Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Waiting for the Millennium

Part Two: The Limits of Magic

The first half of this essay sketched out the unfamiliar terrain that’s beginning to open out in front of the peak oil community as the concept of hard energy limits seeps back out into public awareness, after thirty years of exile in the Siberia of the imagination where our society imprisons its unwelcome truths. One probable feature of that landscape is the rise of revitalization movements among people in the industrial world. Last week I talked about those movements in general terms, but it’s possible to explain them a good deal more clearly by saying that revitalization movements try to cope with drastic and unwelcome social change through ritual action.

“Ritual is poetry in the world of acts,” according to the influential Druid writer and teacher Ross Nichols; in less gnomic form, ritual is action done for its symbolic meaning rather than its practical value. Most social movements combine ritual with practical action in various ways. What sets revitalization movements apart is that they emerge when practical responses to a changing world are either unworkable or unthinkable, and so the plan of action they offer is entirely a matter of ritual; even those actions that have practical aspects are done because of their symbolic power.

The wild card here is that ritual can have remarkable properties when it’s applied in the right way, for the right purposes. This is the secret of magic – the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will, to repeat Dion Fortune’s definition. If what you’re trying to do depends on the choices of conscious beings, magic works. Rosie the Riveter, who’s been discussed in these essays more than once, is an example of successful magic. “We can do it,” her most famous poster said, and millions of American women discovered that they could; housewives who had never handled a machine tool in their lives headed off to factories to build airplanes, tanks, and cannons at a pace that exceeded even the most sanguine hopes of Allied planners, and flooded battlefields around the world with a tidal wave of munitions that swept the Axis powers into history’s dumpster.

For an even more extreme example, consider the trajectory that created the most dangerous of those same Axis powers. Not much more than a decade before the Second World War began, Germany was a textbook example of a failed state, an economic basket case with a discredited political establishment, riven by internal struggles that hovered close to the brink of civil war. Reasonable methods applied by reasonable men had failed to do anything about these problems. Hitler was not a reasonable man; he understood, better than nearly anyone else at the time, the power of the nonrational to shape human thought and action, and his response to Germany’s disintegration amounted to government by magic. Germany became one vast ritual theater, flooded with symbols, incantations and ceremony. Reasonable men predicted that he would be out of a job in six months; six years later, in total control of a tautly disciplined nation and one of the world’s most fearsome war machines, he declared war on most of the planet, and it took another six years and total defeat to break his grip on the German people.

There’s a rich irony that one of the few contemporaries of Hitler who could match his understanding of the nonrational was Mohandas K. Gandhi. Gandhi was not a reasonable man, either, but his mind rose as far above the level of reason as Hitler’s sank below it. In many ways, the task of prying loose “the jewel in the crown” of the British Empire from its overlords was a more astonishing feat than pulling Germany out of its post-1918 death spiral, and Gandhi did the job without any of the institutional tools Hitler relied on to work his magic. The spectacle of the largest empire in human history forced to submit to the gentle will of a single elderly mystic may be taken as an example of the positive potential of magic; the cataclysmic failure of the Twelve Year Reich show just as clearly its potential downside.

The difference in results unfolded partly from the moral distance between the two enchanters. Ethics are as important in magic as sanitation is in surgery, and for the same reason; neglect either one and you can count on things going septic. Still, there are also differences of means and ends, and these bear directly on the theme of this essay. In order to accomplish his purpose, Gandhi needed only to affect the thoughts and decisions of people in Britain, India, and any other countries that might influence one or the other. His work, in other words, was ultimately a matter of causing changes in consciousness, and that was something that symbolic action could and did accomplish.

Hitler, for his part, started out working on similar lines. To bring his vision of a triumphant Germany into reality, he had to cause changes in the consciousness of the German people, on the one hand, and in the minds of the leaders of other European nations on the other, and the magical knowledge he got on the fringes of the Vienna occult scene proved more than adequate to that task. Once he went past those goals to pursue the fantasy of military conquest, though, he passed out of the range of effects that could be accomplished by changes in consciousness, and into a realm that depended on the hard material realities of oil, steel, and geography. Once he crossed that line he was doomed; magic can transform a failed state into a unified nation, but it can’t make a world empire in an industrial age out of a modestly sized European state with few resources, no petroleum, and no defensible borders.

All this is simply to say that magic, like any other tool, is very well suited to carry out some jobs and completely useless for others. If the troubles faced by an individual or a community are primarily a function of consciousness, magical methods can be extraordinary effective in dealing with them. If the troubles that have to be faced has its roots in the world of matter, though, there are hard limits to what magic can do. You can’t use incantations and rituals, for example, to put oil in the ground if it was never there in the first place, or if the oil fields have already been pumped dry. You can’t even use magic to run a successful coal-to-liquids program if the net energy of the technology you’re using is too low; Hitler’s regime did its level best to accomplish that, with some of the world’s best scientists and engineers, the substantial coal reserves of occupied Europe, and an unrestricted supply of slave labor – and the Wehrmacht still ran out of fuel.

These examples are particularly relevant to the present, because the movements led by Hitler and Gandhi both had plenty in common with revitalization movements. Both emerged in response to drastic social stresses resistant to any more practical or reasonable approach – the post-Versailles near-collapse of Germany on the one hand, the economic and social burdens of British imperial rule over India on the other. Both drew heavily on symbolism, incantation, ritual, and the rest of the hardware in the magician’s toolkit, and both became mass movements characterized by the wild enthusiasm and millenarian expectations common to revitalization movements everywhere. The success of Gandhi’s project and the failure of Hitler’s thus points up, among other things, the difference between what a revitalization movement can do and what it can’t.

That’s of crucial importance just now, because the thing that most people in the industrial world are going to want most in the very near future is something that neither a revitalization movement nor anything else can do. We are passing from an age of unparalleled abundance to an age of scarcity, economic contraction, and environmental payback. As the reality of peak oil goes mainstream and the end of abundance becomes impossible to ignore, most people in the industrial world will begin to flail about with rising desperation for anything that will bring the age of abundance back. Even those who insist they despise that age and everything it stands for have in many cases already shown an eagerness to cling to as many of its benefits as they themselves find appealing.

The difficulty, of course, is that the end of the age of abundance isn’t happening because of changes in consciousness; it’s happening because of the laws of physics. The abundance we’ve all grown up thinking as normal was there only because a handful of nations burned their way through the Earth’s store of fossil carbon at breakneck speed. Most of the fossil fuel reserves that can be gotten cheaply and quickly have already been extracted and burnt; the dregs that remain – high-sulfur oil, tar sands, brown coal, and the like – yield less energy after what’s needed to extract them is taken into account, and impose steep ecological costs as well; renewables and other alternative energy resources have problems of their own, and have proved unable to take up more than a small fraction of the slack. These limitations are not subject to change, or even to negotiation; they define a predicament that we will all have to live with, one way or another, for a very long time to come.

What this means is that the fundamental causes of the crisis of modern industrial civilization are not susceptible to magic. We can’t conquer the future under the banner of abundance any more than Hitler could conquer the world under the banner of National Socialism, and for much the same reason: the physical resources to win such a war simply don’t exist. Now it’s true that we could respond to the present crisis by changes in consciousness, using the tools of magic among many others, but those responses would require us to accept the end of the age of abundance and the loss of essentially all of its benefits. That’s something very few people today are willing to do.

This is why I mentioned earlier that revitalization movements emerge when all practical responses to a changing world are either unworkable or unthinkable. Modern industrial civilization has wedged itself into just such a situation; those responses our political leaders and the bulk of our populations are willing to think about are unworkable, and those responses that might actually keep things from going haywire in fairly dramatic ways are unthinkable. That leaves ritual as the one remaining option.

If that option could be used in the right way, to change consciousness so that people learned how to think about the unthinkable, accept the end of the age of abundance, recognize the huge gap between what we currently think we need and what we actually need, and retool their lives and expectations to fit a post-abundance world, it could accomplish extraordinary things. The problem here is that it’s not usually possible to get people to use ritual action to achieve something they desperately don’t want to achieve. Magic, again, is the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will; if the will isn’t there, neither is the magic.

That leaves the foredoomed but profoundly seductive attempt to make the physical world obey the desires of the majority of industrial humanity by means of ritual action. The Sarah Palin fans chanting “Drill, baby, drill,” as though drilling a hole in the ground magically obliged the Earth to put oil at the bottom of it, are taking tentative steps in that direction. So are the people who insist that we can keep on enjoying the trappings of the age of abundance if we only support a technology, or join a movement, or adopt an ideology, or – well, the list is already long, and it’s going to get much longer in the near future. My guess is that we’ve got a couple of years at most before somebody puts the right ingredients together in the right way, and the first fully fledged revitalization movement begins attracting a mass following with its strident denunciations of the existing order of things and its promise of a bright future reached by what amounts to a sustained exercise in magic.

Those of my readers who have been paying attention will recognize that this doesn’t mean people will be putting on robes and funny hats and brandishing ornate wands while intoning the names of spirits in whose existence they don’t actually believe. Just as magical incantations in the peak oil scene these days have replaced the old barbarous names with such words of power as “hydrogen economy,” “algal biodiesel,” “advanced petroleum recovery technology” and the like, the rituals that will be practiced by the revitalization movements to come may take the form of community building exercises, protest marches, outdoor festivals, and campaigns for political office. They may even include sensible steps such as weatherstripping homes and building solar greenhouses. What defines an act as ritual, remember, is that it’s done for symbolic rather than practical reasons; weatherstripping a house is a practical action when it’s done for the practical reason of saving a few dozen dollars a year on heat bills, but it becomes a ritual action when it’s done under the conviction that steps of this nature can ward off the end of the age of abundance.

This is why I suggested at the end of the first half of this post that an effective counterspell against the misplaced magical thinking at the core of the coming revitalization movements is the recognition that there is no bright future ahead. Those words conjured up some remarkably intense reactions among readers of this blog, and that was exactly what they were supposed to do. The sentence needs to be understood with a certain degree of subtlety, though. It does not predict a future of unbroken misery, or claim that there will be no gains to measure against the immense losses most of us will suffer.

What it means is that the core faith of the age that is passing, the faith that the future will be better than the past or present, has become a delusion. In almost every sense, the future ahead of us will be worse than the present and the recent past The vast majority of us will be much poorer than we have been; many of us will have to worry at least now and then about gettng enough food to stay alive; most of us will have to do without adequate medical care; most of us will not have the opportunity to retire; most of us will die at least a little sooner than we otherwise would have done. The security most of us take for granted, with police and firefighters on call and the rule of law acknowledged even when it’s not equally enforced, will in many places become a fading memory; many areas that have been at peace for a long time will have to cope with the ghastly realities of domestic insurgency or war. All these things will be part of everyday life for the vast majority of us for decades, and on the other side of it lies, not some imagined golden age, but a temporary respite of stabilization and partial recovery that might last for half a century at most before the next wave of crises hits.

This is the way civilizations decline and fall. It’s our bad luck to be living at the dawn of the second great wave of decline to hit Western civilization – the first, for those who haven’t been keeping track of their history, began in 1914 and ended in the early 1950s – and this wave will probably be a great deal worse than the first, if only because it comes right after the peak of conventional petroleum production and thus has to face a decline in net energy per capita on top of everything else. It’s comforting, and will doubtless be common, to look for scapegoats for the troubled times ahead, but it seems more useful to recognize that this is simply what happens at this point on the curve of history’s wheel.

Of all the reactions that the first half of this post fielded, though, the ones that interested me most were those that suggested that having a bright future to reach for is the only thing that gives meaning to life. Fortunately, this isn’t even remotely true. Nearly all of our ancestors lived in times when there was no bright future on the horizon; nearly all of our descendants will experience the same thing. The great majority of the former and, no doubt, of the latter as well, found other reasons for living. That’s an equally viable option right now, given a willingness to think the unthinkable, recognize that the age of abundance is ending, and consider the possibility that doing the right thing in a time of crisis, no matter how uncomfortable or challenging the right thing might be, may be a more potent source of meaning than waiting for magic to make a bright future arrive.


madtom said...
"Nearly all of our ancestors lived in times when there was no bright future on the horizon; nearly all of our descendants will experience the same thing. The great majority of the former and, no doubt, of the latter as well, found other reasons for living."

Surely this is one reason that so many of those ancestors invented and passionately believed in an afterlife. Is it time to reinvigorate this tried-and-true method of social control?

6/16/10, 10:17 PM

Avi said...
I'm really irked at all the bon ton Gandhi hagiography. See Ved Mehta's classic 1977 biography 'Mahatma Gandhi and his Apostles' for all the dirty linen. And Gandhi didn't get the British out - the British did:,8816,884787,00.html

6/16/10, 11:00 PM

spottedwolf said...
once again have my smile in place and shining in your direction. Your eloquence is a rarity. I just want you to know I stand shoulder to shoulder with all of us who fully recognize, accept, and choose to manipulate our lives for the greater good of all. In my area I work with folks on a personal basis helping them extract the old and stagnant forms and rejuvenate them. When these subjects come up pragmatism becomes the gist of the subject matter. I heartily endorse your insights AND CONTINUE URGING THOSE WHOSE HEADS ARE TURNING to read your blog and ask questions.

Thank you my friend.

6/16/10, 11:02 PM

Robin Datta said...
Thank you, ArchDruid: that was good. (Particularly so as I have just started The Druid Magic Handbook.)

As was pointed out in the first half of this post, the crux of the problem to be addressed is struck foursquare & main by the counterspell "There is no brighter future ahead!".

For those whose criteria of "brightness" truly lie outside the pale of cheap energy lifestyles secured through the profligacy in the use of fossil-fuels, there is no mystification from this choice of counterspell: waverers on the other hand may try to blunt the spell by invoking the alternate criteria of brightness.

6/16/10, 11:19 PM

Babaji said...
I can sit anywhere—under a tree, in a crowded train or in my room—and enter into a luminous world of spiritual beauty, love and pleasure simply by chanting the mantra given to me by my guru. I can do this and live very, very simply and frugally. I know this because I have done it, for months at a time. I don't need the trinkets and gadgets of industrial production to be happy, because I have a much more reliable source of happiness within, due to my spiritual practice. I am not special; anyone can do this. Where there is a will there is a way to find the path.

6/16/10, 11:21 PM

Steelkilt said...
Thank you for another eloquent description of the real facts of life. I have been reading Gandhi daily for some time now and am convinced that spiritual efforts will most effectively enable the myriad successful responses to our shared challenges ahead. Your writing is incredibly useful in helping me frame my thoughts and relate action to others. Now, back to work...

6/16/10, 11:55 PM

The Onion said...
Having been born in the mid 70s, I'm supposed to be well established in a career, with a home and family under my belt at this point. I have come to terms with the fact that I'll probably never retire. The past few years have increasingly made me uneasy about the future. The job I have now pays the bills, but I find myself planning for a much different future than I imagined before. It's not that big of a come down, I grew up poor. Still, I imagine the new poor will be starkly different from the modern welfare state poor. I am making the effort to gather knowledge and skills that will be of use in a transitional economy. If they are not immediately transferable, I can at least hone them to the point where the next generation can inherit something. This isn't all bad. I did a basic course on blacksmithing earlier in the year. The work was exhausting, but at the end of each day I felt something different mixed in with the soreness and the sweat and the immense hunger from the physical exertion. Perhaps a small taste of the fortitude required of preceding generations, and a reminder of how removed we are from certain realities facing us in a life without cheap energy.

6/17/10, 12:06 AM

Tony said...
An insightful and beautifully written pair of posts. I guess the point being, is it possible to counter a movement that offers to fulfill the hopes of followers, when the rational alternative is so unpalatable.

6/17/10, 1:23 AM

Joy said...
Personally, all people, in all situations, have nothing to look forward to in the end except perhaps premature death by violence, disease, or starvation. If they elude all of those hazards, they will be rewarded with extreme senescence - also followed by death.

For the individual, there can be no brighter long term futures. Once one accepts this, (hard to do, my mother still hasn't at age 88), it is but a small step to accept that the same is true for society as a whole.

6/17/10, 1:35 AM

sofistek said...
Spot on, JMG.

Do you think it will ever be possible for humans to get off the roller coaster and live sustainably? Or would even that not guarantee avoidance of sharp discontinuities?

6/17/10, 2:35 AM

Odin's Raven said...
1.Don't you accept the idea of abiotic oil?

2.Magically perhaps the desire for 'free energy' interacted with physical fact to contribute to delivering 'free' oil from the Gulf of Mexico to a beach near you.

3. Would Gandhi have been effective against anyone but the enfeebled liberally minded British, whose cultural leaders had already lost confidence in their right and ability to rule? It's hard to imagine people like the Mongols, Muslim Arabs, Chinese etc doing anything but massacre him and all his insolent followers. His own people murdered him as soon as his usefulness was over. The ability to change consciousness seems to be limited.

6/17/10, 3:18 AM

Jim Brewster said...

I don't know if you're aware that "Drill, baby, drill!" was originally coined by Maryland's own, and RNC Chairman, Michael Steele. It was a cynical play on "Burn, baby, burn!" from the race riots of the late 60's. Nice, huh?


6/17/10, 3:21 AM

Jeff Gill said...
Hi, John. I am just popping in to say thanks. Your essays over the last few years have played a huge role in reshaping my view of the world. The slow and painful wrenching of the myth of progress from my embrace has not left me without a sense of meaning. Rather, it has given me, as a Christian pastor, a profound sense of duty to work for the practical, here-and-now well-being of the people in my community. I am only beginning -- but I am beginning -- to turn that sense into action. Much of the credit for that must go to you and your magic. Thank you.

6/17/10, 4:27 AM

timewalker said...
This reminds me of the thoughts of Dmitri Orlov, about the wisdom of such movements, even if seemingly benign.

Probably a bit too long to quote in it's entirity, but here is a link:

Of particular relevance is the section on "Political Dysfunction" (about halfway down in the article) - beware of the activists! Ever since reading this (it's in his book as well) I've been wary of such things, and I'm thankful for that.

6/17/10, 4:31 AM

Zin said...
Time to focus on what we have control over.
Exercise the body
Calm the Mind
Get involved with the local community
Learn new skills
Gather knowldege
Get off medications
Grow food
Unplug the TV

6/17/10, 4:44 AM

Eric Hacker said...
Thank you. Your essays are continually enlightening.

I now realize that perhaps my toughest challenge in dealing with the folks who do not realize what is happening, or even folks who do but have not changed much, is that their rituals are what I am asking them to change. Annual vacations across the globe, sending kids to college on the other side of the country, television, factory food, commuting an hour each way to work and so on. These are all modern rituals that are harmful, but I now realize that it is hard to get people to change a communal ritual without having another ritual to replace it.

My own personal interconnectedness and spirituality will still cause me pain to be in close contact with people causing so much harm, but understanding the ritualized nature of their behavior helps to deal with that pain.

6/17/10, 4:47 AM

Fleecenik Farm said...
I feel such a sadness sometimes when I ponder what we are about to face.

Right now, I am sitting across the table from a little boy eating a bowl of granola, his curls a little askew from his pillow. Today, I will bake bread,take a walk in the rain and pick some swiss chard for our dinner. Grateful for these small graces I have for today.

6/17/10, 4:51 AM

joanhello said...
It's already here.

I just read Barbara Ehrenreich's 2009 book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. She never uses the term "revitalization movement" or mentions cargo cults, but what she describes - a movement that advises individuals to rid their minds of "negative" thoughts and their lives of "negative" people and keep their attention focused on what they desire in order to attract it - is an exact match for your description. When I was a girl in the Fifties, positive thinking meant people with more ambition than talent reading and rereading Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich!. Today that book's latest descendant, The Secret, is a best seller, and positive thinking, under the trade name "prosperity gospel", has actually replaced Christian teachings in some of this country's best publicized churches. Business leaders started out promoting these ideas among their employees as a way of keeping up morale in the face of layoffs and pressure on the remaining staff to work more hours for lower pay, but then, according to Ehrenreich, they drank the Kool-Ade, too, and worked themselves into a frenzy of overconfidence. Thus they brought about the series of bubbles and busts that has characterized the economy ever since.

Right now the movement advocates intolerance of "negative" people only on the personal level. (For instance, if your mother belittles your ambitions, your are advised to exclude her from your life.) In the future it could morph into serious messenger-shooting, with prominent members of the peak oil/transition towns/post-carbon movement literally in mortal danger, along with anyone whose personal appearance or known attitudes are even vaguely countercultural. If you've got a counterspell for that, please publish it; it could turn out to be very necessary.

