Like any other movement in contemporary society, the peak oil scene now and again has to take time away from addressing the challenges that have brought it into being in order to sort out its own internal vagaries. One timely example was the fluttering in several different dovecotes following longtime peak oil stalwart Matt Savinar’s decision to shut down his forum and news blog, in order to refocus his energies on a new career as an astrologer.
It’s a curious detail of sociology that people who hold one set of beliefs that are stigmatized by society – those people who hope to become respectable one of these days, at least – tend to distance themselves reflexively from those who hold unrelated but equally stigmatized beliefs. In most corners of American society today, the reality of hard ecological limits has about the same cachet as the ancient belief that events here on earth are foreshadowed by changes in the circling heavens. Actually, that understates the case. Plenty of people who regularly sneak glances at newspaper horoscope columns are quick to reject any suggestion that the march of progress could be stopped in its tracks by nature’s callous refusal to provide us with as much cheap concentrated energy as we happen to want. Thus it’s no surprise that most of the responses to Savinar’s announcement were negative.
Still, Savinar may have the last laugh. An article in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal discussed the way that old-fashioned Southern conjure – also known as rootwork or hoodoo, the traditional magic of African-American folk culture – has become a growth industry while the rest of the economy is circling the drain. While the New Age movement is very much a creature of prosperous times, old-fashioned occultism has always tended to swim against the current of the business cycle, prospering in hard times and finding fewer takers when the economy booms. If the current economic unraveling has the usual effects, Savinar may just have made an exceptionally smart career move.
At the same time, there’s more to the matter than one person pursuing a marketable skill in whose relevance and efficacy, by the way, he wholeheartedly believes. Just prior to the shutdown of the “Life After The Oil Crash” forum, Savinar posted a series of increasingly irritated comments about the number of people on it whose obsessive concern about the prospect of a catastrophic future stopped well short of doing anything to prepare for it. I know the feeling; this blog and the Green Wizards forum have attracted a lot of people who are actually doing something about their future, but I’ve had plenty of run-ins elsewhere with people who apparently believe that (a) insisting that some technology they’re doing nothing to develop or deploy will bail us out of our predicament, (b) displaying their doombat machismo by imagining a future more godawful than anybody else’s, or (c) finding somebody to blame and showing Jung a thing or two about how to project the shadow, are useful responses to the end of the industrial age.
Unproductive as these habits may be, there’s an understandable logic behind them, and behind all the attempts to paint the future in glowing colors of one sort or another – be those colors the syrupy hues of a Thomas Kinkade cottage painting or the purer if less comforting tones of a thermonuclear fireball. All of these portraits are ways not to think about the future that’s actually bearing down on us, a future that might best be summed up by pointing out that nearly all of us here in America will be poor – not "can’t afford the latest Xbox this month" poor, by the way, but "may not be able to put food on the table" poor – for the rest of our lives.
Yes, it really is as simple as that. White’s Law defines energy per capita as the basic measurement of economic development; as energy per capita declines, the economy contracts, and its capacity to support individuals at any level above the starvation line contracts as well. All the social, political, and military fireworks that punctuate the curve of decline unfold from that inescapable equation, as those who can no longer support themselves by supporting the system turn to catabolizing the system as a matter of sheer survival. Just now the turn to catabolism is happening in a shamefaced, surreptitious way: thieves stripping empty homes for copper and aluminum, banks cashing in their futures to buy short-term cash flow, cities quietly announcing that this or that set of essential services will no longer be available. Later rounds of catabolism may be a good deal more direct; each new round of news stories about the struggles between warlords beyond America’s fortified southern frontier makes me think of the proud border chieftains of an earlier age: Alaric, Hengist, Genseric, Attila.
Such reflections may make the green wizardry I’ve been discussing in recent posts seem pointless, but that pointlessness is an illusion. If the great driving force behind a future of disintegration and chaos is the simple inability of a failing society to provide even the most basic subsistence for the bulk of its people, anything that will allow those people to make other arrangements for their subsistence offers a way to cushion the decline. With that in mind, I want to talk about a simple, resilient technology that helps solve several of the most serious problems that poor people face now and the rest of us will be facing shortly. It was common – in fact, heavily promoted – all over the industrial world a century ago, and you’ve probably never heard of it.
Let’s start with the problem: cooking fuel. According to a recent news story, archeologists have found out that our sturdy cousins the Neanderthals routinely ate cooked vegetables, and cooked meat has been a hominid staple since the days of Homo erectus. Pace today’s raw food diet promoters, most foodstuffs are safer to eat and easier to digest when they’ve been subjected to heat, which is why every human culture everywhere on earth cooks most meals. The one drawback is that the heat has to come from somewhere, and usually that involves burning some kind of fuel; anywhere outside today’s industrial world, fuel doesn’t come cheap, and in most poor countries the struggle to find enough fuel to cook with is a major economic burden, not to mention a driving force behind deforestation and other ecological crises.
The obvious response, if you happen to think the way people in the modern industrial world think, is to deal with fuel shortages by finding and burning more fuel. That’s exactly the thinking that got us into our current predicament, though, so it’s worth looking at other options. To do that, we need to start with the thermodynamics of cooking itself.
Imagine, then, a saucepan on the stove cooking rice. It’s a metal container with a heat source under it, and inside it are two cups of water and a cup of grass seeds – that’s "rice" to you and me; the goal of the operation is to get enough heat and moisture into the grass seeds that your digestive system can get at the starches, sugars, B vitamins, and other nutritious things inside them. So far, so good, but this is where a familiarity with the laws of thermodynamics comes in handy, because there’s a prodigious waste of energy going on.
Trace the energy along its route and you can watch the waste happen. The energy at the heat source is highly concentrated; it flows, with some losses, into the metal saucepan; some of it flows through the pan to the water and rice, where it does the job of cooking, but a great deal of the heat gets into the sides and lid of the pan; some of it comes directly through the substance of the pan, some of it comes indirectly through the water and rice, but one way or another a great deal of the energy in your cooking fuel is being used to warm the surrounding air. This is all the more wasteful in that your rice doesn’t need a huge amount of heat once the water’s been brought to a boil; a very gentle simmer is more than enough, but to produce that gentle simmer a lot of fuel gets burnt and a lot of heat wasted.
Here’s an experiment for you to try. Get a cork mat larger than the bottom of the saucepan you use to cook rice, and a tea cozy. What’s a tea cozy? An insulated cover for a teapot, designed to keep the tea in the pot good and hot while you work your way down from the first relatively pallid cups off the top to the stuff with the color and consistency of road tar down at the very bottom. The kind of tea cozy you want has a slit in one side for the handle of the teapot, and one opposite it for the spout, and it needs to be large enough to pop over the saucepan with the saucepan’s handle sticking out through one of the slits; the more insulation it has, the better..
Got it? Okay, get your pot of rice started; when the water has reached a good fierce boil and you’ve put the rice in, cover the saucepan tightly, take it off the heat, put it on the cork mat and pop the tea cozy over it. Leave it for a little longer than you would normally keep it on the stove, and then serve; if you’ve followed the instructions, you should have perfectly cooked rice with a fraction of the fuel consumption you’d otherwise have had.
If you’ve done the experiment, you’ve just learned the principle behind the fireless cooker. In America, those were often called "hayboxes," because that’s what the old-fashioned version was – a wooden box stuffed full of hay in such a way that there was a space for a pot in the middle, and a pillow of cotton ticking stuffed with more hay that went over the top. A hundred years ago, though, you could get elegant models from department stores that had porcelain-coated steel cases, rock wool insulation, and easy-to-clean metal liners with pots sized to fit; the best models had soapstone disks you could stick in the oven during the day’s baking, then drop into the fireless cooker, put a pot of soup or stew on top, and have it piping hot for dinner six hours later.
I’ve never seen an old-fashioned fireless cooker; my guess is that here in America, at least, most of them were turned in during the big scrap metal drives in the Second World War. They were apparently still in use in some corners of Europe in the 1940s and 1950s, Still, the technology is simple enough that even the least capable home craftsperson can put one together in an hour or two. My spouse and I have two of them, a portable version in a wooden box and a rather less portable version built into a piece of furniture; both of them were built using a slightly improved version of the basic haybox design with polyester quilt batting for the insulation and cotton ticking covering the batting to keep it clean. Doubtless the design could be improved, but the portable one holds heat well enough that a pot of Scotch oats, brought to a boil on an open fire and tucked into the cooker before going to bed, serves up piping hot oatmeal the next morning.
Fireless cookers will not save the world. They aren’t even a complete solution to the problem of finding adequate cooking fuel, though they make a good many other responses more viable by sharply cutting the amount of heat that has to be provided from some other source. In the jargon of the peak oil scene, they aren’t silver bullets, or even silver BBs; they’re simply a useful bit of appropriate tech that can be put to work in order to make an impoverished future a little easier to live with. There are many other things that can be put to work in the same way.
Come to think of it, that’s basically what human culture is – a bag of tricks, not unlike Felix the Cat’s, suited to the needs and possibilities of a particular suite of human ecologies. The culture we’ve grown up with was adapted to an environment in which, for most people in the industrial world, the big question was how to make the most use of cheap abundant fossil fuels. The culture our great-grandchildren will grow up with, in turn, will be adapted to an environment in which the big question will be how to manage a healthy and graceful existence on a very sparse resource base. Fireless cookers might well become a part of that culture of the not too distant future, particularly if enough green wizards check out the possibilities in haybox technology here and now.
Far and away the best book written on fireless cookers so far is Heidi Kirschner’s Fireless Cookery. Published by a small press in 1981, it’s long out of print; some small press could do a lot worse than hunt up the current copyright holder, get the rights, and put it back on the bookshelves.
I understand that Girl Scout handbooks from before 1950 or thereabouts have instructions for making a haybox, and might be worth consulting; there are also chapters on the technology in some American cookbooks from the first decade or so of the twentieth century.
