Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Consuming Democracy

For most of a year now, my posts here on The Archdruid Report have focused on the nature, rise, and impending fall of America’s global empire.  It’s been a long road and, as usual, it strayed in directions I wasn’t expecting to explore when this sequence of posts began last winter. Still, as I see it, we’ve covered all the core issues except one, and that’s the question of what can and should be done as the American empire totters to its end.

Regular readers will know already that this question isn’t going to be answered with some grandiose scheme for salvaging, replacing, transforming, or dismantling America’s empire, of the sort popular with activists on both sides of an increasingly irrelevant political spectrum—the sort of project that merely requires all those who hold political and economic power to hand it over meekly to some cabal of unelected ideologues, so that the latter can once again learn the hard way that people won’t behave like angels no matter what set of theories is applied to them. At the same time, there are choices still open to Americans and others in an era of imperial decline; we’re not limited, unless we choose to be, to huddling in our basements until the rubble stops bouncing.

Mind you, there are at least two things welded firmly enough in place in our near future that no action of yours, mine, or anyone’s will change them.  The first is that America’s global empire will fall; the second is that those who rule it will not let it fall without a struggle.  The US government and the loose and fractious alliance of power centers that dominate it are clearly unwilling to take Britain’s path, and accept the end of empire in exchange for a relatively untraumatic imperial unraveling.  To judge by all the evidence that’s currently available, they’ll cling to the shreds of imperial power, and the wealth and privilege that goes with it, until the last of those shreds are pulled from their cold stiff hands.  That’s a common boast, but it bears remembering that the moment always comes when those shreds get pried loose from those pale and rigid fingers.

These two hard facts, the imminence of imperial downfall and the unwillingess of the existing order to accept that imminence, impose certain consequences on the decades ahead of us. Some of the most obvious of those consequences are economic.  The American standard of living, as I’ve pointed out more than once, has been buoyed to its current frankly absurd level by a tribute economy that funnels much of the wealth of the world to the the United States.  We’ve all heard the self-congratulatory nonsense that insists that this nation’s prosperity is a product of American ingenuity or what have you, but let us please be real; nothing Americans do—nothing, that is, other than maintaining garrisons in more than 140 countries and bombing the bejesus out of nations that get too far out of line—justifies the fact that the five per cent of humanity that can apply for a US passport get to use a quarter of the planet’s energy and a third of its natural resources and industrial product.

As our empire ends, that vast imbalance will go away forever.  It really is as simple as that. In the future now breathing down our necks, Americans will have to get used to living, as our not so distant ancestors did, on a much more modest fraction of the world’s wealth—and they’ll have to do it, please remember, at a time when the ongoing depletion of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources, and the ongoing disruption of the environment, are making ever sharper inroads on the total amount of wealth that’s there to distribute in the first place.  That means that everything that counts as an ordinary American lifestyle today is going to go away in the decades ahead of us. It also means that my American readers, not to mention everyone else in this country, are going to be very much poorer in the wake of empire than they are today.

That’s a sufficiently important issue that I’ve discussed it here a number of times already, and it bears repeating. All too many of the plans currently in circulation in the green end of US alternative culture covertly assume that we’ll still be able to dispose of wealth on the same scale as we do today.  The lifeboat ecovillages beloved by the prepper end of that subculture, just as much as the solar satellites and county-sized algal biodiesel farms that feature in the daydreams of their green cornucopian counterparts, presuppose that such projects can be supplied with the startup capital, the resources, the labor, and all the other requirements they need. 

The end of American empire means that these things aren’t going to happen.  To judge by previous examples, it will take whatever global empire replaces ours some decades to really get the wealth pump running at full speed and flood its own economy with a torrent of unearned wealth.  By the time that happens, the decline in global wealth driven by resource depletion and environmental disruption will make the sort of grand projects Americans envisioned in our empire’s glory days a fading memory all over the world.  Thus we will not get the solar satellites or the algal biodiesel, and if the lifeboat ecovillages appear, they’ll resemble St. Benedict’s original hovel at Monte Cassino much more than the greenwashed Levittowns so often proposed these days. Instead, as the natural systems that undergird industrial civilization crumble away, industrial societies will lose the capacity to accomplish anything at all beyond bare survival—and eventually that, too, will turn out to be more than they can do.

That’s the shape of our economic future.  My more attentive readers will have noticed, though, that it says little about the shape of our political future, and that latter deserves discussion. One of the lessons of history is that peoples with nearly identical economic arrangements can have radically different political institutions, affording them equally varied access to civil liberties and influence on the decisions that shape their lives.  Thus it’s reasonable and, I think, necessary to talk about the factors that will help define the political dimension of America’s post-imperial future—and in particular, the prospects for democracy in the wake of imperial collapse.

There are at least two barriers to that important conversation.  The first is the weird but widespread notion that the word “democracy”—or, if you will, “real democracy”—stands for a political system in which people somehow don’t do the things they do in every other political system, such as using unfair advantages of various kinds to influence the political process.  Let’s start with the obvious example.  How often, dear reader, have you heard a pundit or protester contrasting vote fraud, say, or bribery of public officials with “real democracy”?

Yet real democracy, meaning the sort of democracy that is capable of existing in the real world, is always plagued with corruption. If you give people the right to dispose of their vote however they wish, after all, a fair number of them will wish to sell that vote to the highest bidder in as direct a fashion as the local laws allow. If you give public officials the responsibility to make decisions, a fair number of them will make those decisions for their own private benefit.  If you give voters the right to choose public officials, in turn, and give candidates for public office the chance to convince the public to choose them, you’ve guaranteed that a good many plausible rascals will be elected to office, because that’s who the people will choose.  That can’t be avoided without abandoning democracy altogether.

Now of course there’s a significant minority of people who react to the inherent problems of democracy by insisting that it should be abandoned altogether, and replaced with some other system portrayed in suitably rose-colored terms—usually, though not always, something along the lines referred to earlier, in which an unelected cabal of ideologues gets to tell everyone else what to do. The claim that some such project will provide better government than democracies do, though, has been put to the test more times than I care to count, and it consistently fails. Winston Churchill was thus quite correct when he said that democracy is the worst possible system of government, except for all the others; what makes democracy valuable is not that it’s so wonderful, but that every other option has proven itself, in practice, to be so much worse.

Just now, furthermore, democracy has another significant advantage: it doesn’t require the complicated infrastructure of industrial society.  The current United States constitution was adopted at a time when the most technologically sophisticated factories in the country were powered by wooden water wheels, and presidents used to be inaugurated on March 4th to give them enough time to get to Washington on horseback over muddy winter roads. (The date wasn’t moved to January 20 until 1933.)  America was still anything but industrialized in the 1820s, the decade that kickstarted the boisterous transformations that sent an aristocratic republic where only the rich could vote careering toward ever more inclusive visions of citizenship.  In the deindustrial future, when the prevailing economic forms and standards of living may resemble those of the 1790s or 1820s much more closely than they do those of today, that same constitution will be right at home, and will arguably work better than it has since the imperial tribute economy began flooding the country with unearned wealth.

There’s just one problem with this otherwise appealing prospect, which is that American democracy at the moment is very nearly on its last legs.  A great many people are aware of this fact, but most of them blame it on the machinations of some evil elite or other.  Popular though this notion is, I’d like to suggest that it’s mistaken. Of course there are plenty of greedy and power-hungry people in positions of wealth and influence, and there always are.  By and large, people don’t get wealth and influence unless they have a desire for wealth and influence, and “having a desire for wealth and influence” is simply another way of saying “greedy and power-hungry.” Every political and economic system, especially those that claim to be motivated solely by the highest of ideals, attracts people who are greedy and power-hungry. Political systems that work, by definition, are able to cope with the perennial habit that human beings have of trying to get wealth and power they haven’t earned.  The question that needs to be asked is why ours is failing to cope with that today. 

The answer is going to require us to duck around some of the most deeply ingrained habits of popular thought, so we’ll take it a step at a time. 

We can define democracy, for the sake of the current discussion, as a form of government in which ordinary citizens have significant influence over the people and policies that affect their lives. That influence—the effective ability of citizens to make their voices heard in the corridors of power—is a fluid and complex thing.  In most contemporary democracies, it’s exercised primarily through elections in which officials can be thrown out of office and replaced by somebody else. When a democracy’s more or less healthy, that’s an effective check; there are always other people angling for any office, whether it’s president or town dogcatcher, and an official who wants to hold onto her office needs to glance back constantly over her shoulder to make sure that her constituents aren’t irritated enough at her to throw their support to one of her rivals.

The entire strategy of political protest depends on the threat of the next election.  Why would it matter to anybody anywhere if a bunch of activists grab signs and go marching down Main Street, or for that matter down the Mall in Washington DC?  Waving signs and chanting slogans may be good aerobic exercise, but that’s all it is; it has no effect on the political process unless it delivers a meaningful message to the politicians or the people.  When protest matters, the message to the politicians is blunt: “This matters enough to us that we’re willing to show up and march down the street, and it should matter to you, too, if you want our votes next November.”  The message to the people is less direct but equally forceful:  “All these people are concerned about this issue; if you’re already concerned about it, you’re not alone; if you aren’t, you should learn more about it”—and the result, again, is meant to show up in the polls at the next election.

You’ll notice that the strategy of protest thus only means anything if the protesters have the means, the motive, and the opportunity to follow through on these two messages. The politicians need to be given good reason to think that ignoring the protesters might indeed get them thrown out of office; the people need to be given good reason to think that the protesters speak for a significant fraction of the citizenry, and that their concerns are worth hearing.  If these are lacking, again, it’s just aerobic exercise.

That, in turn, is why protest in America has become as toothless as it is today.  Perhaps, dear reader, you went to Washington DC sometime in the last decade to join a protest march to try to pressure the US government into doing something about global warming.  If the president just then was a Democrat, he didn’t have to pay the least attention to the march, no matter how big and loud it was; he knew perfectly well that he could ignore all the issues that matter to you, break his campaign promises right and left, and plagiarize all the most hated policies of the previous occupant of the White House, without the least political risk to himself.  All he had to do come election time is wave the scary Republicans at you, and you’d vote for him anyway.  If he was a Republican, in turn, he knew with perfect certainty that you weren’t going to vote for him no matter what he did, and so he could ignore you with equal impunity.

No matter what party he belonged to, furthermore, the president also had a very good idea how many of the protesters were going to climb into their otherwise unoccupied SUVs for the drive back home to their carbon-hungry lifestyles; he knew that if he actually wanted to make them change those lifestyles—say, by letting the price of gasoline rise to European levels—most of them would chuck their ideals in an eyeblink and turn on him with screams of indignation; and a phone call to the Secretary of Energy would remind him that any meaningful response to climate change would require such steps as letting the price of gas rise to European levels.  He knew perfectly well, in other words, that most of the protesters didn’t actually want him to do what they claimed they wanted him to do; they wanted to feel good about doing something to save the Earth, but didn’t want to put up with any of the inconveniences that would be involved in any real movement in that direction, and so attending a protest march offered them an easy way to have their planet and eat it too.

It’s only fair to say that the same logic applies with precisely equal force on the other side of the line. If, dear reader, the protest march you attended was in support of some allegedly conservative cause—well, it wasn’t actually conservative, to begin with; the tiny minority of authentic conservatives in this country have been shut out of the political conversation for decades, but that’s an issue for another post—the man in the White House had no more reason to worry about your opinions than he had to fret about the liberal protest the week before. If he was a Republican, he knew that he could ignore your concerns and his own campaign promises, and you’d vote for him anyway once he waved the scary Democrats at you.  If he was a Democrat, he knew that you’d vote against him no matter what.  Either way, in turn, he had a very good idea how many of the people out there who were denouncing drug abuse and waving pro-life and family-values placards fell all over themselves to find excuses for Rush Limbaugh’s drug bust, and paid for abortions when they knocked up the teenage girlfriends their wives don’t know about.

Does this mean that protest marches are a waste of time?  Not at all.  Nor does it mean that any of the other venerable means of exerting pressure on politicians are useless.  The problem is not in these measures themselves; it’s the absence of something else that makes them toothless.

That something else was discussed in an earlier post in this sequence: grassroots political organization.  That’s where political power comes from in a democratic society, and without it, all the marches and petitions and passionate rhetoric in the world are so much empty noise. Through most of American history, the standard way to put this fact to work was to get involved in an existing political party at the caucus level and start leaning on the levers that, given time and hard work, shift the country’s politics out of one trajectory and into another. These days, both parties have been so thoroughly corrupted into instruments of top-down manipulation on the part of major power centers and veto groups that trying to return them to useful condition is almost certainly a waste of time.  At the same time, the fact that US politics is not currently dominated by Federalists and Whigs shows that even a resolutely two-party political culture is now and then subject to the replacement of one party by another, if the new party on the block takes the time to learn what works, and then does it.

The point I’m trying to explore here can be made in an even more forceful way.  Protest marches, like letter-writing campaigns and other means of putting pressure on politicians, have no power in and of themselves; their effect depends on the implied promise that the politicians will be held accountable to their choices come election time, and that promise depends, in turn, on the existence of grassroots political organization strong enough to make a difference in the voting booth. It’s the grassroots organization, we might as well say, that produces democracy; marches and other methods of pressuring politicians are simply means of consuming democracy—and when everyone wants to consume a product but nobody takes the time and trouble to produce it, sooner or later you get a shortage.

We have a severe and growing democracy shortage here in America.  In next week’s post, I’ll talk about some of the things that will be necessary to increase the supply.

End of the World of the Week #51

What do you do if you throw an apocalypse and nobody comes?  That was the challenge faced by the Watch Tower Tract Society, an American offshoot of Christianity, when the end of the world failed to show up on schedule in 1914.  That date had played a central role in the Society’s prophecy since 1876, when the movement’s founder Rev. Charles Taze Russell and Nelson Barbour, a former Millerite, wrote a book predicting the Second Coming for that year.  As Russell’s original International Bible Students Movement morphed into the Watch Tower Tract Society, that prophecy became ever more central to the movement’s hopes.

As church bells rang in the year 1915, though, it became evident even to the most devout Watch Tower follower that Christ had pulled another one of his frequent no-shows. Admitting that your prophecy was just plain wrong is rarely a good career move for an apocalyptic prophet, and the Watch Tower organization had made so much of a ballyhoo about the upcoming end that it couldn’t get away with the usual fallback strategy of ignoring the failure and announcing a new date (though this was tried).  It fell to Russell to come up with a third option, one of the most ingenious in the history of apocalypses.

The Second Coming, he announced to his followers, had indeed occurred—in heaven.  Christ was now reigning in glory there, but the effects would take a little while to filter down to earth, so they just had to be patient. They’re still waiting patiently; in the 1930s, the movement renamed itself the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and its members are still convinced that the Second Coming took place 98 years ago and its prophesied results will be showing up any day now.

—for more failed end time prophecies, see my book Apocalypse Not


Will USA veer towards feudal democracy practiced with success in many Asian countries (India,Nepal,Sri Lanka,Pakistan,Indonesia,Thailand)?The model is pretty successful,the local,state and national dynasties know perfect way to keep control and ignore problems.The model mirrors old time king and feudal lords system.The current feudal lords have immense real wealth,industrial wealth and huge political sway over population at home.Voting doesn't make much difference to their performance because poor people vote for party which promises more.

12/5/12, 9:39 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
I just caught the timing of the "End of the World of the Week" series, and that it completes its full 52-week run next week. And for the week that follows that one, we will have...

...a whole lot of people around the world who will have to find a new obsession.

12/5/12, 9:41 PM

Thijs Goverde said...
Funny: while the fall of Empire will probably hit us, the proud client state of the Netherlands, at least as hard as it will hit the imperial core, we do have some advantages: our democracy, like the price of our gasoline, is slightly less detached from what might realisitically be called 'functional' than yours.
Not by much, of course, but I'm glad of every little glimmer of resilience in our society.

I'm curious to see how it will all play out.
Of well - back to the seeds calatogues! There's planting to be planned.

12/5/12, 9:47 PM

John D. Wheeler said...
I hate to be blunt, but why should I care about a democracy shortage? If I'm not mistaken, you established earlier that it takes decades for grassroots action to be effective. There is so much else that needs to be done to prepare for collapse. Why should I spend my time being concerned about politics?

12/5/12, 10:09 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
More to this weeks actual topic...

I have been wondering if the grass roots won't really sprout again until affluence fades enough that the general populace is dragged out of their simulated electronic realities and back into the real world in which they reside. As long as folks can escape into their devices and "a community" that demands nothing more than electronic text in 140 character increments, they have little awareness of the grass beneath their feet and the state of its roots. The encounter with real scarcity will force people's heads back on the plane in which they live, or they won't be living on any plane much longer.

12/5/12, 10:29 PM

magifungi said...
There are many references these days to local currency and how it can be part of the path to local resiliency. A small group in our area have struggled to create an Hours program and keep it viable for almost a decade, though I admit the last few years have been mostly get togethers for our core group who have become like family. Your phrase 'consuming democracy' absolutely rings true. So many interested people wanted the system handed to them on a platter, or no deal. Like mailing in a minimum donation to Audubon, as if that was all that needed to be done to be a part of the 'cause'. Same with the long process of starting a democratic school a couple decades ago. Everyone wants a good alternative, but just 'doesn't' have the time or energy devote themselves, especially if the vision evolves, (or doesn't evolve).

12/5/12, 10:43 PM

Justin said...
Anyone else having a hard time with the binary choice of Democracy as good and everything else as worse?

The niceties associated with our political democracy are going to largely disappear with the material culture that gets much poorer. Before the influx of imperial wealth, America was a slave state ruled by a native extirpating elite that modeled themselves on Roman imperialists. Women were chattel, children worth little, some entire races of people property or reduced to Jim Crow serfdom.

All those New Deal bribes like social security, health care and consistently at the tail end of the winds of change in making legal codifications of shifting social norms with respect to sex and race are the only reasons democracy is considered better than other forms of governments by the morality of out time.

Don't surprised by a return to the type of rule democracy produced in a poorer material culture when the ruling classes couldn't afford human rights and cushy lifestyles for everyone.

12/5/12, 10:45 PM

Renaissance Man said...
I have lots of "green" friends who excitedly show me developments in renewable energy research that makes it very easy to believe that we will simply transition from fossil fuels to renewables and thus maintain our standard of living -- even extending it out to the rest of the impoverished world.
Despite the fact that I absolutely understand how the imperial wealth pump works, I cannot convince my Georgist or Socialist friends that the cause of poverty around the world has as a root cause anything other than a global rentier class extracting wealth nor can I explain that poverty is going to become far more endemic than it is; that we shall never raise all of humanity up to our standard of living, no matter how we revise the tax structure, or redistribute wealth. My conservative friends love to tell me which stocks will guarantee them (and me, if I just invest/speculate) an income for a comfortable retirement ($100,000 in "investments" for every $500 / month, for example).
Bless them, their hearts are in the right place, but none of them wants to grasp the realities you've sketched out here, and your predictive track record has been right on money, as it were.
I must confess, I depend upon this blog to keep from being drawn into that warm, fuzzy, enticing vision of global wealth and to maintain a grounded sense of reality, however grim it appears on the surface.
Now I'm going back to contemplating how to rip apart my house and put insulation in.

12/5/12, 10:53 PM

jmcsd said...
JMG, besides participation, democracy requires education. Primary requirements are that the citizens understand how the government is supposed to function. I work in a professional environment with smart people and find myself consistently amazed a the ignorance exhibited by middle age professionals about the functioning of their government. The younger generations are even more hopeless. As a career veteran, it saddens me to realize that the entire structure is in danger because the citizens are not educated enough to be outraged when overt transgressions are committed.

12/5/12, 10:55 PM

Chris Travers said...
Hi. Thanks for another great essay. You are one of just a handful of bloggers I go out of my way to read at every opportunity.

I do have two thoughts though. The first is that the narrative about the British empire peacefully and gracefully unravelling is very much a way for them to save face historically. In fact the British Empire resisted collapse as long as they could and the final end came when Britain joined France in declaring war on Germany and thus began the long u-boat war. It was only the combined might of the USSR, the UK, and the US that Germany and their allies were defeated and the UK took the real brunt of the u-boat war.

The grim fact is that the UK was trounced in the Battle of the Atlantic and only managed to come out on the winning side of the war due to the emergence of the United States as a superpower. That Doenitz brought the UK to the brink of defeat with a force that was, even at its height, half of what he thought would be required gives some sense as to how over-extended and fragile the British Empire had actually become.

So after WWII, with a far reduced navy, and a war-weary population the choice was between fighting more wars in the spirit of the Boer Wars, or just giving up. There wasn't much of a choice involved. The British Empire was shattered by the uboat war, and gracefully giving up was a nice way to safe face.

Secondly, the point about democracy is an interesting one. I do note however that the idea that the citizens have a voice in government is something which is not incompatible with any other form of government. By your definition, it would seem that Norway under King Hakon the Good was a democracy insofar as he could only be given legitimacy by the regional legal assemblies of free men, and that they had no problems dictating terms to him.

I like this discussion because it keeps us thinking about requirements rather than specifics. If a formally autocratic monarchy can in fact be democratic, then it means we must focus on ensuring that the people have a voice and that local assemblies are empowered rather than on the idea of a specific form of government. Thanks for that.

12/5/12, 11:15 PM

John Michael Greer said...
News, the reason that model won't work well in the US for a good long time is that potential elites won't be able to hand out the wealth that keeps the system flowing -- not in amounts that Americans expect, at least.

Bill, due to the way the weeks are arranged, there'll be 53 End of the World of the Week entries -- I began it on 21 December 2011, it'll finish up on the 19th of this month, and then -- well, that would be telling!

Thijs, that's good to hear. Of course your country's empire was a good deal further in the past!

John, that depends on whether you value living in a society that accords you civil rights and due process. If you don't want those, by all means go do something else with your time.

Bill, that's my guess, but as with appropriate tech, there are skills that can be learned now and passed on to others as the latter get a clue.

Magifungi, those are great examples! I've seen other examples of the same thing at work, of course. I'll be talking about the mentality that drives them in the not too distant future.

Justin, and of course you have some better option sitting in your pocket, one that has been proven to function in the real world, and provides even as much in the way of civil rights, due process, and potential for positive change as democracy does. It's always easy to belabor any existing system for its faults, but what have you accomplished by doing so?

Renaissance, they can't give up the fantasy that everybody can have a middle class industrial world lifestyle. If they do, they have to grapple with the white-hot ethical issues surrounding the fact that they have such a lifestyle, and six and a half billion people don't and never will. Expect that sort of evasion to rise to a thundering climax as the temporary prosperity of the industrial world goes away forever.

Jmcsd, I'll have quite a bit to say about the role of education next week -- but it'll point in a slightly different direction. More soon!

12/5/12, 11:18 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Chris, did you read my earlier posts about the end of the British empire? Of course Britain only surrendered its empire after the cost of hanging onto it became brutally clear; that still showed considerably more sense than, say, Spain did when its empire dissolved around it, which is an important part of why Britain didn't plunge into the same kind economic collapse and political turmoil in the wake of its empire that Spain did.

As for the Norse political tradition, that and its close Saxon equivalent was the original rough draft from which American democracy emerged: the structure of a central executive with specific prerogatives, and one or more popular assemblies tasked with holding the executive in check, comes straight from there by way of a variety of medieval and early modern variants in England and elsewhere. Constitutional monarchy is one of the standard frameworks for democracy, and can handle a wide range of variants in how much power the monarch is assigned.

12/5/12, 11:26 PM

Chris Travers said...

This view makes me no friends anywhere but I think a lot of issues like same-sex marriage are economic luxuries we probably won't have in the future. The question thus of what is good policy now is somewhat divorced from the question of whether some real or imagined right exists. At the point where children are one's retirement plan, and sperm banks are only for the super-wealthy, the issue isn't going to be the same.

I don't think that issue is alone though. Virtually all of the major political issues of our day are ones we even get to think about because of our current prosperity. Now we get to argue about whether abortion is infanticide and therefore bad. Post-collapse, I suppose we will be arguing about whether infanticide is a lesser evil when one cannot be assured to be able to care for all of one's kids. It could be a dark world by modern standards.

12/5/12, 11:27 PM

Chris Travers said...
JMG: I am fairly late to this blog so I probably have missed your posts on the British empire. Forgive me for that.

12/5/12, 11:28 PM

Damien Perrotin said...
Well, we have a prime example of this here.

The government is building an airport not far away from it and predictably there is a lot of protests. The Green party is adamantly against the project.

The problem is that they have three ministers in the very same government which builds the airport and sends the anti-riot police against protestors. They also participate to the executive of the local authorities which support the project and call for the police to put down protestors. Their electors voted for the present government, knowing perfectly that none of their demands would be heeded, except those purely electoral in nature (three ministers and a number of MP).

And they wonder why they are not taken seriously

12/6/12, 1:42 AM

farfiman said...
Saying that the US empire will eventually fall without giving a more precise time-frame is to most no different that saying that the sun will eventually die out and along with it ( way before of course) all life on earth. It's all academic.

12/6/12, 3:25 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

You have no argument from me as I'm not now and never have been an activist.

However, years back I wrote to my local state MP about a perceived injustice going on and I received a letter back from the MP and also the state Minister which basically told me to naff off and don't come back again. Fair enough.

PS: I'll miss the End of the World Week when it's over! I never quite understood doomsday cults (even when they are dressed up as respectable religious movements - maybe deep down it is an acknowledgement of the ecological damage of their ideology?)