6/17/10, 4:52 AM

NorthCreekNews said...
Bravo! Again I find your blog chilling and exciting at the same time. As we move through the ramifications of contracting resources on a finite planet, I hope that if we are likely to be led by a Magician, he or she has integrity in hand. Gandhi did his own share of "weather stripping" in the form of spinning cotton as he led. I myself am in the process of moving towards as much of a reduced energy life as I can figure out in the midst of a society built on energy. Sometimes it feels silly to work at milking my cow when I could easily buy milk at the local store but the in-bedded energy is vastly different. Is this just an exercise in "magic" or a real move towards a response to a contracting future?

I have always struggled with the phrase "pursuit of happiness" we have been saddled with by the founding fathers as interpreted by capitalism. What if we had been left with Life, Liberty and the pursuit of emotional closeness?

Thank you for your eloquence and profound thinking.


6/17/10, 4:54 AM

dragonfly said...
JMG - I would be curious as to why you picked the period from 1914 to the 1950s as the first leg down of Western Civilization? Though a horrific period, I have always viewed the period that followed to be the zenith of western civilization, culminating with the landing of a man on the moon. Your thoughts and historical perspective would be appreciated.

6/17/10, 5:47 AM

Janette said...
The US is a young country, by nearly all standards. Accepting the cold truth of an uncertain future and making sound decisions accordingly is a function of maturity. The timing of PO & end of empire for the US is not in our favor. There will be teenage tantrums. And an embracing of occult escapism not unlike the current tween vampire fad. That we may tread in Hitler's (instead of Ghandi's) magical path is a genuine concern. It will all depend on who captures the common imagination, and when they do. Sooner will be better than later!

6/17/10, 6:24 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Thank you, John Michael. I now understand completely what Financial Permaculture is. It is an incantation for what I am now convinced is the nascent revitalization movement know in some manifestations as Transition Town. I also should add, that though it began as an actual alternative agriculture system with legitimate grass-roots origins, Permaculture has now been subsumed as one of the core facets of this revitalization movement.

Evidently "Financial Permaculture" had a name before it had a definition. It seems to have been created in the thought that "'Financial Permaculture' sounds like a movement we should pursue; let's figure out what it would mean." I also find extensive discussion of language in the FP/TT writings from our local group (freely available on the web if you search on a few key terms). One of the recurring themes is that when dealing with a "local community" (i.e. non-initiates) you don't use your "own language" for several years, until you have gradually brought them into the first level of trust. This is presented in a way that suggests an implicit understanding that "our language" is the language embodying the "truth" but that you have to introduce the masses to this "truth" gradually. Does this not smack strongly of Arcana that are revealed to first-level initiates only after they have passed a basic level of mastery of the Truth?

As for rituals, the prominent routine form taken is the Workshop. These people don't even seem to be able to get together for a potluck without then splitting off into breakout groups and making presentations at the end of the evening. The goal seems to be getting everyone on the "same page," with the "same vision," and a consensus as to how to achieve that vision. For the big grand public rituals (the Major Sabbats), one of the preferred forms seems to be the "demonstration project." These are of course intended to show how we can maintain all the comforts of home and 20th Century living no matter what happens in the rest of the world. What irks me about this is that these are almost invariable NEW construction. In an area with high foreclosure rates and plenty of vacant dwellings even before the late "financial crisis," how on earth does letting those rot (all that embodied energy evaporating away) while you truck in loads of bricks, concrete, rebar, straw, lumber, etc. etc. freshly extracted and produced, amount to any sort of "green" and "low-footprint" way to live? What it is, of course, is theatrical.

This also explains the "paralysis by analysis" phenomenon, where these people spend eons in workshops and demonstration projects that actually leave very little real change on the ground. If your point is to imagine the brighter future, apparently the imagining is the most important part. If you really attempted to implement this stuff on a major scale, you'd find out very fast why it just ain't gonna fly. And that might undermine the whole movement.

So there it is -- the vision of the brighter future in nice tidy little local economies with local currencies, green jobs (with health benefits, retirement plans, and good pay in local cash), universal access to solar-powered broadband through ubiquitous WiFi, lights that still come on when you flip a switch, healthy varied food that grows itself with no labor required (a central mantra of permaculture -- the stuff just drops out of the trees into your waiting baskets), and houses that maintain themselves at 72F year-round with no external energy sources needed. That's your Transition Town powered by Financial Permaculture. Oh, and it is of course ethnically diverse, open and accepting, even though the people now working on founding it, at least in our local manifestation, are white as the driven snow and from a rather narrow band of socioeconomic and political origins...

6/17/10, 6:25 AM

K said...
Your hypothesis that we are actually in the second stage of decline, with the first having occurred from 1914-c.1950, hit me over the head like a Zen koan. I had never looked at it quite that way, and the re-framing is eye-opening.

As a product of my culture and its ideas of linear progress, it's hard for me to get my head around the idea that Western civilization peaked by 1914, but if you look at features such as craftsmanship and quality of architecture (though not, say, medical breakthroughs and life expectancy), a case could certainly be made. At any rate, it's a fascinating re-framing.

6/17/10, 6:26 AM

Robo said...
We will need "magic" to remodel the cultural concept of "bright" to fit reality, rather than the other way around.

6/17/10, 6:49 AM

Gregory Wade said...
Creature Consciousness is accessible by anyone, as Jesus reminds us--faith manifest by acts; Right thought an outgrowth of Right action.

6/17/10, 7:05 AM

DC said...
There is no bright future ahead. What a sobering and frightening concept. Or, reality, rather.

To be completely honest about myself would be the best thing for me to do in response to this week's blog.

My name is DC. I am an optimist intoxicated from the magical elixir of human ingenuity and ardor. I too have felt my whole life, like many others I'm sure who read this blog, that with hard work and sheer will power, humanity can accomplish anything it should desire. A human condition or behavior? Hardwired or manufactured? I know not. All I know is that it is complete desperation to overcome any obstacle(s) that come my way.

I am not naive though. I have always been aware of biophysical limits (long before the recent fetish of today and prior to my knowledge of the Club of Rome Report identifying limits to growth long ago) and the necessity for humanity to acknowledge them and scale down our influence to "prosper" (whatever that means) within them. We live on a finite planet. It has always just made sense to me. This materialized for me more later in life when I learned through my studies in Human Ecology to be the carrying capacity of a specific bioregion at a specific moment in time--depending on a number of biophysical realities or limits.

What has resonated with me the most from this week's post, which has inspired me to participate in this discussion, is that although I am aware of the sobering reality that there is no bright future ahead, I can't help but think there is because of my need to foster a prosperous life for my children because I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE them and I want them to know that I did not bring them in to this world to be doomed to the perils of the modern world. Every time I think of this I can't help but feel utterly powerless to the depths of my entire being because I can envision how troublesome and how destitute life will inevitably be for those who are the most ill prepared to deal with the challenges to our survival that lay ahead.

It seems that no matter how much my family or my local community prepares, there will be many who are close to me, or not for that matter, that will face extreme dislocation, displacement, starvation, etc. and it paralyzes me to no end.

I want nothing more than to harness this desperation and mobilize it for the common good. Revitalization?

I want nothing more than to express these sobering concepts in a way that allows people to acquiesce the troubling times ahead and do what they have to do to be and maintain resilience.
Magical thinking?

I am puzzled...

6/17/10, 7:15 AM

pasttense said...
Revitalization movements?

You're using the wrong term. Revitalization has a positive connotation; what is likely to happen will be negative.

6/17/10, 7:19 AM

Blindweb said...
I've often pondered over the last couple years whether an issue greater than peak oil for Western Civilization is the hard limits of Judeo-Christian-science philosophy/consciousness being met...a failure of western thought to understand that no model truly reflects reality (particularly the model of self), that reason has limits too, and that life takes place in the present, not the future. That when you dice up infinite reality up you're going to have inherent flaws in your thinking. Alan Watts said something to the effect of western thought being like a flash light, and eastern though like a flood light, each useful in some situations and limited in others. It seems to me that the failure of Western Civ to adapt to energy limits is due to the ignorance of its intellectual limits.

In financial discussions I always bring up Long Term Capital Management as an example of the fallibility of models; one wrong assumption, in an endless sea of variables, and your model is garbage. Yet apparently every amateur thinks they're smarter than those guys. Now is this hubris a carry over from the oil high, or are egos purposely kept stoked to make people more susceptible to looting...

6/17/10, 7:22 AM

Yupped said...
Thanks for the post. I'm a relatively new reader, have been following for a few months now. Of all the peak oily sources out there I find this one of the most helpful - encouraging of quiet reflection, and hopefully some actual action on my part soon.
I grew up in the UK, and then moved to the US in my late twenties. I did the full-on yuppie thing, working in the tech industry, thinking that future was golden, not just bright. Ha! But I was raised by a gardener and a practical man, so I have some useful skills still. My garden is coming into good use now, and we get maybe 10-20% of our food from it. What you're helping me understand, or perhaps just accept, is that the best we can do is muddle through and try to live as well as we can in the present, while a lot of big historical stuff swirls around us.
My UK family were mid-level functionaries in the British Empire, in India and China, and lived and often died through the great turning points of Imperial decline: high point around the 1880s, Boxer Rebellion, WWI and II, loss of India and Britain's final acceptance of the end after Suez. It took many generations for all of that to unfold, and a lot of clinging and hoping that a small country (with even fewer resources than Germany) could continue to run the world. It seems ridiculous looking back on it, but that's what people tried to do, across generations.
On a day to day basis, many Brits were able to handle the most difficult times with a certain stoicism and quiet determination ("Keep Calm and Carry On"). By the 70's the country was at a very low ebb. So the sense of excitement and renewal that came with the return of prosperity in the 80s and 90s (partly fueled by North Sea oil) was strong. We didn't have an empire, but we were cool and wealthy. And we had hedge funds! Point is, that instinct for a brighter future dies hard, and it comes back to life pretty easily. God knows what it's going to be like here!

Yours in calmly carrying on,


6/17/10, 7:27 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Tom, your presuppositions are showing.

Avi, yes, I know that Gandhi-bashing has become quite the cottage industry of late.

Wolf, thank you!

Robin, oh, granted. Tthose who aren't ready to use the counterspell can find all kinds of ways not to use it.

Babaji, of course -- but you're not waiting for a brighter future, you're tuning into a brighter now. Different thing entirely.

Kilt, good.

Onion, excellent. Blacksmithing -- especially if you get good at working with salvaged metal -- is a first-rate deindustrial skill.

Tony, probably not. It's not a matter of countering it so much as staying out of it and doing something more useful with your time.

Joy, well, yes. That's the unmentionable secret behind the whole rhetoric of progress -- it's an attempt to evade the reality and inevitability of individual death by projecting identity onto an abstraction. But that's fodder for another post.

Sofistek, sure, we'll embrace sustainability, just as soon as there are no other options. That's pretty much standard practice; where you find a sustainable human society, you normally find the ruins of half a dozen earlier societies that defined the learning curve.

Raven, first, abiotic oil is a complete crock. Second, I like the suggestion that Gaia finally got irritated and said, "You want oil? Here, have some!!!" As for Gandhi, I think he would have had the good sense to use different methods against an imperial power with a different ethos. You choose your magic to fit the situation.

Jim, that's too funny.

Jeff, you're very welcome. Your tradition contains some very powerful teachings about the folly of pursuing material wealth and comfort at the cost of more important values, and those are profoundly relevant to the predicament we're in.

Timewalker, yes, Dmitry's on top of it as usual.

Zin, good. Start with the last step -- "turn off the TV" -- and you have plenty of time to start work on the others. (Full disclosure -- I haven't owned a TV since the early 1980s, and I think most of what I've been able to do has been a function of that simple timesaving step.)

Eric, that's a very insightful point.

Fleecenik, it's still entirely possible for that little boy to grow up and thrive in the times ahead of us. It's going to be a challenge, but it can happen.

Joanhello, thanks for the reference -- clearly a book I need to read. I've been thinking similar thoughts for a while -- well, in fact, since The Secret came out. A counterspell will take some work, but I'll get on it.

6/17/10, 7:39 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Kate. milking a cow is magic if you expect it to save the world; if you treat it as one small part of a response to times that are still going to be hard, it's practical.

Dragonfly, in 1914 nearly the entire planet was ruled either from a European capitol or by nations founded by the European diaspora. By 1954 that was no longer true. The fact that we've got a whole bunch of neat technological toys that they didn't have in 1914 doesn't change the fact that Western industrial civilization is a great deal less dominant and more fragile than it was.

Janette, the US is actually quite an old nation --it hasn't changed its government or, except for its westward expansion, changed its borders in more than 200 years, which is relatively rare. The oldest European nations, for that matter were invented out of much more ragged and diverse feudal states in the late 17th century, but most of them have had drastic political changes and boundary shifts since then, and quite a few didn't come into existence until the 19th century. So I think our problem may be less immaturity than senility.

Bill, thank you -- not least for the phrase "paralysis by analysis," which is particularly apt at the moment; I'm responding to these posts on a hotel computer after a speaking gig at a conference.

K, good. It's a reframing I find very useful for making sense of the recent past and the future alike.

Robo, to use that magic you have to have the will to do so, and that's likely to be in short supply for a while.

Gregory, I'm not familiar with the term, not being a Christian.

DC, instead of pursuing a brighter future for your kids, why not pursue a livable future for them?

Pasttense, "revitalization movements" is the standard term for them in sociology and history. The fact that you like to impose a positive spin on the word "revitalization" doesn't change that fact of usage.

6/17/10, 7:55 AM

Zach said...
What defines an act as ritual, remember, is that it’s done for symbolic rather than practical reasons; ... it becomes a ritual action when it’s done under the conviction that steps of this nature can ward off the end of the age of abundance.

Thank you! I now comprehend why so many people are THAT excited about hybrid cards.


6/17/10, 8:02 AM

Zach said...

Ah, yes. The versions of Evangelicalism that I've been part of over the years have been decrying Prosperity Gospel doctrine for as long as I can remember. Yet it seems to be a growth industry -- and I do mean industry.


I'm a Christian, and I have no idea what Gregory is talking about either.


6/17/10, 8:05 AM

Loveandlight said...
When I first learned of Peak Oil and Gas, it occured to me that when the crises start to appear, an awful lot of Baby Boomers and my fellow Gen-Xers would engage in disastrous actions and pursuits on both the individual and collective level, based on the assumption that the age of abundance was permanent and should always inform our behavior. Of course, they would be doing so deliberately in the face of much evidence that the assumption was false. After reading this and the previous post, I now understand that this is incantatory behavior that fails to take into account the limits of magic you describe here. So the Captain Obvious moral of the story is, scared people not only often do stupid things, they often do willfully stupid things.

6/17/10, 8:07 AM

disillusioned said...
Clearly, the majics of Gandhi and Hitler were understood in the West and set to use in WWII (Churchill and Roosevelt) - more so in the works of the Stalinist Soviets, where ideas were banned to remove threat of their majics.

I am reminded of Orwell's “1984” where attempts were made to remove the power of such majic, by erasing each individuals vocabulary (so they may not think in an unorthodox manner) and by erecting internal mental defences inside the individual, causing them to reject “criminal” thoughts.

Yet a majic is prevalent all about us. Called marketing and advertising, it sells untruths and lies about how things can make your life better. First sell the salesman, then sell the product. The priests of this cult smile and gleem with polished, persuasive manners and expensive effects - on your TV and radio, now! In this world, all is better, newer and so exciting! Nothing is ever negative; marketing swamps all with fake glamour and 10 million messages of fake futures.

1984 has happened to the majority. They cannot think about “bad things”; they have been taught the language of marketing where all is good, where bad thoughts are rejected as terrible crimethink. Say a message about forthcoming troubles and they cannot hear; their internal doublethink smooths it away. (I find this is so for many I talk to; they will not pause to hear the impossible, especially as there is so much else better to do...)

They are as blind men, running for all their lives - who, running off a cliff, must discover that not all is ground. Suddenly they are in trouble and have likely lost their lives.

Until that news of trouble is heard and digested, they will not listen. To make them listen, Reality in front of them must rise up and smack them in the face.

No new Churchill will be heard until that disaster happens. The real Churchill went unheard for years before the war, grinding on and on very vocally about a Nazi threat, arising horrible in Germany. Disaster happened.

For many in that age, revelation came too late. For our society? How will we hear?

This is a stupid society; it must run off a cliff before it will listen.

6/17/10, 8:13 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
You're most welcome; thank YOU for helping guide me towards a better understanding of what is making our local "Green Movement" tick and why it has always given me a bit of a case of the heebee geebees.

Now that I feel I do have a better concept of what is going on with our local Greenies, I have a bit of a conundrum. I see two courses of action:

Do I now become active in the movement, and attempt to interject things that (in my own mind of course, I'm too postmodern to think I have the true answers anymore than they do) might increase the level of reality? Ideas such as "I think you overemphasize consensus, I think we all should be working on different pages with different ideas, that way we develop a bigger toolkit and have better chances of finding things that actually work." Or, "Why all the emphasis on 'finance?' Local economies have existed for many millenia, and many have not had much of a financial sector. Maybe we should take a broader view of what 'economy' encompasses and not be so fixated on money." Or, "Given that we already have a housing stock of thousands of buildings in the county, many of which are vacant or in disrepair, maybe we ought to think about developing and demonstrating ways to bring these existing houses into the post-peak world, rather than thinking we'll just rebuild the entire housing infrastructure from scratch."

OR, do I just keep my head down, do my own thing, and try not to get in their way, letting people just see what I am doing and forming their own opinions of it?

Many would reflexively say "obviously you should get involved and try to make a difference." But I see potential major down sides to this. I take the chance of being branded as a trouble maker, perhaps even an enemy, and becoming a pariah, especially if a monolithic Transition Town movement actually rises to the seats of power in the community. Life in rural areas can be precarious if you manage to make yourself into an outcast -- there are good reasons that religion and politics used to be off-limits in social discourse.

Any thoughts?

6/17/10, 8:25 AM

Arthes Cenhadon said...
Having been clocked by the edge of the wave a little bit ago, I've never been more pleased that I am a blacksmith, bladesmith, and now a redsmith too.

Comforting these skills will be, in the very near future.

Good post as usual.

6/17/10, 8:27 AM

mageprof said...
@ Joanhello (and JMG)

The movement that Barbara Ehrenreich critiques has been a major force in American culture for about 150 years now. See Charles S. Braden, _Spirits in Rebellion_ (1963) and J. Stillson Judah, _The History and Philosophy of trhe Metaphysical Movements in America_ (1967) for its early history, including such figures as P. P. Quimby, Mary Baker Eddy, Emma Curtis Hopkins, Malinda E. Cramer, and William Walker Atkinson.

It also played a large role in the rise of various American traditions of "propless" or "non-ceremonial" magic that have very little connection with European forms of high and low magic.

6/17/10, 8:41 AM

MisterMoose said...
It probably helped enormously that Gandhi was up against the British Empire, rather than, say, a German or Russian Empire of the same time in history. The Brits, with their deeply held belief in fair play, were more than willing to see his point of view and grant India its independence. Hitler or Stalin would simply have given the order to have Gandhi taken out and shot, and be done with it.

6/17/10, 8:43 AM

Calypso said...
Madtom, it would be fantastic if we could get a little help from the afterlife crowd on this problem! Does the archdruid have any connections? Seriously.

6/17/10, 8:49 AM

William Hunter Duncan said...
John Michael Greer,

As for the last two posts, well said; thank you. For my own part, I am squating in my house in south Minneapolis off the grid - no municipal water, electricity or gas. I have a lot-and-a-half which I just finished planting, after ripping up 1800 sq feet of sod with a spade shovel and my hands, to add to the 300 sq feet of garden I already had. I'm down to about $100 dollars, without employment, with a vision for taking the house sustainably off the grid, but without the resources to put that vision fully into practice.

I've written a book, and a script for a bit of Sacred Theatre, with dances including swords, deer horns and a diamond willow stave, theatre I intend as the primary marketing vehicle for the book. The advance manuscript, theatre script and business and marketing plans are with a dozen friends/editors/investors I care about and admire, who I know will tell me the truth. So far, the response has been positive, but no capital is as yet forthcoming.

My last name is Duncan, which is also the name of the first two kings of Scotland. They were immature fiends who brought little but misery to their people. My life is in part meant to be a redemption of that name. I am also in service to the Goddess, in service to the Earth. These are frightening times. People will be looking for answers. I am prepared to give them one. It is not THE answer, if that is what they are looking for, which none can give but to him or herself; but it is a story of the answer I have found for myself.

As a man of Celtic heritage, I am asking for a blessing from the Arch-Druid of America, whatever that blessing might be, if only a prayer. Thank you again for your words. I know of no one speaking more clearly about what we face as a species. I feel better about the future of America knowing you are alive, writing, speaking, growing your own food.

