Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Merlin's Time

Perhaps the most interesting responses to the discussion of mass movements here on The Archdruid Report have been those that insisted that the only alternative, either to a mass movement in the abstract or to some specific movement, was defeat and despair. That’s an odd sort of logic, since mass movements are hardly the only tool in the drawer; I suspect that part of what drives the insistence is the herd-mindedness of our species – we are, after all, social mammals with most of the same inborn habits of collective behavior you’ll find in any of the less solitary vertebrates.

Still, the pressure toward some such movement has another potent force driving it: the awkward fact that the vast majority of people today simply do not want to hear how difficult their future is going to be. It doesn’t matter how good your evidence is or how well you make your case, most of your listeners will simply look uncomfortable and change the subject. Why this should be the case is an interesting question; I suspect that much of the blame lies with the cult of positive thinking Barbara Ehrenreich anatomized in a recent book, though I’m quite willing to hear alternative explanations.

Still, for whatever reason, an extraordinary blindness to the downside has become crazy-glued in place straight across contemporary culture. From economists who insist that the bubble du jour (right now, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s government debt) can keep on inflating forever, through technology fans who believe devoutly that their favorite piece of drawing-board vaporware will necessarily solve the world’s problems without side effects and with spare change left over, to millions of ordinary people who can’t or won’t imagine a future without the material abundance of recent decades, we seem to have lost the collective capacity to recognize that things can and do go very, very wrong. It’s not merely a matter of blindness to the “black swan” events Nassim Nicholas Taleb made famous, either; we’re just as bad at seeing white swans coming, even when they’ve been predicted for decades and the sky is so thick with them that it’s hard to see anything else.

It’s an appalling predicament: how can a community prepare for a troubled future if most people tune out even the slightest suggestion that it might be troubled? It’s for this reason, seemingly, that many people in the peak oil scene have chosen to downplay the difficulties and insist that we can have a bright, happy, abundant future if we just pursue whatever baby steps toward sustainability we all find congenial. I’ve been assured by some of the people making such claims that they’re perfectly aware that the situation is far more difficult and dangerous than that, but that the need to get as people involved in some kind of movement toward sustainability is so great, they say, that waffling on that point is as justified as it is necessary.

As it happens, I think they’re making a hideous mistake. I’ve discussed the reasons for that perception at length in several recent posts, and won’t rehash them here. The question that remains is whether there are any viable alternatives, and that’s the question I want to address in today’s post. To explain the option I have in mind, though, it may be useful to borrow a metaphor from history.

I don’t know how many of my readers know this, but my most recent publication is a translation of a very strange book from the Middle Ages. Its title is Picatrix, and it is one of the sole surviving examples of that absolute rarity of medieval literature, a textbook for apprentice wizards. Those of my readers who grew up on stories about Merlin, Gandalf et al. take note: those characters, legendary or fictional as they are, were modeled on an actual profession that flourished in the early Middle Ages, and remained relatively active until the bottom fell out of the market at the end of the Renaissance.

By "wizard" here I don’t mean your common or garden variety fortune teller or ritual practitioner; we have those in abundance today. The wizard of the early Middle Ages in Europe and the Muslim world, rather, was a freelance intellectual whose main stock in trade was good advice, though admittedly that came well frosted with incantation and prophecy as needed. He had a good working knowledge of astrology, which filled roughly the same role in medieval thought that theoretical physics does today, and an equally solid knowledge of ritual magic, but his training did not begin or end there. According to Picatrix, the compleat wizard in training needed to get a thorough education in agriculture; navigation; political science; military science; grammar, languages, and rhetoric; commerce, all the mathematics known at the time, including arithmetic, geometry, music theory, and astronomy; logic; medicine, including a good knowledge of herbal pharmaceuticals; the natural sciences, including meteorology, mineralogy, botany, and zoology; and Aristotle’s metaphysics: in effect, the sum total of the scientific learning that had survived from the classical world.

Now it may have occurred to my readers that this doesn’t sound like the sort of education you’d get at Hogwarts, and that’s exactly the point. Whether you believe that the movements of the planets foretell events on Earth, as almost everyone did in the Middle Ages, or whether you think astrology is simply a clever anticipation of game theory that gets its results by inserting random factors into strategic decisions to make them unpredictable, you’ll likely recognize that a soothsayer with the sort of background I’ve just sketched out would be well prepared to offer sound advice on most of the questions that might perplex a medieval peasant, merchant, baron or king. Nor, of course, would someone so trained be restricted in his choice of active measures to incantations alone. This is arguably why so many medieval kings and barons had professional sorcerers and soothsayers on staff, despite the fulminations of all the dominant religions of the age, and why wizards less adept at social climbing found a bumper crop of customers lower down the social ladder.

The origins of this profession are, if anything, even more interesting. Pierre Riché’s useful study Education and Culture in the Barbarian West showed in detail how the educational institutions of the late Roman world imploded as their economic and social support systems crumpled beneath them. In Europe – matters were a little more complex in the Muslim world – they were replaced by a monastic system of education that, in its early days, fixated almost entirely on scriptural and theological studies, and by methods of training young aristocrats that fixated even more tightly on the skills of warfare and government. Only among families with a tradition of classical letters did some semblance of the old curriculum stay in use, and Riché notes that while that custom continued, those who learned philosophy, one of the core studies in that curriculum, were widely suspected of dabbling in magic. It’s not too hard to connect the dots and see how a subculture of freelance intellectuals, equipped with unusual knowledge and a willingness to stray well outside the boundaries set by the culture of their time, would have emerged from that context.

All this may seem worlds away from the issues raised earlier in this essay, but there’s a direct connection. The wizards of the early Middle Ages were individuals who recognized the value of certain branches of knowledge and certain attitudes toward the world that were profoundly unpopular in their time, and took it on themselves to preserve the knowledge, cultivate the attitudes, and make connections with those who shared the same sense of values,or at least were interested in making practical use of the skills that the knowledge and attitides made possible. There was no mass movement to support the survival of classical science in the sixth and seventh centuries CE, and no hope of starting one; the mass movements of the time – when they weren’t simply stampeding mobs trying to get out of the way of the latest round of barbarian invasions – embraced the opposite opinion. How much of a role wizards might have played in the transmission of classical learning to the future is anyone’s guess, since records of their activities are very sparse, but it’s clear that they were an intellectual resource much used during an age when few other resources of the kind were available.

I’ve come to think that a strategy of the same kind, if a bit more tightly focused, might well be one of the best options just now for an age when very few people are willing to make meaningful preparations for a difficult future. Certain branches of practical knowledge, thoroughly learned and just as thoroughly practiced by a relatively modest number of people, could be deployed in a hurry to help mitigate the impact of the energy shortages, economic dislocations, and systems breakdowns that are tolerably certain to punctuate the years ahead of us. I’m sure my readers have their own ideas about the kind of knowledge that might be best suited to that context, but I have a particular suggestion to offer: the legacy of the apppropriate technology movement of the 1970s.

This was not simply a precursor of today’s sustainability projects, and the differences are important. The appropriate tech movement, with some exceptions, tended to avoid the kind of high-cost, high-profile eco-chic projects so common today. Much of it focused instead on simple technologies that could be put to work by ordinary people without six-figure incomes, doing the work themselves, using ordinary tools and readily available resources. Most of these technologies were evolved by basement-shop craftspeople and small nonprofits working on shoestring budgets, and ruthlessly field-tested by thousands of people who built their own versions in their backyards and wrote about the results in the letters column of Mother Earth News.

The resulting toolkit was a remarkably well integrated, effective, and cost-effective set of approaches that individuals, families, and communities could use to sharply reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and the industrial system in general. It was not, I should probably point out, particularly esthetic, unless you happen to like a lively fusion of down home funk, late twentieth century garage-workshop, and hand-dyed back-to-the-land hippie paisley; those of my readers who own houses and are still fretting about their resale value (and haven’t yet figured out that this figure will be denominated in imaginary numbers for the next several decades at least) will likely run screaming from it; those who were incautious enough to buy homes in suburban developments with restrictive covenants will have to step carefully, at least until their neighbors panic. Apartment dwellers will have to pick and choose a bit; on the other hand, those of my readers who will spend time living in tarpaper shacks before the Great Recession ends – and I suspect a fair number of people will have that experience, as a fair number of people did the last time the economy lost touch with reality and imploded the way it’s currently doing – will find that very nearly everything the appropriate tech people did will be well within their reach.

What’s included in the package I’m discussing? Intensive organic gardening, for starters, with its support technologies of composting, green manure, season extenders, and low-tech food preservation and storage methods; small-scale chicken and rabbit raising, and home aquaculture of fish; simple attached solar greenhouses, which make the transition from food to energy by providing heat for homes as well as food for the table; other retrofitted passive solar heating technologies; solar water heating; a baker’s dozen or more methods for conserving hot or cool air with little or no energy input; and a good deal more. None of it will save the world, if that hackneyed phrase means maintaining business as usual on some supposedly sustainable basis; what it can do is make human life in a world suffering from serious energy shortages and economic troubles a good deal less traumatic and more livable.

This is the suite of technologies I studied as a budding appropriate-tech geek during the late 1970s and 1980s, and it was central to the training program that earned me my Master Conserver certificate in 1985. One teaches what one knows, and I’m going to take the gamble of devoting much of the next year or so of Archdruid Report posts to the details. My hope is that I can encourage at least a few of my readers to follow the very old example mentioned earlier, and become the green wizards of the decades ahead of us.

For that, I have come to think, is one of the things the soon-to-be-deindustrializing world most needs just now: green wizards. By this I mean individuals who are willing to take on the responsibility to learn, practice, and thoroughly master a set of unpopular but valuable skills – the skills of the old appropriate tech movement – and share them with their neighbors when the day comes that their neighbors are willing to learn. This is not a subject where armchair theorizing counts for much – as every wizard’s apprentice learns sooner rather than later, what you really know is measured by what you’ve actually done – and it’s probably not going to earn anyone a living any time soon, either, though it can help almost anyone make whatever living they earn go a great deal further than it might otherwise go. Nor, again, will it prevent the unraveling of the industrial age and the coming of a harsh new world; what it can do, if enough people seize the opportunity, is make the rough road to that new world more bearable than it will otherwise be.

I also propose to have a certain amount of fun with the wizard archetype in the posts to come. Still, that’s an example of what the Renaissance alchemist Michael Maier called a lusus serius, a game played in earnest, a dead serious joke. The present time, as I’ve suggested here more than once, has plenty of features in common with the twilight years of classical civilization, the age that gave rise to the legends of Merlin and Arthur, and made it in retrospect a poetic necessity for the greatest of all legendary kings to be advised by the greatest of all legendary wizards.

Thus there’s a certain lively irony in the fact that, back in the days when I was sanding blades for a homebuilt wind turbine and studying the laws of thermodynamics in Master Conserver classes in the meeting room of the old Seattle Public library, one of my favorite bits of music was Al Stewart’s Merlin’s Time:

Who would walk the stony roads of Merlin’s time,
And keep the watch along the borderline?
And who would hear the legends passed in song and rhyme
Upon the shepherd pipes of Merlin’s time?

In its own way, that’s the question that upcoming posts will pose to my readers; we’ll see what the answer turns out to be.


Zin said...
Two important skills that should be included are the ability to know how to keep the body healthy and the skill of calming the mind.
The sages of ancient China and India were doing this type of magic at the same time as the wizards of Europe.

6/30/10, 9:06 PM

Dave Wahler said...
Green wizards... I rather like the sound of those, and I look forward to seeing how you play around with this idea. In particular: how will this new breed of wizard establish its trade during the 21st Century Breakdown? I know some of these wizards already exist -- your readership includes a few, judging by comments on past posts -- but I think we're going to need a LOT more of them than we have now.

I suspect that there are a great many educated and conscientious people out there who would love to get started in this trade, but have no clue about how they can realistically shift away from BAU and into the realm of green wizardry. I count myself among them. We need somewhere to go and someone to learn from hands-on: not all of us are autodidacts!

So how and when are these wizards gonna start taking on apprentices?

6/30/10, 9:46 PM

Librarian of Hillman said...
best. essay. evar.

: )

well, really darn great i think, anyway! thanks!

microbes like yeast and bacteria have been after my attention for over 6 years now and i've been devoting (by need at first and later by desire) more time increasingly to getting a handle on the vital roles they play from a practical stand-point, never having had much of a science background.

i'm talking gut microbes, soil, water, compost, fermentation & culturing of foods like yogurt and's a great puzzle how you encourage some over others, and i'm starting to think of them as pets really, or guard animals! they do rule a lot of our world.

i can't decide which i like more...learning to be a Gut Witch, a Fermentation & Culturing Witch, or a Soil & Compost Witch.

(even with the Gulf sadness, my attention went directly to the naturally present methane & oil munching deep-sea bacteria guys and the potential good and bad outcomes there for other sea life and for humans in the region...)

now i have to go look for those books you mentioned! i had no idea! you really just wove a number of years-long seemingly unrelated threads in my world together with this--thanks again!

i eagerly await where you take this.

6/30/10, 9:47 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Zin, it's not coincidental that the "soft style" martial arts first really got a foothold in this country during the same years the appropriate tech movement was in full flow. (For that matter, it's probably not an accident that I began studying t'ai chi ch'uan and appropriate tech right about the same time.)

Dave, I'm going to spend much of the next one to two years walking you and everyone else who reads this blog through a course of training in green wizardry. The hands-on training is the easy part -- I'll cover how that works a bit further down the road.

Librarian, good. Excellent, in fact. Get skilled with microbes and you have a rare and very powerful kind of green wizardry to hand. In fact, once we get past some basics, the next stop is a topic right up your alley.

6/30/10, 10:02 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
It's funny, when I read your list of examples of the new wizard's toolkit, it just sounds like daily life... it is still often very hard for me to really remember how far from what seemed like basic "common sense" back then that the mainstream mind has now wandered. Is there an Ap for that?

On thing about all those practical, functional, straightforward technologies is that they really just get right to the heart of the matter bypassing ideology and politics. You don't need to shift someone's worldview or their consciousness; you just show them something they can afford and do for themselves that WORKS. My neighbor and I who probably disagree on just about everything that might be mentioned on Faux News have no trouble at all having civil and mutually informative discussions when it comes to chickens, ponds, and tomato plants. I first learned about ram pumps not from the Permacultire Design Institute but from the Church-of-Christ-attending local fundamentalists.

One thing about hippies in the rural south... in the 1970s the lines between hippy and redneck got very blurry down here among the young adult generation. Everyone had long hair and wore the same blue jeans, all the men had the same scruffy beards, and everyone listened to the same Southern Rock and smoked the same dope. The back-to-the-landers and the hillbillies were living similar lives, side by side. Corn was corn, beans were beans, a barn was a barn, and something that helped you stay warm and stay fed on little money worked just the same whether your tank top said Lynyrd Skynyrd, Grateful Dead, Merle, or Waylan.

When it comes down to the nut cuttin' it's about results here and now on the scale of the individual household. If you offer that, folks will listen. If you don't, they'll keep looking.

Sounds like it'll be a good year to keep reading!

6/30/10, 10:05 PM

Joel said...
I was 404'd last time I tried this, so please delete this if it's a duplicate:

The areas of study you listed included esoteric, practical, and people skills from the middle ages, and mostly practical skills from the 20th century. Does a different public attitude in today's society call for a slightly different set of people skills moving forward?

On a related note, it sounds like only families of means were able to make the transition last time. Can you recommend any economic niches that might support someone as they work toward such a carreer?

6/30/10, 10:05 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Librarian -- microbes rule! Really, they do. All us big critters and big plants are just sitting around waiting for the microbes to give us what we need. It was one of those "aha!" moments in my studies of ecosystem science and biogeochemistry when I realized that we all make our living from microbe poop.

6/30/10, 10:11 PM

Ruben said...
Most people do not want to hear how difficult their future will be, because, as recent brain research shows, Change is Pain.

We process truly enormous amounts of information, and, for the most part we do it with rules of thumb that we learned from others--rustling in the grass at night means large dangerous animal--if we didn't have these subconscious heuristics we would die.

So to Change is to choose to consciously slow down information processing, and sometimes that gets you eaten. For the most part evolution has favoured the rule of thumb, and has built into us an adverse reaction to attempts to short-circuit our heuristics.

There is a great video of David Rock talking about the brain at YouTube - Your Brain at Work

6/30/10, 10:14 PM

adamatari said...
On the subject of not seeing "white swans" - I recently was at an older friend's house and we were talking about politics a bit. He's actually quite opposite me politically, but he brought up an interesting news item. Apparently, the US government has loaned money to Brazil's oil company Petrobras (as has China's govt) to help Brazil get at the oil in the Tupi oil field.

My friend brought this up in the typical conspiracy theory style, as a ploy for Obama to inflate the value of George Soros' funds (he is VERY heavily invested in Petrobras). He suggested this was corruption that could be the wedge for impeachment. I pointed out to him that it was more likely spent to get an American stake in Brazil's oil, in a time where oil is kinda important. He didn't seem to even consider it. I suggested that perhaps we were running into energy issues, and he said, "they've been saying that for 30 years and nothing's happened"...

I don't know whether it's due to a policy of silence or active propaganda, but energy issues are the ultimate invisible white swan/elephant in the living room/etc.

I'm really looking forward to your posts on mitigation strategies. I've actually been thinking about it, and it strikes me that we will see some very odd things in the future. I used to live on Oahu, and ironically I think Hawaii has an opportunity to come out much better off than many other places. Right now it depends on oil, but it also is incredibly fertile and has a strong communities of organic, local, and traditional agriculture. At the time the West found their way to Hawaii, the main isles supported a very large population through an extremely well organized system of agriculture. The regional divisions, ahupua'a, stretched from the mountains to the sea, providing a balance of resources to the community. On the other hand, Hawaii is very dependent on oil right now and many people see it as being hopelessly overpopulated and unsustainable (which it is, in the sense that if something happened suddenly it would be in real trouble, and the bulk of the population is on Oahu). If the descent proves as long as you foresee, though, I could see Hawaii coming out very well (though not without serious bumps).

6/30/10, 10:27 PM

Avery said...
John, I finished your "Ecotechnic Future" earlier today, and as I was in a library, I picked up a copy of Spengler's "Decline of the West" which I had never gotten around to finishing before. One thing that struck me about Spengler is his insistence that a culture needs a driving force to further its inner development: a far-off goal which necessitates a capture of resources and increase of population, and makes the culture a notable actor on the planet. (His maxim that a civilization is a culture which has completed its mission and has nowhere to go rings true as well.) It seems to me that the real survival of important knowledge in a post-collapse society requires the drive of a culture and not a few lone wizards. In fact, without a culture that believes in their abilities, the work of those who conserve ecological knowledge will be in vain. ("Dad, are you wasting your time on that rainwater collection project again?") Rather, the wizards must have an emotional, meaningful message for society, explaining what they are working for and how it will be accomplished.

I was so captivated by that idea that I started writing a little story about it, but I don't have the power of foresight that you display so clearly in "Ecotechnic Future", so I would ask as you make your way through your survival kit to explain why a culture might honor and commit to these techniques.

6/30/10, 10:49 PM

PanIdaho said...
JMG said:

"I'm going to spend much of the next one to two years walking you and everyone else who reads this blog through a course of training in green wizardry. The hands-on training is the easy part -- I'll cover how that works a bit further down the road."

Yay! Well, you've definitely got my attention! :-) Looking forward to learning some more green wizardry,


6/30/10, 10:59 PM

The Onion said...
I went to high school in the 90s. It was commonplace then for guidance counselors to steer you away from trades if you were considered 'smart'. This did me a disservice by stigmatizing something that I probably would have enjoyed, much more so than an office.

Now I am making up for lost time by learning wood working, blacksmithing, and gathering other general knowledge of the home economy. Mostly out of a need to do work with my hands. A need to create. I'm an 'artsy' type, and one thing about having the creative urge is that if you try to stifle it, you will be miserable.

6/30/10, 11:04 PM

team10tim said...
Hey hey JMG,

Fantastic work as always. On the topic of positive thinking I suspect that it is an evolutionary adaptation to help social mammals through bottlenecks. Optimists tend to live longer, healthier lives but pessimists have more accurate worldviews. Optimisms is normally a self-fulfilling prophecy providing health, opportunity, and social status. But occasionally the whole of society is laboring under disastrous misconceptions and needs people capable of accurate assessments.

Peak oil and the housing/financial crisis come to mind as examples of obvious disconnects between expectations and reality. Contrary to popular belief both were predicted well in advance. From Time magazine: "Since early 2000, economists have been sounding the housing bubble alarm with increasing urgency." and peak oil has been around much longer. But the majority of the population didn't notice.

Which brings us back to magic. Nassim Taleb and a handful of other spotted the obvious and became revered by society as wizards of finance when the obvious came to pass.

A few years ago I worked the same magic brooding on my parents back porch 'worrying about the future' I was worried about peak oil and the financial house of cards. I spent the next two years learning a lot about both of them. I started talking to my parents about cashing out their investments in the summer of 2007.

I used the huge surge in credibility to push for a chicken coop, solar hot water, fruit trees, and investments in the new food co-op. I imagine wizards of old would do much the same thing, forecasting an eclipse and then urging their lords to make peace with the neighbors.

One last thing, which is off topic, why did Eastern monasteries develop martial arts while the Western monotheistic monasteries did not? Why didn't Catholicism develop a martial art when the Buddhists got Kung Fu?

7/1/10, 12:23 AM

donovanb said...
I've been reading these posts for a good while having been prompted by your two recent books from New Society. Great stuff.

Aside from the skills mentioned here, what you call for also requires a huge mindshift.

First, away from self to other (including all life); second, away from competition towards open cooperation; third, away from certainty towards acceptance of ignorance; and fourth,towards imagining the sort of future you are writing about. I'm sequencing these not in order of importance but for convenience--all seem to me to be of equal importance and relevance.

I love reading your stuff, JMG, and have given your books to friends.

Mind you, as I lecture (part-time) in a department of education in university, getting my way of thinking from an Archdruid does seem a bit odd...



7/1/10, 12:56 AM

Richard S said...
JMG, your last series of posts leading us up to this has been a joy to read, and I very much look forward to your sharing of the green wizardry.

7/1/10, 1:36 AM

ramps said...
Another good post JMG, thanks.

Positive thinking, blindness to the downside, and other blinkers to reality reminded me of a good quote from Mark Twain,

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble, but what you know for sure that just ain't so".

I'm backing your gamble on the green wizard curriculum for upcoming Archdruid Report posts.

7/1/10, 1:41 AM

WestOz said...
Just what I needed :). Today I finished my "seventies" style poncho.
Homespun from own alpaca fleece with a sheep wool blend. It's knitted, bulky and warm. Certainly felt I did not need to stoke the fire last night with it on.tersp My comment to hubby was - great for the farm but mainstream town is not yet ready for this..... I learnt to spin last year at a local spinners group with wonderful women prepared to share their knowledge. Hope to learn the skill of weaving this year. Next year it will be a woven alpaca poncho! Promise.

7/1/10, 1:41 AM

eknutz said...
Mr. Greer, thank you for the great essay. I could not agree more. I look forward with great anticipation to your guidance!

7/1/10, 2:14 AM

Blagroll said...
I suspect many people, including myself, have been seeking for the practice(s) you describe in the post. Doing and learning alone has its own rewards, but has its limitations as well. Even those few pratical areas, one's I've had to labouriously ferret out here in Ireland, which I can share with others is very limited in scope.

Will you be broadly following some sort of cycle - seasonal, lunar or combos of the sort? There seems to be a very practical application when using cycles with regard to planning and stock taking; as long as one recognises and works with the variability of one's natural surroundings. (No easy thing). I also wonder if cycles and even counter-intuitive enlightenment thinking can have a more profound impact on the totality of one's very doing and existence.

7/1/10, 3:08 AM

Andrew said...
Reminds me of the 'Role of Druidry' in your article and my studies of the first year's Earth Path...


7/1/10, 3:26 AM

skintnick said...
I just love it when events occur in such synchrony that there just has to be some kind of spiritual explanation and the timing and content of your post today had just that effect on me. Now if I can just find myself a green wizard's hat then I'll do my best to wear it well!

You say "None of it will save the world [but] what it can do is make human life...a good deal less traumatic and livable" and that has been the path I've been following for about 18 months now.

And "master a set of unpopular but valuable skills...and share them with their neighbors when the day comes when their neighbors are willing to learn." Yes, and the sooner that day comes the better. But it's so hard to persuade people this is necessary because of the failure of mainstream media to participate in addressing the predicament. Do you think it's possible or even worthwhile exploring how to engage one's neighbors in this learning process?