12/6/12, 3:53 AM

Tony Rasmussen said...
Yet another fascinating and chock-full-of-wisdom post. Apologies for the intrusion, but this sentence

"If you give people the right to dispose of their vote however they wish, after all, a fair number of them will wish to sell that vote to the highest bidder in as direct a fashion as the local laws allow."

calls to mind my recent proposal that votes be made saleable in exchange for debt relief. The rich are determined to buy the government anyway, let them do it by emancipating the debt slaves, which will then boost consumer spending, killing several birds with one (proverbial) drone. Silly to be sure, but desperate times call for disparate measures. Those interested in more details may send a self-addressed stamped envelope to:

12/6/12, 3:57 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi JMG and everyone,

This is a shameless plug for my latest farm update video. Yeah, I know it's winter in the Northern hemisphere but hopefully the sun here can radiate a little bit of cheer for you lot up North!

Plus for those that are simply curious, you can check out my increasingly larger scale mead production! Deborah’s recent comment about bad mead in the 70’s has made me a little less confident. ‘Ere he says he’s not dead yet!

I'm grateful that the varroa mite hasn't hit our shores yet too.

Fernglade Farm Early Summer 2012 Update



12/6/12, 4:01 AM

CWT said...
A good number of posts seem to be pointing out that certain ethical values only exist in times of abundance. Are there any steps needed to prevent a return to say, a slave based economy (probably with a different name of some form.)

12/6/12, 4:25 AM

John said...
Your post explains why LOTE voting will always lead to greater evils. If there is no line your party's candidate can cross to lose your support, they are completely free to do as they choose. I try to argue to friends who give me the LOTE explanation that they can only influence the outcome in one way - to withhold support for their LOTE candidate. I think they get this on a cognitive level, but fear of that scary alternative is always more powerful.

12/6/12, 4:38 AM

Christian Horton said...
I've been following your blog and reading your books for a few years now from "old" York. I'm starting to notice articles in various media - which I wouldn't have otherwise batted an eyelid at were it not for reading your material - signalling some of ways the oil age and the Empire is starting to decline perhaps?

Take for instance the following article on US educational downward mobility from the BBC:

12/6/12, 5:21 AM

John D. Wheeler said...
Ah, okay, I'm sorry, thanks for clearing that up, you apparently actually believe we live in such a society, not one where the President can order the assassination of an American citizen (al-Alwaki) without barely any protest. Sorry, but the America of real civil rights and due process is long dead and until my fellow Americans wake up to that fact I do have far better things to do. And I'm afraid things will have to get far worse before they do wake up, so I see no choice but to let them.

12/6/12, 5:23 AM

Jeffrey said...
This series of posts on the decline of the American Empire should be compiled as a book and serve as a primer and caution for what the future has in store. The current imbalance of wealth funneling into the USA and the resource constraints make it inevitable that pressures will force a redistribution as well as an required adjustment of a much lower standard of living.

I think you have hammered this truth into the ground. I appreciate your last paragraph here where you state you will outline that which will be required to preserve our democracy. I look forward to more posts where we now take the fundamental truth of decline of the American Empire and provide strategies and solutions which will best deal with this.

I have often commented to friends that the nightmare is not that which is coming but rather that which we are leaving behind. We do not currently live very dignified lives consuming a quarter of the worlds resources and representing a small percentage of the global population. This does reflect itself in many a social ill as well as physical (obesity).

I can see a future that returns dignified cultural values in a declining empire as our economics no longer premits self indulgences that create cultural infantilism.
The struggles ahead hide a potential golden key to better self contentment and personal dignity. by the sweat of your brow perhaps but what is really wrong with that...... OR whatis not right about that?

12/6/12, 5:45 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
JD Wheeler -- a point about verbs. "Preparing for collapse" suggests it is in the future. But we are in the middle of it; this is what collapse looks like. And maintaining a functional government during the collapse seems like a very important aspect of living in collapse, which is what we all are doing and will be doing for the rest of our days.

Chris Travers -- you chose an odd example to tag as an "economic luxury." How does same-sex marriage stress the economy? Even if you are concerned about the miniscule (in total) impact on taxation by granting a tiny fraction of the population a tax break that the majority of the population already receives, that suggests that the economic luxury is really the tax benefits afforded to all married couples (who will always be >>90% m/f no matter what happens to marriage law). Or are you instead suggesting that childless homosexuality itself is the economic luxury at the personal household level? Do you really mean to say that people in poverty will be compelled by financial necessity to be functional heterosexuals so they can make babies to support them in their old age? Given the fact that there have always been childless people, and roles in society for childless people, this strikes me as some peculiar reasoning.

12/6/12, 5:46 AM

BruceH said...
“Anarchism: The name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government-harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being.” Peter Kropotkin

Much of your writing focuses on people doing and organizing things themselves. Anthropology has repeatedly shown us that people all over the world are perfectly capable of self-organizing to achieve whatever they need in any given environment in the absence of a centralized authority.“Grassroots democracy” in other words is essentially a facet of anarchism. Yet none dare speak it's name.

12/6/12, 6:18 AM

macsporan said...
The problem with this whole thesis is that the United States is not an empire but at nation-state, a very successful one at that; and nation-states are pretty well indestructible.

You can count the number that have gone out of existence on one hand.

Given that levels of international violence of all sorts has declined by orders of magnitude in the last seventy years and show every sign of continuing the USA is far more likely to continue to exist in modest but reduced circumstances as it is to vanish in some hi-tech re-run of the Fall of Rome.

For one thing the US is only part, and a not particularly well-organized part, of a greater civilization, the Western, centered as it always has been in Europe: and civilizations can last a very long time indeed.

Their disappearance is far, far rarer than those who get their history from Gibbon, Spengler and Toynbee imagine.

Combining the resilience of a nation-state with that of a civilization the US will be around for some time yet, whatever its material circumstances.

Nor are internal divisions as deep as self-interested politicians and ideologues would have us believe.

It is rare to meet an American who is not religious and does not believe that America and Democracy, variously defined, are good ideas.

It would take only the briefest experience with turmoil and disunion to make them love their beloved country all them more.

In short America is not a faction-riven empire on the verge of dissolution but a cohesive and culturally uniform nation-state that hangs together naturally and is going to go on existing for a very long time.

12/6/12, 6:27 AM

Odin's Raven said...
Consuming democracy is a nice idea, but those who originated democracy thought of it the other way around as something produced by the strenuous efforts of those able and willing to rule themselves within a natural community.

Lacking such people and circumstances, 'virtual democracy' is an inadequate substitute, but an adequate cover for the real kleptocrat/bureaucrat rulers, whose servants the politicians are. Providing soothing illusions is an important function, and politicians are quite good at it.

If any outbreak of 'grass roots democracy' threathened the powers that be, it would be replaced with 'astroturf democracy'.

The important interests are likely to continue controlling all parties, institutions and media, channeling what the general public is allowed to think, controlling the topics and terms of debate, and fixing public attention between fake alternatives.

As decline and immiseration continue, the velvet glove of 'democracy' concealing the iron fist of power may become thin and tattered, and the reach and grip of the iron fist may alter, but no doubt the name 'democracy' will continue to be invoked. Even Communist dictatorships claimed to be democratic.

It may be a signifier that substantial cultural change has occurred, when (and when will that be?) people cease to think and speak of that shibboleth, and democracy has been quite consumed!

12/6/12, 6:28 AM

Ian said...
@Travers, re: same sex marriage: I'm willing to grant you that a lot of people who stand up for same-sex marriage today wouldn't bother in tougher times. Just because the time some people inves in it now is luxury, doesn't mean it is necessarily a luxury for people looking to enter into same-sex marriages.

Empires do leave legal legacies in their wake and it would be nice if same-sex marriage survived in portions of future not-U.S. America. The institution of marriage (same-sex or otherwise) is pretty durable across a range of economic spectrums.

I'll raise the ante and suggest that it might even be *healthy* for societies in decline to support same-sex marriages. In tough times, marriages broaden networks of support between families and, with the introduction of adoption, vectors for integrating people into those networks. That is good and stabilizing, the very stuff from which the grassroots under discussion are formed.

12/6/12, 6:48 AM

Myriad said...
As an amateur essayist myself, I appreciate being told when a concept (such as a new analogy) intended to clarify and explain, actually succeeds in doing so.

So to apply the Golden Rule, I'm letting you know that for me at least, the metaphor of democracy as a product that is produced and consumed by various activities, feels like a good and potentially very powerful one. Reading it is like being handed a new shop tool that's so well designed that one can immediately imagine ways to put it to use to solve persistent problems and improve the quality of one's work. It's a clarifier.

Assuming the expected payoff in rational prescriptive ideas emerges in the next installment(s), it's one clarifier I'll be trying to propagate in the (real-world and online) communities I participate in.

I could have posted very similar feedback to various clarifying insights you've presented in previous posts, but I hadn't quite figured out how to say it. (Which perhaps makes the concept of a "clarifier" itself a bit of a clarifier of my own.)

Feedback of this kind (whether valuable or not) might get repetitive, so in the future, I'll just post something like "[insert concept here]: clarifier" when I see one.

12/6/12, 7:24 AM

Jim Brewster said...
It seems like the effectiveness of protest is proportional to how much the protestors are putting on the line. From frontier rebellions at the dawn of the republic through pre-NLRB labor movements and the civil rights movements, those people were truly courting death. Of course it also correlates with how much they lived the movement outside of public protests.

On a humorous note, your apocalypse du jour reminded me a little of the Church of the Subgenius response to the passing of its own doomsday. For those not familiar, the Church of the Subgenius ( is a brilliant satire of American evangelical religion created in the early 1980's by the Rev. Ivan Stang. Stang had long stated that the end of the world, X-Day, would come on July 5, 1998, and the date became an actual festival. On X-Day, 1998, when end time prophecies failed to manifest, Stang allowed himself to be tarred and feathered by festival attendees and declared that the sacred texts had been read upside-down, making the fateful year 8661.

verification: ratsBaa

12/6/12, 8:46 AM

Thomas Daulton said...
..."Have their planet and eat it too" --!! Ouch!! Man, the truth hurts. Wonderfully pithy phrase, I'm surprised I don't remember you (or anyone else) using it before, maybe my memory is just faulty.

I hope I'm not hijacking the thread if I make a late comment on last week's post -- I was out of town when you posted it -- and it bears some relevance to what you're advising this week, to people such as John D. Wheeler.

I lived in Mexico for 3 years recently, so I wanted to comment on the idea of Mexicans reclaiming the southwest US. Nobody brought up a viewpoint like mine as far as I noted in skimming the 165 comments. I don't disagree with your geopolitical analysis, but I think it bears mentioning that the average Mexican at home, or who is coming across the border looking for work today, bears little resemblance to the warlord you describe who is operating a cartel or drug gang. Once you get over the language barrier -- (and Spanish is surely among the easiest languages in the world for English speakers to learn, and you can communicate complex ideas in broken Spanish just like English) -- Americans find many commonalities and admirable qualities among Latin Americans. They're Capitalist entrepreneurs to a man, overwhelmingly Christian, socially liberal and tolerant. The culture shock of such an "invasion" by our Southern neighbors may well be less than your essay insinuated, and less than many people would expect. Given the way Mexicans glom onto American pop culture and technology, and given the way Americans are becoming inured to political corruption and wealth disparity, I think "our two countries will meet in the middle and join hands," (as somebody said to James Coburn about a different empire in that classic movie _The President's Analyst_).

One of the real differences, one of the areas where a Latin takeover would make a difference to somebody like John D. Wheeler in this week's comments, is in the area of civil rights. Latin American peasants have a long history of putting up with strongmen and autocrats, so John should imagine living in someplace like Columbia where you can be "disappeared" for looking the wrong way at a bureaucrat's daughter, if John wants to know the difference between democracy and autocracy. On the other hand, the Mexicans also have a long history of populist awareness and uprisings. To my mind, the question is, as American and Latin cultures merge, can Americans uplift the Latins' expectations for civil rights and responsive governance, or will Americans sink to the typical Latin American level of tolerating autocrats and bad governance because "what else can you do"?? So far, the signs aren't at all hopeful, but we could change this.

12/6/12, 8:56 AM

Thomas Daulton said...
...(Sorry to ramble, but hey, I've been gone from this blog for awhile)...

I've been reading up on the fall of the Roman Empire (from some pop sources), and it really makes me think the high-school history notion of that empire's fall to barbarians is completely off-base. And resembles our own situation so much more than we care to admit, so we avert our eyes from an understanding. As you suggest, it seems the northern Barbarians had adopted a lot of aspects of Roman culture even as they were excluded from the Empire. The Barbarians were basically invited in, towards the end, to make up for a shortage of labor, sound familiar? (in Roman times, it was a shortage of soldiers). The fall of Rome certainly had some violent episodes, but reading the accounts it strikes me that it occurred day-to-day more as a civic takeover by a foreign faction than a storm of weird foreigners killing everyone in Rome and defacing the temples. You could argue the same thing is taking place in the US. Foreign corporations and Latin immigrants are slowly taking over our finances and our culture, respectively, and changing them to something slightly different. As my friend Justin Wade often says, the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome were mainly a tragedy for the moneyed political elites, who lost fortunes, whereas the common everyday peasants continued living their lives mostly like they'd always done, and may even have experienced more freedom and less interference from the central government.

Speaking of averting our eyes to the truth, how could we get through an entire week of discussing a Mexican invasion of the US without mentioning that old 1980's Patrick Swayze movie, "Red Dawn"?? (MINOR SPOILERS) In the 1980s version, an alliance of Cubans and Nicaraguans with help from Russia, (all the boogeymen of Reagan's time), invaded the southwest US. I think it's rather telling that the 2012 remake of that movie now casts the North Koreans as the villains. In the 1980s, an invasion from Latin America was wildly improbable. The drug violence had barely begun and it was mostly in service of the US government. Today in 2012, that threat may have escalated beyond anyone's control, so it's uncomfortable for Americans to watch it in a theatre. Ergo we have to avert our eyes from the truth, and pick a different boogeyman -- the North Koreans -- one who has about zero chance of invading the US in the present day.

12/6/12, 8:57 AM

SLClaire said...
Consuming democracy - that's a very apt phrase. After close to 25 years of being involved in the governance of various local not for profit organizations, I can vouch for both the difficulties and the rewards of practical democracy. Your post and the comments point out the difficulties, which I have also experienced. The rewards are there too: knowing that you helped keep an organization whose goals you value afloat, specific projects succeeding that you helped work on, learning more about yourself (including the shadow aspects) and others as a result of your involvement, the simple joy of working together with friends. For all that, sometimes a break is called for, and I am currently taking a break from all governance. I am looking forward to the remaining posts on democracy with the expectation of learning how to be more effective with whatever comes next.

12/6/12, 9:08 AM

Justin Wade said...
You missed the point of my comment entirely. This is not a moral judgment, I am mapping the reality of politics to material culture.

It is only within the framework of progress that democracy is imbued with such sentimental attachment as yours. Within that framing, democracy has been responsible for a lot of progress in the United States, starting with a document that codified slaves as 3/5 of a person.

I could care less about hooting as to whether Israel should exist or not in a moral argument. Did I say Israel? I mean democracy.

Whether my point is valid with respect to your post is a separate question as to what is in my back pocket.

12/6/12, 9:10 AM

Seaweed Shark said...
This kind of post is why I tell people that the Grand Archdruid writes one of the best blogs on the Web. Despite several disagreements and irritations over the last year, I have never read a more eloquent, compelling and accessible discussion of America's predicament. This last year's ADR could be brewed into a book that would sell -- but you know that already. To me it seems that the argument requires careful engagement with more scientific data and theory than you've provided, but quibbles aside, this is a very good piece. Bravo.

12/6/12, 9:22 AM

Justin Wade said...
@Chris Travers

I see your point, but the modern world may be a very dark place by future and past standards. Changing times is a matter of perspective, the dark ages also coincided with the death of slavery in the European world. I'm sure not everyone considered it the worst thing that ever happened, on balance. It could only be revived on another continent using people from somewhere else many centuries later, and briefly.

No one hates a burning book so much as a writer, save for the author or the idiot playing hero in its pages.

12/6/12, 9:24 AM

Justin Wade said...
I am fairly late to this blog so I probably have missed your posts on the British empire. Forgive me for that.

JMG, if you use labels creatively in your posts on series via blogger, its really easy to get someone caught up with a link. For instance, if you used the label of Magic or British Empire, then getting someone the 5-8 posts is as simple as a link like this:

I got that just by clicking the label 'surrealescapes' that tagged one of the posts and copying it from the buffer.

That is a labeled series of posts on some digital paintings I am doing under the label 'surrealescapes'. If I had 100 of these, that link would work just the same as if I have 5. It makes referencing and such very easy and reading a series super simple.

Here is another one from another project,

The only caveat is that the label tag grabs your posts in chronological order, so a series is rendered backward if posted from the first installment on in real time.

12/6/12, 9:29 AM

Nano said...
So I was hoping to try to get some speculative short range perspective. I am 35yrs old with a 4yr old and a 20mo old. What do you think will be the overall US scenario when they hit their 20's/30's?

On my end, my wife and I see us working quite a long time and any future of a retirement like our parents enjoy is highly improbable.

12/6/12, 9:33 AM

Joel said...
I spent a couple months of my free time working with the PICO network.

My part of it focused on Proposition 30, which broke the gridlock of CA legislative vetos and raised taxes for the first time in a long time. Now that the ratchet on the steering wheel is broken, the next step is to hotwire the engine, and people can start governing themselves again.

Proposition 30 was polling at 48%, but ended up getting 53% of the vote. PICO's registration and turn-out efforts probably shifted the mix of likely voters enough to count for a good fraction of that margin, although organized labor organized mightily for it, too. This is among the few places where polling didn't work well.

This unexpected shift in the likelihood of voting also seems to have pushed Norquist's fiancees down below the numbers they would need to veto CA legislative activity: both chambers now have Republicans outnumbered two-to-one. Reagan re-invented the party from here, and my fond hope is that this round of innovation will be more about substance and less about style.

At about the same time, PICO also helped a group of undocumented students to get to Washington. These young people were willing to work with either President Obama or Marco Rubio, or anyone else in power, frankly. Executive power ended up being a little more nimble than legislative power, but for a time, the two parties continue to scramble for the attention of a group of voters who suddenly aren't predictable. Pundits are talking about demographic shifts and whether immigration reform should happen in one comprehensive step or in a bunch of little pieces, and while I'm sure they'll change their policies as little as possible, it's clear that they feel pressure.

To sum up, my recent experience has been that the tree of democracy is damaged, but is sending up some water sprouts.

@ Thijs Goverde:

The Netherlands has tremendous experience in living along the coast, below sea level. This is a very trendy way to live; I expect your people to reap some well-deserved rewards for their pioneering efforts, as fossil fuels make more countries low.

12/6/12, 9:52 AM

Edward said...
I’m reading “The Sixties” by Todd Gitlin. He was a leader of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The book provides a fascinating look into the Movement in the 60’s. The author spends a lot of effort describing what the leaders were thinking, and how they went about their activities. The book shows the phases that the movement went through – from trying to work within the system, to peaceful protests, to violent protests.

SDS and the allied organizations obtained meager results from working within the system. Initially they obtained promises from politicians but the promises were not honored. The peaceful protests were more successful in bringing around the views of the population as a whole, which then brought pressure on the politicians. In addition they did a lot of grass root organizing in getting out the black vote in the south. The author believes that the willingness of the protesters to put themselves in harm’s way was effective in getting attention and making the public as a whole pay attention. Overall this was a successful campaign.

When the attention of the young people turned to the Vietnam war, the peaceful protests were not effective in changing anything, as the majority of the population still favored the war. The protests became more and more violent with little immediate result. I’m not all the way through the book yet, so I’m not sure if the eventual turning of public opinion was due to the protests, or what. I have to believe that the protests had some effect.

In any case a fascinating book with some overlap on the present discussion here. I suppose that even in a declining empire there is room for some good to happen in the political realm, especially for the small people at the local level.

12/6/12, 10:08 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Chris, not a problem. You'll find the relevant posts here and here.

Damien, a classic example! I hear similar comments from friends in Britain who used to think the LibDems were an alternative.

Farfiman, I take it you didn't actually read my post. If you had, you'd have seen the comments about "the decades immediately ahead of us" -- which makes it far from an academic issue.

Cherokee, I'll miss it, too, but I'm running out of good examples! All too many of the apocalyptic prophecies of the past amount to, "In 954 CE, St. Gundibald predicted the end for the ninety-fifth time."

Tony, funny.

CWT, as I've commented many times in the past, large-scale slavery only makes economic sense if you've got an export economy -- as the South did, for example, before the Civil War, and as the Roman agricultural regions did in their day. Lacking that, it's much more economically viable to let people farm your land and take a share of the crop in exchange.

John, exactly. That's why the point has to be made, over and over again, that passively waiting for a party to give you a good candidate is a waste of time.

Christian, York has seen a few imperial declines in its time! Many thanks for the link; from my observations, the situation is even worse than the Beeb thinks.

John, I figured I'd get that kind of argument by anecdote. It's still the case that you, personally, can say things about the government that would get you hauled off to a prison camp in China or Cuba, and suffer no consequences at all. Does that matter to you? If not, by all means ignore politics.

Jeffrey, it's going to be turned into a book. I think, though, that you're drastically underestimating how rough the road is ahead of us; it's easy to talk about how unsatisfying life is in today's America, but it will be interesting to see how much of that talk goes away when people are dying of hunger.

Bruce, I've discussed anarchism more than once here. It's one of those appealing abstractions that doesn't work in practice -- in this case, for the simple reason that the "free agreements" Kropotkin lauds aren't worth the empty wind they're written on once somebody decides to break them and seize power and wealth by force.

Macsporan, er, what rock do you live under? First, the nation-state was invented in the early 19th century and did not exist before then; since then, a baker's dozen of them have gone out of existence in various parts of the world and many more have been invented out of whole cloth; and unless you spend all your time at Tea Party rallies, you can very easily meet millions of Americans who aren't religious and don't feel particularly patriotic. As for America's empire, please reread my earlier posts on the subject -- they're from February of this year; I'm far from sure you understand what I mean by the word.

12/6/12, 10:24 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Raven, that's exactly my point; democracy must be produced at the same rate that it's consumed, or you eventually run out. I'll have some suggestions on how to get the factories running again next week.

Myriad, glad to hear it!

Jim, good heavens -- I'd almost forgotten about the SubGenii! Thanks for the reminder.

Thomas, it's not the ordinary Mexicans that concern me, as I pointed out. It's that the process of warband formation is well under way there. As for the fall of Rome, you might want to read Bryan Ward-Perkins' critique of the "soft decline" theory in his The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization -- I discuss it in some detail here.

SLClaire, I'll be interested in your comments.

Justin, I'm far from sure you got my point, either. I think we all agree that democracy has massive flaws; Churchill's point remains valid -- democracy may be bad but all other systems are measurably worse -- and so the issue I want to raise is whether it's possible to retain the benefits that make democracy, flawed as it is, significantly better than the alternatives.

Nano, I expect two or three decades from now to see ongoing, crippling economic contraction, spiralling political dysfunction, and a great deal of war. It's a flip of the coin whether the US will still have anything like its present system of government by then. Your kids will be growing up in a very tough world.

Joel, to revert to my metaphor, the democracy shortage isn't yet complete, and efforts to produce some can pay off.

12/6/12, 10:37 AM

Thomas Daulton said...
(** Can be offline if desired) -- Hey JMG, thanks for pointing me to your 2008 article, that was before I started following your blog. I just read it now.

I take your point that the collapse of a highly specialized economy had human costs, so Rome's fall was much less "soft" than I just portrayed it. In my defense, though -- maybe I'm being too reductionist -- yours are all relevant points for the technical, economic, and energy spheres of American collapse. The kind of economic and technical/scientific/professional collapse you refer to in your 2008 article would (likely) befall America regardless whether it happened to be Mexico on our border, or Iran or Mongolia. But I was really only referring to the "cultural" sphere, and saying that Mexican/Latin culture has so many commonalities with American (especially Southwest US) culture that the collapse of our own Hadrian's Wall on our South border may feel, culturally, more like a mutual assimilation than a sharp break.

Of course my analysis there is shunting all the problems of warlord culture, autocracy vs. civil rights off into the "political" sphere, and it's probably impossible and misguided to separate the political from the cultural spheres.

I'm not saying there won't be human costs to our Empire's decline and fall -- but a lot of those are due to Peak Oil and environmental collapse, and therefore would happen regardless what culture was on our borders. Speaking strictly Culturally, the US might have a softer collapse than Rome because the "barbarians" on our borders (Canadians and Mexicans) share a lot of fundamental qualities and outlook with us. Maybe more than the Romans shared with the Picts and Gauls... far more than the modern-day Isolationist party believes that Mexicans share with us.

You once said words to the effect that Jim Kunstler fears the barbarism of the tattooed, pierced slacker generation overmuch because he hasn't spent much time among them. I'm just trying to get the same point across about Mexicans -- not necessarily to you, but to other readers of your blog who haven't had much exposure to them in their native country. Spend a little time among them and the pop-culture propaganda image of dirty wetbacks crossing the border to carry away our wealth for themselves (eerily similar to the high-school history image of Gallic barbarians) just drops away. That was my point which nobody mentioned in last week's comments.

12/6/12, 11:37 AM

Odin's Raven said...
Archdruid, I heard your discussion on Philip Carr-Gomm's site, but could not place your accent. Is it a West Coast accent or something unique to yourself. An unusual person may have an unusual accent!