But there is something pleasing esthetically in making your own. I will be cutting the wood this weekend
12/29/10, 9:00 PM
The haybox could probably be used in conjunction with a solar oven. I believe that if you can get your food warm enough in the solar oven, then transfer it to the haybox cooker, it would probably stay hot enough if you run out of sunlight at the end of the day.
What do you think?
12/29/10, 9:02 PM
Kieran O'Neill said...
As an aside, I have been reading The Echotechnic Future, and was wondering whether you had read Jared Diamond's Collapse? He takes quite a deep look at several cases of human societies hitting crises, and either collapsing or adapting. I keep thinking of it as I read the introductory chapters of your book.
12/29/10, 9:15 PM
As for the fireless cookers, I've been wanting to try those! I apparently hadn't considered the possibilities inherent in tea cozies. I've also been doing some quilting with worn-out clothes, and I have to wonder if customized "tea cozies" for my pots would do the trick. Would that be enough insulation for the larger pots, do you think? I may have to patchwork me up some denim cozies and try it!
12/29/10, 9:18 PM
Sean Strange said...
On one side, we have folks like the Archdruid suggesting that our future will inevitably be marked by resource scarcity, for which we should be preparing to adapt now by relearning old technologies like hayboxes. Meanwhile, equally bright people on the other side are optimistic about our civilization’s prospects and insist that we must continue pushing forward and allow new technologies to work their magic. (For a good example of the latter, watch http://vimeo.com/18141726 for a broad overview of resource scarcity problems and a technologist/cornucopian approach to solving them)
I find both sides compelling, yet it’s clear that one (or both) must be very wrong. So I throw up my hands and do little until one side has been clearly vindicated, though I lean toward the cornucopians’ case since any long view of human history tends to support their side. Do you have any thoughts or advice?
12/29/10, 9:36 PM
Bill Pulliam said...
You can also use the haybox effect with a conventional oven -- preheat it a bit above the recommended cooking temp, put the food in, turn the oven off, leave it a little longer than the recommended cooking time, and in many cases it will be done just right! Experimentation is of course necessary. It works better on newer ovens that are more well insulated; it of course will not work at all with microwaves or toaster ovens. On the stovetop, pasta can often be cooked by just dumping it in the water, returning the water to a boil, then turning the stove off and covering the pot for a couple of minutes longer than the usual cooking time. So this particular trick can be put to use on a limited basis right now, without making or acquiring anything new.
12/29/10, 9:40 PM
John Rushton said...
12/29/10, 10:00 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Gavin, funny you should mention that; I'll be talking about solar ovens next week.
Kieran, I had a very mixed reaction to Diamond's Collapse -- he made some good points but I'm not at all sure his broader assessments are on the mark.
Katie, I still remain flabbergasted that people take the peak oil comments of an archdruid seriously! As for the tea cozy approach, yes, you can scale that up -- a fabric fireless cooker would work well. The book I cited has patterns for a backpacker's fireless cooker that you pack with dry leaves and the like when you reach camp each afternoon, tuck your breakfast into overnight, and then unpack and fold up the next morning.
Sean, I'm very familiar with the cornucopian approach. To my mind it rests on a total misunderstanding of the relative importance of energy resources, and other natural goods, as compared to human inputs into the economic process. They would doubtless say the same thing about my approach! The difference, though, is a matter of fundamental principles; their logic is as good as mine, it's simply that their presuppositions are (in my view) catastrophically flawed. I've covered all this in detail in The Long Descent, if you're interested in following it up.
Bill, true enough -- the same principle can be used in many different ways. I've never found a good way to cook pasta in a haybox -- the cooking process is so much more efficient that it always comes out mushy!
12/29/10, 10:02 PM
John Michael Greer said...
12/29/10, 10:03 PM
12/29/10, 10:05 PM
Matt and Jess said...
12/29/10, 10:39 PM
12/29/10, 10:44 PM
Of course, minimizing waste heat is even more important in the summer.
Gavin, a good solar oven is already well insulated everywhere except for the top. Some of the commercial ones are made so that the reflectors can be folded over the top to partially hold in the heat. I don't know why a pillow wouldn't help.
Katie, your comment reminded me of a piece of advice from Joel Salatin in one of his books to people thinking about relocating to rural areas, (paraphrasing), "You can be a nudist, or a Buddist, but it will be a lot harder if you're a nudist Buddist."
12/29/10, 10:45 PM
Lance Michael Foster said...
As a fellow grad of LuckyMojo, I have been practicing and planning on making hoodoo as an integral part of religiomagical practice that will be a part of my sustenance as an elder. One of the things that one can continue to do into old age (since retirement is not in the cards for many of us). You gotta figure things out for one's old age (if we make it of course).
For the same reason, I took the Master Gardener coursework (to grow not only food and medicinal herbs, but magical herbs). Now hoodoo is good for lots of things as you know, focusing on human troubles and frailties (prosperity, love, etc.).
I am also studying cross-cultural agricultural fertility magic (planting by the signs, etc.)--I bet you have some good tips on this as Archdruid!
As far as cooking goes, when I was an itinerant archaeologist, I used to heat my field lunch up by setting my can/container o' stew on my old stationwagon dashboard, in that tight space between the dashboard and the window, parked facing the sun, and it was nice and hot by the time lunch came along. Junk cars can have their uses too, solar ovens and dehydrators.
Today I just baked my first loaf of bread I ever baked, using that no-knead recipe that works real nice. It came out pretty good, using a dutch oven. The crust was a little too hard/burnt in spots but the rest was great.
Learning to cook one-dish meals in a dutch oven is also a handy skill. You can layer the stew/beans underneath and the bread/biscuits on top. The miners used to have a dual layered metal container with hot tea in the lower reservoir and pasty in the upper basket (the tea would keep the pasty warm).
12/29/10, 11:01 PM
I read Jared Diamond's Collapse early this year, and I had a somewhat mixed reaction too. I felt I learned a lot about various past societies that I hadn't known much about before...such as the Greenland Norse, and I found some of his analyses of past societies informative. However, I found some of his overall conclusions problematic, particularly concerning our current civilization. He seemed too hopeful and optimistic. He also hardly mentioned peak oil, which seems to me of vital importance in any discussion of the future of industrial society.
I'm planning to start off the New Year by reading both Overshoot by William Catton and The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter (since I see so many make references to these books, I think I need to read them...)
By the way, JMG, do you know of any illustrated children's books that have a peak oil theme (more than in an indirect way?) Since I love to draw and write, one of my dreams is to illustrate/write a very whimsical, lighthearted children's book that has a peak oil theme (though I would try to not have the theme be too overt in the story... I dislike children's stories with messages that are too spelled-out)
A project for me in the coming year!
12/30/10, 12:05 AM
Cherokee Organics said...
The hay box is a good idea, but I'm betting my cooking and heating future on wood, which is (at the moment) available on my land in copious quantities.
Thought you might be interested in a basic low tech easy to build refrigerator. Look up "Coolgardie safe" on wikipedia - it's an Australian thing. I remember my grandfather having one when we went away camping in my youth about 30 years ago. It always fascinated me and it was my job to keep the water topped up. It worked quite well and it kept his and his mates booze, meat etc. reasonably cool. It has the added bonus of being reasonably insect proof, which is something many people in the industrial world may not necessarily consider.
I take your comments regarding peak oil reasonably seriously. I noticed oil was around US$91 per barrel, it only ever seems to be going up recently. Even with our favourable (well for imports anyway) exchange rate, we're starting to feel the pinch. We're paying about AU$1.40 a litre this week.
Most people seem to be of the opinion that someone will come along and sort the whole mess out and everything will go back to being normal again.
It's not happening...
12/30/10, 12:20 AM
Richard S said...
Thanks for bringing back those memories and for reminding me of that wonderful time. I think I need to make me a haybox or three.
12/30/10, 12:45 AM
Now the idea of fireless cookers, on the other hand, is awesome. And you have two! Greedy. Like Gavin, I was also wondering about coupling them with solar ovens. I'm having some trouble with my latest attempt at a solar oven so I'll be looking forward to your next post.
12/30/10, 1:13 AM
Tight fitting lids for pots is a problem. I have not seen such a beast for a very long time.
The fireless cooking method seems a lot like a Maori hangi. I haven't experienced a hangi yet but, in basic terms, a pit is dug in the ground and a fire set. Stones are put over the fire to super heat and then the food is put over the top, covered with earth (over some other covering) and then left for several hours.
12/30/10, 1:24 AM
I now think it is fundamentally impossible to make a good guess about the direction of civilization on a decade plus time scale, and that past "movements" and "processes" in history only appear tangible and explainable because of the many assumptions we make with hindsight. At the time when they were happening, no one has every predicted outcomes better than if they guessed completely randomly, and there's no reason to think things are any different right now.
I realise I would probably be reducing the views expressed on this blog quite a bit by thinking that this dismisses your whole argument, but I do think it damages one of the central threads, which assumes a good level of foresight based on past events.
12/30/10, 1:27 AM
12/30/10, 4:50 AM
You can stop them at the malting stage, or wait until little green shoots appear.
But I expect that will be a topic for another day.
12/30/10, 4:53 AM
12/30/10, 5:22 AM
Here are a couple of items on Google Books. The second one looks particularly useful, with lots of plans.
Cramp, Helen. The Institute Cook Book, Planned for a Family of Four; Economical Recipes, Designed to Meet the Needs of the Modern Housekeeper, Including Chapters on Entertaining, Paper-Bag Cooker, Casserole Cookery, Fireless Cookery, Chafing-Dish Cookery, Meat Substitues. Google Books. 518 pages. 1913.
Mitchell, Margaret J. Fireless Cookery Book.: A Manual of Cooking with Retained Heat.
Google Books. 319 pages. 1931.
12/30/10, 5:43 AM
12/30/10, 5:58 AM
nutty professor said...
Thank you for your post this week. While I am not ready to make the career move just yet, I wonder what you think the broader relationship is between Hoodoo, astrology and the rise of these alternative "occult economies" and the entrenched establishment institutions of Church and State?
Won't these alternatives and local spiritualities eventually be taxed or repressed, or co-opted by the corporations and the government anyway? What's the use?