Safe travels, and blessings, William Hunter Duncan

6/17/10, 9:16 AM

Twilight said...
Re: Television

It's not just at time waster, it is the principal means of casting the spells most suffer under now. When people "communicate", quite a bit of the information that is transferred is in non-verbal forms: body language, tone of voice, key phrases. These things are direct emotional appeals that bypass thoughtful analysis.

If you turn off the TV and radio, try not to look at advertising, and otherwise block out that emotional communication, and focus instead on what is actually said and done, then you see a very different picture. After a time, when you are occasionally exposed to them the magic spells become very obvious and jarring. But even when you are aware that it is happening it is still hard to block it out.

Revitalization movements powered by modern marketing tools may be quite something to reckon with.

6/17/10, 9:24 AM

SlowCrash said...
Thanks for the enlightenment. I'm a recent convert to PO and am just past the point of acceptance, now moving on to try practical action. My thoughts had gone to the type of muddling along you've talked about and it was very nice to see similar sentiments.

I think I may stay away from the magical thinking only because I don't expect to save the world, only to raise my children to be able to respond and change with the world so that they may survive as best as possible. Selfish but realistic.

"No brighter future." My hope is that we work to keep the best things from industrial society while rediscovering the things we have lost. I don't know that this would be a better or worse future, just different. Although seeing the general reaction so far to recent events, there may be little hope of this type of future being widespread. Particularly disheartening is knowing that societies can lose knowledge they once had.

6/17/10, 9:35 AM

Randomthoughts said...
Considering that the records indicate that the average peasant had improved nutrition after the fall of Rome, I wonder if the the full incantation should be "there is no brighter future for the parasite classes". I too am striving for a more livable future.

6/17/10, 10:46 AM

pgrass101 said...
Your post made me realize that my wife and I are simplifying our lives (by putting less value on material possessions than our contemporaries) as a way to change the consciousness of our children. We have realized that many of the things that define success today will not be obtainable in the decades to come. If our sons do not begin to use material things as a measure of their self-worth then they should be better equipped to deal with the scarcity of resources in the future.

Of course this all depends upon their ability to withstand the cultural pressures. But as the prices of consumer goods starts to increase (reversing the trend of the past 4 decades) and TV’s start to get more expensive hopefully our culture will start to put less value on these things. I do not so much fear my sons reaction to the upheaval caused by the death of the consumer based economy as much as my own generation (I am 39) as I do the 20 something’s who do not yet realize that the world that was promised to them is unobtainable and their parents and grandparents wasted the opportunity in the 1970’s to ease the transition in one last blast of over consumption.

We do go through rituals of increasing our energy efficiency, localizing our food sources, and trying to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels. But I do not think that these things will change increase the amount of resources. We are doing them now by choice to try to decrease the amount of personal upheaval that the rest of society will feel when they are forced to make the same changes. People who place value and measure their worth by consumer goods will have a large psychological adjustment to make when they can no longer afford to purchase items based on novelty or simple desire.

We try to encourage our sons to find worth in building and making things (like weaving baskets) rather than how high they can score in a video game. Hopefully they will have some skills and be better prepared emotionally for the “Not So Bright Future”.
I guess you could call this magic in a way.

6/17/10, 10:54 AM

MisterMoose said...
I've been thinking about this a lot, lately, after reading your earlier posts.

When I used to live in Baltimore, I traveled a lot through Amish country up around York and Lancaster, PA. I remember talking to several Amish gentlemen, and realized that they were fairly happy and well-adjusted, even though they didn't have automobiles or TV sets. Hard work on the farm didn't seem to bother them at all. They had made a conscious decision to limit themselves to living with a certain level of technology, and seemed to be content with that choice.

The one big worry they had was that their teenagers were leaving the community to go out into the surrounding world to live a more hedonistic, MTV lifestyle (to "sow their wild oats"). However, some of those young people have subsequently returned to the Amish lifestyle to raise families. I guess the decadent, industrialized West is a nice place to visit, but you may not want to live there...

Do you think the Amish might have an advantage over the rest of us when the big crunch finally comes?

6/17/10, 10:58 AM

Avery said...
Bill: As for rituals, the prominent routine form taken is the Workshop. These people don't even seem to be able to get together for a potluck without then splitting off into breakout groups and making presentations at the end of the evening.

You've hit it spot on! Some of the underclassmen at my college during my final term wanted to get together and discuss the future of academia and humanity. I thought this would be the fun sort of "bull session" my dad described to me as the best part of college life, where people hang out and talk about whatever's on their mind. But instead, the leader had the mystical idea that it had to be organized as a Workshop, and we therefore followed the formalized breakout and present model, stifling the real creative energy of a casual conversation. Why did we need to organize things in this way for a simple gathering of 6 to 8 students? Nobody seemed to understand the underlying magic (does anyone ever understand the magic inherent in their beliefs?), but of course, nobody took any real action as a result of these formalistic conversations. And the Conference model, as seen at basically every environment/permaculture event ever, is a conglomeration of Workshops.

I was initiated as an archdruid in the RDNA tradition that same term, and I have to say, I prefer my rituals to theirs...

6/17/10, 11:04 AM

K said...
>>The Brits, with their deeply held belief in fair play, were more than willing to see his point of view and grant India its independence.

Really? Assuming you aren't being sarcastic, I suggest reading up on history.

The point that Gandhi would have faced worse odds if imperial Russia or Germany (not to mention Nazi Germany) or even France were ruling India is well taken, but the idea that the British were "more than willing to grant India its independence" and see Gandhi's point of view is fairly, well, ahistorical. The British (obviously) resisted, with violence of all sorts, independence for India for many decades, and only granted it after a devastating world war. Don't meant to get too far off topic, but really...

6/17/10, 11:57 AM

Lamb said...
Another excellent post!
I do not find your posts alarming as much as cautionary...I am one of those *prepper nuts*. I did not set off on this track because of peak oil, I started prepping because I had several children and it was prudent to keep a full larder and learn to sew and make soap, etc.

I learned very long aho to live without most of the trappings of what the majority deems a "comfortable lifestyle".

I think that the media---from newspapers to tv to movies to magazines to the internet---has increased many peoples expectation of what a "normal" lifestyle should be.
We in the west are used to seeing articles on decorating your "McMansion" and ads for $800 shoes and $2000 handbags and commercials that tell us that we are failures unless we drive *this* car or drink *that* vodka or dress in clothing from such and such a store.
But in our breathless attempt to "civilize" the world, those same messages are now beamed by satellite into remote villages in Africa or carried by cable to heretofore isolated townships in the Urals.
I have always thought that the insistence that "The American Dream" should be everyone's dream to be rather rude. We have spread the ideal of the unsustainable western lifestyle like a virus.
We spread discontent like a 2nd grader spreads cold germs in class.

Why should a potter in Nigeria, who makes useful objects to sell at a village market be continually told he is a failure because his family does not have a minivan? It does not matter that such a vehicle is useless to him, it is dangled enticingly on a tv screen while it's virtues are extolled by an authoritative voice over that tells him that if he "really cares" for his family, he will move heaven and earth to get said vehicle. So he becomes discontent with his life from this and a thousand other messages beamed to him from our western world and plastered on billboards or printed in magazines, etc.

Discounted people flood into the US every day...and into western Europe as well, to claim their piece of this poisoned "dream". Many leave contented lives, happy families and villages living in a sustainable fashion to swim in the chaos of our "civilization".
Sad, when you think about it.

Sorry to go off on such a tangent there...but your post got me to thinking...

6/17/10, 12:36 PM

Gregory Wade said...
Creature Consciousness as a term was introduce to me by Ernest Becker, anthropologist, and author; I discovered it within. Frankly, I don't believe one needs be a Christian to understand the Philosophy of Jesus, or for that matter, a Druid to understand John Michael Greer. Personally, I'm agnostic; I'm don't believe in the Judeo-Christian God given it's idolatrous nature--man as the source of creation--nor do I worship nature. Becker, as did Jesus, understood that the self was a social product and largely symbolic, but our organism is of nature; it knows what we presume to know, and that's why we often oppose it. So yes, turn of the t.v., and do something. Nature is self-organizing, perhaps our animal selves can be our guide if we trust it. As Becker put it: Christianity made Creature Consciousness the very condition necessary for Salvation. "Denial of Death." People need to move more, anyway, for their own sake; it feels great and pays better than stocks!

6/17/10, 12:59 PM

Justin Kase said...
It seems likely the near future will develop as described here. My bets are placed accordingly. Among other things, the gardens are in, the future goat pasture is cleared, chickens and geese are raising their young and 30 cords of wood are drying to combat global cooling! Am preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

If the mythical "golden age" arises from the rubble, I'll be pleasantly surprised, (if still alive) but not shocked.
According to my friends who study astrology, the next several Jupiter/Saturn cycles (every 20 yrs, next is 2020) are favorable for new inventions and their adoption. The last time it was favorable was 1980. Unfortunately the first one coincides with an 80 yr major war cycle (1780, 1860, 1940, 2020). Thus could be 2040, (if ever) before man invents a way out of the scarcity paradigm, if those in charge allow such change. (Could be heresy by then)! Also scarcity could be derailed by the potential war. If global population is below 10% of current numbers, energy supply is unlikely to be a major problem.

6/17/10, 2:58 PM

nutty professor said...
Great post. My question has to do with what I understand to be the difference between religion and magic; and that has to do with myth, the power of myth to construct a detailed map and narrative of What Really Is, and enact that through ritual. So are the possible myths that might energize our revitalizing movements, and survive the age of decline so as to foster an eternal return? Is that what you are doing?

6/17/10, 3:01 PM

Joel said...
Have you read Thor Meets Captain America? (also available in graphic novel format, if you're so inclined)

It's an interesting take on what WWII would have been like if magic were slightly less limited, by an author who usually holds magic in contempt.

David Brin is the only other blogger I've read who acknowledges just how important magic was to the solidarity of Hitler's followers, and how incantatory the Tea Party is.

A debate between you and him would be fascinating. Well, it would fascinate me, and probably bore both of you terribly.

6/17/10, 3:15 PM

Don Plummer said...
"I like the suggestion that Gaia finally got irritated and said, 'You want oil? Here, have some!!!'"

I've actually had some thoughts along similar lines. I've been thinking that maybe God, or the gods, or Gaia, or however one articulates supreme intelligence, is "mad as hell" at us and is sending us a message.

@Bill Pulliam:
Your description of the "financial permaculture" group sounds like they're engaging in a form of gnosticism: the true knowledge is only available to those who go through an initiation period; the average unititiated person is not ready to receive this special knowledge.

And, interestingly, there's a tie-in here with the positive thinking movement discussed by Barbara Ehrenreich that joanhello mentions and that mageprof elaborates on: the philosophies of Phineas P. Quimby and the Christian Science movement of Mary Baker Eddy (Eddy was a student of Quimby's) are also forms of gnosticism, with their dualistic matter vs. spirit ideology.

6/17/10, 4:09 PM

Journey School said...
"...but it becomes a ritual action when it’s done under the conviction that steps of this nature can ward off the end of the age of abundance."

One easy way to tell if an action is ritual or practical is to evaluate whether the action is synonymous with the rest of the actions in your life. You know, like the old phrase "wind it up on Sundays". If you install weather-stripping in your 4000 sq. ft. home that you light up inside and out 24/7, heat or cool to a constant 72 degrees, and live in by yourself when you are not commuting 50 miles each way in your SUV, this might be a ritual action. I've heard such action praised as valuable Baby Steps so often and had to walk away before my head exploded.

Thank you for giving me a much more effective way to discuss the difference between ritual and practical action than exploding body parts. And for the reminder that ritual action is most often a replacement for practical action rather than a precursor to it.

6/17/10, 4:26 PM

Laura said...
@Mr. Pulliam:

You're probably right about your local Green Movement; it's probably too dangerous to get involved with the intention of rocking the boat. It might be possible to make a difference if: 1.) The local movement hasn't become too monolithic and organized yet; 2.) You're pretty sure you can out-charisma its leaders; and 3.) You phrase your suggestions as "that's good, and let's do this too!" rather than "shouldn't we do this instead?"

Otherwise, yeah, you'd be asking to be drummed out.

6/17/10, 4:32 PM

quantumskunk said...
is there a magical incantation to make property taxes go away? when local goobermints collapse and can no longer collect taxes by threat of eviction, then we will know that uhmerika has ended.

the gulf of mexico is dead. will be for generations. i fear the collapse is near. very near. all you have outlined will come to pass very soon. this is the last summer of abundance.

6/17/10, 5:23 PM

Andy Brown said...
This man, like all other men, and women too,
(at least the ones not lunatic nor dying)
needed a future to take with him
into his Tuesday morning
(like his grandfather with gray felt fedora,
or grandmother with clayish armor
of red, red lips).

And this man’s future
was bright and geometric and excellent,
like the images that come
if you press your thumbs long enough
onto clench-closed eyes.

After every Tuesday, a Wednesday and then Thursdays
all ways
after that.

“Wednesday,” says the lunatic,
“or more precisely Wotan’s Day –
or if you like, Odin’s Day
is a dead-end day
for the Tree-hugging, one-eye god,
who, you know, gets et finally
by hairy Fenrir pups
or an en’dragon
or some such monsters of the God-Dusk.”

This man laughs, with his
bright and geometric and excellent
This man in his Tuesday morning.
This man.

6/17/10, 6:47 PM

andrewbwatt said...
I concur that ethics is important to magic. As you give, so do you get, it seems.

Will you write a column soon, please, on ways to grow renewal movements? By which I mean, not revitalization movements that try to use magic and symbolism to achieve impossible ends, but movements that change consciousness toward the kind of long-term sustainable thinking you're talking about?

And most importantly, are there ways to tell the difference between renewal movements and revitalization movements?

6/17/10, 7:04 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Zach, bingo. It's ritual, and it also allows them to pretend that they can live a privileged lifestyle without burdening the planet, which of course they can't.

Loveandlight, very well put.

Disillusioned, Ioan Couliano pointed out decades ago that modern advertising is a debased form of magic -- debased partly in an ethical sense, and partly in that it uses a very limited palette of techniques.

Bill, I'd advise you to stay strictly out of it and do something else, under a label that these folks find too uncomfortable to co-opt. You can't make somebody see something when they have powerful emotional motives not to see it; current lefty culture has some astonishing tools for not hearing anything that one doesn't want to hear. I had a conversation a little while back with a permaculture type who did not want to deal with the fact that I disagreed with him, and literally kept spinning my words back at me, edited to make me agree with him. It was not a useful conversation.

Arthes, "comforting" is an understatement. Good for you.

Mageprof, Atkinson was a more complex figure than some of the others you've mentioned; that aside, of course you're quite right. There are very, very few new ideas in contemporary American culture.

Moose, I already addressed that. Gandhi would most likely have chosen different means to deal with a different imperial power; that's a basic principle of magic.

Calypso, they have their own problems to deal with, you know.

William, you certainly have my blessing and my prayers. Listen to the message the events in your life are communicating to you, and that will tell you how to pursue the vision you have.

Twilight, true enough. I tend to advise students that the first step toward anything constructive at all consists of tossing your TV into the dumpster.

6/17/10, 7:13 PM

mageprof said...
@ Don Plummer

Yes, it's correct to say that the movement started by Quimby and Eddy is a gnostic movement if one keeps in mind that there were actually several kinds of Gnosticism in Late Antiquity, and not all of them had a sharply dualistic ideology of matter vs. spirit.

We've learned so much about Gnosticism (and its several distinct varieties) since the discovery and publication of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts. April deConick's blog "Forbidden Gospels" has some excellent posts on this whole subject. She is a fine scholar who can read the old Gnostic manuscripts in their original Coptic.

As for the lineage, P. P. Quimby taught Mary Baker Eddy. (She was also heavily influenced by Emmanuel Swedenborg and his American followers. This was the source of her striking idea that God is equally Father and Mother.)

Eddy taught Emma Curtis Hopkins, but soon found her pupil to be an independent thinker and disowned her for that. Hopkins had very many influential pupils, and did not mind that some of them were also independent thinkers who eventually founded their own distinct organizations -- "new religious movements," to use the current academic jargon.

Malinda E. Cramer arrived at much the same set of Gnostic ideas independently in San Francisco, and later drew heavily on the writings of Eddy and Hopkins as well as several others; but the S.F. Earthquake and Fire ended her life in 1906, and the organization that she had founded in that city did not long survive her death.

Among the many first- and second-generation pupils of Hopkins, a few elaborated systems of magic. The most influential of them was William Walker Atkinson, author of _Mind-Power: The Secret of Mental Magic_ and the founder of the Yogi Publication Society, which has kept a number of significant occult and magical books in print for a century now.

None of these people (except perhaps Hopkins) seems to have known anything about the Gnostics of Late Antiquity. However, several of them, including Eddy, had some awareness of magic and came up with their own theories about how it might work.

6/17/10, 7:47 PM

John Michael Greer said...
SlowCrash, it's not selfish at all, just realistic.

Randomthoughts, just remember that from a global perspective, the entire population of the US belongs to the parasite classes; the 5% of us who live in the US use around a third of the world's energy, resources, and industrial production.

Pgrass, whether or not it's magic, it's crucially important. Good for you.

Moose, funny you should mention that. I took the train home from the conference today, and there was an Amish family in the seats just behind mine, father, mother and children all neatly dressed, the kids well behaved, talking to one another in their dialect. They'll do fine.

Avery, while it's not my primary tradition, I've also been initiated in the RDNA, and I'd sooner drink the waters of life than attend a seminar any day!

K, thanks for the clarification. I think people like to forget that the British Empire was as brutal as any -- the British invented the concentration camp, for example, in the Boer war.

Lamb, I wonder how many people engaged in marketing all that discontent realize that they're creating forces that will tear industrial civilization apart.

Gregory, thanks for the details. I grant that one doesn't have to be a member of a faith to understand that faith's ideas -- though there are dimensions of experience that are only open to the full participant; it's simply that, since I'm not a Christian, I haven't studied much in the way of modern Christian thought.

Justin, er, I'm going to take issue with just one phrase from your comment, not because you didn't say anything else worth noting, but because this phrase suggests to me that you haven't grasped the core of what's going on. You say, "before man invents a way out of the scarcity paradigm"; that's very nearly a perfect expression of the delusion that rules industrial civilization -- the fantasy that scarcity is just something in our heads ("a paradigm") and that we can replace it with something else just by being clever.

As long as you think that, the future is going to blindside you. Scarcity is one of the fundamental principles of existence; it does not go away just because we pretend it's not real; and it's only by grasping the fact that every living thing must always contend with scarcity that we can approach the world in anything like a sane manner.

Professor, not quite. I'm not interested in any kind of revitalization movement; I'd like to get some thoughts out there that will be useful when the revitalization movements are over and done with, people have finally grasped that the space brothers or whoever aren't going to rescue us from the consequences of our own actions, and those who haven't arranged to be raptured onto imaginary spaceships a la Heaven's Gate buckle down to the question of what to do now.

Joel, I haven't -- I'll have to check it out. I enjoy Brin's SF, though of course you're right that he has the common rationalist habit of despising what he's never taken the time to understand.

Don, it's a profoundly debased gnosticism, because gnosis is knowledge that transcends and transforms the ordinary world, and what these people are pushing (like The Secret et al.) is an attempt to gain a privileged position within the ordinary world. From the perspective of the old Gnostics, they're slaves of the demiurge, seeking power over the world of matter rather than seeking to transcend that world and enter into the aeonic realm of light.

Journey, exactly. When it's a gesture that's contradicted by the rest of a person's life, it's not a baby step, it's a fashion statement.

Laura, agreed.

Skunk, nope. Sorry.

Andy, thank you!

6/17/10, 7:58 PM

mageprof said...

Yes, indeed -- Atkinson is complex and endlessly fascinating! I'm interested in all these forgotten names simply because one line of my own female ancestors came up with their own women's form of magical pantheism, out in the San Francisco Bay area from the 1880s onward, and I've spent many years trying to figure out the sources that they drew on. Among their sources were Eddy, Hopkins, Cramer, Atkinson, the very popular occult novelists Marie Corelli and H. Rider Haggard, and others. Someday there may be a book tracing this history . . .

6/17/10, 7:58 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Andrew, that's a tall challenge. I'll certainly take it under consideration.

Mageprof, that's fascinating! I've recently heard from a writer who's preparing a booklength bio of Atkinson for publication -- that will be well worth reading -- and I hope you'll take the time to put together the book on your ancestresses as well. The distinctive American traditions of occult thought are a fairly large interest of mine.

6/17/10, 8:03 PM

Mark said...
Mantras are powerful things. I like the way Robert Anton Wilson framed it in his book about the fundamental materialists and their mantra of, "It's only a coincidence, It's only a coincidence, It's only a coincidence..." If one convinces themself of something long enough, one starts to believe it and make it seem true within one's experience of reality.

