Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tweedledoom and Tweedledee

It occurred to me a few days ago that this week’s Archdruid Report essay will be posted on a date that future generations may remember, at least in passing. One year from now is December 21, 2012, a date onto which quite a few people have piled extravagant labels and grand expectations, but which will get a different moniker after the fact; the one I have in mind is Nothing Happened Day.

No doubt the confidence expressed in that latter phrase will rankle with some of my readers. It’s a safe bet, in fact, that somebody’s going to post an indignant comment here insisting with some heat that the future isn’t predetermined, and a giant comet or the space brothers or something might show up on that day and make me look like an idiot. That’s a very common way of looking at things, and there are contexts in which it’s also more accurate than not; it’s just that this doesn’t happen to be one of them.

Not all predictions, after all, fall within the wiggle room that the laws of nature and the innate cussedness of things give to the future. When somebody announces that a working perpetual motion machine is about to hit the market, for example, they’re quite simply wrong—as wrong as if they announced that tomorrow the Sun will rise in the west and rocks will fall straight up into the sky. There are plenty of uncertainties in physics—more than most people outside the physics profession realize, or so I’m told—but the workings of basic conservation laws on the human scale aren’t among them. If somebody makes a prediction that contradicts those, especially if it relies on some tried-and-untrue gimmick that’s been responsible for an abundance of failed predictions before, you can safely bet your bottom dollar that it will fail again.

The same argument is just as valid, interestingly enough, for predictions that fall afoul of the limits of the cosmos in subtler ways. The example I have in mind here is the logic that drives bubbles and busts in a market economy. Behind every speculative bubble, to be a bit more specific, is the conviction that some class of assets which is rising in price will keep on doing so indefinitely. That conviction is always false, and it’s always disproven within a couple of years, but you can’t have a speculative bubble without it—it’s the delusion that the price of the asset class du jour is just going to keep on zooming upwards that leads otherwise sensible people to sink their net worth into stock or subprime mortgages, and lose it all—and so, with weary predictability, that delusion gets trotted out every time an asset class starts blowing bubbles.

What this means is that once you learn to recognize the signs of a speculative bubble, it’s possible to make exact predictions of future events with perfect confidence. A fair number of people—I was one of them, as longtime readers of this blog will recall—did that with the real estate bubble that popped so catastrophically in 2008. Few bubbles in economic history showed the signs of imminent trouble more clearly than this one, and while all but a tiny fraction of economists missed those signs, they were not lost on less blinkered observers. As Keith Brand over at the HousingPanic blog—a voice of sanity all the way through the bubble—used to say, “Dear God, this is going to end so badly.” He was right; his more specific predictions, and those of a lot of other bubble bloggers, were by and large square on targer; and those who derided them—and there were a lot of them, some with impressive credentials—have spent the last three years doing their best to pretend that they didn’t make fools of themselves.

None of this is irrelevant to our present situation, as it happens, because we’ve got another speculative bubble going at full roar in America just now. It’s considerably more focused than the real estate bubble—well, to be fair, the real estate bubble was by most measures the most gargantuan speculative bubble in the history of markets, so just about anything’s going to be more focused—but it may yet wreak comparable damage on what’s left of the American economy. The asset at its heart? Shale gas.

The shale gas bubble is the big economic story you haven’t heard about, though that will likely change in the near future. Behind all the hype about limitless shale gas are two simpler and noticeably less impressive realities. The first is that fracking technology applied to shale deposits can free up modest amounts of natural gas. The second and more important is that for the last half dozen years or so, at least, fracking technology applied to Wall Street has been able to free up immodest amounts of credit, providing the funding for an explosive growth in the natural gas drilling industry.

The intersection between those two facts has produced a classic bubble, with wildly inflated reserve estimates bringing a torrent of cheap credit to bear on an asset that can’t support the grandiose claims made for it. Because US mineral rights laws and Wall Street’s expectations both require firms that buy shale gas rights to produce right away, irrespective of the state of the market, natural gas is now selling for a price—wobbling around $3.50 per thousand cubic feet, last I checked—that covers much less than the cost of drilling and extraction. My readers will no doubt recall real estate speculators in the midst of the bubble feverishly buying rental properties even when the rent covered only a small fraction of the mortgage payments; the logic here is exactly the same.

Thus it’s as certain as anything can be that at some point in the fairly near future, probably though not certainly within a year or two, the shale gas bubble is going to pop, major names in the industry are going to go the way of Countrywide Mortgage and Washington Mutual, and gas drilling is going to slump until rising gas prices and declining budgets for exploration and drilling come back into a relationship that makes sense. Mind you, it’s equally certain that the closer we get to the bubble’s end, the more extravagant will be the claims made for the permanence and game-changing nature of the so-called “shale gas revolution,” and the more abusive will be the responses of those whose jobs depend on the bubble to any suggestion that a bubble is in fact what’s going on.

All this brings us back to December 21, 2012, and the prophecies of cataclysm or mass enlightenment that have clustered around the end of the Mayan calendar. To start with, of course, the Mayan calendar doesn’t end in 2012. In point of fact, it doesn’t end at all—like most ancient peoples, the Mayans saw time as a circle, not a straight line—and the Mayans themselves didn’t predict anything out of the ordinary for that day; it’s just the rollover date for one of the many cycles of time they tracked. The whole shebang was quite simply invented by the late José Arguelles out of a free mix of New Age philosophy, scraps of misunderstood Mayan lore, and the drug trips of Terence McKenna, and it’s thus not surprising that no two people agree on what 2012 is supposed to bring. In many ways it’s become the ultimate inkblot onto which any imaginable fantasy can be projected; since the only thing anybody seems to agree on is that whatever happens that year will be very, very big news.

Look closely, though, and the belief in a 2012 apocalypse has a great deal in common with the belief that asset prices can have an infinite upside. Both beliefs offer grand narratives that replace the ordinary patterns of human existence with a something-for-nothing fantasy. The bubble believers insist that they can have limitless wealth without having to work for it; the 2012 believers insist that they can have the new and improved world they think they want—whether that amounts to a new age of enlightenment, on the one hand, or a Hollywood movie world of heroic survivors blazing away against hordes of roving zombies, on the other—without having to work for it. In either case, what drives the fantasy is the conviction that it makes sense to sit on your backside and wait for the market, or the space brothers, or something else to give you the future you think you deserve.

That’s a very appealing notion for many people in America these days, and it’s worth glancing at the reasons why that should be so. To begin with, of course, a great many people in America do sit on their backsides and get rich. Most of them sit in the corner offices of large corporations, where they spend their time making decisions that, to judge by the results, would be better off made with one of those Magic 8-Balls: “reply hazy, ask again later.” John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out with a commendable lack of restraint in his book The Culture of Contentment that in America, as a rule, the more money you make, the less work you have to do—and, one might add, the less value you have to produce. Consider the upper reaches of the American banking industry, with their multimillion-dollar annual bonuses: what, other than misery for millions of ordinary people, do they actually produce?

For that matter, the vast majority of those who insist they’re part of the 99% these days benefit hugely from the systematic imbalances that give the 5% of humanity that live in the United States around a quarter of the world’s energy resources and around a third of its raw materials and industrial output. If Americans suddenly had to live on their fair share of the world’s resources and economic output, as I’ve pointed out more than once in the past, we’d have to take the equivalent of an 80% pay cut. This implies that, if you’re near the average, only around twenty per cent of your lifestyle is paid for by your own labor. The rest? Most Americans don’t want to know, and will insist at the top of their lungs that wealth can pop into being out of thin air or, well, almost any other absurdity you care to imagine; it beats thinking about just who is paying the costs of their comfortable lives.

Still, I’ve come to think that the most important force driving all these something-for-nothing fantasies is a subtler and more pervasive thing: the faith in progress that is the established but unmentionable religion of the modern industrial world. The belief in perpetual progress embodies exactly the same kind of grand narrative as speculative bubbles and apocalyptic prophecies: such everyday realities as diminishing returns and limits to growth are brushed aside by the conviction that the future must, by some irrevocable law of existence, always be shinier than the past. That’s what motivates the people who pop up on this and every other peak oil-related blog to insist that we can keep on powering our SUVs and Blackberries forever by building thorium reactors or harnessing zero point energy or turning the state of Nevada into one vast algae farm. It’s not incidental, either, that the vast majority of these people aren’t actually doing anything to make these dayreams happen; as with the rest of the something-for-nothing fantasies, reasons to do nothing have an important role in the payoff.

It’s the popularity of faith in progress, in turn, that makes believing apocalyptic fantasies so easy for so many people. If you’ve already bought into the idea that history is a grand narrative that assigns you a privileged place in the overall scheme of things, it’s easy to shift from one grand narrative to another—say, from the one that identifies people in today’s industrial societies as destiny’s darlings to the one that identifies them as wicked environmental sinners in the hands of an angry Gaia, or urges them to wait for salvation from outer space with all the fervor and most of the rhetoric of a Melanesian cargo cult, or claims that the Creator of the cosmos is about to unleash His genocidal fury on every human being who doesn’t buy into some particular religious ideology, or—well, you can fill in the blanks yourself, because at heart, they’re all pretty much the same. In the face of a cosmos that generally fails to cater to our sense of entitlement, they all offer narratives that make believers feel special, promise them some variation on pie in the sky, and offer them a good hearty helping of excuses for not taking action at a time in which action desperately needs to be taken.

These days, the old time faith in progress is becoming increasingly hard to sustain. It’s symptomatic that Gordon Moore himself has stated that Moore’s Law, long central to the rhetoric of technological triumphalism, no longer applies. The vagaries of the collective imagination are not one of the things that can be reliably predicted about the future, but the giddy claims about December 21, 2012 have me worried. There’s good reason to think that in the year to come we’ll be facing very hard times—not, please note, the imaginary cataclysms of apocalyptic rhetoric, but the sort of slow, plodding, frustratingly mundane hard times our grandparents or great-grandparents faced during the Great Depression before this one—and in such times the glittering promises of apocalyptic fantasy can be hard to resist.

It’s important, though, that at least some of us resist those promises. The grand narratives we’re discussing have another thing in common—they always fail sooner or later—but the narratives of apocalypse by and large fail sooner, more completely, and with more drastic consequences, than most others. The research for my most recent book, Apocalypse Not: Everything You Know About 2012, Nostradamus, And The Rapture Is Wrong was among other things a first-class education in the pointlessness of apocalyptic prophecy. There’s nothing in today’s advance press for December 21, 2012 that doesn’t have precise equivalents in a thousand similar prophecies for a thousand similar dates when nothing happened. One thing this implies, of course, is that there’s precisely no reason to take this prophecy any more seriously.

As I’ve tried to suggest here more than once, on the other hand, there’s a lot that can be done and indeed has to be done to help individuals, families, and communities deal with the prosaic but potent mix of difficulties our society’s misguided choices have brewed up for us. Sitting on our backsides waiting for the space brothers or the Rapture to solve our problems is no more helpful than sitting our our backsides waiting for progress or the free market or algal biodiesel farms to solve our problems. These two ends of the spectrum are twins—think of them as the Tweedledoom and Tweedledee of the imaginary Wonderland that dominates so much collective thinking these days—and getting past them, it seems to me, is an essential step on the way to less futile responses to a challenging future.

Over the next year, as a result, I plan on celebrating Nothing Happened Day in advance with a new weekly feature: the End of the World of the Week Club. Every week, after the usual (or unusual) essay, I’ll be posting a brief discussion of one of the many apocalypses that slipped past its pull date. It should be entertaining and, just possibly, enlightening. If it manages to help at least a few people step outside the hall of mirrors constructed by all those grand narratives that celebrate our supposedly special status, and begin to notice what the world is like when we stop treating ourselves as the center of attention for the entire cosmos, it may even do some good.

Two notes before we get there. First, I’m pleased to report that I was able to talk Viva Editions, the publisher of Apocalypse Not, into offering a winter solstice present to readers of The Archdruid Report. (Yes, one of the benefits of Druidry is that you get your holiday presents a few days early.) From now until January 1, if you go to the Viva Editions website, buy a copy of Apocalypse Not, and type the code APOCNOT25 on the order form where it asks for coupon codes and the like, you’ll get a 25% discount off the cover price. A happy solstice, or whatever else you celebrate at this time of year, to all!

Second, I’m equally pleased to report that Valerie Green and DanceEntropy will be performing Rise and Fall, a work inspired by my book The Long Descent, as part of their show Eternal Return at the Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York City, January 20, 21, and 22—details and tickets are here. If you’re located anywhere near New York, or will be there in late January, check it out.


End of the World of the Week #1

Chicago, December 20, 1954. A circle of typical American suburbanites gathers in a typical backyard on a typical Midwestern winter evening. As evening deepens, they frantically get rid of every scrap of metal on them, down to the eyelets on their shoes. For the last few months they’ve gathered around a housewife turned channeler, Dorothy Martin, who believes she is in contact with intelligent beings from a distant planet, and has been told that a cataclysmic flood will sweep over North America the next day and destroy everything in its path. Martin and her followers have been promised that they will be lifted to safety aboard a flying saucer that night; the prohibition against metal has something, though no one knows quite what, to do with the alien technologies that they believe will save their lives.

The saucer didn’t show, of course, and neither did the flood. The group scattered over the weeks that followed; Martin left Chicago in time to miss a psych evaluation that probably would have landed her in an institution, took the new name of Sister Thedra, and spent the rest of her life preaching the alien gospel to a mostly uninterested world. The entire affair would have passed all but unnoticed, except that a handful of the group’s members were ringers—graduate students from the University of Minnesota who joined the little cult as part of a study. When Prophecy Fails, the book that came out of that study, has become a classic of American sociological literature, and remains well worth reading today—not least because a great deal of the belief system that’s clustered around the supposed end of the Mayan calendar in 2012 comes from sources not noticeably different from the ones that sent Dorothy Martin on her long strange trip.
—story from Apocalypse Not


J9 said...
"fracking technology applied to Wall Street has been able to free up immodest amounts of credit"
Oh how i love your sense of humour! Thank you so much for introducing "End of the World of the Week" too - utter genius!
A great reminder to relax a little in the midst of all this scary talk.
Happy solstice everyone(we've got the summer one today - Greetings Chris!).

12/21/11, 9:28 PM

Nathan Lee said...
Great feature, can't wait to read every installment!

12/21/11, 9:38 PM

GHung said...
Happy Solstice and Hanukkah to all. It's a somewhat unusual occurrence at our house that we can celebrate the two on the same night; light the candles and enjoy knowing we can have a few more minutes of sunlight each day until June; not coincidentally, two of our most ancient celebrations. Those of us living on a solar budget get it better than most.


12/21/11, 9:39 PM

John Michael Greer said...
J9, thank you, and a happy summer solstice to my readers down under!

Nathan, thank you.

Ghung, and a happy solhansticeukkah to you and yours.

12/21/11, 9:53 PM

Numenius said...
Long time reader, now delurking. You might be amused to find there's mention of the tale of the End of the World of the Week #1 in a series currently running over at the blog Naked Capitalism. In this series, the historian of economic thought Philip Mirowski likens the cognitive dissonance experienced by that circle of Midwesterners when the flood didn't arrive to what was felt by orthodox economists in trying to explain the crisis of 2008!