7/1/10, 3:42 AM

Odin's Raven said...
You wrote:"It’s an appalling predicament: how can a community prepare for a troubled future if most people tune out even the slightest suggestion that it might be troubled?"

The most likely answer is that neither the individuals composing it, nor their sense of community will survive radical changes. I thought that Peak Oil believers generally accepted the 'Dieoff' scenario.

It might be like the Biblical Israelites journey through the desert. They supposedly had to journey until all those who remembered the fleshpots of Egypt and hankered for them had died. Similarly, if a new society emerges from the wreckage of this one, it is likely to be an unpredictable result of individual response to new circumstances. The planned societies attempts to perpetuate themselves in slightly different form but with the lefty elite bossing everybody will probably fail.

The Post-American Era will by definition probably lose most of those positive American qualities such as optimism, energy,tolerance, technical ingenuity and helpfulness. Some of it may mutate into a sort of herbalist-tinker-trickster sub-class. If so,it might be regarded with the suspicion accorded heretics and gypsies - and magi - in the middle ages. Your apprentices might meet an unpleasant end.

7/1/10, 4:13 AM

This is not a very strange feeling, but reading your posts week after week raise the hair on my spine just the way I like them.

Strange that just last week I was filing waste PVC pipes to make small windmill blades, On my 40 day old job . I joined as a 'ranch hospitality & ecovillage project manager' for a 100 acre farm setup with intensive pig breeding, corn mono cropping, and a crowded dog kennel, diesel vehicles, generator, and electric fencing on the edge of a national wildlife reserve in south India.

Just a few weeks ago I waved a hearty good bye to big city life and moved here after failing in an adventure and ecotourism business, which included wandering aimlessly in the himalayas.

Yesterday was my last day on this job as according to my recruiters, i was not performing. I was stuck in my own fantasies of genuine organic farming, small multipurpose workshop, bicycles, and cob cottages, and was not able to bring in many tourists who paid in cash.

My request for a shoestring budget for basic tools, bicycles and better pay for the most impoverished labor was flatly turned down. When I mentioned that my appointment letter (which I had myself drafted), included fancy words like ecological economics which I unfortunately happen to believe in, I was offered an external consultant role that i accepted. I have not received my wages yet.

Dreams shatter. Thats how better dreams are born.

strange that last night i was writing down my random thoughts about shamans, hermits and origins of mysticism.

I am not at all interested in just earning a living. And I am all for green wizardry. Archetypes work for me. Thanks a bunch JMG.

7/1/10, 4:18 AM

anagnosto said...
JMG, it is fascinating to see how you have been driving the tune from previous months to this point. On my side I have a Ph.D on Plant Science and another on Molecular Biology, but along this last year I am reading more on alchemy... and I just moved into a agricultural traditional village. Great landing among the inhabitants too. They have no idea about what is coming but they constitute a healthy community.

7/1/10, 5:02 AM

joemichaels said...
JMG - You've really sparked my interest with your post on appropriate tech. I saw a story the other day about the release of the next I-Phone model and there were apparently thousands of technophiliacs waiting in line to be the first to "own" this newest marvel of high tech. Juxtapose that with the news that technophobics in China are murdering themselves to escape factories producing these I-pods/macs/phones.

In the past century we have been driven by the simple factory model of industrialization, which values production over the worker.

Consider the following: In the U.S. high-level technophobic fears was 29%. In comparison, Japan had 58% high-level technophobes, India had 82%, and Mexico had 53%.

Technology has made convenience and efficiency a trap. Technology replaces people with machines which make a single worker more productive and raises profits. People become displaced. Rinse and repeat. There are now far too many people who have little purpose beyond being a consumer.

The prospect of being useful again in a meaningful way is long overdue. I look forward to hearing more.


7/1/10, 5:19 AM

Ragnorakk said...
Looking forward to this. Thanks!

7/1/10, 5:32 AM

JimK said...
Why is it hard for people to see that life is likely to get quite difficult in the coming decades and centuries? No doubt the cult of quantum miracles discussed by Ehrenreich is a part of the answer. But that doesn't touch the core, I don't think.

I see two layers holding up the belief in progress. The upper layer, in more direct contact with the belief, is in science and technology. We have the smarts and the tools to solve any problem. Most any engineer will sneer at the "positive thinking" discussed by Ehrenreich, but shockingly many subscribe to the silliness of Kurzweil's singularity. Kurzweil himself is a plenty smart engineer.

Beneath that is a kind of desparation born from the devastation of 17th Century Europe. David Loy's _Buddhist History of the West_ is really worth reading! Folks like Bacon and Leibniz were really rather desparate, trying to patch together some way to hold society together. We need a foundation or a vessel, a belief system to hold society together. Christianity splintered, so now we have science. We need hope! We have to maintain our faith in science to justify our hope in progress, or society will disintegrate!

One huge task in front of us is to reassemble this ship as we keep sailing it through rough seas. I see two puzzles: how to re-think science, so it can help us feed ourselves etc. without requiring us to subscribe to myths of material salvation in a heaven of abundance. The second puzzle is how to knit society together as yet another mythical rope frays and loses the strength required to hold us together.

7/1/10, 5:32 AM

GreenStrong said...
In recent weeks The Archdruid Report has strayed more often than usual from peak oil into esoterica, and I find these "digressions" delightful and fascinating. The future will require a different world view and way of thinking than the present, and esoteric writings are a rich vein to mine for alternative modes of thought.

In particular, the archetype of the Wizard has been projected completely onto scientists. While science is wizardry, there is more to wizardry than science. The results of worshiping a single kind of wisdom are in our food, water and air.

We need Merlin's full wisdom to return, and I think the readers of these pages will bring a bit of his archetype into our time.

7/1/10, 5:32 AM

Edde said...
Greetings John Michael,

Good 070110 to you!

I'm an implementer, organizer, preacher and traveler. Plus a community educator and script writer for local education projects/theater. Friend to musicians, gardeners, entrepreneurs, dancers, homesteaders, resource conservers, rabble rousers and such...

Yes, community is always front and center in all organizing - collaborative projects ROCK!

Excellent post!

Best regards!

7/1/10, 5:33 AM

Conchscooter said...
I got the feeling that at last I have some slight understanding of the term wizard. Your essay made me think about how little intellectual education was available during the "Dark Ages" and how even then there must have been people who used their brains. And now, weirdly enough I find myself trying to learn arcane old skills at age 52. I am a great office worker but find myself struggling with incantations that start with the letter "F" mostly trying to make bell peppers grow and keep iguanas from eating my lettuce. My respect for the wizards of yore is increasing exponentially.

7/1/10, 5:42 AM

Jim Brewster said...
Huzzah! I must admit the timing of this post coincides nicely with my saturation point with the "back story." I look forward to learning, and sharing what limited experience I have.

Librarian, I think those three paths go hand-in-hand-in-hand, and pursuing all three in concert is certainly a big part of my intention. I've been making kefir & yogurt from raw milk for four years, lacto-fermenting the odd cucumber and pepper, and this fall I'd like to dust off my beer brewing equipment. I've been muddling toward mastery of organic gardening and composting for quite a few years. Eventually I want to herd dairy animals and compost all of our manure to close some more loops. Growing more fermentable fruits and grains is also very likely.

One of my other interests is music, and I'm interested in the role that the arts will play in the coming years. There is certainly powerful magic there for transforming human thought and will. Yesterday a song title popped into my head, with homage to the Ramones: "I want to be recycled." Goes with my wish to go into a big compost pile when I die...

7/1/10, 6:16 AM

Patrick said...
@The Onion: I have had the same experience as you. The less academic were steered towards trades, the rest of us were encouraged to higher education and the white collar, while in fact it is clear to me that the trades need smart people just as much as any other profession. I'm a firm advocate for vocational training if one is interested and suited to it; just as some folks aren't cut out for high-order physics, I've met plenty that are completely inept on the tools.

Luckily for me (although it didn't seem so at the time) I was far too undisciplined to survive my first year of college and ended up in a trade for 8 years before returning to university on my terms. I now revel in the same sort of skills; blacksmithing, gardening, and stalking the woods for flora and fauna for the table, but with a deeper liberal education than I would have got if I'd managed to stick to the plan.

7/1/10, 6:20 AM

Pat said...
Wonderful post, JMG. I am a willing green wizard apprentice so lead on!!!
As someone who tried to live freer of oil in the 70's, I enjoyed sewing, gardening and creating from local materials.
One book with food wisdom that was/is truly helpful is Putting Food By. Talks about preserving food in myriad ways.

7/1/10, 6:23 AM

tideshift said...
The appropriate tech plan is extremely similar to the "reskilling" component at the core of transition towns - in my view, most of the social aspects of TT are an excuse to find the core groups of people in each local community who are willing to get their hands dirty and learn the old skills well enough to use themselves and well enough to pass on to others as and when others finally realize what's going on and how irreversible it is.

Since the parameters of the predicament are so narrow (the loss of the fossil fuel subsidy eliminates all high-energy options for the future) all the groups working on effective responses will come to very similar approaches, calling it different things perhaps.

But the general idea, as you argue, is to keep a torch burning through the dark decades ahead so it can be handed on to interested heirs, much as the wizards & monks preserved classical knowledge...

thanks for fitting your build-up posts into your way-forward context.

7/1/10, 6:26 AM

nutty professor said...
Another post that is as always timely and remarkable!
Not to be too personal here, but, I feel that I have known you before, perhaps in another life, because the gratitude and appreciation that I have for your work is overwhelming and very pure, very intensely felt.

thank you, Archdruid, or as my kids say, U-R awesome!

7/1/10, 6:41 AM

Twilight said...
So you are starting a movement to give budding wizards hope for a brighter future? ;-) Just kidding - that should not be a problem if people keep in mind that this is an exercise in gathering and preserving knowledge gained through study, practical application and direct experience. You gather it up, use it as best you can, and try your best to send it forward to an unknown future. It won't save the world and it does not have to in order to be of value.

I like this direction. I've got a lot of practical knowledge from engineering and a country boy's life of building, making, and fixing things, but my knowledge in growing things and the environmental science areas you've studied is still weak. No two people must have identical skills, but it's clear to me I've got important things to learn about.

I've grown a little bored with picturing the future lately, mainly because things are playing out in a broadly predictable way. I already accepted that (at best) I'll be poor, tired, and lacking for time and resources, but such is life. There are some who have figured it out, but at the most you can only convince a few more percent. It's far more useful now to focus on the practical - those things that one can learn and do - and I'll be grateful for a resource to help expand my skills.

7/1/10, 6:53 AM

BJ said...
Bravo. I have eagerly awaited your weekly posts, and wanted to thank you for your clear insights. I couldn't agree more with you, and have also been pursuing independent studies along these lines. Keep up the good work!

7/1/10, 6:56 AM

Patrick said...
I see lots of positions in the responses to this weeks post that illustrate to me the failure of scientists to "sell" their discipline. Science, performed correctly, is an unremorseful, unbiased quest for objective physical truth. Key words and phrases are "performed correctly", "unbiased", and "physical truth". Whatever preconceptions people thrust upon it or bring to the table when they perform it have nothing to do with understanding the nature of the world around us.

It's important to separate the tools (scientific method) from the operator (human being, complete with bias). Once you do that, you can begin to understand that science is the best tool we have to understand physical realities, nothing more or less.

It's not science that pollutes the environment, it's attitudes toward the environment that allow pollution. It's not science that cause birth defects, it's people that haven't done the research to verify a drug is safe. To blame science for the ills of the world is like blaming hammers for breaking windows.

I also think that this ties into the idea of popular movements; what is pseudoscience but an attempt by a few charlatains with "special" knowledge to gather followers to their ideology. How about people with special mystical knowledge who reject "science" as evil and they have the One True Way, and you can too if you follow along!

7/1/10, 7:16 AM

Rudi said...
Ah! The light bulb went on (or the lantern if you prefer)! Where before I was reading "social movement" in general, you really meant a particular kind of dysfunctional *mass* social movement. Of course the 70s appropriate tech movement was a social movement as well -- but one not perhaps marked by the same sort of "glamour" or delusion as the mass movements you're critiquing.

That reminds me: perhaps at some point you could post a bibliography of the best of the 70s appropriate tech literature?

7/1/10, 7:18 AM

Wendy said...
Well ... dust off my pointy cap and call me Harry ;). I believe I'm well on my way to becoming a green wizard. I had no idea ;).

My family has been working on "powering down" in the model of the 1970s back to the land movement for several years - right here, in the suburbs! At some point, I realized we had to do something, and we couldn't afford to *go* back-to-the-land, and so we've been doing it right here - blooming where we were planted, if you will. It's been an amazing experience. I never realized how much of an envelope-pusher I am, though ;). It's been quite enlightening.

7/1/10, 7:30 AM

darius said...
Hear! Hear!

How lovely to have a name... "Green Wizardry". I was in the thick of it, and I think I have every OOP, esoteric book and pamphlet from the appropriate technology movement of the 1970's, and I know them by heart. Just last week I lamented the need to pass this information on if only I could find some youngster who shows a spark of interest. Like Librarian, I have added microbes to my portfolio, but little else has changed. I look forward to the series!

7/1/10, 7:31 AM

Yupped said...
Another great post, thanks. The theme for future posts sounds great. Practical things we can actually do make all the difference. My wife just gave me a copy of John Seymour’s Self-Sufficient Life, which draws heavily from his 70’s writings and is full of great ideas. It reminds me how much closer to that way of living a whole lot more people were just one or two generations ago. So hopefully a good number can come back to terms with a more strenuous way of life. I agree with other comments that calming spiritual practices will be very important, also.

I’m guessing there are lots of reasons why we resist the inevitable. As a Brit who has lived in the US for a while, I’ve generally admired the positive thinking culture here, at least when I was younger. But positive thinking is only one door down from wishful thinking, and that has been a problem for some time now, possibly forever.

Making change is hard any time, and this is the mother of all changes – a once in a millennium civilizational wobbly. You have to be made of strong stuff to get out ahead of that. I’ve done easier stuff myself (garden, compost, downshifted job, work from home, thermostats at 60, etc) but it’s still hard to step over that line that declares publically, for all my neighbors and kids to see, that I’m expecting the imminent end of industrial civilization. At least it is hard for me. Getting my kids expectations reset for one thing takes time. Yesterday my daughter wondered if we would always be eating “small, dirty vegetables”. Gotta love that teenage sarcasm.

So I know I need to go much further, and maybe mounting some low-budget and probably unsightly home energy technology on my front porch is the flag that I need to wave.

Thanks again.

7/1/10, 8:08 AM

Lamb said...
Wonderful post! I am a sort of Hedge Witch myself, I know herbs and how to use them for medicinal purposes...I know that if you trim your fingernails after sundown on Fridays they will be healthier and stronger...trim your hair during the new moon (especially during Leo) and it will grow fast and thick. I learned most of my knowledge of such things from my Irish grandmother. My whole family embraced technology while I was learning to bake bread from scratch, quilt and reading books on composting. My sisters went to college and ended up in careers in real estate and public relations. I ended up having kids and living in a cabin for awhile, lol!

I have spent my teen and adult life learning skills from the 17th-18th centuries without knowing why I felt compelled to do so. Now, I find people asking me more and more often "How do you do this without power/an engine/modern technology/whatever?"
To me, many of these tasks are simple-- I find myself looking at some people and thinking "But they are so SMART! Why couldn't they figure this out on their own?"

A friend of mine says I fill the role of the "village elder" among our circle of friends. (To which I replied in mild horror: "Dear god, I need to re-touch my roots NOW!!")

I think my friend has a point, though...not all of us will be *green wizards*. Some of us will be *village elders*, conversant and expert on a few things that will make us assets to our communities, but not expert in the wide range that a *wizard* would be expected to be.
I kind of like the idea of having such elders...and the idea of being one is not too scary. An elder you go to for advice and comfort. An elder does not sound quite as powerful as a wizard, but that's okay.
I think the first thing all the wanna-be wizards need to do is to hunt down their elder relatives and community members and learn from them the skills they have to pass on.
I learned about herbs from my grandmother.
I learned to weave cloth (and build a simple loom) from an old lady that lived nearby when I lived in Germany.
Seek out those that have something to teach, so that you can pass on knowledge. Even if it is one simple skill, that one skill can prove valuable.

7/1/10, 8:17 AM

Glenn in Maine said...
(meant to put it here, sorry)

I’ve no real ambition to change/save the world and am instead focused on my neighborhood of 4,000 ( more like a small town within our city really). We’re doing everything you describe, and share our bounty with the neighbors, yet there’s still only a hint of commitment of the most token nature, despite the fact that folks in my area are as lefty/crunchy as can be. There’s surface admiration and envy, but always with the caveat that it appears too daunting for them to attempt. I detect a strong suspicion that they see what we’re doing as too much of a sacrifice, when in fact it isn’t, by any means. Sacrifice to me has been turned upside down: on the rare occasions when my wife fails to bake the bread and I am forced to get it from the local bakery, it seems like settling (even though it’s perfectly acceptable artisan loaves made from organic local wheat). We pass out bags of lettuce from the greenhouse or eggs from our chickens since we produce more than we consume, but also as a form of banking social capital as part of digging in and becoming integral to this area. I feel like we’re doing everything we can, and it’s down to refinements and broadening the skill set at this point to build resiliency and security. Overall I am tickled by the progress that’s been made, but how to instill a sense of urgency on the part of those who are receptive to the appropriate tech alternative is my question.

7/1/10, 8:33 AM

mxyzptlk said...
I've been intruiged by your mentions of appropriate tech in previous posts, and unable to find much information. I'm delighted that you're turning your focus to something practical I can do in my apartment now and in another few decades.

7/1/10, 8:37 AM

Mauricio Babilonia said...
Here is an account of one such individual in Portland, OR. She is called a green witch because of her gender, but I think she embodies at least a part of what you're writing about here.

Thank you for this ongoing series, and in particular for pointing out that these pursuits will not win one any popularity contests. It would be useful to relieve one's self of the burden of wanting that others should follow this path...

7/1/10, 8:56 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
Yay JMG! Loved this post. Love the green wizard idea. It's nice to know one has an intellectual tradition, even if one didn't know it before.

For the last twenty years I've been learning everything I can about the Midwestern ecosystem in which I live, especially plants, and practicing my old-time homemaking skills learned from people like my grandmother. (Note to Bill Pullinam: you are right about southern folks, though for me it was my rural Texas relatives--do they count as southern?)

My family is fortunate to live in an inner-ring suburb where people are, in general, a little more aware, so all sorts of intermediate tech projects (mostly to do with organic gardening and chickens) are under way. Beekeeping is about to be legalized. And no homeowners' covenants, hah!

We'd like to get my husband out of his full-time job. That may happen anyway, like it or not, since he's a knowledge worker.

Part of yesterday was spent helping one person identify several oak species and native forbs and talking with someone else about setting up a food preserving group. Have been discussing peak oil with my students.

Am now very interested in learning about traditional uses for native plants. Also in helping strengthen local biodiversity. Dream of creating hedgerows. Find my role increasingly to be educational and working with different groups on various "green" projects that require a "plant person." Am also learning a huge amount from others, such as ecologists and architects.

Am nearly done with Small is Beautiful. Echotechnic Future and Collapse of Complex Societies are sitting on the book table.

Sorry this is so long. Look forward to future posts.

7/1/10, 9:16 AM

pgrass101 said...
Wow my wife and I are training to be wizards and we didn’t even know it! I can see how knowledge not commonly held today will become arcane in the future. I wonder if there is a way to form a network of people who practice low tech solutions to our energy problems (small homemade wind turbines, water pumps and generators), water collection and purification techniques, aquaculture, herbal medicine, etc….
I know that some networks already exist but I wonder if they can be maintained when transportation and long distance communication becomes increasingly more difficult. Or and probably more likely we would pass our knowledge down to children and apprentices who would then with any luck pass their knowledge down to future generations.
I wonder if this will replace our current public education system or if some communities might have a school to teach reading writing and arithmetic. Probably both and it depends on the resources and stability of the community. I do think that this would put high values on libraries and hope that the books are copied before they become unreadable.
I guess the trouble would come from the fact that people might not realize that knowledge needs to be preserved until it is too late. We are use to have libraries and if we are concentrating more on not starving, or freezing to death we could very well forget about a knowledge base until it is too late.
As usual you have given me much to think about.

7/1/10, 9:26 AM

aangel said...

with all due respect, I'm afraid you fall into the "either-or" trap with your assertion that a certain popular movement is going down the wrong path.

But before I say more, also know that I lean heavily toward telling people about the hard times that are coming, which I do every occasion I get, even when it costs me personally.

My main point is, though, that when working with the public it is vitally important to meet them as close to where they are as is practical. People who make no attempt to do so are quickly marginalized. Is that "fair?" Of course not. But it is how it is for humans.

Right now there is a group of people who will respond to your message of appropriate technology. There are many, many more people who won't. How does one start moving them along?

It's not enough to just keep saying that there is a different way that should be used. People working in the field, like me, are trying to tell you: "It doesn't work for everyone."

We are going to muddle through this with each personality type attracted to what suits them for where there are at the moment. The Transition movement is moving people along, getting them in action, while educating them along the way. Witness their inclusion of Nicole Foss (Stoneleigh) from the Automatic Earth at the Transition conference in England. She opened many peoples eyes there, apparently. And she talks straight: we are heading into an epic Depression and you had better get ready.

Another element to consider is that, if I recall correctly, your spouse knows what's coming and is working with you to prepare for that future. Having a spouse who "gets it" colors what you think will work more than you know, I believe.

Just ask any person in a marriage who has a spouse who can't see what's coming (like mine) and is looking for any way possible to engage them. Your method often does not work for them (I and many, many other spouses have tried) whereas other methods that are currently out there just might. In every course we conduct someone asks, "How do I bring my spouse along? Telling her/him why we need to prepare just isn't working and they are digging their heels in."

Of course there is certainly no guarantee but if it gets a conversation going about growing a garden or learning to can food that otherwise wouldn't happen — and the alternative is obstinate refusal to do anything — I and many other people will wholeheartedly (perhaps desperately) take what we can get.

There are many approaches and each will work for different people. Your certainty that at least one approach other than your own is a "hideous mistake" strikes me as, well, uncharacteristically dogmatic of you (that's actually a compliment). Keep doing what you are doing, I'll do what I'm doing and others will do what they are doing.

Let 1000 flowers bloom, and all that.

7/1/10, 9:33 AM

JF said...
I've been reading the blog for a while but this posting really spoke to me so I had to comment. I've been coming to the realization over the past few years that my generation (I'm 30) will be the critical one because we will be able to link the past with the future. An example - a mere 80 years ago, my grandfather, at the age of 9, knew how to grow his own food, harvest it, cook it, recycle that which he did not eat, and fix what was needed for all of the aforementioned processes. A 9 year old today knows what french fries are but quite possible would not be able to identify a potato. I have felt that those in my generation who are willing to step up to the challenge are going to be the linkage between the old knowledge and the new world. I fear that the collapse of society will bring about a time not unlike the post-Roman Dark Ages. People then did not save the old knowledge and had to rebuild it over 1000 years. It is not surprising that 'the wizard' was invaluable in society. Perhaps I have just now recognized something about myself - my lifelong desire to absorb knowledge like a sponge has a purpose - perhaps I am to be one of these transitioners from the old to the new. Seems like a daunting task but one that now has clarity. Thanks for continuing to offer a cristal ball. It really hit home this time.

7/1/10, 9:41 AM

Paul W said...

As usual, another thoughtful and insightful posting. I am glad to see that the direction of this blog in the next few months will be toward instruction, i.e. toward how we cope in a practical sense with the coming, less abundant, times.

Barring some kind of very traumatic war, financial disaster (followed by a war or several) or tremendous natural disaster like an asteroid strike, super-volcano or devastating poisoning of the oceans by some horrendous drilling accident (nah, that'll never happen, shouldn't have even mentioned it), we will be on a long, slow slide to...less. I fully agree that we all need to do whatever we practically can to ameliorate the effects of depending on fossil fuels, to cushion the blow, to extend the lifetime of fossil fuel use as much as possible, until we learn how to live on a sustainable basis. What appears below this has to do with material things, but as is usual with us humans, what really matters is things of the mind - in this case learning and passing on skills that will work in a world with less convenient physical resources. We would do worse than to learn the skills that our great grandparents lived with, including the use of the tools of their age (updated for practical improvements wherever possible).