12/30/10, 7:07 AM
Brian Kaller said...
Thank you so much for all your posts, and I completely agree. I have made hayboxes with lawn clippings or old clothes, and we gave a tea-cozy in our family as a Christmas gift this year. (Happy Alban Arthuan, by the way, if that’s the right terminology.)
About peak oil and astrology: I try to genuinely respect others’ beliefs – my own house contains far too much stained glass to throw stones – but I make a distinction between beliefs and scientific data. Do you see peak oil and astrology as equally supported, or unsupported, by the scientific method? That’s not a rhetorical question – I’m curious to hear what you think.
12/30/10, 7:16 AM
Brad Kik said...
12/30/10, 7:25 AM
Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
A most interesting post, and I look forward to experimenting with fireless cooking. I think--as the descendant of what my mother calls "good peasant stock"--regardless of what you think the future holds, it is best to learn how to do things yourself. Self reliance is always appropriate.
If you go to google books and type in fireless cookers, which I just did this minute, you will find all kinds of early twentieth century materials, starting with the 1908 text mentioned by sofistek. If you type in how to make a fireless cooker you will come up with "Farmers' bulletin: Issues 751-775 - Page 47. United States. Dept. of Agriculture - 1918" which has directions and pictures.
All downloadable for free. The Kirschner book is not available though.
12/30/10, 7:54 AM
Things like the fireless cooker you've described become the most relevant tools for life in such a world, and that holds for the Green Wizard project as a whole.
That's something fun to make and I'm going to start right away. We've precious little storage or counter space now, so I'll have to make something my family will not reject and that will be practical to use.
Also, I have grown frustrated over time by the one-issue alternative thinkers who see the problems in one area of officially sanctioned ideas and narratives, yet will cry "conspiracy theory" the moment you point out some other equally obvious issue. Part of it is that it simply takes time to assimilate different ideas, as well as a willingness to see.
12/30/10, 7:58 AM
For grits, oatmeal, etc., it's very hard to keep it on the heat for 20 minutes without burning.
12/30/10, 8:07 AM
For those who think that there's no way to tell what the future brings and that peak oil is nonsense, it seems to me that it never hurts to waste less.
I don't think that high technology and low technology are mutually exclusive. I enjoy the communication magic of my computer while at the same time I use a haybox to cook with. It may be that someone discovers dilithium crystals, more power to them, but I wouldn't bet my children's future on it.
12/30/10, 8:08 AM
It's always a smart move, when really hard times are coming, to brush up on your people skills -- and that includes all forms of what many people call humbug, but also many sorts of crime.
I have "read" for people for about fifteen years now, mostly tarot, but sometimes runes, sometimes casting stones. I am absolutely convinced that the fall of the cards (or runes or stones) is completely random, at least in my hands. But those random patterns, together with a con-artist's skill at "reading" people and whatever wisdom I have accumulated in nearly seven decades of life under somewhat adverse circumstances, allow me to give readings that prove to be of great value to my querents. Those same random cards (or runes, or whatever random fall of complex signs I am using), and the ritual of reading them, are the best means I have for accessing my cold-reading skills and my accumulated experience of life.
I haven't ever taken money for my readings, but I could, if that was what I needed to survive.
(to be continued in the next post)
12/30/10, 8:10 AM
Bonapartes Retreat said...
This is another great post! I've had a pet interest in primitive/alternative/heirloom cooking techniques. Unfortunately, cooking fumes contribute to an unbelievable amount of health problems around the world due to lack of quality fuel and or cooking equipment--I can see this becoming not just a 3rd world problem as people at the margins begin to have less access to natural gas stoves etc. The fireless cookery may be a step forward! There have been some neat DIY projects with gasifiers for cooking too.
Just for your reference: Google Books has the full text pamphlet, "The fireless cooker"
By Ellen Alden Huntington
12/30/10, 8:14 AM
First, never do a crime if you can get the same results legally with a more work. They catch you by your laziness.
Second, never do the same crime more than once if you can help it. They catch you by your patterns.
Third, know to the thinness of a hair just how skillful you really are at any given crime, and never overreach yourself when you do a crime. They catch you by your arrogance.
And fourth, never ever do a crime when you are desperate or in the grip of any strong fear or desire. Then you *will* overreach yourself, and they *will* catch you.
My grandparents were successful, and never got caught at any crime. But also they never did any crime if they could somehow help it.
These four rules, by the way, can be applied to many areas of life, including magical work.
12/30/10, 8:16 AM
Harry J. Lerwill said...
Our plans mean moving to colder climes, so a fireless oven and rocket stove make a very fuel-efficient combination. With a dozen or so trees to coppice, it doesn't take much fuel to cook food.
12/30/10, 8:37 AM
I used a wooden box from Costco that I got in the wine section. I got styrofoam pieces from Home Depot that I glued to the outside of the box, and glued cardboard to the outside of that. The inside of the box is painted black, to hold heat better (from when it was to be a solar cooker). I have an old wool blanket that lines the inside of the box and I place anything I want to keep warm inside the nest; the blanket is large enough to cover the pot but I often put another folded blanket on top of that.
When I make tea I boil enough water to go both into the teapot and into a thermos. As the tea cools I keep adding hot water from the thermos, and have a whole afternoon supply of hot tea for cold days.
I really want a solar cooker but I still can't decide which particular brand would be the best option. Deep but small, or larger but not as deep but with electric backup...?? Plus I have to get special pots for the cooker; I have cast iron and antique aluminum pots, neither of which work well in a solar cooker (which is mainly why mine is now a haybox).
I made a rocket stove which worked beautifully; they use MUCH less fuel than a traditional wood stove. You can't use it in the house though, but it is useful outside and you can still transfer the hot pots to the haybox.
Another method of cooking with much less energy is using a pressure cooker. Mine is about 40 years old and we finally had to replace the gaskets this year; it belonged to my husband's grandmother. What would take all day in the crock pot takes less than 30 minutes in the pressure cooker. Using a pressure cooker in conjunction with a rocket stove I haven't tried, but it's on my list of things to do.
12/30/10, 8:56 AM
Galen Gallimore said...
As a pastor, I believe one of my tasks is to express complex social or religious ideas in more direct, simple ways. One of my favorite images to mine for meaning is the garden.
I recently read the 'Soil Food Web' book about the complex interrelations between plants, specifically the rhizosphere, and the soil organisms. Utterly amazing but really complex. But, it explains what Ruth Stout, Masanobu Fukuoka and Emilia Hazelip already understood intuitively through their gardening practices. Sometimes the practice of a thing - gardening, religion, etc. can best explain the complexity of the thing, and in a simple, direct way.
So too with faith. Practicing faith is infinately simpler than discussing theology.
Thank you for a thought provoking article!
12/30/10, 9:00 AM
FYI there are some copies of the Fireless cooking book at alibris book sellers (alibris.com).
12/30/10, 9:29 AM
12/30/10, 9:35 AM
Richard Larson said...
Perfect timing for me on this idea as I have switched all the light bulbs to LEDs, put in place a less than 200 kWh fridge/freezer (am freezing jugs of water outside and placing them in the fridge for additional savings), installed Energy Star washer and dryer (with plans to re-install the outside clothes lines), and pull the plug on everything else when not in use. Next up is exchanging the blower motor on my woodburner with a more efficient model. I am looking for more savings and the electric cook stove was something I hadn't given any attention too.
As in your book, "Long Descent", the spiritual and culture aspects of making an effort are harder to overcome than the actual mechanism. Give me a couple weeks and my house will have a haybox, I don't care what my friends and relatives think about it!
Thanks for the heads up.:-)
12/30/10, 9:49 AM
John Michael Greer said...
Matt and Jess, half the point of learning these technologies is that whether or not you need them right now, there's always the future...
Hal, depending on your climate, that might be true. Still, if you don't have enough fuel to keep the kitchen toasty, the fireless cooker's still there.
Lance, good. Most people in the work force today will never have the luxury of retirement, so other plans for old age are pretty much a requirement from here on in.
Beneath, no, I haven't heard of any illustrated children's books about peak oil! Dr. Seuss' The Lorax! is about as close as I've seen.
Cherokee, thanks for the info on the Coolgardie safe -- definitely something worth looking at.
Richard, that's a great story. Many thanks for sharing it.
Sofistek, er, the fact that you don't believe in astrology doesn't make it a bad idea for Savinar to make a living providing services for those who do. As for tight fitting lids, they don't have to be airtight, just a reasonably good fit.
Fox, I'd say first, that you've badly misunderstood Popper's argument about historicism; second, that your core assumption here has been disproved many times over in the past, in that thoughtful people predicted events ranging from the American Civil War and the First World War to the fall of the British Empire and the rise of the American empire decades in advance; and third, that refusing to think about the future doesn't exempt you from having to live through it.
The peak oil movement, more than a decade ago, started saying that the price of oil was going to go up as global oil production peaked and began to decline. Those claims were rejected by just about everyone else, but we were right; both those things have happened. That's not historicism; it's drawing logical conclusions from hard facts.
12/30/10, 10:18 AM
John Michael Greer said...
DIYer, it will indeed. Malting is a particularly useful thing, for reasons that any beer drinker will recognize at once!
GHung, a rocket stove and a fireless cooker isn't as fast but uses even less fuel!
Laney, excellent! Thank you for the references.
Neil, I recall some very odd meals during my time in Scouting, so I sympathize about the mud stew!
Nutty, quite the contrary. Remember that hoodoo evolved as the magical practice of African Americans during the years of slavery and Jim Crow; it was among other things a subtle but real means of revolt. One way to understand magic is to see it as unlicensed spirituality, which is why it tends to be most popular at times when the official, licensed spirituality has been gelded and put out to pasture.
Brian, thank you! Yes, we had a very pleasant Alban Arthuan celebration. As for astrology, though, my personal opinions on the subject aren't relevant to the topic of this blog, and getting into a discussion of an issue that consistently produces more heat than light seems counterproductive to me just now.
Brad, there is indeed. I figured that aspiring green wizards would roll up their sleeves and start searching for data...