12/6/12, 11:44 AM

Robert said...
"It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see...."
"You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?"
"No," said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, "nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people."
"Odd," said Arthur, "I thought you said it was a democracy."
"I did," said Ford. "It is."
"So," said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse, "why don't the people get rid of the lizards?"
"It honestly doesn't occur to them," said Ford. "They've all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they want."
"You mean they actually vote for the lizards?"
"Oh yes," said Ford with a shrug, "of course."
"But," said Arthur, going for the big one again, "why?"
"Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might get in." Douglas Adams, in So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish (1984) Ch. 36.

12/6/12, 12:00 PM

CWT said...
Slavery was not intended to be the main point of my previous comment it was an example of a practice that was morally tolerated before the industrial age and was morally frowned upon during the industrial age. What I was wondering was weather a number of other changes in the modern ethical code are going to disappear with fossil fuels.

12/6/12, 12:16 PM

Edward said...
Oops, bad editing: In the second paragraph of my post above, I was talking about the civil rights activism

12/6/12, 12:17 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

@Cherokee Organics--please don't stress over my casual remark. None of that 1970s mead made anyone sick; some of it didn't taste good.

There must be a lot of people in and outside of the Society for Creative Anachronism who have experience in making mead, metheglin and other honey-based beverages and could advise you on the finer points.

The age and source of the honey might affect the flavor, as it does with baking and the preparation of kyphi incense. I would expect hygiene, proportions, water quality, and aging to govern the drinkability and perhaps the alcohol content. You have control over most of that.

12/6/12, 1:10 PM

Display Name said...
In a true democracy each vote goes directly towards the outcome. So in a true democracy the majority is sovereign. The US is technically a federal republic (with an eye towards protecting the individual --at least this was Madison's hope). It was an experiment as we all know, with an enormously difficult task. But at least the framers started with Man's rights being ordained from God and not from kings. However, despite this good starting point, equality does not encompass the whole of human activity. There is a push out of Rio and the UN to give Gaia more rights than a human, driving anybody concerned with civil liberties crazy.

What to do, what to do.... we need a safe place for conflict. Not 'conflict' in the sense of wars or imperialism - we need a safe place for conflict amongst the various ideas of governance - a place to experiment with different approaches and compare notes safely without hurting anybody's feelings. Why not launch something on the internet where differenct approaches are inserted into the same model and see what the outcomes are. Make it a kind of game with avatars.

12/6/12, 1:47 PM

Atilio Baroni Filho said...
Reading your analysis made me see we might be on the initial moments of something very similar here in Brazil.

We are currently being governed by a coalition of parties led by a left-center party for the last ten years. It has since then occupied the political discourse and policies of the center and also parts of the right, and done it so effectively, that the opposition from the right is unable to present itself as an alternative. It has steadily and slowly lost votes and chairs in congress, while the main left-center party is steadily and slowly winning them. A good example of this is a big candidate from the right who lost both the last presidential race and the race to mayor of the biggest city in Brazil, São Paulo (traditionally a right leaning electorate).

Another important details is, following the not-so-bright history of big media in Latin America, all of our major newspapers and virtually all TV networks decided (some openly, some covertly) that they would be the opposition, resulting in some sad episodes during elections and very biased reporting throughout the year.

Add to this situation the obscene class based hate that most of the middle and high class has of our former president Lula (and consequently of all that his party touches), which already makes discussion of political issues at best difficult, and you have an increasingly polarized political climate. When party X becomes the root of all evil, and only the ones opposing it can save us...

The changes in these last ten years had some very good consequences for us (less reliance on the American Empire being one of them), some terrible consequences for our environment and climate, but rationally discussing this with people is already hard these days. I really wonder which way this country will go during the Long Descent...

12/6/12, 2:10 PM

macsporan said...
With respect, Archdruid, the nation-state was invented in the Middle Ages and has been around for a long time.

They are very resilient.

Britain, Spain, Germany, Russia, have endured disasters that would have smashed far more fragile empires into fragments.

For example all the empires in the First World War, no matter what side, were destroyed; all the nation states survived.

The example of Russia is particularly instructive: two world wars, Stalinism, the Cold War--they really did lose their empire by the way--and they're still here.


The only counter-examples I can think of are the Confederacy and South Vietnam.

Americans are by European standards very religious, its a mark of their backwardness.

Americans are very patriotic, to the extent that they are something of a joke elsewhere.

Even Leftists have signed on to a form of Exceptionalism--to them America is the worst country on earth, rather than the last best hope of man.

The idea that the US is just another nation-state seems very difficult for many of its citizens to accept, but it is true nonetheless.

It's time for the US to quiet down and it's glory days are behind it, but I'd bet the house that is isn't going to stage a melodramatic collapse and take the whole of civilization with it.

Such things almost never happen.

I say this as a foreigner who sees little to admire in the US or its empire.

12/6/12, 2:41 PM

DW said...
@JMG: Just curious if you have read "The Conundrum" by David Owen? It's a very quick read for those of us who already understand this issues and will certainly teach you nothing new; but I thought you'd find it interesting none-the-less...though, like me, you'll likely find certain points and binaries highly annoying...still...

Some selected quotes:

“But the true environmental catastrophe [of the BP Oil Spill] wasn’t the oil that went into the water; it was the oil we continued the use exactly as we intended.” (19)

“The environmental problem with such advances is that the productivity gains have almost always been reinvested in additional production: as we’ve gotten better at making things, we’ve made more things.” (24)

“We Americans routinely discard as much that our country now spends more on plastic garbage bags than almost half of the world’s countries spend on everything.” (32)

“The main lessons can be stated simply. In order to soften our environmental impacts, we need to find ways, globally, to live smaller, live closer, and drive less.” (47)

“The idea automotive strategy would be to steadily remove driving lanes while maintaining congestion at levels that drivers find vexing, thereby gibing them an ongoing incentive to embrace alternatives.” (86)

“Globally, some two-thirds of all energy that is consumed is the energy used to produce the goods and services we consume.” (119)

“The last thing the world needs is an inexpensive car that gets a hundred miles to the gallon, because once we have it there will no longer be a significant barrier, worldwide, to becoming a driver.” (141)

“More cars mean more roads, more roads mean more suburbs, and more suburbs mean more energy use and environmental damage in every category.” (141)

“from an environmental perspective cheap energy is a problem, no matter what the source…Access to cheap electricity doesn’t solve environment al problems; it amplifies them, by relieving the economic pressures that, if left in place, would force consumers to make real, lasting, environmentally beneficial reductions in consumption.” (195)

“‘Built-in obsolescence’ doesn’t come close to describing it, since most of the devices we covet today are technologically extinct even before we’ve decided we can’t live without them.” (220)

“The real problem isn’t them; it’s everyone—especially those of us who, however enlightened we may feel, are quite comfortable consuming a grotesquely disproportionate share of the world’s resources. Just how willing are we, actually, to demand and support policies that would require more from us than product substitution? And, even if we believe we are willing, how could we prevent the biggest burdens and sacrifices from falling on those who live in misery even now?’ (241)

“What’s proven impossible, at least so far, is to commit to taking steps that would actually make a large, permanent difference on a global scale. Do we honestly care? That’s the conundrum.” (261)

12/6/12, 3:09 PM

Justin Wade said...
I think I get your point. Your article begins by asserting that democracy is a better system than all the others and ends by promising to offer a plan to restore democratic political engagement.

My point is that the only reason the assertion works is because most people associate and attribute the gains in social rights and material wealth to democracy made in Imperial America during the age of abundance. It is only within that context that democracy appears to be better than all the rest and your assumption works. If you go back before the beginning of this period, roughly the turn of the last century or WWII, the average person in this democracy would have had quite a bit different to say.

Those who were not recently slaves, serfs, women, poor children or workers, surviving natives, they would have found democratic government quite savage. About the only people engaged by your assumption would have been wealthy, land holding elites.

Your assumption and conception of how democracy works is subject to the same framework of progress that colors in the usual commentary of modern times.

I'll also note that your refusal to hear any criticism from someone unless they have a proposal that has been demonstrated to work in the real world pretty much kills any way to attempt alternatives or invention beyond what has already been tried and rendered in judgment one way or the other. In this matter, you think like a reactionary, but thats not necessarily unexpected from someone as steeped in history as you are.

12/6/12, 3:57 PM

Chris Balow said...

By the time summer comes around, my wife and I will be moving to South Carolina, probably permanently. I don't know how much time you have spent in the Deep South, but I am wondering if you have any thoughts about the future of democracy in that region. Might it devolve, as many of the Leftward persuasion would suggest, into an oppressive evangelical theocracy, or has the decline of Christianity advanced far enough to preclude that possibility?

12/6/12, 4:01 PM

Justin Wade said...

After categorizing your position in this matter as reactionary based on your a priori conclusion that democracy is the least bad of unrealistic options in politics by demanding an alternative with the caveat that there are no realistic options that have not already been tried, I figured I owed an explanation of what's in my back pocket to go along with my criticism to the discussion.

There is a piece of paper with a note scrawled on it that reads, "You are not the cosmos"

I am a white male American who has lived his entire life in close proximity to peak abundance America. In my everyday, real world experience, I have not once ever experienced life as anything other than a privileged member of a priveleged culture. I have absolutely no capacity to speak to any experience of feeling repressed, abused, discriminated or shunted aside by the establishment. All I have to offer based on personal experience is a tepid defense of the status quo based on the emotional calculation that all things considered, this is the best there is and best that is possible, same as you. Anytime I feel like prescribing a system that's the best possible thing there is for anyone else, I read that note.

Were I a black man of my same age who has spent time in prison for possession of substances I myself have used free of molestation, whose parents and grandparents were pushed into a different form of repression of segregation that preceded the war on drugs, whose grandparents and great grandparents may have had living memory of slavery, I might feel different. Were I a woman who has been raped and told by an investigating officer that I had it coming, I might feel differently. Were I a Vietnamese man whose legs got blown off from left over ordnance or whose offspring were deformed from our great democracy's crusade in my land, I may have other things to say. And so on.

Also, its not white guilt that I am speaking of. I make no apologies for my advantages, I didn't ask for them, but I would have been a fool to neglect them. All I am saying is that I know I can't speak for everyone and that some calculation that amounts to, "this is the best we have or could possibly have" is more likely to be self-serving rationalization than a reasonable position.

Looking forward to the next post on how to increase democracy with direct action.

12/6/12, 5:14 PM

Andy Brown said...
There's democracy for power, which is what you seem to be imagining, and then there is democracy for resistance. (Russians can make themselves pretty much ungovernable, for example. Or see Scott's "Weapons of the Weak" on peasant forms of resistance.) I think a democracy of resistance is likely to come in more handy than grassroots organizing. And it's one more reason why many of the most marginalized groups in society will probably have a leg up on their more sheltered fellow-citizens. I see plenty of scope for Green Wizardry in this.

12/6/12, 5:29 PM

DeVaul said...
You know, I think you are right about there being two things that are nailed to the floor regarding our future. Even now, after all the failures of the previous wars, all of which were planned decades ago, we still march forward with the original plan to invade some 7 or 8 middle eastern countries.

We appear to be on autopilot. Our trajectory is a straight line, albeit a downward one. It leads me to believe that no one is really in charge, since the course set out 20 years ago cannot be changed by any single man or group of men. Our president is a prop, along with congress and the supreme court. All props.

I suppose the conspiracy theorists claim to know who is in charge, but you cannot tell it from their behavior. Even Mark Twain once wondered aloud whether the world was run by smart men who were just putting us on or imbeciles who really meant it. He didn't know.

The decision to invade Syria defies any and all reason and logic, even for greedy, stupid men who hope to get rich off of the suffering of others.

Yesterday, I saw something that lends credence to your claim that everything west of the Mississippi will become part of Mexico. A space shot of America at night showed a vast network of bright lights and clusters of intense city light east of the Mississippi, but immediately west of the river was a dark continent with only a few small clusters of intense light.

I don't see how the US can hold on to anything west of the Mississippi, as this area is not only now foreign occupied, but does not even have the infrastructure to support its connection to the main part of the US, which really stops at the Mississippi.

I wonder if the area between the river and the west coast will become some kind of vast "no man's land" or even a wasteland straight out of a Mel Gibson movie. Who would want it? Who could afford to maintain control over it?

The Mexican army could not control it. The US cavalry wasted millions trying to control it and eventually resorted to genocide. And yet, no one lives there. Who would want to?

12/6/12, 5:36 PM

macsporan said...
The last time the global temperature was 2C hotter than it is now most of the space between the Mississippi and the Rockies was an enormous desert, yes desert, complete with giant golden sand-dunes.

When this happens the region is not going to be inhabited by Americans, Mexicans or anyone else unless they want the lifestyle of Bedouin Arabs.

Perhaps the Mexicans could then convert to Islam and attack the dying US Empire.

How's that scenario for all you Fall of Rome freaks?

12/6/12, 6:25 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Thomas, once the time of the warbands is finished, I have no doubt that the hybrid Anglo-Hispanic culture that will rise over most of what's now the US will be viable and highly creative. If historical examples are anything to go by, for that matter, the next great civilization in North America will probably be born in the Rio Grande valley -- it's very common for the borderlands of one age to become the cultural heartlands of the next. Still, we've got a mess to get through first.

Raven, I come from the future. That's the way we all talk there. ;-)

Robert, too funny!

CWT, heck of a good question. Moral ideas change over time, to be sure; predicting how they'll change, though, is a real challenge.

Display, by all means start such a site if that work calls to you.

Atilio, many thanks for the update from Brazil! I don't pretend to know how your country will fare -- it could easily be one of the global powers of the post-Chinese era, it could crash and burn in any number of ways, or it could fall someplace in the middle. That's true of a lot of relatively resource-rich Third World countries, to be sure.

Macsporan, I'd encourage you to do some more research. If you want to call the dynastic states between the late Middle Ages and the early 19th century "nation-states," you've just shot holes in your own argument, because scores of those states no longer exist. Shall I list some? Burgundy, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Sardinia, Hawaii, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Gran Colombia, Champa, Bohemia, the Republic of Zanzibar, the Republic of Venice -- well, I could go on until I run past the number of characters Blogger will allow me to post. All these and many more were independent nations well into post-medieval times, with their own governments, traditions, armies, ambassadors, and all the other appurtenances of sovereign states; none of them exist today.

That said, I note again that you don't seem to understand what I mean when I talk about the US empire. It has nothing to do with the current 50 states; it's defined, as I've explained at great length in earlier posts, by the military and economic arrangements that funnel a disproportionate share of the world's wealth to the US. That's the empire I'm talking about, and it can fall without the US losing a single square inch of territory. Again, you might consider reading the posts I mentioned earlier.

DW, yes, I've read it. It's not bad -- despite some annoying bits, the author has grasped the fact that trying to solve the crisis of our time without a drastic reduction in the rate at which we consume energy and raw materials is a recipe for disaster.

Justin, your argument is deeply flawed for two reasons. First, as I pointed out, democracies existed before the industrial age, and even then provided their citizens with more rights than autocracies of the same era -- again, the fact that they weren't perfect doesn't mean they weren't better; second, democracies weren't the only nations to participate in the boomtimes of the fossil fuel era, and there again, democracies during that time provided their citizens with more rights than autocracies did. The kind of criticism you direct at American democracy, for example, could land you in a prison camp in China today -- and I suggest that that's a difference worth noting.

As for your label "reactionary," er, I think you need to look up that word and think a little more about the definition. A reactionary is someone who wants to return a nation to an earlier political, economic or social system, and I'm not doing that. The phrase you want for me is "Burkean conservative" -- yes, that's a reference to Edmund Burke, who argued forcefully (and to my mind convincingly) that political and economic systems that work are evolved, not invented, and the usual result of trying to force a society to conform to somebody's bright new idea is catastrophe. More on this in a future post.

12/6/12, 6:43 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Andy, from my perspective, the single least helpful habit in contemporary activism is the notion that it's enough to say "no." In politics, as in warfare, a purely reactive stance guarantees defeat.

DeVaul, excellent -- you get tonight's gold star. Yes, the system is basically on autopilot, because nobody can put together a coalition of power centers strong enough to overcome the inertia of existing policies in the teeth of resistance from those who profit from them. As for the Great American Desert, as it was once called, I suspect that eventually it's going to turn into a close analogue of central Asia, complete with horse nomads spilling out into the settled lands of the Mississippi basin, central Mexico, and the Pacific coast at intervals.

12/6/12, 6:52 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Macsporan, see my comment to Devaul about horse nomads. That's a few centuries down the road, though.

12/6/12, 6:54 PM

Doctor Westchester said...

This has been a post that I have been waiting for now a while. I’ve had all the pieces in my hand for many years, but the metaphor of consuming democracy (actually it’s more accurately political capital) crystallizes a unified idea wonderfully.

I have always been uncomfortable with recent protest movements, especially environmental ones. That they are ultimately feel-good exercises has been becoming more apparent over the years.
There is one recent environmental protest that I have been finding especially revealing, that of the XL Pipeline. John, please correct me if I’m mistaken about this, but it appears this one is unique because there is actually a bazooka that if skillfully used could (politically) reduce this thing to a smoking ruin. Instead, nothing but Neff balls seems to be used against it, like possibly destroying the Ogallala Aquifer, which few people care about. The bazooka is the fact that the purpose of the Pipeline is essentially to raise the price of gasoline in the middle of country – to get rid the gut of oil at the Oklahoma oil depot by connecting the tar sands to the world oil market. It is very interesting that this issue never seems to be raised by activists. Is it because their protests might start getting overrun with grubby red-necks who would be . . . marching with them?

Lastly, I have some male friends who are a long term couple who got married last weekend. There is much amusement by liberal leaning people about Log Cabin Republicans – why don’t these people change parties to one that welcomes them? Yet if you think about it, Log Cabin Republicans are the probably a, if not the, major secret weapon of the Gay Rights movement and likely a significant reason the tide is turning in favor of this issue. Now if only some conservationists decided to be conservatives. It’s not like there is some link between the two concepts.

12/6/12, 7:30 PM

macsporan said...
With respect Archdruid some dynastic states became nation-states early on, Britain, France and Spain; while others missed out: Germany, Italy and some parts of Eastern and Southern Europe did not become nation-states until much later.

Many of the examples you give are German and they were absorbed into the German nation in the 19th Century.

Once established though nation-states are very resilient and are an important piece of sociopolitical technology.

The USA being an early version of a democratic nation-state is less resilient then some, but I think resilient enough to survive whatever the world throws at it.

I do not believe as some here do that we haven't learned a thing in the last two thousand years.

The USA/Roman Empire metaphor is corrupt in every detail.

A democratic industrial-era nation-state, however defective, is not a sprawling, slave-powered multi-ethnic tyranny.

I have studied history most of my life and one thing I have learned is that the present is not very much like the past, and as one would expect, is a great improvement upon it in every way.

The Dark Ages were really horrible and I doubt you'd have enjoyed them much.

12/6/12, 7:48 PM

Progress and Conserve said...
Several points from a man who has never commented here, before:

First - I've been reading you for a year and find your grasp of issues to be insightful and unique. And, given our present circumstances, uniqueness should be valued above most all else, in my humble opinion. So, thanks for what you offer every week!

Second - your new readers, and there are a couple every week, who lament that they missed your earlier thoughts on various topics need to learn to use their computers to FIND YOUR ARCHIVES.
It can't be that hard. I found them, at any rate.

Third - Related to last week's post on immigration, but going beyond it into the concept of democracy and life itself - -

Do not you, JMG, have an opinion on what a desirable and sustainable number of human inhabitants should be - for that portion of the North American continent that is presently occupied by the political entity known as the United States.

You seem to indicate, in your writing, that human migration has so much *inevitably* about it, that it should never be opposed. But, isn't today's situation unique in history - at least unique enough to give us pause for thought?

Never before have migration numbers exceeded 1,000,000++ per year, as in the US today.

Never before has migration been so fueled by fossil fuels, cars, trucks, and airplanes, as in the US today.

Never before has the distinction between legal AND illegal migration been so (deliberately?) muddled, and yet so important -

Because, never before have so many LEGAL migrants been so dependent on the panoply of government programs - tenuous programs perhaps, given economic changes and the realities of the collapse of Empire - but VERY important for life FOR those migrants - as in today's United States.

If you believe that the US landmass can support 400,000,000 human souls - - - And if you believe that our collapse will be slow, gentle and gradual - - - Then you might argue that today's historically UNPRECEDENTEDLY HIGH US immigration rates do not matter.

But, if you are more of a realist, as I suspect you are -

THEN, shouldn't we in the United States, do everything we can to reduce our own incoming immigration rates - while we still have the military and law enforcement power to enable us to DO this?

And shouldn't we, at the same time, encourage the "best and brightest" from other countries to STAY HOME, and do what they can in their own home countries, to prepare there for the collapse of the US Empire.

There are "grassroots" organizations working to reduce immigration into the United States.
Racism is not the issue. Disrespect of migrants is not the issue. The issue is NUMBERS.

This is a long post.
Sorry about that, but I'm a first time poster and I've been putting it off for a long time.
I've got more to offer.
Hope you're interested.

12/6/12, 8:18 PM

Iuval Clejan said...
JMG, why do you call St Benedict's monastery at Monte Cassino a "hovel"? There were plenty of monasteries and other pre-industrial communities that offered a decent life. There are already emerging communities that cost almost nothing to establish and that offer a decent standard of living. The funds required for startup are mostly the price of land and hand tools and seeds. Funds or land can also be gifted (this is happening) so the price can be zero dollars. Personally, I think the standard of living in a post-petroleum community such as the Possibility Alliance is much better than anywhere else I've been. The work is better, the food is better, the recreation is better, the human and natural connections are better. And it will only get better as more people with diverse pre-industrial craft/agrarian skills and specialties move there. There is not much need for funding, just for people with skills, or who are willing to learn skills. Funding for tools and land would accelerate things though, and there still is plenty of money and gift energy around. The only scarcity is of imagination and will.

12/6/12, 8:28 PM

Justin said...
What I am saying is that the only reason your assertion that democracy is the best of whats been tried seems like an unassailably true assertion is because of what happened in the 20th century during the age of abundance. Prior to that, it was about as rotten as the rest.

But for your sake, here are some facts to stack up next to your platitudes.

There are more people in incarceration in the US now than were in the Soviet gulags at the height of Stalin's Russia.

We have more people in prison in terms of per capita or raw numbers than any other country in the world.

People serve longer prison sentences here than for comparable crimes elsewhere in the world.

Many states still have the death penalty, considered barbaric in many other countries.

Prison rape is endemic, as is other forms of minor abuse from guard to prisoner. One of the worst is solitary confinement, which is increasingly being recognized by cognitive science as an extreme form of mental torture that has debilitating effects (to cut a social primate off from contact.)


12/6/12, 9:51 PM

Justin said...
By the way, my argument was never that democracy was worse than some other specific form of government. That was just the argument you wanted me to make and I keep saying is beside the point of my comments.

All I am trying to do is question your assertion that democracy works better. Although you don't really define what works means, or how you quantify that, other than to assert an aphorism about it being the worst except for all the others and cite Chinese prison camps. The second problem is that you then say for anyone to challenge this, they have to present a proposal that has already been proven to work better in the real world. Your initial statement negates anything like this existing by assertion, resting upon the authority of the general concensus of historians who've been brought up in and internalized the value systems institutions of democracy.

Nothing that has not already been tried is excluded from consideration as a pipe dream, and everything that has been tried has been rendered worse by assertion. Its a neat rhetorical argument that is also known as begging the question. It is also deeply reactionary.

My point is that the consensus you are relying upon has only been formed recently under the very material conditions that are going away. Even upon its own terms, it is questionable when you get past "if you said that in China, you'd go to jail" arguments and look at the numbers such as I referred to above.

For the world's freest state, this democracy sure seems to have a lot of prisoners at home and military garrisons abroad that others do not.

In America you are free to do or say whatever you want so long as you pay your debts and taxes. Its a free country, and you get what you pay for.

12/6/12, 10:07 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Doctor W., that's an excellent point. In a forthcoming book I point out that environmental activists have been assigned by society the role of fighting against progress, and losing. They have embraced that role enthusiastically, and have gotten very good at avoiding any strategy that would actually win.

Macsporan, you're hammering on a point you've already made, engaging in blatantly circular logic -- "nation states don't collapse, and so anything that collapsed must not have been a nation state" -- and arguing with points I haven't made -- where do you get the idea that I think that Dark Ages are fun? -- and none of those is useful. If you keep it up I'm simply going to delete your comments.

Progress, you might want to reread this week's post, and consider the comments I've made about the economic payoff the middle class gets by encouraging illegal immigration. You can say "we should" this and "we should" that all you want, but until you grapple with the economics of the situation, it's going to be wasted breath.

Iuval, I'm sorry, but that last comment of yours -- "the only scarcity is of imagination and will" -- shows that you haven't yet grasped the most basic realities of our predicament. Scarcity is real, limits are real, and until you come to terms with those hard facts, you're waltzing away in Cloud-Cuckooland.

You might also consider looking at the history of the Benedictine order back in the days when it took its vows of poverty seriously, and find out just how hard a life Benedict and his fellow monks embraced...

Justin, I understand what you're saying. I'm arguing that you're quite simply wrong in claiming that before the industrial revolution, democracy was no better than anything else. If you want to disagree with that, fine, but it would be helpful if you actually addressed my arguments -- and pointing out that late imperial America has a very high prison population, which of course it does (hint: China and many other autocratic countries have much smaller prison populations because they execute a very large fraction of their felons), doesn't address that point.