Toward that end (ameliorating the effects of depending on fossil fuels), here is my small contribution: take a gander at these websites, and also at those dealing with permiculture. It wouldn't be a bad thing if most suburban households had a fruit tree or two, so perennial berry-producing bushes and some chickens, goats or rabbits.

7/1/10, 9:58 AM

Wolfgang Brinck said...
I am headed off to a native culture camp in Alaska next week to work as one of the kayak building instructors. Various tribal groups in Alaska have these summer camps that seek to preserve traditional cultural activities.
Only a small fraction of Alaskan Natives still practice a strictly subsistence form of living and when they do, they depend heavily on oil based transport.
Much of what is taught at culture camps is anachronistic in the context of the mainstream culture and its role is more to re-establish cultural identity and pride than to be actually useful. But that is in a way irrelevant. Why cultural knowledge is preserved or re-discovered is not as important as the fact that it is preserved. We never know what will keep us alive a generation or two hence.

7/1/10, 10:18 AM

Fleecenik Farm said...
I've never been wealthy, I never had much money. For this I am grateful and take my inspiration from the goddess..the mother of invention.

As a result of diminished paychecks I have learned to grow a garden, knit, tend chickens, sew on a treadle, preserve my garden surplus for the winter, find wild food, use simple herbal remedies. I connect with community because this is where I feel truly wealthy.

I do not pretend that I am immune from any of the coming struggles, but I feel that because I never had grand expectations and have lived simply that I have the skills and magic I need to become a wizard:)

7/1/10, 10:42 AM

Patrick said...
I feel compelled to say thank you after reading here for so long. I agree with anagnosto about the delightful transition from peak oil to esoterica.

The past few months have really been amazing here and it's like being part of the greatest class I've ever taken. You epitomize your own description of a wizard.

I'm here for as long as this blog is available. I'm 30, living in the middle south in TN, and trying to help steer my young family towards a rich life.

7/1/10, 10:42 AM

SlowCrash said...
I'm looking forward to becoming one of your 'wizard's apprentices' and learning the tools you've described.

I just canned my first veggies last night using a pressure cooker. While looking back at all the work tilling the soil by hand, growing the sprouts inside then transplanting, watering, harvesting, cutting and canning - along with the sense of accomplishment, there was a realization of how the world was going to change. Looking at my first few cans of veggies put away for winter and knowing I make enough at my job to buy the equivalent at the store while taking a cigarette break just made me see how much physical labor is being substituted by cheap oil energy and how much it effects our lives everyday. Forward to the past we go.

7/1/10, 10:52 AM said...
As a spinner, knitter, weaver, aka fiber artist (in my spare time) I have spent a lot of time wondering how 'home spun' became an epithet rather than an acknowledgment of the skill involved in creating practical garments using one's own materials and time.

I do take issue with the 'home spun' look of many items that are created too look 'rustic' but in reality just look unskilled and frankly shoddy. To me it reflects a complete lack of knowledge and respect for what goes into making a serviceable item from the fiber to the finished product.

As I become more immersed in such past times as weaving, and learning traditional methods of knitting/crocheting, I realize the wisdom and skill of our ancestors -- the fewer seams you have in a garment, for example, the longer it will last as seams represent a weak point. The fewer times you cut a garment to put it together, the longer it will last as removing the selvage edges makes the fabric weaker. Hence knitting in the round, and garments made from woven cloth using straight seams and gussets.

I'm all for appropriate technology, but I think we can have a little beauty with our practicality as well. It doesn't all have to look 'rustic'.

What I do wish, however, is that I could make an actual living from the things that I love to do, as opposed to the wage slavery that my real job entails.

7/1/10, 11:09 AM

Kevin said...
great stuff John - I am looking forward a lot to your posts on Green Wizardry!

As a student Chem Eng in the 1970's I did my honors project on Alternative Technology. Now I'm organizing a "build your own solar dryer" workshop in a few weeks as part of our Transition Town re-skilling workshop series. There are all kinds of people locally who are setting up cider presses, grinding grain, building with cob and rammed earth, building recycled-glass greenhouses, etc... and as a blue-collar-based town we have a huge resource of hand-skilled people.

Yup, most of those people don't know - or want to know - what's coming. But the resources are there.

7/1/10, 11:09 AM

Don Plummer said...
I smell a new book in the drafting stage! This will be good. :-)

Speaking of books, are any of those books from the 1970s appropriate-tech age worth picking up from the used Internet market? You mentioned a few titles a few weeks back.

@Librarian: will your cultivation of microorganisms include brewing and wine yeasts? That's something I've been interested in, especially the latter.

7/1/10, 11:11 AM

Hal said...
My first thought by the time I got to the words, "Green Wizard" was "Sign me up!" Followed immediately by, "Oops..."

Two notes to self for this week:

1) Get printer working;

2) Acid-free paper.

7/1/10, 11:16 AM

PanIdaho said...
JMG said:

"I suspect that much of the blame lies with the cult of positive thinking Barbara Ehrenreich anatomized in a recent book, though I’m quite willing to hear alternative explanations. "

This may well be a contributing factor. But I also think part of the cause is that we've become a people who have given up so much control over the every day basic aspects of our lives, that we have become too accustomed to living on blind faith.

For example, most of us don't really know how the food we require to survive gets to our grocery stores - and in fact, many people are so clueless about this subject that they don't even know how the raw ingredients are prepared and made into the meals they eat, because they buy almost everything already made and even already cooked, so all they have to do is warm it up in a microwave, if even that much effort is required! So, for most people in the "modern world," nearly everything they need to survive is contained (mentally) within the confines of this big "black box of amazing technology" and they haven't a clue what goes on inside of it. So after several generations, it is not surprising that we have become a culture of so-called adults who treat even the most basic necessities of life as if they were "magic" - appearing just when and where and how we need them in order to sustain our lives. All we have to do is come up with the proper "incantation" or "offering" and it's ours to consume. (dollar bills, credit card numbers, etc.)

As I've said before - we've Peter Principled ourselves. We're (nearly all of us) totally incompetent to understand the interdependent complexities of the world we ourselves have created. Faith in technology isn't just a convenient way for some of us to avoid thinking about the future - it's how most of us actually live, every day of our lives.

I think this life of blind faith that our needs will be provided for us magically by the industrial system (technology) is part of the reason why so many people refuse to take seriously the possibility that "The Machine" may someday "Stop."

7/1/10, 11:45 AM

Karim said...
Greetings all,

It is simply amazing how JMG just keeps on getting better!!! I just love the term Green Wizard. It appears to encapsulate so many dimensions to it...I just can't wait to become a fully fledged one! In the meanwhile I'd like to share with you all a few of my experiences concerning raising awareness about Peak Oil in my country Mauritius which is so far away from the US and so very different too. Within my organisation, we tried many approaches to convey the dynamics of Peak Oil and its probable consequences. We began in 2002, believe it or not! We wrote newspaper articles, published leaflets, ran film shows, symposiums, radio talk shows, seminars, diners functions, private meetings with trade unions or with business people. We even managed to have a major local newspaper editor write articles on Peak Oil. TO NO AVAIL. My country is just as blissfully unprepared as any other. The same stubborn refusal to contemplate a different future from the Business as Usual scenario as detailed on this blog was also apparent in Mauritius too.
In the end we realised that there was nothing we could do to mitigate severe consequences for Mauritius and its people. The best we could do was to continue to speak hoping that as things unfold some people who may have heard us might understand a bit better what is happening around them and begin to implement some measures that would benefit them like home composting and organic gardening, (and yes we talked a lot about those things too!). In effect we came to the conclusion that: "Our World, as we know it, is dying slowly but surely. The new world to come, is yet to be born. The transition, though difficult, is not impossible."
Our role was then to disseminate ideas like seeds on a barren soil in the hope that when the rains come, some seeds would germinate. Yet even that did not satisfy us, we came to understand that as Gandhi said (if I am correct): "Be the change you want to see in the world".
We believe that if change there is to be, it can come only through active example. So if you want people to take up compost at home for instance, start by doing it yourself, (which we have been doing for years!). In that perspective, the idea of a green wizard is very attractive, it is like a living library of knowledge in action that helps mitigate the dire consequences of Peak Oil (and other crisis) onto society.

Via the Green Wizard, JMG has re-created an archtype that describes very powerfully what we perhaps all want to be: a helping hand to those around us.

Many thanks to you, Sir.

7/1/10, 12:10 PM

Steve said...
Thanks again, JMG. I'm quite looking forward to the coming year or two's worth of posts, and the past few weeks' writings make a lot more sense to me given the new direction.

In keeping with the "There is no brighter future" introduction, the revival of a much-needed archetype, and the discussions of guilds, I can only hope that the postscript ends with something on the order of "Each one teach one."

I, for one, will continue to play this game in earnest.

7/1/10, 12:16 PM

Arabella said...
I have been fascinated by the character of Merlin since seeing Nicol Williamson's portrayal of him in John Boorman's "Excalibur" (1981). It was my first opportunity to conceive of Merlin as someone more than just a guy with a pointy hat and a crystal ball. Since then I've studied and come to idolize Merlin and romanticize the age of Arthur. And I like to imagine myself as following, perhaps lamely, in the Merlinian tradition.

So, the title of this post really got my attention. And your text certainly didn't disappoint. I had no idea about the role of wizards in promulgating the intellectual tradition - fascinating.

I'm now looking very forward to your 'green wizard curriculum,' JMG. Thank you so much for offering it!

7/1/10, 12:38 PM

noxpopuli said...
The Green Wizards notion is inspiring, and combined with your mantrum, gives me the glimmerings of hope and a plan.

Looking back to your previous posts, I would add to your list of needful skills the many varieties of materials reclamation and restoration. Any task that can be performed with human energy and hand-tools, rather than electric or fuel-driven machines and electronics, will be, from treadle- and hand-sewing, to baking, to small engine diagnostics and maintenance, hand-tool carpentry, metal fabrication, etc., as you have suggested. But scarcity will dictate that the bulk of any building process will begin with finding old things and dismantling them, or fixing them in the first place, as raw materials grow scarcer and scarcer. For a cook, that process will be wholly reliant on the climate, the soil, and the local food economy.

Two years ago, inspired by the growing wave of localvores, my wife and I, along with many in my community, took shares in local CSA's. When the CSA's started their weekly deliveries, most of us were naively unprepared for a) lack of choice in our vegetables, and therefore b) eating rigidly seasonally, and furthermore, c) the sheer volume of groceries that explode out of the local farms when the fertile matrix is in bloom. The unexpected stream of food into our homes brought about a second wave: enthusiastic cultish interest in food preserving and canning.

This is a trendy interest that is a direct result of the rise in popularity of the green movement, and through it the CSA's. And I just realized: these well-meaning folks are not reversing the decline. They are practicing skills that will be needed when it accelerates.

Most of the folks I am talking about (myself included) are technology geeks: programmers and builders who operate the pinnacle systems you have described, the devices that sit at the tiny apexes of enormous pyramids of time, energy, physical labor, and rare metals. It's ironic -- or maybe inevitable -- that these technology wizards are so enthusiastic about learning green wizardry. Thank you for giving us something to call it.

7/1/10, 1:08 PM

John said...
Delighted to hear of the upcoming series of 'Green Wizard" posts. If they are of the same caliber as your other writings (and I'm sure they will be) - might I humbly suggest you compile them together into a book. It's one I would very much like to have on my bookshelf in the years ahead.

7/1/10, 1:41 PM

Seaweed Shark said...
These last few essays have been especially fine; thanks. I'm surprised no one else has yet mentioned that the Al Stewart album from which you got that "Merlin" quote also has a song on it about the fall of Constantinople that opens with the line, "Across the western world the lights are going down."

7/1/10, 1:57 PM

LewisLucanBooks said...
Todays post is like ... a breath of fresh air!

Re: Onion's post. A really good, thoughtful read is Matthew B. Crawford's "Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work." How "we" lost a lot of important skills as a society and how it is imperative that we get them back.

I have two friend, Elvin and Tom. Elvin is my go-to guy for all things wiring, plumbing and carpentry. Tom and I worked on my roof and he intuitively knew how to fix the roof. I'm basically and happily the light holder and go-for.

Both these guys are always running themselves down. Oh, they're so dumb, etc. etc.. I keep pointing out to them that they are not 'dumb.' They have important skill that are USEFUL! They see me as smart (ha!) and I have no idea why they bother to hang out with such a useless drone as me.

But, I'm getting better. When I started working on the store, I needed more shelving. I ended up building this unit (more like putting tinker-toys together) with 2 x 4s and shelf links. 12 feet long and 6 feet high and wide enough to put books on both sides. It is THE biggest thing I have ever built. It's pretty wonky at the bottom and gets better toward the top, as I figured out what I was doing. Next I want to build a small solar dryer. My CSA boxes are getting out of hand and I hate waste. I want to put some of it up for the winter.

(PS to the Arch Druid. You can strike this part. Since you're taking a walk down Memory Lane, Ella says to say hello! Just to jog your memory, a plump smart redhead from the mists of your distant past.)

7/1/10, 2:04 PM

Matt and Jess said...
I guess it just depends on where you look. Where I live, "urban homesteading" is very hip, though mention the net energy of solar panels to an urban homesteader and they'll just shrug. I'm sure it's popular in lots of places. However, there's no lesser quality of living or sacrifice ... so it's not really a definite look at the future. They might hang their clothes to dry, but you don't often hear about them finding alternatives to a washer. Baby steps with good intent I guess.

Anyway, my husband has the fantastic opportunity to go to school for around 2 years and get paid for it (GI Bill, recently expanded). He's doing a wood crafts program, which seems like it could be useful as a base of knowledge, though I wish there were more info on stuff like coppice forestry at schools as well. There's a folk school nearby that has similarities with the green wizardry you're speaking of--they teach blacksmithing and basic stuff like that, in weekend or day classes. And a lot of anarchist publications focus on self-reliance and basic green wizardry skills, like rainwater collection and DIY dandelion wine and so on. So I think there's definitely a variety of ways to learn it all. Looking forward to reading your coming posts.

7/1/10, 2:23 PM

Matt and Jess said...
PS I suppose I should ask, if I could, what you or your readers think of wood crafting / woodworking as a "green wizardry" type of skill. Is it only useful if you use traditional hand tools, etc? Is it useful even if it's also artful?

I imagine he will eventually move on to learning boat-building and other relevant skills.

The hard part about preparing for the long descent is balancing your ideas of the future with the opportunity to try to do what you love--which is what my husband is trying to accomplish with his education.

7/1/10, 2:31 PM

Joel said...

I bet there are lots of opportunities to expand local food production. I'm particularly encouraged by recent advances in the propagation of breadfruit trees.

The Onion,

Have you heard of the recent book "Shop Class as Soulcraft"? I've only read a little of it, but it seems to be a great exploration of just what you describe.

7/1/10, 3:34 PM

Kurt said...
Even though my BROWN alarm goes off anytime I hear anything referred to as "green", I look forward to the coming "green wizardry" posts. Thanks Archdruid!

7/1/10, 4:42 PM

William said...
I find this idea encouraging. It gets way too complicated when we try to build a movement that's larger than (or even as large as a) monastery. I agree with your list of appropriate technologies. I would add mathematics at least through geometry and algebra, but probably calculus and differential equations, and certainly statistics. I'd add classical physics (not quantum mechanics though it is such an elegant contribution to the understanding of the universe that I hate to see it lost, but I cannot argue for its practical value in the future I expect), mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism (in addition to practical knowledge of electricity) and basic chemistry (and soil chemistry).

I'm sure I can list more, but these are some of my favorites. (Retired physicist, current organic farmer)

7/1/10, 4:42 PM

ColinClark said...
Great post.

What was the historic role of women as wizards/shamans/priestesses in European middle aged societies?


7/1/10, 4:56 PM

Gauk said...
Are you familiar with Isaac Asimov's Foundation science fiction books? In describing the collapse and rebirth of a galactic empire he used the fall of Rome as his model. It certainly has some useful parallels to what we will be in for.

I'd be curious to hear thoughts on models of information preservation - such as 'Foundations' (libraries and universities) that could fill the role of monasteries in post-Roman Europe. Perhaps such organizations would be sitting ducks for destruction, but I'm not sure what kind of information dispersal system is a good bet.

7/1/10, 6:22 PM

Doctor Westchester said...
I am looking forward with great interest at your next year or so of posts. Have you thought of posting a reading list for those of us who are interested in learning more about these skills as soon as possible? I know that you posted a general reading list a while back, would there be anything that you would add to it?

As I mentioned, I am part of the local Transition movement. Actually, I started it here in my county. Since I did, the question of what Transition could actually accomplish, if anything, has been in the forefront of my thoughts. We have done a film series, but raising awareness, as you are aware, is difficult once you get beyond the choir. This is especially so if you are trying to be even somewhat honest about it (as in we will be living with less energy in the future and avoiding the word “third world”).

Many towns and villages in the area are doing climate change action plans. Getting them to realize that cutting carbon emissions by 20% by 2020 is the least of their worries is probably an unattainable goal at least for now. Much of this county is quite affluent, so you have that additional level of fantasy and denial.

Thus, I've been coming to the conclusion that doing what Transition calls reskilling training might be the most useful thing possible to do. Since this county has a Master Gardener program, perhaps bringing a Master Conserver program to it would be extremely worthwhile. This county may be affluent, but there are many to whom this would be a lifeline.

By the way, Muddling Toward Frugality is being reissued, with a publication date of August 2010.

7/1/10, 6:35 PM

BrightSpark said...
What is fascinating here is that I'm coming to a new understanding of Tolkien, largely thanks to you touching (in a few posts) on much of the medieval origins for it, of which Professor Tolkien was obviously an expert on. What I hadn't guessed at though was the deep extent of the occult and magic influences on his work, and given what the world is currently facing, they take on a new meaning entirely.

It's probably long been said that we need some ents right now, but in the absence of that we have your blog, and the long training path to becoming a green Gandalf (or for us mere mortals, something likely to be less).

7/1/10, 7:02 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bill, if this stuff ever sounds like daily life to most of my readers, I'll feel a lot more sanguine about the future.

Joel, I figure a more complete set of skills will evolve over time. I teach what I know.

Ruben, that feeds into some things I'll be discussing down the road a bit. Thanks for the link!

Adamatari, I've seen the same thing happen in conversations about energy -- a weird and pervasive mental block. As for Hawai'i, the big problem it faces these days is a population grown vastly beyond what the islands can support. Once that's past, things will probably work out well, but getting past that is unlikely to happen without some pretty horrific scenes.

Avery, the culture that might honor and connect to these techniques hasn't been born yet. That's part of our predicament; we are between a death and a difficult birth.

Teresa, we'll begin to open the dread tomes of green wizardry next week!

Onion, I know the feeling. With me it's gardening; if I don't have the chance to get elbow deep in compost and dance the seasons with plants, I have a hard time staying sane.

Tim, that's exactly how wizards do their job -- anticipate the obvious that nobody else can see, then ride the wave of credibility to encourage changes. (Tolkien had that part down pat; look at the way that Gandalf manages the dwarves in The Hobbit. As for martial arts, heck of a good question. There were plenty of European fighting arts, and plenty of overlaps between them and religion (the warriorship of the Knights Templars comes to mind), but the specific fusion of fighting and mysticism that created the Asian martial arts as we know them didn't take place in the west -- evidence, if any more is needed, that linear theories of cultural evolution don't work too well.

Brian, as Bill Pulliam points out, the techniques can come first and bring the mindshift in their wake. You don't have to understand that all things are connected to use a compost bin -- but as you use a compost bin, you'll start to learn that all things are connected.

Richard, glad to hear it.

WestOz, congrats! My wife spins, using drop spindles -- one of those ancient skills that's the basis for an extraordinary range of useful crafts. If they're not ready for your poncho downtown, it's their loss.

Ramps, true enough! Welcome aboard.

Eric, thank you.

7/1/10, 7:09 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Blagroll, cycles are important, but they're best drawn from the place where one lives; the cycles I follow here in the Appalachians aren't the same as those in Ireland, Arizona, Australia, or Mauritius! The pattern I'll be using is the tree rather than the circle -- start from the roots, move up and out in one direction, retrace to the trunk, repeat as needed until we've covered the branches and leaves.

Andrew, it should. All of the stuff I'm talking about is part of a single pattern.

Skintnick, don't try to engage your neighbors. They'll make their own choices whatever you do. Instead, walk your own path; your neighbors, when they're ready, will lean over the fence one day and say, "So how the heck do you get your garden to come out so well with no sprays or anything?" Then you tell them.

Raven, no, the sudden mass dieoff scenario is accepted by only some parts of the peak oil scene, and I'm not one of 'em.

Purity, I'd say it's time to follow those better dreams.

Anagnosto, are you familiar with Manfred Junius' book on herbal alchemy? It might make a useful bridge between your scholarly studies and the alchemical literature.

Joe, exactly. It's time to learn how to be something other than an inconveniently biological adjunct to machines.

GreenStrong, I'd stayed away from talking about my own spirituality here for some years, since I wanted to talk about something different -- the issues surrounding peak oil and the future -- in a way that could be accessible to people who don't share my beliefs. My two books The Long Descent and The Ecotechnic Future say pretty much everything I have to say about that topic, though, and I've worked through the related topic of ecological economics as well -- expect the book on that next year. Appropriate tech is a different kind of subject, and can be approached in a different way -- and there will be more conversations later on, about other subjects.

Ragnorakk, enjoy!

Jim, that's a thoughtful analysis. I've rolled my eyes often enough at Kurzweil's rehashing of Rapture theology in technological drag, but you're quite right that he's a very good engineer. As for the ship metaphor, though, my sense all along has been that the ship is sinking; the question now is what life rafts can be found or cobbled together in a hurry.

Edde, neither community nor organizing are what I'm trying to discuss here. We need to talk a bit about what the individual can do when his or her community is eagerly headed the other way en masse.

Conch, have you tried eating the iguanas? I've had more than a few carnivorous thoughts toward our local woodchuck population...

Jim, the back story's important, and so is talking about where we're headed, but as I said to GreenStrong above, I've said most of what I want to say about that. Now it's time to roll up the sleeves a bit and get to work. As for music -- absolutely, but that's something I'm not qualified to teach; my dulcimer playing is strictly on an amateur level.

Patrick, one of the things I'd like to do -- though it's a topic for another set of posts -- is to encourage people to combine the liberal education (can one even use that phrase any more?) with the hands-on craftsmanship. The two are profoundly complementary. More on this another time.

Pat, we'll be getting to that book (and others) in its turn. Good to have another veteran of the last energy crisis on board!

Tideshift, true enough, but I'd like to see it happen outside any one organization.

Professor, thank you! Drop me a line sometime via info (at) aoda (dot) org; it occurs to me that we have more than enough interests in common to make for good conversations.

7/1/10, 7:44 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Twilight, very funny! Yes, and I'm sure there will be pressure in the direction of organizing this. I want to move in the other direction entirely -- toward an utterly unorganized topography of basement inventors, backyard gardeners with dreams, solar power geeks with taped eyeglasses building weird hybrid water heaters from plans sketched on the backs of napkins, that sort of thing. The crisis of industrial society is what EF Schumacher called a divergent problem -- one that doesn't have a single solution -- and we need dissensus, not consensus, if we're to come up with adequate responses to it.

BJ, those independent studies are crucial. The last thing I want is for the specific stuff I pass on to be treated as the be-all and end-all of the subject.

Patrick, we could get into a long conversation about the way that the basic presuppositions of modern science import exactly the biases and subjective factors that the method is supposed to exclude. Still, your basic point is valid; the scientific method is a tool, and a valuable one, and the way that it's been systematically misused (and left unused) under the pressure of economic and cultural forces isn't the fault of the tool. I'll be discussing the use of scientific method down the road a bit; I hope you'll add to that discussion.

Rudi, well, I tried to make that clear. Still, if I didn't manage it, I didn't. As for the bibliography, that'll be forthcoming, a chunk at a time -- there is a *lot* of literature, much of it good, to discuss.

Wendy, get that pointy hat. I know a small but growing number of people who have been doing just that for some years now; they (and you) are part of the next wave of green wizards.

Darius, good to have you in the conversation! I have a fairly large library of appropriate-tech books, but it sounds like yours is much more extensive. Please add suggestions to the reading list -- and if there's anything you've got that's not in copyright and worth getting into circulation, consider scanning them!

Yupped, Seymour's one of the writers I like best -- his The Self-Sufficient Gardener has been a fave of mine for years. By all means get that clunky but effective solar panel up on the porch.

