically. The isolated and inefficient will not endure. All the core problems we now face are global in nature, and demand global thinking, connections and actions to overcome them. There is nowhere 'safe' to retreat to, every family, community and nation jostles on a crowed planet throbbing with the constant movement of information, capital and people. Certainly much of this movement is grossly inefficient and will fade away, but the shifts it has wrought inside of our collective imagination is permanent.

Just as agricultural civilisation, despite one horrendous disaster after another, never fully reverted back to hunter-gathering and eventually fully supplanted it, equally it is reasonable to suggest that this global civilisation will inevitably overlay the one before it. Probably the process will be equally painful, but this time I expect it will be a whole lot quicker.

Troy Jones said...

@DoubtingThomas, "A rise in consciousness provoking more love of our fellow man could change things for those carried along with it. Those who chose not to might just fade away."

I honestly don't know how anyone could look around at the world and conclude that this is happening or on the verge of happening. I suppose one could simply shrug and say "well, anything's possible". But that hardly seems productive.

sv koho said...

wow JMG, The second religiosity???? Why did you choose that term to apply to the current train crash we are seeing here at the end of the latest flailing empire? The secular cycles idea is very seductive and appealing and I admit to having fallen under its spell You have stimulated me to go looking for Spengler' work on the subject. I read some Toynbee but that was back when Nixon was dodging brickbats. I did enjoy Peter Turchin's work Secular Cycles which was nicely detailed and if you happen to have missed it I will supply a helpful link: I really am enjoying the twists and turns of your blog. Also The Fall of the Roman Empire by Michael Grant has some unique explanations of why that dynasty crashed which is missing from most expositions on the subject.out of print however.

pygmycory said...

@JMG, as you've said, knowledge and ideas from previous civilizations can survive and then be used by the next one. Ie. Greek plays and the separation into tragedy and comedy still being known and used today, or the idea of writing, or roman numerals and so on. If several cycles where something is saved from previous cycles build on each other, wouldn't this tend to lead to each successive civilization having more ideas and knowledge than the previous one?

Of course, a lot depends on how deep the intervening dark ages are. We haven't got very much from the mycenaean bronze age, and much of what we know seems to have come via archaeology rather than history, or via Egypt which didn't fall so far.

Any ideas on how much of our knowledge of greece and roman ideas will survive the coming dark age?

I must admit that I find the idea of multiple layers of half-forgotten civilizations piled on top of each other ten thousand years from now fascinating and enthralling. What there is so far is pretty interesting, but I think humanity has a future beyond the end of industrial civilization. Barring divine intervention, biosphere-killing asteroids or the like.

RPC said...

JMG, you replied to Doc Tim,"Doc Tim, when you say that movies now are "better," don't you mean "conform more closely to our expectations"?" You misunderstood his argument - he was talking about automobiles, not movies. As one who still repairs his own, I can vouch that a modern (say, post 2000) automobile lasts easily twice as long with far less maintenance than the late-1960s vehicles on which I learned the craft. That said, I feel there's an optimum and we're passing it; the new trend of an automobile as rolling entertainment center is profoundly misplaced. Someday soon a live update to an automotive system is going to lend a whole new meaning to the term "blue screen of death!" (Your useful distinction between tools and prostheses also applies here.)

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Correction re my comment above!

I wrote: The old peoples seemed to be very aware of this—again, intellectualized in the same way we might do, but fully taken account of in oral histories and ceremonies based on astrological movements of planets combined with a mythos-based, practical knowledge of the natural world.

I meant to write: The old peoples seemed to be very aware of this— not, perhaps, intellectualized in the same way we might do, but fully taken account of in oral histories ...

James M. Jensen II said...

I forgot to mention in my original comment that I'm looking forward to a discussion on philosophy. Hopefully I'll be able to contribute something to the discussion, given that it was a pet hobby of mine for several years.

As I think I've mentioned on here before (a long while ago), my own philosophical leanings are pretty solidly pragmatist with a side of Aristotle. More generally, I'm sympathetic to any school of philosophy that tries to avoid the pitfalls of excessive intellectualism, such as excessive use of jargon, obsessive interest in issues that have no practical value, or an arrogant sense of superiority toward outsiders.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing where you begin your discussion. There's a LOT of philosophy out there.

H. Bustos Domeq said...

Interesting post, as usual. I'm sympathetic to the cycles of history thesis, but I do have a few questions about it. Something I've often wondered about, especially with Vico, is if it would have been possible for someone to propose such a theory before enough history had accumulated to allow those cycles to be perceived? I understand that the Greeks thought time was cyclical, and St. Augustine had a kind of idea of historical cycles in City Of God, but Vico's theory was so much more, well, historical. Which indicates to me that the cycles in question are an example of our species learning from its own cultural past and refining its ideas based on that past. There are technologies around now that are unlike anything in the past - the printing press is a good example, or double-entry bookkeeping, or washing your hands - and don't require oil to work. And there is just more knowledge available in general. It's true the signal to noise ratio on the Internet tilts towards noise, but there is signal. And libraries. All this is just to say that the word 'progress' has come to mean something very specific since the 1960s, but we can reject the more facile neoliberal versions of progress without reject the whole idea that just the existence of more and more past inevitably changes the way the cycles will cycle in the future. More Hegel than Spengler, you could say, especially since philosophy is afoot. In any case, thanks for your work. Always worth reading.

Unknown said...

To JMG, a quick reaction to "it might be worth going through Spengler in detail in a series of posts": I hope you do consider it.
I struggled through the two volumes. It was a struggle--it requires prior knowledge that I felt I had just barely enough of, as well as a will--and it was wholly worthwhile.
Much of your work, like Spengler's, is stuff I want to share with everyone but have learned not to. Every so often, though, I read something of yours and think, Ooh! This one I can share. Your pieces here about Nietzsche and Burke happen to be two like that, and sharing them has been productive. You really do have a way of synthesizing and communicating challenging ideas in ways that end up in people actually thinking a bit. So if you decide that a reading guide to Spengler is a good enough gamble to warrant your time, I for one will be looking forward to reading and sharing it.
(This idea brings to mind James K.A. Smith's How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, which Smith recently wrote after teaching Taylor's A Secular Age and realizing his students, 20-year-old undergrads, were resonating with unusual passion with this dense, 900-page tome. Whether people are similarly ripe for Spengler I don't dare guess.)
Thank you, as always, for all you do.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Dear Mr. Greer - In the Vast Panorama of History, where does FDR fit in? American Caesar? I seem to remember that some considered him a "traitor to his class." And, he was nearly brought down by a big business coup in the late 1930s. From the couple of books I've read about it, it seems it was a narrow thing, mainly thwarted because Gen. Smedley Butler didn't want to play. I seem to remember that the whole thing was swept under the carpet, due to the big names involved.

On the other hand, I think FDR had a pretty firm grasp on the eventuality of WWII ... and knew he'd need those business men, further down the line. He was nothing, if not pragmatic. But I digress. Sorry.

Original questions: Where does FDR fit in? American Caesar? Lew

UserFriendlyyy said...

DoubtingThomas seams to be a proponent of Carlyle's Great Man Theory of History. Your rebuttal is straight out of Spencer.

Robert Denner said...

I am not sure if this has ever been brought up.. First thank you for this blog. I can't believe I haven't read it before. I've seen it around for years, but the name threw me off..

Anyways, back to my observation. I believe many are trying to take these ideas of birth to death in regards to our modern civilization based on countries. Like England gave way to the United States, etc.

I would posit that what we have been dealing with since the formation of the East India Trading Company is a philosophic idea, one that transcends any one country. Of course it originated in England, but the baton was passed to the US following WWII and one could draw a line out that China might be the next standard bearer.

So in that light does the theory still hold? Are we having mini rotations of the theory with the US now, but under the larger umbrella of "the system" that has been in place for hundreds of years now. A system that seeks to keep this "conveyor belt of wealth" moving from the east to the west as you put it ?

Just something that struck me while reading this and just started reading Decline of the West.


Nastarana said...

Dear Dan Mollo, I think a little refection might convince you that the poster you mentioned is an advance scout for the We Came, We Saw, We Transformed America!!! crowd. Our gracious host, an equal opportunity offender, has now managed to ruffle yet another set of feathers, just like he said he would. For "create new and unique ways of organizing society", read open borders migration, and, it goes without saying, according to this faction, that the influx of Best and Brightest from all the world will bring about a creative ferment which will stop those pesky historical cycles in their tracks. Never mind that migration has never had that effect before, and that the two known civilizations with long tails, Egypt and China, were also highly homogenous societies. It would seem that certain playas among various factions are finding this humble blog to be something of an embarrassment.

Philip King said...

John Michael -

Appreciate your blog very much, and enjoyed meeting you at the Age of Limits conference in Pennsylvania.
My thought about whether future industrial civilizational declines will be relatively gradual, as you believe, or relatively sudden is that you may be underestimating the likelihood of massive "sub-system" global ecological collapses - e.g. ice sheet melting, water and pollution, agricultural and other resource production crashes, large scale wars, etc. These would tend to be "sudden" on the scale of human civilization and history. I'm pondering the difference between a 20-70 year time frame vs. a longer one - say 100-200 years.

Ploughboy said...

On the point several posters have raised about modern cars being "better"...

We might ask, appropriately: "Compared to what?" And expectations are indeed up for scrutiny.

If your expectation is your automobile should be easily repairable by your average shade tree mechanic then so-called progress is running in the opposite direction. Heaping lots of complexity on a mechanism that might make it more reliable and longer running, but which guarantees that when something does go wrong with it you are going to need a degree in writing code to diagnose it and specialized micro processors to repair it? Not so much an advancement, no. You could substitute any number of modern tools and appliances that have been "new and improved" to the point the complexity becomes a problem in and of itself.

When I was student, living hand to mouth, I had an 1980 Chevy (The infamous X car) that was less that 100% reliable, and I found many work-arounds to keep it on the road. I had an electric motor-driven radiator fan with a fusible link that cost something like $100 for a mechanic to replace...clearly a prohibitive amount. When it failed I hotwired the contacts by running some lamp cord through the firewall to the dash and mounted a toggle switch...VIOLA! Once had an old 70's model gas gauge sender unit failed, and my gauge was thereafter a notched stick! Back when we still had vehicles with carburetors, I once fixed a sticky float valve with a piece of string tied around the intake throttle body. These kinds of appropriate technology hacks are less and less available for vehicles today, and so many of our other products follow suit.

Renaissance Man said...

FWIW, we very occasionally engage in some lively debates at work. Aside from sports and pop culture, the most popular political topics are:

- How the U.S. Empire is going to decline & fall. Fast & sudden? Dissolve into civil chaos slowly over time? What will be the probable consequences (hordes of desperate liberal refugees streaming north seeking sanctuary)?
- When the next Financial crash comes, how bad will it be? Will those at the top manage to keep the pretense going for a few more years and another round? or is it going to lead to critical dislocation or something in-between?
- Is the current POTUS going to start a hot shooting war or provoke internal civil chaos? Both? Neither? Will he find a way to maintain order? How are the masses of ordinary Americans going to behave, given such a violence-prone culture?
- The best way to cope with our own economic degradation, which is so tied to the U.S. economy, & how that's going to play out.
- As things degrade here, bug out or dig in? Retire out to the countryside & farm, go live on a boat in the Caribbean, or cope while staying in the built-up area? Preferred job when tech goes away.
- The next 800lb Gorilla: China or Russia? Probably not India.

Note the things we are not debating (i.e. there is no denial or counter POV):
- The inevitability of cycles of history and the decline of the U.S. Empire.
- The inevitable collapse of U.S. power and its ability to enforce asymmetric balance of trade agreements.
- The inevitability of resource depletion (especially fossil fuels) and consequent disruption of our current economic & living arrangements. (There is some discussion as to whether some sources of renewable energy will remain viable over the long-term to maintain at least some technology & creature-comforts.)

As far as I know, I'm the only one who reads this blog, but there is apparently lots of other factual information out there that points in the same general direction as you do.
These discussions don't include everyone, and they don't include the senior management, but the age range goes from 20s to 50s.

Armata said...

DoubtingThomas said:

A rise in consciousness provoking more love of our fellow man could change things for those carried along with it. Those who chose not to might just fade away.