It's always easy to argue by anecdote, as I've just done, and insist that the US or whoever is uniquely bad (or uniquely good) because you can find some statistic to compare it negatively or positively to some other collection of countries. So? That doesn't address my point. Compare America in the first half of the 19th century, when it was still an agricultural nation, with any of the autocratic countries of the same period, and you'll find consistently that more people had more civil rights in the US and other democratic societies than in autocratic nations. Once again, that doesn't make American democracy perfect, or even good; it makes it better than the alternatives -- even in a nonindustrial setting.

12/6/12, 10:29 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Justin (again), you're repeating yourself, and you're still not addressing the point I've been making all along. I've defined exactly what I mean by democracy being better -- it provides more civil rights and due process to more of its citizens than other systems of government, and your chances of ending up in a prison camp here for expressing a political opinion are much smaller than in autocratic societies. If you don't think those are significant benefits, then we have a disagreement, not an argument.

As for untried systems, well, you have the same right to your opinion as I do. I note that over the last couple of centuries, we've seen time and time again what happens when a bunch of intellectuals with a bright idea convince themselves and the masses that they can build a much better society on some abstract basis. The results are consistently disastrous. The changes that have actually improved access to human rights have been a matter of adapting, through an organic process, existing institutions in the direction of greater freedom. Again, that's Burke's point; you're free to disagree with it, but that's my view, and your misstating my views and verging on abusive language is not likely to encourage me to change it, you know.

12/6/12, 10:39 PM

The idea of improve democracy is good thinking about “The long descent”.
Jared Diamond in his book “Collapse” explains that one of the causes for the collapse of a society is that the ruler classes don´t suffer the troubles that are attacking the people of their society, and when the people of the upper classes begins to suffer the some troubles, it can be too late.
Diamond shows as a good example of unit society the Holland of the presents day, because all the people; rich and poor people, are exposed to the risk of be drowned by the sea water if the polders breaks. And all the Netherlanders knows that they depends ones of others for their survival.
But we must resist to “archaistic” temptations. It is not possible to return to the 1800 time.
Sadly, I think that the time for to improve democracy has passed, because we need to act thinking in a future of 20 or 30 years after now. A moment in which the economic expansion will be not possible, and there will be necessary to change some fundamental beliefs, beliefs that have been fundamental for our western civilization, and too for many others civilizations. Causing first, their material expansion and, after, the collapse and disintegration of that civilizations. And these beliefs are driving the Western Civilization by the same route; the beliefs based in the idea that the natural resources of the world are infinite.
To change the vision of a infinite world that exists to be spoiled for us (cowboy economy; Boulding) for a finite world that only will bring us his renewable resources (spaceman vision; Boulding) means to change the Western Civilization for a new civilization, totally different, that will surge of the ashes of this.

12/7/12, 12:46 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hey Chris Travers,

I read your comment about same sex marriages being an economic luxury and went, what the?

Then, to add insult to injury you get stuck into childless couples by saying that children are a retirement plan. Mate, what's wrong with you?

You've earned the Cherokee dunce's cap for those two comments.

Some fun facts for you. In Australia, if you were to be married before the age of 20, there is a 99% probability that the relationship will end up in divorce.

For marriage after the age of 20, the divorce rate is reduced to 50%.

If someone gave me those probabilities for surviving plane travel, I wouldn't get on the aircraft! The odds are not good.

Now, given those two statistics, how do you reckon those theoretical children are going to be a retirement plan like you suggest for the parents? Which parent do they support? Can the children support two independent households as well as their own?

These are difficult questions which have no answer.

As to the same sex marriage question, I have a couple of gay friends who would like recognition from the state as to their status. Given that in Australia, for most legislation they have equal rights and responsibilities as per de-facto and/or married couples wouldn't it then be a reasonable thing to also receive that state recognition of their status? I tell ya, that God of love seems a bit intolerant to me...

The other thing I want you to consider is that for some people their children do not survive childhood. For others, their parents may die when the children are yet young. For others still, their parents may just walk out of their lives. These are traumatic circumstances and you would do well to practice empathising with others before spruiking such nonsense again.

There is no certainty in the future, of this I can guarantee.


12/7/12, 1:09 AM

Mr O. said...
Nice post. It's interesting that this one seems to have got more people frothing at the mouth than even the previous one on Israel. I would find it hard to fault almost any of what you said. However I assume the US is similar to the UK in that many people seem to have bought into the political narrative (which side of it is irrelevant) at a very deep psychological level, so that it becomes almost part of their identity. Thus any attack on this political narrative is seen as a personal attack, which triggers all the most basic survival mechanisms, and so rational discussion is futile. A bit like road rage writ large.

12/7/12, 1:23 AM

brunowalshy said...
In his books, Sheldon Wolin provides an historical critique of the evolution of political systems now subsumed under economic imperatives. Whether you call it 'fugitive or inverted totalitarianism,' he concludes that democratic institution are not capable of scaling to these totalizing levels of complexity.

I think true equality existed in the band life of nomadic hunters and gatherers, even if they weren't democratic in the definitive sense of the term you outlined. Any political system enacted within centers of significant population density (usually agriculturally based as opposed to horticulture) is inherently opposed to such values because the system is hierarchical. Moreover, the present expansion of civil liberties, equality and due process seems to be a product of not so much a result of Hornsborg's wealth pump (wherein enough surplus to share with the lower classes) as the aberrant time/space condition of abundantly cheap fossil fuels industry was born of and came to rely on. Without these 'enablers,' 'unalienable rights' will turn into what they always were under such systems: privileges of a limited few. After all, despite the ostensible class differences within the US, the country as a whole represents an elite 5% compared to the world at large. Abundance is a luxury; scarcity will reveal these cherished values for what they are: whimsical flights of satiated and secure persons comfortably seated in their upholstered armchairs.

To clarify, there are plenty of historical examples of empires with surpluses and gross inequalities. Referring back to my original observation on social organization (primarily a product of food-based delivery systems) I think 'real' democracy - corruption, warts and all - has its only viable expression in small, localized communities.

12/7/12, 2:21 AM

phil harris said...
I have much appreciated your 'end of empire series' including your compare and contrast references to the end of the British empire, which last was a notable feature of my schooldays. As you have said, these trading empires and their economic and military arrangements funnel wealth and resources to the core turf.

I particularly appreciate your recent comment under this week's post: "... they can't give up the fantasy that everybody can have a middle class industrial world lifestyle. If they do, they have to grapple with the white-hot ethical issues surrounding the fact that they have such a lifestyle, and six and a half billion people don't and never will..

That particular insight came to me circa 1981, (I guess you got your insight at an earlier stage in life) but I remained a 'believer' in 'organic' reform, in the teeth I have to say of reality and the British early (Thatcher) experiment in the 'new' economics from America that was to sweep the globe with such effect under the US hegemony (versions of 'The Chicago Plan', as I believe it was called).

In my imperfect understanding, it seems it was only in 2007 that this particular economic arrangement ran out of road (profit?) and economics looked into the void. I am reading just now a fascinating and expensive book that came via a reference in an article from the IMF Research Department by Jaromir Benes & Michael Kumhof, August 2012. I obtained the book, Zarlenga's The Lost Science of Money serendipitously from the Oxfam bookstore in Oxford, UK, so my money went entirely as a donation, which helped my buying decision! The history of monetary arrangements in the Roman empire and the basis for a plutocracy (many quotes from Toynbee), and the eventual end of that business model after some ups and downs over a few centuries, adds some further illustration to several points in your thesis. History points the way!

12/7/12, 3:59 AM

Iuval Clejan said...
My last comment was a bit flippant, and I can see how you could misinterpret it the way you did, although you should know better from our previous communications, that I do not mean that there is no scarcity of petroleum, or that there will not be a scarcity of other industrial resources or money in the post industrial future. I meant it in two ways:
1. Post and pre-industrial life does not have to be gruelling. Voluntary poverty can be fun, depending on your attitude. This is not hypothetical "Cuckooland", this is something I have experienced at the Possibility Alliance. As Gandhi said:"Renounce and enjoy". There is an abundance of human and animal energy, and work for providing our basic needs is edifying and enjoyable. You do your readers a disservice by painting it bleakly.
2. There is both money for tools and land, and land that could be freely shared by many who are rich in land but poor in community and real culture. Non-industrial technology does not require much capital. It is better to use the industrial resources now before they run out (or get too expensive) to build non-industrial infrastructure. Once it is built, it is self-sustaining and does not need to rely on industrial inputs anymore.

12/7/12, 5:23 AM

Avery said...
It's interesting to see many of the comments on this blog address concerns that I myself was thinking about several years ago: how cultural respect for certain essential rights and privileges might be preserved when legal protections collapse. This line of thought led me to start studying religious groups with greater seriousness, so perhaps JMG's long conversation on this blog is eventually taking all of us to Druidry.

12/7/12, 7:10 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Anselmo, you're probably right that, at least in the US, this isn't a good time to improve democracy, but I think it's likely to be a good time to start the process of salvaging it. After the inevitable crises imposed by the end of the age of abundance, it may be possible to piece something like a democratic structure back together again, and I see plenty of advantages to that.

Mr. O, yes, I noticed that. None of the people who've pigpiled this post have talked about its central point -- the rage fixates on some side issue. That's a very common thing when a discussion brushes up against one of the things One Does Not Talk About -- in this case, the role of political activism as a sop to the troubled conscience of the privileged middle class.

Brunowalshy, I'm far from convinced that you're right. If civil liberties were a product of the economy of abundance made possible by fossil fuels, then it would follow that the higher the standard of living in a country, the more civil rights its people would have on average -- and this isn't the case; there are quite a few countries just now where the standard of living is measurably lower, but access to civil rights and due process is better. (That's a function of the "democracy shortage" I mentioned in my post.) Furthermore, if you're right and democracy thrives best in small, localized communities -- well, one of the major impacts of the end of the fossil fuel age is the twilight of globalism and the refocusing of human society on small, localized communities, which suggests to me that democracy may be better off as the age of abundance ends!

Phil, fascinating! I'll see if I can find a library copy within reach.

Iuval, sorry for biting your head off. Of course you're quite correct that it's possible to have a decent and humane existence in the absence of today's absurdly extravagant lifestyles. Still, my point about Benedict stands -- the monasteries of the early Dark Ages thrived precisely because they embraced extreme poverty, and yes, the original settlement on Monte Cassino can quite accurately be described as a collection of hovels. I stress that to counter the popularity of the destructive fantasy that it'll be possible to maintain a modern middle class lifestyle on a renewable basis.

Avery, well, I'm certainly not trying to lead people to my particular (and peculiar) faith. Still, as I've commented before, religion tends to be a major growth industry in times of decline, and you've pointed at one of the reasons why.

12/7/12, 8:12 AM

Ceworthe said...
@Cherokee, don't be apologetic about plugging your videos-they are enjoyable and helpful. Good that you put the failures in there as well as the considerable successes. We all learn from our and others mistakes and successes.

JMG, are you really John Titor?!(tongue firmly in cheek)

@Chris Travers- I would like to point out that gay people DO have children-whether by the old fashioned way w/an opposite sex person, thru in-vitro, turkey baster, prior heterosexual marriage, adoption, etc. My Niece-in-laws brother and his husband are well loved by their family and others and contribute alot to the family and society.
Are you suggesting that single childless people or childless couples are somehow useless and will have no resort in their old age? You should consider the word spinster-a single female who contributed to the family by spinning and weaving. People without children are a value to family and society in being able to do needed roles.

12/7/12, 8:30 AM

Jim Brewster said...
Progress and Conserve wrote:
"Second - your new readers, and there are a couple every week, who lament that they missed your earlier thoughts on various topics need to learn to use their computers to FIND YOUR ARCHIVES.
It can't be that hard. I found them, at any rate."

Indeed, the archives are linked on the blog page itself, in the right hand column. I found it a very useful exercise a couple years back to read every post from the beginning (and the comments too if you have the time). They are long conceptual arcs that the Archdruid weaves.

@macsporan -- I'm guessing your name is some reference to Scotland, and so I wonder where that county falls in your framework of nation-states. It was long a vital and vibrant sovereign entity, then was absorbed into a rising empire. It's current move to regain sovereignty has as much to do with the condition of England and cheap oil as with its own resiliency.

@Chris Balow, the Deep South, like the rest of the country, is really more of a patchwork than a monolith, so it really depends on where exactly you settle. Larger cities and college towns are going to have more tolerance for diversity going forward. Everywhere people tend to have a live-and-let-live attitude when it comes to what you do in private, though public life may be a different matter. If certain theocratic elements become too dominant in some areas, I would expect internal migration to increase until people settle out into more like-minded communities.

12/7/12, 8:33 AM

mallow said...
JMG, do you really think it's still possible to adapt existing institutions in the direction of greater freedom? I mean that in the short term, especially here in Europe, fascism looks a more likely outcome of the Long Descent. Do you think the ideas you're going to propose to rebuild democracy might help prevent fascism too or is something else needed or possible? For example, antifascist groups here have a strategy of directly physically confronting fascists and preventing them from meeting and organising. Do you think that's a good idea or does it just create a vicious circle?

12/7/12, 8:59 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
Greetings to JMG and all,

I'd like to point out that, at present, opportunities for grass roots work and citizen participation in local government, planning, etc. abound -- in fact many municipalities are crying out for citizen participation. You just have to get away from the computer and go to a meeting, where your voice will definitely be heard because there are so few others there!

I am saying this from experience, since in the last several years I, insignificant, un-affluent, not-pwerful me, have been able to offer real input on my town's sustainability plan, have helped slow down a Department of Transportation land grab for a highway while insisting that they offer public transit as part of the plan, and am now giving input on local watershed management and a community comprehensive plan. My contributions are small, but they do help the process.

This participation does not take all that much time, but does mean not much time is left for protesting, or for electronic entertainment, either.

I believe what I'm talking about is democracy in action, and that all citizens should take advantage of these kinds of opportunities for involvement before we really do lose them.

OK, end of preaching!


12/7/12, 9:39 AM

Wattson said...
The Archdruid's defense of democracy seems to fall short, as well as on cynical ears. There's no way around the fact that democratic governments have mixed records. Especially in the case of being imprisoned or disappeared by some proxy of the state over political factors. As far as America's concerned my grandparents were imprisoned in concentration camps and dispossessed of all their property for the simple reason of being Japanese ethnics. With a stroke of the pen a executive order decided their fate with little justifiable cause. The "re-location" might have had a political angle, but the economic dispossession of their property was just so the West Coast states could make good their Great Depression-era debts by selling their property to speculators. Hence all the property lost was legally defined as unclaimed. Considering that any concept of liberty as understood by principles influenced by John Locke established the right of property the Japanese-American internment is stark reminder at how fragile the concept of liberty and justice really is.

Similar cases can be found throughout American history. The people who legally owned and lived on land that the railroads were trying to acquire for their right-of-ways were dispossessed of the increased value of their property through similar means. Before Lincoln was president, he helped contribute to the legal rational for this theft for the Illinois Central railroad. It's for that reason that I cannot be overly sentimental about democracy. Might still makes right. Even in a democracy. Throughout history it's critics were just as brutally suppressed such as in the infamous case and trial of Socrates.

That being said, Reinhold Niebuhr has stated one of the most brilliant rhetorical defenses of democracy when he said that “Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary”. He also thought that democracy wasn't perfect. It was merely the process of governing that finds proximate solutions to insoluble problems of human nature. With that in mind the lack of benevolent oligarchs and autocrats throughout history makes perfect sense.

12/7/12, 9:54 AM

Nano said...
It is quite something to imagine the world my kids will grow old in. In a way I have a feeling that their life style will seem more like my grandparents life style when they were young than my parents or mine.

It's a paradigm breaking thing to say the least.

All Hail Eris!

12/7/12, 10:29 AM

Justin said...
I addressed your point. If you are a human being on this planet, you are more likely to be killed or imprisoned by a democratic government than any other. If you live in the world's self-proclaimed champion of democracy, you are more likely to be in jail than in any other nation. Against that we have your Churchill quote and a repeated assertion that our rights, as we define them, are better protected than anywhere else.

In China, you can go to prison for talking about the government. In the US, you can go to prison for talking about Microsoft, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, etc. "Intellectual Property" is just as much a curb against free speech as any rule against mocking the local political figure.

Enjoying the conversation, but I am sharp enough to know that you are not the type of person who is ever convinced of anything you don't already know.

The last time we tried to increase democracy, we ended up occupying Iraq for like a decade, or at least that's what I hear. Never been there myself. Not sure if I agree that your advocacy for more of this democracy is a good thing based on the facts at hand about what democracy is and does.

12/7/12, 10:41 AM

Justin said...
The abusive language is a part of the form of internet forums. Let me know if I overstep your line as moderator, I have nothing but respect for you and your contributions. Your series on magic is a definite before and after marker in my life, as in everything looked different after reading that series in a much appreciated way. Your metaphor of the wealth pump is similar.

I'm disagreeing with you forcefully on this issue in the spirit of dissensus. You are older than me, and the only thing I've ever been totally sure of in life is that I can remember ways I used to think that I no longer do and ways of thinking that I still hold on to, but at the time I had no idea which was which. Older people are generally ahead of the curve on this process.

I think you are misreading me as wanting to promote my pet abstract model of utopia. Its really not my aim, I maintain that your comparative analysis is very flawed in the same way that others within the narrative of progress are. My unstated point is not that I am right or will be proven right, but only that as time goes on and the system unravels and resembles the vicious democratic system of the 1800s, more people will gravitate to what I am saying based on personal experience instead of accepting your assertions about democracy being superior in terms of rights for the individual.



Btw, can you recall a time that you've ever had your mind changed in these kinds of forums? I've hardly ever seen that thing happen in a comment thread, so I don't worry much about whether you or anyone else changes your opinion.

12/7/12, 10:53 AM

Nathan said...

Are you living at the PA currently? Though I don't share your optimism about the place, I do wish you the best of luck.

I lived at DR last summer and spent some time down in the PA. My opinion is that all of the communities around there are heavily subsidized by the fossil fuel economy in various ways. I do think they have some crucial foundations in place for the next decades too, assuming that they handle increasing impoverishment well.

12/7/12, 11:55 AM

retrun said...
I would think that there are many ways to practice democracy until we find something that works for more than just a few percent of us. Nov 14th in Europe seemed to have some beneficial effects in the short term. But I suppose they're not as well indoctrinated into the life of excessive consumption as we are in the states.

12/7/12, 12:22 PM

Sleisz Ádám said...
Longtime reader, first time commenter. :)

I totally agree that democracy is not really functional in a society of faceless crowds. It is not free of charge, if someone truly wants to enjoy its benefits, he or she has to work on it day to day. This is like everything else actually, nothing particularly surprising (though it worth remembering again and again).

On the other hand I don't think that democracy can work outside cities even with constant pains in our future. The local "great man", the warlord or squire or what name he has, don't care about votes and opinions directly. Maybe it's just cultural difference: here in my homeland even the liberal democracy works like feudalism, and most of the people are OK with that. We have a long history, and the feudal parts were the success years. :)

I am not saying that "grassroot" politics is not a necessary condition of democracy. I say that it's not a sufficient one.

12/7/12, 1:49 PM

Hal said...
JMG, I'm really glad to see you tackling this issue. I've commented before when you came close to it that one of my main concerns is how the gains made during the civil rights era by the majority population in my part of the country (and hence by us all) could be sustained during what I also expect to be trying times. Reconstruction was the last time human rights went up against the "gods of the marketplace" and the results were not good. Looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

12/7/12, 1:52 PM

sgage said...

The whole burden of your last couple of posts seems to have been "you have the temerity to disagree with me, thus, you are clearly incapable of learning".

How about saying "we disagree" and leaving it at that, instead of launching into a passive-aggressive whine about JMG's supposed ossified thinking patterns.

And signing off "respectfully"... nice touch.

12/7/12, 1:59 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Deborah,

All is now explained. Thanks.

You know the old timers used to use pottery jars with muslin over the lid as a demijohn so the process must be pretty robust. I just don't have the experience in such matters which is why I took you at face value! hehe! By the way, the glass demijohns - which can be purchased for an unreasonably low price - are beautifully manufactured. Australia used to export the earthernware demijohns to the US during the prohibition era and labelled them as "health drinks".

Hi ceworthe,

Thanks. You know, you're spot on because I learn more when things go wrong, than when it just works right the first time. Yesterday morning I found that the wallaby had outsmarted me in the strawberry bed. She'd learned to just jump on top of the bird netting and pick the strawberries through the netting. Strawberries lead a dangerous and short lived life here...

As a part of a childless couple, I've been accused of all sorts of activities. Really, I'm just living a quiet life up the bush doing my own thing. It says far more about the accusers. I can see how they started witch trials...

Behind this arrangement lies, choice, circumstances and tragedy.



12/7/12, 3:06 PM

Nick Vail said...
Thanks as always for your thought provoking and timely writing.
I just came across this brief article by Parker Palmer on healing the heart of American democracy.
His five main points are:
An understanding that we are all in this together.
An appreciation of the value of "otherness."
An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
A sense of personal voice and agency.
A capacity to create community.
Would be curious of your take on it. Keep up the great work!

12/7/12, 4:05 PM

Progress and Conserve said...
JMG, I've got to say I'm a little disappointed. My questions to you involved whether the "carrying capacity" of the US landmass for humans has been/is being exceeded due to immigration, both legal AND illegal. Specifically, I said:

"Never before has migration been so fueled by fossil fuels, cars, trucks, and airplanes, as in the US today.

Never before has the distinction between legal AND illegal migration been so (deliberately?) muddled, and yet so important -

Because, never before have so many LEGAL migrants been so dependent on the panoply of government programs - tenuous programs perhaps, given economic changes and the realities of the collapse of Empire - but VERY important for life FOR those migrants - as in today's United States."

Yet, JMG, your response to me focused totally on ILLEGAL immigration, and the benefits that the US middle class receives from this. And you blame the middle class for this immigration - even though polls show consistently that more than 50% of that middle class wants immigration reduced -

and this during a week where our overarching theme is "democracy," and, thus, the desires and wishes of the majority.

Thus, do you demonstrate that even you are subject to a sort of thaumaturge in this critical area - as you seem to subconsciously indicate that all issues of US immigration involve only illegal immigration.

And seriously, Mr. Druid - what do you think IS a desirable number of humans for the United States - and wouldn't it be wise to use the still considerable powers of the declining US government to engineer a "soft landing" for legal immigration into the US - before that number is critically exceeded.

Fascinating discussions on this website of yours, JMG. I can't begin to tell you how much it is appreciated!

12/7/12, 4:39 PM

Bob Smith said...
Haven't posted in several years time, but read your column faithfully.

Great post, very thought provoking as always even if I don't always agree. Its sad that we get the government that we deserve. Good intentions without follow through is a waste of tie. Something to be said for stability, I guess but I do have hope since it looks like the R-Party may splinter into the Militant Libertarians (original TEA party) and NeoCons/Rinos. I know quite a few who didn't vote last time because choosing between Chicago or Boston didn't seem like much of a choice.

I am very surprised that you didn't mention the one grass roots that has been successful in the last 20 years despite being vilified in NY, Chicago and LA. Yes, I'm talking about the NRA. Peaking with the infamous Assault Weapons Ban in 1992, restrictions have been steadily rolled back to the point that they are only discussed in those three places. Its not even a subject for discussion anywhere else, other than the minute details. This change in attitudes is the result of a huge amount of grass roots activism. I remember going to Gun Shows with my Dad in the 80s and it was old white men, now they are the definition of the "Star Wars bar". Of course, 4 million active members with another 50 million watching their local representatives closely and holding them accountable is true democracy at work. Of course, gun owners won't be marching on Washington unless things get really out of hand in the coming years.

Its a shame we don't hold our representatives accountable for every issue, but both parties have gamed the system so that a meaningful choice isn't always possible. This last election for example. I do find hope in Ron Paul's retirement though. Once a lonely voice in the wilderness, he inspires both left and right to believe in the original intent of our founding document, Freedom nothing more or less.

Look forward to the next column.

12/7/12, 5:10 PM

. josé . said...
Justin W,

You write that "The abusive language is a part of the form of internet forums."

I don't think so.

I've been using the internet for a long time. I received and sent my first emails in the '70s, was an active participant of BBSs in the 80's, and newsgroups in the 90's - precursors of the blogs and discussion threads we see today. And throughout that period, online communities have had to put up with people who were rude and inconsiderate. Some would say things online they would never dream of saying at a dinner party, others are just rude and inconsiderate in their real lives as well.

But the fact that some people like to be abusive does not mean it is an acceptable "form" in all online communities. And I'm a participant of many other internet forums (ranging from legacy lens photography to permaculture) where abusive language is rare and readily dismissed, very far from being "...a part of the form of internet forums."

12/7/12, 5:34 PM

brunowalshy said...
I need to lessen the ambition of the theory. There are other factors besides energy abundance including cultural and historical influences (particularly protestantism, which posited equality before God). Even if their roots were germinating in advance, the modern democratic incarnations expanded and matured within the fossil fuel era; I suspect that the extension of rights and inclusion of larger sections of the populace could not have occurred without the abundance fossil fuels brought about. Social mobility, compression of time and space, decontextualization through technological advance and automation (itself a product of energy and unequal distribution) helped foster the standardization of rights and freedoms for everyone. Meanwhile, the elite munificence bestowed on the poor in the form of social programs and the like was a large carrot that helped quell popular dissent and maintain control while these leaders enjoyed their ostensible wealth and power. I tend to agree that democratic systems are the best forms of governance - to maintain power. And I question if it will continue to be feasible in an age of scarcity. Perhaps people will vote in a dictator for life - any demagogue promising miracles and preying on fear will suffice to turn the mechanisms of democracy into its own annihilator. It will be interesting to see.