12/21/11, 9:54 PM

anarchaeologist said...
So what is there to do? As you suggest, JMG, knowing the earth and knowing the iron laws of nature, and the elastic laws of human societies, will help us through the trials toward which humanity set its course centuries ago. Study, wait, be diligent, have compassion and patience, and do not fall for the temptation of apocalypses, the one which gnaws at the hearts of those who say to themselves, "They will see that I am right," when others dismiss their fevered imaginings. In simple terms, keep calm, carry on.

12/21/11, 9:59 PM said...
Thanks for another fine post, JMG. I realized the proclamations about the never ending reserves of shale gas were absurd, but I hadn't realized the industry was so exhibiting the signs of a speculative bubble. That should be another fun disaster to watch. (He says with sarcasm, as it will inevitably lead to further unnecessary suffering.)

One of the more frustrating things that a certain family member of mine proclaims is the imminent arrival of aliens bearing the gift of new technologies and energy systems that will solve all our problems. This honest belief is mind boggling to me, though I do understand the psychology behind it. If there were aliens out there with such technology and the means to travel to our planet to bestow it upon us, why on earth would they do such a thing? What have we done to deserve such a gift? If I was one of those aliens viewing the goings-on on this planet, I would stay as far away as possible. It seems clear to me that mixing yourself up with the likes of us would be more likely to lead to something along the spectrum of annoyance to misery than to a good time had by all.

But I dare not get too smug with said family member as I've been quite guilty of yearning for apocalypse in recent years. It's a habit that your writings have shed light on and I thank you for that. I'm working on getting away from it, and transferring whatever energy I put into it into more useful endeavors. As you say, there's a lot of work to be done to deal with what promises to be a sticky future.

Speaking of, one of my more consistent challenges is in the department of discipline. I have a heck of a time getting down to business and engaging in the hard work necessary to move toward my hoped-for future. I think I've made some small progress in that realm of late. I'm writing regularly on my blog and have been fairly pleased with a good bit of it. This may not seem like much, but I've spent a majority of my life wanting writing to be a major component of my life, and only a small minority of my life has seen that a reality. Therefore, I'm pleased with my current successes, modest as they may be.

That I am doing this while simultaneously farming part time and getting ready to take on another farming gig (both of which are and will continue gaining me valuable experience raising and working with a variety of animals) creates quite the satisfaction. If I can integrate my writing into a life in which I'm learning valuable skills that will likely prove advantageous in the future, then I'm feeling pretty good about my current direction.

Love the idea of the ongoing series on failed apocalyptic predictions. Apocalypse Not is on my short Christmas list. Being in recovery from Apocalypse, I'm sure it will prove invaluable.

Happy solstice to you and all readers here. It's a gorgeous night here on the Oregon coast--clear as can be, the stars bright, quite cold but warm here in my yurt with the wood stove. I'm blessed, indeed--I think we all are to be living in such an incredible and beautiful world, problematic as we may at times make it.


12/21/11, 10:08 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Numenius, many thanks for the link! A great article, too. I'd encourage any of my readers with a taste for academic prose to read When Prophecy Fails, and then map the experience onto the industrial world's dogmatic belief in the inevitability and goodness of progress.

Anarcheologist, yes, but there are also very specific steps that most people can take, which I've discussed at some length over most of the last two years. It's those steps, I've come to think, that the Tweedledooms and Tweedledees are trying to evade, because they add up to admitting that the fossil fuel joyride is ending after all.

12/21/11, 10:11 PM

Stuart Long said...
Everything you say about apocalyptic thinking is true. Yet sometimes events much like apocalypses do happen. August 1914, the 1929 Stock Market Crash, Pearl Harbor, the Nazi Holocaust, the Arab Oil Embargo, the collapse of the Soviet Union, 9/11/01. One day the world is one way; the next it has changed profoundly.

Watching Bush and then Obama respond in exactly the same ineffective way to the 2008 financial emergency has me very worried about a global financial meltdown. Would you consider this a real possibility and what would keep the results from being an apocalypse? Are you saying we can have catastrophes but not apocalypses, in other words is this about the meaning of the word "apocalypse"?

12/21/11, 10:13 PM

John Wheeler said...
Greetings on the longest night of the year from the heart of the Marcellus shale bubble -- if the wind blows just wrong I swear I can smell the sulfur!

I am not as convinced that December 21, 2012 will not be a momentous day in history. I do believe that if something happens, it will be a matter of self-fulfilling prophecy. I saw a film a long time ago about Bali, which did mention their calendar system. Their equivalent of a 10,000 year turnover happened around 1965, which ended up being a very tumultuous year on that island. (Sorry, I have no idea any more what the name of the film was.)

I always look forward to the next installment.

12/21/11, 10:47 PM

fyreflye said...
Happy Yule to JMG and to all!

12/21/11, 10:59 PM

Kieran O'Neill said...
On the topic of speculative bubbles ... gold, anyone?

Ruminating on the myth of progress, I recalled this article from historian-turned-political analyst Gwynne Dyer, written some four years ago now:

Slow Forward.

The main point is that, compared to the sweeping sociocultural changes brought on by the new technologies of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the changes of the latter part of the twentieth were quite minimal (at least for the developed world).

It might be a little simplistic, e.g. a proponent of progress might argue that the benefits from technology in the past fifty years have been consumed by meeting the mismatch between available resources and population. Nevertheless, it is interesting to think of the degree of benefit from technology as a Hubbertian curve, one whose peak we are somewhere close to.

A very happy Yule to you and yours!

12/21/11, 11:26 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

Happy solstice to all - sun is shining, weather is sweet! Today, sunny, humid 29 degrees Celsius outside (84.2 Fahrenheit). Light to almost 10pm here at 37 1/2 degrees south. Nice.

It's been complex because the oven has been going for about 3 hours now cooking Xmas cakes. I don't celebrate Xmas personally, but roll with others who do. Northern hemisphere images of snow etc. and fat men in red suits don't translate very well into down under! Snow has been absent here for the past two years now. The last snowfall killed my coffee tree! Grrr.

Ah, master, is it to be before cataclysm chop wood, carry water. After cataclysm chop wood, carry water? hehe!

On a serious note, this year has been year of the chicken having started with them last New Year’s Eve (it was a scorcher too at 40 degrees in the shade). I think the world would be a far nicer place if everyone was responsible for a flock of chickens. They have taught me so much and are now truly invaluable here.

Still, most people around here tend to own Isa Brown varieties, but I went for heritage breeds and have noticed that the chook world is a harsh cruel place. They have a great run + housing, in the shade, deep mulch litter (which eventually becomes food for the fruit trees), good food + garden greens. All a happy chook could ever wish for.

The issue of the chooks genetic heritage has been on my mind recently because one of the breeds looked good, but were a bit off. The other birds had zero tolerance for them too. It's interesting, because I have two remaining of this variety (silkies) but they were cross bred with another variety - so they don't run pure - and they are tougher, hardier and more alert birds. It's given me food for thought.

I wonder how much of our food chain is dependent on a small genetic pool? Also how will I obtain new genetic inputs (I already own a rooster) in future without the co-operation of neighbours?

Happy summer solstice J9.



12/22/11, 12:50 AM

Karim said...
Season's greetings to all!

I wait with great expectations the weekly installment of failed apocalyptic prophesies! What a wonderful idea!

Many thanks to JMG for the generous rebate on your latest book. Alas I already got my copy a few weeks ago! I hope many readers will take up the offer!

JMG wrote: "the conviction that the future must, by some irrevocable law of existence, always be shinier than the past. "

A few years ago I talked to a good friend of mine about the many dysfunctions of modernity notably that exponential economic growth on a finite planet can only but collide with physical limits and thus become dysfunctional. After a few e-mail exchanges his reaction was that thanks to science and technology " modernity knowns no major dysfunctions, only minor ones which are fully expected"

At this point I surrendered and accepted that no amount of reasoning can make him see past his massive blind spots. I accepted his position as the resultant of a religious belief in progress and science and it was best I respect his belief systems instead of challenging them.

It is amazing how prevalent this way of thinking is and how impervious it is to facts, figures and common sense! Might as well bang your head against a brick wall. The same sort of deviant logic explains why so many people are enamored with ideas of sustainable development.

I also like the idea that the faith in progress "offer them a good hearty helping of excuses for not taking action at a time in which action desperately needs to be taken."

Now I understand why people care to do so little in face of our predicament and why I get so many blank stares and silences when raising those issues.

12/22/11, 1:23 AM

Edward said...
For Once I was ahead of the curve, as I recently purchased Apocalypse Not. After the Borders Bookstore closed at our mall, it was replaced by a store called "Books a Million" or BAM. Just for fun I checked them out, and after perusing rack after rack after rack of trashy fiction, the clerk found Apocalyse Not for me in the "New Age - Fortune Telling" section! That's not where I would have looked for it, but I guess that your writing defies conventional categories.

12/22/11, 3:28 AM

Unknown said...
Happy solstice, and thanks for another year of intelligent, amusing and informative writing.
Cheers from Turkey Hill, Tasmania


12/22/11, 4:13 AM

CSAFarmer said...
"Tweedledoom", I love it. The demented older brother of Tweedledumb, one presumes.

Here's a thought: most (maybe all) of the people I know who are seriously preparing for the coming unpleasantness are independent small business owners and entrepreneurs. Conversely, I can't think of anyone I know with a 'straight job' that is more prepared now than a decade ago.

Maybe the somewhat-contrarian approach to life necessary to run your own business is an innoculant against 2012-type hysteria. Or maybe the need for autonomy is so great they don't 'buy in' to someone else's idea of an apocalypse - i.e. if I'm going to hell in a hand-basket, it'll be MY hand-basket, dammit!

I have never successfully 'woken anyone up' to the need to make real, meaningful preparations for coming upheavals, and I've stopped preaching. I now follow a precept I learned from network marketing (part of my checkered past) - you don't try to convince, you just try to sort.

That is, you sort those who are ready to do something NOW from those who aren't.

Guess which types I mostly hang out with . . .

12/22/11, 4:21 AM

Phil Knight said...
Meanwhile, in other news:

12/22/11, 5:01 AM

Larry said...
Great read as usual.

I'm halfway through Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. I suppose some who are facing hard times could buy an old Hudson, get the clan together and drive to California to pick fruit like the Joads did. As I vaguely recall (from the movie along time ago), however, it didn't turn out too well.

It's interesting that right in front of the Congressional agenda today are three big spending items, all of which are, I believe, at least $100 billion per year.

The one that gets the leads in all the news stories is the extention of the 2% social security tax cut. This, apparently, is the most popular because it serves the God named Tax Cut, although is the least justified in terms of compassion for the needy.

The other two are for extending unemployment insurance to those without work and to avoid cuts in medical fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients. Apparently in our current Cargo Cult, it is more important to serve the main god than to take care of the poor or sick. However, as the Gov'ment doesn't have money to pay for any of these items, they all to some degree are wishful thinking.

12/22/11, 5:10 AM

Caith said...
I think there's a mechanism for the 2012 prophesy to be self-fulfilling, if the markets are still aloat by then. Nobody actually has to believe it, but if enough people think enough other people are likely to believe it that's enough to make it rational to sell anything which might fall in price, which is enough to drive the prices down. I'm not going to be surprised if there's a significant confidence-driven crash then, given that I'm expecting a significant confidence-driven crash anyway and the longer it holds off the more precarious it gets.

12/22/11, 5:35 AM

Yupped said...
I’m not in any way a believer in entitlements, magical shifts of consciousness or get out of jail free cards. Reality is best stared squarely in the face and not flinched at. And, frankly, I like the smell of stacked stove wood and chicken manure in the morning.

However, my dear wife of twenty years could probably be described as a “New Ager”, with lots of stimulating beliefs and associations with shamans, dolphin healers, crystals and the like. And she does, of course, believe that 2012 could have some sort of pivotal importance, heralding a shift in consciousness of some sort. But she, and the large number of her friends and associates that I have met over the years, don’t really fit into the sort of “Beam me up Scotty” comedy bucket that you seem to be offering here. She’s still doing the gathering and the canning, the chopping and the carrying; but she is also encouraged by the idea that 2012 will be a time when more people start to see things a little more clearly, and break with old patterns.

I may be over-reacting; always possible for me. But if someone is on a committed path of change, doing the hard inner and outer work, and also draws some inspiration from the idea that 2012 could be some sort of tipping point, a point of transition between two ages, wouldn’t that be a good thing? We all need something to get us up in the morning, to keep us on the path. Shouldn’t it be possible to be both practical and committed to change, while also drawing encouragement by some much bigger if somewhat vague themes at the same time?

Either way, I’m looking forward to longer and brighter days ahead and wish everyone a wonderful 2012!

12/22/11, 5:50 AM

Thijs Goverde said...
Ha! You may have had your housing bubble, and it was gargantuan on many scales, but on my favorite scale (that of sheer absurdity) we, the proud Dutch, beat you hands down!
I refer of course to what is sometimes described as the very first economic bubble: the tulip bubble of 1636.
For those who don't know the details: people paid with actual mansions for tulip bulbs that weren't even out of the ground yet. An inverted housing bubble, if you will.
It all came crashing down in '37. Many people were ruined, but the Dutch continued to rule the seas until the 1670s and they remained an important factor in international politics for at least a century more.
So the tulips were not just an example of a bubble, they were also an example of a bubble bursting without an apocalypse (or even a major economic u-turn) ensuing.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast and therefore bubbles, unfortunately, happen. Apocalypses, fortunately, not so much.

12/22/11, 5:53 AM

Avery said...
Can't you view 2012 as a kind of collective thaumaturgy, trying to make people unconsciously decide to do dangerous, radical things when the day of reckoning arrives?

12/22/11, 6:15 AM

BruceH said...
Does your book include anything about the people who built the community of Stelle, Illinois, just south of Kanakakee? It's an interesting story. Their apocalypse never happened, of course, but their little community survived and is now home to Midwest Permaculture. I took my Permaculture Design course there a few years back.

Sol Invictus!

12/22/11, 6:29 AM

Mister Roboto said...
There is some very reality-based potential for social, political, and economic upheaval in the world for the coming year, and I share your concern that the apocalyptic appeal of distorted and misinformed folk-theology could exacerbate this upheaval in a very unhelpful way.

My own personal history is a testament to the truth of what you say about the nature of apocalyptic prophecies. Back in the 90's when I subscribed to "Earth Change" prophecies (Google "scallion map" for just one example of these), I was a basket-case living in a way overpriced broom-closet of a boarding-house room living an indolent and unhealthy lifestyle. This lifestyle made a mighty contribution to my developing insulin-resistance and then diabetes in rather short order.

12/22/11, 6:38 AM

Robo said...
The end of the so-called First World is already underway, despite the lack of any particular calendar date. Fracking is just a death rattle. What comes after will be the life that the Third World has been living all along.

The First-Second-Third scoring system is so symptomatic of industrial thinking, and a prime example of the power we accord to competitiveness, exact timing and precision mathematics. Our illusory sense of superiority and control is derived almost entirely from the concentrated fossil energy we draw from beneath our feet. When it's all gone and frail human energy is once again our primary resource, the numbers won't matter so much.

12/22/11, 7:30 AM

Maria said...
"Fracking technology applied to Wall Street..." Was I supposed to giggle like a 13-year-old when I read that? Because I did, I'll admit it.

Another terrific essay! Thank you for the Solstice gift, and I will definitely take advantage of that offer. I also look forward to reading your weekly feature.