Adrian, exactly. The more you can do for yourself, the less dependent you are on systems that can shut down for perfectly ordinary reasons, as well as the ones we're discussing here.
Twilight, you might look into doing something from fabric that could be folded up when not needed -- that might help with the space problem.
12/30/10, 10:31 AM
Looking forward to your next post on solar cooking.
12/30/10, 10:35 AM
Rick G said...
I've been thinking about a related problem of late and hope someone may have a few ideas about it or perhaps can point me towards more information. I'm currently running a combination oil/wood boiler to heat a 3,000 SF inn. It's a convenient set up in that when the load of firewood cools down to embers at 3 in the morning, the oil kicks in to keep paying customers from becoming cranky.
I've recently been giving some thought as to how to reduce the amount of wood (and oil) I use. It seems to me that akin to JMG's example of the cooking rice, the vast majority of the energy produced by the burning firewood is going up the chimney. I see the challenge as having a key similarity to solar heating, i.e. capturing and storing heat for later release. My first thought is to increase the system's water storage capacity and insulating the tank(s) haybox-style. Being handy but not exactly an engineer type, I'd like to do this as simply and inexpensively as possible.
Now I realize that this system isn't collapse-ready; even though I could get by with zero oil usage, it does require electricity to run. However, with an ongoing weatherization regime, several wood stoves in place, and plans for a masonry stove (or two) in the works, I hope to achieve self-sufficiency in the not too distant future.
Any ideas appreciated.
12/30/10, 10:41 AM
John Michael Greer said...
Dandelion, and even if somebody does discover dilithium crystals, my guess is that the demand from Starfleet will be substantial enough to keep the price high, in which case you'll definitely want your fireless cooker!
Mageprof, "random" is a fascinating concept. That aside, it's a commonplace among diviners of all kinds that most of what happens in a reading comes out of the interaction between the reader and the querent.
Retreat, all very good points. My sense all along is that the fireless cooker amplifies the effectiveness of many other cooking technologies.
Harry, now I'm fiendishly jealous. Where did you find that? And can you work up plans for building one, or a close equivalent?
Tinfoil, we'll be talking solar ovens next week. It's quite possible, by the way, to build a solar oven that can also be used as a fireless cooker in cloudy weather!
Galen, one of the core themes in modern Druidry is precisely the notion that practice makes a more useful focus for religion than debates about who has the right opinion about subjects no human being can reliably know much about. You'll get no argument from me about the usefulness of a garden as a source for spiritual insight, either!
Steve, Rube Goldberg is the patron saint of one entire end of green wizardry. Using a haybox for brewing sounds like an excellent idea to me!
Laged, nice. Necessity is the mother of invention.
Richard, there may not be much aluminum and copper in houses these days, but that hasn't stopped organized gangs from stripping empty tract houses of any metal they can sell. Of course you're quite correct that what's left will be topsoil in a few decades at most, which is very nearly the only good thing I can think of to come out of the late housing boom.
12/30/10, 10:45 AM
John Michael Greer said...
Rick, you might want to post that on the Green Wizards forum -- probably more likely to get a response from somebody technically competent there.
12/30/10, 10:48 AM
Your comment sounds like you may be looking for a reason to not be frightened of the uncertainty brought by climate chaos. Since the science is as robust as any you will find, I would suggest the prudent approach, given the challenges of predicting the future in complex systems, is the Precautionary Principle. And that is JMG's dissensus.
Since you already have a very efficient fridge, this will be of less interest to you, but Freeaire ducts commercial refrigeration to use cold outside air, and Popular Mechanics wrote how to do this years ago....
12/30/10, 11:37 AM
Here are urls to several blog posts that I wrote while developing and testing our blanket box.
12/30/10, 11:50 AM
STEVE NINER'S said...
12/30/10, 12:04 PM
Ana's Daughter said...
I've developed a few basic rules of thumb for haybox cooking that folks may find useful. These are based on my experience with hayboxes of different sizes and types.
If you can use a pan that has a heavy metal bottom, especially the kind with a metal "sandwich" bottom, that increases the efficiency of your haybox greatly.
So does making sure that your pot is at least 2/3 full of food before you put it into the haybox. The fuller the pot, the better the heat stays in the haybox.
Liquid mass helps retain heat. Soups and stews rule! *g*
If you're not sure how long to cook something, it's useful to assume a haybox cooking time that's about double the stovetop time, and change according to how your own haybox performs. That way you're less likely to have underdone food. (Hayboxes don't really overcook food unless they're very heavily insulated.)
Make sure any dish containing meat or meat broth gets a good boil before it goes into the haybox, and another when it comes out. I usually boil for ten or twenty minutes going in, and the same when coming out, but I also usually cook fairly large batches of food --- like half a gallon to a gallon of soup. A smaller batch might be fine with a shorter boil. The boiling reduces the risk of foodborne illness. Sadly, we have pathogens to worry about that our grandparents and parents didn't.
12/30/10, 12:10 PM
Quite right, there is money to be made in pandering to other people's beliefs. However, predicting the future of an individual is bound to fail (on average and, certainly, in detail) and that seems to be just cruel to pretend that the reading will be accurate.
Regarding tight fitting lids, yes I know airtightedness is not a requirement but my mum used to have plenty of pots with tight fitting lids. today, all I can find are loose fitting lidded pots, though I've never tried a pressure cooker.
Predicting the future in general terms is a little easier. Such as consuming (effectively) non-renewable resources, especially at increasing rates, is bound to lead to scarcity and increasing difficulty of extraction, eventually. Similarly, altering the composition of the atmosphere is bound to have an impact. That we can't tell exactly what those impacts will be doesn't mean we should ignore the fact that there will be impacts. By the way, consuming renewable resources at increasing rates will also have deleterious impacts.
12/30/10, 12:50 PM
If there was a slight flaw in the equations to the cornucopian system and a contraction will be of a significant size, we will fall below the window of opportunity for these new high tech toys and the distance to reach there again will increase at light speed.
12/30/10, 1:19 PM
After heating the milk to just boiling and letting it cool down to the proper temperature (27 minutes with my pot in my coolish west coast climate), I mix in the yogurt culture, pour it into a glass jar, stir well, and then drop the jar into a wide-mouthed cooler jug just big enough to hold a one litre jar.
I've preheated the cooler with warm water (which gets used to wash the pot that I heated the milk in), and then I set the cooler ('warmer') near the woodstove overnight - the next morning I have great yogurt that has been made in glass instead of plastic - no heating element required to keep the yogurt warm overnight.
12/30/10, 1:21 PM
12/30/10, 1:34 PM
It would have to be waterproof....
12/30/10, 2:45 PM
Hal, the HotPot is a thin, black pot nested inside a thick glass pot with a thick glass lid. The result is a totally insulated solar crockpot.
I'm getting adding a different model next year to support baking bread...
But for winter, here in the far north where we don't have winter sun for cooking, the haybox sounds fantastic. Although I do tend to think of the cooking heat as helping with the home heat...
12/30/10, 3:28 PM
12/30/10, 3:43 PM
Thijs Goverde said...
As I'm about to generally upgrade my kitchen, I'm going to make a new one using rockwool or styrofoam or some such anorganic insulator. Would probably allow for better hygene.
The hay haybox has been in use for, oh, 3 or 4 years, and when I dismantled it the hay came out in good enough shape for the guinea-pig to eat it. I found no large infestations of critters.
Still, the good old S.O. will say there are bound to be critters in the hay. So, anorganic it is.
Ah, the joys and sorrows of living with a wonderful, intelligent and sensitive ostrich...
12/30/10, 4:02 PM
Thijs Goverde said...
12/30/10, 4:23 PM
mistah charley, ph.d. said...
Abandoning "Life after the Oil Crash" for a career in astrology is nearly as dramatic a transformation as someone Otto Fenichel mentioned in The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis: an activist vegetarian who became a butcher.
And I would point out that there are a few cultures who don't cook much - mostly because they don't much fuel to cook with - Eskimos, indigenous Siberian peoples, etc.
12/30/10, 4:32 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Larry, excellent. Thanks for the info!
Steve, I'll check it out.
Ana's Daughter, all this meshes pretty closely with my experience. Thanks for the tips.
Sofistek, you're missing the central point here, which is that Matt Savinar disagrees with your assessment of the efficacy of astrology. So do his clients. They have as much right to make sense of the world in their way as you have to do so in yours, you know.
Jksirmsdj, a solid point, and one that I discussed in some detail in The Long Descent and elsewhere. Technology doesn't function for long without an infrastructure to support it, and that infrastructure doesn't function without an unbroken supply of energy and resources, all of which are starting to run short.
Brian, very nice!
Paul, good heavens. Apparently more people are actually doing this stuff than I'd anticipated.
Provo, good question. There are quite a few refrigeration techniques available that work with relatively simple tech; for that matter, I'm by no means sure that simple refrigerators of the modern sort, using some simpler-to-produce coolant, will be out of reach of the craftspeople of the ecotechnic future.
Mary, the HotPot sounds very like some of the 19th century French solar ovens -- they had a curved mirror behind them, so they got sun on all sides, but that's about the only difference. I'll have to check that out.
Lynnet, classic! Thank you.
Thijs, I don't worry much about critters, but keeping one's spouse or SO happy is part of the work, too. As for the slow food movement, I have nothing against the concept; it's just that most of what I've seen tends to fixate on fancy foodie fare that takes hours of actual labor -- not just hours sitting in the fireless cooker while you do something else.
Mistah Charley, I'm sure there are exceptions, but the hardcore vegans I've known personally have all had this indefinable air of desperately longing for a cheeseburger. That being said, one of the people I know who's taking peak oil very seriously indeed -- to the extent of changing his profession and moving half a continent to a small town where he has family ties -- is a practicing professional astrologer. There may not be as big a gap there as it appears to you...
12/30/10, 6:57 PM
Apple Jack Creek said...
I boil the rice on the stove, then put the lid on and stick it in the microwave and shut the door. It is, after all, an insulated box - it's right by the stove (mine's above it, actually), and I can put two or three dishes in there and keep them warm.