Whether autocratic, oligarchic, despotic, democratic, or some other political form, it should be noted that they are all methods of governance, which implies hierarchy. Compartmentalizing the discussion to civilizations is limiting. Comparative anthropology with traditional/alternative ways of organization is illuminating. It is hard to see the oppression (domestication) without it.

Only with abundant energy could a democratic system operating within a civilization hope to mitigate the inherent inequality, temper the sharp edge of power, and mask the avarice of the 'big men' in such an arrangement.

Moreover, the rights and freedoms people enjoy in privileged sectors of the planet come at the expense of impoverishing the peripheral areas to ensure the continual asymmetric exchange so essential to civilizations in the first place. Exercising your rights and freedoms entails the destruction of someone else's in the same way that establishing a nature reserve means the destruction of a forest elsewhere.

I would say that future depopulation and localization will at least provide the fertile clime for a vibrant democracy to thrive. Nevertheless, culture and conditioning may prevent its fruition. People have developed their expectations in a competitive dog-eat-dog world. If pressed, I would say the maximum population density for a functioning democracy would be under 5000, optimally under 500.

12/7/12, 6:51 PM

Iuval Clejan said...
Nathan, not sure if this is the best place to discuss the PA, but to answer your question, though I want to be there, they are not ready for me. I've been there for several 2 and 3 week visits, the last one ended a few weeks ago. I think part of the reason for their uncertainty about me though is because I push them to go beyond agriculture, building and simple domestic crafts so that they become even more independent of the industrial economy, and they would rather take their time getting there. A blacksmith just moved nearby, which is great. I wouldn't say they are heavily subsidized by the industrial economy, but yes there is still some dependence, probably least in the US, even better than the Amish in some respects. I hope a cooper, a weaver, a shoemaker and a glass worker move there next... They're looking for a printer (meaning someone who operates a printing press)...

12/7/12, 7:16 PM

guamanian said...
@Justin(s) - I've been following the blog for some years, and have yet to see JMG change his position as a result of discussion. I have seen his analysis evolve and incorporate new information, but never through the process of 'being wrong'. I put it down to infallability being an occupational hazard of archdruids and such. It's the pontifical equivalent of black lung -- hard to avoid if you work in the trade for long.

I've never suffered from it myself though, so I might be wrong.

On the substance of the disagreement, I think that with careful attention to the exact terms JMG is using, his position is accurate. For example, he is not saying democracies have no political prisoners, but is making the case that they generally have relatively few citizens incarcerated or killed for political crimes compared to autocracies. By excluding non-citizens from the tally, and taking a fairly conventional definition of which crimes are political, he is probably correct.

Of course if one includes all the non-citizens living under control of democratic nations in the calculation, and takes a slightly broader spectrum of crimes as being political in nature -- as I do -- one can reach a different conclusion about specific democracies, especially the more dysfunctional ones such as the US and Iran.

I can think of some historical examples of autocracies with relatively few political prisoners (i.e. Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew) and democracies with relatively more (i.e. Nicaragua under the Sandinistas) but these tend to appear only under unusual conditions of very low or very high stress. As a general rule, JMG's point applies: It appears that functional democratic processes are negative feedback mechanisms that act to prevent some abuses, especially those aimed at the politically relevant and enfranchised classes.

Setting aside some significant differences in analysis about democracy's current and past utility, I'm interested in seeing what tricks JMG has up his sleeve next week for getting some use out of this democracy thing in the future.

I figure it's kind of like salvaging parts from broken machinery... You never really know which bits might come in handy some day.

12/7/12, 8:40 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

You must be correct in your assertions because the wailing and yelping is louder than for any other post of yours that I can recall. I'd hate to see a sample of the unpublished comments...

I don't expect a response to the above. Thanks for taking the time to prod the areas that hurt. Sometimes it is helpful to lance a boil!

Hi Progress and Conserve,

Of course it is about racism. Your denials are codswallop! Your argument is easy to demolish because if you are so worried about ecological carrying capacity and NUMBERS (your term, not mine) then what family planning procedures are you promoting to your support base, friends and/or family?

If you had a bash at organic farming methods that promote the development of top soil and bio-diversity, then you wouldn't question whether we'd exceeded our ecological carrying capacity at current rates of consumption. It would be self evident.

Now, mathematics is not my forte, but even at replacement rates for population if a species is in excess of its carrying capacity, then sooner or later it must reduce in numbers to an equilibrium.

I reckon your focus on immigration is because those people are a soft target. How often do you personally benefit from their services provided at low cost?


12/7/12, 8:47 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Ceworthe, who is John Titor?

Mallow, in the short term, probably not, because the basic skills needed to make democracy work have dropped out of fashion, and thus out of the skill set that most people have (or even recognize as relevant). I'm aiming for the middle to long term at this point.

Adrian, thanks for the reality check! Yes, that's also a way to help rebuild democratic process.

Wattson, you know, when I've already talked at length about the downside of democracy, rehashing that same issue is kind of beside the point. My Lakota ancestors could tell you some things about the behavior of American democracy, for example! Niebuhr's point, though, stands, and thank you for introducing it -- he's not someone I've read and studied yet, and clearly I'm going to have to remedy that.

Nano, exactly. Kallisti, by the way; my nose print has been mailed to the California State Department of Furniture and Bedding, if that means anything to you.

Justin, you might want to go back and reread what I wrote about dissensus. It doesn't consist of demanding that somebody else stop advocating something because you don't like it. If you'd wanted to respond in the spirit of dissensus to my post, you could have written something on the order of, "I think you're wrong, and I'm going to go do something else." That's dissensus: the principled encouragement of disagreement in order to maximize the number of options that are tried. If you want to go try something else, by all means, and I'll have some suggestions in future posts for how those who want to try something new might go about it. Still, denouncing my project in increasingly shrill terms isn't dissensus, it's the same weary logic of "how dare you disagree with me" that's played so central a role in gelding democracy here in the US. More on this later.

As for changing my mind, why, yes. I used to believe, for example, that the price of oil would keep rising indefinitely, and that the US government would never be so stupid as to monetize its debt directly -- and I aired both those views on this blog. I was wrong, and discussions with readers on this blog were among the things that helped me realize that I was wrong. On the other hand, I've aired a lot of highly unpopular views on this blog that turned out to be right, so I don't discard a thoroughly examined opinion based on research and careful thought just because somebody gets upset about it.

Retrun, democracy's a fairly new system, historically speaking, and it still has a lot of bugs that need fixing. It's still arguably the best starting point we've got.

Sleisz, I think it's definitely a matter of cultural style. One of the many vast mistakes of contemporary American thought is the notion that democracy is a culturally nonspecific system; it's not, not by a long shot. I'm by no means sure it's even a good idea outside of certain cultural settings, but that's a question for the people of other nations and cultures to decide for themselves.

Hal, it's going to be a hard fight, no question.

Nick, my take is a little different, as you'll see -- but Palmer's desiderata certainly wouldn't hurt.

Progress, I disappoint a lot of people; deal. As for the carrying capacity of the United States, I'd put it between 20 and 30 million at most -- and when it gets down to that level again, most of those 20 or 30 million will most likely speak Spanish.

12/7/12, 10:00 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bob, that's a valid point, and one that I hadn't thought of. It would be interesting to do a close study of the NRA, comparing it to failed activist groups such as the environmental lobby, to try to find out what the NRA did right and the Greens did wrong.

Brunowalshy, good. A less ambitious theory would certainly be worth exploring. I'd suggest, though, that just as industrialism was simply the first, most wasteful, and most impermanent form of technological society, and will likely be replaced by more sustainable technological societies after the dark age our current mistakes have made inevitable, what I suppose you could call petroleum democracy might well turn out to be an early and unsustainable form of a more sustainable system.

Guamanian, yes, I figured I was going to field some cheap shots. I admit I didn't expect one from you.

Cherokee, I've fielded some doozies this week, more even than I did with the post on Israel. No, you wouldn't want to see them, unless you have a taste for passive-aggressive concern trolling teetering on the edge of outright tantrums.

12/7/12, 10:13 PM

dragonfly said...
@Justin(s) also: If indeed you are two different people, then I must offer my impression that one of you has taken offense at a response from JMG intended for the other Justin. The train doth runneth off the tracks, it seems. And shows no signs of stopping.

Further, as a US citizen, I would hesitate to make any claims against Democracy for the simple reason that what little we have of it here has had an "Out of Order" sign hanging off it for most of my life. That much at least is apparent. GIGO anyone ?

12/7/12, 10:14 PM

Red Neck Girl said...
@ macsporan, you put up a spirited defense of our country but I disagree with you as to it's exceptionalism. During my youth I never self identified as an American Indian, nor was I raised on or around a reservation or rancheria, I have no tribal role number yet I was called a denigrating epithet because of my features by a blond woman from Oklahoma back then. I love my country but there are many times I don't particularly like it.

@ luval Clejan, my preference for a way to make a living here in the Pac. N. W. would be to raise/create a good, tough, easy keeping horse breed. I'm thinking a mix of Kiger Mustang, desert bred Arabs and perhaps some gaited breeds like a Paso for traveling long distances. A horse that doesn't need the lush, high sugar feeds modern horses require would be worth something in trade. I even know a talented young woman that would love to inherit such a line, me having no children of my own.

@ Nano, I imagined such a world when I was growing up in a remote lumber camp in far northern California. There was no hand writing on the wall but plenty of timber in the bunks of the logging trucks that testified to the decreasing size of logs being hauled to the saw mill. From the time I started grade school till I graduated from high school the log size decreased from three, four and five feet in diameter at the butt to eighteen inches to two feet being 'large sized.'

At that point I realized that things run out, communities collapsed and disappeared. I've no doubt the camp I grew up in is entirely forested with young timber and in another generation or two would barely be noted by any but a practiced eye. As did the mining camps scattered through out the area before us.

@ Watson, you aren't the first people on this continent to lose what you earned. Many of my tribal ancestors lost everything they had worked and struggled for even when they adapted and adopted many of the colonists conventions, inventions and religion. You and I are just another generation in a long line of peoples who ended up with the short end of the stick due to racial prejudices.


12/8/12, 12:15 AM

phil harris said...
Discussion of that most important subject democracy, past and future seems right to me.Your position seems entirely reasonable; on the one hand this ... and that, etc. British novelist EM Forster wrote 'Two Cheers for Democracy' in early 20thC, and he was gay when it was illegal in UK. It was not legal of course to give him a gang beating, nor to lynch him as if he were black in the wrong time and place in the US. (Reform across US society in favour of civil rights has been inspirational for many of us over here - way to go still of course - I judge your and our prison systems to be threats to national security in our very uncertain near future.)

If we had referenda in Britain we might not have legalised homosexuality and we could easily have kept hanging. I remember they used to execute people on the dot of the nationwide BBC 8.0am radio news (mostly universally listened to before TV in those days). It made an impression on me as a child. There is something to be said for a parliamentary representative system with a 'conscience vote'.

Bob made a good point about the success of the NRA in America and I note your alert reply. The contrast with Canada is not something I understand, but guess it should be instructive? Perhaps we have something a lttle similar in the UK, although it does not rely so much on grass-roots activism, but on normal commercial infrastructure and advertisement. There is apparently a powerful segment of our population called 'The Motorist'. There is TV programme called 'Top Gear' led by a successful populist and self-promoter with an extravagant 'boys' or 'lads' culture with some 'geekiness' and more than a hint of 'pornography', as in 'gun pornography'.

What has seriously amazed me though in Britain over the last 30 years has been a substantial retreat of the tobacco industry. Gob smacked: I never thought it would happen!

12/8/12, 2:52 AM

Wattson said...

It was not my intention to reiterate an area that you've already covered. It was to illustrate that democratic governments are just as capable of being unjust as non-democratic ones. It is the process and not the form or substance of democracy which is unassailable. With it's checks and balances on individual and collective power the democratic process is practically the only choice which has proven itself capable of restraining human nature. Which doesn't mean it necessarily will over time. That's still a far cry from Churchill's “democracy is the worst possible system of government, except for all the others”. Churchill was blithely ignoring the inherent frailty of human nature. By doing so he gave ammunition to the enemies of democracy.

It's ironic that Niebuhr wasn't defending democracy against Marxism. He considered Marxists to be among the Children of Light due to the fact they served a cause that was higher then self-interest. Though like other Children of Light the Marxists underestimated the power and lure of self-interest. As with the other issues concerning humanity their idealism was no match for the imperfection of human nature. If mankind was truly capable of being just to their fellow man all the time it would not matter what form of government we lived under.

12/8/12, 2:57 AM

Esther said...
I am so pleased to hear you mention Edmund Burke: it gives me great hope for the future (actually), and is proof that thinkers of good will are returning to the fountains (or maybe you never left!). One might call the good portion of democracy simply "self-government" & designate it was whatever is possible, feasible, and desirable (and as much of that as one can get), & leave the ideology of petroleum democracy twisting in the wind? Very effective post - much food for thought. Village democracy is a lot more attractive to me than anything the colleges are "teaching" right now.

12/8/12, 3:42 AM

Ceworthe said...
John Titor was/is a person who claimed to be a time traveler from John Titor is the name used on several bulletin boards during 2000 and 2001 by a poster claiming to be a time traveler from the year 2036(they can be seen at In these posts he made numerous predictions (a number of them vague, some quite specific) about events in the near future, starting with events in 2004. He described a drastically changed future in which the United States had broken into five smaller regions, the environment and infrastructure had been devastated by a nuclear attack, and most other world powers had been destroyed. Some, but not all of his predictions have occurred, and discussions have occurred as to whether he is someone who was a clever writer who predicted things based on the trends of where things were going or a real time traveler. It is another example of a prediction of apocalyptic proportions. Your comment to Raven that you were from the future prompted my silly outburst.

12/8/12, 7:04 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Phil, after the American Revolution, the colonial population here very quickly sorted itself out: those who still wanted to be subjects of His Britannic Majesty moved to Canada, those who didn't stayed. Ever since, Canada's been relatively peaceful and law-abiding, and the US hasn't.

Wattson, I never suggested that democratic governments aren't capable of spectacular acts of injustice. My point is that historically, they don't inflict such acts on their own citizens as often as autocracies do. It fascinates me that so many people blow past that simple point, and then insist they've responded to it. As for Churchill, er, it seems to me that he was addressing the fallibility of human nature, not ignoring it.

Esther, I'm glad you put the word "teaching" in quotes! These days colleges do almost everything but that. As for Burke, I first read him about a decade ago, after encountering some references to his ideas in a discussion of Karl Popper's dissections of historicism. Expect to hear more about Burke, and more than a little about Popper as well, in a forthcoming series of posts.

12/8/12, 7:11 AM

brunowalshy said...
Thank you for the suggestion. I'd also suggest that many of the concepts we currently use will undergo radical transformation in the age of decline and transition in parallel to the (I hope) withering of hierarchy and ideologically-laced vocabularly. Hornsborg mentions how traditional societies are sensory-based, while modernity's experience is mediated through the lense of verbal construction. Words like 'development,' 'utility,' and 'liberty' and 'equality' are narrow and myopic. Reestablishing humanity's humble place within an interconnected whole in a beneficial relationship with nature - (and therein lies the limits of current vocabulary in that nature is posited as something alien and external) - is of the utmost priority.

12/8/12, 11:41 AM

Progress and Conserve said...
Wow, JMG - so you project a maximum population for the US landmass of 30 million, when all is said and done.

That's so low. I'd been hoping for something more like 150 million. But, I'm sure your figure is more logical. The sadness and madness that may be associated with drastic population drops, even over long periods, is almost too terrible to allow me to apply logic to the situation.

Your projection of a Spanish-speaking nation bothers me much less. I've already got Hispanic extended family - so my genome is one small step ahead of the game. haha!

I do wonder why government supported LEGAL immigration continues full-tilt at 1 million per year into our US democracy - but that's a question for another week, I suppose.

And [email protected] Organics -
That must be some high-powered gardening you want me to "have a bash" at, man. You need to tell JMG about it. The US is presently at 313,000,000 million souls.

I know you're in Australia, because I've been reading you for a while. I'll say that you are making a lot of unsupported and erroneous assumptions about me and my motivations right out of the chute, though.

We in the States are slowly (hopefully) learning that invoking unnecessary "codswallop-" type charges of racism into a discussion of important issues - -
serves only to inflame emotions and reduce all the parties to very simple binary* thinking.

*and you see, JMG, I have been paying attention!

12/8/12, 11:42 AM

Quos Ego said...
JMG, carrying capacity of the US at 20-30 million?
France, the size of Texas, had 20 million during the darks ages, and 30 million at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

I don't think I agree with your estimation. :)

Otherwise, this week's article was a pleasure to read, as always.

12/8/12, 12:16 PM

Tripp said...
JMG, hola! (Sorry, just getting used to the new order 'round here. I do live in Georgia, after all.)

After two of your books, and two years of your blog, I am finally going to have to take issue with a perception problem I've seen permeating your worldview. There aren't many, but this is one:

You aren't very friendly to permaculture. And that's really too bad. You seem to equate a legitimate nature-modeled, bio-mimicked, grass-roots movement of the people with outlandish eco-village visions. Permaculture isn't anything like that, or the green tech end of the leftist algal biodiesel farm comarades you lump them with.

I have no idea how many eco-villages there are in the industrial world today, and let us assume that there are twice that many more on the drawing board. But none of them, professing "the gospel of permaculture" or not, are, in and of themselves, permaculture.

Permaculture is simply a toolbox of principles that help any human practitioner answer questions in the way broader Nature tends to answer such questions. The vast majority of us know that future success lies in embedding ourselves in existing communities/cities/towns and providing a fluid model, again based on Nature's tactics, that will stand the test of descent, rebuilding community from within.

As such, this "nodal" adaptation spreads, via success and selection, by "chunking," in permaculture lingo - a growth of cellular division versus typical growth by gigantism - with appropriate site-specific variation of course, to create an ever-tightening "net" of emergent successful behavior in a novel environment.

I've passed out so many of your not-altogether-friendly-to-permaculture books that one might question my allegiance (altogether I love what you have to say), but I guess I assume that, one day, someone of your mental stature might see the embodiment of what you claim to be "the way" in a practice you seem to find sadly lacking.

And I humbly request that you divorce your correlation between grandiose ecovillages and permaculture as soon as you can find it reasonable to do so. Not that you use the term specifically, but I've read enough of your writing at this point to know what you mean. They aren't the same thing.

And I don't think I'm speaking just for myself when I get offended by being lumped into the "billion dollar eco-village" tract. I live in a $3000 16X20 canvas tent, in a humble hinter-community, with my wife and two children, and without electricity or running water, in the southern Appalachians - with years of terra-forming by shovel, vast amounts of planting/building/sporing, and trade-network building to go - before I really move onto a more permanent structure, before I feel like we're at that point on the Liebig factor list, so I hope you can forgive me if I don't find solidarity in such a comparison.

Otherwise, brilliant post as always! Cheers.

12/8/12, 1:00 PM

phil harris said...
@ brunowalshy
"Hornsborg mentions how traditional societies are sensory-based, while modernity's experience is mediated through the lense of verbal construction."

A number of us here share a respect for Hornborg and colleagues. My take on most ancestral societies judging from their scattered intact contemporaries, is that these groups maintain and transmit generationally very large knowledge and skill bases, compared with even 'educated' information-based individual moderns. Memory skills as JMG has reminded us can be very highly developed, linking images with associated knowledge. For example, I have been trying to find an old reference circa late 70s to a study in the Amazon rainforest that suggested a group's average vocabulary for plants and their associated uses habitats and growth stages was something like 2000 with one or two members always having circa 5000 names.
These kind of knowledge bases were maintained without the benefit of 'theory' and other useful methodologies of science. What it must be like to have one's mentation, with the full-benefit of the astonishing human capacity for accurate recognition even over decades, informed by the 'real thing' all the time, I can only dream of. Perhaps this is another way of making Honborg's point?

12/8/12, 2:34 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Ceworthe, fascinating. Still, if I were from the future it'd be further than 2036.

Brunowalshy, well, then I'd say you have your work cut out for you!

Progress, it's going to be rough. The collapse of a civilization very often involves population losses in the 90-95% range.

Quos Ego, in the time of Charlemagne the total population of Europe was between 25 and 30 million, so I question your facts. Europe in the Dark Ages also wasn't more than half desert, with the remaining fertile areas spotted with the remains of nuclear power plants and associated dead zones, as America in the postindustrial dark ages will be.

Tripp, er, I'd encourage you to revisit your assumptions. My doubts about permaculture have nothing to do with any supposed connection between that system and overpriced ecovillages; they're more a function of the lack of results I've seen so far from all the talk about permaculture this and permaculture that. If you're out there with your shovel in the mud, good; I exempt you from any and all such criticism. I've just seen way too many people take a permaculture training, or a whole series of them, and then go back to an ordinary middle class lifestyle with a grid-tied solar panel on the roof and a slightly exotic form of landscaping around their suburban McMansions.

As for ecovillages, here again, you're jumping to conclusions -- and as a favorite book of my childhood pointed out, when you jump to conclusions, you have to swim all the way back. You may not have noticed how many of the grandiose plans for ecovillages borrow the jargon of permaculture as a way to duck the very hard labor involved in supporting oneself by one's own efforts. I have long since lost track of the number of such plans I've read that natter on and on about edible tree crops and the like, as part of a claim that the inmates of the proposed ecovillage can maintain a middle class lifestyle. I've responded to those claims, in turn, because that's part of the ecovillage fantasy, not because it's somehow connected to permaculture.

By the way, I've also done the no heat, no running water, shovel in the mud thing, though this was back in the early 1980s and the hot new thing was biodynamic intensive gardening -- which is still the way I garden; I was just out this afternoon, in fact, digging dead leaves and other organic matter into the beds and getting them ready for winter. Having been there, I have the utmost respect for those who are willing to do the same. While there are plenty of worthwhile targets for my irritable outbursts, you're not one of them.

12/8/12, 5:43 PM

Quos Ego said...
JMG - The Dark Ages is a fairly long period, so I took the 14th century numbers, where France is supposed to have had a population of around 20 million people (according to Wikipedia).

Hence, considering the sheer size of the US, the vast amount of fertile land there is, I would expect the carrying capacity to be much more than 20 million.

Still, your decaying nuclear power plants argument stands, even though I think the future of the wastes is still highly uncertain (it hugely depends on the way the descent plays out)
Are you planning to tackle the subject one day?

12/8/12, 5:57 PM

dkallem said...
" irritable outburst." Lol, I presume you mean this as a bit of false modesty, of a sorts. Your additional examinations, explanations and elucidations here in the comments are typically polite, respectful, and almost always obviously well-considered before you express them. In short, anything but outbursts of emotion!

Thank you, as always, for your work helping shape our first, tentative steps into the coming age of scarcity industrialism.

12/8/12, 6:03 PM

guamanian said...
@JMG. You're right. It was a cheap shot. I thought it clever at the time, but in fact it was offensive and undeserved. (As well as factually inaccurate.)

I sincerely apologize for my rudeness to you. I regret the post and the damage I've done to a respectful relationship that actually matters a great deal to me. I'll chew on where that destructive nonsense came from and why.

12/8/12, 8:53 PM

Justin said...
Ok, well to cite the history. Nazi Germany was a democracy, Hitler won his election. What was it you were saying about citizen rights under a democracy?

12/8/12, 9:42 PM

Bob Smith said...

Regarding the environmental movement vs the NRA or other successful organizations, IMHO, the simplest answers are often the best ones: Here's a rough guess.
1. "practice what you preach & new comers are always welcome, regardless of politics". Recently, I took a Malaysian friend of mine skeet shooting. Like most Malays he is dark skinned, very polite and since he's recent college graduate, we shared my shotgun. I'm not very good at this, so I'm hardly qualified to give pointers and needless to say my friend struggled with hitting the target. One of the old timers there found out it was his first time and immediately began helping my friend with his form,stance etc. He's better skeet shot than I am now. During that afternoon spent with this older gentleman, he also noticed that my shotgun doesn't fit my friend very well and says "here try mine, it will fit you better". Keep in mind, this gentleman handed my friend, a complete stranger, his beautiful $6000 Italian shotgun to shoot. Later on, we find out he is president of the club. My friend's experience that day is a relatively common one, but in another sport it would be getting your first golf lesson from Jack Nickolas or Tiger Woods letting you use their clubs. My friend dreams of the day he can afford such a shotgun and absolutely loves skeet shooting. There is no preaching, only showing. If environmentalists really love the environment, why do so many live in dense urban areas without trees?

2. Organizationally, its really bottom up rather than top down ie local takes care of local, national takes care of national. Most local gun clubs require membership in the NRA to join, but the NRA doesn't get heavily involved in local issues unless they are hearing from their members, whether they are associated with a club or not. Semi-annually, they send out surveys "what direction do you want us to go" in both local and national issues and, yes I know its a miracle, actually follows through on through on the survey results. It also doesn't hurt matters that politicians are aware that we are regular voters, in both primary and general elections. Local gun clubs frequently host local politicians, which is where everyone starts. I met one of our senators in a room of about 50 people and none of us knew who he was. He gave a five minute speech and mingled during the following swap meet for 2 hours because he was a nobody. Everyone talked to him. We later endorsed him in our internal newsletter, the police chief of the department that uses OUR range (for free!) then endorsed him, and might have helped the police union along, he became a rep, then later a senator. Do you think he doesn't remember that swap meet? He still comes to visit us occasionally and there is no metal detector at the door, nor does there need to be...anyone who happens to be armed is only dangerous to those with bad intentions.