The New Age crowd and the Holy Church of Perpetual Progress™ has been saying that for decades and there is not one shred of evidence to back it up.

Spengler, some pal of Hitler until he fell from favour, had a theory and 30 years later Philosophers like Adorno critiqued Spengler.

Spengler was harshly critical of Hitler. His last book, the Hour of Decision, lampooned the Nazis, which got him into serious trouble. As a result, Spengler spent the last few years of his life under house arrest. Hardly a “pal of Hitler”, as you falsely claim.

Also, Adorno is hardly a credible voice, on this topic or any other. I know he’s wildly popular with the radical Left and the campus activists these days, but as William Lind points out, he was one of the founding fathers of Cultural Marxism, the post-modernist Left and the political correctness movement. Lind is a highly respected military and political analyst who is generally credited with coining the term “fourth generation warfare”.

At this point, it looks to me like you are trolling. You and your fellow-travelers on the far Left can believe whatever you wish to believe. Lie to yourselves all you want. The rest of us who haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid or have liberated ourselves from the lies of the Cult of Progress are the ones who are going to win this war. Praise Kek!

Armata said...

As a follow-up to my previous comment, here is William Lind’s essay on the origins of Cultural Marxism and Political Correctness.

Patricia Mathews said...

Re " Where does FDR fit in? American Caesar? Lew"

Gaius Marius?

SMJ said...

Bill Pulliam said:

"... our brains evolve much much more slowly than our culture. So every generation, the brains that are responding to their circumstances and triggering the changes that will define the next stage of civilization, are pretty much the same brains every time."

In other words, the one thing we can be sure of is that as a species we won't learn from history for a good long while.

Unless evolution isn't just random mutations, rather, there is some kind of feedback / feedforward in evolution...?

onething said...

Re Brian Bundy 2/1/17, 9:04 PM, I am interested in all those questions, and it is one reason I find Daniel Quinn's works so useful. I know, JMG, that you did not like his books, and it may very well be that he is a bit over the top, nonetheless there are very important distinctions between a society that does not "lock up the food" versus ones in which you develop hierarchy. In my opinion, what civilization does is create hierarchy, authority, and accumulation of wealth, which is a fundamentally different way of relating to each other and to natural resources. And this is still true even if the people are not always good. In fact, another layer of questions I have in addition to the several that Brian Bundy brought out, is about what people are like when they are living tribally. I guess it sort of seems like the old canard that all Chinese people look alike - we tend to think of the various tribal people are being all of a type and interchangeable. But I'm sure that is ignorance. They must have had those who were smart and those who were creative and those who made thoughtful and wise decisions, as well as those who were fickle or promiscuous or easily offended and given to violence.

Of course, that does not mean that a tribal or horticultural people cannot overrun their resources. But they often do not. Perhaps they did, and learned their lesson.

At the least, those societies seem surely not to have had the kinds of cycles that Spengler writes about. What sorts of evolving they did have, I'd like to know.

I'm very, very ambivalent about civilization. It seems like a form of mental illness, or perhaps spiritual illness and yet I would like to have writing and the pursuit of knowledge and so on.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

JMG and all,

Another seer of visions...?

“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”

Carl Sagan, 1995


Justin said...

JMG, what I meant by perfect is "the best they can be given their genetics and their circumstances" - perfect conduct not total perfection. And of course, goats, cats and dogs are all the product of imperfect people. Nature would never make a pug after all.

Also I realize that just about every religion has holy sites, what I think is interesting about Islam especially is Mecca. I'd have to find the phrase, but again I'm back to Evola and somesuch about "the high peaks of Tradition".

Armata said...

I am looking forward to the coming discussion of philosophy. I remember you had also talked about doing a series discussing the parallels between Wagner’s Ring Cycle + Parzival and the civilizational cycle and possibly a series on de-industrial warfare. I for one would love to read both.

I am currently re-reading The Decline of the West and am on Volume VII of Toynbee’s A Study of History. Next on my list is Glubb Pasha’s four volume history of the Islamic world from the origins of Islam to the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

Tyler August said...

Admit it: you're headed for philosophy because you're sick of moderating 500 comments a week. (I jest. I too am looking forward to it... and am reminded that Spengler never made it to the top of my read later list. And now my library has discarded his volumes. Drat.)

@Doc Tim,
I personally believe the pinnacle of the automaker's art were the subcompacts of the 1990s. The Geo Metro / Suzuki Swift, the Honda Civic, and their like. Why?
Their handling rivaled 70s sports cars*. Their efficiency, especially the lean-buring Honda engines, are virtually unrivaled to this day. Their longevity is attested to by the fact that there are still many on the road.

*I'm told. I have never driven a 1970s sports car. From the mechanicals, I can believe it, though.

For a white shinto, maybe try Volkisch paganism? The Icelanders, who held onto more of the Heathen worldview than any, seem to imbue hill and dale with spirit ; so I suspect there's room under Odin's high seat posts for animism. The Landvættir suggest they may have been there from the beginning.

Varun Bhaskar said...


I wanted to post this last week but was unable to get to an Internet connection on any of my days off, but since this weeks article is a continuation of last weeks my post is still relevant.

I randomly picked up Dune Messiah last week and read till the point where Scytale talks about the Tleilaxu’s successful creation of a kwisatz haderach, ultimately revealing that their kwisatz haderach killed itself. More accurately he says the kwisatz haderach created a selfdom that brought about its end. Over and over the theme from that book is that to know the future is to be trapped by it, and that seems to be the position that we, your readers, are in.

By studying the cycles of history we’ve pretty much established there is no way to change the grand patterns or turns of the wheel, but by studying the details we know we can manipulate the arcs to a small degree. Take the end of the British Empire as an example. Toynbee figured out the grand pattern and was in a position where his superiors actually listened to what he had to say. Here was a great figure in the right place, with the right material, in the right political environment to redirect the course of the arc. The pattern fulfilled itself, but arced toward a softer end.

What struck me about the very lively discussion from two weeks ago is that there still seems to be a portion of your regular readership that seem to believe that knowledge equals power. Whereas the better way to put it is that knowledge points the road to power.

You have handed us the ability to change the course of arcs, and we are now trapped by the consequences of that knowledge. If we want to change the course of a major arc, then that would mean accepting the consequences of leadership and becoming a demagogue or even warlord. If we choose the path away from power, then we are trapped with the consequences of watching the arcs complete their course.

Ain’t pretty in either direction, and both are a trap in their own right.



Lilith Aurora said...

Thank you for another thought-provoking post. I read your blog every week, but rarely comment. The coming shift in our culture away from rationalism probably bothers me more than anything else I see ahead of us, and I'm not sure how we'll navigate that. I do think you do a play a role in helping some of us come to terms with it, and for that I'm grateful.
To me, the world does appear to be going a bit crazy, and if this is just the beginning, I guess we're all in for quite a wild ride!
I would also suggest that some of the resistance you face is a stale form of Romanticism, that very philosophical bent we will see rising to dominance and being renewed in some interesting ways.

I struggle with the frustration...all the challenges we're facing would be so much more manageable if we could just keep our heads! But, I'm getting a feeling there will be less and less people listening to 'reason' or giving any heed to scientific process; it's going out of fashion. There will be fire, instead.

John Michael Greer said...

Gabriela, but you haven't offered any reason to think that our civilization could collapse over the next hour or so. One consequence of the scale and complexity of contemporary industrial civilization is that it's highly resilient against short term disruptions, because its industrial plant, resource base, and other basic systems are spread over most of the planet, and subject to a diversity of economic and political systems with an assortment of firewalls between them. That won't spare it the consequences of more gradual changes, to be sure, but it makes the fast-crash hypothesis very difficult to sustain.

Iuval, and yet we do repeat it, over and over again. That fact -- and I'd encourage you to study history if you doubt that it's a fact -- suggests that there's something amiss with your presuppositions.

Mustard, that's one possibility, but I don't think it's a large one. The guy's 70 years old, and he's just been elected to one of the most unforgiving jobs on the planet. My working guess for the most likely option at the moment is that he'll either die in office of natural causes sometime in his second term, or retire from sheer exhaustion at the end of that term.

Cherokee, I have no idea yet. Some sequences of posts are planned as books from the beginning; others just happen -- my forthcoming book The Retro Future was assembled after the fact. As for Overshoot, I get that -- it's very strong stuff. I didn't find it a bummer, but then I was already clear on the shape of the mess we were facing when I first read it back in 1982.

Phil, we arrived at it in the 1920s and 1930s, and then got a breathing space in which the corporate-bureaucratic plutocracy reentrenched itself. It may well be that Herr Schicklgruber's follies played a large role in making that breathing space happen; I've noted already that his most important impact on cultural history was that he made antisemitism unfashionable in most Western cultures for much of a century.

Bob, you're welcome -- and the misuse of the phrase grates on my ears too.

DiSc, historically, sudden catastrophes are actually good for societies in the long term. Look at the Black Death -- a third of the population of Europe dropped dead in a few ghastly years, and the result was the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration. A nuclear war would likely do the same thing, as you'd end up a generation down the road with a lot fewer people and nearly the same resource base. As for parallels with Roman history, it's important not to try to force too close a fit. Spengler's theory is that you have a fixed sequence of stages, followed by a "hang time" that can be decades, centuries, or millennia in length, depending on circumstances. The Roman world had about four centuries of hang time; ancient Egypt had thousands of years; our civilization, due to its waste of its resource base and disruption of the biosphere, has entered on the decline and fall process sooner than most (though there are comparable cases).

Wendy Crim said...

I actually think cars from the 60s and 70s seemed to last a long time. And movies are terrible now. Also, give me a decent local radio station from the 40s any day over my smartphone. But, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. As always, really enjoyed today's post. Reminded me of the read and re read Heresy of Technology Choice, one of my favorites. Looking forward to the coming philosophy talk. Thanks for all you do!

John Michael Greer said...

MichaelK, I write the way I like to write, largely because lengthy, thoughtful, discursive essays are also the sort of thing I like to read -- but there's another factor. Style reflects content; there are things you literally can't say, in any meaningful sense, in the kind of stilted journalistic prose that's popular these days. Since I want to say those things, and also to communicate the style of thinking that gives them their context and meaning, I need to use a style that corresponds to my subject.

Phil, if I'd been born 25 years earlier, in 1937, I'd likely have been a minor name in the ecological side of the Sixties movement and something of a mover and shaker in the appropriate tech scene of the 1970s, and would then have had to face the failure of my life's work when the Reagan-Thatcher counterrevolution swept into power in the early 1980s and foreclosed on our civilization's last real chance to avoid disaster. (For what it's worth, I'm glad to have been spared that.) I suppose it's just possible that one more voice might have made a difference, but that's in the realm of might-have-beens at this point.

Beetleswamp, I've got some enticing flavors of tea, too -- a good strong Schopenhauer black, a smoky Nietzsche, and a delicate Schumacher green, among others. ;-)

.Mallow, that's a politically astute move on Trump's part. For a very large number of Americans, UC Berkeley is the summary of everything that's wrong with American education and the cultural and political far left, and stripping it of federal funding would be met with resounding cheers in much of this country.

Dylan, we'll get to that, but it's going to take some time to reach the vantage point from which Spengler's comment makes sense. We'll be starting where Schopenhauer started, if that's any kind of a useful hint.

Jeff, why, yes -- at this stage in the historical process, someone always pops up to say that. ;-)

Robert, excellent! You get tonight's gold star for perspicacity. The US left these days is so busy being against things that it's forgotten to have any kind of positive agenda of its own, thus guaranteeing that it will never achieve more than a certain amount of drag on a process going the way it doesn't want. As for solar panels -- if you mean solar photovoltaics, almost certainly yes. Solar thermal technologies (water heaters, solar box ovens, passive solar heating, etc.) are quite another matter, but they require rethinking lifestyle issues, and of course nobody wants to do that nowadays.

Bob, other human societies have made themselves fatally dependent on nonrenewable resource bases that they proceeded to exhaust at a breakneck pace. That's what happened to the ancient Maya, for example: topsoil depletion and climate change caused by deforestation did to them what fossil fuel depletion and climate change caused by air pollution is doing to us. So our predicament is a known variation on the usual historical cycle, and can be modeled fairly readily by paying attention to what happened to other examples of that variation.