Off topic, I've started to work on The Druid Magic Handbook (and I do mean "work," not "read"). I have a basic grounding in Druidry -- I finished the OBOD Bardic level course earlier this year. Your book is answering questions I had, and explaining concepts that sort of washed over me at my first exposure to them. Do you perhaps teach them in a different order?

It's going to take me some time to work with Part 1 before I'm ready for Part 2. I'm okay with that.

12/22/11, 7:48 AM

Nano said...
Happy Solstice:

Solstice Cake:
Mix together 7 oz margarine, 12 oz muscovado light sugar, 3 eggs, 1lb wholemeal self raising flour, 5 fl oz buttermilk, 14 oz of a mix of sultanas, raisins, and currants. Bake for 3.5 hrs at gas mk 1.

Adorn with marzipan symbols of the elements using 3D versions of the tatwas. Paint with vegetable based food colourings. Pierce each quarter repeatedly with a cocktail stick and pour in appropriate liquors to each quarter.

Serve with the red tetrahedron orientated south, (or north in the southern hemisphere, in which case you may have to switch water and air also).


12/22/11, 7:55 AM

tideshift said...
Just finished reading Wealth of Nature. Curious about your thoughts on the connection (if any) between the 90% upper bracket tax rate under Eisenhower and the US position in the 1950s as the largest oil producer in the world. Thanks for all your great work - you and Ilargi have become my favorite online writers - deeply valued refuge from the intolerable cognitive dissonance almost everywhere else...

12/22/11, 8:26 AM

Planner said...
Greer wrote: "...the vast majority of those who insist they’re part of the 99% these days benefit hugely from the systematic imbalances that give the 5% of humanity that live in the United States around a quarter of the world’s energy resources and around a third of its raw materials and industrial output. If Americans suddenly had to live on their fair share of the world’s resources and economic output, as I’ve pointed out more than once in the past, we’d have to take the equivalent of an 80% pay cut. This implies that, if you’re near the average, only around twenty per cent of your lifestyle is paid for by your own labor."

This sort of brutal honesty is exactly what we need right now! I made the same assertion during the Q&A of a sustainability session at a well-attended urban planning conference some months back. I was situated in the front row and could see one panelist laugh nervously, one stare blankly, and one nod knowingly. A sort of awkward hush filled the room. I forget the exact response one of the panelists made, but I recall a lot of handwaving.

The reason few people actively broach this issue is because it is impolite. There are precious few subjects which our debauched culture finds taboo, but resource and energy limits is still one of them... even amongst professionals who should know better.

The reason few people actively engage this issue is because it is 'too real'. It's simultaneously melancholy, incindiary, and as you highlighted last week - there's no expedient way to make a buck off it.

Any suggestion that technology won't solve our resource and energy limit predicament is tantamount to farting at the dinner table on Christmas afternoon in polite company. You just DON'T DO IT.

However, the desperation of our situation demands a different sentiment, or our cities will become rendered unlivable. We have a ways to go as a culture before we can have an adult conversation about some of these subjects. It's going to take a lot more brutal honesty to get us there. Keep it coming, Greer!

12/22/11, 8:36 AM

Susan said...
As the great philosopher Yogi Berra said, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."

Starting in the late 1980s my husband and I started buying HUD foreclosures to fix up and rent. At one point we owned 7 properties, but had trouble getting loans for more, since the banks at that time had rules to keep investors like us from becoming too leveraged for our own good. Eventually we sold all the properties for a modest profit and concentrated on buying distressed properties, fixing them up, and "flipping" them. We usually made about $10,000 profit per house after repairs and other costs. Not bad for a few months of drywall, electrical, plumbing and painting work in our spare time.

Then, we began to notice that lots of other people were bidding at the HUD auctions, driving up the prices for the foreclosed houses. It got to the point where the spread between what it cost to buy and rehab the properties and what we could sell them for after repairs approached zero. Soon, we were seeing "investors" paying more for the foreclosures than the houses could reasonably be worth after rehab.

And then our regular mortgage brokers started coming to us with loans that required no documentation, and no money down out of our own pockets. It seems that Mr. Greenspan and the Fed were keeping interest rates so low, in an effort to keep stimulating the economy, that the lending institutions were literally shoveling money out the door to anyone with a pulse.

That's when we stopped flipping foreclosures. We could see where it was going, and here we are...

12/22/11, 8:55 AM

Susan said...
I feel the need to take issue with just a little bit of what you wrote this week, for I believe you are setting up something of a straw man argument re: shale gas.

No realistic person in the investment community honestly believes that we are tapping into an endless supply of gas that will last forever. We all know that the supply of fossil fuels is NOT infinite, and sooner or later we actually will run out. However, what the current fracking boom is doing is ensuring that we will run out later rather than sooner, which may buy us some additional time to make the necessary adjustments in our lifestyles.

Not all of the numbers being thrown around about how much of this stuff is left in the ground are the product of gas industry PR hype. It appears from what I have seen that there probably is enough to power the US economy for several additional decades, possibly most of the rest of this century, at current (or perhaps slightly reduced) levels of consumption. Of course, that assumes we don't sell any of it to China, the way the Canadians are threatening to do with the Alberta tar sand goo (if we don't build the Keystone XL pipeline).

Up in Antrim County in northern Michigan, where my Mom lives, there has been a gas drilling boom going on for several years. The Antrim shale extends down to Indiana and Ohio and may extend out under Lake Michigan to Wisconsin. Unlike most other shale gas plays, the natural gas from the Antrim appears to be biogenic gas generated by the action of bacteria on the organic-rich rock.

Please note, I am not saying this is going to solve all of our problems forever, but it will help to mitigate our energy problem for quite some time (most of the people reading this blog will be long gone before the gas is all gone).

12/22/11, 9:37 AM

Chris Balow said...
As Avery suggested, maybe there is some collective thaumaturgy going on with this whole 2012 business. While Americans have seen a steady, grinding decline in the 2007-2011 period, I am beginning to wonder if this decline will gather speed and intensity in 2012. Certainly not roving hordes of zombies, but perhaps the beginning of conditions that approximate what was seen in the Great Depression. An "apocalypse of our own making," in a sense.

I notice that these New Age beliefs about 2012 germinated in the 1970s, precisely the period when civilization's limits to growth gained popular recognition. The 2012 meme then gained wider popularity, it seems, during the same period when Americans ignored these limits and committed themselves to the vacation from reality that we now see unraveling around us.

Is it crazy to think that, through some thaumaturgy in the collective unconscious, Americans have spent the last few decades turning their nation into a bomb with a timer set to 2012?

At the very least, these 2012 beliefs probably reflect a widespread recognition that the world we've built over the last few decades has will inevitably end in the not-too-distant-future.

12/22/11, 10:31 AM

William Hunter Duncan said...
My read on the whole 2012 thing is, that if it proves to be anything, it may be seen as a kind of symbolic turning point at which a far broader section of humanity becomes aware of peak everything. That, and an awareness of the utter failure of a money system based on debt. I think we are in the midst of a debt bubble that when it pops, will make every other bubble seem like a burp.

And yes, there is no salvation but what one is willing to do to heal oneself, and in doing so, healing the Earth. And that has much to do with getting clear of conventional thinking, and opening up to the reality that the decline of surplus energy is a crises unlike anything Humanity has had to face. When we are arguably, at our absolute weakest and most vulnerable, as a species.

We are living in extraordinary times, with the accumulated understanding of humanity available to us, and there is so much to be done. Much of what can be done can be found in this blog. I also think this existence is vastly more mysterious than we know. I'm trying to balance some sense of that mystery, while at the same time grounding myself in the reality of pending resource constraints.

12/22/11, 10:57 AM

Myriad said...
In a bubble, the commodity price rises due to speculation.

I'd call the current shale situation a boom: the commodity price falls due to over-investment and the resulting over-production/over-extraction. (The prices of inputs usually rise due to increased demand, but no one calls the California Gold Rush the Great Shovel Bubble).

I can appreciate reluctance to refer to the event in a way that (wrongly) connotes a good thing to most people. But booms go bust just as surely as bubbles pop; there's not much to choose between them.

12/22/11, 11:01 AM

Archivist/Cultural Liaison said...
From what i remember of McKenna, he did not predict the end of the world, he predicted a novelty point in history.

12/22/11, 11:09 AM

TX_Valkyrie said...
What do think of Dmitry Orlov's recent rethinking of the slow crash he'd outlined in "Reinventing Collapse", and now believes that there will be instead a fast crash?

"I wished for an orderly cascade of collapsing institutions, with enough of a gap between them for public psychology and behavior to adjust to the new reality. But almost four lost years of both government and finance betting on a future that cannot exist, doubling down every time they lose again, have dashed those hopes. The effect, I think, will be to compress financial and political collapse into a single chaotic episode. Commercial collapse will not be far behind, because global commerce is dependent on global finance, and once international credit locks up the tankers and the container ships won't sail. Shortly thereafter it will be lights out."

To me that sounds rather apocalyptic. I apologize if you've already written about this in an earlier post.

12/22/11, 11:10 AM

escapefromwisconsin said...
Actually, the opposite of doom seems to be true to me – most everyone I know expects things to “return to normal” in the near future, normal being the comfortable middle-class existence they've experienced all their life filled with with mortages, secure jobs, expensive healthcare and matching 401Ks. This seems a much more widespread and potent delusion than apocalyptic prophecies.

Signs of the end times?:

Giant Tsunami-Shaped Clouds Roll Across Alabama Sky

In pictures: Rare lenticular clouds over West Yorkshire

Despite this, reality seems to be asserting itself in other ways:

The population of the United States grew this year at its slowest rate since the 1940s, the Census Bureau reported on Wednesday, as the gloomy economy continued to depress births and immigration fell to its lowest level since 1991. The population grew by 2.8 million people from April 2010 to July 2011, according to the bureau’s new estimates. The annual increase, about 0.7 percent when calculated for the year that ended in July 2011, was the smallest since 1945, when the population fell by 0.3 percent in the last year of World War II.

Economy Contributes to Slowest Population Growth Rate Since ’40s


12/22/11, 11:17 AM

William Hunter Duncan said...
In addition, JMG,

I find myself skirting around some of my feelings about your perspective, in part because of my great respect for the work you have done in this life, and what a powerful influence it has had on mine. My hesitation can be summed up in two words:

Crop circles.

I know what people say about them, that they are produced by people using a board with a rope attached to each end. But when I look at pictures, my feeling is that they are of an artistry that strains any belief that they are of human origin. Is it possible that our physics, with respect to the second law of thermodynamics, is limited? It is very mysterious to me.

That said, I'm not likely going to create a device that defies that Law, and I'm not expecting that anyone will. Nor am I expecting aliens to come down and save us from our predicament. I don't let my sense of the mystery preclude me from the reality of a biological entity immersed in a biosphere. I.E. When the natural gas bubble pops, how am I going to heat my home, here in Minnesota? Passive solar and a wood boiler, is what I have in mind. Where is that wood going to come from, at the center of a 3 million metropolitan area, with suburbia extending thirty miles in every direction? It is hardly any wonder that many would rather rely on messianic thinking.

12/22/11, 11:35 AM

nutty professor said...
this week i find your tone to be smug and feel that this post is unworthy of you.

..having a daughter on the asd spectrum, i understand how difficult it is for such persons to demonstrate the attitudes of compassion and gratitude that can elude persons with these disorders.

I truly do believe that Love, joy, hope, and inner wellbeing will sustain humanity for as long as humanity is around; yet you act as if these are delusions.

as a druid at the very least i would expect you to embody some of the former in service to Gaia...but I find that I am wrong.

I was wrong.

12/22/11, 11:52 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Ofthehands, self-discipline is a major challenge for most people -- we live in a culture that actively opposes any attempt to break away from a passive acceptance of social promptings. It sounds as though you've made a good beginning, though.

Stuart, understood, but I think a line needs to be drawn between real historical events and wish-fulfilment fantasies. Yes, we're probably going to be facing some very rough times in the future -- but I'd encourage you to read a few good histories of any of the events you've named; things didn't change overnight as a result of any of them. That appearance is a phenomenon of hindsight.

John, I think it's quite possible that 2012 will be a very tumultuous year. Some years are. It's the notion that some outside force will fix our problems that's the thing I want to critique.

Fyreflye, and a happy solstice to you and yours!

Kieran, thanks for the link! She's quite right; by most measures, peak innovation happened in the last quarter of the 19th century, and progress has been slowing down since then; rapid advances in a few fields have made people ignore the number of technologies that have basically circled in place for decades.

Cherokee, "before end of industrial civilization, feed chooks; after end of industrialization, feed chooks." There's your Zen parable for the next year!

Karim, exactly. I get those same blank looks, and I'm pretty sure it's for the same reason.

Edward, a lot of my stuff ends up in the New Age section, since my first publications were on the subject of magic -- not that the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will has anything much to do with the New Age, but bookseller's categories are weird that way.

Simon, thank you, and a happy summer solstice to you and yours!

Farmer, thank you! That's a very cogent way of summing up something I've been fumbling toward for a long time. A lot of what I do here and elsewhere is an exercise in sorting, rather than an attempt to convince.

Phil, well, we'll hope! The day dawned bright here in the north central Appalachians, for whatever that's worth.

Larry, they'll just print the money, as they've been doing for years now. It's the shortage of real wealth -- actual goods and services -- that'll clobber them.

12/22/11, 12:41 PM

RainbowShadow said...
Speaking of whether or not the upper echelons of the banking industry actually produce anything, please read this and tell me what you think:

What this blog post is about is a list of quotations; namely, the same people you mentioned in that paragraph are "striking back," and are insisting that they're hard-working and successful and that's why they're in the 1%.

The worst part is that most Americans AGREE with these lunatics. They think hardworking means "making lots of money" even though as you said, these executives just sit on their keisters and get annual bonuses.

This is the truly frightening part of our age, not the behavior of the upper classes but the mindless cliches and slogans ordinary Americans chant all the time that sound JUST like the ones Corey Robin quotes in his article. We demonize the working classes and the poor for being lazy even though they're the ones who produce goods and services, while rewarding the lazy people at the top who don't really do any work but scream at the top of their lungs that they do.

And then because Americans define morality exclusively as the ability to make lots of money and be "successful," accuse the poor of making excuses for not being as hardworking as the rich when the rich aren't even really hardworking because they're too busy playing with derivatives instead of goods and services!!! ARRRRRRRGH!!!

It's like we're living in an Orwell novel, where everything's defined as its exact opposite and rational voices (such as your own, John Michael Greer) cannot penetrate the fog.

12/22/11, 12:47 PM

Robert said...
@ Nutty Professor

Perhaps we will have to "agree to disagree," but I for one value this blog precisely because it does *not* hold out very much hope.

But I am an old man, and my outlook on life has always been a grim one, ever since I was a boy.

And I particularly mistrust each and every kind of hope, which I have found to be almost always a deceiver -- the proverbial "smiler with a knife."

This blog reminds me each week that my own survival will depend almost entirely on my own efforts and the efforts of my neighbors in community. It will depend entirely on own strength and skill. And ... since I am a few months short of my seventieth birthday, even these things are not probably going to be enough to see me through without some uncommonly good luck as well.

In a nutshell, this blog reminds me every week that -- despite my very best efforts -- I may well die in the fairly near future, and die from causes that would not come close to killing me now.

And this is the message I most need to hear now. It invigorates me, it exhilarates me, it motivates me to get cracking -- not for myself, but for those who will outlive me -- not my own descendents so much as for the next geberations. I find it enormously liberating and empowering to know that I *certainly will not live* to enjoy most of the fruits -- whatever they may turn out to be -- of my own labors. They are my arrows shot into the darkness that I cannot penetrate with any part of my own life.