Lamb, of course the green wizard isn't the only archetype that will be roused in the years to come, or that needs to be roused. It's simply the one that seems most relevant to what I'm trying to do here.

7/1/10, 7:57 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Glenn, you can't instill a sense of urgency in those who don't want to feel it. All you can do is make your own preparations, learn the skills, and be ready to teach a lot of very shaken and panicky people when the time comes.

Mxyzptlk, having lived in apartments myself for more than two decades, I've got that human ecosystem very much in mind.

Mauricio, there are plenty of green wizards (of both genders) out there -- and plenty to learn from 'em.

Adrian, it sounds as though your study of wizardry is already fairly well along! Good for you.

Pgrass, exactly. One of the projects I've been helping to develop in my (limited!) spare time, the Cultural Conservers Foundation, is aimed at finding ways to help preserve all kinds of cultural heritage through the approaching mess. It's a major need, and needs plenty of careful thought and action.

Andre, if you were starting down a trail that went over a cliff, and I warned you of that fact, would I be caught in an either-or trap? Once you ask "How does one start moving them along?" you're heading toward the cliff, because the answer is that you can't. If you stake your hope for the future on moving them, you'll find instead that they will move you. Still, I've discussed this in previous posts, and I don't propose to rehash it further.

JF, good. Yes, it'll be your generation and the two or three that follow who will be the critical bridge this time.

Paul, we'll be getting to the subjects covered on those websites in due time! Still, thanks for the links; I'd encourage you and others to follow them, and study what they have to teach.

7/1/10, 8:29 PM

Sara said...
Having lived in Massachusetts in the early 80's, at New Alchemy Institute, for the past quarter of a century we have been living in rural Alabama, growing and tincturing medicinal trees, bushes & herbs, growing some of our food, fermenting when we can, living in a passive and active solar home we built,(hot water, pv, solar oven, solar lawn mower, etc), making do, or doing without,and teaching these things to others as we go. I still struggle to know how to reach out to the mostly farm villagers who have had to get outside jobs to keep their farms here. Your last few posts really speak. Thank you. Blessed Be.

7/1/10, 8:44 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Wolfgang, absolutely. My guess is that traditional lore and lifeways are going to be much more relevant than most people expect, especially in economically marginal areas such as rural Alaska.

Patrick, what is it about Tennessee? The Druid order I head has more members there than in most other states, and I keep hearing from people in that state who have a surprisingly clear sense of what's going on and what needs to be done for the future. I'm beginning to think that fifty years from now, when California is a basket case region of rusting skyscrapers and disused factories, and Phoenix and Las Vegas are little more than abandoned ruins, Tennessee may be full of organic farms and small-scale green industry, and the core of whatever prosperity we've got in this country.

Fleecenik, if you're ready to teach others how to do those things, you're qualified to put on the pointy hat with the moons and stars on it.

SlowCrash, good for you. The skills you've learned will make whatever the future brings easier to weather. Be ready to teach them!

Kevin, good. Our solar dryer's a year or so away -- weatherizing the house, getting the garden up and running, and building cold frames comes first -- but that's a solid technology; I look forward to replacing our electric dehydrator with a solar one.

Tinfoil, I understand about the job. Right now, for most people, making a living doing something worthwhile simply isn't an option. Until that changes, minimizing one's expenses, limiting the amount of time that has to go into one's day job, and doing one's best during free time is often the best option there is.

Don, yes, there'll be a book out of this. As for appropriate tech books, I'll be discussing quite a few in the weeks to come. If you've got a local used bookstore, go check out the shelf (it's usually in an out of the way corner) where they keep the "naked hippie books" -- see what you can find, and trust your own sense of value; you may well come up with wonderful books that I've never heard of.

Hal, that's one excellent place to start.

Teresa, that's an intriguing analysis. I wonder how much of it is also suppressed fear that the Machine might Stop.

Karim, that's good to hear! Those of us in America and Europe can use the reminder that some of the same problems and predicaments are at work elsewhere on the planet, and that some of the same ideas make sense.

7/1/10, 8:58 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Steve, the old Rosicrucians used to take an oath that each of them would find a qualified successor before their death. It's not a bad plan.

Arabella, with me it was Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave -- insofar as it wasn't Gandalf, who has so much in common with the Merlin legends. It's a potent archetype and one that has a lot to teach.

Nox, we can't reverse the decline. All we can do is cope with its impact on our lives and communities. The fact that people are starting to learn the skills involved, however faddish the motivations, is a good thing.

John, I'm already on it -- all these essays are rough drafts for future books! (And, I might add, the comments, suggestions, and criticisms I get from readers here have helped immensely with my books on peak oil and green topics generally.)

Shark, okay, you get tonight's gold star. Another excellent song.

Lewis, I know the feeling -- my first woodworking projects were a bit rough. (By the way, I can't edit comments -- all I can do is publish or reject. Pass on my best to Ella!)

Matt and Jess, of course there are plenty of ways to learn! I've just noticed that a lot of the people with whom I come into contact in this context want to know the sort of thing the old appropriate tech people knew, but don't know how to find the knowledge or where to start. My plan is to fix that.

As for woodworking, my basic rule of thumb is that anything that was considered a useful craft in 1920 will be a useful craft in the near to middle future. Does that include woodworking? You bet.

William, if that's where your passion is, follow it. Finding ways to pass quantum physics onto the future is quite a challenge, but I suspect people felt the same way about Aristotle's metaphysics or the astronomical writings of Ptolemy.

Kurt, granted, the word "green" has been abused, misused, and overused; I simply wasn't able to think of a better one-word label.

Colin, that question has become so muddied and muddled a battlefield among factions in the contemporary gender politics wars that I'm not going to venture onto it.

Gauk, the problem with the Foundation model is funding. As a civilization winds down, its ability to pay its bills winds down too, and anything that depends on a steady income stream from something other than its own unaided efforts is going to be in deep trouble. Thus the need to find other options; I'm working on them, as of course so are others.

Doctor, there'll be plenty of reading lists, broken down by subject, in the posts to come. Yes, I'd heard that Muddling Toward Frugality is going to be reprinted -- excellent news.

7/1/10, 9:16 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Spark, Tolkien's work is a source of potent metaphors, some extremely helpful and some quite the opposite. (It's the opposite of useful, for example, for people to insist on projecting the image of Sauron the Dark Lord onto their political enemies.) Still, aim for becoming Gandalf; as Machiavelli pointed out, it's by aiming for a point higher than he can reach that the archer shoots furthest.

Sara, thank you, and welcome to the conversation! I'll be referencing the New Alchemy Institute work tolerably often in upcoming posts -- somehow green wizards and new alchemy seem to go together ;-) -- and please bring your own experiences to the discussion as well.

7/1/10, 9:23 PM

aangel said...
I suppose we'll continue to have to agree to disagree. It's certainly true that all of our civilization will not move along — not by a long shot. I have no illusions about this.

But to say Transition is moving toward a cliff is gross overreach, in my view. It will learn and morph over time and, I suspect, many a backyard tinkerer will come from their ranks.

Check out the impact that Stoneleigh's presentation had at their recent conference:

Clearly, it wouldn't have had that sort of impact if the general Transition population hadn't started so far from understanding the gravity of the situation — particularly the economic impacts of contraction.

7/1/10, 9:30 PM

PioneerPreppy said...

Yes our communities will need those Merlins, Patricks, and Naimons as the lights go dim. Just like Europe needed them as the Roman's withdrew and took civilization with them.

One wonders however or fears maybe that we may also need the Cucullens, Arthurs and Rolands as well.

I look forward to reading your up coming introductions to "green Wizardry".

7/1/10, 9:32 PM

Houyhnhnm said...

Green Wizardy, Yes! Positive Thinking, No!

Your mention of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-sided spiked my blood pressure. “Positive thinking” is a pet peeve of mine. Silly me, I prefer knowledge and a discipline of will over a happy denial of reality.

Alas, this tends to be a minority view and a suspect one at that. For example, a local high school English teacher recently asked students to write about what they thought America would be like 50 years from now. One of my riding students wrote about scarce gasoline and general decline. In response, the teacher warned her about the dangers of a “negative attitude."

I once hoped such happy ignorance was a fairly recent aberration. Then I read Richard Hofstadter's 1964 Pulitzer winner Anti-intellectualism in American Life. Tracing positive thinking in its many guises, he credibly shows how it dominates American history. I wish Hofstadter had lived to add a chapter on Martin Seligman and his loathsome Learned Optimism.


P.S. @ColinClark asked, “What was the historic role of women as wizards/shamans/priestesses in European middle aged societies?”

I found David F. Noble’s excellent, but rather misleadingly titled, A World without Women: The Christian Clerical Culture of Western Science quite enlightening on this topic.

7/1/10, 10:13 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
On the Tolkein theme, I keep thinking of the dwarves having released the Balrog by digging too greedily and too deep when I think of the ongoing sadness in the Gulf of Mexico...

And on a practical theme, I just now figured out that when faced with such a long comment thread, if I open two copies of it in separate windows side-by-side I can read the original comments AND your responses in alternation without a lot of tedious scrolling up and down.

Re: Tennessee... Tennessee has maintained a rural mindset even as it has urbanized. Nashville is one huge small town, in terms of the attitudes of the folks there. The neopagan etc. community is a very interesting mix of folksy and erudite.

My wife rides a commute van to her State job in Nashville. One of her fellow van riders turns out to be a big fan of the writings of you and your wife -- prayer beads was her gateway, the druidry followed that. This is just a random collection of 15 people from a very rural area whose only unifying theme is a long commute and a desire not to make the trip every day in a private vehicle, many conservative christians, no a priori connection at all to pagan/druid/heathen/etc. spiritual communities, and YOU came up in the conversation! There is definitely something curious going on in this state, that's fer dang sure.

7/1/10, 10:25 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Andre, I suggest we simply disagree, and neglect the euphemism. BTW, repeated attempts at rebuttal that consist of single links fall under the heading of "attempts to hammer on a post already addressed." You've made your opinion clear, and I trust I've made mine equally clear; I think we can leave it at that.

Preppy, thank you. I expect us to get the Arthurs in due time, along with the Hengists, Attilas and Genserics. They come with the standard release of "Decline and Fall," which is now installed and rebooting...

Houyhnhnm, "knowledge and a discipline of will" are about as popular these days as gnawing on a rat's pancreas. Of course you know as well as I do that they're the foundation of all genuine achievement and the only real basis for human happiness, but that doesn't make them any more acceptable to those who think the cosmos is here to gratify their whims.

7/1/10, 10:27 PM

Lucy said...
"I suspect that part of what drives the insistence is the herd-mindedness of our species – we are, after all, social mammals with most of the same inborn habits of collective behavior you’ll find in any of the less solitary vertebrates".

With great respect, your post has led me to ponder two 'mental' trends which arose to prominence in the twentieth century, and which seem to me to be more influential on our current thought-processes than any evolutionary cause.

They are inextricably intertwined, I suspect, but could be separated for the sake of discussion into 'literal-itis' and 'binary logic gone haywire'.

To explain, a story. I teach a unit called Religion and Gender, and as the years have gone by it has become easier and easier for my students to recognise the gendered assumptions and value judgments present in every major religious tradition (think 'Let them (women) keep silence in churches', for example).

What has become more and more difficult is getting my students to comprehend the 'religion' part of the unit. The problem is that when encountering a religious myth, they expect it to be literally true or false. Getting them to comprehend that something could be richly, seriously meaningful in a non-literal manner, this requires a Herculean effort on my part, and often enough I fail. They simply cannot conceive of anything other than true/factual or false/erroneous.

Metaphorical, allegorical, symbolic meaning....they don't know how to cope with the idea.

Either true or false, they think. And I suspect that this binary logic simply amplifies their conviction that something is literally true or it is false -- that there is no middle ground. (response part one)

7/1/10, 10:35 PM

Lucy said...
The fantasy that technology will save us, or that we will all be doomed - this seems to me to perfectly exemplify these mental trends, which have taken on epic proportions in the 21st century. The reality that whatever happens will be experienced and responded to differently in different places, this seemingly 'common sense' evaluation of the cascading crises we now face, has all but disappeared.

Where I live, for example, the combination of the hydroelectric infrastructure, the rich soil and abundant presence of growing veggies, sheep, cows and vineyards, plus the fact that a whole lot of the locals come from families that have endured for hundreds of year just on or above the poverty line -- all this leads me to suspect that we will change our ways rather gracefully, all things considered.
(response part two)

Other places will come to resemble Margaret Atwood's greatest nightmare, in others the quality of life might even improve, though not without travail.

These musings lead me to be grateful for all instances of uneven, multiple thinking, of the sort you, JMG, so often provide in your essays. And so, thank you.

7/1/10, 10:36 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bill, that's exactly the sort of story I keep hearing from Tennessee.

Lucy, that's an excellent point, and not unique to our civilization. Vico, whose work on historical cycles makes a great deal of sense to me, talks about the "barbarism of reflection," the state of mind -- increasingly common once a society has reached its peak -- in which abstract reason usurps older and more flexible forms of thought, and produces a type of mind that can only understand its own creations without realizing that they are its own creations; the rigid habit of binary thinking being a classic example of this.

7/1/10, 10:51 PM

John Michael Greer said...
By the way, there's a glitch in Blogger right now that brings up a "comment too large" screen even when your comment isn't too large; when you get it, your comment has actually been posted. I've fielded three and four copies of a lot of the comments I've just put through.

7/1/10, 10:54 PM

Dwig said...
JMG: "I also propose to have a certain amount of fun with the wizard archetype in the posts to come. Still, that’s an example of what the Renaissance alchemist Michael Maier called a lusus serius, a game played in earnest, a dead serious joke."

This reminds me so much of a favorite of mine, a stanza from Frost's "Two Tramps in Mud Time":
But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

I know from personal experience whereof you speak (the "spousal disconnect"). I think it's probably a common occurrence. The best I have to offer is persistence, a knowledge of my audience, and the importance of "starting from where you are". If your "audience" doesn't "get" the whole story, and you know your audience well enough, you might be able, a bit at a time, to give them a bit that they can "get". (Don't make the mistake of thinking that you're moving them, though -- they have to "move" under their own power -- and it might not be in the direction that you'd prefer. Take that as a learning opportunity.) "If you're two steps ahead of everyone else, you're a crackpot. If you're one step ahead, you're a genius."

Another thought, addressed to all here: if you'll pardon the optimistic tone, one way to look at the wizards' journeys, and the journeys that others here describe, is not in terms of a decline, but a growing new sere -- and yes, by some measures, a better one. As Tagore put it, "And when old words die out on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart; and where the old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders. " Will the ascent be accompanied by pain and suffering? Of course; all real accomplishments have these companions; how could it be otherwise?

One final thought: Some of the commenters here have mentioned their geographic location, and I think there are probably "centers" where some of them could begin to make contacts, online at first, then in person (e.g., Tennessee). JMG, how could this blog (or other site we could set up) serve to facilitate creating such a network (maybe even involving Californians 8^), rather than being bound by the limitations of these comment sequences?

7/1/10, 11:06 PM

straker said...
Think of things as sort of a series of layers like so:

Plan A (BAU - Brown Tech)
Plan B (Techno-utopia - Green Tech)
Plan C (Transition / Earth Steward)
Plan D (Green Wizards / Dervaes family)
Plan E (Survivalism / Rural Doomsteads)

Most of these trajectories were mapped out by David Holmgren in Future Scenarios.

The efficacy of different scenarios has a lot to do with how steep one sees the base trajectory of collapse.

Respectfully, it's my feeling that your timeframe on collapse is off by quite a bit. In "The Long Descent", you reference "Limits to Growth", for instance. Limits to growth indicates a population curve that peaks and then dips into the negative around mid-century. It's been postulated that if birth rates remain unchanged, the death rates required in order to force that curve to level off and decline over the short span of a decade or two would make tragedies like WWII seem absolutely trivial. Whichever of the 4 horsemen are required to accomplish that, it's unlikely that the world would be stable enough to host "green wizards" patiently doling out sage wisdom from their neighborhood urban homestead, surrounded by hungry ex-yuppies. We're not just talking about people losing their healthcare and seniors dying of heat stroke each summer. We're talking about something probably worse than the plagues of europe in scale.

Therefore the objective of most peak oil activism is to stretch that curve out, or make the curve express itself more through declining births rather than increased deaths, so as to reduce the world's suffering.

The only way that's going to happen is if a large percentage of humanity suddenly changes how it behaves, like yesterday. This absolutely requires a movement, whether it comes from the top down (Plan B) or bottom up (Plan C). As Hirsch said, waiting until the frog in the pot boils will only insure the worst case scenario. Why would that worst case scenario NOT involve a die-off when Al Bartlett, Catton, Paul Ehrlich, the LTG guys, etc... have all made the case for it?

I know you don't want to go this far back and rehash this again, but your whole argument rests on this, so it's critical.

If you don't think a die-off is gonna happen, do you at least hold out the distinct possibility that it might? If so, why not wish these movements well from the sidelines? What's the harm?

My feeling is that Plan A is ecologically irresponsible, Plan B is a nice fantasy but not politically feasible (think Nopenhagen), and the jury is still out on Plan C. Once you get to Plan D, you have to have a mild enough vision of collapse for people to begrudgingly flip over into a peaceful powerdown mindset rather than the Mad Max scramble scenario. And once you get to Plan E you're in Cormac McCarthy territory in which the future is so grim that many of us won't even care if we survive or not.

I can "root" for Plan B and C. Once you get to D and E, if those people are spending a lot of their time trying to discourage Plan B or Plan C guys, then it's harder for me to root for them, even though in the end their strategy may be vindicated.

I just have a hard time understanding why these can't all operate in parallel. I don't believe in techo-fix, but if my pessimistic view of the future is incorrect, maybe it would be better if the techno-fixers gave it a shot and we got lucky and suddenly the whole world is covered with solar panels and wind turbines. Meanwhile, we can still have transition towns moving from the bottom up, and so on.

I've been trying to settle on the question of fast/medium/slow crash since I first learned about peak oil over five years ago and I think the best approach is not to put all your eggs in one basket but to see it more as a range of probabilities, as Holmgren does. As such, you want to support things that would cover as wide a range of future scenarios as possible.

7/1/10, 11:27 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

Carpe diem! Go JMG, reading this weeks post has made my day.

As I've said before talk is cheap and actions speak to me far louder than any words.

I've completed specific vocational training at university and further, but I think the future belongs to the all rounders.

I've known people who are confused and were in fact unable to put together an IKEA book case. They were proud of this fact but I was just disturbed.

People don't understand how much infrastructure is supplied to them, at what cost to the environment in pollution and energy. They just don't think about it until it stops working and then they whine.

In building my own house in a remote location I've had to supply every aspect of this infrastructure (and I'm not complaining as I'm enjoying myself), but how many people think about what happens when their toilet is flushed, or even where did those nutrients come from or where are they going to?

Food is another classic example. In an age of decline you may not be able to go to the supermarket and get tomatoes in the middle of winter. Seasons, seed collecting and soil are all dying arts. What's a spring famine - there's always food at the supermarket?

Bring on the green wizards. I'll support them!

Good luck!

7/2/10, 2:01 AM

anagnosto said...
JMG, about Manfred Junius, it is too soon for me to go into Spagyria. I am departing from galenic positions with Dioscorides. But I have an alambic already (even when I work usually in a state-of-the-art modern laboratory). My aproach to alchemy is going through bridges from certain scientific positions as Jung or quantum Pythagoreans. There is no need to hurry.

7/2/10, 4:32 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

The green wizard is a great idea. As an observation though to some of the commenter's, I think it displays peoples sense of entitlement when they ask if they can make a career out of this at present. Are they serious?

The timing for making a career with this path seems simple enough, acquire the skills now and when the opportunity arises in the future to share and utilise the skills with others for reward should be pretty obvious. Don't expect to be rewarded greatly, but it should give you an edge and an ability to walk through conflict mostly unharmed. Well hopefully anyway.

I think food, drink and lodging would be fair reward for these types of services.

Basically you just have to start learning and doing. Concentrate on food, water, local traditional medicines, shelter and fuel and you'll be way ahead of the pack.

In essence the reason that our peers aren't interested in these types of messages or downshifting at present is because they are basically off enjoying consuming. If and when they are hungry and cold though they'll be singing a different tune.

Interestingly enough there's been a titanic shift in Western culture over the past few decades when people's standing in society is judged by what they consume rather than what they produce. This is certainly a great source of present trouble.

On the positive thinking culture, I think that this may have evolved in frontier cultures. Some older and more established cultures don't seem to share this positive thinking to the same extent or so I have noticed.

As to dualism in thinking, I've never understood it and wondered about it. As a suggestion, maybe it is easier for people to frame arguments as a dualistic approach as they maintain a semblance of control and we've all become accustomed to that method of lazy thinking? There are certainly many paths to take when confronted by a choice/problem/predicament and not all of them are obvious or appropriate at first.

JMG, a word of advice although you probably don't need it - in the next 12 months don't get too bogged down in the details or you maybe effectively derailed. I've seen subordinates working this magic on their managers. Very effective magic! A good example is explaining making compost to build soil and recycle waste. You don't need to explain the detail of the science behind it, just how to make it. The science behind it whilst interesting is possibly not as important to know as the process itself. As Arthur C Clarke stated any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. You don't need to understand the workings of a computer to be able to access the Internet.

I imagine Merlin didn't have a university to go to but was simply an ultra intelligent and observant individual?

Good luck and Regards!

7/2/10, 5:31 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Dwig, Blogger really isn't set up to do that. I had a conversation with somebody a while back who was hoping to set up a more interactive forum, but that didn't happen; if you (or anybody else) want to take that on as a project, by all means.

Straker, no, I'm not going to go back and rehash that all again. I've covered it in quite a bit of detail -- including the extensive population declines we'll be seeing in the decades and centuries to come -- in The Ecotechnic Future and quite a few posts here as well; furthermore, it's irrelevant to the theme of this and upcoming posts -- the green wizards project will be viable in almost any plausible future (I should say I don't consider Cormac McCarthy fantasies to be plausible). This habit of constantly demanding that the discussion go back to first principles is one of the least useful habits of today's internet culture, and makes a very effective way to ensure that nothing gets done, so I'll pass, thanks.

Cherokee, exactly. The mindset of passive dependence on a "black box" technostructure is probably going to turn out to be one of the most effective ways people in the near future guarantee that they won't be around to experience the not quite so near future. There are better ways to live.

Anagnosto, fair enough. The reason I mentioned it is that I know a fair number of alchemists who used spagyrics as the bridge to alchemy in general.

7/2/10, 5:38 AM

g-minor said...
I strongly recommend The Wheelwright's Shop by George Sturt. Written in 1923, Sturt experienced the shift from local, horse-drawn transport, to the internal combustion engine and industrial machinery. His description of the tasks and knowledge that went into making wheels and carts is an excellent primer for those who want to learn to live with and work with primary materials.


7/2/10, 5:42 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

You search for absolutes on the future when there are none. Uncertainty is part of life.

In the Great Depression, people headed to the cities. There was great poverty and unemployment, but they weren't massively dying in the streets, they just adjusted to a lower standard of living quickly. There certainly weren't rampaging hordes of zombies - it just didn't happen - stop expecting it to. Expand your thinking to other possibilities. Look at how the third world lives. Is it possible that it is arrogance that stops you personally from thinking about anything other than a first world existence for yourself and your immediates which is why you focus on a mass die off scenario? Is this so preferable?

I have great respect for David Holmgren and have visited his farm which I am very impressed with and met him. I find it unlikely that he would focus on a mass die off scenario. It seems to me that he is simply providing a series of alternative scenarios. No future is certain.

I'd like to add, that in an energy and resource constrained future, both simple and complex injuries and medical problems which can currently be attended to are likely to prove quite fatal. Think of how many people now go to emergency in a hospital. If that was not an option, how many of those would die? Think about how low infant mortality rates are in the Western world now. What would happen if advanced medical care was not available to assist this?

I'd imagine rather than an immediate mass die off, nature will work her magic and reduce us to a sustainable level in her own time. This may take quite a while.

Good luck and stop arguing and start doing!

7/2/10, 6:03 AM

mageprof said...
Straker wrote:

"It's been postulated that if birth rates remain unchanged, the death rates required in order to force that curve to level off and decline over the short span of a decade or two would make tragedies like WWII seem absolutely trivial. . . . . . We're talking about something probably worse than the plagues of europe in scale.

"Therefore the objective of most peak oil activism is to stretch that curve out, or make the curve express itself more through declining births rather than increased deaths, so as to reduce the world's suffering."