The only difference between the fundamental materialists he critiqued, and those you are critiquing, is the mantra seems to be just now, somewhere along the lines of, "Something will save us, something will save us, something will save us..." Of course, something will save us, but it won't be the inhabitant of an imaginary palace with roads paved in gold, nor the combination of one million photovoltaics and tidal turbines -- although some things along those lines may help a few folks out. What's going to "save" us is right beneath our feet, right here and right now. And if there isn't much soil to be had, it can be brought into existence very simply, the simplest of all magic or alchemy. Let's talk about the compost pile.

And to touch on the point Bill brings up about permaculture or transition towns being the centerpiece of some new fangled revitalization movement. It's quite possible that those terms could be used, but one thing that is largely overlooked is the foundation -- much like the stone the builders rejected -- that is Bill Mollison's writings and theory (particularly A Designer's Manual). Critiquing permaculture doesn't make much practical sense, because permaculture isn't a thing or a product, nor is it something done -- it isn't simply a way to garden or grow food(although the garden is a powerful metaphor). One of my mentors refers to permaculture as a framework for seeing the connections between elements in our human existence. It isn't static and it isn't fit for consumption.

Most of the critics, from my interaction, haven't read much or any of the literature, nor have they taken much time to give any of the design process or principles a go, and even fewer have wrapped their heads around the concepts, theories and simple observational practices we have forgotten in our domesticated reality. "If you sh-t in your bed, you'll surely smother in it." Let's try not to soil our sheets...

6/17/10, 8:10 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Helpful advice from all, thank you! Interesting that all the comments were quite similar, even though none but JMG had seen the others. So far I have been keeping quietly out of it; I think I will continue in the same vein. Call it the "Rose and Bernard" strategy, perhaps (sorry JMG, that's a TV-based pop culture reference). I stopped using the word "Permaculture" in relation to anything I might do myself years ago.

I do hope the organized "movement" does not actually wind up impeding the real relocalization of our economy here, with its emphasis on finance and attracting "green business" from outside sources. The actual seeds I see of what looks to me like a real nascent local economic rebirth and de-suburbanization are from entirely different directions. I was disturbed last Monday at a discussion and Q/A forum for our county mayoral candidates (open field this year, incumbent died, interim mayor not running). None of them mentioned anything about agriculture in their economic visions, just the old worn out slogans of attracting industry back to the area; they're just betting on "green industry" (isn't that an oxymoron?) now. When I questioned two of them privately later, one had clearly not thought much about it and the other said "I just leave that all to the [name of the Transition Town/Financial Permaculture group]." If she leaves it all to them, ain't nuthin' ever gonna happen!

I had been thinking that local government would become more important as federal and state gov'ts gradually sink under impossible financial burdens and political gridlock. Now I'm not so sure...

6/17/10, 8:12 PM

mageprof said...

"Distinctive American traditions of occult thought" and practice are a major interest of mine also. There may be a second book eventually on the history of women-led magical religions in America from the late 1700s down to the present. (I taught a whole course on them five times before my retirement.)

I'm not as fast a writer as you are, so both these books are some years off.

And I really can't wait to see that biography of Atkinson! It could clear up so many mysteries in the history of American occultism.

6/17/10, 8:17 PM

Meg said...
Regarding magic, alchemy might be another example of what you describe. 'Ritual chemistry' is actually a very neat description. But even symbolic actions have real consequences, sometimes valuable and sometimes awful - just usually not the consequences you wanted.

With their mystical concept of the life cycle of metals, the alchemists generated a huge volume of very practical applied chemistry. This is a great, if ambivalent, accomplishment. However, they are better known for their failures - chemical transformation could create wondrous and terrible things, but gold was not one of them, and neither was a cure for mortality. And these failures came to define them in the public memory, because these were what they pursued the hardest. The creation of a new science was the consolation prize, and not one they could have seen the implications of at the time.

I would not be surprised if the futile quest to transform [flavour of the week] into energy and immortalize the first-world lifestyle, eventually produces some unexpected spin-offs of its own - some nice, some nasty, and many only possible to evaluate in hindsight.

6/17/10, 9:21 PM

tristan said...

Both Hitler and Gandhi used their influence (magick) to get their followers to do things that, in other circumstances, I'm sure they would have objected to. Gandhi followers embraced passive resistance to the point of pain, injury and incarceration, Hitler's followers embraced spartan lifestyles and eventually inhuman actions.

Both did so in the quest for a vision put before them by their leaders. So why would it not be possible to create a vision that gets people doing what you need them to do as a by product of pursuit of that vision? Is that the solution to getting people to embrace a future that they are trying to avoid? Simply get them looking in another direction while taking part in action that actually leads them to a better place?
I realize this is all very theoretical - I have no idea how one could construct such a vision. But I guess I am trying to understand the limits of magick.


p.s. Go Carleton Druids!!!!

6/17/10, 10:04 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

Good post. I'm always troubled by activists who claim that there are quick fixes for the problems and predicaments of our society. I've noticed an increase in the "If only we'd embrace nuclear energy" articles flowing through the Australian media recently... There is a lot of uranium here, but it's a finite resource too and we're selling quite a bit of it.

I've also noticed a core theme for many commenter's on this blog in recent weeks. It focuses on the oft repeated concerns that parents have for their children given peak oil and resource depletion in general. It seems to me a touch hypocritical to express these concerns from the comfort of a Western society. I express this point of view because even in decline individuals in Western societies still have access to consume greater resources than their peers in the third world. It's a predicament as well as being a conflict of interest to be concerned about peak oil and/or general resource depletion and express a desire to maintain the status quo.

I've travelled in the third world and people there eke out an existence as best they can. For all of the doomers out there, it is an existence and not the end of the world itself. The only thing separating Western societies and the third world are our infrastructure, access to cheap energy and societal structures. It's a thin facade at best.

If you're worried about your children then insulate yourselves from the inevitable changes that will overtake our societies over the next decade or so. Also try to remember that your comfort and the comfort of your children comes at the expense of many people in the third world and is at the end of a long supply line in the tribute economy that we in Western societies have the good fortune to exist in.

Good luck!

6/18/10, 2:16 AM

Don Plummer said...
Thanks for the further information about Phineas Quimby and Mary Baker Eddy. I had forgotten about Swedenborg's influence on Eddy's thinking.

Another very important link back to Quimby was the New Thought movement. It's founders, like Mary Baker Eddy, were students of Quimby's. One of them was Warren Felt Evans, a former Swedenborgian minister who had developed "Mental Science," a metaphysical healing practice somewhat similar to Quimby's and Eddy's; also Annetta and Julius Dresser. New Thought survives institutionally in the Church of Divine Science, the Unity Church, and Religious Science. New Thought ideas permeate the writing of Napoleon Hill and other positive thinking writers.

6/18/10, 5:44 AM

blue sun said...
Regarding your response to Dragonfly and K, I can’t say whether or not I agree with you about the period from 1914 to the 1950s being a period of decline. Quite obviously, the overwhelming majority of both Americans and Europeans would disagree with your interpretation. Key word being “interpretation.” You may well be right, but certainly most in the West interpret that period as one of advance. Definitely something to ponder further.

I find it very interesting that in responding you say that we “got a whole bunch of neat technological toys” but nothing more. It seems to echo a trend I’ve noticed, that rather than come back down to earth after a decline, our society’s viewpoint becomes perverted to accommodate both the wished-for progress and the actual retreat all at once. I think this is displayed very prominently in the way, although the average household’s real wages have been declining since the 1970s, the middle class still believes that their standard of living has increased (flat screen TVs, iPhones, and Facebook, need I say more?). Like you say, returning to a 1970s, or prior, level of technology and lifestyle is unthinkable.

Recently I was looking for web news coverage of the high youth unemployment rate. I’m no socialist, but the most objective perspective I could only find on the situation was at The World Socialist Web Site, not a mainstream media outlet. It stood out clear as day, and I think this is very significant, that the mainstream culture-shapers have glossed over the existence of 25%+ youth unemployment. Rather than face the problem, they pervert reality and say, hey, the real problem is our definition of the word “youth.”

In a New York Times article entitled “Long Road to Adulthood Is Growing Even Longer,” the head researcher (high priest?) of one study chided “we’re still living with the archaic idea that people enter adulthood in their late teens or early 20s.” Rather than face reality, we’ve perverted our perception of it.

You are right that the decline has already begun. Rather than acknowledge the growing number of unemployed, unmarried adults (job loss, community decay= negative spin), we simply rework the definition of adult (cultural “progress”= positive spin). How much more of this perversion will be going on in the future? Lots. If you think about it, there are many examples in which this is already happening, such as the 1914-1950 thing.

If you like, go ahead and compare these two articles, and decide for yourself which one more accurately reports, unbiased, what’s actually happening:
From The New York Times:
From The World Socialist Web Site

6/18/10, 6:07 AM

Shiva said...
"In almost every sense, the future ahead of us will be worse than the present and the recent past"

On the other hand, the future could be much better for some of us. Civilization dying also means less pollution and toxicity, a much quieter world (yes!) and a more wilder world with more game and wild edibles. We can use this time of crisis to perform magic on ourselves to change our consciousness to be able to live happily and comfortably without a lot of the trappings of civilization.

In the book "Garden Planet", William Kotke proposes that after the crash there will be an opportunity for new memes and lifestyles to take hold and that those who are willing to create a "garden planet" can use this opportunity to recreate culture.

I'm with Babaji, in that our actual *needs* for life, health are very small and that happiness is an internal process once these basic needs are met. Perhaps I am naive, but I am not dreading the collapse anymore.

6/18/10, 7:16 AM

Ric said...
JMG et al;

Prosperity Gospel is not a label used by those who practice it; rather it is a term of derision used by those critiquing it. In short, it is a stated (or more commonly, unstated) philosophy that holds that adversity, poverty, illness, etc. are indications that you are not "right with God." That this flies in the face of 2,000 years of theology and experience seems to mean little when you're sitting in a multi-million dollar, climate-controlled theater being entertained by an interactive multi-media presentation.

6/18/10, 7:53 AM said...
Hello Mr Greer-
another great article from the archdruid... you surprise me quite often with your writings ...I allways find something to "feed my head"-
as somebody born in germany, this Hitler-analogy is of course sriking ... take care, some people (especially some germans) probably won`t like the analogy you make to Gandhi, allthough you diferenciate very well the two cases-
as somebody who lives and works in mexico, where "the long descent" is well on the way (I think we are probably more "advanced" here, regarding this), I wonder if some new cults and movements that appeared here in recent times, are a reflection of that.

Nice to hear that ecological design could be interpreted as ritual.... this is quite interesting. For me, permaculture design definitely has some ritual in it, especially in the holmgrenian interpretation as a "thinking tool" for descent-

by the way, thanks for the excelent "Ecotecnique Future" that I finished about a month ago, while visiting germany and Eurolandia..., quite funnily, gregory batesons "Mind and Nature" was in the same package, but its a bit harder to read....

saludos desde mexico


6/18/10, 9:21 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
Interesting analysis, and the last paragraph expresses my own desired modus operandi (though I'm not a very brave person).

Just last night I brought up some of these concepts (descent, oil scarcity) with my students.

I think what Gregory is calling Creature Consciousness is what William Penn in the 17th century called the Light, which he didn't consider Christian-specific, but rather, universal and called by many names.

6/18/10, 10:24 AM

DPW said...
@ Zin: Don't just unplug the TV, unplug your attachment to the TV...or rather, watch your attachment, learn from it, and let it unplug itself. If you just unplug the TV, your mind will quickly find an alternative source of stimulation, validation, and pacification...most likely the interwebs.

Just a hat-tip channeled from the 6th Patriach of Zen :)

@ JMG: Let's not forget a great number of Chinese reached the ripe age of 120 with nothing more than a vegetarian diet, solid luck, physical work, and a millenia of herbacious knoweldge...of course, their numbers pale in comparison to the many who met the end of their time at the hand of the Cultural Revolution's "revitalizers", but still, the inner world and outer world may remain bright for a lucky few who choose not to put their hopes and dreams in the world of the red-dust.

6/18/10, 11:49 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Mark --

It's really common for people to say "our critics don't really understand us." That is a dodge. I understand perfectly well what the underlying concepts for permaculture are, I have read Mollison's stuff. I have a Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of Georgia (the House that Odum Built), I was on a first-name basis with both of the Odum brothers (E.P. and H.T.). I worked as research faculty in ecosystem science at U. Ga. and Colorado State for many many years before leaving Academia to be a hillbilly trucker/farmer. I'm not some uninitiated or ignorant basher.

The original conceptual framework of "permaculture" is mostly sound; from the perspective of an ecosystem scientist, it is also mostly pretty elementary, almost trivial. Everything is interconnected, every component has multiple functional relations, one thing's waste is another thing's treasure, yada yada yada, yeah, 1+1=2, we know this. The body of stuff labeled permaculture is an interesting compendium of ideas and techniques from many different sources, but there is really nothing original there except for a massive amount of jargon.

And it is in the jargonification that it leaves reality and becomes A Movement (tm). With jargon you get slogans, with slogans you get momentum, with momentum you lose actual self-critical analysis and feedback, and often also lose real meaningful action, replacing it with flash and noise. Permaculture appears to have made this transition during the last decade; I think i is too far gone to rescue at this point.

6/18/10, 12:46 PM

isochroma said...
Excellent article JMG. Magical thinking has no place in this hard, dying world. And dying it is - even as the killers' energy source is also depleting.

If there was a magic incantation that could be used to accelerate the process, I would be chanting it day by day. In fact I do, by posting little notes on all those foolish blogs like "New Energy and Fuel" and all the fusion forums. These little notes remind the herd that their pipe-dreams are just a waste of taxpayer dollars, an attempt to maintain the unmaintainable. A way to keep their filthy automobiles running down pedestrians and cyclists. A way to keep their massive, inhuman and inhumane dictatorial governments and corporations humming along like so many killer wasps, whose sting is felt all over the world by the multitudes of oppressed who will never see freedom until there is total revolution.

There will be no ITER, Polywell has been and is a failure - though if it succeeds it will be used by the largest and most vicious group of murderers and torturers the world has ever known - the US military - to further their vile ends.

It's time to stop giving money to this murderous thing called 'civilization' and its lethal institutions to develop more tools and more energy to continue its vile pogrom against the majority and the environment itself.

6/18/10, 1:47 PM

Steve From Virginia said...
The magic you describe is what is used by the Big Three Etc. to sell hundreds of millions on the 'American Way'. Everyone in the US, it seems, is in a trance, sitting in massive traffic jams, believing the outcome is 'convenient'.

Add all the other nonsense; property values, suburban lifestyle, economic growth, etc. and some serious magic has been put into service of a handful of businessmen. Once the pattern was set, it became simple to duplicate the spells.

Some powerful medicine, as the native Americans would say, is needed to click the US dummies out of their trance. Hard to say what it will be as denial is a large part of the the magic.

But .. the end of the car magic is possible and things won't be all that bad. Provided there is no all- out thermonuclear war, that is ...

6/18/10, 5:15 PM

mxyzptlk said...
The economist Robin Hanson refers to the current historical period as The Dreamtime, in a conscious tribute to aboriginal myth. The historically unprecedented per-capita wealth of this period will eventually strike equilibrium at subsistence level, although Hanson believes the current wealth will last longer than JMG does.

"...We live in the brief but important 'dreamtime' when delusions drove history. Our descendants will remember our era as the one where the human capacity to sincerely believe crazy non-adaptive things, and act on those beliefs, was dialed to the max."

Strikingly, Hanson also believes that despite the poverty, the average person of the future will be basically happy. Reference class forecasting is a powerful tool for overcoming your own delusions, and I suspect druidry may provide JMG with something of roughly equivalent effect.

6/18/10, 5:49 PM

das monde said...
May I suggest that the wide divorce of conscious experiences and physical reality is a luxury of abundance times? During that majority of unimproving times, when just staying afloat was an achievement, a rich spiritual life was a quite necessary resource.

One direction of JMG’s suspicion puzzles me. What is the percentage of people keen on hydrogen economy / algal biodiesel and what is their real impact? Many talking points today are more frequent than the cases they discuss. Is impracticality of straightforward rituals more annoying than enforcement of simplistic but destructive economic beliefs dramatically accelerating the demise of this civilization?

Even if polarity of the right/left politics is not a sham, “offenses” of pre-Reagan system theorists and sociologists have a so limited relation to the destructive global impulses we have. They were marginalized not because of own “over-reach”, but because of their failure to realize a necessity of some over-reach, as the opposition was reacting only to its own growing power. Anyway, for as much as monetary interests are concerned with “natural” selection of movements, you can bet their taste lies closer to Hitler’s than Gandhi’s style. - and that may determine a lot.

People will accept easily ”There is no brighter future ahead” when they will have time to think, I guess. But excessive stress of this point would be just another questionable movement, would it not?

6/18/10, 5:52 PM

mageprof said...
@ Don Plummer

Warren Felt Evans had slipped my mind while I was writing. You're quite right to stress his importance, and also to mention the Dressers.

The Divine Science tradition of New Thought is the one that best preserves many elements of Malinda Cramer's thought (and honors her memory), though its early leaders, Fannie James and Nona Brooks, owe a lot more to Hopkins than Cramer herself did.

And it occurs to me, as I think about all these long-ago teachers: what they taught was methods for "changing consciousness at will."

6/18/10, 7:22 PM

Jacques de Beaufort said...
I've been trying to research the it seems that much of your thought as of late is veering into this territory, it would be amazing if coincidentally the Archdruid penned a post on said schola.

Hopefully you were going there anyways..

6/18/10, 7:56 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Mark, you seem to be suggesting that permaculture can't or shouldn't be critiqued, and that claim's a very large red flag in my view. If you don't know the limitations, problems, and flaws of a tool, you don't actually know how to use that tool.

Bill, individual action is the starting place for anything worth doing right now. If individuals lead, by making changes in their own lives, eventually local governments (among others) will follow.

Mageprof, I look forward to both of your books.

Meg, er, the alchemists said over and over again, "our gold is not the common gold." It amazes me how many people don't seem to be able to hear that straightforward statement, and still claim that the old alchemists thought they could make metallic gold out of base metals. That said, the rest of your comment is quite sound.

Tristan, a lot of Germans badly wanted to be citizens of a conquering nation. A lot of Indians wanted to be citizens of an independent one. How many Americans want to be citizens of an impoverished agrarian society with a fraction of the wealth and an even smaller fraction of the technological toys they have today?

Cherokee, it seems to me that those who love their children and want the best for them ought to get them the knowledge and skills they'll need to thrive in a deindustrial world. Any other choice is begging for trouble.

Blue Sun, that's fascinating. Those who aren't fond of socialism might want to get the word out that when the only people talking about a massive and obvious social problem are on one corner of the fringe, that corner of the fringe can very quickly become the new center...

Shiva, a lot of people like to look at the future through that particular set of rose-colored glasses. I suspect the reality will be a lot less palatable.

Ric, I gather that they've rewritten the Sermon on the Mount to say "Blessed are the rich, privileged and comfortable." Gah.

Holger, thank you! Bateson's certainly worth the read, as much for his lapses of logic as for his very considerable achievements. I really do need to write a book responding to Angels Fear one of these days.

Adrian, you know, in my experience it's the people who say "I'm not a very brave person" who go on to brace themselves and do what must be done, when the self-proclaimed heroes are hiding under the couch.

DPW, a few good qigong exercises didn't hurt their chances, either. Still, note the context of my counterspell. I said that there's no bright future, not that there can be no bright present.

Bill, I hope you're wrong about that last point. Still, we'll see.

Isochroma, do you really think that all that hyperbole and over-the-top denunciatory language does anything to make your ideas convincing to anybody who doesn't already agree with you?

Steve, saying "things won't be all that bad" is an incantation, not a reasoned response. Things will be all that bad. Your next meal has traveled thousands of miles by diesel-fueled truck. In a future of petroleum shortage, you may not get it, or the next one, or the one after it...

Mxyzptlk, if I were aboriginal I'd probably point a bone in Hanson's direction; that's a very harsh redefinition of the subtle and rich concept of the dreamtime! I'd point out also that our age is far from unique by being guided by "delusions," if by this term you mean (in less judgment-laden language) beliefs that are based on emotion rather than experience; every age of human history falls into the same category. It's just that the beliefs that were adaptive in the last three centuries are becoming catastrophically maladaptive as we watch.

Das Monde, good. You're paying attention. Excessive stress on any formulation would lead straight to the problems I've been discussing.

6/18/10, 9:33 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Mageprof, exactly. New Thought is simply magic with the serial number filed off, and the more spooky symbolism quietly ditched.

Jacques, it's in the works. In the meantime, pick up copies of the Enchiridion of Epictetus and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and give 'em a read.