I started doing this for the simple reason that I got sick of burning the rice to the bottom of the pot, and read in a cookbook that boiling it and letting it sit in a warm spot was better ... it sure is! I use the trick for a variety of foods.
I realize not everyone uses nuke-boxes, but a lot of us have them ... and an old one that doesn't work might be repurposed!
12/30/10, 7:43 PM
A.K. McKay said...
12/30/10, 8:57 PM
Yvonne Rowse said...
12/31/10, 1:28 AM
I am happy to report that the haybox is still taught in both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, according to my boy / girl twin children. In fact, my daughter says her troop constructed one during a camping trip, and my son says it is discussed in his Boy Scouts handbook. One of the reasons I acquiesed to them being in the Scouts is this transmission of practical skills, despite some ideological differences with the Boy Scouts in particular.
12/31/10, 6:26 AM
Pistol Pete said...
My wife and I live in Hong Kong. She is from Taiwan and I from Canada. She uses the 'fireless cooker' on a regular basis and one can find them everywhere in Taiwan, I have also seen them in Hongkong.
They are absolutely fantastic, bring a soup or rice dish to boil and place it in the insulated container and a few hours later, et voila, a meal is ready!
We sometimes travel to mainland China and a few days ago I photographed an industrial-working-trike. The proud owner of the work-trike told us that with 2 lead-acid batteries the trike could travel up to 160 kms/day, which I believe is close to the truth having seen them at work at local sites in my area.
There are many technological solutions to a less energy dense way of life available to us in other societies such as China.
If you like I can send you some photos.
12/31/10, 6:36 AM
Richard Larson said...
Guess where I got that idea from!?
12/31/10, 7:06 AM
12/31/10, 7:26 AM
I have find that the greatest merit of the Slow Food movement has been the preservation of heritage breeds and heirloom varieties. Through their "Ark of Taste", they have been among the most effective advocates and promoters, and truly gave a fighting chance to preserve a very valuable part of our agricultural genetic heritage. So far, it may only be a niche market for foodies, but it helps to rebuild and maintain a viable population. Most industrial breeds and varieties are unsuitable for small scale, sustainable farming.
12/31/10, 7:30 AM
Of course it is always possible to pander and make money pandering. This sort of reading is very common, and may be the only sort of reading you have encountered or heard of.
A reading of a better sort, however, is not so much a prediction of the future as an unknotting of tangles in the querent's understanding of her own present, and a mapping of *possible* future paths for her once the tangles have been unknotted.
This kind of skill is something that cannot be professionalized, simply because it cannot be taught in any standard form in the classroom or the practicum. It can offer real help with life's problems, though. Often it offers a kind of help that (IMHO) no licensed professional counselor is likely ever to become mature enough to offer.
12/31/10, 8:37 AM
Bill Pulliam said...
On the topic, I'd think that for basic food safety it's important to make sure that everything that goes in the haybox was brought up to boiling temperature first. And, that once you place the lid on the boiling contents, the lid stays on for the duration, no peeking or stirring that could reinoculate the food with more microbes, until it is time to serve and eat.
12/31/10, 8:42 AM
12/31/10, 9:51 AM
Rhisiart Gwilym said...
You will need to set up your cooking area with a Winiarski rocket stove. I suggest not less than a 5-inch diameter tube; I’ve tried less, but this is the effective size. It’s well worth the time and expense to make at least the high-temperature parts of the stove in stainless steel. As thin as 1mm. will do, but I’d recommend 3mm. It seems never to burn out. I have stoves still working which have been exposed to regular blasts of white-heat temperature for years, without any fire-clay protection, and which still show zero sign of burning through –
Add a largish wok, with lid; preferably stainless steel throughout, with short metal handles, and no burnable parts –
Plus a haybox large enough to take the lidded wok, and any other utensils that you use regularly for cooking –
Plus a solar cooker, for when it’s practicable. Food heated in the solar can go in the haybox as the sun is obscured. Doesn’t matter where the heat comes from –
Plus serious insulation (straw-bale thicknesses!) for at least the snug area of your home; preferably your whole home, of course –
Plus really efficient draught stopping and fresh-air throughput control –
I’ve done all my space-heating and cooking for nearly two decades now like this. The total annual weight of fuel that you’ll need is WAY below what people are used to getting in each winter when they use ordinary wood-stoves (even the modern high-efficiency ones). And the thicknesses of wood needed are much less too. Generally, for either the Winiarski L-shaped cooking rocket or the Ianto Evans J-shaped space-heater rocket, about thumb-thickness sticks or a bit thicker, or heavier stuff split to this thickness, is fine. No need for anything heavier. For years I’ve been able to supply 24-hours-worth of fuel from simply gathering a rucksackful of such sticks as I walk my dogs. In a healthy woodland, you can even manage this without any tools beyond bare hands and boots, though my usual – complete – suite of tools for fire-wooding is a short bill-hook and a 2-foot bow-saw. Usually about half-an-hour’s work per day is ample to gather all you need and cut it to length for the rocket.
I’m working right now on a rocket design that will combine the uses of both the L rocket and the J rocket. But that’s still a work in progress. Don’t know yet how effective it will be.
12/31/10, 10:44 AM
This study, and a wealth of other great info, is available in a paper by Barbara Kerr, one of the early pioneers of cardboard cookers, downloadable here:
12/31/10, 11:05 AM
And I think you're missing my essential point - that predicting the future is impossible (other than by chance). Are you saying that it's not impossible? Of course, there are many people who believe that it's possible but belief doesn't equal fact. People can make money out of other people's beliefs; it's a form of exploitation. But that's a different matter. If Matt Savinar has gone from considered research into the impact of peak oil to living on belief systems, then many would say he has flipped out. If, instead, he intends to exploit others beliefs for his own gain, then he may not have flipped out but his morals are not the sort I'd want in any future community that may emerge from the ashes of this one.
12/31/10, 1:51 PM
Would that understanding lead one to do anything differently? If not, then what is the point of it? If it did, then it is self defeating because one then becomes something different (and, presumably, not now open to discovery by such methods).
Look, most of the problems we face that are part of the Long Descent are discernible by rational (scientific, if you like) means. Astrology, and the like, is either exploitation or dangerous meddling. Of course, some may think of that as a belief but my beliefs come from a sound rationale and science based understandings.
12/31/10, 2:01 PM
John Michael Greer said...
A.K., thank you for the link! It's good to see that the haybox renaissance is already under way.
Yvonne, by all means do the thing at whatever level of complexity and elegance you feel like doing! The fact that a haybox can be done with a cardboard box and a few old towels doesn't make fine cabinetry inappropriate.
David, that's excellent news.
Peter, that's also excellent news. It occurs to me that some enterprising small businessperson could do a land office business by importing these things and selling them to people who don't have the time or inclination to make one for themselves.
Richard, excellent. Keep on doing it, and look for the next way you can put the same principle to work, and you'll be well on your way to green wizardhood.
Brian, well done. I think the phrase on your end of the planet is "fair dinkum."
Marielar, oh, granted, the slow food movement has its good points; I mentioned earlier that I have a soft spot for them. I just wish it hadn't become so fixated on the sort of gourmet stuff that only the leisured well-to-do have time for.
Mageprof and Bill, thank you.
Avi, I'll check it out.
Rhisiart, this is great. The rocket stove is one of the great post-70s appropriate tech inventions; my guess is that it's still very much a technology in the growth stage, and the more mad scientists and basement tinkerers get to work on new designs, the better.
Provo, thanks for the data.
Sofistek, no, I got your point. You're claiming that your personal definition of what's reasonable and possible is the only one that matters, and anyone who claims to believe something else is either deluded or lying. That's common enough these days, of course, but if it ever was a useful habit, it passed its pull date a very long time ago.
In a universe that can be modeled by the human intellect but never fully understood by it, insisting that predicting the future is a priori impossible is just as much an act of faith as insisting that it's a priori possible, and insisting that anybody who doesn't accept your particular, culture-bound view of reality is engaging in "either exploitation or dangerous meddling" is in my opinion frankly arrogant.
12/31/10, 5:14 PM
John Michael Greer said...
12/31/10, 5:22 PM
12/31/10, 5:27 PM
Having grown up in an underground solar-heated home, I may have had a more confused-than-usual understanding of the difference between insulation and thermal mass. Reading about rocket stoves a couple of years ago was very clarifying, and relates to hayboxes. Thermal mass, such as bricks, stones, water or clay is good to store heat. If the mass is cold, it takes a lot of heat to warm it up, but then it radiates heat for a long time in your home. So, if your rocket stove or haybox is made of a mass material, it will quickly rob the heat from your food, leaving everything uselessly tepid.
Insulation prevents heat from moving so easily. A common recommendation for rocket stoves is to insulate around them with wood ash. This keeps all the heat in the burn chamber and flowing over your pot--the hay in the haybox does the same.
One of the commenters mentioned a hybrid--an insulated box, with preheated stone mass put in the bottom to keep the cooking going longer.
12/31/10, 6:25 PM
Bill Pulliam said...
Yes, it would and has. In the same way that my reading in personality disorders lead me to conclude that a significant other likely had Borderline Personality Disorder, which changed (and improved) my understanding of every aspect of the relationship, and lead me to make much more confident decisions and take definitive actions. Information and understanding can come in many forms and from many directions. The belief in One Truth and One Way is just plain fundamentalism, regardless of what that One Truth might be.
12/31/10, 6:39 PM
Sean Strange said...
12/31/10, 6:43 PM
You may have lost me there.
Do you, perhaps, actually think that there ought to be *consensus* among us on rationality (science, if you will) versus astrology (of a sincere, non-exploitative kind) and similar things? And that pushing for dissensus on this issue is some sort of "dangerous meddling"?
It seems to me, for reasons that have been stated on this blog before, that consensus is always dangerous, too -- even consensus on the role that rationality (or science) should play as we face our current predicament.
So perhaps we will have to "agree to disagree" about such things, and still work together despite all that.