Agreed, suffering and dying are generally very unpleasant, often quite horrible, while one is experiencing them. Yet many (including you?) seem to go beyond that, as if suffering and dying were somehow bad things in themselves, needing to be mitigated as much as one can -- or maybe even eliminated, if it might ever be possible to do that.

Really, I can't see the long-range wisdom of such an attitude.

Maybe I am just a grim and cranky old man, but I think that most of the little wisdom I have acquired has grown out of things that caused me enormous pain while they were happening.

Also, it seems to me that the last good gift of love that I will eventually give to my own grown children will be to die and clear the ground for them to become the oldest and wisest living members of our family in their turn. (How can there be a healthy growth of new saplings in a wood unless the old trees also die and open up the canopy to let the light in?)

Yes, much is lost with every death, but also much is gained.

Yes, suffering is a hateful thing, and empathy makes it as hard to bear in another as in oneself, but it is also an excellent teacher.

7/2/10, 6:25 AM

Don Plummer said...
@Houyhnhnm: I always disliked positive thinking and "motivational speakers." I had to endure listening to several of them during my previous life in sales. It always sounded so put-on and artificial to me.

@Bill--I made the comparison between the Gulf spill and the Balrog in a blog post back in early May. Your comments me think that maybe I was on the right track. Thanks!

7/2/10, 7:09 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Straker -- A movement that goes international within its first few years of existence is unlikely to be "bottom up." A "bottom up" movement comes about from many people pursuing action as individuals and small units who then gradually grow together. It does not begin with ideas and mission statements circulated in an organized fashion via the internet and at conferences. It begins around a million kitchen tables as people try do decide how they will live. They may look to the internet and conferences and such for ideas, but the real movement begins when they individually chose to move.

The only person whose actions you can control is yourself. You can't even control your own spouse or children, much less a planet full of strangers. Live your life the way you think everyone ought to; what else can you do? Maybe you think that everyone ought to be out organizing communities for collective change. But just think about that for a second... if everyone were out organizing for collective action, who would actually be doing anything? If everyone spent all their time in meetings discussing issues, writing proposals, and making action plans, who would actually be out there doing all the massive amounts of work on a huge scale? Being involved with a community is not at all the same thing as being a promoter trying to compel community to organize and move in a particular specified fashion. A real community is a tangled web of relationships between individuals; it is not designed and you can't steer it.

7/2/10, 7:09 AM

PanIdaho said...
JGM said:

"Teresa, that's an intriguing analysis. I wonder how much of it is also suppressed fear that the Machine might Stop."

Good point. Probably a fair bit, is my guess. As I remarked to a friend the other day, part of the "curse of sentience" is to realize that most of the conditions that control the "how" and "when" of our death lie beyond our control. That tends to breed a lot of avoidance around certain subjects, this one included, I think.

7/2/10, 7:21 AM

Odin's Raven said...
The high middle ages was actually the time of recovery from the fall of Rome, but it took a millenium. Bryan Ward Perkins little book on The Fall of Rome is excellent, and shows what he called the loss of comfort.

Even if you can train the peasants to be productive beyond self sufficiency, some consideration should be given to who will be the lords. 'Those who work' are likely to have to sustain 'those who fight' and 'those who pray', and these classes/castes are also necessary as part of a community.

7/2/10, 7:26 AM

pasttense said...
For those of you interested in references to Appropriate Technology you might look at the 91 entries in Wikipedia:

I am curious if anyone checks out the entire list and says: Aha, that is something I need to build...

7/2/10, 8:05 AM

blue sun said...
Thank you for your inspirational writing.

I was listening to a Jorgen Randers (of Limits to Growth) speech and I found it interesting that he thinks after a global collapse, historians of the future likely won’t characterize it as a collapse. They’ll more likely focus on the surface explanations. I see the same thing even among brilliant historians today, who refer to Rome’s Third Century “crisis.” Nice euphemism. Honey, it was cooked. Anything after the “crisis” was merely electric shocking the corpse. But, after all, people are people and only focus on the façade. Try to tell that to the Kaiser, Tsar, or Holy Roman Emperor. I don’t think that will ever change, as long as we have hands and feet.

“History celebrates the battlefields whereon we meet our death, but scorns to speak of the plowed fields whereby we thrive. It knows the names of the king’s bastards but cannot tell us the origin of wheat. This is the way of human folly.” – Jean-Henri Fabre

Good luck on this venture. May your influence continue to spread. I know the quiet power you are disseminating, however greatly ignored by our leaders, will aid our descendants immeasurably.

7/2/10, 8:14 AM

spottedwolf said...
In my opinion, JMG, all the wishful thinking about alchemy and what is supposed as 'magic' really does amount to mere changes in due course....have changed mankind's direction many times over...reducing and increasing their worth somewhat along the lines Wordek implied about 'zeniths'. Still....the 'strongest' of the two 'wolves' inside us is the survivalist....not the purposeful least until the purposefulness has gathered enough experience in the 'tail-chasing' to fully accept the limits physics places on quantum physics and vice-versa. For all the fanciful 'mists' of 'mystery'
we love to place upon ourselves....the rock-solid usefulness of these carry weight only in social lessons on behaviour...which is attitude.

I agree with your summations wholeheartedly on the NATURE of true alchemy if true "oak knowledge" is that of using what Mother Earth gave us to begin live and experience. To seek surety, solace, and safety through other means is fallacy.

7/2/10, 8:52 AM

spottedwolf said...
And to Bill Pulliman.......right up and right on !! My past and my present. I've been trying to garner as much of a 'natural' lifestyle as I was comfortably able to since I lived in Tejas. For many years up here the only thing that kept me from living in the back country was the ex-wife because she was afraid of it. During that time I still learned to hunt, skin, butcher, smoke, and utilize whatever I could. My body is suffering a lot of effect from strong use and hard winters but I'm still capable of many things and it was the late 60s earth-consciouness in Austin, Houston, and other places that inspired me to live this way.

7/2/10, 9:01 AM

pgrass101 said...
I think we would like to participate in a Cultural Conservers Foundation, we are always trying to learn new skills, like knitting, and brewing and improving existing skills like gardening and composting. We are both ecologists and are always tinkering in our planting schemes for our garden in order to attract more beneficial organisms and find heirloom varieties that are most suited to our local environment.

Currently our only squash that is not being eaten by squash vine borers are the ones planted in with a wildflower mix. We have become the go to people in my area for cheap and easy gardening tips and advice as well as species identification. I was lucky in growing up on my grandfather’s farm and learning his country wisdom and how to do without, and my wife grew up Mennonite, so we both came from different backgrounds than most of our contemporaries. This has given both of us skill sets that are uncommon in our national culture, I am always surprised at how few people know how to cook, they can heat things up but they can’t take raw ingredients and turn it into tasty nutritious food.

I have hooked up with local beekeepers and old time musicians but having a place where I can direct all of these various groups to for them to add (or at least map there location) their knowledge base would make it easier for people to find these green wizards. This will work well now with the internet, and hopefully we can come up with something(s) that works when the internet starts to fail.

7/2/10, 9:15 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
This is perhaps a little off-topic? But relevant, I think.

More binary thinking: the remnants of Descartes' mind/body split that I see ghosted here in the supposed dichotomy between handwork and intellectual or knowledge work that people experienced in school. Let's not leave one to embrace the other. The daoist mind/body unity seems more to the point--or that in ancient Athens, even the intellectuals were farmers (leaving aside questions of slavery and gender for the moment, please.)

Like Lucy, I've seen difficulty with metaphorical/symbolic thinking among my students, which is exactly why I teach poetry and Shakespeare with a vengeance. So many schools scrap literary studies as superfluous and so many teachers are afraid of poetry, having not learned to think metaphorically themselves. So many young people get so incredibly shortchanged: no practice in metaphorical thinking, no practical skills.

We need to be teaching them more and better: head, heart and hands!

7/2/10, 9:15 AM

MisterMoose said...
JMG: When your doctor closes the door and tells you that you have a form of cancer that they haven't figured out how to cure yet, you'll go through the five stages of grieving, ending with acceptance (then, inevitably, comes the sixth stage: death). You, sir, are that doctor; but instead of telling us that we're going to die, you're telling us that we are facing a fate worse than death, at least as far as most people are concerned. What? No more gasoline or electricity or iPhones? Let's see, what's that first stage? Oh, yes... it sounds like that river in Egypt.

Depending on how it all falls apart, we could all end up living like something out of the Whole Earth Catalog (which I used to fantasize over back in the '70s, after smoking a little home-grown), or it could turn out a lot worse.

We have to remind ourselves that a lot of great civilizations flourished before the advent of fossil fuels and electricity and modern medicine. With even a modicum of modern knowledge in chemistry, biology, metallurgy, etc, we could theoretically have a fairly decent future after the fossil fuels go away.

One thing that I worry about is the prospect that some anti-technological religious movement will spring up, and people will start burning the libraries instead of trying to preserve them. It would be like something out of a bad science fiction story: "Those damned scientists got us into this mess and almost got us all killed with their pollution-spewing technology and weapons of mass destruction, and we have to make sure they are never able to do that to us again..."

If things get really bad, we'll definitely need a modern equivalent of one of those 7th century monasteries that preserved so much ancient knowledge. I would hope that this particular scenario is not necessary, which means we all really will have to do our small part to learn and diseminate as much useful knowledge as possible.

On a related note, do you or any of your regular readers have a rough idea of how many acres of land would be required to provide a person with a reasonably balanced diet for a year, using only available sunlight and no external sources of N, P or K? I'm thinking an acre would be the bare minimum, except you'd actually need more for fallow ground, crop rotation, meat and manure production, etc, so that the land really could sustain adequate crop yields indefinitely without external inputs. Our little suburban garden is nice (all the neighbors are gaga about our tomato plants), but it's nowhere near enough to feed us for a whole year, especially without extra fertilizer. In order to have a sustainable post-carbon society, how much land will we need in order to survive for the long run?

7/2/10, 10:22 AM

Jen said...
Yay! You rock.
Now here's a dangerous idea: Could we build intrigue around green wizardry amongst the Facebook hordes and all of the other techies who have access to all of the online DIY instructions? Should we make "Green Wizard" sashes and merit badges? You could totally make a Facebook app for that. I'm only partially joking and if I had the time, I would do it. :D I know people with PhDs who are playing FarmVille on Facebook (for the uninitiated, this is a virtual farming game). If people could take the next step from playing a farmer online to actually doing something (See the video on Cognitive Surplus: Use internet addiction to get people off of the internet - the sooner the better.
"You've earned the Rainwater Harvesting First Flush Diverter Installation Badge, congratulations!" "You taught a nearby tent city how to build Off-Grid Washing Machines!" (

I also have relatives who only have access to the web at the library. And btw, our nearby library just started cutting hours due to budget cuts, so that library net access is looking grim. There are old-timers in town who know how to get by - not all knowledge descends from the web. But if the people who are blessed with web access were encouraged to put what they learn into action (and one step better - in their local communities in a public way), they would become the neighborhood 'wizards' someday.

I'm not proposing that social web technology can cure all of our ills - but it could be an appropriate transition technology. Children around the world are already using village computers to learn. I like the idea of those of us in industrialized societies who see the white swans quietly learning our skills. I agree with Dave Wahler, we're going to need a LOT more people than we have now. One possible solution? Motivate the my-life-is-a-reality-show hordes, test the idea of virtual 'green wizard' merit badges (with bonus points for uploaded videos or photos of the home-grown windmill in action). And start it as a grassroots thing (no national T.V. show sponsors), otherwise it loses its appeal to a generation that mostly rejects big brands.

I look forward to reading the coming articles and intend to get away from the screen and off of my duff to do something so that the skills will be automatic when I'm called upon to share them.
Thanks for a dose of joie de vivre. I'm gonna go hand-grind some wheat and find something fresh from the farmer's market to can this weekend. :)

7/2/10, 10:44 AM

Zach said...
I think part of why there is such extraordinary blindness is the abandonment of reason and the embrace of pop-relativism and subjectivity as the norm.

This has percolated down from the academic ivory towers and become embedded in everyday thinking. As C. S. Lewis's Professor said, "Logic! What are they teaching in those schools these days?"

Leading to exchanges such as this:

"You know, oil production is peaking, and that's going to have a negative effect on our whole civilization."

"Well, that's just your opinion."

"No, actually, that's the reality of it."



Ideas have consequences...


7/2/10, 10:52 AM

LewisLucanBooks said...
Picked an interesting new book up at the library, yesterday. You got to start somewhere...

"How to Sew a Button and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew" by Erin Bried. What caught my eye was a short paragraph in the introduction. After she had a minor domestic meltdown, she had an awakening.

"We have now entered what experts are calling the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Suddenly, no knowing how to cook my own meals, care for my own house, iron my own shirts, even make my own entertainment (hello, cable!) seems not only disempowering, but also downright irresponsible. That's why I decided to do something about it. First step in moving forward: looking back."

Ms. Bried's grannies were gone, but she rounded up ten elderly women from around the country. One major criteria; that they had lived through the Great Depression. There is so much common sense in this little book, ladled out with lots of humor.

It's laid out in ten sections such as gardening, cleaning, cooking, etc. How to roast a chicken, how to build a compost heap, how to mend a sock. There are also entries on more ... feed the soul kinds of things. How to tell a bedtime story, how to make friends, how to volunteer or how to ask for help.

It's pretty basic, but has some web links. I think it's a good place for beginners to start and you might 'find your passion' in it's pages.

7/2/10, 11:07 AM

Jolbytla said...
JMG - I've been reading for a long time, never posted a comment before. I have to add my voice to the chorus saying I'm so looking forward to the upcoming posts. My soon-to-be wife and I already do a lot of organic gardening, and we are working on plans for passive solar and other such improvements on the house we'll be moving into. We're also involved, individually and with the local Grange, in making sure county residents can install wind turbines and such if they wish.
Well, you don't need my biography. The point is, I try to do what I can with what I have where I am, as TR advised. Always looking to learn more. And one of the best things about it is, once in a while, a neighbor will say something like "you grew all that without any chemicals - how?" That's a great feeling. And you have provided some of the information I pass on, and now you'll be providing even more, lots more from the sound of it. Can't wait! (I also love your more esoteric work, it's how I found you in the first place.)
Good luck with the garden and other projects at your new home!

7/2/10, 11:38 AM

Jen said...
Oops, I'm making a mess - I posted a reply in the wrong place!

About my last post re: some sort of social networking green wizard badge reward system, I have a bad habit of slipping into mass-movement mode - if only I hadn't studied Advertising in college. What a waste! I just get so bummed when I see my smart friends playing FarmVille and FrontierVille. But not my problem, I have too much to learn to worry about that now.
Here's what I do now - it's pretty easy and doesn't drain time from actually doing something real. I take pictures of my garden and post it to facebook. And then my friends respond by talking about their gardens or by posting their own pictures. I took a picture of a grilled pizza done in an outdoor oven, and some friends responded by posting pictures of their grilled pizzas. My neighbor planted flowers on her deck, I planted tomatoes. I saw flowers and thought "I need flowers too, I have nothing good for the bees." Then she planted tomatoes and I gave her some of my leftover seedlings, so now she has even more tomatoes. My neighbor on the other side saw my tomatoes and started talking about the tomatoes his dad grew. I started talking to my hairdresser about my wheat grinder, and he started talking to me about the world of home coffee roasting.
I have to repeat to myself - must focus on learning and practicing what I learn. The communication and cross-pollination about it happens naturally and at the right time, no need to build a movement. :)

7/2/10, 11:45 AM

Laura said...
I like the idea of "green wizards" springing up here and there. Personally, I see a large parallel with this concept in our current culture in personal computing. I mean, there's really just too much talk of "computer wizards" (or "computer whiz" for those less comfortable with the full word) for it to be entirely a joke. And look how personal computing started: guys messing around in their garages with soldering irons and sharing the results. I can totally see the same process happening again with the next big cultural shift.

7/2/10, 1:58 PM

tom rainboro said...
It's fascinating following thoughts in the U.S. from here in the U.K. (last week's description of the climate in S Carolina was quite something). Here in Devon in the west of England - county of about 50 miles by 50 - we have 3 very good training organisations - Devon Association of Smallholders, Devon Rural Skills Trust and Yarner Trust. Have a look at their websites if you want to see what is currently popular here. John Seymour's books were essential reading when I was younger but the one I love now is actually from the U.S. - 'The Enclyclopaedia of Country Living' by Carla Emery. Not many books would include a section of 'Giving Birth Alone' in chapter one! It has some sections that are not relevant to me in the U.K. but others, such as the bit on Alliums (!) for instance are top-quality.
I recently bought an old copy pf 'Radical Technology' by Boyle and Harper from a well-known internet bookseller. Partly it was out of nostalgia and partly for the brilliant set of 'Visions' drawings by Cliff Harper - they used to be on my wall in 1980! (There's one in Harper's wiki entry). Unfortunately they show how little progress we have made over a generation, during which time the world population has probably doubled and reduced our options considerably.

7/2/10, 3:36 PM

Cathy McGuire said...
I’ve been avidly reading the last several posts and all the comments, but once the rain stopped in OR, the gardening tasks exploded, so I haven’t had time to comment on the last couple of posts. It’s raining (again) today, so I have a few minutes. :-)

the vast majority of people today simply do not want to hear how difficult their future is going to be.
Amen to that! That is the place that me and most of my well-meaning friends part: they are still so much a part of this consumer culture that they refuse to consider for a second that it might disappear. I, on the other hand, have shifted to a much more basic way of life (finally got the well guy to put a T-valve in for the backup handpump; now I just have to get it assembled and installed!) and even though I am working hard than they are, on a daily basis, I feel much less worried about the possible future, knowing that I can operate fairly well even if power is gone. And one thing that’s important to me is that I feel comfortable with this lifestyle now; it’s not just in case of a collapse. But it sure helps me prepare for that, too!

Other example: I just bought $48 worth of groceries today; that should get me through for a couple months, with the stuff in my freezer, shelves and garden. And I eat well – I just cook it all from scratch. When I mentioned it to my mother, she was flabbergasted (she still gets $40 pedicures, at age 80)… not how she raised me! ;-} She swears I get it from my farmer great-grandparents…

On the “to group or not to group” theme, I have never been a joiner, and I’ve had several really negative experiences with so-called “communities”, so it’s just as well that preparing oneself is a better way to go than dragging a group (or being dragged by one).

BTW, Al Stewart’s historical songs have been a favorite of mine. I’m in awe of how he gets his stories so rich and so flowing!

It’s for this reason, seemingly, that many people in the peak oil scene have chosen to downplay the difficulties and insist that we can have a bright, happy, abundant future
IMO, the “brighter future” listed in the TT and other movements should have an asterisk – having worked for a new-age publication, I found that most of those saying “bright future” meant “deep friendships, satisfaction with working with your hands, appreciating the natural world” – THAT kind of “brighter future”… but they rarely spell it out until you get further into their training… I have nothing against that definition, but truth in advertising is not evident here.

@Lamb: I have spent my teen and adult life learning skills from the 17th-18th centuries without knowing why I felt compelled to do so. – me too! I have no idea why I am so drawn to all those skills and methods, but I am glad of it now…

And JMG, I second your comment that you don’t need to know how it’s all connected in order to use a compost bin, but the bin will show you all things are connected. It reminds me of when my younger brother came for an extended visit and helped me turn the compost and laughed at my excitement about the rich compost… but after a couple months, when he saw the garbage he’d put in the pile turn into rich earth, he got excited, too! That’s why a good example is worth a ton of books. But I’m halfway through “The Long Descent” – good books are worth a lot, too! I’m looking forward to seeing your next one.

7/2/10, 4:16 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Cherokee, I'm less concerned about being derailed by details than about the sort of argument where everybody insists on having all their abstract concerns dealt with right up front, before getting down to the practical details. Fortunately I've had four years to learn how to shrug and keep going.

As for Merlin, of course -- if he existed as a person rather than an archetype -- nobody knows whether he had a formal classical education (as at least some people in post-Roman Britain certainly did) or the sort of training the old Druids gave their students, which was even more demanding, or whether he was just one very, very canny and perceptive dude.

G-minor, there's an infinity of possible technologies that could be adopted along the lines I'm suggesting, but as I mentioned, it's best to teach what one knows, and I know appropriate tech, not the craft of the wheelwright.

Cherokee (again), good. My favorite example of dieoff is the formerly Soviet former Union, where quite ordinary shifts in birth and death rates are on track to reduce the population by half within the current century. My guess is that in our case there will also be some spikes in the death rate -- epidemics, famines, war, etc. -- as there usually are in the twilight years of civilizations, but it's the demographic shifts that make the big difference.

Mageprof, it's hardly grim and cranky to recognize that every single one of us is going to die, and every single one of us is going to experience plenty of pain, suffering and misery on the way there. I think that recognition is generally called "wisdom."

Bill, nicely put. You've just expressed some of my major reservations about the manufactured "communities" of our time, and done it better than I could have.

Don, I think both of you are on the right track. That's a meme that could use widespread circulation. I may just quote it in an upcoming post.

Teresa, true enough.

Raven, neither you nor I nor anyone alive today will have any say in who becomes the aristocracy of the feudal stage ahead of us; that won't start to form, remember, until the last scraps of the existing political structure come unglued, a couple of centuries from now. For that reason I'm mostly concerned with making sure that the raw materials for a viable human ecology are in place.

Pasttense, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Hang on to your hat.

Blue Sun, thank you! I'm sure there will be a phase two thousand years or so in the future when scholars learnedly talk about the transition out of industrialism in the twenty-first through twenty-third centuries of the old calendar, and soft-pedal how harsh and chaotic that age was. Still, that'll be a scholarly affectation, as its equivalent is today; say the phrase "the fall of the Roman Empire" in most settings these days and almost everyone will know, at least in a general sense, what you're talking about.

Wolf, alchemy is more than that, though it's not about manufacturing metallic gold -- "our gold is not the common gold," the old alchemists said over and over again, to mostly deaf ears. For that matter, magic is more than changing attitudes -- the possibilities open to making changes in consciousness in accordance with will go well beyond attitudes and opinions. Still, this isn't the place for that discussion.

Adrian, true enough. Let's start by teaching ourselves better!

Pgrass, the Cultural Conservers Foundation has an email list, which you can find on the CCF website; if you'd like to take part in the Foundation, that's probably the best way to start.

7/2/10, 4:19 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Mister Moose,

As to how many acres to sustain a person, I think a rule of thumb is two hectares (10 acres) per person if you are going to eat meat (think cattle). It's much less if you go vegetarian and eat meat from sources that eat lots of scraps - think chicken, pig and goat.

Don't stress about the whole NPK thing. For a degraded block, try a one off top dressing of NPK and then bring in mulch - lots of mulch. With a few chickens scratching around you'll have top soil before you know it. Even without the chickens the local native animals will appreciate the additional nutrients.

If you have a good top soil to begin with I wouldn't touch NPK as you'll kill off some of the soil flora and fauna. Just recycle as much organic stuff back into the soil as you can. I mean anything, even the dead cat that someone ran over up the road has great value. Let the worms, microbes and fungi do their thing and you shouldn't have to worry.

You never said where you are in the world. If you have cold winters, I'd advise building a poly tunnel or glass house and heating it with compost. This could extend your growing period. Also learn preserving otherwise you'll be hungry.

Subsistence farming is very difficult and it's not for no reason that a lot of our food is transported over long distances. This practice however is not sustainable.

Good luck!

7/2/10, 4:23 PM

Betsys_Backyard said...
Thank you for your weekly blog... I wonder if you have heard of Dan Ariely? Professor of economics and behavior in Duke's Divinity school? His book and blog "Predictably Irrational" explores the ways of the human mind in decision making. One particularly facinating background to his studies is his life experience.... he survived an explosion while in the army and lived through agonizing proceedures to repair his badly burned body... proceedures one
doesn't imagine occured since medieval times... He writes and studies this and why humans make irrational decisions ... about many things...
check it out

7/2/10, 4:36 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Moose, I didn't do the weed, but I certainly had the same hopes while reading the old Whole Earth Catalogs! You're absolutely right that human civilizations can flourish on a very modest technological basis, and I've argued in The Ecotechnic Future and elsewhere that some of the less extravagant technologies of the last 300 years or so might be good for the long haul, and make it easier to maintain relatively sophisticated societies in the millennia to come.

As for minimum land areas for food production for a single person, if you don't mind a sparse vegan diet and are willing to practice intensive organic gardening with relentless recycling of organic materials, including your own feces, you can do it on 1000 square feet. That's the conclusion reached by David Duhon in One Circle (Ecology Action, 1985), on the basis of extensive experimentation.