6/18/10, 9:35 PM

Dwig said...
Bill: your first message left me puzzled and annoyed: annoyed by what looked like an uncalled-for hatchet job (at least on TTs; I hadn't heard of "Financial Permaculture" before reading your message); and puzzled by what had gotten you so upset.

After your second message, I think I understand better where you were coming from, and more sympathetic to your situation. It's natural that different Transition Initiatives in different areas will have different characteristics, and unfortunately likely that some of them will develop characteristics of the revitalization movements that JMG outlined. It does sound like at least some of the activists in your area are pushing their own ideologies under the TT label.

(It's worth going back to the source here, and realizing that the original TT ethos is far from ideological, more similar to JMG's statement "...the most effective strategy will be a matter of muddling through, trying to deal with each stage of the descent as it comes into sight...".)

So, you might consider a "middle way" between your options: it's possible that the local movement isn't monolithic -- sit in for a while, playing the part of a total newbie, get to know the different folks and their motivations, then start asking questions. You may find some folks who'd prefer to be taking a pragmatic tack, and would appreciate the company. If it turns out they've all swallowed the Kool-Aid, back away slowly...

Later you say: "I had been thinking that local government would become more important as federal and state gov'ts gradually sink under impossible financial burdens and political gridlock. Now I'm not so sure..." Well, local governance will become more important (and it will exist in some form, like it or not); the problem will be making it work on behalf of the governed.

JMG, in your comment of 6/17/10 7:13 PM you speak of "... a permaculture type ...". Isn't this description a bit incantatory? Elaborating a bit, in what sense was this person representative of permaculture? Would you expect Holmgren or Mollison to have acted the same in that situation?

In general, it seems that we're going to be encountering a varied mix of movements, some based on pragmatics, using principles that have worked before, but are still constantly being tested, and other movements of the kind you've outlined in the post. (And still others that embody some of each, to varying degrees.) I suspect that it's going to be a lot harder to separate the wheat from the chaff if we're careless with labels and quick to classify people. JMG, haven't you written about this kind of problem somewhere?

6/18/10, 10:27 PM

Ruddite said...
Hi John,

I'm a long-time reader of this blog but haven't weighed in on anything before - never felt like I had much to say, although have gained so much both from reading your unique and insightful posts as well as the generally excellent caliber of discussion that follows. Thank you for the not inconsiderable time and energy that I'm sure is required!

Today I have a question that I hope isn't too off-topic...

I've been following the discussion of permaculture closely and wonder if yourself (or Bill?) have any recommendations on good resources for learning the same type of principles and practices(that Bill described as relatively basic for those with a deeper understanding of the principles of ecology) that permaculture promotes. If possible, I'd like to avoid the sticker-shock that comes with a permaculture certification course.

This question has become more of a practical concern of late as moving onto to a small piece of land has suddenly become a real possibility. Reading suggestions are welcome, and especially those tested by experience...

6/18/10, 11:24 PM

Kevin said...
Re Bill's comments concerning local government: I've recently read that the city of Dubuque is kicking in 500 million dollars to entice IBM to set up shop there. Not a good investment, I suspect.

JMG, could you refresh my memory on one point concerning catabolic collapse? I've tried to locate the PDF of your essay on the topic, but without success. When I asked you a year or more ago whether it wasn't a salient characteristic of such collapse for a civilization to start cannibalizing its infrastructure for basic resources, you said Yes - *and* that furthermore an even deeper feature of that collapse was... X. I can't recall what X was. Could you refresh my memory please? I'd like to know for sure when I'm witnessing a catabolic collapse.

6/19/10, 12:10 AM

spottedwolf said...
I'd just like to offer, while everyone is trying to figure out a strategy to survive the coming times.....I shall be studying addictions counseling....using traditional methods (which I'll add to my personal 40 years of spiritual discovery) at the Nechi Institute in Alberta. Once things collapse and we find ourselves stressed to the max by the necessities of tribalism...something the average caucasian has lost over the centuries......I will hang my shingle out where it can be easily found and for the discount price of a chicken, rabbit, or any other foodstuff I will be happy to use my personal mix of shamanic tools to help any of you readers regain your emotional/mental stability.

Spottedwolf aka Dr. Ed Opus

6/19/10, 12:56 AM

spottedwolf said...
John....I've long speculated the 'zenith' of the industrial age was when they split the atom. Everthing since has been reactionary as 'industrialism' began its downward spiraling. Its like an acid trip where the psychotroph is 'active' for 45 minutes and the rest is hangover but you can't stop hallucinating.

6/19/10, 1:01 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Martial arts classes, communication skills, practical life skills and problem solving skills would be all be useful for parents to instil in their children.

I'm interested in your opinion. Does complexity and susceptibility to incantations go hand in hand?

The reason I ask this is because I've noticed that as we progress as a society the layers of complexity in regulations, laws and rules that relate to all sorts of things increase.

As these layers of complexity increase, it has the adverse effect of dumbing people down. People aren't necessarily dumber, but they become more accepting of things and situations because their breadth of understanding can only stretch so far. The knowledge base of humanity is pretty broad!

As people become more accepting of things and situations out of necessity, are they then more open to incantations? Is one a reaction to the other? Is it simply a desire to discount complex messages in favour of a simpler sound bite?

Good luck!

6/19/10, 2:13 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Dwig, by "a permaculture type" I simply meant, slangily, a person who was into permaculture. I have no idea how Mollison or Holmgren would have responded -- never met 'em -- though it's fair to say that I've met a fair number of permaculture practitioners who would, I think, very likely have engaged in the same sort of evasion.

Ruddite, that's a subject for an entire post all by itself -- which will be forthcoming in a bit.

Kevin, the essay on catabolic collapse has finally been published, as an appendix to my book The Long Descent. As for the specific detail I mentioned back then -- er, my memory just at the moment is no better than yours, but the crucial thing to watch for is salvaging of basic resources from infrastructure on the one hand, and simple abandonment of noncritical infrastructure on the other, so the latter may have been the thing I mentioned.

Wolf, I don't know that there was a single moment that defined the peak of the industrial age -- a lot of curves peaked over a period of half a century or so -- but the splitting of the atom will do as well as any.

Cherokee, that's a good question. My immediate sense is no -- people are susceptible to incantation in any context, simple or complex; it's one of the less constructive consequences of our innate gift of language that we try to use words to do things that they can't do, like put oil back in the ground. Learned helplessness, on the other hand, does seem to increase with social complexity, which might predispose people to pursue incantation as the only way of action they can imagine.

6/19/10, 5:36 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Ruddite --

For the basics on Ecology (the science, fundamental discipline in the life sciences, not a political movement), you can't go wrong starting with the Father, Gene Odum:

All of his books are accessible to a general audience.

There's a whole sub-discipline promoted by his brother, H.T. Odum, which is less accessible but more directly tied to the questions of energy and economy that loom so large in the present day. If the stuff presented on his Wikipedia page is not over your head, then you can probably get through some of his writings:

From the perspective of modern ecology as a basic science, these two are considered pretty much the field's father and eccentric but brilliant uncle, respectively.

6/19/10, 5:54 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Dwig --

To quote directly from the founders of the Transition Movement':

"[B]y shifting our mind-set we can actually recognise the coming post-cheap oil era as an opportunity rather than a threat, and design the future low carbon age to be thriving, resilient and abundant — somewhere much better to live than our current alienated consumer culture based on greed, war and the myth of perpetual growth." (Who We Are and What We Do, Transition Network, Hopkins and Lipman 2009.)

Which of the hallmarks of a revitalization movement, as described and discussed by JMG here, does this NOT display?

Our "local" group is drawing in people from all over the U.S., to the delight of the local "Green is Gold" realtors and Chamber of Commerce. They seem to be very much in step with the sentiments of the larger community. One of the founders of Financial Permaculture is a former Asst Secretary of Commerce under Bush I. You could hardly describe her as just a quirk of our local movement.

I don't think I am seeing aberrations. I think I am seeing a prime example of what is likely developing on a larger scale. Thanks to having had a long-established existing alternative community here (The Farm), comprised of people who really do accomplish things with dirt and sweat and have been living in the nitty gritty for nearly 40 years, we got an early start and are ahead of the curve. So I expect the new twists I see happening now are likely harbingers of the future, not flukes.

6/19/10, 7:10 AM

joanhello said...
Does bulldozing whole neighborhoods count as abandonment of infrastructure? It's happening in the Rust Belt. Detroit is the biggest city to propose something like this, but some smaller ones are already doing it. See

6/19/10, 8:32 AM

tristan said...
"How many Americans want to be citizens of an impoverished agrarian society with a fraction of the wealth and an even smaller fraction of the technological toys they have today?"

I'm sure very few but then I'm sure that few Germans wanted to guard death camps and few Indians wanted to truncheoned into unconsciousness.

But even in your own blog comments how many times have we seen a longing for a world with greater human connection, less time devoted to technology a deeper sense of the sacred. In fact there are even some who post here who have already made that leap for those reasons.

So if a revitalization movement began that promised people a world and life of greater meaning and richness and then told them that in order to do that they would need to make certain ritualized changes (which over time would become more and more stringent once psychological commitment mechanism have engaged) why couldn't that lead to a more spartan lifestyle?

Or are you saying that a sense of cultural destiny is to strong to overcome?

Or am I missing the point entirely?


6/19/10, 8:38 AM

Edde said...
Greetings John Michael,

Happy Summer Solstice soon! We're celebrating on Sunday with a potluck. I guarantee there will be no break out sessions;-)

Our potluck incantation: "Free beer for musicians who sing and play." We often have home made music at our potlucks;-)

Bill P: in the spirit of dissensus, let me encourage you to participate with your local "movement" if it doesn't interfere with your "at home" duties. You may be surprised to find others who agree with you, which could require a change in direction of the group or possibly a demand to move out on your own in a different direction.

Whatever works...

Best regards,

6/19/10, 9:51 AM

James Wilson said...
If this account of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is at all accurate, would it qualify as manmade climate change? Particularly if the federal government is complicit,as some accuse it of being, by rejecting early Dutch help, delaying efforts to surround the spill and preventing local authorities from protecting their coastline. Some of the excessive complexity that chokes civilizations may be political arrogance and corruption with matching bureaucratic incompetence and expense.

Maybe people will need to worry less about carbon dioxide and much more about the lethal concentrations of volcanic gases which may be blowing their way! It's as if Gaia got tired of the political and media 'hot air', and said "beat this!"

The political incantations of a pompous President and his querulous courtiers obviously fail to impress Nature. (Obama = Canute version 2?) No surprise. This King and the Land are not as One, so he forfeits Sovereignty.

It's a bit disappointing however that his Druids don't seem able to do any better. The Findhorn people were able to get the co-operation of Nature to grow amazing plants in harsh conditions, and they weren't even Druids. Surely proper Druids would have the right contacts to conjure the Oil Genie back into it's bottle?

6/19/10, 2:12 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bill, thanks for the recommendations; I've certainly put some heavy wear into my old college copy of Eugene Odum's Fundamentals of Ecology over the years. As for the Transition Town movement as a revitalization movement, rhetoric isn't always a safe guide here; lines like "somewhere much better to live than our current alienated consumer culture based on greed, war and the myth of perpetual growth" can be found in plenty of contexts, most of which aren't even close to being revitalization movements.

I grant that it's nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that; it's hard to think of a delusion more destructive than the fantasy that people can be made to behave like angels by changing their society -- but the same line is as likely to be empty rhetoric, or meretricious manipulation, or sheer handwaving as it is to indicate a nascent revitalization movement.

Joanhello, bingo. Another good example is the abandonment of whole neighborhoods in New Orleans, and whole towns along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We're already well into the opening stages of catabolic collapse here in the US.

Tristan, I'll be responding to this in next week's post.

Edde, a happy and workshop-free solstice to you and yours!

James, he needs real Druids, of course. The sort of people who cluster around centers of political power these days have forgotten the useful point made by Francis Bacon among many others: "Nature to be commanded, must be obeyed."

6/19/10, 2:37 PM

Joel said...
"he has the common rationalist habit of despising what he's never taken the time to understand. "

From what I've read of his blog, I think it goes a little deeper than that.

He has put a lot of effort into naming and characterizing the various enemies of progress. While it may be one-sided and a little too convenient, his understanding of magicians as facilitators of tyranny, nurturers of any habit or thought that prevents people from seeking the common good at the expense of entrenched power structures, is almost as laboriously articulated as Kramer and Sprenger's understanding of wise women.

6/19/10, 4:21 PM

Wordek said...
Hi Odins Raven

“His own people murdered him as soon as his usefulness was over.”
Thats just part of the joy of being a big time prophet isnt it? If he had lived and kept talking he probably wouldn't be the “man he is today”. Maybe John Wilkes Booth actually did Lincoln a (historical) favour. Could it be that murder is actually the ultimate compliment? I guess thats why no one wants to murder me. :(

Hi tristan
“Both Hitler and Gandhi used their influence (magick) to get their followers to do things that, in other circumstances, I'm sure they would have objected to”
Thats why I figure that if you want to keep out of trouble then only follow minor prophets. Keep away from “we can change the world” or “the end is nigh” and move towards “rainy tomorrow morning.. clearing later”. Tax returns due on –this date--, etc.

Hi disillusioned
You really are disillusioned arent you!
Though I reckon “dissing” illusions is not such a bad thing. A thought occurred to me: Maybe if you were less cynical about disillusionment you could find more inspiration in it.

Hi Dwig
My compliments: That reads as a very realistically constructed set of predictions.

Hi spottedwolf
'zenith' of the industrial age”??
Steam engine – rail - telegraph - electricity - liquid gas – refrigeration - internal combustion - artificial fertiliser – DDT - nuclear energy - air travel – transistor - moon landing - plastic money – internet – gps -...

Take your pick...Plenty more to come.. And as always our inheritors will continue to redefine their definition of what constitutes the zenith around life in their own times.

“gregory batesons "Mind and Nature" was in the same package, but its a bit harder to read”

If you can understand more than bits of what he writes in a first reading then there IS something “special” in your special K. It amazes me how stuff that made no sense a decade ago pops into consciousness later as a working description of something going on at the time. I sometimes think of him as Vonneguts original “dirty old man” in the wilderness, crying out among the trees and underbrush, "Ideas or the lack of them can cause disease!".... And that stuff that “every schoolboy knows?”.. Im fairly certain he never went to school anywhere near my neck of the woods.

6/19/10, 5:42 PM

Wordek said...

I'm having trouble shrugging off the idea that ritual is a practical act that over time has lost its practical aspect and become an empty shell of what it “used to be”. The idea that a newly minted ritual could be designed and used to pull practical action towards it never occurred to me (at least not in those terms). So it looks like I might have to jerry up another “set of goggles” to even begin to make use of this.

“it's an attempt to evade the reality and inevitability of individual death by projecting identity onto an abstraction.”

Sir: You have just summed up the root of the human condition in 17 words. A subject deserving a blog or 12 of its own and you claim to be able to sum up the implications of this in only one ADR post? I'd like to see it, but before starting I suggest that you remove your cape and spandex costume and take a cold shower!!

“Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed”
Very tidy. I'll hang on to that one thanks

Hi blue sun
“I’m no socialist”
Why not? Everyone has a few mental tamagotchi's. There is an interesting thing that social-ism commun-ism capital-ism environmental-ism and every other xxx-ism has in common. For many people fiddling around with their xxx-ism functions (amongst other things) as a display of social status where surplus time is the conspicuous consumable. So take it up and show it off. Its not as if youre going to somehow break civilization. Also as I recall lots of socialist chicks are A - OK!

Hi Moose
“The Brits, with their deeply held belief in fair play”
I know a lot of everyday Brits and love them all dearly. Brilliant senses of humour that have me rolling around clutching my poor sore tummy and crying “mercy mercy”. Beware! Once they have found your weakness the crafty bug**rs never stop exploiting it! Sadly, I have come to admire this.
Though you should be aware that other peoples have been less lucky over the centuries. The War Nerd may not be what he was 5 yrs ago, but if there is one thing that the ADR has taught me that is that reading comments can often be as interesting as the blog. Heres a great comment from a post about how the Brits managed Sri Lanka during the height of empire. Reading hint: I have replaced a word that has no relationship to confectionery with “fudge”

“Makes me proud to be British, honestly. At least we could run a fudging empire, not like those fudging idiot Americans. Two hundred years of Pax Britannia and the Americans managed to fudging rape their own country in ten years after winning the Cold War by default. Fudging amateurs.”
Also, on a lighter note:

Perfidious Albion? No mate .. Perfidious everyone. The glorious history of your species.

6/19/10, 5:42 PM

Ruddite said...
Bill - Thanks for the recommendations! Looks like there's plenty there to dig my teeth into.

John - I'll stay tuned. Looking forward to the upcoming post.

6/19/10, 6:31 PM

Doctor Westchester said...
Bill and John,

I am working on the Transition thing in my area. I have never heard of this financial permiculture term before Bill ran into it. I must admit that a better/higher use of the term might be in referring to the household economy that John has talked elegantly about. But I don't think that will happen. There would be no fees for MBAs to rake in if that definition prevailed.

As far as magic goes, I have a background in hard scientific (chemistry), but I am delighted to be presented with this older and truer definition of the subject. Disillusioned, thank you for pointing out that marketing is a debased version of magic. Ditto obliviously for politics, except that it can range as this post shows from being totally degraded to the most sublime magic. For our current situation, I am very much reminded of Star Wars, where the empire’s high brass laugh behind Vader’s back about his obsolete support of the force, not realized that it is the backbone of what creates the empire. Of course that misconception was deliberately created.

6/19/10, 7:20 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Joel, the religion of progress has its theology and its demonology, like any other religion. I expect to see the demonology getting a lot of air time as progress grinds to a halt; it'll be a lot easier to blame its supposed enemies than to grapple with the fact that it was a temporary condition made possible by a fluke of geology.

Wordek, it's not at all surprising that you see ritual in those terms; that's the way ritual has been framed, mostly by those who don't admit that they practice it, for the last three centuries or so. One advantage of training in magic is that you learn how to create and apply rituals as tools for the transformation of consciousness, and in the process get a sense of just how much human action is ritual through and through.

Ruddite, it's about three weeks away.

Doctor W., it's good to hear that from a scientist. It's unfortunate that there isn't more exploration of common ground between scientists and mages these days; the lessons of the era when someone like Isaac Newton could be a physicist and a first-rate alchemist at the same time have too often been forgotten.

6/19/10, 8:35 PM

spottedwolf said...
@wordek...hey bro...thanks fer the historical reference on rhetoric .....

Babaji....rite on bro...mite's well relax and flow eh ?

Joy....amen my sister.

Sofistek....everything is possible in degrees of probability

Odin's boid....point two is simple hoomanz and our dumbassness

Zin bro......absalutely and the computer azwell.

Eric Hacker....I'd say the toughest job is letting go of the 'needs' to worry....period

Fleecy....power up my friend....if we all die we'll just regenerate in some other way...don't hold too tight to anything..its impossible anyway.

Joan hello observation sister...this is a major stumbling block for many of the current gens. Somebody shoot Tony Robbins with LSD.

well that's enough moot-ness fer one session....

6/19/10, 8:51 PM

spottedwolf said...
oh and careful Johnny boy....ya just mite be asked to head up a resurrection movement....or a revitalization thingie....or a tribe of pygmies....if ya keep on brainstormin' like this.

6/19/10, 8:56 PM

johnt said...

I just spent four days in England at the Transition Towns conference and my experience was pretty much the opposite of the movement that seems to offend you so much.

First, finance did not dominate the agenda, and I did not hear the words "financial permaculture" uttered once. Yes, there was a somewhat brutal presentation by Stoneleigh of Automatic Earth - but this was the first time finance had been formally on the programme in four years.

Second, in the session in housing I joined there was a strong consensus that building new homes is a tiny part of the story; we talked mainly about oractical new ways to share existing space, and of different approaches to the insulation of 30 million (just in the UK) existing houses.

Third, the culture and indeed rules of association of the Transition movement are the opposite of 'monolithic'. The diversity of age, background and outlook of the 300 people there was remarkable. Indeed they (we) agree strongly with your main conclusion: 'we all should be working on different pages with different ideas, that way we develop a bigger toolkit and have better chances of finding things that actually work'.

JMG informs that the hallmark of a revitalization movement is that its actions are taken 'for symbolic rather than practical reasons... under the conviction that steps of this nature can ward off the end of the age of abundance.' In my experience Transition Towns is the opposite of that.

@ JMG, neither did I encounter 'empty rhetoric, or meretricious manipulation, or sheer handwaving'. These were serious, practical, reality-facing people.