12/31/10, 7:58 PM
Lance Michael Foster said...
1. There is a fantastic challenge in a post by Granny Miller to see how ready you are for a more self-reliant, self-sufficient life, including heating, cooking, water, and so on.
2. As far as astrology goes, planting (and other activities like medical operations etc.) is an age-old and respected part of practical life by people who lived on the land and swore by it. There was a fantastic chapter on planting by the signs in The Foxfire Book (1972).
All I can say about such things as astrology and magic is don't knock it until you tried it. The proof is in the pudding. It is as ignorant to dismiss it without trying it, as it is ignorant as swearing by it without trying it (and one must always be aware of one's psychology and observer's bias in anything, whether science OR metaphysics). There are more things in heaven and earth...and the world is a mysterious and beautiful place :-)
12/31/10, 9:15 PM
Lance Michael Foster said...
12/31/10, 9:22 PM
Thank you very much for your reply and the link. Knowing that feathers (I am assuming the down) is considered the best, maybe this could motivate me in plucking the ducks versus skinning them.
Just a little trick my hubby taught me a few year ago to save energy. I used to make iced tea the old fashion way, by first boiling water and then putting the tea bags in it. Then I learned about "sun tea". I just put the tea bags in a big glass jar and let it sit in the sun for a couple of hours et voila...add a few ice cubs and a spring a mint.
12/31/10, 9:56 PM
If you think I'm arrogant, how do you feel about those who claim to be able to predict the future of someone else? Especially those who charge hard earned money for that service? Money that might be better spent on a good digging fork.
You appear to be highly respectful of others beliefs but surely that doesn't extend to beliefs that you have rationalised are nonsense. For instance, some people believe that humans can solve any problem and that economic growth can go on forever. Some people also believe that human behaviour is having no significant impact on our planet. Do you think our societies benefit by letting people continue with those beliefs?
1/1/11, 1:01 AM
Bill Pulliam said...
1/1/11, 6:54 AM
John Rau said...
1/1/11, 7:24 AM
Bill Pulliam said...
Much of what you (and we) have been discussing here in recent months has been about the resurgence of older technologies on an individual, household, and small community scale -- things that don't require large-scale societal action. But in many people's visions of the future of the post-peak society, they also envision the resurgence of large-scale technologies that were in wider use before. The biggest example that comes to my mind is the railroads, especially passenger rail.
So my question is this: In past cases of declining civilizations, has this sort of thing occurred? Have they marshaled their resources for large-scale infrastructure projects while on their way down? Somehow that seems unlikely. If not, this would seem to bode poorly for not just passenger rail, but also electric cars, the "hydrogen economy," and many other dreams of large-scale adaptation to increasing energy scarcity. It might suggest we'll go straight from gasoline cars back to feet and hooves...
1/1/11, 7:24 AM
Thanks, again, for the inspiration :). I love simple solutions to problems - and best are the solutions that we can come up with using things that we have lying around ;).
1/1/11, 12:03 PM
You have a point about understanding character, if astrology can actually do that; is there any evidence that it is reasonably proficient at that (rather than odd anecdotal evidence)? I can see such use (if efficacious) may be beneficial to a person not being read, as you've pointed out. I'm less dubious about the benefits to the person being read since, if the reading is accurate, that person will continue to be exactly as they are, otherwise they would not be able to be read again.
But you appear to dismiss the use of astrology for prediction, by claiming it is a minor use of the art. Do you think prediction is a valid use of astrology? What would be the purpose of such a use?
1/1/11, 12:27 PM
I was a medievalist before retiring from my university.
At least in the West, I cannot think of a successful example where any declining civilization ever successfully marshaled its resources for some large-scale infrastructure project while on its way down.
There were, however, a number of small-scale projects undertaken by individuals. One example that might interest us was the effort of Cassiodorus, a Roman Senator, to bring together a comprehensive reference library that would preserve the best parts of the knowledge that his civilization had inherited. It was housed on his country estate, Vivarium, which he also endowed with a monastery full of copyists to ensure its preservation and survival.
Cassiodorus's own catalog of the Vivarium library has survived (in several later copies), so we can see that his library was amazingly comprehensive for its age. It also contained enough detail that we can still identify a few of the actual manuscripts that Cassiodorus himself has commissioned for it.
Cassiodorus himself died around the year 585. By about 680 some or all of the manuscripts from Vivarium were up for sale at Rome, where a man named Benedict Biscop purchased some of them and carried them off to England for the twin monasteries he was establishing at Jarrow and Monkwearmouth. After several Viking raids, these monasteries were abandoned in the late 800s, and their libraries dispersed.
However, one of the most stunning of Cassiodorus's original manuscripts, a huge illustrated Bible in the Old Latin version, was preserved elsewhere. We know what it looked like from Cassiodorus's detailed description in his catalog. We know that it came to Jarrow and/or Monkwearmouth from references to it by monks of that monastery.
And we next find it at Canterbury, on the high altar of the Cathedral, where it was treated not as a book to be consulted, but as a relic to be preserved. Again, we know it was here from a catalog of manuscripts by a monk attached to the Cathedral. There it remained until it was stolen or destroyed sometime in the 1500s -- it was about one thousand years old by then.
This is just one example, and a rather dramatic one, of how transient all our efforts to preserve our civilization are likely to be. Still, it's worth the effort.
1/1/11, 12:31 PM
JMG posts here with well argued points. I don't think he's ever described himself as an occultist.
You seem to be saying that because all sorts of odd practices and beliefs may surface during the breakdown of society, then they should all be encouraged or, at least, not discouraged, and we should be tolerant of them all no matter what their impact on others or on community. Is that right?
That's almost a que sera sera type of position and yet here we are all deeply interested in not just letting events wash over us but actively trying to do something to alter the impacts of whatever will be, on ourselves and our communities.
1/1/11, 12:40 PM
By dangerous meddling, I was referring to the fact that readings could seriously affect one's life, if one acted on the readings (otherwise, why have a reading done?).
Do I think that there ought to be a consensus on rationality versus astrology? I would hope so, though I have little expectation of that. However, your phrasing of it in that way suggests that at least you think astrology is irrational.
Fortunately, JMG's posts here are highly rational; I don't think I've come across a post where he pushes something purely from a belief basis. I just felt the need to contend his notion that Matt's move to astrology may be an astute career move.
Lance Michael Foster,
Don't knock it until you've tried it? Does that apply to anything? Say, heroin?
I'm actually very sceptical (surprise, surprise) about planting by the phases of the moon but I leave open the possibility that there is something in it, though, because there is just the glimmer of a possible rational explanation of why it would work (though its proponents don't really know the reason). Reading someone's life through the position of the planets at their birth and the current alignment of heavenly bodies offers not even a glimmer of a rational explanation, that I can see. The accurate plotting of planetary and astral motion is beyond the best computer. There are unimaginable numbers of heavenly bodies out there that weren't even known when astrology made its entrace and that aren't known today. Gravity is a weak force, and a large truck moving past at the moment of birth, or conception, probably has a greater gravitational influence than Saturn. People believe in all sorts of things. If those beliefs don't impact others or aren't exploited by others, then fine, not reason to speak out about them. But I don't think that's the case with all beliefs. So do you think all beliefs should go uncriticised?
1/1/11, 1:05 PM
re: decision making...
I had occasion to use this quote for a presentation at work....
Consider an evolutionary vector that begins with totally subconscious, autonomic, or instinctive behavior and leads ultimately to actions based all but entirely on conscious awareness, logical analysis, and free will. Humans like to think that we have arrived at the free will end of this spectrum, but much of modern cognitive science suggests that this is largely illusion. Psychologist Robert Povine argues from the available evidence that the starting assumption in behavioral psychology should be “that consciousness doesn’t play a role in human behavior. This is the conservative position that makes the fewest assumptions” (cited in Buchanan, 2007).
1/1/11, 3:04 PM
1/1/11, 3:33 PM
Wolfgang Brinck said...
1/1/11, 7:07 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Ruben, actually, I was the one who mentioned the soapstone insert -- that used to be standard issue with the better grade of fireless cookers.
Bill, well put.
Sean, well, yes. I sometimes want to say, in response to comments like Sofistek's, "What part of 'archdruid' don't you understand?"
Mageprof, I suspect you've missed what he's trying to say, but still, your point is valid.
Lance, I wish it were that simple!
Marielar, good. Sun tea is standard here during the summer!
Sofistek, er, once again the people you're calling arrogant are guilty of nothing more than disagreeing with you. As for whether I accept the fact that people disagree with me -- um, have you been reading my posts at all? A couple of weeks ago I pointed out that I consider the Bussard reactor a guaranteed failure, and then went on to encourage people to try building them anyway because I could be wrong.
The same logic shapes my response to the Transition Town movement; I think they're headed toward abject failure, but I still encourage those people who want to pursue that path to do so, because a strategy of dissensus has to make room for opposed views. Why is it so difficult for so many people to realize that "I believe X" does not necessarily have to be followed by "...and anyone who disagrees with me must be a liar or a fool"?
Bill, along the same lines, it's always interested me how often those who claim to be speaking for logic, reason, and science rely on the same rhetoric as those they claim to be opposing.
1/1/11, 9:54 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Bill, that's a theme for an entire post all by itself! Still, the short answer is that the only such examples I know of were carried out by individuals and religious communities -- never by governments, which are normally too busy struggling for survival -- and they're never on a very large scale. More on this later.
Wendy, very good. I bet you could, too.
Mageprof, an excellent example! Keep that in mind for an upcoming post...
Sofistek, er, have you ever taken the time to find out what kinds of books I mostly write and what else besides peak oil I'm known for teaching and studying? You may be in for a major shock. I'm glad you think my posts here are highly rational; it will be interesting to see what you think when you look up some of the other things I write very rationally about!
Ruben, it's interesting to note that psychologists have been trying to use that model for more than a century now, and the results have not been good. The reason that excluding consciousness from study is "conservative" is rooted in the long-term prejudices of that end of science, not in the evidence.
St. Ouennais, good!