Jen, I'll respond to both your posts below.

Zach, true enough. This notion that every opinion is equally valid is not going to survive a collision with reality, but it certainly makes things annoying just now.

Lewis, good!

Jolbytla, excellent. It's good to hear from so many people who are already green wizards in training!

Jen, good; you pretty much anticipated my response to your first post. One of the fundamental lessons here is to let things happen, don't make them happen. If you or anybody else wants to fill your social networks with excited posts about your green wizard work, by all means; that's much the same as planting your organic vegetable garden in the front yard so that all your neighbors can see it. Still, it's more important right now to do the work yourself than to try to get other people to do it.

Laura, I hope so!

Tom, the posters I had were by Diane Schatz -- very similar visions, done for Rain Magazine back when it was one of the leading appropriate-tech rags on this side of the pond. A lot of her images worked with the idea of the built structures of today's cities being repurposed for green uses. A luminous glimpse of the path we didn't take...

7/2/10, 4:44 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Cathy, thank you! We'll be talking a lot about compost bins fairly soon. I hope to get a lot of people excited about them.

Cherokee, true enough. The difference between your figure and Duhon's is the difference between farming and intensive gardening. Both of them have their place, of course.

Betsy, no, I hadn't. Thanks for the reference!

7/2/10, 4:49 PM

jean-vivien said...
Librarian of Hillman said...

best. essay. evar.

microbes like yeast and bacteria have been after my attention for over 6 years now and i've been devoting (by need at first and later by desire) more time increasingly to getting a handle on the vital roles they play from a practical stand-point, never having had much of a science background.


Is there a blog where you explain a bit further some of the things you ve learnt ? It would be a very interesting topic, and a knowledge worth preserving as the existence or functionning of microbes is not something you can easily discover by yourself in a basement workshop.

JMG or Librarian, feel free to answer the call...

7/2/10, 6:02 PM

Jim Brewster said...
I've got to stop listening to NPR! Today it was an interview with a NYT reporter who has spent years in places like Afghanistan and Somalia. We know there are plenty who would gladly fill the role of Taliban or Al-Shabab once our state reaches "failed" status. Calling attention to yourself could cost you life or limb in that kind of environment, so among the green wizards there will likely be a renewed importance of secrecy and symbology, not just 'cause they're fun.

I find myself hoping against hope that as the American Empire continues to collapse, some semblance of the Republic and its ideals of liberty can be salvaged. But reading William Catton's "Overshoot" has helped me see how much the American experiment depended on the Age of Exuberance. Today's libertarian political movement wants to turn back the clock to the early 19th century, which is ecologically impossible. Liberalism and conservatism are just two sides of the same bankrupt imperial coin. So I guess it will come down to local leadership to establish liberty, justice, and order.

7/2/10, 8:41 PM

Dalriada said...
The dragon it slumbered for a millenium and a half, banished by the reason of men. Yet its sacred blood stirs once more as Myrrdin's brethren lend it the breath of life anew. An epoch being born, as turbulent as the last. The ancient Culdees with their failing sight interred the great old wyrm, whilst Green Wizards herald its rebirth with renewed vision; balance restored by exiled seneschals of the sun. Complexity yielding to simplicity yet again, in the unending wheel of the ages. Oh the ironies a Celtic Cross may reveal...

A question Archdruid, as a lifelong sennachie I wonder, are you of the Siol Alpin as your surname suggests?

7/2/10, 8:58 PM

spottedwolf said... miss what I'm saying my I put it another way.

"the best laid plans of mice and men"

The scenario you seem to be striving for will take place in a small circle. As the 'energy clock' winds down it will become obvious. You will find satisfaction in hindsight.....recognition your need was appreciated.

I have walked two worlds for a very long time and this I know as truth.

7/2/10, 9:11 PM

MisterMoose said...
JMG, Cherokee, et al:

We live in Prescott, AZ, in the high desert about 90 miles north of Phoenix. In the last few years this area has been overrun by Californians and others who moved here because Money Magazine and other publications have been touting it as the best place in America to retire for several years in a row. That has not only pushed up property values in what had traditionally been a high-desert ranching area, but has put serious pressure on the local water supply.

We get our water from wells that have been slowly drawing down the local aquifer. Friends who have their own wells on their ranches tell us that their water pressure is slowly decreasing, and lots of folks around here are seriously worried about the long-term viability of this area.

Without electricity Arizona and the surrounding states can support only a fraction of their existing populations. If the grid goes down and the air conditioners stop running, and the irrigation canals that bring water from the Colorado River stop flowing, then much of Arizona (i.e., the major population centers around Phoenix and Tucson) will be relatively uninhabitable.

The population of the Arizona Territory back around the time that Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday lived here (before petroleum, by a strange coincidence) was only a few thousand. Going back hundreds of years, there used to be some native civilizations that flourished for a while, and then mysteriously disappeared, leaving only cliff dwellings. Long-term drought conditions (like we may see as a result of global warming) probably contributed to their moving away. Now, there's something to look forward to...

So, we keep our little garden alive with well water, which will work for several years, but probably not forever. Tennessee or Missouri or some other place where water actually falls out of the sky on a regular basis would be more sustainable for the long run, so we will probably end up moving back east to build our final homestead (btw, JMG, now that you've been there for a year, how's Western Maryland working out for you?).

We have neighbors with chickens and goats (yummy cheese!), but so far we are still a little lower on the DIY food-growing learning curve. I understand perfectly well that subsistence farming is a lot of work (in the last century, millions people moved to the cities to take factory jobs rather than stay on the farm; gee, I wonder why...), but I find it to be very rewarding so far.

We have lots of cold frames and row covers for our raised beds, plus several compost bins, and a "worm ranch" in the back yard. We started with peat moss, perlite, potting soil, and various amendments (dolomitic lime, etc.) to enrich our naturally-occurring desert dirt, and keep topping it off with leaf mulch and composted horse manure (from the nearby rodeo grounds) whenever we harvest one crop and plant another.

This can best be described as fairly intensive square-foot gardening, rather than "real" farming. One thing we've discovered is that there IS such a thing as too many tomatoes (and Swiss Chard and spinach and carrots), so we've started canning our excess produce, and we're trying to eat the stuff we can't preserve as fast as it grows. Next year, we'll adjust our quantities yet again...

I consider what we are doing as a learning experience rather than a realistic attempt to completely feed ourselves. So far, so good, and we ARE learning what works and what doesn't. We don't want to jump into something that we aren't really ready for when we finally buy our little farm.

7/2/10, 9:21 PM

Jim Brewster said...

A few good places to start with fermentation:

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon & Mary Enig

Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz

The Weston A. Price Foundation

7/2/10, 9:36 PM

Robert Waldrop said...
Well, I hadn't realized that I was writing the beginning of my own grimoire, but after reading John Michael's post today, that's what it seems to be. I've always felt that most people wouldn't pay any attention to what's happening until it was "too late" and circumstances compelled them to notice the reality around them. I began writing my "printable flyers" series a decade ago, with the idea that people should download, print, and copy them in advance of troubles. Then, when people are desperate for answers, the flyers could be made available. I take some comfort in the fact that the flyers have been downloaded more than 100,000 times in the last decade.

7/2/10, 9:38 PM

kenelwood said...
JMG, long time reader from Japan (日本). Your last two posts inspired me take a break from the forest-garten, sit down, and write a reply. I think green wizards are, in part, why decline matters, and vice-versa. And I think, as your posts here have so illustrated, a most important step into the de-industrialized future is a knowledge of the natural world and having sustainable will, and either becoming or knowing a green wizard, or both.

In the meantime, Japan - terrain-wise and infrastructurally - really reminds me of America's Rust Belt, and vise-versa, and I betcha all the age-old infrastructure that Japan's got going for it will help the regional, island economy of the future.

And while imagining a future in Japan where every town has windmills and water mills mechanically connected to re-purposed machinery for grinding or weaving or cutting or light manufacturing, and a large fraction of citizenry who're planting up and harvesting gardens, I'm living on a 1/4 acre of forest-garten, watching for the neighbors to pop by, waiting for them to teach me something.

{ You're welcome too, of course. Anytime. }

7/2/10, 11:38 PM

Kevin said...
I can't wait for my Green Wizardry training to begin! The down-home paisley esthetic suits me to a T.

Your philosophy of dissensus sounds just a bit like Bucky Fuller: "Evolution makes many starts."

If I make the grade and get my certificate, I want a robe of sea-green velvet bespangled with little silver stars.

7/3/10, 12:50 AM

Brad K. said...

It is interesting that you describe the wizards and context of early times, and only pull out the wizards as examples of preserving knowledge and technology.

The Transition Towns might grow into a metaphor for the monasteries that are credited with preserving ancient learning until the Renaissance put that preserved knowledge to good use.

The seclusion, rigid adherence to strict internal rules, rigid management of (communal) resources - these could easily grow from the Transition movement. Perhaps the role Transition plays will be similar to the green wizard, to preserve suitable knowledge and skills until the surrounding community is ready to adapt.

I notice the cost of horses is way, way down, and cost of keeping horses on industrial-type feed plans is going up, fast. This may well be an important resource to learn and adapt, not so much for riding but for pulling carts and wagons. Also re-learning the skills of the wooden wheel and wood vehicles, etc., etc., etc.

7/3/10, 12:59 AM

timewalker said...

Thank you for spending the time to read and respond individually to each of these comments. I think it's one of the things that has made this blog so popular. I had been wondering how on earth you find the time - your previous response that it helps formulate your thoughts and your writing probably answers my question. But it's possible you may not be able to continue with this as the number of comments goes up and up?

(Bill: thanks for the tip on reading the comments with two windows open - you're genius!)

I think the Green Wizard concept is great and I can't wait to learn more. However Jen's first comment did set off some alarm bells (and credit to her for realising the downside so quickly) - I think care would need to be taken not too allow the term to be hijacked by popular culture and cheapened in any way?

7/3/10, 4:42 AM

tom said...
Hi William,

If you happen to live in the British Isles, maybe we should get in touch. I'd been thinking about how to develop mathematical skills (in myself and others) outside of formal education, but I'm not sure what's a good approach.

A lot of scientific understanding requires a degree of mathematical literacy in the same way that to learn to read philosophy in the middle ages one had to learn Latin (at least). Perhaps the future will bring a vernacular mathematics?

If you'd like to talk about it some more, I'm on the cultural conservers email list JMG referred to.

7/3/10, 5:07 AM

Sixbears said...
I'm right there already. Bartering hippie tech for eggs, firewood, maple syrup, garden veggies and firewood.

Helping young folks go off grid and mortgage free.

Heck, as the years go by I'm looking more and more Gandalf-ish, with a white beard and a big hat.

It's more than solar panels and composting toilets. There's the social/community end of things that's just as important. Everything from local farmers' markets to gathering in a field to drink homemade wine and make our own music.

7/3/10, 6:07 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Jim, it's not even a matter of local leadership, so much as a willingness of individuals to accept the burdens and responsibilities of democracy -- which are not small. As I see it, the attempt to have the benefits of liberty without paying its price is the sickness that's rotted away the guts of the flawed but remarkable experiment in self-government we once had in America.

Dalriada, indeed I am.

Wolf, wouldn't be the first time I've misunderstood. Thanks for clarifying.

Moose, western Maryland is working very well for us; doesn't hurt that real estate is dirt cheap -- our mortgage, property tax, and all add up to about 2/3 what we were paying in rent for a much smaller house in Oregon -- and the cost of living is low. I suppose it's our good fortune to have found a part of the country that's not attractive to Californians!

Bob, you're a step ahead of me -- I'll be talking about your grimoire, er, flyers along with some other resources in next week's post.

Kenelwood, thank you! If I have the chance to make it to Japan before international travel is out of reach, I may just take you up on that offer.

Kevin, I've made something of a habit of disagreeing with Fuller, but there he's dead on target.

Brad, if the Transition movement can duck the dangers facing a mass movement, something of the sort might evolve from it. Still, I'm not going to worry about that; I have my own work to do. As for horses, true enough; I remain convinced that those who know how to raise and handle working horses will do very well in the decades to come.

Timewalker, if the number of comments per post starts breaking 150 or 200 on a regular basis I'm going to have to start commenting only on the ones that really need a response; can't be helped. Yes, I'm aware of the risk of being co-opted, either by some existing movement or by the sheer trivializing pressure of consumer culture; to some extent that latter's unavoidable, but I still have some tricks up my sleeve.

Sixbears, granted -- but the social end of things isn't my specialty, and how it works best varies from context to context. For now I'll be focusing on the geek stuff.

7/3/10, 9:03 AM

Robert Waldrop said...
More grimoire for the hard times coming -- -- anarchistic and chaotic compilation of preparedness stuff from the internet. . . online edition of the Better Times Almanac of Useful Information (now out of print in hardcopy, but remaining on the internet.)

7/3/10, 10:41 AM

Andi said...
briefly - thanks for your clarity and generosity, I look forward to future posts after the recent weeks' analysis. no need to reply! best wishe, Andi

7/3/10, 12:53 PM

Don Plummer said...
"Don, I think both of you are on the right track. That's a meme that could use widespread circulation. I may just quote it in an upcoming post."

John: feel free to use anything that I wrote if you wish.

I stopped into one of the best used bookstores in Columbus this morning. I asked where the "1970s hippie books" were. I didn't say "naked hippie", though. :-). They had an old Firefox book and a book about building an underground house for $8,000, but I didn't see anything else that looked like appropriate tech. I may go back and browse some more and pick up that underground house book. It looked interesting.

7/3/10, 1:51 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bob, many thanks!

Don, your crystal ball is working well this morning, I see -- we'll be talking about used book stores a bit next week.

7/3/10, 2:04 PM

Algernon said...
Hear, hear!

There does appear to be a "movement" (if that word isn't too dated) afoot to recover the lost arts of wizardry. I'm making efforts in my apartment, at least in term of reducing energy consumption-- but also vermicomposting (new to me since last year) and resource repurposing. A substantial proportion of Americans live in apartments, and it's generally harder get them to change their habits and systems, because their investments enjoy limited financial incentive (beyond reduced utility bills). I have a solar PV module which charges a pair of batteries I use to run my laptop computer station-- though this is not a "low-tech" solution, it has its place in the decentralization of energy generation.

I'm looking forward to reading more!

7/3/10, 2:28 PM

skintnick said...
My father gave up his senior managers job c1976 to begin a business with my mum as an out-of-print booksearcher. I remember the card indexes & mum typing every letter individually (anyone still use carbon paper?) and they worked hard and were content with their modest but sufficient income to support house/mortgage + 3 kids. (There seem to be lots of parallels between the 1970s and today.) In 1985 my graduate project was to write software to "computerise" their office and it worked ok (dBaseIII). Their 8088 Olivetti PC with 10Mb disk & 64K RAM cost about $10K. I still have it in the attic.
When my eldest child was a baby (1995) and I got sick of commuting to London not seeing her, my wife & I set up a similar business, being careful not to tread on parents' toes. It kept us well for 10 years but declined of late due to the internet. I've kept it going for pin money, and now have several part-time jobs which keeps life interesting - just experimenting with getting by on less income and trying to build resilience into our lifestyle, you know? The whole veggie plot & chickens & transition town adventure. Anyhow, to the point: I always keep in mind your assertion, JMG, that in due course the internet will become a less important use of precious electricity than other fundamental needs, and grind to a halt. And I wonder if that happens while I'm still alive, and people want out-of-print books when ABE or Amazon ain't there any more, whether my old business will make a comeback. Maybe one of my girls can run it... I've got one hell of a database (almost 10,000 records) of secondhand booksellers both here in the UK and in the US and elsewhere, although I guess lots of them will now be out of business. Sorry to go on about this but when you start talking about bookstores I got kinda excited :)

7/3/10, 4:31 PM

spottedwolf said...
John....this is a bit of a post from a blog by "Coyote Prime"..another conscientious ex-military person whom I admire for his 'truth'..
I thought it worth mention.

"Some of the art of Cro-Magnon peoples is indeed breathtaking - those cave paintings especially - and the effort of producing them, together with their mysterious location deep in cave systems, makes it easy to imagine that they had highly significant mystical meaning. But perhaps they did not: perhaps caves were secure places safe from the art-eroding action of weather, and were chosen to serve rather as art galleries now do, as places of repository for works worth preserving, to be enjoyed by firelight away from beasts and cold, as visual aids for storytelling perhaps - the figures seeming to move as the firelight flickers: proto-television. Is that harder to imagine than that our ancestors saw the rock-face as the membrane separating profane and sacred worlds?

In any case, it is hard to see why a propensity to religion would protect the Cro-Magnons against the Ice Age better than it protected the Neanderthals. Complex social organisation, foresight, skill, and language would certainly do this, and the Cro-Magnons had more of all these things than the Neanderthals did. The virtual lack of development in Neanderthal technology over a hundred thousand years suggests poor communication and poor imitation skills; to go extinct rather than to change in the face of new challenges even more potently denotes lack of both imagination and cognitive power. Manifestly, the Cro-Magnons lacked neither; and they are here - for we are they - today."

7/3/10, 7:55 PM

LewisLucanBooks said...
Yes! Talk about used bookstores. Since I just opened one last December. I'm trying to figure out if I (can I) fit into whatever is to come.

Sigh. Sometimes I think I'd be better off just being a hermit.

7/3/10, 8:20 PM

Wordek said...
Hi Joel
"Shop Class as Soulcraft"?
I recall an old Sci Fi called Shadrach in the Furnace where on weekends the protagonist would attend his temple and perform loving rituals such as oiling his tools. Then he would make a sideboard or something. So why not. I still remember a fine –in my mind-- fence I built about 20 years ago with great affection.

I have a nagging concern with long term intensive gardening/farming that relates to something the brits learned the hard way a few years back with BSE. They fed ground up cows to other cows and considered this a sane and sustainable practice. --Moooo!! Soylent green is cattle!!!--
Also you may or may not be aware that there is another neat little organism called toxoplasma gondii which can change the behaviour of rats so that they become attracted to the smell of cats. The cats then eat the rats and toxo completes its lifecycle through the cat.

Maybe if we examine the brains of the agriculture ministry types who were around at the time of BSE we would find that they were already infected with BSE and acting under its malign influence when making their “feed cows to cows” decisions. Note: I'm not suggesting we consider this possibility because its likely to be true, Im putting it forward only because:
1)It was such an obviously stupid thing for “health” officials to condone.
2)The delicious sense of irony* I experience when considering the idea of “dumb” bugs controlling “smart” people.

( * Irony: Gets the wrinkles out of your shirty)

But BSE and toxo do illustrate a point. The simpler or closer the loops in an artificial ecosystem become, the better opportunity there is for some organism (other than humans) to find a way of completing its life cycle within it. My bet is that for instance if the brits had fed their ground up cattle to fish and then turned the fish into fertiliser for maize which was then fed to the cattle, BSE wouldnt have happened. So what happens for instance if people decide to cut out the middlemen so to speak and just start taking dumps in the cauliflower patch?

“the word "green" has been abused, misused, and overused; I simply wasn't able to think of a better one-word label.”
Turquoise? Maybe Aquamarine for your seafarin' Wizard types. Emerald? Whats that Dorothy? That ones been taken?

7/3/10, 10:16 PM

joanhello said...
@Conch: Anyone who grew up poor in rural Mexico has eaten iguanas and probably enjoyed them. “Muy sabroso en mole,” a ten-year-old once told me in a palm-thatched village on the coast of Oaxaca. The female half of that population probably knows how to kill, clean and cook them, too. The trick is finding a woman of that background who isn't too ashamed of her poverty-stricken past to tell you how to do it.

More generally, cooking from scratch is my wizard skill, both in that I need to do it every so often to stay sane and that it's nonessential now (and therefore getting rarer) but will be vital in the post-carbon future. When I was growing up, most working class moms stayed home and cooked from scratch; convenience foods (usually in the form known as the TV dinner) were expensive and therefore occasional treats. Since then, a job outside the home has become a necessity for most working class moms and the price of convenience food has fallen (relative to other consumer goods) to the point where it doesn't make short-term economic sense to cook from scratch, so a whole generation of non-college-bound kids have been raised on just-add-boiling-water this and freezer-to-nuke-to-table that, while the last place to find real cooking skills is, ironically, among upper-middle-class foodies, the people who keep Whole Foods going even in this economy. I am less worried about the professional classes than about blue collar kids who could starve to death surrounded by Nature's bounty, simply because they don't know how to make it into food.

I've started the house search, in a more urban location than I expected, for family reasons. A lot of the housing stock here was built between 1850 and 1930 for factory workers. The kitchen was typically the biggest room because it was a production center, getting raw materials in bulk in times of abundance, preserving them for lean times, and turning out meals for very large families three times a day. I hope to emulate them and eventually to teach what I've learned.

7/4/10, 5:27 AM

Edde said...
Greetings John Michael,

Happy Independence Day! Time to celebrate and make music together.

I'm with Six Bears. After you do appropriate tech for a while, particularly IN a community, its non-tech stuff that requires effort.

If appropriate tech leads to just another rat race (no time for fun and such), it fails. Life, full & festive ("appropriate" economy?) needs to be addressed, too. I'll stop belaboring this stuff, though.

Hope you don't allow amateur level music making to keep you from playing that dulcimer whenever the occasion allows. You may not be ready for Barking Spiders String Band, but with heart & enthusiasm, you're ready enough. Don't ever allow not knowing how to dance or carry a tune to keep you from moving your body & enjoying music...

Best regards,

7/4/10, 6:41 AM

Just this - said...
Thanks for recommending Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Bride Sided" which I read and it was quiet an eye opener. She also talks about the energy crisis and how we are blind about "reality" - using "being positive" as an escape to face our future. Being realistic and vigilant has been part of our survival strategy as species forever and being critical does not mean "being negative," She also explained that not being always positive does not mean being being negative. She gives common sense alternatives such as, "how about common sense and healthy dose of realism?" Carina

7/4/10, 7:40 AM

Peter said...
Haven't had a chance to review all the comments yet, they seem to grow in number every week (a very good sign!) so this may have already been mentioned, but a few years back I re-read TH White's "The Once and Future King", and enjoyed even more this time around. Along with being an excellent story for the readers out there, it may provide a little "spiritual inspiration",as Al Stewart did for you.
BTW, I may be moving to Berkeley Springs this fall, if so, it would be great to meet up and compare notes and experience.

7/4/10, 8:42 AM

Anne said...
Thanks for taking your blog into the more practical territory of sharing your knowledge and skills of green wizardry.

One comment I would like to make is that I probably don't have either the time or the aptitude to learn and practice all the possible skills involved in sustainable living and many others will be in the same situation.

So I am trying to gradually cultivate knowledge & skills which are of most interest and fit best with my circumstances - so at the moment this is about developing the food-growing potential of an urban allotment and getting into preserving food to make my own 'processed' food such as pasta sauce in jars for when I need to do a quick meal after a hard day at work and to make nice home-made gifts.

Once I have got that under my belt and into my routine I am feeling drawn to learning herbalism as I can grow the herbs myself and would hopefully be in a position to provide a useful service and useful products to my community in the future. So I guess I am an aspiring Green Witch rather than a Wizard.

However when it comes to 'technical' stuff such as building and installing solar water heating systems I don't think I will be able to do that myself so I will have to pay someone else to do it, ideally from within my local community.

So individual skill-development and lifestyle change and community need to go hand-in-hand, we need both. In terms of community in my experience it is very valuable to have contact with like-minded people and to mutually support each other in our endeavours to change our lives in the light of the emerging new social paradigm.

As you point out trying to move the people in our society who are still living by the old paradigm is a waste of time, but participating in community with those who are on the same wavelength is both emotionally, culturally and practically valuable.

7/4/10, 11:13 AM

spottedwolf said...
The interesting aspect in observing the piece from Coyote's the distance between cro-magnon's emerging and how quickly cro-magnon becomes more ways than a point of near self-annihilation while reference to the 'less-intelligent' hominid, Neanderthal, shows a far longer existance. Makes me think of the 'forbidden fruit' metaphor.

7/4/10, 3:08 PM

g said...
John Michael...Thank you for continuing to open doors in my mind hitherto unknown to me! A quandry though,since impending climate change is going to make a bollix of much of our preparation for the future, how best to factor those consequences. Do you even think it possible to anticipate local changes. I suppose if I was native of the Artic circle I may give up on retaining my ice fishing skills in lieu of developing a local horticulture

7/4/10, 4:11 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Algernon, excellent. One of the things that aspiring green wizards will have to get used to is that this stuff doesn't necessarily make, or save, a lot of money on a short term basis. The longer term is another matter, but it takes practice to take in that view. BTW, powering your laptop with solar cells is green wizardry, too -- while high tech is here, figuring out how to use it with low impact is a good thing.