This is probably more information than you wanted, but one other item that may be of interest to you particularly since it seems that you are unfamiliar with this organization in practice. The NRA instructor program would be a good model for your "Green Wizard certification." It works very well in the real world.

Since I am quite different politically than most of your readers, I'm not surprised that Glenn Beck gave you a thumbs up. He's a little over the top since he's a TV/radio "personality", but pop culture takes offense to so many trivial things taken out of context, its hard to separate the trash from the treasure. He's a good man, and so are you. I imagine that if you were neighbors, you'd find plenty to talk about over coffee or tea.

12/8/12, 9:43 PM

Jim Brewster said...
@Progress: Racist or no, your call to try to actively limit immigration sounds like a desperate denial of the third law of thermodynamics. The more energy you pour into closing the borders, the more you are setting up the eventual failure of your effort. You say we should do what we can while we have the military and law enforcement capability, but what happens when we don't?

I look at immigration as a leak in the wealth pump, and perhaps a little justice for those lucky enough to get in, but I guess I think more globally. We are part of a global ecology after all. Once the wealth pumps become sufficiently ineffective, expect immigration to naturally slow down and perhaps start to go in reverse. Basically, if we're a third-world country, not so many people will want to come here.

12/8/12, 10:52 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Quos Ego, the 14th century isn't in the Dark Ages -- back when that term was in common use, it ran from the fall of Rome to the 11th century, and was followed by the Middle Ages. France is also well watered and very fertile, unlike most of North America -- and especially unlike most of America in a post-global warming scenario. (The last time global temperatures were 2-3 degrees C. higher, for example, the Great Plains was a desert with sand dunes.) Factor in all the toxic legacies of the industrial age, the immense loss of topsoil caused by industrial agriculture, and the collapse of natural ecosystems -- none of which were a major issue in 14th century France -- and my estimate may make more sense.

Dkallem, thank you, but I do get irritable from time to time!

Guamanian, thank you. I appreciate the response.

Justin, at this point you're just trolling. Go away.

Bob, thank you for the detailed explanation! I have more readers on your end of the political spectrum than you might suspect, though I usually hear from them backchannel. As for Beck, no doubt; I have lodge brothers straight across the political spectrum, and we have no trouble finding things to talk about over coffee, tea, or a beer or two.

12/8/12, 10:57 PM

Ivan Lukic said...

Does this post mean that you are advocating Thomas Jefferson's original idea of dividing counties into townships and Hannah Arendt's idea of council-based political system?

For readers wishing to explore these ideas:

Most people do not understand that if these ideas are not turned into practice, our biological existence is in danger (and this is true for both Americans as well as for other Westerners).

12/9/12, 1:41 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Progress and Conserve,

Systems thinking is perhaps more applicable in this circumstance. I reckon a bigger perspective may be required than binary thinking.

I'm actually uncertain why you write that the method of immigration is an important consideration or that the volume of people (legal immigrants or otherwise) is important either?

I can confidently state that your concerns make no difference. The reason for this confidence is because nature does not distinguish between individual humans and their origins.

If the carrying capacity of an environment is exceeded by a species then it makes little to no difference where the individuals of that species comes from. The result is still the same, reduction in numbers of that species until a new equilibrium is reached.

Australia has about the same landmass as the US, but far less arable land. I'll give you some fun facts about Australia courtesy of Dr Tim Flannery (the ecologist):

Currently there are about 22 million hectares (a hectare is about 2.5 acres) of arable land in use in Australia. Much of this land would be considered marginal agricultural land on other continents. Yet this is by far the best of all of our arable land. Already, after less than 200 years of use, 70% of that 22m hectares is degraded and in need of soil restoration programs. Much degraded land will have to be taken out of productivity if current intensive use continues.

I'll note that this equates to about a hectare of arable land per head of human population in Australia. Remember too that 70% of that land is degraded.

I would suggest, that the US has a more robust environment than Australia, however, that may counter-intuitively lead to higher rates of degradation. The US also has 14x the human population to support than here.

There is a golden rule in ecology that for long term sustainability, the human population of any given area rarely exceeds 20% to 30% of the carrying capacity of the land. I would suggest that the historical estimates of the local indigenous populations are a pretty good guide as to the numbers of humans that can be supported in either the US or Australia and this is before present land degradation is taken into account. In Australia, this equates to a human population of about 1 million people.

I would urge you to stop spending energy worrying about immigration - it is a side issue - and instead use it to establish an edible garden.



12/9/12, 3:04 AM

Quos Ego said...
JMG, my understanding of the the Dark Ages was that they encompassed everything from the Fall of Rome to the end of the last black plague outbreak. The High Middle Ages would thus be a part of them.

As for the carrying capacity of the US, neither of us will still be around to determine the real number.
Still, I'll keep your arguments in mind.

12/9/12, 3:26 AM

Juhana said...
Excellent post, again. It's wonder of our age that I can enjoy philosophy of person living in Maryland here in Finland almost instantly after he writes it down. Difference to, lets say, Irish monks distributing classical texts during 6th century could not be more striking. Ideas travel fast right now. One commentator said that global system of order is on autopilot right now. That was truly well said; here in Europe I have had nagging feeling that nobody is controlling the plane right now. Those in power are so bound to different lobbies that they actually have no options but print more money. It hasn't solved any problems, but problems can be pushed to another day by it. No fine-tuning to specific problems at hand; moneyprinting is tool that fixes every problem. Thanks to this attitude, reading news is so repetitive nowadays that you cannot actually know from what year the news are, if you don't look date numbers; same shit is recycled on and on. Reading Pravda during Brezhnev era is closest analogy that comes to mind. Those newspapers are SO BORING there was no fear of insomnia in Russia those days, I believe. Flying with autopilot to nowhere, that is our system now.
Jim Brewster had some ideas about "racism" that I personally don't understand; if future belongs to crumbling central state apparatschik, what structures of social organisation are rising to supplement it? I have no doubt about it. Tribal belonging, belonging to some group defined by blood heritage is answer. In that kind of world some post-colonial upper-class angst about "crimes" of past has no place; that kind of thinking is possible only in our current industrial hyperstructure. And only upper-class persons can afford this kind of esoteric moral problems, at least here in Finland. Working class has enough problems of their own. You Americans seem to have very dim understanding of clan behaviour of extended families and kinship groups. Here in Finland serf system known as torpparijärjestelmä was totally disbanded only after world war two, so maybe future of world is not in so distant past here... Rasicsm is stupid label, and too big word for scaled-down future. Nobody has responsibility to carry any angst about Third World, that's fool's game. Taking care of your own is enough, as it has been during untold millenniums before industrial age.

12/9/12, 4:31 AM

Chris Balow said...
JMG, I'm confused by the assertion you've made that most of the deindustrial population in America (the 20-30 million who are left, anyway) will likely be speaking Spanish. Yes, there are a lot of hispanics in America (estimated around 45 million, I think), but there are far more English-speakers. Even if all 113 million Mexican citizens emptied out their borders and entered the U.S., English-speakers would still outnumber Spanish-speakers by over 100 million.

Is it that you expect English-speakers to be dying off in much larger numbers than Spanish-speakers as the decline proceeds?

12/9/12, 7:12 AM

Progress and Conserve said...
@Jim Brewster
First, let's both recognize that your invoking "thermodynamics" into the discussion means that you, too, immediately conflate illegal and LEGAL immigration - and then mentally bump the legal immigration issue completely out of your mind. I'll readily admit that "southern border security" comes with its own problems, one of which would be thermodynamics, "in collapse." But - we haven't "collapsed," yet, and may not for some good long while.
And, please remember, most US population growth is due to LEGAL immigrants and their children.

JMG, the conflation of these two very different types of migration is so VERY common. Is it evidence of some powerful "thaumaturge?" that is acting on the National psyche.

And, JMG, I'm not sure I'm using that term quite correctly, here. However, "thaumaturge" has become one of most useful mental constructs for understanding decision making - ever since I first heard of it from you on ADR.
I just wish it translated a little better into common dialog. The term "Brainwashing," comes sorta' close, but misses the mark, somewhat. Plus, "brainwashing" carries its own unfortunate baggage from the 1950's - and causes its own sort of emotional binary thinking when invoked.

Remembering that this week's topic is democracy, @brewster, I will question the viability of considering yourself a "global citizen," or however you put it - in an energy descending world.

And where does that leave places like Arizona that know their systems would be completely overwhelmed to the point of disaster - in the event of collapse - yet which are prevented from taking LOCAL, legal, and political action - by a Federal Government that is visibly acting in the belief that the US population AND economy will grow FOREVER??

JMG - Great discussion on the NRA vs. the Green Movement. I've got a couple of things I'd like to add. Do you cut these discussions off for the week at some point - or just let them keep going until next Wednesday night?
And thanks again, man. This is good stuff! You've got me eying that tip jar of yours.

12/9/12, 7:13 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
@Phil Harris & brunowalshy

Greetings. Yes to sensory knowledge!

1. Re Hornborg reference and sensory vs verbal construction:

That quote seems a tad binary to me. Maybe it's not a question of sensory vs verbal construction, but sensory vs abstract, since that seems to be what the words "verbal construction" signify.

2. Re Amazon group's plant vocabulary: I don't know about the 70's reference, but Jared Diamond's Collapse talks about his experiences with knowledgeable villagers in New Guinea, making the same point.

3. Here in the States, if you get out among people involved in ecological restoration (many of whom are amateurs, not scientifically trained), you will find people with vast, sensory knowledge of plants, animals, hydrology and so forth, and words/names to go with.

I have learned (and continue to learn) most of what I know about plant identification and ecological associations from being out in the field with those more knowledgeable than I--folks whose knowledge, in a way, could be considered indigenous, whatever their cultural roots: they love their ecosystem and have come to understand it deeply in holistic yet specific ways and are willing, even longing to share their knowledge.

The only real way to learn this stuff is by long-term exposure and observation. And the longer you are doing that, the less generalities like "utility" or "liberty" mean. Yet concurrently, the more one observes, the more one discovers (with mentors' help) the general laws of interconnectedness that can sometimes only be expressed abstractly: by verbal constructs!

So, guidebooks and scientific, even abstract, knowledge are also useful; the hybrid of both sensory and scientific/abstract ecological knowledge, which I have encountered in a few people, is awe-inspiring.

12/9/12, 7:34 AM

Brad K. said...

One of the issues I have with abortion, is that it seems to fill a niche.

In my lifetime I have seen a couple of ethnic communities become incensed that children removed from homes for safety were fostered to families of other ethnic heritage, or adopted out of their ethnic heritage.

I have seen births outside the bonds of marriage become acceptable, socially, if not common place. I have seen the local school system program for middle school unwed mothers closed to sixth grade (11 year old) girls, due to lack of space.

I have seen laws against adultery struck down, rescinded, or more commonly ignored.

I have seen "marriage" come to mean a relationship with respect to tax laws.

I read that Christian marriage was instituted to bind the magic of the formation of a family, and the fertility of the woman, to the church and under church rules. I believe the sanctity , and magic, of fertility and of mating (forming a lifelong mated relationship) have been known since quite ancient times.

A few years back I can to the conclusion that mating, something like "marriage" today in the US, was about making babies. Respectful parents would grow into the roles of their own parents, producing progeny in a home culture that combines the rituals, traditions, celebrations, and values of their childhoods into a family, passing that home culture into the future.

In considering relationships, I think that a marriage differs from other cohabitation and sharing relationships. I think that a mated family (of whatever number of genders), forms the kernels that communities are built from. Communities open different opportunities, and hold different expectations, for mated (married) people.

Cherokee Organic's words brought home to me that mating, marriage, needn't be about spawning children, or even about passing the home culture onto the next generation. I still think that is the healthy way that people should establish a mating, and the primary reason to do so.

But a marriage must be a re-definition of the adults involved. Not just for tax and insurance aspects, but in forming a home culture from the experiences and cultural backgrounds of the principals.

Yes, I have meandered just a bit. My point is that, today, the US is fifty years past the point of "defending the family". Too many homes, too many cultures and communities don't have a use for too many of their children. Too many adults fail to invest their lives in the culture of their homes and their families.

Blame it on the Dept of Ed, with their emphasis on diverting children from the craft, lore, and culture of their family toward empowering the rentier class. Blame it on affirmative action. Blame it on denigration of religion and the cultural aspects of faith in daily life. Blame it on mass media and insidious commercial propaganda. Whatever.

As long as the basic premise of a consumer economy dictates replacing rather than repairing, from cars and air filters to numbers of unemployed (each has a name!), then I suspect abortion will continue to dispose of part of the unwanted extras.

The solution to abortion, I think, is to establish a sanctity of the home, of the cultural heritage of child from parent, of fertility, and ownership of communities for the well being, and culture, of it's families. Barring that, I expect abortion will continue to appear an aberrant affectation of the affluent.

12/9/12, 9:00 AM

Juhana said...
By the way, if you want to watch good documentary how poor and insignificant country did manage to become democracy after very bloody and cruel civil war, here you are. Serfs and boyars, they actually can achieve somekind working political solution. Maybe poor democracy is little bit more aristocratic than popular, but democracy still. That's better choice than dictatorship. There is always hope for relatively humane system.

12/9/12, 9:05 AM

guamanian said...
@JMG - I owe you a full explanation for my rude personal attack up thread.

You were hit by a flying fragment of a disintegrating self-image.

This week's description of symbolic activism scored a bullseye on a hypocrisy of mine that has been festering for years. My long-held revolutionary commitments have morphed over time into mere posturing, unconnected to my actual life.

While my posts here have not been particularly political, my handle 'guamanian' started as an activist alias years ago, at a point when I faced some real physical dangers due to political activity. Years later I resurrected it as a handle for my political and ecological posts. Over time it has fossilized into a kind of alienation device that has allowed me to engage in symbolic activism divorced from any real consequence or meaning in my daily life.

Every camel finds its straw, and your post was mine. I believe that my rudeness was unconscious retaliation directed at you for puncturing this illusion once and for all.

With guamanian now dead, I'll be buckling down to do the work of reflection and integration needed to bring my past and present into full alignment. A relief really, since compartmentalizing parts of one's identity is a form of extreme complexity -- It sucks away energy, is unsustainable over time, and has to collapse sooner or later.

I'll be stepping out of the comment community here for some time while I do this work, and will return when I'm ready to contribute again. When I do, I'll be posting under my real name.

Of course none of this is an excuse for my rudeness to you. In fact a very large 'thank you' is warranted, as your writing has served to catalyze a long-needed change.

12/9/12, 9:08 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Some here should read up one Reductio ad Hitlerum and Godwin's Law. The claim that "Hitler was a [blank] hence all [blanks] are discredited" is generally considered to mean that you have just lost the argument by default. If you have to play the Nazi card you either are not trying very hard or have already exhausted all your reasonable arguments.

12/9/12, 10:10 AM

Robert Mathiesen said...
@ Chris Balow and others

Inevitably the United States will become a third-world country (or several countries) as its natural resources run out and its arable land extensively degrades.

Whether the future population of that third-world country will speak English or Spanish, or something else entirely, will not have had a whole lot to do with such things as differences in birth- and death-rates, or rates of immigration, between now and then. Other factors will have played a much greater role in the process.

We already have a massively multi-lingual population. In my own city in New England (Providence, RI), there are more than 80 -- that's *eighty*! -- different primary home languages represented in the public schools. New York City would easily exceed that number of primary home languages, as would Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area.

The linguistic development of multi-lingual populations follows its own set of trajectories. The most common of these trajectories passes through three stages over many generations. The first stage is multi-lingualism, where everyone uses one of the previous languages as his primary language at home, but as needed can communicate, can "get by," more or less competently in one or a few of the other languages. [Sometimes, if (as in Europe) there is a school system that teaches some of these languages systematically, the level of competence is very high indeed. Then you have bilingual or multi-lingual individuals as well as communities.]

In the second stage this process of informally "getting by" becomes regularized in any given community to the point where there arises a common way of communicating across different home languages within that community. In other words, there arises a additional new language with its own common (unwritten) rules of grammar and vocabulary. It is no one's home language, but it has its own unwritten grammar and vocabulary. New languages of this sort are called "pidgin" languages by linguists. In this stage the child still learns a home language growing up, and then also learns the local pidgin as a second language when he moves out from his home into his wider community.

In the third stage, when more and more people marry (as they inevitably will) across language boundaries, the current pidgin becomes the only home language in many families, and many children grow up speaking that pidgin as their first (and sometimes only) language. A former pidgin that has come to be widely used as community's first or home language is called a "creole" language by linguists. [There are excellent reasons to think that many of the great language families of Europe passed through a process of "creolization" (as linguists call it) at some point in their prehistories.]

At this point the former home languages become school subjects only in that community (like Latin is now), or they die out.

Any competent linguist can write a complete grammar and compile a full dictionary of a creole language, and its speakers will have the full range of linguistic competence as speakers of any of the former language ever did.

[All this is a somewhat simplified explanation of well-established results in the theory of human language development. It is no more controversial among linguists than is biological evolution among biologists.]

As our nation becomes a third-world one, and the public school systems of the several states become ever more impoverished, this process of "creolization" will undoubtedly occur in communities where there is more than one widely used home language. And so we will end up with new spoken languages, not always the same in different parts of the former United States.

[to be continued]

12/9/12, 10:13 AM

Robert Mathiesen said...
(continued from previous comment)

As for Spanish, there are enough primary speakers of Spanish here already that in some parts of the nation English-Spanish bilingualism is a practical necessity right now, and various "pidgins" have already arisen on the basis of those two languages. If the state school systems break down, it is only a matter of a century or so until new creole languages arise from those pidgins, and the old languages (English and Spanish) die out in those communities, or become mere school subjects like Latin is now. (For what it is worth, when my wife and I were teenagers in California, the public schools already taught South- and Central-American "Español" instead of "Castillian.")

The whole process will only be accelerated in regions where the present population greatly exceeds the carrying capacity of the land, and consequently the population passes through a period of sharp and extensive decline.

12/9/12, 10:14 AM

phil harris said...
@ Bob Smith
I know nothing of the NRA but as a Brit you have given me pause for thought - thank you.

Hunting in the wild is not a British past time or social form. Mainly, because there are no 'wilds' and most hunting using guns was previously retained for use by landowners under severe penalties for 'poachers' even in my grandfather's day. We remain a very 'stratified' society, though with money rather than estate the key to social access. Guns are a remote concern for the vast majority of the population, unless they are criminal or semi-criminal. Gun clubs exist for target practice and those interested in the niceties of weapons, and 'shooting' and 'riding to hounds' can be bought at some expense by those with a taste for a glimpse old-time social status, and there is some 'rough shooting' on farms with access to released 'reared' birds: not your scene I guess.

Personally, I would not hunt unless for food (as in aboriginal societies), but your description has, as I said, given me pause for reflection.

12/9/12, 10:46 AM

phil harris said...
@ Bob Smith
I should add that in Britain hunting with guns on estuaries and coastal margins has a long and rather different demographic apparently outside our landowners’/farmers socially determined control. At least as I understand the history of ‘wildfowlng’ over here!

12/9/12, 10:54 AM

LewisLucanBooks said...
@ Red Neck Girl - I moved out to the boonies of SW Washington, last spring. This summer, my neighbor / landlord logged off some timber on his land. The log trucks were a'rollin' down our country lane most of the summer.

There were a few 5 and 6 log loads. Something we don't see much of, any more. I was surprised when my neighbor told me that those huge logs actually brought less money. There are no mills around here that can cut such huge logs, anymore. They have to be shipped vast distances to get to a mill that can handle them.

12/9/12, 11:27 AM

Richard Larson said...
In the recent past, when I was very involved in the solar device installation business, did have the chance to attend a "Clean Wisconsin" state government lobbying event, having many of us state renewable energy installers visiting various Democrats and voicing our obvious opinions concerning state government support.

When this was finished, I veered off to visit my very conservative Republican State Senator (Leibham) on my own.

He genuinely listened and considered my concerns that renewable energy could not compete with the heavily subsidized fossil fuels and the monopoly utilities.

I am pleasantly surprised he has supported renewable energy devices since. Not perfect mind you, but close enough!

Third highlighted paragraph:

12/9/12, 11:52 AM

bryant said...
A digression to an earlier post to this essay - sorry.

I always considered the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 to be the true origin of the Nation/Sate system... obviously it took a hundred years or more to flesh out and it still evolves today. Clearly, nation states can and do disappear. Westphalia itself is no more.

12/9/12, 1:43 PM

Jim Brewster said...
@ Juhana, I hope we have learned enough about humanity and our place in this world that we don't have to fall back on such xenophobic clannishness. Also, to the extent that the USA is a historic melting pot, such lines are not easy to draw here. My wife and I may be "white" as can be, but our children have close blood relatives (within 2nd cousins) with indigenous ancestry in Europe, North, South, and Meso-America, sub-Saharan Africa, and East Asia, to name just what I know about. I don't think they are particularly unique in that regard either.

@ Progress: Call me a dreamer (cue John Lennon...) but I think it will still be possible to balance survival with humility and a sense that we are all in this together. I'm not sure, but I might rather see my line go extinct than to deny my fellow humans that which I seek to hold, thereby becoming something less than human. Part of that attitude comes from my liberal Christian upbringing, part from my studies of biology and other sciences which puts us into perspective.

Remember that in the aforementioned Dark Ages, such ideas as humility, compassion, and charity were quite in fashion, and I believe helped mitigate some of the ugliness of those times. They are also some of the universal truths that run through the world's great religions. In some ways they are likely to be a better fit for the times ahead than for the times we've been living in the last couple centuries.

12/9/12, 1:52 PM

Dave said...
I don't worry so much about resource depletion, pollution, or global warming. As real as these threats may be, they are all gradual processes, so people will adapt to changing circumstances. In fact, a warmer climate and CO2-rich atmosphere would make crops grow faster.

The real crisis is a vast government debt bubble beyond anything the world has ever seen, and growing bigger every day. Such mass delusion cannot end except with a sudden and total collapse. Compare with 1989, when the bankrupt Soviet Empire collapsed into the arms of the still-prosperous West. Who's going to cushion our fall?

12/9/12, 2:29 PM

marxmarv said...

Fine, sensible, astute article as always. Nothing much to add other than a cultural shift toward a campaign and elections system less driven by testosterone and spectacle and more by the desire to accurately reflect the will of the electorate would seem desirable. Approval voting is delightfully low-tech as well. Anyway I'll sit tight for next week's post and find out what's cookin'. Thanks again!

@Progress and Conserve,

The support of legal immigration in the US is rooted almost entirely in economic considerations, with little regard given to the moral considerations. High finance likes to see 3% growth year on year. Immigration is one such lever with effects both direct (more customers; more labor) and indirect (cheaper, pliant labor; a social distraction to take economic pressure off the ruling class; a release of pressure on capital expenditure to increase productivity) that support economic growth. The social impacts are often glibly and uncritically dismissed as adjustment pains which will work themselves out with no guidance.

Another such lever, by way of example, is the often unequal distribution of reproductive self-determination, as famously applied in the Third Reich and in US mental institutions.

@Cherokee Organics,

Is there any reason that the social norm of acceptance of racial, behavioral, or religious non-conformity, carrying as it does significant implications for economic policy including the distribution of wealth and income, is not among the norms enabled by surplus and growth, and would not likely be among those to be deprecated for poor ROI under descent conditions? Why do you not think humans would claim and mark turf for their group, just as they and other primates do now, and maintain tight control over access to said turf and the rest of the group's resources, just as they do now? Primates in particular tend to be social and tribalist, and tend to establish observable norms for in-group identification e.g. skin/hair/eye color, natural/modified/adorned body shape, worship of deity, and/or a secret gesture. It seems problematic for a systems thinker to deny the tendencies of one of the main actors in the system. ;)

12/9/12, 2:55 PM

Chris Balow said...
Robert Mathiesen,

Your point is well taken, but JMG didn't appear to be discussing a pidgin or creole hybrid between English and Spanish, but instead a future where Spanish overtakes English as the dominant language within what is presently the United States.

Again, taking the entire population of Mexico, and adding it to the Spanish-speaking population within the United States, you get about 158 million Spanish-speakers. However, that still leaves us with roughly 266 million English-speakers, at present, within the United States. So, given this, I have a hard time imagining a scenario in which most of the United States becomes Spanish-speaking.

12/9/12, 4:07 PM

Mary said...
Wadulisi...aka Red Neck are a single girl after my own heart. On the opposite coast, I have a mostly desertbred arab in my back yard who thrives on a little hay in the winter, and pasture (with grazing muzzle) in the summer. I have my eye out for a 2nd mostly desertbred with a quieter temperament and a little more size.

I figure my final career will include some sort of taxi services with my girls, as well as breeding, teaching and training.

Justin: "The last time we tried to increase democracy, we ended up occupying Iraq for like a decade"

Anybody who thinks the war in Iraq was about anything other than control of their oil is, imho, delusional. "Spreading democracy" was just another in a series of excuses after word spread that Saddam had nothing to do with 911 and there were no WMDs.

Also, since you are so new here, you may want to try reading through the archives for a while and educate yourself before insulting the host. Seriously, you are being incredibly rude to our host. I would have made you disappear long ago!

Macsporan: "democratic industrial-era nation-state, however defective, is not a sprawling, slave-powered multi-ethnic tyranny."