Chris, excellent! Yes, exactly -- and statistically, of course, there's likely to be a roughly equal number of chance events speeding up decline as there are slowing it down.

Ray, good. Spengler talks at some length about the interplay between the unique features of each great culture and its predictable features; its history unfolds in a familiar rhythm, but exactly what fills each of the standard niches depends on subtle factors not subject to prediction. Your example of ecological succession is germane: it's not always possible to figure out which pioneer plants will get to a burnt-over area first, but once they arrive, the usual processes of succession can be counted on to unfold in the usual way.

Asher the Basher said...


Anything more you wish to write about Spengler is okay with me!

Bit more reporting from the science and business world as well for you and everyone else. Firstly, this very recent academic paper on the latest Solar EROEIs. There's quite a hot debate going on about this.
This rebuts an earlier paper suggesting the EROEI of solar in higher latitudes was less than one! (But, I must admit, I believe even Charles Hall had issues with that study.) The authors of this paper claim instead 7-8 when taking into account extended system boundaries (as they must). Solar might be improving, but we're not there yet.

This still suggests a lean future and the problem of needing to be in a latitude closer to the equator for solar to work while having the conflicting problem of climate change most affecting the same area. And it's also worth noting that they exclude battery storage in their methodology! As soon as you add lithium storage, this value of 7-8 drops dramatically--possibly to about 2 from prior numbers I've seen (but that is my own speculation).

As well, since HSBC released their report suggesting the next energy crisis would start from late 2018, we've had OPEC and Russia cut back production to try to keep prices around $60. (Above $60 is about where academics suggest the price starts to significantly weigh on the global economy.) Some analysts have speculated whether OPEC is agreeing to cut back to cover declines in production--they don't usually stick to the plan so well! Trump is opening the oil taps but his related policies will effectively lead to a tax on gasoline for Americans and decreased demand. And the oil industry is scrambling to add automation to reduce costs. All of this means the next energy crisis might just be pushed back a year or so. Very difficult to say because none of the analysts agree! Many are 'bullish' on oil as if the rising price is a good thing rather than a symptom of our own decline.

And global oil supplies have dropped to an EROEI of about 15 now. The EROEI for fracking in the US is believed to be even lower: maybe 10-11. Any wonder that funding for the Arts is drying up given this as Charles Hall suggested it would when we reached 14?

Armata said...

As powerful as the mythology of Progress is in our civilization, I suspect that deep down inside, a great many people realize it’s a temporary thing that is coming to an end.

Look at American popular culture these days. The most popular TV show right now is Game of Thrones, based on George RR Martin’s "A Song of Fire and Ice" novels. The series portrays a pseudo-medieval world of rival warlords fighting tooth and nail for the throne after the previous imperial dynasty was overthrown. Very Spenglerian, if you ask me. The motto of the series is “Winter is Coming”, which also has very strong Spenglerian overtones.

Look at the popularity of the historical drama series Vikings (loosely based on the life and times of Ragnar Lodbrok), as well as shows like Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy, which portray the emerging barbarism rising from within our culture. Toynbee was right when he said that most other civilizations import the barbarians that do them in, while we breed our own as well.

Medieval fantasy films like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies are still hugely popular, as are films set in the Classical World and Medieval Europe, such as 300, Troy, Alexander, Braveheart and any number of movies about King Arthur and Robin Hood. The local chapters of SCA and Amtgard in my area are thriving (you should see how many people turn out down at the local municipal park on Saturdays and Sundays for the weekly Amtgard events), while games like Magic The Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder and Warhammer are still a big hit with many young people.

tideshift said...

Thank you for another excellent, thoughtful essay.

A topic I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on...

The strange cognitive experience of being a person who's been struggling with these issues and coming to terms with them for 10 years (in my case), 20, 30 years in many other peoples' cases, now surrounded by people only just beginning to consider the unraveling of things - because Trump surprised them - but excited to share their newfound interest in political and social engagement.

I'm not saying this well...a result of being very confused by having so many formerly contented/oblivious friends suddenly signing online petitions to their Congress-critters and sending them to me to sign too.

On some level, I think I was supposed to be preparing for this too, to be in an emotional place to support newcomers to the downslope perspective, but I'm off balance. I just keep being frustrated and angry that they seem to think their not being aware of things means everyone wasn't aware of things. So I'm looking for ways to regain my equilibrium and continue doing my own local work (mostly micro journalism with a mini-newspaper on a 168-hour news cycle and homesteading) without using up a lot of my emotional energy being annoyed at Henny Pennies running around suddenly seeing the sky falling and being annoyed with me for not being surprised and panicked with them.

I know it's only been a couple of months since Trump's election, and both my formerly-complacent friends and I will adjust to the new dynamic. Just acknowledging the weirdness, I guess.

John Michael Greer said...

Michael, I've read Taleb's book, and enjoyed it. I'd encourage you to read Spengler's at some point, because he discusses the interplay of chance events and historical cycles in quite some detail. As for sunshine, er, thank you, but we don't get much of that in the north central Appalachians in February!

Gavin, I'm far from sure I buy the psychopathy theory, but you're right about roles, of course. At each point along the historical cycle, the opportunities that exist for individuals are constrained by choices already made; the world is never a blank slate, and each of us grows up subject to powerful shaping forces from culture and history that make us what we are. Can we do something original nonetheless? Sure, but only within the constraints of our culture and our time.

Kabobyak, as I've written at length in previous posts, I think it's quite possible that some mushroom clouds and some reactor meltdowns will help punctuate the decline and fall of our civilization. Sudden events causing lots of deaths are a routine concomitant of decline, you know. I won't argue, though, that it's intriguing to watch people who claim to be liberal loudly calling for conflict with Russia and defending the integrity of the CIA -- a classic example of the dissolution of ideology in favor of personality, of the kind that usually happens at this point in the cycle.

J Gav, Spengler got savaged by almost everybody, because the future he portrayed flies in the face of all the fondest beliefs of our culture. I would argue that most of the criticism directed at him either unintentionally or deliberately set up straw men to belabor, and fixated on buzzwords such as "historicism" rather than grappling with the serious morphological thinking that underlies his project. More on this as we proceed.

Johojo, I haven't read de Riencourt; clearly I'll have to remedy that at some point.

Dammerung, if you want to engage with the spirits of the land, there are plenty of ways to do so; given your political leanings, probably folkish Asatru would be the most congenial option for you, as a lot of the other options (including the kind of Druidry I practice, btw) welcome people of all skin colors. As for Christianity, well, classical Paganism had the same kind of presence in the ancient world, and where is it now?

Adrian, thanks for this. Of course other, non-urban Native American societies had their own less extreme cycles of rise and fall, which have been identified in other non-urban societies around the world; there seems to be something about the urban form that shifts the cyclic process into overdrive (I've suggested one mechanism for that in a three-part post here, here, and here.) It's the cycle of civilized, urban societies I'm mostly discussing here, since that's the cycle we're caught up in; still, you're right that there are less drastic cycles, and a broader view might be useful in some contexts.

Unknown said...

"Modern representative democracy... has no effective defenses against corruption by wealth..."

No defense? Ha Ha, that is funny - Modern Representative Democracy dragged Wealth out in the alley and broke her nails in the rush to get Wealth's pants unzipped....

Seriously, I'll admit I do not know my way around Spengler. Does he account for the (limited) effect globalization might have in slowing the decline down? No, I don't think China can or will save us, but somebody has to buy Asia's output or it will be more than the fall of the West.

Jim Irwin said...

JMG, I look forward to reading your blog every week....admire your scholarship of history and current events, one aspect of history that you have not written about very much is how variable the earths climate has been in recorded history...see the dark ages, the little ice age etc and the simple observation that just about all prosperous epochs in human history have been unusually warm in the northern hemisphere... this is what has allowed us to prosper, cold epochs were horrendous for humans, from an extremely cynical perspective, we have burned hydrocarbons for fuel and there will soon not be much left so we better hope that it gets warmer....the same perspective holds for all mammals, when it was warm mammals prospered, when it was cold they did not, big picture is that we are in an interglacial optimum climate right now and it is not going to stay that way... we better hope it gets warmer...also you do not seem to recognize that the warmer climates in the past did not lead to decline in the number of species, but rather the opposite...mebbe it is stormy and windy and sea levels rise but warmer is better....

August_Moon said...

"there seems to be something about the urban form that shifts the cyclic process into overdrive ..."
This is an interesting read (although somewhat narrow in scope):

John Michael Greer said...

Jerome, yep. That's one of the things that's behind my dismissal of the handwaving about fracking.

Dan, excellent! A very solid summary. I hope my other readers are taking notes.

Jordan, trust me, some people are just as angered by my posts on the big picture as you are by some of my posts on politics. I try to be an equal opportunity offender!

Shark, hmm. It seems to me that you're pretty thoroughly misstating the basic arguments of both authors. Spengler doesn't ground his arguments in metaphysics; he engages in a certain amount of metaphysical speculation on top, but his argument is explicitly based on morphology, not metaphysics. He's doing exactly the kind of thinking that led to evolutionary theory: here are pervasive similarities, how can we construct a model that accounts for them? As for Toynbee, there you're frankly even further off base, because he defined, in vast detail, a specific cause for the failure of civilizations: leadership failure caused by predictable social transformations within the ruling minority of each civilization. I encourage you to read volumes IV, V, and VI of his unabridged A Study of History, where he deals with this specific theory of causation in encyclopedic detail.

You're quite correct, as it happens, that neither of them dealt with resource depletion, or for that matter with the disruption of the biosphere due to environmental pollution. That's a place where both models can be improved, and I've tried to do that with my model of catabolic collapse. What I've tried to show, though, is that resource depletion and environmental pollution fit neatly into the cyclic theory of history, providing an explanation for one thing neither Toynbee nor Spengler really managed to account for -- the varying survival times of civilizations once they pass through the roughly thousand-year process of emergence and stabilization. It's very common, as I'm sure you know, for successful theories to be refined and extended by the labors of later scholars, and that's what's going on in my discussions here.

With regard to your second point, I challenge you to quote me a single statement anywhere on this blog, or in my writings, that supports this claim of yours that I think the period from 1970 to 2005 is "the turning point of all human history." Hint: you won't find one. I've written at some length about that period because decisions made during it have had a significant impact on the period from 2006 to 2017 -- in other words, the period during which The Archdruid Report has been appearing. Obviously I can't know what I would have thought if I'd been born at some different time, so your rhetorical jabs are beside the point. When you claim I've never clarified the time frame of my predictions, by the way, here again you're falsifying my position; I've pointed out many a time that we're in the early phases of a long ragged decline lasting one to three centuries. That's hardly difficult to understand, and I admit I'm rather taken aback by the way you've distorted what I've said so many times, in so many words, here and elsewhere.

John, thank you. Yes, the sequence of posts on religion and the book After Progress that came out of it drew fairly heavily on Spengler's thesis of the Second Religiosity.

Justin said...

JMG, I nearly spit coffee all over my desk this morning when I saw Trump's Berkeley tweet. If that wouldn't be a way to secure re-election.

There was another tweet by another twit that I found interesting:

Sarah Silverman is a Californian comedian who claims to know better. The idea of the 'I'm with her crowd' - most of whom, until 3 months ago, believed that only the government should be armed so as to better deal with criminals - winning a civil war is well, precious.

Doesn't she know that the military, police and civilian gun owners mostly voted for the Orange One? Does the berkeleyite left not know this?

John Michael Greer said...

C.M., you're welcome and thank you!

Violet, understood. The notion that one person can transform the world is very deeply rooted in our culture, and it's not entirely untrue; like most damaging beliefs, it's a half-truth. Each of us can change the world, but how we can change it is determined by our cultural and historical context -- and of course it's also true that in a world in which everyone can change the world, no one person gets to change everything! It can be a real struggle, though, to break through the binary between "you can change everything" and "no one can change anything," and grasp the many ways in which we all, to use a New Age term, help co-create the future.

Paulo, and that's just it. Decline is like the weather. Specifically, it's like the weather in a temperate climate, where summer turns to stormy, blustery autumn, and then to the bitter cold and snow of winter, no matter what you do or don't do about it. You can take constructive action -- put in insulation, make sure you've got plenty of food and firewood, and the rest of it -- but that's not going to make winter go away any sooner than the cycle of the seasons permits.