I do know that this is not what everybody wants to hear. Maybe a few of us don't even need to hear it.

Maybe one has to be a grim old geezer, nourished from childhood on the vision of Ragnarök, to welcome such a message. Maybe one has to feel one's own non-existence breathing down one's neck to welcome the Archdruid's realism. That is for others to say.

But this I can say for myself: I for one value the Archdruid Report highly, and I nourish my spirit every week on his words.

Thank you, JMG, for this, and may the Solstice being an increase of light to us all.

12/22/11, 12:54 PM

mistah charley, ph.d. said...
The film about Bali John Wheeler remembers is The Year of Living Dangerously.

12/22/11, 12:59 PM

Ceworthe said...
OMGs, JMG on Kunstler Cast! What a perfect Solstice gift. Happy Solstice to all.

12/22/11, 1:02 PM

Don Plummer said...
I think we can make one absolutely sure prediction about December 21, 2012, and that is that on or about that day we will be observing another winter solstice. :)

At any rate, I've enjoyed this one, watching the torrential rains falling here in central Ohio, musing over similar weird weather patterns over the past several years, and wondering why some people still insist the climate is not changing.

12/22/11, 1:05 PM

sgage said...
@ Susan

'As the great philosopher Yogi Berra said, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."'

He sure had a way with words:

"Nobody goes there any more - it's too crowded."

And my personal favorite, and good advice for troubled times:

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

12/22/11, 1:07 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Caith, well, but a stock market crash isn't what the 2012 people are predicting, and it's also not the end of the world -- or even the end of our current jerryrigged financial system. I think it's quite possible that plenty of economic indicators are going to go tobogganing downhill in the new year, mind you, but that's just ordinary history unfolding in an ordinary way.

Yupped, of course; I know a lot of people who are busy getting ready for hard times, and who also have religious beliefs about the future that are, well, questionable. Still, I suspect we're going to see a great deal of overtly cargo-cult apocalypticism of the "don't worry about that, the space brothers will rescue us" type -- the sort of thing that ofthehands talks about in his comment above -- and that this will be yet another round of excuses for doing nothing.

Thijs, quite true -- in fact, I made room for a discussion of the tulip bubble in Apocalypse Not. Is there any way the Dutch could come up with another basically harmless speculative bubble for the world to invest in, do you think? It might distract the rest of humanity from investing in more dangerous bubbles.

Avery, I suppose you could, but it looks to me more as though 2012 is a form of collective thaumaturgy encouraging people to do nothing and wait for a miracle to rescue them from the consequences of their own actions. As for risk-taking and dangerous activities, most of the people I know who claim to believe in the 2012 hoopla are still putting money into their retirement funds...

BruceH, no, that was one of many I didn't have room to cover. It's only a 40,000 word book! The folks at Stelle -- they were the people who thought there was going to be a polar flip on 5/5/2000, weren't they?

Mister R., I've met too many people stuck in the same sort of bind, with an obsession with some sort of prophecy of total change making up for a really messed-up life. I hope the diabetes is under control these days!

Robo, exactly. The industrial world (you'll notice that I don't use the term "first world") is a temporary anomaly; what's now called the Third World is fairly close to human normal, though it's more crowded than usual just now. It's also a fair image of the future of the deindustrializing nations, as I've commented more than once in these essays.

Maria, glad to hear it! Yes, every Druid teacher covers things in different sequences -- that way students have a better chance of finding a pattern that makes sense to them.

Nano, thank you! All I have to do is find out what "gas mk 1" amounts to in degrees Fahrenheit, which is what's marked on the dials of ovens here in America1 (That and figure out which gluten-free flour blend will work best, since my spouse has celiac disease.)

Tideshift, good question. As I mentioned in the book, there was more than one reason for American prosperity in those years -- having had all rival nations practically bombed back into the Stone Age didn't hurt, either -- but for reasons discussed in the book, I think high tax rates for the excessively rich had a good deal to do with it.

Planner, I'm delighted to hear that you brought it up! You're quite right; the dependence of American lifestyles on American empire is something nobody wants to discuss, even far to the left, because the implications are too unwelcome to consider. Still, we're going to have to consider them -- if only by having our faces rubbed in what happens as our empire goes away.

12/22/11, 1:09 PM

mallow said...
Nutty, you talk about understanding while you turn a whole person into the sum of his disorder and of compassion while you accuse him of not believing in love, joy or hope. You have a hefty log in your eye.

12/22/11, 1:17 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Susan, nicely timed. My wife and I relocated and bought our house in 2009, in the narrow window between when the bubble popped and when mortgages became basically unavailable, following the same sort of thinking you used. As for shale gas, though -- well, no, there I think you're wrong. The analyses that I've seen, especially of the depletion rate of fracked wells, make me think that we've got about five years of cheap natural gas, maybe a bit more, before gas prices start soaring and the first shortages loom. More on this in a future post.

Chris, it's quite true that apocalyptic fantasies tend to breed like bunnies during times of severe social stress, and in particular in the decades immediately before major social crises -- think of the Millerite movement, as one example out of many, as a harbinger of the American Civil War. My own guess is that we may see a huge apocalyptic movement, of Millerite scale or larger, around the 2012 prophecy; nothing will happen on Nothing Happened Day; and in the aftermath, things will start spiralling out of control in the political sphere. More on this, too, in a future post.

William, I'd certainly agree that the universe is more mysterious than we can know. I just find it embarrassing that so many members of our species treat that as justification for the claim that they can know, in advance, that history is about to be replaced with wish-fulfillment fantasy. That's what this blog post was meant to talk about.

Myriad, the commodity that's soaring in price isn't natural gas, true. It's mineral rights leases in shale gas country, and to a lesser extent, the stock value of gas exploration and production companies. That's where the bubble is; the price of gas, as I suggested, is equivalent to rental costs in the midst of the real estate bubble.

Archivist, as I recall, the original version of Timewave Zero argued that time was speeding up and would reach infinite speed in late 2012, causing the end of history. I think most of us of a certain generation had experiences like that, somewhere in among the tap-dancing spiders and fanged peanut brittle.

Valkyrie, what can I say? I think he's wrong. I'm sure he will say the same thing about me. Still, as I keep on having to point out, the difference between our viewpoints isn't fast crash vs. slow crash; it's fast crash all the way to the bottom vs. fast but incomplete crash, stabilization, partial recovery, rinse and repeat over one to three centuries until things finally bottom out.

Escape, yes, that's the progress side of the delusion -- the Tweedledee of my metaphor. The photos of the tsunami clouds -- good gods, those things are unnerving! Any ancient augur who saw those would be trembling in his toga.

William, human beings are capable of impressive creativity. The people who make crop circles are no exception to that rule. I hope you don't treat their really very lovely handiwork as an excuse not to do the things that will help build a better future.

Professor, I gather I hit a nerve with this week's post. I think if you reread what I wrote, you'll find that I never suggested that there's anything deluded about love, joy, hope, and inner wellbeing. I simply pointed out that it's not helpful to make those things dependent on the fantasy that some outside force is going to pop out of the woodwork and fix the world for us. That's what I've been saying here all along; if you managed to miss that, well, that's no fault of mine, you know.

12/22/11, 1:33 PM

Chris said...
I'm not so sure about this article. Maybe its (very) different on your side of the Atlantic, but here in Europe 2012 , disaster prophecies and all that, are a non-issue. Judging from the people I know I would estimate that fewer than 10% of people here are even aware of there being any prophecies or stories of impending doom in 2012 and the vast majority of those who have heard of such things think of them as a big joke. Is it so different in the US?

12/22/11, 1:35 PM

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
Dear JMG and Nano: The endearing Britishism which is Gas Mark 1 is explained at
as 140oC = 275oF. That explanation is ITSELF not quite right, since 140oC is 284oF rather than 275oF, but I guess such imprecisions can be endured, since I guess it suffices to state oven temperatures to just two significant figures. Additionally, one might note that Gas Mark 2 is explained as 150oC = 300oF.

Signed hastily,

Toomas (Tom) Karmo

12/22/11, 1:41 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Rainbow, I saw that. The thing that I found most striking is the weirdly whiny tone of so many of the quotes.

Mistah C., thank you!

Ceworthe, your timing is good -- I only just now got the notification from Duncan Crary. It's up and listenable here.

Don, no question about that!

12/22/11, 1:45 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Chris, yes, it's an American thing. I'm glad to hear that it hasn't gotten much of a foothold on your side of the pond.

Tom, many thanks!

12/22/11, 1:49 PM said...
"I never suggested that there's anything deluded about love, joy, hope, and inner wellbeing. I simply pointed out that it's not helpful to make those things dependent on the fantasy that some outside force is going to pop out of the woodwork and fix the world for us."

That quote, JMG, and Robert's response, as well, left me thinking about an experience I had a couple weeks ago. It was a frosty day and I was changing the water in the ducks' kiddie pool. The hose had been frozen but had managed to thaw a bit and when I turned it on, a series of icicles a bit smaller in circumference than the inside of the hose slipped out and onto the river rocks of a french drain running next to the pool. It was really quite a striking and beautiful sight and it stuck with me throughout that day and, obviously, beyond.

I took a real joy in that. Similarly, I take a joy in waking up in my cold yurt on a frosty morning to find the farm covered in white. Or in watching the ducks quack and thrash around in their pool, washing themselves and taking their own joy in the water. Or in watching our cats play in the grass, the chickens peck and scratch at the ground, the many birds flit around our farm, and so on.

All of that (or approximations) will exist in our future world, no matter how much suffering a lower-energy existence may temporarily pin on us. This is far too beautiful a planet to not provide joy and love, exuberance and exhilaration even in harsh times. I take comfort in that. I'm in no way prepared for a series of collapses and who knows if I would survive long through such happenings, but knowing that beauty and joy will be there no matter what keeps me hopeful.


12/22/11, 2:04 PM said...
That's also one of the more frustrating aspects of talking with people who believe in space aliens saving us with new technology or some other magical fix. There's so much here already, right now, rooted in the physical world and its existing inhabitants--humans included--that can provide so much hope and joy and optimism, as well as important work to be done. Why can't we engage that reality to good ends instead of making up stories which ultimately prove destructive?


12/22/11, 2:07 PM

Stu from Rutherford said...
Happy Solstice, JMG and all. I'm posting before reading *all* of the comments so I can be timely in this greeting (on the east coast, the solstice is the 22nd - last time for us due to the precession).

JMG, you qualify as a true spiritual leader because you're getting us all to examine ourselves and sometimes even to confess. Yes, I'll admit I've yearned for apocalypse, and did not get completely over it until I started reading your column a few years back.

Thanks to "Anarcheologist" for mentioning the meme "They'll see that I'm right". Made me laugh at myself.

Also - the weekly reportage of past "end of the world"'s is a fabulous idea.

12/22/11, 2:26 PM

jean-vivien said...

concerning grey wizardry and the comments to last week's posts,

1º) someone suggested that we could use microcontrollers long after producing or importing computer parts has become economically too expensive. Microcontrollers are programmable, which means that you need a computer to let them do anything useful at all. I think that "programming" is one aspect of electronics that would change if we tried to maintain some electronic technologies in a salvage society. Basic electronics - radio and the like - are most likely viable options, but for processors - in computers or microcontrollers - I guess human brain activity will likely replace CPU cycles.

Microcontrollers, and computers in general, have been designed as an extra layer of abstraction on an already high level of complexity (transistors, rare earth conductors...). The slow decline we are facing will probably affect the less abstract layers first, making it impossible for the higher layers to exist very long without the lower.

2º) Someone did post a link on thermoelectricity. This paper is testing various materials by calculating the thermoelectric effects you can get with each of them, and the calculations are based on the known properties of the materials. However that study does not seem to focus on any practical aspects - which materials are more apt to get us started somewhere if we want to perform any basement experiment at all ? Has anybody in the academic field ever experimented with that effect and brought it to some practical result ?

3º) I have recently seen an ad in the Paris subway. It is an ad for a dating website, and it goes like this : "I have gotten to meet my neighbour at last !". Surely, it has never occured to the readers of this blog that the Internet could slowly shrink below the level at which it can be viable economically - in the way that we have developped it - for the simple reason that people will slowly move away from it ?
Just like big cities could somewhat downscale a little as it becomes no longer economically attractive. Here, the economical attractiveness is something that also includes quality of life in my view - the current office work culture here is forcing young people to work increasingly long hours, probably because of a higher pressure on the conomy. So being economically viable also includes the quality of life.
My view is that at some point, being too connected to technology could actually hinder us in having basic relationships with other people.

It is not like the current worship of technology could ever change. It is not like the Roman empire itself was accompanied any deep changes in religious beliefs...
Here in France the CSA movement (community supported agriculture, called AMAP here) has been gaining momentum, just because people like it.
So it is important when thinking about technology to wonder both if it is feasible practically AND if people will actually like it in the long term. That is why I hope for Internet's sake that people will learn to like it in a more healthy way !

12/22/11, 2:27 PM

ChemEng said...
I agree with Mr. Greer that you may have missed his basic message, but I also believe with you that, "Love, joy, hope, and inner wellbeing will sustain humanity for as long as humanity is around".

I am only a little younger than you (64 next birthday), and maybe a little more optimistic. As a Christian and an engineer I am not ready to give up on the concept of progress - although I am very willing to discuss the meaning of the word "progress".

This week we just purchased some land, and will soon be building a house. I intend to do what I can to create a "living inheritance" (productive land, a well-insulated home and so on). I expect that my wife and I can ride out the crises, but - and there's always a but - we have children and we have grandchildren.

No one else in my family (or my engineering community) "gets it", and I have stopped preaching. I just do what I can.

Thank you for your comment.

@Mr. Greer
Please don't be too hard on Christians. There are many of us who have no interest in second comings/raptures and the like and find such topics rather strange. And we do understand sacrifice (something about a cross) and self-discipline (see my earlier comments to do with St. Cuthbert).

Whatever your faith, please accept the old fashioned phrase, "The the compliments of the season to you and yours".

12/22/11, 2:46 PM

Richard Larson said...
No, Nevada is to be giant photovoltaic farm! Ha! You need a state with a lot of water for algae farms... :-)

Those in the know should be cheering the bubble in natgas, as such they can still afford to opt out. When the bubble bursts, and the price becomes restrictive, it will be difficult to financially maintain heating purchases of natgas and become equipped with sustainable energy methods.

Bought the book and I like the idea of reviewing past apocalyptic declarations.

12/22/11, 3:02 PM

John Graham said...
If December 21 is Nothing Happened Day, perhaps December 22 will be Nothing Left to Look Forward To day for many - in itself quite a shift in consciousness!!

I wonder how the word 'hope' has been distorted by the myth of progress. What is hope if not 'the belief that things will get better'? Mind you, the idea of 'belief' has changed too.

"Faith, hope and love" - underneath their imposter doubles, are there still these three?

12/22/11, 3:08 PM

ladyimbriumsholocron said...
"the innate cussedness of things"

I laughed aloud at that. I may use that phrase...

Another intriguing post, and I enjoyed the "End of the World of the Week" bit very much.

12/22/11, 4:33 PM

Robert said...
@ Joel (ofthehands)

Yes, indeed! Occasions for joy are everywhere, as is beauty. For me this joy and this beauty are more than enough without any measure of hope.