Tell that to the young Chinese woman locked up in factories, forced 12+ hour days, to work 6 and 7 days per week, beaten if they fall asleep over their work, made to sign promises that they won't commit suicide, with nets set up to prevent them jumping to their deaths....all so that Americans can have their cheap ipods and a few people can add more billions of electronic dollars to their virtual bank accounts.

Or the 100 or so factory workers who recently burned alive, locked up in their workplace in Bangladesh, making garments so the Walton heirs could accumulate more bits in their virtual bank accounts."

Seriously, dude, you know nothing about the US and its empire of slave states. Also, Americans are not uniformly religious and our culture is anything but homogeneous.

12/9/12, 4:28 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Ivan, some of the older US states are divided into townships -- Pennsylvania, five miles north of me, is one. More generally, though, there's no one-size-fits-all answer, and I think most of my readers are canny enough to know that scare tactics ("our biological existence is in danger if X is not adopted") are a warning sign.

Quos Ego, the term "Dark Ages" has dropped out of fashion among historians. Most of the sources I know of that used it back in the day, though, had it begin in 476 with the end of the Western Roman Empire and end right around the beginning of the First Crusade in 1096, the point at which Europe was no longer getting pounded by invaders and was ready to do some invading of its own.

Juhana, "flying on autopilot" is to my mind a very good metaphor for the current situation. Notice that autopilots normally can't manage a soft landing...

Chris, exactly. As a very broad rule with plenty of individual exceptions, Spanish speaking people in North America today are more likely to know how to get by in conditions of extreme poverty than English speakers. "Most," of course, means 51% on up; I'd expect large English speaking areas east of the Mississippi, but that's only a third of the country.

Progress, thank you! The word is "thaumaturgy" -- a thaumaturge is a person who practices thaumaturgy. I don't know of a more common word for it, which I suppose is not surprising, since free discussion of the mechanics of theumaturgy is not exactly in the best interests of a magician state like ours. As for the discussion, I stop responding after a new post goes up, but the threads stay open for comment more or less forever.

Brad K., fair enough; now perhaps you can tell me what this has to do with the subject of this week's post.

Juhana, thanks for the link!

Guamanian, thanks for the explanation; I wondered if something of the sort might be going on. Frankly, if the situation weren't so desperate, the degree of in-your-face confrontation I routinely use in this blog would be unconscionable. I've come to rely on it simply because there isn't much time left to make preparations, if any are going to be made at all.

Bill, I hadn't heard the phrase "Reductio ad Hitlerum" before, and laughed so hard I got tea up my nose. Thank you!

Richard, that's the sort of thing that happens when you step outside of the realm of captive constituencies. Alternative energy will start to get some traction the day that its proponents start playing the Dems against the GOP and vice versa, using arguments that appeal to whichever side is relevant. Mind you, the Dems will do almost anything to keep that from happening, as it would rob them of a captive voting bloc!

12/9/12, 6:36 PM

John Michael Greer said...

Bryant, there's a long and interesting discussion among historians as to whether 1648 marked the beginning of the nation-state or the rise of a transitional form, the dynastic state, which was replaced by the nation-state in the wake of the French Revolution. I tend to support the latter view, but a case can be made either way.
Dave, yes, this blog fields posts of the "my crisis is more important than your crisis" kind quite regularly. You might look up the word "synergy" sometime.

Marxmarv, thank you. I expect to surprise and irritate a few people this coming week, too.

Mary, Justin's actually been a commenter here for some years, which makes his really rather bizarre performance this week all the more puzzling to me. I'll be addressing some of the paralogic involved in the upcoming post.

12/9/12, 6:39 PM

Robert Mathiesen said...
@ Chris Barlow:

If the present 424 million speakers of Spanish or English are reduced to about 20 million in all (assuming that is the new carrying capacity of the land) over the next century or two by the various factors JMG has been discussing, then it's pretty clear that this huge reduction won't hit the English-speaking and the Spanish-speaking populations equally hard, for reasons of their different cultures and histories. My money is that much more than half of that 20 million will have Spanish-speaking ancestry. They will, I expect, speak either Spanish or a creole derived from Spanish and other languages formerly current in their communities.

12/9/12, 8:43 PM

Bob Smith said...
JMG, not to be rude but I wanted to reply to @phil harris

Not sure if you understood the exact sport I was talking about, but skeet is an Olympic sport. The "birds" are clay disks tossed through the air. Think of it as aerial target practice.

In general though, we did inherit this passion from you. Your country and the rest of Europe, has a very long history of the shooting sports, however as you noted, it was primarily an aristocratic pursuit. The punishment of "poaching" and estate ownership of wildlife in your country contributed directly to the idea most American hunters have on wildlife, it belongs to all of us and not just the landowner. After all, deer really aren't concerned whose property they are on. My understanding is that the states is unique in this regard, with the rest of the world's laws being similar to yours, at least in Africa where I have looked, not surprisingly. I may be wrong on this though. As with many things, the seeds of resentment in the old country sprouted wonderful fruit here. Coupled with Tedy Roosevelt's foresight in game management, its turned out rather well as of now.

A great many Americans (of all colors) survived the last depression by hunting everything from squirrels to elk. A lot of hill-billy grandmothers in those days still knew how to make black powder from chicken litter if shells were unaffordable. This was also the reason that a lot of WWII GIs (ie Sgt York types) were such good shots, because a lot of 10 year old boys were handed a 22 with literally 1 or 2 bullets and told to provide dinner for the family. An empty stomach is a very good incentive to shoot well. Today, out here in flyover country (Oklahoma for me), it is still very common to fill the freezer with all sorts of game since its higher quality than what you can buy at the grocery store, at any price. This is one of the reasons I took up hunting, relatively inexpensive source of truly organic meat. The closest in an organic grocery store is buffalo, and its $10/lb and only half as good. Hunters, Foodies and Vegetarians\Vegans have alot of common ground in opposition to factory farms. I like to know exactly where my food comes from. But I must admit, I don't normally talk to the Vs....typically because they are militant and why waste the time? Another reason, and this is a big one, there is nothing that compares with the intense satisfaction of it...a successful hunt is a very primal experience. JMG or others more educated on Jungian psychology than I may be able to explain it in better terms, but it will literally touch your spiritual core. I'm not the only one who feels this way, my wife who was militantly anti-hunting, thought it was romantic the first time I brought home venison, and then the quality of the meat made her gasp. Ethics are pretty simple, I won't kill something I'm not eating and do it right. Trophy hunters, frequently scorned, usually donate the meat to needy Hunters against Hunger if you are interested. Doing it right means a clean shot with no suffering. Of course, the Hollywood idea is that you go out with an Uzi, spray for an hour, and drag home half the forest leaving a barren wasteland. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is one of the most challenging things you can do and one of the most rewarding. There's a reason the aristocrats reserved it for themselves in the old world.

FYI, hunting is on the rise again, in no small part due to reasons I stated. Ironically though, despite the reputation of being an old white man's sport, the fastest growing group of new shooters and hunters is single mothers of all colors...the face of the NRA will be changing soon and it will shock a lot of people who haven't been paying attention. "Ladies night" isn't limited to the pubs anymore. :-) Emily Miller of the Washington Times is making a career out of chronicling this sea change.

12/9/12, 8:46 PM

Brad K. said...

You used the phrase "and paid for abortions when they knocked up the teenage girlfriends their wives don’t know about" to characterize the practice of abortions in the US.

I think there are some fundamentals of culture and the law that have created the need to terminate larger numbers of unwanted pregnancies; the affected women are less likely, today, to be living in a family/culture that cherishes the impending newborn. I have no idea how many unwanted pregnancies are due to adultery, versus unwanted pregnancies in family or non-family situations. I just think the problem of unwanted pregnancies is different, in many cases, than loose morals, simple narcissism or conspicuous consumption.

12/9/12, 10:09 PM

Red Neck Girl said...
Mary said...
Wadulisi...aka Red Neck are a single girl after my own heart. On the opposite coast, I have a mostly desertbred arab in my back yard who thrives on a little hay in the winter, and pasture (with grazing muzzle) in the summer. I have my eye out for a 2nd mostly desertbred with a quieter temperament and a little more size.

I figure my final career will include some sort of taxi services with my girls, as well as breeding, teaching and training.

@ Mary, I see that desertbreds are hard to come by these days. My first mare was what is now known as an American Show Horse. Her sire came straight from the Middle East and her dam was Saddlebred, she had a rack, if you could get her collected enough but she looked pure Arab. I never had to muzzle her but she kept her weight on less or rougher pasture and hay using a third less water than the other horses she was stabled with.

I would suggest if you want to cross your girls you look into a Spanish Mustang stud. There's an unregistered filly, (no BLM tattoo), likely out of a wild mare, at the stable with my kids and they have a devil of a time getting proper feed for her. She already looks like a little brick and keeping her from founder is an ongoing effort.

Mustangs have a reputation for being psychologically 'different' from domestic horses. A lot of people attribute it to inbreeding from the herds being reduced so criminally. I tend to believe its because they're too smart for most people. When you compare the intelligence of the smartest dog breed to coyotes or wolves, the dogs literally get eaten. The mustang may just be smarter than trainers give them credit for.

Even if the stud may be too inbred, an out cross with your girls could be just the ticket for a sane, balanced, easy keeping horse!


12/9/12, 11:02 PM

Wattson said...
It's not a point that I am ignoring. It's a sentiment that I simply do not agree with. By ascribing all the credit and none of the blame for the better outcome democracies' produce, you're ignoring some of the blame they share when they fail. By pinning the blame on human nature democracies still receive credit for what they can accomplish. While avoiding any of the blame for what follows in the wake of their demise. This point serves to deny anti-democratic forces some of the weapons that will be used against democracies in their struggle for power. Those anti-democratic forces will be at their strongest when enough individuals do not feel like they benefit from the results that democratic governments produce.

As far as Churchill is concerned, he might have very well been more insightful then I give him credit for. It's really hard seeing him as friend of democracy though. Considering he was also the person who viciously attacked the form of democracy when he said that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”. At a time when democracy was very much under threat that is hardly a ringing endorsement. His imperialist and racist views can be put aside. In strict terms of how he governed a wartime democratic state; he was an autocrat. He sacked so many military officials that even Hitler thought he was extreme. When Hitler thinks you're going too far.......

I believe I've become a bit of a nuisance, so that's where I'll leave it.

12/9/12, 11:13 PM

Juhana said...
@brewster: I have this quite curious feeling that because enormous cultural and geopolitical gap between you and me, we are not talking about same thing, even when we are. It would be nice to be able to communicate intelligently over language, cultural and probably political barrier, so let's try. From my point of view, relying to your own kin is not an ideology; it has no ideological drive behind it. Calling it xenophobic is lie because of this underlying factor. Trusting your own and distrusting the Others is just the oldest and most proven survival tactic in the world. Even in your country, if I have understood it right, those southern immigrants belonging to criminal underworld already behave like this. They define their territory and loyalties by blood ties. Tribalism is not race specific, it is just fact of life when you live in insecure society. Tribal thinking also seeds those warbands JMG is talking about, they are not armies but loose gangs based on common heritage. Want a model for warband commanders in your country? Look at prison gang leaders, there is model for future American warband leaders, I believe. Tribalism is predicament, not a solvable problem. It is just the natural way to do things, if you are poor and live in insecure world. Only those in cosy positions within imperial machinery can afford grandiose dreams of working, global multiculture. I myself have risen from being a welder and technician in heavy steel industry to college educated man, and during my steel worker career worked a lot with Poles and Great Russians, updating gargantuan and decayed corpses of Soviet industry with Finnish quality. Common to all these countries was that my working class comrades whom I worked with, nice guys most of them, lived in grassroot world of tribalism thriving under dysfunctioning state apparatchik. Everything was done through unofficial contacts and connections. You had to be a man of trust, somebody who had identifiable place in social tapestry. Outsiders were not welcomed, if they didn't bring something valuable to community. I have this feeling that this shadow world of tribal and clannish connections shall long outlive monstrous edifice of political correctness and delusional dreams known as European Union. But this has no ideological drive behind it; it is just the way world is.
You have to stand with your own kin, not with some silly dreams about utopian world. Those dreams are side product of wealth so great that you can turn your back to your own nation and hug some dreams about better world instead. When everything goes poorer again, those dreams go away. You know Brewster, I am not talking about how I want world to be, but how it just is, based on my personal experience. Different points of view are valued though, I am no visionary, just a common man from small and largely insignificant county from extreme north.

12/10/12, 1:02 AM

Leo said...
Been on a trip to WA, so haven't been able to comment. Seeing the Wheat belt and then the Southern coast was interesting.

while at Denmark's (named after a Doctor) Big market before the tourist seasons, it was interesting to note that the only political party that had a stall was the greens. Also, lots of solar hot water systems.

Getting through Machievalli's Discourse on Livy, intersting take on Anacyclosis and running a republic in general.

@ Cherokee Organic
Using the Indigenous inhabitants population levels is a useful guide, as long as differences are taken into account. For America, thats easier since the Native Americans farmed, while in Australia the Aborigines lacked both crops and animals. Having access to sheep, wheat, potatoes and other crops makes a big difference.

I remember hearing that the sustainable population here is 8 million. Don't know of any updates tho.

12/10/12, 1:19 AM

Jim Brewster said...
Lest y'all believe I'm some kind of bleeding-heart pushover, humility and the kind of voluntary poverty JMG has described have a very practical side. Whether you're a household or a country, trying to hoard food, gold, arms, or land does little more than make you a target for thieves. Trying to hold onto "America for the Americans" seems to me an exercise in futility and a recipe for disaster.

12/10/12, 2:28 AM

Jim Brewster said...
@ marxmarv - in regards to the return of ethnocentrism. It seems to me that in parts of the world that traditionally saw lots of migration, such as the Mediterranean, political/social allegiance, perhaps marked by hairstyle or manner of dress, was much more reliable and precise than differences in skin/hair/eye color. Our fixation on phenotypic variation, either to neatly pigeonhole people into categories, or to pretend it doesn't exist, is more of a modern invention.

12/10/12, 4:41 AM

João Carlos said...
@John Michael Greer

Seeing how much discurssion you caused, including some "trolling", IMHO you hit a nerve...

12/10/12, 5:27 AM

Ing said...
guamanian, you may not be checking the thread now, but I wanted to mention anyway that I found the level of self reflection in your last comment really inspiring.

12/10/12, 7:29 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
JMG -- I hope it was a pleasant herbal infusion that was soothing to your sinuses!

Wow, I haven't seen such heated discussions here since the days of the Jensenites and other neo-primitivists. It is interesting to me, what the recurring theme is in the topics that really heat up the comment thread: the hypothesis that the world will not "end" suddenly, it will change dramatically but over a long time frame; the notion that the current system of government is not utterly irredeemable and need not be overthrown wholesale and replaced with a radical new system; the idea that we are not likely to nuke ourselves into oblivion. What seems to unify these topics that make blood boil is the general theme of punctuated gradualism rather than catastrophic upheaval.

So I have to wonder; how much of this is driven by the simple impatience of wanting the change to happen NOW (for good or for ill), rather than with frustrating slowness over the generations? Perhaps people don't like the idea that even if they live a long time, they will not see anything close to a "resolution" of all these issues, and will in fact just see more of the slide deeper into the troubles that the issues create? Even a global nuclear war puts you in a "new world" on the other side, if you are one of the survivors. The long decline keeps us in the same old world for the rest of our lives, with just more strains and stresses each decade.

12/10/12, 8:00 AM

Johan said...

You mention that democracy doesn't need the complicated infrastructure of industrial society. I'd extend that, and say that we managed to build democratic societies without all the technogadgetry, but we didn't really get going demolishing them until we had television, computers, and the Internet!

(OK, that's too facile, but there's a certain amount of truth in it. I do think it's even harder to build democratic organizations with modern IT systems than with older methods.)

I find it interesting that so much of your description of the US two-party-system holds for the rather different Swedish system. We have two major blocks, each with a large and dominant party, the two blocks agree on all the large-scale issues, there are clear captive constituencies etc. Still, we do occasionally get new parties and since we have a proud tradition of minority governments the small parties can have at least some influence. Not too much - what Damien Perrotin described above certainly happens here too. (For example, the Left Party/Communists staunchly supported the Social Democratic minority governments for decades, to keep the right-wingers from power - and said Social Democratic governments said thanks comrades, then turned around and asked the Pentagon if we could please have some more engines and avionics for our Viggen fighters…)

12/10/12, 8:05 AM

Nano said...
A POEE CHAPLIN! fantastic!

Spectacles, testicles, wallet, watch!

Lets stick apart Pope Greer!

12/10/12, 8:16 AM

Ceworthe said...
JMG, do you have an opinion on what is the optimum number of people in a successful group for say a town or group focused on a specific theme. I have noticed in my life that it seems that groups either come apart or morph into something that is unlike the original purpose when they get larger. Usually it is due to either money issues (i.e. there is money to be "made" or controlled) or people are not sufficiently able to connect to each other due to sheer size, resulting in cliques.
I have often thought that depending on the focus, groups of 30-100 can be on the same page or work things out, and much above that things start to get hairy. Over 1000, and things really can hit the fan. I also think that the manner in which dissent is viewed and handled (or not) and sometimes the personalities involved have a big factor in it also.

12/10/12, 8:37 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Brad, no, I didn't use it to characterize the practice of abortion in the US; I used it to characterize the prevalence of hypocrisy in the US -- or, more precisely, on one side of the US political spectrum.

Wattson, like most people who deal directly with electoral politics, Churchill had an utterly realistic idea of the limits of democracy. I don't think it hands any particular weapon to the enemies of democracy to point out that it's spectacularly imperfect, so long as it's remembered that other systems reliably produce even worse results. Best of a bad lot is still best.

Leo, you get today's gold star. Anyone, anywhere, who pays attention to Machiavelli's commentaries on Livy deserves one.

Jim, exactly. Thank you for reiterating what should be an obvious point, and isn't.

João Carlos, yes, I've gotten that impression!

Bill, I think it's something a good deal simpler. The posts of mine that attract shrieking tantrums are those that suggest that it's going to be necessary to do something other than sit in a comfy chair at the keyboard and spin fantasies about the future. I've really come to think that very few people actually believe, say, in the imminence of apocalypse, or a new and shiny world once the Great Turning happens, or what have you; these are simply ways people have of insisting that they don't actually have to get up and do anything about the future. Poke that with a stick, and you get top of the lungs yelling every time.

Johan, that's an intriguing point. A case could indeed be made that current media make it easier to flood the collective conversation with noise and thus prevent the reasoned debate that makes democracy work best.

Nano, you get not a gold star but a Golden Apple. I hope you had a happy Afflux Day last Boomtide!

Ceworthe, depends utterly on local conditions and the fine details of organizational structure. There's no general rule; I've seen groups of five people degenerate into instant chaos, and groups of five thousand work together comfortably for years.

12/10/12, 10:18 AM

JMG, I sorry to be so pessimist about the idea of improve Democracy. I will train to explain better my anterior comment.
Our idea of democracy is based in fundamental beliefs of our Occidental Civilization, partially based in the idea of unlimited world resources.
Is not necessary to remember that our idea of democracy comes of the 18 century, in a moment in which the resources of the world seemed infinite. It is an inheritance of the Christian idea of the equality of all the men in front of God.
In the “Long descend” world, the idea of infinite resources will be inapplicable, and thus probably the idea of improve our democracy too will be inapplicable.
I’ll try to show it with an example, based in our ideal of Liberty, fundamental for our concept of Democracy , one of the consequences of the ideal of liberty is the principle of the individual freedom. In a world of limited resources, in which there is not possibility of economic growth. The idea of competence for natural resources, necessarily will be replaced for the idea of cooperation in the use of these. It means that the principle of individual freedom will be total or partially restricted for the idea of self or imposed limitation. Concretizing the example: couples that only can raise a limited number of children (as it’s happening now in China).
If a society is forced, for the scarcity of resources, to impose a measure so tremendous to the people, and besides to impose another measures equally brutal, will be difficult to speak about democracy in the way that we are speaking now.
As an example of society with no economic expansion, I remember some of the ideas outlined by Socrates in the book “The dialogs” wrote by Plato. In the utopist society described in some of these dialogs, people had a Spartan way of life: Virtually a vegetarian diet, nudism in summer, no furniture, intentional scarcity of medical cares, birth control, eugenics, absence of individual freedom, religion designed for reinforce this model of society (and, in consequence, limitation of the free thinking),…..Socrates said that it was the only way for to avoid that the economic growth of the state-city would exceed the capacity for providing the resources of its territory, causing famines and wars of expansion with the surrounding cities.
The change of paradigm consequence of the impossibility of the economic expansion , implies that we will have to embrace new principles, and forgot others that have been fundamental in the building of our present civilization. There is a possibility that these new beliefs wouldn´t support our idea about democracy.
I dare that there are similar reasons to the exposed that must be applied to the rest of fundamental beliefs of our civilization, making necessary their replacement for different beliefs that will be the fundaments of the build of a new civilization, that will replace our Occidental or Christian Civilization in the same way that it replaced, after the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Hellenic Civilization.

12/10/12, 10:35 AM

Nano said...
By Uncles Bob beard, blessed be his now calcified pineal gland, I totally missed it.

Happy Prickle-Prickle.

@Red-neck-girl: there is definitely something to be said about the proverbial veil that society casts upon us all. "Things just work and someone, somewhere is gonna take care of it. So relax and go enjoy your self."

Don't worry 'bout it!

12/10/12, 11:42 AM

Nano said...

I have thought similarly, both the gotta have it now culture and our western apocalyptic myth heritage help set the tone of our collective psyche when it comes to change.

12/10/12, 12:17 PM

Steve said...
"(The last time global temperatures were 2-3 degrees C. higher, for example, the Great Plains was a desert with sand dunes.)"

JMG, I've seen this statement pop up a few times in the comment thread here, and I'd like to learn more about it. Can you recommend a good source for this claim? I've tried poking around on the web at paleoclimate info, but I am not familiar enough with the topic to know what/when to look for and how to fine such detailed info about a specific region. Any help would be appreciated.

12/10/12, 12:58 PM

dragonfly said...
Ceworthe, regarding group size, you may find this interesting: Dunbar's Number.

12/10/12, 1:08 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi marxmarv,

I don't disagree with what you are saying.

However, conformity and tribalism is only a useful tool up to a certain point. If the tribal norm is self destructive and destructive of the supporting environment then clearly it is dysfunctional. Jared Diamonds book "Collapse" is full of examples of societies that failed to change course. I'm sure those societies prided themselves on conformity and social norms, despite evidence that such things were ultimately self destructive. The Greenland norse for example starved rather than eat fish (which were a social taboo) even though the fish were in good supply.

Hi Brad K,

Quote: "Cherokee Organic's words brought home to me that mating, marriage, needn't be about spawning children, or even about passing the home culture onto the next generation."

Ha! With no dad on the scene and a busy single mum (I feel for their circumstances), I pretty much was left to my own devices - which I'm cool with and quite enjoyed. However, I had no idea that people equated marriage and children until only recently! hehe! Why did people keep asking me, "so, when are you going to have some children?"

Hi Leo,

Yes, you are correct. They do make a difference. I gather plants from all over the place to grow here. Basic tools are also a real advantage.

I've read numbers between 6m and 15m. Still, I'm not sure what it would look like. You know I often wonder why we build urban environments over some of our best soils. Doncaster and Templestowe used to be massive orchard areas. Cranbourne and Werribee South still are market gardens, but they are slowly being sold and built up. I feel for the farmers as there is not much money in market gardens and orchards and developers come knocking on their door and it gives them a retirement fund. Dunno.



12/10/12, 1:30 PM

wall0159 said...
Hi JMG, and ADR commenters,

(This is not very on-topic for this week's post, feel free to publish or not as you see fit.)

Just following on from a comment you made recently to the effect that China needs to take the US down in order to gain access to the resources that the US is currently consuming. (I think you said this in a comment, but I can't now find the comment so apologies if I'm misrepresenting you)
My feeling is that this is the wrong way around. If things continue as they currently are, without any military action or similar discontinuity, I think that the Chinese (and other developing nations) will slowly outbid and displace US consumption of resources. I think that the US will need to take China down to maintain access to the resources it's currently using.
This is basically what your recent narrative is saying too -- the US was attempting to use its military might to displace China from a "colony" to secure the US's access to the colony's resources.
A relatively minor point, but worth making explicitly I think, as a lot of Westerners seem to feel very threatened by China, whereas in reality the Chinese are so far below parity (in terms of access to resources) that it is very fair that they increase their access. It's good to be aware that China probably wants to continue business-as-usual for as long as possible (a point I know you have repeatedly made, JMG)

On topic for this week, and with regard to the number of irate posts you're receiving. Your comment about grid-tied PV on the roof, and a slightly unusual garden around the McMansion touched a bit of a nerve with me. Although we try to drive relatively little (5000 km over two years), we still consume too much and our lifestyle is unsustainable. I guess we (collectively) are masters at self-deception, and it's natural to demonise the person who shows us our shortcomings (eg. Socrates). I really appreciate your candour and bravery in saying the things you do in this blog.

Something that would be helpful to me is an illustration of what a sustainable lifestyle would look like. I know you advocate that people "collapse now and avoid the rush", but it would be interesting to sketch a lifestyle that would be sustainable globally _if_ we were an ecotechnic society (ie. weren't in a dark age). eg: a bicycle per family, vegetable plot, roast dinner once a month, 0.5 kWh/day electricity per family, etc. (those are just very vague/rough guesses -- what do you think?)