Nancy, I'd encourage you to get the two volume Windham Press edition, not one of the abridged editions. Spengler deserves to be read slowly, at his full length, not chopped up as even the best abridgments do.

PhilipW, the argument that you're making is one of the standard flavors of the faith in progress I've anatomized and challenged so often here, right down to the three-part taxonomy -- hunter-gatherer society, agricultural society, industrial society -- filling the usual roles in the mythology of progress. (This taxonomy leaves out a couple of very widespread modes of human ecology, by the way, but we can let that pass for now.) Your claim that history is transitioning to a new state of "planetary connectedness" is unproven at best, and has uncomfortable parallels in the past; educated Romans in the second and third century CE, for example, were just as sure that the spread of the Empire meant the transition from the national consciousness of earlier periods to a new and enduring age of universal peace. History shows what happened instead.

By the way, hunter-gatherer societies thrived quite successfully alongside agricultural ones until the industrial-colonial system squeezed them out and left the handful of surviving groups we have now. (As industrial civilization finishes its decline and fall, I expect hunter-gatherer societies to reemerge in places that are unsuited to agriculture, village horticulture, or nomadic pastoralism.) It's also happened rather more often than once, especially in the New World, that urban agricultural societies have collapsed and given way to far simpler hunter-gatherer, village horticultural, or nomadic pastoral human ecologies. The insistence that progress is irreversible -- that Cthulhu always swims forward, if you like -- is a faith-based claim, not a reflection of historical fact.

SV Koho, "the Second Religiosity" isn't my term, it's Spengler's, and it refers specifically to the resurgence of religion at the twilight of the age of rationalism that every civilization goes through. I've read the Michael Grant book, btw -- a very solid piece of work.

blue sun said...

My greatest fear before Trump got elected was that he would not follow through on his promises, and now that he's started to actually follow through on them (and I'm pinching myself like so many of your neighbors), my greatest fear these past couple weeks is he will be assassinated.

You're playing your hand quite coyly, but I couldn't help but notice you mention how the original Caesar was assassinated by wealthy elites.

You don't have to answer whether you think that will happen to Trump, but if it does, do you believe the mold he has cast will only be reinforced even more strongly (by others who come after) ?

I was wrong in my prediction of him not following through on his promises, so I hope I'm wrong in my prediction of his assassination, because it would either whip us back to the Clinton/Bush/Obama status quo for a time, or a new Trump will arise (who will know he or she will have to be ruthless and violent to avoid the same fate).

It sounds to me that your position is, no matter what happens, the Trump(/Caesar) phenomenon is unstoppable at this point. If it's not him, it'll be someone else promising the same things (in regards to jobs, trade, immigration, etc.).

August Johnson said...

I'm going to have to agree with those who disagree that cars today are to be considered "better" than those of the past. Today, yes they go longer without repairs, but once they need repairs all bets are off. Way off... Just ask anybody who's had to pay for one of those repairs. Back in the 1970's I had a 1971 VW Bus, there wasn't much on that I couldn't repair or maintain myself with very few tools and nothing in the way of electronics besides a basic voltmeter. I even re-built the engine myself, only sending the case out for boring, all the rest of the work done myself, in my apartment parking lot. I could pull the engine and transaxle out by myself in 1/2 hour using only basic hand tools and a simple cart. And parts were dirt cheap. Now I'll agree, as long as it's working, the modern vehicle seems better, however once you have problems, the picture changes very quickly. Do the work your self? Fat chance!

I knew a retired couple in the 1970's that took their VW Camper all over South America in the 1970's, nowhere were they ever stranded, unable to get repairs.

Today you need 100's of thousands of $ of equipment just to do repairs. Not to mention the cost of the parts. I won't detail the one electronic module failure that disabled the windows, wipers, interior lights, 4WD, AC and other functions on my 1997 Ford Pickup. ONE MODULE. And things have gotten lots worse since then.

Remember, the Ford Model T came with a basic set of tools to do most types of repairs needed, almost anywhere.

I'll make the same claim for Ham Radio equipment, I can still easily repair a receiver or transmitter from the 1940's, 1950's, 1960's or 1970's, even though parts haven't been made for decades. I can substitute a tube for one I can't get (billions were made that are still available) rewind a coil or transformer, etc. However if the specialized custom parts aren't available for a 1980's and on radio, you have a doorstop. Sometimes you can still find a junk radio with the part you need, but often that's the part that's also dead in the parts radio.

Alfredo Vespucci said...

Thank you JMG for your writings, which I find enjoyable, stimulating and interesting.
When will we get to , as Lennon put it, " no need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man"? It seems to me that the cyclic behavior of civilization as stated by Spengler and Toynbee is linear from an "evolution of the soul " perspective. As the masses of individuals don't really grow much out of feeding , fighting and fornicating; so go their civilizations. There seems to be some high point where the arts, philosophy, philanthropy gain some ground only to come crashing down again. Civilizations are as mad as a madman trying the same thing over and over expecting different results. There is some argument to paradigm shifts and 2nd religiosity , I do see both those phenomenon. If humanity keeps repeating the same cycle are they enough of a change, obviously not. When cornered, you chip away a piece as a token so that you may pass. But you never give it all up.
Different costumes same civilizations and this one is following the trajectory of the others, as I see it. Durga, the Hindu Goddess and her belt of skulls is about to get another notch.
The way I see it all is not lost when all still remains to be gained, if not for the civilization then for the individual within the civilization.As individuals we have many civilizations within ourselves, to name a few: the biological, mental, spiritual. if we continue to smoke two packs a day can one predict what will most probably happen to the biological? And so on with all the other civilizations within ourselves; where do we need to introduce a revolution? What possibilities have we disregarded day after day ? Do you believe you are in a cycle that can be transcended?

Stephen Heyer said...

Goody goody, I get to start at the end. I love that, knowing how things turn out before I commit myself – it’s probably an Aspy thing!


JMG “We really are going to have to talk about philosophy, aren’t we? We’ll begin that stunningly unfashionable discussion next week.”

Excellent, beautifully timed. I’ve been thinking for some time that I need a quick course in philosophy from a skilled and trustworthy tutor who I know will not let himself become bogged down in dogma.

Yes, you’ve made a “brave decision” there as my favorite literary character, Sir Humphrey, would say.

It’s looking more and more like the strange turn history is taking requires philosophy and history to understand as much as science or politics.

P.S. Thanks for the criticism of my posting on Event Horizons a while back. It made me realize I was just being lazy and quoting some of the scientists and writers who are pushing Event Horizons.

I’ve since given it considerable thought and now think I have a better handle on them. For example, I now think they are largely a social phenomenon, yes, their cause is often external (a new invention, new trade route) but the shift in awareness and behavior is social.

Oh! and they can be negative just as easily as positive, in fact I would not be surprised if they balanced out over a long enough time horizon.

Stephen Heyer

Armata said...

@ Justin:

That Sarah Silverman tweet was fracking hilarious. I see things like that and I have to ask myself, "are these people really that deluded"? Calling for a military coup when most military personal, intelligence operatives and cops are supporters of Orange Julius? Really?

These people never learn, do they? Maybe a clue-by-four upside the head. Assuming their skulls aren't so thick even that won't do the trick, which seems pretty likely judging from what I have seen so far.

It looks to me like the 2018 and 2020 elections are going to be blowouts. As it is, the Democrats have more than a dozen vulnerable Senate seats to defend next year, including ten in states Trump won. The Democrats have lost nearly half the elected offices they held when President Obama took the Oath of Office only eight years ago. Those are some pretty devastating losses and they are likely to get worse in the next couple of elections.

Affluent liberals like Silverman, Michael Moore and Lena Dunham seem hell-bent on alienating everyone else who doesn't live inside their self-referential bubble and share their worldview. As a Donald Trump supporter and a working class white who identifies as a paleoconservative and a right-wing patriot, I am having a ball watching these idiots self-destruct.

To the activist Left: Keep it up fools. You're playing right into our hands and giving up exactly what we want.

Armata said...

As a follow-up to my comment to Justin:

What Sarah Silverman just did is a felony.

Calling for the violent overthrow of the government of the United States is a crime punishable by up to twenty years in Federal prison. Threatening the President of the United States is punishable by up to five years in prison. I wonder if these people have stopped to consider the possible consequences of their actions? Especially since most members of the military, the intelligence services and law enforcement agencies support Trump. Not to mention that a huge number of Trump supporters are gun owners, know how to use them and that many of us are military veterans, including quite a few with combat experience.

Right now, Trump is going easy on these people. If he and his supporters decide enough is enough, things could get very ugly very fast, and I think its pretty clear which side would win.

Caelan MacIntyre said...

Hi John,

Apparently, my previous comment didn't pass muster here (assuming no technical glitch), so how about this one? (I have edited out what may transcend your blog's 'Leave Your Comment' guidelines.)

How would you respond to the below where I quoted you?

From the Peak Oil Barrel comment section:

"The industrial world remains shackled to fossil fuels for most of its energy and all of its transportation fuel, for the simple reason that no other energy source in this end of the known universe provides the abundant, concentrated, and fungible energy supply that’s needed to keep our current lifestyles going." ~ John Michael Greer


"First, only xxxxxxxxxxx, traffic in simple reasons! Reality is a bit more complex but that requires multiple digressions to elucidate and xxxxxxxxxxx by definition, generally lack the educational background and critical thinking skills required to understand the behavior of complex non linear systems. Maybe visiting sites of systems thinkers such as George Mobus might be a good place to start...

Second, anyone who claims that no other energy source in this end of the known universe provides abundant energy is a xxxxx of the highest order and probably skipped physics 101! There is xx xxxxxxxxxxx discussion to be had with such people!
This is the 21st century anyone can get a free online physics course from a reputable university in this day and age...

Maybe take a basic chemistry course as well.

Third, those who make any arguements about keeping our current lifestyles going are still barking up the wrong tree! One has to be really xxxxxx if they think our current lifestyles are sustainable in any way shape or form either with or without alternative energy. In any case they are most certainly not sustainable with a continuation of the use of fossil fuels. It is a strawman arguement." ~ Fred Magyar

In any case, I will post this attempt to your blog as well as a verbatim copy of it over there at Peak Oil Barrel, and if you'd like allow it to pass muster here this time and/or to respond over there and/or via my email, it would be appreciated. I mean, this is/you are about learning, truth, transition and whatnot, yes? Thanks.

~ Caelan Macintyre

Graeme Bushell said...

Hi All,

Sorry I haven't read all the comments yet - JMG it's a wonder that you keep up!

Bill and others have commented on some of the mathematics underlying cyclical behaviour in history, and there has been speculation on whether this is a universal feature of human civilisations. I'd like to recommend Peter Turchin, who I know has also been mentioned, as having some interesting observations on this in his 2009 paper "Long-Term Population Cycles in Human Societies".

As Turchin notes, and is well known in system dynamics and engineering process control, systems which are dynamically unstable are prone to oscillation. Generally speaking, this happens when factors leading to positive feedback act on a shorter timescale than those providing negative feedback. Turchin notes second-order oscillatory responses in human populations in agrarian societies, but the same principles should apply to many aspects of human societies. This gets close to being an underlying mechanism explaining the cyclic appearance of history described by Spengler and others (I've tried reading Spengler but found it very hard going without a liberal arts background).

The key thing that seemed to enable this with civilisations was the development of agriculture, which increased human reproduction rate(1.) and made the positive feedback (population leading to population growth) faster than the natural negative feedbacks such as environmental limits. Periodic overshoot and recovery is the result. When this operates inside a system with hard limits, you can get limit cycles, which I think was what Bill was showing in a quite general way.

So if this is the case, no, hunter gatherer societies are not generally subject to these kinds of cycles because their rate of reproduction and cultural adaptation is so much slower than the balancing feedback they get from the systems they live within. It seems to be an issue with more complex civilisations based on farming (that would be all of them).


1. Daniel Lieberman, The Story of the Human Body

Ynnothir Coll said...

@Varun-Uh oh. You seem to have gotten yourself caught in a binary or two, my friend.