We have made a yard that many kinds of wild birds find very welcoming, here in New England. Yesterday I watched a female downy woodpecker foraging -- a beautiful small bird, enjoying (so far as I could read her body language) the small challenges of finding food in a fairly generous environment, enjoying the food itself, and enjoying her sharp-beaked victory over a squirrel that had tried to drive her away from some suet.

A few days ago there was a small hawk on a branch just outside one of our windows, visibly enjoying the meal she was making of a juncoe -- though I do not suppose that the juncoe took any joy in being that meal.

Always and everywhere both beauty and terror are seen, and each can bring us closer to the Sacred,to High Reality.

Do you remember how, on 9/11, a man who jumped from the Twin Towers, executed a perfect dive as he went down? Facing his own unavoidable death, that man imposed his own choice of form upon it and made of his fall a thing of heart-stopping beauty as well as gut-wrenching terror. Perhaps he did this only for himself, since he could not know whether anyone else was watching him as he fell. (When you know that you must die right now, you might as well create some small thing of beauty as you go down, for whatever joy it may bring you.)

I take from that man a lesson for myself as I age and the world I used to know crumbles under the weight of its own profligacy.

12/22/11, 4:35 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
It was a rather odd Yule dawn here. As a prelude, the solstice occurred within a few minutes of local apparent midnight here, meaning that technically speaking the sun reached about the farthest negative altitude, and the night was about as long, as is mathematically possible. By just fractions of a second and an arc-second, of course, but it was still a noteworthy alignment.

Then we had a mostly cloudy dawn, which is not unusual here, but with enough breaks that the clouds were growing progressively more rosy-orange as the dawn approached. Until a few minutes before the scheduled sunrise, when the red glow rapidly faded! It looked like the sun had decided to turn around and go back down, in spite of the persistent drumming! Of course it was just a trick of the light caused by the shifting breaks in the clouds, but it was a peculiar (and a bit unnerving) thing to see during the dawn that is supposed to mark the turning of the seasons and the promise of ultimate spring.

I have a suspicion that 2012 might be an echo of 1968, a year when many things come to a head. Of course 1968 was not the end of the world, and neither will next year be.

As for the Shale Gas Bubble, let's just hope this thing pops before it wreaks even more havoc on the rural landscape than the Housing Bubble did. Unfortunately, this does not seem likely.

Lenticular clouds, by the way, are a dramatic but exceedingly well known and widespread phenomenon. They are the crests of standing waves in atmospheric currents. Though best known from mountainous areas (where they are triggered by the topography), they also turn up in flatlands when there are especially strong jet streams overhead. Think of them as being analogous to the whitecaps that form on top of standing water waves in a rapidly-flowing river. Those Yorkshire photos are very impressive examples, indeed!

12/22/11, 4:39 PM

Mister Roboto said...
@JMG: Yes, the diabetes is under control.

Chris Balow: I really do believe there is such a thing as the collective unconscious, and it really wouldn't surprise me at all if it turned out we have been setting things up to go critical in 2012 on that murky level of consciousness. Of course, we probably wouldn't have done any such thing had it not been for the impetus provided by the prevalence of the 2012 apocalyptic myth in the dominant culture!

I have long thought that in the unlikely event that any such prophecies actually come true, it will be because we used our collective-unconscious magic to will the event into existence. So if something roughly similar to events in the Book of Revelation came to pass, it wouldn't be because the Christian Bible is absolute truth; rather, it would be because enough people believed in it strongly enough to give their metaphysical power to the whole "Beast of the Apocalypse" narrative.

It would still be really quite awful were something like that to actually happen. That's just one reason why it will be so important for metaphysically aware folks such as the readers of this blog to keep a clear head and not "give their power away" to apocalyptic narratives.

12/22/11, 7:50 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Ofthehands, thank you! That's exactly the point -- love, joy, hope, et al. are all around us even in the harshest times. Not only is it not necessary to believe in apocalyptic fantasy to have these things, to my mind, apocalyptic fantasy gets in the way of them. It's the ultimate form of provisional living: everything gets put off until the world we have is replaced with the world people think they want.

Stu, happy solstice. I don't see myself as any sort of spiritual leader, and I'm not at all sure that such critters exist; I teach an old-fashioned and somewhat unpopular craft, is all. Still, if my rants have been helpful to you, I'm delighted to hear it.

Jean-Vivien, very true. My own guess is that microcontrollers will no longer be economically viable once wages drop to the point that hiring a person to do the job is cheaper than paying a share of what it costs to build and maintain the massive infrastructure needed to make microcontrollers make sense. So much of modern technology is no more than a set of complicated gimmicks for doing what a human being can do with ten minutes of on-the-job training. As for people's preferences changing -- yes, precisely. It's the religion of progress that makes the cult of the machine seem to make sense; as progress loses its shine, I suspect we'll see massive changes in attitudes and opinions.

ChemEng, good heavens, I certainly didn't mean my remark to be taken as a blanket critique of Christians -- my apologies if it came across that way. Some of the people I had in mind do belong to one or another Christian church, but quite a few others don't -- dubious beliefs about the future are very widely distributed among the world's traditions, you know, as are attitudes of a more adaptive sort.

Richard, I've seen apparently serious arguments for filling Nevada with algae farms. The water? Oh, that's just a detail that'll be solved once they get to it. I wish I was joking. As for natural gas, exactly -- we've got maybe five years of unreasonably cheap natural gas, which means that those of us with gas furnaces, etc. have five years to get a replacement or a backup in place, and some spare money to do it. That could be very useful.

John, the question of what counts as hope in an age of decline is a hugely important one, and very likely needs a post to itself. As for your final question, though, yes, there are still those three -- "and the greatest of these is love."

Lady I., you're welcome to use it.

Bill, I'm used to lenticular clouds as an orogenic phenomenon -- you get saucer-shaped ones over Mt. Rainier all the time. Seeing them making waves on relatively flat land was eerie.

Mister R., glad to hear it.

12/22/11, 8:51 PM

Lance Michael Foster said...
JMG, I bought "Apocalypse Not" and I think it is probably the most brilliant book you have written. You are doing your great work in these books, my friend. Indeed, what "spirituality" finds satisfaction in the destruction of the world? Even the earth and sky doesn't last forever...which is what makes life so very precious.

The last chapter... :-) Yes, this is the time we are on this earth, and really, the end of the world meme... when we die, it is the end of the world anyway (for us anyways ;-) So do your work, live the day your were given, drink the sweet nectar of each day's blossom like a honeybee at its sacred task.

It is a good day to die, the Lakota said, not in a way of self-destruction, but a recognition that today is a sacred day, a moment in time of perfection, that all the good things in life are here and now, at this very moment.

And so from Marcus Aurelius to Epictetus, again Stoicism being misread as some dour self-denial, but no, it is the recognition of the sufficiency and perfection of the moment, clear-eyed, cognizant of death, memento mori. Ethics and the way of the impeccable warrior as perfection, as in the movie "Gladiator." Or as Cat Stevens sang in his best song:

Oh very young, what will you leave us this time
You're only dancin' on this earth for a short while
And though your dreams may toss and turn you now
They will vanish away like your dads best jeans
Denim blue, faded up to the sky
And though you want them to last forever
You know they never will
(you know they never will)
And the patches make the goodbye harder still.

Oh very young what will you leave us this time
There'll never be a better chance to change your mind
And if you want this world to see a better day
Will you carry the words of love with you
Will you ride the great white bird into heaven
And though you want to last forever
You know you never will
(you know you never will)
And the goodbye makes the journey harder still.

Will you carry the words of love with you
Will you ride, oh, oooh

Oh very young, what will you leave us this time
You're only dancin' on this earth for a short while
Oh very young, what will you leave us this time

12/22/11, 9:24 PM

Cathy McGuire said...
Solstice greetings to you all, and thanks again, JMG, for another good post. I admit to having had some of the “yearning for apocalypse” that you describe, and I can see where it can paralyze or let people off the hook in some situations. OTOH, I also caught myself feeling a bit more “free” in the sense of “freed from social burdens” when considering “what if this were my last year?” As someone who was always too much of a “good girl”, I know it’s way past time for me to be acting from my own inner sense of meaning. Now I’m working to practice self-motivated action without the apocalyptic prod.

I had an interesting synchronicity happen this Solstice morning – for the first time ever, the woodstove leapt back into blazing life, after having died down overnight! Not sure how or why, but I heard crackling, and opened it to find a chunk of half-burned wood started up again. I took it as a good omen (I’d ceremoniously started a new fire at dusk the night before, and tried to keep it going at least until bedtime) and laid on more wood. So I hope that bodes well for 2012.

A few little comments:
All I have to do is find out what "gas mk 1" amounts to in degrees Fahrenheit, which is what's marked on the dials of ovens here in America1 (That and figure out which gluten-free flour blend will work best, since my spouse has celiac disease.)

Dunno about Brit gas, but rice flour works for me in most cake recipes…

Still, as I keep on having to point out, the difference between our viewpoints isn't fast crash vs. slow crash; it's fast crash all the way to the bottom vs. fast but incomplete crash, stabilization, partial recovery, rinse and repeat over one to three centuries until things finally bottom out.

Difference between falling out the window and falling down the stairs…;-)

Oh, and I just listened to the Kunslercast – very good! The amount of data you have at your fingertips is amazing, JMG.

12/22/11, 9:54 PM

SophieGale said...
Yahoo is reporting two 5.8 earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand about 2 hrs ago (1:58 pm. local time) seriously putting shoppers out of the holiday mood. Hope our NZ readers are all safe.

I've been celebrating the Winter Turning by reading Celebrate the Solstice: Honoring the Earth’s Seasonal Rhythms through Festival and Ceremony by Richard Heinberg. Yep, in 1993 he was exploring Peak Daylight. Here's a video of RH on "Peak Oil and a Happy Future."

The first trailer came out this week for Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. It looks like everything LOTR fans have been craving, and it opens December 14, 2012--so I am thinking the Mayan Apocalypse is about to be wildly upstaged. Although, I surely not the only person to have noticed that Dec. 21 is a Friday. Truly an excuse to party like there is no tomorrow. One local wag has already mentioned making reservations at Milliway's (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe).

One more thing, following up on the discussion of how to hang on to the family farm during hard times: This hit my radar a couple days ago "Do Farmers Need to Incorporate?"

The author Jason Foscolo writes Food Law Blog

12/22/11, 9:54 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Lance, thank you! And the Cat Stevens song -- oh man, that takes me back.

Cathy, glad you enjoyed the podcast. Rice flour -- well, possibly. Sara has a bunch of different flour blends for home baking, with three or four flours each; one makes good bread, another's for cookies, and so on. As for the sense of freedom that comes from the confrontation with transience, don't give that up -- and you don't need an apocalypse to give you that gift! I really am going to have to do something on the meaning of hope in a dark time here.

Sophie, have you read Richard's book on legends of paradise? That was actually the first thing of his I ever read; it's a very readable book, as I recall. As for the Jackson Hobbit, hmm; I was severely underwhelmed by the trilogy, but he might have learned a thing or two. Either way, I doubt it will upstage the 2012 business; unless I very much miss my guess, this is going to be an end of the world movement for the record books.

12/22/11, 10:20 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Professor (offlist), thank you. Of course you have every right to believe as you will, and time (and not that much of it, all things considered) will show which of us is right. 'Nuf said.

12/22/11, 10:22 PM

Karen said...
Dear Mr. Greer,

"...(That and figure out which gluten-free flour blend will work best, since my spouse has celiac disease.).."

Have you tried "blanched" Almond flour? I have started using it instead of normal gluten-free flour.

Here is a link to a lady that offers a cookbook on using almond flour:


12/23/11, 1:57 AM

Yupped said...
I guess a yearning for anything, apocalypse or whatever, is just a set of thoughts in the head. And we take comfort in them and seek out other sources and people to agree with us and soon we have a full blown ideology, a mental habit, that keeps us going for a while.

I've been through various phases of ideology in my life. Once I was a teenage socialist, then a market-worshipper, then a religious seeker, then an anti-corporate bore with a secret hankering for collapse. Embarrassing!

And now I'm, hopefully, just trying to potter about and live day to day in a way that is sustainable, to the degree that I can. This pragmatic approach makes me happy, and it seems more real. But I know that there are elements of ideology and mental habit even in my commitment to steady, pragmatic action.

So in contemplating this over the last day (thanks JMG for always giving me fodder for reflection), there seem to be a few things to check oneself against, regardless of your belief system, such as: am I getting anything accomplished that is practical, helpful and enjoyable? am I taking too much comfort from sitting on the Internet all day reading stuff that agree with me? am I open to changing my mind as reality evolves and events come along? am I expecting change to unfold in a certain way, and looking desperately for signs that it is and being disappointed when it doesn't?

I'll try to do better on each of these with the extra daylight that lies ahead.

12/23/11, 5:19 AM

Jennifer D Riley said...
Have just received The Wealth of Nature from my library. The requisition was fulfilled by the Law College Library of William and Mary, impressive location and good to know their acquisition department has the right taste.

For anyone fretting about employment, my local community college offers online courses. The New York Times last week had an article on the MIT online courses. In 2012, MIT will announce the dollar amount they'll require if you want to take their online courses and purchase a certificate.

My organic farm class begins 4Jan12. A fruitful holiday season wish to all.

12/23/11, 8:34 AM

Michael Tweiten said...
Thanks for another fun and intriguing post!

Could you comment further on the concept of "the Great Turning". You disparaged David Korten's take on it in his book by the same name in The Long Descent as a quasi-apocalyptic justification for adoption of a liberal political agenda. I am more interested in the deeper psychological aspects of how the myth is involved in personal transformation. I believe he got the concept from ecopsychologist Joanna Macy who defines it as "the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization."

Is presenting the turning away from an industrial energy-dependent mythology and mindset, and turning towards a earth centered mythology and mindset, with overtones of a personal apocalypse necessary to people in our culture so steeped in these kinds of stories? Or are you saying that even without a promise of an utopian world on the otherside; just a turning towards earth-centered sensibility; the epochal/ apocalypic myth is a source of interference?

Thank you, I appreciate the weekly dose of insight.

12/23/11, 12:09 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Karen, thank you! We use a fair amount of almond flour, especially in blends for cookies and the like; still, I'll certainly check out the link.

Yupped, excellent. It's precisely in the day by day choices we make that, it seems to me, is where real change becomes possible.

Jennifer, good heavens. That's good to hear.

Michael, no, I didn't. I criticized Korten's The Great Turning as a profoundly antidemocratic tract arguing that certain people (those with what Korten calls "spiritual consciousness," which is explicitly defined as those people who share his background and worldview) are more fit to lead than anybody else, and those who disagree with Korten's views belong to lower "developmental stages" -- a fact which he thinks ought to render them unfit for taking part in collective decisionmaking. (I'd encourage you to revisit my review of Korten's book, which you can find in three parts here, here, and here.

That said, though, I can certainly answer your specific question. The apocalyptic myth, at its core, is based on the claim that someone or something else is going to fix things; whether it's Jesus or the space brothers or an arbitrary shift in collective consciousness, some force outside the life and efforts of the individual does the work that only individual lives and efforts can accomplish. Thus I see apocalyptic fantasies, whether they're overtly supernatural or embodied in the sort of authoritarian politics Korten is offering, as a major obstacle to the work ahead of us. What we need, I would suggest, is not a Great Turning but a great many Little Turnings -- one for each of us, and each one creatively different from the others.