Thanks for your outstanding essays.

12/10/12, 3:58 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
On one of the main topics this week, grass-roots politics. I have to admit my knee-jerk reaction to this is "oh bother, meetings and process and all that stuff, yawn..."

But then I think about my life here in a small town in a rural county. I see the city and county mayors around town, at the Mall*Wart, etc., and can always chat with them. Same for the Sheriff. When it comes time to vote in local elections, I personally know a good number of the names on the ballot (often well enough to know NOT vote for them), and I have friends who know everyone on the ballot to fill in the gaps. One of our four city councilmen works out at the same gym that my mother and I go to; whenever I see him there we get to have a long talk about all the inside dirt, the workings, who the obstructionists and theocrats are, and what is being done to circumvent or dislodge them.

So, without ever going to a meeting at the Grange (which actually burned down a few years ago, dangit) I realize I am pretty well connected to local politics and an active participant in the efforts to make local government more responsive to the real concerns and needs of the community. The fact that all local elections are non-partisan probably helps; I think many of my close allies in local politics probably align with a party I have never been much attached to at the higher levels, but when it comes to local issues we are definitely working side by side.

So what is the point? Not sure; I guess that when you actually do have a local community of people who know each other and have real connections to each other, "grass-roots" politics take root as just another aspect of community life.

12/10/12, 5:07 PM

CGP said...
What are your views on technocracy? If my understanding is correct a technocracy is a system in which technological experts such as scientists or engineers comprise the government rather than politicians, lawyers or economists with no formal scientific or technical training. I would assume that such a system could either consist of popularly elected technocrats or technocrats chosen by undemocratic means. If officials are not elected by popular vote then this system could be condemned as another form of authoritarianism but if people could vote, but all candidates had to have scientific or technical training, could such a system be better than democracy?

Alternatively, a system somewhere between a democracy and a technocracy could be conceived whereby candidates for office would have to demonstrate a baseline level of knowledge and expertise in some important field before being deemed eligible to run for office. This might work like the imperial Chinese system where people would have to pass gruelling imperial examinations before becoming state bureaucrats except there would be the added step of having to be democratically elected. Could this not at least improve the crop of politicians running the country?

12/11/12, 12:58 AM

Leo said...
I've been thinking of doing a series of posts on it and the Prince. Unfortunately it would take more time and skill than i have to do it Justice. Maybe in a couple of years.

@ Cherokee Organics
I've heard my mom complain about that, at least as cities compact and shrink it will become usable again. Not sure how good it is now, but it can probably be fixed and its close to a popualtion centre.

The main dificulty in figuring out potential popualtion is feedback loops such as that, also reduced consumption coupled with reduced collection capabilities. I'm just glad most of the estimates are on the upper levels.

12/11/12, 2:25 AM

Jason said...
JMG: I've really come to think that very few people actually believe, say, in the imminence of apocalypse, or a new and shiny world once the Great Turning happens, or what have you; these are simply ways people have of insisting that they don't actually have to get up and do anything about the future.

Right again JMG and I have proof:

Mayan-d Your Own Business

12/11/12, 2:53 AM

phil harris said...
I found yesterday's piece by Larry Elliott in UK's Guardian more than of passing interest. He hangs the article from the current topical peg of The Hobbit, but that is secondary to a discussion of the economist the late Elinor Ostrum. She s clamed by both right and left but her work on governance, local and national, and democracy, seem more useful than that. I thought Elliott was a useful entry point.

BTW I spent a bit of time with the history of suffrage. My (British) grandfather probably had the vote before 1918 (I am not sure, because there were property restrictions), but his father did not, and my mother got a parliamentary constituency vote only when she was 24.

12/11/12, 6:19 AM

Progress and Conserve said...
-The Green Movement and the NRA-

@Bob Smith wrote a couple of posts concerning the rise of the NRA as a dominant grass-roots organization in American politics. I've been involved with firearms and the shooting sports for nearly 50 years, now (I’m 57.) - and I find nothing in Bob's analysis with which to significantly disagree.

I will add a couple of points, though. The NRA found its original backers among existing US industry, specifically the civilian firearms and ammunition industries. Thus, there was never a question that there was a (commercial) REASON for the NRA to exist, because there was an existing PROFIT to be protected or amplified.

This stands in contrast to the "Green Movement." For good or ill, the Greens never represented a profit center to much of ANY existing industry to be found in America. In fact, it's easy to find industries where the original Greens represented a threat. (Oil, coal, or infant formula - the list of industries threatened by the early Green movement is MASSIVE.)

Furthermore, as Bob pointed out with some eloquence, the NRA helped to coalesce the shooting sports and their preexisting commercial backbone around a FEW simple concepts, which could then be used to transcend race, religion, creed, or political party.

The Green Movement never had anything like this unity of purpose. And the Greens split, early on, over a question that is destined to vex all of humanity, sooner or later - that question being, "Which is more important, humans, or the environment that keeps them alive."

I don’t believe that there was any question among the early Greens in the United States that the environment was considered by them to be more important than the needs or desires of humans. The echoes of Malthus could be heard loudly in “Silent Spring,” and many other opinion shaping publications of those days. Appropriate tech, energy conservation and the Zero Population Growth movement FOR THE United States were all considered something close to Sacred, among some Greens. (Including this one, to some large extent.)

But the Green movement in the United States bifurcated (in a terrible way, in my opinion) over the question of population growth INSIDE the United States. The best example, for those readers who are unaware, is to take a look at how a single donor David Gelbaum, apparently forced the Sierra Club to change their stance on US population growth due to immigration, in 1996.

Commercial interests (National Chamber of Commerce, anyone?) and big donor money shift important debates. Well funded organizations speak of "immigrant rights" and "open borders," in such a way that those opposed to these concepts are easily labeled as "racists," by the unwary or uncaring.

And here we are, in a country with 313,000,000 million inhabitants - growing at a current rate of 1% per year, mostly due to new immigrants and their children.

And we are on a website run by a Druid who confidently predicts that the population of the US will have to collapse TENFOLD, to 30 million OR LESS.

@Cherokee - How is is possible that you can consider this a "side issue?" It's going to be life or death for literally millions of my countrymen. I won't understand your nonchalance if I live to be a thousand.

And I've already got a great garden, thanks for asking.

12/11/12, 11:09 AM

Tony said...
Kind of unrelated to this week's post, but I saw this and immediately started flashing back to all your posts on economics and magic:

The Chief gets to wave around his shiny magical talismans, and make everything better...

Tony B.

12/11/12, 12:25 PM

Ceworthe said...
Thanks Dragonfly. It is very interesting how he came to that number. Nice to know my observation meshes with somebodies theory, at least ;-) Also, "Social Grooming" seems to be a key.

12/11/12, 2:01 PM

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...
I am becoming convinced, that the plan (insofar as an elite plutonomy can conceive a plan) was to create a global superstate of liberal-democracy based on manipulation of mass media, with America as the world city or megalopolis. Other world cities would flourish as alternates (London, Paris, etc.), but the project involved liquidating conservatives and rural area power at home, while reducing abroad to plantation status. This was the plan. And I think very high ranking officials and personages with great, corrupted intellect, were involved in this.

12/11/12, 2:03 PM

Hal said...
Well, admittedly I'm weird and no group would ever win a popularity contest catering to my values, but...

I belonged to the NRA to many years, am an avid hunter, and enjoy owning and shooting firearms that are quite unrelated to hunting. I've also belonged to a number of environmental groups and been an environmental activist in some form or another for most of my adult life. You certainly don't have to tell me that the NRA, et al., have been a lot more successful than the green groups. But I hardly think the comparisons being made are helpful.

What the green groups have been trying to do, indeed are required to do if they are to be in any way successful, is nothing less than to convince average people to completely overturn the comforts and habits of a lifetime, no, generations of lifetimes, and to accept some level of privation and discomfort. Or at least to support policies that can easily be portrayed that way. We see what that same suggestion by JMG often elicits even in this rather select community. All that for benefits that will probably never be obvious to them during their lifetimes, and against the current of a multi-billion dollar propaganda industry and associated political allies working hard to convince them that they can have it all.

Now, the environmental groups have often done a poor job of communicating what is really needed, and many have gone down the chute of pushing a "green-light" agenda which also tries to promise everyone can have their comforts along with a clean, green world. And the leaders have usually been AWOL when it came to walking the talk.

But seriously, there is no comparison to the onus shouldered by the gun-rights groups. All they had to do was corral a strong, motivated interest group, funded, as pointed out by P&C, by an equally motivated industry. The statement that they have transcended partisanship has me gobsmacked. The NRA, while slightly less partisan than GOA and a few other groups, has essentially become a working organ of the GOP. That's pretty much the reason I quit.

All of which is to say that I'm not so sure the comparison is very useful. We can all wish the job of educating the public on green or energy issues were as simple as the one performed quite ably by the gun rights lobby. But trying to shoehorn the successes of the latter into the needs of the former will probably not yield much results.

I love my guns, and wish stupid politicians would stop trying to accomplish the impossible and remake US society along the lines of Europe. But the gravity of that issue compared with the broad range of environmental issues is quite trivial. Unfortunately, that's a very hard sell.

12/11/12, 4:53 PM

Doctor Westchester said...

This post by Dan Allen might be useful:

12/11/12, 6:26 PM

Bob Smith said...
@Progress Thanks for your kind words and taking the time to make sure I got this right. I hadn't ever thought of the commercial angle, with the exception of Colt, which like a lot of us, I will never own. I was a casual shooter up until about 13 years ago due to being active duty military. However, the warm welcome I see new shooters get every time I go to the range never ceases to amaze me. The contrasts in personalities would be downright shocking in other walks of life.

I saw this as well. My first thought was that this is what the Mayan's were talking about...the end of intelligent life here on earth. I can't believe WP would publish such nonsense even in a blog.

12/11/12, 8:34 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Progress and Conserve,

I've never been called nonchalant before, so I had to look up the definition.

Nonchalant is defined as: "Seeming to be coolly unconcerned or indifferent."

I can accept cool, it is a gift after all not shared by many! But, unconcerned or indifferent, perhaps this is a trifle unfair.

I take it from your response that you have not thoroughly read my reply to you explaining why I stated that your concerns about immigration are a side issue.

To put my reply in as simple a terms as possible for you, nature does not care what peoples origins are. It is the carrying capacity of the environment that concerns me and I reckon your country is well beyond it.

Don’t be blaming me for pointing out a structural weakness in your society! We are in no better situation here. You however, are focused on a single issue (immigration) when you would perhaps do well to look at the big picture.

The problem is though, that if you acknowledge the big picture, you unfortunately have to address your own activities and this poses far more difficulty for you than simply ranting about other peoples actions?

It may actually be that newcomers to an area will have higher rates of survival in any downturn because they don't adhere to the local dogma.

People can be pretty dogmatic. The convicts that were settled here in 1788 almost starved because they were too reluctant to eat fish. They had to be resupplied from Cape Town of all places.

I walk the talk and live a life of voluntary poverty and accept the limitations imposed on me by nature and this location.

Spare me your moral outrage too. Where is your concern about the actual and ongoing atrocities in the Congo for instance? Far easier for you to get upset on the Internet with a total stranger than address your own issues.

I'm not engaging with you again unless you address the above points.



12/11/12, 9:48 PM

mallow said...
Progress, why are you so obsessed with legality vs. illegality? We're heading into an age of mass migration that will dwarf what's currently happening whether anyone likes it or not. It won't be stopped and pieces of paper will have absolutely nothing to do with it. And THIS is SHOUTING on the internet. Please stop.

12/12/12, 3:43 AM

Steve said...
Doctor Westchester:

Thanks for the link. I'm quite familiar with the scientific projections for the future. In fact I'm looking at a copy of the US GCRP 2009 report on my desk as I type this, for example. The nuclear maps are nicely familiar, too.

At the moment I'm much more interested in the historical record that JMG and others have cited here, though. After all, models are models, and history is history. In my opinion both are worth studying for their contributions and limitations. Do you have any helpful links about the last time the Earth was 2-3C warmer?

12/12/12, 9:55 AM

Jim Brewster said...
Progress, if I understand correctly, is not so obsessed with the difference between legal and illegal immigration, but wants to limit all immigration. Do I have that correct? By emphasizing enforcement, you are acknowledging that the incentives for immigration will still exist, therefore just changing quotas will turn legal into illegal. There are all kinds of reasons why it's better to "go with the flow" and sanction immigration at a relatively high level. Illegal immigrants (or undocumented if you prefer) have fewer rights and are more easily exploited. Their presence tends to drive down wages and opportunities for the "legal" working class (both immigrant and native-born)--as JMG has pointed out this benefits the upper and middle class, but only in the short term. And the uncertainty of their status does little to help build stable communities. You would counter with calls for more enforcement as if that doesn't have its own frightful costs and unintended consequences. If you're so concerned about the USA's carrying capacity, don't forget that some of the biggest threats, sea level rise and erratic weather among them, don't stop at any borders. The carrying capacity of the USA is merely a dependent subset that cannot be separated from the carrying capacity of the planet.

12/12/12, 10:20 AM

Glenn said...

_this_ is considered a more polite method of emphasis on the internet than THIS. You perceive the difference.

As to immigration, Capitalism is based on growth, a logical response to increased access to wealth in Europe during the age of exploration in the high middle ages; this ushered in the change from the fixed wealth theories of mercantilism where the goal was monopoly. Capitalism was a response to real economic growth, and does not work without it. Mother nature never heard of 10% interest.

Growth requires more materials, more energy, more labour and more customers. Hence, our democratic _capitalist_ government encourages immigration, legal or otherwise, to continue the growth. What JMG said about illegal immigration keeping wages down applies too.

Now, we are in an age of declining resources, so attempting economic growth is logically unproductive. But most industrial democracies haven't got the memo yet, and there's a 500 year myth of capitalism to work against; that while beginning to crack, has delivered quite well, especially for the ruling classes until recently.

Marrowstone Island

12/12/12, 12:05 PM

joebob said...

This is not about democracy but some other things mentioned in the article.

What is important to remember is that we do remember! Things learned from efforts to go green are not totally lost and the science used is applicable. pieces of equipment left can still be used and power can be generated in some amounts, so its not totally flushed down the toilet but rather needs to be looked at and seen how and what can be used and adapted.

That the wind farms can not be constructed because of the costs does not mean the technology is wasted and gone.

So looking at whats out there and how it can be adapted and what needs to be maintained in some way is a necessary exercise to helping local communities manage. There were often wizards in old days who held and carried and taught knowledge and were seen as magicians, today's adaptable engineers and scientists who work to apply what they know in the coming environment are crucial and will be the wizards of tomorrow.

A good time to start developing this is now. Part of what is called Appropriate Technology is just this sort of process and the knowledge gained from helping developing countries is what we will need here as we UN-develop, so to speak - JLM

12/12/12, 1:25 PM

Bob Smith said...
The NRA, while slightly less partisan than GOA and a few other groups, has essentially become a working organ of the GOP. That's pretty much the reason I quit.

You obviously missed the main point of the conversation....the Sierra club et others would be alot more successful if 1)stopped being downright hateful/rude to others who don't feel exactly as they do 2)actually tried to represent and engage grassroots/real people in some meaningful way, for example organic gardening workshops. 3)actually tried to live up their ideals instead of just wanting to force everyone else to ie Soros/Gore 4) Limited their objectives to something reasonably possible in the current environment. 5) Stop wanting to be a dictator so you can remake society overnight and work on changing peoples minds instead. Personally, I think climate change is a pure scam, indefinite research projects, career prospects, Nobel Prizes, prestige...the whole nine yards. Its a dream for any scientist. Now if you want to talk about clean water and air, then we'll find something to agree and act on.

On politics, you do realize that the NRA endorsed Harry Reid right? No, we don't like this president...same reason we don't like anyone named Daley...Chicago mentality..."do as I say, not as I do".
However the attitude towards the shooting sports and hunting has done a complete 180 and that is the main goal of the national organization, so they succeeded. However, they would would fall apart without the local club' supporting them. GOA, on the other hand, is strictly lobbying, and as much as I love their attitudes, they will never supplant the NRA in membership or organization.

Next time you go shooting, go to a public range and look around you, Every time I go, I see at least 4 or 5 distinct cultural groups, ie white, black, brown, yellow, bikers, yuppies, rednecks, etc.. and tons of girlfriends, wives, sons and daughters. You know what else I see? They are all talking to each other in a friendly tone and comparing/sharing ideas AND hardware.

12/12/12, 4:17 PM

Progress and Conserve said...
@ Cherokee - "Moral Outrage?" I'll tell you, Chris, if JMG posts on the situation in the Congo, then I'll express some moral outrage. But he posted on immigration last week and democracy this week - so I prefer to address that.

JMG tells us that the population of the US landmass is destined to drop to 30 million. We add 3 million people a year, here in the US. What I try to express (apparently not all that well, in your opinion) is not anything like moral outrage - it is, rather, a projection of abject fear that 10's or 100's of millions of my countrymen are going to suffer and die. Exacerbating that fear is the idea that the more people in the US, the worse the suffering is going to be, and the higher the death rate is going to climb.

And we haven't even yet mentioned the increased damage that the growing US population does to global ecosystems. Plus the fact -- mentioned by several posters this week, already - that growth in US population really benefits our wealthy middle class and big corporations and therefore mostly enables our continued overseas military force projection.

You state that new immigrants may survive collapse better than our native born population. I don't know about that - especially for those who immigrated here from infancy until about age 12, or so.

American culture is such a dominating force. A few years of watching TV, living in air conditioning, eating fast food, and driving instead of walking will turn a fit young immigrant into, quite frankly, an out-of-shape "American Consumer" who is hardly more likely to survive collapse than most of the rest of us.

And Cherokee, you advocate voluntary poverty. That's admirable, truly. To my knowledge, though, the percentages of immigrants who come into the US with the express goal of living in "voluntary poverty," approaches statistical zero. Among their children and grandchildren, the percentage is likely to be lower still.

Many US immigrants leave the simple life that you strive for for yourself - sustainable agriculture, walkable communities, and close-knit groups of friends and family, only to move into the US. Once IN the US though, they become inexorably dependent on Big Ag and fossil fuel transportation, and they sadly find their friends and kin groups spread all across planet Earth.

12/12/12, 6:45 PM

Progress and Conserve said...
@mellow - You're in Europe, so you may be unaware of the rancorous divisions that are due to the legal/illegal immigrant question. My sympathies are more with the illegal ones, to be honest. In the popular narrative, at least, our illegal immigrants walked up and then waded the Rio Grande. That gives them the option of walking back home, if things get bad enough in the US - and that could be a very nice option to have, if JMG is correct with his numbers.

The legal immigrants mostly arrive by airplanes and other fossil fuel devices. Their options are going to be far more limited, post-collapse. Europe is its own unique situation. I won't offer advice to you about that, because I'm not European. I will say that I would be concerned with too much change, too fast. In the event of collapse and hunger on the Continent I fear that you may find that modern multiculturalism only worked while floating on a pool of abundant oil. Good luck.

And to end with a little humor, for what we should all consider a pleasant and informative exchange -

And as regards shouting on the internet - my understanding is that typing entire sentences and paragraphs in all caps is considered shouting. Typing single words and/or short phrases in all caps is something more like raising your voice for emphasis. However, just for you, I wrote this post without using all caps but ONCE, up 'till now.
It's not really my style - I'm more of a public speaker than I am a writer. You ought to see me wave my hands and and raise my voice about points in a speech.

I do think it would have been more dramatic, and more humorous had you said to me:
"And using ALL-CAPS is considered shouting on this comment thread, in my opinion. PLEASE STOP!!!"

12/12/12, 6:47 PM

Chris Balow said...

If it eases your mind, yearly precipitation totals (according to NOAA data) in much of the Great Plains has trended upward over the course of the 20th century. Kansas and Oklahoma, for example, have trended upward by a good 2-3 inches.

12/12/12, 7:01 PM

Jim Brewster said...
@Progress, FWIW, the "popular narrative" does not reflect the reality. Many (perhaps more than half) illegals entered the country by the same means as everyone else and overstayed their visas. Of those who crossed the border without documentation, I'd wager an infinitesimally small proportion just walked from their homes. Most paid a lot of money to get to the border or to be smuggled across, and going home will not be nearly as simple as you suggest.

12/13/12, 7:42 AM

Progress and Conserve said...
I don't disagree, Jim Brewster - I intended the "popular narrative" reference to be tongue-in-cheek.

All the more reason to admit that this place (US) is overstuffed with people past the point of disaster and to begin to try to engineer a soft landing of population growth.

IMO, of course.

And JMG, I'm going to try hard not to "troll" the immigration/US population issue too much.

I see collapse as 10-20 years away, maybe even longer. And I see bringing attention to US population growth as a genuine life or death issue - one that's going to have to be addressed by our body politic, sooner or later.
And I happen to believe that "sooner" is far superior to "later," on this particular issue.

If you just flatly disagree, you can tell me and I'll probably be moving along to somewhere else.

You own the website, so you get to control the parameters of discussion.

Just let me get in something about Lincoln/Douglas, education, etc, etc, on the new week - first.

12/13/12, 4:36 PM

Progress & Conserve.- I think that the fear about a massive immigration coming from Mexico in the “Long descend scenario” are very funded, but I don´t seem that the big problem will be caused for the Mexicans inside your country. The fact is that there are many immigrants joined in your army, etc. that are making work your country, that thing is not specially difficult because they have the same fundamental beliefs than the Americans, due that they belong to the Occidental Civilization (Tonybee). Its secondary if they are race mixed, speak in Spanish and prefer Mexican meal to the fast food…. The pizza and the hot dogs haven brought introduced in US for immigrants from Italy and Germany respectively, that in their moment were considered intruders for some Americans; sons or grandsons of inmigrants.
For to avoid crowd movements caused for the coming famine, the solution is to improve dramatically the agricultural production in all the world, thinking in to reduce the spectacular descend of productitity foreseeing with the oil scarcity.
In the North Korean famine caused for oil scarcity in that country, after of the collapse of Rusia, the problem was the transport of the grain from the fields to the cities, because there was scarcity of fuel for the trucks.
In Cuba the response for the same trouble consisted in urban fields.
The problem with the immigrant people is when the receiver country don´t integrates them.
The History shows us some examples of migratory problems that finally, are “solved” by the war: Mexico with north American immigrants in Texas. Palestine with the Jews survivors of the Holocaust that flyed from Europe, Lebanon with the Palestines flying from Palestina after the ethnic cleaness started by the israelians.
Here in Europe we have a problem bigger than in the US that really is . We have the problem of the immigration originated in the North of Africa , of Islamic religion and belonging to another civilization (the Siriac; Tonybee).

12/14/12, 8:54 AM

geovermont1 said...
In Vermont we may still have some of the skills needed for effective local democracy, although they are certainly atrophying a bit. Most towns in Vermont still hold an annual meeting each March. The voters of the town assemble and spend a few hours working through an agenda, approving a series of articles that center mostly on the town budget, Town officers are also elected at that time (this is done by an all-day balloting rather than by a floor vote). The Town Meetings here are still somewhat functional, although the level of discourse does sometimes descend to the level of internet blogs and unfortunately most of the big decisions that effect us get made in Montpelier or Washington or a corporate headquarters. It does, however, give us some practice at group decision-making. From these meetings I know what it's like to rise from my seat and face my neighbors and try to make a cogent argument in a short amount of time. I get practice at listening to people I disagree with. I've also learned what it's like to have my great idea voted down and yet to still work hard to be civil to my opponents, who may well support me at another time. This ancient system actually does still work and I hope we here in Vermont can find it within ourselves to keep the old system functioning.

JMG, the adult education idea sounds like a very important one and I'm looking forward to seeing what you have to say. The suggestion made in the comments to find a way to distribute the best of the old texts is a good one. Dover Books has indeed served for many decades as the prime source for many old classics in science, math, technology, and many other fields. My vote for the best calculus text for self-instruction is not, however a Dover Book; Sylvanus P. Thompson and Martin Gardner's Calculus Made Easy (St. Martins Press, 1998) is a revision of Thompson's old classic from 1910. Very clearly written and quite a comprehensive treatment of elementary calculus.

I would encourage those interested in this sort of revival of the texts to use, but do not depend on, the electronic media and the internet. If things go seriously awry, we're not going to be surfing any web and books would be incredibly valuable.

12/14/12, 6:38 PM

Hendrix Harrison said...
Commenting on your October blog. Very good story, quite realistic as probable result. I believe a similar scenario may come true and it is around the corner. Substitute Tanzania to Syria and China to Russia + Iran + Hezbollah and you see the picture that is unfolding. There are a lot of news coming out the Russian ships that are entering Syria are all full of weapons even though their reason is to evacuate Russian citizens. The Russians already delivered formidable Iskander Missiles. Once the match is lit, I have a feeling the Russians (who have not forgotten the Afghan debacle and is craving for payback) have set up a trap for NATO to fall and lead the official collapse of western imperialist hence paving the way for self fulfilling prophecies of Armageddon, end of 13th Baktun to economic collapse into fruition.

12/19/12, 1:16 PM

I´m Spaniard, and my language ever have been called “Spanish”, for me and for various hundreds of million people that speak it. And in all the world is met with this name.
Please, see the Spanish dictionary (
Castillian is referred to the ancient Spanish language, spoken some centuries ago.
The word “Castellano” is used when we speak of Spanish , Catalán, Vasque. For to show that
those languages, only spoken for the people of the respective region, are a cultural treasure so important for the Spaniards as the Spanish languaje.

12/21/12, 10:31 AM