The first, as I'm reading you, is an assumption that if you can't fix everything then you can't really fix anything. The arc of history is set, and even a kwizatz haderach who knows the future can't change that. The way out of that immobilizing trap is to shift your focus. Step outside and look around. The future will also play out in the little piece of the world you can see. That future has arcs that are much smaller and more subject to your own personal influence. In a hundred years, will that little piece of the world be a haven of contentment or a hive of scum and villainy?

The other binary is that, in order to affect change, one must accept the consequences of leadership. It's either that or choose a path away from power which, in this binary, is the way of helplessness.

I've seen the consequences of leadership and I get what you mean, but there are different levels of engagement and different modes of leadership. One can lead by example, for instance, or lead a food forest workshop. One could also recognize that (and I like this phrase of yours) "knowledge points the road to power", and take on the role of a mentat. There will always be consequences to your actions, but you can always take steps to manage your exposure to risk.

If the role of mentat appeals to you, I would recommended "Green Wizardry" by our esteemed host.

Unknown said...

Moderator: I submitted a previous comment. Please approve this one instead as HTML formatting is useful. :-)

As I read your piece, Hegel's dialectic came to mind as did Fukuyama's claim that we'd reached the end of history.

I agree with you that this time around the details are different but the wheel keeps turning. There's no end state. Hegel's dialectic required more than a little bit of hubris as did Fukuyama's even bolder claim in 1989.

Cathy McGuire said...

It's been a while since I commented - the comments up so fast, and it seems impossible to catch up enough to say something meaningful. I've no argument with your cyclical theme, JMG - it fits with what has become obvious to me over these many decades- human nature doesn't change much over the years - we seem to do the same things, have the same responses, although clothed in slightly different styles.

One thing I am finding, though, as collapse/decline starts to hit harder, is that I'm becoming more focused on those suffering, and my philosophical interest takes a back seat. Life has become more difficult for me, for those around me, and for thousands that I read about, so I'm taking more time offline trying to do things locally to help. That, and write poems and stories that might help people look at these issues. Of course there is value in wondering what the patterns are, but I'm spending more time looking at the actual situations, to see if I can be of help.

I do think this new administration looks like it could precipitate rapid decline (not total, unless he hits the nukes in a tantrum, but serious and not as easily adjusted to) and I believe it's worth speaking out against the things they want to do. I know decline is inevitableSo is death. As I get older, I am really experiencing that fact - not a theory, but real - there's no negotiating my way out. So the only criteria, then, is how have I lived? Thus, I'm speaking out and working to relieve suffering, even when I know suffering and decline are not "solvable". It's keeping me hugely busy (that and the petite homestead)... so that's why I haven't been around, FWIW. Seems like a whole new crop of commenters, so more folks are finding their way here, and I hope it helps more people learn the LESSon. :-)

Bill Pulliam said...

Thinking about the Caesarean thing... it seems this really kicked in in the early 20th century worldwide. Here, FDR seems to have been an outlier in not embracing as much demagoguery as others. Not saying none, Japanese internment and all. But not as much. And we never went through a fascist.or other authoritatian episode either.

Interesting that after, there was a resurgence of democracy and bureocracy around the world for many more decades. And only in the last decade or so has the Caesarean phenomenon begun to resurge. I suppose this is probably the norm, this process taking over a Century and happening episodically. I honestly doubt that the current incumbent in DC will be the one to to take hold here; his choices of advisors seem suspect. Of course that could just set up for a purge and who knows what. He might just as likely set off a backlash that will usher in the True Caesar from "the other side" who will conveniently have the acolytes of the orange one to demonize and impale on spikes. Prognostication in detail is notoriously unreliable.

Gottfried Wilhelm Melvin Hicks-Leibniz said...


Don't forget about me ;-)

are we not living in the best of all possible worlds?

Gottfried Wilhelm Melvin Hicks-Leibniz said...

@Angus @JohnRoth

I suspect we share some admiration for Leibniz.

The following link is a great piece of work put together on "Secret History" of the Leibniz, Newton, Voltaire "Bizarre Love Triangle"

hat tip: Gary Geck

sunseekernv said...

Robert Carran re: ..."even if there were such a thing as "zero point energy" (which is, of course, nonsense), ..."

Well, there is zero point energy, it's a rather fundamental concept in quantum mechanics, a direct consequence of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and "has many observed physical consequences":

What you may have *meant* to say, it "nobody has unambiguously shown a way to get useful *power* from the ZPE".
If you did mean to say "nonsense", then you don't know enough quantum mechanics - read the full wiki article on ZPE.

(The RF resonant cavity thruster *may* be using the zero point field to "push against", but nobody understands exactly why it works)

You are correct in that any "free/unlimited/..." energy source:
"... wouldn't change the fundamental reality that we live on a planet with limited resources and space."

Case in point: the Ogallala Aquifer - August 2016 National Geographic did a nice article on it, and how so many people don't want to change to prevent loss in their areas.

As far as PV, silicon PV is not all that complex (at least to me), I did some essays for the Krampus challenge of some years back:
So I think the answer to its sustainability and continued use is still a definite "maybe".

Wizard of Tas said...

Something is playing on my mind. Trump has been appointing a few evangelicals lately and now has stated his intent to squash the laws prohibiting charity status groups (primarily churches) from active involvement in endorsing candidates from the pulpit. Also on my mind is his announcements at breakfast prayer meetings.

Then I think about Constantine the Grate, and how he probably didn't believe in Christianity, but chose it to unify his people after considering various religious options.

Then I think back to Trump and his make America great and keep out the not us people. It seems he's doing a Constantine.

What is the likelyhood of Trump and his cronies positioning for a theocracy? Is this something that fits past patterns (apart from Constantine) as a valid part of a decline scenario, and do you see it in your countries future?

John Michael Greer said...

Pygmycory, well, that kind of sandwich is basically what we've got now, in a small way. Classical civilization inherited a lot from Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Minoan Crete, put their own spin on it, added in a whole bunch of its own material, and handed on the result to us, after all. I admit I wish I could know what the civilizations after ours are going to make out of what they get from us.

RPC, thanks for the correction. I have no opinion about cars, since I don't own or drive one, and never have.

James, I'll be interested to see what you think of the upcoming posts, then. We're going to start with the British epistemologists and Kant, very briefly, to set the stage for the people I mostly want to talk about.

H. Bustos, the Greeks had ample history behind them to draw up a very detailed cyclical theory of history; you'll want to check out Polybius sometime. That aside, one of the things that can happen (though it doesn't always happen, not by a long shot) is that the legacies of one era can provide new possibilities for another. I've discussed some of the sustainable technologies of our time that might help the next cycle of civilization here; you'll be pleased to know the printing press is among them.

Unknown, I'll certainly put some thought into it, though!

Lew, that was the first round of Caesarism in the western world -- it got much more intense in Europe, as I'm sure you're well aware. We're apparently moving into the second round now.

Userfriendlyyy, hmm! I wasn't even thinking about Carlyle. It simply struck me as one of the standard offshoots of the modern world's overdeveloped sense of entitlement.

Robert, I'm far from sure I'd agree with that. Mercantile networks as a partial replacement for governments go back a long ways -- China had them a very long time ago, and so did ancient Greece. They tend to thrive in periods of economic and political stability, and go to bits in a hurry once those end. My take is that we'll see another round of the going to bits as globalism ends over the decades ahead.

Philip, sudden crises of the sort you're describing generally are very common in history. With very few exceptions, they're hiccups. Think of the Black Death hitting medieval Europe, or the equivalent pandemics in 2nd and 3rd century CE Rome -- vast body counts, and a generation later things were chugging ahead smoothly. The thing to do, whenever you want to figure out what an event is likely to do, is look for historical parallels and see what happened the last time around!

Renaissance, where on earth do you work? The We Actually Have A Clue Corporation, or what?

Mustard, that's pretty good, barring Sagan's inevitable spin on words like "true." I wonder if he ever quite realized that when he wrote that, astrology was in the middle of one of its more recent golden ages...

John Michael Greer said...

Justin, even so, I don't think that's true. My experience with animals is that they're just as cantankerous, error-prone, and idiosyncratic as you and I.

Armata, I'll do the Wagner sequence if I need a break and can handle maybe twenty comments a week. Not that that isn't tempting sometimes! ;-) Seriously, it's on the list, and some of the philosophy we're discussing actually makes a decent lead-in to it. As for deindustrial warfare, that's probably going to be one focus of a future series getting further into dark age conditions in future North America.

Tyler, well, I'm pretty sure posts on philosophy won't field me 500 comments a week, so that's potentially a consideration!

Varun, nah, you're drawing things far too narrowly. Demagogues and warlords actually have very little power to change things -- they are creatures respectively of the movements they lead and the warbands they command, and have to keep giving their followers what the latter want and expect or down they go. The real source of power at this point in the game is the ability to shape thinking, to dynamite unquestioned presuppositions, to walk away from a losing game and do something less useless -- and all these are things each of us can do, and model for others. More on this in a later post.

Lilith, the shift away from rationalism is driven, in our civilization as in every other, by the failures of rationalism itself -- and those in turn derive from the awkward fact that no logical system can prove its own axioms. The rational always rests on unproven and irrational presuppositions, and "Garbage In, Garbage Out" is a good guide to the results! After the initial burst of craziness, the more useful achievements of each Age of Reason are absorbed into the traditions that come after; just as classical logic ended up being taught in medieval monasteries and universities, it's pretty much a given that the scientific method will be taught in the religious schools of the future, whatever form those happen to take. Granted, getting there is a rough road...

Asher, many thanks for this. As the EROEI on petroleum slides, expect a lot of "alternative" energy resources that are propped up on the energy surpluses from fossil fuels to go away, too -- while technologies that actually pay for themselves, such as homescale solar thermal, may yet come into their own.

Armata, the last time I hung out with any significant number of fans of medieval fantasy et al., they were as fixated on the myth of progress as everyone else -- it was because they believed devoutly in progress that they were able to play at being knights and ladies. If you have a chance, ask around and see if that's changed. If it has, then -- well in the immortal words of Ghan-buri-Ghan, "Wind is changing!"

Tideshift, oh, I know. You might try a weary look and words to the effect of, "Yeah, this is what I've been trying to tell you about for the last decade." It may not get a clue through the concrete, but those doing the decapitated chicken routine may avoid your presence while doing so, which is something.

Unknown, ahem. I was trying to be polite. ;-)

Jim, for heaven's sake, I've written repeatedly and extensively about climate change. Do a search in the archive for terms such as "methane," "Greenland," and "anthropogenic" and see what you find.

August_Moon, thanks for this.

anonymous said...

Reflecting on your post I am reminded of the decline and death of my mother and how that, for me, is an imminent analogy for what you indicate vis a vis imminent catastrophe fetishists vs everything is a-okay rubes. Moreover, it is, writ large, a nice analogue for what you envisage as a likely outcome for industrial civilization--and all of the "externalities" that are part and parcel to the treatment of the ultimately fatal issue.

A few years before her death she was diagnosed with a form of lung cancer one does not survive. Contemporary methods of treating the disease being what they are she limped along for a good five years or so in graduate, albeit accelerating, stages of decline. First it was the nausea from the chemo, then the radiation burns, the the to COPD and emphysema, then the necrotic tooth decay as a result of the radiation, then the spontaneous hemothorax that led to the talc surgery, that led to the weeping lungs, that led to chronic infections, that led to to the insertion of a plastic stint to widen her airway, which eventually led to that stint deteriorating, disintegrating, and severing a major blood vessel. The end.

Concomitantly, as time went on, her friends and siblings (all much older, wiser, smarter, or whatever than I) repeated vacuous mantras--"miracles happen every day", you get the idea-- and any observation that things were getting obviously worse was met with, at best, a glowering look, and, at worst, a full on temper tantrum-- again, all coming from people fond of declaring how certain they were she was going to get better.

It was a truly interesting case of mass dissonance. It was as if I had happened across a house fire, and encountered the home owners on the front lawn frantically running in circles with a weak streamed garden hose, and saying "it looks like your house is really on fire." Meanwhile they shout at me that all at the same time, 1) it was impossible that their house is on fire, 2) the garden hose would put out the fire, and 3) that the universe was going to put out the fire anyway on account of they being specially favored.