12/23/11, 12:40 PM

Petro said...
"For that matter, the vast majority of those who insist they’re part of the 99% these days benefit hugely from the systematic imbalances that give the 5% of humanity that live in the United States around a quarter of the world’s energy resources and around a third of its raw materials and industrial output."

Ain't it the everlovin' truth.

12/23/11, 1:03 PM

Hal said...
A few hours left to wish you all a very merry Advent. A season we might consider very pregnant with possibilities. Wonder what it will look like next year?

Nothing Happened Day. I love it. I made similar pronouncements around Y2K and another prediction about California falling into the ocean that came out of a channeling session some people I deeply cared about were influenced by a couple of decades ago. Of course, it's not impossible, but the probability that a very specific, or all-encompassing prediction will happen on an exact date given is so small, that the null hypothesis can be pretty confidently stated. Nope. Will not happen.

As far as any reaction is concerned, those 2012 prophesies don't seem to have made much of a ripple here in the MS Delta, or among anyone I know elsewhere, including the most woo-woo. It's been mentioned a lot in the online media, but I don't get the sense anyone's taking it seriously.

Of course, there is that stupid movie, but then, I didn't see any widespread lifestyle or political changes after "The Day After Tomorrow," either.

Heh. Word verification is "mipsi." "Me psychic?" or a child's first attempt at Mississippi?

12/23/11, 1:10 PM

siddrudge said...

It was great hearing you on Jim Kunstler's podcast. I think JHK is genuinely in awe of not only your exceptional gift for writing, but how you manage this most respectful blog.

The Archdruid Report is one of my greatest discoveries. You and all the wonderful folks who comment here have greatly enriched my life. Thank you for that.

You mentioned on the Kunstlercast the fact that old organizations such as the local Granges, Masons etc. were often a source for health care long before employers started that practice. I wasn't aware of that, but come to think of it I do recall my grandfather, who belonged to his local Elks organization, mentioned how that group provided generous care for him during a bout with Tuberculosis back in the '40's.

12/23/11, 2:12 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Petro, oh, granted, but it's a truth very few people want to think about!

Hal, and a merry Advent to you and yours as well! I'm glad to hear that the 2012 business is not getting much attention down there in the delta; these things tend to vary regionally. Still, we'll see how it unfolds.

Sidd, thank you! You know, I bet if you contacted your local Elks lodge and told them your grandfather was a member, your chances of learning about the old fraternal lodges up close and personal, so to speak, would go up steeply. ;-) There's a lot to be learned and, at least potentially, a lot to be gained by reviving the old institutions of civil society, and now's the time -- the next big round of economic contraction is going to be very hard on a lot of them, and those with members below retirement age will be a lot more likely to pull through.

12/23/11, 2:41 PM

SLClaire said...
Happy Solstice to everyone! I and a number of other folks watched the sunrise at the recreated Woodhenge, the astronomical calendar at Cahokia Mounds on the Illinois side of the St. Louis metro area. Cahokia was at one time (about 1000 CE and for some time before and after) the largest city in North America. Charles C. Mann includes a discussion of Cahokia in his book 1491, if you're interested in learning more.

About 15 minutes before the time of sunrise, we saw a bit of a red sky, apparently the result of a small hole in the layer or two of clouds. At sunrise itself the cloud layers hid the sun. But we did get to see the running of the deer elsewhere on site, and it was almost windless and relatively warm for our winter.

I bought Apocalypse Not a couple weeks ago while visiting my parents at their retirement condo in Florida. My parents (ages 78 and 86) run the tv almost all the time, and most of the time it's tuned to Fox Noise or a local news program. Reading your book gave me a sane place in the middle of the broadcast noise - thank you for that, and for taking the edge off my sometime-tendency to fall into the apocalyptic meme. I'll be able to refer back to the book when needed to ground myself and get back to the work of meeting the challenges of decline.

12/23/11, 3:21 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

Aaah, Christmas. A time when friends and acquaintences are welcome to drop by, but family is by appointment only.

I'm not sure whether incorporation of a farm will provide any protection from taxes. The reason for my uncertainty is that in the eyes of the law a person and a company are seen as one and the same. I think having putting land ownership into a company structure adds another layer of complexity. In Australia, it may also expose you to both land tax (state) and capital gains tax (federal).

Good luck with that one!



12/23/11, 3:30 PM

david k said...
Thanks, JMG, for the holiday gift. I just ordered my copy and can't wait to read it.

12/23/11, 5:39 PM

Repent said...
I was well aware of the natural gas bubble, resulting from ponzi land trading schemes; Shhh! Shhh!They might wake up and charge us real rates for the natural gas, and I'm enjoying cheap gas while it lasts.

The market does appear to me to be somewhat magical in nature. I went to a store and bought 4 litres of chocolate milk today. I've never picked a coco tree, I've never made chocolate, nor do I know how to shepherd cows. Isn't it a small miracle that I can consume the end result anytime that I want too for minimal cost?? (The same goes for just about anything a person can buy- I wouldn't know how to make clothes if my life depended on it- and it might)

As for aliens, I was really hoping that SETI or something similar will discover them before we no longer have the technology to look for them. From the masterpiece 'Solaris', we don't really need other worlds; we're just looking for new mirrors with which to see ourselves differently. I hope the aliens do show up before the collapse. Having another civilization to compare and contrast ourselves with would be enlighting; how we failed, what we could have done better, and where did we exceed them? This could be a cataylst for improvement. (If it ever happens)

Here a link to one scientist who believes the (human) world will end soon due to catastrophic climate change:

He may yet prove to be right.

12/23/11, 7:18 PM

Ozark Chinquapin said...
I've read Apocalypse Not recently, and think it's quite a good book overall. There's just one thing I've been wanting to ask you, having to do not only with Apocalypse Not but also with the long descent scenario.

I'm in agreement with you that catabolic collapse is the most likely scenario, that we'll follow a similar sort of trajectory as other collapsed civilizations. However, when I consider all the nuclear weapons around and the potential destruction they could cause, I keep thinking they are something that could possibly turn things into a fast crash that could be considered apocalyptic. Of course, this is certainly not a desirable scenario, and any survivors would just have an immensely rough road ahead of them rather than the paradise envisioned by many apocalyptic scenarios. I remember you making a brief reference to nuclear apocalypse scenarios in the book, but nothing that convinced me that such a scenario couldn't happen.

I would appreciate your thoughts on the matter of nuclear war, as you've pretty much convinced me that other things I used to think could precipitate an apocalyptic crash won't do any such thing, and that they have many parallels in history. However I any histdon't see any historical parallel for nuclear weapons. We have managed to avoid nuclear war so far and sure hope we will continue to do so, but with the effects of resource depletion in a nuclear world, it's a significant concern for me. Will you be discussing this at all in your posts on the decline of the American empire?

I also see no historical parallel for the effects of nuclear energy, but these don't have the apocalyptic potential as the effects of radiation are insidious and show up over time, except for extreme doses. I consider the nuclear reactors will probably have the effect of making the descent steeper toward the end, deeper down to the bottom, and slower to recover than it would be otherwise.

12/23/11, 7:39 PM

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...
As JMG so aptly responded to Michael, it is the diversity of effort born of a willing consideration of our all too evident predicament that offers the best hope for some continuity, or barring that the salvage, of the most useful elements of our social and economic constructs. The desperate tossing of all eggs into an apocalyptic fantasy basket is not particularly helpful, except maybe as demarcation of an outlier perspective. My sincere appreciation to all for their considered contribution to the Archdruid's weekly insights.

12/23/11, 9:50 PM

John Wheeler said...
@Stuart Long -- "apocalypse" is a Greek word, usually translated "revelation of the hidden" or "lifting of the veil". I would add "sudden shift of consciousness" to this list. All of these do not require any disaster, but frequently do accompany them.

@mistah charley -- that most definitely is not the movie I saw -- it was a documentary on Bali history and culture -- but the one you suggests looks very interesting. (I have added it to my Netflix queue.)

@Susan -- not to steal JMG's thunder, but almost anytime you hear an industry estimate, you can add the phrase "at any price" to it. We may very well have centuries worth of natural gas locked up in shale, if we could pay $1000 per mcf, instead of the $3.50 it is now from shale gas.

12/23/11, 9:56 PM

carlosbenari said...
Off topic, but in line with other I saw this week. Not really to be posted on line, I think.

My wife also suffers from the Celiac syndrome, and we made some time ago a nice discovery: adding xanthan gum to the dough produced very good results (and we thought before that that we alredy know all about the complicated glutenless praxis...)

Carlos Ben Ari from Kfar Saba, Israel

12/24/11, 2:00 AM

Jim said...

One of my finds of 2011 was discovering your blog and your writing.

I just finished "The Ecotechnic Future," which helped me better frame many of the things I've been feeling/thinking about and begin to coalesce those things into something tangible and preparatory.

The garden has been going for a few years, but this year, I will increase the size of my small plot.

As a writer, I'm in awe of your prolific nature and number of books that continues to grow.

Enjoyed the new "End of the World" feature.

I enjoy the blog and the thoughtful, and respectful tone of the comments and commenters, a real feat in our less than cordial state of talking past one another, facilitated by our technology.

I'll close by wishing you a Happy Solstice (I'm in northern New England, so it's winter for me, also) and look forward to reading more of your writing in 2012.

12/24/11, 5:46 AM

Jason said...
I've heard every JMG audio I think and this kunstlercast was the most enjoyable and satisfying. A foil who can keep pace and come up with his own angles makes much of the difference.

It did get me thinking about why the current generation can't go for ap. tech. It has a lot to do with the much-maligned 60s. I used to hate it when people talked about how 'optimistic' the 60s were -- since nothing came of it the optimism was delusory, was my thought.

But the ap. tech. movement was all about ok, back to the land is the next trip man. And it's going to be an interesting ride. The whole idea of junking the system as it stood was in the air. People thought it stank. Bateson was interacting with R.D. Laing and Jules Henry, systems theory was happening alongside rock, everyone was beginning to suspect the standard-issue 'American Lifestyle' was pompous hypocritical neurosis. It did seem possible that simply 'dropping out' of the mainstream and preparing to live differently was the more rational route. It did seem that working out how to live like a hobbit could actually be the exhilarating ride JMG's spiritual vision showed it could be, if the challenge were accepted.

Much of the dropping out might have been little more than amiable loafing but the spirit of the times was more useful than some now allow and there's no sign of it today. The argument for techni-comfort has won out completely. The majority is not in the mood for a challenge and doesn't believe it could in principle be worthwhile.

So I agree, not looking great for this generation's response so far. It may be up to the pop culture to show a way forward as it did then. Or have the suits prevented it?

12/24/11, 6:55 AM

Mister Roboto said...
I hope you don't mind us TAR readers commenting on your Kunstlercast appearance here. If not, I certainly won't take it personally if you elect to delete this comment. :-)

I agree that on some "deep-down" level, all of us in US society know that we had a choice to make thirty years ago and that we made a catastrophically wrong choice. When you contrast this "deep-down" knowing with the official, socially-acceptable public ideology, the result is cognitive dissonance on a massive scale. I would go so far as to say that this cognitive dissonance makes very many of my experiences of society as an adult far more readily understood. This includes, as Chris B. pointed out, the "Apocalypse Now Or Later" fantasies (referring to how the fruition date of "predictions" such as the Scallion Map keep getting pushed always further into the future when Nothing Happens at the appointed time) that have been proliferating like acne on a teenage boy's face.

Also, if the Millenials don't "get it" yet (being the least homophobic generation to have existed in my lifetime, I have something of a soft-spot for them), I am not inclined to throw stones at them, having lived in something of a glass house myself for a period of time. When I was unable to obtain a middle-class job back in the late nineties/ early aughts, I took it very personally for a while. This was because it had been instilled into me from many sources for many years that a great deal of the measure of my self-worth would rest in my ability to secure admission into the mainstream middle class. It was only upon understanding what has really been happening and why for the past thirty years that I have been able to peel away the outer layers of this dysfunctional conditioning.

And also, I don't doubt that the ongoing posting of highlights from your book about failed apocalyptic predictions will be both informative and hilarious. :-)

12/24/11, 7:37 AM

John Michael Greer said...
SLClaire, glad to hear it! I'd like to think that the book might help a few people avoid getting caught up in what promises to be a major outbreak of apocalypse fever.

Cherokee, almost certainly depends on details of local and national law, and I'd be the last person to try to guess how Australian law treats corporations.

David, thank you! I hope you enjoy it.

Repent, I figure we've got around five years of unrealistically low natural gas prices ahead of us, before the consequences of the end of the bubble hit. Make use of that while you can -- and get some other means of heating your home in place before there's a rush.

Ozark, nuclear weapons can kill a lot of people, true; so can a lot of other things. I've pointed out in previous posts here, though, that a sudden massive blow -- a nuclear exchange, a lethal pandemic, or what have you -- is actually a lot easier to get through, and to recover on the far side of, than the sort of slow decline we'll get otherwise. Anything that lowers the population suddenly leaves a lot of resource flows available to the survivors, and outside of the blast zones, most facilities and other economic capital will remain intact; thus it's another stairstep jolt, with a high likelihood of a substantial degree of recovery afterwards.

Lloyd, thank you. You get tonight's gold star for getting it.

Carlos, thank you for the suggestion! A lot of people use either xanthan gum, guar gum, or pectin in baked goods that need a binder; we've had particularly good luck with pectin -- you can do very good gluten free pie crusts, wraps, biscuits and yeast bread with it.

Jim, thank you, and a happy solstice to you and yours!

Jason, I don't think that the suits have prevented it. I think most people desperately don't want to go that way -- those who were around in 1980 because it reminds them too much of the idealism they betrayed, those who weren't because they've grown up in a bubble of technology and can't imagine living without a mass of technogimmicks. What it's going to take to break that is a small number of people willing to do the thing, no matter how uncool it looks, and show by example that living with much less energy doesn't mean going back to the caves.

Mister R., you may well be right. I wonder what it would take to help people who've grown up thinking that their value as a person depends on getting a corporate job break free of that self-defeating head space and step out into the wider world?

And finally, a happy solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, or what have you to all my readers here at The Archdruid Report!

12/24/11, 2:43 PM

Ozark Chinquapin said...
I guess I should've framed my statement as from a US perspective specifically, as I imagine many countries would be spared direct hits even in a major world war, and the southern hemisphere would likely have much less radioactive fallout.

I would just think that if a decent minority of the 26,000 warheads in existence globally exploded on US soil and most of the rest on other developed countries, most of that infrastructure that you're counting on surviving to help recover would be destroyed also, and then the shocked world would have to deal with the fallout and nuclear winters. That is opposed to a pandemic which would only kill a lot of people but leave the infrastructure, environment, and resource flows intact. Does anyone have any information that suggests that a major nuclear war involving the US wouldn't be as bad as I think, as I'm not an expert and just working off scenarios I've read and heard over time?

I agree with you JMG that recovery would happen eventually, but wouldn't it take much longer from nuclear war than a pandemic because of the destruction of infrastructure and poisoning of the environment. It seems like a scenario that many people going through it would perceive as apocalyptic, but it may not fit your definition.

I don't think this scenario is the most likely one, but it's still one I can't discount.