Wolfgang, that's a classic method. It's been suggested that the haybox was invented by some bright soul who watched that approach in use and decided to do something a bit more efficient.
1/1/11, 10:05 PM
Bill Pulliam said...
Re: the matter of whether the reading can be helpful to the one being read, I'm gonna have to get all Jungian here...
Astrological entities embody archetypes -- Capricorn, Mercury, 3rd House, etc. -- and relationships between them -- career, home, society, individual, mystery, what have you. Real people are NOT archetypes, we are people. It is standard matter of the practice of systems like this (astrology, tarot, I ching, etc.) that EVERY person at EVERY moment in fact embodies/has access to/ connects with ALL the archetypes within their one being in some way. So in contemplating the archetypes, you learn about yourself and all those around you. At any given time and circumstance some of them will speak to you much more strongly than others. And you can deliberately chose to make an effort to alter your relationships to them/ways of expressing them/living in them/etc. Thus their contemplation and manifestation CAN help you and change you, yourself.
Different systems use different methods to call the various archetypes into your conscious awareness. Some are stochastic (casting coins, dealing cards, etc.), others are systematic (astrology, numerology, etc.). Is there rationality in believing that these systems can somehow magically bring up the symbols and concepts you most need to be contemplating at the present moment? Maybe, maybe not. But even if they are purely random, the empirical fact appears to be that many practitioners DO find that they help them understand their lives, the course and trajectories of events, society, and many other things. Is it rational to reject this just because you don't like some of the underlying mechanics or hypotheses?
But of course I have three dissociate conjunctions in my natal chart, so I am especially adept at reconciling seemingly disparate entities... ;)
Re: predicting.. I have found the future to be a shadowy, malleable thing. Even if you have a good handle on the important influences and trends, it's really hard not to wind up surprised at how they actually worked themselves out. This is a very widespread experience. But, if you have a grounding in some belief system (!) that gives you a framework for comprehending the arc of time, the motivating forces of humanity, and the flow of events, then you will have a better toolkit for living in the future as it becomes the present. This is true both materially and psychologically.
1/1/11, 10:37 PM
I keep reading things like: let anyone do anything that they think will be of use. However, your whole report, and your books, are geared towards demolishing a whole bunch of beliefs that have led us to our current predicament. It seems that those beliefs that can be thought of as somehow religious or spiritual in nature are special and should not be questioned. Let people do what they want, if they think it will work? Work in what way? Should people be (possibly) misled by others? Should people be exploited by others?
Yes, I do think astrology is a load of hocum but no-one here has challenged any of the reasons I've mentioned why I think that (and, by the way, as a rationalist, I'm always open to arguments that are counter to my current position), instead it seems to be a matter of: some people believe it works so, regardless of why you think it doesn't, just let it be and let them get on with it.
Of course, nothing I say here will make one iota of difference to Matt or his chosen path, so I'll drop it there, unless someone can show me some reason, even a glimmer of a reason, why astrology might work.
1/2/11, 2:08 AM
I know you're an archdruid. I don't profess to be an expert in druidry so I thought I'd see what Wikipedia says. It says:
generally promotes harmony and worship of nature, and respect for all beings, including the environment.
Seems reasonable. As Wikipedia also said, it's almost like a philosophy of living, rather than a religion.
However, it doesn't matter what else you've written or what else you're into (especially as it promotes harmony and worship - hmm, not sure about "worship" I suppose - of nature); your posts here are well researched and well written. I've had a few run-ins with you but that doesn't stop me from recognising a good argument when I see it.
1/2/11, 2:15 AM
Lance Michael Foster said...
"Don't knock it until you've tried it? Does that apply to anything? Say, heroin?"
The comparative downsides of heroin use vs astrology use are well-documented and so that example is a definist fallacy. Are you comparing the possible harm done by astrology as empirically certain as that of heroin use?
"So do you think all beliefs should go uncriticised?"
Do you think all beliefs should go untested?
Do you really think "rationality" and "irrationality" are impossible bedfellows? Is the difference between good and bad poetry, or good and bad music, determined by rationality? The mathematical universe is made up of both rational and irrational numbers after all ;-)
Here's a challenge though, seriously, Sofistek: go to Amazon.com and look up John Michael Greer. That might be a shock to your assumptions.
1/2/11, 5:34 AM
One REASON to begin gardening by the moon, has nothing whatsoever to do with any ooga-booga; it's simply a time-priority planner, a day-runner for the root-runners.
When you walk out into your garden, at least a dozen tasks beckon; where to start? If the moon's in a fire sign, make compost, if it's in a water sign, transplant seedlings, etc. Do the action that matches the element of the sign behind the moon. Why is this so freaky?
I would challenge any rational materialist to try this for a few weeks, or a whole growing season, and simply see what happens, notice how you (and the plants) experience time in that space. Call it a scientific experiment!
What have you got to lose besides prior prejudice? You could always just guess and hope for the best like everybody else. I find it far more interesting to try out things I don't understand, rather than act purely upon what my puny brain accepts as REAL at any given moment.
1/2/11, 5:44 AM
1/2/11, 6:55 AM
1/2/11, 7:00 AM
Bill Pulliam said...
1/2/11, 8:02 AM
I am quite a rationalist, and a lover of science. I love the science shows and the explanations of what used to be mysterious. I love to know how things work.
I am also living with a woman who has spirit guides, receives messages, and, according to her guests, is a very skillful Tarot reader.
Just a few years ago, I would have been unable to see her as anything other than flaky, needy or perhaps crazy.
A big shift happened for me while a now ex-girlfriend and I were in therapy with an Imago counsellor. I came to understand that each person has their own, truly real truth, whereas I had previously thought (usually on her part) there was an imperfect grasp of an objective reality.
This led to the "You said this, No I said that" sort of conversations.
Since my work rubs up against brain research I have read a lot of studies that show, that, even if I could videotape every conversation and play it back, the own truth is often more powerful than the objective reality. "If the facts don't fit the frame, ignore the facts". Like, say, insisting the moon landing happened on a Hollywood sound stage.
Under the objective reality model, I would tend to think of people who see spirits, since the skeptics and scientists cannot measure what they claim to see, as being somehow so weak they need to make stuff up. So sure, maybe angels don't exist, but real people are having direct experiences.
Under the multiple truths way of thinking, they are seeing spirits. Maybe they are needy. But maybe they have capabilities I don't have.
Other people who can see things I can't are called musicians or artists. I feel lucky to hang at the edges of their vision and to get a tiny look at their insight--into their universe.
So I think there are a great many people who have vision as beautiful as composers, but we haven't created music halls or museums for the unexplainable. It is mystifying and wonderful to peer into a world unexplainable to me.
So, astrology doesn't work for me, nor does Tarot or the I Ching or dream analysis. But these things clearly offer at least comfort and sometimes guidance to a great number of people.
I also think it would be a shame if people are exploited by false shamans--just as I hate the history of organized religion--but it doesn't necessarily follow we should throw the baby out.
So maybe there are phenomena as yet unexplainable by our system of science. But maybe even better scientific tools won't explain them, maybe we need a whole new system of inquiry and understanding.
I don't know what an integrated model of science and the unexplainable would look like, but in order to find it, both science and the unexplainable will need to stop dismissing each other, and accept they both offer aspects of real human experience.
1/2/11, 12:42 PM
The week before the solstice/eclipse, a young acquaintance rather breathlessly asked me, "What about the eclipse? Mercury is retrograde! What does it mean???" I said honestly, "I haven't thought much about it, but Mercury retrograde usually scrambles communication and travel, so if I had to make a guess, I'd say expect all the normal mis-communication and botched travel plans that make the Christmas season SOOOOO enjoyable to go right over the top this year!" Did NOT predict all over the travelers camping for a week in airports closed by snow--but there they were anyway!
My young friend did make me curious enough to go to Google after our conversation: One forecaster says: The exact Mercury retrogrades we will experience in 2011 were the exact same signs, same degrees and approximately the same calendar days of 1932. This cycle** is seldom talked about in the astrology world, but is the cause of major course corrections for humanity. We can look back at history of 1932 to see the impact of Mercury retrogrades covering the same time frames, the same signs and the same degrees.
Just for giggles and grins, look up 1932 in an almanac or on Wikipedia. Then take notes this year. Keep your eyes peeled for "fractals" See if 2011 resembles 1932.
1/2/11, 2:10 PM
Cherokee Organics said...
What a hornets nest!
Few people think about their lives or the big picture in general. If astrology helps them to think about the big picture then it's no bad thing.
People are terrible planners. I've had this thought recently that we are bogged down in the detail of things and are missing the big picture. For example: People here are irate about interest rate rises, yet no one thinks to ask why the bought such a large McMansion in the first place which put them into such debt. If an astrologer can get them to look at the core of their stress (which is a symptom of their insecure identity) then that's no bad thing.
Marketers use these tools against our well being everyday.
By the way, the best organisations that I've seen have a diverse range of opinions, not all of which are given equal weight. The worst are those in which like minded people congregate together. Dissensus is no bad thing as long as it doesn't sidetrack la raison d'entre.
1/2/11, 2:13 PM
I may well try planting by the moon some time. It won't be soon because I can barely organize myself properly anyway. I know I would not keep to a moon calendar. Once my soil is a lot better and I'm sowing seeds regularly, transplanting regularly and moving the chooks regularly, and so on, then is the time to experiment.
1/2/11, 3:34 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Sofistek, I've always found it entertaining to watch the gyrations that rationalists will go through to avoid cognitive dissonance when the world doesn't match their presuppositions. By all means avoid looking me up on Amazon!
Lance, well, of course he's going to use straw men. The whole business about "predicting the future" is a straw man. What I'm trying to do here on The Archdruid Report is trying to predict the future from subtle clues in the present, which is exactly what Matt Savinar is doing; he's just using clues that Sofistek rejects out of hand as irrelevant. For the same reason, Sofistek won't look me up on Amazon, because that would force him to face the fact that the extremely simplistic rhetorical divide between "reason" and "belief" he's using doesn't do justice to the facts.