How is this relevant? If I had to guess as a civilization we are somewhere between the nausea of the chemo, and the radiation burns. There's a whole lot of flailing attempts at treatment, and their attendant externalities to deal with, along the corridor to the civilizational morgue. Not that there is anything wrong or unnatural about personal or civilizational death--some can be prevented, all are inevitable.

--Anonymous Millenial

John Michael Greer said...

Justin, that was my first thought, too. Bashing Berkeley is a very astute move on the part of the Orange Julius.

Blue Sun, considering who owns most of the guns in this country, and which side the police and military enlisted personnel almost unanimously support, if anything like that does happen to Trump, I'm worried that people on the left may face mass beatings and killings, with a death toll in the thousands or higher. I hope to the gods that doesn't happen, as there are a lot of people I care about who would likely get caught up in it.

Alfredo, the Druid teachings I follow hold that this world, the world of human beings experiencing greed and hunger and a distinct lack of the brotherhood of man, is a necessary stage or mode of consciousness through which every soul must pass in due time. When we outgrow it, we move to a different stage or mode of consciousness, and the world stays the way it is so that it can provide the same experience to those who need it. Thus there's only so much change you can make in the world -- though there's some, and making such changes are an important part of grappling with this mode of being. The changes that matter are those you make to yourself.

Stephen, thank you. Exactly; despite the claims of the mythology of progress, nobody promised us a free ride to something better.

Caelan, okay, you pulled a comment of mine out of context and tossed it somewhere where a troll could yell at it. So?

Graeme, good. You can get the same results by applying standard systems theory to human societies and noting the relationship between the generational cycle and the pace of change. I may just do a post on that down the road a bit.

Unknown, "hubris" is a gentle way of putting it. As I noted in an earlier post, Hegelian philosophy applied to history seems to be a guaranteed ticket to bad predictions.

Cathy, Zen masters like to say "talk doesn't cook the rice." If you're tending the rice, you're doing something more useful than commenting here... ;-)

Bill, certainly the Orange Julius is unlikely to be an Orange Augustus!

Gottfried, hah!

John Michael Greer said...

Wizard, that doesn't seem likely to me. Right now conservative political Christianity is losing ground rapidly in demographic terms; a vast fraction of young people want nothing to do with it -- many of them are Christians, but they have their own ideas about morals and worship, which have very little in common with those of their Moral (pseudo)Majority elders. My take is that Trump is simply placating one faction of his power base.

Anonymous Millennial, many years ago I worked as an orderly in nursing homes, and I got to see the same thing many times over. Yes, it's exactly parallel to the way people are trying to deny the reality of decline, and just as useless. Facing the facts strikes me as a better plan!

Scotlyn said...

@JMG, before the thread gets too lengthy I want to ask if the cyclical view of history permits you to hazard a forecast (short or long term) on the outlook for homegrown American Muslims (ie not immigrants or refugees). Thank you.

Crow Hill said...

JMG: Thank you as ever for your grey-matter-enhancing essays.

One comment about the current one: “…the theory … that civilizations rise and fall in a predictable life cycle, regardless of scale or technological level.”

Yes, but a crucial difference for the future is the ecological footprint, which depends on scale and technological level. The planet-size scale and nature of the technology of today’s industrialized civilisation will leave more badlands absolutely than previous civilisations did. In contrast, the Mayans and other Amerindians left a fertile environment after the fall of their civilisations.

Tony Rasmussen said...

Excuse the butt-in but in your response to Seaweed Shark's comment, you wrote, "I challenge you to quote me a single statement anywhere on this blog, or in my writings, that supports this claim of yours that I think the period from 1970 to 2005 is 'the turning point of all human history.' Hint: you won't find one."

I think the comment is referring to your claim that the early 1970s were a major turning point, sort of the last chance to implement truly sustainable solutions before the oil was/is too far gone. So I typed "turning point" into Google and quickly found this post on catabolic collapse, which says:

"In fact, I’d like to suggest that it’s possible at this point to provide a fairly exact date for the onset of catabolic collapse here in the United States of America. ... ... the point at which crises bring a temporary end to business as usual, access to real wealth becomes a much more challenging thing for a large fraction of the population, and significant amounts of the national infrastructure are abandoned or stripped for salvage. It’s not a difficult question to answer, either.

The date in question is 1974."

Of course, you are correct that you did not say 'turning point of all human history', that phrase misstates/hyperbolizes your claim. Still, you have repeatedly marked the 1970s as a huge fork in the road for industrial civilization, I think that's what Shark was getting at.

(For another example, this post discusses the cultural shift towards nihilism in the wake of the missed opportunity to get on a sustainable path in the 70s.)

Scotlyn said...

@luval evolution has not been able to produce a multicellular body (essentially a large complex community of interacting, cooperating and competing tissues, cells and cellular components) that does not progress through birth, youth, vigour, senescence and death. (Unless cut short by a premature death). It seems death is part of the trade off for that level of complexity. There may well be physical, biological "laws" involved in this.

Crow Hill said...

PS to comment on "“…the theory … that civilizations rise and fall in a predictable life cycle, regardless of scale or technological level.”

The scale of the human population will also make a huge difference: a fall of a (local) civilisation in a world with 200 million humans will be quite different from a fall with 8 billion, 10 billion or more humans.

Scotlyn said...

@dammerung Unknown Deborah, with the utmost of respect and gentleness offered you an open door to a dialogue with room for you both to BE.

You slammed that door shut in her face. You denied the possibility that you and she *both* could BE.

So, yes, you can use all the words you want, but you are manifestly not here to have dialogue.

LunarApprentice said...

Sorry for this tangent JMG, but I was gobsmacked by one of your remarks in the comments section, and I hope you might indulge me with a thoughtful reply. You responded to Lilith with a stunning remark: "the shift away from rationalism is driven, in our civilization as in every other, by the failures of rationalism itself -- and those in turn derive from the awkward fact that no logical system can prove its own axioms. The rational always rests on unproven and irrational presuppositions...".

I was for too many years a materialist/rationalist junkie. Then at age 51, something in my gut told me one morning (literally) that the materialist/rationalist view could not possibly account for my experience of life. I cannot give an argument to justify why I feel this way. Rationalism is just another perspective now, a handy tool with its proper uses. Ever since my awakening, I've been groping towards a spiritual perspective that happens to incorporate practices that most would consider rank superstition... I won't venture into a discussion that belongs on your other blog...

So, just what are those "unproven and irrational presuppositions" ? .... While you're at it, do you know of any method buy which one might bring to awareness the presuppositions that we as individuals, implicitly construct out of the raw material of our own experience, especially from childhood?

Scotlyn said...

@dammerung you say:
"If there's going to be a mad scramble for power then there's simply going to be one. What's the point of casting heroes and villains in such an environment?" Indeed.

But is it about heroes and villains, or is it about building up the necessary social capital to have real allies and collaborators with whom to face into the mad scramble? (In fairy tales, the most reliable help can come from the ranks of the unregarded and overlooked).

And isn't it possible that when you have finished burning up all the social capital within your personal reach, the "mad scramble" finds you with no one left to stand beside and face it with?

Gabriela Augusto said...

Well, complex systems are complex because of the unsuspected and innumerable connections and feedback loops making the system utterly unpredictable. They can not be reliably explained by cause-effect phenomena like classic systems, because the parts of the system develop relationships among themselves that escape our knowledge and sometimes our understanding. A whole new body of mathematics is being developed to grasp complex systems but we are really nowhere near close to be able to make useful predictions of complex system behavior.
I am not sure if the global nature of the system makes it more resilient. The system is optimized to generate money (in short term) for only one small part of humanity, resilience is not a goal not by far. As a consequence most to the heavy equipment used by electric generation is produced in very few countries. The same goes for grain, and many other essential utilities and raw materials. A failure in one of this critical supply chains can have a cascade of disastrous consequences where no one is expecting. The pressure is high - seven billion of us - and the risks are pilling up - climate change, social unrest, geopolitical changes, resource depletion.You are right, I can not offer a reason for a fast collapse, that is the nature of complex systems. But I offer good reason to knock globalization down a few levels, a return to a more local economies.
Another reason is that diverse communities are far more agile and creative finding solutions for different challenges. I find it hard to understand the fascinations with empires, monolithic political entities devoted to maintain the status quo. There was incomparable more technological, scientific and social innovation in the dozens of competing small nations and free city states of the Middle Age Europe, than in 3000 years or so of the Egyptian empire, not to mention the Romans that did little more than aqueducts.

Vedant said...

Excellent stuff, JMG. I believe Plato made a similar remark about "corruption by wealth " as a flaw of democracy, though he said that all democracies are subject to it not only modern democracies. Further based on your remark about assassination of Caesar , I believe U.S. would have went down similar path in 1930s itself if "Business Plot" had been executed ( Further , I predicted that this discussion was eventually going to come down to discussion on philosophy.

Here, I would like to share an observation(or I should say experience) which I believe will be helpful to you, although you probably know it already. When I first read about peak oil and its aftermath on this blog , I was convinced almost immediately about its viability. I even wondered why many were outrightly rejecting it. After reading a good number of comments on several different posts , I realized that prime reason many were rejecting ideas presented on this blog is because they were not used to "Systems Thinking". To be more specific, unlike other ,I was able to envision how whole of infrastructure of industrial society is based on fossile fuels because of "system thinking". I realized that food I consume everyday, my smartphone and other eletronics , water which is being pumped to my house everyday and most of other things are essentially based on fossil fuels . Even when very few of things are directly consuming fossil fuel , everything indirectly consumes fossile fuel. Many of the other readers were not able to see this despite being obvious (can be even called "comman sense") , cause of which I believe that they are not unaware of "systems theory". Hence , I believe that if you write posts on systems theory(if you haven't already) , then many more readers will be able to understand ideas posed on your blog much more easily. They help be able to how different parts of the society interact with one other and failure of even one part can have drastic consequences for whole society. Hence, if you do a series of posts on "systems thinking" before posts on philosophy than readers will better able to understand the ideas you present.

sandy said...

Hi John Michael. I reread the Hegel link ... The Fifth Side of the Triangle, and when I got here I had a satori ...

... Fukuyama’s theory of the end of history argued that all history until 1991 or so was a competition between different systems of political economy, of which liberal democratic capitalism and totalitarian Marxism were the last two contenders; capitalism won, Marxism lost, game over.

Not the end of regular history, but the end of the history of 'Progress by Liberal Capitalism.'

As I read in the link below, unrestrained capitalism consumes itself. And we can see that it has. The lust for money caused the repeal of the Glass- Stegal Act and it's been downhill ever since. Attempts to restrain Wall Street and big banks have failed.

Pearce M. Schaudies.
Minister of Future

blue sun said...

RE: Cluelessness of the Berkeleyites (@Justin, et al)

You may find this short video amusing, it shows some interviews on the Berkeley campus which reveal quite a depth of ignorance:

Ami Horowitz: How white liberals really view black voters

patriciaormsby said...

@Nastarana, that's so true. When I try to point out to these folks that a lot of other folks voted for Trump because Hillary had flaws, they grow much shriller. Unless you say the magic words, "Trump should die," or something to that effect, just talking to them puts you in their enemy camp. That's why I am having second thoughts about continuing any form of conversation with them.

I do fear for his life. "What Hillary would have done if she had won" might not forever be a moot point. I hope she never gets a chance to do what she said she was going to do, and about which, given her record, we had every reason to expect she was sincere.

blue sun said...

Terrible, yes, but I could envision a scenario where the elites (who have demonstrated their cluelessness and willingness to encourage violence at protests) would assume that the people would cheer the assassination of Trump. And yet it would likely only make him a martyr, backfiring on them. Just as they could not imagine Trump winning the election they can not imagine themselves dangling from lampposts. Although the wealthy elite have suddenly begun purchasing New Zealand doomsteads, I imagine it's for the wrong reason, and if Trump were to disappear they would return to the US expecting the people to cheerfully welcome them back.

Patricia Mathews said...

To "Anonymous" - My friends and I belong to a group of seniors discussing exactly such issues as your mother's ordeal. One of the members is a hospice nurse; the rest of us have all seen such things and have already made advance directives. I have discussed it with my children, both hard-headed Xers and in or connected to the medical profession, and they assuredly won't let this happen to me! But will follow the example of their aunt, my sister, who called it quits and organized her own wake. May your mom be now at peace, and blessed be.