12/24/11, 5:23 PM

Rita said...
It is amazing to me how someone can look at the histories of cultures and still appear to believe that our current progress will go ever upward. I just finished reading Why the West Rules—For Now: the Patterns of History and What They Reveal About the Future, by Ian Morris. Morris works out a scale to grade the social development of cultures based on energy capture, urbanism, information processing and ability to make war. The majority of the book is spent tracing the progresses, and occasional setbacks of the West and the East, concluding that the East, centered on China, is overtaking the West and may pass it about 2100. As befits a Stanford professor, he is careful not attribute the current lead of the West to racial or social superiority. Like Jared Diamond he gives a great deal of credit to the geography of Europe which encouraged ship building, first to make use of the Mediterranean, then to cross the Atlantic. China concentrated on internal trade and would have had a much longer voyage to reach the Americas in significant numbers. But Morris seems oblivious to the fact that energy capture and energy use are not the same thing. Agriculture and domestication of animals does capture more of the sun’s energy for human use than hunting and gathering. So does development of wind and water powered machinery. But the use of coal and oil as the Arch Druid has pointed out, only uses what has been stored. To claim otherwise is to act as if inheriting a fortune is the same as earning one. Morris cites predictions of future energy use that seem completely impossible (116 million barrels of oil per day by 2030, up from 86 million in 2007) without ever asking where that oil is coming from. He mentions the need for nuclear energy, brushing aside the problems of radioactivity. The race between East and West is enlivened by an imagined contest between the opposing possibilities of Nightfall and the Singularity. Nightfall is a complete collapse of civilization and culture, named after the Isaac Asimov story about a planet whose multiple suns only set simultaneously hundreds of years apart. The resulting nightfall causes panic and collapse so complete that the memory is not preserved to warn the future generation for whom it will happen. Singularity is the concept of humans and computers merging, suggested by Ray Kurzweil. Morris seems to lean much more toward Singularity than to Nightfall as our destiny.
If this is the sort of drivel turned out by award winning historians it is no wonder the average citizen is unconvinced the arc of history is going anywhere other than up.

12/24/11, 9:29 PM

garylowens said...
@William Hunter Duncan (and JMG) re crop circles

While some are made by humans, some seem not to be.
has some research on the magnetic and plant abnormalities seen in the "non-conventional" crop circles, as well as a connection to the underlying type of rock and water table influencing electrical charge, etc.

It's now an open question, with no clear answers, other than there are data which we currently cannot honestly explain, so we must be patient while those doing real research pick around the edges of the problem until enough advances are made.

Our physics _is_, as Feynman said, an expanding frontier of ignorance.

And then how to explain how a Dutch psychic can tell that a particular circle was hoaxed (and details on the hoaxer) from a photo!

In the fringe areas between "hard/real science" and "religion", (a) nobody knows (yet) where to begin in honestly solving the mind/body problem, psi, cases of the reincarnation type, etc., and (b) a major advance thereof will mean big loss of face for either/both materialism and religion, so the materialist (pseudo-)scientists and the turf-defending religionists both attack parapsychologists/psi researchers for even trying.

The lure of the singular, all-encompassing, certain, unchanging, and immediate answer is very strong. But the price of stasis is no learning/adaptation.

12/25/11, 2:29 AM

Bert L. said...
I’m glad to hear that you will be talking more about the Fracking boom because here in West Virginia it is looking like a replay of the same old boom-bust industries that steal our natural wealth and leave only environmental disasters in their wake.

The rush for gas is being driven by the highest levels of power in the U.S., namely huge corporations and specifically Halliburton. Unlike the U.S. government, it seems pretty certain that these powerful industries have a careful plan in mind. After all, they have been setting the scene for the current rush for several decades. I doubt that they will be satisfied with only a few years of payback.

The fact that natural gas is not an easily stored commodity, relative to oil, will play heavily in the developing scenario. It will do no good to release huge supplies of gas if it cannot be economically stored. I understand that plans are well underway to convert US seaports for exporting a great deal of it, so much for U.S. energy future. It will be the Chinese and other world powers who will be setting the price for natural gas.

On the other hand, the rush may simply be to get as much drilling technology, as possible, sold, before the first destructive, fracking caused earthquake hits or the first major community water supply is destroyed.

12/25/11, 5:21 AM

Mel, Foxtail Farm said...

I live in shale gas country (eastern Ohio), and I've noticed a few things that make me think that the bubble is getting dangerously close to popping.

First, the prices the speculators are paying for mineral rights have taken a sharp turn upward, which will of course attract more speculators, and we all know how that story ends.

Second, a month or so ago I was talking with an acquaintance who has been out of work for a long time (he used to be in construction). He passed on to me the stories he's heard of the desperate need for workers in the gas industry, and the high incomes they can earn. He plans to take classes in welding so that he can get a job building the tanker trucks.

The thing is, I've lived through this before. I was in high school in the late 90s, when all the buzz was about the desperate need for computer technicians, and how it would take 30 years to fill that need. Since I liked programming well enough and didn't know what else I was going to do, I signed up for computer science at the university in 1998. Before I had finished, the dot-com crash and then the off-shoring of tech jobs made my prospects very thin.

My point is, I'm now highly suspicious of any claims about some "hot new field". It seems to me that they are mostly propaganda by industry and schools, the first to lower their employment costs by increasing the worker pool, and the second to entice the tuition out of people desperate for any chance. Of course those same people are the ones that feel much of the pain when the bubble bursts.


On another note, I just read an article that illustrates one facet of the decline. In 16 states, drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death, surpassing auto accidents which used to be at the. A decrease in driving is partly responsible for that statistic, but drug use is increasing as well. According to the same article, in several states, the number of infants born addicted to drugs has skyrocketed over the last decade.

12/25/11, 5:45 AM

dltrammel said...
Repent said:
Here a link to one scientist who believes the (human) world will end soon due to catastrophic climate change:

He may yet prove to be right.

Now that just ruined my day, lol. Sitting at the table looking at the turkey, I know can invision what it felt like in the oven.

Ozark Chinquanpin said:
Does anyone have any information that suggests that a major nuclear war involving the US wouldn't be as bad as I think, as I'm not an expert and just working off scenarios I've read and heard over time?

Yes, a full out nuclear exchange would ruin everyone's day, but you have to ask yourself what possible scenario would lead to that. IMO very little. The big arsenals are controlled by governments that have a vested interest in the status quo and very unlikely to go to war.

More likely you will see one or two limited uses as conflicts over resources and political tensions increase. Something on the order of less than a dozen warheads.

I can see the India/Pakistan situation as the most likely to do this over the next decade, with a destabilized Middle East a slim possibility of a terror or retaliatory strike.

We'll be facing then with something like Japan's situation, local areas of disaster, limited regional lasting effects, and the rest of the World continuing on with the day to day struggles.

(Same goes for a powerplant accident here in the US.)

I live in Missouri, and while the destruction of Joplin this Summer by tornado was catstrophic, now six months later it has all but fade from the broader public eye, replaced by the holiday rush to get that deal at the local Wal-Mart.

We are an incredibly short sighted species when it comes to disaters that don't directly effect us.

12/25/11, 8:24 AM

Cathy McGuire said...
I just wanted to again voice my thanks for this blog – my best Xmas gift (of course, with my family having NO idea what to do with a poet and a societal drop out, that isn’t really a high bar ;-}) I enjoy being able to come online and get a dose of sanity and enjoy the wonderful discussions. And I really, really value a group that is not afraid of using big words! ;-D Seriously, when I use the word “nonplussed” family & friends act like I was trying to bludgeon them (oh, and “bludgeon”). Thanks to all of you who also love words.

I’ve spent the holiday reading 8th century Chinese poets, and I’m amazed (shouldn’t be) that so much is the same – the poets writing about how losing, or not getting, middle class jobs and stature make them less in the eyes of family and themselves; their anguish over watching the natural landscape be destroyed for greed… oh, it’s sad and lovely to read. Does make me think that perhaps we humans are more biologically-driven than we want to accept.

@Jason: Much of the dropping out might have been little more than amiable loafing but the spirit of the times was more useful than some now allow and there's no sign of it today. The argument for techni-comfort has won out completely.

I disagree. It may seem that way only because we are now used to getting our “news” and perception of the wider world through the mainstream news outlets, which are ignoring (mostly) those who have decided on more sustainable lifestyles. I think there are thousands (maybe a million!) in the industrial countries who have gone back to the earth –mostly they blog, when they have time to do any outreach. But they (we) are there.
PS- my "codeword" today was "beckastr" - Beck, a star? I think not!

12/25/11, 8:48 AM

Lance Michael Foster said...
This is going to sound weird, but... When I was in my 20s I had a dream. It was the night before Reagan's reelection. Someone, spirit or an angel maybe, told me in that dream that we now knew what Reagonomics was about, how "trickle down" really worked. And the way we voted, if greed won out, then our fate was self-chosen. The U.S. would decline, we would collapse from hubris and greed. But that just as evil would increase in the society as a whole, it would be an opportunity for each of us AS INDIVIDUALS to stand up against it. And that as the natural world was destroyed, then also magic would return to be available to counter that destruction too. But it was just a dream. And then Reagan won, and we had chosen.

12/25/11, 11:25 AM

Kieran O'Neill said...
I saw a website the other day which made the claim that shale oil and gas are responsible for something like two-thirds of all new jobs created in the US over the past few years. I'm sure they meant it to be a supporting factoid for the practice. But taken in conjunction with both the massive speculation and the reports that the ROI is far less than predicted or officially claimed, it paints a very bleak picture of the rest of the US economy and job market, both now and when the shale bubble bursts.

(I don't want to link to the site, since it seemed to be primarily a fount of pro-shale drilling rhetoric, but I assume this fact could be verified elsewhere.)

12/25/11, 3:21 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Ozark, I'd encourage you to read a few eyewitness accounts of the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. I don't really want to get into a long discussion about the actual consequences of nuclear war just now, but there's a good deal of difference between nuclear weapons as real if terrible phenomena and nuclear weapons as magnets for apocalyptic visions.

Rita, fascinating! Thanks for the reference -- I'll have to check that one out. I suspect that his giddy optimism regarding future energy resources comes out of his preference for the Singularity fantasy; any less rosy view leads to Nightfall in fairly straight order. Still, it'll be worth a read, and then a critique.

Gary, I've been less than satisfied by the science I've seen so far in crop circle research, and even less so by the weird tendency to jump from "something odd is going on here" to various notions about aliens from Zeta Reticuli, etc. -- you could as well argue, with considerably more support from folklore, that crop circles are made by dancing pixies. Still, pixies don't feed the dream of a nice shiny future we don't have to work for, which is probably why they're not too popular today!

Bert, it's going to get some serious discussion here, because it's shaping up to be another big bubble, and I'm not sure the US economy can take another one of those.

Mel, thanks for the heads up! The signs you've just cited are good evidence that the shale gas boom is about to take off for la-la land -- meaning we've got a couple of years, maybe, before the bubble pops. Seat belts, everybody!

Cathy, which poets? It's been too long -- I should be able to guess by what you've said. As for "beckastr," my guess is that it's short for "beckaster," which is like a disaster but with a much louder mouth.

Lance, interesting. I recall a weekend afternoon in 1986 or thereabouts when my spouse and I were taking the bus home, and the day was full of this vast, still, autumnal feeling as though the last chance to turn away from a very dark future had just gone sliding silently by the boards. We both felt it, and ended up going out to dinner -- not something we did often in those days; we were very poor -- and talking about it, very quietly, the way people talk when they're standing just outside a room where somebody's dying. I never did figure out what might have triggered the perception; it may have been nothing at all, simply a sense that too much time had gone by and nothing was going to be done.

Kieran, true enough. Thing is, for more than a decade now blowing bubbles has been the only thing the US economy has done that has created jobs -- think of the number of people employed in housing during the housing bubble!

12/25/11, 3:50 PM

LewisLucanBooks said...
Apocalypse has been postponed! There's an article over at The OIl Drum about some huge new North Sea oil discovery. But then you read the analysis and it boils down to knocking about 10% off the rate of decline for a couple of years.

Still, (darn, you've got me doing it, JMG) it might give us a little (very little) margin in prep time.

@ Lance & JMG - Dreams are funny things. Years ago, I dreamed I looked out the front window of my shop at the main drag of Centralia. It was deserted. Weeds grew along the curbs. Empty windows were dirty or broken. It was just so abandoned and desolate.

That was it. Just a short little dream that has stuck with me for so long. Well, more and more shop fronts are empty (I'm sure we'll see another wave after the holidays) and I noticed that grass is growing up between the brick pavement on the side streets. Glad that if things go according to plan, I'll be out of here in a month and won't see it.

12/25/11, 4:53 PM

Lance Michael Foster said...
BTW, the other three current bubbles, based on rhetoric about "the hot careers, etc." besides fracking etc.:

1. greenwashing (the corporations that benefit from the SOS are going to be couching all of this in terms of "being green")

2. education (better even than housing debt because you can't walk away from it or discharge debt through bankruptcy)

3. healthcare (everybody in the world is promoting/seeing healthcare, nursing, medical records, etc. as the only real chance for the average person to find a steady decent paycheck)-- and attached to this is of course education debt to be trained in it...a "double bubble" if you will!

12/25/11, 5:04 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

Had a lovely Christmas with friends, but by the time I made it back here...

Massive storm + a Tornado

Yep, nature provided a great Christmas present. The water tanks here are full and actually overflowed, so I was outside running around like a crazy person during the storm clearing drainage channels and the water tanks filters. 60.2mm (2.37 inches) of rain fell in about half an hour.

Mt Macedon rain fall gauge

Still everything is looking very green and the fruit trees are growing incredibly well. Water can do massive damage in such a short period of time. Every year I keep finding the weak spots and putting in extra systems to cope, I'm even trying to harvest some of this water in the ground - where it belongs too!

It's interesting too, because an old growth forest would be able to absorb these events easily and store all of the water releasing it slowly over the following year or two. The water runs here where there is no vegetation, which are primarily the roads. They get destroyed.

Hope you had a good holiday.



12/25/11, 5:06 PM

LewisLucanBooks said...
@ Cherokee Organics - I'm glad the water didn't do too much damage and the tornado didn't come too near.

By accident I'm learning a lot about your part of the world. I picked up a book from the library called "Permaculture Pioneers; Stories from the New Frontier" edited by Kerry Dawborn and Caroline Smith. It's stories from 20 some people in the Australian permaculture community.

I can't say I'm a "true believer" when it comes to permaculture. I don't think I'm going to run off and get a certificate or anything like that. But I pick up little pieces as I go along. Lots of stories about water retention. Swales, and things.

I finally broke down and bought a copy of "Gaia's Garden." As I had checked it out of the library three times, I think it will have value, to me. I like the nuts and bolts approach.

Being old, having no progeny and on rented land I suppose I'll work out an odd mix of organics and permaculture. With an eye toward systems. Which is about where I stepped into the Arch Druid Report.

I'm sure you know all this stuff, but I thought I'd mention it for those, who don't. I sure do enjoy your posts from "down under."

12/25/11, 8:07 PM

Unknown said...
At one stage in the late 70s, early 80s, there was a bookshelf-filling kerfuffle about the planets lining up leading to kilometre high tsunamis and great earthquakes devastating the planet. It didn't sound right to me as a young mathematician so I sat down with paper and pen and an early calculator to figure out how big the tidal waves would be. Came out to 0.6 of one millimetre. Terrifying. Certainly terrifying enough to have nearly a whole shelf at the local bookstore built around it, people planning retreats, and gee-whizzing each other about The Threat in 1983. Jupiter Effect I think the first book was called. It was obvious to me then that humans have that Gee-Whiz Gene.
Peak Oil, Climate Change, resource depletion are of course just physics and chemistry. Nothing gee-whiz, just the usual scientific grinding out of relevent information. Interesting that Non-Gee-Whiz is much more easily ignored.