6/19/10, 10:39 PM

spottedwolf said...
John....your response concerning 'ritual' is as accurate as it gets. Most intellectuals miss the fact that every action/thought/reaction is an endless cycle of ritual generated from habit on top of earlier learned habit a given lifetime....will have been learned the mothers womb. Therein lies a plethora of examples to why it is so difficult to produce objectivity when we reproduce from such subjective backgrounds. After many years of delving into memories to sort what was real from what was constructed I slowly began to graphically realize that we see visions...or dream in REM...before we are born. The discovery of REM experienced in fetus to a degree before birth of 90% led me to even deeper analysis concerning patterned behaviour. It stimulated memories of a very early time before control mechanisms take precedence and the process of social integration distorts the emotional imagery to a more pragmatic relevance.

It is a strong influence on the arguments of why some people are predisposed to certain attitudes while others are not. This fact can certainly impact a willingness to view some situations with bombastically based opinion rather than substantial personal experience. The reality of 'ritual' as a enhancer to produce consciousness changes is speculative among the uninitiated at best.

6/19/10, 11:59 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

Thankyou for your thoughts.


6/20/10, 1:27 AM

tom rainboro said...
To Bill P and others.
Your comments on permaculture and Transition are interesting. I read an article in a national newspaper 2 years ago that prompted me to attend an official TT training event in Totnes (capital of TT, just 40 miles from where I live). Lots of ritual at that event (note: I'm suspicious of the reasons for asking everyone to shut their eyes at the beginning of a 'workshop') and I didn't really like all I saw. Something that struck me as odd with the initial 'instructions' to local groups was that at least one person should have permaculture training. My initial reaction was 'why?'. I've since read Holmgren's 'Permaculture' and enjoyed the book, though his ideas are very oriented towards the landscape in which he lives. I find many who call themselves permaculturalists try to apply his actions to their own environment, even when it's not appropriate. It's as if they have lost the ability to think for themselves. Also permaculture seems to have become the brandname for 'sustainability' and there are more courses, videos, CDs and would-be permaculture entrepreneurs than you can shake a stick at. However I haven't come across a permaculture holding that pays for itself.
Despite all the decentralist text in the original TT literature it seems that every 'official' TT group is effectively franchised (yes that includes Tranistion US) by an unaccountable little group of people in Totnes. (Am I wrong?). There's something about the mixture of career activists, well-meaning middle-class greenies and insecure people who need to 'belong' that sends shivers down my spine when I look at some TT material. Despite this TT has changed my life because I have come to realise that the 'community' is truly the place to get things done and so it has brought this ex-activist out of retirement. It's also brought me to this website! But I'm sincerely applying my actions to ALL my neighbours - not just the pleasant ones - and I'm treating it as a lifetime exercise, not just a publicity stunt.
By the way, have you noticed that Transition seems to have passed a watershed recently? At the recent conference in South Devon (was it a UK or an international conference?) the Transition Gospel has been re-launched in a completely new form, a speaker from The Automatic Earth was allowed to deliver a distinctly non 'happy-clappy' message and a certain amount of nostalgia for the history of Transition was evident. Could be a sign of maturity or could be a realisation that Transition has peaked in the UK.

6/20/10, 1:48 AM

seb said...
Great post. Big Thanks

6/20/10, 4:02 AM

Consumer said...

Great post as always. I have one question/suggestion: Is there any way to have your responses to comments appear directly below the comment in question? This is the format used by RealClimate, and it makes it much easier to follow. It's hard to follow, when I have to scroll back and try to find each comment that you are responding to, then back to your response, then back up to the next comment, etc.


6/20/10, 9:42 AM

Odin's Raven said...
Permaculture is a buzzword that largely passed me by. Am I right in thinking it is basically organic gardening with added BS?

6/20/10, 10:53 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
johnt and tom rainbro -- interesting and contrasting pair of perspectives on the same local movement.

Fact remains, I don't live in Totnes, I live 5000 miles and an ocean away in America. Americans and Brits remain quite different in their fundamental approaches to society, a current that flows all across the political spectrum. In general a "liberal" here is still much more emotionally attached to notions of personal liberty and independence than many "conservatives" are over there. The free enterprise, free market mentality is deeply entrenched here, even among progressives (more than most American progressives will ever realize about themselves). We also remain obsessed with the new-and-shiny rather than the old-but-restored. So it does not surprise me at all that "financial permaculture" is an American innovation.

6/20/10, 12:15 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
A p.s....

I was curious what the whole bit about Stoneleigh and Automatic Earth was that you both mentioned, so I looked online for some info on the presentation. I was kind of surprised that it appears it was pretty much just basic summary of the colossal and impossible debt situation that the global economy has gotten itself in to. It surprised me that this was (apparently) such shocking, revelatory, and unexpected information; these facts have been glaringly obvious in the last few years, and quite evident to anyone who cared to look for decades. This is part of the fundamental fabric of the global industrial economy within which "transition" will happen whether it occurs by design or by accident. It's been a major recurring theme of many peak oil websites, including this one. Hmmm...

6/20/10, 12:31 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Wolf, I'd be happy to hang out with a tribe of pygmies, though I'd be much more interested in learning from their traditional leaders than in offering any notions of my own. The other options? Not a chance.

Johnt, my comment was directed at the quote Bill cited, and I stand by it. Anybody nowadays who claims we can have an happy future full of abundance is either lying to themselves or lying to their audience.

Wolf, that's intriguing.

Tom, thanks for your insights. Yes, I heard about Stoneleigh's presentation at Totnes -- a fascinating turn of events. The big question now is how the TT movement responds to that. Do TT people deal with the fact that the future is not going to be happy and abundant no matter what they do? Or do they decide that the TT movement is the sole shining alternative to a future of abject misery, and go on a proselytizing tear? It's notoriously difficult to predict the behavior of movements of that kind in advance.

Seb, you're welcome.

Consumer, unfortunately, that's not an option Blogger has.

Raven, one of the reasons I tend to be a bit wary about permaculture is that I have yet to hear a simple, clear, jargon- and promotion-free description of what permaculture, as a contemporary social movement, actually means.

Bill, I think that understates what Stoneleigh's up to. Her work on The Automatic Earth, certainly, goes well beyond the basic points you've mentioned. Also, this may be something that those of us out here on the fringes know about, but a vast number of people have no clue about it yet -- and I suspect that includes plenty of people in the Transition Town scene.

6/20/10, 2:24 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
JMG -- I was referring specifically to what I found written online about the presentation at the TT conference and especially the conferees reaction to it, not her entire body of work. The conferees appeared to be shocked by just the basic facts of the magnitude of the situation; as these have even been covered to some extend in the mainstream press, that surprised me quite a bit.

6/20/10, 2:32 PM

Mark said...
I'm not suggesting that permaculture can't or shouldn't be critiqued. But the point I was trying to make, perhaps poorly, was that permaculture isn't a Thing ("a thing is a think" as Alan Watts said) that can be critiqued.

The way I comprehend permaculture is as a word to describe a design system or approach. Since design is the basis of everything humans and all beings do, permaculture is less about describing something in particular (like a garden) and more about describing how to approach, design, or think about the things we do or create (like build soil, place and design housing, gardens, farms or interact with other humans and plants in our communities). So by critiquing permaculture as a Thing, we in essence see the forest for the trees.

So it's necessary that the design methods, actions, means, practices etc. being employed to grow food, interact with other humans or carry out economic activity be tested and critiqued. After all, the only way to improve on anything is by critiquing and testing and realizing that a lot of the time we don't know what we are doing. It seems that this is where permaculture as a design system has it's strengths -- using observation (think tracking or nature awareness, site assessment and analysis), research, and ecological feedback loops (along with a million more tools) as a guide to improve our designs, our reality, our consciousness or whatever it may be.

But ultimately it doesn't matter what we call what we do to get by with less energy. Across a lot of the planet where permaculture is being used, people do it out of practical necessity -- not because it's trendy or sounds cool. There are no secure supply lines, supermarkets or safety nets for when a crop fails due to drought. So mulching makes a lot of sense, as does saving seed, planting trees, getting to know the people who live nearby, as well as catching rainwater where one lives, etc. Call it permaclture, call it life, call it magic.

So to sum up my point -- by criticizing permaculture as a Thing, we corner the term into something that it isn't. Forests aren't simply trees and soil isn't simply dirt. Does that make sense?

6/20/10, 2:32 PM

tom rainboro said...
TT and Stoneleigh

TTs have always previously insisted that they should be 'more like a party than a protest movement' - in order not to lose the involvement of people who don't like to worry too much about the future. In my opinion this is a little difficult when considering the possible effects of peak oil and climate change. That's why the Stoneleigh appearance at the conference is interesting. Agreed, the subject matter is not new.
Up to now I've been reading Chris Martenson on economics. CM seems to emphasise inflation and currency collapse, whilst Stoneleigh emphasises deflation and banking collapse. This confuses me at the moment and seems to reflect the political divide in this country at the moment.
(I'm actually participating in a TT event shortly - my local official TT does not have the word 'Transition' in its name and I respect all the people that I have met there).
As for transatlantic cultural differences - I'm thinking that our underlying level of jaded cynicism will protect us better than your new world natural enthusiasm.

6/20/10, 4:56 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Mark -- I'm really not understanding what you mean by permaculture is not a "thing" and therefore cannot be critiqued. Any human concept can be critiqued; the laws of thermodynamics can be critiqued, formulated as they are in human language by human minds with an incomplete comprehension of the reality they represent. If permaculture is a way of viewing the world which directs one's design principles, then of course that can be critiqued. If you are saying that it is so generalized as to be able to encompass anything, then that CERTAINLY can be critiqued as being so vague it is meaningless! By saying that it cannot be critiqued because it is not a thing, you rather seem to be saying that is is some fundamental layer of truth in the cosmos that exists by definition. I don't believe scientific thought accepts the existence of anything without critical analysis, not even that 1+1=10.

Regardless of all that, permaculture MOVEMENTS are undeniably "things" that are exceedingly subject to criticism. And should welcome it. If criticism does not make your ideas stronger, it is because you are not listening to it. You may conclude that the criticisms are completely unfounded; but you should first address them, understand them, reexamine your earlier logic and conclusions for things you might have overlooked, and then emerge with a better and deeper understanding, even if your conclusions have not been altered.

6/20/10, 6:48 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Mark, I'm afraid you're engaging in doubletalk. Of course permaculture is a thing. You've even stated what kind of thing it is: a design system. It can therefore be compared with other design systems, some of which will be more useful for specific applications than it is. No design system is universally applicable to all problems, and anyone who claims that their design system is universally applicable demonstrates, by that claim, that they don't actually understand the design system they're promoting; you don't actually know how to use something until you can name three worthwhile things that it can't do.

To use one of your metaphors, if you will, soil is not just dirt, but it's not the same thing as air or sea water, either; anyone who claims to know something about soil ought to be able to explain where it begins and ends, and why it's not a suitable medium for birds to fly through or fish to swim in.

Tom, that's an interesting bit of self-definition -- "more like a party than a protest movement." It seems to me that neither of those is a particularly apt model for what's needed just now. Still, I'll be talking more about this in a later post.

Bill, that's a valid point -- whatever else permaculture is, it's a human social phenomenon with its own rituals, charismatic figures, nascent institutions, and the like. Still, I'm intrigued by this claim that it can't be defined or critiqued. I know of only one other recent social phenomenon that made that claim, the Seventies and Eighties human potential groups such as EST. It's an unsettling parallel.

6/20/10, 8:20 PM

Dwig said...
JMG: from your comment of 6/18 @ 9:33PM: "Bateson's certainly worth the read, as much for his lapses of logic as for his very considerable achievements. I really do need to write a book responding to Angels Fear one of these days. "

Bateson had the misfortune of not having a good "sparring partner" to help him develop his ideas (I think his daughter mentions some of the reasons for that in Angels Fear).

If you do get around to writing a draft of that book, I'd be delighted to review it.

6/20/10, 10:23 PM

tom rainboro said...
I suppose we all try to make sense of things according to our own experience. I see these particular social phenomena as bordering on being sectarian. You are either 'one of us' or 'not one of us'. Because of my background they remind me of Trotskyist groups on the UK political left in the 1970s, parodied brilliantly by Monty Python in 'The Life of Brian'. (Apologies for these obscure references! I'll shut up now, for the time being).

6/21/10, 12:15 AM

Wordek said...
Hi wolfie

“thanks fer the historical reference on rhetoric”

Hey no probs... Its what I do …..........................…. Theoretically

“Most intellectuals miss the fact that every action/thought/reaction is an endless cycle of ritual generated from habit on top of earlier learned habit”

That almost described something I noticed quite a while ago about what passes for wisdom amongst the “book larnin'” classes. And seems to be going on quite a bit here as well. When I was young and naive and thought I might make a good intellectual I would discuss matters with “gentlemen of learned persuasion” to try and get a gist of how their minds worked. Rather than describe what I noticed, please try a little experiment.

Take an object in the room, and make up a simple sentence which names the object and describes one of its properties: Eg “The brown bottle.” Now pick that sentence up and fly it around the room ( who says I aint a magician?) see how many things you can get it to stick to....... Not many...right?

Now go back to our object and modify the sentence a tad by making it more “generalised” so “the brown bottle” becomes say, “the coloured container” Now fly that sentence around the room. Notice how many more things it will stick to?

At the moment I'm reading a lot of “stick my ideas to as many things as possible” statements in the comments. A lot of egos cudgeling each other with “our conceptualisation is more universally applicable than your conceptualisation” type duels. Be aware that the price we pay for universal applicability is a degradation in attention to detail. Meanwhile in all of your minds these universally applicable “objects” still maintain connections to more specific “objects” at the widely varying places and times of their conception..

You dont win a pie contest though eloquent debates over recipes with the other chefs. You win it by making good pie. Whether apple or blueberry, pork or chunky beef, if you want a chance of winning the real contest then concentrate on improving your own baking in your own bakery.

Or you could just keep arguing over whatever cr*p enters your heads. What do I care? I'm anonymous and waaaaaay over here. Personally I'm going to laugh my backside off when you get outdone by the people you think are so desperately dependant on your "skills" and "wisdom" because they just kept sticking at what was really important while you spent all your effort thinking of ways to one up your "rivals"

Think I'll go start a "movement" now... hmmm.. might need a fresh roll of paper for this baby!


6/21/10, 4:26 AM

tricstmr said...
Quick Factual correction/info for you..

As someone who did his dissertation on the transfer and attempted implementation of German Coal-to-liquid fuel technologies--I would say that the failure of that program was not specifically do to the net energy being too low--but had much more to do with shoddy planning, Nazi governmental structures, and economic organization.

Yes--the Germans ran out of fuel--but that, for example, had to do more with them not putting enough resources into the development during times of "relative" fuel plenty (when the Romanians and Soviet were giving them fuel) and then trying to build up their too small base of coal fuel production during the middle of a war. Furthermore, when Speer was given charge of industrial production, he actually totally ignored fuel production for all those planes he was trying to build.. and--thus, as he ran low specifically on airplane fuel, the fuel plants couldn't be protected from bombing, which led to more of them being knocked out, which made the fuel situation worse, etc etc.. it became a "positive feedback loop" but in a highly negative sense..

Of course--to me--this is still a serious aspect of the material world coming in--but it doesn't fit the magic/material narrative you are constructing here exactly... Magic can do wonders for motivation--but social organization (is that magic or material?) can undermine that just as much as simple physical/material lacks.

Nice post overall though..

6/21/10, 5:19 AM

Jason said...
Re: Transition Towns. I'm seeing it differently on the ground here -- as Dwig says, it's local differences. In fact what it depends on is who leads in the particular area. I hear more and more discouraging signs about US TT and this experience of Bill's is one of the worst I've heard yet.

Many people get their first taste of magic through the lighter end of Wicca, or indeed through Buffy -- doesn't mean they stay there. It operates as a gateway for many into real work. Transition is doing the same thing, but unfortunately not everywhere. Personally I can't stand actual TT meetings, but I'm seeing people who are growing food in a number of very ingenious ways, selling it, building community, learning skills, draught-proofing, solar-hot-water-ing, etc. It just can't be got round -- something is happening. And TT is much closer to real decline than Buffy is to real magic.

I have always said (and rarely got a good reaction) in TT that it is playing a very dangerous game rhetorically. Hopkins' plan seems to be to state the 'future is bright' thing in order to ease people's way in, but at the same time to lower people's expectations as to what that future will actually be materially in a way that (when the statements are placed alongside one another) is actually profoundly contradictory.

Nevertheless, TT is actually far too mulchy for the truly 'bright green future' types; that's why someone like Alex Steffen is always so against TT, and someone like Sharon Astyk so in favour -- with all-important reservations.

I could never get a straight answer on this from the movement, but I think the plan has always been to get people engaged and then up the truth factor -- something I am seeing happen. Stoneleigh (of Automatic Earth fame) who is extremely tough-minded recently spoke at TT and did not hold back on her fears about the cosmetic side of the movement triumphing; she was very well-received by those who are really committed, and scared the willies out of those who weren't, which is just what was necessary. But the point is, they were in the room to hear.

I don't give a stuff about Permaculture, which no TT I know is pursuing very strongly, and I don't follow any TT person like a guru! I'm not in any way left wing and I've never been involved with the Green movement. I also have a burgeoning reputation in TT for being difficult and unwilling to "do the hobbit thing" as I call it. And I especially hate all the 'deep and meaningful' stuff which, JMG is right, resembles icky 60s bonding weekends.

I'm interested in tools for stirring up practical action, and TT is one such tool, which sometimes works -- and that's it. If it stops working I'll ditch it. I have loyalty to working on the actual future in my local area, not to TT as some kind of grand cult, which would be a complete joke.

If TT ever does seem to me to become a mere question of people mumbling to themselves what they need to hear, planting the odd turnip to prove it's so, and nothing more, this comments page will be the first to know. Or the second -- my local TTs will be the first to know and I'll take immense pleasure in telling them. But as yet, that's not the situation here.

6/21/10, 5:28 AM

johnt said...

You complain that your local Transition group is 'drawing in people from all over the U.S.' and that 'you could hardly describe (that) as just a quirk of our local movement'.

Actually, I would say exactly that. I've met people from dozens of Transition groups and they are overwhelmingly local. And all the groups I have encountered make it a priority to reach out to existing alternative communities. Many Transitioners remain active in both camps.

JMG, the same goes for the many permaculture practitioners I have met. I won't contest that you have met 'evasive' individuals who sail under the permaculture banner. But I've met some pretty deranged types sailing under the Druidry banner, too - but that does cause me to disrespect the movement they follow. Quite the opposite.

Permaculture, we could perhaps agree, is a special case. The word has become associated in the popular imagination with no-till agriculture - or, as someone said here earlier, 'organics with added BS'.

But the 'permaculture' that Transition-types (if we must be labelled thus) advocate is a broader set of design principles. As articulated by by Holmgren in the link below, permaculture is not a quick fix to the food system - still less a monolithic design system. It's a practical-ethical framework that I'm sure would probably speak to many of your readers here.

6/21/10, 6:58 AM

phil harris said...
I keep stubbing my toes on this one. I do not have Bill's pedigree in Odum ecology but have an (ex)agricultural science background. I keep bumping into 'environmentalists' here in UK who seem to have a wobbly take on quantities in food and agriculture, and to have problems with the difference between (however valuable) garden vegetables and staple foods.
In UK we have about 6M hectares of cultivable land (perhaps 7-8M at an absolute pinch, with a similar area of lower productivity grassland) and now over 60M persons. That is about 10 persons per hectare or 4 persons per acre. A 'permaculture' informed person told me that was going to be OK because permaculture in UK had shown that feeding 4/acre could be achieved if we all went and did it. Ouch.

6/21/10, 6:59 AM

Jim Brewster said...
@Wordek, thanks for the down-to-earth perspective on rhetoric and "movements." Having just read Jenkins "Humanure Handbook" (which I know has been mentioned here in the past), it seems especially appropriate!

Hubris > Humility > Humus. Ah, the humanity!

6/21/10, 7:42 AM

Cathy McGuire said...
JMG, your concept of "Undead Money" totally inspired me -- I got a poem published on New Verse News today with that title (the term attributed to you, of course). Note: poems slip down the page as new daily poems get posted. you can search on Catherine McGuire if you don't see it on the front page.

Thanks for the inspiration - and all the great posts.

6/21/10, 10:10 AM

Steve said...

Congrats on your 1000th official "follower." A good sign, imo.

One of the things that caught my attention on reflecting on this post was that the two examples of magic were on opposite sides of overreaching empires. Germany couldn't quite get enough oil to run their war machine at several key points in WWII, spread their power projection thin, and imploded under pressure from better-fueled industrial economies. Meanwhile Gandhi was part of a movement countering an already teetering British empire.