Bill Pulliam said...

Graeme - civilization based on farming? Ours? Ridiculous! Who ever even thinks about a farm anymore, much less ever sees one?! Our civilization is based in information and choice, haven't you been keeping up?? Sheesh, get with the program!!

(Just to avoid any uneccesary flaming, tongue firmly in cheek...)

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear Bill Pulliam, glad you're back. It is important to try to understand the mechanisms involved in cycles. I don't think modular integer arithmetic is it though. I think it has to do more with eigenvalues of the Hessian of the dynamical system being complex around equilibria. But chaos is also possible in non-linear systems.

Dear Graeme, I want to read Turchin ASAP before spring. I've been reading everything I can on MLS and evolutionary game theory and started doing my own modeling of multi-level-selection models of altruism and selfishness. I think Turchin relies heavily on MLS theory in his model.

Dear JMG, the fact that there are limits to growth might be part of the underlying mechanism involved in the rise and fall of civilizations. As you have said before, not all civilizations choose Empire, though Quigley's definition of a civilization is pretty close to your definition of empire. Why can't we choose sustainability over growth and expansion? By "we" I don't mean everyone, but enough people to be able to have a viable economy without a reliance on the current empire.

Robert Carran said...

My mistake using the term "zero point energy" incorrectly. I've just heard it used incorrectly along with "free energy" to describe mythical machines that produce energy without fuel, and somehow defy the laws of thermodynamics.
Speaking of which, I think the Gibbs free energy equation is a good expression of what I'm trying to say. I call it the "no free lunch, except from the sun" equation.
deltaG = deltaH - t deltaS . If you put aside the change in enthalpy (which I think is reasonable, in terms of the point I am making, but am open to arguments) it basically means that the entropy of any system will either stay the same (in the case of no reactions) or increase unless energy is added from another system.
In our case, the sun is that other system. So it could be said that use of energy on earth, beyond that which comes from the sun, will increase entropy. I consider life to be negentropy, or order.
As for PV, the reason I question its viability is its dependence on batteries and the rest of its "technological suite", as JMG puts it. Maybe use of mechanical storage, such as water towers with hydroelectric generators would be viable. Curious what your thoughts are on this.

Nastarana said...

Dear Mr. Greer, Wagner? Really? Must you? I accept that any writer chooses his or her own subject, but please consider, and I venture to make a bare faced assertion here, that Richard, along with Aaron Copeland and a few others are the primary reason that so many folks today loath classical music. You will no doubt recall that a particularly bombastic, even for Wagner, passage from the Ring Cycle was used for background in Apocalypse Now. I rest my case.

Dear Armata, thank you for the link to the Lind talk, which I just finished reading. I had worked out some of it myself, but I appreciate having some dots connected.

nati said...

Usually i dont agree with a lot of your ideas, what makes your writings thinking stimulating and interesting for me. This time i do agree with you and found this post a little boring for me. Strange, is'nt it?
Of course each society collapse has its own peculiarities, but in my opinion there is something very anusual in our case. I mean that in addition to the normal causes for decline, there is an anti western ideologic movement that is acting against our civilitation and for it destroy.
Also, the followers and activist of that ideology are the elites, which are the most benefited from the current order, and usually, in other times of history, tend to defend the old order and oppose changes.
I wonder if you agree with that and think it is the case this time. If so, i wonder how you explain that.
Thank you

Donald Hargraves said...

I believe that part of the panic of the left is that they realized their vulnerability – and that all they have IS their voice. They see the same "Red with Blue dots" maps of the United States, the same free fall in the Democrat's power in Congress and the States (some of it from Gerrymandering, but all of it real and with effect), the same Thin Blue Line flags (both plain and with a Black and White Stars and Stripes as background), and know what could happen. In addition, they have willingly outed themselves to anyone with the power to destroy them:

How Facebook helped create Brexit and Trump

On the positive side, a good portion of the left has developed a deep interest in guns.

Stu from New Jersey said...

@Karl Ivanov and JMG:

On the minimum EROEI to sustain industrial civilization:
A good article with references to several researchers (with somewhat different answers) can be found at

Recent answers seem to be in the range of 10-15, although I *know* I've also seen 8 from workers that I respect.
Of course, whether or not this includes exploration and/or research is important, since we can always *not* spend on those if we're crazy enough to not admit that this sews things up.

Jim Irwin said...

my point is very simple- that climate change has happened many times in the past (unrelated to human activity) and when it gets colder there are very negative effects on mammals, when it gets warmer things are better, not worse for mammals... you seem fixated on the idea that global warming is anthropogenic and is going to be a very bad thing, when in fact we should hope it gets warmer rather than colder, it is not going to stay the same, and the major changes in climate will probably not be related to human activity, they were not in the past...

William Zeitler said...

As an aside, the historical/mythological narrative in the Old Testament/Jewish Scriptures rather divides itself into creation through Moses, and then: Israel invading Canaan, wiping out the folks who were already there, Israel reaching its peak with David, then decline and ultimate fall. I can't be the first person to muse about Spengler and the story of ancient Israel. I also note that ancient Israel being "God's Chosen People" did not save them in the end.

Brent Ragsdale said...

There is a contemporary candidate “unique individual” I wish to call your attention to: Randell Mills. His Grand Unified Theory of Classical Physics has been roundly ignored or derided for decades while he and his company make profound discoveries in the sciences from chemistry to cosmology. Their current SunCell device (or subsequent developments) may be a non-polluting, energy-dense source of power to replace the burning of hydrocarbon. Before you dismiss this as techno-fantasy, let me appeal to your appreciation of liminality versus binary. I am hopeful there is more science to be discovered that may give humans a chance to draw carbon from the atmosphere thus restoring the earth’s energy balance. However, I also accept we are in overshoot, and there will be no avoiding the consequences.

wbricex said...

Excellent post once again. Been reading ADR for five years this week. It continues to be, what is ultimately, a pleasure to have you challenge my thinking and beliefs, though the process may be rather jarring, confusing, and uncomfortable at times. The honesty and civility here are invaluable. Please keep up the great work. Looking forward to your posts on philosophy. Peace and blessings to all.

Bill Pulliam said...

Christianity among millennial... even here in the buckle of the Bible Belt I find millennial's Christianity to be often amorphous. They wear crosses, get the tattoos, and say the words, but their actual beliefs are heavily new age influenced whether they realize it or not. When it gets down to one on one, and I get honest with them, they don't seem to see a lot of conflict between my own animistic beliefs and their gauzy filmy fluid notions of god and such.

Interestingly they don't seem to have thought much more deeply than this about the rebel flag either, which they also get tattooed on themselves.

MichaelK said...

Dear JMG,

Sorry if I offended you about your writing style. That wasn't my intention.

Fred the First said...

@Wizard We were a part of a evangelical homeschool group in the run up to the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Attendance at prayer vigils on the coming of AntiChrist (Obama) were expected. It was considered a done deal that if Obama was inaugurated the apocalypse was imminent and everyone wanted their families raptured, thus the prayers.

We left the group, not because of this belief, but because of the hypocritical stance of the parents on issues where we needed to pull together. People were incredibly late to start the day, didn't clean up after themselves, didn't make sure their kids did their school work, didn't participate in community activities we did together. So they prayed and talked about community and their beliefs, but the actions they needed to do to make the community work were missing. It became such a drag on our family we stopped participating.

The ministers of these families "one name churches" as I call them (These are all church bodies which spun off another church body over a disagreement, and came up with their own unique names. Very few are attached to any sort of governing board or uniting council or any kind of hierarchy over them.) always told their congregations how to vote. They spoke from the pulpit on the issues and what was at stake. It was the Second Coming of Jesus, after all. Its interesting that Trump is basically making legal something that has existed for decades.

This is what happened with same-sex marriage - making something legal that existed for decades.

Dan Mollo said...

@Bill Pulliam,

This is way off topic but I just re-read JMG's essay "Seven Sustainable Technologies" from January 2014 that he linked to in a comment here, and came across your comments about tree and fish diversity on the west coast compared to where you live, as indicators of long term habitability and resilience to climatic change. Pretty interesting stuff, I hadn't come across that information before. The reason why I picked the Willamette Valley to settle in when I moved from California was because from my initial research it seemed like one of the more viable places to live compared with the rest of the Pacific Northwest, and I was limited in my search to the West Coast because my wife and I both wanted to stay relatively close to family (mine in California, hers in Washington.) I will have to do some more reading on the subject, but we are most likely going to stay put here for the long term, though I personally am not opposed to moving out east if the opportunity arises.

Fred the First said...

When you end comments with "more on what can be done in the following weeks", I do wish you could schedule a week where you write daily blog posts about the "what can be done", so that I had it all at once and could start doing those suggestions. I got the chickens, the garden, practice herbalism, have scaled back, and if there are other things that you have under the green wizard hat, please share quickly.

I suppose this Trump anxiety is rubbing off on me after all.

Bryant said...

JMG, I shall buy A World Full of Gods to search for any details on Kek. Praise Kek!

Varun Bhaskar said...


In other words, influential minds have more power to affect the arc than the leaders because they're not busy managing masses?

gwizard43 said...

I'm looking at a statement that reads:

"Courteous, concise comments relevant to the topic of the current week's post are welcome, whether or not they agree with the views expressed here, and I try to respond to each comment as time permits. Long screeds proclaiming the infallibility of some ideology or other, however, will be deleted; so will repeated attempts to hammer on a point already addressed; so will comments containing profanity, abusive language, flamebaiting and the like -- I filled up my supply of Troll Bingo cards years ago and have no interest in adding any more to my collection; and so will sales spam and offers of "guest posts" pitching products. I'm quite aware that the concept of polite discourse is hopelessly dowdy and out of date, but then so are a good many other things we will have to preserve, or laboriously reinvent, on the long road down from Hubbert's peak."

And in fact as a follower of this blog since 2009, and a weekly follower since the 'Merlin's Time' post in mid-2010, I can attest that it *used* to be like that. Polite discourse, indeed, where flame-baiters were kept in check - this was the hallmark of this blog's comment sections. And that made for a truly scintillating read, which encouraged participation.

And yet when I look through this week's comment sections - I see the following comments, interestingly, all from the same source - the same source that's been posting similar comments since he showed up a few months back - and if this isn't flamebaiting, then I don't know the meaning of the word:

"At this point, it looks to me like you are trolling. You and your fellow-travelers on the far Left can believe whatever you wish to believe. Lie to yourselves all you want. The rest of us who haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid or have liberated ourselves from the lies of the Cult of Progress are the ones who are going to win this war. Praise Kek!"

"These people never learn, do they? Maybe a clue-by-four upside the head. Assuming their skulls aren't so thick even that won't do the trick, which seems pretty likely judging from what I have seen so far."

"As a Donald Trump supporter and a working class white who identifies as a paleoconservative and a right-wing patriot, I am having a ball watching these idiots self-destruct."

"To the activist Left: Keep it up fools. You're playing right into our hands and giving up [sic] exactly what we want."

This sort of thing has sadly become routine here, and as far as I can tell it began when the proclaimed alt-righters showed up.

So, JMG, my comment this week isn't on the topic you wrote about, as interesting as that is, but rather a direct question in regard to the above observation:

The comments I've quoted above are clearly not courteous, and do not constitute "polite discourse" - but they and many others like them in recent months have made it through the filter. What gives?

Do you disagree? If not, then why must we slog through such jeering, mocking comments that are coming to comprise an ever larger proportion of what was once a shining example of how polite and intelligent and engaging a blog comment section could be?

One thing I can state for certain: this sort of behavior, which has been permitted to occur over and over, now makes this a much less welcome forum - and not just for those on the left. I suspect there are a fair number of commenters (myself included) who now think twice before posting because they simply don't want to deal with these alt-righters - who ironically seem just as sensitive to any comments that may be interpreted in such a way as to include some fugitive strand of dreaded/hated Leftist thought as any PC professor they despise is to comments that may manifest emanations of Right or White thinking.

Neil Anuskiewicz said...