Hawlkeye, good. In my experience, rationalists won't try such things, but it's always worth offering the challenge.
Metta, good heavens -- I never thought to look there, but of course you're quite right, and some of the stories give good information.
Bill, if you keep it up I bet Sofistek brings out the old chestnut about the precession of the equinoxes.
Ruben, good. I've come to think of the scientific method as a brilliant but narrowly focused tool for making sense of some parts of human experience; like any tool, though, it can be misused, and there are also things it simply won't handle effectively.
Sophie, the 1932-2011 parallel is fascinating, especially when you note that each is the fourth year after a major economic crash. One astrologer I know tells me that the eclipse predicts crop failures and flooding this spring; we'll see.
Cherokee, an excellent point!
1/2/11, 3:36 PM
1/2/11, 3:41 PM
Lance Michael Foster said...
Besides astrology, there is something to be said for psychic defense as well :-)
1/2/11, 4:21 PM
1/2/11, 5:47 PM
I used heroin purely as an example of the falsity of your advice to try something before criticising it.
No, I don't think rationality and irrationality are impossible bedfellows.
Re your post about gravity. It wasn't the only reason I gave (another one was the low likelihood of astrologers being able to do the calculations for all astral bodies, some of which were and are unknown, another was the notion of predicting the future, ...). But thanks for the response on this, it's the kind of response I was looking for. You're quite right, that most trucks would not exert the same force as the moon. I think I read that somewhere and didn't check it (but now have), or it was referring to a larger earth bound object, like a mountain. However, some trucks would exceed the force of the moon, and Jupiter, depending on the distance from the person (e.g. one of those tar sands mining trucks would be almost double the effect, at close range). The gravitational force of the earth, of course, would dwarf all of those other forces.
Again, you're right that just because I can't imagine a mechanism doesn't mean there isn't one (and I'm with you on the bizarre effects at the quantum level). But have astrologers suggested a mechanism, or do they just have the "gift" to be able to somehow hone in on the natural forces that do have an impact on a person's life?
Yup, quite right. You included a lot of ifs there. If is the crucial word but I'm thinking of the downside, when the if doesn't happen, or when there is a deleterious effect.
I'm not sure why you think my looking you up on Amazon (which I have done) would make me reconsider your words in this post or in your books about our predicament. I've already stated that I find your arguments here very persuasive and very rational. If you have a highly irrational side, so what? Who doesn't?
I'll let you into a secret. I grew quite fond, in an online forum, of a pagan who swears he talks to spirits. I even got him to tell me how to do it and I started to give it a go. I didn't get anywhere, though I do admit to not really persevering at the technique and still think I might give it another go, sometime.
Floods and crop failures this spring? Hasn't that been a feature for most recent years? And it will become an even more common feature as climate change kicks in with a vengeance.
1/2/11, 6:22 PM
I must say that my already considerable regard for Mr. Greer went up when I noted--back when he announced the Green Wizards program—one of his other fields of endeavor. Obsessive investigator that I am, I had my computer generate a chart for the moment he posted that blog piece, and thought it a most appropriate moment to do so—perhaps even an astrological “election.”
Beats me how it works, but it seems to (for me). I find it adds a richness of meaning and understanding and amazement to my life. One very recent example: since I was in the neighborhood, I stopped by the Magus Bookshop to see if maybe the book on retrograde planets that I'd requested a couple weeks before had come in. It turned out, when I ran the chart for the hour/minute/second of the sale recorded on the receipt, that Mercury (which in the astrological system “rules” books and other tools for conveying ideas and information), which was ending its three-week retrograde phase about 14 hours later, was at that moment at its daily zenith, a power point—exactly! To my way of viewing the world, that's remarkable synchronicity—completely unplanned. I love the elegance of it.
1/2/11, 7:04 PM
I am late to the party (I actually went somewhere over the holiday without internet access), but I thought I'd chime in as well. I feel for you, as you are highly outnumbered, and sticking to your convictions (and aren't we supposed to be talking about hayboxes?), BUT... here's the thing. One of the biggest stories of 2010 (to me, anyway) was a recent study that concluded that placebos work EVEN WHEN YOU KNOW YOU ARE TAKING ONE. To me, this speaks to the enormous and uncontrollable power that we call the human mind. When a drug company tells you that their new pill is 20% more effective than placebo, they are also telling you that the majority of their pill's effect derives from belief (side effects may include bleeding gums, nausea, reduction of one's bank account, and continued dependence on Big Pharma). Once we agree that the most reliable and safe tool for improving our situation is between our ears (though I should point out here that my own personal definition of mind extends beyond the brain), then it really is up to us as individuals to follow our beliefs wherever they take us, and resist the idea of objective reality whenever possible. I have no personal experience researching the Creationism/Evolution debate, other than reading about it, but I choose to believe the world is far older than 600 years, there was no talking snake that started this mess, etc. I also choose to believe that all grains are bad for you, and bacon is healthy. If we dig deep enough, we can find reasons to disagree with every person on this blog, and every person on Earth. As you, JMG, and I know, there is no time for that. So I will not only share my eggs with homeopaths, Muslims, and Republicans, I will even make an effort to refrain from judging them, because we all have beliefs that others consider wrong and even harmful, and it is our actions that count. If we consider a person NOT DOING what we want them to do to be a "harmful action," we should clean up our own houses as well and thoroughly as possible before casting stones. I have yet to replace my toilets with the composing variety, nor do I have any goats yet, so I will focus on those tasks (and a hundred others), and leave judgment of others to future generations. There is just too much work to be done.
1/3/11, 5:28 AM
Bill Pulliam said...
I think this is the crux of the matter. If you haven't understood the very fundamental conceptual underpinnings of something, then perhaps you are not really in a good place to dismiss it as obviously irrational hokum. That's the same approach taken by religious fundamentalists in dismissing science. You need not agree with something to understand it. I know perfectly well how the mind of an evangelical fundamentalists conceives of the world; I do not however feel the same way. As for mechanisms, you don't need to understand the mechanisms of something to use it. People were able to successfully breed animals and direct their evolution for many millenia before reproductive biology and genetics were understood. And I must point out, once again, even if this is all "placebo effect," the placebo effect is REAL, and actually does cause people to get better.
You worry about the deleterious effects of "superstitions" when misapplied. Isn't history replete with examples of the deleterious effects of the misapplication of science, technology, and "rationality?" I suspect astrologers could never do one tiny fraction of the damage that can easily be done by nuclear physics, molecular genetics, or petroleum geology. Does this make science "bad" or "evil," and its promoters dangerous?
1/4/11, 10:24 AM
John Michael Greer said...
Lance, true enough.
Sofistek (again), I wouldn't encourage you to go around dabbling with methods of communicating with spirits. In my experience, people who approach them from a standpoint of disbelief rarely take the necessary precautions, and can land themselves in serious trouble.
Astro, good for you. As for whether an electional chart was or wasn't cast for the founding of the Green Wizards project, mum's the word!
Bob, thank you. The last sentence in your comment sums up this whole issue better than anything I could have said.
Bill, that's a useful line of argument. Have you ever noticed that the people who yell over the couple of dozen people a year who are harmed by alternative medicine rarely want to talk about the tens of thousands of people a year who are killed outright by the drug side effects and interactions, nosocomial infections, and other problems with scientific medicine?
1/4/11, 11:02 AM
John Michael Greer said...
1/4/11, 11:04 AM
1/4/11, 9:32 PM
Jonathan Feld said...
1/5/11, 12:40 PM
I’m not a fan of astrology about which I know next to nothing but I read Mr. Savinar’s irritated letters to the readers and tended to agree with him that many of the posters on his sites were seriously off course and I support the closure of his site. I wish him well.
1/5/11, 1:13 PM
Richard Larson said...
Yeah, Mr. Greer, GreenWizard sounds good. Have floated the idea to a few friends that I was going to study to be a Druid, and got some very caustic comments. But when telling people I have self-enrolled into the Green Wizard Program, they are interested to learn more!
I have finished reading the Long Descent, which book would you recommend reading next?
1/5/11, 3:10 PM
How to Make it
How to Use it
What to Cook
The home publishing co. Topeka Kansas, 1908
1/6/11, 4:19 PM
When I saw Matt Savinar's new astrology career, I was positive he had been hacked by artful and malicious forces determined to discredit him. If that analysis is wrong -- if he's really an Astrologer now -- he looks like an idiot (or worse). He also provides succor to the consensus trance about peak oil (see? peak oil is for nuts!) that Matt worked so hard and so well to shatter. And for a few individuals, he did shatter it.
Peak oil may have been a "theory" in 1956 when King Hubbert announced it, but after 1970 (when the USA peaked, exactly as predicted) it became a fact. Readers here are well aware of the physics and geology that make the conclusion of peak oil unavoidable (for example, the long decades during which the world has found not only fewer oil fields, but consistently *smaller* ones than the year before: itself a proof the cause is geological, not political).
And while Matt at times looked hell bent at spreading panic to profit from it (get food packs for your shelter -- on sale today!), the peak oil story is genuinely terrifying, and Matt told the tale with facts and charts consistent with a reasoned discussion.
And now... ASTROLOGY!
What next, alien abduction?
Sure, lots of perfectly terrific people take a daily peek at their horoscope. But there is also no question it utterly unscientific. At best it is a method to tap intuition (interpreting the stars in the manner of interpreting rorschach cards); but it is also a giant step into the unreasoning world of superstition, the evil eye, antisemitism and blood letting to cure disease. First Matt Savinar prognosicated with science; now stirs animal entrails. One of the reasons I fear the end of industrial civilization is the end of science that may accompany it; now Matt Savinar seems hellbent on accelerating the very decline he warned was inevitable.
Please, Matt, give us a clue to let us know you were bought off! And handsomely, I hope.
But if Matt Savinar has sincerely gone Astrological, he should have the courtesy and decency to change his name. And his website address.
Or to let the space aliens get him first.
5/16/11, 6:25 AM
8/2/11, 8:17 PM
8/3/11, 3:20 PM