Skintnick, that's a fascinating question to which I don't think anyone has the answer. One big question is how long the internet stays up -- my guess is until the next really big war breaks out and several countries get really messed up by cyberwarfare, but we'll see. I'm sure there will be a market for used books in the future; the question is simply how people will buy and sell them.

Wolf, most interesting.

Lewis, my guess is that used book stores have plenty of future ahead of them; the publishing industry these days is either totally dependent on massive distribution networks and economies of scale, or totally dependent on the internet, and we could go for quite a while in which very few new books are being printed at all (at least until the letterpress renaissance takes off). Of course libraries are getting shellacked by budget cuts these days. That leaves used book stores as one of the few options for the reading public.

Wordek, the key is to make the circles complex even though they're small. We'll be covering that. As for alternatives to green, well, unfortunately nothing else communicates the point as well.

Joanhello, that's serious magic; if you can't turn what you grow into tasty meals, half the point of growing it goes out the window. I assume you've got a collection of old cookbooks -- we've used those, especially old wartime cookbooks, to very good effect.

Edde, thank you. For me, music is a meditative practice; I have no idea if anyone else would enjoy the odd, somewhat mannered fingerpicking style I've evolved. Still, I'll keep it in mind!

Carina, exactly. Aristotle pointed out a long time ago that the opposite of a mistake is usually another mistake; the right choice is usually somewhere in between. This is a good example.

Peter, no argument there. When you get settled, by all means drop me a note c/o info (at) aoda (dot) org -- always good to make local connections.

Anne, nobody has the time to learn and practice all the skills that could fit into a grimoire of green wizardry. I hope you'll look into some of the simpler energy conservation methods we'll be covering, though -- they don't require the kind of hardware skills building a solar water heater from scratch requires. (Anybody can learn how to use a caulking gun.)

G, this is one of the reasons why it'll be important to focus on annual rather than perennial plants in food gardening; by the time your edible tree garden is mature enough to produce food, the climate may have changed enough that the trees won't bear fruit -- or won't survive. I'll be covering this as we proceed.

7/4/10, 5:17 PM

Mary said...
I've been following this blog for several months now. This post is the one that hits home. I've known since I was a kid that there would be another great depression. 10 years ago, when everybody else seemed intent on business as usual, my hi-tech career crashed and I moved to a small farm in Maine, now called Magical Thyme Farm. I built a barn, completed the Master Gardener program at University of Maine, started a good-sized herb garden (now overgrown with neglect while I'm back in school), and have been on a slow but steady program to prepare for...the future you describe. Some events forced changes to my original plans, now it's more of a flow. This weekend I've been modifying my barn to allow for a small flock of chickens. And I'm waiting to see if the horses graze the corner of pasture they've refused to touch for 3 years (since a tree fell in the corner). Last call...if it's still there in the fall, it'll be rototilled and prepped for 2000 sq feet or so of growing. On order, as of last week, is a hotpot, so I can learn to cook solar. I've been thinking, too, of keeping my eyes open for an antique (pre-electricity) sewing machine...I'm looking forward to your direction on becoming a "Green Wizard." I could use all the help I can get, lol!

7/4/10, 6:17 PM

spottedwolf said...
Hey Wordek....
I'm for the "examine the brains of agriculture ministry types" !!!! and all the rest of the "ministers"....GAWD !!is that an oxymoron or just oxymoronic ???

7/4/10, 7:29 PM

spottedwolf said...
@ Conchscooter...ya got me laffin' !!!! but I 'd be eating the lizards with the lettuce!!!

7/4/10, 7:33 PM

Kevin said...
It's like someone said to me recently on the Oil Drum: Bucky's ideas would have worked fine forty years ago. They could have been a major component in a program to stave off disaster. Sadly, we missed that boat.

His basic concept of "more-with-lessing" is still valid: viz., getting the most life-support performance out of the least possible energy and materials. But now perforce it'll have to be done on a local low-tech basis, not by the industrial production methods he envisaged. It'll be home-built geodesics and other artifacts made from scavenged materials, not a global dwelling industry.

7/4/10, 10:04 PM

tom rainboro said...
Green Wizards? I'm not too sure about that. I'm happy that people ask me about growing veg, making cider, woodland and hedge work. For horses, dogs and cats they can go and see Charlotte. For tractors and hay it's Clive, general mechanics is Paul, childcare is Susie, sheep is Michael, pigs is John and Mery and
so on. I'd want people to be seeking advice on a peer-to-peer basis, not from an Official (with deference), and having anything in 'exchange' (like some fresh eggs) is good.
Lots of talk here about Arthur, decline of the Roman Empire, Lord of the Rings! I live in their landscape ! - work part time in a city that still has Roman walls, have watched sunrise from the flat top of Mount Badon where Arthur's cavalry routed the English (Little Solsbury Hill) and sunset from Camelot (South Cadbury)and drunk from the Chalice Well at the foot of the Tor. Five miles away from here is Bury Barton, the location of an outlying Roman fort, a site continuously lived in since pre-Roman times, perhaps someone locally is descended from a centurion? Arthur, at least for me, is likely to have been a real
person(s) and not a figment of romantic imagination.

7/5/10, 12:24 AM

Karen said...
Dear Mr. Greer and Dear Readers,

I have learned so much from your blog and am officially signing up as an apprentice to become a Green Wizard and perhaps find some other Green Wizards or Wizards-in-Training in Germany where I live.

You and your readers have provided so much useful and valuable information that I cannot thank you and them enough.

My recent additions to my collection of books on gardening have come directly from references from you and your contributing readers.

I already knit and sew but will be adding spinning and weaving to my list of skills.

Our garden is a work in progress but I am armed with new knowledge to incorporate in our garden thanks to all of you.

In closing, I am in awe of the already present "Green wizards" and "Elders" who have commented and hope to be able to join this esteemed group as we transition to the post-industrial age.

To you Mr. Greer for providing such a forum and sharing your knowledge, you have my heartfelt appreciation and thanks.

7/5/10, 3:14 AM

Wordek said...
Hi Skintnik
You are one of the people who have an incredible opportunity to become wizardly (or likely your children will)
My take on the future of the internet (to avoid confusion with the current system I will now begin to use the term digicom) is that its in a precarious position. For the average everyday “click the icon to make stuff happen” types, digicoms as we know it (the internet) will go away very quickly when enough stress hits the system. But your task “should you choose to accept it Jim” as an archivist and distributor could well be the most vital of the lot of us.
If you can preserve stores of simple text and graphics and a method of getting that information onto whatever devices are available- including paper- as required people will beat a path to your door.

If you can maintain a robust method of communicating and sharing with similar data hoarders around your country or the planet, then conceivably world-oyster=yours.

We have talked before on this blog about the difference between efficiency and resilience. Ascii over radio could become the pony express of the 22nd century.

Who needs voices when you have words I say?

Of course the tricky part of that idea in our world of information overload is preserving the stuff thats important. How do we know ahead of time what needs to be backed up in as many different formats as possible? For instance if it was up to me this comment would be tattooed onto every newborns buttocks for the next 50 years. But sheesh: you try and get people to agree to that, they just call the cops!

No protests, no position papers, just people with a common interest using their brains because it feels right. Thats a movement I can believe in.

7/5/10, 3:45 AM

integral yeshe said...
Thank you, John, for all you do for us!

The synchronicity prompted me to comment - despite the many hours you must need to reap the karma of your wonderful blog posts each week!

You speak of the Green Wizard - I have recently received the name 'Green Witch' associated with some rather invisible and esoteric work that I have scarcely yet begun to grok, let alone articulate. But I intuit that it is in many ways the feminine counterpart of what you are proposing as the work of the Green Wizard.

I shall be reading your Green Wizard posts with interest, as I am sinking my hard-earned pocket-money into just that kind of project. Will be blogging about the learning process over on

7/5/10, 4:51 AM

Alchemyguy said...
Patrick of the education and science comments here; back to my alias from now on!

I look forward to talking about both welding a higher education to physical labour as well as the philosophy of science in the future, so I won't get into it here even though I'm itchy to do so.

7/5/10, 6:36 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
About climate change and perennial crops, several points come to mind...

First, none of the reasonable climate scientists are predicting changes that would be so rapid as to, say, change your USDA climate rating by a full zone in as little as a decade. There are plenty of doomsday scenarios out there, of course, but we've covered the psychology, mythology, and general lack of science and history behind those things pretty exhaustively over the last few years here. Many tree and shrubs crops can be brought to yielding in about 5 years and yielding heavily in much less than a full decade. Perennial herb crops (asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, artichokes, etc.) can produce good yield in just a few years. So I would say yes definitely they have a role even in a world of global change, especially when you consider the nutritional and culinary diversity they can bring to your home-grown food supply.

Obviously, the way to deal with this is not to plant things that are anywhere near their hardiness limits in your current climate. And don't assume your spot will get uniformly warmer; all the models predict localized but persistent anomalies wherein peculiarities of atmosphere and ocean circulation can make some regions get colder even while the globe on average gets warmer. The cold winter we just had in the southeast U.S. was cause by abnormal warmth in the arctic messing with the circumpolar air flow. Patterns like that could settle in as a "new normal" for a decade or more. Plus, even in a warmer world, if your region also gets drier, you might see larger daily temperature swings and your frost-free season might actually get shorter even if your annual average temperature gets hotter! Ask anyone in the mid-latitude steppes and deserts about freezes in late May and early September that come literally out of the clear blue sky.

So... for example, if you live in USDA zone 7 at the present, don't plant things that only do well in zones 4-7, or in zones 7-9. Find things that do well in zones 5-9. If your annual average rainfall is 40", make sure the things you plant can perform well in a rainfall range of 25-60." And, of course, plant a diversity both of species and varieties; don't plant the whole orchard at once, but a few trees each year, adjusting as you see how things really are going in your microclimate. Plus, don't be shy about turning a tree that seems to fail every year into firewood and planting something else in its spot.

As a broader point, my experience with organic tree and shrub crops, as well as wild fruit and nuts, is that you tend to only get a heavy crop every 2nd or 3rd year on average, in a compeltely irregular schedule. Sometimes the reasons are obvious -- freezes, drought, etc. but much of the time it's just a mystery -- swimming in walnuts and apples this year, nary a speck next year, no obvious reason why. It's really bad when they are all in synch -- one year we had a 100% failure of blueberries, apples, hickories, peaches, cherries, persimmons, plums, and 1-year acorns all at the same time (thank the gods for the blackberries!). The wildlife populations are just now recovering from the famine that triggered. SO, food preservation is especially important for these crops that come in all at once, in great heaps, and not reliably every year.

So -- I vote "yes" for keeping the perennial crops as one of many food production tools in the wizard's toolkit, with the recognition of and accommodation to their limitations (as is essential for all appropriate tech, of course!)

7/5/10, 7:39 AM

Cathy McGuire said...
A book that I recently re-read that has food for thought: A Way of Working: The Spiritual Dimension of Craft. ed.D.M. Dooling (Parabola). I'd also recommend two Richard Tarnas books: The Passion of the Western Mind: understanding the ideas that have shaped our worldview and Cosmos and Psyche: intimations of a new worldview.

Oh, and since I love sewing costumes, once the Green Wizards have graduated, I'll sew the robes! ;-) Seriously though, I have my eye on a treadle machine, even tho it's not easy on the legs & back to work it!

@JMG /the attempt to have the benefits of liberty without paying its price is the sickness that's rotted away the guts of the flawed but remarkable experiment in self-government we once had in America. Yes!! That has been my strong opinion for decades... but now it's gotten away from us, it will take twice the effort to get it back to real democracy (if it's even possible)... Yes, there are many in charge to blame, but each of us also bears the responsibility to participate (and give up time and effort for).

@skintnick (anyone still use carbon paper?) I still have a few packages!

@JoanHello I second JMG’s advice about old cookbooks – I have several from the 20’s and one pioneer one… not only are they fascinating, but they have delicious recipes! One way to “practice” is to join a club that has monthly potlucks – they’ll love you!

7/5/10, 8:12 AM

TG said...
Mary wrote: "I've been thinking, too, of keeping my eyes open for an antique (pre-electricity) sewing machine..."

If the idea appeals to you and you're able to find one, I definitely encourage you to go for it. My 1924 Singer, which my great uncle's mother passed along to me many years ago, is the most delightful machine I own. I love the soothing clickety clack sound when I run it. I get it out every few months, make sure it's properly oiled, and sew something simple. I wish my skills were better. My only home ec class was more than a quarter century ago. The books at the public library are fairly intimidating (often involving fancy attachements which are irrelevant for my equipment), and the classes at the community college and the fabric shop are all about quilting. Not that there's anything wrong with quilting. I most want to learn how to better sew clothes, however.

Drop spindles sound really nifty, John Michael. Thanks for mentioning that your wife uses them. I found some information about those online and might try one myself.

--Tracy Glomski

7/5/10, 9:13 AM

Warster said...
I'm curious as to the criteria you used in relocating to the east coast. I get the river access and local food production. What else factored? I'm hoping to gain some addition ideas for my own plan to relocate.

7/5/10, 10:07 AM

Cathy McGuire said...

Arrogance and Scientific Rules of Thumb Over at the Oil Drum "Gail the Actuary" comments on scientific thinking processes and why those “simple suggestions” to fix BP spill are so wrongheaded… good thought piece on how to mentally test out a new idea.

7/5/10, 10:37 AM

gooboo said...
Do we create a world of catabolic colapse by psychologically preparing for it ?
The mexico golf spill can also be a symbol necessary to change the subconcious of the masses to change their habits. As far as paekoil is concerned the glass is half full. Should we already start to prepare or shouldn't we still consider "the pentagon levitation"?
Maybe its the other way round and the people wanting to keep going motivate us to prepare. Do we have a win-win possibility in this area ?

7/5/10, 12:03 PM

LewisLucanBooks said...
When I was in the antique and collectibles racket about 15 years ago, not a week went by when someone would call with a treadle sewing machine, typewriter, or parlor pump organ for sale. Usually with an inflated idea of value. Most of us in "the biz" wouldn't give them room at any price.

At that time, they were curiosities. Now, they deserve a second look. Your local antique / junk dealer might still be turning them away. NOW is the time to make your interest know, in an off-hand way so as not to inflate the price. Estate sales. Storage unit sales.

7/5/10, 12:40 PM

charlo49 said...
Talking about going back to the 1970s...I'm 60 years old and I've joined the Hare Krishnas in Laguna Beach, California. Little beknownst to me they've had all the answers all along. They have lots of self-sufficient Varnashrams all over the world. They know how to farm, they use draft animals, they hold cows sacred, and so on.

They have a 5,000 year-old philosophy going back to the Indo-Aryans from whom we are all descended that teaches that we are not our material body but that we are spirit-soul. This means that materialism is of no benefit and only leads to misery, and that the only way to happiness and fulfillment is devotional service, otherwise known as bhakti-yoga.

All the answers can be found in the Bhagavad-Gita, the Srimad Bhagavatam, the Upanishads, and so on, all meticulously translated by Srila Prabhupad, the founder of the movement, and in the many books he wrote himself.

There is really no need to reinvent the wheel. The ancient sages have mulled over these very same issues for thousands of years. All we have to do is to pay attention and do what they say. It really is that simple.

7/5/10, 3:32 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Mary, it sounds to me as though your sorcerer's apprenticeship is already well under way.

Kevin, the other problem with Fuller is that a great deal of his "more with less" philosophy involved putting efficiency ahead of redundancy and safety; there's a reason why, in his lifetime, he had a reputation as failure-prone. Mind you, he had some very useful ideas, but I've met a lot of people who piled into geodesic domes with great enthusiasm in the early 70s, but ended up exchanging them for frame-built houses with vertical walls and the quadruple redundancy of shingle roofing once the disadvantages of Fuller's approach became apparent.

Tom, that's the best possible approach when you've got plenty of people who have practical skills that are useful in a deindustrial world. The problem in most of the US, and many other places as well, is that the vast majority of people are uninterested in picking up such skills, and are relying on one deus ex machina or other to allow them to continue their present lifestyles. Thus green wizards -- who aren't "officials" in any sense of the word, just individuals who take the time to pick up a set of crucial skills that will make life a lot easier in a deindustrializing world, so those skills can be shared with others when the necessity of using them finally sinks in.

By the way, I've also tasted the waters at Chalice Well, and walked to what used to be Pons Perilis, the Perilous Bridge, and is now Pomparles; I've watched the sun rise over standing stones and walked the old paths over the chalk downs at evening, when the chalk seems to glow from within. And of course you're right about Arthur; I've talked about the relevance of the "Arthurian fact" in The Druidry Handbook, and will probably post something about it here down the road.

Karen, thank you. I hope you find much of value in your apprenticeship!

Wordek, ascii over radio is certainly one option; if enough technology remains viable, packet radio might be an option; if things get really hairy, well, there's always CW -- I've pointed out more than once that there's nothing in a simple radio transmitter and receiver that would have been too complex for a medieval Chinese or European alchemist to construct. That's one of the pieces of relatively high tech I would really like to see survive.

Yeshe, "wizard" is a gender-neutral term -- it literally means "one who is wise," the way "drunkard" means "one who is drunk." So you can be a wizard and a witch at the same time, if you like.

Patrick/Alchemy, have you considered blogging on the subject? I suspect you'd get an audience.

Bill, the only problem is those pesky Greenland ice cores, which show that the planet can warm up drastically in a very short time -- 11 to 13 degrees F. in less than a decade at the end of the Younger Dryas cold spell, for example. (I"m not sure why climate scientists are not taking that into consideration.) I agree that it's probably worth trying some perennials -- we've got rhubarb and asparagus in our garden -- but I'm not sure I'd depend on them.

Cathy, thanks for the book references! I've read Tarnas' work, but not the other.

Tracy, I've come to think of drop spindles as one of the best examples of resilient technology -- a very simple tool that can integrate with some other very simple tools (for example, a backstrap loom or a vertical blanket loom of the sort at lot of First Nations used) to produce necessary goods.

Lewis, excellent advice!

Charlo, that's one approach. It's crucial to remember, though, that the approach that works for you may not be the one that works for others.

7/5/10, 4:02 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Blogger is really acting up today -- comments are coming through more or less at random, so my responses will be a bit out of order.

Warster, quite a few factors contributed to that decision, ranging from amazingly cheap real estate, through worries about the likelihood of civil war in the West, to best-guess predictions of where the next wave of innovation and (relative!) prosperity was likely to begin to take shape. One note, though -- I'm not on the east coast; I'm about 200 miles inland, well west of the Appalachian crest, about as far climatically and culturally as you can get and still be in a state with direct access to the Atlantic.

Cathy, thanks for the link!

Gooboo, tell me, do you think that wearing seat belts causes auto accidents? Pretending the elephant in the room isn't there is a very popular attitude, but it doesn't work too well. The elephant is the decline and fall of our civilization. We can recognize it, or we can ignore it, but either way it's big, it's gray, and it's showing no sign of vacating its comfortable spot in the living room.

7/5/10, 4:12 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Actually I took the Dryas periods into consideration. 13F is only a bit more than one USDA zone (sort of; USDA is based on annual minimum temp, not annual mean temp). So if you have enough trees that are hardy two zones either way from where you are now, you shouldn't entirely lose your existing tree crops even in that scenario. There are many widely grown fruit and nut varieties that have a hardiness range of 3-4 USDA zones.

We might head down into the cold part of a Dryas spell, too, at least in eastern North America, if the thermohaline circuation gets disrupted by ice melt. Another reason I say be prepared for a shift either way, warm or cold, as well as wet or dry.

7/5/10, 5:45 PM

Glyn said...
Thanks for writing your blog and keeping up the good work! I was originally recommended to read your site a month or so back and I’ve just ordered a couple of your books and will keep checking back to see how things develop.

Personally I’ve been very concerned about peak oil these last months and I’m also writing up a philosophy master dissertation on climate change this summer. I’m currently then very seriously pondering quitting my safe but dead end office job to spend a year in poverty learning to grow food, living simply/cheaply and acquiring useful skills, before going WWOOF travelling down under and trying to find a good community to join for mutual benefit in some not so densely populated corner of the planet (emigration controls allowing). I think I want to and will try but it’s a bit of a risky, hard and scary prospect compared to living BAU.

I would like to take up and disagree with your suggestion that annual vegetables would be the best response to climate change. I’m reading an excellent and very detailed new book at the moment called "Creating a Forest Garden: Working with nature to grow edible crops" by Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Research Trust, which I particularly recommend. He argues that that properly planned forest gardens of perennial plants are the best and most resilient response to climate change, as their soil is kept mostly shaded and in excellent health/quality and the very large number of useful (though not always well known) plants used ensure many will do well even if some fail. Also, though a good Forest Garden takes time and effort to set up in the early years, once they get going little effort or maintenance is required as compared to that of traditional organic gardening/farming – which hopefully allows people a better quality of life.

7/5/10, 5:48 PM

Mark said...
Wow! What a profound connection you've made clear to me. I've certainly found gardening to be very magical. Our neighbors are extremely curious because our front yard hoophouse, chickens, veggie and forest gardens. Some people see our compost and get confused and think of it as ugly. Compost is the system du'jour (gold) in our future predicament of diminishing returns...

You've also reminded me of a very important collection of information; The Farmer's Handboook, which is a beautiful wealth of low and appropriate tech ideas, designs and methods.

Thank you again for the clear and concise brain food -- much needed in our clouded culture.

7/5/10, 6:16 PM

Apple Jack Creek said...
The comments here - folks talking about drop spindling, sewing on treadle machines, gardening, fermenting, and otherwise learning really cool stuff just because - made me think of a tag line I've seen: I don't have hobbies, I'm developing a robust post-apocalyptic skillset!

That's us, the Green Wizardry Apprentices! What we do may *look* like hobbies to the uninformed ... but really, we're developing robust skills for a different sort of future.

7/5/10, 7:56 PM

Bobby said...

Wonderful post as always. I am personally looking forward to wielding the hammer and stake in the name of green wizardry. Zombie money, you shall not pass!

Anyway, as I was reading your post, especially the beginning where you mention people's inability to come to grips with the fact that the comforts of the modern industrial age will slowly be cascading into the abyss, I couldn't help but think of the end to C.S. Lewis's The Discarded Image, which I recently finished. While the work focuses on the medieval model of the universe, and how it applies to medieval literature, Lewis's commentary on the nature of models in general in the epilogue might have some use here. Lewis explains that the popularly defined model followed by societies in any era is undoubtedly influenced by what he calls the “temper of mind.” Each model then represents not only an attempt to catalog realities and fantasies, as may be the case, but also the prevalent psychology of that age along with it's prevailing knowledge. For instance, a German in the Middle Ages would have a great deal of difficulty with the notion that the universe is almost entirely composed of vast sections of emptiness; while at the same time, a modern Westerner trained in the methods of the scientific revolution would find the medieval view of the universe equally puzzling and in all likelihood, rather childish. Yet, no model is better than the other, both were born out of a different set of circumstances.

The issue here is perception. Robert Jarvis's work on perception, and how perceptual lenses influences political decisions comes to mind, as he spoke of how culture, economy, values, religion, and geography influence how we perceive and act in social settings in our daily lives.

In times of discomfort, pain, and suffering, i think it is easy to fall back upon our deeply rooted perceptions, influenced by the current paradigm or model, to seek the answers for the future. Regardless of the presentation of new facts and ideas, people will cling to what they know and, perhaps more importantly, what they believe in. As Lewis aptly states, hardly any collection of new facts and ideas could have persuaded an ancient Greek that the universe had an attribute so repugnant to him as infinity. Nor would it be easy to convince a modern city-dweller that they could survive in the summer heat without air conditioning.

In our own era, the pull of the collective, and the altar of capitalism and markets is incredibly strong. Sauron's dark forces in the marketing firms and board rooms work to weave their spell upon a populace that has been led to believe that anything can be fixed by industry or government. Join an organization, vote for me, send money, buy our new gizmo, we promise, all the pain will all go away, really, it will. Our model is very strong indeed, and most importantly it does not promote personal independence of any sort.