@A Rat in the Walls I've met Christian mystics at ceremonies with other mystics. I'm making this sound too fancy. I'm talking about down to earth people who find a direct connection with Christ, don't need intermediaries, and don't judge others. In a time when I don't feel good about many things, I am happy that there seems to be a revival of mysticism or, as some call it, a spiritual awakening. Even atheists might consider this a good trend as those who fancy themselves mystics aren't sectarian, at least in my experience.

Joel Caris said...

Hi JMG and readers at large,

This is perhaps only tangentially related to this week's topic, but I thought it would be interesting to you and others. I got it from Naked Capitalism, so perhaps you've already seen it, JMG, but this is a very good interview with Jeffrey D. Sachs about Trump, immigration, geopolitics, and American democracy. I think he makes a number of very good points and lays out some of the major failings of the center-left in recent years. I don't know that I fully agree with him on everything, but this strikes me as the sort of sober, clear-eyed analysis of what's going on today that is going to be necessary for the left to engage in if we want to regain power and work to make the world a better place, rather than continue to flail around in pure reactionary mode and risk setting the stage for even worse counter-reactions than have already occurred.

I had to put in my email to get to the full article, but I believe you can just put in a fake address if you really want to. I didn't actually have to register or confirm anything.

If you don't feel like this is enough on topic, JMG, feel free to delete.

Daddy Hardup said...

Wagner, did you say? Via Kant and Schopenhauer, and that yearning harmonic suspension? May I book my ticket now, please?

Could be topical. My meagre understanding is that Wagner turned to myth and epic after his disillusioning experience of radical politics. Specifically, the failed liberal-radical revolution in Germany in 1848-49, when he took to the barricades in Dresden alongside Bakunin, and the suppression of the second French republic by the conservative revolution of that would-be Caesar, Louis Napoleon.

Don't think you would get only twenty comments a week, though. Did you imagine, when you began your 'Druid reflections' eleven years ago, that you would soon enough be fielding 500? There are many of us who are delighted to enter this space where our hunger for myth is not dismissed as escapist fantasy nor indulged and exploited commercially, but treated with intellectual seriousness and rigour.

When I was learning German back in the 80s, Wagner was an object of suspicion. Germans were preoccupied with 'overcoming the past' and, quite rightly, with decontaminating their culture from anything tainted with National Socialism, and Wagner was dangerously close to the toxic ground zero from which it all sprang. Hence, I suppose, those deconstructionist opera productions we heard about in which Alberich or some other character in the Ring was depicted carrying a plastic bag from the Aldi supermarket. I don't think the Nazi catastrophe can ever be 'overcome' - we Europeans live in a humbled post-Enlightenment culture and in that sense are perhaps more prepared than some for the End of Progress - but I for one certainly feel ready to engage seriously with Wagner.


Armata said...

As we saw earlier, Donald Trump threatened to cut off federal funding to UC Berkeley for allowing rioters to violate the free speech rights of a guest speaker. That sort of thing has become extremely common on American university campuses.

Time and time again we have seen left wing radicals shut down speakers whose views they didn't agree with while university administrators not only stood by and did nothing to stop it but in many cases, we have seen professors and other faculty members go out of their way to egg the rioters and other extremists on, while making excuses for their behavior. We have also seen the use of speech codes and rhetoric about "microagressions", "safe spaces" and the like used to silence dissent on college campuses. In many cases, we have seen left wing extremists use violence to silence and intimidate those they don't agree with and all too often, university administrations not only failed to take action but expressed support for the leftist thugs who were responsible. It's like Red Guards in Maoist China all over again.

Now, there is talk of a possible ban on federal funding to colleges and universities that trample on free speech rights. I'd say its about bloody time.

111DFC said...


Your very interesting post reminds me my reading of the famous "The Origin of Tragedy (From The Spirit of Music)" of Nietzsche, where he call Socrates "The Mystagoge of Science..."

As you know he wrote there:

"The astonishingly high pyramid of Science we have at present, one cannot do other than regard Socrates as the vortex and turning-point of so-called world history. For if one were to imagine that the quite incalculable sum of energy which has been expended on behalf of this tendency in the world had not been placed at the service of understanding, but applied instead to the practical, i.e. egotistical goals of individuals and nations, then man's instinctive lust for life would probably have been so weakened amidst general wars of extinction and unceasing migrations that, with suicide having become habitual, the individual would be bound to feel the last remnant of a sense of duty when, like some inhabitant of the Fijian islands, he throttles his parents as their son, and his friend as a friend - a practical pessimism which could generate a horrifying ethic of genocide out of pity…"

"From Socrates onwards, the mechanism of concepts, judgments and conclusions was prized, above all other abilities, as the highest activity and most admirable gift of nature..
At present, however, Science, spurred on by its powerful delusion, is hurrying unstoppably to its limits, where the optimism hidden in the essence of logic will founder and break up…"

"Only when the spirit of Science has been carried to its limits and its claim to universal validity negated by the demonstration of these limits might one hope for a rebirth of tragedy…"

"what I understand by the Spirit of Science is the belief, which first came to light in the person of Socrates, that the depths of nature can be fathomed and that knowledge can heal all ills…"

Nietzsche, long before Gödell or Planck ("quanta world") knows the "limits of science", and the childish claim that science "it can heal all the ills" you call this now "the religion of progress"

What Nietzsche calls back with the "Old Tragedy" or the "The Dyonisiac" is the return to Nature, to the sense of "oneness" or "re-union" with the others fellow men and nature a strong and re-new feeling to be alive; for example when he said:

"Not only is the bond between human beings renewed by the magic of the Dionysiac, but Nature, alienated, inimical, or subjugated, celebrates once more her festival of reconciliation with her lost son, Humankind

Now the slave is a freeman, now all the rigid, hostile barriers, which necessity, caprice, or 'impudent fashion' have established between human beings, break asunder. Now, hearing this gospel of universal harmony, each person feels himself to be not simply united, reconciled or merged with his neighbour, but quite literally one with him, as if the Veil of Maya had been torn apart, so that mere shreds of it flutter before the mysterious primordial unity (das Ur-Eine)"

So, Science as the real "Veil of Maya"

"...festival of reconciliation with her lost son, Humankind", what beautiful words!

hhawhee said...

"In every generation, in effect, a certain number of geniuses will be born, but their upbringing, the problems that confront them, and the resources they will have available to solve those problems, are not theirs to choose. All these things are produced by the labors of other creative minds of the past and present, and are profoundly influenced by the cycles of history."
John Michael Greer, The ArchDruid Report. 2017

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service..." Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 1852

Perhaps Old Chuck was making a slightly different point, but I found the parallel striking.

Armata said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sylvia Rissell said...

Feb 3 2017

About the question of cycles in time: I would expect the default understanding of pre-literate people to be cyclical time. There are easily observed cycles on many time scales. The repition of a heartbeat, on the short end of the scale. Day/night is a cycle with exceptions only for eclipses. The lunar cycle and the menstrual cycle demonstrate that cycles apply to humans and the heavens. The yearly cycle of seasons .. so why not cycles of a generation length, or multiples of generations?

I do want ask: why am I reading JMG's Archdruid report, instead of something else? Surely I could find a prosperity gospel blog, or maybe a technofuturist site? Is it possible that I (we?) are in a metaphorical echo chamber? How could we tell?

It has been some time ( since a reader could read every published work in the English language. I need to make choices. Perhaps my choice to read this blog is dictated by an emotional need or a life stage. Even if I were limited to a single volume: the Christian Bible contains a wide range of subjects. A violent person can find battles and combat, (ex David and Goliath), an emotional person can find romance, and someone looking for fatalism and stoicism can find that, too.

How can I tell a good argument or prediction from one that merely lines up with what I am thinking, or what I fear?

August Johnson said...

JMG - I second gwizard43's comment about the tone of many of the comments here over the last few months. This tone is what caused me to make a comment a couple posts back about the tone of the blog, I just got it wrong about what I was seeing. The nastiness is in the comments, not the blog posting itself.

This is what has prompted me to write a rather long comment to you, about both many issues you've raised here (I'm learning a lot) and also about activities I'm involved here in my local community. However, I will be sending this by USnail mail. I'm not comfortable posting things here where the polite discourse seems to be collapsing, just as the rest of the society is.


August Johnson KG7BZ

tom said...

@ gwizard: very well said. Thank you. Bill Pulliam, who I will greatly miss from this forum, was a target several times of this person's sneering attacks.

James M. Jensen II said...

Kant sounds like a great place to start to me. As a pragmatist, I tend to disagree with him quite a bit (though we share a suspicion of representationalist accounts of truth and knowledge), but he was in many ways the philosopher's philosopher, and discussing him helps to elucidate many things. Looking forward to it!

Justin said...

Regarding Armata's entertaining video:

There are a couple stories about why easy/automatic voter registration is good for the democratic rights of black people:

The racist story is that black people are more likely to lack the future-time orientation or intelligence necessary to obtain the various forms of ID needed to vote (but are necessary for so many other things...)

The Berkeleyite theory is that despite the myriad of things one needs photo ID for, especially if you use social programs, due to the poor socioeconomic conditions and Republican conspiracies that black people are more likely to suffer from, they are less likely to have ID and therefore less likely to vote.

I think the reality is that voter fraud is much more common than we think in America. I don't think that the disenfranchised urban majority is too stupid or too victimized by republicans in top hats to vote, I think it's that they don't care about elections because they are too alienated and disenfranchised. And I think the Democratic party, who claims the moral high ground in regards to such communities is guilty of quite a lot of fraud - counting the votes of predominantly black people who are too alienated to vote.

onething said...


My answer to your question is that the elites are interested in business as usual in the sense of unfettered capitalism and increased globalization, not just of trade but of trade and immigration law, and that the tearing down of traditional ideas actually furthers their goals.

doomerdoc said...

I would agree with Shaun's comment. We are all essentially living in an old civilization. Civilizations age just like human beings.
Isn't it clear now that in fact the Western civilization was beginning to age in the early 20th century, and the various violent movements such as nazism and communism were a clumsy attempt to re-introduce youthful vigor into it?
After WW2, when America took the helm, just as the oil age was beginning to ramp up, the expansive Western civilization was already something like 450 years old, now it's more like 500 years old.
Now the people themselves, the white technocrats holding this thing together, are themselves aging and leaving fewer descendants, and the youthful populations of the world are largely Africans and Muslims with a very tenuous connection to the structure.

Kevin Warner said...

At the risk of showing my age I would venture to say that trying to understand how the cycles of history fit in present times is akin to studying the nature of sound whilst in a discotheque on a Saturday night. That is bad enough. However, it is starting to get annoying when you hear of people trying to equate every tiny event with a major facet of history. Thus you hear of how Trump sends out a mean tweet and people jump on it and say "This proves that America is now a proto Fascist-state!" Uhhh, no! Time to get your hand off of it. That is why it is a relief to come to this site. You get a chance to hear about aspects of the Big Picture. At the same time, this can give you unexpected feelings though.

In the thoughtful 1951 novel "Day of the Triffids" the main character is standing in an abandoned London and reflecting, thinks: "When I was by myself in the country I could recall the pleasantness of the former life; among the scabrous, slowly perishing buildings I seemed able to recall only the muddle, the frustration, the unaimed drive, the all-pervading clangour of empty vessels, and I became uncertain how much we had lost.." and I have to admit that 75 years later I have the same feelings sometimes. Seriously, take out the pure sciences and the useful technologies from our modern culture and how much of it is really worth saving? Our modern arts? Our political philosophies? Our environmnetal behaviors? Our economic and financial systems? Our social culture with how we treat other people? Our modern culture is not exactly covering itself with glory here. For a long time, I have thought that in terms of maturity of a culture, we are still stuck in our teenage years.

There is one thing that I also began to wonder about tonight and it is this. JMG has made no secret of the fact that he believes that industrial civilisation is going away due to the running down of affordable supplies of oil. All our eggs are in that particular basket here. OK, fair enough. In this one can say that this time it WILL be different in that for a geological age, any future civilisation will not have access to large supplies of oil to power itself with. I am beginning to wonder, however, how many people read the words "industrial civilisation is going away" but are hearing in their minds the words "civilisation is going away". The important qualification here is the word "industrial". I have no idea what the next civilisation will look like (which is why I could not come up with a feasible entry in the last Space Bats competition) but there will be some shape or form of civilisation after this era is over. We just won't recognize it is all. Certainly they will think radically differently to us - I hope.

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