It brings up for me questions of parallels in the future. I don't doubt that there will be movements using magic to try to overreach the US or another industrial military apparatus that will fail because of fuel shortages. I wonder how many revitalization movements will arise in opposition to governments or economic systems and succeed in pushing them over some critical edge. These promise to be interesting times, indeed.

Thanks for the last two posts, they've been enjoyable!

6/21/10, 10:36 AM

Mark said...
JMG & Bill

I think what's happened is that I've failed to make a clear point. I didn't intend to come off as a defender of permaculture. Obviously the way I wrote my comments was not very clear or commonsensical.

Either way, I don't comprehend why folks tie permaculture up as an ideological movement. Are there really people using permaculture as ritual to ward of the evil spirits of peak oil? I have never encountered the like. My direct experience of permaculture is through landscape design and gardening. But I've seen the principles applied in a myriad of ways by a diverse group of folks.

6/21/10, 11:11 AM

Joel said...
As to demonology: I agree, and I think "Thor Meets Captain America" is interesting partly because it shows magic (by your definition) being used for good, exactly when it states most explicitly that magic (by Dr. Brin's definition) is irredeemably evil. As far apart as you two are ideologically, I think a dialogue between the two of you would be productive; reading you two back to back has certainly been good for me.

"a simple, clear, jargon- and promotion-free description of what permaculture, as a contemporary social movement, actually means."

That's a tough one. I'd have trouble doing that for Newtonian physics, for example, or most any other system of thought. But here goes:

Permaculture is an effort to make a permanent place for humans, within nature.

I'd say it is very poor at optimization for one particular purpose or outcome, because it fosters the habit of considering a large number of factors. It also doesn't seem to apply very well to conditions that are currently stable and sustainable: it needs senseless waste to oppose, in much the same way that monotheism (maybe including Marxism?) seems to need an evil empire, and progressivism seems to need a frontier. I guess it would make sense to guard against permaculture attempting to fulfill that need by becoming a system full of senseless waste.

6/21/10, 12:09 PM

Joel said...
"the price we pay for universal applicability is a degradation in attention to detail."

You may have fallen into the trap you were describing here!

At least in the case of math, that price can be denominated in another currency: didn't Russell, Whitehead, and Gödel insist on attention to detail, and show that universal applicability might come at the price of self-consistency instead?

Physicists tend to choose to pay in that currency, too: some contradictions within classical physics can be resolved with relativity, and some with quantum mechanics, but those two are irreconcilable. We don't seem able to come up with a physics with more than two of: universal applicability, self-consistency, specificity.

My limited understanding is that string theory pays in the traditional way, by being vague in a lot of the details, but a better physicist can correct me here.

6/21/10, 12:41 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Dwig, I'll certainly keep you in mind!

Tom, I laughed just as hard watching Life of Brian after repeated brushes with equivalent groups on this side of the pond.

Wordek, true enough.

Tricstmr, that wasn't the impression I got from my own research. Still, I'll check into it.

Jason, if you're right and TT is deliberately finessing the magnitude of the challenges we face, that changes the picture a bit. My guess is that it's a mistaken strategy, but we'll see.

Johnt, I'm entirely open to the possibility that permaculture may have plenty of positive potential, and has just been badly presented by the people I've encountered. I'd just like to see something other than high-order abstractions.

Phil, how much of that land is suitable (in terms of soil and water access) for intensive gardening? You can produce a spare vegan subsistence diet for a single person for a year on 1000 square feet, given relentless recycling of organic matter (including human feces) -- that was documented back in the early 80s in David Duhon's book One Circle. (I'm not saying it would be anyone's idea of a good life, but it can be done.) Still, your broader point is quite correct -- there's a lot of woolly-headed optimism on points like this that fails to take natural limits into account.

Jim, that's an excellent book!

Cathy, congratulations, and thanks for the link!

Steve, that's a good point -- the fall of empires tends to spark mass movements on both sides of the frontier, of course.

Mark, I'm not at all sure I'd call permaculture an ideological movement, either. But it's a complex issue.

Joel, Newtonian physics is a set of mathematical models that attempt to explain how material objects interact in space and time. See, that wasn't hard! It explains what Newtonian physics tries to do, and how it tries to do it. You've given me (in very abstract terms) what permaculture tries to do; fair enough. How does it try to do it?

6/21/10, 12:52 PM

sgage said...
Here's what I've picked up about Permaculture, though I haven't really studied it in depth. In a nutshell, the idea is to mimic the structures and dynamics of a natural ecosystem. There seems to be importance attached to paying attention to vertical structure as well - i.e., tree crops (nuts and fruits), with perhaps fruit-bearing vines going up, shrubs and small fruits below, right on down to your annual veggies and whatnot, so that you're stacking production and harvesting as much sunlight as possible. Corollary to the tree and small fruits idea is the value of perennial plants.

Of course, this requires attention to how the sun moves on a particular piece of ground, and a great deal of knowledge of appropriate plant species, water availability, etc. Sort of like what I call "gardening".

I share the opinion of someone above who mentioned that the founders of the Permaculture brand were very much designing for their place, which is Australia. Water is an issue for those folks. In New Hampshire (where I live), YMMV. Of course, the principles are sound, I guess.

What some people seem to be turned off by (I tend to be) is the zeal with which Permaculture (TM) seems to want to be monetized. It almost seems that you take the workshops in order to be certified to give a workshop. The workshops are not cheap. Amway, anyone?

So here in NH, I have apple trees and peach trees and blueberries and raspberries, pasture with sheep and chickens running about, and veggie gardens. Sort of like it's been done for centuries, but None Dare Call It Permaculture ;-) In my opinion, the most useful thing you can do as a gardener is talk to other long-time gardeners in your area to find out what the potential issues are, and what works. And if you're in New England, get books by Elliot Coleman for some great ideas of things to try for season extension.

6/21/10, 1:19 PM

Dwig said...
JMG: "Joel, Newtonian physics is a set of mathematical models that attempt to explain how material objects interact in space and time. See, that wasn't hard! It explains what Newtonian physics tries to do, and how it tries to do it."

Well, yes, but it doesn't distinguish Newtonian physics from relativistic physics or quantum physics (and probably at least a few others) -- all use mathematical models. Also, the "how" is pretty thin there -- there's a wide variety of mathematical models. (Turing machines, anyone?) You'd need to add at least a description of what kinds of models it uses, and some indication of why the particular choice.

"You've given me (in very abstract terms) what permaculture tries to do; fair enough. How does it try to do it?" OK, I'll stick my neck out a bit: "... by gaining an understanding of the structure and dynamics of natural systems, and the needs of humans, and applying the former to meet the latter." (I'm not terribly happy with this, but it's a baby step. One thing it does do, though, is to relate permaculture to ecology.)

I'd also want to add something about being constantly in learning mode: each failed or successful attempt feeds understanding, and guides the choices for the next action. ("Caminante, no hay camino -- se hace camino al andar.")

6/21/10, 1:52 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
johnt -- ypu misunderstood me. My observation that our local TT/FP community draws from all over the country was not a complaint. It was presented as evidence that the Financial permaculture philosophy of our group here appears to have widespread appeal. What I described as not being a local aberration was the instigator of financial permaculture, a former high Republican muckity-muck in Washington. As I used the pronoun "her," I'm not sure how you felt it was appropriate to replace it with the indefinite "that" and ascribe it to something else entirely. Rereading my comment I'm not sure at all where you came up with your interpretation of what I said. Sure, I may be picking nits over a small rhetorical matter, but you kind of rearranged my words to attribute statements and sentiments to me that I never actually expressed.

Permaculture: Since many people seem to be wanting a clear definition of it, I'll give a stab at it. My understanding of it is, simply put, that permaculture is:

The design of human agricultural systems using principles that are informed by and patterned after the functional organization of natural ecosystems.

That is not a direct quote from anyone, but it is what I interpreted from the original Mollison/Holmgren works. Having spent the first half of my adult life studying the functional organization of natural ecosystems, the intentions and value of this approach were immediately clear to me. Conceptually it has great appeal to many ecologists.

My complaints with it are in the implementation and attitudes of the implementors, many of whom seem to know far more about the "Permaculture Design Manual" than they do about the actual functional organization of the real ecosystems they are supposed to be learning from. I am also offended by the money and licensing aspects of it, which smack of a pyramid scheme. And it disturbs me that they subsume many other existing systems under their banner (like french intensive, traditional intercropping, square-foot, layer mulching, etc. etc. etc.) and at times seem to present these well-established ideas as though they invented them. Where I come from, we call this plagiarism. And finally, there are the overreaching save-the-world we-can-fix-everything grow-all-the-food-we-need-and-never-lift-a-finger claims, but it shares that sort of problem with many movements.

Looking at that permaculture definition, it occurs to me that the only real meaningful implementation of "financial permaculture" I can envision is one where you tie your currency to the fundamental currency of nature, which is energy. H.T. Odum was a big advocate of this (a fixed dollar-to-joule standard); however it seems to have little relation to what the financial permaculturists are really talking about.

6/21/10, 1:58 PM

Joel said...
"How does it try to do it?"

By meeting human needs in ways that also serve the greater ecosystem.

Is "ecosystem" jargon? I guess you could replace "greater ecosystem" with "earth," and most interpretations would still be correct. But "space and time" definitely are jargon in the context of physics, so hopefully you'll cut me some slack.

Your example is great for physics in general, but I'm not sure it distinguishes Newtonian from relativistic or quantum. I guess I took your criteria to be a little stricter than you meant them to be?

6/21/10, 5:34 PM

aangel said...
I recommend at almost all opportunities in my writing and speaking that people look into TT when they first discover our future. Why? Because here in the U.S. the structures of community are weak in most places and an important muscle to exercise for most people is how to operate as a community member. Without community, I think a person's prosperity and sense of fulfillment will be much lower than it need otherwise be.

Much of the commentary here about TT seems lacking in actual experience in organizing around this topic. (If this is an incorrect assumption, I apologize in advance.) Let me offer the experience of someone who worked as an organizer around peak oil in his community to help shed some light on the practical difficulties involved with that.

I helped found the Post Carbon group here in Marin and learned many valuable lessons.

Here is the most important one, and I ask everyone still reading to give it a fair ponder before responding:

The Big Lesson
Talk about the reality of the end of abundance and of the 20 people at your meeting only one will return to the next meeting.

This is just what is so and no amount of complaining that humans should be some other way than they actually are is going to change it.

This wasn't just my experience. I was on the co-ordinators' hub of the Post Carbon program and this seemed to be the universal experience of every organizer there (over 200 at the time).

I'm more of an analytical type and wanted to tell people "what's really going to happen" so that they could prepare. I figured they were adults and if I could handle it so could they. Thus, the meetings followed the tone that I set. It didn't work. We were unable to drum up interest and get people in action. We were told repeatedly that our meetings were "too depressing."

So, when all is said and done, TT is at least working to whatever extent it is working. Is it perfect? Not even close. However, it is managing to educate many people who otherwise wouldn't have heard of our predicament.

I know the pull for us cerebral types is to lay it all out there and let people deal with it. It's just that that approach doesn't work for more than a few people. They are going to tend to have our personality type (eggheads who are voracious readers).

I happen to converse with the Transition U.S. leadership relatively frequently and am happy to report that their eyes are wide open. It isn't a mistake that Nicole spoke at the conference (Stoneleigh). I have made recommendations and have always felt like my input was valued. The leadership seems very willing to adjust as they go. For instance, they are aware that the current touchy-feely structure of the meetings works in only a few places — certainly not Texas or an inner city. But a start must be made somewhere and people are actively conversing on how to adapt the current methodology to other situations.

Also, be aware that TT does include their cheerful disclaimer at public events and on various places on their website. You can read it here.

I invite Bill and JMG to consider that people are conscious of your concerns and actually share them. But because their goal is for TT to be highly decentralized, it's not as though they can prevent particular groups from doing what humans everywhere and everytime have done: they will calcify their organizational structures and possibly create in-groups and out-groups. Placing that at the feet of the central organizing group seems unfair to me. With decentralization comes fairly predicable human behaviors and, well, that's just how we seem to work. (Besides, the conversation Bill mentioned above in which some TT'ers were discussing what to say publicly is perfectly fine in my book. It's necessary to understand the limits of what a local community can hear and otherwise there is a real danger of marginalization.)


6/21/10, 6:42 PM

aangel said...
Now, despite what might come off as an apologia, I participate lightly in my local TT group. I decided that I wanted to be able to talk to people straighter than TT does. So I'm directing my energy into my company (Post Peak Living where I get to control the message. Thus, we have a course taught by a psychologist that prepares people for the emotional difficulty of confronting collapse. I don't think that would work in most TT communities at this point. Yes, except for the members of the organizing committee, generally TTers are generally that far behind in understanding the financial ramifications of the decline of oil.

There wasn't the room for me to talk this way locally. By moving my work entirely to the web, the kinds of people who gel with this style find me. Those who don't find my approach to their liking can simply click away. It really works for both sides, I think.

But I will continue to attend local TT meetings. After all, a good potluck with live music is fun ;-).

6/21/10, 6:44 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Sgage, granted, the apparent passion for monetization is a turnoff -- though it's hard to think of anything nowadays that doesn't fall victim to that habit.

Dwig and Joel, I could narrow the definition of Newtonian physics nicely by saying "...absolute space and time." Now how does your definition distinguish permaculture from any other form of applied human ecology?

6/21/10, 7:35 PM

Jen said...
Thank you. I just went to an urban farming summit and, bless those people who are working so hard, it's all based on growth economics. I suppose I could take down my nonsense post about the mainstreaming of peak oil stirring the transformation of human consciousness now. We'll only have more of the same. I agree with Zin - time to focus on what we have control over - our gardens, the futures we create for our families, our time spent with friends, our health, our T.V. watching habits. I could stand to spend less time on the internet as well.
Take care!

6/21/10, 7:43 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Andre, the question you've raised here is of course one of the big ones -- is it more important to get an accurate message out to the few people who are willing to deal with it, or is getting lots of people involved in some level of activity, however minimal, important enough to water down or even falsify the message? My take is that it's a big mistake to try to force the growth of a mass movement, which as I see it is what the TT movement is trying to do; the more useful option, it seems to me, is to tell it as it is, and let any manifestation of those ideas in the form of action take shape on its own terms, in an organic way. It certainly seems to working for me! But that's my take, not any kind of revealed truth.

I'm a bit startled, though, that you seem to think I blame the core organizing group for what TT seems likely to be in the process of becoming. Quite the contrary, one of the things that characterizes mass movements of this kind is that they usually get out of the hands of the people who start them. Whose hands they end up in, if any, can have a huge -- and often disastrous -- impact on the way the movement develops. If TT turns into a full-scale revitalization movement, or if it gets coopted by a political movement with a charismatic leader, or if it falls victim to any of the other common traps of mass movements, I'm sure Rob Hopkins et al. will be horrified -- though in any of those cases he'll have been eased out of any position of active influence long before.

But I'll be going into this in much more detail in the next Archdruid Report post.

6/21/10, 7:48 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
aangel -- Well, as for live music, this is Tennessee. Live music is everywhere, all the time. And I prefer my potlucks without breakout groups.

Seriously, though, I have fairly substantial problems with tuning the message to increase participation, especially if this includes promoting rosy pictures of a future that you don't actually believe in. If you just don't mention that the post peak future will almost surely include drastically lower amounts of available energy, reduced food quantity and variety, less medical care, and shorter life spans, well that is one thing. But if you hint at some carbon-free utopia of renewable everything and cornucopias on every table, that is something else entirely. That's marketing.

I also find it very hard to understand how groups of people who are choosing to ignore the really difficult implications of post-peak oil are ever going to be in a position to develop realistic schemes for coping with them!

6/21/10, 8:03 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
A closing note on Financial Permaculture...

Most of y'all "transition types" seem to have passed this off as just a quirk of one out-of-the-way backwater. Don't bet on it. You may well find it coming to a Transition Town near you sooner than you expect. I'd suggest you find out a bit about it (web searches will tell you plenty), so you will have some background to work from for when you first encounter it.

6/21/10, 8:37 PM

Lance Michael Foster said...
I think another skill we each have to acquire, if we can, is dealing with lots of people who lose it, who suffer nervous breakdowns, who cannot get past the grief of loss (family, loved ones, a way of being, a way of life). More and more people are going to start going past the breaking point. We need to be prepared for that, at the level of the individual, of the group, and of mass and culture-wide hysteria.

6/21/10, 9:09 PM

aangel said...
JMG, sorry, I didn't mean to imply what I apparently did! I'm just pointing out that it's easy to assign to a larger entity the cause for how an individual or subgroup acts when it could just be them being humans. So on that score we seem to be on the same page.

As for your success getting your message out, of course it is deserved. However, I assert that you are attracting a certain personality type and the other types simply don't spend the time online, or reading long blog entries or — the killer factor — experiencing anything that might be viewed by them as "pessimistic."

I understand that you think it is a mistake approaching what we are facing the way TT is. I thought one time as you do. Having experienced failure with "straight talk" I no longer do. When charged with moving an entire community along as a group, I think they are doing it the best way of the ways I have seen.

Still — I often have to catch myself because my natural reaction is to think that the TT approach will be too little too late. But then I ask myself: to late for what? The universe is doing its universe thing (humans included) and there is nowhere to get to.

6/21/10, 9:26 PM

hapibeli said...
sgage says it all; "Sort of like it's been done for centuries, but None Dare Call It Permaculture ;-) In my opinion, the most useful thing you can do as a gardener is talk to other long-time gardeners in your area to find out what the potential issues are, and what works"
Many of us are doing just that. You don't need a "Permaculture/TT/Labelwhatever, unless you have the need to justify your actions to others. If that be the case, it is best that you quit worrying about the others and live your life. The community you seek will arise from the actions you take.
As was said in an earlier post, by a "zenman";
Time to focus on what we have control over.
Exercise the body
Calm the Mind
Get involved with the local community
Learn new skills
Gather knowledge
Get off medications
Grow food
Unplug the TV

6/22/10, 12:04 AM

spottedwolf said...

Once you finish wiping up the mess all that 'life-experience' made...try "flying it around the room to see what'll stick to it"

6/22/10, 1:09 AM

Wordek said...
Hi Joel
"the price we pay for universal applicability is a degradation in attention to detail."
You may have fallen into the trap you were describing here!

Heh heh.. Nicely spotted. But its not a trap, its a price, and on my receipt it says “paid in full”.

“didn't Russell, Whitehead, and Gödel insist on attention to detail...”

Didnt Godel decide there were an infinite number of infinities and wind up in an asylum? I'll stick with my brown bottle thank-.....?Hey What?!?.. Now theres two of them!!

“...and show that universal applicability might come at the price of self-consistency instead?”

Thats too wiggly for me to approach. Id have colourless green ideas all through my furious sleep. Nice sentence though, rolls off the ton-gue quite well.

As for mathematicians: dont trust 'em. Examine any mathematicians body closely and you will find 29A tattooed somewhere!
.. True story...

Hi Jim
"Humanure Handbook"
Sounds like good lavatory reading, though I'm a little concerned that the idea might take off. If every resource boom leads inexorably towards resource bust what will our “drill baby drill” analogue be at the end of that cycle?
Bobby: Awwwww Mom.. I dont wannnaaaaaaaaaaa!!!
Mom: Now Bobby! Pipe down and stop being selfish! Be a good boy and “drink your Lax-ade”

Fortunately its pretty certain that I'll be Soylent Green well before that day.

6/22/10, 3:20 AM

Wordek said...
Its a quandary isnt it. How do you start a bottom up movement from the top down?

Without going into all the nebulous abstractions, non sequiturs, vague historical analogues and guesses that punctuated my thinking as I considered that problem, I'm going to have to say - largely for the purposes of brevity - “you cant”

What I do suggest though is that you keep going as long as you can ,as well as you can and build as many strong components as you can, wherever and however you can. Then, even if the tension finally rips the overriding concept apart, at least much of the shrapnel that remains will still be useful to those who participated. The grassroots you were aiming for.

But do keep your fingers crossed, history is full of strange little twists and turns..

And yes, I know I'm “paying the price” again. Im aware of it and its deliberate.

6/22/10, 4:18 AM

Twilight said...
I'd like to ask for some recommendations on basic books on gardening. I'm a country boy and helped my parents in their fairly large garden when I was a teenager in the 70's. I've grown some small gardens over the years, with some modest success - mostly at our old home before 2003.

But in reality my skills and knowledge are in other areas. Between my job and projects around the place (Eastern PA, by the way), my time for gardening is limited - but it seems like I should be able to do a decent garden more effectively than I have been. My attempts the last several years have been failures - potatoes that were small, having the lettuce seeds wash out twice this year, pour yields, etc.