Lewis concludes his book by musing that the modern model may die a violent death, or it may evolve when far-reaching changes in the mental temper of his descendants demand that it should. The thing is, very few people are demanding any change from our current model and state of perception because it is what they have grown up with, and it is incredibly comfortable. Couple this model with the herd-mentality of our species, and you have the perfect recipe for a false notion of resilience that will drive people to seek more of the same.

7/5/10, 8:20 PM

LewisLucanBooks said...
Civil War in the West? Yikes! Between who and who, pray tell?

7/5/10, 9:30 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bill, we might well see a cold shift -- it's good to remember that we're facing global weirding, not global warming. The impact of potentially drastic shifts of rainfall patterns also has to be kept in mind.

Glyn, I'm familiar with both the book and the forest garden concept; it's certainly something to explore, but I have my doubts about how well it will work as a general response to a future of radical instability -- climatic and otherwise.

Mark, thanks for the link! We'll be talking about compost soon. A compost bin was quite literally the first thing I put in when my spouse and I moved to our new home -- it came ahead of a kitchen stove.

7/5/10, 9:42 PM

Jim Brewster said...
I read an article a few years ago about a college newspaper that still uses a mechanical printing press. I'm sure that is a technology that will be dusted off in the near future.

7/6/10, 2:27 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Greetings all,

Just to let you know that Blogger is really acting up -- comments that have been posted, and that I've responded to, have vanished from the comment page (along with my response) and reappeared in the queue as comments awaiting approval; and several other comments that arrived in my inbox via email notification are nowhere to be found on Blogger. I'll see if there's anything I can do to get this fixed; in the meantime, if your comment doesn't appear, it's not because I rejected it!

7/6/10, 5:30 AM

Luciddreams said...
I'm still trying to get to the end of the comments thread, but I wanted to go ahead and comment on the topic of connecting with the physical location of those whom frequent this blog.

The fact that very intelligent individuals whom I know in person have never heard of PO, and when presented with the topic come up with ridiculous pediatric beliefs like "well I read an article that said petroleum may be made by microbes deep in the earth." The last time that happened to me my heart sank because the individual seemed of like mind right up to that point. It's very disheartening. This anecdote, and many more like it, are what makes the need for those who are informed on this topic to be able to identify each other in person.

I'm not very internet savy where software and computer codes are concerned or I would work on a possible forum for this site pending JMG's approval naturally. James Howard Kunstler has a forum attached to the kunstlercast. Maybe there could be some collaboration between this blog and JHK's? I've been a long time member of that forum and actually found out about JMG on it. I'll look into a possible link on the kunstlercast end.

Or maybe somebody here knows how to start a forum? I would have no problem providing my time to help moderate such an endeavor.

Another idea could be that we could just place the initials of the state that we are from at the end of each comment with an email address for further inquiry. I would have no problem doing that. If the need is simply to find one another it seems like such an idea would work.

I know I could use the company of like minded individuals whom share the same knowledge about the nature of our predicament as a civilization. If for no other reason than to be understood in person and not over the impersonal Internet.

JMG, thank you again for being the presence that you are. I think the fact that you tie together intellectual knowledge of the reality of our place in time and have a very strong spiritual presence make you an indispensable Internet persona. I also think that there is a strong need for those of us her to identify one another in person if at all possible. An internet forum associated with your blog would be extremely valuable.

Upstate SC, [email protected]

7/6/10, 6:06 AM

wayfarer said...
Been riding a bike for 40 years, tai chi/qigong for 30 yrs, gardening for 3 yrs, homeopathy professionally for 3 yrs, spagyrics for 2 yrs, so am ready for next steps.

Count me in as a regular reader and applier of your future posts.

And thanks for the link to your new book.

7/6/10, 9:14 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Re: civil wars and relocating...

It's interesting to me that Kunstler seems to expect militia uprisings will begin in the southeast first. I think he is just reflecting is unabashed and seemingly irrational hatred for the south and all things associated with it. I'd expect the first shooting wars will be in the west over things like water rights, not in the southeast over hot-button political "wedge issues."

Criteria we looked at for relocating:

Remember you are relocating to live there in the present as well as the future. And the future is unknown. So don't use ONLY criteria based on one hypothetical future for your decision. My major criteria were:

-- Cost of land, and the rate at which it is changing. Rapidly rising land costs indicate impending sprawl; rapidly falling land costs indicate social and economic disruption.

-- Climate conducive to growing food. This includes being able to own your own water rights, which you often cannot do in the west. In the west I'd likely be breaking the law every time I dip a bucket of water from the creek and pour it on the tomatoes.

-- Being far enough from major urban centers that suburban sprawl is not likely to swallow you up in the next few decades. Like it or not, sprawl may not yet be a thing of the past. We may endure another round or two of it as people continue trying to jump start the good old days.

-- Not being so isolated that paid employment is difficult or impossible. In the transition decades, having access to old-fashioned jobs can be really important, even the possibility to reach them via long commutes. It's not the way you want to live forever, but the transition takes a lot longer than you think, and your cash reserves are a lot smaller than you think, so you need this option.

-- Local culture with a demonstrated acceptance of weirdos and hippy-freaks who move in to the area and start doing strange things on their land. In our county we have an elephant sanctuary, a surviving (flourishing) alternative community from the early 1970s, and a Yoga retreat center. These were all taken as very positive signs by us.

-- Proximity to our family, especially our elderly mothers who will need (are needing) elder care in the near future (present day). It turns out my mother moved here to join us; this often happens, so be prepared for the possibility!

-- Lack of major social disfunction, often reflected in crime stats. Rural areas can be surprisingly variable in their crime data, and in my experience this reflects real profound differences in culture. Areas with higher crime rates seem to be more invested in cultures of violence, graft, organized crime (which is RAMPANT in some rural areas) and greater disparities between rich and poor, even on a fairly small geographic scale. For example, these data directed me to look at middle TN, not west TN, which in hindsight has proven to be a very good decision.

--Finally this is kind of an obscure one, but I looked for areas that had higher natural biodiversity (again, on a fairly small geographic scale). To me this indicates a more complex natural environment with a greater variety of ways for biological things to make a living there, which to me seems like a good sign for a person trying to make a living in the same ecosystem.

That's how I did it; other people will likely have different priorities but it is really helpful to make them explicit and specific, look up real data, and map things out.

7/6/10, 10:47 AM

tom rainboro said...
Agricultural techniques: annual vs. perennial, 'forest gardening', 'no-work' gardening etc:
The Forest Gardening centre of the Agroforestry Trust is about 40 miles from here. I believe that it is about 15 years old and 2 acres in extent. I haven't visited it - it's not easy to get access and courses cost £150. At the moment I'm reading Fakuoka's 'The One Straw Revolution' that appears to describe a very productive, 'no-till' form of agriculture. BUT when you read the details it relies heavily on a 12 month Japanese growing season that enables wheat/barley straw to mulch rice crops and vice versa. ALSO Fakuoka pelleted his rice seeds in clay, BY HAND. The point that I'm trying to make is that these techniques DO NOT solve all problems at no cost and it is actually very difficult to find out the details of how they work (particularly the labour involved). I've just read Holmgren's 'Permaculture' book and you do get the impression that he can't quite understand why our ancestors came out of the forest and took to ploughing the fields. But at a deeper level you maybe get the feeling that he hasn't experienced the vigour of a near-artic spring and doesn't appreciate how well cereals are adapted to compete at high latitudes.
I'd also note that the county of Devon, which has the HQ of the Agroforestry Research Trust has 33,000 miles of hedges in its fields. That represents an awful lot of 'traditional Agroforestry' and many hedges are documented back over 500 years and provided nut, berries, building materials, fuel, tool handles etc.. I
think that there are too many people around wanting to sell theories and unfortunately even more people who are persuaded to uncritically buy them. Not only that, but they go around waving their favourite books at you and not listening to any criticisms.(Having said that, there may be some very good ideas at the Agroforestry Research Centre - just have better things to do with £150....)

7/6/10, 10:50 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Apple Jack, survival is our hobby. Heh heh heh...

Bobby, you get today's gold star -- partly for citing Lewis' The Discarded Image, which deserves much more attention than it's had, and partly because you get the role of worldview and narrative in setting the framework in which societies make their decisions.

Lewis, let's just say that Arizona is becoming, in the runup to the second civil war, what Kansas was in the runup to the first.

Jim, so long as they can get or make parts, they're in good shape.

Lucid, I'll see what can be done.

Wayfarer, excellent -- sounds like you've gotten some very useful skills. Now to add to the kit!

Bill, most of these were concerns of mine as well. As for Kunstler, whenever he talks about Dixie his brains turn off. The US is moving very quickly toward a flashpoint in the Southwest; Toynbee's discussion of what happens when a limen becomes a limes is playing out in fine detail.

Tom, I've long been saying that we need hedgerows rather than hedge funds, and I agree about grains -- there's a reason, or rather several reasons, why grains and legumes evolved into the crops of choice wherever field agriculture has had the chance to get established over the long term.

7/6/10, 11:40 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Grains and such -- I have long noted that most urbanites who start thinking about growing their own food seem to fail to grasp one big point: Most diets that most humans have lived on through most of the last few millenia have a caloric base of a starchy root or grain crop -- manioc, potatoes, rice, barley, corn, etc. They often also have had a protein base that is a legume. They are not based on fruit, nuts, leafy greens, nightshades, unripe legumes, all the things most home gardeners and hobby orchardists focus on. Yet most people now, even avid gardeners, have never grown one of these crops. Sweet corn does not count; that's a specialty vegetable. Try growing field corn, grinding the meal or making the hominy, and then cooking with it. Who even knows the difference between flint and dent corn anymore? Or hard and soft wheat?

I'm sure you will include this in your curriculum, but I'd urge anyone who has any thoughts of really growing a diet, not just a side dish, get experience with growing field crops even on a small scale. Carla Emery's book is a very good guide for getting started. Mark off a 20x20' plot, and tend some grains and some beans by hand, no rototiller, and see what it is like. You may be surprised to discover that (a) yes, a single person WOULD be able grow a full year's supply of these crops on her own, by hand, no fuel, no horse, no ox but (b) it is a lot of dirty sweaty work, there is no way around that without energy slaves.

7/6/10, 12:21 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bill, exactly. I think a lot of people forget that if you're growing your own food, you need calories and protein first and foremost. We've got a local heirloom variety of dent corn in the garden this year -- the plants are 8' high and still growing! -- and plenty of field peas and beans, which grow like weeds if your soil has plenty of compost in it. As the garden expands, so will the grains and legumes.

7/6/10, 12:35 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
I'll be very amused if you are growing Bloody Butcher! I've got my 4th generation of that variety in the garden this year. I only grow a small plot (between 18 and 84 hills depending on how busy I am each year), enough for an occasional treat, but I'm learning how to do it. The top tassles on the best plants can reach 12' high! I got it in late this year, which was fortunate as my corn plot was under 2 feet of rapidly flowing water on May 2 so I would have had to replant anyway. It makes an interesting purple conrbread and a slightly orangish hominy... and I hear rumors that it is good for whiskey as well. I figure that every year I grow my own and select the best ears from the best plants for seed for next year, I'm tuning the strain closer and closer to my own climate and soils in case the day comes that I really do need to start growing it by the bushel, not just the pound.

7/6/10, 1:03 PM

Luciddreams said...
I'm not sure if this is the place to ask for advice like I'm about to do, but I see that there is a wealth of wisdom where my question pertains and so I will go ahead with it. I'm a firm believer that having the ability to recognize those who carry much empirical wisdom, and further the ability to listen, will get one much further than reading or research, and so it's with that in mind that I ask this question here.
This is my third year gardening, and my second year utilizing all organic methods (more hoping than skill I might add). I have an approximately 600 square foot vegetable garden. Most of my knowledge comes from Steve Solomon's "Gardening When it Counts." So I have practiced low intensity gardening, basically placing plants as far apart as possible.
This coming weekend I'm renting a backhoe and clearing out about an acre of my land so that I can grow some grains, corn, taters, and beans. My goal is to grow as much of my families diet as possible (my wife and a newborn Ayden Zen). I don't know anything about forest gardening and I don't want to make a mistake by clearing the land to grow some food if there is another way. I have two oak trees that are over 100 years old, one on the east side and one on the west side of my property. My little 600 square feet is the only place my property gets 6 hours of sunlight. The only way that I know to expand my growing capabilities is to do what I'm going to do, open up more land to the sun.
I also need the land to make room for a greenhouse that I'm building by using double paned sliding glass doors that I have acquired for free through an uncle. He is bringing six 4' by 6' sliding glass doors. I have an idea of orienting this thing to the sun in such a way that I can just have a glass front made out of 4 of the glass doors and then put two on each side. We are going to use old windows for the roof.
Basically my question is is there another way other than clearing the woods out? Also what is the best way to orient the greenhouse in relation to the sun. I've read that south facing is better for capturing heat for passive solar heating. My wife, who is a photographer, says that in photography you want north facing windows for light. Forgive my ignorance, but I'm doing this clearing and construction this weekend. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

7/6/10, 2:15 PM

Susan said...
Count me in, too. I've been a gardener most of my adult life, I'm learning herbalism, and I weave, dye, and sew a little. My focus with plants right now is native plants and learning to preserve and propagate them, especially the ones with medicinal properties.

@Bill, thanks for listing your criteria for moving to TN. We're currently in Georgia, but DH and I have been kicking around the idea of moving for a while, and my instincts and what I'd read about middle TN accord with what you wrote. Now to finish up an obligation I still have in this area (school) and then to find the right place.

7/6/10, 2:40 PM

Don Plummer said...
Bobby, and JMG: Lewis' The Discarded Image might just have been his best book, not that his others are second rate. Thanks for the reminder of its importance, Bobby; I think I'll dust it off and re-read it.

7/6/10, 4:27 PM

Don Plummer said...
"The US is moving very quickly toward a flashpoint in the Southwest; Toynbee's discussion of what happens when a limen becomes a limes is playing out in fine detail."

John, could you explain this? I'm not familiar with Toynbee.

7/6/10, 4:37 PM

kwizatz aderach the ultimate being said...
This indeed is masterful magic. I bow down to your joke. Your touch is exquisitely subtle. I am still grinning hours later.

As others, I eagerly await the second half of your curriculum.


7/6/10, 4:56 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bill, no, it's Reid's yellow dent -- just six hills this year, since I had no previous experience with field corn or with the Appalachian climate. The tallest plant has passed nine feet and it still hasn't put tassels out. Meanwhile the pole beans have one and all surmounted their eight foot poles and are now making grabs at startled bats and low-flying planes. We're getting bumper crops of just about everything, including fireflies -- a new experience for me, and enchanting.

Lucid, if the only way to get room for a larger garden is to take out some trees, that's what you have to do. Do something useful with the wood, so it won't be wasted, and plant some trees on another portion of your property to right the balance. You're right about the orientation of the greenhouse; if you're in the northern hemisphere, you want a southern exposure. Photographers want a northern exposure so they get indirect light, but that won't heat your greenhouse.

Susan, sounds like your apprenticeship is well under way, too.

Kwisatz, it'll be a good deal more than a second half; we'll be talking curriculum for months.

7/6/10, 5:29 PM

Cathy McGuire said...
@LewisLucanBooks: Civil War in the West? Yikes! Between who and who, pray tell?
JMG, were you meaning UO vs OSU? Pshaw! There’s not a lot of blood shed there… ;-)

7/6/10, 5:56 PM

Dan said...
Ah... what a lovely 'transition'... from mass movement to hands-on wizardry!

Your last few posts left me thinking about means and ends.

As anyone who participated in any of the revolutions of the 20th century can attest, as soon as the "ends justify the means" comes into play, things get dark. Every time this easy road is chosen, the result is a 20-year death march from idealism to atrocity.

Though we think we are cleverly shaping the 'means' to our 'ends', it is really the 'means' that shape us.

We never reach the 'ends' anyway, and in acting out our 'means' we are changed and bent by them. If the 'means' require that we lie to people about the future in order to better manipulate them for their own good, well... we are not likely to change anyone else, but we sure will transform ourselves into manipulative liars!

So, I look forward with great joy to a year of wizardish means! Practical, tangible, applicable means, that we can learn, and practice, and share with those around us... and come what future may, know that we have lived and worked with dignity and honour.

Those are the means that I would shape, and in doing, let shape me!

7/6/10, 6:46 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Don and Cathy, it's complex enough to want a post of its own -- I'll fit it in when I decide to take a short break from wizard lessons. The short form, though, is that every civilization ends up with external proletariats -- neighboring peoples whose labor and resources help support the civilization but who receive very few of the benefits. When a civilization begins to decline, one sign is that the relationship between the civilization and its external proletariats becomes increasingly hostile, and eventually leads to insurgency and/or open war. Think Rome and the German tribes, China and the steppe peoples -- well, you can fill in the blanks yourself, and it shouldn't be hard to think of the logical equivalents today.

7/6/10, 7:51 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Dan, excellent. It's exactly the transformation of the worker by his or her tools and labors that's the key to moving ahead just now.

7/6/10, 7:52 PM

John Michael Greer said...
By the way, the discussion of this post has knocked all past records for number and thoughtfulness of comments into a very old-fashioned hat. Thank you all for your enthusiasm and your courtesy!

7/6/10, 7:54 PM

GeoWend said...
Hey there! This is Geoffrey Wendel (We met at the Spoutwood Faery Fest), dropping a quick line...

Not found any brewers in the area as of yet, but we have started trying our hand at ales...currently just about to bottle some Yarrow Ale. I will continue to keep an ear out, but the folks at the very nice brew shop in Fredrick (The Flying Barrel) could not think of anyone out by Cumberland.

We will be having a bit of a bottling party this weekend (I also have some mead that needs to go into bottles.).

Of course, we might be doing a fair bit more brewing over in Berkeley Springs...some friends of mine have moved in next door, and they make mead as I do, and are also about to try their hand at beer.

(Hopefully next year we will try our hand at growing a bit more grain...)

I hope this finds you all well!

Great post, by the by...I really liked this one, and it makes much sense.


7/6/10, 9:10 PM

Ruben said...
@ Lucid

Here are a couple of sites that describe how to find solar noon, and then determine solar south. Orient your greenhouse to solar south, not magnetic south.

Green Building: Finding True South to Optimize Orientation

Ways to find true south for solar site survey

7/7/10, 12:08 AM

timewalker said...
[quote]Grains and such -- I have long noted that most urbanites who start thinking about growing their own food seem to fail to grasp one big point: Most diets that most humans have lived on through most of the last few millenia have a caloric base of a starchy root or grain crop[/quote]

Bill, funny you should mention that, when I first became peak oil aware, I got an allotment and tried to do exactly that (as an experiment). I planted a small patch of wheat and spelt (bought the grain from a local health-food shop). It grew fine, but on the point of ripening the whole lot was eaten by rats and other small creatures (I think these live in people's compost heaps). Mt neighbour's sweetcorn was also eaten by the same creatures.

I also planted some potatoes, which were affected by blight (as were those of all my neighbours).

The thing I've learnt from this is that it's important to plant a wide variety of basic staples, just in case any of them fail. (Adding a starchy squash, parsnips and oca this year, and not bothering with the grains).

7/7/10, 4:20 AM

chriswaterguy said...
Green wizard - makes me think of Lonny Grafman, educator in appropriate tech, engineering and permaculture at HSU. - you might want to tell him your ideas.

7/7/10, 6:54 AM

Michael said...
Hello all, first time commenter. I had an idea I wanted to bounce off everyone.

In Denver there is a bicycle collective called Derailer; they do free tune ups and occasionally build people bikes for free.

My idea was some kind of "Clunker Collective". Course I have no knowledge of cars (though I'd like to learn) but I thought a non-profit type mechanic shop (perhaps also conversion shop) would be a good idea.

Also, this just dawned on me. How about some kind of apprentice database? For people like me that want to learn new skills but also really don't know anyone to learn from.

7/7/10, 8:38 AM

Luciddreams said...
No worries. So you know of Wilber just never was interested. Hmm. I know holons weren't unique to Wilber. His claim to fame is linking the perennial philosophy with western psychotherapy/psychology. The man is a genius in my opinion.

And for the record I feel the need to say that I'm not going to cut down either of those oak trees I told you about. As badly as I have wanted to cut down the oak on the east side of the property I haven't.

7/7/10, 9:19 AM

Loveandlight said...
A bit off-topic, but I have an interesting challenge for you for a future post: Let's say you have twenty-something friend at the time when collapse is accellerating and becoming increasingly self-evident. This friend is very frightened because he sees all this awfulness happening and he doesn't understand why because he doesn't know anything about the dishonest world of money and finance, peak oil and gas, overpopulation, or any of that stuff. Let's say he suspected you knew what was happening and he wanted you to tell him in as simple terms as you could manage. The challenge of this post I am suggesting to you is, what would you say to him? Whether or not you approve this comment, I hope this challenge intrigues you at least a little.

7/7/10, 12:16 PM

Danby said...
Dear God! 200 comments! I'm not going to read them all.
It is odd to contemplate that JMG thinks I have the makings of a wizard. A green one, but a wizard nonetheless.
Seriously, this approach has a lot more to recommend it than the other peak-oil strategies I've seen discussed. The primary one being that anyone can do it. Right now. I've been doing it for 25 or more years. No coalition building. No small-group discussion. No dependency on anyone else. Sinn Fein, y'all.

Of course, you will have to kiss your comfortable, lazy middle-class life goodbye, but that's happening whether you choose it or not.

7/7/10, 12:22 PM

Danby said...
Species and variety diversity are critical to crop reliability. If blight is endemic in your area, make the expense to purchase seed potatoes. They are expensive, but you are much more likely to get a crop than if you save infected seed. Crop rotation helps a lot with this, making sure never to plant potatoes in soil that in the last 2 years has had potatoes, tomatoes, tomatilloes, husk cherries, or hoe nightshade (a pervasive weed of the Western US that I struggle against every year). And, of course resistant varieties help a lot too.

re:rats. small dogs, especially terriers, will reduce any kind of rat problem to negligible dimensions.

7/7/10, 12:30 PM

Danby said...
Okay, I lied, I did read them.

While Eastern and Western monasteries were outwardly very similar, the spiritual content was astoundingly different. Basically it was 2 groups of men trying to achieve opposite ends by the same means. Christian monks are trying to perfect themselves, Buddhist monks are trying to negate themselves. While the means were identical (self-mastery, abolition of desire, disciplined life in a community) the endpoint was very different indeed.

Also, Christian clerics are supposed to be an alter Christus another Christ. This demands non-violence, as He gave himself over to his persecutors rather than defend Himself, even with words, let alone violence. Hence it is forbidden for Christian clerics to draw blood, and it is considered a sin to strike them.

So however much mental and volitional discipline can be learned within a martial art, that path is contrary to the nature of a Western monastic.

7/7/10, 1:30 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Geoffrey, good to hear from you! Save a bottle for me.

Ruben, thanks for the links! These are good.

Timewalker, you're reminding me of a passage from the Mabinogion.

Chris, as time permits.

Michael, if you want to try to bring something like that into existence, great; go for it. If you want somebody else to do it, well, let's just say you may be waiting for a long time. One of the lessons of this moment in history is that actions are more valuable than ideas.

Loveandlight, my experience is that this isn't the sort of thing you can communicate in a single post, because you have to walk the person through the places where today's conventional wisdom fails to deal with ecological reality. That takes time and patience. My book The Long Descent is about as concise as I've been able to make a written version of the process.

Danby, if as devout and conservative a Catholic as J.R.R. Tolkien could find wizards congenial company, I don't think you have anything to worry about! As for western monasticism, though, there were the militant orders of the Middle Ages -- the Templars, Hospitallers, and so on, who did combine life under a Christian monastic rule with the profession of the warrior. Since I'm not a Christian I'll leave it to those who are to debate whether that was appropriate, but it did happen.

7/7/10, 2:36 PM

S.L. Æris said...
Chef fistfight over the term
"local" re pig in contest.....
really funny:

7/9/10, 2:55 PM

Aurora said...
This sounds much better than Hogwarts! I'm in.

I had a real surviavlist/self sufficiency bent as a kid and always imagined that I would grow up into hard times. Shame I put it on the back burner, with the total lack of outside validation for my fears through the boom. Looks now like I was a smart 9 year old.

Revisiting your blog after a prolonged absence to find this is surely serendipitous. Today I have been looking for books on hand and solar powered kitchen and craft tools. I have also been editing my library to reflect the kind of future we are headed for; and was thinking of all the different topics I would need to have covered. Sounds like you have done the groundwork for me!

7/15/10, 2:26 PM

Aurora said...
P.S. I also found this the other day which looks like it may come in useful.

7/15/10, 3:02 PM