12/25/11, 8:09 PM

Edward said...
I got some practice today preparing for a future world of salvage.

I went through a big box of old christmas lights. First, I separated the light strngs that worked from the ones that didn't. The ones that worked went back into the box.

Then I focused on the light sets that didn't work, employing the familiar techniques of wiggling and swapping bulbs, hoping to get lucky and coax them back to life.

About half of the sets seemed beyond hope, so out came the wire cutters. I ended up with quite a few rolls of perfectly good insulated copper wire in 20-foot lengths.

When it was all over, I had to ask myself whether this was worth a couple hours of my time. Well I did end up with a number of working light sets, so I can avoid buying new ones.
These working lights probably could be repurposed some day - I bet that a partial set would work on 12V DC.

The rolls of wire seemed like the best result, though. Who knows what use they could have, as long as I don't mind giving up a little storage space.

The question of whether it was worth a couple hours was answered conclusively when I considered what else I could have done for that time, like play video games, or watch football.

It also gave me an opportunity to reflect on the differences between being resourceful and being cheap. I'm not sure that there's much difference, but resourceful sounds better - I'll stick with that.

12/25/11, 8:35 PM

The Peak Oil Poet said...

i thought you might be interested in this

Science As Rationalization And Ultimate Religion


12/26/11, 2:45 AM

Doctor Westchester said...
Despite being rather apolitical and not voting at the time, I can remember thinking upon hearing that Reagan had won in 1980 that something really bad had happened. But then I consoled myself with the thought that this would not last and we would soon come back to our senses. Sigh.

In your interview with Jim Kunstler, I was very glad to hear your response to his idea of a reaction against the supposed rationality of our age that he expressed in his novels. The obvious point that a society that is devoted to the destruction of its most important life-support systems can not really be consider truly lucid is one that one that we refuse to deal with - “Nah, nah, I can’t hear you!!” The point that the Enlightenment imposed a set of blinders as restricted as any other believe system – well, they are OUR blinders darn it, thank you very much SIR!

I was always very uncomfortable with the “magic” he added into his two peak oil novels. Now I would say that the events seem to appear at the outer reaches of what changes to the state of one’s consciousness might do, if not slightly beyond it, especially when applied to outsiders to the cult’s belief system. I say this because I think it has been documented that you can kill someone simply with a non-violent expressed thought, if they share your belief system and accord you that right.

12/26/11, 8:04 AM

Ceworthe said...
Thanks for the info on using Pectin in gluten-free baking. My attempts at making a bendable pie crust has failed with xanthum and guar gums, so I look forward to trying pectin.

12/26/11, 8:32 AM

Ric said...
Speaking of the long, painful tumble down the stairs, a reminder that it starts small and local:

A Vandalized Valley

I remember when this sort of thing started happening in Flint, Michigan when I was in high school (late 70's to early 80's). Our local politicos responded pretty much as Hanson describes; deny anything is happening, then when that became absurd, blame the victim for showing off their wealth, recommend fences/dogs/alarms, etc. I'm sure the same story in various stages is playing out in thousands of communities all over the West.

12/26/11, 8:55 AM

Cathy McGuire said...
@JMG: Cathy, which poets? It's been too long -- I should be able to guess by what you've said. As for "beckastr," my guess is that it's short for "beckaster," which is like a disaster but with a much louder mouth.

LOL! Yes, big-mouthed disasters surround us. ;-) The book is “Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry” (Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo, eds, ISBN 0-253-35580-X), but the poems that caught my eye yesterday were Yuan Chen’s On Lien-Chang Palace and Lu Kuei-meng’s Fisherman on a Southern Stream. I realize that some of the effect is from the translations into what is close to our current speech. I’ve always been fascinated by translations – maybe someone here could point me to a site or book that explains or provides the transliterations of these old poets and how they choose the English for them.

I just made soap for the first time today, from homemade lye and leftover fats… looks like it’s successful, and lots of fun to see the chemical changes! I think I’m a frustrated experimental scientist; that’s why I can’t follow directions well.

And ditto Ceworthe on the pectin – can’t wait to try it in a pie crust!

@ Edward: When it was all over, I had to ask myself whether this was worth a couple hours of my time.

I ask myself this often, when I’m trying out a new greenwizard skill… but I remind myself that to some extent it’s practice – practice making do, practice in some area of skill that I don’t have, and practice simply in being willing to tear apart, figure out and reassemble! It’s true I don’t have to do this now… but I might some day, and as you say, in any case it’s usually more creative than passively watching stuff. As for resourceful vs. cheap – what one group calls resourceful another calls cheap; it all depends of whether they have money to shortcut the process!

12/26/11, 11:06 AM

Cathy McGuire said...
@Ric: re – the Vandalized Valley – it’s quite a description… he had me ‘til the last page, when he decided to blame it all on the Mexican “underclass” – beware those who call their neighbors “underclass”… there is dogma brewing! That said, it is difficult and will be more so, when societal rules break down… I see a little of that in rural Oregon. There will always be people who can’t see further than their own needs. Not sure how to address that.

12/26/11, 11:30 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Lewis,

Thanks. I've enjoyed reading yours (as well as others) thoughts and stories too.



12/26/11, 2:08 PM

Ric said...
@Cathy - he had me ‘til the last page, when he decided to blame it all on the Mexican “underclass”

I see that as one of the uglier parts of the decline: blaming the Other. In Flint it was blacks; in California, Hanson blames Mexicans. A century or so ago it was the Irish. Or Jews. Or Roman Catholics. I'm not sure what can be done to stop that; it seems hardwired in. I do know that here in central Florida, the fuse has already been lit. One hefty "incident" and I expect things to go from low simmer to full rolling boil. No hard data; just gut feeling.

12/26/11, 7:26 PM

Ozark Chinquapin said...
I understand you have limited time and only so many things to cover, and I'll make this my last post on the subject unless you make it a topic in a future post.

It just seems to me that nuclear apocalypse scenarios (as well as other environmental ones such as runaway global warming scenarios) are considered seriously by a substantial number of people that don't believe any 2012/space brother/rapture type apocalypse, so I just wonder, if your goal is to debunk the apocalypse meme as a whole, why you've been giving the latter sort the most attention. Or are you going to mention possible outcomes of a nuclear conflict in your upcoming series on the decline of the American empire?

I also see a discrepancy between different meanings of the term apocalypse. Using your meaning of it being an end to the realities of history, then I'm with you that that will simply not happen. However, the way I've always used the term and many others in the peak oil scene use it is just to mean a vary fast, hard crash, which I still haven't been convinced is impossible for a large scale (meaning most of the world's arsenal used, not just a few or a handful of bombs) nuclear conflict to bring on.

I'm with you on the unlikeliness of my scenario for the same reasons you've stated. The only reason I brought it up is that even if it is a slim possibility it would contradict an absolute statement about such scenarios.

12/26/11, 8:39 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Kewis, one of the fascinating things about watching peak oil unfold over the years has beeen the way that what used to be modest deposits of oil not worth any kind of fuss have become Big Deals. This latest round of hoopla is an example; not too many years ago, even those who were into oil statistics would have responded to the Norwegian discovery with a yawn -- and of course the Bakken Shale got exactly that response when it was originally discovered years ago.

Lance, oh, granted -- the whole US economy is basically suds at this point, composed of bigger and smaller bubbles. Still, I have something a bit more specific in mind with regard to shale gas -- it's the kind of speculative bubble that could very well produce a drastic boom-and-bust cycle, like tech stocks and subprime real estate. More on this in future posts.

Cherokee, glad to hear that the storm was a blessing and not a disaster!

Unknown, I remember that. The argument I heard was that the extra gravitational tug was going to unleash earthquakes -- a nice theory, until you looked up previous alignments that put a bunch of planets in a straight line and noted that there was no correlation between those and earthquakes in the past.

Edward, excellent. That's not merely good practice, it's good work.

Poet, most interesting. Thank you.

Doctor W., bingo. A truly rational worldview wouldn't justify ravaging the biosphere that keeps us alive; it also wouldn't be quite so eager to pimp for business interests at the expense of human values.

Ceworthe, pie crust is tricky, but it can be done. We had a very nice lemon meringue pie for solstice.

Ric, California is the Rust Belt of the 21st century, and it's also got a rising spiral of ethnic conflict to deel with. Not a pretty sight.

Cathy, "big-mouthed disasters surround you" sounds like a line from a very odd fortune cookie! Thanks for the reference; I'll check it out.

Ozark, the discrepancy you've noted is at the core of my point. A nuclear war, a major upward jolt in global temperatures, a really big pandemic, etc. -- these are things that can happen and have happened to human populations in the past. They're not apocalyptic in the strict sense of the term, because afterwards, life goes on; we don't enter a world composed of daydreams.

The entire argument I've been making since before this blog got started is that we're facing a long ragged decline punctuated with major crises and disasters; an exchange of nuclear weapons could be among the crises and disasters, though the ability to launch a really massive nuclear strike may already be degrading as I write this (the threat is far more useful than the reality).

With or without mushroom clouds, in other words, we've basically got the same future ahead of us. It's the broader shape of the future that, to my mind, needs attention right now -- that and the steps that individuals can take to deal with the ongoing decline themselves.

12/27/11, 5:32 AM

Jason Heppenstall said...
In addition to the wealth of information and ideas I have gained from reading this blog over the last year or so I’d like to thank JMG for making me aware of the Space Brothers.

I must admit I had never heard of them before but a quick search reveals that they are:

“friendly, goodlooking, humanlike space people pilot the saucers. They are here on a benevolent mission for the Galactic Federation. In the universe the earth is viewed as something of a backwater, its occupants primitive and violent … If earthlings will heed the space people's gentle message, they will enter a New Age of peace and prosperity and claim their place in the larger order. In some variants of this theme, the earth is about to undergo massive geological changes which will destroy a significant portion of the planet's population; those who follow the space people's direction will be saved,”

Thank you for that and happy Solstice, Christmas and any other festival anyone cares to celebrate here on planet earth!

12/27/11, 6:55 AM

phil harris said...
Cathy McG
You asked about translations from the Chinese (though I think yoour question went wider to 'translation' of literature in general).
The classic translations from Chinese poetry are by Arthur Waley, early half of 20thC. However, I was lucky enough a long time ago to meet Arthur Cooper, a friend of a friend, who translated famous poems by both Li Po and Tu Fu. Cooper's book is still available as a Penguin Classic, and he explains some of his translation process as worked examples: fascinating.

12/27/11, 9:28 AM

Sunny said...
awesome post.

12/27/11, 2:39 PM

Sunny said...
Could you please tell me what your thoughts on the future of education are? As we all know, mandatory universal public education is a very new phenomenon and something whose absence will be nothing new in the big picture of history. It is extraordinarily wasteful, perhaps only as wasteful of funds as it is unproductive in itself. Do you see this getting slashed soon and do you anticipate the cultural response will be?

12/27/11, 3:54 PM

Cathy McGuire said...
@PHil Harris: Thank you! Your reference helped me to find this cool online site It has the characters and transliterations, then a translation. Also a good article about Arthur Cooper's book. Much appreciated!

12/27/11, 9:28 PM

Hal said...
And speaking of things that didn't quite get out of the 70s intact, this was posted on Martenson's site:

"How a save-the-earth maker of solar-powered aircraft became the world's most prolific manufacturer of military drones"

Unbelievable. Word verification is fuqvou. Growing up on the Gulf, of course, I know that ought to be "pique vous" in Cajun.

12/27/11, 10:41 PM

Joel said... mention of any positive role for the notion of apocalypse?

I guess you implied a moderate approach somewhere between the two extremes might be a more healthy response, but this essay seems not to support the notion of salvaging the schema of apocalyptic myths as frameworks on which to hang practical habits of thought.

I think apocalyptic literature survives because it is so useful in times when our cherished narratives stop working (i.e., the world as we know it ends). Writings from ancient times of radical change are somewhat comforting because we know how things turned out afterward. I think even the really trippy imagery helps, because it captures the feeling one gets when struggling to make sense of the truly novel, and any familiarity with that feeling might help us not to panic.

For what it's worth, I think there's some truth revealed by the efforts to tie apocalyptic scriptures to actual historical events: WWII (for example) was the end of the world as many people knew it, and I think that there was a way of reading the Book of Revelation that might have prepared people for it.

Similarly (not that it is the only apocalyptic work with this property, of course), Revelation's message not to assimilate into a doomed, imperial culture, but to build something both newer and more timeless, might just resonate with people in our current predicament.

Or would you say apocalyptic thinking is beyond rehabilitation?

12/28/11, 1:37 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Jason, I think they're mostly an American mythology. The term's not used so much any more, but the concept is still central to a lot of UFO sects.

Sunny, that's a topic for an entire post by itself. The short form? Don't plan on the educational system being around in anything like its present state for much longer, and beware of it while it's here, since it's going to be much more interested in raking in money to keep itself afloat than in giving anybody an education worth the name.

Hal, that's as good a metaphor for what happened to America in the wake of the Seventies as I've ever seen.

Joel, a rehabilitation of apocalypse would have to start by going all the way back to the roots of the concept, and recognizing that -- as the word actually means -- it's about revealing the hidden, not necessarily about predicting one specific kind of future. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries you saw alchemical and mystical interpretations of the Book of Revelations that understood it not as prophecy but as an unveiling, in symbolic form, of the timeless nature of things; Eliphas Levi and, more recently, John Michell did equivalent things in their writings; but that hasn't caught on. Instead we've got a way of thinking about the future that's as consistently counterproductive as any I can think of. Can you find a positive role for the sort of thinking that drives speculative bubbles?

12/28/11, 5:27 AM

Laura said...
Many people here seem to consider the younger generation to be a lost cause (or just plain lost), overly self-involved and coddled and demanding and obsessed with gadgets. While I don't deny that this is true of some of my peers, not all of us are like this. We grew up surrounded by gadgets, true, but we also grew up surrounded by stories from our parents' coming of age: stories about the value of social justice, peace, creativity, respect for the Earth, and so on. The cognitive dissonance between the stories and the materialism has caused many of us, like me, to question the value of our current lifestyles and worldviews. If our parents' generation could work to enact a better world, why can't we? Our definition of "better" will differ, but not the desire for it. Or maybe the baby boomers are starting to sound like *their* parents.... :-D

word verification: "embleak" Both apocalyptic and myth-of-progress thinking embleak our future.

12/28/11, 7:49 PM

Joel said...
>Can you find a positive role for the sort of thinking that drives speculative bubbles?

I wasn't aware that speculative bubbles were driven by thinking.

All jokes aside, I think (parallel to your comment) some of the roots of that sort of thinking have a positive role: the earliest markets for financial derivatives of agricultural commodities seem to be, over all, a good thing. Speculators in that market are motivated by the idea that their unique perspective might make them wealthy, and the market gives them incentives to share any real understanding they discover, and to get out of the market if they don't understand it.

As in the case of Revelation, the original idea has led to a lot of unfortunate nonsense, but a more limited role is probably better than an outright taboo.

1/4/12, 12:22 PM