So it is time to get more serious and learn more about what I'm doing. I'm not interested in movements or meetings or lifestyle changes, I just want to read and learn. I need to be able to plant a garden that is productive without destroying the soil or pouring chemicals on it. I'm guessing I need to know more about the condition of the soil in this place and how to improve it (I've got plenty of fertilizer - horse, goat and chicken if I need it). Any help would be appreciated!

6/22/10, 5:44 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Jen, the transformation of human consciousness happens one human at a time. I sometimes think that the main driving force behind mass movements is the almost universal unwillingness to come to terms with that.

Bill, bingo. That's one of those traps of means and ends that catch so many would-be saviors of the world -- if you choose your message to appeal to the public, you've just replaced your message with whatever the public is willing to hear.

Lance, that's an excellent point.

Andre, once you've decided that it's your mission to move an entire community along as a group, you've already lost, because you won't move the community; the community, by deciding what it will and won't listen to, will go the way it wants to, and drag you along after it. More on this in the upcoming post.

Hapibeli, true enough.

Wordek, that's funny. You could get the same results, of course, by throwing lots of parties for your friends and serving prunes and high-roughage dishes...

As for starting a bottom-up movement from the top down, exactly. Exactly. You get today's colorless gold star (which is sleeping furiously).

Twilight, I'll have a number of them, along with other useful info, in a forthcoming post. In the meantime, a lot of people find John Jeavons' How To Grow More Vegetables a good place to start.

6/22/10, 7:15 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Perhaps too far off-topic... your blog, your call!

You mention saviors... I have long thought that modern Xtianity really missed the point of the whole crucifixion story. To me the strongest message is that here was a man who taught forgiveness and peace, and who actually STUCK TO HIS PRINCIPLES all the way to the end, through torture and execution, without softening his message for mass appeal. WWJD? Well, I'm pretty sure he would not have hired any marketing consultants...

And now for a total digression; I must be especially blessed these last few days, as I have been busy making cheese.

6/22/10, 7:31 AM

DC said...

Sorry to be so late with follow-up to these comments. But, I would like to mention a couple things that I think may be overlooked in this discussion on permaculture and its relevance to human-ecological systems.

First, I would like to comment on what you stated in your last post--which is as follows:

You take a stab at defining permaculture with the following:

"The design of human agricultural systems using principles that are informed by and patterned after the functional organization of natural ecosystems."

In my limited understanding of all of the principles and concepts of permaculture design, I would state that the "concepts" of permaculture are deeply rooted in Systems Ecology as determined by Odum et. al. Holmgren and many others make reference to this as being its origins and utilize "systems" concepts to make permaculture design of use in many of the varied ecological systems presently underway on our earth. Therefore, it is not just "human agriculutral systems" with which this design interface can be applied--assuming that whole systems behave in the manner with which Systems Ecologists (utilizing thermodynamic energy flows) have described with sources, sinks, feedback loops, etc. With this premise, permaculture principles, methods, etc. could be applied to "any" human-ecological function vis a vis so-called sustainable human communities. Whereby, incorporating more than just an "agricultural" emphasis.

My understanding is that permaculture's origin is also rooted in applied environmental design--which began with home-scale systems and has since expanded to include entire ecological regions. A good reference to link the two is the text "A Patterned Language" by Christopher Alexander et. al.

You follow by stating:

"That is not a direct quote from anyone, but it is what I interpreted from the original Mollison/Holmgren works. Having spent the first half of my adult life studying the functional organization of natural ecosystems, the intentions and value of this approach were immediately clear to me. Conceptually it has great appeal to many ecologists."

I could not agree more. Ecologists and Permaculturists should be working closely together to mitigate the challenges we face with respect to biophysical limits and the like to bridge the gap between human culture and natural ecosystems such that we may begin to build (at least to some extent) resilient human communities working symbiotically with natural ecosystems. If we can accomplish this, we could begin to stop seeing the two as separated by function but unified with a single purpose--further validating that humans are not removed or distinct from natural ecosystems and vice versa.

Just my two cents, but I think this is what permaculture is intended to do--a method or way through the difficult times ahead.

6/22/10, 8:01 AM

aangel said...
"Andre, once you've decided that it's your mission to move an entire community along as a group, you've already lost, because you won't move the community; the community, by deciding what it will and won't listen to, will go the way it wants to, and drag you along after it."

That sounds like one of those hard headed, realistic things to say but it's just not universally true. Of course there are examples of attempts to move a group that failed.

But there are countless examples of communities aligning on a direction and moving as a group in which the move began with an idea in the mind of a single person who said to themself, "I want my community to do this. I'll start talking about it and perhaps by this time next week/month/year it will be done."

Those ideas resulted in cathedrals or schools being built or simply hiring someone to clean the snow from a roadway.

I assert that the goal of moving an entire community is valid and possible and honestly would rather not have you saying the opposite. It makes my work, the work of many community leaders and quite frankly your work more difficult if you propagate the thought that communities will do what they will despite one's best efforts. That sort of resignation is precisely what must first be overcome if any change within a community is to occur.

However, you are a distinct being and all I have is the power of my words to sway you — not not, as the case may be. In the meantime, I request that you reconsider this line of thinking.


6/22/10, 8:28 AM

Lisa said...
I gave up on those local revitalization movements - sapped my energy and never actually did anything, it seemed like excuses for people who like meetings and talking about ideas. I don't hate meetings and talk, but I much prefer accomplishing useful things.

However, I think what happened to the term "Permaculture" is a shame. It's happened to Christianity and other religions, I guess... the original ideas are one thing but the uses later made of it by perhaps misguided followers, quite another. However anyone jeers, the principles of permaculture are incredibly useful in thinking about the problems on the homestead and I'll continue to use and apply them. While in no way embracing the herb spiral or the forest garden, and liking my vegetables growing in neat rows.

And there's one other sad lesson I learned. When you have something great, it doesn't help ease the pain of losing it, by being aware of the fact you are going to lose it. We had a lovely peaceful home, knowing someone was going to build next door some day, and I savored every moment, thinking it would help. But they came, they built, the loss hurt terribly and there was very little comfort in remembering that we'd known it was coming.

6/22/10, 9:38 AM

spottedwolf said...
Real change....if such is possible...can only come from the inside. Social dynamics are supported by consensus. When an agreement in principle fails to be understood, thoroughly agreed to, and acted on accordingly by all parties,then the society collapses.
At this point I cannot accept and thus envision some great movement, such as TT, taking hold until all involved find themselves living thru the 'downfall'. This is the way we actually learn....the hard way...the only way. Until then all we've got to go on is action driven by speculative need.....of something still on the horizon. The dialogues and meetings aforehand cannot certify what will work or won't work. For now they assist and exist in abstraction. Time will tell.

6/22/10, 11:51 AM

phil harris said...
You asked me how much of UK's limited cultivable acreage (we are currently just about 10 persons per arable hectare or 4/acre and do not remotely feed ourselves) would be suitable for very intensive garden cultivation given maximum nutrient re-cycling.
Well, we are not like the most productive parts of the Yangtze delta with their double cropping and extra river nutrients as well as maximum re-cycling, where historically in some places a very uncomfortable maximum of perhaps 30+ / hectare could subsist. In our subsistence days, England (leaving aside somewhat different Scotland, Wales, Ireland) historically had a peak 'carrying capacity' of ~5.7M, or a touch over 10% of today's population. Organic farming after 1750 increasingly used biological fixation of N (soil nitrogen from clover) and dramatically raised the ceiling until by 1850 about 22% of the population just about fed the rest of the by then mostly urban 16.6M. Quite a bit of the ground of course had to feed the horses. Later, we mostly imported food. We probably could do better now if we could still get synthetic fertilizer inputs, and lived mostly as vegetarians. Urban 'victory gardens' in WWI & WWII certainly helped but were small stuff even in those desperate situations.
I think Transition and Permaculture have worth, but if they get serious will need much much more than DIY self-help food production, especially here in the UK. The potential food situation will be different in the USA, even if as Stoneigh rightly describes, we all are chained to the same economic wheel. My guess is that in the UK we must look to very large scale collective arrangements, (as during WWII), and that real 'self-reliance' could be more of a US thing.

6/22/10, 1:22 PM

Wordek said...
Hi sw..
"flying it around the room to see what'll stick to it"
Uproarious suggestion. As my tummy now feels like I just drank a whole gallon of lax-ade, I suspect you sir may well be the original Abdominable Dr Phibes! “Vulnavia, my precious...”

Hi Twilight
“Any help would be appreciated”
I believe Jim has finished his book if you want to borrow it....

6/22/10, 2:04 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
DC -- I thought a good bit before putting the word "agriculture" in my definition. The reason I did so is simple: As I understand it, "permaculture" was coined as a portmanteau of "PERMAnent agriCULTURE," not "PERMAnent CULTURE." This was its original sense. Extending its definition to include all human activities weakens it by making it all-inclusive, and therefore almost meaningless. One buzzword to cover them all, one buzzword to blind them, one buzzword to bring them all and in the movement bind them...

6/22/10, 3:21 PM

mageprof said...
Andre wrote:

"But there are countless examples of communities aligning on a direction and moving as a group in which the move began with an idea in the mind of a single person who said to themself, "I want my community to do this. I'll start talking about it and perhaps by this time next week/month/year it will be done."

"Those ideas resulted in cathedrals or schools being built or simply hiring someone to clean the snow from a roadway."

OK, I really have to challenge this.

When your scope is a single neighborhood, or at the most a small, close-knit community, then sometimes -- just sometimes -- this can be made to work for a while.

But I'm an old man who has lived through a lot of movements, and a retired professor who has worked through primary sources about another lot of movements that happened before I was born. To be blunt, I can't remember a single large-scale movement that proceeded as you hope the TT movement will proceed.

Also, and more to the point, I can't think of a single large-scale movement that hasn't caused a good deal of misery as the farce of its getting something done has slowly played out.

Andre also wrote:

"I assert that the goal of moving an entire community is valid and possible and honestly would rather not have you saying the opposite. It makes my work, the work of many community leaders and quite frankly your work more difficult if you propagate the thought that communities will do what they will despite one's best efforts. That sort of resignation is precisely what must first be overcome if any change within a community is to occur."

On the contrary, I would insist:

Ideals meant for whole communities are highly toxic things, and movements to implement or impose such ideals are dangerous. Hope is ever a deceiver at best, the ultimate secret weapon of evil people at worst.

Rather grit your teeth, roll up your sleeves, work as hard as you can despite your pain, suffering and despair, and you may just make a modest future of sorts for yourself, your family and your descendants. That is enough to make it all worth the cost, and more than enough. More than that this grim old world -- with rare and fairly brief exceptions -- has never offered a single human being since the dawn of consciousness.

I think it is my duty to my fellow man and woman to make your "work, the work of many community leaders . . . more difficult," in fact to make it as difficult as I can.

6/22/10, 4:31 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Andre -- it is my belief that apparent "leaders" are usually more like surfers. The ones we perceive as leaders are the ones that caught good waves. I always think of Ronald Reagan (perhaps a dated example for many of you). In 1976 as a presidential candidate he was a joke, on the fringe. In 1980 he was elected president. He did not change; the cultural waves in America did. Sometimes it might seem like someone mobilized a community to action all by him- or herself; but I believe that is only because they resonated with a spark, with a nascent wave that was primed and ready to go. A thousand other people failed to catch a wave, we just don't know about them.

This is not to denigrate the role leaders and organizers take; they can have a major role in shaping the way these waves manifest. But they (you) do not create them, and it is hubris to believe that you do.

And all the suggestions that those who disagree with you should self-censor (i.e. shut the hell up) will not change this. You can fight the tide until you are blue in the face, but it still will not yield to your insistence that it is flowing the wrong way.

6/22/10, 5:17 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bill, the Christians I respect most haven't forgotten that.

DC, I can't speak for Bill, but I have few quarrels (and those minor ones) with the ideas of permaculture; it's some of the behaviors that seem very common in the movement that undergird the critical comments I've made.

Andre, if you think the points I've raised make things more difficult for what I'm trying to do, I don't think you grasp what I'm trying to do. If they make things more difficult for what you're trying to do, well, that's unfortunate, but furthering your projects comes well down my list of priorities, you know. Mind you, if your project requires the agreement of most of the people in the peak oil scene, it's already doomed, so you may want to reconsider your own ideas on the subject.

Lisa, that's a valuable lesson, though I know it's not an easy or a pleasant one.

Wolf, nicely put.

Phil, thanks for the details. I've come to think that the World War II experience on both sides of the Atlantic offers some important lessons; I have a cookbook of wartime recipes published by the Imperial War Museum, for example, and a lot of the attitudes and habits practiced in Britain during its siege by U-boat seem likely to be very relevant in the future.

Bill, I hope it doesn't amount to that.

Mageprof, funny you should mention your studies in this context. I'll be retelling a familiar story in tomorrow's post.

Bill, I'll be addressing this tomorrow as well.

6/22/10, 7:28 PM

John Michael Greer said...
By the way, I think this is an all time record for comments to one Archdruid Report post. A warm thanks to all of you for keeping the discussion thoughtful and civil; I've only had to delete a few inveterate trolls and the usual crop of spam.

6/22/10, 7:30 PM

aangel said...
Well, then! It seems that many of the posters here would rather us types who would like to move our individual communities toward some sort of collective action just give up before we start since their experience and knowledge clearly demonstrates that either it can't be done or it is a worthless endeavor. So be it. As people are free to ignore me I'm of course free to ignore them (I'll be sure to stay clear of mageprof for instance).

JMG, my goals are rather limited in scope. I'm under no illusion that we will move great swaths of humanity to a sustainable state before our numbers (i.e. population) are quite a bit lower than now. And my goals do not *need* any one person's agreement. They need some sort of tipping point within a community to be sure and that can happen all sorts of ways.

But in the meantime, I will keep standing for local organizers to pick attainable goals that they rally their community around (maybe even a stretch goal or two, since those are more fun to work toward). Not all groups turn into the types warned of here.

6/22/10, 10:20 PM

Brian said...
Ah, Wordek, you join a long line of people with something to say about the malign influence of mathematicians - Augustine of Hippo in the City of God warned Christians about us, Aquinas later said that reason is the enemy of faith. I guess in this context of discussing magical thinking it might be best to send us off to the pyre, as usual, before we say too much.

Godel had a long and productive life (72 years) and you can understand something of his paranoia towards the end given his experiences of Europe of WWI and the 20s and 30s (and the US to 1978?). Incidentally, at his US citizenship ceremony, he tried to point out the flaw in the US Constitution that would allow for a dictatorship to be established legally. Maybe that might make him a prophet at some point? In his own way he did something most valuable, made the 1900 project of Hilbert, a totally logical formlation of all mathematics and all possible mathematics, a permanent impossibility. You could say he was a pioneer of the business of muddling through - and proved we couldn't ever with integrity do anything else, even in mathematics.

Still, Wordek, I do appreciate the hexadecimal, a much more sensitive presentation of our condition.

6/23/10, 12:28 AM

Brian said...

I'd like to thank you for your thoughts and the blog. I guess familarity with exponential functions has disposed me to a sensitivity to the core reality underlying your awareness of our civilisation's condition. I was an early adopter and teacher of the then somewhat new then Dynamic Systems Theory (Chaos Theory) way back when, and the feedback systems whose behaviours are explored there, that are also a major component of your analysis. More power to your arm.

A lot of people I know have been talking about these issues now for a considerable number of years, among them geologists, foresters, geneticists, biologists and mathematicians. There is a lot more going on in their under-the-radar actions than most would register as relating to the limits to growth. If my experience here in my limited social network here in Oz is generalisable, there may be more being put on and in the ground than one would expect from what is on the net or in mainstream media. It's just not visible yet to those who can't see it for what it is. That may be a small hope, but maybe it will relieve the sense that comes across here at times that there are only a select few who see what is on the screen. There are perhaps plenty who do, and who are acting in interesting ways, but not in a public manner.

6/23/10, 12:57 AM

Tony said...
Here's a great example of local people making their community demonstrably better: The Philly Orchard Project.

By the way, aangel, I'm right with you. I dislike how people get entrenched in their opinions and seem to enjoy arguing for the sake of it... I see some of that here in these comments. It's really easy to nitpick and say "well, that one little thing you said, there, that minor clause, that's totally wrong, and here's why", while completing ignoring the substance of the comment. What happened to charity as a basic premise of intelligent discourse?

I'm waiting for someone to click the link above and say "oh wait, those are activists," like activism is some sort of dirty word.

I'm also involved in my local Transition movement, and while I appreciate the criticism, I don't see why that means we should give up before we even begin, nor why we need to communicate THE TRUTH, like the light of God or something, the moment we meet someone new. If someone is completely unacquainted with the concept of decline, then no amount of arm waving or earnest conversation will convince them of its presence. You have to communicate within someone's experience and then... expand their experience, so you can expand your communication. End sermon.

6/23/10, 9:41 AM

spottedwolf said...
Brian......I admire your comment for all of which it states and hints toward. I have a quiet faith...if you mankind's initiative to share that which goes well beyond the limits of his self-interest, his ego in general, and his instinct. Having tried all manner of ideal to test the need for delusion and illusion...I still find my circle draws back to the same center and am ever reminded of Guatama Siddhartha's, "enlightenment is the JOURNEY and the finding of it is the joke played by us on us."

6/23/10, 12:53 PM

spottedwolf said...
Wordie.......many years ago a local and well respected 'healer'...upon initial contact....looked at me and said, "King Henry the Eighth".

All things in like Von List said of the runes.....

concept creates requirement...heh heh heh

6/23/10, 12:57 PM

Roy said...
Somebody once told me, " We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. You should listen twice as much as you talk." In this day and age it makes clear sense. We as human-beings are spiritual and place our confidence into what we consider a higher power. The true magic of that would be that the so called higher power could be a man or woman who will be embraced as an icon or leader. Sure, we all would love to see the world turn in the right direction, but who are we to judge what direction is the right direction? We second guess ourselves and as a result appoint our leaders to make choices for us that do not usually benefit us. People crave a revolution of sorts, but why complain? Why question? There is a leader in us all and we are all clearly capable of change on all realms of our own humanity. Rather than question the stance of human sustainability, one should look inward and consider his/her own sustainability. Well, I listened to everybody, had my chance to talk. Thank you, it was a pleasure. By the way, Mr. Greer, I appreciate your books/blogs very much. Keep up the good work.

6/23/10, 4:29 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Tony -- I'm not sure what you have been reading, but the comment thread I have been looking at has very much been addressing and fundamentally disagreeing about the core ideas, not just "nitpicking." These matters of the underlying philosophies and mindsets of transition, permaculture, etc. and the basic question of whether the activists lead the society or the society leads the activists, those are quite fundamental matters, and that is what I have seen the commentors here grappling about.

6/23/10, 9:23 PM

Wordek said...

Andre, in my experience, mageprof is absolutely right. But you know what else? Mageprof is also absolutely wrong. How does that work? Well brevity strikes again, so scroll down to the last part of this comment for a taste of what I mean. Can both of you drop the emotion and build a broader understanding? Despite the cynical air no disrespect is intended to either of you on my part.

Hi spottie

Im sorry I mistook you for Dr Phibes...

Dick: --Slaps fist into open palm-- Holy esoterica!!!!

Bruce: Im afraid so Dick....That heartless fiend the Riddler is loose again!! … To the Batpoles!!!!

Hi Brian

I'm not dissing maths per se but the idea that mathematics describes reality. So many mathematicians dont understand that what they are really modelling is the stuff thats got into their heads, just like everyone else does in one way or another.

“reason is the enemy of faith”

Sorry Thomas, but from what I've seen: “faith is the enemy of faith”. Reason is just another “ignorant bystander” saying “well I certainly didnt expect that to happen!”

“I guess in this context of discussing magical thinking” and:


Heh heh ….Where I'm from we just call it “hex” ;) …

And I'm truly sorry but I just cant resist these magical cliches:

“What happened to charity as a basic premise of intelligent discourse?”

What happened to realism as a basic.........yada yada......

“Somebody once told me, “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. “ Somebody once told me “your mouth hole is 20 times bigger than your ear holes for a reason...”

“who are we to judge what direction is the right direction?”

Indeed yes! Let us all now stand around scratching our asses while looking profoundly wise.

Hi ho.....

6/24/10, 4:31 AM

Jason said...
@Roy, how blissful to find this in a thread mentioning Stoicism! --

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. You should listen twice as much as you talk.

... that little dictum originated with Zeno of Citium, as did Stoicism itself, if you didn't happen to know. Just one of those nice things!

6/24/10, 9:34 AM

Burnie said...
I was directed here by a friend, I'll practice the two ear, one mouth advice and say that You and commentors have illumined my journey to whatever end is in store, and I am grateful.

In absolute personal truth, I am money poor, and rich beyond measure. I get it, I think hee hee.

6/25/10, 10:23 AM